Guest Blog by: Patrick Mainelli
Argentina is the eighth largest country in the world. More than two thousand miles stretch between the dense jungles of the Northern provinces to the frozen tip of Tierra del Fuego. Generations of European immigrants (Spanish, German, Italian) as well as a number of far flung indigenous cultures make Argentina perhaps the most culturally diverse nation in South America.
The landscape spans miles of shoreline and climbs to the highest point in the Western Hemisphere, Cerro Aconcagua. The long reach of the country finds room to support ecology as varied as sub-tropical rainforest to sub-antarctic tundra. You could spend a lifetime in Argentina and might come close to getting your head around the idea of a place this big. Or, you could stay three weeks, and spend decades wondering how to get back.
Argentina’s capital and the second largest city in South America, Buenos Aires, serves as an excellent launch pad for exploring the rest of the country. B.A. is frequently known (by everyone except Argentineans) as the Paris of South America. The similarities are easy to spot; beautiful people, beautiful architecture, incredible food, world-class museums, and a lazy neighborhood café on literally every block. But Buenos Aires, and the tanned Porteños who walk its tree-lined streets have a distinct grit and wonderful toughness that Paris, in all its geometric perfection, might find a little uncouth.
It seems fitting that the city’s most beloved sons are the surrealist poet and essayist, Jorge Borges, and the bearded revolutionary turned t-shirt impresario, Ché Guevara. Other than soccer, Argentina’s national pastime seems to be complaining about the government, and the capital city has the odd feeling of being perpetually on the verge of a populist uprising; if it’s citizens could only put down their croissant and café con leche for a few minutes.
From Buenos Aires you can take a plane (quick and cheap) or a bus (luxurious and cheaper) to Argentina’s subtropical Northern provinces. The premier attraction in the region is the massive Iguazu waterfalls. Located at the coalescence of a number of rivers, the falls form the borders between Argentina, Brazil, and Paraguay. Although some will tell you that the best views of this natural wonder are from the shores of Brazil, the falls themselves roar within Argentina’s boarders, and the only way to experience the frightening power of 400 gallons of water falling 270 feet every second, is on the boardwalks constructed in Argentina’s Parque Nacional Iguazu. As an added bonus, you are almost guaranteed to encounter
curious Capuchin monkeys and brilliant Toco Toucans in the rainforest preserve around the falls.
The nearest town, Puerto Iguazu, is a likely place to stay and book your jungle excursions. The small city embodies the uneasy mix of high-end opulence and desperate poverty found in many formerly undeveloped areas now catering to international travelers. This means king-sized beds and gourmet
dining, it also means a glimpse of life the way twenty p
ercent of Argentineans see it.
Patagonia officially begins at the Rio Colorado and stretches across both Argentina and Chile to the shores of the Southern Ocean. While vast expanses of the region might rem
ind travelers of the rolling sage covered plains of Wyoming and Montana, there are moments when you turn your head and feel like you’ve rounded the corner into another world.
Patagonia’s most awe-inspiring scenery is contained in the region’s six national parks. A favorite for hikers and climbers is the Parque Nacional Los Glaciares. A
dventurers will fly into the small town, El
Calafaté, and then take a two-hour drive down a long lonely road to an even smaller town, El Chaltén.
Chaltén is a young mountain town (founded in 1985) with restaurants and hostels all catering to hikers. No matter where you chose to stay in town you’re within walking distance of the park’s entrance. Unlike America’s parking-lot filled National Parks, Parque Nacional Los Glaciares has only a network of winding footpaths, twisting and climbing through the looming peaks and creaking glaciers.
The weather during summer months (Dec. – Feb.) can be optimal for hiking, with temperatures ranging from forty to sixty degrees Fahrenheit. Unexpected mist storms and billowing cumulous clouds (that can form in minutes) only add to the mystery of the mind-boggling landscape.
The people of Patagonia are wind-burnt survivalists and there is a definite loner vibe that frankly, you would expect to find in one of the most remote places on Earth. At the same time they are a gregarious and endlessly energetic bunch, who seem more than eager to show off the strange place they call home. If you are lucky enough to have lungs that breathe and eyes that see, it is literally impossible to not share their love for some of the wildest and most beautiful places left untouched and waiting to be explored.
Patrick Mainelli lives and works in Omaha, Nebraska. He will have a hard time traveling anywhere other than Argentina from now on, but hopes to struggle through a trip to Bhutan in 2011.