19th December 2003
We awoke early the next morning and after packing up the tent headed off into town to try to sort out third party insurance for the car and to get more Argentinian Pesos from the only bank in town.
The guy in the supermarket the day before had told us that the bank didn't open until 10:00am. Luckily we were there just after it opened as there were already long queues inside. Unfortunately they would not take credit/debit cards or travellers cheques, so we had to use up some of our dwindling stock of US dollars, but at least we had more local currency to last us until we reached El Calafate.
As for finding insurance, that turned out to be a wild goose chase. Driving around town we couldn't see anything that even resembled an insurance office and so we popped into the tourist information office. Rather than just direct us to the only insurance salesman in town, one of the women there got in her car and asked us to follow her directly there. Fortunately for us that she did, as we would never have found it - it was a private residence. There was no one in and so she suggested we went to the local school as the insurance salesman was also a teacher. She seemed to think there would be no problem in just popping into the school and asking for him, irrespective of whether he was in the middle of a class! We thanked her and then decided to risk not having any insurance until we reached the next largest town - El Calafate. It all seemed too complicated and we didn't feel comfortable just interrupting someone in the middle of his lessons. On top of that, she thought it was highly unlikely we would be able to get the insurance certificate that day anyway, as it would take a few days to come through the post. All in all it had been a pretty wasted detour.
On the way out of town we filled up with diesel (cash only accepted here) and then travelled on to El Chalten at the entrance to the Parque Nacional Los Glaciares.
El Chalten was about 300km away from Gobernador Gregores and it took us just over five and a half hours. We were both shattered by the time we arrived. The weather didn't help either - at the start of the drive it was nice and sunny -
........but as we neared El Chalten the sky clouded over and it started to rain.
As we arrived in El Chalten, we bought some fresh bread, cheese and vegetables and then headed into the cafe Josh Aike for a huge slice of chocolate cake (better to share one slice as they are very rich) and a hot chocolate before choosing a camping spot in one of the free campgrounds across from the national park information office.
The campground is basically a huge field with a some trees for shelter from the wind and a couple of long-drop toilets, but no other facilities. If you camp independently from a vehicle, there is a good campsite at the other end of town, Camping Madsen. This is right at the start to many of the walks in the area and there are plenty of low lying trees/bushes to shelter a ground tent from the wind. Unfortunately it is a walk-in site only, although you could park a vehicle outside. Alternatively if you want a bit more luxury, there are a few paid campsites and a couple of hostels that let you camp for a small fee, with use of their facilities, and a few more comfortable cabins and hotels. The latter are a bit on the pricey side though.
As we settled into our campsite and cooked up some dinner, we got the odd glimpse of the Fitz Roy range of mountains when the clouds cleared for a few seconds and we went to bed hoping for better weather the next day.