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- Category: Argentina (2001)
We woke up late for us so far this holiday, 8am. The lake was covered in cloud/mist but then sun was shining and it promised to be a beautiful day.
We had breakfast (cereals with yogi milk, jamon, queso, white & black bread, cakes, juice) and headed into town. At Yacutinga Charlie had given us the name of a friend of his in Bariloche who ran fishing trips. We thought we’d give it a go and went off in search of Baruzzi Deportes. After walking past the shop a few times we finally spied it and went in to book our trip. Thursday 9.00, me, Stef & Andres (Charlie’s friend) for a day’s trout fishing on the Limay river!
We found tourist info and The Andes Walking Club and got some maps for walks in the local area. We want to do at least one good walk while we’re here.
Bariloche town has a very German/Austrian feel. It’s busy with lots of cars (but not that many people) and is definitely a centre for outdoor sports. Virtually every other shop sells outdoor wear, camping gear, fishing gear, bicycle stuff. The only other competitors are pharmacy/perfumery shops, it feels like there’s one on every block.
We want to be able to get the most out of the camera (timed photos, long exposure, piccies of both of us) and decided to get a tripod. Also much needed lens cleaning kit and more films! We also sneaked a photo of Stef and the St. Bernhards from the main square while the official photographers were away.
Exhausted from all this shopping we went for a lite bite lunch. This end up being a pretty big meal at a typically Bavarian restaurant. Stef had smoked port and sauerkraut, and I had lomito completo (steak sandwich with lettuce, toms & chips). I get the distinct feeling I’m going to have chronic veggie withdrawal symptoms here. Lettuce and tomato seems to be as far as it goes!
In the afternoon we headed for the Cascada de los Alerces. This followed the unpaved road that goes past the Hotel Mascardi. Even though we only went about 30km it took the best part of an hour to get there. It was very bumpy and at some points quite narrow with a sheer drop down to the lake. After five minutes I had to tell Stef he was fine, to stop sitting in the middle of the car.
The views down to the lake are stunning. For miles all you can see is the blue of the lake framed by green mountains. On the way we passed a beach on the lake shore. The temptation was too much and within minutes Stef was up to his knees in very cold clear water. I couldn’t resist either but drew the line at my ankles.
At the end of the beach was an education/school camp site. It’s such a fantastic setting for something like this, and you can picture kids going wild in this beautiful setting.
We finally made it to the falls which, although minute compared to Iguazu, had their own magic. The water was crystal clear over the rocks and crashed into a white and pale blue maelstrom. It’s amazing how powerful the fall is and that any plants can cling for life on the rocks around it.
We headed back to the hotel for more cervezas in the garden. For a day that had started so overcast and cloudy and cold (5°C) it had been beautifully warm and sunny (26°C, temperature’s a courtesy of the car’s thermometer).
The air here is so clean and fresh it makes you feel healthy just breathing. Every now and again you get a waft of pine. Stef’s just seen more hawks in the garden and is off in search of a photo. His bald patch is growing and growing and growing!
We’ve just survived dinner. We opted for the menu of the day again. The cream of pumpkin soup was fantastic. The veal milanesa with papas noisette was two bits of bread-crumbed veal with chips. No veg, salad, garnish. It was pretty grim. I took the safe option for desert (fruit salad), Stef had the raspberry tart (ok except the jelly). Although we’d had a relaxed day, the quietness of the hotel (only us and the single old lady now) sent us both to sleep (combined with the Elton John tape) and we headed for bed.
- Category: Argentina (2001)
Early(ish) start, 7am, as we’re off on an excursion to Puerto Blest. We booked it yesterday but aren’t really sure what we’re getting. We know there’s a boat trip across lake Nahuel Huapi from the Llao Llao hotel to Puerto Blest. Any more than that is a bit hit and miss.
We made it to the tour company office on time and got onto the minibus that was picking people up around town. At the Llao Llao port we were able to use the green cards for the National Park that we’d bought yesterday.
A catamaran took us across to Puerto Blest, a cruise of approx. one hour. It was a fantastic way to see the lake and you really got a feel for its size. Our hour long trip took in less than 1/6th of the lake. Along the way we passed the island where Perito Moreno was buried (president of Argentina in the 1940’s ish) [?] Every now and again around the edge of the lake you can see houses in the distance. Some of these can only be accessible by boat or a very long and bumpy car ride.
On the way it becomes clear that we didn’t really know what our excursion involved! Some people were carrying on over the border to Chile but our destination was Puerto Blest. At the travel agency they implied that there were several good walks you could do independently. This was news to the people who actually ran the trip.
Faced with six hours somewhere where there was only one one-hour walk we paid more money to go across lago Frias. Puerto Blest is a dock and a café/restaurant, nothing else. The trip across lago Frias was thirty minutes each way. The lake is green not blue, the effect of being glacial water. We had some pretty spectacular views of Mount Tronador on the way. At the other end of the lake was the Chilean border. We waited for those coming from Chile to Argentina and had the return trip to Puerto Blest.
No-one on the trip really seemed to know what was happening. Bariloche is quite a tourist trap (Argentinean & foreign) but they’re only really geared up for people who speak good Spanish. This is the way it should be but a piece of paper in English explaining what’s what would have been really helpful.
At Puerto Blest it was time for lunch. On the other side of the lake was a climb up 700 steps to the Los Cantoros, a small lake with waterfalls on the way. The boat took people across the lake to the bottom of these steps. We had already headed off overland to do the one hour walk to the steps. This was beautiful taking us through bamboo lined avenues.
We joined the steps (we later counted at about 200) and climbed the remaining 500 to the top. We took it quite quickly compared to most and were soon pleasantly puffed. Stef had a craft (and not allowed) fag at the top and we headed back down.
Back at the lake shore we found we had at least an hours wait until the boat headed back. This turned out to be 1¾ hours! We headed for the soothing coolness of the water and eventually made our way back on to the boat to have our lunch that we’d bough earlier at Puerto Blest.
Had we realised how long we’d have to wait for the boat to leave, and that it called at Puerto Blest on the way back, we’d have walked back around the lake shore. As it was we sat and waited and waited and waited and waited.
When the boat finally set sail we sat at the very front with our feet dangling overboard.
Back in Bariloche we’d opted to stay in town for dinner, rather than risking another Mascardi special of the day. We had to head back to Baruzzi to pay for the fishing and on the way Stef bought his mate tea gear. At Baruzzi he then also bought a one litre flask. He also spied a torch (like the one his Dad had) and Baruzzi were in pocket again!
We took a detour to the lake to change out of shorts and boots into trousers and shoes and headed for dinner. We decided to go for the Swiss influence and had a meat fondue at La Alpina. We’d never had meat fondue together before and were amazed at how filling it was.
This was really our first night out in Argentina as all others had been a bit artificial. 1½ bottles of wine, 2 café chicos each later we finally headed back to the hotel getting in at 1am. We felt a bit guilty that someone had had to stay up to let us in, oh well!
- Category: Argentina (2001)
After our late night last night, we had a bit of a lie in and only left the hotel at 10am. At breakfast the old lady who’s also staying at the hotel came and had a chat with us. She’s Belgian, was born in China, her father was an engineer for an Anglo-Chinese company, and grew up in Argentina, lived in Austria for 23 years and is now back in Argentina. Her family had a house in Villa Mascardi and she now comes to the hotel on holiday at least once a year.
Our plan for today is to go for a walk starting at the Pampa Linda. This was a two hour drive from the hotel over dirt track roads that seem to be a feature of the Argentine countryside. Oh for the love of a 4x4. Our plan was to walk up to the Meitling Refugio which shows as a five hour walk on our map. Talking to the ranger we changed our plan (the walk is five hours each way) and headed instead along the path to the glacier Castaño Overo.
The first part of the walk took us to the Golden Gate Bridge, a small metal bridge spanning the river. Bits along the way were flooded and Stef showed excellent mountain goat tendencies and navigated us safely (and dryly) across. We felt sure here that we could cope with the five hour walk as we had done the first 3km in 45mins rather than the hour expected.
But we were in for a shock. Our poor reading of the map had led us to believe we’d be walking along the valley floor but very soon the path began to climb, and climb, and climb. Fortunately the path took a direct line up the hill and every time it crossed the “road” I could take much needed rests to catch my breath. We were walking through jungle quite similar to Yacutinga except that it was dry, warm and sunny, not humid. There were some pretty hairy bits along the way. At one point we had to cross a five metre drop with only partial tree trunks to walk along and bamboo to hold onto for balance. Not easy when you’re still getting used to your walking boots! There were also a couple of trunks across the path to climb over. One was so big I had to lie on it and slide off the other side – Stef has the picture.
After 2½ hours we reached the crossing for the Meitling Refugio or the glacier. By this time I was knackered and the prospect of more climbing didn’t appeal (we’d climbed up 600 or 800 metres). The path to the glacier was easier going and within the expected 30 minutes we’d reached the end of the forest.
The scenery changed to rocky scrub covered in heather. Stef pushed on (much to my dismay) to find a good point to view the glacier and have lunch. The view was stunning. Sheer cliff face topped with ice with streams of melting glacier running down. The ice was so pure it looked blue in parts. It was also incredible how much colder it was, up here especially as our rocky point became shaded rather than sunny.
We had our lunch, jamon y queso sandwiches and mate, and started the walk back down. As soon as we were back in the jungle we heard a big rumble and realised a part of the glacier had crumbled away. We missed it by about ten minutes.
The walk back was much easier and we made it back to the car by 6pm as planned. We both felt very self-righteous that we’d been walking for the best part of five hours. Whilst we felt good we were also knackered and really fancied an early night. But the quality of food at the hotel led us back into Bariloche and we went back to the same place and had cheese fondue.
Back at the hotel we were in bed by about 11.30. Looking forward to our next adventure: pesca a la trucha.
- Category: Argentina (2001)
Neither of us thought we’d end up fishing but when Charlie at Yacutinga gave us the name of a friend of his, Andres Makek, a fishing guide in Bariloche, we thought we’d give it a go. We had no ideas about what to expect were pleased it was just the two of us and Andres.
The fishing was along the Limay river, a popular place for fishing, rafting and canoeing. The first hurdle of the day was to get into the gear. Waterproof waders and boots that do nothing to hide the lumps and bumps of your figure. We started about 15 metres from the river bank with lessons on how to cast. We then separated to try and catch some fish. Stef caught one quite quickly. After about 30 minutes we got back into the raft and headed on downstream.
All day we spent casting from the raft or from the middle of the river. The strength of the current was amazing and it was stony and slippery underfoot. Fortunately neither of us fell.
Drifting down the river was really peaceful. You could just let the world go by and enjoy the scenery. It was hours before we saw anyone else. In one place we stopped the fish were biting well and I pulled in a fair-sized fish. This confirmed my belief that it’s quite a cruel sport. The hooks used are incredibly sharp and the more a fish fights you, the deeper the hook goes. Andres said part of the fun of trout fishing is that they fight!
When you have hooked a fish you gradually reel it in but when it starts to fight you slacken off the line. After a while the trout stops fighting and you can reel in the catch. This shocks the fish so much that you have to hold it in the water before you let it go, otherwise it will turn belly up and drown. Once the fish starts wriggling again it’s ok to let it go. The biggest fish I caught (big enough for dinner) fought so much Andres needed pliers to get the hook out.
At 2pm Andres left us fishing and went to set up lunch. This came complete with tables, chairs and vino and it was wonderful to eat al fresco along the side of the river. In the shade and sheltered from the wind, we realised that we’d both got badly burnt. E45 by the spoonful has been used since.
One of the major challenges of the day for me was the need to relieve my bladder. For men it’s easy but peeing in the clundy for girlies is different. It’s even worse when you’ve got to cater for full-length rubber waders over your trousers.
The afternoon saw more fishing and a change of scenery. We passed through a mini gorge and a hollowed out round known locally as the amphitheatre. After a while you get to know to cast in deep or fast running water. You also instinctively know that your fly is no longer acting naturally and it’s time to recast. By 6pm I was ready to call it a day. I was tired – you use a different set of muscles – and the quiet relaxing day on the river after yesterday’s walk had turned out to be more strenuous than planned. My face and arms were also on fire even though I had covered up with my coat. But our pick up wasn’t due till 7.30 so we had to carry on.
At the end of the day Stef had caught four trout and I’d snagged eight! I also got the biggest! We headed back into Bariloche to the Baruzzi shop where we planned our adventure for tomorrow – paragliding. By this time I was so tired I felt sick. I was burning, had a headache, was thirsty and generally felt knackered.
We went for dinner at a place Andres had said was a typical bar/eatery. It was called the Celtic and had Guinness, Kilkenny, Belgian beers and we ate German smoked pork chops with sauerkraut. It may have been traditional but of what I don’t know. We headed back to the hotel to settle our bill, pack and book our wake up call, 6am, the earliest start yet and we’re meant to be on holiday!
- Category: Argentina (2001)
Today was our last day in Bariloche. We have both really enjoyed our stay here and would happily come back again, rent a villa, do the two day trip to Chile, more walks, fishing, etc.
Being the last day, well morning really, we were keen to make the most of it. We were up very early, 6am, both feeling knackered from the fishing and walking. I feel pretty rough. Holiday “Delhi belly” has set in and I’m suffering with really painful stomach cramps. Stef as usual is fine and went for breakfast while I finished the packing.
This morning I’m amazed at what we’re doing. For a long while I’ve wanted to do a parachute jump but Stef was so anti it I didn’t want it enough to fight my corner. But today we went paragliding.
There were meant to be four other people as well but they backed out. We met up with our paragliding team (Martín, Maximo, Pablo, etc.) at 8am in central Bariloche. They were a bit mad and you could sense that they lived by the thrill of extreme sports.
We drove out of town to where we would land and transferred into a 4x4. I felt so bad by this stage that I nearly backed out but it’s something I wanted to do so I kept on. The 4x4 took us up the mountain along a dirt track barely wide enough for the car. The views were stunning. You could look across all of Bariloche, Lago Gutierrez and see Cerro Catedral and Tronador.
When we got near to the top we had a short ten minute walk to the jump zone. The guys we were with were carrying twenty kilograms of equipment each and set off almost at a run. It was high altitude and for me the walk was a killer (combination of altitude, lack of fitness and severe cramps). By the time I got to the jump site I was wheezing and coughing and generally feeling rough.
It was very windy and we had to walk down the hillside a bit for our jump zone. Then out came the kit. You effectively sit in a type of harness that is attached to a qualified pilot who has a parachute backup. For take-off you have to run until the canopy fills and takes off. In walking boots and on rocky ground this is almost impossible. Stef got off ok but I fell – not due to me this time, the canopy didn’t open fully.
Once up the sensation was fantastic. You’re flying through the air with only a sheet of material preventing you from plummeting. The sensation is incredible and you feel the thermal currents lifting you and steering you around. The flight itself was short and probably lasted about ten minutes. They were the most incredible and, in some ways, scary, minutes of the holiday so far. I continually felt as if I was going to fall.
Before we landed Maximo hit a thermal and span us round 360°, fantastic feeling of no control and loving every second. The views on the way were stunning and I wanted to keep going but our landing site was fast approaching. I could see the cars and the paraglider Stef and Martín had flown in. Then it dawned on me that to land I was going to have to hit the ground running. Running from a standing start was bad enough and I guessed that it would be pretty tricky to hit the ground at a run. Two steps and I was sliding along the floor on my front coming ever closer to a clump of plants – we stopped just in time.
Stef landed in similar spectacular style although he went backwards, not forwards. He also hit the ground at 40km/h and is now nursing a slightly twisted left ankle and a very badly bruised right big toe. Just like Dad with Mum, when I’m feeling yuk Stef does something to ensure he gets the sympathy (by the way my bad gut is just psychological!)
We were met at the landing site by a very friendly dog that was like a tame Rottweiler. He kept playing, jumping up and rolling over, and generally enjoyed the fuss and attention.
We’ve exchanged addresses etc. with the jump team and offers to get in touch if we’re ever visiting respective areas again. Then headed off to Cerro Catedral, Argentina’s largest ski resort. This was fairly small by European standards and it was odd to see a ski resort off season and with no snow. We took the cable car almost all the way up the mountain and the ski lift for the last bit. We had our photo taken by the official photographer who has promised to send it on to Buenos Aires – we’ll see if it ever actually arrives. [It never did] More incredible views from the top, time for a quick coffee and then we had to head off to the airport for our flight to BA.
We’re both absolutely exhausted. I feel physically sick I’m so tired and we’re getting snappy with each other. The car rental has charged us $90 for scratches to the paintwork. Fair we suppose but they’ve been so offhand it makes you want to argue the toss. Neither of us were very comfy on the flight. My seat was slightly on the small side with permanently fixed arm rests. A couple of extra inches would have been good but I managed to get some sleep and felt a bit better by the time we got to BA.
A very friendly lady at tourist info gave us maps and guides to BA and Argentina pin badges. She told Stef he had to give his to his fiancée when he married. When I joined him I got one too and it was only later that we understood what she was saying: an Argentinian is marrying the crown prince of Holland and will become the next queen of the Netherlands.
Our hotel is living luxury. The reception is very ornate with lots of marble, mirrors and statuesque reliefs. Our room is spacious with a chaise longue and we gratefully crashed for a while. A knock on the door yielded complimentary champagne and canapés and we toasted Michael and Sarah who got married today in Sri Lanka.
Showered and changed we hobbled round the corner to a café for a few drinks and a meal. Stef is in quite a lot of pain. We’re both bruised and aching from the paragliding. We had planned to have an early night but our food took one hour to arrive and it was 12.30 before we made it to bed. This was after entertaining the night reception staff by pushing and pulling the door to try and get it open only to find it was locked. We could hear them creased up in fits of laughter inside.
Bed, bliss, goodnight.
- Category: Argentina (2001)
Luxury, we got up at 10am, our latest start for the whole holiday. Although we’ve had a long and sound sleep we both still feel weary. The excesses of the last few days have taken their toll and we have agreed to have a lazy day.
After breakfast we ambled down to Recoleta. It’s one of the main areas in BA and has a grassy square lined by bars and restaurants. You could be in Paris or any major continental European city. It’s hot, sunny and we have sought shelter in a café.
I think we will enjoy BA when we come back at the end of our holiday. It has the feel of somewhere I would like to live and that’s based on the small area we have seen so far. Our hotel seems to be in a Kensington/Chelsea/Knightsbridge type of area. Exclusive boutiquey shops with fantastic clothes. This is a city that dresses up during the day and “goes to town” in the evenings based on some of the gowns on display.
We only had a short time to explore and headed back to the hotel and airport for our flight to Ushuaia, the most southerly populated place on earth. On the plane we both crashed out and slept most of the way. Avis were on form. Their office was closed and when they did open they tried to give us a car with a very badly cracked windscreen. Another addition to the complaints log.
We have hired a card from Localiza and headed into town to tourist info for maps and info on what’s on in Ushuaia. Then off to our hotel about 2km outside of town. As we drove up my heart sank and I feared a repeat of Mascardi. There was one car in the car park and the place looked deserted. It is quiet but there are other people here so there is a buzz of humanity. Our room is fine and in the daylight we should have a view across the Beagle Channel [directly across the road]. We ran the risk of eating in the hotel and were pleasantly surprised. From a wide menu we both chose salmon and probably got 8oz. each. Accompanied by a bottle of wine we’re making our plans for what we’ll do in Ushuaia, catching up with this diary and looking forward to another good night’s sleep.
- Category: Argentina (2001)
|Even the mountains seem to bow to the Fuegian wind!|
No wake up calls or early start, we both still needed our sleep. Woke up to a sunny Fuegian morning, only some of the mountain summits are hidden in cloud. Ness didn’t sleep well, and woke up 3-4 times during the night, including once courtesy of guests stumbling and talking in the corridor at 4.30am, loudly of course, and is still feeling unwell. My toe and ankle are feeling better. Toe nice deep shade of turquoise and green now. Ness slept in for a bit longer while I went in search of eggs and bacon. No such luck. Jamon y queso, as usual. View from the breakfast room is directly over the Beagle Channel. Small flocks of birds flying low over the water. The birds look like small fat geese, or big fat ducks. Some completely white, the others black/brown/grey. Across the channel you can see the Isla Navarino, the only permanently inhabited piece of land south of us (Puerto Williams, Chile) [Note: in diary I put “and Pitcairn Island”, which is actually only at 25°S]
Plan is to head into town and find out about the boat trip along the Beagle Channel. When we found the agency, All Patagonia on J.Fadul, it was shut. A few piccies and a pit stop for Ness and we decided to head towards Estancia Harberton. This was the first farm/settlement built by white man in Tierra del Fuego, by a missionary couple, the Bridges.
The road out of Ushuaia was blocked. A female police officer told us to take another route, which brought us back to the main road (Ruta Na. 3), then we saw why: part of the road and a traffic roundabout had been turned into a karting circuit. We drove on along a well-paved road, further inland, between spectacular mountains, their summits partially covered in snow. 40km later we split off to the right, unpaved but easy to drive, onto the first part of ruta J. The road took us through woods along a valley. Ness was still not feeling well and had a bit of sleep in the car while I drove on. Along the way we passed a few small farms, none looking well to do, and inevitably guarded by a few dogs. Fuegian dogs behave completely differently from the Patagonian ones: in Bariloche they were simply sauntering along the road but here they chase you (or think they can stop a car by standing in front of it.)
We spotted a very big bird sat among the trees. Pictures will hopefully show. Eventually we came out of the woods and the last section to Estancia Harberton was a bit more rugged. We only stopped for a water and coffee at the local confiteria. The farm is still run and owned by descendants of the original founders. The two girls in the confiteria looked normal but an older guy looked like a real hillbilly. Checked shirt and blue grubby overall, unkempt, thick specs, either inbred or an idiot, or both.
Ness was not beginning to feel any better so we thought about heading back to town/hotel but decided instead to drive on to Estancia Moat. They (the girls in Harberton) told us it was a winding road with great views, guide book said the same (winding = "hair-raising turns", great = "stunning"). The road was gravel and bumpy but nowhere near as bad as in Bariloche (to Tronador) and we made good progress. Still the drive seemed to last forever. It took us completely out of the woods, directly along the Beagle Channel, from where we got direct views towards the open ocean. Tierra del Fuego stretched further along on the left, on the right the final small islands on the Chilean side. On the way there were some cows, lots of cormorants and not much else.
|View at the end of the road. Cape Horn is just out of view, over the horizon on the right.|
Eventually we reached the end of the road, literally. The estancia was on the other side of a small river but the bridge across it had collapsed. This was as far as roads can take you, anywhere! We parked by the shingle beach and sat there for a little while. Ness stayed in the car while I had a smoke and a mate outside. I thought about having a pee in the channel but after a few minutes my hands and face were frozen so quickly decided against exposing any other more sensitive parts of my body!
By this time it was about 4.30pm, time to head back if we wanted to make it in daylight. The drive back seemed to last forever and the lumps and bumps in the road had given us both neck aches by now. As we were on the last part of ruta J the weather closed in and it started to rain/sleet/wet snow. The road was still gravel, unpaved, and I was wary of it turning to slush but it wasn’t too bad. We made it back to the hotel by 7.30pm.
We both crashed for a couple of hours and came “down” (hotel is bungalow style) for dinner at about 10pm. Pollo with peach and pineapple, and “papas william” for Ness, and lamb stuffed with mushrooms and onion and fried potato, onion and peas for me. One café chico and we headed for bed, again! Ness nodded off quickly but I read my book for a while. Then a strange noise started. I thought it was odd that someone would be using a pneumatic drill at this hour but it was the guy in the room next to us, snoring! Thought about bashing on the wall but then I’d wake Ness up so tried to ignore the drill and succeeded…
- Category: Argentina (2001)
I’m feeling better today, still not 100% but getting there. Stef disappeared for breakfast and I started reading my book waiting for him to come back. Suddenly it was 11.30 and I went and found him sipping coffee in the hotel restaurant.
We headed off out to the Tierra del Fuego National Park. It’s only about 9km away from the hotel and is much smaller than Nahuel Huapi. On the way we passed Ushuaia’s golf course. It’s amazing that in the middle of all these mountains they can find suitable space for golf but they have. We also passed Ushuaia’s rugby club but unusually for Argentina there’s no football pitch (usually squashed into any available spare space).
In the national park we first drove down to Lapataia Bay. This was the end of the ruta 3 that runs all the way to Buenos Aires 3000km away. There was a very short walk along the side of the peat bogs to the bay. Again it was really peaceful and quiet. I put my fingers in the water and didn’t think it was too cold until about ten seconds later. It was freezing. It is generally so much colder here the water seemed ok.
We then drove on to Lago Roca which spans the border with Chile. There was a 7km round trip walk to the border and we decided to do it. I didn’t really feel up to it but being that close to the border it had to be done. The walk took us through the woods along the lake shore. It was beautiful. The air was clear and fresh and cool and we both felt good. After a while we met a man with a moustache about 1½ inches long. He started talking about birds in Spanish and I thought “ey-up, he’s Dutch”. Can you believe it, at the end of the world near the Chilean border, and we run into a Dutchman! We were a bit disappointed with the border. Stupidly I think we had both expected a border post. It turned out to be a metal orange (can we ever get away from the Dutch connection?!) pyramid covered in graffiti. A bit of a let down but we had now been to Chile too. Along the way Stef upheld another Dutch tradition and dutifully peed into the lake. He said himself he was like a dog having to mark his territory. What with his mate tea fascination too I’m not sure what to do with him.
Rather than eating at the hotel again we headed into Ushuaia to have a meal out. We looked for postcards first but none met with Stef’s approval. Today is a public holiday so most of the shops were shut. The holiday was to commemorate the Falklands War. There are veterans in town who still feel strongly about the war and we were warned to be conscious of this by a fellow Englishman, a lawyer railway buff who is here organising a train spotters conference in October!
Ushuaia has a population of around 40,000 and is a fairly small town. It’s on a grid system and San Martin is the main street in town. We had a walk up and down and you can tell that it is definitely a poor relation to the other parts of Argentina we have seen. The government has created special tax advantages on imported goods to try and boost the area but I’m not sure anyone will really want to move here. That said, on the way to our hotel there are some large beautiful houses and the whole place has the air of a town that’s just starting to grow up.
Our reccie of San Martin led us to the conclusion that most tourists eat in their hotels and we headed back to base. The fresh air, and perhaps the cold, is knocking us out and by 10.30 we were back in our room and in bed.
- Category: Argentina (2001)
I made it to breakfast today and have no headache, perhaps I’m better at last! We were out and about by 10.30 and decided to check exactly what our Beagle Channel cruise was that we had booked from the UK. It turned out that someone from the tourist agency should have met us at the airport or our hotel to give us all the blurb. No harm done and we booked for this afternoon.
We wanted to see if we could change our flights to El Calafate. We were having to fly to Rio Gallegos and then drive 200 miles on unpaved road, in the dark, to El Calafate. If possible we wanted to fly from Ushuaia to El Calafate and then from El Calafate to BA. It’s just as well we asked as the Rio Gallegos flight for tomorrow has been cancelled! This works out better for us but means we now only one day and a morning to explore BA.
We found the post office to buy stamps, ones with pretty pictures rather than normal ones, and then headed to the maritime museum. This is based in Ushuaia’s prison. The prison was set up as a penal colony designed as a way to populate Ushuaia. In some ways it was very similar to Alcatraz but it had a very different feel. Each cell was enclosed and the prison itself had five wings spanning out like octopus tentacles. The maritime museum had lots of stories about the boats used to found and populate this area as well as stories of wrecks and boats trapped in the ice of Antarctica.
With one hour to go before our cruise we set off in search of lunch and went to Tia Elvira, a fish restaurant on the sea front with a huge king crab sign over the door. It was quite a small place and was full, mainly a big group of French people. By the time our food arrived we had to gulp it down and run which was a shame as it would have been good to linger.
Our boat for the afternoon was the Barracuda, the first tourist boat in Ushuaia (1970’s). It had been built in the 1950’s and had real character about it. Hopefully this will shine through in the pictures. Our cruise lasted three hours and took us out of Ushuaia Bay into the Beagle Channel. Along the way it stopped at a white island, its colour due to the colony of king cormorants that populate it. Next stop was the sea lions, very calm and very very quiet compared to their San Franciscan cousins. We rounded the Les Eclaireurs lighthouse area of the wreck of the … All passengers and crew survived except the captain who stayed on board until it sank and went down with his ship. On board we ran into a couple of Belgian lads who are in Argentina on their stagiaire. Stef also had a go at steering the ship on its way back into port.
Back on dry land we went to the museo del fin del mundo, a small museum with artefacts from the local Indian tribes, a replica early general store and bank and lots of stuffed birds!
From the museum we headed back to the hotel, packed and started a mammoth post card writing session. Tomorrow is our last day in Ushuaia and we’re aiming to do the tren del fin del mundo. This is dependent on us being up and out by 9am. After so many early starts everywhere else we’ve relaxed and enjoyed lie-ins here so being out by 9 could be a bit of a challenge!
Just remembered, the scenery here is very similar to Scotland, lots of moss and heather colours and rugged sky lines.
- Category: Argentina (2001)
Slight change of plans. We overslept and missed the 9.30 train! We can’t remember how we idled the morning away but we caught the train at 12. It’s a small narrow gauge railway originally built by the prison colony to take prisoners to work in the forest. Now it’s just a tourist attraction running two hour round trips through the national park.
We had had a sneak preview of the train and decided to travel in luxury, first class! The second class carriages were designed to seat three across but it would be a very tight squeeze. In first class we had a little table and a sandwich, some biscuits and a coffee. The carriages were so small neither of us could stand up straight or get our knees under the table.
The train set off up to a small waterfall and some model Yamana’s huts. We soon realised our travelling companions had come from the cruise liner that docked in harbour today. They’re sailing for two months in total and get one day in port at about ten stop offs on the way. Cruising like this does not appeal!
After our stop the train carried on through the national park, past some beaver dams and through an area of stunted trunks. These were all the trees cut down by the prisoners while they were establishing the infrastructure of Ushuaia. Stef had his mate with him and this brought cheers of applause from the railway staff and the Argentinean couple in our carriage.
The train is something of a specialty for train buffs. Unfortunately we didn’t have the steam locomotive. I think ours was diesel. It had been built in South Africa in 1999. A commemorative fridge magnet later we left the train behind.
With some time on our hands we went to see the “cascadas” in the national park. Having seen the cataracas Macarena from the train (in joke for Stef’s team in Hannover, one of their nick names is Macarena), we knew it would be small scale. But this surprised us at how small, it turned out to be a mini rapids about 20m long.
Time running out we headed back to the hotel to get our cases. Then on to the airport for our flight to El Calafate. The car hire company finally turned up at 4.20 for us to return our car (boarding started at 4.25). We also went to the Hertz office, not open the day before, to confirm that our car rental from Rio Gallegos now needed to be from El Calafate and that we would be arriving there in two hours. The Hertz guy spoke little English but by 4.35 he said no problem and we were off.
Aerolineas excelled themselves in culinary terms on this flight, no jamon y queso sandwich, no croissant and biscuit, in fact nothing at all. In some ways it was quite a relief.
We thought that Bariloche and Ushuaia airports were small but El Calafate is truly a modern Biggin Hill. The plane arrived and there was a flurry of activity of people being met by tour companies and then an odd calm descended. There were about ten people left including us. The car hire office at the airport was closed and they were sending someone from town to pick us up. A Swiss chap we’d bumped into on the Beagle Channel cruise was stranded (his transfer bus went without him) and we have him a lift into town.
It turned out that all Hertz’s El Calafate cars were rented out and they were having to drive our car up from Rio Gallegos. They dropped us off at our hotel and promised the car would be delivered later. (It later turned out that our car had a puncture on the way to El Calafate. We had already arranged our trip for tomorrow and needed a car so at 11.30 Hertz dropped off a car we could use for the day until ours arrived.)
We had a run down of the available tours and mapped out our stay in El Calafate – mini-trekking on the Perito Moreno glacier, Upsala glacier and Estancia Cristina, 4x4 experience, hot air balloon and archaeological caves! This area is not known for walking and any trails that do exist will be on individual ranches.
Dinner in the hotel – massive steaks – and packed lunches booked, and off to bed ready for our 6.30 wake-up call, back to early starts!
- Category: Argentina (2001)
A relatively early start for our first day here. 8am and we’re on the road to the Perito Moreno glacier. This isn’t the largest in Argentina but is the only glacier that is stable and all the others are gradually reducing in size. The road is up to par, nicely lumpy and bumpy, not as bad as Bariloche but the car we have isn’t designed for these roads and is jumping about all over the place. We’re finally driving along one of the long straight roads we’ve seen from the plane and there are no other cars in sight. All around us to our right is the floodplain for Lago Argentina. This lake is massive, about 25km wide and 100km long. It stretches as far as you can see and is a stunning aquamarine milky green colour.
On the way we passed Estancia Anita. In the late 1920’s the workers on the estancia revolted at the conditions they were forced to work under. The British army were called in to quell the revolt and for some reason killed off all the sheep too. We can’t really find out what happened but there’s a story here somewhere.
Ironically we’re taking a detour. The main road to the glacier is closed as they’re laying tarmac! Turning off on our detour we passed a confiteria sat in the middle of the plain totally isolated and made a mental note to stop on our way back.
The last 40km to the glacier started to wind up through the mountainside. It still makes us laugh to see so many warning signs for corners that aren’t tight and hills that aren’t steep inclines. Whilst nothing unusual in the UK, I suppose if you’re used to long straight roads on flat surfaces, turning a corning whilst going uphill is pretty tricky!
We arrived at the “port” to get our boat to the glacier for our mini-trekking trip. I’ve never seen a glacier before and its amazing to see this massive wall of ice with brilliant white mixed with varying shades of blue from pale cornflower to brilliant dark hues. At the glacier side we were met by National Park guides who would accompany us. A short walk took us to the lake shore where they explained how glaciers are formed – successive layers of snow knit together to form ice, compressing and gradually sliding downhill – and more about the guidelines for our trek on the glacier. Having finally got used to the walking boots we had a new experience, crampons. With these on you can almost walk vertically up and down the ice. While essential for the walk they seemed to weigh a ton to me and each uphill step became progressively harder. Considering we were walking on ice it was surprisingly warm. This had struck us on the boat too as every now and again there was a really cool icy breeze followed by warm sunshine. The views of the glacier were spectacular. You really got a feeling of isolation (apart from the rest of the tour group) and only being able to see ice we could have been on Antarctica. Still feeling a little shaky from my bug I took refuge back on non-crampon territory. Stef carried on for a further walk and was rewarded with a tot of scotch served with glacial ice.
Back at the refugio there was time for lunch and then the boat back across the lake to the car. The boat sailed across the eastern front of the glacier and everyone was hoping chunks would fall off so that suitably stunning pictures could be taken. Whilst some did, by the time your camera was ready it was too late.
The glacier stands 40m above the lake and stretches the full 120m depth below water. Every three to four years the glacier extends fully across the lake and cuts of the Brazo Rico. The water level on the Rico side gradually rises, up to 20m above normal, and the pressure of this finally erodes the ice bar, breaks the glacier and allows the water to flow back into the main Lago Argentina.
We carried on along the road to the pasarellas, a series of wooden walkways with vantage points to view the glacier. From here we could also see the western side of the glacier. When chunks of ice slide it creates a series of shockwaves on the otherwise calm lake that hit shore after about five minutes. All around there are free floating chunks of ice slowly melting away.
On the way back we stopped at the confiteria on the floodplain. It was a single room with basic chairs and tables and it could have been anywhere in Spain or Italy. We were met by a toothy Argentinean who must have been eighty and looked like he’d not had a bath or changed his clothes in weeks. We decided he was Opa and had been left to run the confiteria while the rest of the family got on with life. We doubt he gets many visitors. He was soon plying us with tasters of maté liqueur, which tasted of apples, and calafate jam. There were two types, one made from the pulp of the fruit and one from the juice. They tasted very different but both had strong tinges of Ribena.
Local legend says that if you eat the fruit of the calafate bush you will return to Patagonia. Looks like we’re coming back!
Heading back we had our first view of Calafate at night and realised how small a town of four thousand people is. Back at the hotel we had a call to change the car and headed into town to switch over. Back to a VW Gol [yes, G-o-l, that’s what they’re called in South America] like we had in Ushuaia.
We had a quick look at the shops, small, expensive, but with some nice things, and headed back to the hotel for food and bed.