Rain Rain rain rain. We land smack in the middle of the worst weather Buenos Aires has had in years… if not ever. Hurricane force winds and crazy downpour. We try to brave it by going to museums and indoor activities, but it is hopeless. In par for a trip which had a hard time keeping its plans stable for months! Food is great though. Dan has meat while Assana deals with side dishes.
Leather We do end up with a couple days of sunny weather at the end of the trip, and turns out Buenos Aires doesn’t have much interesting stuff after all, so no loss there. What they do have is amazing leather, and we help ourselves to two gorgeous made-to-fit jackets! We pick the leather, the design, the cut, and 24 hours later, boom! We have jackets. We also have the best meal of the trip on our last night in Buenos Aires during the return trip. Dan has meat while Assana deals with side dishes.
Almost The Tip Next stop is the tip of Patagonia… well, not the super tip, but the tip of the attached section. We are off to El Calafate which is, though not rainy, super cold and windy as well. Nothing like high winds coming off of a glacier and hitting you in the face. Our first stop at Perito Moreno Glacier is every bit as rewarding as Buenos Aires wasn’t. Gorgeous glacier, tall snow-capped mountain and beautiful lakes with glacier-runoff water. Our boat ride to the glacier was, as usual, full of Germans. But this time the super-pushy-commercial-photographer takes the prize on annoyance. The dude wants to make a buck — we get it — but to block people from taking their own photos was too much. Thank goodness we are not shy.
Empty Before knowing better, we were planning on driving Ruta 40. Assana came to her senses way before the trip once she learned that the highway is dubbed The Loneliest Road on Earth. But there was always that little voice nagging at her “Is it really that bad?”
When they say lonely, they don’t mean just devoid of cars. They mean devoid… empty… a nil set. We take Ruta 40 from El Calafate to El Chaltén to visit Mount Fitz Roy, which incidentally is totally MIA. We see fewer than half a dozen cars in each direction. We see no trees. No animals, no birds, nothing. It is just us and the crappiest rental car in the history of rental cars. Yeah, had Assana imposed more of Ruta 40 on Dan, Dan would have dumped her ass. Can’t blame him.
Lakes Off from cold and windy El Calafate we fly into a crazy rain storm in Bariloche. It is a perfect afternoon to spend it in the spectacularly situated Llao Llao Hotel, and have tea… tea that comes with a very bossy brewing instructions! Assana ignores them. She knows better. Fortunately for us the rain relents for a couple of days. We wake up to navy blue lakes backed with more snowcapped Andes, white clouds and blue skies. To keep up with the theme of the trip, it is cold and windy, but at least we have the views. Food is also great. Dan has meat. Assana deals with side dishes.
Laura Ashley At Llao Llao we are reminded what a difference service makes. Our hotel in El Calafate is pretty, our room massive and for the most part very comfortable. But the front desk service is so abysmal that it almost ruins the day. Then we get to Llao Llao. Though the hotel’s setting is spectacular, the building is like many other National Park hotels (for example Ahwahnee): the rooms and the decor are a bit tired, the linen needs an upgrade, the restaurant decor really needs an upgrade, but from the moment we check in we are taken care of until the moment we leave. Laura Ashley threw up on the decor? No problem as long as the great service continues.
Lost This trip seems to be a collection of four disjoint trips stitched together. Buenos Aires is so different than Southern Patagonia, which is different than Northern Patagonia. And they are all different than Mendoza. The wine country is beautiful but what makes Mendoza awesome is our hotel… once we actually find it: they don’t have a sign to prevent pop-in riffraff, and of course they forget to tell us where to turn.
Wine tasting is very different in Mendoza than California. One can’t just stop by to taste: you need an appointment. And the whole event is a lot more “formal” than just stopping by. Not rushing from winery-to-winery is quite nice. At one place, after having spent hours tasting and having lunch, one of the drivers stops by the table to announce “We have a serious problem.” Of course the kinds of problems we consider “serious” include things like “The hotel burned down and you all lost your passports.” Or the cars broke down and you’ll have to walk back.”, etc. The serious problem was that we had 15 minutes to go to our next wine tasting appointment. Alright then.
Trailhead With all the eating and drinking we do we thought a quick hike in the Indies might be a good idea. We met Jeff & Kirby, immigration lawyers from Colorado, during one of our winery tours and really enjoyed their company. So we thought it would be fun to do a group hike. The hotel suggests a hike, casually hands us an extremely data-free map and informs us that our guide will meet us at the trailhead. Or we can follow Jeff & Kirby’s driver. We imagine a well marked road, leading to a well marked trail where we will stroll along a river or something. Well, yeah. Not so much.
Good thing we decide to follow the driver; there is no way we would have found it on our own. At one point the road ends, the driver takes an unmarked dirt road, drives for over an hour up the mountain on a super-switchback and rough road that the SUV barely cleared, let alone our crappy rental. At about 9000 feet we finally get to a shack. Two bundled up guides are waiting for us. It is cold and windy. The hotel watched the four of us leave in shorts with very light jackets and forgot to mention that we would be hiking at very high altitude… in cold fog and wind, Thanx guys.
Steepest Hike The two dudes point to a mountain super tall — 11,200 feet tall — and tell us that’s where we are going. Pretty much straight up the mountain. And that we should rush to beat the weather. They promise great views of the valley. We get to the top, and all we see is thick fog and clouds. Bummer. But as we are puttsing around the fog lifts and the clouds move and all of a sudden we do see the amazing view into the valley and the surrounding mountains. It is spectacular. The hike does kick our asses — in both directions — but we bond with Jeff and Kirby, and our guides, and have a great time after all. Then as though we hadn’t spent enough time together, we go out to dinner to yet another amazing restaurant. This time Dan doesn’t have meat, and Assana has main dish options!
Despite all the pre-trip plan changes, the trip is a success. When it is set and done, we fly 18,736 miles, over 9 flights, and have 4 distinct experiences. Dan flirts with gout, while Assana starves but both of our livers work over-time.