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PROLOGUE: The RHATT group (Reeves-Holab-Abelman_Traveling-Tours) set off on another discovery tour in January of 2017. Hug and Becky wanted to tour the Galapagos Island while Steve and Robin wanted to tour Mendoza, Argentina. We met in Iguazu Falls following our individual excursion. The following narrative relates our 3 week experience touring Argentina and Chile.
Tuesday January 17, 2017, Iguassu Falls, Argentina
We landed in Iguassu City about 1:00 in the afternoon; we had been traveling more than 24 hours since we disembarked from the Galapagos Legend cruise ship. We were met at the airport by our Kensington guide; his name is Christopher. We drove straight to the hotel (Panoramic Grand), checked in, showered and collapsed after the long travel day. The temperature and humidity reminded me of a July day in Houston…mid to upper nineties and humidity close to the same. After a few hours of rest, we walked into the city to find a post office and a pub; both were within a 15 minute walk. The pub is called Bambu; it has a decent selection of beer (for Argentina) and some nice bar snacks on the menu. We ordered a liter of Stella Artois which they kept cold in an ice bucket. After enjoying the beer and snacks we returned to the hotel to visit the pool area and pool bar; we discovered we could eat outside and had our choice of either the bar menu or the restaurant menu. Because we had had some snacks earlier we decided to split a small pizza and have a bottle of Mendoza Malbec to accompany. We expected Robin and Steve to arrive about 9:00, but they were a bit ahead of schedule and joined at the pool to help finish the bottle of wine.
Wednesday January 18, 2017, Iguassu Falls National Park
Christopher wanted to start early to try to beat some of the heat and crowds at the park. We had enough time to enjoy a great breakfast buffet before meeting our guide and driver at 7:45. We drove directly to the park and took the train up the upper trail for the walk to the Brazilian side of the falls named the Devil’s Throat. The trail is really a bridge structure suspended over the rushing river. The walking surface is an extruded metal grating which had great traction and allowed one to see through to the rushing water below. The experience is multisensory…pictures only capture one dimension, but not the power, the roar and the mist. The falls are magnificent and we would recommend the experience. Next on the schedule was a visit to the old original hotel and to learn some of the history and facts about the park. We had tickets for the 11:45 jeep ride and Zodiac boat ride up the rapids and into the falls. The “jeep” (really a flatbed truck fitted with 30 seats) drove through the rain forest while a guide explained about the jungle and its flora and fauna. The jeep ride ended near the landing for the Zodiac boats which would take us up the rapids to the base of the falls; we donned life jackets and put all of our gear into a dry bag (except the clothes we were wearing). The ride up the rapids was a real carnival experience but paled compared to the power of the falls as we crept closer to the cascade. The boat captain steered the boat as close as he dared to the falling torrent, close enough for everyone to be thoroughly soaked from the spray but far enough to keep from capsizing. We experienced both the Brazilian and Argentinean sides of the falls with a complete drenching from each. Everyone seemed delighted with the ride and no one complained about being wet…actually the wet clothes help to keep us a little cooler under the tropical sun. We stopped for lunch at one of the park concessions and then continued on the upper trail to the Argentine side of the falls…this seemed to me a little anti climatic after being under the falls in a boat. By this time we were nearly dry and we had completed our tour of the national park. The driver picked us up at the designated meeting point and drove us back to Iguassu City. We had to convince the driver to drop in the town at a pub where we relaxed with 2 liters of Wahrsteiner. We walked back to the hotel and showered and dressed for dinner. We ate outside on the veranda; Steve and I ordered the grilled local river fish, the ladies were less adventurous. Knowing we had an early call for departure to the airport, we finished dinner and returned to our room for the night.
Thursday January 19, 2017, Iguassu – Bariloche:
Our driver was waiting for us at 6:00am to drive us to the airport. We met Chris along the way; he presented us with some sweet dessert his wife had made for us…a very nice gesture and a really special treat. At the airport, Chris helped us with the check in and we were soon on our way to Bariloche with a change of planes in Buena Aires. We arrived about 2:00 in the afternoon and were met by a new guide and driver. The guide was not up the standard we normally have, but she did get us to the hotel. The hotel Charming is not a normal hotel…it is perched on a cliff above lake Nahuel Haupi (the largest in the Lake District chain). Each room is an individual house (cottage) with all the amenities you could ever want. Our host greeted us and ushered us to the bar and offered anything we wanted from the bar…we each took a Wahrsteiner beer and enjoyed visiting with our host learning more about the area from him than we had from our guide. Much to my delight we discovered that craft beer is very popular here and there a several breweries and brew pub in the area. We decided to take a taxi to the Berliner Brewery which is about 12 kilometers from the hotel. The IPA was excellent and the food selection was what you might expect in a brewpub. We ordered a vegetarian pizza for a starter and then Becky and I shared a grilled rainbow trout with fries, while Steve and Robin tried other selections. We were there about 3 ˝ hours and the later we stayed the larger the crowd of beer enthusiast grew. We grabbed a cab about 8:00 and retired to our accommodations for the evening.
Friday January 20, 2017, Bariloche:
The breakfast buffet at the Charming Hotel is very typical of a fine European hotel with a large selection of meats and cheeses, along with fruits, cereals, breads and pastries. One can order from the kitchen any style of egg or waffles or pancakes. We grazed through the buffet trying as much of the selection as we could and soon realized that we probably would not need nor want to stop for lunch. Our guide and drive was scheduled to pick us up at 10:00am and he was right on time. Juan would be our guide and driver for the next three hours; he had planned to take us over small circuit which included a beautiful drive around many of the lakes in the area. He would stop at various points to allow time to marvel and take photos. Juan was full of the history of the area managed to answer all of our many questions. This is certainly an area where tourists come to participate and not just to see the sights. We saw many bicycles and hikers as we rode through the area. A one point Juan told of his experience last year when he drove in the Barack Obama motorcade when he was here was here for a state visit; he had the communications command post set up in his Mercedes Sprinter van and met many in the press corps. He drove by the Llao Llao Hotel which is the oldest and most famous hotel in the Bariloche area. Our final stop was the chair lift which took us up to a peak where we could see most of the Lake District. There was a coffee shop on top where we ordered coffee and a snack. We had some time to relax and take photos before taking the chair back down and returning to the hotel. During our time with Juan, he gave us recommendations for hiking trails and breweries and brewpubs to visit while we were here. We scheduled a taxi to meet us at 2:00 to take us to the National Forest where we had planned to make a 2 hour hike. We found the trail head and found the lake Moreno Oeste, but instead of an hour hike to the lake, it was only 20 minutes. The trail was gentle and well worn winding through a forest of varied and magnificent trees. The lake was remote and afforded great vistas in every direction. We had a map, but it proved to be of little value at the time, (we later deciphered the legends and could have continued farther) so we returned to the trailhead to wait for our taxi to take us back to the hotel. We had some time to kill before our taxi returned to take us back to the hotel. Juan had given us recommendations for a brewpub in the downtown area and explained about the happy hour timings. We knew from our experience the day before that we should arrive soon after the doors open before the Friday afternoon crowd overran the place. We arrive a few minutes after 6:00 and found the place filling up quickly. We were lucky to find a convenient booth for 4 and ordered 4 IPA’s. The beer was really an Imperial IPA with 7.5% alcohol and ibu’s in the 80’s…a significant brew for sure with outstanding body and character and lacing on the glass to demark each swallow. We ordered “nachos” for a starter and later burgers for our meal. We sampled a couple of the other beers on the menu and decided that the IPA was our favorite. We found a cab to return us to the hotel where we had hoped to watch a movie from the DVD library, but I was not clever enough to get the TV to display the disc…so we watch a little bit of the coverage of presidential inauguration. I did take away for the report a memorable quote, “When your heart is filled with patriotism, there is no room for prejudice”.
Saturday January 21, 2017, Bariloche:
We had a free morning to enjoy at our leisure. We started with the breakfast buffet in the hotel dining room. I had made arrangements for a short morning fishing excursion on the biggest of the lakes, Nahuel Haupi; my remis arrived on time to drive me to the marina where I met my guide and captain, Jon. He is a jolly Santa Claus type of guy who has travelled the world fishing; he was born in Argentina but lived in Hawaii long enough to gain America citizenship. His boat is a 20 foot fiberglass center console with 115 hp Yamaha. We motored about 15 minutes across the lake to a protected bay where we tossed out lines baited with deep running silver spoons. One of the lines was on a down rigger about 75 feet deep and the other was about 25 feet deep. Jon’s dog, Ramon, always accompanies the fishing trips; he is really a fun addition to the trip. He knows before you do when there is a fish on the line and he starts to bark and jump whenever there is a strike and really gets excited when there is a fish being reeled in. I had one good strike which got Ramon excited but his enthusiasm could not be contained as I reeled in a nice rainbow trout. I only had 2 hours that I could fish because we had an afternoon program scheduled. Being on the lake and listening to Jon’s stories and tale fishing tales will surely be one of the highlights of the trip, not to mention the thrill of landing the largest rainbow I have ever caught. Becky Robin and Steve chose to remain at the hotel and enjoy some relaxing down time reading and strolling the beach. I returned from fishing in time to meet a bus which took us to a marina where we boarded a large (250 person capacity) catamaran for a tour of the lake. The boat design was more appropriate for a ferry instead of a sightseeing vessel…the interior was like a 747 with cloudy windows. The outside deck was very small and overcrowded. None the less we motored 45 minutes to a dock on a peninsula where we had about 40 minutes for a nature walk over a boardwalk through the forest. Our guide explained about the trees and how they adapt and survive the aftermath of a volcanic eruption. We reboarded the boat and cruised another 40 minutes to dock at Victoria Island. This at one time had been privately owned and totally replanted with non native trees including sequoias, redwoods and pines…all of which not only thrive on the island but have overtaken most of the native plants. The park service is trying to return the island to its native state, but that will take many years. Next we returned to the boat for the short run back to where we had started. Our bus was waiting for us to take us back, but we were able to arrange at stop along the way at the Blest Brewery and restaurant. Our guide from the day before had recommended this brewery and gave his recommendations for a menu selection. We found a table in side and ordered 4 IPA’s to start, very nice brew with excellent lacing characteristics. We ordered the Super Especial which is a huge (more than 15) selection of tapas which covered every square inch of the table. There was enough food for 8! At the table next to us were 4 college students who were enjoying an evening of beer and fun…they were very friendly and we exchanged taking picture of our table. We soon realized that we had too much food and they were only drinking, so we starting passing our surplus to them which they gladly accepted and devoured. Our revelry continued until after 9:00 when we decided it was time to return to the hotel and pack for an early morning departure to our next stop on the tour.
Sunday January 22, 2017, Bariloche – Ushuaia:
Today is a travel day to move to the end of the world at the extreme tip of South America…Ushuaia. Our flight from Bariloche departed on time at 9:40 with a layover in El Calafate (no change of planes) and arriving in Ushuaia at 2;00. We were met at the airport and transferred to the hotel Cilene at the edge of the downtown. The entire town was easily accessible by walking from our hotel. Since we had not eaten all day our first mission was to find an open restaurant to find some lunch. Within a couple of blocks we found the banana bar which had good reviews on Yelp. It served our purposes…simple bar food and a cold draft beer. We continued to explore the town stopping briefly in a souvenir shop and an ATM machine. We returned to the hotel to rest and recover (nap) until we ventured out again in search of dinner. Ushuaia is famous for king crab and one of the recommended restaurants was less than a block from the hotel located on the waterfront overlooking the harbor. We were ushered to a window seat with a view of the incoming ships and the tourists walking along the quay. We ordered a good bottle of Terraza white wine and king crab. The crab was very mild and a very nice light meal. One bottle of wine was insufficient for the 4 of us so we did order a second bottle and continued to enjoy the view outside the window. The daylight continues to well past 10:00pm so although it was quite late we felt like it could be the afternoon. We knew we had to get some rest for the next day, but it does seem strange to be getting into bed while there is still daylight.
Monday January 23, 2017, Ushuaia:
The breakfast room in the Cilene Hotel opened promptly at 7:00am; the buffet was only ok with nothing exceptional of note. We had plenty of time to eat before our transport met us at 8:00 to tour the National Park. The transport bus made a serpentine course through the town stopping at several hotels to pick up passengers for the day tour. Finally after everyone was on board we drove into the park; our guide explained that he had planned the route in the park to avoid the numerous tour busses which were packed with tourists off of the Holland America Zandam Cruise Ship. Our first stop was at the intersection of the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans in the Beagle Channel. I should note that a slight mist had been falling all morning and the wind was blowing at gale force and the temperature was 45 degrees. We were warned that the weather could change several times during the day and to be prepared for all conditions. There was a post office at this first stop where one could mail a post card or get a stamp in his passport from the end of the world; also there was a hiking trail along the channel. The wind was so strong that standing outside more than a few minutes was uncomfortable. Not to mention that 4 tour busses pulled in making it nearly impossible to get inside the tiny post office. We continued on to the next point of interest while our guide explained about the trees and vegetation that were native to the park including the huge peat bogs that covered much of the area. There is very little native animal life in the park, but there are a lot of beavers. They had been imported in an effort to establish a fur trade but because of the milder temperatures in Ushuaia, the beavers did not develop quality pelts and therefore the fur trade never happened but the beaver population exploded because there are no natural predators. We did stop to see a beaver dam and observe where the animals had cut down and cleared a large area of trees to build their dams and houses. The next stop was at the end of the road were the Pan-American Highway comes to a complete stop. We had enough time to take pictures and walk a short circuit over a boardwalk, but the weather had deteriorated into a blowing and cold rain so we did not linger outside. From the end of the world, we continued to the visitor’s center stopping once or twice to get a view of a lake or forest. At the visitor’s center we had time to get refreshment or visit the exhibition about the indigenous people which became extent by 1930. It was a nice break and a welcomed chance to dry wet clothes warm up a bit. The next stop was by a lake where the guide pulled out a bottle of Argentine liquor and shot glasses for everyone so we could sample the local drink. It was a sweet distillation made from sugar cane; it was not something I would drink every day, but it did feel warm as it coursed its way to the stomach. The last stop was at the train station where we boarded a narrow gauge train; the railroad had been originally built by prisoners. Only 7 kilometers of the track remained to give tourists a ride through the national park. There were 5 cars pulled by a steam locomotive and made a top speed of 10 kph. We stopped twice, once at a siding to wait for the south bound train to pass and again at a waterfall where the steam locomotives could refill the water tanks. Back at the terminal we boarded our bus for the return trip to town. We exited at the first stop and went to a restaurant which had offered a 10% discount with our train tickets. We each ordered soup and a main course. They quantities were generous and served as our major meal of the day. The weather had improved and we decided to visit the prison museum for the remainder of the afternoon. Ushuaia had originally been established as a prison colony; the prison operated for 1905 until 1947 when it was taken over by the military. Today the former prison functions as a museum which is well worth a visit. Following our museum tour we returned to our hotel for a while before venturing out for a night cap at a local Irish Pub.
Tuesday January 24, 2017, Ushuaia:
Today we have a catamaran cruise scheduled to visit the lighthouse, a sea lion colony and a penguin colony. Our transportation picked us up at the hotel at 8:15. Actually we could just as easily walked to the dock which was about 4 blocks away, but the guide knew which kiosk had our tickets for which we exchanged vouchers…we kept wondering why not give us the tickets and save the effort of exchanging vouchers for tickets. The guide showed us the line to enter onto the quay and then left us saying he would be waiting when we returned later in the afternoon. We already had our port tax papers so we walked right onto the pier but had to wait about 15 minutes before boarding the catamaran. Fortunately, the winds were very calm meaning a very smooth voyage. This boat was very fast cruising at close to 30 knots. We arrived at a small rock knoll where the Ushuaia light house stands…it is still working although it is automatic and solar powered. The atoll is the home to a colony of sea lions, most of which were resting on the rocks. One huge male was obviously the alpha of the group and the females seems to congregate around him vying for his attention and protection. None of the other males were half his size and none challenged his rank. A hundred yards away was another rock atoll that was the home to hundreds of cormorants…they have a similar appearance to penguins but are totally different. From the lighthouse we continued East for another 40 minutes towards the penguins; we stopped once because the captain sighted a humpback whale…the whale blew his spout once and surfaced right outside our window, sadly it did not surface again so we have one brief memory of a whale sighting. We soon arrived at the penguin colony where hundreds of penguins we waiting on the shore to have their picture taken by 168 gawking tourists. They would waddle to the water and dive in for a quick swim to find a small fish for a snack. They are much for mobile in the water swimming at speeds close to 35mph. The captain held the boat at the water’s edge for about 20 minutes giving everyone plenty of time to take all the pictures they could possibly want. On the return trip we made a brief stop at a ranch for some passengers to disembark for a bus trip back to Ushuaia. The rest of us stayed on board for the 1 hour ride back to the pier. We arrived back about 1:30; our guide was waiting, but we dismissed him saying that we would walk to a nearby restaurant for lunch. The guide suggested a place right on the water front which specialized in Argentinean beef. There was a large open fire pit in the restaurant where whole lambs where on the grill. We each ordered a steak and sides and thoroughly enjoyed the lunch. We returned to the hotel to recover from the massive lunch, but later did venture out to window shop the main street before eventually returning with a bottle of wine and a bag of chips for happy hour.
Wednesday January 25, 2017, Ushuaia:
The schedule for the day was a bit chopped up…our transportation arrived at 10:00 to take us to the check in office for the Stella Australis where we completed all of the required paper work for the cruise as well as the immigration documentation for Chile. We also checked our luggage when suddenly the guide wished us a good day and a pleasant voyage…the only problem was it would be seven hours before we could board the ship so we had to be creative to find something to do for the remainder of the day. I had read that there was a glacier close enough that we could explore. We found a waiting taxi to take us 8 kilometers to the base of the mountain where the Martial glacier was clinging on the top. Climbing to the glacier seemed to be a popular pastime as there were many people at the base starting the climb. We started up the broad and steep trail…it appeared to have been a ski run in former days, but the chair lift ceased operations about 5 years ago. We followed a small stream which was running with the melted ice from the glacier. The weather was warm and sunny as we started, but by the time we emerged above the tree line the clouds covered the sky and the wind began to blow. The trail was always steep and rocky, but we pressed on having set a time that we would turn back regardless of whether or not reaching the glacier. We were also keeping a close watch on the weather and were prepared to abandon the climb if the weather deteriorated. We were close enough to the glacier to say we had been there when the agreed time indicated that we should turn back. The trek down was physically more demanding because we were using braking muscles as opposed to climbing muscles. When we arrived back at the restaurant at the base, we had walked over 5 miles with 2500 feet of climbing. We had earned our lentil stew and cold Cape Horn beer. As we were enjoying lunch and a brew, the rain started to fall; we were grateful to be inside out of the cold wind and rain. We had plenty of time to kill before we had to return to the port for embarkation. We arrived at the port about 40 minutes before we could board the ship so we had some time to walk the length of the pier and look at the ships tied alongside. At 5:15 we were permitted to board; first we had to submit our papers and receive a room key. We had just a few minutes to unpack and settle in before the welcome program began in the Darwin lounge. The Stella Australis is a relatively new ship built in 2010. It has only 100 guest cabins with a maximum of 230 passengers. It was designed to cruise the Chilean coast of Patagonia and navigate the narrow channels of the archipelago. Following the introduction of the crew and all the safety formalities, we were invited to dinner at 8:00pm. The program of the ship is all inclusive which means open bar, wine with dinner and all the shore excursions. All of the announcements are made in four languages: Spanish, French, German and English. The passengers seemed to be equally divided among these four languages although at the orientation they said that 17 countries are represented on board. After dinner we were ready to shower and recover from our trek up to the glacier. My fit app on my phone indicated that we had walked almost 8 miles during the course of the day burning over 1500 calories and taking 18,000 steps.
Thursday January 26, 2017, Cape Horn:
The Australis cruised all night through the Beagle Channel and passages through the archipelago to the most southern land mass in the world…Cape Horn. Our wakeup call was 6:15 to be ready to board the zodiacs for the short ride onto Cape Horn. The ship’s crew prepared a temporary landing ramp for the zodiacs and helped each passenger off the boat and onto the island. We had to climb a wooden stair case to reach the top where the Albatross monument was erected. We were instructed to keep our life jackets on in case of a sudden weather change which could require immediate return to the ship. The wind was blustery to say the least gusting to 30 mph. The island is treeless but covered with sphagnum moss and small plants. We followed the wooden walkway to the monument and then to the lighthouse and chapel. The island is actually inhabited with one family to maintain the lighthouse. They are resupplied every 2 months but otherwise of in total solitude except for the occasional cruise ship bringing tourists to see the Cape. The Zodiacs took us back to the ship for the breakfast buffet waiting for us and especially some hot coffee. Following breakfast we had time to relax as the captain made and extremely rare course completely around the Cape…weather condition only allow the circumnavigation about twice a year. There was a movie shown in the Darwin Lounge at 10:00 on the remarkable voyage of Captain Shackleton’s Antarctic Adventure and his survival. The lunch buffet opened at 1:00; then we had a free afternoon until 4:00pm when we boarded the zodiacs for a visit and hike at Wulaia bay. This was a guided like hike covering three miles of very steep and at times tricky trails up to a viewing point. The guide explained about the original Yamana civilization who once lived on the island and later a European family who ran a sheep ranch for 70 years before giving up due to the taxes imposed on the wool they raised. I should note that unlike the morning excursion, we had sunshine in the afternoon providing a warm and cheery hike. The ship’s crew had hot chocolate and whisky waiting for us as we boarded the zodiacs for the return to the ship. Back on board, we had less than an hour to enjoy the lounge for happy hour before descending to the 1st deck for dinner. We had preselected our entrees at lunch…Becky ordered pasta and I ordered a teriyaki filet mignon; we agreed that it is wiser to order pasta in Italy and beef in South America. After dinner we returned to the Darwin Lounge for cognac and then to bed for the evening.
Friday January 27, 2017, Aguila Glacier:
Today was the most relaxing of the cruise…no early morning call, just sleep in until the breakfast buffet opened at 8:00am. We had sailed out of the Beagle Channel and entered the Straits of Magellan. Later there was a lecture on the many explorers including Magellan who risked everything is search of water route to China. After the lecture the ship’s bosun gave a knot tying demonstration. Soon it was time for the lunch buffet. After lunch we had a lecture about glaciers and particularly the Aguila Glacier that we would be visiting at 4:00 in the afternoon. We were sailing through the fiords that had been carved by the glacier during the Ice Age thousands of years earlier. As we cruised through the narrow passages the scenery was painted with numerous glacier capped peaks each with a powder blue hue and imposing presence. We boarded the Zodiacs according the language we spoke in order to have a guide who could explain the trek without having to translate. The landing was quite easy with the boats easing right onto the rock beach, two of the crew members set a ramp onto the bow and we walked off onto the shore. As we walked toward the emerging glacier, our guide explained about the plants, shells and birds we were seeing along the way. The glacier is called an emerging or advancing glacier because it is sliding into the fiord, but does not seem to be losing mass. The weather constantly changed as we approached the glacier, switching between rain, clouds and sunshine in a matter of minutes. The breeze coming off the glacier was much colder and we were glad to have brought all of our layers to protect us from the weather. The formations in the glacier are amazing paying tribute to nature’s artistic abilities. We had time to take all the pictures we wanted before returning to the landing site for hot chocolate and whisky. Unlike the previous day which was sunny and warm, the hot drinks were very welcomed as a buffer against the cold and rainy conditions. Back on the Australis we were invited to the Darwin Lounge for the Captain’s reception for a toast to a wonderful cruise experience. Next there was a drawing for the ship’s jack (flag) which had flown on the masthead during the cruise. Next there was a live auction for the ship’s chart on which the course of our cruise had been plotted in 10 minute intervals including the rare sail around the Cape Horn. The final bid was $600.00; the proceeds of the sale go into the tip pool for the crew. After the auction, we descended the 5 flights of stairs to the Patagonia Dining room for the captain’s dinner. We had preselected our entrees at lunch; Robin selected the fish, while the rest of us chose the beef tenderloin. After dinner we returned to the lounge for a quick cognac and then to our cabins.
Saturday January 28, 2017, Magdalena’s Island-Punta Arenas:
We had an early morning call to be ready to board the Zodiacs at 6:45am to tour the penguin colony on Magdalena’s Island. We had a lecture the day before about penguins and their habitat so we had a vague idea of how we should behave around the penguins. I was surprised by the sheer number of birds…more than 150,000; they are loud and totally tolerant of the intruding humans. We had to stay on a marked pathway through their habitat. The young chicks were easy to spot with their soft fuzzy and lighter colored feather…they had not yet matured enough to swim but in just a couple of month as the winter begin they will be mature and ready to spend 6 months of the winter floating in their colony. While they are extremely entertaining to watch as they waddle around the island, they are underwater rocket killing machines as they devour the defenseless fish. Penguins are usually monogamous and maintain a partner for several seasons. They always return to the same nest, clean them out and lay 2 eggs which both the male and female take turns incubating. We had about an hour to walk the circular path through the penguins and back to the Zodiac landing. The wind was very brisk and cold; we were ready to return to find some protection from the wind. We had our final breakfast waiting for us then it was time to finish packing and prepare for the disembarkation at Punta Arenas. We left the ship at noon, cleared customs and found our waiting transportation to the Singular Hotel in Puerto Bories, Chile. The ride to the hotel was about three hours over good roads but through fairly desolated country. The hotel is a 5 star marvel built into a converted old factory; it is a marvelous architectural masterpiece offering unexpected luxury in the middle of Patagonia. We met in the bar for happy hour and discovered some ship mates from the Stella Australis. We had a meeting with the excursion director to plan our activities for the remainder of our visit. Next it was time for dinner featuring a gourmet selection of Chilean specialties and of course excellent wines. We were ready for dinner because on the ride to Puerto Bories we had only a small sandwich for a snack. Finally we finished our dinner and desserts and a splash of cognac then off to our room for the evening.
Sunday January 29, 2017, Torres de Paine Parque Nacional:
The breakfast buffet at the Singular is everything we have come to expect from a 5 star hotel; there is every type of meat, cheese, fruit, eggs and breads available to choose from, so inviting that it is difficult not to overload the plates. We had registered for the 9:30 excursion into the Parque Nacional Torres de Paine and a 14 kilometer hike. There were three other guests, a guide and a driver in our excursion. The trip to the park was almost 2 hours stopping once for a restroom break. The paved road was quite good, but once we turned into the park the road became and unpaved dusty washboard track. As we drove along, the guide would point out the troglodytes, guanacos and other wild life and explained about the Estancias and the property ownership evolution in Chile. Finally we arrived at the ranger station at the entrance and began our trek. The wind was blowing at gale force (about 35 mph) and we were headed straight into it. Occasionally we entered a forested area where we had some protection from the wind, but mostly we leaned into the wind and kept plodding forward. As we walked our guide explained all of the flora as well as the evolution of the glaciers and the formation of the lakes. We stopped for lunch about the halfway point; the excursion kitchen had prepared sandwiches and snacks for each of us and the guide (Mary) had a thermos of hot mushroom soup. We paused for maybe a half hour before continuing along the mountain track. We had entered a more forested area and had more protection from the wind for the second half of the hike. We tried 4 different types of berries; most need a few more weeks of ripening before reaching their prime. The clouds started to gather and we feared that we would soon be walking in the rain. We made our last ascent to a view point above the lakes and river Paine with a brief stop for picture as the rain began to fall. The final descent was unlike any we had ever done…very steep over glacial moraine, deep fine gravel which allowed a gentle slide with each step. We all managed the steepest portion and then picked up the pace for the final kilometer to the waiting van. Our driver had a welcomed buffet waiting for us including, beer and wine and a selection of fruit kebabs, cheese and crackers. Unfortunately the falling rain was not the best for standing outside the van to enjoy the refreshment, but we were all thrilled to be back to the van. For 5 hours, we had walked, climbed and slid 8.6 miles using 24,000 step and 2000 calories. The 1 ˝ hour trip back to the Singular was very quite as most of us were fast asleep in the luxury captain’s chairs. We emerged from the van with only one goal…a hot shower. Soon we were relaxed and refreshed and ready for the evening activities which included happy hour and dinner. On the hike we had learned that one the wild berries (the Calafate) was available as an adjunct to a mojito, so Becky ordered the Calefate Mojito and exclaimed that it was very good. At dinner we ordered the king crab dish that Mary had recommended earlier on the hike…good but could have been improved with some Cajun spices.
Monday January 30, 2017, Puerta Natales:
The day after our strenuous hike, we planned for an easier day of sightseeing. With that in mind we enjoyed a later wakeup call and a leisurely breakfast…actually the coffee service is so slow that one has no choice but to have a leisurely breakfast. At 10:00 we met Sebastian, our guide for the day. He led us on a one hour tour of the freezer plant which is now converted into a 5 star hotel. The plant was completed in 1915 and operated until the mid 70’s…the changing political climate caused the demise of the plant which lay vacant until 2005 when one of the previous managers along with the help of some entrepreneurs and investors designed and built the Singular, Patagonia. Much of the original machinery is still in place and maybe with a little maintenance could be restored to operational, although wood fired boilers for steam driven ammonia compressors would not efficient in today’s competitive market. After to factory tour we were chauffeured into Puerta Natales as Sebastian explained about the economy of the town. Mostly it survives by tourism and fishing which manages to sustain a population of 20,000. We did make stops for an ATM machine, a pharmacy, a museum and a souvenir shop. We returned to the hotel for lunch and to prepare for the afternoon activities. For me that meant an afternoon in the spa enjoying the Jacuzzi and sauna, but for Becky, she went on another excursion to visit three small caves and learn a little more about the prehistoric life of Patagonia. We gathered for our last dinner at the Singular; Becky and I both ordered the grilled guanaco filet which was very good.
Tuesday January 31, 2017, Puerto Natales – El Calafate:
We leave Chile today and return to Argentina. The call for the transportation wasn’t until 10:00 so we had plenty of time to enjoy our last trip through the breakfast buffet at the Singular. With all of bags repacked we checked out of the hotel and boarded the van for the 370 kilometer ride to El Calafate, Chile. Our driver said the trip would be 4 hours plus or minus pending the time required to pass through the formalities at the border crossings. Fortunately, we had no issues at either border and were back on the road in record time. The scenery quickly changed from mountains and fiords, to an endless landscape that looked exactly the West Texas desert. The road had little traffic and soon the boredom of the landscape had everyone dozing to pass the time. But we approached an intersection where the driver stopped the van and explained that for the next 65 kilometers we would be traveling over a rocky and unpaved road. The road was very rough and noisy making sleep impossible; at times the van would slide across the gravel as we bounced along at 50 mph. There was nothing to see and absolutely no signs of civilization for the next hour. Finally we rejoined the paved highway for the final descent (about 45 minutes) into El Calafate. We had made the trip in only 3 ˝ hours, as fast as our driver had ever completed the trip. He dropped us and immediately started to return to Puerto Natales. We checked into the Alto Calafate hotel and were ushered to our penthouse suites on the 4th floor. There are only 2 suites on this floor and each is a complete apartment (minus the kitchen). We had an excellent view of the Lago Argentino out of the window. We enquired about places to visit in the town and discovered that there was a brewpub called the Fox (El Zorra). We took the shuttle into town and walked 4 blocks to the brewery. We were greeted by a very gracious hostess (the brew master’s wife) and proceeded to enjoy a very nice IPA. She was very interested to learn about our connection with the Pedernales Brewing Company and enjoyed surfing our website. She offered us complimentary tasting of any of their beers if we wanted to try them. I tasted the APA and the smoked porter…both were good, but I thought the IPA was better. We chose to stay at the pub for dinner and another beer. We were ready to return to the hotel on the 7:00 shuttle. Back at the hotel we had planned to read and relax but the influence of the beer and the relief of the tension from the earlier joy ride from Puerto Natales had both of us dozing on the sofa.
Wednesday February 01, 2017, Perito Moreno Glacier – El Calafate:
Breakfast at the Alto Calafate Hotel is good but unremarkable…probably due to an overload of breakfast buffets for the past 3 weeks. Our driver and guide met us at our hotel at 9:30 for the one hour drive to the National Park where we could visit the Perito Moreno Glacier. We stopped a couple of times along the way for photos and explanations of the landscape. There are a couple of very large ranches along the route, but otherwise not much to see. We arrived at the entrance to the park and collect our entrance tickets and proceeded to drive along the shore of Lago Argentino. We stopped to walk down to the lake shore so our guide, Florencia, could explain about the plants and trees in the forest. Little did she know that we had already heard the same explanation by 4 other guides during our visit to South America. As we approached the glacier, we passed a couple of strategic view points where one could stop for obligatory photo ops. Our driver dropped us at the start of a 4 kilometer trail head where we would walk on a metal grate pathway which coursed as close to the glacier as safely possible. The noises coming from the glacier commanded one’s attention; some sounding like gunshots and others like thunder followed by a huge water splash as the calves broke off the face and fell into the lake below. The Perito Moreno Glacier is the 3rd largest glacier in the world; over 30 kilometer long and 5 miles wide. At the intersection with the lake, it rises 40 meters above the water and extends 70 meters below the surface. We were lucky to see the glacier under sunny skies which intensified to the blue colors of the ice. The wind off the ice was cool, but in the sunshine we were comfortable. We arrived back at the lodge where we had the option to stop for lunch, but due to the crowds of tourists and the uninviting menu selections, we elected to return to El Calafate where we had a variety of lunch options. We stopped one more time to take one last photo while Florencia served a toast of Calafate Liquor for us to try. Back in El Calafate we found an ATM machine and then a recommended restaurant which unfortunately was closed on Wednesdays. But there were so many restaurants in the area we just decided to pop into the closest one and enjoy a late lunch (early dinner). We had time to visit some of the local shops including a chocolate factory before we found a taxi to take us back to our hotel. Later we met for wine and snacks before turning out the lights for the day.
Thursday February 02, 2017, Lago Argentino Cruise – El Calafate:
After breakfast we were greeted at 7:40am by Laura, our guide and hostess for the day. We had a couple of stops at hotels in town to pick up the remaining 4 passengers who would complete the passenger list for our all day gourmet cruise on Lago Argentino. Our boat was about 65 feet with twin diesels and a crew of 6 including the captain, 2 sailors, a chef, a waitress and our guide. It has a capacity of 28 passengers; we were delighted to have only the 8 which provided all the space and attention we could want. The cruise itinerary included a visit to the Upsala and Spegazzini Glaciers with snacks and a gourmet meal included. We started out with a 2 hour sail to the end of the lake at which the Upsala Glacier (2rd largest in the National Park) flows into the lake dropping huge icebergs into the icy water. We did cruise past several of the bergs slowing to take pictures and net some ice from the water to use to ice drinks. During the sail up to the Upsala, our waitress, Valentina served us coffee and pastries that our chef had prepared. Later we sailed up another finger of the lake as the meal was served; the menu included a pumpkin soup, followed with a lamb terrine and then a shrimp and pasta dish with cream puff like pastry for dessert…all the while Valentina was filling wine glasses when she wasn’t serving and removing plates. After lunch we pulled into a shore line for a brief walk on shore to visit what used to be a working estancia, but was now just home to wild cows and horses. Back on the boat we had a one hour cruise back to the port during which time most everyone found a corner to read and snooze. We arrived back at the dock about 5:30 and then boarded the bus for the one hour ride back to our hotel. None of us was hungry considering the lunch we had enjoyed on the cruise, but 7:30 was just too early to retire for the day. Instead Becky and I took the 7:15 shuttle into town to visit the El Zorra Brewpub one final time...we ordered their golden ale and a plate of papas rusticos (French fries with cheese and onions). Later we caught the 9:00 shuttle back to the hotel just having spent one very exciting and educational day in Patagonia.
Friday February 03, 2017, El Calafate – Buenas Aires:
No adventure today…just hanging around the hotel until our driver picked us up at 1:30 to take us to the airport for our afternoon flight to Buenas Aires. We were met at the airport in BA by a very informative guide who gave us enough ideas of things to do to last a week. They dropped at the hotel Casa Calma in the downtown area and we were on our own for the rest of the evening. We had only one mission…dinner. We had plenty of suggestions and headed for the 5 block walk to the gastronomic area where we found El Mirasol restaurant. It is a very nice restaurant and had the selection, quality and prices one would expect. Becky, Steve and I ordered grilled beef and Robin ordered a chicken kebob. We all commented that this was one of the best meals of the trip. The service was very good with a friendly waiter who offered us a glass of Champagne to complete the meal. Finally we were ready to return to the hotel for the evening and prepare for one final day of sightseeing in Buenas Aires.