Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Bariloche: Rafting, Paraglding and Walking

Well, we´ve continued in our extreme streak, with adventures of rafting, paragliding and a very long walk up a mountain.

This video (if it works) shows Landing her tandem paraglide flight. It´s better with sound as you can hear her shreiking in anticipation!! If it doesn´t work click here

Paragliding is amazing - so crazy to run of the edge of a mountain and find yourself suspended and flying through the air. Suffice to say we were both a bit nervous standing on the ´runway´with our hats and jump suits waiting to launch. You have to wait for the guy to inflate the ´wing´, and then brace against the pull as the wind grabs it. Then he hooks on and you have to run like a lunatic as though you wish to throw yourself off the edge. All of a sudden you´re running like the Wylee Coyote with your feet in the air and the mountain floor dissapearing below. Then you fly...
From Paragliding

Two days before paragliding we went rafting down the river Guiterez to the Chilean border. This was also fantastic fun, though I have to say that Paragliding tops it on the extremomiter. The day trip included a massive lunch of barbequed lamb, sausages and wine, so after all the excercise and exhileration we´re were all pissed after about two glasses!

From Bariloche

As you can see, Leah was loving it! The coolest thing was that we got Leah into Chile without a visa, albeit for only a moment! Shhh, dont tell no one.

From Bariloche

The day before yesterday I was making dinner when my good friend Joanna walked into the Hostel bonkers is that? She is over staying with her sister, Justine, who lives in Uruguay. We decided to join forces for a walk up the mountains which we did yesterday.
From Frey Mountain...
It was a beautful clear and still day, but not too hot so it was perfect for the walk. We took the 9.15 bus that left us at the bottom of a ski lift, which carries people up the mountian to either just enjoy the view or hurtle down on mountain bikes. We, however, left this behind to find the path that leads up to a mountain refuge called Frey. At first the path seemed to just contour around the side of the mountian, which had beautiful views of the lake below, but I really wanted to get up into the hills. Finally we came round a bend and the gradient steepened as we followed a river gorge up and up through wonderful lush green woodland. Up up and up some more we went until finally we the greenery began to thin and we could see the rocky mountain peaks all around. At about 2 in the afternoon we arrived at the Refuge and were greeted by a number of Brasilian climbers who´d been up there for 40 days. They were on their way down and had enormous rucksaks, laden with climbing gear and camping equipment.
From Frey Mountain...

After a lunch of chorizo, brie and olives we decided that instead of wlaking down the path we had come up, we´d try to walk over the top of the mountain pass and go down by the ski-lift. After talking with a few of the poeple up there it seemed as though the walk wouldn´t be too difficult, but would probably take 3 to 4 off we set. The refuge is nestled in at the base of two peaks with a large lake at it´s rear. This we had to circumnavigate before climbing up a steep and rocky slope to exit the vally. At the top of this was another lake and another steep climb to get to the top of the pass, which revealed wonderful views of the the mountains stretching off into the distance.
From Frey Mountain...

It felt like we had reached the hardest point after all that climbing, but the traverse to reach the ski lifts was steep and difficult, with loose rocks covered in gravel. This made it slow and tiring and as the day wore on and our legs and bodies began to tire it seemed as though the trail would never end.
From Frey Mountain...

Finally however we crested a slope to see the vast lake and Bariloche miles below. Unfortunately the lifts had closed for the day, but thankfully Johanna had managed to go ahead and secure us a lift with some workers who were making there way home for the day. This meant we had to ride on the back of a truck all the way down the bumpy mountain paths, but although it was cold and uncomfortable, it was much better than the hours of walking that awaited us if we´d not got the lift. When we got to the bottom the bus seemed to be waiting to greet our tired legs, and the relief and happyness at being inside the warm shuddering vehicle was wonderful.
From Frey Mountain...

Back in Bariloche we bought some food and went to the Hostel for much needed showers. Once refreshed the four of us (Johanna, Justine, Leah and I) met in the kitched and cooked a wonderful meal of grilled steak, mashed potato, corn on the cob and an onion and chilli gravy. Yum yum.

Today Leah and I are chilling and resting our tired thighs, while Joanna and her sister have gone off to investigate El Bolson for a couple of days. We may hook up with them this weekend for some more adventures though....

Friday, February 23, 2007


We´ve been in Bariloche since Monday, with one night spent out in the hills - more on that in a moment. We´re staying in the Tango Inn Hostel, which is really cool. It´s a little out of town, but has been set up really well and our room has a great view over the lake and the mountains beyond.

From Bariloche
Bariloche is a skiing town in the winter and in the summer caters for all the extreme sports nuts that want to go and play in the like me I guess. It´s also famous for chocolate and has some enormous chocolate emporiums where you can promise to take your girlfriend if they agree to you spending a week being extreme (cold, wet, tired, etc).

Speaking of which we have booked ourselves onto a few such excusrions. The day before yesterday we headed off on the "Free Spirit Tour", which meant travelling out of town to a lovely secluded set of bunk houses nestled in the foothills by a lake. We were joined by a South African couple who had been living in London for 6 - 9 years and were on their way to live in Australia.

In the morning we went for a mountain bike ride around the lake, which was scenic and picturesque but not particularly challenging. The fun part was riding through a river ford and getting soaking wet!

From Bariloche
Lunch was (needless to say) a Bar-b-q, or Parilla, with loads of Chorizo sausage, beef steak and blood pudding type thing called Morcilla. Yum. I´m feeling hungry just thinking about it.

In the afternoon it was time to take to the lake with in a rubber dingy and a canoe. This seemed like a good idea but shortly after we got onto the water it started to rain, and without the sun the temperature dropped pretty quickly. Further more we only had our own gear to rely on, which meant light rain jackets and swim shorts. Soon enough everyone was pretty wet and cold (extreme categories 1 and 2) and begining to tire (category 3). When Leah started shivering uncontrolably my EMC training kicked in (those from Atlantic College will know what I´m talking about - otherwise just think Outward Bound) and I realised we needed to get back to the shore and some warmth pretty quickly. She was wearing (soaking) jeans and my lighweight Howies cycling jacket, which were all wet through. I was, or course, having a wail of a time...feel the cold? Me? Never. We stopped momentarily to watch some Aguilitas (small Eagles) who were standing on the lake shore just a few meters away, but the cold soon drove us on. When we reached the shore we found that our legs no longer worked and both struggled to clamber out of the canoe and up the steep bank to the path that lead back to the cabins. We had been promised 1000 litres of hot water, and I think that gave us the determination to scramble and slither up the muddy path and eventually to the relative warmth of the shower block. Thankfully the hot water promise came through and after a while the feeling returned to numb fingers and toes.

We spent the evening playing cards with the owners, drying our clothes over the small wood-burning stove, exchanging stories and drinking wine.

The night was spent in a cold bunk house with about four blankets to keep us warm (and a few spoders to boot). I had a bit of a funny tummy and as I went to bed I enjoyed the irony that the one time I may need to be making night-time excursions to the bathroom it was in another building a cold walk away...thankfully there was no need in the end!

Yesterday we went for a nice walk around a small lagoon surrounded by a lovely forest with dappled sunslight coming through the trees before gathering our stuff together and heading back to Bariloche. Nice.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Calafate and the Porito Moreno glacier

Well the journey down to Calafate wasn´t so bad after all, though it was long. We splashed out on what´s known as a "cama" seat, which basically means bed and is large and comfortable and reclines a long way, though not quite to horizontal. This ticket included food, but this turned out to be a lump of tired meat on a bed of dry mashed potato....yum. Good thing we had packed some fruit and biscuits for the journey!

Calafate was lovely, we stayed in what´s known as a Cabañita, or small cabin, which was situated in a lovely lavendar filled garden area near the centre of town.
From Calafate and ...

Calafate sits on the side of a lake of glacier water surrounded by dramatic hills. In the distance are the snow capped mountains of the Andes. The weekend we were there happened to be the date for the town to celebrate what I understood to be it´s 125th aniversary (might have got that wrong of course), which meant there was a huge stage and live music everynight, as well as food and craft stalls a plenty.

The main atraction is the Porito Moreno glaciar, which is an hour or so out of town by bus. It´s amazing. Awesome. Fantastic. If you can, go and see it! The bus trip gave us about five hours to gape at the vast sea of advancing ice, and gape we did. It seems to be a living thing with incredible echos and booms of the ice cracking and falling filling the still mountain air. We stood and watched as a 50 meter tall block broke off the face and slipped into the lake waters below with an enormous splash.
From Calafate and ...

In truth the three nights we gave to Calafate weren´t really enough as I would have liked to explore the surrounding hills a bit more. The flight we booked dictated that we move on however, so we packed our bags and left the South behind, marking as we did a turning point in our journey; from now on we´re pretty much heading due north!

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Puerto Madryn and Peninsula Valdés

Well, it´s been a while since I´ve blogged anything, been lazy I guess. We´ve been in a town called Puerto Madryn for the last six days or so, which has been really nice.

From Puerto Madryn

This place is super famous for Whale watching and also, curiously, for decendents of Welsh settlers. Unfortunately for us the Southern Right Whales are only around between June and December, so we missed them. There are quite a few Sea Lion and Seal Colonies, as well as Penguins. Also, there are Killer Whales that come to feast on the baby seals, but we´re a bit early for that as the babies aren´t yet old enough to get in the sea (and become Whale breakfast). Despite missing out on the Whales, we did go and investigate the Wales connection, which is a town an hour or so away called Gaimen. There you can have some seriously over priced "Welsh Tea" and scones, and there is also a theme park made entirely of rubbish. Actually it was curious for us as only a month before we were having tea and cake in Wales and then there we were surrounded by Welsh memorabilia thousands of miles across the globe. Unfortunately explaining our Welsh conection didn´t result in anything of a discount, nor did the conection with Sri lanka and tea...but then we were the only people in the cafe so someone´s got to pay for their dinner.

Following that excursion we ventured to Peninsula Valdés for a night. This is a world heritage site just north of Puerto Madryn where all the Sea Lions, Penguins and Orcas (Killer Whales) hang out. There is loads of other bird and animal life there too. On arrival we set off on a 5km treck to find the near by sea lion colony (my idea). But missing the sign for the headland I decded to hack off cross country (not entirely to Leah´s liking I have a feeling). The ground was dry scrub land, and the sun was baking hot as it was just after midday. We were both thinking privately about how perfect snake country this was when I glanced in to a hole and saw one all curled up and sleeping. Well, that certainly stops you in your tracks! We made for the road like gazelles and thought better of "short cuts" after that. After an hour or so we made the colony, which was a treat.

From Peninsula Valdes

It lies on flat rock outscrops and there were loads of young seals romping around in rock pools. They´re really noisy, sounding a lot like a heard of sheep actually!

From Peninsula Valdes

We made the walk back to the Puerto Piramides and collapsed on the Hostel bed! It was really windy there and the combination of wind, sun and sand had taken it´s toll.

The following day we decided to pass on the fairly expensive tour round the penisnsula as the Orcas were not yet dining and spending 6 hours bumping around in a tour bus to then gawp at more sea lions with a load of other tourists for 15 minutes didn´t butter our muffins. Instead we retreated Back to Puerto Madryn and to our second Hostel there; Posada del Catalejo.

Our first hostel (Viajeros) was a mistake really, overpriced (105 pesos/night) and under-friendly. Plus the included "breakfast" consisted of a mug of coffee served with some small stones disguised as bread and some butter and jam, a-lo-stingy.

Posado del Catalejo on the other hand has been a real treat, and it will be a shame to leave it behind as we make the mammoth journey this evening to Rio Gallegos and then onto Calafate. We´re going to be on a bus from 6 this evening until 11.30 tomorrow morning, then another bus for 5 hours or so to Calafate. However, this is where the Fitz Roy range of mountains are to the found, and the Perito Moreno glaciar...So we´re leaving the sea behind for the next month or so, which is a shame as it´s lovely, though a bit nippy if you decide to go for a swim.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Necochea - El Medano Blanco

On Monday we went on a trip to see El Medano Blanco, which is an area of sand dunes a little way south of Necochea. The weather wasn´t great and a thick fog decended on the town as we left making the journey there rather less interesting than it would have been could we see more than a few meters. However we did pass some shipwrecks on the beach, one an English vesstle that sunk in1926 and the other a Spanish one that went down some three years later. They had been reduced to mear metal bones by the endless crashing waves of salty sea water.

From Necochea

Thankfully as we neared the dunes the fog began to lift and as it did so the rolling sandscape was revealed. I´ve got photos but this machine would melt down were I to attempt to upload them...It was fun as we drove up and over the tallest dunes, the driver evidently fairly well versed in the art of keeping the 4x4 moving over the ever changing terrain. The wind was fierce when we got down to take in the view, whipping the sand around and making it not such a nice place to be as in the calm interior of the car. After a short while we stopped for a (sandy) bite to eat and had a chat with the driver and the other person on the trip, a woman called Mabel. She turned out to be really friendly by the time we got back to Necochea she had taken us under her wing and was determined to show us the best of traditional Argentina, which in this instance turned out to be a kind of mini-pasty called an "empanada". She bought a load and we went back to her flat to eat them, where we met her family and had a really nice time getting to know them! They have left a lovely memory of Necochea for us.

From Necochea

Yesterday we hired a tandem bike and had a laugh riding around and exploring Necochea. It was pretty windy and dusty again which made for hard going in certain directions, especially as I´m sure Leah was happily letting me do a lot of the leg work....

From Necochea

We had a nice picnic by the river(photos to follow) and managed to sort out our travel plans for the next little while - including a flight from Calafate to Esquel, which is going to save us about two days of terrible road-tripping up Route 40! Lee the Carbon Bandit strikes again, I´m going to have to be seriously emission free after this trip.

Monday, February 05, 2007

Necochea: Las Grutas

Today we packed ourselves a yummy picnic of serrano ham, cheese and fuit and headed for "Las Grutas", which are some 12km south of Necochea. Everything was going well ´till we discovered at 12:30 that we´d missed the 12:00 bus and the next one wouldn´t come along until 4 in the afternoon...We asked in the tourist office and the guy said a Remis or mini-cab would cost about 40 pesos, well out of our budget for that trip. Thankfully he was wrong and came out to where we were trying to decide what to do to say that actually it would only be ten pesos - so off we went.

I have to admit that I was hoping for some good caves, but unfortunately it was only a low cliff area with some hollows created by the big winter seas. However, it was a lot less crowded than necochea so we sat down on the beach and enjoyed our picnic. The only slightly annoying thing was the lunatic father of some kids playing near to us, who was yelling like a banshee every time his kid kicked the football!

From Necochea

After a while the wind picked up and some light cloud cover came over and it kinda got cold to be honest. Being a restless soul I persueded Leah that we should take a walk up the beach to see if it got any more exciting. It didn´t. We ended up walking along a dusty gusty road on our way to find the bus, with our eyes streaming and stinging every time a car went by. By the time we got to the bus stop we were caked in a fine white powder and probably looked pretty dejected!

From Necochea

Upon returning to Necochea we made for a cafe and hat a nice Cafe Late on the street side veranda and sat watching the world go by...

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Before the off!

From Buenos Aires

So I´ve managed to upload a few more images! This is us in Heathrow before we got on the plane, which you can just make out in the background! Yup, we were in that tube for 14 hours...

Necochea - beach resort

Ok, so here we are in the beach resort of Necochea, after one pretty lame night in Tandil - read Leah´s blog for more on that. This town is on the Southern Pampas, where the Beunos Aires lot come for their holidays. It´s a bit mental on the beach during the day as EVERYONE comes to roast themsleves under the very hot sun - you can barely move for people, which is interesting the first time and pretty horrible there after. However, they subscribe to the body-beautiful thing here and this summer´s latest bikini style doesn´t leave a whole lot to the imagination...If you´re into people watching it´s a good (read funny) place to be, and I dont just mean for pervs.

The town is buzzing well into the wee wee hours, with clowns and shows in the square, loads of restaurants and plenty of bars. We´re staying in a quaint little hotel called "El Quijote", which is run by an eccentric fella called Rafael. It´s good value though at 66 Pesos/night including breakfast (3 Croissants and a coffee), and our room is cleaned everyday with fresh towels arriving on the newly made bed.

Today we went accross the river to the neighbouring town of Quequen, which is where the surf is to be found. I´m hoping to get into the water tomorrow or monday, though no-one rents boards so it means hiring a lesson (30 Pesos/hour). Probably do me some good though. The waves were big this afternoon, but messy due to the strong wind, and the few surfers that were out there seemed to be struggling a bit. The beach was much nicer than Necochea as it was a lot less busy, and the people seemed younger and a bit more of a surfy crowd. We were also told of a cool sounding Hostel called Jamming (which isnn´t in the Lonely Planet) which would probably be the place to come if you wanted to surf - we´ve payed for our hotel up front so we´re not going to move.

If the wind is up tomorrow we´ll probably pack a picnic and head for a place called Las Grutas, which is a beach further south where there would appear to be caves and stuff. Also sounds quieter and a nice place to hang out for the day. We´re also looking into a 4x4 ride into some impressive sounding sand dunes; up to 110 meters tall!

Friday, February 02, 2007

Hostel Ostinatto, Buenos Aires

For those who are interested, or may be going there, we spent our time in Buenos Aires in a Hostel called Ostinatto. It was recomended by a friend and turned out to be really good. We were paying 72 pesos a night for a double room with breakfast, though the room was a bit of a box with no windows to the outside world, only the internal atrium. This price was slightly discounted (from 80 pesos /night) as we payed upfront and stayed for 5 nights. The place has a large kitchen with a balcony onto the street, which was a great place to hang out and chat with the other guests over breakfast or dinner or whenever! It also has a rooftop terrace with a kind of plunge-pool thing, a bar-b-q and a nice view over the city. They offer free Yoga classes and a free tango class to all guests.

From Buenos Aires