A Travellerspoint blog

Patagonia - Part 1

Bariloche and Ruta 40

all seasons in one day 12 °C
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We stumbled bleary eyed off the 17 ½ hour bus ride to Bariloche and caught our first glimpse of the Andes – a range of mountains that runs almost the entire length of South America.

Bariloche itself is nestled in amongst the Andes on the edge of an huge alpine lake, Lago Nahuel Huapi and is surrounded by trees. It reminded us of Queenstown (and services several ski-fields) although the town itself appears to be trying to imitate Switzerland, with wooden buildings and St Bernards roaming the streets.

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While we had blue sky for our first afternoon in Bariloche, it was howling a gale and the next day brought rain and drizzle. Despite the weather we hired a car with two German girls from our hostel to drive the La Ruta de los Siete Lagos (Road of the Seven Lakes), a picturesque route on gravel roads north from Bariloche to San Martin. The road was spectacular and would have been even better if the clouds had not prevented us from from getting a good view of the mountains surrounding each of the lakes. Lots of photos included in the gallery.

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The next day a huge storm kept us inside with wind, rain and SNOW! It did not snow much in Bariloche itself but the surrounding mountains were covered the next morning.

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We woke up to blue sky and took a bus south for the day to a town called El Bolson. Thanks to the snow, even the bus trip was amazing. In El Bolson we visited the local hippy market which only allows goods which have been handmade to be sold. We bought some excellent food – think raspberry and cream waffles for breakfast, immediately followed by a lunch of giant chicken and schnitzel sandwiches costing around four dollars each and listened to some Jazz at a local festival. For the afternoon we hired mountain bikes and rode into the surrounding hills, searching for the perfect vista and the most difficult off-road tracks to test Jess's skills on the bike.

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Our last day in Bariloche was spent walking around an area further along the lake front called Llao Llao, where there is an enormous state built hotel. It looked like it would be an amazing place to stay, set against the foot of Monte Tronador (3500m), surrounded by lakes and including a private golf course within its grounds, but unfortunately, I think one nights accommodation there is about 4 times our entire daily budget.

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Our next destination was El Chalten, some 1400km's to the South and on the road travel time of around 24 hours. To get there we decided to split the trip over two days and bus through a segment of Ruta 40, a famous Argentinian road that stretches more than 5000 km (almost the entire length of the country) from Cabo Virgenes in the south to La Quica in the north.

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As we moved south from Bariloche the road left the Andes behind, with the mountains gradually flattening out into a vast expanse known as the Patagonian Steppe – a barren, sparse region of endless nothingness and terrible pizza restaurants, which provided the perfect opportunity for neverending road shots (see gallery).

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The land is clearly farmed but appears so arid that you rarely see large groups of animals and the only signs of human life are the occasional vehicle overtaking or passing in the other direction. To give you an idea of size we briefly visited an Estancia (farm) on day two which covered more than 40,000 hectares.

Despite the monotony I enjoyed watching the landscape pass by (although Jess had an alternative opinion) and the day was made more interesting by the bus regularly breaking down. Que departure of the drivers (apparently also mechanics) from the bus to tinker, restart the engine and then hopefully continue driving. Given that we were literally in the middle of no where with no cell phone reception the buses incessant beeping was slightly concerning and the regularity of breakdowns steadily increased until we seemed to be stopping every 10 minutes over the last 100 km. Luckily the bus limped into our stopover for the night only a couple of hours behind schedule.

In the morning of the second day we went to see some UNESCO protected ancient cave paintings at a nearby Estancia (farm). The paintings themselves were more than 8000 years old and while Jess and I were not blown away by their artistic skills, the canyon they were situated in was really interesting and I have attached photos of both. It was then back onto the bus (a new one) for the remaining 600km, this time with the majority of the distance on unsealed gravel roads.

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Forty hours after we departed Bariloche we left the Steppe behind and headed back into the Andes to arrive in El Chalten – a tiny postcard perfect village lying in the midst of the Andes enclosed by granite cliffs on all sides. We happily said goodbye to our bus and collapsed into bed. I'll provide an update on El Chalten when we leave in a couple of days.

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Posted by mwalmsle 16:47 Archived in Argentina Comments (2)

Buenos Aires & Mendoza

Wine, Beer & Steaks

sunny 30 °C
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It's taken a little longer than I thought it would to produce the first update. Our trip so far has revolved around sunshine, steaks and wine, with us spending three nights in Buenos Aires on arrival and four nights in Mendoza - a wine growing region west of Buenos Aires.

People say South Americans are relaxed and it's true but with 13.5 million people living in Buenos Aires there is always something going on. We stayed in a restaurant and bar district west of the city centre called Palermo. A leafy suburb that didn't get busy until at least 9:30pm at night – the time Argentinians have dinner and start thinking about heading to a bar. Our hostel was relaxed and had a huge Belgian Sheppard as a live-in mascot.

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The best way to see BA is by foot and Jess and I pounded the pavement most days exploring Palermo, the city centre itself and the numerous parks scattered around the city. The buildings in the centre of the city gave the city centre a European feel and reminded me a little of Paris.

One of the major tourist attractions was the Recoleta cemetery – a collection of tombs in the middle of Buenos Aires filled with wealthy and famous Argentinians. Sounds a little spooky but it's not, entry is free and you can stroll up and down avenues lined with trees, with people such as Evita buried in massive ornate tombs on either side.

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In South America buses are the primary mode of transport between the cities and they cover huge distances. I had been dreading catching them as I am terrible at sleeping anywhere other than my bed. However, the buses here are certainly a class above what we have back home. Our bus to Mendoza was equip with seats that almost fully reclined and we were served meals and a glass of vino airline style – it certainly made the 13 hour bus ride more bearable.

Mendoza is a wine growing region in Argentina famous for its Malbec. Our hostel here was amazing, a great group of people, absolutely legendary owners and a perfect climate combining together to create a great atmosphere. While we initially thought that we might explore the countryside and do some trekking, we instead toured the vineyards on bicycles, socialised at the hostel and drunk our bodyweight in beer and wine at Argentinian barbecues put on by the hostel – imagine massive sides of beef slow cooked over hot coals and then sliced onto your plate – absolutely amazing.

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We also went to a first division football match between a local team Godoy Cruz and Velez Sarsfield. The stadium was built for the 1978 world cup, holds 45,000 people and as a result is never full to capacity. However, the crowd was still absolutely nuts, think non-stop drumming, chanting and jumping for 90 minutes.

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The local team lost 4 – 0 but they still let off all their flares and fireworks before leaving the stadium. We got some classic South American police enforcement as well, with the more hardcore fans being shot with paintball guns and sprayed with firehoses when trying to invade the field at the end.

Unfortunately we are leaving Mendoza and a lot of new friends today and heading south to Bariloche and then Patagonia, where we are definitely planning on doing something a little more healthy – hopefully heading up into the mountains for some day trekking or if possible maybe even hiring some camping gear and doing something more extended.

There are more photos in the Gallery. I'll update again some time in Bariloche.

Posted by mwalmsle 13:38 Archived in Argentina Tagged buenos_aires mendoza Comments (0)

The first leg

overcast 18 °C
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Following two weeks in New Zealand with the families we are finally beginning our journey proper and catching our flight to South America. Things have started off on an amazing note with what we had expected to be a squashed 13 hour flight morphing into a business class trip for two courtesy of a free upgrade. I knew all that time spent travelling to Singapore last year for work would payoff eventually!

Leaving Sydney is sad given the good friends we have made here and the great memories over what has almost been five years. On the other hand 6 months in South America and then a new adventure in London sounds pretty good as well.

To all our family and friends (James and Louis you are not among these people) we will do our best to keep in touch and will always look you up if we are in the neighbourhood. You are of course should all do the same if you are passing through London!

Check back in the next few days for the first proper update from Buenos Aires.

Posted by mwalmsle 21:00 Archived in Australia Comments (1)

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