What’s more interesting: a glacier or a dog?

En route from Torres del Paine National Park back to El Calafate – it’s quite a slog. We are definitely one of a very small handful of people who take this route. Most people come from Puerto Natales (Chile), which is much closer. And even more rare seems to be renting a car; we saw so few private cars in the park. (Kind of nice I guess, when you compare it to some of our national parks in the US that have become overrun with traffic.)

In addition, the roads in the park are bumpy and rutted enough that an SUV would definitely have been a better option. Our low-sitting Chevy Corsa ended up with a flat tire yesterday afternoon. It’s fortunate Noah is so even-keeled and handy. He changed the tire in 15 minutes, while the girls and I walked to an impressive waterfall (Salto Chico – which was not that chico!).

IMG_2451

We were right by the Explora Hotel, so we popped in to ogle at their impressive spa: indoor lap pool and 3 outdoor jacuzzis right on Lago Pehoe. It was so warm that several guests were sitting outside in their bathing suits sipping champagne in the bright sun. ‘Good living,’ as Noah would say! Sierra decided we should stay there the next time we come to Patagonia. Sounds good to me — if she’s paying 🙂

All this happened on our way back from Lago Grey, which is where we had spent the day. We did a 3-hour boat trip to see Glacier Gray, which was pretty amazing, though it only peaked the girls’ interest for the first 15 or 20 minutes of glacier viewing.

image

image

I thought it might be good to capture below a ranking of what seems to interest them, from most to least.

  1. Any kind of treat
  2. Collecting rocks (extra points if there are shells)
  3. Getting to pet local dogs or cats
  4. Seeing wildlife (though guanacos got old fast)
  5. Playing by a stream or lake
  6. Family games of ‘Go Fish’
  7. Boat rides (though Cassidy is apparently not a big fan)
  8. Waterfalls
  9. Glaciers
  10. Beautiful mountain and lake vistas

That said, Noah and I thoroughly enjoyed the glacier views, and the weather was once again spectacular. The cost of the boat ride was a pretty big rip off — guess that’s what happens when one hotel has a monopoly on the only accessible glacier in the park. [Which – by the way – is apparently melting at a rate of 90 meters a year. Is that possible? Need to look this up to verify…]

I was so glad it was sunny, as it made for great photos (see below). Under the bright blue sky, parts of the glaciers appeared an intense cobalt blue. I asked why this was, and apparently it’s the older ice that is somehow more dense…or something (?) [Boy do I wish my parents had come on this trip – they would have loved it, and my dad would have excelled at answering all these geological questions!]

image

In any case, it was a good – but long – day yesterday, and today is shaping up to be quite a long one as well. We already made an unintended long detour en route back to Argentina, learning two things in the process. First, the map the rental car agency gave us definitely doesn’t have all the local roads on it. Second, while the signs within the park were excellent, the signs once you leave are pretty useless. There was not a single sign indicating which way to go for the border crossing to Argentina until we were almost on top of it! So we went a good 40 minutes in the wrong direction before realizing we needed to turn around. At least our detour allowed us to meet Milo the lamb at (supposedly) the largest sheep ranch in Chilean Patagonia!

254

The trouble continued at the border, where we spent 2 hours trying to get back into Argentina. Not sure I have the stamina to recount the details now…maybe Noah will capture in his next post. The bottom line is that the Argentinian border crossing at Cancha Carrera is pretty darn backward for a middle income country. There was trash everywhere, no running water, and the customs guy was wearing a dirty T-shirt and jeans. Not what I would have expected, and not a fun place to spend 2 hours. We are now less than an hour from El Calafate…fingers crossed for a smooth ride.

La Portavoz

A Hike in Torres del Paine

I’m finding it rather hard to draft a blog about jaw-dropping scenery. This experience definitely lends itself more to photos, though even the photos really don’t do justice to the stunning landscape. (This is particularly true since we stupidly decided not to bring our real camera and are just using the iphone camera instead…bad call!)

In any case, this place is as impressive as everyone says it is. But it has taken me two days of driving around to realize why it’s not quite as I imagined it would be. I think I pictured Patagonia to have more dense snowcapped mountains, clustered together in a long line of peaks with a lot of gray rock and snow. Instead, the big draw here is the ‘Paine massif’ with the famous Torres at the center. These peaks are made up of several different kinds of rock, and when the sun shines on them (as it has been for the last several days!), it has an amazing variety of color – white, light gray, slate gray, tan, and a reddish brown. They jut up from this high, dry plain, which is much more arid in many places than I’d imagined – there really aren’t many trees, which I guess makes sense given the climate. And the lakes are such different colors – from intense cobalt blue to turquoise/gray.

image

image

The biggest surprise, however, is the weather. Everyone I spoke with before this trip who had been to Torres del Paine warned me about the cold and wind. One person even suggested we should stay for at least a week, because in 4 days you might not even see the towers due to the clouds. So we feel incredibly lucky to be having super sunny weather, bright blue skies, and very mild wind for the most part. (Though I understand Lago Grey is MUCH windier – we’ll see tomorrow!)

Noah and I are adjusting to this new reality of planning outdoor activities that the girls will enjoy. This involves seeking out waterfalls near the road, short hikes to impressive view points, and every boat ride the park has to offer.

037

We watch the never-ending stream of backpackers (doing the so-called “W” circuit) hiking by, with unabashed envy, reminiscing about our own backpacking adventures not so long ago… The trekkers are here in droves, hiking by day, presumably partying by night, since they all stay in these cool refugios (with happy hour specials!!) spaced out perfectly along the trail. Part of me thinks – oh well, we’ll come back and do this trek together when the girls are older…but that’s probably a pipe dream. Who gets to come here twice??!!

Lest you think we are wallowing in self-pity, this is fortunately not the case. Here is the big news: all four of us did a solid 2-hour hike together yesterday, with very little complaining (including during an extremely windy section where I thought we might lose Cassidy to el viento!) Over the course of two hours, we only had 3 or 4 water breaks, two chocolate breaks and 2 stops (ida y vuelta) to make some fresh mud next to a lovely mountain stream. It was a lovely hike (photos below), and it gave us serious hope for the future. SUCCESS!!!!

La Portavoz

image

019

Check Horseback Riding Off the List (Phew)

This morning we drove to the north of the park to visit a waterfall and then Laguna Azul. The girls and Noah played and picnicked by the lake while I took a jaunt up the hill to the Mirador. Another stunning view – it’s cool seeing the towers from so many different angles.

044

038

In the afternoon, the girls and I did the much-anticipated (and requested) horseback ride, while lucky Noah did a super intense hike/run up to the Mirador de Las Torres. The horseback ride was pretty much what I expected…hot, dusty, smelly, and ego-bruising (I am NOT good with horses). An hour was about 55 minutes too long for me. Isn’t it amazing what we do for our kids?

I’m not sure if my horse was lazy or – as gaucho Miguel wisely suggested – the horse could tell that I didn’t know what I was doing. In any case, he kept dragging behind, plodding along, stopping to munch on grass, etc. Miguel told me to kick him in the ribs, assuring me that it wouldn’t hurt the horse. OK, but it did hurt me — a shooting pain in the shins. Was I doing something wrong?

After Sierra accidentally dropped her reins on the ground twice in the first 10 minutes, our guide decided to attach his horse to hers – probably a good idea. After that, she was happy as a clam, and finished the ride asking to go again soon. Meanwhile, Cassidy was intrigued at first, but definitely bored and dragging by the end. I was really proud of her for sticking it out for over an hour…also pleased that she won’t be begging to go again any time soon. [Would that have anything to do with the fact that her horse’s name was Lice? Not kidding!!]

-La Portavoz

216

Sleepless in El Calafate

The last 16 hours (journey from Ushuaia to El Calafate, first night here) have introduced several more ‘character-building experiences’ (as my mom would call them).

Here’s a short list:

  • Seriously sleep-deprived Sierra refusing to stand with us in line to board our plane in Ushuaia, and then giving me the silent treatment on the plane since she wanted to sit next to Daddy
  • An extremely curt Mario Andretti taxi driver from the airport – yowsers – this place is definitely not as chill as Ushuaia
  • After arriving in El Calafate, long walk to hot restaurant with slow service and two tired, hungry kids
  • Dude next door to our hotel trying to start his piece-of-crap-no-muffler car, over and over, between 3 and 5am this morning. Boy am I tired…
  • Being told to take the long route to drive to Torres del Paine, which is supposedly better-traveled and fully paved, but adds an hour to our drive!
  • Learning that El Calafate has no self-service laundromats – we are going to be one smelly crew in Torres del Paine…

On the bright side, the weather is gorgeous – much warmer than I expected – and the drive from El Calafate to Torres del Paine (Chile) is rather amazing so far. Very few cars, absolutely no towns – just ranches. I would call this the altiplano, though not sure if that’s the technical term. It’s a high, arid plain, with small scrubby bushes and snow-capped mountains framing the horizon. The sky looks absolutely enormous. We have seen a lot of sheep, quite a few mangy guanaco (local llamas), and one awkward rhea (local ostrich).

001

Another great thing: Sierra and Cassidy’s creative play continues to impress. Here’s a quick list of the games they have come up with in each location, always with immense enthusiasm:

  • Buenos Aires: magic-infused play with the small plastic ‘my little ponies’ (SO glad we brought these) and unicorns. Listening to the names makes me chuckle every time – Orange Pie, Pinkie Pie, Glitter sparkle, Princess Celestia, Apple Bloom, Sweetiebelle…etc etc
  • Ushuaia: Pet rocks with names and personalities; a ‘school’ game with their crayons, each of which is assigned a partner; making clothes and beach toys out of paper for Freckles and Peach (stuffies)
  • El Calafate: Puppet show with their loveys, followed by a production of the musical Annie by their ponies (who apparently excel at chorus)

The girls played games with their ponies for HOURS today in the backseat – they only watched one video, and didn’t even beg for another. Truly amazing when you consider how our drives to Tahoe usually go…they do seem to be in a different mode here. And doing a lot of sister bonding, which is very fun to see.

In any case, Sierra has been quite excited about crossing the border into Chile – I wonder if she found the border crossing as anti-climatic as I did (?) Meanwhile, I can’t wait to see the peaks of Torres del Paine – and get out of this car!!

La Portavoz

 

 

Los Pinguinos…and Charles Darwin

Today was the day we got to see penguins in the wild!! It was super cool, and the girls really enjoyed it, especially Sierra. It was amazing to see the babies in their burrows and get so incredibly close to these funny creatures. They really do seem so smart and curious. It was extremely cold and windy on the island, which was quite a struggle for Cassidy. She started begging to go back to the boat after we had been on the island for 15 minutes. But somehow we made it to the end of the hour, and it was worth it for sure.

BIMG_0058

BIMG_0063

The drive there and back was also pretty spectacular…and remote. It’s amazing how undeveloped this whole region is, and how recent the development that does exist is. I guess the Argentinian government started making a conscious effort to ‘settle’ Tierra del Fuego (to ensure its control of this territory) only in the early 1900s. And it wasn’t until the 1980s that they started giving economic incentives to factories to relocate to Ushuaia.

The launch point for Isla Martilla (where the penguins live) is Estancia Haberton, the oldest ranch in Tierrra del Fuego. It’s a beautiful setting – I wonder what it would be like to stay here overnight?  Their chocolate cake was definitely a highlight for Cassidy 🙂

Anyway, the day after the penguin visit I had the bright idea to let the girls watch the movie March of the Penguins. In retrospect (given the number of tears) this was perhaps a mistake. Or maybe not — is this as a good an age as any to learn the brutal reality of the animal food chain? Hmmm…I do find it rather fitting that Sierra and Cassidy learned about natural selection in sight of the Beagle Channel (named after the SMS Beagle of Charles Darwin fame)!

La Portavoz

The White Cadillac at the End of the World

I love Ushuaia’s dramatic setting, but sadly the town itself has touristy prices and a bit of a tourist trap vibe. And yesterday we learned the hard way why most people here do the over-priced package tours.

We had decided to rent a car for the day so we could drive into Tierra del Fuego National Park ourselves, vs. going with a tour outfit. To start with, this car looked nothing like your typical rental car. It was a white Chevy Corsa, circa 2005 perhaps? Manual everything, missing some hub caps, but at least it had seatbelts and only a small crack in the wind shield. We dubbed it the white Cadillac and happily went on our way.

The trouble started when we decided to split up – me with the girls to ride into the national park on the touristy Tren del Fin del Mundo, and Noah off to get supplies for a picnic lunch, and then meet us at the station where the train ended. The train was fun, and went through a gorgeous green valley, pictured below.

BIMG_0028

bIMG_0012

To understand what happened next, you have to appreciate that everything in the Parque Nacional Tierra del Fuego – and all around these parts for that matter – seems to be branded ‘end of the world.’ So Noah apparently had ‘endings’ in his head and was persuaded that the train station where we would disembark was at the ‘end of the road’ (where Route 3 ends, famously the last stretch of road on the South American continent.)

So, Noah drove all the way to the end of the road (30 minutes into the park), before realizing that the train ‘station’ was just inside the park entrance. (It is a VERY slow-moving train).  Meanwhile, as Noah drove to the end of the road and back again, I stood with the girls on the side of Route 3 for nearly an hour, trying to fight back a growing sense of panic and remain calm. I couldn’t imagine how he could have missed the pick-up spot, as there were at least 4 huge tour buses and several taxis waiting to pick up passengers. I started imagining the worst…and I had no way to call him, as I had our only Argentina cell phone.

In any case, I was immensely relieved when Noah finally arrived, somewhat sheepishly admitting that he hadn’t looked at the park map when he decided to drive to the end of the road. I wish the story turned rosier from here, but I’m afraid there is yet another twist. After a nice – but chilly – walk around a lake and brief stop for snacks, we returned to the white Cadillac to find the battery completely dead. (Lights left on perhaps?) There is no cell phone signal within the park, so our phone was useless. And after chatting with several sympathetic tour guides in the parking lot, I quickly learned that Argentines do not carry jumper cables in their trunks. (But boy are these people nice – at one point four men offered to push the car through pot holes and puddles while Noah tried to start it!)

image

And so it was that I learned a great new vocabulary word in Spanish: la guardaparque = park rangers. I was able to get the kind senor at the confiteria to radio the guardaparque, who arrived a mere 45 minutes later. However, they were unable to revive the Cadillac with their jumper cables, so we were left stranded at the confiteria for another 90 minutes until the next colectivo (public bus) arrived. I’ll spare you the details, but we basically abandoned the car and made it back to our hotel approximately 7 hours after the ill-fated trip to the end-of-the-road at the end-of-the-world had begun. And boy did we feel like rookie travelers at that point…

Fortunately, the girls had amused themselves for hours by finding some new pet rocks, which over the course of the day had developed names, ages, and personalities. End of the world or not, rocks are rocks, and kids will be kids. I don’t know if I’ve ever been as proud of our girls as I was yesterday, when they stayed calm, good-natured, and even laughing throughout this entire experience. Wow – are these MY kids???

La Portavoz

Tierra de Leyendas (Land of Legends)

We arrived in Ushuaia last night – the southernmost city in the world! The sun was out when we arrived at the airport, and the views were amazing. You really do feel like you’re out on the frontier here – dramatic, rugged landscapes, ever-changing weather, gravel roads, a vast sky above the jagged peaks.

We got a ride to our lodge, Tierra de Leyendas, and I loved the look of it from the moment we pulled up. It’s perched on a hill with a great view of the Beagle Channel from the back of the house, which is almost all windows. There are gorgeous multi-color lupines out front.

bIMG_2287

The only glitch was that the restaurant at the lodge was closed, so we had to walk to another hotel for dinner, and the girls were exhausted. We didn’t eat until after 9pm, and during dinner Cassidy broke her water glass, which shattered all over the table. Then Sierra spilled her water glass on Noah while trying to help clean up the first spill! (Boy are we missing sippy cups about now…) We were quite the spectacle in the restaurant, but our waiter was so sweet about it all; he kept telling the girls not to worry.

Despite our best efforts, the girls ate very little and went to bed super late. Praying they will sleep in tomorrow…the sun sets after 10pm and rises around 4am, so we shall see.  And with a view like this out the window, who wants to sleep?

-La Portavoz

BIMG_2283

 

Learnings from Day 1 in BA

Our first full day in Buenos Aires – let’s see, what did we learn?

Well, we knew people ate late here, but didn’t realize even restaurants that are listed as open all day don’t actually serve food between 3 and 8pm! In the afternoon/early evening they serve merienda – which is apparently a sort of tea time with toast and marmalade alongside coffee, tea and juice. Lesson 1: Need to shift girls sleeping schedule considerably or else have toast for dinner…

There is a real café culture here. It’s great to sit outdoors on a shady terrace with the hot weather — very Parisian. The café food, however, is not up to French standards, as we learned at lunch earlier. Not sure what inspired me to order the ‘chicken burger’, but I won’t repeat that one. Lesson 2: Better to go to real restaurants vs. touristy cafes for yummy Argentinian cuisine. Tonight I’m ready for a quality steak and a glass of Malbec! Lesson 3: Plot out walking route carefully before leaving the hotel, and stick with recommended restaurants on the route.

Argentina1 017
At this precise moment I am learning that trying to get the girls to nap when it’s 10:30 am at home (3:30 pm here) is probably a lost cause. They keep making each other giggle, and their dad is getting frustrated. The problem is, given lesson #1, we feel compelled to push the siesta…

[Side bar: Yesterday when Noah suggested a siesta, Sierra thought he had said fiesta and wanted to know what kind of party we were going to have. A siesta fiesta I guess! Hmmm…would that be a good name for our blog?]

This morning we visited the cementario de Recoleta – very famous cemetery where Eva Peron and lots of other famous Argentines are buried. I thought the girls would be fascinated by the [rather creepy] mausoleums, but they were quickly bored and much more focused on squabbling over a lovely orange hibiscus flower that I had picked for Cassidy. Sierra wanted to put the flower on Evita’s grave; Cassidy therefore decided it should go on a different one. I realized when Sierra asked why Evita was so famous that I didn’t have a very informed answer. Lesson 4: To keep the girls engaged (and maintain credibility), do internet research before these tourist excursions, and come armed with a few good stories.

Lesson 5: Avoid taking the girls on errands; this saps their energy. It’s like they have a certain tolerance clock between breaks for food or ice cream – maybe 60 minutes? And I can just see that clock ticking down when we do things like looking for a SIM card for our phone (which we eventually resolved, but it took nearly an hour).

Highlights for the girls today were surely their first Argentinian gelato (yum!) and then the dip in our refreshing hotel rooftop wading pool after a hot walk back from the cemetery. It’s supposed to be 96 degrees F tomorrow; we are contemplating the indoor playground at the mall – is that lame or brilliant?

La Portavoz