Again, this is embarrassing, but we are quite behind on our official travel posts. Last time we wrote it was the end of December, and we had just driven the Carretera Austral in Chile, and moving into Argentina. Our “Week in Food“ series, that some will remember, was done during this same time.
We rushed a little on the southern end of our Carretera Austral journey because we wanted to meet our Seattle friends: Heather, Anne, and Keith, who rented a Wicked Camper. They were driving from Puerto Montt to Punta Arenas and we wanted to meet up with them for a few days.
We met the trio at the bottom of a river valley in the middle of the night. We had decided on pre-arranged coordinates on the southern shore of Lago General Carrera, and spent 4 nights together. It was awesome to hang out with Heather, Anne and Keith. We experienced all the fun of overlanding in Patagonia together. This included coordinating a meetup without the benefit a cell signal, vehicle problems, searching for the one open store to buy food on New Year’s Eve, searching for a reasonable campsite in a strange city, meeting new dog friends, and having another car problem.
Compared to our pace before our friends arrived, it felt like we were making a mad dash. We journeyed from Lago General Carrera, to the Argentinian border, down the rest of Lago Buenos Aires (Argentina’s name for their side of the lake), across the pampa and finally arrived at the great peaks/parks of Patagonia. Being able to share our trip and experiences with friends was awesome, and really one of the highlights of this trip.
Crossing into Argentina was our first real exposure to the Patagonian Pampa. Probably the biggest thing that anyone traveling in this area of the world remembers is the wind. The Pampa has a steady, strong wind that blows from the cool glaciated Andes across the dry, hot pampas. The cold heavy air is being sucked east to fill the low pressure caused by the rising air off the pampas (because hot air rises). The wind is relentless. It blows all day and all night, and never stops.
Motorcyclists have a hard time with the wind. Went it blows across the highway they have to lean into it heavily just to continue going in a straight line. We talked to many cyclists that cursed it and preferred riding in the steady rain of the Carretera Austral than the winds of the pampa.
The five of us reached the town of El Chalten, the gateway to the great tower of Fitz Roy and his friends. It’s a small town that was established by the Argentinian government in 1985, to keep the Chileans from stealing this part of Patagonia. The town has grown from just a few buildings 20 years ago, into tourist central. It was a bit of a smack in the face for us, as we had been driving lonely back roads for the last month. Despite the crowds, we really enjoyed El Chalten. It sits at the base of Fitz Roy, which is among one of the world’s most amazing mountain ranges. Fitz Roy with his the sister range farther south, Torres del Paine, is truly one of the worlds most amazing sites. The peaks consist of tall narrow granite towers rising steeply into the heavens.
Once our friends left, we took the opportunity to do a small backpacking trip to see the towers up close. We headed south out of town, on one of the busiest trails in Patagonia, to the El Chalten Mirador which is at the top of a terminal moraine- creating a lake at the base of the towers. We had perfect weather on the first day, which provided incredible views to the towers. Picture perfect.
However, around noon on the second day the clouds rolled in with a strong wind. We planned on staying a second night down the way, but decided against it. The campground was somewhat sheltered, but gusts would frequently blast through, ripping at tents and making life pretty miserable. Fearing a poor night’s sleep, an early evening hiding from the weather, and the possibility that one of the many trees could come toppling down on us, we bailed and decided to make a run for the dry safety of Lola.
The next stop after El Chalten was Calafate and the GREAT Perito Moreno Glacier. While this glacier is not the widest or the tallest or the longest, it does without a doubt, provide the best glacier viewing experience in the world. Because of the dynamic nature of glaciers, you are not able to safely get very close to the face of the glacier. Tour boats have to stay a few hundred yards away, for fear of ice chunks caving from the face.
What is unique about this glacier is that it comes plunging right out of a valley, cutting a long narrow lake in half. The face of the glacier crosses the lake, and at times touches the other side, creating an ice dam. It is from this shore of the lake that we were able to view the glacier “up close and personal” from several miles of boardwalk. Each area of the trail provided a different perspective of the glacier’s face. Alex and I spent the entire day in awe, wandering and watching the face. We were constantly hoping to see that big caving event.
Perito Moreno Glacier is pretty unique in that it is actually advancing, unlike nearly all other glaciers in the world. Even the other glaciers coming from this same ice field are receding, AND the elevation at the top of the ice field is also falling. I find this pretty interesting, there have to be some crazy ice dynamics (I am sure that’s a real thing) going on deep inside the ice field, that are now pushing more ice out of this valley than the others.
After leaving the glacier we started heading out of town, but about 30 miles from town we had a bit of car trouble. The trouble was the same as before; the engine stopped all of a sudden while driving down the road. Fortunately, Lola would always start again after a 15 minute break. We fretted and worried about this over the next several months, but now we are pretty sure that we have solved the problem. The problem was one of the two (or both) sensors that track where the camshaft and crankshaft are in their cycles. I figured that the intermittent problem was only happening when the engine was at a certain temperature. We’ve now replaced these two tiny sensors, thanks to the courier services of my parents. (They are about three times more expensive down here than in the states.) I am hopeful that this has solved our problem.
From Calafate we headed south into Chile to see Puerto Natales and the other great park of Patagonia, Torres Del Paine.
We traveled from Chile Chico to El Chalten and Calafate between December 31, 2016 and January 13, 2017.