Amid the flurry of complaints from all my adoring readers (Mom, Dad, … maybe that’s it), I will end this “blackout” and post about my 10-day vacation “at the end of the world”. As usually happens with me, I’m getting far too lazy to blog about my life, but I suppose a vacation deserves an excuse.
Emily (aka, BFF) came to Argentina to visit me at the end of July. We spent one night in Buenos Aires before departing south. We flew from Buenos Aires to Bariloche. This is my Google map attempt at showing you our route.
We landed in Bariloche on a Sunday night and stayed until Wednesday morning. This part of the country is known as something like the land of ‘siete lagos’, or 7 lakes. There are some pretty big ones. Here is the glorious view from our hostel:
It is winter, so it’s not warm, but it wasn’t frigid either. Probably in the mid-40s during the day, and then it would drop at night. Bariloche is supposedly the best ski location in Argentina, but it’s also a very expensive, touristy location so we spent our money elsewhere.
Our first full day we took a 5-6 hour bike ride (26ish km, if I remember correctly) called the “circuito chico” where we had beautiful weather and I panted my way up and down some not so insignificant hills. This was our lunch spot.
Here’s Emily with her bike
I was sufficiently sore following that day but it was worth it.
Our 3rd day (I believe) we took a 5 hour bus ride south to a smaller, less touristy town called Esquel. The town itself isn’t that spectacular but it’s a good jumping-off point for a number of activities in the area. Our first day we hiked a mountainous hill in front of our hostel, and the hostel’s dog (Inca) accompanied/guided us.
The next day we were told that the ski conditions weren’t very good so we should go to Parque Nacional Los Alerces instead. It was on our list of things to do, so we went ahead and did that. Unfortunately the weather wasn’t great and we also didn’t really realize that exploring an enormous national park was impossible without a car. The rental car agency didn’t have any automatic cars (and we’re too American to have learned how to drive stick-shift), so we paid for very expensive taxis to take us there and pick us up at the end of the day. That being said, we got in a couple of nice hikes, but only managed to tackle a tiny fraction of the park. Then it started raining and and the visitors’ office was closed so we waited outside for 1+ hour for our cab, in very foul moods. Here’s from an earlier part of the day, preparing basically the same lunch we ate everyday during our trip.
The next day we paid to change our bus tickets because ski conditions were finally good(ish). We took a 20 minute taxi ride to La Hoya Ski Resort, supposedly nearly as good as skiing in Bariloche but cheaper. As a first-time skier, I didn’t really care about what slopes were open or how difficult they are, because I spent all my time on the badass bunny slope. Emily, a much more seasoned skier, was more limited in her slope options as Esquel has received much less snow this winter than the norm. After getting fitted for pants/shoes/helmet and paying for my beginners’ lesson, we went our separate ways. I took a two hour lesson with instructor Abril, a 20 year old college student home for winter vacation, and only one other student. I don’t remember his name, but he was a very tall/large probably high school-aged kid with little coordination and natural athletic ability. Needless to say, my crawling pace and less-than-graceful turns looked star quality. Unfortunately, two hours later when I went to do the whole “bunny” slope (we’d spent the lesson on the bottom half) with Emily, I wasn’t as prepared as I had thought to handle the real speed with which you’re supposed to ski. Emily was patient with me and helped me up after I wiped out a few times (who’s counting?) and by the end I was able to do the whole slope at my preferred crawling pace without falling. I wasn’t about to whip out my camera while holding onto my poles for dear life, so here’s a picture of us on the ski lift.
The next day we took the hated bus ride south to El Calafate (where we were taking another bus afterward back to El Chaltén). It’s the easiest, most economical way to get to El Calafate but it took us about 25 hours from Esquel. We were fairly cranky and smelly by the time we arrived (at least I was).
Side note: the worst part is that this bus company — and others in Argentina — think that it’s okay to show crappy and violent movies that everyone is forced to watch AND listen to. They don’t give you the option of ‘plugging in your earphones’, no, they just blast it over the bus speakers. We must have watched 8 movies. And I watched about 7 more than I wanted to.
Once we got to El Calafate we jumped on another 3 hour bus to El Chaltén, where the real cold was. The pipes in our hostel were frozen from the previous night (supposedly the coldest of the season and in the whole country, an allegedly -21ºC or -5ºF… could be worse) but we eventually were able to shower and use our toilet (phew).
El Chaltén is a charming small town nestled in a valley and known as the trekking capital of Argentina. In the summer months, a few thousands people live there. But in the winter (ie, when we went), less than 1,000 people live there and most hostels, restaurants, stores, etc. are closed. So the town was a bit ghost-like but I would still say it was my favorite of the places we visited.
Our first trekking day we went as far as we could to see Mt. Fitz Roy, a very famous and supposedly beautiful mountain that we couldn’t see because clouds are constantly surrounding it. Oh well. Instead of posting my shitty picture of that, here was our first viewpoint, Río de las Vueltas.
In total, our hike lasted about 4-5 hours amid fresh snow, ranging from a few inches to a few feet at times. We met a Catholic priest from Sicily and hiked part of the way with him because, why not?
Here’s a photo of the town after we finished our hike.
We trekked again the following day - a bit easier - but again my photos aren’t so spectacular because, surprise!, the mountain we hiked to see was covered in clouds.
For our last destination, we took the 3-hour bus back down to El Calafate. Our flight was leaving from there the next day, and we had one more big item to cross off on our list: El Glaciar Perito Moreno. According to Wikipedia, it is one of only 3 glaciers in Patagonia that’s growing (did you know there are people called ‘glaciologists’?). We knew that it was a massive glacier located about 1.5 - 2 hours from the town of El Calafate and everyone says it’s spectacular. It certainly was, but unfortunately my photos won’t do it justice.
It’s massive, and racing towards the land at an astonishing speed of… 1 centimeter per year. I wish it hadn’t been so cloudy so you could see that it seemed to glow blue. Every once in a while we would hear a loud CRACK and expect to see a giant mound of ice breaking off. Instead the tiniest (or what we thought were tiny) pieces would break off and fall into the water.
After 10 days, we flew back to Buenos Aires, where the country is experiencing an unusually warm winter (ie, temperatures in the 60’s instead of the 50’s ºF).
In total, not including airfare, I spent about the equivalent of USD$700 on the whole trip (lodging, food, excursions, bus travel). Not too shabby.