January 2012

It’s the final day of our trip and we head to a section of Buenos Aires that we have not beeargentina1039n to yet, San Telmo.  We wander around an indoor market and then the main square, Plaza Dorrego.  Today there is an arts and crafts show going on and we use the opportunity to hunt around for souvenirs.  As it  gets to be lunch time, we find a place right on the square since the weather is beautiful again (much cooler than yesterday).  We get a few viewings of the tango dancing below and I partake in one final Argentine steak.  We check out a few other neighborhood buildings after lunch, but then it is quickly time to head back to the hotel.  With a late checkout, we could shower and do our final packing before heading to the airport for our evening flight.  Our airport pickup came early, which we were ready for since we had to be out of the room by 6pm.  And thanks to his driving at near triple digit speeds (and that’s not using the metric system), we had plenty of time to make it through the various lines and checkpoints at the airport.  Soon our plane took off (and on time, since it was Delta and not Aerolineas Argentina).  Our great Argentine vacation was over.

See a few of the final photos:


We walked to Plaza San Martín to pick up the “hop on, hop off” bus we had reserved.  This turned out to be a mistake because the bus runs infrequently and wouldn’t allow us to cover much ground.  After waiting twenty minutes past the scheduled departure time, we bailed and walked over to the Teatro Colón.

argentina1005Tours of the theater are by guide only and we reserve the next available slot in the afternoon.  In the mean time, we explore Plaza Lavalle which has lots of things of interest.  There are various memorials, including to the 1994 AMIA terrorist attack (AMIA is Asociación Mutual Israelita Argentina) and to ballet dancers killed in a plane crash.  The architecture of the various buildings is interesting as well.

Back in time for our tour, we learn about The Teatro Colón, which is large and spectacular.   It was build over a twenty year span with three different architects and opened in 1908.  The interior restoration was completed about a year ago.  The inside is huge and the box seats are many levels high.  There is no mezzanine level like we are used to seeing in newer theaters.




We grab a snack after our tour of the theater because we have some time before another guided tour, this time of the Templo Libertad, formerly known as Sinagoga de la Congregación Israelita Argentina.  We learn about the history of how Argentina came to have such a large Jewish population.  In the late 19th century, Argentina wanted people to move and work the land in the sparsely populated parts of the country.  At the same time the pogroms of Russia were happening so a plan by Baron Maurice de Hirsch was adopted to bring Jews out of Russia and in to Argentina.

After touring the largest synagogue, we head by subway to one of the other temples indicated on the map.  Not officially open for tours, L’ sweet talks our way in with a mix of Hebrew, Italian, and charm.  I didn’t push our luck by asking if I could take a photo inside of the Sephardic temple.

Our final task of the day is to use some of our remaining time in Buenos Aires to find leather jackets that the city is known for.  There is one street that is leather shop after leather shop.  After about the third store, L’ finds a good jacket while I’m more challenging.  I came close at one store (with an over the top cross dressing sales, uh, woman), but another store had one that was even better and they were able to adjust it slightly to fit perfectly.  Mission accomplished and we then returned to our hotel to shower and have our final dinner in Argentina.

View the photos from today:


After running ourselves a little ragged, it was beyond excelargentina0951lent sleeping in until 9am today for what was the best sleep of the trip. After breakfast, we head over to the famous Recoleta cemetery for the free 11am tour.  The main claim to fame of the place is that Eva Perón is buried here.  There are other famous Argentinian folks buried here.  The cemetery is setup like a city with “streets” between the raised mausoleums.  The tour is excellent and shows us the significance of various crypts and structures.  Each plot is a building at least one story tall.  It’s home to the dead elite of Argentina and really is a city of the dead.

After lunch (where we learn that Milanese is not pizza), we wander the streets towards the National Library of Argentina.  The guide book description that it looks like a mushroom is correct.  Unfortunately, it’s closed for another week so we wander over to the Museo Nacional de Bella Arts (MNBA).  There’s a surprisingly good collection of European Masters.  After seeing the highlights, we head back to the hotel for the usual showers and dinner.

View the photos from Recoleta:


Having seen Mt. Fitz Roy yesterday, we use the morning today to hike to the viewpoint for Cerro Torre, the second of the two tall mountains in the area.  The ascent is quite steep and I’m still recovering from yesterday’s climb.  L’ charges ahead while I rest for a few minutes after we had been going for a fair bit.  She then returns in about ten minutes to report that I’m almost at the viewpoint.  Sure enough, after a short distance argentina0906up, I’m at the viewpoint, too .  Like Fitz Roy, Cerro Torre is partially behind a continuous stream of clouds.  We do get some good glimpses when there were openings in the clouds.  As L’ said, we used up our “clear day karma” on our trip to Denali.  It’s still quite a sight and worth the hike up.

After admiring the view and chatting with a nice German couple, we head back down.  As is often the case, I’m amazed we made it up considering how steep it is going down.

We have time to get lunch at the Waffleria and I don’t repeat the mistake from yesterday’s lunch – I order the waffles with ice cream instead of fruit.  Yummy!  We’re done in time to catch our bus to the El Calafate airport which runs as punctually as Aerolineas Argentina runs delayed.

Arriving at the airport, we take bets on when our 5:10pm flight will actually depart.  L’ guesses 6:30.  When we check in, the airline staff report that our flight is now scheduled for 6:30pm!  L’ high fives me that she wins and we explain this to the Aerolineas employee who just laughs. 

Only later when we ran into a family from NY who was on our Puerto Madryn flight fiasco, do we learn that we are flying to the Buenos Aires international airport (known as EZE)  and not the domestic airport (known as AEP).  This is important for several reasons: 1) the taxi from EZE to our hotel will be 100-200 pesos instead of the ~50 pesos we expected to AEP.   2) We only have about 100 pesos. 3) Taxis don’t take credit cards and 4) outside of Buenos Aires, the country lacks a functioning banking system where you can depend on ATMs having cash. 

While we are waiting for our flight to take off from El Calafate, L’ sweet talks the airport departure tax lady into giving us back our ~60 pesos and letting us repay the tax in dollars.  We  now have a total of 170 pesos (about $40).  After finally taking off around 7pm, we land at EZE where it takes forever to get our luggage.  As expected, the ATM is out of money.  I scout out the taxis while L’ guards the luggage and I determine that a taxi will be 168 pesos.  Done deal, although I’m a little nervous that this was an oral agreement and the meter is off in the cab.  We finally arrive at the hotel and the fare is in fact 168 pesos.  The cab driver gets all of our pesos and we are thrilled to have made it to our hotel and to no longer need to take a flight on Aerolineas Argentina again.

See this morning’s picture of Mt. Cerro Torre:


Today was a combination travel day and activity day.  We check out from our El Calafate lodging and walk (uphill, of course) to the bus station for our 8am bus to El Chaltén.  We initially had all of our nights in this part of the country in El Calafate, but after learning that the hikes to the big mountains in this part of Patagonia are near El Chaltén (3 hours from El Calafate), we adjusted our plans to have one night in El Chaltén.  This let us do a half day hike today another one tomorrow.

argentina0798El Chaltén bills itself as the “trekking capital”  and it’s location at the start of two trails that go to different 10,000+ foot mountains is good justification.  With the road from El Calafate to El Chaltén now completely paved, the bus trip takes 3.5 hours including a rest stop midway and a stop at the park visitor center.  The bus is by far our most reliable and punctual form of transportation.  We get in to El Chaltén in time for lunch at the Waffleria where we get, you guessed it, waffles.  I make the mistake of getting a healthy option of fruit on the waffles which I correct the next day on our return visit the Waffleria. 

Loaded up on waffles, for the afternoon we hike up to the viewpoint for Mt. Fitz Roy.  The mountain is never completely visible because of the clouds, but it’s still a pretty site.   If one has all day you can hike further, but we did not.   In addition to seeing the mountain, there is a glacier and scenic valley to be seen.  Mt. Fitz Roy is over 11,000 feet high, but fortunately views of it occur well before that elevation.  The hike up is somewhat steep, but manageable, and we do our round trip to the viewpoint in a few hours.  I’m glad that the GPS function of our otherwise broken new camera records the GPS tracks for posterity.   I’m also glad we don’t try and hike any farther than we did since we saw someone coming down the trail who did the extra 7+ miles and said it was totally not worth it (since it was cloudy out). 

After the much easier hike down, we end our day with the usual showers and dinner. 

View the photos from today here:


Today we got to do something we’ve never done before – walk for a few hours on a glacier.  Our tour picks us up shortly after 7am and then we’re on our way to the Perito Moreno glacier.  After the bus enters the park, we pay our admission fee, and then stop at the “balconies”.  The balconies are a series of walkways from which you can see the face of the glacier. argentina0636

It’s big, blue, and more spectacular than Glacier Bay, AK (we’re also much closer).  We even see one pretty big chunk calve off.  More often, we hear, but don’t see, the glacier in motion.  We have about an hour at the balconies and could have used more.   You could easily spend a couple hours watching and listening.

Back on the bus, we have a short drive to a small dock where a boat takes us to the other side of the lake.   While our group on the “Big Ice” tour is gathering, I see a huge part of the glacier calve off which was an awesome site.  All ready to go, we hike about 45 minutes through the forest (uphill, of course).  En route we walk very close to a waterfall and have views of the scenery and glacier. 

When we’re at the edge of the glacier, we stop argentina0706to put on crampons which are spikes that attach to your shoes and enable you to easily walk on the ice.  There are three guides and about fourteen of us.  They lead us around the glacier (or at least a small part of it) for three to four hours.  We see big crevices , holes, and even a lake.  Only a few places require some balancing to walk through, but the guides are right there helping you.  They pave the way when necessary by chipping  the ice surface to flatten it out or to make stairs for us to walk on.  We finally leave the ice and hike back to the boat the same way we came for our return to El Calafate.

Glacier hike photos:


We have another early start to catch our morning flight to El Calafate in southern Patagonia.  Our flight was rescheduled to leave a half hour earlier than originally scheduled, and then took off an hour late.  Aerolineas Argentina continues to maintain its on time percentage of 0%.

Upon landing, we get our luggage and take a short taxi ride into town to check into our El Calafate lodging.  We find a lunch place nearby and get some decent pasta which is a nice change from mediocre sandwiches at lunchtime.  We take naps and then meet our travel agent to pay for tomorrow’s tour of the Perito Moreno glacier.   I’m glad to no longer be hoarding the cash that we needed to pay for the tours.  Credit cards are not nearly as common place here and most tours require payment in cash.  Fortunately, the hotels have safes.  Unfortunately, ATMs with money in them are hard to find in Patagonia.

With tomorrow all set, we wander the main street of El Calafate and have dinner at Vaca Atada.  This turns out to be one of the best places we’ve had dinner.  The food is good, especially the steak and the prices are unheard of compared to back at home.  Twice the food, top quality and at half the price, compared to home.  Having had a nice meal, we head back to the room around 10pm.  Even though it’s still light out, we go to sleep so we can be well rested for tomorrow’s walk on the glacier.