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Buenos Aires and Southern Patagonia

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Friday, 6th Feb. 2009
Parque Nacional Torres del Paine (Hike to Mirador Lago Grey, drive through the park from west to east)
Weather: a.m. cloudy, p.m. partly cloudy, windy, 15 °C

Today we left Posada Río Serrano and drove even further east to Guardería Lago Grey (16 km). Here we went on a 45 minutes (one way) easy hike to Mirador Lago Grey. A few small icebergs could be seen floating in the lake. Hostería Lago Grey also offers boat trips to the Grey glaciar including ice trekking.

At 12 p.m. we started our drive to the east side of the park which took about 2 hours with just a couple of short stops at Hostería Pehoé and Mirador Lago Nordenskjold. Many guanacos live in the eastern part of the park. To reach the Refugio and Hostería Las Torres a narrow old bridge has to be crossed. The Refugio Torres is a dorm style cabin with a newer and an older building. We had booked two nights at Torre Central. The price for a Full Bed including sheets and full board was 86 US dollars each per night. Just the bed but no food would have been 51 dollars though I would recommend to book full board. But if we had paid in pesos upon arrival we would have paid less. However, in the main season it's highly recommended to make advance reservations in the park. The hostel was well kept. It is the only refugio in the park that can be reached by car. We were glad we had split reservations to two nights on the west side and two nights on the east side of the park as the distance is quite considerable: 36 km dirt road between the east and the west entrance. In the west park we were most impressed by the turquoise water of the glaciar lakes, in the east part by the wildlife.

After a cloudy morning the sun had come out and we walked down to the hanging bridge over Río Ascencio which marks the trailhead to Las Torres, and then the Interpretive Trail from Hostería Las Torres (1 hour, 2.5 km). Dinner was served in two instances (7:30 p.m. and 8:30 p.m.). We had asparagus soup, chicken lasagne and napkin pie, plus bread and water.

Total kilometres: 82



Saturday, 7th Feb. 2009
Parque Nacional Torres del Paine (Las Torres Hike)
Weather: a.m. cloudy and calm, rain at midday, p.m. partly cloudy wih some wind, 15 °C

After breakfast we started our hike to Las Torres, one of the big highlights in the park: 9.5 km, 820m elevation, 3.5 hours (one way). This is also part of the W.

We took the car to drive 1 kilometre to the trailhead at Hostería Las Torres. It was 9 a.m. After crossing the hanging bridge a steep path leads up in the direction of Refugio Chileno which we reached after 1.5 hours. Here we had a short break. After another hour of going up and down mostly through woods we arrived at the Torres Base Camp. It was 12 p.m. and it had started to rain. The rain shelter was full but the park ranger asked us to join him in his hut for a coffee! We didn't say no.

After a while we decided to try our luck and continue on the last climb up across a field of huge boulders. The rain did stop and after 45 minutes we had made it to the top. We just caught a glimpse of the Torres above the lagoon before they disappeared again in the clouds! We didn't intend to give up hope just yet, so we decided to wait for the towers to reappear. We had our boxed lunch from the refugio (a big chicken sandwich, peanuts, an apple, a muesli bar, a muffin, juice). It was fairly cold up here at 1000m elevation. But at the end of 2.5 hours we were rewarded! It was shortly before 4 p.m. when we started our hike back down. This was faster than going up and dinner was waiting. After 2.5 hours we were back at the car but this had a surprise for us. We had a flat tyre! And this was after we had driven just 1 kilometre! We managed to change the tyre, had a quick shower and made it for dinner at 7:30 p.m. We had ceviche (a kind of cold soup), Shepherd’s Pie and yoghurt tart for dessert.

Two beds in our six-bed room remained empty tonight. But the American couple who shared the room with us were snoring again...

Total kilometres: 2

Sunday, 8th Feb. 2009
Parque Nacional Torres del Paine (Cascada Paine, Laguna Azul) – Puerto Natales
Weather: partly cloudy, windy, approxca. 19 °C

Same as in the Fitz Roy area, the weather was best on our arrival and departure days. In spite of the risk of having no longer a spare tyre, we still intended to visit the northeastern part of the park, so we drove to Laguna Azul.

First we stopped at Cascada de Paine. From there till Laguna Azul we saw herds of guanacos everywhere! The lake shone in a beautiful azure blue, with the Torres in the background! We had a quick look around then we drove back to the main route to Puerto Natales. But before leaving Torres del Paine for good we drove to Laguna Amarga which has a wonderful turquoise blue with a view of the Torres, so it was well worth the detour.

At 11:30 a.m. we started on the final 105 km to Puerto Natales. There were road works going on near Cerro Castillo, so maybe in a few years time more than 50 km of the distance will be on a tarred road. It took two hours to reach our destination. This time we had booked Hostal Las Carretas (28.000 pesos/34 euros).

For dinner we went to Ultima Esperanza (Eberhard 354) where we had pollo al coñac with puré de papas and tomato and avocado salad as well as roast lamb with potatoes and Chilean salad plus a small bottle of red wine for 14,600 pesos (18 euros) plus tip. It was good.

Total kilometres: 249

Monday, 9th Feb. 2009
Puerto Natales – El Calafate
Weather: partly cloudy, windy, approx. 16 °C

We didn't feel like hiking up to Mirador Dorotea so we didn't delay going back into Argentina. This time we took the longer route along tarred roads via Esperanza instead of taking the shortcut between Tapi Aike and El Cerrito. This was 80 km longer but as you can drive faster, it didn't take any longer. Today there was a very strong, cold wind which gave us a feel how it usually must be in Patagonia. It nearly blows you off your feet!

Shortly before 2 p.m. we arrived in El Calafate. We had booked Hostería Cauquenes de Nimez (260 pesos/57 euros) close to the bird sanctuary Laguna Nimez. Unfortunately the sanctuary was closed but we were still able to have a good view from the fence. We had a coffee at elba’r and for dinner we went to the best restaurant in town: La Tablita. It opens at 7:30 p.m. and it's better to have a reservation. We had the carnes mix for two which included lamb, sirloin and tenderloin steak, plus a potato and pumpkin mix, an ensalada completa, a small bottle of red wine and two bottles os water. The meat was excellent! The bill was 194 pesos (42 euros) plus tip.

Total kilometres: 297

Tuesday, 10th Feb. 2009
El Calafate – Buenos Aires
Weather: sunny, windy, approx. 18 °C

Today was our last day in Patagonia. We had another look at Laguna Nimez. Horses were grazing near the water. Then we drove to Bahía Redonda and Punta Soberana with a view of Isla Solitaria.

Nothing much was planned for this day. We had already been able to visit Perito Moreno so we didn't go again as it was quite a distance and we didn't want to risk our tyres just before departure. So we strolled up and down the main street in El Calafate: Avenida Libertador. There are a lot of tourist shop. But there was no room in our bagage for any souvenirs. We had a pasta lunch at La Cocina, a coffee at the libro-bar Borges & Alvarez and an ice-cream at Helados & Cremas. For our dinner we bought some empanadas (2 pesos/0.44 euros each) at a bakery.

Our flight to Buenos Aires was due at 7:28 p.m. Once again Aerolineas Argentinas had switched the flight from Jorge Newbery to Ezeiza. We got there early but realized that our departure was delayed by 1.5 hours. We checked in anyway to get rid of our luggage. Had to pay 8 pesos (4 euros) airport tax each. Then we returned the rental car, the flat tyre was no issue. We had covered 3204 km in 16 days.

Eventually the plane from Ushuaia arrived earlier than expected. They touched down at 7:32 p.m. and within 30 minutes we were ready to take off. Flight time was 2.5 hours and we even landed 20 minutes early at 11:30 p.m. local time in Buenos Aires.

We took a remise taxi from Tienda Leon (144 pesos) and one hour after arrival we arrived at the hotel, once again the Reino del Plata.

Total kilometres: 43

Wednesday, 11th Feb. 2009
Buenos Aires (Recoleta, Palermo)
Weather: partly cloudy, 28 °C

We took the subway, called Subte, to go to Recoleta (1.10 pesos/0.25 euros each). It was still a bit of a walk to get there from the Pueyrredon station. We visited the famous Cimeterio Recoleta with the grave of Eva Perón. Next to the cemetery is the Basílica de Nuestra Señora de Pilar, a pretty white church. And next to this is the Centro Cultural Recoleta and Buenos Aires Design with shops and restaurants. Here we had lunch at the Oasis Café (promo almuerzo: grilled chicken with papas españoles including soft drink and coffee for 36 pesos (8 euros) each.

Near the Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes we went to see the Floralis Genérica, a huge metal flower that opens and closes as per the time of day. Via Parque Las Heras we walked towards the Botanical Garden and Palermo.

From Plaza Italia we walked a bit through the streets of Palermo, one of the better quarters in town. It is subdivided into Palermo Viejo, Palermo Soho and Palermo Hollywood. But we didn't find it too interesting, or we didn't see the right places. Eventually we took the Subte back to the Microcentro and had dinner at a restaurant close to our hotel: Cabildo de Buenos Aires (steak with mushroom sauce and milanesa with Madera sauce with papas noisette, a mixed salad and a bottle of red wine for 124 pesos (28 euros) plus tip.

Thursday, 12th Feb. 2009
Buenos Aires (La Boca, Puerto Madero)
Weather: sunny, 30 °C

For 53 US dollars we had arranged a late check-out of the hotel by 6 p.m. Uhr auschecken müssen. After breakfast we ordered a taxi to La Boca (15 pesos/3.45 euros). We could have taken the bus as well but we didn't have the required change. We only took some money and my camera. La Boca is an old harbour area which is in the hands of Italian immigrants. This is the place where the tango was born. El Caminito street with its colourful houses is the touristic highlight. But it wasn't fun to walk around as people didn't leave you alone. They asked for photos to be taken with a Maradona lookalike or a tango dancer and tried to get you to buy stuff or to visit their shop or café. It's not a very safe quarter either. So we quickly took some photos and left.

We went to the taxi stand to grab a taxi back to the centre. We took care it was a radio taxi and we started to get scared when when we didn't see any license inside and he took off into some unknown side streets! But eventually he did get us to Puerto Madero. Unfortunately he was unable to change 100 pesos (23 euros) and we had to stop at a bank.

We crossed Puente de la Mujer and strolled along the harbour promenade. Finally we picked a restaurant for lunch. La Madeleine had a good offer: milanesa with onion sauce and fried potatoes, soft drink and dessert for 28 pesos (6.50 euros). Back in Calle Florida we had an icecream (1/4 kg for 12 pesos), then a coffee in Café Tortoni in Avenida de Mayo, the oldest coffee house in town. Finally we went to Plaza de Mayo to see weekly demonstration of the Madres de Plaza de Mayo who lost their children and husbands during the military's reign of terror.

Then it was time to return to the hotel and take a taxi to the airport (90 pesos). Check-in opened at 7 p.m. We paid 63 pesos (or 18 US dollars) each airport tax. Our flight left as scheduled at 11:50 p.m. After 12 hours 45 minutes we arrived in Frankfurt. I think I was even able to sleep a little. It was 3 p.m. local time (12 p.m. in Argentina). We had to chance terminals and just made it there in 1.5 hours. The plane had to be deiced before take-off. At 5:20 p.m. we arrived back in Düsseldorf. It was 5 °C and everything in grey. We collected our luggage and took the S-train home...

Week 2

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