Guts and Gauchos in Mendoza

Friday, November 20th, 2009

Getting a glimpse of gaucho life on a ranch near Mendoza, Argentina.

Getting a glimpse of gaucho life on a ranch near Mendoza, Argentina.

“Well, that’s something your children aren’t likely to see in school,” a chipper young woman from the UK said in a typically understated British way. She was referring to a dozen or so desiccated, grayish-black pairs of horse testicles that were the size of plums and hanging on barbed wire by a weathered corral used for castrating young studs.

The gaucho Orlando, whose horse had a type of hand-crafted bridle and saddle I'd never seen before.

The gaucho Orlando, whose horse had a type of hand-crafted bridle and saddle I'd never seen before.

We were at a ramshackle ranch about 40 minutes outside of Mendoza. I had traces of amniotic fluid from a newborn goat on my hands, flecks of spit from a llama on my shoulders, and dirt and manure all over my shoes. Dust, kicked up by a wind storm that had turned the sky brown above these drought-parched hills of Argentina’s wine country, coated my nose and hair.

“They saw a lot of things for the first time today,” I said, picturing Colly and Kyle studying a gaucho named Orlando, who wore flaps of cowhide on his legs and tucked an 18-inch blade into his waistband, and whose dirt-crusted little finger won’t bend because a puma tore its tendon. (more…)

A Mountain Marathon in Patagonia That’s Way Above Average

Wednesday, November 18th, 2009

This week’s post is by Morgan, who’s recounting his experience running the Salomon K42 Adventure Marathon in Villa La Angostura, Argentina. We were so inspired by last week’s event that we both wrote race reports (mine’s on my running blog). Morgan said half-jokingly, “This may be the only thing I ever write, so if you want me to contribute to the blog, you better run this!” I hope this is the first of more posts from him to come. – Sarah

Sarah and I in the crowd waiting for the start of the 42k Salomon Marathon

Sarah and me in the crowd waiting for the start of the K42 Salomon Adventure Marathon.

I’ve now been running just over half my life.  Well, that’s if you count as running the two laps I would jog around Curtis Park in Sacramento with my sweet, now deceased Labrador in the early 1990s.  Although my running has increased from this early start, I can honestly say that I’ve never contemplated writing a race report. It seems somewhat absurd, given my running abilities, to subject others to stories of how many power gels I consumed along the race course or what my mile splits were. However, I realized while running the Salomon K42 Adventure Marathon in Patagonia, there’s a first time for everthing and I should write about why this race was so great, and since I haven’t written a blog post yet, I figured I could kill two birds with one stone.

To give away the ending, I did not win the race, which was done by some guy who never runs mountains and did this insane course is 3:07.  But I am happy to say that I was just about average.  Before this race began, in a fit of inner geek escaping out, I took last year’s race results, imported them to Excel and determined the average finish time of all runners together was about 5:15.  Therefore, I am close to average — not really the stuff of a great race report.

But as you can probably tell, my placing in this race had nothing to do with why I wanted to make this my first race report, and first blog post.  What made this race great was that I enjoyed it more than any other marathon I have ever done.  (more…)

Gnome, Sweet Gnome In Villa La Angostura

Thursday, November 12th, 2009

Arriving at our cabaña, we discovered that "los gnomos" are part of its, er, charm.

Arriving at our cabaña, we discovered that "los gnomos" are part of its charm.

Our arrival to Villa La Angostura, about an hour north of Bariloche, set the tone for a wacky week. Driving the windy road on the shores of Lago Nahuel Huapi thrilled us with views of snow-capped Patagonian peaks but made poor Kyle throw up all over himself in the car. When we eventually reached our cabaña complex, called Guardianes del Bayo, we probably looked as bad as we smelled because an icy rain and wind left us bedraggled and shivering.

The living room decor includes antlers and this little gnome.

The living room decor includes antlers and this little gnome.

As we unloaded our belongings and cleaned up the mess, my eyes took in a babbling brook that cut through a well-kept lawn and a cluster of wood cabins, flowing past a play structure and under several arched footbridges. Then my ears caught a tune from long ago that was piped in from speakers somewhere — The Carpenters’ “Top of the World.” Karen Carpenter’s saccharine voice singing “I’m on the top of the world, lookin’ down on creation …” floated through the breeze and became a tape loop in my brain.

Then I began to notice pointy red hats on little bearded figurines inside and outside our cabaña. And then the sign with our cabaña’s name: Los Gnomos.

With a mix of shock and awe — uh-oh and oh, wow! — we realized we had booked ourselves into some kind of fairy-tale lodge where everything seems a little bit off. (more…)

Branching Out on Lago Nahuel Huapi

Wednesday, November 4th, 2009

Lago Nahuel Huapi, in the Andes foothills near Bariloche, as seen from our cabaña.

Lago Nahuel Huapi, in the Andes foothills near Bariloche, as seen from our cabaña (click to enlarge).

Lake Nahuel Huapi spreads and branches out in all directions around this pocket of the Andes foothills of Patagonia, and its water has mesmerized us since we arrived a couple of weeks ago. Its surface changes almost hourly with the weather, from a glassy reflection to white-capped waves. It even harbors its own Nessie-like legend, and the kids are fascinated by the idea that maybe, just maybe, a plesiosaur-like creature whom locals call Nahuelito is lurking in the waters just off our cabaña’s deck. (more…)

When It Rains…

Monday, November 2nd, 2009

Morgan and I spent a lot of time last week doing travel research and making reservations while the stormy weather kept us mostly inside.

Morgan and I spent a lot of time last week doing travel research and making reservations while the stormy weather kept us mostly inside.

Before Morgan and I left in mid-August, we talked a lot about how there will be times when traveling gets tough, when we feel fatigued and worried about the myriad consequences of uprooting for a year, and when we second-guess our choices. We knew we’d feel homesick not just for home per se, but for friends and familiar routines, and we might feel pangs of regret. That’s why we added the “no regrets” phrase to our tagline — not because we’re blithely traipsing off in the world with nothing weighing us down but our backpacks, but rather because we knew from the start that doubt might haunt us, just as first-time home buyers flirt with buyers’ remorse when the repairs pile up and bills come due. “No regrets” is shorthand for “no turning back, so let’s make this work, and in the long run we’ll look back and be so glad we did it.” Or in Spanish, vale la pena. It’s what we say to each other and to ourselves to bolster confidence and commitment, because what we’re doing takes an occasional pep talk.

Last week was one of those weeks. (more…)

Welcome to Patagonia, Where Paradise Packs a Punch

Saturday, October 24th, 2009

Going from Buenos Aires to the Patagonia lake district near Bariloche, which we did earlier this week, is a bit like leaving Los Angeles and landing near Tahoe — times ten. Everything seems exaggerated here: the countless mountain peaks appear more dramatic and in-your-face than even the Rockies, and their snowy caps seem whiter and thicker. The lakes (literally all over the map) curve around every bend, dotted with islands, and the water enlarges the landscape with its reflections. The grass looks greener and the waterfowl is weirder.

Our first view from the hotel by Lago Nahuel Huapi, near Bariloche. We were struck dumb as we took in the view (which extended in all directions beyond this IPhone snapshot); all we could say was, "Wow."

Our first view from the hotel by Lago Nahuel Huapi. We were struck dumb as we took in the view (which extended in all directions beyond this IPhone snapshot); all we could say was, "Wow."

(more…)

Running Around Buenos Aires

Wednesday, October 14th, 2009

Just a brief note to say I posted a story on my running blog about Morgan and me running the Buenos Aires Marathon last Sunday — check it out if you’d like to see additional Buenos Aires scenes and read about our experience running as tourists.

Also, I uploaded a batch of snapshots from our first week here to the flickr photostream (not including the pics already published on the blogs). If you’d like to view this slide show below, simply click the “play” button on it — but if you also want to see the captions that go with it, do the following:

  • click play
  • move the cursor to the bottom right-hand corner of slide show screen and push the button that takes it to full-screen mode
  • move the cursor to the upper right-hand corner and click “show info” to see the captions
  • go to “options” in the upper right-hand corner and click “slow” so it scrolls through the photos slowly enough to read the captions (or scroll manually through the pics by moving the cursor over the thumbnails along the bottom of the screen).

Sorry it’s so complicated! One of these days we’ll put our rudimentary multimedia skills to use to make a nice audio slideshow in a better interface, but until then, I hope you enjoy this.

Buenos Dias Buenos Aires

Thursday, October 8th, 2009

We are really here, living abroad in an apartment in a foreign-speaking country. It’s the morning of our third day, and I’m still getting used to the concept that this is not a vacation, this is not a transition in preparation for something else — this is it! Eight weeks after we left home, ten months after we committed to this outlandish odyssey, twenty-five years to the day after Morgan first reached out to touch my hand and pull me close, this trip felt as though it started for real when we left California on Monday morning and arrived in Buenos Aires nearly 24 hours later. (more…)

So Long, Sedona and SoCal

Monday, October 5th, 2009

Lots o' packing yesterday and today ... we had to put a bunch of stuff in storage, give away outgrown kids' clothes and pare down to the true essentials.

Lots o' packing yesterday and today ... we had to put a bunch of stuff in storage, give away outgrown kids' clothes and pare down to the true essentials.

I’m rushing to write this blog post while packing for tomorrow’s departure to Argentina. We traveled through Arizona less than a week ago, yet it feels more like a month has passed. We arrived in LA for a few days to take care of some business, reorganize all our belongings and — most difficult of all — say goodbye to our dog Teddy, who will spend the next ten months in the care of my in-laws. Teddy will be in very good and generous hands, but oh, it’s hard to leave him!

Our journey is shifting to a more challenging and exciting phase as we go abroad, and I’d like to say we’re ready but I don’t think I’d ever feel completely prepared. We realized today, at the eleventh hour, that some travel logistics have not been arranged or confirmed, so Morgan and I found ourselves scrambling and then consciously taking deep breaths, concluding, “Oh well, it’ll work out, or we’ll figure it out when we get there.” I have spent the weekend trying to adopt a true traveler’s mind — i.e., embracing rather than fearing the unknown — and doing my best to maintain an outwardly positive attitude for the kids’ sake. Their tears started to flow last night as the prospect of missing Teddy magnified a bout of homesickness (or rather, “friendsickness”). Thankfully, a trip to the beach with their grandparents today made everything feel better.

I had a lump in my throat all weekend because we have to say goodbye to Teddy. He is a fantastic dog, and we loved road-tripping with him the past six weeks.

I had a lump in my throat all weekend because we have to say goodbye to Teddy. He is a fantastic dog, and we loved road-tripping with him the past six weeks.

Before the memories of the past week grow more distant, I want to document our last special destination: Sedona. Funny thing is, when I paused to reflect on it this morning, an image of Kyle on a Colorado trail a couple of weeks earlier crossed my mind. He had randomly picked up a small rock and discovered a quartz crystal under the dusty surface. His eyes grew large and a smile broke out on his face, and as he clutched his little treasure, he headed down the trail with new energy.

Like Kyle bending down to pick up that rock, we made an unexpected and enchanting discovery on our way to Sedona that renewed our energy. I should be careful when talking about “energy” in the context of Sedona, however, because I don’t want to be mistaken for one of the New Age crystal-gazers who are drawn to Sedona’s red rocks and attest to the power of  “energy vortexes,” which supposedly spiral around certain points on the landscape and resonate good vibes. Then again, I did feel particularly good while there, so who knows whether I felt the vibes of a vortex or a placebo effect or just a buzz from a beer?

We met the Flintstones and had a yaba-daba-do-dah time.

We met the Flintstones and had a yabba-dabba-doo-dah time.

Certainly our slightly addled states of mind upon entering Sedona primed us for fun and come-what-may adventure. We had no expectations, no plans, save for a last-minute booking at a hotel. We had decided only about a week prior to go there for a couple of nights in lieu of a detour to Vegas, our forethought limited to, “It’s only 30 miles south of Flagstaff? Might as well check it out, I heard it’s nice.” We had spent the night outside the Grand Canyon in the fleabag Red Feather Lodge, which is notable for its very un-P.C. retro Indian Brave motto and its inedible breakfast buffet offerings. (But, they take dogs — the only motel in the area to do so.) I was disoriented from insomnia and the belated discovery that we had crossed a time zone and gained an hour. Plus, we all felt punchy from a brief stop at the Flintstone Bedrock RV Park, where a two-story-high Fred Flintstone appears like a bad-trip hallucination in an armpit corner of the desert.  At that point, we didn’t know what to expect next. (more…)