Sunday, February 27, 2011

Sunday -- riding to Villa la Angostura

We had an absolutely beautiful day for our first full day of cycling. The bike felt great and the roads had a good smooth riding surface. There were no shoulders, but traffic was fairly light, and the drivers were quite courteous. We were basically riding along the same two lane highway by Lake Nahuel Huapi through the National Park of the same name.

We left Bariloche in the van to avoid the city traffic, and then took to the bikes. We rode about 43 miles along gently rolling terrain. The grade was generally less than five per cent when we were ascending and only once did I see seven percent.

We had a picnic lunch at a beach on the lake. They really did it up nicely, with salads, three kinds of empanadas, fruit, and even coffee or cappuccino afterwards.

I understand that we have a few others blogging on this trip. When I get the links, I will post them.

The lodge we are staying at is very pleasant, and I am looking forward to a stroll in the town after finishing this post.

I almost forgot to mention last night's dinner -- it has to have been the highlight of the trip so far. We went to one of the more famous "parrillas" for the authentic Argentine beef. They grill huge quantities of been (as well as lamb, chicken and sausaage) on a large grill in the center of the restaurant. We all ordered "half portions" which were Huge and did a little sharing. I ordered the beef cooked "a punto" (medium rare) and it was delicious and tender.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Saturday in Bariloche

I enjoyed a leisurely breakfast in the hotel with Carolyn and Harold from Utah and Beverly from Rochester, NY¸ all of whom will be on the tour. This is the fourth Argentinian tour for Carolyn and Harold. Later in the morning, I ran into Doug Darby, a fellow alum from last year’s tour in New Zealand.

This morning I strolled around the center of the city, taking a few more pictures and doing some window shopping. I had lunch in a very pleasant Italian restaurant (the vast majority of the restaurants here are Italian). I got through the entire meal without a word of English (and feeling quite good about it) until the waitress brought the bill and informed me in English that “the tip is not included.” I do find that a lot more people here speak English than was the case in Buenos Aires.

In midafternoon I went and got my bicycle set up and did a very short test ride. The bike seems to fit well, so I don’t anticipate any problems. I met our tour guides Maria Elena (from Experience Plus’s offices in Colorado) and Javier, as well as a few more of the tour participants.

Tomorrow we will bike about 56 miles to Villa La Angostura, our first and only stop in Argentina. Then we will cross into Chile. It was suggested that we buy some Chilean pesos today since it will be difficult to do so for the next couple of days. Unfortunately, today is Saturday and you can’t buy Chilean pesos in Argentina on the weekend. I suspect that I will get by just fine with dollars and credit cards.

I am unlikely to have internet access for the next several days, so this will probably be my last post for a while.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Bariloche at Last

Today was the first day of perfect weather, all day. It was great in Buenos Aires when I got started and it has been great since I arrived in Bariloche. The forecast is for more of the same for several days. If we had to have rain, I would prefer to have it in Buenos Aires than after we start cycling. (Of course, we could still get some later in the trip.)
 I left the hotel earlier than necessary -- it turns out that the trip to the airport for domestic flights is only about ten minutes, and the lines were not bad. So, I had plenty of extra time, but that is much better than missing a flight.
The flight to Bariloche was just over two hours and was uneventful. After a brief taxi ride to the Hotel Edelweiss, I unpacked and took a leisurely stroll through the town. It is a very interesting town -- in the winter it is the center of a lot of winter sports activity, and in the summer it hosts lots of hiking, campinng and water sports related activities. It is strictly a tourist town, and the town center reflects that, with lots of stores looking for the traveler's dollar. The town fancies itself as modeled after a Swiss alpine village. The first thing I noticed in the town square were a few St. Bernard's (whose owners were photographers who would take your photo with the dog and sell it to you).
The biggest surprise is the number of large and fancy chocolate shops. I counted at least a dozen, with many of them manufacturing chocolate candies on the premises. Several also had quality ice cream counters. (Yes, I had ice cream.)
I got back to the hotel intending to get to this blog, but it took me almost an hour to get the internet connection working. Hopefully it will last long enough for me to get this posted.
The photo below is a picture of the town square. Tomorrow I will be free until the group has our first meeting and a short ride later in the afternoon.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Thursday -- a full day in Buenos Aires

I had a very interesting morning with a half day bus tour of the city. We were a small group of about twelve people and an English speaking guide who was very knowledgeable. We visited the areas of Puerto Madero (a new and expensive area of shops, restaurants, offices and residences along the water), Centro (with the Plaza de Mayo and Government House), San Telmo (with an old monastery turned penitentiary, turned museum), La Boca (with the colorful and touristy street Caminito), and Recoleta (with the cemetery where Evita is interred, and where there are lots of upscale residences, shops, and museums).

Don and Janice, from Baltimore, were pleasant companions. They are on the way home after finishing a National Geographic tour (expedition?) to Antarctica. Several of us left the tour at Recoleta rather than going directly back to our hotels. I did this and immediately stopped for a delicious dolce de leche (a classic gelato type treat). Then I did lots more walking and picture taking until the rain made me think that it was a good time to go back to the hotel.

I will have to leave BA in the morning to catch a mid day flight to Bariloche where I will spend the next two days. Pictured below are one of the many sculptures in the Caminito and one of several plaques on Evita's mausoleum.

First Impressions of Buenos Aires

After settling in, I spent several hours walking around Buenos Aires, with no specific plan. I went the length of Calle Florida, a mile long pedestrian shopping center (like a big Times Square), wandered around a few side streets, and then set off in the opposite direction throught the Retiro district. The sun didn't really come out until about 5:30 pm. Most of the time there was a slight drizzle.
The elegant: The Gallerias Pacifico is a large multi-story shopping mall with several upscale stores and a variety of restaurants. There is a gallery of ceiling and wall murals that reminds me of a major museum.
Ceiling murals at Gallerias Pacifico
The mundane: Lots of McDonalds and Burger Kings as well as a few Starbucks.
The depressing:  I saw lots of poverty. There were whole families sleeping in doorways even in the better shopping areas. Interestingly, I didn't see any one obviously begging.
The security: Many governement buildings had large contingents of police guarding them, almost all of them wearing bulletproof vests. Even store security guards had the vests.

Election Graffiti

The graffiti:  This seems to be a universal phenomenon. Buenos Aires is no exception.
The impressive: Just off the Plaza San Martin (near my hotel) is a monument to the fallen in the battle of the Maldive [Falkand] Islands and the South Atlantic, with guards like we have at the tomb of the unknown soldier. I just happened by at the changingof the guard.

Guard at monument to the fallen in the Maldives

Tomorrow I will take the City Bus Tour in the morning for a more organized approach.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

5000 miles later

The flight from Atlanta to Buenos Aires was long but uneventful. I even got some sleep and arrived feeling fairly refreshed. (It will catch up with me later.) It was raining pretty hard when we arrived, but had pretty much let up by the time that I reached the hotel.

My first surprise was when I realized that I had to pay a $140 US “entry fee” to enter Argentina. I had read about this but forgotten all about it. Needless to say, American Express, Visa and MasterCard are all accepted. (Although it is not a visa, it is much like one – they put a card in your passport showing that the fee was paid, and allowing unlimited reentry for ten years.)

When I checked in at the hotel, the receptionist told me that my room did not include breakfast since I was “paying” with Marriott points. However, since I still have “gold” status with Marriott, I do have lounge privileges and the lounge has an excellent breakfast buffet. Since my room is not ready yet, I am in the lounge having a late breakfast and catching up on the blog and email.

I am also watching TV and seeing the terrible news about the earthquake in Christchurch, New Zealand. It was just a little over a year ago that I was in Christchurch beginning my last cycling trip, so this news hits pretty hard.

I am looking forward to getting the feel of the city this afternoon and taking some pictures.

PS -- after waiting for this room that didn't include breakfast, I was given a very large suite -- so here are the first pictures of the trip:

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

One flight down; one to go

I made it to Atlanta with absolutely no problems. On time departure and early arrival. Weather here is great and after a four hour layover, I'll be on the way to Buenos Aires -- a ten hour flight. There should be a little light rain in the morning, but then absolutely delightful weather for Wednesday and Thursday. Next post will be from south of the equator.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Final Countdown

I leave Tuesday morning, flying from San Francisco to Atlanta, and then on to Buenos Aires -- about 18 hours, airport to airport. I have started the "pre-packing -- deciding which suitcase and carryon to use, and assembling a variety of odds and ends, like chargers and adapters for camera batteries and cycle computer; a new "Pedco Ultra Clamp" that lets me attach a camera to the bike's handle bars or other support, various "lotions and potions," etc. 

After two days in Buenos Aires, I fly about 800 miles further southwest to San Carlos de Bariloche where we will start cycling.

I have been studying Spanish (with Rosetta Stone) for eight months, and will put it to the test on the airplane, reading "Fidel y Raul, Mis Hermanos" a memoir by their sister Juanita. Fortunately, I have a good English Spanish dictionary app on my iPhone. I expect to put it to good use.

Although I hope I don't need it, I will be bringing rain gear. There was one day in New Zealand when I really wished that I had it. I even went out  a couple of weeks ago and rode in the rain for an hour just to be sure that I could stay dry from head to toe.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Patagonia: Here I come

Seventeen Days left until I head for my cycling trip in the Patagonian region of Argentina and Chile. Time to crank up the blog again.