Monday, 28 April 2014

Bariloche, Argentina: Little Switzerland

I arrived in Bariloche, via bus, after the longest commute of my life, including flying from Australia to Europe and back twice... a 26 hour bus ride. The famous Ruta 40 is actually just many medium sized stones thrown together. So while taking in the stunning views my bum received a rough massage.

Bariloche (officially San Carlos de Bariloche) is in the far north of Argentinean Patagonia. It is a famous ski resort in the winter and is very famous for amazing chocolate, both giving it the nickname of Little Switzerland. They smashed the disputed world's largest Easter Egg the day before I arrived. There are also conspiracy theories and books about Hitler living near here after WWII... His body was never found in Berlin.

On my second day I ended up going on the famous 7 lakes tour half price, courtesy of a French girl that could no longer go. There was one surprise. The tour was in Spanish and I was the only gringo (everyone else was from Argentina and Venezuela). It was an all day bus trip passed 7 lakes and stopping at the little town of San Martin de los Andes before returning.

I took my days here pretty easy. It was time to relax after my previous weeks of hiking. I explored the city with other people from the hostel and alone, trying chocolate everyday. The main street is literally lined with chocolate stores. Real chocolate melted down and spinning in a machine all day made the best hot chocolates.

Sitting on the Shoulders of Giants

Bariloche also has some interesting places.

Top Blokes!

A nice name for a childrens' toy store
On one day I did manage to do one of the many famous hikes in this area, Cerro Campañario, with a group from the hostel.

I also discovered Argentina's famous Choripan while I was here. In Spanish Pan means bread and Chorizo in Argentina is just sausage (Chorizo is a specific type of meat in Spain)... Choripan is a gourmet sausage sandwich sold by a guy on a street with a portable BBQ.

I also started exchanging some of my US Dollars. Argentina has a slightly dodgy currency policy and government. The official USD to Arg Peso rate is 1 dollar to 8 pesos, however, due to massive restrictions on Argentineans to hold foreign currencies you can receive much higher rates known as the Blue Rate/Blue Dollar. In this city I was exchanging at over 25% higher but in Buenos Aires you can exchange at over 50% making Argentina much much cheaper if you come with physical cash.

The rest of my week here involved studying Spanish, eating amazing food at many restaurants, eating more chocolate, partying all night and missing a guy getting kicked out of my dorm room for trying to fight people and howling saying he was a wolf... I picked the right night to come home at 7am.

At the last minute I changed my next stop from Mendoza to Buenos Aires... only a 23 hour bus ride this time!

Lessons Learnt:
I love chocolate!
Duolingo is an awesome free app that will help with learning another language.
It's okay to hide in the hostel all day instead of really discovering an area if you want to.

Monday, 21 April 2014

El Chaltén, Argentina: Snow Hiking & Ice Climbing

After a few awesome days in El Calafate I arrived in El Chalten. Tiny town within Los Glaciars national park. It is known as the climbing capital of Argentina with many steep rock formations surrounding the town. There are also many days worth of hiking tracks. Although, I arrived with just one goal... trekking and ice climbing on Viedma glacier.

El Chalten
El Chalten

The Entire Town

Soon after arriving Jess and I attempted to hike to Laguna De Los Tres (a mini version of Los Torres). However, the weather conditions deteriorated quickly and clouds were caught on the peaks so we decided to head back to the town.

Clouds caught on Mt Fitzroy

Cloud looks like a Tornado

The next couple of days involved trying a couple of restaurants with Jess, attempting De Los Tres again by myself, this time turning back due to a sudden weather change to snow.

The Track to Laguna De Los Tres

El Chalten
Streams, Mountains and that tiny town is El Chaltén

A massive Condor well above the ground

Bad weather forecasts had stopped me from booking trekking and climbing on Viedma. I was determined to stay in this little town until an almost perfect day was forecast.

On day 4 I decided to attempt a different hike to a view of a small glacier. An hour and half in I was greeted by rain but due to frustration of already prematurely ending two hikes I decided to keep going. The rain got heavier and heavier but I completed my 5 hour return hike freezing cold and soaking wet. I managed to take a few decent photos before the rain started.

Wood Pecker, Patagonia
A Wood Pecker!

A Little Glacier

On day 5 I was finally off to Viedma glacier. The trip started with a 30 minute bus ride followed by a 1 hour boat ride across the picturesque Lake Viedma. 30 of us had this entire glacier to ourselves. We split into two groups, trekkers and climbers. The climbers, my group, only had 12 people... Perfect!

Lake Viedma

A morning boat ride!

Glaciar Viedma
Glacier Viedma

Under Glacier Viedma
Under the Glacier

After putting on our crampons we trekked across the ice and through some ice tunnels until we reached our first wall to climb. The guides set up 3 ropes on a pretty easy wall to begin with. I squeezed in 4 climbs before we stopped for lunch.

The first tunnel

The Group

The Glacier!

A deep Crevasse

One of the guides setting up the first rope

Receiving final instructions... Lets Do It!

Far apart photos joint together... Looks like I´m doing the worm.

It was now time to explore more of the glacier. Some of the ice is an unbelievable bright blue. This ice is incredibly dense compared to clear ice. The blue ice is usually the inside layers of the glacier but it becomes exposed in newly formed crevasses and caves.

A Tunnel slightly taller than me.

A close up inside the tunnel

Inside the tunnel!

We soon set up two ropes to climb out of a crevasse; one vertical and one almost vertical wall. I was one of the few people to attempt the vertical wall. The blue ice was required a lot of effort to smash with the ice axe and I fell many times from the ice shattering around the spikes in my shoes. I was determined and after 30 minutes I eventually reached the top. My hands and forearms had gone completely numb from my gloves and the inside of my jacket being soaked with freezing water.

A guide setting up my next climb

Getting Started

Zoom in to see flying ice

Making progress

Nearly there!... No free hand to adjust my beanie



It was now time to celebrate with cups of ice from the glacier and Tia Maria.

After the boat ride and bus ride I was back in the hostel where I could sign up for a dinner someone offered to cook. 20 people registered. For $3.50 we received a traditional black bean dish with chunks of steak and bacon along with potatoes, sweet potatoes, bread and many glasses of wine... I couldn't believe the price.

Waiting for the boat to go home

Now that I had conquered Glaciar Viedma I was going to move on the next day but perfect weather had been forecast so I decided to stick around one more day to attempt De Los Tres for a third time... best decision I made that week.

The weather on day 6 was perfect for this 6 hour hike return hike. After 2 hours of hiking I was at the base of an infamously steep ascent. All week I had been repeatedly told never to attempt this section in strong wind and had been told many horror stories... Today was calm but this is a very steep hike on a completely exposed slope on snow then water on rocks followed by ice then snow again.

An empty shack to eat lunch in the warmth

It was tough and I saw many falls but it was all worth it!

The ice cracked just before I jumped onto this rock... probably why I was the only person down at the water.

Me trying to be creative!

On the way down I decided to see how fast I could get down this slope that took me an hour to come up. I ran and slid down the snow on my shoes as if I was on a snow board. The ice was more tricky and there were some people walking on fours dragging their arse because they were scared to stand up (it was quite funny to see). I made it down in only 15 minutes, passing about 50 people and only fell over 3 times... good fun, a lot of adrenaline and no broken bones (my bum did a good job breaking one fall).

My expected days changed from 3 to 6. It was now time to move on.

Next stop Bariloche... via a 26 hour bus ride!

Lessons Learnt:
Glacier is spelt Glaciar in Spanish.
Argentina has good craft beer.
When you really want something don't make other plans and stick around until it's done.
Patagonia has unbelievable nature.