31.01.2010 10 °C
It took us 30 hours to get from Bariloche to El Calafate, but the journey was surprisingly pleasant: we had a seat called CAMA, which resembles to the First Class in an aeroplane. Sleeping wasn't a problem, we got breakfast served and the timing was perfect...we arrived at El Calafate just after midday. We had booked a hostel called Buenos Aires, and the owner Carlos was so nice, he explained us immediately everything there was to do in both El Calafate and El Chaltén, just 2 hours away. We decided to just stay for 2 nights and dedicate more time to El Chaltén.
El Calafate seems a sort of purpose-built town, convenient for its location right next to the glacier Perito Moreno. Apparently, it's also where the Kirchner family has a holiday home. Right beside El Calafate is the Lake Argentino, the biggest in the country and the water has a funny emerald colour thanks to the glaciers. To be honest, other than El Perito Moreno, there's not that much to do, but still they have managed to make El Calafate a pleasant little town to hang around. And we tasted our best coffee here, thank God, Nick was getting pretty desperate! (Italians and coffee...)
The next morning we went to visit the glacier. We took a bus to the National Park "Los Glaciares" and one hour later we were standing in front of this huge natural monument. Even from a far distance, it makes you freak out. We had seen glaciers before, we had even walked on them, but their sizes may have covered just one section of Perito Moreno...it was unbelievable. We decided to hop on a boat and take a tour to get closer to the glacier. We were standing outside, looking at all the different ice formations that were part of the glacier, and were lucky enough to see some ice fall into the water. Everytime it happened, the noise produced by the impact of the ice on the water was similar to a thunder...so even if the piece seemed really small, our perception was fooling us! We spent one hour in the boat and then got off to do the panoramic walk on the platforms built in front of it. There's actually a moment when you reach the centre of the glacier, and you can see how it disappears between the mountains...Those who have been lucky to see El Perito Moreno, know there are not enough words to describe it, and the pictures will never reflect its true size. Yet, you can't stop taking shots of this huge ice block. We found out it wasn't the biggest in Argentina, within the same park you have the glacier Viedma.
El Chaltén on the other hand is the trekking capital of Argentina. Anyone who loves walking or climbing stops by this small village to get in contact with nature. It's particularly famous for climbers as it's the closest point to the peaks Fitz Roy and Cerro Torre, two of the most dangerous to climb in the world. We would just concentrate on the walking...that's more than enough. On our arrival at El Chaltén, the bus stopped at the visitor centre where we got all the information we needed on all the walks you can do. We chose to do the classic treks; Cerro Torre on day one and Cerro Fitz Roy on day two. Our hostel, Pioneros del Valle, was full of Argentinians, who offered us to try mate for the first time; strong, but with sugar everything tastes nicer :-) We gotta say that Argentinians are extremely nice people, just like all South Americans we've had the chance to know until now.
The next morning we started our trek around 10 am to the Torre Peak and didn't come back until 5 pm. It was cold, very windy and beautiful. We didn't expect the area around El Chaltén to be so green, as during our bus rides we always saw that the Argentinian Patagonia is pretty dry. At the end of our trek we arrived to a lake called Laguna Torre, and right beside it was the peak, but unfortunately we couldn't see as it was covered with clouds. Still, we could see a glacier that ended on the lake and lots of ice blocks that were floating on the water. The wind up there was crazy, we could barely stand and were covered from head to toes. After some well deserved lunch we made our way back, and by the time we arrived at the hostel the only thing we could think of was a nice hot shower and a bed.
On day two, we did the big trek; 25 km (12.5 km just to get to the Fitz Roy and back). This was a much more interesting walk, for all the views we saw, but also much more hectic. This time we were lucky, the Fitz Roy was visible and it was incredible, it just gave us more excitement to go up there. During our way, we stopped by torrents and rivers to get some fresh water, because you can still drink straight from the river, without using any magic purifying pills! Crazy huh? Nearly at the end of the trek we saw people that were camping in an authorised site, and we thought it was a pity we didn't have all the equipment to camp overnight as well, as it would have meant splitting the trek in two days and making our lives easier. But no, we're extreme people who decide to do as much as we can! So up we went, to walk the last 2.5 km up the hill, and our muscles were starting to hurt, but people kept telling us that "up there is heaven, nothing like I've never seen before"...so we empowered ourselves to keep going, even if it was painful. At the end, after 4 hours non-stop walking, we got to the top...and OMG!!!! The Fitz Roy peak, surrounded by other mountains, all covered with snow, two emerald blue lakes (Laguna de los Tres and Laguna Sucia), waterfalls, a glacier...and us! It gave us satisfaction, just to know that we had gone through a lot of walking to see this! Even thinking we considered quitting and turning around, thank God we just continued in the end. There was nothing left to do, except walking 4 hours back to El Chaltén, but first...first we sat down and contemplated the Fitz Roy, talking to other travellers about how outstanding this place was. I guess no more details have to be provided, you just have have have to go there!!!
We had walked 48 km in two days, and were very proud of our efforts. We celebrated with a parrillada in a restaurant in the village, and went to sleep with a great sense of satisfaction. Our feet were not that happy though, and I guess, this has been our last trek in the round the world trip.