El Chalten - Mt Fitz Roy & PUMAS!!!

Trip Start Mar 28, 2006
Trip End Ongoing

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Flag of Argentina  , Patagonia,
Saturday, December 26, 2009

27th December
Bus from Bariloche to El Chalten

We got on the bus last night at 9pm for
the 30 odd hour trip to El Chalten in Patagonia, taking the famous
Ruta 40, which is the road Che Guevra rode along during his trip
around South America which has since inspired the movie “Motorcycle
The road is mostly unpaved gravel, and
closed for large periods of the year, however, to my disappointment
the Argies are paving the road. This will further open up Patagonia
to hordes of tourists and travelers, and small villages like El
Chalten could possibly turn into over developed mega resort towns
like Bariloche, which can take away from the beauty and remoteness of
the Patagonian experience.
As an almost standard experience in
South America, about half the bus was taken up by Israeli travelers.
They tend not to have the best reception from other travelers as they
always seem to be in large groups, tend not to mix with other
travelers, and always seem to book through the same few tour
companies and stay at the same hostels together. Maybe this has
something to do with just coming out of the army and being used to
being in large regiments or groups, I dont know why, but I came away
to mix with other people, and have traveled with people from all over
the globe and couch surfed with as many locals as I can. I didnt come
all this way to boot around the continent with only Australians. Ive
met some great people from Israel during the trip in various places,
but only when they are alone or in groups of 2-3 will they open up
and let you in. The large groups, I'll just continue to avoid.
The days are pretty long down here too.
The sun gets up about 6am and sets between maybe 10-11pm. So there is
plenty of time to get out and do hiking or anything else you need to
do. Not the best through when you are trying to get to sleep on a bus
and its still broad daylight.
The scenery was pretty uninspiring
really, and I cant really see why Ruta 40 is so famous. Because of
the almost continuous high winds and low rainfall, the only plants
that grow are low shrubs no higher than about a foot. It reminded me
a lot of some places in country Australian. Large spaces of
uninhabited land, flat plains and little or no vegetation. Almost
like a desert of different sorts.

28th December
El Chalten

We arrived in El Chalten at about 4am
in the morning. Always good to be dumped in the middle of a town with
no map at some ungodly hour. Also good when its in the middle of
Patagonia, and you are wearing shorts and thongs and freeze your arse
off walking to the hostel as its close to zero, if not below zero.
We found a hostel and slept on the
tiled floor until the receptionist started at 6am. We couldnt check
in until 12, so we had some coffee and breakfast and headed out on a
5 hour return hike to Lago Torre.
The hike was fairly spectacular with
quite a few different styles of vegetation along the trail. Areas of
low vegetation and forests, a river and several small streams, a lite
snowfall as we walked, huge mountains with jagged and rocky peaks, a
glacier lake and of course, a glacier.
The final view of the mountain range
wasnt the best because of the low cloud cover, however, the hike was
quite nice and not overly difficult.

We headed back to the hostel to have
lunch, a shower, check into the room and spent the rest of the
afternoon relaxing in the hostel.
I cooked dinner and we ended up in bed
pretty knackered around 9pm. Still daylight outside.

29th December
El Chalten

The weather forecast at the shop had
said there would be rain and lousy weather today. So I got up at 7am
without much hope of getting in a second hike. However, as usual, the
weather report was wrong and it was a beautiful day. Allan was
knackered from the walk the day before, so decided to stay in bed (a
decision that he will surely regret) and I headed out with Chris an
American guy we met at the hostel who is living in Buenos Aires.
We took off on the Lago de Los Tres
hike which was 8 hours return, with the last kilometer or so
basically straight up hill on a goat trail! This hike takes you as
close to Mt Fitz Roy as you can possibly get.
The hike took off from the edge of town
and we got a nice view of the town, the river and the valley as we
walked towards Mt Fitz Roy. Along the way to the first lookout we saw
two huge condors circling in the air, and a few parrots and other
At the first lookout we were blow away
by the view of the mountains. It was clear and we could see Mt Fitz
Roy, exactly like the postcards and photos we had seen in the hostel
and in other places within Argentina.
However, that was nothing compared to
what happened next. Two pumas walked past. I managed to snap two
photos of the back of one of the pumas as it was walking off. It was
amazing, people could live in an area like that their entire life and
never see a puma in the wild. They were probably the size of a medium
sized dog, maybe similar to a blue heeler.
The hike was probably the best hike ive
done in my entire life when you take into account the pumas, the
scenery and our good fortune with the weather. We also left pretty
early, and as we returned to town we were passing hordes of hikers
heading up later in the day. When we reached the lakes at the base of
the towers there were four other people there.
The last hour and abit was basically
straight up to the foot of the towers, where there are two lakes. One
with ice bergs and the other with a huge glacier coming down into it.
Pretty daunting to be standing underneath something so huge and
impressive, made me feel about an inch tall.

The hike back was pretty tough on my
legs, 5 hours the day before and now another 8 hours, after being
pretty inactive for the last few months, but we made it back to town,
had dinner, a shower and waited out for our 6:30pm bus to El
Calafate, where we will be seeing the HUGE Perito Moreno glacier.
Im pretty glad that Allan and I stopped
fighting and that he decided to come down to Patagonia, instead of
heading north to lay around on a beach. Its something I think he
would have regretted. If you want to lay around on a beach, you could
just take a holiday in Australia, plus the last two and a half months
or so will be nearly completely on beaches. Plus, when are you ever
going to be able to see something as amazing as Patagonia again?
The scenery has sometimes taken my
breathe away, even looking at Mt Fitz Roy at different stages during
the hike when because of the sun it had changed colour completely.
The weather down here can change completely in a matter of minutes.
I just wish I had done a photograph
course or something before I had come away, so I could get some
photos to do things like this proper justice. Its also difficult in
places like some of the churches we have been in that have amazing
ceilings and carvings and things, I just dont know how to capture
some of these things properly or in a way that is even half as
impressive as actually being there.
Anyway, we took the bus 3 hours to El
Calafate and once we got checked into the hostel we went out for some
drinks with a few people we had met in El Chalten and headed to bed
about 3-4am!
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