The group just outside of the camp ground at Okaukuejo
The group just outside of the camp ground at Okaukuejo

Our second excursion at Bahía Bustamante was a trip to the nearby petrified forest.  We drove about an hour across a landscape that looked much like eastern Montana or Wyoming except for the dozens of ñandú and guanacos we spotted along the way.  Our destination was the base a cliff where fossilized pieces of wood were slowly being revealed by the dry and windy climate.  We were told that most of it comes from trees that were alive about 65 million years ago.

As a kid I remember finding small pieces of fossilized wood and plants during my summers in Montana but this place was different.  There were dozens of intact tree trunks laying all over the ground.  Many of them had a bark-textured surface that was remarkably similar to a real tree.  I kept picking up pieces out of disbelief that they were actually rock and not real wood.  Of course, the weight of each piece was a bit of a giveaway!  While most of the pieces were an reddish color there were a few there and there that were blue, green and yellow.  Apparently this is caused by different trace elements mixing with the quartz in the fossil.

Bahía Bustamante – Day 2 (Petrified Forest)

Rise and shine!  7AM departure
Rise and shine! 7AM departure

Each night at Bahia Bustamante, the staff goes over the planned excursions for the next day.  They tailor the schedule each day based on weather conditions and the guests’ interests.  As luck would have it, conditions were looking to be perfect for a boat trip to the nearby islands early the next morning.  We were told to be in front of the village cantine at 7AM.

We met with one other couple and our guide and then climbed into a well-used Land Rover for the short drive to the boat.  Matias, whose grandfather founded the village, was already there prepping the boat for departure.  We grabbed some life vests and off we went.

The winds were calm that morning so we had a very smooth ride out on the Caleta Malaespina.  We visited a total of four or five islands during the three hour trip and saw a huge variety of birds as well as many lobos marinos (sea lions). 

The Magellanic penguins were definitely a highlight even though we only were able to see adults.  The juveniles left for the open ocean a few weeks ago.  It was also fun to watch the sea lion pups chasing each other around both on land and sea while their mothers slept lazily nearby.  Below are many more pictures from the boat excursion.

Bahía Bustamante – Day 2 (Boat Excursion)
Rise and shine!  7AM departure
Rise and shine! 7AM departure
Sunrise as we made our way out on the Caleta Malaspina
Sunrise as we made our way out on the Caleta Malaspina
Magallenic Penguins (Spheniscus magellanicus)
Magallenic Penguins (Spheniscus magellanicus)
Steamer ducks and a lone penguino
Steamer ducks and a lone penguino
Either a juvenil or a molting adult
Either a juvenil or a molting adult
Lobos marinos (sea lions)
Lobos marinos (sea lions)
Two females have a conversation.
Two females have a conversation.
The king of the island.  Adult male sea lion.
The king of the island. Adult male sea lion.
It was quite entertaining to see him scratching himself like a dog.
It was quite entertaining to see him scratching himself like a dog.
Apparently the sea lions leave the birds alone.
Apparently the sea lions leave the birds alone.
Imeperial Comorants (white necks) and Black Neck Comorants
Imeperial Comorants (white necks) and Black Neck Comorants


Fortunately, our marathon bus ride from Buenos Aires was the hardest part of our journey from the biggest city in the country to one of the least inhabited parts of the country.  We read about Bahía Bustamante in a NY Times article a few weeks ago and decided that a visit was an absolute must.  Bahía Bustamante is a tiny village and nature preserve that now accepts a small number of guests each night.  The village calls itself “el único pueblo alguero del mundo” or, the only town dedicated to producing seaweed in the world.

Bahía Bustamante is on the coast about 200km north of Comodoro Rivadavia.  One option for getting there is to take a bus to the nearby town of Garayalde and from there you can arrange car transport to the estancia.  The other option is to rent a car in Comodoro and drive the whole way yourself.  We opted for the latter for the flexibility and we were glad we did as there are a number of sights in the area to which you can drive.

Renting was a piece of cake.  You can either use a local firm (there are dozens) or you can use one of the corporate giants (Avis, Hertz, etc).  We ended up with Avis as the seemed to be the cheapest of the bunch.  Total price for a three day rental of a VW Gol came out to $145.  While I was shopping around I discovered that it is often helpful to pick up from the city location (as opposed to the airport) as you can avoid the nasty 20% concession tax.  This trick also works in the States…good to know.

While I was working on the rental car situation with Avis, Amy ran to the grocery store and stocked up on food for coming days.  At Bahía Bustamante you can choose between self-catering (some houses have kitchens) and having your meals prepared for you.  We opted to self-cater to keep our costs down.

My first Argentine truck stop!
My first Argentine truck stop!

With a (very small) car full of groceries and backpacks we headed up Ruta 3 towards Bahía Bustamante.  It is a good thing we stocked up before we left town because there is very little along the highway north of Comodoro.  On the two hour drive we only saw one truck stop and by that I mean a shack along the side of the road that didn’t even sell gas (only meals and refreshments).  Once we turned off Ruta 3, it was about 40km further to Bahía Bustamante along a gravel road.  It was on this road that we had our first guanaco and ñandu sightings.

The quiet village of Bahía Bustamante
The quiet village of Bahía Bustamante

The village was exactly as promised.  Laidback and quiet.  The streets here are all named after different species of seaweed!  It took us a little while to find the staff (read: this place is quiet!) but they soon showed us to our house.  I believe that the house we are staying in was originally workers housing, although it seems they have been modified to make room for a kitchen and large bathroom.  Our place was $110 a night and was more than enough space for the two of us.  There will be more tomorrow about Bahía Bustamante including lots of pictures of penguins! 

Bahía Bustamante – Day 1
My first Argentine truck stop!
My first Argentine truck stop!
First guanaco sighting!
First guanaco sighting!
Then some ñandúes!
Then some ñandúes!
Steamer ducks (patos vapor)
Steamer ducks (patos vapor)
American Oystercatchers and some seagulls
American Oystercatchers and some seagulls
The quiet village of Bahía Bustamante
The quiet village of Bahía Bustamante
Home cookin
Home cookin
Moonrise
Moonrise


I went out for a walk one day in Buenos Aires with the goal of photographing some of the graffiti.  Most of the photos below were taking in Palermo, not far from where I was living.  Quite a bit nicer than the gang tags I am used to seeing back at home!

Graffiti of Buenos Aires


 

Mar 252011

The tranquil Uruguayan town of Colonia del Sacramento is only a one-hour boat ride across the Rio de la Plata from Buenos Aires.  I visited the town back in 2008 on my first trip to S. America but Amy had never been.  We set aside a Saturday towards the end of our time in Buenos Aires so that we could pop across and get our fill of cobblestone streets, old cars, stray dogs and chivito.

Colonia del Sacramento, Uruguay
Early morning departure from the Buquebus terminal in Buenos Aires
Early morning departure from the Buquebus terminal in Buenos Aires
Fancy, eh?
Fancy, eh?
Amy was even able to get her hands on some vegetarian chivito!
Amy was even able to get her hands on some vegetarian chivito!
Massive plate of chivito.  Steak topped with ham, cheese and pancetta.  Served with fries, lettuce and tomato.
Massive plate of chivito. Steak topped with ham, cheese and pancetta. Served with fries, lettuce and tomato.
Thrify has rental golf carts!  Only for total lazies though as the town is very small and walkable.
Thrify has rental golf carts! Only for total lazies though as the town is very small and walkable.
If you need to fill your thermos with hot water (for mate of course!) you can go there.
If you need to fill your thermos with hot water (for mate of course!) you can go there.
Proof that I went to Uruguay: Uruguayan pesos and Uruguayan beer.
Proof that I went to Uruguay: Uruguayan pesos and Uruguayan beer.
The fancy new ferry terminal in BsAs.  The one in Colonia is equally spectacular.
The fancy new ferry terminal in BsAs. The one in Colonia is equally spectacular.


Paraguay Wrap-up

Paraguay Comments Off
Mar 242011

After Ybycuí we bussed it down to Encarnación which is on Paraguay’s southern border with Argentina.  We didn’t plan to stay there long because the only real attractions are the Jesuit ruins.  Our plans for a short stay were compounded by exorbitant hotel prices due to their “Carnaval” which mysteriously runs the entire month of February.  We hoped to check out the festivities during our one night stay but they ended up be rained out.  Oh well, better luck next time.

We got up fairly early the next morning, checked out of the hotel and jumped on a bus to Trinidad the most accessible of the Jesuit ruins.  Trinidad has an impressive collection of buildings from religous missions in the 17th century.  The basic idea was to round up all the indiginous people and give them a place to stay, study Christianity, and live something resembling a European lifestyle.  In doing so, they constructed a massive complex of buildings.

What I found more interesting than the ruins themselves was our search for the entrance (there is only one).  We took a couple of wrong turns and ended up walking the dirt roads all the way around the ruins.  We saw a couple of horse-drawn wagons kicking up dust on the red clay roads.  

Lots of traffic on the bridge.
Lots of traffic on the bridge.

There was one man out cutting his lawn with a machete and more than a few others sitting on their porches drinking Terere (cold mate).  Of course there were also plenty of dogs lounging about and chickens picking around for who knows what.  Life in rural Paraguay must be very quiet.

After a couple of hours poking around the ruins we decided it was best to head back to Encarnación to retrieve our bags so that we could push for Posadas, Argentina.  The towns lie opposite one another on the Rio Paraná and getting between them is as easy as hopping an international bus in either city center.  The border crossing was much like what I remember of the San Diego to Tijuana crossing, I will let you figure out which country is which.  There was a lengthy queue in one direction and basically none in the other.

And that was that, we were in Argentina.  I certainly don’t regret visiting Paraguay but now I understand why it doesn’t attract hoardes of tourists.  It’s a cheap country, the locals are friendly it is reasonably easy to get around – usually these are the qualities that draw backpackers.  Unfortunately, it doesn’t have all that much in terms of tourist attractions.  Of course we only saw a small portion of the country.  There is the wild and mysterious Chaco in the north and the wetlands of the Patanal in the east.  Both of those are proobably fascinating destinations but they would take a significant amount of time and effort to explore.

Trinidad:  Jesuit missions near Encarnación.
Trinidad: Jesuit missions near Encarnación.
Crossing the Río Paraná to Posadas, Argentina
Crossing the Río Paraná to Posadas, Argentina

Roughly 1300 miles of this.  That is Boston to Miami.
Roughly 1300 miles of this. That is Boston to Miami.

Yesterday was exciting.  We checked out of our apartment in Buenos Aires.  It was a bit strange to go from having a nice comfortable apartment to being nomads again in just a matter of minutes.  That is the way it is though, the trip must go on!  I will post more about our month in Buenos Aires in the coming days.

Our plan was to fly LAN Argentina last night from Buenos Aires to Comodoro Rivadavia – a three hour flight to the south.  We jumped on the 160 colectivo from Plaza Italia, snagged some seats and enjoyed the short ride over the Jorge Newbury Aeroparque.  We were greeted at the airport by a half dozen or so media trucks.  That is never a good sign!  Inside we found lines of passengers that would even make the TSA jealous.

News crews at the airport!
News crews at the airport!

A LAN employee informed us that the Buenos Aires airports (both AEP and EZE) were shutdown due to an air traffic control problem.  We had heard rumors of there being a strike planned for that day but apparently this was unrelated.  They said it was some sort of technical issue and that it may not be resolved for a day or more.  We were supposed to depart around 11pm but we were told to expect a cancellation.

After our flight last night, we had a hotel reservation in Comodoro Rivadavia followed by a rental car reservation, followed by a booking at Bahía Bustamonte (much more on this later!), followed by a bus, etc…  In other words, we had a long chain of bookings that had just been derailed.  We opted to abandon the flight and switch to a bus then try to push everything else back by a day.

It took us about an hour to call hotels, change the rental car reservation, book bus tickets, etc.  I worked through some of the issues on my laptop and Amy worked some of the others on the phone.  When it was all said and done we had tickets in hand for a bus departure later that evening.  I have yet to get a straight answer out of LAN but I believe we will be able to refund our tickets from lsat night.

We departed Retiro station at 8:30 PM and made only one stop during the first twelve hours of the trip. A hot meal was served a couple of hours after departure and breakfast around 9AM the next morning.  At about the 13.5 hour mark while crossing a flat eastern Montana-like savanna we had a blow out.  Nothing too exciting just a few seconds of buzzing, then a bang and a short while later we came to a stop.  Thirty minutes later we were back on the road.

The first blowout on my RTW trip. Oh goodie!
The first blowout on my RTW trip. Oh goodie!

As I write this we are in the 24th hour of the trip.  Due to a few other delays here in there we are still about four hours from reaching Comodoro.  I just finished my fourth consecutive bus meal (roughly equivalent to a airline coach meal) and I am really longing to get off this thing.  The good news is that the gaggle of cackling old ladies as well as a crying baby disembarked a couple stops back.  Hopefully we are only one or two dubbed movies away from arrival!

Update: We made it!  27 hours and 8 minutes to cover just short of 1300 miles.

MET: 25 hours, 22 minutes.  Are we there yet? Nope.
MET: 25 hours, 22 minutes. Are we there yet? Nope.
Puerto Madryn, Argentina
Puerto Madryn, Argentina
Where we had the flat.
Where we had the flat.

Salto Guaraní.  (No doubt the first of way too many waterfalls on this RTW trip!)
Salto Guaraní. (No doubt the first of way too many waterfalls on this RTW trip!)

Doing a day trip to Ybycuí National Park, which lies about 25 miles from the town, proved to be a bit of a challenge.  We heard that there was limited bus service (i.e. one in the morning and one in the evening) but had little to go by in terms of location and times.  As luck would have it, a Paraguayan couple overheard us asking about the bus and offered to give us a lift.  They were from Ita (a town close to Asunción) and had come down to the park to camp for the weekend.

The park itself is a museum-preserve hybrid.  Due to its water resources, the park was the site of Paraguay’s first iron foundry and was more or less the core of industrialization in the country.  The foundry also holds important military significance since it was one of Paraguay’s only means to arm itself during the War of the Triple Alliance in the 1800′s.  The stone furnaces and ruins of the workers’ facilities have been set up as a museum that was actually pretty good.

Waterfalls and butterflies were the main attractions at the park.  We walked to one of the closer waterfalls and saw a great plenty of spiders along the way.  There were also some nice overlooks (miradores) but those were substantial multi-hour hikes and we had neither the food nor the water for one of those.

Getting home was a bit of a challenge.  We had hoped to catch a 4pm-ish bus back to the village but the park ranger informed us that it was no more (or as Amy puts it: “he explained some system that made no sense”).  Fortunately for us (and probably him), he had a friend nearby with a “taxi” that would take us back to down for $20.  That was a bit much but we lucked out on transportation earlier in the morning and, lets face it, we weren’t going to walk 20 miles back to town.

A nice couple from Ita, Paraguay who were headed to the park to camp gave us a lift.
A nice couple from Ita, Paraguay who were headed to the park to camp gave us a lift.
Remains of what was once Paraguay´s largest iron foundry. La Rosada.
Remains of what was once Paraguay´s largest iron foundry. La Rosada.
The national park at Ybycuí has some big bugs!
The national park at Ybycuí has some big bugs!
Some teamwork required on the hike to Salto Guaraní
Some teamwork required on the hike to Salto Guaraní
Salto Guaraní.  (No doubt the first of way too many waterfalls on this RTW trip!)
Salto Guaraní. (No doubt the first of way too many waterfalls on this RTW trip!)
One of the only pictures I managed to get of the big blue butterflies at the park.
One of the only pictures I managed to get of the big blue butterflies at the park.
La mariposa está volando
La mariposa está volando
Ants being ants.
Ants being ants.
Red dirt is everywhere in Paraguay
Red dirt is everywhere in Paraguay
Dinner at the hospedaje. Steak with onions, rice, an egg plus salad and bread. Approx $4.
Dinner at the hospedaje. Steak with onions, rice, an egg plus salad and bread. Approx $4.
Somebody wants some of my steak!
Somebody wants some of my steak!

Aisle surfing like a boss.  This bus was easy, there was added headroom so that I could standup straight! Possible downside: skull getting crushed when the bus rolls over.
Aisle surfing like a boss. This bus was easy, there was added headroom so that I could standup straight! Possible downside: skull getting crushed when the bus rolls over.

Ok, I will admit it.  Figuring out how to get from place to place during my trips is one of my favorite travel chores.  Usually it is pretty simple since the guidebooks lay out most of the details.  The process becomes a little more interesting when you have to go from one middle-of-nowhere place to another middle-of-nowhere place.

It took us a couple hours to get to San Ber which lies to the east of Asución and it is quite a ways from Route 1, Paraguay’s main north-south highway.  Ybycuí is in roughly in same direction but a few more hours down the road.  We didn’t really want to backtrack all the way to Asunción so we decided to ride one of the local buses (which doubles as a school bus!) back to Route 1 and then attempt to flag down an Ybycuí-bound bus.

In Paraguay, there aren’t fixed bus stops.  Instead the protocol is to simply stand somewhere along their route and flail your arms as necessary until they stop.  This makes them very convenient but it also means they stop about every quarter mile to load and discharge passengers!

Getting out of San Ber was a piece of cake.  The wait was no more than 15 minutes for an Asunción-bound local bus(which double as school buses!).  Based on the crude map in our guidebook we knew that we had to ride as far as San Lorenzo as that is the town where the highway splits off to head south towards Ybycuí.  Figuring out where to get off was a bit of a guessing game but the driver helped us out.

The keeper of our guesthouse in San Ber told us that we had to “walk one block over” in San Lorenzo to find the Ybycuí buses.  As it turned out, it was actually a few blocks away but Amy was able to ask a few locals to get more precise directions.  Before we knew it we were standing with a bunch of Paraguayans eagerly awaiting their buses to the countryside.

It wasn’t more than 15 minutes until an ancient Mercedes bus rolled up to take is to Ybycuí.  Public transportation in Paraguay is great!

Our ride to Ybycuí
Our ride to Ybycuí

Naturally, each and every seat was occupied when we boarded so we had to surf the aisle for a while.  Amy got one after about 20 minutes and I scored one about an hour into the 4 hour ride to Ybycuí.  Riding in the aisle isn’t terrible (especially given the condition of some of the “seats”) but it is annoying when all the chipá/banana/sock vendors push their way past you and your backpack so that they can attempt to make one last sale in the back of the bus.

By the time we got to Ybycuí few people remained and we jumped off with very little fanfare on a dusty corner in what we hoped was the center of town.  Our guidebook claimed that there was one hotel in town and some other blogger wrote about a hospedaje.  As luck would have it, the bus dropped us directly in front of both of them!  Of course, we didn’t know that until we made a fool of ourselves by asking a nearby shopkeeper for directions. :)

The town of Ybycuí was very quiet.  Most of the businesses are located along the town’s one main street.  There were plenty of shops selling clothing, a few groceries stores and even two internet cafes although the town was notably lacking in restaurants.  I don’t remember seeing a single restaurant during our two-day stay.  The only prepared food that we were able to find was from a lady selling grilled meat along the side of the road.  It was there that I got to try my first sopa paraguaya along with some meat-on-a-stick.  Sopa paraguaya is basically cornbread with onions and, optionally, cheese and meat.

Obtaining some street meat. Dogs filled with hope.
Obtaining some street meat. Dogs filled with hope.
Meat on a stick and sopa paraguaya
Meat on a stick and sopa paraguaya


After getting a taste of big city life in Paraguay we decided it would be good to head out into the country side to see what life is like out there.  We heard about a nearby lake resort called San Bernardino in both the guidebooks and from a few travel blogs.  ”A very popular weekend destination for locals.”  Seemed promising enough and we figured that a midweek arrival would make it easier to find a place to stay.

As it turned out, it was a little too easy!  We stayed at a little resort called Brisas del Mediterraneo which was nice enough: aircon cabin along the beach, swimming pool, etc.  Only one problem: we were the only people at the resort!  The town itself was similarly desolate.

We only stayed one night then it was off to Ybycuí.

Beer o´clock in San Ber.
Beer o´clock in San Ber.
The scenic shoreline of Lake Ypacaraí
The scenic shoreline of Lake Ypacaraí
The resort in San Ber was a good mile or so from the bus stop.
The resort in San Ber was a good mile or so from the bus stop.
Deadly looking waterslide at the resort pool.
Deadly looking waterslide at the resort pool.
Chef Ryan hard at work. Peanut and guayaba sandwiches.
Chef Ryan hard at work. Peanut and guayaba sandwiches.
Lake Ypacari at San Bernardino
Lake Ypacari at San Bernardino
Our digs in San Ber.
Our digs in San Ber.
Sunset on the lake.
Sunset on the lake.

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