El Chalten

Trip Start Feb 13, 2012
Trip End Jul 31, 2012

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What I did
Cerro Torre
El Muro Restaurante
Chorillo del Salto

Flag of Argentina  , Patagonia,
Saturday, March 17, 2012

We arrived in El ChaltÚn around 10am. Throughout the trip, the scenery was beautiful. As we approached the town, the bus drove us into a valley surrounded by stunning snow capped mountains. On the way in we stopped off at the Visitor Center, where they provided a clear, concise overview of the park rules and guidance on the walks. If they had a performance scorecard, Nicole would have given the staff, material, and process all green lights (can take the girl out of consulting, but can't seem to take consulting out of the girl...we digress). We were set. All we had to do was check in to our hostel, Condor de los Andes.

This should have been a no-brainer allowing us to go out and enjoy the fabulous day, but proved to be harder than expected. We were early and they had nowhere safe to put our bags, so we had to wait around until 2pm. Lesson #1: Not all hostels are created equal. No prob - we could use the time to catch up on admin. Think again. The internet speed in El ChaltÚn resembled that of an early 90's dial up connection (certainly didn't help that the hostel staff chose to stream music off the web). Lesson #2: Slow internet should be expected in remote areas. Ok, we could go buy some supplies for the next few days. Nope - all stores closed in the middle of the day for several hours. Lesson #3: It's common for stores in small towns to close for mid-day siestas. Lesson #4: Once open, the food may not be of the quality you're used to at home, i.e. not rotting on the shelf. Running out of options, we turned to the staff to get some additional information...blank stares in response. Fine. Instead, we sat down in the fly-infested dining area and reviewed the alternative options of where else we could stay. Lesson #5: Bring a fly swatter (luckily David had and spent a good portion of the next few days fighting the good fight).

THEN (!), the familiar face of our friend, Kelly, walked into the room. We met him back in El Calafate. Kelly is a Geography teacher and volunteer fire-fighter from Montana (USA) currently on his sabbatical. He told us there were flies everywhere and this was probably one of the best hostels around. The stark contrast between the stunning views and the mediocre accommodation was hard to take in. It was time to activate David's go-to plan to fix all problems...Operation: Get Food. So we had a lovely little lunch summit to come up with a plan of action. NOTE: In this context and for all contexts in which we live and write this blog, "Summit" is a term used to describe a meeting in which important topics are discussed, but nothing is actually accomplished, e.g., "2009 Copenhagen Summit", organized to solve problem due to climate change.

Eventually, we were able to enjoy the wonderful weather. Kelly joined us for a walk to a near by waterfall, Chorillo del Salto. The walk there wasn't impressive, with most of it being on a dirt road against some very powerful wind, but the waterfall itself was good. One redeeming feature of the receptionist at the hostel was that he told us to take a poorly marked track that took you to the top of the waterfall. So we set off to explore. The top was an amazing little bit of paradise. We found a second waterfall not far upstream. Best part: there were no tourists to be seen. Just us, the sunshine, and nature.

That evening we cooked our own food, squeezing in between the other travelers in the tiny kitchen. This place brought the literal concept of "too many cooks in the kitchen" to a new level. David continued to make good use of the fly swat.

The next day we realized our run of luck had ended. It was drizzling and we had planned to walk to Laguna Torre. The weather brightened up slightly and we had a good walk to Glaciar Grande that overlooked the lake. Two weeks ago I'm sure I would have found the view stunning, despite the rain, but after the W-trek and Perito Moreno, this didn't come close. Even so, we were glad we did it. They say that Patagonia has some of the most beautiful landscape that you'll never see...apparently this held true in El ChaltÚn.

That evening we avoided the kitchen and celebrated our first month of travel. Date night! Based on a recommendation from a Californian couple, we went to the restaurant, El Muro. Awesome! Awesome food, awesome staff, awesome ambiance...awesome everything. We shared a steak, bake potato cake, salad, and delicious bottle of vino tinto de la casa ("the house red wine"). It was fantastic. The steak was cooked to perfection and the red wine complemented it wonderfully. We topped it all off with not one, but TWO great desserts - warm apple pie with ice cream and a chocolate-raspberry mousse pie. The wine must have gone straight to David's head (he never orders dessert). A brilliant end to a brilliant month!

The next day the rain came down stronger and we decided to stay indoors. The highlight of the day was the excursion to an ice cream shop, Domo Blanco, based on a brilliant suggestion by Kelly. David must have been desperate to go outside, so he agreed. Another delicious experience.

Aside from the ice cream adventure, the day is pretty much summed up by a quote from Nicole after several hours of blog maintenance: "I'm losing... [pause]...umm...[pause]... focus."

We happily packed up and checked out of the Condor the next morning.

On to our next adventure along the famous Route 40 (basically the Route 66 of South America). First stop: Perito Moreno (the city not the glacier), to try to find the ancient cave paintings.
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Ben on

Hey Dave, hey Nicole, wishing you good luck. Dave, grow a beard, get into a fight, do some hard drugs, and dance, you're in South America! Allow for things to happen that you usually would walk away from. You guys will take a lot from your trip(s), you will learn a lot, you will see a lot. And that's life, isn't it? Getting away from it all and ACTUALLY seeing what life is like. Most people on this planet do not sit in an office and are relatively highly paid to do NOTHING.... We all want to believe that we have certain standards, that we all have a certain value, because of our education or what not. But (for me anyway) it is good to see all the hard working women and men who have almost nothing but arguably have more value than a person sitting in an office shuffling some numbers.... Dave, watch out; you might feel the urge to become a freedom fighter... hehe

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