Suitcase and World: Road trip to El Chaltén.

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Road trip to El Chaltén.

El Chaltén is a small mountain village, situated along Rio de las Vueltas, within the Los Glaciares National Park.  It is most popularly the base for treks to nearby Cerro Torre and Cerro Fitz Roy mountains as well as to the glacial lakes that are located within the boundaries of the park.  We went to El Chaltén for a short hike in the area around the village.

We made our  way to El Chaltén on a tour, our last one of this trip.   It was an early pickup.  An older gentleman came by to pick us up.  It was a cold and dreary morning.  I just hoped it would not be like this at El Chaltén or our hiking day would be completely spoiled.

Our driver introduced himself as Daniel and after picking up a few more passengers, he drove us to a meet up point where we would wait for the other members of our group to arrive.

It was chilly standing outside but I was quickly distracted by the sight of a rainbow.  I've seen quite a few on this trip but this one was the nicest, by far.

It was drizzling on and off the whole time we waited.  Thankfully, it wasn't a long wait before a shuttle van pulled up.  There were already passengers on board so those of us who were waiting just got on board as did Daniel. Turned out he would be our guide for the day; our driver was Damian.

Even as we drove off towards the park, the  clouds loomed heavy.   Incredibly, I think heavy clouds in the early morning make for very dramatic photos, especially when they are of glacier fed rivers.  Seriously, how amazing is the color of the water of this river?

I love clouds. 

On one stretch of our ride, we drove past a stretch of beautifully striated rock face.  I hadn't seen anything like that on this trip, up until this moment. Thankfully, I was able to capture a decent image.

We took a quick pit stop at a small hotel called La Leona, that a had a restaurant serving up meals, hot drinks and pastries.

Inside, the walls were filled with historic information about the hotel which has been declared a Historic and Cultural Heritage landmark of the Province of Santa Cruz.  Built in 1894 by a family of Danish immigrants, the Jensens, the hotel marks the spot where Francisco Moreno (the famed Argentinian scientist and explorer) had been attacked and badly wounded by a female cougar  (referred to as a lioness by the Patagonian jargon) 17 years earlier. After this incident, the river that runs through this area was named after this animal, as la leona means *the lioness* in Spanish.

La Leona is located about halfway between El Chaltén and El Calafate and stone's throw from Lago Viedma which is fed by the glacier of the same name.  Once I looked at the map, I started to hope that we would have a chance to see the glacier.  When I was planning this trip, I had to make a choice of which glacier we would go see  -  it was either  Perito Moreno or Viedma.  The images that I saw of Perito Moreno convinced that would be the final choice and I don't regret the decision.

We continued our road trip to El Chaltén and it felt like barely a few minutes had passed by when Damian stopped the van and we all got out.  Hmmm....wonder for?  Way, way, way, way, way off the far, far, far, far, far distance was a smidge of blue.  That was the Viedma Glacier.  Hard to be impressed when it's such a distant view.  In fact, I enjoyed seeing the rainbow more.   My hopes of seeing Viedma had been quick ly dashed.

But little did I know that the road would wind around and for those of us with zoom lenses, we got a better view of Viedma.  Even so, it was hard to really see it well enough to compare it to Perito Moreno.  If I ever get to come back here, I will definitely do a trip to Viedma!

After a long time of driving and seeing nothing but Mother Nature, we approached a small cluster of buildings, nestled in a valley.  It was the village of El Chaltén.  It really is a small village. 

We drove down the main street that runs through town.  It's filled mainly with small shops and eateries.  As we approached a small coffee shop, located on a side street, just a short walk from the main street, Daniel indicated that was where we have to be to meet up with the shuttle van for the return ride to El Calafate.  The reason he had to point out the meet up point was because we had the afternoon to explore the area on our own so basically everyone would be splitting up.  Daniel was very firm in asserting that if we were not there by 5:00p, the van would leave without us. Okay!

Though it seemed like we drove for an eternity before we reached the end of the village, I think it was barely a mile long - Damian just drove very slowly.

At the end of the road, we all got out and followed Daniel down a trail that wound its way through the woods.  It was a short and easy walk that ended at the edge of the Chorillo del Salto waterfall, a pretty waterfall though not a big one.  The water flows into the Rio de las Vueltas.

Shhh....though with a bunch of tourists, it's never quiet :-)

After our short walk, we headed to a nearby hotel where we could use the facilities.  We were also provided with a bag lunch.  Bro and I weren't quite ready to each our lunch but somehow we were still among the last to head out.  Where were people heading?  Well, Daniel had given us some choices.  Those who were inclined to do a bit of hiking could do the trail that leads to Laguna Capri where you can enjoy a view of Mount Fitzroy.  Those who were not up for a hike could explore the village itself.  We chose to do the hike.  So, after our short break, we followed the directions that Daniel had given us and made our way to the trail.

As if by magic, by the time we had arrived into El Chaltén, the clouds had lightened up and the sun was shining brightly. It had gotten a tad bit warmer temperature and it was a picture perfect day for a hike in the woods.  I just hoped that there would not be too many uphill stretches as my lungs will complain.  Off we went!