Buenos Aires take 1

I arrived into Buenos Aires for my first of 3 stays here on Friday afternoon. Having met a number of people along the way who are based in Buenos Aires I had been well briefed on the city. I stayed in the San Telmo district which is full of beautiful old buildings and has a very artistic crowd, you seem to almost continually be tripping over people selling hand crafted bits and pieces in the street.
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With only 2 days in the city I decided to spend time getting to know the local area with a friend I had met previously called Cesilia who lives in the city. I had my first taste of the very well documented petty crime in Buenos Aires when someone tried, and failed, to steal my handbag. Not quite the start I was hoping for, but a good reminder that as a blonde haired, blue eyed, white girl I’m pretty much a walking target to pick pockets and tourist scams here!
The city itself has lots of history and numerous beautiful old buildings and areas so is a lovely place to walk around. There are cafes on every corner and many ice cream parlours which help to keep you going!
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On my final night in Buenos Aires a group of friends went to watch a musical which another friend of ours was performing in. This proved to be a great, if slightly challenging due to it all being in Spanish, evening!
The following day I left for 2 weeks on an estancia, just outside of Buenos Aires, to learn how to be a gaucho.

Mar del Plata

After around a month in Patagonia I was starting to feel ready for some real warmth and being able to walk around in shorts again! With this in mind I booked myself onto a bus to Mar del, a very popular beach resort a few hundred miles south of Buenos Aires. I was feeling rather pleased with this decision until I told to Argentinians of my plan, they immediately laughed telling me I was going at the wrong time of year. A quick look at the weather report showed moderate temperatures and lots of rain. This brought on a further round of laughter. I decided to take my bus all the same and see what it was like in person.
I arrived on Monday morning in cloudy, grey weather. Despite having seen the weather report I was still disappointed! I arrived at my hostel, which turned out to be the Argentinian surfers hang out which isn’t perhaps an obvious fit for me. Despite this I met a great group in the hostel, which included lots of people living in Buenos Aires so I was able to get lots of tips for my next destination.
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Despite being a massive Argentinian beach holiday destination the beaches here were pretty disappointing. There was rubbish everywhere and the whole coast is lined with high rise hotels and apartments. The bizarre thing is that none of the locals seem to notice this. They are incredibly proud of the place!
Despite a lack of sunshine on the first day I was incredibly lucky to have great weather for the following 3 days and now feel reassured my tan at least visible again! In between sunbathing a couple of friends from the hostel, Felix a very nice German and Liisa from Finland (incidentally my first Finnish friend) went on a cycling trip around the coast to see the sea lions. This did not go well. Firstly it turns out sea lions are ugly, smelly and mean animals which was very disappointing as I was expecting something much more like the incredibly cute seals I saw on the Galapagos islands. Secondly, Liisa’s bike broke half way on the trip so we had to walk all the way back. Not ideal. On the plus side we had calamari for lunch (freshly caught that day) which was absolutely delicious.
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After 4 lovely days in Mar del Plata I headed off to Buenos Aires, which has been very much long awaited given quite how much I have heard about the city.

Bariloche and 7 lakes road trip

So I finally arrived into Bariloche, a town in the Argentine lakes and in Northern Patagonia, after a 28hr bus journey. By complete chance I ended up in the most wonderful hostel. By the end of my first evening there I was sat around a table with guests and staff from various different places having a beer.
The next morning my friends from Southern Patagonia had arrived and a group of 8 of us headed out to explore. Bariloche is a beautiful city that sits on the edge of Lake Nahuel and very close by there is stunning views. One of the best ways to get around is by bike, so that is what we did. At this stage the weather was cloudy and not too cold. I decided to go with wearing shorts with the hope the sun would come out. This proved to be a bold decision.
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We took the bus a few miles from the city and arrived at the bike hire place. Conveniently there was a nice walk to a viewpoint next door which we headed up. The walk was nice, the view incredible but unfortunately it had just started to rain so we quickly headed back down the hill. The rain seemed to be light and it looked to be clearing it so we hired our bikes and set off on what we were told was a 3 hour cycle. After about 15mins the rain became torrential. It continued this way the rest of the day. The cycle ride passes through beautiful surroundings and many great photo spots. I did not see any of these. Instead we all cycled the path as quickly as we could in order to get back home. By far the highlight of the whoke experience was getting back to the bike hire shop afterwards where they had a fire, tea and chocolate for us. I think this was the first time I had laughed for around 2 hours!
However, as is often the case with these things there was a silver lining. Having survived our experience we were all suddenly great friends and that evening we cooked together (steak and wine obviously) and all felt we had earned our meal a lot more than if the weather had been good!
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The following myself, Camila and Monika (2 girls I had met in South Patagonia) hired a car to do a couple of days road trip around the area. The famous road Route 40 takes you through stunning mountain scenery and past a number of different lakes. We finally set off in the car by late morning with Camila driving and me as co-pilot. The weather continued not to be on our side, so the photos all have rather large spots of rain in them! Since we had all come from places where we had spent a lot of time hiking none of us were keen to do anymore. Instead we spent a lot of time finding good places to have coffee and ate a huge amount of amazing chocolate (a speciality of the region). This proved to be a great way to spend our time!
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Both Camila and Monika were near the end of their time in Argentina, so we decided to indulge in some of the specialities of the area which included Barbequed Patagonian lamb, fresh trout from the lake and locally produced beer. In essence our road trip was as much about food and drink as it was about scenery.
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We arrived back into Bariloche on the 3rd day and had our first day of sunshine, so we headed down to the lake to soak up some rays.
IMG_2336A group of friends from the hostel decided that we should have an asado (barbeque), so a couple of us went to the supermarket to get the food. Just as we were buying the food the girl we were with collapsed and hurt her knee. We were really worried about her, so got someone to call the ambulance. After about 10mins we hear sirens assuming the ambulance has arrived, instead 4 firefighters walk in in full dress. One of them treats my friend (remaining in full fire gear throughout, including a helmet), after about another 10mins the ambulance finally arrived and a doctor sees my friend and sends her home.
The 2 of us who had witnessed this whole episode were feeling a bit shaken up, but after a beer we were ready to get back on with our asado. By this time it was pretty late and I was told food would be ready around 11.30pm. When I complained this sounded rather late I was told to stop being so English. We had a fantastic evening and drank far too much wine. I remember being taught to salsa dance, comparing my tiny tattoo with a guy who has a tattoo sleeve and trying the local drink called fernet which is disgusting.
I got into bed at 7am. I managed to make my bus later that day, only just though. 20hrs on a bus is not fun normally, but it is significantly less fun when hungover.

El Chalten

I decided that I was fully recovered from my previous trekking experience and felt ready to hit the trails again. For this, I headed 3 hours down the road to the tiny town of El Chalten. On arrival I immediately regretted my decision. I arrived late at night and the wind made it virtually impossible to walk in a straight line. I quickly found my way to the hostel and enjoyed being back in the warm.
It seemed the only reason anyone visits El Chalten is to go walking in the Los Glacieres national park and this was telling as I walked into my hostel as everyone was wearing walking gear. I ended up chatting to a few people and talk quickly turned to the weather. The forecast for tomorrow was high winds and possibly rain, not quite what I was looking for.
I woke early on Saturday to the sound of the wind howling. Undeterred, after a quick trip to the bakery for our lunch I headed out on a 6hr walk with an equally determined German girl called Monika. Once outside of the town the weather improved and the sun even came out, however this was only a brief improvement as the weather slowly declined as the walk continued until we were walking in the snow. We were rewarded with a stunning view of the lake Torre and the glacier that runs into it. Despite the cold we managed to enjoy ourselves and definitely appreciated returning to the hostel afterwards for a cup of tea!
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On the Sunday the weather couldn’t have been more different, we woke up to glorious sunshine and for the first time I could really appreciate the beautiful surroundings to the town. I headed out early on a longer 8hr walk which would take me up to the base of the Fitzroy mountain range. This stunning mountain range (supposed to be technically one of the hardest to climb) has various peaks which were all named after the first climbers to summit them. It seems the French were very good at this as all of the names are French!
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After about an hour of walking I bumped into a Brazilian girl from my hostel called Camila and we walked the rest of the time together. This turned out to be a great turn of luck as the we had an hour of near vertical climbing to do and it was made much nicer having someone to do it with! The views we had were stunning. The mountain range itself, the lakes, glaciers and surrounding areas were very impressive and it was very clear why the park is such a popular walking destination.
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I decided that I was ready to start heading north, up to a town called Bariloche in the Argentinian lakes and hopefully some sunshine and heat. I booked onto a bus (30hrs!) for the next day. For once, both of the girls I had met were heading the same way as me so I have some friendly faces when I arrive. We have plans for a road trip..

Perito Moreno Glacier

I arrived into El Calafate on Thursday afternoon and spent the afternoon having a look around. The town itself seems to be solely there as a base for people seeing the famous Perito Moreno glacier. Along the street you pass countless tourist restaurants, tour agencies and gift shops. It is quite a nice place besides this, and the sun was shining so I was happy!
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On Friday I took the 2hr bus ride into the nearby national park to see the glacier. The reason for Perito Moreno being such a spectacle is how close you get to the glacier. There are various walkways set up at the face of the glacier and you can be around 100m from the glacier. Even to the most hard to please, it is an awe-inspiring sight. I spent the day wandering around the walkways, but mostly just sitting and watching the glacier. The glacier seems like it is alive, as you continually hear cracks and groans as it moves. We were lucky enough to see it carving, which is basically watching a huge chunk of ice fall off the glacier. Whilst this is visually spectacular it is the noice that is more impressive. As the ice falls it sounds like thunder. All in all the glacier gives you an incredible show.
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The glacier was great and my day would have been made just seeing it. However, my day was made a whole lot more interesting by the friend I made for the day. I met David, from California, on the bus on the way to the glacier and since we were both travelling alone we started chatting and ended up spending the day together. After the usual introductions we started talking about other places we had both visited (standard travelling chat…), he told me he had spent 2 years in Ukraine. I said I thought that sounded interesting (I was struggling to locate the country on a map in my head at the time) and he replied he had spent 2 years as a missionary there.
My first thoughts were that this conversation was going to take a turn for the worse. However, David was quick to mention that he no longer believed in God and had since left the Mormon church. I had met a real life ex-Mormon. Perhaps many people with a sense of tact and decorum would have left the conversation there. Not me. I spent the following 2 hours questioning David all about the Mormon church. He very kindly indulged my questions and told me a huge amount about their beliefs and what his life used to be like. Most of my responses involved me saying how weird it is or being outraged at how women are viewed as inferior in the church.
I can honestly say that David is one of the most interesting people I have met since I’ve been travelling.