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South America » Argentina » Santa Cruz » El Chaltén
November 10th 2019
Published: March 22nd 2020
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R: Next morning it was up early again - quite a long drive this morning. First, I took a trip up to the town viewpoint to take in the town from an abandoned old fort that sits above a kids play park. I was accompanied by fellow Brit Michelle who wanted to see the city too. It was a short steep climb and the views over to the lake and the mountains beyond were good. It was my sister's 18th birthday today, so I sat outside briefly and recorded her a birthday message before hopping on the bus. We were heading to El Chaltén which is the heart of the national park area. We stopped first at a very crowded "ranch" which seemed to do a brisk trade in terrible coffee, fridge magnets and hiking maps. (Worst Empanada, ever!) It was pretty awful. Anyway, moving on. The bus was jublient this morning - with people playing music through the CD player (though I heard rumors from the back that those people at the back of the bus were getting fed up with the noise.)

There were various opportunities to stop and look at Lago Viedma, which has a large glacier at one end and we welcomed the opportunity to get off the bus - it was a warm day again, which made for bright, blue sky photos. There was a number of times when the whole group stood in the middle of the highway to take photos of the wide expanses as it stretched away to mountains on the horizon and the tour guide had to stand further down the road to shout when a car came. It made some great photos though! We stopped off at the Parque National Los Glaciares national park visitor centre on the outskirts of El Chalten. This was filled with maps and stuffed versions of the animals you might see here with all the explanations in Spanish. Here a ranger explained all the various routes to us which are helpfully displayed in colours on the map. We had the big walk coming up the next day, so the next decision was what people wanted to do with their afternoons. The routes were helpfully colour coded, so I decided to do the orange one - to Laguna Torre, an 18km (10+ miles) round trip, which I was planning on doing by myself, at speed, in an afternoon!! We arrived at the hostel and I had once again been paired with Stuart. However, Kevin, who again got his own room, kindly donated it to me so he could share with Stuart. I wasn't quite sure how to take this but I ended up with a large double bed and ensuite to myself, so I was quite happy. Incidentally, this hostel had a pool and sauna - the best we had had so far. Some of the group split off and went straight for the pool. Others did a short walk to a local waterfall, but not me...

I was just about to set off on my hike, and Michelle bounced up to me and asked if she could join. My anti-social tendency was screaming "no", but the polite part of me said yes and off we went. Firstly, we visited a wood shack/shop that sold snacks to pick up a few supplies including a dodgy looking piece of quiche. The walk was through the town to start with, then steep up onto a plateau from which you could see enormous waterfalls and the route was mainly in forests. From there it was a fairly continuous uphill, but slightly more gentle, with wide ranging views to the hills above, again all covered in forestbut with rocky outcrops. Michelle actually turned out to be a really interesting walking companion - she was a chef in London, and had loads of experience to tell me about. She had a very fast pace, and we moved quickly with few breaks, occasionally taking a break to sit on a log and eat weird Argentinian snacks we had picked up in the wood hut.

There were quite a few people on the track, but most were heading in the opposite direction, with it getting later. We reached the end, which was at a lake with a glacier falling into it just as it got cold and windy. It was a pretty good view and there were certainly less people here than other view points we had been to on this trip. It was good to sit for a while and take the world in without that many people around you. Then it was back, largely the same way, but it was nice to see the opposite direction as well. As we walked we spoke German and French to the people from those nations we met, and noticed how few south Americans there were on the trail! As the day went on there were less and less people and it felt like we had Los Glaciares NP to ourselves. When we got back to town we encountered an Aussie wandering in the streets who seemed to have no idea what he was doing or where he was going, but was keen to tell us he was spending Christmas in London! Being polite Brits we chatted for a while, but did make sure he kept walking after we went back into the hostel.

That evening, the meat eaters of the group (which were actually the minority!) headed out to a Parilla - a grill! It was an odd place with very grumpy staff, but they had craft beers, red wine and meat so there wasn't much not to love. We had a lady from Hong Kong with us who was quite keen to complain about most of her experience here, which was met with shrugs by the staff, much to everyone else's amusement. The meat was good and came with garlic baked potatoes and corn, all on the large wood fired grill which you could go and look at in an annexe of the building. It turned out Kevin had fallen down in the shower in the room his was sharing with Stuart so we spent much of the evening sympathising/laughing at his large bandages, as he had cut his arm open as he did so. This seemed more funny at the time than it does now.

The next day we had a big walk - the longest and steepest so far. El Chalten has a few bars, but we were far too tired for that. Best to get a good night for the next day. It was great to finally have my own room, but as I turned back the sheets, I realised there was red/brown staining about where my face would be on the underside of the duvet! Being late, and ready for bed, I decided just to turn it round and put it at the foot end of the bed and turn my mind off to where that came from. It was just nice to have my own space for once!

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