Week 30 - El Calefate to Ushuaia

Trip Start Aug 01, 2007
Trip End Dec 19, 2008

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Flag of Argentina  , Patagonia,
Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Feb 22nd - El Calefate

Duties had to be done today so all morning and most of the afternoon I caught up on my blog (no mean feat...2 weeks of writing and photos to sort and an internet connection so slow it would be laughed at in the 90's).

Then it was time to do some serious investigation into seeing the Moreno Glacier (apparently the 3rd largest mass of ice after Antarctica and Greenland). I was well keen on actually walking on the glacier so had to bite the bullet and go with an organised tour ($100 for the day trip).

It all kicks off at 9am tomorrow, so with an excited spring in my step I headed for dinner and a few calming beers (Quilmes is the beer of choice and budget here in Argentina).

A word about Calefate. It's not the prettiest of towns and is absolutely packed with tourists (and especially Israelis). It's small and compact with one main road and the usual array of tourist shops and restaurants...and sadly a casino).

The owners of the quaint hotel I'm staying in (Hospedaje Alejandre) are an elderly couple. He's quite a jovial old fella but she's a demon. She's already got it in for me for smoking in the room (no no smoking signs about I might add) which has caused a bicker between the two. I did offer to not smoke in there but he insisted and when I came back from dinner there was a new ashtray waiting for me (I suspect he's ken to smoke in the house too).

Feb 23 - Moreno Glacier

Well, today is glacier day so at 9am a coach load of tourists and me headed off. One and a half hours into the trip we rounded a long bend and lo and behold there was the spectacle that is the Moreno Glacier (complete with stunning rainbow across it...amazing). A huge wall of ice between two land masses and a lake next to it (Lake Argentina).

The next two hours I was pretty much just staring in awe at this huge mass of ice and every now and then it would put on a sound show of the natural kind when a small chunk of ice would crack and crumble off. This sounded like canons going off and was followed by a long rumbling as the ice chunks crashed into the lake (stirring stuff).

Apparently in 5 days time the glacier is due a major crumble which is special to see and hear (dammit...going to miss that one).

There is only one living creature on the ice and that's a small insect that has a coating of alcohol on its body to protect it from the cold.

Next was the boat ride to the glacier itself and the boat drew up close enough to get a real sense of perspective of how big this thing is (huuuuuuge with a capital Hu). Time to don my crampons (metal spiked footwear) and off we went for a hike on the ice. The going was pretty difficult at first (because of the crampons) but I quickly got used to this new way of walking (legs wider apart and smaller steps...almost penguin-like).

The colours of the glacier were such a sharp, crisp blue especially when we came across caves, water flows or dangerously deep crevices. Exhausted and late in the day it was time to head back but before that we were served a glass of whiskey with chunks of Moreno Glacier ice (nice).

During the bus journey there and back I befriended an elderly German couple. Pablo was an Ecuadorian professor of physics who also taught in Saudi but now lives with his wife Barbara in Germany (nice couple). Apparently he had to lie about his age to go on this trek (age limit is 5 to 60 and he's 67). Back at base a quick bite to eat and crashed out immediately.

Feb 24 - El Chalten

(sigh)..today I was supposed to catch my prepaid bus to El Chalten at 7.30am but waking up and glancing at my watch it showed 10.30am. So a mad dash to the bus terminal and I managed to change my ticket for a 1pm one (30% charge...doh!!).

While I was waiting I befriended one of many stray dogs around these parts. He decided to follow me around absolutely everywhere for the next 2 hours and even got me into trouble with shopkeepers when he scampered in after me.

The 4 hour bus ride from El Calefate to El Chalten (Routa 40) goes through some of the most beautiful scenery I have seen on my travels. Beautiful bright blue lakes and rivers with a backdrop of rows and rows of snow-covered mountains. Every now and then a hanging or normal glacier would pop into view. The journey was sore on the backside but soothing on the eyes.

Arrived at 6pm and it was time to do some SAS style hostel hunting to try and beat the crowds of backpackers on my bus. As predicted there were no beds to be found anywhere but after an hour of hunting in this dusty wild west town I found one.

It seems my hostel was still under construction (I couldn't help but think of the film 'Carry on Abroad' when the door handle of the room fell off in my hands, the toilet seat was half the size of the bowl and the whole lock mechanism for my locker dropped out). Dinner and then checked bus times, as I need to leave here in 2 days time (buses get booked up quickly just like the beds here). Still haven't decided if I'm going to head south to the end of the world or head north to Puerto Madryn to see some sea wildlife.

A long day of trekking for me tomorrow so an early dinner and night. Speaking of night..it's 10pm as I write this and it's still light outside...weird.

Feb 25th - El Chalten

Major hiking day today as I take on the Laguna Los Tres hike (famous for its stunning views of Mount Fitzroy). So armed with a load of sandwiches, drinks and warm clothes I headed off at 9am. A 5 hour one way hike it started off fairly easy and the views were totally beautiful (glaciers, rivers, lakes, mountains and of course the famous snow-capped Mount Fitzroy in the distance).

During my halfway stop at a lake with stunning views I sat down for my lunch. This is when I was mugged. Ok, the fella was 5 inches tall but he had a mean look about him and a sharp beak. Cheeky little rascal just hopped onto my pack, grabbed my salami slices as bold as anything. After a few minutes he called his mates over so I knew when I was beat and scampered off.

The previous stretch of the hike was woods and open areas and now it changed to rolling hills and dry scrub as the Fitzroy was getting closer.

The last part was the hardest bit of hiking I've ever done. An hour of steep walking on loose rocks and gravel and I eventually crawled my way to the top sweating buckets. The view as I came over the top was amazing with a freezing cold lake and the Fitzroy as the backdrop. Tested the water but even I'm not stupid or Aquarian enough to swim in it.

On the walk back (more like a stumble) I chilled by the ice cold river and drank the most delicious fresh water I've tasted (all water here is drinkable because of the strict rules on washing, swimming or doing anything near it).

Back at the hostel and armed with a well deserved beer I sat for a while in the communal area and patted myself on the back. I gave up all hope o having a chat with anyone as Hebrew was the language of choice here (sweet Jesus the Israeli's are a noisy lot but good fun).

Feb 26th - El Chalten

Today was a gentler walk for me because my legs feel like they're made of lead and I've pulled a muscle in my knee joint (happened racing down a particularly steep and rough track. Typical, a group of cute girls I was chatting to were struggling down the trail, so me in my infinite wisdom tried to prove it's easier to actually jog rather than walk.).

The Laguna Torre was my destination today with the added bonus of the nearby Glacier Grande. Again it was a beautiful hike this time starting in dry dusty hills, then going through flat dry forest with ultra powerful rivers. The next bit was flats and hills of boulders and this is where I felt the strongest gusts of wind in my life blowing down from the glacier. A few times I nearly lost my grounding and close to getting blown off my feet into the depths below.

The next part was a walk around the lake (with floating ice) which was one hour of very treacherous walking on top of an exposed narrow hill (the wind really didn't help me). Again nearly toppled over the side.

The view of the lake and the Cerro Torre was amazing but sadly too windy to chill and watch for any length of time.

As far as wildlife goes I saw loads of wild rabbits and birds. My favourite find of the day was a group of woodpeckers hacking away at a tree nearby oblivious to me standing right next to them.

This evening I had the bus to catch to El Calefate so I ploughed down the trail passing gangs of elderly hikers with their hiking sticks (cheats). The plan was to get the 6.30pm bus to Calefate (4 hours) sit at the bus terminal and catch the 3am bus to Ushuaia (yes, I have already decided to take this route now). Sadly when I got to El Calefate all buses were fully booked until 29th Feb (3 days away). So at 10.30 I went back to Hospidaje Alejandre and was flatly refused a room by the demon wife (don't blame her really).

Booked into a nice cheap hostel near the bus station and knackered after two days of serious hiking I had a few bevies and pondered whether I should head straight back to Buenos Aires to meet my Amazon buddies Meera and Dijle...

Feb 27th - El Calefate

I seriously don't want to waste more time in this sleepy and super touristy town so in desperation checked out some flights. All fully booked for weeks and the only available one was $450 (having a laugh). By a stroke of luck and by checking every single bus company again and again I managed to find one seat available for tonight's 3am bus to Ushuaia (last seat).

The rest of the day I just relaxed and read at the hostel, content in the thought that I've found a way out of here. Got chatting to a rather wild-eyed German girl student (nice enough though) and shared a few beers while I waited for the early morning bus.

Feb 28th - El Calefate to Ushuaia

Very drunk I boarded the bus at 3am and cursing my nights beer drinking I spent most of the time in the toilet trying to balance in the ride that is a bus toilet. The journey was full of stops (a real pleasure for a smoker like me). All in all there were 4 border stops because you have to go through Chilean territory to get to Ushuaia by bus.

Another stop was a ferry crossing to Tierre Del Fuego worth mentioning because I saw some beautiful black and white dolphins surfing and frolicking next to the boat.

Arrived in Ushuaia late evening and checked into a recommended hostel nearby and immediately thought I was in Tel Aviv (packed with shouting Israelis...as was the bus getting here).

Did some checking for tours but it was too late in the day so I just relaxed and settled for a cheap steak dinner and slept off my hangover.

The plan for the next week is back to Buenos Aires (just love the place too much) and then head to Salta in the north for a day or two...then it's adios Argentina and helllllloooo Bolivia.

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