Tag Archives: Ramble On Blog

Anyone for ice?! – A Visit to Perito Moreno Glacier and El Calafate

First of all we should probably apologise as our blogs have been pretty sporadic of late. The reason being that we have been enjoying the outdoors a little too much. Despite the cold weather…Lauren is much happier in 30 degrees…we have been out exploring the wilderness of Patagonia and all the sights it has to offer.

After taking in Ushuaia and ourIMG_7778 brief trip over to Chile to visit Torres del Paine (and to not do the W Trek) we arrived in El Calafate. It was s relatively short journey of 5 hours or so, which involved a border crossing where we were forced to consume all the fresh fruit we had on our persons…thankfully just two apples. (Chile and Argentina wont let you bring it across the border, despite each others fruit produce being readily available in the supermarkets either side of the border!?)

Any way with our vitamins topped up we had arrived in El Calafate, a small city in the Santa Cruz province, named after a small blue berry common in Patagonia. A charming little city with enough small shops and restaurants to keep you amused but like Ushuaia it is a gateway for yet more of Argentina’s natural beauty. Like most we were eager to visit the Los Glaciares National Park and its highlight the Perito Moreno Glacier and wow did we pick a good time to visit. It may have been cold but the sun was shinning…

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Buses to the Glacier are easily picked up from town, and your entrance fee is paid upon entering the park. A boat trip to the glacier is also available for an additional fee and we highly recommend doing so. It really is spectacular and gives you a great view and allows you to appreciate the towering height of the ice…even if the wind can get a bit cold…

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After that you can while away the rest of the afternoon, like we did, on the boardwalks through the National Park, taking in different angles of the ice. We recommend finding a quite spot and just listening to the continual thunderous cracks of the ice moving and breaking off. It’s difficult to describe in words just how spectacular this glacier is. To give you an idea it is up there as one of our all time top sights around the world, only narrowly missing out on the top spot to the Angkor Temples. Like the Angkor Temples there was a fair amount of hype that surrounded the glacier…but did it live up…yes one hundred times…

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Back in El Calafate, although our stay was brief, we also had time to visit the local bird sanctuary, Laguna Nimez, and gawp at the flamingos…they really do look bizarre when they fly. It’s a pleasant way to spend a few hours and is only a short walk from town.

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Final tip…

Stay at Hospedaje Lautaro, our home away from home! – a lovely family run guest house, where Dario and Belen go out of their way to make you feel at home. Also only a few minutes walk from the bus station.

To W or not to W, That is the Question

The Torres del Paine National Park is a sight to see for any tourist on the southern tip of the South American continent. Photos of this National Park are used with great effect to lure tourists to the wilds of the south. Whilst located in Chile, the geography of the area leaves it isolated from most of Chile except by plane or boat. Puerto Natales, a 2 hour drive from the national park is the only place near enough to stay and whilst pleasant enough, is not a place to make you loiter long. Most tourists will catch busses here from Argentina, either Ushuaia on Tierra del Fuego or nearby El Calafate. Because Puerto Natales is the gateway to Torres del Paine, there are plenty of places to pick up warm clothes or dried food, but not much else to do part from that.

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The great attraction of Torres del Paine, apart from its spectacular scenery is the “W Trek”, a 4 or 5 day hike in a roughly W shape through the park taking in all the best sites it has to offer. Despite the hype this trek is precisely what Lauren and i decided not to do. The W trek appealed to us whilst we sat in the warmth of Buenos Aires reading others blogs about it in the summer months. However as we sat in Ushuaia in the cold on the cusp of winter we had a rethink and thought “Maybe this isn’t the best idea for us”

To W or not to W

Here’s why we didn’t do the W trek

  1. The weather was awful. Torres del Paine has weather that is incredibly unpredictable, the phrase that you’ll hear a lot is “4 seasons in one day”. Looking at the weather forecast the only season we’d be getting was the bad one. Gales, sleet, snow, torrential rain and cloud were our options. The idea of trekking for 4 days in those conditions and potentially not seeing much due to inclement weather wasn’t a good selling point.
  2. It’s actually quite expensive. The W trek wasn’t something we’d planned on doing when we left London but we thought how expensive can it be? Even if you do it on your own without a guide it costs about the same as the Inca Trail. The accommodation options are camping, which would mean hiring gear, or staying at the refugios which are $40-70 each a night. Add food, equipment, park entrance fee and bus to the park, it really does add up.
  3. We just weren’t that fussed. As the trek wasn’t one on our to do list of South America, combined with cost and bad weather, we really didn’t feel motivated to do it, despite other backpackers relentlessly telling us we had too! The weather could have cleared up but we decided we’d rather save the money for something we really wanted to do and see the sights on a day trip instead.
  4. Low season. Despite it being low season many of the refugios were booked up so we couldn’t have our first choices of accommodation, which would mean longer hikes than we hoped for. Also due to the time of year the bus services to the park only ran in the morning. This meant a day hike just to see Los Torres wasn’t an option for us.

Our advice…if you really want to do the W trek then you’re going to have a great time because the backdrop is spectacular even in the driving rain. If the weather is even half decent, or if it’s high season when all the refugios are open/camping would be pleasant option, and you’re up for the challenge then go. However if you don’t fancy the 4 day hike but still want to stretch your legs that’s not a problem.

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Short Treks in Torres del Paine

We found that so much advertising goes into the W trek that it’s hard to work out if you can do shorter trips. You can. During high season a 1 day trek is easily possible to get to Base Torres and see Los Torres (the towers) up close. Another option is to catch the boat across Lago Peheo and hike up Valle del Frances staying at the refugio and heading back to Puerto Natales the next day. You can trek as much or as little of the National Park as you want, just remember to book your refugios (through FantasticoSur) far enough in advance as during the summer they fill up fast.

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Just because we didn’t do the W trek doesn’t mean we didn’t get to go to Torres del Paine. 1 day bus tours can be easily picked up from Puerto Natales and you’ll still get to see some incredible sights. The forecast had said we’d have sun but strong winds for the first 2 hours of our trip, getting worse after that for at least the next week. That was a narrow window for us to try and see some of the views. Leaving at 7:30am we drove the 2 hours to the park, stopping to see large groups of condors on the way.

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Just before you enter the actual park there is a lake and viewpoint that give you amazing views of Los Torres! Unfortunately, as we’ve said the weather was getting worse so we managed to snag this impressive shot of the world famous towers…

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Even with low cloud and a freezing wind the views were really impressive, the huge mountains entwined with glaciers are awe inspiring no matter what the weather. What’s more the glacial blue waters of the lakes more than made up for the lack of blue skies.

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The southern species of Llama the Guanco can be found all over the park, in large herds of individually, and as with all the best animals are very keen to pose in front of the great scenery.

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The last stop of the day was Lago Grey to see the icebergs that had broken off Glacier Grey. Just a quick 20 minute walk in the rain to see these huge chunks of ice as they drifted past.

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Undoubtedly even in bad weather the views in the national park are probably worth a trek, but considering the temperature and rain we were glad we had a warm minibus to get back on after each of our photo stops.

 

Braving the Winter: A few days in Ushuaia, The End of the World

After our brief trip to Uruguay and an overnight wait at the airport in Buenos Aires, we arrived in Ushuaia. In a few hours we went from a lovely 25 degrees to something nearer zero. Ushuaia is about as far south as you can go in Argentina…next stop would be Antarctica! We were prepped for the cold weather and within seconds of landing we had dug out the hats, scarfs and gloves that hadn’t seen daylight since London.

Having glimpsed the mountains as we came into landing and having admired the lake on the walk from the airport we knew Ushuaia was going to impress. Ok so maybe not the city itself…it was pleasant enough but nothing to rave about. It is picturesque, situated amongst the snow-capped mountains but the centre can be covered in an hour or so…unless of course you want to traipse around endless outdoor stores…saying that Iain would have been quite happy too. But like most we had not come to Ushuaia to be wowed by what the city had to offer, despite the cold weather we were determined to see the surrounding natural beauty.

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On our first full day in Ushuaia, IMG_7498Argentina’s national strike was in full swing. No buses, no coaches, no flights, and officially no taxis or supermarkets. Thankfully however a few taxis and stores had persevered despite the burning roadblocks and picket lines throughout the country! A meal of pasta and stir in sauce was purchased for dinner…we wont lie its not the first…and a taxi would be our only hopes to escape the city.

 

IMG_7231We tourists found the strike fascinating and our evenings were spent exchanging stories of travel delays and cancellations. Some had spent several hours at the airports whilst others had to disembark buses and cross the burning roadblocks by foot. With our limited Spanish we never did quite get the full story behind the strike, but most Argentinians seemed more annoyed by it than rallied behind it. Unlike us most of the locals didn’t have the luxury of being on holiday and having time to spare. Many of our fellow travellers found themselves stuck in Ushuaia for a few days more than intended, but as we soon found out the end of the world was not the worst place in the world to be for a few extra days…

Like many who stay in Ushuaia, our intention had been to head to Tierra del Fuego National Park at the earliest opportunity. However with the strike in full swing a group of us from the hostel, settled on visiting the local glacier. Flagging down one of the scarce taxis, we headed off to Martial Glacier, about 15 minutes from town. In the summer months the taxis drop you off at the base of the ski lift however for us brave winter souls, we faced the short hike up the hill. Some say Ushuaia is best visited in the summer months but in April, with winter setting in, the trees or more importantly the colour of them, on the walk up were a sight in themselves…

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Some stunning forest and enough snow to sink in up to your knees, this walk was a pleasant way to spend what otherwise could have been a very dull day. It was made all the better as for one of our group it was the first time they had seen snow!

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The next day we successfully visited Tierra del Fuego. As a light snow fell around us we enjoyed a pleasant walk through yet more stunning forest, stopping at various coves along the way. Most importantly we got our passports stamped from the “End of the World” post office.

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We were amazed at the number IMG_6928of languages on offer in this tiny hut: they had no problem accommodating our friend from Hong Kong’s request as he established they offered stamps in both Cantonese and Mandarin. Although our trip to Tierra del Fuego was somewhat more expensive than the glacier (which is free, just the cost of the taxi) it is certainly worth a visit. Had the weather been better we would have likely spent another day here in order to make the most of the numerous hikes on offer.

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Not put off by the dropping temperature we also embarked upon a boat trip on the Beagle Channel during our stay. Regular trips leave from the port throughout the day, on vessels of varying sizes.

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Wrapped up in every layer of clothing we had with us we set off on one of the smallest in search of sea lions and cormorants. We were not disappointed. We smelt both before we saw them in vast their numbers, and our skilled captain got us close enough to almost touch them (though not advisable with the sea lions).

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Apparently in our pictures there are two types of sea lions, but at dinner with our fellow seafarers later we established none of us had actually understood the difference between them despite our guides thorough explanations – I think we were all too busy being snap happy…sorry Max we will listen better next time!

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Big thanks to Winnie and Danni for the picture! Read about their travels in Ushuaia at oliviaoyster.com

With a quick visit to one of the islands on the Beagle Channel and a quick hike around it we were amazed at Max’s enthusiasm for the wildlife and history of Ushuaia. So much so that we were inspired to visit the local museum when back on the main land that afternoon. Certainly worth a visit, this museum is vast and set in an old prison, however truth be told we would have probably rather listened to Max all afternoon.

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Best of all Max recommended the excellent Chiko for lunch that afternoon. Excellent seafood and with four meals sampled, which we all agreed were delicious, we highly recommended this place in Ushuaia. As for hostels you have to stay at La Posta. A lovely family run business with great facilities and a brilliant atmosphere…aided of course by all the lovely people we met during our stay!

Here are our final tips for Ushuaia…

Bring warm clothes – the wind can be brutal and a boat trip is a must.

Take a boat trip on the Beagle Channel – be wowed by the sea lions.

Eat at Chiko – great seafood. Its Chilean but don’t hold that against it!

Stay at La Posta – great all round hostel with private rooms too.

Change money at the Casino (just off the main street in town) – the southernmost place to find the blue dollar! Open 24/7!

Things to do in Colonia: Colonia Del Sacramento in the rain…

We have spent the last few days relaxing in Colonia. A short ferry ride from Buenos Aires this town comes highly recommended to any visitor to the area. Although we can certainly say it would only be improved by better weather it is still a great place to hang out for a few days even in the rain. We however wouldn’t recommend visiting if you have high expectations of there being a wealth of activities to occupy you. It’s a small place, somewhere a good friend admitted he would like to retire too, but it certainly has its charms. Here are our recommendations for what to do…

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Eat – food is noticeably more expensive here than in BA but there is plenty of decent restaurants and coffee shops to relax in. We highly recommend spending an evening at Buen Suspiro. Although guidebook recommended, and that doesn’t always guarantee good food or atmosphere, this place reminded us of one of our favourite wine bars in London. A laid-back atmosphere and delicious but uncomplicated food.

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Photograph – It is fair to say we are fairly snap happy with our DSLRs but certainly if you come here when its quiet (and unfortunately a bit wet) you can while away the hours photographing the streets and classic cars, and your pictures will nearly all be tourist free…

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Stroll – Although we were initially shocked at how small the old town is, when it wasn’t raining we enjoyed strolling around taking in a few ruins and admiring the boats and water. Pick up a dog as a companion (our new favourite thing to do) and explore.

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Failing that…read a book and take a few days to chill.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lollapalooza Festival 2014

As previously mentioned in our Buenos Aires blog we spent two of our wonderful days in the city at this festival in the district of San Isidro. With the Red Hot Chili Peppers headlining, booking the tickets before we’d even left UK soil was a no brainer.

At the age of 14 both Iain and I saw the Red Hot Chili Peppers on their 2004 tour: Iain in Manchester and me in Hyde Park. Needless to say in our first year of university we soon discovered our joint love for the band and played their Live At Hyde Park album endlessly. In our (nearly!) 7 years together we’ve never had the chance to see the band live together, so we knew this festival was a must for this trip.

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With a line up that would rival any major festival in the UK, Lollapalooza was sure to be a hit in Argentina. Lollapalooza was also held in various US destinations, as well as in Santiago and Rio de Janeiro but for Buenos Aires this was its debut.

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Despite some major transport issues getting away from the festival each evening (we walked over a mile to find a bust that wasn’t full) the two days were just as expected: a lot of fun, adrenaline and bad singing. Actually I take back bad singing…as certainly during RHCPs set the singing was mostly amusing. Naturally Iain and I knew the songs far too well, so our neighbours’ reinventions of the lyrics made the experience all the more memorable. I’m sure the local population are finding our attempts at Spanish just as funny, however I’m also sure even Antony Kiedis would find the new lyrics being sung at him hilarious. Probably funnier if you were there…

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Anyway everything was to be expected bar one thing…one minor thing that nevertheless took us by surprise and took some adjusting too. It took less than hour into the first band for us to look around and slowly realise we hadn’t seen any alcohol being consumed. Sadly at a British festival even at 1pm there is usually a group nearby already smashed or very nearly there. Clutching on to hope we put it down to 1pm being too early for a lot of people, plus we were on holiday and this is a festival so we headed to the bar and in our best Spanish ordered, “dos cerveza, por favour.” It took three attempts by the kind yet persistent lady behind the bar…but we soon learnt that this was an alcohol-free event.

We were however amazed at the Porteños ability to have a good time totally sober. Although the continuous waft of suspect smoke was certainly helping, the atmosphere was fantastic and despite the generally good weather we even got a little mud to revival any Glastonbury. We felt rather smug in our hiking boots as others struggled in their Converse. Certainly a highlight of the trip so far and we are seriously considering booking a ticket for next year if we can make the money last that long…

 

 

 

A Courgette and a Chandelier – San Telmo Market

Anyone heading to Buenos Aires is probably going to spend some time in San Telmo. Whether you’re coming for the antiques market on a Sunday, or just browsing the shops and cafes it’s a great place to hang out. When you’re there, make sure you don’t miss the permanent covered market in the middle of the Bario. Taking up nearly an entire block, with entrances on 3 streets around Calle Carlos Calvo and Bolivar, this massive market is capable of meeting all your foodie needs.

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Anyone spending time in Argentina will quickly notice that whilst the food is great, delicious and sizeable, you’re fruit and veg intake is falling far short of normal. Forget five a day, you’ll be struggling to get five a week. On top of this, the fruit and veg you’ll manage to scrape up at supermarkets, are overpriced and under-quality. A short holiday won’t be a problem, but anyone spending more than a couple of weeks out here will start to feel the loss. El Mercado de San Telmo to the rescue!

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Obviously this isn’t the only place to buy fruit and veg in the country, but out of everywhere in the previous month it had the freshest produce and the greatest selection (i didn’t even know there were five kinds of courgette). With five or six competing stalls keeping the price down, you can really save some money on some great produce. There wasn’t anything we wanted that we couldn’t get hold of and in most cases in multiple varieties. Whether you’re after cheese, meat, bread, pastries, herbs, grains or spices there’s somewhere to buy it at the market. There’s no need to rush and being a covered market the weather doesn’t matter, and there’s a great place to grab a coffee and an empanada right in the centre. Even if you’re not coming to San Telmo to scratch your vitamin itch, the market is still well worth a visit. Whilst the central area is mostly dominated by food the rest is in keeping with San Telmos staple product, antiques.

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I’m not going to pretend i know anything about antiques and i’m sure theres a good amount of junk/fakes here, but whether you’re looking for a bag of old snooker balls or massive ornate chandeliers the collection is extensive. Handbags, vinyls, old medical equipment or some really scary dolls, we found it very easy to just walk around and look at all the bits we couldn’t buy. That’s the problem with backpacking, if you buy something, something else is getting left behind…

 

Rio Carnival 2014

Where else can we start but to say that we were blown away by our night at the Sambadrome! The heart of the Carnival is quite simply the people. Yes the music, the drumming and the parade helped, but the locals made sure we too were jumping, clapping and cheering with the rest. Each samba school has its own song that the locals seem to know by heart and with a little encouragement we were singing along with the best of them. As most of the songs were on repeat for the length of each parade (a full 82 minutes each) we at least knew when to belt out the chorus…and the odd “la la la” never hurt anyone! ……………………………………………………………………………………………………

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For those of you that don’t know, the Sambadrome is essentially 700m of concrete lined with tiered stands. On the Sunday and Monday nights the twelve best samba schools perform and parade the length. The tiers are divided into sections, with sector 9 reserved as the tourist section. Our advice to any traveller is, throw yourself in with the locals! We’re sure sector 9 was having a fantastic time but trust us partying with the locals will heighten the experience. There were plenty of other foreigners along with us in sector 10 but who would want to miss out on the chance to share cake with the sweet old Brazilian lady next to us or to be taught dance moves by all those around you. ……………………………………………………………………………………………

IMG_6073The event starts at 9pm and continues until about 7am, for those of you that can stick it out. It seems it’s quite appropriate to see the first few schools, take a quick nap, then get back to partying…that’s if you can manage to get comfy on the concrete seats. Drinking is part of the fun but by no means compulsory. Many of the groups included young children, who out-partied the adults despite it being way past their usual bedtime! Like us, if you can’t quite stick it out to 7am, it seems it’s perfectly acceptable to make a dash for home any time after 3am. ……………………………………………………………………………………………

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All in all we would say the Sambadrome is well worth the expense but if you’re unlucky enough not to get a ticket or if your budget doesn’t quite stretch to it, this will by no means limit your carnival experience. Bloco parties are free, fun and all over the city during the entire week of carnival. In fact it’s hard to get around all of Rio’s sights without bumping into one of these street parties. Once again the people are at the heart. Our advice is to take full advantage of them – look out for large groups of nuns, brides, and pirates (this year these seemed to be the most common choice of costume) carrying a few beers and just follow them to the nearest festivity. ……………………………………………………………………………………………

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We’ve not been to Rio at any other time but to us it would seem Rio is at its best during Carnival. Yes the buses get caught in terrible traffic caused by revellers and the prices sky rocket but trust us its worth it. You only need to look at the pictures to be inspired. ……………………………………………………………………………………………

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On a different note, the Carnival is not without mishaps. It seems someone misjudged the height of this carnival float and one its figures was spectacularly decapitated…to much cheering from the crowd. ………………………………………………………………………………………………………………

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Why Do We Travel

Lets face it, the worst part of travelling is travelling. The expectation of going on a big trip, adrenaline, nerves, excitement, tears, it’s a complete emotional rollercoaster, it’s like being 13 again. Then comes the airport. Check in happens hours ahead of when you actually want to be there and then you have to tackle security. This wouldn’t be nearly so bad if it wasn’t for that person in front of you, you know the one I mean. “Have you emptied your pockets Sir?” The following affirmative answer is immediately shown to be an outright lie by that oh so revealing “BLEEP” from the metal detector. Lo and behold the empty pockets in fact contain: keys, phone, wallet and various pieces of change, some of which aren’t even in circulation any more. Finally, after the ignominy of walking around with no shoes for a bit, holding your trousers up with one hand because your belt has somehow become lost inside the scanning machine, you make it through to duty free.

Duty free is where you don’t really want to be. When you’re after some discounted booze it’s great, but when you’re about to head off on a multi-month holiday, a two litre bottle of Vodka isn’t exactly high on your list of priorities. And so you grab an overpriced coffee, a sandwich and go and find some seats. Next, the boarding process…now this is really quite fascinating. We all get to our gate way ahead of schedule and sit there staring as the minutes creep past. When boarding finally opens, everyone leaps to their feet and stands in a queue less than a meter from where they were just sitting. I do this as well, I even fail in stopping myself from doing it. I think that we’re all just eager to get on the plane because that will officially be the start of the holiday. Start of the holiday or not what we’ve actually done is leapt to our feet to board the plane and get started with the worlds most boring game of sardines. Theres only one person having a good time and it’s the guy sitting sloshed in one of the bars completely unaware of the announcements asking him to please board the plane.

For Lauren and I, we had a short flight to Rome followed by a not so short flight to Rio. Every time we long haul I convince myself it would all be so much better if next time we just pay for that extended leg room or maybe even upgrade. It never happens though, we book economy and sit down with our knees jammed into someone elses back. This is the worst bit of travelling. The first couple of hours are fine, movies, free food, free booze and all you have to do is sit there, it’s great. Then you have to try and sleep. I can nod off standing up, Lauren however, isn’t so lucky. Even if you can sleep, you don’t wake up refreshed at the other end with a broad smile shouting “Hello world!” You’ve just slept in your clothes in a cramped, not quite sitting position, knowing that when you get off the plane at your long awaited destination, you’ve got to face a whole new set of challenges.

Everything above is true except the first 10 words: lets face it, the worst part of travelling is travelling. I hate the travelling whilst i’m travelling, but once I reach a destination I suddenly see that 13 hour flight or that 2 day bus as the arc that carried me to paradise and then, I forgive it everything. I think the trouble stems from the fact that you’ve just left somewhere that you’ve come to love. You sit there on transport, usually cheap and dirty, wondering what the next place is going to be like. The bus gets us there and it’s amazing, somehow that bus journey is now “an experience.” Rather than 2 days of spine jarring pot holes and a weird smell coming from under one of the seats, it has become a fond memory. Then again maybe we just do this to ourselves so that we can bring ourselves to get on that next bus and just ramble on.