Tuesday, January 3, 2012
Today was a travel day. We were picked up from the hotel at 4:30AM for our 6:50AM flight to El Calafate. I had expected that we’d be flying out of aeroparque (domestic airport) but our Aerolinea Argentina flight was from EZE (international airport) which is a lot farther out of the city. With EZE’s distance and the fact that during the high season flights are often overbooked, our BA rep Nadia thought we’d better get an earlier start. Luckily we beat the rush of other travelers and had plenty of time to go through security. We had a short layover in Trelew (famous for whale watching) and arrived in El Calafate around 11AM. We were met by our guide Carola, an awesome Chilean, who took packed us up into a van and whisked us away to El Chalten, some 200km north of Calafate.
The 3 hour drive was absolutely gorgeous. There were hardly any cars on the road at all as we zoomed up route 40 around Lago Argentino (the largest lake in Argentina) and Lago Viedma. All we could see were endless mountain ranges, milky green waters of the lakes, and lowland plants that covered the entire surface. The wind was a bit chilly, a drastic change from the hot sun we faced in Buenos Aires. They say that in Patagonia you can easily encounter all 4 seasons in one day. I tried to pack for every kind of weather but I’m a bit nervous as to what I’m going to find here. Needless to say I put on a fleece as soon as we landed in El Calafate…
We reached the small town of El Chalten around 4PM and after checking into our hotel, I headed out with my roommate to see a bit of the town. From what I understand, El Chalten was hastily slapped together in 1985 during the time when Chile and Argentina were grabbing whatever land they could in Patagonia. I had no idea that the borders between these two countries were so vague only just a few decades ago. Having this town (population 600 and rapidly growing now) helped Argentina claim this part of Patagonia as their own. There is construction going on all over El Chalten and I’m certain that in a few years it may look like Aspen or Boulder. But for now, the main street can be covered on foot in less than 10 minutes and there are just a few cute little boutiques, bakeries, and restaurants. I didn’t see any banks or a post office, and I think the only ATM in town was set up a year or two ago but interestingly enough, our hotel has a decent wi-fi signal. I stopped at a small supermarket to grab a few apples (unbelievably expensive), went to a bakery for an empanada and a cheese sandwich for tomorrow’s hike, and returned back to the hotel to get ready for dinner.
Our group dinner was at La Cerveceria, a microbrewery housed in what looked like a miniature ski chalet. It was cozy and I got to know some of the other travelers on this hiking trip over a few glasses of Malbec. So far everyone I’ve met are well traveled and really interesting. There are at least three others besides me who have left their jobs to travel, a few who are much older, one Korean college student who is only just 20, a glaciologist from Switzerland, and more Australians than I expected. I suppose anyone who is willing or want to hike 20+km a day in Patagonia will have an adventurous spirit, but I’m happy to know that they all seem to be quite fun as well.
Tomorrow is a real hardcore hiking day and I must say, I’m a bit uneasy about whether I’m up to the task. But I think I’m more excited than nervous… Hopefully we’ll have good weather and we’ll get a glimpse of the famous Monte Fitz Roy. I can’t believe I’m here!
Highlight of the day: Patagonian landscape, Lago Argentino, Andean Condor (spotted on the way to El Chalten)