Parque Los Glaciares, El Calafate, El Chalten

Trip Start Nov 15, 2006
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48
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Trip End Ongoing


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Thursday, April 26, 2007

Decided to cut out a huge bus trip and fly from Ushuaia to Rio Gallegos where we waited for two hours in a deserted airport for a bus. The double-decker bus arrived and I said "wouldn't it be amazing to sit in those front seats on the top deck?" We were in luck and Wim, Ria, Ed and I took the best seats in the bus.

It was like having an IMAX movie playing all around us. The views of Patagonia were vast and we could fully appreciate the distances and desolation of the land. As the sun beat down on the bus windows, we were able to sit in t-shirts and socks for the journey, watching occasional appearances of wildlife like rheas, flamingos and guanacos.

In the tourist town of El Calafate we found a simple hospedaje with two rooms run by Horacio, a ninety-two year-old pioneer of the town. A kind man, the communication was a little challenging at times due to his failing hearing and our Spanish (though we made brave attempts to imitate the distinctive Argentinian accent). The hospedaje was spotless clean and heated to extreme temperatures - in fact, despite the low temperatures in Patagonia we have never felt warmer inside anywhere else in the world. Excellent natural gas resources, we presume... At times, Ed was a little over exuberant with his "buenos dias" to Horacio, who jumped a couple of feet from his chair by the stove in the kitchen. Ed was seriously worried about prematurely ending Horacio's long life.

Next day, we went to an estancia (farm) with Barbara, our friend from the cruise in Chile. Ed pretended to have more horse confidence than we really had while our guide Tito lead us around the hills and showed us vast landscapes. They extended towards Chile and we could see the mountains where we had hiked a couple of weeks earlier.

The ride was followed by a fantastic parilla (grilled meat with vegetables) lunch at the estancia washed down with a lovely bottle of red in good company. It is a lonely life for the young guys working in these remote-ish places, ten months working with tourists and then two months in the capital to take in all it has to offer.

We also hired a car and drove to the Perito Moreno Glacier for sunrise. The glacier is one of those natural wonders that is difficult to capture in a photo - its massive jagged face, the creaking of moving ice, and the crack and splash as huge chunks break off. All day the sun played hide and seek in the clouds and the light across the glacier changed all the time. We became addicted to watching it, and were afraid to look away just in case the all-time biggest piece of ice broke off.

On the way back to El Calafate we stopped by the roadside for a close encounter with a young condor, and a beautiful view across rolling yellow grasslands.

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A brief foray to El Chalten a small town specifically established as a base for the many visitors that come to walk in the National Park. We arrived mid-morning, and after a brief induction at the NP info centre wandered around the town trying to requisition supplies for our hike - no fuel available for our stove, petrol station not open until 4pm, tiny supermarket with few hiker-friendly foods. It was like a ghost town so we decided to go into the park with our left-over fuel, and enough food for 4 days, 3 nights.

What a beautiful hike despite the on-and-off rain. The leaves on the trees were fluorescent reds and yellows, and the path meandered over hills, and then along a valley where a glacial river was running.  As we approached the first campsite at the base of the granite towers, the clouds started to clear and as the sunset we got a clear view of the towers. The campsite is nestled amongst the trees close to the river and with the moon and no-one else there it was paradise. Next day was brilliantly sunny, the day of a thousand photos! We walked away from the granite spires, past two lakes to the camp close to the base of Fitzroy and saw the sun light up these other peaks like a raging bushfire.

Early the next morning we emerged from our tent to an overcast sky and a winter landscape, the tent covered in 30 cm of snow, and lots of animal tracks zig-zagging through the trees. We passed the day walking on snowy paths and didn't encounter another human being all day. This is what we hike for!
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