El Chaltén

I arrived at around 11 o’clock and checked into the cheapest hostel I could find (Ahonikenk), which ended up being 100 pesos a night, a very good deal considering how remote the place is. The hostel was a bit on the cramp side, with barely enough space to get into my bed, no plugs in the room and no locks on the bathroom door, but despite this, it had a kind of crappy charm to it. Every now and then, a full plate of food would emerge from the adjoining restaurant, that a customer had wrongly ordered or didn’t want. We were the ravenous dogs on the other side of the wall, voraciously consuming the offerings. I got chatting to a girl from Germany and not long after we headed for a quick gander at the waterfall close by, although not long after we’d gotten there it started tipping down and we made a hasty retreat back to the food laden tavern. Back in the hostel I met a guy from Israel and we went for another quick hike around to some of the lookout points.

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When we arrived back at the hostel, there was a lot of Hebrew being spoken and many a contorted, confused face. I was told that there were a couple of groups of Israelis that were trying to sort out a trip along the Carretera Austral, which I later found out is a popular way to see the best of the Andes from the Chilean side. The girls that were trying to organise the trip spoke very little Spanish, but did speak good English, so I happily assumed the role of translator. Obviously I’ve spoken a fair amount of Spanish on my journey so far, but I’d never been in a situation where the value of speaking 2 languages had been so useful. The girls even suggested I come with them as an interpreter and that they’d pay my way, which was a very generous offer, I decided against it however, since I was still heading southwards.

Early the next day, the German girl, the Israelian guy and I headed for the Lago de los Tres, one of the most popular day hikes in the area. This was the busiest hike I’d been on so far, sometimes we were even queueing to scale parts of it, as people filtered up and down through the choke points. It took around 4 hours from town to get there, with a varied landscape and great views along the way. By the time we reached the top, it really felt like some sort of mountain zoo, with so many people dotted around, taking pictures and taking a well earned rest after the steep climb up to the lake. While we were walking to one of the nearby glaciers, I saw a guy swimming in the lake and chant “USA, USA”, as the hundred or so onlookers collectively rolled their eyes and muttered amongst themselves.

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The German girl and I headed to Loma del Pliegue Tumbado, which other travellers had told us to save for the clearest day and our luck was in. From the top of the mountain there was a truly stunning 360 degree view of Fitz Roy, forests, glaciers, rivers and lakes.

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Back at the hostel I had some new dorm buddies, one of them was a guy from Holland who had rented a car for 5 weeks and was heading to Torres del Paine as well as El Calafate, even though I’d already bought my bus ticket for the same place I decided to go with him instead, as it sounded more fun and meant that I could do another full day hike in the mean time before leaving for El Calafate. My new Dutch friend took it upon himself to try and sell my bus ticket while I went for one more hike, which subsequently paid for my fuel costs to El Calafate and later, Chile. The last hike was the easiest of the three, but still had good lookouts towards the glacier and more forests to saunter through.

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Soon after I got back from the hike we were racing in the rental car towards El Calafate, hoping to arrive before midnight, as it was New Year’s eve that day. The road was completely dead as we wound around, keeping an eye on the clock and catching glimpses of the beautiful mountains in the mirrors, towering above the horizon. After winding around a couple hundred kilometres of tarmac, we saw the lights of a city spring into life, it was a very strange sight in the middle of so much unspoilt natural landscape, but it was a welcome one. We arrived at Bla hostel around 10pm and went on the prowl for signs of life. We settled for the only place that had noise coming out of it and counted down to the new year, surrounded by tourists from all over the world. The woman in the hostel had told us that there would be no fireworks due to it being a national park, but apparently the locals didn’t care and were setting them off all around us. An American guy quizzed me about the hat I was wearing and was disappointed when I told him that I have no idea about basketball, or whatever the hell sport my hat was linked to. He offered me a shot of jaegermeister and before I knew it someone was clanging abell and the everyone started shouting “Happy New Year!”

 

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