Great Hikes: Bariloche’s Cerro Catedral

Stretching across the southern part of Chile and Argentina lies Patagonia, one of the most beautiful places in the world to hike. I have been fortunate to have visited both Torres del Paine National Park in Chile and Los Glaciares National Park in Argentina, two remote treasures offering endless opportunities for discovering adventure and solitude. However, getting to the end of the world can take a lot of time and if you are like most Americans, your vacation time doesn’t allow for more than ten days at a shot.

Another closer option is to visit the Patagonian Lakes District which is only a short flight from either Santiago or Buenos Aires. Although you will not find the kind of rugged, remote beauty of true Patagonia you will be equally impressed with the sheer beauty of the lakes and parks in this region and it won’t take you an additional day to reach it.

Lago Nahuel Huapi, San Carlos de Bariloche Argentina

Lago Nahuel Huapi is a beautiful aquamarine lake the surrounds Bariloche and a few other neighboring towns.

San Carlos de Bariloche is a beautiful town located in the heart of Argentina’s Lakes District and only a couple hours flight south of Buenos Aires. You can easily spend several days in Bariloche exploring the lakes, enjoying the delicious food and taking in the gorgeous scenery by doing one of several day hikes or walks in the area. The only downside is that most of the hiking is relatively flat and easy. For the serious hiker, you have to get creative.

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Perito Moreno Glacier in Argentina

Layers of Ice: Argentina’s Perito Moreno Glacier

Perhaps one of the most spectacular marvels of Mother Nature I’ve ever witnessed is the majestic Perito Moreno Glacier in Patagonia, Argentina. Spanning an area of 250 square kilometers/97 square miles and 30 km/19 miles in length, the sheer magnitude of this massive piece of layered ice is incomprehensible.

Ice trekking on the Perito Moreno Glacier was one of my highlights to a trip to Southern Patagonia in 2009. Take a peak for yourself and see the immense beauty and power of Argentina’s premier glacier.

“The question is not what you look at, but what you see”. – Henry David Thoreau

Perito Moreno Glacier in Argentina

Perito Moreno Glacier in Argentina

Perito Moreno Glacier in ArgentinaPerito Moreno Glacier in Argentina

Perito Moreno Glacier in ArgentinaThis post was inspired by the Weekly Photo Challenge: Layers. To view more entries click here.

Related posts:

Scotch on the 400-year-old Rocks

My Top Five Wild Hikes

The Surroundings of a Patagonian Outpost

Hike to Mount Fitz Roy (Freshly Pressed)

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Los Glaciares National Park

My Top Five Wild Hikes

I just finished reading Cheryl Strayed’s “Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail” a dark, raw and fiercely humorous book on how one woman finds herself during a three-month long trek through the wild Pacific Crest Trail. The book is powerful, emotional, honest and inspiring, and Strayed uses her brilliant memoir to take a hard look at self-discovery, heeling and change.

Of course when times are tough, we can’t always pick up our bags and leave town. Yet, I often find that there is no better way to escape and reflect upon life than to go on a hike, and the more remote and wild, the better. I have been fortunate to have done many wonderful adventurous hikes over the years.  Although every hike I’ve done has been special and has brought me to a new place, there are a select few that have truly inspired me and are unforgettable.

Here is a list of the top five wild hikes that are bound to get your mind thinking.

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On the road again to Villa La Angostura

Set against the breathtaking backdrop of Lago Nahuel Huapi, Villa La Angostura or Narrow Village is named after its location on a narrow isthmus.  It is a sleepy, quiet town which receives much less traffic and tourism than Bariloche.  What a pity!  For it is a secret treasure of beauty and serenity and there are few others there to share it.

Located about 50 miles/81 km north of Bariloche, this hidden jewel is an amazing place to spend the day or night or couple of nights (if you have the time).  Like Bariloche, it is crammed with dramatic, spectacular scenery of the aquamarine Lago Nahuel Huapi juxtaposed against the craggy, snow-covered mountains in the background.  Combine the heavenly landscape with fragrant hikes along the beech trees and alluring views, trout fishing galore and all the boating you could desire, Villa La Angostura rated on the top of my list for perfect undiscovered travel destinations.

Of course we couldn’t go there just to look around (you can do that but not my dad and I who are highly energetic and very active people).  We had to find a hike!  Fortunately Villa La Angostura is full of hikes with sensational views to make it worth your effort.

The main nature lover’s paradise in town is the fabulous Parque Nacional Bosque Arrayanes which is home to one of the only arrayanes forests in the worldArrayanes are actually bushes not trees and can grow up to 66-feet high!  The trail is flat but long.  It takes 2-3 hours to walk and you can also do it by bike.  Unfortunately we didn’t have enough time to do the entire thing, however, what we did do of the trek was highly worthwhile.  The views along the way were absolutely stunning and perhaps some of the finest we had seen during our entire trip to Argentina.

Here they are….

Entering the small, quaint town.  What a lovely place!

The main marina at the lake….I love the bird soaring high above and the mountains in the back…WOW!

The entrance to the hike.  Note that my dad is wearing shorts.  He always wears shorts, no matter what.  Thus those earlier photos of him hiking in the snow in shorts, well that is a diehard Minnesotan for you!

Start of the hike….simply beautiful and inviting

My favorite picture from the trip…Springtime in Argentina!

Entering a wooded wonderland….

The gorgeous green-blue water as seen through the trees…..

Ahhhh….the Patagonian Lakes District in its finest!  Incredibly beautiful!

thirdeyemom taking it all in and enjoying the view…..

Sadly all good trips must come to an end.  This was our last day in Argentina.  A beautiful, perfect day.  We couldn’t ask for more.  Just that we could come back again…which we did in 2008.  Hope to see my beloved Argentina again soon!

Stay tuned….thirdeyemom is headed to her beloved Chicago this weekend to get together with an old friend and remember the years living there in the nineties as well as her big fat Chicago wedding in 2000!  Thought it would be excellent blogging material!  I love the windy city!

Adventure Travel TRAVEL BY REGION Trekking/Hiking

A visit to the heart of the Argentine Lakes District

The Argentine lakes district is a tourism haven, stretching from Junin de los Andes in the north to the town of Esquel down south bordering Patagonia.  It is beautiful territory awash with snow-capped jagged peaks, lush green forests, trout-filled rivers, and lots and lots of brilliantly blue lakes.  One could spend a full week or two just in this area checking out the beautiful towns and villages surrounding the Chilean and Argentine Lakes District.  It offers something for everyone year-round:  From hiking, golfing, fishing, and sailing to skiing and of course, world-class dining.  If you have the time, you can take a boat through the lakes region hitting towns in both Argentina and Chile.

We of course only had five full days to explore.  We were traveling once again, “American-style” meaning trying to pack as much in as possible within a short time frame.  Now this is not the recommended way to travel or the desired method either:  It is the kind of travel you do when you either don’t have much vacation time (in my opinion, most Americans fit into this category) or have a wonderful mother who has offered to fly into town and watch my one-year-old and three-year-old children for me while my husband is slaving away all day at the office to pay the bills.

Bottom line:  Beggars can’t be choosers.  I felt rather fortunate to be going to Argentina while my other mom friends were busy changing diapers.  It was a much-needed break from my day-to-day life of spending 24/7 taking care of two small children.  I was going to enjoy every moment of it!  Eating meals without scarfing it down in five minutes flat.  Sleeping in past 5 am.  Wait….sleeping all night long without being woken up by a crying child.  Bonus!  Taking a shower in peace.  Reading a book.  Talking to adults.  Hmmm…there is a lot I hadn’t been doing recently that I realized I truly was missing in my life.  Five days in San Carlos de Bariloche (or simply called Bariloche) was bound to save my withering, sleep-deprived, over-worked diaper-changing soul.

We arrived in Bariloche mid-afternoon after two hour flight from Buenos Aires.  San Carlos de Bariloche is the second most visited place in Argentina mostly due to its gorgeous location surrounding the Nahuel Huapi National Park which provides a nature lover and outdoor adventurer’s paradise.  It is not a large town yet has all the dining and adventures possible to keep the tourists and Argentine’s alike happy.

We took a cab the short ten-minute ride to town which is non-eventful except for its beautiful location next to stunning Nahuel Huapi lake, a gem in itself.  We had booked a hotel at the Design Suites thanks to the recommendation of one of our friends.  The hotel was a short distance from town yet the views of the lake and glistening snow-capped mountains was breathtaking and worth the walk.

Here is a picture looking out from our room at the dining and reception area of the Design Suites.  Our suite had a balcony which was perfect for drinking a glass of wine.  I could have stared at this sensational view all day long:

After checking into our hotel, we decided to check out the town and scope our dining selection for the night.  For such a small city, Bariloche has surprisingly excellent restaurants.  We ate to our hearts content each and every night of our stay.

The first night, we ate at a Swiss Fondue restaurant called Familia Weiss, a family owned restaurant that is known throughout the area for its delightful array of cheeses and smoked meats.  The German Swiss decor reminded me of being right back in Switzerland and the food was unbelievably authentic.  We ate the entire pot of cheese fondue stuffing ourselves silly while ignoring the tremendous amount of fat we had just put into our body.  We were on vacation right?  We’d work it off!

The next morning, feeling incredibly full from our highly saturated fatty meal, we rented a car to go do some hiking.  The car was delivered right to our hotel but to our dismay it didn’t work!  Luckily one of the friendly Design Suites staff was able to give us a jump-start and set us on our way.  I’d noticed that Argentina has its far share of broken down cars that littered the streets everywhere.  I didn’t want to become one of the numbers!

We headed north the short distance to the oldest and most popular national park in Argentina, Parque Nacional Nahuel Huapi to do some day hiking.  Per Frommers (2004):

“The park is known for the glacial-formed Lake Nahuel Huapi and its lovely forested peninsulas and waterways that often provoke comparison to the channels of southern Patagonia or the fjords of Norway”.

After visiting Chile’s world-famous Torres del Paine National Park in 2003, I couldn’t wait to see Nahuel Huapi for myself.  Would it be as spectacular as Torres del Paine, a place that made me fall in love with Patagonia and dream of coming back?   

It was indeed stunning and spectacularly beautiful yet nothing in comparison to the rugged, wild Patagonian Torres del Paine.  I was disappointed for I was expecting Patagonia.  Yet Bariloche still had its beauty and charm.  Just a different kind of beauty that was more tranquil, serene and fresh.  For those people who don’t want or have the energy to travel all the way south to Patagonia, Bariloche and the other towns of the Lakes District make a reasonable choice.  The beauty will not disappoint, nor the amenities of having a town.

Here are some photos of our day hike in the Parque Nacional Nahuel Huapi:

After our visit to the park, we drove to the finest five-star resort in Bariloche, the infamous Llao Llao (pronounced “jow jow”) hotel.  It was stuffy yet spectacular in its own right with its wooden lodge styled resort and green golf courses.  Worth a visit but not somewhere I’d want to stay.

We headed back to our lovely, hip hotel and had some Argentine Malbec before heading out to our next dining adventure at a trendy, small restaurant called Kandahar We were the first to arrive at 8:30 pm to blaring Pink Floyd and a server who offered to pay for our $50 bottle of wine if we didn’t like it.  He was that confident and that right.  The food was outstanding, shocking me that such a small city could have such an amazing dining scene.  I couldn’t wait for tomorrow and even more so, tomorrow night’s meal!

Stay tuned…next post will document our attempt to really get some serious exercise and follow the Argentine’s at doing the major hike in town.

Adventure Travel Argentina TRAVEL BY REGION Trekking/Hiking

Two lovely days in Buenos Aires

I took my first trip to Argentina back in November of 2007.  I had recently gone to Chile a few years before and fell in love with its South American charm.  I was mesmerized by the rugged, untouched, end of the earth beauty of Patagonia and had to see more.  But this time it would be in neighboring Argentina, the second largest country in South America which borders Chile, Paraguay, Uruguay, Bolivia and Brazil.  It is a land of tango, multiculturalism, wine, mountains, fashion, leather and sea.  Furthermore, it shares part of Patagonia with Chile.  A place that has remained sacred in my heart and always will.  I had to go and check it out.

The trip was as planned as follows.  We would spend a few lovely days in Buenos Aires and then head south to the Patagonian Lakes District.  We would only have nine days which wasn’t a lot considering the ground we’d have to cover.  But I was set to make the most of each and every day and experience Argentina to the fullest.

We spent the first couple of days of our trip in lovely Buenos Aires known as the “Paris of South America” and loaded in history, excitement and fun.  Upon landing in Buenos Aires (or “BA” as some call it) I instantly fell in love.  It was gorgeous and yes, it did remind me of Paris, my favorite city in the world where I lived and studied french at the ripe age of 21 and will never forget.  Except it wasn’t the least bit French.

We landed safely after a ten-hour flight from Atlanta, feeling tired but not jet leg thanks to only a couple of hour time change (the luxurious benefit of flying south!).  We drove the long distance through intense tight-knuckle driving in the back of a taxi cab, thankful to arrive in one piece at our hotel an hour later.  The Argentines drive like mad, zipping in and out of traffic, and using their horns like it is an extension of their body.  It was quite nerve-wracking especially for one’s first encounter in a new country.  Would all of Argentina be as nuts as the driving?  I certainly hoped not!   After the stressful, awakening cab ride, I easily made a promise that I would never drive in Buenos Aires and was thankful for the endless supply of adequate, albeit aggressive drivers.

Like most big cities, Buenos Aires is divided into many different, unique neighborhoods each with their own character and charm.  There is upscale, high-class Recoleta with its Chanel shops and Parisian charm, the famous city center Plaza De Mayo, the port hood of Puerto Maderno, the downtown Microcentro, the cafe filled, authentic and old San Telmo, the touristy Little Italy La Boca, and the up and coming district of the different “Palermos” which include Palermo Hollywood, Soho, Chico and Viejo.  We decided to spend our two days in BA checking out the different hoods and getting a feel for the Paris of South America.

After much research, it went without saying that we had to stay in Palermo, the previous warehouse district that was recently gentrified into the latest and greatest neighborhood in BA.  The Internet provided a wealth of information and resources on all the cool, trendy boutique hotels that have sprouted up throughout Palermo over the recent years.  It was hard to choose from all the fabulous choices but when push came to shove, we ended up staying at the Malabia House (as shown below):

Scanned postcard of our boutique hotel, the lovely “1555 Malabia House” in Palermo Viejo, Buenos Aires.

The entryway to 1555 Malabia House, an incredibly lovely and charming boutique hotel/Bed and Breakfast located in the trendy, chic Palermo Viejo part of Buenos Aires. Located in the northern part of BA, this up and coming neighborhood encompasses both Palermo Soho (or quite simply “Soho”), Palermo Chico, Palermo Viejo and Palermo Hollywood, and contains some of the most hip and trendy restaurants, bars, clubs and pret-a-porter designer shops in town.  It is almost unthinkable that this part of BA was once an ugly outcrop full of warehouses and unattractive buildings.  Since it has been gentrified , it has become one of the best places in BA to live, especially for the up and coming generation.   Quite frankly, it is simply lovely and I could not get enough of the gorgeous tree-lined streets, cobblestone roads and parks filled with creamy magnolias, dropping willow trees, fresh smelling pines and tropical palms.  It was the hood I felt most at ease and the place I wanted to be.  It is fabulous!

Photo of peaceful water fountain inside the hotel.

I only wished I’d taken more photos of the inside as the hotel was fantastically decorated yet not over the top.  It had a gorgeous entry-way and classy lounge with huge white cushioned sofas, brightly colored, fluffy pillows and loads of books and magazines on Argentina.  At 5 pm, there was a free happy hour with only the best Argentinian wines available and dishes of olives, plates of salami and cheese and quiet, relaxing music. I could have sat there all night.  Except the town was waiting.

Photo below taken in Palermo Soho…the new up and coming hood full of trendy designer shops, restaurants, clubs, cafes and boutique hotels.  I had to take this picture below for my daughter whose name is Sophia. 

There is never a dull moment in Soho.  Great people watching, crowds and as many types of excellent restaurants and shops as you can find.  It was the perfect area of town to have our base.  Plus the shopping was out of sight and the price at the time was just so right. 

The tree-lined streets like the one below reminded me of Paris.  We ate at the restaurant on the corner, a parrilla, or Argentine grill, twice.  It was outstanding.  We also ate at the chic french restaurant Cluny’s for out of sight food and ambiance. Generally, we preferred the liquid lunches outside with a gorgeous bottle of Malbec and the indoor quaintness in the evening, when the sun went down.  You could eat your heart out in Buenos Aires, just like in Paris. It was a food lover’s paradise!

The next morning we headed downtown to get the full city view and tour.  We saw dog walkers with their assortment of 10-15 dogs per walker, nicely dressed men and women on their way to work, school children dressed in crisply pressed uniforms and hardly any tourists.  My dad and I got lost at one point and were delighted at how helpful the locals were, even in a huge city, at stopping to help us find our way.  The Argentine’s are warm, friendly people who truly enjoy life.

Photo below of central BA.  The old French-styled buildings reminded me instantly of Paris. 

Of course we had to visit delicious San Telmo, the old, historical part of town loaded with very old, traditional cafes such as this one.  San Telmo is the oldest neighborhood in BA and home to the Tango, romance and cafes galore!

San Telmo is quite charming as well.  I could have spent an entire day walking its lovely, storied streets but we only had so much time.

After we took the modern metro system which was clean and inexpensive (a rare treat with subways) to Microcenter where we entered the crazy, touristy Calle Florida, the main drag in BA.  It is where most people do their shopping and in my opinion, was way too crowded and annoying for me to like.  This photo below is taken at the entrance to Calle Florida.  I loved all the blooming, purple Jacaranda trees.  They were heavenly!

We walked for hours that day, going through all the different neighborhoods and snapping pictures.  I fell in love with the beautiful, french-inspired architecture as well as the liveliness of BA.  What an incredible, vibrant city!

We ended our day in Recoleta, where all the five star hotels and expensive shops and restaurants remain.  This area is also most known for the cemetery where Eva Peron is buried.  The cemetery is lined with gorgeous, parisian-styled cafes where you can drink cafe au laits until you are blue in the face.

After an exhausting two days walking, eating, drinking and exploring lovely Buenos Aires I was ready to board the plane heading south.  For the Patagonian Lakes District was next and I could hardly wait…..Stay tuned for mountains, blue waters and gorgeous scenery! 

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Scotch on the 400-year-old Rocks

After leaving El Chalten, we boarded the sole bus headed back down Ruta 40 to El Calafate.  This time, I wasn’t shocked by the barrenness of the land, the no man’s land of guachos, guancos, condors and pumas.  I was just plain old tired.  Tired from all the hiking, and tired of all the travel.  It is amazing how truly long it takes to reach this part of the world.  Four flights, long, bumpy bus rides and then there you are in the middle of nowhere.

We arrived at the bus depot in El Calafate late at night, met our driver who swiftly escorted us to our hotel and were just in time for the ten o’clock dinner seating.  Eating so late is not my favorite.  First of all, I’m always starving by 5 or 6 pm, which is my usual dinner time (blame it on the kids!), and second of all, I find it hard to sleep on a full belly.   Yet sometimes you have no choice in the matter, especially when you are traveling in countries where eating late is the norm (such as Spain where I could hardly stay awake for the eleven o’clock dining).  Regardless, we were famished and all that remained open was our lovely hotel bar where we wondrously gobbled up an entire meal (appetizer, salad, entrée, dessert, and of course a bottle of vino tiento).

We were up at the crack of dawn again but this time it wasn’t an anticipated hike that woke us up but the crazy, noisy strange birds that screeched outside our hotel window.  Extremely curious what on earth could make such a horrendous sound, I pulled back the curtain to find these large, annoying, unusual looking birds who sounded somewhat like Canadian geese, having some kind of party outside my hotel window.  Oh well, at least it was a built in alarm clock.

Today was yet another big day.  We were off on a grand, full day excursion to see the world famous Perito Moreno Glacier, and I could hardly wait!

A visit to the Perito Moreno Glacier, located about 78 km/48 miles from El Calafate in the Los Glaciares National Park (declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1981) is one of the most spectacular and unforgettable experiences in all of Patagonia.  Known as one of the few still advancing glaciers on Earth, Perito Moreno is also one of the most unique tourist destinations in all of Argentina.  The magnificent, massive glacier measuring approximately 250 km2/97 square miles and 30 km/19 miles in length is one of 48 glaciers fed by the Southern Patagonian Ice Field  (the world’s third largest reserve of fresh water).   It’s massive size (a true beast of a glacier) is so incredibly amazing that many people are completely awe-struck and taken aback by its magnificence.    It is truly a wonder of this magnificent, unbelievable Earth.

The Perito Moreno glacier was named after the renowned Argentine explorer Francisco Moreno, a trailblazing pioneer who studied the region in the 19th century and played a major role in defending the territory of Argentina in the conflict surrounding the international border dispute with Chile. Ironically, Moreno, never even saw the incredible ice-formation that bears his name today.  What a pity!

Here are some photos of the trip to this unforgettable place (Please note:  unfortunately the photo quality is not the best and the pictures are a little grainy.  My computer was attacked by a mean virus so I had to download my pictures off my saved Shutterfly making them not as clear.  Oh well….at least this will give you an idea of its beauty.  Enjoy!)

Driving to the glacier, a two hour bus ride through nowhere land:

Approaching the Perito Moreno Glacier…world famous and one of only glaciers in world that is not receding:

First sight:

The only way to reach the glacier is via boat.  After disembarqueing the boat, the tourists walk over to a small pier where they await the arrival of the boat that will ferry them across Lago Argentino to the banks of the glacier.  Here is a picture of the pier:

Here we come…look out WIND!

First sight….wow!  Hard to capture on film how massive it is:

Perito Moreno Glacier advances into Lago Argentino separating it into two halves.  As you take the boat ride out to the terminus of the glacier, you can see this bizarre division and it appears as if there are two separate lakes, one on each side of the gigantic face of the glacier.  The pressure and movement of the glacier creates an incredible show for the spectators.  As the glacier is pushed forward into the lake by the massive Southern Patagonian Ice Field, every few minutes one can hear the thunderous roar and crash of enormous pieces of heavy ice breaking off of the glacier and smashing into the lake (this phenomenon is called “calving”) then floating away as majestic, glistening icebergs.  It is an amazing site to see, that is for sure.  The sheer mass and power of the ever-changing glacier, breaking apart into “baby” icebergs makes is somehow seem like its alive.

As you approach the glacier, you are startled at the sheer size and mass of this enormous piece of ice.  It is truly from out of this world.

The Perito Moreno Glacier is one of only three Patagonian glaciers that is growing. The reason remains debated by glaciologists.  The terminus of the Perito Moreno Glacier is 5 km/3 miles wide, with an average height of 74 m/240 ft high (above the lake) and an ice depth 170 m/558 ft.

Picture of boat docking shows magnitude of this giant mass of ice:

We were dropped off boat at the foot of the glacier for our next adventure, an ice trek:

Our guide giving us some history of glacier:

Another beautiful picture:

Glacier trekking is the most first-hand way to experience the Perito Moreno Glacier.  By trekking across the icy surface, you’ll feel the wind and cold of the grand Southern Patagonian Ice Field, hear the roar of falling ice blocks, and see beautiful vistas of Lake Argentina.  It was something I was really looking forward to doing as I’d never hiked on ice before (except on the sidewalks outside my door in Minnesota—-but that doesn’t hold a candle to this!)

Off we go headed to our hike (note the contrast in size between the people and the glacier towering above our heads):

More shots of the glacier…sorry I couldn’t stop taking photos!

Its freezing out here!  I have two jackets and two pairs of pants on and the wind off the glacier is still cutting through to my bones! (here is a photo of me and my father):

The amazing 400 year old (front part of the glacier is this age, back is much older) up close.  Note the brilliant deep blue colors in the ice.:

Going overboard on photos but I couldn’t stop taking them because it was so amazing.

Entering the glacier.  Not sure if you can see the tiny dotes of people on the left side.  That is where we start our climb after we get fitted with our crampons.

Grabbing our crampons:

Getting them on.  Burr…it is blowing like mad but better in here. Good thing the hut to put on the cramptons had some shelter from the wind:

Our ice guides, showing off:

The gorgeous ice:

View of the green forest to the left of the massive glacier.  Strange juxtaposition:

Not so close…a 100 foot deep ice crevasse.  There is actually a strange type of insect that lives in the ice and eats microscopic organisms inside the glacier!  Sometimes truth is stranger than fiction!

Scotch on the rocks await with a piece of 400 year old ice inside:

Two of my favorite pictures. View of the glacier through the forest:

My father and I, traveling sidekicks:

An attempt to show how massive this glacier is.  It comes off the enormous Patagonian Ice Field which runs down Patagonia through Argentina and Chile.

Patagonian Condor….they are enormous and have a 10 foot wingspan:

View from above on the observation platform:

Glacial calving…the glacier booms, bangs like an explosion as a new calf is born into the water.  The glacier is truly alive:

Thirdeyemom in her element.  True Bliss indeed!

One last shoot before I leave….Goodbye Argentina…until we meet again!

We left Argentina the next day for our long journey back.  It was an amazing trip, one that fulfills the imagination and keeps me dreaming for the day I can come back!

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Hike to Cerro Torre

The small alarm clock beeped incessantly for at least a minute until I turned it off, groggy and cold.  It was already past seven o’clock and I was surprised that I slept “in” so long.  To my dismay, there was no beam of light shining through the thick woolen curtains.  Just darkness.  There were no birds singing their beautiful songs, only the sound of the nearby llama grunting and the thunderous footsteps of other trekkers clomping past our room.

Despite my heavy meal and multiple glasses of cherry red wine, I slept poorly which was surprising given the extreme fatigue and exhaustion my body felt from the successfully completed eight hour hike.  Then I remembered the reason:  That late night thumping, crashing and booming of techno music from down the street.  I thought being in an extremely small town, in the middle of nowhere guaranteed peace and quiet throughout the night.  Obviously I was dead wrong!  Apparently there is a disco several blocks down the street that is open until 4 am and it is usually wall to wall people every weekend night.   I had to remember that I wasn’t twenty anymore; in fact perhaps this was a sign that I was getting old!  Yet I was still cranky that morning, not having enough sleep and not seeing the sun shine through the window.  I desperately needed a hot cup of strong, rich java.

Today’s hike was to another famous landmark, Cerro Torre.  Cerro Torre and Fitz Roy are two of the most formidable mountaineering feats in the world due to their steep, upwards granite spikes that seem to swirl up into the air like a giant tornado.  I learned that mountain climbers from all over the world come to El Chalten, where they base themselves for weeks and even sometimes months waiting for the one or two days possible to summit the peaks.  The weather there is that unpredictable.  The summits are that dangerous as well.

I’ll never forget the story Fabricio, our Argentine guide, told us about that perilous climb.  He said that two young men in their twenties, at the height of life and oblivious to the fact that they were not invincible (which we all believe we are in those prime years of youth and discovery) had set out to summit Mount Fitz Roy.  The weather was excellent when they started out but somehow it turned from bad to worse and the two young men were trapped on top of the mountain in insanely strong winds and whiteout conditions.  They tried their best to get down but unfortunately there was a tragic accident and the rope to one of the climbers was clipped on a jagged, razor-sharp rock.  He stumbled hundreds and hundreds of feet to his untimely death, devastating his climbing companion and the entire climbing community.  It brought a cold chill to my bones thinking about how fragile our lives can be and how quickly things can change in Patagonia.

The hike to Cerro Torre is not as long or difficult as the haul up to Fitz Roy however, it is supposedly equally as beautiful and pristine.  We were obviously not as fortunate weather-wise as the day before.

Photo of Day Three hike, much colder.  The weather had changed.  A storm passed through over the night and the strong, gusty winds brought in cooler air and snow a fresh memory of the winter to come for me at home in Minnesota:

The sky was misty, a typical day in Patagonia.  We realized how much we had lucked out the day before with the crystal blue sky and cloudless day.  A rare treat in Patagonia, that is for sure.

A new couple joined our group, Ricardo and Illaria, newly-weds from Milan, Italy.  Rici was a true gem, a rare find of humor, self-deprecation and intelligence.  Exactly the kind of person I love to meet on a hike!  The four of us talked for hours, sharing stories about our lives and cultures.

One of the best things about hiking in another country is the people you meet.  Usually they are just as wild and crazy as you are and there is always a place they’ve discovered that you’ve never been to….yet.  I could talk about traveling for hours and truly loved to meet others as passionate as me!  My mind was racing as I secretly plotted out my next adventures, hoping my husband wouldn’t find it as an excuse to tie me to a chair.   It was obvious to me that a true wanderlust will never be satisfied with their desire to see the world.  It is a passion that is never-ending and one I hope to someday instill on my young children’s hearts.

As the hike progressed, the visibility worsened and it got really, really bone-chilling cold.  Again, it was nothing at all like the twenty below zero tundra of late January in Minnesota.  Yet still it was very damp and cold which made hiking rather unpleasant.

We reached the end of our hike, freezing and slightly disappointed that the weather had not improved.  The end of the hike was supposed to offer a fabulous view of Cerro Torres but it was hidden in the clouds.  We could barely see the glacier at end of lake, too bad!

Needless to say, it was a very cold place for a picnic lunch.  We sat on the cold, hard glacial stones in silence while we devoured our avocado, chicken and tomato sandwich.  A few handfuls of mixed nuts and morsels of French chocolates helped warm me up:

Despite the fog, the view was incredibly lovely of the glacier and icebergs and once again it was a phenomenal place to refill our water bottles.  The water was so pure, it was outrageous and tasted delicious.

We proceeded directly back to our hotel to warm up and rest (of course over a warming glass of red wine).

That evening, we had one of our best meals ever in Argentina at the little inn next door.  The owner had built the first building in this town 25 years ago and the place was full of black and white photos of his inn, the mountains and nothing else.

It was our last night in the tiny town of El Chalten.  I was feeling rather nostalgic about it.  It was a place that you only can experience in a dream; it is like nowhere else I’d ever been.  What amazed me the most about it was how it had managed to survive, all these years, so far away and in such an extreme environment.

As we left on the one bus out of town, passing through the old, tin buildings on the long, rustic street that lead to Ruta 40 and back to El Calafate, I thought of an old proverb I had heard about Patagonia.  Once you’ve been there, you’ll always come back.  I trusted those words to be true.

Adventure Travel Argentina TRAVEL BY REGION Trekking/Hiking

Hike to Mount Fitz Roy

One of the most blissful things about trekking is the amazing amount of energy you expand throughout the day.  For someone who loves to eat and drink, being able to eat and drink whatever I wanted and not gain a pound was something truly incredible.  Sweets, breads, nuts, cheese were on my mind and eaten with pleasure throughout the day while delightful, homemade Argentine treasures were rapidly consumed at night over a bottle of dry, smooth, aged Malbec.  Needless to say, after a long day of trekking out in the elements and an extremely satisfying and filling meal and bottle or two of wine, I instantly dozed off in a deep slumber and slept peacefully (a rare treat for me these days) throughout the night.

The next morning I awoke earlier.  Something was different.  I couldn’t figure out immediately what it was until I finally got my achy, sore body out of bed and gently pulled open the dark, thick curtains.  And there it was…the big, wonderful, glorious sunshine!  I was overjoyed to see the sun because I knew only too well what it meant.  Excellent, unobstructed views of one of the best hikes in Southern Patagonia!  If we got up, inhaled our breakfast and got on our way soon, there would be a good chance we would make it to the crème de la crème, Mount Fitz Roy and see the craggy, jagged ice-capped peak in all its glory.  Given the ever changing weather in Patagonia, seeing it or anything is not always possible.  In fact, Fabricio said that typically it is only a one in ten shot that the day will be clear when you reach the top, meaning 9 out of 10 unlucky trekkers see absolutely nothing but gray, massive clouds and fog.  That would be an enormous disappointment given how many hours it took to reach this remote place and the unlikely chance that I would ever get to see it again.  Thus, I was up and ready in a heartbeat and impatiently awaiting our guide’s arrival so we can begin our hike.

The trek to Mount Fitz Roy is not technically difficult.  It is just grueling and long, taking eight hours with a short break or two for lunch and rest.  I had done long hikes before and found that I really enjoy them.  There is something about being in it for the long haul, and challenging your body that gets you in some kind of mysterious bodily rhythm and mindset.  Trekking is kind of like running a slow marathon yet better.  Not as intense.  Not as extreme.  Yet, that same kind of exhausting, mind over matter feeling where you somehow enter a zone of deep contemplation and relaxation.  For me, hiking is the only sport that does this to me.  It brings me far, far away, into areas of my mind and body that have been long sealed up and hidden.  It represents some kind of crazy, deep release that makes me feel refreshed and whole once again.  There is something about using only your body and being in nature that brings me peace. And the longer the hike, the better.

We reached the start of the trail at half past eight and saw no one.  The air was fresh and crisp and there was not a single cloud in the brilliant deep blue sky.  I felt an energy and excitement for the day that made me feel truly alive.  I couldn’t wait to see the top and be rewarded with a supposedly gorgeous view of a postcard perfect Patagonia.   My brain was running wild with thoughts and conversation flowed freely and effortlessly.

The start of the trail:

Day 2 Hike:  8 hour exhausting hike to Mount Fitzroy:

Start of hike, beautiful weather.  We lucked out.  Not always certain you will see the peaks.  In fact, only a one in ten chance:

One of the surprising things about Patagonia is its purity.  When I was in New Zealand several years ago, I remember the big advertisement at the time was for “100% Pure New Zealand”.  I of course fell head over heels in love with the raw beauty and nature of New Zealand’s South Island yet it never felt as remote and pure to me as Patagonia.  Perhaps it was the utter ruggedness and harshness of the landscape and environment that made Patagonia seem so utterly pure.  I’m not sure if I can point a finger to exactly why I felt this why but I did.  In Patagonia, anything seemed possible.  The first time I dipped my empty water bottle into a flowing, glacial river I was extremely hesitant about its safety.  Yet my local guide encouraged me to give it a try, stating that it was the purest, freshest, most delicious water in the world.  And, it was.  I’ll never forget the incredible taste of Patagonian water directly from the source.  It was amazing and I could drink it forever.  Water in park is so pure, we used it to refill our water bottles getting drinking water directly from the streams and glacial lakes (burr…cold sticking your hand in but hugely rewarding for the effort).  Here is a picture of the rock landscape protecting the rapidly flowing glacial river with delicious drinking water abound:

As we climbed further along the empty trail, we suddenly saw a glimpse of our destination.  Here is a view of Mount Fitz Roy through the thick beech forest:

Small glacier pouring out of the mountains:

We were indeed truly lucky as the weather remained picture perfect clear.  Not a single cloud had arrived into the sky to mess things up.  What a miracle!  We knew that they last eight consecutive days on the trail had been misty and full of fog.  To hike eight hours and not see a thing would be a huge disappointment!

On the approach to the top and our much deserved picnic lunch:

Heading up through the snow:

The breathtaking approach of Mt. Fitz Roy:

View of where we started below:

At the top—wow, did we luck out on the clear sky.  Only 1 out of 10 days like this in Patagonia!  And no wind!!!! (there is a lot of wind, and there is mucho mucho mucho viento as they say here):

Wow….what a place for a picnic:

Strange patagonian clouds:

Almost home…one last look:

One of our great drinking holes:

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First Hike into the Wild

We woke up early after a wonderful, restful sleep tucked away in our rustic Patagonian “cabin”.  It was eerily quiet and still.  The morning sun was barely coming through the seams of the heavy woolen curtains.  I peered outside the small window.  It was gray and looked cold; a dramatic change from sunshine and t-shirts just a day before in Buenos Aires.  Yet I did not hear that unforgettable, forceful wind that I remembered only too well from my last trip to Patagonia.  Fortunately for us, the vicious wind was nothing to worry about here.  It was nothing like the incredibly strong gusts of wind that nearly knocks you over backwards in Punta Arenas, Chile.  There, they actually have chains along the sidewalk for those brave souls to grab on to in the event of severe, forty to fifty mile per hour wind.  So I was relieved to know that El Chalten appeared to be better protected from those glacial winds. 

We ate a quick breakfast of delicious homemade breads, fresh strawberry jam, and fruit.  I secretly wondered where the food came from and how often it arrived in town.  We had not seen a single truck on Ruta 40, the only way in to El Chalten from El Calefate.  Yet the food was surprisingly good and amazingly fresh.  How on earth it got there was a mystery to me.

Our guide, Fabricio, from Cascada Expedicionnes was meeting us at eight o’clock sharp to begin our day.  It would be a short hike, only 5-6 hours, with not too many ups and downs.  A good “get in shape” hike to test out the waters and explore the park before hitting the bigger, more difficult ones.

Fabricio arrived exactly on time and off we went.  We wore several layers of clothing since it was fairly cold and dreary out that morning.  I had learned from my last two trips to Patagonia that when it comes to the weather, anything is possible.  You can literally have four seasons in a day going from short sleeve shirts and sweltering hot to maddening, wild wind, sheets of rain coming horizontally, sleet and even a full out blizzard.  This experience of the “four seasons in one day” happened to my husband and I when we were trekking the infamous “W” trek in Torres del Paine National Park, Chile, where we got snowed in to a remote, mountain refugio. Thus, the bottom line is to be prepared and have multiple layers of waterproof and warm clothing packed in your day pack.  Otherwise you will be awfully wet, cold and miserable. 

It is also a must to have an excellent, broken in pair of hiking boots as well as sturdy set of hiking poles or “sticks” (with the Spanish accent it was always “steeks”).  The sticks are what save you when you have to pass through slick, slippery mud or snow-covered steep paths.  You not only need the poles for balance, but safety so you don’t kill yourself or your knees.

We set off with Fabricio and a husband and wife team from England, and were on our merry way.  Like my father, the English couple was in their sixties and in excellent shape.  They had traveled the world together, seeing much of it via foot.  I instantly gravitated towards them and we talked the entire time about their life together and of course their biggest adventures.  Unbeknownst to me, I learned about my next future trip from them, the incredible Annapurna Circuit Trek in Nepal.  They marveled about their experience and said it was a trip of a lifetime that I had to do.  Little did I know, that set the wheels in motion for what was indeed a trip of a lifetime and was recently completed in November of 2010.

The best thing about El Chalten is that it is so small that the trails leading to the mountains and incredible views are not a far walk from town.  Within ten to fifteen minutes, you are able to reach all the trailheads and suddenly all symbols of mankind are erased from your mind, except the infrequent hiker passing you by on the trail.    It is truly incredible.  There are no huge, annoying parking lots loaded with overflowing tourist buses.  No McDonalds.  There really isn’t much of anything except a couple hundred unpresumptuous buildings, one main road and the wild.   A perfect place, in my opinion, to get away from it all and escape.

Here are some photos along the way:

Day 1 of our first trek.  We left at 8 am directly from our hotel, walking right down the main steet in Chalten.  Chalten was formed in 1985.  It now has 2-3000 inhabitants but before then, there was nothing.  It felt like middle of nowhere probably because it was.  There was nothing there except a handful of houses, buildings and the great outdoors.

View of the town with Mt. Fitroy in back:

At the trailhead (1st hike):

Our destination, above:

Hiking instructions:

View of the town below (tiny tiny):

Despite the snow and cool air, Spring is in the air.  Blossoming shrubs dotted the snow packed trails giving one a splendid contrast of color:

Far away shot El Chalten…you can see how remote the town is.  Beyond the town, there is nothing for hours until you reach El Calafate three and a half hours later on Ruta 40:

Getting colder.  Snowed night before so all the mountains are covered:

My favorite pic…My dad and our guide—picture shows mysticism of place:

And this is Spring in Patagonia: Fresh snow on the mountains!

At the top, a cold lunch picnic (picture of my father and I):

Coming down…rugged, jagged Patagonia in all its glory:

Heading back to town (village in background):

PINCH ME….AM I REALLY HERE?

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The Tiny Outpost in the Middle of Nowhere

El Chalten is a different kind of place, an outpost in Patagonia, in the middle of nowhere.  It was established in 1985 as a trekking base for mountaineers who wished to summit the nearby, towering and difficult Cerro Torro and Mount Fitzroy.  It began slowly with only tents and today, twenty-five years later has a handful of small restaurants, hotels and shops.  The local population is about 2,000-3,000 residents depending upon the time of year.  Some people stay only during the main tourist season from October to late April, when the mountains and trails are accessible and tourists flock in.  Others remain for the whole year, living through the intense Patagonian winter and are nearly cut off from the rest of civilization until the Spring arrives in October.  It is a wild place, like no place on earth, and is a fitting location to explore the spectacular, divine Los Glaciares National park.

Here are some photos of El Chalten to stir up your imagination:

The town of El Chalten:

Our little humble hotel in Chalten.  El Puma.  It was actually quite lovely with a wood burning fireplace in the reception area and nice rooms:

The llama outside the hotel…watch out!  They spit!

Entrance to the town:

El Chalten from the mountains, in the valley below:

The one and only main drag in town:

The only grocery store:

The lone convenience store:

The road leading up to our hotel.  I couldn’t get enough of this old, crazy car:

For such a small town, I found lots of interesting photo opps:

Symbol of living in a small, remote town:  A classic!  My impatient Dad, waiting at the ONLY Atm in town, with the bank car there, yet you couldn’t get any money.  The wire connection was down.  No cash for the entire town until tomorrow.

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El Chalten: The End of the World

The flight down to El Calafate takes about five hours non-stop from Buenos Aires.  It is hard to believe that Argentina and Chile stretch for so many miles from north to south (Chile is an extremely long country covering 2,653 miles from north to south while Argentina is slightly shorter at 2,268 miles from north to south).  During the flight south you can really capture the amazing distance between the two ends of the country as the landscape and geography dramatically change from lush, green farmland and pastures to barren, wind-blown, flat pampas and jagged, snow-capped mountains and glaciers.  It is like going from one extreme to the other and the change is quite startling.

We left for Calafate early in the morning.  It was almost 30 degrees Celsius in Buenos Aires that morning and we were sweltering hot in t-shirts and pants.  As we descended into El Calafate, the landscape had dramatically changed from vibrant greens to dusty browns and the wind was so incredibly fierce that the plane bounced around like a flying rollercoaster.  Having traveled to southern Patagonia before, I was prepared this time for the hair-rising landing into windy, turbulent Patagonia.  My stomach still dropped and my palms still sweat, but I knew that this was to be expected because Patagonia is by far one of the windiest places on earth. 

The airport was located in a flat, open plain with little vegetation and little to see.  El Calafate, which is named after the calafate berry which is prominent in this part of the world, is a small, tourist-based town that does not have much to offer besides a strip of overpriced restaurants, shops and hotels.  Most tourists use it as a launching off point to visit the world-famous Perito Moreno Glacier or some of the remote, yet priceless National Parks that surround the glaciers and craggy mountains in Chilean and Argentine Patagonia.  There has been much debate over which Patagonia is better and as someone who has been to both sides, I find them both equally magnificent.  Realizing how important the spectacular landscape of Patagonia could be for the invaluable, lucrative tourism industry, both Chile and Argentina have fought for control over the land resulting in a funny, dotted and somewhat jagged line on the map splitting up Patagonia into a horizontal jigsaw puzzle from north to south.  Yet somehow it manages to work.  I learned quickly that you should never discuss this with the natives, however, as it is still a sensitive, thorny subject.

Once in the town of Calafate, we had time for a short lunch where we met a representative from our tour operator, Cascada Expedicionnes (the company I used several years before during our trek in Torres del Paine) and then headed off to the small, rundown bus station at the end of town where we would enter into the next leg of our long journey, a three and a half hour bus ride through the vast pampas and nothingness, until reaching the tiny outpost of a town, El Chalten:  One of the last frontiers before heading off into Los Glaciares National Park. 

There was only one bus a day to El Chalten, which left at 6:30 pm and arrived by 10 o’clock.  As expected, the bus station was jam packed with Gortex and backpack clad trekkers all heading to the same tiny village at the foot of the stunning, massive Mounts Fitz Roy, Cerro Torre and Puntiagudo.    

The bus was remarkably silent for being so full.  Perhaps the others were just as tired as us.  There was nothing to really see and nothing to really say so we just sat back and tried to enjoy the long, bumpy ride.  We stopped about half way along the way at the tiny one-building/hotel town of La Leona, which is the infamous hideout of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.  There was absolutely nothing there except a hotel, a ranch and the tourist propaganda.   (This picture below represents THE town.  Sign indicated directions to all countries from that point). 

We boarded the bus after a fifteen minutes break and were on our way.  The sun began to set across the vast, flat pampas and the bus was completely silent for the remainder of the ride.

We arrived in El Chalen at night in the dark.  It first appeared as a glimpse from the distance.  It was black all around.  Total darkness except for the soft light coming from the bus headlights, bouncing off the barren landscape and empty pavement.  No street lights.  No cars.  Nothing.  Just darkness. 

Then there it was.  First a twinkling of light.  Then as we approached, more.  Several old fashioned lampposts lined the streets of the small mountain town, an outpost, at the end of the world.  It reminded me of some kind of Hollywood movie set for an old western film that used to run on TV in the middle of the night.  It was like no place I’d ever been; it didn’t feel real.

The bus drove down the one and only street, slowly passing rustic shops, restaurants and small, dated hotels until in no time it reached the makeshift bus station, a small, basic backpackers’ hostel.  We got off the bus, with knees aching and fatigue setting in, to find our host, Diego, smiling and welcoming us to the car.  We drove the short distance to our small, basic hotel, El Puma, and settled into our room.  But our night could not end without a much necessary bottle of deep, ruby red Malbec and a conversation with Diego about the hikes planned for the next few days.  I was looking forward to exploring this mysterious, remote land.  When I reached the room, I had no problem drifting suddenly and soundly asleep into a blissful, restful sleep.

Adventure Travel Argentina TRAVEL BY REGION Trekking/Hiking