Mt Whitney – On top of the U.S.A.

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The passion for hiking and climbing does not stop at reaching the highest point. I always wonder what above that point is. What is the next challenge?

Mt. Whitney is the highest in 48 states and I didn’t think twice when I was asked to do it. With 6000 ft elevation gain, 22 miles round-trip, 17-hour hike it was a great challenge to overcome.

I was once again the only girl in the group and it definitely made me push myself harder. It almost seems I try to prove something to the guys. Yet, after a few long miles when the elevation hits your body, the beat of your heart is pounding your brain, and you can only hear your own breath – there you realize it’s about your own mental, physical, and emotional challenge. It’s about making it to the top and feeling complete with the nature.

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Venice Beach, California

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I thought Portland, Oregon was weird but not until I visited Venice Beach, California.  I was mesmerized by the street mishmash and chaos. My eyes could not stop running from street performers, to CD rap sellers, from dancers, to shops, and would finally stop and stare at bodybuilders. They were definitely there for the girls with cameras like us.

I was like a kid in a candy shop watching the people. There was not a single moment without an exciting, exotic, or exceptional person passing by, performing, selling, dancing, skating, biking, playing basketball, or offering marijuana prescriptions. It seemed like a big melting pot of the most abnormal but at the same time typical people of LA. They were the best of the best.

It definitely is a must place to visit in LA. The atmosphere is there.

Mt. Wilson, California

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This was one of those hikes just like the one in Panama: a group of guys, steep elevation, and telephone towers at the top. Apparently, flat Los Angeles has its hills and mountains as well.  I knew nothing about Mt. Wilson and showed just up  for the sake of adventure and exercise. When we got to the parking lot, the hike was supposed to be 6 miles. I was unsure if it was one way or a round trip and didn’t dare to ask. The guys looked tough for whiny questions like that.

Half way up, I realized that the hike was 14 miles round trip with 4745 feet elevation. To describe it in a few words,  it was  challenging, hot, and sweaty. It definitely was not for beginners and if you wanted to push yourself – there you had it!

We all made it to the top where we quickly chewed on some snacks and rushed back to the parking lot. I could feel my knees screaming and toes getting numb. Yet, the great satisfaction of personal achievement and being in the nature was incomparable. I must add the best reward of a double burger from In-N-Out afterwards!

GETTING THERE: Get there early on a nice weekend day to get a parking spot

PARKING: Free on the street or $10 at a private parking lot that opens at 8:30am and has 30 spots

San Diego, California

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Who would imagine? San Diego has so much diversity and beauty! It’s almost like a hidden treasure of California. Not knowing about it, I was imagining it being similar to L.A. but just with more heat and traffic.

To my surprise, it turned out to be a pretty fun place to spend a day. Our curiosity took us to Seaport Village. It definitely is a  tourist trap with cute little boutiques, cafes, ice cream kiosks, bookstores, and restaurants. People do all kinds of arts and crafts. We saw mimes, clowns, jugglers, painters, parrot owners, kite runners, and psychics. We strolled along the Pacific ocean, had our beer (of course), watched people, listened to music, and took photos.

I felt like a tourist again and lost my consciousnesses of the place and time for a few hours.  It was nice just to be present in the moment.

17 hours of Solitary Driving: Oregon to California

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17 hours of driving, from Portland to Los Angeles and I finally arrived to start a new chapter of my life. Not excited, not disappointed, I just arrived. There was it all along the I-5 south: tall Oregon evergreens, beautiful Mt. Shasta, endless dry California desert, strong warm winds, and smoky clouds of nearby fires.

I was luckily met by my best friends and had a few days to look for apartments and explore the area. I didn’t have expectations about CA but as I am starting exploring, I start loving it more and more.

Victoria BC

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There we were: smelling like camp fire, tired but excited to visit Victoria BC. A two hour ferry across the cold ocean, burning sun, and chilly wind dropped us off right in-front of the Parliament house. We took a few photos and headed to the Visitors center to see what there was to visit.

There were quiet a few things but most of the botanic gardens required taking a bus or taxi. We decided to simply stroll and have a glass of beer before meeting our CoushSurfing friend Dave at 5pm.

We took a walk along the waterfront, bought cheap “made in China” postcards from Chinatown, had a beer at Local Kitchen, watched sea-lions at the Fisherman Wharf, had soup and salad on Cook St, and took at very long walk through Holland Point Park to Dave’s house. What can I say – we were exhausted!

When we finally met Dave, he had a fantastic idea of making hotdogs and having a fire on the beach. We met all his friends, played guitar, talked about travels, and had a nice fire until we saw a truck flashing lights our way.

– Firefighters! – said Dave and rushed to open his coat and hide the fire behind his back.

It was too late. Three men with buckets and flashlight were heading our way to put our fire down. There were no more hot dogs or warm from fire socks. We stayed just a bit more, listened to Dave playing guitar and headed to a local pub that was playing blues. We managed to show off our salsa skills and the next morning headed back home to the mother land.

PS: A few thoughts about the faith in humanity. The CouchSurfing experience at Dave’s warmed my heart ones again. CouchSurfig is like a rolling snow-bowl of kindness, compassion, and sharing.

“You must not lose faith in humanity. Humanity is an ocean; if a few drops of the ocean are dirty, the ocean does not become dirty” 

Mahatma Gandhi

To the most Southern South I’ve been – El Calafate

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HITCHHIKING FOR 1.5 DAYS – THAT WAS IT!

After 30 min of  being in the rain waiting for a car from El Bolson, a nice little truck picked us up and took us as far south as he could and dropped us off at a gas station.

Look at this truck driver! We should ask them – said Jana pointing at a Chilean guy in his 40’s pumping petroleum.

I hesitated but Jana left her backpack by the convenience store and started walking towards the gas pump.

-Disculpa – said Jana in here broken Spanish – ¿vas al Sur? ( Are you going South?) 

I rushed in and started talking to the guy. He was going South and he would be willing to take us  but…. Jana and I would have to split. I would go with him and Jana would go with his friend whom he was following.

I looked at Jana and started whispering.

– I am not splitting, I don’t think it’s a good idea. What about food and water? (silly thought!)

-It’s our only chance – whispered Jana and in a reassuring voice said back to the truck driver:

VAMOS!

What a terror went through my heart and mind! This girl was out of control. We threw our backpacks inside the truck and as I was climbing inside seeing Jana climbing into a different truck, I pulled my pepper spray!

– So where are you guys going? – started the man in his hard-to-understand mumbling Chilean accent.

– To el Calafate, I said.

I was afraid to be too nice and friendly but as it appeared later, he was a very nice and friendly person himself. We spent 24 hours riding with them. They bought us coffee, made breakfast, lunch, and dinner, created a bed out of our backpacks and a passenger seat, and saved us at least $300.

They dropped us off just where the road was splitting to “The End of the World – Usualla” and to El Calafate. As unfortunate as it is, I have never made it to the end of the world but keep reading…

From the point the Chileans dropped us off, we waited for at least 40 min and were picked up by a cow truck, then dropped off, then picked up again. We spent 1.5 days hitchhiking and when we got to El Calafate – we were done! 

Small talk, pretending I was interested, being overly nice was at the edge of my patience. We just had to find a hostel, buy beer and do nothing.

EL CALAFATE 

To our surprise, El Calafate was appeared to be a Swiss-looking place with lots of Israelis and lots of expensive options to have fun and sleep.

HOSTELS IN EL CALAFATE:  If you want to stay somewhat cheaply and nicely you should BOOK in ADVANCE. When we arrived, we couldn’t find anything cheap besides this alright hostel run by an elderly couple. Lots of Israelis were there  and that was a SIGN – CHEAP!!! Look for Israelis in South America. In La Paz they even have their own cheap street.

Staying with them is not necessarily the most pleasant experience. They group together and ignore anyone out of their clan. Well, good for us: Jana and I were so tired of small talk that were not interested in making any friends, just having beer.

PLACES TO EAT IN EL CALAFATE: Check Dona Mecha. 50cm chicket sandwich for $4. Can’t beat that! https://foursquare.com/v/do%C3%B1a-mecha/4db22d086e81029a303b6cd4

BOOKING A GLACIER TOUR: Go big or go home right? So, we spent money and booked the expensive 8 hour tour across the glacier. It was gorgeous and is a must do! You walk on this humongous, one of the very few glaciers in the world that is still growing and it’s like being in a wonderland.  We booked it through the main company and it’s the cheapest you can get.

FLIGHTS TO BUENOS AIRES: http://www.aerolineas.com.ar/Welcome

Do it online unless you exchanged your dollars at the border. Argentina will charge you more as a foreigner if you pay at the ticket office. Online is not quiet updated and you will pay the same price as everyone else.

Patagonia: Barriloche and El Bolson

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BARRILOCHE

We only lasted in Mendoza for two days and decided to take a bus to San Martin, a small village close to Mendoza to start hitchhiking again. When we arrived to the bus terminal all the buses were gone and we could either spend another expensive night in the unpleasant Mendoza or do something else.

The plan was to reach Barriloche in Patagonia and the tickets we $200 for a 22 hour bus ride. Sign… it was the only option. We got the tickets and head to the platform and guess who we saw? – Kelly again!

22 hours on the bus was exhausting but fun. Jana taught me how to play chests, we listen to all our music on ipod and saw a couple long movies. Upon arriving to Barriloche a CouchSurfer Rodrigo was expecting us. I called him and asked if this girl Kelly we met on the bus could come with us.

– Hm…. -I heard on the other side of the line. – Sure!

It was Rodrigo’s first CouchSurfing experience. I felt bad that he though I am just dragging a random girl along to his place. He didn’t know Kelly and I went long back.

The Barriloche experience was great. Rodrigo put us in charge of his entire apartment that he kept for rainy days with his girlfriend Mariana, he took us to beautiful lakes and trails, fed us delicious cheese and meet and even went out with us to a disco.

EL BOLSON

The disco pretty much killed my friend Jana. She was so destroyed that through out the whole hitchhike from Barriloche she was asleep. I am not sure if she even realized that we got three rides and got from one town to another in less then 2 hours. It was like carpooling. The next car would stop as the other would drop us off.

When we arrived to El Barriloche, my friend Martin that I met in Ecuador was waiting for at the market where he was making puppets, smoking pot and playing chest with his local hippi friends.

– Am I at a Saturday Market in Portland, Oregon? – I thought. It was exactly just like a Portlandia episode: hippies, young people who decided to retire, food carts, mountains, organic food and local vegetable growth.

Martin walked us to his must-be-60 y.o. dusty, falling-apart auto. We barely fit in with our bags and made it up the hill through the rocky dusty road to his hobbit hole.

He built the house himself and it was a size of a shoe-box with a little first floor living area and a second floor bedroom. You had to pee and poo outside. As soon as we settled the bags, Jana crashed from the total fatigue of fiesta and rumba in Bariloche.

– Can you help me clean a little, please? – asked me Martin

– Of course – I was so happy to help.

– The plants need to be watered – he said.

So, I watered the plants, we made delicious dinner with stake, wine and chocolate, played music. Martin smoked and even the smell was nice. Everything was piece-full, relaxed and calm.

The next day Jana and I went on a hike and Jana asked:

– Did you see all his baby marijuana?

-What marijuana? – I asked surprisingly.

-Did you see his plants? All of his plants were! – said Jana.

I had no idea I watered all the plants and had no idea.

El Bolson was a great relaxing point of the trip but we had to keep going South – Hasta El Fin.

It was hard to get a ride from El Bolson anywhere. Martin asked a friend who took us from the town and then we  stood in rain for overly 40 minutes with big smile and a sign until a rock-climber stopped and took us 3 hours south to a gas station.

 

Mendoza and Maipu wine tour

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After an exhausting one day ride in a car with Susana and Jean-Pierre and then a one night of a bus ride to Mendoza we finally arrived to this student city of Argentina – tired.

There was no one on the streets and we walked to the nearest plaza to look for a hostel. The cheapest we found was not that cheap. We tried to bargain but all they could offer was an extra breakfast. They didn’t know we were about to eat all the eggs and almost the whole load of bread – oups forgot to read the breakfast signed and didn’t realize there were other people in the hostel.

After the breakfast Jana just wanted to sleep. I made myself comfortable by the computers and started researching about “things to do near Mendoza.” This city seemed outrageously expensive and as we found out later not pretty at all.

I e-mailed my friend Kelly whom I met in Colombia through Jose and Kyle and she was there with her Mendozian boyfriend Fabricio. The next morning, all three of us girls went on a  – MAIPU ~ LA RUTA DEL VINO. 

Don’t get me wrong but I know nothing about wine. By favorite is whatever you can get for $2.99 at  Trader Joe’s.  Jana was the same way so ended up getting the cheapest we could get and after a few wineries, riding next to large trucks and smelly tractors was quiet adventurous and tipsy. The helmet required!

I must say that he best part of the wine tour was the beer factory at the end. We finally got to listen to reggae, sit back in a soft blue chair and sip our favorite drink – BEER!

On the road to Mendoza – wait where?

That’s how it goes during traveling:

You have this perfect plan, then you meet people and decide to join them, then people join you and you have to make decisions together, then you run out of money, then you are on the road hitchhiking and people just take you wherever they are heading.

That’s how we ended up spending about an hour in a tremendous heat waiting for the lucky car to pick us up. Hopeless, hungry, tired, and thirsty we started walking  toward the direction we were heading – south…. as this little French car smashed on breaks next to us.

– Where are you going? yelled a lady getting from the car

– Hm… anywhere, south, to the end! – we yelled.

It was Susana from Argentina and Jean-Pierre from France who were on vacation to visit Susana’s family. They completely changed our plan to go to Tucuman. We ended up to this little strange village the name of which I can’t recall and taking a bus to Mendoza. Susana even fed us empanadas and offered to stay at her cosine’s hostel for free but we had to stick to the plan and headed south.

What a beautiful experience it was! The world is beautiful and if you doubt the humanity you must go travel!