So when we left you last time we were about to head off on a ferry across the Rio de la Plata into Argentina. We were both a touch nervous, with our money having being severely challenged by Uruguay’s daft cost of living, and with the slightly strained reputation of Anglo-Argentine relations. Within minutes of arriving in Buenos Aires however, our fears were allayed.
Our digs in BA were amazing. We stayed, as ever, in an Airbnb with an Argentine couple who had a beautiful house just out of the centre. As nice as the house was (with free espresso, a pool and Netflix – literally could have stayed there forever), the real stars of the place were Juaquin and Olivia. Not our hosts, but the resident Beagle and kitten. We both instantly fell in love with them, making it even harder to leave after our 6-day stint.
BA was a wonderful surprise. We were expecting a bit of a sprawling metropolis, complete with Latin America’s usual aversion to waste management. Instead we were greeted with what can only be described as a French-Spanish-Italian-English-Argentine fusion of architecture, food and people. A city founded largely by European immigrants, the sparkling tree-lined streets of its prosperous Northern neighbourhoods are filled with neoclassical buildings, with enough French balconies and cute little café’s to make even the almighty Paris a little green with envy. The city’s abundance of pizzerias and distinctive pizza style – a mixture between stone baked and deep pan with a LOT of cheese – are a huge source of pride and an everyday reminder of the city’s Italian heritage. Argentina’s three greatest loves – wine, beef and tango – were abundant and as brilliant as you would expect. You can even see our Lego selves doing a little Tango, unsurprisingly they were braver than we were.
Unsurprisingly, given our status as stoic Europhiles, the city was just our cup of tea.It was one of the few places we have visited where we could utterly imagine living, and we were very sad to leave, but leave we must. Puerto Madryn’s wildlife-filled coastline beckoned, along with another delightful 19-hour overnight bus. But this was a different bus. This was a fancy bus. Mark begged us to book ‘Executivo’ – first class seating with comfier chairs and ‘dining service’ – I was too intrigued to resist. The experience started off well enough, with a very comfy reclining chair and suitably empty bus, but as dinner time rolled around, and we were greeted with a little snack pack of various biscuits and a cup of tea, we started questioning the hefty price tag (£100 for a damn bus journey). But, in true Latin American style, of course something else was in store. As the bells of midnight chimed (there were no actual bells, only a less ominous digital clock) we shushed our growling tummies and pulled the blankets over our tired heads, only to be greeted by, what else, our dinner. At 12.30am we tucked into a hot dinner with red wine aplenty, as you do.
On arrival in Puerto Madryn, slightly bleary-eyed but not too horrendous, we decided to spend our day planning how to see all the wildlife the area had to offer. Unfortunately, we were kind of stopped in our tracks by one small problem. Everything cost a bloody fortune. Argentina’s continually turbulent economy has resulted in massive inflation across the board. Awful for locals, and cataclysmic for the country’s budding shoestring tourism. In Autumn 2016 the tour we wished to take was £35pp. At the date of writing, it is now £75pp. Thankfully, we met two brilliant English lasses who had sensibly rented their own car, and were willing to share. We had an incredible day frolicking with the Punto Tombo penguin colony, and our wallets breathed a sigh of relief. Due to our time and budget restraints, we were unable to visit the other major national park – Peninsula Valdes – which was a real shame, but the penguins alone were well worth the journey.
Another 18 hour bus journey later – this country really needs to invest in a budget airline – and we found ourselves smack in the middle of the Argentine lake district, in the delightful town of Bariloche. This was an extreme source of relief, as at 7am the same day, swaying with sleep deprivation in the Esquel bus station, we made the startling realisation that Mark had printed off the wrong tickets, and our bus, for which we had no tickets, was leaving. Thankfully our bus driver understood our desperate pleas, and off we popped for a stunning journey through the alps.
Bariloche, our current residence, is simply beautiful. It looks like a little Swiss/German Alpine town, complete with St Bernard dogs and Milka. (Somewhat uncomfortably, this Germanic influence is at least in part present due to Bariloche being the desintation of choice for justice-fleeing Nazi war criminals, but we can gloss over that). The town itself is not the highlight though, the surrounding national park is what attracts travellers from across the globe. The pristine blue lakes, dense forests and dramatic mountains, interspersed with hiking trails are the perfect combination for those, like us, seeking a bit of fresh air and exercise, but not enough to batter our bodies into submission. That comes next week, when we hit the Torres del Paine. Watch this space.