Argentina: Parque Nacional Los Glaciares and Ruta 40
PN Los Glaciares
“Hay lugares en los que Ud. se queda y lugares que quedan en Ud.” (there are places where you remain and places that remain in you.) This was the tag line on one of the park brochures and is very true. This park is one that will definitely remain in me forever as it was everything I`ve always imagined Patagonia to be!
We arrived in El Calafate, in very Southern Argentina after a million more hours on the bus and checked into our favorite hostel yet: i Ken Keu. The reason for coming here is to check out the spectacular glaciers that find their home in the Parque Nacional Los Glaciares. For a time I was questioning coming here as it is a LONG ways away from everything else in Argentina I wanted to see. I`m so glad that I made it. Our first excursion was to the Perito Moreno glacier. We drove in from the south to the most breath-taking of views. Perito Moreno is one of the few glaciers down here that remains in balance (equal amounts of water freezes and melts). The majority of glaciers these days are receding. This glacier was 5 km wide and towers over 60 meters above the water of Lago Argentina. And, it was amazing to watch. I suppose watching ice doesn`t sound like too much fun, but it really was. Every time I`d walk away for a bit and then come back, I would be completely mesmerized again. Because it was quite warm that day, there were huge towers of ice that would fall and crash into the waters below. Every time this happened we would hear very loud creaks and cracks and then the thunderous break of the ice. All million of us tourists would whip our heads side to side to see where we could see the splash. Quite entertaining!!! Because of the giant size of the glacier, sometimes it would only seem like little pebbles, but when you watched the effect in the lake below, and the huge swells of water that would lap up onto the shore, you could see how big the chunks really were. Lani and I tried to spend some time coming up with Patagonia-worthy adjectives, but our creative juices were nil that day so I`m stuck with my usual “it was amazing!” One other thing to point out is the color of the water. It is a blue that I`ve never seen before…almost a cloudy turquoise. The brochures call it “glacier milk”, I guess that works too. I`m not sure the pictures captured it. The unique color is caused by floating minerals that are rubbed off from the rocks by the ice as it moves and shifts…really pretty.
The next day`s excursion was by boat to see the Upsala and Spegazzini glaciers. I wouldn`t have thought ice could be so captivating but day two of staring at ice proved to be just as great as the first. The first part of the boat excursion was sailing past huge, I mean HUGE, ice bergs that were sometimes bigger than the catamaran we were on. Each was bigger and grander than the last. Some of the ice bergs were a brilliant hue of blue that my pictures just weren`t able to capture, and believe me I tried – about 90 times. Some of the other people on the boat seemed a bit jaded…I guess they`d probably seen plenty of ice and glaciers in their time, but I was a newbie and would highly recommend the trip to anyone!
El Calafate was a very cozy Crested-Butte like town right on the shore of the Lago Argentina and at the foot of the Andes Mountains. I didn`t realize until this trip how much I love mountains, but as we drove west across southern Argentina and the Andes appeared, and grew in the horizon, I couldn`t help but feel like I was heading home. I guess that means that Colorado is a good place for me to return to.
At this point, Lani and I had to split up. I`m only moderately outdoorsy and she is much more so. She wanted to head to Torres del Paine in southern Chile for a 5 day trekking trip. I thought I wanted to do that to, until people started talking about rain and snow and misery….that`s all it took for me to pack up and head north. So, Saturday morning we parted ways with plans to meet up in a few weeks in Mendoza.
There is a road called Ruta 40, which runs the entire way down the Western border of Argentina. It`s one of South America`s most famous road trips and kind of a Patagonian rite of passage. I decided to tackle the southernmost 660 km from El Calafate to Los Antiguos, all unpaved, with a 3 day stay in El Chalten. The first part was just a pretty quick and easy 4 hour trip to El Chalten, the northern entrance to Parque Nacional Los Glaciares. The highlight here is Mt. Fitz Roy, an utterly impressive series of jagged rock peaks. Despite the fact that it was rainy, windy and pretty much crappy the entire time I was there, I really enjoyed my 3 day pit stop in this tiny little town. After all, you got to love a place where you walk into the local watering hole wearing dirty jeans, tennis shoes and a cowgirl shirt and your friends tell you look nice all dressed up!!! I checked into Albuergue Patagonia in El Chalten and set off to explore the town. That took about 5 minutes. El Chalten was just recently founded, in 1985, to help support the number of people wanting to mountaineer around Mt. Fitz Roy. It`s a bit odd to think that I`m older than a whole town. I was happy that it was raining the first day because we`d been on the go for weeks straight and I was thrilled to have the afternoon to snooze, read and chit chat in my cozy hostel. I made plans with an Aussie and 2 Canadians to hike to Laguna Torre the next morning, but when I woke up, I could hear the wicked wind howling through the walls of the hostel. They aren`t joking when they say that the Patagonian wind can be hostile and brutal. I could actually feel the gusts of wind from the bunk bed I was in, and was scared to pull off the pile of wool blankets in fear that I`d discover that a house had landed on my wicked sister. Yikes. But, I ponied up and off we went, battling the fierce gusts of wind. It actually wasn`t so bad once we were in the woods and had some tree coverage. It was a pleasant and uneventful 3 hour hike up to the lake that was surrounded by another glacier. Our second day hike was to attempt to see the infamous Mt. Fitz Roy and we were happy that we woke up to a day that seemed a bit sunnier. 3 hours in though, rain quickly turned to sleet and we had to abort the mission and return to town. Bummer. But this time of year is notorious for more crappy than not days. Like I said, I still had a great 3 days, despite the crappy weather.
The morning I was getting ready to head back north again turned out to be shockingly warm, with clear blue skies and I could actually get a glimpse from town of Mt. Fitz Roy. Go figure. Today would have been the day for the hikes. But, our bus driver was kind enough to let us all pile out of the bus for some last minute shots before we took off, as most of us had been there for 2-4 days without a view of the Mt.
I settled into to our 13 hour bumpy bus ride and quickly realized that my seat mate was none other than Napoleon Dynamite`s twin. I`m not lying. Exact replica, and equally annoying and odd. Fortunately, Napoleon was a very good fauna-spotter. The best part of the trip was watching all of the animals out the window. There were exotic guanacos (llama looking things), ñandus (miniature ostrich/roadrunner type things), armadillos, and boring sheep, cows and horses. Napoleon was quite the sport because every time he`d spot a ñandu, I`d hurl myself across his lap to try and get a shot out the window….but I failed miserably time and time again. Ñandus are now up there with the impossible pink dolphins. Those ostrich suckers can move. Actually, all of the animals (cows excepted) were always in a dead sprint to the west. What`s going on over there guys? Something we didn`t know about I guess. The trip was slow-going as a bus can`t exactly travel at high speeds on a gravel road, and there were cattle guards to slow us down every few miles, but it was quite pleasant putsing along the road. There is definitely a whole lot of Patagonian nothingness out there. Most of our stops were at estancias (big ranches). The great part about this was that all of them were fully stocked and waiting for us with fresh backed goods. Talk about comfort food: I had apple pie, banana bread, cherry cobbler. As Rachel Ray would say, YUM-O!!! The grand finale of the trip was a really great sunset with a blood red sky I`ve never seen before. The end of the line for me was Los Antiguos, on the Chilean border. There is only one hostel in town. Lucky for me, it looks like Napoleon is going to be my bunk-mate for the night. Good times.