Hitch-Hiking Confessions, A Puppy and the Beautiful Valdes Peninsula

Ok, so it’s been a little while since I have posted here but I do plan to get all our photos up and this blog up to date! I will be posting stories of our journey from last year along with posting our current adventures! I’ll be sure to note the date of when we were in each place in South America so no one gets confused.

The next stop on our South American journey took us to Puerto Madryn, on the east coast of Argentina. Puerto Madryn is considered the upper limit of Patagonia, more or less. We were there at the end of Feb/early March of 2014.

Before we get to the epic patagonian nature pics, I have a confession to make. Since we’ve made it through Patagonia safe and sound and I don’t have guilt about my parents worrying anymore, I feel I can finally admit that Jordan and I hitch hiked through most of Argentinian Patagonia. We hadn’t planned on traveling that way but were inspired by several other successfully hitching travelers and given confidence when a few local Argentinian retired couples explained that ‘everybody does it.’ In all honesty, hitch hiking was one of the best parts of our Patagonian adventure. We met the most amazing people, mostly older couples who had children our age. We heard stories from retired heli-ski instructors who fought border protection battles in the wilds of patagonia, we discovered some great new music (Generis anyone?), got to cuddle with several puppies (not even kidding), and ended up in some strange and unexpected places. There was the couple who picked us up in El Chalten who drove 3 hours out of their way on an unfinished dirt (mostly rocks) road to bring us to Luis Piedra Buena, a place they thought was safe and would ensure us further passage to our final goal of getting north. Sure, we ended up going in the opposite direction of where we had wanted to go (turns out our Spanish wasn’t quite as air tight as we thought), but how nice was that! It’s all part of the adventure anyway. See the end of the blog post for a few things we learned about hitch-hiking.

One incredibly generous gentleman picked us up on the outskirts of Puerto Madryn. What had originally been arranged as a ride into the center of town turned into us picking up his wife and daughter at kindergarten and staying in his spare cabaña near the beach for free for the next 4 days. I know…no such thing as a free lunch, right? Well it’s true, the nice man did ask a favor of us. He asked us to puppy sit a 4-week old Black Lab/German Shepard mix for a day and a half before he surprised his daughter with it. The traveling life can be quite hard sometimes….


After a few days in Puerto Madryn, soaking up some sun on the beach and watching the crowds of wind surfers cut through the surf, we headed on towards the Valdes Peninsula. Valdes is a large nature reserve containing one small town, Puerto Pirámides. The main sights we were hoping to see on the peninsula were elephant seals and an adult Orca skimming the surf to snatch baby sea lions. You can either hire a car for the day from Puerto Madryn or hire a car for the day from Pirámides, which is about the same price once all in. There is no public transportation on the peninsula. We decided to get to the Peninsula and then make arrangements there.

Logistically things worked out well for us. We met two independent Italian travelers (an art restorationist from Rome who worked on the Sistine chapel and a poet/painter who was also an internationally ranked, competitive para-glider) and decided to all go in on hiring a driver for the day to take us to see the wildlife. We saw elephant seals, but sadly did not see any Orca. There is a camp ground in Pirámides, but it was closed when we arrived for some inexplicable reason. We decided to just wander off into the sand dunes on the outskirts of town and guerilla camp. The sunsets and views were incredible and we fell asleep to the alternating howls of the whipping wind and a pack of wild dogs in the distance.


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What we learned about Hitch-hiking:

  • Acknowledge that this can be dangerous so always trust your gut and never take a ride if it doesn’t feel right.
  • Don’t go by yourself! Although it is harder to get a ride as your group gets larger, I would not have done it if I wasn’t with Jordan.
  • Buy a road map so you always know where you are, where you are dropped off and which road you should start hitching on to get out of town.
  • Don’t start hitching from the center of town because most of the traffic will be staying local. Try heading out towards the city limit preferably on the road that leads out of town.
  • Start early in the day, its not fun arriving somewhere at night.
  • In patagonia, and most of Argentina, everyone drinks mate. It is nice to travel with a hot thermos and a bag of mate to offer your driver. We found we had a lot of luck while waving our bag of mate and a giant chocolate bar to the cars as they passed us.
  • You don’t need a sign. They can be hard for the driver to read and a thumb or a waving chocolate bar works just as well.
  • to hitch-hike in spanish is ‘hacer dedo’

Luis Piedra Buena – An Unexpected Visit Along Patagonian Route 3

If, like us, you unexpectedly find yourself traveling north from Patagonia on the eastern Route 3 instead of the scenic, quaint, loved by everyone, filled with puppies, rainbows and marble caves Caretera Austral that you had dreamed of traveling for months, don’t fear! You will be pleased to know that there are a few places of interest along the way for you to continue your patagonian adventuring. One example of this is a town called Luis Piedra Buena.

When we initially stopped in Piedra Buena we were not impressed right away. Regular town, nothing special. Needing to spend the night there we were happy to have met a few motorcycle travelers who recommended a comfortable city camping location. What was meant to be a one day stop turned into a week long stay filled with epic sunsets, penguins and lots of Swiss people.

Despite what its name might imply, Vial Camping was an excellent homestead. For 40 pesos ($4) per person per night we were one of the only guests at this quiet, riverside, grassy campsite (with hot showers and wifi!). In typical Argentinian fashion the campsite had enough parillas (BBQs) to grill a small herd of cows. As the sun went down that first night, Piedra Buena got its first hooks into us with the most incredible sunset. The unending patagonian steppe surrounding the town gives the sky an ominous perspective that is both vast and surreal. The cloud cover felt like a low ceiling but the vastness of the terrain meant there was always sunny sky in sight. The intensity of the colors in the sunset were staggering.

Just down the street is a small island (Isla Pavona) in the river where you can also camp, picnic, hike around and enjoy the epic sunsets. We found it so relaxing that we stayed a week since we didn’t want to be on the move for Jordan’s birthday. Stopping in Piedra Buena helped us realize that as long term travelers we don’t always need to be on the move in search of the next high octane adventure. We are enjoying life and sometimes it is nice to slow down in a small town to simply enjoy the pleasures of beautiful cheap accommodation and sunsets.

We spent the first few days with a retired Swiss man who enjoyed taking dips in the river and letting the current drag him around for a while. Once he left, another Swiss family arrived. Two professors on sabbatical with their sons. After chatting over dinner the family generously offered to squish us in their car the next day to explore Parque de Monte León. This coastal dessert park is home to all sorts of animals including sea lions, penguins and cormorants (whose droppings used to be quite in demand for their fertilizer magic apparently). Standing surrounded by penguins about 3 inches from my feet was quite a special experience and made Jordan and I want to reneg on our previous post in which we implied that penguin watching as an activity isn’t that cool.

We eventually left Piedra Buena, but will never forget our week long excursion at Vial Camping, and the nature surrounding it. We wouldn’t recommend that you plan to stay there for as long as we did, but if you are making your way on Route 3 and need a stop, consider Piedra Buena!


Day Hike to Laguna Fitz Roy – El Chalten

El Chalten – great little town for the budget traveler inside Parque Nacional de los Glaciares. Home to the Cerro Fitz Roy and located within the pristine patagonian wilderness of Argentina. You can do multi-day trekking here or you can take day hikes, leaving your heavy pack behind.  Our favorite day hike was the sendero Fitz Roy.

Daylight lasts for a long time during the patagonian summer so we were able to start this hike at close to noon. After our leisurely morning, we donned our day packs (carrying only a bit of water as you can fill up from any stream!) and hit the trail. Starting from town, we did the whole hike in around 7 hours returning to our campground in town just as the sun was starting to set. The trail is incredibly well marked. The toughest parts of the hike are the initial ascent from town and then the final ascent to the laguna. The rest of the time its pretty flat. The scenery is stunning as it winds through forest, meadows and rivers and it offers several sneak peaks at Cerro Fitz Roy along the way. When we finally reached the laguna at the base of Cerro Fitz Roy, panting from the very difficult final incline, we were blown away by the beautiful turquoise color of the water. Fitz Roy looms behind the lake. A beautiful behemoth, it appears to have been punched up out of the ground suddenly, giving it a unique look from any of the other mountains we have seen. Such a great day in Patagonia, only made better by eating an Asado around the campfire that night!



Argentinian BBQ Party: The Patagonian Asado in El Chalten

In a country famous for it’s meat, you’d better believe there’s a proper way to throw down a good BBQ. Lucky for you, I’ve created this easy to follow guide for having a traditional Asado in your own backyard.

  1. Go see your buddy at the market and if you are cooking for ten people, buy enough dead animal for 20.
  2. Hike down to the nearby river, gather tree trunk sized pieces of driftwood and start an enormous fire.
  3. Open magnum sized bottles of red wine from Mendoza (your relative’s vineyard of course) and debate over which cassette tapes of Gaucho (country) music to play.
  4. If you’ve bought a whole lamb, season it with salt only and hang it on a cruz (metal crucifix looking thing). Angle the whole animal upright leaning towards the roaring flames and a couple feet back. Cook the inside first before turning it around and making the skin all brown and crispy. Continue to pound red wine from Mendoza. Did I mention you’re opening wine with steak knives?
  5. Shovel hot coals, some under lamb, but most under cast iron grates/tables (aka the parilla) near the fire.
  6. Thinly slice potatoes and slap them down on the flat cast iron table w/plenty of oil. Season w/salt/pepper/aji. Maybe switch to drinking Fernet Branca in Coke and/or pound more red wine. Turn Gaucho tape to side B.
  7. Slowly roast all other red meat and offal on the grate, season w/only salt!
  8. When the meat is ready to go (nice med-rare), slice it up, put it in a fresh baked whitebread bun w/ nothing else! Everyone gets a sandwich. Everyone drinks. There’s no dancing, but lots of laughter.
  9. Once you’re all fed, bust out the classical guitar and sing old Gaucho songs until 4am.

If you disagree with any of the steps above, please take up your complaints with Domingo, the gaucho who owns El Refugio Campsite in El Chalten, preferably before the fire/meat-eating/wine drinking commences each evening.



El Chalten – Patagonia on a Budget: An Overview


El Chalten is a small mountain village located inside the northern part of Parque Nacional de los Glaciares. Home to the famous Cerro Fitz Roy range. This tiny town, founded only a few decades ago has since become the trekking capitol of Argentina. Chalten provided the best, as well as the cheapest, experience for us in southern Patagonia. For the budget traveler, this place was absolutely ideal: easy to navigate, free entry and plenty of free camping.


What to expect:

Before the bus from El Calafate drops you off on the edge of town it stops at the ranger station where an Antonio Banderas look-alike in khaki overalls orates so passionately regarding park safety and ‘leave no trace’ that Jordan and I were at once seduced and afraid. However, we were glad for it because you can drink the water directly from the lakes and rivers in the park, which was an amazing experience.

The walk from the bus station to the other end of town takes about 15-20 minutes. Chalten is completely surrounded by mountains, with a glacial river running along one side. Literally, at the end of each road is a mountain trail head. Entry into the town/park is free and all campsites along the trails are also free. There is also a campsite in town (El Refugio) where we stayed every few nights where you can access a hot shower and free cooking fuel for 25 pesos a night, which at our exchange rate was $2.50 (in February 2014)! It also happens to be right across from a grocery store, which offers affordable meat and staples.

view from El Refugio campsite

view from El Refugio campsite

view from El Refugio campsite

view from El Refugio campsite

The free trail map provided upon entry into the park at the bus or ranger station is all you need to start exploring. The great thing about Chalten is that you can set up camp and do mostly day hikes, leaving your bulky pack behind. If you are a budget traveler like us, we bet you could easily get away with spending less than $5pp a day while inside Chalten. See our next posts regarding the hikes we did!

Where to Stay:

Best Free Campsite: Campamento Laguna Capri

This campsite is only about an hour and a half from the trail head in town. It is situated next to Laguna Capri and offers an incredible view of the Cerro Fitz Roy. This makes for a laughably easy ‘mountains glowing red sunrise experience’ which in Torres Del Paine, required hard work, early wake up, and in the end totally kicked our ass. Campamento Laguna Capri offers a basic pit latrine that you can also deposit your TP in (nothing else though!). There is no ‘running water’ at the campsite but according to the rangers you can literally drink the water right from the lake, which we did and it was just fine. The best day hike to do from Laguna Capri is the Sendero Fitz Roy, but it is also situated close to the trail connecting sendero Fitz Roy to the trail to La Torre.


Other free campsites:

Poincenot: In the woods about 2 hours from the end of Sendero FitzRoy. Good for those wanting to make a sunrise attempt at the Laguna Fitz Roy (the end of the Sendero Fitz Roy). However, as the sunrise view from Laguna Capri is amazing and requires no work at all, why not stay there? The last leg of the Sendero Fitz Roy was incredibly steep and arduous and not something I would want to do while waking up/in the dark.

D’Agostini: The site right before Laguna Torre. The final view of Laguna Torre is nice but not as impressive as the Fitz Roy. The campsite here is next to a beautiful, but loud, running river. I also felt that this site was colder than the other two sites at night.

Best Budget Campsite: El Refugio

This site is run by a jumpsuit wearing Gaucho named Domingo. The place has plenty of sites to set up a tent (though try to get next to a fence or something to help block the wind if you can!). There are hot showers and a outdoor sheltered kitchen area which provides free propane and a few burners to cook with. Each night Domingo and his friends, along with the campers, started a huge fire and we enjoyed cooking our meat on the parilla for a traditional Argentinian/Patagonian asado of beef or lamb. At the end of each night, an older Chilean ex-pat would pick up the guitar and stun the crowd with his soul-touching voice. Truly a great place to stay and at 25 pesos a night, it doesn’t get better than this.


el refugio

el refugio

our little tent!

our little tent!

the kitchen

the kitchen

Coming soon: Posts on the day hikes we did!

Visiting the Perito Moreno Glaciar


A mere hour or so from El Calafate, inside the southern part of Parque Nacional de los Glaciares, lies the icy giant Glacier Perito Moreno. An easy and outstanding day trip brings you face to face with one of the worlds few stable or advancing glaciers. With a round trip bus ticket you can spend hours gazing at the vividly aquamarine blue crevices and frosty white towers with the occasional gun cracking crash of ice sheets calving into the surrounding lake. The bus drops you off at the beginning of a network of catwalks that allow you to view the glacier from all angles with stress free ease. You can either spend your approximate 3 hours hiking as much of the ‘trail’ as you can, or post up on one of the many benches while you eat your sandwich. Because there are so many catwalks and viewing opportunities, the crowds do not detract from the once in a lifetime chance to see one of the worlds disappearing wonders. We’ll never forget the vast beauty of this stoic giant and the thrill we got watching an entire ice tower detach and crash into the water with a thunderous explosion. Pictures could never do this sight justice.


We visited the park in February 2014.

The Details:

What: Perito Moreno Glacier, Parque Nacional de los Glaciares.

How to get there:
Bus from El Calafate, Argentina (approx 2 hours).
Bus Company: Interlagos, TAQSA
You can purchase tickets from almost any hostel or directly at the bus station (same price).

When to go:
The bus company has a morning and an afternoon option. Best to take the afternoon option as more ice crashes from the glacier after getting warmed by the sun all day.

Costs (February 2014):
Bus Ticket (RT): 190 pesos (incl. a 5 peso bus station tax)
Entrance to Parque Nacional de los Glaciares: 130 pesos (non-argentinian price)

Where to stay in El Calafate:
As a budget traveler, El Ovejero offers affordable campsites about 10 minutes walk from the bus station. Each site has an Argentinian parilla (grill) so you can cook up your own steak or lamb dinner. Beware of the many stray dogs here though. (50 pesos pp per night)

personal grills for each campsite!

personal grills for each campsite!


Additional Information:

  • Bring a bagged lunch, you’ll want to stay on the catwalks while you eat and there is only one overpriced restaurant as an alternative.
  • On the way to the viewing areas the bus will give you an additional drop off/pick up option to take a 1.5 hour boat cruise around the glacier. I believe this cost around 120 pesos. The bus will then pick you up and bring you to the catwalks with the rest of your group for the remaining time. We got many mixed reviews of this boating experience (gets you close but boats can be very crowded thus impairing the view) and decided to save our money and just go to the viewing area.
  • There is also the opportunity to walk on the glacier, which allows you to view the ice up close. Travelers we met loved this experience. The one drawback is that you don’t get a chance to view the glacier from afar for too long, which is how you see the ice walls crashing down. Might be worth a two day trip if you do the Big Ice glacier walk.


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