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Buenos Aires and Southern Patagonia

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I never thought that one day I would really get to see Patagonia, but I was the lucky winner of two Lufthansa ticket to any of their destinations worldwide! We had to complete the flights until 15th February 2009, so Buenos Aires was a good winter destination! While the northwest of Argentina would be at the height of its rain season, this time of year was ideal for the south. In summer temperatures rise to over 15 °C at least! But it was also the height of the tourist season, so we made all reservations in advance.

Friday, 23rd Jan. 2009
Flight Düsseldorf – Frankfurt – Buenos Aires

The Lufthansa cabin personnel was on strike the day of our departure, but we made it to Frankfurt allright and the flight to Buenos Aires departed just 30 minutes behind schedule (10:15 a.m.).

We landed in Buenos Aires at 9 p.m. local time as planned. This was midnight German time. Flight time from Frankfurt was 12 hours 45 minutes. We had 3 hours time difference.

Immigration and customs was quick. For security reasons we took a remise taxi (Tienda Leon) for 144 pesos (33 euros). Busses from the same company are cheaper (45 pesos per person). There wasn't much traffic at night. In 30 minutes we were at the hotel.

We had booked the Hotel Reino del Plata (25% discount at splendia.com) for 104 US dollars (82 euros). Don't expect luxury but we thought the hotel was good and very centrally located within a few walking minutes of the Plaza de Mayo.


Saturday, 24th Jan. 2009
Buenos Aires (Microcentro, Puerto Madero)
Weather: partly cloudy, 35 °C

The breakfast buffet was quite good. Around 9 a.m. we were on our way to explore the city: Plaza de Mayo with the Casa Rosada, the cathedral, the Pirámide de Mayo and the Cabildo. We drew some money from the bank at Banco Santander (max. 500 pesos, approx. 113 Euro, but this can be repeated several times). Afterwards we strolled up the pedestrian street Calle Florida, one of the major shopping areas of Buenos Aires, as well as Calle Lavalle. We also had a look into Galería Pacífico. At Plaza San Martín we saw a couple dancing tango. But we needed some change for a tip. This was hard to get as we found out when entering a small shop to buy a couple of water bottles! We were finally able to change a 100 pesos bill at a supermarket (Disco).

Afterwards we continued our city tour to Teatro Colón and Avenida 9 de Julio, with a width of  125 meters one of the broadest streets in the world. At the intersection with Avenida de Mayo rises the famous Obelisk, erected for the 400th anniversary of Buenos Aires. Along Avenida de Mayo which has some beautiful old buildings we walked to the neoclassical National Congress building at Plaza del Congreso.

It was around 12:30 p.m. And here it happend: We became the victims of con artists! Someone was claiming there were pigeon droppings on Volker's rucksack. He put it down, they distracted me, and it was gone! Inside were most of the cash we picked up this morning, his camera, our binoculars, his identity card, the house keys, his driving licence and his credit cards! Shit happens….!

At least our passports were safe in the hotel safe. Otherwise our trip to Patagonia would have ended here! At least I still had my credit card and driver's licence. And we felt really stupid because we had even heard about similar tricks before, but we were still being too naive when the situation presented itself, assuming folks just wanted to help.…

Of course this spoilt the rest of the day for us. After going back to the hotel to get the credit cards cancelled, we went to the tourist police station. While we were waiting for the translator, another couple arrived who had their rucksack stolen when getting their luggage out of the taxi, then the next ones came who had their camera stolen… We took a taxi (12 pesos) with the translator to the local police office to get a report.

At 4 p.m. we were done. We walked back along Avenida de Mayo, bought a new rucksack for Volker (now we noticed that most of the people were wearing their rucksacks in front!) and finally went to find something to eat in Puerto Madero, the redesigned harbour area. Next to the pedestrian bridge Puente de la Mujer two museum ships lie at anchor. We ended up at Hooters. Wanted to try it for some time, while something more typical Argentine might have been preferable. We didn't feel very hungry after all. For two big salads, a coke, two beers and a cocktail we paid 95 pesos (22 euros). 10% tip were requested. We walked along the promenade and listened to a live band for a short while before we marched back to our hotel.

Sunday, 25th Jan. 2009
Buenos Aires (San Telmo), flight to Patagonia (El Calafate)
Weather: cloudy and rainy, later on sunny

This morning we put everything into the safe except for a little bit of cash and my camera. For 30 US dollars extra we arranged a late check-out until 3 p.m.

Today we wanted to visit the old harbour area San Telmo. There's a flea market on Plaza Dorrego every Sunday and you can see tango dancers as well. We also spotted a very beautiful church just round the corner: Nuestra Señora de Belén.

Afterwards we walked up Calle Florida and Lavalle where we had tortilla lunch. Then back to the hotel where we ordered a radio taxi to take us to the airport Ezeiza (88 pesos/20 euros). Originally we should have departed from the domestic airport José Newbery which is closer to the city, but Aerolineas Argentinas changed our flight on short notice to the international airport.

On this flight with Aerolineas Argentina's domestic airline Austral we were only allowed 1 piece of luggage at 15 kg each. There was no airport tax on this flight. We took off pretty much on schedule at 4:40 p.m. Flight time was 3 hours. There was one hour time difference, so we landed one hour early at 6:45 p.m. local time. We had arrived in Patagonia.

We had booked a rental car with Alamo (via holidayautos.de) and had arranged for take-over at the airport. It was a small VW Gol which wasn't in great shape with lots of dents, a large crack in the window and pretty bad tires. It had 61.350 km on the speedometer. But we got it at a comparatively pretty good price: 563 euros for 16 days. We also received the papers for taking the car into Chile. And luckily they accepted a photocopy of Volker's driving licence, so it wasn't me who had to drive!

We drove into the town of El Calafate. There was a police checkpoint but they just wanted to know where we came from. We had booked Hostería Hainen for 1 night (230 pesos/52 euros). For dinner we just went to the local supermarket La Anónima where we bought empanadas (pastry filled with chicken (pollo) or tuna (atún)) and a bottle of red wine (Malbec).

Total kilometres: 21



Monday, 26th Jan. 2009
El Calafate – El Chaltén (Los Glaciares National Park – Fitz Roy Area: Mirador Las Cóndores, Lago del Desierto)
Weather: partly cloudy, windy, approx. 20 °C

Breakfast was not much, as usual in Patagonia: sweet croissants, cornflakes, juice, coffee, tea. We picked up some cash at Banco Santa Cruz as you won't have much oppertunity in El Chaltén, though a cash machine had recently been installed.

The distance was 213 km north, 3.5 hours. The road is fully tarred by now (the last 20 km were completed in December 2009). Most tourist travel in tour busses or the overland busses, but it was great to have a car as it offered so much flexibility. We had a great view of Mount Fitz Roy (3405m) when we arrived!

It likes to hide in the clouds that's why it's called El Chaltén in the language of the local Indians. The days were long at this time of year: sunrise at 5:30 a.m., sunset around 9:30 p.m. But we didn't feel like still tackling a long hike today.

The village of El Chaltén was founded in 1985 as a base for hikers in the Northern Area of Los Glaciares National Park. The English name, Fitz Roy is derived from the captain of Darwin's ship.

At the Visitor Center we received a small hiking map and a short introduction. There is no park fee.

Next we checked into our accommodation for 4 nights: Posada Inlandsis (210 pesos/46 euros per night minus 5% cash discount). The staff spoke good English.

Afterwards we started on a short hike to Mirador Las Cóndores and Mirador Aguilas (1 hour 40 minutes, approx. 4 km).

Then we decided to take the northern road out of the village, a dirt road along Rio de las Vueltas leading to Lago del Desierto. There was a short hike to a beautiful waterfall Chorillo del Salto and the bridge across Río Electrico was interesting. There were some nice views. At the end of the road (37 km, 1 hour 15 minutes) you can hike to Huemul Glaciar (16 pesos), or walk across a hanging bridge to the other side of the lake. But we drove back to El Chaltén. For dinner we went to the local microbrewery (cervezeria) where we had an Argentine stew  (locro). Including coke, wine and beer we paid 117 pesos (26 euros) plus tip.

Total kilometers: 306

Tuesday, 27th Jan. 2009
Los Glaciares/Fitz Roy (Hike to Laguna Torre)
Weather: partly cloudy, partly sunny, some rain drops, mostly calm, unexpected squalls, approx. 18 °C

Unfortunately the mountains were hiding in the clouds again today. So in any case there was no point in hiking up Loma del Pliegue Tumbado (950m elevation) with a view of Fitz Roy, Cerro Torre and the Patagonian icefield, nor Laguna de los Tres. Instead we decided for the Laguna Torre hike. We bought some empanadas at the local bakery and off we went. The hiking trails are well marked.

After an hour's hike we had reached Mirador Cerro Torre but there wasn't much to see. We continued for another two hours until the turn-off to Lago Madre e Hija and one more hour until we had reached the Laguna Torre  (11 km). We saw Glaciar Grande at the other end of the lake but the Cerro Torre (3102m) was hiding.

After a short lunch break we decided to push on to Mirador Maestri where you get even closer to Glaciar Grande. However, some really heavy squalls came up which nearly swept us off our feet! We were glad to get down again safe! As soon as it had come up the wind had disappeared again and the sun had come out. It was warm enough for a t-shirt. By now our feet were aching. We had covered 26 km.

For dinner we went to La Tapera where we had a excellent meal (soup and entrée) for 45 pesos each. Including drinks and tip we paid 120 pesos (27 euros) total.

Total kilometres: 4

Wednesday, 28th Jan. 2009
Los Glaciares/Fitz Roy (Hike to Piedras Blancas Glaciar)
Weather: cloudy, some rain, some wind, approx. 18 °C

The weather still didn't look good for our hike to Laguna de los Tres. We decided to start off with the easier route via Piedras Blancas.

We took the road north to Lago del Desierto. After 17 km (45 minutes) we reached Hostería El Pilar. At 9:20 a.m. we set off along Río Blanco, then through a forest to a viewpoint ot the Piedras Blancas glaciar. After 2 hours 15 minutes we had reached the turn-off to Cerro Fitz Roy and Campamento Poincenot where we had our lunch break.

Unfortunately Mount Fitz Roy was covered in clouds, so there was no point in continuing the hike up to Laguna de los Tres (450 m elevation).

Instead we walked the short way in the other direction to the turn-off to Lago Madre e Hija which should have offered a good view of Fitz Roy in good weather. At 12:40 p.m. we turned back. At the end of the day we had covered approx. 18 km (150 m elevation).

Back in Chaltén we had a coffee and a waffle at Café del Bosque and for dinner we went to the restaurant Agonikenk where we had a large steak for just 34 pesos (7.50 euros) each.

Total kilometres: 31

Thursday, 29th Jan. 2009
Los Glaciares/Fitz Roy (to Tres Lagos, hike to Mirador Fitz Roy/Laguna Capri)
Weather: sun in the Pampas, rain at Mount Fitz Roy, windy, approx. 15 °C

Today the weather was even worse. There was no point in going hiking at all. So we decided to drive to Tres Lagos instead, a village in the Pampas. This was a distance of 125 km - one way! And there was nothing to see! However, as soon as we had left El Chaltén the sun was shining and there was a beautiful rainbow!

After 1.5 hours drive we arrived in Tres Lagos. Here the tarred road ends. We took the opportunity to fill up on petrol for 2.15 pesos (0,48 euros) per litre, and then turned back. We saw a few guanacos along the road, a kind of llamas. They are the South American camels.

At 12:30 p.m. we were back in El Chaltén. The rain had stopped for a moment and lacking alternatives we decided to start on the hike after all. The first 30 minutes went up steeply. We had just completed the worst bit when it started to rain again. But we did not want to give up yet and the rain did slacken after a while. So we pushed on to Laguna Capri and Mirador Fitz Roy (350 m elevation) which we reached around 2 p.m. The mountains were still in the clouds. But we could see Piedras Blancas in the distance. The total elevation from El Chaltén to Laguna de los Tres would be 750 m on this route (4 hours, 12.5 km). It must be a beautiful hike in good weather.

At least our clothes were still dry. The return trip downhill took us 1 hour only. Back in El Chaltén it started to rain again. We drove to Chocolateria Josh Aike for a hot chocolate and a piece of homemade chocolate. We had dinner at the Cervezeria again: homemade ravioli filled with lamb meat.

Total kilometres: 255

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