Cruising the Glaciers with MarPatag Cruises – Part 2 (History & Mate)

Thursday, March 7th, 2013 | Posted under Argentina

Guess who’s back?! That was an unintended hiatus, but it was necessary. I’m glad to be back to blogging.

I’ve already written about the majority of our day on the memorable Crucero Leal by MarPatag Cruises here. After being on the water for hours, we finally got a chance to stretch our legs at Puesto Las Vacas, a small inlet in the Spegazzini Canal area.

Puesto De Las Vacas

Puesto De Las Vacas MarPartag

 

We stopped for the heck of it and to walk off our beyond delicious lunch by traipsing around the shore of the bay.

Puesto De Las Vacas TDM MarPatag

 Our boat, the Leal, in the background

JVM Puesto de la Vacas MarPatag

 

Puesto de Las Vacas Walk MarPatag

 

The coolest part of this little excursion was hanging out in this cabin right on the water. If I have not said it already, Argentina is a country of immigrants, many of whom came to the Patagonia region to work in somewhat harsh climates tending to cattle and sheep (Vacas means “cows” in Spanish, so if I remember correctly this area was for cow herding until the 1970’s.)

Puesto de Las Vacas House MarPatag

We entered the home of a Scandinvaian man who lived here at one point with his family well into his later years (I think his 70’s?). The cabin really gave us a sense of how people survived here without much of anything (no running to the supermarket here) and in major isolation. Yet that’s really the story of people in this part of Argentina. People had to be tough, but I suspect they liked the beauty and tranquility.

House Puesto de Las Vacas MarPatag

 

Puesto de Las Vacas House Interior

 

After our history lesson, we got to share in one of Argentina’s national drinks, mate. Mate is a very popular herbal tea that is an Argentinian staple and actually found in other neighboring South American countries. Traditionally, Argentines would sit at a campfire somewhere (or anywhere really) and pass around this tea in a calabash container, also called mate, with a metal straw known as a bombilla. These containers with bombillas come in a variety of sizes, and they are often beautifully decorated. I’m kicking myself for not picking one up before we left. Usually I’m not really into sharing drinking containers with strangers, but for the sake of authenticity, why not?

Mate Drinking MarPatag

Pouring the mate  (This very nice man was our main waiter for the day)

As you can see, the yerba (the actual tea) is a tea with thick bits of leaves and maybe even some bark? I was glad to try it, but I have to say that I wasn’t in love. It tasted extremely bitter and chalky. I heard before our trip that mate was an acquired taste; and boy, was that true. Honestly, I think it needed some honey or sugar. You can get mate anywhere in Argentina, including higher end cafes and in tea bag form, so perhaps that’s a better place to try it for the first time than my introduction to it here in a cabin in the middle of Patagonia.

Mate MarPatag

 

After our tea was done, it was off to the boat, and we were back to MarPatag’s dock by the end of the day.

MarPatag Sunset

 

MarPatag Sunset

 Not a bad sunset…

Just so you know, one of the other reasons I chose this day cruise was for the the food. That’s for another post.

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Cruising The Glaciers with MarPatag Cruises (Part 1)

Monday, December 3rd, 2012 | Posted under Argentina

While actually trekking on Pertio Moreno was beyond exciting, if a little tiring, it was our excursion the previous day that was really the most relaxing (and tasty) way to experience the Los Glaciares National Park. Husband J and I cruised Lago Argentino with Cruceros MarPatag.* MarPatag provides both day long and multiple day cruises through Lago Argentino to see the major glaciers. There are other ways to see the glaciers by boat; but, based on my research, MarPatag is by far the most comfortable and pretty darn luxurious. The cruises are small, so there is no lacking in personal attention and attentive service.

As with every activity leaving from El Calafate, our trip started beyond early, so that by the time we made it to MarPatag’s private pier, I was still half asleep.

MarPatag Crucero Leal - Pier

MarPatag’s private pier

MarPatag Crucero Leal - Boat

Our boat for the day, the Leal.

JVM MarPatag Boat

 Husband J was smiling here, but that’s because he hadn’t seen the charge on our credit card…oops!

Patagonia is beyond cold in the mornings, so I was happy to be in the warmth of the cabin. It was plush; and because of our small group, it was easy to spread out. The majority of the passengers that day were Spanish speakers, so we ended up sitting apart from them. That allowed Husband J and I to meet a very nice older Scottish couple. They became our friends for the day, and we are actually still in touch with them.

MarPatag Boat Interior

Our guide giving an orientation to the Spanish speakers

When we set off, the morning light was so beautiful. At first, it was just nice to see the sun rising through the mountains, but then we saw these……

Icebergs! The morning light only made them even more stunning to see in person.

Patagonia Iceberg MarPatag

 

In between rushing out to the deck to see the icebergs and the rest of the scenery, we were served light breakfast bites. Did I mention that there was food involved in this? Oh yeah…..Husband J was a little shocked and confused, but I turned to him and said, “Who am I?” I mean really. There’s going to be a whole post just about the food we ate on this cruise because it was really that good.

MarPatag Morning Muffins

 

After breakfast, we continued to make our way to the first stop of the day, the Upsala Glacier. Our guide warned us that we might not be able to get close to the glacier since there had been large breaks fairly recently.

 

TDM MarPatag Cruise

I’m not super cold….yet.

MarPatag Cuise View

 

Even if the sights from cruise itself was rather beautiful, you couldn’t ignore the fact that there was a lot to learn about the environment around us. We got a quick primer on glaciers and how they are formed. I asked the requisite the question about global warming and its impact on the glaciers. While our guide, who is trained glaciologist, agreed that there has been a lot of change in the status of the glaciers over the years, she wasn’t going to completely concede that global warming was the main culprit.

MarPatag Glacier Lecture

 A map of the area. It helped us locate where we were going.

MarPatag Glacier Lecture

I found it a little disconcerting that the tops of the icebergs only represented a small part of the whole. I started hoping that we weren’t going to hit any.

As we got closer to Upsala, the icebergs got even funkier.

MarPatag Iceberg Patagonia

MarPatag Glacier Patagonia

MarPatag Glacier Patagonia

 

After close to two hours, we FINALLY made it to the Upsala Glacier. We totally lucked out. We were able to get as close as we legally could on a boat. Upsala is actually larger than Perito Moreno, but the latter glacier is much more accessible and photogenic.

MarPatag Upsala Glacier

MaPatag Upsala Glacier

At 31 miles long (50 km), there’s no way to truly see it all from the water.

MaPatag Upsala Glacier

TDM MarPatag

Happy to see the glacier and extremely cold.

We left Upsala to go towards Spegazzini, its sister glacier.

MarPatag

 

We interrupted lunch to run out and see Spegazzini. I have to admit that the view of Spegazzini was beyond dramatic. Of the three major glaciers we saw, I think Spegazzini might be my favorite.

TDM JVM Spegazzini Glacier

Husband J looks a little cranky here. I told him to put on a coat. 😉

MarPatag Spegazzini Glacier

MarPatag Spegazzini Glacier

 

Even with the visit to these two glaciers, our day wasn’t over just yet. Plus, I have to show you what we ate. MarPatag’s food is worth a post in itself.

Have you ever used a day cruise to see the sights?

 

* Y’all know I’m not cool enough to get anything for free. MarPatag didn’t give me this tour for free. Dude….I wish. Take that, FTC!

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High Tea at the Alvear Palace Hotel, Buenos Aires

Friday, October 19th, 2012 | Posted under Argentina

I like to drink tea with the best of the them, but if I could have high tea regularly I am sure that my appreciation of this warm, soothing drink would skyrocket.

I’m going to advocate for having a high tea at a swanky hotel. These kinds of high teas are definitely the best. While in Buenos Aires, Husband J and I made sure to stop by the high tea at Buenos Aires’ “Grand Dame” of hotels, the Alvear Palace Hotel. It’s one of Buenos Aires’ most lauded and most luxurious hotels. I would have considered staying here, but I wasn’t so sure that I wanted to drop the $500 USD plus for a room. Maybe someday.

Alvear Palace Buenos Aires Hotel Lobby

Part of the lobby at the Alvear Palace. I was trying not to take a pic of this woman on the phone. Oh well…

Tea is served in L’Orangerie restaurant at one end of the lobby. You can take tea here OR……

Alvear Palace Hotel Buenos Aires Dining Area

Here in this gorgeous solarium area like we did.

Alvear Palace Hotel Buenos Aires Sun Room

 

After ordering, the march of food began. I guess when I mentioned going to high tea to Husband J I expected him to know what it was. We had just eaten a ton of pizza (well, HE had just eaten a ton of pizza) at Guerrín. I think when I said tea, he thought I meant just a cup of tea. Oh no, honey. High tea is much more than that. Was that my bad? Should I have warned him appropriately?

My advice: Come to this tea HUNGRY. Eat a light breakfast and a quick, light lunch or mid-day snack if you have to. If you can hold old out until tea time, even better. Tea starts each day at 4:30pm and doesn’t stop until about 7pm, every day except Sunday. You want your stomach prepared. Really.

To start, we were served a banana-flavored bread. Unlike the more cakey pastry-like banana breads that we have here in this U.S., this had the consistency of an actual bun. I liked it. Nothing like priming your palate for things to come.

Alvear Palace Hotel Hight Tea

 

The  main tray of savory sandwiches and sweets came out next. I think Husband J’s eyes bulged. I reassured him that I was taking this one for the team, and I would be taking the lead on eating.

Alvear Palace Hotel Buenos Aires High Tea

 He looks a little scurred (scared), doesn’t he?

Everything about the Alvear Palace Hotel’s tea is about reliving old school luxury. From the white-gloved waiters, the classically elegant china and the beautifully maintained tea service ware, it’s just a style of dining that I think many of us just don’t experience much anymore. The waiters were very attentive, and they speak excellent English just in case you don’t want to order in Spanish.

Alvear Palace Hotel High Tea Silverware

 

I started in on the heavier, savory sandwiches. I have to say that these were not my favorite of the sandwiches as a whole, but you can never go wrong with smoked salmon.

Alvear Palace Hotel Buenos Aires High Tea Sandwiches

A few of the sandwiches were a little dry or bland.

I thought the tea sandwiches were much better. I believe this was egg, tomato and cheese.

Alvear Palace Hotel High Tea Smoked Salmon

 

I think the Alvear Palace’s tea really excels with its sweets. I tried to take notes, but I was really eyeing the food and trying to figure out what to try first.

Alvear Palace Hotel High Tea Sweets

 

I don’t think you can really have high tea without a scone. This one was lovely especially with all of the jams and jellies on offer, which I unfortunately did not capture.

Alvear Palace Hotel High Tea Scone

 

I was totally in love with all of the sweets we had. I thought this raspeberry lemon tartlett was beautifully presented.

Alvear Palace Hotel High Tea Pastry

Chocolate. Yay…

Alvear Palace Hotel High Tea Cake

I think after awhile my pants just started to get a tad tight. Luckily, Husband J and I had this picture taken before the end of tea.

TSM JVM Alvear Palace Hotel High Tea

 

Just when I thought the onslaught of food was over…nope it wasn’t. What you can’t see inside is yet ANOTHER dessert that we were offered as a finale. The waiters even brought out the dessert cart. I told them to pack it up. Yikes! It was this lovely coffee flavored mille-feuille pastry. Perfectly flaky and great for an after dinner snack that I tore into later.

Even the take out bag is pretty here.

STILL. MORE. FOOD. Petit fours. I think there were only two left after we were done. Chocolate, pisatchio and lemon. Yummm…

Alvear Palace Hotel Bonbons

Okay. If you are not stuffed just looking at these pictures, just imagine how I felt. Oy!

Oh yeah, we had some tea, too. I had a nice pot of peppermint tea, my usual stand-by.

I had a lovely time and enjoyed this experience. While it wasn’t my first and only high tea experience, I think the surroundings and value for food and service make for a pretty nice afternoon of relaxation after pounding the pavement in Buenos Aires.

Have you ever attended a fancy high tea? Where was it, and what did you like about it? 

 

Alvear Palace Hotel
Avenida Alvear 1891
Buenos Aires, Argentina

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Trekking Perito Moreno Glacier

Monday, October 8th, 2012 | Posted under Argentina

It’s one thing to sit there and stare at Perito Moreno Glacier, but it’s a completely different feeling to actually walk on it.

Before I begin describing our experience, I feel like I need to take you back to New York. About six weeks before our trip, Husband J mentioned that we needed to prepare for this all-day walk. I said, “What are you talking about? What exactly do we need?!” Since I have never proclaimed myself to be outdoorsy in any sense of the word, I was just confused. Was Husband J just up to his old tricks of trying to find excuses to make trips to the REI store (a US camping store chain that just opened its first first NYC location)?

We spent a solid two hours in the store with me trying on everything from extra-strength thermal underwear to hiking boots. The entire time I was rolling my eyes. Do I really need all of this? Here’s the fruit our shopping spree:

TDM Perito Moreno Outfit

 Do you think I’m warm enough? I had about five layers on. The rain pants are from LL Bean.

I now know why I don’t do outdoor stuff. The clothes themselves are super expensive!

The entire time I was in the store buying all of this gear, I said to Husband J, “I think we’ll be fine as long as it doesn’t rain.” Famous. Last. Words. We had the worst weather of our time in Patagonia the day of our trek. It was beyond cold and wet, and you better know that I was totally rethinking our decision to do this activity.

Some things you should know about walking/trekking or whatever you want to call it on Perito Moreno:

The tour company, Hielo y Aventura (Ice & Adventure), has the exclusive license for trekking excursions on Perito Moreno. There are two types: Mini-Ice and the Big Ice. The Mini-Ice is a half-day trip that allows visitors to walk on the ice for approximately an hour. The Big Ice trek allows for about three hours on the ice.* Both tours allow for one hour at the Perito Moreno pasarelas. Me being me, I chose the Big Ice.

After our one hour drive just to get to the Glaciers National Park, the weather just got worse.

The part of the glacier where visitors trek is actually on another side from the the pasarelas, so we hopped on a boat to get there.

Hielo Aventura Boat

Perito Moreno

Now what they don’t mention when you do the Big Ice Trek is that you have an approximately 30-40 minute hike BEFORE you even get to the portion of the glacier where you’ll be walking. Yeah….I was happy that I’d been going to the gym. That hike was not even cute. Not even close. The terrain got relatively hard to maneuver in some places. When the Big Ice trek is described on the website, they say a “moderate” level of fitness is required. I don’t know about that. I wouldn’t say don’t do it, but just know that this isn’t going to be an easy, breezy experience.**

Perito Moreno Big Trek Hike

Hiking, Hiking, Hiking…

Perito Moreno Big Trek Hike

I still look like I’m having a good time, huh? Just kidding. I was pretty bundled up and happy about it. I have to admit that I was shocked at some of the footwear and apparel some members of the group were sporting. One guy was soaked through his thin rain paints to the point that he asked to go back and didn’t go on the glacier at all. I guess you can’t really plan for all weather (or can you?), but I was sending happy, thankful looks Husband J’s way.

TDM Perito Moreno Big Ice Trek

 

The rain kept coming. After awhile I just got used to be being wet, at least on the outside. Then we came to this waterfall, and we had to cross this rather narrow bridge. I had to just laugh because there was no way that we were not going to get absolutely soaked. Yay for extra water! (Not!)

Perito Moreno Big Trek Hike Waterfall

If you’re wondering, it was one big soaking.

Also it wasn’t just rain that was making our hike a tad unpleasant. There was also strong wind. At one point, our guides announced that we probably were going to have less time walking on the ice than usual. After suiting up with harnasses and adding crampons to our boots, we finally stepped onto the glacier.

I don’t know what happened, but Mother Nature and the Glacier decided to give us one big welcome. I have never experienced so much wind and ice blasting my face. I could barely stand and had to move my body in the opposite direction from the wind to try to avoid the force of the wind scattering small bits of ice onto my face. It was completely unreal. Old, non-outdoorswoman Terri would have probably freak, but I was actually comfy between my five layers of clothes. All of these outdoor activities from my travels have toughened me up a bit.

Again, our guides gathered to talk. One mentioned that this was probably one of the worst days that he’s ever experienced on the glacier. They warned us that we’d have less time on the ice, but they’d decide that based on the conditions.

It didn’t matter. It was still so beautiful once we actually got on the glacier.

Perito Moreno Big Ice Trek

To walk up and down, you’ve got to dig your crampon into ice at just the right angle. Apparently, I am very good at this. 🙂 Luckily, all of that wind and rain went away, and it was all worth the minutes of crazy weather and long hike. Do you remember the Superman movies (the first one with Christopher Reeeve)? Well, it looked like we had just found Superman’s lair.

Perito Moreno Big Ice Trek on Glacier

The ice melts and cools constantly, and there are small streams running throughout. Some folks refilled their water bottles.

Perito Moreno Glacier Stream

Perito Moreno Glacier Big Ice Trek

Perito Moreno Big Ice Trek

Our guides were no joke. They ran on the ice like it was nothing. Their crampons were like sneakers. I give them credit but walking with crampons really strains your ankles (well, it strained mine).

Perito Moreno Guides

Occasionally, the guides would have to crack ice to make steps for us to walk comfortably across certain parts of the glacier.

Perito Moreno Big Ice Guides

 

As our time on the ice wore on and the weather calmed down, everyone in the group became more comfortable and decided to take pictures, including Husband J and me.

Perito Moreno Big Ice Trek TDM

Perito Moreno Big Ice TDM JVM

Check the crampons, yo!

TDM Perito Moreno Big Ice Trek

 

You know I couldn’t do all that and not say something. Here’s my quick impression of our day on the ice.

Perito Moreno Big Ice Trek Vlog from TAOTerri on Vimeo.

 

It was totally worth the wind and rain to experience the desolate beauty that is Perito Moreno up close. I will make a public shout out to Husband J for making sure that we both stayed warm. I will never doubt him again…at least not on outdoor stuff anyway. 🙂

Have you ever experienced extreme weather while traveling?

 

 

* These were the terms of tour earlier this year. It may have changed. Please contact Hielo y Aventura.
** This may have changed as well on the website. Contact Hielo y Aventura for more information.

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The Pasarelas of Perito Moreno Glacier

Tuesday, September 4th, 2012 | Posted under Argentina

Maybe it’s because my birthday is coming up, but I thought I would do a big week here on TAO. I haven’t been too proud of my blogging lately (that’s all on me), so I thought I would blog about some of the bigger adventures I’ve experienced this year.

 

I’m going to switch gears when talking about Argentina to focus on our time in Patagonia. The Patagonia region in the southern tip of South America is split between both Argentina and Chile. We decided for the sake of time and cost to stick to the Argentina side and to base ourselves in the town of El Calafate. El Calafate has exploded in the last ten years with the construction of the airport, which is a 20 minute drive outside of town.

Since we arrived in early April at the tail end of the major season there, we didn’t venture off to neighbhoring El Chalten for hiking and other activities. We still easily filled up on activities during our three days in El Calafate. Honestly, you could spend a whole week or more just in the Southern Patagonia region and go even more south to Ushuaia, the gateway to Antartica. I will get to Antarctica someday. I will.

Lago Argentino

Lago Argentino (Argentina’s largest lake) on the way to Perito Moreno

We decided to take advantage of our first day in the area by checking out Perito Moreno Glacier up close and personal. For those of you interested in glacier trekking (more on that in another post), the trekking tours usually include an hour to view the glacier before you trek.

Husband J and I used a bus service from El Calafate to the glacier, which is an approximately 50 minute ride. Since we arrived that morning, we did the afternoon excursion. We were there WAAAY too long. I liked that we had lots of time to walk around, take pictures and relax, but the scheduled return time was after the visitors’ center’s closing time. We convinced the bus driver to return to El Calafate a little early. My advice is to either rent your own car if you’ll be there for long enough, or take a morning bus to see the glacier.

On the way to the glacier, between moments of thinking, “Are we there yet?” and munching on these tasty and cheap empanadas we bought at the bus station, I was beginning to rethink this afternoon jaunt. Then we pulled over at a lookout point, and THEN I got excited.

Perito Moreno Glacier

Perito Moreno Glacier

Perito Moreno Glacier TDM

Don’t let that smile on my face fool you! There was a distinct drop in temperature from the time we left El Calafate to this lookout point, and we weren’t even right next to the glacier yet.

When we finally go to the glacier itself, the pasarelas, or walkways, were actually pretty impressive. They’re an extensive series of walkways designed to make viewing the glacier pretty easy for just about anyone. There are both stairs as well as ramps, so there should be no worries about your level of physical fitness, or if you’re full from one too many steaks (or I guess in Patagonia’s case, lamb).

Perito Moreno Glacier Park Rules Sign

Don’t feed the animals! Okay. That’s not what these sign say, but some of these are good reminders not to act a fool.

I had to say hi of course.

PeritoMorenoVlog from TAOTerri on Vimeo.

 

I suspect that since it was close to the end of the season, the crowds were pretty thin that day. That made exploring the pasarelas like our own little mini-adventure. Perito Moreno Glacier Pasarela Lookout

My advice is not to just stick to the one area that allows you to see the glacier from the front, but to take the ramps that allow you to see the glacier from different angles.

Perito Moreno Glacier Pasarela

Perito Moreno Viewpoint

Even with all of the running around the pasarelas, we just spent most of our time  just staring at this beautiful block of ice. You’d think it gets old, but it really doesn’t. Seeing ice for miles and miles blows your mind.

Perito Moreno Glacier

The portion closest to us was just the start. The ice goes on and on.

Perito Moreno Glacier

As much as the ice looks beautiful, it also looks treacherous.

Perito Moreno Glacier

TDM JVM Perito Moreno Glacier

 Cold but happy in front of the glacier

Watching the ice fall from the face of the glacier is jarring and eery. Granted, we were at the glacier during the afternoon with bright, melting sun, but seeing huge chunks of ice made us think of global warming.

Perito Moreno Glacier - broken ice

This used to be a huge block of ice connected to the glacier.

Perito Moreno Glacier Broken

My misgivings about the falling ice weren’t off either.

Perito Moreno Danger Sign

Luckily, the pasaraelas are much much safer than what visitors used to encounter when visiting the glacier.

 

While this was our first time at Perito Moreno, it wouldn’t be the last….

 

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