Life on the Road - 38 days around Argentina

Reflections on our epic Argentine road trip. I can't believe this was 8 months ago already...

On the Road!

We did it!

38 days away from home. 6100 km (3800 miles) driven. One car. Two adults & two little girls.

11 hotels/apartments/houses
10 cities.

A circle around the center of Argentina.

One incredible adventure.

Day 1, Pilar: On January 24th, we left on a spectacular road trip that would circle us around the midsection of Argentina. In a tour like nothing we've ever done before (okay, there was the Chilean road trip 3 years ago, but given the geography of Chile, that was one way and not a ROUND trip. We were moving from Bariloche to Cordoba via Chile, but I digress.) Starting on January 24th, 2014, we had our car all packed and drove 6.5 hours, through Rosario, to get to our friends house in Pilar, just northwest of Buenos Aires. We stayed there, met his pet pig named Peppa (a pet at that time, which since has been made into dinner) and had a lovely tour of Pilar, along with ice cream and sushi.

Brad and Franca watching Geneva and Delfina in the waves.

Days 2-4, Mar Chiquita: Heading out the next day, we drove south along the coast to Mar Chiquita, a sleepy coastal village just north of Mar del Plata. We stayed a gorgeous three nights with Brad's cousin, her Argentine husband and their daughter. They  split time between the Northeast USA and coastal Argentina. Their daughter is 1-1/2 years older than our oldest  daughter and  they were fast friends. We loved the freedom that a constant playmate afforded us. Aaaah.... The food here was incredible. The lifestyle here was even better. I could really get used to living as a beach bum!

Sea Lion colony in Mar Del Plata.

On our way out of town, we swung through Mar del Plata. Crazy. I do not want to EVER stay there during high season. Wow. We had driven through a few days earlier to see the sea lions and knew what we were getting ourselves into.
A quick stop at a street market to pick up a very special loaf of bread and other random snacks that were recommended to us and we were off! Again.
Day 5-6, Bahia Blanca: Heading south further. Very hot. Saw the movie Frozen with our older daughter here. Franca, the toddler,  fell in the park and scraped her nose. Now she has a perfect stripe up her face and looks a little chipmunk-esque. We stayed at the Hotel Argos, and were lucky enough to get an updated king corner suite. It was really lovely and since the girls are small, we all curled up in one king-sized bed together. :) We won't be able to do that for too much longer!

Walking along the beach in Las Grutas during low tide.

Days 7-9, Las Grutas:  After a meandering drive southwest, we made an unplanned detour to Las Grutas. We rented a great apartment on the beach. Again, we drove up to see it, ran back to the car to tell Brad and the girls, then ran back to reserve it. Not many vacancies during high season! We had some gasoline drama here- the only gas station in town was empty and waiting for a tanker truck to fill up- and had been for days. We didn't have enough gas to get back to the next bigger city. Luckily we didn't have to drive anywhere for a few days and could have always taken a taxi 12 km to get a can of gasoline if needed. On our last planned day there, the station got a fill-up and so did we.
The beach was beautiful with "pools" cut out of the stone that you could access during low tide. It was a great sandy beach with high cliffs leading to the town up above. On the very end of town there was even a water slide (Geneva thoroughly enjoyed this) and cabañas and carpas (tents) along the length of beach that you can rent to stay out of the sun.
Day 10, Neuquen: A quick stop for the night, then taking off the next morning. We stayed at Casino Magic Hotel for a bit of luxury.
This is the only place we stayed at for only one night- but also the only place we stayed at twice (once down and once on our way back). Since it was such a quick stop, we ate at the hotel restaurant where we were one of three families there when it opened at 8:30 PM. Beautiful rooms, pool and public spaces. The restaurant was good, but not exceptional.

Standing in front of Volcan Lanin. Junin de los Andes, Argentina.

Days 11-12, Junin de los Andes: Snore.... Hotel was blech but grounds were amazing. We booked it that morning, just hours before we arrived, so beggars can't be choosers, right?  Unfortunately the weather was freezing cold and very windy. We had to buy more clothes for Daughter #1 to keep warm!! This was our jumping off point to see the spectacular  Volcán Lanín outside of town.
Days 13-17, San Martin de los Andes: Oh, what a beautiful little town! Shopping was crazy expensive and there were a ton of people blanketing the town but we still enjoyed it. We drove into town and straight to the tourism office to try to find a place to stay. After a few doozies, we found an apartment that was cute and adequate for a 5 night stay. Mexican food at Viva Zapata was unbelievable. We hiked to the lookout above town and then drove some trecherous gravel cliffs to other lookout. LOOOOOOng drive to volcano. Freezing still but I purchased 2 meters of fleece to wrap Franca. We also drive to Chapelco Mountain/Ski Resort where Brad and Geneva went down the alpine slide and later Geneva climbed the lakeside rock wall. San Martin was great little town that I definitely want to visit again!
Almost took a wrong turn to Chile on the way to Villa la Angostura. Stopped at an overlook and asked a tour bus driver. Turn around!!!
Days 18-19, Villa La Angostura: When we arrived, we had some time before check-in, so we stopped for a really beautiful lunch and I cried. I cried over my lamb because it was so good and our lives are so amazing!!! Geneva was asking about our engagement over dinner and wanted daddy to propose to me again, so we got re-engaged over dinner. Geneva lost a tooth the next night at dinner. I Bought an overpriced but beautiful Columbia jacket for myself. It was an eventful few days! We spent 2 nights, two different rooms in a great hotel but with a terribly bumpy and rutted dirt access road.
Days 20-24, Bariloche 1:  We found a little Apart-Hotel off of Av. de los Pioneros, close to downtown. This was a very different perspective from being so close to Llao Llao when we were previously living in Bariloche from Sept 2010-Feb 2011. The apartment was old and not the prettiest, but for a walk-up (no reservation again), we couldn't be too picky.

"Our" house in Bariloche.

Days 25-34, Bariloche 2: We are HOME- well, our old home!!! Back to the same house where we lived for 5 months in 2010- 2011. Geneva had her 3rd birthday in this house, we celebrated Christmas, Brad's birthday and we also decided here that we wanted another baby once we settled in Cordoba. Needless to say, this house is very significant to us, even if we were only here for 5 months.
We had nine days here again this time and it was paradise. There were some great updates to the place and we wanted to soak up every second of it. We also buried our dog's ashes in the beautiful yard. He loved the yard so much and Pablo, along with our other dog, Paloma, stayed in Bariloche for an additional 3 months (from Feb 2011- to May) while we were getting settled in Cordoba before they joined us via plane. We are all happy that he is there forever now. Cue the tears.

Ready for the Zip Line Canopy Tour!!

We did some of the tourist things as well as re-visiting some of our favorite places: Hotel Llao Llao for coffee. Cau Cau boat trip, Bellevue Casita de Te (twice!), Canopy zip-line for Geneva and Brad. Incredible drive to El Bolson (the furthest South we visited- almost as far as Puerto Madryn, but on the other side of the country.)
Alas, all good things must come to an end. We leave and head north to Neuquen once again. It is a spectacular drive north out of the city.
Days 35-36, Neuquen- a second time: The only city where we stopped twice. We even stayed at the same hotel. Head to the Museum, check out downtown.
Day 37, Villa Mercedes: After discovering that we had an incredibly smooth, straight, beautiful hiway drive, we drove like the wind and kept on for 8 hours until we got to Villa Mercedes. Booked the hotel at a gas station/lunch stop with Wifi along the way.
Day 38, Cordoba!!! Home! We completed the incredible circuit, heading east from Cordoba to the coast of Argentina, down along the coast and across to the west, then straight up the middle of the country back home again.
The girls were wonderful- with the worst of the driving days being the first (getting accustomed to it) and the last (great anticipation of home).
Tips to Remember :
  • Never tell your 6 year old when you will be getting home. Just show up. We spent several hours driving from Villa Mercedes with Ms.-Super-Crabby-Pants in the back seat. Pulling out the infamous "Are we there yet??" every few minutes. Never. Again.
  • No matter how much you pack, you are packing too much. We had one duffel bag of clothes  shared between all of us and it was too much. I would cut the clothes drastically next time. We were traveling between climates (hot and beach for our first 4 stops, then super chilly for 2 stops, moderate temps for the rest) so I packed for everything, or so I thought. We all had clothes we didn't use and Daughter #1 needed two warmer pieces that we purchased along the way.
  • Plan surprises along the way for the kids. Little toys packed, activity books, unexpected stops- even if just to a beautiful lookout. It is worth it.
  • Get gas /petrol/nafta- whatever you call it- get it WHENEVER you can! We got stuck in Las Grutas with very little gas, the only gas station in town was awaiting a fill (and had been waiting for days) and the next nearest gas station was 20 km away. Not cool, but there are worse places to be stuck, for sure :)

Reflecting on the trip, I can't believe that we all survived 38 days of family togetherness in a sedan! Our two daughters, ages 6 and 1-1/2 years old, both in car seats. One driver throughout (thank you, Hon, for the safe journey!) What an incredible adventure!!

Little Travelers - Our Adventures With Kid(s)

Last week, after returning home from some grocery shopping in our neighborhood, our 5-year-old steps into the house and declares, "I'm bored with this city."  Amused, I promptly put it on Facebook and two out of the first three responses were "Where did she hear that?" or something similar. That wasn't what I expected.

Daughter #1, showing her hands, black with volcanic sand and the Osorno Volcano in Chile. February 2011.

She is a kid that has always been on the move but we've never said that we're bored with a city. NEVER.

That is something out of her own head.

In my opinion, it does show that she is comfortable moving around and wants to explore this great world of ours.

While in Minnesota, we lived in the same house for 7 years and sold it when I was 6 months pregnant with dear daughter #1; the same daughter with the charming quote above.

That got me thinking how much we have traveled and what we have all seen in her 5-1/2 years (4 of which have been in South America). We lived in a few places in Minnesota leading up to our move, then in Montevideo for 18 months, Bariloche for 5 months and now Córdoba, Argentina for just over 2 years (where our second daughter was born in 2012).

We have seen many other places in Uruguay, Argentina and Chile, all without a car of our own. We've rented cars, traveled with friends, hired a driver once (okay, twice) and taken a variety of planes, buses, boats and trains.

Exploring at Atlántida beach, Uruguay. March 2010.

In Uruguay, we've visited:

Colonia, Piriapolis, Punta del Este, Punta del Diablo, Cabo Polonio, La Paloma, Minas, Salta and through many more cities on the way.

In Argentina, we've visited:

Buenos Aires, Rosario, Mendoza, Bariloche, El Bolsón, Villa la Angostura, Concordia, Iguazu, Villa Carlos Paz, Villa General Belgrano, Cosquín, Capilla del Monte and others.

In Chile, we've visited:

Puerto Montt, Chiloé Island including Ancud and Castro, Osorno, Villarrica, Pucón, Puerto Varas, Santiago, Valparaiso, Viña del Mar and others.

This also included two over-land crossings of the Andes mountains: One from Bariloche, Argentina to Puerto Montt, Chile by car and another time from Mendoza, Argentina, to Santiago, Chile by bus.


On a bus to Capilla del Monte, Argentina. November, 2012.

I can't forget the three trips to/from the United States since we've been living in South America. We are pretty well traveled with our kids. We like adventure (it was even in our wedding vows, "Through Adventure and Adversity") and we encourage a love of adventure and adaptability in our daughters.

We're not planning another move anytime soon, but we DO have some interesting travel plans we're considering. As you may have guessed, we're also not the type to travel WITHOUT our kids.

We'll see where our next big adventure takes us - as a family.

Our Continuing Adventures

Thanks to those of you who have written asking if we're okay.  Yes, we're fine. Just busy and what gets pushed to the back burner? Our travel blog. Work, family and setting up our lives in a new place has taken priority. Yes, we're in a new place, but before I tell you where, I'm going to back up to September 2010:

We made it to Bariloche and had a fantastic time there from the end of September through the end of February.  5 months of glorious views, nature hikes and our self-imposed retreat to figure out what our future may hold. We visited the tops of mountains, tiny charming Salones de Té, ate more smoked foods than I ever care to admit and left there with an extra 10 lbs each, despite all the hiking :)

The house we stayed at for those 5 months was perfect for us and in a great location right off the bus line. We managed without a car, even though we were staying 23 km outside of the city of Bariloche (just a few km from Hotel Llao Llao). Geneva attended a small Waldorf preschool called Mandala, about 12 km from our house. Nestled among the pine trees, Mandala was a fantastic nurturing environment with a mixed-age class.

Fast forward a bit... we were planning our departure from Bariloche and had Córdoba, Argentina on our radar. Córdoba is in the middle of the country and is the second largest city in Argentina after Buenos Aires.  Reviews of Córdoba were mixed. Some seemed to love it, others thought it left a lot to be desired. We wanted to check it out for ourselves because we thought it may just have the big-city feel that we were looking for without the immensity of Buenos Aires.

The question was, how to get there? We had a few options and picked an unlikely combination. They were:

  • Bus from Bariloche to Córdoba: Cheap, but 23 hrs +/- with a 3-year-old
  • Rent a car and drive directly: Insanely expensive for a one-way-rental in AR
  • Fly: Through Buenos Aires to Córdoba. Not too expensive, but we had a lot of baggage, and it's not very adventurous at all.

Our choice? Drive north through Chile instead, then fly from Santiago to Córdoba (via Montevideo)! We shipped most of our things to arrive in Córdoba ahead of us on Via Bariloche bus service.  Incredibly cheap and worked out perfectly, but I digress...

It took us 11 days for the entire journey, but we had a lot of fun doing it. We had a friend in Bariloche drive us in his SUV through the Andes to Puerto Montt, Chile. We stayed there for a few days, explored the surrounding areas of Choloé and Puerto Varas (even seeing penguins along the way).  And were completely wowed by the Mount-Fuji-esque Osorno volcano. We rented a car in Puerto Montt to head north.  One way rentals are much less expensive in Chile than they are in Argentina.  Think about it, with the geography of Chile, it is almost impossible not to drive north-south, or in our case, the opposite.

After Puerto Montt, we drove north to Pucón and stayed there for 3 days.  I loved the bohemian, backpacker vibe but felt a little unsettled looking up at a smoking volcano all day. We're midwesterners and total wimps about earthquakes and volcanoes!

Then, a marathon drive from Púcon to Santiago all in one day. About 700 miles of some incredibly gorgeous countryside. Chile had incredible infrastructure and Ruta 5 (aka extension of the Pan-American Highway), which we were traveling is perfectly maintained with some beautiful bridges, tunnels and of course, numerous toll booths along the spectacular landscape. All totaled for the journey in Chile, we spent 27,100 Chilean pesos (about $58.00 USD) on 14 toll booths. That is not counting any between Bariloche and Puerto Montt.

One night in Santiago and we were off to Valparaiso where we spent two nights. After a stressful entry to Valparaiso where Google was telling us our hotel was in one area where it was really about a km away (those narrow, steep, winding roads are not good for a mid-size rental car and people who are not used to said hilly streets) we eventually found where we needed to be.

Impression of Valparaiso: Meh. I was really disappointed because I thought it would be great. If we had to do it again, we'd stay in Viña del Mar and spend a day in nearby Valparaiso. We loved the beaches, energy and playgrounds of Viña (with a 3-year-old, playgrounds are a big deal).

After contemplating if we wanted to extend our time to stay in Vína, we pressed back to Santiago airport to turn in our rental car and catch a very roundabout flight to Córdoba.

After a glorious 24 hours layover in Montevideo with friends, we hopped our final flight to Córdoba and arrived late into our hotel room.

All this time (and for several additional weeks) our dogs were enjoying the paradise of Bariloche. We decided that this travel schedule would be impossible with 2 dogs in tow, so we left them with a wonderful family that watches small dogs.  We knew that the dogs would be happy in a home setting, a family with three young girls and a great property to roam freely- and we wouldn't have to worry.

Within the first three days in a hotel in Córdoba, we knew this is a place we want to stay for a while. Centro (downtown) is busy, with great shopping, Jesuit churches and historic sites, a tree-lined cannal winding through the city and a huge amount of pedestrian areas.

We found a month-long temporary rental in Nuevo Centro, a small furnished apartment that was in a great spot.

While we liked the apartment and the neighborhood, it was loud with traffic and parties on the weekends (it's near the universities, so many young people). We knew this all going into this rental, but  thought for a month, it's not bad. We had the option to renew there indefinitely but the building did not accept dogs and ideally, we wanted more space and a more residential neighborhood.

Next chapter to come about our housing search, schools, health insurance and cost of living in Córdoba......

Living the Life, Bariloche Style

We made it into San Carlos de Bariloche late last night after a long day of travel. Our non-stop flights were booked months ago with Pluna but we learned two weeks ago that the Pluna permit was pulled by the Argentine government and Pluna was no longer allowed to fly into Bariloche. Luckily, the airline re-accommodated us on other airlines and we ended up flying Pluna to Buenos Aires and LAN from BA to Bariloche - after a 5 hour layover in Buenos Aires. It was late when we finally arrived in Bariloche and even later after we claimed all of our bags and the dogs, but we made it. Many thanks to our new landlord Jamie, who picked us up from the airport in his truck. We all just barely fit.

The house we are renting is exceeding our expectations and we even had a bottle of wine, a box of handmade Bariloche chocolates and a budín to greet us upon arrival. Fabulous! We are exploring every inch of the space and getting unpacked. The dogs already love having a fenced-in yard for the first time in their lives and the many plants and birds have been a huge source of entertainment already for our daughter.

The most spectacular aspect of the house is not the inside, but the view to the outside. We'd seen photos of this view before we got here, but it is even more breathtaking in person. It looks like a painted set in a play and it's hard to believe it is real and we can gaze onto this very landscape every day we are here.

I think we're going to enjoy being in San Carlos de Bariloche. We have a lot to do to set up our (temporary) lives here but we can't wait to get out and explore.

Our Next Adventure

Bariloche, Buenos Aires, Uruguay MapUruguay has been our home for the past 16 months and we love it. Through the ups and downs of adjusting to life in a different culture, we have been truly fortunate to find ourselves in such a place. We are ready for a new adventure, most likely temporary but we don't know. All signs are pointing us toward San Carlos de Bariloche,  Argentina. We plan to be there for the low season of October through December. If you don't know Bariloche, it is a very different type of place from Montevideo. Located in the mountainous area of northern Patagonia, spring is the low season there with skiing being the main draw in winter and hiking/water sports in the summer.  Since we have never lived in the mountains but would like to, this area really appeals to us.  There are other towns nearby such as San Martín de los Andes and El Bolsón that we plan to explore and the variety of outdoor activities in this mountain/lakes region is incredible.

One challenge with our plan is how to live in a more rural area without a car.  The Bariloche area has a great bus system that runs a loop from downtown to the main roads, with other buses running long distances from Bariloche. While we explored living within the city proper, we were told in no uncertain terms that while the city has all the modern conveniences, the city is not why people come to live in Bariloche. Now we are researching temporary rentals on the main bus loop or within a decent walking distance to the city center.

Our flight is booked for September 25th, our current landlord is notified of our lease termination and we are starting the purging process all over again.  There is no turning back now!

Our list of things to sell will be coming shortly. It is amazing how much you can acquire even when you live in a furnished  rental and never really purchased much.  Alas, we have plenty of housewares, toys, clothes, books and cloth diaper supplies that we will be selling.  The plan is to come back to Montevideo during/after high season 2011 but we don't want to store all our extra stuff, so away it goes.

Wish us luck!  This extended vacation will hopefully be just the thing we're looking for.  New things to learn and explore within a beautiful, restorative environment.  You can't forget the great German architecture, handmade chocolates and artisan beers produced in the Bariloche region!  Sounds like my kind of place!!

A Weekend Away

We are planning to take a series of short road trips- just a long weekend each time to explore more of this great country. Having been to Colonia, Piriápolis and Punta del Este already, we're looking towards the eastern coast before it gets cold and the interior with possible trips to the hot springs and a wine tour in the fall. We wanted to pose the question to our readers: Where should we go for a short exploration trip this month?? Where To Go For a Weekend Getaway?


A Weekend in Buenos Aires

We just spent a quick weekend in Buenos Aires, and it was a very nice change from everyday life in Montevideo. Since we've been there before and have already explored Recoleta and some of Palermo, a few highlights and notable details of this trip are:

Buquebus: We took the Buquebus shuttle from Tres Cruces bus Terminal in Montevideo to Colonia, then the ferry from Colonia to Buenos Aires.  This is more economical than the direct ferry from MVD to BsAs (and had a departure on Saturday AM instead of PM), but the journey takes longer. Because of the weather on Friday and into Saturday, I'm happy we did it this way.  The winds were strong and as a result, the waters choppy.

Waving goodbye to the Colonia port

Note: Do not expect to be able to get Argentine pesos at the Buquebus terminal in Buenos Aires.  The Cambio was closed on Saturday morning and the ATM's were not working. Exchange your money in Montevideo so you don't have to waste time in Buenos Aires- because there are no banks, cambios or cajeros near the Buquebus terminal.

Hotel: We stayed at a gorgeous little hotel in an out of the way area. The Lola House is rated 6 on out of 341 hotels in Buenos Aires and I can't say enough good things about it. The rates were excellent and we were treated like royalty.  The Subte  (subway) stop is just a few blocks away and you can be in downtown near Calle Florida within about 10 minutes.  Taxis are also very inexpensive, but it will take longer to get across town than via the subway.

Starbucks: You knew this was coming, right? We stopped not once, but twice in 24 hours. The baristas were wonderfully personable, remembering our names from the day before and even giving us free milk for Geneva.  Not that I like the wastefulness of take-away cups, but man, this was really good.

At Starbucks in Buenos Aires

Feria San Telmo:  A fantastic mix of antique vendors and artisans with food and beverage peddlers, street performers and tango demonstrations mixed in. It's a little touristy, but stay, eat and wait for the tourists to leave, there is samba drumming and tango dancing all evening long.  Takes place every Sunday south of downtown, on Calle Defensa between Av San Juan and Plaza de Mayo. We had a great time wandering and people watching.

We also dropped in to see a FABULOUS boutique hotel that Brad has been booking for his clients on the opposite side of town from where we stayed. We'll definitely try this place out on one of our next trips to BsAs- and I'll write about it then.  Contact us if you want to learn more right now.

After living simply for the past 6 months- and loving it- we were both surprised how our consumerism nature came rushing back when faced with all the material things not available in Montevideo.  Other than coffee and food, we bought a few personal care items and an inexpensive handmade bag at the San Telmo market, but thankfully we were strong and that was it for the purchases.

24 hours in Buenos Aires is not nearly enough time. I can't wait to get back.  With a metro area of 13 million people, there is so much to explore!!