Monthly Archives: February 2007

Day 7: El Chalten to El Calafate

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Martin drinking mate 

This morning we got up at 8 and had eaten breakfast, packed and checked out of our hotel by 9 with the intention of doing another 14-mile hike, but when we got outside it was raining lightly and the wind was so strong we could hardly walk down the street, so we changed our bus reservation to return to El Calafate at 1 p.m. instead of 6, then spent the morning exploring souvenir shops, drinking real mate (nasty stuff, and I´d been waiting all week to try it!) and having lunch. The four-hour bus ride went by quickly. The tour buses are like tour buses in the U.S. with big cushy seats that recline, etc. We both read and slept a little. We checked back into Hotel La Loma and now we´re just running errands (buy snacks, get more cash from ATM, mail post cards, etc.) Tonight we plan to eat dinner, swim, read, then go to bed early because we have to get up at 5 to catch our bus to Chile. The Internet connection here is terrible and will probably be worse in Chile if there is one at all during our five-day trek, so I may disappear for a few days. Thanks to those who have been following along and sending e-mails!

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Day 6: Cerro Torre

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El Cerro Torre 

Today we were sore and exhausted when we woke up at 8:45. (I had already popped four blisters by that point.) We ate breakfast at the hotel, then took our time washing clothes by hand, wandering around town looking for sandwiches before realizing our hotel’s $18 peso ($6) lunch boxes were the best deal – a plastic bag with two ham and cheese sandwiches, chocolate, chocolate cake, juice and an apple. We bought two, packed up and left the hotel at noon. The hike started from a block behind our hotel (the Fitz Roy hike started from the other end of town the previous day) and carried us up a hill to a river, which we followed all the way past several lookouts to a cirque very much like the one we saw the first day, only today with Cerro Torre as the backdrop instead of Fitz Roy. Cerro Torre was first ascended (rock climbed) in 2001. Not long ago! It’s a beautiful steep peak and we took dozens of pictures as it changed throughout the day from overcast to partially cloudly to completely enshroaded in clouds like cotton fluffs on a Christmas tree.

The internet cafe is closing, so I’ll have to continue this tomorrow. I hope all is well with everyone at home!

Update: I´m in a bit of a rush again, but I have to mention that leading out of the cirque was the river that we followed all the way up to El Cerro Torre and across the river was a trail that led to a rock face that looked up it had a cable of some sort running up at least halfway. I wanted to cross the river to see what the cable was for, so we hiked down to the bank and found that the only was across was on a zip line. A sign said that only guided groups were allowed across, and minutes later a group descended the trail from the other side and we watched them zip across the river. I was SO jealous! I want to zip line across a river so badly! So when we got back to town, we found the place that does the guided treks and looked into it. For 180 pesos ($60), you can do a 12-hour trek including hiking up to the river, zipping across, hiking from the river up to the glacier, trekking on the glacier for a couple of hours, an easy short ice climb (I LOVE ice climbing), and then back. But you need a full day to do it, and you have to reserve it ahead of time, and we had just a half day left. So now I have a reason to come back to Patagonia! That and if I returned to El Chalten, I think I´d backpack for three days instead of day hiking so I could hike a wider variety of trails. Still, no complaints. We ate well and we did the two most popular hikes: Fitz Roy and Cerro Torre. A last note: Aside from the amazing restaurant in El Calafate, I like El Chalten so much better because ONLY people backpacking , rock climbing and doing long day hikes go there. There is NOTHING else to do in El Chalten, whereas in El Calafate you get all the tour groups bussing to the El Perito Moreno Glacier.

We finished theday by eating at a Lonely Planet-recommended bistro called Fuegia. The menu was incredible and I wanted to eat everything on it, but the food itself was not all that great. I had a gigot of lamb with ginger sauce that was very fatty and some eggplant and sweet potatoes. Then my tiramisu came and it was frozen. So don´t eat at Fuegia! Go to El Muro instead.

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Day 5: Fitz Roy

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The Fitz Roy Mountains 

I drank so much wine the night before last that I woke up at 4:30 and couldn’t get back to sleep. I read until 5:45, then showered, packed, checked out of our room and met Martin for b’fast at 6:30. We boarded a 7:30 bus down the street at the bus stop and I slept almost the entire way to El Chalten (until Martin woke me up to see the view. I even slept through our bathroom break.) The bus stopped to let us take photos once and again at the visitor center, where we got to see photos of all the peaks with the names of all the first ascenders, which made me wonder if we shouldn’t have brought our rock climbing equipment.

I was happy to find that our hotel, another mid-range Lonely Planet suggestion, Los Nires, was much newer than La Loma. The manager was extremely amiable, so we checked in, then had pasta at a cute restaurant (I forget the name) two blocks down.

We hadn’t planned on hiking our first day, but decided to go ahead and do a short half-day hike. Seven hours later, at 9:15 p.m., we returned from doing the main Fitz Roy hike, which we had planned for the following day. The unfortunate part was that we arrived at the top so late that we didn’t have time to hang around. I literally did not sit down once during the first five hours of our hike. We took a TON of photos, though. (I’ve often wondered, during this trip, if I should have invested in a better camera, particularly one with a better zoom, but oh well. We’ll have the memories and a lot of good snapshots. I figure we can always buy a professional photo if we really want to frame one.)

The hike was a bit strenuous at the beginning, then fairly flat until we reached the lookout near the top, at which time we had the option to do the extra hour up to the lake or not. We decided to do it and it was about equivalent to doing that last steep hike up to the cables of Half Dome. It was steep, and it took us an hour, but we made it up to a splendid view of Fitz Roy and its cohort – St. Exupery, Egger and I forget the rest – with a cirque at the bottom. You can drink the water, by the way, without filtering it, which is such a hiking luxury. The only people at the top that late were backpackers sleeping at the campground nearby, no one else who had to return all the way to El Chalten. The two people who hiked the last part with us were from Israel, and the guy quoted lines from Borat for us as we walked up the rock steps.

We had dinner at a small local parilla-steak house-called El Muro. I think the hostess was xenophobic because I sat there (while Martin ran back to the hotel to get our money since we had arrived directly from the hike) for at least 20 minutes before the chef finally came himself and took my order. The food was delicious, though. I wanted lamb but ended up ordering filet mignon (and this time knew how to ask it to be cooked medium rare) and we shared fried potatoes, grilled vegetables and a bottle of Syrah.

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Day 4: Perito Moreno Glacier Tour

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El Glaciar Perito Moreno 

Our first full day in El Calafate we wanted to do an ice trek but it was too late to book it, so we opted for a tour to Perito Moreno Glacier instead. Aside from the fact that we were the only people on the tour bus under 65, it was a great day. We took the bus, a real tour bus with a tour guide who talked the entire hour and a half both in Spanish and English, to the glacier where we got to spend 2.5 hours on our own, then take a one-hour boat ride, then get back on the bus to ride home. I spent the first half hour waiting in line for the women’s bathroom with 51% of six other tour buses, then we descended the wooden steps to the four different balconies that overlook the glacier. The glacier is amazing and I have a gazillion pictures that I’ll upload once I get home. It’s I-don’t-know-how-high. 50 meters? I’m guessing. Anyway, it’s a huge wall of ice that descends into the Lago Argentino, and pretty much all you do is stand there and stare at it hoping a chunk will break off because when one does, even a little one, it makes a thunderous roar as it hits the water. It’s so cool that it is constantly moving, like a giant sleeping animal that you’re hoping will awaken. It’s one of the few glaciers that gains on the back end as much as it loses on the front end, so it’s not receding like so many of the glaciers in the world. Anyway, pictures tell it best.

Upon our return to El Calafate we spent two hours trying to solve a logistical nightmare regarding bus and boat schedules to Chile and miraculously figured it all out and bought all our tickets before our dinner reservation at 10:30. We had dinner at the best restaurant in El Calafate, according to the Lonely Planet Guide, Casmimiro Biguá. The guide said the president of Argentina dines there when he is in town (no idea how often that happens.) The food was exquisite- really better than most restaurants I’ve eaten at in my life. The wine was great, the dessert, everything. Yum. I had, by the way, the “Patagonian” sea bass on a bed of grilled vegetables with the best sauces I’ve ever tasted, Saurus Merlot, orange creme caramel, chocolate souffle, port, then tea. Decadent.

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Day 3: Buenos Aires to El Calafate (Patagonia)

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Lunch at Bar 6 

I’m several days behind on blogging and cant figure out how to make apostrophes on this keyboard, so these posts will be a little short. Plus I’m a bit drunk because some guys from California that we ran into on our way out of the hotel offered to buy us a bottle of wine.

We spent our last day in BA eating breakfast at the hotel, searching for an ATM that worked, browsing shops and eating lunch before we left for the airport. We tried three different banks and could not, with any of our credit cards, withdraw cash. Martin finally figured out that we could take 100 pesos ($33) out at a time, so we each did three withdraws, then went hunting for an adaptor to charge our camera batteries. All the electronics-electricity-hardware stores were closed for lunch, so we stopped in a couple of shops, then went to Bar 6 for lunch ourselves. Bar 6 (which is in the Lonely Planet Guide) is a very hip bar/restaurant and since I was red meated-out, we both ordered chicken stuffed with brie with a mushroom cream sauce and rice. Yum. Next we bought our adaptor, and then returned to the hotel, where our taxi was already waiting for us.

Once at the airport, we found that our flight was delayed two hours, so we spent that time reading and tasting wine at the wine bar. We discovered that some of the good wines in Argentina (neither of us are that crazy about Malbecs, THE Argentine wine) are Nieto Sentenir Malbec, the Trumpeter Merlot and any Luigi Busca, which we haven’t tried yet.

We arrived at El Calafate’s (just figured out the apostrophe) tiny airport with its one luggage carousel, then took a shuttle to our hotel, La Loma. I learned that the airport opened in 2001 and since then El C’s population has sextupled (is that a word?) There’s development EVERYwhere in town. Our hotel was okay. It’s very old, and it shows, but it is also the only hotel in town with an indoor swimming pool and a game room (with a pool table, chess table, and poker table) that has a secret door. Just like in the movies, you push the panel of one part of a long bookcase and it revolves to send you into a hallway that leads outside into the garden. Our room was on the garden but has NO window, is very dark and depressing, etc. But it’s $50, so we’re fine with it.

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Day 2: Buenos Aires

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Five Cool Rooms 

Today was everything I had hoped for and expected out of BA. The weather was beautiful – hot and sunny- so I got to wear all those summer clothes, sunglasses and sunscreen. It was at least 2 by the time we checked into our new hotel in Palermo Viejo. Palermo Viejo is THE place to stay in BA, and our hotel, Five Cool Rooms, is wonderful. It´s modern, it´s got Internet and a jacuzzi, and it´s right in the heart of Palermo Viejo. Palermo is divided into Palermo Soho (which I think is the same as Palermo Viejo?) and Palermo Hollywood. I haven´t been to Hollywood yet, but Soho is a lot like Paris´s St. Germain neighborhood with outdoor cafes on every corner and a hundred-literally-clothing boutiques- everything from cheap T-shirts to expensive leather jackets. It´s a great *young* neighborhood (Recoleta was more like the 16th in Paris, a little too upscale for me.) Although the hotels are not much less than what you´d pay in the U.S. ($110-150), food is cheap, so we´ve been eating a ton.

Because we had b-fast at our other hotel at 1 p.m. (in the garden with the cat), we didn´t eat lunch until 6 p.m. here in Palermo. All the recommended places were closed by that time, so we had a salad and bruschetta (not at ALL bruschetta, though-it was covered with melted cheese) at a sidewalk cafe. Then at 8 we stopped at Mark´s Coffee House and Deli for tea (I´ve been ordering bagged mate cocido since I can´t find real mate anywhere) and lemon bundt cake (budin). We checked out a lot of the clothing shops, but just bought a couple of T-shirts so far. EVERY store is having a sale (they all say¨”liquidacion,” so at first we thought they were all going out of business), but we don´t want to carry anything to Patagonia, so hopefully the sales will last until we return in two weeks! Palermo, by the way, was the BA I was expecting – gorgeous, tree-lined streets, cobblestone sidewalks, grassy parks and cafes on every corner. I could live here. And the people are wonderful. They are very friendly and the women are stunning.

It´s 11:04 p.m. now, so we will head out for dinner soon. We have a place picked out nearby that has stuffed chicken breasts, risotto, etc. Looks good. And no Malbec tonight! I´m determined to find some good wine.

Tomorrow we fly to Patagonia, and I don´t know how often we´ll have access to the Internet, but I´ll check back in when I can.

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Day 1: Buenos Aires

Hotel La Cayetana

Hotel La Cayetana

We arrived in Buenos Aires yesterday morning to find it was raining and chilly, weather we were not prepared for. Once at La Cayatana Hotel, a beautiful but overpriced place I would not recommend mostly because of the 125 dogs that live in the kennel/vet on the street behind it who NEVER stopped barking, I went out for prociutto pizza (at Campo del Fiori) while Martin slept (I had taken a melatonin and slept on the plane). Then I walked around the city for two more hours, discovering the parts of BA that made me think this city is more like Shanghai than Paris – cheap clothing stores I´d never heard of, Argentine department stores and malls, lots of Fisherman Wharf-Venice Beach-style street vendors, etc. I have to admit I was not liking BA at that point-cold, gray, windy and lots of dingy clothing stores were not what I had expected. “BA is like Paris,” people had told me. I was expecting Paris.

Then, in the evening, we took the subway (my feet were killing me by then) to Recoleta, an upscale neighborhood with a lot of designer clothing stores (three story Ralph Lauren shop, etc.) and restaurants. We had dinner at a place called La Cholita where I ordered a huge steak (Argentina is known for great beef), fries, grilled vegetables and a bottle of Malbec and ate every bite (I don´t like Malbec, by the way, at least not that Malbec-yeck). Later we stopped at a bar and I had a very creamy (as in clumpy cream) White Russian. We slept until after noon, about 11 hours, so today we´re wide awake.

Things I am looking for: place to have authentic mate (I´ve been told you have to go buy it and buy a gourd and bombilla and make it yourself), place to have good Italian ice cream.

Things that surprised me: The Italian influence. They don´t eat beans and rice here (why do I think all Spanish-speaking countries eat meat, fish, beans and rice?) They eat a ton of meat and a lot of pasta. Those seem to be their staples, which is fine with me.

The obelisk that is the center of the city. I don´t know its history, but it doesn´t seem to “fit” somehow. I guess I tend to associate it more with D.C. than with the Place de la Concorde in Paris.

Something strange: Argentine menus that are written in both English and Spanish translate “arugula” as “rocket” in English. So you can order goat cheese on rocket salad. Huh?

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