Friday 1 March 2019

Salta to Mendoza

I am quite late writing this because this part of our trip was pretty exhausting and I needed time to recharge. As we found out quickly, if we had wanted to see all of the way along the Andes properly, we had needed way more time. This ment we had to priorize on what we do with our limited time until our already booked flight from Mendoza to Buenos Aires. And we did decide - to squeeze in as much as possible.

We did this by getting up even before 6 a.m. on many days. We also did all of the longer bustrips during night, so we still had the whole day at our next destination. We actually got so used to sleeping on the bus, each time we got onto a bus we immediately got really tired. It would have been lots of time to sleep - in our whole vacation until now we spent about 106 hours on the bus, excluding local busses and flights. Unfortunately, the busses in South America tend to be cooled down by air conditioning to really freezing temperatures. I always needed all my warm clothes I brought for Austria just to stay a little warm during the busrides. I don't even know why somebody would want such a cold bus.

So we managed to get a lot done during the few days we had for the trip from Salta to Mendoza. While staying in Salta we mostly planned the further days, from there we travelled on to the Quebrada de Humahuaca in the North (of which I already wrote). Next stop back South was Cafayate, a village next to a beautiful valley and surrounded by wineyards. The wineyards there were really surprising for me as I live close to the Austrian wine region and the wine is planted on many many hills to get as much sun as possible. In Cafayate this is not necessary as there is probably enough sun anyway so all the wine is planted on flat fields. This was really strange for me to look at.

In the valley next to Cafayate, there were so many pretty stunning rock/sand formations I have never seen before. It prepared us a little bit for what we were about to see in the national parks Talampaya and Ischigualasto that were more or less close to La Rioja (or at least looked close on a map). As the travel guides all wrote that they were close to each other, we wanted to do them in one day. The cheapest option to do this was to rent a car and go there by yourself. I did not plan on driving a car in South Anerica. I knew that driving there is different and could be quite a challenge but as my friend has no drivers licence and the guy joining us was not used to driving on the right side of the road I ended up to be driving anyway. And it turned out to be pretty fun! Actually, here you can just drive as you would prefer, without having to follow so many rules that we got used to in Austria. And it doesn't really make a difference that other cars drive like that as well since you should always look out for other cars anyways. Next time in South America I might even rent a car for longer.

So first we visited Talampaya national park. It took us about two hours of driving endless straight roads to get there. There we could take a tour through the valley that remembered me so much of lion king, I really loved it. Also, we could see Guanacos, another kind of relatives to the lama and we even got some wine during the tour! They really know how to keep me entertained. But to tell the truth, while it was wonderful to see this red landscape, I had troubles enjoying it, even the wine. This was because the peak temperature of the day was 42 degrees, and the heat seemed to drain all the energy out of me during the day.

Which of course even got worse at the second national park Ischigualasto or Valle de la Luna (Moon Valley) that we visited in the afternoon. They both are relatively close to each other but there are only busses to Talampaya, not to Ischigualasto, so there were way fewer people. As it turned out, you can only enter the park by vehicle, in our case our own in which we arrived. This ment three hours of driving through the national park with occassional stops on one of the worst gravel roads I have ever driven. Do not get me wrong, after getting used to it, I really enjoy driving on gravel roads, it is so exciting! But I really did not want anything to happen to the car as I was the one renting it and also the only one in the car who spoke Spanish, so I had to be the responsible one.

So each time we got out of the car to see more of the park and take pictures, we almost got a heatshock even if we tried to use the air conditioning of the car as little as necessary. It was really a moon landscape or something of another world. But at this point my capacity to look at rocks was just overloaded and adding up the heat and the exhaustion from making the whole trip happen by car hit in as well. So the end of the park would have been the moment for me to get some sleep and restore my energy. But that was not about to happen.

We first had to drive another two hours back into the city to be there in time to return the car. We also had to refill the petrol (refilling the petrol in another country is always an adventure) and we had to somehow find a bank to get some cash to actually pay the car, because for some reason the credit card terminal did not work. And this was when the trouble started. At the first ATM we thought it didn't give us money because it was out of money. At the second ATM we still thought we had bad luck with ATMs and the system just didn't work right now. And we always tried all our different cards to get cash. It was af the third ATM we realized that every Argentinian could get cash but not us. At this time it was 10 minutes to the time we had to give back the car. So while I had to arrange with the guy from the car rental to give back the car a little later, I also had to drive to the center to a bank because obviously only the ATMs in banks work for us foreigners.

So I was way over my limit for exhaustion, had a severe headache from the heat and the sun, was about to starve and I knew I would not just get a good nights sleep and be done with it as we were about to travel on in a nightbus. I do not remember the last time I have been so grumpy. It was bad, really really bad, I do not know how my friend could stand me in that moment, but I couldn't help it. It did work out in the end but it was a long way to un-grumpy me again.

The next and last stop on this part of the trip was Mendoza. We arrived there by nightbus in the morning and as we were both still pretty exhausted from the last day, we did not really have the best start there. It was like, yeah we really want to see the city but also we really need to shower, get some food and sleep to feel like civilized people again. To keep the story short: sleeping won over seeing the city, even if Mendoza is really beautiful! I actually would like to come back here someday as I feel like we really had too little time and there would have been so much more to see and to do. But we had to get prepared for the big trip of the following day that was a hike in the Aconcagua provincial park.

The Aconcagua is the highest peak of South America with almost 7000m and is located in Argentina close to the border to Chile near Mendoza. This was something I definitely wanted to see. Also, I was already looking forward to do some real hiking for the whole trip. We had to get up even before 6 to get on the 4 hour bus ride to the entrance of the park and from there at 2850m it was a hike until 3400m at the first base camp of Aconcagua, you are not allowed to go further without a guide.

It was really stunning, and again I did not really have troubles with the altitude, more like troubles with the general exhaustion at this point of the trip, but it did not matter as I was so motivated. It was so cool being surrounded by such high peaks that all looked so different. The only pity was that Aconcagua itself was covered in clouds and we could only  estimate how high this mountain must be. I would really love to come back here and get a little higher and therefore closer to the mountain to get better views. Maybe I can include it in my next trip to Argentina (which is not a question about "if" but "when").

And then I might also be able to explore Mendoza a little further as we were already leaving again the next morning by plane to Buenos Aires, where we also finally had some time to relax again.

Wednesday 20 February 2019

Quebrada de Humahuaca

I love mountains and I love colourful things, so what would be better than colourful mountains? Not much, I guess. Maybe really huge waterfalls in the rainforest, or a huge marsh with capybaras, or a hidden paradise-like island with friends, but you can't really compare those. I enjoyed all of them and couldn't decide what is better. Actually, life is quite hard if there are so many things you enjoy, because deciding on what you want more is never an easy choice.

Our stay in the Quebrada de Humahuaca, a dry desert-like mountain range in the north of Argentina, started with us having to priorize what we really want to do as we found out we do not have enough time to see it all. The one thing we knew was: we wanted to see colourful mountains. But there were actually more of them over the Quebrada and there were such cute villages to visit and so much cute stuff to buy at the local markets there.

We did try to squeeze it all into one day by getting up even before 6 to see our first colourful mountain, the mountain of seven colours in Purmamarca, at sunrise. It endet up with us sitting in a local café at sunrise as we were way to hungry to enjoy any mountains. But at least we were strenghtened afterwards for a small hike around and a beautiful view on the mountain of seven colours. Also, I got to try coca tea that is said to help in higher altitudes, as we were at about 2800m. It wasn't especially tasty and I did not feel different afterwards, but maybe it helped a little in the afternoon.

Because in the afternoon we visited the village of Humahuaca and the near mountain of fourteen colours, which was more like a mountainrange as it was so huge and really colourful! To get there, we ascended to over 4300m in car and then we only had to walk a little further to the viewpoint. As I was not used to the height at all, I was worried this would be really exhausting, but to tell the truth, it wasn't. I got a little headache and walking up the path was slightly more exhausting, but that was it. Now I really want to come back for some serious hiking one day.

The mountains that were ahead of us were extraordinary. As I love mountains and for me almost all mountains are beautiful, just the view of mountains that high would have been enough to get me thrilled, but all this different colours really made me fall in love. Also, the thin air up there might have made me light-headed but nevertheless it was amazing!

What made it even better was that we saw many vicuñas on the way down again. Sorry, I do not have a good photo but a video, you can ask me for it if you have not seen it already. vicuñas look a lot like lamas, I do not know how to tell the difference. But we were told that the wool of the vicuña is even fluffier than of the lama and the alpaca which must be heavenly as I bought a sweater of alpaca wool and I have never worn a sweater this fluffy. And it is so warm! I am almost looking forward to being back in winter so I can wear it. Almost.

Until then I will further enjoy the dry almost desert-like heat of the Quebrada and all its cactuses, as long as it lasts. Since we are kind of on a tight schedule, tomorrow I will already be somewhere with a completely different climate and landscape to enjoy. And there will be wineyards! Okay, I must confess it is not hard if you enjoy so many things in life because there is always something to enjoy and be happy about.

Monday 18 February 2019

Parque Nacional de Iberá

Ibera wetlands consist of a huge area of marshes and is the second biggest wetland in the world. The biggest wetland is Pantanal in Brazil, which is where Ita, my travel companion, wanted to go initially when we decided to head to Brazil. Unfortunately, since Brazil is really big, the Pantanal was quite far from where we were in Brazil, while the Ibera wetlands were quite on our way inbetween Iguazu and Salta. So we decided to go there instead.

In our travel planning it was always a big question mark as we had no idea how to get into the national park and how to actually see something as we cannot discover such a huge national park on our own. We did find out there were tours offered, but just not from where and how we could book them. People all wrote it was so beautiful but there were very few recommendations on how to get there and all from completely the other side of the national park than the one we were arriving from. I guess without Ita wanting to visit the place I would have never made the effort to actually try to visit it.

But now that it was part of our travel plan and the photos from there looked sooo great, we had to find a way to get there. So after intense research, I found a lodge that not only offered tours but also private transfer to pick us up from Posadas, the closest city north of the wetlands, about 3,5 hours of gravel road inbetween the city and the lodge. We read that you should only take the road with a 4 wheel drive, but on sunny days I would have totally been able to drive this street with Antonio (my car). On rainy days, on the other hand, this street most probably just dissolves into mud and even 4WD would struggle here.

We were lucky, it was sunny both on arrival and departure day. At the lodge we got a full program of boat safaris as well as walking tours at day and night. If anybody ever plans to go to Ibera wetlands, I can really recommend to contact Irupé Lodge, they really helped us make it possible to visit the wetlands! Also, the food was really good and we were finally able to have a undisturbed sleep in the very comfortable beds, which is really way better than sleeping in the bus or even waiting half of the night at the terminal for our connection. I am really looking forward to actually sleeping in a bed at night instead.

But nevertheless, we arrived there in the Colonia Carlos Pelegrini, a really small village right next to a huge lagoon of the national park. Already on our drive to the lodge we could watch various different birds, from really small to huge and in all colour variations, just next to the road. At the lodge, we could even watch all this birds from the balcony, and severall times even capybaras came for a visit to eat just next to the lodge in the grass.

We actually did not know much about what we could see here besides the capybaras. So we were really surprised to suddenly find a cayman chilling right next to the boat on the boat safari. And then we discovered there are so many caymans everywhere, we started a game of taking pictures of them and sending them to our friends: "find the caymans in the photo". Also, we could see marsh deer, various different birds and so many capybaras everywhere.

At this point we thought we had seen it all but we wanted a little more time and did a walk around by ourselves to enjoy the weather, the animals and take some more photos. We were told before that it is quite safe here - the mosquitos do not carry any illnesses as Zika, Malaria or anything, the caymans do not eat anything bigger than baby capybaras, so there is really few to worry about. We did find a lot of beautiful places, lots of animals and had great views at the lagoon.

So when we decided to head back, suddenly we spotted something in the woods that looked and walked different like the other animals that live here. Of course we were curious and approached, and saw two small dog-like creatures which were obviously also curious why we were here. As we had no idea what it was, we actually thought of wolves and feared that this might be the baby wolves and mama wolf would be somewhere close by. As we were without a guide and had no idea how to deal with wolves in the wild, we took another way back and asked later what it was we saw in the woods - it were foxes and we were really lucky to spot them.

Since we have not had enough adventure, we also did a night hike on the same day, this time with a guide. When pointing the flashlight at the shore of the lagoon, we could see the eyes of the caymans reflecting the light. Also, calybaras seem to be night active as well, what actually does not surprise me as all they do during the day is eating and sleeping. Also we saw a armadillo quickly trying to hide from us. We were walking the exact same path as in the afternoon, but this time the foxes were gone.

But the most beautiful thing were definitely the stars. Here we were, hours from the next city, on the boat in the middle of the lagoon, almost no light pollution and it was terrific. We actually got up in the middle of the night again to watch some more stars. I really should have looked up some star constellations from the southern hemisphere since we could see every star and even the milky way. It was really a pity when we had to go to sleep again to be ready for the next day and our long journey to Salta.

Wednesday 13 February 2019

Cataratas del Iguazu

I have always loved waterfalls. So when I first encountered a picture of Iguazu Falls I totally wanted to know what this place is and where I can find it. And after I started traveling outside Europe, I knew that some day I had to visit the seemingly most beautiful waterfalls I have ever seen a photo of. But it seemed all distant until we started planning this trip. The probably most wonderful waterfalls of this world and I was going to see them!

I actually had no idea how huge they are. To see them all, you need three days to see all of it properly. And, lucky me, my travel companion was as eager to see the Iguazu Falls as me so we took all the three days and discovered any possible spot to look at the waterfalls, starting from the Brazilian side, then switching to the Argentinian side, walking every possible trail and even doing a boat tour. And it was totally worth it!

While we got the most beautiful pictures by walking the trails on the Argentinian side of the falls, everything else were definitely  experiences worth doing. I can't compare it to anything I have done until now, and I have seen quite a lot of waterfalls recently, like Plitvice lakes, Godafoss, Dettifoss, Gullfoss and many more in Iceland as well as the Niagara Falls in December, and this all was only in the last year. 

But nothing can compare to Iguazu Falls, they really are as wonderful as they are impressing. I mean just look at the photos! They are too beautiful to be real. As if they were photoshopped or copied from some travel magazine. Not like some snapshots from my phone camera, just uploaded in here directly afterwards. Really, this is probably the most impressing thing I have seen until now, I still look at the photos all the time, wondering how such a place could even exist.

To be fair, we were pretty lucky with the weather. We had sun, clear sky and clear blue water due to the low tide. Also, we had enough time to enjoy all of it without time pressure and we both are on the same page on what we want to see which makes the whole trip quite uncomplicated.

On the last day at the falls, when we already took all the stunning photos, we decided the day was dedicated to having fun. So we did a boat trip that was pretty cool because it actually brought us down below some waterfalls, like driving right under it. At first you think "I got this, my rainjacket can hold this water back", and then there is the Splash and as if somebody poured a whole pool of water over you, you are completely wet. And then the fun starts because then you stop caring about staying dry because there is nothing that can stay dry anymore.

After the boat tour, we walked one long trail about an hour to one waterfall further away from the others. There you could actually swim and climb below the waterfall, taking beautiful waterfall pictures or just letting the water rain down on you. I can just recommend, if you take the effort to go to Iguazu Falls, take your time there, there is so much more than just taking the one photo everybody has already taken! If it wasn't on another continent, I would totally come back soon.

Wednesday 6 February 2019

Curitiba and Ilha do Mel

I have been looking forward to this trip for a long time, when two years ago, on one of the coldest days of winter, I sent a photo of snow and my friend from Brazil sent back a picture from the beach, saying I should come here, they have 30 degrees. So I asked a friend in Austria, who has been in Brazil for a year during school what to do when there. She told me lots of things and then asked me if I plan to go there. I said "maybe" and she told me she wanted to visit Brazil again for a long time but she didn't want to go alone. From there it was fixed, we had to go to Brazil, and Argentina afterwards because I know people there as well, and we are going in winter because it's summer there and escaping the winter is always a good decision.

So when the moment finally came I was so excited I can't even describe it, the whole week before I could not stop smiling. The trip was long, from Graz to Vienna to New York to Sao Paulo to Curitiba. But finally we arrived in Curitiba and were greeted by my friend, welcomed into the home of his family (who by the way prepared the best breakfast I had for a long time). Everybody was so excited for us to be here and really trying to talk english to us so they would be able to get to know us. As we arrived pretty late, we just saw one of the popular going out streets with lots of bars, which was pretty cool because everybody was just chilling and drinking outside on such a warm summer night.

On the next day we went to Ilha do Mel, an island two hours from Curitiba. My friend from Brazil planned and organized the whole trip and it was really great! The island itself is without cars, so you can just walk around or take the bike (if you have one). It is pretty big but most of it is forest and only some paths connect the two villages and all the beaches. And there were many wide and amazing beaches that seemed almost untouched. The whole place felt so magical, and the weather even intensified the feeling.

We were actually glad we didn't have 35 degrees and sunshine because this would have certainly made us two austrian girls turn into a very red version of ourselves within a very short time. Also the most trails of the island are on the beach without any shade which would have been hard to walk along in the hot summer sun of Brazil. So we were lucky about the weather, as long as it was not raining.

We spent our time on the island discovering the island by foot or by bike, seeing the most amazing landscapes and taking the most stunning photos on the way, having brazilian barbecue, learning many new card games, enjoying the waves in the ocean and just relaxing. It was adventurous, exciting, delicous, impressing and im general just a wonderful time.

I really wish I had more time as there is still so much left to discover and it is just such a perfect summer paradise. I even thought about what I would like to do if I came here again and I am sure I could fill a week with all the activities. But then again it would have never been so great without knowing someone to take you there who knows the island and the country who can take care of things I wouldn't even know about. This made me think about whether I did travelling wrong until now.

Because when you are with people who live there, you get to see the real country. They show you places you would else never could have visited, they show you life as it really is, they cook you the real food, they make you meet and get to know even more people from there. You are not just seeing the country, you are part of it. And this is something else entirely. I really loved the experience and I am so happy my friend from Brazil made this happen.

Wednesday 8 August 2018


As one of my most memorable moments of Iceland happened on Snaefellsnes, I decided I have to write about it as well, even if it is already some days past. There are also some places we passed I did not even mention in my articles, but maybe I can give some impressions of them in the next and last time I write about Iceland (it will take some time, but there will be more! Stay tuned!).

Snaefellsnes is a peninsula in the southwest of Iceland, about two hours from Reykjavik. There’s a glacier, the Snaefellsjökull (jökull means glacier), that you can even see from the capital if the weather is good. Here we spent two nights so we could have a full day to explore the peninsula. At this point we already thought we had seen so much, as if anything we can see now would be just a revival of the beautiful places we had already seen. Which would have been nice because we have seen so much beauty that we would definitely like to see it all again. But it was not like that, it was way more and even different again!

First, we decided for what we want to see of the peninsula and planned our route accordingly. One of the places mentioned was the Snaesfellsjökull, but as it is dangerous to explore a glacier on your own and there was a road passing by, we thought it would be a good idea to just drive by and maybe stop if it is beautiful. Just for clarification, there are icelandic roads that are only for four-wheel-drives, these roads are marked f-roads. The road passing the glacier was no such road so I was kind of expecting a normal mountain road.

How wrong I was. Each and every experience I remember of my dad driving up mountain „roads“ in worst shape suddenly came back to me as I did my best to maneuver our two-wheel-drive with four grown-ups inside up this intensly ascending, pothole-filled gravel road. At some point I even warned my passengers „If I say OUT you jump out of the car and push it. If I get the car to move again, DO NOT get in, just hop aside so I can drive the car up to the next even part of the road. There I will wait for you.“ Fortunately, this scenario did not happen, we got up there without the car getting stuck somewhere – but sometimes it was a close call, always using all the momentum I could get and hoping that the snow stays beside the road instead of on the road. Other even smaller cars than ours, driven by people as mad as us, going up the glacier road as well, gave us hope that the road can be done with our car. And we did it – and it was amazing.

The view was so stunning, on one side there was the sea, the coast, beaches, cliffs, waterfalls, other mountains, all you could wish for in a mountain panorama, and on the other side there was the snow and the glacier – and snow mobiles waiting for you to jump in to do a tour to explore the glacier. And the wind blowing down the glacier was so extremely cold, you wouldn’t believe it if you hadn’t experienced it. I could have stayed for ages and just enjoyed the view if I hadn’t felt the cold crawling into me until I was freezing to the bone. As the others felt the same way, we were quick to leave again.

So the next stop was beside the sea, a black beach with lots of parts from a ship wreck. We soon discovered how a ship could wreck on this beach – the rocks were really sharp and the tides were sneaky. We were expecting a beach more like the black beach we already saw but this one was different as the rocks were again shaped completely different and even the black had another shade of darkness. Also, we hat the Jökull behind our back which is a quite unusual beachview.

Here along the coast there are severall really small really cute villages, connected by a hiking trail on top of the cliffs. We were actually planning on visiting each village on its own but we just got so carried away by the view on each of the cliffs that we walked and walked and at some point we just were in the next village and didn’t even realize how far we went.

It is as if the water has a different shade of blue in each small bay. And there are so many birds flying around I haven’t seen before and seagulls nesting and even fluffy baby seagulls sitting on some rocks in the cliffs. And then there is this infinity-stream that looks as if it would just disappear in the sea from the right angle. And the coastline seams to go on endlessly, with snow-covered mountains just directly behind. We almost didn’t mind that it was really really windy.

From here we passed some kind of crack in the mountain with lots of cars parking there, so we decided we had to see what it is and whether it is somehow special. It kind of looked like Scratch (from Ice Age) was here before. So in front of the pathway up to the crack there was a icelandic tale they tell about this „valley“. Once, there lived a half-troll half-human who had two really beautiful and shapely daughters. In the village there also lived his brother who had two sons (are you already thinking about where this story is going?). So the sons and the daughters played together at the beach and they somehow fought and the elder daughter endet up on a sheet of ice and got carried away to Greenland. She was fine, but her father got really angry so he killed the son who did this. Then he threw his own brother (the father) down a cliff and then killed the other son too. Then he ran into the valley deep into the glacier Snaesfellsjökull and was never seen again. What a nice story.

When we approached the gap where a small stream was coming out, we suddenly felt the temperature drop significantly. To enter the gap, you had to walk through the stream or you could hop on the rocks in the stream. I kind of forgot to change my shoes before and did not wear the water resistant hiking boots so I had no choice but to carefully hop from rock to rock. But it was totally worth it. Inside, there were huge pieces of ice just lying around, one was stuck just in the gap just above our heads and you could see the melting ice dripping down into the stream. You could also see how the valley got more and more narrow the farther you go. It was really impressing but we were to afraid to continue and walk below the melting ice as we did not want to get crushed under a falling chunk of ice – they are really heavy! I once tried lifting one as big as a watermelon and I failed because I didn’t expect it to be so heavy.

Again, we kind of endet up ad a beautiful place just because we decided to see what happens and where we will get – I think this is just how Iceland works. Do not just keep stuck to the travel guide, explore a little on your own and go where not all the tourists go. You will see beautiful places you would not have been able to see else.

Needless to say, when going back to the apartment, we decided for the road along the coast instead of the road up the glacier we came from in the morning.