2008.11.16-22 – El Calafate / El Chalten, Argentina – Day 20-25
Argentina is a massive country, the 8th largest in the world to be exact, so I was in for another 20+ hour bus ride down south. My desire to see Southern Patagonia lead me to go to El Calafate, Argentina because I had heard you can get to Torres del Paine National Park from there. Regardless, El Calafate was an awesome place to be, I recommend it to anyone. It’s small town that’s completely based on adventure travel and became my base camp to visit three of the most amazing sites of my life, the Perito Moreno Glacier, Torres del Paine National Park in Chile and the Fitz Roy Mountains in El Chaten, Argentina. To get there I first had to go to Rio Gallegos, Argentina, and then transfer and take another bus into El Calafate. Getting the bus from Rio Gallegos to Calafate was somewhat of a struggle. I got into Gallegos after a 15+ hour bus ride from Bariloche to find out that the 4 hour bus to Calafate was overbooked and I would have to wait until the next morning to get another one. This of course was awful news on my tight time schedule and Rio Gallegos was nowhere you would want to stay for more than a couple hours. I did some smooth talking and haggled my way into letting them put me in the front of the bus with the driver. The effort really saved my Patagonia trip and up there in the passenger seat was actually a great place to be. The driver was a really friendly guy. We drank mate tea and shot the shit about Argentina or whatever else I could think to talk about in Spanish for the duration of the ride.
I got to Calafate around midnight and checked into a hostel. The town is small but there are a couple good places to stay and you can usually arrange all your journeys from the hostel. I had no time for a day off or to screw around so I booked my trip to Perito Moreno Glacier in Los Glaciares National Park, about an hour from Calafate, for the following day. Staying with me in my room were two pretty friendly guys, one guy from Rio, Brazil and another total character from Spain. We all went to Perito Moreno the next day. The glacier is something else, one of the most awesome sights to see in the world. I got back that night and booked my trip to Torres del Paine National Park for the next day.
The next morning I had to get up around 7 AM for the Torres del Pain excursion and take a bus across the border of Chile and into the national park. It’s an amazing place but took 5 hours one way to get there so we were only in the park for an hour or two. It was like my visit to Machu, short-lived and a little forced. A lot of people who visit Torres del Paine do the 4 or 5 day “W” hike which allows you to trek through the park and stay at refugios (refuges) to sleep. Everyone comes back blabbing about what an amazing experience it is and I’m sure this is true but on this trip I didn’t have the time.
After seeing Torres del Paine the previous day, I set off the morning of Nov 19th with my friend from Brazil to see Mount Fitzroy in El Chalten, Argentina, about 3 hours north of El Calafate. Fitzroy was the third installment of unbelievable Patagonia sights and was probably my favorite of everything I have seen. Fitzroy really has to be one of the most dramatic mountains in the world. It’s a huge, jagged, granite monolith jutting out of the earth in the formation of a perfect peak. It was definitely the most amazing mountain I have ever seen. I hate to keep using the word “amazing” but the English language only has so many adjectives to describe something as beautiful as Patagonia. I think I liked Fitzroy even better than the Cuernos del Paine in Torres del Paine National Park just because it seemed more in-your-face and surreal and I liked that fact that Fitzroy was not in any sort of national park. Once you got to Chalten you could pretty much just hike right out of town to the base of the mountain without any fee or anyone telling you what to do. It’s pretty convenient. Anyway, it was a great day and we got luckily with the weather because Fitzroy is normally covered in clouds.
The next day I headed back to Calafate and spent the night there. Earlier in the week I had bought a ticket back to Buenos Aires from Rio Gallegos on LAN that left Friday Nov. 21st at 1:45 so I setup in Calafate knowing that I was going to take the morning bus back to Gallegos and catch the afternoon flight. The next day, I got on the bus for Gallegos in the morning as planned, made it to the bus station, caught a cab to the airport but to my surprise, the airport was completely abandoned except for a cleaning person. Although the airport was small, this didn’t quite make sense since my flight was set to depart in an hour or so.
I wandered around until I found another human and told her about my flight to Buenos Aires. I learned the hard way in Argentine Spanish that South America works on the 24 hour clock and my flight had left the night before at 1:45 AM! The time according was currently 13:00 or 1 in the afternoon, 12 hours after the departure of my flight. This news broke me down because they told me that nothing else left for Buenos Aires that day and my flight back to Denver was scheduled for Sunday November 23rd at 11:00 PM so I was cutting it close. I was pissed off at myself but at the same time it was an honest mistake. I mean what kind of flight leaves at 1:45 AM in the morning? Looking at an itinerary in an email that says 1:45 you automatically assume it’s 1 in the afternoon. At least I do.
So I was down to the wire on getting back to Buenos Aires and although I didn’t necessarily want to go back to the States, I sure as shit didn’t want to pay Delta a third $250 change fee to stay any longer in South America. My options were pretty limited because taking a bus from Rio Gallegos to Buenos Aires was impossible. It’s a ride of over 40 hours. My only option was to fly out on Saturday. Luckily there were flights available out of Calafate back to BA on Saturday Nov. 22nd. I quickly booked my flight for 6:45 PM from El Calafate back to Buenos Aires, a day before my flight back to Denver. I had my plan set so I caught a cab into Rio Gallegos and somehow found this place that seemed more like some old lady’s house than a hostel but it would do for the night. I crashed out pretty early, so I would be fresh in the morning and Rio Gallegos was a pretty rough town and not a place you want to wander around by yourself at night. Regardless I couldnt screw up again and miss this flight.
Things worked out fine the next day and I caught a bus back to Calafate for my flight back to Buenos Aires.
2008.11.22-23 – Buenos Aires, Argentina – Day 25-26
I made it back to Buenos Aires in one piece arriving around 11:00 PM from El Calafate. I split a cab from the airport and had the cabby take me to this hostel called Tango in the heart of BA. I checked in and went to my room expecting to crash out for the night and end my vacation with some much needed sleep but in Buenos Aires on a Saturday night this is impossible. The guy in my room was from Texas. He was a pretty good guy and seemed like he was in Argentina on an extended stay because he knew everyone in the hostel. He asked if I wanted to go out, I said why not, so he introduced me to two girls, one from Columbia and another from Brazil who were heading to the bars. I tagged along with them and wound up at this party on the rooftop of another hostel. I was roaming around the party when I managed to meet a group of three guys, one from San Francisco, another from Argentina and the from Israel. We made friends pretty easy and they invited me to go with them to another part of town. I reluctantly said goodbye to Brazilian and Columbian friends and took a cab with my new friends. We stayed out until 7 AM when the bars closed and got pizza that morning as the sun came up. I can’t imagine many towns in the world that are crazier than Buenos Aires, Argentina.
The next day, I had the full day to screw around in BA before heading back to Estados Unidos but like any last day of a long vacation it was bittersweet. I got back to the good old USA after sleeping the entire flight back from Buenos Aires landing first in ATL before taking another flight to Denver. It was 5 AM and I was groggy and cranky as I walked through customs in the Atlanta airport having spent the past month traveling a continent on trains, busses, boats and planes. The first person in I saw in the airport that spoke English was this big dude in the customs line. He sees me with my small backback and goes, “Hey man, is that all you got?”, I reply “yeah” and he says, “Smartest traveler in the world man..” I start laughing and we slap hands. It was hilarious, welcome back.
I got back to Denver in time for Thanksgiving but it was hard to shake the impact that South America had on me. I would spend the next year devoting a majority of my thoughts to returning to this place. In 2009 I went back for another four month stint. To this day a majority of my decisions and the people I meet are related to a desire to be in South America again and I still daydream all the time for my next chance to get back down there.