21st - 22nd December 2003
We were greeted again this morning by good views of the mountains from our campsite. With the promise of good weather for the rest of the day we headed off for a morning walk before leaving the park for El Calafate.
We took a path from behind the park information office heading along the Laguna Torre trail. The initial path was not that easy to find but we soon joined it and climbed up the fairly steep trail. Eventually the route evened out and we made our way through beech forests with the Rio Fitz Roy to our left down below. We had fairly good views but we still couldn't make out Cerro Torre itself. Biting insects were out in abundance, so it would be worth taking insect repellent, especially if the sun is shining, as it was today.
We left El Chalten at about 1pm and rejoined the road to El Calafate - 220km away at the southern end of the park. It was a shame to be leaving it so soon. The paths are well maintained and there are quite a few walks to do. You could easily spend a week here. Definitely a place to come back to. There is more scope if you have a lightweight ground tent and can camp on the backcountry trails - some places are too far to reach and return to El Chalten the same day.
El Calafate was quite a change after the quiet remoteness of El Chalten. The town is lined with souvenir shops, restaurants and tour agencies and, as we arrived, full of tourists. After stocking up on food at the local supermarket, we found the municipal campsite, Jose Pantin, on the edge of town. It was very busy, with everyone packed fairly close together, but we eventually managed to find ourselves a spot and started to cook up some dinner. The campsite is cheap at only 5 pesos per person with showers, toilets and firepits, but it wasn't the cleanest of campsites and not somewhere you would want to spend more than one night, especially if you wanted a good night's sleep.We turned in early and were woken up at about 11pm by a terrible racket - peering out of the tent we could see a couple across from us using a router (power tool not network device!). They didn't stop until well past midnight. They seemed to be living there permanently, working for the campsite.
The next morning we headed into town to get our laundry done, and try to sort out our third party insurance. Ed also needed a hair cut. We soon found an insurance office, Sanin Simunovic, along the Avenida de Libertador 1184. The owner was really friendly and sorted out our paperwork in no time. It was only 48 pesos (approximately $16) and covered us for our stay. At least if we got stopped by the police we would have all the necessary paperwork.
There was nothing left for us to do in El Calafate and we wanted to head off to the Perito Moreno Glacier, 80km out of town. But before heading off we stopped at a nice-looking restaurant - Mi Viejo - for our first proper Argentinian steak. The steak was absolutely delicious and that together with mashed potato, salad and a half bottle of red wine came to less than $15 for both of us. Dining out in Argentina was definitely going to be pleasurable!
The drive to the glacier was along a fairly good partially paved road. It is supposedly one of earth's few advancing glaciers, although it has not advanced since 1988. Entrance to the glacier is fairly steep - 20 pesos each ($7) - but that is for the whole park rather than just for the glacier itself, so not too bad if you are spending a few days there. When you add the camp site fee of 8 pesos each ($3) it makes a night's excursion very expensive.
A you reach the glacier, there is a car park up above and you walk down a series of wooden steps and walkways to get as close as you can. You can certainly hear it before you see it - as pieces calve away and hit the Canal de los Tempanos below you can't miss the huge crashing sound.
The glacier is pretty impressive with a frontage of almost 5km and a height of 60m. As you stand on the various catwalks you are almost mesmerised as you watch, waiting for another iceberg to hit the water. It's a shame you can't get any closer, but there had been a few accidents in the past where people had been hit by falling ice, hence the now obligatory use of the catwalks.
Eventually we dragged ourselves away and returned to the landy. There were a couple of people having a good look over it as we arrived and we ended up chatting to them about our trip and showing them round our mobile home. It would have been nice to have just popped the roof tent up and camped there for the night but there were signs around the car park stating clearly that no camping was allowed. We weren't too sure if and how this was enforced, so we headed back up the road to the nearest campsite - Camping Bahia Escondida. It is a very woodsy site with use of showers, toilets and firepits. It was certainly a lot more peaceful than the previous campsite at El Calafate. The only noise was from the odd iceberg crashing into the water - and we were 7 km away from the glacier!
After a hot shower and eating by the fire, we headed to bed. Tomorrow we had a longish drive back into Chile and Puerto Natales.