23 April, 2008

Preparations for Aconcagua

Since my last post, I have identified two major issues I need to address before departing for Argentina. I need to sort out the visa situation, and I need to get to know what I'm getting myself into in Aconcagua. I haven't looked into the visa part yet, but I've done some looking into Aconcagua from books and also the American Alpine Club's web site.

Items I need to address include:
  • Fitness - I need to get my cardiovascular training in. The recommendation is exercise at least 3-6 times per week. This can include regularized running or cycling, with the occasional circuit training or change from running to other exercises (like cycling, rowing, hiking). It's better if it can be done at altitude. But that is not an option for me while I am still in Washington, DC.
  • Gears - I'll need more and newer gears. I am not sure if my pack will be serviceable for a 20+ day expedition that is above 5000 m. I know I will need a new sleeping bag graded for at least - 29 c. I will also need new boots, gators, new flashlight for my head, crampons, and perhaps an ice pick. I'll have to look into if I need a new tent and light weight cooking gears.
  • Insurance - I need a global rescue insurance policy. I'm not sure how much this will cost. But it's likely to be expensive.
  • Guide - I have no death wish. I am an amateur and will need a guide and possibly porters beyond the base camp that is situated around 4000 m. I've found out the mules don't go above Plaza Francia, the base camp. Base Camp Hostel in Mendoza runs tours and expeditions up the Acon. I'm going to give them a ring or email and see how they are. I'll probably end up staying there for my month in Mendoza anyway. I've found a couple other expedition guide service companies in Mendoza and the prices for Acon is usually around USD$1,500.00 - 2000.00.

This trip is looking more and more challenging (physically and financially). I'm assuming that I'll discover more requirements as I move forward with this project, but I've found a helpful Aconcagua expedition guide that spells out some of the training and equipment requirements for a successful ascend. I've a lot of work to do. I'm sure there will be more unforeseen expenses and other areas I need to address before having a go at Acon.

18 April, 2008

What do I want to get out of My Stay in Argentina?

Since I started reading up on Argentina in preparation for my trip there next January, I’ve been so consumed with researching points of interests, logistical questions like hostels, public transit systems, apartment rental, SIM card pricing, etc, I feel like I’m running around without a clearly defined goal for my trip.

So – I feel like I must take a step back first, reflect, and chart my course.

What do I want to get out of my stay in Argentina?
There are a lot of things I would like to experience in Argentina. However, rather than a laundry list, I am going to instead list the two broad categories I’m keen on. In some way, my experience in Argentina will revolve around these two items.

  • I want to honor my father in some way. With his illness, I don’t know if he will last until my Argentine trip. While he’s not been a big part of my life thus far, he is still my father. As I was reading up on Argentina and various places I would like to visit during my stay there, it occurred to me that perhaps I can ascend Aconcagua (6962 m/22841 ft). This is a big goal. I’ll need to get fit and get organized. I’ve got a great deal of work ahead of me.
  • I want to learn Spanish. Coming away with PorteƱo is fine. But I would like to be fluent in Castellano by the time I leave Argentina. I know that is a tall order in eight months. But I think it’s not out of my reach to leave South America with at least conversant Castellano.

In planning for an eight month trip, logistics are important. I have several areas I still need to sort through. Some will just fall into place while others will require more effort.

  • Immigration: Although I know I can enter Argentina and stay 90-days at a time as a tourist, being a gringo is expensive there. A gringo without a proper resident or student visa cannot get a DNI number (Argentine social security). Without a DNI number, one cannot open bank accounts, turn on utilities, etc. I believe I can bypass expensive ($500-700 per month) furnished apartments by renting my own apartment in Buenos Aires. But without a DNI number to turn on the power, gas, and Internet, that apartment is not very useful to me. So I am keen on finding out if I qualify for a student or 1-year residence visa in Argentina.
  • Apartment: I know I will not be in BA the whole eight months. But if it is affordable enough, I would like to keep an apartment there the whole time. Aside from having a secured home base to store my belongings, I hope and expect friends to visit me in BA. Having my own apartment would make visitors more comfortable. As the whole immigration bullet point above mentioned, I can pay the gringo furnished apartment or I can rent apartments like the Argentines (reportedly $200-300 per month in one of the nicer BA neighborhoods). Guess which one I prefer.
  • Mobile phone: Easy enough. I take out my T-Mobile SIM card when I get down to BA and insert a pre-paid Movistar or Vodafone SIM card. My contract with T-Mobile is up January 2009 anyway.
  • Spanish language lessons: I can go about this a number of ways. The cheapest so far seem to be the courses at Universidad de Buenos Aires. It’s a fantastic public university and it’s very affordable. But I’m not sure I want to be tied down in BA eight weeks at a time. I can attend private Castellano language schools but the going rates for that seem to be $100-150 a week. That price is quite steep. Finally, I can sort out a private tutor when I land in BA. The hourly rates seem to be around AR$20-25 (USD$7-8) and would provide more flexibility. I think the language lesson issue is something I’ll have to figure out once I get to BA.
  • Trekking gears: If I’m going to attempt Aconcagua, I’ll need good gears. It’ll be a 20-days trek from Mendoza and I’m not going to be cold and wet on that long of a trip.
  • Fitness: I’ll need to be fit to scale the world’s second tallest peak. I’m not fit right now. I can put myself on a cardio/weight program for the next eight months, but altitude will still be an issue once I get to Mendoza. Altitude is something I have to train for. But I can’t very well deal with it while I’m living at sea level in Washington, DC.
  • Plane ticket to BA: Already got it. Leaving DC on January 5, 2009.
  • Plane tickets in South America: I’m considering a Mercosur air pass. But if I sort out the immigration issue and can get a DNI, I can buy flights in pesos. That means I get the local rate rather than the North American rate!
  • Health Care: I can go to emergency rooms for free in Argentina. Or I can buy travelers insurance to get some proper care. I suppose an extra USD$50 per month isn't a lot. But that still comes to a few hundred dollars for my entire trip.
  • Bus: Busing is easy in Argentina and Chile. Show up at the bus stations and buy tickets 1hr to 3 days before departure. These buses are Brazilian models designed for long hauls and they’re comfortable (relatively speaking). Some even serve meals! I was on quite a few of these buses during my 2001 Chilean trip. I imaging I’ll be on a couple 24-hour long bus rides when I’m in Argentina

I can keep going with a laundry list. But I think I’ll stop here and process the information a bit. I know nobody reads this blog and updating it is more for my personal pleasure, but if anyone come across this entry and can further suggest other questions I should be asking in preparation for my travels, please open up.

01 April, 2008


I'm back in DC. Had a wonderful night at the Doha Ritz and flew back on Qatar Air. 15 hours airborne and sitting at Solly's right now for a couple PBRs and some Chinese takeout food. Back to home and still struggling to return myself to the right state of mind for work tomorrow morn.