Glaciers and hiking in El Calafate, El Chalten and Torres del Paine!

It feels like forever since I’ve blogged! The last couple of weeks have been full of similar activities though, so I decided to bunch them all together.

El Calafate is a really sweet tourist town, that looks a little like a ski resort with wooden chalet style buildings. We stayed in a B&B with the nicest couple ever. It was like having an Argentinian mum and dad. They spoke very little English and I for one speaker next to no Spanish (“una mesa para dos, por favor” is my limit!) but we ended up having great conversations anyway. When the bus came to pick us up for our glacier excursion, they came to the door and waved us off. The glacier itself (Perito Moreno) was pretty epic. I hadn’t really a concept of what a glacier looked like before. The sounds of it were even more amazing – you hear what sounds like thunder and then giant pieces fall off and crash in the lake. So there are icebergs floating all over the lake. In the national park cafe you can order whiskey on the rocks and they use ice from the glacier. We didn’t though!

The following day we went to El Chalten, which is a tiny town basically built for hiking. The mountain FitzRoy is there and there are loads of trails to viewpoints of it and other mountains. Now. I am not a hiker. And I will admit that on the first day trek we did, I may have freaked out slightly and insisted that I couldn’t do it, I couldn’t do the next hike and I certainly couldn’t do the W Trail or the Inca Trail that we were booked in for in the coming days and weeks.

But I persevered. And I did manage. On the first day I did 19km (Michael did 28km) and on the second day I did about 14km (Michael did about 24km I think). I enjoyed the second day more than the first. It was cooler and it snowed and the views were nicer (I thought). So El Chalten wasn’t a disaster for me! And I really liked the town – the food was really good and the people so lovely and helpful.

After El Chalten, we went back to El Calafate for a night and then on to Puerto Natales in Chile. After an awful day where I was convinced that custom officials would steal my tea (yes, I brought tea) and my ATM card wouldn’t work (it had just hit the tiny daily limit), I had an amazing night’s sleep in The Singing Lamb hostel and woke up bright and early for the W Trek in Torres del Paine National Park.

This involved a 2 hour bus ride to the park and a catamaran to the starting point – whereupon we embarked on a 5 day trail around the Torres mountain range. And I did it! Well. I did 4 days of it but the 5th was never going to happen. I’m still so proud of myself. The first two days were relatively easy, hiking to and from the Grey Glacier, staying in a dorm in Refugio Grey in between. The first day was 11km and the second was about 17km, as we went further on the trail to see the glacier closer up. There is a photo of me excitedly holding a piece of ice! The third day was the crazy day… We hiked 28km in pretty windy and snowy conditions. Sadly it was so snowy that the visibility on the viewpoint was pretty bad but I was so proud of making it that I didn’t care. We also passed the French Glacier on the way, which is a hanging glacier so a bit different from the others we had seen. The fourth day was nearly the toughest, only 11km, but I was so tired from the previous day and also we’d shared a dorm with a lady who talked in her sleep – AND I was on the top bunk, so I hadn’t slept so well. I had hiked over 67km at that point so I chickened out of the last day and stayed by the fire reading while Michael tackled the last 22km by himself – and succeeded admirably! I’m so proud of myself for even doing the 67km though as it’s really not something I ever thought I’d do. I have a pretty sore knee now, just from overuse, but hopefully that will settle down soon.

We went back to Puerto Arenas that night – and had an amazing African-Chilean meal – and the following day went to Punta Arenas, where we stayed for one night before flying to San Pedro de Atacama via Santiago. And that’s where we are now, having gone from snow and hail to desert sun in a few hours. We had an interesting time finding our hostel, but more about that next time!

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