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Sunday, March 25, 2012

Backpackers Stink

Backpackers stink. They are gross transients with no future and spread venereal diseases as they migrate from hostel to hostel. Most only do so to drink more beer, sleep in more hammocks and collect visa stamps. They carry lice, and sleep with bed bugs. The common rooms in hostels are nearly always infested with backpackers snoozing, lounging, beer drinking and are ultimately filthy. Backpackers are the lower class of civilized people who don’t care to work, or contribute to society.

I find it amusing that some outsiders who have never experienced the amazing, and deep sub culture of backpacking can actually believe most of the above statements. For me, backpacking annually leads to a sense of groundedness. It allows me to converse with some of the most diplomatic, caring, and selfless people I have ever met. From political conversations with six different nations, to simply outreaching and sharing goods, feelings or food to those in need, I have experienced some of the best people here, in this ‘dirty’ subculture of humanity.

It is my belief that if every young person had the opportunity to travel the world, and experience it in its entirety, we would be more likely to live in a racist, sexist and possibly even classist-free world. With the experience young people take with them, so comes a greater understanding, a greater knowledge, more compassion, and a greater willingness to act. We take away so much, particularly when you travel with so little. It often allows one to step back, to breathe and to reflect upon what we have, and what we do not have back home. Often what we have is great. Often what we do not have is even greater; we realize most people live without that greater understanding, knowledge, compassion and willingness to act. People live their lives with blinders on. Never stopping to help. To ask questions. To act.

I hope that one day all children will have the opportunity to both travel, and experience those people that do. That through this sharing of bedrooms, kitchens, and living spaces with cultures from all over the world, we can translate it into a broader picture. I believe that backpacking is one small way we can work towards accepting the differences between people and cultures, and even embrace them. We can look forward to sharing our culture, and receiving other cultures from all over the world. Through this sharing, I believe we can break down the fear and bigotry towards different people; we just have to understand each other first.

Both within the backpacking community, and within the poor communities we visit, there is a sense of family and kindness. We understand the connection between people as a whole. That the Asian boy, the Dutch girl, and the native tribes one visits all deserve life and kindness. They deserve that bandana you’ve been carrying, or the extra t-shirt you know you don’t need. They will share their lunch with you when you have no money. They will keep you company when you miss home. They will teach you, and you will teach them. The deep connections one can find are amazing when one leaves a cell phone at home; one can regain the ability to simply talk and connect, even when there is a language barrier.

Backpackers are not dirty. They are teachers, writers, economists, students, plumbers, interior designers, nurses. They are all fed up with the grind. They understand this grounded feeling. They are regaining their humanity and their ability to recognize the bigger, more significant picture. They want to find out what is important for the world, and want to understand their roles in it. Many simply go to see the great natural and manmade wonders of the world, but they come home with much more than just photos. No matter the initial intention when one embarks on a journey that takes them from hostel to hostel, tribe to city, jungle to desert, a deeper connection with the world becomes apparent. We may come home with small trinkets to share with friends, but we come home with much more than that. We come home with a greater knowledge, understanding, compassion and a drive to act. We share stories of the people we meet, of the experiences we’ve had in hopes that one day, you too will share in our amazing experiences abroad. That instead of 5 star hotels, and foreign owned resorts, you will share in our sub-culture of amazing people giving back to the world in many small, and sometimes big ways.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Puerto Madryn - Patagonian Tundra & Coast Line

I feel like I’m in a boat; bumping and heaving across a sea of green shrubbery. My boat sways gently from left to right, as it crosses a vast sea of Patagonian tundra. The views here are unexciting at best. The waters are calm leaving nothing but a barren horizon – one can see the curvature of the earth from this course. There are no trees or mountains to guide you, there is only plain. Orange and grey soil allows only for hearty and rugged plant life to grow leaving little to look at; Just an ocean of flat land.

It is hard for me to fathom that only a few clicks away and a few moons past, I discovered a marine oasis; that within this barren sea of shrubs lies a coast line so rich with wildlife, one cannot travel without spotting the movement of some sort of highly adapted animal. This landscape is extreme. It punishes its inhabitants with extreme temperature ranges, unpredictable weather, and little to eat or drink. I find it astonishing how many animals call this Chubut province home. From sealions, to whales, to foxes and penguins, the coast line just beyond my current horizon is an amazing one. This is where mammals come to breed. This is where killer whales come to feed. And this is where my bumping bus is now leaving. I am now saying good bye to Puerto Madryn and Penninsula Valdes, and saying hello to the Portenos of Buenos Aires.

Puerto Madryn is the main city in the Chubut province. It also is the jumping off point to many of the outlying wildlife reserves and meccas, mainly Punta Tombo and Penninsula Valdes. The city is unassuming, and often times is overlooked by zealous tourists, but without good reason. The beaches here are decent, the town has acceptable shopping, eating and drinking options, and the tours are nothing short of amazing. One is able to swim with sea lions, go on jeep excursions, rent a bike, lie on the beach, or march with penguins here, but for many, the stopover is short. I recommend Hostel Tosca where the people are helpful, the breakfast homemade and the hammocks lie in grape leaf shade.

The tours offered here mainly cater to two wildlife hubs, Penninsula Valdes and Punta Tombo. Punta Tombo, approximately 125km from Puerto Madryn, is home to the largest colony of Magellanic Penguins in all of Argentina. Many companies have tours and private transfers to and from the reserve. The animals in this region tend not to be scared of people and will happily walk right past you on their way to wherever. This carefree attitude continues north to Peninsula Valdes, where sea lions howl at you, foxes dine with you, and armadillos happy sip out of water provided. Valdes is another 100 km north of Madryn, but it’s the drive around the peninsula that can be a killer. Bring food and water.

Besides the otherwise barren landscape, the coast along the Chubut region plays host to an amazing amount of fauna. On the right day, the waters are turquoise and the whales feeding. On an off day, expect wind and rain. The Chubut region definitely is an amazing spot for wildlife, and for those wishing to experience it. I recommend it as a destination within Patagonia. Cheers.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Northern Patagonian Wildlife - Penninsula Valdes

Baby Armadillo

Friendly Armadillo - He came right up to me

Small biting lizard

Another Small Lizard that bites
Northern Patagonian Fox - Pampas Fox

A Magellanic penguin chick moulting

One of Argentina's penguin colonies on Penninsula Valdes

Lots of babies on the penninsula in March. Sealions are abuntant

One colony near Punta Piramides

Southern Elephant Seals - they can reach up to 4000kg! Much bigger than the Northern Elephant Seal