Thursday, March 21, 2013

Volunteering, Hitchhiking, and Buenos Aires!

We had quite the month volunteering on an estancia (ranch) just outside El Calafate, Argentina for the month of February. It was wonderful. We were completely spoiled with the meals everyday -- lamb, beef, chicken, fresh vegetables, and more. Nate and I helped out wherever necessary on the estancia. It ranged from cleaning dishes, to setting the tables in the hosteria (the hotel/lodge), preparing and clearing for meals, and we even painted an entire house.  Quite a busy month!

Our work day was 9am-noon, then about 4pm-8pm. In our free time, we were able to horseback ride and explore the 24,000 acres of land this estancia was on. It was amazing horseback riding again - we were able to go as fast as we wanted, whenever we wanted.  My favorite spot was down by the lake, galloping through a field, with an enormous mountain range surrounding us. Spending time at Nibepo Aike was truly something we will never forget. We made wonderful friends with some of the staff (and we all lived in the same house together), and when it came time to leave at the end of the month, we didn't want to say goodbye.  If we had a bad day working, we knew the night would be ok because we would open a bottle of wine, play cards, and laugh about our day. They made our experience there what it was, and we really hope to see them again some day.

With our bags packed, we knew we had to be in Buenos Aires by March 15th for our next volunteer spot. It is a bed and breakfast in Tigre, about an hour outside of Buenos Aires. After talking to our friends an Nibepo, we decided to hitch hike our way almost the whole way here! It was definitely worth it. This part of the world it is incredible safe. Starting in the heart of Patagonia, we simply wanted to go north. So with our thumb and sign out, we were committing to it! But, our first day wasn't the best... We were waiting just outside El Calafate for about 5 hours, and no one was stopping. We were also right outside the police crossing so we thought people didn't want to stop near them (or maybe the cop was telling them not to pick us up).

Our destination was Rio Gallegos. It is south of El Calafate, but you have to go south in order to go north with how the one main highway goes. So we decided to take cheap bus to Rio and try our luck there. Sure enough, once we arrived in Rio Gallegos and stuck our thumb out, we were picked up within the hour. Our goal for that day was San Julian, and unfortunately our driver was going just 200km short of that. Another long day of trying to catch a ride and nothing.

Luckily, were in a town with a bus station, so we once again bussed to the next town, hoping our luck would pick up in San Julian. Arriving in San Julian around 12:30 am, we decided just to sleep in the bus station. With an early start the next morning, we made it to the highway and within about 2-3 hours, a semi truck driver picked us up. AND he was going to Puerto Madyrn! The next town on our list! We were starting to feel lucky again. The trip had to be split up into 2 days, so we rested for the night at a truck stop. Certainly ever thought we would sleep in one of those... We managed to find a spot to set up our tent, get a decent amount of rest (better than the night before in a bus station on the chairs), and were on the road by 7:30am. Arriving in Puerto Madryn around noon,  we found a great hostel that served breakfast. Not only were were excited about a real bed, but and amazing breakfast the next morning!

Wanting to explore Pt. Madyrn a bit, we rented bikes the next day and rode along the coast. It was wonderful. We biked to spot where we were able to see sea lions, and the beautiful blue ocean. The road was also entirely gravel, and on the ride home, we realized Nate had a flat tire! Needless to say, it wasn't the most comfortable ride back.

After Pt. Madyrn, we stuck our thumb out once last time, in hopes for a ride to Bahia Blanca. Within about 45 minutes, a truck driver picked us up and we were off. This driver was quite talented. Not only was he able to drive a large semi truck, but he made mate while driving. Mate is the Argentina tea that is all over the place.  We joke that mate is like crack to these people. And, Nate and I haev definitely gotten hooked on it.  It is basically herbal tea, but made a special way.  It is an entire process to make the tea, let alone drink it.  

The yerba (herbs we place in the mug) can be used for about 20 minutes.  There is one person who prepares the mate, and that same person pours the water into the mug.  When someone finishes drinking mate, they hand it back to the person who prepared, who then pours more hot water into it, and hands it to the next person in the group.  What was truely amazing about our bus driver, was that we was preparing this WHILE DRIVING. Literally, pouring the leaves in his mug, BOILING WATER on a mini propane tank right next to the drivers seat, and serving Nate and I mate all while driving his massive truck.  Only in Argentina.  After the first round, I decided to take over and prepare it.  For everyones safety.

We arrived in Bahia Blanca around 7pm, and instead of trying to find a hostel that night, we went straight to the train station to buy our ticket for Buenos Aires, hoping there was one leaving that night.  Unfortunately, the train station was closed.  Across the street, there was a gas station, so we went over to ask where the bus station was, and someone was kind enough to drive us there because not only was it about a 30 minute walk with our packs and all, but it wasn`t in the best part of town. We were incredible grateful, thankful, and happy to know such nice people still exsist.

There was bus leaving that night so we were on it!  Arriving in Buenos Aires around 7:30 the next morning, we got a cab and headed to the hostel.  It was really nice arriving to the big city as early as 8am.  After a restless night of sleep on the bus, were were expecting to go straight to bed once in the hostel.  But, once we settled in, it was time for a shower, and connect to family back home to let them know we had safely arrived. Then of course breakfast was being served, so we never went back to bed.  

We only stayed 2 nights there, because the morning of our second day there, I noticed some bug bites all over my arm, back, fingers, and chin.  Keeping an eye out for bugs of some sort in the hostel, we took a closer look to the area around our bunkbed and discovered every travellers worst nightmare: BED BUGS. Any travelers going to Ideal Social Hostel, don`t go!  Or at least dont stay in room 20. We frantically packed up our things, and went to the front desk to change rooms.  Even after showing them my quarter size welts that were growing in every direction, they still refused to believe that had bed bugs. Whatever. Can we just have a new room?  Hardly sleeping that night, we left early the next morning, and washed everything we owned at the new clean hostel.  Nothing bad to say about the bug free hostel - incredible staff who helped us with anything we needed :)

Currently, we are in Tigre volunteering.  It is wonderful. Instead of streets with cars and stop lights, its a river, so you have to drive your boat if you need anything. But there are also walk ways right along the river so it isn`t bad at all. Every day is different... Just a list of projects they would like help with or completed, and we do them! Yesterday we fixed their front sign, today we organized their 100 some DVDs. We can cook just about anything we want. The husband (husband and wife owned) goes into town about once a month to stock up on food.  Depending on if there are alot of guests, we also wash sheets, and make the room look presentable for new guests.  So far so good!

We have so many pictures to upload and post on our blog, and we will do that soon!

Today marks the `home in exactly one month day!`  So crazy how quickly this trip has gone!


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