USHUAIA: The southern most city in the world, across from Antarctica. We saw beaver dams and penguins and hiked to the glaciers and lagoons in Tierra del Fuego National Park.
PUERTO NATALES: We then crossed the border in Chile and went to Torres del Paine National Park. This took 20 hours of traveling from Ushuaia: 2 taxis, 4 buses, a ferry and a catamaran.
After the first bus, we realized we forgot our sleeping bag and food on the bus and had to take a taxi to the bus driver's house where the bus was parked outside. Luckily, he was nice enough to return our bag. This was a relief since there is nowhere to buy food in the Park, except at the refugios that serve one entree per night for $20 a plate (partly because the food has to be brought in by horse). We ate canned tuna instead (on Pascale´s birthday!) and lived on pbj sandwiches, salami and glacier water from the streams while we trekked through the hills.
It took three consecutive days of hiking to get through the W shaped circuit in Torres del Paine. The terrain resembled CA for the most part, until you turn a corner and suddenly see a glacier in the distance. They are giant masses of aqua-blue ice and are quite stunning. We watched to see if any ice pieces would break off (called calving). When it does, it looks like a waterfall and sounds just like rolling thunder. We loved it.
Getting to the peak of the trail (the middle point of the W) was hard but very pretty too because we were surrounded by the tallest mountains in the Park, along with the towers (torres) for which the Park is named. It was very majestic to see them all so big and all around us.
By the way, the trail was very diverse, often changing from sandy to rocky with many ups and downs. We started gauging its difficulty by how much we would pay at any point to be airlifted off and transported to our next stop. For Amy, it got up to $800 (plus tip) and that's not a joke. This was after we had spent six hours hiking uphill to the peak, and we realized we had to go back down and still had five more hours of hiking to go. She would have gladly paid.... But we kept going and made it just before dark that night (about 8:30 pm). We almost cried when we got to the refugio, having hiked for 11 hours that day for a total of 28 km (almost 18 miles).
That night, we slept in a room of six strangers on the third tier of bunk beds that had no sheets (our most expensive accomodations yet) but luckily, we had our sleeping bags. We ate at the refugio that night and were happy to be inside because the strong rain and winds shook the place and blew a camper's tent into the lake by morning.
The last day in Torres del Paine was rainy for the first time. Pascale hiked the last leg of the W in the rain until it turned to snow near the top. Unfortunately, the visibility wasn't good enough to finish so she hurried back down, and we took the early shuttle out. With the exception of that day, we have had perfect weather in Patagonia. Feels like springtime, and the leaves are turning beautiful oranges and reds.
CALAFATE: We stayed in this little touristy town just two days--long enough to see the Perito Moreno Glacier and develop a small addiction for glacier ice cream: banana ice cream with swirls of dulce de leche and chunks of dark chocolate. It´s pretty special, next to the actual glacier itself. Perito Moreno was one of the most spectacular sights we´ve ever seen. It was so immense and beautiful. We were there in the afternoon so the shades of blues in the ice changed as the sun went down...
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CHALTEN: We spent Easter in this little town. It's only 20 years old and located at the base of beautiful mountains. They are just now working on paving their main street where all the hostels and restaurants are located. There are no banks, but they are building their first post office. The only thing to do there is hike one of their five trails so we did just that. The last day, we hiked to a lake and took naps on its shore in the late afternoon.
As a side note, the people of Chalten know how to bake. They have very good little bakeries, and one right next door to us with the best empanadas either of us has ever had. They cost just one US dollar each so we showed up twice a day for them during the three days we were there.
LOS ANTIGUOS: This town is smaller than a breadbox. It was really just a stop between Chalten and Bariloche to break up the 30 hour bus ride.
We spent just one night here but were lucky to get invited to our hostel owner´s ranch. He took us for the day to what he calls "his paraiso." We went with him to feed the horses, chickens, goats, etc. Then he dug up some potatoes, carrots, garlic and picked some corn that he is growing on the farm. He washed them in a stream, we cut them up, and he put it all together to make us the most incredible lunch in his wood-burning stove. We had a baked salmon with melted cheese on top (that he caught there the day before) and a lamb stew. While it was cooking, he had us to go get his horse in a nearby pasture (think The Simple Life with Pascale & Amy) and bring it to him. He saddled it up, and we rode it through his alfalfa fields. It was one of our best days yet.
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BARILOCHE: So that brings us to now. We have been here almost three days, and it may be our favorite place so far. It was settled by the Germans, Austrians, and Italians (go to any history museum in Argentina and you wouldn't know that any indigenous folk lived out here) and looks like a mini San Francisco, sitting on a huge, gorgeous lake that could be the ocean. We would live here for a very long time for three other reasons:
1. There is a decent Internet connection, which is hard to come by in Patagonia.
2. Pascale got her hair beautifully colored and cut (at nice salon) for just 36 US dollars.
3. They take their chocolate very seriously. There are giant, elaborately decorated chocolate shops on every block, literally.
Yesterday, we took a bike ride along the lake to Colonia Suiza. It was beautiful. Today, we are exhausted from all our travels and taking it easy. Amy is still waiting for the swelling in her feet to go down from the bus ride, and Pascale is waiting for her lower back to stop aching. We look like a couple of pregnant ladies, especially with all the chocolate we're sampling :)
Pascale experienced her first travel romance here, probably the longest relationship ever with an Argentinian man. We affectionately referred to him as "El Tigre" and he followed her everywhere she went, even patiently waiting outside chocolate shops and grocery stores that she entered. In return, she showed him all the love she had to offer (and food) but the brief affair ended by the evening when he lost his patience at the day spa and went in search of another doting partner.
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