Saturday, February 11, 2017

Mount Fitzroy.

The peak of Mount Fitzroy obscured by clouds but it was still incredible scenery.

From the village of El Chaltén, Bro and I followed Daniel's instructions to get to the start of the trails that circle the various peaks, lakes, and glaciers located within Los Glaciares National Park.


We decided to do the Laguna Capri route.  Even though it's the same distance, 4 kilometers (2.5 miles) as the Mount Fitzroy route, it was easier.  That was a concession made for me as even though the distance was the same, the difficulty level for Laguna Capri route was easier.  I could probably handle the more difficult route but given our time constraints, I didn't want to risk it as it would probably take me longer than average to do the more difficult hike.


As I had anticipated, the first stretch of the trail was uphill.  It was steep at times but I managed fine.  By the time I cleared the hill, my jacket had also come off - I was building up some body heat from  exerting energy. :-)

Here are some of the photos I took on our hike to Laguna Capri.

View of El Chaltén from the trail.




We stopped at all the scenic viewpoints :-)


Rio de las Vueltas, a bit dried up as it is the height of summer.

The view of snow capped peaks was a promising sight!





I heard the tap, tap, tap sound of the Magellanic woodpecker (Campephilus magellanicus) well before Bro spotted it and pointed it out to me.  It's quite a large bird; I didn't really need to zoom in all that much to see it.



As soon as we made it to where we had a spot on view of the mountain range, I knew we were close to the lagoon.  I had seen enough images of Mount Fitzroy, pre-trip, to recognize it.  Why is it that even on a sunny day, the peak is obscured by clouds?  I'm only here once and you would think that Mother Nature could do me the favor and remove the cloud just for me.  Okay, maybe not.  Still a really nice view and for that, I cannot complain!


There was a small crowd gathered at Laguna Capri.  Not quite what I had expected as we had barely passed anyone on our way up here.  Nonetheless, no one was rowdy though a few were sitting in spots that made it difficult to take a really nice photo.  There was no chance of them moving so I had to walk around a bit and carefully frame my shots.  I think I managed to get some nice ones.




It had taken us almost 2.5 hours to hike from our starting point to reach Laguna Capri.  With all this stunning scenery around us, you can imagine we were in no rush to leave.  In fact, it was only 1:30p and knowing that it would take us less time to return, we kicked back and relaxed for a short while.







But eventually, we did have to leave and there was only one way back.  It was eagle eye Bro who spotted the bird moving about the ground - a White-throated caracara (Phalcoboenus albogularis).  I didn't see it at first, not until it moved.  We stood quietly for a few seconds to watch it.




We didn't notice the sign on the hike up but on the way down, we saw the sign pointing the way to a scenic view of Mount Fitzroy.  It was just a very short distance and we both decided we had time to do the circuit and so we went for it.  This was the incredible view we were treated to.  Most certainly worth the detour!




We stayed here for just a few minutes and then made our way back to the main trail.  In the grassland, I spotted a barberry bush (Berberis microphylla commonly known as the Magellan berry) that was bearing fruit.  In Spanish, it's known as calafate.  It's this bush that the town of El Calafate is named after.   Popularly, the fruit is used to make jam and we saw quite a lot of it for sale in town.  I suspect it tastes like a blueberry just cause it looks like one. :-)


Back down the trail, past that magnificent view of Rio de las Vueltas.  I had to stop to take a few more photos.  


Somewhere along the way, we took a short break to grab a quick bite.   We found a nice shady spot for our picnic lunch which was nothing more than all the snacks we had accumulated over the course of all tours we had been on and some fruit.  It was mind boggling the amount of food Bro pulled from his backpack. I knew he had been hoarding the snacks but I didn't realize just how much he had been hoarding. Sneaky fella! :-)                  



All toll, we had hiked about 10 kilometers and aside from a few hilly stretches, it had been a very relaxing hike.  I felt energized and invigorated by the time I caught sight of the village.

I realized that our meeting place was literally at the other end of the village from where the trails begin.  It was a pretty uninspiring walk through the village - it mainly caters to backpackers.


Even though it was a slow stroll for us, we made it back to the coffeeshop with plenty of time to spare ...enough to do a bit of window shopping at the souvenir shop next door.  There were already a few of our fellow tourists waiting and the moment that Daniel spotted Bro and I, you could see a bit more relief on his face.  It made me wonder if indeed he had left people behind.  Not that being stuck in El Chaltén would be a bad thing, presuming you had no fixed plans for the next day and the tour company picked up the bill for a hotel.


On the ride back to El Calafate, we struck up a conversation with the Argentinian tourist seated across the aisle from us.  He was drinking mate which is a very popular drink in Chile, Argentina, and Uruguay.  We had seen countless people walking around, carrying flasks of hot water and carrying their cups filled with tea.


Yerba mate (yer-bah mah-tay) is a hot tea made from the leaves of a South American variety of holly tree (Ilex paraguariensis). For centuries,  have drunk the tea for its rejuvenating efforts.  Traditionally, it is sipped from a cup carved out of a gourd but these days, the cups are made of a variety of different materials, including silicon.  The cup goes with a special metal spoon, known as a bombilla, which has are holes at the base of the spoon to filter out the leaves; the stem of the spoon is hollow, essentially making it a straw.

We noticed the man had been carrying the his flask and cup along on his hike - he went the same route as Bro and I.  We were curious about the yerba mate thing and he happily explained it to us, starting with how the tea is brewed.

You start with a LOT of dried leaves in the cup.


You then pour in the water which must be hot but should not be boiling.   You only put enough water to cover the leaves.

Look how fancy his cup is!

You then let the mix steep for a few minutes and voila, the tea is ready for sipping.  The man asked me if I wanted to try it and of course, I was willing to take a sip.  To me, it tasted like very bitter green tea.  It's most definitely an acquired taste.   According to this man, people sip on the tea all day long....they love it that much.  I commented that it was rather inconvenient to have to lug around a flask but the man shook his head.  I think he's been doing for so long, it doesn't bother him one bit.  I did notice that they do sell holster carriers for flasks.

By the way, his English was excellent.  We've found that to be the case for many of the Argentinians whom we've crossed  paths with so far.


Back in town, we were all deposited at our original meeting point.  Daniel then took Bro and I and the four other passengers he had picked up in the morning back to our respective hotels.  We rested for a bit back in our room and then it was time to head out for dinner.  Tonight, I had promised Bro dinner at a nice restaurant. More about that and our brief stay in El Calafate in the next post.