Argentina


As we worked our way further along the Seven Lakes road, we began to see more and more patches of snow on the mountaintops. As it is summer there is not very much, but it’s been up there taunting me. We arrived at a campsite on a long beach on Lago Faulkner, surrounded by mountains. One of those was Mount Faulkner and we could see the patches of snow near the top and though it was big, it seemed to be within reach. We arrived with enough time to set up camp, have a quick snooze, and then start on the path that goes up the mountain.

It was a lot bigger than it looked! We climbed for a couple of hours, enjoying the ever more spectacular views as we got higher. Unfortunately Sophie was still not feeling one hundred percent and decided to stop and have a rest while I continued upward. Soon the scrubby bush that we’d been walking through became beautiful old forest with icy streams running through.

This disappeared nearer the top and I found myself climbing up through sand and loose rock and then… Snow! How exciting! It was only a small patch, 20m or so across, but I had a great time slipping and sliding around on it. I put some in my water bottle to show Sophie. Then even more climbing! It seemed to go on forever. I don’t think I got to the exact top, but I was close enough to be satisfied and was worried about Soph waiting for me, so I flew down the sandy rocky slopes. I had very sore knees when I got back to Sophie, and together we limped down the mountain. In pain, but very satisfied.

That night, we met our first Chileans! We had a great night around their fire, drinking wine and trying ever so hard to communicate with our broken Spanish and English. In the morning we exchanged emails, and will hopefully meet up again for some pisco when we pass through Santiago.

The next day we packed up and walked a kilometer down the road to the next lake. We discovered a free campsite there, but being quite busy we decided instead to trek along the shore for a couple kms to try and fine a nice looking river that I’d seen from up on the mountain. We found it a couple kms along and it turned out to be the most beautiful campsite, amongst the trees with green grass, a beautiful sheltered beach with the now obligatory crystal clear blue water, and mountains all around. A little way along was the river, which made me really keen to be more interested in trout fishing.

That day was Sophie and my three year anniversary, and it was the most beautiful spot to spend it.

In the morning I was feeling so good that I was able to get up for sunrise photos, for the first time in South America (not counting bus stations) and depite the scorching cold. There was mist on the lake and the first light hitting the snow capped mountain was really amazing but my fingers were so very sore from the cold.

Lago Falkner and Lago Villarino
Lago Falkner and Lago Villarino
Another two lakes on the Seven Lakes Road.

After a long day of hauling our bags, we arrived at our first lake, Lake Hermoso, in the late afternoon, to find that the campsite there was now closed. Not giving up, and not really having a choice either, we lugged our stuff along the 2km road to the lake itself. As the sun was slowly going down there were a few people who kindly stopped to tell us that there was no camping at Lake Hermoso, before happily carrying on their way. We smiled and nodded and kept going. As it was getting dark and Sophie was suffering from a bad headache we had to make a plan. We hopped off the road and a little way into the bush and found ourselves a nice little stealthy camp spot, tucked in a grove of bamboo. It was a very quick dinner, and then we were fast asleep.

The next day we left our little nest with day packs and spent the day exploring Lake Hermoso, another crystal clear blue lake. There were even more wild flowers here, with thousands of daisies and other flowers lining the roads. In the evening we had an early dinner on the banks of a small pool called Pudu Pudu. Lined with reeds it was very reminiscent of some of the lakes on Fraser Island.

That night our sleep was disturbed by clumbsy hoof steps and snuffling around the tent from what we decided was a wild pig. We sent him on his way with some loud clapping and could hear him crashing through the bush and the water of the pool. Once at a safe distance he snorted and grunted in disgruntlement. The rest of the night was quiet and in the morning we packed up and were able to hail a bus to the next lake along the route, Lake Faulkner.

Lago Hermoso, Siete Lagos
Lago Hermoso, Siete Lagos
Our first stop on the Seven Lakes Route from San Martin to Villa la Angostura.

For a regular wake up at 8am, sleep at 10pm person like me, living in a sun up at 5am sun down at 6pm place like Brisbane, Argentine time has been a bit of a shock to the system. At this time of year, 6pm is considered to be afternoon, the sun is only going down at 9pm and it is normal practise to only start thinking about dinner at 10pm. This means that nights out only begin after 12 and the night is unlikely to end before 4am. So we have often found ourselves waking up at midday. I hate to think what happens when people have to work the next day.

Yerba Mate (pronounced Sher-ba Mah-teh not Yeh-bah Mayt ) is an hot drink that is really big here in Argentina. It is quite an interesting process so I thought I would write up a brief description.

You will need:

  • Yerba - This is the “herb”, its something like green tea.
  • Mate - is a small pot, often very ornate and made either from a gourd or wood, Mate being a type of wood.
  • Bambilla - a metal pipe with a filter on one end, usually decorated
  • Themo - thermos flask with hot water

First the Bombilla is placed in the Mate and then Yerba is poured into the Mate, almost filling it. Water is slowly poured on top of the Yerba, taking care not to cover it completely and “drown it”. The water should be hot, but not boiling hot as this can burn the Yerba and spoil the flavour. You then suck the beverage through the Bombilla. When dry, more water is poured in and the apparatus is passed to the next participant. More Yerba is periodically added on top as required.

Now you too can drink Yerba Mate like an Argentino! Thanks to Alejandro and Manuel for the Yerbadoring instruction.

Our point of arrival in Quila Quina was a bit of a shock as at the ferry point is the arch-typical expensive, touristy, beachside cafe, humming with vacationers. The only difference was that every single one of them was speaking Spanish, and we were the only gringos. It was quite a strange experience to be in what was obviously a tourist hotspot but was completely lacking in American, Australian or Japanese voices. It seems the Argentineans and Chileans do a lot of local vacationing.

Luckily, after walking a couple kilometers, we found ourselves a campsite that was not nearly as busy. It was quiet and set in the most beautiful location on a point on the shores of Lake Lacar. It was good to finally unleash our little hiking tent, make a fire and brew ourselves some tea. With the sun out, we could now appreciate the crystal-clear, blue water of the lake lapping against the rocks. There were fields full of wind flowers everywhere, and nearby was a icy cold creek running along the rocks into the lake.

The campsite was beautiful too, with really simple wooden shacks and a very friendly, yerba mate drinking, accordion playing, camp keeper, who wafted the campsite with traditional accordion tunes in the evenings. We spent our time relaxing, eating and having swims (very short). The one day I also did a bit of an excursion up the nearby hills and got some amazing views of the lake and surrounds.

After two nights it was time to move on. Our plan was to hitchhike along the seven lakes road, but it didn’t turn out exactly as we envisioned. It started with us lugging ourselves and our gear up a couple km of steep dirt road in the hot sun while being coated with dust by the non-lift-giving cars passing by. Eventually a nice couple gave us a lift. They told us that there are busses along the seven lakes route that were quite cheap and that it might be a better idea to make use of them. We reluctantly agreed, and so it was that we found ourselves sitting at the bus station back in San Martin, which was now a lot warmer and sunnier.

Quila Quina, Lake Lacar
Quila Quina, Lake Lacar
Our first camping spot in Argentina. On the shores of Lake Lacar near San Martin.

We travelled by bus for a night and half a day through the endless, open, grassy plains of Argentina. Towards the end of the journey we started seeing the beginnings of the Andes and the road began to wind amongst some quite scary hills and cliffs. It wasn’t long before we were in the mountains at San Martin de los Andes. It is a really beautful alpine swiss looking town, with log houses, steep roofs and flowers everywhere. It was also freezing cold, wet and very windy. We spent two nights there in a hostel, but with the weather as it was, we didn’t do much other than plan our onward journey on the internet, and shop on the main street, which was lined with outdoors shops. At that stage we were wondering what we had gotten ourselves into. It was way colder than our clothes could handle so we spent hours looking through different garments and all of the hundreds of different expensive proprietary technologies that each would use to make sure I would be dry and warm. Eventually Sophie settled on a jacket, but it was all too much for me and I couldn’t decide.

After a couple of days there we decided that we should just forge on regardless of the weather, so we checked out and made our way to the pier, walking along at a tilt of 15 degrees into the howling wind. From there we caught a ferry across Lake Lacar to a camping place called Quila Quina. It was to be the start of our trip along the Seven Lakes Road (Siete Lagos) The ferry crashed its way through the waves, soaking anyone who dared pop out of the cabin to take pictures of the beautiful turqoise water. It was magical, as over the course of the trip the clouds cleared completely and we arrived in a completely different climate, still cool, but clear blue skies and a blazing sun beating down on us.

San Martin de los Andes
San Martin de los Andes
Our first stop in Patagonia! In the Andes mountains.

Bahia Blanca is a moderate sized port town about 14 hours south of Buenos Aires. It was planned to be a short stop on our way to the Lakes region and we were not sure what to expect there. It was fairly obvious when we got into our train carriage that it was not a big feature on the tourist trail as there was not a gringo to be seen. It was even more obvious after we had lugged our bags around the town for a few hours trying to find a backpackers to stay at. We were considering just continuing on, but it was my birthday the next day and I didn’t really want to spend it on a bus. Later on in the afternoon however, we got a couple of responses from the Couch Surfers of Bahia Blanca, and so began a really wonderful stay.

We were soon drinking Yerba Mate in the park with a really lovely guy called Manuel and his friend Vicki who was also amazing. Later on we met up with another guy Juan, who was going to host us for the night. For dinner he was kind enough to invite us to his fathers house where we had the classic Argentino meal, Asado, which is not unlike the classic Australian meal, the Barbeque. It was a really special occasion, and before I realised it it was past midnight and we were toasting my birthday with glasses of champagne.

In the morning, Juan, who had to study, handed us over to a couple of his friends that we had met the previous night. With Aladana and Pancho we headed out to see the sights of Bahia Blanca, which was difficult since there are not really any of note. We did go out to see the Port, third most important in Argentina, where a friendly mariner gave us an impromptu tour of his patrol boat. Later on, after getting lost and seeing most of the outer suburbs we returned to Aldana’s house for some more Mate drinking. It was really fun hanging out with Pancho and Aldana as their English was almost as bad as our Spanish, so they insisted that we try and use our Spanish.

In the evening we had another Asado with Manuel and Vicki and friends, followed by a couple of drinks at the local. So ended a very memorable birthday, so far from home, yet made to feel completely at home here in Argentina.

The next day we drove out to the Sunshine coast of Bahia Blanca. An hours drive north, Monte Hermoso is a small beach town where most of Bahia Blanca head on holiday. There were thousands of people on the beach, as far as the eye could see. Very busy compared to Aussie beaches, but Manuel told us it was actually a quiet day. It was good to have a swim though, and a very nice afternoon hangin out with our new friends. We got back just in time to swap some photos and music, pick up some food and catch our bus onwards.

So in the end, a town that we could very easily have skipped turned out to be a really great experience with some really amazing people. So far the most difficult thing about couch surfing has been saying goodbye to new friends, but we really look forward to one day seeing them again and being able to return the unbelieveable generosity and kindness they have shown us.

Bahia Blanca
Bahia Blanca
A port town in Argentina
icsasBuenos Aires was our first port of call in South America and we stumbled out of customs at 6pm with our packs on our backs and no idea where we’d be sleeping that night. With our very untested Spanish, a friendly Spanish speaking tourist and a helpful cab driver we managed to find ourselves in a backpackers an hour or so later. First impressions of Buenos Aires, in comparison with Australia, it is vast. The cab ride took us through 30km or so of apartments and buildings before we reached our hostel in the centre of the city. Inner Buenos Aires is blocks and blocks of building, packed solidly six or so stories high. There are not many skyscrapers but I was amazed by the sheer mass of “building”. Most of them are old, with facades ornately decorated with columns, carvings and gargoyles.
The next few days we spent walking the streets and visiting many of the amazing sites scattered all over the city. One of the things I noticed very early was the enourmous entrances on just about all of the old buildings, the height of which was far higher than I would be able to reach even with a jump. I was not able to find out the reason for this and can only assume that previous generations of Argentinos were of gigantic proportions.
The Tango is hugely popular. All over the city we saw street tango performances, tango bars, tango shows with dinner and advertisements for tango lessons. Unfortunately we didn’t get a chance to do any lessons.
The shopping oppurtunites were tremendous, with endless shops, street sellers selling stuff and markets. With our limited budget this was a very painful experience for Sophie. It was not easy for me either when we discovered an entire road full of second hand camera shops.
Also of note, dinning in Buenos Aires means Parilla, or barbeque. It seemed like every restaurant was one, each serving flame grilled huge steaks, sausages, entrails or a big pile of all of those. Luckily some of them also served pasta or pizza which were quite nice. Eating out was very affordable by Aussie standards, especially for the huge piles of meat, but not dirt cheap. What was dirt cheap though was alcohol. From the supermarket, local beers came in one litre bottles for the equivalent of about one US dollar. The wine is also really nice, but priced much closer to what we would pay in Australia.
For me though, the highlight of our trip so far has been the experience of meeting up and staying with our new friend Alejandro. This came about through the CouchSurfing website. It is a free online service that allows travellers, such as ourselves, to link up with locals who have a spare bed or couch that they are willing to share. The ultimate goal of the website is to promote cultural exchange. We were already very excited about the whole idea, but we had yet to see it work in practise. And so it was when we met up with Alejandro for coffee, and to sus each other out. Coincidentally he was as new to CouchSurfing as we were, but in the end we spent two nights with him, during which time he was unbelieavably kind and accomodating. He took time to show us around his neighbourhood, helped us out with problems we were having with our new phone line, gave us heaps of advice on where else we should visit and so much more. There was much sharing of stories, music recipes and youtube videos. Unfortunately the most Australian meal we could think of was pumpkin pie and anzac biscuits which we made for us last night. It was a really great experience, I feel like we came to Buenos Aires as tourists and left as visitors. I highly recommend getting involved if you are a travelling or if have a free couch and would like to make some friends form other countries.
As I write this we are on a train heading south to a town on the coast called Bahia Blanco. We’re not really sure what we will find there but it was recommended by Alejandro and is on our intended route inland to the Lakes Region near the Andes.
My favourite new things discovered:
CouchSurfing
Dulche de Leche (”Milk Jam” its like a milky caramel and goes with icecream, toast, anything really)
Fernet (An Italian herbal spirit popular in parts of Argentina, goes with Coke and lots of ice)
Yerba Mate (Sort of like tea, its drunk from a gourd pot through a filtering straw)

Buenos Aires was our first port of call in South America and we stumbled out of customs at 6pm with our packs on our backs and no idea where we’d be sleeping that night. With our very untested Spanish, a friendly Spanish speaking tourist and a helpful cab driver we managed to find ourselves in a backpackers an hour or so later. First impressions of Buenos Aires, in comparison with Australia, it is vast. The cab ride took us through 30km or so of apartments and buildings before we reached our hostel in the centre of the city. Inner Buenos Aires is blocks and blocks of building, packed solidly six or so stories high. There are not many skyscrapers but I was amazed by the sheer mass of “building”. Most of them are old, with facades ornately decorated with columns, carvings and gargoyles.

The next few days we spent walking the streets and visiting many of the amazing sites scattered all over the city. One of the things I noticed very early was the enourmous entrances on just about all of the old buildings, the height of which was far higher than I would be able to reach even with a jump. I was not able to find out the reason for this and can only assume that previous generations of Argentinos were of gigantic proportions.

The Tango is hugely popular. All over the city we saw street tango performances, tango bars, tango shows with dinner and advertisements for tango lessons. Unfortunately we didn’t get a chance to do any lessons.

The shopping oppurtunites were tremendous, with endless shops, street sellers selling stuff and markets. With our limited budget this was a very painful experience for Sophie. It was not easy for me either when we discovered an entire road full of second hand camera shops.

Also of note, dinning in Buenos Aires means Parilla, or barbeque. It seemed like every restaurant was one, each serving flame grilled huge steaks, sausages, entrails or a big pile of all of those. Luckily some of them also served pasta or pizza which were quite nice. Eating out was very affordable by Aussie standards, especially for the huge piles of meat, but not dirt cheap. What was dirt cheap though was alcohol. From the supermarket, local beers came in one litre bottles for the equivalent of about one US dollar. The wine is also really nice, but priced much closer to what we would pay in Australia.

For me though, the highlight of our trip so far has been the experience of meeting up and staying with our new friend Alejandro. This came about through the CouchSurfing website. It is a free online service that allows travellers, such as ourselves, to link up with locals who have a spare bed or couch that they are willing to share. The ultimate goal of the website is to promote cultural exchange. We were already very excited about the whole idea, but we had yet to see it work in practise. And so it was when we met up with Alejandro for coffee, and to sus each other out. Coincidentally he was as new to CouchSurfing as we were, but in the end we spent two nights with him, during which time he was unbelieavably kind and accomodating. He took time to show us around his neighbourhood, helped us out with problems we were having with our new phone line, gave us heaps of advice on where else we should visit and so much more. There was much sharing of stories, music recipes and youtube videos.

Unfortunately the most Australian meal we could think of was pumpkin pie and anzac biscuits which we made for us last night. It was a really great experience, I feel like we came to Buenos Aires as tourists and left as visitors. I highly recommend getting involved if you are a travelling or if have a free couch and would like to make some friends form other countries.

As I write this we are on a train heading south to a town on the coast called Bahia Blanco. We’re not really sure what we will find there but it was recommended by Alejandro and is on our intended route inland to the Lakes Region near the Andes.

My favourite new things discovered:

  • CouchSurfing
  • Dulche de Leche (”Milk Jam” its like a milky caramel and goes with icecream, toast, anything really)
  • Fernet (An Italian herbal spirit popular in parts of Argentina, goes with Coke and lots of ice)
  • Yerba Mate (Sort of like tea, its drunk from a gourd pot through a filtering straw)

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