Patagonia: At the End of the World (Part I)

Just 24-hours after soaking in the subtropical heat of Iguazu Falls, we were greeted with this sight:

Perito Moreno Glacier, Argentina

Up close and personal with one of the few advancing glaciers left in the world

Patagonia in all its icy, snow-covered, wintery glory!

Argentina is definitely an amazing country of contrasts.  Packed away were the bikinis and tank tops – out came the toques, scarves, and wool gloves.  I was really looking forward to visiting Patagonia and after seeing the awesomeness of Iguazu Falls, Jason was also excited to see what else Argentina had to offer.

Patagonia is home to the Perito Moreno Glacier, one of my ‘photography travel‘ places, so I had high expectations of it.  From Iguazu Falls, we flew into El Calafate, a small little town that serves as a gateway to the glacier.

The morning of our glacier tour, there was a little mix-up and we almost missed our bus transportation to the glacier.  Luckily, we were able to grab a cab and catch up with the bus while it was still picking up people from various hotels in the area.  It was a pretty cloudy day, but I didn’t mind since that meant better lighting for pictures.

Perito Moreno Glacier, Argentina

Beautiful blue ice

Our group’s first glimpse of the glacier drew audible gasps.  The glacier is magnificent.  A huge expanse of blue-hued ice that stretched back into the foggy horizon.  It was unlike any other natural wonder I had ever seen.  We spent an hour or so at the boardwalk area, which allows you to see the northern side of the glacier up close.

Northern side of Perito Moreno Glacier

Well-constructed and strategically placed walkways around the northern side of the glacier

Northern side of Perito Moreno Glacier

On one of the various walkways near the glacier

Even after an hour of taking in the spectacular sight of the glacier from all angles, the feeling of awe does not disappear.  I recalled to Jason about my first time seeing the Grand Canyon in the United States.  It was amazing when we first approached the canyon; but after 10 minutes, the view got a bit old and I was ready to leave.  With this glacier, however, I found that every time I looked away for a few seconds and caught sight of the glacier again, it would take my breath away.

We also got to board a boat that takes you right up to the southern side of the glacier.  One of the coolest things you can see while visiting the glacier is catching a rare moment when ice calves or breaks off from the main glacier.  It makes a incredible thunderous crack before giant slabs of ice fall away into the water.  We saw a couple of smaller ice chunks break away from the northern side but was never able to capture it on camera.

Southern side of Perito Moreno Glacier

Chunks of ice that had broken off the main glacier

Later on that day, as the group started packing up and putting their cameras away, the loudest crack I’ve heard all day split the air.  It happened so quickly that I didn’t get a chance to take my camera back out.  You’ll have to take my word that it’s pretty incredible to see in person.  I was able to get my camera out to capture a bit of the aftermath of the calving glacier though.

Southern side of Perito Moreno Glacier (glacier calving aftermath)

The aftermath of ice calving off the glacier

I would’ve been happy just admiring the glacier from the boat, but Jason and I were lucky enough to walk on the glacier!

Perito Moreno Glacier, Argentina

Another group of glacier trekkers that were making their way off the ice.

They strapped everyone up into crampons and gave us a few quick tips (“don’t walk with your feet too close together or you might end up stabbing yourself in the foot”)

Crampons for the glacier trekking

One of the guides helping me get fitted for crampons – HUGE metal spikes that they tie to your shoes. One lady wore high-heeled boots. Not sure how they found crampons for her.

And then we were off!

Walking on Perito Moreno Glacier

The first few hesitant steps on the glacier with crampons

Walking on Perito Moreno Glacier

In a couple of minutes, we were walking like pros. Crampons are like winter tires for people.

The steep parts were a little tricky but once you got the hang of it, it was pretty exhilarating walking on top of a glacier.

Glacier walking on Perito Moreno Glacier

Glacier walking!!

Glacier walking on Perito Moreno Glacier

Some awesome backdrop while walking on the glacier

Glacier walking on Perito Moreno Glacier

It’s not all fun and games. I got lectured for walking too close to this giant sinkhole.

Our guides even surprised us with a little treat near the end: Scotch on the rocks over glacier ice and alfajores!  Talk about an extravagant refreshment break.

Refreshments during our glacier walk

Now that’s what I call a refreshment break – Scotch on the rocks and sweets!

Towards the end of the day, the skies even cleared up a bit.  The glacier against the mountain setting is pretty breathtaking.  Seriously still can’t believe how beautiful Patagonia is.

Perito Moreno Glacier, Argentina

Mind-boggling that we got to walk on this!

Perito Moreno Glacier, Argentina

View of the glacier while on the glacier

Bye glacier,  hopefully we’ll be back one day.  Don’t you go anywhere.

Perito Moreno Glacier, Argentina

View of Perito Moreno Glacier as we motored away

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Iguazu Falls: Thundering Waterfalls and Peaceful Jungles

Iguazu Falls, Argentina

Gorgeous view of Iguazu Falls, complete with rainbows (and unicorns…just kidding! no unicorns)

Argentina is a beautiful country of contrasts. After reveling in cosmopolitan Buenos Aires for a couple of weeks, Jason and I decided to hit the road to soak in some heat in the subtropical climate near Iguazu Falls. It’s wintertime in Buenos Aires so we wanted a bit of a break from bundling up in sweaters and scarves.

Iguazu Falls, Argentina

The main attraction of Iguazu Falls: Devil’s Throat.

Before arriving in Argentina, we were warned to be careful while in the country.  The economic situation had pushed a lot of people to desperate measures.  Jason and I (as well as our possessions) were safe while in Buenos Aires.  But on our way from Buenos Aires to Iguazu Falls, we experienced our first theft.  We took an 18-hour overnight bus and I had my sunglasses, Patagonia rain jacket and the monogrammed Swiss Army knife (that my dad got for me from Switzerland) stolen from the secure luggage compartment under the bus. (Warning: Do not use Expreso Singer bus company if you want a bus company that cares about your belongings).

So upon arriving in Iguazu Falls and discovering our things were stolen, we had to deal with the hassle of filing a police report.  First of all, imagine the inefficiency associated with filing a low-priority report with the police, then compound that experience with trying to communicate with a police officer who does not speak any English whatsoever.

Main police station in Puerto Iguazu, Argentina

We were originally instructed to go to the main police station to file our stolen items report.

The 'overflow" police station in Puerto Igauzu?

However, we were subsequently directed to this little mickey mouse operation police station for our police report.

Inside the little police station in Puerto Iguazu

Inside the little police station, we were directed to a wooden bench. We passed 6 levels of ‘Plants vs Zombies 2’ on that bench.

Using whatever broken Spanish we possessed, we managed to piece together the story for the officer.  After two hours at the station, we finally had a police report that looked half-legit and half-joke.

On the upside, we had booked a few nights in a great little lodge in the jungle on the outskirts near Iguazu Falls. It was a perfect little getaway after the hustle and bustle of Buenos Aires and dealing with the aggravation of having our things stolen.

The walkways at our jungle lodge, La Cantera, in Puerto Iguazu

The walkways between the main reception area and our lodge at La Cantera.

We spent the first day just relaxing and lounging by the pool.  It was perfect.  At one point, I turned over to Jason and said “I am so happy right now”.  The stress of having our things stolen had completely dissipated in the sun and fresh jungle air.

The infinity pool at La Cantera, Puerto Iguazu

Lounging by the infinity pool in the jungle

The next day, we made our way to the falls to see one of the ‘New Seven Wonders of Nature’.   It’s nestled at the borders of Argentina, Brazil, and Paraguay, although 80% of the falls fall on the Argentine side.  It’s probably the world’s most impressive waterfalls, with 275 separate falls spilling over jungle cliffs.

On the Iguazu Falls tram

On the Iguazu Falls tram, planning our route around the park. Would help if I was looking at the correct side of the map

Iguazu Falls was one place that everyone unanimously told us was a ‘must-see’.  Jason was a little skeptical. “It’ll probably be like Niagara Falls“, was what he said.  However, after seeing the jaw-dropping views and experiencing the thundering rush of standing over the falls, even Jason was gushing about how awesome Igauzu Falls was.  And ‘awesome’ is not a word Jason used lightly.

We spent the day visiting three main viewing sections.  The highest section lets you stand right over the main attraction of the Argentine side of the falls: Devil’s Throat.  There’s a free tram that takes you to a 1km-long walkway.  It spans the upper Iguazu river before ending at the main look-out point.

The 1-km long walkway that takes you to Devil's Throat

The 1-km long walkway that takes you to Devil’s Throat

The 1-km long walkway that takes you to Devil's Throat

Almost there! We can see the mist from here.

We (along with most visitors) got drenched so we weren’t able to get any good pictures up there.  Water and mist coated our camera lens and the wind gusts were a little crazy.

Devil's Throat, Iguazu Falls (Argentina)

Standing over Devil’s Throat. No escaping the misty gusts of wind.

Devil's Throat at Iguazu Falls (Argentina)

Another view of Devil’s Throat. This is probably the only clear picture I have of this section.

Leaving Devil's Throat, Iguazu Falls

Leaving Devil’s throat completely drenched.

The middle section lets you take a relatively short walk along the upper rim of the falls.

Iguazu Falls (Superior Walkway)

Standing at the edge of the falls. Pretty awesome view of the falls below us.

Coati lounging in the sun (Iguazu Falls, Argentina)

This little guy lounging in the sun is called a Coati. He looks like a cross between a raccoon and a possum. They are everywhere in the Iguazu Falls park. And are not afraid of people. They look pretty cute (IMO), but can be pretty vicious if provoked (or want your food).

The lower section is a longer walk but provides the most complete views of the falls.  It also lets you get up close and personal at the bottom of the falls.

Rainbow and Iguazu Falls

Gorgeous views from the lower walkway in Iguazu Falls.

Iguazu Falls (Inferior Walkway)

Getting up close and personal with the falls

We even visited some of the smaller falls scattered around the park – most of them overlooked by tourists clamoring for views of the larger falls.

Tiny falls in the Igauzu Falls park

The tiny hidden waterfalls in Iguazu Falls park

Iguazu Falls was one of our highlights in South America.  It was gorgeous to see and exciting to experience.  We can definitely see why Iguazu Falls was on everyone’s “must-see” list.

Iguazu Falls, Argentina

Buenos Aires: Tango and Football

There were two very Argentine things that Jason and I both really wanted to do while in Buenos Aires: go watch a football game and enjoy Argentine tango.

The two couldn’t be more different but after watching both, I have to say they’re so similar that I wouldn’t be surprised if Argentine tango dancers started wearing jerseys and football players traded in their cleats for tango shoes. Okay, perhaps I’m being a little extreme, but hear me out.

Venue

We wanted to watch the Boca Juniors play in the La Bombenera stadium but since the Boca Juniors fans are crazy, it would be really difficult to get tickets to a game. Instead we watched the River Plate soccer club play at the River Plate stadium – a huge venue filled to capacity with enthusiastic fans.

River Plate Football Stadium in Buenos Aires

The River Plate Football Stadium. And yes, that’s a water cannon on top of a tank at the bottom of the picture.

Jason and I were lucky enough to visit Buenos Aires just as the World Tango Championships kicked off. We were even able to score tickets to the World Tango Finals

Buenos Aires World Tango Championship tickets

We scored tickets to World Tango Finals. We only had to line up for 1.5 hours for them!

Like football, the Tango Finals were held in Luna Park Stadium – a huge venue filled to capacity with enthusiastic fans

Luna Park Stadium in Buenos Aires

Luna Park Stadium – where the World Tango Finals took place

Athleticism

Watching the River Plate team was pretty impressive. They were obviously the better team and played their hearts out. Their display of endurance, speed, and agility was pure joy to watch. There was no question they were world-class athletes.

River Plate vs Colon football match

River plate vs. Colon

The tango finalists that we watched that night were spectacular. Even Jason was impressed with how technical and difficult the Tango was – especially when it came to the intricate footwork. As with the football players, the Tango dancers’ display of endurance, speed, and agility was exhilarating to watch. World-class athletes here too.

Passion

A lot of what makes a live football game so exciting to watch can be credited to the team’s fans. Football fans are the pure definition of the world: fanatics. They are in love with the game, the players, the excitement and are not afraid to let you know. The whole stadium shook when fans chanted, stomped, and sang in unison. The passion was palpable. Side note: if the River Plate fans are considered to be tamer than Boca Juniors fans, then I don’t think I ever want to get on the bad side of a Boca Juniors fan.

River Plate fans

Football fans take their sport VERY seriously

Like a football game, the passion is also palpable when watching a pair of tango dancers ooze desire all over the dance floor. The best tango dancers make you feel a little voyeuristic when watching them dance. It feels a little wrong watching that much passion exchanged between two people.

Buenos Aires World Tango Finals

A passionate embrace in between intense tango footwork

Acting Ability

Two world-class tango dancers will make you believe they are absolutely in love with each other. I would not be surprised if every single dance couple up there were actually romantically involved by the way they touched (and locked lips with) each other.

On the tango world stage

Putting on a show for the audience and judges

Like tango dancers, football players also possess an incredible acting ability. More times than I can count, two football players will barely make incidental contact and almost always, one of them will roll around on the ground in agony. They writhe in “pain” until they are certain the ref won’t be making a foul or penalty call. At that point, they jump up and rejoin the game as if nothing ever happened.

The fenced in seating in River Plate Stadium

There is, however, one big difference between the two displays of athleticism – Security

While the security guards at the Tango Finals just waved us through without so much as an extra glance, we were met with this when we tried to make our way into the football stadium:

Getting into a River Plate game

Some serious crowd control before the football match

Fans were funneled down certain streets by the stadium where they were then subjected to full body pat-downs and bag searches by riot gear-clad police officers.

Pat-downs and bag searches before the football match

Pat-downs and bag searches by police in full riot gear

After the initial search, your bag is subjected to 3 more searches at various checkpoints until you are finally allowed into the general area around the stadium. One final bag search when you reach your entrance gate and then you’re allowed inside into this:

Fenced-in seating area in River Plate Stadium

Our “box seats” for the River Plate game

A fenced-in seating area topped with barbed wire.

This area is where fans of the opposing team are seated. After the game, the entire stadium is locked down for 30 minutes to allow the opposing team to leave the stadium and surrounding area first. Crazy football fans!

So there you have it.  Really, other than the barbed wire seating area, Argentine Tango and football are like two peas in an Argentine pod.

Buenos Aires: Fuudis Food Tour

One of the funnest and yummiest things we did in Buenos Aires is join a food tour.  This was all thanks to Jason – he read about Fuudis in a local events magazine.

Quoted from their website: “Fuudis is a brand new concept bringing together uber cool people who love looove food, and surprising dining experiences. We create ‘experiences’ for you to enjoy food in unusual settings, away from the norm, combining gastronomy and art in new creative spaces.”

Founded by food-loving Argentinian and Aussie business partners, Marine and Anne, Fuudis offers many food-themed events.  We decided to try their dinner food tour.

We emailed them right away and asked whether they had room on their next dinner food tour.  Unfortunately they were booked solid but they said they would add us to their waiting list.  The night before, they emailed saying that they had room for us!  Woohoo!

We were instructed to meet at an intersection in the Puerto Madero district at 8:30pm (an early dinner time for most Argentinians).  Puerto Madero is right on the canal and is Buenos Aires’ most modern neighbouhood, home to exclusive restaurants, luxury hotels, and expensive apartments.

Puerto Madero district (Buenos Aires)

Puerto Madero district

We met the group of foodies (or fuudis) and the organizers, Anne and Marina, who were so friendly and bubbly.

The co-founders of Fuudis - Anne & Marina

The co-founders of Fuudis – Anne & Marina. It was the only decent picture I was able to take of them – they were on the move all night

The group consisted mainly of locals but we were told that the mix changes from week to week.  We immediately struck up a conversation with a Brazilian man of Jewish descent who was serving in the Israeli army, and his Argentinian mother.  We all walked to the first restaurant together (Campo y Mar) for the appetizer course.

Campo y Mar

Our first restaurant

Once we got in, we were seated with three Argentinian locals: Tatiana; her mother, Sophia; and a Fuudi veteran, Evo.  It was Evo’s eighth food tour.

Sophia and Evo

Sophia and Evo

We had some great conversation about the food scene in Buenos Aires and enjoying food while travelling.  The good thing about being seated with locals is that we received lots of great local restaurant recommendations.

For our first course, we enjoyed marinated octopus and a refreshing glass of malbec rose.  The octopus was delicious – slightly tart and a perfect consistency.

Marinated octopus at Campo y Mar

Our first course: Marinated Octopus

On the way to the second course, we bumped into a Kiwi couple who had just arrived in Buenos Aires: Craig and Sarah.  We hit it off right away (being native English-speakers probably helped) and when we reached our second restaurant, La Rosa Nautica, we sat together to continue the conversation

Kiwi couple: Craig and Sarah

Kiwi couple: Craig and Sarah!

I had the whitefish with artichoke sauce and blue cheese cream and Jason had the BBQ beer-battered salmon.  And also a couple of glasses of Malbec.   Anne (one of the organizers), walked by and whispered: “the faster you finish your glass, the faster they’ll refill it” 😛

White fish with artichoke sauce and blue cheese cream

Second course: Whitefish with artichoke sauce and blue cheese cream

BBQ Beer-battered salmon

Second course: BBQ Beer-battered salmon

Jason won.  His salmon was delicious.

Our third and final stop was Bice for Italian desserts.

Third restaurant: Bice

Third restaurant: Bice

Last course: Italian desserts

Last course: Italian desserts

We were seated at a long table across from a hilarious Argentine lady who wanted to practice her English (Laura) and her husband (Paolo).  Laura was a doctor who loved food and travelling.  Her next travel destination was Prague, Czech Republic.

Argentine couple: Laura and San Paolo

Hilarious Argentine couple: Laura and San Paolo

Fuudis was such a great concept – a great opportunity to meet locals who share a passion for food, enjoy a delicious three-course meal, and have great conversation.  They held a draw at the end of the night and I even won a bottle of wine!  Great way to cap off a great night.

Winner of the draw

I won a bottle of wine! Party continues on the bus home 😛