South America Day 8 – Iguazu National Park
16th January 2019
Today, we are going to Iguazú National Park on the Argentinian side of the falls. For a local, this trip is simple; a bus to the Argentinian town of Puerto Iguazú and a second bus to the park. For a foreigner. it is more complicated as you have to disembark for immigration twice and the bus doesn’t wait, so it involves taking three consecutive buses on the same route, then a fourth bus to the park.
We walk to the international bus stop and wait. A bus to Paraguay pulls up and everyone else gets on. This happens a few more times before eventually a bus driver asks why we’re sitting at the bus stop and explains that buses to Argentina depart from the other end of the road. On our complicated journey we have fallen at the first hurdle or rather, tumbled rather awkwardly out of the starting blocks.
We find the correct bus stop and once a group of foreigners is assembled, a taxi driver offers to take us direct to the park for the price of 5 buses. And so we set off to Argentina by taxi with two Poles and two Colombians. This is the first test of my Spanish with the added pressure of having to translate into English for the Poles.
We reach the park entrance, queue for tickets, then have to take two separate trains to the waterfall. In all, it has taken almost three hours to reach our ultimate destination; La Garganta del Diablo – the Devil’s Throat. Surrounded by signs warning of crocodiles, we set forth on a rickety walkway over the river to the edge of the waterfall. It’s incredible, the sound and scale of water rushing down the Devil’s Throat is immense.
Next, we take a second, less busy trail (Circuito Superior) along the river for further views of the falls.
Along the way, we meet a family of monkeys who have mugged a small child for her sandwich.
Just time for a drink in the food court (an area teaming with baby coatis hoping for spillage from the tables above) before setting off on the return journey to Brazil.
We stop en route at the Argentinian Hito Tres Fronteras border obelisk, for one last photo op, then it’s back to our hotel for one final night in Brazil. Tomorrow we depart for Paraguay.
South America Day 11 – Buenos Aires
19th January 2019
This morning, we are up at 3 am for our flight 700 miles south to Buenos Aires. The day does not start well with the old man vomiting between the hotel and the taxi. Once at the airport, my first challenge of the day; to spend our remaining £20 worth of Guarani in the departure lounge. I depart Paraguay clutching two glass chickens, a cap and a healthy breakfast combo of empanadas and Pringles.
In the plane I have an emergency exit seat. The steward explains that sitting here requires being able to follow crew instructions. He sounds fairly unconvinced that I’m up to the job. The flight arrives without incident and we are at our hotel in Buenos Aires by 9 am. Much to our relief, we are able to check in to our hotel; 474 Buenos Aires early to shower and regroup.
At midday, we are sufficiently recovered to join our Casa Rosada guided tour. This is the Argentinian presidency; the place where Eva Peron sings ‘Don’t cry for me Argentina’ from the balcony in Evita.
The tour is supposed to take an hour, but the guide seems to love the sound of his own voice and goes on and on. Tours are 15 minutes apart, so they are soon backing up behind us. It doesn’t help that some of the Americans in our group refuse to do stairs and we have to wait while a separate staff member escorts them via the elevator.
Finally, we reach the bit we’ve been waiting for – the iconic balcony. We patiently wait our turn to go out, but the guard decides our group’s time is up and starts herding us towards the exit. It’s such an anticlimax. Our tour of a few rooms has taken two hours and we have missed the highlight.
Once the tour finally ends, we head for the Museum which contains a potted history of Argentina, plus articles relating to the life of the Perons.
We queue for another guided tour; David Siqueieros’ mural Ejercicio Plástico. Again the tour way outlasts my attention span. It’s some naked ladies in a box – Next!
I’m still sulking from the lack of balcony time and the old man is not feeling well, so we decide to call it a day. We return to the very pleasant Hotel 474 for an early night before a full sightseeing onslaught in the morning.
South America Day 12 – Buenos Aires
20th January 2019
Today we are going sightseeing in Buenos Aires. There will be no guided tours, just us and my well annotated copy of Lonely Planet. We start with the cathedral, former manor of the Pope.
Then we try to get a tube from Catedral underground station. It sounds fool-proof, seeing as we’re already at the cathedral. But somehow we manage to overshoot and end up at Peru, which is on a different line. By the time we realise, we’ve already passed through the barrier so have to retrace our steps, buy more tickets and try again.
Second time lucky, we find the station and catch the tube to Palermo. This morning is all about parks. We walk through the Eco Parque, with its cute maras grazing by the lake, to reach the Parque 3 Febrero.
It’s heaving on a Sunday morning; walkers, joggers, cyclists, skaters, yoga, aerobics, weightlifting. It’s all going on here, there’s even a man playing the bagpipes.
There’s so much to see and do here, but for me the highlights are the Rose Garden and the Japanese garden.
Next, we visit the Museum of Latin American Art (MALBA). As the name suggests, it’s a collection of art by Latin American artists. The old man is not a great art lover, but there is some great stuff here. Even he is impressed. The temporary exhibition is by Pablo Suarez. His work is clever and a little bit crazy, which is just how I like things.
We stop briefly at the Floralis Generica, a huge metal flower sculpture that opens in the sunlight. It sits in a pool of water and reflects the nearby buildings in its silver petals.
Next is the Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes. This has some South American and plenty of European art. The temporary exhibition is by Turner, on loan from the Tate, so ironically we have paid to see something in Argentina that we could see in England for free.
Last stop is the Recoleta, the cemetery of the rich and famous. It’s like a huge city of the dead. The cemetery only has one entrance. Somehow, we manage to walk round all four sides before locating the gate some 350 degrees from where we started.
We complete our wander round the inside of the cemetery. Tired and hungry after a long day, we spot a microbrewery opposite the exit; Buller Pub & Brewery. Unfortunately, we are by the coach drop off point where buses leave their engines running to maintain the a/c at the required temperature for their passengers. So we drink beer and eat our enormous burgers in a cloud of diesel fumes before dragging ourselves back across town thus completing our ten hour sightseeing extravaganza.
South America Day 13 – Buenos Aires
21st January 2019
Today is rather disjointed as many tourist attractions are closed on Mondays. Our hotel is in the banking district, so has been like a ghost town all weekend. However, this morning it is heaving and all the shops and cafes are open, not just McDonalds, where we had to resort to breakfast yesterday. This is a problem, as the old man doesn’t cope well with choice and we have to study numerous menus before we are finally able to sit down and order some actual food.
Most of the morning we wander around Buenos Aires admiring the city’s architecture.
Then, a guided tour of the Palacio Barolo; an Art Deco tower block where each floor represents a different verse of Dante’s Divine Comedy.
You start in the foyer (hell) then work your way up through purgatory to heaven. Ironically, you can reach purgatory by lift, but the final 8 floors to heaven have to be climbed on foot.
It’s an amazing building with the added bonus of great views across the city to the River Plate. We climb into to the glass domed lighthouse at the top for a stunning, if vertiginous view.
Once we have descended from heaven, we walk as far as the Congress Building, which is situated in a park surrounded by sculptures and dog poo.
Then we return to our hotel via the renovated waterfront area of Puerto Madero with its Puente de la Mujer swing bridge, boats and trendy cafes.
In the afternoon, we go to Galerias Pacifico; it’s primarily a shopping mall, however its domed ceiling is the work 5 prominent muralists. We had planned to eat in the food court but three full circuits of the hall determines that there is nothing on any of the menus acceptable to the old man. Apparently, he wants to be healthy and have a salad. So we find a restaurant and he orders a salad which includes fried fish in batter, cheese, ham and eggs. He also orders a beer which comes with 3 bowls of nuts. So not all that healthy.
Once the psuedo healthy meal has been consumed, it’s back to the hotel for an early night ready for tomorrow’s day trip to Uruguay.
South America Day 15 – Tigre
23rd January 2019
Today we are going to Tigre, to the north of Buenos Aires. Not so much for the destination, but for the journey. We plan to take a two hour boat trip up the River Plate, then return along the riverside on the Tren de la Costa.
The day does not start well. We try to get some cash out to find our card has been cloned and the account emptied overnight at a cashpoint in Johnson City USA. To make matters worse, once our financial woes have been dealt with, we no longer have time for breakfast before catching our boat.
Hunger aside, the boat trip is wonderful. We head up the River Plate which is so enormous and choppy it’s like being at sea, apart from the water hyacinths bobbing around us.
Once in the Tigre Delta, the water calms and we are allowed up on deck. We cruise through a picturesque area of small islands and inlets lined with stilted houses and boats to reach Tigre. Amongst the houses we pass is Casa Sarmiento; home to the writer and former President of Argentina, Domingo Sarmiento.
There’s much more to Tigre than I’d anticipated. We wander along the tree lined riverfront to the Naval Museum, which charts the history of the country’s Navy from its inception to the raising of the Argentinian flag over the Falklands in 1982.
We continue to the Art Museum (MAT) where there’s plenty of local art on display in a beautiful building.
My favourites are by Benito Quinquela Martín – they depict workers on the docks of the River Plate a century ago when my great grandfather would have travelled here as a sailor.
We catch the hop on-hop off bus back into town, get some lunch and head to the train station to catch the Tren de la Costa. Who knew? The train doesn’t leave from the train station – it has its own terminus in the fruit market. We consider walking eight blocks to catch the tourist train, lose interest and catch the commuter train back to town.
The fruit market is like a cross between a market and a brewery; we are surrounded by people trying to sell food, clothes, electrical goods and pictures of the Virgin Mary plus several men who have managed to get very drunk for mid afternoon.
We arrive back in Buenos Aires, via the century old Retiro station. We walk to the hotel, through Plaza Fuerza, stopping to buy souvenirs. While I am perusing fridge magnets, a young man decides I am in the exact spot he would like to stand and shoves me out of the way. I give him a brief summary of my opinion on his manners. The old man persuades me to depart before I choose to elaborate further and we return to pack for tomorrow’s flight to Ushuaia.
South America Day 16 – Ushuaia
24th January 2019
Our time in Buenos Aires is over. Today we fly 1500 miles south to Tierra del Fuego. The flight is very basic – none of this in-flight entertainment nonsense. Two hours in, some warm coke and a bag of rice cakes materialise. The old man is so bored he determines to count his rice cakes. After two more hours, we begin our descent.
All of a sudden, I am no longer bored for three good reasons. Firstly, we have to descend through a huge bank of cloud which causes enormous turbulence. Bouncing through it like a plaything of the gods it terrifying.
Next, come stunning views of the Andes sweeping down to the ocean. Thirdly, it’s time to try to land, in heavy winds, on the tiny strip of land sticking out from the end of the world. Attempt No 1, abort, circle, try again, circle, try again, abort, circle, try again. In all, from first attempt to finally landing – 21 minutes of pure fear. The atmosphere is tense; deathly silence permeated only by the rustle of sick bags and the occasional scream (some of them mine).
Once we are gratefully back on solid ground, to grateful cheers and a well earned round of applause for the pilot, we check into our guesthouse; Cabo, and go in search of food (and beer – it’s been a very stressful day).
After an initial wander along the streets and shoreline of Ushuaia, we retire (with more beer) to contemplate how the end of the world nearly was the end of the world…
South America Day 17 – Tierra del Fuego National Park
25th January 2019
Ushuaia is a strange, mesmerising place; a town tumbling the hillside between the Andes and the sea. At this time of year, it doesn’t get dark until 10 pm, prior to that is a dusk of eerie yellowish grey, and it’s light again by 5 am.
Today, we are going slightly further afield to Tierra del Fuego National Park. We walk into Ushuaia to the shuttle bus departure point. It’s shockingly expensive (more than double what we’d expected), but we cough up and head for the park. After a brief stop to hand over more money for entry fees, we reach the Visitor Centre.
Fortified with empanadas, we set forth on a five hour hike. It’s very beautiful; on one side is the Beagle Channel with its abundant bird life, on the other, snow capped mountains. Most of the area is peat bog, so the rivers and lakes are a spooky green-brown colour.
We walk to the beacon at the end of the world and (once I have pocketed a souvenir rock for my baby geologist – bad mummy!) return to the Visitor Centre via an area which fell victim to a disastrous attempt to introduce beavers to the park.
Returning to Ushuaia is surprisingly complicated. There are dozens of seemingly identical white buses all bearing the logo ‘Linea Regular’ but they are all owned by different companies and our ticket is only valid on one particular bus. It leaves in two hours. So we while away the time watching the cloud descend over the mountains (our bus driver is sitting at the table behind us for the whole of these two hours).
Once the driver is suitably siestaed, we can go back to town. We pile onto the bus, wait a while, then are told to change to a different bus. Finally, we depart in a convoy of similar, yet somehow subtly different buses.
South America Day 18 – Beagle Channel
26th January 2019
We are staying in an apartment in Ushuaia which has pros and cons compared to a hotel. Pro: we can cook our own food. Con: now everything we own now smells of sausages. Pro: there is room to dry laundry. Con: laundry is forbidden. So, we spend the night with the radiators on full and the windows open and by morning our undercover underwear wash is complete and we smell less like a takeaway. Double win.
This morning, suitable attired in clean pants, we are going on a cruise. The route conjures up school history lessons about explorers; The Beagle Channel, Cape Horn…
We arrive at the port 20 minutes before the published departure time, which is good because passports are required to embark. The old man rushes back to the apartment to get the passports. The boat eventually departs 40 minutes behind schedule, so the mad dash was totally unnecessary.
We leave Ushuaia, sailing into the Beagle Channel. The scenery is beautiful and the pilot navigates to line up with an island of black and white imperial cormorants.
Next, comes Les Eclaireurs Lighthouse on an island inhabited by sea lions. I manoeuvre myself into a position on the bow of the catamaran, just as we hit a rogue wave on the otherwise calm sea. With six hours of the journey left, I am completely soaked and smell faintly of sealion poo.. But I get my sea lion photos, to go with my impending pneumonia.
We cruise on in search of penguins. I go to the toilet, but am horrified to find the toilet is placed over a hole and I have peed into the Beagle Channel.
After the almost excitement of a tiny glimpse of whale, we reach the point where the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans meet, and the main attraction; penguins. An island covered in penguins; penguins on the beach, penguins fishing in the sea, penguins everywhere. It’s a wonderful sight.
Disembarking is not permitted, but the boat pulls up alongside the island for long enough to satiate everyone’s penguin sighting desires. Then we return to Ushuaia, with a detour to drop passengers at Estancia Haberton, Patagonia’s oldest ranch.
In the evening we take a stroll round town. It’s very busy; an enormous (2400 berth) cruise ship is in port. A strange thing about visitors to Ushuaia; it’s summer and an agreeable 12 degrees C. I’m happily wandering round in a fleece and trainers yet most tourists are dressed as if they’re actually in the Antarctic. We saw people in the park dressed in hiking boots, waterproof trousers, padded jackets, hats, scarves, the works. And they were on a coach tour.
South America Day 19 – Ushuaia
27th January 2019
Three weeks of travel have taken their toll, so today I am taking it easy. While the old man goes to climb a glacier, I set off for the museum. A few minutes later, he is behind me. The bus has been cancelled due to lack of interest. He follows for a while, complaining that ‘museums are boring’, then decides to catch a taxi to the glacier and disappears again.
The Museo Maritimo & Museo del Presidio is housed in an old prison (the town was originally a penal colony). The entrance fee has doubled since I googled the website last month (treble the price in my guide book). However, it is larger and than I’d expected and I emerge three hours and 100 photographs later.
The prison consisted of several wings; one has been left untouched to show the conditions prisoners lived in.
A second tells the history of the penal colony and some of its more infamous inmates.
A third is an art gallery.
A fourth contains a gift shop and Project Penguin; a collection of painted penguin sculptures.
The remaining wings detail the area’s history. There’s the tragi-comedy of the chaos wreaked by the first missionaries; a section on the first successful expedition to the South Pole (including some sketches of Norwegian flags discovered in Scott’s notebook); and a section on piracy starring Sir Francis Drake. Plus plenty of other fascinating Fuegian facts.
In the afternoon, time for one last wander round town to take advantage of the many photo opportunities.
Then, we round the day off with dinner at a very nice restaurant; Paso Garibaldi. For £30 we receive a small but tasty bowl of crab stew plus two chips each and one bread roll between two (plus a bottle of Cape Horn – the world’s southernmost beer). It’s a good job there’s a packet of biscuits back at the apartment with my name on it.
Our time in the beautiful Tierra del Fuego is over. Biscuits consumed, it’s time to pack. In the morning we fly to El Calafate.
South America Day 20 – El Calafate
28th January 2019
This morning we fly 350 miles north to El Calafate, a town on the edge of the Patagonian ice field. We arrive at the airport in plenty of time, which is good because it is now that we learn that Aerolineas Argentinas has a 15 kg luggage limit – not 23 kg as indicated on our booking form. After checking in, we have to wait in a long queue to pay our excess baggage fees. But first, the old man has an argument with the check in clerk, followed by an argument with the excess baggage clerk, rounded off with an argument with the supervisor.
We board our flight, I’m hoping it’s calmer then our arrival when I genuinely thought I was going to star in the sequel to Alive!
The next three weeks of our trip are fly-drive. We’re looking forward to the freedom of our own transport. We land (which startles an armadillo who has wandered onto the runway), collect our car and head for our hotel; La Estepa.
Our room overlooks Lago Argentino, and we can see flamingos feeding on the lake.
We drive into town for some lunch and a closer look at the lake and its prolific bird life. Then retire to our hotel, sit by the window and admire the beautiful view.
South America Day 21 – Perito Moreno Glacier
29th January 2019
We went to bed with the curtains open to take advantage of the view of the sun setting and rising over the lake. The trouble is the sun rises so early, it tricks you into getting up too soon, so at 6.30 am I get up and go for a run. I planned to run along the lake, but at the end of the road are wild dogs. So I make do with jogging up and down the (rather steep) road in front of the hotel.
After breakfast we set off for Perito Moreno Glacier. This 35 km long, 4 km wide glacier ends at Lago Argentino, where you can observe it from boardwalks along the shore.
The first part of the drive is stunning, but pretty soon the cloud descends and it starts to rain. By the time we reach the park it’s pouring down. I can certainly see why the Welsh felt such an affinity for Patagonia.
We stop at a viewpoint for our first glimpse of the glacier. It’s spectacular in a barely-visible-through-the-cloud sort of way.
We reach the car park at the start of the boardwalks. Nobody moves. After sitting in the car a while waiting out the rain, we accept that it’s not going to stop, don waterproofs and set off.
My guide book says there are 4 km if boardwalks. It’s omitted to mention the steps. By the time we reach the end, we have climbed over 1100 steps. We walk to the glacier along the Sendero de la Costa; a mile long boardwalk approaching the glacier along the lakeside.
It’s an incredible sight – the huge wall of ice coming to an abrupt end. Every now and then, with a huge roar, a chunk breaks off and crashes into the water. One of the benefits of the rain is that the boardwalks are deserted, so no jostling for position for a good viewpoint. Most of the tour groups are sheltering in the gift shop wearing expensive yellow ponchos they’ve just purchased for no apparent reason, as it’s not raining inside.
We follow the series of boardwalks and viewing platforms around the base of the glacier, admiring it from every angle, then I take the shuttle back to car park (the old man insists on walking) and we drive the 70 km back to our hotel. Once we exit the park, the rain stops and the sun comes out (of course).
In the evening, time for one last wander round the souvenir shops in El Calafate, followed by dinner of empanadas, chips in garlic butter (because frying potatoes just doesn’t add enough fat) and Patagonian beer at a restaurant overlooking the lake. It’s a pleasant but uneventful dinner until a middle aged couple come in with their teddy bears, seat them at the table and order dinner for four.
We drive back round the lake, stopping for a last time to view the flamingos then then return to the hotel to pack. In the the morning, we move on to El Chalten.
South America Day 22 – El Chaltén
30th January 2019
Today we drive 136 miles north along Route 40 to the village of El Chaltén. The scenery en route is of snow capped mountains, turquoise lakes, rivers with eagles flying overhead and pampas dotted with guanacos (a type of llama).
We also spot silver foxes, an armadillo and gauchos herding sheep.
We arrive in El Chaltén and check in to our cabin; Aires del Fitz . We’ve been upgraded to a two storey, six bed cabin, so space won’t be an issue for the next few nights.
We walk through quirky little El Chaltén; a hiking centre within Los Glaciares National Park and visit the park Visitor Centre for details of hiking routes.
We select the 6 km ‘Mirador de los Condores y de las Aguilas’ supposedly to viewpoints where condors and eagles soar above the river canyon. It’s very steep and the wind is fierce. At the summit is a terrific view but no birds of prey.
We descend, buy provisions, have dinner and crash, tired from the long drive and the afternoon’s exertions.
South America Day 23 – El Chaltén
31st January 2019
Today there has been a difference of opinion. I planned a pleasant drive to a lake, but have been overruled. Instead, we are doing a 10 km hike up a mountain to a different lake. It seems rather foolish to walk, particularly uphill, when we have paid good money for a hire car.
After breakfast and the packing of supplies (my latest addiction – Rocklets galletitas – cookies with chocolate chips and mini smarties) we set off up the Sendero Al Fitz Roy. I’m only sulking a little bit, but the combination of the beautiful scenery and the endorphins from the exertion of walking 5 km uphill soon win me round.
First stop is a viewpoint over the Rio de las Vueltas where we spot an eagle soaring over the valley. We continue through the beach forest to a viewpoint over the spiky peaks of Cerro Fitz Roy sticking up through the clouds.
Then we continue to pretty little Laguna Capri. After a brief rest on the lakeside, we set off back downhill.
Going back down is easier in some ways, but harder on the knees and because there are now so many people to pass coming up the trail.
On our final evening in El Chaltén, I go in search of souvenirs whilst the old man goes to the supermarket to buy dinner. On the menu; bread and six slices of ham, because that was the highest number he knew in Spanish. It could have been worse – he only learned four, five and six yesterday.
South America Day 24 – Bariloche
1st February 2019
Today we return to El Calafate for our flight to Bariloche. It’s 125 miles to the airport, but Hertz insist the car is returned with a full tank which adds a further 20 miles to our drive. The distance between things is difficult for a Brit to get used to. It’s also 130 miles between toilets. But that’s another story…
We set off at 7.15 am. It’s a remote road with nothing except a lake one side and pampas on the other. In the first hour we pass four cars, three guanacos, two rhea and one grey fox.
We have worked out a way to halve our excess baggage fines. This involves checking a piece of hand luggage and using a bag-for-life for carry on items – the height of sartorial elegance. Sadly, I’ve had to ditch my not insubstantial collection of hotel toiletries. We had to turn 2 x 20 kg into 3 x 15 and have ended up with 17, 14 and 8. She thinks about it for some considerable time but finally concedes there is no more money to be made here today.
Bariloche, 700 miles to the north, is in the Argentinian Lake District on the shores of Lake Nahuel Huapi. After the flight and picking up another hire care, we finally reach our hotel; Villa Huinid on the outskirts of town at 4 pm. It’s a beautiful resort style hotel overlooking the sapphire blue lake and the Andes.
Everything about Villa Huinid is nice but the three best things are; (1) the view, (2) the chips which come tossed in paprika with paprika and black garlic mayo and (3) the bath. I haven’t had a bath in 24 days, so a bath is a source of great excitement. And this is no ordinary bath, it’s a jacuzzi bath. After possibly the world’s longest bath, I emerge having learned an important lesson; one small bottle of conditioner can create an enormous amount of bubbles!
We round off the day with a wander round pretty little Bariloche with its alpine style buildings and plethora of chocolate shops.
South America Day 25 – Circuito Chico
2nd February 2019
Today we are driving the Circuito Chico; a popular 60 km scenic lakeside loop. We start by taking a chairlift 1000 metres up Cerro Campanario, where a series of platforms provide 360 degree views of the surrounding mountains and lakes.
We take the chairlift back down. A dozen ahead of us is a lady in a wheelchair. The lift is stopped while she is helped into her seat. This means that when she reaches the bottom and the lift is stopped again, we are dangling at the highest point. Being left dangling in a chair hanging on a wire halfway up a mountain is not my idea of a good time. Luckily, we get moving again while I am still contemplating some sort of drastic escape bid.
We continue on our drive to pretty little San Eduardo Chapel; made of stone and logs, it perches on a hill overlooking the lake and and the little port of Puerto Panuelo.
Next, we park up and follow a series of forest trails which lead us to a boardwalk through gnarly myrtle trees, a beach where Andean condors soar overhead, a Roman style bridge (randomly built in the forest for no particular reason) and the tiny Lago Escondido.
We drive across Bahia Lopez, where a bridge crosses a stream between two lakes.
We find ourselves at Cervezeria Patagonia; a brewery with a lakeside beer garden. We have a very good, cool beer on benches overlooking the lakes. The cups are pretty cool too, so we steal them and complete the circuit back to the hotel.
South America Day 26 – San Martín de los Andes
3rd February 2019
When I get up the old man has disappeared. I wait 40 minutes assuming he can’t have gone far, then find him in the restaurant on his fourth plate from the breakfast buffet. A buffet is like playing Russian roulette when you have an allergy. Someone has double dipped in the condiments and there are brown blobs in the cream cheese. After some muttering and an extensive mining operation, I am fairly confident my breakfast isn’t going to kill me.
Today we are driving 120 miles north to San Martín de los Andes along the Camino de los siete Lagos; a road which passes seven lakes. Each lake has a viewpoint. So we wind our way along through the forest stopping to take pictures at each one; Espejo, Correntoso, Escondido, Villarino, Falkner, Machonico. They’re all beautiful. We keep meeting the same people every time we stop. By the end, our new best friends are a couple of caravaners from Chile.
We reach San Martín by mid afternoon and check into our Bavarian style guesthouse; La Posta del Cazador. It’s very quaint. So quaint it doesn’t even have power. After I’ve done a pee with the assistance of the torch on my iPhone, we go for a wander in search of food and Wifi.
San Martín is similarly quaint; a little tourist town on the shores of Lago Lácar. It has a distinctly German feel with officious police wandering around telling people off for minor misdemeanours. I’ve already got into trouble for not wearing a seatbelt (I was, he just couldn’t see it under my boobs).
We walk along the lakeside beach, past the rose garden and find a café for dinner.
On to la Pastera; a museum about Che Guevara, but it’s shut because it’s the village’s birthday. I’m not sure what that means, but it appears to involve a sh**load of barbecuing.
We return to the hotel, which now has power so we can shower and regroup after a long, hot day.
South America Day 27 – Lanin National Park
4th February 2019
I planned to visit Chachin waterfall in Lanin National Park today. It’s only 27 miles away, but 25 are off road. The old man is unenthusiastic, but we set off anyway. It’s supposed to take 80 minutes, but our little car struggles so much that we take twice as long. Mo Farah could have run it faster. The old man picks up some hitchhikers en route. They don’t speak English and we quickly exhaust my Spanish so we pootle along, very slowly, in silence.
At the end of the track are the Chilean border crossing and a ranger station. The ranger tells us that the trail to the waterfall is closed due to fallen trees, but suggests we head there anyway, in case it reopens.
So we drive even more off road, over a bridge that reminds me of a Top Gear Challenge. Sure enough, just as we reach the car park, a quad bike comes the other way trailing red and white ‘no entry’ tape recently removed from the trail entrance.
We walk the final mile to the waterfall. It’s nice, but I’m not sure it warrants the effort it took to reach it. There’s a little kiosk at the entrance. I ask the vendor if he has cold drinks and he goes and fishes a couple of bottles of Fanta out of the lake.
Next, another two hour bumpy, dusty drive back to town, this time with Chilean hitchhikers, who give us plenty of tips for our forthcoming trip to Santiago.
We finally reach San Martín and manage to find a restaurant which opens on Mondays. We order huge tarts which come with a choice of three salad ingredients. It takes me ages to decide between tomato and onion – the old man gets very stressed.
In the evening, a last walk by the lake with the obligatory stop for souvenirs. San Martín is awash with souvenir shops, but they sell less conventional items. If you want a hunting knife, the choices are endless. Post cards, less so. We stop at the supermarket to buy cold drinks. There are fridges full of drinks, but an employee is immediately replacing any item removed, so nothing towards the front is actually cold. Another extensive mining operation is called for. I return to the guesthouse clutching my hard won cold beer and pack ready to move on in the morning.
South America Day 28 – Villa la Angostura
5th February 2019
After breakfast we check out of La Posta del Cazador, which is a relief as it’s dark and stuffy and full of dead things (the door handles and light fittings are made of antlers). The bed was so uncomfortable I spent half the night contemplating sleeping in the car.
This morning we are returning down the Route of Seven Lakes to Villa la Angostura. First, a visit to La Pastera Museo del Che. It’s a tenuous link; Che Guevara spent two nights in this barn in 1952. It is, however, an interesting little museum.
After we’ve learned all about el Che’s two day trip to San Martin, we drive south stopping at various viewpoints over lakes and waterfalls along the way.
We reach quaint little Villa La Angostura around lunchtime. We check into our hotel; Marinas Alto Manzano. It’s beautiful. We have a huge room overlooking the lake and the bathroom has a jacuzzi, also with a lake view.
After I’ve finished admiring the view from the bedroom, we had for town and wander along the high street, which is lined with alpine style shops and brightly coloured wooden statues. We stop for lunch (empanadas and cheesy chips) at Ruta 40; a restaurant with a balcony overlooking the high street, where we can watch the world go by.
We had planned to go to the myrtle forest, but it’s a 24 km hike, and lunch takes ages (nothing happens very quickly in Argentina) so instead we buy beer and return to our room to enjoy the lakeside view. I mostly enjoy the view from the jacuzzi, although it’s more complicated than it seems. First, the water is far too hot (so I now have a sauna too), then I add extra cold and go way over the fill line. So when I turn the jacuzzi on, water bubbles up over the sides and floods the bathroom.
Once I have mastered the jacuzzi and soaked to within an inch of my life, it’s time to repack in a way that complies with Aerolineas Argentinas’ ridiculous baggage restrictions. Our visit to beautiful Patagonia has come to an end.
South America Day 29 – Córdoba
6th February 2019
Today we fly 800 miles north-east to Córdoba. We eat breakfast on the terrace with another beautiful lake view. Then were off – it’s rather a dull day; drive, airport, flight, airport, drive. My only source of entertainment; a book I found at the hotel, which I wouldn’t have chosen given a choice of two. But it’s OK if you’re into American submarine sinking conspiracies.
Finally we reach our hotel in Córdoba; Yrigoyen 111. It’s very pleasant and heaving with professional tennis players, as there’s an ATP tournament in progress.
We walk a mile across town to meet a friend (a student we hosted in the summer). She’s given us an address but it’s for a block of flats, so when we arrive, we realise we don’t know which flat is hers. We consider standing in the street shouting ‘Wilma’ but then manage to pick up wifi and WhatsApp from a petrol station round the corner.
We have a lovely evening catching up with the lovely Wilma and her daughter, then return to the hotel to try to sort out our banking issues (one account is happily giving our cash to strangers and another has security so tight it won’t even give it to us).
South America Day 30 – Alta Gracia and Villa General Belgrano
7th February 2019
Today we are going on a road trip with Wilma. First, breakfast. It’s very healthy – there’s more fruit on the breakfast buffet than I’ve seen in the whole of the past month. The benefit of sharing a hotel with professional sportsmen.
We set off for Alta Gracia, a small town 24 miles southwest of Córdoba. It is the home of a 16th century Jesuit ranch (now a museum) and church. After a quick climb of the clock tower for a birds eye view of town, we visit the various Jesuit buildings.
On the outskirts of town, is the childhood home of Che Guevara, now a museum. It documents the course of his life with plenty of photographs, original letters and documents. My favourites are letters written by little Ernesto and ‘La Poderosa’ – the motorcycle he rode on his travels round South America in his youth.
We continue a further 30 miles to Villa General Belgrano. It’s the most German place I’ve ever visited (and I used to live in Germany!)
For lunch we go to Fritz & Franz for Knackwurst and Sauerkraut. To be honest, F&F aren’t that hot on food hygiene; the tables are left dirty for ages, and each time customers leave, a flock of pigeons descends to pick over the scraps. So basically we’re eating surrounded by pigeon poo.
After lunch, we wander round town, visiting some tacky tourist shops with all manner of German kitsch, the town hall (which looks like a Swiss music box) and the site of the Oktoberfest.
We return to Córdoba, stopping at Los Molinos reservoir to view the dam, where a huge body of water drops 60 metres into the river below in a roaring torrent.
In the evening the lovely Wilma does our laundry. We return to the hotel tired and happy after a lovely day. It’s short lived as we realise our credit card has been cloned. Next follows a ridiculously expensive call to Barclaycard, who freeze the card. Without it, we can no longer hire a car in Chile (ironic as it appears the card was cloned by someone from Hertz) so the there will need to be a major overhaul of the next leg of our journey.
South America Day 31 – Córdoba
8th February 2019
The morning is spent doing admin; cancelling car hire and remote hotels, planning a route that can be done by public transport and booking more accessible accommodation. The lovely Wilma sends us beer to cheer us up.
In the afternoon, we walk round historic Córdoba; the cathedral, several churches, the Jesuit quarter and the Cabildo.
We visit the chilling Museo de la Memoria, housed in a former D2 intelligence detention centre, dedicated to those who ‘disappeared’ during the military regime of the 1970s.
We return to the hotel for a swim. All is going well until an Argentinian man lays claim to my sun lounger, which is covered with my stuff. I try to retrieve my stuff from under his stuff. He tries to put his stuff back on top of my stuff. It has been a stressful day and he bears the full brunt of my feelings on Argentinians who screw with my stuff. Not my finest hour or indeed my finest Spanish but he got the point. In hindsight I probably didn’t need to bring up the Falklands…
In the evening we go out for dinner at Antares. We have sorted our problems, now we can relax, drink beer and eat cheesy chips. Until a wasp appears from nowhere and stings me on the hand. A fitting end to the day.
South America Day 32 – Jesús María
9th February 2019
This morning we plan to drive to Jesús María, an hour north of Córdoba. It’s a risk; since the Fritz y Franz pigeon poo lunch, things have been distinctly loose in the bottom department. But we set off (camera in one pocket, Imodium in the other).
We reach Jesús María without incident and stop briefly in the main plaza. It has a train line running through the middle and a strange collection of naked orange statues with enormous feet.
On to the Museo Jesuitico; in a 17th century Jesuit estancia by the river. It’s a beautiful old building full of interesting religious artefacts. It’s fallen somewhat into disrepair which makes me wonder why they don’t charge an entrance fee.
In the afternoon, one last wander round Córdoba. We have dinner at el Club de la Milanesa – the tasting plate – basically posh chicken nuggets.
Then a visit to the Museo Superior de Bellas Artes in the Palacio Ferrerya. The palace is a beautiful 1914 Beaux-Arts mansion which has been converted to an art gallery. Despite the bizarre nature of the conversion (a fur lined staircase – what’s that all about?) the building easily outclasses the art it houses.
Afterwards, we split up to deal with our own most pressing needs; a bathroom for me and ice cream for the old man. Then back to the hotel to pack for tomorrow’s flight to Chile.
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