The Super Trek

When our brief stint of luxury was over, we headed back to El Calafate and then back to the bus station in time to catch the afternoon bus to El Chalten. Wonderfully, our new friends, Bern, Dave and Jesse were on the same bus.

El Chalten is a hiking and climbing mecca. The famous Fitz Roy range (the range the Patagonia clothing logo is designed after) towers over the quaint town of Chalten. The little town’s population soars during the summer season as people come from all over the world to check this place out. Though El Calafate is a proper tourist town with all the restaurants and souvenir shops to prove it, El Chalten feels more like a frontier town with many of the roads still unpaved.

El Chalten

The hiking around town is extraordinary and you can literally walk from anywhere in town to the trailheads. There are two very popular hikes that people do and we all planned to do one the first day and one the second day, depending on the weather. The weather in all of Patagonia is notoriously unstable. We had been warned about rain, clouds, cold temperatures and wind being the norm and sunshine being an exception to the rule. We had lucked out in Torres del Paine, we had lucked out visiting the Perito Merino glacier earlier in the week, and we once again lucked out in El Chalten.

As the five of us headed out on what was meant to be a 6 hour (roundtrip) hike to Laguna Torre with a view of the majestic Cerro Torre peak, we couldn’t have asked for a more beautiful day. Even the ever-present wind was taking the day off. We were very appreciative of our luck and had a great hike to the view of Cerro Torre where we had lunch. On the way down, we got to talking and the group decided to take advantage of the amazing weather and press on towards the second popular hiking destination. The clouds can be so thick that they completely obstruct the view, so we decided to keep walking on the blue sky day.

Hiking to Cerro Torre

Cerro Torre, up close

Our hiking crew at Laguna Torre

The path we were on conveniently connected over to the other path and rewarded us with spectacular views of the Fitz Roy mountain range and a crystal-clear blue lakes along the way.

Hiking in the park

Rest stop

At another junction, the boys decided to head all the way up to Laguna de los Tres – the high view point for Fitz Roy. At the thought of an additional 3.5 hours of hiking on top of what we had already done, Jesse and I decided to head down.

We got back to town around 6:00 pm after a 10-hour, 16+ mile day of hiking, feeling pretty good about ourselves. We both got cleaned up and met for beers at the local brewery to wait for the guys. Little did we know that they wouldn’t roll in until just after 10 pm and 25+ miles of hiking! Luckily it stays light until after 10pm in Patagonia at that time of year because I wouldn’t have felt okay about them wandering in the dark. Jesse and I had just started to get worried when they arrived at the brewpub famished and exhausted.

Bern, Dave, and Ted

Laguna de Los Tres (covered with ice and snow)

The beginning of a LONG way down

We later learned that the full hike the guys did is known as the Super Trek. Needless to say the next day was a sleep-in and relaxation day.

For our last night in the area we decided to cook a big dinner at the hostel and drink some wine with all the fun new people we had met. As the night went on, we found our table growing larger and larger and before we knew it we were next door at the local tango bar! There were professionals on hand who were quite impressive, and many Argentine men who were happy to lead, and then there was our group that managed to have quite a great time with little to no tango knowledge whatsoever. It was a hilariously fun night and a great way to celebrate our last night in this amazing part of the world!

Family dinner and drinks

The Tango Party

Addendum – Our friend Dave is not a huge hiker, and the Super Trek basically broke his soul. Read his hilarious account of our day on his and Jesse’s blog.

Drinking Straight from the Stream

Cleanest Water Ever

This is the best-tasting, most refreshing water on the planet. Straight out of Patagonian mountain streams, you’re getting your water right from the source. And the best part – no filtration required! Even in the high mountains of Colorado, you have to filter back-country water to fight off giardia and other bacteria. In Patagonia, you just drink straight from the stream. Not sure why their water is cleaner than ours, but it was pretty awesome to refill from any stream we crossed.  Patagonia rocks.

Bern, filling up

Picture of the Week

This is the most awe-inspiring piece of ice you’ll ever see.  Photos struggle to capture its massiveness.  Perito Moreno Glacier in Parque Nacional de los Glaciers, Patagonia, Argentina

Perito Moreno Glacier

Goodbye to old friends, hello to new friends

Though we were sad to be leaving our friends in Puerto Natales and the beautiful scenery of Chile behind, we were happily not leaving Patagonia yet. Just a 5 hour bus ride and a border crossing later and we arrived at El Calafate – the heart of Argentina’s Patagonia.

As we got on our bus early that morning, we connected with Bern, a friend from Boulder that is also doing a bit of world traveling. Ted and Bern had been emailing and trying to meet up for several days, and finally we ended up on the same bus headed in the same direction. Bern is originally from Austria, but Ted and I met him through our Ultimate frisbee league in Colorado. I didn’t know Bern all that well beforehand, but we got to do a bit of traveling with him and I can now vouch that he is one of the most likable people on the planet.

Upon arriving in Calafate, we headed to a coffee shop to discuss our next move. Halfway through our coffee we met another American couple who had just arrived to town. Dave and Jesse are from New York City and are also doing an around the world trip over the course of the year. Little did we know this coffee meeting would turn into a week of travel together in Argentina, and a rendezvous months later in South Africa.

The THING to do out of Calafate is to take a day trip to the Perito Moreno glacier. It is one of the biggest glaciers in the world that you can access by road and therefore it is one giant tourist attraction.

Perito Moreno Glacier

Sarah, Bern, Jesse, and Dave

Perito Moreno

The drive to the glacier is just over an hour. Ted and I had a slightly different schedule from our newly-formed group, thanks to another travel-industry hook-up (thanks Simon!). We stayed at a ridiculously fancy lodge with direct views to the glacier – the only accommodation within Parque Nacional de los Glaciers! We quickly dropped off our backpacks and met up with the others in time for a boat ride that goes right up to the face of the glacier. Stunning and awe-inspiring views. We lucked out with a beautiful day and were able to see many different shades of blue and green within the ice. We spent the rest of the day walking the boardwalks, taking pictures and hoping to see big chunks of ice calve into the water.

The boat gives some perspective

Quintessential glacier photo

Goes on forever

As Bern, Dave and Jesse headed back to Calafate, Ted and I wandered back to our luxurious hotel where we continued to enjoy the view and the delicious dinner that was included with our stay. Woohoo!

View from our room

Industry Bloggin’

My latest contribution to the World Nomads Responsible Tourism Blog, this time about our stay at Refugio Frey in Argentina’s Lake District.  Check it out at the link below:

Argentina’s Accessible Backcountry

Frey Rhymes With Hey

Our favorite activity in the Bariloche area was a hike and overnight stay in the Frey Refugio. The trip was recommended to us by our friend Steph from Boulder who was down living in Bariloche when we were there. We were able to get together for drinks and we can’t thank her enough for the tip!

A refugio is a backcountry hut that you can only access by hiking. It offers ‘refuge’ to any hiker, climber, or skier in the area that needs a place to lay their head at night. You don’t have to have a reservation to stay, you can just show up. The refugios will also provide hot food, sleeping bags, tents, gas for cooking, and other things you might need up there (for a cost). Some people bring a tent and all their own food and only have to pay if they wish to use the refugio’s stoves for cooking. Some people bring nothing and pay for meals and supplies when the arrive.

Our hike up to the hut was fantastic. It was a cruisy 10km (6 mile) hike overlooking a lake and up through a beautiful old forest. When we got high enough, we got to walk through a bit of snow up to a mountain pass to get to our final destination. The air was quite warm but the snow still remained from the previous winter and just made the beautiful mountains look more beautiful.

Hike to Frey

Hike to Frey

Crazy Bridge

The view from Frey is pretty ridiculous. It is surrounded by a (snow-covered) lake and lots of pointy, jagged peaks. A lot of rock climbers set-up camp at this refugio because of all the amazing routes in the nearby vicinity. No rock climbing for us, just exploring the area by foot and taking in the views is quite entertaining. We also met travelers from all over, read our books, wrote postcards, enjoyed a refugio-made pizza and just relaxed.

Frey Hut

Hot Pizza at a Hut?!?!

Sunset at Frey

There are several other huts in the area and even a trail that connects 3 or 4 of them. However, the trails were closed because they were still too snow-covered to be safe. I guess we’ll have to add Bariloche’s refugio circuit to our list to do next time!

View from Frey

A Beautiful Love Child

Bariloche, Argentina is ridiculously beautiful. Think snow-capped mountains surrounding big, blue lakes and lots of trees. Ted was so blown away by the place that he described it as Interlochen, Switzerland, Queenstown, New Zealand, and Lake Tahoe’s Spanish-speaking love child. And I think that about wraps it up.

Beautiful Bariloche

Lake Nahuel Huapi, Bariloche

The city itself is a ski town in the winter and a resort town in the summer. We were on the front end of the high season but there were still plenty of tourists around eating ice cream and buying post cards (us included!). Bariloche brags about the quality of both their ice cream and their chocolate which, for anyone who knows me well, are about my two favorite things. Ted also indulged and I believe we had ice cream everyday that we were there. It was that good.

In addition to sweets, Bariloche is known for it’s ridiculous outdoor activities. We rented mountain bikes one day and biked a famous loop known as the Circuito Chico. The views are insane and we loved just stopping wherever we liked to take a picture or just to appreciate the view.

Circuito Chico

Circuito Chico

Circuito Chico

We also did some day hikes in the area including to a nearby ski area, Cathedral, that Ted has vowed to return to some day.

A highlight of our visit was a hike and overnight stay in a backcountry hut, but I’m going to wait to tell you about that one because it was so cool that it deserves its own post.

Overall, Bariloche is one of Argentina’s many gems. It is technically the way north tip of Patagonia (the Lake District) and was a wonderful little tease for what we had in store for us heading south.


Getting Lost in Mendoza

And…we’re back!  Been a little quiet on the blog recently – having too much fun hosting parents in South Africa during the month of January.  Now that they are back home, we’re back to the updates now:

One 19-hour bus ride later, we arrived in Mendoza. Though 19 hours sounds incredibly horrible, the luxuriousness of the Argentine buses makes for a surprisingly unoffensive journey. A couple movies, a good book, some not-so restful sleeping and you’re there!

So, remember our friends Courtney and Jed that we stayed with on the coast of Ecuador just after our computer got stolen? Well, they have since moved from Montanita, Ecuador to Mendoza, Argentina, and we had the pleasure to see and stay with them again. Their apartment was ideally situated on a main plaza in the heart of the city. Between the gorgeous tree-lined streets and the pedestrian mall full of outdoor cafes, we knew we were going to like this place.

Our Gracious Hosts

We did some wonderfully typical Argentine things on our visit, including a winery tour in a nearby suburb. We intended to visit more than one winery, however, the walking directions we were given were not-so-good and after a good hour of wandering, further mis-directions, and conflicting opinions, we ran out of time and the winery closed on us. Oh well, we chose to drown our sorrows in an inexpensive bottle of wine at an outdoor cafe instead. Who needs a tour anyway – it’s all about the tasting!

The biggest barrel in Mendoza

We also went to a soccer game between two regional teams in the area. After getting slightly lost again thanks to a lazy cab driver, we made our way to the tailgating pre-party. Once in the stadium, we discovered that there is essentially a crazy section for rowdy fans with noisemakers, painted faces, firecrackers and banners who don’t like to sit down, and there is a place for the rest of us. Beyond the soccer, which sadly ended in a scoreless tie, I was thoroughly entertained by the people-watching and more specifically the mens’ hairdos. Mullets? Yep. Rat tails? Lots of them! One random dredlock combined with a mullet and/or rat tail? Definitely. It was disturbing to say the least. This problem was not unique to Mendoza but rather is a nationwide epidemic.

Rowdy Fans

Wicked Mullets

A huge thank you to Courtney and Jed for their hospitality TWICE, and we look forward to returning the favor somehow back in Colorado.

We Accidentally Loved It

To be honest, the only reason we stopped in Salta was to break up the long journey from the Bolivian border to our next stop in Mendoza. However, Salta and the surrounding area proved to be one of our favorite spots so far.

The downtown plaza area is just beautiful and extremely reminiscent of Europe – sidewalk cafes, museums, theaters, fountains – it has it all. Not only is the architecture of European influence, so is the gene pool. We were now in a country with other people with blond hair and fair skin where it was not immediately obvious who was a local and who was an international visitor. Definitely a difference from the Northern Andean countries that we had visited so far where our height and hair color gave us away.

Through Ted’s tourism connections, we met up with a lovely local Argentine woman who gave us a great overview of the country, from the current governmental and political situation, to the state of the nation’s tourism industry, as well as some great recommendations for what to do around the area. Not only did we learn that you say ‘Argentine’ (as opposed to Argentinian) when talking about people or things, we were told that we should rent a car to cruise a popular driving loop and over night in a nearby wine region.

So, that’s what we did. It was our first time driving on our trip and we had a blast getting to move at our own pace. We stopped when we wanted to – to take pictures, to have lunch, or just because. We had our first of many steaks, which Argentina is famous for, and we were blown away by the ever-changing scenery and historic villages out our window.

The nearby wine region, Cafayate, is the most famous in Argentina (after Menoza) and we drove ourselves to a couple of the recommended wineries in and just outside of town as well as to a creamery where they do goat cheese tastings. Mmm!

The drive back to the city was on a section called Quebrada de Cafayate. The red rocks, the rock formations and the vistas for the first 50km of the return are said to be some of Argentina’s most beautiful landscapes – which is saying quite a bit.

We are happy we gave this area the time it deserved and we got ourselves back to Salta in plenty of time for our overnight bus trip to Mendoza where the wine drinking and delicious eating would continue!

What a Difference a Border Makes

When the time came to move south from Bolivia into Argentina, we’d had a good run. We piled ourselves onto another crowded, slightly-ghetto bus and bounced down the 2-lane dirt roads to the border town. After a bit of a delay at the Bolivian side as we all waited for the border guard that keeps the exit stamp to arrive at work for the day, we walked across a bridge over a trash-filled stream to the Argentina side.

In Argentina, we were efficiently welcomed into the country by a couple of well-dressed, well-coifed mate-drinking border guards and then we walked to the bus station to continue the rest of our journey. This international transition is not too different from the US-Mexico border. The first bus we got on in Argentina (and all the ones since) have been double-decker, air-conditioned slices of heaven with large, plush seats that recline and have leg rests. The buses also show movies and there is an attendant on board that does everything from collecting your ticket to serving you food on the long-haul journeys! Needless to say, the contrast between the rickety old bus in Bolivia and the fanciest bus we had ever been on in Argentina was significant.

As we jetted down the paved, 4-lane divided highway and started to see billboards instead of trash on the side of the road, we reminded ourselves that this transportation upgrade was not without its costs. Literally! The fancy bus trip in Argentina was at least 10x more expensive than what we were paying in Bolivia and it was a foreshadowing of the money that would bleed from our wallets in this lovely, but relatively expensive country.

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