From Punta Arenas we catch a bus back north to Puerto Natales where we spend the night, and finally commit to our plan. The next morning we cross the border to El Calafate, Argentina.
The main attraction of this small patagonian town is the nearby glacier called Perito Moreno. It’s an amazing glacier to visit, as they’ve built raised walkways all across a hillside that allow you to move around and view the glacier from different angles. It is HUGE.
The glaciar is always advancing, which means you get to see house-sized blocks of ice collapse into a turquoise lake! We sit there next to a crowd of about a hundred people, everyone holding their breath, waiting for a large piece to break off. Every time a little piece falls you can hear thousands of camera shutters firing away in anticipation.
Then it finally happens, and the crowd goes wild. Whooping and hollering, even applauding the glacier. What a performance!
That same day we head to yet another small patagonian town in Argentina, called El Chaltén. Turns out this place is extremely popular.
It’s a very cute town settled in the mountains. They’re putting up new buildings as fast as they can to house the increasing number of people who come to visit the area for its wonderful hiking. We head out from the town onto a trail for three days of backpacking.
The first day we hike up to a mountain called Fitzroy. Great weather. Great camping. Probably best to just show you.
The second day we hike to Glaciar Piedras Blancas. It’s a bit rainy and windy on the way in, but we’re lucky that once we arrive the sun makes its way through.
From here we plan to hike to Cerro Torre to spend the night at another campsite. We’ve got the sun going with us as we traverse the mountain. Eventually we find ourselves in a clearing next to a lake, when all of a sudden we see the water from the lake being lifted into the air by an intense gust of wind, headed our way. Léa and I are both knocked to the ground, unable to even shout to each other because the wind is so powerful and deafening.
Wow. I have never in my life experienced wind like this. And so sudden. We are crawling like crippled turtles on the ground. We find some bushes to hide in while wind and water soar over our heads. It lets up a bit, and Léa and I peek our heads out and make our way through a clearing towards the forest.
Bad choice. We can see a wall of wind and lake water approaching fast.
“Go back. Go back!” We tumble back into the bush.
Finally it lets up long enough for us to make it into the woods, but the sound it makes tearing through the treetops is unsettling. Can these trees stand the force? We notice fallen trees that had been broken in the middle, their trunks twisted and torn to pieces. We walk quickly. It starts to rain. We make it to camp and fall asleep in our tent. Safe.
We wake up the next morning to sunshine. It’s my birthday, and from here it’s a sunny hike back down to Chaltén for my birthday wish: waffles.
Léa sneakily asks the waiter to put a candle on my plate. He also attempts to lead the handful of customers in a birthday song, but it’s just a bit too early in the day for people to get into it. I’ll never forgive them…
From Chaltén we catch a quick bus to the trailhead at Lago del Desierto. This marks the beginning of our border crossing by foot back over to Chile.
The trail around the lake is very rough, especially compared to the well-maintained trails from the previous three days. It’s a trail gauchos use on horseback…most backpackers opt for the boat to cross the lake, but we decide to hike it.
We found ourselves climbing way above the lake to a peak, then all the way back down to the lake, then all the way up again, several times as we rollercoaster our way north. We get lost on a few side trails along the way, but finally arrive at the north side of the lake twelve kilometers later.
There is a small cabin on the north side of the lake, home to the argentinian border policeman who has a kind demeanor, a lazy eye, a crippled dog, and a wife who lives there with him. We present our passports, and he very kindly wishes me a happy birthday, stamps our passports and confirms where we can camp that night, for free, and points out where to hike towards the border in the morning.
With tired bodies we crawl into the tent, sipping a mix of cheap whisky and hot chocolate. To keep warm we lay an aluminum survival blanket over our thin summer sleeping bags, which makes for a wholly tolerable night in the trees with high winds soaring through the night. Only problem is that every time we move it sounds like the rustling of a thousand bags of potato chips.
So I guess I’m 32 years old now. And this is what I’m doing. Cheers to that.
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