Saturday, December 12, 2009

Argentina's Arizona

The cathedral, Talampaya. Photo: Aya Padrón

Argentina is like North America upside down. At the bottom you have the glaciers and frozen, inaccessible winters of Alaska and northern Canada. A bit higher, near Esquel, snow caps rocky mountains, their pine-sided slopes reminiscent of Colorado, Wyoming. I've never been up to Salta and Jujuy provinces, but in my mind their stand-in is the Chihuahua Desert of West Texas/northern Mexico.

And last week, on a five-day rental car roadtrip out of Mendoza, I found Arizona. Flat, dusty desert stretches, unexpected ridge passes wound by caminos sinuosos, ancient-cut canyons, colored rock photogenically eroded. So...maybe Arizona+Utah.

The best, of course, lay within protected parks: La Rioja's Parque Nacional Talampaya, and, 80km down the highway in San Juan, Parque Provincial Ischigualasto. I hit both in one day, which, although leaving no time for the more attractive touring options of mountain biking or trekking, did allow me to see the major attractions. Scroll down and you can too.

Between the walls of Talampaya's canyon--the only Pre-Cambrian canyon in the world that...something or other. The tour was in Spanish and geology is complicated.

A view up The Chimney, a vertical concave scoop in the redstone wall that produces some trippy echoes when you yell in it.

Out of the canyon. The right-most formation is "El Monje" (The Monk). In the distance, the outline of a chain of 6,000m+ nevados that predate the Andes by a few hundred million years.

Ischigualasto (more commonly known as Valle de la Luna) was slightly underwhelming (could have been the 100-degree heat). But its contrasts with Talampaya, despite being so close, were fascinating.

"La Cancha de Bochas" (The Bocce Court)

The Valley of the Moon's two most notable features: eroded yellow pillars and the long, low redstone ridge that runs along the eastern border.

*Note: For more, keep your eyes on Matador Trips, where I hope to publish a guide on these two and one other western Argentinean park in the coming weeks.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Call It a Vow

I will climb this peak.

Name: Cerro Aconcagua
Height: 6,962 meters (22,841 feet)--the tallest mountain outside of Asia
Location: Mendoza Province, Argentina, 15 miles from the Chilean border
Location of photo: Parque Provincial Aconcagua
Days till climb: Undetermined...

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Getting Stuffed, Giving Thanks

A quick note on this very fine Turkey Day.

In the spirit of bloated bellies, I published a photo essay on Matador Nights about a recent trip to a "meat market" in Montevideo, Uruguay. It is what it sounds like. Check it: A Case of the Meat Sweats in Montevideo.

I'm in Mendoza today. Therefore, I am thankful for good wine. Not just the diverse tastes, toned-down labels, and sleek green bottles, but for the creativity and dedication that go into its production--and the production of all the things we make not because we have to but because we want to.

Last year, I wrote about my thankfulness for travel. Obviously, I'm still feeling strong on that. But right now I'm also thankful that I'll be flying home in 20 days, back to drip coffee, unnecessarily creative vegan food, and a loving crew.

And hopefully to make a home--the other half of travel.

Peace and thanks out to you all.

Friday, November 20, 2009

I Don't Know What I'm Doing

I move out of my Buenos Aires apartment in less than 3 days. Nothing's packed. I'm not even sure if everything will fit in my luggage, despite the new duffel I bought from the arcade on Avenida Santa Fe.

Should I be worried? I don't know.

I've done this so many times it shouldn't require thought. Planning, packing, leaving. I mean, take your pick:

Confessions of a Serial Packer
The Old One-Two
The Cycle
No Regrets
Farewell, Portland
Farewell, Cocha
Another Farewell: Cuzco

You'd think I'd have it figured out.

But I don't. I don't know where all my stuff is. I don't even know what stuff I have. In my mind, there are tiny, dusty possessions hiding in corners, under the couch, in the back of the cabinet that reeks of mothballs. I'll never find them all. Something will be forgotten, left here in this septuagenarian-painted 10th-floor one-bedroom, stuck in some mildewed crack, becoming mildew, until they tear the whole building down and cart away the rubble.

And I'll be somewhere else, a different person living a different life, and I won't even know it's gone.

Monday, November 9, 2009

6 Images of an Urban Escape

In the late nineteenth century, the marshland sitting between the wide, muddy Río de la Plata and downtown Buenos Aires was commandeered and transformed into the city's new port. However, within a few decades cargo capacity had already been exceeded; another port was constructed to the north and the old one abandoned.

Just a decade or so ago, the inland portion of the old port was transformed again, this time into what might be Buenos Aires' swankiest barrio, Puerto Madero. Luxury apartments in renovated brick warehouse buildings line the stone walkways that parallel the old diques, where sailboats and yachts have replaced the freighters. Old cargo cranes have been preserved as monumental steel statues to the past.

But just east of here, where the land is too soft to support 50-story condominium towers, something different has been allowed to grow. The 360-hectare Reserva Ecológica Costanera Sur is an unexpected expanse of green set adjacent to the ultra-modern Puerto Madero. Here and there where the grass isn't as thick, you can still see the ruts and concrete of old cargo offloading platforms, but for the most part nature has reclaimed it all.

More than 200 bird species are said to refuge in the reserve, but what's easier to see is the escape from the urban that it affords porteños. Pockets of land next to the river have been manicured with mowed grass and picnic tables for weekend asados, and couples blanket in the shade of short trees, looking out over the orange tinge of the river to the flocks of sailboats regatta-ing.

Cycling would seem to be the preferred way of getting around, though there are plenty of walkers. Loop trails range from 3.3 to 7.6km, and bikes can be rented outside both of the main entrances.

I've been impressed with the amount of green space in Buenos Aires, but the reserve is something different. Looking over the low sea of reedy marsh and scrawny trees to the line of half-finished skyscrapers and construction cranes, you can imagine inhabiting your own post-apocalyptic zombie horror flick. Only the zombies are all around you, grilling meat, pedaling bikes, and kicking soccer balls.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Cada Día

Every morning my little white pocket alarm clock wakes me up. Not the trains. Their crash has long since flattened into the soundtrack of life on the 10th floor of Palermo Soho. I hit the snooze seven times.

Every day I give the doorman a "buen día" without really looking at him, and he unbuzzes the lock just as my hand touches the door handle to pull it open and push out into the heavy balm of Fray Justo Santamaría de Oro, entre Güemes y Charcas. Sometimes it's raining.

Every day I wash the dishes after Carey makes sushi or vietnamese spring rolls or chili or pad thai or steamed vegetables or chilaquiles or tofu scram and we eat it. Twice a day usually, lunch and dinner. And coffee in the morning in the french press.

Every night I drink Malbec from the bottle. I just found a good one for 5 pesos.

Every Sunday, la familia two buildings over throws a picnic on the roof. Long tables covered with bowls and platters, probably lots of meat, pasta, papas. They play the radio, the kids kick the soccer ball. They don't seem to mind the rain.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Cementerio de la Recoleta

The cemetery in the upscale barrio of Recoleta is one of Buenos Aires' A-list tourist attractions. I'm not sure what this says about the city, since I visited a nearly identical complex in Valparaíso, Chile, that's much less hyped.

Regardless, the cemetery contains the mausoleums of many notable Argentines--the most famous being Eva Perón--including several presidents who's names I recognize from reading about how the government "dealt" with the Mapuche and other indigenous peoples towards the end of the 19th century.

The graveyard is laid out like its own mini-barrio, with tree-lined main streets and narrower connecting walkways. All this is presided over by an army of feral cats who live on the grounds and are fed by locals.


At this time last year, I was newly arrived in Mexico City, contemplating the differences--and increasing similarities--between Halloween and Día de los Muertos. In Argentina, neither holiday holds much sway. So I've taken it upon myself to "spooky" up my photos of the cemetery. Gotta celebrate the season somehow!

Creepy caretaker

Long shadows

Roads of the dead

Ghost, angel...or statue

Cemetery still life

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Climate Change and a Bald Bolivian Mountain

Today is Blog Action Day, "an annual event that unites the world's bloggers in posting about the same issue on the same day...with the aim of sparking discussion around an issue of global importance."

The issue for 2009: Climate Change

I'm not going to spend any screen space arguing its existence. I find the "debate" tired and depressingly unconstructive. If you still harbor doubts (or inflammatory comments), I kindly direct you to the Pew Center. Instead, I'll talk about what I've seen with my two brown eyes.

The Chacaltaya glacier just outside La Paz, Bolivia, has virtually disappeared. It used to support the world's highest ski run, complete with t-bar, but now only gives up a couple turns to rich Bolivianos who feel like making the hour's drive up to 17,400 feet for a lark. I wrote about my tour of the glacier here.

Glaciers advance and glaciers retreat. Yes, it's a fact. But when it comes to tropical glaciers, there's only retreat. Smaller and less resilient than those at higher and lower latitudes, tropical glaciers serve an "early warning" function, as they're most quickly and dramatically affected by warming temperatures.

What's really scary is that millions of people in the Andes depend on glacial melt for drinking water.

What happens when the glaciers are gone? I haven't exactly done in-depth research, but I've never heard anyone even attempt to offer a solution to the problem, only acknowledge it.

Which brings me back to Chacaltaya. The 800,000 inhabitants of the valley of La Paz have other water sources trickling in. But those in El Alto--who number nearly as many if not more by now, up on the flat rim of the Altiplano, worlds apart both economically and culturally--my guide told me they have no other source. Chacaltaya's it. And by some definitions, Chacaltaya's gone.

A disused t-bar, a touch of snow, and 800,000 people in the distance

Los pobres dying of thirst. Just one consequence among countless others (for a decidedly unscientific list of potential negatives, go here) of climate change.

What can you do? These 10 solutions won't bring about salvation, but they're a start. And don't forget about 350, a different kind of day of action. Learn more here.

Also, got a blog? Write a post on the issue before the day is out. You can register with the rest of us here.

If you're in the mood to read more, the following content from Matador is definitely worth a look:

Wipe Out: World's Most Vulnerable Coastal Cities

9 Places to Experience Now Before They Literally Vanish

New Report: World Still Unprepared for Climate Change

Why the Road to Climate Catastrophe is Paved with Cheap Flights

Monday, October 12, 2009

What's in my head

* I'm sitting at the 2'x2' wooden table in the comedor staring, as usual, at my too-big-to-be-practical laptop. My lower calves are tight from a run in the park this morning. I love that feeling. I'm drinking coffee too quickly out of the tall mug with the gold floral pattern, one of two coffee-appropriate vessels that came with this departamento amueblado. The floor-to-ceiling windows next to me look mainly onto another section of building, other apartment windows, but I can also see out over the train tracks, past the Classical square bulk of some government building and to the highrises just in front of the ocean.

* The idea of writing is burning an ulcerous cramp into my stomach. I look at the Times New Roman type of my "to do" list and immediately look away. That shit is not gonna happen today. I get reprieve after reprieve from my day-job work as projects are pushed back. I feel like I need to be accomplishing something with this time...impotence.

* I wonder what the Internet will look like for our grandchildren. Will they be able to access everything their grandparents wrote, all the trivial musings on blogs, all the Facebook status updates and tweets? Would they want to?

* This Internet connection is crap. It needs to be reset five times a day. Just went out again.

* I know what the problem is, because it's not new. Feeling "stuck" somewhere when there are other places to be. Maybe constant movement has conditioned me to always be thinking one place ahead. It's not the best way to live. The buddhas would be disappointed.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

About the Buddhas

A recent post featured what may be my favorite photo from my travels.

Rows of stone buddhas sit cross-legged, eyes closed, hands draped, ears sagging, hair knotted. In front of them, a row of stone basins, two painted yellow and red.

The shot was taken close to exactly three years ago on the grounds of Wat Sainyaphum in Savannakhet, Laos.

I went into detail about my hike through the region's protected forest and a visit to the holy stupa in my piece at TheExpeditioner, Slowing Down in Savannakhet.

But three years later, it's the city itself I remember most vividly:

* The sky was gray. No shadows. It rained.

* The hostel I'd booked faced the Mekong. The day I got there, the entire riverside was covered in festival. Longboats raced against the current, groups of kids with American death-metal t-shirts played carnival games, sweet egg bread fried on portable griddles.

* At night I drank big bottles of Beer Lao on the hostel roof. A caged bird screamed. Down on the street, people sorted through the festival garbage. I looked at the river current, and across it to the lights of a Thai city.

* The wats were quiet, the buddhas carefully arranged.

* There wasn't a lot to do. I didn't mind.

Saturday, October 3, 2009


Ever conscious of the needs of my readers, I'm publishing this picture as an addendum to the post below.

Yes, the scene I described was of morning, but I've chosen one on the other end of the day, because...well, it looks cool.

The view from my balcony:

Thursday, October 1, 2009


My new apartment is on the 10th floor. The immediate view out its north-facing windows is low and green, thanks to the San Martín commuter line that cuts like a river valley between two banks of highrises, tall, white, and glass.

Each morning I shower, washing off the cold-air sweat of a run around Plaza Holanda and the paddleboat pond. Standing in the tub, I slide back the pane of the shoulder-high window to let the shower mist escape into the chill. Even without my glasses on, the difference between the outside world through fogged glass and through nothing is sharp and green.

A train. People get on, get off at the Palermo stop. It kicks up again, and soon the track clack and engine horn are whittled down into just another piece of the low roar of this motorized city.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Vida Nueva

Just as I'm hoping to reignite the creative fires of WayWorded, a much more literal creative act took place last night as Matador's managing editor Julie Collazo gave birth to daughter Mariel.

Long-time readers (holla!) may remember it was Julie who graciously offered up her vacant Mexico City apartment to me for five weeks last fall, making possible a truly memorable travel experience (and several WayWorded posts, to boot).

As soon as we heard the news, several of her editing colleagues put together a post of well-wishes on one of the sites Julie oversees, Matador Pulse. Check it out here.

Congratulations Julie, Francisco, Mariel, and family. To new life!

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Missing Bolivia

My South American volunteer year enters its fourth and final season (spring...I think--still get confused by that), and I reflect on the different places and micro-places my feet have touched in 2009. Many of the fondest are Bolivian.

"Home" in Cochabamba, busing to Oruro, exploring the Southwest Circuit, trekking La Paz on foot...maybe it's because these memories are the most distant, or perhaps I'm simply a sucker for the underdog. But I miss Bolivia.

Happily, I got in some extra reflection last week when writing 7 Facts of Expat Life in Bolivia for Matador Abroad, filling it with the little details I know will surface most poignantly next year, when I've left this hemisphere behind--another home left behind.

Monday, September 21, 2009


WayWorded's been dragging. I've been dragging.

For the past couple months, I haven't felt much inspiration to post here. Fatigue. Burnout.

Now, a turning point.

Work's slowing down. The weather's warming up. And I'm spending more time exposing myself to online content that inspires.

The link lists have been started--check them out in the lower righthand corner. For now, they're mostly Matador offshoots. But they'll grow with time.

WayWorded will continue to grow too. I'm ready to re-light the fire.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Buenos Aires Subte, Línea A

The subway line that runs just north of my current apartment is the original. Built in 1913, it's the city's (and the Southern Hemisphere's) oldest. And it shows--in a good way.

Most of the cars threading Line A glow golden on the inside. This comes from the extensive use of wood paneling, which covers the walls, doors, window frames, even the seats. White metal poles rise from the tops of the benches to meet the ceiling in flowery column tops, and the light fixtures invoke gas lamps, not CFLs.

Today, on the now-familiar journey from Almagro to the Centro, a busking violinist played our car, bowing tango chords that the other passengers nodded along to. Two songs later, he passed the hat around and stepped out the sliding wooden doors--the ones you sometimes have to open by hand--leaving the rhythmic knock of the train as it entered the next low, coal-black tunnel.

* Photo by Joel Mann

Friday, September 4, 2009

Tied Up

Silly me. For the last couple months, I was looking forward to September.

"The work will ease up," I told myself, "and I'll have nothing to do but explore Buenos Aires and enjoy myself."

Ha. The work keeps coming, and though my bank account thanks me, my sense of adventure does not.

And on top of everything else going on this month, I've accepted a temporary guest editor position at I'll be contributing short posts to the site near-daily until the lead editor returns from a trip to Africa (talk about adventure). Anyone wondering where my typings are showing up this month, head over there.

In between writing assignments, here's what I'm dreaming about:

* Taking in the Argentina vs. Brazil World Cup qualifier tomorrow
* Moving to a more atmospheric BA neighborhood at the end of the month
* Busing to the wine country of Mendoza and cultural capital of Córdoba in October
* Eating juicy steaks with a couple of my Matador colleagues that live here
* Closing out a year in South America with an as-yet-to-be-determined trip, before flying north to lovely, snowy (hopefully) Maine for the holidays

Okay, I feel better now. Life is good. Peace.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

The Secret Valley of Parque Nacional Los Alerces

Last weekend was my fourth fin de semana in Northern Patagonia, but only the first time I managed to venture out of the little hamlet that is Esquel. I shouldn't have waited so long.

My destination was the surprisingly close Parque Nacional Los Alerces (alerce meaning "larch," a type of tree). Despite its proximity, I went with a rental car to get me there. This is the region's low season, and it shows. There's only one bus a day, five days a week, from Esquel to the park, and it drops you at the park headquarters, which is far removed from any of the real attractions.

Los Alerces is tucked away between two rows of snowy mountains, and entering it feels a bit like discovering your own secret valley--particularly in winter when you're the only car on the road. Adding to the mystique is a series of crystal glacial lakes, with water ranging from emerald to deep blue.

I did more driving than hiking, but the day, like the scenery, was gorgeous, and I finally felt like I was getting my "Patagonia experience." Here's a taste:

* * *

The perfect mix of mountains, lakes, and forest

A glacier fills the gap between two peaks.

This waterfall was surprisingly active given the dry winter the region's been having.

Almost a perfect reflection

Big sky

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Skiing Upside Down

As anyone who follows my writing closely knows, It's Always Snowing Somewhere.

At the moment, I'm typing away in a quaintly pink little restaurant here in Esquel, Northern Patagonia, Argentina. The large window at my back is radiating cold from the air outside. It doesn't often snow in town, but the surrounding mountains are usually wearing a fresh white coat when I step outside in the morning.

Last weekend, I decided to take advantage of the cold in what really is the best possible way--on a pair of skis (well, a snowboard in my case). So I headed up to nearby La Hoya, rented some gear, bought my ticket for the day ($30, not bad!), and hopped on the quad lift up the mountain.

Conditions weren't exactly as "Colorado" as I'm used to. Until fresh snow started falling around noon, the slopes were slabs of ice, punctuated by nasty black rocks. Though not crowded by any means, most everyone on the mountain was obviously a beginner and required a wide berth. Then there was the thick fog that occasionally wafted up the valley, making things downright dangerous.

But in the afternoon, with a soft blanket of new snow, patches of blue sky and characteristically awe-inspiring Patagonian clouds, I got my board-stride back after a year and a half of atrophy and had a fine time on the mountain.

Though I probably won't go back unless some serious snow falls, it's great to have skied in another hemisphere, and to feel the ache of those muscles I never know I have until I snowboard.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

(Semi)Dream Trips, Vol. 5: Roadtripping Argentina

Photo: advencap

The Dream

The modifier "semi" is stuck onto the title of this dream trip not because I'm only semi-dreaming about it. Rather, it's practically more in the realm of reality than dream. Yup, it's definitely got a foot in the door.

As I write this, I'm sitting in a pleasant gas-heated "projects" house in the city of Esquel, Argentina. A quick look at a country map and you'll see that's right on the edge of a true realm of dreams: Patagonia. (On the map to the right, Esquel is about 200km south of San Carlos de Bariloche.)

Jagged, snowy mountains ring the little pocket of valley where the town sits, imposing the power of this landscape on me wherever I look. Somehow, my gaze always falls south, where it appears as though it's perpetually snowing--the sky casting deep blue shadows on the peaks.

Esquel is the farthest south I've ever been, so that vista represents a frontier, one that I want desperately to explore.

What better way than on a roadtrip? It makes sense, after all, since public transport services can be sketchy at best at the southern tip of the world. Four-wheel drive will be a necessity, as much so as carrying spare water and fuel.

The Trip

The itinerary begins in Bueons Aires, naturally, where it should be easiest to procure a vehicle for the journey. From the capital, a coastal route meanders along the contours of the Atlantic. Puerto Madryn (on the bay due east from Esquel) is known for its wildlife, including endangered wright whales, and will be the first major stop.

From there, I'll just follow the road till it ends. A ferry is required to get to the true end of things in Ushuaia, which coincidentally is the jumping off point for Dream Trip Vol. 3 (hmm...).

Heading north again along the opposite border will take me through the spectacular Glaciers National Park (which actually features some glaciers, as opposed to Montana's version) and Chile's Torres del Paine National Park, whose unique mountain formations were recently featured in The World's Most Alien Landscapes, a photo essay I published on Matador Trips.

After that, a re-visit of provincial Esquel, some time in hippified El Bolsón, a chocolate shopping spree in European Bariloche, and then up to Mendoza for a bicycle tour through Argentina's premier wine country. Cap that off with an exploration of colonial Córdoba and the Andean villages around Salta, and I'll be ready to finish the journey at another of the country's premier attractions: Igauzú Falls.

Photo: Feffef

Considering I'm currently in Argentina and can gaze at some of the destinations of this dream trip daily, chances are I'll be writing about it from a different perspective before long.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

More Holidays Abroad

Photo: iChaz

Last November, I was in Mexico City for Thanksgiving.

This year, I've spent MLK Day, Inauguration Day, Valentine's Day (somewhat moot, as my wife is here with me!), Presidents Day, my parents' birthdays, Easter, Mother's Day, Memorial Day, Father's Day, and my sister's birthday away from home.

Wow, that's a lot of forgone celebration.

Saturday, I'll tack another one onto the list. I don't often think much about the Fourth of July, but this week I've written two posts for Matador Trips about Independence Day events in the U.S. and abroad. And now I can't get summertime, fireworks, and barbecue sauce out of my head!

But no, I'll be spending my Saturday on yet another bus, eating mandarins and peanuts if I'm lucky, and very probably gazing at snow out the window.

Anyway, I suppose this is my way of saying happy Fourth, everybody. Wish i were there.

Photo: mborowick

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Graffiti Done Right in Valparaiso

Earlier this week, one of my Matador colleagues wrote a piece for the Traveler's Notebook entitled Florence Defaced by Graffiti, Declared Ugly and Depressing. It's a harsh, though humorous, indictment of the Italian city's ubiquitous displays of juvenile graffiti. The lead-in photo of the tag "Kid Crap" says it all.

In the post, Tom laments how people are capable of producing such garbage graffiti, when the potential of the medium is so much loftier. After spending a day in Valparaiso, Chile, I'm in total agreement.

Valpo, as the nickname- and slang-obsessed Chileans refer to it, is a coast city set on a series of cerros (hills) that roll down to the sea. It's famous for its acensores (elevated funiculars that ferry people up and down the steepest slopes), its artistic heritage (poet Pablo Neruda had a house here), and its graffiti.

In fact, exploring the streets, steps, and narrow pedestrian passageways of Cerro Bellavista or Cerro Alegre is like walking through an open-air museum. Every free space is covered with graffiti. But there are no Kid Craps here. Standards are high, and the imaginative and edgy images give entire neighborhoods a sense of purposeful expression. Here, see for yourself:


Sleeping among the watermelons

Flowers have been planted on this ex-street.

People perspectives and naughty dogs

This cat wasn't painted, but it almost could have been.

Eagle and flora

Andean flute girl

Yours truly, wishing I looked as cool as my friend on the wall