Lakes, Penguins And Luxury

We pigged out after our volcano experience. It’s not that we haven’t pigged out pretty much every night in South America but this was a big one! There is a Uruguayan restaurant in Pucon which everyone raves about so we stuffed our faces with carpaccio, steak and an expensive bottle of wine – glad to be alive and feeling pleased with ourselves for having done the volcano.

Next morning, we took an early bus to San Carlos de Bariloche in Argentina. Unfortunately the bus started off west and we had to change in Osorno meaning our journey took all day due to the round-about route. Osorno was dull and the buses were old and uncomfortable but the border crossing was spectacular as we were stamped out of Chile on one side of the Andes and drove on over the mountains for a good hour before being stamped into Argentina – that’s a lot of no-mans land!

We had both been missing home a touch so we’d booked an apartment to ourselves in Bariloche so we could cook and have some space. The place was fantastic – a huge lounge with cable TV, a nice kitchen and a big bedroom and decent bathroom. Arriving late, Annika popped out for a pizza and a bottle of vino and we slept like logs.

Our volcano exhaustion had barely subsided but our push for fitness was still on and the next day we took a local bus past the lakes so that we could climb Cerro Lopez. The ascent was steep – very steep at times – and took three hours but the views were amazing from the top as the area is surrounded by small islands in amongst the lakes and is very green. Bizarrely, we met a couple at the refugio at the top who live around a mile and a half from our house in Brixton – their local pub is the one we had our leaving do in! They were on their way down when we met them so we agreed to meet later and continued on our way. Sadly, they took a wrong turn on the way down and missed their bus back so we didn’t meet up but that didn’t stop us from consuming mountains of meat (lamb this time – Tony simply continues to bring more and more until you say ‘STOP’, essentially!) and wine.

We’d agreed to have the next day to ourselves for some R&R so after a nice lie-in Annika disappeared off for a facial and I settled down in front of the telly to watch my team lose to Barcelona in the European Cup – but not before seeing us take the lead early on and finding myself standing on the balcony screaming with joy to no-one in particular. Just like being at home!

We decided to hire a car for the next two days to see some of the local sights. Day one was a visit to snow-capped Cerro Tronador and the Black Glacier. The views, as usual, were superb and the glacier, which is disappearing fast due to climate change (the hole in the ozone layer is at it’s largest over this part of the world) was mesmerising as the small islands of ice which have recently broken off the bottom creak and crack as they begin to melt.

Day two was a mammoth drive around what is known as the Siete Lagos (Seven Lakes), most of the drive being on unmade, gravel roads making it a pretty exhausting day. By the time the sun was setting, we found ourselves not even bothering to notice some of the beautiful lake views as we’d seen so many from every angle!

We really enjoyed Bariloche and indeed the whole of the Lake District. I’d imagined that the whole of South America would be dusty and bleak but this part of Chile and Argentina is green and beautiful. It looks a lot like the Swiss Alps and the architecture is quite often wooden cabins which really complete the look. We’d love to come back with a car or camper van some time and stay in the more remote areas but time moves on and so do we. Not before another vast helping of steak at the local’s favourite parrilla though obviously.

We took an overnight bus across the country to Puerto Madryn which is known for it’s close proximity to Peninsula Valdes, a nature reserve which is home to seals, sealions, sea elephants and sometimes whales.

Sadly, there is not much to say about Puerto Madryn. The town is pretty dull and we wish we hadn’t booked to stay there that long in the end. Due to predicted bad weather, we postponed our tour to the peninsula and then we met a Turkish couple who were looking to hire a car for the trip (rather than do an organised tour) and who wanted to share. We agreed and, along with an Aussie girl we met in the hostel, headed out to Punta Tombo (the home of an enormous penguin colony), two hours down the coast. Luckily, they hadn’t left yet – they migrate north for six months of feeding and were due off any day – so we managed to spend a couple of hours wandering in their midst taking photos as they stared impassively at the last humans of the summer season.

Our day trip to Peninsula Valdes was, in my opinion, a total waste of time. It took hours to get to – again on gravel roads – and we were rewarded with no whales, a smattering of penguins and extremely distant sightings of immobile elephant seals. Maximum excitement was reached when one of them slightly moved its tail or raised it’s head but this was rare. The highlight was the armadillo which scuttled around our feet for a while, looking like it was remote-controlled as it dashed around looking for food, but it was a long way to travel and a very long day just to see what we saw.

Our next destination is Buenos Aires which we’re really looking forward to – we’re currently on the 19 hour bus journey there which has been experienced in the nicest seats it is possible to get. The bottom deck of the bus seats only six passengers as each seat reclines all the way back into a flat bed and we were even given wine with our dinner last night! Yup, we’re still slumming it.