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Sunday, 28 February 2010
BA is a beautiful city and well spaced out. "The Paris of South America" it was described as by Charles Darwin on one of his many Voyage's of the Beagle, so many years before me. A party town for me though as apart from the European architecture there wasn't much else to see. La Boca is a major draw card for some (especially for those soccer fans wanting to see the stadium) who are interested in the history of the area as this is where BA started. Some nice brightly colored buildings and English speaking waiters trying to lure all gringo's to dine at their establishment.
The Zoo is worth a look for a bargain of only $6.5USD (Jardin Zoological). You can easily kill a few hours here with some pretty half decent exhibits of many animals I have not seen before. I didn't make it to the Botanical Gardens (Jardin Botanico Carlos Thays) as it was shut due to a fierce storm the week before causing some havoc! Running around a cemetery (Cementerio de la Recoleta) looking for Evita's grave site was recommended in the Lonely Planet but once again the LP led me to disappointment as this cemetery was way to well kept and flamboyant for me to enjoy! A trip to Iguazu Waterfalls can be arranged from BA but the day long bus ride (one way) for a water fall that you weren't allowed to swim under was not cool! So…back to the partying! I only seemed to find expensive night clubs that and you queue twice for a drink. This shit ain't fly with me so most of the partying was done at the hostel bar or back in hour 6 bedroom dorm! Some good transvestite shows, tango lessons/shows and mud wrestling can also take your time up. I would recommend only 2-4 days here unless your a city lover but for me I had seen enough and defiantly partied way too hard!
Getting to Patagonia is recommended and if you can book a flight as early as possible to El Calafate or (worst case) Rio Gallegos then it will save you allot later. I flew to Rio as its much cheaper (because it's a shit hole with very little to see). I spent most of my time at the airport as you can sleep here and get a decent rest as there are no flights from 10pm to 2am and then 3am till about 7am (best thing about Rio). So this is a much better option than to head into town where not much happens unless you work at the car rental place or bus depot and everyone is scrabbling to get somewhere else! Much better then a dorm room at the hostel, the Airport has all you need and you will most likely be the only person sleeping over. I'd suggest the checkin table for the most comfortable airport slumber! Only 2 electrical sockets at the airpot for public, but no need to rush as nobody else around and they are hard find. Just head to the sign to the far left of the check in desk (near where you should sleep) and they are on the side of it. Or you can go to the bar and ask him to run a cord but they shut early and will make you buy something.
My time in Patagonia was very brief and I wish I had given myself some more time here. Whilst in El Calafate, a mega tourist attraction hence the wonderful English menus and many gringo's, you can do a number of organized treks and 4WD trips. I only spent a day here though as I had very little time due to getting trapped in Ushuaia (bloody buses) and I had wanted to spend most of my time in El Chanten (4hrs north of El Calafate). So unfortunately I missed the remarkable Perito Moreno Glacier which is located 80km outside of town. I did all this because I had my heart set on a ice climbing tour run out of El Chanten which I had pre booked and was absolutely pumped for! It was only a day of trekking but involved glacier walking and my to be first experience ice climbing! Unfortunately here in Patagonia every day is determined by the extremities of the weather. As I ate my breakfast at 5.30am in the hostel (Rancho Grande Hostel - pretty decent) waiting for this rugged Argentinian climber to come through the door with his backpack and ice shoes dangling from it I thought to myself that perhaps my pack was slightly under-packed. When I left Australia I had less then a week to pack. Keep in mind that I am away for a year and traveling across every continent with many different weather conditions and environments that I was going to endure. I also had a million other things to do before heading off and may not have done as much research as was necessary. My bag consisted of mostly "summer wear" as I was in South America and North America throughout the summer and then over to Europe for another summer followed by Africa and Asia briefly apron my return to Australia in December. In total my belongings weighed 19kg and was the least amount of gear I have ever traveled with.
Moments later, an overweight man came over to my table where I was enjoying my strong morning coffee. He did not look at all like the rugged Argentinian man I was expecting and he was not caring any climbing gear. He informed me that due to the impeding storm clouds forming over the summit that todays climb would be cancelled. A full refund was available but not wanted…"how about tomorrow?" I asked only to find that it was already fully booked. This was not good news to my ears as tomorrow evening I was scheduled to depart the National Park on route to Carnival in Rio de Janeiro. I was so guttered and this was obvious to the young Argentinian woman who had served me my breakfast. She came over to my table and suggested a number of hikes I could do on my own. I had already researched some of these (for tomorrow's activities) and asked her about the difficulties of the 8 hour hike to the Laguna de los Tres which was the base camp for the Cerro Fitz Roy (Mt Fitz Roy) climb…
I set off early after breakfast as I had a lot of ground to cover. The day didn't look too bad and I wondered if perhaps they hadn't got the numbers required for the trip and went for the "bad weather option" to save themselves from loosing out. A slight chill in the air but I was well enough rugged up with a number of layers and a Gortex jacket I had picked up a few weeks earlier in Bolivia. Walking for about 2-3 hours on my own with only a few campers spotted on the way scattering around their campsite arranging breakfast, I came to a fast running river with no signs of a crossing. I still had a good hour before I should reach the lagoons however I couldn't find a way to cross. Up the river I went for a kilometer but still the river was running to fast and no foreseeable crossing. I started making my way back determined to find a tree across the river where I could pass. Off in the distance I could see some other hikers. They were on the other side of the river so I kept on the same route down the river until I found well weathered path that led to a timbre crossing. Another hour of scampering up the mountain accompanied by the tunes on my Ipod I finally reached the top where I was overcome by the beauty that I was being witness to… Mt Fitz Roy reached to the sky with its snow capped peaks and smaller mountains either side. At the foot stood a massive glacier standing still in time and the Bluest of lagoons I have ever seen was the result of the sun melting down onto this ice sculpture. A simple travelers lunch was served on a rock by the lagoon…salami, bread and cheese with a sneaky chocolate bar (to help with the energy levels for my decent). An hour or so was spent wandering around and taking many self portrait photos of myself and these glorious surrounds.
On my decent I could see rain clouds coming across very quickly and I pitied the many that were going past me in the other direction thinking perhaps the early start was a good idea after-all. During my 4 hour trek back to El Chanten (where I enchanted some bad weather) I thought about a quote that I had read a few weeks before that was taken from Charles Darwin's journals - "The plains of Patagonia are boundless, for they are scarcely passable, and hence unknown. They bear the stamp of having lasted, as they are now, for ages, and there appears no limit to their duration throughout time." I had reached the ultimate destination for the modern traveler: the stereotypical unspoiled, rugged terrains of the far south and was seeing the Fitz Roy Mountains just as Darwin had almost 200 years ago….in all of it's awe-inspiring unadulterated splendor!
I left Patagonia the following day content with what I had experienced in such as small amount of time. I new then I would be back to Mt Ftiz Roy one day and perhaps then I will give myself enough time to do some ice-climbing!
Tierra del Fuego
Hundreds of years ago the natives in this far southern barren land (The Yaman) communicated with each other by lighting signal fires along the coast - A passing vessel captained by Mangellan saw these in the 1500's decided to name this place "Tierra del Fuego" (Spanish) which means "Land of Fire" in English. My visit here was for one reason and one reason only… Antarctica! Sorry lovers of the Tierra del Fuego but as the ships depart from Ushuaia this was the only reason I made it this far south.
Rather than flying direct to Patagonia you could also fly FAR South…to the END OF THE WORLD however be prepared as Ushuaia is a major tourist destination and almost all the glitter is no longer, as the beauty of this area has been trampled by the many tourist flocking to get that stamp in their passports (as I did) to say you have been to the most southern town in the world. If you fly all the way down to Ushuaia you could then make your way back up over land to Patagonia. If not enough money to head to Antarctica then you can do a boat ride around Ushuaia seeing some penguins. A number of hiking treks and camping is available in the National Park also but is obviously seasonal. I stayed at FreeStyle Hostel which is the best in town for that price range ($60peso). WiFi and a few computers in the common room with fast enough internet and heated floors! Make sure to book you bus/flight out off town as soon as possible (sometime even before you arrive) as it is quite common to get stuck in town longer than anticipated (like me!).
Over the last few months I have had allot of people ask about my travels (Ie. where to go and stay) so I hope this Blog helps those fellow Globetrotters heading to South America. You can also see all the hostel's I have stayed in if you log onto Hostel World and check out my page....very handy option.
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