We went for a roadtrip in the Andes!

While in Salta, we decided to rent a car during a few days so we could explore the area around.

Comparing the different offers in town took us almost a whole day, as we received so many different information about the state of the roads (some of them are unpaved, but good enough for a rental car, or terribly bad depending on who you ask). We did not want to get a car from a lousy guy sending us on every bad road, just to get our cash.

Once we were happy with our deal, we planned our trip, and decided to do two small circuits away from Salta. South part first and then North, both with one night out, and back in Salta the second evening.

 

We started the first morning, got the keys of our not so young and immaculate Chevrolet Corsa Classic, the car that everybody was renting out to gringos for these trips.

And as soon as we set of, we got our first little drops of sweat as we had to leave town. Everybody warned us, out there in the deserted unpaved tracks, it is easy to drive, but here in Salta, they are all locos! And yes, it was not so simple, even though like in every place in South America, the city streets are one direction only. One could imagine that it makes it easier, and you just have to check one side, one would be wrong. The danger can come from anywhere!

 

Once away from Salta, things got smoother and we took the direction of Cachi. To go there, we had to follow a road to a small valley, where after that the road would turn to dirt road, and start to go up and up until 3348 meters above sea level. Once on the top, we crossed the Parque Nacional de Los Cardones. The Cardones are big cactuses that can live several hundreds of years. They are a familiar sight in the high Andeans, and it was our first (but not last) encounter with them. We took our time up there, taking pictures and enjoying the sun, even though it was quite windy as well.

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The long and winding road
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Seriously ?
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Cactus style

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Then the road went on and on and on in a straight line for almost 20 kilometers, before starting to go down again towards Cachi. Cachi is a very little, nice, charming and quiet village in the valley with old colonial buildings. White washed walls, colonial architecture, and dead or alive cactuses for decoration.

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Colonial style in quiet Cachi
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More cactuses !

It was a pleasure to finally step out of the car, and take a walk into town with a coffee and later dinner (including some humitas for Merima, but also goat and quinoa stews).

 

New day, new adventures. We left Cachi at sunrise to continue the road South. The road follows the fertile valley Calchalquies where we encountered several little pueblos with colonial design and charming little plaza de armas, and churches.

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Can it look more typical?

Each stop was very welcome as all the road was a dirt track, not all the time very good, meaning lots of bumps and noise and dust in the car. At some point, the valley became very narrow and straight, and that is where the Quebrada de la Flecha started, which means the arrow canyon. Suddenly the landscape changed and the road took us into rock formations. Crazy rock formation, carved by time and erosion, but still with very sharp edges like arrow heads. You get it now? It felt like another planet (one more time!), a planet made for geologist for example.

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The road goes through the rocks
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Quebrada de la Flecha
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Vantage point

And once we were out of the canyon, we reach a totally new landscape. Wineyards! We were getting closer to Cafayate, a bigger settlement that is very well known for its wine. Not time for wine degustation though as Fred was driving and Merima, well was being Merima. But that did not prevent us to go to the empanadas house, to try out new types of empanadas, including some with corn. Yummy! After a good lunch, the road back towards Salta got more and more scenic. With more landscape features, all crazier than the previous one. We saw a gigantic lonely rock, called el obelisco, another one called el amfiteatro, and many other ones with no names. Just a brilliant display of rock formations. The road was  scenic, and we really enjoyed it. We reached the lower valley at night time, and had another hour of night driving to reach Salta. That was another hour of sweat, but all went all right. We came back to the same little charming house in Salta, for a good night of sleep.

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Another road going to Mars
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Los Colorados
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El Obelisco (Merima for scale)
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Exiting El Amfiteatro

New morning, new road trip, and this time we head North for the second circuit. For the first time in very long, we are on a highway, and it is much smoother to drive that way. After the highway, it is smaller mountain roads again, and we are heading for the very small village of Purmamarca. The village is coined between mountains, and that is what makes it so famous among travellers. On the main square were dozens of stands with people selling local product, lots of colourful textiles with Andeans motives. This is also where we bought our first little bag of coca leaves because we knew that later during the day we would climb higher up with the car. The hills and rocks around Purmamarca have so many different colours. The closest is called the Seven Colours Hill. We took a little walk to go and see it from closer.

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Can you count the colors?
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Purmamarca
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Casually walking.

Right after starting to walk, we realised that it was harder to breath, and ran out of air very fast. Like if we had been running upstairs, even though the path was almost flat. That is the moment we decided to try out the coca leaves. Except for the oxygen thing, we were not feeling particularly different but we wanted to have a first taste before the real deal will start later during the day. And we had a good laugh trying to fit the coca leaves in our mouth and then with the help of our saliva try to suck out some juice. It was a bit bitter taste, very herb-ish. A bit like if you had bitten into a dry green tea bag.

After the walk, we went back to the market place, having a look at the different textiles, and had to work very hard to not buy half of the shops! We convinced ourselves that from now on, every place or every market will have llama based motives and it would be wiser to wait a bit before adding kilos to our backpacks.

Back in the car, and this time, the daily real deal starts as we climb up a high pass, at more than 4100 meters. It sometimes felt a bit hard for our little car, but for us it went all right. Our body seemed to answer nicely to the altitude. We did not stay that  long though, just took a picture at the pass where it was very cold and windy and then went down the other side of the mountain to reach the Salinas Grandes, a Salt Lake. It was a very big, impressive, flat and white surface. We went to walk on the salty surface for some time, and had fun trying to take a few pictures doing some jumps. But we realised that after two or three jumps at more than 3500 meters high we needed time to recover our breath!

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Nothing.
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Before being out of breath
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Casually posing

After that, it’s back in the car, and going through the same pass again, and down to Purmamarca before heading to the village of Tilcara where we will spend the night. On the way, we pass crazy coloured landscapes including one brilliantly named the painter’s pallet.

 

As we arrive in Tilcara, we notice that it had been some big celebration and party in town that day. There was excitement in the air which was just subsiding, and the locals were packing up and heading home with content faces, including some of them riding horses in fantastic clothes. We took a walk around town, had a coffee and awesome cake, but as always a bit too late and close to dinner so Merima wasn’t hungry anymore and Fred had a gringo pizza by himself.

Next day, we had another walk around town and made the typical mistake to enter “one last shop before we go”, where we spent some 30 minutes trying and then buying some awesome cowboy leather belts.

Back in the car, with some fresh coca leaves in our mouth, we headed a bit higher to the bigger village of Humahuaca. We arrive there around noon, just in time to see an animated Saint Francisco come out from a window and bless the crowd. Felt more like Disneyland than real deal, but it gathered a big crowed of Brazileros and Italian tourist, as well as lots of street vendors selling everything from hats, to dining table clothes, to socks and coca sweets. Once Saint Francisco had returned in its den until the next day, we sat back in the car, and started a 25 km climb on a not really well maintained dirt road. It took us more than an hour because we took pictures of vicuñas on the way (an animal related to the Alpaca, but wild), because of the poor quality of the track, but also because of the climb. From Humahuaca, 3000 meters above sea level, to the top of the road, some 4350 meters high. Why going that high? Well, up there, well hidden in the mountain is the vantage point over the fourteen colours mountain! So from the seven colours hill of yesterday, we have now doubled up the rainbow range! But what a sight! The pictures we took do not come half as close as what we witnessed. The picture also doesn’t show the altitude, but because we went a bit downhill to have a better view of the mountain, we had to come back up to the car, and that took us more time than usual, as we had to stop three to four times to catch our breath.

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The lady dealing coca that Fred was to shy to photograph so Merima went boldly for it.
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Vicuñas !
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The crazy mountain
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Hard to walk at 4350 meters high, but the view is somewhat rewarding no?

After that, back to the car, back on the dirt road for one hour or so of descent and vertebras reduction, and we were back in Humahuaca for lunch, more quinoa pie and humitas for everybody before the long drive back to Salta.

Long drive that started well, ended well too, even if halfway we had a lot of rain outside of the car, and some rain inside the car too (it seems that there is a pattern here…). The ventilation decided for some reason to work as a sprinkler as well for some 30 minutes.

But all is well that finishes well and we made it in town, and were fast asleep after a good dinner.

 

Soon we leave Argentina one more time, but maybe the last?

Argentina 2.0

After our little detour through Paraguay we came back to Argentina. So we entered the country for the fifth time in less than two months (maybe the secret service will start to wonder WTH we are trying to do here).

Even though we entered the country a lot, so far we have had mixed feelings about the country, and it was almost walking backwards that we came in again.

As places, we liked Buenos Aires, we’ve seen the (almost) bottom of South America in Ushuaia, had some of the best hiking days of the trip in Patagonia, and witness the might of the Iguazu Falls. All of it sounds epic, and it surely is but we were missing something. The places we have been felt like dedicated to tourism only, with plenty of opportunities to do crazy things in the awesome outdoor playground that Argentina has, but we found very little culture, or traditions. As often when the main attraction is tourism, the prices go up, and the quality of service or offer goes down. And we saw a lot of that too. Patagonia is an expansive place to visit, Buenos Aires is like all capitals, not really a bargain, and Puerto Iguazu, despite being a very small village in the jungle full of awesome natural reserves did not have anything much better than Swedish price ranged pizzas. The food options were always limited to pizza, pasta, or grilled meat (of varying quality) with fries.

Argentina is a country that has faced several serious financial crises over the past years, and as a result of that the economy of the country is quite unstable. For us travellers today, it results in very annoying little details: we can only take out a small amount of cash from the machine at a time, and each time we do, we have to pay expansive fees. Moreover, a lot of places refuse to accept credit cards, or they are charging also quite a lot for that. We have lost quite a lot of money in taxes so far, and we would have rather spent it elsehow. The prices all over the country have gone up a lot as well, and not only in remote Patagonia. If you read about Argentina or talk to people that say it is a cheap country, it is not anymore. Sometimes we are close to Swedish prices.

So for all of these reasons, we were uncertain of how long more we were going to stay in Argentina, and our general mood was to try to reach the north to enter cheaper Bolivia.

But nonetheless, we were looking at our visit in the city of Salta. It did not start super well, as our bus from Paraguay to Resistencia in Argentina got delayed by three hours while trying to go through the border. One person working, five looking around, no computer or passport reader, the fact that every single luggage had to be checked and a general mess: welcome back to Argentina! We were going to miss our connection bus to reach Salta, but the second bus had a flat tyre, and got delayed by three hours too. So at the end, we just waited a lot, and got quite delayed but it could have been worse.

After one night sleep in the bus we reached Salta, and liked it at first sight almost. It was quieter than any big cities we’ve been before, with a lot of parks and green areas, and splendid colonial style buildings and churches. The weather was lovely as well, sunny but not too hot, like a proper Swedish summer.

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Fancy church in Salta
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View from the nearby hill

We stayed in a very charming house, booked through AirBnb, and for almost the first time since ages, we relaxed, did only a little everyday between two coffees.

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Our little traditional house where we ended up staying much more than expected!

We discovered the strong culture and heritage of Northwest Argentina. Unlike Patagonia who was very seldom inhabited until recently expect for nomadic tribes, Northwest Argentina has been more populated, by indigenous people first, and then conquered by the Incas, whose empire grew as south as Santiago in Chile, just before the Spanish came and put a halt to its expansion. As the area around Salta is right in the middle of the Andes, with some pretty high mountains, it holds a particular importance for the Inca people who believed that high summits and volcanoes where the way where the soul would reach the sky and meet with the ancestors. In several volcano summits, they found some archaeological sites with altars and tombs. Including some mummified kids. Yes, you read that right. We visited a pretty interesting museum, and terrifying at the same time, about the mummy kids in Salta. It was apparently a thing during Inca time to sacrifice the most good looking kids of the village to the gods. The kids will be picked up very young, then sent to the capital of the empire, Cuzco, where after some initiation time they would go back to their village. There a procession will be organised to the highest volcano, where a tomb was dug. After drugging the kids so they would sleep, they will be buried alive and their soul will leave their body to reach out to the ancestors. Some 20 years ago an archaeological expedition found three of them, in a state of conservation beyond belief. The cold, the lack of oxygen at that altitude, as well as a layer of volcano ash that covered them had allowed this unique feature, and after some scientific research, their bodies are now shown in the museum. It is not a visit or sight that let you insensitive!

The Inca heritage can also be seen in the local gastronomy. It is richer here in Salta than anywhere we’ve been before. There is more corn everywhere, some quinoa, some stews with goat meat, some new kind of small potatoes, as well as llama meat!

We discovered Merima’s new favourite food so far : humitas! Even better than the Paraguayan chipas. The humitas are made out of freshly grinded corn paste, more corn, and a bit of onion and potatoes. The paste is rolled in balls, which are place into corn leaves, and put to cook into a steamer. Once it is cooked, you open the corn leaves, and eat it all. Delicious!! And the good news is that it seems from now on, there will be humitas all along the rest of our travel!

During one of our nights out in Salta, we went to a peña. It is a typical restaurant where live music and dance is displayed at the time of eating, a bit cabaret like, where the French Cancan dancers would be replaced by guys looking like cowboys in traditional costume, doing some crazy tap dancing with knifes and whip in their hands, as well as girls with traditional long dresses, waving around handkerchiefs to the sounds of drums and flutes. Fantastic! And for the music part, a group of guitar guys would sing along and ask the public of locals (with another Italian couple, we were the only gringos in the audience) to join them. They were really good at creating a warm atmosphere, and even ask personally to every table where they were coming from, and then asking for a round of applause to welcome everyone. We got our own round of applause too J For the record we said we were from Sweden to make it shorter and easier! It was a really nice evening, even after one of the dancers asked Fred to join her on stage. She probably quickly realized her mistake and regretted it for the whole dance!

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In the next post, you’ll have a read about the little road trip we took in Salta’s surroundings and how we ended up either on Mars or the Moon. We’re still not so sure!

We check out one of the 7 natural wonders of the World!

Long time ago, at the very genesis of this travel, there is a discussion between Fred and Merima about travelling, and the idea to discover a whole new continent, like South America for example, to see something big and different that would mark us and bring change into our daily life as PhD student and consultant. And then the discussion finished and we went on as being a consultant and trying to get a PhD. Until some point, when consulting started to become monotonous, and being in the lab 24 h was not that nice anymore. At that moment the discussion resurfaced, and started to sound more like something doable than just a fools dream. And we realised that maybe we reached a good turning point in our lives where the idea of actually doing a long travel could fit in.

So Fred started to have a deeper look at it, and from a map decided that it would be awesome and epic to cover the whole continent, from South to North, following the Andes, seeing Patagonia, both sides of the mountains, and going on upwards towards Bolivia, Peru and so on and so forth until time or money runs out.

Merima, being not that interested in maps, and more interested in pipetting stuff in the lab agreed and the project went on. Until after the PhD disputation, when she asked Fred:

  • “So when are we gonna see the waterfalls?”
  • “Waterfalls?”
  • “Yes, the big waterfalls in South America, that is why I wanted to go there in the first place, I saw the waterfalls in South America on TV and it looked nice”.
  • “Aha, well we will probably see waterfalls on the way, but THE big waterfalls in South America, that would be the Iguazu Falls, at the border of Argentina and Brazil”.
  • “Okay, so when are we gonna see them?”
  • “Hum, so far the plan is currently not going in that direction at all”.

So here we are a bit before the trip, and the one reason Merima wanted to go in the first place (and she withheld to Fred for so long) was a place far away from every bit of plan we had. So Fred promised we would make it fit in the trip, not really knowing how because it would mean a huge detour. But maybe at the end of the trip we could finish by that.

The trip went on, we enjoyed Patagonia a lot, but were starting to get cold, we enjoyed Chile where we spent most of our time, and our plan for after Santiago was to cross back to Argentina, and do a lot of bus between cities to continue going north. But, we realised, we did not want to ride buses from cities to cities, and reconsidered a bit.

We found cheap flight tickets from Santiago to Buenos Aires, from where we could take a long night bus to Iguazu! Sounds nice on the paper, but then what? We also figured out we could actually “reconnect” on our primary route by crossing Paraguay as well! New country, new possibility, more of South America… Awesome! So we just did that!

We took the flight from Santiago to Buenos Aires, over the Andes, but too much clouds to see anything, and mostly just a lot of bad turbulences. And then crossed Buenos Aires during Friday rush hour to get to the bus terminal. And sit for 18 hours in an overnight bus to reach Iguazu.

For enduring that a bit better, we went all in and booked ourselves a “Premium Suite Bed Service. So instead of being in a bus seat, we actually have an almost fully inclinable seat, airplane business class style, some meals, and a tv screen. What we did not book was a shower, but we got that too, as during the night we passed through the thunderstorm of the century and it poured down rain for hours outside the bus at first, and inside too at some point, when the ventilation system started to leak on us. Fan-tas-tic!

 

When we actually arrived in Puerto Iguazu, we did what we usually do after checking into the hostel. A good shower, and then out to explore the town or in that case village. But this time, for the first time since we started, we could do it in flip flops and t-shirts! Tropical climate is good and enjoyable after witnessing the arrival of winter in the South. Even when you meet tropical rain on your way to the supermarket.

 

And then Iguazú. Or Iguacu, as we started our exploration of the waterfalls on the Brazilian side.

The two days we spent by the waterfalls will remain as highlights of our trip for sure. No words can describe really that wonder of nature, the sight of it was astonishing, and we will try to describe our visit and share it to you.

On both sides of the river, once you entered the park, you need a ride in a mini train or a bus into the jungle to actually come closer to the river. And from there you start getting closer and experience Iguazú. You also receive information about the surrounding jungle, its inhabitants and the risk of encountering hungry jaguars, monkeys, or coatis. For example, everywhere you can see horrifying pictures of bloody hands bitten by animals…

Don’t know what a coati is? Well, it is like a big raccoon, that lives in groups of coatis and in Iguazu, they mostly follow tourists and salvage their food. They are cute until you actually see their super sharp teeth and claws and their strong jaws. At that moment you realise that you should double check your back before eating your sandwich!

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Meet the Coati.

On both sides of the waterfalls (Brazil and Argentina) you mostly walk on catwalks that brings you closer to the falls. At Iguazú, it is not one single waterfall that makes the site crazy, it is the quantities of them, more than 280 of them, create the spectacular views. Most of them are located on the Argentine side, so from there you can walk very close to the very edge or bottom of them, as different circuits take you on both levels. It creates a lot of variety on the views and very pleasant walks.

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Argentine side
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Little one on the Argentine side
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Argentine side
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Anybody needs a shower?

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And Moses opened the Red Sea…
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Argentine side

On Brazilian side, because it is opposite obviously, you get a more global view, and only from there can you understand the whole size of it. The views are less variated, but it doesn’t mean less good, far from there. Only from Brazil side can you realise how immense the sight is. There is one catwalk that take you straight over the water, onto some awesome viewing platforms.

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The grand vista from Brazilian side

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The platforms
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You will be wet.
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On the edge.

As you approach the waterfalls, and get a first sight of them, they immediately lift your spirit, as if you saw something magic, or sacred. When you find yourself close to them, feeling the water breeze on your face and being surrounded by them on almost every side, you feel such excitement and at the same time you are in awe. We will try to bring the feeling closer to you with pictures, but not even a picture can really bring you the experience of it, you have to go there (and on both sides)!

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From the top, at the Devil’s Throat
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Yeah !
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Devil’s Throat, the biggest of them all.

These two days felt like out of space and time for us, it is easy to have your thoughts carried away by the waterfalls, just by standing still, looking at them for hours.

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Panorama
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Happy wet faces
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Magic!

 

The conclusion of it is that it was a well worthy detour!

We keep hiking in Patagonia, and we like it!

After getting our breath taken away by the huge glacier Perito Moreno, we continued our journey further North into Argentine Patagonia, to arrive during Easter weekend in the very quiet village of El Chaltén.

It is only a short bus ride by Patagonian standards (a bit more than three hours), but as usual it is a fantastic one. Patagonia, at least in Argentina looks like this : there is nothing, absolutely nothing for thousands of kilometres; it is mostly flat, not a single tree to be seen, and the roads are straight for dozens of kilometres. On the sides you just see infinite length of fences, delimiting huge fields, in which you can sometime see cows, or sheep, or even horses. There are also groups of Guanacos, (a super cute and wild animal, related to the llama family. Seriously look at them on google, they are so cute), or if you’re lucky you can spot big flightless birds, similar to ostriches.

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The endless flatness ends at some point to be met by huge mountains, glaciers and high peaks. This is the Andes. And this is were things are happening, at least for us so far.

That is the reason we’ve come to El Chaltén, it is located within the Glacier National Park, and it has several famous hikes that we intend to walk.

Our first day here was half a day, since we arrived around lunchtime with the bus. We decided to take it easy, and as the weather was splendid, decided to do some of the small hikes around town. Typical us, we ended up doing ALL the small hikes available around town, and the small day ended up being a 16km + of walk! But we got to see some nice waterfall, some nice lookout points above town and the surrounding pampa. IMG_8846

And also we spent a bit of time in the microscopic shops in the village to gather food for our lunches the following days.

 

Second day, first real hiking day. We leave the hostel just as the sun is about to rise and we start to climb up away from the village. Actually, we almost start to run, as it seems Fred had taken too much coffee for breakfast. He says it is because he wants to see and take a pic of the rising sun on the high peaks, but there is actually one hour and half of climb before we can actually see the mountains. So halfway through this madness, Merima calms him down, and we then take a more steady and reasonable pace as we need to save some energy for later.

Good idea, because the hike is long, 11 km one way. It goes up for some time at the beginning, but after that is flat for 6km. The views are wonderful, we walk into an upper valley, between old forest with incandescent coloured trees, torrents, and high grass fields that are still frozen. And in the background the mountains, the high mass of rock, that is the Cerro Fitz Roy, dominates all the others peaks.

 

IMG_8883.jpgAs the sun is rising at the same time as we are climbing, the valley lights up, and the colours are changing fast. From an all white, frost covered vegetation to a wonderful array of autumn colours. A bit of green, but mostly yellows, oranges, and red trees everywhere. And the heat is rising as well. Revealing to us one of Patagonia mystery : at this time of the year, if you stand in the sun it is 18°C, if you are in the shadows, it is max 3°C. We spend a bit of time taking away, and putting on different layers of clothes throughout the day.

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Finally we almost reached the end of the hike for the day. One kilometre left to go, and it is a biggie ! If it was mostly flat for the last 6km, this one is going up. Only going up. 400 meters up exactly. To climb that is like climbing a stair were for each step you take, you have to go up 40 cm. That makes each step much higher that your knee level. Needless to say it was an intense climb, and with the boiling sun in our backs we did sweat a bit ! But the reward was worth it as we reached the Laguna de Los Tres, the final point of the climb. Up there, a little lake was formed at the foot of the peaks, below the glaciers. The views are stunning, and as the sky is completely cloud free, we can see every single of the summits around us. And identify them. There is the huge Fitz Roy, but also the smaller ones, Saint-Exupery, Mermoz and Guillaumet! The panorama is beautiful, even though Merima’s after the climb was more like : “What?, that’s it? We just climbed and sweat that much for this? We could see exactly everything looking the same from down there. There is just a little lake more”. But after a bit of rest and some well deserved lunch, all seems to go better. We spent a bit of time just chilling out enjoying the views and the sun and resting our knees for we would need them for going down the crazy hill.

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The way back went well, even though at the end of the day we felt pretty tired and had sore feet. The fact that now we were turning our back to the magical views also took away a bit of the motivation obviously.

Third day, second big hike. We start on the same basis than the previous day, a similar distance to walk about 20+ km for the day. Departure at the same time as the sun rises and brings a bit of warmth, or at least we thought so. Because today is actually far more clouds than yesterday. And we are walking towards another upper valley, with a different sun exposure and because the sun is hidden by the clouds, it is much colder than the previous day. Everything is still very frost, even when we get closer to lunch time. Today again, we have a small first climb up to get away from the village, then a long flat part until we reach the Laguna Torre. Another little lake at the end of a glacier, surrounded by other high mountains and more glaciers.

IMG_9096The main difference,appart from the fact that the mountains are different, is that today the lake is frozen! There are even some icebergs stuck in the ice in the middle. Ironical no? Probably because the walk was almost too easy to get here, we decided to continue a bit and climb one side of the lake. It is steep, and it is pretty unstable path as it is mostly a big pile of small rocks. But, again it is very much worth it as when we arrive at the end of the path, we can have a much better view on the surrounding glacier, as well as the Cerro Torre, the tall rocky tower.

IMG_9161Similarly to yesterday, the walk back to the village is a little less interesting, even though Fred decided to take an alternative way, that happened to be a mistake at first, but a good shortcut in the end. And also a beautiful walk into one of the most beautiful forest we’ve seen so far (and we have seen and walk through some everyday, and we live in Sweden!).IMG_9191

After a final look backward, we continue down and soon we’re back in the hotel, the legs and the knees are a bit more painful than the previous night and we decide it is time to eat some carbs, so we order huge plates of food and french fries at our hostel.IMG_9201

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The following day, the weather has worsened and we get to experience the crazy and infamous Patagonian winds. We decide to take it easy, wake up late, enjoy our breakfast and then just do pretty much nothing, but some picture editing, blogging, and also planning a bit our next adventures. We go out a bit to buy food and bus tickets for the next leg of the journey. We will return to Chile soon (or as Merima calls it, the country with less worse yogurts! 😂). We went into town flying, with the wind in our backs, we came back facing it and it probably took three time the amount of time. Also, it is not easy to walk with almost closed and crying eyes, and with the hoods of our jackets serving mostly as parachute. Sometimes it is very good to do nothing, but drink coffee and eat pie and be cosy inside and see the elements unleashed outside.

 

Another day in Patagonia, and this time we get up early again. We have another hike planned for the day. We have to cross the whole village before reaching the start of the path, and again as we start, we climb up. Actually today, we only climb up. The idea is to reach the summit of a mountain, located a bit further away from the previous day, but to climb much higher in order to have a 360° view of he area. So we have more than a thousands meter to climb up today. But it goes quite well as it is not as steep as the previous days.  We can feel that the day is much colder than the previous ones, mostly because it is still very windy. Half of the climb is in a forest so we are protected, but the moment our feet leaves the trees protection, we are feeling like being blown away. We are climbing up, above the tree line so there is nothing to slow down the tempest and we’re facing it. Merima just hates it from the inside of her bones, Fred enjoys it, laughs at it, and decided that all of that just was making the day more epic. He even started to sing epic music from movies such as The Lord of The Rings, because it was very appropriate!

IMG_9296As we are above the tree line, it also means that now the views are getting more and more epic by the minute. With the dark clouds, playing hide and seek with the sun, it creates a very dramatic atmosphere and the sun beams of light coming down onto the mountains participate grandly in that theatrical epicness.

We continue to walk up for another half an hour until we reach a first mirador. It gives a very nice view of the two valleys and lakes we hike to the previous days, but it is not the 360°C view promised. For that, there is a final climb, on a very steep path going all the way to the summit of this mountain. No cover from the wind, nor from the ice bits that are starting to fall on us. (Actually they are more flying horizontally into our faces, they must come from the glaciers,and tops of snowy mountains around us). It is an epic climb, and when we reached the summit some minutes later we feel happy, relieved and also cold! But here it is, the 360° view, at 1500 m above sea level. On one side, the mountains, not all of them as some are hidden in the clouds. On another side, more mountains, not in the clouds and some glaciers, and on a last side, the pampa, flat, empty and with no limits, but yet with brilliant colours. We take a bit of time enjoying the moment, looking in all directions and taking pictures, but the wind is still very present and we start to head down.

IMG_9335IMG_9292After the steep descent, it’s back on the path, and even though it is lunch time and we’re hungry there is no shelter to take a break. So we just start to walk back down to the valley. Actually we almost start to run, as it is going down, and the path is easy and not steep. And because it is Merima leading the way, she accelerates more and more, just running towards the shelter of the forest. Once we make it we can breath a bit, sit down and eat our well-deserved sandwiches. And then continue our walk down to the village, still facing the wind, still fighting the elements. Once we reach town, we decided to recover some more energy Argentine-style and decide to stop for some waffles and their buckets of dulce de leche. 

We really enjoyed our time in this little village. We feel that we’ve been very lucky with the weather the first days, and even the windy day we went out, it was the less worse of the bad days, so we could definitely enjoy the full epicness of the landscapes and the panoramas of the region. We did three long one-day-hikes and we were happy to find a warm hostel and bed every night when we got back in town.

 

And now for some more adventures, we will be taking our first night bus to continue the journey into Patagonia. Heading once more towards Chile.

After the rain, the ice

You remember our adventures in Patagonia ? We came back tired, with wet clothes and backpacks, and also with holes in the tent and the bag. Well once we found a roof for the night we started to dry all our equipment, and re-check all the little damages done by the mice.

After a good and long night of sleep we went for a walk in the small seaside village of Puerto Natales, Chile with two mains goals : do some laundry, and repair Fred’s backpack. Finding a laundry was relatively easy in this used-to-dirty-tourists-city so we dropped our 7 kilos of clothes, and went on to find somebody with a sewing machine.

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Puerto Natales
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Puerto Natales

Without knowing it, we started a treasure hunt, entering several shop, showing the holes in the backpack and asking in Fred’s terrible mix of Spanish and Swedish, for somebody that could fix it. In every shop the same answer, try this shop there, go to that shop they’ll do it. After a couple of hours like that we ended up in the small house of a lady that all the village agreed she was the one for the job, to finally realise that her sewing machine was not big enough to handle the big backpack. Too bad. At a point, Fred started to dismantle his backpack to make it smaller so it could go under the machine, big mistake…turned out to be VERY hard to put back, and took several hours of hard work 😩Apparently, according to Osprey customer service, it was not meant to be dismantled (amateurs!). So we went for plan B. Plan B is a lot of duct tape, and on the critical outside part of the bag we bought some little tissue patches with the flags of Chile and Patagonia that we will sew over the duct tape to mask it a bit. And in the next countries, mice or not we will continue the collection of flags.

After two days of full rest, and planning the rest of the trip we headed out in early morning to take the bus to El Calafate, in Argentine Patagonia. So yes, another border crossing, another series of stamps in the passport !

El Calafate is a big hub for Patagonia, so it is a small town, where you can find a couple of banks, a lot of travel agencies that all specialise in one thing : Ice related stuff. 

Ice? Yes! Because 80 km away from town is a huge national park called the Glaciers NP. And as you would expect it it is full of glaciers, that all belong to the Southern Patagonian Ice Field.  Stuck in the mountains between Chile and Argentina, it is one of the biggest source of fresh water on Earth after Antartica and Artic. It stretches for about 350 km! The Grey glacier, that we saw in the Torres del Paine NP, in Chile one week ago was part of it too. Well El Calafate is the place to be if you want to explore this huge ice field, and close to town (80km, that is basically next door in Patagonian distances), is the Perito Moreno Glaciar. Not the biggest of the area by far, but definitely the most accessible.

You can do all kind of things to discover a glacier, just look at it (from a safe distance), fly over it in helicopter, take a boat to go closer to the icebergs, do some ice walking and ice climbing on the glacier itself. We decided to take a bus and have a look at it by ourselves. And what a moment !

We went in the early morning with one of the first buses and reached the glacier by 10:00 am when very few other people where present. We started to walk on the footbridges in the forest, and when we finally got to see it, we were both stunned.

Imagine a super nice blue lake, stuck between high peaks, and at one side of it a huge wall of ice. It is 5 km wide, and between 50 to 70m high ! Quite a wall ! And the closer you come to it, the more you realise how crazy all of that is.

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It is huge, it is beautiful, it makes you feel so small. And then you stop walking, take a sit and listen. Because a glacier is alive. It constantly makes some rambling noise, similar to the thunder. And if you pay attention you can see that every now and then, some bits of this big white icy wall falls into the lake, creating even bigger noise, and huge splashes of water and ice. And then, these bits of iceberg start slowly to float on the lake.

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Tiny people, and big glacier.

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We were walking on the different platforms for more than four hours, enjoying the different lookouts, listening to the cracking sounds, and waiting for the next chunks of ice to come down. It felt like we could have spent the entire day just doing that and nothing more. It was really a magical day and we enjoyed every single minute out there!

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We hope the pictures will show you a bit of that magic !

 

Next we continue to head north, further into Patagonia and we plan to do more hiking!

The End of The World, been there, done that !

We left Buenos Aires and its lovely and warm autumn weather with a bit of melancholy and a sunburn on Fred’s forehead. These three days went very fast, were very intense as we walked A LOT to discover the town, tried out our first local dishes including some tasty empanadas and a huge piece of meat, and we did enjoy the really nice 26 degrees and sun. Felt like very hot Swedish summer to us, and was a very pleasant feeling. But we had to keep moving because 3000 km south of Buenos Aires, autumn is much colder and similar to the weather we had in Uppsala before leaving home : uncertain, cold and humid with chances of snow at anytime.

So we took a plane early in the morning, and before you know, we are preparing for landing in Tierra del Fuego. And what a landing ! Ushuaia airport is located on the Beagle Channel that separates Chile and Argentina, and links the Atlantic and Pacific oceans together. On both sides of the channel are very high mountains as it is the very end of the Andes mountains. The views were just stunning, even though it was cloudy, we saw first the top of every peak, bleached by snow, and as we went down, the full range of the mountains unravelled. Fantastic!

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And for three days we got to discover Ushuaia, located at the End of the World. This is actually a very nice marketing operation, as technically Ushuaia is quite a fairly big city and harbour and doesn’t leave you with the impression that you’re at the end of the civilisation at all but more in a ski resort town. And on the other side, more in the South there are Chileans towns or villages as well. So Ushuaia is actually the last southernmost argentine city, or the southernmost big city before the (real) end of the world. But it is true that on the map it seems far. And for us it is the starting point of the journey.

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While visiting the area, another thing surprised us is the constant references to one historical event. Everywhere in town, in every shop, on every car there are stickers that say “Las Malvinas son Argentinas”. The conflict between Argentina and the UK that escalated into war 30 years ago for the dispute over the ruling of the Islas Malvinas / Falkland islands has let deep marks into the local population. We even arrived from the airport taxi into town when a ceremony with a lot of important people and military forces as well as citizens where celebrating the argentine assault on the British positions. And later during the day, after Merima insisted to visit the local Hard Rock Cafe, we have been offered to add a white and azur flag on our jackets! People are proud in Ushuaia and they don’t like British that much. Funniest door sign was food on the gates of the harbour : “We do not welcome english pirates in this harbour”.

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After discovering downtown Ushuaia and witness and awesome sunset, we went for a little walk to the Glaciar Martial the next day, located in the mountains above the city. It was supposed to be a little day walk that ended up in a very long hike as we decided to start from downtown instead of taking a cab to the beginning of the trail. So 24km, “little day hike, my leg”. But it was nice to see the suburbs of Ushuaia, not just the main street downtown. And by the time we reached the trail we realised it was actually more of a ski slope without snow that we had now to climb. But it was worth it as the views from the top of the hikes (about 850m) on the city, and the Beagle channel were splendid. And on the mountain side we could reach not too far from the glacier end. Very nice as well.

The following day we did what we do best so far : Walk ! So we took a bus and went a bit outside town where the Tierra del Fuego National Park starts. And for the whole day we explored most of the trails in the park, the ones that were not going too up in the mountains anyway because the weather started to be capricious so we sought cover in the very old and dense forests instead of trying to admire the lookout points. We really enjoyed that day, between the forest and the sea. And as the autumn colours were really kicking in it made for a very nice atmosphere to walk there in the mist without seeing anybody. We ended up with another more-than-20-km day walk. No need to say how easily we felt asleep every night back in the hostel.

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But every thing as an end, even our stay at the end of the world, which is more like the actual beginning of Let’s Go to Quito adventures, and we start to move closer to home. Now that we’ve been here at the end of everything, every step we make takes us closer.

And the next step requires a 15 hours long bus travel and a border change as we cross over to Chile to start our discovery of Patagonia with more hikes ! We’ll write about that soon !

First South American stamp on the passport!

And it is an Argentine stamp! After a night flight of 18 hours we landed before the sunrise in Buenos Aires.

After a very smooth connection with the airport shuttle, and sooner than you know it we are walking San Telmo, one lively neighbourhood (but still half sleepy) of Buenos Aires with our big backpacks and hiking shoes on. It is 8 o’clock in the morning and we already feel and appreciate the warmth of the Argentine autumn. 25 degrees, that is a warm Swedish summer day, and given that some 20 hours earlier it was snowing when we left home, we felt glad. We drop the bags in our accommodation, get a refreshing shower and head out again. It’s time to explore, and we have a long day ahead!

We start to walk towards the reasonably sized Plaza de Mayo, the city central point, and we find it almost completely locked down, a big stage being installed and some dudes doing sounds checking. A big concert we thought, but it was actually the preparation for a big protest, that turn out to block downtown Buenos Aires for several hours later that day. Fred felt almost at home there 😂.

After admiring the sights in the area, we cross the GIGANTIC avenue that passes nearby. 13 files of cars and buses unleashed at the same time. It is impressive, and even if you run, it is hard to be done with the crossing before the pedestrian green light is off. Crazy !

Our steps took us then to the area of Recoleta, home to Buenos Aires most visited landmark : A cemetery! 👻👻👻 True story! El Cemetario de Recoleta is actually quite a thing to witness as well. On a relatively small area, thousands of tombs and mausoleums are packed on each other, living only very narrows alleys for the visitors to wander. It seems that every important character of Argentina history is buried here. Politicians, Generals, Governors, other big guys. And because showing off is important, every mausoleum is bigger, crazier than the next one. It is very similar to the Père Lachaise cemetery in Paris, but with more craziness into the tombs design, even though according to Merima it sucks because “There is not Jim Morrison´s tomb here”. 😞

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On the way back we passed by some of the busiest street in the city and after many many km, we decided to go for an easy evening including empanadas and local beer.

Second day, new day, new adventure: We are off (still on foot) to explore two new areas, San Telmo, where we actually lived and La Boca.

San Telmo has very particular charm, small streets, old colonials buildings that are in very bad shape and very tall and ugly concrete buildings are mixed altogether. It is a very lively area, and best observed at night when the Porteños (people of Buenos Aires) go out. A couple of streets seems to be dedicated to antiques shops. Some of the antiques shops are even present in the area´s covered market. You can end up eating your breakfast, buying fresh bananas, and do some window shopping for vintage telephones all at once. (yes we did!)

After a good breakfast, it’s time to walk again towards la Boca, several kilometers south of downtown. We crossed the less safe, poor area and you could realise the sudden change in the environment, the people and the streets. We reached La Bombonera (which was a pretty ugly thing according to Merima), but is a big thing for Buenos Aires as it is the stadium of the football team of the city : La Boca Junior. Around it we saw some statues of famous argentine football players. And another famous guy, I think : IMG_8108

After only a few minutes further walking, a whole new city opened up, we reached the Caminito in la Boca! Buildings of all colours and shapes mixed together creating an almost magical world, with turist and artists mingling around. There was street tango in the bars and restaurants, many small souvenir shops and interesting buildings to explore. It is said that the people living here were working at the docks and decided to use old corrugated steel pieces and paint salvaged from containers to build and color their walls. The result is a very nice patchwork of colors. We really liked this place.

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Three doors. Which do you pick ?
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The artist, putting the latest details.
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When the school kids have to much free time and chalk!
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Football ground behind houses

After a long walk back, and some stop on the way for trying to buy some fresh tomatoes and salad (Guess who wanted something else than empanadas on the menu), we can have a late lunch in our accommodation, and a well deserved nap. When we wake up the night has fallen, it is 7pm, and we feel like it is dinner time. But we are in Argentina, and dinner at 7pm is apparently not something in Argentina. All the bars/restaurants are empty, the staff has barely started to prepare the tables. We will have to wait a bit and go for a little pre-dinner walk to give us extra appetite. Once the decent hour of 8pm has been reached, we can finally pretend to get food, and decide to go for a traditional 400g piece of beef meat that costed slightly more than a Swedish kebab. “Quel délice!” said a much happier Fred at the end of the meal.

Day three, and we´re on the move again for another part of the town: Puerto Madero, the newest side of Buenos Aires, on the east side of town. Once again it feels like a very different atmosphere than the previous days and areas. Here it is super high skyscrapers, all steel and glass, but yet with a classy retro roof, large streets, modern everything. And separated from the rest of the city by some huge abandoned docks. Urbanism seemed complicated and this bit of the city still feels very disconnected, but at least architectural creativity has no limits!

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We continued our walk further away to reach the Buenos Aires Ecological Reserve. Another fun fact : this place used to be a dumpster where rocks and gravel that were excavated from building motorways around the city have been thrown into the sea, or the end of the Rio del Plata river. The quantity of them was so big that it started to read some extra land, on which birds and nature decided to nest and today it is a very swampy and green area, filled with animal and vegetal life. And since it has been turned into a reserve it is a very nice spot to walk, bike or run and find a getaway of cool breeze and fresh air. It was a very pleasant change from the past days in the chaos, the dust and the noise of the town.

At the end of the day, we had walked a lot again, and had no more energy left to dance tango !

It has been three intense days, lots of walk into very different parts of the city, and now it is time to leave and to heads towards South, were the great outdoors are awaiting.

Next stop : The End of the World, at Ushuaia!