Argentina - El Calafate and El Chalten

 

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Chile - Exploring the Lake Region
Mar 17-24, 2000

Chile - Pucon and the Bio Bio
Mar 9-16, 2000

Argentina - El Calafate and El Chalten
Mar 1-8, 2000

Chile - Puerto Natales and Torres del Paine
Feb 18-29, 2000

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Feb 13-17, 2000

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Feb 8-12, 2000

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Feb 4-7, 2000

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Jan 6-15, 2000

 

Wed Mar 1, 2000 - El Calafate

The van to Calafate picked us up at the hotel just after 7:00am. We did not realize how close to the border we were, but arrived as they were opening at 8:00. Fortunately, we had another uneventful crossing.

The drive through the broad, empty pampas was interrupted by a few interesting road events. First we stopped for 5 minutes while a group righted a truck that had fallen over in the road. We also had to drive on the shoulder while they worked on the road, or to avoid bad potholes. Other than that, the entertainment was the ostriches, lambs and guanacos that would sprint across the gravel road in front of the van.

In keeping with our experience, the Argentinian tourist office in El Calafate was very helpful. They had small maps and information on buses, hotels, and estancias. We then headed of for a good parilla (bbq) lunch at La Vaca Atada, while listening to cheesy 80's love songs.

We then headed to the phone place to make some calls. First, we tried to get a reservation at one of the more interesting looking estancias, but they were full - too bad! Then we called Amex and Visa for various things - good thing they accept collect calls.

All shops and offices in El Calafate seem to close during the early afternoon, most from noon to 4, so we couldn't do much more. We headed back to the bus station and camped there for a few hours. At 4, Louisa headed to the grocery store to by camping dinners, while Tom stayed and called a few more estancias. Finally, we loaded our packed minibus (the 5pm bus left at 5:30, standard latin american time) and headed up to El Chalten.

The bus dropped us off at the Fitz Roy Inn where we stayed as part of a bus, dinner, hotel and breakfast package. From the moment we arrived the staff was rude, and frankly, the hotel was not that nice. Louisa wanted to ask whether the waitress could speak. So, while it was logistically easy, the Fitz Roy Inn definitely ranks as a Not Recommended.

 

Thu Mar 2, 2000 - Parque Los Glaciares

With our new resolution to plan further in advance than that day, we headed out after breakfast. First stop was Fitz Roy Expediciones who run the extended ice trekking. We decided trek on the glacier here since the trip on Perito Moreno seems much easier and shorter, overall not as recommended.

They are not running a trek on the day that we wanted, Marrch 4, so we flipped our plans and are going tomorrow! This also meant that we had a much shorter hike to cammp, but will have an extra night camping in the park.

We tried the "tourist office" for information, but the man there was unknowledgable and unhelpful. So, we headed to the phone company to make reservations for El Calafate and our anniversary. We succeeded in the former, but not the latter.

Lunch was delicious empanadas made at a local store at the main junction in town. And some still warm bread from the local bakery. Loaded up on starches, we headed into the park.

On the path, we chatted with the couple who had broken the axle on the car the night before. Surprisingly, they were in good spirits and only need to wait until Saturday before the car will be fixed.

The hike was fairly easy, and we were at Camp Bridwell in about 2.5 hours. The terrain is much different than Torres del Paine with sandy trails and thinner vegetation, bushes rather than trees. However, the leaves are starting to turn which makes the view across the valley beautiful. It is rather odd to see fall colors in March!

For dinner Tom cooked up a gigantic pot of polenta with cheese. During our wandere around the campground, we stopped in the makeshift hut and found a copy of Jane magazine (in English) so we sat on some rocks looking down valley for a read. It was definitely entertaining. Then off to bed by 9:00, since it was getting cold even before the sun set.

 

Fri Mar 3, 2000 - Ice Trekking Glacier Torres

After a delicious breakfast of oatmeal with bananas and hot chocolate, we headed across the campground to the ice trekking tent. Corra outfitted the five of us (3 Argentinians,and us) with crampons and we headed out of camp.

After a five minute walk to the Rio Fitz Roy, just below Laguna Torre, we started the first adventure of the day. The only way across was by Tyrolean traverse. This is where you hang by a harness and caribiner from a rope that goes across the raging river. Louisa was surprised at how easy the crossing was.

After an hour's hike to the glacier, we strapped on our crampons and headed across the ice. The weather was beautiful with blue skies and the Cerro Torre towered in front of us. Walking with crampons came quite easily to both of us and we enjoyed hearing the "crunch" on the ice.

Cora took us through a few ravines which required some wide walking. The puddles on the ice are filled with absolutely clear water. So clear, in fact, that it is hard to see that the water is there. The ice melts in interesting ways with many waterfalls underneath the ice, or ones that fall many feet. We walked through an ice cave and enjoyed the beautiful view with the group. During lunch we sat with a view of the Cerro Torres at the end of the glacier.

After lunch, Cora set up ropes for climbing and we scaled an ice wall (serac). Tom went up so quickly, that Louisa did not get a picture until he was coming down. She did pretty well, also. It was quite a thrill to hang from a wall of ice from a few metal points.

During the walk back across the glacier we continued to investigate the under-ice rushing sounds of the corkscrew waterfalls and went through another ice cave. Cora shared information about when Glacier Torres formed and how it is shrinking now. We enjoyed the views toward the lake.

We went back across the Tyrolean before reaching camp. Back in camp we all drank tea and had some lively conversations (mostly in Spanish!) about smoking, especially in restaurants, whether drinking is good or bad for your health and other fun topics.

Dinner was a delicious concoction of polenta, pasta and herbed tomato sauce. With our bellies full, we headed to bed at our typical camping time of 9pm.

 

Sat Mar 4, 2000 - Fitz Roy

We continued or tradition and woke up late, lingered over a hot breakfast of hot chocolate and oatmeal with raisins, then packed up camp. We headed out of Bridwel at 10:30 with sun shining on us, but fog covering Cerro Torre.

We had a nice hike, me a friendly cople frrom Australia and were about to stop for lunch when we reached Lagunas Madre, Hija and Nieta, where hurricane force winds blew straight at us. Tom said they reminded him of the winds that he walked inwhen Hurricane Gloria blew through Boston. They nearly blew us away! If only they were at our backs!

Regardless, we made it to Camp Poincenot by 1:30, and found a terrific camp sight. After lunch at our 'dining room table' we set up the tent, just before the rains arrived. We even had a great view from the site.

We climbed in during the pouring rain and howling winds, which lasted the entire afternoon. We slept for 1.5 hrs and awoke to find the sun peeking out around 5pm. In fact the wind completely stopped - unbelievable to have such extremes.

However, now that the clouds had cleared, we discovered that we had a wonderful view of Fitz Roy and Poincenot. We had a fantastic sunset behind Fitz Roy while eating another edition of our dlicious polenta pasta casserole.

The wonderful views and pleasant evening inspired us to take a constitutional, then we headed to bed.

 

Sun Mar 5, 2000 - Laguna de Los Tres and El Calafate

When our eyes opened, Tom looked up to see if Fitz Roy was clear or under clouds - clear! A beautiful sunrise greeted us. So after fueling up on our usual hot breakfast of hot chocolate and oatmeal with raisins, we headed up, literally.

The path to Laguna de los Tres climbs steeply up for about an hour. We summitted to see Laguna and Glacier Los Tres. found a lovely spot to wait for the clouds covering the tops of St. Exupery Poincenot and Fitz Roy to clear and for the sunshine to come out again. We took one last look a the whole range from Lago de los Tres, then headed back.

Going down was easier. The view of the valley with Lakes Madre, Hija, Nienta, Capri and Viedma. It was incredible to look back at the valley with Camp Poincenot and realize how far we had cimbed.

We had lunch in camp, broke it down and headed into El Chalten. We thought it would be about a 3 hour hike, but we did it in less than two. It woud be a great trail to take into the park with Fitz Roy leading you down the trail.

During the hike, we saw Damian and Laurita on their way in to Camp Poincenot. We are looking frward to a delicious meat dinner with them, Argentine style, in Buenos Aires!

We reached town as the final race of the trekkathon was about to occur. (The event started our first morning in Bridwell) The sprint around the main plaza ended with all participants holding hands and crossing the line together. It was wondeful to watch.

We tried to get homeade ice cream from Domo Blanco, but it was closed, even though the sign said open. We started to get grumpy do to lack of fod and lots to do. We took care of some travel details from the phone company, but not many because it was Sunday. Next errand was buying food for snacks and dinner on the bus.

We tried the ice cream shop again with success! Tom had the Dulche de Lecche Domo Blanco which was delicious with real rum. Louisa's banana had big chunks of frozen fruit. We almost got seconds!

The bus ride to El Calafate we spent reading about the lake district in Chile and Argentina. There seems to be so many activities! We tried to loacte a place to spend our anniversary, but have not quite decided.

On arrival, we quickly found our hotel, Los Lagos. It is nothing special, but has a wonderful hot shower. It turns out that starting in Guatemala had a good effect on our trip. Now we are easily pleased with hotel rooms, and especially showers. We followed our hat shoowers with bed and deep sleep.

 

Mon Mar 6, 2000 - Perito Moreno

Had a wonderful mornning that started with another round of hot showers then breakfast in the hotel. The hotel staff was incrediblly helpful and friendly. We should have guessed this last night when they greeted us by name and took us immediately to our room, but it did not hit home until they spent lots of time explaining to us how to get around, what is available and even calling the car rental company for us.

We rented a Volkswagan Passat for the day and headed into town (we easily could have walked the 8 blocks that we covered, but it was more fun to drive.) The next good omen was finding real Oreos at the gas station mini mart.

We headed out for the 1.5+ hour drive to Glacier Perito Moreno. There isn't much along the dirt road to the glacier. Actually the road is rather amazing considering it is one of the most travelled tourist roads in Argentina since it is a bumpy, dirt with a littlw gravel road. It reminds Louisa of the road in Good Hart, on a bad day.

We ate lunch in route - some of the most delicious empanadas made at the bakery Todos Suertos in town. The woman at the hotel told us about a boat that goes in front of Perito Moreno that is not the 'Safari Nautica,' a $25pp trip about which we have heard mixed reviews. So, we headed straight for the restaurant nex to the glacier arriving just in time to walk on the 2:30pm boat.

Our first sight of the glacier showed its magnitude and beauty. We hoped on a boat for an hour that took us close to it. As we turned to take our first pass along the glacier, a huge wall of ice crashed into the water with a huge splash! The hour in front of the glacier was great, being so close to the huge expanse. A woman took a picture of us in front of the Perito Moreno.

but as we walked along the boardwalk (next) we were shocked at how small the boat is compared to the glacier!

The weather totally cooperated, with blue skies, and lots of sun to keep us warm. The sun glistened off the ice and made it appear more translucent and blue as it began to set behind the glacier.

We found a few steps on a remote part of the boardwalk at sat in the sun to watch the glacier. Another huge wall fell off a mere 100+ feet in front of us, sending a huge cloud of snow into the air and ice shards almost to shore.

We were a it peckish so headed down the road t Los Notros for tea. They have a wonderful tea and make a fabulous capuccino. We enjoyed the wonderful view from their deck for awhile before heading back to the glacier for sunset.

It continued to amaze us. As the sun disappeared, the glacier crackled, crashed and bomed. On entire wall fell off right in front of where we were sitting! This was followed shortly by another large calving just around the bend.

Completely satisfied, we drove back into El Calafate. After driving nearly 200 kms today, we noticed that we had not encountered any traffic lights, and in fact the only stop sign was in the park where there was not, nor could be, cross traffic.

While getting money at the ATM, Tom ran into Damian again. It is fun to have friends in such foreign lands! We are lookng forward to seeing them in Buenos Aires.

The woman at the Hotel Los Lagos looked at us dubioudly, but we made arrangements for an early breakfast so we could drive back out to the glacier (abut 1.5 hrs one way) for sunrise.

 

Tue Mar 7, 2000 - Perito Morento Sunrise

Crackle! Boom! The glacier awoke as we watched the sun descend its front wall of ice. We arrived at 8:15 and were the only people in the park. It was quite wonderful to be alone with such a natural beauty early in the morning.

The different angle of ice showed more aqua, vibrant blue in the glacier and ice burgs than yesterday, and the water appeared to be a much deeper blue as well. We enjoyed another hour of crackles and crashes before returning to El Calafate for a travel day.

Tom observed that driving in pattagonia does not require the use of brakes frequently. The lack of traffic lights and stop signs eliminates the need to stop completely. At narrow parts inthe roads all that is required iss to take your foot off the accellerator and down shift. Interesting driving style.

On the return to town a large rainbow across the lake. It was vibrant and thin then grew wiider and we could see all of the clors well, enev the violet.

Per our experience in patagonia, the bus schedule info we got on arrival in El Calafate was incorrect, so we spent another day there. When Tom found out we were at Telefonico using the internet (fastest connection in town), so he called the highly reccomended Hostal del Glaciar. They came to pick us up immediately, checked us in ($35), and sold us bus tickets to Puerto Natales ($23) for the next morning on the bus that stops at the hostal!

In better moods dur to the friendly staff we headed into town for a luunch of Argentine parilla at Mi Viejo (fair). With the afternoon "free" and all of the shops closed until 4 or 5, we headed to the new internet cafe for a couple of hours. It was great to get back in touch with frieds and family. We also researched the Lake District and our tickets to South Africa.

We checked in with a travel agent, but none in town can help us buy international tickets. This seemed funny, but true.

We had dinner at the hostal's restaurant, which was (overly) highly recommended in Lonely Planet. It was good and cheap but the entertainment was a funny man from Barcelona.

 

Wed Mar 8, 2000 - Punta Arenas (again)

We hopped the 7am slow bus to Puerto Natales (don't take Cootra!) for a 6 hour ride that took 4 on the way there (we arrived after the 8am bus from a different company). Once in Puerto Natales we found a bus that left one hour later for Punta Arenas. This ride was better, helped by the almost complete paved road between the two cities.

The hotel, Hostel de Avenidas, was just around the corner from the bus station. The woman who checked us in was warm and friendly and arranged foro our taxi in the morning.

After getting settled, we headed for the LanChile office. Again they said that there are no seats available for flights tomorrow. Bummer! We still plan to go to he airport for stand-by.

Walking through town was significantly different than a month ago! The sidewaks were filled with people rather than vacant. Punta Arenas seemed to have more life and activity than our first days spent here. Very interesting to observe the difference. Perhaps most of the town was on vacation, as February is similar to August in most of Europe. However, Punta Arenas still seems to be a stop over town, not offering much more.

Next stop is an internet cafe around the corner from the hotel. We each hopped on a computer and typed away. Two hours flew by as we wrote to family and friends, made travel arrangements for the lake region and south africa and updated the journal. We left feeling more in touch.

For dinner we headed to La Mama's, one of Fodor's top 3 restaurants in Chile. It also happened to be next door to the internet cafe and around the corner from our hotel. After eating there we have no idea why. Let's just say the food was warm and cheap. It is no Chez Manu (Ushuaia) or even Sotito's (Punta Arenas).

We checked the stack of magazines in the sitting room of the hotel and found a Fast Company in English! Great bedtime reading, even though it was from March 1999.

Tomorrow we hope get to Puerto Montt!

Revised: Wed Feb 13 11:37:55 2008 on www.shieldsaroundtheworld.com.
Copyright 2000 Tom & Louisa Shields. All rights reserved.