Sunday, 21 November 2010

... Patagonia: Four Seasons In One Day

I was up before the sun rose to head back to Ezeira Airport and the madness that is flying domestic within Argentina. And it was crazier than usual due to the fact that Aeroparque Jorge Newbery, the domestic airport, is closed either due to renovations or a strike – someone mentioned one or the other but I was in a sleep-deprived haze at the time. I was flying to El Chaltén via El Calafate courtesy of the national carrier Aerolineas Argentinas, an airline with a notorious reputation for delays and today we left 25 minutes late. No-one ever really knew why either. Still, a week or two ago flights were being outright cancelled so I’ll take a 25 minute delay.

El Calafate, named after a berry,  is on the southern shore of Lago Argentino. I woke during the flight as we were practically being blown out of the sky during our descent into its airport. Something told me this place was windy. Then when I was blown across the tarmac into the terminal as I disembarked the plane I kind of got the impression I was in a different climate to Buenos Aires. Time to bring out the snowboard jacket.... finally!

A 2.5 hour drive on a road that seemed to go on forever followed through nature that appears to have been long left to its own devices. First impressions? Barren, spacious, wild and beautiful. The road was at least smooth but extremely empty aside from the occasional rhea, an armadillo that decided to become a chicken, horses and sheep. Jagged peaks burst out from the skyline, glaciers and ice blue lakes closed the gap on the horizon.

A pit stop at La Leona Roadhouse & Country Lodge was a mid-way pause for eats. In 1905, three gringos stopped here for almost a month during their trip to the Chilean Border. They had just robbed the Bank of London and Tarapacá in Rio Gallegos. These three were Butch Cassidy, the Sundance Kid and Etta Place. As I ate my soup I kept looking over my shoulder expecting them to burst in with their latest loot.

El Chaltén, named for Cerro Fitz Roy’s Tehuelche name (“Peak of Fire”), is a frontier town that lies at the entrance to the northern section of Parque Nacional Los Glaciares. There are log cabin-like structures everywhere, there’s no cell phone reception and the ATM is apparently crap. But I’ve got wifi and it’s free! Interestingly there’s spiffy recycling bins everywhere too, along with packs of dogs that roam the streets. It doesn’t take long to walk around but then the tail wind certainly helps. In almost every picture taken of me thus far I look like Cousin It. In the better ones I look like Medusa. Apparently there was a snowstorm earlier today and yet now it is sunny but windy. This could potentially make tomorrows 9 hour hike rather interesting!

Welcome to Patagonia!

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