Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Its off to El Calafate we go, yup, more fabulous glaciers to see!!

Feb 14th.....Ahh romance - on Valentine's Day, we all head off on the bus to El Calafate, in Argentina, so this bus trip takes us through the border where we have to say a fond farewell to Chile: yet another fab country on our South American adventure! Oh well.....

Got to our new port of call early afternoon and booked into America del Sur, DEFINITELY one of the nicest hostels we have stayed in. It's really gorgeous and up there with Hostels Bellavista in Santiago and Confluencia in Mendoza for both comfort, decor and the friendly people who work there!! Would love to have spent a few days just relaxing here, but no rest for the wicked, or should i say the weary traveler! We decided as we were so close we should head off tomorrow night (after visiting the amazing Perito Moreno glacier during the day) to El Chalten, a teeny tiny one street village, 5 hours away, to scale (haha just kidding, i mean to look at!) the amazing sights of the Cerro Fitz Roy...but i digress - let me get back to the moment!

The town of El Calafate is definitely very touristy and features almost every expensive outdoorsy store you can imagine, mainly to cater to the rich tourists who flock here to visit the Perito Moreno glacier. You see, you can take a bus right to the glacier and with very little effort, get pretty close to it, so there are def. alot of older, more affluent folks who unlike those intrepid travelers that hike around the W Trek with no money (oops that's right that would be us!) they don't have to actually break a sweat to see an amazing sight here! But I still liked the town and guess what!! They had some really incredible restaurants (hey, come on now, we are back in Argentina - food capital of South America!!)...so of course we asked Ana, our fab organizer at the hostel, for a recommendation! And wow, was it a good one. The gang (by now you will be familiar with our new little band of travelers - Dominique, Jennifer, Barak, Nir and me!) went to a great place called Pura Vida to celebrate our collective Valentine's night together...and it was scrumptiously fantastic! Def one of the best meals I've had on my trip so far..also really cool decor! So another great night of comida, vino and of course the company was A+++!!!! After dinner, when we were all complaining of severe over-eating, Jennifer had the clever idea that some ice-cream might help "sooth our tummies" which of course i agreed wholeheartedly too! Hmmnn bad move.. as we waddled home after my signature coconut and dulce de leche icecream, i realised this was why this particular traveler wasn't losing too much weight on her trip!!Oh well, i thoroughly enjoyed it so who cares!

Feb 15th. Got up early today very excited to be visiting the Perito Moreno glacier. This particular glacier is one of the fastest growing and most active icefields in the world (think it grows something like 2 feet a day?) and this was the perfect time of the year to visit the Parque Nacional Los Glaciares, due to massive chunks of ice breaking off and falling into the icy water below, causing huge waves of water to rise up and you hear really loud bangs as the ice hits that water....yah!! Hmmn but SOME people were raining on my parade! The "gang" began grumbling (good naturedly of course - is that possible?) that they had done enough trekking in Patagonia and didn't want to traipse around looking at yet another glacier.. "haven't we seen one of these already!" I think I heard! Between that and the tour guide eating the microphone so we couldnt tell if he was speaking in Spanish or English, things were a little more low key today, but as soon as we saw one of the giant chunks of ice actually fall into the icy waters below, and we heard the incredible boom from it, everyone got excited! See - the problem is you encounter way too many amazing things when you travel like this, so sometimes there is the tiny possibility that you may become a little blase about them ..but hey, its one of the very few negatives of world travel, so yet again, I can't complain!!

But seriously, the glacier is incredible; its almost bluey white in some parts (colour a bit similar to Glacier Grey on the W Trek) and so massive! We saw it from the north side on foot (didnt do ice hiking but you can, with crampons and get lowered down into the fissures!) and then the south side by boat, two different views, all incredible - see for yourself! And of course our glamourous campers decided they wanted to continue their gourmet tradition with a wee picnic of cheese and wine, an appropriate meal with just gorgeous surroundings! So i partook of a sip or two of vino myself.. quite the perfect afternoon!

Back to El Calafate, where Dominique and I said our goodbyes to the boys and Jennifer (dont worry, we were meeting up with them the next day!) as we jumped on our bus to El Chalten.. a tiny wee frontier town where the big draw was hiking to Cerro Fitz Roy. Bus took about 5 hours so we arrived around 11 at night..straight to our hostel (lets just say it was no America del Sur! - although I agree it looks quite nice from the outside!). Dominique and I thought we had the tiny and basic 4 bed dorm to ourselves so grabbed the bottom bunks (as you do; no-one likes to climb up to that top bunk, especially when most of them dont have ladders!) when 2 young Austrian boys arrived...darn it, but Dom was a doll and took the top bunk this time!!!! Yes, you get a bit tired of sharing every now and then so next place we stay we want to get our own room if possible! The luxuries we pay for when traveling!

Feb 16th. As we perused the trail map this morning, reviewing which path we would take to get to the foot of Cerro Fitz Roy, we met Rebecca and Shawna, two lovely girls from San Francisco; totally hit it off with them so enjoyed the day chatting away and hiking together. Alot of uphill (which you all know by now i hate!) but not too bad, until we hit the top of the trail. I have never "walked/crawled" in such gale force wind in my life. It was amazing, exhilarating, and a wee bit scary as you had to crawl on your hands and knees at some points so you wouldn't get blown over! Check the four of us out, we could barely stand for this shot!!! Once we arrived at the base of Fitz Roy and looked at the beautiful turquoise lake; we took tons of photos even tho' the actual peak was covered by cloud as it is quite often. Of course how daft did I feel when Shawna explained to me that I'd just spent about half an hour taking pics of the wrong peak. Yes, I'm SO outdoorsy and knowledgeable about these things!!! (not!). When we were sheltering from the gale force winds, we met a crazy Spaniard and a Dutch guy who shared his cookies with us! See, food finds us whereever we go! Fitz Roy is a very famous mountain in that it is incredibly difficult to climb, partly due to its size, at 3,441m, but primarily because the very temperamental weather conditions that change up here at the drop of a woolly hat! So much so that professional climbers camp out for days on end waiting for the weather to change so they can attempt to scale it!! Remember I told you about the "bathroom" conditions when camping...here's one I had to visit at a campsite on our hike to Fitz Roy - ahh... high living! We met some men (from Colorado i think) who had tried 3 different times to get to the summit, each time were pushed back by bad weather, storms and even an avalance!! Now why would you put yourself through that when you can sit at the base and just look up at it!! Enough for me! Still, it was a beautiful hike and gorgeous views so im really glad we added this into our itinerary (yes can you believe we could squeeze something into our already intense schedule!

Back to base and who ends up in our dorm! Yup, the intrepid travelers Barak and Nir. Jennifer - lucky girl - was in the nicer hostel across the street! So we decided all 7 of us (with our 2 new pals from San Fran!) should go out for dinner.. and what a dinner we had! Listen, i know i talk about food alot but the food in Argentina is simply the best in South America.. you can't believe the kind of 5 star meals you can have in a one street, frontier town that boasts 500 residents at any given time! I mean, really people!! "member I mentioned about our first introduction to Ducky in Punto Arenas....Barak and Nir's special friend, who has traveled throughout their trip with them! Well, Ducky came for dinner with us, so we added more photos to the album, with Shawna getting very romantic with him, Dominique giving him a massage, and I think I enticed him to drink some red wine! Barak is developing a website with Ducky's travel adventures so when I get it I'll pass it on...seriously this duck gets around folks! Had a great time here in El Chalten.....but gotta catch a 6:30am bus back to El Calafate tomorrow morning, where we will spend the day and then fly out to Buenos Aires....


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