Wednesday, 12 December 2012

Time For A Cold One

Before I went home for Christmas there were two places in Argentina that I really really wanted to visit – El Calafate and Ushuaia.  In El Calafate, you can go hiking on the Perito Moreno glacier and Ushuaia is ‘The End of the World’ – home of Tierra del Fuego and the Beagle Channel.  John had no desire to go to El Calafate (I’ve seen glaciers before, he scoffed) and couldn’t get time off work to go to Ushuaia, so this week I’m travelling solo.  After I booked the trip, I had two pieces of advice that were too late to use but that I will definitely keep in mind for future travel. One couple told me that if you book the flight with an Argentinian credit card or on the Argentinian website the price is reduced by about two thirds. Another person told me that since it is the off season, I could have used about 10,000 miles from my Delta Skymiles account to book my flights.  Something to keep in mind for next time.

Courtyard of Hostal Amancay
First stop on my southern journey – El Calafate.  I took an early morning flight from Cordoba to Buenos Aires and then had a three hour layover that turned into four hours before flying to El Calafate.  When we landed, I booked a spot on the shuttle bus which dropped off passengers at little hostal after little hostal until soon it was only me and a lovely retired couple from Philadelphia who have been coming to South America every winter for the past seven years.  On the drive, I marvelled at the scenery.  El Calafate is a small town (population 20,000) perched on a hill overlooking Lago Argentina in the Patagonian steppes. There is little vegetation due to the lack of rainfall, and the ground is strewn with rocks of all sizes.  Some of the hostals that we stopped at were located on the hills overlooking town on winding unpaved roads.  You couldn’t really call them gravel roads as they were covered in rocks that ranged from the size of golfballs to the size of grapefruits. Many of the hotels and hostals were gorgeous cedar buildings but Amancay Hostal Patagonia, where I would be staying, was fronted with corrugated steel.  Not very attractive on the outside but inside it was warm and lovely.  The rooms surrounded a courtyard with roses and lupen in bloom and chairs and hammocks for guests to relax in, my room was cozy and clean, and best of all, it was one block from the main street with restaurants, shops and trekking companies.  (What they call a hostal, we would likely call a bed and breakfast).

Lupens grow everywhere in town

I asked the clerk on duty about the shuttle bus to the Glacerium and he informed me that it left every half hour about three blocks from our hostal.  It was 5 minutes before 6:00 so he told me if I hurried I could make the 6:00 shuttle.  I said I thought I’d go and get something to eat but he said they closed at 8:00 pm so I’d better go now.   I hurried to the shuttle bus parking lot and climbed aboard with tourists from all over the world. 

When we arrived at the Glacerium, I figured I had time to either tour the museum or visit the ice bar.  I’ve been to lots of art galleries and museums since arriving in Argentina but have never had an opportunity to visit an ice bar before, so I ditched culture and chose to party instead!  Each person paid an $80AR cover charge which included admission to the ice bar for twenty minutes, a protective cape and gloves, and all you can drink. 

Ice Age bar meets Space Age outfit

A group of about twenty of us trouped downstairs, donned our futuristic insulated capes and gloves and entered the ice bar.  It was so cool (pun intended!)  The walls, the furniture, the bar and the glasses were all made of ice.  The bar was sponsored by Branca, makers of Fernet, so there was a large eagle holding a bottle of Fernet, a puma, a fireplace and even couches and tables made of ice.  Everyone was so busy taking photos but then we realized that we only had a short time so everyone ordered their drinks at the bar. I tried a shot of Calafate liquer which is made from the Calafate berries that the town is named for, while many of the others drank Fernet and Coke.  Two elderly ladies were drinking shots of tequila from shot glasses made of ice, and soon a conga line was winding through the bar as music blared.  At 7:30, the bell rang and the party was over – shortest party I’ve ever been to, but lots of fun! 

I hopped on the bus back into town and chose one of the many many restaurants for dinner.  Today’s food had consisted of medialunas and tea at the airport in Buenos Aires, crackers and a cookie on the flight, and an empanada at the Glacerium.  I dug into a hearty bowl of risotto, then it was back to the hostal for a good night’s sleep. 

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