Patagonia: Incredible mountains and glaciers

We flew from Buenos Aires to El Calafate, the jumping off point to see the illustrious Perito Moreno glacier.  El Calafate also had a lake with a nice marsh for birds including flamingos!  Seeing the flamingos in their natural habitat was a nice surprise.

After our day tour to the glacier, we headed for El Chaltan for some hiking.  Driving into El Chaltan, we were struck by Mount Fitz Roy and the surrounding mountains, which looked like a natural castle.  We spent the next few days hiking around, and Jen did a day tour to the Viedma glacier to go ice climbing!  Jen got lucky with good weather and a small group, but unfortunately a back injury from falling in Bariloche prevented her from really getting after the ice.  Jen got to go on this expensive adventure while Jon enjoyed another hike, since he had used up his adventure cash mountain biking.

Next, we were really excited to meet up with friends from Boulder:  Jenn (who also met us in Beijing!), Andrea, her husband Ryan, and Harlan.  They were joining us to hike the famous W track in Torres del Paine National Park in Chilean Patagonia!  We had already had a few winter ski hut adventures with Andrea, Ryan and Harlan, so this was not our first backcountry adventure together.

We arrived in Chile a few days early to plan, buy food, and pack.  We hiked in to the first campsite on our own, and headed up the hill to try to see the gorges “Los Torres” peaks while the weather held out.  Torres del Paine is famous for severe and changeable weather, so any sun is a blessing!   We waited and waited for our friends to arrive at the Refugio, and they finally made it around 9 pm due to some South American antics.  Since they were on a shorter (and more luxurious) vacation, they opted for staying in the refugios and paying for cooked meals, while we camped and cooked for ourselves.

The next morning, the rest of the group hiked up to the Los Torres peaks, and later we all took off for our next campsite at Los Cuernos.   The next day, we hiked up the French Valley to some of the most amazing views of the hike.  Unfortunately, the photos from this part of the hike did not turn out due to some snow and low lighting, but we could hear either glacier calving or avalanches thundering as we hiked towards the glaciers hanging off of the huge mountains.  That night, we relaxed by joining our friends in their backcountry hot tub that came with the cabins that they booked.  Unfortunately, we did not make it up to the glacier at the end of the lake (to complete the W) due to 80 km/hr winds which kept us up all night by literally slapping us with the tent.  We will be back to hike in this park again!  Patagonia with its granite rock formations was probably the most stunning scenery of the trip.

We had an amazing time with our friends, but they were heading to Buenos Aires and we headed to Brazil in time for CARNAVAL!


Amigos y Familia en Argentina

From Santiago, we bused over an incredible mountain pass to Mendoza, Argentina.  We were ecstatic to meet our friend, Emilio the Extra-Terrestrial and his personal assistants, Owen and Sara!  Emilio journeyed from his home planet by way of New York to visit us.  Emilio was pretty excited to eat steak and drink Malbec in the famous wine region of Argentina.

Upon landing in Argentina, Emilio was pretty surprised to learn about the unofficial exchange rate for US dollars, or the “blue dollar” market.  Due to inflation woes and poor government policy, the official exchange rate is 8.5 pesos per USD, but on the street, a dollar will fetch 12 – 13.5 pesos.  Due to the instability of the peso, Argentinians exchange their peso paychecks for USD and stash them in bank deposit boxes.  Emilio made Jon and Owen do the work of exchanging our USD for pesos, which wasn’t nearly as sketchy as it sounds.

After a few too many sips of Malbec, we accompanied Emilio for a 17 hour bus ride from Mendoza to Bariloche, in the beautiful lakes district of Argentina.  We were served wine, meals, and treated to all of the recent young-adult-books-turned-movies.  Emilio loved “The Fault in Our Stars!”

We stayed outside of Bariloche, in the ski village of Cerro Cathedral.  All of us were astounded by the gorgeous views of lakes and the Andes Mountains around Bariloche.

We took a 10-hour hike to a hut called Refugio Grey, which also had incredible mountain scenery.  Emilio felt like he was on his home planet while we walked through the rocky outcroppings.  The group sustained a couple of tumbles on some of the loose rocks, but the day was a success.

The next day, Emilio navigated us along the famous Patagonia Route 40 for the “Ruta de los Siete Lagos”, a long, gorgeous drive in the seven lakes area outside of Bariloche.  On this day, suspiciously everyone in the group caught a stomach bug EXCEPT EMILIO….hmmmmm.

The bug reduced our energy, but not our spirits.   Jon and Jen took another 24 hour bus from Bariloche to Buenos Aires.  Emilio demanded to fly, so Owen and Sara were forced to accompany him.  By the time we met again in Buenos Aires, we were ready to take on everything the city had to offer:  museums, planetariums, neighborhoods, cafes, restaurants, and bars.

Emilio was enchanted by Buenos Aires (BA) right off the bat.  To start off, we loved taking him on walks through the lovely parks in BA, including an incredible rose garden.  He wanted to join in and rollerblade with the rest of BA, but he didn’t bring his protective gear.  The rest of us loved going on free walking tours of the city, including seeing the remaining palaces and learning about Argentine quirks and culture, like the high rate of plastic surgery.   The streets and neighborhoods of BA are fascinating: modern buildings juxtaposed with art-deco Parisian-style buildings and gorgeous Italian-style fountains.

As it is with everything good, our time with Emilio (and Owen and Sara) had to come to an end.   However, we were thrilled to have Jen’s parents meet us for the second half of our Buenos Aires stay.  After seven months away, it was so nice to spend quality time with family.   Bob and Marcy are fantastic, very fun with whom to meander around town and wine and dine.  With them we enjoyed our best steak dinner of the trip, the Evita and two great art museums, and a night out with drinks at a magnificent hotel.  After our time with Bob and Marcy we realized more family trips are imperative.