This is Argentina. A South American country 5,000 + miles away from my home in Rhode Island. A land diverse in its landscapes, yet offers a familiarity to specific destinations in the United States. A place where the sun shines bright, the tango moves through you, and afternoon siestas followed by midnight meals are the norm. A place where Spanish is the language of choice, yet tourists are respected and even celebrated. If you love meat, carbs, Malbec and delicious craft beer, Argentina delivers. From the deserts, to the jungles, to the plains and the Andes mountains, it truly is a special place.
Argentina would never be a place on my radar to travel to. For one, it is far away. Literally, it is the gateway to travel to Antarctica. But with the World Snowshoe championships being held in the small village of Caviahue high in the foothills of the Andes Mountains, it provided a great excuse to experience a different part of the world. As my first time to South America and for my wife, Ashlee as well, it would be a grand adventure and a vacation of sorts.
This was a trip on the docket for August of 2020 but we all know what happened that year with Covid and so the event would be postponed until September 2022. The logistics of such a trip were arduous as we flew Newark to Dallas with a long 8 hour lay-over then followed by a 10+ hour flight to Buenos Aires. We would stay in Buenos Aires for a few days before flying domestic to Neuquén before a long 6 hour bus ride to the race site up in the mountains. Then repeat on the return trip. In total, we flew 7 flights in a span of a week and a half.
As we arrived in Buenos Aires excited to explore for two days, we linked-up with some of our team and then headed to the Ker Recoleta hotel in the Recoleta neighborhood. Mark Elmore did a fantastic job organizing the blueprint of travel for our team as well as this hotel stay. As we arrived before the 2pm check-in, we waited awhile to get our bags dropped-off. The pace of things here moves a little slower than what we are used in the Northeast. But once settled, we set out along the city for some food.
One of the two big lessons we learned in Argentina was the exchange rates for Argentine Pesos from US dollars and the siesta hours. Not to go into the weeds on economics, Argentina has unpredictable inflation. The US dollar being pretty stable means you get a lot for the money in Argentina. For every $1 US dollar you can expect 137 pesos up to 330 pesos based on where you go to exchange. The lower values are closer to what you find as the “Official rate” and the higher values you find while buying goods at a store or even the people on the street by some of the big shopping areas vocalizing the word “Cambio, Cambio”, meaning “change” in English. We soon learned where and how to get the most for our US dollar and that helped stretch our ability to spend more on the trip. Argentina is not too bad if you have US cash on hand and the bigger bills, the better for getting a higher rate of exchange. The second point was siesta times. So in the United States places are usually open 10am-6pm say with more constant hours. In Argentina, many places close mid-day from 12-5pm sometimes later for a siesta and then open back up late in the evening. In Buenos Aires, food was easier to find in that 12-5pm range more so than the other places we traveled to but much of your choices were left to cafes.
The cafes were nice though. Offering nice wine, beer, pizza and delicious sandwiches and more. We ended up going to the Mercado San Telmo, an indoor street market where we had our lunch and bought a yerba matte cup which is a national staple of Argentina. I personally love yerba matte as it is a drink I use in place of a Red Bull for many of my long multi-day ultras. The overall feel of Buenos Aires was very much a combination of European cities like Paris with New York City. There was so much unique architecture found in old chapels, buildings with terraces, romantic balconies you would see out of Romeo and Juliet as well as various statues and parks.
Running in the city can be tough but we were close enough to a dirt path at the Ecological Preserve out by the water which was amazing. I ran there the first evening with Eric Hartmark and the 5 mile loop made you feel like you were running some of the trails of Central Park in NYC. But much of the running was hard on the body as the sidewalks were narrow and made of a slick granite. We closed out the evening with dinner at a cool cafe where I had a Liter of beer that was the price of a standard pint in the US. We had a wonderful meal with Alex and David, two from our team as David being fluent in Spanish was a big help for Ashlee and myself in deciphering the menu.
The next morning was exploring more of the city. We went to the Galleria Pacifico, a giant shopping mall as well as various stores that lined the streets. This was place to get good Cambio/change. We then went to a bookstore like no other. It was literally an opera house converted into a bookstore. I had never been in such an incredible bookstore as this one.
We checked out some outdoor stores which was one of my goals and then a quick bite to eat, a run around Palermo and then time for our team dinner back at the hotel. It was great to see everyone for our team dinner and the excitement was at an all-time high. The next morning we would be taking a bus to the domestic airport to catch our flights to Neuquen, the northern gateway to Patagonia. How about we talk a little about Patagonia. So the whole southern half of Argentina makes up the Patagonia region. But what most people think of Patagonia, that area is further south than where we ended up. Patagonia is a wild region, full of mountains, glaciers, lakes, wind, sun, and unique wildlife. Where we ended up in Neuquén was more like as Alex put it, New Mexico where the dry alpine desert meets an arid plain.
Once we arrived in Neuquén, I had some Malbec and Pizza with Ashlee at a nearby restaurant that did not have their full menu because it was 6pm. I then ran at night up into the foothills and found my favorite section of the trip thus far. A trail network at the top of a hill that flowed out to the river valley below. One section was incredibly well-lit and people were out running even at 8:30pm. I really enjoyed the wider sidewalks and rolling hills of this city. It reminded me of a dry version of Binghamton, NY. The next morning, Alex, Jeremy, Stacy and the Drownes all went for a run out along the trails. It was so much fun getting to explore the network in the morning daylight.
We picked up some provisions at a local shop and then began our epic 6 hour bus ride to the race site. We had to take taxis to the bus terminal which was a journey. But once there, we met-up with some of the other countries. The highlight of the bus was the random dog that came into the terminal and took in all of the pets.
Bus rides are pretty uneventful. We did stop at a rest stop where I hat some baked ham flavored Lays that were okay. My breath in the aftermath…well that is another story for another day. In terms of what we saw on the bus ride. We would go through these towns that had fossils of dinosaurs then followed by scrub and desert plains. We saw some horses out there and that was the extent. Things did not get spicy until just 18 kilometers from Caviahue. We had smelled like burning rubber for an hour now and then we had to stop. The bus transmission was in distress. With bad cell reception and being in-between a mountain pass, we waited for another bus and took the time to walk around outside in the cold and take photos. When the new bus arrived, we loaded on like sardines as the windows fogged-up and our rate of speed that last 18k was at a snail’s pace. We ended joining a standard transport bus which we packed in past capacity and man did we all not want to jinx ourselves. We finally made it to the lodges to a winter wonderland of snow. It was a little tough to figure out which cabana we were staying at but once we figured it out, our cabin of 7 was able to settle in. A dinner of Kalfu was nice as in the small village of Caviahue, where the race would be held, finding food would be a challenge for the remainder of the trip.
Hear more about the time spent in Caviahue and the race site in the next post.