Spring Break in Patagonia

I recently returned from my nine-day trip to Patagonia, Argentina, where I climbed mountains, touched glaciers and ate some awesome food. I saw amazing sights that very few people have ever seen, and I feel very grateful. This blog post will be long, as it will cover more than a week of being in one of the most spectacular places I have ever been. It will be split up into the three cities I visited and will also be broken down in specific hikes and excursions I went on. Thanks so much for reading, and I hope you enjoy these beautiful pictures and details of my trip almost as much as I enjoyed experiencing them.

USHUAIA

ushuaia-mapaUshuaia is located in Tierra del Fuego, Argentina, and is also known for being the southern-most city in the world. It’s basically as close to Antarctica as I’m ever going to get.

Our flight from Buenos Aires to Ushuaia was about four hours long, and once we arrived in the city at 8:30 a.m. we were immediately surrounded by snowy mountains.

We left our luggage at our hostel, Torre del Sur, which is a small but clean hostel owned by a hospitable woman named Marisa. She showed us the best place to get some breakfast and what hiking trails to go on, and then we were off, running on less than four hours of sleep.

We went to the Cárcel del Fin del Mundo (End of the World Prison) and Museo Marítimo (Maritime Museum). In the 1800s, some of the worst criminals were sent to this prison, as it was basically on a freezing, barren island. Prisoners built railroads and helped form the city. The prison was really interesting to go through, and it reminded me of Alcatraz in San Francisco. The Maritime Museum showed the different voyages the Europeans went on around South America and how they killed thousands of natives.

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By the time we finished exploring the prison, we felt like it had been days since we left Buenos Aires. The museum had information about the history of Ushuaia, explorers who conquered lands in South America, the natives in Ushuaia, other famous prisons around the world, art exhibits of penguins and photos of underwater life. It had everything, and I felt exhausted by the time we finished.

Ushuaia seemed liked a relatively small city compared to Buenos Aires. It was crescent-shaped, with the mountains on the far side and the Beagle Channel on the inside.  We never needed Google maps to find our way because we would know the general direction of where we wanted to go and in a few blocks would find our street. Ushuaia was very colorful, and because it was literally formed on the mountainside, very hilly.

Some of the first things we had to do when we got to Tierra del Fuego (End of the World) in Ushuaia were go to the ocean and take some pictures with the famous Tierra del Fuego sign. It was chilly, and I found myself wishing I had a hat (which my mother had told me I should bring. She’s always right.)

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Around 3 p.m. we went back to our hostel to check in. We were in a room with six beds, and because there’s only five of us, we had a roommate. His name was Dave, and he was an Australian in his mid-20s. He taught us some popular slang in Australia, like “hectic.” They say that all the time for places that were fun and crazy, or just different. He also told us that they use “loose” to mean somebody who gets really drunk.

Traveling isn’t just about seeing cool sights and trying things you’ve never done before. You meet some interesting people and can learn about places that have nothing to do with where you’re traveling.

We went to an Irish pub, which called itself the “first Irish pub in Tierra del Fuego” and had pizza. One thing I’ve learned about the pizza in Argentina is that it will almost always come with olives. I ordered a pizza from a menu that did not say anything about olives, and sure enough, one olive per slice of pizza was sitting on top. I’m not a big fan of green olives, but I feel bad picking off stuff that every Argentine seems to love. But if it happens to roll of the pizza (which it always does) I don’t pick it back up.

Regardless, pizza was always delicious anyway. I also had Stella Artois for the first time, which, for beer, was pretty good.

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After this long first day, we got some much-needed rest and got up early to go explore the national park and witness a solar eclipse, which was blinding but fascinating.

Senda Costera (Coast Trail)

5 miles, 3 hours, level of difficulty: moderate

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We took a 20-minute bus ride into the Tierra del Fuego National Park. After driving in between mountains, we arrived at the trail entrance that a park ranger recommended for us. It’s supposed to take three hours, but my friends wanted to have photo shoots along the trail, which made it about five hours.

The trail was gorgeous. It went in and out of the forest and along the coast of a lake. The second-half was a lot of uphill, but beautiful nonetheless. A few of my friends were not super into hiking, so I was happy that they decided to go on this trail. We ate lunch on the coast and climbed our way up a mountain until we arrived at the visitors center where the bus would pick us up. Everywhere I looked, I saw beauty. Tierra del Fuego National Park was amazing, and I would love to go back and explore some more.

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For dinner that night, I had some amazing steak with chimichurri sauce and a local wine. Just feast your eyes on this lovely picture.

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The next morning, people were taking too long to get ready or they wanted to go back to sleep, so I ventured out on my own and walked the streets. It wasn’t super exciting, but I got to see a little more of the city, and I felt like I was being productive with my time.

Glaciar Martial

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The next hike we went on in Ushuaia was one of my favorites. Marisa, the owner of the hostel, recommended it to us. She said it was easy, but she lied.

We took a taxi up the mountain. Up and up and up. Then, after we got out, we assumed the glacier would be right there and that was it. Nope. The trail started with about a half-mile of a steep incline, and as soon as we got over one hill, there was another. It was at least one hour of this before we arrived to a large opening with a river rushing through.

There, we saw a good view of the glacier. And in between the glacier and the other mountains, we saw little dots of people hiking across the mountain and up behind a mountain towards the glacier.

My friends immediately said no to the rest and took pictures in front of the mountain. I decided to hike the rest alone. I wanted to finish the trail, and also I wanted to prove to myself that I could do it. For some reason, hiking the trail was like a test of independence for me.

It turned out to be the hardest hike I have ever been on. It started off not too difficult, but then the incline got steeper and steeper until it was about an 80 degree incline. The path was just loose stones, as it was a mountain, and it also started raining.

I took lots of breaks and stared at the view as I got higher and higher. I said hello to the hikers on their way back down. Finally, after a lot of huffing and calf-straining, I made it to the bottom of the glacier. I touched the ice and felt accomplished. A couple from Colorado offered to take my picture, and I did the same for them. They looked equally as thrilled as I did. I ignored the rain and wind and looked down at the view. Before I had even started the trek by myself I thought the view was great, but the sight from the glacier was astounding.

On my way back down, which seemed even slower because I was trying not to fall all the way down the glacier, I was giddy with the sense of accomplishment. I had never felt more proud of myself than I did at that moment.

Here are all the photos I took on this hike, along with a little bit of the thought process during the hike.

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It was our last day in Ushuaia, and for dinner I had this interesting croquette thing with veal. It was comforting, filling, and exactly what I needed after a long hike.

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Our bus to El Calafate, where Parque Nacional de los Glaciares is, left at 7:30 a.m., and we spent most of our time sleeping, reading or listening to music.

The 17-hour bus ride was an adventure. We went in and out of Chile, having to get our passports stamped three times. We took a ferry in which I saw Patagonian dolphins (which are called skunk dolphins because of the large white stripe around their bodies) and had to get off at Rio Gallegos just to get back on a different one an hour later.

EL CALAFATE

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We made it to our hostel around 1 in the morning, and it was a really nice hostel. It looked clean and seemed more like a hotel than anything else.

Exhausted from the bus ride, we didn’t do too much our first day in El Calafate. We woke up late and got crepes at Viva La Pepa and then walked around and explored the city. We had our merienda at a cafe called Olivia, in which I got a vegetarian bagel. That might not sound like something I would order, but I had been feeling like my diet was lacking vegetables. Nonetheless, I didn’t think my diet was too much of a concern later that night when I ordered a burger for dinner at a restaurant called Don Diego, which was playing cheesy American songs I hadn’t heard in a long time.

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Cabalgatas del Glaciar

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While I was researching for this trip, I came across a blog with a list of things to do, and I found an excursion where you can go horseback riding in Patagonia around Lago Roca. I emailed the company, and I did not hear back until after we arrived in El Calafate. It was $117 per person, and for everything it included, it sounded like a good price.

Luciano, the person with whom I emailed, picked us up at 8:30 a.m. at our hostel. As soon as he walked into the lobby, it was obvious he owned horses. He just had that aura about him. He wore horse tendon boots and a dark-blue beret. For some reason, he reminded me of the cab driver in the first episode of Sherlock.

Do you ever find yourself in a situation where you think, “this would be the perfect place to be killed?”

No? That’s good. When my friends and I got into the car with Luciano and drove farther and farther away from the city and into the huge national park where no one would be able to hear our screams, the thought crossed my mind. But, I just have an overactive imagination.

The ride itself to his ranch was an adventure and was what I imagine an African safari ride to be. As we drove past rocky mountains with few shrubbery on our left and snowy, distant mountains on our right, we saw ostrich, huge rabbits and Patagonian birds like purple eagles.

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Once we pulled into a tiny ranch after an hour-long drive, we
were welcomed by friendly farm dogs and a beautiful view. He had pastries and coffee for us in a little tiny hut where we waited for the horses to be saddled. We walked around, ate pastries and played with his dogs until the horses were ready.

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My horse’s name was Carracedo, and he was awesome. He was a little ornery with the other horses and was constantly poking them while we were waiting for everyone to get on their horses. He always wanted to get ahead of everybody else and would try to pass the other horses if they were going too slow. And the moment we would stop moving, he would start eating the grass. He reminded me a lot of myself.

Luciano led with his horse, and we all followed behind in a single line. We rode across the Patagonian fields and up a small mountain where we could see snowy mountains and the Perito Moreno Glacier in the distance. He lined us all up and took our pictures with our horses and the view.

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After we all got our pictures taken, we made our way to a river where we would have lunch. We passed by short bushes and pine trees, and we even passed some cow and horse bones. Riding Carracedo was a lot of fun, especially when he would start to trot faster. I loved the bounce and the adrenaline of riding on a galloping horse. I also would laugh every time my friend Anna’s horse would fart, which was often. He would fart with every step he took, and I had just found that hilarious.

Once we made it to our stopping point for lunch, we saw a little shack and a fire pit.

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He immediately poured all of us a glass of Malbec and then started to work on lunch. He made a fire and then took out this huge pan to put on top. He poured some olive oil, chopped up garlic and then laid out a bunch of steaks. He sprinkled salt and red pepper on them, and after he put the steak in a bun, it was ready to be served.

It was delicious, and after we had finished our sandwiches, he got up and started round two, which was funny. He repeated the same process and handed us all our sandwiches again. Anna is basically a vegetarian, but she accepted both sandwiches and said she even enjoyed them. After the second sandwiches, he looked around and asked who wanted another. We made eye contact, and I guess he could just read my mind. He made me and two other people another sandwich.

I talked with a couple from from Paris who lived in Rio de Janeiro. They were on vacation in Patagonia as well, and they left Rio de Janeiro during Carnaval, as apparently locals always try to leave during Carnaval because it gets too crowded with tourists. It was interesting talking to them and learning more about Brazil and France.

20170302_133554After lunch, we hung out for a bit and talked. I went to the river nearby and walked around for a bit. I fed a horse some apples and led him back to the center of the camp where the other horses were. Carracedo was hanging out eating some grass, and I pet him for awhile. It was the first time I had ever spent a lot of time with horses. I had never understood those girls in school who were obsessed with horses, but now I get it. Horses are pretty cool.

We got back on our horses and started to make our way back to Luciano’s ranch. I was sad to see the excursion end, but my legs were getting pretty sore. Horseback riding through Patagonian mountains was a highlight of the trip. Lucianao was great, and I definitely would recommend going on a horseback ride with him in the Glacier National Park.

The next day we spent doing nothing, which made me feel a little guilty. For me, when I go on vacat20170303_162044ion I like to be busy and make the most of my time in a place. I was somewhat sad that I didn’t spend the day doing something interesting, but I ate great food and got to know my friends a little better. I tried a local beer that was made from Calafate berries. I wasn’t a big fan, but I’m not the right person to talk to about beer.

Later we went to the grocery store to buy some wine to take back to the hostel, and a man, with a cart filled with different bottles of wine, approached us and gave us some of his recommendations. I asked him how he knew so much about wine, and he just said he drinks a lot. We bought two bottles of Bravío, a cabernet. 20170303_191844

We drank and hung out for a few hours before going to a Latin American restaurant around 10 p.m. where I had a delicious fresh pappardelle pasta. We made friends with a dog that was sitting outside the hostel, and it escorted us to our restaurant. It hung out with us a few times after that and was very sweet. El Calafate had a ton of dogs just roaming around the streets.

It turned out to be a good day, despite not hiking or going on an excursion.

Perito Moreno Glacier

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On our last day of our trip, a couple of my friends came with me to see the famous glacier. I had really wanted to see it and felt like I would regret not seeing the main attraction of El Calafate.

We took an hour-long taxi ride into the national park, where we had to pay 500 pesos each just to enter. The taxi stopped along the way to let us take pictures, and then he waited an hour as we explored the glacier.

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Steps led down a mountainside where you can get an up-close view of the glacier. It is much larger than I imagined, and it was active. Ice kept falling off the glacier and making a huge splash into the water. I often couldn’t see this happening but could just hear it happening somewhere inside the monstrous edifice. It is the only glacier in the world that is actually advancing. Each year it continues to grow.

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It was a great way to end the trip to Patagonia, and I was glad I went to see it. It was amazing to see such a beautiful natural phenomenon.

EL CHALTÉN

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In the middle of our trip in El Calafate, we took a bus to spend the day in El Chaltén, where we climbed Mount Fitz Roy and ate waffles. The bus was about three hours long and was very scenic. I would occasionally see llamas wandering on shrubby hills or sheep hanging out in fields. The landscapes of the mountains reminded me of the jagged lines on a heart-rate monitor.

We got dropped off at the bus station and had a been given a map of all the trails. After a long walk and getting lost a couple times, we found the start of a trail that someone at the hostel had recommended to us.

Senda Al Fitz Roy

5 miles, 3 hours, difficulty: medium/high

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The first mile of the trail started off all uphill and was pretty exhausting. Luckily, there were a bunch of stopping points to look at the view, so it wasn’t too bad. We walked alongside a cliff that overlooked a long river and mountains.

We hiked through a forest and made our way to a viewing point of the famous Mount Fitz Roy,  of which the logo of the clothing company Patagonia is based.

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We had a lunch of avocado-tomato-green pepper sandwiches with chips and apples in the middle of the trail. After, we hiked to a lake that gave us some more views of Mount Fitz Roy. All the rivers and lakes by Mount Fitz Roy were drinkable, so I filled my water bottle with fresh glacier water.

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The trail was a lot of fun and had everything: cliffs, mountains, rivers, lakes and forests. It also offered great views of Mount Fitz Roy.

Before we got back onto the bus to go back to El Calafate, we had waffles and coffee, which was a great way to end the hike. I shared with my friend the craziness pictured below, which was a waffle covered with fruit, ice cream and chocolate.

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We got back to El Calafate and had a half-day there in which I visited Perito Moreno Glacier before going to the airport.

Patagonia has so much to offer, and I would love to go back. Everywhere you look there’s beauty. I felt like I went to many different terrestrial ecosystems while I was there. In Ushuaia I felt as though I were in the arctic. In El Calafate it seemed I was in an African savanna at times. I drove past grasslands, deserts and forests.

The Patagonian mountains made me feel like I was in the Ice Age. Just for a moment, every issue vanishes as you gaze at the ragged, beautiful landscapes that Patagonia offers. You see how all of Earth used to be: untouched, natural and imperfectly perfect.

But it’s not just Patagonia that offers this; nature in general can just make you feel like you’re in a different time. Even if you never find the opportunity to travel all the way south to Patagonia, try to get out in nature more often.

I had an amazing time in Patagonia, and I was glad I saw more of Argentina and its national parks. It has so much more to offer than I had thought, and I learned a lot. I learned about the history of these cities, other cultures, and I also realized what I’m capable of accomplishing.

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