Monday, December 23, 2013

Northward Bound

Matthew and I landed in Buenos Aires on Saturday evening, quickly went to our AirBnb apartment, and then hurried off to dinner at a place called Chez Felix- a prix-fixe dinner in a private home. Very cool house and very tasty food. Here's Matthew with his eyes on the prize:

Our apartment was awesome as well- an outdoor spiral staircase (with a palm tree next to it) led upstairs to the bedroom and another spiral staircase led up to a rooftop balcony.

We were staying in a neighborhood called Palermo Hollywood (Sicilian Moviestars?), a trendy neighborhood full of decent coffee (Hallelujah!), Neapolitan Pizza, and boutique clothing stores. And cool graffiti: 

As we walked through the city we found some lovely parks (and wandering philosophers),

and eventually worked our way past the imitation Washington Monument, 

to the imitation White House, Casa Rosada: The Pink House.

We happened to show up the one day of the week that they give tours, so we got the chance to walk through the "Hall of Busts" and the President's office (the President doesn't actually live in the Casa anymore). Interesting fact: the current president is the wife of the previous about a power couple. Here's a lovely interior courtyard:

And of course, the Halls of Busts:

After Casa Rosada we cruised down a famous street in San Telmo, the bustling street-fair neighborhood nearby.

The next day we took in the city's cemetery,

took a ride on the heavily-graffitied (but awesome!) subway,

and had our fair share of a famous Argentinian delicacy: Fernet and Coke. The sweetness of coke cuts the bitterness of Fernet nicely. Unfortunately it takes a lot of Coke to cut Fernet- so much sugar!!!

Wednesday morning we woke up at 3:30 AM for our 7 AM flight from Buenos Aires across the Rio de la Plata to Montevideo, Uruguay. Unfortunately, the door from the alley our apartment was on our to the street was completely jammed, so by the time a locksmith sawed the door down, we had missed our flight. Since rebooking flights was so expensive we actually took the Buquebus (the ferry) from Buenos Aires to Colonia, Uruguay and then had a four-hour bus ride to Montevideo. It ended up being a good way to see a little bit of Uruguay outside of Montevideo. 

Montevideo was a very livable city. Some cool architecture, tasty meat, and a very brown ocean.

Montevideo probably won't be the most memorable part of the trip though (sorry Montevideo). 

The day after we arrived in Montevideo we woke up at 3:30 AM (again) and flew five hours to Lima, Peru where we had a sixteen hour layover. The plan was simple: ceviche and pisco sours. For ceviche, Matthew made a reservation at the world-famous Chez Wong, a lunch-only Ceviche place in the private residence of Javier Wong. The meal was simple: one course ceviche, one course sweet stir-fry, and one course savory stir-fry (although it was really all about the ceviche). Chef Wong walked in at 1:00 PM, dismantled a halibut caught that morning before our eyes, and four minutes later we had halibut and octopus ceviche. Wow.

We're also 95% certain that Anthony Bourdain was there as well (he pointed himself out in a photo on the wall). I managed to sneak this selfie over my shoulder:

Celebrity chef count: 2. We ended the meal with a photo with the man himself: Javier Wong Chong.

After lunch, we had pisco sours at Bar Ingles at the Lima Country Club (where the drink was supposedly invented) and then headed back to the airport for our return to Los Estados Unidos. 

What a trip - 23 exhilarating, exhausting days and lots of memories. It was the best kind of vacation: one that you're happy to return home at the end of. Special shout out to a solid traveling companion:

And I'm finally caught up on the blog! For now. More to come soon...

Sunday, December 22, 2013

From the End of the World

Saturday morning our 9:00 AM boat was delayed until 3:00 PM, so we took a scenic bike ride a few miles outside of town.

At 3:00 PM, after an hour bus ride to Puerto Navarino, we boarded our chariot bound for Ushuaia, Argentina, a town of about 60,000 across the Beagle Channel. 

After a smooth (but rainy) 30-minute ride, we cleared customs and arrived in chilly Ushuaia, where we headed for our hostel. The next morning we visited one of Ushuaia's trademarks- a museum in Ushuaia's prison, built around 1900. It was enormous museum, with exhibits on everything from Antarctica to penguins to prisons around the world. There are worse places to get locked up, but it's probably a little cold in the winter...

That evening we flew 1,000 miles north to El Calafate, the gateway city to Fitz Roy. The airport was on a stunning glacial-blue lake, Lago Argentina.

On the bus to El Chalten the next day, we got our first glance of Fitz Roy, haughty in the distance.

We hiked four hours to the base of Cerro Torre from El Chalten and set up camp for the night. Quite a view.

I dipped a toe in and decided maybe it would be better to skip the polar bear swim. A kind Swiss man even grabbed a shot of the brothers (one of the few from the trip).

The next day we hiked to a glacier vista in the morning,

and then backtracked down the valley toward our next highlight.

While Cerro Torre was impressive, Fitz Roy stopped us in our tracks.

A close-up on one of the world's largest rock faces:

We planned on camping at the base of Fitz Roy the next night, so we continued hiking past the face and did a little side trip up to a frigid glacial lake. Brrr.

I picked up a piece glacier and enjoyed a homemade popsicle. Tasty. That evening we arrived at a refugio just as the rain arrived- a shelter from the storm.

The next morning we waited out the rain and then backtracked to the base of Mt Fitz Roy. Takes my breath away every time.

We hiked back to El Chalten the next day and then rode the bus back to El Calafate to prepare for our trip to the world-famous Perito Moreno Glacier. On our boat ride to the glacier we noticed there were cameras around- a fellow passenger informed us that the man with the bowl on his backpack is a TV-star chef in South America who travels to unusual locales and cooks. Celebrity chef count: 1.

The glacier itself was quite a sight. Hard to get perspective in this photo, but the ice is about 80 feet tall.

After a brief lesson on glaciers, we geared up and spent an hour or two walking around the ice, culminating in a glass of bourbon on the rocks- made from glacier ice.

After walking on the glacier we got to go to the viewpoint. The glacier itself is one of the lowest elevation glaciers in the world at less than 1,000 feet. It's also one of the relatively few glaciers that's not shrinking. It's about 3 miles wide and 30 miles long, and the scary part- the few hundred feet sticking up out of the lake only represents the top 10% of the glacier!

Note the tiny people in the foreground for perspective. Another interesting feature of this glacier- the ice actually cuts the lake in two. The water on the left (the south face) is about 60 feet higher than the water on the right (the north face), and every few years the water bursts through the ice, releasing millions of gallons of water- what a wave. The next day we left El Calafate for Buenos Aires- the end of the wilderness pieces of the trip. While Puerto Williams was more unique, Fitz Roy was eye candy. Definitely the prettiest part of the trip.

Monday, December 16, 2013

To the End of the World

In mid-November I left Nashville for four weeks of travel with my brother, through Chile, Argentina, Uruguay, and Peru. I flew to Toronto, where I met up for Matthew and then south to Santiago. After arriving and clearing customs, our first task was to climb the tallest thing around, so we rode a funicular up to the Sanctuary of the Immaculate Conception.

It was a little smoggy (the city is in a basin), but we did manage to spot the Andes towering above the city in the distance. South America's tallest building, the Gran Torre, is also visible in this shot:

The next day we moved to our AirBnb lodging, on the 26th floor of a new condo building in western Santiago, with good views,

and a nauseating balcony- eek!

We spent the next day cruising the fish market, a museum about the dictator Pinochet, and of course, enjoying Chilean Pisco Sours:

The next day we did lots of walking- it was national election day in Chile, which in addition to meaning most restaurants were closed, also meant no purchase or consumption of alcohol, and no congregating in groups. We had unfortunately missed the memo and forgotten to stock up... At least we found a nice park.

The following day we headed south- first a 2 hour flight to Puerto Montt, where we dropped off and picked up passengers, then another 2 hours south to windswept Punta Arenas on the Straight of Magellan.We only had a half day in Punta Arenas, which we spent stocking up on backpacking supplies, and visiting the local watering hole:

The next morning we returned to the airport to board our Aerovias DAP flight to tiny 2,000-person Puerto Williams, Chile, the southernmost settlement in the world. We had quite a chariot- a 20-seater twin otter, made for short takeoffs and landings.

And here's the view as we flew into Puerto Williams.

After dropping our stuff at a hostel and picking up a few last minute supplies, off we went on the Dientes de Navarino trek, "the Teeth of Navarino". After a 1,000-foot climb we arrived at our first landmark, the summit of Cerro Bandera (Flag Mountain). Here's Matthew battling 35 mph winds:

We also got our first peak at the Dientes (on the right). It turns out that they do look like teeth.

We arrived at our first camp on the shores of a lake just as it started snowing and hunkered down. Once the sun finally set at 11:30 PM, the wind really picked up, and we woke up (once the sun rose at 4:00 AM) to three inches of snow!

The snow continued to fall, so we decided to stay put for the day. I don't know that I've ever spent so much time in a tent- thank God for the Kindle. I only set foot outside the tent twice all day. It was certainly cozy.

Thursday dawned clear, so after packing up camp, we day-hiked up to the pass through the snow,

where we decided it was probably best to turn back.

After hiking back into town we settled in for a celebratory (even though we didn't finish our trek) dinner. Somehow we ended up with this:

Hard to say how exactly we ordered french fries with hot dogs, especially since there was no menu. Afterward, we walked to the Micalvi- a German freighter that was grounded in Puerto Williams and is the world's southernmost yacht club. Lots of character and lots of characters.

We met a couple who had spent three years sailing a boat they bought on Craigslist from San Francisco to Patagonia, a USC postdoc who had spent six weeks hiking alone, and a Dutch economist who occasionally buys boats and sails across the Atlantic. Okay drinks, but great company. 

The next morning Matthew and I were wandering around town looking for things to do (since we had finished hiking a day early), when we ran into the town's tourist agent who asked if we wanted to enter that evening's "maraton familiar", a 3K run to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the founding of Puerto Williams. Of course! 

That evening at 6:00 PM we showed up at the starting line, and uh-oh- I forgot that Puerto Williams is a military town full of young fit sailors. The race was frantic- I ran for my life and managed to gasp into third place!

After a brief award ceremony (all in Spanish) we went home and celebrated with a bowl of fresh king crab. Even better, we walked to the yacht club that evening and discovered that were was a barbecue to celebrate the next day's regatta between Argentina and Chile. Nothing quite like eating prime rib sandwiches and drinking Miller High Life at the world's southernmost yacht club. 

The next day it was off to Argentina! Puerto Williams was a perfect example of why we travel- it's always the unplanned events that mean the most.