Patagonia #5: El Calafate / Argentina

9 11 2010

Translation into English: Sinan Altıner

For all El Calafate photos click link below:

07.05.2010 – Friday

The road that travels from Puerto Natales to El Calafate is part of the famous Ruta 40. Ruta 40 is the road that spans all over Argentina from north to south. It is longer than 5000 km. Most of the road is not even paved. That’s why it is possible to encounter souvenirs that have “I survived Ruta 40” written on them!!

Unfortunately we are not as lucky and our bus breaks down on the road. Truly, in the middle of nowhere. For 2-3 hours the bus driver tries to fix the vehicle, he changes the wheels, but, alas, it does not work.

In the meanwhile, Murat goes for a lengthy stroll. He walks in the middle of utterly empty and plain Patagonia desert and encounters bodies of dead sheep!! By the time Murat returns from his walk, a new bus is already here, and we move on…

The city El Calafate seems to exist only because of the Perito Moreno Glacier. The “city” is very clean and neat, but at the same time very artificial. Gift shops abound here, and there are lots of decent restaurants and there is one five-star hotel. So our host here works in this five-star hotel. He is an employee in the reception of Spa. As soon as we arrive in the city, we stop by the hotel. I want to stay in the hotel for a few weeks and get some rest, because it is a very serene and beautiful place. Now that they also built a spa, it is perfect. We drop our stuff at Ariel’s, and explore the city a little bit. We do some research on trips to the glacier. The round trip to the glacier is 80 pesos! We figure we can try hitch-hiking on our first day, and if no one picks us up, we can always purchase bus tickets and travel there the next day.

When Ariel gets out of work, he takes us to the house that we will stay in. Our house is on the outskirt of the city and has a scene of a lake. I call it our house, because Ariel goes back to his family’s house after he drops us off. Apparently this house belongs to one of his friends, and he is gone for vacation. So the house becomes ours. My bones that were chilled in Patagonia finally begin to warm up here. In addition, we are able to hang out with t-shirts for the first time after a while of having 8 layers of clothing on us. We feel we are taking a vacation from vacation here.

the view from our window

08.05.2010 – Saturday

We rise early in the morning and walk towards the road to the glacier. We would like to hitch-hike somewhere far from the junctions. For about 1-1.5 hours no one stops. Because the weather is not so cold and we have pretty much nothing else to do, we keep waiting. In the meanwhile, I plug Dream Theater to my ear and begin to ramble. A minibus stops next to me. Minibuses are the only vehicles that we are not interested in, for they ask for money. The driver asks, “Are you travelling to the glacier?”!! We jump on. Our exceptional luck in this city continues. The people in the minibus happen to work at the construction of the hotel near the glacier. “Whoever accompanies us enters for free”, they say. Thus, we make our way in after greeting the officers at the entrance without having to pay the 75-peso fee per head. By the way, this is the most expensive park entrance fee that we have ever encountered.

Glacier is situated in the middle of a huge park. As we enter the colorful forest, the giant glacier suddenly appears. First, we halt at a scenery point and take some pictures. There is a hotel right behind where we are taking the pictures. It turns out that this hotel belongs to the same chain of hotels that our host works in. The hotel has the scenery of the glacier from the top. If you wish, you can pay 1000 USD per night and stay here!!!

As we did not have to pay for our trip and the entrance fee for the park, we decide to pay for the boat trip to the glacier. It lasts half an hour. It is such a spectacular moment. The giant glacier ahead of us (it rises 70 meters above the sea), the colossal creaks that we feel in our ears, and, afterwards, pieces of ice that break off the glacier with a sound that resembles a thunderclap are all etched in our minds…

Perito Moreno is a living glacier; I mean, it grows every year more, and advances further. Once it advances to a certain point, it can no longer bear the weight and a giant piece breaks off and falls to the water. The echo of the falling gigantic piece can be supposedly heard from El Calafate that is an hour away!! This event apparently happens every 3 to 7 years. I think the last time was witnessed in 2008. The length, the width and the height of the glacier is 30 km, 5 km and 70 meters, respectively.

Following the boat trip, we continue our trip on the walking paths. They have built several walking paths that enable the visualization of the glacier from different angles, and they are all connected to each other. That’s all fine, but they have used giant metal staircases to build these paths, and they look so ugly that it all seems nothing but a pile of metal. In addition, they were building even more of these when we were there. For about 3-4 hours we walk on these paths and behold the glacier, and witness new pieces that are breaking off from it.

For our return, we go back to the parking space and start asking the cars that are about to take off. The second car agrees to take us back to the city. For the first time in hitch-hiking, we do not utter a word to the people in the car. This is perhaps because of the impression that the glacier left on us. As always, retro is playing in the car, and we accompany the songs with the happiness of having encountered the most magnificent view of our lives.

In the evening we meet Ariel and we have pizza. As Ariel will go on a trip to Europe in March 2011, he became a member of the CS. We are his first guests. After we finish our pizzas, he pays the check, wishing it would go unnoticed. He approaches the situation with the Turkish mentality; he says that he cannot let his guests pay. We hope that he be treated the same way during his trip to Europe next year.

09.05.2010 – Sunday

Because we accomplished our sole goal in this city, we spend today at the gift shops. Finally I buy myself a set for mate. I purchase the mate (the glass), the bombilla (the rod through which you drink mate) and the flask. I can now continue my trip as a fake Argentinean. As I am travelling to Bariloche, my dreams of drinking mate become shattered, because I find out that the mate has to be prepared in a special way.  Mate (the glass) is made of calabash tree, and just for the first use one has to pour cold water and mate into it and have it sit for three days. After this, the color of the inside of mate changes somewhat and it becomes ready to be served.

All the souvenirs in the gift shops are very elegant, and it is possible to find everything. Clothes and jam of calafate are  the most commonly sold items.

As for returning back his favor, we decide to cook for Ariel. We buy steak, cucumbers and a decent bottle of wine from the market. Our favorite market La Anonima can also be found here. I don’t remember if I mentioned this before, but La Anonima is a chain of markets older than 100 years. They have a different way of practicing in El Calafate; they do not provide shopping bags. You either have to bring your own shopping bag from home or have to buy a recyclable paper bag.

We call Ariel many times for dinner, but cannot get hold of him. We finally give up and cook the food. As we are about to sit at the table Ariel comes home. It turns out that he was sleeping and did not hear our calls. He is saying that his friends are going to come home, and he sounds a bit panicky. Uh oh, he probably let us stay in the house without telling his friend. We let him know that we can move to a hostel. He says that’s not necessary. We later realize that the people that were about to come were two French girls from CS, and not his friend.

10.05.2010 – Monday

We leave behind our restful days back in El Calafate, and head towards Bariloche. As the summer season is over, we cannot find any vehicle that is heading toward Bariloche on Ruta 40. We have to lengthen our trip a bit, and go to Comodoro Rivadavia through Rio Gallegos, and then travel to Bariloche from there. Fortunately, we are able to find a bus that travels directly, and we are now ready for another 35-hour trip…

For all El Calafate photos click link below:

Gülen & Murat


Translation into English: Sinan Altıner




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