Tag Archives: Argentina

In transit 2 – Bariloche to Puerto Varas

24th March 2018

Our time at the very swanky Llao Llao Hotel was all too short, and so we embarked on the next stage of a transit which would eventually take us to our next major segment of our South American odyssey, a couple of days in Easter Island. But Tierra del Fuego to Easter Island is a major schlepp, and so we did in sections, taking in some popular tourist sights en route, as described in part 1. Some more sights awaited us in the second part of the transit, as we travelled from Barioche to Puerto Varas. This is a well-established tourist route, having first been undertaken in 1913 and, notably, by Theodore Roosevelt in 1916 (it was apparently Roosevelt who, basing his knowledge on the recently-established Yellowstone National Park, suggested that the areas surrounding this route be set up as a national park before modern life could damage it too much; and so it came to be, in around 1927). We had catamarans and buses instead of sailing boats and wagons, but essentially the route we travelled was the same; and we had a guide called Eduardo to explain to us what was going on, which was occasionally reassuring.

We started in Puerto Pañuelo, which is conveniently located a few hundred yards from the Llao Llao Hotel.

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The boat took us to Puerto Blest, which is very scenic, but not very photogenic (WALP Factor 8, but all rocks and forests), so people spend a lot of time feeding seagulls.

where we joined a very short bus ride to go to Lago Frias, a volcanic lake. At the end of Lago Frias is the Argentinian end of the border, where passports are checked and you have a chance to see a replica of the motorbike that Che Guevara rode across the Andes back in the days before Andrew Lloyd Webber became a national hero.

The border crossing is a multi-stage process. At the far end of Lago Frias, the Argentinian border staff leave the boat before anyone else is allowed to, so that they can set up their computers and so forth in a hut beside the above bike and another small hut selling snacks. They check passports and then get back on the boat to go back home, as did our Argentinian guide, to be replaced by a Chilean guide called Victoria. She and the ongoing passengers then board a bus, which grinds its way up a rough and winding track to the actual border. A few hundred metres further on, there’s a photo stop to see a local volcano named “Tronador”, or “Thunderer”, so-called because of the noise that the glaciers make as they break up.

Mount Tronador

We were very lucky with the weather, as we could actually see something. Given that this area receives on average three metres of rain (yes, ten FEET) every year, and that it rains some 228 days a year on average, I think we got privileged access.

After this, the bus grinds on to the Chilean border, at a small village called Peulla, where everyone has to get out and open their luggage so that Chilean border guards can check that you haven’t brought anything illicit in. Once again, I had an agony of indecision as to whether to declare all four of the cameras I had with me, but decided not to; and the customs officer couldn’t have shown less interest in my luggage, which made this a good decision.

Peulla is a lunch stop with a choice of two local hostlelries, one of them being a hotel where we had grilled fish with vegetables (Jane) and fried fish and chips (me). We ate in the hotel’s conservatory, which featured a rather novel idea – a sprinkler (arguably a length of hose with holes in it) cascaded water on the transparent roof, and the sunshine through this made rather lovely patterns in the room itself.

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There’s one more boat trip after lunch, which takes the journey on to Petrohué. This is the longest ride, but features nice views of another volcano, called Puntiagudo.

Volcano Puntiagudo

(translated: pointy tip) which looks a little like a local version of the Matterhorn, and another volcano, called Osorno, which I would think that many people would think was Mount Fuji, if they didn’t know better.

Volcano Osorno

After this final boat ride, you take the last bus journey, 50km journey into Puerto Varas. However, the excitement doesn’t dim, even at this late stage, as there’s one final tourist attraction to visit, and time presses. In fact we cut things so fine that we had to sneak round the side of the visitors’ centre to get in to see the Petrohué waterfalls. I’m very glad we made it, as this is a splendid sight.

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And our vulcanological insight was further enhanced on the last kilometres into Puerto Varas, with views of Calbuco, an active volcano which has erupted, and violently, as recently as 2015.

Volcano Calbuco

Puerto Varas is a pleasant town. We stayed at the Hotel Cumbres, which styles itself as the best hotel in Puerto Varas, and I see no reason to gainsay this. We had only one day there, and so, since the sun was shining, we decided to go for a wander around. Before we did this, though, we saw an astonishing morning mist on the lake (Llanquihue).

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There’s little to make Puerto Varas out as exceptional (the hotel receptionist couldn’t when pressed, suggest a single thing worth visiting), but it’s a nice town, with the colourful buildings that we’ve seen elsewhere in Chile and Argentina.

and the same rather alarming approach to electrical wiring.

It’s called the city of roses, for good reason

and has, at one end, a hill which has been pressed into service as a park, named after a significant founder of the city, a German called Bernardo Philippi. One can climb the 500 feet to the top, where there is a giant cross, which is illuminated at night.

So, this was our transit, from Bariloche to Puerto Varas via Petrohué

Tomorrow we’re off to Puerto Montt, to fly to Easter Island via Santiago. I’ll report in from there in due course – stay tuned!

In transit – 1: Ushuaia – El Calafate – Bariloche

20th – 22nd March 2018

After the several days of not packing and unpacking, we then had a burst of moving about and staying for very short periods in places.

We disembarked from Ventus Australis in Ushuaia, which is the capital city of the region, which means the island of Tierra del Fuego and the other islands that make up the region of Tierra del Fuego. And possibly the Malvinas as well – there’s a war memorial to the fallen of the Falklands war there.

We only had an hour or so to wander around Ushuaia. so we just walked along its main street (named after the liberator, San Martin). It’s a pleasant place – the buildings are often colourful and attractive

 

and there’s a dramatic backdrop of mountains.

 

The local standards of wiring seem a little alarming to European eyes (this was an example from Punta Arenas, but not untypical of the South American wiring we saw pretty much everywhere):

 

Ushuaia is something of a centre for skiers and snowboarders – the mountains can be reached in under an hour, and so I can imagine it draws a goodly winter sports crowd in the season.

After our short ramble around, it was time to depart for El Calafate, which would be the staging post for an excursion to the Perito Moreno Glacier (see separate post). We thus had an afternoon to wander round this much smaller, but very charming little town. Like Ushuaia, many of the buildings make great use of colour.

The sun was shining, which helped, but there was a very pleasant vibe here. I think the town is very much a tourist centre, and this gives it a laid-back feel which I enjoyed.

I particularly liked the way this public phone service is presented.

The town’s founders, back some 130 years or so, planted poplar and willow trees, which makes it very green. I should imagine that the abundance of trees is a wonderful boon for the local dogs, of which there seem to be many and whose hobbies also seem to include chasing cars and barking a lot at each other at night.

The town has several parks which also add to the overall charm.

 

Mind you, this one near our hotel was called the Parque Manuel Belgrano, so that gave us a score of two names with uncomfortable UK overtones in just the one day.

Our hotel was called the “Esplendor”. Unlike the Singular, it didn’t quite match up to the pretensions of its name. It did all the basics well (good food, comfortable beds – surprising given how lumpy the pillows were – and obliging service). I guess it was probably cool a few years ago, but decor based around plastic elk horns is no longer edgy, and the woollen knitted lampshades are bizarre to my eyes rather than charming. Some of the decor is a bit faded and in need of a refresh. But, hey, we slept well there and persistent searching revealed enough electric points to charge phones and cameras, so these complaints tend a bit towards nit picking.

We had a great insight into the Argentinian preference for a carnivorous diet when we ate one evening at a very good restaurant called Mako. After what seemed like a rather gruff reception, the service turned out to be very friendly. To accompany the inevitable (and delicious) Malbec, chosen, with help, from a great long list, we ordered a plate of grilled meat that was advertised on the menu as being for two people. My religion forbids me from sharing a photo of it, but it could easily have fed a family of four. Here’s the nearest I can permit to a photo of food, which is the barbecue being operated in the window (something we saw in other restaurants as well).

The “Calafate” in the town’s name, by the way, is the name of a bush, which produces a berry that has many uses – for jam, for ice cream, for beer, for a liqueur which, added to a Pisco Sour, transforms it into a Calafate Sour. It’s a spiky bush. Sorry, but the berry season has passed, so I can only show you thorns and leaves.

After our short stay in El Calafate, the next stop was in San Carlos de Bariloche, to give us another staging post before the next big segment of our odyssey.

It’s an hour-and-three-quarters on an aeroplane to get to Bariloche, and this journey started from the small but perfectly-formed El Calafate airport (perfect, except the WiFi wasn’t working, but otherwise nicely organised with charging points for the mobiles, cafés and helpful signs telling you what facilities were available airside).

We never got to see Bariloche itself, except in the passing rain, but it looks like an interesting city, with a Swiss-German architectural heritage, funiculars to take you up a steep hillside, and vast numbers of hotels by the lake. It seems to be a year-round city, with skiing faclities just 20km away for the Winter, and lots of lake-based things like fishing an attraction for the Summer.

Our destination lay some 25km to the west of Bariloche, at the swanky Llao Llao hotel. “Llao Llao” is pronounced “zsow-zsow” (with the “zs” as in Zsa Zsa Gabor) and is the aboriginal name for the Indian Bread fungus which affects the local version of Beech trees. For those who have followed this blog, you’ll have seen a picture from our condor hike about a week ago.

We arrived yesterday in torrential rain and howling wind. Today the rain has gone so revealing a decent view from our hotel over lake Moreno.

 

The rain may have gone, but the wind still howled. Nevertheless, we went for a walk which, by reason of missing a turn, became a 10-mile hike on to a trail that involved a 350-metre ascent. However, the view from the top was quite nice

Panorama - View from Cerro Llao Llao

 

and on the way we saw a lapwing

a brown caracara

and ended up with a nice view of the Llao Llao Hotel to finish off the walk.

The next stage of our journey is another transit to take us on towards a more major segment, which is a visit to Easter Island.

The (Glacier) Cherry on the Cake

21st March 2018

The main purpose of visiting El Calafate was as a staging post to see one of Argentina’s most striking sights – the Perito Moreno Glacier. The glacier is named after Francisco Moreno (“perito”means specialist, or expert), a prominent explorer and academic.

The trip is a day’s outing from El Calafate, some 50km to the Perito Moreno national park, and then taking up on various options: a boat trip on the lake to see the glacier from close at hand; a walk along prepared pathways to see the glacier from higher up but further away (but also, importantly, to be able to listen to the sounds it makes); and/or, if you’re young enough, a hike on to the glacier itself. We weren’t booked in to do the last of these options, and the age limit means that we will never now get the chance, which is a shame; a friend tells that it’s a fantastic experience. But that didn’t stop us from enjoying an entirely arresting sight – a glacier 70 metres deep debouching on to Lake Argentina.

Our guide, Jenny, made sure that we took up on all the available options to see the glacier, which is dramatically revealed as you round a corner; at first it’s difficult to understand what you’re seeing, but then the scale of the glacier dramatically becomes clear

Perito Moreno Glacier

and the crowds gathered at the first available viewpoint underline its appeal as a tourist attraction.

The next stage on our day’s outing was to board a catamaran to go to view the glacier from close at hand, which gives you the first impression of its scale and, importantly, the colours in it. The second video in this Instagram set gives you the general idea:

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After the boat trip, the next stop is at the official visitors’ centre, whence prepared footpaths run in various directions to give you different viewpoints of the glacier – the first video was taken from the topmost of these. The footpaths are very well-made, with metal grid surfaces and lots of steps, taking you to several different places from which to view the glacier.

As well as the lovely colours in the glacier (the blue is an illusion caused by refraction through the ice and the air bubbles trapped in it)

Perito Moreno Glacier

there is a striking outlier on the shore opposite one of the faces of the glacier.

Perito Moreno Glacier

This is caused by a regular occurrence, the last one being in 2016. This glacier is based on bedrock (i.e. none of it is floating on the water) and advances at an indecently hasty speed of 1-2 metres per year. As you can see from the picture above, this makes it inevitable that at some stage it will block the channel, thus preventing water from flowing through. So the lake level builds up and up (on the near side as we look at it), until eventually the tempertature and pressure of the water wins, first creating tunnel through the ice and then blasting its way through the blockage.

I don’t believe that there’s anything in Europe which cacn match the sight and the impression this glacier makes. It’s a superb day out and something of which the Argentinians are justly proud.