Sparky Travels

March 29, 2011

Sucre

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Waking up in Potosi on the 27th of March, Rick and I joined a group of fellow travellers from our hostel in getting a bus to Sucre. These were Jake, Liam (both Australian), Lara (Swiss), Mia and Marie (both Danish). We arrived in Sucre, the previous capital of Bolivia a few hours later after a rickity bus ride and spent some time trying to find a hostel with space for all seven of us. In the end we plumped for three private rooms in Hostal San Francisco. A nice, clean hotel close to the central plaza with a lovely courtyard.DSC02370

We walked round town to see what was going down (not much) and went for drinks overlooking the Plaza. The buildings in the plaza and surrounds are all bright white, prompting Sucre’s nickname of the White City. Dinner was in a French restaurant that wouldn’t look out of place in any western city, La Taverna. The food was excellent and though expensive for Bolivia was less than £5 per person. I had the Chateaubriand steak which was cooked to perfection. We were all stuffed and looking forward to our comfortable beds so had an early night.

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We started our first full day in Sucre with breakfast in a nice cafe called Florin. I ordered the Pan Bapao, which was a bit of an mystery based on the menu’s description. When it came I was surprised to see an excellent version of the Asian steamed buns I enjoyed so much. So tasty I ordered another one.

The only attraction Sucre seems to offer is a Dinosaur Park just out of town. It is based at a quarry where dinosaur footprints were discovered traversing the quarry wall. The boys weren’t up for it so the three girls and I caught the Dino Bus there. On the way we met Livia, a Swiss girl who joined us for the trip. The Dino Park was pretty modern but not exactly a must see attraction. The dinosaur footprints were relatively interesting and our guide was full of enthusiasm, even if he couldn’t impress the dozen non-plussed Israelis also on our tour.

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Afterwards, the four girls and I ended up at a local teashop in the centre of Sucre for tea and various Bolivian cakes. Not a very manly pursuit, but very tasty.

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We met the boys, went for dinner in another nice restaurant and then drinks in a bar called Bibliocafe. It was pretty quiet, but the 8 of us provided plenty of business.

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We returned to Cafe Florin for a late breakfast on the 29th and then set about gathering supplies for our next destination, Katalla EcoLodge. We’d been told about this place by people in Potosi and it sounded like a perfect little place. Situated 10km outside Sucre, it is a small hostel set in the country with individual cabins. We were picked up in two groups by the guy who worked there and taken on the bumpy track to Katalla.

March 27, 2011

Potosi

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Our 5hr bus to Potosi arrived at 3pm, Rick and I caught a taxi to our chosen hostel - Koala Den -  in the North of the centre. Like many hostels I’ve encountered here, it looks like its seen better days but was comfy enough.

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Potosi holds the title of the highest city in the world and once had great wealth, being one of the richest cities in South America, due to the silver mines which made it famous. Rick and I had a short walk around the steep network of streets but the altitude limited the speed and distance we could cover. We put some much needed – salt encrusted – laundry on and had pizza and beer at the hostel before heading to bed. Our quiet night was due to us booking a tour of the mines the next morning. We’d heard numerous accounts of how scary, dangerous and shocking the tour is, never helped by having to sign a disclaimer absolving the tour company of any responsibility in the event of our death.

We were up early on the 26th and headed to Real Deal Tours where we met our fellow ‘miners’, Sarah & Cecilie from Denmark and a Japanese guy. The five of us were to be led by Efrim, a former guide with Koala Tours who’d been recommended by Lonely Planet and had started his own company with some other ex-miners. After getting kitted out with wellies, jackets, trousers and hardhats with headlamps we walked around the miner’s market. Here we bought gifts for the miners we were expecting to meet down there. Popular gifts were coca leaves, soft drinks and cigarettes (not a good idea given the damage their lungs take) but I couldn’t help but spend the 20Bs (£1.90) on a stick of dynamite with fuse and detonator.

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Fully in the spirit and pretty apprehensive, we chewed on our own supply of coca leaves and entered the mine. Within a few metres the tunnel had begun shrinking and everyone began to stoop, walking single file into the darkness. A hundred metres in we met some young (15-19 year old) miners pushing a cart. We stopped for photos and Efrim explained the life they lead. The conditions are pretty harrowing, with bad air, long shifts and dangerous work but they can earn 3 or 4 times the average Bolivian’s pay.

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We stumbled through the tunnels which were up to a foot and a half deep with water and getting smaller the deeper we went. Ever so often we’d meet some miners and would watch them work, help them push their carts and hand out our gifts.DSCF0032

The girls had reached the end of their tether by the time we reached the deepest part so Efrim and the three of us guys crawled the last 50 metres to a section where the tunnels got uncomfortably small and we could hear the miners using a pneumatic drill to break up the rock. We could barely see anything due to the dust and breathing was difficult.

On the way back up towards we surface, we stopped off at the ‘shrine’ to the devil of the mountain, where offerings of cigarettes, sweets and alcohol were given. We got to taste some of the alcohol, a miner’s favourite at 96% alcohol. I’ve no idea what the other 4% is!

After 2 hours underground we were glad to see the literal light at the end of the tunnel and an escape into the fresh air. After this we were given a quick tour of a refinery, where the miners (who are all individual contractors) sell their produce and returned our miner equipment. The tour was really well led and I felt safe throughout (or as safe as you can feel in a working mine).

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In the evening a gang of us went to Coyote Grill (Jeremy, Marky, Kate, Rick, me & English Liam) for a Mexican meal and those of us who didn’t have a mine tour the next day went to a bar. After five minutes in the bar we all started sneezing and our eyes watering. Some sort of tear gas had been released nearby and soon all the customers and staff were outside trying to get the sting out of our nostrils.

March 25, 2011

Salt Flats II

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We were allowed a leisurely 7am start on the 23rd of March, the third day of our Salt Flats tour which began with us driving past  Laguna Colorada on the way to the Arbioles de Teirra (Tree of Rock). This is a famous rock which resembles a tree and we waited our turn for the obligatory group photos.

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Our route then led us past the 5 Lakes which varied in colour, reflectivity and overall beauty.

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We stopped for lunch at another field of strange geological formations, many of which were perfect for clambering about on, and then continued on to the town of Uyuni. On the outskirts of the town there is a train cemetery which also produced good photographic and exploring opportunities.

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In Uyuni we checked into our night’s accommodation and took advantage of the intermittent water supply to get a hot-ish shower. After Modesta’s usual high quality cooking we headed to the “Extreme Fun Pub” for beer and card games.

On the last day of the Salt Flats tour we had a 5am start to try and get onto the salt flats by sunrise. Our 4×4 wasn’t the happiest of vehicles as we were all tired and the girls had Bolivian Belly. We could tell we were on the salt flats themselves when the rough and bumpy track became smooth and flat until we were driving through an inch of water on a perfectly flat plateau. We stopped just in time to witness probably the most spectacular sunrise I’ll ever see!

In the direction of the rising sun, the thin layer of water on the surface was perfectly reflective while the rest of the skyline has an unearthly glow

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We spent a fair whack of time having the mandatory photo fun. Jumping photos, reflection photos and ones where you play with the sense of scale were popular. Breakfast was had at the salt flats restaurant, where almost everything – including the building itself – is made from salt. The homemade pancakes helped the girls’ recovery and gave us enough energy for more photo fun.

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We stopped of at a village on the edge of thee salt flats to peruse the stalls where I managed to limit myself to buying a hacky-sack, then we returned to Uyuni. Shower-nap-dinner and me and Rick said goodbye to the girls before another evening of card games (Baraka and Casino) accompanied by rum & coke.

The next day, the 25th, Rick and I caught a 10am bus to Potosi. Uyuni was a decent wee town, busier than, but lacking the character of Tupiza. The salt flats and surrounding area were unforgettable though.

March 22, 2011

Salt Flats I

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I was woken abruptly at 8:30am on the 21st of Feb by the woman at the hostel banging on my door offering me a chance to join a tour to the salt flats in an hour. After a bit of haggling I decided to go for it and rushed about town trying to get money and supplies for the trip. Tupiza lacks ATMs so I had to queue at the bank for a credit card advance.

At 10am I met my fellow tour-ists at my hostel: Rick, a violinist from London and Claire & Cigdem, dentists from Australia. Our driver was Mario and our cook/guide was a lovely Bolivian lady called Modesta, who spoke as much English as I speak Spanish.

With our bags and supplies strapped to the top of the 4×4 we set off for our 4 day tour. Quite quickly into our drive we were climbing into the mountains where the views were incredible. The rock formations I witnessed the day before were revealed to be present over vast swathes of the area. Much of the day was spent driving through the country west of Tupiza along dirt roads. We had occasional stops for photos and one in a small almost deserted town to stretch our legs.

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Our home for the night was a village in the middle of nowhere with a pretty church and not much else. Our room was nice enough, the beds had lots of blankets covering the straw mattresses and there was a table where we sat round having dinner. The vegetable soup which Modesta had made was superb and the mince stew was very hearty. Once the sun had gone down the stars were very visible and the band of the milky way slashed brightly across the sky. We toasted our trip with some wine and champagne which Rick had resourcefully included in his supplies.

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We were awoken at 5am the next day and after a quick breakfast we got on the road again. The girls were a little worse for wear, mainly due to the altitude which was not surprising given we were already way over 4000m. In fact, after a stop off at an abandoned settlement of ruined stone shacks we passed 5000m, 5 kilometres above sea level! On one of our regular breaks we watched llamas feeding at a sort of oasis and by 11am we’d arrived at a sizeable lake. We caught our first sight of pink flamingos there and strolled around part of it, taking the obligatory ‘jumping’ photos.

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The sun is mighty powerful at this altitude and although the nights are extremely cold, the place warms up quickly during the day. Thus, we were eagerly anticipating stripping down and having a soak in the hot springs. It was pretty busy when we arrived, with a dozen or so 4×4s parked up but it quietened down pretty quickly. The water was perfect bath temperature and the view as you lazed in the pool was lovely.

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After another tasty and filling meal courtesy of Modesta, we drove towards a semi-dormant volcano, passing Salvador Dali desert on the way. It is so called because the landscape with warped rocks sticking out of the ground is reminiscent of Dali’s paintings. Next we reached Lago Verde (Green Lake) which was undoubtedly green (and toxic) due to the minerals it contains.

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Our final stop of the day was at the geysers. Unlike Old Faithful or others I’ve seen, these were open pools of boiling hot mud. The smell of sulphur was overpowering while Modesta and Mario led us through the labyrinth paths between the pools before telling us that a tourist had died falling into them on another tour. Not a good way to go.

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Our accommodation was slightly more communal, with a number of jeeps worth of tourists in the same place. While they all had comically early nights we sat up for a few hours playing cards (Hell No) and drinking rum & coke.

March 21, 2011

Tupiza

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We arrived at La Quiaca, the border town on the Argentinean side at 5:30am on the 19th of March. A group of us lost gringos bumbled our way through town to the border crossing which didn’t open till 7am. After waiting for an hour as dawn broke we exited Argentina and entered Bolivia. After six weeks in Argentina (not including Antarctica) it was exciting to finally be reaching another country. The Bolivian customs was uneventful and pretty quick, especially since the customs officer didn’t even look at our forms, other than to ensure we weren’t American. U.S citizens have to pay over $150 to enter, even via land! We’d heard the best way from the Bolivian border town of Villazon to Tupiza was via train. We splashed out for the £4 executive carriage and waited around till 3:30pm for the train. With hindsight it would have been better to take a bus for the four hour journey rather than waiting about. The view was lovely though as we cut through the mountains and it was a pleasant change from the endless bus journeys so far and still to come.

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Dec, Patti and I headed to the recommended Hotel La Torre, where I broke the bank for my £4 single room with private bathroom and TV. We had a quick explore of Tupiza and then went for dinner.Tupiza is a real wild west cowboy town, surrounded by red rocky peaks, with dusty streets and distinctive women in their Bolivian dress. We couldn’t avoid trying to be Gauchos ourselves so the next day we went on a 3 hour horse ride into the hills. There was one other tourist with us, an Englishman called Tim. We donned our cowboy hats and were dropped off out off town where our horses were awaiting us. The horses were a little bit skinny bus otherwise in fine fettle with Tim’s one being determined to lead. So much so that if any horse overtook him it got a bite to the rump.

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Our first stop after trotting up along well worn tracks was Puerta del Diablo (The Devil’s Door), a thin sheet of rock with a collapsed part which is the door.

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Further on and with our confidence and control over our ever hungry steeds increasing we reached Valle de los Machos a group of strange rock formations. Finally we reached and rode up Canon del Inca, a canyon which became narrower until we had to stop and explore on foot. Dinner that night was in the touristy Alamo restaurant where we had our photo taken to put on the wall. The food was decent with a fair mix of salad, rice, meat, chips and veg on one plate.

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March 19, 2011

Salta

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I arrived in Salta on the 16th of March and plodded along with Patti and Dec to their hostel which was one I’d also seen good reviews for, but it had no space for me. Instead I walked 10 metres round the corner and checked into Exxes hostel. It was pretty basic but I couldn’t fault it. After a shower and quick internet check the three of us went for wee stroll round town. Salta is the first place so far that has some kind of South American vibe like I expected. Argentina, great as it has been, has always felt like a forgotten country in Europe rather than on another continent. We had an early dinner in the main square accompanied by Champions League football and Salta beer and then got caught by the rain on the way back to the hostel.

I got up early on the next day and took the Teleferico up to the viewpoint over Salta. It was sunny and the view was ok, but nothing stunning. Back towards town I walked past San Bernardo Convent, the oldest building in Salta and Iglesia San Francisco, all very pretty.

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After empanadas in a local cafe I visited the MAAM,Museo de Arqueología de Alta Montaña. The main exhibition is of the sacrificed Inca children “Llullaillaco Children” found mummified at the summit of Mount Llullaillaco. Only one of the children is on display at any one time and I got to see Lightning Girl which was eerily well preserved. She was so named because at some time after burial the body was struck by lightning, resulting in scarring and burning of some of the clothes. Along with the bodies were statues of animals and offerings for the afterlife.

That afternoon I finally got my hair cut - something I’d been planning to do for about 5000km, covering almost the length of Argentina – and celebrated with beer and tapas. The tapas portion was absolutely huge with a meat board, butter beans, frankfurters, tart aubergines, bread, cheese and olives. I spent the evening catching up on my blog. 

On the 18th I got up and bought a bus ticket to Bolivia for midnight. After that I strolled round town with a Dutch girl and we lunched in the market. The pizzas, coke and humidas (sticky corn dough wrapped in banana leaf) came to less than £3 per person and were very satisfying.

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Salta is a bustling, rough and ready town with a nice main square and I could have stayed longer if I wasn’t so eager to get to Bolivia. After dinner and drinks with some Dutch and Americans I boarded my midnight bus to the Argentinean border town of La Quiaca. Also on the bus were Dec and Patti which was a nice surprise.

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March 15, 2011

Mendoza

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After the usual 20-something hours on a bus, I arrived in Mendoza in central Argentina early in the morning. I had met Mike (USA) and Meg (Canada) while waiting for the bus and shared a taxi with them to International Hostel, an HI hostel halfway between the bus station and the city centre. We had to wait to check in (our beds were unoccupied but we had to wait till 12pm anyway) so left our bags and walked into town. Mendoza was severely damaged by an earthquake a century ago and has been rebuilt with wide avenues and a number of parks. At Parque San Martin , there was an international beach volleyball competition going on so we sat and watched that for a while before ambling around in the sun.

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In the evening I met Kristy (from Antarctic cruise) and her friend (who’d just returned from Rothera Station, Antarctica) for a few drinks and nibbles before heading back to the hostel to have an early night. Unfortunately the hostel has a large bar and I joined everybody there playing pool and chatting till early in the morning.

Along with the large - understaffed – bar and decent sized common area the hostel also had a pool. Unfortunately, as with everything else in the place, it was grimy, run-down and neglected. It was also very small (think ‘large jacuzzi’) and I never saw a single person using it. The hostel could have been great if a little bit of money was spent but it felt like it was being left to fall apart.

Due to the previous night’s exertions I didn’t achieve as much as expected on the 14th. I did book a bus ticket out of Mendoza for the next day and attended a ‘Pool Party’ in the evening. It was a pool party in name only, since the pool was only marginally larger than the one in our hostel.

I managed to get to bed relatively early so that I would be ready for our Wine-Bike tour the next day. The same couldn’t be said for Mike, Jen (USA) and Charlotte (Dutch) who had to be roused by the still drunk Meg. Meg was having a game go at leading this motley crew towards the starting point for the tour but I doubt they’d have made it without me nudging them in the right direction. After an hour on a public bus to the village of Lujan we found the Wine-Bike company and though we were a bit late he got reservations for us at three wineries. The five of us rode off on our reasonably sound bikes along bike-paths and on dirt roads to the first winery: Achaval Ferrer. This small boutique company make small quantities of high quality wines mainly for the international market. The guide showed us around the ‘factory’ and the process of making wine before the all important tasting session. They gave us tastes of a fair number of wines, with the assuredly expensive Finca Bella Vista Malbec being the best of the bunch.DSC01875DSC01881

With everyone in a merrier frame of mind, we hopped on our bikes and wheeled to our next stop: the large and impressive Norton winery. Instead of an old man on the gate as at Achaval Ferrer, there were security guards who kept us waiting while they walkie-talkie’d for confirmation of our reservation. Our Swiss guide was extremely knowledgeable and enthusiastic as she led us down to the vinyard and through the various stages of the wine production. It was interesting comparing the scale of production here with that of the previous winery. The number of wines produced and the quantity are staggering. A nice touch they have is that every Thursday, the locals can come to the back door with jugs and fill them with wine (table wine). Apparently whole families from grandparents down to toddlers will arrive each week armed with a jug each.

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We were running out of time and lost Meg and Jen to a puncture but Mike, Charlotte and I raced to get to our last reservation at Bonfanti.This was a very small family owned winery and our guide was one of the brothers who ran it with their father. We were short on time so went straight to the tasting where he told us all about proper tasting techniques (better late than never) and really conveyed his love of wine to us. I’m glad we did the tour at Lujan instead of the popular Maipu area as it felt more special not seeing another bike-tourist and having smaller, personal tours of quality wineries.

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Feeling like wine connoisseurs, we returned our bikes and returned to the hostel. I immediately went to the bus station where I caught the 8pm bus to Salta, along with Dec and Patti, an Irish couple I’d met in the hostel. Apart from the wine tours, Mendoza itself was pretty uninspiring for a tourist but seems like it’d be a nice place to live.

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March 12, 2011

Bariloche

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We arrived in Bariloche at 1:30am on the 7th of March and Angus, Hattie, Nick and I crammed into a taxi which dropped us off at our respective hostels. I got up in the morning and strolled down the street into town to see what Bariloche was all about. My timing was good as there was a mini Mardi Gras parade going on through town.DSC01788 DSC01789

After a steak lunch sandwich dinner for lunch I met Nick for beers before we headed back to our hostel for a free dinner. The hostels me and Nick are staying in (Hostel Inn & Marco Polo) both offer free dinners which is something I’ve never encountered before. Combined with the usual free breakfast, you don’t need to spend much money on food while there. An added benefit of Hostel Inn is the view from the terrace…

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The next day I met Nick on my way to Cerro Campanario, while he was leaving for Mendoza. I got a bus out to Cerro Campanario which was easy enough due to the area’s ingenious system where each location’s kilometre distance from Bariloche is used as the address. Just after kilometre 17 I got off the bus and took the chairlift up to the top. Apparently this place is listed as one of the 10 best views in the world by National Geographic (I’m sceptical about this ‘fact’) and it was certainly breathtaking.DSC01803

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After pasta with kippers and watching some champions league football with the guys and girls in the hostel, I met Matt and Joanne, friends from Pax hostel in BA. We went next door to a mediocre ‘Moving: travellers bar’ for drinkypoos and had a great old time.DSC01840 DSC01844 DSC01848

The next day was pretty miserable weather so other than lunch at a local fast food place called Morfy’s it was a day of chores.

I woke up early on the 10th and met Matt and Jo in time for us to be picked up for a day of rafting. The minibus took about 2 hours to get to our destination, most of which was along the famous R40 route which was beautiful (I’d missed this section on the bus in to Bariloche because it was night-time).

We arrived at our destination on the banks of the Rio Manso and tucked into a breakfast of pastries. Our group was mainly Argentinians, except for a solitary American girl (Andriana) who joined the three of us to make an English speaking gang.IMG_0210  

We donned our wetsuits, grabbed our oars and headed into our rafts. There were 14 or so of us so we had 7 tourists and 1 guide in each of the 2 rafts. After a quick safety briefing and practice we headed into our first of 11 rapids. The Rio Manso is a class III/IV river and it quickly became fast and hair raising as we were thrown about. IMG_0432IMG_0376 (Large)

The guides were great fun and initiated a war of the rafts where each was battling to throw the others into the water and steal their paddles. It was great fun to have our turn sitting at the front and it is certainly a good activity for team building. We were also learning a fair number of swear words from our Argentinean shipmates and got a chance to float down a quick (but safe) part of the river on our backs. IMG_0391

It was all over far too quickly even though it had been almost two hours in the water. We clambered out of our rafts and walked up a wee hill to a signpost marking the boundary of Argentina and Chile.

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Our lunch was a mass of barbequed meat and accompaniments which was to much even for our enlarged appetites, then it was back to Bariloche by minibus. It was a superb day and a great way to head through some beautiful scenery.

That evening Jo, Matt, Andriana and me all met up for drinks and ended up trawling the bars till 5am.

I woke up late on the morning of the 11th feeling fine so went and grabbed the gang from their hostels. We had breakfast in a coffee shop while we waited for Cello Vieja to open. Only a kilometre or so from my hostel, it is a chairlift that takes you up above town and then you can toboggan down to the bottom. It was some good silly fun but a bit of a rip-off since they only let you do it once.

A late goodbye lunch at Morfy’s was followed by a well deserved rest before dinner.

On the 12th I headed to the bus station after saying goodbye to Matt and Jo and boarded a bus to Mendoza.

March 6, 2011

Patagonia II - El Chalten

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Arriving in El Chalten on the 2nd of March, we picked up a map of the ‘town’ (winter population:600, summer population:1800) with 60 hostels and plumped for the closest cheap one: Ahonikenk Hostel. Its a bit of a dive but the 4 bed dorm is presentable and at 45 pesos its a damn sight cheaper than the 70 pesos it cost in BA and Ushuaia.

With the wind howling through the town we decided to delay our hiking pursuits in favour of drinking pursuits in the form of the local pub/microbrewery which also served superb empanadas. It was followed by dinner at the adjoining restaurant to our hostel, also called Ahonikenk. Unlike it’s accommodation wing, the restaurant was not a dive and the food was hardy fare. With a renewed love of stews, I plumped for a filling lamb one while Nick had a steak the size of a fat man’s foot all helped down with a penguin of wine. The house wine in Argentina is often served in a white porcelain jug shaped like a penguin, don’t ask me why?!

The next day I bought my bus ticket out of town, buses only leave on odd days to Bariloche so the next available bus is the evening of the 5th. While Nick sorted his onward plans I went for a lunchtime stroll up to a couple of viewpoints: Los Condores and Los Aquilas. Los Condores gave a good view of El Chalten while Los Aquilas was further away and gave a mediocre view of Lagos Viedma but a good view of the weirdly pyramid shaped peak to the South-West.

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The afternoon was spent drinking beer in the windy yet sunny street and listening to the music emanating from our hostel. Somehow we’d booked ourselves into a musician’s paradise, with the vast majority of our fellow backpackers having instruments and entertaining us and the town with their strummings. We shared  stomach filling barbeque selection at the renowned local restaurant Como Vaca  before hitting the hay. El Chalten is a really charming wee place, relatively spread out with funky buildings dotting the small valley. It’s the kind of a place you could see yourself spending a summer fixing old cars and lawnmowers if you were into that kind of thing.

The next day the wind had died down and there was not a cloud in the sky so I rented some hiking boots to protect my Onitsuka Tiger trainers and my feet. We hiked up to the Mirador (viewpoint) and then onwards to Poincenot campsite. DSC01739DSC01718

The walk was through some pretty green valleys and along hillsides covered in brush with little bridges over little burns. After 3 hours of walking we reached another waypoint called Rio Blanco. from there we rose 400 metres in an hour of clambering up steep, eroded soil. The view of Mt. Fitzroy and the Laguna de los Tres were worth every step though.

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More worrying for me than ascent was the resultant descent given my left knee’s propensity to slacken under such pressures. It held up very well which means I should give it a good thrashing playing football soon. My skin on the other hand didn’t hold up so well. The unexpected blue skies and me forgetting my sunscreen hidden deep in the bottom of my backpack back at the hostel was a recipe for disaster! I ended up with bright red face, arms and especially my neck.

We awoke on the 5th of March to another beautiful day, but I didn’t fancy risking further sunburn with another 8 hour trek so while Nick went off on another hike I ate empanadas and checked live Saturday football updates while fighting with the awful internet connection to book a hostel in Bariloche.

Once the sun’s rays had waned slightly I covered up and did the short hour walk to the waterfall called Chorillo del Salto. It wasn’t the most interesting walk, mainly along gravel roads but the views from below and above the waterfall were nice enough. DSC01769

I met our dorm-mates, Hattie and Angus (another Edinburghian) at the falls and chatted to them while discovering that we were all booked on the same bus to Bariloche that evening. After dinner at La Cervezaria we steeled ourselves for another long bus journey, this time 28 hours to Bariloche, leaving at 10pm.DSC01782

All day on the 6th was spent on the bus travelling along Route 40, a rural road mainly made up of gravel necessitating the bus driving at under 30mph for large periods.

March 2, 2011

Patagonia I – Ushuaia and El Calafate

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Back in Ushuaia on the 25th of February, I tried to book into Freestyle hostel, the biggest in town, but it was full. Instead, Kratos and I checked into Yakush hostel on the main street. We’d arranged to meet in town for lunch with some of the remaining passengers and some of the expedition staff. In between that and dinner I reacquainted myself with the world via the internet. The only news we’d had since we’d been away was that of the devastating Christchurch earthquake which had many people worrying for friends and family there. A dwindling group of us ate dinner at a Chilean restaurant and then spent the evening relaxing in the (initially) un-swaying comfort of the Dublin Bar. Astrid, Trevor and I attempted a trip to a club but we were the pretty much the only people in town who decided to turn up so that was sacked off pretty quickly.

The next day I managed to move into Freestyle hostel, the main advantage of which, apart from being in the same hostel as Trevor and Nick, was the comfy common room on the top floor, with pool table. I began to plan my next step, which wasn’t difficult since North is the only way to go, El Calafate is the natural next stop while staying in Argentina so I booked a bus for there, leaving on Monday morning. Nick, Trevor and I made a home-cooked pasta dinner which was a nice change from cruise and restaurant food and went up to the strangely deserted common room. We amused ourselves with a couple of beers, Jenga and Monopoly. I’m proud to say that I was the overwhelming Monopoly champion, an interesting game given it was all in Spanish.

I woke up on Sunday 27th with a number of bites on my body but shrugged them off and the three of us caught a bus 18km out of town to Laguna Esmerelda. It was a nice warm day and the hike up to the Lake was pleasant exercise.

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After another home-made dinner we tried the common room again. This time it was busier with table-tennis games and some atmosphere which I added to by providing the music.

After going to bed at 1am on Monday morning with a bus at 5am I didn’t expect much sleep. I ended up with even less than I’d bargained for when I was awoken after a 1/2hour of kip being bitten all over. It seems that my previous bites and the new ones were due to bed bugs. I showered, complained to the receptionist and sat up for a few hours messing about on my computer and trying not to itch.

At 5am, me and Nick hopped on the bus North to Rio Gallegos while Trevor waited for his flight to Buenos Aires. As I’d experienced on the way down to Ushuaia, the trip up was broken by border and customs crossings. The ferry during our shuttle through Chilean soil was a bit of a wildlife safari with penguins, black and white dolphins (Commerson’s dolphins), jellyfish and shags sighted. From Rio Gallegos we had a short bus to El Calafate. The obligatory few hours of stopover was punctuated by games of cards and huge sandwiches. At 1am in the morning we arrived at El Calafate and took the short walk to the Hostel Buenos Aires, close to the bus station.

The  first morning of March we explored El Calafate during the day, which didn’t;t take long. Its essentially a long tourist boulevard with suburbs off to the side. In the afternoon we caught the 100 peso late bus to Glacier Perito Moreno, the only attraction in the area.. The late bus boat meant we’d miss most of the crowds but had to get the last boat tour on the way. The boat launched from the jetty and 30 seconds later the glacier came into view. After cruising up to icebergs in the zodiac it was a bit disappointing especially because you didn’t get very close and only saw half the glacier face. Maybe I’ve been spoiled.

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Next the bus picked us up and took us to the main lookout area. This was a large network of wooden walkways looking onto the glacier from different levels. The scene was much more impressive here due to the different perspective it gave you (i.e. higher) compared to zodiacs or other views we’d had. After a couple of cold hours the sun came out and really showed the scale of the glacier in all its glory. DSC01615DSC01612

Arriving back at El Calafate at 10pm there was just enough time for a traditional Locro stew before bed.

On Wednesday 2nd of March, 2011, after some trouble with cash machines – not enough money in my account, not enough money in the ATM, unresponsive ATMs– I managed to withdraw some cash and Nick and I boarded the 1pm bus North to El Chalten, hiking capital of Argentina. The view as we drove through the undulating yellow grasslands was beautiful as the sun shone during the 3 hour journey.

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