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…

Hola South America

This entry was supposed to be written by Katy, but she decided that she couldn’t be bothered. So instead I am left to pick up the pieces and try and write an insightful and witty piece for readers all over the world to enjoy. I haven’t even had time to come up with a tabloid style headline, but here goes…

The flight to Ecuador was fairly uneventful, which is generally how I like flights to be. The only fly in the ointment was our stopover in Houston, Texas. As we were in transit with our bags automatically being forwarded on, I expected us to stroll through to the departure lounge and enjoy the three hour break from flying; maybe a cocktail and a bite to eat. Instead we stood in a queue for three hours being scanned, searched and questioned before being sent to the departure lounge as the final call for our flight was announced. I know we all have a reason to be precautious at airports nowadays, but as we had just landed and weren’t even entering the country, it was a bit over the top.

We arrived in Quito excited about seeing a new country and a new culture; so much so that within ten minutes of getting to our hostel we were asleep. In fairness the long flight and the huge time difference really got to us (we’re now five hours behind GMT after being eight hours ahead in Japan). To add to the strain Quito is located high in the Andes, 2900m above sea level.

Quito old town
Quito old town

The next morning though when we opened our curtains and took in the amazing views of the city, our tiredness was forgotten. Sandwiched between the rolling peaks of the Andes, Quito is a striking city. After being in SE Asia for so long, it is also quite a culture shock. Even trying to order breakfast via my trustee Spanish phrase book was an experience. So far in almost nine months of travelling, China has been the only country that English wasn’t spoken throughout. Even in countries like Myanmar, English was spoken almost as if it were a first language. That isn’t going to be the case in South America, but it is a good excuse for me to learn Spanish; something I have wanted to do for years, mainly due to my Spanish roots.

We spent most of our time just wondering around the city and taking it all in. It’s a fairly easy place to walk around, with lots to see along the way. It’s a city split between the historic colonial buildings of the old town, and the more modern restaurant and bar area of the new town. People in Quito are fairly friendly, but there is a definite edge to the city after dark. But other than a failed pick-pocket attempt, nothing untoward occurred. We visited some of the cathedrals in the city, but after the amount of amazing temple complexes we’ve seen in SE Asia (namely Bagan in Myanmar and Angkor Wat in Cambodia), they don’t really compare.

Plaza de la Independencia
Plaza de la Independencia

One thing we did do whilst in Quito was visit the centre of the world. Thankfully this didn’t involve burrowing a huge hole hundreds of mile deep to the core of the earth. Instead we got a one hour bus outside of the city to the equator. It was a bit of a funny place that was almost deserted. Supposedly it gets very busy on the weekends, but we got to enjoy it without the crowds. What does make it slightly fascicle is that we found out that the line that marks the equator is not actually the real equator line. The actual line is about 300m parallel to their line…very bizarre.

Whilst in Quito we also booked our trip to the Galapagos. This trip is something we had been looking forward to for a long time, and had heard so many good things about. It’s a very expensive place to visit, so we did shop around a lot to try and get a good deal. We were very tempted on a last minute deal on a luxury catamaran, but we finally decided to go for the budget option of a four night land based trip for a cool £1400.

For those that don’t know, the islands are famous for the huge number of endemic species, which were studied by Charles Darwin. These studies contributed to the inception of Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection.

After a three hour flight about 1000km west of Ecuador, we arrived in the Galapagos on Santa Cruz Island. We were supposed to get a boat straight to another island, but our flight was delayed. So instead we checked into our hotel and headed out to Charles Darwin Station. Here we got our first glimpse of the Galapagos giant tortoise. Young tortoises are kept here to ensure they are healthy before being let out into the wild. They are quite strange animals really, and living to over 150 years old in some cases.

Giant tortoise
Giant tortoise

Santa Cruz has a small town near the port with various bars and restaurants to keep you entertained in the evening. Most people on the islands are here just for the tours, but it is clear that this would be a nice place to just visit for a week or two. The islands sit right on the equator, so the weather is usually good, and there are plenty of things to do on each island without having to do a tour. If we had known we would have just turned up on the island and booked the tour there, but we still got a fairly good deal.

Tortuga Bay
Tortuga Bay

The next day we took a walk down to Tortuga Bay to an amazing beach. It was a 40 minute walk to the bay, but when we got there it was definitely worth it. One half of the beach has huge waves prefect for surfing, and the other is a calm secluded spot. In between the two were marine iguanas, and lots of them. Just as we were setting up our little spot on the beach, I noticed something move behind a tree just to our side. There was a sea lion there taking a nap in the shade.

It was quite a weird experience being sat on the beach just one metre away from a sea lion who was taking no notice of us at all. Even when the frisbee made an appearance it didn’t budge. So after a couple of hours of sunning ourselves (or burning as the case may be), we headed back to town.

land iguana
land iguana

That afternoon we took a boat to another island called Isabella. The boat journey wasn’t the best, as the captain didn’t feel the need to slow down in the very choppy conditions. Instead he went ahead full throttle causing the boat to almost leave the water on a regular basis. I thought I was going to be sick, and Katy was stuck at the front of the boat desperately holding on. This went on for two hours, so when the boat finally arrived on Isabella, we were very happy to get off.

Flamingos
Flamingos

Isabella is a really nice place to visit, and probably our favourite island on the Galapagos. It’s the largest of the islands, and has several active volcanos. Here we got to see some very pink flamingos in one of the lagoons as soon as we arrived.

It’s much quieter here than on Santa Cruz, and that evening we found a nice bar on the beach to enjoy a beer a watch the sun set.

Volcanic landscape
Volcanic landscape

The next day we had an early start for one of Katy’s favourite activities, trekking. Although slightly cloudy, it was a very hot day, but surprisingly the three hour trek to the volcano seemed to go quite well. The scenery and landscape around the volcano are not like anything I have seen, with black crystallised rock crunching underfoot. The first volcano we saw has the second largest crater in the world and last erupted in 2005, but the second volcano was the most impressive for me. So after a brief lunch break, we headed back to camp. But this time the trek wasn’t so easy. It may have had something to do with the heat or the extremely steep 200m climb back up to the rim of the first volcano, but either way we struggled on the way back. When we did arrive back in our hotel, we were pleased that we could relax and put our feet up…for five minutes anyway.

Marine iguana
Marine iguana

Next we were off on another island tour just to the south of Isabella. On the way we stopped in a small cove for some snorkelling. The water here is quite cold, and conditions weren’t the best for snorkelling, but we did see some huge sea turtles and box fish, along with some eagle rays.

Penguins
Penguins

After drying off, we were on our way again to the island where we were greeted by penguins. The island is quite small and could be walked around in about 20 minutes. It was a great place to see the hundreds of marine iguanas and also to get close up to more sea lions.

Sea lion
Sea lion

The next day we had a very early start to get 6am boat back to Santa Cruz. The journey was much nicer this time, and we even managed to get some sleep on the boat. Our plans were ruined though as we got back into port late, and missed our connecting boat to Floreana. We weren’t particularly happy about this, as it was one of the islands we really wanted to go to, but our tour rep didn’t seem too concerned. So instead we were treated to a bay tour just off of Santa Cruz. The tour itself was pretty poor…that was until we snorkelled with sea lions. It was a pretty incredible experience with these inquisitive animals so close to you.

Giant tortoise
Giant tortoise

In the afternoon we headed to the highlands to see some giant tortoises in the wild. It took us a while to find them in the long grass, and when we did they didn’t seem too pleased to be interrupted. After getting our fair share of pictures, we then headed into some lava tunnels. These are basically formed around free flowing lava, leaving a cave-like formation once it has cooled. After a brief look and a Katy tumble up the stairs, we headed back to our hotel to pack our bags ready to leave the Galapagos in the morning.

Today we flew back to Ecuador in Guayaquil. We were sad to be leaving the Galapagos so soon, as we had a really good time. But we have a lot to look forward to now, and we have already started to think about our next stop.

Until the next time…