Getting Drunk and Lost Part 10 : Argentina
From Buenos Aires and Ushuaia.
We set off from Uruguay on a ferry to Buenos Aires and arrived hot and sweaty at our hotel after a 15 minute walk from the port! We had a nice hotel for a couple of nights to celebrate Les’ birthday the next day and decided to get the celebrations started early. Late afternoon we headed to the docks for a few beers and ended up munching some nachos half cut in a really busy bar called Johnny B Goode. Les then decided we should stagger home back to the hotel, something we promised we wouldn’t do in a strange city. We were fine but not sure it was the smartest idea.
Next day was birthday day and after a great breakfast (not a South America strong point) Les decided he wanted a tour of La Bombanera, Boca Junior’s stadium. After hopping on a local bus we arrived in La Boca a very strange mix of very kitsch and very rough. We headed straight to the stadium which was very busy. Turns out it was a holiday and so we were in a huge tour group. Quick shirt buying stop and we went outside to look around. It is an amazing place for art and culture and it was a gorgeous day to walk around. After heading back to central, a quick change and an Alfajor cake (don’t try this at home it’s incredibly addictive) we went into a trendy part of town called Palermo for dinner. I’d carefully researched the best steak restaurants in town and found one called La Cabrera which had great reviews. And so deserved. The best steak and wine we’d ever had! We hit a cool bar (read women wearing very little trying to entice men inside) for another bottle of wine but age told and Buenos Aires is no place to go toe-to-toe with locals on staying out: they win.
So fun over. We were back to being poor backpackers and the next day very hungover we moved hotels. My back was still bad so it was fun and games getting across town on a tube with Les carting both big rucksacks. Hero. We had been recommended a burger place called Heisenburger yep completely Breaking Bad themed and it didn’t disappoint. In fact Argentina rarely disappoints where beef is concerned. Everything else however… anyway more Argentina bashing to come but for now we nursed our hangovers in the sun in one of the very nice parks around the city.
Next day was Sunday and time to check out the famous San Telmo market. It’s huge and full of arts, crafts, antiques and the occasional stall of what looks like someone’s garage. We spent hours there including an awesome steak sandwich and some free (ish) street tango. The next day we went on a city walk around the Recoleta area. This is the most upmarket part and we stayed on to do the cemetery tour. I wasn’t familiar with the Catholic/Spanish traditions of huge tombs and it’s more like a little village than a cemetery. After being told some ghost stories including a teenager accidentally buried alive I was ready to get the F out. Unlike Les I’m not keen on ghosts and zombies but some of the tombs are truly impressive and apparently some of the most expensive real estate in the city. We decided to walk back which took almost an hour and spent the evening at a rooftop bar sparsely decorated and serving only craft beer. Was like being back in Shoreditch.
On Monday we braved the supermarket to have a picnic lunch. So to be clear supermarkets in South America are basically like ours back in the 90s. All day every day the queues are MASSIVE and it’s difficult to tell why. A lack of online perhaps? Anyway we spent the day chilling in the botanical gardens and watching all the professional dog walkers with about 5-10 dogs each. This is big business in BA. Our last day in Buenos arrived and we decided to finally try some of this famous ice-cream everyone raves about – NB: Italians make up the vast majority of 20th century immigrants so hence the connection. It was actually very good – if way too expensive – and nice to sit on the street and enjoy before we headed to the cold climbs of the south. Whilst sitting there we saw a guy who just came up to the table behind us and stole the chair and just wandered off up the road with it. Very strange. After a kerfuffle in which we lost our beloved STA cash card we had to head off to the airport as we had a flight to Ushuaia at 4am. After a bit of a wait in the terminal we were off and incredibly excited about the next stage – Patagonia.
The excitement was dampened a bit by how bloody cold it was on arrival. Going from being in the 30s for 6 months it was always going to be difficult to adjust. But we braved it and walked around the city which was like a European ski resort. However we were reminded pretty quickly that we were still in Argentina when we couldn’t get cash out anywhere and needed to show a passport to put £15 worth of shopping on a credit card. There is a limit of £100 per ATM transaction and hardly anywhere in the country accepts card (well visa or MasterCard so basically the cards everyone has) and cash machines regularly run out of money and inflation is 40%. Perhaps on a related note Argentina’s economy is fucked. Go figure.
Anyway one thing you can’t fault the country for is amazing nature. And Ushuaia is particularly spectacular. Trying to make the most of it the next day we set off on a long walk to Glacier Martial. It was amazing at the top and had a well deserved Italian for dinner. There came my favorite moment of Les trying to speak Spanish. For some reason despite his love for it, Les can never remember how to ask for hot sauce. I told him “Salsa de Picante” but for some reason he asked for “salsa de Pommes de Terre” and I haven’t stopped teasing him in the two months since.
One thing I really wanted to do in Ushuaia was go on a boat trip and after scouting the huts we decided to pay a little extra to go on a small sailing boat. It was a great decision and after getting a very early minibus to the sailboat we were off. It was freezing and we well needed the extra dungarees and jackets we were given plus they were such a flattering shade of yellow. We stayed outside as much as possible and it was the most amazing day. In between seeing islands full of wildlife it was serene and calm and we were the only ones around. It was incredibly peaceful and really did feel like the end of the world. After about an hour we arrived at penguin island. Such a fantastic experience, watching them and seeing the small penguins all patchy from where they were shedding feathers. It was unbelievable and such a privilege to see them. We also got to see some seals and whales on the way back, one popping his head up right by the boat which was amazing. They are so so beautiful. We had met a lovely couple on the boat and went for lunch with them back in Ushuaia. Food was amazing, service was awful! Evidently we were keeping the waitress for her 3pm siesta – ah yes this is still well adhered to even in 5 degrees in Ushuaia!
Another anachronism they love here is closing everything on a Sunday. Jesus is always watching. We STILL hadn’t clocked on to this and arrived at the supermarket to closed doors. Worse still we couldn’t seem to find a bar that was open. Even the Irish bar the Dubliner was closed. Madness. Eventually we found a bar the other side of town and all was forgiven with yet another amazing red wine. We picked up an “American” pizza which evidently includes chips and fried egg baked into the pizza. Absolutely as disgusting as it sounds but we were starving and ate an impressive amount of it.
Another day another hike. This time to a Laguna. We read online you are supposed to have a guide but the trips were way too expensive and we decided to risk it. The start of the trek was beautiful, through a field with wild horses and streams. We then went up through the woods right up to the top where we found the Laguna and a glacier. After a very quick stop for lunch (it was absolutely freezing) we headed back down. However the trek isn’t brilliantly signposted and we got lost. A lot. Whenever we got off track it very quickly got very muddy very steep and thus very dangerous. We both fell over and I ended up ankle deep in a mud puddle. The air was a little bit blue every time. However we got back on track and just in time as it was starting to get a little dark. By the time we flagged a taxi home everything hurt. We gave the Dubliner a chance for our last night and it was packed and actually very good. A good way to finish up in Ushuaia! Les was wearing his Boca shirt and ended up getting into a conversation with a local about Las Malvinas (the Falklands) which they are very very serious about here. In fact that as probably our assessment our the first two weeks in Argentina- they really take themselves seriously! So we got out British pirate (yes that was an actual sign in the city) asses out of there and crossed over to the other side of Patagonia.
Standard flight on a plane bus which dropped us off first at El Calafate. Carla couldn’t get over the fact that a plane would make stops like a bus. But anyway, short mini bus ride through desert and we got dropped off at our hostel/ campsite.
Staying in what was essentially as shed with bunk beds.
The saving grace was the fact they had dozens of BBQ’s so the man in me couldn’t resist and demanded we have one that night.
To Carla’s amusement I struggled to light the fucking thing for about 20 minutes before realizing I hadn’t bought lighter fluid and by this time it was getting dark.
Quick run around the supermarket doing my best impression of fire to the Spanish employees and I was back and fire was created!!!
2 massive steaks and some marinated chicken and I was the hero once again.
Sadly that was the one and only time we got to eat outdoors as the rain came flooding in heavy. Thank god we don’t do camping.
Instead we settled for a micro pub that sold real ale and tiny stews – awesome and the cheapest thing in El Calafate at a fiver a piece.
When the rain let up I dragged Carla around the town and out to Laguna Nimez to do some flamingo spotting.
A quick change of hostel and we started our tour of the glaciers
Pertio Moreno first and a trail to a massive glacier which was awe inspiring. It’s huge and takes around 3 hours to see it from different angles.
Cue the photographer in me.
We were even lucky enough to watch a massive chunk of ice to smash into the water and the sound was similar to thunder. Amazing!!
Next up we caught a boat trip with some old folks to the Rio Los Hielo.
The river of ice contains broken ice floating in the water and another massive glacier in the national park.
This time the sky was bright blue and the contrast with the white ice. Perfect for picture taking.
A quick change of country.
Hitting the Chilean border to spend a couple of days walking our arse off in the national park.
The border patrol seemed more interested in catching people with fruit and veg than drugs.
Our hostel was meh and run by Nico the red eyed Jedi, so we didn’t expect many of the amenities to work properly.
Then a dash to find money and hit the supermarket to prepare for the next few days of wilderness.
That was ridiculous in its self as me and Carla walked back and forth trying to balance budget with food we could actually eat.
We settled for pasta, fruit and chocolate. Not the best diet but it will get us through.
So 6am start to catch a coach to the national park. Once in and registered another coach to our starting point to start trekking Torres del Paine.
With the weather drizzly and foggy I tried to stay optimistic as we started our initial incline.
Pretty steep at first but leveling out after awhile. Through lush green forest and rivers and streams and stopped for lunch at a camp site and viewing the river that carves through the valley.
Then over boulders and rocks to which Carla protested a number of times and then finally the top.
Despite my optimism the fog hadn’t lifted and we couldn’t see more that a few feet in front of our face. Gutted!!!
Oh well, best start back down and an hour into our descent the sun decided to put his hat on. Typical.
Although the view all the way down was spectacular! Silver linings and all that.
Luckily the 2 coach trips allowed us to rest our legs and even fall asleep before we arrived back at the hostel for about 10pm.
Eat, sleep, repeat.
Yes I think we are crazy!
Up at 6 again to do it all over again.
This time there was a a short ferry and then we headed up towards Glacier Grey.
Similar terrain, similar views and similar moaning. Mainly from Carla but I did do some to.
Two days of full walking is enough to make anybody grouchy.
Stopping for lunch (of pasta again) at Laguna del Patos! Beautiful lake but zero ducks the lying bastards.
Nearly 2 hours later and we made it to the view point.
By this time you would of thought I was all glacier’ed out but it was still a spectacular sight of nature.
This is why I came to Patagonia, that and to take selfies of me doing it lol.
The walk back was a bit of a ball ache but before we caught the ferry back there was enough time for a cheeky beer and to reflect.
Even though a bit pricey I can honestly say it was the most refreshing beer I’ve ever had.
Day 3 and bus 3.
This time back to El Calafate but only for a few hours.
So quick cash machine stop and
cheeky lunchtime pint then back on the road again, this time north to El Chalten.
The sleepy little town was made just for tourist and had barely built up over the years, however arriving at night and walking for about 45 minutes we could barely make out a thing.
Standard 4 bed dorm and we pretty much crashed out.
The next morning we had a walk around town on the hunt for some food shops and a decent breakfast.
Finding a really cute cafe, Carla saw curried crepes and was sold.
Thinking it wasn’t my cup of tea, it arrived with a thick layer of melted cheese and I soon changed my tune. #foodenvy.
Either still tired from the night before or just feeling under the weather Carla opted out a hike, so I went solo.
The three hour round trip felt like nothing, especially with my headphones in and nobody moaning I flew up the trek to reach the viewing point of Lago Argentino.
Couple of selfies and some spectacular views later I headed back slightly missing the pipsqueak to enjoy them will. Hope she’s ok.
After some well needed rest, Carla was back to her normal self and we set off to visit Mt Fitzroy.
Armed with the same naff pack lunch we had in Puerto Natales (Pasta) we had under estimated the incline and the baking sun, by not packing enough water.
So we braved it and found a clear stream to fill up from. Probably better tasting than Evian, no joke!
Walking along one of the rare flat parts of the trail through dense woodland we also got the chance to see a real woodpecker.
Couple of view points of the mountain (which is epic) we decided to carry along the trail to Laguna Tres which we assumed wasn’t too much further.
Oh how wrong we were.
Finally reaching a sign stating the incline was very dangerous, us extreme caution and it would be a 2 hour round trip.
Carla immediately said no and even after trying to convince her she wouldn’t budge.
I don’t blame her, especially after being ill.
So once again I went solo.
Headphones in and powering through. Getting to the top was breath taking. Literally I was battered and couldn’t breathe.
The snow cap mountain is amazing and the lagoon was perfectly teal coloured and untouched.
15 minutes and once again missing her, I took a short video for her and started skipping back down.
Yes slipping several times but undeterred, I made the whole thing in a hour. Boom!!! Take that mountain.
Meeting her at the bottom I immediately regretted the effort as we had another 4 hours to get back to the starting point.
My legs were on fire by the end. Quick I need a beer stat!!
Next up Barloche.
Great start as our bus broke down in the middle of nowhere. Quite conveniently next to a shop and a little Museo.
After 2 hours of taking pictures of nothing and playing with chickens we headed off again.
Also quick side note, this was one of the longest journeys we had to do and were promised 3 meals. We got shit sandwiches, so you can imagine we were starting to get a bit grumpy.
We arrived late around 11pm into the middle of town.
Nothing was open so we reluctantly marched off up the hill to find our hostel and head straight to bed.
Finding a sign and a door. We rang – no answer. Opened up and pitch black through a maze of corridors, kicking over a broom that keep the puppies in their pen. So we let carnage rampage through the place until a quite heavily stone guy turned up to show us in.
Not the best start to a new place.
With 3 days here we used the first to just kick around and see what was going on around town.
This included lunch time beers in the park next to the towns church.
The day after we finally got off our arse and caught the bus out into the country hills for some bike riding. Yes that’s right I said hills!!!!
Finding the bike rental place was a bit of a challenge and the contracts we had to sign seemed a little ott. But off we went, helmets on, cars whizzing passed through the most spectacular pine tree woodlands I’ve ever seen. Stopping at some vast stretching lakes with blue skies and the sun beaming.
Granted we did a lot of walking up the hills with our bikes like the lazy bastards we are but we did had the most fun coming down at speed to even make me nervous.
The best was yet to come though.
We had been told about a pub with an awesome view from its beer garden which was a must see.
Never one to miss a mid day pint we walked up the hill to find not only a pub but a fancy Patagonia Beer showroom.
We parked up and headed inside wondering whether we might be slightly under dressed.
Once sat down the view alone was worst the London priced ale.
If Carlsberg made beer gardens….
Unreal!! Hill top view of the lake and the mountains. Perfect photo opportunity.
So good we even stayed for a second before we headed back to the rental place a little bit pished.
The third day was a little more relaxed.
Catching another local bus out to Lagos Gutierrez.
Basically a hidden lake where we taken a packed lunch and found a cute shady spot.
Hanging out there most of the day just watching the water and the hillside.
Very peaceful indeed.
It’s sounds like I’m repeating myself but yet another bus. This one all afternoon and night up to Mendoza.
Nothing spectacular happened this time around.
We did however get some decent food and we were treated to some Spanish bus bingo!
Barely able to speak Espanyol we opted out for fear of getting the numbers all wrong.
We arrived in Mendoza super early but luckily our room was free. We’d gone cheap, got a four bed dorm and met our roommates. Well, tried. All they did was sleep for the three days we shared. Each to their own when backpacking I guess. As we were rapidly discovering is the norm in South America not a lot was open early and we ended up wandering to the big park in the city and did a little bit of people watching. One of the best things about Argentina in general are the bars that line the streets and Mendoza was great for sitting and watching the world go by with amazing red wine.
Breakfast at the hostel was the usual dire display. Burnt croissants and shit coffee. By this point we were desperate for some good food and ended up making an awesome picnic. I found jalapeño crisps and Les agreed to spend a ridiculous amount because they made me so happy. Making the most of a chilled weekend we had some beers on the roof of the hostel. The next day we wanted to do something a bit more active. We caught a bus out of town and did a little trek to a viewpoint of the city. After that we walked around the old part of the city and to the aquarium where we met a huge sea turtle called Jorge: I’m getting closer to my turtle dream. To finish a pretty awesome day we went horse riding at an old farmhouse out of town. As we were a big group we waited at the farm while the first group went off. It was awesome playing with little puppies and watching this crazy pig go absolutely crazy whenever a chicken got into her pen. By the time we were ready to go on our ride it was raining and getting a bit dark. Luckily the rain didn’t last and it was a beautiful ride out in the middle of nowhere. Les ended up with the lead horse which didn’t let anyone else overtake but luckily he wasn’t put off by his second ever ride being half going at a trot in the pitch black. Mine of course was rogue. At every opportunity it refused to use the regular path and occasionally took off trotting for no reason. They were beautiful horses and the ride was spectacular even with having to ride one handed and hatless cowboy style. On arrival back the BBQ was ready and was the best we had in Argentina. Les was extremely vocal about how good the food was, probably to make up for the fact that he had previous declared the national drink ‘mate’ horrible. I mean it is but you really really shouldn’t say that to an Argentinian.
Of course you can’t go to Mendoza and not do a wine tour. We booked on an all day tour and got cracking quite early at 10am. The first place was a small independent vineyard and the wine was delicious – so much so I had to crack the credit card out and buy some. Well worth it! The next place was much larger but still excellent and definitely generous with the tastings. At 11am on a small breakfast we definitely started feeling the effects. After a lunch break/ sober up we swapped booze for food and went to an olive oil making vineyard. They were all delicious and I could have happily bought the whole stock but alas backpacking budget prevailed. The last stop was a chocolate shop with a lady who spoke very little English but still managed to be hilarious. We also got to taste some of their liquors which definitely put some fire in the belly for the ride home.
The next day we were off, leaving Argentina for Chile. Despite seeing some of the most spectacular scenery in the world we were looking forward to the change. Argentina had been expensive and combative and we knew Chile was much friendlier from our few days there. We were going to Santiago and then up to La Serena as we didn’t fancy another city. We spotted the guys we had been wine tasting with the day before as they got on the coach. An Aussie immediately asked me if he needed a visa to get into Chile. Obviously I look like the sort of nerd who would know visa requirements for every nationality but seriously!? Actually no visas were required at the border but god help you if you try to take any perishables across. One of the girls on the bus was shamed in front of everyone for having a bunch of bananas in he bag; her customs form was torn up and a new one brandished in front of her while the rest of us stood in lines waiting to get suitcases scanned. It felt what I believe a prison visit might be, plus luggage. In fact one poor woman got her suitcase searched and would probably have got away with her leopard print thong falling out had her son not gleefully announced it. Finally all bags scanned and about an hour later we were back on the bus. The road from Mendoza to Santiago is actually stunning, at times a helter shelter where you can see all the traffic below you as you wind down the Andes. Simply stunning.