Tuesday, April 28, 2009


Unfortunately, I don't have many pictures of the next part of our journey. I am waiting for my friends from abroad to send me photos before I continue. In the meantime, I will update on some more local photography:

A long exposure of the Naval Academy Bridge.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Back in Bariloche

When we arrived back in Bariloche (after a night of heavy drinking), we started researching our Epic Journey to Chile. Our first stop was to check out the Club Andino Bariloche (Andean Mountain Club). The guide there was quick to squelch our dreams. He pointed out the obvious to us: We were at the southern end of the world in the winter with little to no experience. We weren't convinced and kept prodding for more information. Finally, he told us we could do it, but we would need a guide and would have to rent or buy a lot of extra equipment. The total price was around 5000 pesos for the journey, which would take about two weeks. That bit of information was the straw that broke the camel's back.

Our next thought was to check out one of the more local trails that would take us closer to 3 days. We found the perfect trail head about 20 miles outside of town. The Frey trail would take us on a circuit that would last about two and a half days at a minimum, and with me always trailing back to take pictures, closer to three. We bought a map from the park ranger building in town, bought the food and gear we would need and sprinted after the bus headed for the trail head just as it was getting ready to take off.

Fortunately for us, a snow storm was creeping over the horizon, promising an exciting ascent. The first flakes started to fall as we unloaded from the bus at the ski resort adjacent to the trail head. The storm became heavy about an hour in and we were soon wading in knee to waist high snow. Luckily, a group of five more experienced climbers passed us right away, so we had a trail to follow. We would have been hopelessly lost other wise.

La FreyKeeping up with 6'5" and 6'8 hikers is a challenge, even in the best of states. It was not long before I was regretting the previous night's drinking, and lagging behind. Regardless, we made it to the top of the trail in 3 hours and 45 minutes, which was a full hour faster than the advertised time required. We were quite proud of ourselves.

When we arrived at the shelter it was really snowing hard, and we were hoping for a blazing fireplace or at least a decent wood stove to warm us up and dry out our soaking wet clothes. We weren't prepared to find a small cabin devoid of any heat. there was a wood stove about the size of two shoe boxes stacked one atop the other. It gave off heat in less than 2 foot radius and was absolutely useless for anything but drying socks.

The caretaker of the refuge was a member of the Andean Club, where we had earlier done our research for the trek. He was very kind, and for a small fee cooked us dinner and made us cups of hot chocolate. I think his name was David, but I can't remember for sure. He assured us that this was the end of the road for us. Without better gear and a proper guide, we would not survive the attempt to finish the 3 day hike. Despite his advice, Broos was determined that we weren't men if we didn't continue the next morning. It took a lot of convincing to get him down the mountain the next day.

La Frey RefugioWhen we woke up the next morning, I cooked up some pasta and what was left of our dried sausage for our breakfast. A warm meal was welcome after passing the night in a cold floor with only a thin mat between us and the ground.

After breakfast, we headed outside to find a dazzling blue sky. We all took pictures for a while and then said our goodbyes. The group that had passed us earlier the previous day struck out first, thankfully. Any trace of the trail had been obliterated by the storm the night before and we would never have found it.

We practically sprinted down the mountain, and after a while grew tired of following the trail. We were overlooking the valley, on the other side of which was the town we were headed for. A river meandered in the general direction we wanted to to, so we made or way away from the trail down the slope. Eventually we made it to the stream and started following it. The banks were at first low and the water shallow. Soon we found ourselves stuck in waist deep water with steep banks on either side. The water, while freezing, was refreshing. I was wearing way too many layers and steaming from the head every time I removed my cap and hood.

Shortly we arrived back at the ski resort and caught the first bus back to Bariloche. We were soaked to the bone, tired and happy. And we had a plan to make up the lost Chile adventure. We would take a road trip to Ushuaia, the southern most city in the world.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

A Little Trekking

Patagonia WaterscapeAs the group at the hostel got to know each other, groups formed and plans were made. I came and went with different groups on different excursions. You didn't have to travel far outside of town to see amazing beauty. Renting a car for a day, I traveled with a British Pakistani girl (who's boyfriend is an amazing photographer) and traveled scenic route 247. The road winds through the rocky foothills of the Andes mountains, over rivers and past waterfalls.

The next day, I hired a guide to to take me up into the mountains on horse back. It was very cheap, and I met a nice couple from Australia. The woman had a hard time keeping up with the group, and her husband fell off once himself. It rained for a lot of the ride, and the sky was overcast, putting a damper on my picture taking. Nonetheless it was a good time, and I had my guide snap a shot of me on horseback.

Next I met Broos and Felix, who remained my traveling companions for the rest of my time in Patagonia. These two Dutchmen were med school students who saved their money for two years in order to travel South America for a whole year. Argentina was their last stop and I was lucky to meet them. They were crazy in every sense of the word, more vulgar than any sailor I'd ever met, yet kind and polite to everyone they met. They were, all around, great people to go on an adventure with, and that is what we did.


Our first trip took us Southwest towards Chile. The group took up two rental cars of people, but we lost the other car before we even left the city. Our plan was to visit the Black Glacier, to the west. Our group got lost and ended up instead in Rio Manso on the border of Chile. It was a tiny place inhabited only by farmers and herders living miles apart. It was absolutely the most scenic place that I have yet to see in my travels. We liked it so much, we decided not to go back that night. Instead we followed signs to a tiny farmhouse advertising cabins for rent. There we met a man and his wife who I don't think see other people often. They rented us their spare cabin, which sat right next to an icy mountain stream that spanned maybe 35 feet. Before dinner we started the fire blazing, striped and jumped in. Someone has pictures, but not me. Hopefully they never surface.

Rio Manso II
Road to Rio Manso

The HerdWhile dinner was cooking, the farmer took me on a tour of his farm. He took special pride in his dog, who responded to whistles of different pitches in different ways. The dog himself was ever so happy to oblige and took to chasing sheep all over the place, until the farmer decided it was time to stop harassing the sheep and feed them.

Later that night, as we ate our dinner, the farmer's wife brought us fresh milk from their cow, and hot water for tea. As we sat eating, we started to hatch a plan for the ultimate trek. We would begin the next day, hike across the Andes mountains and into Chile. It would be cold and hard and it would prove our manhood. We didn't know how we were going to do it, but we would buy supplies the next morning and start that very afternoon. I went outside to take some long exposure shots, and then we went to bed with dreams of conquering mountains the next day.

Rio Manso by Night

Friday, April 24, 2009

Bus to Patagonia

From Buenos Aires, I caught a bus to the southern end of the world. Patagonia is a wild and varied land that encompasses many different geographies. The bus ride was 24 hours long and I was able to see a lot of beauty as I looked out the big bus windows. Unfortunately, I have not mastered the art of taking photos from a moving vehicle, so I only have one lousy shot. But take my word for it, it was beautiful.

The bus ride was long, but not unbearable. We stopped twice for food at restaurants where they had the food waiting for us when we arrived. No one on the bus spoke English, so conversation was minimal. When the bus arrived in Bariloche, I was well rested. I had slept a good portion of the trip. I unloaded my gear and caught a taxi into town. I don't remember if I had a hostel in mind, or whether I went hunting one that night. Either way, I ended up at the Marco Polo Inn, which ended up being a great place.

I spent the next couple of days exploring the town and meeting other travelers at the hostel. I was the only American in town, but their was a Canadian and a few younger guys from England and Australia. I also met Felix and Broos, two crazy Dutch guys who I ended up traveling with for most of the rest of my time in Argentina.

Bariloche sits on a huge lake called Lago Nahuel Huapi. It was on the shores of that lake I took some my favorite pictures of the whole trip. Every night when I went down to the lake, there was a fisherman packing up his RV as the sun set. On the night that I photographed this picture, I met Liam, a British guy who was also into photography. We shot some pictures of the sunset which was amazing that night. Unfortunately I later found out he was also into cocaine. I also met an older couple there who obliged me for some pictures of them. The light was perfect.

Each night the hostel tenants would gather for dinner, which was complimentary. It was a good chance to meet other travelers and plan activities. After dinner, people would linger and talk. Eventually people would take to the pool table or to drinking games. This could last all night, or only a little while if the group decided to out to one of the local bars.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Tango City

Tango City is yet another nickname given to Buenos Aires. It was there that the famous Tango dance was born in 1850s, and has continued to grow in international popularity ever since. It is a very sensual dance, and often the performers dress in flashy suits for the men and near scandalous outfits for the women. Many children learn the dance from a very young age and perform in the street for donations.

While the street dancers are fun to watch, the best thing to do is shell out the money to go see a show. This usually includes a dinner before the show, and by comparison to other attractions, can be quite pricey. It is entirely worth it. All told, it is something that you should definitely include in your budget if you plan on visiting BA.

Out of everything I did during my stay in Tango City, nothing beats watching a soccer match crammed in with fifteen thousand crazy La Boca fans. Tickets were sold out for the game I wanted to see, but Pedro came through. My new metal head Argentinian friend somehow rustled up a general admissions ticket for me. I arrived at the stadium after it was already packed to the brim. I squeezed my way up to the nose bleed section through an already electric crowd. The stadium was built on a suspension cable system, and as the game began, the chanting of thousands of local people was so powerful that the top sections were swaying with the song. The visiting team was from Brazil, and I actually ended up sitting in the visitors section. Unfortunately for us, the game was a tie and the Boca fans rioted in the streets waiting for a fight for over an hour. The security team kept us up in the stands until they could clear out the locals and ensure us safe passage out of the neighborhood.

That about sums up my time in Buenos Aires. It was a fun place to stay for a while, but it quickly became just another big city. I was ready to see some more of the culture and scenery Argentina had to offer. My next stop: Patagonia.

Adventures in Argentina

So, Mr. Miyake, you want updates. Updates you shall have.

May 24, 2008: Buenos Aires

I ended up staying in Buenos Aires for 5 days. They call it the Paris of South America, and that is an apt name for some neighborhoods. It is a city much like other large cities. It has its slum neighborhoods and its beautiful park walks. It has it's fair share of good restaurants and pretty women, but then again, so does every other city of it's size in this world.

Two of the things that impressed me most about the city was it's steak and it's soccer. The first thing I did when unloaded my gear at La Menesunda Hostel was to test out the legendary Argentinian steak. Make no mistake, you will never be impressed with another steak once you try it there. And the kicker: 40 pesos (13 USD) for an entire steak dinner.

I loved the people I met there. Ingrid, the Brazilian university student, Pablo the local photographer, and Pedro. Pedro spoke about 5 and a half words of English, and I about 4 of Spanish, but somehow we figured out that we both played guitar, liked soccer and heavy metal music. He showed me some of the local hang outs, and we watched soccer on a little tiny barely functioning TV.

I spent a few hours one morning shooting around BA's central rail station. I was able to capture this homeless man. I gave him a few pesos for it. It is hard for me to resist giving money to the homeless. Sometimes I can tell they are just bums and need a job, but this man was crippled and asked nothing for the pictures. I wish that I could have done more for him.

One morning I visited an outdoor market where I met a photographer selling his shots of the city. They were all very good and he was selling them for to little. Unfortunately, Argentina is barely above third world economically. I offered to set him up a website to sell his photos for more, and he said he would consider it. I ended up buying to photos from him. I plan on framing one of them and putting it up in my first house. I hope he has good luck with his photography. It's hard to make a living in photography, let alone with an economy like theirs.

I saw and did much else in BA, but attention spans are short and readers are few so I'll update again tomorrow.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

An Introduction

My name is Wesley Neill, and if you are reading this, I am probably dead.

Ok, maybe not. This is my blog. My mother once gave me a leather bound travel journal to take with me during my constant (insofar as time and money allowed) globe trotting. I was sometimes faithful in recording the events of my day, and sometimes not. Sometimes, I just didn't want my mother to know how much drinking (a very cultural activity) I'd been doing, if she ever happened on my journal and got curious. Don't worry, I'm on the wagon now, mom!

Well, this is to be the digital version of that travel journal, from here on out. I soon embark on my career as a U.S. Naval Officer. Here you will find my experiences , photographs of my travels, and really anything else that I find interesting or useful. I hope to keep my family and friends up to date, and perhaps to provide a resource for other travellers and fellow sailors to get ideas about places to live, places to visit and what to expect as a junior officer in the navy in general.

If you are reading this, you are probably family or friend. Hi mom! If not, there is a link to my profile somewhere on the right. Check it out!