Friday, January 31, 2014

Patagonia, Part 8: El Chalten, Argentina

El Chalten, Argentina. Trekking capital of Argentina. Home of Fitz Roy. Need I say more? This picture sums up why I needed to go here!

A 3 hour bus ride from El Calafate brought me here. One interesting thing is that the bus stops at the national park office and it is mandatory to get off and go in and listen to a talk-either in English or Spanish-about the park, safety, and keeping it clean. They pretty much figure if you came to El Chalten, you are going to be spending time outdoors. So we got our talk, suggestions about hikes, and trail maps. I felt ready! It was an absolutely gorgeous, perfect day: a fact that I appreciated even more after the next 2 days here! The bus took us the last few minutes into town. I checked into my hostel, and they recommended that I take a short hike to take advantage of the weather. I did as suggested and hiked up to a nearby overlook where you could see the town of El Chalten as well as the famous Fitz Roy and surrounding range. I also went to a nearby overlook the other way, at some pretty lakes. Did I mention it was a beautiful day??

The clouds were always doing crazy things.
 Back in town I got some groceries, tried out the local cerveceria, made dinner, and talked to fellow hostellers. The next morning I got up at my leisure. In Colorado, I've gotten accustomed to getting up really early when planning a long hike. This is because of the well-known 3pm thunderstorms. Things were a little more relaxed here: apparently it will rain whenever it darn well pleases, and I was so far south it was light until about 10:30 pm, so there really was no rush to get anywhere. It was kind of nice! I cooked breakfast, made some sandwiches, and headed out. It was reasonably sunny but really, really windy. Once I walked through town and started hiking, I was a little bit more sheltered, but I was still quite bundled up! Fitz Roy never made quite the appearance of the previous day, but was always peeking out of the clouds.

See how much colder I look than the previous day?
My first "destination" was Laguna Capri. From there I decided to head to camp Poincenot. I continued on past that camp for awhile to get a better view of a glacier and waterfall. At that point, I decided that I'd really had enough of the relentless wind, and decided to head back into town. It was a pretty easy hike overall, but I ended up going about 20 km (12 miles) round trip that day, so I was happy with that. I had heard that the next major stop, Laguna Los Tres, was up a really steep, intense trail, and I wasn't planning on anything that difficult.

Laguna Capri

You can drink right out of the streams here! Makes for a much lighter pack. =)

See what I mean about the clouds?

El Chalten from above

Look closely.
Once back in El Chalten, I (of course) had to find a place for an after-hike beverage! After a tasty beer in a place with a mind-blowing selection, I headed back to my hostel, cooked dinner (more pasta!), and conked out! The next day was, if possible, even windier. As in, I have never experienced wind this strong in my life-and that's saying something. I grew up in a pretty windy place. Unfortunately, I'd only reserved 2 nights in my hostel and they were booked for the night so I walked all through town asking places if they had any rooms, with no luck. Finally, I begged a hostel owner to let me use his wifi, which he did, and I booked a room back in El Calafate, and then raced to the bus station to get the bus out of town. I really enjoyed the little town of El Chalten: it had a lot of character (even if it was touristy) and was in one of the most beautiful settings I've been. But oh, the wind!!

Well you probably won't just magically find yourself in El Chalten on the way to somewhere else. You pretty much go there on purpose, and the purpose most likely is to hike. So that's what you should do when you get here. Hike. And if you want, camp too. In the park there are campsites but you have to stay at them, you can't just pitch your tent anywhere. Just beware that although my weather was not ideal, it was far better than for many others....rain, snow, and hail are normal here any time of the year! So be prepared to hike in crappy weather or hunker down somewhere!

Speaking of hunkering, there are a few great places to do so. The one I enjoyed the most just had the wooden sign "CERVECERIA" out front. The one with the million bottles of beer was actually advertised as a wine place. It's easy to walk the main streets and pop into any number of cute places for a meal or drink. I actually cooked almost all my meals at the hostel so didn't try any restaurants for food.

I stayed at a not-that-cute on the outside, but really pretty nice hostel here called La Comarca Hostel. I liked it.
PROS-it's small and doesn't accept groups, so you are likely to meet others in the kitchen and dining area. It's comfortable because you get to know the people staying there, and it's not that awkward sleeping in the same room with strangers thing you sometimes have (or maybe that's just me). The owner is really, really nice, and knowledgeable about local hikes. It's across the street from the bus station.
CONS-Not many. It's not much to look at on the outside, but who cares? There's no outside space, but it was never really nice enough for that anyway. It's on the outside of town but the town is so small that doesn't matter much. The kitchen is a bit small and crowded, and they don't serve breakfast, which is the norm in El Chalten--I didn't care, it gave me an excuse to cook eggs instead of eat yet more bread!

NOTE(S): El Chalten is a small town and places fill up FAST in peak season. Book ahead. Most places I went, I booked for 2 nights and booked additional nights as needed. I couldn't do that here. Also, bring cash, whether Argentinian pesos or US dollars. I got a better exchange rate in Bariloche, but several places were willing to accept/change US dollars here. There's one ATM at the bus station and the line is always really long-if it is working.

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