Monday, November 25, 2013

My Journey to the End of the World

(Trip Date: January, 2013)

Situated at the southern tip of South America, just a thousand kilometers away from the icy land of Antarctica, lies Ushuaia…also knows as The End of the World. Ushuaia is in the Patagonia region of Argentina, right along the Chilean border, and is known as the most southernmost city in the world. 

As we emerged from the small airport we were greeted by strong winds, sunny skies and giant, snowcapped mountains. We spent our first evening walking through the city, checking out the shops and enjoying some of the delicious seafood that Patagonia has to offer. The city is beautiful, situated right on the ocean, surrounded by mountains and crisp, fresh air. We were there during the southern hemisphere’s summertime, which meant long days, cool temparatures and unpredictable weather.

The next day was a day I had been waiting forever for…visiting the penguins! It was an hour long boat ride along the rough waters of the Beagle Channel and included a stop at Bird’s Island, where hundreds of penguin-look-a-like birds cover a giant rock shared with sea lions, plus a quick stop at the famous Les Eclaireurs Lighthouse. My excitement was overwhelming as our boat approached Penguin Island, coming to a halt as it reached land, and the penguins came waddling up to our boat to inspect the new visitors in their home. We went out onto the cold and insanely windy deck of our boat to enjoy the view of the penguins, taking photo after photo of the cute pudgy black and white creatures. Hundreds of penguins covered the island, rolling around the ground, diving into the frigid ocean and waddling around from group to group.  Two King Penguins stood in the distance watching us suspiciously and keeping an eye over their clan of adorable creatures. It was all I had imagined and more!

The next day we took a bus to Tierra del Fuego National Park and hiked through the forest. It was the first time I’ve ever done a hike in a lush forest wearing a coat, scarf and toque! Situated by a lake and surrounded by mountains, the scenery is stunning every way you turn your head. Through the maze of trees and along the sandy beaches we journeyed, enjoying the sites of the Patagonian forest and silence of the quiet land. There were many different types of plants, ones we had never seen before at our end of the world, accompanied by the sounds of new creatures mixed in with the roar of harsh winds.

Traveling to the End of the World was truly a unique experience. It’s a rare opportunity to venture across the hemispheres, through the harsh climates, and experience a land so foreign and far away.  With its rich history, rustic land, distinctive creatures, delicious seafood and stunning scenery, Ushuaia is a place I’m so thrilled to say I’ve visited and land I’ll never forget. 

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Icicles and Berries in El Calafate

(Trip date: January, 2013)

As our plane flew over the snow capped mountains on our way to El Calafate in the Patagonia region of Argentina, my heart skipped a beat at the site before my eyes. I had always wanted to visit Patagonia, to travel to the end of the earth and see how nature presented itself in a totally different environment so far away from the rest of the world. The mountain range grew bigger and more majestic as we finally touched down and the adventure I’ve been waiting for finally began.

The town of El Calafate is very small, there’s one main road lined with restaurants, shops, hotels and travel agencies. We got there in the evening and went straight to the travel agencies to book our tours for the next couple of days and learned a very valuable lesson I’d like to share with anybody who is going to El Calafate: book your tours way in advance!!!! All the hiking tours to the Perito Moreno Glacier, the main reason everybody comes to El Calafate, were all booked solid for two straight days! Terrified that we were going to miss out on the amazing experience we travelled so far to see, we ended up paying for a private driver to take us to the glacier and fortunately there were a couple of spots left on the hike itself. However it wasn’t just the Perito Moreno Glacier hike that was booked, all the other hiking tours were booked up as well. We had wanted to see El Chaltan and missed out on that too.
We ended up spending our first day in El Calafate checking out the town, walking along the main road, doing some shopping, enjoying some wine and local cuisine. The food in El Calafate is amazing and I had some of the best meals I’ve ever had. I don’t eat red meat but had some of the best chicken ever! Check out Rick’s, it’s one of the best restaurants in El Calafate. You can also find amazing chocolate, decadent ice cream, the best jam and delicious pizza around town!

The next day we were picked up by our private driver who was awesome, he barely spoke any English but he made sure he showed us all the well known stops along the way, including a stop to show us the Calafate berry, which is where the name “El Calafate” came from and is commonly used to make jam. An hour and a half drive later we were at our final destination and boarded the boat that took us to the glacier. The scenery was spectacular as we glided alongside the glacier, so massive and majestic in its beauty. Once we were off the boat, we met with our group, ate our lunch, and made our way over to the glacier…with many photo stops along the way, of course!
After being fitted with our crampons, we started our hike up the glacier. It was a little scary at first, but after getting used to the crampons (“trust the crampons” as our guide would say!), it turned out to be a fairly easy hike surrounded by the most breathtaking scenery. Every direction looked like a postcard. The snow-capped mountains in the distance hovering over the pristine lake, surrounded by rolling hills of various terrain, the contrast of brown rock formations against the icy blue glacier. We walked up and down the path of the glacier, digging our crampons into the soft, icy ground, stopping every few minutes to take in the scenery and snap photos. The sun was shining, our skin was warm, the air was fresh… top it off with a glass of ice cold whisky at the end! It was truly a magical experience that I will never forget.

After the hike, we made our way back to the port and our driver took us to the “balconies”. We had no idea what this was and thought he was crazy when he told us we would need 2 hours here! We definitely should have trusted him more as this turned out to be another incredible experience! We walked along the several boardwalks that take you to several “balconies” overlooking the Perito Moreno Glacier giving us a totally different view of the glacier – from actually being on the glacier to admiring it from afar. The view is absolutely spectacular as you get a panoramic view of the glacier, yet somehow feel so close. But the most amazing part of this experience was listening and watching parts of the glacier fall off! The roaring sound was like thunder breaking the silence as the warm sun broke gigantic pieces of ice off the glacier and sent them crashing into the ocean. 

Our one magical day touring the Perito Moreno Glacier was worth traveling to the other end of the world for. It was everything I had thought it would be, and more! The beautiful and contrasting landscapes, eerily quiet with every breath of fresh air, so majestic, raw and untouched, enhanced by the sparkling blue icicles shining off the glacier. It may seem like a cold site, but it can’t help but warm your soul.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

It’s Hard to Get Tired in Buenos Aires!

(Trip date: December/January, 2012/13)

I had never heard anybody say anything bad about Buenos Aires and now I know why! The city is amazing, full of life and colour and energy and a vibrancy that is truly contagious. The people are incredibly friendly, the food is delicious and there’s so much to do you never want to stop exploring.
We spent our first evening in Buenos Aires just like the locals do. We took a long walk through the city enjoying the warm summer night air and ended up in Puerto Madero, an area of the city with restaurants and shops lining the waterfront. We walked up and down the strip admiring the array of restaurants and enjoying the company of people out on a Saturday night –out for a stroll, sitting on patios, eating ice cream, families gathering, couples hand-in-hand. We quickly adapted to the Argentinean way of life and had dinner at 11pm, a typical dinner of fresh breads, salad, grilled meat, dessert and of course – wine! I loved watching all the friends and families making an event out of dinner, watching the food being passed around, the continuous flow of wine, the conversation and laughter filling the air. I was immediately addicted to Argentina!

Fortunately we were in Buenos Aires on a Sunday as there is an amazing craft market that is only opened on Sundays in San Telmo – the old part of the city and the area we were staying in. We walked through the market, stopping at many booths to admire the jewelry, clothing, antiques, paintings and many other unique crafts and got to enjoy watching tango dancers in the street. The day market turned into a night market as the sun went down and we came across a group of drummers in the street, surrounded by crowds of dancers enjoying the infectious beat as the pulsating rhythm filled the air. We also made sure we enjoyed some famous Argentinean pizza, many empanadas, grilled meats (steak for Bev, chicken for me!) and alfajores – yum!

A trip to Buenos Aires is not complete without a shopping trip to Palermo Soho – where the vibrant colours and Bohemian culture embrace you, Caminito in La Boca – famous for the origin of tango dancing and brightly coloured buildings, and the Recoleta Cemetery – a fascinating city of vaults, tombs and mausoleums. The cemetery is part eerie and part beautiful and you feel a sense of mystery while walking up and down the pathways peering inside the vaults to get a sense of closeness to those who are buried inside. Many of the vaults are covered in cobwebs illustrating how long they have gone untouched and some of them are mysteriously empty sending a chill up your spine!

We also took a tango lesson and saw a live tango show, rode one of the oldest trains in Buenos Aires and visited Casa Rosada (the Pink Palace) in Plaza de Mayo. Just walking through the streets is a treat, admiring the colonial architecture and taking in the culture of a city where old meets new. It’s a combination of beautiful, old buildings contrasting with cool, modern skyscrapers. Every turn brings you to a different site, through the winding cobblestone streets and along the paved highways. It’s a city where Europe meets South America. It’s a city that never sleeps. It’s a city where the colours shine, the people laugh, and the energy takes over your soul.