Argentina has been in a currency crisis since the central bank couldn´t support equality of the peso with the dollar anymore. The government has taken some measures to prevent a steep fluctuation, but despite their efforts the peso dropped to 3 for one dollar in a few weeks time. At one moment the rate was 4,5 for a doller, meaning that people lost a lot of the value of their money. The banks are protected form bankrupcy because the customers are not allowed to take their money out of the bank are change it in cash dollars. So people who worked hard for earning some 1000 us dollars now have only 330 us dollars. In the beginning the price where not allowed to rise, but most produce from Argentina has some forein ingredient, and the factories have to pay in the foreign currency, so they have to put the prices up as well. Most Argentinan people are very proud people as they where the most modern and wealthy of all South America, so they not only loose their lifestandard but also hit in their proudnes of being Argentinian. Everybody is angry with the government as they made the bad decisions, there are many corruption schandals and teherfore no trust in the state anymore.
For foreign tourists like us it means lots of things are cheaper now, as long as the prices don´t rise too much. For example the bus up to Calafate has to go via Chile, which means that a flight from Ushuaia to Calafate, is cheaper now than the bus alternative.
At lunch time we leave with a small fishermans boat called the ´tres Marias´ (three Marias) to explore the Beagle channel and some small islands. The population is thousands of birds, sea lions, pinguins and even some dolphins. The views and colours of the sea are beautifull here. The last island we leave the boat for a walk, and the captain shows us some king crab he just bought before. On the island the guide explains how the first settlers lived on the islands and land, living of fish and sea animals. I can´t imagine people running around naked, rubbed in with sea lion fat to go diving in hte ice cold sea. After some more birdspotting we get back to the tres Marias where the captain in the meanwhile cooked the king crab. It is the first time for me and Sofie that we eat king crab straight out of the shell and it is great.
31/03/2002 Tierra del Fuego
Ushuaia is the city that lies on fire land, the big island at the southern tip of South America. Some say they call it this way because of the baeutifull colours of the sun on the water and surounding mountians. We decide to take a hike in the tierra del fuego national park, a short busride from town. We are lucky with the weather again and also with the season as all trees have started changing the colour of their leaves. a walk through one of these big fery tail like forests makes us feel as landing in the lord of the rings story. Any moment a hobbit, elf or knight might jump out from behind a tree. At the other side of the lake there are some more trails and I hike down the énd of the world´ trail. On the way is a big beaverdam, but the small litlle fellows don´t feel like showing their selves to the public today. In the evening we do some shopping and notice that suddenly some more small shops and stalls appeared in the streets. When we seem some eldery dutch speaking tourists strolling about the streets we understand that a cruise ship must have arrived. Lots of cruises round the cape Horn on the way to Chile, Valparaiso.
01/04/2002 Laguna Esmeralda
We feel like another hike so we get the micro bus to the esmerald lake. The lake itself is up in the mountains and the trail starts from a huskey farm. Sofie immediately falls in love with the dogs but we came for hiking and leave after getting quickly drawn map from the owner. The first part goes to some more beatifull forest and the we needed about an hour to keep our feed dry while croosing some swampy bogs. Terrible wet underground but finally we reach the top part of the valley. The lake is created by melting water fron the nearby glacier and has a blue green coulour. We find nice spot for lunch break and afterwards I leave Sofie to climb up somewhat higher. I can see the tree line will stop just a little bit higer. Through some more forest, snowy bleu ponds and big rocks I reach the line and see the glacier raising a few kilometers ahead in front of me. The vieuw from the big rocks over the colourfull trees and lake is magnifisent. I deserve some rest now and dream away in the sun. We get back down on time as the forest would be quite doark with no sun , and luckily we reach the forest and leave the boggy swamp behind us when the rain starts. The trees are so big and full of colourfull leaves that we don´t get wet untill we reach the farm again. A hot chocolate and visit to the dogs finishes this beatifull day.
In the morning Sofie pays the dokter a visit for an frequnetly returning stomach ache. She has some burning feeling and the diagnose is gastritis. Some medication and care about hte food would make her feel helathy again.
Today 20 years ago the Argentinian army attack the Falkland islands to claim the territory back from the english. As the whole population then was proud on their country they still celebrate it. Especially now with all the economical crisis going on it is improtant to remember their heroes. I´m lazy and watcht the celebration on tv. Sofie walks down a few blocks to see it direct with her own eyes. Even the new interim president Dualde is there.
03/04/2002 To Calafate
We take the flight we booked afew days before and find a nice hostal in town. It is quite a small place, not very far from hte Chilean border, but still in the middle of nowhere. We wouldn´come here if it wasn´t for the perito moreno glacier. It is an of the most visited moving glaciours in the world, probably because the location is quite good. We book our bus ticket and also an ice mini trekking trip. In the evening it is time to enjoy one of Argentinas best food, the parillada or grilled meat buffets. You get salad vegetables and fries form the nearby buffet, you order the drinks from your waiter and then you wait for the meat man to pass by with his dish. You eat as much as you want and that is what we did. Quite satisfied we rolled out and back to the hostal.
04/04/2002 Perito Moreno glacier
Untill a few years ago the glacier was moving quicker forwards then that it was melting. The tip of the glacier is then pushed up agains the rocks of the hill where the tourists can vieuw the spectacle. Very slowly the melting water on both sides of the glaciar rises but at a different speed, and then booom, the tip brakes of under the pressure. This used to happen about every 4 to 5 years. But since the global warming it doesn´t move quicke enough any more to reach the rocks and build up pressure. The view you now have is still spectacular though, as peaces fall of and make a rumbling sound. Just amazing. After two ours here we take a small bus and then boat to get to the side of the glaciour where they do the mini trekking. You put on crampons and a guide leads you over the glacier. It is not very difficult but we really enjoy the walk and the colours and the whiskey with fresh glaciar ice afterwards.
19/04/2002 to Bariloche, Argentina
It is time to go north but we have some more days for hiking and decide to go to Bariloche in Argentina. The busride takes us up and up to the borderpost in the middel of the Andes. Snow is falling all around us, for the first time on this trip. We check in in the wonderfull Youth hostal and try to get some money from the cash machines. The crisis is still going on and the government decided to give the banks a long week-end. Will be closed indefinately, at least untill Tuesday. It is now Friday and together with the Argentinians we queue at the cash machines, hoping it doesn´t run out before it is our turn. We are lucky.
20/04/2002 Cerro Cathedral
We will hike 3 days, staying 2 nights in the refugios. We checked with the hikers club about the snow situation as there had been falling a lot the last days. The second day we would encounter some, but without much difficulty to pass. The bus brings us ti the foot of cerro cathedral, where there are a lot of skislopes, a very popular spot in winter. We hike up to the refugio frey, just 3 hours, quite an easy walk. We have a walk around the lake, admiring the climbers on the cathedral rock. They are a spanish couple who travel around the world without climbing gear but could´t stand the temptation in the Andes and had sent over there gear immediately. A bunch of kids arrives as well, the local climbing scholl on a week-end out. Good atmosphere in the refugio, and we enjoy the - they say- famous Frey pizza.
21/04/2002 to refugio Jacob
We leave just when the sun geys up as we want to arrive in the next refugio before possible bad weather. It was very cold at night and we find the lake outside completely frozen. I am happy we didn´t decide to camp here but to sleep in the refugios. The first hike up takes us on snowy slopes where we have to carefull with slippery icy spots. On top there is small lake called Schmoll lake. The region of Barliloche was mainly developed by Swiss immigrants as the mountains and weather is similar to the Swiss one it was the perfect place for them to find a new life and work. Bariloche is also the chocolate producing city of Argentina as the Swiss brought theire recipes and techniques as well.
Passing the lake we have to do another slope up, this time with even more ice, the shadow side of the hill. We make it and the view to the vally on the other side is promising. Colourfull trees around a shiny river. The way down is quite some fun. The stones and sand are so fine they are like gravel. Perfect for skieing down ! Just zig zagging down trying to keep balance and not to hit a bigger rock. Sofie doesn´trust this way of traveling and goes down the usual way. The walk in the forest leads us up the the highest point of the valley, where another steep climb is in our way to reach the Jacob refugio. Up is always a little bit tiring but it goes better then expected. The last peace is the one with the fresh snow. We dont´t have crampons but the snow is soft enough to make our own footsteps. Very steep and I better not to look down, but also very rewarding. From the top we have great views all around us. Now another downhill and we are there.
Despite succesfully passing the snowy parts we still got wet feet. The refugio is on the other side of a river and boggy field. I arrive with only one muddy shoes and the resident of the refugio syas it is quite a good achievement. The clouds are coming over and look nice grey, teh type of clouds you would expect snow to fall out. An evening at the hot stove with some other hikers and a Tom Cruise look-a-like resident brings us in the cold bedroom. 4 blankets should be enough and we fall into a deep sleep.
22/04/2002 back to Bariloche
As expected it started snowing in the night. After a good breakfast we leave for our last hiking day, probably the last hiking on our South American trip. Sofie was quite skeptical about hiking, but now she can also enjoy the feeling of delivering some physical pain for a the mental kick of reaching the goal.
We reach a small road early in the afternoon. We are already a litlle bit hungry, but the big road where the buses come is still an hour away. We decide to walk that way, hoping for a car to pass by and pick us up. We seem to look dangerous as nobody stops, so finally it is the bus we take. We go eat a good pasta first and then check in again in the hostal. We have some chat with Sen, a guy from Maleisia who visited Brazil some weeks before. I write down his favourite beach spots, as they might come at hand in a few months.
23/04/2002 Back to Chile
The end of the mountain part, another episode in our South American adventure. It is definately one of my favourite episodes. If I come back for hiking it will be Patagonia and the southern andes I´ll go. Maybe january or february would be slichtly better with the weather, but we were lucky and reached every place we wanted to see. Now it is back up north, all the way up to Santiago.
We cross the border in the middle of the night and arrive in Mendoza early in the morning. The youth hostel doesn´t have any free double so we check out hostal Capac. Not expensive and looks fine so we take it. Mendoze is in one of the biggest wine provinces of Argentina. The soil and weather deliver perfect grapes for all types of wine. We want to visit a bodega but first we have to do some washing. We have a stop in the art mueum where there is an exposition of Michael Cooper, a photographer who was good friend with the Rolling Stones and some more famous and beautifull from that period. great pictures, even some of a visit to Rene Magrit in his Belgian home.
We took the bus to the bodega La Rural, from an old Italian immigrant. The museum and collection of old wine producing objects starts the free tour. Then a visit to the modern wine production plant and off course some tasting at the end. We decided to buy two bottles of San Felipe wine, most of the local tourist drive back with some boxes of 12 bottles. In the evening we eat parillada again, the big buffet with grilled meat.
It is the first of May so most thing are closed. A perfect day for some sunning in the park. We are not the only ones who have this idea and encounters most of the local people in the parc as well. No demonstrations are protests going on here. Although the country is in a crisis and people are angry they prefer to protest silently. In the evening we get into the nightbus to Buenos Aires.
02/05/2002 to Buenos Aires
his was definately one of the better nightbuses we had so far. Hot food accompanied with wine, a whisky after, and off course comfortable seats with pillow and blanket. There are only seats next to each other so the amount of space is enormous. So well rested we arrive in the terminal and decide to use public transport to the Millhouse hostal. This place is in the middle of the city and the people who recommended it to us where crazy about it. When we see it it definately looks good. Youth hostal style with nice shared kitchen and leisure room, television room and good atmosphere. We stay in a dormitory as the price of a double is way over our budget. The afternoon we spend walking around the city center and shops. We check the prices for sending as parcel home to Belgium, but they have been updated and we decide to wait untill Brazil for sending our hiking clothes home. When we pass the national theatre Colón we find out there is a ballet, starting the next day. Only 25 pesos for the best places but we have no clothes to go to an evening like this. No problem, we will go shopping tomorrow.
03/05/2002 Buenos Aires
The girl from the hostal tells us which shopping center to go and we are happily surprised of the shops and choice we have. This could be a shopping center anywhere in europe. Argentina is very developed and Buenos Aires is the best place to see that. We spent all day and finally in the evening are able to go in the theatre with a nice jeans, shirt and even new sneakers ! The ballet itself was quite good, but we enjoyed more looking at the people who come to the ballet completely dressed up, who cheer and congratulate the artists with such spirit and noise as I thought only talians do at the opera of Verona. A great evening almost followed by a big party. Everybody in the hostal is talking about going to this or that club, but we seem to be too tired to be even slightly interested.
04/05/2002 Buenos Aires
Sofie gets up early for some beaty needs and I sleep and have a quiet breakfast. At 2 pm we meet Nicolas and Rodrigo, two Argentinians who do bike tours through the city. Originally form the Andes, they studied and worked in Buenos Aires as desgner and journalist. But the crisis hit hard and they are both out of jobs. Then they had the idea to pick up their bikes and guide tourists around. We are actually one of the first groups they guide around and we notice a lot of improvising. This very spontanious way of riding around and showing us the city was really great. These guys do very well and we sincerely hope their effort of finding a new way of living will workout the best as possible. We drove around from the Palermo and Recoleta districts throught the renovated harbour and nature park up to Boca and the cosy streets of San Telmo. We ended driving on the big avenida de mayo from the congresso to the plaza de mayo itself. We saw the house of Maradona, the Belgian embassy, the Boca stadion, the puerto medeiro harbour, a memorial statue for Evita, the ecological park... A perfect way to get to know the different districts of the city quickly.
05/05/2002 Buenos Aires
Today there should be a match of the Boca Juniors, and quickly we find a group of people that want to go too. Two Australian girls Amber and Sandra, and an english performance artist Simon join us as well. The atmosphere is quite good, even though we sit in the elderly section. After the gane that ended 2 to 1 we thought about leaving quietly but that was without taking the hooligans into account. The people in the street suddenly run in our direction and we decide to turn around as well. Then we see the cops in helmets with sticks and smoke at the end of the street. We hide in a bar together with the locals. The street is suddenly very empty and some people look to see wat is going on. Just a fight between visitors and local fans, but the police is there to calm them down. Two minutes later they actually line up in front of the bar and dissappear in their bus, off to another hot spot. The locals say it is ok now, and everybody hits the street again. It doesn´t take us long to know we need a handkershief on our noses. The teargas is still in the air and gives us all an itchy nose and eyes. We try to find a bus but they all seem crowded or not available. At the end we decide to take two taxis. The drivers make a race out of it and with shaking legs we get of near the hostal with our football colleages.
06/05/2002 to Iguassu
It is time to start going up north. We take another luxury bus up to Iguassu, at the border with Brasil and Paraguay. This times the seats can be put completely down, the name of the service is not for nothing ´cama total´. The food with champagne and wine is even better then last time and I must say I enjopyed the 18 hour busride a lot.
We arrive early in the morning and walk to the youth hostal. We check in and have a quick shower before taking of to the falls. The park on this side of the border is quite big with much paths to explore over and under the falls. It is dufficult to describe the beauty as this spectacle is so huge. You walk over the lake above the falls untiull you reach devils throat where the water plunges into a huge street of falls. The other paths leading down to the other side get you up close to the smaller ones and the different parts of the bigger falls. Then there is the small island you cen get to by boat and off course a thrilling boatride into a waterfall that leaves you soaking wet. Just amazing.
A perfect way to end our Argentinian adventures.
Argentina is a beautiful country with both nature and cultural highlights, the people are very friendly and developed. Now in the moment of crisis people still have respect for the foreigner and share there experiences and problems to who wants to listen. Lets hope the crisis will stabelise and eventually bring prosparity back to these proud people.