Argentina: El Calafate and Parque Nacional Los Glaciares

On 7 December I flew to El Calafate. This flight was also delayed, which I had again accounted for. I found another van shuttle to take me into town, and they dropped me off at my hotel – the Miyazato Inn. The owners were very sweet and helpful, although this was the most expensive place I stayed during my entire trip (El Calafate in general is quite expensive).

For anyone planning to travel to El Calafate, it is best to withdraw enough cash from ATMs before flying into town, because there is a limit on how much you can withdraw in town per day. El Chaltén (a nearby town where most tourists visit) doesn’t have any working ATMs, so you have to bring enough cash to pay for your stay. This was probably just about the worst place on my trip to realize that my ATM card had been stolen out of my bag.

This day was a nightmare, and I got a harsh lesson in thinking on my feet. My iPod and a wi-fi connection were invaluable – a friend set up an emergency Skype account so I could call home to talk to my bank and credit card company. My bank would not help me, beyond canceling my ATM card and mailing me a new one. I still had a VISA credit card, but while VISA would let me withdraw cash from a bank with the card, they charged a 25% interest rate per day). I discovered that the nearby gas station would charge my credit card and give me a few hundred pesos in cash. I also discovered that the town had a Western Union, and I managed to call home and have some money deposited into a Western Union account. However, when I went to pick the cash up the following morning, the office was closed because it was a federal holiday. As a result I had to travel to El Chaltén using my emergency cash and I wasn’t able to withdraw from Western Union for another week. I was eventually able to withdraw funds successfully, and again several times for the rest of my trip. However, I was passed some false money at the Western Union in El Calafate – I’m not sure how much, because I didn’t notice until I was leaving town, but I reported them to the police station at the airport. If anyone is planning to travel to Argentina, learn to match the faces on the bills with the watermarks anytime you are passed $20 pesos or more in a touristy area. It’s ridiculous to do this in front of ATMs or Western Unions, but there are usually cops standing around these areas so you should be safe enough.

El Calafate had the best shopping of anywhere I visited. There were actual folk art stores with carvings and hand-made dolls and paintings and pottery and other awesome stuff (instead of just souvenirs). I did a lot of shopping there once I had money again!

The tour books say that everyone visiting El Calafate must go to see Glacier Perito Moreno. I wasn’t too excited by this, but I had a free day and the bus ride wasn’t too expensive, so I went to see the glacier. I’m so glad I did – it was awesome!! I took tons of pictures and they are all pretty – the glacier is so blue! It’s actually only the very tip of a glacier that extends like a river out of the huge icefield in Parque Nacional Los Glaciares. The park has a network of boardwalks several kilometers long that you can walk around and view the glacier from different sides. I had about 4 or 5 hours to walk around before the bus picked me up, which was more than enough time as the weather got quite cold and unpleasant after awhile.

On 9 December I took a bus to El Chaltén, where I stayed at Nothofagus Bed & Breakfast. I liked this place a lot! It wasn’t too expensive, breakfast and tea were yummy, and they were really nice and helpful. I went shopping in town for backpacking food… and quickly realized that I should’ve bought food in El Calafate because they had hardly anything in El Chalten! I wound up with pasta and sauce that was only tomato purée.

I spent four days and three nights backpacking and camping in Parque Nacional Los Glaciares. Compared to my last hike, this trail was quite easy. I spent my first night at Campamento de Agostini, next to Laguna Torre. The weather was awful and there was no visibility at the laguna, so I didn’t do any extra hiking there. I found a great campsite out of the wind and huddled in my tent all night eating snacks instead of cooking so I didn’t have to go out in the rain.

The weather was much better on the second day, when I hiked to Campamento Poincenot. It was a nice hike, albeit quite windy, and I found another good campsite at the campground. I met another girl traveling by herself and we hiked to see the Glaciar Piedras Blancas. My second night camping was also extremely cold, but I managed to cook some pasta before I crawled into my sleeping bag.

On the third day I hiked up to the Laguna de los Tres. It was a steep uphill hike that totally kicked my butt, but I made it up before any of the tourists hiked in from town. People were waiting at the top for the clouds to clear to get views of the peaks above the lakes, but it was very clear to me that the clouds were not planning on clearing anytime soon. I stayed for an hour or so and then hiked back down the trail. I spent the afternoon hiking around near camp and birdwatching, and reading my book in my tent. It was still very windy, and I was cold.

I hiked out on 13 December. It was cloudy and a little rainy, but I had a nice hike anyway. I saw some good birds on the trail and made it back to town before the rain started falling very hard. I was glad to take a hot shower, turn on the heater in my room, and eat a meal that was prepared from more than two ingredients.

Back in El Calafate, I spent my last day at the Laguna Nimez Reserve – a migratory waterbird reserve just down the street from my hotel with easy trails and tons of great birds.

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