At Rio Gallegos, the last frontier of civilisation before the southern tip of the continent, we realised it was too cold for us to continue hitchhiking and camping. Our gear was acceptable up to some degree but continuous exposure to rain, dampness and cold got the best of us and gave up on the end of the world and changed our direction to north. In the beginning we didn’t have much chance for hitchhiking on the road and it was raining and even staying under a bridge didn’t help much. So we went to the petrol station across the road where we saw a lot of trucks with the hope of some hot coffee and water for mate. It turns out this was the spot for hitchhiking. There were a number of hitchhiking groups which went around to the waiting trucks or to other vehicles that stop for petrol. After spending a few hours asking we found a couple of guys who agreed to take us to the junction of Chaltén and El Calafate.
Before they ended up here, one of the guys was supposed to go to the USA for work but due to Trump policies he was denied work at the last moment. This happening after he quitted his job, he had nothing else to do and his friend offered to go traveling around Patagonia. So they borrowed the car from one of their friends. The guy had a number of entomologists in his family and was mostly interested observing insects. The reason that I mention this is throughout the travel I met a lot of people who had personal interest in subjects normally considered as hard or nerdy or simply to put it, just unnecessary. This approach does have similar effects towards art as well. Few people really digest art or science or enjoy it in Turkey. These subjects considered as something that needs to be done at school to get grades and nothing more. It never becomes a part of a character. Anyway, they needed to get the car back to their friend and were already a few days late. They wanted to spend the last day in El Calafate but due to a music festival, they couldn’t find a place to stay. When we learn this we also thought we better off postpone El Calafate and go Chaltén instead.
The junction they dropped us was also full of other hitchhikers but everybody was observing good hitchhiking etiquette. Every group that arrives goes back to the line and wait 15-20 meters behind the last one. Even a car stops in front of another group; the first group had always had the priority. My personal experience is, it is always good to talk to other people to learn where they are going and tell where you are headed. So if a car that stops goes to another direction, you can always, inform the others to get the car or vice versa. This would not help here since the road only was going to Chaltén, but we did so just out of boredom. The Chilean couple that were waiting just after us were quite friendly so we started a game of Mikado sticks with them. The guy was working in retail but had a thing for birdwatching and had even a book of birds of Patagonia, which made Mariana, an ornithologist, immensely happy and she also took out her book for the birds and the rest of the conversation was too birdie for me. Just before dark a car stopped for us and took us to Chaltén. It was a lady who was on her way to meet her boyfriend, whom was running a hostel. This was great for us because we thought it would be a bit problematic to search for a hostel after dark in a new city. Also when we told her about our decision of Chaltén over El Calafate, she backed our opinions by telling us that El Calafate is a bit overrated, whereas in Chaltén you can find the exactly the same nature only cheaper and with a free entrance to the natural park. I am not sure about her partiality at the time, but still it was a kind of an assurance for our decision.
When we arrived in Chaltén it was already dark but still we could understand why we meet someone who knows a hostel owner, because there is simply no other occupation in Chaltén unless you are a tourist.
In fact in Chaltén only live tourists. Being an artificial town established by the support of the government for their foreign policies, even the local population come here temporarily making them kind of tourists as well. There is only lodging, food and drink places and camping equipment shops and a Scottish shower sales office but no advertisement agencies for example. The topmost Argentinean touristic attraction was also present everywhere – the artisanal beer. I always found the artisanal beer concept like charity: “Please buy this stuff to support us, it is shitty and expensive but the idea is to support” which doesn’t fit well with me. It is a small cute town surrounded by mountains all of which quite impressive and great views of FitzRoy when the weather is clear. There are bakeries that have good facturas and two supermarkets with very limited goods and high prices. The Chilean hitchhikers we met before told us that they have brought all of their food from Chile just for this reason. For a more hippie approach you can find all the relevant information on a post just at the entrance of town. It is a bit like hobo signs but I believe the internet will surpass all of these soon.
It is a guide for where to find wi-fi, shower, food, camping etc. scratch written on the pole
In order to enter the natural park, registration at the park office is necessary. To register you must receive the briefing as well. The briefing is given in English and Spanish and covers the points that you should consider while in the park. The interesting points to me were that carrying water was not advised because there are lots of streams in the park all of which are drinkable.
The reasons of the briefing
The other interesting point is that you can only use the toilets that are placed by the park guards and nowhere else. If you really must, you should be at least 50 meters from any source of water and bury your product afterwards. Due to the climate it does not decompose and cause pollution. They also mentioned a bit about pumas and how to react if you encounter them.
You can have all sorts of alternatives
Chaltén is also called the capital of hiking so the next day we started hiking. For starters we tried the daily walks. We went to Los Condores to have an overview of the city or to Las Aguilas to have a view of the Lago Viedma. From the other end of town you can reach to Chorillo Del Salto which has a small but beautiful waterfall. Swimming there was prohibited but even if it was not I don’t think anyone would jump in the ice cold water unless they are somewhere from Scandinavia. These all three can be done in one day and each of them takes approximately three hours.
Chaltén from Los Condores
Panorama from Las Aguilas
The route to Chorillo Del Salto
The next day we went to Loma Del Pligue Tumbado. Either this hike was a bitch or I was. It said it is only 1 km of climbing but it turns out that the kilometre is the total vertical elevation difference. Obviously it took much effort and time than I mentally prepared myself and was ready to spend. I cursed a lot at the climb, cold and the drizzle until we reached the top but once there I remembered why I was travelling once again. As with other touristic spots and natural beauties I have a kind of evaluation. Compared to the effort, time, struggle and money how the experience is. This one was slightly expensive compared to the energy I have spent but definitely was worth it. Unsurprisingly the climb down went much smooth and with much less cursing.
Loma Del Pligue Tumbado
After Loma Del Pligue Tumbado, we headed for Laguna Capri for a few days of camping and hiking. It was a pleasant hike, relatively easy walk, good weather, beautiful landscapes and various birds accompanying us. Every corner we turned was another surprise which you can not grow tired of. This is of course if you enjoy things like watching a woodpecker family for an hour or so. From the campsite there are many spots to see as well. Every sunset we went out to spot some pumas but failed every time. The other lesson pumas thought us here is only nature knows when you can see stuff or not.
We spent a day here and moved to camp site Agostini. This location may have the best views around Chaltén. Laguna Torre looks like a studio background. The only thing a person can do here is to be amazed. Close your eyes and open again and you will be amazed again.
The next day we returned to Chaltén very spoiled by Laguna Torre but the landscape still continued to impress me on the way. After a day’s rest in Chaltén we moved towards Laguna Toro. This route was also a bitch. It is a total of 16 kilometres with climbs and downhill roads but was mostly uphill. The road went on and on. The fun I had when I saw the sign for the wild cows in the beginning of the hike disappeared slowly. Maybe I didn’t get as much rest I thought I did but after walking so much, but whatever the reason, when the couple on the route back to Chaltén told us that there is only three more hours left for the camping spot, I was disappointed. To me all the route should take a bit more than three hours, it is just 16 kilometres. However after a long climb on the hill at a swampy road and we found another sign that says 3 hours to the camping site, I lost any hope that was left. But when we come to a stream of water without any stepping stones where Mariana had difficulty in passing with the bags, I needed to get over bitching and act more like a survivor of a galactic catastrophe like losing all coffee plants on the planet or similar. I must admit that the ice cold water was a blessing to my overheated feet. This jolt refreshed me until we come across another stream which was a bit too much and my feet were already cool enough so it felt more like a struggle than fun. Luckily this was the last piece of struggle and after a short while we made it to the camping area and felt so relieved. The next day we explored the surroundings of the campsite. There were interesting rock formations carved by the glaciers. There was a small lake which was the source of the streams we crossed. There were a number of interesting birds, it was quite peaceful and beautiful but didn’t hit me as Lago Torre, or maybe I was too spoilt by it. In my natural beauty evaluation scala this would be considered as an expensive spot with respect to the effort that is spent to come here.
Beware of wild cows!!!
I assume they are introduced for pumas. When they find easy food, they will not harass the tourists.
Only three more hours
I lost my imagination after the walk.
I can easily say that most of the landscape and the views on the road were much better than the last spot, though I may have not enjoyed it as much due to my continuous bitching. That evening the rain started and did not stop in the morning. This spoilt my mood immensely. Instead of waiting the rain to stop, which we didn’t know when, I pushed Mariana to go ahead and return to Chaltén. This time though, we needed to cross three streams due to the rising waters, it was extra cold due to the clouds and the rain did not help at all. But most of the road I was quite motivated to get out of this place and finish the walk. I can not explain how happy I was when I saw Chaltén from a distance. By that time I was very wet, very tired, suppressing my disappointment and was the edge of my nerves but the nature had another trick for us. The wind. Though the last strip was downhill it felt like we were climbing against the wind. That last 2 kilometers were maybe the hardest part of the walk. When we finally got back to Chaltén I called a day off to have some rest, get warm and dry.
IV. LEAVING CHALTÉN
The other day when we were leaving we were clean, rested but I can not say 100% dry. We went up to the hitchhiking spot and by evening only one car passed which did not stop. So we returned to the hostel for another night. The next morning we came up earlier and were in front of the hitchhiking line. By noon time, no cars have stopped. To me this was very discouraging but Mariana’s idea was that hitchhiking would always work depending on the time you are willing to spend on it. But I somehow had enough and bought bus tickets out of Chaltén which may be the most expensive tickets per kilometres in the whole of south America. Definitely more costly than a budget airline ticket, this caused a big argument between me and Mariana, who wanted to continue hitchhiking, not for the cost but for the concept of it. So it was a bit of a bitter goodbye to Chaltén which looked somehow happy with the rainbow over it.