Monthly Archives: May 2011

Tour de Argentina

To survive extended travel one must develop a rhythm and balance.  Moving constantly becomes tiring and staying in one place too long becomes boring, so one finds a balance between the two. Looking back over the last 9 months, we’ve tended to alternate between extended stays in one city (usually 3-4 weeks) and long bursts of “rapid fire” travel where it’s 2 or 3 nights in one destination and then on to the next.  Wanderlust must be balanced with the comfort of home, even if “home” is a comfortable South American apartment rented by the week.

After nearly 4 weeks in Buenos Aires, we started a tour of Argentina that took us all the way from chilly southern Patagonia to the northwest tip of the country, about 4,000 kilometers in total, traversed entirely via bus.  Destinations included El Calafate, El Chalten, Bariloche, Mendoza, and Salta.  As has become the custom after bursts of rapid fire travel, I’ll devote a few paragraphs and photos to each location even though one could easily write a blog post on each.

El Calafate

We arrived there via plane, which was a blissfully easy way to travel compared to the numerous 12+ hour bus rides that took us back north.  El Calafate is located in southern Patagonia, not far from Antarctica, and has the cold climate to prove it.  It’s a mecca for outdoor enthusiasts, and the surrounding mountains offer some of the best hiking, trekking, rock climbing, and ice climbing in the world.  The town is small and the weather is harsh, but the clean Patagonian air and snow-capped mountain vistas make it all worthwhile.

Patagonian lake and mountains close to El Calafate

The main tourist attraction in El Calafate is the Perito Moreno glacier, one of the few glaciers in the world that is not receding.  It’s a breathtaking sight to behold, especially as every few minutes a large chunk of ice breaks off the glacier and into the water with a thunderous roar.  A local tour company even offers ice trekking on the glacier itself, which we did one sunny afternoon.  Hiking on a massive glacier with crampons strapped to our boots was a once-in-a-lifetime experience.  The best part of the trek was at the end, when our guides handed us glasses of whiskey poured over freshly chipped glacial ice.

The Perito Moreno glacier

Freezing cold but it was worth it for the view

El Chalten

From El Calafate it was off to El Chalten, a much smaller town (if you can imagine) at the edge of the Patagonian wilderness.  It has one main road, two ATM”s, and no cell phone service. The town is only 20 years old and subsists entirely on tourism, serving as a base camp for day hikes and overnight treks through the Los Glaciares National Park.

We timed our arrival to Chalten poorly, in late March at the very end of the summer tourist season.  We literally checked out of our hostel on the last day before it closed for winter.  There is a good reason that Chalten closes at the end of March — the weather becomes quite harsh.  Even bundled up it was too cold and windy for long treks, but we still managed to fit in a few day hikes to the surrounding snow-capped mountains and waterfalls.  The fresh air and beautiful scenery justified our chilly toes.

Lauren standing in front of her reward for walking an hour though the cold and rain

A postcard-like view of the Patagonian mountains

It was every bit as cold as it looks

Bariloche

Patagonia is roughly divided into two parts, the cold and mountainous southern region and the temperate, lake-covered northern region.  Bariloche is in the latter, an evergreen and scenic resort town with excellent skiing in the winter and equally great biking and hiking in the summer.  It reminded me a lot of Vail, Colorado.

We took advantage of our great weather there to go mountain biking, paragliding, and just strolling through the picturesque town.

A typical view of Bariloche's hills, trees and lakes

Cable car up to the town's highest viewpoint

Lauren coming in for a landing after her first (and only) paragliding flight

Mendoza

Our next stop was Mendoza, which is famous Argentinean wine country.   If you’ve ever tasted an Argentinean malbec it probably came from Mendoza.  If you haven’t tasted an Argentinean malbec then you’re missing out!

Mendoza was a great place to visit, although it pales in comparison to Napa Valley in the US in terms of scenery. The landscape is flat and the city much more industrial than Napa or Sonoma.  That said, the surrounding area is beautiful and offers lots of outdoor adventure sports such as whitewater rafting, mountain biking, and rock climbing.  We enjoyed our few days there and drank lots of delicious and inexpensive malbec.

Some over-sized bottles of malbec in Bodegas López, the largest winery in Argentina

Rock-climbing close to Mendoza

Lauren drinking "mate," the ubiquitous tea-like obsession of Argentina, after her climb

Salta

The final stop on our “Tour de Argentina” was Salta in the rugged northwest of the country.  Salta is situated in the Argentinian equivalent to the American wild west, with lots of horses, cattle and Arizona-like landscapes.  It’s beautiful and untamed country with many natural wonders.

I went horseback riding one day with Enrique and his staff at Sayta Cabalgatas and it was an excellent experience.  We also went on a day-trip to Cafayate, a quant town about 180km from Salta.  Although the town itself was nice, the drive there through Argentina’s magnificent canyon country was half the fun.

The breathtaking canyon country between Salta and Cafayate

First-person perspective from the saddle of my horse, Paisano

Lauren standing in a huge natural rock amphitheater close to Cafayate

Well folks, that concludes our one-month tour of vast Argentina.  I’m writing you today from Medellin, Colombia, after an extended and fast-paced trek through Chile, Bolivia, and Peru.  But that’s for another blog post.  Besos y abrazos!

6 Comments

Filed under Argentina