Patagonia days 4-6

My posts have got a little out of order.  This actually all happened before we visited Perito Merino but I’m no WordPress ninja yet!

We spent the rest of our time in Argentinian Patagonia doing more walking. So much walking! The second day of hiking took us to Laguna Los Tres, which was reached after a 9km walk followed by a climb of 400m in 1km. When the rangers talked about the final climb I remember thinking “eh, doesn’t sound so bad”. When we got to it though it was so hard!!! The whole way felt almost vertical and it was clambering over rocks for I reckon at least and hour. That was all forgotten very quickly on reaching the top though when we were greeted with this amazing view.

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We could have walked down hill closer to the lake but by then all I wanted to do was eat lunch! We stayed for a while then made our way back. The downhill was equally hideous, it seemed to go on forever and whatever muscles it needed I just don’t seem to have! On our return we had dinner then got an early night.

Day 5 was another day, another hike and another view of Cerro Torre (the distinctive tower you can see in all the pictures of the mountains). Today’s route was uphill almost the whole way, which was another 10k! Towards the end I’d properly had enough and almost called it a day when luckily a man said hello and that it was only 5 minutes to the top. I’m glad I kept going as this was probably my favorite view of our time in El Chalten.

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Same mountain range and Lake, slightly different angle! I also really enjoyed the walk back which was downhill all the way but at less steep angle than the day before so my legs weren’t screaming as much. The route was called Loma Del Pliegue Tombado and according to the rangers was less popular than the walks on the last two days. I definitely noticed this, it was lovely to hardly see anyone in the way back after regularly ending up in queues of hikers on the previous walks. Slight panic insued when I returned to the hotel as my mum had left the summit 20 minutes before me and wasn’t back at the hotel even though I hadn’t passed her on the trail! I gave it half an hour then went and had a meltdown at the ranger station. They were lovely and told me not to worry and it happens all the time. She eventually showed up about an hour later having apparently decided to climb another mountain and not tell me. Parents hey!

For our last morning in El Chalten we kept it short and walked 45 mins to a waterfall close to El Chalten. I’ll admit that even this was a challenge for me by then, I was really tired! Any how we made it and the waterfall was very pretty.

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We caught the 1pm bus back to El Calafate and checked into our hotel, Hospedaje Lautaro. This place had great reviews for the friendly staff and didn’t disappoint. Breakfast even came with oats and an approximation of yoghurt. The first time that’s happened on this trip!

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Patagonia day 7 – Perito Merino

There are only two things that I’m really attached to seeing on this trip. The Panama Canal  (coming in March) is one and the Perito Merino Glacier was the other. It was pictures of this that made me want to come to Patagonia in the first place so I was mega excited about our trip there. The options for reaching are a basic coach trip where you’re dropped off, walk round the walkways that run alongside it then get picked up a couple of hours later, or you can tag on some ice walking on the Glacier called “mini trekking”. We opted for the latter.

The ice trekking gave lots of chances to actually look down into the ice! Being on to of it is like a microcosm of what I imagine the Antarctic to be like – All of a sudden the sky would be obscured by towers of ice that looked like small mountain ranges.

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And the Glacier had streams and sink holes flowing through it.

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While this was all very cool, to be honest I actually didn’t enjoy the trekking very much. You’re in a large group with people of all ages and abilities and move at the pace of the slowest. It from the bus pick up to actually getting onto the Glacier took from 8.30 to 12.30 and its only an hours drive from El Calafate. We didn’t know we’d be out over lunch so didn’t eat first. You get two hours on the ice so by the end I was tired, starving and could not wait to get off! I’m a terrible hungry person so if I’d eaten it might have been better but for me 2 hours was too long! At the end of the walking we got some whiskey on ice from the Glacier which was a nice touch, and Alfajores (biscuits with dulce de leche sandwiched between, basically the national dish here) which just about saved me from chewing on one of my gloves.

After that we had about 45 mins to take our crampons off, eat our packed lunch and get back to the catamaran that brought us to the trekking site. This took us back to our bus which dropped is at the viewing platforms in the other side of the Glacier. This was definitely my favourite part!!! The Glacier is incredible, it’s about 5km wide, 100m tall and is moving forward at 2m a day. Not only does this mean it looks like nothing I’ve ever seen or am likely to see again, but you also see giant pieces of ice dropping off into the rivers around it. The noise of even a small piece is incredible and the accompanying waves created are large. The walkways allow you to look down onto it and appreciate it’s full magnificence.

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And so that you can get an idea of the size, here is a picture of my mum looking tiny while standing in front of it

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It really is amazing and definitely the place to go to be awed by the amazingness of the natural world. I’m very happy to say that after a years of wanting to go, it more than lived up to expectations!

And with that the Argentinian part of my journey is over. Tomorrow we take the bus to Punta Arenas in Chile. Goodbye El Calafate dogs!!!

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I’ll miss you vast range of Alfajores 😦

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Patagonia days 1-3

We started our time in El Calafate. The first day was pretty much a write off as I was so tired from no sleep the night before due to the foo fighters then our early flight. I can’t handle all nighters like I used to! El Calafate was pretty though and we found a reasonable dinner (savoury waffles – the most imaginative thing I’ve seen yet on the menu here!) and managed to book our trip to the Perito Merino Glacier for a few days time. We also enjoyed a nice sunset. It gets dark really late here, as in midnight where I am at the moment so we’ve been spoiled by long evenings in the sun.

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And here are some dogs. They are everywhere.

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The next day we headed to El Chalten, a tiny village further south, which is the base for hiking in the Fitzroy national park. I’m going to include a bit of detail about the logistics here as I found it hard to get much info before I came!  You can buy the bus tickets for around 300 pesos each way from the tour operators in town or walk up the stairs located halfway down the street to the bus station and buy them yourself for slightly less at 255 pesos each way. The bus leaves at 8am, 1pm and 8.30pm. We went for the 1pm to give ourselves some extra time in bed. The bus was unexpectedly great. It had seats that reclined about 45 degrees! I know I already talked about how great the buses are here but we weren’t expecting so much comfort on the relatively short 3 hour trip. The views on the way are also amazing and made the time pass very quickly.

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We spent the first afternoon orienting ourselves and checking into our hotel. Serious joy at finally having a room to ourselves, and a nice room at that, quickly gave way to “arrrghhh” when we realised that due to the charming log cabin feel and beautifully clean tiles floors we could hear literally everything from the corridor and the room above. Unfortunately the floor was insanely creaky and the couple above not quiet. It was like having them in our room! We’ve moved to another room tonight which still has the corridor problem but no one above us so fingers crossed for some decent sleep.

Today was mostly spent on our first trek to Laguna Torre. I could describe it but the pictures do a better job!

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The signs said 7 hours there and back walk but we finished in 4 and a half ish. We aren’t mega fast and it was straightforward so definitely very doable.

Tonight we’re heading back to the same restaurant we went to last night. Everything I’d read about El Chalten suggested it was hideously overpriced but we’ve found it fine. Prices are more or less the same as in El Calafate and we found a place we really liked called La Senyera on Lago del Desierto where you can get decent portions and a drink for less than 150 pesos (about £10, the crazy inflation here means the price in pesos will go up very quickly). There are also some great cafes with cheaper tea than I’ve seen elsewhere so obviously I’m thrilled with the place. At La Senyera they also have a respectable vegetarian selection, including quinoa! Its the first time I’ve seen it in Argentina so top marks for keeping up with current food trends.

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My goal for tonight is to stay up late enough to see the sunset and hopefully tire myself out so I can sleep through the noisy corridor walkers. We’ll see!

Foo Fighters!

I never actually thought I’d get to go to the Foo Fighters concert. I bought the tickets online from a resale site, after which they had to make it to the uk in time for my mum to get hold of them before she flew out to meet me. That’s before the risk of them being fake! Also they were playing in La Plata, a small city 50km from Buenos Aires and we needed to catch our flight to Patagonia back in Buenos Aires at 8am the next morning.

La Plata itself was unexpectedly nice. There wasn’t much info about it in the guidebook or online but it’s definitely worth a day trip. We had a few hours to kill there before the concert so checked out the parks and cathedral. The cathedral was really beautiful with these amazing stained glass windows.

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And amazing vaulted ceilings.

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There was another interesting building, but I forget what this was!

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Next step was getting into the stadium – would our tickets be fake?!? Fortunately they weren’t, and the guys on the door barely looked at them anyway. Yay, we were in! The stadium was pretty cool too, it would be great seeing the football here.

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We were going to skip the supports as my mum went with me and I thought that would be too much loud music for her. When I mentioned that one if the bands was the Kaiser Chiefs though she got surprisingly excited! Apparently she knows the lead singer from the Voice so we headed to the to catch them. The actually did a great job, I didn’t realise how many of their songs I knew and apart from a couple of abortive attempts at Spanish their stage chat seemed to get a good reception.

The Foo Fighters were epic. They played a 3 hour set with pretty much every song I knew and then some. I won’t say too much about it in case anyone is going to see then in London, just that I loved it! Unexpectedly, mum loved it so much that she wants tickets to see them in London!!! Give me a shout if you know anyone with a spare. I tried to take pictures but they didn’t work too well. Here is one of Dave Grohl bathed in an angel like glow.

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And me and Mum awaiting their coming.

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So cool to see a band out here!

Leaving Buenos Aires

After 2 weeks its finally time to say goodbye to Buenos Aires. I really love it here but the last couple of days have been very hot and humid so I’m excited to be going South on Monday.

My mum arrived yesterday and we spent the day walking around the huge coastal reserve at the edge of the city and sitting in Starbucks catching up on some reading (if I haven’t said it before I really love starbucks and while I’m a little ashamed of the amount of time I spend there while traveling it’s nowhere near enough to stop me going!)

Here is a picture of the Atlantic as seen from the coastal reserve. The sea was rough yesterday after a storm the night before and looked treacherous.

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Today we’re heading to a city called La Plata, about 50km from Buenos Aires. The main reason for going is that I have tickets to see the Foo Fighters play at the football stadium there. I bought them on ViaGoGo in the uk so I’m not convinced they’re real yet! La Plata is meant to be pretty though so probably not a bad place to spend a few hours.

We’re also taking the train there which is exciting. The tickets cost about 20p each! The trains are ok, they have plastic seats and are covered with graffiti but at that price I can’t complain!

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After the concert we have a short night ahead of us. The taxi to take us to the airport to catch our flight to El Calafate arrives at 3.30am! I’m looking forward to napping on the plane.

Closed doors and days of rest

I’ve spent the last few days mostly relaxing in Buenks Aires. I have a yoga class 5 minutes from my hostel which I’m loving and I’ve found enough hostel friends now that there’s always something interesting to do in the evening. Last night I caught up with some people from my last hostel for dinner and we ended up with Argentina’s version of the big raw food. At the time I was like “yay raw food, amazing!!!!” but on reflection what you’re looking at below is an overpriced plate of lettuce leaves with some almonds, sundried tomatoes and cashew cheese (£9!). I feel conned! It was average at best as it was mostly lettuce.

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The company was great though, we had a great time making jokes about the ridiculousness of the food then headed to what was essentially a huge pool hall that also had ping pong and table football. If you’re a Londoner think Bounce but without the ridiculously loud music, with space to move and about 5 times the chance of getting to play something (I am not a big fan of Bounce).

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I ordered a vodka lemonade and got a stupid amount of vodka! Enough for two people to have a double. We split this one obviously.

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Eventually I got hiccups (possibly from the huge measure of vodka) and had to go home. It was 2.30am but in Buenos Aires the party is only really getting started then!

A special mention to Casa Salt Shaker. This is what’s known as a “closed door restaurant” in Buenos Aires. Its the equivalent of the supper clubs popping up in London at the moment. Here they’ve been popular for more than a decade and they definitely know their stuff! The idea is that you turn up to someone’s with only a few details about the menu and not knowing your fellow guests, and the evening goes from there with your hosts coming great food. I was lucky to be with a great group of people: couples from Washington and Germany, a Swiss guy, an ex US military pilot and an Argentinian military pilot. They were all really interesting which is always a great start!

The food….. It was amazing! And there was plenty of it. First course was a polenta tostada thing with vegetables. It was great. Really crispy with some kind of magic pesto on it. The picture doesn’t do it justice.

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Next was a cold potato soup with lemon sorbet. If it sounds horrible suspend your disbelief because it was great. I’ve never tasted anything like it before. Somehow it just worked!

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The first main was risotto with mussels, prawns and something similar to chorizo. You can’t really go wrong with that.

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At this point I was starting to feel full. It was then that the steak came out. I somehow still managed to put away 2/3rds of it. It was perfectly cooked, our host Dan told us it was cooked in a plastic bag in water for 5 hours and marinated it in blue cheese dressing! It hurt to leave the last third but I wanted to save a small space for dessert.

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Dessert was some kind of cinnamon a cheese cake with apple butter. There was cheddar cheese in it which sounded strange but in the end I couldn’t taste the cheddar (so I’m assuming it somehow contributed to the overall flavour). It was very nice and I actually did manage to finish almost all of it.

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And here are some of my fellow diners.

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There were also paired wines with each course which worked really well and tea/coffee at the end. At around £45 this was my splurge for the trip but considering in London you can easily pay the same for much less food and no drinks I though it was excellent value. Definitely give it a go if you’re in the city.

Also worth mentioning, on the way there I walked past the Teatro Colon which is the Buenos Aires equivalent of the Albert Hall. They had a giant screen outside and I sat for a few minutes to watch a pretty amazing performance of something classical that I didn’t recognise.

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The screen is hiding behind the lower third of a giant xmas tree which they still haven’t finished taking down. I saw them taking it apart a few days ago and it really was gigantic.

Anyway, now I’m off to sleep. My new hostel has air conditioning which is like magic to me now its so hot here. Good night!

Back in Buenos Aires

Yesterday was a pretty quiet day. I had breakfast in Puerto Madero after getting off the bus. This is a mostly newly built area of Buenos Aires that sits on some kind of canal. Its very nice. I tried to find something more interesting but ended up in starbucks with a bagel. They only seem to do cake for breakfast here!

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I finally managed to make it to yoga at Buena Onda which was lovely. The studio had aircon and it was exactly the kind of class I like so all smiles. We did get locked out of the building for a while which was bizarre – someone who lived there was also locked in – but there were a few other people waiting si it was all ok.

After I finally managed to make my own dinner. I defaulted to tortellini as I’m scared of the meat in the supermarkets here and there’s not really much point buying more than one days worth as I’m never sure what I’m doing. My new room mates seemed interesting, there was a guy who is an osteopath from Paris and a girl training to be a doctor from Germany. I feel asleep listening to a funny conversation where the osteopath started telling the doctor that ‘if she ate fried food it meant the fire inside her increased’ which was apparently bad. It lasted about 30 seconds before the dr said something like ‘I’m a dr, I don’t really believe in that’ and everyone went to sleep.

Today is probably the hottest day here yet, I think it must be approaching 40 and it’s humid too.

I ended up making friends with the dr at breakfast and went with her to meet her friend at the ‘pink house’. We had a tour but I want paying enough attention so I’ll attempt to make up some details about it! I think it’s where the Argentinian president and government sit, and also where Eva and Juan Peron can be seen addressing the masses in famous pictures of them. I want too enthused about going but it was actually pretty cool and the tour was in spanish and English (and free) so a nice easy morning out for me!

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I didn’t get any pictures of the outside but it’s a beigy pink all over. Noone is sure why but one theory is that to protect it from the humidity, back in the day they painted it with a mixture of lime and animal fat, and because the animal fat still had some blood in it it turned pink. Ick!

After the tour I took another yoga class with Buena Onda. This time it was in someone’s apartment which was really cool. I’m sad that I didn’t get pictures-I want their light fittings for my flat!

I followed that up with a visit to Gallerias Pacifico which definitely gets my vote for BAs nicest shopping mall.

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They still had their xmas tree up. Noone send to observe the taking it down by 6th January rule here!

Everything in the mall was out of my back packer price range so I windrow shopped for a while, bought one if these very beautiful ice creams then headed back to the hostel.

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For dinner I went to a place called Don Julio with my friends from the morning. It’s very famous for its steak and we did indeed have a great dinner. Controversially, I don’t agree with the idea that Argentine steak is the best in the world. It’s good bit I’ve eaten many a great fillet back in the shire that could now than hold its own here.

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It was dark in the restaurant which makes for very blurry pictures!

Today I’m moving hostel to a place in San Telmo. I’m not looking forward to dragging my bags over there. See you on the other side!