Our Dream Trip : Second Stop – Patagonia

People ask me where was the best. This is the most difficult question. If people ask me where I unexpectedly fell in love with, that is the easiest question.

My answer is Patagonia.

When he suggested to visit Patagonia, I had no idea about this place, and I seriously thought that we were going to eat Patagonian toothfish. I actually started googling “Patagonian toothfish fishing tour”.
Instead of finding fishing tours, what I found was was all these words that I was not good at – trekking, hiking and camping…. Why did he want to take me there??? Anyhow, apparently he really wanted to do these wild things, so I agreed to come along with just one condition; NO CAMPING.

We (or mostly he) decided to go to 2 locations- El Calafate and El Chalten to spend 2 nights each. Here was our itinerary.

Day 1 : Fly from BA to El Calafate. Pick up a hire car at the airport and then drive to the town. 
Day 2 : Perito Moreno Glacier Tour (aka Glacier Whisky Tour)
Day 3: Drive to El Chalten in the morning (about 3 - 4 hours) and go hiking to Laguna Torre (6 hours)
Day 4 : Hike to Laguna de Los Tres (8 hours)
Day 5 : Drive back to El Calafate to fly to Ushuaia

El Calafate
When I think about the itinerary now, I can see how hard he tried to be nice to me (or plot me – depending on how you look at things). El Calafate is famous for its huge Glacier called Perito Moreno. El Calafate is a tourist town, so I knew what I could do there -just enjoy!
He booked the Perito Moreno Glacier Tour which allowed us to walk on the Glacier in Los Glaciares National Park finishing off with a glass of whisky with the ice from the Glacier! It certainly sounded like my kind of tour, so I was sort of looking forward to it.

Perito Moreno – @alittlebitofsoy

However, however, however….. The experience exceeded my expectations sooooo much! The view was just breathtaking. The Glacier was massive – 5km in width and 30 km in length. What I loved the most was the contrast. After a short walk from the entrance of the National Park, the huge Glacier just came up in the middle of the beautiful greenery in the park. The contrast of green colour from the vegetation and the colour of the glacier which changes from white to blue depending on the dept of the ice and sun light… I had never seen a Glacier before and I would not need to see any other Glacier.

Perito Moreno – @alittlebitofsoy

In terms of food, it was really memorable as well. As a tourist town, El Calafate offered a quite few places to eat. However, who expected us to eat THE BEST LAMB EVER in this small town???!!!!
It was THE Argentinian BBQ. The lamb had a nice smoky flavour. The inside was juicy and tender, and the outside was crispy. I never knew roast lamb could have crackling! The rib was my favourite part – juicy and crispy fat was between the bones.
I tell you now how good it was: He, who is an Aussie lamb snob, calmly declared this dish as THE BEST LAMB EVER – this is how delicious it was…..

Next day , we left El Calafate in the morning to get to El Chalten early enough to be able to have our first hike in Patagonia. The plan was to hike to “Laguna Torre” which is apparently for “beginners”…
In the car, I was still not convinced to do this…. And then, while I was whinging, this beautiful view just came up in front of us!!!

Mt Fitz Roy – @alittlebitofsoy

Mt Fitz Roy….
As soon as I saw this beautiful peak of Mr Fitzroy, my mind completely changed – I felt that I “MUST” see it closer! I felt that it would be too beautiful to miss it in my life!! I felt suddenly so enthusiastic!! !Let’s go!!!! (He was still so worried about me though…).

El Chalten – Laguna Torre
Distance: 24 km
Duration: 6- 7 hours

The difference from the hiking we have done in Nepal and Bhutan is that we do not go much higher in altitude. We just go up, down, up, down and then up up down…. Some of the parts would be hilly, some would be in the forest and some would be a just flat plain with sun hitting you directly. It is not a easy walk, but once you have started, going forward is the only way for you.

We were very lucky on the day though. Firstly, the weather. It was a beautiful sunny day with blue sky, therefore we could enjoy the view while hiking. Furthermore, we saw the Patagonian’s iconic deer – Huemul which is endangered and therefore rare to be found!

Super cute Huemul – @alittlebitofsoy

And then after 3+ hours of ups and downs, this view welcomed us…..

This view!! Laguna Torre – @alittlebitofsoy

We both were speechless…..
It was just beautiful. I thought it was the best view that I had ever seen in my life. I have used the word “beautiful” in my life a lot, but this was “beautiful”. I even felt that we should invent a new word to describe this beauty.
We had our lunch with this view, walked around and played with some icebergs. It was just unbelievable to be able to be part of this beautiful nature…. I really enjoyed just being there.

We really did not want to leave this beauty, but the sun would come down quite quickly so we decided to leave after a couple of hours…., with the strong determination: “I am hiking to Laguna de Los Tres tomorrow!!!”.

El Chalten – Laguna de Los Tres
Distance: 26 km
Duration : 8-10 hours

Laguna de Los Tres is a place surrounded by glaciers where you can see the best view of Mr Fitz Roy. The trail starts from and ends at Avenida San Martine (at the edge of the township in El Chalten), however, our AirBnb host recommended a different way; starting at Hosterial Pilar which takes about 30 minutes by car from the town. In this way, we can enjoy the forest pass first and then finish off at the Avenida San Martine.

It was the great advice. What we have done was driving our car to Hosteria Pilar, parked the car (there is a car parking space) and he took a shuttle bus to pick up the car the next morning. The forest was hilly but gave us a shade, in which we felt easier to walk. Furthermore, we did not need to repeat the same pass on the way back, which made the whole trip more interesting.

This trail is said to be one of the hardest and longest one day hikes in Patagonia (therefore it is quite common to camp overnight – which is not for me!), but I was not sure why by just looking at the number of the distance and duration.

When I realised the reason was at 1km to go. It was STEEP!!!!! Apparently on the last 1km, we had to climb 400m. The surface of the trail was not helping either. It was really rocky and covered by loose stones. It was really slippery! Another element that made it more difficult was that we actually could see where we were going. After climbing, climbing and sometimes falling, I looked up. What I saw was only people still climbing…. I could not see the end. It was emotionally tough….
And then, suddenly this view jumped out at me.

Laguna de Los Tres – @alittlebitofsoy

To be honest, this photo taken by just me does not do it any justice. I felt like we were in a movie-set. In Hollywood. It was surreal. It was really really really beautiful. OK I might have said that I saw the best view ever the day before, but I have to reclaim it. It was the second best. This is the BEST!!!.
For us, this hike took 8 hours in total. Maybe you can only spend a couple of hours at Laguna de Los Torres itself, but I say it loud now, TOTALLY WORTH IT. I am not an active person, outdoor person nor even nature lover, but this view… THE VIEW!!!

Patagonia has totally blown my mind away.
My advice is, if you are planing your next trip, think about Patagonia. Seriously….

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Memoir of Bhutan Trip – Bhutanese Food

Before our trip, we did not really know much about Bhutanese food. We, of course, googled a bit about what we could eat over there, but all we found out was it would be hot. OK, good, we love chilis! – That was our thought.
Now, we went there and we ate their food. Our opinion towards it is… LOVE Bhutanese food!!! Give me more!!!!
What did we love about? Here are the reasons….

Having a Picnic – Punakha Tshechu
  1. The Heat
    Yes it did not disappoint us! It was hot!
    On the way from Paro airport to our first hotel, we saw something red spread on top of the houses. When we asked our guide- Nim (the cool and intelligent Bhutanese lady), she told me that they were all red chilis drying on their roof! At that point, we realised that we would face serious heat here – which made us excited.
    Technically they put chilis in all of their dishes. Starting from Ema Datshi (which is chili cheese – the Bhutanese national food), chili salad (which is technically only chopped chilis, coriander and lemon- that’s it!), chili chicken (if you are not a vegetarian) and chili paste to add onto it. Probably corn soup and buckwheat pancakes were the only dishes without chilis among what we ate during our stay.
    Once Nim realised that we loved chilis, she started taking us to several restaurants which served all different levels of heat. In the end, we got her approval that we could eat like the locals! YEY!
Dried Chili in the Bhutanese Farm House

2. The Simplicity
Simple – this is the perfect word to describe Bhutanese cuisine. As Bhutan is not quite open to the whole world, what Bhutan produces is what the Bhutanese eat. For that reason, there are not many varieties in their dishes. They eat Ema Datshi every day. There are a few different variations – mushrooms, potatoes and onions, however technically, they are vegetables and cheese.

Sounds boring?

Not at all! The vegetables are produced locally and the cheese is home-made. Each restaurant and family has their own recipes. That made us eager to try Ema Datshi every day to taste each family’s secret.
We also found that they do not use seasoning much in cooking, which actually puts the emphasis on the taste of the ingredients themselves. This is a wonderful example of simplicity of cooking. You do not need many fancy condiments such as sugar, vinegar, oyster sauce or even a little bit of soy sauce (!) to make wonderful dishes out of good fresh ingredients.

3. Home-made
In addition to their fresh produce that I have mentioned above, for winter when they cannot produce much, they dry most of their produce… well… to be honest, ALL of their produce!- chilis (of course), corn (make their own corn flour), mushrooms (nice), pork belly (!), cheese (!!) etc.
They make their own alcohol as well, which is called Ara. It is made from…. anything really. Some are made from wheat, some are from millet, some are from potatoes.
We visited 2 farm houses for dinner during our stay. Both families had their own Ara. Both Ara were quite strong! It was quite similar to Shochu or even whisky. Among the several kinds of Ara from both families, the one I remember the most is Ara infused with Matsutake (I called it “Japanese Porcini” for an easy translation – in short, it is mushroom which is famous for its fragrance. It is in season in fall and is super expensive in Japan. Bhutan produces Matsutake – not for export, of course…). A touch of Matsutake fragrance in Ara was quite nice. My husband, especially, quite enjoyed it that night.

Home made Ara – Bhutanese Sake 
  1. Family-oriented
    Although each of the dishes are simple, there are normally several dishes served at the table. This is the common dinner menu:
    From top right – clockwise
    Rice, Spinach Soup, Potato Cheese, Ema Datshi, Stir-fried Asparagas and Carrot, Chili Chicken (in the middle)

Bhutan Dinner

They put all dishes in the middle (of the floor as they do not use a table) and share with their family members. Rice is served first, and then pass the dishes around each other. Mother recommends her family to eat one of the dishes more than others, as maybe it is her today’s special. Family members sit together, eat together and chat together. I just love this simple basic concept of dinner.

Sooo now, as a recipe developer (to be), I am super interested in recreating Bhutanese Food. The difficulty is that it is super simple, therefore, the favour heavily replies on the quality of ingredients. For example, Ema Datshi – it is technically stir-fried Chilis and Cheese. However, Bhutanese chili is medium size and very meaty like a capsicum, and it is hot and spicy. I have never seen the same kind in either Australia or Japan. The cheese for Ema Datshi – apparently they use their home-made cottage cheese as a base and add some different kinds of cheese (depending on each family), but it is completely different from the cottage cheese that we know here in Australia. I have tried a few different combinations of cheese to recreate Ema Datshi, but so far, it has not been successful…. That makes me more keen and eager to eat THAT Ema Datshi. Something like you know you cannot get, therefore you really want it…. Awww give me THAT Ema Datshi!

Re creating THAT Ema Datsi is my big project now. When I succeed, I will certainly let you know….