Tag Archives: Patagonia

Enjoying Perito Moreno in heavy rain

If you plan a trip to see the glacier you have to travel to El Calafate, Argentina, the closest town to Perito Moreno Glacier (80 km away). I took the bus from Puerto Natales to cross the border back to Argentina (aprox 5 hours) and I was advised to book it in advance since the bus looks pretty busy on this route. Arrived in El Calafate at midday and checked-in to the hostel, Nakel Yenu, very nice hostel but you must have your own lock and towel and also they don’t have hair dryer to borrow (later I found that all this 3 items are not very popular in hostels in Patagonia or even South America, very practical to buy a lock and just give up the idea of hair dryer, and about the towel I just got used with my travel towel although it feels like using a newspaper to dry after shower).

El Calafate looks like a very small european resort with a lot of mountaineering equipment shops, souvenir shops and bazaars, and a bunch of restaurants. I went to restaurant Los Amigos, is a restaurant specialised in seafood and fish, bit far from the city center but very nice, with good food and a nice service. The man there didn’t ask me about vampires (popular belief about Romania due to a fictional book) or gypsies (popular misconception about Romania due to general ignorance and name confusion) , he said instead that he knows about Nadia Comaneci, the first female gymnast in the world who got a perfect 10 at the Olympics .

And because I had plenty of time left till the sunset, I went to Laguna Nimez, a wonderful place where you can see many species of birds and especially the flamingos. You buy a ticket with 70 argentinian pesos and you can come back anytime during a week. I took a tone of photos of flamingos and then came back to the hostel to prepare to wake up early and see the famous glacier. Not many people know or visit this place and I think it’s just because Perito Moreno it’s way more popular, but I saw a poster on the street about it and asked infos at hostel reception.

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The trip to the glacier costs 350 pesos for the bus, 215 entrance fee in the Las Glacieres National Park and if you want the tour with the boat you add 200 for one hour of being pushed by tourists trying to make the perfect selfie with the most famous glacier in the world, which I did and don’t recommend. You can also trek for one hour and a half on the glacier but I will do it on Viedma Glacier, since I heard it provides a better experience just by avoiding the bunch of tourists at Perito Moreno.

The night before it rained heavily and when I woke up it was still raining, and it kept raining until we came back in El Calafate. The guide, Juan, is very nice and helpful and spoke a lot about the climate (the winds coming from the west and discharging all the rain and snow before passing the mountains, therefore there is steppe at the base of the mountains on the east part, covering one third of Argentina, with small grass adapted for the winds and bushes with thorns to keep the moisture from the air), the flora (the grass and bush I spoke about and three types of faggus), fauna (so many sheep which were brought from Europe, a long period of time farmers were sending back to Europe sheep meat but the sheep are not adapted to steppe and because they don’t have the teeth to cut the grass they take it out from the soil, they also have nails and damage the terrain when running, therefore the steppe was on the way to turn in a desert so the government gave a law for the farmers that for each sheep they need 4 hectares of land in order to minimise the impact and provide sufficient food for the sheep; this made sheep farms collapse and close business, though some of the ranches started tourism businesses instead; there also are guanaco, nandu, hares, and so many others) and the glaciers ( high in the mountains is snowing and that snow turns in time in ice on top of the glaciers, the glacier being pushed down; at the base are Brazo Sur and Brazo Rico meeting and flowing in the front of the glacier on their way to meet Canal de los Tempanos, they put pressure on the ice at the base of the glacier so there is a point where the glacier breaks and on the very few occasions it passes that point the water is forming beautiful bridges of ice) .

On the way to the national park we stopped for a coffee at an old farm adapted for selling coffee and tea for tourists where we met a guanaco.

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At Perito Moreno are small trails with balconies where you can have a better view of the glacier. A better weather would have been wonderful but still the view is breathtaking in any weather. My photos are not as good as I want but by the time I will get old and have Alzheimer I have beautiful memories of the ice and the sounds it does when breaking.

I think this glacier it’s overrated, it’s incredibly beautiful and it’s magic to see and hear the ice breaking and falling, but the amount of tourist is overwhelming, and it’s too much, not really enjoying the glacier while people push you from all sides. And the trip with the boat it’s a must not do. But again, it’s just my experience. I really loved it but it was over populated.

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Coming back to El Calafate we saw lots of rainbows and when we arrived in the city it was all sunny and warm.

Just before leaving El Calafate for El Chalten I visited a museum about the southern Patagonia over tens of thousands of years with a dedicated part for the killings of indigenous people by the colonists few centuries ago. Just to make you understand some of the realities of the colonialism. Not many people visit the museum, maybe is not very popular and for sure is quite far from downtown but I saw on the street intriguing posters with a question ” did you ever asked yourself what really happened? “. Intriguing enough to go and check it. And it was worth it!

Torres del Paine, Patagonia

Trekking the W – last week of February 2015

Probably the most popular trekking in Patagonia is the trekking in the National Park Torres del Paine. Getting to Puerto Natales, the closest town to the park, you can find lots of turists, many hostels, restaurants displaying grilled lambs in their windows, shops where you can buy dried fruits and nuts (very good for the trekking), and also free lectures about the trekkings.

So there we went, to listen the lecture and get the informations we needed. There’s a dutch girl who pretty much covers all the informations one might need speaking in very good and pretty fast english. We also had a good laugh because she makes lots of jokes and has a very funny way of explaining stuff.

There are three options for trekkings: the W, the circuit and the Q. First is the shortest and the last is the longest. Last two include the W. Most of the people do the W and that’s the one we did also. You have two options to start, from east to west or from west to east, we chose to start from west, they told us are better views from that side. Also you can sleep in refugios (or rent a tent at the refugios), which is more expensive and a bit more complicated since the refugios are less than the camping sites and you have to walk more each day, or you can camp, and in Puerto Natales there’s a lot of places to rent all sort of equipment and is not very expensive. If I will ever go back there I will try to do the Q carrying my own tent, now that I have more confidence and I know it’s not very hard and not very steep there.

I was stressed a lot at the beginning thinking it will be hard, that my backpack is too heavy and so on. The guys carried the tents, stove and gas and I think I had the lightest backpack in the whole Patagonia. Now, after the trekking from Lago del Desierto to Candelaria Mansilla with the 24 kilos backpack and after the other trekking when I bought a tent and camped by my own in Cochamo Valley I think I underestimated myself a lot in Torres del Paine, but it made sense to test my strength when I’m alone and not with a group, not wanting to bother anybody if it’s getting hard.

Basically we prepared for the possibility of bad weather putting all our stuff in garbage bags, we prepared the money for bus, entrance fee and for camping, we rented tents and stove (from Base Camp, the place where the lectures are also, near Erratic Rock hostel), we bought food (mine was actually no food but 20 chocolate bars) and we left the rest of the things at the hostel in a locker (we stayed at Singing Lamb hostel, very nice hostel with helpful staff, locker is 500 chilean pesos per locker per day).

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Early in the morning we went to the bus terminal (15000 chilean pesos for the bus to go to the park and come back) and in around two hours we got to the entrace of the park where we paid the entrance fee (18000 pesos), we had to fill some papers with passport number and number of nights we will spent in the park, we received a map and we had to watch a video about the rules in the park. Some years ago there was a fire set by a tourist which burned a vast area in the park leaving behind charred trees which and vegetation which are not prepared to recover since in that area natural fires don’t occur, thunders being inexistent there. You’re not allowed to smoke on the trails, and when you camp you have designated places for smoking and cooking your food on the stove. Also you have to camp only in camping sites. In the video they emphasize a lot on the fire and it seems maybe weird and we made jokes about it but when we saw the consequences of the fire we understood why is such a big deal.

Next the bus took us to another place where we embarked in a catamaran (15000 pesos) to cross Lago Pehoe to Guarderia Paine Grande. And there we started the trekking, first day only 3.5 hours from Paine Grande to Refugio and Campamento Grey located very close to Glaciar Grey.

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From left to right Cerro Paine Grande, Cuernos del Paine and Monte Almirante Nieto as seen from the catamaran.

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Our first trekking day was cloudy but we got the chance to see the landscape in sunny weather the next day.

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We arrived at the camping site, set the tent, ate some noodles and walked closer to the glacier in high winds and rain. The price for camping is around 4000 per person, they have a sort of place for cooking, quite small when everybody wants to cook at the same time and they have also showers with hot water until 9 pm, but I preferred to see the glacier and then I had a cold but refreshing shower later.

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During the night we had beautiful view of mountain with stars and clouds.

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Each morning we woke up early (for me) but in decent time for the trekking we were doing, had breakfast (coffee and cigarettes for me), packed the tent and go. In our second day we returned at Paine Grande and from there went to camping Italiano, around 6 hours in total. At camping Italiano you cannot rent anything, you don’t pay and you don’t have a refugio to sleep in.

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Up are Los Cuernos as seen while trekking from Paine Grande to Italiano and down is the view of Lago Pehoe from Paine Grande.

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We camped near that river and slept with the sound of the water in the background. I have to say the sleeping bag I had from home wasn’t good enough for that weather and I didn’t want to rent one, therefore I felt cold almost all the time while sleeping,next time I’ll know better. I think a good sleep is very important and I advise to have a good sleeping bag there.

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Day 3 we had probably the best views, we left our stuff in the tent and went with day pack 2.5 hours up to mirador Britanico, enjoyed the beautiful landscape, and 2.5 hours down to camping, packed our backpacks and tents and head to camping and refugio Los Cuernos, other 2.5 hours trekking. That night we had beers and very expensive dinner at the refugio, and for me again cold water for shower although somehow the boys had hot water for their showers. The camping costs around 4000 per person.

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Panorama

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We were warned that fourth day is the hardest and longest one and we mentally prepared for that and probably that’s why it didn’t seem that bad. We left Los Cuernos and headed to Refugio Chileno around 4-5 hours far. From there we went to Campamento Torres , one hour up, also free of cost, as Italiano, also you cannot rent equipment there, but the most important to know is that you have to book it in advance, before starting the trekking or at the registration in the park. From there I went 45 min uphill to the Mirador Las Torres and 45 min downhill back to camping. I was lucky to have good weather and to see almost alone the beautiful view there. The plan was to wake up very early and go there to see the sunrise, but in the morning was raining very bad and I just skipped it.

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Last day we trekked around 3 hours to hotel Las Torres where we took a bus (2000 pesos) to the administration and there we took another bus which we already paid at the beginning to go to Puerto Natales. We saw flamingos, nandu and guanacos from the window of the bus but couldn’t do any photos. The weather in general was very good during the trekking and I think we were pretty lucky about it. The water in the park is plenty and good for drinking. Unfortunately, trekking in Torres del Paine is sometimes like walking on the boulevard due to the great numbers of tourists coming in this park.

All in all I just loved it! Amazing landscapes, nice people and good time spent in nature. 🙂