Chapter Twenty-Five: Argentina Pt. 1 (Tierra del Fuego & Patagonia)

Life is impossibly beautiful these days. We crossed over from Chile to Argentina in the large archipelago on the southern tip of both countries known as Tierra del Fuego: Land of Fire, named so as, when it was discovered by a Portuguese explorer in 1525, the explorer first saw the many campfires on the land, tended to by the aboriginals.

It is not an exaggeration to say that everything has been stunning since. On a ferry ride during the journey, we saw small black and white dolphins jumping beside the boat. We arrived in Ushuaia in the evening and went to our AirBnB which was a cozy apartment about a 45 minute walk from the city centre, along a dirt road with snow-capped mountains jutting up in the background. We explored the city the next day which, despite the cold, was incredibly pretty. Colourful houses, horses, the Beagle Canal waterfront leading out to the South Pacific, and mountains; it was like something out of movie. I believe this was nicer than any Alaskan city we have seen. Add that to the fact that it also happened to be the end of the world, save icy Antarctica (which was only 1000 km away), it made it a truly magical destination.

It is no surprise, then, that it was also quite pricey. But we decided to share some king crab crepes and local beers and enjoy the moment.

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The next day we arranged a tour out by minibus and then by an insanely bumpy boat (I still have bruises) out to an island which hosts several colonies of penguins. Penguins!! There was one king penguin, several gentoo penguins and hoards of magallanic penguins. The latter were the ones which we were able to see very close up. They were walking all around us and not very shy. It was amazing – they are such fascinating creatures! They walk around together like businessmen having a meeting on the fly “…that’s what Rockefeller said but the supreme court is not swallowing it.” It was a special day.

From here, the plan was essentially to head north in Argentina until we hit Iguazu falls. So our next stops were El Calafate and El Chalten, both in the Patagonia region. The highlight of El Calafate was the Perito Moreno glacier, which lies about 80 km out of town. We took a bus there, which drops you off for 4 hours before taking you back to the town. Having seen many glaciers before, we wondered if 4 hours to stare at this one in particular would be quite a bit longer than necessary, but it was not at all. The scale of it alone is breathtaking. Up to 70 meters in height, several km long, you can only see a small portion of it, which is still enormous. The park is very well done (which you would hope at $30 a person), and they have a labyrinth of walkways so that you can get up fairly close to the glacier at different vantage points without feeling swarmed by the other tourists. Right before leaving, we saw a massive piece of ice break free from the glacier and crash into the water, which was both incredible and sad.

The town of El Chalten is only 31 years old (same as me), and was created to give backpackers and trekkers a place to stay within Los Glaciares National Park as a jumping off point to hit the trails. So it is very picturesque, but entirely touristic and overpriced. We did one shorter hike to a waterfall and one full day hike which was 20 km roundtrip and peaks (pun intended) with a mountain climb to get a gorgeous view of a secluded glacier-fed lake in the mountains. The drawback was that it was quite windy, cool, and rainy as we made this ascent, but the view proved worthwhile.

As I write, we are heading, via 23 hour bus ride, to the lake district, in northern Patagonia, where we hope to find some fresher produce (as we are getting slightly tired of boxed wine and tomato pasta), lower prices and less wind. But it has certainly been an incredibly couple of weeks.

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We arrived, tired and cramped, in the small Swish chalet-styled ski town of Bariloche. The town is situated in the middle of hundreds of stunning vistas and the weather was a very comfortable 20 degrees and sunny. Bariloche is a mid-sized city and has everything you need to make or buy a decent meal, which is a nice change of pace from the south. Outside of ski season, most tourists use it as a jumping-off point to do the seven lakes drive (camino de los siete lagos), which takes you through a handful of small towns and is known as one of the most scenic highway drives in the country.

On our first full-day, we explored the town, which mainly consists of seeing the church and the chalets and then eating chocolate and drinking craft beers (ever the eager culturalists that we are) and then we found an agency to book a tour of the lakes and small towns. This can be done in a day and they are meant to pick you up at reception. We then got a hearty amount of asado (BBQ meat) and a box of wine and went to bed relatively early, so that we could get picked up at 8:00 a.m. for our tour. When the mini-bus never arrived, we went back down to the agency to discover that a) they had listed the wrong hotel and b) the bus had already left for the day, we were a little upset. We had already bought an onward bus ticket for the following day, thinking we would have seen all that there was to see, and it couldn’t be extended, so we were unable to do the tour a day later. In any case, we wanted to make the most of it, so we picked one of the small towns, Villa la Angostura, and bought a regular bus ticket. We covered some of the scenic drive and saw a few of the lakes. The town itself, though kitschy and overpriced, is situated on a beautiful lake, with two beach fronts, so we spent a couple of hours just exploring and hiking around.

I think we were able to get a good sense of the environment and I do imagine that the other small ski towns on the route would have been quite similar (which google image confirmed).  But it might mean that we need to go back one day. Maybe in the winter! ❤

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