The journey from Puerto Madryn to El Calafate was twenty eight hours of sheer boredom. I slept fine, was perfectly comfortable, but the view (the great passer of time) never changed. Patagonian desert scrub continued, for hundreds of kilometers. Occasionally, we’d pass through a small inhabited area, but for the most part it was the same and whilst magnificent in its scale, it is utterly depressing.
After a change in Rio Gallegos, I arrived in El Calafate. It’s a town founded on and run by tourism and hence has little charm. It does have more flamingoes though, who are yet again revelling in confusing everyone who thought you only found flamingoes in warm places. Where as in Puerto Madryn it had been possible on one day to wear shorts and t-shirts, here the wind was strong and the down jacket was very welcome.
I wasn’t in El Calafate for the town, nor dare I say it the flamingoes. Instead, an hour or so away is a rather wonderful sight – the Glaciar Perito Moreno situated in Parque Nacional Los Glaciares. I travelled with Tim, who I had met in the hostel to the Glaciar on a very cold morning. So cold in fact that it had brought snow, which apparently they’ve had very little of over the past few years. I’m not to sure I believe that. Visibility was very low and neither of us were very hopeful of seeing a lot.
That was until we got there and realised that it would be pretty impossible not to be able to see the glacier. At 30km long, 5km wide and 60m high, it can’t really be missed. It’s like nothing I’ve ever seen before and all I could think of whilst there was that I was at the wall on Game of Thrones. It’s so imposing and being there whilst it was snowing and with the mountains hidden, only helped the imagery of being in a fantasy setting. It’s a magical place. In all we were in the park for around seven hours (a couple of hours too long, but the bus wasn’t coming back until then), walking the various trails which gave different viewpoints on the glacier as well as the various icebergs.
As the sun began to break through, more of the glacier and surrounding scenery was revealed, which was great, however it was the sounds which the sun brought which really added to the place. Tiny bits of ice would fall into the water causing an almighty loud noise and then when a big piece fell in – well it was like a bomb had gone off! It’s an incredible place and walks all over any of the other glaciers i’ve visited.
From El Calfate it was a short trip to El Chalten – a gorgeous little town in the mountains. So beautiful it is in fact, that on the bus in I caught myself thinking I didn’t need to go to the Himalayas anymore. The snow capped peaks were breathtaking. Tim and I did three hikes in total. The first was to a viewpoint, which was not very far but far enough to tell me that my trekking shoes were not going to last the pace. They’ve been slowly on the way out and I didn’t like their chances of holding up on the more demanding treks. It was a nice view though and gives a nice image of that bleak Patagonian landscape which i’ve come to know so well.
Upon returning to town, I visited the various rental shops and finally found a place which had both my shoe size and shoes without any sharp bits. I didn’t think I’d be able to be so picky, but apparently I could be! All in all they did alright, however, they’re not a patch on my old Merrells.
The second trek was to Laguna Torre, which was a pretty boring 20km roundtrip up and down a valley. Valley walks are always a problem, because the view never changes. It was a good view though:
We extended the hike a little with a ridge walk, which led to a closer look at the glacier, however, it was a poor mans glacier compared to Moreno.
The third hike was another 20km hike, but the scenery was more varied, making the time fly. Most fun was the fine ascent up a nice steep slope, where I discovered that my physical fitness has not slipped and after some good altitude training in Bolivia, flew up the mountain. Again the views were amazing:
El Chalten fully deserves its self-appointed title of Argentinian trekking capital. It’s so rare to find a place, where you do not have to pay for permits and can trek various routes direct from the accommodations. On returning from the long hikes, fantastic food is available which includes more steak then anyone could possibly eat. I could have stayed longer, but I had to travel to another national park also famed for its fabulous hiking and views. It’s a hard life.