Saturday, February 04, 2006

Feb 4-7 - Buenos Aires

We flew back to BA from Iguazu where we would be spending a few days just checking out the city. We were also able to meet up with Wade and Rena and Shari and Eamon again.

We did a city tour and wandered around a couple of the shopping districts. We were also able to get tickets to a Boca Juniors soccer (futbol) game. As the game was on Super Bowl Sunday, Gary and JoAnn took a pass on the soccer and watched the Super Bowl, while the 6 of us headed to the futbol game.

Boca is supposed to be the most popular team in BA (which reportedly has the highest concentration of first division football teams in the world) and after seeing a game, I can believe it. We were told it wasn't an important game so tickets would be easy to get. The stadium probably wasn't sold out, but it might have been close. The one end of the stadium was for the standing room tickets and it was packed. From about 30 minutes before kick off, they started singing and except for a break at half time, didn't stop the entire game. The rest of the stadium joined in from time to time. The final was either 2-0 or 3-0 for Boca over Lanus so everyone left happy.

BA was where we parted company with Wade and Rena after a very successful month of travelling. We decided to end on a good note and go out for a big meal. We lucked out and found a place that served all you can eat meat. You have a little tab at your table that you flip over to the green side when you want more, and they just bring by tray after tray, skewer after skewer of steaks, ribs, chorizo, chicken, pork, you name it. I think there may have also been a salad bar.
Needless to say, everyone left happy.

The next day ourselves and Gary and JoAnn packed up and flew north to Salta. The plan was to rent a car and drive around the northern part of Argentina near to Salta, and then make our way south towards the wine region of Mendoza. Sounds simple enough, right?

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Feb 1-3 - Iguazu

We left Wade and Rena in Santiago and headed to the airport for our flight to Buenos Aires (from now on 'BA'). Tanis' parents (Gary and JoAnn) had flown into BA a couple of days before hand and we would be meeting them in the airport and then all of us flying up to Puerto Iguazu. We had two hours of connection time, so we thought we had all sorts of time. Except that our flight left from a different airport(the domestic one), which was about an hour away. But we made it in time and met up with Tanis' folks and made it to Iguazu with no problems. We spent the rest of the day relaxing and figuring out our plans for the next two days.

The big attraction in Iguazu are the Iguazu falls. The falls are on the border with Brazil and are massive. We took a bus into the national park in the morning and spent the day walking around the various walkways, bridges and paths to view the different sections of the falls. I think there are about 200 hunderd separate cascades.

It was very hot, and after walking around for 4 or 5 hours We decided to then take the 'Grand Adventure' tour, which consisted of a boat ride in the falls, a boat ride down the river, and then a 4x4 ride through the jungle back to the park entrance. Perfect.

We had watched the boats going up to certain sections of the falls all day, and you could see that everyone was getting soaked by the spray.

So everything of value had to go in the dry bags. But they took us up the entrance of the Garganta del Diablo (throat of the devil) to start with and basically backed the boat right under one of the falls. Gary and JoAnn were sitting in the last row and were just about washed out of the boat.

We were in the row ahead of them so it wasn't quite as bad, but you couldn't see anything there was so much water. Needless to say, we spent the rest of the tour in wet clothes.

For the 3rd, we decided to rent a car and drive a ways to see some of the ruins from the Jesuit Missions. The Jesuits had a number of Reducciones in the area in the 15th and 16th centuries where they would house large populations of indigenous. In return for their labour, they would be housed and educated (to some degree). The ruins we saw were at San Igancio, which used to house a few thousand people in its hey day. We were lucky enough to tag along with an english tour so were actually able to learn a little about it. The settlements were eventually abandoned, as apparently the Spanish were quite jealous of the Jesuits success with the indigenous populations and eventually banned them from the area. There's a movie called The Mission (with Robert de Niro) that is about the Reducciones, but I think it might be more to do with when they were driven out of Brazil into Argentina, but I haven't seen it (although I may rent it now).

Monday, January 30, 2006

Jan 30/31 - Chilean wines

We thought we'd take a couple of days to see a few of the wineries around Santiago. With no clear plan or map, Wade, Rena and ourselves decided to rent a car and just hope for the best.

The first stop was Concha Y Toro, which I think is Chile's largest wineries. They sell wines under a number of different brands (including Casillero del Diablo - The Devil's Cellar), and are exported practically everywhere.

It took a few stops to get the right directions but we finally made it there for an afternoon tour. We got to sample a few wines during the tour, and then we decided to belly up to the tasting bar for a few more. Rena had ate something dodgy for lunch, so she was the responsible one. Tanis went for the most expensive wines on the list, Wade and Casey (driver and co-pilot) went for volume.

We then headed south thinking we'd just trip over another winery or two and find a place to stay. We found Santa Rita, but were sent away as we didn't have a reservation. We then found a small micro-winery who's owner/tour guide didn't speak english. But we got some directions from him for the nearest town of any size, bought a bottle of wine and headed off with thoughts of hotel rooms in our heads.

After a few minor detours, we finally made it to Raconcagua and found a hotel downtown. The guide book didn't have many good things to say about the mostly industrial town of about 200,000 people, but we found it to be pretty friendly.

The next day we went to the Miguel Torres winery. It was a very nice winery with a very nice restaurant where we drank many nice wines with lunch. We then had the tour.

That was pretty much it for the wineries, as we had to get back to Santiago tonight as we were flying out first thing tomorrow morning to Buenos Aires. The ladies were pretty quiet on the way back - possibly the wine?

Saturday, January 28, 2006

Jan 28/29 - Bariloche, Argentina

We spent the next two days in Bariloche which was a very pretty town. Lots of lakes and mountains, with lots of buildings in kind of a swiss style (or so we're told - having never been to Switzerland, who knows). Its supposed to be a ski resort town in the winter, but it was very busy in the summer as well.

Tanis ate something dodgy on the boat ride to Bariloche and was under the weather for most of our time here. So we didn't get very far out of down town. However, Bariloche is also famous for its chocolate - chocolate stores everywhere. And apparently Tanis' 'illness' didn't affect her appetite for chocolate.

In the end it was a very relaxing couple of days. On the evening of the 29th we flew back to Santiago in Chile

Friday, January 27, 2006

Jan 27 - Crossing to Bariloche

Today we took the Cruce de Lagos from Puerto Varas, Chile to Bariloche, Argentina. Its a combination of 4 bus trips and 3 boat trips across a few high altitude lakes in the Andes. The first stop was the Rio Petrohue falls which was packed full of geriatrics on bus tours. The falls weren't really that impressive, so I'm not sure what the big attraction was.

Here's a pic of Volcan Osorno from the first ferry ride.

Not really much else exciting happened, other than Rena getting shat on by a pigeon, but unfortunately, no pictures.

Monday, January 23, 2006

Jan 23-25 - Kayaking on Reloncavi Fjord

The Navimag arrived in Puerto Montt at about 6am on the 23rd, and we were off by about 8am. We were then picked up in Puerto Montt by our guide from Ko´Kayak who was taking us on a three day trip down Rio Petrohue and into the Reloncavi Fjord.

We drove up to Puerto Varas and then on to their boat house in Ensanado. We were given the appropriate gear, signed the appropriate liability waivers and then taken to the drop in point on the Rio Petrohue.

This time of year, the area is plagued with tabanos. Tabanos are these giant horse fly type things that are incredibly annoying. They were our constant companions down the Rio Petrohue which made it difficult to focus on anything else.

It was easy paddling down the river as we were going with the current, and other than a couple incidents with some fallen trees in the river, things were going pretty well.

Right up until we hit our first and only real rapids. The guide went and checked it out first as they can change depending on the tide, as its where the river meets the ocean. We did pretty well until the last rough patch which dumped both Rena and Casey into the river. We managed not to lose any of our gear and after a brief rest period to get them back into their kayaks, we were on our way again. We kayaked out of the river and into the fjord for a few km, where we camped for the night.

The next day started out very nice with hardly any wind and lots of sunshine. The wind was predicted to pick up later in the day so we were trying to get as far as we could in the morning as we´d be going right into it. We kayaked past a number of salmon and mussel farms, and also got to see a few sea lions swimming around. In particular what appeared to be a giant bull sea lion (at least he seemed pretty big from a kayak - I'm guessing 2,000 lbs or so). Again, being accountants and not athletes, we didn´t get as far as we´d hoped. But luckily there was a support boat that picked us up and took us to the 'hospedaje' where we were staying tonight. And a more seaworthy vessel you won't find.

The hospedaje was basically an old family farmhouse with just the grandmother/mother left. The lady of the house was now running a bed and breakfast type set up. I'm not sure how often she gets guests as there are no roads to the place. It looked a little rustic from the outside but was very nice on the inside. There yard was also full of animals - 2 dogs, 4 pigs (with about 20 piglets), 4 cows, 6 geese and a few cats. There must have also been some chickens as we heard the roosters first thing in the morning. No power or tv, but plenty of entertainment. As they didn´t speak english and our spanish sucks, we´re not 100% sure of how it happened, but we gathered that some other dogs showed up one day while they were gone and attacked one of their pigs, and basically chewed its leg off. There´s obviously something we´re missing, but it was quite the sight. (this next picture may not be suitable for all audiences)

The last day we headed further down the fjord and around one of the islands that is usually home to a fairly large seal lion colony. We had perfect weather today, lots of sunshine and no wind - when we started in through the little islands the water was just like glass.

It was very picturesque with little houses here, while surrounded by mountains and volcanoes. We saw a couple of sea lions but as its apparently mating season (or something) there weren't any on the island. But we also got to see a few dolphins who were swimming/surfacing pretty close to where we were. Of course no pictures as they weren't really sticking around for very long, but still pretty cool.

The support boat then picked us up around noon and we made lunch on the boat. The boat then took us to a town on the fjord where we would be picked up by the van.

The support boat tows a row boat behind it for getting to shore, although its not the most sea worthy vessel as we found out on the way back. The solution was just to go faster and once the front of the row boat got out of the water, it pretty much sorted itself out.

After a few hours in the minivan, we made it back to Puerto Varas where we would be spending a couple of nights before heading to Bariloche in Argentina.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Jan 19-23 - Navimag

We took the morning bus from El Calafate back to Puerto Natales where we would be boarding the Navimag ferry this evening. We got into Puerto Natales around 2pm and then picked up our excess clothes, etc that we had left there before our hike, did laundry (which was very much needed) and got to spend a few hours hanging out with Shari and Eamon, who were just starting their trek through Torres del Paine the next day.

We boarded the ferry at around 9pm that night.

The Navimag ferry takes cargo and passengers from Puerto Natales to Puerto Montt through various channels and fjords along the coast of Chile. The whole trip takes abut 3.5 days. We had a cabin with 4 bunks which proved to be a little cramped if everyone wanted to stand up at the same time.

As we´ve learned, the weather in Patagonia seems to be changing all the time, and we only had one really nice day (day 2). We stopped in Puerto Eden and passengers had a chance to visit the town for an hour or two if they wanted. It was way too early for us, but we did get the chance to snap a few pics.

We got to see some impressive scenery, including a few more glaciers, some dolphins, and this wreck that grounded on a sandbar 40 years ago and now acts as a channel marker. We also managed to get through about 10 bottles of wine and a case or two of beer. Just what we needed to recover from all the hiking.

The afternoon/evening of day 2 was when we left the channels for a while and we´re in the open sea. Everybody was advised that the seas could be rough and if they thought they might get sick, they should take some sea sickness pills about 2 hours before we entered the open sea. This was taken about 5ish, after the pills had put pretty much everyone to sleep.

Wade and Casey took the opportunity to enjoy a few beverages, and to briefly take command of the bridge.