Saturday, February 14, 2009

Argentine Adventures, Part 3

Sorry that it's been so long since the last update. We've had some pretty rough nights of sleeping in our household and that has led to me being braindead, which really isn't conducive to coherent writing!

We left Bariloche early, 5:30 am, and headed out towards the Atlantic Coast. When we were planning our trip, with the guide book as our resource, we didn't realize how far it was between Bariloche and Puerto Piramides. We assumed it would be about a 6-hour drive. Wrong! It turned out to be a 13-hour drive! There was nowhere to really stop either because they were really just tiny towns in the middle of Patagonia; they had gas stations but not many other amenities. Thankfully, the kids did really well. Thank goodness we have the portable DVD player; when she got bored of playing with her toys and reading, Kirsi would watch some Backyardigans or Blue's Clues or Franklin. It helped to pass the time. Aidan did well, though I ended up sitting in the back seat for the last 5 hours or so of the trip. It just made it more bearable for both kids, I think.

We drove south out of Bariloche, past Lago Gutierrez and then past the towns of El Bolson and Esquel. I slept for a lot of it but Der said that the scenery was stunning. Thankfully I'd get to see it when we headed back to Bariloche. From Esquel, we started heading southeast. Once we got to the dusty town of Tecka, we were about to start our crossing of the Patagonia. We stopped at the gas station there. Filling up was good, no problems at all, but waiting in line for the only toilet in the women's bathroom took forever and a day. Seriously, who puts only one stall in a women's bathroom?! During my wait, though, I noticed something that must be typically Argentinean. At the gas station, they had a huge white vat with a spout and a button. I watched as a woman filled her thermos up with hot water from this. How culturally unique is this?! Gas stations provide hot water so people don't have to go without their Yerba Mate during their travels.

Here's what Wikipedia says about Yerba Mate:

The infusion called mate is prepared by steeping dry leaves (and twigs) of yerba mate in hot water, rather than in boiling water like black tea. Drinking mate with friends from a shared hollow gourd (also called a mate or guampa in Spanish, or caba├ža or cuia in Portuguese) with a metal straw (a bombilla in Spanish, bomba or canudo in Portuguese) is a common social practice in Argentina,[3][4] Uruguay, Paraguay, southern Chile, eastern Bolivia and Southern Region, Brazil[5] and also Syria, Lebanon and Jordan.

The flavor of brewed yerba mate is strongly vegetal, herbal, and grassy, reminiscent of some varieties of green tea. Many consider the flavor to be very agreeable, but it is generally bitter if steeped in boiling water, so it is made using hot but not boiling water. Unlike most teas, it does not become bitter and astringent when steeped for extended periods, and the leaves may be infused several times.

You see people walking around with their mate cups and bombillas everywhere in Argentina. They absolutely love it! Der and I decided to buy ourselves each a mate cup and bombilla and some tea to try the experience. Before I had read the article on Wikipedia, I boiled water and made some. It was horrible! Neither of us could drink more than two sips. Now that I know to use only hot water, I'm going to give it another shot. If we still hate it, our cups will make nice decorations in the house. :)

From Tecka, we headed east. The vastness of the Patagonian steppe is what both Derwin and I commented on. I guess it would be similar to driving across the Canadian Prairies - kilometre after kilometre of the same landscape. What was different, though, is that the towns are very spread out in this region, whereas in the Prairies, you have little towns here and there. Along the way were some amazing rock features that reminded us of badlands. The colours and formations were so neat; I took so many pictures of them, simply because I found them fascinating.

Scenes of the Patagonian steppe and landscapes we saw on our drive to the eastern coast of Argentina:

As we were approaching the coast (meaning within 150 km), the landscape started changing. There were rolling hills and greener pastures. This is what they call the Welsh heartland of the Chubut province. The towns of Gaiman, Trelew and Puerto Madryn were founded by the Welsh settlers that arrived in Argentina in (and after) 1865. The descendants the Welsh settlers are very proud of their heritage, even though they are Argentinean now. Some 3rd and 4th generation residents can still speak Welsh and there is a movement to maintain this heritage with cultural and linguistic exchanges available and festivals held every year. Unfortunately, we weren't able to spend any time in these places to learn more about their culture but we did get to drive through them and they seem quite quaint.

After 13 hours, we arrived in Puerto Piramides on the Valdes Peninsula. This was going to be another amazing adventure with all the wildlife we were going to see. More in the next update.
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