Now where was I?? El Chaltén…
The Argentines created the town of Chaltén in the early 80s to
steak stake a claim on a border region that is in dispute with Chile:
They proclaimed it the trekking capital of Argentina (to rival Chile’s Torres del Paine just across the border) and so it has become. It has a frontier town feel with a hefty dose of hippy vibes – an oddly appealing combination of neat Euro couples with money to burn in their Patagonia branded goretex, roll-mat toting backpackers and dreadlocked Argentinian students strumming guitars by the side of the road [and the slowest WiFi in Argentina. But never mind! We’re here to trek! Shut up about the goddam WiFi!]. However pretty much everyone is united in the common aim of doing at least a little but of trekking (and we all bow before the hard core climbers, whose ropes, helmets and ice axes give them away as the wander around town).
There are various day hikes you can do (walk/trek/hike? No I don’t know what the difference is!) with the two most well known being the ones to Laguna Torre and Laguna de los Tres. (There are also some campsites-with limited facilities- out in the national park if you want to do multiday hikes instead, for bonus hardness points).
Being budget conscious at this point (had you noticed?!) I headed for the campsite in town, El Relincho, rather than a hostel and pitched my tiny tent again. (Next door if you want to save even more money is El Refugio, but I wasn’t in the mood for its lack of facilities and no idea who’s running it level of relaxedness). Relincho has an indoor kitchen/common room area which seemed to have two defacto shifts: 8am onwards- people who went to bed before 3am; from 10amish – the Argentinians! (Repeat in the evening..).
Of the two obvious treks I decided to do the Laguna Torre one first – the goal being to get to a small lake where you have a good view of Cerro Torre if the weather behaves. Well, the weather was ideal for walking- mildish – but there was a big chunk of cloud over the star of the show so no Torre for me ☹ (Pic at the top of this post). Still a good walk though! (9km to the Laguna -plus the same to return- but apart from some steep scrambles near the beginning it’s flattish and not too epic).
I read that another less popular trek, with the catchy name Loma del Pliegue Tumbado, was supposed to be the best of all with great panoramic views, including both Torre and Fitzroy so I planned to do that next. But first I had a rest day (honest guv, I could have gone straight back in the hills but..it was raining!). The rest day culminated in hanging out with a Polish backpacker in one of the town’s various craft beer pubs then going to look for a place where allegedly there was some folk music happening. This turned out to be the Patagonian Rebelde restaurant (they serve cocina al disco which boringly just means food cooked in a big pan!). We got there at 10.30 but nothing was happening. Maybe it’s finished? said the Pole. ‘Ah yes after 12.00 there will be chacarera’, the waitress told us. Of course – we were too early. After midnight, they turned the lights down, the music up, and shifted the tables and soon the floor was filled with Argentinians (plus about 3 tourists watching) chacarera-ing with an amount of energy that was astonishing for people who’d spent the day traipsing through the hills. Some *anyone can do it* cumbia enticed the Pole and I onto the floor and then we embarrassed ourselves by attempting a round of chacarera (and then promptly had to sit down). I called it a night at 3.30 and figured that the next day might have to be another *rest day* (unlike me the venue was showing no signs of winding down).
Luckily however, the local wine had gone easy on me and when I was woken at 8.30 by the sound of new arrivals putting up their tent next to mine, I saw that it was a gorgeous day and it would have been practically criminal to pass up that opportunity in Patagonia – with its notoriously
shit fickle weather.
This trail was much less busy than the previous one and a little more gruelling as it was basically uphill all the way (20km there & back). But a brilliant view as promised of Torre and Fitzroy (and the Laguna I walked to before).
Having managed to avoid any puma encounters last time, I did meet the wild cows that were warned of on this route. I thought they looked harmless enough as I passed them on the way up, but they had the last laugh (because cows do that, right, they are all about the lols aren’t they??).
On the way back just before the end I somehow missed the turn to cross back over a stream and head for the exit. I realised I’d missed it but couldn’t see where it was and so looked to see if there was another point where I could cross the stream. Well there was but it would have meant heading straight into the clutches of a gang of those savage cows so I backed off and pondered my plight (they seemed somehow more savage close up!). At this point another girl came down the trail and gave me the questioning ‘hola’ of someone who wondered what dodgy business I had been up to in the bushes by the stream. She realised I was about to continue on in the wrong direction and told me the exit wasn’t that way. No? I said meaning ‘yes I realise that and am oddly lost and I know I’ve missed the turn and no I wasn’t pissing in the bushes. But thank you for saving me from being mauled by the wild cows and I can’t remember how to speak Spanish, sorry’.
I wasn’t feeling quite so lively the following day (so the trip to Laguna de los Tres mysteriously disappeared from my to-do list) but in the late afternoon I did one of the short walks, heading north out of town to see a waterfall.
It’s a good spot for some contemplating! [The most southerly point of Argentina is no further south than Belfast is north apparently but the way the Argentine time zone falls means that in the summer it’s light late enough to make 5pm a perfectly reasonable time to embark on something].
More random Chaltén:
Then I took a bus to El Calafate to look at a famous glacier (Perito Moreno).
It is truly impressive, though the massive feeling of being part of the Patagonian tourist conveyer belt meant I was starting to seriously wonder how I could do things a bit differently (I didn’t come up with any great ideas though).
Back in town, I found a local Murga group playing near to where my campsite was. Murga has a similarly compelling rhythmic feel to samba but the dancing is all Mr Soft style floppy limbs and looks like you could just join in and throw yourself around- but I’m probably missing some nuances here!
As briefly mentioned in the last post, I thought it might be *interesting* to break up the journey to Ushuaia, my next destination, with more than the one night stop that the bus schedule required but immediately changed my mind as the bus pulled into the terminal. It’s a bit weird as in years of contemplating a Patagonia trip Rio Gallegos often featured as a probable transport hub and I always assumed it would be some kind of charming oasis at the edge of the vast wilderness. Ha! (Maybe it’s a similar feeling to the one I imagine people get when they book the Holiday Inn on Commercial Road in Whitechapel..)
The journey to Ushuaia itself was pretty interesting as it involved entering Chile, crossing the Magellan Straits, driving for a bit then entering back into Argentine territory (some pics in the next post). Crossing the Magellan Straits somehow seems to be a journey of great significance, even though really it was just a bit like taking the ferry to the Isle of Wight.