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We weren’t quite ready to leave the beauty of Patagonia, but we knew staying any longer would throw the budget off.  So, we started looking for the best and cheapest way to head north. Originally, we planned to take a plane from Punto Arenas (PA) to Santiago, Chile. But, I suggested that we look into other options.  Obviously, we didn’t want to take a bunch of buses north; that would be exhausting & a waste of money.  I really wanted to take a boat at some point on the trip & why not look into our options during this portion?

Navimag Ferry

Eventually, I was able to convince Corey to head to the tour office in PA.  As it turned out, there was a ferry, but it left from Puerto Natales (PN) & it didn’t leave for another 6 days. That meant we’d have to divide our time between two Podunk (two-horse) towns in the coldest part of South America! Yes, it was a long time to wait, but it was worth it in the end!

Navimag Mapa

Top Deck

The NaviMag Ferry (not luxurious enough to call it a cruise) is a 4 day boat journey through the fjords of Patagonia from PN to Puerto Montt (PM). For the most part, it’s navigated through channels, but there are 2 portions where the ferry goes through the Pacific Ocean for a chance to see some cool aquatic creatures.

Our Cabin

Our Cabin

Our buddy Desmond in the cafeteria

More Chilean Fjords

Before leaving PN, we’d made sure to stock up on supplies: mostly snacks & drinks, since these items can be a bit more pricey on the ferry. It was also suggested that we get seasick pills, because the 3rd day on the boat is known to be very rough, since it navigates through open seas. But after stopping at 3 different pharmacies & coming up empty, we decided to risk it & go without them.

Our first night on the NaviMag - hanging out in PN Harbor

Our first night on the NaviMag – hanging out in the PN Harbor

On February 25th, we departed Puerto Natales at 4:00 am after already boarding the night before around 9:00 pm. I realize how cheesy this sounds, but you could feel the excitement in the air the night before. Everyone was taking pictures of the sunset our last night in PN & travelers old & young were anxiously waiting for what would come on our first full day of the journey.

Sunset

We had a 6:00 am wake up call that Monday to watch the captain navigate a difficult maneuver. I would like to say, that if you ever take this journey, unless you’re big into photography, just sleep in & go to the late breakfast! We got some nice photos of the sunrise, but since I know nothing about navigating a boat, it didn’t look super impressive to me or Corey or any of the other travelers who got up at the butt-crack of dawn to watch our navigation through this “narrow” passage.

Chilean Fjords II

Chico Glacier BW

For the next 3 mornings, there would be an early wake-up call over the loud speakers & every time fewer & fewer people woke up to see what was going on. As each day passed we made more friends & as a result we stayed up later & later every night. I got up early the last day because I wanted to see one more unobstructed view of the sunrise, but it was just me & one other girl that day.

Photo Buddy

My photo buddy on the last morning

Every morning after breakfast, the crew would show us the path of the ferry in English & Spanish. In the afternoon they would offer lectures and activities related to this region of the world. My favorite was knot-tying class on the 3rd day. The evenings consisted of dinner, a movie for all ages in Spanish (with subtitles) in the cafeteria and adult activities on the top deck in the bar.

Ricardo in Plain Clothes

Ricardo, one of our favorite crew members!

Karaoke Night

Karaoke Night (I sang too & we do have video, but not sure if I’m ready for that kind of exposure!)

Nubles de Chile

As it turns out, we got very lucky in that the Pacific Ocean was extremely calm on the 3rd day. Normally, the boat is rocking back & forth uncontrollably and most people are seasick for 12 hours (more or less). We spoke with a couple who’d taken the ferry south to PN & the husband said it was, by far, the worst 12 hours of his life. I was so happy that the most we had was a gentle swaying back & forth and the few times I felt queasy, I just sat on the deck & watched the horizon wearing my motion-sickness armbands.

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It also helped that we had a Brad Pitt look alike on the boat - Utaw, one of the travelers that we KEEP bumping into post-NaviMag!

That day would also bring the chance to see dolphins & whales. We didn’t want to get our hopes up, but as it turned out, we didn’t need to. We actually got to see 2 whales & one of our friends got a great shot as it was they dove below the surface! This was the first time either of us have seen whales in their natural environment & words can’t describe just how amazing it was!

Photo by our friend Ainara

Photo by our friend Ainara

Photo by our friend Ainara

Photo by our friend Ainara

Cards

Claudia & Corey playing cards

BINGO night & I actually won!!!

BINGO night & I actually won!!!

Boat Buddies

Last night on the boat with Dirk & Naoya

We knew from the start that the ferry would be 1 of 2 things: 1) a horrible experience & waste of money or 2) one of the best experiences of our trip so far & something we’d always look back on with fond memories. It was definitely the later & I can’t believe we contemplated for a moment taking a plane north! There was lots of laughter, dancing, singing, card games & memories! Since arriving in PM on Friday, March 1st we’ve bumped into other NaviMag travelers more than a dozen times, including last night at a restaurant in Sucre, Bolivia, 50 days later! We’re so happy that we took the ferry north & know that we’ll be talking about it for years to come!

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A map of the world, in my opinion, doesn’t do justice to just how big a country Argentina is. This sounds kind of silly considering it is the 8th largest country in the world.  If you turn it on it’s side, it’s just as wide as the United States. We ended up spending a little under three months in Argentina, crossing the Bolivian border to enter at the beginning of December and finally exiting Argentina on the 19th of February. We spent in the neighborhood of 100 hours on buses working our way south from the Bolivian border all the way to El Calafate in the southern portion of Patagonia and eventually crossing the border into Chile at Puerto Natales, Chile.

Iceberg Reflection

All in all we had a great time in Argentina. We made a number of friends staying in hostels throughout the country that we still keep in contact with and then there is the close friendship we made with Susan, Dave, & Tiv in San Rafael. Along with the incredible sites that we’ve seen, it’s the people that we’ve had an opportunity to meet that have been the highlight our trip and will, most likely, continue to be.

Our buddy Joe from England

Our buddy, Joe, from England

Another friend, Tina, from Germany!

Another friend, Tina, from Germany!

When we tell people that we’ve meet on the road our plans to find a home in South America the first question they always seem to ask is, “Have you found any candidates yet?” Our immediate response is Salta, Argentina. We spent 2 weeks in Salta and really loved it. The people there were extremely friendly, despite being a big city it has a small town feel, & it has the prettiest square that we’ve seen in South America, by far.

Architecture in Salta

Outside of Salta, we really enjoyed our time in Patagonia. Words and pictures really can’t encompass just how incredible nearly every view is in Patagonia.  Although we really liked Patagonia, it’s just too cold most of the year for us to even contemplate making it our home someday.

Kevin in Bariloche

Kevin in Bariloche

Bus ride to Perito Moreno Glacier outside El Calafate

Bus ride to Perito Moreno Glacier outside El Calafate

El Calafate

El Calafate

Our six weeks in San Rafael was another highlight of our time in Argentina. Outside of all the previously mentioned reasons why our time there was so great for us, one of the best aspects of being there was the opportunity to meet many of Susan & Dave’s ex-pat friends. Talking with them and getting the chance the listen to them talk amongst themselves, we got a real world insider look of what’s really going on in Argentina. One that we wouldn’t have gotten just hanging out and talking to fellow travelers. As a whole, we really didn’t like what we heard. Comparatively speaking, Argentina is light years ahead of Bolivia, but it still has a lot of work to do. It doesn’t help that the current government has been very interventionist in the economy in a number of negative aspects. In some ways completely erasing the work that Nestor Kirchner’s administration did to push Argentina forward. It’s ironic and kind of sad that the current president, Nestor’s wife Christina, has been such a disaster.

San Rafael

San Rafael

 Despite all the positive aspects of Argentina, it’s the negative ones (the inflation/struggling economy, bland food, & lack of an adequate build up of local industry) that really gives us pause with regard to making it our home.

Overall, the food was bland & not very inspiring, however, we loved Argentine asados!

Overall, the food was bland & not very inspiring, however, we loved Argentine asados!

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It is, however, an amazing place to visit. It has something for everyone and even though we spent almost three months there, we would love to go back someday to see all the places that we missed.

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Patagonia is the region that encompasses roughly the bottom third of the countries of Argentina & Chile. It is an area of the world that has attracted travelers & bandits alike for centuries. Butch Cassidy, the Sun Dance Kid and Etta Place spent time here trying to escape the law and make an honest life for themselves, as is documented in Bruce Chatwin’s (a fellow traveler) timeless classic “In Patagonia”. Unfortunately for them, that didn’t last too long. What attracted us, along with countless others, to Patagonia is the regions beautiful scenery. From snow-capped mountain peaks & glistening lakes to the towering plateaus & vast expanses of wind-blown desolateness, Patagonia is without a doubt one of the most beautiful and unpopulated places on the Earth.

 Bariloche View

 

Thistle

Our first stop after leaving Susan, Dave, & Tiv in San Rafael was Bariloche, Argentina. Located on the shores of Lake Nahuel Huapi and home to countless chocolate shops, Bariloche definitely had the feel of a town in the Swiss Alps. We had only planned to stay two nights in Bariloche, so we figured what better way to spend our one full day there than taking a nice hike. A woman working at the hostel that we were staying at recommended an “easier” three hour hike that would take us up and over one of the surrounding mountains to a smaller lake that would be warm enough to swim in.

Notice how happy we are at the beginning of the hike!

Notice how happy we are at the beginning of the hike!

What she neglected to tell us was that the map the hostel gave us was horrible and that the “trail” had zero signs that could give us even the slightest idea where to go. After several hours of hiking we reached what we assumed was the end of the trail. We could see the lake, but had no idea how to get down to it outside of summer-salting down the mountain.

Bariloche Hike

After 6 hours of hiking and attempts at 4 different side trails proved fruitless, we finally decided to abandon our mission and get off the mountain.

This is Kevin - who turned out to be a girl, but we'd already named her - she followed us for 4 of the 6 hours!

This is Kevin – who turned out to be a girl, but we’d already named her – she followed us for 4 hours!

This is probably around the 5 hour & 45 minute mark, when we finally had to throw in the towel!

This is probably around the 5 hour, 45 minute mark, when we finally had to throw in the towel!

Unfortunately, for me there were two ways off: hike 8 km back down the way we came or take the suspended cable car. Despite my debilitating fear of heights, Lisa finally talked me into taking the cable car down and we lived to talk about it!

Cable Car Drama

Bariloche was great and we wish we could have spent a little more time there, but we already made plans to head south to a small mountain town called Esquel, Argentina with plans to camp at the Parque Nacional de los Alerces.  As we all know, sometimes the best of plans can get dashed out. In our case rain was the main culprit.  After 3 days of straight rain we decided that it just wasn’t in the cards for us to camp in Esquel.  At this point we had two options, head south again or end our time in Argentina.  In the end we decided that El Calafate, Argentina, in the Southern third of Patagonia, was going to be our next destination.

Sepia geese

 

life aquatic II

Like pretty much everywhere else in Patagonia, El Calafate proved to be a really beautiful city. With a population of around 100,000, it plays host to many thousands more during the high tourist season of January & February. During this time prices are very high for food and lodging. Despite our best shopping around, every restaurant ranged from kind of expensive to really expensive. Nevertheless, we had a great time in El Calafate after we changed hostels to one that was a little farther our of town, but had a great atmosphere, where we met a handful of fun travels along with a great staff!

Blue Skies

 

reflection

After a few days of hanging out around town, we were finally able to get on a tour to El Calafate’s main attraction, the Perito Moreno Glacier. One of the world’s fastest moving glaciers, creeping along at a little more than 2 meters a day & dumping 4 story building size pieces of ice into Lake Argentina all day long, Perito Moreno stretches some 35 plus kilometers back through the mountains and across the Chilean border.

Glacier Perito Moreno

Scenery - Puerto Moreno Tour

Black chested eagle

Our tour took the back roads to the National Park allowing us to see falcons & eagles at close range as well as stopping at a large estancia (ranch) that was home to horses, cows, goats, and a milk hungry cat.

Bull Skull

According to Lisa, my photo skills are improving – I took this shot!

frontier

Glacier Perito Moreno - Cobalt

Lisa even had a good time, despite that fact that she was freezing!

Lisa even had a good time, despite the fact that she was freezing!

We admittedly had some reservations about spending money to see a giant block of ice, but it was one of the most impressive things that we’ve seen so far on the trip. All in all, El Calafate was one of our favorite places so far on this trip, despite it’s Wisconsin like cool/cold weather.

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Week 16 - Lago Argentino - El Calafate, Argentina

Week 16 – Lago Argentino – El Calafate, Argentina

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As most of you already know, our first Workaway experience didn’t go as we had hoped. So when we heard back from Susan, a writer, & Dave, a former alternative radio host, documentarian, and lifelong musician in San Rafael, we were excited, but also a bit apprehensive. They were going to be fine with us staying as long or as short a time as we wanted, so we entered San Rafael knowing that if things didn’t quite work out we be able to get out. Fortunately, things with Susan, Dave, & their 13-year-old daughter Tivoli could not have worked out any better.

Tiv, Susan & Dave

Tiv, Susan & Dave

From the moment that we arrived till the moment that we left, we were treated like a new part of the family. We spent the days working and the nights getting to know one another, either at dinner or just hanging out on the patio talking about anything & everything. Susan & Dave could not have been more accommodating hosts and our living situation couldn’t have been more ideal (especially after our previous Workaway situation). We had our own house separate from theirs. It had two bathrooms, two bedrooms, a gigantic kitchen, and a sitting area where we could hang out, read or watch movies. (We apologize for the grainy images of our accommodation – our cheap point & shoot camera was acting up on our last day & the nice camera was charging.)

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Our house

The kitchen

Our kitchen

Our bedroom

Our bedroom

Kind of like our last Workaway, Lisa & I had different responsibilities and expectations. I was needed to help Dave with the long list of outdoor projects that he was simply unable to keep up with given their vast amount of land. Lisa, on the other hand, was given the tough balancing act of being a teacher/friend to Tiv. During the mornings they did several fun projects from photography & blogging to bracelet making & painting. Tuesday & Thursday nights, Lisa & Tiv took to the kitchen to cook dinner for the 5 of us. At times it proved to be a bit of challenge for Lisa to keep Tiv focused, but all in all it was a good experience for the two of them.

TivSmiles

Our Painting

Collaborative painting by Tiv, Susan & Lisa

Their pets, who we love almost as much as we love Norma & Silverstein!

Their pets, who we love almost as much as we love Norma Jean & Silverstein!

 I spent most of my time outside doing a number of different tasks. Dave and I started off doing most of our morning work together, cutting up logs for splitting & cutting/clearing out quick-growing saplings. As time went on, Dave kind of just let me do my own thing. Some days he had a specific task that he wanted me to get done, other days I was left to my own devices. I did everything from weed-whacking, cutting down trees, splitting wood, & hanging chicken wire (they had a bat problem in their cabana). I also cleared out all the weeds & silt build up in the small canal that ran across their property.

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We usually worked until around 12:30 or 1:00. In summer it just gets too hot to be working outside & plus you would be disturbing your neighbors during siesta. In Argentina & South America as a whole, businesses and people pretty much shut down around 1:00PM to take a break from the day and relax. They don’t start up again until around 5:00PM. It is a bit of shock at first to go into a big city or small town for that matter and see no businesses open, but you eventually get used to it and come to expect it, especially when the afternoon temperatures are pushing 100 degrees Fahrenheit.

Triumph

 Susan & Dave were also gracious enough to take us to almost all the social gatherings of their friends. On Friday evenings they had a few Expat friends over for a friendly, low stakes game of poker. It was a pot luck so everyone brought food. There wasn’t a bad cook among them so we ate some great food. Sunday afternoons, we did pretty much the same thing at a friend of theirs house. Expect the game on Sunday wasn’t poker, but Ba-Chi-Ball. Even though we didn’t have our AARP cards, they let us play. They also took us to a few others parties, including a New Year’s Eve party where was had a great Asado (Argentine BBQ) which included a goat roasting over an open fire and some great people.

Us, Malcolm & Sue At Poker Night

Us, Malcolm & Sue (British Expats) At Poker Night

The Circus - Yeah, that's right!

The Circus – Yeah, that’s right!

New Year's Eve 2013

New Year’s Eve 2013

White water rafting in Valle Grande

White water rafting in Valle Grande

Our time with Susan, Dave, & Tiv was outstanding. They couldn’t be nicer people & they defiantly couldn’t have treated us any better. Our time in San Rafael flew by, but we couldn’t stay there forever. We’ve left San Rafael, but we have more now than when we first arrived. We’ve added 3 new family members that we can’t wait to see again.

SR Family For now, it’s goodbye to San Rafael & hello to Bariloche, the gateway to Patagonia!

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We knew that we’d be spending a while in Salta from the minute we drove in to town.  Which is pretty odd on our part considering that is was dark, rainy & chilly when we arrived.  But, there was just something about Salta that made us want to stay for a bit.

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Overall, the weather was nice & humid, which we LOVE!

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The views are absolutely breathtaking!

doubt

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The food is awesome!

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DSC_2422empanadas

The street art is diverse, eye-catching & unique!

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We haven’t gotten sick!

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Every city has some quirks that come with the territory & we definitely had a hard time with a few of these things in Salta.

The daily pace: it sounds like this may be an Argentinian thing, but do to a late & LONG siesta, the people party super late into the early (late?) morning hours.  Siesta starts around 2:00 PM & lasts until 6:00/7:00(ish) PM.  I’m not exaggerating when I say that locals (& travelers alike) are getting ready to go out at 2:00 AM!  If you get in at 4:30 in the monring, you’re the party pooper!

Argentinian Spanish: this is another one of those random things that we didn’t think to research, because we assumed that all South American countries (not including Portuguese speaking Brazil) spoke the same type of Spanish!  For the most part, we were both doing pretty well in terms of basic communication in Bolivia. However, it’s a whole other ballgame in Argentina & I can’t even carry on a basic conversation without asking the locals to repeat themselves.  While the people are patient with my Spanish, it has been quite a challenge!

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All in all, we spent 15 days in Salta and it is the first city that we’ve actually considered a potential place we could call home.  I’m sure there will be other destinations that give it a run for it’s money, but Salta was a great introduction to Argentina!

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To get a better understanding of how much money we’re spending on the road, Lisa created a spreadsheet, breaking out our daily expenses.  We’re aiming for $100 (US) a day, ($50/person), which is very doable, especially in some countries like Bolivia & Peru.  However, there will be other countries, like Argentina & Chile, that will be more challenging if we’re not careful.  We know that at times we’ll be over budget & other times under, so things should even themselves out in the end.

Bolivia should’ve been one of our cheapest countries & we definitely would’ve been under budget, had it not been for medical expenses.  Between Corey’s visits to the clinics & hospitals, and my trip to the dentist, we spent a total of $1,607 on medical expenses alone (this includes money spent on medication).

Daily Accommodation Average: $26 per day

For the most part, we attempted to stay in hostels in an effort to save money & also meet other travelers.  However, we did end up in a hotel for 11 nights in Santa Cruz, which definitely increased the daily amount spent on accommodation.  The silver-lining, we spent nothing in this department while volunteering in Samaipata!

Manhole in Santa Cruz

Santa Cruz

Daily Food Average: $18 per day

We found that La Paz was one of the best places for street food & it was definitely very easy to find local, cheap options close to our hostel.  There were also cheap options in Santa Cruz, but once we got closer to the city center, those became harder to hunt down.  Plus, we’d already found a few places that we really enjoyed eating & found ourselves returning often.

Lorca – Favorite Restaurant in Santa Cruz

Tasty Treats

Tasty Treats

Daily Transportation Average: $6 per day

Taxis in Bolivia are super cheap, especially considering that you get to negotiate your fare before you even get in the car.  This took a bit of practice, but once we had the layout of each city, it was easy to tell if a driver was trying to take advantage of us & then haggle our way down to a reasonable price.  One thing we never did in Bolivia was take a local bus, so I’m sure more money would’ve been saved, had we attempted to use that mode of transportation.

First Bus - La Paz to Santa Cruz

First Bus – La Paz to Santa Cruz

Daily Entertainment Average: $5 per day

The following are included in our entertainment expenses: tours, souvenirs, park/museum admissions and any items that may cause us joy, but aren’t necessities (ie: clothes, headphones, jewelery, etc.).  We only went on one tour, while in Bolivia, mainly because we know we’ll be back in the new year for the Salt Flats tour.  Also, we didn’t find anything in the cities we visited that appealed to us enough to spend a lot of money.  However, it must be said, that in comparison to tours in other parts of the world, entertainment in Bolivia was VERY cheap – the Tiwanaku tour was only $25 per person.

Tiwanaku Tour

Tiwanaku Tour

Unique Church in Santa Cruz (only thing worth photographing)

Unique Church in Santa Cruz (only thing worth photographing in this city, besides the food!)

Do you think they'd notice if we took that dollar?

Do you think they’d notice if we took that dollar?

Plaza in La Paz

Plaza in La Paz

In the end, we spent 31 days in Bolivia, with a total of $3,502, which is an average of $113 per day.  Take out the medical expenses & we would’ve spent only $61 per day & that’s if you travel like we did.  You could definitely spend less than that, by always staying at hostels & eating local food everyday.

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