Buenos Aires and Beyond for a Beginner

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May 18th, 2013, 08:05 PM
  #41
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It’s in a different state of mind that I get to finish the story of the two day ride, as Ariane had directed me to Betty, her massage therapist, and after an hour under her talented hands I was able to walk with a spirited step back to the hostel. If anyone happens to do this trip, make sure you get Ariane’s massage therapist’s number, if not, she is on 756 Morales, #7, close to many of the hostels and a five minute walk from mine. She charged me 200 pesos for the hour and I gave her another 10 for fitting me in at the last minute. Much appreciated.
Back at Tito’s house, the sun arbitrates the household movements because the generator doesn’t come on until night, and it doesn’t appear until later in the day. Tito had oven duty, and I took the time to rest, and listened to Felipe snuggle into the sleeping bag with Ariane, buried like a forest tick into her warmth. When I heard her start to move around, we started a conversation that lasted another two hours while the boys drank mate in the kitchen.
Girls of a certain age talk about certain things, with Ariane at 51 and me at 60 there are a variety of things we are going to discuss, whether it’s the inevitability of things that sag or how to keep a face young in the elements. We are both horsewomen, neither of us had kids whether by design or choice, and we have both lived in different parts of the world. As part of my travels I collect friendships with remarkable women; to me they are like precious gemstones which add untold value to a life. Not that men do not, it’s just that I find my female friendships particularly rich, and those of us who have forgone family have a special language. Powerful, high-achieving women who go out into the world fearlessly fascinate me, and I cannot get enough of them and their stories.
So I went to sit on the end of Ariane’s bed, got permission to drink her water and commented that my mouth felt like “stale owl s—t and we broke into gales of laughter (that by the way is a line from my mother, which she spouted to me after fifteen hours on a flight from the US to New Zealand). Felipe trade his warm spot in her sleeping bag to my lap where he proceeded to remove the sleep from my face, and we told stories until the caffeine urge was too strong to ignore. By then, it was 10:30 and time to get going.
Tito had a fascinating way of making coffee. He mixed instant Nescafe with a little sugar, a bit of water and powdered milk in a coffee cup, and for the next fifteen to twenty minutes stirred the mixture with some force as he carried on his conversation. I am not making this up. It’s the equivalent to about three or four minutes in a full speed blender. What he ends up pouring into your cup is the color and consistency of caramel taffy, which you mix with water and sweeten to your liking. It really is quite wonderful.
Outside the sun was brightening up the far peaks and the horses, under Christian’s care, were making short work of a bale of fresh hay apiece. This was the cause of no shortage of amusement during the ride. Terrible had a very effective digestive system, Huisito and I regularly dodged flying apples as he had his bano moments during the adventure which were many and plentiful. There were no ribs sticking out on these horses whose coats were shiny and whose energy was enthusiastic.
Ariane and Tito saw us off for the early afternoon ride and Ariane promised to meet us up the road for lunch by a river. The day started off with frost, and all the puddles were frozen over. Still the sun was as bright as the day before and promised to warm us up along the way. This day I placed foot warmers inside my boots, and they immediately began to emit a gentle heat which kept my soles warm for hours against the sharp cold of the morning. But no chaps, so getting on the saddle was made much easier.
The second day’s ride was open road, and we were treated to the sight of many eagles perched on fence posts. We passed many tumbledown houses, barely standing- every one of them occupied, but the gates to the estancias were proud. No condors today, but we were greeted everywhere by horses. We rode quietly in the early afternoon along long roads lined by tall, graceful pines, many of them imported from the States.
Some of the hills had sheep, others cows, there were small rivers and ravines that we rode down. Ariane passed us, dogs loaded in the back seat. Soon we met up with her to set up a sunny riverside lunch overlooking beautiful blue-grey rocks and hills nearby. The temperature was about 60 degrees, and the wind was just beginning to get that late afternoon chill. All the dogs were merrily chasing each other, and we unsaddled the horses to let them roll in the grass.
We feasted on the last of Tito’s incredible chicken, fruit, Danish cookies and soup, and as the afternoon began to pass the midpoint, we saddled up and made for the last leg home. I’ve not yet mentioned the advantage of having Christian as a guide, his lack of English was a great opportunity to be immersed in Spanish, so we traded phrases and I got to practice my grammar such as it is. And at long last, I got my gallope. Not just one, but four of them.
We galloped on flats, we galloped on hills and high roads, and Christian challenged me by whipping Terrible around trees sharply in and out for me to follow and stay seated, it was grand fun. On several roads we had to run over – and I may misspell this- tuka tuka?- which Huisito stumbled over several times at speed. When that happens and you’re at the crest of a hill, and your bum is in mid air and your horse is headed downwards while you are still airborne it can be interesting, even though your knees are still firmly pressed to the horse’s side. One of my favorite memories of the trip is Christian’s regularly turning his head over his right shoulder and asking “Bien?” And I would shout “Siempre bien!” back.
After the sun has baked the needles for a while the pinos are full of scent, so as we wound our way through the trees on the way home it was like smelling Christmas. The horses pricked their ears forward and picked up the pace, food was close by and another good roll in the grass at the end of the day. The late afternoon sun on a windless sky and the lake was flat and shiny. In no time the horses were free of bridle, bit and saddle, legs in the air and on their way to their oats and water.
Ariane loaded all the dogs and me into her aging pickup and we started our way into town. At the first turn, she saw an ancient man making his way to the corner. This was her next door neighbor, a bit infirm, who had sold his land and holdings, and his wife had passed away some time ago. She said that she often gave him rides into Bariloche to bowl, and as we pulled up next to him he turned and saluted the car. She helped him around, and opened the back door where the dogs took up all the room in the back seat. Painfully he eased his way nearly on top of the dogs until, with some strong encouragement, they gave way so that he could sit down, and when he did, they draped over him in comfortable familiarity. Ariane kept up a lively conversation with him as we neared town and also explained to me her concern about his welfare as there are few if any facilities for the old, and she had no idea what his future would hold as he had no children. On the main avenue, we pulled over and he slowly let himself out, the dogs returned to their accustomed spots and Felipe stuck his wet nose in my ear.
At the hostel, I paid her the 3200 pesos for the ride (I tipped Christian 110) and we again launched into a long conversation which took us across politics, women’s issues, challenges of being alone in later years, being on singles dating sites, her ten years in Argentina, her aging parents back in Holland, business issues such as how to price herself now that she has more clients asking for her time that she has time to give. I honestly wanted to stuff Ariane in a suitcase and bring her home with me, and have her as a close friend, but then she wouldn’t be Ariane. This is the price we pay for finding such interesting and engaging people all over the world- they force us to stay in touch and come back again and again, which is a small price to pay for the magic that they bring to our lives.
Ariane’s riding adventures- to speak solely of the ride itself- was precisely what I came to Argentina to experience. The real thing- using the tack, the procedures, the horses and the methods to ride the surroundings, be pushed to ride hard and well, dine on the land, stay in a real gaucho’s house at high altitude, wake up in an icy house on the sun’s time, enjoy a warm fire in a friendly kitchen with good people with no pretensions, be surrounded by a language I am still learning. To smell the unspoiled mountain air in fall, feel the rush of icy water and the crunch of frost underfoot, the strong muscles of an energetic mountain horse as he leaps over a small ravine. In truth, the experience was priceless, and like my tour with Angie, it stands on its own and you can’t compare the two. The authenticity of the experience was what gave it the five stars, my friendship with Ariane is additional, and like my connection with Angie, what we all do if we are willing to put for the effort to open our true selves to those whom we meet here.
At the airport, and this goes to AVRooster, I got called out in the security line AGAIN, and this time I got completely patted down and all my stuff was pulled out and looked at in detail. I had bought a crop, but that didn’t get me in trouble. What absolutely brought the house down for me was when this very nice, polite, smiling young man went through my meds. As a sixty year old, and a body builder, and a female, my meds are varied and sometimes complex. So, I’m standing there patiently explaining to him every single pill container that I have. This is coconut oil. What’s that for? This is Glucosamine. What’s that for? This is Super Food. What’s that for? And this goes on, until he finds these long, thin blue pencil like things that have a pill on the end. Wrapped separately. The words Vagi-fem did not seem to register. What’s this for? Um. Well. How ‘bout I just demonstrate? So I did. Hey, you asked.
I knew what had set off the alarms-I had bought a couple of very small brass locks, although they hadn’t set off any alarms previously. No, he says. AH! Here it is! Proudly he holds up a tiny sewing kit which has a couple of sewing needles in it, threaded with the black thread from the last repair project. Now that he had found the culprit, he showed it to everyone else, and then asked me if I wanted to go all the way back downstairs and go through the whole process again, to make sure it gets on board.
Ah, no.
So now I am out a sewing kit. No matter, I have at least two more in my backpack. Ready for all contingencies, including pokey nosed security guards. Like I said, if you can’t laugh, don’t travel.
Well all I can say is that whoever was responsible for the two picture perfect, absolutely magnificent days in Bariloche which just happened to coincide with my two days of riding, I am beyond grateful. Because as the plane left town, the clouds were socking the town in and more were on the way, along with wind, and rain, and all those autumnal characteristics which, on AVRooster’s advice, I shortened my time here. It was sheer dumb luck that fortune smiled and I can report on such a great outfit and experience. For anyone considering a multi day ride, please consider Ariane, with one side comment.
A story that Ariane shared expresses one of the prices these outfitters pay when tourists don’t take into account their own bulk. A while back, Ariane took an American tourist on a five day ride. He was obese, and by the end of the first day, the skin on the horse’s withers had split open. In another case, another horse bore the weight of another very fat tourist on a multi day ride and was permanently ruined. That animal had to be sold, rehabilitated and is now a children’s play horse. Both of these horses were large- chosen to accommodate these tourists- but they couldn’t do it. There is a limit to what any animal can bear- and these outfitters have a right to say someone is too big for their horse to carry. It is extremely hard work for an animal to carry a couple hundred pounds straight uphill, along with full saddlebags and tack. To try to bear a fat man or woman up the hill for a multi day trip is akin to animal cruelty, and reveals a lack of understanding of a horse’s capability. That’s putting it nicely. These trips need to be pleasant for the animals, too, they work very hard for our pleasure, and most outfitters work very hard to keep them in shape for us. I apologize if I offend anyone, it’s not my intention. I feel strongly about treating animals with the kindness they deserve. Ariane’s had to learn to say no, and on our end, sometimes it’s good to know what adventures are good for us.

And now for a final note. I have landed in Mendoza, and LAN has managed to lose my backpack. That means that the only things I have with me are my electronics and my meds. So now LAN has my knife, my sewing needles and the entire backpack, which is enough to annoy me rather a lot. As I got in late tonight there was of course no one to talk to, no one spoke English, no one could help. I did manage to get a lost baggage report from a very put out attendant, and all I have right now is an 800 number to call.

For the life of me, I don't know how this happened, as the woman at the counter in Bariloche confirmed with the baggage handler that my bag was going to Mendoza. Clearly, LAN did not get that message.

Well, so much for that lovely vest, the riding boots, the helmet, all my clothing, gear, hmm. We'll see if they manage to find it.
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May 19th, 2013, 04:19 AM
  #42
 
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Questions, commments, suggestions, etc.:

About the knife, the problem at the Salta airport seems to have been that you had "lost" it somewhere in your carry-on luggage?????

I stand by my opinion that foreigners are treated differently from locals, meaning in a much harsher style, upon entering the USA.

Of course, I'm more than happy you had a great time in Bariloche with Ariane Hellman's outfit. Does she have a website?

However, it is my understanding that Ariane had committed to ride with you, but excused herself at the last minute and sent you out with a non-English speaking gaucho called Cristián.

Should that be the case, it sounds like a clear case of "bait and switch" and I feel you should have strongly objected to it. Again, IF I'm right about the way things happened, I certainly would NOT give this "cabalgatas" outfit "a five out of five".

Furthermore, I feel the gaucho Cristián should have adjusted his horse's gait to Luisito's (your horse).

But, then, I'm a really tough grader, as I am used to evaluating probably the best hotel in BA.

I REALLY loved the part about your falling asleep at the table!

So you tipped the masseuse ONE buck and Cristián no less than TWELVE for spending all of TWO days with you! Great! LOL!!!

IMPORTANT:

About LAN's losing your back pack: It is my understanding that you flew from Bariloche to BA and then, on another flight, from BA to Mendoza. Right, so far?

IF that is the case, my advice to all tourists taking TWO different flights is NOT to send your checked luggage to its final destination.

INSTEAD, retrieve it after your first flight and check it again for the second flight.

While LAN will PROBABLY find your backpack, if they don't, this could turn into a serious setback for an otherwise wonderful trip.

As I posted in this thread and in a special thread on the subject, LAN is having serious problems with Intercargo, a government-run firm which takes care of the baggage handling at the airport, among other things.

Intercargo and LAN are at odds with each other. Right now, Intercargo's "mission" is to make LAN's customers as unhappy as possible, so they choose for future travel the government-run airline instead of LAN.

In case the above is not clear enough, what I mean is that the loss of your backpack may have been intentional.

Let's hope they find it soon. Even if they do, be sure to pressure LAN into compensating you for this problem.

Keep up the good work!
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May 19th, 2013, 06:19 AM
  #43
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A couple of things on your comments, AVRooster: I appreciate the overall view of the airport, and with a better understanding of how the flights come and go at Jorge Newbery I'll take that into account in the future. With the exception of tight connections, it's easy enough to pick up the luggage and go through security again. I called the free number this morning but of course no one spoke English and one person hung up on me when I asked if there was anyone available who spoke English. So finally I had to go find someone here on staff who could speak for me. Apparently the backpack arrived after I did, and now it's a matter of getting it to the hostel, so if that's the case, all is well.

Ariane does have a website although I don't have it at the moment,I can track it down later. To her defense, and I will say this strongly, she already had a commitment where there was a filming crew, and we had a long talk about what was going on at the time and the hard choice she had to make about doing that work or riding with me. At several points along the way in advance she had mentioned that there was a potential conflict with a filming crew during those dates so I was advised. I should have made this more clear In no way do I feel that it was bait and switch, and while I know you are a hard grader, in this case because I have an inside view to what was going on, this would not be a fair characterization. As for Cristian's tip, I checked with Ariane and asked her what the rate was, and that's what she
asked me to give him. I tend to agree with you, that he should have adjusted his gait. But he didn't. And so that you get the full picture, at Tito's house I sat with Ariane and gave her feedback on Cristian as a guide and that may well have influenced what she felt was a fair tip.

I would have given absolutely anything for someone to have taken a photo of my head lolling to the side and my eyes closed at the dinner table at Tito's house, AVRooster. The whole table saw it, and apparently Tito was the one who nudged Ariane and indicated that the magic chicken had done its job. I was so full of adrenaline and excitement the whole day that when people asked me if I was tired I said no, no, no, and meant it. But the moment that rich, hot food hit my stomach, whammo, that was the end of it. I'm still chuckling about it.

Frankly, and this is really hindsight, I wish I had read your thread about the airlines prior to making my flight plans. While it seems that things are going to be all right- and I most certainly hope they are- this is the kind of information that is so critically useful to us all. It's one of the vagaries of international travel when it comes to labor disputes or internecine battles that go on internally with airlines or buses. When I first arrived there was a bus strike, for example, and folks I met up in Iguazu had been stranded for more than a week. While yes, that's a part of the experience (like losing your luggage, for example)the kind of advance warning this information provides is priceless.

As to your comment about how internationals are treated, all I can offer is that after 9-11, we've taken such a protective attitude, and with the bombing in Boston, it wouldn't surprise me if people are even more careful. That saddens me because one wants to believe we are a welcoming country. We are once you're past TSA. What I do enjoy is that even while folks are going through my stuff they're friendly and funny and we are enjoying the process. That is simply not true with TSA who are humorless and about as friendly as a melted spatula.

We have an overcast sky here in Mendoza, and at the Empedrado Hostel I can report that the staff was extremely attentive to my situation last night. This is a good sized hostel, and breakfast here this morning was a nice layout (for carbohydrate lovers) of cake and cereal and juice and some eggs, hot milk and coffee and tea, and since it was Saturday last night I was the only one up at 9 having caffeine to take on LAN. With luck, in a few hours I will have the gear to take care of laundry, showers, and other necessities and start planning my third week. There are posters and signs all over the reception for every adrenaline sport you could ask for. And I can't wait.
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May 19th, 2013, 06:36 AM
  #44
 
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Great! If you knew beforehand that Ariane had scheduled work "with a filming crew during those dates" that changes everything and the five stars are OK.

Have a great time in Mendoza doing "every adrenaline sport you could ask for". LOL!
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May 19th, 2013, 07:37 AM
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So glad to hear your backpack has shown up! Yeah! Hope you'll also be trying the wine in Mendoza, lol.

The TSA is an equal-opportunity offender, but is currently (after a long court battle) actually taking comments. See: http://elliott.org/security-2/its-ti...-it-to-listen/

However, foreigners also face the hurdle of dealing with passport control/immigration officers. I have entered as both a citizen and a permanent resident. Entering as a citizen is pretty straight-forward. Entering as a permanent resident is now pretty straight-forward, as they can now use the citizen lines, but I used to have stand in the non-citizen line, and it once took me so long to enter at Newark (about 90 minutes, I think) that I missed my connection. Since 9-11 I am sure it is much worse. I have dealt several times with the Immigration Service (INS, before it became ICE) and I can assure you that however bad you think the IRS is, the INS was an order of magnitude worse. Their attitude seems to be that they are charged with finding reasons to keep you out, not facilitate your admission, however legal.

On the face the US presents to foreigners see: http://www.askthepilot.com/the-decline-and-fall/ It is a particular stupidity that transit passengers cannot transit air-side.
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May 19th, 2013, 07:46 AM
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jhubbel is a teetotaler, I understand. Apparently, she believes there are other things to do in Mendoza, besides drinking our great wines. And she is most likely right. We'll know for sure as she reports during the next few days. LOL!!!
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May 19th, 2013, 11:20 AM
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A little birdie told me LAN just delivered jhubbel's backpack!

Hip, hip, hurrah!
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May 19th, 2013, 03:57 PM
  #48
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I swear to you by all that is holy, that there is little in the world more wonderful (now take all of this in context folks) than brushing your furry teeth in a red hot shower after living in and sleeping in your clothing for two days and having no toothbrush or anything to change into, or clean undies, and you're not on an epic camping trip to excuse yourself for it. Hurrah, huzzah, and thank you LAN. Now it took awhile but in the meantime I got a lot of writing done.

By the way, while I was waiting a young man relayed a story about how he had to put a carryon into the baggage at the last minute and when he got it back it had been rifled. To that, my suggestion is to use TSA-friendly small padlocks, which are clearly marked. They can open them for inspection if necessary, and they will close them again, leaving you the friendly "we were here" note. But the padlocks otherwise deter the casual thief. If someone is determined to get into your bag they will get into your bag, padlock or no padlock. But since I began to use these small padlocks all over the outside of my pack, locking zippers together, I've not lost a thing. It's a visual deterrent, and it simply becomes a habit for you to remember a combination to get back in. Or else you better not lose your keys like someone I know.

A note to thursdaysd, AVRooster is quite correct. I don't imbibe whatsoever, in any way shape or form. So wines, wine tours, tastings or anything related to the industry is of no interest whatsoever. All my friends wailed at the thought that I'd be in Argentina, the land of beef and wine, and I don't eat red meat or drink wine, and they cried out "but you don't know what you're missing." Hey, I'm currently on my second yogurt of the night and I found a pineapple, that makes my world go 'round. And so does the thought of paragliding tomorrow afternoon. And skydiving the next day. And another two-day ride.

Empedrado Hostel's staff, I must mention here, came to my rescue this morning when it was clear I was having difficulties with the toll free service. The young man basically made it his personal mission to call at the appointed times during the day until he knew when my backpack was going to show up, and it made me feel secure and well taken care of. Not every hostel provides that kind of care. They also don't allow smoking here which is so appreciated. So often I find myself moving from room to room to room to get away from the intrusive blue clouds, and here you must go outside to smoke.

The hostel is also located just a few blocks from downtown, near a big supermarket, and just about everything else. It's a great location, it's big, has lots of dorm rooms and they are clued in to multiple services. This matters because if one calbagatas doesn't work out, you can look at another, which frees them from being tied to one operator due to commission. The kitchen is huge, there are multiple eating areas and toilets. And bless their hearts, miracle of miracles, they have a tub so big you need scuba gear to take a bath in it. That particular facility has my name on it for later this week. The AHHHHHHHHH that AVRooster will be hearing sometime around Friday will be me, sinking into that bathtub.
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May 19th, 2013, 04:15 PM
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We have a date next Friday to HEAR you getting into a large bathtub with only scuba gear on????????? Well, what can I say? Via Skype??? LOL!!!
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May 20th, 2013, 10:24 AM
  #50
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Hear only, AVRooster. Keep your ears open. I scored a perfect gaucho knife today at an off-the mainstream gaucho store, and the senora directed me to a place to find gaucho pants (hers were too big for me). I am searching for a particular kind, of a particular weight, very much like what I saw in Purmamarca. That may be impossible, given provincial differences. I found one very good pair for 180 pesos and got them but am still on the lookout. Going paragliding in seven minutes...
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May 20th, 2013, 10:41 AM
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Your loyal readers start the countdown. LOL!!!

We call "gaucho pants" "bombachas de campo". There should be a huge variety available.

Remember: "efectivo sin boleta". LOL!
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May 20th, 2013, 05:19 PM
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Eduardo, the skydiver, picked me up today for the paragliding event; he does both. I liked him immediately, as I like my flight instructors with a little grey hair. Not interested in some hotshot twenty year old with something to prove in the third dimension, give me a 50 year old with thousands of hours in the air and the competence of multiple sports under his belt. That's Eduardo. The sun was well past midpoint as we pulled up to watch one of the pilots come down and the student fall down on her knees (sloppy landing). After a bit more of a wait, there were enough of us and enough pilots to climb into the ancient four wheeler jeep and make the perilous journey to the top of the local hills to do the flight.

Many people don't realize that skydiving is safer that paragliding because you have a reserve, which has a very sensitive mechanism which make it work when you hit a certain altitude and velocity, indicating that you aren't on the ball. Not so with paragliding. You make a mistake on takeoff or landing, you stall out 100 ft, you're on your own. So when we got to the top where all the satellite towers were and the windsock was flat, there was some consternation. That meant there was little to run into on takeoff, to put air into the aircells in the canopy for takeoff. And baby, it's straight down once you're off the cliff. Well hell, that's why they call it an adrenaline sport.
One pair took off cleanly while the wind sock was partially full, then it fell flat for the other girl. They made an attempt but she got tangle up in her pilot and they aborted very close to the edge.

Eduardo and I kept our eye on the sock and moved over to the center, and seconds later he directed me to run. Run we did, and then down I went, with an immediate uplift, and then you shift the seat under your butt as the canopy takes off. The thermals were poor so we couldn't gain much height, but still, the joy of being in the air was more than enough.I threw out my arms and laid back and closed my eyes and listened to the wind as it blew across my face and ears.

People who are or have been pilots, skydivers, paragliders, hangliders, all of us in this family understand the call of the third dimension. There is absolutely nothing that defines freedom so much as leaving gravity behind for a while, even a little while, and soaring, and as one famous poem says, "to touch the face of God." Even if someone is is piloting it is still magnificent.

We flew low, close the mountains to pick the warmth rising up from the rocks, and gained a bit of altitude for our final.
As we came in I grabbed what used to be called risers on my old rig and we did a stand up landing together. Perfecto!

Afterwards Eduardo talked about the changes in gear since I flew and his career, and how he's been running this business in Mendoza for 25 years. He's got a staff he's trained himself, he is also the Cessna pilot, and he's developed a team of tandem jumpers well as paripente pilots for tourists. And that's what he likes best now. To me what this means is quality control, and a good experience for anyone who wants to go along for the ride, dive, and smile.

For my part, I'm going again tomorrow, jumping on Wednesday, and hoping to organize a two day riding excursion into the mountains before the weekend. We'll see!
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May 20th, 2013, 05:55 PM
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Glad you enjoyed it, but that is very much a "sooner you than me" event. My head for heights is now so bad I rode the chair lift down from Cerro Campanario above Bariloche with my eyes shut... (I hiked up)
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May 21st, 2013, 06:07 AM
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I can surely respect that. Although I can think of someone I'd liked to have sent down that chairlift in his birthday suit in the middle of winter- the groping drunk who woke me up a oh-dark-thirty this morning, in our pitch black dorm. I could feel something grabbing my legs and ankles and trying to climb into my bed, and I woke up with a start to find some guy making his way into my bunk. Let's just say he's damned lucky that I had packed away that very sharp gaucho knife into my backpack, because my first instinct was to do severe damage to an attacker, but as it was I don't think he expected resistance and he backed off and made his way down the hallway. Good thing for both of us, I don't need an international incident and he probably needed his guts for digestion. I found out this morning that there had been a big birthday party last night, and being in a wine soused town, well, chances are that his amour had disappeared down one of several hallways and in his inebriated state he got very confused and was playing Door #1? Door #2? to track her down. Not a particularly smart way to find a willing female, but I've never known alcohol to increase the IQ.

Another kind note for Empedrado Hostel, each morning the staff adds pancakes with dulce de leche - more like crepes- to the menu, and fruit, which I've not seen before. They really feed you here. We've been trying now for three days to track down the elusive Diego the gaucho to set up a meeting so that I can plan that two day riding trip, but Diego has been very busy. It's still up in the air, but meantime air sports are still very much in the plans today and tomorrow.

Here the weather has been in the 50s or so during the day, and right cool at night, typical desert weather. While most of the trees still have their leaves they are barely hanging on and at the late brown stage. But the grand avenues of town sport magnificent huge trees that line these streets as far as you can see, reminding me of the old Southern plantations which had these long, tree-lined roads leading up to the mansion. Downtown is just lovely. Note to AVRooster, when I went to look at gaucho knives yesterday I had a lovely conversation with the woman at the gaucho store, and her knives topped out with a very big impressive one at 60.00, the rest were all in the 14.00-15.00 range. When I went to the store downtown to look at bombachas de campo the comparative knives in that store started at 55 bucks and went up from there. This is why I always ask for the stores where the gauchos shop, and I always prefer to speak to a woman if I can. And I always follow your advice, Mr A. The difference was that I wanted something that a gaucho would actually use, whereas the tourist store was presenting these extremely fancy, expensive, not-likely-to-be-seen-in-use-on-a-cattle run knives. Pure tourista.

As I am now in my third week here I am able to make some overall comments, recognizing that my experience in this massive, expansive country is still very limited. However from what I have seen, this is what I've noticed. There is something of a hell-bent-for-leather speediness in BsAs that is not shared by most of the rest of the country, which is matched by an air of perhaps -and I can only characterize this as an archness or superiority that that portenas feel over their countrymen for not being able to live in such a sophisticated city. Contrast that with the air of bemusement that pretty much everyone else that I've met feels about portenos, who seem to their mind at a loss in the countryside, who can't slow down, and enjoy themselves fully at a slower pace. This is what I keep hearing anyway.

Argentina seems to embrace just about every diversity but has its own harsh history with indigenous peoples (don't we all). The extraordinary range of bloodlines that I have run into here- Polish, German, Czech, all intertwined with the Argentine and Brazilian and other bloodlines make this such a melting pot of a country. Angie's family is a perfect example of this. It's a country that has at various times made other people most welcome to develop itself and while its political history has been mixed, it's taken advantage of the input from all the races that have woven themselves into the overall tapestry of the population.

I love how so much history has been kept alive, the gaucho traditions are alive and well, and in the places I have been to date buildings have been repurposed and maintained so that their value has not been lost. I recall how so many grand historical buildings in Denver were torn down before the Historical Society put a stop to it, but by that time so much was already lost in the mad rush to be modern. So much of what is charming in the cities here is in the architecture which I have photographed with a loving eye.

The hostels and hotels where I've stayed have with rare exception made it clear they appreciate and value guests, and want you back again and again. I stay in dorms most of the time, and largely inexpensive places by design, so that I can spend my final week in pampered pleasure (Dos Hermanos, here I come), and I'm familiar with hostels in many countries. I've loved what I've found here. The prices have been so amenable, and people are well fed and cared for warmly. Like any hostel there are mild inconveniences like waiting for a shower in the morning or doing the "I gotta pee" dance when the toilets are full but that's part of the story when you pay less.

The land itself, the scenery, the variety, even though I did not make it farther south than Bariloche, was even more stunning than the photos that I pored over during my research could have prepared me for. It's a fact of life that nothing that you read about can ever quite inform you enough so that you can appreciate it beforehand. The smells, the scents on the wind, the impact of the Southern Hemisphere sun, the unique quality of light that is characteristic of south of the Equator, that stunning night sky, no National Geographic photo is adequate. It's a pleasure to consider that I have much more of the country still to explore on a future trip in the summer, and next time I'll have that much more knowledge under my belt to prepare me.

I've found the people - from the young Peruvian man who was terribly concerned that I had no familia to go home to, Tito the gaucho, my fellow hostellers, Eduardo the skydiving instructor, Angie, Ariane and most everyone else I've met along the way and this most especially applies to our beloved AVRooster, to be generous to a fault, helpful, willing to out of their way to ensure that my trip was good in every way. That includes putting up with my execrable Spanish grammar and being willing to correct it with patience, teach me new words, laugh at my mistakes and convince me that I absolutely, positively have to come back.

One of my biggest priorities in coming to Argentina was to break in a brand new pair of riding boots, get used to my new helmet and break in my winter breeches. The breeches are on a chair, drying in front of a heater as I sit here in the breakfast room at the hostel. Occasionally I get a little burnt smell which makes me leap up and shift them so that I don't get holes. The boots are now properly dusty, wrinkled, and right comfortable. The helmet works perfectly. The breeches sport marks where they've been introduced to Argentinian pinos. And I bought a whip which got used the second day I was on the mountains with Cristian. I have been monumentally fortunate to have some very good people work with my skills (and more to come) and make me a better rider, and in the process I've been able to see and do things that many people either dream or talk about but never do.

There are still about 8 days left to fill, and as I look forward to those days, a piece of me wishes fervently I had at least 68 more. I can fully appreciate anyone's passion for Argentina, I admit to being infected by it, and frankly this is one country- unlike Costa Rica- that I know full well I will be returning to sooner rather than later. The sheer variety for anyone- whether they are game for aventura like I am more inclined to do or the more relaxed and genteel kind of exploration, it makes no difference. I've come to deeply appreciate the country and its varied history, peoples, culture and so much more, and that's speaking as a rank beginner with only three weeks invested. It's clear that one can return for years on end and hardly scratch the surface of what this country has to offer.
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May 21st, 2013, 06:43 AM
  #55
 
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Wow!

Well, I have been saying for the last few days that this thread could well develop into one of the greatest of all time in the Fodor's Argentina forum.

About the research for your trip to our South in the course of OUR next summer, when do we get started?
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May 21st, 2013, 12:08 PM
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Well, next January for me is already committed to Viet Nam but I will see what can be done. There is always room for another month, and I love traveling in shoulder seasons. Watch this space.

I am just back from another paripente adventure, and Eduardo had me up solo today- the only customer on the most picture perfect, great conditions day one could ask for in terms of paragliding. The mountains had been soaking up bright warm sunshine for hours which meant that the thermals were roiling up from the ground. The wind cooperated, and as our ancient Jeep wheezed its way to the top, this time Eduardo had my permission to video the experience as it would be well worth taping. And indeed it was. The warm sun, cerulean skies and not a cloud to be seen for miles around made not only for a perfect takeoff, but instead of a measly 20 minute standard flight...Eduardo and I had nearly an hour in the air! Not only that, but the thermals boosted us to 1800' above the mountain tops, where the wind periodically buffeted our little craft. As I sat I put my arms out for most of the flight, letting the air do what it may, and the tears again streamed down my cheeks. I told Eduardo that when you have been given this kind of gift to experience the sky, you remember to wake up in the morning full of gracias, which we all should anyway, but when we reach for the sky and enter into its realm in a most intimate way like this, it's a whole other universe. I've rarely felt more at home, and it has made me wonder if it's time to return to the sports I love. Hell sixty ain't that old for me anyway.

Still circling very high we began to wend our way towards the DZ or drop zone, and once more the thermals lifted us skyward. I was able to see so much of the area, the distant mountains with the early snows. Eduardo and I laughed about how people who skydive tend to get involved with pretty much all other sports, like scuba and just about everything else. Skydiving tends to build the confidence and all else is easy after that, or appears to be. We had another absolutely perfect "stepdown" walking landing, and wrapped up a grand flight. It's unbelievable to me that no one else had jumped at the opportunity to fly on such a limitless day- you were guaranteed a long flight, high if you wanted. Eduardo knew I'd go as high as the thermals would take me and he did.

We discussed a few of the landing basics for the skydive for tomorrow, and he transferred the flight videos from his camera to my camera's SIM card. Then he drove me home, my head full of the vision of the curves of the mountains, a clear fall sky, and a vision of the curves of the earth in the distance. Flying- medicine for the heart.

Diego the hard to find is supposed to turn up in about an hour, and shortly I'm going to nab one of the showers- this is a good time of day, as every shower has a toilet, and they are in short supply when everyone comes in and starts imbibing the free wine supply.

And again one more note about heights to thursdaysd: people are frightened of heights they can immediately relate to, such as being at the top of a building, or a ladder, where falling is perceived as imminent. On a ski lift, the ground is close enough to imagine one's self tumbling off. However when you're looking out the door of an airplane, deciding where to get out (called "spotting") your brain can't compute the relationship with the ground. It just can't. When you can is when you're oh, say about 50 ft off the ground, getting ready to flare (stall your chute)and start the landing process. That's when people get what's called "ground rush" and sometimes go stupid. The ground appears to be coming at them fast, and so you're told to look at the horizon instead.

You're going to touch down, one way or another, it's just a matter of how hard and how fast, and that's a product of when and how you stalled your flying apparatus. That takes a little skill and practice, and before you get that under your belt they teach you this nifty thing called a PLF or parachute landing fall, which starts around the calf and hits at multiple points and ends at your opposing shoulder, so that you distribute the impact of your landing across your entire body and end standing up. Easy peasy. People have survived falls from buildings using the PLF, gotten a few broken bones, but survived, it's that effective. There you are, TMI to be sure, but just think of how useful that will be when your children say Mommy I wanna learn how to skydive and you will be soooooooo smart.

Another lesson learned here about tropical fruit. I used to think that a yellow, slightly brownish pina was a good choice. Here, not so much. When I find a pina that's in that condition here, it turns out to be mostly rotten inside. The same with a soft mango. Its guts were ripe all right, and all of them went into the basura. Darn. All that good fruit. But there are plentiful kiwi. Yesterday I happily paid five bucks for a roasted chicken, which somebody forgot to spice. That put me in mind of Tito's magic chicken which I promptly yearned for. Quite all right. These hostels all have a box of spices that people leave behind, but the problem is I have no idea what the man used. Secret recipe. For sleeping.

The days go by distressingly quickly, and I got an email from a client reminding me of a keynote that I have to deliver in late June. Ah. Reality. All too soon. The intrusion of the real world. Go AWAY. At least for another 7 days....
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May 21st, 2013, 01:29 PM
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People para/whatever near my place all the time. Now I know what they are doing. LOL!!!!

January is when we Argentines take our holidays, which for me means it isn't a good time for tourists to go to the same places we go to.

At that time, BA is warm, but uncrowded. Wonderful, if you like it warm.

The way I see it, the best time to go to our South is between November and mid/late-Dec. and also between mid-Feb and late March (not during Holy Week).

It's up to you. Skip Vietnam! Take my word for it!

Keep up the good work and act firmly with hard-to-find Diego.
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May 21st, 2013, 03:09 PM
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I once took a parachuting class, and failed the fall, lol. I used to be fine with heights but as my balance has deteriorated, my tolerance for heights has gone with it.

I would definitely avoid Patagonia in January. I was there in November, and some places were already seeing crowds. I like Vietnam, but the north is likely to be cold and maybe wet in January.
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May 21st, 2013, 05:21 PM
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My dorm mate agrees with you, thursdaysd. We were just chatting about Patagonia and while Jan and Feb are good months, they draw the most tourists, and so it looks like late spring might be a better time to avoid same. I'd rather tolerate some cold in November than deal with teeming touristas. I hear you.
As for Viet Nam, the H'mong tribes go very quiet during snow time and I plan to spend time at HuLong (sp?)bay, and little more. Then I head south to put most of my time in around DaNang, the big caves, the Mekong, and Phu Quoc Island to scuba dive. Where, by the way, I can score LOTS of FRUIT. I will be sorry to miss the markets in the north but the farther south I go the sunnier and more humid it gets. Lots of variety and boy did I like those cheap flights. Thanks for the input. More is welcomed at any time. I've already planned the itinerary before I left for Argentina as the cheapest flights for January (a big holiday month for them) were starting to sell out- or at least they said so online. You never know.

All due respect AVRooster, the flights, flight plans, hostel bookings and all else were completed long before I got on the plane here. It's a done deal. 2014 will be here before you know it and I'm sure sometime that year might prove profitable for a comeback tour.

Diego did indeed show up, and he and I are taking a two man two day ride into the high hills for about 750 pesos less than I expected him to charge for just one person. I also appreciated his taking the time to walk me a long way through the city to look for those wonderful pants, which we could not find, but I did find the Argentinian hunting bolos which I cannot spell here, and that is exactly the kind of thing I treasure most for my growing travel cabinet. It expresses a key piece of history and life. I was enraptured. For 760, as far as I was concerned it was a steal. Diego seems to be a very dependable guy, he's attentive to my requests about food and the kind of horse I'd like to ride, and he asked to see my riding gear to give it the go ahead for the ride. All's well, and all we need to do is rent a sleeping bag for the overnight (all of 40 pesos) for the gaucho's house in the high country. Those will be my last two days in Mendoza.

What I like so far about Diego is that he was delighted about my wanting a more active horse and wanting to gallop more- he said not only is that more fun for him and the horses (of course) but that this allows us to explore many more places in the hills. And he's quite happy to work with my riding form, which I'm sure was ruined in Bariloche, previously ruined in Salta, because it was ruined before that in BsAs, according to every gaucho along the way. So apparently, I'm a wreck. But a happy wreck nonetheless.

It is creeping up on 9 pm here at the dorm, which means it's time for me to head off to an early night. I like to pull in my laundry from the lines on top of the building and get them inside close to the heater to finish them off at breakfast. Does the job quite well.

As for the balance issue, thursdaysd, that's a tough call. At a certain point everyone starts dreading a potential fall, and as a hemopheliac every time I land hard I have to expect some pretty spectacular bruising. I use yoga to help with balance and hope it keeps me centered. You may also be doing that, seems like everyone is these days.

If I'm determined to do these adrenaline sports, I expect to take a tumble now and then, and when I'm in a bathing suit there are some stories to tell. But hey, we've earned 'em. Just like the wrinkles. OH- parm' me-character lines.

I've got new bunk mates tonight but the target of last night's late wandered still resides over my head. Not sure what to expect. I will keep all things sharp and nasty locked away but he might get a light punch in the schnozz this time if he insists on showing up again to do the mystery girl trick.

Can't wait to the peso check with AVRooster, arriving in BsAs back at Estoril on Saturday likely by about 10 am or so. More riding lessons Sunday morning. Horse crazy.
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May 21st, 2013, 07:15 PM
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You sound like you are enjoying a very adventurous trip -- what fun!

I was in N.Vietnam in February 2012 and it was very chilly and damp in Hanoi. Had sun one day of 5 there. Not sure what you mean about the "H'mong tribes go very quiet during snow time." We did a 5 day trip from Hanoi thru the mountains to Sapa and there were Hmong tribes as well as others throughout our stay. Didn't see any snow. Halong bay was also foggy when we were there.
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