A Travellerspoint blog

El Calafate to El Chalten

semi-overcast 22 °C

3rd January
This morning we left El Calafate behind us and headed to El Chalten. It was only a short 3 hour drive but we enjoyed a few stops along the way to look at the scenery. Once we had taken the turn off to El Chalten we had rounded Lake Argentino.
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Diane and Tony posed for a photo with Esperanza.
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The scenery changed dramatically and was quite stark.
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In the middle of nowhere we stopped at a little place called La Leona named after a river. It had quite a bit of history behind it. In the late 1800’s some Danish immigrants built a lodge for the settlers to stay in on their journey to the Atlantic coast with their animals and merchandise. This trip usually took over a month so it was nice for them to have somewhere to stop over. In 1905 three gringos (foreigners) lodged there for a month. Sometime later the police commissioner showed the owners some photos and they recognised the distinguished guests. They were none other than Butch Cassidy, Sundance Kid and his wife Ethel Place. They had already robbed the Bank of London and Tarapaca in Rio Gallegos and were on their way to Chile. This meant quite a bit to Shane and I as last year we had visited this train cemetery on the edge of the Uyumi Salt Flats in Bolivia where the train that Butch Cassidy and the Sun Dance kid escaped on had been left to rust.
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From there it was only an hour’s drive to El Chalten which is in the heart of the Southern Patagonian Andes in the Santa Cruz Province of Argentina. It lies at the foot of Fitz Roy Mountain.
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Behind the colossal granite walls which dominate the view is the famous “Campo de Hielo Patagonico Sur”, the most important continental ice mass of our planet after Antarctica. Glaciers descend from these ice fields, feeding Lake Argentino and Lake Viedma. El Chalten was built in 1985 to help secure the disputed border with Chile.
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Today the sole reason for its existence is tourism. Chalten means “smoking mountain”, as they believed it was a volcano as its peak are covered by clouds most of the time.
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4th January
Well today was another one of the highlights of this trip. We went ice trekking on Viedma Glacier. We took a boat ride for about an hour to get there and before leaving the boat had a trip along the front of the glacier.
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We also saw some big ice bergs that had calved from underneath the glacier.
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Once we had disembarked we climbed up some amazing rock formations to the edge of the ice where our guides put our crampons on the bottom of our boots. These crampons assisted us to walk on the slippery ice.
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The ice formations on the top of the glacier were spectacular. We walked through various parts of the glacier, looking at unusual towers, small waterfalls that went under the ice and looked in amazing blue caves.
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There were several areas where we could fill our water bottles with glacier water. It tasted great. Shane took the opportunity to see how cold the water was by putting his face in the water. He said that he had a brain freeze it was that cold.
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Shane had a go at ice climbing but only took a couple of steps and decided it was too hard. He dug the ice pick in so hard that neither he nor the guide could get it out. With a lot of effort it finally came loose.
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We stopped to taste the ice and we were then surprised with a bottle of baileys to drink with the ice. It was surprising how different it tasted with the glacial ice.
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We ambled back down the glacier to return to El Chalten.

5th January
Well another amazing day today. We were still in El Chalten and spent the day hiking around the Parque Nacional Los Glaciares to our destination of the bottom of Mt Fitz Roy. Up until now we had only seen it from afar and with the top of the tower covered in cloud. The weather today was absolutely magnificent; it was quite warm to hike in and most of the day Mt Fitz Roy was without cloud.
We headed off fairly early to our starting point at Hosteria El Pilar; from there it was a lovely walk that followed the Rio Blanco River through a shaded forest. Along the way we had great views of the Blanco Glacier and Mt Fitz Roy.
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This took us 2 ½ hours to reach the base of Mt Fitz Roy at a place called Poincenot. This is a campsite as well as the starting point for the trek up Mt Fitz Roy. The trek takes an hour to an hour and half to climb up Mt Fitz Roy to a stunning view of the towers and Laguna Ce Les Tres. This is a horrible climb but worth it for the views.
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Later that day we then headed off back to El Chalten via another walk. This was to take us another 3 hours to return to our hosteria. On the way back we followed a river for a while still getting further opportunities to glance back at Mt Fitz Roy.
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We then came upon Laguna Capri. By then we were quite tired and pretty hot so we took some time out and sat on the beach at the edge of the laguna (lake).
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The last hour of our trek was also very scenic as we could see right down the valley at the Rio de las Vueltas leading in to El Chalten and we also had a great view looking over the town itself.
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At that stage I was really looking forward to putting my feet up and having a nice hot bath.
Later that evening we went out to dinner to farewell four of our travelling companions who were heading home.

Posted by shaneandnicola 14:14 Archived in Argentina

Puerto Natales to El Calafate

semi-overcast 21 °C

1st January
Happy New Year everyone. After a bit of a sleep in this morning we headed off from Puerto Natales for El Calafate which is a small town in Patagonia, Argentina. We waved good-bye to Carmen and Lulu who were the two lovely ladies that looked after us as the Hotel Milodon. So once again we crossed the border into Argentina. As it was New Year’s Day and only mid-morning the border crossing was very quick. El Calafate is situated on the southern border of Lake Argentino, in the southwest part of the Santa Cruz Province, about 320 km Northwest of Río Gallegos. Its name is derived from a little bush with yellow flowers and dark blue berries that is very common in Patagonia: the Calafate. It is very nice in jam and ice-cream.
El Calafate is an important tourist destination to visit different parts of the Los Glaciares National Park, this includes the Perito Moreno Glacier which is why we are here and it is one of the most visited in the world. Our journey took about 6 hours and was pretty uneventful; however we did see lots of Rhea’s and their chicks along the way.
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When the truck came close they would go running. We stopped mid afternoon in the middle of nowhere to have some lunch. Believe it or not, it was the last of our camping left overs. The night before we had made a beef and vegetable soup that was heated up during breaky and then put in a big thermos. It was just what we needed. The wind was blowing a gale over lunch by I noticed that due to the wind the clouds looked alot different than they do at home. They looked wind blown.
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We arrived in to El Calafate later in the afternoon, stopping off just outside of town to look at the great view of Lake Argentino.
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Once settled in to our room Shane and I took a walk in to town to have a look around. It is a lovely little town. There was not much open as it was New Year’s Day, we did however get a calafate ice-cream. We went to dinner to yet another Argentinian “meat” restaurant, although this one did have a salad bar. The lamb and other meats were being barbequed at the back of the restaurant. The lamb is not cooked on a spit, but opened up and splayed on a special contraption. Once cooked the chef had a big meat cleaver and would chop up the meat and it was presented in large portions on plates for us to make our selections.
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The variety included lamb, chicken, sausages and blood sausage. I took one bite of the blood sausage and spat it out. Shane on the other hand ate two of them as he liked it so much. I think it will now be on his list of requests for Greta to make. Another fun day has passed.
Nicola understands now why the town is called El Calafate, because after the BBQ style dinner Shane sure did El Cala-fart eh.

2nd January
We headed off at 8am this morning for our trip to the Perito Moreno Glacier which is in the Los Glaciares National Park which covers an area of some 600,000 hectares. It was created in 1937 and was recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1981. This glacier is a 250 square kilometre ice formation and is 30 km in length. This glacier is one of the only three Patagonian glaciers that are growing. In fact in October last year the glacier advanced creating a natural dam which separates the two halves of the lake. With no escape route, the water level on the Brazo Rico side of the lake can rise by up to 30 metres above the level of the main lake. The enormous pressure produced by the height of the dammed water will finally break the ice barrier in a spectacular rupture. This spectacular glacier is 5 km wide, with an average height of 74 metres above the surface; however it has a total ice depth of 170 metres. The glacier has three faces, south, north and east due to its shape.
The glacier was about a two hour drive. To get there we followed a different route than most trips so we were lucky enough to see wildlife along the way. This included a southern crested cara cara and guanaco.
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We stopped at a rest stop and found a lazy sheep just lying around so Shane made a friend.
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Upon arrival we took an hour boat trip that visited the southern face of the glacier. The boat went within 300 metres of the glacier and it towered over us. It was beautiful and we sat and waited patiently for the glacier to calve (chunks fall off).
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Once back on shore we took a walk to various lookout points where we could see the east and northerly face of this glacier. We had a packed lunch which allowed us to sit and take in all the wonders in front of us. When you look at it, it just goes on for miles. It is certainly the most spectacular glacier we have visited and we have seen quite a few over our travels.
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Posted by shaneandnicola 15:49 Archived in Argentina

Punta Arenas to Puerto Natales

overcast 18 °C
View Antarctica and Patagonia on shaneandnicola's travel map.

December 29th
This morning we set off from Punta Arenas on our way to Puerto Natales which is the gate way to the Torres del Paine National Park. About an hour out of Punta Arenas we stopped off for our final penguin fix at the Seno Otway Penguin Colony. This is a colony of about 3000 breeding pairs of Magallenic penguins. Firstly Shane said “not another bloody penguin” but it was a really interesting colony right on the beach, it was lovely watching them frolic in the ocean and see them waddling single file through the grassland. There were not many chicks showing their heads I suspect that they were underground due to the winds. Shane got some great video footage.

Then we headed off on a long drive to Puerto Natales where we had lunch and then spent some time shopping for the camping in the National Park. $600 later we had 3 full trolleys full of yummies, including stocking up on alcohol for New Year’s Eve.
Torres del Paine National Park is about 120 km from Puerto Natales. It was nearly all dirt road so took a couple of hours to get there. Along the way we could see lots of smoke as we had heard that there was a bushfire. Upon arrival at the main gate to the national park we were advised that the camping area that we were heading for had been closed as there was too much smoke around.
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Due to the smoke we didn’t even get to see the magnificent towers as we arrived. This is what we missed out on.
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There was a camp area just outside the park so we headed for that area as by now it was around 7pm. We were hoping to hear more in the morning. So we set up our tents and opened some alcohol while we were waiting for a late dinner. Around 11pm were advised that we needed to pack up and head back to Puerto Natales as the fire had jumped the lake. It was a disappointing blow as this is some of the best hiking and scenery in the world that you could do. As we left in the dark the fire was an amazing and shocking sight. You could see the fire in the distance and heading our way due to the windy conditions.
We arrived back in Puerto Natales around 1am and Claudio our trekking guide managed to locate a hotel for us to stay in. Thank goodness for the Hostal Milodon. We had a good night’s sleep.

December 30th
This morning we had a sleep in due to the late arrival. We awoke not knowing what was ahead of us. As we could no longer spend 3 days in Torres del Paine our itinerary would need to be changed. What made this even more difficult was the fact that New Year’s Eve is tomorrow night and all accommodation is booked. We were keen to find out about the fire and established that Chilean officials closed the Torres del Paine national park and thousands of hectares of forest and grasslands in Patagonia had been destroyed. More than two hundred government and military personnel from Chile and neighboring Argentina, four planes and a helicopter have been deployed to bring the blaze under control .The fire has consumed an estimated 14,000 acres and winds of 90 kilometres an hour forecast for today would fan the flames.
By 11am our beloved tour guide Diane had rearranged things for the next few days. We have already learned to expect the unexpected here in South America so we have learned to just go with the flow. I guess we were also expecting at least one evacuation this trip as we had 2 last time with the landslides and volcano in Ecuador. There is no way that we intend to miss this part of the world so we will come back and hike Torres del Paine next year when we return to go back to Antarctica.
So for today the plans are to start using up all of the food that we bought for the camping. To fill in some time we visited the Milodon Cave not far out of Puerto Natales. In this cave they found bones of an extinct giant sloth called a Milodon.
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We had a picnic lunch at the caves.
For the evening we had a BBQ. We hired the Puerto Natales Rodeo Club and commenced to create our own feast from all of the camping food. So while the women prepared the food the men sat around drinking beer and vino. (Sound familiar). So we prepared some popcorn and salsa to snack on. For dinner we made a green salad, corn on the cob, garlic bread, jacket potatoes and cooked some steak. We sat around for the evening chatting.

December 31st
We had a long day out on a boat today. We did a trip along the Senoret Canal to the Ultima Esperanza Fjord and continued our journey up the fjord. Along the way we saw some estancias, a cormorant colony, a sea lion colony and lots of condors.
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We made our way to the supposedly majestic Monte Balmaceda, I say supposedly as it was covered in cloud and mist. Leading off its eastern slopes was a big glacier.
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From there we sailed on to Puerto Toro where we disembarked and walked to the base of the Serrano Glacier. It was quite spectacular and was making a lot of creaking noises.
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Both of these glaciers are in the Bernardo O'Higgins National Park.
We then headed back along the fjord to an estancia to have a traditional lunch. By traditional I mean meat of course. All cooked to perfection and bought out on warmers piled high on our tables. Vegetarians would not survive here. After lunch we had a walk around the estancia (in the rain) and boarded the boat to head back to Puerto Natales.
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Once back in town we stopped at the edge of the fjord to look at the black necked swans.
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Shane fancied the ducks bums and could not resist taking a photo.
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Once back at the hotel we prepared for tonight, being New Year’s Eve. We had dinner at the hotel cooking up yet more of our left overs and prepared nibbles to keep us going until midnight. It ended up being one of the best New Year’s Eve for a long time. The owners and friends of the hotel joined us to welcome in the new year and had us up dancing and laughing all night.

Posted by shaneandnicola 19:34 Archived in Chile

Ushuaia to Punta Arenas

On the road again

overcast 14 °C

December 27th
We awoke this morning to pack our bags to head off and finally leave Ushuaia. Before leaving we took a catamaran ride around the Beagle Channel for 3 hours. It was lovely and relaxing and we stopped several times to look at the views and see the wildlife.
The Beagle Channel is a strait separating islands of the Tierra del Fuego Archipelago, in extreme southern South America. It separates the island of Tierra del Fuego from other smaller islands. Its eastern portion is part of the border between Chile and Argentina but the western part is completely within Chile. The west end is the Darwin Sound and the east end is Nueva Island.
The Beagle Channel, the Straits of Magellan to the north, and the open ocean Drake Passage to the south are the three navigable passages around South America between the Pacific and the Atlantic oceans. The Beagle Channel and the Straits of Magellan are both very narrow passages which severely limit the size and types of ships that can safely use them; hence, most commercial shipping is done through the Drake Passage.
The Beagle Channel is about 240 kilometres long and is about 5 kilometres wide at its narrowest point. It was named after Charles Darwin’s ship the HMS Beagle.
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Our first stop was a little island that was covered in Arctic Terns. These birds fly as well as glide through the air. It was amazing as upon our approach the air was thick with these beautiful birds.
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We then sailed on to Sea Lion Island which was covered in Sea Lions and Imperial Cormorants. The seal pups were very playful both in the water and on the rocks.
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We could have sat and watched the Cormorant chicks for ages but unfortunately had to move on.
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We also visited an island with Rock Cormorants where we saw mothers feeding their babies.
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Our final stop was at the Les Eclaireurs Lighthouse which stands at the northeastern most islet of the five or more Les Eclaireurs islets. The lighthouse is built from bricks and is 10 metres high and 3 metres wide at the base. It is painted red and white. The lighthouse is still in operation, is remote controlled, automated, uninhabited and guards the sea entrance to Ushuaia. It is probably the most photographed lighthouse in South America.
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Once back in Ushuaia we got on board our new home for the next month our beloved Esmerelda. She is a big green truck that will get us to Santiago. Stay tuned for a photo.
We were headed for the Argentinian/Chile border at San Sebastian. The land was very barren once out of Ushuaia. There were several large estancias (ranches) with sheep and cattle.
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The border was very remote and is not used very much. Along the way we went through Rio Grande and Tolhuin where there is a 24 hour a day bakery which was spectacular. We stocked up on empanadas. The Argentinian border was fairly quick. We then drove through no man’s land for 10 kilometres on very rough road. The Chile border was much slower and they searched our truck and put our bags through x-ray. We then had another 2 hour drive on dirt to our home for the night at Cerro Sombrero. There were lots of roaming Guanaco along the way; they are related to the llama family. Around 9pm we finally stopped and had dinner.

December 28th
We headed off fairly early this morning to get to the ferry to cross the Strait of Magellan. It took about an hour to get there and there was a big queue. Tony our sneaky driver went in to a shorter queue so we managed to get on the next ferry that came along. The wind was blowing a gale and the seas were quite rough.
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We loaded the truck on the ferry and about 20 minutes later we were on mainland South America again. Once again the land was quite barren with sheep and Lesser Rheas roaming everywhere.
We stopped on the way to Punta Arenas at a deserted estancia called Estancia San Gregorio. Estancia San Gregorio is a relic of the 19th-century Menéndez wool empire in Chilean Patagonia. San Gregorio reached its peak between 1910 and 1930 producing wool, mutton, hides, and tallow.
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Nearby there are corroding skeletons of the British clipper Ambassador and the steamer Amadeo, which adorn its beachfront on the Strait of Magellan.
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We arrived in Punta Arenas around 1pm. Back to where we had started a month ago (Punta Arenas, Ushuaia, Antarctica, Ushuaia, Punta Arenus). It was very different to our first visit. The winds were howling and some roads had been blocked off as roofs had blown off. We made it to the Plaza Hotel on the main street right near the main square. We decided to go for a walk and were blown off our feet; we have never been in winds like it. I was worried that we would be decapitated by flying sheets of iron. We were meant to visit the penguin colony this afternoon but I suspect all the penguins had been blown away by the winds. We are planning on visiting the penguins tommorow morning (if they have not been blown away).

We will give you another update in a couple of days - no wi-fi at Torres del Paine.

Posted by shaneandnicola 01:34 Archived in Chile

Ushuaia

Teirra Del Fuego National Park

overcast 13 °C
View Antarctica and Patagonia on shaneandnicola's travel map.

Today we spent the day in the Tierra Del Fuego National Park having a look around and doing some hiking.

Tierra del Fuego National Park is a national park on the Argentine part of the island of Tierra del Fuego, within Tierra del Fuego Province. Established on October 15, 1960 it was the first shoreline national park to be established in Argentina.
It is 630 km2 and the Senda Costera (Coastal Path), connects Ensenada Bay to Lapataia Bay on Lake Roca. There are forests of Antarctic beech and Coihue in the lower elevations of the park.
The southernmost national park in the world stretches 60 km north from the Beagle Channel along the Chilean border. It is also the southern terminus of the Pan-American Highway which starts in Alaska.

Our first stop was at the End of the World Train Station where the train heads in to the national park. We just had a quick stop to see the train depart.
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We then headed in to the National Park.
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Some of the sights we saw along the way were:

Ensenada Bay
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Lake Roca
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Lapataia Bay
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Black Neck Swans and lots of bunnies
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Upon return to Ushuaia we went out for a lovely seafood dinner.

Posted by shaneandnicola 12:01 Archived in Argentina

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