Martin on the TGO Challenge 2017

Martin on the TGO Challenge 2017

Saturday, 14 November 2015

Another Bus Ride

14 November

Snow plastered peaks are slowly left behind as we move from rain to rain shadow on the coach ride back to El Calafate.

The driver sheds three layers of clothing and consumes a flask of maté provided by his mate.

Cattle, horses and sheep chew on the tough grasses of the steppe as we travel alongside Lago Viedma.

Herds of Guanaco and flocks of rhea are passed. Apparently the male rhea look after the chicks. We spotted one surrounded by a kindergarten of twenty or so.

I ponder the size of the 'lamb' in last night's stew. A 'micro-lamb? Or a large guinea pig?

Flamingos paddle in the roadside ponds.
Dessicated corpses straddle the low fence beside the road. Guanaco can't be good hurdlers.

Our view back across Lago Viedma reveals a rainbow where Fitzroy should be.

A quick break for coffees and a potato fritte at Hotel La Leona, then on past barren wind sculpted formations rising gently to maybe 1000 metres above the road.

White fronted geese and colourful birds of prey line the verge as we approach our destination.

We reach El Calafate by 11 am. Time for the most expensive coffees* of the entire trip (including Paris).

Then it's a short stroll back to America del Sur Hostel.

The pictures:
Approaching Hotel La Leona
Two images of 'Steppe Country'
The most expensive coffee bar in El Calafate
Typical El Calafate architecture

* A redeeming feature was a row of books on which shelf I found a volume called 'Six Great Ideas' published in 1981 by Mortimer J Adler. Academics like HMP3 may remember it. It reminded me of some US based management courses I attended around that time. According to Adler there are three ideas we judge by - Truth, Goodness and Beauty, and three ideas we act on - Liberty, Equality and Justice.

I rest my case!

Not Fitzroy (Episode 3)

13 November

There were eleven tents at our first campsite, twelve here. But not this morning. Denise and Owen had left by the time we peered out after 7.30. Their 'round the world' equipment may not enjoy the same weather resistant qualities as our Patagonian trip gear. It may have been cool outside overnight, but not inside our RAB 400 bags.

It was still raining, and the snow line looked to be at about our height of 750 metres or so. Nevertheless, soon after 8 am we were to be found on the rising path to Laguna de los Tres. It's described in our guide book as "A short, stiff climb to a viewpoint with astounding close-up views of Cerro Fitzroy."

We met a couple of Italians coming down. They had been put off by the near blizzard conditions and tried to dissuade us from going further. They failed. We didn't see anyone else on this normally crowded path until nearly back at camp, where we met some ill equipped Spanish speakers.

We took a little over an hour to reach the Laguna de los Tres viewpoint. It was a wintry scene. Cerro Fitzroy was nowhere to be seen. You'll know the feeling if you've spent a few days in Zermatt and haven't seen the Matterhorn. (I remember that well!) At least we did see Fitzroy from the plane on Monday.

It was good to be in proper snow, though gaiters would have been handy for the sections where it had drifted. We had slithered back down to the tent by 10.30. Time for lunch. Well, time to eat all our remaining food as it's only a 10 km walk back down to El Chaltén, and we have plenty of time for that after lazing at length in the tent.

The walk back down was pleasant enough, with quite a few folk battling with the wind and rain. We kept glancing over our shoulders, but Fitzroy retained the shy side of his personality.

El Muro café has an enticing "Té/café y dolce P60" sign outside. (That's £2.50 in real money.) We couldn't resist. The home made cakes were excellent. I meant to photograph the loaded cups and plate but the moment was lost in a flurry of gluttony. Instead, the picture shown portrays the  aftermath of said activity.

Condor de los Andes was reached around 4 pm, just before a violent rainstorm.

It should have been the start of a relaxing hour or two. Far from it. The entire bag with the camera battery charger and other miscellaneous but important items had gone missing. Peter and Dorothy had taken it but "have not returned it". Panic!

We knew that Peter and Dorothy were no longer in El Chaltén, having gone to El Calafate yesterday. What had happened to the bag? The girls at the hostel agreed to phone around the likely hotels in El Calafate to track down our friends. Meanwhile, we pondered how we might manage without the bag and it's contents. A desperate email message was sent to Peter.

Despite the girls' insistence that the bag had Definitely not been returned, and if it had been it would be behind the counter, we eventually persuaded them, against their better judgement, to check the baggage store.

Eureka. What a  relief. Another message was sent to Peter, who meanwhile had been close to a coronary event, worrying about who might have nicked the bag. He managed to get through to the hostel by phone. So our good turn had resulted in an unnecessary period of worry for everyone involved.

It might even have been worth it for the euphoric feeling of relief we all experienced when the bag was found.

Ahonikenk Restaurant, recommended but empty, saw to our culinary needs once we had completed our domestic chores. Claire and Justin sat next to us. They are on a month long trip as part of a relocation from the USA to Sydney. Their US possessions left home in Ocober and will arrive in Australia in the New Year. We commended parkrun to them.

By the time we left Ahonikenk, a queue stretched outside into the rain.

Today's pictures:
Laguna de los Tres
Looking back to yesterday's route from the Laguna de los Tres viewpoint 
On the path to El Chaltén, with dwarf beeches
A view towards Fitzroy from the path back to El Chaltén
A satisfied customer

Fitzroy (Episode 2)

12 November

My Karrimat proved superior to Sue's Neoair, which kept deflating. Probably because the glue in the repair kit was missing and my attempt to seal the leak with tape was a heroic failure. This is the Neoair I used in the Pyrenees. It made me dizzy every time I blew it up. Now it's Sue who has the dizzy turns. I'm not sure whether they are from the Neoair or the whiff of antiseptic coming from the toilet.

It was bright and fine when we set off for the Poincenot campground at around 9 am, leaving a small scorpion to ponder his missed chance of invading our space.

We soon came across our neighbours, breakfasting beside the river away from the campsìte's dust storm. Their tent isn't as dust resistant as our Nallo. Denise and Owen are an Irish couple who set off on a world tour in July. Denise thinks she might even prefer rain to last night's dust.

We trudged back along yesterday's path before taking a left turn. Dwarf beeches lined the dandelion meadows.  In the woodland Sue spotted white orchids, lilies, pasque flowers and lesser celandine. Small birds sang sweetly. One of them looked just like the picture of a Dartford warbler in my bird book.

The 'idyllic lunch spot' mentioned in our guide book was passed. Its fine view across Laguna Madre was blurred by white horses and rainy squalls, and the 'lunch spot' was an area peppered with rain blown dust vortexes.

We arrived at the campsite dressed in dust blasted waterproofs. Denise has her wish, but I think she wanted rain instead of dust, not both at the same time. It had taken us a leisurely four hours for the 12 km walk. A judicious brew stop around half way proved to be a good move. After that the wind increased and the rain started.

Lunch was taken in the tent, to sounds of chatting Italians and what seemed like an industrial watering device hosing down the tent.

A buzzard sized bird of prey strolled nonchalantly around, inspecting the day's tourists.

Denise and Owen visited us. They looked soggy. They had been to collect water. They related stories from folk who regretted having attempted a walk up to two lakes that we were planning on visiting.

We decided to delay further perambulatory activities until after dinner.

6 pm. Still raining. But the two and a half hour return trip walk to a viewpoint above Laguna Piedras Blancas was chosen as a flattish alternative to our original plan (we were planning on going there tomorrow anyway).

Denise and Owen declined to join us. Their supply of clothes was becoming increasingly wet.

It turned out to be a very pleasant 5 km stroll through beech woods to an excellent viewpoint*. Cerro Fitzroy towered, unseen, above us, but the view through the moraine to the lake and the glacier beyond was excellent.

There was more wind and rain later, but that of no concern to us, cosy in the Nallo tent.

* Later I was told that the target of our walk was the lake itself, not the viewpoint.  Apparently we stopped too early.

Today's pictures:
Botanist at work
Laguna Hija, passed before reaching Laguna Madre in the rain
Looking towards Laguna Piedras Blancas and the glacier beyond

Fitzroy (Episode 1)

Cerro Fitzroy is the 3405 metre high iconic granite rock that dominates the northern part of Los Glaciares National Park in Argentinian Patagonia. This three day excursion sees us attempt to walk most of the paths in the area, which is one of the two most popular trekking destinations in Patagonia.

11 November

Following on from our brief posting after arriving in El Chaltén, I should just mention that this is 'Butch and Sundance' country. About half way along our 220 km journey, our bus pulled in to Hotel La Leona. It was pictured there in the last posting. This place is ideally situated to do a roaring trade by way of a coffee stop for travellers between El Calafate and El Chaltén. That wouldn't have been the case until fairly recently, as the tourist resort of El Chaltén dates from as recently as 1985.

Back in 1905, before the tourists arrived to fawn over the giant pinnacle of rock known as Cerro Fitzroy, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, together with Ethel Place, stayed here for about a month before leaving for Chile. That's what they say, anyway. Bruce Chatwin also mentions the trio on numerous occasions in his 'In Patagonia' book, but he has the trio in Rio Gallegos in January 1905, and he refers to Ethel, the beautiful gun-toting moll, as Etta. He does however have them back at an English estancia in Argentina later in 1905 before they returned to Chile, so the two stories may mesh.

We walked up the signed trail to Laguna Torre. It's a 10 km stroll through lovely scenery, with open scrubby land interspersed with forests of southern beech trees. The trees are mainly on the dwarfish side, so they don't obscure the views too much. Strange birds sang sweetly as we passed through their territories. Rio Fitzroy roared like an angry lion, especially when the not inconsiderable wind caught it.

A pause for lunch. Crisp bread and sardines. Excellent. Nearly half way along the trail we came upon Peter and Dorothy. Peter's camera battery had just expired again. Luckily we've left Sue's charger in El Chaltén for him to borrow. We chat at length. We will see them again, if not on this trip.

We meet two llamas, reluctantly carrying somebody's possessions.

Soon after 4 pm we reach Campground Agostino, the only place that we are allowed to camp hereabouts. There is a toilet a bit like the ones found (if any) in London car parks. The pitches are flat patches of sand. They are in woodland so sheltered from the main blast of the wind, which increased as we approached the moraine at Laguna Torre.

Quite acceptable for the price. (0 Pesos)

The tent remained open for a while, but a thin veneer of sand soon covered our belongings. The woodland view was not to die for, so we zipped up and enjoyed the pleasures of a meal in the tent.

Tea
Thai chicken and lemon grass soup
Macaroni cheese with tuna

Pause for digestion. Aided by a 4 km return trip to view Laguna Torre from the moraine leading to Mirador Maestri.

Hot Belgian chocolate

It's great to be in the tent. One of our favourite places. And tonight there should be no barking dogs or noisy washing machines. Just the rush of the river and the puff of the breeze.

We deemed it too hot for our usual dessert of angel delight, though a lack of milk of any sort is more likely to blame.

Sadly our efforts to get a clear view of the summits above Laguna Torre didn't succeed, though the glacial scenery and the bases of the peaks made our evening stroll worthwhile.

Today's pictures:
Outside the hostel in El Chaltén (for Alan, the closest we could get to a tractor
Leaving El Chaltén 
Rio Fitzroy 
Camping at Agostino 
Laguna Torre 

Wednesday, 11 November 2015

A Bus Ride to El Chaltén

11 November.

The 8 am bus left on time for the 3.5 hour ride.

We were lucky. Got the upstairs front seats.

Steppe country. Pink flowers line the roadside. Guanaco and rhea wander amongst the green sheen of vegetation that reminds us of the Little Karoo Desert.

Slowly, as we pass alongside Lake Viedma, the distinctive bulk of Fitzroy draws closer.

Finally, we reach El Chaltén, for a short lecture from a park warden aimed at maintaining the integrity of the park.

Then we stroll along to Condor de los Andes hostel to repack gear and snatch a smidgen of wifi before setting off into the wilds, which we are assured are far more free from wifi than the English Lake District!

Thanks for your comments received just now, Jenny and the Alans. Sue will try to post a 'Dancing Girls' picture on Facebook when she gets a chance...

Perito Moreno Glacier

10 November.

After a pleasant evening and meal at La Lechuza with a talkative Italian couple, we could afford a slow start on a sunny morning. 

Everything works late here. We were still waiting for our 8.30 bus long after the local workmen had arrived to continue their efforts to extend the hostel. The bus tour we have booked goes by a special route to show the best of the area's flora and fauna. The trip we would maybe have preferred was not deemed suitable for old codgers aged over 65.

Our room (Vyuni) is actually in Bolivia, from where our promised 'mountain view' is sullied slightly by the gleaming corrugated iron roof of the extension that is being constructed. Wires, some enclosed in thick rubber tubing, snake their way around the site. Workmen perch on high boards, maté cup in one hand, hammer in the other.

The sun glares down from a vast blue sky, fringed with grey where cloud meets mountain.

Our bus to the Perito Moreno Glacier never arrives. There has been a cock-up with the booking. All the 'tours' are either fully booked or have left already. We are given a bottle of wine and a taxi fare to the bus station, where the 'regular' bus will take us to the glacier at 1 pm. On a six week trip I suppose we can expect a few hitches.

Time for another coffee then; we'll save the wine until later.

We will now be back late tonight, so with an early start tomorrow we decide to sort out our gear for a three day backpack. Not that easy as we need some of it today and we also need to sort out a separate day sack with the  battery charger for Peter and some spare clothes for the end of the excursion.

There's not an awful lot to do in El Calafate, which is pretty much a gateway town for a plethora of heavily booked trips - many to the glacier, and to the Fitzroy roadhead at El Chaltén, but also kayaking, mountain biking, etc.

So I spent a while in the hostel chilling with Bruce Chatwin's book. Sue enjoyed a snooze.

Viva la Pepa provided lunch, then we took the 1pm coach to the glacier. Much to our surprise, it ran on time.

Perito Moreno Glacier is an amazing place. Newly constructed walkways help to disperse the hordes of visitors. We spent over three hours on the 5 km of balcony paths that overlook the glacier, the 55 metre high corrugated facade of which was continually dropping lumps into Lago Argentino, these lumps plummeting into the abyss like penny coins in an old fashioned slot machine. 

Strange birds observed our passage, part of which was through an unlikely positioned forest and the bright red foliage of Chilean fire bushes.

Lots of pictures were taken. I've chosen several at random, the thin lower image being a panorama that will display better if you click on it. (Click on any image in this series of postings and you should get a short slideshow indicated by the thumbnails at the bottom of the screen.)

After four and a half hours at the glacier the regular coach returned for us a good hour after the café had shut and most visitors had left. Luckily we had some butties with us for tea. A bird of prey akin to a large sparrowhawk blatantly stalked any poor creature that decided to feast on our crumbs.

Here's a bit about the glacier, courtesy of Wikipedia:

The Perito Moreno Glacier is located in the Los Glaciares National Park in southwest Santa Cruz Province, Argentina. It is one of the most important tourist attractions in the Argentinian Patagonia.

The 250 km2 (97 sq miles) ice formation, and 30 km (19 miles) in length, is one of 48 glaciers fed by the Southern Patagonian Ice Field located in the Andes system shared with Chile. This ice field is the world's third largest reserve of fresh water.

Located 78 kilometres from El Calafate, the glacier was named after the explorer Francisco Moreno, a pioneer who studied the region in the 19th century and played a major role in defending the territory of Argentina in a conflict involving a border dispute with Chile.

The Perito Moreno Glacier is one of only three Patagonian glaciers that is growing. The reason remains debated by glaciologists. The terminus of the Perito Moreno Glacier is 5 kilometres wide, with an average height of 74 metres above the surface of the water of Argentino Lake. It has a total ice depth of 170 metres.

Pressure from the weight of the ice slowly pushes the glacier over the southern arm of Argentino Lake, damming the section and separating it from the rest of the lake. With no outlet, the water level on the southern arm of the lake can rise by as much as 30 meters above the level of the main body of Argentino Lake. Periodically, the pressure produced by the height of the dammed water breaks through the ice barrier causing a spectacular rupture, sending a massive outpouring of water from the southern section to the main body of Lake Argentina. This dam–ice-bridge–rupture cycle recurs naturally between once a year to less than once a decade. Such an event is now due. But it didn't happen today.

Back at base, we have settled up, downed our wine, and have watched day turn to night.

Tomorrow a three and a half hour bus ride should take us to the Fitzroy area and a three day backpack. Phone reception or wifi is unlikely, so the next posting will be in a few days' time. 

Monday, 9 November 2015

El Calafate

9 November.

We were sad to leave Buenos Aires. It turned out to be an excellent 'City Break' venue. Everyone was friendly and helpful, things worked, and the weather was excellent, especially after hot weather training in the Pyrenees.

The hostel had happily printed our boarding cards and arranged a 6.30 am taxi to the airport, where breakfast for the two of us cost the equivalent of about £3.50. Prices here are generally just over half the cost of things at home. I think we may have misjudged that when we changed our dollars the other day, though costs may be higher further south. I'm sure we'll find a good home for any left overs.

Which of your employers sent you to BA, Nick? Our guess is Skins, though it could be just that you've holidayed here!

Good deed of the day involved the sad tale of Dorothy and Peter's cameras. Dorothy's is in Brazil (don't ask), and Peter's battery charger has gone awol. Sue came to the rescue by producing a compatible battery charger and adapter, which sadly didn't fit the sockets in the American built aircraft. Luckily one of the cabin crew produced the missing part of the jigsaw and Peter's dead battery was slightly rejuvenated after a spell in the aircraft's toilet. A plan was hatched whereby they can borrow the charger again in a few days' time.

I found it curious that even on the internal Argentinian flight all the announcements were bilingual, Spanish and English.

P and D had not enjoyed their time in BA, finding (or not finding) a paucity of iconic buildings and culture.

After a good couple of hours floating over buff coloured countryside, distant snow capped peaks came into view, remaining tantalisingly on the horizon for the rest of the journey to El Calafate, though we passed over many scars of snow that had me shivering in the cabin.

Peter and Dorothy now headed for the small resort of El Chaltén, whilst we jumped on a full bus that dropped us at El Calafate's America Del Sur Hostel - sister to the one we left this morning in BA.

A walk around town followed, with a pause for lunch at Viva la Pepa. The first six of today's pictures were taken during this short stroll.

The mountain views are distant. As good as any is the one through the hostel's dirty upstairs balcony window (pictured, bottom). Many of the houses in this place, which some may describe as godforsaken, are brightly coloured. Others are unfinished or derelict. A fair proportion have very steep sided roofs, presumably to shed the winter snows. Others resemble posh country houses that in my ignorance I may describe as haciendas. Corrugated iron seems to be a principal building material. Many of the vehicles are very battered and ancient Renault 12s seem to flourish.

Heading down past a memorial to the fallen in the Malvinas conflict, young men fighting for their country, towards the massive Lago Argentino, we encountered a nature reserve. My inadvertently handy bird identification (Europe) book wasn't much help. There was a very noisy duck that looked like a cross between eider and lapwing, with the voice of an oyster catcher. A brand of ibis was also out in force. One of many stray dogs pretended to own us. Tethered horses strained at their leads. Rubbish skittered in the breeze. It was unexpectedly warm.

After about 6 km we found ourselves back at the hostel. Our room was now available and we were soon enjoying mugs of tea in the upstairs lounge, grateful for a chance to chill out after our early start.

Sunday, 8 November 2015

Buenos Aires (Episode Three)

8 November.

Another blue sky day. We must make the most of it!

After another buffet breakfast and a few minutes sorting out a taxi and checking in for our next flight, we recovered Juan's  BA Bikes from the courtyard and peddled down a roughly cobbled street with old tram lines to the Waterfront. It's a regenerated area that looks a bit like an upmarket version of Liverpool's attempt at 'regeneration'.

Just beyond the waterfront is a nature reserve very similar to the one we regularly visit near Puerto Pollença in Mallorca. Today there were lots of joggers, cyclists and walkers scaring off the wildlife. No crested coots here, but we did spot some giant turtles.

A flotilla of yachts filled part of the ocean horizon, seemingly enjoying a Sunday morning race. Or were they off to reclaim sovereign lands?

Anyway, Sue and I pootled gently around the earthen tracks of the reserve, trying to keep below the 10 kph speed limit.

The waterfront overlooking the nature reserve is home to a series of fine bronze sculptures of famous Argentinian sports stars. Gabriella Sabatini is pictured. I'm sure there must also be one of the inestimable Maria Bueno.

Several rests and coffees in a shady bar later, and we were back on Avenue Independencia and returning to BA Bikes, which we highly recommend.

The guys at BA also explained something that had been puzzling us. Maté. We'd seen people filling cups with hot water or orange juice, then drinking through a metal straw, often sharing the cup with others. Juan's team explained that the cup is filled with a thick bed of herbs, so it's similar to drinking herbal tea. We shared his cup by way of a demonstration. We explained that the Scots do something similar (without the herbs) with whisky, shared by way of a quaich.

Wuxing Nick's food recommendations were starting to overwhelm us, so we headed to Gran Parrilla Del Plata, which we'd discovered is a highly recommended steak house near our hostel. "Fully booked" was the answer we were expecting, but our 12.45pm timing was immaculate as we were allowed to sit outside where they don't take bookings because of the vagueries of the weather. Luckily today's conditions were perfect for al fresco dining. Five minutes later all the tables had been taken.

We enjoyed the meal, though steak doesn't head either of our 'must have' lists.

We learnt a few things. "Expensive" may mean that it is relatively pricey compared with other places, but our lavish lunch with a bottle of Malbec and complimentary drinks to finish cost less than £15 each. We learnt to share a salad - we actually got that bit right. We also learnt that one steak dish between the two of us would be plenty, and might even leave space for dessert.

We are in the San Telmo district, famous for its Sunday market. And what a market! It seemed to extend for miles, eventually petering out beside a pleasant park, Parque Lezama.

After re-grouping with the aid of a bottle of water we made our way back through the hordes to El Zanjon, a house with a rich history. The conducted tour took us through the ages from when the plot was on the edge of the embryonic city in the 18th century or much earlier. After independence a rich Spanish family built its residence, complete with watch tower to keep an eye on the nearby shipping, here in 1830. Later that century a series of yellow fever epidemics drove the wealthy to properties on higher ground to the north. The family home was abandoned and declined in an unoccupied period before being converted to tenements in around 1910. Now the building was home to 23 families. It had two toilets and one kitchen. Abandoned again around 1950, it was bought by an Argentinian company in 1985. They weren't allowed to inspect before buying! Entry by the new owners was effected via the roof. In my experience of such projects, disaster, delays, and collapse of the purchasing company would be a probability in this scenario. But apparently the purchaser scrapped its plans to convert the tenement into a tango hall or other business and spent the next 17 years restoring both the property and its predecessor tunnels. The resulting museum and function venue is magnificent. Today there were tours in any number of languages taking place every few minutes. The staff must be exhausted.

It's hot again, so by the end of the El Zanjon tour we were ready to return to the hostel and prepare for the next phase of the trip.

The next posting will be from cooler climes.

Today's pictures :
Buenos Aires Waterfront
Three views from the nature reserve
Gabriella Sabatini
San Telmo market

Lunch at Parrilla Del Plata

This is for Wuxing Nick and Brexton Travels.

Sue's steak looks small but it wasn't. Nearly two inches thick. It also looks overdone, but it wasn't. 

So we made it to a Parrilla!