Tag Archives: Patagonia

Torres Del Paine

Panaroma courtesy of Ben Anscombe.

Note from Mark: This post was drafted back in February but I needed time to absorb the experience. There's a lot in this one, might pay to get a drink before you start. My thanks to Ben Anscombe for the assistance.

Currently rolling along Ruta 40, a day after I completed the W track at Parques Nacionales de Torres del Paine, Chile. No injuries, just a bit of sun burn and the normal aches associated with hauling a pack.

Torres del Paine was an awesome adventure. It has so much going on – huge glaciers, imposing peaks, raging rivers, rickety bridges, stunning valleys and turquoise lakes. It gave me my first sightings of avalanches, condors and even pink flamingoes (of all things).

I started with dos amigos from the Navimag trip. Saskia decided to stay back in Puerto Natales (PN) due to a lingering illness, but hoped to meet us on the last night of the trip. We had all agreed to start at the Western end of the track and make our way across the Torres massif over five days. This plan was further fleshed out with help from the guides at Basecamp in PN (recommend the briefing, held every day in the afternoon).

For those familiar with the park or interested in the trek, we camped at Campamento's Grey, Italiano (free), Cuenos and Chileno respectively. We had the option of staying at Campamento Torres (free) instead of Chileno but for various reasons opted for Chileno.

20 Febrero, Glacier Grey

It took about half a day to get to our starting point, which included a bus trip from PN to the park and a short ferry ride to the Western end. This trip gave us a good view of the massif, which is easily viewed from the road. The rain that pursued us through the fjords had dumped plenty of snow on the peaks and the forecast was for clear skies. A good start.

We set off from the wharf at 1:00 pm. Here we could see the damage done by the fires of 2005 and 2011. The damage was extensive and, with jagged peaks and high cloud above us, made for a melodramatic setting. I was relieved when we reached the highest point in the track and gazed down onto Grey Lake. It's a great view from there, right up to the glacier.

Me, Ben and Floris. Photo courtesy of Ben Anscombe.

We made our way down towards the lake, stopping frequently to take photos of the lake, mountains and ice bergs that had broken off from the glacier. It was easy going and we had a good time taking detours and marvelling at the views. The cloud slowly cleared and eventually it was sunny with no wind. Perfect!

Playing with ice. Photo courtesy of Ben Anscombe.

We pulled into Campamento Grey at 6:00 pm. Its a good camp site with reasonable facilities and a great view of the mountains. Two condors circled the peaks above us as we debriefed on the day. Couldn't believe how good we had it.

21 Febrero, Grey to Italiano

It may be helpful to note that Campamento Grey is located near the glacier but it is not beside it. Further, you cannot access the glacier directly but it is possible to hire kayaks near C. Grey or you can walk up to a viewing platform about 1.5 hours north from the campsite. We decided we wanted to try the latter, so left at around 9:00 am to the viewing point.

There's no fire damage here and the forest is fantastic. After about 1.5 hours of uphill leg work we were rewarded with a stunning view of not just the glacier but the Southern Patagonia Ice Field and snow covered mountains. The view was crystal clear, just beautiful. I've never seen anything quite like it, it was an overwhelming experience.

We hung around waiting for the sun to throw a bit more light before taking photos. A bunch of people in kayaks paddled up to the glacier and gave us a real sense of scale e.g. huge. Eventually the sun cleared the Torres' western shoulder. We took photos and then to our surprise stumbled into a glade filled with Andean wood peckers. Some how we didn't scare them off with our excited yelps and snapped a few picks. Chuffed!

Returned back to Campamento Grey to decamp. Someone had The Rolling Stones blasting. We took our time as we still had the whole afternoon ahead of us. The hike back out of the valley was slow, hard work with the packs, hadn't realised how steep it was. Still, we had great weather.

It took the whole afternoon to get back out and down to the original landing point. By this time one of the amigos, Ben, had hurt his ankle and was limping. We got him to stick his leg into the nearby lake then strapped it. From there it was a 2.5 hour trek to Campamento Italiano. Doesn't sound like much but our legs were tired so it was slow going. Fortunately we were distracted by views of the southern lakes and the setting sunlight on the peaks.

Coming around the southwest point of the W track.

Eventually stumbled into Campamento Italiano around 9:00 pm. All buggered. We estimate we hiked for about 10 hours in total, my longest day hiking to date. Cooked up pasta with tuna and finished off with a hot chocolate. Big day. Went to sleep with the sound of distant avalanches providing a hint of what was to come in the morning.

22 Febrero, Valley de Frances

Despite the long trek the previous day, staying the night at Campamento Italiano provided a key advantage – it sits at the base of the Valley de Frances, the mid point of the W trek. This is probably my favourite part of the trip, but by a margin.

We got up early to get the most out of the day. Cloud had come in overnight but it was quite high and we could still see most of the peaks.

The trek up the valley to the viewing point takes around 3 hours. The trip began with an up close and personal view of Cerro Paine Grande and Glaciar del Frances. Within minutes of our approach there was a thunder crack and a plume of snow billowed from under the cloud on our left. We thought that would be it but for around eight minutes snowed poured down the face of the mountain like a waterfall. Amazing.

The path up the valley follows a river towards a wide bowl at the top of the valley. The valley itself is fairly evenly divided by the river and features near pristine forest and stunning views of the Torres' craggy peaks and towers. Facing south, one is presented by an almost perfectly composed view of the valley and the southern lakes and rolling hills beyond. I will never forget it.

Getting up early was the best decision we made that day. As we walked back down the valley low cloud quickly rolled in, spoiling the view for those still making their way up.

A quick lunch back at camp and we were off east to Campamento Cuernos. This was a fairly easy leg which we completed under time. Great views of the local lakes. Rain began around 4:00pm which was good as were able to set up our tents in time. I had booked dinner at the hut, or refugio, which with the rain turned out to be a brilliant idea. Sat down with the boys and smashed the largest pork chop I've ever seen. Finished off the night with a couple of beers and fell asleep pretty quickly.

The lakes under cloud.

23 Febrero, Cuernos to Chileno

Woke up to rain. Got up for breakfast at 7:30 am. Found Floris, amigo número tres, who had expected his EU7 tent to buckle under the rain. The tree cover saved him but the tent was soaked. Decamped in the rain and began trudging up and over the next hill.

Ben was not in good condition. He had remained stoic despite the injury but it wasn't getting any better. The night before he had stumbled through the door into the hut, wobbled over to us, then wiped out half the table when is ankle gave way. Hilarious but not good!

Fairly early in the walk we came across our first river. The water was maybe knee high but moving fast over the rocks. People on the other side directed us to a tree that overhung the river. So next thing we are climbing into the tree and dropping down the other side! Good fun.

After three hours of walking in the rain we reached a junction that lead to Chileno (north east) or out of the park (due east). Ben's ankle was a real problem and the rain meant Floris was in for a bad night. The lads decided to end their trip that day and walk out. I was tempted to join them as I wasn't going to see much at Chileno with the rain and cloud, however there was the possibility that Sas would be making her way in to meet me there. So we all shook hands and agreed to meet for dinner in PN when I got out.

Turned out to be the right decision for all of us. Within minutes of arriving at Chileno Saskia walked through the door! We spent the rest of the day in the hut with the other soggy campers. Booked dinner again, big piece of slow cooked beef. Went to bed in the soggy tent, warm but not exactly dry. Saskia bore it well.

Sas making her way in.

25 Febrero, Back to Puerto Natales

We woke up to rain again so decided to head off early. Decamped fairly quickly and after 2.5 hours we were out of the park and waiting for transport.

Looking down the Valley to C. Chileno.

While we waited we saw several native birds (tíques, caranchos and condors) and some wild llamas.

A tíque with a fresh catch and a condor soars above us.

 

A carancho keeps watch and a llama heads into town for a beer.

Arrived back at PN at 5pm, went out for dinner with Sas, Ben, Floris and another couple from the Navimag trip, Rik and Elena. We found a restaurant that specialised in BBQ meat, Asador Patagónico, which delivered the goods in spades. We demolished a delicious meal of Patagonian lamb, beef and salmon with local beer and wine to wash it down. A perfect end to our adventure.

Happy ending. From left: Rik, Elena, Floris, Saskia, me and Ben.

 

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Beers in El Bolsón

This is part two on our foray into the micro breweries in Argentina's Lakes District. You can read part one here.

El Bolsón is a great spot about two hours south of Bariloche. Nestled in a valley that runs north to south, it is famous for its mountains and craft market.

The Lay of the Land

As the hops are locally grown we expected to find a few breweries humming away and we weren't disappointed. By our count there are seven, but we suspect there might be a couple more:

  1. Araucana**
  2. El Bolsón*
  3. El Dragon Verde**
  4. Otto Tipp*
  5. Parapapoto*
  6. Pittri
  7. Rupestre

Those I marked with a * are covered in this post. The breweries marked with a ** I tried in a bottle and are not covered here in detail. The rest we didn't get to as we were only there for the weekend. Please feel free to share your experience if you try them and I will duly update this post (or link to your review).

We should also note that nearby Lago Pueblo also has a few beers to boast about. While we didn't go there we did try Pilker, which was for sale at the market. This is also covered below.

The market is best visited on a Saturday and can be found in the central plaza. The craftsmanship is the best we have seen in South America.

Available at the Market

Both Cerveza Parapapoto and Pilker were for sale at the market when we swung through. To my joy both had a range available on tap, which is awesome.

Parapapoto

Parapapoto are keen brewers. The thirsty tourist is lucky to choose from an I.P.A., Pilsen, Weizen and a Stout. I chose the Weizen as had not yet seen it for sale. It was very fruity and full flavoured. In fact, you can almost see the fruit in the photo above. Those keen to try it should be warned though: mine came with a lot of sediment, which caused the beer to go bitter on the tongue. Don't expect to drink the whole thing if you order a pint.

Pilker

The staff at the tourism office reckon that a few brews are available in Lago Pueblo. We didn't have time to get there but apparently it is worth a day trip (it is at the end of the river in the photo below).

On the day, only a stout was available. By this point I had noticed that almost everyone made a stout, which is understandable given the climate. I tend to avoid heavy beers but when in Rome…

This one surprised me. It looks like a stout but tastes like an ale. A fresh alternative to a coffee or chocolate heavy version, easy to drink.

Apunto Restaurant

Affiliated with the Otto Tipp brewery, Apunto Restaurant is a classy affair that provides good food and live music. It can be found on Isla Malvinas, near the intersection with General Roca.

Five beers are available on tap: Negra Fuerte (strong stout), Dorada Fuerte (strong lager), Gringa (pilsen), Mestica (red ale) and a seasonal fruit beer. I went with the stout, and yes, it was strong! Came at me from several angles – not too bitter with balanced coffee, malt and chocolate flavours. Quite good.

A very dark beer.

Since we weren't going further afield that night I also ordered the fruit beer, which on the menu is called Con Frambuesa (with fruit). This version was a raspberry lager and it tasted very much like fermented raspberries. Very nice, Saskia also enjoyed.

A very pink beer.

El Bolsón Pub

Anyone passing through El Bolsón must make a pilgrimage to the brewery of the same name, which can be found 2 kms north from town. They make a huge range of beers and you can camp there. Crazy.

We were out of luck though, as it was closed for winter, so we opted for choice number two: their pub in town. Apparently this is not as good and I can believe it. The pub was fairly basic, just wooden tables and benches with an outdoor beer garden. Might be better in summer. Can be found on Avenida San Martin, near the junction with Pellegrini.

We were able to choose from a Pale Ale, Red Ale, Weizen, Stout, Smoked Stout, Winter Stout, three fruit beers (black current, cherry and raspberry), Chili Beer and a Honey Beer. You can see why they provide camping at the brewery.

I went with the Winter Stout, again because stouts seem popular here. I expected something heavy with a hint of charcoal but found that it was sweet, easy to drink and refreshing. I would go so far as to say it was my pick of the stouts. We also tried the Pale Ale and the Weizen, which were good. Would recommend the degustation.

Bonus Points: Araucana and El Dragon Verde

As mentioned at the beginning, these beers were bought from the supermarket but Araucana can be found on tap in town. Araucana makes a Bock, Weizen Dunkel, Weizen and a Pale Ale. Their bottles are fairly hefty and easy to recognise. I think I tried the Weizen but didn't take notes. El Dragon Verde make a Stout, an Extra Strong Stout, a Golden Ale and a Chili Beer (Rojiza). I tried the Chili Beer and enjoyed it. It was strong and woke me up, but very drinkable. Let me know if you find where it can be served on tap.

And so ends our beer bonanza! Thanks for reading, I hope this is helpful for anyone planning a trip to the Lakes District. We had a great time uncovering the many beers hidden in Bariloche and El Bolsón. To my knowledge no tour companies offer trips to the breweries, which is a shame, but on the upside that means there's much to discover. Get into it!

Note: most beers were labelled in Spanish. I found that the word 'Rubia' was applied to lagers and pale ales. Unfortunately I discovered this late in the game and am not sure whether I have incorrectly described a beer as a Pale Ale. Welcome any corrections.


 


Bariloche

Hola from Bariloche, where Winter has finally arrived!

We have been hanging around here for about a week, hoping to catch the start of the snow season. Unfortunately it is just really cold and wet, and while there has been some snow, there is not enough to open the ski fields yet. The lack of snow is a bit dissappointing, but it is awesome to be back in Patagonia! We loved it the first time round, and didn't expect to be able to come back again so soon! We had always planned to come to Bariloche, but when we were in El Calafate in March, we had the choice of going south to Ushuaia or coming here, and we went south because we thought we might as well see southern Patagonia while we were so close. Turns out that was a good choice, and we got to do both!

Snow capped peaks surrounding Bariloche.

Bariloche is set amidst stunning scenery of mountains and lakes, which looks very similar to New Zealand's Queenstown, and has the same snow town feel. There are loads of cool bars and restaurants, a nice square with old German style wood and stone buildings, as well as plenty of gourmet chocolate and souvenir shops.

Bariloche town square.

The lake on the edge of town.

Despite the weather, we wanted to make the most of being back in Patagonia. After spending a bit of time looking around town, we caught a bus out to Hotel Llao Llao and spent a few hours hiking through the forest. Hiking in the rain was not so much fun, and it turns out that my jacket is not water proof! The staunch Kiwi kept reminding me that the weather is worse in NZ and they still get amongst it, so I kept going and resisted the urge to complain too much. It was still nice to be in the mountains, which were actually quite different to what we saw further south. The views were somewhat obscured by cloud, but the lakes and forest were beautiful! We found one little grove of trees that looked like they came from the set of a fairy tale, and its not hard to understand why some of the locals believe there are wood elves that live in the mountains to protect the forest.

Hiking in the rain.

Enchanted forests in the mountains around Bariloche.

We did have one sunny day, so we spent an afternoon on top of Cerro Otto enjoying the spectacular views below. We caught a gondola up to the lookout, which also has a revolving restaurant, where you can sit for lunch or a coffee and enjoy amazing 360 degree views over snow capped mountains and lakes.

Cerro Otto lookout


The view from Cerro Otto overlooking Bariloche.

The whole area is beautiful, and we would love to come back one day (in Summer) to do more hiking and enjoy it at its best!

 


Celebrating Four Months in South America

Hola from San Carlos de Bariloche, Argentina, where we have just celebrated four months on the road.

The view coming in.

 

The lake edge near the city centre of Bariloche.

 

We spent last night in our hostel drinking fine wines over a 'home cooked' meal of fish and chips. There was a good group of people in the common room and soon the guitars came out and we rocked the night away. Great fun, doesn't get any better!

 

Local trout with homemade chips.

 

Harry and Mark keeping the crowds happy.

Thanks for following our adventures!

 


Mark’s Mighty Asado

Today is Sunday and our last day in San Rafael with our extended WOOFing family. To celebrate, we hosted a fiesta yesterday, which featured over ten litres of wine, one chicken, one goat and a lot of sunshine.

After learning about the Patagonian style of cooking lamb I (Mark) set myself the goal of learning how to cook one while we were living in San Rafael. The farewell fiesta was the perfect excuse! As we have mentioned, chivo (goat) is the popular meat in Mendoza. So, since I couldn't buy lamb, this was the best choice.

We went on a bit of search in the city to find a butcher (carniceria) that could sell us a whole goat. As it turns out this was harder than we thought. The goats are bred in Malargüe, which is two hours drive away, so not everyone stocks it. But we did find two cheerful geezers who were only too happy to sell me 9.7 kgs of frozen chivo.

The process for cooking a goat in the Patagonian style takes about 7 hours, depending on the climate, the size of the carcass and the amount of wood you have. I started at 8 am in the morning. Managed to get the fire going before preparing the framework that would hold up the carcass.

The crucifixion in action.

Once that was ready it was carried outside and planted in a hole 40 cm deep and around 1 metre from the fire.

Carcass Cam.

The idea is that you drag hot coals close to the meat to slow cook it. If the day is cold or there's wind etc you can control the heat by adding more coals or shifting the fire closer.

Every couple of hours the whole carcass is basted with saltwater, about a litre in total. It is also important to rotate it on its axis to prevent the meat from getting too hot (remember that the idea is to slow cook it!) and ensure the meat is cooked evenly.

After five hours we added a chicken to the parilla. We bought a whole chicken, which was butterflied and seasoned with paprika, chilli, salt and pepper a day in advance. You can also add vegetables and/or sausages, but we cooked our vegies seperately.

Racking in more coals. Chicken on the right. The grill is raised on bricks with hot embers underneath.

At 2:30 the meat was good to go! Took great joy in carving the meat straight off the frame. Good fun.

The meal was a huge success, everyone was happy, plenty of food and wine to go round and some beautiful sunshine to keep us warm.

¡Salud!

 


The Mighty Argentine Asado

We love a good barbeque. We've hosted many a cook up that have left people asleep on our couches and floors with full stomachs. When we were planning our trip many friends mentioned that Argentina was famous for barbeques, so we were determined to try and learn their secrets.

Street food on sale in San Telmo, Buenos Aires.

The Argentine's call their BBQs 'asados', but you will also hear 'parilla', which refers to cooking on a grill. They cook their food over hot coals or embers, which are topped up from a nearby fire. The BBQs are typically cooked in the open, although you may also see pizza ovens used as well.

Restaurant grill in La Boca, Buenos Aires.

They also have slightly different cuts of meat to what we are used to in NZ and Australia, plus there's the blood sausage (morcilla) and the chorizo. All this this is drizzled in generous amounts of chimichurri, the national sauce (its awesome).

A parilla underway at our friend Ana's farm in San Rafael.

The results.

If that gets the taste buds going, the Patagonian style of barbequing lamb, beef and goat takes things to a whole new level. As per the pic below, the animal is butterflied on a vertical rack and slow cooked over a fire. The meat is basted in salt or salt water and rotated to make sure it is cooked on both sides. Mark reckons it is the best meat he has ever tasted (its emotional).

The meat on offer does change based on where you are. As a friend told us, you can get cow (vaca) everywhere, but down south lamb (cordero) is very popular. Goat (chivo) replaces lamb in the Mendoza region and suckling pig (cerdo) can be found in some parts.

Two whole lambs cooked in the traditional Patagonian style.

The parilla is a feature of everyday life in Argentina. The grill is included on family trips and the smell of food cooking wafts across many a park. We love it and have been lucky to have local friends show us how it is done…

A gent in traditional 'gaucho' attire cooks a meal on the 25th of May, Revolution Day.

To be continued.

 


¡Video! Bow of the Navimag, Chile

Frantic last minute posting before we slip off the grid. This is a series of shots from the bow of the Navimag, which we sailed on through Chile. We know, long time overdue…

 

 


Video! Perito Moreno Glacier

Took a long time to pull this together but it was worth it.


Video! Panorama of Cerro Fitz Roy

Hi all,

We are currently in Botucatu, Brazil, where we are staying with our friend Miranda and her lovely family. We have had a bit of time to catch up on things, including sorting out video footage from our treks across Patagonia.

The above panorama was filmed by Saskia on our last day in El Chalten. Once again we were spoilt with great weather. This is one of our favourite spots so far, highly recommended!


Wildlife at the End of the World

Most people head to Ushuaia as a point of departure for expeditions to Antarctica, and the city itself is not particularly exciting. However, the surrounding mountains and amazing array of wildlife are a stunning attraction in themselves.

Ushuaia

We spent four days looking around Ushuaia, and went on a couple of tours to get amongst the wildlife. The 'Pinatur' took us on an hour and a half bus ride out to Harberton Estancia (an old ranch) where we took a boat to an island with a colony of gentoo and magellan penguins. There was just one lonely king penguin, lost on his way to Antarctica, as well as many other sea birds and birds of prey.

Penguin colony

The tour was fantastic, and allowed us to get up close and personal with the penguins. The majority of penguins on the island were Magellan penguins, which were so cute!

Magellan penguins

The gentoo penguins were also quite striking, and the king penguin was beautiful!

Gentoo penguins

Lonely King Penguin

We also spent one afternoon sailing down the Beagle Channel with 'Tres Marias' to check out colonies of sea lions, terns and cormorants, and to go for a short trek on “H” island, which had stunning views over the channel and surrounding mountains.

Sea lion colony

Colonies of terns and cormorants, with a view from H island

We also spent a day wandering around the Tierra del Fuego National Park, where we went to the end if the road (Ruta 3), as far south as roads go on Earth! The park was beautiful, and we found a grey fox just hanging around at the back of a cafe.

Mark spotted this kingfisher as well. What a handsome little guy!

Kingfisher, grey fox, and the end of the road at Tierra del Fuego National Park