Patagonia - Wildlife, Wild weather and Dulce de Leche Ice Cream…
Patagonia is without doubt the most incredible region in South America. The wildlife and scenery are outstanding and although the distances are vast and the weather extreme, it was the most fantastic scenery we´ve ever seen and we spent an amazing month travelling around the region.
Our first stop in Patagonia was the town of Bariloche, famous for skiing, trekking.…and chocolate! It was here that we discovered the joys of Dulce de Leche, a creamy caramel which is VERY popular in Argentina and can be found in everything from ice cream to croissants. The only place it's not found is on top of a steak! Obviously part of travelling is trying the local delicacies and we were anxious not to offend so we loosened our belts a further notch and our eating and drinking marathon continued...!
Our plan had been to spend a few days trekking in the mountains but we hadn´t expected there to still be so much snow and our first trek ended after 2 hours when, for the 4th time Debs fell through the thawing snow and ended up waist-deep in a stream. Realising that Debs was on the brink of a massive sense of humour failure, Paddy quickly realised that only dulce de leche could prevent a full-on tantrum so off to the ice cream store we headed.
Our next stop was Puerto Madryn, a 13 hour bus journey away and a haven for wildlife. Southern Right Whales can be viewed from the beach and, whilst they were not as extrovert as those we saw in Ecuador, it was extraordinary to go for an evening run along the beach and spot over a dozen whales en route. We were also lucky enough to see Commerson dolphins during our stay. These are one of the smallest breed of dolphin in South America but also the most playful as we discovered as they dived around the boat chasing the spray and each other.
Just an hour away from Puerto Madryn is Reserva Faunistica Peninsula Valdes, a penguin reserve where, at the time we visited, 400,000 Magellanic penguins had arrived to lay their eggs. It was fantastic to walk around and see these comical creatures as they guarded their nests and waddled around. They were as endearing as the sea lions had been on Galapagos and Paddy thankfully managed stop Debs from sneaking one in her rucksack. As if whales, penguins and dolphins weren't enough, the area is also home to a colony of Elephant seals although as these can be quite vicious (and quite smelly!) we kept a safe distance!
Now that we'd had our wildlife fix it was time to see some scenery and so we embarked on a 23 hour bus journey to El Calafate to see the incredible Puerto Moreno Glacier. The Glacier is just phenomenal. It´s 30km long, 5km wide and 60m high - and it´s advancing by about 2 metres per day. To enable us to see the Glacier properly, we decided to take an ice-walking expedition which entailed a 5 hour trek on the glacier itself on crampons. This was a great idea at the time but on the day itself we experienced the full extremities of Patagonian weather when the snow became a blizzard and our ice walking expedition was, instead, one on 6 inches of snow! Fortunately though, by the late afternoon, the snow stopped and the sky cleared and we were able to appreciate this magnificent sight.
From El Calafate we headed north to El Chalten, the base of the incredible Fitz Roy mountain range and home to some of the most amazing scenery we´ve ever seen. The hiking here is amongst the best in the world and Cerro Fitz Roy is a fantastic sight. The region is incredible with glaciers abound, snow topped mountains and beautiful turquoise blue lakes - truly a trekkers paradise and the best hiking of our trip without a doubt.
Thankfully though it was one exceptional area to another as our next destination was Puerto Natales in Chile - and the base of the Parque Nacional Torres Del Paine. Here we undertook the ´W´which is a 85km trek over 3 days. Day One saw us trekking to the Grey Glacier, although we seem to have been struck by a glacial curse as again we endured snow and hail to get there. Day 2 took us to the Valle Frances, an amazing 8 hour trek taking in yet more glaciers and mountains and, on our final day, after another 8 hour hike, we reached the highlight of the trek - Torres del Paine itself . This comprises three Towers which are gigantic granite monoliths shaped by glacial ice and enshrouded in cloud for much of the year but thankfully for us, the sun was shining and we got to see this magnificent sight.
By now we'd been in Patagonia for almost a month and we were exhausted. Our calves rivalled those of Johnny Wilkinson and we´d aged 10 years from the effects of the wind, snow, hail and sun but it was an incredible time and worth every wrinkle! After a well deserved break in Ushuaia, the southernmost city in the world, it was time to pack away our walking boots and dig out our dancing shoes to visit the home of Tango - Buenos Aires…