Finishing my time in Argentina I look back to a very busy month. Argentina supplies the average backpacker with a huge amount of culture, activities and sights to see. My route through Argentina begins in the cultural hub of bustling Buenos Aires following an overnight bus from Iguazu Falls. After spending a week in the capital city, Ali and I wanted to have a small taste of Patagonia, so we split from the group for a few days to take a 20 hour bus ride down to Puerto Madryn. This is a small town situated on the east coast of Argentina. Puerto Madryn is a place full of sea wildlife, from orcas to sea lions to penguins. We then travelled west to El Bolson, experiencing a different kind of Patagonia. The vast mountain ranges encircling the local town contrasts greatly with the flat and open landscapes of Puerto Madryn. After a few days of hiking in El Bolson, we travelled 3 hours north to Bariloche.
Bariloche carries more of a city feel than El Bolson and the lake surrounding the outskirts of the town could be mistaken for the mouth of the sea. To me, Bariloche looks very similar to a town in the Alps. It is simple, beautiful, dominated by wood, and built upward to give its inhabitants a panoramic view of the vast mountain range surrounding the lake.
Although there is still a little more of Argentina for me to cover, I have already noticed the great difference between the east and west of the country. It is very obvious how vast Argentina really is and the great variety found in both the towns and landscapes. I felt that this is a very good opportunity to share with you how I came to discover such a difference between the east and west of Argentina.
First stop: Buenos Aires
Arriving into Buenos Aires on St Paddy’s day really gave the city a party atmosphere to begin with. Not to say that we didn’t welcome it with open arms- the city was alive. This, coupled with Milhouse hostel’s reputation for being night life orientated, Buenos Aires showed us how its dwellers fiesta and enjoy themselves. In just a week I can confidently say that the hostel kept to its reputation.
Our first evening was not one to forget as we immersed ourselves in a typically large South American street party, painted with the colours of the Irish flag. The street filled itself with open bars that blared music out from every corner while drums paraded up and down the street, ensuring everyone had a thumping beat to jive to. We enjoyed the night until the early hours, returning to our dorm-mates sick all over the floor. Lovely.
Besides the parties, Buenos Aires gives a Parisian and Italian vibe harking back to its immigration history. This is portrayed throughout the city, both in the architecture and the food. After the two world wars, Buenos Aires became a place of migration for families all over Europe. Today there is a significant French, Spanish and Italian influence from its patisseries to coffee shops to pizza restaurants. If you’re gluten free you will find it hard walking past the mouth-watering cakes and pastries that are lurking around every corner. However if you venture north of the city to Palermo, you will find yourself in a young and vibrant area, full of bars and independent restaurants. Here you’ll find thick burgers and award winning steaks to huge helados (ice cream) shops with over 50 flavours and gluten free cakes. This is arguably my favorite part of the city.
Our time in Buenos Aires also coincided with a time of protest and unrest among its citizens. A friend of mine who lived in Buenos Aires told me with rolling eyes, ‘they always protest in Buenos Aires’ and I now understand where she is coming from. I value and respect the people of Argentina for standing up to issues around wages and fair working conditions that need to be addressed. And my god do they know how to protest. There was no violence in these protests, instead massive flags and huge banners held up by at least seven people. The streets are overrun with people, colour, drums, street food and optimism. Crescendos of drums are banged and people sing, shout and dance their way through the centre of the city along its most busy highways, disrupting traffic and uniting at the same time. The first time I saw the protest I was overwhelmed by the amount of people flooding the streets, the second time I was shocked by the speed with which people were back on the street and don’t get me started on the third! The last protest happened the day we were leaving and it definitely seemed to be the largest one yet. It was almost impossible to get from the hostel to the bus station, and yet we managed to weave through the crowds with our backpacks on and not get mugged- result!
Steak in Palermo
Protests in Buenos Aires
Second Stop: Puerto Madryn
Our twenty hour bus journey to Puerto Madryn really wasn’t that bad. I spent most of my time looking out of the window to the huge flat landscape covering the valley. The dry arid land and open highways made me feel as if I was in a Clint Eastwood film, except instead of riding through the open valley on a horse, I was in a bus with a screaming child.
Unfortunately, the weather cancelled many activities and wildlife watching for us. Instead we ran through the very sleepy town dodging great rain drops and huge lighting strikes that lit up the sky into a spectrum of pink and purple colours. The next day, the storm managed to close the main wildlife watching area of Puerto Madryn, however the weather seemed to clear up for most of the day and so we rented some bikes and rode 17km to a little bay covered with sea lions. I have come to the conclusion now that sea lions look like great jacket potatoes lying very flat on the sand. After a lovely day out, we then set off to to east side of Argentina.
Third Stop: El Bolson
El Bolson is such a lovely town that can almost be mistaken to be French town in the alps. During our stay in El Bolson, our diet consisted of home made bread and jams in the morning and smoked trout in the evening. We went on a hike to a place called Cajon de Azul – Azul meaning blue which represents the crystal clear glacier river that runs along the hike. Although the hike is classed as the most touristic in high season, it really is a beautiful hike through forests alongside the passing Rio Azul. We were lucky to walk in the low season so not many people were hiking at all. I felt like I had the river all to myself and could stop at any point on a rock and never be interrupted.
We stayed in a refugio (a cabin in the woods) called El Retamal, which is an hour north from the refugio Cajon de Azul. El Retamal is a little higher than Cajon de Azul and more in the mountains. The only people living there were two women and a man, all late twenties. They greeted us and showed us around the refugio, they made a fire in the wood burning stove to keep us warm and took us up to the loft where we would be staying on mattresses. We brought food up to the refugio and made it on the wood burning stove, this took a little longer than we thought and tinned vegetables aren’t the tastiest of treats, however we were so hungry we managed to inhale the whole pot – we were supposed to save some for lunch tomorrow, along with the sandwiches- but that didn’t happen.
Ali and I were so lucky to be the only people staying in the refugio. We made a fire in the pit outside and lay down to look at a sky painted with stars. It seemed like a pot of silver glitter had exploded above us. As I ran my eyes along the milky way, I knew that it would be very hard to see stars this incredible ever again.
On the hike back down, a little white kitten joined us on our journey, we thought she wanted some food so we offered her a crumb of biscuit , she didn’t take it and was happy enough to just follow with us for about 20 minutes. If we went too far she would meow very loud and run over to us. Very sweet. However I did feel like I was kidnapping her. To make sure she stayed in her own territory, we distracted her with a leaf and ran off to make sure she wouldn’t keep on following us. It was sad to say goodbye without a hug, but it needed to be done.
Our little friend we met on the way – Cajon de Azul
The cabin we stayed in – El Retamal
Last Stop – Bariloche
After the bus company told us the 6:50pm would come in ten minutes, we managed to wait for two hours until the bus arrived along with the 9:00pm bus. The view from the hostel in Bariloche evidently portrays the vast difference between the flat landscape of the east and the great mountains in the west of Argentina. Waking up to a scenery of mountains with a lake below and the sunrise painting shades of pink on the mountains really made my morning. Eating homemade bread and drinking a cup of tea over looking the view slipped me into a feeling of content and completely at ease for the first time in a while. I realised that I had been on my feet for a long time and never had a chance to just stop and take in everything that has been happening for the past month. This was shortly interrupted with Ali packing our bags for the next hike, 4 hours up a mountain to a place called Frey and about 2.5 hours down.
Although the hike was long and consisted of a steady incline, the scenes at the Frey were incredible, like another world, very similar to Mordor. The eerie, imperfected, dark pointed peaks contrasted beautifully with the still, turquoise blue lakes. We climbed to the top of the peaks into a wild, stormy setting over an icy cold lake. To save time we ran most of the way down through the forest. I felt so free with how easy my feet ran along the path – until I tripped over and stopped instantly thinking about how insane this is and that I will eventually break my ankle. I then looked around the forest and saw an empty path ahead of me, and carried on running. It was great.
My time in Argentina has been very full on, everything I have done in this beautiful country has greatly taken me by surprise. I couldn’t have asked for a better way to spend a month travelling. Every place I have seen in this country has been hugely different from the other. Although the culture and the friendly people of Argentina stay the same throughout the country, it is the places where they live that completely change my experience from one to the other.
A young Hobbit walking into the depths of Mordor