The last harrah
20.02.2016 - 19.03.2016
Things we have learnt :
- Every block in Buenos Aries measures 100 metres
- Argentinians and Uruguayans are hooked on mate (pronounced "matt-ey") (this herbal/tea drink) and will carry a cup of it with a big hot water flask everywhere with them so they can refill! ( see Photo of Phil drinking it)
- Argentina has kosher MacDonalds - 2nd largest Jewish community after NYC
- You can indeed cut Argentinian steak with a spoon!
- Wind speed can be as high as 90 miles an hour on the W trail in Patagonia - ie enough to blow Debbie into a swamp (this happened)
- The Patagonia landscape is as beautiful as everyone says
Phils injury count: all over body ache, near "heat stroke" and a very broken morale on last day of trek.
Chai lattes consumed: 3
After saying bye bye to Mama Lam and Vicky we crossed the border to Argentina again (With Louis our taxi buddy of course. Crossing and entering the border involved Debbie getting off the taxi with both passports and getting them stamped. No one really checks anything.....). We hopped on our overnight bus to Buenos Aires and settled in for a 18 hour ride. We got given a miniature bottle of Malbec though, so can't complain too much! Luckily the Argentinian roads are mainly straight and smooth so it was one of our more comfortable bus journeys!
As soon as we arrived we could tell we were going to enjoy Buenos Aries. Steak, wine and tango! What's not to love? We kicked off our adventure with a walking tour which was really good and summed up the mains sites in 3 hours! Debbie's favourite was the Pink House, a government building with the most famous balcony in the city- the balcony where Evita Peron gave her speeches (and turns out Madonna had sang from that very same balcony in the movie Evita!). We also visited Evita's grave in the famous Recoleta cemetary.
We obviously had to try the Argentina steaks! They really did cut the steak with a spoon!
Another highlight was our sky diving day! We got strapped into our gear and flew on a little plane for 20 minutes to reach 3000m! We were given very clear instructions: 1) cross your arms before we jump off 2) keep arms crossed until we're told to spread our arms out 3) Tilt head back just before we jump. Debbie obviously followed the instructions to the word. Any guesses as to what Phil did? Yep, that's right- didn't tilt his head back and so instructor forced it back for him, crossed his arms on jumping but pretty much released them straight away causing the tandem to be somewhat unstable for a few seconds. He of course would deny all this if he could but we have the incriminating evidence on camera! Debbie had jumped first and Phil second but somehow Phil managed to land about a minute before Debbie did (his instructor did carry a few extra pounds....) The experience itself was amazing and wasn't as scarey as anticipated! It all happens so fast you don't really have time to be scared!
Being in Argentina, we obviously had to give the wine a good go! We went along to a wine tasting evening which was very interesting! We tasted different qualities of Malbecs and sparkling wine! Unfortunately Debbie was sat next to some unfriendly, rude wine snobs which really irritated her. Luckily this was compensated by the lovely couple sat on the other side of us who were from the States and we ended up going to a tango club together! During the wine tasting session a slightly intoxicated, jolly and loud man came and sat with us and started pouring himself large glasses of sparkling wine. He then proceeded to "cheers" and beckoned all the pedestrians outside the shop to come in- cheers as in smashing his glass into the shop window. It then transpires that he was the shop owner and does this all the time and that he " drinks too much" ( if a fellow Argentinian says you drink too much, you are probably drinking a little too much...) The mums pushing their babies along the path was not impressed by his "cheers" and his invitation into the shop...after the official wine tasting session we bumped into the owner again who demanded we go fetch our glasses and join him round the back of the shop- and so we spent the next 2 hours drinking more sparkling wine for free! We tried to convince him to come to the tango club but he said his wife would go mad.
Our Tango experience was better than our samba experience in that we actually managed a little routine (Phil mainly shuffling, again we have video footage). After the lessons the locals took to the floor and just danced tango to live music all night (some real impressive moves!) It was lovely to see this side of their culture. We don't do such things in the UK certainly no tourist would pay for a ticket to go into a club to watch us dance.......
After a leisurely 10 days in Buenos Aires we headed to little Uruguay. Colonia was a pretty little town filled with old vintage cars and little cobbled streets. We enjoyed our walks along the coast and watching people drink mate! After a short stop here we moved to the capital city Montevideo.
Apparently the second safest city in the world! Here we spent the weekend walking around the markets and the coast. The Argentinians and Uruguayans love meat so much they have big indoor markets housing dozens and dozens of barbecue houses! After a short stop in Uruguay we headed back to Argentina.
A pretty little Patagonian town near the end of the world. You could see the Fitz Roy mountain range in a distance. There's something mesmerising about snow capped mountains, you just never get bored of them.
Here people come to do day hikes and see the wonderful glaciers. We visited parito Mareno- a glacier 5km across and 700m tall (60m of which sticks out of the water - time for Phil's favourite joke in Patagonia - "that's just the tip of the ice berg".) We watched humongous chunks of ice break off making a thunder like noise when it hits the water. There were a lot of reporters around as they were waiting for a phenomena to happen! One that occurs every 4-5years- where the glacier that's formed a bridge over time finally collapses due to water pressure. We sat and watched the cave for 4 hours (it was so cold!) and unfortunately the bridge didn't collapse on our watch but did so the next day! It was still stunning to see the glacier which varied from a powdery white to a bright blue (We were told the more compact ice appears blue and less compact white due to aeration). It was strange to see what appeared to be small ice bergs float away after they break off but their actual was was probably the same as a double decker bus! The glacier itself moves2 metres a day and is a major source of fresh water to the region. Because the major event happened the next day, a lot of breaking off occurred the day before when we were there.
After our glacier experience we headed to Chile in preparation for our 6 day trek. We spent a day renting and buying trekking equipment and carb loading! We couldn't leave Patagonia without trekking...
The W Trail - Patagonia
So Phil managed to persuade Debbie to finish the trip off with a 6 day trek. We hiked the W trail so we could admire Torres del Paine ("towers of light blue" is the literal translation, we preferred "towers of pain", reflecting the difficulty in climbing up to the,!), the French valley and the Grey glaciers (it's called the W trail because the route is shaped like a W with a point of interest at each peak of the W). Phil promised he had made the trek easier by spreading the hike into 6 days rather than 5 (not mentioning he sneaked in a 5 hour ice hike in the last day! Apparently, that was going to be "easy" ). Our first day actually involved walking from the bus into another bus and then into the fancy looking Refugio (not so bad!). We met some other travellers in our dorms who later became our trek mates! We were trekking from east to west meaning our first proper day of walking was up to Torres Del Paine. We were so lucky with the weather (thick grey clouds and blizzards are common, in fact the weather gets so bad that they close the national park from April onwards). The 13k walk didn't become a problem until the last 45 minutes where the vertical climb was.....well, vertical! It felt like we were rock climbing forever! Eventually we reached the base of Torre del Paine and we were rewarded with clear blue skies! While scrambling over big boulders to get the perfect Instagram shot Debbie lost her balance and fell flat on her back- luckily she had a big puffy backpack on, which essentially saved her life as it took the full hit- without it she definitely would have either cracked her head on the angular granite rocks or sustained a major back injury..while Phil took pictures of the "hilarious" scene (to be fair to him, he did check if I was dead or not first), a kind German man came running to see if she was ok...glad someone cares :p. Our trek continued as planned although we had one day of strong wind (Debbie got blown over and into a swamp and we saw a few Trekkers being blown off rocks) were very lucky in that we didn't have any rain or blizzards (Patagonia weather is notoriously known to be unpredictable and harsh- commonly having 4 seasons in one day and is unusual for us to be so lucky!). We managed to get back to our refugios each night while it was still bright, can't help but feel sorry for the campers who come plodding in after dark dragging their walking poles with their head torches on and massive backpacks! One night we stayed in a fancy cabin with skylight windows which allowed us to watch the stars before passing out. We even had a hot tub (would be more accurate to call it a luke warm tub, but it was still very very nice!). The hike was challenging but a fair bit of the trail takes you along turquoise lakes and lush green forests, giving us a chance to take a breather and enjoy the scenery!
On our last day we went on an ice hike which involved stamping along a glacier with crampons and then having a go at ice climbing! Phil of course climbed to the top (with some difficulty....) and Debbie got to the middle and called it a day! It was exhausting walking and climbing on ice but no rest for the wicked! We then had to complete our last bit of the trail to catch the last catamaran home! (no pressure!) the 'short and easy down hill walk' (guess who boldly claimed that?) was not easy and was certainly not all down hill. It felt like the longest 11k ever under the scorching sun. Phil announced with great conviction that he was going to get/was getting heat stroke and was not in a good place! But you'll be glad to hear we made it down in time and Phil even managed to fit in a beer ( the Heat stroke problem seemed to have miraculously disappeared....) despite all the hardship it was an amazing experience and we have met some wonderful people. The views are second to none and it really is a very special, wild place. Apart from some bruises, blisters and 'near heat stroke' we completed the trail in one piece (we didn't even argue!!).Another life experience and achievement for the Randerlams!
Our journey home will involve: bus to Peurta Natales, bus to El Calafete, flight to Buenos Aires, flight to Bolivia, flight to Madrid and finally flight to Gatwick airport! (cheapest way to do it!)
6 months, 17 books and 9 countries later it's time for us to make our way home. It's been an amazing 6 months and although we know we have done a lot we still don't know where the time has gone! Adjusting back to real life will be difficult! Biggest achievement for us is that we are STILL married!
After 24 hostels, 5 apartments, 6 hotels, 3 lodges, 4 refugios and some tents we look forward to having our own beds back for a bit before the next adventure.......
Since the start of the adventure
Hours on bus: 183.5 (or 7.6 full 24 hour days!)
Hours on plane: 65
Hours in car: 6
Hours on train no change