Thursday, May 15, 2014


Our introduction to Calafate had started 2 days ago, when we were waiting for the bus to Chalten. Neither of us had expected winds strong enough to practically knock us off our feet. Especially when we had our backpacks on. This was normal Calafate weather. Sunny, freezing, windy as hell.

There's the frontier-town look and feel (still there, albeit fully gentrified), the stark expanse of the plains and the freakish weather, but one thing draws everyone to Calafate and that's the glaciers. Or for most people, one Glacier. The Perito Moreno, at the far end of Lago Argentino. That's what we'd come to see too.

We parked ourselves at the Hostel de las Manos, who had sent someone with a board to advertise at the bus stop. We happily obliged. Warm and cozy, with a friendly little common kitchen, we got a shared 6-person dorm with a much-needed super clean, hot water shower! Of course, surprise surprise, J. (Iguazu, Bariloche, Calafate!) walked in to share the very same room.

The stories and tales one hears about the Perito Moreno are always going to be insufficient. Part of the Southern Patagonian Ice Field - the largest outside of the poles - the sight of it is imposing and there's no other word that I can describe it by. We took the ferry ride on the glacial lake, to the foot of the glacier. The freezing cold temperatures are little deterrent for the enjoyment of the glacier. The ice towers 50 meters above you and stretches 3 miles long with signs of glacial erosion strewn about everywhere. Along with views of the ice, you also see (and more often hear) massive chunks of it fall off into the lake - an absolutely stunning sight. The ferry took us up close to one side of the glacier, while the other side - which drains into the larger part of Lago Argentino and is cut off by an ice arch - was visible from an array of walkways and viewing galleries where we spent most of the day.

The rest of the charm of Calafate is in taking lazy walks and having long meals in a small, sleepy town. Which is exactly what we spend the next day doing, including visiting the a small bird park/sanctuary where flamingos are to be found in the marsh. Neighbouring the park is the shore of the lake where we stared at icebergs floating majestically by. Our day was rounded off by some humita and beer at a long lunch in town, with - of course - a stop off at a delightful local bakery for pastry and coffee. Another long haul bus ride awaited us, for the next stop: Puerto Madryn.


As our trusty Lonely Planet told us, Chalten is the trekking capital of Argentina, and we didn't want to miss it. It was hard to get to, though. We couldn't get a direct bus to it from Bariloche, since Ruta 40 was closed. So we landed in the closest town possible, Calafate, and figured that we would find our way to Chalten eventually. We were able to find a four-hour bus that would take us there, but it left within a couple of hours of us reaching Calafate. After the 36 hour journey from Bariloche to the Calafate bus terminus, we weren't exactly looking forward to spending an additional four hours on the bus, but we soldiered on after fortifying ourselves with Argentinean beer (Cerveza Quilmes) and pizza.

And it was well worth it! Chalten has nothing more than a cluster of a few houses, hostels, a local restaurant, and a cafe. No banks, one store. The village sits within a national park, and is only accessible by a rough unpaved road from November till March. We visited in late November, so it was still early in the tourist season and summer was just setting in. Chalten sits in a valley surrounded by the Fitz Roy range. It's the windiest place I have ever been to, and because of its stark landscape and minimalist creature comforts, it drove home the fact that I had truly and finally arrived in the legendary Patagonia. And yet, we stayed in a hostel that was more luxurious than I imagined Chalten to be, with hot water, and high speed satellite internet!

We hiked to the base camp of Mr. Fitz Roy and enroute saw our first llama. We also made a few new friends, including ES, an agricultural researcher from Cordoba with whom we shared mate. Exciting times.