Category Archives: Argentina

Grape escape

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There was a very good reason why we crossed the border back into Argentina from Chile, making a bee-line for Mendoza….Wine, wine and more wine! We were on a mission to try as many good wines as we possibly could in three days – whilst trying to remember what they actually tasted like! No mean feat with hundreds of wineries on our doorstop to choose from, growing grape varietals such as Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah and the infamous Malbec and Torrentes. With rather a lot of success these days… Or so it would seem from the 90+ scores given by Robert Parker, the acclaimed critic. Argentina, one of the New World wine suppliers, is considered the fifth largest wine producer in the world, with Mendoza and the vineyards in the province, producing two thirds of this. The region contains 223,000 hectares of planted vineyards, compared to 400,000 in France, with some 280 wineries opened between 2001 to 2007. Malbec is very much the flagship grape; originally brought over from France in 1855, it thrives in the continental climate and semi arid dessert conditions of Mendoza, perfectly suited to the terroir. With vineyards planted at altitudes between 800 – 1100m, Lujan de Cuyo, is very much the epicentre for this emblematic wine of Argentina.

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Magical Malbec grapes

We decided against DIY; neither of us fancying our chances of making it on bikes all the way out to the Uco Valley, or navigating the city after a few glasses in a hire car. We were keen to learn more about the process and varietals and had noted a handful of vineyards we would be keen to see…. none of them were close to each other.

Cellars at Alto Vista

Cellars at Alto Vista

Notebook in hand and open mind we opted to go with Ampora, a well known wine tour operator for the first two days that offered full on guided tastings and we were so glad we did. Not only were Majo and Alex great hosts cum tour guides, they each added a different dimension; Majo, Mendocino history, culture plus her amazing personality and wine knowledge and Alex, a breadth of technical knowledge that was astounding coupled with a great passion for wine; he had just graduated from his degree in wine making.. Before we arrived at each of the chosen bodegas we were given a brief potted history. It was so interesting to learn about each of the predominately European funded vineyards, their preferred viticulture methods before we began tasting; the tours were given with great passion and pride and you couldn’t help but feel an almost reverential hush fall as we stepped into each of the cool and inviting cellars. Over the three days we met agronomists, owners, along with first and second winemakers – all keen to give us an insight into their world.

Tasting room good to go

Tasting room good to go

Spit or swallow… It’s just one of those questions you have to ask. We did both. With twenty odd wines to taste on our first day, we couldn’t possibly quaff all of them and remain coherent. So we studied the colour and savoured the aroma, before taking a slurp across the tongue and palate; occasionally doing ‘the right thing’ and making use of the spitoons. And took notes … decidedly more legible at the start of each day!

Behind closed doors... Private cellar at AV

Behind closed doors… Private cellar at AV

On day one we joined by a handful of Americans as we headed to Lujan de Cuyo, less than 20km south of Mendoza. First stop Bodega Altavista, an really attractive and well established winery, with old vines dating back to 1889, it also doubles up as the French Consulate. Here we had our first taste of Torrontes – known as the “liar” – for a good reason – on the nose an aromatic perfume like Viognier yet on the palate a complex and refreshing citrus finish similar to Sauvignon Blanc.. Unexpected and delicious, it was a show stopper. We actually tried their full range of top shelf wines, from sparkling to their single vineyard Malbec, plus another newbie for us, the Italian grape Bonarda. One wine we didn’t get to try was their Alta Vista ‘Alto’ 1998… Around $2900 AP, or £380 a bottle, we didn’t blame them for not opening it!

The bar had been set and we were not disappointed, as the hits kept on coming.

Wine painting in the cellars  of Kaiken

Wine painting in the cellars of Kaiken

Next stop, Bodega Kaiken, with its pretty covered pergola overlooking the vineyard we ate our first grapes, straight from the vines. Deliciously sweet the Merlot grapes were weeks away from their hand picked harvest. Their Malbec Kaiken Rose caught our attention; the deep rich rose colour a result of 24 hour contact with the grape skins, an aroma that reminded us of cherries and candy floss, it tasted of bananas and melon…we imagined savouring it with a plate of chorizo and octopus in a sun-drenched beach cafe.

Barrel art at Pulenta

Barrel art at Pulenta

With slightly squiffy heads, we were glad that we would soon be filling our bellies. After a pitstop at Pulenta Estate and a tasting that left us favouring the deep red, spicy yet sweet berry Merlot 2008, we headed to Ruca Malen for lunch, with perfect wine pairing (natch). Our table was the last to leave as we lingered over our five course lunch. We sighed over our starter of goat cheese truffle with dried chilli matched with a Yauguen Torrentes and giggled as our third course of Quartirolo cheese and chorizo, beautifully matched with their 2006 Malbec, came with it’s own presentation “map” under the glass plate. Stuffed to bursting after a full day of wine tasting and wine pairing lunch, we were in need of a power nap, before we could do anything else. Casa Lila, our temporary home for the rest of our stay, also gave us a great taste of Mendocino hospitality. A few blocks from the main drag, it was charm personified; beyond the pretty worn iron gates, it was an oasis of peace and tranquility. Just what we needed after a “hard” day of tasting! Yep, gluttons for a good thing, we both knew come 8pm we would be ready for another food fix and more wine! Matt had yet to completely embrace Argentine late night dining. Mind you, even I struggled getting my head around sitting down for a ‘proper’ dinner at 11pm – the reservation time offered for a table inside one particular popular restaurant. We dined outside, serenaded by street musicians, as we tucked into a langoustine salad for me and Costelata de cerdo, pork chop, for Matt… Washed down with our new found favourite, a bottle of Torrentes.

En route to Uco

En route to Uco

Ready for round two, we got up early and embraced our first sunny day in Mendoza as we headed for the hills and Uco Valley. With just four of us (we were joined by two young wine buffs who had friends/family that owned their own vines) and the prospect of a tour and lunch at O Fournier, we were in for a treat.

Tank tasting at Altitude

Tank tasting, at altitude

With a special backdrop of the Andes, vines at altitude and high tech holding tanks, Bodega Atamisque was our starting point for the day and second tank tasting; gingerly we sniffed and sipped the murky liquid offered – full of sediment, you could just about detect the top notes of a soft fruity finish. Within thirty minutes the sediment settled and the wine took on a refreshing and slightly florally almond taste; with less than a week in the tank, it showed great promise and would eventually emerge as their Sparkling Cave Extreme. We were completed divided on whether or not we preferred their Catalpa 2011 Pinot Noir or Merlot. Tough call to make at 11 in the morning!

Straight from the barrel

Straight from the barrel

Gimenez Rilli was an unexpected gem. Not only because we toured with one of the owners, but we tasted one of the finest Malbecs we had ever tasted – from the barrel, a month into its maturation, whilst nibbling cheese and quince in the tasting room. With great pleasure we eagerly hoovered up the steaming hot carne empanadas as we worked our way through several of both their Torrentes and Malbecs. The clear winner? Gran Reserva 2008 with its deep red-violet colour and classic taste of cherry, chocolate, spice and vanilla. It was delicious.

Corn-ucopia...

Corn-ucopia….

Steak and Malbec moment at O.F

Steak and Malbec moment at O.F

We headed further towards the foothills and the incredible looking and super high tech, Bodega O. Fournier. With a restaurant overlooking a lake teeming with trout and the Andes, it was a magical setting for our five course lunch; a twist on classic dishes from Argentina and Spain, matched with some of their best wines. Steak aside – which was cooked to perfection – medium rare and came with a red mojo sauce, the starter, Duo de humita en chalk y cazuela, a thick corn stew served with the savoury cake of corn, came with a first rate glass of Urban Uco Malbec 2011. Spying the well placed deck chairs, it was difficult dragging ourselves away, as we wrestled with thoughts of a siesta, sprawled out on the terrace. Not only were we stuffed to bursting, we polished off another bottle of their B Crux 2008, a heady blend of Tempranillo, Malbec and Merlot, after lunch!

Lazy like a Sunday morning...

Lazy like a Sunday morning…


On the third day, we were almost relieved to be only visiting one vineyard, Trivento, in Maipu, and home to the production of a wine we had sampled a few times at home, La Chamiza. This time round we got to meet the winemaker and sample with him. We were not disappointed, as each glass surpassed the previous one. Our favourite (natch) was the much heralded Martin Alsina Malbec 2008 and their top end wine. With a bottle in hand we headed back into Mendoza for a hearty lunch.

The most consistent and striking observation we made, over the three days, was just how incredibly well structured the mid to top end wines we sampled were. More so given their age, or serious lack of. So many of them made the cut, it would be difficult to pick our all time favourite, although we will defo be looking out for Torrentes on our return. I would like to say we could spot a Malbec at ten paces – just by the colour – although that just might be wishful thinking!!

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Mooching in Mendoza

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Arriving at Mendoza was a shock to the system. After the hazy sunshine of Santiago we were met with grey cloudy skies and rain. Torrential at that; it bounced off the runway tarmac on our approach and we could clearly see major pooling beneath row upon row, of vines, huge puddles on some roads and water coursing along the acequias, irrigation ditches. Essentially a desert town with max 20cm of rainfall a year, it was far from the welcome we were expecting.

Sleepy leafy streets

Sleepy leafy streets

On Easter Sunday morning the city was still very much asleep, with a handful of flowers vendors setting up their stalls for business and the odd proud home owner out sweeping and cleaning the grey and ochre tiled veradas in front of their property.

imageMendoza, with it’s wide avenues, mix of historic and modern architecture, plazas and parques came across as a relaxed yet traditional city (Mendocinos do observe the siesta) full of flavour and culinary promise; Argentine, Italian plus the odd Middle Eastern cafes and restaurants line the streets of Av Sarmiento, Aristides Villanueva, Montevideo and Av Juan B Justo, to name but a few. We tried to imagine the buzz along these streets on a glorious sunny Saturday afternoon, or balmy evening; restaurants and cafes brimming with chatter and the smell of grilled meat, seafood, rich tomato sauce and fresh breads. Anything, rather than how they appeared on a cold wet Sunday mid morning!!

As we couldn’t check into our “one night only” hotel for several hours, we donned waterproofs and walked the quiet tree lined avenues, fallen leaves and rain making tiled veradas, slick beneath our feet.

Local Heroes - SM & OH

Local Heroes – SM & OH

With hardly a soul around it took us no time to figure out the ‘lay of the land’, the five plazas providing points of interest and reference; the main plaza, Plaza Indepencia, in the centre and four smaller ones, Chile, Espana, Italia and Plaza San Martin, but two blocks from the corners of the main plaza. They were all added when the city was rebuilt after the massive earthquake in 1861, each unique plaza with it’s fountain(s) and decoration offering something different, aside from a space to hang out and contemplate life. Our favourites; Plaza Espana with its traditional and pretty mosaic walls depicting life in Mendoza and numerous tiled fountains and Plaza Chile with it’s sturdy sculpture of the two liberation leaders O’Higgins and San Martin.

Surprisingly the city seemed to have suffered more than it’s fair share of juvenile tagging along benches, walls and the odd sculpture; the dioramas depicting Mendoza’s history on Av Las Heras having also fallen foul of vandalism too.

Bedside reading outside banco hipo...

Bedside reading outside banco hipo…

We took in the nearby Iglesia y Basilica de San Francisco, with it’s image of the Virgin of Cuyo and patron of the ‘Army of the Andes’, considered more miraculous than anything because both church and chamber survived the ’68 earthquake. Outside and inside the former Banque Hipocetario Nacional, modern art reigned supreme, with a mix of local and national art exhibitions.

Stumbling across a Carrefour superstore, we got very excited – like a couple of real saddos, we took time and great pleasure, peeking along the aisles, examining what was on offer; household, beauty products, not to mention the massive food section, price checking and looking for things we hadn’t seen before – eyeing covertly (or at least we tried to) trolleys and baskets to see what ‘the locals’ were buying, we stood out like a sore thumb in the checkout queue – all our basket offered up was empanada cutters, coffee ‘socks’, fresh ground Lavazza coffee, suntan lotions and mosie repellant. Hardly a gourmet meal in the making.

One of many fountains - Pl Indepencia

One of many fountains – Pl Indepencia

Like the rest of Argentina, the city really came awake post sundown, all around the grassy lawns of Plaza Indepencia, more stalls were being set up, selling souvenirs, carved bone handle knives, leather goods, jewellery and plenty of knick knacks. We walked along Av Sarmiento towards the eastern peatonal, the pedestrian section, awash with cafes and bars starting to spill onto the pavement and chose a cafe for its “wifi zonal” sign. Bad move. Although the wifi and service were both pretty good, the pizza was far from. In fact it was probably one of the worst we have eaten. Ever. Consoling ourselves with the upgraded Malbec we were offered, we checked our emails.

Thankfully our choice of dining establishments and lodgings improved over the next few days!!

All day fave - Maria Antonieta

All day fave – Maria Antonieta

We were recommended Maria Antonieta and for a good reason. Resembling a French styled version of Fergus Henderson’s ‘St John’, with an open kitchen, it offered the best bread we had tasted and incredible up-market cafe dining. The tarta del dia, pumpkin on the day I tried it, was huge, even by a navvies yardstick and totally divine. As was the mixta salad with the bitterest of arugula leaves and sweetest tomatoes. I polished the lot off.

"Light" lunch - pumpkin tart

“Light” lunch – pumpkin tart

Azafran at night

Azafran at night

Azafran, was so good, we actually returned for a second helping. This may have been partly because I had a classic case of food envy first time round. Matt had ordered the Costeta de cerdo, pork chops with a traditional lentil stew and sticky beer reduction, whereas I had gone for the simple langoustine salad with avocado and Parmesan galettes. Don’t get me wrong, it was delicious – just not in the same league.

Eyeing up the wine cellar

Eyeing up the wine cellar

Did I mention that there isn’t really a wine list? Instead you can pop into the cellar and choose from the racks, sommeliers on tap to offer a guiding hand. The decor inside, if you can get a table (we did, second time around) is rustic shabby chic and quite a draw card by itself. And they served the meanest and poshest empanadas we had tasted to date; Molleja y champinion, Chorizo con cebolla and Morcilla y parmesano. A meaty mix of sweetbreads, sausage and black pudding versions with a tomato concasse.
What more could you ask for??

Mmm... Empanadas

Mmm… Empanadas

Checkpoint Chile

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We were both sad to leave El Calafate as we hadn’t really given ourselves much time to chill or look around, or, eat our fill of ice-cream. Yep, the Calafate berry and dulce leche combo had truly won us over! We were obvs destined to return another time…

The bus, packed full of locals and touristas alike, sped along the steppe. From the window we caught sight of huemels and gaunacos grazing on the open grassland plus small flocks of flamingos…. The stakes in our game of ‘spot the wildlife’ had gotten much higher!!

After hearing Sofia’s “horror” story of how she nearly got fined $5000 ARP for forgetting she had a banana in her bag, we thought carefully about what we were taking over the border into Chile; I was neither blond, cute or fluent in Spanish (she had spent 18 moths in Rosario) so would not be able to blag my way out of a cell for bringing in contraband! Plus, let’s face it, we weren’t really prepared to visit a prison cell for carrying organic Scottish oats! Like the good honest citizens we were, we mentally prepared a list of the trekking staples we had with us… Just in case.

We filled out one set of immigration forms, in duplicate, then another set in triplicate, then a third set (suspiciously identical to the first) plus finally the all important declaration. Even if we had a better grasp of Spanish, it probably would still have probably felt like a bit of a farce; we got off the bus, ID’d our bags, declared our oats and dried fruit goodies (greeted with a whatevs shrug), picked up our bags (with a side trip thru the scanners) and got back on the bus.

We were now in Chile. Whoop-whoop!

Arriving at Puerto Natales was “interesting”. Our bus threaded its way along through the ‘burbs and, without warning, pulled up on one of the main drags into town. Not quite what we expected, even with what looked like a bus terminal sign a block or so away. The end of the line it would seem and obvs “the norm” as out of nowhere people appeared; touting for business, hostels and taxi service alike, with makeshift placards bearing passenger names. Had we been a bit more savvy as to the drop off point, we would have sorted out onward transport too!

As the other passengers dispersed, Matt hailed a cab and with a pit stop at an ATM, we made our way to Espacio Kau. Has to be said, “the boy done good”. One of the trendier places in town it was smack on the sound/seafront and had its own cheeky cafe. Result!! I could already taste the freshly brewed coffee with my breakie tomorrow …

Sidewalk and serenity

Sidewalk and serenity

Indigo on the Sound

Indigo on the Sound

Puerto Natales is the jumping off point for Torres del Paine and the 200 odd hectares that make up the national park; a colourful and imaginative mix of low-level painted corrugated homes and shops, really modern design-led spaces and ramshackle old brick buildings. We liked the seaside-cum-travellers vibe that sat side-by-side its small town sensibility with municipal gardens, churches and clean wide pavements.

City colours

City colours

With diets that had been somewhat lacking in fresh fruit and veg, we drooled over the oranges, apples, peaches, plums and pears piled high in the shop window of the local supermarket. Plump juicy raisins, dried mango, cranberries and cashews were added to our shopping basket to take trekking with us. We got over the fact we couldn’t find wheat crackers and tins of tomato sauce drenched fish for our lunches… instead we would munch on lomo vetado, salami and queso oveja.

Simple yet sumptuous ... la Picada de Carlitos

Simple yet sumptuous … la Picada de Carlitos

Tummies rumbling from missing lunch and our supermarket sweep, we realised we were a tad too early for supper (it was only 6pm). Bugger! Tempers soon began to fray as we searched the streets for somewhere (read anywhere) that was open. We lucked upon La Picada de Carlitos, a restaurant split into two with the main restaurant side closed and the more local refectory style dining open. Half a dozen families sat eating and we ordered what we thought what would tide us over til supper ‘proper’….OMG it was a mountain of food! Matt’s cheeky starter ensalada of agucata y pollo, with it’s whole avocado filled with chicken was enough for four alone. We sighed with immense relief we had only ordered pollo a la plancha, grilled chicken and chuleta de cerdo, pork chop with a couple of simple mixta salads, as we spied a table across the room…. Giggles erupted as their mains arrived …. The parilladas, mixed grill they had ordered (for one) could have fed a family of four!

'Swimmin' in the sunset at Last Hope Sound

‘Swimmin’ in the sunset at Last Hope Sound

Stuffed to bursting, we ambled along the waterfront and watched the setting sun across the sound.

Camping and caffeine

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It all began in Nepal. The practice of “bed tea” brought to gently awaken and refresh the quietly slumbering walker on a “tea house” trek… Sign me up for a Lifetime subscription! I swear I don’t fire on all cylinders without a java fix. Incorporated into the pre-nup (natch), this tradition was eagerly adopted in our household with Matt invariably getting up to make coffee in bed, come hell or high water. Yep. Spoilt.

Fast forward to this trip… A lot of thought had gone into which blend and indeed what method would be adopted to get the perfect camp brew. Research done, investment was made into a nifty little HD Ortlieb waterproof filter holder, with cheeky welded loops to slot tent pegs in (to hold it over your camp cup). Neat or wot?!

We foolishly used up our supply of Union Hand Roasted revelation blend in Buenos Aires and Ushuaia and had to include coffee in our supermarket sweep in Calafate. Decision time; we had seen various coffee brand names posted outside confiterias, yet none of them were represented on the shelves. We settled for Super Cabrales; a name we vaguely recognised, but missed the connection between ‘torrado‘,roast and azucar, sugar. All of the brightly coloured foil pouches before us had, during roasting or post, a percentage of sugar added. We are not complete coffee geeks, but it does make you wonder how bad the beans might be if you have to add sugar from the get-go, right?….

The fab filter had to be tweaked as the grind was that little bit finer than our ‘home grown’ and tested blends – Matt the ever professional bed tea-maker persevered and perfected the brew, adopting the pre-steeping of coffee and double filtering approach. Camp coffee at it’s finest!

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Rebels with rucksacks

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Our (seriously) early morning reverie was broken by the sound of other trekkers noisily clack-clacking their way, in complete darkness, towards the trail that led to the mirador, viewpoint of Laguna Los Tres; the thick blanket of cloud overhead did nothing to deaden the uneven sound of footsteps and poles finding solid ground, as they headed up to catch the sunrise. Probably just as well they had wandered into our camping space, as they couldn’t have been further from where they should have been.

We had, naughtily, elected to camp in a site that was designated for escaladores solo, base camp for climbers only. Rio Bianco. With not a tent in sight, a climbers hut that was closed for the season and vacant pitches, we had set up home the night before in a fabulous and quite airy lenga forest. The only curious visitors up until this point had been a few cheeky caracaras and little finches, none of which were strangers to the tidbits left behind by trekkers and climbers alike. In our defence (m’lord) the campsite we had passed, Campamento Poincenot, further back along the other side of the river, was in fact pretty chockablock and it was getting late to retrace our steps…

Shh!  Making the most of  our illicit camp out

Shh! Making the most of our illicit camp out

Matt was busy making “bed tea” when the first lost trekker appeared… Torch in hand a perfectly made up (seriously) Japanese girl (Hell, I wasn’t carrying a mirror, let alone mascara) demanded “the lake, Los Tres, which way, which way”. In the gloom, there were a bunch of other trekkers, drawn like moths to Matt’s head torch, stumbling around in the forest, behind her. Uh-oh!

Further exchanges occurred as two more trekkers, a couple of German lads, appeared in the camp. All had made the mistake of passing the signs for the trail and crossed the bridge into the woods at the base of the steps and signs for the viewpoint.

Curious as to why we were camped there, Matt did his best to explain (in pigeon Spanish-cum-English) we weren’t here to see the lake and were ‘climbing’ up the valley, hence our stay in this spot!!! Right… Slight bending of the truth as we had decided to skip the early morning ascent to peer at the lakes as the weather was coming in. And it wasn’t gonna be pretty.

boulders & bags

boulders & bags

Rain and wind whipped us as we followed the roughest trail yet, picking our way across rocky shores of the Rio Grande towards the border of the National Park and our intended destination of the “private” refugio at Piedra del Fraile. Haphazard cairns marked several possible routes across the rocky moraine up the valley towards, and past, the glacier Piedras Blancas. Boulder hopping (erm, more like scrambling) upstream and across a “small” tributary saved us from freezing our feet off – the alternative had been a wet crossing; knee deep in the frigid glacier melt waters. Not a tough call!

We ploughed onwards in the pouring rain, over the alluvial plain and scooted under the barbed wire fencing that marked the boundary of the park, a scrappy faded sign announcing privado. $100 Argentine pesos fee per persona. Bizarrely it now felt like a wilderness trek – a myriad of horse tracks and trails leading off to small streams and wooded temporary sheltering spots and no official markers to point us in the right direction. Or any that we could see.

Monkey moss

Monkey moss

The terrain changed as we made our way through rain drenched and heavily scented forests, scrub grassland and open meadows as we contoured the wooded slopes towards Lago Electrico in the next valley. So far we hadn’t bumped into a soul, much less anyone from the estancia demanding their dues! We spoke too soon, as in the distance we could hear the muffled engine of a dirt/quad bike making it’s way along a path, somewhere behind us… Tracking trespassers or bringing in supplies, who knew.

The rain and wind  eased off just before we entered an ancient and dense beech forest; trees twisted by time and heavy winds, the ground littered with fallen trees and boughs; in the eerie silence we imagined forest trolls, goblins and the odd dragon lurking in the wooded grey graveyard before us… Maybe the enforced lack of alcohol was finally taking it’s toll after all??

Not before time, we spied the green sided and corrugated roof of the refugio. Thoughts turned to running water and (fingers crossed) the chance of a steaming hot shower. Either way, the campsite alongside the river and beneath the brooding face of Cerros Electrico Oeste would be our home for the next couple of days.

Every gram counts….

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It is considerably a long time since we both did a full camping trek. Fifteen years in fact. On this trek we would be carrying all our camping clobber, fuel and food in, plus all our rubbish out. The last time we did this was in Vancouver island and over time had forgotten just how quickly this all mounts up….

Some things are sacrosanct and I was not about to adopt pant-turning ‘boy’ tactics to save on weight. However, happily I conceded on the one walking plus one sleeping set of thermals only and limit the amount of other clothes I would carry…. and ‘girly’ products. With military precision Matt weighed out our trekkers breakie of porridge and dried milk and selected our special de-hy curries – after much research (natch) Matt had found a really good one by Kudrati according to reviews. Pasta, carefully weighed, marmite decanted, risotto rice bagged and an assortment of energy and fruit bars were counted out and a menu agreed.

Rucksacks packed ready to roll

His ‘n’ hers

By the time a first aid kit, tent, stoves (what if one failed?) sleeping bags and ‘Thermarest’s were added we both realised we would be carrying 5kg more, each, than we would have liked to. After all, we were already carrying a few too many kilos around our midriff, thanks to generous helpings of food and wine at home.

After a tasty snackette of empanadas (they were becoming quite addictive!) we set off for Campamento De Agostini, our first night’s camping spot. We were amazed just how quickly we were rewarded for our efforts with the mountains came into view within an hour of being on the trail; something we had never experienced before.

We now understood the obligatory stop at Parque Nacional Los Glaciares office on the way to El Chalten for a briefing by one of the park’s rangers on managing the park and conduct within. Andrea’s passion and pride was evident as she explained the importance of responsible trekking, right down to why animals weren’t allowed in (transmitting of diseases) and how trekking poles can aid soil erosion in arid areas. Not something we had considered before. With so many day walkers and trekkers on the trails, they didn’t want to spend their time cleaning up after careless individuals.

On the trail

Vamos!


Boardwalk bogs on Fitzroy trk

Boardwalk bogs


Trails twisted up and through the mountain slopes and we walked in the shade of lenga forests, across open scrubland and along marshland dotted with bogwood oak. All were easy to follow seriously well maintained.

It wasn’t long before we  caught a glimpse of both Cerres Sol and Cerro Torres through the mist and low laying clouds. The bad boy that taunts climbers, Fitz Roy, was tucked away out of sight. Something for later. Named after Capt Fitzroy, the skipper of Charles Darwin’s ‘Beagle‘, who navigated Darwin’s expedition up the Rio Santa Cruz in the 1930’s, Monte Fitz Roy stands shark toothed at the crown of this range of mountains.

Grateful that we didn’t have particularly great weather and perfect views to distract us too much, we plodded on with the lure of a fresh cuppa by the shores of Rio Fitz Roy calling us.

We made camp and friends with a lad from Minnesota, Dillon, who joined us for a warming cup of soup pre supper and later curry- dhal makani style. With rain drizzling down, we all reckoned our chances of seeing a sunrise over Cerro Torres was not looking likely.

The sounds of the river sent us to sleep, one full of dreams of big mountains and cheeky glasses of wine.

View from tent at de agostini campsite

Tent with a view …

Ticket to ride…..

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There is a reason why I am custodian of passports, tickets and other important docs whenever we travel. Tremendous organiser that he is, Matt AKA the travel agent, had misplaced the voucher for the bus to El Chalten. Tension brewed in the camp and a few early morning cross words were exchanged… where was the voucher, did we actually have the tickets, what time did it leave?!?

We hurriedly threw the last of our bits into rucksacks, washed down our delicious breakie of home made croissants and cherry jam and packed the banana bread, before legging it to the bus station. No biggie in fact, we arrived in plenty of time to exchange the voucher (Don’t. Ask.) and pick up fresh tickets. Phew! We didn’t want to have to get the later bus as it would mean arriving at a campsite at dusk.

On route 40, we crossed back and forth over the Rio Leona, milky blue from glacier melt. The road cut a swathe through the steppe, punctuated by patches of tough bunch grasses and small thorny bushes. In the distance, on the horizon, the rugged landscape giving way to the mountains, but in the early morning light we could only guess which one was which.

A pit stop at the La Leona Roadhouse, made famous by its 1905 “gringo” visitors, Butch Cassidy, Sundance Kid and his wife Ethel Pace, was welcome. A chance to stretch our legs and knock back a cafe solo.

Nodding off to ‘spot the wildlife’, guanacos (lama) grazing and caracara (vulture-like bird) perched on the roadside fence posts, we soon arrived at El Chalten. A frontier town if ever there was, with a growing mix of hotels and hostels to satisfy the many day walkers and trekkers alike, plus restaurants, bakeries, cafes and it’s own micro brewery.