Monday, December 21, 2009

Buenos Aires to Viedma

If I don't write about last week now.. I may find myself another week behind and slipping ever further into a blogging-backlog-abyss..

I just need that one sentence to unlock the torrent of words that swarm inside my head all day, but I can't find it and another day goes by. Now, the pressure is truly on. Tomorrow we leave for an eight to ten day trek through Torres del Paine. No doubt our experiences there will warrant a similar feeling within - something must be done!

Here are the facts:

We have arrived in Puerto Natales, Chile - via a whirlwind bus tour:

Buenos Aires to Viedma: 12 hours
Viedma to Puerto Madryn: 8 hours (though it should have been four!)
Puerto Madryn to Rio Gallegos: 15 hours
Rio Gallegos to Puerto Natales: 6 hours
°approximate times°


Not many people are familiar with Viedma. I am paraphrasing, but the guidebooks synopsis of Viedma was, "A nice place to grab a snack, but make sure the bus doesn't leave you behind." When we got off our bus and asked for our bags, the driver responded, "You're getting off here?!" On our way to the bus depot in Buenos Aires we told our taxi driver(a gentleman from Montevideo) that we were off to Viedma, he responded, "Great! It is the second largest city in Argentina, you will love it, etc..."

He was right, kind of. It is evident as soon as you clear the sandy soy bean farms and get your first look at Viedma that it is NOT the second largest city in Argentina. In fact, Viedma and Carmen de Patagones(the last stop in Buenos Aires province and Viedma's neighbor across the Rio Negro) combined might only rival Buenos Aires' Palermo barrio in total land mass, but surely no other category.

Of course, the best part about a misconception is setting the record straight or at least offering a second opinion - something I am quite familiar with, hailing from the Bible Belt. Our aid in this endeavor was a local journalist, named Maria Paula, who covered the city government. Paula is our first contact through that has actually been able to host us and I fear that we have been spoiled.

We met Paula at her office where she promptly left work to walk us to her apartment. By the time we had showered, settled, and been thoroughly acquainted with Paula's insane feline, Moro, she was back from work and preparing a late lunch!


Spawn of Satan

No better activity after a fulfilling meal than a lazy walk around town to see the buildings, monuments, and natural attractions.

Including the original government building of the province where this flag was on display:

The flag of the Rio Negro Province which had just been dedicated in October.

From there we stepped into Catedral Nuestra Señora de la Merced, where Paula explained the two local saints:
One was an indigenous boy, Ceferino Namuncurá, who was taken from his tribe by the Church, converted, and used as an example for missionaries. He later developed tuberculosis, was sent to Rome to see the Pope, and died.
The other was a local man, Artemide Zatti, a nurse who went around curing ailments in his spare time.
There are massive murals and relics of both men in the church.

From there we walked along the Rio Negro until just around sunset.

Carmen de Patagones and the Catedral by the same name.

After a quick photo-op we took the one peso ferry across to Carmen de Patagones - just in time for sunset.

Paula's knowledge of local history continued to flow as we walked past the walls of the old fort that were once the foundation of the settlement, the original dock that made the Rio Negro a potential port city before the discovery of a massive sandbar ruled out major cargo holders, and more Catedrals!

On the walk back from the tour, Paula tells us that she is leaving the key with us and is going to stay at a friends house. That she will stay there as long as we wish to stay in town, "This way everyone is more comfortable." We were taken aback by such a degree of hosptiality, but Paula shrugged it off as, "it's just what we do here."

The next day we attempted to get our travel beyond Viedma taken care of while Paula was at work. Eventually we all met up back at Paula's, piled into her Fiat, and left for the her friend Adrian's house fifteen minutes outside of town on the Rio Negro.

There we sat together on his porch facing the river and ate asado with bread, veggies, and beer. Again, with our bellies full, we continued on to El Condor, a small beach community founded after the "El Condor" ran aground there sometime in the 18th century.

The water was far too cold for swimming and the wind made lounging in the sun difficult, but conditions did make for quite an ideal little chat near the cliffs that hold back the sea and house the worlds largest parrot colony.

We drank mate and talked about everything under the sun as the parrots squawked, flocked, and perched. With our termo empty and the sun getting low on the horizon, and everyone with plenty of sand in their buttcracks, we went back to Paula's where we continued to chat about colloquialism and just really enjoyed ourselves.

Part of the difficulty of our trip is that we have so much time. With so many options, it is difficult to know when to stay and when to go. In retrospect, perhaps Viedma is a place we should have stayed longer. Though the sites were more or less exhausted after the first day, nowhere have we had someone so willing to help us, be able to give us firsthand insight into local life AND do it all in Spanish.

Yet decisions are made. Sometimes without thorough communication. And so, we left Viedma that night (4:15am in fact) and slept off our worries that we had made the wrong decision - arriving in Puerto Madryn later that day - fully immersed in the Patagonia.

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