It’s our last day in Argentina, folks! Mike and I had an evening flight back to New York which gave us most of the day to do some last-minute sightseeing. I was excited because it was a Saturday, and Casa Rosada, the presidential palace, is open for tours on the weekends. I made reservations online for the 12:30PM English tour, giving us plenty of time to wake up, get ourselves organized and checked out, and walk over for the tour.

Casa Rosada. We got to make a grand entrance right through the front gate and archway.

We arrived a little early, found the line for our tour, and were chatting to pass the time when the guy in front of us struck up a conversation. This is one of the great joys of traveling – meeting new people in the most random of places. Sometimes you hit it off and become fast friends. Other times… well… you’ll see.

“You two look Argentinian! Why are you in this line?” he asked. I blinked at him. He was asking why we were in the line for an English tour instead of a Spanish one. This, to me, seemed like an unnecessary question because 1. our presence in the English line would imply that we were more comfortable speaking English, and 2. we were literally speaking English to each other before he started talking to us.

Mike, thank goodness, pulled himself together before I did. “Regardless of if we look Argentinian, we aren’t, so we aren’t fluent Spanish speakers.” The guy asked a few more questions, and it eventually came up that we’re Armenian… at which point he said that he was too and asked if he could take a picture of us. OF us, not WITH us. Okay. Weird. After that, they started filtering people through security, and we reconvened inside the building as we waited for our guide and for everyone to get checked in.

The ceiling of the entry area where we waited to meet our guide.

The guy from the line tracked us down again and asked Mike to take a picture of him. Mike asked where he wanted it or if there was something in particular that he wanted in the background. He said, “Oh, no. Maybe just over here with your beautiful wife.” Umm, WHAT?

“Oh my gosh, NO!” I said in horror. “We are NOT married. He’s my BROTHER!” I think some people around us started laughing. I was not laughing. Maybe I overreacted, but this is such a pet peeve of mine. Also, what a weird thing, to request a picture with someone else’s wife??

The guy’s only response, I suppose in place of an apology, was, “Well, all Armenians look the same,” which is a silly thing to say, especially considering he thought we were Argentinian just a few seconds ago. I gave him an incredulous look and was saved from having to respond by the appearance of our tour guide.

The moral of this story is, sometimes, it’s better not to say what you’re thinking. And just because a man and woman are traveling together doesn’t mean that they’re married or even dating. And just because you think someone looks Argentinian doesn’t mean they speak Spanish. And also, what does an Argentinian even look like? Ugh. I’m going to stop before I work myself into a fury.

Admire this floor while I attempt to pull myself back together. There’s nothing like a nice floor to calm me down, ya know?

The Casa Rosada, or pink house, is only “home” to the presidential offices. The president’s actual house is outside of the city, about half an hour away in the suburbs. The fastest way to commute is by helicopter, so obviously that’s how it’s done because heaven forbid that the president should have to sit in traffic.

Anyway, the palace was built on the site of an old Spanish fort, used by the viceroys during the colonial days. After independence, it was chosen as the seat of the executive branch. You might be wondering why it’s pink… why, oxblood, of course! An oxblood/lime/who-knows-what-else mix was applied to the exterior for waterproofing purposes.

If you look closely, you’ll notice that the two sides of the building aren’t symmetrical. This is because it started as two buildings, the Central Post Office on the right and the old Government Palace on the left. Tamburini, one of the original architects of the Teatro Colón, designed a central archway to join the two buildings together in 1890.

Spot the differences!

My personal opinion of the building itself was that it doesn’t quite live up to its potential. There are some cool elements, but the interior decor is erratic. It doesn’t feel like there’s a cohesive design, and maybe there actually isn’t. We learned that when a new president comes into power, they can redesign the interior spaces. They just can’t touch the facade. I don’t know. It just wasn’t my favorite.

A potential contributing factor to my opinion was that the tour itself was incredibly boring. It didn’t have to be, but the guide had no concept of storytelling or determining which facts are interesting and which are unnecessary. Mike entertained himself by pointing out terrible lighting and poorly hidden cabling and laughing at my reactions because he knows how much that stuff bothers me. It’s just… if you’re doing work to update a historic building, you can’t just run exposed cables all over the place! Come on, people! At least TRY to conceal them!

Here are some interior pictures. What do you think about the decor choices?

A meeting room. Looks like they could use a bigger TV. I mean, come on. What is that? A 50″?
I liked this wood detail around the tops of the walls.
A painting of Juan and Eva Perón.
This balcony, with its view out to the Plaza de Mayo, has been used for many famous speeches in Argentina’s history. Eva Perón made her final speech from here during a workers’ rally (she died a few months later).
The balcony has a pretty fab view of the Plaza de Mayo.
Another conference room. And seriously, that TV is way too small. Do people sit at that table with the chairs so close to one another?
Really, the whole building is just a bunch of huge rooms with tables and chairs. I guess it is basically just a palatial office building but like… how many conference rooms do you need? (Also, look at that ceiling!)
Stained glass along a corridor
Here’s a better view of that conference room ceiling. Fancy!
Honestly, this little courtyard was probably my favorite part of the whole building. It’s the only part that didn’t feel overdone.
And also, this hallway.
This is the White Hall where the president is sworn in. It’s also used for press conferences and other important events.
The ceiling paintings commemorate the May Revolution and the Declaration of Independence.
The room is pretty epic, but the lighting is so distracting that it makes it hard to really focus on the details. That chandelier has 456 lamps, and all of them are 100x brighter than they should be. My gosh. It’s like the sun… Don’t look straight at it or you might go blind.
Try to ignore the glarey lights and focus on some of the other details which, while completely overpowered by the lighting, are quite nice.
The floors are also fantastic in this room. It’s more Croatian wood (like the wood floors in the Teatro Colón).
This is one of the staircases, the “France” Stairway. The tapestry on the wall was a gift from the French government for the 100th anniversary of the May Revolution.
The Hall of Honor is full of busts of former presidents. It also has a very intense ceiling and very bright lighting.
This is the presidential elevator which seems like overkill for a 2-story building. Maybe it’s 3-stories in some parts? But the president’s office is on the second floor which means that there’s a ridiculously plush bench in that elevator so that you don’t have to stand for the 5-second ride up/down ONE floor.
One more picture of a nice hallway for good measure.

After the tour, Mike and I hopped onto a bus and headed for La Boca, a southern neighborhood of Buenos Aires famous for the brightly colored buildings on its most famous street, El Caminito. In the 19th century, there was an influx of Italian immigrants from Genoa who settled in La Boca. It was a shantytown, overcrowded and dirty, and came into its colorful existence when the residents used whatever paint they could find to brighten up their dwellings. Now, it’s taken on a more touristy vibe, but it still has a certain charm and is filled with vendors selling artwork and handcrafts.

On the approach. Lots of knick-knacks and souvenirs.
El Caminito
In one of the side shops. The colors were almost as blindingly bright as a Casa Rosada chandelier.
Bright! Bright! Bright!
Cool paintings

Even the school is in on the fun!
Walkway by the water
Already melting (but still delicious) ice cream.

We didn’t have a ton of time to spend exploring, but we managed to stroll El Caminito a few times, eat some ice cream, and walk around the neighboring streets. From there, we headed back to the hostel, picked up our bags, and took a cab to the airport.

Whew! Can you believe it? We’re finally finished talking about Argentina!

Coming up next… get ready for some more recent escapades! We’re headed right back to where we left off in Peru, with me on the way to the airport to meet my parents for 10 days of Peruvian adventures!

Welcome back to the world’s longest day! I’ve already talked about our morning of wandering and visiting Recoleta Cemetery and our tour of Teatro Colón. When we left the theater, it was only 1:30PM! We grabbed some lunch before heading to our next activity, a city tour. Since I’ve already shared a lot of the things we learned on the tour, between the Argentina History posts and other tidbits here and there, I’m going to take you on my own little city tour. And so, welcome to Lara’s “Random Buenos Aires” Tour!

Let’s back up a little and start our tour at lunch. Mike and I went to Galerías Pacífico to eat, which sounds like it could be a very fancy restaurant but is actually just a very fancy shopping center with a food court. I wanted to go for the architectural experience. Mike wanted to go for the food. How fortunate that, in this case, our interests so easily converged! It doesn’t always happen like that.

Galerías Pacífico was built in 1889 to house a world-class department store, home to the latest international fashions. It was completed just in time for the 1890 economic downturn, and the store never opened. In the following years, the space housed the National Museum of Fine Art, offices for a railway company, and a hotel before being transformed into the current shopping center in 1992 (not-so-fun fact: the basement was also used to hold and torture people during the last military dictatorship).

In 1946, five Argentinian artists were hired to paint murals on the ceiling in the central dome. It’s interesting to see how the varying styles of each artist come through in the different panels!

The many faces of the Galerias Pacifico ceiling…
They did coordinate at least slightly, so the general theme and color schemes are similar.
But it is cool to see how the different artists’ styles come through.

While Galerias Pacifico is one of the most popular, Buenos Aires has no shortage of beautiful shopping areas. Mike and I also randomly wandered through Galería Güemes, probably while seeking respite from the heat and humidity. It was completed in 1915 and is much smaller than Galerías Pacífico, but the art nouveau architecture (and air conditioning) made it more than worth a walkthrough. You can also go up to the 14th floor for an inexpensive view of the city, but I had no idea about that at the time because that’s what happens when you don’t plan ahead!

Galería Güemes. Loving that fancy dome!
Mercado San Telmo. Check out that roof structure!

On a less high-end note, I immediately fell in love with the interior of Mercado San Telmo, a market. It’s bright and airy inside, and the metal structure gives it some real personality. It was built in 1897 and hasn’t changed much since. The stalls inside sell everything from food and produce to knick-knacks, souvenirs, and antiques. On Sundays, there’s a big flea market in the nearby streets and plaza, but we, unfortunately, weren’t in town to experience that chaos. Instead, we had to settle for walking through at midday during the week. Honestly, that was fine with me. I’m not one for flea markets, and it was nice and empty which made wandering with my eyes glued to the ceiling less hazardous.

Now, let’s fly across town to the Palacio del Congreso (Palace of Congress), the seat of Argentina’s parliament. If you know anything about the structure of the United States government, you won’t have trouble understanding Argentina’s. It’s divided into three branches: executive (President), legislative (Congress), and judicial (Supreme Court). The legislative branch is composed of two bodies: the Senate and the Chamber of Deputies. Each province is represented by three senators (6-year terms) and is allocated deputies by population (4-year terms).

The organizational structure of the legislative branch isn’t the only thing taking hints from the U.S. Does this building look like another building you may have seen before? (Attempt to see past the monument that’s obstructing your view.)

Palacio del Congreso with the Monumento a Los Dos Congresos (Monument to the Two Congresses) in front.

If you said, “the U.S. Capitol Building”, give yourself a pat on the back. The two buildings have a very similar form, but the architect, Vittorio Meano, still managed to give it a style of its own. Meano was also one of the original two Italian architects who I mentioned were involved with Teatro Colón. Unfortunately, he didn’t get to see the completion of either because side story: he was murdered by his wife’s lover when he discovered their affair. Eek.

Construction began in 1896, and the building was inaugurated in 1906… but it wasn’t fully completed until 1946. Whew! There was a lot of time-consuming ornamental work, so even though it wasn’t technically ‘finished’, it was occupied before then. The building is mostly marble and granite with an 80m tall bronze-plated dome, and it faces a large, grassy plaza, Plaza del Congreso.

This massive tree is in the Plaza del Congreso. I think it’s a gomero tree, or rubber fig tree. Whatever it is, it’s crazy!
One of the 20-some casts of “The Thinker” made during Rodin’s life can be found in the Plaza del Congreso. It’s surrounded by a fence and sits on a tall podium to protect it from being defaced during protests (apparently it’s happened before).
Palacio Barolo, looking especially tall from this awkward angle.

Only a few blocks from the plaza, there’s one building that towers over its surroundings. Standing 100m tall, Palacio Barolo had to get special permission to exceed the height ordinances when it was built in 1923. Why 100m? To maximize the rentable office space on the site? Silly, of course not! The building is an architectural tribute to the Divine Comedy, a 14th-century narrative poem about Dante’s (the author’s) journey through the afterlife. It’s a prized piece of Italian literature, and the Italian owner and architect turned their passion for Dante into a hulking reinforced-concrete building. Talk about superfans!

The design is completely over-the-top, but it’s a fascinating concept, translating literature into architecture. This is another “maybe someday I’ll go on a tour” building (but they’re not cheap, so it might have to wait until I have an actual income) and then I’ll write a whole post on it. For now, just the basics: The architect pulled various numbers and concepts from the work and translated them into architectural elements. The 100m height corresponds to the 100 “cantos”, or songs, that compose the poem. There are 22 floors for the 22 stanzas in each song, and as you move up the building, you travel with Dante through hell, purgatory, and heaven. The interior is filled with quotes and other decorative details based on elements from the poem. At the very top, there’s a lighthouse that was meant to communicate with its fraternal building twin, Palacio Salvo, located in Uruguay. It was designed by the same architect with a similar style and lighthouse on top… but without the insane Divine Comedy connection.

Random interesting building

Okay, back to the government buildings! We’ve covered the legislative branch, and now it’s time for the judicial. The Palacio de Justicia (Palace of Justice) is home to the country’s Supreme Court. I actually didn’t know what it was when we walked by, but I thought that it looked like a fancy/important building, so I took a picture and looked it up later. Designed by a French architect, it’s not as heavy on the ornamentation as the Palacio del Congreso, which allows the symmetry and simple geometry of the building to stand out. It definitely caught my eye! Also, it’s a little intimidating which seems right for a justice building.

Palacio de Justicia
The plaza in front of the Palacio de Justicia is dedicated to this guy, Juan Lavalle (at the top of the column). He was part of the army that crossed the Andes to help liberate Chile and Peru. He also led a coup at one point (geez, is there anyone who DIDN’T lead a coup?) and only managed to hold on to power for a year before he was forced to resign. Fun fact: his bones are buried in Recoleta Cemetery. Yes, just his bones. He was killed in a time of conflict, and his followers fled with his body to prevent it from being desecrated. They boiled it to separate the flesh from the bones, buried the flesh in an unmarked grave, and took the bones with them. Ew.
La Casa Mínima is the skinniest house in the city, at only 8.2 feet (2.5 meters) wide. It was part of a much larger house that was poorly divided up over time, creating a bunch of reasonably sized houses to its sides and one super skinny house in the middle. Um… has anyone ever heard of planning??

Finally, the executive branch. Sitting on the Plaza de Mayo is Casa Rosada, the President’s house. It actually faces the Palacio del Congreso, which is a little over a mile away, a reminder that power is shared with the people (a reminder that didn’t seem to do much for the military dictators of the 1900s). The Plaza de Mayo is named in honor of the May Revolution which, if you remember from our history lessons, launched the Argentinian War of Independence against Spain. Aside from the President’s house, the plaza is surrounded by other important buildings like the Buenos Aires City Hall, the Cabildo (the colonial town council building), and Catedral Metropolitana, the National Cathedral.

Plaza de Mayo. The white pyramid/obelisk in the distant middle is the “Pirámide de Mayo”, commissioned in 1811 to celebrate the 1-year anniversary of the May Revolution. This was Argentina’s first national monument. The figure at the top represents Liberty.
Casa Rosada, the President’s house
The Ministry of Modernization of the Nation… I just took a picture because I thought it was a nice building.

The cathedral is the main Catholic church in the city, and the first iteration was built on the site in the 1500s. After building a series of collapsing churches (I assume not intentionally, but there seems to be a theme), the current building finally came to be, albeit very slowly. It was started in the mid-1700s as the EIGHTH iteration of the church, and construction went on for about 100 years which seems to be about par for the course (or even kind of fast) when it comes to building grand cathedrals.

Catedral Metropolitana. From the outside, it looks more like an ancient Greek temple than a church.
Looking down the central nave of Catedral Metropolitana.
More Venetian-style mosaic floors! I’m not mad…
One of the side aisles
Walking home

After our tour, Mike and I walked back to our hostel via the waterfront, rather than taking a more direct route. This part of the city was once a port, used for storing goods, but as ships got bigger, a new port was built and the old fell into disuse. In the 1990s, it started being re-developed and became an official neighborhood of Buenos Aires. There’s a walkway along the waterfront that we took on the way home, and it was nice to get away from the more crowded city center for a bit!

The Puente de la Mujer (Woman’s Bridge) links the main part of the city with the new neighborhood, Puerto Madero. All of the streets in the neighborhood are named after women, hence the name of the bridge. Rather than lifting up, like a drawbridge, to allow boats to pass, a portion of the bridge pivots 90 degrees! Pretty cool!

We had only a short time to relax after getting back to our room because we had dinner plans! Our dad works for a big, international company, and one of the people he sometimes works with is based in Buenos Aires! She’s around my age, and after some back and forth where she gave us suggestions for things to see and some general tips for traveling in Argentina, we made plans to get dinner together while we were in the city!

She came to pick us up, and on the ride to the restaurant, Mike and I realized for the first time that she and our dad have never actually met in person! We thought that was hilarious, that we were meeting her before he did. It ended up being a ton of fun! She brought along another friend from work, and they did the ordering, determined to give us an authentic experience. They made sure to get some “normal” things like steak and French fries, plus a couple of classics: cow gland and intestine. Mike took on the responsibility of taste tester. He reported that the gland tasted like “less strong bacon” and assured me that I would survive tasting it. Be proud of me… I did it! And decided that his taste description was spot on, but the texture was a ‘no’ for me. Who wants less strong bacon, anyway? The intestine was less positively received. Mike described the texture as “crusty balloon filled with sandy glue”. The others took a moment to think about it and said, “Yeah, that’s actually a pretty good description.” I passed on that one.

Me, Dad’s friend, her friend, and Mike

We got ice cream after dinner, grabbed a beer (well, except for me), and then headed home once everyone’s eyes started to cross from sleepiness. Our new friend was nice enough to drive us back to the hostel, and I collapsed into bed. When I was like 90% asleep, Mike goes, “That intestine tasted HORRIBLE.” I mustered the energy for a weak, “Okay,” and then I was gone. Sorry, Mike! I laughed about it the next morning, at least.

The flavor of my ice cream was “double chocolate with chocolate”. I didn’t understand what that meant at first, but how can you go wrong with a name like that?? And mystery solved: it’s two chocolate layers around chocolate ice cream. Good choice.
Hehehe. Mike found these burgers at the grocery store and was impressed with their marketing. Who wouldn’t want to try a Barfy burger?

We left off last time as Mike and I were headed to Teatro Colón, the national opera house, for a tour. In case you didn’t know, I have a theater/opera house obsession… and while I mostly mean the actual buildings, I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t also a fan of the shows. My preference is to go to a performance and just creep around admiring the building before and after the show/during intermission, but we were, unfortunately, in town during the performance off-season. So, our only option for seeing the building interior was a tour which, thanks to the fluctuating exchange rate, had a surprise price of $21ish. Eek! That’s a little steep for my preferences, but it was really the only attraction we were paying for, and to me, it was worth it.

Teatro Colón’s French Renaissance-style facade.

We showed up a few minutes early, and I used the time to scope out the other tour attendees. The tour group demographics were approximately 90% people over the age of 60, 9% ages 40-60… and 1% us. I thought it was funny. I think Mike saw it as proof that we should have been anywhere else but there.

All I can say is, those people know what’s up. The tour was fabulous! And the theater, well, there’s a reason why it’s considered one of the best in the world. As usual, though, I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s start from the beginning…

The first Teatro Colón, or Columbus Theater (as in, Christopher), was built in 1857 near the Plaza de Mayo. In 1888, the original theater was closed, and a new one was built, finally completed in 1908 during the city’s golden age. Its construction brought the best of the best to Buenos Aires: architects and craftsmen from Italy, marble from Portugal and across Italy, stained glass from Paris, and mosaics from Venice. The builders worked 16-hour days which sounds brutal, and even so, it took nearly 20 years to be completed. The tessellated floors alone took 2 YEARS. Part of the reason for the long timeline was financial, and part was because the two original architects, both Italians, died during the process and had to be replaced. A Belgian architect was brought on to finish the work, and the result is a mix of Italian and French styles. In today’s money, the estimated cost is $300 million USD.

French with a side of Italian. Whatever it is, it’s awesome.
Hellooo, stained glass from Paris! Looking up in the entry area.
I mean, you look at the floors and can totally understand how they took two years to finish.
It’s a little funny that they have carpets to keep the nice floors from getting ruined by people walking on them… but don’t floors exist to be walked on?

We only visited a few spaces in the HUGE building which is even larger than it appears as two-thirds of it are underground, both beneath the actual building and the surrounding squares. The theater produces everything necessary to put on a show, using its underground workshops for costumes, sets, lighting technology, mechanical special effects, makeup, hairstyling, props, etc. Like I said, EVERYTHING. The underground area also includes rehearsal rooms, offices, and other support spaces. A full-sized practice stage is located beneath the performance stage. Altogether, the theater employs 1,500 people, from performers to technicians to designers and more.

The tour started in the main entry area where the guide explained that builders were brought from Italy specifically for this project. I had just been looking around in awe at the impressive craftsmanship… so that made perfect sense. He said that during the first wave of immigration, 40% of the immigrants were from Italy. These Italian-Argentinians played a huge role in the history of the theater (and the development of the Argentinian “Castellano” dialect).

Walking up the stairs to the second floor

From there, we headed upstairs where the guide pointed out one of the tricks they used to keep costs down. There’s a lot of marble in the building – yellow from Sienna, red from Verona, and white from Carrara, Italy, and pink from Portugal – but there are also places where stucco was masterfully painted to LOOK like marble. It’s amazingly hard to see the difference, a testament to the skill of the painters, but as soon as you touch the two surfaces, there’s no question. The marble, since it’s actual stone, is much cooler to the touch and has a texture, unlike the stucco which feels smooth. Absolutely amazing, though, that they were able to recreate the appearance of marble so faithfully!

The green is real marble, and the white is painted!
On the second floor, looking towards the open air above the entry area.

Just above the entrance is the “Golden Hall”. I bet you’ll never guess the reason for the name…

I know some people think this is too much, but I love it. Come on… it’s incredible!

Inspired by the opulence of Versailles (the French palace), the space was originally a social area for the elite. Now, it’s used mostly for lectures, exhibitions, and chamber music concerts, usually with free admission. The gold leaf is partly real. This is kind of funny… starting from 3 meters above ground, it’s real 24-carat gold. Below that, it’s just painted to look like gold leaf. Another cost-saving measure, I presume?

They could have plucked this room right out of Versailles.
It’s not even fair that other rooms have to exist in the same world with this one.

The chandeliers, unlike so many other parts of the building, were actually made in South America. They each weigh half a ton and have 200 lights! I believe it. Could they BE more blinding? The paintings in the room are painted on canvas and attached to the walls/ceiling, and the wood floors (which you can see peeking out past the edges of the carpet) were imported from Croatia.

Never been happier. 
THERE ARE NO WORDS.

Recently, a big restoration project was completed, making major structural and technological improvements to the building. Some cosmetic restoration was also completed, like in the Golden Hall where workers tackled 100 years of damage to the room and furniture from smoking and pollution. A few areas were left uncleaned to show the difference, and my gosh, if those spots aren’t convincing enough reasons not to smoke, I don’t know what would be.

Can you see the spot left uncleaned? It’s only mildly horrifying…
There’s a stripe left in the molding to show the previous state. Geez! The room is so vibrant now. I can’t picture how drab and dreary it must have been with those grey walls and blackened gold leaf.
Just a few more pictures so that you can appreciate how clean and shiny this room is…
I personally think the chandeliers are a bit much (brightness-wise, not decoratively), but that doesn’t change the fact that I’m obsessed with this room.
I just… I just… I want it.

And, heading towards the auditorium…

Again, I have some opinions about the lighting… but the space is just unreal.
Opposite the Golden Hall is a bust gallery that immortalizes famous composers. These three are Bellini, Gonoud, and Rossini.
They aren’t particularly well-placed for a clear view… but hey, Mozart!
Skylight in the bust gallery.
Okay, it was totally worth importing the stained glass from Paris.

Finally, we got to see the auditorium. It’s the largest in Latin America with a capacity of 2,700 people (300 standing room). Around the main seating area, there are three tiers of boxes and then four more levels of balcony seating. There are also boxes right next to the stage, and looking at them, I wondered why you’d ever want to sit there because the view angle must be terrible. The guide explained that while they do have the worst view of the stage, they are in perfect view of the rest of the audience. Leaders used to sit in these boxes because the most important thing was to be seen, not to actually watch the show. Since those times, the presidential box has been moved to the first level, smack dab in the center with one of the best views in the house.

The stage. Check out the terrible angle of view from those boxes by the stage.
Okay, and now get ready for a bunch of pictures that are basically the same but also fabulous.

Again, we learned about how much was happening out of view. The stage area is actually bigger than the auditorium, with prep areas and lifts to the sides and back to store and transport sets and materials as needed to support the performances. It also is 48m tall (155’) which is the entire height of the above-ground building to allow space for the stage lights. The seating area, in contrast, is only 28m tall (90’).

In the auditorium, there are still more hidden surprises. The ceiling sports a painted dome and low-profile chandelier designed to keep from obscuring anyone’s view of the stage. The dome paintings depict life in the opera house. The chandelier has 848 lights (according to the guide. I guess we wouldn’t want to lie and round up to 850) and weighs 1.5 tons. Geez! But the craziest thing is that musicians or singers can actually hide in the ceiling behind the chandelier! There is space for 15 people, and they use it for any sound effects that come from the sky.

It’s such a satisfying ceiling, isn’t it??

Acoustically, the auditorium is ranked in the top 5 best in the world. It was designed with an awareness of acoustic principles, and the horseshoe-shaped space, as well as the material choices, contribute to its success (the lower balconies use softer materials like fabric and wood to absorb sound, while the upper ones are more reflective with harder materials like marble). There’s also a resonance chamber beneath the seats, created by building a second “floor” two meters below the audience. The 84-person orchestra pit can sit at audience level or be lowered two meters to align with the chamber, sending sound through the space and out into the audience via “vents” under the rows of seats.

The middle box on the first level (above those golden columns) is now the presidential box. Much better for watching the productions than those stage boxes!
It’s so fancy that it doesn’t even look real. But I promise that this is actually how it looked. It’s not some photo-editing magic. I think the “unreal” quality has to do with the lighting.

The theater got a big boost during Marcelo Torcuato de Alvear’s presidency. Remember him? During our mini-tour of Recoleta Cemetery, I briefly mentioned that an Alvear, grandson of General Alvear, served as one of Argentina’s presidents. He also fell in love with a singer, Regina Pacini. Alvear followed her as she performed around Europe, asking her repeatedly to go out with him. Regina refused him time and time again until one night when he bought all of the tickets for her performance, and she went out to dinner with him instead of performing that night.

They fell in love, but she wasn’t willing to give up her career right away. She kept working for five more years, and he followed wherever she went to perform. After the five years, she moved to Argentina, and they got married.

Thanks to Regina’s love of the theater, Alvear paid extra attention to the arts during his time as president. He was responsible for integrating performers into the full-time staff of the theater, whereas it had previously relied on hiring foreign opera, ballet, and choir companies during the season (possible because the summer recess in the northern hemisphere coincided with the winter performance season in the southern). This led to the creation of the Instituto Superior de Arte within the theater, a performance school to train singers and dancers for opera and ballet.

So, you see, the theater really DOES create everything needed for its productions: the sets, the costumes, and even the performers, thanks to the institute. If you’re ever in Buenos Aires and have the chance to go to a show here, GO! And, preferably, bring me with you. Between this and wanting to visit the Museum of Water and Sanitary History, I really don’t think I have any choice. It is imperative that I go back to Argentina! Oh, darn…

I know I already had a picture of the ceiling… but it seems like a phenomenal note to end on, doesn’t it?

Instead of spending another day aimlessly wandering the city, like on our first day in Buenos Aires, we attempted to formulate a plan to make the most of our only full day in the city. The ongoing Lara-and-Mike travel struggle is that, outside of hiking, we have completely different interests. Mike doesn’t understand the point of visiting cities because “What do you do on vacation in a city?” Um… More like WHAT DO I DO WITH THIS QUESTION, MIKE? You go to museums and look at the buildings and walk around and eat ice cream and experience the culture… but the only thing on that list that Mike’s mildly interested in is ice cream (though he’ll say he doesn’t really eat sweets. Get outta here with that), so I’m not quite sure what to do. His input is generally, “I don’t care,” which is not helpful. I try to end up with an itinerary of a few things I hope he won’t totally hate, plus a few that he will but, oh well, because I really want to do them.

We planned to go on an 11AM tour of Recoleta Cemetery and built the rest of our plans around that, picking out some stops to make along the walk there. First, we went to the national theater, Teatro Colón, to get tour tickets for later in the day (a “Lara really wants to do this” activity, in case you couldn’t guess). From there, we did a walk-by of El Palacio de Aguas Corrientes (literally “The Palace of Running Water”) because I read somewhere that it was architecturally interesting. Well, it’s definitely that! I’m mostly confused by it because functionally, it seems like it should be a bland building… like it was built in the late 1800s to be a water-pumping station, bringing running water to the city. Why on earth did they spend the money to import 300,000 glazed tiles and enameled bricks from England and slate for the roof from France, on top of all the cast iron for the structure from Belgium? (Can you say, “World’s Most Beautiful Water-Pumping Station”? I bet this building would win… How much competition could there be in that category?)

The epic Palace of Running Water.
If you were just walking past this on the street, what would you think was inside? Without the benefit of x-ray vision, I can’t imagine that your answer would be “ginormous water tanks and pumping equipment”.

Today, it still is used as an administrative building for the water company, and there’s a museum inside which is the definition of offbeat… The Museum of Water and Sanitary History, featuring (according to their website) pipes, meters, faucets, and “sanitary artifacts” like toilets and bidets. I’m confused by its existence, honestly. But I will say this, if I’m ever back in Buenos Aires, especially without Mike in tow (quirky isn’t really his style), I will absolutely be checking it out.

After taking a lap around the building (a lengthy endeavor, considering it occupies an entire city block), we made our way to El Ateneo Grand Splendid, a bookstore a few blocks away. It’s in an old theater and is, of course, the world’s most beautiful bookstore. Unlike the water-pumping station title which I just made up, this is something that people actually do say. I don’t know who gets to be the authority on these claims, but it’s undeniable… “most” or not, it is very beautiful. I’m biased, though, because books and theaters are two of my favorite things, so combining them is a surefire way to win me over.

The building dates back to 1919, originally built as El Teatro Grand Splendid. In its heyday, it hosted performances by the tango greats (another thing for which Argentina is famous) until becoming a movie theater in 1929, one of the first in the city. It didn’t take its current form until 2000 when, in danger of demolition, it was rescued and converted into a bookstore.

Tell me this isn’t the stuff of dreams.

Except for the seating areas, I imagine that the building looks pretty much as it did in its theater days. The stage is a café. The seating areas have been taken over by bookshelves. There are wrought iron balustrades and gilded balconies. A massive fresco dominates the ceiling. One of the boxes by the stage is a reading nook. It’s a dream.

I don’t know why every bookstore isn’t in a theater. And every library. And really just everything.
“How many times can you take essentially the same picture?” Well, you’re about to find out. And these are just the ones that I couldn’t choose between!
My best attempt at getting a picture of the whole ceiling. It was impossible.
Hmm… I wonder if they’re hiring? I wouldn’t mind working here every day! Wait for meee! I’ll be back just as soon as I can get into the country!
Okay, I have no idea what kind of disaster is happening across the way with the lighting on that wall, but ignore that and focus on the balustrades (the fabulousness underneath the railings). (Hire me and I’ll fix your lighting!)
The bottom box is a reading nook/my future tiny house.
Really I’m just happy that the space was successfully repurposed because what a shame it would have been for this theater to be torn down and lost forever.

I hoped that it would be cool enough for Mike to enjoy even without a love of books or theaters, and I think it was! Maybe it was just the air conditioning that won him over, but hey, I’ll take it. We spent at least half an hour there, wandering around to soak in the general splendor and check out the books. I could have stayed all day (or forever), but alas, the cemetery awaited, so we headed back onto the sauna streets.

The cemetery has free daily tours… in Spanish. Why not, right? Get a little language practice, maybe learn a few things. Well, it was a nice thought, but the only thing we learned was that we were NOT up to the challenge. I caught maybe 40% of what the guide was saying, between the cemetery vocab that I lacked (all of it), the speech rate (rapid), and the castellano accent (strong). My gosh. My Spanish brain maxed out after maybe 20 minutes, and Mike was on the same page. We ditched the group and wandered around on our own.

The entryway to Recoleta Cemetery
Exploring

This is where I discovered that Mike doesn’t have the same appreciation for cemeteries that I do (I love them, in a completely normal/not creepy/not weird or worrisome way). You’re shocked, I’m sure. He lasted maybe five minutes after we left the tour before saying, “Whenever you’re ready to go, I’m ready.” I know he wasn’t trying to put pressure on me, but geez. I thought it was fabulous.

Recoleta Cemetery is one of those sites that everyone says is a “must visit” in Buenos Aires. Established in 1822, it was the first public cemetery in the city, and it’s THE place to be buried if you’re rich and/or important. It’s like a small city, stretching across 14 acres with more than 4600 vaults. It’s a good thing that they took the time to design a layout because without the predictable grid of walkways, it would be all too easy to get lost inside. (As much as I like cemeteries, I am not interested in that. Noo thank you.)

It’s like a city with lots of very small houses.
All of the “streets” aren’t this wide. This is basically a boulevard in the cemetery world. The majority were narrow enough that I could touch both sides by sticking my arms out.

It’s been ranked as one of the world’s most beautiful cemeteries, and while I’m not looking to dispute that, I do think it’s a weird thing to rank. Also, how many cemeteries did the authors of these articles visit before deciding? What were the evaluation criteria? I mean, it is quite nice. But like… what?

The mausoleums are the definition of extravagant. It’s a little strange, actually. A lot of them have windows, so you can see what’s going on inside. Above ground, there are usually one or two caskets and then some skinny minnie staircase leading underground to what I assume is more casket space? And architecturally, they each have their own personality. I felt like I was walking around an architectural style sampler… a little baroque here, some art deco there, classical and neo-gothic sprinkled about.

Because why not build a mausoleum modeled after a Roman temple?
This guy is missing part of an arm, but that’s a case of neglect (the family moved to another cemetery. What a weird concept haha) rather than the original design intent.
I just love the variety!
I’m always a fan of a good mosaic.
THOSE SPIDERWEBS. Seriously, so artfully placed.
Some are like rowhomes, one on top of the next… and some are like this little freestanding mausoleum-hut. Not my favorite design, but it sure knows how to take up space.
This one seems very… secure. Like a bank vault.
And then there’s this one, open and airy and the complete opposite of the bank vault.
This might be my favorite one. The doors!
This one just happened to be open, so I obviously stuck my head inside to get a better look at the layout… The mausoleums are of all different sizes, but this is what the majority look like inside, more or less.
I don’t know what’s going on with these, style-wise, but they’re definitely unique.
Hotel lobby?
This was just me doing my Armenian duty by seeing an Armenian name and taking a picture because I’m sure we’re basically cousins if you go back far enough.

Even though we skipped out on the tour, I thankfully had done a little reading ahead of time and knew a few of the “famous” mausoleums to look out for.

The legend surrounding this mausoleum is the stuff of nightmares. Rufina Cambacérès was 19 when she died suddenly, of a heart attack. She was buried, and cemetery workers heard strange noises coming from the mausoleum. When they opened it up, they found that the coffin had shifted. Rufina’s body was still there… but the inside of the coffin was covered in scratch marks. She had been buried alive and tried to in vain to escape. True or not, just the thought is enough to make you squirm.
The “General Alvear” referred to at the top was a general during the War of Independence. This massive mausoleum (prominently located just inside the entrance to Recoleta) is also the final resting place of his son, a mayor of Buenos Aires, and his grandson, a president. Bunch of underachievers.
This was built for Tomás Guido, a general in the War of Independence. He helped to liberate Chile and Peru from Spanish rule as well, crossing the Andes with his troops. His wish was to be buried underneath the mountains they crossed, so his son had stones brought from there to Buenos Aires and built this mausoleum himself for his father.

We wandered long enough to see most of the graves I was looking for and to admire the general award-winning beauty and then called it a day right around when we found the Armenian mausoleum. It seemed like a fitting way to end our time there. Plus, we had a tour to catch at Teatro Colón, and I didn’t want to risk being late! Coming up next time, get ready for some fab stained glass!

Since it’s been a while since my last post about Mike’s and my trip to Patagonia/Buenos Aires, let me reacclimate you. We just finished 7 days of hiking, hiking, and hiking, and by some miracle, my feet didn’t fall off (though I did end up losing a few toenails. I’ll spare you the pics but send me a message if you’re interested. Kidding. Kind of. I mean, I do have pictures, and you’re welcome to them if that’s something you’re into. Okay, I’m getting carried away. Back to it).

From El Calafate, we had a bright and early flight to Buenos Aires where we were staying for a couple of days before heading home. We flew into the domestic airport which is conveniently located in the city and then went on a public transit adventure… my favorite. And, a perfect place to start off a list of Buenos Aires first impressions! (Or, you can catch up on the history of Argentina first, HERE and HERE.)

1. Heat/Humidity – Okay, so this has nothing to do with public transit, but I feel like it needs to come first because this was truly my very first impression of the city. When Mike and I flew to Patagonia, we had to change planes in Buenos Aires and walk outside to switch terminals. It was the middle of the night, and the air felt like stepping into a bathroom after someone takes an hour-long, steaming-hot shower. With no ventilation. I have certainly experienced plenty of humidity in my life, but usually the night feels slightly less suffocating! NOPE. I was thankful that, from there, we flew south to cooler temperatures, but that was just delaying the inevitable. This time, we arrived in the morning, and between the humidity and the brutal sun, I was ready to get right back onto the plane.

Not a cloud in the sky! Usually this is considered a good thing, but my gosh what I would have paid for a few clouds riiight in front of the sun…

2. Public Transportation – It’s quick. It’s easy. It’s cheap. You can get practically anywhere in the city. Fresh off the plane, we set out to buy ourselves a transit card (I’m developing quite the collection of these) which was fairly straightforward except that you can’t buy the card and add money to it at the same place because that would be too easy. But, at least you were able to do both of those things at the airport! (If that sounds like it should be a given, trust me when I say it’s not.)

We also used the subway later in the day, and I’m a big fan. Partly because I was exhausted and it saved me from 40+ more minutes of walking… but also because it’s great! The line we took was clean and not shady and impressively prompt. Also, fun fact: the Buenos Aires subway was the first in South America! It was built in 1913 which, as you may recall, was during Argentina’s golden age.

If you need a Buenos Aires transit card, I’m your girl.

3. Bus Lines – I don’t mean bus routes. I mean lines of people WAITING for buses. I’ve never seen anything like this. At rush hour, the sidewalks are full of people lined up like they’re waiting for the latest iPhone. Kidding, there are no tents… but there are seemingly endless lines of people, and they’re just doing their regular commute, waiting for the bus. It’s crazy! And also nice in a way because people aren’t trying to edge you out to get on the bus before you. But, you need to know what you’re doing and start moving as soon as the right bus pulls up because people operate like a well-oiled machine. There’s no time for hesitation.

Also, bus drivers seem to always be in a rush, so be READY when it’s time for your stop. As in, be standing at the door, and start hopping off as soon as the bus slows and the door opens because a “slow”, rather than a stop, might be all you’re getting.

I know you’ve seen this picture before, but it’s the only one I have that even kind of shows the crazy width of the road. Since the obelisk is here, the big medians I mentioned have been replaced by the obelisk island. But, those buildings alllll the way across show where the street finally ends (and it doesn’t get wider here because of the obelisk… it’s this wide everywhere).

4. Avenida 9 de Julio – This is the major north/south boulevard in town, and I don’t even know how to begin explaining this street to you. Mike and I got to enjoy its dedicated bus lanes on the ride to our hostel. Not having to share space with the other traffic probably cut our travel time nearly in half.

How do they have space for these dedicated bus lanes? WELL. It’s the widest avenue in the world, and for maybe the first time after hearing a “most/best/biggest/etc. ___ in the world” claim, I immediately believed it. It’s literally an entire city block wide. Like if you built a city on a grid and then removed the buildings between two of the streets and paved the whole thing, this avenue would be the result. There were something like 16 lanes before the middle was blocked off for buses in 2013. (This is one of those times when I really wish I had thought to take a good picture, but alas, I’ve failed you all. I’m sorry. You can google it, though.)

Crossing it is no simple task and takes far too long. There are multiple traffic lights along the way and no chance of getting across on a single green. First, you cross three lanes of traffic. Then, there’s a “median” with a width equivalent to maybe seven lanes. Next, you cross six lanes, a small divider separating the bus lanes, and two dedicated bus lanes. Okay, now you’re in the middle of the street/where you need to be in order to get on a bus. But, if you’re just trying to get across, you still have two bus lanes, four lanes of traffic, another large median, and three more lanes of traffic before you’re safely to the other side. It’s at least as exhausting as it sounds, plus there’s not much shade which means you’re simultaneously getting fried by the sun. We avoided crossing whenever possible.

5. Drivers – In classic South American fashion, the roads are terrifying, and you couldn’t pay me enough to drive on them. Everyone drives like they’re in a massive hurry (which is funny because probably no one actually is… the pace of life is SLOOOOW), the road rules are mere suggestions, and the lines on the road are for decoration. Defensive street-crossing is required as a pedestrian unless you have a death wish (aka don’t assume that anyone is going to stop for you, even if you have right of way).

6. Money/ATMs – After we made it to our hostel/took some time to chill (literally… I felt like I was going to pass out), we headed back out to find somewhere to exchange money. This turned out to be a much more challenging task than expected. Normally, I would just use an ATM to get local currency, but the fees in Argentina were the highest I’ve ever experienced. For a single withdrawal, the fee was at least $10! (For reference, many ATMs will charge you nothing, or fees are usually in the $1-3 range.) My US bank reimburses ATM fees to a point, but we figured we’d just exchange money because I had some cash and we didn’t need much, making the high fee seem even more ridiculous.

WELL, that was a mess, too! I mean, there are plenty of shady dudes on the street yelling, “CAMBIO! CAMBIOCAMBIOCAMBIO!” (exchange) but forgive me if I didn’t have much confidence in their legitimacy. All of the legit exchange places would only change more than US$100, and we didn’t need even close to that for our last couple of days in the country. So, after all that, we ended up exhausted and frustrated… and getting money from an ATM (after googling to find out who had the least-unreasonable fees. Side note, the best ATM we found in Argentina was, shockingly, in the main airport. It had the lowest fees and the highest allowable withdrawal amount. Go figure).

Mike and I took a break from our exchange adventure to get some ice cream. This heaping cone gets all the credit for carrying me through the day.
That’s Eva Perón, former first lady of Argentina.
Can someone please explain to me why every other country in the world has prettier money than the US?

7. Exchange Rate – Besides the complexity of simply getting money, there’s the added confusion of the constantly-fluctuating exchange rate. When I was doing research and trying to figure out how much things cost, every piece of information I found seemed to be conflicting… unless the price was listed in USD. Since the value of Argentina’s currency is so unstable, many tourist attractions simply list prices in US dollars so that they don’t have to keep changing them.

8. “The Paris of South America” – NO, NO, NO. This is just the kind of ridiculous claim that I despise and immediately dismiss. While I refuse to accept this as an even remotely valid comparison, I will say that the architecture of the city has a very European vibe to it, more than Lima and Quito (the only other South American capitals I have personal experience with). If wrought-iron balconies and café culture were all there is to Paris, then sure. However, you could absolutely NOT go to Buenos Aires and then be like, “Well, guess I don’t need to go to Paris anymore because I’ve basically already been there!” NO.

Welcome to Paris!
Those balconies are fab, but get that glass monstrosity outta here. Paris of the South? Psh!

9. Accents – Every Spanish-speaking country has its own dialect and accent (just like US vs. British vs. Australian English), but Argentina takes it to another level. It’s like Spanish with an Italian accent and then some random Italian words sprinkled in for good measure. They refer to Argentinian Spanish there as “castellano”, and instead of saying that “cas-teh-yano” like you would in normal Spanish, you say “cas-teh-shano”. The “y” and double-L (usually pronounced “y”) take on more of a “sh” or soft “g” (like in “mirage”) sound. There are plenty more differences, but I’ll leave you with just that. We had no problem with people not understanding us, but my gosh it was hard to get used to understanding them!

10. Argentinian BBQ – You can’t go to Argentina without eating Argentinian barbecue (so I’ve been told). After primarily subsisting on ravioli, protein bars, and dried Ramen noodles (okay, that one was just me) during our time in Patagonia, Mike was VERY excited about this. On our first night in the city, we went to a place recommended by the receptionist at the hostel. I put him in charge of ordering since his excitement level far outweighed mine, and so, we split pork chops, a steak, and a plate of crispy waffle fries. What a balanced meal, right? A more thorough commitment to the cultural experience of barbecue would have included some intestines, but for some reason, he decided to skip those.

Mike raved about how inexpensive it was, while my eyes bugged out at the prices when I opened the menu. This is the difference between someone used to NYC restaurant prices and someone used to eating 50-cent-a-bag pasta in a hostel kitchen. (In this case, I’m sure Mike was right, that it was inexpensive for what we got. I’ve also never ordered a steak in a restaurant before, so I had no reasonable reference point.)

They’re not messing around. At the top, it says, “A burning stove is the heart of Buenos Aires.”
Protein, anyone?
There’s actually nothing better than waffle fries. Between these and the ice cream, this was really an ideal Lara food day.

After our protein- and carb-laden dinner, we jetted back to the hostel, courtesy of the subway system, and totally crashed (us, not the subway). Whew! Heat and humidity really take it out of you! Thankfully, we had a functional air conditioner in our room, saving us from the choice between a million mosquito bites from keeping our windows open or potentially dying of heatstroke from keeping them closed. Talk about luxury living!

Last time, we talked about Argentina’s transformation from a land of indigenous tribes to a Spanish colony to an independent republic. It entered the 20th century in the middle of a very prosperous golden age. During WWI, it remained neutral which allowed it to export goods to countries on both sides of the conflict.

Unfortunately, in 1929, the global depression reached Argentina, and things took a downward turn. The president’s policies accelerated unemployment, and he was removed from office by a 1930 coup d’état, the first of SIX coups in the 20th century. The years after were filled with electoral fraud, persecution and execution of the opposition, and general government corruption. Abroad, WWII was brewing, and Argentina did its best to stay neutral again, mostly for strategic reasons as it was a major food supplier to Great Britain, and joining the Allies would put its cargo ships at risk. Due to mounting international pressure, Argentina did declare war on the Axis powers in 1944, though the majority of citizens supported continued neutrality.

A 1943 military coup brought in a new era. Various leaders took power over the following years, the most influential of whom was Juan Domingo Perón. He was appointed Minister of Labor after the coup which helped to build his popularity with the lower class. He used his position to strengthen unions, raise the minimum wage, and improve working conditions. After he was elected president in 1946, he became a dictator, increasing the powers of the president, censoring the media, appointing friends as advisors, and imprisoning rivals… but also working towards economic independence and for social justice. His wife, Eva, was very popular with the working class as well and led a great deal of charitable work to their benefit. Together, they were a political power couple. During his presidency, there were improvements in infrastructure, education, and social programs… and with that came increased spending and national debt. The peso’s value plummeted.

What a fab flag.
That’s Eva Perón painted on the side of that building. The last president, Cristina Kirchner, erected a lot of monuments during her term. This one was added in 2010 on the side of the Ministry of Health and Social Development as a nod to Eva’s charitable work.

Perón’s presidency had a rough end. Eva died from cancer in 1952. A coup removed Juan from office and forced him into exile in 1955. For 20 years, the leadership was primarily unstable military dictatorships. The people were dissatisfied, the government weak and unreliable. There were two more coups.

In 1973, Juan Perón was once again elected president and came out of exile. This time, his goal was political peace, and he worked to promote harmony and rebuild the country with his new wife, Isabel, as vice president. After only a year, he died in office from a heart attack, leaving Isabel as president and grossly unprepared for the job. After an economic collapse, she lost the people’s confidence and, in 1976, was removed by the sixth military coup in 50 years.

This began the final military dictatorship with a government that sought to destroy the populism that developed under Perón by whatever means. The subsequent years became known as the Dirty War. Anyone suspected of holding contrary views was an enemy, and over seven years, 9000 – 30000 people disappeared. The numbers are so uncertain because no lists of those arrested have been found. Many of them were young, from high school age to young professionals. They vanished without a trace, taken from their homes at night. They were held in concentration camps, tortured, raped, and murdered. Many were killed by being thrown out of planes over the Atlantic. Despite knowing full well what was happening, the US sent millions of dollars in aid to the provisional government during this period. Later, it was also discovered that an estimated 500 babies were kidnapped from prisoners and given to military families.

Starting in 1977, mothers of “los desaparecidos” (the disappeared) marched weekly around the main plaza in protest, demanding to know the fates of their children. By walking instead of standing in protest, they avoided breaking laws against congregating. At first, they were largely ignored by police, seen as a harmless group of old women. However, in 1978, they managed to spread awareness of their plight when the World Cup came to Argentina and brought international journalists with it.

The dictatorship finally ended in 1983, but it took years for justice to truly be served. At first, the new president, Raúl Alfonsín, aggressively investigated the military government and quickly put the leadership on trial for their crimes. He also decreased general government corruption by half. However, fearing justice, the military threatened another coup unless Alfonsín pardoned them. He gave in to their demands to preserve democracy, signing a law that he disagreed with and that was unpopular with the people, and granted amnesty to all others involved in the Dirty War crimes.

Headscarves are a symbol of the Madres de Mayo. They wore headscarves from the beginning, embroidered with the names of their lost kids. This sign says, “We don’t forget, we don’t forgive, we don’t reconcile.”

In 2005, the amnesty laws were finally revoked, and investigations resumed. The Grandmothers and Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo never stopped protesting, and they continue to march every Thursday to raise awareness, demand answers and justice that still have not come, and keep the memories of their children alive. The Grandmothers of the Plaza de Mayo encourage people born during this time period to get DNA tested to learn if they were among the kidnapped.

Madres de la Plaza de Mayo protest. As you can see, it’s more than just mothers now. Many other family members protest too, for various reasons. For example, there are people whose parents were abducted while their mothers were pregnant, and they are hoping to find a long-lost brother or sister (often, babies would be delivered by c-section before the mothers were killed and then given away to military families).

Otherwise, the major issue remained Argentina’s economy. The next president, Carlos Menem, privatized many industries made public during Perón’s presidency. Despite efforts to get the government debt under control, the economy collapsed in 1999, and Argentina entered another depression. The peso was incredibly devalued. People panicked and tried to withdraw all of their money from banks until withdrawals had to be limited. By mid-2002, the peso was at 25% of its former value.

The Plaza de Mayo, the central square in Buenos Aires, is surrounded by the President’s offices, the old cabildo (town hall), and the Cathedral of Buenos Aires. It’s a popular gathering spot for both people and, apparently, birds.

Finally, things started to take a turn for the better. President Eduardo Duhalde appointed Roberto Lavagna, a moderate economist, as Minister of Economy. Lavagna’s reforms brought inflation under control, and in 2003, with the economy on an upswing, the president deemed his work complete and called for elections.

Since then, the economy has continued to have ups and downs. The peso’s value is still constantly in flux, to the point where prices are sometimes listed in US dollars (especially for tourist-type things) to avoid having to change them all the time. I don’t know enough about economics to really understand what’s happening, but the short version is that the economy is still a bit of a mess.

Final fun fact – President Néstor Kirchner was elected in 2003 and his wife, Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, was elected after him in 2007. I don’t have much more to say about them… I just think it’s interesting that there have been multiple husband-wife duos involved in the leadership of Argentina.

And there you have it! The (very abridged) history of Argentina, from the 1400s to now. Is your head spinning? My head is spinning. Next time I promise more pictures! But context is always good for helping to understand a country. When we meet again, be ready to explore Buenos Aires!

Welcome back to Argentina! I know it’s been a while… I’ve put off this post because I had to do some research, and that’s always a bit more time-intensive than when I primarily have pretty pictures to show. Once I get going, I enjoy researching and learning new things, but why is it always so hard to get started? Anyway, you’ve already waited long enough, so let’s get to it! It’s time for some Argentina History!

Like elsewhere in the Americas, Argentina started off with small settlements of various indigenous people groups. Most of these were in the southern part of the country, in what’s now called Patagonia. There were a few different ethnic groups, one of which I’ve mentioned before, the Tehuelche people who were responsible for the name of the park Mike and I visited in Chile, Torres del Paine.

The largest empire of pre-Spanish America was the Inca Empire, but it only crept into a small part of northwestern Argentina in the late 1400s, lasting about 50 years until the Europeans arrived in the early 1500s. Portuguese explorers Gonçalo Coelho and Amerigo Vespucci landed in Brazil in 1502. The Spanish arrived in Argentina in 1516, and the first explorer was killed by tribespeople. Twenty years later (1536), they returned to start a small settlement in the current location of Buenos Aires. It lasted just five years.

The Spanish didn’t give up, though, and in 1542 formed a colony called the Viceroyalty of Peru which included the majority of South America. The main port of this colony was Lima (Peru) on the Pacific side, and there was no Atlantic port. This was great for Lima but bad for everywhere else as it added months to the transport of goods.

The obelisk was built in 1936 as a monument to the 400th birthday of Buenos Aires.
This statue in the main square (Plaza de Mayo) in Buenos Aires depicts Manuel José Joaquín del Corazón de Jesús Belgrano y González… aka Manuel Belgrano (gotta love those Spanish names). He was one of the liberators during the Argentine War of Independence and created the new country’s flag in 1812!

Finally, 1776 saw the reorganization of the colonies and formation of the new Viceroyalty of the Rio de la Plata which included Argentina, Chile, Bolivia, Paraguay, and Uruguay. Free from the control of Lima, Buenos Aires became a bustling port and was set up for a prosperous future. (Crazy side note – the Spanish colonies were considered the king’s personal possessions. Can you imagine claiming ownership of half a continent??? That’s absurd!)

Elsewhere in the world, the Spanish were struggling. With the king distracted by the Peninsular War in Spain, the colonists were forced to fend for themselves. They held off two British invasions in 1806 and 1807 and grew confident in their ability to survive apart from Spain. This fed a growing desire for independence as the colonists were already frustrated with underrepresentation in Spanish politics and bans on trade with any country besides Spain. When King Ferdinand VII was captured in 1808, the colonists decided it was time for the Americas to be left to self-rule.

In May of 1810, the colonists overthrew the viceroy, kicking off the Argentine War of Independence. After declaring independence in 1816, Argentina simultaneously entered a civil war as the new country disagreed on whether there should be a strong, centralized government (the Unitarians) or a federation of autonomous provinces like the USA (the Federalists).

Finally, a constitution was signed in 1853, forming the Argentine Republic. It created a government with three branches (legislative, executive, and judicial) and divided power between them, creating a strong executive government with representation from every province. Buenos Aires was the last province to join the new republic and became part of Argentina in 1862.

The Buenos Aires Cabildo housed the town council during colonial times and was the government house of the Viceroyalty of the Rio de la Plata. Our tour guide said that this is where the colonists gathered in 1810 and decided to seek independence from Spain (that’s my disclaimer that this may or may not be correct haha. Tour guides say a lot of things…).
The Argentinian Parliament. Fun fact it apparently has the largest bronze cupola in the world (a category which I’m sure has a lot of stiff competition) at 18m tall. The building was inaugurated in 1906 but wasn’t finished until about 40 years later.

Finally, Argentina had some stability! The country prospered thanks to Buenos Aires’s position as a major South American port and became a diverse cultural center. Unfortunately, this golden age only lasted about 50 years. Next time, we’ll talk about Argentina’s tumultuous 20th century. Get ready for coup d’états galore!

The Argentine flag
The blue/cloudy sky reflecting on the river

Our final day in El Chaltén was also our final day of hiking… our seventh in a row. The fun wasn’t completely over – we had a flight to Buenos Aires the following day, but the nature portion of the trip was coming to an end. Even though we had a bus to catch, it didn’t leave until 6PM which meant we had nearly the entire day to wander around and get our final taste of the Patagonian wilderness.

The major street with nearly no one in sight
The main road in town

Originally, Mike wanted to do this hike that’s 4 hours of constant uphill and then 4 hours down the same path to come back. It’s supposed to give you a really nice view of the valley on a clear day. He said I didn’t have to go with him, and I’m still not sure if that was him trying to be nice or trying to tell me that he didn’t want me slow-poking along… but if it was the latter, too bad because I decided that I was going to do whatever he wanted, even though there was NO part of me that wanted to go on another 8-hour hike.

THANK GOODNESS he changed his mind. He decided the night before that he didn’t want to do it anymore “because it doesn’t sound very fun”. Tell me about it. I was pretty happy.

Me pretending to wear a backpack-shaped bench
Like my new backpack?
Mike wearing a giant backpack
The sun came out right after my picture… this one of Mike looks like it was taken on a completely different day.
A carved, wooden backpack-shaped bench
The backpack-bench from behind. It’s kind of hilarious…

We decided to have an “easy” day and do three little hikes around town: two to viewpoints and one to a waterfall. This was the itinerary that I planned for us to do on our first day in town as a rest day before Mike overruled me and sent us on the Laguna Torre hike instead because the weather was nice. I gave him a hard time about deleting our rest day, but I have to admit… he was right. I know, am I really admitting that Mike was right about something? Yes, but don’t get used to it. For our entire trip, we got EXTREMELY lucky with the weather. Everyone says that the weather is super variable, and it doesn’t seem like clear days are the norm. We had clear skies and good visibility EVERY day, until this last one when we were doing hikes where that wasn’t as important. It would have been much more of a bummer on the longer hikes we did the two days before. So, good on you, Mike.

For once, we let ourselves sleep in and didn’t set an alarm until 8AM. I know, luxury. Before we could hit the trails, we had to pack our bags and move them out of our room since we were checking out. We were like two sloths getting ready for the day and finally motivated ourselves to leave when it was time for our hostel friends to catch their bus. The bus station was right on our way to the first trailhead, so we walked with them, said our goodbyes, and continued on to the “Los Cóndores” viewpoint. It was just a quick 40-minute walk from town, and you get a nice view of the valley. That’s when we realized how unintentionally well-planned our hiking schedule turned out to be. We could see where Fitz Roy was supposed to be, but it was completely covered in clouds. When we went, it was totally clear! Also, it was so good that we didn’t do that terrible 4-hour uphill hike because it’s only worth it if it’s a clear day, and this was definitely not!

El Chaltén from the first viewpoint
The bustling metropolis of El Chaltén
Fitz Roy almost completely blocked by clouds
Look at all of those clouds around Fitz Roy!
No sign of Fitz Roy
Where is it??? So glad we weren’t doing the Laguna de los Tres hike on this day!

About 15 minutes past that viewpoint is another, Las Aguilas. From there, you can see the valley on the other side of the mountains where there’s a pretty lake. They weren’t the most magnificent hikes, but they were definitely worth the minimal effort it took to get there. Plus, we got to see a few condors along the way! I’m not much of a birder, but even I can appreciate seeing such graceful birds swooping through the air.

Mountains and a lake in the distance
View from the second viewpoint. Not shown: crazy winds.
The road into El Chaltén and mountains behind it
Love these mountains

These two hikes are on the south end of town. Our last hike was to Chorillo del Salto, a waterfall past the north end. It’s only supposed to be a 40-minute hike, but that’s with the trailhead ALL the way at the end of the town. So, we walked from south to north and then went the additional 3km to get to the waterfall.

The hike was easy because it was almost entirely flat but also hard because I kept thinking it should be over soon, and it kept not being over. I guess I would have liked to have some informative signs telling me what kilometer we were on and how many we had remaining, unlike on the Laguna Torre hike when I cursed the existence of such signage. I’m hard to please.

View of a meadow along the way
On the way to Chorillo del Salto
The blue/cloudy sky reflecting on the river
Check out those cloud reflections!
Streaks of algae in the river
Funky algae. Mike loved this. It’s so sculptural.

The waterfall was so pretty! Mike and I both admitted that we hadn’t been expecting much. It was definitely worth the seemingly endless walk to get there. We also showed up at the perfect time. Maybe we were right between tour buses? I don’t know, but it wasn’t terribly crowded when we arrived, and like 15 minutes later, it was completely swarmed with people (you can drive almost all the way to the waterfall, so I’m sure it’s a popular stop for tour buses).

Me with the waterfall
Almost fell in on the way back from this spot, but I didn’t so that’s all that matters.
Mike with the waterfall
Mike made it there much more gracefully than I did.

Guess how far we hiked on our “easy” day. 10 miles. Ha! So much for that. I mean, it was definitely much more relaxed as far as intensity goes, but that’s still quite a distance for a day that was supposed to be easy! I was pooped by the time we made it back. I can’t even imagine how terrible I would have felt if we’d done the more intense hike! 8 hours? No, thank you!

Pretty view of the river on our way back into town
Heading back to town

We still had some time to kill before our bus departure, so we obviously just sat on our butts at the hostel and watched time pass. I was so happy to have some time to sit down… yes, I know that we had a 2-hour bus ride ahead, but post-hike sprawling isn’t the same as bus sitting.

Mike on a roller treadmill
Mike got a kick out of this outdoor “gym”. Obviously he found it necessary to give the equipment a try. This treadmill looked like a greattt workout.
Mike on another "gym" contraption
Elliptical, anyone?
Mike on another mystery piece of exercise equipment
Literally no idea what this is.

The bus took us back to El Calafate for one more night before our flight to Buenos Aires. The scenery along the way was awesome! I know I said that about the ride to El Chaltén also, and that makes sense because it’s the same road… but I didn’t think anything looked familiar. Maybe I’m losing my mind. Maybe my memory is failing. Maybe I was sitting on the other side of the bus. Who knows? It was fab, though.

A lake and fields with ground plants
Along the drive back to El Calafate
Fields topped with menacing clouds
This picture kind of looks like a storm is looming, but I think part of that is smudges on the bus window.
Chalky blue lake along the drive
How did I miss this on the way drive into town??

All we had to do back in El Calafate was repack our bags for our flight the next morning. Of course, we took forever to do that and ended up going to bed WAY too late. Like past 1AM late. And we had an airport shuttle coming to get us at 5:30 in the morning. Do you see what I mean about us being self-saboteurs?

Our only full day in El Chaltén was dedicated to the hike to Laguna de los Tres. It’s the most popular hike in the area, is listed as “difficult”, and is supposed to take 8 hours, so we were prepared for all of the above. In our usual “let’s avoid the crowds” fashion, we aimed for an unrealistic early departure time (6:30AM) and left at a more reasonable early departure time (7AM) which is apparently still long before anyone else in town is even awake. Well, except for this one guy we met who said he hiked there for the sunrise, but he was a rare bird (we’ve been over this before, but who wants to hike for 4 HOURS in the dark??). Anyway, we were not in good company at 7AM. We were in nearly no company. Fine with me!

The valley on our way up
Sleepy valley

The general profile of the Laguna de los Tres hike felt pretty similar to Laguna Torre, the hike we did the day before, but slightly “more”. The beginning has a bunch of unshaded uphill with great views of the valley. When you feel like you might collapse, it turns flat, and trees start popping up!

The shadeless beginning of the trail
No. Shade. Also, see the little rock peeking up in the far background? That’s where we’re headed (though I didn’t know it at the time).
Slightly sunnier view of the valley
The world slowly waking up
Gnarled forest along the way
Funky forest

About an hour in, the trail forks, and we picked the path that goes to a viewpoint where we got our first glimpse of the mountains we were headed towards. It was breathtaking! And we were super lucky with the weather again, so the skies were clear and the views were completely unobstructed. Seeing the mountains was good motivation to keep going but was also like… “Wait, we’re walking ALL THE WAY THERE??”

Me gazing at Fitz Roy from the viewpoint
First look at the mountains. Can you say WOW!?
Mike with Fitz Roy
This is where I start having the same-ish pictures over and over again because they’re all so darn beautiful.
Selfie with Fitz Roy
Brother-sister selfie!
Fitz Roy and the rest of the mountains
Okay one more. Fitz Roy is the tallest peak in the middle, to the left is Poincenot, and to the right is Mermez.

From the viewpoint until the very last segment of the hike, the trail wasn’t bad at all. It’s basically flat… and then you get to the end, and there’s a sign that says the last kilometer is going to take an hour because it’s like 400m of elevation. And then it actually takes an hour. And it is SO steep. And long. And steep. It wasn’t the worst hike I’ve ever done, but it wasn’t exactly a walk in the park either (lol but technically it was a walk in the national park).

Fitz Roy with some cloud cover
Stay away, clouds!
Fitz Roy with some clouds trailing off the peak
It’s like a little smokestack. Getting closer…

The good news was that we were there early, so there weren’t a lot of people coming down. That part of the trail is only really wide enough for one person at a time, and it would have made things much worse if we had to keep moving aside to let people pass. And, probably most importantly, the sun still wasn’t too hot because of course there was zero shade from that point on.

The one thing that was far from ideal was the wind. It was crazy! Most of the way was shielded from by the mountains, but the final stretch was completely exposed. I know I’ve said this before, but I meant it then and I mean it now… I was not confident that I was safe from blowing away. At the very least, there was a very real possibility of blowing over, and it was so steep that blowing over would probably also mean rolling down the mountain. I stopped multiple times and just dug in because I wasn’t confident that I could land my foot where I wanted.

Green valley
100% chance that I took this picture as an excuse to stop hiking for a second. We came across that river on the left side and through the green patch above it.
Rock and wood-covered trail
The way up…
The rock peaks just over a ridge
Almost there almost there almost there!

Then, I got to the top (Mike was already there), and the struggle was all but forgotten. The mountains you’ve been looking at all day are RIGHT THERE, with their jagged peaks and snowy slopes. The lake below them is the bluest blue you’ve ever seen. (After the brownish Laguna Torre from the day before, it looked especially blue.) There weren’t many people there, and it felt like we were part of an exclusive group lucky enough to experience the magic. Like what the heck is this world we live in??? Who would expect a lake like that, tucked up in the mountains? It’s not even fair for places like that to exist in the world. You blink and blink again and then one more time just to be sure… and it’s still there. And it’s still incredible. And even though it’s clearly real considering you’re standing there looking at it with your own eyes, you think they must be messing with you. How is this place real??? And the weather! I can’t talk enough about the weather. There was one little cloud near the peaks when we first arrived and then it cleared away completely.

Mike and me with the lake
We made it!
Laguna de los Tres
Okay, sorry in advance but like… I took a LOT of pictures, and I only picked a few… But there are still so many because they’re just too pretty! And also basically all the same, but can you blame me?
Me with the lake
Okay now glamour shots
Same pic without me
Okay now get out of the picture, Lara!

We walked down to the lake and then around the edge until we could see another lake right next to Laguna de los Tres, Laguna Sucia. That must be one of those Iceland/Greenland naming things (they named the green land Iceland and the icy land Greenland so that people would leave the green land alone) because “Laguna Sucia” means “dirty lagoon”, and that name couldn’t possibly be less suited.

Me on a rock looking down at Laguna Sucia far below
Laguna Sucia
Laguna Sucia from above
What dirty water, right?

While the two lakes are, basically, right next to each other, it’s super weird because Laguna Sucia is like 100m lower in elevation (that’s a pure Lara estimate though, so take it with a grain of salt because my estimates can absolutely not be trusted). There are waterfalls coming out of the top lake that turn into rivers flowing past the lower lake. So strange.

Laguna Sucia and Laguna de los Tres above
This was my best attempt at getting both lakes in the same picture so that you can see the elevation difference between them. How weird is this??
The blue waters of Laguna Sucia
Someone please explain to me how this lake got the name “dirty lagoon”. The glacier that feeds the lake is at the far end of the picture, Glaciar Rio Blanco (white river).
Laguna Sucia and its awesome surroundings
How is this place real?
Laguna de los Tres and the drop-off to Laguna Sucia
Laguna Sucia is to the left, where it looks like the world just ends.
The waterfall between Laguna de los Tres and Laguna Sucia

We admired the lakes for a while until Mike said he was getting cold from the wind (he was in shorts and a t-shirt. I had long pants and a jacket). Then, we hiked up this little mountain nearby to get one more view of the two lakes before heading back down. Already, we could see that the crowds were getting bigger (aka they actually existed), and clouds were starting to gather around the mountain peaks!

We also eavesdropped on this tour group whose guide was explaining how people rock climb Mount Fitz Roy, the tallest peak. After doing the hike that we just did, they walk around the lake, strap on crampons, and hike up the ice. Probably they will stay the night on the ice, so he pointed out a good place to set up your ice cave for sleeping. The next morning, they walk the rest of the way up the ice, partly having to ice climb until finally there’s just rock. They’ll switch into their rock-climbing shoes from there and take one of the routes that have been defined over the years, basically all named for the origin country/state of the people who first completed it. And after all that, they have to go allll the way back down. Geez. People are crazy!

The water. The mountains. No clouds. HOW did we get so lucky???
The lake. The mountains. Again.
I can’t handle this. Also, that’s the ice patch you have to climb up to get to the peak.
Another lake pic
No words, mostly because I already used them up on the infinity other pictures.
The lake. AGAIN.
THE WATER. I’m still not over it.
The valley
View from the top while trying not to blow away
Laguna de los Tres and a little Mike
Spot the Mike, running away from the wind.
Pano of the lake and surrounding mountains
Pano by Mike from the edge of the lake. AHHH so pretty!!
Me with the lake
This was hurriedly taken in a split-second of calm when the wind stopped blowing because I looked like a marshmallow in the other pics with my shirt all filled with air. Also, look at how the peak is already starting to gather clouds.
Super aqua waters of Laguna de los Tres
LAST ONE I PROMISE.

Mike had big dreams for the rest of our hiking excursion. After we hiked down from the lake, he wanted to explore these two other offshoots of the trail. One was to see another glacier, Piedra Blanca. We walked until we had a good view (we decided there was no need to go all the way to the viewpoint when we could see it just fine already) and then turned around and walked back to the main trail.

Piedra Blanca
The glacier Piedra Blanca is peeking out between the mountains

On that path, there were SO many caterpillars. Earlier in the day and the day before, we noticed that there was a weirdly large quantity of caterpillars on the trail, and we tried to avoid stepping on them. On this trail, there was no avoiding them. It seemed like they might have been an invasive species because there were WAY too many. Besides being all over the path, they were also EVERYWHERE in the branches of the tree and bushes. It got a little creepy once you noticed all of the places where they were lurking.

 

Trail littered with caterpillars
Spot the caterpillars! (It’s not hard.)
Creepy bush-lurking caterpillars
Me refilling my water bottle from the river
Water break! Drinking from streams never gets less awesome to me.

There was one more offshoot that Mike wanted to check out, and I had decided that I was fine with doing whatever he wanted to do (my feet were feeling surprisingly okay). We got about 6 steps down the path before he decided that the weather seemed questionable, so we should head back. Also fine with me! We still had like 3 hours of hiking ahead. The skies had been getting cloudier and cloudier from the moment we left the lake, and by the time we decided to head back, you could see almost nothing of Fitz Roy! Thank goodness we went early! I’m sure the lake is still beautiful even with cloudy mountains, but if you have the chance to see them all together, there’s no question that clear weather is the best way to see it.

The valley with two lakes
The two lakes in the distance to the right are Laguna Madre and Laguna Hija. They’re along the second side trail Mike wanted to explore
Fitz Roy blocked out by clouds
Looking back towards Fitz Roy… So. Many. Clouds!

On the way back, we went the other way at the fork and walked by another lake, Laguna Capri. I wasn’t expecting to walk right along the shore! I imagined that we would be up high above it. It was a cool surprise. We didn’t stick around for too long, though, because I think we both just wanted to get back at that point.

The clear waters of Laguna Capri
I wouldn’t mind going for a swim in there!
Campsite in the woods
One of the campsites along the way
Trail through the forest
Nothing better than a hike through a forest! Also, on the way in, there was a sign warning you about the high winds in the area and saying that if they’re really bad, you should avoid standing under a tree. Can someone explain to me where we should be standing in this FOREST to avoid the trees?

Back at the hostel, I think I sat on the ground and “stretched” for about 2 hours before I felt like I wanted to move again. We hung out with some of our new hostel friends, ate our usual ravioli dinner feast, and went to sleep at the usual “way later than planned”. At least we could sleep in the next day, for once!

Me and Mike with the glacier in the background

Our stay in El Calafate was especially short the second time around. We arrived at about 10:30PM, went to sleep at 3:30AM because we apparently love to self-sabotage, and caught a bus to El Chaltén at 8AM. The morning started off extra rough. Any morning after 4 hours of sleep is not going to be pleasant, but we also got a surprise at 7:30 when the lady from the hostel told us that she was confused when she said that the bus would come to pick us up, and we actually had to be at the bus station at 8. EEEEEE!

Thankfully, we were going back to the same hostel in a few days, and they let us leave some of the things we didn’t need (like our tent) which meant packing was infinitely easier. We ran around like maniacs trying to pull ourselves together and were out around 7:45… and we then powerwalked to the bus station because I do NOT like to cut those things close.

We made it there a few minutes before 8, and then the bus also left a little late. Buses always seem to run a few minutes behind schedule until the one time when you need a cushion… and then they leave exactly on time.

The bus ride was uneventful: the scenery was beautiful, Mike slept the whole time, some obnoxious person played music without using headphones. The usual. When we arrived in El Chaltén, the bus went straight to the ranger station so that we could get an introduction to the park and the hikes.

Flat landscape with mountains in the distance
The road to El Chalten

El Chaltén is a village in the northern part of Parque Nacional Los Glaciares, the same park that we visited on our first day when we trekked on Perito Moreno Glacier. The town is inside the park. This is super weird to me because we don’t have people living in national parks in the States. I found myself frequently confused by the “national park” concept during our trip. Like there are portions of some parks that are privately owned. In Torres del Paine in Chile, some portions of the actual W Trek are on private land, some of the campsites are privately owned, etc. You literally can’t do the trek without crossing between private and national land. Very confusing while you’re hiking and get to a sign that says, “Welcome to Torres del Paine National Park,” and you didn’t think you’d ever left.

View of El Chalten from above
El Chaltén

I did some research before we went and thought it would be a good idea for us to take it easy on our first day considering we were coming off of four long days of trekking. There are some short hikes around town, so I had those on the schedule for the first day and had the two major long hikes on the following two.

At the ranger station, the guy who did our orientation said that the weather was really nice, so it would be a good idea to go on a hike in the afternoon if possible because no one knows what weather tomorrow will bring. I said, “We’re doing that already!” Mike said, “We should go on a longer hike just in case.” Ugh. So much for a rest day. His plan was to do the “short” 6-hour hike on the first day, the most popular 8-hour hike on the second day, and this one that’s literally 4 hours up and then 4 hours down on the way back on the last day. He’s a loon. He told me that I could skip the last day if I wanted to rest, but who rests on the LAST day of a hiking trip? That defeats the whole purpose of a rest day!

 

Mike and me along the way
Trail selfie!
The trail with blue, clear skies
Okay, so the weather was pretty perfect…

So, Mike decided that we should do the Laguna Torre hike because the trailhead was literally across the street from our hostel, and it was ONLY 6 hours, unlike the other two hikes he wanted to do. By the time we checked in and got settled and ready to go, it was about 1:15PM aka the hottest part of the day and definitely the ideal time to start a 6-hour hike (sarcasm, in case you didn’t catch that).

The hike itself really wasn’t that bad, but my feet were still killing me, and it was HOT. Even the woman who checked us in at the hostel said that it was abnormally hot, and she was ready for it to cool down again. Yeah, same. The beginning of the hike had some uphill that wasn’t too bad… except for the fact that there was no shade. I learned my lesson after the unfortunate arm-burn incident of the Torres del Paine trek day 3 and covered myself in sunscreen. Mike seems to think he’s superhuman and is fine with a little sunscreen on his face and nothing more. What is it that they say about doctors being the worst patients? I believe it.

Me climbing up a rocky hill
Almost at the lake… just a few more steps! Up, up, and up! (That’s me. Hi, Lara!)
A gorge along the trail
I make the “gorge”ous joke literally every time I come across a gorge, so here it is again. Ain’t this just GORGEOUS?
Green landscape with mountains and a glacier in the distance
First glimpse of the glacier!

After the start, it got much flatter and much shadier for the entire middle stretch of the hike. That was a welcome break! And then, after a tiny uphill, we made it to the lake! Laguna Torre, with its breathtaking waters the color of very milked-down coffee. Yeah, it was kind of gross looking. If that was the main attraction of the hike, I would have said, “NOPE not worth it.” But, you’re really there for the glacier at the far end of the lake.

Tree-shaded trail
There’s nothing better than a tree-covered path
Glacier in the distance with a nice, shaded trail in the foreground
We were definitely thankful for that shade along the trail!
The brown, murky lake
Check out that crystal clear water… yum…
Panoramic picture of the lake and surrounding mountains
It’s still pretty awesome, though.
Laguna Torre with the glacier in the background
Spot the glacier!

We did this extension of the hike to a viewpoint closer to the glacier, and as well-marked as the beginning part of the hike was, this part had exactly ZERO trail markers… unless it was actually so unclear that we were not even near the actual trail. I think we were, though, because part of the hike was along a ridge where there weren’t many other options, so I’m thinking it was actually just terribly marked. The extension was completely exposed to the sun, very rocky, and all uphill. And we spent the whole time going, “Hmm, these rocks look like they’re a little more trampled down, maybe the path is over here,” crossing our fingers, and walking that way.

Me walking along a ridge
This part of the trail was pretty easy to follow, but it wasn’t all this clear.
Mike way up ahead on the trail
Pleaseee don’t make me climb up anymore. (Bye, Mike.)
The glacier!
Glacier glacier glacier!

I don’t even know if we made it to the actual viewpoint because we never reached a sign that said we did. We got to a place that looked like it COULD be the end and then Mike decided that if it wasn’t, it was better than the actual thing anyway (based on nothing but his intuition). That was fine with me. I was ready to turn around. We ate a snack in the shade of some rocks before turning around.

Mike with the glacier
Mike’s classic thumbs up
Another glacier pic
As usual, it looks like we’re on another planet

On the way back, my body was so over walking. Mike was laughing at me because I spent considerable energy ranting about how they have some nerve putting up signs that tell you what kilometer you’re on. How rude, right? You may be thinking, “Oh, that sounds great! Then you know exactly where you are and how far you have to go.” Yes, but no. Yes, I knew exactly how far we still had to go, but no, it wasn’t great. It ruins any chance you have of deluding yourself into believing that there’s only a little bit left. I spent the rest of the time yelling at him (kindly, of course) to tell entertaining stories to distract me from my misery.

Me and Mike with the glacier in the background
Us with a glacier. No big deal. No matter how many glaciers we visit, I’m still totally awed.
The path headed down the mountain
On the way back down! Much better than the way up, though we still had no idea where we were supposed to be walking.
Little waterfall along the trail
Pretty!

When I’m hiking, I go through these phases. At the beginning, my feet hurt and it’s awful, but soon enough, they go numb, I feel fine, and I’m cruising. Later, my feet inevitably remember how unhappy they are and start screaming at me, and I hobble along in agony. Eventually, I get like a 4th wind and can crank out a few more kilometers until I crash and burn again and hobble the rest of the way home. The good thing about this hike was that the trailhead was maybe 20 steps from our hostel, so I really could just collapse at the finish line.

As grumpy as I was at the end, I was happy that we had just done it and had one less day to worry about getting good weather. We spent the rest of the night hanging out with some people we met at the hostel, draining our fresh blisters (that was only me), and crying over the sad state of our feet (also only me). And eating mass quantities of ravioli, the official hiking food of Mike and Lara. All in all, it was a good (and exhausting) day.