A Travellerspoint blog

March 2010

1 week in Mendoza, the heart of Argentinian wine country.

Beauty Queens, a Pick Pocket, and the Annual Mendozan Wine Festival!

sunny 30 °C

Mendoza
February 28th – March 7th ( 1 week)

Hello amigos! I should be greeting you in Portuguese given that we are now in Brazil, however seeing as we have been hit with a “delightful” bout of travellers’ diarreah, we haven’t left our room since yesterday afternoon and so haven't had a chance to learn any Portugese yet. Poor Ben has been hit harder- he had such a high fever overnight that a wet face cloth almost sizzled when I put it on. His fever broke this morning but he is still pretty sick now, and is really wishing that we had booked a room with our own private bathroom instead of the shared bathroom that we have. Ben's forever an optomist and despite being as sick as I have seen him, he says that on the plus side, he has lost a few kilos in 24 hours and is quite happy that his holiday belly is shrinking! Don't worry Bronwyn, I am looking after him and it should be out of his system in the next 24 hours, poor thing.

So, blog-wise we are up to recording our time in Mendoza, heart of the wine country in Argentina. We spent 1 week here, not because of all the great wine, but because it was Wine Festival time and the city was in a fun fiesta mood. Also, we were staying in a place (“Chimbas Suites”) that had such a chilled out, friendly atmosphere with great people, a pool and Moroccan inspired garden courtyard area to spend lazy afternoons reading, and it became just to hard to move on from here quickly! We embraced the South American siesta during our time here, and would have a 2hour nap in the afternoon- a break from all the hard relaxing by the pool!!

The main restaurant area in downtown Mendoza

The main restaurant area in downtown Mendoza


Eating well in Mendoza: Our daily vegetarian feast

Eating well in Mendoza: Our daily vegetarian feast


Relaxing at Chimbas Suites

Relaxing at Chimbas Suites

The highlights of our time in Mendoza:

Bike riding around Maipu vineyards: We met up wtih Ads and George again, and the 4 of us hired bikes for the day to explore the vineyards. We thought we would be riding on little country paths, through sleepy wine country, but instead found ourselves riding alongside trucks and cars on a potholed, dusty main road! It was a great day full of fun that started with a visit to an Olive Plantation, where we learnt all about how olive oil is made, and got to taste some olives and sun dried tomatoes at the end of our tour, mmmm, delicious! So delicious that we bought a massive tub of olives and jar of sundried tomatoes, and then overdosed on them over the next few days and haven’t really been able to eat olives since!!

Enjoying the olive farm tour

Enjoying the olive farm tour


Inside the old olive oil factory

Inside the old olive oil factory

The modern production system for olive oil

The modern production system for olive oil


Sampling the olives, mmmm!

Sampling the olives, mmmm!

IMG_3252_730x547.jpg
One of the quieter roads on our bike riding experience

One of the quieter roads on our bike riding experience

From the olive farm we went onto the boutique family run vineyard “Familia Di Thomosa”. We had a scrumptious lunch of spinach cannelloni with blue cheese sauce and a pumpkin and feta quiche in their courtyard restaurant set amongst the vines. We discovered a new variation of white wine called a “Torrontes”, a distinctive Argentinian fruity, dry white wine. Served chilled on a summer’s day, it was the perfect accompaniment to our meal, and has since become a favourite. The best part of that delicious meal was the tiramisu desert. It was by far the most amazing tiramisu that George and I have ever tasted, so moist and the perfect blend of coffee and Tia Maria, my mouth waters at the memory! We now describe tiramisu deserts as “It was yum, but it wasn’t Thomosa”!

Familia Di Thomosa winery

Familia Di Thomosa winery

Our gourmet lunch

Our gourmet lunch

The old wine vats

The old wine vats


More of the underground cellar

More of the underground cellar

The barrels where they age the wine

The barrels where they age the wine


A serious wine tasting moment: observe the colour, swirl the wine to determine its body, appreciate the aroma and the drink!

A serious wine tasting moment: observe the colour, swirl the wine to determine its body, appreciate the aroma and the drink!

We spent the rest of the day visiting another vineyard, and a place that specialised in chocolate and liquor. The boys were brave (or stupid?!) enough to try their home made absinthe, and while they didn’t go blind from the experience, they won’t be repeating it in a hurry!!

Lighting the absinthe soaked cube of sugar

Lighting the absinthe soaked cube of sugar


1,2,3 down goes the absinthe

1,2,3 down goes the absinthe

Wine tasting

Wine tasting

Enjoying a fine Malbec with friends!

Enjoying a fine Malbec with friends!


The girls!

The girls!

Italian Night Festival: As part of the Wine Festival, the Italian community had a wine and food night market in one of the open aired plazas. Ben and I ate “vegetarian” home made ravioli, which turned out to be spinach and ricotta ravioli with a meat Bolognese sauce! We did our best to scrape some of the sauce off, although I did have quite a few mouthfuls before realising it was meat and I have to say “damn it tasted good!”. This scared me, and made me worried that I may actually like the taste of meat, however the moment has passed and there has been no more accidental sampling of meat sauces!! We bought a home made wine from one of the stalls, and one cup knocked our socks off! It was cheap, strong and nasty, and obviously a favourite with the locals!

Beauty Queen street parade and a pick pocket: As part of the festival a Harvest Queen is elected. There were about 20 young hopefuls, and on the Friday night they had a massive street parade, where the beauty queens sat on over-the-top floats, throwing down apples and grapes to the thousands of people crowded on the street. Unfortunately the crowds were a pick pocketers dream, and sure enough as we were walking home at the end of a night, a young man started to push up against me, drumming on my back and making me feel really uncomfortable. I told Ben, who was in front of me in the chain of people weaving a way through the masses to get home, and Ben turned to look at who was harassing me. As he was distracted another man on the side of Ben reached in and took his wallet, which had his credit cards in it and a small amount of cash. A classic distract and steal moment, which all happened within 5 seconds. We felt pretty stupid for falling for it, but we knew that it would happen at some point during our time in Sth America.

Cardboard cut outs of the Beauty Queens lined the streets so that people could vote for their favourite! I had to drag Ben away!

Cardboard cut outs of the Beauty Queens lined the streets so that people could vote for their favourite! I had to drag Ben away!

A Harvest Queen hopeful

A Harvest Queen hopeful

More beauty queens on big floats! Watch out for the flying apples!

More beauty queens on big floats! Watch out for the flying apples!

Fun on the hill top: For the concluding night of the festival there was an extravaganza of fireworks, singers, dancers, comedians, magicians etc, performing in a massive arena. Instead of buying tickets, we went and sat on one of the hills surrounding the stadium and enjoyed the spectacular from there. We went with friends from the hostel, Bobby and Sy, but by the end of the night our little gang had expanded and we had made great friends with a local family who were sitting next to us.

Bobby's moment of fame: Being interviewed by the local TV crew.

Bobby's moment of fame: Being interviewed by the local TV crew.


The boys! Ben, Bobby and Sy

The boys! Ben, Bobby and Sy


My two favourite little new friends!

My two favourite little new friends!

Our view of the extravaganza! We had more fun on the hill top than we did watching the show!

Our view of the extravaganza! We had more fun on the hill top than we did watching the show!


The hill top gang!

The hill top gang!

And so our time in Mendoza came to an end with another long, over night bus trip to Rosario. Ben will pick up from here and write about this lovely city and then the captivating Buenos Aires (when he is feeling better!)

Lots of love, Chelle and Ben

p.s.. Feel free to comment cause then we know people are reading! :)

Posted by CBAdv2010 08:28 Archived in Argentina Comments (13)

Chocolate Heaven in Bariloche!

A town of stunning lakes and mountains and mouth watering chocolate delights!

27 °C

Bariloche
February 24th - 27th ( 4days)

Bariloche is one of those places on earth whose natural beauty and lovely laid back energy, makes you want to pack up everything you own and move to live by the lakes and mountains. The fact that it is also home to a multitude of “chocolaterias”, which produce their own mouth watering chocolate, is another incentive to relocate here, as many Irish and English that we met in Bariloche had done. On the other hand, the amount of chocolate that we consumed in our 4 days here meant that there may in fact be no chocolate left in Bariloche, and if we did live here we would run the risk of turning quite quickly into content little fatties!!

After our challenging 35 hour bus journey on Route 40, plus all our recent hiking, Ben was exhausted and didn’t feel up to a 36km bike ride around the lakes of Bariloche. I had refuelled on numerous strong espresso shots and had restless energy so I jumped on a local bus that took me 18km out of town to a bike hire place. From here I completed a 36km return bike journey that took me up and down hills, through bush paths, past secluded bays and to lookouts over the lakes and mountains. My favourite was Villa Tecul Beach, which I went back and visited again with Ben a few days later.

Villa Tecul Beach

Villa Tecul Beach

Villa Tecul Beach

Villa Tecul Beach

This was our first day apart since leaving Australia 5 weeks ago, and it felt strange not being able to share the experience together. Every time something exciting happened or a new incredible view popped up over the horizon I would turn to tell Ben, forgetting that he wasn’t there. It’s funny how quickly you adjust to spending 24 hours a day with someone and how reliant you become on them being there. Ben is my travel partner in crime, and the day apart made me appreciate how lucky I am to be travelling the world with my best friend, who also happens to be my future husband! So, after our day apart we spent the next 3 days sharing our adventures in Bariloche, which I will recap briefly for you now:

Chocolate Chocolate Chocolate!! Bariloche’s post WW2 European immigrants introduced chocolate making into the area shortly after they arrived, and chocolate now has a special home in Bariloche, which is famous for its rich and creamy chocolate delights! Can you believe that we spent an entire afternoon walking down “Mitre St”, the street of chocolate shops and chocolate dreams, just sampling chocolates and ice-cream. That is all we did for the full afternoon- sample chocolate from one shop, move onto the next to try something different, move onto the next to try some ice-cream etc etc. I was in chocolate heaven, and Ben did his best to keep up!

Sampling the chocolate delights!

Sampling the chocolate delights!

Chocolate Heaven!

Chocolate Heaven!

Rapa Nui

Rapa Nui


Mmmmmm, creamy, rich, chocolate goodness!

Mmmmmm, creamy, rich, chocolate goodness!


I couldn't count my change fast enough- give me the chocolate!

I couldn't count my change fast enough- give me the chocolate!


They had chocolate everything- here are some chocolate cameras, but you could also buy chocolate mobile phones, cars, books etc etc!

They had chocolate everything- here are some chocolate cameras, but you could also buy chocolate mobile phones, cars, books etc etc!

The 7 Lakes Tour from Bariloche to San Martin de Los Andes: With our great new friends from Brisbane who we met on the Navimag, Ads and George (Georgina), we hired a car for the day and set off on the 400km return 7 Lakes Route. This was a fantastic day, and another highlight of our trip (there are so many of them!). The scenery was spectacular, and we stopped off at numerous lookouts along the way to appreciate it.

Photo stop!

Photo stop!

Stopping off along the way to enjoy the views

Stopping off along the way to enjoy the views


Passing waterfalls on the way

Passing waterfalls on the way

We enjoyed a scrumptious lunch on the northwestern shore of Lake Nahual Huapi ( in the town of Angostura), where our meal perhaps tasted even better because of the dazzling blue lake that we sat by. With our bellies full of tasty goodness we continued on until we came to a river area where some people were picnicking and swimming. We were ready for a swim, and although the water was icy cold, we all got in and swum over to a ruined old bridge. From here we watched as one of the swimmers climbed the intact, modern bridge and then jumped with a big splash into the river below. Of course, as soon as Ben saw this he wanted to give it a go!!! With an entire crowd chanting and clapping for him, Ben climbed the bridge and did a great bomb into the deep and clear river below (he checked before doing it!). The crowd wanted more so Ben got up and did it again, much to their delight and cheering, and I’m sure Ben would have happily stayed all afternoon there except that we had to get going to our final lake town before sunset!

Enjoying our lunch!

Enjoying our lunch!

On the northwesters shore of the stunning Lake Nahual Huapi

On the northwesters shore of the stunning Lake Nahual Huapi


Lake Nahual Huapi

Lake Nahual Huapi


The lake at Angostura where we stopped for lunch

The lake at Angostura where we stopped for lunch


Our swimming place

Our swimming place

Enjoying a refreshing dip in the icy river

Enjoying a refreshing dip in the icy river


Bridge jumping to an audience

Bridge jumping to an audience

We arrived in the early evening to the Monarco of the Lakes District, San Martin de Los Andes. It was a smaller and “posher” version of Bariloche, and we enjoyed our short time there relaxing on the beach, while the boys had a dip in the lake. We couldn’t head for home without an ice-cream stop, and I ordered the biggest ice-cream of my life, and enjoyed every mouthful!!

San Martin De Los Andes

San Martin De Los Andes

San Martin De Los Andes

San Martin De Los Andes

The biggest ice-cream of my life!

The biggest ice-cream of my life!

Our dusty little hire car, perfectly reversed parked

Our dusty little hire car, perfectly reversed parked

The trip back took longer than expected, and we were worried because we were meant to be meeting friends for dinner at 9m at our favourite vegetarian restaurant, and by 10pm we were still half an hour out of town. We felt really guilty, but still had to stop to take photos of the setting sun over the Andean landscape!!, and by the time we got to the restaurant it was 10:30pm and our friends weren’t there. (It all worked out fine as we found out later that our friends hadn’t been able to make it to the restaurant so we didn’t feel so guilty about stopping to take all those sunset photos on the way home!!).

Sunset on our drive home

Sunset on our drive home


Colours of the sunset on our drive home

Colours of the sunset on our drive home


Gourmet vegetarian food at "El Vegetariano"

Gourmet vegetarian food at "El Vegetariano"

The ground shook: That night as Ben and I slept peacefully and unaware, Ads and George and many others around town were evacuated from their building as the massive earthquake in Chile (8.8 on the richter) moved the ground in Bariloche, some 650km away (!). We went to pick Ads and George up the next morning, and heard about how they had evacuated their hostel and people had slept out in the parks, to worried to stay inside their buildings. It was devastating hearing news of the Chilean earthquake, and we met many people over the next few weeks who had been affected in some way. It was a sobering feeling to know that we were just near the earthquake some few weeks ago

The 7th Most Wonderful View Point in the WORLD and the 10th Greatest Panoramic View in the WORLD: Yes, that’s right....the entire whole wide world.... or so says National Geographic!!! Whether these viewpoints really are as claimed or not, they were absolutely, jaw dropping, breath taking, spectacularly beautiful. We were captivated by the colours, the tranquillity, the vastness, the pure radiant beauty of the mountains meeting the lakes, and took a few photos to help us remember it!

View from the 7th Most Wonderful Viewpoint in the World!

View from the 7th Most Wonderful Viewpoint in the World!


The Bariloche Gang!

The Bariloche Gang!

Airborne

Airborne

More of the spectacular view

More of the spectacular view

Ben and I caught a chairlift up one of the mountain for the panoramic view of the lakes district. It was a steep ride up to an incredible view:

Making our own fun on the chairlift ride!

Making our own fun on the chairlift ride!


On top of the world at the 10th Most Panoramic View in the World!

On top of the world at the 10th Most Panoramic View in the World!


View from the chairlift

View from the chairlift

Spectacular view of the lakes

Spectacular view of the lakes

And with that chairlift ride our time in Bariloche came to an end, and it was back on the overnight bus to Wine Country, Mendoza.

Sending our love from across the miles!
Chelle and Ben

Posted by CBAdv2010 16:46 Archived in Argentina Comments (5)

Don't cry for me Argentina!

El Calafate, El Chalten, and Route 40

sunny 15 °C

El Calafate
(17/ 18/19th February)

Hello! This is the final bombardment of "catch-up blogging", although we are still about 3 weeks behind, sigh! Feel free to skim the words and just check out the photos as I probably would after 4 days of blog updates, haha!!

So..... goodbye Chile and Hola Argentina!! The border crossing from Chile into Argentina was possibly one of the easiest border crossings of any past travel experiences so far (i.e. no rabid dogs chasing you across, no guards asking for ‘baksheesh’ or a bribe and no sudden pat down searches behind a tattered old curtain!).

El Calafate is a cute little town that seems solely designed to cater for the tourist. It is expensive and a lot of people we have met travelling didn’t enjoy their time here, as they felt it was a “tourist trap”. However, we had a great time because of some lovely experiences which we will recap for you!

The little tourist town of El Calafate

The little tourist town of El Calafate


The main street in El Calafate

The main street in El Calafate

The BEST hostel in Argentina: We stayed at 'Hostal Lautaro', which was run by a young married couple, Belen and Dario, with amusing and well meant “help” from their one and half year old daughter, Andina. Andina would help serve us breakfast in the morning by sprinkling sugar over everything and putting the cornflakes into the coffee! They made us feel a part of their family and so at home, even waving goodbye to us as we got on our bus! The icing on the cake was discovering that Dario used to be a chef (for the Argentinean President no less!), and he cooked up a gourmet storm for us each night. His home made ravioli was possibly the best pasta that we have ever tasted! Ben was even more impressed when they served us a red wine labelled “Benjamin”. However, Belen thought it was unfair that it only had Ben’s name on it, so before she served it to us she quickly created a label saying “Michelle’s Wine” and stuck it on the other side of the bottle!

Dario's scrumptious vegetarian pie.

Dario's scrumptious vegetarian pie.


Enjoying nights in with Dario's home cooking at Hostel Lautoro

Enjoying nights in with Dario's home cooking at Hostel Lautoro


Belen's creative label for Michelle's wine

Belen's creative label for Michelle's wine


And the real wine!

And the real wine!

Trekking on the Perito Moreno Glacier: The stunning Moreno Glacier is impressive to look at, being 5km wide and rising 74 metres above the surface of the water. Up close the glacier looked a bit like a meringue pie (maybe I , Michelle, was feeling particularly hungry on the day but I really thought that it looked like something you could stick a dessert fork into and take a mouthful of!). We joined an Ice Trekking tour and had an amazing 2 hours trekking on the Glacier. It was our first experience using crampons (the metal spikes they attach to your shoes so that you can walk safely on the ice), and they took some getting used to! Parts of the glacier, where the top surface of the ice has cracked, were a piercing blue colour. There were also water holes, where water gushed down an opening in the glacier and was sucked underneath never to be seen again (not something you would like to fall into!), and glacier lakes. We enjoyed a drink from a glacier water stream, and finished our ice trek with a small shot of whisky served on glacier ice at a makeshift bar near the bottom of the glacier! A fantastic experience!

Petit Moreno Glacier

Petit Moreno Glacier

The glacier is constantly carving with a thunderous noise as huge chunks of ice break off

The glacier is constantly carving with a thunderous noise as huge chunks of ice break off


Petit Moreno Glacier

Petit Moreno Glacier

Chelle and Ben at one of the lookouts

Chelle and Ben at one of the lookouts


My first experience with crampons!

My first experience with crampons!

One of the bright blue water holes

One of the bright blue water holes


Kung-foo fighting!

Kung-foo fighting!

Who has a dessert fork? Looks like a meringue pie to me!

Who has a dessert fork? Looks like a meringue pie to me!


The make-shift glacier bar!

The make-shift glacier bar!

Bird Watching at Lagoon Nimez: Being first time bird watchers we were rather unprepared for the experience, lacking the compulsory binoculars, a wide brimmed hat and a bird whistle! However we did have a little booklet with pictures of the birds, their name and a brief description. Even armed with this, we can only recall the birds as being “big pink ones” ( OK, those ones are easy- Flamingoes), “little blue ones”, “brown ones”, “flying small ones” etc etc. Despite our lack of knowledge about our fine feathered flying friends, it was lots of fun and we can understand how it becomes a serious hobby for people.

The view of El Calafate from the lagoon

The view of El Calafate from the lagoon


Bird watching at the lagoon

Bird watching at the lagoon

Arts and Mate: The Argentineans are famous for their tea drinking of the herbal brew “mate” (pronounced like “mah-tey”). It is a strong tea brew that is usually passed between friends, sipping from the one mate straw. We came across a quirky bright blue house set by the lagoon, which had a sign up saying “Casa de Arte” (House of Art), and some musicians sitting on the front balcony sipping their Mate tea. They invited us in and brewed a fresh pot of Mate for us, before then starting up a great jam session of Argentinean folk music (a rehearsal for their concert later that night). So we got our very own little concert and Mate experience, as well as meeting some great locals, Pancho and Juan, and their two playful dogs who loved all the attention Ben was giving them!

Ben's new furry friend!

Ben's new furry friend!


Our very own live music concert!

Our very own live music concert!


Mate Tea, a strong herbal brew shared between friends

Mate Tea, a strong herbal brew shared between friends

We loved the fun times in El Calafate (Ben even came face to face with a dinosaur), but the next town called and off to El Chalten we went.....

Making our own fun in a museum.....Ben v Dinosaur!

Making our own fun in a museum.....Ben v Dinosaur!

El Chalten
(20/21/22 February)

Just 3 hours north of El Calafate is El Chalten, an even smaller town located within the Los Glaciares National Park. El Chalten is trekking paradise, home to Patagonian mountains and granite peaks, waterfalls, lakes and more glaciers. People come from all over to catch glimpses of the Fitzroy Peak between the misty clouds. We met some people who had spent 4 days waiting in El Chalten for the clouds to part and reveal the magical mountain, however after day 4 it still remained veiled and they gave up and moved on. Unbelievably the 3 days that we spent here were picture perfect- blue skies and only small gusts of the famous southern wind. We used the great weather to do 3 day hikes (yes that’s right- day hikes! No camping or big backpacks required!!):

• Laguna Torre Walk and Lookout ( 28km return hike)
• Waterfall ( Taking it easy with only a 6km return walk)
• The 3 Lakes / Fitzroy Walk ( aprox 26km return hike)

The hikes and scenery were spectacular, and physically a lot easier than Torres Del Paine. We loved our time here, and couldn’t believe the natural beauty that surrounded us. All the colours seemed so bright and dazzling, the mountains massive, and the lakes the most beautiful yet. The photos say all that needs to be said ( except don’t decide to jog the remaining 3 km back into town at the end of a day hiking just because your body is feeling so warmed up and fit..... I ended up re-pulling my hip flexor muscle and Ben hurt his knee, causing us to limp slowly back into town at the very end! The towns micro-brewery made all well again with their local brew!).

Photos from our walks around El Chalten:

This incredible view was well worth the 26km return hike and hard mountain climb at the end!

This incredible view was well worth the 26km return hike and hard mountain climb at the end!


The fitzroy lake

The fitzroy lake


The stunning view at the end of the 3 lakes trail

The stunning view at the end of the 3 lakes trail


More of the Fitzroy lake view

More of the Fitzroy lake view


Enjoying the walk!

Enjoying the walk!


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The mighty Fitzroy

The mighty Fitzroy

Our relaxing day at the waterfall

Our relaxing day at the waterfall

Walking back into El Chalten as the sun is starting to set

Walking back into El Chalten as the sun is starting to set


Aussie Aussie Aussie! We met a swiss man on the Laguna Torre trail who was wearing an Aussie bandana which we borrowed for this photo!

Aussie Aussie Aussie! We met a swiss man on the Laguna Torre trail who was wearing an Aussie bandana which we borrowed for this photo!

Snickers really satisfies!

Snickers really satisfies!

The Laguna Torre

The Laguna Torre

Enjoying a quick rest in the sun

Enjoying a quick rest in the sun

From paradise to hell...... cue "Route 40"!

Route 40 (or Ruta 40)

Route 40 is one of the longest roads in the world, and runs parallel to the Andes Mountains, linking southern and northern Argentina. It mostly passes through barren landscape broken occasionally by sparsely populated towns. It is on the “Must Do” list for adventure travel in Argentina, so we excitedly set off on this adventure ourselves...unaware of what lay ahead!

The lonely view from route 40

The lonely view from route 40


"On a dark desert highway...."

"On a dark desert highway...."

The route turned out to be mostly unpaved, gavel road, and we spent 35 HOURS on a cramped, smelly and sweaty bus, with a bus-driver who smoked continuously. The longest break we had off the bus was only 1 HOUR. The rest of the time was spent on the bus, which was furnace-hot during the day because the AC was broken, and then was Antarctic-cold at night because of the desert temperature outside. The seats barely reclined, meaning that sleep was near-impossible. To top it all off the bus blew a tyre on the “dark desert highway”, and we spent close to 2 hours standing around in the freezing cold early hours of the desert morning while the bus driver and assistant comically tried to change tyres. They resorted to using sticks and stones from the side of the road to help jack the bus up even higher! So, Ruta 40 was definitely an unforgettable experience, but not in the way we expected!

Trying to keep our sanity- a bottle of red and a movie!

Trying to keep our sanity- a bottle of red and a movie!


It was a cold cold morning waiting for the bus tyre to be changed and Ben wasn't happy!

It was a cold cold morning waiting for the bus tyre to be changed and Ben wasn't happy!


The never ending Ruta 40

The never ending Ruta 40


Our stranded bus

Our stranded bus

Now, when we catch a long distance bus we smile when the ticket sales person tells us it will be a 16 hour bus ride...... Only 16 hours, ha! We laugh in the face of 16 hours!!! Nothing will ever be as bad as Ruta 40! The only thing that made it all OK was our safe arrival in one of the most picturesque places on earth- Bariloche. But that is for the next blog which we hope to get up before too long.

Love Chelle and Ben

Posted by CBAdv2010 18:17 Archived in Argentina Comments (5)

Torres Del Paine Part 2

There's a fine line between pleasure and Paine!

sunny 12 °C

Torres Del Paine Part 2

Part 1 can be found here: http://cbadv2010.travellerspoint.com/6/

We pick up the TDP adventure back up at Day 4.

Day 4: French Valley and Chileno, 35kms, 11 hours of walking

We woke up early on Day 4 as we knew ahead of time we had a big day ahead of us. Just how BIG though we hadn’t quite processed – or more likely we deliberately ignored (“ignorance is bliss; ignorance is bliss”). We had 35km of walking ahead of us, which is like walking from Sydney CBD to Hornsby, and then walking halfway back again.

The middle part of the W contains the French Valley, a steep walk that is about 4 hours up and 4 hours back from the Refugio we were staying at, Los Cuernos. Fortunately we could leave our packs behind at the Refugio and walk in relative comfort. Trust me - this is a godsend after 3 days of lugging 12-15kg around!

The walk to the bottom of the French Valley was quite mild, but from then it was uphill all the way, as you walk steadily up towards the Mirador (lookout). A short way into the walk we fortuitiously ran into our American friends form the Navimag, Don and Terry. Terry had caught the same bug I had, and I could tell we had similar war stories to share. Don was OK and joined us on the walk up. What a spectacular walk too! Waterfalls to the left of us, mountains to the right, here we were stuck in the middle of TDP heaven.

Rainbow sighting on the way to the French Valley

Rainbow sighting on the way to the French Valley


Mountains on side of French Valley walk

Mountains on side of French Valley walk


Looking out onto the lakes of TDP

Looking out onto the lakes of TDP

Despite getting lost a few times, and Don and I considering a not-so-sensible scaling of wet rocks near a waterfall that plummeted down into rocks below (common sense prevailed) we made it to the French Valley lookout after 2 and a bit hours walking. What greets you is a 360 panaroma of snow-capped mountains and Torres and your main problem is your eyes don’t know where to look! You're surrounded by towering landscape and feel slightly in awe of what you are seeing. There was also light snow starting to drop down as well, just to top off the immersive nature of what you could see, hear and feel. We couldn't even hope to capture the lookout in pictures, but here's a few attempts.

French valley

French valley

Mandatory couple shot in French Valley

Mandatory couple shot in French Valley


Don, Chelle and I at the top of the French Valley

Don, Chelle and I at the top of the French Valley

We left Don at the French Valley as we were on a mission to get to our destination Camp Chileno which was still a good 24km away. Slightly depressing when you’ve already walked for 4 hours and 11km, but soldier on we must.

Downhill walking in the Valley is a knee-killer (I kept apologising to mine, promising them a massage) but we made it OK back to Los Cuernos and, after a 30 min break that consisted mostly of staring vacantly into the distance, we started on the way to Chileno – 13km to go. 13km of MADNESS! Was followed was the most intense physical thing I’ve put myself through, even more so than trying to watch all 40-odd world cup soccer matches back in 2006. It was not so much the terrain, which was uphill but with mild incline, but the fact that there's only so much you can put a poor sick body through. We were taking each step at a time, one hill at a time, and doing a fair bit of this:

Down for the count!

Down for the count!

I really struggled as we were nearing 30km for the day, and if it wasn't for my superhero partner who took our bag on her shoulders I'm really not sure we would have made it to Chileno. Part of the problem was that I had not been eating, and so it was time to pull out the big guns: chocolate. A few rows of cocao goodness later and I was a different man. Like a marathon runner who knows they only need to push through that final barrier of pain, I took the backpack and became a madmen, power walking up the final hills to Chileno, breathing and grunting like a cavemen, and scaring women and children on the way. I was going to get to Chileno if it killed me! And get there we did.

We were meant to camp in Chileno in a tent, but Day 4 had a special meaning to it: Valentine’s day. Therefore I decided we were going to splash out: one more Refugio sleep and meal it was to be, on me! That night we spent at the table, eating dinner together at the Refugio over some Gato boxed red wine, both of us almost too comotised to talk. Who said romance is dead?

Day 5: Las Torres, 15 km, 5 hours walking

Torres in Spanish means “towers”, and to culminate our W experience we were to finish on the most famous of all the TDP landmarks, the three towers: Torre Sur, Torre Central and Torre Norte. Call them the 3 sisters of TDP if you will.

Before going to sleep we had spoken to some people in our dorm room who had apologised in advance for waking us up at 4am in the morning to go see the Las Torres over sunset. They need not have apologised – we were going there too. Only problem was that we had forgotten a basic essential when one wants to walk in the dark – a recent invention called ... a torch. And that is where our fellow dorm-mates came in handy – Celine and Allison – both of whom were much better prepared than us, and had kindly offered to be our unofficial night guides as we were to climb towards the Torres in the morning.

So up we got at 4am in the morning, blurry eyed and wondering what we were doing getting up in pitch blackness to walk through a national park. We had a gang of 5: Celine, Allison, Chelle and I and Neil, and off we set to conquer the Las Torres . The walk is relatively easy for the first hour and half, apart from getting lost when you take the wrong turn in the dark. The last hour however is the hardest walking section in TDP. It’s steep incline all the way, up gravel and dirt and boulders, and you have to take it one step at a time, often getting close to crawling on all fours. It's a funny sight though because as you walk up you can just see these headlamps meandering ahead of you all the way up the mountain, like fireflies in the pitch dark. I couldn't help but have some David Attenborough commentary in my head, "And here we see the human species of Chileno, often known to come out in the early hours of the morning in search of the Torres ..."

When you reach the top of Los Torres, an achievement in it's own, you find about 20-30 fellow crazy people who have also done the same morning climb. Together you sit on rocks facing the Torres, and wait in anticipation. Waiting in freezing cold. Except for those people you stare at enviously with their cookers and warm cups of coffee and tea. I was contemplating taking a few of them out in return for their bounty but decided against it.

The three Torres are a spectacular sight in the day time, but at sunrise the ice-shaped granite and the morning light waves combine to create a red-glow that we had seen in pictures, but didn't really expect to be like that in real life (thanks to photoshop). After waiting for about 15 minutes we were concerned that it wasn’t to be our day and maybe the Torres and Sun weren’t coming out to play.

Then, Chelle spotted the top of the Torre Central changing colour into a deep, dark, rich red. And soon all of them had their tips painted. And gradually this rich red got painted over all three Torres before your eyes, along with the surrounding mountains, like the sun had a giant paintbrush out sweeping the landscape.

What was left after the painting stopped was one of the most amazing sights I have seen and may ever see in my life. An entire mountain glowing red before your eyes. All 5 of us just looked in wonder at each other with smiles on our faces, going “how good is that!?” You had to see it to believe it and experience it.

That is TDP for you – it puts you through hard work and pain, but it rewards you at the end of it.

Us and Torres - hanging out

Us and Torres - hanging out


Las Torres in the cold of morning, waiting for that sun

Las Torres in the cold of morning, waiting for that sun


The tips of Las Torres start to glow red

The tips of Las Torres start to glow red


The sun continues its painting of the landscape

The sun continues its painting of the landscape


Yes! To, this!

Yes! To, this!

Painting near completion

Painting near completion

Up close to the fiery reds

Up close to the fiery reds

Towers with reflection from tha lake

Towers with reflection from tha lake

After dragging ourselves away from the red painted Los Torres (we kept looking back at it like we were saying goodbye to a friend we won’t see again) it was time to head on home to Puerto Natales. The W circuit had been completed! It was a real exhilarating feeling and sense of achievement, and we were so stoked that we got back off that bus to appreciate it in its entirety. For any nature and trekking lovers reading this blog, if you ever get a chance to do TDP – do it, you must! You won't regret it.

Stopping for a last time on the final descent

Stopping for a last time on the final descent

And so ended our time in Chile, and it was time to depart for the lands of Argentina. El Calafate – next stop!

Until then, adios!
Ben and Chelle

Posted by CBAdv2010 14:05 Archived in Chile Comments (1)

Torres Del Paine Part 1

No Paine no gain!

sunny 12 °C

Torres Del Paine
February 11 – February 15 (5 days)

After the hard work of Patagonian nature watching, playing cards and eating every few hours on the Navimag, we decided to spend a few days in Puerto Natales preparing for our hike in Torres Del Paine. Puerto Natales is a small little coastal town that has a very relaxed feel, with some great places to eat, including good vegetarian food (El Living) and good Mexican and local-made beer (at the microbrewery); perfect location to rest up before and after Torres Del Paine.

Puerto Natales

Puerto Natales

Torres Del Paine (TDP) – or, as we now affectionately think of it, Torres of PAIN – is a national park that is over 2,600 square km in size and has an elaborate set of trekking paths that go through it, the most popular of which is the “W” circuit (as that is the shape you make walking one end to the other – if you squint your eyes and use a little imagination). It is one of the most spectacular trekking locations in the world – according to seasoned trekkers not just the guide books. It is a treasure chest of lakes (and is one of the biggest sources of natural water in the world), mountains and glaciers.

You can do the W in 3 nights and 4 days but most people opt to do 4 nights and 5 days (or more) – which is what we opted for.

The W circuit - well, W ish

The W circuit - well, W ish

Now – I did my fair share of camping growing up, and have trekked a little here and there, however it is an altogether different experience to be carrying your tent, sleeping bag, clothes and food for 5 days of serious trekking – in fact, I’m quite sure if it was described exactly as we experienced it the tourist numbers would plummet. Not that everyone does the W that way – the park also contains trekking shelters called Refugios that contain dorm beds and provide meals, so one can be a flashpacker of sorts if one chooses. Only problem is they charge champagne prices for the privilege - $100+ in some of them for a dorm bed and dinner starts at $20 for cup a soup and pasta type food.

Chileno Refugio

Chileno Refugio

With our budget and the bullets we’ve already put through it refugios were out of the question; but we did find a compromise for the sake of my crusty reconstructed knee and Chelle’s dodgy hip: hire tents from the Refugios so we don’t have to carry them around. Genius!

So armed with cup-a-soup and food basics, cooking gear and clothes it was off to Del Paine we go!

Our trusty backpack loaded with only essentials

Our trusty backpack loaded with only essentials

Day 1: Glacier Grey, 11km, 5-6 hours walking

Chelle had been knocked cold with a virus that was going around Puerto Natales, and being the sharing type of girl she had kindly given it to me on the morning of our departure to Torres Del Paine. Consequently I had razor blades in my throat that no multi-vitamins or bourbon could fix (the latter - my Dad’s (Marcel’s) sound medical advice). In retrospect it was probably not the smartest idea to do the W circuit with a virus, but dammit we’d paid for our gear and booked our refugio hire tents and we weren’t turning back.

Getting to the park involved a bus ride of a few hours, and then taking a ferry to the park. And what a ferry ride it was! We called Torres Del Paine “adult disneyland” for the breathtaking eye candy it provided and the ferry was the first ride. As with much of Chilean Patagonia the pictures tell the story.

Looking back from the ferry onto Disneyland

Looking back from the ferry onto Disneyland


Where the white queen of TDP lives

Where the white queen of TDP lives


More views from the ferry

More views from the ferry

The Day 1 walk involved a 11km walk to the Glacier Grey campground, situated right next to, you guessed it – Glacier Grey. The walk is meant to take 3.5 hours but as this was our first day in the park we decided to take it easy, and allow ourselves to be trigger happy on the camera (truth be told we’ve allowed that for 7 weeks now). It was a damn TOUGH walk too, lots of up and down hills and boulders and rocks attempting to roll your ankle. The walk, like many in TDP, provides constant viewing of snow-capped mountains and lakes and the walk itself nestles quite naturally into the terrain – you really feel like you are walking in nature, not just observing it from a tourist trail.

And we're off!

And we're off!


The natural walking trails of TDP

The natural walking trails of TDP


Part of walking trail from Chileno to Las Torres

Part of walking trail from Chileno to Las Torres


Ankle killers on the walk to Grey

Ankle killers on the walk to Grey

The most memorable part of the walk was coming to the top of an incline and as you peek over you get a panoramic view of Glacier Grey set against the backdrop of the mountains. I think Chelle and I both just said wow! Seeing these type of views brings a drop to the jaw and smile to the face. It also can't help but bring out your desire to get your photo in front of it.

You climb up and this view awaits

You climb up and this view awaits

Nearly at the lookout

Nearly at the lookout

The lookout halfway towards Grey

The lookout halfway towards Grey


More of the lookout

More of the lookout

Green mountains, snow capped mountains, glaciers - TDP has it all

Green mountains, snow capped mountains, glaciers - TDP has it all


Not a bad location for a photo

Not a bad location for a photo

Feeling on top of the world

Feeling on top of the world

Spot Chelle!

Spot Chelle!

Taking time to take it in

Taking time to take it in


Grey and the Mountains

Grey and the Mountains

Chelle and I made it Campaneto Glacier Grey about 6:30pm, and by that stage we were STUFFED. We both literally threw our stuff off our backs, and slumped on the ground. There was a Rastafarian type guy managing the camp site and he told us the best news of the day – the tent was already set up and ready to go! Sweet!

Chelle and I collapsed in the tent and devoured some of our snacks and then it dawned on us – where the hell is the Glacier?! It is here isn’t it?? There was a nice lake in front of us with some floating Glacial ice so we knew it had to be close by (call us Sherlock), but it wasn’t in sight of the campground. Sure enough – there was MORE walking to be done. Chelle’s hip was hurting and she decided to call it quits for the day and do the walking the next day. I’d been warned though so many times about how TDP always rains that I thought I’d carpe diem it and walk out to the lookout.

Gorging on fruit and nuts to stay alive

Gorging on fruit and nuts to stay alive


Camp Grey

Camp Grey


Our little tent at camp Grey

Our little tent at camp Grey

What I came upon was the second “wow” moment of the day (yes – TDP is a wow-a-thon), particularly as the view of the Glacier from the Navimag was from a distance and in the rain. As you walk towards the lookout (it turned out to be only 15 mins from camp) you again come up an incline, and slowly as you walk high and far enough your eyes get that first glimpse of the mammoth ice structure that is the Glacier. I thought I was looking at giant blue clouds that had fallen into the lake. The Glacier spread out for as far as the eye could see back into the mountains, like part of the mountains had just melted off and was pouring down the lake. It was a spectacular sight and one that capped off a memorable first day in TDP.

Over the horizon and the first view of Glacier Grey

Over the horizon and the first view of Glacier Grey


Closer to Glacier Grey

Closer to Glacier Grey


Glacier grey front view

Glacier grey front view


Glacier Grey from the nearest rock viewpoint, and with some sun, beautiful

Glacier Grey from the nearest rock viewpoint, and with some sun, beautiful

Other misc photos from Day 1 (the narrator is getting lazy):

Water that tastes like heaven

Water that tastes like heaven

Ben, Chelle and Icebergs

Ben, Chelle and Icebergs

Holding glacier ice goodness

Holding glacier ice goodness

Lake with floating glacier break-offs (on walk from Grande to Grey)

Lake with floating glacier break-offs (on walk from Grande to Grey)

Day 2: Back to Paine Grande, 15km, 5-6 hours walking

Paine Grande is the Refugio where you first get off the Ferry. Our Day 2 consisted of getting back to the Refugio to stay the night. Simple, no?

Well, simple if you don’t feel LIKE YOU ARE GOING DO DIE from being feverishly ill! I woke up on day 2 having sweated through the night, muscles aching, throat still razor blades and feeling weak as feather. I’d carried our main backpack on day 1 but there was NO WAY I was carrying it on Day 2. Fortunately I’m engaged to a girl with superhuman abilities and one of the best power to weight ratios known to man, and she decided to take one for the team and carry the pack all day, all 11km to camp. And she did it alright! I was so proud of Chelle, carrying a backpack that looked bigger than her while I gasped behind her pale white, and doing bushman blowies every few metres (too much detail?)

Oh yes – we also decided to go to both the lookout I’d been to on Day 1, and the second lookout for the Glacier which has you climbing up the mountain to look down on it. Was it spectacular? Sure was! Was it smart to do when you have a man on deaths door? Probably not, but Chelle and I simply can’t bear to miss out on anything worth checking out.

Looking down on Glacier Grey

Looking down on Glacier Grey

We spent about another 6 hours walking on Day 2, though it felt like a hundred. Upon reaching Paine Grande (see note 1) we slumped down and collapsed, and started voraciously devouring food in order to refuel and make peace with our tired sore bodies (see note 2).

Chelle, my hero, cooked up a sensational brown rice and vegetables dinner in a common kitchen they had at the Refugio. After eating that and showering it was straight to bed. We came into TDP with ideas of kicking back and socialising at night time with fellow trekkers, and all I can say to that is, HAHAHAHAHAHA!

Note 1: I should have picked up by now that the South Americans were trying to give me hints. On Navimag the rocky seas were called Golfo de Penas which means, literally, “Gulf of Pain”, and that is where you feel sea sick for 12 hours and feel like throwing up the whole time. Now we were in Torres del PAINe and staying in PAINEe Grande)
Note 2: Chelle was particularly happy that I was not eating chocolate due to my illness and had it all to herself!

On the walk from Grande to Glacier Grey

On the walk from Grande to Glacier Grey


Camping at Paine Grande - not a bad backdrop!

Camping at Paine Grande - not a bad backdrop!


For TDP treks Chelle recommends: Snickers

For TDP treks Chelle recommends: Snickers

Day 3: The false departure and Los Cuernos, 14km, 4 hours walking

As we slept through Night 2 we were hit by gale force winds and torrential rain. It was so strong that Chelle and I muttered vaguely consciously to each other that there’s no way on earth we’d be trekking in that weather, especially with me so sick.

On the morning of Day 3 we woke up to grey skies and threatening rain. I had no energy and felt ill, and it was becoming clear that it was not sensible to keep going – “no need to be a hero! “ we kept telling ourselves. It was there and then that we bit the bullet and made the toughest decision to make: to turn back home and call it quits. Wave the white flag. You got us Del Paine, you got us!

Slightly forlornly we packed up our stuff and went to catch the Ferry and then bus back home. All the buses going out of the park stop at the park entrance for 15 minutes, so we decided to get off, and who did we see but one of our friends from the Navimag, Vera, who had just completed the W. I started talking to Vera and she told me that the part of the W we hadn’t done was, I quote, “so beautiful it made me want to cry”. Damn you Vera! How could I possibly leave the park hearing that? Forgetting in the heat of the moment how crook I was, I raced onto the bus to tell Chelle excitedly, “we’re getting off the bus, we have to do the rest of the W!” Chelle gave me the “are you serious?” look, and after realising the answer was affirmative we made a beeline for the exit. The bus driver looked at us surprisingly as we dragged out backpack back out and went to hop on another bus straight back into the Del Paine!

1 hour later we were back on the path, wearing a backpack, and yes – thinking who’s genius idea was it to do more trekking?? (I’m sure it was Chelle’s) The days trek was to Los Cuernos, about 13-14km and it was surprisingly easy. They marked signs along the way that we kept beating in terms of time (“take THAT Mr time estimator!”) and arrived in Los Cuernos surprisingly alive though still tired.

We had planned ahead of time to have one night in a Refugio, particularly as Day 3 was originally going to be a huge trek and we thought it a good idea to end it with a good nights sleep in a bed. Even though it had only been 2 nights in a tent, the fact that we were sleeping on rocky ground and waking up consistently meant sore hips and shoulders, and the thought of a real bed was music to the ummm, ears? Brain? One of the two.

We also decided to splash out and spend $20 on a Refugio meal, which may not have been the worlds greatest meal, but as they say “hunger is the best cook”. That night we both slept like a baby on the top bunks of triple decker dorm bunks. Little did we know how tough Day 4 would be.

Us getting in the way of a beautiful view yet again!

Us getting in the way of a beautiful view yet again!


And the view without us (near entrance to TDP)

And the view without us (near entrance to TDP)


Lake views on the walk to Los Cuernos

Lake views on the walk to Los Cuernos


There was a lot of this going on!

There was a lot of this going on!


On the walk to Los Cuernos

On the walk to Los Cuernos

Sitting in front of Los Cuernos

Sitting in front of Los Cuernos

The final mountain to climb for the day: the dorm bunk

The final mountain to climb for the day: the dorm bunk

But for that, we shall leave it to the next blog, Torres Del Paine Part 2.

Until then, it's over and out!
Love
Ben and Chelle

Posted by CBAdv2010 09:39 Archived in Chile Comments (5)

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