After 8 days in Buenos Aires with my Habitat for Humanity Argentina family, it was finally time to say goodbye and part ways. I hadn't traveled alone like this since my two week trip to Poland and Greece back in 2012 when I studied abroad in London. Nevertheless, I was excited and ready for a new adventure.
My first obstacle was Retiro Bus Station. I've never been to a bus station or train station where I couldn't find at least one English speaking person to help me. Even in Poland, there was a person at the train station who was able to translate for me. At the bus station in Argentina, not so much. With hundreds of different bus lines leaving Retiro daily, I figured there definitely would've been at least someone who spoke English. I was wrong. Luckily, with my limited Spanish, I was able to make up a coherent sentence to get a ticket - Buscando comprar un bileta para hoy a la Puerto Madryn y doce horas. Definitely not perfect, but it got the job done! I also wrote down the tickets I needed in my notebook just to be sure I was understood correctly.
When I boarded my bus, I had no idea what to expect. It was a two level bus with seats on the bottom and seats above. I got a window seat, so I was able to conveniently stare out of the window without having to awkwardly look past someone. The seats were actually quite comfy for being semicama. They didn't go back all the way, but they tilted back enough to allow me to have a decent night of sleep - decent enough that I almost missed my stop in Puerto Madryn! Another half hour and I would've had a huge issue!
When we were passing through toward the Puerto Madryn bus station, I looked out the windows in astonishment. The houses and area were not what I expected. To be honest, I don't know what I expected. The houses and everything looked incomplete almost, as if I was in a city where someone decided to just use clay to build parts of the houses and just stop. It was really interesting and at first I felt a little scared and upset that I travelled 20 hours to this place that doesn't seem to be as appealing (or safe) as I thought it would be.
At the bus station, I stopped at the information center and picked up a map. I was tired and dirty and it was too early to check in to my hostel. I got a little lost at first, but I figured out which way the coast was and kept walking until I saw water, then I was easily able to find my hostel. It was in a great location - right on the beach. Along the beach there were a lot of shops and restaurants - nothing like what the city looked like on our way in!
I spent the majority of my first day in Puerto Madryn on the beach relaxing. My tours were scheduled for the next two days. Before I decided to head back to my hostel for the evening, I went out to the end of the pier. I was amazed when I saw three little sea lions swimming around the pillars in the water! It was the best thing ever and made my day. They were so cute!! I could've stood there for hours just watching them play and chase each other from pillar to pillar - they were so carefree and it was just wonderful.
Whales, Dolphins, Penguins, Elephant Seals and Sea Lions
If you love animals and you find yourself in South America, you HAVE to go to Puerto Madryn. I'm an animal lover through and through and I do not regret a single dollar or minute spent in this area.
My first day was dedicated to a whale watching tour on Peninsula Valdes, followed by a visit to Punta Norte and Punta Cantor to see penguins, seals and sea lions.
While we didn't get a chance to see the Southern Right Whales, we did come across hundreds of playful Dusky Dolphins. They kept swimming around and under the front of the boat, jumping out of the water in front of us. Their markings are beautiful!
The highlight of the morning though was when we came across a school of anchovies - there was about a ton of them according to our boat driver. And since anchovies are the prey of many sea creatures, we also came across more dolphins, sea lions, penguins and sea gulls all in the same place. It was incredible seeing all of these species in one place feeding. It was one of those moments that I'm going to always remember - it was so unexpected to come across that!
Later on in the day we came across a colony of seals with a handful of sea lions. It was too early to be breeding, but there was one sea lion pup and its mother and about 5 other male sea lions. The second the male near the female left, all of the other males came in to attack - they were all fighting right on top of the sea lion pup. After the fight, the pup didn't move and the male originally with the female pushed her away and out into the water. It was so sad! We though the baby was dead, but before we left, we saw movement! It was crazy how wild these animals truly are.
I was really bummed that I didn't get to see a Southern Right Whale. But I ended up seeing something just as exciting! On our way to Punta Cantor, we saw tons of cars stopped along the road. It turns out there was a group of three Orca Whales were close to shore. Once we arrived in Punta Cantor, we were able to get some good pictures and even saw one of them beach itself! It was incredible. Apparently they can only beach themselves during high tide, so we were there at exactly the right time. It was unbelievable! More pictures of the Orcas below!
Before the madness with the whales, we stopped at a penguin colony. They were so cute and a bit bigger than the Fairy Penguins I saw in Australia! I love penguins so much - I have no idea why! But how can I resist, they're just too darn cute!!!
All in all, my first tour was a success. I was excited for what the next day would bring!
My second tour was to Punta Ninfas to get up close and personal with wild elephant seals. The day prior, you could only stay on the paths. At Punta Ninfas, you can go right down to the beach and get up close and personal with the elephant seals. It was really amazing. I can still feel the warm, round rocks in my hands and hear them crunching under my feet. It was incredible - the three other people I was with and my tour guide were the only ones on the beach. I live for this type of stuff!
Puerto Madryn was beautiful. Both the landscapes and animals will always stay in my mind. In a way, I'm happy I didn't see the Southern Right Whales - it gives me another reason to go back in the future! In retrospect, I wish I stayed another day so I could've seen the huge penguin colony - apparently it's one of the largest in the world. It's okay though, there's always next time!
**This post and the following posts will be based on my travels in South America from November 29th to December 22nd. I was in Buenos Aires for a week volunteering, then I traveled to Puerto Madryn, Puerto Iguazu and Machu Picchu.**
Buenos Aires confirmed, but where else?
After my Habitat for Humanity trip in Kenya, I almost immediately applied for a trip in Argentina. By Easter, I already sent in my deposit and knew I would be spending a week volunteering in Buenos Aires. I purchased my flight ticket in late September. Not tickets, ticket. I did this for two reasons. First, I didn't have the extra money for the return ticket at that point in time and I wanted to make sure I definitely had a ticket to get to Buenos Aires. Second, I knew I wanted to stay on after the trip and do some traveling around the country.
It was three days before my plane departed for Buenos Aires when I finally decided I should make some type of plan for the remainder of my time in South America. I knew I wanted to be home by Christmas, so that was easy. That gave me exactly two weeks to spend on my own exploring.
I already had a vague idea of what I wanted to do. In Australia, someone recommended going to Peninsula Valdes. I've also heard of Iguazu Falls before and saw pictures from the amazing Devil's Throat. So those two were pretty easy to decide on. I looked at flights and the flights were really expensive, so I was a bit put off at first. After some more googling, I discovered that Argentina has a pretty great bus system, so I looked up bus tickets, and they seemed reasonably priced. While looking at the bus information, I tried to get more ideas. A bus from Buenos Aires to Lima caught my eye and that's when I decided Machu Picchu would be my final destination.
The hardest part of planning my travels at that point was timing everything just right. Since I decided on traveling by bus, I need to ensure I gave myself enough time for transportation while also having enough time in each place. I made sure to have three bus times picked out for each trip just in case one time sold out or I missed the bus. Basically my plan was this -
December 8th - Leave Buenos Aires in am
December 9th - Arrive in Puerto Madryn in am
December 10th - Puerto Madryn
December 11th - Leave Puerto Madryn in pm
December 12th - Arrive in Buenos Aires in afternoon, Leave BA in pm
December 13th - Arrive in Puerto Iguazu midday, go to falls
December 14th - Leave Puerto Iguazu in pm
December 15th - Arrive in Buenos Aires in afternoon, leave BA in pm
December 18th - Arrive in Lima
December 19th - Plane from Lima to Cusco in am, afternoon in Cusco
December 20th - Train from Cusco to MP in am, spend day in Machu Picchu
December 21st - Train from MP to Cusco in am, plane from Cusco to Lima in pm, plane from Lima to NYC around midnight
I didn't bother looking up hostels at that point, but I did make sure to buy my return flight from Lima to Cusco, my return train from Cusco to Machu Picchu (apparently they sell out really quickly, so best to buy ahead) and my flight from Lima to NYC. I also didn't bother with the bus tickets at that stage since I wanted to pay in cash and get a better rate at Retiro Bus Station in Argentina.
Overall, I definitely was not as prepared for this trip as I have been on past trips. I wouldn't attribute this to carelessness, however. Personally, I found it exciting. Two years ago, when I was planning my solo trip to Poland and Greece for a week and a half, I probably wouldn't have found deliberate unpreparedness that exciting. But after two years filled with a lot more travel and personal growth overall, I've found a sense of security in the unknown. And as long as you stay safe, it's pretty awesome.
The cost of the Habitat for Humanity part of my trip was $2,110 (I know, super expensive!). Habitat trips are pricey, but a lot of the cost goes as a donation to both the Habitat for Humanity office in America as well as the office in the country being served, Argentina in this case. The rest of the cost goes toward providing transportation, housing and meals all week. Fortunately, I had quite a few people support my trip and I was able to get a stipend from my school, so I didn't have to foot the whole cost of the Habitat portion myself.
Including flights, bus transportation, accommodation, food, my Argentina visa, tours and entry fees to the different places I went, I budgeted $3000. Just to put this into perspective, close to $2000 was spent solely on transportation. This includes my flight from NYC to Buenos Aires, my return bus ticket from Buenos Aires to Puerto Madryn, my return bus ticket from Buenos Aires to Puerto Madryn, my bus ticket from Buenos Aires to Lima, my return flight from Lima to Cusco, my return train from Cusco to Machu Picchu and my flight from Lima to NYC.
Sure, I could've saved quite a bit of money if I chose to cut a place out of my itinerary, but I chose three places I really wanted to see at this point of my life, and I don't regret a single penny spent.
If you look in the right places, you can find great discounts on flight tickets. Just because you want to go across the world doesn't mean it has to be expensive!
I've packed for a lot of international trips before, ranging from a week to four months. But I've found the more I travel, the less time I leave to pack. I had to head out to the airport for my flight to Buenos Aires around 10am on November 29th. By 5am, I was still unpacking my bags from Australia. In my defense, while I got back to the states that Monday, November 25th, I wasn't actually home until November 28th. Anyway, by 7am I was finally packed and ready for a short nap before the drive to the airport.
To the left, you'll see what I brought with me for my three week trip. I have to say, this bag was probably one of THE BEST purchases of my life. I swear, Mary Poppins must've had the equivalent purse - I kept putting things in and still had tons of room!
My Packing List.
My first Habitat for Humanity trip, I brought a suitcase. My second trip, I brought a big duffle bag. This trip, I brought a backpack. And it was perfect. It was the first time I've flown internationally and didn't check a bag. The bag fit perfectly in the overhead luggage compartment and once I landed, I was able to get on with my life and not have to wait at the luggage carousel stressing about whether or not my bag would come out. No matter how much I travel, I still get anxious when it comes to getting my checked bag after the flight.
Looking back at my planning, I wouldn't change much. I did wish I had another day at Machu Picchu - one day just didn't cut it at such an amazing place. Other than that, I was happy I had a relatively loose plan. The main lesson this trip really taught me was not to stress. So many times we travel and we stress out about time and when we're going to get to a place and what happens if we're late and all of those what if's, but none of that crossed my mind this trip, mainly because nothing was really set in stone (except the train and flights). One of my buses was a couple hours late, but it didn't really matter because I'd get to my location when I got there, there was no reason to fuss about it. It turned out to be an awesome trip, as you'll see by my next posts, and I'm happy with how everything turned out!
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