La conducción en Argentina

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At this point I’ve driven three rental cars (named Blanca, Plata & Blanca Dos) in three cities in southern Argentina, logging north of 1,700km. Here are my take aways.

  1. Argentina is a middle income country with solid road infrastructure, good rule of law, and they drive on the correct side of the road. Great start. And then you get in the car and reach an intersection inside a city (excluding BA). Nothing. No light. No stop sign. No yield sign. No any sign. Apparently the bigger road has priority. Ok, fair enough. What if they’re the same size? Apparently you’re just supposed to know. Seems like a recipe for problems. And you definitely yield to whomever is already in the intersection, so assertiveness is key. Recipe for disaster? And you will get honked at if you’re too much of a wuss. Catastrophe? That said, I haven’t seen any accidents yet. But don’t drive here if you fluster easily.

BTW- It’s not as if they’re short on signs. Out on the highways, every hint of a curve gets one or two Curva Peligrosa signs. Potholes get signs. Uphills get signs. Downhills get signs. There are tons of no passing signs. There are no passing signs all over the place. Highway intersections have traffic circles (often with yield to the circle signs) or even jug handles. But basic city intersections? Nothing.

  1. All of the highways I’ve been on have been two lane undivided and you need to be pretty alert way ahead of you and behind you because
    1. There are some very fast drivers here (take it from a lead footed guy with a LOT of speeding tickets on his record)
    2. Aggressive tailgating seems to be a common practice. Apparently it is a normal prelude to passing to get within a meter or two of your rear bumper at 120km/hr (75mph). It’s pretty disconcerting and they seem to have no concept of how dangerous it is.
    3. While the signage around Passing and No Passing zones is excellent, compliance with them is not. More than once I’ve been part of a row of cars passed by another car going into a blind curve. Crazy.

You do have to be willing to get out there and do some passing yourself or some drives will take forever.

  1. Speed bumps are common. On the largest roads. On small roads. On dirt roads. A bit random. They do slow everyone down, and force some yielding (when they are placed at intersections).
  2. Headlights are required. Yet none of the three rental cars have had daytime running lights. (Hence me leaving them on in Ushuaia.) It makes sense to have the rule, given all of the undivided highways, but not designing the cars for it?
  3. Pedestrians, beware. You do not have the right of way and there aren’t any crosswalks. It’s Frogger time! Although the Yield to someone already in intersection seems to apply to pedestrians. Overall, this is unpleasant, especially so when traveling with small kids.
  4. Policia checkpoints are on the way in/out of every town. Signs warn you (and speed limit suddenly drops from 110 to 60 to 20). Then there is a line of cones down the middle of the road, with a cop standing in the middle of them (n.b. a high proportion of them seem to be women – is this equality or just that the women get the crappy job of standing in the middle of the road while the senior dudes supervise from the little hut across from the cones?). Most don’t even make eye contact or even bother to wave you one– except when you’ve forgotten to turn your lights on. In those cases, I’ve been scolded.
  5. Car seats. Ha! When we jump in a taxi and start madly strapping the kid booster seats in, the cab drivers range from bemused to befuddled to annoyed with the delay. They all seem proud that they have seat belts and don’t see the point of anything else. One cab driver, who we rode with twice in Ushuaia, called us “very American.” In short, we are a laughingstock for using car seats in Argentina.
    BTW- we went out of our way to buy brand new inflatable booster seats (Bubble Bums) for this trip and both of them leak. Crap! And based upon our search so far, there isn’t a replacement within a thousand kilometers, possibly on this entire continent.Drive safe!

El Gordito

This is No Place for Gnomes

I can’t say that I’m sad to be leaving Bariloche tomorrow. As I’ve alluded in previous posts it’s a bit too congested – and tacky touristy – here for my taste.  I swear there are more hotels, inns, and ‘apart hotels’ in Bariloche than I think I have EVER seen in a city of this size. It’s truly mind-boggling.

When we strolled through the central plaza yesterday, we saw no fewer than four Saint Bernard dogs with small wooden barrels around their necks (some with adorable sidekick puppies) being marketed for photos with tourists.  I’m honestly not sure what the link is between Saint Bernard dogs and Bariloche, Argentina — does anyone know?  What a gimmick. An even more intriguing offer was to have your photo taken with a smallish man dressed as a gnome, who appeared to be magically floating in the air, but was apparently somehow hanging off of a wooden stick. [You can kind of see him on the far right in the photo below, though I dared not get to close for fear his agent would demand payment.]

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It was an absolute zoo yesterday at the Mamushka chocolate store in town; there must have been at least 8 female chocolate ‘servers’ (in red hats and aprons) at the counter, and still a good 10-minute wait to be helped. They even gave out and called numbers like the DMV. One might think it’s because of Valentine’s Day being this weekend, but that’s highly unlikely, since they don’t really celebrate it here. At least the chocolate is yummy!

Today we took a public bus to and from Puerto Panuelo for our Turisur boat trip to Puerto Blest. In both directions, it was standing room only on the bus (no one offered their seat to the girls). Interestingly, on the way there – at 8:30 am on a Saturday – I’m pretty sure we were the ONLY tourists on the bus. Everyone else seemed to be Argentinian workers headed to their hotel jobs. (Oh, and then a few seriously groggy 20-something dudes who were stumbling home from a night on the town.)

The weather took a turn for the worse yesterday, and it continued to be cloudy, blustery and drizzly today.  However, after the hustle and bustle of Bariloche, Puerto Blest was blissfully peaceful. As far as I could tell, Puerto Blest is really just a solitary hotel on the west side of Lago Nahuel Huapi, very close to the border with Chile. From there we traveled by bus (10 minutes) to Lago Frias, which is a glacier-fed lake that is a lovely shade of green.

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Finally we climbed 700 steps up to Cascada los Cantaros, which Sierra said was the best waterfall she had ever seen. [Hmmm…clearly she has not seen very many waterfalls, but anyway, it was pretty!]

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After a day or two of seeming a bit bored and restless, the girls were once again in top form with their imaginative play on the boat trip home. A number of other boat passengers came by to observe them playing an elaborate game with their my little ponies, Sofia the First dolls, and the colorful Go Fish cards. Sierra never ceases to amaze me with the stuff she comes up with!

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Tomorrow morning we take the bus to San Martin de los Andes – I’m excited and a bit nervous to see where we’ll be living for the next 5 weeks. At a population of just over 20,000, it should certainly be much quieter than Bariloche (about 120,000 I think?)…and hopefully we won’t encounter any grown men there dressed as gnomes.

-La Portavoz

 

Yum Chocolate!

Today we went to a big crowded chocolate store in Bariloche. We got a lot of chocolate. The chocolate was good. The flavors were lemon,mint,coconut,dolce de leche,and lots of others. I saw lots of other chocolate stores on the way home.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              La nina curiosa 

Cooling off in a pool

Yesterday I went swimming in a big warm pool. I forgot my googles and I couldn’t keep my eyes open under water, so it was hard to play fetch-the-coin.  But it was fun.  I could stand easily in the pool.  We were at a hotel called Villa Escondida.

-La Nina Curiosa

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A Few More Lake Tahoe Parallels…

If Bariloche is somewhere between Tahoe City and Incline Village (but much bigger), then I guess Villa La Angostura would be on the West Shore. It’s a peaceful upscale resort community on the north side of Lake Nahuel Huapi.

We drove about an hour to Villa La Angostura yesterday, as Noah had a two-steps-removed-connection to someone who owns an inn there called Villa Escondida. Though Noah was slightly embarrassed by my boldness, I figured if we showed up and had lunch at the inn, they would let the girls swim in their lovely pool. Fortunately, it worked out as I’d hoped, and the food at the restaurant (Delfina) was delicious…probably one of the best meals we’ve had so far in Argentina. The girls were thrilled to be in a heated pool – it was actually the first chance they’d had to swim since the tiny plunge pool in Buenos Aires.

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It continues to be hot and dry here, and the sun is incredibly strong; it feels even stronger than Tahoe summer sunshine. The day before yesterday we drove south to Lago Gutierrez and went to a rocky beach at a really attractive campsite called Los Boqueanos. I attempted to trail run to a waterfall that was supposed to be fairly close to the campsite, but after running in various directions for 45 minutes, I never found it. Well, at least I got some exercise. It’s possible the waterfall was simply dried up, as I ran by several small gorges cut by streams that no longer had any water.

In any case, it was so hot by early afternoon that Noah took the full plunge into the lake…and that water was FREEZING. [As usual, I stopped at my shins!]

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Cassidy was very pleased to find some relatively tame ducks (or possibly geese?) at the lake that were happy to pose with her for a photo.

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The last two nights we have gone to a beer garden called Blest that we really like – I guess Bariloche is known for its microbrews; they really are quite good. The kids were happy because Blest has an outdoor playground and serves peanuts in the shells before dinner. Noah and I were happy because we get to drink a nice cold beer in peace while the girls played! [We have definitely decided that when you find a good, family-friendly place, it pays to stick with it. In El Calafate we went to La Lechuzita – the place with the amazing indoor playground – 3 nights in a row.]

This morning we went to Argentina’s largest ski area – Cerro Catedral – to have a look around. To complete the Tahoe analogies (then I will try to give this one a rest), it was a cross between Sugar Bowl and Squaw – more ‘old-school’ like Sugar Bowl, but with more of a village like Squaw. However, unlike U.S. ski resorts, there was advertising from sponsors (e.g. Citi) absolutely everywhere. It was pretty quiet, as most of the stores and restaurants were closed for the season.

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We returned the rental car at lunchtime, so for the next couple of days we’ll be laying low. Maybe I’ll continue my search in town for funny Spanish acronyms like this one.

La Portavoz

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Sleep Sitting

Wait till you hear this! You’ll laugh your heads off!  Last night I was sitting up in my bed (I didn’t know any of this till dad told me) when my dad came in.  Then he said I took off my eye mask still sleeping and finally I lay down and started snoring.  I felt good because it was funny.  I was laughing at myself.

La Nina Curiosa

Is this the Lake Tahoe of Argentina?

Over the last two days we hit the highlights of the so-called ‘Circuito Chico’ that circumnavigates several of the lakes in Parque Nahuel Huapi. There are some really lovely views, which I’ve tried to capture below, but nothing quite as dramatic as the peaks and glaciers of southern Patagonia.

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(I was actually thinking yesterday that maybe we should have started up here in the ‘lake country’ of Patagonia and THEN made our way south, in that way building up to the climax!)

What I like about being here is that, although it’s extremely touristy, a huge percentage of the tourists are Argentinian. Of course that’s partly because this is a big 4-day holiday weekend in Argentina (Carnaval), so the place is simply jam-packed. We’re told it should clear out a bit starting tomorrow, as many of the Argentine tourists will head home.

As a cultural experience, I actually found it quite interesting hanging out at a local campsite with lakefront cafe yesterday. We went for the beach access, as we had been told there was a good sandy beach there. Sure enough, there was some sand (trucked in?), but it was a pretty tiny area crowded with people and cars. The parking lot for the café was literally on the beach! And I’ve never seen such a densely tented campsite – they were packed in like sardines.

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While I was a bit disappointed in the beach itself, there was such a fun vacation vibe (lots of young families, kids splashing, dads drinking cervezas, etc.) you couldn’t help but feel cheerful.

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[Unfortunately, Sierra’s cheer turned to tears when some other kid crushed the sand tunnel she had worked so hard to dig. Darn…] All in all, I have to say that the experience was not entirely dissimilar from going to the Tahoe Donner beach on Donner Lake on Labor Day weekend…

This morning we found a more picturesque beach in a different area and learned in the process that Argentines don’t start their lake frolicking until after lunch.  So the beach was extremely peaceful at 10:30 am!

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After that we hit one of my requested stops in the area: the famous Hotel Llao Llao that sits high on a hill on a narrow strip of land between two emerald lakes, surrounded by mountains. Only half joking, I told the girls yesterday that they would have to be on their best behavior so that we would be allowed to enter this fancy hotel. Usually they love fancy, but I apparently overemphasized the behavior thing. They announced this morning that they absolutely did NOT want to visit the Hotel Llao Llao. Oops — I had to backpeddle and tell them it really wasn’t all that fancy or strict to convince them to go there for lunch. I also told them it was lucky we were with Noah, since he always looks SO fancy when out and about. Too bad he hadn’t worn the hiking pants we have dubbed his ‘fancy pants’ (he purchased them in El Calafate and they are…shall we say? rather form-fitting.)

In any case, I think we all enjoyed lunch at the Llao Llao — tasty food (extra points for yummy licuados), a great view, and a chance to walk around inside the hotel a bit.

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Sierra said she liked the smell of the hotel’s bathroom so much that she wanted to buy whatever they used to clean it. I just love her enthusiasm 🙂 (Now if only she would actually clean a bathroom…or anything.) The girls were indeed on their best behavior, and we managed to get through lunch without spilling or breaking anything. Brilliant.

-La Portavoz

 

 

 

 

Shifting Gears in Bariloche

Yesterday was another transit day, this time from El Calafate to Bariloche.  Sierra and Cassidy were very sad to say good-bye to their new friend India (below),

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and I was sad to be leaving the land of glaciers.  But it was a treat to get one last look at some of the incredible scenery from the airplane window!

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These transit days are (not surprisingly) my least favorite days of the trip so far. Even when it’s just a 90-minute flight, the whole process takes so long…and requires so much patience. There’s a clear pattern of us arriving in a new place just past dinnertime, waiting far too long for mediocre food, and then struggling to get two seriously cranky children to bed. That was definitely the case last night.

Alas, we are now settled in Bariloche, and it’s great to be in a 2-bedroom apartment with a separate living space. After 2 ½ weeks on the road, we are consciously shifting gears – from full-on tourist mode to ‘quasi-residents.’ Of course, this will be much more true in San Martin de los Andes (where we’ll stay for 5 weeks), but with 9 days here in Bariloche, we are starting to make the transition.

I walked into central Bariloche this morning to get groceries, and I must say the route I took was not very picturesque. I wasn’t too surprised though, as you clearly come here for the mountains and lakes, not for the town. Still, it’s a shame the tourist industry can’t be a bit more classy. The best way I can describe the downtown vibe here is this: faux Swiss-chalet style, circa 1970s, that has not aged particularly well.  Across the street from our apartment building (we rented through vrbo), there is even an old-school tiny ‘amusement park’ with a chairlift going up to a toboggan slide. Bizarre, but tempting!

Having a rest day today gave me a chance to research activities for the week, and I’m really looking forward to exploring the Parque Nacional Nahuel Huapi, which is all around Bariloche. It looks like we’re going to have some hot weather, so we are going to scope out some sandy beaches on the lake for the girls to play in the water. The last time they used their bathing suits was in Buenos Aires, and they have been begging to go swimming!

We’ve decided to rent a car for 4 days – it’s pricey, but will allow us to see a whole lot more and move around at our own pace. I’ve also signed up the girls (and I think Noah?) for four 1-hour private Spanish lessons (Tues-Fri this week). I think Sierra will enjoy it, but we’ll see about little Miss Feisty-Pants (aka Cassidy). Fingers crossed she decides to cooperate…hope the teacher has a good sense of humor.

For the first time since leaving California, we ‘cooked’ (hamburgers and salad) at home tonight. I have to admit, it felt comforting to have a familiar evening routine of dinner, dishes, bath, and books before bed, with lights out by 8pm. And the girls seemed so relaxed!

The sun is currently setting, and our penthouse apartment is perched right over Lake Nahuel Huapi, with an incredible view. Psyched we’ll get to watch 7 more sunsets here!

-La Portavoz

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Visiting Animals

On thursday I went to an estancia to see some animals.  We got to see horses, cows, piglets, sheep and a cute little lamb who loved to eat named Rosita.  We got to feed Rosita from a bottle.  I went with a guide who’s name was Edwardo.  I felt happy.  I felt happy because animals are almost my favorite things.  We were right by a lake in parque nacional los glaciares.

La Nina Curiosa

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Happy Birthday to Me

Happy Birthday to me!  Yesterday I had a birthday in El Calafate.  Two ice cream stops in a day.  At dinner every one (almost) at the restaurant (La Lechuzita) sang happy birthday to me in Spanish. And there was a play ground in the restaurant. I felt good.  I felt good because everyone sang to me.

-La Nina Curiosa

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