I encourage others to share their travels in hopes it inspires others. Whenever a close friend of mine goes on a trip, I ask if they are willing to share on AngelaTravels. To my delight, my friend, Tobias, went on an epic trip to South America and was willing to share his story.
Julie, my friend traveling with me, read somewhere that Argentina founded El Chalten in order to help swing a border dispute and establish control of Parque Nacional los Glaciares. After spending a few days sleeping in the sector of the park which surrounds the city and includes both Monte Fitz Roy and Cerro Torre, fighting for this land seems reasonable.
Boulder hopping in front of Fitz Roy above Laguna de los Tres. Photo credit: Thaddée Wiseur.
All previous comments made in reference to Torres del Paine apply to Parque Nacional los Glaciares as well. However, Argentina’s gem offers less infrastructure (specifically the refugios) as El Chalten houses all modern conveniences and most miradors lie within a day hike from the town, thus the throngs on the trails carry less equipment, wear more casual clothing, and generally appear less outdoorsy.
To escape the noise, we camped within the park, taking advantage of the plentiful campgrounds which offered flat tent spaces, outhouses, and a water source (i.e. a nearby river or lake). By using varying degrees of technical gear, one could reach more remote areas, including a circuit which traverses the Hielos Patagonico Sur (South Patagonia Ice Field).
Park officials and signage repeatedly remind visitors that the water in both Torres del Paine and Parques Nacional los Glaciares is safe to drink unfiltered and untreated. I brought my SteriPen, so I bothered to take ninety seconds to treat water up until the last couple of days in Argentina.
I recommend trusting the officials and indulging in many drinks of the pure, cold glacial water derived directly from its source and served by the lakes and streams. There may be nothing more refreshing. Not contaminating the water seems to be the one rule which visitors to Patagonia abide, as I witnessed folks violating many others including trail closing times; improper disposal of cigarette butts, keeping shoes on feet while riding the bus, paying five pesos to use a public bathroom, and not putting toilet paper in the toilet.
On Christmas Day, while in El Calafate, we caught a tour bus to Glaciar Perito Moreno, a popular trip as a catwalk brings viewers close enough to the terminus of the glacier to comprehend its largesse and witness its famously dramatic calving events (a glacier is said to “calve” when a chunk of ice splits from its terminus and falls into a body of water). Though Christmas is four days into the Patagonian summer, it snowed heavily, so the sweeping views hid behind low lying clouds and the cold weather kept the calving to a minimum. No matter, the available views impressed enough to make the trip worth the cost and effort. However, presumably because of the weather, the tour boat was not running that day, so to atone for the miss, we burned a less than ideal weather day in El Chalten on a tour boat to the Glaciar Viedma.
Calving events create large waves (people have surfed them in Alaska) making it unsafe to get closer than a kilometer to the glacier’s snout. At that distance, the glacier does not instill The Power of Awe.
We chose the boat over a glacier walk because we often traverse the glaciers close to home, but several days later I saw impressive pictures of a glacier walk at the Glaciarium in El Calafate and wished that we had opted for it versus the boat tour. Speaking of the Glaciarium, it informs, educates, entertains and should be included in every El Calafate itinerary. If you go, make sure to the visit the Ice Bar (from experience, sandals are not recommended) and order the sweet, yet sophisticated, Liquor del Calafate.
Overall, Chilean food bested Argentinian food, but El Chalten restaurants stacked up favorably and most establishments offered “sin Trigo” (no gluten), and “sin Leche” (no milk) options. We concluded El Chalten with a day hike to “Loma del Pliegue Tumbado” and its stunning panoramic views in all directions.
Fun with technology at Loma del Pliegue Tumbado. Photo credit: Photo credit: Thaddée Wiseur.
The lookout also rewards with an ideal vantage point for witnessing the ostensibly idle majesty of Cerro Torre and Fitz Roy. As we rested on the viewpoint, condors rode dynamic wind currents to the tops of the surrounding peaks, and a proud hawk graced us with an intimate fly-by and then posed against a particularly scenic backdrop before disappearing into the wilderness.
At other points during our stay in the park, we encountered male and female woodpeckers (the males identified by their midnight black bodies and fire engine red heads), bathing parrots (appeared to be the same species seen in Tierra del Fuego), harriers and several other species at the bird refuge in El Calafate, and a fox at Campamento De Agostini in Parque Nacional los Glaciares.
Prior to the trip, Thaddée and Julie, based on a wealth of traveling experience, suggested that we identify objectives but not book an itinerary in order to increase flexibility. Given Patagonia’s churlish weather, this approach proved prescient as we often confronted foul conditions which we easily sidestepped and adjusted for in order to gain the sights and views which initially drew us to Patagonia.
By the time we returned to El Calafate from El Chalten, summer had seemingly set in with less wind, warmer temperatures, and a mixture of sun and friendly clouds. We went for a pleasant horseback ride, shopped some, and visited the aforementioned Glaciarium.
The dollar trades favorably against the Argentinian pesos, so I was looking forward to leveraging the imbalance. However, merchants charge relatively high prices in El Chalten (jeans and shoes can cost upwards of $100) which muted the advantage and the fun. Despite the costs, the gourmet chocolate was money well spent.
The availability of products marketed as gluten free also pleasantly surprised me, as I’ve sometimes struggled to locate options in major American metros (I’m looking at you, Miami). Given the relatively high quality (the bar is low at this point, but elevates steadily) of the gluten free food (mostly cookies, also called “biscuits”), I perceived this as an another indication that South America leans toward the progressive. For our last meal in Argentina, we patronized a parrilla and I ordered the Parrilla Libre (all-you-can-eat). We dined for more than three hours, and ate wholeheartedly, a fitting way to close out our time in Patagonia and send us off to Buenos Aires.
At breakfast in our hostel in El Calafate, Julie and I chatted with a senior Italian expat visiting the region on holiday from his job in Brazil. His wife had passed away just four months prior and he explained that she had not been a hiker, so he was dealing with her loss, in part, by taking a trip that he would not have been able to enjoy while she was living.
At one point in the conversation, he informed us that he couldn’t understand my English and asked Julie (who is French) to translate. The request surprised, but did not offend me. It seemed that my speed and choice of phrases confused the gent. For example, I asked “what brought you to South America from Italy?” However, he didn’t understand the question until Julie asked “why did you come to Brazil?” So it wasn’t exactly slang or idioms that created an issue but rather something close to them, an intriguing lesson indeed.
Written by Tobias Cortese.
Trip Date: December 31, 2015