Minas, a small town of 40’000 inhabitants, sits along the national route number 8. This is an inland road, connecting the coastal capital Montevideo to the Brazilian border in the north. Located 120 km from the capital, Minas is a laid back place, where locals hang out in restaurants around the two main parks, the Plaza Libertad and the Plaza Rivera. Upon arrival by bus from Montevideo, I boarded the shuttle to the campground Arequita (bus runs out there at 10:15h, 14:15h – except on Sat&Sun: 15:15h – and 19:30h).
Montevideo is definitely a very different capital city from most of the others I have visited so far. Aside from the port and the old town, there seem to be no tourists wandering around the other parts of the city, which also hold a number of old buildings and shady parks.
Why do I like countries carrying names starting with the letter “U”? I don’t really know, but it looks as if Uruguay is going to be Uzbekistan all over again. It’s a surprisingly interesting country.
Starting my visit in the little town of “Colonia del Sacramento” (or: simply “Colonia”), I quickly was intrigued how engaging the tree lined alleys and avenues looked. Walking the in the shadowy streets, enjoying the fresh air and savouring irresistible local specialties, such as sweet pizza (comes with mozzarella, coconut and chocolate toppings!), made me stay longer than planned.
Arriving in Buenos Aires after a 24 hour bus ride from Bariloche was like arriving in Argentina. While locals might argue that this megalopolis doesn’t really represent the true spirit of this country, I was relieved to find an authentic place, which doesn’t cater solely for tourists. Buenos Aires has its rough edges that plague every capital in the world: Noise, pollution and the daily life full of stress. The city is divided into 48 ‘barrios’ (districts), covering a surface of 203 km2. According to the latest census, over 3 million people live here.
The “Ruta Nacional 40” (or: RN40) is the Argentinean mother of all roads: It stretches over 5000 kilometers from the Bolivian border down to the southern tip of the continent, while it passes through 20 national parks, over 18 big rivers and crosses 27 passes. In short: This is the backpacker version of the famous “Route 66” in the U.S.
The new tent which I inherited from my crazy Russian friend, Evgeny, proved to be of great value in El Chaltén, since all the hostels in the village were fully booked. Therefore, I ended up on the free campsite just outside of town, which was a perfect money saving as well. In this town, there are about 150 permanent residents living.
During summer, the influx of tourists and seasonal workers ramps up this number to a staggering 2000 people average on any day. Calling itself the “National Trekking Capital of Argentina” and being located in the “Los Glaciares National Park”, El Chaltén is splendidly surrounded by the mountains Cerro Torre, Cerro Chaltén (also known as mount Fitz Roy) and numerous glacier valleys and lakes.
Visitors crossing the border on the road from Puerto Natales in Chile to El Calafate in Argentina are being greeted by a big, spanking new signpost reading “Las Malvinas son Argentinas” (The Falkland Islands are Argentinean). Whew, that’s quite a bold statement – however a bit pointless, since no British tourists were travelling on my bus. Instead of being intimidated, most passengers were bemused of this governmental declaration of force which evaporated into a void of pitiful smiles among the crowd. On a much friendlier and welcoming side, the customs officers proved to be very efficient and immigration was swift. It took merely ten minutes to process all the 50 people from my bus.
Still a bit hung over from the New Year party on the Navimag ship, Evgeny and I arrived in Puerto Natales where we booked quickly into our hostel. Ahead of the pack, we secured the last two beds in the dormitory of the “Erratic Rock”, which is the de-facto hub for backpackers setting off for the hikes through Torres del Paine National Park. Continue reading “Wet and wild in Torres del Paine”
To cut a very long story short, this boat journey had everything that I missed on the Yangzi river cruise back in China. The sights here in Patagonia were spectacular, plus the crew, the facilities and the other people on the boat were simply fantastic.