Welsh cake and glaciers

Just down the coast and slightly inland from Puerto Madryn is the Welsh colony that was formed in Patagonia in the second half of the nineteenth century. We´d heard rumours of all-you-can-eat tea and cake so the pull was just too hard to resist. So off we set on one of the local buses for a change (which were really quite decent coaches!) to explore the tiny town of Gaiman.

As it´s a pretty small town and a bit more off the tourist trail, there wasn´t any way to prebook somewhere to stay so as the bus left us standing on the abandoned plaza, in the middle of siesta time, we plodded off to try and find the tourist information that surely would be able to help. After walking in a circle with all our luggage, we were directed back to about 20m from the spot we were dropped off to a little garden shed, in which was the information centre. And the guy was extremely helpful in pointing us in 3 totally different directions. No matter, it´s a small town, we thought. Not so much, when you´re carrying two rucksacks each, a handbag, the food bag (which still contains a massive tin of fruit that we had been craving two weeks ago but never got around to eating) and countless other ultimately useless but staggeringly heavy items. Having trekked to nearly every hotel in the town and having not one single door opened to us (we were beginning to think the town had been deserted), with James about to give up, I said: NO. JUST ONE MORE! So we slowly trudged to the last one. Rang the bell. Nothing. Rang again. Nothing. Walking away…not really knowing where we were going…James saying I told you so. And just then James turned around…and the woman came out!!!! One free room…ensuite…great price…with a courtyard…yes please! It was like a movie, I swear!

What she failed to mention was that she had a screaming baby, but nonetheless it was a lovely little place and served us well. And Gaiman was so cute. Not much going on, I´ll grant you, but had an amazing little museum of Welsh artifacts from the first settlers, the first house built in the town, people speaking Welsh everywhere and a charming feel to it. And we did have tea. And it was all you can eat. I think in one day I counted we tried no less than 15 different cakes (including the three varieties served at breakfast).

So after all that excitement, we headed back to Trelew, another town not far away, went to an AMAZING dinosaur museum (I came out questioning the meaning of life) and staying at a slightly run down but pretty stunning old hotel (where we ate the tinned fruit for lunch – woo hoo), we decided that the time had come to cheat. Enough of these 24 hour bus journeys…so we caught a 2 hour flight down to El Calafate. We have now been here three days and it´s a gorgeous town, if pretty touristy – but in the right way. It´s small enough to walk around, and big enough to while away a day. But most importantly it´s only 80km away from the Perito Moreno Glacier.

Which brings me to today. We have just got back from potentially the “Best Day So Far On Our Trip”. We set off at 9am to the galcier front with a small group of people from the hostel (a complete mix of ages and nacionalities) and I was not prepared for the sheer scale and beauty, not just of the glacier itself but of the landscapes, flora & fauna. It was absolutely up there with the most incredible views I´ve ever seen. We had a couple of stops en-route to observe a flock of around a dozen eagles resting by the road, and later to walk down to the opaque “glacier milk” of the most enormous turquoise lake surrounded by glowing red moutains from the calafate bushes and their snow capped peaks. As we rounded a corner, we finally got our first glimpse of the glacier. It is enormous, and glows white & blue from the compacted snow that forms it. It was absolutely breathtaking. We then set off on a boat trip to get even closer to the enormous sheet of ice that is encroaching on the lake and passed by numerous little icebergs. The wind is icy cold as it blows off the glacier but I made James stay on the open deck for the entire time to take in the beauty and soon as everyone else got too cold and went down below we were practically the only ones left on deck. It was magical.

The glacier is advancing at a rate of 2m per day (and apparently is one of the few stable galciers currently in the world – ie it is not receding like most glaciers in the world) which means that you get to see the parts at the edge collapse every now and then if you´re lucky – which we were! Following the boat ride, we set off on a walk to get closer on the viewing platforms from where we saw numerous collapses – the noise is terrifying – the crack like a gunshot and the roar as a piece of ice the size of a 20 storey building hits the water is both eerie and thrilling at the same time. We sat for nearly two hours, just watching it and eating our sandwiches before returning to Calafate and practicing our Spanish with one of the older ladies on the bus. What a day.

So tomorrow we are off to Chile! Our first land border crossing down to Puerto Natales and Torres del Paine.

I hope all is well is England and you are all still enjoying the sun!


Posted in Argentina | 2 Comments

Killer whales and G&Ts

Our initial impressions of Puerto Madryn were not great – it seemed quite industrial and lacking in character. However, we had not decided to miss out on the Cueva de las Manos for a dusty town. We had travelled to the coast to see the wildlife on Peninsula Valdes.

On my birthday we booked a day long tour through our hostel as they seemed really helpful and promised us a tour in a small group with a knowledgeable guide. They did as they promised: the tour group was made up of just 4 of us and we had a marine biologist for a guide. Unfortunately, he was the most sullen, monosyllabic tour guide I have ever come across and did absolutely nothing to share his knowledge. Nonetheless, the wildlife was spectacular. We saw a pod/school/group/whatever the collective noun is of killer whales circling seals on the beach. Some other people who had fancy telescopic lenses said they saw blood in the water and the day before apparently a killer whale had beached itself temporarily to grab a seal but although we didn´t see anything as spectacular as that, it was still pretty special seeing a group of dorsal fins patrolling about in the water and generally looking pretty menacing.

Further along the coast we visited a colony of penguins and watched them waddle around. We also saw some elephant seals but they were a long way away and weren´t doing all that much. On land, we saw an armadillo scuttle through the car park, a fox and plenty of guanacos and sheep.

In the evening we went to a beach bar/restaurant and Claire treated me to a birthday gin and tonic. Purely for the anti-malarial properties obviously. And then back at the hostel, Claire whipped out a chocolate brownie with “27” crumbled in white chocolate on top. I was thoroughly spoiled!

After a day to recuperate, we went on a bike ride to visit another seal colony. At 20 miles it was considerably further than the previous bike ride, although this time, there was a lot less alcohol involved. We had been warned that there were some hills but what we hadn´t taken into account was the dirt road. It was like cycling on sand! Not an easy task, but it did at least mean we had earned our inevitable steak in the evening.

Posted in Argentina | 1 Comment

El Bolson

After a lovely few days in Bariloche (the kayaking was immense – luckily we had the one sunny day there for it and I got to be captain with the steering pedals which James wasn´t that impressed with: I kept trying to tell him that trust is all a part of a relationship but he wasn´t having any of it and kept digging his oar in. Literally.)

Seeing as Bariloche seems quite a pricey place too and we´d spent more money than we should, we did like any good Saumarez / Hopkinson and…spend more. We went out for an amazing meal where James tried Patagonian lamb right from the open fire in the restaurant and I tried the trout straight from the lake. All was delicious.

Anyway, we then decided to hop along to El Bolson, a little town just south of Barioche and at 2 hours, it´s been our shortest bus journey yet! On arrival, we felt like we´d travelled a million miles from the alpine, organised and touristy town of Bariloche, to enter this dusty, relaxed, hippy town.  And we´ve certainly made the most of it, having done very little since our arrival! We´ve been around the market (about 4 times – it´s full of amazing artesanal bits and pieces that I´m desperately trying not to buy to clutter up the flat even more!), eaten about half a cow and tasted the most incredible thing to have ever passed my lips. Ever.

People: make a waffle. Cover it in dulce de leche (or boiled condensed milk, ie caramel – preferably with an enormous glue gun if you have one to hand). Put a hefty handful of chopped fresh strawberries on top. Squirt fresh, slightly sweetened, whipped cream all over. And voila. Heaven. In fact we dropped the new camera into the cream such was the delicousness of this sweet delight!

But  after all the food we´ve eatern, we thought it was probably time to do a bit of walking (I´m sure you can imagine what all this is doing to our waists!). There was an early snowfall in the mountains yesterday and yet the sun was shining so we headed up to a  waterfall nearby. As people were collecting nuts from the ground to sell at the market and their children ran through the fruit fields, it felt as if we were in an Alpen advert. It was, needless to say, absolutely gorgeous and we ate some leftover potato salad under the cascadas! Heaven!

So here we are, just trying to upload some pictures (about 7 done – 150 to go!?) and admiring the pics of little Edward Stuart Wilson who was born this morning (well done Laura!! wish was there to give you and him a kiss!) before heading to get some more waffles and our night bus this evening to Puerto Madryn.

Hope all is well in sunny England – James informs me from twitter that spring has arrived so enjoy it and we´ll check in again soon!

Lots of love! x

Posted in Argentina | 7 Comments

Mugged in Mendoza

After the fun of wine tasting, we headed out of the hostel on Friday morning to go to an internet cafe to do a slightly more sober blog post and upload all the photos we´d taken so far. As a precaution, we´d copied all the photos from the camera to a memory stick that, until this point, had been carried separately from the camera. I think you can probably guess what is coming next…

We had walked 20 metres down the road when 2 guys on a moped pulled up and one jumped off and brandished a knife and started shouting in Spanish. We didn´t spend too long trying to understand what he was saying, we just handed over our bags and they drove off. It was all over in a matter of seconds. Although it was daylight, there was no-one around either to witness it or to stop it. Back at the hostal we called the police and tried to work out what had been taken.

The camera and all the pictures was the most upsetting thing but we also lost Claire´s diary of the trip, her phone (so please don´t phone or text her!), her bank card, some cash and annoyingly, our guidebook. The police were really helpful but i think they were a little frustrated with our inability to describe our muggers – it just happened so quickly!

We spent the next day in Mendoza´s lovely shopping centre trying to replace some of the things that had been taken including a cheapo camera. Our confidence has been dented a bit but we are trying to be pragmatic about it – it was an opportunistic robbery that could have taken place anywhere to anyone.

Since then, we have taken a 16 hour bus south to Barriloche in Patagonia. The weather is much colder – I went out on the first day in just my sandals and my toes nearly got frostbite! The town itself is quite strange – more like an alpine ski resort than anything else. Yesterday we went to visit some caves in an extinct volcano that had been inhabited 8,000 years ago by very tall people who had originated from Mongolia and Australia. (The tour was in Spanish so there is a strong chance that most of this is wrong). In one place we had to put on hard hats and crawl on all fours and climb through a tiny rectangular opening to get into a giant cave with a fresh water spring inside. We also saw a couple of very faded cave paintings of geometric shapes. The guide highlighted them by pouring water over the rock they were on which did make them easier to see but i´m not sure if it helped preserve them!

Tomorrow we are hoping to go kayaking on Lake Nahuel Huapi. We will do our best not to drop our new camera in the water…

Posted in Argentina | 1 Comment

Wine tasting in Mendoza

Well…I´m going to keep this very short as all the wine has taken effect!

As you may have gathered we have arrived in Mendoza and we have nicely settled into a vine way of life (get it…vine…fine???!!? I know but it´s been a loooong day!). We have spent the day cycling around vineyards and trying ALOT of wine, in fact the screen is definitely wobbling as I type. We haven´t learnt a huge amount about wine but it has all been delicious! Miriam – we met your twin – an Irish girl called Jo who not just looks like you but acts like you too so we made the most of her excellent (!) sense of humour and spent the day with her and her man who and very enjoyable it was too!

It´s St Patrick´s day tomorro so it is possible that we might make an appearance at the Irish Bar in town in the evening…how is it that they appear everywhere?! During the day we are going to relax in one of the parks in the city. One of the things that has struck us about Argentina is both the number of parks and the quantity of trees throughout the cities.

Anyway, to those we promised some more details, apologies, but the WiFi here isn´t working and we´re limited in access to a computer in the hostel. Uploading pictures will have to wait.

Take care all and keep safe!

Posted in Argentina | 1 Comment

River Plate and Santa Rosa de la Calamuchita

The highlight of the trip for Claire so far appears to be the bidet in our bathroom in the hostel in Buenos Aires. I am inclined to disagree and say it was the River v Argentinos Juniors on Sunday night. Although there were no goals, there were 2 red cards, a few tricks and flicks and plenty of theatrical diving. The atmosphere was pretty special, our guide tried to teach us some of the songs but we contented ourselves with looking like the tourists we were and smiling and clapping.

Back at the hostel after the game, i thought i better just check my emails to see if the hostel we had booked in Santa Rosa had emailed to confirm they would meet us at the bus station. Lucky i did as it turned out that they had checked the time our bus was supposed to arrive and discovered that our bus was headed for Santa Rosa La Pampa, not Santa Rosa de la Calamuchita. After a little panic, we decided that we would head to the bus station nice and early and see if we could change our bus tickets and if not, just get on and cross our fingers. Fortunately the bus company were really helpful and changed us to a bus going to the right place that evening. We then spent our unexpected extra day in Buenos Aires eating the food we had bought for the bus and enjoying the lovely weather in the parks.

The bus journey was a cheeky 10 hours – a nice short one to start us off and was the height of luxury – reclining seats, a toilet, even food and drink provided, but most importantly, it was going to the right destination! The hostel we are staying in at the moment is just outside the town and is run by a very friendly South African and Russian couple. They are currently stoking up the fire outside for a meat feast of steak and Argentinian sausage…

Today we went to visit a town called Villa General Belgrano, founded by sailors from the Admiral Graf Spee after it was scuttled in 1940. It is full of Bavarian style beer houses and german chocolate shops and restaurants selling bratwurst. Bizarre. When we have a better internet connection I will try and upload some photos.

That;s all for now – my steak is calling!

Posted in Argentina | 4 Comments

Safe and sound

It’s day 4 in Buenos Aires and it feels like we’ve been away forever and at the same time that it was only yesterday we were busy beavering away writing handover notes (and those were just for the flat – sorry Tracey!).

I could certainly get used to this: croissants and coffee for breakfast, wondering the streets of this chic city, lunch somewhere (we’re having so much Italian food it’s coming out of our ears…but it’s ok, apparently it’s the Italian influence so it’s all part of getting into the culture isn’t it?!). Then siesta late afternoon and up for drinks and steak when we would usually be going to bed back home. It’s a hard life.

We’ve explored the famous Recoleta cemetery, walked around the plush Puerto Madera area (and watched them shoot a beer advert) and went searching for some tango (nearly failed but eventually just came across some couples performing in the street – amazing).

We’re staying in BA til Monday, as we’ve booked tickets to a River Plate match on Sunday night…we just need to figure out the colours of the opposition so we make sure we don’t wear them! We’ve also begun to plan our route down south. We might have fallen at the first hurdle though as we can’t find a hostel with availablity in the next place we want to go…

We’re just about getting there with our Spanish too…it’s not exactly flooding back but it makes such a difference to be able to get the gist and then more or less communicate back! We’ve found it really odd that there’s not more English / Americans here..even at our hostel I think we’re the only English speakers! And strangely, there are so many native Argentinians that look so European..fair hair and pale skin (to the point that someone came up to me yesterday asking for directions in Spanish!) – who would imagine?!

Anyway, I better sign off before my ramblings become totally incoherent!

Love to everyone and hope all is ok…

Gina – well done on little William!! Good luck over next few weeks!
Laura – email me when you hear date?
LC – Apparently the ice-cream is meant to be phenomenal, but would you believe I haven’t tried it yet?! So don’t worry..that’s the mission today..I’m doing it in honour of you all.

PS. It’s 29 degrees here. Just to make you sick.

Posted in Argentina | 6 Comments

The party and beyond…

A huge thank you to everyone who came to the leaving/engagement party on Friday. We had a brilliant time and hope you did too.

And of course, the the obligatory cheesey shot of the happy couple:

Byeeeeeeeeeeeeeee for now, we’re going to miss you all. See you in 6 months!

Posted in General, Planning | 2 Comments

9 Working Days

Nine working days. That’s all I’ve got left before our advenure (nearly!) starts. And to be honest, I still can’t believe it. The months seems to have gone as quick as a jiffy and although in some ways we’ve been planning everything (yes – I have been packed for over a month now. Really….) there seems so much that we haven’t even looked at. For some bizarre reason actually deciding on an itinerary, the first night’s hotel, even the order of the countries we will visit has become so much more daunting than any of our previous travels. Perhaps it’s just the length of time that we’ll be away that makes it so hard to comprehend or the complete lack of pressure to actually come down one way or the other. But I suppose that is the whole idea of this time away from the “real” world – to NOT have a plan and to learn not to worry about it. Our exciting news last week though is that we have potentially sorted out some work in Argentina for a month. I won’t go into too much detail at the moment in case it doesn’t work out, but at least that would give us some kind of timescale / destination for the months ahead. So as we struggle through our last few weeks of handovers / training / rabies jabs / reattaching-radiators-so-Tracey-doesn’t-freeze I’m thinking the way forward is to relish the last mania of over zealous life-planning of our London-lives so that we are truly ready to throw ourselves into 6 months of freedom.

Posted in General, Planning | Leave a comment

56 days to go…

So, with Christmas and the New Year out of the way we can really start getting excited about our trip. And apparently that includes this fancy blog. A lot of the stuff we write in this blog really isn’t going to be of much interest to anyone except ourselves and perhaps our closest family members (but even they will probably either get bored or pissed off with out endless pictures of glorious beaches). But I think in the years to come we will be grateful for having this to look back through and remind us of the events of March – August 2011.

For those that don’t know, the route is roughly as follows:

  • Fly into Buenos Aires – 1st March
  • Travel around Argentina, Paraguay, Uruguay, Brazil and Chile (route as yet unplanned)
  • Fly from Santiago to Easter Island – 24th June
  • Fly from Easter Island to Tahiti – 29th June
  • Fly from Tahiti to New Zealand – 11th July
  • Fly from New Zealand to Sydney – 24th July
  • Fly from Sydney to Tokyo – 27th July
  • Fly from Tokyo back to sunny England – 13th August

Please note any/all family/friends are very welcome to join us for a short(!) period of the trip particularly if you speak Portuguese or Japanese or wish to upgrade our accommodation.

Anyway, that’s enough for a first post. More will follow in due course…

Posted in General, Planning | Leave a comment