Published: January 2nd 2011January 2nd 2011
Leaving the southern climes of Ushuaia on a typical delayed AA flight, being back on Terra Firma proper, and in need of a good nights rest without the hammock effect was a great follow on from West Antarctica, forever engrained in my head as a white icy kingdom which was largely barren of flora (except mosses at Deception Island) and immensely rich in birds and sea life. Southern Patagonia is similar, in that the vast steppes east of the Andes are protected by rainshadows and near El Calafate where I flew into there is only 300mm rain/ year at best. Only 10km seperates this with Chilean territory above the only glaciers outside the polar regions of the world, Los Glaciers Park. Nothing is harvested here, only just enough grass to feed cattle, sheep and odd much revered pumas, not recently harmful to humans but known for an attack between Calafate and Chalten according to local history. All perishable foods (veges, fruit) and most grains are flown or trucked in from up north, and so adds the cost of being here.
Calafate’ites love their town it seems, it is building itself on tourism and a dusty residential area beside Laguna Argentina,
and the neighbouring cousin of El Chalten (population 500) is equally if not more downbeat, quirky and a great hiking base for the Fitzroy national park excursions (ice trekking, better left for others I decided given my bruised shins from poorly fitting boots..…). I am here for the 2nd time of 3 in transit as direct bus connections from El Chalten to Torres Del Paine, my hiking base for next 3 days, are poor. The trip to Perito Moreno on thr 31st arranged by Always Glaciers was more wonderful than anticipated, and took up all of my New Years Eve day from an early rise n shine at 7am. This was bar the last 1.5 hrs of the day, when I spent 30 mins waiting in queue the use the banco automatico (ATM) with 15 others before running along the street in record time before an early closing at the La Anonima supermercado (the only place for self catering). Everything is closed being a public holiday the next day and so was a complete madhouse. Plus the banks only allow 300 pesos transactions/ day (about 100NZD) and when you get to El Chalten where cash is king there is not
reliably an ATM that has any money left as we are all doing the same thing! Law of averages was right and no cash left at El Chalten ATM late on the 31st (nor here today) when I arrived late at 10pm, so I was lucky to have a spare 100 pesos from first arriving in Ushuaia. Forget credit cards at most places, especially quiet backwaters or private hosterias.
The Cerro Fitzroy range is wonderfully beautiful, stark jagged peaks and amongst lush swampland and subalpine scrub….but all this dry heat and swamp spelt flies and big mothers they were too. Intensely annoying and far far worse than I have ever had in Australia or a humid Auckland day. Maybe it was the bananas eaten the day before, or ones in my pack, or the blue hat, or dark clothes – they were on anabolic steroids and on a mission to eat me! I took the Laguna de Los Tres route, and including 30 mins at the top chatting with a nice American couple Jarrod and Lindsay from NY state, did the return trip via Rio Blanco Campamento in just over 6 hrs. The pole came in very handy too,
if only the flies feared my ‘weapon’ like Auckland airport officials did! A'Spanish couple from Barcelona I met today say 2 poles are better, but frugality in the baggage carrying department mean such luxuries are out. Loo paper, hand santiser, a modest wallet and sensible booking of places or travel planning (less busy than anticipated at accommodations, may have pot luck if turn up it seems) will get you everywhere.
The walks....I knocked off 2, the Fitzroy panorama was via the Lago los Tres rout (ascend 3100ft in total from El Chalten), and this morning a short route to let the legs rest up to the Laguna Torre Mirador (lookout) and back in 2 hrs. The trails were heaving with well-kitted out locals with 2 poles, in large groups, even at 7am! Best time of day, as it has been calida calida calida clima!! Early bus rearranged back to El Calafate, trip to supermarket for next 3 days snacks (thank lack of spanish calothicism here in closing down the shops after New Years, nothing was open so miserly feed last night) .......and we are all sorted for now.
Bueno Ano Nuevo!!
There are more photos below