Patagonia! A magical name and the trip didn’t disappoint.
We started in vibrant Buenos Aires with a tango show. My fears that it would be tourist rubbish were unfounded. The standard was professional, the venue old-style glamorous and the food and drink high quality and generous. Anyone who has watched ‘Strictly Come Dancing’ knows all about the Argentine tango. In Argentina it’s even more athletic and dramatic. What I didn’t know was that it was originally danced by men, the gauchos coming into the city. While awaiting their turn with their chosen ladies, they would tango. You never know where a tango will lead you!
We wondered how welcome we would be in Argentina. However, it seems the Falklands war is a dim memory and people are more focussed on improving conditions nearer home. The mausoleum of Luis Vernet, last governor of the Falklands, is in a neglected state in the Recoleta Cemetery, not far away from that of the much more revered Eva Peron.
We liked Buenos Aires, from the eclectic mix of styles in the centre to the colourful streets of La Boca (where we saw more tango, danced on café steps).
On the ‘wrong’ side of the railway line, visible from the motorway, are the slums, a strange assortment of cubes built on top of each other, separated by narrow alleyways, where the poorest live.
In contrast, Porto Moderno is super-rich. Our guide called it ‘Money-Laundering Land’. Politicians live here in huge apartments. There is much corruption.
We flew from Buenos Aires to Tierra del Fuego. It was called the Land of Fire by the early explorers who saw fires burning on the shores. The early natives lived naked so needed fire to keep warm. An amazing visit to the prison in Ushuaia, now a museum, told us of British influence – the Argentinians sent their convicts here just as we sent ours to Tasmania for punishment.
We took a trip on the Beagle Channel, saw sea lions and cormorants, and were amazed that early sailors ever found their way among all the islands. The weather is unreliable here – usually only around six days a year with cloudless, blue skies. We had two of them! Boats leave from here for Antarctica. We really were at the end of the earth.
Patagonia stretches across both Argentina and Chile and so we set off on a 12 hour bus journey to the spectacular Torres del Paine National Park in Chile. For much of the time, the scenery was flat and uninteresting – the Argentinian Steppe – but the Park is worth the journey. Our guide told us about mate tea which the locals drink. It’s a caffeine-rich infusion, traditionally made in a calabash gourd and drunk via a silver straw. It’s passed from person to person, a social ritual they all seem to enjoy. Our guide handed his mate round for us to try. Far too bitter for me.
We stayed in cabins with snow-capped mountains and turquoise lakes around us just outside the National Park, a lovely position.
There was the option of a 23km trek the following day. We decided to go for it although our local guide nearly put me off with her severe warnings (Health & Safety prevails!) It was difficult at the top, steep and rocky, but a real achievement to get there.
Another long drive back to Argentina – you can fall asleep and when you wake, the scenery hasn’t changed! Lots of guanacos scattered about – they look like llamas. We headed for El Calafate, a pleasant if touristy town. This was our base for the Perito Moreno glacier. A spectacular 70 metre wall of ice, calving from time to time into Lake Argentino, shone bluish white in the sunshine. The system of walkways and viewpoints is excellent and we took a boat trip to get an even closer look.
Off to El Chalten the next day, stopping en route at an old ranch, La Leona, now a café. There were pictures of Butch Cassidy on the wall – apparently he stopped here for a month when on the run to Bolivia. Who knows if it’s true!
Another long walk to a view point in the Fitzroy Massif the following day. Our luck broke and the wind and cloud made the final part of the walk impossible. But we’d seen the Fitzroy mountain the previous day, so shouldn’t complain.
We now had the final stage of our visit – the Iguazu Falls on the border between Argentina and Brazil. Someone said the temperature there was 37˚C (actually, it wasn’t). I had no shorts with me so chopped the legs off a pair of jeans. No time to shop! Yet more travelling including the chaos of Iguazu airport with an IT failure and no systems operational!
The Falls are wonderful, probably best from the Argentinian side. There is a compulsion to take photos constantly – I have more than I know what to do with! (Some people still seem to find selfies more important than the spectacular scenery…) The highlight was a boat trip to the foot of one of the cascades. They said we’d get wet – they weren’t lying. It wasn’t just the spray – a wave landed in my lap. I was in my denim shorts. Not often do I need to wring out my underwear!
We were well-sustained by the amazing Argentinian beef and Patagonian lamb throughout the trip. We’ve never eaten so much meat but it was good. Then there was King Crab and spicy prawns when we were near the sea. Empanadas for lunch. Add to that, the Argentinian Malbec and a Pisco Sour or two…
All superb. I am now dieting!