A Travellerspoint blog

Puerto Natales: One step closer to the end of the world

semi-overcast 10 °C
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We were happy to leave El Calafate behind, it's not the kind of town you want to spend too much time in. The next stop was Puerto Natales, the entry point to Torres del Paine National Park and one step closer to the end of the world.

I was still hobbling, especially on steps so we were 90% sure that the famous W trek was out but we hadn't fully accepted that fact yet. We decided to wait until we got there to make the decision.

The bus left El Calafate at 8.30am and timings were vague. It depended on the border crossing but worse case scenario we were told it would take 6 hours. It did. The bus had engine problems and getting stamped out of Argentina and then 15 minutes later stamped into Chile took quite some time. All the bags had to come off the bus to be x-rayed etc. Oh and Zarius of course got grief with his passport! What's new?!

Puerto Natales is not what we expected. For some reason we didn't have high hopes but we were pleasantly surprised. We were expecting another touristy place like El Calafate, but like El Chalten, it attracts a different type of tourist and it has a really nice vibe to it.

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The plan was to stay two nights before going into the park but on the walk from the bus station to our hostel that changed. We passed a hostel called Erratic Rock where every day at 3pm they give a free information talk on the trek and fortunately it was just gone 3 so in we went, weighed down with backpacks. It was full, bursting at the seams. A Dutch girl with dreadlocks gave the talk which lasted 1.5 hours and went into great detail about what to expect. She talked about it being a given that you will hike for 5 days with wet feet and how it's completely pointless putting on your rain gear, the weather is so changeable that you'll roast so just walk in the rain instead and be wet all over. She gave tips on wrapping everything in your backpack in black bags to keep things dry and not to bother with a rain cover on the bag because the wind is so strong it will either blow away or turn into a parachute. The moment of realisation for me though was when she asked people to put up their hands for how many nights of multi-day trekking/camping they had done. She started at 15 nights plus. A lot of hands went up. When she got down to 3/4 one or two hands went up and then she said, anyone who has only done 1 or hahahaha none?! And everyone laughed. I kept my hand down. There was no way I would manage this trek with a dodgy knee. I don't know if I would manage the trek with two fully functioning knees.

BUT we could still go into the park to explore and we have since decided that we will come back, as a group (who's in?) and not do the W trek which is 5 days / 4 nights but the full circuit. 9 days 8 nights. We'll give ourselves a few years, organise it properly, get a gang of us together and do it as a group adventure :-)

The hostel where we stayed, Nikos II Adventure, is in a great location in the centre of town. It's a proper hostel though. The walls are paper thin. They seem to be made of the same material that you often find at the back of IKEA drawers. A flexible piece of board that is a few mm thick. The result being that we share our room with whoever is next door. For the first couple of days that was Pattie and Maryanne. Two Americans who we never actually met but felt like we knew intimately by the time they checked out. They talked non stop. I went to bed one night and put my earplugs in to drown them out and when I woke the next morning and took them out, they were still talking! They were quite entertaining actually and we had to stifle our laughter on more than once occasion.

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We decided to have a mix of chill days and active days and ended up staying for 5 nights. We were again blessed with great weather, blue skies and sunshine mostly but still very cold. I must admit I quickly got sick of my one warm outfit. In theory I had multiple warm outfits but I was so cold I had to wear everything at once so it turned into one outfit. I won't miss the cold when we get to the Lake District!

The town is really cool. People are very friendly and and there's some great places to eat and hang out. We met people from different parts of the world who had visited Puerto Natales, fallen in love with it and never left. They have set up restaurants, bars, tour companies, laundrettes...you name it, they're doing it. And we could understand why. It's a beautiful part of the world and a great little town.

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First day. These toes did not come out again. Rookie error.
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Patagonia is famous for its wind. And with extreme wind comes extreme landscape, rugged and wild. And the clouds are incredible, the wind shaping them like nothing we have seen before, the same with the trees. Completely windswept.

My favourite photo to-date taken by Z. I'm cheating, this is Torres del Paine, but it deserves two posts!
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What an amazing tree! Completely windswept!
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After a day of exploring we made a plan. We needed to explore Torres del Paine. A water adventure was on the cards...

Posted by DeeandZarius 22:08 Archived in Chile Tagged patagonia torres_del_paine puerto_natales Comments (1)

El Calafate: The Big Ice, Perito Moreno Glacier

overcast 12 °C
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We woke up the next day and I was kaput. Completely broken and not in good enough working order for even a short hike so we took the day off. Explored the town, found a lovely restaurant/brewery that had a beautiful garden with deck chairs and we hung out there for a good few hours.

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The next day it was back to El Calafate to get ready for 'The Big Ice' a full day tour to explore the Perito Moreno Glacier. We got the bus back and checked into a different hostel, Posada Patagonica Nakel Yen.

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It had a lovely backpacker vibe to it and was very chilled. They have a nice deck out front and we chilled in the sun and enjoyed a beer. We met a young Dutch guy who was nearing the end of his travels and he gave us some information and tips and then we got chatting to an American girl, Sarah, who lives in Panama and is on a 3 week holiday. We chatted away happily and eventually I asked her about her travels to date and unfortunately she hasn't had much luck. We sat open mouthed listening to her tales and by the time she was finished filling us in on futile 10 hour bus trips to trails that didn't exist, 15km hikes to campsites that had closed down and finally having her backpack with everything in it including passport, cash, kindle, phone etc stolen from the luggage hold on a coach in Torres del Paine, there was really very little to say and we all sloped off to bed. Zarius and I wide eyed and shell shocked!

The next morning we were picked up bright and early for our ice adventure! We were whisked off to the national park where we first had an hour on the viewing platforms to take some pics and appreciate the sheer scale of this piece of ice. We were lucky enough to experience the sound and sight of a huge chuck breaking off (calving to use the correct term) and crashing into the water in front of us. Incredible. The Glaciar is 60 metres high, 5km wide and 30km in length.

Our first glimpse of what was to come
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It's hugely impressive
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Calving in action
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It was then a short boat trip over to an island to start our hike. The views again were amazing and seeing other boats in front of it really but the size into perspective!

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Once on the other side it's an hour hike along the side of the Glacier up into the forest, where we got ready to start our adventure. Harnesses are put on and we're measured up for crampons.

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Then it's onto the ice. It's quite an unusual feeling having crampons on. They spend a few minutes telling you how to walk up ice and walk down ice. Up is the duck walk, feet pointing outward and up you go. Down is a straight line, like walking straight on down a wall, ensuring you don't lean forward and have gravity take hold, instead you need to bend the knees and lean back. What an unnerving experience the first time you do that!

Being on the ice is amazing. It's huge! And beautiful and otherworldly.

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One of our guides reminded me so much of Woody from Toy Story!
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He was impressive on the ice, charging off ahead to get a Birdseye view and lead the way
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Lunchtime!
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Fresh drinking water from the glacier
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Apparently some (mad) people come here and swim in these pools! And not with wetsuits or dry suits or anything like that. Mental.
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Our guides were wonderful. Funny guys who made us laugh and made the whole experience great fun. One would storm on ahead and the other hang back to lead us. It made me laugh because at one point I was second behind him and he sauntered along, whistling away, totally chilled, hopping from one hunk of ice to another, easily crossing crevices, he could almost have had his hands in his pockets! Not a bother on him and if only he could see what was happening behind him. All of us, scrambling along, arms flailing, slipping, sliding, using our hands, feet going into water and then back to him, not a care in the world! And when he stopped we all suddenly came to a halt with a jolt and by the time he'd look around we'd all be standing up straight as if we were all naturals!

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Face in the ice!
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One for you Helene!
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And then as we ended our day and made our way back to the forest along the flattest ice we had walked on all day, I fell. I turned to Z and told him my body was exhausted and then wham. Over I went. Straight down on my knees, but of course my feet are in crampons, so they're completely stuck, once down I kind of twisted and kept falling, hitting my shoulder and ending up flat on the ice. Nice. And of course being stuck means I can't get up unaided. How elegant. I can't describe the soreness of falling on a solid jagged ice mass. It's painful! It felt like nothing I have ever fallen on before. It's so rock solid and unbelievably hard! And anyone that knows me well will be amazed to hear...I didn't cry! I had way too big an audience for that. But it was all very embarrassing. My knee immediately swelled up and went purple and red and couldn't take the weight of my body. I had visions of being carried off but luckily with the help of hiking poles I managed to get down. But of course then we had the one hour hike back to the boat. It was a looooong walk. We set out before everyone else to get a head start and we did ok until 15 minutes from the end when they all caught up. I glanced behind me and there was a string of about 30 people all crawling along in single file, cursing me no doubt. But there was nothing I could do!

Once back at the hostel I iced my knee for the night and took it easy. But the realisation set in that the likelihood of us doing a 4 day hike in Torres del Paine was slim....

Posted by DeeandZarius 23:48 Archived in Argentina Tagged perito_moreno_glacier the_big_ice_perito_moreno_glaci el_calafate_patagonia Comments (9)

Hike number two in El Chalten, Argentina

Laguna de Los Tres - the biggest challenge yet

sunny 24 °C
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After the exhilaration of yesterday's hike we woke up early(ish) to tackle Laguna de Los Tres. A longer hike in terms of time but similar in terms of kilometres, a fact that I naively didn't give a lot of thought to until much later on. More specifically, until I was at the point that I could hear my heart pounding in my ears, my face was the reddest it's ever been and I was asking Zarius very seriously if he thought it was a possibility that I could have a heart attack. It was at that point, that the penny dropped and I understood why it took so much longer.

But I'm skipping ahead. It wasn't all like that. It started so well. The entrance to the trail was very close to our hostel. We followed a whole line of people heading in the same direction and worried slightly that we'd all be following each other in single file like some sort of school trip. But I needn't have worried, I soon realised that everyone has their own unique pace and it doesn't take long for the group to disperse.

Setting out on our trail - our next door neighbours
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The road ahead
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That 10.2km is one way I may add
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The start of the trail is steep. You're straight into it. Straight up. But after 15 minutes you reach the first viewing point and wow, it's beautiful. It's the first of many on this hike, which has turned out to be the highlight of our trip so far.

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It's the sheer scale of the openness. Incredible vistas stretching as far as the eye can see and the feeling of being completely absorbed in it. The stillness, silence and beauty is breathtaking. We were both in our element. The trail quickly evens out and it's pretty easy going from there on in, well until the last 1.5km. It takes you through forests, meadows, waterfalls, across rivers, all the time having this view of Fitz Roy as the backdrop. It's just amazing. At times it reminded me of a summers day in Dungarvan or Kerry, walking through the sand dunes and rushes to get to the beach. But mostly I felt like I was somewhere completely new, incomparable with anywhere else I have ever been and unlike anything I have ever experienced.

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When we arrived in El Chalten the park rangers had talked about the campsites and trails and how you needed to bring everything in with you because there are no facilities, except for some toilets. Interesting I thought. Portaloos on the trails, that's handy. And sure enough we passed a couple along the way. So during this hike, as we neared the final leg, I thought I should of the service. We reached a campsite and I went off in search of the loo. I spotted a pretty average looking, festival like toilet in the distance and I made my way towards it. The door was swinging open and as I neared, I realised it was empty. As in, no toilet. Hmmm I thought. This must be the mens toilet, there must be a urinal at the side (yes hiking folk that is actually what I thought) so I started looking around searching for another toilet. Then I spotted a little sticker beside the door with a picture of a man on it, which kind of confirmed my theory. But something was niggling. It just didn't feel right. I got closer and closer and then noticed a little lady sticker, just above the little man sticker, at about the same time that I noticed....the hole in the ground!!!!! Ohhhhhhhhhh. I seeeeeeee. It's not your average portaloo, it's not a nice modern toilet in the forest. I went running back to Z with my findings. When he had finished laughing he explained that this is called a drop toilet. Named so, because of the, well, drop. It's a big deep hole with 4 walls around it. I immediately thought of Slumdog Millionaire and the scene when the little boy jumps into such a pit and Zarius confirmed that yes, that may well be the case for what lay beneath the hole. It was a tough decision that I had to make, should I, shouldn't I, there were a lot of factors to take into consideration before I made my decison...to pee or not to pee. But let's move on. Enough toilet talk.

What I saw through the trees
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We had met a couple the day before when we did our first hike, an American couple who were a day ahead and had done the trails in reverse, this one first and Laguna Torre on their second day where we met them. They told us we were in for a treat and it was an amazing hike. The husband was raving about it and at one point referred to the last section of the trail as 'a bit tough'. He turned to his wife, as if they were discussing it for the first time and asked if she would agree, that it was 'a bit more challenging', to which she shrugged, as if to say, "yeah I guess so". It was such a throw away comment, I didn't think much of it.

And then we arrived at the last leg and we were faced with this sign.
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I thought, hmmm ok, well gosh, it's hardly going to be the whole distance and we set off. And then we saw this
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It immediately turned into steps. But those big, wide, long steps which are tough on the thighs. We carried on, up and up and then I looked up and it was so steep and there were tiny little specks of people so far ahead and so high up and the panic set in. Were they serious? Was this it? We were going to climb up the mountain? Using steps. Horrendous.

But quickly the steps stopped and it became scree and small boulders and you needed to take longer strides, bigger strides and it's tougher because of the loose ground.

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And then you have to use your hands to get a grip to carry on pulling yourself up. And so it goes on and on and on. Now bear in mind it's sweltering hot and there is no shade and it's bang in the middle of the time of day when they say not to go out. And not only are we outside, we've walked for 4 hours and now we're climbing in it. We passed people taking time outs sitting on the side. Older people. Younger people. Bigger people. Smaller people. And not one of them was giving up. That made it worse.

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Every muscle in my body was screaming. Zarius started talking about people dying of heart attacks, unknowingly planting the seed in my head that maybe I could die of a heart attack. We had to stop for water. Stop to breath. I say we, but I mean me. Zarius was in his element on the steeps. He was setting the pace, flying up. It was pretty incredible.

Views during one of our pitstops
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I staretd to worry about my heart and asked him if he thought I could have a heart attack. And he said he guessed I could, although it was unlikely. But not impossible. Which really didn't help.

We got to what looked like the last stretch and Zarius was pushing me on telling me to keep going, we were nearly there. So I did. I got a final burst of energy and stormed on ahead. Not pausing, not slowing, pushing through the pain to get to the top. And I did, my head reached up over the last step, my hands pulling me up and there in front of me, stood another hill. There was a flat plain and then it peaked again and there was one last mountain to climb. A sailor would have been shocked by what came out of my mouth. It was so cruel, it was funny and we had to laugh. Or else I would cry. But at least I knew this really was the end. I could see the elated people at the top. So on we went.

What I saw in front of me when I thought we had reached the summit
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Getting to the top was pretty amazing. The view down on the lake was incredible and beautiful and very very special and I was delighted that we had made it and overjoyed that I hadn't given up and overwhelmed by a great sense of pride that I had made it. Zarius claims it's my stubbornness that got me to the top, but I like to think of it as determination. That said, on our way down when we passed a guy doing it in flip flops, feet bleeding (obviously), I felt like a bit of a wuss!

The views from the top are breathtaking. We looked down at the lake, at all these little dots of people and appreciated the enormity of the mountain. Apparently it's approximately one person a year who reaches the summit of Mt Fitz Roy. We had reached basecamp!

We debated eating lunch there and then, at that spot overlooking everyone down below us but it felt like we hadn't finished yet. So off up and over the edge we went. Scrambling down the side of the mountain, slipping and sliding the whole way down on the loose shingle.

The reward
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Those specs at the very bottom are people!
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Looking back up from the bottom at where we had come from
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And what a reward. It's hard to describe the beauty of it. The blueness of the water, the epic size of the Glacier and the silence. We were unbelievably lucky with the weather. Not many people get to experience the lake in warmth and sunshine. We collapsed on the edge and pulled our shoes and socks off and dipped our aching feet into the ice cold Glacier water. And I immediately got brain freeze and had to pull them out again! But it was enough to soothe the burning.

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We enjoyed half our lunch by the lake before climbing back up and finishing it off looking down on this wonder.

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We flew down. Hopping from step to step. Buoying people along. Reassuring them that it was worth it.

Happy joyful faces at the start of our descent
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But my enthusiasm was short lived. The exhaustion soon set in and the aching started, my feet were on fire, my calf muscles were on fire and we had 9km left to go. It was a long walk home!

But of course, to end our day, waiting for us back in El Chalten was....
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The next day of course was a day of pain. A day when I struggled to get out of bed, let alone climb a mountain, so we declared it a day of rest. We are on holiday after all.

Posted by DeeandZarius 22:08 Archived in Argentina Tagged laguna_de_los_tres_hike el_chalten_hikes el_chalten_treks laguna_de_los_tres_el_chalten Comments (6)

Out of the city and into the sticks...

El Calafate and hike number one in El Chalten

sunny 23 °C
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We're here! We're out of the city and now it feels like the adventure has started! We flew into El Calafate, a quick flight from BA, sparing us our first epic bus journey. For now. Before we had even landed we could see that this place is simply beautiful. This is the second most stunning scenery I've experienced on a runway! The first being Lake Kariba in Zimbabwe.

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We arrived in the evening for just one night before continuing on to El Chalten for some hiking. The scenery around the town is beautiful with gorgeous views of the lake.

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The town itself is built for tourists. It was full of us! It's bursting with outdoor clothing shops, restaurants and craft shops. And smack bang in the middle of this cute little town, alongside all the quaint single story faux wooden chalets, is a HUGE concrete casino! It's very odd. Then it's back to log cabins and tweeness!

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Surprisingly we have encountered very few English and zero Irish or South Africans to-date. So far it's predominatly South Americans, followed by North Americans, then probably French with a sprinkling of Dutch and Germans. We haven't actually spoken to any English people but have passed a couple here and there. El Calafate is definitely aimed at the American market. Sitting in the restaurant that night we were surrounded by Americans and it really didn't feel like we were still in South America.

We stayed with the nicest couple ever at a hostel called La Posada del Angel resting just above the town. It was like being welcomed home. Hugs and kisses and general loveliness. I had a lump in my throat saying goodbye the next morning. The husband Juan is such a Dad. This big man who gives bear hugs and is bursting with love! It's more like a B&B so a nice way to ease into 'hostel' life. Yup, still easing in...

We luckily managed to get a ticket for the bus the next morning, it proved more difficult than expected with the first place we tried being sold out. We also bought our tickets to Puerto Natales for our Torres del Paine trip, again with difficulty even though it was 6 days in advance. We got two of the last 3 available seats. So much for not planning and just turning up!

Z queuing for bus tickets after suggesting we should abort mission and buy one on the day!
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Dog with dreadlocks at bus station
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The next morning it was off to El Chalten, the hiking capital of Argentina. And not a single hike behind me in my whole life! Exciting! It's the youngest town in Argentina, not yet 30 years old, built at the base of Mt Fitz Roy in the Los Glaciares National Park. It attracts the hardcore hikers, climbers, boulderers (a new term for me) and us! It has a completely different vibe to it, think surfer town without the surfing!

The sign on our bus was missing a key word!
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Same shape as Table Mountain!
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First glimpse of El Chalten
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And of Mt. Fitz Roy
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We checked into our hostel, Rancho Grande Hostel, our first real hostel experience (and it was grand; warm and clean) and headed off on our first hike. My first hike ever! I was so excited! When you enter the town the bus stops at the park rangers office and they give you a quick overview of the trails and a basic map and that's it. You're all set. We were told that they were experiencing the best three days of weather they have had all summer. Result! It was blue skiees and sunshine all the way. Typically it's grey and wet with low hanging clouds so we felt blessed!

To us it looked like there were two 'must do' trails, so we chose the shorter of the two for our first day, Laguna Torre. 25km round trip with the recommendation of taking 3 hours each way. So off we went.

That's where we were heading. The start of the trail Laguna Torre
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Obviously Z got there first
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That's me, lagging behind
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The first few steps conquered and I'm already chuffed!
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Gorgeous views almost straight away
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Who said jump shots were dead?
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Our first proper glimpse of the Glaciar
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Sneakily using a Kodak moment as an excuse for a break
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I quickly established myself as the pace setter. On straights I kept a good speed. That said it wasn't long before we both realised that as soon as there was an incline of any sort, I fell apart. Neither of us mentioned this fact but I noticed Z would quietly take the lead as soon as there was any gradient at all. Having him in front storming ahead kept me motivated to keep going. If he didn't do that we came to an almost stop. It's weird. I really can't do uphill!

We walked by streams and rivers, meadows and woods and soaked up the scenery as we went. In some parts you can only walk in single file but for the most part it is pretty plain sailing. That said, as my first hike, I found it challenging enough! The anticipation of what lay ahead nearly killed me. I just wanted to get there! Lucky it was so gorgeous!

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And then...
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We were so lucky with the weather. I've read that ordinarily when you come over the last hill and see the lake for the first time that it can be so windy you need to retreat immediately. We were able to bask in the sunshine proud of our achievement (really it was my achievement, the trail was quite easy!) and picnic on biscuits and water fresh from the Glaciar. I must admit, the last 15 minutes were tiring. And when we came over the hill and saw the lake, for a split second I thought, is that it?! But when I stopped and took it all in and saw the Glaciar and the small icebergs in the water I thought wow, this is pretty cool! The colour of the water is caused by the ice and is called Glaciar milk. It's still the freshest cleanest water you can get and tastes absolutely amazing. We hung around the lake for 30 minutes or so, relaxing and enjoying the sun before heading back onto the trail back into town.

It was a far easier walk back.
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And when we got back to the start we were chuffed
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And of course what awaited us was a nice cold litre of beer :-)
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Posted by DeeandZarius 23:11 Archived in Argentina Tagged el_calafate mt_fitz_roy los_glaciares_national_park el_chalten_hiking laguna_torre_hike Comments (3)

Eating and drinking. And eating. And drinking. And...

That pretty much sums up BA for me

sunny 27 °C
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It's weird, ordinarily we would get sick of restaurant dining after a few days. It becomes too much, but eating a slab of meat every night is surprisingly sustainable!

We've been very lucky to date with food. Despite the fact that we often have no idea what to expect when we place our order. Positive surprised sounds and relief are not uncommon when our dishes turn up. Breakfast has definitely been the most challenging. Sometimes it's because of me, I misunderstand and order something random. Sometimes a waiter will attempt to speak English and they misunderstand and we still end up with something random. But a lot of the time, we're 100% sure what we're ordering, we've looked up all the words in our dictionary (thanks Clara) and we're still surprised when it arrives! The interpretation of how something is served can be very different!

This was our brunch on Sunday when we were expecting a toasted sandwich with grilled mushrooms and courgette.
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This is the one very large smoothie we received when we thought we had ordered a jug for two:
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The funniest one though is the night we decided to stay in and grab a pizza. And Zarius decided to go it alone. He came back about an hour later carrying two HUGE boxes that weighed an absolute ton, with pizzas that had the most random toppings in the world. They spoke zero English, there was no way of seeing the sizes and there were only three choices for toppings, none of which had names like he had expected to see. So we got enough food to feed a family of 8 comfortably, we had one pizza that had grated boiled egg all over it with anchovies and the other I didn't even lift up the ham to see what was lurking underneath. For some reason our appetites suddenly disappeared...

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Then there are the rare times when we know exactly what we're getting...

A pre-dinner snack. Mmmm...cheesey nachos
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Nothing like a bit of cake on a Sunday afternoon
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And there's lots of beer stops. We love litre bottles of beer!
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Z planning our next moves
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It's thirsty work
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But of course it always comes back to the steak.

We returned too our faithful local last night, our final night in BA after trying numerous other steak houses around the city. So we got a pic of the inside.

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Zarius contemplating life
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The steak was actually a little bit disappointing last night which was a shame. The wine was gorgeous though and as for the homemade chips...I kid you not, I think I could survive on them alone. Best chips I have ever had!

The most well known steak house that we tried is La Cabrera. Everyone who has been to Buenos Aires has heard of it. Every guide book recommends it and even when you search for 'steak houses where locals eat' in an attempt to get off the beaten track, La Carbrera always sneaks it's way in. So we thought fine, let's go, let's queue and let's find out if it really does live up to it's name.

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People queuing outside

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Before we even got inside it was obvious it's a well oiled machine. And when we finally got seated you could tell they churn out the same old stuff day in, day out and it's a bit of a conveyer belt. We were unlucky with our waiter, he was very brusk and had clearly done this a gazillion times and couldn't be bothered anymore.

The meat was good, I will give them that. We ordered the Bife de Chorizo, which is the most common cut over here, it's rump so comes with fat on it which makes it unbelievably juicy and the flavour is incredible. That said, in this place it came with sooooo much fat that there was very little meat. You couldn't help but feel slightly ripped off. And the chips were frozen chips?! Really? You can't be bothered to cut your own no? Unimpressed.

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The next day we did some more research and discovered another 'must try' place, Don Juilo, again it was on the tourist trail but also recommened by locals. So we decided to give it a go. We rocked up at 7ish on the off chance that it was such a busy place we could for once eat at a normal hour, but no joy, it was deserted.

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We retreated to a local bar for a drink. I had the biggest glass of wine ever
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Z enjoying a mojito. Or two..
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We then made our way back at 8.30 only to be faced with a similar queue to La Cabrera. What's the magic time?! Does everyone arrive at bang on 8pm and not a minute before?

Killing time taking selfies.
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They gave us free champagne. I was already sold.
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Realising our selfie was facing the wrong way and trying again.
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The wait wasn't too bad and shortly after polishing off our champagne my name was called, Yee. Which was a new variation, I have been Tee, other times Tii, once Dii but never Dee. We were whisked inside and it immediately felt different. Our waiter was cool, such a friendly guy. We were given plenty of time, he chatted to us a bit and gave us the most delicious warm bread and salsa ever, which Zarius managed to munch through 3 baskets of. Only realising the error of his ways later when half a cow arrived at the table! The meat was excellent, we tried different cuts. Fillet and the reliable Bife de Chorizo.

Offal anyone?
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Awkward looking photo that our waiter took
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The moment Zarius realised maybe he had eaten too much bread
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We really enjoyed Don Julio, but out of all the steak places we have tired, the steak we had in the dodgy looking place on our first night is still the winner.

I realise this was a long food heavy post. Apologies. I'm writing this on the plane so have three hours to kill. We're on our way to El Calafate, leaving the city behind to enjoy some outdoor time. And we're unbelievably excited! From here on it it should be pictures of glaciers and lakes and mountains instead of food and wine! It really feels like the adventure is about to begin...

Posted by DeeandZarius 22:47 Archived in Argentina Tagged argentina la_cabrera_buenos_aires don_julio_buenos_aires best_steak_buenos_aires Comments (9)

Buenos Aires, Argentina: Graveyards and rain

Recoleta cemetery

overcast
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We've had a lot of rain, monsoon rain not normal every day rain, which meant we had to take it easy a couple of days. I have to admit, my two most favourite pre-trip purchases are currently my water proof hiking shoes and my North Face raincoat which I picked up in the kids section for exactly 50% of the price of the identical jacket in the ladies section! And I'm completely converted.

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The humidity is a killer though so keeping arms free is a necessity!

I tried to capture the monsoon rain in photos but it's hard to get across the sheer force of it. The other night walking home the heavens opened, from nowhere, a torrential down pour and what happens is the drains can't cope so the streets literally fill up with water. Up to our shins! We had to wade through it to get to the pavement. It's pretty gross to be fair, the streets wouldn't be the cleanest streets I've come across. All those dogs I've mentioned, well their owners aren't so hot on the old pooper scooper like they are in the UK. So it gets messy. Wading through it in flip flops with water up to my shins gave me the shivers and not from the cold. I've never gotten into a shower so fast in my life.

The streets filling up
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A paving stone coming loose with the force of the water underneath!
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But we have had some nice weather too. And when the sun is out, we're out. Walking.

Recoleta and the graveyard (no we din't find Evita's tomb!)

Inside the entrace
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Some of the toombs seem a little creepy
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It's a strange concept to me, having exposed coffins on show. But they're everywhere. New and old.
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Dramatic and emotive
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This one freaked me out.
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When you look down the stairs it goes down a few floors...not a chance I would go down there
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Who needs to splash the cash? This one has it's own charm...
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I started to get a bit bored...
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Harry Potter trees outside!
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More posts to follow soon!

Posted by DeeandZarius 14:49 Archived in Argentina Comments (5)

Dining with the locals

rain 23 °C
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We decided to venture out on Wednesday night and experience our first Argentinian steak. We chose a local parrilla, Parrilla Al Carbon, that Lionel, our landlord had recommended and quickly had a look on tripadvisor. Not many reviews but all 5 stars. Apparently they didn't speak English and the service was shocking but the meat was so good that people didn't seem to care. Hmmm. Ok.

Calle Serano, where this place is, is only a few blocks away so within minutes we found ourselves standing outside the dodgiest looking place ever. The only restaurant on a dark, fairly unlit street. Plastic tables and chairs outside on the pavement covered with a plastic rain tent. We couldn't see anyone but from what we could hear, there were a lot of burly Spanish men sitting there! We stood and peered across the street and wondered whether we should really go in. Of course we should! Getting out of our comfort zone is the order of the day, so we sloped over.

There was a very old, very rough looking guy leaning against the door who to be fair did smile but didn't do much else to indicate whether he worked there or not. So I asked for a table for two in Spainish. Nope. He could not help and pointed at someone else who I repeated my request to and he shouted something at us pointing inside. So we entered. Was this England we would have gone no further than the door. Yes it was busy, but well it was just like the outside inside. Ther only free tables were up a step at the back on a seperate platform so we walked through the very small very bustling restaurant and took our plastic chairs at our plastic, rocking, table.

After five minutes of wondering if they would make us leave by simply ignoring us a different waiter arrived with a big smile on his face. Yay! He stared at us expectantly and then asked what we would like. Well a menu would be good, so I asked for one, to which he replied, no, we don't have one. Silence. More expectant staring. Arghhhhhhh...I can ask for a table and a menu but my Spainish is seriously limited!!! Luckily Lionel had written two recommendations down for us. I thought he was just telling us his favourites but clearly he knew what we were in for! So I asked for Bife de Chorizo and Entrano. Not knowing what either were. Bife sounded positive, but Entrano sounded a bit to close to internal, making me think it could be some delicacy like intestine or something so finished my order with a caveat, asking Entrano is carne, meat, si? He nodded. And it is vaca, cow, yes? He nodded and grinned but I felt happier. Fine we'll have that then. But it wasn't over. We then had a long, very confusing conversation that started with him telling me that either that would be too much OR they didn't have enough, I couldn't be sure which but I did get that he was suggesting media y media. Half and half. I grab what I can in these situations so agreed half and half would be fine. I asked for them to be cooked mediano he suggested a Malbec that was mui bueno and all was good.

The first dish that turned up was the Entrano, which was thin strips of meat on a silver platter and the the most gorgeous home-made chips ever. The meat however was not good! Tough as nails! And then the panic set in. What if this is both. What if half this meat is the other meat. It was so tough I had to give up and settle on chips. And then 'it' arrived. The biggest, juiciest bit of steak I have ever seen. It was cut straight down the middle vertically (that would be the 'half' so) which I could see Zarius was gutted about! But it was huge and when he cut it you could have used a spoon! And the flavour! Amazing. Perfectly cooked and the night was saved. Our waiter was lovely too, he cracked some jokes, made us smile and was patient with my poor use of his language. The meal, with the gorgeous wine came in at under £20 and we left promising to go back again and have none of this half and half business!

We did take a photo of course but then realised I hadn't put my sim back in. Yes technology is really getting the better of me on this trip! But we'll be going back so more pics to follow.

Here a couple of photos of the outside during the day. It doesn't look half as bad in daylight. And that's saying something....

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Posted by DeeandZarius 08:36 Tagged argentina Comments (6)

Day 2 (our first day awake!)

sunny 30 °C
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Well here we are. We arrived safe and sound yesterday afternoon feeling relatively ok after such a long journey. The flight was good, NEARLY very good. This was me when I thought it was going to be VERY good because I would have three seats to myself:

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Then a teacher leading a school tour made one of the bad boys move down the back closer to him so that he could keep an eye. The boy looked as happy about the situation as I was. I still had two seats though so all was not lost.

We stopped in Sao Paulo in Brazil for 5 hours, it's a pretty grim airport it has to be said, but we found a Starbucks and watched the sunrise.

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After a 5 hour wait and a 3 hour flight we finally arrived in Buenos Aires! We hadn't been in the country more than 30 minutes and we had to use our 'emergency' US dollars. The guy who walked us to our taxi demanded a tip from Zarius and did a little 'give me a tip' song. It went something like this 'tip for me, tip for me, tippy tippy, yes give me a tip please'. We had no cash of course so it all got a bit awkward until he declared that he was happy to take US dollars too. Well phew, what a relief, why didn't you say that earlier. I guess using our emergency dollars won't be so bad if they all involve song. Not sure how Z feels about it though.

We got a taxi to the apartment, met the landlord (who is a very nice guy) and then decided to take a nap for a couple of hours. 15 hours later we woke to the sun rising and it was 6am. Ahem. So we missed our first day! Zarius is shocked (and horrified) that we could possibly sleep that long, whereas if I could sleep for 15 hours more regularly I would!

Our apartment is lovely and the landlord is such a nice guy. He emailed us last night with loads of recommendations for bars and good steaks etc. We'll try one tonight but not until late. We don't want to look like tourists by doing something like eating before 9.

View from our balcony
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We decided to hit the city without a map this morning. Because we simply didn't have one and couldn't find one for love nor money. We grabbed breakfast in a cool little restaurant in Palermo Soho, which is a very trendy area and right next to where we are staying. We are on the edge of it, just about.

Breakfast was my first spanish test of the day. I thought I had chosen an omlette for two from a choice of omlette, fruit salad or croque monsieur but it turns out you get all three. Or at least we did ;-)

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We then walked. And walked. And walked. Palermo is a really cool area, it looks to me like Fourth Avenue in Johanesburg could have been inspired by this place. Quite a chilled funky vibe, a little bit laid back America. Lots of bars and places to eat and some very nice shops. Which of course I can't shop at. You see how I'm embracing the backpacking spirit already...

We got a good feel for BA today. We saw the good bits and some not so good. There are lots of parks and green space. An unbelievable amount of dogs. They are everywhere...

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EVERYWHERE
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Not really what you want to see when neither of us got the rabies jab! But after some examination (from a safe distance) there were no signs of foaming, no rabid-ness so to speak, so we have declared the dogs safe. They actually all seem to be with dog minders. They are everywhere with loads of them all tied together on ropes. More than once I did wonder if the owners know their prized pooch is being dragged around BA on a rope with 10 other dogs.

So we walked lots and saw lots. Here are some pics:

The park that reminded me of Hyde Park
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The Japanese gardens from the cheap seats i.e. outside
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An unsuspecting victim pulling up to eat at a place where the chef was pounding meat on the floor in the back of his van. Nice.
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The ridiculously long zebra crossings! Green man? What green man?!
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An observatory
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Punk swans
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Police cars built to ram!
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Graffiti. Lots of Graffiti
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The last thing we saw before we called it a morning and retreated out of the midday sun for a shower and a beer
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Said beer, the first one in Buenos Aires (a Czech beer which we bought from a Chinese lady!)
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And tonight? Wine and steak!

Ps I thought I would leave out the bit about realising my new super duper all singing all dancing iphone and ipad international plug doesn't work and the little adapter thing to get photos from my camera onto my ipad that I bought at the airport is for the newer ipad so doesn't work. And our epic journey in 30 degrees heat to the most touristy district ever this afternoon to replace them only to get home hours later to discover that although they fit they don't actually work...yeah I've skipped that part of the story.

Posted by DeeandZarius 18:18 Archived in Argentina Comments (7)

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