Patagonia or Narnia?

A few times in life, an experience is everything that your mind built it up to be.  Welcome to Patagonia.

Patagonia stretches across southern Argentina and Chile, and both countries heavily protect their National Parks.  Tourism is strictly monitored and the number of visitors contained so that the treasures found here will be enjoyed for many generations to come.  We almost sang with delight—here’s a place that not only lived up to the hype, but where the countries understood the preciousness and fiercely defended it accordingly.  Ok, that’s a lie.  Blakely did sing.

To add to the wonderfulness, Ryan’s family came down for a visit to check on our sanity after months of travel, and enjoy the general splendor Patagonia provides.  In at least one, they weren’t disappointed!

We started of in El Calafate to get our first glimpse of Perito Moreno Glacier.  Wowza.  I’m not sure what we expected, but nothing prepared us for the colossal vista of this natural wonder.  Who knew ice could be so astounding?  It towered over and surrounded us, and whenever a piece of ice broke off into the water (called “calving”), the resounding splash thundered like a cannon! 

We stayed at the fabulous lodge Esplendor, which has a cozy decor that perfectly matches it's gorgeous surroundings.

From El Calafate we traveled down to Torres del Paine to start the trekking portion.  We stayed at the charming Hotel Las Torres, a lodge nestled amongst some of the best trailheads in Patagonia (which is saying something!).  After a quick hike around the grounds, we got some rest to prepare for the great treks ahead.

The W is a famous multi-day trek around Torres del Paine that allows hikers to explore some of the most breathtaking nature in the world.  So, to the Dubya we would go!  The first portion of our route was advertised as a “lakeside stroll,” and promised to be the easiest portion of our trek.  Incorrect.  While it started off this way, the steep incline/decline of the last few hours (!) laid us flat.  Literally.

Thankfully, the scenery around us provided a significant distraction.  WOW.

There are basic lodges (or “refugios”) and campgrounds of all ranges along the W.  We decided on a decided on a unique type of refugio and stayed in the Domes Frances, which has cozy domes built for warmth and peaceful rest.  The delicious food and cozy beds made a perfect, and necessary, resting point.

The view from our Domo window!

The next day we opted for a hike up into the French Valley and were astounded with views that, though very different than they day before, were just as beautiful!  Around every bend were lake views, thundering booms of the calving glacier, waterfalls, and landscapes that made us feel like we’d dropped into Narnia.

The next day we headed back along the lake and, whether our expectations were better set or our legs in better shape, the trek was much easier this time.  What we didn’t expect was the tremendous wind!  Patagonia has a reputation for tumultuous weather and we witnessed it on this day.  At some points, the wind actually blew us over and off the trail!

"Hang on Meggy!"

"Hang on Meggy!"

Once back at the Hotel Las Torres, we settled back in for a night of stretching and delicious cuisine.  And maybe a cocktail or two!

Andre and his ostrich.

The next day we headed off to the iconic Las Torres.  Hotel Las Torres has a well-stocked stable, so part of the group was able to do the traditional hike, while others of us traversed the trail on horseback!  We joined each other halfway up the mountain at Chileno, and all hiked to victory at the signature vista of Patagonia.  The rocks of the Torres pierce the sky, standing above a glacier fed lake and defy all reason.

After all of the fabulous trekking in some of the best known and loved trails, it was time to get off the beaten path.  Way off.

It took a plane, car, and boat to get there, but the luxury lodge Aguas Arriba was more than worth the travel.  Set on the gorgeous fresh water lake and in the middle of a National Park, Aguas Arriba is a retreat that everyone should experience once in his or her lifetime (Or twice.  Or every year, until forever.).  The lovely owners Ivor and Patricia treat their guests as honored family and their retreat centers on thoughtful hospitality, understated luxury, amazing food, and conserving the precious natural gifts surrounding their lodge.  They excel in all categories.

Every dish at Aguas Arribas was astounding!

If you can tear yourself away from the cozy cabin, sun filled porch, and gorgeous views of the lodge, the trails around Aguas Arriba take you through forests truly untouched and untarnished by man.  This is it.  This is what you dream of when you dream of Patagonia.  The few days we spent there added years to our lives and we’ve never been more sad to leave somewhere.

The hiking was over, but there is much more to Argentina and Chile.  We’ll take you there, next post. 

Buenos Aires

First things first:  We love Buenos Aires, and like all lovers, we feel she can do no wrong.  There, now you know.

Why do we love her?  Because she’s a gorgeous city full of French architecture, with delicious food that centers on red meat and red wine (yes, please).  BA has tons of stuff to do, or not do, and just enough history to keep you interested without feeling overwhelmed.  We arrived just as the trees bloomed into beautiful purples, but don’t worry if your timing is off.  The city is planned so that it explodes with different colored blooms in each season.  We love this place.

We stayed in one of our favorite places thus far, an apartment in Recoleta where our delightful host Maria treated us like we were her favorite niece and nephew.  It was the perfect location for touring and enjoying this delightful city!

First up:  obviously a bike tour.  If you haven’t caught on, we love bike tours.  Biking Buenos Aires gave us an awesome all-day tour that went through the history of Argentina and Buenos Aires.  Along with the history, the tour also gave us information on the country and city as it is today. 

Wow, a lot has happened recently.  Over the past forty years, Argentina has drastically flip-flopped between socialism and dictatorships.  The country also had a colossal economic disaster, which still weighs heavily on the economy and memories of many of its citizens.  Maybe the most interesting lesson (I can’t believe I’m saying this) is what we learned about Argentina’s economy.  

Another highlight on the bike tour was the colorful buildings of La Boca with its impressive graffiti.  In a declaration of freedom of expression, the graffiti isn’t just impressive artwork, but full of symbolic messages of fury and heartbreak that Argentina’s history instilled in its people.  

We also saw a monument to “The Disappeared.”  The Disappeared refers to the countless Argentinians (with estimates ranging from 10,000 to 30,000) that vanished during the military rule from 1976 until 1983.  As if their story isn’t horrifying enough, there is an additional aspect of “the living disappeared.”  Some of The Disappeared were pregnant women or had small children.  The pregnant women were held until they gave birth.  The children were all sold to military families or those that were politically acceptable, and birth certificates were falsified (It is CRAZY stuff).  The result is an entire generation that is coming of age today who find out through DNA tests that they were raised by deceitful proxy parents.  For more information, you can watch this video by the New York Times.

Also on the bike tour, of course, were the highlight sites of Argentina’s hero Evita.  This includes where she gave her harrowing final speech (the “Don’t Cry For Me Argentina” one) and the site where she’s laid to rest.  The Evita love is real—our guide said that you can tell how bad the news is when you count the posters of Evita in the background.  If there are three, the news is VERY bad!

Evita gave her speech from the balcony of this pink building.  During filming for the movie "Evita," Madonna wasn't allowed to use the balcony, and the scene was shot from the back of the building.

Of course, we also visited the famous Recoleta Cemetery where Evita is buried.  Such a strange place.  A 10-year lease on a plot costs 6 million USD, and the tombs are each unique and a bit gaudy.  

The bike tour included much more and was well worth the effort.  I’m telling you, we love bike tours.

Next, we took our own walking tour.  We stopped by the Recoleta craft market where Blakely got a really cool necklace made from an Argentinian coin.  We continued walking to and through the expansive parks of Palermo.  They are huge!  One of our highlights was the gorgeous rose garden.

That night, we took advantage of another Buenos Aires trend—the closed-door restaurant.  Located all over the city, in secret locations, chefs open their homes and treat guests to delicious specialized meals.  We chose Casa Salt Shaker by New York chef Dan Perlman and loved it.  The food was delicious and the wine pairings a special delight.

Since we loved the closed-door restaurant experience, we decided to try another, but different, take on it.  It’s called The Argentine Experience.  It started as a closed-door restaurant that specialized in not just giving guests delicious Argentinian food, but explaining the Argentinian way of life.  Enter an investor to build out a spectacular space, and tons of young people to lead the dinners, and you have The Argentinian Experience of today.  Along with teaching us how to order our steak in Argentinian Spanish (which the chef also cooked to perfection), we learned how to cook empanadas, had a competition on who could design the best one, and learned tons of hand gestures to make us look, if not sound, like true Argentinians.

Oh yea, Ryan obviously won the competition.

Next, Blakely went to give back at the Fundacion de Banco Alimentos (the food bank).  This awesome organization works to bring food and home goods to Argentina’s poor.  They do a great job of utilizing volunteers and you can give any amount of your time (from one day to one year!).  Let them know your schedule and they’ll put you to work!  Plus, you meet some fabulous ladies.

One more restaurant you gotta try: NOLA.  As the name suggests, it was right up our alley and satisfied our Southern hearts with delicious fried chicken and fabulous bourbon.  Blakely wanted to write them a thank you note.

In case you thought we did everything together, here’s proof that we sometimes divide and conquer.

Ryan chose the Museo de Armas, which, in case your Spanish is rusty, means Museum of Arms.  As in military arms.  This museum has a frighteningly large collection of weapons, which includes everything from bazookas to lances to Japanese armor.  He loved it. 

Blakely chose the History of Design Museum.  Housed in a gorgeous, French-styled mansion from the early 1900’s, the museum focused on the design that the Buenos Aires elite brought in during their boom.

As if Buenos Aires could get any better, it did.  Ryan’s family joined us so we could share our favorite parts of the fabulous city.  Along with doing our favorite tours again, we went to a fabulous dinner at Don Julio’s to try out our steak ordering technique!  The steaks were cooked to perfection and the sides were Blakely’s delight!

As if Blakely couldn't love the Design Museum more, there is a fabulous restaurant next to it that was amazing.  It's called Croque Madam, and you gotta try their signature sandwich!

From Buenos Aires, we flew to a different sort of highlight:  Patagonia!

Iguaçu Falls

Iguaçu Falls is a magnificent wonder of nature's beauty and power.  It's gorgeous, and humbling.  

It is also huge.  In particular, it is wide.  The falls are divided into many different waterfalls and cataracts that make it a delight to explore.  Both the Brazilian and Argentinian sides are very well done and both respective parks have walkways and hikes to explore the falls.  The Brazil side has breathtaking vistas that capture the vastness of the falls while Argentina’s side allows an up-close look from all angles (as well as some activities!).  Since both sides are amazing, we decided to do both!

On the Brazilian side, we stayed at the oasis Hostel Natura, which is outside of town on gorgeous grounds.  Lean into the hippy vibes, and enjoy.

The Iguaçu National Park on the Brazil side of the falls offers tons of hikes and activities, but the main event is a hike that follows the length of the falls.  View after view after view of the massive falls with a finale consisting of a walk along the base to feel the water’s powerful spray.  Also not bad is the top-notch lunch buffet restaurant that sits on top of the falls!

Iguaçu Falls, Iguazu Falls, Brazil

Next we headed to Argentina.  We bought a two-day pass so we could explore the expansive National Park to our hearts content.  There are several worthwhile walking loops and they are all differently spectacular.  Our favorite was probably above the falls, where you can watch the water roll over the edge into a terrifying abyss.  Take the last train (yes, there’s a train) at 4:00 PM to avoid the crowds.

On Day Two, we explored before opting for a little boat ride…into the falls.  This joy ride takes you all along the base of the falls and then guns it into the falls so you can really feel the water’s power.  It was hilarious.  See for yourself…

I can't believe we did that, but I'd definitely do it again!  Would you?