Patagonia: Wild, Windy, Wonderful – Argentina & Chile

17.11.16 – 10.12.16

ARGENTINA

Where can we start with our text about this beautiful piece of nature? Honestly, Patagonia was one of the most stunning landscapes we have seen and combined with the rough weather, it was pure nature!

We left our cozy apartment in Salta fully “recovered” and ready to meet Ela in El Calafate, where our trip through Southern South America would begin. The weather in El Calafate was great and the craziest thing: we had daylight up until 10:30pm in the evening – so confusing! 🙂 Summer was about to start in Patagonia and there was not a tiny bit of Winter feeling coming up. Ella arrived one day after us in El Calafate, unfortunately without her backpack (which indeed was in the airplane, but they forgot to unload it, which we found out later. So it flew to Ushuaia and back the next day…:). Nevertheless, we started our first tour to the very famous “Perrito Moreno” Glacier in the National Park and were fascinated by the immense size of it. We both saw it from a boat ride as well as from the famous terraces – suddenly, a big piece of the glacier cracked and fell in the water, wow!! The noise it made was like a thunder rumbling close by – so cool. You would think that, like all the other glaciers in the world, the Perrito Moreno shrinks more and more, but actually the opposite is the case: it grows significantly! To celebrate this, we brought some champagne and cheered right in front of the glacier. 😉

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Once we had Ella’s backpack, we headed straight to El Chaltén, a hikers melting pot 3 hours away where we wanted to see the famous mountain “El Fitz Roy”. Our first trek lead us to the Laguna de los tres  in the Glacier National Park, a beautiful hike through forest trails. The last our is a constant uphill hike, super tough, but then you see the Laguna lying in front of you and it was worth the sweat. 🙂 Unfortunately, the weather was not on our side, at least for the lookout: it was cloudy and rainy and the Fitz Roy not to be seen. Well, we anyway enjoyed the trek (in total, we walked 20km this day and we all thought we won’t make a single step the next day!) and treated ourselves with some good Argentinian wine…from the countless of different bottles of wine we have tried in Patagonia, all of them were so delicious. 🙂 Not even the box wine we bought on the campsite in Torres del Paine National Park was bad. 🙂

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The next day our legs were heavy and the weather cloudy again and we thought: “what’s the point in walking to a lookout when you don’t see a single thing?” 🙂 🙂 But as we know, the weather changes very quickly here and additionally learned from our hostel receptionist that on another trek, we’d end up at a mirador where we would see both the Fitz Roy mountain as well as the Cerro Torre. So we packed our backpacks and headed straight to Laguna Cerro Torre. Again, the trail was incredibly beautiful and green…unfortunately, the promised lookout did not show us both mountains at the same time – that was geographically impossible. 😉 However, the weather got better and better, the sun was shining and we enjoyed the laguna without seeing the Fitz Roy again. Our chase for that mountain drove us almost insane! 🙂 On our way back, the mountain panorama was simply stunning. Returning to the village we met a guide with a group, so we asked him for a good way to see the Fitz Roy. Embarrassingly, he said “Turn around! There it is! And you even see it from the village!”….oh man. Really? Haha. 🙂 And true, while we were cooking this evening in our hostel, we could spot the summit from the kitchen window.

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CHILE

Travelling through Patagonia usually includes a visit of the famous “Torres del Paine” National Park, which is why we headed there the next day. Of course, the bus ride did not take us 6 hours only, but 7,5 hours – typically border crossing process craziness. 🙂 We arrived in Puerto Natales, which is the starting point for everyone who decides to explore the park. Most of the people come here to do the well-known “W-Trek”, a 4 days hiking adventure, the nights being spent in a tent, self-guided and you can start wherever you want with your hike! Sounds so cool, but it’s not that easy actually…all the campsites in the park and along the W-Trek have to be booked in advance, even the ones which don’t cost a cent (and obviously, don’t have any luxury such as a shower or a normal toilet). As we only learned that 2 days before we arrived in Puerto Natales, Jakub, the best planner in the world, googled until his fingers bled and organized the perfect route for us. 😉 We’d start the first day in the park by doing only a day trip to see the Western trail, then would come back 2 days later to start a 3 days/2 nights trek from East to the Middle. 🙂 The committee (Ela and Ellen) decided that 2 nights in a tent would be completely enough and agreed to Jakub’s plan.

Starting on the Western side of the park at Laguna Grey, we got to know Patagonia from its roughest side. First of all, the prices were absolutely crazy: a 30 min. boat ride to the starting point cost us 40$ round trip! Secondly, the wind on this part of the trail literally blew us away. We could barely enjoy the glacier at the end of the trail, because the lookout point was high up and the wind so strong and cold that we could stay there for maximum 2 minutes and needed to return down. 🙂 What a lesson – starting our 3 day trek would mean for us that we’d better be prepared for all kinds of weather!

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But before this adventure could start, we needed to rent all the equipment: tent, warm sleeping bags, sleeping mats, cooker, kitchen equipment, a donkey carrying our stuff,…just kidding. 😉 Since the city Puerto Natales lives from the trekking tourism, you can seriously rent stuff in every hostel and outdoor shop there. Of course, we would have to carry everything in the backpacks, so we should think smart about what to bring. When Jakub saw Ela and mine supply of chocolate in the supermarket cart however, he decided to throw 4 of the 6 cookie packages and 3 of the 5 chocolates out and replaced it with some rice and pasta, of course some wine for the first evening (although, as mentioned previously, the box wine was super good as well ;)), fruit and sweets. Still, we secretly bought some snicker bars, knowing that we would need a lot of sugar to “survive” this trip! 😉

The first day started, surprise surprise, with heavy rain and wind. Damn it, how would we even build our tent when the weather is as crazy as it is?? Luckily, at around noon the sky cleared up and we were able to search the campsite for a good spot. Once the tent was built, we hiked up the Eastern part of the trek. Our plan was to go all the way up to the Torres lookout, but unfortunately, we heard that it was snowing and the sight was 0, which is why we ended up hiking until the campsite Chileno, enjoyed hot chocolate, one of our cookie packages and walked back down. Up at the Chileno campsite, the wind was again so strong, we had to fight against it constantly. Down in the valley however, we enjoyed dinner in the sun. 🙂 Patagonian weather phenomenon!

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Our second day started sunny, although the night was freezing cold – even with 2 pair of socks, my feet were icy. Once we moved and started walking, we warmed up quickly and had this amazing view of the mountain range in the park, the typical Patagonian flowers and the turquoise laguna…unforgettable. Our trek led us through open fields, forest treks, stony paths all the way until our second campsite “Frances”, which we reached after 4,5 hours. At this site, we had a tent platform and while Jakub was building our casa, Ela and I headed to the “supermarket” (which was one tiny cupboard at the reception of the campsite) and stocked up our wine supply. 😉

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As we were cooking dinner, we started talking to our tent neighbors, 2 girls from the UK, who walked the same direction on the trek as we did. To our great shock, they told us that one connecting bridge broke this very day, making it impossible to cross to the end of our hiking trip and the exit of the park. WTF. This cannot be true. The worst was, as we got to know the South American mentality, this bridge would not be fixed within one day…well, now only wine and a strong Slovakian Schnaps could help us and we postponed the decision of how to continue to the next morning. 😉 We woke up in our tent (this night, with several layers of clothes to be warmer) and heard the rain dripping on our tent…noooo! Since the rain just wouldn’t stop we had to get up at some point and discussed what to do during breakfast: either walking further to the next camp and viewpoint to, most likely see nothing there, since it was cloudy or walking back the same way we walked yesterday to be able to leave the park and not spend another night there. Sadly, we decided to take the same path as yesterday and headed back to our first camp site. The 2 UK girls wanted to give it a try and hoped that the bridge would be fixed the same day or the next day, heading further West (as we learned later, the bridge was not fixed until the 9th of December – South America! :)). Overall, the Torres del Paine park was a great adventure and showed us the real beauty of Patagonia. Around every curve you find another amazing view, you walk through so many different landscapes and the best: you can do all these tours by yourself without any guide. Although we didn’t do the “actual” W-Trek, it was anyway fantastic and we had a bunch of fun on our trip in the nature. 😉 With good friends, good humor and good wine this outdoor experience was awesome! And we’ve never appreciated a shower more than after this. 😉

Our next stop was then Punta Arenas, a nice city more southern in Chile, where we mostly enjoyed seafood and the city itself. Additionally, we planned our next bus trip from here, which would take us all the way down to the most Southern city in the world: Ushuaia!

We actually planned to do this route by boat – it would have been a little bit longer and more expensive, but the views on the glaciers are supposed to be stunning. In the very last moment however, Jakub found out that the connection boat between the harbor where we would end up (Puerto Williams) and Ushuaia would take us 30 min with a cost of 120$!!! Far too expensive!! We cancelled the boat then and took a bus. Ushuaia was bigger than expected and way colder. We checked in our AirBnB apartment, which we rented for 3 nights and right away planned our trip to the penguin island. But first we visited the Tierra del Fuego National Park – although it was raining, we enjoyed walking through the Patagonian landscape.

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The perfect spot for the penguins is Island Martillo, which is why the next afternoon, we took a bus to the Estancia Haberton, a private property consisting of endless forest and many small islands. From there, we took a boat to the Isla Martillo – and we couldn’t believe what we saw! Right there on the beach, where we docked at endless penguin groups took a sun bath and hung around. 🙂 Wow, they were so close to us and watched us curiously. All around the island, approx. 3000 typical Magallanian Penguin couples gather and we even saw a baby penguin – so adorable. For us, this was one of the best encounters on our trip (and for Ela THE best ;)), because we saw the animals in their natural habitat.

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After this great experience, we left Ushuaia the next day by plane to fly back to El Calafate. The last evening we spent in food heaven: to treat ourselves, we ordered “Parilla” in a restaurant. This dish basically consists of meat, sausages, meat and meat. 😉 We shared it among the three of us and had a good bottle of wine. Unbelievable that these 2,5 weeks are already over! It was magical here, we had so much fun (Gracias Ela, fue increible contigo!!), we will never forget the nature and animals we’ve seen here and we will always remember the Patagonian box wine. 🙂

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