I find myself back in Comodoro after a jam-packed week of travelling Patagonia. In ten days we visited 2 countries, 2 national parks, 3 mountain ranges, a glacier, consumed innumerable ice-creams and laughed hysterically every day.
My first destination was El Calafate which is the closest town to the glacier Perito Moreno. I took the bus straight after work; it was a long journey, made longer but the fact I ate all my snacks before the bus had started moving. We arrived in Calafate the following day, walking the length of the city in the hunt for the hostel. We spent Saturday trying to establish a vague plan of action for the week and having a look round the town. It was lovely to be reunited with the girls and catch up with what they’ve been up to.
A day of rest Sunday was not as we went to visit the glacier Perito Moreno in the Parque Nacional Los Glaciares. The 7am bus made me question whether it was really a wonder of the world that I needed to see but it was phenomenal. It is the fastest advancing glacier in the world, advancing 2m every day. We were collected from our hostel, transported to park, told some interesting facts which I promptly forgot and then we were brought to a start point. We were given time to make our way along the path, taking an inordinate number of selfies and admiring the glacier from different angles.
Once we reached the end of the path we took a boat across Lago Argentino towards the glacier. We ate lunch on the shore, it was fantastic and somewhat surreal to be eating a ham sandwich next to something so magnificent. Then we put on our crampons ready to trek on the glacier itself. You have to stomp on the ice so that your spikes stick in to the glacier. I didn’t fall once; nobody was more surprised than me about that. It was excellent, we pottered around on the ice for a few hours and the the trek finished with a glass of whisky served with ice from the glacier. I hate whisky but how often do you get to raise a toast on a glacier in Patagonia – I’m sure gramps would be proud!
The next morning we were up early again to make our way to El Chaltén (6am early). Pancho our bus driver evidently hated us because he played devilish music full blast for the entire 3 hour journey. It is low season and El Chaltén was a real ghost town. It is tiny, home to only 3000 people, and even less at this time of year, but stunning. I successfully booked the furthest possible hostel from the bus station. It also didn’t provide breakfast, had about 3 other guests and had no power for several hours the evening we stayed – nice job me. That afternoon we took on Senda al Fitz Roy. We practically ran up for twenty minutes before deciding we ought to eat our entire lunch. There were enormous clouds directly above Fitz Roy which is the mountain towards which we were walking but we convinced ourself that it would clear by the time we arrived. Unfortunately not. It was a tough walk and when we arrived at the mirador after 2 hours we couldn’t see a thing. Apparently Fitz Roy is beautiful but I couldn’t be sure, although I have got some great pictures of me with some very big clouds. For dinner we ate a kilogram of pasta between us, some corn on the cob and 1/4kg of ice-cream each for good measure.
On our second day in El Chaltén we put our leggings back on,treated ourselves to a clean t-shirt and headed out on Senda a Laguna Torre. It was a great walk, we chatted all the way and regularly complimented ourselves on what good time we were making. The Laguna Torre is an impressive frozen lake which sits in front of picture perfect mountains. We had crisp sandwiches for lunch; we brought a 550g of crisps with us to ensure we had enough. We had made a trip to panaderia before starting the trek to buy ourselves some milly filly. The title of this blog attributes milly fillys because not only are they delicious, but they are also the reason we managed to walk as far as we did that week. They are mille feuille inspired but made Argentinian by the addition of dulce de leche and meringue. They’re like door stops and must have about 5000 calories, Sinead ate two and neither Megan nor I judged her for it, rather praised her for her valiance. Poverty striken we decided we would wait to eat in Calafate. If you are going its definitely worth bringing cash as when the two cash machines in the town run out, that’s it. We headed back to Calafate, cooked pasta in a wok, then spilt said pasta all over the floor but ate it anyways.
Another early morning bus and we were off to Chile. We successfully crossed the border arriving in Puerto Natales without a hostel, currency or a plan. Not only was Chile chilly, it was also very, very misty. We could barely see 5m in front of us which made the hostel hunt all the more challenging. We had acquired two bus friends who seemed set on joining us so together we started walking. After a while, we found a hostel which had some rooms so we took a look. Weirdest hostel ever. The entire place was painted peach, pictures of family members were all over the walls and rosaries were hung on every door. The hostel owner had children hanging off her and seemed alarmingly pleased to have some guests. Jesus gave me the eye from a painting hung on the bedroom wall, and we decided this wasn’t the hostel for us and we ought to ditch our weird bus friends. We did a runner leaving Megan to break the Chilean woman’s heart. A few blocks down we got lucky and found an awesome hostel where we stayed for three nights.
The following day we visited El Parque Nacional Torres del Paine. It was named the eighth wonder of the world in 2013 by the National Geoghraphic and really is spectacular. Its most popular route ‘the W’ attracts trekkers from all over the world. We did not have the time nor the courage to camp in the park during low season when its so cold so we opted for a day trip. We were collected from our hostel and driven to the park. We got off the bus tired, cold and grumpy because we could not see a thing because of the mist and it was really, really chilly. After about an hour the fog began to clear, it was a good four hour walk to reach the Torres and Megan regularly reminded us how little pain we would’ve been in if we’d decided to stay in bed. There was a group of us all on the same route and we followed a German couple (who were both wearing jeans) the whole way up, then overtook them on the final stretch. We reached the Torres after bribing ourselves with regular chocolate biscuit breaks, and it was magic. It was so serene and really spectacular and our sandwiches were nearly as spectacular. Side note: avocados are exquisite in Chile. We trekked back down, the Germans in jeans still racing ahead, had an excellent nature wee, lots of great convo and enjoyed the fantastic views. One day in the park doesn’t really do it justice and I hope one day I’ll get the chance to see it again.
The next day we treated ourselves to a lie in ie. we slept until 9. After breakfast we decided we ought to go to the bus station to book buses home, after realising we didn’t know there were definitely buses the next day. Someone had our back that week as we rarely booked anything more than 12 hours ahead, but a wing and a prayer and we made it. That afternoon we went horse-riding. I have never been horse-riding in my life and admittedly Chilean Patagonia maybe wasn’t the place to learn. I was waiting for a health and safety chat, and maybe a small introduction about how to ride a horse. But no, a Chilean man gave me a leg up and on I got to the horse. I had no idea how to communicate with this horse and tell it which way to go so I just sat still and hoped for the best. It led me off into a field and I had little success coercing it back on path. Sinead’s horse stopped to eat every second step and Megan’s despite being the fattest was very obedient. It was freezing and I had lost feeling in all my limbs by the time we had finished. We finished at gaucho man’s house and his wife gave us tea and donuts before we were driven back to our hostel.
Another early morning and I was on the bus to Punta Arenas, a city further south in Chile, leaving Megan and Sinead to get their bus back to Calafate. I had planned to do some shopping in Punta Arenas as everyone raves about how cheap it is. This didn’t go quite to plan as I walked the entire block for over an hour looking for somewhere I could buy a ticket back to Comodoro, only to find that the office was in the bus station I had arrived from. I made it to my hostel after having asked half of Chile where it was and then had an accidental nap as I was making up my bed (story of my life). I belatedly set out to go shopping and quickly remembered that I hate shopping, so the escapade wasn’t a great success. I was rescued from shopping by Ailbhe and her host family’s wonderful Chilean family who took us around the city, to the mall and then back to their house for pichanga (chips with meat, sausage, chicken, avocado, tomato and possibly a few other ingredients I didn’t understand the Spanish for).
The next day, after an 18 hour journey, a successful border crossing, another 90 day visa and not enough sleep I arrived back in Comodoro at 7am ready to bore some students about Windsor castle and how Yorkshire puddings are actually savoury, at 10am. A fantastic week, what a beautiful place Patagonia is.