Argentina Travel Diary

Not even arriving back in the UK to find that some lovely individual had stolen my brand new North Face Jacket from the back of my car can put a dampener on the most amazing holiday we have just had. Visiting Argentina has long been on my bucket list. In fact, it’s somewhere I’ve wanted to visit ever since the summer of 2001 when I worked with a number of Argentinian Polo Players and Grooms. It wasn’t their sexy accents though that made me want to visit, it was their photos and tales of their home land that did the trick.

And the older I’ve grown and the more I’ve learnt about Argentina, the more I have wanted to go and see this country of extremes. It wasn’t until Doug saw the Top Gear Special though that I was able to convince him to join me. I never thought I’d be thanking Jeremy Clarkson for helping me book a holiday!

Despite a few hiccups on the way I can say Argentina did not disappoint, and even though we only saw a tiny section of the country, I am in love with it and cannot wait to return in the future to keep exploring more of Patagonia and the North.

Argentina is the 8th largest country in the world and is a land of stark contrasts, from the European like café culture of Buenos Aires to the vast flat unfenced expanse of the Pampas, from the barren windswept steppe of Patagonia to the snowcapped mountains of the Andes, from the lunar landscape of Salta to the emerald water of the Lake District. It is impossible not to want more!

Below are the daily emails I sent home of our adventures. I hope you get some enjoyment from reading them and hopefully some inspiration to visit the country one day too.

Day 1 – Buenos Aires

A photo of a map with a pin sticking into the Argentina capital of Buenos Aires

Looking back at all our Day 1 updates from long haul holidays they suggest that they are never the best days. I think it’s fair to say that day 1 of our Argentina adventure is no exception and as such I will keep it brief as my current opinion of Buenos Aires is most likely clouded by extreme tiredness.

Due to the stresses and long hours we’ve had to put in at work on the run up to the holiday we were nowhere near as prepared as we normally would have been which has caused us a couple of problems:

  1. We had no money on us on arrival and were relying on being able to get money out from an ATM. It turns out we couldn’t. As we were heading for our food tour we tried to withdraw some cash but all our cards were refused so we enquired inside the bank to be told that maximum cash withdrawals were A$300 (Argentinian pesos) per day, that’s £15, for which we were going to be charged £5 per withdrawal! But our cards wouldn’t even let us withdraw that! The only option was to find an HSBC which took us an hour of frantic searching (we were at risk of missing our food tour). Luckily this worked (max £100 withdrawal) however this could pose us quite severe problems elsewhere in Argentina if we don’t manage to get it resolved as we can’t rely on finding HSBC banks in the smaller towns we are going to.
  2. We weren’t expecting to arrive to an unseasonably cold Spring and therefore don’t have anywhere near as many warm clothes as we should (and the money problems pose a problem of being able to go and buy additional ones!). On top of that having treated myself to a brand new expensive waterproof hiking jacket I’ve left it on the back seat of my car at Heathrow and the forecast for the next two weeks is rain!

Argentina = Meat sweats

That aside there’s been a lot to like so far. Predominantly the food! We went on our customary food tour and we were not disappointed. It started off with Choripan which is a thick chorizo sausage made with beef instead of pork and some bread. Very tasty.

Our second stop was an Empanada shop specialising in Empanadas Salteñas (originating from the Northern province of Salta). Instead of mince it was filled with chopped steak and potato and it was quite frankly delicious.

Our third stop was a parrilla (grill) restaurant, something you can’t really miss if travelling through Argentina. This is where we had our main meal: first up grilled Provoleta cheese, followed by grilled vegetables, followed by Entraña (skirt steak) and finishing with Bife de Chorizo (which is an Argentinian cut of beef most similar to fillet steak). Needless to say it was all delicious and beautifully cooked, especially the Bife de Chorizo. For our final stop we had Argentinian Dulce de Leche ice cream.

Photo taken in the Parrilla restaurant where you can see the steaks being cooked over charcoal.
Parrilla restaurant

Regarding our impressions of the city itself it is a hard one. Whilst there is a very friendly vibe it isn’t anything special to look at. It is meant to be the most European of all the capitals in Southern America and therefore I suppose I was expecting just that. In a way it is, but a much more run down (or developing) version of a European capital. What we have seen so far is definitely not pretty, simply an endless amount of high risers, old and ugly ones contrasted next to shiny new ugly ones. The pavements are all in a terrible state and you have to look down all the time to avoid either stepping in a hole or treading on dog poo. However we have also come across some incredibly trendy and quirky shops and restaurants. We stopped at a Breaking Bad Burger Joint for a drink.

Photo of a burger joint called Heisenburger.
I wonder if you get any extras here?

Our dinner venue was also rather quirky, a Patagonian Texan restaurant. 4 items on the menu: ribs, chorizo, steak burger (strips of steak not minced) or a mix of the above 3. Very cheap and very tasty.

You are probably getting the impression that it is a very meat heavy diet. Argentinians are stereotyped for their asados (BBQ’s) and with good reason. As we passed some roadworks earlier they had a BBQ fired up in the middle of the road where they were cooking a chicken whilst tarmacking around it! There are also lots of hate graffitis against vegetarians and vegans and messages in restaurants that say #veggiesgohome!

I’m looking forward to getting some sleep tonight and I’m also looking forward to learning more about this slightly bizarre country.

Day 2 – Buenos Aires

We had a great day visiting the various neighbourhoods of the city with our tour guide Nayla. Buenos Aires is a funny place, incredibly trendy in some ways, somewhat underdeveloped in others. We could easily be in any European city. Culture, art and politics play a very important part of life in Buenos Aires and the tour predominantly consisted of seeing important buildings and learning about Evita Peron (Don’t cry for me Argentina). I won’t bore you with all the facts but here are the ones I found most interesting:

– It is an incredibly young city and is only celebrating its 200th birthday this year (since becoming independent) however even the oldest buildings are only 300 years old

– University education is free for any of the main careers, i.e medicine, law, engineering, etc. It’s not only free for Argentinians but for any nationality who wishes to be educated here.

The two sculptures that most caught my attention were Floralis Generica (a huge metal flower that opens during the day and closes itself at night) and a small recreation of the Iguazu Falls.

The best part of our tour however was the Recoleta Cemetery where everybody who is anybody is buried (political figures, Nobel prize winners, etc). But this is no ordinary cemetery, it’s more of a city of mausoleums laid out to resemble the city. I don’t think any description I could give would ever do it justice, nor do the photos show the scale of it.

Photo of a cat sunbathing in the Recoleta Cemetary with the mausoleums in the background.
Cat lying amongst the tombs

The best tomb was that of a husband and wife. The story goes that for the last 30 years of their marriage they hadn’t spoken to each other so the monument shows them looking grumpy and away from each other! (Note taken for Doug’s and my grave!)

The other section of the tour I really liked was La Boca, the neighbourhood where tango was born. I would have loved to have spent longer soaking up the atmosphere here however it also happens to be the most dangerous area in Buenos Aires so we didn’t spend overly long there which was a shame as there are numerous cafés where you simply relax and watch the locals tango (and get robbed at the same time).

In regards to local food today we discovered a submarino which is a mug of hot milk and a chocolate bar which you stir into the milk to make yourself a hot chocolate. We also tried the local delicacy Alfajor which is like a chocolate covered Oreo but with Dulce de Leche in the middle (it was rather tasty). For lunch we found a local bar where Doug had a delicious £12 steak and I had pork chops. And then for dinner we went to a Pizzeria for what is meant to be the best Pizza in BA. Pizza? In Argentina? There is a huge Italian influence here and as such Italian food accounts for a huge part of the Argentinians diet! They even have pasta take away (I don’t even think the Americans are that lazy!).

Day 3 – Buenos Aires – Polo

There is one thing to guarantee a smile on my face and today it has left me with a huge grin. That’s right, I’m talking of horses!

We’ve spent all day at an Hacienda in the pampa countryside an hour outside of the city learning everything there is about polo. The venue itself was stunning. Normally the day revolves around one of the large polo fields and swimming pools, however since today it was cold and wet it revolved around the fire in the farm house which had a lovely charm to it.

Cozy photo of the hacienda - does it get any more Argentinian?
Charming hacienda

We were welcomed with an Empanada and some wine before being taken off to the arena polo ground to watch the professionals play. In between chukkas we met the horses and the players and also had a go at some on the ground stick and ball. After learning the rules and seeing how it is done we went back for lunch. A banquet would probably describe it better and yes, you guessed, it was an asado (BBQ) and consisted of lots of meat! On today’s menu we had grilled vegetables, a token bit of salad, grilled chorizo, black pudding, Bife de chorizo (that was the thick juicy steak) and ribs. Of course all served with wine.

Another meaty photo. This time lunch being prepared over a charcoal grill at the hacienda where we were playing polo.
Light lunch before playing polo!

We sat and ate lunch with the polo players who were all very chatty once they realised I spoke Spanish. After a long conversation about travelling (lots more ideas of countries to visit!) one of the players left us his number and email address and has essentially invited us to go and visit whenever we want. That kind of gesture is not uncommon here and they are genuine offers! Pity we can’t take him up on it, we will need to come back!

After an hour or so digesting the food sitting by the fire it was our turn to play polo. The other couple who were with us had never ridden and we tried to pretend that it was also the case but as soon as I got on the instructor said “She can ride”. We were divided up so that Doug was in a team with the girl from the other couple and an Argentinian groom and I were with Stephan and an Argentinian groom.

As we started practising it became more obvious that I could ride and by some miracle I was also able to hit the ball too so by the time it came to play the game the instructor had given the Argentinian grooms strict instructions to make it “more difficult” for me. And they did!! They kept blocking me, riding me off and hooking me which he kept telling me was to make it more fun for me. He obviously didn’t know how competitive I am and was rather surprised when I managed to unseat him!

Photo of the 4 guests fooling about with the polo sticks.
Only fools, no horses!

Once the match was over we went for a hack round the Estancia (which I must say was beautiful) and then were greeted back at the house with Brownies and ice cream. I’m hoping we can get away with eating less for the rest of the holiday as otherwise we might get confused with whales on our return!

Day 4  – Patagonia

An early start today saw us catching a flight to Trelew in Patagonia, then an hour bus drive to our accommodation in Puerto Madryn followed by a 5 minute turn around for a 400km round trip in a cramped car to Punta Tombo, the home to the largest Magellanic Penguin colony in the world! At its busiest it is home to over 1 million penguins, however, they only started arriving 2 weeks ago so there were a mere 20,000 of them there today (guessing).

Photo of Bea kneeling behind a penguin who is inquisitively looking into the camera.
Penguin selfie

Doug might not agree but the long journey and slight discomfort to get there was totally worth it (I’m not sure why he’s complaining, he got to sit in the front whilst I was crammed in the back with two others). We arrived once all the tourists had gone so we had the place to ourselves.

It is the male penguins that arrive first ready to prepare the nests for the arrival of their lady friends so the majority that we saw today were no doubt male, however some of their nest building efforts left a lot to be desired. It seems men from all species are lazy when it comes to housework! The females have just started arriving so all the males were calling out to let them know where they are based so that they can find their partner.

A photo of two penguins brawling although it looks like they are hugging in the photo
A penguin brawl! Although it looks more like a hug!

I would seem that all the stories about penguins mating for life do not apply to Megallanic penguins. The loyalty lies to the nest and if the lady isn’t happy with quality of nest when she arrives she will look for a different partner. We did witness a few brawls between penguins fighting for the female penguin’s attention and we saw a number of ladies playing hard to get.

It was amazing to be able to walk amongst them (the path took you right through the colony so that the penguins and us actually shared the same walkway!).

Collage of photos of Doug impersonating a penguin!
Doug pretending to be a penguin

Since we were by the sea and the local delicacy is seafood we had dinner at the best seafood restaurant in town, El Nautico (according to TripAdvisor and our driver). For starters we had Grilled Langostinos. Oh my, they were amazing! Best of all they had all the flavour that the Spanish ones have but without the messiness of having to de-shell them. I could easily have eaten a couple dozen more. For the main course Doug had Spinach Ravioli (?!) and I had White Salmon in a Basque sauce (oil, vinegar, paprika, garlic and lemon). Again, delicious!

Day 5 – Peninsula Valdes

Today didn’t go to plan. We were meant to go to Peninsula Valdes on a wildlife spotting excursion starting off with whale watching and then followed by visiting an elephant sea lion colony, a small penguin colony as well as looking out for all other types of wildlife including Orcas. Unfortunately we had an unprecedented amount of rain last night and since we are in the driest region of Patagonia (known as being the Patagonian desert) where they don’t normally experience rain the infrastructure simply couldn’t cope (all the roads are made of clay with gravel on top so you can imagine the consequences of heavy rain!).

Photo of Bea doing a really bad seal impression!
The only seal we saw on our adventures!

With the excursion called off our only option was to go whale watching. Luckily the bay is home to around 1200 Southern Right Wales at this time of year as all the pregnant whales travel to the bay to give birth and raise their young before they commence their migration to Antartica. In addition female and male whales also come here to reproduce, though they only stay here for a maximum of a month.

Although we saw lots of whales (some within a 5-6 metres from the boat) we didn’t see any interesting behaviour up close. We did however see a lot of whales breaching and putting their tail fluke in the air in the distance. Whilst driving back we also saw a mother and calf playing within 10-15 metres of the shore but unfortunately not close enough for good photos.

Photo of a whale lying in the sea... unfortunately we didn't see any exciting behaviour!
The most exciting whale picture we managed to get!

You are pretty much guaranteed to see Mums and their Calves swimming very close to the shore in El Doradillo beach as they use this stretch to teach their young ones to swim and get fit ready for their migration. When they are really young you can even see the mum swimming on her back with the baby lying on her chest. Other behaviours they need to teach the young are diving, feeding and breaching amongst others.

As I have no amazing photos to show you I’ll share with you the facts I found most interesting:

– There is nothing that the Mums can feed from in these waters so the whales, who are here for roughly 6 months survive solely off their blubber.

– Whales being mammals produce milk but don’t have nipples (or breasts for that matter). Instead they have a slit and the baby whale presses on this to release the milk into the water. Only it isn’t milk as we know it, it is more of a thick cream that floats so that the young one can mop it up. They consume around 150 litres of milk each day.

– The baby whales grow by 3cm and 50kg a day until they eventually reach 14 metres long if male or up to 17 metres long if female (imagine the growing pains!)

– Another really interesting fact is that in the embryo they actually have hind legs! These get absorbed into the body mass but there are two tiny feet hidden in their skeleton as you can see in this image.

Photo of a whale's vertebrae with two little feet hanging underneath
Hanging from the vertebrae are the tiny whale feet!

– Each of the whales testicles weigh 500kg and their penis is 2.5 metres long and has a heat sensitive tip to help it find the females slit for penetration. The average female will mate with around 8 males which creates a pool of sperm inside so they never know who the father is!

– Seagulls have become a real problem for the Southern Right Whale as they have a large amount of callouses on their face and body and the seagulls eat away at these. The problem lies in that they don’t stop when they reach the skin, instead they continue pecking away so that can eat their blubber.

Despite not being able to go on to the Peninsula the guides did still fill our day by driving around the coast spotting more whales and taking us in search of some rather less dramatic wildlife. We spotted some Guanaco which are like Llamas only bigger and fiercer. They are apparently incredibly evil and impossible to domesticate and contain. They jump fences with ease (we witnessed them pop over barb wire that was taller than their head from a standstill and with incredible ease) and are a nightmare for farmers as they eat all the grass!

A photo of my husband Doug with the Peninsula Valdes coastline in the background
The less impressive wildlife .,, the Douglas!

We also spotted quite a few Lesser Cavy which look like a mix between hamsters and rats. In addition there were loads of wild birds, only one of which I can name: the Mockingbird. Incredibly inquisitive it came and sat on the wing mirror of the car whilst we were stopped at one of our whale watching spots.

On the way back we got dropped off in town where we had a coffee, I bought myself an overpriced waterproof jacket (still annoyed at myself for forgetting mine) and then had a lovely relaxed stroll as the sun set along the seafront back to our hotel. Dinner at the hotel and an early night ready for another early start.

Day 6 – Patagonia – El Calafate

Photo of a snow capped mountain behind a a bright blue lake
Welcome to El Calafate – photo by Luis Dalvan

Not much to report today as it was a travel day. A 5 am start to jump in a plane back to Buenos Aires for a connecting flight down to El Calafate in Western Patagonia (only a few hundred miles from the most southern tip of Argentina). Quite possibly the two smallest airports we have been to. Trelew only had two gates and one coffee shop and I think El Calafate didn’t even have that!

El Calafate is the gateway to Los Glaciares National Park, home to the largest continental ice extension after Antartica. It is made up of 47 large glaciers, 13 of which flow to the Atlantic as well as a further 200 smaller ones. Really looking forward to exploring the area over the next couple of days.

The landscape is quite dramatic here as it is where the Patagonian Steppe (desert) meets the Andes. It was incredibly drastic to see from the air as it was like a line was drawn in the ground. The Steppe is incredibly barren and topographically made up of table top massifs (a very boring landscape). Then out of nowhere these jagged towering snow-capped mountains appear (quite the opposite from boring!).

El Calafate itself reminds me of a Swiss ski resort (not that I have ever been to one). The Main Street features cutesy overpriced knotted-pine souvenir shops, chocolate shops (Argentinians love their chocolate!), outdoor shops and restaurants. As soon as you leave the Main Street though all pretences are lost with the roads turning to mud and the cute little buildings becoming rather ugly ad hoc developments.

The most noteworthy thing of today was our meal. We decided to “splash” out and go to TripAdvisors number 1 restaurant: Buenos Cruces. No wonder it is number one, not only was the food mouth-watering but the service was one of the best I have ever experienced. They asked and remembered our names, made sure we were happy to continue between courses, explained the dishes and offered to customise any dish as we wished (they even said, even if it isn’t on the menu you can still ask for it!).

Food wise they brought us out some home baked bread and lentil stew on the house. We then had Lamb Empanadas as a starter which were really flavoursome (famous Patagonian Lamb). For mains Doug had a Peppered Tenderloin Steak and I had Trout (a local delicacy) with Pumpkin risotto. Mine was delicious, unfortunately they brought Doug’s steak out well done instead of medium rare. They did offer to change it straight away but Doug said not to worry which unfortunately meant he didn’t enjoy it as much (although it was still very tasty). I don’t think it will put us off coming back though as mistakes happen.

Photo of y trout dish with pumpkin risotto
Delicious trout
Photo of the overdone, but still delicious, steak
Tasty steak

One thing I keep meaning to comment on is the Argentinians bond with their dogs. Everyone seems to have a dog (this was true of BA, Puerto Madryn and now here). All the dogs are walked off the lead (even by really busy main roads) and incredibly all the dogs walk to heel impeccably without the need of any interaction from the owners. The lovely thing to see is that they actually seem to love their pooches (not a strange statement to make for an English person but something I have rarely come across whilst travelling before, even through Europe). What’s even more impressive is the fact that you can actually travel on a plane with your dog (in the cabin!).

Photo of Doug having made friends with a local dog (this happens on every holiday!)
Doug’s always making friends with dogs wherever we go!

Day 7 – Patagonia – Los Glaciared National Park

Today was simply fantastic! We spent the day sailing around Lago Argentino taking in some of the most breathtaking scenery I have ever seen. Even the drive there and back was stunning with bright yellow flatland (I’m not sure what the foliage was) and the mountains as a back drop on one side and the blue azure waters of Lago Argentino on the other side.

Photo of the azure blue waters of Lago Argentino
Lago Argentino

Lago Argentino is the largest freshwater lake in Argentina and is fed by the meltwater of the various glaciers that surround it. Because it is a glacial lake there is a lot of sediment in the water which gives it a beautiful milky blue colour.

The two glaciers we saw today were Upsala Glacier which is the largest glacier in the park and Spegazzini Glacier which has the tallest wall. Unfortunately Upsala is also one of the fastest retreating glaciers not just in the park but in the world. On the other hand however the Spegazzini Glacier has seen no retreat whatsoever. Considering they are within such close proximity I wonder why.

Photo as we approached Upsala Glacier, the clouds reflecting on the lake, the broken ice drifting towards the boat and the glacier in the background.
All the broken ice as we neared Upsala Glacier
Photo of Upsala Glacier. Because of the sheer amount of broken ice we couldn't get particularly close.
Upsala Glacier
Photo of Spegazzini Glacier as it falls into the lake
Spegazzini Glacier

We didn’t witness any cracking or crashing of ice whilst we were there but the lake is littered with icebergs of all different shapes and colours (some larger than our boat!). I don’t think any explaining or photos will be able to do justice to the magnitude and beauty of what we saw today.

Photo of a white bright iceberg contrasted against the azure waters of Lago Argentino
Iceberg

Once back at our hotel we warmed up (it was very cold on the boat!) and then headed out for dinner to the same restaurant we went to last night as they had promised us a steak on the house for Doug to make up for the fact that his didn’t come out medium rare, needless to say it was spot on!

Day  8 – Patagonia – Los Glaciares National Park

I thought yesterday was amazing. Today was even better! We went back into Los Glaciares National Park again but this time to visit the Perito Moreno Glacier, the most accessible and therefore best well known of them all. Who would have thought a moving block of ice could be so amazing!

Photo of Perito Moreno Glacier as it spill out from the mountains toards the view point.
My favourite place on earth

Perito Moreno is 30km long, 5km wide and the terminus wall is 70 metres tall in the highest part and moves at roughly 2 and half metres per day in the middle whilst only 10 cm a day at the edges (due to increased friction). The Perito Moreno Glacier is unusual in that it is expanding rather than retreating however the actual reasons why are unknown. The guide suggested that its stability is mainly due to the cold wind sweeping in off the South Pacific Ocean and over the Andes therefore meaning the average temperature on Perito Moreno is 2 degrees colder than any of its neighbours.

One of the other notorious facts of this glacier is the calving ice. Of course ice calving off a glacier and crashing into the water is not unheard of and based on the amount of icebergs quite common, however Perito Moreno takes it to another level with constants rumblings caused by the ice moving. When a piece breaks off it sounds like actual thunder.

Photo of the great wall that is Perito Moreno
Perito Moreno

Unlike Upsala Glacier which petered out into the lake, Perito Moreno is like an actual wall. The reason for this is the depth of the lake. Upsala literally falls into a very deep lake whereas Perito Moreno terminates in a rather shallow lake which creates a lot more friction providing the build up that creates the wall and thus the rupture of large blocks of ice when the pressure from behind becomes too much.

We started off the day by hiking on the glacier. This involved crossing the lake by boat and then taking a short trek through a forest before putting on some crampons and setting off onto the Southern flanks of the glacier. I cannot begin to describe how stunning this was. The formations of the ice were simply magnificent and were made up of all different shades of white and blue. Where the water had melted the pools were a really bright blue. No description or photos will do it justice.

Photo of the bright blue pools that form on the glacier
Like no other hike I have done before

We finished off the hike with a glass of whiskey and some glacier ice (or a glass of glacial water for me). Another interesting fact we learnt today is that you wouldn’t be able to survive from glacial water as it has no minerals at all in it.

Photo of Doug's hand holding a glass of whiskey with glacial ice.
A rewarding glass of whiskey after our glacier hike!

After the hike we returned back to the shores where we ate our sandwiches overlooking Perito Moreno. I can say I have never had a better view for lunch before!

We then finished our tour by visiting the viewing gallery opposite the glacier where we were able to appreciate the full scale of the beast. All I can say is wow!

Photo of Perito Moreno
Perito Moreno

For dinner we returned to the same restaurant again but this time with company: a South African and an American both of whom we met on the tour and both incredibly good company! The food and service was once again divine.

Day 9 – Patagonia – El Calafate – El Chalten

We failed today. Actually, I failed today. We were meant to catch the bus to El Chalten at 8 am this morning. We woke up at 8:20 as I had set the alarm for the wrong day! Feeling rather annoyed as not only has it cost us money but this afternoon was most likely the only good weather window we were going to have in El Chalten to go hiking. Doug surprisingly didn’t seem too bothered (most likely due to the fact he won’t need to go on the 20km hike I had planned).

With a full day to fill we decided to go to the Glaciarium which is a Glacier museum. You’d think we would have had enough of glaciers by now but it was surprisingly interesting and it gave us a birds eye view of all the glaciers in the area as well as the natural park of El Chalten, Cerro Torre and Torres Del Paine (to which Doug’s response was “we’ve seen it now, we no longer have to go!”). It also had lots of photos showing how far the glaciers have retreated over the years (since 1945). It was rather shocking and sad to see.

As part of the museum they show a video of what the end of glacial ice would look like (Hollywood movie style). I was pulling a silly sad face at Doug when this ten year old kid came up to me, touched my arm and said “Don’t worry, it is only a film”. Firstly it was quite funny to be reassured by a young kid, but sad that none of what he had seen had sunk in as a problem.

The highlight however was the ice bar. We got geared up in our Eskimo suits and enjoyed a few drinks in ice glasses in minus 7 degrees Celsius whilst listening to dance music. Whilst Doug went for a Gin and Tonic I tried the local ice vodka with Calafate berry liquor (not bad).

Photo of the glass made of ice within the ice bar
Glass made of ice

The rest of the day was spent looking through the overpriced souvenir shops before jumping on the evening bus to El Chalten, the meca of hiking and climbing in Argentina. The bus ride there was stunning with the Fitz Roy range playing hide and seek behind clouds the whole way there. Unfortunately we were the wrong side of sun set to get a good picture.

When we arrived at El Chalten the entire town was dead. No street lights and no road names which made for interesting navigation to the hotel. We arrived at the dark hotel and only then did we realise that there had been a power cut. For a short while I was concerned about what kind of place we had ended up in!

Day 10 – Patagonia –  El Chalten

As you know from yesterday’s email we are in the mecca of hiking: El Chalten! And of course we went for a small (25km) hike to Lago de los Tres which is meant to be the best place to view Mount Fitz Roy.

Photo of the towering peak of Fitz Roy peaking our from behind the closer hills.
The view of Fitz Roy from our bedroom

We did actually have a really good view of it this morning as we were eating our breakfast, baking in the sun with not a cloud in sight so we were very excited to see it up close (I use we but it was most likely just me). Knowing that the weather was due to turn at around 5pm we were keen to get going so we set off early by grabbing a lift with a local tour who dropped up us off 10km North of the view point (and leaving us to walk back to town).

Landscape photo of the mountain ranges surrounding El Chalten.
Not a bad view to kick start our hike!

Choosing to start from the North meant we were not following the “tourist” route and as such had the entire first half of the day to ourselves and the wilderness. Despite the cloud cover that was already settling in it was a very pleasant walk following one of the glacial rivers through a dead forest which was incredibly eerie but strangely pretty. We passed a glacier on the way and within 2 hours we were at the 8km mark.

As we had been approaching the 8km mark I had spotted this very steep zig zaggy path ahead of us and jokingly said to Doug we were heading up there (I doubt I need to repeat his response). Well, it was not a lie. It was our path! It would lead us to the lake from which we would be seeing the majestic Mount Fitz Roy. The path came with lots of warnings of steepness and it was not joking. In less than a kilometre we would be ascending over 400 metres. A bit of a slog but worthwhile for the views.

The "view" of Fitz Roy was non-existent as it was covered in fog!
What a view!

Or was it? Unfortunately by the time we reached the lake there was no sign of any mountain and had I not seen numerous images to tell me that Mount Fitz Roy was behind the lake I would have been none the wiser that there was anything ahead of me! We should have expected it though, they call it the smoking mountain as it is always enshrouded in clouds. The lake itself was pretty, still iced over with fresh snow on top of it.

It was so cold and windy up there (and with no view) that we retreated swiftly back down the hill and into a hut where we ate our lunch with fellow hikers and travellers with whom we exchanged travel and hiking stories.

It was now time for the final 12km stretch back home along the “tourist” path which took us initially through a marshy sandy land (with lots of dead shrubs), past the very pretty Capri Lake and back down through another dead forest. I’m not sure why all these trees are dead. I’m guessing it must be lack of water. In addition to the dead trees we also saw a hare, a funny looking bird of pray as well as a number of woodpeckers.

Photo of a bird of pray which I can't name.
Can anyone name this bird?

After 6 1/2 hours of hiking we made it back to town. El Chalten is a colourful little village in the most northern tip of Los Glaciares National Park. It was built in 1985 to claim the land from Chile and now serves only as a tourist hub for climbers and hikers. The town is completely removed from everything (El Calafate being its nearest town at a distance of 220km). There is no phone service, only 1 ATM (that didn’t work with our cards), one bank, very limited internet, tiny supermarkets with no food on the shelves and a handful of hostels, B&B’s and restaurants (that also seem to be lacking supplies). Because the high season hasn’t started yet many of locations are not even open. There is not even any postal service unless you count the local bus!

Photo of the picturesque village of El Chalten as seen from the hill
El Chalten as we walked back down the mountain

I also need to amend a previous comment when I said how many dogs people have and how well they walk to heel. Turns out the vast majority are strays that choose to heel as if to say to the person “take me home with you!”.

As you can imagine the rest of the afternoon/evening was spent getting warm, resting and refuelling ready for a potential shorter hike tomorrow if the weather (and Doug) allows.

Day 11 – Patagonia – El Chalten

Welcome to El Chalten
El Chalten – the meka of hiking!

The weather was not in our favour today. We had planned on walking to Laguna Torre to see the glacier that runs off Cerro Torre however we woke up to gale force winds and horizontal rain so instead we had to try and find something to do in a town that still hasn’t woken up as we are in the shoulder season and where all activities are geared to be outdoors!

Our only option was the spa. Doug went for the massage chair whilst I went for a foot massage and the massage chair. This chair was nothing like the ones you find at airports that have a little roller. Instead it was like having 6 people massaging you at once. Your feet go into massage boots and your arms into massage sleeves whilst the rest of the chair scans your body to work out your exact measurements so it can tailor the massage to you. It was surprisingly good.

Very unflattering photo of me sitting in the massage chair.
Massage was good…. but not flattering!

The rest of the day was spent going from one coffee shop to another in search of wifi and warmth until it was time to catch our bus at 6pm to head back to El Calafate. It feels like a bit of a wasted day but that’s nature for you.

Day 12 – Home time

Unfortunately that last day in El Chalten was the only real day left of the holiday with Day 12 spent travelling back to Buenos Aires and Day 13 travelling back to the UK. We spent our last morning in El Calafate walking around the Nimez Nature Reserve watching a number of wild birds in their natural habitat, including Flamingos (which surprised me as I thought they frequented warmer climates!).

I was very sad to go and could have happily stayed another week or two. Unfortunately my bank balance and waist band did not agree so it’s perhaps a good thing we have come home. I have completely fallen in love with the country though, particularly Patagonia and I hope that one day we are in a position to return and explore the country further.

If I were to do anything differently it would be to travel less and spend longer in each location. There was still a lot left to do in El Calafate and had we had a couple more days in either Puerto Madryn or El Chalten we would hopefully not have been as affected by the weather and would have been able to enjoy the location even further.

If Argentina is on your mind, don’t hesitate: go! You will not regret it.

Last but definitely not least I would like to take this opportunity to thank Ross and the team at Rickshaw Travel for having arranged yet another unforgettable holiday.

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