Published: March 17th 2008March 11th 2008
As I passed a group of guys going back home from their night out, I looked forward to some more sleep on the bus. Driving the unpaved Route 40 is supposed to be one of the most beautiful/ dangerous/ long journeys in South America (depending as ever on who you talk to), but at 6 o´clock in the morning that seemed a bit far off; besides I had two full days to enjoy it!
Admittedly the countryside is spectacular: typically patagonian with sparse brown scrub as far as the eye can see, occasional guanacos, nandus and lots of birds. Houses (or more usually farm buildings) are rare and judging by Perito Moreno, the (one horse) town where we spent the night, towns small and far between. The only difference I saw was that it is much greener on the Chilean side of the Andes, but that was later on.
A second early start and long day on the road was broken up by a visit to La Cuevo de las Manos. A 8000 year old site where numerous generations of indians had stencilled their hands (including one 6-fingered example) onto the rock faces. By mid-afternoon I had had my
fill of the road surface, the view hadn´t changed and I was looking forward to stretching out my legs.
Which I had ample opportunity to do on the trails around Cerros Fitzroy (also called Chalten) and Torre. Two iconic mountains with an extensive set of lakes and connecting paths just behind the purpose-built town of El Chalten. Feeling almost like a ski in-ski out french alpine resort in its single-minded existence, the walking was fun and easy with not much uphill, but some good views nevertheless. I had a two-day scramble to complete most of the park, and was only slightly confused while trying to talk to Gauthier, Fred and Philippe, the Belgian/French guys I walked with on the second day!
I then pushed on to El Calafate, another hugely touristy (and expensive) town in the middle of nowhere, this time the attraction is the Perito Moreno Glacier (confusingly more than a day´s travel away from the town of Perito Moreno and that´s before you get onto the mountain, streets... He was a popular guy, deservedly so I suppose since he was the first to survey Patagonia and therefore claim much of it for Argenina). The glaciar moves
2 metres a day, so it seems always to be groaning and everyone waits for the next big calving. The frequent small ones are impressive in live action but the last big one was in the summer of 2006 - no such luck on my visit!
There are more photos below