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In March-April 2001 we went on holiday to Argentina, for a month. It was more than a "conventional" holiday, but not travel in the independent sense either. We produced our own itinerary and made a lot of advance bookings independently and with the help of TravelBag. Looking back on it, that was no mean feat, and it all worked out beautifully. What we lost in spontaneity, we more than made up for with the sights we saw and the things we did. It really was a dream holiday. Aah, Patagoniaah...

We went for four weeks and wanted to see lots of different places. Buenos Aires was our hub for getting around this vast country (eighth largest in the world?) We travelled to Iguazú, for the incredible waterfalls, to Salta, in the northwest of the country, to Bariloche, in the Argentinean "lake district" at the northern border of Patagonia, to Tierra del Fuego, the "end of the world", and back up via El Calafate, by the spectacular glaciers running down from the ice-caps that lie over the southern Andes, finally ending our journey with a few days in Buenos Aires.

During our holiday we did all sorts of stuff that we had never dreamed of before. Somehow it all came so easy and we were in the right frame of mind to give anything a go, whether it was jungle walking, trout fishing, horse-riding, hot air ballooning, paragliding, or simply driving right to the very end of the very last road on earth (assuming there are no "roads" on Antarctica?), until we could go no further. And best of all, whilst we were knackered by the end of it all, we felt on top of the world. Holidays don't come better than this we thought, and although Chile and India have been spectacular in their own ways, Argentina will always have a special meaning for us as our first "proper" trip.

We missed out on large chunks of Argentina. For example, we never even went near the wine districts around Mendoza, or whale country around the Peninsula Valdes (it's that sticky-out bit below the bay south of Viedma on the map above, and apparently a unique place for whale-watching - we thought about going there as the first stop on our world travels but it wouldn't be the right time of year, October is the right season).

First picture!

Left home at time expected. An all time record for Stef and Ness! Tried to get new camera to work on Heathrow Express. Disaster! It doesn’t. Panic at Heathrow to buy a new camera. Instead of simple compact camera ended up with an SLR (?) with two different lenses and a big instruction book. Best laid plans!

Flight to Charles de Gaulle went OK except the lady next to us who wanted to talk all the way. Feigned tiredness. Very impressed with CDG. Last time we flew through there it was a very old fashioned terminal which wasn’t very nice. This one was new & glass throughout. Definitely designed for Japanese tourist. Very exclusive boutiques in place of normal duty free. Tried for extra leg room seats on the 737-200 but failed!

Woke up this morning full of cold. Not relishing the prospect of a long haul air-conditioned flight.

Freebie courtesy of the Starwood points accumulated while working at TUI
More freebies, and the view is simply priceless!

Air France long haul similar to Continental last year but this plane had touch sensitive films. Opted for the sensible sleep option (partly because film is in Spanish & French only!)

Hit by the heat at Buenos Aires, 28° & humid. We’d forgotten to buy a phrase book before we left and tried to at the airport. We did with some success. It’s Spanish-to-English rather than English-to-Spanish, ah well. Stef’s in the swing of things already and starting to pick up Spanish. Helpful as I sent his coffee flying.

The airport is crazy. Loads of unofficial taxis touting for business. Transferred to Jorge Newberry. Stef spotted an earlier flight to Iguazú which was a godsend. The airport is very small with not much to do. We would have had to spend four hours there! We’ll see enough of it over the next few weeks so were glad to get away.

Driving through BA we felt as if we were in Italy. Arriving at Iguazú we were definitely in sub-tropical Argentina. It’s very humid and very green but quite civilised and European in a strange way.

We’re staying one night at the Sheraton through Stef’s Starwood scheme. Not only were we personally met by a manager, we had an upgrade to a suite and complimentary vino and fruit basket.

In the early evening we got our first taste of the falls by walking the superior and inferior routes. The falls are stunning. One minute you’re in total quiet in the jungle, the next you have millions of gallons of water crashing all around you.

A couple of cocktails, food then bed. Hopefully my cold will be gone tomorrow.

Forgot to mention the stars. Totally different to the UK. So many and so bright. We saw three shooting stars in the space of about 10 minutes.

Big falls, little boat

We decided against the Brazilian side of the falls and went on the “Great Adventure”. We had a choice of the wet one or the dry one and chose the former. They weren’t joking! The trip started with a 4km drive through the jungle. We saw massive spiders in webs strung across the road and had a running commentary on the jungle flora and fauna. Palm trees near to extinction, vines, bromeliads, orchids, butterflies. Then a climb down to the river. The water level was low today, about 5m down. The level rises and falls very quickly depending on the level of rain. Into a power dinghy. We started in calm quiet water and progressed through the rapids to the base of the waterfall. The views were fantastic. We had seen the falls top-down yesterday and were impressed but this was so much better.

As promised we got wet, very wet! The boat went right up to the falls and the force of the spray took your breath away. Then we went back, and back and back again until we were thoroughly soaked. Looking forward to seeing the video!

Back to the hotel to dry out, have a cool drink and then get ready for the start of our next adventure, Yacutinga Lodge. The lodge opened just over a year ago and really has the feel of a life’s dream realised. It has been carved out of the middle of the jungle and everything has been made from local materials by the fifteen people who run the lodge.

Yacutinga is the triangular section of land at the centre of the map.

6am wake-up call. It’s still dark and it’s already very warm. The bite I picked up at Iguazu on sunday has turned nasty. I’ve got a big rash round half my ankle and a blister the size of my thumbnail. It’s yellow and hard. Micki strapped it up for me so that I’d be OK to walk (it burst on the way to the lodge). It doesn’t itch but it definitely isn’t right.

Our day started at the visitors centre with Charlie talking through vines, snake skins, cicadas, snakes, foot prints, bees and their hives, and how the vines spread their seeds. On to the nursery where they have a collection of orchid plants. Orchids need a host tree to survive and they wrap their roots around the host. Yacutinga have a collection of orchids saved from trees that had to be felled during construction. They are also propagating trees to replant in the forest. We get to plant a tree before we go. The palm trees are in danger of extinction so they are running an experiment to see how best to replant these trees. For each month they plant seeds in three different sections:

1. plant three seeds in a row

2. mimic nature by dropping fifty seeds into an area

3. plant fifty seeds

Not surprisingly the natural way is winning at the moment.

There are hummingbirds here too, partly attracted by bottles of sugared water. They are so small and move incredibly fast and are the only birds that can fly backwards.

We then set off to walk to one of the big trees in the forest along one of Yacutinga’s nine trails. It’s a continual nature tour with Charlie and Marito stopping at the sound or sight of a particular bird. Yacutinga has 50%? 80%? of all bird species in Argentina. Saw some toucans at last!

By this time it was 9am and it was already starting to warm up. The going was slow as we were all still getting used to the heat and humidity so Charlie changed the plan. Marito went back for the truck and we drove the 2km along Yacutinga’s main road back to the swamp.

Marito must have eyes like a hawk. He spotted a bird in the distance and trained the binoculars on it so we could all have a look. The birds of the lower layer of jungle are well camouflaged and even through the binoculars it was nearly impossible to see the bird (62cm long) that Marito had seen with his naked eye.

As well as a range of birds (Charlie has a list hopefully) we also saw an alligator about 1.6m long. It came to rest with its head just above water so it could see what was going on. You could easily mistake it for a log if it stayed so still.

Approaching 11am it was extremely and uncomfortably hot and we headed back to the lodge for more cooling and refreshing lemonade.

My blister had well and truly drained by this time but fortunately the skin is not broken. The anti-allergy tablet Charlie gave me seems to be doing the trick and at least the redness is going away.

The old Merc by the lagoon

Lunch, as with dinner last night, was large and good. Gazpacho soup, which tasted lemony and of tomatoes and beans, followed by beef, sweet potatoes, carrots and beetroot. Fresh fruit salad rounded it off. I hope diner tonight is small or we’ll be waddling all the way from tomorrow.

Desperate to find a way to cool off we headed back to the room for a siesta knowing that the second trip of our day starts at 4.30pm.

During siesta a deceptively cool breeze began to blow. It was a foretaste of rain and with the rain came mosquitos, swarms of them.

In the afternoon we did the short “timba” trail which took us to a large rosewood tree. We had hoped to see monkeys along the way but this wasn’t to be.

We then did the start of the “Iguazu” trail. This trail hadn’t been used for a couple of weeks and we (i.e. Charlie) had to continually clear away the webs of, and with, large spiders.

We were heading back towards the swamp and made quick time as the mozzies were having a feast on our behalf. At the swamp we saw woodpeckers, great Arani, herons and more. We stayed until nightfall, refreshed by cold lemonade, in the hope of seeing the alligator in the swamp. At night its eyes light up red. Unfortunately this wasn’t to be and we had to make do with fireflies.

Back at the lodge we had another meal. Fried manioc potatoes and mini squash, followed by rolled beef stuffed with vegetables, baked onion, tomato and sweet pepper. Pudding was sweet caramelised papaya and cheese. OK if eaten together but not so good separately. A cup of mate [Note: what we thought was mate tea before we had the real thing] washed it all down.

Stef got into full swing with Marito. About what I’m not sure but with Marito’s few words of English and Stef’s basic Spanish they got on fine.

We have a late start tomorrow, 6.30!

Unfortunately because of the rain, this afternoon was not good for spotting anything other than mosquitos!

We had come prepared to wear shorts and t-shirts at Yacutinga and hadn’t planned for long trousers and shirts. Even though the heat is unbearable you have to cover up. In the afternoon I could cope with my own long sleeve tops and borrowed one of Stef’s shirts. Apart from 9” of superfluous length it was much better.

Everything here feels damp, clothes, paper, your skin. After the rain at lunchtime we got well and truly soggy on the afternoon trails. Only when the sun went down at the swamp did we start to dry out.

The stars come out then too, another clear night sky. We had planned to eat al fresco and stargaze back at the lodge but the clouds came in again. Hopefully it’ll stay clear for tomorrow night.

[Note: Charlie’s list of birds spotted at Yacutinga – in diary, need to copy it out]

This morning we took a boat along the San Francisco river that runs along the eastern side of the Yacutinga reserve peninsula, joining back up with the Iguazu river. When I say boat I mean inflatable rubber dinghy.

It’s amazing that Florence comes along. At 85 she is feisty enough but a bit wobbly on her pins. Marito drew the short straw and was in charge of the paddling, helped along by Charlie.

We spotted some pretty rare birds only found in this area of Argentina. They ranked quite highly in terms of endangered species so it was good to see them. We’re starting now to be able to spot things ourselves, not just relying on the hawk-like vision of Charlie and Marito.

We saw kingfishers, squirrel cuckoos (named because they mirror the actions of squirrels and walk upside down down trees) and amazing butterflies. Hopefully Charlie has listed them out for us.

It was so peaceful on the river, and cool too with the breeze. You could hear nothing except the sounds of the rainforest and the conversation in the dinghy. There were no other souls in sight.

Back on the Iguazu river we saw giant bamboo. They looked like fern trees more than bamboo. They grow to 50cm in diameter and are sturdy enough for people to use them to build with.

The Iguazu river is magical. It’s very broad and runs at about 5km/h. The water level is low at the moment and we saw this clearly on the San Francisco stream. For about 5m above the water all of the trees along the side of the river had brown leaves caked in mud showing where the water level had been even just within the last twenty-four hours. Although it had rained it wasn’t enough to wash away all the mud.

On our way back we stopped again at the swamp. Last night two Argentineans from Buenos Aires joined us. The lady is a travel agent and as part of their holiday they stopped off to see Yacutinga so they could recommend it. They had a quick tour of the swamp. We saw all three varieties of another rare bird which has beautiful metallic blue wings and a green body.

Back at the lodge it started to rain. A short burst but very heavy. This probably means another mosquito fest this afternoon. We have already been warned to use lots of insect spray. One bottle down, one and a half to go!

Lunch again was superb. By the way, breakfast has been fresh fruit – melon, papaya, pineapple, banana. Stef’s holiday appetite added scrambled eggs and bacon today. All is washed down by freshly squeezed tangerine juice and a glass of cold water.

All the food (not sure about the meat though) is grown within the reserve and it’s all organic. Today was beef empanadas [Note: empadanas crossed through in diary], chicken with onions stewed in stock, rice and pureed pumpkin flavoured with nutmeg – delicious. I can’t believe I’m eating as much as I am but the heat and the short walks just seem to zap all energy and build up a huge appetite. Every meal also has home-made bread rolls that are served warm. They’re a cross between scones and brioche and are delicious.

We’ve made the offer [Note: can’t read it – see bottom of page 2 of today’s diary] of promising to send photos to Michelle and Florence, plus M&S tinned tomato soup which is the best available in Canada but they can’t get it any more.

We have packed ready for tomorrow in case there isn’t much time. Stef’s having another snoring fit during his siesta. I’m going to have to find a cure for this as it’s driving me mad.

This afternoon we are going for a longer walk along the Iguazu trail. As I write thunder is rumbling away. There have been the cold bursts of rain. Looks like this afternoon is going to be very wet and very full of mosquitoes.

We survived, but what a walk. In length it was probably a 3 or 4 km walk, not far in distance but in high 20° temperatures, high humidity and dressed in full length shirt, trousers and walking boots it felt like a marathon.

Charlie couldn’t join us as planned. The state ecology minister had arrived (he had been expected for the last two months) to do a site visit and decide whether Yacutinga could progress with their capybara project. They got their approval and also the minister’s support for a new education programme. Most visitors to Yacutinga are foreign and the local area is starting to think that the reserve is only designed for foreigners. Charlie & co. don’t agree and want to target education programmes for children as a way of attracting more local interest.

For the walk our guide was Marito and Micki came along to translate. As Stef and Marito seem to communicate well these days she wasn’t really needed. As it had rained again earlier today we had the same problem as yesterday and lots of mosquitoes and not many birds. However we did see a monkey, although we’re not sure what type!

The trail led us back down to the swamp. We both confessed later that we hoped Charlie would be there with the truck to pick us up. It wasn’t to be. We were both drenched with sweat, very hot and sticky and had to walk the 1km or so back up the road to the lodge.

I can’t remember the last time I felt physically so exhausted. My nose was still a bit bunged up with cold so breathing was difficult. My boots were on too tight and were rubbing my bite blister. I’m overweight, unfit and ready to collapse!

Back at the lodge we are the only paying guests for the night, and Charlie, Marito and Micki joined us for a pre-dinner drink. Having cooled off we decided to eat, then shower and go to bed.

Dinner was great as usual although I was so tired it was hard to eat and difficult to remember what we had. We think it was baby pumpkins filled with green lentils, followed by a vegetable and soya stew with a fried egg. Pudding was pancakes filled with dulce de leche, a cross between condensed milk and toffee.

Bed beckoned rapidly and by 10.30 we were asleep knowing we had a 6am call for the next day.

6am, it’s still dark and we have just had our wake up call. It was much cooler last night and we woke up cuddled up together. This was the best night’s sleep I’ve had at Yacutinga.

Today we are starting early. Just coffee, no breakfast. We’re going along a new trail that has just been opened up and we’re the first visitors to go along it. It’s so new that Marito had to find the entrance and at one point went the wrong way so we had to double back.

This was more like jungle walking. The other trails had relatively clear paths and you didn’t really need to watch your step. This one was covered with fallen tree trunks, undergrowth and vines that seemed to come alive and wrap around your feet as you walked. Not surprisingly I cam a cropper and have four beautiful multi-coloured bruises and bumps to show for it.

Even though it was early morning and cool it wasn’t long before we were drenched in sweat. At least the mozzies weren’t out. The trail heads toward the old bed of the Iguazu river which is now a land-locked lagoon on the Yacutinga reserve. We hoped to see monkeys this way as we’d heard them here yesterday.

It was hard going and I have to admit that any interest in spotting local fauna was rapidly overtaken by a survival instinct and the desire to get back to base!

Because of the amount of rain over the last few days the flood plain of the old river had become swamp. We couldn’t reach our end destination and had to turn back, big relief. At 9am we were back on the main road outside Charlie and Micki’s house.

We took the truck down to Yacutinga port and planted a cedar tree each. Our name tags hang on them so its our little bit of posterity in the Yacutinga reserve!

Back at the lodge we took the short walk along the jungle cat trail, a walkway suspended about 50ft above ground. Early morning is the best time to do this walk for the wildlife but we had to do it before we went.

We showered, finished packing and went for our last meal. Chicken pasties, vegetables (potato, tomato and pumpkin) stuffed with mince and fruit salad. We have left a story on the visitors book, bought the polo shirt and said our goodbyes.

Charlie and Micki then drove us back to the meeting point and we’re now sitting in the bar of the Sheraton having a beer, not inside the cool air-conditioned atmosphere but outside on the balcony where we’re still hot and sweaty!

We’ve got a suite again but no managers greeting or freebie wine this time. We have sent our dirties to the laundry service. I’d love to see their expression when they open up our swamp dirty bags!

Charlie went to live in Bariloche and also knows Salta well. He has given us lots of ideas of things to do and the name of a friend in Bariloche for us to contact. Stef’s doing a quick reccie so we can plan our next few days.

Tonight we’ll have to weigh up battle scars, volume of mozzie bites and bruises vs. severity. I think Stef wins on quantity and I win on quality, especially the bruises!

Had a relatively quiet afternoon. Sat on the patio bar enjoying our batidas (mango, rum, sugar, orange, tequila and pineapple for Stef, and mango, pineapple, lemon, papaya, orange, rum, sugar and cointreau for me). We then took a very leisurely stroll along the lower walk and got soaked at the end viewing point where the spray from the fall comes.

We had decided to have a swim on the way back but the sky darkened and a storm set in. We watched it from our balcony. No rain, little thunder, spectacular forks of lightning and very dark skies.

I was very fed up of being damp and smelling of swamps and had a long shower. I even had to turn the air conditioning down/temperature up because the room was too cold! My legs are a bit of a mess and combination of usual swelling, bites and bruises. My whole body aches and feels lumpy and bumpy. Yacutinga was a fantastic experience and I’m really glad we did it. I just didn’t expect to feel so battle weary at the end of it!

We forced ourselves to stay awake during dinner and went to bed early. We must have both been asleep by 10pm.

We had planned an early-ish start today and by 8am were on our way to the Brazilian side of the falls. It is said that Argentina has the falls and Brazil the views. How true!

Even though it’s only about 30km away, the drive took an hour. The roads here are paved but bumpy and the average speed seems to be no more than 50km/h. There were several hotels along the main road to the border. The people there must be peeved – no views and nothing in sight to do.

The Brazilian border appeared to be more of a military checkpoint. Stef had taken some photos along the way but our driver expressly told us not to photograph the border. Even though they’re only separated by the Iguazu river, Argentina and Brazil have a very different feel. Brazil appears much less affluent.

That said, they have a very western approach to their tourist views of the falls. Formal visitor centre, with obligatory shop, fast food café, buses laid on.

The views from the Brazilian side are stunning. We went out along the walkway that you can see from the Argentinean side. Fortunately we came prepared with our jackets so we didn’t get too wet. We had a coffee at the end of the walk and headed back to the Sheraton for lunch and our flight on to Salta.

We arrived at Salta a little late but it was cool. So refreshing after the heat and humidity of Iguazu and Yacutinga. It’s a tiny airport and we seem to be the only tourists here! You can never get a true fell of a place at night but our first impressions of Salta weren’t great. It’s the largest town in the north-west region of Argentina and as with Buenos Aires it’s spread over a wide distance. Called Salta the Beautiful, it doesn’t seem that way at first sight.

Our hotel is OK, clean, comfy bed. We had called from the Sheraton to ensure that our tickets for the Tren a las Nubes had arrived. All seemed OK. When we got to the hotel there was a note in Spanish about our excursion at 6.55. We took this to mean we needed to be at the train for this time.

Quick dinner in the café next door and then bed with a 5.30 wake up call pending.

Up early, we took a cab to the train station. It was cold and we had no jumper or coat. There was an Italian film crew at work making a film about Chile and prisoners of war. There didn’t seem to be many Tren a las Nubes passengers but it’s the first this year so we assumed it was just quiet.

Lights, camera, action! Italian film crew at Salta train station

We had 30 minutes to spare before the train left and got a taxi back to the hotel to get jumpers. Back at the station there was bad news. The train had been cancelled! It turned out that due to the recent heavy rain landslides had covered part of the track. The message at our hotel was to confirm that a replacement car excursion would pick us up at the hotel at 6.55 – why didn’t we learn Spanish before we came!

Dejected we went back to the hotel, rejected the car-based alternative and went back to bed for a couple of hours to consider our options. We decided to try and change our flights to leave tomorrow (sunday) rather than monday and have an extra day at Bariloche. One of the people at reception contacted the airlines and called us to say all was OK with the changed flights.

Stef didn’t fancy exploring Salta (we have a bad omen about this place) and we went to hire a car. Even this wasn’t easy as Hertz/Dollar rent for only a day. In the end we used a local company. The lady there, Angelica, was very friendly and spoke English! She told us the best route to take and what to stop and see along the way.

We took the road up to Humahuaca, stopping off at a few places along the way. First stop was Purmamarca, a small village off the main road. Behind the village is a dirt track road that takes you round the local sight, the hill of seven colours, different layers of rock in the mountain. The village itself was sleepy and like the villages you see in a western. We had some empanadas and walked round the main square. This seems designed for tourists, although there weren’t very many around. Local people selling woollens, ceramics, usual tourist stuff.

We carried on past the painters palette, more colourful mountains, up to Tilcara. Here there’s a fortress built on the top of the hill. You can barely see it from the road below. It’s very windy at the top but the buildings have been laid out to provide maximum shelter from the wind.

Past Tilcara we crossed the Tropic of Capricon and headed on to Humahuaca. Either we missed the point or we got there at the wrong time of day! We found a big monument to the Argentine Civil War but that was about it!

Conscious of the time we headed back. It started to get very cold and the clouds and rain drew in. Part of the road was no more than a dirt track and we were keen to get past this before the light failed. Our way home wasn’t helped by the Argentines road sign system – not lit up and placed at the junction with no prior warning!

Only Stef had been registered to drive the car and we did a 500km round trip in nine hours. Tired and very dusty we got back to the hotel.

We’d confirmed the change of flights and hotel at Bariloche in the morning although we weren’t entirely confident that all the changes would be ok. We hadn’t changed the car hire. We tried Avis’s web site – no luck. British Airways Executive Club Avis offer number – hung up after being on hold for 10 mins. Avis Preferred line – hung up after 20 minutes. Etc. etc.

At 11.15 we gave up and went to find food. We ended up at a confiteria around the corner from the hotel and had ham and cheese omelette, chips and salad washed down with Salta beer.

Back at the hotel we crashed knowing we had a 6am wake up call to get us to the airport for our flights.

Stef’s mastery of the Spanish language is progressing well. He’s using every opportunity to learn new words and phrases and is able to hold simple conversations. The only exception so far was this morning when we went for a snack before setting off in the car. Stef wanted a ham and cheese sandwich. With great gestures (of a sandwich, as this wasn’t on the menu) he ordered a fiambre y jamon y quesa. Then was a bit disappointed when chunks of cheese and ham arrived with crostini and crackers. It turns out that fiambre means “cold meat” so he had actually asked for “cheese and ham cold meat”! Not a crucial mistake but I had to chuckle! We now keep passing lots of places called “sandwicheria” so perhaps sandwich is an international term.

When we found out the train wasn’t running some of the Spanish people, who were kindly talking to us, nicked our taxi! We walked back a little and flagged down a cab. There were already two girls in it but the driver waved us in anyway. It turned out that he was drunk and had been cruising around with these girls for a while. He didn’t bother to use his hands and kept turning round to talk to us also. We were amazed we didn’t crash. Stef spied one of Salta’s sights (a church) and we used this as an excuse to jump out. It was a free ride but I don’t think we’d want to repeat it too soon!

7.30am – arrived at Salta airport to check in for our Dinar flight that should be leaving at 8.55am. There’s no-one here except security. Fortunately Angelica from the car hire company dropped us off and she came in and acted as translator.

Both our fears were fulfilled. The guy at the hotel had confirmed the changes to the Buenos Aires to Bariloche flights and the tickets have Aerolineas amends to them. The flight from Salta to Buenos Aires simply had “OK” written on the wallet. There is no Dinar flight at 8.55 on sunday. It seems the earliest flight is around 10.00(ish) but we’re not sure. This should get us to BA in time for our connection to Bariloche, just! We should have checked the flights ourselves rather than relying on our pigeon Spanish! It’s now 8.25 and we’re sat outside the coffee shop (shut) and check in desks (deserted) waiting to see what our options are. The main challenge will be to keep Stef calm. He’s kicking into five star executive club business man mode, which will work here less than in the UK. If the flights don’t connect, we’ll have to stay overnight in Buenos Aires or see if there’s a later flight to Bariloche. At least we’re not the only ones sat at the airport waiting!

10.45 and we’re off! We’re on a Dinar flight to Buenos Aires that should land just as our connection takes off. It has cost us $32 to change the flight and more sign language, pigeon Spanish and very friendly lady on the check-in desk. There’s a 14.10 flight to Bariloche so we’re hoping to get seats on that. We’ve just got to rearrange the car hire and hope the Posada del Sol reception haven’t cancelled our reservation at Mascardi rather than extending it.

We’re back at Jorge Newberry and are on the 14.15 to Bariloche and nasty thoughts towards the Posada del Sol are diminishing and we have a definite spring in our step. The car hire has been changed too so we just hope the hotel is ok.

Having had a reasonable in-flight service on Dinar (cheese & prosciutto rolls, cheese & crackers, mini cake), Aerolineas turned up trumps with jamon y queso sandwiches, cut horizontally not diagonally! At least the drinks trolley came round twice.

Bariloche airport is even smaller than Salta. We’re heading towards Biggin Hill size. The view on the way has been amazing. Vast open spaces with the odd trail leading through it. It seems as if there is no agriculture, industry or anyone living in most of it. Argentina is huge but you have to wonder how much of the land is inhabitable. The view of the airport is stunning. It’s on the plain at the foothills of the Patagonian mountain range and all you can see around you are mountains. We picked up the hire car (new Corsa, 1200km on the clock) and headed off to find our hotel. We both instantly had a good feeling about Bariloche and know we’ll enjoy our stay.

Heading out of Bariloche to Mascardi we went through the poorer side of town. They say there is a big Germanic influence here and you can see this even in the shanty town. Swiss-style shacks line the road. We drove along the Nahuel Huapi lake, the main lake at Bariloche, and on past lake Mascardi. 36km out of Bariloche you turn right onto an unpaved road and our hotel was 800m down.

It’s so quiet. There’s a small hamlet of four or five houses and our hotel. The views of lake Mascardi are stunning. The hotel itself is small and has been here for years, run within the same family. We introduced ourselves to the garden with dos cervezas served in steins that had been in the freezer. They were so cold they froze the beer. I think we’re the only guests here. The other cars belonged to people who had come for afternoon tea. I also don’t think they’re used to people drinking beer in the garden. They were more surprised when we moved round the corner to watch the sunset and sat on a bench with no table!

We unpacked and went for dinner (served at 9.00 only). There’s also a Spanish couple and an old lady on her own. We plumped for the house dish of the day figuring it might be a bit rude not to. Vichyssoise soup (tasted of pea & leek) followed by smoked trout ravioli with queso sauce. This looked like a cross between oysters and snot and was not appetising to look at. It didn’t taste much better either.

Tired we headed off to bed. We’ve got a spacious room with a really comfy bed and fantastic views across the lake. It’s so peaceful and beautiful here. A million miles away from the hustle and bustle of London.