A Travellerspoint blog

Argentina

Picturesque Patagonia

Hiking in front of the granite pillars of Mt Fitz Roy and Cerro Torre, cruising through the fjords with Minke whales and summiting the active Villarrica volcano.

sunny 25 °C

Handing in the keys to our BA home for the past month is sad, we´ve loved our spot on the 20th floor right in the middle of it all, but we´re also excited about getting into the Patagonian countryside.

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It´s just a 10min taxi ride to the domestic airport and we wizz through old fashioned light touch security controls (no little bags for liquids here) and board our flight to El Calafate. The guy sat next to me is an elderly Argentino who is a retired cyclist (who had raced in NZ) who grew up in El Calafate and is visiting his family who still live down there. He´s really chatty and doesn´t seem to mind that my spanish is rather stilted...When we start getting clear views of the Andes and lots of bright blue lakes he´s almost as excited as us - apparently we´re very lucky as there is normally a lot of cloud surrounding the mountain tops. Mt Fitz Roy is instantly recognisable, standing proud with it´s sheer granite walls absent of snow and ice.

The weather is definately on our side and we land at 6pm to 18 degrees, blue sky and only a gentle breeze! M heads through to see if he can sort us out a hire car while I collect our bags. We´re in luck and drive off in a brand new VW ´Gol´. [Although it´s rather pricier than a similar hire would be in the UK, and with much steeper excesses - especially if you roll the car, which is surprisingly common with the high winds here, so we´ll try to avoid that...]

We check our bags into Hostal Buenos Aires [he he] and head out for an evening drive. The gravel road is slow going, but the views are great! Snowy mountains, glaciers and lakes - perfect. I spot some people picking berries on the roadside - must be the calafate berry. The saying goes that 'once you eat calafate berries you'll be back'. At our next photo stop I spot a bush and we do some sampling - when you get a juicy ripe berry they sure are good!

We watch the sun set behind the mountains and head back to the hostel for a good nights kip.

Next morning, following a gorgeous drive to El Chalten we get the low down on the hiking in the region, pick up a map and some empanadas and set out to Laguna Torre.

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The walk is undulating through stands of ragged beech trees and scrubby, rocky plains with plenty of viewpoints of the striking three peaks of Cerro Torre (3102m), Aguja Egger (2990m) and Cerro Standhardt (2800m) and glacier Torre. We drink from a clear, cold, spring-fed river - deliciously pure and so refeshing in the heat of the day!

Our lunch is eaten here....not bad eh?!

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The camping spot is just beautiful, and we are now wishing that we'd hired camping gear and were spending the night. But we're staying at a hostel back in town so start the hike back.

Three hours of driving and six of hiking have used up our energy, so we treat ourselves to dinner out. Estepa is a guide book recommendation, but we're surprised when it is empty at 9pm...it seems that even in trekking country late dinners are the norm. M starts with a rather strong local beer while I order a bottle of malbec. We both go for the lamb in calafate berry jus, which turns out to be a great choice - succulent lamb chops and a steak accompanied by a dark purple sauce that compliments the lamb perfectly. It's served with great accompaniments and is getting very close to being Michelin star standard. Oh and the malbec is rather tasty too :)

Our hostel turns out to be rather chaotic and noisy, but luckily we're sharing with two very nice people who also want a good night's sleep...

I'm up early and head to the tiny kitchen to rustle up some pasta and hard boiled eggs to sustain us through the day's trek ahead. There are no matches for the gas cooker so I head to reception and get given a flaming metal stick which creats quite a stir as I walk through the common area full of sleepy travellers with their morning coffee! M turns up just as I finish (timing being a strong point...) and we grab some breakfast. We're then told that we have to change rooms, so bags are quickly packed, put back into storage and we head out onto the trail.

The sky is once again clear and blue and the day warms quickly. The trail is a little longer than yesterday's with a steep last 90 minutes to get to Laguna de los Tres and the famous views of Mt Fitz Roy. It was a challenge, but we are raring to go :)

It takes us 5 1/2 hours, with plenty of stops to take in the views, observe a woodpecker with a vivid red tuft (he was a bit of a dandy, as you can see) and drink more cold fresh mountain spring water (better than anything you could get out of a bottle!). And the final views of Mt Fitz Roy are awesome!!

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We linger, watching the tiny black dots that are climbers head up through the snow and ice and wonder which peaks they will head to.
The path down is tough - I've always found steep downhills harder than the climb up - but we are entertained by two Andean Condors playing in the afternoon thermals. I wish that I could use the thermals to float down!

We both agree that while the two day hikes have been fantastic, having a small, light tent and the necessary camping gear would have been even better as the campsites were so beautiful, the weather fantastic, and then you could do the walk as a 3 day loop - which would be much easier too.

A small detour to a nearby waterfall is made for dinner, and then we head back to the hostel to find our room, shower and flop into bed. Unfortunately our plans are scuppered by the two Israeli girls we are sharing with who keep the light on, gossip, and straighten their hair until 1am, then come back at 3am, turn the light on again, leave the room, come back...Ahhhrrr!! We get up at 5am and leave with no lights and minimal sound to show them how travellers should behave...

We head back to El Calafate taking in the sunrise and the morning light hitting Mt Fitz Roy. Birds of prey pick over carrion on the road and we disturb foxes sunning themselves on the tarmac.

In town we fill the thermos, grab a bag of croissants and head straight to Glacier Perito Moreno. The viewpoints along the way are pretty, but it is once we reach the walkway facing the glacier that we are 'wowwed' by the height, enormity and beauty of this very grand glacier.
We spend a lot of time watching out for chunks of ice to crash into the lake, wandering around the paths admiring the collosal ice wall and beautiful aquamarine blue of the freshly cut ice and listerning to the glacier creak and groan. Man can she be noisy!!

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All of this after our lack of sleep last night leads us to stop in a picnic spot to take a brief siesta in the car...Apparently this is the thing to do - every other car seems to be full of snoozing Argentinos!

8am the next day and we're on a bus to Puerto Natales in Chile. We get chatting to Alex and Anna (two Brits who live in Clapham Junction - barely 2 miles from where we were in Southfields) who are also booked on the Navimag cruise through the Chilean Fjords north to Puerto Montt.

We get some views of the stunning Torres del Pain mountain range from the bus and from the port area of Puerto Natales. Even though the mountain tops are covered in cloud they still envoke a sense of drama.

We buy wine, fruit and snacks for the cruise and check in at the posh hotel on the waterfront while we wait for our ship to arrive and be cleaned. Check-in has been moved to midnight and so as soon as we're onboard we tuck ourselves up into the cosy, curtained bunks and are asleep by 1am.

Sailing out of Puerto Natales we are surrounded by stark granite hills, narrow channels, Andean peaks and glaciers. Soon the moody clouds clear to reveal a bright hot sun. And while enjoing a few rays we spot our first whale spraying it's fountain of water, only 200m from our boat!

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At breakfast, we meet Geannie and Dean, who are on their second date no less! They are an American pair with rather alternative lifestyles (she's a tour america guide, he's a marine biologist who works on a research ship), hence meeting for only the second time in Chile for a 5 week date. We figure that the fact that they keep disappearing means things are going well ;-) Appropriately for a cruise in this part of the world, we finish the day watching "March of the Penguins" on the large screen.

Morning call for Puerto Eden wakes me and I jump out of my bunk to see this colourful little village of only 172 inhabitants. M is close behind me and we enjoy a peaceful moment in the Captain's bridge as the ship navigates some narrow channels.

We see a lot more minke whales today as the channels open up. They are in small pods and sometimes we can see 4 or 5 pods at once. One pod comes super close to the ship and we watch one do a barrel roll at the ships bow - Wow! We also love watching the sea lions as they jump over the waves and dive through the clean blue waters. They are so playful! And as we approach a wreck the sunlight streams down in a god-like moment and there are flocks of many kinds of sea birds all circling around the rusted masts.

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Before we know it we're out at sea rolling on the swell. It's not at all rough, but lots of tummies are getting wobbly...I'm fine with my ginger tea, but I manage to score the last sea sickness tablet from behind the bar for M as soon as I spot him turning green. We watch a documentary on South Georgia and by then the tablet has taken effect and we pass out.

Next day, the morning's view from the Captain's Bridge is of mist rising from the fjords, filling the valleys and blanketing the mountains.

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A chilly wind takes us into the bar where we meet Christel and Joost (a Dutch couple who have just spent 3 months driving around Africa in a 4x4). So as the sun comes out again we have quite a gang together on the back deck devouring the booze we've all bought on board.
Tonight's entertainment is Bingo, with prizes of wine, 'Navimag' fleeces and shot glasses. Christel and Joost come up trumps with wine and a rather fetching fleece. The rest of us are well entertained losers who get to share the wine - Cheers!

Hangovers mist our early start to disembark in Puerto Montt. A much more plesant mist is lifting from the port with bright sunshine sparkling through - beautiful.

We all went for an amusing walk along the promenade - loving the 'outdoor gym'/adult playground (or at least that's what Geannie and Dean tried to turn it into...). And then we headed onto Puerto Varas along with Anna and Alex.

After checking into our hostel we head to a Rodeo that's in town. A rather lengthly detour on the bus later we arrive to this oddball show. There's no lassoing, or barrel racing here. Just two horses at a time hearding a steer around the track and then slamming it into a cushioned part of the coral. Hmmm, while I could see that this required a lot of skill from both the gouchos and the horses it was not my cup of tea. And neither was it M's. Despite being a fair distance away from the horses, the dust swirling in the air set his allergies off and soon we are hitching a ride to get a swollen faced M back to the hostel and under the shower.

Moving onto Villarrica we catch a glimpse of an international triathalon (which leaves M pining) and then stumble across Chile's version of a country fair. Asados of whole lambs, locally produced cheeses, fruits and baked goodies, plus lads that were only too pleased to give me a rather enormous glass of wine. We watch a traditional game called 'Pallin' which is a little like hockey, but on a very narrow pitch and bought some honey shampoo and lip balm. Then we head back to our comfy family run B&B for the best night's sleep :) Breakfast is a really social affair with all the Chilean and Argentinian tourists giving us tips around the big breakfast table - and with cake coming at the end it feels more like a dinner party!

Pucon is our next stop and a random hostel finds us with a guy approaching us outside the information centre. His private room is the same price as a dorm and while it's a tad rustic, we decide to stay. We want to climb Volcan Villarrica, but wake to a storm so decide that hot springs are a much better choice. We arrive at 'Los Pozones' in the middle of a torrential downpour, so despite wearing all our wet weather gear we start out cold and wet. So the soothing warm waters are even more welcome to warm us through. We get chatting to Darren and Deborah, a couple from Yorkshire who are also heading to New Zealand. See you guys there :) And then, after a false start (who would have thought there were two tourist information offices in one town) we meet up with Cristel and Joost at an Italian restaurant for a yummy meal.
The forecast for Volcan Villarrica is getting better, but it's recommended that we wait one more day for the best conditions. So off we head to Huerquehue National Park instead. The park is beautiful, with mist rising off the peaty lakes, dense forest with monkey puzzle trees standing tall and the clouds parting to give us a glimpse of the volcano.

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We're up at 5:45am to prep for our climb. Porridge for breakky, thermos full of tea, sandwiches and snacks packed and we head into town to Summit Chile, the company who will get us to the top. We meet Claudio, our Swiss trained mountain guide, Chris, the assistant guide, and the rest of our group; Kathleen and Emily - sisters from Florida, and Stephan - from Austria. On goes the gear - gaters, windproof pants and jacket. Our packs hold crampons, ice axe, mittens, plastic and material as protectors for our descent and hard hats.

A short drive to the base of the volcano and then a brief ascent on an old rickety ski lift gets us started. Claudio gives us a briefing on how to climb - Frankenstien steps, two points of contact for every step, and how to use our ice axe - and then we're off. The first section is rocky but soon we're on icy snow. Claudio stops us and we get our crampons out. Our next lesson is on how to walk wearing crampons - 'cowboy steps' this time. With the crampons on there is no sliding around and we can safely take a steeper route than the other groups, which we steadily overtake.

While most of the time we are concentrating on the simplest of tasks - putting one foot in front of the other - every now and then we look out at the view. Wow!

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Finally we reach the top and go check out the crater. It is steaming away, throwing out noxious fumes, but unfortunately no lava (recently this has become a rare event).

Sliding down the volcano on our butts makes the descent a highlight! It sure beats trudging down :) We'll be looking out for snowy mountains/volcanoes to climb and slide down from here on in!

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And we were really pleased that we did the climb with Summit Chile - Claudio was a very professional guide, where elsewhere there looked to be a lot of cowboys. And we learnt a thing or two too!

Back in Pucon, we drink a well earnt beer on the pumping lakeside beach with Kathleen and Emily. Chris soon joins us and the beach volleyball tournament is entered, and won! Great work chicos! Emily and Kathleen have a rule that if you go to a lake (or anything else watery) you HAVE to go in - so off they go with M in tow. I decide to stay dry, guard our gear and take photos...

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Later that night, which is very clear, we manage to see the red glow of the volcano through the smoke and steam above the crater from our hostel window in the dark, very cool!

Next day we catch the bus from Pucon to San Martin de los Andes in Argentina. It is a beautiful ride through lush, rugged scenery which changes to become much more arid once we hit Argentina. On the border we have amazing views of Volcan Lanin, another text book volcano.

Arriving at San Martin we find a hostel a couple of blocks from the lakefront and head straight down to catch the last hour of sun on the beach. Lago Lacar is steep sided and is picturesquely surrounded by craggy Andean foothils.

It happens that we have stumbled upon San Martin's national day and there are parades through town celebrating the local services, polo teams, gauchos and other local groups. And amongst all the activities, there is even a triathlon too. That evening, we decide to head out to the Chapelco Golf Club for a picnic and an evening of classical music. Very civilised!

We hitchhike back and are immediately picked up by Rachel, Isaias and Judit who offer to take us to see their father's art gallery. This is one artistic family! As well as the father's amazing oil paintings with their thick texture and wonderful colours created with a palatte knife (for a look go to www.georg.com), the children are all talented too. Isaia's photography is stunning and the other brothers and sisters are painters, potters, designers... And some of this great work is housed in a stunning custom built gallery of four levels on the edge of the national park. And as if painting was not enough, we are even entertained as we browse by the father playing his grand piano! Once our eyes have stopped popping out, Isaias drops us off in town and we head back to our hostel via a serving of Mamusia's helado - yum!
We opt to take the bus to Bariloche that goes via the seven lakes route. Ash from Volcan Puyehue in Chile is in the air and has settled thickly, floating on the surface of some of the lakes and changing the feel of this area.

We want to head straight out and get trekking, but we need sleeping bags to stay warm in the refugios, and the one shop that rents these is closed. So we find a hotel and head out for a yummy steak dinner - being delayed isn't so bad.

Next morning I pop out to hire some bulky, old fashioned sleeping bags and we grab food for lunches and snacks. Trekking permit issued and we're ready to go...only the bus takes pre-bought tickets only and while it waits for me to run across the road, they are out and it won't wait any longer...so we have two hours to kill until the next one comes along. Time to sort out our flights to Bogota.

Back in BA our friend Carlos has some of our stuff and is holidaying a little longer than originally planned, so we're having to rework our schedule...return flights to Iguassu are $900 for the pair of us...a bit too steep for a waterfall we figure, even a really big waterfall. Instead we find flights from Montevideo, to Bogata via BA for $200 less than the very same flight from BA. It doesn't make sense, but we book it anyway.

Back at the bus stop we see a pretty blond lady who looks a lot like Emily - and is Emily! So it works that we got the later bus in the end anyway. Emily joins us on our hike to Refugio Lopez :-) She's just doing a day walk though and so heads back down the hill after we find a beautiful viewpoint and a stream to dangle our feet in.

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Up at the refugio we have great views to sip red wine and watch the sunset from. Bliss.

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Next is the tough day of the hike with two steep climbs, one very steep descent and some bouldering (a surprise addition to finish the day off). As we work our way up to the first ridge it is calm and sunny, but as we approach the top the wind sweeps powerfully over the ridge, so we keep ourselves low to the ground until we have dropped a safe distance over the other side. We had been told that this is the most dangerous part of the hike and we zig-zag down the steep scree slope carefully. At the base we are greated by a tranquil valley full of pretty little streams and only two people hiking the other way. The last ridge we have to cross would be easy in calm weather, but the strong winds that Patagonia can get make it slow and treacherous going. We can now see Refugio Italiana on the far side of Laguna Negro, it looks deceivingly close, but it takes another hour to scramble and boulder our way around the steep sides of the Laguna while the wind whips the lake into white caps and tries to soak us from below. Hot tea inside the refugio never tasted so good!

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Our hike out in the morning is down the mountainside and then along a river - easy :) While waiting for the bus some Argentinian tourists pull over and ask if we know the way back into Bariloche. We do and want to go there too, so get a ride into town in exchange for giving directions. Then it's back to the hotel to pick up our stuff, and the next thing we know is we're on a 21hr, $US180, bus ride back to Buenos Aires. But the big comfy cama seats make it alright.

Posted by DebandMatt 03:29 Archived in Argentina Tagged mountains sea hiking fjords whales chile argentina lions patagonia villarrica navimag Comments (0)

One month in Buenos Aires

A chance to unpack the bags, meet the locals and dance tango!

sunny 32 °C

Buenos Aires is different from the South America we've seen so far, it's a bit like a European city, only friendly, subtropical and with some wierd bureaucratic practices (which we felt when we needed US dollars to pay for our apartment). There are a few indigenous South Americans here, but I think there are similar numbers in London. Most people seam to be descendants of Spaniards or Italians and after many years of living here have developed their own culture. Porteños love to party! It seams here that to eat before 9pm and hit a club before 2am is a social disgrace and there are many nights when we don't leave the party till 5am.

After spending our first night in a hostel in 'downtown' and taking the opportunity to cycle around much of the city while roads have their Sunday quiet moment we decide that our original idea of staying in Palermo Viejo is a good one. We book an apartment and move in on Monday - to the 20th floor! Our views over the city are fantastic! There is one hiccup as only cash payment is accepted and it will take us at least three days to get enough money out of the ATM (apartments like this in BA aren't the bargain they once were) and then we find that we can't change this into US$ due to a new rule the government has brought in...but tourists need pesos and I need dollars and I use this fact and 5 sets of tourists later we have changed all that we need :)

The first night in our apartment we go for a wander to check out our bit of town and then flop into a pizza restaurant. The waitress is super friendly and answers our multitude of questions - nearest swimming pools, best bars and clubs...And then M bumps into a chap called Carlos who just happens to be one of the few people in BA who does triathlons. Carlos is there with his family, including his 7 year old son Mateo and 3 week old daughter Luciania (very cute!!). Laura doesn't speak much English, so we converse with my strained Spanish while M and Carlos chat away in English. Carlos asks who we will be spending Christmas with and then when he finds out we have no family here he insists that we join them! Their food arrives and Carlos and M arrange to meet for a run the next day :)

We're a bit apprehensive about intruding on their Christmas, but Carlos is insistent and arranges a ride for us out to a friends country house with his brother, Christian, and girlfriend, Cynthia on Christmas Eve. The day is filled with lounging around the pool, playing football with Mateo and chatting with the other family members who arrive throughout the afternoon and evening. We light a bonfire so that there are coals for the parrilla and Laura's parents arrive with the meat. Laura's father wastes no time in shovelling red embers up under the grill and getting the meat cooking. He also does some asado pizza (BBQed pizza), morcilla (black pudding) and smaller cuts of meat as nibbles to keep us going. Yummy! I chat away to all in a mixture of English and Spanish while M tends to prefer to stick with English, which luckily most speak fairly well. Well into the evening we sit down to eat. The cuts of meat come one after another off the massive knife of Laura's dad. As midnight approaches fireworks start going off and we wake Mateo. Christmas is celebrated at midnight with Sidre (Sweet Cider) and Mateo finding a wheelbarrow full of presents! Most are for him, but there are a few for the adults and Luciania too, which Mateo reluctantly hands out.

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Finally it's time to pack up and head back into town. The fireworks continue as we're driven along a jam-packed motorway. Aparently driving home at 2am on Christmas morning is normal here - luckily we haven't found the Argentinians to be big drinkers, but their driving leaves a lot to be desired!!

Back at our flat we have a panoramic view of the city's fireworks, which are not showing any sign of finishing. We crash out before they do.

Christmas Day is a more restful affair and M and I spend the day together, chatting with family, eating a beautiful steak that our local butcher has provided for us and drinking a fine, rich Malbec and Argentinian 'champagne'. We venture out to the park just before sunset to find it filled with rollerbladers, cyclists, strollers and families picnicing.

On New Years Eve M ran an 8km race with 3200 others! It's the biggest race in BA's calender and Carlos was comparing :) M did amazingly well, coming in the top 10%!! Especially as he'd barely fitted in any training and it was super hot!!

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We'd been told that New Years Eve is another mad night for fireworks, but that it's a family celebration more than a grand party with friends. So we decide to keep our celebrations relaxed with a lovely meal followed by watching the fireworks from the roof of our apartment. This is just perfect as most of the fireworks are let off by individuals or families here in BA, so the spectical isn't just in one location and we had a great view of it all.

On New Years Day everything was closed, so we thought we'd enjoy wandering around some of the touristy parts of town...which were rammed! San Telmo's antiques market was up and running, a tango band provided great music and we enjoyed a coffee con leche and submarino (dark chocolate bar that you dissolve in hot milk - M's favorite!) in an historic bar. Wandering down to La Boca, we walk along the waterfront and then find the famous Caminito area with it's beautiful colourful buildings. On our way home we passed the Casa Rosada, the parliament house, from which Evita Peron amongst others rallied the masses with speeches from the balcony.

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The other key even we had while in BA was Louise and Mario's wedding. Louise is a friend of M's who went off travelling around the world, met Mario in BA, fell in love and came back to stay! The wedding was so much fun :) We met Sarah and Remy (friends who had come over from London) and headed over to meet up with Louise's family. The ceremony was at 8pm in a beautiful church in an ecological reserve. We then headed to the reception where there was great food off the parrilla, speeches (got to bring a few English traditions over), singing and dancing. In the early hours a tango song was played and M and I took to the floor...and found we were joined by Louise's parents...none of the Argentinians at the wedding danced tango. So we had quite an audience! Several sets of ochos, some heros and a couple of gauchos later we were being praised for our tango skill...phew!

And this leads me to one of the main activities of our time in BA...bailar tango :) We take lots of lessons lessons, from a variety of teachers (not really the best way of doing it when you're a beginner, but it was fun...) and go to lots of milongas (this is a social dance, there will be a DJ or some live music and the tables and chairs are placed around the dancefloor so that men can easily invite the ladies to dance). Some of the milongas are full of amazing dancers and I don't get asked to dance, either because they don't know my ability or because M is sitting next to me, but we're happy to watch and enjoy a drink. Other milongas have more of a mixed bag of dancers and are less formal. These suit us much better!us much better and I'm up dancing most of the night. M dances mainly with me - it's much harder for an inexperienced guy to ask ladies to dance than the other way around as the man has to lead, watch out for other dancers who may cut you up and keep the rhythm. The more I dance the more admiration I have for the male lead. But even when he's not dancing M has a great time watching, enjoying the music and chatting to the friendly Portenos.

We also go to some great bars, a couple of clubs, a few yummy restaurants and eat A LOT of helado (italian style icecream, Mmmm). We meet up with some couchsurfers for coffee, beer, tango, language exchange and general chit chat. And we meet lots of other travellers who are having a ball, just like us!

(PS. More photos to follow once we get a chance to download them onto a laptop that works!)

Posted by DebandMatt 16:33 Archived in Argentina Tagged argentina buenos_aires Comments (0)

The road to Buenos Aires

Out of Bolivia we head to San Pedro de Atacama in Chile, before crossing the Andes into Argentina: Salta, Cachi, Cafayate and Tucaman.

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Our tour of SW Bolivia finished, we take a jeep through the night to the border crossing and head to San Pedro de Atacama in Chile, followed by Salta, Cachi, Cafayate and Tucaman in Argentina where we get an overnight bus to Buenos Aires.

It's 1:30am and we wait in the hotel corridor for our ride. I poke my head out the door to make sure he doesn't miss us, and soon we are piling into our jeep to the border. We're a bit disappointed as this jeep isn't anywhere near as comfortable as the one we had for our tour, and we realise that sleep isn't going to be easy to get as our heads bounce around. And then the cold creeps in...the heating doesn't work and we grab as many clothes as we can to huddle up in. Ice crystals form on the inside of the windows from the moisture in our breath and we brace ourselves for a cold ride. Finally, the sun comes up over the volcanoes, the ice melts and we start to warm.

We've made good time and so stop at the hot springs. These are the same ones we visited on our tour, but this time they are rammed! There are about 30 jeeps from Uyuni - which made us very grateful that we had started from Tupiza. With no time or room to get in, we warm our hands and chat so a few people wallowing in the steaming waters.

At the border crossing we show the exit stamps that we were issued with in Uyuni and change vehicles for the last stretch to San Pedro de Atacama - on a tarmac road!! (It had been a while...) The road was all downhill and as the altitude approached 2000m we enjoyed deep breaths of oxygen.

We found San Pedro to be a well organised, clean and tidy town with some great food (although prices reflected the fact that we were now in a much more developed country). The four of us cycled to Vale de la Luna, had a great meal together accompanied by live music and M&I even managed a run!

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But the time comes for us to part ways - Ben and Tanis were heading back to Lima for a flight and we were heading to Argentina.

Our bus took us over the Andes, through the 'Paso de Jama', down switchbacks, through the edge of the Quebrada de Humahuaca (some very prettily coloured rocky hills) at Purmamarca before we arrive at Salta. By the time we get to Salta it is late, wet and we can't get any Argentinian pesos as the ATM isn't working...luckily we'd pre-booked accommodation and find the hostel's representative at the bus station and he puts us in a taxi.

The following morning is much nicer with the sun out and I get chatting to the woman in reception in Spanish and the next thing I know she's helping us out by phoning the bus station for me and making other tourists wait. It's amazing what some polite chat in Castellano can do!

We wander around Salta (which is a pretty town, but isn't making us want to stay any longer than we need to), get ourselves some pesos (the banks have massive queues), buy our bus tickets to Cachi and do a book swap.

On the bus to Cachi we befriend Cindy, a Greek/American lady travelling on her own while she attempts to meet a friend who's motorbiking South America. Soon we're heading up into the hills (which seem to have a lush tropical side and a dry desert side covered in cactuses). But the rain comes pummelling down again and we spend much of the journey wrapped in cloud. Just before arriving in Cachi the clouds lift and we drive through miles of flat cactus fields and get a brief glimpse of Nevado del Cachi (6380m) which towers over the village.

Cachi is gorgeous; pretty plazas, whitewashed buildings and a laid back vibe. Our first lesson in Argentinian timings comes as our tummies rumble for dinner - nowhere opens before 8pm and so we have to wait. It's worth it though as we eat steak and local dishes; locro (a meat and corn stew) and tomales (corn and dried llama meat wrapped in corn husks and steamed), and drink a fantastic organic malbec from the Nanni vineyard in Cafayate.

There are no buses between Cachi and Cafayate so our choices are between hiring a jeep, hitch-hiking or going back to Salta and getting a bus from there. We opt for hiring a jeep and get a guide thrown in to show us the sights along the way. This is a great decision as we stop in more pretty villages, clamber through the craggy desert landscape, eat a yummy lunch of goat and stop at a bodega (vineyard) before being dropped at our hostel in Cafayate.

Dinner is our first parrilla (argentinian BBQ) - yum! Loads of different cuts of beef, sausage and black pudding accompanied by a small bowl of salad :-)

We fill a day with wine-tasting at the nearby bodegas (vineyards). Nanni gets a look in and we walk away with a couple more bottles to try.

Moving on, a bus takes us over another mountain pass and to the lush fields of Tafi. The scenery is pretty, but we want to get to Buenos Aires, so stop the night and move on first thing to Tucaman. Tucaman is the home of Argentinian rugby, so while most people still follow football, when I say that I'm from "Nuevo Zelandia" I get the response of "El All Blacks! Numero uno en el mundo! Bravo!" which keeps me happy despite sweltering in the 40degree plus heat (not fun with a backpack).

The train to BA is full so we decide to treat ourselves to the best bus possible - a full cama ejectivo! The seats recline to a flat bed and at midnight, we're offered champagne, whiskey or tia maria...nice. An easy 12 hours later we are pulling into Retiro station in BA!

(PS. More photos to be added at a later point - computer problems are hindering their addition now...)

Posted by DebandMatt 16:32 Archived in Argentina Tagged san chile argentina salta cachi de pedro bolivia atacama cafayate tucaman Comments (0)

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