A Travellerspoint blog

Viva Colonia

short trip to Uruguay

sunny 20 °C

Colonia de Sacramento is a short 1.5 hour ferry ride from Buenos Aires. It was a welcome break from the big metropolis, but also overcrowded from Argentine and Uruguayan tourists since we arrived right in the middle of the local Semana Santos holiday. We had to walk 2km outside of town and set up camp because every single hotel and hostel were booked up. I'm glad I didn't send the tarptent home yet.

The town itself is tiny- there is an oldtown with a lighthouse, church, some cobbled streets and a nice waterfront. Loads of tourists rent scooters or golf carts and drive around, so that combined with the warm weather and palm trees reminds me of a retirement community in Florida. After an couple hours of checking out the town, Mirja and I decided it would be lots of fun to try and take pics of all the local tourists drinking mate- the local warm drink.

In the middle of the afternoon a fierce thunderstorm came in, but luckily we had just ducked into a cafe before it started. They tried to refuse us service, saying it was a breaktime, but after we didn't leave for 30 minutes they went ahead and served us anyway. We had just enough time for sunset on the waterfront before going back to the ferry terminal to return to Buenos Aires, then just a quick night in BA before flying north to Iguazu.

Posted by ichbinmatt 10:17 Archived in Uruguay Tagged colonia Comments (0)

Buenos Aires

something to eat besides steak

overcast 19 °C

Its a nice change to be in a huge city for a few days. We landed and went through the usual Argentine delays with luggage and our booked hostel not saving a space for us, but once we worked it all out and were transfered to a newer, better hostel, we immediately searched for an Indian restaurant. Our hopes were let down a little bit when we realized the food didn´t contain any spices. I know most Indian food is taken down a notch for westerners, but this was more like the spiciness of baby food. Later on we tried a kind of mexican-argentine restaurant and did much better that time. I think the thing I miss most travelling is variety and availablity of quality food.

We also had many errands to run in BA. Mirja needed a yellow fever vaccination, and I found out mine expired in 6 months, so I got one as well. The biggest hassle was getting my visa for Paraguay sorted out. I´m used to small countries exploiting Americans by charging us money for a visa on arrival, but it came as a great surprise to me that I needed a to apply for a visa in advance to get into Paraguay. I researched the process and found that I could get it done here for $65 in about a day. I had to jump through a bunch of hoops and stand on one foot and dance around for the Paraguayan consulate, then at the end of it all, they say the visa fee is now $100, even though all the forms I filled out said $65. My personal Transparancy International rating for Paraguay.... not good.

Here is a comparison of Mirja´s fees for visas with a German passport:

Matt Mirja
Chile $140 free
Paraguay $100 free
Bolivia $135 free
China $140 $30

I also finally watched The King´s Speech. I was just thinking about how nice it is to relax for a night at the movies. We didn´t do much tourism in BA, but I don´t feel like there´s a lot of interest to me here, outside of food and movies. We make a quick pit stop in Uruguay next. Its a huge holiday weekend with easter this weekend, so we couldn´t book any accomodation online. Here´s to hoping we aren´t homeless for a night.

Posted by ichbinmatt 12:31 Archived in Argentina Tagged buenos aires Comments (2)

Fitz Roy and Chalten part 2

semi-overcast 9 °C

For our last two days in Patagonia we made the 3 hour journey up to Chalten to take a look at Mt. Fitz Roy since Mirja hadn´t seen it, and I am always happy to see mountains again. Unfortunately, the mountain was never fully visible from the clouds. The first day was rainy and generally not worth going outside. The second day was clear, all except for the Fitz Roy massif, so we hiked around and hoped for a clearing that never came. We did expierience some of the famous Patagonion wind that makes it really difficult to walk.

My favorite part about the trip was the visit to the ranger station. All buses are required to stop at the ranger station on the way into town for information on how not to destroy the park. Instead of a typical Argentine ranger speaking barely understandable English, we had a real life ranger from Yosemite National Park in California. I´ve noted many times the environmental problems caused by tourism in Patagonia and most of them could be easily fixed, mostly through education and communication, so it was fun to see an American park ranger doing a bit of that.

I´m bummed Mirja didn´t get good views of Fitz Roy, but at least we had unseasonably good weather for Torres del Paine and Perito Moreno glacier. Nature plays by its own rules.

Next up is a flight to Buenos Aires and much warmer temps. I´m ready for that after nearly 2 months in Patagonia.

Posted by ichbinmatt 08:00 Archived in Argentina Tagged fitz roy chalten Comments (0)


Perito Moreno Gletscher; Torres del Paine Nationalpark; Fitz Roy; Buenos Aires

all seasons in one day 4 °C

Im Herzen Patagoniens haben wir El Calafate in Argentinien als unseren Ausgangspunkt festgelegt und sind von dort aus zunaechst zum atemberaubenden Perito Moreno Gletscher gefahren. Ein einzigartiger Gletscher, da er in einem See endet und daher ein wunderschoenes Bild mit den umliegenden Bergen gibt. Wir hatten Postkartenwetter und das Eis glaenzte in einem tollen hellblauen Ton.

Als naechstes ging es in einer rumpeligen 4-stuendigen Busfahrt nach Chile in den weltbekannten Torres del Paine Nationalpark.
Das Wetter ist hier sehr unbestaendig mit viel Wind und Regen und Temperaturen um die +6 bis -2 °C. Aber wir hatten Glueck: Bis auf den ersten Tag, an dem die Wolken ganz tief am Himmel hangen und dadurch die Aussicht auf die Berge verbargen, hatten wir sehr viel Sonnenschein und nur einige Wolken. Daher konnten wir ganze 5 Tage im Park wandern und tolle Aussichten geniessen. Die Herbstfarben machten die Landschaft noch schoener.
Da ab April hier die Nebensaison anfaengt hatten leider fast alle Huetten schon geschlossen, was uns zum Campen zwang und bei Nachtfrost doch schon sehr kalt war und besonders fuer mich eine Herrausforderung war. Im Gegensatz zu Matt besitze ich leider keine eingebaute Heizung und war dann doch sehr froh, meine Skiunterwaesche eingepackt zu haben!!

Zum Abschluss unserer Patagonien-Reise haben wir noch den Los Glaciares Nationalpark in El Chalten, Argentinien besucht. Hier gibt es den beruemten Fitz Roy Berg, den ich leider nur wolkenbehangen betrachten durfte. El Chalten ist die windigste Stadt der Welt, geschaetzt ist es wie Domplattenwind im Januar mal 10. Man ist also froh, wenn man im Hostel oder im Waldstueck ist. Dennoch ist es einen Besuch wert und wunderschoen, nur leider spielte bei uns das Wetter nicht mit.

Nun sind wir in Buenos Aires und organisieren unsere naechsten Tage, buchen Hostels, besorgen Matt die noetigen Visas und nebenbei ist mir aufgefallen, dass ich noch eine Gelbfieber-Impfung fuer Bolivien brauchte... das konnten wir gestern gluecklicherweise alles erledigen und auch noch einen Kinoabend geniessen.

Meine Erkaeltung, die mich seit Ushuaia geaergert hat, habe ich endlich besiegt und so kann die Reise mit uns beiden gesund weitergehen. Heute abend geht es mit dem Schiff nach Colonia, Uruguay!

Posted by xmirjax 07:35 Archived in Chile Tagged del buenos aires fitz roy perito moreno paine torres gletscher nationalpark Comments (0)

Torres del Paine

Mirja´s first trip to Chile

all seasons in one day 6 °C

Torres del Paine is the most famous Chilean National park and probably the most well known park in Patagonia. If you google Patagonia, you will probably find a bunch of pics from Torres del Paine. I´ve been looking foward to it for the whole trip.

We left Calafate directly for Torres del Paine on a tour bus on 4.12. Its set up for one day tours, but we got off at the park and spent 5 days hiking parts of the ¨W¨trail. We were really happy we weren´t on the one day tour because the weather was very cold and all the peaks were covered in dark clouds. The whole bus trip was a little strange. First off, a couple forgot their passports, so they weren´t allowed to go past the border post. Its also the start of low season, so a lot of services in the park are being shut down, but nobody really knows any details. Our bus showed up at a restaurant only to find that the kitchen was shut down for the season and there was no heat. Despite this we still sat around the dark cold room for the scheduled 40 minutes. It was a little like prison. We had been told twice that we could take a ferry across a lake to the start of the ¨W¨trek at 6pm, but found out that the ferry no longer made this late crossing, so we had to change our plans on the fly and start the trek in a different location.

We were all too happy to get off the depressing tour bus and set up camp near Torres Hotel, despite the rain that had started to fall. A pair of Swiss girls from our bus also planned to start the trek and wanted to stay at the Refugio near the Hotel, only to find it was closed. Luckily they had a tent, but no sleeping pads, so it couldn´t have been a good night for them. The following day we got a late start due to still cloudy skies and started hiking towards Cuernos Hut. We heard from people in the other direction that the weater had been overcast or rainy for 5 days. This made it particularly sweet when the sun came out late in the afternoon. It was almost complete blue skies when we made it to Itailiano Camp. The clear skies led to a much colder night with temps below freezing. Our rental tent was sturdy and heavy- which is why I rented it instead of using my extremely lightweight tarptent. The downside was I couldn´t lay down completely straight- Mirja and I called it the ¨Rowan tent¨because it was the perfect size for my 7 year old nephew. But we were very happy to have this little tent becaue a) it was warmer than my tarptent and b) a big rat came out in the night and clawed at the tent and chewed up our waterbottles outside the tent. I´m pretty sure it could have ripped straight into the tarptent. YIKES!!

The next day was worth all the strife. The skies were cloud free and we were headed up the Valle Frances- a pristine valley that went past glacieal melt waters and glaciers to a viewpoint at the head of the valley with 360 degree views. It was a very amazing day that I think we were lucky to have. The peak fall colors especially added to the beauty. The trail up Valle Frances is a one way trail, so we returned to Campo Italiano and despite the already long day of hiking, we pushed on to get away from rat camp. We hiked for about an hour back towards Cuernos hut and found a sweet stealth campsite just above the amazingly turquoise waters of Lake Nordenskjoeld. Mirja said the lake and landscape reminded her of Finland. The weather was very cold again and my fuel canister didn´t have much pressure due to the near freezing temps, so it was difficult to boil water.

The next day was a short day of hiking back towards Torres Hotel. The weather was mostly sunny and we were even getting a little burnt from so much sun. Usually people talk about fierce winds at Paine, but we had nice calm breezes our entire visit. We made it back to the campground we had stayed at the first night, set up, took hot showers, then went to the hotel bar to eat warm food and beer. Originally we even considered staying in the hotel, but the US$ 244 price per night made us reconsider. Camping was US$ 16 per night.

The 16th was our last day in the park and the weather turned threatening again. I was determined to make the 4 hour climb up to the viewpoint to see the Towers that the park is named after, so I woke up before dawn and started hiking with a headlamp. Mirja opted for extra rest since her knee was sore from all the hiking. I walked for nearly 2 hours before the trail was visible without the headlamp. Many people had climbed to the viewpoint to see the towers at first light, but apparently they didn´t see anything due to a thick fog and cloud cover. Several even made negative comments to me on their way down. ¨You might as well turn back now¨. It was snowing and windy, but I still hate comments like this. I made it to the viewpoint, which is 700 meters above my campsite at 10am, just as the sun was coming over the ridge to the east. Only 2 people were left at the view point. At first the towers were completly hidden in the clouds so I put on all my clothes and found a rock to shelter me from the snow. Slowly the clouds thinned and the snow stopped completely. The sky to the east cleared and most of the towers became visible. The sun hit the turquise lake at the base of the towers and produced a nice vivid color. I was glad I didn´t turn back. Just before I left 3 giant Andean condors soared just a few meters over my head. I could clearly see their white collar of feathers and bald heads. Really glad I made the trek up!

I had to practically run down to camp in order to get back in time to catch the tour bus back to Calafate. I actually got delayed because I saw a pair of grey foxes just as I arrived at the hotel grounds. Apparently they aren´t afraid of people (probably because they´ve been fed) because they approached me. I got some really good pics and video, before they got too close for comfort. I have a healthy fear of wild animals, so I yelled and threw some rocks to chase them off.

I met Mirja at camp and we made it to the pick up point for the bus. We had run out of food, so we were very hungry. The expensive sandwiches at the Chilean border post seemed like an excellent value. We made it back to Calafate by 10:30 and returned the rental tent (luckliy free of rat holes) and prepared for our trip early the next day to Chalten.

Posted by ichbinmatt 06:54 Archived in Chile Tagged del paine torres Comments (0)

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