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.

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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!

 

Salta and Cafayate – Argentina

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SALTA

The cheapest way across Argentina meant it all – hitchhiking “hasta el fin”, making delicious stake meals for $2.5 , and CouchSurfing with random strangers.

When we arrived to Salta we had a Couch ready for us at our later-to-be friend Rosa who was a hostel host. Her house was outside of Salta and Jana, Rosa and I had to share a bedroom that has as big as a shoe box. Her and her family, however, took an amazing care of us. I also got to meet her crazy parrot that was running after my feet trying to bite me. What a creep!

I fell in love with Salta upon arriving but after a few days it all lost it charm. I was getting really tired from my 11 months trip. We went out a couple times to dance salsa. Unfortunately, nobody knew how. Then, we went shopping, ate lots of fried empanadas, met the nicest guy from Caledonia and after a few days decided to take off to Cafayate.

CAFAYATE 

It was such a brief visit that I have almost forgotten about being there. Cafayate is a nice little village with wineries and a canyon that looks something like Utah.

Jana and I decided to climb to a few waterfalls. On the way to the National Park we were offered a ride by two Argentinian actors. They could probably tell we were professional hitchhikers even without sticking the finger and the sign out.

We gladly accepted the ride and even hiked with them the first part of the trail. The guide was necessary for climbing but our “cheap” way of travelling forbid us to pay and we even convinced the Argentinians to go for free.

The climb was tough. I have never done so much wild bouldering in my life! Good thing the Argentinians had a thermos of rewarding mate and invited us for a traditional asado and beer dinner.

Tips for Hitchhiking – Argentina

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General lessons learned from a one month hitchhiking from the North to the South of Argentina.

TIPS FOR HITCHHIKING:

-Stand in a place for a car to see you and have time and place to stop

-Hitchhike from a small village, gas station, hwy, rest area

-Never hitchhike from downtown or get dropped off in the city

-Walk the direction you want to go

-Made an eye-catching sign and yourself pretty, but not too pretty to attract the wrong drivers

-Dress warm, put sunscreen and have food and water. You never know where you might end up.

-Have a back-up plan and a pepper spray ready.

-GO WITH YOUR GUTS!!!! and do it TO THE END!!!! 

 

“We live here” – index finger down and an “sorry” face

“Good luck to you!” – waving at us, laughing, and telling a joke to a co-driver friend

Hitchhiking in Argentina – “a dedo”

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We crossed the border, walked a few meters to the nearest gas station and said – LETS HITCHHIKE! Guess what? Not the best idea. Nobody stopped. People were laughing, passing us, and we were hot and miserable on the corner of unknown town with our sign.

We decided to take a bus to  Humahuaca and try again. Walking to the terminal of La Quiaca we got our breakfast empanadas where they had the best promotion I have seen: 1 empanada for 3 pesos or 3 empanadas for 10~! Them we bargained to get cheapest fare to La Quiaca  and settled in a comfy bus.

After an hour ride the bus was stopped and everyone had to get out to form two lines: men separately from women. Our bags were examined with strong hands of handsome draconian Argentinian officials and the bags of Argentinians and Bolivians were emptied, thrown on the dirty ground and kicked with worn black leather boots. My heart was all torn up.

When we finally got to Humahuaca everything was closed and as we learned later, Argentina went into a massive across-nation nap and rest between 1pm and 4pm.

We walked to the nearest highway, got the sign out and tried again. We read a few blogs about hitchhiking and it said your could be waiting long, be discouraged but have to be persistent.

So were and it only took us 15 minutes before a big truck rolled to the side of the road and picked us up. Jana didn’t speak too much Spanish and I had to do the job. The guy was super nice and took almost all the way to Salta where our nice CouchSurfing host Rosa was waiting for us to take us to her house.

Crossing into Argentina – 5121km to the End of the World

It’s time to start the last chapter of my adventure – Argentina. One month left and the plan is to do 5121km south (3182 miles for you Americans) and then 2043km (1270 miles) back north to Buenos Aires.

The distance and the time frame is not the hardest. Jana had the craziest idea – hitchhiking. 

– No way, I said.

I was terrified. Even with all my love, faith and confidence into my free-spirited, adventurous and brave friend Jana, I thought she had an insane plan and I was about to become a part of it.

– Com’n now!!!  -said Jana – we are not paying hundreds of dollars for bus tickets in Argentina. And… she was right.

It was the craziest idea for two girls to travel “a dedo” – hitchhiking across a huge country where you could only hear about people being robbed.We asked for a cardboard in the border town of Villazon (Bolivia), bought a thick black marker, drew “HASTA EL FIN” and headed to the border.

HASTA EL FIN (To The End) had a lot of meaning for us. It was travelling to the End of The World, being  at the very end of out trip, and coming to the end of our personal journey. And… one, two, three – awh!!!

THE BORDER CROSSING: was the easiest I have experienced in Latin America. Exit stamp – boom, chit-chatting with the border officials, enter stamp – boom and we were walking towards the sign that said “5121km to Usuaia” – our destination.

US DOLLARS IN ARGENTINA: OJO!  Before you cross into Argentina be aware of the monetary system. Full-fill your pockets, money belts, bras, and underwear with US Dollars. Also, the closer you are to the border, the better is your exchange rate. But, careful, don’t change all of your bucks because the exchange rate jumps up and down.

GETTING US DOLLARS IN VILLAZON: There was just one ATM that would give you US dollars in Villazone. If go to the main park plaza, then one block down and one block up towards Bolivia, there is going to be one ATM hidden under the trees that will give you US Dollars. Get your pepper spray out and go in groups or at least couples.