Argentina. The Good, The Bad and The Ugly

The Iguazu falls and the Moreno glacier have to be two of the most truly amazing sights I have ever seen. Couple that with the Patagonia region and we have been incredibly lucky to have seen so much of what this country has to offer.
Topping it of with a quick visit to the Lake District and I think we both agreed that we could have spent months exploring the countryside of Argentina.
The cities and the towns haven’t been overly inspiring as a whole. Buenos Aires didn’t grab us straight away and it’s funny because as we have travelled around we have chatted to loads of others who also didn’t really like the capital either. Not to say that there was anything wrong with the place it just didn’t quite feel right, maybe down to the fact that it has been modelled on European cities? Or maybe because in a huge city of dog lovers no one seems to have ever picked up after their dog?
In fact rubbish has been an unfortunate theme of the country and its really sad to see so much rubbish is just left to blow around in the wind often in areas of staggering natural beauty.
The only other slight on the visit has been the expense. Particularly the hotels, sight seeing tours and the food which have been all surprisingly expensive. Coupled with that are the money issues in that although they like to charge western prices often establishments are unable to process cards. To be fair we have been able to use cards in Brazil, Uruguay, Chile and Bolivia and all better value.
The lottery of getting money from ATMs is interesting too, firstly if there is not a huge cue at an ATM then there is no money in it. Then you are unable to take more than 1000 pesos out for which you get charged 58 pesos. But you can keep taking out 1000 time after time you just get charged for it each time. This leaves you feeling a little conned but oh well I guess.
The feeling of being conned doesn’t really sit well with me and fair enough I am not from South America, but most people I am meeting are relying on me spending money in order to survive (maybe that’s a little egotistic). But unfortunately there have been quite a few occasions when we have felt that we needed to apologize for the inconvenience of us staying in someone’s hostel, going on a tour or eating at a restaurant. It’s not that I expect the red carpet to be laid out its just that in every other country we have visited we have enjoyed smiles and a feeling of being welcome. To be fair not 100% of the time but enough for it resonate strongly.
The wine here has been utterly fantastic though and very cheap too so we have certainly enjoyed sampling some Malbec. The wines are all generally a lot more subtle than those in Australia which has been a really nice difference.
The steaks…well not exactly as cheap and as good as we had been lead to believe. Maybe we have been unlucky but up until the last night when we decided to treat ourselves to a nice meal we hadn’t really found or eaten any good steak let alone great.
The find food wise has been the blood sausage and the chorizos which have been truly delicious. Cheap and really tasty along with the empanadas they have made up most of our sustenance. There is still a bit of a lottery as to what’s actually in the empanadas when we order, but we are gradually learning.
On the whole we have had a fantastic time again, particularly enjoying the hiking and the great out doors and would definitely come on another hiking trip here. The thing to do would be to bring a whole heap of US$ T

Top Argentinian Experiences

Starting with a magical walk around the falls at Iguazu will always be pretty difficult to top.
Walking around Puerto Iguazu and discovering the market and the restaurants lining the street.
Watching the semi final of the Rugby World Cup, Australia vs Argentina. On Election Day in a cafe in Puerto Iguazu. There was meant to be an alcohol ban in the country but the owner decided we could all enjoy a beer and the game. 
Going out to San Isidro to meet Sarah’s extended family. A really great evening.
Watching the Tango show in a small little bar on the Playa de Mayo.
Walking around and around Buenos Aires admiring all the European inspired architecture.
The flight down to El Calafate where we had superb visibility and the pilot was pointing out all the sights.
Seeing the front face of the Moreno glacier, absolutely awe inspiring, especially listening to all the cracking and watching the huge chunks falling off.
Watching the flamingoes just outside El Calafate from the bird watching hut.
Dinner with Saurabh and Arturro in El Calafate, eating Patagonia specialties of lamb and trout.
The boat trip in Ushuaia out to see the lighthouse, cormorants, sea lions and the Penguins.
All the bus trips we have done,some easier than others but we have certainly put in some hours on the buses!
Trying to make dinner in Ushuaia with our great room, just lacking in the kitchen department with just having a microwave
The feeling of being at the end of the world in Ushuaia 
Getting lost on the hike down from the glacier in Ushuaia and having to cross the river
The hiking in El Chalten, truly remarkable three days of hiking with some wondrous views.
Getting holed up for the day because of the weather in our train carriage in El Chalten, drinking wine and playing canasta
The weather in El Chalten, snow, wind, rain and blue skies all in one day
Bariloche – not enough time unfortunately but still had a great time especially the hiking to the top of the mountain
The dinners in Bariloche, enjoying trout with mushroom sauce and wild boar delicious and a real ski resort/mountain feel about the place 
Wine tasting at Vista Alba in Mendoza. Including the convoluted way we got there via public transport and an extended walk
The superb backdrop of the Andes as we were in and around Mendoza 
The absolutely superb meal we treated ourselves to on the last night at Anna bistro. Sitting outside in the garden eating great steaks and great wine, exactly what we imagined Mendoza to be

Mendoza, wine country!

We were slightly dazed to say the least when we arrived in Mendoza having just stepped off an overnight bus from Bariloche. In between the bingo games and the bus load of snorers (I wasn’t one of them!) we had managed to get some sleep so we decided to hit the ground running. We were sort of forced into it as there was an election on the day after so no alcohol could be sold so all the vineyards would be shut!
After a bit of research we decided that the top of the range tours were too expensive and we were told that the cheaper ones weren’t worth it so we decided to go it our own. So we took the bus out to where all the tastings took place and were told that the local tourist agencies had bikes we could use to get around the wineries. While it sounded like a good plan, unfortunately the bus dropped us off in the middle of nowhere and by the time we had found the tourist agency we found that it was shut for the day!
We had little option but to go for a walk and after a few kms we found a winery and were let in and allowed to join a tour. It was really a great experience and we learnt a lot about how wine was made and got to look around the winery, which was absolutely stunning especially with the Andes as the backdrop. The tasting was pretty good too!
Unfortunately our plan of sending loads of wine back home and to everyone for Christmas was scuppered as they wouldn’t ship to France, Australia or the UK! Boo
The rest of the time in Mendoza has been spent wandering around the city which is nice but really fairly unremarkable. The streets are nice in that they are lined with trees and there is a central plaza, but otherwise little to note. It might also be a bit of a strange weekend to visit due to the fact that the election is on so while Saturday was busy Sunday was pretty much a ghost town. T

   
Felt pretty good when we finally got to a winery, the we just had to get passed the security guard.

 
Some of the vats where they start the fermenting process.  We didn’t realise that they used wooden, metal or concrete!? for the vats 

   
 
Just one barrel would be fine thanks

  
The main pedestrianised street in Mendoza, nice spot for dinner but we haven’t really discovered where the action is yet!

Bariloche

There is just something about places that makes you like them as soon as you arrive. Bariloche was another of these places, and I guess you could describe it as a large ski resort.
Sitting on a huge lake and surrounded by alp like mountains it really does look very beautiful. The town itself is a combination of more modern/functional buildings and older wood and stone buildings. The outskirts of town are full of lovely big houses and hotels all sitting right on the lake.
We were annoyed from the start that we weren’t going to have enough time here as we have to get north towards Bolivia otherwise we will run out of time. So we just had to make the most of the time we had.
We managed to get a superb room with a view out over the lake right in town which was great and we spoilt ourselves on the first night with a delicious meal. I had wild boar and Sarah had a trout dish, both were specialities of the region and fantastic. Finally things are getting a bit cheaper wine for under $10 aus!!
The next day it was hiking for us again and after doing a bit of laundry and booking of busses etc we set off just after lunch. We had to catch the bus out of town and on the way saw a load of lovely houses and hotels on the lake and then ended up at a golf course where we both wished we had a set of clubs. Although with the wind that was blowing I think it would have been pretty tough!
The hike itself was really nice through the woods and then occasionally giving us a glimpse of some beautiful lakes and mountains. The whole time we were going along it was pretty flat but we certainly weren’t complaining. Obviously things changed and soon enough we were hiking up the side of a hill and the view from the top was spectacular. If the weather had been a bit better the views would have been truly amazing.
The rest of our time in Bariloche was spent eating and sleeping, both of which we enjoyed! The evening was spent in a busy local restaurant where Sarah had trout with mushroom sauce which was delicious and I had venison stew. Lunch the next day was the pinnacle for me as we had a sandwich from a local guy cooked in the grill and topped with his chimichanga sauce.
The pinnacle for Sarah though was the chocolate shops!!! This area was originally Swiss and German and so the chocolate theme runs strong, although the German organizational ability seems to have been very quickly bred out of the system. Anyway we browsed and sampled and ended up carrying a bag of great chocolate away with us.
Then it was off to Mendoza for more wine and food here we come!! T

   
We had to change buses on the way from El Chalten to Bariloche and we got dropped off here in this tiny town at 6am where it was bitterly cold and nothing was open/existed.  We weren’t even really sure if we were in the right place, but boy were we happy when a chap opened his cafe and let us in and then doubly happy when our bus arrived.

 
Great view from our room

   
Not all the buildings look like this but it gives an idea of what the place is like

 
The start of our hike through the woods.

   
We came across an area full of these otherworldly trees I think called Arrayanes. Really quite surreal.

 
I amongst the woods were a couple of meadows and openings with a few flowers.

   
The views from the top were fantastic what a place.

   

Last day El Chalten

We awoke to snow. In the village. It was crazy. Spring in Patagonia! We were a little worried as today we were leaving but the bus was not departing for Bariloche until 8pm so the plan was to complete another hike, come back for dinner and then go.
We were also disappointed as we still hadn’t properly seen The Fitzroy. Well we waited around until we had to check out, left our bags and then braved the snow. The wind had again picked up and so therefore it was cold!! We got up the other end of the town before I told Tim that this was stupid and that we couldn’t go hiking in this. So we turned around and went into one of the cafes and nursed our really expensive coffees. Very luckily for us, after about half an hour the snow stopped (unfortunately not the wind). So off we went again.
This hike was the easiest of them all, about an hour out of town along a dirt road to a beautiful waterfall.
On the way back the weather was being cantankerous and couldn’t decide if it wanted to blow a gale, snow or rain or clear to beautiful blue skies. Luckily as the wind blew up we had it at our backs this time which was a lot more enjoyable.
Back into town for some lunch and then off we went again for another little hike to get an overview of the mountains and the town in the valley and then further over to see the lake on the other side of the hill we had climbed. For once we had the view point to ourselves as the crowd had climbed a little higher to get a better view. It was so lovely sitting back and watching the beautiful scenery just the two of us. 
On the way home the weather had completely transformed and the sky was a beautiful blue. We even got to see The Fitzroy… Not completely without cloud yet but still it was a sight to see. It didn’t completely reveal itself until we were on the bus on the way out of town. Bloody weather!! 
Tim and I were saying on the hikes today that although we have not had the best weather and didn’t get to complete or see the peaks of El Chalten we still felt as if we had an awesome experience and could honestly say the area was stunningly beautiful. Upon seeing it in the beautiful sunshine on the way out, I think it would have truly been mind blowing in clear weather. It just made us realize how lucky we were in Torres Del Paine to get such good weather while we were camping! S

   
Perfect hiking weather!

 
A nice flat hike up the valley out of El Chalten 

   
Nice view at the end for us.

 
Down the valley, across town then up the hill the other side

   
The town of El Chalten nestled in amongst the scenery

 
Beautiful red bushes

   
 
Nothing really needs to be written, this is Patagonia 

   
  

Icebergs in the lake

 
The glimpse of Fitzroy on our way out.

Laguna de los Tres

Day three in El Chalten and day two of hiking started pretty well. Apart from a lack of electricity in the place we were staying which meant a balticly cold morning for us. Luckily we had a gas cooker and were soon stoked up and ready for a days hiking, just over 20kms planned today.
Sarah popped outside and returned excited that we could see the infamous Fitzroy peaks which had previously been covered completely in clouds. So we were very excited as we had decided to do the biggest hike today which involved us catching a bus up the valley and then hiking our way back to Laguna de Los Tres where we would enjoy magnificent views of the mountain range.
The hike started brilliantly as we spent the first half hour our or so separating ourselves out from the group we had caught the bus with and ended up winding our way up through a valley in a fantastically eerie wood. The trees were squat and gnarled from the wind and weather and coupled with the fact that we had some time on our own hiking we were really enjoying ourselves. The wood had the added benefit of protecting us from the wind.
We noticed through some of the gaps in the trees that the sky had turned a dark grey and although we couldn’t feel the wind we could hear it. We geared ourselves up in preparation and by the time our path exited the trees the wind had stopped and it was snowing!!! I guess this is better than rain! It’s meant to be late spring/early summer here but boy do they have some changeable weather!
Unfortunately we needed the weather to change again for us and fairly quickly as we were approaching the main point of the trek where we would have to hike up a hill to see the mountain tops.
It was all a bit miserable and no one who we passed who had made it up had actually seen anything and most had turned around halfway up! It really was a bit ominous and I am not ashamed to admit that we turned for home. It was a real shame but there wasn’t much point if we weren’t going to see anything!!
So off we went checking over our shoulders for a gap in the weather, and even though the weather didn’t relent the rest of the walk was really very pretty. It reminds me very much of Scotland or the Lake District and even though we couldn’t see the mountains in the background the scenery was breathtakingly beautiful. All the while with a howling wind and snow and cold!!!
So it was with a sense of accomplishment and relief that we got back to the town. It was really great to do a “one way” hike as most of the ones we have done in Patagonia so far have been “up and backs” where you obviously get a lot of the same views.
The other superb feature of the hiking in El Chalten is that it’s possible to walk right out of town, and even though we caught the bus out today we were able to finish the hike by walking back into town. T

   
This was the morning view of the Fitzroy mountains.  Lucky Sarah took the shot.

 
The woods we walked through at the start of the walk, just magical.

   
Our first “viewpoint” of the day.  Great to see the glacier but things were closing in!

 
Sunshine to snow in Spring.

   
This photo is meant to be of the hill we were to climb to get the view of the Fitzroy range.  In fact we think you were meant to be able to see it from here. Unfortunately it was time to turn back.

    
Some more shots of the rest of the walk.  Again Patagonia is so special, so beautiful and varied no matter what the weather.

 

Take 2 – El Chalten

So that rain I was telling you about was still there when we woke the next day. But after we cooked breakfast it thankfully cleared up. There were quite a few clouds around so we decided to walk to Laguna Torre which was at the base of Cerro Torre. We were leaving the famous Fitzroy climb for the next day to see if the weather would be even better. The Fitzroy peak you are supposed to see from the village but we still hadn’t seen it! 
The walk out to the lake took us around 3 hours and it was as usual for Patagonia, astounding. Also the sun came out a little more which was an added bonus as everything just looks so much better in the sun! We walked up and through a lush valley with a beautiful waterfall and stream running through it. We reached the first view point for the peak and unfortunately it was shrouded in cloud. We thought that was going to be the case as apparently this peak is one of the hardest to get get a clear view off. Stupid clouds! 
So we continued on and the scenery changed again and we were walking in the edge of a woods beside a river. On the last hike up, Tim and I said we felt as if we were on another planet as the scenery was just a path of pebbles and a hill of rocks we were climbing over. Once we got to the top we were nearly knocked over by the wind it was so strong and bitterly cold. It actually started to snow while we were there. The view was of a little glacier coming down into the lake at the base of the peak. But as you can imagine as it was snowing we could hardly see the base of the mountain never mind the top! We are our lunch quickly there sheltered behind a boulder and then continued on home. S

   
A couple of the views along the way.  The diversity of the countryside is truly amazing.

    
 
The glacier at the end of the hike.  Shame we couldn’t see any of the famous peaks in the clouds though.

   
This bird was hovering in the winds right above us while we were having lunch.

 
Again some more of the fantastic views on offer.  They say it’s the hiking capital of the world and we could see why.  Also the different weather is so clear as we were only hiking for about 8 hrs and had all sorts of weather.