I started my journey to Argentina by a quick stop in Puerto Montt.  I was not there long, but I was there long enough to know there needs to be more time spent there.  Puerto Montt is a town in southern Chile and is surrounded by other little towns that need to be visited.  The only thing that separates Puerto Montt, Chile and San Carlos de Bariloche, Argentina is the Cordilla de los Andes.  It was the shortest, lowest flying flight I have been on.  I was only one of few on board and I looked in amazement out the window.  I could only think that I have seen it.  I cannot explain ‘it’ to all of you, but I have seen it now.  The plane landed after giving us a quick glimpse of the dessert that coexists with the beautiful ‘lakes district’ of Patagonia.  The idea that Latin Americans do not prize promptness, efficiency, and/or accuracy was driven home as my taxi driver could not find the house I was to stay in.  After about thirty minutes of trying different things, he finally found it.  I had the house all to myself, but it was too dark to see where it was and it was too late to bother.  The next morning, on my way to school, I found out that the house was at the top of a hill and was accessible only by a dirt road.  Charming.  I also quickly found out that there are only two directions in Bariloche.  Up and down.  I was either hiking up a mountain or maneuvering down one.   This is really good exercise (TKC would approve and I bet my VO2max is 65).  At some point, I made my way down to the lake.  From the house, you have to go down the dirt road, make your way through the town, cross another main street that runs along the lake, then you encounter the lake.  It is awesome.  The first week I was there the temperature was agreeable.  I was able to sit down at the lake without the weather making it uncomfortable.  One day, as I was sitting there, I met a very friendly Argentine.  We carried on a conversation in Spanish for a little over an hour.  I didn’t understand everything, but I understood a lot.  It was about that time I started to think about the differences between Argentina and Chile.  I won’t bore you (or offend some of you) with all of my opinions covering the different aspects of the two countries.  I will quickly comment on the language differences.  The American that I know that knows Latin America the best (he’s lived in Central America for years, traveled through South America, and has taught Spanish for many years) suggested that I would learn a more pure form of Spanish in Chile.  After this experience, I am more convinced that if I can understand what Chileans say, I will be able to understand most people in Spanish-speaking countries. 

My explorations, for some of you, would not have your stamp of approval (you know who you are and you should read at your own risk).  My profesora suggested that I go to a mountain that is about ten kilometers from Bariloche, which means I needed to take a bus.  This was rather risky because the bus system is not well labeled and there was really no way of knowing where I was going.  But I got on the bus anyway and decided I was going somewhere.  I asked the polite girl next to me how I would know when to get off, she politely told me, but I didn’t know what she said.  Luckily, the sign for the mountain caught my eye and I tried to find my way.  You could take the aerosilla (ski lift chairs) up the mountain, or you could climb it.  I wanted to climb it, but I couldn’t find the path.  As I was walking around looking for the path, I saw a dog coming down the mountain.  He convinced me to go the way he came and sure enough, there was a makeshift path up the mountain.  It was a really steep climb, an unbelievable view, and very worth all the uncertainties of the venture. 

The other little adventure was to El Bolson, a little town about two hours from Bariloche.  This was really fun.  I left on a Saturday morning with a few things in case I wanted to stay the night.  I arrived at the bus station a little early, so I had a cortado in the little café.  Getting change is really difficult in Argentina.  They get really tense when you pay with a ‘big’ bill ($50 pesos).  At any rate, I owed the man $.50 pesos (about 13 cents) for a tip, but I didn’t have–so, the next time any of you are at this café, leave the man a big tip, he’s really nice.  ANYWAY.  I got a big bus that was headed for El Bolson.  It was great, there were plenty of extra seats, only a few other passengers, and we were on our way.  But then.  Then, we made another stop.  Crying kids, people standing in the aisle, and an old thrift store smell (you know, the one that is mild mixture of urea, hand lotion that your grandma uses, and dust).  The South American pants had to go on–in other words, you decide to enjoy the situation, even though you know there is no way it would ever fly in the United States.  It really wasn’t that bad.  I spent most of the time looking out the window.  I’m guessing the section of land that we crossed had fewer than 500 inhabitants.  A couple of times we would pass a little grouping of ‘houses,’ but there was only creation to look at.  A few wild horses, a couple of sheep herds, a lot of mountains, and a few rivers.  I didn’t have any information on El Bolson (including a map), so once I got there, it was exploration time.  I stumbled accross an information center which provided me with a map.  I strolled around town, visited the feria in the middle of town, then stopped at a restaurant for lunch.  By this time I had decided I didn’t need to stay the night, I had seen most of what the town had to offer, and I would go back in the afternoon.  The little restaurant, called Jajua, just happened to be famous for it’s ice cream and it actually had expanded to other parts of Argentina.  I asked the waitor what his recommendation was and he said Maqui.  Maqui is a Patagonian fruit that I had not tried, so I tried it.  It was good.

My time in Bariloche was excellent.  I was actually sad to leave.  My little brain started scheming how I could stay there longer, but I knew I had business to attend to in Santiago and I could not swing it.  If I am blessed to have travel days in my future, I’ll go back.   Having said that, something really strange happened.  I was so excited when the plane landed in Santiago.  I’m still excited to be here.  It’s weird.  I have some theories, but I’ve written enough.  I will leave you with my reasons for loving the southern part of South America.

Uno. Dos. Tres. Cuatro. Cinco. Seis. Siete. Ocho.