Home Safely

January 17, 2008

Well, it took us nearly 24 hrs, but we finally made it. Funny how over 5 months of travel we had hardly any issues, yet on the last day all hell breaks loose. We got from Bogota to Atlanta alright and had a nice 3 hr layover there, but the weather turned bad just after we got in and we ended up being stuck on the plane waiting for de-icing for over 3 hours before taking off. Then after finally getting to SFO 4 hrs late, on the car ride home we had some engine troubles and had to get towed =(

Oh well though, that’s traveling. Home now. It’s late. Goodnight.

Bogota

January 15, 2008

Well, it´s hard to believe the time has already arrived, but we are at the last stop on the trip. After leaving Ushuaia and the end of the world we headed straight back to Buenos Aires and spent a few days there just relaxing and taking in the few things we missed on the first pass. A trip to “La Bombonera” (the Boca Juniors football stadium), some more tango, and of course lots more “parrilla”. It ended up being a nice way to say goodbye to one of our favorite places in South America before we flew up to Bogota.

Before arriving in Bogota we weren´t exactly sure what to think. Sadly, there is so much negative press about Colombia and it´s security that we were still a little weary, yet on the other hand we had heard nothing but rave reviews from other travellers. Over the past four days we´ve had a good chance to see Bogota and it has easily been one of our favorite places. The city is beautifully situated up in the mountains, it´s modern and lively while still retaining some beautiful colonial style neighborhoods, and the people are wonderful. We´ve also been pleasantly surprised that the security seems a non-issue and we´ve felt very safe walking around, even at night. So here´s the last few pics of the trip, from Bogota …

Bogota

Bogota

Bogota

Bogota

Bogota

From here the only thing left is to fly home =(

Round 3 …

Buenos Aires:

  • Tango in the Park – Tango is all over Buenos Aires so you won´t miss it, but there are many options for soaking up the excitement. You can see street performers in the park, go to a cena show, or watch an intimate dance at a cafe. We did them all and liked them all, but we really enjoyed the atmosphere of watching it in the park. Head to San Telmo on Sundays to catch a show.
  • The Beef – It`s mouthwatering (even for non-beef eaters) and parrillas are everywhere. Our favorite cut was asado de tira and our favorite parilla was DesNivel in San Telmo (a packed locals spot that is dirt cheap and has excellent traditional food).
  • San Telmo Antique Fair – Only on Sunday, but worth the wait. It`s a lively street scene that has more to do with socializing and watching the street performers than antiques. Try to catch a tango show as well.
  • Futbol – Don`t miss it. It`s a blast. We heard the Boca Jrs. games are classic fun, but we went to River stadium for a national game against Bolivia. Pick up a jersey beforehand if you want to blend with the crowd and best to go with a tour agency to avoid lots of confusion and crowds.
  • Olsen – For a trendy night on the town, this Palermo eatery was a little taste of NYC in BA (but at better prices!). The best part was sampling the delicious drinks. Sitting at the bar also allows you test out your Spanish skills on the bartenders…
  • Shopping – You won´t be able to get enough of it. The porteños are definitely trendy and the clothes are good value so try to come with some spending cash. We liked Santa Fe street, Palermo, and Florida streets the best.

Mendoza:

  • Wine tasting in Lujan de Cuyo – Most people do bike tours in Maipu, but if you`re into wine and you want to do it right, rent a car, make reservations at wineries (during the week), and do it yourself. First, go for a tasting at Vines of Mendoza and get information about the best wines and wineries. We liked the tours at Septima and Carlos Pulenta the best. (Skip the La Rural museum unless you don`t know the first thing about wine.)
  • Tablao for a Lomito Completo – Did you see that picture of the lomito sandwich we posted a while back? This is where it´s from. If you don´t make it to Mendoza, get one somewhere else because they are oh so good.
  • Hostel Independencia – We liked this big hostel with a central location. The breakfast was generous and the weekly bbq was also good fun and food.

Other stuff in Argentina:

  • Iguazu Falls – Don`t mean to diminish this one by putting it in the “other stuff” category because it was one of our favorite sites on the trip. Give yourself 2 days to see the whole thing. Start with the Brazilian side for an overview of the falls and then go to the Argentinian side to get up close. Both sides have unique views, so its worth it for the cheap park tickets… and somehow the falls never get boring because they are just so big!
  • Andesmar – Our favorite bus company in Argentina, with a good website.
  • Lomo Sandwiches – A little slice of heaven stuffed between 2 pieces of bread. We actually blogged about this one earlier.

Central Chile:

  • La Casa Roja – We loved this hostel in Santiago. It was big, had a beautiful kitchen, tv room, and numerous lounge areas, not to mention sparkling bathrooms and a pool with a swim-up bar!
  • Valparaiso – Worth the detour from Santiago, this small coastal town is colorful and quaint and boasts some pretty cool history and really good seafood. Pick up a copy of Isabel Allende´s Daughter of Fortune before you go.
  • Los Porteños – Really good local seafood spot. Famous for thier seafood soups and chowders.
  • Le Filou de Montpelier – A tiny simple place between Cerro Alegre and Cerro Concepcion, this french restaurant serves only a set daily menu. It was one of the best meals we had and at a pretty good price.
  • The bus ride from Mendoza to Santiago – Do this one during the day because the views as you pass through the Andes are spectacular.

Other stuff in Chile:

  • Empanadas– Sometimes more like a calzone, but usually always a really good option for a cheap meal.
  • Kalabaza – Really good cafe in Puerto Montt. Take advantage of the set menu for a deal.

Patagonia:

  • Torres del Paine National Park (Chile) – The highlight of Patagonia, this park boasts some of the most dramatic scenery in the world. 3-5 days (or more) is ideal here if you want time to explore and enjoy. The W features the parks most famous spots and while all the sections of it are amazingly cool, we especially loved the French Valley for its 360 degree views and interesting trail. Be prepared for extreme weather – the sun can be just as deadly as the wind.
  • Erratic Rock Hostel – Probably our favorite hostel on the trip, this is place is small and cozy and a good hub for before and after trips to the park. Daily baked goods and info talk are pluses too.
  • El Calafate and Perito Moreno Glaciar (Argentina) – More touristy than Puerto Natales, but the place to go for outdoor gear shopping and trips to glaciars. Perito Moreno is the most dynamic and worth staring at for a while.
  • Ushuaia (Argentina) – The city at the end of the world. It´s a pretty cool town with dramatic scenery and the view from Glaciar Martial is worth the trip.
  • Bodegon Fueguino – Great local restaurant in Ushuaia that features small plates and specializes in lamb.

General tips…

  • We forgot this one in past summaries, but wanted to send a notice to future SA travellers that most places down here take their weekends seriously. Everything is usually closed on Sundays and in many places closed early on Saturday as well. That goes for restaurants, stores, wineries, museums, churches, sometimes tours, etc. Try to avoid making your only day to visit a town Sunday (if you plan on visiting any sights) and be sure to check hours before heading anywhere on the weekends because it will likely be closed. (Internet cafes are usually an exception, even on Christmas!)
  • To add to the inconvenience, the Argentine schedule is classic craziness. They take their siestas seriously, often shutting down between 1-4 everyday and they love their nightlife. The prime dinner rush is at 10:30, meaning many restaurants are still not open by 7pm. Clubbing starts between 1-2am, so bring some sleeping pills because you will definitely need to adjust your internal clock here! (Some exceptions in tourist locations during high season, but just be prepared).
  • Reservations in high season a must. Although you can usually always find a place to stay, the best places will be booked. Book buses and flights at least a little bit in advance if you want to stick to your schedule.
  • Prices for flights vary a lot here unlike the states. If you don´t like a price, just keep checking because it may change daily or hourly.
  • Ahh the buses. Heaven after Bolivia. These things are equiped and the cama class is really quite comfortable. For the long journeys, definitely enjoy the luxury.

So that´s the spiel on Argentina and Chile. Hope that helps. As always, drop us a line if you have more questions…

    Well, here we are, the true end of the world (well at least one of them). Sadly, I don’t know what I could say about Antarctica without feeling totally inadequate. My impression of Antarctica is almost like that of a waking dream; you realize that something profound has happened but you’re not quite capable of truly comprehending it. There is no place like it on earth, and while you can technically say that about many places it’s never seemed quite as true as it does now. The pictures will tell it best, but suffice to say that it’s a magical place.

    So we started in Ushuaia and set out our first evening to head across the Drake Passage for Deception Island and Cuverville Island. Deception Island didn’t offer much of a view due to heavy cloud cover, but in Cuverville we got our first chance to get out in the zodiacs and get a closer look. This time it was only a zodiac cruise, so we’d have to wait one more day before actually laying foot on the continent.

    Ushuaia

    Cuverville

    The next day it was on to Port Lockroy where we would finally have a chance to get on land and wander around a penguin rookery and see some Antarctic wildlife up close, not to mention some pretty cool looking whale skeletons. The weather was still a bit dicey, snowing off and on, but we were obviously so excited to get close to some penguins it didn’t really matter.

    Port Lockroy

    Port Lockroy

    Port Lockroy

    Port Lockroy

    Port Lockroy

    Port Lockroy

    Port Lockroy

    Port Lockroy would also be where we kept anchor over New Year’s Eve and celebrated Antarctica style. In a bizarre and very nice twist of fate at about 9 in the evening on the 31st we got our first clearings of the weather and we ended up having an absolutely gorgeous New Years. And of course, aside from being in Antarctica for New Years we also had the unique experience of ringing in the new year in daylight, the only place in the world where that is possible.

    Port Lockroy New Years

    Port Lockroy New Years

    Port Lockroy New Years

    Port Lockroy New Years

    On New Years Day it was up nice and early for some more penguin action, this time in nearby Paradise Harbor. Sadly we had reverted to our snowy weather, but oh well. One of the best parts of the Paradise Harbor excursion was the fact that we had to navigate a very dense field of icebergs to get to the actual landing, so we snapped off some fun shots of icebergs along the way.

    Paradise Harbor

    Paradise Harbor

    Paradise Harbor

    Paradise Harbor

    Paradise Harbor

    Paradise Harbor

    The following day was set to be our last day in Antarctica with an excursion to Half Moon Island, but sadly the weather was too bad for us to use the zodiacs so we couldn’t get off =( We passed right by Half Moon Island and into the Drake Passage steaming our way back towards Ushuaia. After a long and rocky day and a half across the Drake Passage we hit the final spot on the tour, Cape Horn.

    Cape Horn

    Not the most scenic place in the world, but maybe if you could look at the ocean floor you’d see something more interesting considering the number of shipwreks around that little piece of land.

    So after a few more days in Ushuaia we went back to Buenos Aires where we are currently relaxing for a few days before we head for the final stop on the trip, Bogota, and then it’s back home. sigh.

    So we made it to Antarctica and back, but before we spill the juice on the 7th continent, we couldn`t leave out the so-called city at the end of the world, Ushuaia. Our first day here, we just spent shopping and preparing for our cruise, but now that we´re back we´ve had time to explore.

    Set in a harbor surrounded by mountains, Ushuaia has it all – penguin colonies, trekking, cruising (even around Cape Horn), glaciars, museums, and shopping (all the ¨end of the world¨ paraphernalia you could want) – and it´s quite picturesque. While we couldn`t do it all, we got a good flavor starting with the former prison at the end of the world turned maritime museum. A pretty cool tourist attraction in town, this place has some interesting history about the many voyages and shipwrecks around Cape Horn and expeditions to Antarctica as well as prison life in one of the most remote former jails.

    Next, on to the national park Tierra del Fuego, which is famous for its landscapes and being the end of Route 3, the road (once again) to the end of the world. We did some short hikes in the park and overlooked Lapataia Lake, which borders Argentina and Chile.

    Finally, for a view of the city from above, we hiked up to Glaciar Martial on our last day. From here you can see Ushuaia and the beagle channel below which heads out toward the ocean and Cape Horn.

    And what city at the end of the world would be complete without a post giving you the distances to the other major cities in the world?? It doesn´t get much further than Tokyo from here, although NY is still a lofty 10.6K kilometers…

    We´re heading back to Buenos Aires now, but more to come on real end of the world soon…

    Happy Holidays from Ushuaia

    December 28, 2007

    Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to everyone!

    Eventhough we couldn`t be home to celebrate with you all, we had a relaxing time drinking lots of wine and watching cheesy 90s movies with some friends of ours in Puerto Natales, Chile. The gorgeous Patagonia mountain backdrop definitely made for a memorable Christmas location.

    We are now in Ushuaia, Argentina, the southernmost city in the world. It`s a cute little harbor town with mountains all around. Although it`s a bit touristy as many cruise ships pass through, it still has an Argentine feel.

    We set sail today on the Marco Polo to Antarctica…
    marcopolo.jpg

    Happy Holidays to all and we`ll be back online in a week…

    Although Patagonia is thought of by many as one distinctive area, it is actually a huge expanse of land basically covering the entire southern halves of Argentina and Chile. It is primarily characterized by vast expanses of flat land that are pretty desertous looking. But between all the flat lands jet up gorgeous mountains. Beneath the mountains, lie crystaline lakes. And between the two, enormous glaciars have formed.

    Zig-zagging back across the border to Argentina (neither country wanted to forfeit the beautiful land, so all the major sites are conveniently divided between the two), we set out to explore one of the most dynamic glaciars of Patagonia…

    pm

    About the height of a 14 story building (60m above water) and 5 km wide at the face, this massive glaciar is 250 square km and advances 2m every day. From the various viewpoints in front of the glaciar, you can`t even see where it ends as it sprawls on beyond our sight…

    pm2

    There isn`t much else to say besides, it`t really big and cool!!! Listening to it crack and waiting and watching for ice chunks to break off and creat huge waves beneath it kind of make it feel alive.

    pm3

    Unfortunately, we didn`t have the time to make it up to El Chalten and Fitz Roy for more trekking, but maybe next time. We really can`t say enough about how cool Patagonia is, so hopefully we`ll make it back for round 2 someday.

    5 days in Torres del Paine

    December 25, 2007

    So, once we were geared up it was time to head outdoors and into one of the world’s most revered trekking destinations, Torres del Paine. Towering rock formations, glaciers all over the place, ever changing weather, 100kmph+ winds, a harsh blazing sun (no ozone down here), long beautiful sunsets, and the list goes on. We had 5 days set to enjoy the park and here’s what we did …

    The most trekked route in Torres del Paine is called the W based on the shape of the route and that’s basically what we did, however we did a shortened W in 3 days just via day hikes rather than the full trekking. So on Day 1 we came into the park and set out on our first hike along Grey lake to the Grey Glacier …

    grey glacier

    grey glacier

    paine grande

    On day 2 it was a long haul up into the French Valley which offered a wonderful view where you are surrounded by mountains and glaciers all around you. Along the way you have some great views of the various flora in Torres del Paine as well as some of the best views of the “cueros” (horns). I’ll try and stitch a photo together for a panoramic view, but i don’t have the time/tools right now …

    french valley

    french valley

    french valley

    french valley

    Day 3 the weather turned a little bit worse and we lost our beautiful sun and blue skies, but none the less we had a great day for our hike up to the torres (towers) …

    torres

    After 3 days of hiking we decided it would be good to switch gears and try seeing Patagonia in a different way so we setup a 2 day overnight kayaking trip down the river Serrano at the southern boarder of the park. The wind proved to be a bit of a challenge for the kayaking and made it a bit more difficult than we had envisioned, but none the less it was great fun and we had some amazing views of the park from a distance on day 4 …

    kayaking

    kayaking

    kayaking

    kayaking

    At this point we were beat and ready for some R&R, but we have no time to waste, so it’s off to El Calafate to check out the Perito Moreno glacier, one of the world’s largest and still advancing glaciers. More about that in a couple days.

    Merry Christmas everyone, we are off to a good old fashioned Chilean Christmas BBQ. yum!

    Getting to Patagonia

    December 25, 2007

    Sorry for not updating this in a while, things have been happening quickly the past couple weeks and we’ve spent most of that time in places without internet access, so here’s a big update to start to get you caught up.

    After leaving Mendoza we moved into Chile to spend a little time checking out Santiago and Valparaiso. Truth be told we weren’t even sure we were going to go to Santiago at all since it has the reputation of being one of the more uneventful cities in South America. That basically proved to be true so we spent only a short time in Santiago before heading just a little further west to Valparaiso. Similar to Santiago there isn’t particularly a lot to say about Valpo other than the fact that it is known for having some colorful and vibrant neighborhoods, in a kind of hippie or bohemian way. So we spent only about a day and a half in Valpo before it was time to make our way into Patagonia. Here’s a couple pics from Santiago and Valpo …

    santiago

    valparaiso

    From Valparaiso we took an overnight bus down to Puerto Montt which was really our official launch pad into Patagonia. From Puerto Montt we took a 3 day ferry ride through the glacial fjords on the western coast of Chile which eventually brought us down to Puerto Natales, one of the main towns in the heart of Patagonia. Aboard the Navimag (the name of the ferry) we basically just relaxed and made friends, watched some amazing scenery stream by day after day, drank quite a bit, and at one point got a little sea sick where the boat passed into some rough waters in the Pacific ocean.

    navimag

    navimag

    navimag

    navimag

    Once we got to Puerto Natales we had a day to gear up before it was time to see the wilder side of Patagonia in Torres del Paine National Park …

    Wine Touring in Mendoza

    December 9, 2007

    After a splendid couple of weeks in Buenos Aires it was finally time to move on and our next destination was due east in Mendoza, Argentina’s wine region. As you would expect, the main activity in Mendoza is wine tasting, so that’s what we did, spending a couple of days total trying to go out and visit some vineyards. The first day turned out to be rather comical because we tried (and somewhat succeeded) in doing things the cheap way by visiting the closest and most commonly visited vineyards via the bus. Well, as usual, the info we got about how to do this was not exactly correct and the buses didn’t run exactly where we thought or when we thought, so we ended up having to add in quite a bit of walking to get where we needed. In the end, we did make it to a couple of wineries, but the day wasn’t exactly a complete success.

    A couple of days later we wisened to the fact that bus travel for wine touring wasn’t going to cut it and since we wanted to visit some of the nicer wineries a bit further away from the town we decided to rent a car and do things the easy way. Fortunately this day turned out to be much more productive and we got to visit a few very nice wineries.

    mendoza

    mendoza

    Our first winery, Septima, was our favorite in terms of wine and also offered a cool raised view of their wine facilities. Their operation itself wasn’t particularly special, using stainless steal for pretty much everything, but it was a nice start to the day.

    septima

    septima

    Our second winery, Carlos Pulenta, was the most interesting of our tours. For starters they were using concrete fermentors for a portion of their wines which is something i had never heard of and sounds like it’s a pretty new technique that is not used much yet. Even more impressive though is the fact that the entire winery is built in vertical layers so that rather than having to use pumps to move the wine through each phase of the production process they can just rely on gravity itself, simply opening up channels from one floor to the one below to let the wine pass to it’s next container. The design also ensures that the cellar is well below ground level which helps maintain an even temperature without much energy cost. Pretty cool stuff.

    carlos pulenta

    carlos pulenta

    Our final visit was to Ruca Mallen, which didn’t offer the same level of interest as far as the tour was concerned, but they had a nice building with a view of their winery and a very nice tasting room. They were also the only winery which gave you a spending voucher to use for buying wine after the tasting, which we liked.

    ruca mallen

    ruca mallen

    Sadly only a very small portion of the wines made in Mendoza are being exported to the US or other locations right now, and most the wines that are exported are often not the most interesting varieties. So we were able to grab a few bottles for immediate consumption but sadly won’t likely be able to get more from these wineries once we get home.

    So from Mendoza it is onward back to Chile for a couple stops in Santiago and Valparaiso before we turn directly south and head into Patagonia =)