Curitiba

Mid-July we took a summer (well, winter) break and enjoyed a four night/three day stay in Curitiba, Brazil as the first half of a doubleheader, Brazilian style.

Our apartment was one of the nicest airBNB’s we’ve had the fortune to stay at. It was also conveniently located in the middle of a lot of the places I enjoyed/visited my first trip there for the Bodebrown Beer Train the year before.

Our first morning in, after waiting out some rain we paid a visit to Cafe Lucca for some great coffee (and a coffee-infused beer) as well as some breakfast. We got a little lost walking back, taking in the sites of the centro of the city, passing a few places we’d check out later. Evening closed out with a trip to Barbarium, another placed I had enjoyed. “Chicken from Hell” (from heck, though Brazil brings more heat than Paraguay does) and some of Curitiba and Brazil’s finest craft cerveja.

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Sunday, after some breakfast we visited the Jardim Botanico/Botanical Garden. The weather was near perfect so strolling the park was extremely enjoyable.

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Evening closed out with a visit to the amusingly named Whatafuck Burger. The venue was tiny, only a couple small tables, packed. Burgers are cooked upstairs, than slide down a ramp to the counter, almost like a kids playground. Was 48F out, and yet 200 or so people were strewn over the street, scarfing down burgers or food from Meat Pack next door and enjoying more local craft beer.

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Weather continued to be stellar if not particularly warm on Monday and we managed to book a bike tour of the relatively flat and bike-path friendly city. Gustavo, our guide, was extremely knowledgeable on both the routes and the art itself, giving us some great insight into the artists and what they put into their work.

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We covered a good amount of ground, including a block of the city with a factory/business/whatever inside and white walls along the outside… an entire block of walls. In 2012 the owners coordinated with artists on Street of Styles where top street artists from Brazil and beyond congregated for two days. Each was given a segment of wall to showcase their/their crew’s abilities. Gustavo was able to explain specifics on the styles of some of the artists as well as explaining collaboration – each had their own piece of the wall, but artists conspired and worked together so thematic elements, largely in the background, would work to tie completely separate images together in one arc.

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(Bonus content… Here’s a YouTube link to the event!)

We were so interested and he was so passionate that our tour went at least an hour over. After Street of Styles, we cycled back towards a “cooler” older part of town, took in some mega pieces, including a Shining homage as well as some coffee (after 4pm the temp dipped.)

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A great way to spend a day, burn off cerveja calories, enjoy the fresh air, see the city and learn something. Oh, beer calories? Yeah. I too Katie back to Hop & Roll a last evening out and to enjoy a flight before Tuesday’s flight to Florianopolis aka Floripa.

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(For beer fanatics, best three beers of this leg: Whatafucking F#%*ing Beer Pale Ale, Tormenta IPA, Hop Arabica coffee-infused Blonde Ale)

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Montevideo, Uruguay

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In case the title and lead in pic didn’t give it away, we spent Fall Break/Easter Week/Semana Santa this year in Montevideo, Uruguay. Gave us a chance to check out the city, visit another country, try their take on the lomito (a chivito) and get horribly baffled by the local variation of the language. (Uruguayan Spanish seemed like the equivalent of, say Polish to Russian… lots of shshshsh’s, almost like a “slurred” version. I had a hard time keeping up.)

Weird week to visit. While BA and Mendoza still were bustling last Semana Santa, in Montevideo everyone heads to the resort area, Ponte del Este and the break is referred to as Semana Turistica. Was weird to see more and more shops and businesses close up as the week went on.

Katie had a week off, whereas I didn’t. It was cloudy and cold-ish when we arrived. (60F). Monday through Thursday the weather was absolutely glorious, as you can see from the pics of our Wednesday late afternoon trip to the Bodega Bouza, a nearby vineyard. By Good Friday and time to check out the Mercado Puerto it was grey again, and Saturday tacked some rain on. Not complaining, though, as the colder weather was a welcome change from sweltering Asuncion.

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Our airBNB apartment was, uh, snug, but located mighty close to La Rambla, the walk/biking pathway that follows the edge of the city along the Rio Plate. We enjoyed walking it a couple KM in either direction and Katie enjoyed the playa during the sunnier days while I worked away.

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The city itself was, as we were lead to believe, fairly expensive. Simple items – the boring crackers we buy here for about 80 cents a package were going for just over $3. A chivito, which is a slightly more dressed up lomito goes for about $10, whereas I can get a lomito and a beer, with tip, for about $5 in Asuncion.

a chivito.

a chivito.

Beef, on the other hand, wasn’t terribly expensive, as I recall. And, as you might expect in a South American country with more cows than people, mighty good.

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Places were closing down as the week progressed. The cool, historic but slightly divey Tranquilo Bar was open Monday & Tuesday, then shuttered the rest of the week as were all the nearby cambios and some cafes. Had bad luck with Mastra & Montevideo Brew House being closed earlier in the week, but fortunately were open later and enjoyed some decent beers, though I must confess the two bottles I took home from MBH topped any of the draft beers I tried.

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Exploration was limited to just our barrio/the Rambla, as noted above. We also took a Bodega tour (Bodegas in some parts down here are not small markets, but rather the actual wineries.) The weather was glorious as were the grounds. Bodega Bouza, in addition to a swell restaurant, also houses a museum/show room of some very old cars and motorcycles the family has collected. Really impressive.

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After checking out his olde tyme vehicles we were given a brief tour of the grounds and the winery works. Now kind of familiar to us. We ended with a tasting at the restaurant, paired with cheese and meats. Really enjoyable combinations. Most of their wine is exported, with a majority of the remainder consumed there at the restaurant.

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Friday we checked out the old city, starting with a walk around and lunch at the cool Mercado Puerto. Stuff to buy on the outside, and an old, open structure with pretty much every square inch devoted to asado restaurants, showing their wares and trying to attract the tourists. We opted for a more expensive place simply for the rooftop dining option, so we could look down at the market.  Was a “tourist” place, definitely. The meal was good, but we got better food for less at other restaurants. Still enjoyed the experience and spectacle.

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Continued our walk through the Old City, checking out some landmarks, statues, parks, and the particularly stunning Palacio Salvo, as well as a partial look around Teatro Soliz.

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Saturday’s less than stellar weather kept us from doing much aside from relaxing in our apartment before we had to get up far too early to fly home. Was a fun trip. Our neighborhood in Montevideo, despite being increasingly deserted as the week went on had a lot of charm, cool places to eat, a couple craft beer joints and friendly people.

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Bariloche – Beer, Chocolate & Hill Climbing

The Patagonia Mega-Trip ended with two weeks in San Carlos de Bariloche, better known as just Bariloche. It’s a rather Germanic town build along the edge of a beautiful series of lakes, including the Nahuel Huapi, nestled near the Andes. The scenery and rather Alpine style of design has lead to it being dubbed “Little Switzerland” by some.

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While we spent two weeks here, I had to return to work while Katie just relaxed, so despite having far more time here than anywhere else, we did less. Most days were grilled cheese sammiches for lunch while I worked away. We’d head down into town for Happy Hour at one of the many local craft breweries (2 for 1 starting no earlier than 6pm) and enjoy the beautiful weather and scenery.

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The craft beer scene there is nuts. While it draws comparisons to Switzerland for looks and aesthetic, for beer I’d liken it to Bend, Oregon. Both are 100,000 people or so and have a slew of good craft breweries. There are at least five craft breweries pumping out various styles of beer (unlike a lot of Patagonian craft which just made Roja, Rubia y Negro – Red, Blonde, and Black. Red might be IPA, red ale or Scotch ale, Negra either porter or stout) in an area smaller than a shopping mall, and a few others with decent R,R y N.

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Antares' Wheel Of Beer

Antares’ Wheel Of Beer

 

They also have designer chocolates all over the place, really old Swiss or Italian family run places that have been pumping out top notch chocolates and confections for decades. Sadly, after our stay here, neither Katie nor I have managed to conquer our alfajore addiction.

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Our apartment was two story and probably the coolest place we’ve stayed. Apparently one of our hosts was the architect. Really great place divided in a way she could relax while I could work away. It was also located on the top of a hill, a 15-20 minute walk down into town, 25-30 up. After a couple days we started cabbing back, particularly if bringing jugs of drinking water home. I dubbed the return hike the Bariloche Butt Lift… and given our predilection to alfajores, having to hike back up the slope to get home most nights was needed.

Our host recommended a place called Alto el Fuego as one of the top meat restaurants in the city. If a place has a spot on the podium as a top steak place in Argentina, you know you are in for something special. It was. Katie got a remarkably good steak while I enjoyed more cordero. With the really great bread and chimichurri sauce apps we got, was so much food I got the leftovers for lunch the next day. The microwaved leftovers of the steak was still better than most I’ve ever had.  Oh, and the lamb was mighty good to, though I think I prefer it mixed with other ingredients a la discos or the near pot-pie in Ushuaia. Not a complaint, mind you, it was still really good… just an observation.

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We did take advantage of our weekend off to ride the (extremely crowded) bus up the coast of the lake, where you have like 15km of hotels, hostels, cool houses, little bungalows, breweries, a chocolate museum, restaurants and resorts.  You also have the Cerro Camponario – Cerro meaning hill/mountain. You ride a ski lift up (*shudder* – heights bug me, particularly when not safely encased) to the top of the hill and are rewarded with a beautiful panoramic view of the area.

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We also took our last day off to go on a horseback ride. Was a Dutch woman who hosted and she and her three dogs took Katie and I on an hour or so ride, through a stream to a nice picnic lunch and back. My horse, Malbec (named after his color, not her taste in wine), loved to go. Every time Katie’s would try to catch up he’d up and take off. I got up to a cantor several times. Apparently I did well in riding. We had a great time all Gaucho’d up, but riding a horse, then the Barilocho Butt Lift after dinner meant we were mighty sore when it was time to fly back to Asuncion.

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Tender backsides aside, we arrived home back in Asuncion, happy to find despite 28 days of rain in our absence didn’t flood our apartment (though we forgot to change the coffee filter we used the day of our departure… /taps) … a bit tired, happy to be back home, but sad such a massive trip where we experienced and seen so much had come to an end.

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Ushuaia – None More South

After a one night return trip to El Calafate (and my worst hotel experience ever) we were off to Ushuaia, the southern-most city in the world, also known as the Gateway to Antarctica. I pushed this on our vacation, figuring if going south, might as well go as south as we can aside from boarding a cruise ship for Antarctica. The city has somewhere around 60,000 people – and was very bustling compared to the El C’s, even if far more gray. Well, aside from the bursts of color from lupins, which are all. over. The city had the distinction of being a prison colony in the past, with prison labor building many of the city’s original structures.

Yours truly, sporting the height of 2015 Summer Fashion.

Yours truly, sporting the height of 2015 Summer Fashion.

Our place was located pretty out of city center, but at least near a supermercado, an odd one, but a supermercado. Our place was pretty new, had a laundry (woo-hoo!) And, being Argentina, the cab ride would run 100 pesos, which sounds a lot, but ultimately translates to about $7.50.

The top of Mount Fitz Roy got cold, the Perito Moreno glacier got cold, but in all Patagonia had been far warmer than I expected. Ushuaia, on the other hand, did not disappoint. The mountain behind our apartment got a light dusting of snow our fir st night there. This was during the height of their summer.

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As with the “Glacier Trek”, we got shafted on the “Walk with Penguins” tour. Sold. Out. (Again, book in advance, travel peeps. Better overpay than miss out.) We did manage to book a boat trip that took us out into the bay, and with the location familiarized, we checked out some of the city. Enjoying some time out of the cold and light rain to take in some tea and souvenir hunt.

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Next morning we got up early, hiked to the cab stand and off we went to our boat trip. We found a window-side table with an Argentine, and were later joined by Taewon, a Korean taking some time off between school and work to explore South America, and a lady friend he’d been traveling with as their hostels matched. Poor guy was told to pack light, as it was “summer” and his three layers of light windbreakers were no match for the actual COLD once the ship left the immediate harbor and was subjected to unimpeded Antarctic winds. I loaned him my gloves as, even though I’ve been living in Guam, Arizona and Asuncion for the past 30 years, I react much better to cold than heat. (With one look at my near translucent skin and this shouldn’t surprise you.)

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The boat trip had us pass close to little islands where cormorants, sea lions, and later, the star attraction, penguins hung out.  At this point all the people would pour out of the warmth of the ship and mash into one another snapping pics.

Personally, I preferred and thoroughly enjoyed the other chunk of the trip, when in-between attraction islands. I had the starboard/right side of the upper deck all to myself and embraced the cold while just being mindboggled just looking to the horizon of nothing more than mountains and ocean. The end of the world, pretty much. Was just amazing to contemplate.

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(You’ve read enough words. Now penguins.)

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After we got back, Taewon had to run, literally, as his flight for his next SA adventure was leaving in 30 minutes. Katie and I had time on our side, found a nice bar/restaurant that served a simply amazing seafood soup.

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With our remaining time in Ushuaia we rode the Train at the End Of The World, otherwise known as the convict train that used to transport the convicts from the prison to their backbreaking days chopping wood to build more prison (and town) and back again. Most prisoners opted in to work as it was better than sitting in a cold cell all day.

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We also lunched at a well recommended restaurant and “museum” (from the knickknacks they had all over), where I gambled on, and really enjoyed, the daily special – a version of a pot pie with a bread shell, some cheese, gravy and some awesome cordero.

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Afterwards, we went to prison, where Katie threatened to leave me. Beyond the horrible, Spartan conditions of the prison, we also got to see an art gallery in a former wing.

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We enjoyed Ushuaia, but unless hoping to score a “discount”  Antarctic cruise (unfilled cabins can be picked up in town for the dirt-cheap rate of like $5,000) or walk with penguins, this would be the easiest part of the trip to trim in favor of more time at other points. But at least next time I’m on a plane with a random stranger listing off all the places they’ve been, I’ve got the Southernmost City in the World up my sleeve.

We're here to *pump* you up!

We’re here to *pump* you up!

 

 

 

 

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Puerto Natales – Chile Bound And Down

Leaving El Chalten, we spent a night in El Calafate before heading Further South (and west) with a six hour bus ride to Puerto Natales, Chile. It’s actually a five hour bus ride with an hour at the border while they check out your luggage for meats, cheeses and veggies or whatever other contraband you might have.

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Puerto Natales itself seems a little sad or drab. Probably because even during the height of summer it’s weather that most would consider chilly. Also lots of grey clouds, though we were treated to some spectacular shows one evening of our stay.

We rented an apartment near the bus station. Our hostess spoke almost no English, we speak precious little Spanish, and for whatever reason the version of Spanish they speak in Chile, particularly way, way, way south Chile is harder to understand than the Carioca Portuguese of Rio. But we made it all work. She left us some nice bread, meat and cheese for breakfast, on which I slathered some beer-dijon mustard we picked up in El Calafate. In future days she went crazy and brought in like four hockey puck sized chocolate covered cookies and near pie-sized tarts. More than a family of five could eat in a weekend, let alone a pair of turistas in a day. Not complaining, mind you. Happy to have a hostess competing with our buddy on the HMS Luctor in Amsterdam on who could bring their guests the most food.

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The chocolates (one missing) are larger than hockey pucks. More food than we could want.

Toured the town the first day. Nice 15 minute walk into the “happenin’” part of the city. Took some time to check it out, eat lunch at a cheap (for either Chile or Patagonia) local place. Sadly they were out of pil-pil (my fave Chileno dish), but settled for a steak and seafood soup. Really good stuff. Converted some money – not in a cambio like we’re used to, but some blazing hot home office. Found Baguales, a craft beer place. Ok food, but some really good cerveza.

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Our first full day in town wasn’t actually in town. We booked a bus trek to Torres Del Paine national park. HUGE park too big to take in on foot. Bus enabled us to see an awful lot of it, including a couple beautiful lakes arrayed in front of the mountains, a waterfall, a picnic lunch on a lake (most paid up for a restaurant. We were cheap, packed our own thanks to our awesome hostess, and dined lakeside instead), and later dropped us off for a nice hike to a glacial lake which featured buffeting, freezing winds when near the lake. Didn’t get to take in as much of the park as we’d have liked, but was still wonderful to behold.

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(Picnic and glacial lake walk)

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Last day in town saw us relax (well me = work ) the morning away before heading into town in the afternoon to hunt souvenirs, enjoy more beers (see Libro Bar scenario, again, only without more Hemingway to read) and another visit to Baguales. Held off on dinner in the hopes of scoring a completo (the Chileno hot dog with all the fixings, if you’ve watched Gringolandia you know what I’m talking about) but they were out.

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Enjoyed our trip to Chile but feel slightly sad that I scored neither pil-pil nor completo.

 

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El Chalten

If El Calafate is small at 20,000, El Chalten is absolutely tiny at around 1,000 people during high season, with many workers coming in from other places in Argentina and heading back before the harsh winter. It is a several hour bus ride north of El Calafate, including passing the location of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid’s shack as seen in the Newman/Redford movie.

The town was originally created just so Argentina would have something to shore up their border claim with Chile. It continues to exist due to its proximity to Mount Fitz Roy and Cerro Torre (in Chile), so, as with El Calafate, you have loads of turistas and turista dollars during the summer months.

Internet is virtually non-existent, which might sound a negative, particularly if you require immediate gratification in form of FB likes, but in reality is a huge positive. The only thing your gadgets should be used for is taking pics of the simply wonderful scenery.

Absolutely my favorite place we went on this trek. Like there isn’t even a Silver Medal. Loved other places, but this was 1st and 2nd.

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After arriving and checking out the town we stopped in out of the cold (it was fairly cold here our first couple days) to the Wafleria for lunch. Not only breakfast waffles, but savory dinner waffles as well. Enjoyed a nice breakfast waffle with eggs, nice slab o bacon and some raspberry hot sauce.  More discos for dinner – this time Chicken w/ Mustard. And craft beer. Seems pretty much everywhere in El Chalten serves craft beer. Good way to do business with home brew, as tourists wanting more than Quilmes so your experimentation costs are paid for and then some.

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Enjoy some tea, friend

New Years Eve Day was the great Tres Lagos hike. 10km in, 10 km out. It is a difficult hike. Which is to say the first 9k weren’t too bad, a little uphill. The last KM was like Frodo ascending Mount Doom, moving almost as much laterally as ascending. 30 feet across for about 20 feet up, switch back the other way and repeat. Not in great shape, I was not particularly a happy camper. Wanted to keel over several times during the hike but persevered. As the pics show, the view at the top was worth all my whinging on the way up.

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Soooo we finally made it to the top, me wheezing wretchedly and just wanting to collapse. Just short of the crest, with a spectacular view of Mount Fitz Roy, Cerro Torre and a lake, I had to pause for a couple minutes to allow a man to take about 3,200 pics of his female companion. After I made it another 30 feet, found a nice rock “couch” to sit back on and take in the view… and dude thanked me for my politeness by immediately plopping down in front of me to take another 3 minutes and 5,600 staged pics before some throat clearing or a snide remark on my behalf alerted him that he had parked his ass right in my view. (BitterTip: When traveling to a scenic spot, snap your pics quickly and be aware of those around you doing likewise or just trying to enjoy the view. Don’t be that guy. )

Don't be this guy.

Don’t be this guy.

Rant over, more pics.

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my fave

After the long hike down, which ended with us stuck the last km behind slow moving, trail hogging German tourists. Enjoyed, you guessed it, more craft beer on the way home before taking a nice, well earned nap.

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Awoke later in the evening and found an outside table at a craft beer place for a few drinks before limping home.

Followed up on New Year’s Days with a shorter hike to a nearby waterfall. Soaked in some rays and ate more waffles and drank more craft beer. Hooray.

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Loved El Chalten. If you ever consider going to Patagonia, make it a priority place to visit.

 

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El Calafate

We left bright and early in the morning (always seems to be the case) for El Calafate.

Weirdest flight in South America ever. Normally Katie and I stick out like sore thumbs, being one of very few, if not the only gringos. Not this flight. Was like gringomania, only with obnoxious travelers. The ones who compare their T-Peens by listing off everywhere they’ve ever been. It’s one thing to talk travel amongst friends. It’s another to have to random strangers talking over everyone on a plane trying to one-up the each other with their checklist stops. Thank God for headphones and loud metal \m/ music.

The plane also was delayed on entry into El Calafate, leading to a couple minutes holding pattern, which was awesome for us given the absolutely spectacular, even unreal scenery out the window.

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El Calafate is town of about 20,000 and thanks to the relatively new aeropuerto the hub to a good chunk of Patagonia. It also sees something like 500,000 tourists a year so the town is absolutely inundated during summer months with armies Northface-clad gringos from the US, Canada, Europe & Israel, as well as other points.  (And what’s with the freaking Northface? You left during your winter? It’s still colder *there* than *here*… FFS coming from Asuncion in the heat of the summer I was comfy even wearing shorts when walking a KM to the bodega for agua? And no Junior High gym teacher could get so many people to dress alike.)

After having spent 17 months in Paraguay, I found myself identifying more with the locals.  Amusingly was even mistaken for one once. As anyone who’s heard me speak down here can attest my Spanish is pretty dreadful outside a couple phrases, but I guess ordering a couple cervezas was enough for some tourists to think me a man of the town.

So El Calafate… We stayed in a wonderful airBNB apartment roughly halfway between the town’s main drag, lined with restaurants, chocolate places, souvenir shops, and places to buy camping gear and MOAR Northface in case you didn’t bring enough, and the lakeside nature reserve at the other edge of town. Our hostess was awesome, gave us a map with illustrated paths into town and key locations – cambios, restaurants she recommended and the best places for local craft. Yeah, she was great.

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She helped us plot our exploration of the town and key targets with near military precision.

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With more two days in town before heading out, we went to book an Ice trek trip that has you hike across a portion of the Perito Moreno glacier, enjoying a wee dram of Scotch at the stop point before heading back. Sadly they were all booked up, like for the next two weeks. Don’t believe the posts in the TA forum about getting them there. Take no chances, book in advance. If coming this far, not worth the risk.

So we got to do the next best thing… a boat tour going up to the glacier, followed by a walk around the park. Here it actually got cold (as someone who wears short and a t-shirt when most Paraguayos bundle up) – which was great. Some wonderful views from both boat and park – lucky enough to watch a calving while eating lunch on a great vantage point. Not lucky enough to catch on film.

Less words, more pics.

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Enjoyed a Patagonian treat, The Disco, for dinner. No, not Travolta pointing to the sky while The Trammps jam away… a big cast iron skillet filled with meat (Cordero – lamb in this case), veg and some sauce (white wine, as our waiter suggested) cooked up. So freaking good.

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Yes, that is a record sized disco and that wine glass was a #BigCarlos

We spent the next day walking the nature reserve right on Lago Argentina near our place and relaxing with some craft beer, just enjoying the wonderful view.

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We also enjoyed a trip to the Perito Moreno & Darwin museum and  a stop at Libro Bar where finished off some local cervezas and Hemingway’s “The Sun Also Rises” as Katie did some shopping.

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The next morning we got up nice and early and hiked to the Bus Stop for El Chalten.

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