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