Literally the only thing to do in Iguacu is visit the Iguacu falls. We planned on visiting the falls for two full days because they can be seen in both Brazil and Argentina. The first day we dedicated to the Brazilian side because it was smaller and we got kind of a late start. We boarded the bus that took us there and we crossed the border only to get an exit stamp from Argentina. We didn’t even go through customs for Brazil… so much for working hard to get a visa! The falls were breathtaking! It was hard to imagine how much water was rushing over the side and blasting into the water below. It didn’t take long to walk the length of the park. The entire time we were getting swarmed by Coatis. If you bent down they were all over you in search for any type of food. You had to be careful where you put your bag because they would be digging through it in a second. But their cuteness made up for their mischievious nature. Needless to say, I touched a lot of Coati tails. Lunch was probably the funniest part. We hid from the Coatis so we could eat our lunch but one followed it’s nose and found us. We had to fight it off for a good 20 minutes. It tried it’s puppy dog eyes, lite begging, and then aggressive begging. Irritated that it wasn’t getting anywhere with us it resorted to stealing. Strange thing is that it tried to steal my water bottle by grabbing and dragging it. Seriously!?! What would it have done with a water bottle?!?
The following day was much longer. The Argentinian side was way bigger and had way better views of the falls. We hiked the lower trail first because we had a boat ride waiting for us. This trail was at the bottom of the falls. We found that it was impossible to see all the falls in view because it was simply too big and covered to much area. The boat ride was short but worth it. It took us under one section of the falls and completely soaked us. The boat raced to the other side that lead into the biggest part of the falls called the Devil’s Throat and submerged us under one of the smaller falls. The shower we got before was nothing compared to this shower… we were completely doused in cold water. The rest of the day was used to walk the upper trail and the trail next to the top of the Devil’s Throat. These platforms were like getting a separate shower. There was so much mist coming back up from the bottom because of the sheer amount and power of the falling water that within seconds there was water dripping from your nose and chin and running down your arms and legs. Very refreshing on a hot day 🙂
Overall, Iguazu falls were stunning and worth the detour! We moved to stay at Foz do Iguacu, Brazil for our last day before we flew to Rio. It was the weirdest border crossing yet. We paid a bus to take us to the border like everyone else and when it dropped us off it left. We all watched it drive away thinking ‘oh great, now how are we going to get to our hostel.’ We went through customs and ended up getting a cab. We spent our last day in the pool and looking for an ATM which seemed to be in short supply in that area of Brazil.
Initially we thought that Buenos Aires would be a time for us to relax and slow down for a while but we quickly found out we were wrong. We were busy from the get go. We got off the bus and found out a taxi to the apartment we were renting was going to cost over 500 pesos which is about $35 dollars so we decided to walk. I mean that is what we do best right? With our giant packs it took us about 2 hours to get there and it started raining. So you know in all the movies when there are people walking on the sidewalk in a big city in the rain and a car drives by and completely soaks them with water… well that was me. I got splashed and was soaked on one side of my body. It was not a good start to Buenos Aires. Anyways, we arrived at the address that was provided by Airbnb which is where we booked the apartment but the address was literally in the middle of an intersection! What the heck man!! We tried calling the guy with no answer. We found some free wifi at a McDonald’s and messanged him with no answer. We waited for a few hours and then gave up on a response. We looked up a hostel that was close by and made our way there. We got settled and relaxed. The room we had was very hot so it was a rough nights sleep.
Our first day was dedicated to finishing our Brazilian visa application. We had to get up early and walk an hour to the Brazilian consulate. We had all of our papers and pictures ready to go… we did our research. There were two people in front of us in line and they both did not have appointments or any of the documents they needed and so the lady turned them away. Now this lady was one that you secretly hope you don’t get because she was strict and argued with everyone. We were next and so we walked up and she asked straight away if we had an appointment which we did at 9:15. It was 9:10 so she sent us back in line. After she called for the 9 o’clock appointment and no one walked up she called for the 9:15 appointment so we walked back up. She went through and asked for each document and checked them off… it was like she was looking for something to be missing. We were required to provide proof of entry and exit, bank statements, proof of a place to stay, and the application with recent photos. Everything checked out and she gave us our bill to take to the bank and pay. In total we had to pay $400 for Brazil… it better be worth it. We went to the bank and they only took pesos so we had to withdrawal money from the ATM 4 times until we had enough with a $8 processing fee with each withdrawal. Great!! Finally everything was done and we had to return 2 days later to pick up our passports. Since it was still raining and we were soaked we walked back to the hostel. Our shoes were pools of water and it actually made our feet hurt. We did stop at a couple shops along the way. Back at the hostel we changed to another freakishly hot room. As I was laying there trying to sleep and not think about the heat, one of our roommates would not leave me alone. He would constantly walk over and tap me on the shoulder to tell me it’s hot or to ask if he could open and then close the doors or to ask if he could try and move the fan or to simply introduce himself. At one point he offered me a drink of what ever it was he had.. come to find out later from one of our other roommates that it was a cup of what looked like water that he put drops of something into. Makes me glad I didn’t take him up on his drink. But he was drinking it homslef so I have no clue what it was. Ultimately, I did not get a lot of sleep that night. He was asleep when I got up but then he vanished later that morning. Such a strange night!
The next day we wanted to learn the subway system so we didn’t have to walk as much. So we visited the Recoleta Cemetery. Kinda morbid for Valentine’s day but it was very interesting. The whole cemetery was full of elaborate crypts that clearly cost a lot of money. Some had windows that you could look through and actually see the coffins. From the window of some you could see a lower level that you had to use stairs to get to where you could barely see stacks of coffins. Not only were there crypts but there were tons of cats. John called them haunted cats! I figured they were kept there to ward off evil spirits. After we were done exploring, we went back to the hostel to shower up for an evening out for Valentine’s day. First thing we did was rent a paddle boat at the lake. We came equipped with bread for the geese. We soon got swarmed and the geese grew impatient with us and started getting onto our boat and eye balling us for more. When our time was up, we paddled back and walked across the street to have some drinks for happy hour. We were very indecisive and only wanted to do drinks and then eat elsewhere but we found out everywhere else was expensive so we went back to the first restaurant. I’m pretty sure we freaked the waitress because all of a sudden we were back. She was confused and asking the other waitresses about us so we didn’t get waited on. We decided not to stress them any more and walked out. I can only imagine what she thought when she came back out and we were gone again.. haha. We got some street food and hung out at the square by the lake. They were having a big concert so we stayed and watched it for a bit. After a while we walked back to the hostel and had some drinks on the roof while looking at the city. It was a romantic way to end the night together.
The next day was pretty uneventful. We went back to the Brazilian consulate to collect our things and see if we were granted a visa. We had the same lady as before but this time she was all smiles with us and even laughed a couple of times. We had a pretty big day planned for the following day so we just did some sightseeing in the colorful La Boca, which was the birthplace of tango in Buenos Aires, before heading back to the hostel to once again change rooms. This one had an air conditioner which was MAGICAL!! There were also no weird roommates… the two we had were pretty cool.
My birthday was finally here… I’m officially 29. Wow! We started the day with the Lujan zoo. This zoo is known for actual interaction with the animals. I was skeptical about the whole think at first. I didn’t want to see animals mistreated or in poor living conditions. When we first arrived I thought we made a mistake. The zoo was very different than what I was used to. But when we saw the animals I was relieved. They were very well taken care of and well fed. Their living conditions were clean. In every cage there were dogs living with the big cats. Appearently this was their way of training the cats to be less agressive. We got to feed tigers, lions, and a grizzly bear. We got to pet lions and tigers. I was in big cat heaven! There were a couple of lion cubs that were at the age that they could be handled so I got to play with them. I even got to scratch a howler monkeys back. He was loving it so much he started doing his infamous howl. It was time to leave the zoo and get ready for the next part of the night. We once again changed rooms to a private room. Once we were showered up we went out for a nice steak dinner. It was fantastic! To finish out the night we attended a real Tango show! Buenos Aires was the birthplace of tango so we had to see one. It was amazing! It was Broadway meets Tango with a mixture of singing and dancing. After the show I told John I wanted to take lessons someday… he didn’t seem thrilled. After seeing things like that I always want to take ballroom dancing lessons. One day I will convince him. We had a night cap at a bar on the corner near our hostel and had a couple drinks. It was a great birthday in a somewhat exotic place. Not many people can say that.
The last day in Buenos Aires was spent trying to see the last sights. We got to most of them and I even found my shot glass for Argentina which was surprisingly difficult. Souvenirs in Argentina are not the greatest. By the way I collect shot glasses from every country I visit. It’s a fun and cheap souvenir to search for. We got our stuff and headed for the bus station for our night bus to Punto Iguazu.
Unfortunately, a good portion of the first day was dedicated to running around town to get stuff for Brazil finished and printed. It was frustrating how much we had to do for a Brazilian visa! But we got it done as well as buying our bus tickets to Buenos Aires. Finally, we got our car and headed for Pensula Valdes. To be honest it was a rough start with the car due to the fact it was a manual! I have never driven one and John drove one when he was younger so he was pretty rusty. It was stressful in the city (only a few kills of the engine in intersections) but once we hit the highway we calmed down a bit. We arrived at the pensula and stopped at the visitors center to learn about the history and possible animal sightings that would be in store for us. When we left the center, I got behind the wheel. Ugh! Let’s just say I can shift to higher gears fine but down shifting was a big problem. I was not getting the clutch and braking thing down very well. But we made it to the campground in one piece. The campground was ghetto!! There were trailors that looked as if they hadn’t moved for decades and it was quite expensive! Nevertheless, we found a good spot and set up camp. I don’t like camping on beaches… the sand gets absolutely everywhere!! On the other hand we were right next to the ocean and I finally got to get in! Until this point I had been egerly waiting to go swimming and boy was it cold. We were only able to swim for a short time and had to get out to warm up. At one point while we were in the water we saw a bird that looked strangely like a penguin but we couldn’t say for sure. So we might have been swimming with penguins. After our dip we ate dinner and had a couple of drinks while walking on the beach watching the sunset. It was peaceful and relaxing. The next morning we got up and broke down camp pretty quick. We were both excited about finally driving around the pensula. We got in the car and started to back out and didn’t go anywhere. We were stuck in the sand…. perfect! I was trying to push when two cops drove up and got out to help us. The car kept digging itself deeper and deeper in the sand. Four guys and a shovel later we finally got free after an hour of labor. Lesson learned, park horizontal to the packed sand road and not vertical. Now we were able to hit the road. We drove to the first spot on the Southeastern part of the pensula and were fairly disappointed. I had imagined gobs of elephant seals all over the beach because thats what the nature videos showed. But there were 20 at best and we were not allowed to go down to the lower platform to get a better look. The elephant seals were just plain boring… the just laid there and occasionally flicked sand on themselves to cool off. Go to find out we had missed the breeding season for the elephant seals and so some of the males just used the time to relax and recuperate from the stress of breeding… haha. The female were out feeding and would return to give birth in August. It’s unfortunate that we missed the rush but hey at least we were able to see some of them. We moved up along the coast to the next viewing point to see a few more elephant seals and some very distant penguins. This spot was way better than the last one because we were able to get closer to the beach and therefore closer to the elephant seals. It was close enough that their famous trunk was easier to spot. Still they weren’t doing much more than flicking sand on themselves to keep cool. There were a couple of very large males that looked like grey blobs on the sand. Male in spanish is macho which fit them perfectly. Here we also came across a ton of armadillos. We chased them around a bit before moving on. The next viewing spot was the penguin colony. These are the first penguins I have ever seen in the wild and it was awesome! They were so close to the path too. There was a baby penguin that would not stop squawking at it’s mother. I, of course, had to take a few selfies and got hissed at a few times for getting too close. Our last stop was at Punta Norte. This was suppose to be the pinnacle spot of the entire pensula. It is the only location where Orcas beach themselves to catch sea lions to eat. The beach was covered with sea lions of all sizes. Just looking at the dominant males, you can see why they are called sea lions… Their hair surrounding the neck looks as if they have a mane. The most numerous were the babies. There were so many! They were on the beach harassing the adults as well as splashing and playing in the water. The overall noise was unbelievable! The calls of the babies were like zombie cries from a video game or another comparison would be a coaked goat. I don’t know… it was crazy. The dominate male’s call was a deep rumble from their chest. If you have ever played Dead Island then they sound just like the Thugs. So needless to say the area was surrounded by zombies.
We were told by the car rental guy that we may be able to camp at Punta Norte if we asked the ranger that lived there. So I figured it wouldn’t hurt and asked. He said we couldn’t… Dang! Saying thank you anyways we hung out a little longer before heading back to our original campground. As we made our way to our car the ranger came walking up to us and said that we could camp there but couldn’t set up until 8 when everyone left. Awesome! We had a few hours to kill so we went back to the last two viewing spots to see if we could spot any Orcas. With no luck, we headed back to Punta Norte. We stood in the parking lot talking to Fransisco (thats the ranger’s name) until all the cars left. I thought we were going to set up in the parking lot but he lowered the rope to his driveway and told us to park by his house. Hmm… ok. With the car parked he showed us to his garage and said we could set the tent up there. Perfect! Before we could set anything up he asked if we would like to see the house. So we walked in and he showed us a spare bedroom and asked if we would like to stay there for the night. In a bed… of course! So we went out to the car and got our things and set up the room for us to sleep in. Earlier, as John was parking the car, Fransisco asked what we were planning on making for dinner and I told him soup and bread… we were on a backpackers budget. He shook his head disapprovingly at me. So after we were done setting up our room he told us that he was making us dinner too. This was just too good to be true! To top it all off he told us we could shower while he finished dinner!! This guy was a saint!! We were comfortable, clean, and eating amazing food with a complete stranger. We tried to offer what we had and added the bread to the menu along with some beers. The conversation was a little challenging due to my broken spanish and his broken english but we made it work and we learned a lot about each other. The conversation eventually lead to him showing us pictures and videos of the Orcas which eventually lead to seeing pictures of him with his friends and family. We ended the night looking over the water in the moonlight trying one last time in our search for Orcas. His house was perfectly located on the hill next to the ocean. It is baffling how kind and hospitable the people in Argentina are. This whole night with Fransisco was a once in a lifetime experience. The next morning we awoke early to see the sunrise with the sea lions. I was beautiful!! Also a bit noisy due to the baby sea lions but that just added to the effect. Once again we searched for Orcas with no success. After cleaning up all of our belongings back at the house, we said goodbye to Fransisco. On the way out we stopped at the penguin colony to find they were really active in the mornings. We also stopped back at the elephant seals to see if we could find Orcas one last time. Again with no success. It was unfortunate that we didn’t get to see the Orcas but we saw everything else. Just driving around the pensula was like a Patagonian safari. We were able to spot all of the main land animals of the area. Lastly, I got pretty good at driving a manual… I had learned how to down shift 🙂
We still had about a day and a half left with the car so we drove south for the largest continental penguin colony in the world in Punta Tombo. But we decided to make a quick stop at Playa Union. There we splurged and paid for a boating excursion to look for Commerson’s dolphins which are also known as Patagonian dolphins. It was worth it!! We arrived in Playa Union with no clue where to go. Eventually, we found the dolphin watch offices but they were all closed. The signs said that the excursion would be at 9:30 the following morning so we decided to just email them and hope that they would be able to squeeze us in. So then we set off in search of a place to stay for the night. The city map that we found directed us to a campground in the middle of town and so we went and booked a site for the night. The campground was great because it was cheap, clean, quiet, and it had wifi so I was able to email the dolphin company. We didn’t get a response back that night so we were just going to try our luck and just show up for the excursion. Fingers crossed, we showed up the following morning and luckily they were able to squeeze us in. The boat actually only had about 10 people so it had a pretty light crowd. Now, these dolphins are only found on the east coast of Patagonia and they look like mini Orcas. So we had our fingers crossed for actually finding them. We hadn’t had much luck with Orcas so far. Within 20 minutes on the boat, we spotted them. For the next hour we would be racing along in the boat with the dolphins swimming along side and underneath the front. When we would stop, that is when they would start showing off and doing some jumps. They were so unique and graceful it was just plain incredible. The fact that they are such social and playful animals made the whole experience that much better. This was definitely worth the side trip and I would do it again in a heart beat.
John and I both agree that doing this area of Patagonia should be by renting a car.
We had a short blip of time in Punta Arenas. We were not originally going to stop there but bus times and routes made us do so. By the end we were glad we stopped.
Our bus arrived late and we ended up having only one full day in the city. It was actually the biggest city we have been to in a long time. We were under the impression that our hostel would serve breakfast but that didn’t happen so we hit the town in search of food. Appearently no one in Punta Arenas opens that early so we made our way back to the hostel and finished our last package of hot dogs… yummy! I have eaten so many hot dogs on this trip its ridiculous. Anyways, after we ate we went back out to do some sightseeing. We stopped at a few shops to look around but we didn’t really find anything we had to have. Afterward we walked toward the ocean. Grant it we were not actually looking at the ocean directly… there were many many islands between us and the ocean at that point but the water was water from the ocean. Poor John has still yet to see the Pacific. We walked along the boardwalk then and sat and watched some funny birds on a small beach. They were penguin wannabes I thought. They stood and walked like penguins and were even black with a white belly. But they had a long neck and could fly… definitely not penguins. We were walking back toward the hostel to get some stuff done on the internet when we past this shop called Kiosko Roca. The place was packed!! At first we walked by and then turned back… I was intrigued at what the fuss was about. We squeezed in and saw it was a food place. It was almost lunch time so why not. We ordered 4 choripans and 2 leche de platanos. It was all really good! The choripans were like pizza sandwiches. It had a red sauce and at first I thought it was a dollop of cheese but later realized it was homemade mayonnaise. Weird right! People are crazy about their mayo here. The leche de platano was milk with bananas. It tasted like a banana milkshake. It was good enough that we went back for dinner later that night. It was a local gold mine that we stumbled upon with good cheap food. We finished lunch and made it back to the hostel to shower and do some internet updating. Later we went out for one purpose and that was to try and spend all of our Chilian money. We were to leave Chile the next day and didn’t want to have to exchange it so we spent it. We bought food for the bus and some other snacks. By the time we were done shopping and eating dinner we only had 1350 Chilian pesos which is about $2 USD. So we did pretty good.
The next day we got up early and headed for the bus stop. An hour and a half later we were on the road. We were seeing all the normal wildlife from the window. Guanacos, rheas, sheep (not so wild), and even a fox. For a good portion of the drive we moved really slow. The road was dirt so we were traveling like 25 km per hour. It was terrible. In order to get to Ushuaia we had to cross a water way because it is on an island. It is was too far for a bridge so we had to ferry over. We all unloaded and waited for the boat. When it got there we walked on first and then the bus and all the cars were loaded up. We stood on the deck watching the water go by. I glaced back toward the ferry station when we were a ways out and saw a fin. I watched and saw it a few more times. I yanked on John’s arm saying “dolphin, dolphine.” I saw the fin a few more times and I tried to point it out but then it was gone and John didn’t see it. Dang! We got to the other side and the cars and bus were unloaded and then we walked off and loaded onto the bus. After a while we stopped again for 30 minutes for a break and then got back on to drive for a minute to Chilian border control. I thought it was ridiculous for us to stop a minute before stopping again. We got through border control and drove to the Argentinian border control. Again we got off, got our passport stamped, and then got back on. The road was now paved and so we were flying! The scenery gradually changed to something that resembled the Northwestern portion of the states. A few hours later we were entering Ushuaia. It was late so we found our hostel after getting our bags and relaxed for the night. It was exploring time the next day.
Ushuaia is known as Fin del Mundo which means End of the World. It is not quite at the southern most tip but it is the southern most town. We arrived late in the evening so we didn’t have a ton of time to explore and headed straight for the hostel. Once we were settled in we did go for a walk down the main street in town. We were both surprised to see a Hard Rock Cafe on the strip… huh. We decided to celebrate our arrival at the end of the world and went to a bar that claimed to be the oldest bar in Ushuaia. We both had a beer and shared a plate of papas fritas… we were hungrier than we thought from our travels because we demolished that plate. The next day was our explore day in town. We started by changing hostels… the one we were at had a ton of rules and really crappy internet. For instance, we had to take off our shoes when we came in and leave them on a shoe rack. It was a smelly corner let me tell ya! Another rule was the kitchen was closed and locked at 9:30 to 8. John really did like that because he couldn’t get his coffee when he woke up. So we found a new hostel and did some running around. We checked out the shops which had some chessy souvenirs and also bought camping food for our hike in Tierra del Fuego. The hostel we were now staying at actually had some white gas for free that would work in our stove!! We have been searching for it everywhere and no one sold it so we were ecstatic to find it. This white gas was left over from someone else that couldn’t take it on the plane with them. So we were actually able to cook a hot meal instead of just sandwiches and cold hot dogs. That night we decided to have a date night. Ushuaia is big with their king crab and so we had to try it. I was hoping for a crab that we were able to crack open ourselves like you do a Joe’s Crab Shack but appearently you can’t get it that way so we just got a pile of meat. We shared a plate of king crab (it was fairly pricey) and a plate of pasta. It was really good! Of course the crab was served with lemon but it was also served with mayo and another type of sauce. As I said before these people are crazy about their mayo. The pasta was more of a dumpling with meat and sauce but it was pretty good too. We sat back and talked while we shared a beer. Just so you guys know, when I say we share a beer its a liter of beer. After dinner we walked along the boardwalk as it got dark. Overall, it was a good night.
The next day we packed a bag of stuff to leave behind at the hostel and got a cab to the trailhead. That was frustration number one! The guy didn’t speak english and I didn’t know the name of the trail so we showed him on a map. Now one would think that a cab driver would know the city in which he drove every day right… wrong he had no idea what we were pointing out to him even though it was on a map of his own city!!! He was talking really fast and I told him my spanish was bad and he went right on talking. We drove a block and then stopped because he didn’t know where we wanted to go so we showed him again. It got to the point when I opened the door twice to get out and he started talking again to lure me back in… I should have gotten out and been done with it. Finally he said he knew where to go… 60 pesos later! So he started driving but in the wrong direction!! Again we showed him on the map… how could he not know!! So I told him he had to go the other way. This whole process was way more complicated than it had to be. We directed him step by step where to go and when to stop. My conclusion was this guy was either a complete idiot or he was playing dumb. I think he was just trying to scam us and run up the meter. That really ticked me off. So that was a bad start to the day. When he dropped us off, we set out in search of the trailhead. We walked one way, turned around, turned around again, then followed a path that brought us back to where we started… Great! We couldn’t find the trail. After an hour and a half of searching and ending up where we started I spotted a couple that had big packs that were asking directions… Maybe they were looking for the same path. So we walked up and asked them and they were. Good… now we know it exists at least.
So we all set off again to look for it. Following the directions they got, we ended up back at the same trail we already followed. Frustration number two. Giving up the search, we crawled under a fence that said no trespassing. We walked for about 5 minutes when we saw a gaucho and he saw us. Great… we were busted!! To my surprise he smiled and told us how to get to the trail. Appearently, we had to go through the gate onto his land to get to the tailhead. That would have been nice to know!! So the hike offically started. Marcel and Tamara, couple we were walking with, were from Switzerland. They reminded us a lot of ourselves. They were a couple that wanted to travel before settling down. Their trip was open ended because it was based on how long their finances would hold out. We carried on a good conversation while we hiked along the trail. After a while the foresty trail gave way to a rocky trail as we started climbing up along the ridge of the valley. It was somewhat steep in places but not too challenging. As we walked along the ridge, I looked out over the valley and I could see a wall of snow inching toward us. It was pretty incredible to actually see it coming slowly in our direction before engulfing us. We hiked in it for a short period before it passed. We made it to the top of the pass and ran into a solo hiker and his dog but come to find out it was not his dog. Appearently, this dog started to follow him in the beginning of his hike and stayed with him for four days. Only in Argentina… Anyways, the trail went from rocky to muddy as we approached the lake. We had to try to avoid mud, muck, and pooling water. That caused us to slow down a bit. The final descent to the lake side where we were going to camp was the worse. If you took a wrong step you would be ankle deep in dark smelly mud. Cautiously we picked our steps and found the logs we tried to use were super slick. I fell once but luckily I was able to keep myself from getting covered in thick mud. However, the going was rough but the campsite was worth the effort. The lake was a beautiful deep teal color and was surrounded by cliff faces and mountains. We even had a view of a glacier in the distance. We decided to cook some corn soup for dinner with baguettes… you got to love camping food. Unfortunately, that evening was frigid so when we finished our food we rushed into our sleeping bags. My toes were numb and painful from the cold and took what seemed like forever to finally warm up.
The following day was a relaxing and easy day. The hike we were going to do was very short and so there was no need to rush that morning. We moseyed around eating breakfast by the lake and drinking our hot drinks. Tamara and Marcel were leaving for another camp that was closer to the end of the trail so we said our goodbyes and parted ways. Like I said, the trail we were doing was very short and when we blinked we were there. It was a lake that was similar to the lake we camped by but smaller and not surrounded by as many beautiful sights. Ten minutes after we arrived I got flashing lights in my vision that indicated a migraine was on its way. I didn’t want to leave yet so I laid down for a while next to the lake. John went to explore in the meantime. I got up and walked around and we decided to just go back to camp which was a good call because my head got worse as we walked back. As soon as we made it to camp I crawled into my sleeping bag and passed out. Two hours later I awoke to a completely diserted campground… absolutely no one was in sight. So I ate some lunch and walked around a bit. About an hour later John materialized out of the trees. He asked if I got his letter saying he was going to return around that time. I looked around and there was no letter to be found. He pointed to a pile of sticks on the ground and said its right there. Sure enough there was a message laid out in the sticks… no wonder I missed it 🙂 After determining I was feeling good enough to hike, we climbed to one of the higher cliff faces that bordered the lake. It wasn’t really that strenuous of a climb and the view was spectacular!! As we basked in the beauty of the area, we shared a package of Cookies and Cream Oreos. They are delicious! The United States needs a lesson in Oreos. About an hour and a half later we hiked back down to camp to make dinner. That night was warmer than the previous night so we were able to actually sit back next to the lake and enjoy dinner and the setting sun.
The next morning we packed up and headed back to town. The trail we were on (Paso de la Oveja) was a loop from one side of town to the other and so we hiked down a different valley. This valley was mainly in a forested area and we spent a lot of time dodging mud and muck!! The way in was nice because we walked on a ridge covered in rocks but the way out was just plain dirty. But all the dirt was worth it when we followed the sound of rushing water to discover a gigantic beaver dam! It was the biggest dam either if us had ever seen. Sadly, there were no beavers to be seen. A few hours later we made it to the road at the end of the trailhead which was in a neighborhood outside of Ushuaia. We hitchhiked and was able to get a guy to drive us to the enterance of the neighborhood but was unable to get a ride to Ushuaia itself. Not a big deal because we were able to walk there in an hour. We made it back to our hostel and got everything situated and packed for our bus ride to Rio Gallegos the following morning. We have a two hour wait in Rio Gallegos and then bus to Puerto Madryn. Time to mentally prepare for a two day bus ride… Yay!
We arrived in Puerto Natales with two days to kill before we got on the trails in Torres del Paine. The only other thing to do in the town was to visit Cueva del Melion so we figured what the heck we will be tourist for a day. Instead of paying for a cab to get there we decided to try hitchhiking again. So we started walking. Every time a car went by I threw my thumb out in hopes that someone will pull over. We walked for about an hour until a nice man pulled over not speaking a lick of english. I told him we were going to the cave and according to my rough translation he said he could get us within 8 km of the cave. So we hopped in and he started off. I figured he was going to stay on the main (paved) highway but no. About a mile up he turned onto a gravel road heading in a different direction than the cave. I followed on my GPS and we were getting further and further away from the highway. I sat there thinking ‘great he is going to drop us off in the middle of nowhere’… I didn’t think my spanish was that bad. So we just sat there watching the GPS and wondering what our fate was going to be. Suddenly he stopped and pointed to a sign that said the caves were 8 km away with an arrow pointing down another dirt road. Relief and gratitude washed over me. We got out of the car and he told us to walk 3 km and then turn left and it would be on that road again according to my rough translation. We said our thanks and goodbyes and started walking. About an hour later we came to the turn and the dirt turned to pavement once again. We walked maybe 3 minutes on that road and I threw my thumb out again and immediately another car pulled over. Alexio and his son were heading to the same place. I had a small choppy conversation with him in spanish about how long we were in Chile and what we were all doing there. Finally we made it to the cave. The main cave was the tour attraction so we walked around it and took pictures with everyone else. Afterward, we walked down a trail to Silla del Diablo which is a cool rock formation that stands alone off the side of the trail. After we ate some lunch we climbed it. We descended and hit the trail again. We visited the other caves that fewer people were willing to walk to. All in all it was a pretty good day. When we were done with the park we hit the road again and walked about 30 minutes until another kind soul took pity and pulled over. His family was in the truck and there wasn’t enough room for us so we hopped in the back and made friends with their dog on the ride back to town. The next day we just took care of some logistics for our trek in Torres del Paine. We bought our bus tickets, got out money, bought food, and searched for white gas with no success. We also found out that getting into Brazil was going to be challenging. We should have applied for our visa before we left the states but we did not know about all the requirements to get into the country. But we got an appointment set up at the embassy in Buenos Aires and reworked our schedule and figured it out… at least as much as we could until we got there.
Finally it was time to head to Torres del Paine. We left a bag of extra stuff with our hostel and caught an early bus. Thank goodness. When we got to the enterance of the park it was a mad house because 4 buses got there at the same time. Luckily, we were on the first bus and didn’t have to wait to terribly long to pay and get a shuttle. We arrived at the trailhead and took the path toward camp Seron. The hike was pleasant but repeatative. We were used to new and interesting sights everywhere we looked while in Fitz Roy but here that was not the case. Here we walk through meadow after meadow. Don’t get me wrong, the meadows were pretty. They were full of yellow and white flowers. But that was all we really saw for 3 to 4 hours. When we arrived at camp we set up our tent and laid out our bedding and decided to go for a walk. We got a little ways down the trail by dodging mud and puddles until I took a step thinking it was safe and my foot was completely submerged in water. Most of the time this would not be a problem but this time I was in my tennis shoes with no waterproofing capabilities and so we had to turn back. I didn’t want to get blisters started this early from a soaked shoes and sock. The next day we took off on a day hike to camp Dickson. The hike was long and ultimately uneventful. To be honest, the scenery on this side of the park was not that enticing. We kept thinking that our trek around Fitz Roy had spoiled us because the views were amazing and here they seemed just… blah. We got to Dickson and there was a cool glacier to take pictures of. I would assume the scenery from that point on would be awesome but unfortunately we couldn’t get reservations past Seron so we had to turn back. It was a long hike back and we ended up logging about 24 miles that day. On the hike back the wind was ridiculous. A few times I was almost literally knocked back. I probably could have leaned into the wind and it would have held me up. It was so strong that it was ripping water off the top of a pond and sending a wave of mist into the surrounding meadows. We have a video of it on our Youtube channel. The next day we picked up camp and back tracked through the numerous meadows to the trailhead. Right off the trailhead was our second and last camp, Camp Central. Here we set up camp again and were imprisoned in our tent due to a unrelenting rain. I listened to books all day. The next day was beautiful and so we thought we would do our longest trek. We were going to see how far on the trail we could get before we had to turn back. I wanted to try to get to the other side of the “w” circuit and see everything. So we walked and walked and walked some more. Appearently we overestimated our hiking capibilities and we were only able to get to the middle upward trail of the “w” circuit. Since we got there we decided to try to get to the top of this part of the “w” but ran out of time. We actually barely made a dent in it. However, the turning point that we were able to get to was incredible. This part of the hike was definitely worth while and redeemed itself for the less scenic side we had experienced the days before. I would have liked to get to the top of this trail but it was just not possible since the trails close at nightfall. So we took in the sights for a bit and turned back. Again we walked and walked and walked on terrain that went up and down. It was getting pretty painful. From my hips down my body just started aching. By the time we got to camp we had logged about 30 miles. No wonder I was achy!! The nice short day hike that we did the next day was much needed after that. We hike up to the Mirador del Torres which is the top of the end of the “w” circuit. We got an early start and made it to the top 2-3 hours later. The Torres which means towers were amazing! They were clear of clouds when we got up there but were soon partially covered. We waited and hung out for about 2 hours. During these 2 hours, we started watching the others at the lookout. It was very entertaining!! Everyone was striking the same poses it seemed. We made it a game to guess what pose the next person would do. It was fun! We started moving around and preparing for our descent when the Torres cleared again. We took our pictures (some to commemorate the poses done by everyone else) and headed out. Luckily we got to the lookout early because we passed hordes of people coming up on our way down. We got back to camp and had an early dinner and relaxed for the night. The next day was rainy again and that kept us trapped in our tent for the most part. We weren’t entirely disappointed because we saw everything that we were able to physically walk to. During one break in the rain, we did find an educational trail that we walked. It wasn’t too impressive but we did learn some names of the plants we kept seeing. We turned in for an ealy night and listened to more books. Here I offically finished the entire Lord of the Rings series that I had been working on. The next day was our move out day. We got up, had breakfast, and picked up camp. We had a lot of time to kill so we decided to walk to the entrance of the park rather than take the shuttle. About 10 minutes in a van pulled over and offered us a ride. We accepted it since he took the time to stop for us and as a result waited at the entrance for our bus for about 4 hours. I started the book I Am Legend during that wait and finished it by the time we pulled into Puerto Natales.
Back in town, we got our stuff from our hostel, bought some lunch, and bought some food for the road. Lunch consisted of completos and papa fritas from a food truck. We caught the 7 o’clock bus to Punta Arenas.
So there is only one thing really to do in El Calafate and that is to visit Perito Mereno. Perito Mereno is the second largest glacier in Argentina as well as one of two glaciers that is still advancing. It is 150 meters (398 feet) deep and 30 km (19 miles) in length. Needless to say it is BIG. Standing on the observation deck, you can hear the cracking and popping of the melting ice. Every once in a while a piece of the glacier would break off and go tumbling into the water. The sound from a fall like that was amplified by the sound waves bouncing off the ice so that it sounded like thunder. We were lucky enough to witness a large chunck break off the front of the glacier and fall into the water with a huge splash. But even after the fall the sound continued as the water turned and fizzed all around the newly floating iceberg. It was a spectacular view! After a while of hanging out on the observation deck we caught a boat to a refugio off to the left side of the glacier. This is where we prepared to actually trek on the ice. The blues of the glacier were breathtaking and some of the crevasses were so deep that we couldn’t see the bottom. During one of our breaks we found a small pool of melted water and filled up our water bottle. The water tasted so clean and crisp… it was fantastic! At the conclusion of our hike, our guide chopped up some ice with his ice axe and put it into some glasses with whiskey. He also gave us a Bon O Bon chocolate. To be honest I am not a whiskey person but the idea was awesome so I drank the whole thing while thinking “I am drinking whiskey on ice from a glacier.” The only downside to this little excursion was that we were with a group of about 20 people and there were multiple groups… kind of kills the magic. Not only that but we had a couple of obnoxious and immature guys that thought they were funny and had to comment about everything.
We also had a date night in El Calafate! We have not had many of these since we started our journey. I have been told that Patagonian lamb is the delicacy of Patagonia so I had to try it! We picked a restaurant that I had a coupon for that got us free welcome drinks. So we started with a glass of champagne that was really good. Then we ordered Russian salads (we had no idea what to expect) and their classic mix of meats. The classic mix included Patagonian lamb, tail of rump (steak), and chicken. It was delicious!! The Russian salad ended up being potato salad with peas and carrots. The lamb kind of had a hint of a tuna flavor but it was delicious as well. The Patagonian lamb was made in the traditional way which meant the lamb was strung up and slow cooked over an open fire. It was a pricey meal but totally worth. To truly experience a different country you have to experience the food… and it is good to splurge every once in a while.
That was pretty much all we did in El Calafate other than walking around town searching for birds. We had some time to kill because we didn’t realize that reservations were mandatory at camp sites in Torres del Paine so we made them for as soon as we could. That left us with a few days to kill. We decided to stay in El Calafate because it was cheaper than Puerto Natales. So we extended our stay at our hostel for two more nights. This was the second time we extended. We initially started with two nights and after we booked our ice trek we had to extend another night. Sadly, they had no room so they placed us in the refugio for a cheaper price. Basically it was an attic with spaces on the floor to set up sleeping bags. It actually wasn’t too bad. So we ended up staying in the refugio for three nights. The downside to this room was the hordes of Israelis that came stomping in at midnight or two in the morning talking and making a ton of noise.
That much time in one place with nothing to do can get tedious. However, it did give us a chance to pin down a time line for our future travels which was helpful. But in the end I was ready to move on to Puerto Natales!
Tune into our Youtube account to see some short videos of our adventures. Just look up jktrekkers on Youtube.com and you will find them. Enjoy!
El Chalten was pretty awesome! The town itself was in the Glacier National Park and all the trails were free! We had two nights reserved at our hostel and used the first just to relax. We got off the bus after 25 hours and were exhaused needless to say. We took a quick walk around town and then watched a movie after dinner and before bed. The next day we decided to do a few day hikes. We trekked to two short overlooks first and then took on the bigger hike. The two shorter ones took about an hour and a half tops but the longer one took about 5 hours total with a steep climb to end it. But the view was worth it! We also got to see some Condors and some sort of eagle along the way. Sadly, I did develop some more blisters on my pinkie toes from that hike and made the following day a little miserable. The next day we hit the real trails back in the park. The first night we stayed at a camp at Laguna de Torre. Most of the time C. Torre was covered by clouds but fortunately we were able to get a clear view of it on the hike in. That morning we awoke to a fox running around camp. We cleaned up camp and headed to camp Poincenot. This camp was less enjoyable due to a group of days hikers that decided to catch the sunrise at Leguna de los Tres and in turn woke everyone up in the campsite at 3 in the morning! This campsite was way busier than our first site. Instead of waking to a fox, we had a couple of eagles walking around camp. Finally we headed up to Leguna de los Tres (this is the most traveled trail in El Chalten). The lake was beautiful! Such a pretty color blue and so vibrant. Right behind the lake sat Fitz Roy! This is the famous mount of the area. We hung out by the lake for about 2 hours just enjoying the view. We also met Calvin (he was also from Australia) and he told us of a few places that we are going to look up in Peru. The following day we walked toward Piedra del Fraile… or so we thought. We ended up taking the wrong trail on the wrong side of the river and adding a couple miles to our trek. But eventually we got there. This camp was on private land and cost 500 pesos for the two of us. That comes to about 30 bucks… kinda steep for what was available. We considered not staying, because the weather was not the greatest and would potentially get worse, and just walk back but we put our fate into a coin and it told us to stay so we did. We attempted a hike to a glacier but only made it a little past Laguna Electico due to high winds and spitting rain that felt like needles to the skin. We got up the next morning to do a day hike before heading to our next camp. We climbed up to a like off the side of Fitz Roy. The hike was hard and somewhat miserable for me due to a bad night of sleep and a nice layer of dirt in our tent that put me in a bit of a mood. After battling the wind that practically knocked me over, John was right and the view was spectacular. We were finally able to see the ice sheet behind the mountains. I swear everywhere in this park has a view that can take your breath away. We were up there for quit a while and then decended to clean up camp and move on. We hit the trail a little later than we would have liked and headed for Laguna Capri. About half way through this long hike the rain started. And it didn’t stop. With the wind and the rain against us we kept walking. Freezing cold and soaked to the bone we made it back to camp Poincenot. With the circumstances as they were we decided to stay there for the night instead of continuing on. So we set the tent up in the rain and striped down and got in our sleeping bags to warm up. I am pretty sure I did not get back out of that sleeping bag all night. John was brave enough to get up and go to the bathroom and get water but I stayed put. We ate what we didn’t need to cook and fell asleep listening to books. Then next morning we got up and drank our hot drinks and packed all of our wet gear and headed out. We got back to town about 2 hours later. We collected the rest of our belongings that we stashed at our hostel, bought some food, and went to the bus station. At one o’clock today we boarded a bus to El Calafante.
Many pictures to come!!
Well we officially left Bariloche. I would have posted before we left but the cottage we moved to did not have wifi. We started in a hostel and stayed for two nights but we didn’t really like it and were wanting some privacy and time from the hustle and bustle of overcrowded hostels. So we booked a small cottage that was actually cheaper than both of us staying at the hostel. The cottage was more of a shack in a garden but it was really nice and quiet. The only downfall was no wifi so we couldn’t start making arrangements for the next location. Fortunately, there was a chocolate and ice cream shop that had free wifi about 5-10 minutes away.
Anyways, Bariloche was beautiful! The first day we ended up hiking around Lloa Lloa. We climbed to the top of the Lloa Lloa summit (not very high at all) and the views were breath taking. It was a little overcast and rainy but it was still nice. The next day we planned to climb R. Frey. It is a popular climb in the area. We got a late start due to some issues with breakfast and our laundry at the hostel so we decided to start walking and flag down a bus on the way there. But there was no bus and there was no bus stop so we walked quite a aways. We came to our turn off and found out we had another 9 km…. ouch! It was already getting late. I tried hitchhiking before with no luck but I threw my thumb out one more time and to my surprise someone pulled over. Mario made our walk to the mountain much faster and he drove us right to the gate. He lived in the neighborhood right next to the mountain. We said our thanks and hustled to the trailhead. It was supposed to take us 4-5 hours to climb but it ended up taking us 3. We were booking it! We did take one rest for a late lunch and we had the privilege of feeding a song bird by hand. It was loving those sandwiches! We made it to the top and hung out by the lake for a while before heading back down. We didn’t actually summit because there was just no time. There were nice camping sites by the lake and it was unfortunate that we didn’t know about them before because we would have camped. It took us two hours to come back down. That night we moved to our cottage and then met Lisa for dinner. Lisa is a girl from Australia that we met in Mendoza. The next day was rainy so that kept us indoors. So that is the day we hung out at the ice cream shop and did our planning on the internet.
Yesterday we caught a bus at 12:30 to El Chalten. We arrived today at 1:30 so it was a 25 hour bus ride… ugh. This was a semi-cama bus meaning the seat reclined as much as they do on planes. It was very challenging to sleep or get comfortable for that matter. But we watched two movies and the served us dinner and a small breakfast. Now it is time to explore and plan our attack on Fitz Roy!