I’m celebrating my return to a computer and stable Internet for the first time in nearly three weeks by finally writing a new post, having just returned from a backpacking journey that took me through Mendoza, Chile, and Patagonia! I had never done a trip like this before, so as I packed my relatively small hiking backpack at the end of November, I was excited for what lay ahead—my friends and I had a basic outline of what we wanted to see, but very few solid plans. I could write for hours about what I ended up doing, but I figured that due to the length of the trip, it would be easier for me to break it down by the places that I went.
We began our trip by flying west to Mendoza, a city that is well known in Argentina for its wine districts. We were only there for about a day, but we took advantage of the time by renting bikes and biking around to tour various wineries.
From Mendoza, we took an overnight bus through the Andes Mountains to cross the Chilean border and arrive in Santiago. It was interesting for me to spend a few days in Santiago, as it was another city I considered applying to when I began thinking about going abroad. Despite the fact that Santiago and Buenos Aires are both considered to be more modern and westernized major cities in Latin America, to me Santiago was noticeably different due to the fact that it was very American and English-oriented. The malls and stores looked eerily like those in suburban America (my friend and I took advantage of this by getting Dunkin Donuts on various occasions, which we have both missed dearly since arriving in Argentina), and a friend who is studying in Santiago explained to us that throwing random English words into sentences is a very popular practice.
Dunkin Donuts was just one of many American stores and restaurants that we saw in Santiago.
That being said, Santiago definitely still has its own distinct culture, which we took in by trying new foods, experiencing Chilean nightlife, and doing a free walking tour that took us to many of the main points of interest across the city. The walking tour was also fun for me because it provided a refresher on Chile’s tumultuous political history, which I learned about in my First Year Seminar two years ago!
Palacio de La Moneda (the Presidential Palace), where the infamous coup d’état of 1973 that led to 17 years of military dictatorship and state oppression occurred, was one of the most interesting stops on the walking tour to learn about.
One of my favorite places from the entire trip was Valparaíso, Chile, a colorful port city known for its abundance of street art. We only spent one day exploring Valparaíso, but that was enough time for us to see hundreds of beautiful murals and paintings that lined the streets.
It is no wonder that Valparaíso is considered an artist’s city—the murals we saw were all unique and carefully crafted.
Torres del Paine, Chilean Patagonia
From Santiago, we left the bigger cities for a completely different leg of our trip. We spent about a week and a half in both Chilean and Argentine Patagonia, home to some of the most breathtaking landscapes that I have seen in my life. Patagonia as a region is geographical diverse, comprised of impressive mountains, crystalline lakes, as well as deserts, pampas, and grasslands. We started by camping several nights in Torres del Paine, a national park known for a hike that leads to three massive rock “towers” (torres) that jut out of a lake. Camping in this area was an amazing experience; our tent was right at the foot of a snow-capped mountain, which meant that we woke up to a pretty impressive view each day.
This sunset in Torres del Paine was definitely something that I won’t soon forget.
El Chaltén, Argentine Patagonia
We then crossed the border into Argentine Patagonia, where we traveled to El Chaltén. This small village is more recognizable than one would imagine, as it is home to Mount Fitz Roy, the prominent mountain that is used in the logo of the Patagonia outdoor brand. Seeing this mountain range in person puts the logo to shame, though—it is enormous, with a huge glacier and lake at the base. The views made the 10km hike through the icy wind completely worth it!
Trying not to blow off the cliff at Mount Fitz Roy.
El Calafate, Argentine Patagonia
Our last destination was El Calafate, a fairly touristy town that attracts visitors to another famous national park, this one known for Perito Moreno, a massive glacier that is unusual in the fact that it is advancing, while most other glaciers in the world are retreating. Apparently it is the size of the city of Buenos Aires, a fact that is almost impossible for me to wrap my head around (when I heard this, I imagined taking my 40 minute cross-city bus commute to university, just on top of a glacier). We took a boat that brought us close to the towering wall of the glacier, which stops abruptly in the water. It was mesmerizing to watch and hear huge chunks of ice crack and fall off into the lake.
Photos honestly don’t do the size of the glacier justice!
I was really pleased with how the trip turned out, especially considering that we only had a rough outline of what we wanted to do. I was able to see truly incredible sights with some of my closest friends from the semester, which makes for an experience that I will never forget. That being said, I am happy to be back in Buenos Aires and done with sleeping in 6-person hostel dorm rooms! I fly back to Maryland in just 3 days now, so the mix of excitement to be home and the numerous goodbyes that I will say in the upcoming days has created a very bittersweet sense of nostalgia. I truly cannot believe how 6 months here have flown by… the next time I write I will be in the U.S.! I intend to save my packing for the last minute and make the most of my last few days in this wonderful city.