Visited: November 2008
Thank You: ¡Gracias
Currency: Argentine peso; Chilean peso
Windswept, wild, wonderful. I started in Buenos Aries, where I was to meet a group for a two week trip. When I arrived, although it had been an overnight flight, I knew I could never spend my first day in a new country just sitting in my hotel room. So I took a map and hit the streets, wandering through shops, admiring architecture and just smiling when addressed in Spanish.
Within two days, we were driving through southern Argentina, staring at the peaks of Fitz Roy in the distance, stabbing the setting sun. The next day we would spend more than nine hours hiking up to a vantage point where, blessed with sunny cloudless views, it was time for a snowball fight as we played in the shadow of the mountain. By the time we had hiked back to our dormitory, cleaned up and gone out for dinner, it was almost midnight. It felt good to be tired from head to toe while enjoying conversation over a glass of Malbec with a new group of friends.
I was also pleasantly surprised by the delicious food choices everywhere we went - steak, lamb, seafood, and of course, the great South American wines. One of my favorite ways to enjoy travel - hiking for hours a day and then settling down to gourmet food for dinner with a glass of wine. Perfect!!
What to Experience:
Tango Lessons in Buenos Aires - It is the “tourist” thing to do, but it was an actual tango class followed by a dinner and performance with some incredible dancing.
Exploring San Telmo area in Buenos Aires - This was an area of the city where I found several small shops with interesting arts and crafts.
Jardin Japones - A Japanese garden in the heart of the city. A nice park for walking and enjoying the outdoors.
Polo - Argentina might be called the “mecca” of polo and on our last day in Buenos Aires, a group of us (with the help of our great guide) bought tickets and attended a polo game. We watched one match before the clouds opened up to the biggest downpour they had seen in weeks. Everyone crowded under the few covered areas, drinking beer and champagne until the official announcement that the game was cancelled for the rest of the day. This is a game of beautiful horses and beautiful people.
El Calafate and El Chalten - We flew to El Calafate and then travelled on to El Chalten where we hiked to Laguna de Los Tres to see Mt. Fitz Roy. We were lucky to have a clear beautiful day for hiking with the spectacular pinnacles of the mountains in front of us.
Ice hiking - Strap on the crampons and learn to walk vertically up and down the fields of ice and snow.
Locally made liquor - I purchased one bottle each of Hemlich Estepvka, a vodka made by a local family in El Calafate, and another calafate berry liqueur (similar to Creme de Cassis) to take home.
Perito Moreno Glacier - A beautiful blue shelf of ice over 97 square miles in size. It is a major tourist attraction for the area and people stand and wait for huge chunks to fall crashing into the water.
Puerto Natales - The gateway to Torres del Paine National Park where we spent three days hiking.
Drinking from a mountain stream: We were able to fill our water bottles with fresh cold water from the mountain stream when hiking. There are probably few places in the world where you can safely do this. I indulged with no ill effects.
Punta Arenas - Otway penguin colony. It is not possible to watch penguins going about their daily life without laughing even while faced with body bracing winds.
Tierra del Fuego and Ushuaia - You can take a Beagle Channel cruise to see the huge flocks of birds on the small islands in the area and watch for dolphins. It is also the departure point for trips to Antarctica.
Horseback ride - Some of us decided to enjoy the balmy spring weather with a horse ride through the forests and bog.
How I traveled: To make the most of a two week vacation, I booked Gap Adventures tour, “End of the Earth.” The trip started and ended in Buenos Aires.
Memorable Moment: The morning before our last hike in Torres del Paine, I unzipped the tent door to look out at the snow that was covering the ground. Amazingly, it was warm and dry in our tent, with no indication of the weather outside. Some of our group decided not to go on the day’s hike as it was anticipated to be about nine hours round trip. I’d be damned if I came to the southern end of the world to sit in a lodge all day. About an hour into our sleet and snow dampened hike, the sun pushed its way through the clouds, chasing away the snowflakes and melting what had accumulated on the ground. Within an hour, it became warm enough to take off our coats and waterproof pants. The rest of the day, we enjoyed sun, glorious views of the mountains and treated ourselves to fresh water from mountain streams. It was hard not to feel sorry for the people sitting in a stuffy lodge missing the fresh air, sunshine and amazing views. It was an exhausting but exhilarating day.