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Published: February 10th 2009
Looks like this chap fell from the glacier!
A Very Bendy Beginning
The journey from Valparaiso in Chile to San Luis in Argentina made us very happy we had waited until the second
of January, instead of travelling on New Year´s day. It was one of the curviest, windiest and bendiest roads we have ever been on. We had forgotten the one tiny little thing in the way of a nice straight road through...The Andes! It was a beautiful trip though and aside from the 4 hour border crossing process it was a great journey. The border crossing took so long because despite it being the day after new year and the day before a weekend, there were only 2 of a potential 12 windows open at immigration, on both sides. We can just imagine the conversation when doing the rotas for this day; Immigration boss
...okay chaps, it's the day after New Year´s day, we´re going to be mentally busy with people entering and exiting our countries, how many staff shall I put on? Hmmnn. Let me see. I could be helpful and use my common sense and put on extra staff. Yes, that would mean the border queues would run smoothly and people wouldn´t have
One of the colourful buildings in La Boca
to wait too long. Staff
....yeah, but it´s the day after New Year´s Day, we still want to party. Immigration boss
...Fair enough, let them wait, suckers, and feel free to take extra breaks that day too.
So, 4 hours of standing in a queue, three trips to the loo and a slow clap protest from the locals later and we EVENTUALLY crossed into Argentina and wine Country.
No Vine Visits, But Plenty Of Wine Drinking
Some of you may find this hard to believe, but we actually passed through Mendoza - land of just about any wine worth tasting - without stopping, but for a very good reason....
We met Mabel on the Inca Trail a few months ago and had such a good time we decided we should change our plans and go and visit her place a few hours east of Mendoza. Unaccustomed as we were to Argentinean time, we were a little worried that we had asked Mabel to come and pick us up at what turned out to be almost midnight. We shouldn´t have been! Seconds after getting into the car she was asking if we wanted to go straight out
Penguin in Ushuaia
to a bar or go home and change first. Brilliant! So our first night/morning in Argentina was spent in a lovely little bar which doubled as someone´s house most of the time, watching a group of friends play an eclectic mix of instruments and singing to an adoring crowd.
Vegetarians Look Away!
The next day things just kept getting better. Mabel was planning a ´little barbecue´ in our honour but before long this turned into a typical Argentinian ´asado´ with about 20 people along for the ride. Now, as a Kiwi, David considers himself somewhat of a barbeque expert, but this asado put anything he or Tracey had ever witnessed in their lives well and truly in the shade.
Firstly there is the preparation...and we should point out this is done in a strictly hierarchical way. The unwritten rules were clear as day, even to novices. Anyone under 40 shouldn´t even bother trying to get close to the actual barbecue to place a piece of meat, or heaven forbid, offer advice. Between 30 and 40 you may be useful for carrying over the wood they use as fuel, or for fetching an onion or two, and under
Sea Lions at Punta Loma near Puerto Madryn
30, well, just stay near the wine and out of the way. Of course we are talking about men here. The women, by virtue of their gender are already eliminated from the actual cooking process, though they are responsible for the highly important preparation of the meat.
Right, back to the cooking. If you are over 40 it really depends if it is your house and who else is present. But generally speaking the most senior gentleman there, reverred as the Asado King, will eventually end up at the coal face, overseeing the cooking, maintaining the fire, chain smoking and holding court, red wine in hand. Our Asado King was ´El Negro´and boy did he cook us up a treat. We were about to taste exactly why Argentina is famous for its beef. We think around 15 kilos of cow must have been served up that night and oh my god it was GORGEOUS. And then the singing started. We´re not sure if they burn all the babies that can´t sing at birth, but absolutey everyone had a great voice and several had amazing voices and everyone
the words. We struggled to think of 2 songs that
Got enough there Dave?
Mabel shows Dave how to have a real BBQ
know could play on a guitar and that everyone else could sing along to. It was amazing to be there just listening. Eventually, after we managed a world record 40 minutes of ´Guatanamera´ on a drunken loop with bananas and pepper pots for mics we got to bed around 5 am.
There Are No Poor Wise Men Here
Early to bed, early to rise just isn´t a phrase the average Argentinian has heard of. Most days don´t really get started until well after 2pm, but then they go on so late and it is so warm and light for so long that it doesn´t matter. Tracey stuggled with the whole lie-in situation, but tiredness and the re-appearance of scary ´working continuous earlies´lines around the eyes eventually convinced her to have a few longer sleeps.
We spent the next few days sunbathing by a lake, rowing and drinking our body weight in 'mate´with some of Mabel´s friends and family and generally having a lovely time.
Fancy A Mate, Mate?
A quick note on ´mate´ pronounced mat-ay. It is a part of life in Argentina and we think it sums up the culture. Mate is
a drink made with dried herbs. It is usually made with hot water, but can be made with cold water, any cold drink at all or milk. It can be drunk with or without sugar and you can have one cup or 20. What matters and what is different about mate is the way
that it is drunk. The herbs are poured into the mate ´cup´which is often made of a dry gourd or from wood. A metal straw with a kind of strainer on the end is inserted into the herbs, then hot water is poured over the top. The first person drinks to the bottom then fresh water is added and the cup passed to the next person. It is as much a social activity as a drink and encompasses all we experienced staying with Mabel and meeting her friends. A culture of sharing and kindness, ´mi casa es tu casa´ taken to the extreme.
Hello, Buenos Aires!
David got stuck with the Buenos Aires song from Evita going round and round in his head as we travelled to the capital in what turned out to be the first of several very swanky buses in Argentina.
The Cemetary in Recoleta
We actually travelled with one of Mabel´s friends who very kindly showed us where to go when we arrived. Where to go was actually Mabel´s daughter´s flat. Daniela invited us to stay having not even met us, which was so kind, especialy as we discovered she lives in a one bed flat and was giving up her bed for our stay.
A lot of Buenos Aires time was spent trying to sort out yet anther insurance claim for our camera and finding somewhere to buy a new one, plus arranging our trip to the south of the country. Normally we turn up somewhere and buy our tickets for the next place without booking ahead. That is not possible in Argentina at the moment because it is summer holiday time and EVERYONE is travelling around by bus and staying in hostels. Add to that the fact that only 3 bus companies actually travel all the way down to Ushuaia (The World´s most southern city) and sprinkle on top the fact these companies make it almost impossible to book ahead, even though you have to...and you can see why this was a sightly frustrating time. Anyhow, it eventually got sorted (anyone
Tracey and Daniela in Recoleta Park
reading this and wanting advice drop us an email for more info) and we got back to enjoying BA.
There are so many things you could do in Buenos Aires but time being short we had to limit it to just a few. The Casa Rosada, BA´s equivalent to The White House, was unfortunately shut for renovation but we could still see the outside and the balcony where Evita gave her "Don´t cry for me Argentina" speech to the masses. Also on the list was the huge monument to the Falklands War or to the Islas Malvinas as they are referred to here. We had to feel sorry for the poor soldiers standing either side of it in full ceremonial dress in 35 degree heat. The whole docks area has been renovated to create some really nice areas for swanky restaurants and wine bars, though as prices compare to London we didn´t stop there for long. The most interesting areas were Recoleta Park and Boca. Recoleta has a huge green open space, lovely market stalls and a massive cemetary. It is the most ornate cemetary we have ever seen in our lives. Huge monuments built in honour of individual
Bright coloured houses in La Boca in Buenos Aires
families, most with the coffins on display through wrought iron and glass doors. Quite a few had creepy staircases down to a lower level where other coffins were stacked up. It was amazing walking round it during the day, though our imaginations dread to think what it would feel like to walk through at night!
Evita is buried in this cemetary and for all the pomp and ceremony that seemed to surround her life, she has been buried with her family, the Duartes, rather than as a Peron, in a large, but not overly dramatic building.
Recoleta also has a lovely flower. Well, it has plenty of flowers, but one of them is built from an old warplane. It opens during the day and shuts at night and is surrounded by a pond. It it strangely beautiful as it reflects city vistas in its huge metal petals.
How To Celebrate A Cheat In Style
Boca was our final stop in BA. Full of warnings not to stray too far from the touristy streets we went along with our camera (no 3) practically stapled to David´s chest. But actually we had no problems
Diego, is that you?
and the whole area was very pretty. For some reason this is where an artist decided that a canvas wasn´t big enough for his work and started painting all the houses in beautiful bright colours. The result is several rows of lovely old colonial style wooden houses in all kinds of shapes and sizes, painted in an array of blues, reds, yellows, pinks and greens. It has turned into a very arty area now and once you push through the tourist cafes that have popped up everywhere, there are artists displaying paintings and sketches in all directions. Boca is also home to the Boca Juniors football team, infamous due to a certain player who likes to use his hands as much as his feet. There are pictures of Maradona everywhere and even look-a-likes posing for pictures. The entire concrete stadium is painted in the club colours of blue and yellow and outside the gates you can´t move for merchandise sellers flogging everything from t-shirts to scarfs to whistles and drums.
We managed to do all this sight seeing on the buses, thanks to a very handy guide that Daniela had lent us. London could do with one actually. It´s
A nice way to make a living!
a bit like an A-Z but each grid square is referenced on a bus timetable too. So if you are in A3 on pg 27 it will tell you all the busses that pass through that square. Then you go to the place you want to get to in square 6B on pg 32 and see if any of the busses in that list match the first one. It is very clever.
Meat, Glorious Meat
We finished our stay with a couple of nights out with Daniela. As previously explained this actually means mornings out, as you don´t leave the house until after midnight and don´t even think of coming home until around 6am. We managed to see a live band in San Telmo, drink red wine ´til dawn in Palermo and eat an ENORMOUS steak in a great ´parilla´ in the centre of town. This place was a reccommendation from Daniela´s godparents who had already been really kind to us in San Luis. The restaurant was amazing and the food was soooo good and soooo cheap compared to home that we could hardly believe it. The three of us ate sideplate-sized steaks, chips and salad plus wine
Daniela showed us to an amazing parilla restaurant for a full-on steak
and water for the price of one steak from somewhere like Guacho in London. Amazing!
And so to the expensive, but worth it part of the trip, down to the World´s southernmost city. We actually flew part of the way because Argentina is so damn big and the buses are so expensive. Flying was also painful because if you are an Argentinian resident you can get fairly cheap flights, but if you are a foreigner you have to pay up to 3 times the price on some airlines. Grumbling aside we arrived in Rio Gallegos airport at something like 1am and unfortunately found that the bus terminal there doesn´t stay open all night or run services through the night. So after an unsuccessful attempt to get a room in a nearby hostel we found ourselves bedding down on a few hard plastice seats in the terminal for a few hours of uncomfy shut eye.
One Hell Of An Ice Cube
Slightly bleary-eyed we headed for El Calafate which is a town for tourists really. Everything has been built with dollars in mind, from "artesan ice cream" to "artesan wine" and "artesan chocolates". We quickly
El Perito Moreno as seen for the 1st time
learnt "artesan" meant pricey and headed for the supermarket instead.
El Calafate is famous for the nearby Parque Nacional Los Glaciares and the star of the show "Perito Moreno". PM is awsome. Adequate superlatives don´t exist to do it justice, so a brief description instead: It is 30km long and is grinding its way down a 5km wide valley. At its face it is 60m high (20 storey building) and it advances up to 2m per day. It´s face is like a luminescent blue wall dropping into a beautiful blue lake, and the best thing is you can get within 50m of it from dry land for amazing views. The sounds are also brilliant. It creaks and groans, splits and cracks like a living thing. Warm clothes and a little patience watching the beast reward you with the sight of huge chunks of ice breaking off and crashing into the lake with an enormous roar. It was one of those places where you could spend 30 minutes staring, walk away to a different view point and have your breath taken away again by the first new glimpse you get. Of course Sod´s Law also says that the minute you
Ice, Ice Baby
turn your back is the moment the ice crashes into the water...but we saw it happen a few times and it was fantastic.
P..P..P..P..Pick Up A Penguin
Back on the bus and the most amusing journey we have been on for a while. Due to the strange shape of the land borders between Argentina and Chile, to get to Ushuaia we had to exit Argentina and enter Chile, take a ferry across a small stretch of water, exit Chile and enter Argentina again. This is somewhat of a farce, though a well organised farce we have to admit. On the bus, off the bus, on the bus and an hour wait at some pointless police check somewhere along the way. Throw away all fresh produce before entering Chile, off the bus, on the bus. Wait for a ferry, off the bus (spot some funky little black and white dolphins following the boat during the crossing) on the bus, etc, etc. You get the picture. We eventually arrived in Ushuaia around 9pm and thanked our lucky stars we had booked a hostel because it was packed!
Ushuaia is another tourist town, but it is in a beautiful setting
Caling out for their better halves to return from feeding
with the mountains behind you and the very chilly sea in front. It is currently the most southerly city in the World but is probably going to lose that title to Chile pretty soon. Chile has a more southerly island (Isla Navarino) than Tierra De Fuego where Ushuaia is located, but at the moment the largest settlement, Puerto Williams, is only classified as a town. Ushuaia has all kinds of boat trips to spot sea lions and dolphins plus Magallanes penguins, but we opted for the only company that actually take you to the island where the penguins nest and shelter and lets you get off and walk around. Trips are limited to very small numbers and a marine biologist studying the penguins is present the whole time to make sure you don´t upset or disturb them.
This trip was incredible. Tracey forgot the potential sea sickness from a bobbing boat and was jumping up and down with excitement at the first sight of the penguins on the island. When we went ashore and they actually waddled towards us rather than away it was unbelievable. We spent some time looking around the nesting area where the babies were in
Just The Penguins and Us
The rookery on Martillo Island
the middle of their growing up process. From hatching to total independence only takes 3 months. In that time they lose their little fluffy grey feathers and get those lovely sleak, oily black and white ones instead. They learn to hunt fish instead of surviving on what mum and dad ´regurge´ for them every day and they stop living in the holes they were born in. Then the best bit. We went back to the beach and just sat down. Being on eye level with the penguins was amazing. They are very inquisitive so they come very close. When Tracey lay down flat on the rocks a few of the braver chaps got within 50cm of her, but decided she wasn´t worth eating and eventually lost interest.
We had hired a car for this day and despite getting a flat within 5 minutes of picking up the car and having to change the tyre in the dark with a malfunctioning jack, the rest of the day was successful if a little tense when driving along the unpaved, potholed roads with no spare! Still, we made it back in one piece, without damaging another tyre!
Not Such An Amazing
Ushuaia also has its own glacier, Martial, but really you visit it for the walk and the views rather than the glacier itself. There is a beautiful walk through the forest to get to the shingle at the base of the mountain where the glacier lives, then you walk up a path that follows the cable car above you (or take the ride if you prefer). Then there´s a bit more walking and scrabbling up hill for amazing views back down over Ushuaia before arriving at the glacier. As it had been raining every day in town and snowing every day on the mountain the glacier was actually covered in a layer of the white stuff, so not much of a spectacle in itself compared to the awsome Perito Moreno.
Yet More Stamps Make David A Little Nervous
And so it was time to leave Tierra Del Fuego and head north east to Patagonia and the land of the former Welsh colonies...but first there were those 4 pesky border crossings to deal with again. David has become an immigration officer´s nightmare in a bid to keep his passport valid long enough for us to finish
We Just Borrowed This
Someone else had taken the time to build him, we thought it only right to immortalise him forever
our trip. The problem is he is runing out of space and with all this criss-crossing of borders the pages were filling up fast. Quickly learning the words for "stamp here please, I have no room" he was begging every officer to fill in tiny gaps rather than using a new page. Most were happy to oblige though a momentary lack of concentration by Dave did lead to a middle of the page stamp disaster at one point!
Grunty Sea Lions
And so to Puerto Madryn, which as far as we could tell was about as Welsh as a Scotsman, other than the name. There are some villages near by you can visit for a buffet style traditional Welsh tea but we had images of overly dressed-up twee cliches rather than an example of descendants of the Welsh settlers still living there, so we passed on that one and headed off to see sea lions instead. We rented bikes for this trip after reading in a certain over-read-not-particularly-accurate-a-lot-of-the-time guide book that it was 16km to the national park along a road out of town. Well, they got the distance and direction right but failed to mention that
Sea Lions at Punta Loma
said road was actually a lethal mixture of deep sand and gravel, prone to creating near impossible conditions for pedalling a bike. When we did get moving there was the added thrill of never knowing exactly when the rear tyre would skid out from underneath you or simply stop. dead.
Anyhow, we made it to Punta Lomo reserve and for some reason did not get stopped by the men talking to car passengers as they arrived. This meant no entry fee! We pedalled the last little bit up hill in the scorching sun and arrived to a beautiful view down across the ocean and a sea lion rookery where around 50 or so sea lions were basking in the sun with their babies One of the bull males decided to show his strength just as we got there and started grunting and roaring at any other male in the vicinity. Later a few big guys came to blows over a female they obviously decided was looking rather attractive. We´re not sure if it was the whiskers or the fishy breath that did it, but the fight was amazing to watch. Their strength and determination to win explain why the
biggest bruiser of the bunch had a few wounds. The water was beautifully clear too which meant that we could watch the sea lions playing and swimming in the water. They were so amazingly graceful in the sea compared to their awkward flop, wiggle, drag motion on land.
Come In Bus Number 12, Your Time Is Up
Unfortunately a HUGE cruise ship had docked in Puerto Madryn that morning and just as we were enjoying the peace and quiet, the fresh air and the strange squeaks, moans and barks from the sea lions, a huge tour bus pulled up full of loud, aging, mostly American cruisers eager for their 3 minute look at the animals before the bus pulled off again to visit one of those ´typical Welsh tea rooms´. The three bus loads were in and out soon enough and we had the place back to ourselves. It was hard to pull ourselves away from watching all the comings and goings on the beach but as the day got hotter and hotter and with the prospect of another sand ride back home we set off for town. We stopped on the way for a swim which
Sea Lion Colony
Our view was amazing
turned out to be a heck of a lot colder than we had imagined it would be but it was refreshing! Not content with surviving the sliding road David decided we should go and visit the cruise shiop where it was docked on the other side of town so we pedalled all the way there only to find it was moored in a private dock and the security guard wasn´t going to let us past for love nor money.
The Cruiser Appears Again
Another VERY long bus journey got us back to Buenos Aires where Daniela very kindly put us up again.The cruiser appeared in Buenos Aires too, with much pomp and ceremony as it is actually the largest cruise liner in the world. No wonder there were so many people about! Again we weren´t allowed within proper viewing distance, so now we are off to Uruguay.
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