Thursday, December 17, 2015

That time I didn't WWOOF in Argentina.

Location: Argentina
Generally, I like to travel slowly. A couple weeks here, a few more weeks there. I like to get to know people, discover some favorite spots, and people-watch in parks without feeling like I'm wasting precious time. That's why I decided to split my five weeks in Argentina between only two places: Buenos Aires and Mendoza.  Argentina is huge and diverse and spectacular, I realized, but cramming as much as possible into five weeks would not be enjoyable to me. I preferred to skip some places in order to really enjoy others. I'd explore Buenos Aires first, then spend a week with a friend exploring both Buenos Aires and Mendoza, then stay in Mendoza to WWOOF at the end. Or so I thought.

I'd found an awesome Mendoza WWOOF gig: a sustainable community filled with likeminded people from all over the world. Well, it will be. When I met my future host in Buenos Aires, he explained that he had bought a huge plot of land, and was just starting to give pieces to interested locals and soon-to-be-immigrants. In building the community, he prioritized diversity, access, and empowerment -- and sustainability, of course. I hadn't even been to Mendoza yet, and already was daydreaming about moving there permanently.

But a week or so before I left for Mendoza, my host told me that his business in Buenos Aires was dragging, and he would not be back in Mendoza in time to host me after all. I contacted the only other person living at the site, and it turned out he was stuck in Buenos Aires for work as well. Oops.

What to do? I briefly entertained the idea of finding another WWOOF host, but the many voices that had recently recommended Patagonia and Iguazu echoed too loudly in my mind. Well, Patagonia, Iguazu, Santiago, Valparaiso, Salta, Colonia, Cafayate, Montevideo... I was also tempted to visit new friends in Colombia and Brazil. I even seriously considered flying to Ushuaia for one of the legendary super-cheap (relatively speaking) last-minute deals to Antarctica. I don't know where I first heard the expression "decision fatigue," but it came to life in this moment. Every time I sat down to figure out details, the beauty of South America overwhelmed me, and I froze. It didn't help that I was in amazing Buenos Aires, and parks and runs and wine were always calling my name (I run now, you guys!!) Long story short, I did nothing.

The day before I left for Mendoza, it was time to commit to a subsequent destination. "Patagonia for a few days," I'd finally decided. But Patagonia is giant, and this was hardly narrowing it down. At this point, a dear friend's gorgeous new Facebook profile picture was as good a way to decide as any. I messaged her a few times, and then hesitantly settled on El Calafate. With that, I was off to Mendoza.

The city of Mendoza underwhelmed me, as a good friend had warned me it might. It could be that Buenos Aires had set the bar too high; it could be that I was a little sick; it could be that we didn't find the right hidden gems. We had a nice time in the countryside, and I'm still sure WWOOF'ing there would have been fantastic. But I was glad I hadn't just stayed in Mendoza city to hang out. I was ready to leave. As was becoming my MO, the day before leaving for El Calafate, I hastily booked my subsequent ticket. Iguazu. Then I was off.


I got to El Calafate, where I checked into the cutest hostel there ever was. A new friend from Buenos Aires met me there, and we made for great travel buddies. We visited Glaciar Perito Moreno, of course. It's absolutely spectacular. Check out the photos, then multiply the amazingness by about a hundred. With our remaining days, we visited the glacier museum, experimented in the kitchen, biked to some stunning viewpoints, and had an all-around great time. She spent an unforgettable day trekking on the glacier while I explored the town, opting to save my splurges for later.


I'm still not sure I chose well in opting out of the glacier trek. I'm absolutely sure I chose well in visiting El Calafate.

For real backpackers, there are legendary hikes and backpacking trips to do in the area. For people with money, there are amazing tours and boat rides and treks -- I'd love to go back with money to burn and really take advantage those opportunities! But as simple sightseers, we didn't need more than a few days. We said goodbye, and I was off to Iguazu. (Not before, predictably enough, I hurriedly tried to settle on my next destination.)


Iguazu. Wow.

Having just come from another jaw-dropping natural wonder, and venturing into the 4-days-here-3-days-there sightseeing cycle I don't usually like, I still wasn't sure I'd chosen wisely. Then I got to the falls. Wow.

Compared to El Calafate, Iguazu was super friendly to budget travelers. Taking the public bus directly to the falls was simple, and admission the second consecutive day was half price. (If you ever go, please give yourself at least two days!)

On day one, I basically had my head in my camera the whole time. I was awestruck. I walked the lower route to see the view from below. I walked the upper route (twice) to see the view from above. I walked to the Devil's Throat, the pool where the water collects before exploding onward. I took hundreds of photos with zero FOMO because I knew I'd be back for more the next day.

On day two, a new hostel friend and I hiked to a small waterfall where we could swim. We were basically the only ones hiking the charming trail and swimming in the refreshing pool, since all the one-day tourists were rushing to see the big views. Even for this hike alone, I'd recommend going back a second day.


But then, of course, I couldn't resist wandering back to the big views myself. I felt less need to photograph this time, so had more time to stand and stare. Wow.

Unable to justify a third day at the falls, and relatively uncompelled by the other sights in the area, I opted to spend my last two days visiting friends in Uruguay. I probably spent more time on buses, boats, and planes than I actually spent in Montevideo, but the trip was well worth it. I was excited to visit my friends, but I had fairly low expectations of Montevideo itself. Turns out, it's is awesome! It has the hippie vibe I'd been expecting in Argentina, it seems very friendly to alternative lifestlyes, and the city views are great. Not to mention the beaches, outdoor markets, and empanadas! I wished I had more time with my friends, of course, but would have loved more time in Montevideo either way. Note to self: go back to Montevideo.

So there you have it. My whirlwind. No, I didn't get time in the countryside to travel slowly. I didn't get to know one group of people really well. I didn't learn more about sustainable agriculture, nor get closer to my sustainable community dreams. And I did waste a lot of money on airfare that was both last-minute and circuitous. But I'm so glad I saw everything I saw, and I'm fully confident that it all worked out for the best.

Ok, that's a lie, I still think Antarctica would have been awesome.

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