Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Big Bend National Park

"It is not the mountain we conquer but ourselves." - Edmund Hillary

What better way to spend a first Spring Break from graduate school than to take a trip to the mountains. Big Bend National Park had been on my radar as many friends had made the 9 hour journey from Dallas, TX. The long drive had steered me away from making the trek, however I did ask myself "Would there ever be a good time to take a 9 hour roadtrip?!" Going to make this a shorter  post and change it up a bit. I have included some highlights and tips from my Husband and I's Big Bend trip in mid-March. After visiting parks ranging from Zion, Grand Canyon, Kings Canyon to the Sierras, I didn't think this park could be even close to being magical as the others. However it's like comparing apple to oranges, Big Bend is a very underrated national park with only an average of 300,000 visitors a year. If your in the state or just passing through...make the drive and let nature wash your worries away! Check out the video I made from our travels at Vimeo 

To Do Hikes:
1. The South Rim Loop 
2. Emory Peak
3. Oak Spring Trail to the Window Trail
(Come up backside, more challenging, less people!)
4. Santa Elena Canyon

Lost Mine Trail 

A Few Big Bend Tips:
1. Before going into the backcountry, grab a local brew from Big Bend Brewing company and a burger. The IPA was on point according to the husband. After the backcoungry, grab another brew or a root bear float at the Chisos Basin Lodge Restaurant.

2. I like using Trip Advisor to see what people say and visit Google Earth to see the trails and photos
-Backcountry camping 1 to 2 nights in the Chisos Mountains on the South Rim Loop. Try to get campsites 1-5 if you can on the South Rim Loop. Some of the best in the park!

3. If you  stroll into the park after hours, stop by the next morning to Panther Junction Visitor Center pay your entrance fee and get your campsites and backcountry permits here. Most campsite and backcountry permits are first come first serve so make sure to try to get there first thing when you arrive. You can reserve some online here by visiting Big Bend Campground Reservations.

4. There are a couple places to get camping and backcountry groceries and essential if you forget, one located at Panter Junction and the other at the Rio Grande Village Station Store.

Monday, December 29, 2014

Our Final Days in Patagonia

Never stop wandering...
Final Days in Patagonia - El Chalten Argentina  - November 17-19, 2014

Sleeping in to us meant 7:00am. We did not want to skip a beat while traveling in Patagonia. Our breakfast consisted of tasty ham and cheese empanadas we picked up the day prior. Coffee was essential this morning, we walked over to the bakery. A cappuccino, cafe con leche and two pastries later we were ready for another long hike. One of the best things about traveling experience the local culture and food. This entire trip our biggest expenses was food but it is those palette moving experiences that make many realize that traveling came into full circle by the food consumed.

Trailhead at Hosteria El Pilar
Gonzalo was very kind and nice to take us to our trail head today at Hosteria El Pilar. We had read on many places online that this trail head just outside of Los Glaciares was the best point to start and would end back in town. This hike was very moderate as well, a few spurts of ascents but nothing too challenging until you begin the ascent from the base of Mount Fitz Roy. A beautiful hike and great viewpoints of glaciers situated in mountaintops. Leisurely hike with many photo opportunities. Luckily neither of our ankles had crapped out on us today as they had been bothering us. The weather was decent and mostly dry but near the end cloudy and misty. Near the break-off to Mount Fitz Roy freezing rain began to fall, we had heard from many that the climb up was nearly not worth the time since so much fog was present with no views. Fitz Roy was no where to be seen today and unfortunately after a few hours of hiking, we had to make the decision that we were not going to go up to Fitz Roy but to Laguna De Los Tres instead. We could see from a distance a group of climbers going up, but little did the know the infamous peak could not be seen today!

Simply beautiful
Along the river.
Lookout to the Glaciars on the Mountaintops

#Selfie with the Glaciers. Oops got cut-off!

A Forest Full of Light

Luckily we were able to catch a few shots of Fitz Roy yesterday with a measly 20 minute window it decided to show itself. To some positivity, we will take that! Surprisingly bumped into the 2 guys we ran into at the top of Laguna Torres at Glacier Lake yesterday. Exchanged a brief conversation and we were on our way. They had said they reached the summit of Fitz Roy but it was covered with clouds and snow. Guess we didn't miss much! Our total hiking time was around 4 to 5 hours, began just before 10 and ended at 3:30pm back into a slightly sunny Chalten. 

Treated ourselves to the most delectable chocolates and hot chocolate at the La Chocolateria shortly after as it began to pour rain. Bought a few alfajores (chocolate covered cookies with a creamed filling in-between), later to find out they were a common Argentinian treat that many people indulged in. The aromas in the La Chocolateria were amazing and to die for! If I could describe the sweetest and richest smells in the world, this would be it. The warmth of the rustic decor from accumulated hiking inside was some of coziest we have ever seen. Great inspiration for our next home when we move to the Pacific Northwest!

Grabbed a few local beers right before dinner as we walked around town. We had a 7pm reservation at La Senyera. Some of the better restaurants in town a reservation is recommended as the town is small. Some of the most flavorful and zesty vegetable stew I have ever had and a steak as the size of my head, Tim had to help me eat my dish as he was working on his lamb. One of the most memorable moments of the entire trip was when Gonzalo took us to one of the locals homes so we could purchase some of the best Argentinian wine for a fraction of the cost. We wanted to take a piece of Argentina home with us and enjoy it to reminisce on our many magical moments. Not a bad way to end the evening. Even though we were sad to think this was our last full day in Patagonia, words cannot describe how we felt about this entire trip and that this was the first trip of our marriage and to such an incredible place!

The next morning we said our goodbyes to Patagonia, ate at the La Wafleria  (amazing waffles and a must-go) and headed back to El Calafate to catch our flight in the early afternoon. Gonzalo drove us to El Calafate to catch our flight that would lay over in Buenos Aires for a few hours then back to Texas. We appreciated such wonderful accommodations and host at our cabins in El Chalten and are very delighted to have met some new friends in our journey across Patagonia. The best part was Fitz Roy decided to peak out as we were leaving town! Each moment and experience are ones that will be treasured for many years to come. As each travel experience is different from one another, it is the beauty of telling others of our travels that helps create each of our individual journeys...

Our Patagonia Honeymoon Part 5 - El Chalten Argentina

We all deserve a little wanderlust...

Day 7 - Patagonia - El Calafate to  El Chalten, Argentina  - November 16, 2014

A day to sleep-in during this honeymoon was essentially non existent. Between the planes, buses, taxis and walking on foot, much of our time was consumed on the open road between towns. A pro, soaking up the scenery and landscapes of Patagonia. The cons, our butts were sore from sitting. Today, we were leaving El Calafate on a bus to the small mountain village of El Chalten that is situated in Los Glaciares National Park. This village built fairly recent in 1985 was put into place to help secure the the disputed border between Argentina and Chile. The climate here is some of the most unpredictable here in Patagonia. El Chalten was our favorite stop in Patagonia and a stop that can't be missed. Worldclass climbing and hiking in this region. Chalten was our type of town, remote, cute and very rustic!

Walking through El Chalten to our Cabin

To capture a glimpse of the famous Mount Fitz Roy was a gamble, however when in sight, it was breathtaking. Today Fitz Roy was no where to be seen as we pulled into town. Cloud coverage and an overcast day. The town itself was very small but spread out. You can virtually walk to everything in 10 to 15 minutes. Checked into our cabins at Aires Del Fitz. These accommodations were spectacular and owned by a couple, Gonzalo and Veronica who left their corporate lives in Buenos Aires, Argentina to reconnect and become closer with family and nature. Amazing! You can read my review for the cabins here. They treated us like family and had may philosophical conversations with them. They had a German shepherd named Rex, he was so sweet and made us miss our little Sadie back home.
Aires Del Fitz. Our cabin on the right attached to the main house.

Loft style cabin.

Adorable Rex

After picking up some groceries, baked good and homemade empanadas (which you must pick up before heading on any of your hikes, many restaurants and cafe carry them), we decided to take advantage of our first day in Chalten by going on a long hike. We decided on Laguna Torre in hopes to seeing the mountains and glaciers since the weather was a bit temperamental. The trail is moderate and easy-going most of the way and we made quick time of it. The last 2km gave us a bit of trouble as the wind and rain picked up drastically. As the wind speeds grew and rocks pelted at our faces, the resistance it created made things very difficult. 

Start of Laguna Torre Hike
A bit overcast but still beautiful!
Once we reached the lake and after a brief ascent, we could see Glacier Lake, cloudy but very beautiful. After going down to the edge of the lake, we then thought to ourselves that it was a huge mistake. We were quickly soaked with water as the wind whipped up the glacial waters towards us, splashing us repeatedly. After trying to capture some photos and drenched in water, we were able to seek shelter behind a fort of rocks probably put there for a reason due to the bipolar weather off the lake. Met two guys hiding out there from the wind and water, both studying aboard from Bueno Aires but originally from D.C. and Arizona. Our time out of the Laguna Torres hike was a bit miserable as we were soaked, freezing and hungry. This entire hike we experienced the four seasons with sun and shedding layers, sleet to raging wind. The hike in total round trip was about 4 to 5 hours total. 

Laguna Torre Hike, Glacier Lake 
Just looks cold!

The hike ended with the loveliest view of El Chalten. We were embracing the views and resting our tired legs upon a rock ledge. After returning from our hike, dinner was in order. One of the towns' best restaurant's and a highly recommended by one from our friend's Mark and Sherry, El Muro was our choice for dinner. We ordered Steak with grilled vegetables and Argentinian stew. Some of the freshest veggies you could eat, perfectly season and grilled. Worth the walk and super filling after our hike. Our evening ended with Gonzalo popping over from the main house of our cabins to chat with us. It was great to finally meet him as we had been exchanging emails regarding our stay for the past year. Very genuine and well spoken, we had a great conversation ranging from topics of marriage, traveling, and life's energy. My kind of conversations! We even found out that another group from Dallas, Texas came in today and were staying in the another cabin. Our stomachs full, our nature fill was achieved and our feet aching...lights out and tomorrow is another day of hiking in El Chalten.

End of the hike and ready for a meal when we head down!
You can see the view of the whole town at the end of the Laguna Torre hike.
Beautiful scenery in El Chalten

Our Patagonian Honeymoon Part 4 - El Calafate Argentina

"It is not how much we have, but how much we enjoy, that makes happiness" - Charles Spurgeon

Day 7 - Patagonia - El Calafate, Argentina  - November 15, 2014

Saying goodbye to the Weskar Lodge and Puerto Natales today. A quick chow down and 6:30am we were out the door. It was rather nice that our hotel arranged to have breakfast ready for travelers getting an early start. Bright and early to catch a cab to the bus terminal where we were going to take our next bus to El Calafate for one day. A shame we wouldn't be there longer than one day, however we were eager to spend a few days in El Chalten.

The bus ride was longer than expected. We were held up at customs at the check point in Argentina for almost 2 hours due to another bus having issues with one of their passengers not having the proper paperwork needed to enter the country. Make sure to purchase your reciprocity fee online prior to traveling to Argentina, as you do need it to enter the country and print the paper that has the confirmation that proves you paid the reciprocity. Computer and internet connections are slow in these regions, when there is a bus check-point more than likely they will not be able to pull it up or have record of it. Each country requires different fees, the U.S. requires $180.  On that note, enjoy a few photos of the Argentinian countryside...

Argentinian Countryside
So green! 
Andes Mountains in the distance...

Arrived into El Calafate two hours behind schedule. So far our opinions is Argentina is a much cleaner place than Chile. El Calafate was a cute town with many colorful buildings nestled with views of flowing landscapes. Felt like we were in a little mountain-town somewhere in Colorado. Downtown was not very large, many of the shops and restaurant in town were along one main street. Walking to our hostel, we noticed there was a city run and celebration going on with many locals gathered around town square. A 15 minute walk and sitting up on a hill overlooking the lake and mountains was our hostel America Del Sur. The check-staff was very friendly! The check-in staff told us we got a really great rate about half the price what most people had paid since we booked off Booking so far out. Winner winner chicken dinner!

Hiking through the town of El Calafate

View from the top of the hill next to our hostel, America Del Sur

Made it!

Common area in America Del Sur Hostel

After a very late lunch, we hired a taxi drive to take us out to Los Glaciares National Park to see the Perito Moreno Glacier. It was about $85 round trip and about an hour and a half each way. The price was better than our hostel arranging a ride for us. They were going to charge us $120. So our suggestion is to go into town and go to the bus station to get a taxi there. Our drive Gabriel did not speak English but we tried our best to converse with him in Spanish during our ride. He was very laid back and had great music. Was a pleasant ride! We were told that the park stopped allowing cars to go in after 6:00pm and had to be headed out of the park by 7:30pm so we were on limited time. We had a good hour of walking around the glacier trails and enjoyed every bit of it. The drive into the park was one of the most memorable on this trip. Switchbacks on the road and wide turns around mountains, Perito Moreno Glacier was at the very end and surprised us out of nowhere. The sight was like none I had seen before. Over 17km of glaciers deep and the only glacier that had not been receding due to global warming. What a glorious sight! Just look at this...

We returned from Perito Moreno around 7:30pm and were ready for some good eats. There were many upscale steak houses in town that came highly recommended but we were looking for something more low key. We decided on La Cantine, an Italian restaurant. The fresh bread was amazing, very aromatic and did we mention bottomless all you can eat. Ordered vegetable soup and a chicken dish which ended up being chicken fried chicken. Originally thought it was pasta but that is what we get for not reading the menu correctly. One thing we were shocked by a service fee as tourist to eat at the restaurant, a first time. A very chilly and crisp evening, we returned to our hostel with a gelato in hand. Very excited to leave to El Chalten, Argentina. The town we were anticipating the entire trip as we heard from some of our friends that it was their favorite stop in Patagonia!