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Killer Rabbits, Scotch on the Rocks and Garganta del Diablo: Chile & Argentina


Killer Rabbits, Scotch on the Rocks and Garganta del Diablo: Chile & Argentina

Old Mar 31st, 2019, 01:31 PM
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Killer Rabbits, Scotch on the Rocks and Garganta del Diablo: Chile & Argentina

We just returned from a wonderful but exhausting trip to South America! The impetus for this trip to South America was 3-fold. First off, we last travelled to Africa (Africa trip report) including a visit to Victoria Falls. We thought it quite amazing and this quickly led to curiosity and a desire to experience Iguazu Falls. Second, many years ago, friends of ours had travelled to Llao Llao, an Argentinian luxury resort in Northern Patagonia. After viewing their gorgeous photos, my husband was determined to visit and play golf at this resort someday. Finally, we were watching an educational video on wine tasting and became quite taken with both the scenery as well as the description of the wines of Chile and Argentina. As we live in Northern California we are fortunate to have easy access to world class wine tasting. However, we noticed that, in particular, boutique Chilean wines aren’t necessarily available in the US. So from this start we began to make our plans. Our trusty travel companions – my brother-in-law (BIL) and sister-in-law (SIL), were good sports and let themselves be dragged all over the continent. Our itinerary ended up as follows:

Day 1–met up in DFW-SCL (Santiago) on an overnight American Airlines flight
Day 2–AM arrival and taken to the Alto Maipo Valley for wine tasting, Hotel Magnolia in Santiago, 3 nights
Day 3–picked up and driven to the Acongagua Valley for wine tasting
Day 4–picked up and driven to the Casablanca Valley for wine tasting
Day 5–early AM flight Santiago to Puntas Arenas, followed by 4 hr drive to Patagonia Camp located just outside of Torres del Paine National Park, 3 nights
Day 6–Hiking French Valley, Torres del Paine
Day 7–Easier hiking day, Torres del Paine
Day 8–Painful car transfer from Patagonia Camp to El Calafate, Hosteria La Estepa, 2 nights
Day 9–Visit to Petito Moreno glacier with mini-trek
Day 10–Flight from El Calafate to Bariloche, check–in at Llao Llao, 2 nights
Day 11-AM golf for my husband, afternoon hike
Day 12–Private boat ride with lunch and nature hike, evening flight to Buenos Aires, Casa sur Palermo
Day 13-Onward flight Buenos Aires to Iguazu – afternoon visit to Brazil side of Iguazu Falls, Melia Hotel, 2 nights
Day 14-full day visit to Iguazu Falls, Argentina side
Day 15-Flight from Iguazu to Buenos Aires, Casa sur Palermo
Day 16-City tour of Buenos Aires, evening flight EZE-DFW

As you can see we really packed it in. I really shouldn’t call this a trip to South America as we primarily visited Chile and Argentina (with a 3 hr visit on the Brazil side of Iguazu!). We had already visited Peru in the past so at least we weren’t trying to fit that in too (Peru trip report). We thought about trying to visit the Mendoza region in Argentina but realized that this would be just too much wine tasting. Also, we went back and forth whether to visit Valparaiso, and in the end decided to devote the time to wine tasting. Finally, if we had known better we would have added an extra day in Buenos Aires, but we were concerned about trip fatigue. Maybe it was a good thing as we departed Buenos Aires on a high note, enjoying our whirlwind tour of the city.

We started planning the trip about a year in advance (2018). We picked early March so as to avoid the high season but also to hopefully avoid bad weather. I worked out the arrangements with Krista at Knowmad Adventures. I know that she had concerns about how much we wanted to see in a relatively short period of time, but I was very appreciative in how she fit our itinerary together to make it work as efficiently as possible. I also know that this type of itinerary isn’t for everyone – especially the amount of time spent in transit. I think my BIL and SIL were somewhat surprised by the speed of the itinerary but they let themselves be dragged along. All of us are pretty experienced travelers and ultimately, we agreed that the variety of awe-inspiring sights and unique experiences more than made up for the fatigue. We were also extremely fortunate as we had amazingly good weather karma and didn’t encounter any unexpected travel issues/delays.

So will start with the actual trip report in my next post.
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Old Apr 1st, 2019, 06:40 AM
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I cannot wait !! I am resting in preparation of your TR.
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Old Apr 1st, 2019, 09:20 PM
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Day 1 - 2: Wine tasting Maipo Alto Valley

Day 1

We left Northern California on a typical rainy day to fly to Dallas to catch our connecting flight. I can’t say that I was sorry to say “Good bye” to clouds and “Hello!” to sunny Santiago. We arrived on time in Dallas (having flown on a 737 MAX 8 just days before American Airlines grounded them), waited for my BIL and SIL to arrive and then headed to the gate to board. In the past, my husband and I have always managed to travel with just a carry-on and a backpack apiece since we usually go business class. This time I don’t know whether our suitcases stood out because they are a bright blue or whether they were bulging just a bit too much, but they stopped us and despite our protests they made us gate check our suitcases. After departing from the gate and taxiing for a good 15 min, the pilot suddenly made an announcement that even though we were #1 for takeoff they had to go back to the gate to take care of some “misplaced” cargo. I had the horrible thought that maybe they were talking about our gate-checked luggage (lol) but then a few minutes later they came back on the PA and said, “No, never mind. They had found the paperwork and we were good to go.” Shortly after that we taxied down the runway and departed for Santiago. It was an uneventful flight. I watched and really enjoyed both “Green Book” and “RBG” and still managed to get a good 5 hours of sleep.

Day 2 – Santiago/Maipo Alto Valley

When we arrived in Santiago, my husband and BIL and SIL didn’t hear me say that I was going to stop in the bathroom. When I came out of the bathroom I tried to move quickly to catch up. Suddenly, a customs official directed me to another area and strangely I ended up in a priority line. I went through still thinking I had to catch up and then finally realized that I had beaten all of them through passport control. Thankfully, our luggage came off the belt quickly and we passed through customs and also agricultural inspection to meet up with our guide, Carolina. I warned my husband NOT to bring any nuts off the plane (he loves to snack on nuts) as Chile is pretty strict about this and I did not want to start our trip with a 3 hr delay trying to explain my husband’s snacking habits to customs officials.

After a brief stop to drop off our luggage at Hotel Magnolia, the four of us were whisked off to the Maipo Alto Valley for our first winery visit at Vina El Principal. Our guide, Carolina, had previously been a sommelier, a restaurant owner as well as a world traveler herself. We were surprised to learn that domestic consumption of Chilean wine is quite low. Much of Chile’s wine is exported – to Asia, to Europe and some to the US. When we asked her about Chilean cuisine she felt that on the whole it still had a ways to go – that while they have excellent access to fresh produce and seafood, average Chilean cuisine tended to be bland without taking advantage of any seasonings other than salt and pepper.

Once we arrived, our host, Christian, drove us up to a lookout point over the vineyards where we proceeded to literally “drink” in the view while enjoying a picnic lunch and a large bottle of Calicanto 2015 – an excellent blend with Cabernet Sauvignon and Carmenère, with smaller amounts of Cab Franc, Syrah and Malbec. It was a beautiful, sunny day – so peaceful and relaxed. (see photo below).
It was hard to believe that we had just landed a few hours ago. After a leisurely lunch we went back down to the winery for our tour. Summer had been hotter than usual and the grapes that usually ripen towards the end of March were already being harvested. We watched the grapes being brought in and fed into the de-stemming machine and then also watched another batch being crushed. I don’t know how many of you have taken a winery tour but I have only seen the shining stainless steel machinery – motionless and pretty sterile looking as the tour guide explains the process. Here they let us stand above and look down into the destemming machine (I suspect we wouldn’t be allowed to do that in the US, probably for liability concerns!). It was exciting and fascinating. After walking through the busy, noisy and modern storage area where the wine is fermented, Christian opened a sliding wooden door and we stepped into what felt like a room from the Middle Ages (see photo) where we did a wine tasting surrounded by oak barrels of wine undergoing the aging process. The wine was excellent and we ended up buying a few bottles (which we enjoyed immensely during the latter half of our trip!).

We said good-bye to Christian and then travelled next to Vina Haras de Pirque. I should note that my husband had come up with a list of wineries that he was interested in visiting. I was a bit concerned about planning this with Krista, our travel agent. Knowmad doesn’t really specialize in wine tours and the final itinerary was a combination of our requests and their suggestions based on feedback from their local guides. Ironically, their choices, for the most part, ended up being the highlights of our wine tasting experience. We had requested Haras de Pirque and it turned out to be just “ok”. At one point I heard it referred to as “the Disneyland of Wineries.” I would go with that as the winery is shaped like a horseshoe (https://www.harasdepirque.com/wine-cellar) in honor of the fact that the farm initially started as a famous thoroughbred stud farm. While the view from the winery is also gorgeous with a view of the Andes Mountains in the background, the tour was pretty standard. Probably the most interesting part was the actual wine tasting in which you sit in an underground room which is located directly beneath a large water fountain which has a glass floor through which you can look up (see photo). All you needed is a motorized lift that could move the fountain floor up and down and voila! you have a James Bond movie set ready to go! We thought the wines were “meh” and didn’t buy any.

We napped on the way back to Santiago. We checked into the Hotel Magnolia-it has a very cool design vibe. Our concierge recommended a seafood restaurant in Lastarria within walking distance. The ceviche appetizer was excellent, the rest– empanadas, squid ink pasta, and pork sandwich were pretty uninspired and we stumbled back to go to bed. I slept like the dead for at least 10 hours.

Next up – you are probably getting bored by now, especially if you aren’t into wine tasting and wondering “where are the killer rabbits?” “Where is the blood and gore?” Just to let you know – there won’t be any blood and gore. Sorry if that is disappointing. But I’ll explain the killer rabbit reference on Day 3 of this trip report.
View from lookout at Vina El Principal

Wine tasting cellar - Vina El Principal

Wine tasting in a room located directly underneath the outdoor fountain at Haras de Pirque

Hotel Magnolia, Santiago
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Old Apr 6th, 2019, 01:56 PM
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Days 3-4

The next morning we had a nice breakfast at the hotel, though the coffee was not the strongest. Carolina had told us that the coffee culture was not that big in Chile. Chileans prefer to drink mate instead (more about this in the Patagonia part of the trip). The offerings did include a refreshing melon juice and a quinoa with veggies dish that was delicious. Our guide for today, Katya, picked us up for our drive north to the Aconcagua Valley. Along the way we observed the mountainsides cultivated about 40% up the slopes with avocado trees which are considered “green gold” in Chile. Apparently avocados bring in so much money that the trees are being planted left and right with fencing, armed guards and even helicopter surveillance to boot - which kind of sounds like the marijuana industry in California and the Pacific Northwest. There is some conflict over water management as avocado trees require quite a lot of water which competes with the vineyards.

We arrived for our private tour of Vina von Siebenthal which was given by the owner’s wife, Soledad. Katya served as translator and we had a very interesting time learning about the methods they use to make what has been acknowledged (and which we could confirm) as excellent wine. Mauro von Siebenthal seems to be a Renaissance man – though he is a Swiss lawyer (which seems like the epitome of stodgy boringness) and has endless curiosity about everything. He does take a very organized and particular approach to winemaking with the goal to provide consistency in the quality of the wine, year after year. Soledad could point to very specific rows in the surrounding vineyards which have been determined to produce the best wine. She noted that the vines are “like children” – you love them all, but they aren’t all equal and you get to know their individual strengths and weaknesses. Von Siebenthal uses an organic approach and also doesn’t filter his wine. For example, he removes the wine from the oak barrel, cleans and sterilizes the barrels while removing the sediment, then replaces the wine. He will do this 2 more times over a 2 year aging period before he bottles the wine which he then holds for another 3-5 years. The tasting room had been built in a Swiss chalet style and the wine as I mentioned before was excellent. They currently do not export to the US so we bought 2 bottles and were sad that we wouldn’t really be seeing this for sale in the US any time soon.

Then we drove off to visit Flaherty. Talk about 180 degrees of difference. This winery was started by two Americans who came to Chile for a visit and then just never went back. Our winery guide, Craig, who is also a transplanted American possesses a wealth of information in all matters related to wine – whether it be history, gossip, winemaking. The vibe here is extremely relaxed and low-key with fermentation of the grapes done in food-grade plastic containers. It was kind of a shock to see this, especially in comparison to the precise orderliness of von Siebenthal. Craig got out some wine glasses and dipped them into freshly pressed “must” – grapes which had just been picked and crushed so that we could taste the juice at this stage. We had a lot of fun with our tour and wine tasting and then sat down to a wonderful, truly “farm to fork” lunch prepared by Jenn Hoover, one of the owners. Sitting on the shaded patio, surrounded by an organic garden and grapevines, we enjoyed an amazing gourmet lunch (I was so excited to start with fresh gazpacho soup- my favorite!) accompanied by good wine and sunshine – this was the life!

We managed to rouse ourselves from our very contented state to return to our van where we napped our way back to Santiago. At the hotel, housekeeping had left a pretty little bouquet of flowers in each of our rooms with a note stating, “Happy International Women’s Day”! It was such a thoughtful gesture. After a short clean-up we walked over to climb Cerro Santa Lucia – it has been made into a beautiful park which rewards a gentle climb with good views over the city. This is where others might take issue. While we really enjoyed our mini-hike and the view, we felt that the city itself was somewhat nondescript and just not that scenic appearing. Maybe because there was smog or fog, but the Andes Mountains appeared faded into the background and the architecture was somewhat monotonous with many institutional appearing apartment buildings. My hypothesis is that this city has so many earthquakes that it is difficult to build structures that would enhance the skyline. We were told that that an earthquake has to reach >7.0 to even be considered a real earthquake. Anyway, at the top we could hear chanting in the distance and we realized that it was a demonstration to commemorate International Women’s Day!

We had a pleasant and very necessary walk down the hill since we needed some exercise to prepare ourselves for our one “foodie” dinner in Santiago – given our gourmet lunch and wine tasting earlier in the day. We took an Uber to “99”. Of course as typical tourists we had a relatively early reservation time, but the place filled up quickly. We completely enjoyed our 3hr dining experience – the chef takes the best of the produce, seafood and traditions of Chile and blends it together to produce a creative, delicious and fresh tasting meal. I usually get pretty restless for that length of time, but somehow the pacing, the food and the cheerful hospitality made the 9 course tasting menu just fly by.

The next morning we made sure to get our hit of melon juice at breakfast before we were picked up by Katya and the driver for our final day of marathon wine-tasting. Today we drove westward through a tunnel in the Coastal Mountains to enter the Casablanca Valley. With a marine climate with morning fog and cooler temperatures, the Casablanca Valley is known for producing Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. We arrived at Kingston Family Vineyard and noticed rows upon rows of individually protected baby vines – each surrounded by a white cylinder. When we asked why they used them, I was kind of startled to hear that otherwise rabbits would destroy them. Somehow it was hard to picture cute little bunnies as this ravaging force of nature, but later in the day we actually saw some gauchos on horseback with their shotguns and dogs ambling down the road. They were out hunting what I began to dub the “killer rabbits” (a la Monty Python and The Holy Grail – if you have not seen this movie it is hysterical and you may never look at rabbits in the same way again). The rabbits are really considered a menace to the vineyards. Owners will sometimes lay in wait at night and then suddenly turn on floodlights so they can shoot them.

Kingston Family Vineyards had just completed building a stylish restaurant/wine tasting building with a modern design with floor to ceiling windows to take advantage of the scenic panorama of the surrounding vineyard. We thought the wine was ok though we didn’t think it was at the same par as the beautiful setting that it was served in. After an enjoyable relaxed tour and tasting off we went to Villard. We had a brief interesting tour but the highlight was sitting down to yet another al fresco gourmet lunch – this time with Charlie Villard, who is both a surfer and a winemaker – something he can do in the same day given the location of the Casablanca Valley. We were served a very tasty meal with an octopus appetizer, a Chilean sea bass entrée and a caramel torta dessert, all of it washed down with excellent wine of course. Then to top it off, Charlie gathered us up and drove us to the vineyard from which the grapes for his award winning Tanagra wine comes from. He opened a bottle of said wine, poured us each a glass and together we enjoyed our wine while surveying the gentle hills surrounding us with the ripening grapes bathed in sunlight. There was something about sharing that moment with Charlie which is hard to convey. Not only is he proud of this wine (which was excellent) but it is clear how much he loves and is connected to the land it comes from. We felt very fortunate that he chose to share that with us.

We then somewhat reluctantly departed for our final winery – Bodegas RE. By this time, my SIL said her tongue was numb and that she really couldn’t taste anything. Bodegas RE was a fascinating place to visit. Their motto is to focus on “Recreating, Reinventing and Revealing”. They use these enormous gourd shaped clay “eggs” to age and impart the minerality of the clay soil to the wine. As I didn’t think that I would see anything new by this point, I was happily surprised by this final winery tour as they are very much into experimentation in creative ways. It was both fun and eye-opening.

I know that wine tasting is not really a common activity that is discussed on this forum – at least not in the detail reported here (and I tried to limit myself as I could have written even more). You could make the argument that this wasn’t necessarily the best way to spend precious travel time when we could do wine tasting less than an hour away from our home. However, we were able to sample Carmenere – a varietal which is almost exclusive to Chile (this was my favorite wine on the trip). We met with many of the winemakers themselves and learned about their philosophy and goals in wine-making. We found that the Chilean winemakers in some ways seemed more adventurous and creative in carving out their niche in the wine industry. Finally, the tours reminded me of the old days in Napa Valley when wine tasting proceeded at a slower tempo with more of a sense of gracious hospitality-something that is quickly disappearing as the Napa tourist industry ramps up.

For our first 3 days in Chile we experienced fabulous, perfect weather while wining and dining our way through the wine valleys surrounding Santiago. Now we had to get ready for a complete change of weather and scenery as we headed off to Torres del Paine – which I will report on in the next post.

Walking down Cerro Santo Lucia

Wine tasting at Kingston Family Vineyards

Clay "eggs" at Bodegas Re
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Old Apr 8th, 2019, 07:49 PM
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Days 5-7: Torres del Paine/Patagonia Camp

We woke super early for a 4AM pick-up to arrive at the airport for our early AM flight from Santiago to Punta Arenas. We flew SKY airlines, a relatively younger start-up with very uncomfortable seats. I also realized that we should have asked for window seats as the sky was clear and we would have been able to see a lot of Patagonia from the air. Oh well, the flight went without a hitch so I shouldn’t complain. On arrival our transfer had not arrived. We had just pulled out our cell phones to try to find out what was going on when a Patagonia Camp representative arrived to tell us that we had to wait for an hour as our shared transfer was coming to pick us up. Once the van arrived we loaded our luggage and off we went for an approximately 5 hr drive to Patagonia Camp. It was actually a beautiful day with sunlight dancing on the ocean as we traveled down the coast. Along the way, we saw flamingos close to shore. As we approached Torres del Paine I also began to realize that the mountains and tower formations just jut straight up starting almost from sea level. I had expected more of a climb but that was pretty minimal. Winding our way through we had ever changing views of the mountains and lakes. As we entered Patagonia Camp we were treated to a gorgeous view of the camp situated by an aquamarine lake surrounded by emerald green forests, shiny granite mountains and wispy clouds floating across a sapphire sky.

Patagonia Camp is located just outside Parque Nacional Torres del Paine. The accommodations are very comfortable yurt style cabins with a window in the ceiling through which you can view the stars at night. It was weird as when we first arrived our cabin was extremely warm from baking in the sun, but by nighttime the temperature dropped considerably and the heaters did a great job keeping us comfortable. Another plus was that between the dry climate and the heaters we were able to hand wash a number of items and they would quickly dry overnight.

We had researched the available hikes in advance and we knew there was a short (3 mi RT) hike to Toro Waterfall. Even though it was late afternoon, there was plenty of daylight left to enjoy an easy forest hike with views of the camp, Lago del Toro and surrounding mountains. The waterfall was beautiful and secluded- as if we were in our own private paradise. When we returned we met to decide on which activities we wanted to do. This is where we let ourselves get a bit carried away. Another couple really wanted to do the hike to French Valley – which is part of the “W”. The usual requirement is that at least 4 guests need to choose any given activity. Our guide explained that it would be a moderate to difficult 20 km hike in which we would have to negotiate a moraine. My husband immediately said, “No.” But poor guy, he was overruled as my BIL and SIL wanted to do this hike and even though I wasn’t sure we were really in shape for it I wanted to be able to say that I had at least hiked part of the W. So we signed up and in the end – we managed to survive (more on that later).

The next morning, it was chilly but it was hard to get it out of our heads how warm it had been upon our arrival. But we dutifully dressed in layers as instructed – and OMG, it was a good thing we did. It was freezing cold and we had to wait outside for a good 30 min for the ferry that would take us across the lake to the trailhead for the hike. We had every layer zipped up to the max with our hats and gloves and our backs turned to the wind. Those gusts of wind were scary! Once we boarded the ferry we were able to enjoy the stunning views. But once we disembarked, we set up our trekking poles and off we went with Maggie, our guide for the day. This hike was definitely the hardest hike I have ever done – Maggie set a blistering pace and you couldn’t really look around too much to enjoy the views as we were just moving so fast. The problem is that you have just about enough time to get up to French Valley and then get back down in time to catch the last 6PM ferry. If you miss that ferry you are looking at a 6 hr hike around the lake to get back to the van transport. We definitely did NOT want to miss the return ferry and Maggie was determined to have us successfully complete the entire hike. (In fact, multiple guides later told us how impressed they were that we completed the hike.) However, personally, our lunch break was a bit too long and fatigue started to set in just as the terrain became steeper and more difficult. We were climbing up the moraine field by this point. Finally, my moment of surrender came when I stepped a bit unsteadily on some rocks. I could feel that I was beginning to fall but I was so tired I just could not keep my balance and fell in slow motion onto my back – fortunately, my backpack was cushiony and I was not hurt. But the same could not be said for my pride. I was literally like a turtle upside down on its shell. I couldn’t get up at first until I figured out to roll over onto my hands and knees and then was able to get up. At that point, we had reached the last natural rest area complete with small waterfalls where you could refill your water bottle. I told Maggie that I would wait there as they had about another 20-30 min up more moraine fields. I would have liked to reach the top but I realized that it would be stupid to risk falling again and possibly putting the whole group at risk. My husband had a blister and isn’t all that fond of heights anyway so he stayed with me. The rest time was great as I was able to hike back down – remember it was another 6 miles back –without any problems. We made the ferry and gratefully sat down to a warm dinner and some of the great wine we had purchased earlier in the trip. My BIL and SIL did say they were surprised by how hard the hike was though you have to hand it to them – they also don’t hike that much but they did great and managed to complete the entire hike.

The next morning we did a much more sedate activity in which we were mostly driven around, eventually reaching Laguna Azul to get a view of the towers. This did allow us to stop at a lot of scenic viewpoints to enjoy and take photos- something we didn’t get to do the day before. We did a much shorter and easier hike (7km) where we were able to watch herds of guanacos and foxes. We had a picnic lunch at Laguna Azul, though the sunny day was starting to turn cloudy and colder. We were fortunate that we had chosen to do the French Valley hike the day before while the weather was completely favorable with sun and, with the exception of the early AM, not too windy. Our excursion ended with a visit to the Cascada Paine waterfall which runs around an interesting and unusual rock formation.

When we arrived back at Patagonia Camp we headed over to the dining area where the bartender was making Calafate margaritas. The Calafate berry appears similar to a blueberry and tastes quite delicious. I also asked whether the bartender could help me to prepare some mate. The staff was really delighted when I asked about this. I had read about how drinking mate was a communal activity in South America. One person will prepare the dried yerba mate leaves in a mate (dried gourd vessel), add hot water to infuse and then place the bombilla – a kind of curved straw which allows you to drink without sucking up the dried leaves. Everyone uses the same bombilla – which I had observed when our guides and drivers shared some mate. When I asked if they were drinking mate of course they offered to share theirs but I couldn’t bring myself to drink then. Instead I opted for freshly prepared mate with my own straw back at camp. It was bitter and I can’t say that it will lure me away from coffee, but it was interesting to taste it at least once.

Torres del Paine was...magnificent and awe-inspiring. Despite the fickle weather (sun, clouds, wind, and rain in quick succession) we were very fortunate to see it in its best light.

Next up: El Calafate and Petito Moreno glacier

Patagonia Camp

Toro Waterfall

On the ferry to reach the trailhead for the French Valley hike

The towers

Cascada Paine waterfall

close up of Cascada Paine waterfall

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Old Apr 10th, 2019, 06:46 PM
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Day 8-10: El Calafate - Petito Moreno glacier trek

After our too short stay at Patagonia Camp we enjoyed a leisurely breakfast before we were transferred by van to El Calafate, Argentina. It was a somewhat anxiety provoking trip as our Venezuelan driver cheerfully drove the entire route with 3 check engine lights glowing for the entire 160 mile/ 4hr trip through the isolated Patagonian steppe. I remembered reading other Fodor posts warning travelers who chose to drive themselves to make sure they had stocked up on enough fuel as there were few places to gas up. Though it wasn’t as if there was not another soul in sight, the roads were not always the best and traffic was pretty sparse. The border crossing is always an interesting experience. There is a “no man’s land” gap between the Chile and Argentina border posts. I wonder what they do if a crime is committed in this in-between section? When I was initially planning the itinerary somehow I imagined that we would be driving through scenic passes in the Andes Mountains. I didn’t realize that in fact it would be a fairly monotonous trip. It was interesting to me that there is no direct flight from Punta Arenas to El Calafate (though that would still entail a 4 hr drive back to the airport anyway). If you wanted to fly you would have to go all the way back up to Santiago and then connect and come all the way back down to El Calafate. That just seemed like a stupid waste of time so we just endured a boring ride on a cloudy, rainy day. It was a good trade-off, as in exchange we had an amazingly bright sunny day for our glacier trek the next day.

We arrived safely to Hosteria la Estepa located on the outskirts of El Calafate. Hosteria la Estepa has very basic accommodations. I was trying to save money since we were only staying 2 nights and our next 2 hotels were going to be in expensive luxury resorts. It was somewhat unfortunate as we arrived just as all the restaurants had closed. We were starving and the staff tried their hardest to help us as much as possible. Once we all realized that we couldn’t even get food delivery service they brought out wine glasses and a bottle opener and served us some nuts. We then consumed 2 bottles of our Chilean wine to help get us through until dinner! At least the sun had come out and we had an excellent view of the lake and the town spread before us as we enjoyed some wine and conversation. We took a taxi into town, withdrew some Argentinian pesos and went off to a good, solid dinner at Buenos Cruces.

The next morning we were up early to a gorgeous sunrise so as to be ready for our 7:30AM pick-up for our tour of the Petito Moreno glacier. There was some kind of hiccup so the bus didn’t come until 8:30AM. Personally, this was my favorite day of the entire trip. I realize now that one of the parts of travel that I enjoy the most is experiencing the vivid colors of the places that I visit. I love to see beautiful photos on Instagram but I always wonder how much filtering and processing is going on. Somehow it just makes me very happy to see vivid colors with my own eyes. If you have ever visited a glacier you will know what I mean by the very special blue colors that you will see as you view a glacier. The color is unique and accompanied by other hues of blue to aqua to almost purple. (Note -the photos below are completely unfiltered.)

You can drive yourself and visit the glacier individually. It was easier just to do the packaged tour route. Argentina has built very safe and well laid out walkways that allow you to view the glacier field. Unlike many other glaciers it is stable in size, ie, not receding. Because it is moving fairly rapidly down from the mountains with the center moving faster than the edges, there is a lot of action with calving. It is so exciting to hear the creaking and cracking and then watching as quite large pieces come down. Plus you don’t have to feel guilty for getting excited as you aren’t watching the death of this glacier at least. After plenty of time to view the glacier from across an arm of Lago Argentino, you board a ferry that takes you across to the other side. We ate our packed lunches and then hiked to the edge of the glacier where we had crampons strapped to our shoes. Our guide, Diego, a very droll older gentleman who was originally from France, gave us instructions on the do’s and don’ts of trekking on the glacier. He had this almost Peter Sellers manner of explaining how to walk with the crampons. It was extremely funny, yet you could tell that he knew his stuff. He and his assistant guide, Nico, took great care of us throughout the trek. I was surprised at how far up the side of the glacier we went. When we first put on the crampons I felt like Robo-cop with all of the clanking sounds I made as I walked. I was happy when they told us to take short steps and to solidly plant each foot before taking the next step. Since I have short legs, I thought “this is definitely something that I can do!” The 90 min trek was fabulous – we were blessed with a brilliant blue sky, sunshine and the amazing colors and shapes of the glacier. We observed streams of water running underneath, small crevasses, deep wells which had formed with the deeper glacier blue tints at the bottom and ice caves. Towards the end of the trek they brought out a bottle of Scotch and a bowl of ice taken from the glacier to serve us Scotch on the rocks. Such a fun way to celebrate!

Of course we napped on the bus ride back to the hotel. That night we had dinner at Mi Rancho. We had obtained this recommendation from one of our guides at Patagonia Camp. The meal was DELICIOUS! and so reasonably priced. We realized that asking our guides for recommendations was probably the best way to identify restaurants for dinner.

The next day was another transit day –we had a 2 hr wait at the El Calafate airport so my husband and BIL ordered some hamburgers. After waiting for about an hour, they finally arrived – they were terrible – weirdly crispy and tasteless. They realized in retrospect that there was no kitchen and that somehow the hamburgers were cooked somewhere else (we have no idea where) and then served. At least they managed to eat some of it before it was time to board our flight to Bariloche. The remainder of our in country flights all took place on Aerolineas Argentina. While we had minimal travel delays and no lost luggage, the seats on the planes were somehow just so uncomfortable. Unfortunately, I get the feeling that their seat design is the wave of the future. Every time I see announcements for new airplane seat designs they seem to be making them less and less cushioned. Eventually they are all going to be like plastic waiting room seats I think.

As we landed in Bariloche I was horrorstruck to see that the surrounding terrain looked just the like the Patagonian steppe we had just come from. Where were the beautiful lakes and mountains? Our guide, Monica, met us at the airport. It was almost as if she had read my mind and as we drove from the airport to our hotel – she reassured us that though we were currently in the steppe terrain it would quickly change to the mountains and lakes that we were expecting. She confirmed that we were going to “Shao Shao.” We were confused as that sounded like a Chinese hotel and we were expecting Llao Llao. She explained that the locals pronounce “ll” sounds with an “sh” sound and not the soft “y” sound that we were expecting. The term “llao llao” means sweet, sweet and is the name of an edible mushroom that grows in the surrounding beech trees causing them to swell up with galls. The mushroom is actually used in desserts because of its sweet flavor.

My husband had seen photos of Llao Llao years ago when a friend had stayed at this resort. It had become something of a bucket list item for him. Fortunately, Llao Llao did not disappoint. Our room was situated on the back side of the resort in the modern Moreno wing. The bedroom had a huge window with a stunning picturesque view looking out onto Lago Moreno and snow- capped mountains beyond. That night we had dinner at Anima. This was an interesting tiny restaurant that was located in what seemed to be deep in the forest – kind of like a house that Hansel and Gretel or Little Red Riding Hood would visit. Of course we were the first ones there – still on that tourist time clock. We enjoyed a delicious menu of a variety of small and large plates with an excellent Argentinian wine which was NOT a Malbec from Mendoza – though I cannot remember what kind of blend it was.

Patagonia - what I thought we would see as we drove to El Calafate

Sunrise in El Calafate

Glacier trek

Glacier trekking with our guide Diego

Crampons used for the glacier trek - you don't want to accidentally step on the person behind you!

Scotch on the rocks!

Next post: Bariloche
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Old Apr 14th, 2019, 07:44 AM
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Day 11-12 – Bariloche

The next morning my husband woke up bright and early to grab some breakfast before heading out for his round of golf on the scenic Bariloche golf course. He rented a set of clubs and finished in just a few hours with a decent score. I knew I would have this morning to myself and had originally planned to maybe participate in a yoga class or go kayaking on the lake. What did I do instead? I slept in, then had a wonderful buffet breakfast and then proceeded to do almost nothing while lounging around on the patio of our room. Basically I was tired and just took advantage of the beautiful view – again another bright and sunny day!

Once my husband came back from his round of golf we walked around the resort a bit. My SIL took a single person kayak out on the lake for a brief bit. At 3PM, Monica came and picked us up for our afternoon excursion. First we took the chairlift at Cerro Campanario to spend some time enjoying the panoramic views of the lakes and mountains that make up San Carlos de Bariloche. Monica oriented us as to the geography and also talked about the history of the region. She had told us the day before that because of the Swiss influence, Bariloche had excellent chocolate makers. In fact they hold an annual chocolate festival with one of the events the creation of one of the longest chocolate bars in the world stretching down Mitre Street. After it is completed, all the spectators are able to share in eating the chocolate. Can you think of anything closer to heaven?

Bariloche - Northern Patagonia in Argentina

We then rode the chairlift back down and traveled onward to Cerveceria Gilbert where we had a brief tour of their beer making operations, made some empanadas and then sat down to enjoy our freshly baked empanadas as well as a large charcuterie board and beer tasting. So basically more eating and drinking! Yum! As we enjoyed our meal, we found out that our driver, Bernie, had previously worked for Frances Mallman. We were so excited to hear this. If you have ever watched Chef’s Table on Netflix then you will know that Frances Mallman is a world famous Argentinian chef who grew up in Bariloche and who has popularized different methods of barbecuing including open-fire cooking. Bernie was kind of surprised as I guess he didn’t expect us to have ever have heard of Mallman before. It was fun to hear more about Mallman’s unconventional lifestyle from an insider. Afterward, we did exercise when we went on a 1½ mile hike through the forest along the edge of Lake Nauhel Huapi. Monica pointed out that Bariloche didn’t have mosquitos, snakes or poisonous spiders. My BIL, the mosquito magnet, was very happy. It was quiet, peaceful and even somewhat mysterious – from time to time it was so quiet we could hear the trees creaking. I almost expected to see an Ent walking towards me (If you aren't a Tolkien fan, ents are the tree herders from the Lord of the Rings trilogy). We entered a small grove of beautiful and rare arrayanes trees – the bark of these trees has a striking orange color. We finished as the sun was setting.

Beautiful arrayanes tree with distinctive orange colored bark

The next morning we ate another enormous delicious breakfast with fresh fruit, omelets to order, pastries and lots of excellent coffee. We officially checked out but had the hotel hold our luggage. Monica picked us up for our boat excursion along an arm of Lake Nahuel Huapi – Brazo Tristeza. The weather had changed with some gathering clouds and wind with a light dusting of rain which made the initial ride somewhat choppy. Once we entered the fjord the water was calmer as we motored by waterfalls. The sun broke through with resulting rainbows and we were able to see a condor sailing very, very high up along the mountain ridge. Once we reached the end of the fjord, we transferred to shore via a very ingeniously designed pontoon that our boat captain had designed himself. We took a short hike to visit the Frei Waterfall. On the way we saw a large variety of mushrooms, woodpeckers, and fuchsias. You would think that by now we would have been tired of waterfalls, but no, this one was also unique with large slabs of rock that we were able to climb up as the falls rushed around us. As we returned to the boat, Monica pointed out the Manzanita berries which she invited us to try. They were quite nice with what I would characterize as an “apple flower” flavor. Back on the boat we had yet another gourmet lunch accompanied by wine and classical music. As we motored back, we talked with Monica about her life in Argentina, the state of health insurance and education, politics and the economy. We said our good-byes as we were dropped off back at Llao Llao. We had a late evening transfer back to the airport to arrive in Buenos Aires for an overnight stay on our way to Iguazu. Unfortunately, what had started out as a 7:30PM flight kept getting pushed back and we eventually departed at 11PM with an arrival into Aeroparque Jorge Newberry (AEP) the domestic airport in Buenos Aires at about midnight. Our poor guide Augustina, who had faithfully waited for our arrival, met us with a hug and a kiss to both cheeks, a gift of a bottle of wine and then hustled us off to our hotel, Casa sur Palermo to catch some sleep. It was convenient how centrally located this airport is in relationship to the city. It did not take long to reach the hotel, get checked in and jump into bed.

Cruising Brazo Tristeza

Gourmet lunch on board during our boat tour

Next report: Iguazu

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Old Apr 14th, 2019, 12:26 PM
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Day 13-14 – Iguazu

After a brief night of sleep we were up, packed and ready for pick-up back to AEP, the local Buenos Aires airport for our onward trip to Iguazu. While the lobby of Casa sur Palermo looks very trendy and the rooms have all the basic necessities, there is very little space to relax in the room and the walls are paper thin. However, considering that we just needed a place to lay our heads down it was conveniently located and relatively economical. We had noticed that Buenos Aires was very humid upon our arrival at midnight. The humidity remained and I wondered how much worse it would be once we got to Iguazu. Our flight was slightly delayed but I realized that that was nothing compared to what happened to a fellow passenger. An older woman was sitting in the row behind me and talking to her seatmates. I just silently eavesdropped on her story. Apparently she was traveling on an OAT (Overseas Adventure Travel) trip through South America. Her group of about 15 fellow travelers had been trying to fly on a smaller plane from Rio de Janeiro to Iguazu the day before. The weather was not cooperative. They landed but something was not quite right so the plane kept rolling and then went back up again and then as it came around to try again they ended up not being able to land. They were diverted to another airport in Brazil and then grounded. It sounds as if her OAT tour guide performed quite heroically. She had to beg and plead to get her group off the plane, get their luggage and then she managed to get them to Buenos Aires and checked into a hotel by 3AM (and I thought we didn’t have much sleep). The guide managed to get her group onto the current flight that was about to depart. This poor woman and her OAT group were going to arrive, have that single afternoon to see the falls and then were departing the next morning for their onward itinerary. I felt so sorry for her and looking at the cloudy skies was a little apprehensive about whether we were all going to experience Round 2 of the same. However, despite the heavy cloud cover we landed just fine. Once again I was grateful for our favorable weather karma.

Our guide, Adrian, met us. He pointed out the ongoing construction for new terminals which would open the following year to handle the increasing flow of tourists. For instance, a new direct flight from Madrid to Iguazu would be starting. This was becoming a common theme as at almost every airport we observed construction of new terminals. South America is really gearing up for an ever increasing influx of tourists. Adrian gathered us up and off we drove to see the Brazil side of Iguazu. Initially the skies were cloudy with an occasional light shower of raindrops passing through, but as the afternoon went on, it began to clear to dramatic partly cloudy skies. The border crossing didn’t take too much time as fortunately we didn’t end up behind a tour bus. I had been happy to find out that Brazil had changed their visa requirements to an easier and less expensive process, though just after returning home I saw the announcement in which Brazil is completely eliminating the visa requirement (at least for US citizens). Well, even more reason for you to visit both sides of Iguazu.

Both Brazil and Argentina have built excellent walkway systems to view Iguazu Falls. As we approached the first lookout, Adrian put out his hand and said, “And here we have Iguazu Falls. Ok – both my SIL and I had the same private thought which we did not voice aloud. As we gazed upon what appeared to be a relatively small and dirty appearing waterfall I thought, “OMG, please tell me we didn’t spend all of this money and time to see this very underwhelming waterfall.” Of course that horror struck moment passed quickly as we continued our way up the path. Adrian had explained that as we made our way down the walkway we would keep seeing the falls from different angles while approaching nearer and nearer until we were right next to Garganta del Diablo – “The Devil’s Throat.” Somehow that didn’t initially register with me. Afterwards as we “ooohed” and “aaahed” over progressively more amazing views of the falls, my SIL and I confessed to each other and realized that we had both had the same thought and then the same relief when we realized that Iguazu WAS…JUST…SPECTACULAR. Even though the estimated percentage of flow was about 60% of full flow, I just couldn’t get over the sheer volume of water that was flowing past. We all agreed that we were happy that we had seen Victoria Falls first BEFORE Iguazu. While Victoria Falls is also quite amazing and beautiful, Iguazu was several orders of magnitude more magnificent. We were all so thrilled to have had the opportunity to visit this incredible natural wonder.


View of walkway -Brazil

Some points to make –
it was hard to NOT take ten million photos and videos while walking and viewing the falls. Even though I am a big advocate of enjoying the moment I also could not help myself and recorded multiple video clips trying to somehow convey how awe struck I felt throughout this visit. However, you need to have a strategy to deal with the moisture in the air. If you are using an expensive camera you have to figure out how to protect it or it will be ruined. Some people had waterproof covers for their smart phones and others were using GoPros. My husband used his expensive camera with telephoto lens when he was far enough away to not have to worry about the spray. He used a plastic garbage bag to wrap around and protect it when he didn’t feel he could safely use it. Then he would pull out his small digital camera and use it in combination with his iphone. Be careful! We saw this one gentleman who had dropped his iphone into the mud from the walkway. Fortunately, for him, it wasn’t dangerously far down and he was able to climb just a couple of feet down to pick it up. We also noticed there were a lot of signs on the walkway that kept warning you to NOT carry your child up on your shoulders. My BIL pointed out that there must have been enough incidents for them to have felt compelled to put up so many signs. The walkways are a bit slippery and have slightly higher than waist height mesh side barriers – high enough to protect you from falling over but not high enough to protect a child from accidentally dropping over the side should they fall off your shoulders!

Adrian pointed out many interesting birds, trees and plants, mushrooms, flowers, and spiders along the way. Wow, the spiders are enormous and their webs were beautiful – large and intricate and sprinkled with drops from all of the moisture in the air. We saw a caiman lurking in a small pool which apparently had lost a leg and so had this favorite place to hang out. And then there were the coatis – ughh! The coatimundi looks like a cross between an anteater and a raccoon. Unfortunately, stupid tourists like to feed them – why do people do this? So of course now they hang out at the snack bars and areas where tourists gather to meet or rest as they are habituated to getting free food – either offered by a human idiot or picking up scraps from the ground. There were multiple signs with quite graphic photos of coati bites and yet I saw many people offering up food to these animals -so stupid. I much preferred watching the placid capybaras. They would be munching on the nearby grass and if you approached to take a photo they would turn away from you and ignore you.

The highlight of both the Brazil and Argentina walkways is the finale when you are located right up at the Devil’s Throat. I loved the ability to feel the power of nature – it was both thrilling and safe, if you know what I mean. You will be drenched but that is half the fun!

After we finished our visit to the Brazil side of the falls, we were taken to the Melia. This hotel used to be a Sheraton before it was bought by the Melia chain and it still feels like a Sheraton. It was nice and comfortable, but you are really paying for its location within the park with the view of the falls in the distance. It was worth it. Because the hotel is about 30 min outside of town, we elected to eat all of our meals at the hotel. I had been a bit worried about the price vs. quality but actually, we were very happy with the breakfast and dinner buffets as well as the lunch menu. It really paid off the next day when we took a break from viewing the Argentina side of the falls as we were able to walk back at lunch time, enjoy a relaxing lunch with a view and even clean up in our rooms before going on for the afternoon part of the day.

After a good night of sleep we lathered up with sunscreen and mosquito repellent for our Argentina experience of Iguazu. There was so much mist that we couldn’t initially see the falls from our patio though this all cleared away by afternoon. We did the standard hikes on the lower and then upper walkways – I call them standard, but they are anything but standard. In actuality, it was such a unique experience. The walkways take you over the multiple branches of the Iguazu River as it feeds the innumerable cascades. You really get to experience the falls at multiple levels and in close proximity. In the afternoon, we enjoyed (well at least some of us enjoyed it) the boat ride which takes you to the base of one of the cascades, though NOT the Devil’s Throat. Our boat tour started in the afternoon with a 20 min ride on a large Disneyland type of truck – with the multiple rows and no shade, through the jungle to the staging area. We did see a lot of gigantic spider webs, many of them complete with a gigantic spider in the middle, stretching overhead. At the staging area, they handed each one of us a dry sack and then you proceeded down a steep staircase to get fitted with a life jacket before you boarded the boat. This took quite some time but wasn’t bad as the staircase was in the shade and it gave you time to watch all of the butterflies. I am not sure why but this area seemed to be very popular for butterflies – I must have seen about 15 different varieties flying here and there, even landing on our heads to rest. It was very entertaining.

Once we boarded the boat we realized that the plastic seats were searingly hot – I mean hot enough to feel as if you were being branded. Since the sun had come out by this point and of course there was no overhang to impede your view of the falls, the seats just soaked up heat constantly. I initially used my dry sack to protect my legs. Once the seat became more comfortable, I moved the stuff that I wanted to protect into the dry sack. While the view of the falls was quite impressive, they really didn’t provide enough time on the approaches to take photos. You had to be really aggressive if you wanted to try to get some decent photos otherwise you just had to accept that a bunch of strangers were going to end up in your photo as everyone was standing up and jostling each other trying to take their own pictures. I had a bald guy in my photo that I just couldn’t get out of the frame. Then we were instructed to batten down the hatches as they drove right up to one of the big cascades. I loved this part. If you have ever taken the Maid in the Mist boat ride at Niagara Falls then you will get the general idea. You are just inundated with water. People screamed happily and then as we pulled away they managed to convince the driver to come back for one more pass. I was surprised how close to the cliff face we came but it was great to get a 2nd round. Happily soaked we drove back to our landing, handed back the life jacket and the dry sack and then painfully climbed the long staircase back to our jungle truck for our ride back to the walkways. We then waited for our train ride to the Paseo Garganta del Diablo – the trail to the final platform positioned on the Argentina side of the Devil’s Throat.

Taken from the boat ride - up close and personal

The view from the Melia infinity pool

I’ve already gone on and on about the magnificence of Iguazu – you just have to go and see it for yourself. We took the train back and then had the pleasure of changing into swim suits and jumping into the Melia's beautiful infinity pool. The pool has the same view of the Devil’s Throat in the distance that could be seen from our hotel room. It was both refreshing and relaxing to soak in the pool with the falls easily visible in the distance with mist rising up and a clear blue sky overhead.

Technically, Day 15: The next morning we took another round of photos from our balcony before we reluctantly departed for our flight back to Buenos Aires. We managed to check-in before the line for Aerolineas became too long only to be confronted by the most amazing line-up to enter the security check. As you go up to the 2nd floor, you encounter the single line which literally wrapped around the entire open stairwell to finally enter the security checkpoint. As we stood in this endless line we watched over and over again as people reached the top of the stairs, look around in complete disbelief and confusion. You could see the thought bubble above their head, “This can’t possibly be the ONLY line!” They would start walking trying to trace the end of the line and realize that “yes, this was the only line.” We made it through eventually and then sat and waited for our flight. I noticed that there were only 2 flights departing. I then watched as they made repeated last call announcements for the other flight departing for Buenos Aires and a stream of people racing through the departure area and hurriedly waved through to get on the plane. I felt so sorry for them for how stressful it must have been for them. I realized that essentially they just held the plane until everyone was on board as it wasn’t as if they were going to lose their place in the departure take-off line-up. But anyone trying to make their departure wouldn’t necessarily know that while they were desperately waiting in that endlessly long security line. One other comment – it is always interesting to me how variable the security checkpoint rules and procedures can be from country to country and even within the same country- from one airport to the next. I can’t say I have much confidence as to whether the smaller airports are really all that great in screening for problems. Our flight to AEP back in Buenos Aires actually arrived slightly early. We collected our luggage (we counted ourselves lucky that at no point in the midst of all of these flights did we lose any bags.) and joined up with Augustina again to be taken back to Casa sur Palermo.

Next up – remainder of Day 15 and through Day 17 – Buenos Aires & Home
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Old Apr 14th, 2019, 12:36 PM
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Day 15-17 – Buenos Aires & Home

Upon our arrival back to Buenos Aires, we were once again surprised by our good weather karma as BA was sunny and now not humid at all with pleasant temperatures in the upper 70’s. Even though we had a “foodie” reservation for dinner later that evening, we needed to eat some lunch. Augustina recommended Panni – a very cute café located just a couple of blocks away. Again, we agreed that guide recommendations were the best. I think we were probably a bit older than the usual crowd – we saw mostly millennials. I ordered the tarta de choclo – a corn tart which was absolutely delicious. I couldn’t finish it and saved half of it to take with me (though sadly I wasn’t that hungry the next morning and didn’t end up finishing it). We went back to the hotel and then came back downstairs to the comfortable lobby to share and relax with the bottle of wine that Augustina had gifted us when we first arrived to BA. As I had mentioned before, the rooms at Casa sur Palermo were not laid out in a way conducive to sit and relax.

Later that evening we had the hotel call for a taxi. Augustina had informed us that Uber was illegal in BA. It still operated but you could be pulled over by the police and fined. We decided that as we are Asian that it would be very obvious if we were in an Uber so probably not a good idea. Our final dinner took place at iLatina. So this was a plan that I would rework if I had the chance. My SIL and I usually look through restaurant reviews and try to select a gourmet restaurant to splurge on when we are traveling to cosmopolitan cities. What I didn’t realize is that iLatina (the restaurant that we selected) specialized more in Central American cuisine and not Argentinian cuisine. My husband mournfully kept asking me why we hadn’t gone to an Argentinian steak house instead. Don’t get me wrong, the food was excellent, but afterward we agreed that though more expensive it had not been as wonderful a dining experience as we had had at “99” in Santiago. Also, as this was our only real evening in BA it was also our only chance to either catch a tango show or go to a milonga. However, despite taking the earliest reservation at iLatina (again we were the first ones there) it was a 3 ½ hr expensive dinner and we couldn’t make it to any of the typical tango shows. While planning the trip, I had dismissed attending a tango show as just touristy and expensive. In retrospect, I realize that we would have been better off to have skipped the expensive dinner and to have spent the money on the tango show instead. After dinner we didn’t have the energy to go check out a milonga – remember we had just flown in from Iguazu earlier in the day. Oh well! Instead we went back to the hotel and off to bed as we also had end of the trip fatigue setting in.

On our last morning we all agreed that we didn’t particularly care for the breakfast at Casa sur Palermo – somehow it was just not very appetizing. We packed and officially checked out of the hotel but had them hold our luggage for the day. Augustina and our driver picked us up for our 1 day tour of Argentina. Initially we drove through Palermo and Augustina pointed out various buildings, museums and parks. At first I was worried that we would see Buenos Aires only through the windows of the van. But I needn’t have worried. We stopped at Recoleta Cemetery and hopped out to stroll through this “City of the Dead.” Somehow I had thought that the famous people buried here would have tombstones like a typical cemetery and not the neat and orderly arrangement of mausoleums. The variety of architectural styles was so visually interesting. Of course we stopped at the statue of the dog and his mistress who had died on the same day. Apparently she was on her honeymoon in Switzerland and died in an avalanche while the dog died back home in Argentina. We dutifully rubbed his nose for good luck though it isn’t clear to me why this should give you good luck – it just seems counter-intuitive doesn’t it? Afterwards we stopped to visit El Ateneo Grand Splendid - an old theater that has been converted into a gorgeous book store. As an avid reader, I had come across a photo of this bookstore online and was so-o-o excited to have the opportunity to enter and see this place in person.

As we drove by Casa Rosada (the “Pink House”) we could see a small demonstration being held in the Plaza de Mayo. Elections were upcoming and Augustina noted that demonstrations were frequently occurring. People were marching around and chanting while beating on drums. We watched from a distance as our driver and Augustina conferred on how to adjust. Augustina had initially planned on getting out to walk in the square but decided to be cautious just in case. We hit the San Telmo market, wandering around for a bit before eating a quick lunch of empanadas. We moved on to La Boca with its giant wall murals, colorfully painted homes and businesses and tango dancing in the street. I know it is very touristy but hey, where else can you see a larger than life mannequin of Evita Peron waving to you from a balcony? At least we were able to watch a tiny bit of tango dancing – I never appreciated just how gymnastic the moves can be. The grand finale of our day was of course a tour of the world famous Teatro Colon. Here again I had some regrets that we did not have an extra day to be able to attend a concert. While the opera house was gorgeous and opulent, what it is really known for is the acoustics. As a music lover, I could kick myself for not having tried harder to attend a concert to actually hear for myself.

Evita Peron and friends greet you in La Boca

You might ask why we didn’t allow for more time in Buenos Aires. I think we were being cultural snobs. I don’t think we appreciated how much Buenos Aires has to offer. We came away impressed with what we saw – from the wide-open boulevards, the parks, the cafes and bookstores to the array of art and performance venues. We probably were so focused on the natural wonders that we would be seeing we somewhat lost sight of the cultural offerings available to us. It was our loss.

We said good-bye to Augustina, picked up our luggage from the hotel and then we were off to EZE, the international airport. In contrast to AEP, EZE is much further away and we were dealing with rush hour traffic. However, we arrived in plenty of time to check in. My husband and I decided we would just check our luggage this time as we figured if it got lost we were at the end of the trip anyway. Boarding was uneventful and we departed on time for our return to Dallas. Once we arrived into Dallas we said good-bye to my BIL and SIL as they went to their separate connecting flight. Earlier in the trip I had been following the news on the grounding of the MAX 8 as I knew that was the plane we were supposed to be flying home on. At one point before our return, I noticed that on some days they had cancelled that particular connecting domestic flight so I was kind of obsessively checking every day as we got closer to our actual travel day. The flight went just fine though I am not sure what type of airplane it was as the flight info still was listing the aircraft as a MAX 8. We (and our luggage) safely arrived home without fanfare to the same cloudy and rainy weather that we had had when we left over 2 weeks ago. It almost felt as if time hadn’t changed while we were gone! I did miss the beautiful sunny weather we had just left behind in Buenos Aires.

Next up: Final Thoughts
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Old Apr 14th, 2019, 12:46 PM
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Final Thoughts

If you have managed to stay tuned you are probably exhausted by this point. While my hope is that sharing this trip report will be helpful to others, it is also a way for me to relive and happily remember what a fantastic trip we had - so kind of a selfish reason.

I know that most Fodorites travel in a much more independent fashion. I will say that even though that is more economical from a $$ viewpoint, using a travel agent helped us to maximize our time – whether piecing together the flight itinerary, providing transfers to immediately pick us up, or hiring informative guides. For me and my husband – time really is money. I would probably not have come up with the evening flight from Bariloche to have an overnight in Buenos Aires to then allow us to reach Iguazu in time the next day to do the Brazil side tour. Realistically one of the parts of travel that personally, makes us the most stressed is trying to figure out taxis/transfers on the fly. Avoiding that allows us to relax and enjoy ourselves. Finally, the quality of the guides in terms of their knowledge of geography, history, and culture as well as their willingness to share and compare thoughts and opinions about their own lives added so much to the experience.

Packing was a bit of a challenge. Since we usually fly business class we manage to pack what we need into a carry-on so that we don’t have to worry about possibly losing our luggage at least at the beginning of the trip. However, this time we had to pack for the gamut of weather from possibly freezing cold weather in Patagonia to the tropical rain forest at Iguazu and everything in between. We didn’t quite manage it as we had to gate check as we boarded to Santiago, but still less is still more, especially with the amount of transit required on this trip. As I looked through my packing list, I probably could have eliminated about 5 items of clothing, but overall we felt that we had planned pretty well. After all, we did managed to get it all into carry-on suitcases.

Also, one important piece of advice to remember is to hold on to that slip of paper that they hand you once you clear Chilean passport control. You basically need it EVERYWHERE – every time you check into a hotel and also to leave the country. I really dislike having to keep track of what is a relatively small piece of paper – so easy to lose. I took my husband’s away from him to make sure he didn’t accidentally lose it!

Even though Chile and Argentina run side by side down the continent we were struck by the differences we experienced. It makes sense – after all certainly the US, Canada and Mexico are very different nations despite our common borders. The agriculture in Chile was quite similar to that in California. The Chilean economy is fairly stable and we noticed that there was not that much of a preference for US dollars. In part this is probably due to their rich mineral resources – including copper and lithium. Our Chilean Patagonia guides pointed out that Argentina had “taken” some of the land of Patagonia which allowed Argentina to have one continuous area of Patagonia while Chile had a physical split between Northern Patagonia and Southern Patagonia. Previously I had thought Patagonia was synonymous with Torres del Paine. I now realize that in actuality it is a much huger area.

Our trip focused more on natural wonders – vineyards, mountains, glaciers, lakes and waterfalls. We didn’t get to the Atacama Desert or to Easter Island or to the Chilean fjords. Because we did not spend a lot of time in either Santiago or Buenos Aires we really didn’t explore any of the history of either country. Having read some of his poems, I had wanted to visit at least one of the Pablo Neruda houses. The closest we got to history was visiting Recoleta Cemetery and observing the string of white paper kerchiefs strung across streets in the La Boca district to commemorate the Grandmothers of the Plaza de Mayo. Having visited the Museum of Terror in Budapest and the War Remnants Museum in Ho Chi Minh City, I do regret not having had more time to try to learn and better understand these terrible chapters in the histories of Chile and Argentina.

My husband and I had argued quite a bit about how much in US dollars we should bring. He had been told that everyone preferred dollars and I thought the amount he wanted to bring was a bit excessive. We compromised and actually estimated fairly well. It was interesting to hear our guides in Argentina say that while they would use Argentinian pesos for every day transactions, they preferred to keep their savings in dollars. Inflation is a severe and ongoing problem in Argentina. I can’t even imagine how anyone is able to manage financially in that kind of situation.

Overall this was a whirlwind trip in which we were fortunate to visit the diverse beautiful landscapes of Chile and Argentina. My husband noted that we had walked more than 60 miles over the course of the trip. We were very grateful to have had the opportunity to go on this adventure. If you have managed to read to the end – I hope I have managed to convey at least a small part of the amazement and excitement that we experienced. Thanks for reading!
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Old May 22nd, 2019, 09:52 AM
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Thank you for your trip report. I found it very interesting. As someone who spends my weekends in a small wine region (the North Fork of Long Island), I appreciate the interest in exploring other such regions. Chile and Argentina have long been on my list so thanks for all of the insights and the photos.
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Old May 23rd, 2019, 06:50 AM
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Your welcome! I know the wine tasting info isn't what is typically written about in the trip reports but we also didn't want to make our entire trip centered around wine tasting. It was hard to find information other than the companies who really specialize in purely wine tasting tours (which was too intense for us!). Our travel agent was surprisingly helpful and it was interesting to note that their website just posted about a trip that the owners of the company took which centered around wine tasting in Argentina. So even though they tend to have more active tours it looks as if they are incorporating more of the wine tasting into their itineraries.
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Old Sep 25th, 2019, 03:09 AM
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Thanks for all the effort you have put into this fabulous trip report which I have only just come across whilst tentatively exploring options for a South American holiday. I loved the photos and all the descriptions of food and wine and I now have many of the places you visted on my shortlist !
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Old Sep 26th, 2019, 05:56 AM
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So glad you enjoyed the details. I admit that a lot of the report might be quite tedious for some but it helps me to relive the trip - it's funny how fast memories of specific details can fade. Also, I hope it does help others as I have always derived so much benefit over the years from other forum posters. I was reading in one of the other forums that Fodors forum activity seems to be downtrending and I would have to agree. It makes me sad as I still think the trip reports on Fodors are the most helpful and the most fun to read.
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