A Travellerspoint blog

Argentina

Salta, Argentina: The straw that broke the camels back

semi-overcast 15 °C
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Thursday 27th - Saturday 29th March 2014

So this truly was going to be the first epic bus journey. 18 hours! We were very suspicious before we even arrived at the bus station as to the quality of the bus. And the minute I saw it I knew the guy had lied. It was an old bus BUT although the seats were old and narrow, we had FRONT ROW SEATS UPSTAIRS! Finally! The fact that the TV was on the floor and I had to angle my head weirdly to see it seemed like a small price to pay.

As we settled in, the host came round with drinks, it was in a small plastic cup, it was clear, it was fizzing, could it be that we were about to get champagne and first row seats?! No. It was 7up. But a girl can dream. We were first given a snack, the usual sugar packed treats and then a few hours later dinner was served. Zarius dug straight in and declared the meal as devine, and when I laughed added the caveat of 'for this kind of meal' but I have to say, when I cut into the beef I could see where he was going with this bold statement. The beef was super tender. As was the pork. We have paid good money for a lot worse.

We slept quite well actually, despite the loud annoying buzzer that sprang into life, red flashing light and all, anytime the driver went over 100km per hour, (which seemed to be on the hour every hour). Then as suspected at 9am the next morning we were told we would have to change buses. Surprise surprise. But it was nice to stretch our legs and get a bit of air and when our new bus turned up, it was exactly that. New. And the whole bus was cama suite class so we had lie flat beds for the last 4 hours of our journey! It's the small things...

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Yay! Front row seat (which turned out to be terrifying at times)
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The gourmet dinner experience begins
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It might be 9am and I may have slept well but I am using the lie flat bed regardless
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As salta appeared in the distance it looked like a city carved out of the lush green mountains. And it looked big, but once off the bus we realised it was a strange mix of big (ish) city made up of small town buildings. We found our hostel, Hostel in Salta (exactly whats it says on the tin!), on foot and checked in. It was super clean so we were happy. I felt shattered for some reason so it was evening before we ventured out. Salta is a loud city, made up of lots of narrow streets full of beeping cars. It's bustling and crowded and caters for us. The tourist. Salta is another place that people raved about but to be honest we couldn't see what the attraction was. We were starting to feel disillusioned by Northern Argentina. Outside of Salta the mountains were meant to be amazing so we decided to stay one day in the city to explore and then rent a car for a couple of days and do some touring.

Our hostel, having a facelift
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There is a cable car that takes you up a hill overlooking the city so the next morning we hopped on. The views are nice, but it felt like we were just going through the motions. We sat down on a bench and took some time to reflect. We realised we were hanging around for the sake of it, because it was on our itinerary and was something that people said we should do but not something we were actually enjoying. We were both excited about the Atacama desert and then moving into Bolivia and came to the conclusion that if we weren't feeling it, there was no point in renting a car to drive around for 3 days looking at scenery. We could go straight back to Chile and start our next adventure. With that agreed, we got the cable car back down and went to the bus station to book our tickets out the next morning. It would be an early start.

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We woke up to rain, it was still dark and it looked miserable out. We packed up and checked out and began our wet walk to the station. It was 6am on a Saturday morning and the streets were alive with the stragglers from the night before. Every doorstep seemed to be occupied by a canoodling couple and before long we felt like we had stumbled upon a red light district. Two prostitutes walked by us, wearing towering heels with very short skirts and little else. We passed a lot of weird and wonderful things on that street and I was glad when I saw the bus station appear at the end of it.

The bus, although not bad, was the worst to date. It smelled very bad and wasn't very comfortable. We were served a very balanced breakfast of a small packets of custard creams and a slice of cake each and off we set. The Atacama Desert here we come!

Posted by DeeandZarius 19:12 Archived in Argentina Tagged salta_argentina Comments (0)

Mendoza, Argentina: It's all about the vineyards. Or is it?

sunny 23 °C
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Sunday 23rd - Wednesday 26th March 2014

The main reason, if not the only reason people go to Mendoza is for the wine. And we were no different. Everyone does at least one wine tour and normally on a bike. More specifically a Mr Hugo bike. And that's what we had planned. So let me get this out of the way now...we didn't end up doing a wine tour. Nope. We went to Mendoza and we did not visit one vineyard. We did however drink local wine, which definitely played a role in not making it on a wine tour. But I'm jumping ahead...

We were up early in Santiago to do the bus journey that we had heard so much about, crossing the Andes through the famous Los Libertadores/Uspallata pass. It turned out to be as amazing as we had been told it would be. The climb is incredible and the views breathtaking. Up and up these narrow winding roads, climbing steadily cutting right through the mountains. And then the colours! And what's also amazing is that you truly feel like it's the middle of nowhere and then we'd pass a house. A shop. A restaurant. And I couldn't help but think, who lives there?!

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When we arrived in Mendoza we were completely shocked by the size of it. When I thought about it and the wine tasting I had visions of this small town with people riding their bikes into the country side. Hair blowing in the wind, basket on the front...it turns out, it isn't like that at all. In fact Mendoza is a city. This came as a surprise. And secondly, you don't cycle on country roads with rolling hills in the background. You cycle on main roads, with trucks zooming past blowing dust in your face. Or so we were told. It sounded like it was hard, sweaty, and sometimes dangerous, work. A little bit disorganised and chaotic, nothing like the vineyards we had visited in say South Africa. But people recommended that we still give it a go, just adjust our expectations accordingly. It sounded to us like it might be case of something being a 'must-do' and turning out not to be all it was cracked up to be. Guidebooks lie all the time. It's a fact. They are far too nice about everything.

It was a Sunday when we arrived and it was like a ghost town. We were informed that Monday was a bank holiday, so everything would be closed too. Sometimes things just aren't meant to be. We did some exploring, wandered the streets, found the main square, some good places to eat and declared Mendoza, OK. Not what we expected, but nice enough.

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Cafe Jack looks suspiciously like Cafe Nero
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I love the fact that we got served a slice of ice-cream as our desert in one place. Ah, Neapolitan, a favourite from my childhood
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We decided to do the biking on Monday morning, seeing as there wouldn't be much else happening in the city. We got up early (it's never too early for Argentinian wine we were told) and set off with vague directions to a bus stop and even vaguer instructions on how to get a card to pay for the bus. As I mentioned it was a bank holiday so everywhere that sold bus cards seemed to be closed. 40 minutes later we eventually acquired a card and made our way to the bus stop. We just missed one and chased it down the road but it was having none of it and left us standing in its wake. And then the wait began. 15 minutes, 30 minutes, 45 minutes...we took a stroll back up the road to check out some other bus stops and we were approached by a super friendly, super keen local who was very concerned about us and gave us very clear instructions on where we should be. Back at the original stop. We noticed buses turning off before our stop though and now an hour had passed and we went exploring again and it looked like maybe we had been on the wrong road after all and now we had lost so much time between bus cards and wrong bus stops that it didn't seem worthwhile going. It's a long cycle between each winery and you only fit in 3 anyway so we called it a day and sloped off back to our hostel.

The hostel, Hostel Lao, was really nice and had very friendly owners. The woman was very upset that our morning hadn't been a success and told us about a horse riding trip that afternoon if we wanted to join. There was an American couple who had signed up and having spoken to them ever so briefly the night before (and classed them as sound and normal) we thought what the heck, lets do it.

Calling it horse riding is a stretch. These horses are well versed on the route and pretty much lead the way. Getting them to change course would be a challenge. That said, mine had a little bit of a rebellious streak and at one point, took off, in the wrong direction, me bouncing up and down on the back, pulling at the reins for dear life, luckily I managed to turn him and get him back on track before I had to be rescued by our gaucho leaders, Nacho and Alejandro. These guys were pretty cool. The real deal. They looked like they had just ridden in from the set of a western movie. We rode down through a valley, that eventually opened up to a huge scrub filled plain, as far as the eye could see.

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My little black beauty
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Saddled up and ready to go
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Caught in action. He constantly stopped and threw his head to the ground to eat, causing me to abruptly be hauled forward off the saddle. He was a handful, lil' black beauty
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The sun was setting as we made our way back to the ranch
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Afterwards they laid on a meat heavy BBQ washed down with local red wine (as mentioned in paragraph 1) and with our new American friends (Noelle A.K.A Jennifer Aniston and Dave) we ate and drank like there was no tomorrow. Nacho and Alejandro got in the party mood with us and whipped out their guitars and before long we were sitting round an open fire, swilling red wine, singing at the top of our lungs. Every time they stopped there were cries of "mas" "mas" and each time they relented and played "just one more". As the night went on, there was dancing, more bonding and a great pile of empty gallon bottles of wine piling up in the corner.

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Photo courtesy of Noelle and Dave

The next day we were meant to attempt the vineyards again...we reasoned that we had drank enough local wine (in a local setting too!) the night before, not to feel guilty about giving it a miss. Noelle and Dave were leaving that night so we all headed to a local greasy spoon for something called 'lomo completo', basically a huge steak sandwich with everything you can imagine on it.

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We were leaving the next day and wanted to make our way up north to Salta going through the San Juan and Rioja regions. There are two national parks that we wanted to visit but it was all very complicated so after a lot of humming and hawing we decided it would be best to skip that section and head straight to Salta. An 18 hour bus journey, the longest and most epic bus journey for us yet. So it was off to the bus station again. It's a time consuming process, there are lots of different bus companies and they all have their own offices, buses, schedules and prices. Meaning we had to visit them all. And none of them had two cama seats left. As we were discussing what to do in the final office, a young guy turned up and declared he had two seats in 'cama' left. This seemed odd as the woman was adamant she didn't. But he had a little chat with her and she confirmed they had seats. Where would we like to sit. So not only did they now have seats available, we had a choice. And no other bus company in the whole station could offer us one seat never mind two. It's tricky in these situations, you feel like they may be ripping you off, but they assure you they are not. He claimed it was a new bus and we were pretty desperate and had little options so took two seats. He then handed us two tickets each. One to Tucuman and the other from Tucuman to Salta. We weren't happy but again he convinced us that it was indeed a direct bus and it's just how they do their ticketing and we would not need to change buses. We were curious to see how it would pan out.

That night we bid farewell to Noelle and Dave, it had been fun. They were coming to the end of a year long trip. We agreed that we should definitely try and meet up again in the future, whatever the continent might be!

Although we didn't actually achieve much of what we wanted to in Mendoza, it now sits firmly up there as one of the highlights of our trip. The horse riding evening was so much fun, made even more so by the new friends we made.

Posted by DeeandZarius 16:53 Archived in Argentina Tagged argentina mendoza horse_rising_mendoza Comments (0)

Bariloche: The Switzerland of Argentina

sunny 21 °C
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Thursday 27th February - Tuesday 4th March 2014

We set off early from Puerto Varas for our 4 night stay in the 'retro' hotel in Bariloche. The bus served coffee and a bread roll which was our first experience of food on a bus. We felt spoiled! But we have since heard stories (and seen photos) of champagne being served on the Argentian buses so now not only do we need to get front row seats, upstairs, but also get served champagne. And we're running out of bus journeys and time in Argentina...
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The drive was very scenic with beautiful views as you crossed over the Andes, but not the kind of scenery you can capture with a camera. Although the woman behind me didn't agree and clicked frantically in my ear for a good 30 minutes. Before finally giving up. When we arrived in Bariloche we did our usual, tried to find a map, took photos of a wall map when we couldn't find one and discussed how long we thought it would take to walk into town before inevitably hopping into a taxi which costs next to nothing anyway!

Our first view of Bariloche
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Our hotel turned out to be a lot better than we thought. A proper, nice, clean room. The first night was torture though because they pumped hot air in with no way of controlling it and we couldn't open the window. We had double doors but no balcony and we were on the 6th floor. We didn't try very hard to open it. I mean, what hotel would let you open full length doors when you have no balcony and only 3 slats of widely spaced wood going across? Turns out this hotel. Because after a day of complaints and beeing sent to this room and that and each time rejecting the alternative rooms, we managed to open it. All I can say is that this room is not safe if you own a handbag sized dog.

View from our room
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As soon as we arrived we went out and explored the town. It was packed as suspected. But with a different type of tourist, more the holiday maker. It really felt like being in a resort anywhere in the world. It was shop after shop of souvenirs and t-shirts and touristy restaurants offering the same food. Oh and a McDonalds. It was pretty grim and we didn't like it. Apart from the millions of chocolate shops that is. It's famous for its chocolate and I can understand why. I sampled some of it, solid chocolate, melted chocolate, chocolate in cake and I think it might be the nicest chocolate I've ever tasted. So I enjoyed that aspect. But even finding a chocolate shop to go into was painful. They were bursting at the seams with tourists buying kilo upon kilo of chocolates to bring home. And it's the kind of tourist that even though you don't know them you're embarrassed by them. When they raise their voice to be understood and talk loudly and very slowly...
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A rabid dog!!! Probably not, but it made for an uncomfortable lunch having him sitting next to me!
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Made me think of Niamho!
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More street art
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Some eating and drinking spots
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Hmmm...what will I have
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We're everywhere!
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But it wasn't all bad. I mean the surrounding areas and lakes are as amazing as they say they are and that's what Bariloche is all about. As soon as you leave the town it's beautiful. The views over and of the lakes are gorgeous and we were kicking ourselves for committing to 4 days in the centre. All we wanted to do was check out and move out of town to a little cabin with a lake view. But we were stuck. So we made the most of it.

We took the bus one day up to a festival that was taking place in a small town nearby. So small in fact, that Zarius asked me at least 3 times did I really think that was it, or were we missing part of it somehow! We definitely hadn't missed anything! There was a race on and the town held the finishing line. I'm not sure what kind of race it was, but it looked pretty gruelling especially with the heat. Bodies were throwing themselves over the finishing line before collapsing. Only being revived when offered a bottle of beer. In celebration of this race (I assume) all the locals were out in their garden cooking up meats on their front lawns and selling cakes and other sweet things. One had the meat buried in a huge pit in the ground slow cooking whatever was undrneeath. We settled for some sort of fish dish because it came with vegetables. You don't turn down vegetables here when you see them. A rare treat indeed.

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The next day we took the bus to go up on one of the chairlifts to have the views over the lakes. National Geographic put it as one of the top 10 views in the world. It was pretty amazing. The bus trip however was not. They don't have bus stops, it's a hop on, hop off type of service and it was absolutely packed so we were pushed down the back nowhere near the driver. The map is marked by km, so for example, we needed to get off near km 11. Difficult. We of course missed our stop. By 10 kms in the end, but a lovely local guy took us up to the bus driver and explained our situation and told us to stay on the bus because it did a loop. This was done in raised voices and at high speed because these bus drivers do not hang around and he started to drive off with this guy hanging out the door, half in half out, needing to get off, but wanting to help! We eventually got there. It was a white knuckle ride to say the least, particularly when standing.

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Say it how it is! Total tourist attraction!
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And then we got to the top...
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The one good thing about it being commercialised
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Snoozing after a long day!
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On our final day we rented a car from a lovely lady at Liz's Car Rental and drove the 7 lakes route which was beautiful. The weather wasn't great though and unfortunately Zarius was having citizenship woes. He was trying to get hold of the foreign office and they had promised someone would call back that day, but of course we hadn't thought about signal, so every time we lost coverage it became quite stressful! The loop was meant to take 8 hours and we did it in nearly half that time because we couldn't stop off in places that didn't have signal! They never called of course. Roll on the day when all this is over!!

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Can you see the face?
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Zarius making boring calls from a beautiful setting
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Well beautiful for me!
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Scary bridge! Missing planks and everything!
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Stopping for lunch we found an Irish restaurant and thought, sure why not. We walked in, did a loop and walked out. There were a lot of reasons why not!
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And what kind of post would this be without food photos? The title of best steak has now been taken from the Buenos Aires leader and currently sits with El Boliche de Alberto. The chef comes to the table to discuss the meat order with you. Which was a brief conversation as you can imagine. But wow. Now that said, it wasn't without problems. He refused to cook it medium. THREE TIMES I sent it back! But even with that and even though it still wasn't medium, I closed my eyes so I couldn't see it, and it melted in my mouth.

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This would feed 6 people ordinarily!
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Even though we didn't particularly like Bariloche itself, we ended up staying 5 nights in total. We had committed to 4 nights and bus schedules meant we had to do an extra night. We decided to head back into Chile and pick up on our itinerary in Pucon skipping the sea lions in Valdivia. The journey was a full day. A morning bus across the border to the town of Osorno and then an afternoon bus from there to Pucon. This was another stressful day because the foreign office had not been in touch and when we arrived in Osorno we discovered it was a barred number from Argentina so Zarius couldn't call them! He would have to wait for wifi and use Skype once in Pucon.

Posted by DeeandZarius 13:21 Archived in Argentina Tagged bariloche_argentina car_rental_bariloche soft_hotel_bariloche driving_bariloche Comments (3)

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
View South America 2014 on DeeandZarius's travel map.

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)

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