You might want to read this entry in stages... it may be our longest post yet, but if you can hang in there, it will not disappoint! Iguazu Falls
So after a very simple border crossing (they are so laid back here - what a nice change from the Canada/US border!) we were out of Foz do Iguacu and headed to Puerto Iguazu, the small Argentinian town from which to visit the falls on that side. We settled into our hostel (Garden Stone - super cute and laid back place) where we enjoyed a simple dinner in the relaxing garden and pool area before heading to bed.. one day at the falls down, one to go!
Monday morning (January 16) we caught the local bus to Iguazu National Park and once inside, we took the train straight to the Devil's Throat path. This is a series of walkways over the river that lead to a view of the DT from above (we previously saw this from below, on the Brazil side). The rush of the water under our feet, the mist from the falls and the spectacular view made for an awe-inspiring experience. In the words of Eleanor
Smiling faces before getting soaked by the falls!
Roosevelt: "Poor Niagara!" indeed. We took the train back to the central station from where we picked up the upper walking trail, which provides more amazing views of the falls from above. The best and most classic views, however, we found on the lower trail, which also led us down to the Nautical Adventure boat ride. We stored our belongings away in dry bags and climbed into a boat for an up-close-and-personal view of several of the falls (DT included - view #3 of this baby!). At one point we couldn't even open our eyes because we were being pounded by the water cascading down from above - a great experience, and it certainly provided some relief from the intense heat!
As we were heading back towards the entrance to end our day at the falls, the bag of food that Chris was carrying was attacked by a coati (South America's raccoon)! As Chris tried to get rid of the coati by lifting the bag off the ground the coati was determined and hung on (now three feet off the ground). The bag tore open sending our things flying to the ground, where they was ferociously scavenged by at
least half a dozen or so of these unfriendly animals! Thankfully nothing important was in there and we sacrificed our snacks to avoid being attacked ourselves. There is a reason they tell you not to feed these animals!
After a shower and change back at the hostel we headed to the bus station to board our overnight bus... thankfully the buses in Argentina are rather comfortable and 17 hours later we arrived in Buenos Aires! Buenos Aires
For our time in this amazing city we stayed at El Jardin del Tango, which is actually an apartment, or "casa", in a 100-year-old building. After we arrived early Tuesday afternoon we settled in and were treated to a fantastic orientation from the owner (a lovely woman originally from New Zealand), with lots of suggestions for places to go and things to see. We headed out on a bit of a supermarket sweep, looking for the best local ingredients to prepare some meals of our own. The next morning we headed to Cementerio de la Recoleta, a large cemetary which is almost like a small city, with row upon row of unique and interesting mausoleums of Buenos Aires' elite families
Puenta de la Mujer
This bridge in Puerto Madero is supposed to look like a couple dancing the tango
(such as the Familia Duarte (Evita), past presidents, etc.). From here we visited the large mechanical flower Floralis Generica; made from aluminum and steel it actually opens and closes its petals over the course of the day! After a quick stop into the Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes we were done for the day!
Thursday we decided to take in some of the main sights in the "microcentro" (downtown), including Obelisco (in Plaza de la Republica on Avenida 9 de Julio - a massive 14 lane thoroughfare, which is a sight in itself!) and Plaza de Mayo, which is right next to the president's office (Casa Rosada). There was an interesting exhibit here of photos taken by the official presidential photographer. As the casa is only open to tourists on the weekend, we continued on to Puerto Madero, a waterfront district with many lovely restaurants where we had an evening walk and planned on having dinner. However all of the eateries were ridiculously overpriced so we kept on walking back towards town. It was here that we stumbled on an impromptu tango performance in the street (and Liz stumbled over some uneven pavement - keep reading to find out
La Estancia Asador Criollo
Traditional Argentinian BBQ
what happened!). We finally found a reasonably-priced restaurant that would satisfy our hankering for steak - La Estancia, a typical Argentine Parilla (BBQ) restaurant complete with a smoking hot fire for grilling Argentina's finest cuts of meat (including goat, pig, lamb etc. cooked "on the cross", as show in the photo). After some delicious carne empanadas, sumptuous chicken kabobs, french fries and traditional Argentine tenderloin steak, our day was complete and our bellies sated!
Friday morning Liz woke up after an extremely fitful sleep to find that she could barely put weight on her ankle (that little trip in the street had translated into significant pain overnight). After limping around the apartment and realizing that no sight-seeing was going to happen in this condition, the executive decision was made that a hospital visit was in order just in case the injury was serious. After much confusion (sorted out thanks to the help of a very friendly Argentinian couple) and an X-ray, it was determined that no bones were broken - only a sprain - thank goodness! We headed back to the casa for some RICE (rest, ice, compression, elevation).
Saturday morning the ankle showed much improvement so we
Amazing clouds in the Patagonian sky
were able to go back to Plaza de Mayo to tour Casa Rosada, which included a visit to the President's office as well as a chance to stand on the
"Evita balcony". Saturday night we went out to the Tango Porteno tango show, which included tango lessons (we just watched, obviously), dinner, and the show itself. The dancers and orchestra were all extremely talented, making for an entertaining show that felt too short! On Sunday we packed up and headed the airport, already planning to return to Buenos Aires, as there is still so much to see and do in this wonderful city! Patagonia
The moment we touched down in El Calafate on Sunday evening, we felt immediate happiness and excitement - from views of the mountains and the lake (crystal-blue/green Lago Argentino) to the amazing cloud formations to the freshness in the air - we knew Patagonia was going to be special! The town itself is quite touristy but very quaint in a ski-village type way (reminded us a lot of Lake Tahoe), and we fell in love with the area instantly.
Monday morning (January 23) we took a scenic bus ride along the bottom of
Lago Argentino to the Perito Moreno Glacier inside Parque Nacional Los Glaciares. (El Calafate is known as the National Capital of Glaciers). Perito Moreno is one of the largest glaciers, and one of only 3 in Patagonia that is actually growing. At 250 km sq. with an average height of 74 m above the water, and spanning 5 km wide at the front face, it is almost impossible to describe in words or pictures exactly what it felt like to visit this attraction. Prior to this experience, we both sort of thought a glacier looked something like an iceberg (which we've really only seen in the movie Titanic). In reality, it looks a floodgate was opened at the base of the mountains and the rushing stream of water suddenly froze in place. In fact it was difficult to tell where the mountains end and the glacier begins. It was a beautiful sunny day and the glacier beamed a sparkling, gleaming white, with intense shades of blue depending on the way the light hit. We walked all around the provided pathways, stopping to listen for the thunderous sounds of chunks of ice breaking off and crashing into the water. Even the
smallest little snowballs falling rippled loudly through the air and demanded attention. Much of the afternoon was spent trying to catch these elusive events on camera, but this proved to be a difficult task. After we took in every possible view we headed back into town, finishing off this amazing day with another typical Parilla dinner (this time steak and Patagonian lamb - even Liz said the lamb was tasty!).
Tuesday afternoon we took the 3 hour (incredibly scenic and beautiful) bus to El Chalten, known as the National Capital of Trekking, and home to the famous Mount Fitz Roy (one of the most technically demanding mountains to summit; fewer people make it to the top of Fitz Roy than climb Everest actually six people in history!). After settling into our very cozy hotel and getting our bearings we set out on a relatively easy hike that took us to two viewpoints: Mirador de los Condores and Mirador de Las Aguilas (thankfully since the sun sets around 10 pm, we started out at 6 pm and made it back before dark!). The first spot gave a view of the town as well as both Cerro Torres and Cerro Fitz
Just hanging out at the opening of a glacier cave!
Roy (we were told numerous times we were extremely lucky to get such great weather, i.e. clear skies), while the latter provided a lookout over Lago Viedma and some desert-like terrain.
The next day we took a boat on Lago Viedma to the Viedma Glacier, the largest in Argentina (though unlike Perito Moreno, this one is actually retreating), and thus began our afternoon of glacier trekking! After disembarking onto the rocky terrain, we hiked for about 20 minutes over smooth volcanic rock until we reached the front of the glacier. We strapped on our crampons (aka ice pick shoes) and after some quick instructions we were trekking across ice that is hundreds of years old and hundreds of meters deep! After numerous photo-op stops including peeks inside ice caves and crevasses we were treated to a special surprise - glacier snow cones topped with Baileys! Probably the most delicious Baileys we've ever tasted! All of the water in the national park is potable (including the glacier water and ice) and you really can taste the difference - so cold, clean and fresh - better than that bottled stuff, that's for sure! We rounded out our amazing day (by far
Rio de las Vueltas
View from the start of the Fitz Roy trail
one of the best excursions of our entire trip) with some more Parilla (just can't enough of it)... mouthwatering steaks cooked to perfection at Como Vaca - highly recommended!
Thursday, January 26th was Chris' 31st birthday! To celebrate, we decided we'd tackle a 25 km hike - Sendero al Fitz Roy (culminating in a closer view of the famous peak, as well as a lake fed by 3 glaciers). We packed lots of snacks and water and set out in the morning, only to be met by increasingly deteriorating weather conditions the further we went. With ridiculously strong wind gusts (so strong you could lean over and it held you up) and sheet-like sideways rain, we grudgingly decided we should turn back before reaching the end of the trail (the last hour of the hike is extremely steep and very dangerous in high winds and rain and we were previously advised that today was not safe to hike that portion). We were frustrated later on in the day when the weather seemed to clear up, but we still managed to enjoy the afternoon with some relaxation, tasty drinks at a local cerveceria (Patagonian microbrewery), and a quiet dinner at the hotel (complete with birthday champagne, of course). An excellent birthday memory celebrated in beautiful Patagonia!
Friday morning we took the bus back to El Calafate, from where we hopped on a flight to Ushuaia - the southernmost city in the world, known here as "el fin del mundo". Stay tuned for updates from "the end of the world!"
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