We decided to go through Paraguay, then back into Argentina and Chile on our way to Bolivia. Paraguay felt similar to Argentina, though we only visited the capital. Our route took us through Salta, in the north of Argentina where we then got a bus to Chile. Salta was pleasant.
Having concluded our boat holiday in Puerto Chacabuco, we did an overall uninteresting journey to get to El Calafate (original plan had been for El Chalten but there is only trekking to do there and as it was forecast to bucket it down we skipped over and may return later).
Disclaimer: I will now describe said uninteresting journey in a teeny but of detail so I don’t forget what a pain it was. Please skip this paragraph.
Just one shuttle from the ferry and then a further bus took us to our first stop, Coyhaique. Sadly, one night there, (in what I have to admit was the most comfortable bed since we left we UK) was so expensive we nearly booked flights home then and there. So we revised our plan to travel in a leisurely fashion taking 5 or 6 days through Coyhaique, Chile Chico and Los Antiguos and instead we left Coyhaique, got a mini van, boat (had to wait 5 hours, first one full, very windy), taxi to get across the border, and then an overnight bus down to el Chalten. Accomplished in 1.5 days rather than a week but less fun exploring. Also, that was our first overnight bus, and having continually boasted of my ability to sleep anywhere, I found myself incredibly restless on the last comfortable bus of the trip so far. Disappointing. Egg fared a bit better in pleased to say.
And just like that we were in El Calafate, a city which generally accepted traveling wisdom has it that you can do in one day. Not being ones to follow such nonsense, we passed a leisurely four days here, and greatly enjoyed them. I reckon people underestimate it.
Generally, the thing to do here is drop off your bag, get on the first bus you can to see the glacier, and then get on the first bus out. And whilst I will admit the town itself is really none too charming (unless you adore postcard shops and overpriced ski wear) there was enough to keep us happy.
Our first day we went out to see the glacier, Perito Moreno. It is awesome. 4 hours watching, and it was a nippy day, and we were transfixed. It is part of the southern ice fields, which make up a large chunk of our freshwater reserves (I think third biggest after Antarctica and Greenland for you fact hunters) and is the only one in the area that is considered stable and is still advancing, the others supposedly falling victim to global warming.
, and in the afternoon the world’s first glacial ice bar! Strangely egg was happy to visit the ice bar, but would not let us go to the attached museum. Think of all the fun things we will never know about ice!!!
The bar was a strange experience, I suppose not really designed with us in mind. We enjoyed the outfits, and the animals and the ice glasses, but rather less the disco lights and club music which are a bit at odds with the children running around. Really, it is designed for people who want to spend the entire time posing for photos. We managed a couple, right around the time they announced our time was up. Still, good way to enjoy ice cold amaretto and we tried liqueur of calafate, the local berry, pretty similar to blueberry.
We also had the treat in the evening of seeing Daniela and Tomas again (you know, from the first farm in Argentina). It was really nice to see how they were getting on and did not seen like 4 months has passed at all. Also funny, terrible service in Librobar, trying to get the bill for half an hour, finally guessing the money and just leaving only for them to suddenly be attentive and catch up with us on the street demanding 4 pesos more (that’s about 30 pence). Shame, as the place is so nicenice but the staff really are awful.
On the boat back we were treated to whiskey and then we received a little present for making it safely back to the bus. Egg things it is just something extra to carry, but I was happy with my little gift.
So to Bariloche, gloriously touristic heart of the lake district. We arrived at Universal Travel Hostel (terrible name but nice place), a new hostel we had been in contact with in order to get free beds and do a bit of work in exchange. It turns out it is only volunteers and the owners as they can’t quite afford other staff yet. Interesting owners, very chilled out place, and in exchange for our help at breakfast and washing some sheets were had free beds in the, otherwise very pricey, city.
Bariloche is a town that looks a lot like how I imagine a Swiss ski resort town does, and the as the main tourist drag is almost exclusively chocolate shops (painfully expensive but there were free samples plus I looked sad if people didn’t let me eat some chocolate animals each day) the feeling is exaggerated. It is based around many lakes, the largest, lago nahuel huapi has a nice pebble beach that you can go and nap on. It is best for skiing in the winter and waterspouts or trekking in the summer. It was here that we discovered that despite our hatred of camping, we really enjoy a good hike.
But first we started our physical exertion with circuito chico, or the small circuit, which is a 27k bike ride around some spectacular scenery, culminating in an incredible view over the lakes. Not that I enjoyed it that much as it is frickin STEEP! Oh it hurt, it hurt so much. That said I enjoyed it and we had a really nice picnic lunch by the river. Only real downside was these really annoying big bug things. They are pretty harmless, they do bite but it isn’t so bad, they just buzz all around your head and face and they are big and fuzzy and bothersome. I have no idea what they are called but they travel in groups! More on them later.
We then went up Cerro Cathedral to refugio Frey, it is a 3-5 hour climb up and then you are rewarded by a beautiful lake at the top where we lunched and then 4 hours back down. More of those big flies attacked us constantly and i think our combined kill was around 100 for the day. All our time in Bariloche was super hot, so even the gentlest incline felt punishing but overall this was a really good climb, not to strenuous, very beautiful, and a friendly cat joined us at the top to cheer us on the only scrambly bit.
As well, we were lucky to see a watersports competition on the lake for a few days, so we sat and drank terere (cold mate with orange juice and lots of ice) and watched people do very impressive things with surf boards.
The people staying in the hostel were very nice indeed and on our final day everyone in the hostel made a big asado and some salads and bread and we sat down to a big meal. The owner said they would do secret Santa on Christmas day, and as I had an excess of wool I made an extra present for anyone who lacked one. I hope my name your own beanie plus instructions was well received and they weren’t too confused.
One thing I nearly forgot to mention about Bariloche is that they have many, many St Bernards around to charge you for photos. This made me dad add the dogs looked more sad than StBernards often do, and it seemed to got to keep then in the sun all day without exercise.
During our time here we statuses squeezed in a visit to nearby renowned hippy town El Bolson. Honestly we were a bit disappointed by its conventional appearance and the market which it is famous for was only so-so. Only the mates were something I have seen before and many were beautiful. And I didn’t like the hostel. They actually shshed you after eleven is you spoke at all, like a library. That being said I would have lied to spend more time there because there are some amazing walks but almost all require at least one night on the task and we didn’t have the time. Instead we went on a comfortable day trip to lago puelo and spent the day on the beach. Which was nice. And there was a pizzeria that had a coeliac pizza! Not as good as mine but certainly less effort. And another (!) Incredible ice cream place, jauja. The peanut butter, dark chocolate and candied orange and fig and walnut will take a lot of beating.
All in all, nice place, nice time, nice people but we move on looking for something less full of tourists.
From Pucon a quick hop across the border lands you in Neuquen province Argentina, and we were headed for the capital, funnily enough, named Neuquen.
We were to stay with Daniel and Gisela and help then with their English, so we didn’t know what to expect and frankly we had both assumed that they would be very good indeed and we wouldn’t get to practice our Spanish much. As it happens they weren’t bad at all, but preferred speaking in English only in “lessons” so it was a very Spanish week! They were very patient with us and I loved being so immersed in the language, certainly this was the least English environment we had been in ever.
Daniel and Gisela are THE NICEST PEOPLE we could have hoped to stay with (they are so nice that they merited what I believe to be my first use of capitals!). They made us feel so at home and were so friendly and warm that when they said we could stay longer I really wished we had more time.
This is us on the balcony of their beautiful apartment overlooking the river. So I should now mention Sofia, my favourite dog in all of Argentina. That’s her, there on the right, refusing to look at the camera. She is such a cool dog, face of a chiuaua, body of a terrier, and equally fond of belly rubs and running in sprinklers. When I said I was going to sneak her into my back pack I was only half joking.
So, our ten days here passed really quickly, too quickly, what can I tell you…. It was hot. Consistently over 30. And my leg finally healed enough to stop going to the doctor. Nearly every day we took Sofi for a walk along the river, we explored the city a bit- there’s a really nice craft market at the weekend and lots of musicians and dancers perform around the central part of town in the summer. We went kayaking for free thanks to the neighbouring town’s tourism event. We watched Daniel perform at a classical concert and at a gig in town- he plays cello and guitar and it was really fantastic to go and hear him play. He also started teaching egg how to play guitar, which he really enjoyed. So much so that I considered getting him a guitar for Christmas but we really can’t carry one. I think he may take it up at home though.
I enjoyed watching a bit of Argentinian TV and seeing how much I had progressed in understanding since the last time I had access to foreign channels. A little bit. Also did some more gf baking- polenta chocolate brownies, lemon sponge and a creme Catalan, my first custard.
Speaking of gluten free, Gisela and Daniel were the first couple who really got what being coeliac meant, and I was so grateful to feel safe with their delicious food and not have to explain everything a hundred times. It really made me feel normal as we didn’t really talk about it at all. And we had some very good food here, the highlight probably being the mountain lamb we had cooked on a grill in the park after our kayaking adventure.
Incidentally, egg and I did not enjoy sharing a kayak, it seems we would have much preferred racing than cooperating. (Photo thanks to the Cipolletti tourism people).
We also went on a trip to a nearby lake which amazed both egg and I by being so massive, both easily agreeing it was the biggest we have seen. This amused and surprised our hosts, and now we are in Bariloche I can see why. Never the less it was very relaxing way to pass an afternoon and an excellent mate drinking spot.
When we left we gave them a hat with a flower that I had adjusted for Gisela, and they gave us our own mate, which is now amongst our most treasured possessions. We drink from it, and think back on our amazing week.
Oh, and this turtle can flyyyyyyyy…….,
A hop, skip and a jump from San Juan is Mendoza, wine central in Argentina. We arrived quite late in the day and (after an aborted hitchhiking attempt) were very dusty and tired, so the first night was spent in a hostel and was only notable as there was a BATH!
Once we left there a little bit cleaner, we headed to veteran couchsurfer Eliana’s swanky flat. This was a little piece of luxury for the week. Eliana and her little girl are lovely and kind enough to share their beautiful, large flat with us. Not only is the company and flat incredible, but it is under 5 mins from the main square in Mendoza. And her daughter likes Glee! Every night we ate together, taking it in turns to cook. Valentina, another couchsurfer from Columbia, was also staying so we had someone to play with during the day. And they bought me gluten free goodies!! It really was good here.
Mendoza itself is pretty cool. There is a central square with a pretty fountain, and then four smaller squares built around it, each with their own personality. Our favourite was plaza españa, as there were beautiful tiles benches for me to nap on. There are also a shed load of ice cream places, the best of which gave my tub of banana split and ferrero rocher ice cream a melted chocolate bath, which nearly made up for not being able to eat a cone.
So we wandered around the city a bit, bought our self some new Spanish novels to read and wondered if pizza in a cone would be any good. Probably not.
We had two really great day trips from Mendoza, one for white water rafting, the other to Maipu, to do a tour on bikes of the vineyards of the area. (Actually we went to Maipu twice, the first time we just got hopelessly lost and walked around in the sun).
So rafting first. As it is winter here most of the snow has not melted in the mountains which means the water level is lower and the ride is a lot less challenging and dangerous. After bobbing along for a while in our 6 man raft I found myself thinking how I wished it could be a bit more exciting; shortly after this I fell in. And yes, it was cold, and no, noone else fell in. But not scary, just a shot of adrenaline, an embarrassing number people hauling me in like a whale and the onwards. I really really enjoyed rafting and egg and I want to try again later when the water is higher. It was also pretty cheap, £20 each for an hour of rafting, all your gear hire and transfer to and from the city.
The Maipu biking day (take two) was also a great day. Egg, Valentina and I got the bus to Maipu earlyish, and rented from Bikes and Wines at about midday. The map of the area details 12 places you can visit, in a 12 km roundtrip. Some are wineries, others make liqueurs, chocolates, olive oil etc. If you go to the tourist info hut you can get a map with even more places to visit but you will really struggle to get them in.
When we started we knew we wouldn’t do all twelve, and aimed to at least visit a couple of wineries, a chocolate place and just take our time and have fun.
The first place we visited was nine kilometres away, and a beautiful family vineyard with a self guided tour and a terrace restaurant. As this was our first stop we wanted to start the day properly, and ordered a full tasting, including the fancy expensive wine. We can conclude that no one liked the Merlot and I adored the Cabernet sauvignon, and egg liked the Syrah.
A bit more tipsy we rode on to the next, and did another tasting. This time there was a real homey feel to the vineyard and the owner talked us through each wine. Again, really, really nice wine.
Our third and final wine stop was for lunch at a pristine boutique vineyard restaurant. Unfortunately the lady sever was a right grumpy pants, but the food was nice. Definitely feeling a bit worse for wear now I steered clear of the wine this time, except for a teeny taste. At this point Valentina’s bike got a flat, so we lounged in the sun waiting for a replacement.
As we cycled the 10 or so kilometres back, already 15 minutes late returning our bikes, I couldn’t resist a short detour to a chocolate maker’s. We caught them just before closing and sampled the jams, olive spreads, chocolates and liqueurs. The chocolate was so so so good and the man was so friendly that I was extra happy as we returned the bikes.
The bikes by the way were terrible. Considering you cover some distance they are uncomfortable, don’t have gears, have bad steering, have poor brakes etc. There are a few companies operating but from what I gather they are much the same, I would use a different company next time just because everyone else had a basket and I dearly wanted one too.
So that was pretty much Mendoza. We liked it. I’d go back. Egg probably not but only because he likes moving forward.
Next up was meant to be a couple of nights in Santiago, but the Mendoza to Santiago border crossing (los liberatdores) was closed due to snow and we were stuck. When we finally managed the crossing we were a day late to our next workaway place in San Fernando, Chile so exploring has been postponed until later.
But the crossing itself is breathtaking. 6000m up through the Andes it is one of the most enjoyable bus rides in South America (apparently, I haven’t done them all). Except for the five hour wait at the border which made it an eleven, not six hour journey!
So from our first workaway experience to our first experience Wwoofing in Argentina. We arrived at Granja Tia Nora on Dia del nino, Argentina’s national celebration of all things children (like a fair return on mothers and fathers day I think) and were greeted by a farm full of life- there were people everywhere making asado, looking at animals, playing on the swings. One of the other volunteers Jean Chris from France explained how the farm is for volunteers and introduced us to the owners, Pedro and Lucia. They have had over 250 volunteers here in two years!
When we arrive there are four others, Jean Chris and Sophie and Nina and Claude, from Switzerland. I know much more about Switzerland now, including that you have to pay for insurance and there is national service.
With Nina and Claude we live in an adobe house constructed by previous volunteers, I love it lots. Unfortunately it is really dusty here so everything we own is covered in dust. And my hands are those of an old lady, very nice.
Here they have chickens, cows, horses, goats, rabbits, geese, ducks, quail and a peacock and a tortuga, as well as three dogs and one cat and many kittens so in the morning and evening the first and last job is feeding the amimals.
What with spring rapidly approaching here, we have lots of baby animals and more on the way. Even as I wrote that last sentence we discovered 7 new born bunnies (who were unfortunately abandoned by their mother and will probably be cat food, but that’s farm life!). Every morning and evening we have to move the 40 day old goats from one place to another, which sometimes means goat cuddles and other times means being headbutted and your hair eaten. There were also some escapologist ducklings, which meant duck cuddles.
I love a kitten called Mimi, called Mimi by me -none of the cats have real names. She is super lovely but egg won’t let me keep her even though Nina gets to keep Milo. (Update- I now wander around saying you know who would like this? Mimi. As if cats like running along supermarket conveyer belts).
I milked a cow for the first time here, not as easy as it looks but easier than I thought. It is really exciting drinking milk you milked and eating eggs that you collected. If not exciting then satisfying. And if not satisfying then at least queasy making.
So day to day work for me is planting seeds, weeding, checking eggs in the incubator, talking to visiting school children about seeds in hesitant spanish, digging stuff up. For egg there is manlier work that mainly consists of digging, his hands hurt. Men look after big animals, and women the small ones, I love argentina.
I think my Spanish has improved, all the volunteers are fluent in english, give or take, so sometimes I’m very lazy, but I force myself to have Spanish only days, where my talking time is reduced by 80%. But I normally manage it. Farm vocab is greatly improved, unsurprisingly. Egg is going for a a stealth approach to learning Spanish, by which I mean he is going to suddenly surprise us with his fluency but for now he is largely silent.
We eat a lot of the vegetables grown here, there is a lot of salad and acelga, like spinach, and broccoli. Ooh and incredible black olives. Later there will be tomatoes, pac choi, lettuce and a lot more, we have been busy planting. And food is washed down with wine made from the farm’s grapes. Safe to say it is a good life.
Excitingly the farm provided extracurricular activities of a sort, a cynical person would say when they wanted the farm to themselves. Never the less a trip to Pedro and Lucia ‘s friend Luis’s house/studio was interesting, and another friend’s bodega tour and tasting was great. All in heavily accented Spanish but I’m picking up more and more. My favourite was a sunday outing to the near desert, where we chilled and cooked risotto over a fire and paddled in the river. Ideally this sentence would be punctuated by the group photo we took from the top of the eagle head, alas I have not yet extracted one from Nina or Sophie. (Update- photo now received, thanks Nina!).
Also this post- I found out I still rule on monkey bars but suck at table football, egg and I did a daily tortuga check (it doesn’t do much), I tried gf cake baking with moderate success (1 OK, 1 awful- 8 very polite and hungry people assured me they were good though!), egg and I learnt the Spanish word for blister, I discovered an unhealthy love of flan thanks to Sophie and I learnt two new games. Also, more mentions of “whimsical”, “wibbly wobbly” and “kerfuffle” than I had anticipated.