Patagonia has long been on my list of top travel destinations, and when I saw Bear Grylls land on the Perito Moreno glacier in a Man vs. Wild episode earlier this year, I decided to bump it up to number one. Finding a travel buddy, however, wasn't as easy. When I approached my friend Honza with the idea and a link to a tour I found online, his response was: “umm, I'm not sure about this... look at what the people in the photos are wearing.” He had a valid concern — all the photos from the area showed people clad in heavy winter clothing, bracing themselves for very un-summer-like weather.
I was on my own. Since most tour companies charge a substantial single supplement for solo travelers, I emailed a few to see if there was any way to avoid the extra cost. One in particular responded and offered to put me in touch with Nicole, a Patagonia-bound traveler from New York who was in the same boat. Just before I emailed her, I discovered Gap Adventures' End of the Earth tour and suggested we go on that one instead. It was a longer tour, offered more highlights, and was much cheaper. The very next day, we hade made our bookings and bought our flights. Now, that's spontaneity!
What follows is a recount of our adventures, but if you're short on time and still want to see a few photos, check out the following highlights:
The End of the Earth tour started in Buenos Aires, often called the Paris of South America. This being my first visit to South America, I wouldn't know how Paris-like other South American cities are in comparison, but Buenos Aires did show a strong European influence in its architecture, culinary tastes, and lifestyle. If anything, it was a melange of several European cities.
Being able to speak Spanish is pretty much essential if you want to get by without resorting to embarrassing hand gestures as few locals know any English, especially taxi drivers. On the upside, the taxis entertain their passengers with outstanding music — none of the monotonous drone you hear in Puerto Rico, but rather wonderful mixes and remixes of pop, rock, jazz, and every genre imaginable. If music is a language, the taxis spoke to me.
Arriving early on Day 1 meant we had most of the day to explore the city. Nicole found a local tour guide whose little enterprise was boldly named Bitch Tours. The sole proprietor, Augustina, a PhD student of Psychology, was quite charming and perhaps unsurprisingly had a great sense of humor. In four hours we covered a lot of ground on foot, taxi, and even wooden subway cars that resembled the Hogwarts Express. She took us to the Puerto Madero waterfront where we enjoyed juicy pork sandwiches for cheap, Recoleta and its famous cemetery, and the quiet residential district of San Telmo.
Augustina advised me to keep my camera safely hidden from sight as the chances of it being snatched were more than high. Not wanting to be left without a camera in Patagonia, I chose to heed her advice, which unfortunately means I have but a few photos to share from this part of the trip. The only real danger I saw at the time, however, was in crossing the street. Augustina had a habit of haphazardly negotiating major thoroughfares well outside the comforts of a sidewalk, which would often leave us stranded in the middle of a six lane boulevard until traffic eased up.
The weather in Buenos Aires was so hot and humid that I wondered whether I hadn't packed all those sweaters, scarves, and hats in vain. The next day answered that question definitively.
Part 2 » (El Chaltén and Mt. Fitz Roy)