Sunshine, Wine and Bicycles.

26 10 2008

Arriving in Mendoza, we checked into Hostel Laos. As with all of our hostels so far, this had been recommended by friends; and true to form we were not disappointed! It was rather strange being back in a city after what had seemed an age spent in smaller towns surrounded by lakes and mountains; however Mendoza is very different from BA and a world away from Cordoba.

For a start it is much cleaner, the streets are wider and lined with trees, and there is a much more relaxed feel to place.

At Hostel Laos we were treated to more hammocks, two crazy dogs and a ´swimming´ pool (Plunge pool…about enough room to lie flat out in, but plenty big enough to cool down in). The latter being much appreciated. The first thing we noticed was the sudden change in temperature. Mendoza, especially since arriving from Patagonia, was incredibly hot and sunny. It is perfect conditions for growing grapes, which is very handy, as one Mendoza’s biggest sources of income, is from WINE! Barrels of the stuff are made on the numerous Bodegas surrounding the city, something which we would later see firsthand.

We had around a week again to spend in Mendoza, before hopefully my passport would arrive and we could continue at our own pace. As with Barriloche, one afternoon was enough to decide that one week here would not be much of a struggle. The poster on the wall of the hostel advertising free wine every night was near reason enough! Settling down in a hammock, the rest of the day was past without incident. The only thing I had to move for was to throw the stick for Astor… Astor being an incredibly large affectionate, Alsatian, who had an addiction to the ´stick game.´ No matter where you sat, you were never safe! Sitting in the hammock he would actually drop the stick in, and then continue to push the side with his giant paws until you gave in and threw it. Like the slogan of a well known crisp… once you ´pop´ the stick….

With time to kill in Mendoza, Claire decided to enrol herself at a nearby Spanish school. Her Spanish had come on leaps and bound since arriving, but as we had time, a crash course was deemed time and money well spent. The school was near the hostel, and the next morning I walked up with her, as she carried her books in one hand and an apple for the teacher in the other, and waved her goodbye for her first day at school. Then I went back and lay on my sun lounger and camped there for the rest of the day! When she came back I was ´verbally abused´… rather I sat there whilst she listed off one after the other, all the verbs and their ends that she had learnt that day. The school certainly does throw you in at the deep end: from the moment you go in you are instructed to speak nothing but Spanish, but miraculously it seems to work. Claire was thrilled with what she had that day, even if she did have to get up at 8am.

The next followed in pretty much the same suit, with the exception that I didn’t get up in the morning, and instead headed down the sun lounger at a slightly later and more leisurely time of 11am. When Claire got back this time from her lesson though, I was informed that I was invited on a class exercise – a guided tour around the city, in Spanish! It was remarkably interesting – having not seen much of the city we walked around for most of the afternoon in the sunshine. Whilst it was quite hard to understand at first, I’ve found if you persevere and really tune you ear in, you can really pick up a lot.

Mendoza lies on a major earthquake zone, and there have been numerous earthquakes. In 1985, some 23,000 homes were destroyed or condemned, though the actual number might have been larger. Estimates vary between 50,000 and 100,000 people left homeless. The city is built around 5 main plazas – the largest, Plaza Independencia lies in the middle, with the remaining four in each corner. We learnt on our tour, that not only were these Plazas designed as place to relax with a book, or as a aesthetic feature, but they are in fact primarily there as large evacuation zones. Each plaza has a number of trees, which have been especially chosen for their deep roots and to provide shelter. If you look around, and particularly up, you see that there are only about 2 high rise buildings in the whole city. All the roads and pavements are very wide so as to keep the roads clear for traffic in the even that a building does collapse. The whole city has been amazingly thought out, and a lot of care has been made to keep it clean and beautiful. I was especially taken with long streets lined with tall towering trees, casting the street into a cool shadow, so as to escape the midday sun. There are also a number of old fashioned trams that tour round the city.

Mendozais also home to a massive and very beautiful park. There a large number of large fountains, which I spent many an hour mesmerised as the water, changed heights and patterns. Not quite as amazing as the Bellagio Hotel display, but none the less praise worthy! At the centre of the park, which was a good 25 minute walk from the hostel, is a huge lake, sports and rowing centre and a large rose garden. We spent quite a few afternoons there, watching the world go by and pouring over a book (or homework!) Everybody is so amazingly healthy and good looking in Mendoza. The park was alive with people running, cycling, rowing, yoga-ing… even when lying down, people would throw in a few sit ups for good measure!

Not wanting to be undone or let things slip too much, one afternoon we headed down the park with a couple of Aussies who had an aussie football. Along with them, was Claire, Myself and Jake (A fellow Brit) and Ryan (U S of A). Having psyched themselves up to show us ´Poms´ how to play ´a real mans´ sport, the game commenced… within two minutes of Jake handling the ball, he had hoofed it (John Smith style) straight into the lake. We had to wait 30 minutes for some passing canoeists to fish it out for us, by which time it weighed more than a medicine ball. Game over… or in words of Peter Kay, ´Av it!´ The rest of the afternoon was spent, drinking a few beers, eating a few sandwiches and soaking up the sunshine. Old habits die hard!


Mendoza also has a great nightlife. Most nights began in a similar fashion, after cooking a steak or some other red meat; we would settle down with some free red wine, which was normally followed by a few more bottles of free red wine! German and Andreas, who worked in the Hostel, were absolute legends. Not only were they the suppliers of red wine, but they also did a fantastic job of making sure everyone was happy and content. They made the whole stay absolutely fantastic, and were especially helpful in finalising the arrangements for my passport. They even came out for few beers with us and when they didn’t, they recommended the best places to go. Straight out from the hostel was the main street of bars. Mendozais also a thriving student city, and they are certainly catered for very well in the way of night time entertainment. Many nights were spent sampling the selection. One in particular, the staff didn’t have the heart to tell us that they were closing and allowed us to buy more beer and wine, then unbeknown to us (quite a few units accumulated by this point…) all waited inside for us to finish our drinks so they could go home! Now that’s service! Pub owners of the UK – take note!

The hostel also had one of the best Asados that we had had so far, or rather one particular night for one certain reason – Claire and I volunteered (as was the way each week) to make the salad! The night we arrived we were ´treated´ to a rather limp looking green salad, so we decided to spice things up a bit. Not only did we make a large bowl of potatoes, drizzled in olive oil and herbs, we also had a large amazing coleslaw. On top of that, there was as always, copious amounts of cow and free wine! That night we must have consumed well over a bottle each, it just kept flowing. Plus at the end of the night, my first bottle of Fernet was produced. I had never heard of the stuff before, and for those that also haven’t, it’s a herby spirit, usually mixed with coke, that most resembles dentist mouth wash. It also produces the worst handovers ever as I discovered the next day!

Groggily getting out of bed the next day, I headed down to my usual spot in sun. After an hour or so of soaking up some vitamin D, I heard a ring at the door, followed by German walking in with a large yellow envelope. Squinting through my alcohol tinted eyes; I could make out three letters on the side… D…H and the last one… L! I summed up enough energy to bound over, to discover that my hopes were confirmed – I was again the proud holder of a shiny red British Passport! Travelling South America was back on!

Claire was at her last lesson so celebrating was placed on hold! We decided to do so by calling the legendary Mr Hugo and hiring bikes to go and tour around the Bodegas! We had heard about Mr Hugo from numerous people who has passed this way, and were definitely excited to meet the man behind the legend. Arriving we were quickly sized by an elderly man (Mr Hugo) and provided with two red bicycles and a map with the local vineyards marked on it, and instructed to be back by 7pm. It was not till later that we learnt the true secret of Mr Hugo success!

Off we went on our bikes, the wind blowing in our hair… and angry lorry drivers trying to run us over… after a while though we left the main road and found ourselves cycling along a lovely tree lined avenue, with groves in every direction. We had been instructed to head to the furthest bodega first, and then head backwards. Sound advice if you plan on drinking at each, and cycle ´safely´ back! The first placed we stopped off at was an Olive Oil factory. We were taken on a very interesting tour about how they make the olive oil before being taken around the trees themselves. Pub Fact: Black and Green olives are in fact from the same tree, the difference being in that Green olives are younger! After the tour we were treated to some delicious focacia bread, sun dried tomatoes and of course, some olive oil!

Next we headed to our first Bodega. Called Carinae, the owners, a delightful French couple have named and designed their wines and vineyard, around another one of their hobbies, astronomy. The tour was very informative in how the wine was produced and our tour guide was very passionate about wine. After the tour we were taken inside and sampled three wines. The first was a Rose, something which I don’t usually drink, but this was served very cold and was very dry, and perfect for the heat of the day! We also sampled one of the best Malbecs we had drunk so far. This place would definitely take a lot to be beaten! But always one for a challenge, we got back on our bikes and headed off!

The next stop was Tomasso. This was an old traditional family run vineyard. The no longer made their wines on site, as the place was a listed building. The brick casks had been preserved wonderfully and we had a great tour seeing how the wine used to be made. Heading down into the cellar, we were also instructed on the importance of brand placement and how the same wine usually has a different sleeve in every country to attract a certain audience in each. Again we sampled a number of wines (none quite as good I hasten to add as the first place, but nice none the less!) The tour had taken longer than expected, so rather than head to more (each tour was quite expensive) we decided to order a large anti pasto (complete with lots of cheese and cured deer!) and sit with some more wine, looking out across the vineyards!

Eventually it was time to head back to Mr Hugos. Once we handed our bike back, we were presented with yet more free wine and instructed to sit down and put our feet up, along with the rest of the people who had hired bikes from him that day. We did as we were asked, and two hours later we struggled to get back up on those same feet. Every time our backs were turned, Mr Hugo would top our glasses up and those around us. We met 5 lads from Swansea who were big on surfing like Claire and me, and we settled down for a good long chat. Conversation flowed like the wine, and we discovered the reason for Mr Hugo´s legendary status!


The next day, after recovering from our hangover, we decided to finally catch a bus on towards Chile! First though we needed to pay the hostel. Heading to the cash point, I put in my card (as you do), put my pin in and selected the amount. The machine then proceeded to make a lot of noise, the cash part opening and shutting repeatedly, before spitting a receipt at me, minus the cash, saying that I had withdrawn said amount. Heading into the bank to get it sorted, I was told to come back at close of day as it couldn’t be sorted till then. Not great news regardless of time, but even worse when it meant we would now miss our long awaited bus.

With an afternoon to spare, we decided to climb the nearby Cerro. The walk there took twice as long as expected, and the climb equally as long. Only 4 out of the original 6 ploughed on to the top. We were lucky to make it at all. Firstly, we had stupidly set out in the full heat of the day with 1 small bottle of water between us, and secondly we decided to follow Jake´s (not the Pom, but from the States) and Scott´s advise to forget the path and climb up the scree side. Not the best decision in a trainers, plain stupid in flip flops! It is by miracle that we made it to the top, emerging in front of a bus full of tourists (also a road up!), looking like escaped creatures from the zoo. We were dripping (or in Claires case – gently glowing) with sweat and panting through lack of rehydration. One large bottle of water and several lemonades later we were finally able to appreciate the view. It was… alright; slightly marred by several large big trees, but worth doing if you have an afternoon spare as a result of a non responsive cash machine.

We headed back down the same way (again not advisable!) and made our way back to the hostel, and free wine! We stopped off at the bank on the way, to be greeted by the manager who promptly, without a word, opened the door and handed me by wad of cash. One problem solved! Now just had to rebook the bus (easey peasey) and find a place to sleep! As we had checked out of the hostel, it was now fully booked. Luckily, German, always the legend, offered us the use of the hammocks at a reduced rate! Fantastic… or so we thought! What proceeded was the coldest night yet, with more insect bites than I care to shake a stick at!

Nevermind! The next day we got up, said our goodbyes (yet again) and finally boarded our bus, over the Andes and on towards Chile!



Chocolate, snowfights and Pudu.

17 10 2008

Arriving in Bariloche, the first thing I did was locate a DHL and get my passport info sent off! Now with nothing left to do but wait (the consular said it would take around 2 weeks…) we set about seeing what Bariloche had to offer. The hostel we decided to stay in was called Pudu. It’s a very small hostel (around 20 people max) but it has a definite home from home feel. In fact, over the next week that we stayed there I have never felt more home in a hostel anywhere in the world. A large number of people when travelling around South America decide to stay in the large Marco Polo HI chain hostels. Whilst I can see the benefits – lots of people to socialise with, normally a large bar, in my experience these places usually lack any sort of atmosphere. The one in Baricloche for example is a tall imposing red concrete structure, it has a large bar and a multitude of bedrooms, and looks out across… the equally large bulding opposite it. Pudu however is small, impossible to find due to having no sign outside apart from a large chalk board, and looks out across the impressive Lago Nahuel Huapi, complete with mountain backdrop. Dumping our bags in a small dorm room, complete with private bathroom, we headed out into the small garden. Sitting in the hammocks looking out across the lake with the sun shining down on us we decided that this would definitely not be a bad place to chill out and wait for the Embassy to do their work! We had seen most of what Argentina had to offer and time was ticking. The plan was to see Bariloche and then Mendoza before heading across into Chile over the Andes to the capital, Santiago.

That night we sat in the bar in the hostel, supping the homebrew, with Milla the dog curled up at our feet. John and Emma, the owners, are absolutely lovely people and make everyone feel incredibly welcome. Originally from Ireland, they spent their honeymoon travelling around India, before heading to Buenos Aires and then down to Bariloche. Here they fell in love with the place and decided to open a hostel.Eventually finding the right place, they set about cleaning it up before opening it to the public. It is still work in progress (there is no skirting board, and the bottom section of the garden is over run…) but the wonderful thing is that the guests don´t mind chipping in. Whilst we were there, we witnessed Brodie from New Zealand (a former carpenter) doing the floor and skirting board and Stephen (something in Finance) offered to paint some amazing murals on the wall of the bar. Last I heard, they finally had a sign outside to replace the chalk board and work was still commencing slowly but surely inside. Don´t get me wrong, the place isnt a building sight, it simply lacks some of the finishing touches. This adds to the charm of the place. They also have an amazing DVD collection, and we spent many an evening sitting together arguing over which film to put on next. However, saving the best to last, the icing on the cake was the breakfast. Every morning we would head downstairs to the smell and taste of fresh, warm, homemade scones! Life in Pudu was pretty damn great!

We stayed in Pudu for just over a week. We didn’t do an incredible amount, it was simply nice relaxing in the hostel or wandering around the town itself. There is a definite Swiss feel to the town. The area´s main attraction is the nearby Ski Resort of Cerro Catedral, one of the country´s largest. The main square in the town is home to a number of St Bernards, complete with Keg Collars; their owners charging for photos with them. The buildings in the main sqaure are all glad in pine, further adding to the feel. The town largest attraction for me though, was the chocolate. The street is lined with large chocolate shops. Each selling their own home made brand. The best by far was ´Rapa Nui´! Here you could buy fresh raspberries, dipped in three different types of chocolate. Divine! Sadly though, a backpacker budget could only afford me two at a time. Better than none at all at least. If you still had room, which lets face it, you would; Bariloche was also home to the best sandwich shop. Morfy´s was located down a small street, and like Pudu was equally unimposing. Similar to Subway in that you choose your filling, then your salad and dressing: the difference is that they don’t hold back on stuffing your sandwich with so much ingredients that you could easily live on one sandwich a day! Especially good after a night in Pudu bar, the sandwiches were a culinary delight, and cheap too!

We did leave the town itself a few times. Emma had put together a book, with tips on where to eat, where to drink and what to do, including a large list of free things. Feeling an urge to burn off some of the Morfys bulge that was beginning to develop, we decided to walk up the nearby Cerro Otto. It was a two hour walk up the top, with the lure of a revolving restaurant at the top. On the way up, you are treated to wonderful views of the lakes and mountains, that seem to stretch on for miles and miles. As we approached the top, the weather took a turn for the worse and the fog set in, taking with it the view. With only 50 metres to go, we came across what appeared to be the end of the path, and a large furnicular railway in its place. Not wanting to pay the ridiculous price to ride the rest of the way up, we enquired where the remainder of the path was, to be told that it we wanted a hot chocolate at the top, we would have to fork out for the ridiculous railway. Having walked for 2 hours, I was not impressed to have to pay exactly the same as those that catch the cable car to the top (another option, for the lazy!). Still, we all wanted a drink, so we begrudgingly paid the man and made it the top. Heading into the restaurant, the fog had set in so thickly, that all we had on offer was a 360 degree view of cloud! Still the hot chocolate was ok and we headed back down the hill.

That night we were in for treat! Since being at Pudu we had already been treated to an amazing asado complete with coleslaw and potatoe salad, but the night the boat was pushed out even further! We had our first roast dinner since leaving home! It was amazing (Disclaimer – I hasten to add – No way near as good as my Mothers!) There was ample of amounts of roast chicken, carrots, two types of potatoe, stuffing and thick gravey. Plus there was copious amounts of good red wine to wash it down with. There was silence in the room as everyone tucked in, savouring each mouthful. That night we stayed up for most of the night, drinking more wine, beer and shots off the notorious snowboard! Numerous irish folk songs were played, and there was much dancing on the tables and people attempting to play the spoons or anything that was near to hand. It was a good night indeed!

With three other people from the hostel, we decided to hire a car and head to Nahuel Huapi National Park. I decided to put name forward and drive the car; a brave decision considering I had never driven on the wrong side of the road before. I didn’t confess this until the morning when I was safely tucked behind the wheel. Heading out of town, I decided to pass the buck to John to get us out of town in one piece. I decided I would drive in the national park when there was little chance of coming across other cars, or pedestrians! The park itself is home to Cerro Tronador, and also the Manso River Glacier, better known as “Ventisquero Negro” (Black Snowfield) as it is covered in earth, sands and stones. The drive was long and bumpy, but there was plenty to see. However, as with our trip to Cerro Otto, the weather was again against us, and the higher we drove, the murkier it got. To top it off, it also began to rain: very heavily! We ate our lunch in true british style; huddled together inside the car, staring out at the bleak view outside. Not wanting to head back though, we carried on to the Manso River Glacier. We had seen photos from other people in the hostel, and hoped to see equally amazing views of sliding masses of black ice, and towering peaks, however it was not to be. We contented ourselves with a quick photo in front of some small black icebergs, before trudging back to the car. The last stop was the base of Cerro Tronador. Parking in the car park, we headed out into the elements, determined to walk up to the base of the Mountain. The path was covered in snow, which was particularly unpleasant for John as he only had his sandles, not the best choice of footwear in artic conditions! As we approached the foot of the mountain, the rain finally eased off and we decided to have a snow fight! Again, it was a world away from home; with the Cerro towering up above us, and nothing but snow around us, it was certainly worth the drive. Heading back down towards Bariloche, with myself now behind the wheel, the car smelling like wet dog, we were all treated to a few pieces of Bariloche´s finest (the cocoa variety). You´ll be pleased to know that the journey back passed without incident!

Before we knew, it was time to head up to Mendoza, where hopefully my new identity would be posted too! On our last day we decided to head up one more mountain, Cerro Campanario. At one point National Geographic named Cerro Campanerio one of the “Top 10 Views of the World.” We were definitely not going to miss out on this one. The best time to visit is for sunset. Catching the bus out of town, we remembered to bring our torches as we had been advised. Arriving at the base, we headed up to the Aerosilla Cerro Campanario…aka chairlift to discover it deserted. The only way up then was through a faint path through the woods. We had not prepared for this, and had both donned flip flops before heading out of the door. The climb was steep to put it mildly and followed the ski lift up the hill. After around 45 minutes though of tough trekking, we reached the summit. There was nobody around, and true to form, a strong wind was begininng to pick up. We chose our spot though and sat down to enjoy what we had heard to be a legendary sunset. The panoramic view itself was amazing enough. Fom the top you can see out across the huge waters of Nahuel Huapi and Perito Moreno down below. You can see for miles in any direction until your line of sight is stopped by another one of Mother Nature’s beautiful mountain peaks: Cerro Otto, Cerro Lopez, Cerro Goye, Cerro Catedral, and Cerro Capilla to name a few. Unfortunately, the weather was again not on our side, and the sunset was marred by thick cloud. As soon as the sunset we headed down, realising why we had been instructed to bring torches; the moment the sun disappeared it got dark really quick, especially in the dense forest. We managed to make it to the bottom in one piece and caught our bus back to Pudu for one last night.

The next morning, we sadly said our goodbyes to Pudu and everyone there, and boarded the bus to our last stop in Argentina; Mendoza.

Passportless in Patagonia!

7 10 2008

From Puerto Madryn we headed further south to El Calafate. On the bus ride down, the landscape became incredibly flat and barren, and you can see for miles in every direction. Suddenly though, the snow capped mountains loomed up in the distance; we were truly arriving in the heart of Patagonia!

On the road down into El Calafate itself, you finally appreciate how amazing the view actually is – the craggy mountains, topped with snow loom in every direction, and stretching across from the town to the mountains is the tremendous Lago Argentino, the third largest in all of South America. It was so unlike anything I had ever seen, except in photos. That night we checked into a lovely hostel on the hill and were witness to the most amazing sunset. The sky was awash with autumnal colours – changing from red, to orange to purple. We watched as the sun set behind the mountains and the bright moon slowly appeared, casting its reflection across the lake. I could tell already that we were really going to love Patagonia!

That night, with some friends that we had met on the bus we decided to see what El Calafate´s night life was all about. The town itself is one of the country´s most visited tourist destinations, so we took it that the nightlife must be pretty good. Drinking in the hostel til late, we assumed that it would be the same sort of opening hours as BA and other places we had visited, so we were a little disappointed to discover that when we finally headed into town around midnight, there was only one bar in the whole of the town. Furthermore the prices for drinks were the same as London prices… We stayed for one before heading back to bed.

Awaking early the next day we checked into another hostel. It was slightly cheeky of us as we were supposed to be staying with our friends in the original hostel, but if you could see the views from where we moved to, you would do the same! The hostel is called American Del Sur, and we had been told about it by a number of people we had met along the way. Luckily we had made a reservation a week earlier as the place is constantly sold out. The house is also on the hill, but has full length windows along the front offering a 180 degree view across the lake and the mountains. The first day we simply sat reading, enjoying the heated floor and taking in the awe inspiring view.

However, in just 24 hours, things took a tumble for the worse – every traveller knows that the most important thing in your possession is your passport… and I had only gone and lost mine! I searched everywhere, emptying my bags repeatedly and systematically going through everything. I went through Claire´s bags, I went back to the last hostel and searched top to bottom there, I went to the supermarket, the bar, up and down the street, but still no sign of my passport! The last time I remember having it was when I was on the bus. Each journey, there are a number of police checks in which every one must show their documentation. The checks are at all hours; and on our last bus there had been one at around three in the morning. I remember getting my passport out half asleep… I called the bus company and they said it wasn’t on the bus. It was well and truly lost!

With a heavy heart I headed to the police station to file my report, before heading back and contacting the embassy. Unfortunately it was after 2pm on a Friday and the embassy was closed, even worse luck was that it was a public holiday the following Monday so would be no one there now til Tuesday. Things were not on my side!

As we had three days now to kill before the embassy would be open, we decided to head to El Chalten to do some trekking. Nothing like the great outdoors to give you some perspective and help forget your problems! El Chalten lies in the northernmost section of the Parque Nacional Los Glaciares, and contains some of the most breathtaking mountain peaks, with the 3445 metre incisor of Monte Fitz Roy at the centre of the massif, which seems to almost pierce the sky with its jagged peak. El Chalten is a Tehuelche word for ´The Mountain that Smokes´, an allusion to the scarf of cloud that perpetually hangs round the summit.

Stocking up on emergency rations, we decided to tackle one of the more challenging routes, The Tres Lagunas path. This also promised to be the most rewarding. Five hours one way, the trek crossed across rivers, through woods and then finally an ascent of around 400m. From the top you can see across the park, taking in the 3 lagoons that lie in each direction, but more spectacularly, the top offers the closest view of the granite wall of Mount Fitz Roy which looms up from the top. There was a sign three quarters of the way up saying that the path was closed due to weather conditions, but seeing other hikers up in front, we decided to follow their lead and ignore the signs. I´m glad we did, the view was every bit as amazing as we had heard. The last 50 metres was through knee deep snow, and was certainly a challenge. My passport worries were temporarily forgotten and all I could concentrate on was reaching the top and placing my stone on the cairn. Sitting at the top was an amazing pure moment, my mind was blank, and all I could do was sit and lap up my surroundings. Bureaucracy and red tape could wait for another day.

Tuesday finally came round and I got in contact with the embassy. One saving grace was that I didn’t have to go to Buenos Aires and could fill in the necessary paperwork and post it to the embassy. First though I needed a postal cheque for 120 pounds and some passport photos. There are no such things as photo booths in Argentina so I had to make do with a white backdrop in a camera shop and pray that my photos would be acceptable. At least I would now have a permanent reminder of my first beard. Having not shaved since leaving home, I now had a rather impressive growth, especially befitting expeditions up snow capped mountains. In the words of Shakespeare “He that hath a beard is more than a youth, and he that hath no beard is less than a man.” Furthermore it kept my face warm against the Patagonian winds, but had become a nuisance when eating, especially ice cream!

The ice cream in El Calafate was amazing! The portions were generous and the flavours were a taste buds dream, ranging from Patagonian chocolate to apple and cinnamon strudel. I wonder now whether I would have got through all the paperwork if it hadn’t been for the ice cream. Settling down with a large Triple chocolate cone, I sat about filling in the 16 pages that was necessary to get me a new passport and my travelling back on track. Questions ranged from a need for a detailed explanation of how I was so stupid to actually lose my passport to the first song at my parents wedding… 2 hours and many ice creams later I had everything that I needed. All I needed now was to send it! Unfortunately there was no courier service in El Calafate and the postal system was notoriously unreliable! It would have to wait until Bariloche. Before we left though we still had one more thing to do… to walk on the Perito Moreno Glacier!

Moreno is one of only two advancing glaciers in South America, and of the very few on the planet. From our hostel, every day we could see huge ice bergs floating across the lake. They had come from the face of the Moreno Glacier. Vast blocks of ice, some weighing hundreds of tonnes, frequently detonate from the side of the glacier and crash into the water below, sending a small tidal wave across the surface of the surrounding waters. It’s a truly amazing sight. The Glacier itself sounds almost alive, constantly shifting and cracking, and it sounds like a small cannon when chunks fall off.

We had booked the Big Ice Excursion! First we headed to the view point across from the glacier where we were witness to several large chunks exploding from the face and sliding into the water. It was nature at its best. I could have set there for hours watching and listening to it. It was truly breathtaking. Either side snow capped mountains further add to the awe inspiring scene we held before us. However we still had our trekking to do so we headed down to our boat that took us across to the side of the glacier itself. From here it was 2 hour trek through the snow capped mountains themselves before donning our crampons and heading onto the main event. The first steps were tentative as I felt the steel points now attached to my feet taking grip, but before long it felt perfectly natural. Heading out onto the glacier we came across huge ravines, crevices, ice caves and 80 metre holes, which bored straight down into the glacier. The water that filled the gaps was the purest blue I´ve ever seen. The whole place was like no other place I had ever been too. At that moment I felt further from home than I had ever been. All I could see was ice and snow peaked mountains. We were lone survivors on Planet Moreno! Luckily we had sandwiches and chocolate and we sat down for lunch at the centre of the glacier as it began to snow! We filled our water bottles up from a stream; it was the purest and coldest water I have ever drunk! However our time was almost up and not before long it was time to start the trek back to civilisation… sitting on the boat taking in the glacier for one last time we were treated to a large glass of scotch with a chunk of ice cut from the glacier itself. It was a truly unforgettable experience!

Next stop – Bariloche! Chocolate Mecca! And home to the best hostel…