Picture Perfect Patagonia

After our flight from Ushuaia, we wrapped up Vesper’s birthday with some pizza and beer in the small town of El Calafate. The big attraction there is the Perito Moreno Glacier located in the Los Glaciares National Park. We spent one day at the glacier before heading three hours north to El Chaltén for three days of hiking. These two places were insanely scenic, providing the picturesque Patagonia we expected in Ushuaia but happily found here.

El Calafate

Our tour of the Perito Moreno Glacier included an informative guide, boat ride close to the glacial wall, and a few hours to walk along the viewing balconies on the shore opposite the glacier. We learned that the glacier is the third largest ice cube on the planet after Antarctica and Greenland, and it’s still growing! In addition to its size, the Perito Moreno Glacier is famous because every four years or so it has a massive rupture. The flowing glacier dams up a portion of Lago Argentino, which causes the water on one side to rise upwards of 30 meters, putting immense pressure on the ice dam. The water erodes away at the bloackage to form an ice bridge, which eventually collapses into an awesome tsunami of freezing water. Unfortunately for us the ice bridge had just collapsed in March (boo).

The foggy, rainy, and cold weather made our first viewpoint comical: we could barely see the glacier, and we definitely couldn’t see any of the mountains behind it. A vendor had photos of the view on a clear day so at least we got to see what it was supposed to look like. Once inside the park, we had a quick boat ride that went right up to the glacier. Being that close on the water allowed us to appreciate how impressively tall the wall of ice is.

Can you see the hikers in this picture?

The viewing balconies ended up being the best part of the tour because we got to see several HUGE sheets of ice fall off the glacier! It was pretty much one of the coolest things we’ve ever seen. Had it been warmer out, we would have happily sat on the balconies for hours watching the glacier, but instead we settled for only 90 minutes and completely numb extremities before heading back to the bus.

The "balconies" with the broken ice bridge behind.

El Chaltén

Our first day in El Chaltén, we woke up bright and early to do a full day hike to one of the nearby lakes. A park ranger at the visitor center insisted we hike to Laguna de los Tres as it was the first clear day in a week, and we would be able to enjoy the majestic views of Monte Fitz Roy. It was an amazing hike - one of the best we’ve done in our entire trip! The hike was about 23 kilometers and took eight hours to complete. The hardest part was the final kilometer to the laguna with a steep slope and slippery rocks, but the views at the top were so worth it! This was the Patagonia we had been imagining from the start.

Monte Fitz Roy overlooking Laguna de los Tres.
Manditory group photo at the top, and a woodpecker searching for bugs.

The next day we did a slightly shorter (20 km over 6-7 hours) hike to Laguna Torre so our legs could recover a bit.

Laguna Torre.
Overlooking El Chaltén on our return from the hike.

Since it was low season, only a handful of restaurants were open, but we managed to find one with a few local beers on tap and enjoyed happy hour after our hikes. We also shared an amazing Patagonia lamb stew at a parrilla to celebrate our last night together before Jaclyn headed back home.

Beer and a hearty lamb stew is required after hiking.

After Jaclyn left Saturday morning, we did two small hikes that provided great panoramic views of the city and surrounding areas. It was a great way to wrap up our week hiking in Patagonia before heading to our brewery workaway in Chile!

Condors and a view of the national park.
Mirador de las Agulias.
This hairy armadillo is called a Pichi.

Update: This post was featured on The Outspoken Travel Guidebook at atdaa.com.

  Add a comment

It’s a party at the end of the world!

We took a flight down from Buenos Aires to begin our journey through Patagonia in Ushuaia with our friend Jaclyn. Ushuaia is the capital of the Tierra del Fuego Province and considered by many to be the southernmost city in the world. Technically there are a few outposts farther south, but Ushuaia is the only one big enough to be considered an actual city.

Note: For those of you who aren’t Jimmy Buffett fans, the title of this post references one of his songs which was our theme song for Ushuaia.

Ushuaia is a port city along the Beagle Channel, which connects the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, and serves as the starting point for (ridiculously expensive) cruises to Antarctica. Our first night in town we watched the sun set over the Beagle Channel, documented our southern status, and then went to bed. The next day we woke up before sunrise (aka 9:30) to hike up to Glacier Martial. Since we were there in low season, the chairlift to the very top was closed but the hike from town up to the mountain still provided excellent views of the city and Beagle Channel.

The sign marking the end of the world.
Our lovely chalet and sunset over the Beagle Channel.
The many views as we hiked up to Glacier Martial.

Some of the best views we had in Ushuaia were from our boat ride on the Beagle Channel. We lucked out and had beautiful sunny weather, got to see a bunch of birds and seals, and had a super informative guide. We learned about the indigenous Yaghan people who went around naked until the Europeans started exploring the area. Naked! In the freezing cold! According to Wikipedia, they were able to stay warm by evolving a higher metabolism, covering themselves with animal grease, and building fires - in fact, they built so many that European explorers named the region Tierra del Fuego or “Land of Fire.” We also learned that the Beagle Channel is often the best way to travel between the Pacific and Atlantic since it is protected by mountains on either side, whereas the Drake Passage (between Antarctica and South America) and the Strait of Magellan (separates mainland South America from Tierra del Fuego) are not protected by mountains and have rough waters due to high winds. Our cruise on the Beagle Channel ended with another awesome sunset and some homemade coffee liquor from the boat’s captain.

Heading out on our tour of the Beagle Channel.
Cormorants and sea lions. The stink from these islands was terrible.

We spent our second day exploring Tierra del Fuego National Park. We were a bit surprised to find that while the hikes had great views of the mountains, they were not in the mountains and thus were all very flat. Nevertheless, the scenery was still beautiful, and it meant we got to rest our legs for the hikes to come later in the week.

Our last day in Ushuaia was Vesper’s birthday so in addition to our normal hiking lunch of fruit, cheese, and crackers, we grabbed some birthday beers and headed out for a hike to Laguna Esmeralda. Since we started a little before sunrise, most of the hike was walking through frosted fields and forests. When we made it to the lake, a low cloud covered most the frozen water so we couldn’t see the mountains surrounding it except for a few quick moments when the sun tried to peek through. It was beautiful but super cold!

The hike was cold, but beautiful with frost covering everything.
Sometimes there was a trail, and sometimes it was just mud.
Other times you have to clear a path.
It was worth braving the cold.
Hooray! Vesper has gone 29 full years without dying.
Wasted!

After the hike we headed back to town and caught an evening flight to El Calafate farther north in the Patagonia region. Although it was cloudy in town, our flight out provided cool views of the mountain tops once we made it above the cloud cover.

  Add a comment

A Week in Buenos Aires

A few Saturdays ago, we boarded an overnight bus from Mendoza to Buenos Aires. At fifteen hours, this was our longest bus ride yet. We arrived at our Airbnb in the Palermo neighborhood of Buenos Aires around 11 on Sunday morning and went straight to the grocery store for coffee and laundry detergent to start off our week clean and caffeinated.

We spent the rest of our Sunday walking around the Recoleta neighborhood and wandering through its weekly craft fair. Before our walk home we stopped at a brewery for our first beer in the city. We had a similarly relaxing day on Monday since basically anything touristy is closed then in Buenos Aires, so we did more adult tasks and made an awesome stir fry dinner. We did luck out that evening and found a beer bar close by called Bodega Cervecera. They had several great beers on tap, plus we met our new friend Daniel! Turns out he is also a fellow beer lover, and we were able to compare the list of beer bars the internet recommended against the recommendations of a local. It was a good thing we did too - he told us about our two favorite beer bars in town that week!

After a relaxing start to the week, most of our time could be divided between eating, walking for hours and hours around town, or enjoying a pint at one of the countless cervecerias (beer bar or brewery).

The Sites

We did lots of walking in Buenos Aires in order to explore many different neighborhoods. On sunny days, we explored the countless parks, which is one of the things we found really appealing about the city’s layout. The buildings aren’t very tall, so despite its size, it doesn’t have the canyon-feel that cities get when dominated by skyscrapers. You can see the sun! This also allows you to appreciate the European-style architecture, where almost all buildings have wrought iron railings and everyone seems to have patios filled with plants. In our explorations, we visited Bellas Artes, the (free!) fine arts museum; El Ateneo Grand Splendid, a beautiful bookstore located in an old theater; and the Obelisk, which is located on 9 de Julio, the widest avenue in the world. We also went to the Recoleta Cemetary, where anyone who’s anyone from Argentinine history is buried - like Evita, who might be the only person we know from our complete lack of Argentine history and politics. The cemetery was also super interesting after having recently seen the one in Sucre, Bolivia; the two were like apples and oranges. The plots in Buenos Aires were obviously meant to display power and wealth, whereas the plots in Sucre seemed designed for family members to visit frequently, pay their respects, and celebrate the lives of their loved ones.

Architecture from around the city.
Puente De La Mujer.
Recoleta Cemetery.
Views around the Obelisk.
El Ateneo Grand Splendid, an old theater turned into a bookstore.
One of the many parks in the city and Casa Rosada, the Argentine version of the White House.
We did so much walking to see all these sights, Vesper needed some rest!

The Food

Although we cooked a lot at our Airbnb, we also had some awesome foodie experiences during our week. To celebrate Vesper’s birthday (a few days early), we went to The Argentine Experience where we learned how to make different wine cocktails, competed for best empanada design, ate delicious steak, and drank a lot of wine with other travelers from around the world. It was a little cheesy and overpriced, but we had a ton of fun with our fellow diners and discovered a delicious new red wine (Brazos de los Andes Red Blend). We also met our friend Hyelee who’s in culinary school here at Pizzería Güerrin, an AMAZING pizza place. To wrap up our food experience in Buenos Aires, our last night we went to a parilla (Argentine grillhouse). Argentina is known for its quality meat, and these restaurants seem to be on every corner.

Some of the best pizza we have ever had. Thanks for the recommendation, Hyelee!
Eating steak and learning to make cocktails and empanadas for an early birthday celebration.

The Beer

Aka the best part! We were overwhelmed with the number of places recommended to us online, so we prioritized Daniel’s insider tips and headed to Bierlife and On Tap. Bierlife was awesome: it had over 40 beers on tap and happy hour was 2-for-1! (For those of you back in Madison, this makes it cheaper than Side Door’s happy hour.) We only had time to try a few beers there, with the standout being an Imperial Stout and Dubbel from Die Eisenbrücke. If we make it back to Buenos Aires, we plan to go back to check out the ever-rotating tap list. On Tap, which was in the Palermo neighborhood by our Airbnb, also had over 20 beers on tap, including the delicious Sir Hopper’s American IPA. The other two standout bars were Nola with four local beers and some good ol’ Cajun cooking, and Jerome with some fairly big beers on tap, our favorite being their Imperial Stout. Besides having excellent beer, we also met our new friend Kaan while touring these bars. Kaan was still feeling out the city after recently moving here from San Francisco so we had a blast exploring with him.

Taps at Bierlife and On Tap.
Cheers, Kaan!
Drawing a beer at Jerome, and disco fermentation tanks?

Our last night in Buenos Aires we were able to grab a few more of our favorite rounds with Kaan and Daniel, plus our friend Jaclyn who had flown in from Madison to spend the upcoming week with us in Patagonia. It was a lovely way to wrap up our week! We’re hoping we’ll make it back this way in June after we’re done at the brewery and on our way to Brazil!

  Add a comment

Four Months of Traveling Complete

We’ve made it back to Chile! We spent a couple of weeks in Argentina, but now we’ve returned to Chile to begin our next workaway - this time at a BREWERY! We’re pretty excited about it, and we’ll also plan to use the time to catch up on posts. Sorry, we’ve been too busy hiking through the amazing scenery in Patagonia.

In the last month we have traveled to seven cities in two countries: Valparaiso and Santiago in Chile, and Mendoza, Buenos Aires, Ushuaia, El Calafate, and El Chalten in Argentina.

Month 4 Observations

  • Mullets are in fashion in Argentina. You are even cooler if your party-in-the-back has a few dreadlocks or braided rat tails flowing over your shoulders. We’re actually not kidding.
  • Argentina and Chile are super expensive compared to the rest of our trip so far. It feels a lot like being back home when you need to shell out more than $10 for a decent meal.
  • It’s cold! We went so far south we’ve found winter.
  • The beer continues to be much better down here than the rest of South America. Maybe you need a big enough population with expendable income to sustain such a superfluous (but delicious) activity? Infrastructure also plays a big role; it’s really hard to get brewing supplies down here, so it makes sense that a lot of breweries are located in larger cities.
  • Everyone in Argentina is obsessed with mate. So much so that they are willing to walk everywhere with their straw and cup full of tea leaves and a large thermos of hot water. You can read more about it on wikipedia if you are interested.
  • We’d read that buses are often over-air conditioned so we always make sure to bring a coat or fleece. But what happens when the heater is on full blast for all eight hours? If you answered “sweat,” come to the front to collect a prize.
  • Spanish is a lot more difficult to understand down here. In Chile they speak very quickly, while in Argentina they have replaced certain sounds with others as a result of their strong Italian influence. For example, pollo (chicken) is normally pronounced “po-yo” but in Argentina it is pronounced “po-scho” (ll switches from a “y” sound to a “sch” sound).

Fast Facts

  • Most time wasted trying to cross a border: 7 hours at the border going from Santiago to Mendoza
  • Best beer: Jester’s Luptopia
  • Best pizza: Pizzería Güerrin in Buenos Aires (Thanks, Hyelee!!)
  • Favorite city: El Chalten, Argentina
  • Best birthday celebration: hiking to Laguna Esmerelda for Vesper’s 29th!

  Add a comment

Malbecs in Mendoza

We were looking forward to what was supposed to be one of the prettiest bus rides through the Andes when we boarded the bus from Santiago to Mendoza around 1 pm last Tuesday. The first three hours of the trip were incredibly scenic. We passed countless vineyards before beginning the slow ascent into the snow covered mountain landscape filled with waterfalls and charming ski chalets waiting for the season to begin. Then we made it to the border with Argentina. That’s where everything went downhill.

Curving mountain roads and snowy peaks on our way to the border.

For some reason - even our bus driver didn’t know - we sat at the border for seven hours. SEVEN HOURS. This was only supposed to be a seven hour bus ride! Besides getting into Mendoza at 3 am, this also meant that we completely missed the scenery for the second half of the ride into Argentina since it was midnight and pitch black. But good news! We are going to be crossing the Andes twice more: we will return to Chile later in May for a workaway and then come back to Argentina in June before we head to Brazil! (Fingers crossed it won’t be the same border crossing as this trip…)

All smiles when we first arrived at the border waiting in line with everyone else.

Thankfully our Airbnb host was amazing and woke up to greet us at 3 and even paid for our taxi since we didn’t have any Argentine pesos yet. After a good night’s sleep, we woke up to some coffee on the porch to plan our next few days - and then the rain began. Our next few days in Mendoza were unfortunately heavily rained out. We had wanted to rent bikes and visit some wineries outside of town (the city itself doesn’t seem to have anything to do but shopping), but we weren’t ambitious enough to do that in bad weather. Instead, we did our own Tour del Super Mercado where we sampled bottled wines from the grocery store while making our own delicious home cooked meals. It was actually a pretty awesome way to spend our few days here. We even lucked out and got a free night at our Airbnb since our host felt bad that he didn’t have time to show us around and give us recommendations since he was busy with other things. We stayed an extra night and even splurged on the most expensive bottle of wine at the grocery store! $18. #winning

Our very own wine tasting with homemade pizza.
Even in wine country we can find a brewery.

  Add a comment