One giant leap for Dekan part 12

So the trip from Cordoba slowly fades from my mind as I struggle to understand why my airline (Aerolineas) has changed my airports forcing me to get a 2 hour bus transfer across Buenos Aires to get my connecting flight to El Calafate…

Anyway the plane is old, the snack is a packet of mini cheddars, but soon I drop off to sleep (for all of 15mins) I’m woken by the fact that my tray table is still down because no-one’s collected the empty cardboard box that contained my scrumptious nuts and cereal bar! Lol

Anyway the three hour flight is over and we land in what appears to be a desert… No lie! I only just manage to see the Tarmac of the runaway literally seconds before we touch down. As is customary (so I’ve found) passengers clap on successful landings…and then immediately proceed to get out of there seats to retrieve their belongings from the overhead lockers well before the ‘plane has come to a complete stop at the airport gate’.

Stepping off the plane I’m greeted by the bluest sky I’ve ever seen – the landscape is truly amazing (but this is nothing) Soon I’ve collected my bags and instead of doing the backpackers ‘wait for the local bus’ I hop in a cab for the 20min break-neck speed ride into El Calafate town.

The town appears from nowhere as we hurtle towards it…

And to be honest my first impression is as I’d been told. It’s a tourist town – catering for all your tourist needs – hiking, trekking, climbing, skiing, cycling – you name it, you can pretty much do it here!

My hostel is just off the main strip near the bus station. It’s clean, doesn’t smell, and has decent size dorms. As I’m escorted to my room by the helpful manager, she opens the door to reveal that I will be sharing the room. I’d been kinda praying that I’d be lucky enough to have my own space, but alas this is a hostel not the Hilton!

After unpacking the basics- which basically means nothing, I dump my bags into my locker and head towards the main strip, eager to book the adventure I’d travelled all the way down here for – glacier trekking!

As I walk through be hoards of travellers each more kitted out in outdoor year than the previous, I arrive at Hielo & Aventura – the only glacier adventure tour operator in town.

After 5 seconds of careful thinking I decide to book the ‘big trek’ – eight hours trekking and hiking around the Perito Moreno glacier. There’s just time to hire some ankle high trekking boots and gloves… Apparently the most important items I’d need. Before heading back to the hostel there’s jus enough time to stop a local restaurant to sample the famous local dish of Patagonian lamb. It’s a whole lamb that’s seasoned and left to cook over an open grill for hours until the meat is tender and the skin is crispy like pork crackling. The half portion I ordered ended up as a full one, and I tried my best; but I couldn’t finish it. It also might have something to do with the large portion of sweet potato fries I ordered too 🙂

Once back in hostel heaven, I find out my roomy is Japanese and although not speaking great English he tells me that the ‘big ice’ trek is the best! I fall asleep eagerly anticipating my adventurous day ahead.

6am and my internal alarm wakes me up. Still a little groggy I somehow manage to shower, dress and pack my bag of supplies – water and biscuits! (I’m sure I’ve seen Ray Mears pack something similar) 🙂

My tour guide, Mario arrives at 7am and I’m whisked away on the transfer bus to see some more hotels and hostels as he collects the seven other trekkers. (Is it just me or do you look at other peoples hotels/hostels and wonder whether you should have stayed there instead..lol)

No way

We make our way into the national park (Parque Nacional Los Glaciares). and towards glacier Perito Moreno.

The approach is a scenic as ever… Beautiful rolling hills surround the road as we travel through barren roads. Then just as I think I can’t take anymore – I see the lake… So so blue! And then in the distance in the middle of the lake separating the mainland from a small island is a mass of white! That, we’re told is the glacier!

How can that be I think to myself? My head is trying to comprehend the sheer size of it (200 sq km).

We get closer and closer, and as you are fully aware, objects get bigger when they get closer… But this big?! I still can’t believe it… This mass of white is enormous! We drive with the glacier to our right and continue straight towards the viewing platform.

Did I say Wow before??? The noise created by the moving ice as it scraps against itself, is haunting, especially as we are the only people there. Then just out of the blue, interrupting our picture taking, we see a large chunk of ice break free and fall to its icy doom into the freezing water…

The sight is awesome, but the sound that follows is heart-stopping! We’re so lucky to have seen this. People come and wait for hours to get a glimpse at this, and in 15 minutes we’ve seen it all. Next stop is the glacier itself! (And I’m excited)

We drive back to a small port, that sits next to the glacier. Up close and personal now and I’m still in awe of its size!

We travel by boat to the small island and begin our hour long trek through the forest towards the glacier. We’re not doing the mini ice trek that takes you over the tip of the iceberg, we’re trekking for an hour through the forest before hopping on the ice in a more secluded spot and spending 3 hours covering it’s beautiful terrain.

At this point I would write more, but I won’t. I think the pictures say all I need to say about this truly magical place! Enjoy!

20130211-102147.jpg

20130211-102249.jpg

20130211-102305.jpg

20130211-102316.jpg

20130211-102329.jpg

20130211-102343.jpg

20130211-102436.jpg

20130211-102452.jpg

20130211-102525.jpg

Advertisements

One giant leap for Dekan part 9

The bus

So before coming on my trip to South America I spoke to numerous friends, who had had fabulous experiences here, and all of them bar none, told me that I should make sure I travelled on the bus/coach (similar to National Express) at least once.

Initially I found this strange. Paying to travel upwards of 7 hours on a confined bus didn’t appeal to me one bit. But my friends insisted saying that traveling on a coach in Argentina was like traveling in first class on a plane (when you paid for the cama seats).

I found this very hard to believe, but after checking out the website images and the costs (a cama seat is only about £10-20 more than the normal seat) I decided, albeit reluctantly to give it a go!

So ticket booked, I arrived at Retiro bus station, which for be main international bus station in Buenos Aires, could do with tearing down and starting again!

The immediate area around the bus station is full of people trying to sell you tat, this isn’t the problem. The issue for me was that this is potentially the first place people will see when they arrive in Buenos Aires and it doesn’t give a good impression. The streets are dirty with rubbish and food waste – it’s really no comparison to the beauty of the city I’d seen earlier that week! And that kinda upset me…

Anyway I navigate myself through the mess and the hundreds of fellow travellers all making their way inside and to find my coach ‘platform’. I look at a a nearby screen, but that doesn’t really help. Then I find someone to ask and in spang-lish we figure out hat my bus…coach departs from the furthered platform to where I am – typical!

As I near the platform there are a row of buses all bearing the Andesmar coach company logo – I’m in the right place!

A quick look on the screen, but I can’t see my bus anywhere.. I walk up to the driver and show him my ticket, he grabs it, spends a few moments looking at it and then hands it back to me pointing to another bus. So I walk over to this bus (remember that I’m still carrying a 16kg backpack and 6kg hand luggage in 30 degree heat!)

Pushing my way through the crowds, who are exactly the same situation I am, uncertain as to whether the bus they’re about to step on will take them to the destination they paid for or some other place….

Finally I get to the second driver and discover that my coach will arrive in 10minutes – lovely! I stand and wait….

I’m nervous and slightly excited. Why? Because of the look I get from the baggage handler when I can only give him 5 Pesos because that’s the change I’ve got, and excited because I’ve never travelled in first claw before.. I‘m feeling pretty optimistic.

Living the dream

So it’s time to board. I step inside and wow – my initial impression is ok. The cama ‘bed’ seats are downstairs. There are about eight seats all looking back at me eager to recline. They’re leather looking… But tired. I can imagine that whine this coach first went into service this would have been creme de la creme of travel. But by the look of these chairs they’d seen more than their fair share of hot sweaty bottoms!

The seats are comfortable, and as the picture on he website illustrated, they do recline all the way back providing some comfort for tired bodies.

Again I’m not sure whether it was because my friends sold me such great stories, and It just didn’t live up to the vivid images I’d conjured up in my mind, or whether it was simply that this was the standard and that was that!

Either way I was happy I’d chosen to book the cama seat, even if it was a little old – at least it would make the 15 hour trip a little easier to swallow!

Time flies when your having fun

I on the other hand as not having that much fun… When they said it would take 15 hours they meant it! Despite the reclining chair, the game of bingo (which helped massively with me understanding numbers, the inflight ‘not actually on a flight’ food which was ok, and the challenge of not spilling my complimentary glass of red wine all over myself after every bump in the road, I never knew 15 hours could go so slowly!

Alas night drew in and I fell asleep watching Batman: The dark knight rises, dubbed in Spanish. Unfortunately that didn’t help with my language skills!

Finally dawn broke and we were nearly at our destination. Another tray of ore-packaged food crossed my lap and as the rubbish was being cleared away we arrived at Mendoza!

To Malbec or not to Malbec

Like Retiro, Mendoza bus station isn’t much to look at, but I found the layout and general cleanliness of the place much better! I jumped in a taxi – and headed to my second homestay house!

The house, or apartment was situated on the road in Mendoza, full of various bars and restaurants. At first I was a little concerned, but once I found out the block where the apartment was, was set back from the road it was a big relief!

After setting my stuff in the room i was allocated, was more or less an annex used by the family’s children to keep their table tennis table I was kindly invited to share their lunch too!

In a variation of Spanglish we talked about what I did in London, what the family did, how long my trip was going to be and finally sat around my phone laughing at the comical episodes of my ‘Dekan Does’ series.

After a shower and a little rest, I decided to venture out into Mendoza and get a lay of the land.

As I mentioned I was struck by the numerous bars on the main road – this was definitely a party city, and by the number of chairs that were being put out; tonight (Saturday) was going to be a busy night!

For me though it was about trying the wine, after all that’s the thing that Mendoza is famous for!

I popped into a local restaurant following a recommendation from from a friend and ordered my first Milanese – a beef schnitzel if you will – deliciously crisp and light topped off with a fried egg! And to accompany my main, a glass of the house red….But what a house red! No sharp after taste, no burn on the throat, just lots of flavour and very, very, very smooth! My next stop would have to be a winery!

20130122-220731.jpg

20130122-220745.jpg

20130122-220817.jpg

20130122-220757.jpg

One giant leap for Dekan part 2

So couch surfing… For those that don’t know – you better get to know! As I once said in my youth. It’s the future (I know it’s been around for ages – check this out link), but I never really understood or appreciated its benefits. It’s the ability to go away and have a ready made friend/acquaintance structure in place. Set up to help travellers not feel so lonely and provide a comfortable couch with ready made local guides – couch surfing should only be celebrated. Politicians and governments take note! Your people enjoy the company of other cultures and want to know more about the places in the world- quit being so short-sighted and couch surf!

Enough ranting…

So couch surfing. Before I left I signed up to the website and sent a few requests out – not asking for a couch, but more to meet local people and others that had trodden the path I was about to… Searching on the website I was immediately presented with numerous options about where to go… Where to meet etc.. I decided on a couch surfing meeting that was scheduled for the day I arrived… No need to waste time!

So after lunch, a nap, a shower and one last look at my huge bed (see pic) I ventured from the perceived safety of my hotel (don’t worry I do embrace the travelling way later on) to a bar I’d never heard of, in a city I’d never been to, to meet people that didn’t know me from Adam!

After the obligatory getting lost phase of my journey I arrived at the plush Milion bar ( check it out). I was greeted by some stares, some smiles, and then a voice that welcomed me into the fold! At least seventy CS members had turned up, either alone, or with friends they’d made on the way. I talked and talked, exchanged stories, laughed, gasped, and in the end decided that I’d had one of the best 4/5 hour experiences in my life… Profound but true!

I met travellers, architects, language students (loads of these), graphic designers, you name it they were there. All gathered with no animosity, no chips on shoulders, just people coming together to share cultures and experiences! I absolutely loved it!

Unfortunately home beckoned after it reached 3am, but not to fear I’d organised a tour of Buenos Aires with a fellow surfer… Can’t wait!

20130107-012748.jpg

20130107-012759.jpg

20130107-012818.jpg