We are heading now to El Chalten, from the dry grassy plains beloved by the guanacos to the high mountains of the Andes whose glaciers bring water to the dry land below.
Our earlier trip from Bahia Bustamante to Puerto Madryn took us to a dry isolated coastal world, founded by Welsh immigrants in the 19th century, sheep and wool being its main products. What remains of that ancestry is reflected in the street names, such as Lewis Jones. It is a much larger town than we were expecting, with high rise buildings as well as a spread out residential area. It has a seaside beach area which we walked through and found its weekend artisanal market as well as a sound stage being set up for a Saturday night revel.
It’s main tourist draw of this area is the animal world on the Valdez Peninsula and we traveled up the coast for a boat excursion from Puerto Pyramides to see sea lions and penguins. Our bus took us even further to the eastern end of the peninsula to Caleta Valdez, a well-maintained park and home of elephant seals whom we saw sunbathing on the sand below us on a beautiful coast which curved around and provided a home also for penguins and many sea birds.
And then we departed for the Argentine Andes and El Calafate. When we landed in El Calafate, we could see below the ox-bow curves of the blue white river below us flowing from mountain to plain. And that beauty continued throughout our visit to the foothills of the Andes.
El Chaten was a wonder — a small town developed to service the large numbers of tourists come to trek to Fitzroy mountain or at least hike close enough for a good view. And what a view! The sight of the extraordinary sharp pinnacles which create the Fitzroy range is unforgettable — I have been to many mountain ranges but have seen nothing like the steep sharp needles of rock, surrounded by glacial ice fields, that comprise this mountain site. It is no wonder that many climbers die each year in the pursuit of summiting Fitzroy.
The 13 of us trekked the 4 kilometers on a well worn path with many roots, loose rocks and steps created by wood and dirt for this park, through forests of a form of beech tree, leaves still green but beginning to turn yellow in this dry summer weather, over several wood-planked crossings fording streams, to finally reach Laguna Capre.
We would briefly come out of the trees to see a vista of granite hills and ice blue water streaming toward the midland towns. The trail was crowded with groups of people passing us (some of our group walking much slower than others, including me) with an age range of mostly about 20 to about 50 — with very few, if any, others our age on the trail. Most of us had rented hiking poles for this physical effort and they were very useful. This was the most arduous walk I have taken in a very long time.
At the end point of our trek was an opaque light turquoise lake, milky bright blue, created by the glaciers and now continually fed by them, flowing down to the Viedma Lake and the beautiful blue La Leona river. It was not very cold but it was exceptionally windy at certain points along our route, with the wind actually pushing me off balance at certain points. We sat by the lake in the what patches of sun could find and ate our box lunches, sneaking behind trees for bladder relief, which was hard to do considering the great number of people along the way. Our guide Rosie’s storage bag blew into the lake and she braved the extreme cold water to retrieve it back, coming to shore with wet pants and a grin.
On the next day, we choose an easier route to a waterfall, and enjoyed the ambiance of the icy water rushing down to flow eventually onto the plain.
The small town of El Chalten is very busy right now with visitors in this summer time, including vacationing families. There are many restaurants that are filled to capacity. I found a vegan restaurant which some of us enjoyed one night but the next night it was hard to find room at a table. We are all eating well and greatly enjoying our time together in this beautiful place.