Ice Ice Baby

After a comfortable two hour flight we arrived in El Calafate, located in the heart of Patagonia and home to the amazing Glacier Perito Moreno, the main purpose of our visit.

We splashed out on an airport transfer which meant being dropped off at our hostel door and were pleasantly surprised with our hostel choice, especially considering we’d gone cheap and booked a dorm room.  We quickly dumped our bags, chatted to the hostel owners about the various tours on offer and had a quick walk into town to check prices etc. We decided to book our tour through our hostel and settled on a mini trek across the glacier which gave us three hours on the ice…perfect. The hostel owners even lent us there walking shoes as apparently trainers wouldn’t have been good enough.

Laguna Nimez
Laguna Nimez

We then checked the weather as it can be quite changeable and decided Sunday would be a good day…forecast clear blue skies and very little wind.  We had two free days to fill in a very small town. We spent one afternoon walking around nearby Laguna Nimez which is a wetlands sanctuary, so great for bird lovers (which we aren’t)  but it was a nice afternoon. Until, we were followed by a pack of stray dogs on heat which made me feel very uncomfortable. We took refuge in a nearby Dinosaur museum and tried to explain to the owner that we just needed to hide out for a minute but he didn’t understand and instead tried to sell us a tour. We would have done it too but he was asking for $10 each to literally walk around a shed of dinosaur pictures…no chance! The dogs disappeared; we made our excuses…no money etc…and quickly headed back to our hostel.

We had one afternoon in the local pub watching Arsenal lose to Norwich…the less said the better. We then spent our remaining time organising our last two months, booking hostels and remaining flights we might need. It was a pretty depressing task to be honest but we have managed to book some amazing places (on our budget anyway) and we now have a lot to look forward to. We rewarded ourselves with some home cooked (well by the hostel) Patagonian lamb stew and a bottle of red.

Stunning view from the bus
Stunning view from the bus

Sunday finally arrived and after a very early breakfast we were picked up and on our way to Perito Moreno. The glacier is located about 80km out of El Calafate in Parque National Los Glaciers.  Before I tell you about our experience, here is how the Lonely Planet describes it.

Few glaciers on earth can match the suspense and excitement of the blue-hued Glacier Perito Moreno. Its 60m jagged ice peaks sheer off and crash land with huge splashes and thunderous rifle cracks, birthing small tidal waves and large bobbing icebergs. What makes this glacier exceptional is that it is advancing – up to 2m a day – and constantly dropping chunks of ice off its face.

For once the Lonely Planet has got it spot on…we had the most incredible day and the glacier was AMAZING! We started with a view point so we could take it the sheer size of the glacier before boarding a boat which took us right in front of the wall. After about ten minutes on the boat we were greeted by our guide for the day (who was great) and told that we would walk about twenty minutes towards the glacier, get our crampons on and start our trek across the ice.

Perito Moreno Glacier
Perito Moreno Glacier

Whilst waiting for our crampons we had our first ice falling experience of the day. None of us were able to catch it on camera but the noise it made and then watching the ice fall was spectacular. Apparently the day before there had been a huge piece of ice fall and we were experiencing the after effects. At this stage we couldn’t wait to get on the ice. We were taught how to walk properly with our crampons on and after a few minutes it became very easy.  It’s a bizarre feeling walking on what is basically a block of ice but we were assured that the glacier was stable and to just relax and enjoy it.

On the glacier
On the glacier

Our guide took us up as high as we could go without having to start ice climbing…probably a good thing. Along the way up we had to walk over crevasses and gorges, had our photos taken by ice lakes and just got to enjoy the glacier from a totally different perspective. About half way down we were rewarded with a glass of Jameson’s whisky on the rocks…courtesy of the glacier and got to relax and take it all in for ten minutes or so.

Cheers...I don't mind if I do
Cheers…I don’t mind if I do

After handing back our crampons and with our feet feeling 100 pounds lighter, it was time for lunch. Well I’ve eaten sandwiches in worse places…our picnic table looked right over the glacier and the whole setting was just stunning. Whilst I was unpacking everything Sam was busy taking photos and was in the middle of a panoramic shot when the biggest chunk of ice fell so unfortunately he didn’t catch it on film but look at the photo carefully and you’ll see the ice falling.

Spot the iceberg
Spot the iceberg

Once lunch was finished we got back on the boat for the final part of the day. We were taken to a series of walkways which are purpose built for tourists but provide amazing views of the glacier wall. We had about an hour, so we headed straight to the walkway nearest the glacier and sat and watched, waiting for more ice to break off.

View from the walkway
View from the walkway

We were just about to leave when we started to hear loud cracking sounds. Camera at the ready we waited…and waited until a big piece of ice broke off and crashed into the water, creating a massive tidal wave. Fortunately this time Sam had the video ready and pressed record at just the right moment. What a truly amazing day, one we will never forget and a definite highlight of our 13 months travelling so far.

Next stop El Chalten; Argentina’s trekking capital and home to the incredible Fitz Roy mountain range. I know some of you are thinking…Katy and trekking is not something you hear often in the same sentence but Sam somehow managed to persuade me that it would be a good idea and nice way to end our time in Patagonia. It’s only two hours away from El Calafate so we arrived by lunchtime, were greeted by a park ranger and told about the various walks we could do…some long and some smaller easier ones, obviously more my style. It was at this stage that I started to feel a little out of place amongst all the proper trekkers in their smart outfits and walking poles…there was us with our trainers and alpaca hats!

As Fitz Roy is the main attraction we decided we would definitely do this but probably just as far as the mirador which is about a three hour round trip. You can go as far as the summit which sits at 3441m but this was definitely not on our agenda. We had arrived on a beautiful clear blue day and the ranger kept telling us how lucky we were as the weather can change very quickly and that the following few days were forecast to be cloudy and very windy.

Fitz Roy
Fitz Roy

We quickly checked into our hostel, had a bite to eat and began our trek up Fitz Roy. As much as I moan about trekking, this particular trek was stunning. The scenery was just beautiful and with the Fitz Roy range as a back drop it was a constant reminder as to why I was struggling to breathe.

View from the mirador
View from the mirador

We made it to the mirador in record time…55 minutes instead of the advertised 1 hour and 30 minutes. I’m not sure who was more surprised, me or Sam! Anyway at this stage I was still feeling pretty perky and the view was just amazing so Sam talked me into the doing the next stage, a one hour walk to the base of the summit climb. I think it also had something to do with Sam offering to take me for a steak dinner that evening…he obviously knows me far too well! I reluctantly agreed and off we went.

Lago Capri
Lago Capri

The next stage had been advertised as reasonably flat which is another reason why I was so easily persuaded…well it wasn’t  The terrain got harder to walk over and the wind suddenly picked up so it was time for the Alpaca hat to make an appearance. It was all worthwhile though as the views just got better and the closer we got to Fitz Roy the more impressive it became. We’d run out of water by this stage so took our chances and filled our water bottle up from the steam …mistake? Well we’ll soon find out! When we eventually made it to the end we rested our legs, drank our stream water and shared a packet of peanuts…very romantic!

Not a bad spot for a rest
Not a bad spot for a rest

It was time to head back as the temperature was dropping. Sam kept assuring me that it would all be downhill so it would be really easy. I think he’d forgotten that I had just walked the same trail as him so I knew it wasn’t all going to be downhill. I’m not sure how many of you realise this but neither of us have proper walking shoes, Sam has the same pair of £30 trainers he set off with 13 months ago and I have a pair of £10 Pan trainers bought in Thailand. Well it was at this stage of the walk that I really wished I had invested in a decent pair of hiking boots.

Alpaca hat time
Alpaca hat time

There wasn’t much I could do except carry on through the pain and by the time we were about half an hour from town I had totally lost my sense of humour. Sam said he’d never seen me looking so grumpy and fed up. Anyway we managed the trek in 5 1/2 hours, bang on time…not too shabby for a novice trekker wearing crap trainers. It is time to say goodbye to the trainers now though. I don’t foresee and certainly haven’t planned any more treks, well nothing that my flip flops can’t handle. I don’t expect any more cold weather in our remaining two months so it’s goodbye and good riddance Pan trainers.

A walk in the woods
A walk in the woods

I was so exhausted after our trek that I couldn’t even be bothered to go out for Sam’s bribe of a steak dinner, instead we settled for home cooked Chorizo risotto and of course a bottle of red. Our last day in El Chalten, as forecasted was overcast, cold and rainy so we had a day of recovering and enjoyed the view from our hostel.

Another amazing day in Patagonia
Another amazing day in Patagonia

Until the next time…

Advertisements

Great steaks…and some lakes

The bus to Bariloche was long, slightly uncomfortable and tiring, but actually wasn’t as bad as we expected. At home we wouldn’t even consider getting on a bus for 20 hours, but in South America it’s pretty much the norm. We were entertained along the way with a few films, and Katy’s highlight was playing bus bingo. Every time she got a number she almost jumped out of her seat. A warning to all her friends back home…Gala Bingo may be on the agenda on our return.

View from the bus
View from the bus

Bariloche is a really nice city built in the foothills of the Andes. It overlooks a beautiful lake with snow-capped mountains in the background, and we arrived with clear blue skies and plenty of sunshine. I’ve since learnt that it is famous for harbouring Nazi war criminals, including Hitler after WWII. You can see why they may have settled there, as it looks like a Bavarian town with wooden houses, barbecued sausages and chocolate shops everywhere to be seen.

Somebody we had met in Bolivia had recommended a restaurant there (La Parrilla de Tony), so on our first night we decided to check it out. It wasn’t cheap, but we were both craving meat and were almost drooling as we looked through the window. We ordered the mixed grill for two and a nice bottle of wine and waited in anticipation. When the waiter brought the meat over, we were both slightly disappointed as there wasn’t very much of it. That was until he continued to bring meat every five minutes. Lamb, fillet steak, sirloin steak, pork loin, chorizo, chicken…it just didn’t end. Eventually we had to tell the waiter that we couldn’t eat any more. We certainly got our money’s worth though, and then slowly waddled back to our hostel.

Our first plate - not for vegetarians
Our first plate – not for vegetarians

The hostel we were staying in was pretty bad, so we changed to another hostel our friends Nathalie and Adam were staying in. It was a bit of a walk out of town (up a very steep hill), but had great views of the lake and the mountains. The four of us decided to hire a car and take a visit to the national park, to see Ventisquero Negro (a black glacier) and Mount Tronador.

The entrance to the Nahuel Huapi National Park was about a forty minute drive away with some stunning views of the lakes. These views only got better once we entered the park.  Crystal clear lakes surrounded by forests and mountains, with the odd farm or camp site thrown in along the way. The road wasn’t the best, and was dusty and bumpy, but the scenery made up for it. We were driving for about two hours before we stopped for a picnic near the base camp of the mountain.

One of the many lakes
One of the many lakes

After our lunch we were ready to see the main attraction, but we were slightly underwhelmed by the black glacier. It is black because the ice has been covered in dirt caused by landslides and avalanches from the mountain. It actually just looks like rocks, so not really that impressive. Again, maybe we’re getting harder to please.

No really...it is a glacier
No really…it is a glacier

So we continued up to the base camp of Mount Tronador. There were signs telling us that the paths leading up the mountain were closed, but we were all determined to get closer to the top so we could play in the snow. It’s coming into spring here, so the ice and snow is melting causing mini waterfalls all over the place. When we reached the snow, we all turned into little kids and had a snowball fight and just enjoyed the view.

We touched that snow
We touched that snow

Mount Tronador gets its name from the sound it makes when avalanches occur. We soon got a shock when a mini avalanche came down close to us making a huge noise like thunder. It was at that point that Katy decided that she had spent long enough there and wanted to go back to the car. There was a huge layer of ice and snow just above us, so it was probably a good idea.

We finished the day with an ice cold beer back near base camp before the two hour drive back to Bariloche. It was yet another great day out, capped off with a nice home made dinner with some good red wine back at the hostel.

Well deserved beers
Well deserved beers

After saying our goodbyes to Nathalie and Adam, we made our way to the airport for our flight to El Calafate in Patagonia. Yes you heard it right, our flight. After spending so many hours on buses all of the way through South America, we finally managed to find flights cheap enough for us to afford. It was actually the same price and getting the bus if we bought a multi city ticket, so we have more flights to look forward to as well.

Until the next time…

Red Red Wine…

The Chile / Argentina border crossing was very simple and the most thorough we have come across. A customs officer took Sam’s bag and asked to take a look inside. He immediately found the frisbee and started asking us what it was for. Rather than try and explain in our broken Spanish, Sam demonstrated by throwing the frisbee to another officer who became very excited…surely they have seen a frisbee before? A quick game followed before we had to get back on the bus…funny.

So we were finally in Argentina and on our way to Mendoza. I couldn’t have been more excited. Since the day we left the UK I have been dreaming of rare steaks and amazing Malbec wines. We were actually both feeling a little worse for wear as we’d had a few too many the night before, so our first night in Mendoza was surprisingly a dry one.  We made up for it the next day by ordering the biggest steak we could find (and afford) accompanied by a bottle of their finest Malbec (within our budget). This was followed by a Cabernet Sauvignon dinner back at the hostel.

The next few days followed the same suit with the odd home cooked meal thrown in and occasional beer just to mix things up a little.

A popular thing to do here is biking around the vineyards, and our hostel offered us free bikes for a day if we booked for four nights…perfect. We’d heard a lot about a bike rental company called Mr Hugo, and I was really looking forward to a nice romantic bike ride through the Maipu wine region taking in the sites and sampling some of Mendoza’s best wines.  Instead we were faced with an 8km bike ride down a very busy main road taking in the dust from the trucks zooming past and freezing because we’d chosen the one day it wasn’t sunny!

Where to begin?
Where to begin?

We visited three vineyards, each very different. The first was a small and very old family run winery which produced only 40,000 bottles per year and only sold their wine in Argentina. It was a really interesting tour and their reserve Malbec and Cabernet Sauvignon wines were delicious…a good start to the day. The next winery was a bit different, producing double the quantity as the first but we weren’t offered a tour. We each choose three wines to taste and rested our legs for an hour or two. The last winery was very modern looking offering a self-guided tour and was in an amazing setting; just a shame about the weather. Again, we each choose three wines to try and sat back and enjoyed the view. We ended the day in a beer garden and slowly made our way back to Mr Hugo’s trying our best to cycle in a straight line.

Wobbly cycling
Wobbly cycling

We decided to switch hostels after four days as our hostel was quite dull and expensive. So we moved to Hostel Lao and into a dorm room (more money for wine). After a reasonably heavy night with Ali and Matt (who we met in Chile) we decided that we had better try and have a dry day.  It was going really well until the hostel introduced ‘free wine night’ and as most of you will know I’ve never been one to turn down free wine.

I really wanted to experience the wines in as many different ways as possible. The bike day was great but I really wanted to experience the pairing of wines with food. I found a winery with great reviews offering a five course tasting menu with wines for about £60 a head…a bargain back in the UK but on our budget Sam took some persuading. I had also emailed a friend, Ben who works for a wine merchant called Jascot’s in the UK to see if he had any contacts over here. Anyway it couldn’t have worked out better. The day we were meant to go for our fancy lunch, our hostel was offering a BBQ with as much wine you could drink for about $20 and we received an email from Ben detailing our visit to the La Chamiza vineyard including a tour with their Agronomist and a tasting with lunch with their wine maker…result! So we quickly cancelled the booking with the other winery and joined in with the hostel BBQ.

The BBQ was amazing and included huge hunks of steak and pork, chorizo and blood sausage (surprisingly delicious) accompanied by copious amounts of red wine. It was a great day and a great way to meet everyone in the hostel.

In preparation for our visit to La Chamiza I managed to persuade Sam that I needed some shoes and possibly a new top (or two).  So that’s exactly what we did…shop! I managed to squeeze in two new nail varnishes and a pair of sunglasses too…hurrah! After the BBQ we decided that we’d have another attempt to have a dry day but it didn’t last long as the hostel owner Mike (from Derby) persuaded Sam to go out and buy some empanadas for us all and give him directions to the nearest wine shop…here we go again I thought.

Empanada party
Empanada party

Our day at La Chamiza was amazing. We were picked up from our hostel by Ramiro, our host for the day, and driven about 40 minutes out of town to one of their vineyards. We were met by their Agronomist who is basically a specialist in soil and looks after all the vines. We were shown around their premier vines…exclusively used for their top wine, Martin Alsina Malbec. Ramiro translated and told us about the growing process and the irrigation system which is a very organic irrigation system of using the water from the mountains.

La Chamiza Vineyard
La Chamiza Vineyard

We were then driven back to town for a tasting of their top end wines which included the Polo Professional wines, the Legend wine and finally the amazing Martin Alsina Malbec. We went to a restaurant called azafrán and were shown into their tasting room or wine library which was just beautiful and included ponchos in case it got too cold. We were greeted by their wine maker, Martin who guided us through each wine and provided us with tasting notes. Then a series of tapas style dishes were served which was the perfect accompaniment to the wines and made for a very relaxing tasting.

Tasting room at Azafrán
Tasting room at Azafrán

Not to go on too much about it but the Martin Alsina Malbec was possibly one of the best wines I have ever tasted (and I have tried a few). It has even won the ‘Best Malbec from Argentina’ award over the last few years so it’s a wine that they are deservedly very proud of and a wine I feel very privileged to have tried.

Let the tasting commence
Let the tasting commence

We have had an amazing week in Mendoza but it’s time to move on and give my liver a rest so tonight we head South towards Bariloche on what I hope will be our last overnight bus of this trip.

Until the next time…