martial_glacierWe slept pretty much the whole flight to BA and we arrived refreshed. We caught a taxi to our apartment (a bus would have been counter productive) and when we arrived, I was wondering where the hell we were! I had booked a gorgeous little apartment on laterooms.com as a surprise for Kim’s birthday (he thought we were going to a hostel).

So the area looked kind of dodgy, but we had a walk around and realised it was actually a really funky area with loads of awesome looking bars and restaurants.

So Kim picked one for his birthday lunch that was nothing short of awesome! We sat in an upstairs mezzanine area and when we looked at the menu, we could see someone below us with a huge chopping board full of tapas type food. So we ordered that – it was scrumptious!!

After lunch, we headed out for a nice long walk along Santa Fe, a shopping street west of the city centre. Kim chose a sushi place for his birthday dinner where the waitress’ skirt was so short, we thought maybe she was a pole dancer. But we had a great meal with a dessert that was literally a tower and headed home.

Next day was miserably wet, cold and windy. We decided that museums would be the smartest thing to do on such a day, so we navigated the bus system and eventually made it to the Evita museum. She seemed like a pretty impressive lady and we found out later that the building was actually one of the women’s houses that she set up.

We decided to write the day off and watch movies in our apartment with a nice home cooked meal.

Next day we headed out to see some sights. We went down to San Martin Plaza, walked around for a bit and asked to send some stuff home – only to find out we needed our passport to do so. Doh! So we moved on and headed for Recoleta cemetery. Along the way we found a place that would indeed send our stuff back to Oz – without a passport. Another angry Argentinean woman encountered back at the first place.

recoletta_cemeteryBut we eventually got to the cemetery. But it was more like a dead village than a cemetery. Seriously, this place is kind of weird. There are full on shrines here for all the rich people. Not only that, there are families of dead people stacked on top of one another. Some are beautiful; some have been left unattended for decades with the coffins within reach of a bystander. Ew. Kim completely freaked out and made a beeline for the exit after we eventually found Evita’s shrine. For me, it was the cats that freaked me out. There were heaps of them and they did not flinch at the sight of humans. It was like they were rich people reincarnated into cats’ bodies and were just as snobby in their new outfits.

So after that, we wandered past a cinema where we watched Sector 9 (or District 9 in English). It’s a wonderful thing having so many movies with just Spanish subtitles! After that, we found a minimarket, bought some meat, veggies and headed home to cook a lovely dinner. Thanks Kim :)

On our last day in Buenos Aires, we figured we probably should see the main attractions. So Ben found a free BA tour where you pay the guide tips only. Rated number 1 of things to do in BA, so we figured it was worth the early rise! 11am we met at the Republic Plaza where we saw Congress and Kilometer Zero (where all the signs in Argentina mark the center of Buenos Aires) with one side plastered with hooker business cards and the other left clean as it was a religious symbol. Strange!

But the Monument to the Two Congresses was fenced off to stop vandalism that is clearly a problem here. We also heard about the more than daily protests that happen between here and Plaza del Mayo. It seems the current president is not very well liked at all in these parts. Considering the government had just issued statistics that stated 13% of the population was living in poverty whereas the people believe it is more like 30% or more.

So we wandered the streets, crossing what the Argentineans believe to be the widest avenue in South America (well it used to be) only to find that 2 buildings were not knocked down to build this huge avenue – one very pretty, the other a complete eyesore! We then moved on toward the Pink House, where the president ‘works’ after passing a very famous coffee shop. After 3 hours, we finished at the Obelisk.

We got a recommendation from the guide for lunch, but when we got there, the waiter was terrible, the service was sooo slow and the food was ordinary, so we left without leaving a tip (or even waiting for the bill) as we wanted to see some more of BA.

After we left, we headed to a few places we wanted to check out on our own. Then we had a submarino (glass of hot milk with a submarine shaped chocolate that you stir in) at Cafe Tortoni (the famous and oldest coffee shop), took the oldest subway in the Southern Hemisphere 2 stops down to Plaza del Mayo then headed toward San Telmo.

It was about here that Ben realised that he was still lactose intolerant. In his own words, he said he experienced all stages of grief before finally reaching acceptance and needing desperately to beg with the owner of a bar who was closing up if he could use the loo. “Baños por favor, POR FAVOR!!!”.

poodle_poofWe didn’t quite have enough time to go into San Telmo, so we relented and headed for Puerto Madero for a wander. This reminded us a lot of Melbourne along the Yarra! One last stop – Galerias Pacífico – a shopping mall in a beautiful building, before we met up with the second free BA tour that left from San Martin Plaza. This plaza was full of a cotton like thing that grew in pods on the trees. Though it looked like a poodle had exploded!

This tour was aimed at the aristocratic families that live/d in the fancy neighbourhoods of BA. This was quite entertaining as we were also on ‘safari’ where our guide would yell ‘LION’ if she saw a lady who had clearly had too much plastic surgery. Can you believe that the procedure is included in health insurance? Every 2 years, you get another procedure! Crazy!

After we finished this tour, we headed to Freddo – where the Dulce dul Leche con Brownie is THE BEST ice cream ever. Kim was the one who stumbled on this one (as always) and I’m hanging to get back to BA to try a whole one for myself :)

Next day I was telling the taxi driver I wanted to go to the airport in Spanish. He was all confused though and I had no idea why. Luckily a guy from the building understood what I meant and told him. Who knew that the domestic airport was actually called and air park??!!

end_of_the_worldSo anyway, we flew to Ushuaia, the city at the end of the world. But seemingly typically Argentinean, there is another town south of it – Puerto Williams that is in Chile. So I guess the catch is in the fact it’s a ‘city’ lol! But as the flight came in, we caught our first glimpse of the beautiful snow capped mountains and Beagle Canal. It was breathtaking!!

We checked into our hotel (yes, HOTEL!) and this place is a gem – Hotel Austral if you ever get there. They spoke perfect English so we asked a thousand questions and planned our few days there. As we got there in the afternoon, we decided to check out the town’s museums first up. So we went to the Naval Museum and then the Museo del Fin del Mundo (End of the World Museum). Both were a bit overrated, but the latter wasn’t too bad. We did learn a lot about the yamana who were basically wiped out because European settlers brought in diseases that they couldn’t compete with.

That night we tried Cordero patagónico (Patagonian Lamb) that is cooked on a spit-like thing. It was far too salty, but the salad bar was good and the Flamb wasn’t too bad either. We revisited old times by spending pretty much the whole night chatting which was really refreshing.

end_of_the_world_2Next day, we were up early for a cruise on the Beagle Canal. The weather wasn’t too bad and the sun was out, but Kim still took some seasickness tablets, just to be sure! The scenery was beautiful, especially looking back into town from the bay. We cruised past a lighthouse, seal colonies and bird colonies before landing on an island to go for a quick walk. It was FREEZING outside, but I was in ski pants and rugged up to the wazoo, so there wasn’t a single cm of skin that was exposed on my body, so I was toasty :)

We got back early enough to get in a trip to the Martial Glacier. When we got there, we learnt that the last lift was in 2 hours and that the climb to the top took longer than that. So we went anyway and walked part way up before realising we weren’t going to come close to making it, so we opted for some perspective photos instead! I think that snow turns adults into kids, because we had an absolute ball up there in the snow while we were trying not to crack the ice into the river that was flowing underneath us!

We must have been tired, because we had an afternoon nap before getting a great recommendation from the hotel owner for a restaurant. This place served a good old hearty meal that was exactly what I was after.

Next day we were up early-ish to visit the Tierra del Fuego National Park. We thought we would be smart and cost efficient by taking a taxi for 25 pesos out to the park. This was a saving of 125 pesos! Except we soon realised that we had to walk an additional 8km to where the walks started. No problem, we can do that!

terra_del_fuegoSo off we go, entertaining ourselves along the way and convincing ourselves that we needed the walk and it would replace the walks that were closed due to the season anyway. We were almost at the start of the walks (ie, end of the 8km) when a transfer bus stopped and asked us if we realised how far it was to go. We said we knew. He asked how we were getting home and we shrugged and said we didn’t know yet! We assured him we were fine, so he drove off only to come back about 3 minutes later. He must have felt sorry for us, because he drove us to the first walk and showed us which walk we should do!

We first walked to Lagoo Negra, then down to the Lapataia Bay where we crossed a few people, including some from our cruise the day before and a girl who looked cold, wet and miserable. It was here that we hit the end of Ruta 3 – a highway that goes from Buenos Aires all the way to this point. We kept walking until we found a deserted Beaver dam and then followed the road back to the bus stop as we no longer trusted the map that didn’t match up to the trails.

Tired at this point and absolutely wind blown, we finally find where the bus departs and ask if this is the place. We were stressing because we only had 114 pesos and we thought the bus was 150 pesos for the 3 of us. Luckily (as our patience was fairly thin at this point), a lovely girl by the name of Sandra helped us with our Spanish. Yes it was the place, the bus is only 75 pesos for the 3 of us and weren’t you the miserable looking girl we passed on our walk? She sure was! She was certainly one unhappy chappy!!! lol!

penguinWe had a great chat to her on the bus back into town where she recommended a gorgeous tea house she had found the day before. So we all sat in there together to thaw out and eat some lunch. We had not eaten anything all day at this point (it was about 4pm), so we were ravenous! But this place was awesome – it had a whole heap of old antiques and the loos had old style underwear to indicate male/female. And the penguin desserts were just gorgeous!

We said goodbye to Sandra and had a quick shop around town before organising skiing for Kim and I the following day at Cerro Castor.

So we were up early and keen to get on the ski fields. First challenge, ski hire. We were lucky enough to have an English speaking man at a shop a few doors down from the hotel. Sorted. He got us a transfer, also sorted :) Get to the fields (while it was snowing very heavily), find out the return time is 5:30pm – all good.

After buying lift passes, getting an essential ski map, bouncing around to find where to hire a locker and finally getting sorted, we’re ready to go. I engage the help of a very friendly English speaking local to find out exactly which runs we should try – and what order!

skiingSo we jump on the ski lift and it’s a long one. It goes up and up and up. So we start thinking… how do we get down? lol! We take a look at the ski map and realise it’s a black run at the bottom. Wonderful! lol! All good, we find the baby slopes (called the magic carpet hehe) no worries and have a few goes to get our groove back. We realise we’re definitely not the worst on the slopes which makes us happy and then we set off to find the next slope.

Just to be sure, we stop at the ski school to ask where to go next and the first question he asks is ‘you do turns very good?’. I say ‘maybe not very good, but good’. He gives me a nervous look and then lets me know where to go next. So we spent the next few hours exploring these slopes and having lunch at the restaurant that we ski into (I love that part of skiing!).

The second lift we take brings us to a point where the snow is so heavy and wind is blowing so hard that you can barely see ANYTHING! It was soooo cold at that point we were wondering what on earth we were doing up here! After our second stop to warm up, we decide that it’s too cold up here and we might make our way back down. I asked a guy who spoke very little English if we would be ok doing the black run at the bottom to get out and he said ‘si, muy facil’ (yes, very easy), so we thought we’d be ok!

So off we go down the blue run to the black run. We loved the blue run loads, mainly because it was pretty much empty with noone zooming by us (ok, me). When we got to the black run, we both had scares. I had a scare because after pretty much ploughing most of the way down that part, I let go and zoomed down, only to realise it was VERY steep and I went much faster than I intended and there was another slope beyond it and you couldn’t see where it ended! So after almost pooing my pants, I finally stopped and regained my composure!

Kim had a scare because as he was going down the same part of the black run, he was pooing himself so much he wasn’t looking directly in front of him, but rather at the aforementioned slope after the slope. So he went straight over a small hill in the wrong direction and ended up going backwards… VERY FAST and completely freaking out. We both needed to clean out our jocks after that run!

But as usual, we are stupid, so when we got to the bottom, we both said ‘so, wanna go again?’ and proceeded to do the whole thing over again. This time, we both went slower over that black run and finished without issue (except Kim did stack at one point on the blue run). We were going to do it one more time before our transfer arrived, but we figured we had already tempted fate and we were lucky to have all bones still in tact. So now we can say we skied at the end of the world! Whoo!

Next day we flew out of Ushuaia to El Calafate, a little further north in Patagonia. We could have taken a bus, but it takes more than 12 hours with faffing around in and out of Chile, for the same price (or very similar) as a flight. We got to the most awesome hostel (American del Sur) where we were bombarded with honest and frank information from 2 very hungover hosts lol! And they were still very friendly and helpful!

perito_morenoWe checked out the town, ate some delicious crepes and rented a car before going to bed nice and early as we had planned to go and see Perito Moreno Glacier in time for sunrise the next day. Yes, we are crazy. We were up at 4:30am ready to depart at 5:00am for the glacier. After driving for 1.5 hours, we hit the ‘Sigh Corner’ and the ‘wows’ come thick and fast! Our first sight of the glacier! With so many icebergs floating nearby, it’s so cool!

We get into the park, rug up and trek down onto the balconies to take some shots of pre/during/post sunrise. The sight is spectacular! Our breath is completely taken away (and not just from the absolute freezing cold at 0.2 degrees). We hear the enormous grumble and crash of ice breaking off into the water – all without a single other soul in sight. The first busload arrived at about 9am when we were making our way back up to the car to go on our ice trek.

We drove around the corner to the small docks and caught a boat to the other side of the lagoon. We got really close to the glacier on the boat, so more photos!

When we got off, we got ready for our ice trekking tour and then set off. Along the way to the starting point, our guide Cooney tells us all about this and the 300 other glaciers in the Glacier National Park. This is one of the few remaining stable glaciers in the world (ie not receding).

ice_trekkingWe then get to the edge of the glacier where we are fitted with crampons and taught how to walk on ice. So off we go! We weave up and down and around crevices, past drain holes and mini lagoons. It was beautiful! We walked for about 1.5 hours, stopping every now and then for photos etc. At the end they served us whisky and dulce del leche (which is everywhere in Argentina). Then we headed back where we had lunch, took more photos and heard more crashes :)

After the boat ride back, we jumped in the car and picked up Cooney (our guide) who was hitchhiking back to El Calafate. He was good to chat to and gave us loads of advice. As we drove out of the park, we realised that we had bypassed paying the park entry because we were there earlier than the fee collectors!

Once back in town, we rewarded ourselves with some more crepes from the same shop. The lady in there was lovely and seemed delighted we were back! Then the boys dropped off the car – likening it to ‘Dood where’s my car’ – and we had a nap. Ended up eating dinner at 11pm that night!

The next day, we headed for El Chalten for the day. This is a tiny town a few hundred kilometres from El Calafate. The main attraction is Fitz Roy mountain, so we found a 4 hour return trail to go see it. It was a fairly easy climb, but we were still quite warm. Until we reached the lookout point where the wind was howling and chilly, so we huddled behind a rock for shelter while we ate some lunch. We popped out of the wind just long enough to take some shots of Fitz Roy, the distant glacier and then headed off to warm up again!

We got to a lake that was quite pretty and then walked back down. The views were simply stunning with the turquoise rivers and snowcapped mountains. It’s a terrible life! So we got some supplies for our super dooper bus ride we were about to embark on (later that night) and then had a coffee while we waited for the bus to go back to El Calafate.

Once back in town, we had crepes… again! Yes, this place must have loved us! But they were soooo good! We then headed back to the hostel who let us hang around and have showers before our late night bus ride which departed at 3am.

So 2am comes around and we load ourselves up with our packs and set off on the 15 minute walk to the bus station. We had a pack of dogs that escorted us there, but they managed to lock themselves in a paddock so couldn’t see us the whole way!

On the bus we go. And 4 hours later we arrive in Rio Gallegos. After some waiting time, we hop on another bus. Now this bus is luxury. We reserved the cama (bed) bus which has leather seats that recline most of the way back – like a first class plane seat! Whoo! We were pretty excited and spent the day watching movies and napping. 14 hours later we get to Comodoro Rivadaria – which is when I also realised I am luggage minus one camera. I asked (in terrible Spanish) if a girl could call Rio Gallegos to see if they’ve found it, but no luck. In the end, we think it was stolen as our bag was suspiciously open when we got off the bus. Not happy Jan. I lost the El Chalten and backpacking at 3am photos :(

But anyway, not long a wait and we’re off to Bariloche over then next 12 hours. Our seats were still cama seats, but nowhere near as good as the last one. It was overnight, which was good considering we didn’t get fed at all! Once at Bariloche, we figured we might as well keep going to Pucon! So I bought a ticket to Orsono and had some brunch. Unfortunately no cama seats left, so we had to slum it in semi-cama which only reclines 45 degrees with a foot rest. Tough life! 5 hours and 2 customs inspections later and we were in Chile!

I was cursing the drivers for taking so long because I thought we had missed the connection to Pucon. But when I went to the booth in Orsono, they for some reason thought it was 18:30 instead of 19:30, so we got on a bus anyway! When I realised there was a time difference, I asked forgiveness for cursing the drivers, they were actually early! So another semi-cama, but this time only 4 hours to Pucon. Yep, but this stage a 4 hour drive was nothing!! So 45 hours after departing El Calafate, we arrived in Pucon and checked into a hostel run by a very friendly Chilean who waited up for us :)

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