Chillin' out in Patagonia
30.05.2011 - 08.06.2011 8 °C
El Calafate - a pretty, friendly town in southern Patagonia. Our hostel was perched high on the hill at the top of town, and on our arrival we were greeted by 4 gorgeous fluffy dogs and a friendly cat. A woodfire was burning in the living room, and our "room" was a warm and cosy self-contained cabin, making the hostel easily the most inviting and comfortable hostel we'd stayed in so far. The large fireplace in the living room proved perfect for that night's assado - a BBQ of succulent beef, lamb, blood sausage and guanaco (the local version of deer). Who needs a TV when you can watch hunks of meat slowly grilling to perfection on the fire?
This was the perfect spot to spend a few days in recovery from the 'W' trek. Resting weary bones, Ali's swollen foot, Trav's swollen ankle and of course dodgy knee, we happily remained sedentary on the couch by the warm fire, eating meat stew cooked on the fire, drinking red wine and watching fabulous sunsets over the lake from the livingroom.
After a couple of days we took an all-day tour on a boat (no walking required) around Lake Argentino, Argentina's biggest lake, inside the southern end of Los Glaciares National Park, which took us up close to three huge glaciers. The first glacier we saw was Spegazzini, the biggest of all the glaciers in the park - and what a giant it was!
Our boat passed by icebergs as we travelled along the lake from the Glaciar Upsala. Some of these were sculptured into interesting shapes took on a blue appearance in contrast to the 'glacier milk' jade-green water of the lake.
The third and most famous of the glaciers was Perito Moreno, standing at an impressive 60m out of the water, and 5km wide, this glacier is really exciting to watch as it advances up to 2m per day. We stood on the deck of the boat watching, photographing and listening to the walls of ice crack loudly inside the glacier. We saw one section of ice come crashing down into the lake, with much noise - this was a really cool sight to see.
After our day of glaciers, we took another day out to laze about the hostel, playing a hundred games of 's**t-head' with 2 British backpackers, James and Marco, who were equally as content to give in to the slow pace of the hostel. Our lifestyle took on a notably Argentinian flavour at this point, with the purchase of our own mate (wooden cup), metal straw and yerba (herbal tea, a staple of Argentinian culture). The owner of the hostel, Martin, gave us a lesson in preparing the mate and yerba, on drinking etiquette, and even prepared our mate cup by burning the wood inside with sugar and ashes from the fire. Buying our own beef steaks to then salt and cook on the grill or over the fire, to eat for lunch and dinner accompanied by a full-bodied red vino became almost a daily ritual. We were feeling right at home in this country!
Then we were off to El Chalten, the next major dot on the map 3 hours away on the main highway. El Chalten, a tiny village that exisits purely for the tourists visiting the surrounding nothern end of Los Glaciares National Park. Known as the Fitz Roy Ranges, this part of the park is home to the magnificent 'Cerro Fizt Roy' and 'Cerro Torre' mountains, whose sharp, jagged snow-capped peaks tower above the village and and also habitat several glaciers. The ghost village was closed for the winter - with virtually only the hostel, supermarket and a pharmacy open.
Our plan was to do some more trekking through the national park to see the mountains closer up - crazy maybe - with injuries still pending, but we felt okay enough to tackle at least one of the easier day treks. These treks were to be far less hardcore - no camping required, we slept in a comfy, warm hostel at night and carried only daypacks. We met up with the two British backpackers who had been staying at the same hostel in El Calafate, and got straight into more rounds of 's**t-head' and shared the cooking of a lamb curry and chili con carne with them, given there were no open restauarants to be found.
We managed to do a short, 2 hour warm-up walk to a waterfall on the first day. This built up to a 7 hour trek on the second day with the British guys plus one more, taking us up a mountain side for awesome views of the valley and a trail that wound through woods, past completely frozen lakes, and to high points with amazing views of the Cerro Fitzroy. The trail we were on was technically closed due to the large amount of ice frozen onto the track as it climbed higher and higher up the mountain pass. We attempted to climb the entire way to reach the lake on the other side, however decided that slipping on the ice and sliding the whole way down would not be a great way to end our trip. So at that point we stopped, sat down amongst the rocks and ice and ate lunch while admiring the awesome views.
On our way back we came across a few noisy woodpeckers, busily chipping away at tree trunks. These beautiful yet destructive creatures were happy for us to get right up close and be photographed.
Our last trek, only 5 hours, took us to the view point of the Cerro Torre - which we managed to glimpse briefly from afar before thick cloud settled down in the valley and engulfed the moutain peaks for the rest of the day. We ate lunch sitting by a large frozen lake, and then hastily turned around toward the hostel, fingers, toes and noses frozen with cold. With Trav's knee just holding together, we reached the hostel in plenty of time to farewell 'Lorenzo,' the hostel's gorgeous shaggy St Bernard, and catch our evening bus back to El Calafate.
We had a few more days to kill in El Calafate, and quickly got back into the routine of lazing about and eating copious amounts of beef. This included an asado cooked especially for us by the hostel staff. One of the nights we made it out to a local bar which had a variety show, and lots of dancing and merry making.
We soon heard the news of the volcano which had erupted in Chile about 100km east of the Argentinian border a day earlier, spreading its ash all over parts of Chile and southern Argentina. All flights in the south had been suspended, so our flight back to Buenos Aires in a couple of days' time was not to be. So after a couple of days more at our home-away-from-home hostel in El Calafate, we eventually decided we would have to catch a bus to Buenos Aires and delay our flight home to Australia as it would take over 40 hours of bus travel to reach Buenos Aires. To make this more endurable, we decided to stop half way in Puerto Madryn, Argentina's prime whale-watching and sealife haven.