Sunday, 30 December 2007
Day 2: Iguazu Falls
We had crystal clear, sunny weather on Day 2. It was hard to believe the weather was so poor on Day 1. We decided to take the Adventure Tour which combined a jeep ride through the jungle with a rafting excursion. A guide told us a bit about the flora and fauna of the area which intersects three countries: Paraguay, Brazil and Argentina. There are several species of mammals including jaguars, pumas and monkeys. There are also colorful birds like toucans that tourists spot occasionally in the trees. Most of the animals stay away from the trails, but we saw some large lizards, a toucan, several other species of birds and a cute, little rodent eating some grass.
The best part of the day was the rafting. We took a very sturdy raft right through the rapids and into two of the falls. We got absolutely drenched! It was so exciting. The second set of falls we went into was huge! I couldn't believe we were about to go under all the spray. Stephen and I were right in front so we were soaked. Luckily, we both wore our swinsuits and the fancy ponchos we bought before we went on the Inca Trail. It was a blast!
Tuesday, 18 December 2007
The first picture is the group at the hotel in the Mar del Plata. The second picture is Stephen and three friends from his Spanish class - all boys! His poor teacher...I think they were asking her how to say all kinds of naughty things in Spanish!
Stephen and I took a weekend trip to the Mar del Plata with the students from the language school. It was a really nice beach 5 hours away from Buenos Aires (by slow bus).
The water was cold, but the sun was warm and very strong. In fact, Stephen got a bad sunburn on Saturday because he left his sunblock in the wrong bag. He is still peeling!
On Sunday, we all took surfing lessons. The instructor was very impressed with my surfing (although I have done it before and most of the people in our group were complete beginners). Lucas, the surfing instructor, had an 11ft board. I think he is the 4th ranked longboarder in South America. Once I surfed a few waves near the shore, we took the board further out and rode a couple of big waves tandem. I am getting much better. It really helps to have someone paddle you out and push you into the waves though. His surfboard has an orange stripe right down the middle. He had me align myself with the stripe for more balance. It really worked well. I am going to have to paint one on my foamboard...I am really excited about practicing some more. Stephen was a bit miffed after the lesson because Lucas spent a lot more time with the girls than the boys...
Friday, 14 December 2007
The classes took place at a beautiful old dance studio/ballroom.
It was decorated in the French Rococco style....with crystal chandeliers and everything!
We especially enjoyed the private lessons because they meant that we would not be stepping on each other's toes and that Stephen could not accuse me of trying to lead all the time. They even had pictures of the Clintons (Bill and Hilary), Liza Minelli and Frank Sinatra on the walls. They had all visited this tango studio in Buenos Aires at one time or another.
Here is a photo of Stephen and his tango instructor, Cynthia.
Thursday, 13 December 2007
They speak Spanish without any weird accents
Can pay for stuff in almost any currency
Colonia has a very pretty old town with cobbles, outdoor cafes and candles. Lots of promenading and white wine drinking in the moonlight.
Also had an open museum night with free outdoor guitar music. Stood next to a skeleton of a blue whale. Enormous. I know whales are big but you dont often stand next to them..
Punta del Este had great beaches for swimming. Bit like Bournemouth in hurricane season
Perfect rainbow on Saturday night
Hot and sunny on the Sunday
Poured with rain on Saturday night and was stuck in an expensive restaurant listening to the Corrs bleating about love and being so young etc
Cant get local currency until you re about to get the boat back to Argentina
Punta del Este known for high winds - not told by travel agent. Sandstorms tried to bury us when we were on the beach.
Sea temperatures similar to Britain. Bit of a performance getting in but happy enough once in the waves.
Punta del Este is not 2 hours away from the port, nearer 6 - and there were roadworks and the bus broke down
Left stupid novel in the hostel with only 5 chapters to read.
Left evil granny´s towel in the hotel which Im supposed to replace.
Wednesday, 12 December 2007
We decided to take the ferry from Buenos Aires to Uruguay. Friday, on our way to the ferry terminal, Stephen suddenly realized that his passport was not in his pocket. We checked every pocket in his backpack and it was nowhere to be found.
I immediately assumed it had been stolen because we know several students who have had things taken from them and I had just finished watching an Argentinian movie about conmen in Buenos Aires. I then attempted to calm down a very distraught Stephen.
First, we decided to go to the ferry terminal to see if we could still go to Uruguay with a copy of his passport (I didn't think so, but it was worth a try) and if not, to see if we could change our tickets to next weekend. Well - we couldn't go w/ a passport copy, but they did change our tickets. Next, we caught a cab to the British Embassy to report the missing passport. The sign outside said that the embassy closing time on a Friday was 2pm. At this point it was 3:30...I launched into a tirade about the ridiculous embassy hours. A tall British woman overheard me as she walked by. She stopped and asked it she could help us. She was obviously someone of some importance in the embassy. She asked us a few questions and had the security guard unlock the door and allow us to pass through security. As we entered, another embassy employee walked over and asked Stephen if he was 'Mr. Grant'. Stephen said, "Yes!" and the man whipped out Stephen's lost passport. Some kind person had found Stephen's passport on the floor of the metro station and brought it all the way to the British Embassy. We were so relieved and so pleased. It was fortunate that the woman overheard me complaining and that we arrived just after the kind individual handed in the passport. Talk about 'buena suerte' (good luck!)...
We then jumped in a cab and headed back to the ferry terminal to change our tickets yet again. We missed our boat, but they put us on the waiting list for the next boat. We went out and got a drink and came back just in time to hear that we were two out of three they allowed on the boat. There were 20 people waiting! More good fortune... and it was the faster, more expensive boat as well. ¡Que suerte!
Visited Boca in Bueno Aires which is an ugly part of town but with very colourful houses. They used to use the old boat paint to paint the houses. Also Maradona used to play football here, which is about the only thing you can do here now except join a street gang. Also the port has the most disgustingly polluted water. They used to chuck animal carcasses in the water from the slaughter house. The smell still chokes you and makes people nearby ill. Started eating salads.
Found British bar playing Morrissey songs
Huge cemetary here with large buildings to house the rich, famous and evidently dead. Its like walking round a garden centre with lots of old people.
God rock concert in the park. They can belt out the numbers between the love. Always strikes me as weird - heavy rock and evangelism. Used to have to sacrifice goats. Not sure you re allowed both rock god and god rock!
Amazing tango show with Indians swinging high speed hunting balls over their heads and cracking them on the floor. The dancing was alright. Lots of strutting from the guys and wiggling from the girls.
Making Alfajore cakes and showing off to the ladies with my kneading skills and ample use of flour in the afterschool activity.
Got stuck in the bus on the way to the concert and did not know where to get off as there were too many people. Ended up somewhere near Brazil before jumping off having shared some frank views with our driver.
Couldnt find any laundrettes and reached max underpant threashold. All shops are designer label here and relatively expensive when you need some functional attire. Fortunately I have managed to treat myself in a sale and have found a couple of washing places to keep me smelling lovely.
Loads of dogs and dog walkers. They walk 10 at a time and although they are mostly happy woofers they do leave a trail.
Trod in poop whilst going around a ladder to avoid bad luck. Doesnt work here.
Starsky and Hutch style bus drivers that dont really bother stopping when you try and get off or on.
Monday, 3 December 2007
Day 2 - we set off early to climb to the base of the Fitzroy Massif. It was a long uphill trek. The first ascent was gradual. We stopped for lunch at a campsite. The trees provided excellent protection from the cold winds. We made our own sandwiches out of bread, ham, cheese and canned tomato sauce (the small supermarket did not have real tomatoes). After lunch Stephen and I decided to continue the climb to the base of the mountain. From below it did not look like it would take very long to get there. Once we started, though, we realize why they estimated that it would take an hour and a half to get to the mountain base. It was really rocky, incredibly steep and somewhat scary (almost like climbing the volcano in Pucon again, but without the crampons). When we finally made it to the top,after Stephen coaxed me across a few steep ledges along the way, it was 'vale la pena' (worth the trouble). The view was spectacular! Unfortunately the pictures don't quite do it justice. The lagoon below was aquamarine with sheets of ice decorating the surface of the water. We were right at the snowline and the snow-covered peaks were beautiful. Even the views of the valley below took our breath away. I was really impressed with the Fitzroy Massif and highly recommend it to anyone travelling to Argentina.
Chalten itself was quaint albeit windy and dusty. I think it is really an 'up and coming' town because of its close access to this amazing national park.
Friday, 30 November 2007
Trip to Moreno glacier included a scheduled stop at a bar in the mountains full of happy goats
Estancias need 4 acres per sheep to stop the uprooting all the grass. Hence massive farms or large gardens with 1 wooly pet.
Glacier moves at 1m per day and falls off into the lake with a thunderous noise until you try and take video, then it just waits...
The glacier forms an ice bridge where it crosses the lake and meets the land on the other side.
Did not have to stay at the $900 per night hotel overlooking the glacier!
Our boat trip in front of the glacier was delayed while the boat had to lassoo a couple of icebergs and drag them out of the way of the landing dock. Crowd provided much encouragement to the rope swinging sailers
Renault 12 appears to be the 70s car of choice for Calafate
Al found an 'all you can eat' steak and chinese food restaurant. Quite a combination but we've given it a couple of goes.
Can still only get around 50 GBP per time from the ATM and most of them have stopped working. Will be trading beads soon...
Sunday, 25 November 2007
Thursday, 22 November 2007
The bus dropped us off at one of the park entrances on Sunday. There were mini-buses available to take people to the first lodge, but the walk was only an hour and a half so we decided to go for it! We were surprised that no one else opted to walk. Soon we discovered why. It started as a nice, flat walk winding alongside the road... until the winds came up. They were icy and incredibly powerful. They blasted us for the last hour of the walk. By the time we reached the lodge, Athena and I were laughing hysterically...I think trudging along with heavy backpacks struggling against the wind finally deprived us of our senses. We decided that 'Patagonian trekkersize' could be the next fitness revolution, even replacing boot camp! We would just put people on treadmills at maximum incline and blast them from all directions with super powerful fans so that they could work all of their muscles. For added benefit, they could even carry giant backpacks. For effect, we would paint the room with mountain scenery. As you can see, we had lost our senses at this point....Fortunately, the first lodge was much fancier than we expected and they had wonderful showers.
We ate a huge breakfast, picked up our boxed lunches and set off to see the 3 Torres (towers). For the first leg of the journey, we walked uphill until we got to a refuge. Then we carried on through a lovely valley following a stream. The second part of the walk was really nice. Finally, we came to the last section of the walk which consisted of a steep incline lined with enormous boulders. We scrambled over boulders for 30 minutes until we finally came to the mirador (viewpoint). The clouds were so thick we could only see one of the towers. Stephen and I decided to wait a little while longer just in case the weather improved. Fortunately for us, the clouds began to disperse and we even saw a ray of sunshine. Within a few minutes we could see all three 'Torres' towering above an aquamarine lagoon. It was breathtaking. We were really lucky. All the people that went up earlier in the day only got to see one of the 'towers'. On the way down, I ran into a guy from California who was so cold he didn't manage to get past the refuge. I was much better prepared for adverse weather conditions after having lived in England for five years. I now have really good cold weather gear after trekking in the Scottish Highlands for two years running. We stayed in the Las Torres lodge one more night. The only problem with it was the thin boards separating the rooms. They didn't cut out any of the noise. I never realized just how many adults snore. I felt like I was surrounded by buzz saws. Thank goodness for ear plugs!
We thought it would be a much easier day with a flat walk along the valley floor to the next lodge. The sun was shining and the wind was down. We really enjoyed the morning and had lunch sitting on a large rock overlooking a really icy blue lake. It was beautiful. After lunch the winds came up again just as we were attempting to climb up a really steep hill. It was hard work! We were blasted by wind as we scrambled over rivers and tried to keep our balance with full backpacks whilst creeping across precarious ledges (well - Athena and I crept, the boys just clambered). We were so happy to finally make it to the next lodge. It was nestled below 'Los Cuernos' (The Horns - these interesting black and white peaks). It was a really cozy, little lodge. There was no road or boat access to this part of the park so the only people there were backpackers. We played cards, ate dinner and fell asleep really early! The winds continued to pound the building all night. Thankfully, we weren't camping!
We woke up even earlier to avoid the wind. The weather was lovely. We walked up the French Valley and found a lunch spot overlooking the French Glacier. We stayed for an hour napping in the sun and we were lucky enough to see some of the glacier break off and crash onto the mountain below.
This was my favorite day. The temperature exceeded the 15-16C (the maximum summer temperature of the park), we didn't have to carry our packs and we were able to walk in T-shirts. It took two hours to the first mirador. From there we could see Glacier Grey. It was spectacular - one of the most amazing sites I have ever seen. It was especially interesting to view a huge glacier surrounded by snow-capped mountains when it was hot and sunny. We carried on for another hour and a half to the mirador closest the the glacier. We ate lunch there and spent an hour gazing at the majestic scene before us. We had to go by 1pm in order to make it back in time to catch a ferry and bus back to Puerto Natales. It was a great day! We reached Puerto Natales at 10pm to find that the entire town didn't have water - so much for showers and washing my really smelly hiking socks! We attempted to find an open restaurant for dinner. We waited nearly an hour and half for food and then decided to leave. It was almost midnight and we were exhausted. I ate trail mix and an apple for dinner instead. Luckily, the water is back on today. I have now washed my clothes and had a really warm shower.
Friday, 16 November 2007
Sunday, 11 November 2007
Pucon has a volcano which you dont know about until it is sunny or a tour guide tries to sell you a trip. Seemed like a good idea. Only 2850m high (I was higher up on a bike in Bolivia), bit of snow, bit of smoke. Safe excitement with some bragging rights right? What they didnt mention was that it would be mountaineering with ice picks, crampons, and sub zero winds that tried to blow you off the edge. Plus when you get to the top you are choked by the toxic fumes and then have to pick your way down the mountain in freezing fog. The guides thought that this would be most fun if you slid into abyss and used your ice pick to slow you down. Very scary to start with, especially when you couldn´t hear or see anyone below you. Less scary when I started to get my arse stuck in the channel and had to bunny hop down until some fatties crashed into me and helped me down. Looked like we were doing the row boat song with back packs and pick ices.
Crampons, ice picks, looking like Sir Edmund Hillary with Oakleys
Hats - wooly, hood from fleece, hood from anorak, helmet. Need all of them
Sliding down the Volcano
Cosy wooden cabin, with log fires, hammocks and waggy tail dog
Deep hot springs where you can eat chocolate and drink beer with a bus load of Germans under the stars (Now friends)
Pretty lake district scenery with mountains, cows, grass streams etc
Sticky toffee pudding and ice cream
Volcano climbing is like skiing but without skis and only half the lifts working
Freezing cold, I was only given half the stuff of everyone else - mentioned to the guides in very basic but understandable Spanish.!You cant see anything when you get there
Blows up occasionally
Can´t turn head while wearing so many hats
Drinking water freezes in camel pack
Ham and cheese sandwich froze
Warmed up sandwich under my arm on the way down
Crunched water after crunching sandwich
Girls cheered up after 2 or 3 hours
Walked with Alan who is always cheerful even when exhibiting his own volcanic properties
Volcano alarm woke us at 2am. We think it was a test..?
Took champage up as a special surprise for the ladies but due to massive sense of humour failure of both half way up we decided to open it at the bottom. Cups were a sorry state but the bubbly was chilled. Points for the lads!
Thursday, 8 November 2007
Candle light dinners during power cuts
Sparkly stars due to walknig home at night in the dark having forgotten torches
Going downhill on bikes
Going uphill on bikes
Getting chased from bar to bar with El Condor Pasa pan pipe blowing Chileans
No hot water in the showers and ony a dribble of cold water
Wednesday, 7 November 2007
The rock was thrown down after a volcano explosion and then eroded by the wind. There were several unusual rock formations that looked like they just fell from the sky.
We were up 4,000 meters and the wind was icy, but the flamingos didn't seem to mind. They eat micro-organisms in the lakes.
There were three varieties of flamingos: Chilean, Andean and James flamingos. They were beautiful!
We took a very bumpy overnight bus to the small town of Uyuni where we had breakfast and set off in a Toyota Landcruiser. Our guide acted as driver, chef and mechanic. His name was Agostino and he was really funny...even with his limited English.
Day 1: First, we drove to a train cemetary outside of Uyuni. Some of the trains were only 50 years old, but they were really rusted and looked positively ancient. One of them was a train that Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid robbed.
Next, we drove to a small town that makes figurines and houses out of the salt from the salt flats. They also collect the salt and sell it to the rest of Bolivia. Bathrooms there were pricey, but worth it after bouncing around in the jeep for an hour.
Then, we stopped to take crazy photos. Something about the vast salt plains skews perspective in photos. We attempted to take some creative photos. See the giant bottle w/ Stephen and Athena behind it and the enormous book with Athena and I holding it up...
The third stop the first day was to 'Fish Island', an island in the middle of the vast salt plains. It had enormous cacti that had been growing for thousands of years. They only grow a cm each year...so you can see how old they are by comparing their size with Stephen...
The entire are used to be under the sea millions of year ago. Plate movement pushed up the Andes and then the hot sun evaporated the water creating the salt flats. The salt was 10 meters deep and went on for miles and miles. It was very interesting scenery although we kept falling asleep in the jeep after our night on the bus.