Buenos Aires, Argentina
We experienced our first Argentine sleeper bus from Foz do Iguazu down to Buenos Aires, yes it was a long journey (20 hours) but our big leather reclining seats, movies, and tasty meals accompanied by Argentine wine made it pretty endurable.
I’m not sure if I can give a true tourist account of Argentina’s capital as we were there primarily as students, ok mature students. Our 1-week Spanish course with “Expanish” began with a ring of the school bell first thing on Monday morning. A full week of using our brains, teachers, bells, break times and of course homework, took its toll on us oldies and had us so wrecked that we only considered our first Buenos Aires tourist activity on the Friday!
We did manage the city’s main attractions though; a Tango show, Recoleta Cemetery to see Eva Peron’s grave, San Telmo Market, Dulce de Leche ice cream in Palermo and of course a few steak dinners.
BA was a great place to put down roots for a week, it’s a vibrant city with a demonstrative passionate population (we got caught up in the odd protest on our way home from school). Its history can be seen everywhere from the Parisian architecture and numerous memorials to heroes long gone to the thriving Tango culture, which didn’t seem to be just for the tourists as I had presumed.
El Calafate, Patagonia, Argentina
Our only overland flight was down to El Calafate in Patagonia. This tiny little town with a weird artificial Alpine-ski-resort feel to it seemed to be the hub for all surrounding Patagonian activities. We opted for the Mini-trek option on Perito Moreno Glacier and it was a great experience with a little physical effort. (We have come to the conclusion that if there is a “mini” option of anything then it’s for us, we rarely get anything more out of the longer experience, if it’s just more of the same thing.) We enjoyed a couple of hours trekking on the ice with a knowledgeable experienced guide and ended with a well-deserved whisky, chilled with 100-year-old glacial ice cubes.
The Glacier National park is spectacular and the balcony where you can view the glacier from is the best part, we even got to see huge chunks of the glacier break away and crash into the lake. We were assured that this was part of the natural glacial process and not due to our destructive carbon footprint. I’m not completely convinced however, there was something very sad about watching this magnificent giant crumble before my own eyes.
Puerto Natales, Patagonia, Chile
This small port town in southern Chile is the gateway to the Torres del Paine National Park, the trekking highlight of Patagonia. Puerto Natales is a charming little place with friendly people (especially if you make an effort to speak in their language!) and tasty home cooked food. The famous trek to do from here is known as the “W” which is basically a 5-day W-shaped route through the park, camping along the way. True to form we opted for our own version, the lesser known “V” which covered the highlights and involved minimal camping, we wanted to enjoy the trekking and not have the fun sucked out of it with 5 nights sleeping rough and having to carry a tent on our backs.
The diverse Andean landscapes throughout the trek are truly astounding and the “Torres” or “Towers” themselves are a definite highlight and worth the climb. On the opposite leg of our “V” trek was Lago Grey where we camped 1 night (hiring the gear from the Refugio!) and kayaked at the foot of its glacier the following morning. It was fantastic being able to get so close to the ice and fun having to manoeuvre through the mini icebergs that had broken away just days before.
Centred in the South American Lake District and known as the Chocolate Capital, we approached Bariloche with a sweet tooth and the hope of no more hiking. But following a binge of chocolate cake washed down with hot chocolate we felt that a good hike was in fact necessary to restore a balance. We thought we had already been spoilt with spectacular Patagonian scenery but the views from Cerro Campanairo were postcard perfect and if possible the scenery got even more striking as we walked around Llao Llao National Park, the hike was worth the effort on already tired legs, even without the chocolate.
We weaved back into Chile and arrived in Santiago, the most modern of the cities we have visited so far. You know you’re on your way back to the “First World” when you can flush your toilet paper again and all the “street” dogs have collars.
We joined the city walking tour and struck lucky with an informative engaging guide whose English was perfect and enthusiasm genuine. We learned about the city’s origins and stormy history right up to the Pinochet days, including his own memories and views of Santiago’s past and future.
Climbing the city’s largest hill “Cerro San Cristobal” wasn’t that taxing, maybe we were well used to hiking by this stage! But it still wasn’t worth the effort. The view from the top was smoggy and the weird “poor man’s Christ the Redeemer” statue of Mary was underwhelming, although everyone else seemed to be enjoying it with the holy music and signs telling tourists to be silent… maybe I missed the point, however I was sure not to miss the first cable car back down to normality.
We especially loved the vibe of Santiago’s university area and the restaurants and bars of Bellavista. Here we experienced traditional Chilean dishes accompanied by potent Pisco Sours, strong enough to make you leave a big tip and possibly forget your way home!