After the "W" hike in the Torres del Paine National Park we returned to Puerto Natales and stayed there for 1 night. The following day we departed for the long drive to El Chalten in Argentina.
El Chalten is a small village in a pretty valley within the Los Glaciares National Park, at the base of the famous Cerro Fitz Roy (3.375 m) and Cerro Torre (3.128 m) mountains. El Chalten exists purely as a result of tourism: climbers from around the world come here to climb the famous Cerro Fitz Roy and Cerro Torre as they are apparently two of the most difficult mountains in the world to climb. The area also offers world-class hiking.
After a long day on the bus we discovered that we didn´t have a booking at our hostel. The owners were very nice and took us to another hostel which was unfortunately a bit of a dump. Luckily we moved back to Hostel Aylen Aike the next day where we met up with our two Irish friends, Aoibhean and Simon. It was back to dorming
for us as there are very few hostels in El Chalten that offer private rooms at reasonable prices.
Staying in a 10 bed dorm again was an experience of its own - let´s just say that waking up to farting and extreme garlic breath is not exactly nice.
After having a day to explore the small town and relaxing, we went on a 6 hour, 21 km hike to Laguna Torre with Aiobh and Si, which is almost at the base of Cerro Torre and is supposed to have a spectacular view of the mountain. The hike was very mild, walking over hills and through beautiful forests. The weather wasn´t promising and it started to drizzle but Aoibh and Si were determined to continue, so we did exactly that. Laguna Torre was a bit of a dissapointment as it was an ugly brown lake. Ugly, compared to the azure and baby-blue lakes we have seen so far in Patagonia. Also, Cerro Torre was covered in clouds! We had a picnic lunch next to the lake, waiting and hoping in vain for the clouds to lift. It was also quite cold at this point and after about 45 minutes we decided to head back.
The next day we said good-bye to Aoibh and Si (for real this
time) as they were heading north. Although the weather was reasonably good (but cold), we decided to give our feet a break and chilled at the hostel, reading and watching movies.
The next day we took another 21 km hike to Mount Fitz Roy. We took a taxi around some mountains and started hiking from an alternative starting point, so that we didn´t have to cross the same path twice. The hike started at a lovely guest house, built with corrugated iron on its walls. The hike took us through beautiful lush forests with a view or two of glacier covered mountains. After all, this is the Los Glaciares National Park, containing many, many glaciers. A beautiful part of the world.
The hike took us past a camping area and after this we got lost. We were not alone, however. Three groups of people and us found ourselves at a river, proving very difficult to cross. We were certain that we had to cross the river, but there was no clear crossing area. Bernhard managed to cross, to scout ahead and look for the route, but reached a dead-end. We backtracked and found the correct path, which led
us to the serious part of the hike.
The last part becomes very steep, zig-zagging up the mountain. It also started sleeting, which was strange as there were no clouds above us. The last 500 m was incredibly steep and cold, with the wind picking up pace and the sleet increasing. Luckily we had our decent hiking jackets with us, but our hands and noses were freezing. We were rewarded by a beautiful vista as we reached the lookout point, although this magical vista was behind us. Fitz Roy was, as you might have guessed by now, covered with bloody clouds! Nature was obviously conspiring to keep us from seeing Patagonia´s peaks. We managed to see the amazing glacier-fed lake at the foot of Fitz Roy, absolutely azure this time. We met a mad Canadian that actually swam in this lake, which is absolutely nuts as the outside temperature was definitely below freezing with gale-force wind blowing and the lake just above freezing, as it is pure glacier melt. Even though we missed Fitz Roy, the scenery was amazingly beautiful.
The hike back was fantastic, with the scenery constantly changing. We started to get tired close to the
end, but then rewarded ourselves with a splurge at a Parilla
(grill restaurant) known for their Patagonian lamb. We got some decent red wine and lamb and it was absolutely huge. We only had lamb, no veggies or starch, it was just too much, but man, was it great!
We stuck around for a few days, as we had bought our bus tickets to Bariloche a little late. We boarded the bus for the 25 hour bus ride to Bariloche, with a stop at a one-horse town named Perito Moreno. The scenery along the famous Route 40 was nice initially, but remained the same for the entire trip and is one bloody long, straight stretch of dusty gravel road, which made it slightly less spectacular. The entire bus inside, including all the passengers, was covered with dust. We were also unfortunately accompanied by a farting person for the entire trip. Nice! Not the best bus journey to date, but we´re not complaining, it´s still amazing to be traveling in this part of the world.
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