Archive | February, 2012

I Eat Patagonia

There’s no doubt that Argentineans are known for their fine wine and rich food – many of them are italian descendants, so a passion for cuisine is in their blood. But you probably already know about their rump steaks and rib-eye steaks. You might have even had an argentinean tenderloin some time (my personal favorite, by the way).

So, instead of walking you through the numerous eatable parts of a cow, I’ll focus on Patagonia in general, covering both, the Argentinean and Chilean sides. Yes, you read right. Chilean food, although with a more limited international representation, deserves a special mention here. After all, Chile’s long coastline adds a wide range of ocean products to their main ingredients (and hey, sea food is one of my weak points!).

Spider Crab

Spider Crab Ceviche, Ushuaia (Argentina)

Spider crab is a certainly a regional delicacy that you shouldn’t miss out. Restaurants offer them prepared in so many different ways: natural, as a soup, in a salad or even prepared as ceviche (pictured above) where the spider crab is basically cooked by using acidic juice from limes and/or lemons (a must try!).

Although spider crab was on menus all over Patagonia, I believe that one of the top places to go for it was Ushuaia, where it’s freshly brought right from the Beagle Channel. I spotted the above spider crab ceviche above at Restaurante Tante Nina, where they did not only offer a huge variety of fresh sea food, but also a perfect view over the southernmost harbour of the World.

Merluza Negra

The patagonian toothfish is regionally known as merluza negra, which translates literally into black hake. The first time I read it on a menu it caught my attention – I had only known the silver toned hake, how would a black hake look like and most importantly, how does it taste?

The merluza negra can only be found in very cold waters in the southern hemisphere, and can get to become a pretty big lady – up to 2 meters long! I’m no fish expert, but I do recognize a good fish when I try it, and this patagonian treat, in my opinion, is much more savory than other sea products (maybe it’s because of its fat layer between skin and flesh?).

Cordero Fueguino and Cordero Patagónico

Cordero Fueguino, Patagonia

Asadores are everywhere in Patagonia, but instead of highlighting their beef products, they focus on their regional lamb – the cordero fueguino and cordero patagónico. The cordero patagónico has a unique flavor because of the sheeps’ diet of regional mixed herbs and grasses (particularly a type of grass called coirones). This, together with a delicious chimichurri sauce made of hot peppers, garlic, vinegar, oil and mixed herbs makes the perfect meal after a rough day of hiking.

Dulce de Leche

Brownie with Dulce de Leche

Alfajor with Dulce de Leche

Flan with Dulce de Leche

Ok, so before you attack me on this one – yes, Dulce de Leche is not originally from Patagonia. It might not even be Argentinean! But although the origin of Dulce de Leche is uncertain, there’s no doubt about Argentina being the world leader of its production and consumption, and Patagonia was no exception. This sweet paste was a key ingredient to any dessert – it filled home-made alfajores, it topped a chocolate brownie and accompanied a simple flan.

Calafate

Calafate Berry in Patagonia

This was a failed attempt of adjusting my camera’s focus to the calafate berry, manually. Mental Note: Learn how to use DSLR camera before the next big trip.

It’s very easy to come across it when hiking anywhere in Patagonia. When the fruit is mature, it adopts a dark color blue-violet color, similar to the one of blueberries, and can be eaten right away from the bush! In my opinion, they tastes like a mix of blueberries and raspberries and are used to make multiple products: from jams and cakes to beer – yes! there’s a chilean ale called Cerveza Austral that is made with these berries. A must try!

A legend tells that anyone who eats the Calafate berry, will certainly return to Patagonia – I really hope this is true.

Have you ever tried any of these dishes? Which is your favorite?

Photo Essay: Hiking Valle del Frances, Torres del Paine (Chile)

Hiking Valle Frances, Torres del Paine, Chile

Hiking aficionados will, sooner or later, come across The W Trek in Torres del Paine National Park – one of the most popular treks in Chile. This 5 day trek covers most of the park’s highlights including, among others, the Valle del Francés, which is often rated as the best landscape in the park.

I’d like to say that I did the complete W Trek – but I didn’t.

Instead, we stayed at one of the few hotels in the area and took day excursion to explore the different branches of the Trek. Was I lazy? Maybe – but I couldn’t really consider it part of my annual vacation leave if I had to return to the office with a damaged back, right?

Valle del Francés (or Frenchman´s Valley) is the central spike of the W, starting at Lago Pehoe towards the north east. Soon after departing from the Refugio Paine Grande, which was conveniently located next to the lakeshore, we could already admire the majestic Cuernos del Paine in front of us.

Hiking Valle Frances, Torres del Paine, Chile

After an almost leisurely walk with easy paths and only minor ups and downs, we reached a suspension bridge over Río Francés. Even though this bridge was not as impressive in height and length as the one I crossed over the Massa River in Switzerland, the view over the raging river, the mountains and glacier definitely made up for that bit.

When crossing the bridge, we could get a 360º View over many of the park’s attractions: turquoise blue lakes to the right, the Cuernos del Paine to the front, Glaciar Francés to the left and Paine Grande to the back.

Waking up at 6:30am already became worth it!

Hiking Valle Frances, Torres del Paine, Chile

Once on the other side, we arrived at the Campamento Italiano, a simple (but therefore free of charge!) campsite in the park. From here on, day hikers are advised to continue up north as much as they want (there’s meant to be a beautiful viewpoint another 2 hours away from this point), always keeping in mind the departure of the last ferry back to the other side of Lake Pehoe.

Since our group was mixed in age and level of fitness, we all decided to continue up the river for another 20 minutes and find an exclusive spot to enjoy our lunch with a first class view of Glaciar Francés and take our time to explore the area.

Hiking Valle Frances, Torres del Paine, Chile

The view over the fast-flowing river and the Glaciar Francés.

Hiking Valle Frances, Torres del Paine, Chile

A bumblebee next to the French River

Hiking Valle Frances, Torres del Paine, Chile

Cuernos del Paine in the background

We wanted to postpone our time to return as much as possible – It just felt too good to sit on a warm flat stone, getting some color on our skins while cooling down our feet in glacial water. However, when the time had come to catch the last ferry of the day, we were surprised by a breathtaking view of Lake Pehoe (no Photoshop for this one, I swear!).

Hiking Valle Frances, Torres del Paine, Chile

Practical Information

Route: From Refugio Paine Grande (Lake Pehoe) to some point before Refugio Británico (Chile) – circular
Elevation gain uphill: 516m
Elevation gain downhill: 516m
Length: 19.6 km
Duration: 4 – 5 hrs
Difficulty: Easy
Wikiloc: Ok, so I didn’t find a wikiloc for this route exactly, but it might help to check out this guy who did the complete W circuit for reference.

Torres del Paine: A Photographic Introduction

Shortly after waving goodbye to a colony of Magellanic penguins on Isla Magdalena, we arrived at our last stop: Punta Arenas. From there, a mere 5 and a half hours ride took us into one of the World’s most impressive landscapes: the Torres del Paine National Park.

Torres del Paine National Park is takes it name from three impressive granite towers (torres) that, together with the horns (cuernos), rise more than 3,000 meters above the Patagonian steppe. It’s beauty and uniqueness was officially recognized in 1975, when it was declared World Biosphere Reserve by UNESCO.

What makes this place so special?

The Mountains

Mountains in Torres del Paine, Chile

Those of you who know me, know that I love mountainous landscapes., which is a bit unusual from someone who’s spent her teens in a bikini.

That Torres del Paine National Park is considered a paradise for hikers and climbers and overall mountaineers was no surprise – its many valleys and peaks form a fantastic playground for any adventurer seeking for unspoiled allure!

I took the above picture of one of the Cuernos del Paine while hiking in Valle Francés.

The Lakes

Lake in Torres del Paine, Chile

Although I had spent two years living next to a beautiful lake in Switzerland, I held my breath as I saw the shades of blue of the lakes in the park.

Shouldn’t this color belong in the Caribbean?

I took this picture was taken from Puente Weber, overlooking Rio Paine and the Paine Massif.

The Flora

Flowers in Torres del Paine, Chile

The best months to travel to Torres del Paine is between October and April – not only because of the milder temperatures and longer hours of sunlight, but to appreciate the diverse flora that colors the ground of the park.

I soon learned that looking down can be as rewarding as looking up!

The picture above is of a bed of lupins, one of the iconic wildflowers in the Andean region in Patagonia.

The Waterfalls

Waterfall in Torres del Paine, Chile

The Park has two waterfalls – Salto Grande (pictured above) and Cascada del Rio Paine, which exhibit very different attractions. Salto Grande caught my eye due to the tremendous power used to drain the water from Lake Nordenskjöld to Lake Pehoé. Cascada del Rio Paine, although less powerful, had a perfect setting – in front of the dramatic Torres.

Although one can get closer to Salto Grande by walking down a few steps, I am certain that the best view was from the top of the Mirador, from where I shot this photograph.

The Fauna

Eagle in Torres del Paine, Chile

Torres del Paine is the perfect place for those, like me, enjoy getting closer to the regional wildlife. During my time in the park, I walked with guanacos and ñandús (darwin’s rhea), spotted a family of cute grey foxes, flamingos, condors and this majestic eagle – just to name a few!

I spotted this eagle during our lunch break, close to Lago Azul.

The Glaciers

Glaciers in Torres del Paine, Chile

The region we now know as Patagonia is said to have been once covered under a thick volume of ice. Millions of years have passed and still we find hundreds of (smaller) moving bodies of ice. Glaciar Grey is probably the most famous of the park’s glaciers, attracting a considerable number of tourists each year that want to experience ice trekking or get a closer look to the walls of ice from one of cruises. The large pieces that fall off the glacier slowly drift towards the stone beach, creating what is commonly known as a Cementerio de Tempanos (ice floes cementery).

In the picture: Lake Grey with a big ice floe and in the Grey Glacier in the background.

Photo Essay: 120,000 Penguins and Me

Isla Magdalena, Chile

Penguins are simply adorable, aren’t they?

Before disembarking at a floating dock on Isla Magdalena (Chile), I had only watched them behind a glass in the Zoo, where a couple of dozens occupied the fake islands and saw their days pass by staring to each other and, from time to time, having a short dive into the water.

The Magellanic penguins on Isla Magdalena had nothing to do with the picture I had from the Zoo. thousands of penguins were waddling down the hills towards the sea to go and catch lunch for their family, while their partners took care of their furry chicks. Some of them wandered in groups of friends, while others stood by them selves calling out for their life partners.

Isla Magdalena, Chile

Yes, that’s right. Penguins mate for life.

Not only are they loyal, but build a relationship based on teamwork – they build their nest together and then make shifts on catching fish and raising their chicks. Year after year, male penguins search for their female partners, who recognize them through the male’s calls. I spotted a few of them hoping to reconnect with their beloved ones!

Isla Magdalena, Chile

Isla Magdalena, Chile

Isla Magdalena is not as easy to access as the smaller colony in Seno Otway, about an hour drive from Punta Arenas.

Despite receiving far less visitors than Otway, the birds were curious about us – some of them even seemed to enjoyed standing in front of a camera!

Isla Magdalena, Chile

Isla Magdalena, Chile

Although our visit was short – about an hour on land -, the visit is most definitely worth it! I managed to use up my camera’s battery, but returned with at least 60 unique postcards.

I could have stayed the whole day watching them.

Isla Magdalena, Chile