El Calafate – First Taste of Patagonia

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We left bright and early in the morning (always seems to be the case) for El Calafate.

Weirdest flight in South America ever. Normally Katie and I stick out like sore thumbs, being one of very few, if not the only gringos. Not this flight. Was like gringomania, only with obnoxious travelers. The ones who compare their T-Peens by listing off everywhere they’ve ever been. It’s one thing to talk travel amongst friends. It’s another to have to random strangers talking over everyone on a plane trying to one-up the each other with their checklist stops. Thank God for headphones and loud metal \m/ music.

The plane also was delayed on entry into El Calafate, leading to a couple minutes holding pattern, which was awesome for us given the absolutely spectacular, even unreal scenery out the window.

El Calafate is town of about 20,000 and thanks to the relatively new aeropuerto the hub to a good chunk of Patagonia. It also sees something like 500,000 tourists a year so the town is absolutely inundated during summer months with armies Northface-clad gringos from the US, Canada, Europe & Israel, as well as other points. (And what’s with the freaking Northface? You left during your winter? It’s still colder there than here… FFS coming from Asuncion in the heat of the summer I was comfy even wearing shorts when walking a KM to the bodega for agua? And no Junior High gym teacher could get so many people to dress alike.)

After having spent 17 months in Paraguay, I found myself identifying more with the locals. Amusingly was even mistaken for one once. As anyone who’s heard me speak down here can attest my Spanish is pretty dreadful outside a couple phrases, but I guess ordering a couple cervezas was enough for some tourists to think me a man of the town.

So El Calafate… We stayed in a wonderful airBNB apartment roughly halfway between the town’s main drag, lined with restaurants, chocolate places, souvenir shops, and places to buy camping gear and MOAR Northface in case you didn’t bring enough, and the lakeside nature reserve at the other edge of town. Our hostess was awesome, gave us a map with illustrated paths into town and key locations – cambios, restaurants she recommended and the best places for local craft. Yeah, she was great. She helped us plot our exploration of the town and key targets with near military precision.

With more two days in town before heading out, we went to book an Ice trek trip that has you hike across a portion of the Perito Moreno glacier, enjoying a wee dram of Scotch at the stop point before heading back. Sadly they were all booked up, like for the next two weeks. Don’t believe the posts in the TA forum about getting them there. Take no chances, book in advance. If coming this far, not worth the risk.

So we got to do the next best thing… a boat tour going up to the glacier, followed by a walk around the park. Here it actually got cold (as someone who wears short and a t-shirt when most Paraguayos bundle up) – which was great. Some wonderful views from both boat and park – lucky enough to watch a calving while eating lunch on a great vantage point. Not lucky enough to catch on film.

Less words, more pics.

Enjoyed a Patagonian treat, The Disco, for dinner. No, not Travolta pointing to the sky while The Trammps jam away… a big cast iron skillet filled with meat (Cordero – lamb in this case), veg and some sauce (white wine, as our waiter suggested) cooked up. So freaking good.

Yes, that is a record sized disco and that wine glass was a #BigCarlos

We spent the next day walking the nature reserve right on Lago Argentina near our place and relaxing with some craft beer, just enjoying the wonderful view.

We also enjoyed a trip to the Perito Moreno & Darwin museum and a stop at Libro Bar where I finished off some local cervezas and Hemingway’s “The Sun Also Rises” as Katie did some shopping.

The next morning we got up nice and early and hiked to the bus station for a couple hour drive to El Chalten.


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