360 panoramic of the Villarrica Volcano in Pucon
Click here or on the image above to view the interactive 360.
Since we’ve become a group of six instead of a team of two it’s given us the opportunity to rent cabanas rather than to book hostels. Apart from working out cheaper, it’s a really nice way to live. At our first lakeside cabin in Trufal (near Bariloche), we cooked parilla outside using local wood and kept warm in the evening with the log burner. Its remote location and green forestry was reminiscent of the farm and made me feel as though I could live in a similar surroundings again one day.
After scaring the girls at the window whilst getting firewood in the dark, the boys found themselves locked out long enough to smoke a cigar and drunkenly cover topics including the Ottoman empire and possible ways of breaking back into the cabana.
The place we have here in San Martin, although still lakeside, is in a much bigger place. Even so, San Martin is a perfectly kept town which like Barilohe seems to have a very Swiss influence. The cabin itself is the size of a toy house and the entire thing squeaks when we walk upstairs, but it’s fun and is still less expensive than the cheapest hostel we’ve found. Last night we had a homemade empanada bake-off which made for an unforgettable evening as well as some recipes we’ll definitely bring back home with us.
Argentinians will happily ask where we’re from and strike up a conversation in shops, cafes or on the street. Here in San Martin if they tell us they are from this part of the world then they’re happy to admit that they’re very lucky. As I’m writing this I’m lying next to Tul on the beach of the lake, watching random dogs play with random beach-goers, listening to a group of locals playing the guitar and singing Spanish songs who are responding well to our claps and cheers. The sun is beating down and it has to be said that today feels as though a standard of living doesn’t get much better than this.
Parillas (Argentina’s equivalent to barbecues) are everywhere here, so tonight the boys will cook while the girls take care of sides and drinks :)
We’ve spent a great amount of time exploring Patagonia. Over the past three weeks we’ve travelled from Mendoza, across to the east coast of Argentina to Puerto Madryn, Ushuaia, El Calafate, El Chalten, Bariloche, Villa Trufal and further up the west to San Martin de Los Andes. Despite the colder climate, both Sam and I have to agree that Patagonia is somewhere we want to return to and somewhere we really love.
Puerto Madryn & Gaiman (the Welsh town)
Puerto Madryn is famous for its sea life. Our few days here we’ve seen penguin colonies (our favourite), southern right whales (which appeared just a few metres from the boat because of their naturally curious personalities), dolphins, sea lions, sea birds and elephant seals. One small regret we have is that we didn’t manage to find time to go sea kayaking with a local sea lion colony which looked like a once on a life time opportunity. A great excuse to revisit though…
One thing which both Sam and I were keen to see was a little welsh town called Gaiman. There was nothing too special about this quiet little town in Patagonia apart from the fact that locals speak in Welsh and Spanish and the schools make it mandatory for children to learn both languages. We wanted to see this with our own eyes, plus I was dying to sample some
of the goodies on offer at one of the abundant tea houses!
We found a little place called Ty Nain (which translates to ‘grandma’s house’) where we not only drank several cups of tea, but also gorged ourselves on a mammoth platter of selected cakes, scones and jams (see pics!). The owner was delighted when Sam surprised her with ‘good afternoon’, ‘thank you’ and ‘where are the toilets please?’ (which he then admitted was the only Welsh he knew!).
Ushuaia or Fin del mundo (the end of the world), as it’s otherwise known is the southern most town in the world. It sounds like a magical place and it really is. Snow blankets the surrounding Andes mountain ranges which are peppered with fur trees and beautiful forests and lakes. Whilst we didn’t have the luxury of setting sail to explore Antarctica, we still had a wonderful few days enjoying the gorgeous Tierra del Fuego national parks and my birthday.
Along the way to Ushuaia (a 31 hour bus journey weaving in and out of Chile) we befriended a lovely irish couple, Erlend & Nuala who we got on with like a house on fire. On the eve of my birthday all four of us booked to go husky sledding followed by an open fire in the forest with a guitar sing along. It was an amazing night and we feasted on traditional Fuegian food and mulled wine. At the end of the night we walked back through the snow and forest under the moonlight in snow shoes swigging whisky to keep us warm. It was such a memorable night and a great way to see my birthday in. We were in such good spirits we continued our celebrations at our friends hostel with cigars, beer and more wine until 4.30am!
To recover from such an indulgent evening sam and I spent my birthday exploring the national park and enjoying the mesmerising beauty of the lakes and lagoons. That evening we treated ourselves to a delicious mountain of fresh crab and bubbly! I couldn’t have imagined a more special way to spend my birthday other than at the end of the world with our new friends!
El Calafate & El Chalten
From Ushuaia, we decided to fly to our next destination, El Calafate, because of the constant hassle of having to go in and out of Chile and Argentina’s border control.
Erlend & Nuala were also travelling up the same route along the western border of Argentina and so it was in El Calafate that we all decided to travel the remainder of Patagonia together.
Our first excursion was Perito Moreno, one of Patagonia’s famous glaciers. We went on a mini trek on the glacier wearing crampons to walk on the ice followed by a boat trip to get close to the crumbling south face! The walk was surreal and full of ice blue crevices which you had to carefully dodge! As a little treat at the end the guides hacked off some of the ice from the glacier and gave each of us a large glass of whisky to accompany it with. Erlend and Sam were particularly giddy with excitement at the substantial measures and I was mainly just delighted knowing that the ice cubes had been aged far longer than the whisky!
That evening we celebrated Erlend’s birthday (which was the following day) with a home made Parilla (BBQ of various meats) and copious amounts
of wine! It was this evening that we met another American couple travelling our route, Mike an Alicia. 6 people meant more trouble and we ended up staying up until 6am…
Two days later we all travelled further north to the pueblo of El Chalten which is famous for its treks around the Fitzroy range. Despite the misty, miserable and blustery weather with poor visibility we managed a 30km round trip hike but unfortunately none of us got as much as a glimpse of Fitzroy or Cerro Torre which is known to be the most difficult mountain In the world to climb!
The Lake District road-trip
Bariloche is Argentina’s Swiss capital and it was here that Erlend, Nuala, Mike, Alicia, Sam and I decided to hire a car and hit the road to explore the beautiful lakeside villages around Argentina’s famous lake district.
We’d heard that there was a little gem of a village nestled by a gorgeous lake called Lago Trufal which had cabanas (wood cabins) dotted around it which would offer us the tranquility and remoteness that we were all after. That’s where we headed and it was everything we hoped for including dozens of roaming wild horses dancing through the trees.