A Travellerspoint blog

Argentina

Scenery, steak and seriously tasty wines.

I realise that i got a bit excited about Patagonia but there is much more to Argentina than just the amazing south. In fact Argentina is massive, it would takes months to see all the major sites and unfortunately we will miss a few of the major ones (iguazu falls, mendoza) but choices have to be made when your on limited time and a budget. Argentina isn't that cheap, yes its cheaper than Ireland but its one of the more expensive south american countries. It is also one of the more complicated ones when it comes to the currency. The currency itself isn't difficult to understand. It is approx 1 US dollar = 5 peso. The stressful thing about the currency is that you get a lot more than 5 peso for your dollar if you exchange it on the 'blue' or 'black' market. Basically, Argentina's economy declined and when that happened people wanted to buy US dollars as a means of saving. So, the government put a ban on argentinians buying US dollars/foreign currency. The result is that if you come to argentina, you can exchange your dollars for around 7.5/8 pesos on what is called the 'blue market' as dollars are wanted. Its not strictly legal but its not a dodgey as it sounds. Its great for the tourist in that you can get 1.5 times more than the official rate that you'd get from the bank. The downside is that it's a bit stressful as you have to find the right seller and hope that they are not giving you fake peso notes. You have to check the notes, then hope your not being followed etc - the usual streetwise security. It also means you need to bring US dollars with you. The best rates are in Buenos Aires, elsewhere in the country its mostly the offical rate or some shops will offer more.

Buenos Aires itself is as expected, a very busy and vibrant city with plenty to see and do. Altogether we spent 7 nights in it (before and after Pategonia) its definitely a city that you could fall in love with but unfortunately for us, we were (particularly me) just too exhausted to fully appreciate it. That said we did our fair share of sightseeing. Maire, Ger and I went for a lovely evening in a restaurant a little out from the main center. It was a real treat as it was a tasting evening done by a collaboration of two chefs (one from a restaurant in Mendoza). We were treated to about 6 courses and had different wines to taste with each. Needless to say, we throroughly enjoyed ourselves. That is one thing about Argentina, the wine and the meat is outstanding. I always thought it was a bit of a myth when people 'went on' about argentinian steaks but no it isn't. If you love red meat and beef in particular then book your ticket to Argentina!!!

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There are lots of cool cafes/restaurants around Buenos Aires especilly in the palermo region. It's full of local designers, tea shops etc. There are also lots of tango bars and shows. We went to one local place where you could get lessons and later on they had some professionals to show us how it is done. We didn't do lessons but we went along to watch. It was cool and I was tempted to get lessons at some stage but time didn't really allow it. We did also get to a music festival when we got back from Patagonia. It was really cool. It was very similar to festivals in spain and we were chuffed to just to hear anything. We hadn't been to a festival/concert in so long that it was a bit of a treat. We had gone hoping to see on DJ in particular (jeff mills) but unfortunatley he didn't show up. Never the less we enjoyed it until about 2am when the heavens open and we were soaked to the skin. There wasn't much shelter at it so we ended up leaving but were happy enough as by that stage we had seen some cool acts.

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After Buenos Aires, we took an overnight bus (22 hrs) to Salta, a city in the North of the country. Luckily the bus we got was quite luxurious so the trip wasnt that bad. The long distance buses in Argentina & South America are completly different to anything I had seen before. They are big double deckers usually and have super comfy reclining seats. On long journeys you are served meals etc. It was quite the novelty for us.

Salta itself is a lovely city. Its busier (traffic wise) than I thought it would be. We signed up for a 1 week spanish course there in a homestay. The course itself was good but a little outdated in material. The homestay was fine but unfortunately our host ended up in hosptial for 2 nights the day we arrived. The course definitely helped us to pick up some basics and we can at least order in a restaurant now and understand a bit.

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Out of Salta you can visit various towns/wine regions all of which have spectacular landscapes and are only about 3-4 hours away. We done a day trip to Cachi which was about 3 hours west of Salta and much much higher. That day we hit 3, 400m and got our first taste of high altitudes in South America. In Cachi, the landscape has lots and lots of Cacti. They are class. I don't think I'll ever get sick of looking at them.

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We also spent a weekend in the wine region of cafayate. Here they make superb argentinian wines and specialise in one particular white wine made using the torrontes grape which is really yummy. Cafayate is stunning and the 2nd half of the journey from Salta is really spectacular. Unfortunately for me the journey was a little bit of a 'non event'. I ended up with a stomach bug and spent the time there in bed. Luckily we had booked into a really lovely guesthouse "Casa Arbol"and the owners were a young family who were so nice. Oh well, these things happen and at least I got to see the scenery and ger got to taste a few of the wines.

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From Cafayate it was time to say begin our goodbyes to Argentina. We headed north of Salta to the village of Tilcara which was the last stop before Bolivia. As we entered Tilcara, its not hard to see why so many people stop here for a few days. It really is a very picturesque little village. there is also a noticable difference in the culture wiith more people wearing traditional clothes. It is a bit touristy but the upside of this is that are some really lovely restaurants, interesting shops and lots of things to do in the area such as a visit to the Pucará de Tilcara, the partially reconstructed ruins of a pre-Inca "pucará".

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Tilcara was our last stop in Argentina. Argentina is an amazing country, full of specualar scenery, wildlife and very friendly people. It is a big country though. I think we would have needed about 4 months to see it properly. We really enjoyed our time there with Patagonia being the ultimate highlight. Sadly, my time there was tainted a little with sickness. Argentina is not a great place for someone with IBS. While the steaks, parillas (grills) are amazing, the food is very rich and is bread heavy. This is always an issue though when your not really cooking for yourself and travelling so I cant blame Argentina.

Next stop Bolivia!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Dodding Mosquito Status: Buenos Aires was fine but the battle began as soon as we entered our homestay in Salta. I am not sure why but this homestay seemed to be habouring lots of our enemies. The garden outside our room was like an army camp of mossies and we were stuck in the middle. Well after several hours of battle and the use of chemical warfare (ie: a plug in spray) we managed to sleep reasonably comfortably. We did have serveral run ins though throughout the week and this particular army loved Ger. He has since had to upskill his killing techniques!!!!

Posted by ofenelon 07:17 Archived in Argentina Comments (0)

It's the end of the world as we know it!!!!!!

Patagonia Argentina

After quite the journey from New Zealand to Buenos Aires, we arrived for the last section of our journey around the world. That is South America. We were also extra excited because one of our best friends Maire was joining us for 2.5 weeks while we make the journey to Patagonia.

From Buenos Aires (ill post about this city later) the three of us we took a flight to a town called El Calafate and this is where the adventure began. Its difficult to know how to begin describing patagonia. We had heard from people that it was amazing but i think all 3 of us were in for quite the shock when we finnaly arrived. The first thing you notice about Patagonia is the space. There are masses of landscape that seem quite barren but have spectular features such as rivers, mountains and of course glaciers. Patagonia itself is over 3,000km for Buenos Aires and its spans across the very south of Argentina and Chile. Because of this, we were never going to see everything so decisions had to be made. In the end I think we made some pretty good ones. We arrived in El calafate and got a bus to El Chalten. It is located within the Los Glaciares National Park at the base of Cerro Torre and Cerro Fitz Roy mountains. It is a popular area for trekkers similar to its Chilean counterpart the Torres del Paine National Park. We booked into a apartment for 5 nights and set about planning our treks. Trekking in El Chalten is very easy to plan in that you are given a map as you enter the national park of all the possible routes. The routes are very well maintained. They have no real facilites on them and you need to bring all your own food etc but as a result, the parks water resources are spotless and the water is drinkable from source. The other thing about Patagonia is the weather, it is super changeable. I have never seen anything like it. It can also get very windy but we were so lucky in our time in El Chalten. Over the course of the days we did nearly all the day treks there were to do which meant we done 3 x 1/2 marathons over the course of 4 days plus a few shorter ones. It was a lot but oh my are they worth it!!! They are amazing beyond words. The first trek, the Laguna de Los Tres led us up to near the base of Fitzroy where we sat above two glacial lakes looking at the fitzroy peaks and condors flying past every now and then. It was a beautiful sunny day and I think its one day that the 3 of us will hold in our memories. The other two long treks were of similar sights with the last trek bringing us 1,000m uphill to a viewing point that looked over both the mountains of Cerro Torre and Fitzroy. It wasn't quite as sunny as the first trek and the height meant we couldn't hang around too long on top but it was worth the climb. Here are a few pics from El Chalten. fitzcompresssed4.jpgfitzcompressed5.jpgfitzcompresssed3.jpg

We were quite sad leaving El Chalten with all of us realising that we were very lucky to have seen such sights but we had more of patagonia to see so we made our way back to El Calafate to see one of its famous tourist attractions the Perito Moreno Glacier. We decided to do the mini-trek on this as we heard it was worth the money and so it was. This glacier is a major tourist attraction and as such you dont get much privacy there but i think that there is more than enough glacier to go around. Tourists aside, on first glancing this glacier from the bus window i think my words to ger were 'Holy F**k'. I was really awe struck by the sheer size and formation of it and when we went to stand on the viewing decks beside it, you could hear it cracking. This glacier is of particular interest to glaciologists because its one of the few glaciers that is growing in size. We normally tend to hear of receding glaciers but in winter time this one grows which will hopefully ensure it lives on for some time yet. The trek itself was interesting as we had never used crampons before so it was different experience trekking on ice. We got use to it quickly and just to ensure we enjoyed ourselves, we were all given a free whisky " whisky on the rocks' as they call it. Ok so its a bit of a touristy gimic but we enjoyed clinking our glasses none the less.

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Apart from the glacier, all the other trips out of El Calafate were a bit beyond our budget so we booked a bus to where else but the 'end of the world'. The city of Ushuaia on the Island of Terra del Fuego. After a 19 hour bus journey with a few hold ups at the chilean border we made it to the end of the world. Ushuaia itself is a popular tourist spot for a few reasons but the one I was jealous of was that its a popular port to begin your journey to Antartica. Realistically we could never afford one of the expeditions but it was cool to watch the massive ships and imagine what it would be like to arrive in Antartica just 48 hours from Ushuaia. I think all 3 of us resolved we would be back to try it out when we had more money in bank!!! While we ddn't board one of the antartic ships we did do a boat trip around around the area of Ushuaia and it was really enjoyable especially getting to view a sealion colony on a nearby Island.

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The other main attraction in Ushuaia is the Terra del Fuego national park. We headed out for an afternoon and done a 3 hour coastal trek which was really nice except we were all dying with hangovers so probably didn't appreciate it to the fullest. We were proud of ourselves that we made it out though!!!! The following day was a little more sucessful and it was one that I was most excited about. It was a trip to Martillo Island to see the penguins. I had Ger driven mad wanting to see penguins since he mentioned patagonia and now it was finally a reality. We got a tour to the islands with a group 'Pira Tours' that allowed us to walk around the Island for an hour. It was really brilliant and we all loved it. There were so many penguins!!!! The main two species are Magellanic and Gentoo penguins although we were lucky enough to see one 'tourist' king penguin. Needless to say the camera was snap happy as seen below.

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The penguin trip was our final destination in Patagonia and the day after we sadly boarded a flight, waved goodbye and headed back to Buenos Aires. I think there was a bit of tear in all our eyes!!!!

Dodging Mosquito Status: Yipee -none at all, it looks like the end of the world is the place to escape to!!!

Posted by ofenelon 15:23 Archived in Argentina Tagged el patagonia chalten Comments (1)

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