Buenos Aires is quite possibly the most charming city in all of South America!

June 8, 2011. Gaelle, William, David and I rested all day long.  I had to retire my boots because I had worn the soles so thin that water would leak in through the bottom of them.  I was a little bit sad to retire my boots because they’d been all over the world with me over the years.  I thought maybe I should hold a decommissioning ceremony, perhaps say a few words in their honor and then cremate them.  In the end, I just tossed them in the trash.

You can see the hole in the side. There were 5 holes in my boots, not including the ones for my feet.

Later in the afternoon, Gaelle, William and I said our goodbyes to David and hopped on a bus to El Calafate to make our journey towards Buenos Aires.  We arrived just in time to buy groceries before the supermarket closed, had dinner, and then went to bed.
June 9, 2011. Gaelle, William, and I inquired about buses to Buenos Aires.  We took the “cama” class, which means “bed” in Spanish.  In reality, the “camas” are just really wide seats with an angled footrest.  It was four hours to Rio Gallegos, a 2 hour wait, and then 38 hours all the way to Buenos Aires.

Me, Gaelle, and William embarking on a 42-hour bus journey from El Calafate to Buenos Aires

Food was served and movies were played on the bus.  The movies played were mostly romantic comedies and Pirates of the Caribbean, all in Spanish.  The best movie they played was Fast Five, which I liked because not only was it was set in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, but it was also in English.
I read my Kindle and connected to the internet whenever we arrived in the towns along the way to drop or pick people up.  The skies between Rio Gallegos and Buenos Aires were grey with ash from the Chilean volcano Puyehue, which had recently erupted.  It was like witnessing a nuclear winter.

Ashy sky from the eruption of the Puyehue volcano in Chile

June 11, 2011. We finally arrived in Buenos Aires!  Gaelle, William and I parted ways on the metro to go to our respective hostels.  They went to a hostel in the San Telmo neighborhood and I went to a hostel called “Tango Backpackers” in the Palermo neighborhood.  I called up Kayla, the American girl I met in Ancud, Chile, because she lived in Buenos Aires.
We got together at her place and ordered some empanadas to be delivered.  We shared some mate, which was awesome because I had just acquired the taste for the Argentinian drink while I was hiking in El Chalten.

Mate and an empanada. Yum!

After drinking mate and eating empanadas, Kayla and I went for a walk around Palermo.  We stopped to watch a band playing in the park before continuing to get ice cream.  The high-end shops and restaurants reminded me of Georgetown in Washington, D.C.
We continued walking around Palermo.  I was really impressed with how up-scale the place seemed to be.
June 12, 2011. Kayla and I walked around San Telmo.  We walked to the Plaza de Mayo, saw the Casa Rosa, saw some tango dancing in the street, and perused through local vendors hawking their wares.

In front of the Casa Rosa in the Plaza de Mayo

Later that night, I got to experience my first Argentinian parrilla, or grilled meat at a restaurant called Las Cabras.  I got the bife de chorizo, a thick sirloin steak grilled rare to perfection.  The steak only cost about 12 USD; with wine and sides, the total cost was about 23 USD.  During my career as a pharmaceutical sales representative, I’ve had the luxury of fine dining in the fanciest restaurants and, in comparison, the parrilla that I had in Buenos Aires offered far more value than any of those fancy restaurants in the US.  Buenos Aires takes first prize for best steak in the entire world!

Best steak ever! I love Buenos Aires!

Kayla and I at Las Cabras restaurant for some delicious Argentinian parrilla

June 13, 2011. I bummed around the hostel all day long.  Later that night, I met up with Sibylle, who I met while hiking in El Chalten.  It’s great to run into fellow travelers a second time!  Even though I knew her for a few days and we had seen each other just a few days earlier, it felt like I was meeting with a long-time friend.  We went out for parrilla, and though I had just had parrilla the night before with Kayla, I didn’t mind.  I love parrilla!

Sibylle and I going out for drinks after another night of parrilla in Buenos Aires

June 14, 2011. I met up with my dear friends from France, William and Gaelle, in San Telmo.  From there we went to visit El Caminito in the neighborhood of La Boca.  The buildings on this street and some of the other streets nearby were very colorful.  There were live tango shows which were really nice to watch.

Where El Caminito begins

Colorful building along "El Caminito" in La Boca neighborhood, Buenos Aires

Live tango dancing in El Caminito, La Boca neighborhood

After walking around El Caminito, we went out for dinner.  Afterward, I said goodbye to Gaelle and William since they were leaving town the next day.  Goodbyes aren’t so hard because deep down inside, I’m always optimistic that they’re only temporary until the next encounter.  I might see Gaelle and William again in Bolivia, maybe in Peru, perhaps even in Marseille, France.

Gaelle, William and I on the bus back from La Boca to San Telmo

Later that night, I joined some other travelers and went to La Catedral in the Almagro neighborhood of Buenos Aires for some tango lessons and dancing.  That was fun and I learned as much as I could in the little time that I had.  There was a live tango band, too!


Tango dancing at La Catedral in the Almagro neighborhood

Live tango band

I only got about 4 hours of sleep that night because I was up early the next morning to go to Colonia, Uruguay, for the day.  I’ll write about that in the next post.

June 16, 2011. I went return a textbook via UPS to Chegg in the morning.  Later, I met up with Kayla and we went to McDonald’s because I was craving some gringo food.  She helped me buy my ticket to Puerto Iguazu and we saw the Hangover 2.

June 17, 2011. I went to La Recoleta cemetery, where “Evita” Peron is buried.  The cemetery was really cool.  It’s full of large mausoleums where Buenos Aires more affluent citizens are buried.


Cemetery map


"Evita" Peron's family grave

The city of the dead


Total zombie hazard!

I made friends with two Irish girls, Deidre and Ailbhe, and we walked around some of the city parks that were nearby.


Ailbhe and Deidre

Later, Kayla and I went out to her favorite Japanese restaurant for some delicious sushi.  I ordered two entrees because I was so hungry.  I loved it.  After dinner, I was on a bus to make the 23-hour bus journey from Buenos Aires to Puerto Iguazu to see the world renowned Iguazu falls.

On the way to Puerto Iguazu on a "cama" bus. Looks comfortable, doesn't it?

P.S.  Special thanks to Kayla for hosting me, showing me around the city, and giving me her insight on Argentinian culture!  You’re the best, Kayla!


Fitz Roy and frozen lakes

June 5, 2011. David, Gaelle, William and I went to El Chalten to do day-hikes around the base of Mt. Fitz Roy, located in Los Glaciares National Park, Argentina.  We added new travelers to our group, Sibylle from Switzerland, Nick from Australia, and Jean from Brazil.
El Chalten was a ghost town.  Perhaps only 2% of the city was open for business.  Since we arrived early in the afternoon, all of us ran errands, shopped for food, withdrew money from the ATM.  Later in the afternoon, David, Sibylle, Jean and hiked two of the shorter trails, Los Condores and Las Aguilas.  They took us up to heights overlooking the town.

Mt. Fitz Roy and the town of El Chalten as seen from the viewpoint at the end of the Los Condores trail.

We were very lucky to have clear views of Mt. Fitz Roy.  The weather in this area is notoriously variable and many a traveler have come to see Mt. Fitz Roy only to be disappointed from never having even caught a glimpse of the mountain during the length of their stay.

A clear view of Mt. Fitz Roy. That small pile of rocks in the foreground is Mt. Joey Leoncio. I built that.

We hiked to the viewpoint at Las Aguilas.  We saw a wide plain, a road that went off into the distance and a large lake off to our right.

The view from Las Aguilas mirador. From left to right, Jean, Sibylle, my shadow and David.

We went off the trail to explore some higher hills.  We encountered a frozen pond and played on that for a short while before hiking back to town.  It was a good, easy day of hiking.


June 6, 2011. William, Nick, Sibylle, David and I hiked up to Lago de los Tres at the base of Mt. Fitz Roy.  As we neared the lake, the trail got really steep and icy.  We went so high that I began to think that maybe we were on the wrong trail.  Nick had to turn back because he thought it was too treacherous to continue.  The rest of us pressed on.  Up and up we went; the trail cutting across scree slopes.
We were rewarded with the satisfaction of meeting our objective.  Lago de los Tres sat at the base of three peaks just below Mt. Fitz Roy.  It was frozen over so we walked on it.  What a cheap thrill!

Lago de los Tres, Los Glaciares National Park, Argentina

Walking on thick ice... at least, I think it is!

I walked a long the bank of the lake to the left and discovered a bright blue, frozen lake, Lago Sucia.  It so beautiful!

Lago Sucia, one of the most beautiful sights my eyes beheld in Los Glaciares National Park, Argentina

Lago Sucia

Even the walk back to El Chalten was beautiful.

We came all the way from that gap in the valley in the lower left hand side of this photo. We are very high up on the mountain.

June 7, 2011. David and I were up before sunrise to eat breakfast before another day of hiking.  He told me to look out the window to see if the skies were clear.  I saw snow on the ground.  “Uh oh,” I thought.  “This is going to make it very hard to see the trails, and if the trail was anything near as steep as the trail to Lago de los Tres, it would be very, very dangerous.”  In addition, my boots weren’t waterproof and if I got them wet, my feet would freeze.  I had doubts about going hiking that day.
Being from Australia, snow was a novelty for David, and he was very excited about hiking in the snow.  Sibylle, being from Switzerland, was also comfortable with going out in the snow.  William, from France was willing to go, and so were the two Argentinians, Pablo and Solange, and another Australian, Nick.  Since the group was going, I figured that I ought to go, too.  I was curious to see how bad the trail was.
Like what my friends and I used to do when we were kids, I wore plastic bags over my socks to help keep my feet dry.  We went out on the trail and the first part was really steep and slippery.  A few of us slipped and fell.  We hiked through this winter wonderland and had great views of the mountains since the skies had cleared up.

A winter wonderland

We reached Lago Torre.  It was frozen over.

Lago Torre

The Argentinians, Pablo and Solange, had brought mate, a hot tea made from the yerba mate plant, and they shared with everyone.  Mate has a bitter taste and this was the day that I acquired the taste for it.

Pablo and Solange sharing their mate with me

Mmmm... delicious mate!

Like all the hikes in the Patagonia, the way back was just as beautiful.
We encountered Gaelle on the way back.  She had been hiking for almost two hours alone, following our footprints in the snow.  Here’s a picture that we took with all of us together:

From left to right: Joey, Gaelle, David, Sibylle, Nick, William, Pablo and Solange

Gaelle had left messages in the snow for us.  How cute!

"I love Patagonia"

At the end of the day, my toes felt like they had frozen.  The plastic bags around my feet only delayed the inevitable wet feet.  The trails weren’t as bad as I thought they’d be.  I was glad that I went hiking.  All it took was a little peer pressure.


In God's hands: I stood in front of an advancing 240-foot glacier and lived to blog about it.

Skip a few paragraphs down to June 4, 2011, for my account of my visit to the Perito Moreno Glacier at Parque Nacional Los Glaciares, just outside of El Calafate, Argentina.  I’ve included the two days prior for my own personal record.
June 2, 2011. I took the day off to recuperate from the 6-day/5-night trek in Torres del Paine and to catch up on some blog entries at the hostel where I was staying, Hospedaje Nancy.
June 3, 2011. The same people who were on the bus with me to go to Parque Nacional Torres del Paine were on the same bus to El Calafate, Argentina.  It was David, the Australian, the two French couples, William & Gaelle, Philippe & Corinne, and I.  We left at 7:30 am and arrived shortly after noon in El Calafate.  Except for William and Gaelle who stayed at another hostel, we all ended up at the same hostel, America del Sur.

On the road from Puerto Natales, Chile, to El Calafate, Argentina

This hostel was nice.  The floors were heated, which we didn’t find out until after the first night when the bar of chocolate that was in one of Philippe & Corinne’s bags had melted!  We hung out at the hostel the entire day.  I cooked up a steak with some instant mashed potatoes.  David had the big bbq which the hostel was offering for, I think, 60 Argentine pesos (15 USD).  The French cooked up some pasta, drank wine, and had dessert.  I’m always impressed by the dietary habits of the French.  Their meals are either very simple or very elaborate.  Personally, I am so low maintenance that I can get by just fine eating slop.  But the meals that the French eat, whether very simple or elaborate, always have a touch of elegance to them.

Philippe and Corinne with their "elegant" French meal, including wine and dessert. It's a well-known fact that the French diet and cultural attitude about food is far more healthy than that of Americans. We should all aim to eat more like the French. This was taken on the last night that we stayed together in El Calafate, Argentina.

June 4, 2011. We were all up early before sunrise to eat breakfast and take the bus to Parque Nacional Los Glaciares.  With Gaelle and Wiliam with us again, our ad hoc band of six: the Aussie, the two French couples, and me, bought tickets for the 1.5 hour boat tour once we arrived at the park.  We were under the impression that the boat would give us superior views than those to be had from land.
Here are some of the pics:

The Perito Moreno Glacier is believed to be one of only three glaciers in the world that is growing.

Perito Moreno Glacier, Argentina

The boat seemed like a good idea at the time... but, wait! Read on!

William and Gaelle, from Marseilles, France. Fellow travelers and dear friends. We ended up traveling together for about 19 days, and they are in ALL my pictures from the Patagonia to Buenos Aires!

I wanted to get closer to the glacier.  I mentioned to David, the Australian who I hiked with in Torres del Paine, that we should find a map and see if there was a way we could walk up to the glacier and on it.   After 6-days of backpacking with him in Torres del Paine, I knew him well enough to suspect that either he probably already had the same idea in mind or, if he hadn’t, it wouldn’t take much to convince him.  He agreed immediately.
As soon as we could, we found a map and started walking down towards the glacier.  The park’s infrastructure was very well developed with metal walkways leading to various viewpoints across from the glacier.  David and I descended down as far as we could.  We hopped off the metal walkway, down a steep slope through a small wooded area, and then on to rocks that were directly in front of the glacier.

That glacier is the size of a 24-story building!

We walked as close to the edge of the rocks as possible to get as near as possible to the advancing Perito Moreno glacier.  There it towered 240 feet above us!  We knew that between 1968 and 1988, 32 people had been killed by pieces of ice that had fallen and been thrown violently many feet away.  We could hear the ice cracking and we knew that the possibility of meeting the same fate as those 32 dead was very real, evidenced by large chunks of ice all around us.

We heard ice falling behind the ice faces that we could see.  We could hear splashes.  We wondered and waited in anticipation to witness ice falling into the water.  It was incredibly exhilarating.  David and I looked up at the cracks in the ice and wondered which one would finally give in to the force of gravity.  We were both scared.  David backed from the rock edge to take cover.  I lingered a little bit longer near the edge before taking some cover and heading to some higher rocks.
Then it happened.  A large piece of ice near the bottom of the glacier broke off and fell into the water with a large splash.  I extended both arms into the air and shouted, “Whooaaa!!!”  I watched the waves approach until they crashed into the rocks below us.  The ice formed a semi-circular pattern on the water’s surface that slowly widened.

This was after a much larger piece of ice fell into the water. You can see the semi-circular pattern of ice slowly spreading out from where the original piece of ice fell off of the glacier.

Just like witnessing the avalanche in Valle Frances in Parque Nacional Torres del Paine, this was one of those special moments where I was just awestruck by nature’s forces.  David put it best when he described Parque Nacional Torres del Paine a being “alive.”  Indeed, all of the Patagonia is alive and that’s what makes it so exciting!

Traveling can be quite rigorous!

I’ve fallen behind in my journal and my blog over the last week! I haven’t yet posted about the incredible experience that I had in Torres del Paine during my 6-day/5-night hike, the exhilarating sensation that I felt walking right in front of the Perito Glacier as it advanced towards me with gigantic pieces of ice falling off of it, or the day hike in El Chalten where we hiked up to the frozen lake at Lago de los Tres right below the towering peak of Mt. Fitz Roy!
I’ve just been so tired lately. I’ve been waking up early to eat breakfast and to be prepared to hike just as the sun rises. At night, I’m busy cooking, eating, and socializing with other travelers. It’s really beginning to wear on me. I can feel my body craving for rest, and all I can think about is that next hike or catching the next bus to my next destination.

Square one in Argentina

I left Puerto Natales this morning at 7:30 for the roughly 5.5 hour bus ride to El Calafate, Argentina.  The ride was very scenic with open grassland.  At one point, I could even see the Torres del Paine in the distance, where I had spent 6 days and 5 nights having my soul blown away by the natural beauty that the Parque Nacional Torres del Paine had to offer.  (I’ll post an article on that soon enough.)
My first impression of Argentina is that I’m starting all over again with learning a new country.  For starters, the money is different.  While considering options to go visit the Perrito Moreno Glacier, I kept calculating Argentinian pesos into U.S. dollars.  Also, since I don’t have a guidebook to Argentina, I’m slowly discovering what the Argentinian Patagonia has to offer through research on the internet- Wikitravel seems to do the trick.
My second impression of Argentina is that I really love starting anew!  There’s so much to learn just from being in a new town or in a new country.  Impressions form instantaneously.  El Calafate in the low season is still expensive explained by the laws of supply and demand.  Based on the cost of my accommodations and food, Argentina seems to be slightly cheaper than Chile.
I’ve been traveling with two French couples and an Australian guy, David, all of whom were on the same bus to Parque Nacional Torres del Paine in Chile.  They’re a great group and I’ve taken it upon myself to learn some French while I’m with the French.  I spent my entire time in the park with David since we were hiking on the same itinerary provided to him by the Erratic Rock hostel in Puerto Natales.  David’s really down-to-earth and as adventurous as I am.  It was great to have him around to share what an amazing experience Torres del Paine was.
I’m still trying to mentally and spiritually process my experience in Torres del Paine.  At some point soon, I’ll post the blog report about it.  Stay tuned.

View Puerto Natales, Chile to El Calafate, Argentina in a larger map