Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Patagonia Days 1 and 2--29 hours of travel to get to the southernmost city in the world!

After many years of planning and waiting, we finally took our trip to Patagonia. For those of you who don't know, Patagonia is the southern portion of Chile and Argentina and is extremely wild and rugged terrain. It is considered by some to be one of the last great undiscovered frontiers. Patagonia is very sparsely populated and its size and lack of infrastructure make getting around quite challenging at times. Our trip was 16 days and I feel like we only saw the "tip of the iceberg" (no pun intended). The trip was more than I imagined it would be and I would love to return one day.

I always do detailed trip reviews on my blog because I know my family and friends enjoy reading them, but I also want to show people who are doing research for vacations that any trip can be done on your own and without a tour. When doing my research for trips I rely heavily on personal accounts through blogs and I hope my blog will do the same for others.

My number one recommendation for a successful trip is to do the driving yourself vs. taking a bus or train. I have a passion for seeing sites that are "off the beaten path" and having a car gives you the freedom to explore places that a train or bus don't allow. What if you were on a train and saw a great photo opportunity, but missed it because you couldn't get your camera out of your bag fast enough? If you were driving you'd be able to make a U-turn for that photo opportunity. You're also able to see more sites when driving yourself because that beautiful vista everyone talks about at the edge of town is too far for the train passengers to walk from the station.

It can be done and it isn't scary! I think a lot of people are afraid of driving in other countries. I recommend studying the driving signs for that country before you leave (because they ARE different than ours) and learning simple directional words in the language that is spoken in the country your visiting. One of our favorite parts of driving in other countries is the opportunity it gives us to listen to the local radio stations. We love hearing what is popular in that country at that time (Shakira is very popular in Argentina and Chile. Who knew?). After spending days in the car you start to hear the same songs over and over again. We like to make a playlist when we return home and play it from time to time and reminisce about our trip.

Ok back to my trip review...

We flew American Airlines from LAX-Miami. When we landed in Miami I had arranged for a rental car during our 6 hour layover so that we could drive to Ft. Lauderdale to my favorite restaurant there, Bimini Boatyard for some of their famous Bimini Bread. I've been eating at this restaurant with my parents from a very young age and we never miss a chance to eat Bimini Bread when in Ft. Lauderdale. The bread is sweet and injected with butter, confectioners sugar, and many other very unhealthy but delicious ingredients and it really is to die for. The recipe is top secret but originated in Bimini in the Bahamas, just 5o miles from the coast of Ft. Lauderdale. The best part about our meal is that we got a free loaf of Bimini Bread because the restaurant was running a Foursquare
promotion that offered a free loaf to anyone who checked in at the restaurant. Being the foursquare fanatic that I am, I took them up on this offer.

Back at the Miami airport we got upgraded to business class. Have I mentioned how much I love American Airlines? Loyalty really does pay off. I treasure my gold status because of upgrades like this.

From Patagonia Day 1 and 2

The service in Business Class was wonderful also. We both enjoyed another hot dinner and watched movies. I tried my hardest to stay awake as long as possible so I could reap the benefits of the good service, but eventually fell asleep, flat on my back. We woke up to a hot breakfast and the anticipation of landing in Buenos Aires, Argentina for the first time in our lives!

After paying US$140 each to enter Argentina (this fee is good for 10 years) at customs we were off to baggage claim and to find our driver who would drive us across town to the domestic airport for our flight to Ushuaia, Argentina--the southernmost city in the world! I had arranged our driver through the Argentina office of my company, Endemol. After looking for our driver for 30 minutes, I finally approached a man who was holding a sign that said "Wolter". Sure enough, this was our guy and after standing in a long ATM line, we were off.

On our drive to Aeroparque (the domestic airport in Buenos Aires) our driver pointed out the River Plate football (soccer) stadium. During my resesarch I read that PorteƱos, which means "people of the port", or in this case refers to people who live in Buenos Aires, are divided by their love of one of two local football teams, River Plate or Boca Jr's. I tried to ask our driver which team he liked in my very broken Spanish and after some back and forth he let me know very passionately that his heart belonged to the River Plate.

Aeroparque is on the coast just across the street from the Rio de la Plata, so with time to spare before our flight we walked along the banks and had a look at the murky water. Unfortunately we had to check our bags with my camera so I have no pictures of this day until we got to Ushuaia. Buenos Aires was HOT. I was not prepared for this heat and immediately started to regret my decision to leave my warm weather clothes behind.

The flight was almost 4 hours to "del fin del mundo" or "the end of the world". Ushuaia is the southernmost city in the world located on the island called "Tierra del Fuego" which is Spanish for "Land of Fire" and is the northern border for the Beagle Channel. As I got my first view of Ushuaia from the air I was overcome with emotion. While planning our trip I came to a point that I actually felt like I had planned too much. I was afraid that I had seen so many pictures and read so much information that I wouldn't be impressed with what I saw...but I was wrong! Ushuaia from the air was beautiful. After all these years of wanting to go to the bottom of the world I was finally here, and it was a bit surreal. Again, I don't have any pictures of this magical moment but the site of the Martial mountain range rising steeply behind the town of Ushuaia will forever be etched in my memory.

We landed at the tiny airport and caught a cab to our hotel for the night, Apart Hotel Cabo de San Diego. The hotel was impeccably clean and the room was extremely large. Two things that everyone wants when staying away from home.

From Patagonia Day 1 and 2

From Patagonia Day 1 and 2

Since it was Christmas Eve we asked the owner of the bed and breakfast where we could eat dinner. She had a menu for one of the a local restaurants that was serving that night and they featured a prix fixe menu that was US$90 per person. I had been told by many people that the food in Argentina is very inexpensive and so we decided to try to find a cheaper alternative.

Walking down Avenida San Martin (the main road in Ushuaia) we came across a few restaurants that were open, but most were closed because of the holiday.

All of the restaurants we found had prix fixe menus and all were about the same price range as the one our hotel had suggested to us. We enjoy going to local restaurants and sites instead of overly touristy places so when we saw a little house on the hill with an Italian restaurant sign on the door, we knew we had found our place.

When we walked in we realized that this was actually a home that had been converted to a restaurant. We were greeted by a young girl who didn't speak any English, so she used sign language and over-enunciated Spanish to explain what was on the menu. There was a small buffet full of casseroles, several fish dishes and desserts. There was also a choice of a beef or chicken entree after we sampled the buffet. All of this could be had for 140 pesos or US$35.

We sat down at a folding table and watched as a woman brought out more casseroles and other dishes one by one to the buffet table. It was like we were invited into her house and she cooked whatever she wanted and everyone ate. Even though I didn't care for much of the food (a LOT of fish and seafood) it was a neat experience. Just like in Europe, our waitress never came to our table to ask how our food was or check on us like they do in the States. We weren't sure if we had understood the waitress correctly when she said there was a choice of beef or chicken after the buffet. It seemed odd that we'd have another full meal after all the food on the buffet, but they sure didn't want us to go hungry. After about an hour of going to the buffet and trying to flag our waitress down, we finally both ordered the beef dish for our entree. It also wasn't great (and we were starting to wonder what about this restaurant was Italian). After dessert we were ready to leave (we had traveled 29 hours to get to Ushuaia) and go to bed but the woman who was doing all the cooking started pouring champagne around the tiny restaurant and then she sat down to eat. It was very much a family vibe in the restaurant which was fun because it was Christmas Eve.

Sorry for the lack of interesting pictures in this post but I promise the pictures get better! Check back soon for more on our trip. You can see pictures of Days 1 and 2 here.