Tag Archives: Argentina

Racing time

After the “Huemul Circuit” we needed one day of recovery, just relaxing at our campground. The weather was also pushing us for a break, as it was really windy and a constant rain started in the afternoon . So instead we wanted to cook a bit more fancy than just pasta and tomato sauce, but even the most simple dish can be quite difficult to make when all the supermarkets are empty. Looking back we were quite happy that we had brought our food for the trail from Chile.

Empty supermarkets were normal in El Chalten

The next day the weather was looking great again and we had all day until 8pm, when our bus was scheduled to leave for Bariloche. By the time we had repacked our backpacks, it was almost noon. However, we still wanted to get a closer look at one of the major attractions of El Chalten – Mount “Fitz Roy”. The hike to the viewpoint at the “Laguna de los Tres” takes usually a full day, but we had only half a day left.

On our last day in the area we decided to take a closer look at Mount “Fitz Roy”

Fortunately most of the trail is relatively flat, so we managed to keep up a fast pace up to the last steep ascend. In contrast to the “Huemul Circuit”, this hike was really crowded, as it is also a very popular hike with all the day-tourists, who come from El Calafate for just one day. Therefore, we didn’t want to stay at the laguna for much longer than a short snack break. The way back was a little faster so that we reached the campground on time to collect our belongings and head to the bus terminal.

It was a bit difficult to get a picture without tourists at the “Laguna de los Tres”
We passed by “Laguna Capri” on the way back down

For the next 24 hours the bus was our home, taking us more than 1300 kilometers north, back to Bariloche. It was a long way, but Benno’s flight was leaving from Santiago – even further north – and he had only about a week left. To reduce a bit of the hustle, we picked two towns, where we would spent most of the time. One of them was Bariloche, where I showed Benno my favorite spot in the area, “Cerro Campanario”, before discovering something new – “Cerro Catedral” and “Rifugio Frey”.

The view at “Cerro Campanario” was even better than last time

The hike around “Cerro Catedral” was another full day trip. Our travel guide had estimated the time for the whole trip to take around ten hours. As we needed to take a bus to the start of the trail, we were dependent on the bus schedule (once per hour), leaving us only about eleven hours in total. We could have taken two lifts up to save some time and most of the ascend, but it was way too expensive and we preferred to invest our money in a nice steak for dinner, which was about the same price.

The ascend from Villa Catedral was steep and mostly on ski slopes

During winter, the slopes of “Cerro Catedral” turn into the most famous ski resort of the area, so the way up was mostly on ski slopes or on gravel roads. However, higher up the trail was closed as they were working on the slopes. This turned out to be even better for us, because we were allowed to use the second lift for free. We also had a clear conscience, as we had intended to walk all the way, but couldn’t due to the trail closure.

We got lucky and had to take the second lift – for free
Beyond the pass lies the Nahuel Huapi National Park

The trail continued from the upper lift station. Shortly after we turned off the main trail, which was full of people who had taken the lift all the way, and like on the first part of the ascend we were the only ones on our trail. This time the landscape was completely different and the whole mountain side was covered in rocks of all sizes, which required a bit of scrambling (easy climbing) as well. It was a lot of fun and we enjoyed it very much, as we felt that we were good on time.

The landscape had changed and required some scrambling
Behind the broad mountain pass…

In the early afternoon we reached a broad mountain pass and started our descend into the neighboring valley, which contains two picturesque lagoons and the “Rifugio Frey”. Here, the number of tourists increased quite a lot, because there is an easier way to get to the hut. We chose to do this for the way back, as it is less steep. The trail was really pretty with all the flowers that were growing on the surrounding forest floor. However, the end turned out to be a bit tiring, because the landscape didn’t change as much anymore.

… lies a nice valley with two lakes
“Refugio Frey” is very popular with day tourists, who come from the other side
Ducks enjoying the solitude at “Laguna Tonchek”

In total it was still a nice hike and we even managed to finish it in only seven hours, including the breaks we took along the way. By the end of the day we got back to Bariloche quite early and still had some time to relax, before heading out for another grand steak at “El Boliche de Alberto”.

The forest floor is covered in flowers on the way back to Villa Catedral
The last part of the trail is along “Lago Gutierrez”

Circuit of air, water, earth and fire

Once we had all the required equipment together we were eager to get started. The next morning was perfect for our hike – blue sky, sunshine and not too much wind. We registered at the park office, which is for free but mandatory, and started the “Huemul Circuit” – or as we named it “Circuit of the elements” – a four days hike totaling about 60 kilometers. Our backpacks were quite heavy with our camping equipment and all the food, but we didn’t mind, because we were fresh and looking for some adventures.

A fresh start into our new adventure

The first day was an easy one with trails gently going uphill through nice forests and swampy grassland. In the afternoon we reached the valley of the Tunel River and got a good view of the “Cerro Huemul”, which will be by our side for the next few days. To reach the campsite, we had to cross some smaller rivers on rocks, tree trunks or barefoot. We hardly met anyone during the day until we got to the campsite, located under some tall Lenga trees. About 15 tents were pitched by the end of the day, making it still a rather quiet place to stay.

Forests and swampy grasslands dominate the first part of the journey
Descend into the Tunel River valley

The weather forecast had predicted strong winds during the night and some rain until about 10am the next morning. This proved to be pretty accurate. The winds had no effect on us, because we were sheltered by the Lenga trees and by cliffs on two sides of the little forest. However, when we checked the front of the tent at 6am, we found a large pool of water which had gathered there and was threatening to enter our backpacks and the inside of our tent. We acted quickly, moved our backpacks inside the tent and dug a trench to drain the water.

Getting up at 6am to prevent our tent from getting flooded
The aftermath of the first night – but our tent stayed dry

Sure enough the rain stopped at 10am and we had managed to keep everything dry. When we left the tent to pack up, I ran into Dan, the guy from Israel whom I had met in Bariloche. He had arrived late last night and was quite unlucky, because had pitched his tent in a spot, in which a small river had developed during the night. Now most of his stuff was wet, but he had to return to El Chalten anyways to meet up with Dor, the other guy from our trip in Bariloche.

An unexpected encounter in the middle of nowhere – Dan from Bariloche

We continued the trail past Laguna Tunel, where the terrain was only rocks without proper trail markings, making it quite difficult to follow at times. But eventually we found the first river crossing, where we needed our rented equipment: It was a single steel rope with a little trolley. Here we met Steve and Jenn, both Canadians, and two Germans. Together we formed “Team River Crossing” and helped each other with the passage.

“Team River Crossing” at work
The glaciers of “Cerro Grande” at the end of the Tunel River valley

The following part of the trail was a long and steep ascend to the “Paso del Viento”, the pass of the wind. On the way we had beautiful views of the Tunel River valley and the glaciers of “Cerro Grande”, but also had some troubles with unstable or non-existing trails to avoid walking on the glacier, which we were not equipped for. And although the wind was not as strong as in the morning, it was blowing quite strong and cold up on the pass. It was all worth it – the view of the Southern Patagonian Icefield couldn’t have been more rewarding!

Luckily the winds at the “Paso del Viento” were not as strong as in the morning
A stunning view of the enormous Southern Patagonian Icefield

The camp for the night was located at a little lagoon in a small valley just behind the pass. Here we were only eleven people. And the forecast was right again as it stayed dry and calm, but it got very cold. The night proved to be perfect for star gazing, which we did from within our tent, where we could stay in the warmth of our sleeping bags. There was no moon and no artificial lights, but also no camera with long exposure to capture the clear view of the milky-way.

The second camp hosted even less people and was located at a small lagoon

From the lagoon the trail continued more or less at the same altitude with more views of the Icefield and the Viedma glacier, which extends from the Icefield. The highest point for that day was the “Paso Huemul”. The way down was the challenge of the day, as it was straight down and therefore very steep. To add some difficulty, the whole trail was covered with the thick branches of Nire shrubs and their roots, which sometimes crossed the path at knee-height. After we lost 700 m of altitude, we reached that day’s destination – a bay full of icebergs.

The icefield was in view for most of the day
The Nire shrubs added some difficulty on the descend to “Lago del Viedma”
Camping with icebergs is not as cold as you may think

The last day began with a firework of colors as the sun rose over our quiet bay of icebergs. After we had packed up, we hiked to Tunel Bay, where the trail ended. This part of the hike was not very challenging, just long and mostly flat. However, we were still happy that the forecast was wrong for today, because it would have been very difficult with the predicted storm-like winds. Still, we felt like celebrating and did so with Steve and Jenn and a delicious steak dinner.

The sky was on fire at sunrise
Another river crossing was waiting for us just before Tunel Bay
The steak we had with Steve and Jenn was well earned

On the way to wonderland

Close to Punta Arenas is the most famous National Park in southern Chile – Torres del Paine. I’ve seen pictures of rocky mountains and turquoise lakes, the landscape you imagine, when you think of Patagonia. But the closer I got to it, the more I read and heard about the tons of tourists, who come here every year during the peak season (December through February). Plus, it’s really complicated if you want to do a multi-day hike, because you need to reserve the campgrounds, which are managed by three different companies and they’re all booked out months in advance.

The closest we got to Torres del Paine was our layover in Puerto Natales

Therefore we decided to try our luck in El Chalten, Argentina’s hiking capital in Patagonia. It’s supposed to be less crowded, more relaxed and the campsites are free and without reservations. To get there, we had to cross the border back into Argentina, which was much easier than getting to Chile up in Bariloche. Our journey led us through El Calafate, another major tourist hub in the area. However, most people fly in and out, staying only a few days in the city.

El Calafate was on our way to El Chalten

El Calafate is well known for the massive glacier, which is located about 80 km west of the town. The “Perito Moreno” glacier is special, because it’s the only glacier, which hasn’t been receding in the last decades. It’s easily accessible, as it reaches down to about 200 m above sea level and gives an impressive sight with its width of more than 5 km.

One half of the Perito Moreno glacier
The glacier is 50-70 meters high at its end

The glacier is part of the South Patagonian Icefield and flows straight into a mountain side, cutting the lake at its base in two. The lakes are still connected through a large tunnel in the ice, which allows for the lakes to maintain their water level. And every time a big chunk of ice breaks off, it plunges into the water sending a wave of ripples across the calm surface.

The glacier runs into a mountain and separated the two lakes

There is a large system of boardwalks, which helps to spread the tourists, making it feel like a little less crowded than it actually is. It also gives the opportunity to get a good view of the glacier from different angles. However, half a day is more than enough to see everything, as we didn’t want to spend a fortune on a boat cruise or a glacier walk. Instead we used the afternoon to get to El Chalten, which is just a few hours northeast of El Calafate.

Benno joined me for three weeks
First row on the bus to El Chalten

El Chalten proved to be a quiet town with only about 6000 inhabitants, but excellent hiking possibilities. The weather forecast was promising and we had soon spotted our desired multi-day hike – the “Huemul Circuit”. But we couldn’t start right on the next morning, because we had to rent some equipment, which was only available later that day. After organizing everything else,  we went on some shorter hikes to the “Mirador de los Condores” and the “Mirador las Aguilas” for a  first impression of the area.

The condors were nowhere to be seen, probably because of the strong winds
A great view of “Lago del Viedma” from the “Mirador Las Aguilas”

The German and the Jews

In the north of Argentina I had encountered mostly French tourists. Here, in Bariloche, it was different. Most people I met here were Israelis. Remember that not all Israelis are Jewish, but the ones I spent most time with were. The first one was Eduardo. For most of the year he lives in Buenos Aires, but for the summer months he is renting a cabin at the lakeside, where he also takes in couchsurfers. He’s learning Hebrew to rediscover his Jewish roots, so it was perfect that he had enough space for another couchsurfer, Dan.

The bus from Buenos Aires to Bariloche takes long, but is quite scenic

Dan is Jewish and comes from Israel. He is traveling South America now, after finishing his military service back in Israel. We spent the next day on bikes, discovering “Circuito Chico”, a loop road at the end of town. The road is very scenic, going through thick forests, passing by beautiful lakes and some hills with excellent views over the landscape.

Biking the “Circuito Chico” with Dan
View of the luxury hotel “Llao Llao”

Compared to the rest of my trip it was quite cold here, so I was happy for all the warm clothing I got in my Christmas package from home (thanks again!). Luckily the forests protected us from most of the heavy winds, which were blowing that day. Not so protected is the luxury hotel “Llao Llao”, which towers on top of a hill amidst the surrounding lakes like a fortress. Next to it stands a picturesque old wooden church, but unfortunately it was closed when we passed by.

The wooden chapel is coincidentally named “San Eduardo”

In the evening we decided to organize a two day trip to Mt. Tronador for the next day. Dan and his two Jewish Israeli friends, who were staying at a hostel, had planned to do it anyways and I was able to join them. We had a lot of hustle getting a tent and the bus tickets, as well as shopping for food and packing our bags. In the end we managed to get everything, except for enough sleep, and were ready for our next adventure.

Hiking around Mt. Tronador

The over-priced bus took us to “Pampa Linda”, the starting point for various hikes in the valleys around Mt. Tronador. The fact that we arrived here around midday didn’t keep us from adding another short hike (>300 m of altitude and around 2.5 km one way) to a viewpoint over the valley, because we had the rest of the day to reach the “Otto Meilinger Refugio”, where we were allowed to set up our camp.

The viewpoint over “Pampa Linda” – hiking with Nadav, Dor and Dan

I consider myself quite fit and experienced in hiking in the mountains, but Dan, Dor and Nadav showed me a new level. There might be other reasons, but I think it has mostly to do with their age (22) and the fact that they just finished their three years service in the Israelian military. This also had an effect on our diet during those two days, which consisted mostly of canned tuna and lentils as well as cookies. It was not my usual trail food, but it worked quite well and was weight effective.

The impressive glacier of Mt. Tronador

Even if I was slower than the others, we managed to pitch our tent and cook our dinner before the sunset. Afterwards it cooled down pretty quickly, as the hut is located right at the foot of the massive glacier that covers Mt. Tronador. In the end it was crowded, but probably warmer in our 3-person-tent, which had been rented to us as a 4-person-tent.

The proximity to the glacier promises a cold night
The camping at the “Otto Meiling Refugio” is for free
Amazing colors during the sunset over the Andes

The way back down was easier and allowed us for a little detour to the bottom of the waterfalls, which we had seen from the top the day before. In the afternoon the bus picked us up again in “Pampa Linda” and brought us back to Bariloche. And we were back in town just in time to go to Beit Chabat, a place where Jewish people get together for different occasions. Every Friday the Beit Chabats around the world offer the possibility for traveling Jews, or those without a family in the area, to celebrate the beginning of the Sabbath. I was curious how it would be, so I came along. First, the men pray and sing together, then they join the women at the tables for a story of one of the rabbis and in the end everyone shares a big dinner. As everything was in Hebrew, I didn’t understand most of it, but it was still a nice experience! (Unfortunately I don’t have any pictures, because it wasn’t allowed and didn’t feel appropriate.)

The glacial waterfall seen from the bottom

The next day, Dan and I went back to Eduardo’s place to pick up the rest of our luggage, which we had deposited there for our trip (thanks for that again!). As the weather was quite nice, we decided to do the short hike up to “Cerro Campanario”, which offers an even better view over the area than the “Circuito Chico”. And in the evening we met up with Dor and Nadav at “El Boliche del Alberto” to celebrate the end of a great week with one of the best steaks I’ve ever had.

Hiking “Cerro Campanario” with Eduardo and Dan
Picture perfect panorama of the lakes surrounding Bariloche
The grill of “El Boliche de Alberto” is located in the middle of the restaurant

The Paris of South America

Before I started my trip, I had already heard that Buenos Aires is the Paris of South America. However, I didn’t put an expectation behind it, I was just curious what it meant. And as with any big city, it’s best if you know locals, especially when Christmas and New Year’s Eve are around the corner. Here is where my friend Michael helped me out again and gave me the address of his parents, Ernesto and Elisabeth. I contacted them and they had no problem with having me for Christmas, which saved me from spending it in an overcrowded hostel, where it feels even less like Christmas. (It’s quite strange to be in summer during December when you grew up in the northern hemisphere.)

Unfortunately Michael could only join us in 2D

On Christmas eve, more of the family came over to celebrate with us. We started off with a big dinner at 9:30 pm, where everyone contributed a little bit, but in the end we still had a lot of leftovers. At midnight we switched the plates for a glass of homemade punch to watch the neighbor’s fireworks from the garden. It didn’t last for very long, because the fireworks are very expensive and people want to save them for New Year’s Eve. After that it was time for dessert. Now everyone was ready for some presents and I was chosen to be Santa Claus, picking the presents out of a big bag and giving them to the right person, which is kind of difficult when you have just met most of them for the first time a few hours ago and don’t remember all the names.

Christmas dinner with the extended family
Everyone got a little riddle on who gave the present

In Argentina the 26th is not a holiday, so most people have to go back to work, especially if you want to save your holidays, because 10 days per year is not a lot! So I was quite happy, when Brice and Elise arrived in Buenos Aires and were ready to explore the city with me. And it didn’t take long to realize, why this is called the Paris of South America: Wide streets with trees, old and tall buildings and a great atmosphere.

Wide streets with alleys…
… and old and tall buildings were reminding me of Paris
Old and new next to each other

With two French people in Paris I didn’t need to worry, they had it all figured out. During the following three days we walked from the Japanese Garden to the planetarium and from the old zoo to the National Museum of Fine Arts. In La Boca we ventured through the streets with colorful Victorian style houses to its famous stadium “La Bomboneira”, which is home to one of the most popular soccer teams of Buenos Aires.

Visiting the Japanese Garden
Even the cabs seemed to be in yellow and blue, supporting “La Boca”

From there we made our way to San Telmo, another neighborhood with old and small houses. It has a lot of bars and restaurants, but also antique shops and an indoor market for antiquities, fruits and vegetables. Almost next door is the “Avenida 9 de Julio”, a boulevard like the “Champs d’Elysee” in Paris, with a tall obelisk in the centre and grand buildings, like the Colon theatre, on each side.

The streets of San Telmo
The obelisk is located in the middle of the “Avandia 9 de Julio”

Being impressed by the displays of tango in La Boca, Elise had to get some dancing shoes for herself before flying back to France. It was a nice and fancy shoe store that had only one room, which was empty except for a big mirror on one side. Being the only customer, she still managed to keep the shop owner, her assistant and two little girls busy – or rather everyone was trying to do some work, as there was not much else to do.

Women ready for a tango picture in La Boca
Elise getting tango shoes herself

After Elise and Brice had left, there was still one big event waiting for me in Buenos Aires – New Year’s Eve. I spent the day with Ernesto and Elisabeth discovering some parts of the city that I hadn’t visited before, like Puerto Madero, an old harbor area that has been revitalized with apartment buildings and offices like the HafenCity in Hamburg. In the evening we went over to Elisabeth’s brother and had another big dinner with family and friends, before watching some more fireworks.

Strolling through Puerto Madero with Ernesto and Elisabeth
The grave of San Martin, the liberator of Argentina is guarded heavily
New Year’s Eve was celebrated with an even bigger part of the family