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South to Patagonia

....another El - El Calfate

semi-overcast 1 °C

How lucky are we with the weather waking to a glorious sunny day delivering picture postcard views as we ride the short 225km to El Calafate. The hub for “Los Glaciares National Park” and the famous Moreno glacier it is a trendy tourist town (Pop 8000) with all the amenities and pricing to match.
We head out on a recommendation to a restaurant that specialises in Argentinean “plough disc” cooking. Essentially provincial stews of different meats and vegetables and whilst initially reluctant it was some of the best food I’ve had thus far in Argentina. Washed down with some chilled local Roja beers and I was supremely satisfied.

A slightly overcast day greeted us for the ride to the Moreno Glacier but today I opted to jump in with Dennis the support driver and take it easy from the passenger’s seat.

As with any coddiwomple your itinerary can and does change through conversations you have and the people you meet. Today was one of those! Last night I booked a ride with the boys from Santiago to Machu Picchu commencing on 23rd March for 16 days. This ride goes through the Atacama, the Bolivian salt flats, the heights of the Andes and ends in Cusco/Machu Picchu. In discussion with my new bestie Dennis he informs me that Cusco is where he learnt his Spanish and that an ex-girlfriend runs her own Spanish school. So, it is now set I’ll be pulling up in Cusco for up to a month to study Spanish and that should be fun! 

Nothing can prepare you for the grandeur of this spectacular glacier, truly an incredible natural wonder. At 30km long, 5 km wide and 70m high you can barely grasp and take in the enormity of this magnificent sight. The day was perfect being slightly overcast the glacier was showing every bit of its natural beauty. Shades of blue changing with every angle and every now and then a deafening crack as a mass of ice breaks away and tumbles into the deep turquoise of the glacial lake joining the other ice bergs that float serenely on the lake.

A very satisfying day topped with a visit to a local’s “all you can eat” Parrilla restaurant.

Posted by ScottyJ 10:31 Archived in Argentina Comments (0)

Torres Del Paine

......just go there.

sunny 15 °C

It’s been raining all night but at “stands up” 8am it was just misty with wet roads and very cool at 8degC. Today we cross back into Chile on our way to Torres Del Paine National Park on a mixture of road surfaces. This border crossing was a total reverse of the first with us breezing through the Argentinean side and having a two-hour battle on the Chilean side.

The first 160km was very cool with more gusts of cool Patagonian wind and the temperature ever so slowly descending back down the Celsius scale. It must have been cool last evening as the hills in the distance had a dusting of snow coating their upper reaches. Hoping that we didn’t have to go that high I was to be disappointed as the road slowly wound on up and up until the snow was on either side of the road. The temperature dropped to 01degC and it was freezing on the bike. Those kilometres seemed to take for ever and when we stopped for fuel it was thaw out time and a chance to put on more layers!

The rest of the ride was better once we warmed up and once again the vistas kept opening before us until we reached the UNESCO listed Torres Del Paine National Park. Two full days here to appreciate, explore and absorb the beauty of this area.

Soaring almost vertically more than 2000m above the Patagonian steppe, the Torres del Paine are spectacular granite pillars that dominate the landscape of what must be South America’s finest National Park, filled with shimmering turquoise lakes, roaring creeks, rivers and waterfalls, sprawling glaciers, dense forests and abundant wildlife……best you come and see it sometime 

Again, enjoying the sights from the truck and this time Alpha joins me….I think he befriended the hotel manager and others enjoying festivities to an early hour…..anyway another fortuitous coddiwomple moment when we had a flat tyre in the truck. Waving down another 4wd’er to ask if they had a compressor on board to re-inflate the tyre I had the pleasure of meeting the South African couple who were tripping around South America. Whilst relaying their travel story they mentioned their last-minute Antarctica trip next week and willingly shared the details of the person and agency who helped them secure the cruise……the email has already been sent. 

Saturday night in Torres del Paine does not rate high on the sociability scale but after another fine Parrilla dinner with a moderate lashing of Vino Tinto, (Carmenere) Alpha, Roomie, the new bestie and I did a pub crawl of all three establishments culminating back at our hotel for Georgian cha-cha (grappa) and cigars on the balcony. The night looked to be ending at a respectable 1.30am until Alpha and the new bestie wrangled an invite to a local party close by the hotel. More I cannot say as I declined but with Roomie stumbling in at around 3.30 I’m assuming it was a lot of fun.

Posted by ScottyJ 10:44 Archived in Chile Comments (0)

Tierra del Fuego

…..Ushuaia, Fin del Mondo

overcast 12 °C

Just two more days until we arrive at our destination and I’m looking forward to the ride. Both days are around 440kms each with a border crossing back in to Argentina and another crossing of the Andes down into Ushuaia.

The day starts with me discovering that Alpha has misplaced my “on loan” down jacket and I’m guessing that happened at the party and most likely now being worn by some local lass. Anyway, we have about 80km of dirt before a morning coffee stop at the picturesque town of Puerto Natales nearby the Pacific coast and you could smell the sea as we rode in. It is something very familiar to me and always welcomed as it eternally reminds me of home. From Puerto Natales we have another 340kms until we reach the Straits of Magellan and a half hour ferry crossing to reach Tierra del Fuego. It is here that we stop on the coast to take in the last piece of the American land mass and as custom would have it I stripped off and plunged into the chilly waters where the Atlantic meets the Pacific, another one down. Our accommodation tonight is at a pleasant and welcoming family run Hosteria in Cerro Sombrero. Believe me there is nothing in this town but then there is nowhere else to stay. It exists basically to serve the gas industry however, the hospitality was genuine and the meal served in the family restaurant was fresh and ever so good: crab salad, bife de chorizo, papas rustica and calafate ice cream accompanied with a few glasses from the modest but good wine selection.

Last day as we hit the 110km of dirt to the border at San Sebastian and then the 15kms of no-man’s land to the Argentinean side of Tierra del Fuego. After an efficient border crossing we are back into the final leg of the ride on good paved road through the southern forests and the last of the Andes mountains before we descend into the southernmost city of the world, Ushuaia stunningly situated between mountain and sea
.
It has been a great ride and a magnificent opportunity to catch up with old friends, think we might have to do it again sometime. 

……now where do those Antarctica cruises leave from??

Posted by ScottyJ 10:43 Archived in Argentina Comments (0)

Buenos dias, Buenas tardes, Buenas noches

……Buenos Aries!!

overcast 24 °C
View A coddiwomple to the Americas & beyond on ScottyJ's travel map.

With the realisation that the ride was over the focus was on Buenos Aries, never been before and if you believe the puff then it is going to be a blast. We all had a couple of extra nights in this big city to explore and experience one of South America’s iconic city’s.

The three-and-a-half-hour flight passed in no time and it was off to the hotel in the “Microcentre”. I am not sure what I was expecting but as we whisked through the boulevards and multitude of narrow one way streets I began to feel it was all an anti-climax. Here was a city of yesteryear, of what was and what could have been. Shabby and tired around the edges, in need of love and attention but as if no one was going to step up and start the process. One must be aware of first impressions and so I buried those feelings for the time being in the hope the city would open and reveal her true self in the coming days.

Alpha had done his homework so over a lazy lunch we handed the evening’s events over to him to arrange. Hence it was off to an Irish pub in Palermo Hollywood and then a subdued pub crawl around the area. There was certainly plenty going on but without the local knowledge I’m guessing we called it a night far too early by Buenos Aries standards. Meanwhile Roomie advised that he had stuffed his flights up and he only had that one night with us in BA. Disappointing as we had planned a dinner the following night at one of BA’s top restaurants.

The next day was filled with the on-off bus tour around BA which is not a bad way to get your bearings and understand your surroundings in a short time. The afternoon was capped off with a visit to “El Anteneo Grand Splendid” BA’s grandest bookstore and rated as one of the most beautiful bookstores in the world. In a city that has more bookstores per person than anywhere else in the world this store expresses the passion the Argentinians have for a good book. It’s only been 24 hours and that feeling I had when arrived is slowly changing as this city slowly starts disclose her inner self.

I desperately wanted to catch a tango show whilst in the home of this mesmerising dance and so it was that I’d found one nearby and was going that night. Rand was keen to come and Alpha begrudgingly agreed to follow. In true BA style the show did not start until 10.15pm and we were not disappointed, Alpha being one of the most enthusiastic. Truly amazing! Hard to believe, beautiful, passionate, romantic and sexy; performed with such skill and passion that you could read the story in every dance.

After the buzz of the show Alpha was keen to head on out and well I agreed I’d join him for a couple. We wandered the backstreets of the city centre and came across a small and happening little bar that was spilling out onto the streets. Long story short it was run by a couple of Russians who we immediately befriended and shared some great conversation. Come closing my thoughts were on heading home but Alpha true to form had other ideas and on the advice of our new friends we were instructed to head to Floreria Atlántico, a couple of blocks away, and just walk into the flower shop……..? As we walked down the street we noticed a few people milling around a store front in what would otherwise have been a deserted street. They could tell we were new to town, lost and looking. “Are you looking for the bar?” we were asked. “Si” just go straight in and open the fridge door…..and when you do, the beats and hum of a happening crowd smack you in the face. Could not but go down and in, topped off a great night.

Now that everybody was leaving Alpha and I had decided to move to Palermo, BA’s fashionable area but this time Alpha had a friend who had moved to BA 10 years previously and he was keen to catch up, dinner, drinks and show us BA from the inside out. Argentinians go out late, it is nothing to see families and small children arriving for dinner to restaurants at 10pm! So, in true local style we met Trevor at 9pm for a few drinks then headed off for dinner which was served around 11.30pm. Trevor guided us through the menu and wine list and I was in my element. So far so good. Now it was time to move on and on and on! I was feeling the strain of the previous evening and announced at 2.30 that I was bailing. I was advised that this is where it all starts happening and people decide where to go to finish off the evening where it is totally acceptable to head off home anywhere between 5 & 8am! It was a 15-minute cab ride back to the hotel and I understood what Trevor had meant; lines and lines of people where entering countless venues that just seemed to appear out of nowhere. I hope they have a great night.

Alpha fronted very late the next morning declaring a podium! I knew his day would be spent horizontal. That was ok as it was a wet and rainy day and so it was great to have a me day reading and planning.

Monday morning and I had convinced Alpha to do a day trip to Colonia del Sacramento in Uruguay. It was raining again and he was not keen as we headed to the port to catch the ferry. Just about to clear immigration and we were advised that the crossing was too dangerous due to the weather and the accompanying storms, so it was back to the hotel where Alpha dived between the sheets and I spent the day exploring. We had dinner together and said our farewells as Alpha was leaving to head back to Canberra and me, well the start of the next adventure…….Uruguay!

Btw, I'm glad I buried those first impressions. Despite the copious graffiti, the cracked and broken footpaths I love BA!! :)

Posted by ScottyJ 14:07 Archived in Argentina Comments (0)

Uruguay

….so glad I did!

sunny 30 °C
View A coddiwomple to the Americas & beyond on ScottyJ's travel map.

Today was so much better, flat seas, warm, a little muggy and to be on the safe side I booked another shipping company (Seacat Colonia) with bigger boats. Sticking to the original plan I headed to the early colonial town of Colonia del Sacramento. The boat trip is only an hour and this charming little town steeped in history was going to be home for the next two nights. Jumped onto Airbnb for this trip and everything just went swimmingly. David confirmed immediately with times he would be available and since he ran his own horse riding business he suggested that if I’m early enough to join him and his clients for lunch. What a great idea, always up for a good lunch. However, the positive was not only meeting the clients, a young American couple and a French journalist from New Caledonia, but also sampling the local grape variety, Tannat, served slightly chilled it was wonderful. David had also arranged a guided tour of the old town and suggested if I was interested then for $10 I could also join. The day was just getting better.

Just briefly Colonia del Sacramento was settled by the Portuguese and used as a base for smuggling items into Spanish Argentina. It was eventually settled under Spanish control after a dispute lasting from 1680-1777. Interesting architecture and a beautiful old town on the mighty Rio del la Plata, a natural fresh water border between modern day Argentina and Uruguay that has its source in the Amazon. My very next day was a total me day, beach, book, chivito for lunch with a tad more tannat and a siesta. I could get use to this!

I love Airbnb when you get to send time with the hosts, David was a very interesting character, originally from South Africa and a great tale to tell, a dab hand in the kitchen and I had the pleasure of sharing a meal with him on my last night.

Only three hours by bus to Montevideo and the countryside reminded me very much of my home state of Tasmania. This city makes a good first impression, a lovely colonial atmosphere inhabited by some of the nicest, hospitable people I have yet met in South America. I settled into the Hotel Presidente after a fun cab ride from the bus station, then headed toward the old town on the recommendation of the receptionist. I stumbled upon the Mercado Puerto a large undercover restaurant area specialising in asado, Uruguayan BBQ and being a sweltering hot day all washed down with a fine Patagonian pale ale. The siesta this afternoon extended to a much-needed early night.

Up early I fixed up a few future travels plans then took a city tour to get acquainted with this charming city stopping for a late lunch close to where I had been yesterday at the Mercado. However, this time I found the very pleasant Montevideo Wine Experience. Thanks to Nicolas the very knowledge cellarman, I could sample some of Uruguay’s finest from delightful and pleasing whites through to magnificent blends of local and traditional (vino tinto) grape varieties. Lunch was a cured meat and cheese board, all local, that complimented my indulgent wine experience. It was now that I met Mark a retired Canadian who had popped into to buy a bottle of wine, he and his wife head to Uruguay each year to escape the Canadian winter and who would blame them! They enjoy it so much that they are contemplating purchasing a property instead of renting each year. It was Mark that told me about the Carnavale show that evening in the Museo de Carnavale two doors down, so at only 60 pesos a ticket I grabbed one and my night was planned. I was not disappointed, this was no tourist event, families, kids, teenagers and grandparents all flocked to fill the area to witness the five competing bands tonight. It had everything, comedy, wit, dance, music and song with the most colourful and elaborate costumes. It was chance encounter that left me buzzing and understanding a little better what Carnaval is to the people.

This morning my rental car was delivered to the hotel and I was off to explore the east coast of Uruguay, the Atlantic coast, its villages and surf. The driving was easy and the day was spent stopping at various beaches for a swim, lunch at La Paloma then onto Punta de Diablo close by the Brazilian border for a few days of sun and surf. Once a sleepy fishing village his place swells to around 30,000 people in summer and less than a thousand in winter. It is unique. Unrestrained development gives it a magical quality, its dirt roads emanating from the centre in all directions shared equally by pedestrians, cars, bikes, cyclists, hawkers and dogs. My days spent swimming, reading, walking and of course hanging out at some spectacular little bars and restaurants with stunning views of the Atlantic Ocean.

Posted by ScottyJ 18:18 Archived in Uruguay Comments (0)

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