Saturday, March 29, 2008

Off to the Estancia

Horses at the local beach in our village. Our house in Los Coihues
Tomorrow morning we head out of Bariloche by bus to the cow town of Zapala, as opposite to the touristy Bariloche as you can get in this part of Argentina. We will meet Ashley, the owner of the ranch we are going to, there tomorrow night. Monday morning we head by car or taxi to the trailhead and then onto horses for the 3 hour ride into the ranch. If you find Zapala on a map of Argentina (pretty much straight north of Bariloche), the ranch is to the east on the border with Chile. We dont know too much about what our life will be like on the ranch except that it is a combination cattle ranch, dude ranch. We will be helping out with gardening work, construction, cattle ranching and basically whatever needs doing. We will have a little 2 bedroom adobe house of our own with a wood cookstove, fireplace and no electricty (the water generator is broken for the ranch). There is a satellite phone there for emergencies but otherwise no communications. We will likely come out for a resupply at some point during the month and will send an update if possible. Otherwise we are planning on coming out at the end of April (maybe coming out on my birthday so I can go straight to a winery for the day!!) and going to Mendoza for the last month of our trip. Of course, anything could change! Have a great month. Love to all!!

Birthday in Patagonia

Yesterday was Toby´s 7th birthday, which was a bit daunting for us as parents because he has definitely been wrestling with homesickness this week and we were worried the birthday would make it worse. His 3 buddies here were all unavailable too for various reasons. The night before his day we asked what he wanted to do and he said
"basically, I just want to get lots of love all day. . . and chocolate"!!! Well, on that we could deliver! We started the day with pancakes (of course) and a chocolate heart lolipop. Opened presents and played in jammies for several hours. He got the Dangerous Book for Boys from his grandpa which got him VERY excited and will be the perfect thing for the ranch. He also picked out a chess game, bow and arrow and transformer in the city with his birthday money from relaties (thanks everyone!!) and got 2 more Harry Potter books from Nana and Pop! He loved the connect the dots and mad libs books from Ty and Stefan too. Not sure where we will fit everything but he is a happy boy. Then we gave him the choice of 3 Cerros (mountains) around here that have gondolas or ski lifts up to them and pastry shops on the top. He choose Cerro Catedral so we took the bus up there, rode the two lifts (the day was crystal clear and we could see lots of volcanoes as far away as Chile. At the top we hiked around and looked at the views then went into the Confiteria (restaraunt). Toby ordered cake and hot chocolate for everyone in spanish and just smiled politely when all the waitresses and many of the other guests sang happy birthday to him in Spanish. There was a major first when he said he couldnt finish his MASSIVE piece of chocolate cake but then after wandering around the restaraunt for awhile he was in fact able to finish it!. After taking the lifts back down, we walked the 3 miles downhill back to our village on the dirt back road to work off some of the sugar. We had ordered a chocolate torte (cake) with dulce de leche (caramel) chocolate frosting and whipped cream from PachiMamas, our next door neighbor take out gourmet restaraunt and we picked it up and headed home. Then we had an Argentinian steak grill in our backyard before eating the delicious cake. Needless to say neither kid was asleep until 10:30. He had a fabulous day. Thanks everyone who sent their happy wishes.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Refugio Lopez

After our Easter celebration
we headed back out to Llao Llao with our backpacks and hiked into Refugio Lopez (refugios are mountain huts, usually with bunks and food service). Lopez is one of the largest, and more importantly it is pink! It was a 7km hike in but a huge steep uphill (total of 800 meters elevation gain). The kids did great hiking up in the heat on lots of loose dirt and rocks. I was tired so I can only imagine how they felt! We were super lucky and it was almost empty. The hut is 3 stories and can sleep 100 but only 6 other people were staying there so we had a bunk room to ourselves. It is above tree level with superb views over the lake and spectacular rocky peaks towering over head. We arrived at around 5 and the kids had a renewal of energy when they saw the fun rocks to climb around on. We cooked pasta for the kids and ordered Pailla !! from the hutkeeper. The other guests were from Poland, Canada and England so the kids were happy to speak english with other people. The harvest moon over the peaks was amazing! After a moderately good nights sleep we woke up and played around on the rocks and at the hut until lunch. I scrambled up to the peak and then the kids came part way up with Dave to meet me on the way down. The hike down was very speedy and obviously much easier than coming up! Kids said it was the coolest thing ever and were very proud. Everyone we encountered were very impressed that they had hiked the whole way. We ran into a guide who said he had never seen a 4 year old up there before which made cass very proud!!

Semana Santa

Semana Santa is a big holiday in South America celebrating the days leading up to easter. There were tons of people vacationing around Bariloche and out and about. On Thursday we headed up to Cerro Catedral, the biggest ski area in Argentina which is just a short ways from our house. We rode the chairlifts to the top (it was a chilly day!) and hiked around the lunar scape of rocks around the top and took in the view. It is a huge area and we all talked about coming back to ski here someday. Toby´s dream is for our next sabbatical to be all winter just as this one is all summer since he is bummed to have missed a precious ski season!!
Friday was beautiful and warm again and we took the buses out to Peninsula Llao Llao and hiked up Cerro Llao, a small treed peak that looks over the arm of Nahuel Huapi that heads into Chile. Photo above is us on the top looking towards Chile. The kids are always much better on days when we get out and about so after their spanish class we motivated them out there and they had a great time. When Toby got bored we described James Bond movies to him which kept him endlessly entertained. The kids new favorite game they invented is Toby and Cassidy world, which seems to involve describing what the world would look like if it was all made of candy!!

We also made a great new friend over the holiday, her name is Punky Brewster! She is a wild kitten who now is living the good life with lots of attention and table scraps at our house. She is a tiny little calico who appeared in our yard on probably the luckiest day of her little life. Fortunately our landlady loves her too or it would be very hard to leave her behind!! Here she is with Cassidy in our back yard.

They dont do easter baskets here so the kids and I made baskets out of wine boxes (appropriately!) and filled them with real grass. They also dont dye easter eggs so we spent the week leading up to easter experimenting with various natural dyes. Eventually crayons ended up working the best. Fortunately we are in the hub of fine chocolate and the easter bunny had lots of treats to choose from. The Pascuas Conejo obliged us with full baskets and eggs hidden in the house (safe from Punky). Then in the Meyer tradition we had to re-hide them over and over again outside after breakfast!

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Road Trip to the Glacier

Dave spent Wed, Wed night and Thursday climbing at Frey, a famous trad climbing site very close to us with our friend Maria´s boyfriend Jorge. They had an awesome time and exhausted themselves climbing as many hours of daylight as they could! Poor guy returned home at 11pm Thursday night to find the family had big plans for the following day! (see below). While he was gone the kids had 2 more spanish lessons with Mariana which they just love! They want class everyday, maybe just to get away from us! They also both went to the bi-lingual school our teachers work at and hung out in kindergarten and first grade for about an hour. It was good for them to have some kid time and Toby got to use some of his new spanish words in conversation.

Yesterday, Friday, we rented a car and drove down to the base of Mount Tronador, the biggest mountain around these parts that towers over everything with its massive glaciers visible from above the lake here. It is about 40 minutes south on the pavement and then 40 km of rough slow dirt road up into the Andes almost to the border with Chile. The road is only open for upgoing traffic in the morning and down travel in the afternoon which makes it a lot less scary. You travel alongside Lago Mascardi which is an amazing greenish blue because of the glacial runoff. We stopped at the end of the lake to hike into a waterfall which was incredibly tall and surprised all of us. Then we continued up the road to the village of Pampa Linda which means Beautiful Plains, which they really were. Cassidy explained that she knew what linda meant because that is what everyone always says to her! Yikes!! Our little red Fiat Sienna did us proud and made it up the steep rocky road (though much slower than all the Argentines in there similar little cars) to the Black Glacier. The kids were very disappointed they couldnt touch the glacier but it was very impressive to look at with a lagoon below with icebergs floating in it. Then we hiked up to the Devil´s throat, a set of waterfalls that drop hundreds of feet down from the hanging glaciers. Some of them freefall for so long that the water never touches the earth but just disaptes in the air. At the end of our hike we found the quintessential Argentinian Confiteria at the trail head with amazing homemade chocolate tort (cake) which of course we could not pass up. A far cry from what you´d find a national park service concessionaires in the states!! We intended to stop at a restaurant on the way home but as soon as the bumpy drive started both kids fell fast asleep. It was great for making the ride go quickly but then they were awake until midnight!!

We have decided to stay here another week to celebrate Toby´s birthday with friends and continue with all the fun and lessons we have settled into here. We will head to our cattle ranch destination March 29th and be there until the end of April.

Love to all!!

Monday, March 10, 2008

Hiker Kids

Kids at 8pm at the end of the big day with the sign showing 8kms one way from town!! note horse gathering in the background

Saturday we had our second day of rain in a month and enjoyed hanging out at home being mellow. We baked chocolate chip cookies which is always an adventure in a new country with different ingredients. We determined that they were better than our Costa Rica chocolate chippers but not as good as Nicky´s Chilean chocolate chip surprise cookies she made with the kids!
Sunday I ran from our village up to the ski area, Cerro Catedral, on the back dirt road which is about 8 miles, all up then all down. Then we went out for a training hike with the kids. We´d like to all hike into a Refugio to spend a night but wanted to make sure they were up for it. So we hiked to Playa Munoz, an isolated lake at the far end of our lake that you hike past our normal beaches, up through the forest, over a pretty big hill then down to the lake. From our house it is 9 km. The kids did the whole way there and back without complaint and were still running around pretending to be horses on the way home! That is almost 10 miles, so we were very impressed. We didnt head out until 1:30 so we got to the lake around 4 and only hung out for an hour before turning around. The push up from the lake was steep but we started playing games and they plugged right on to the top. We had the carrot in front of them of a stop at our beloved Tea House for delicious cake so they cruised on. The tea house arrived just as Cassidy was fading but the chocolate cake and hot chocolate revived them enough for the last 2 km to our house. Dinner didnt happen until 9pm and they were crashed out by 10. Unfortunately I think it was too much for my foot which now has a very painful muscle pull. But it was very exciting to realize we can now take them on more adventurous hikes.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Smiths Visit!

This post goes with the end of the previous post, the formatting got screwed up and the two got combined. Here are some pictures of my parents visit with us.

1) nana and pop and kids by our lake, 2) our rainy hike up Laguna Negra, 3) kids in arrayanes forest, 4) refugio above El Bolson 5) Nana and Cass on the boat tour

Dave and I also got a chance for an all day hike during their visit. Of course it was the first day of rain in about 30 days but we were still happy to be out and in the mountains. It has been really hot and sunny so it was actually nice to be cool and wet. We hiked up to a Refugio at a high alpine lake and were soaked and cold when we arrived. Their mountain hut system is like that in Europe, it is very civilized to be able to order hot chocolate after 8 miles of uphill hiking!!

Another highlight of their visit was an Asado or traditional Argentinian meat grill that we did in our backyard with heavy assistance by our landlords. The meat was delicious and the cultural exchange great and you would not believe the quantity of meat the Cassidy put into her tiny body!!!

We also started our spanish classes with Spanish in the Mountains, a school run by four outdoor focused women who lead 7 day treking and spanish classes. We are limited to classes at our house with our fabulous teacher Silve and the kids so far play well while we do an hour and half class three times a week. Toby will also take a few more classes, Cassidy probably not!

Off to Argentina

Toby at the bus station in Pucon and us playing Uno waiting at customs between Argentina and Chile.

We are very behind in our postings so I am writing retroactively about our trip over to Bariloche. We took a 6 hr bus ride over the Andes from Pucon to San Martin de Los Andes in Argentina. The trip over was amazing, narrow dirt roads winding up thru the mountains in a huge bus with other huge buses passing wherever they could! There were some amazing volcano views from the crest too then after a relatively painless trip through both Chilean and Argentian customs offices we headed down into the dry steppes of Argentina. Toby and Cass thought customs unnecessarily long and got pretty crabby for the first time on a bus ride. The biggest problem was the heat on the bus and by the time we arrived in San Martin we were forceably keeping them apart! We hadnt been able to get reservations in San Martin which was a bit stressful but fortunately found space at a very nice place right on the lake and only 2 blocks from the bus stop. San Martin reminded us a lot of Aspen, they had strict zoning restrictions so it has kept its small town character with really cute houses and beautiful public buildings of wood and white adobe. But it was also very pricey compared to other places in the area, fancy shops, restaruants and finally - the famous Argentinian chocolate, mmmmm!!! The next morning we caught a bus Bariloche via the scenic 7 lakes route (also mostly dirt) which is stunningly beautiful. It might have been nice to explore more of San Martin or Villa Angostura but we were very ready to find a home. We arrived in Bariloche around 2:30 and by 4:30 I was looking at houses with a realtor. We lucked out and found a fabulous spot about 10 km outside of Bariloche in a village called Los Coihues (means Big Trees in Mapuche). We chose this area because it is where the spanish school we hoped to attend was and it is rural while still being accessible to the city. We have a cute townhouse with no neighbors and the sweetest landlords, Lilliana and Ricardo who welcomed us with open arms (literally, the Argentinians kiss everyone all the time!). We are 1 minute from a grocery store, on a public bus route but across the street from a huge open space area and 5 minutes from the lake, Lago Guiterrez. There is a beach right in the village that is nice but rocky, and a sandy beach about a half hour walk (for the kids) down the lake in the national park. The other big perk is that we are only a 2 hour walk from ¨the Frey¨a famous rock climbing area that Dave is hoping to explore. The village has about 50 houses and probably about the same number of stray dogs. Unlike in Central America, the strays here are big, lots of german shephard types. Talk about immersion therapy, Toby is getting over his dog issues pretty fast. Toby and Cassidy were very happy to settle into a new house and love the cuisine here - lots of chocolate and pasta (big Italian influence) and for steak! (and for us, $1 bottles of wine that are tasty!!!).

Four days after our arrival, Shannon´s parents came for a visit. They had flown into Santiago then took a route over the Andes from Puerto Montt that goes from bus to boat to bus to boat (7 times I think). After a lot of confusion about the time and location of their arrival, we were united in Puerto Panuelo outside of Bariloche. We were all VERY happy to see some family. They stayed for 7 days and we had a great mix of touristy things and hanging out by the lake. We took a trip up the Gondola to Cerro Otto which overlooks Nahuel Huapi the huge lake on which Bariloche sits and did a hike from the top where we could look down over the back side and see our lake. The high point for the kids was a revolving restaraunt at the top with delicious cakes , I think most of our posts from Argentina are going to mention food. Another day we rented a car and drove down to El Bolson on a day they have their big artesan fair. We had heard that El Bolson was a hippie enclave and they werent kidding, lots of dread locks and patchuli oil there. We also did a hike WAY up above town, sorry rental car, to a Sculpture Forest, of literaly, carved tree stumps and then above to a beautiful refugio with really cute kittens and an amazing view of the valley and surrounding peaks. We didnt get back to our house until 12:30 and still motivated to go out on a boat tour of the big lake the next day. This tour took us to a famous Arrayanes forest, myrtle trees, in the only place myrtles grow as trees instead of bushes.