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Buenos Aires and Southern Patagonia

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Friday, 30th Jan. 2009
El Chaltén – El Calafate (Los Glaciares National Park – Glaciar Perito Moreno)
Weather: partly cloudy, calm, approx. 15 °C

Today the weather looked more promising, but we left El Chaltén as planned and drove back to El Calafate where we arrived shortly before noon. El Calafate came into existance as a base to the famous Perito Moreno glaciar which calves into Lago Argentino. We had booked Hostería Glaciares de la Patagonica for two nights: 270 pesos (63 euros).

The weather in El Calafate tells nothing about the weather conditions in the mountains, they have very little rain down here in the Pampas. But as far as we could judge it looked pretty okay for the mountains today, so off we went to see Perito Moreno (not to be confounded with the national park or the town of the same name). The distance from El Calafate was 80 km on a good tarred road. It was a 1 hour 15 minutes drive. For this southern part of the Los Glaciares National Park they charged 60 pesos (13.50 euros) each for gringos (foreigners), the locals pay less.

From the lower parking area we took the shuttle bus up to the boardwalk which offers a fantastic view of the north face and south face of the glaciar. Its surface covers 195 km² at a total length of 30 km. The width of its front is 4-5 km and the height of its walls is 60 m.  We spent two hours admiring this beauty before we returned to El Calafate.

For dinner we picked La Cocina, where they have excellent homemade pasta with different fillings and sauces. The bill was 107 pesos (24 euros) including 2 glasses of wine, plus tip.

Total kilometres: 376

Saturday, 31th Jan. 2009
El Calafate (Los Glaciares National Park – Glaciar cruise)
Weather: partly cloudy, calm, approx. 15 °C

Laguna OnelliOur hosts helped us get tickets for a boat trip („Todo Glaciares“, 295 pesos/67 euros each), but you can get them for the same price at Fernandez Campbell in El Calafate. Transfer is 40 pesos extra if required. We drove to the harbour at Punta Bandera (40 minutes). Once again we had to pay the national park fee of 60 pesos. Boarding started at 8:30 a.m. We had the largest boat of the company, Quo Vadis, which holds 310 passengers. A second boat went in parallel with us: Upsala Connection, with a capacity of 150 passengers.

This trip was to take us to Glaciar Upsala, Laguna Onelli and Glaciar Spegazzini. We went up the northern arm (Brazo Norte) of Lago Argentino, which covers 1500 km². There was hardly any wind, quite unusual apparently. Soon the first small icebergs came into view. We stopped first in Onelli Bay. We had 1.5 hours to follow a path (800m) through a stretch of Patagonian rain forest to Laguna Onelli. From there you get a view of the three glaciars Onelli, Bolado snd Agassiz with some small icebergs floating in the lake.

We left again at 12 p.m. to continue Upsala glaciar which has a surface of 595 km² and a total length of 60 km. Its front wall is 5-7 km long. But we could only see it from afar as the way was blocked by icebergs. We passed a few beautiful samples shimmering in icy blue.

When we arrived Spegazzini glaciar, the sun came out. This glaciar has a surface of 66 km² with a length of 25 km and a width of just 1.5 km. However, with its front wall rising up as much as 80-125 metres it is the highest glaciar in the park.

At 3 p.m. we started going back. 1.5 hours later we were back at Punta Bandera.

The glaciars and icebergs really were impressive.

We had dinner at Restaurant Upsala in El Calafate: lamb with mashed potatoes, salads, wine and beer for 166 pesos (38 euros) plus tip.

Total kilometres: 105

Sunday, 1st Feb. 2009
El Calafate – Puerto Natales
Weather: partly cloudy, calm, approx. 18 °C

Today we drove into Chile. We left at 9 a.m. via Ruta 40. Between El Cerrito and Tapi Aike is a dirt track of 70 km. We saw quite a bit of wildlife and domestic animals: nandus, sheep, horses, cattle, flamingos and other birds. And the tires held!

Shortly after Río Turbio we reached the Argentine border. We had to make sure to properly export the car from Argentina and import it into Chile. At Dorotea we crossed the Chilean border. It's not allowed to import food into Chile.

At 2:30 p.m. we arrived in Puerto Natales, a small harbour town at the Seno Ultima Esperanza, the Last Hope Sound. Puerto Natales is the gateway to Torres del Paine National Park, which is a trekker's paradise. Once a week the Navimag ferry arrives from Puerto Montt, Chile, and the small town is full of backpackers.

We checked into Erratic Rock 2 B&B (30.000 pesos/35 euros). It's two blocks from Erratic Rock 1 Hostel which is known for its daily 3pm Torres del Paine Talk which provides a lot of useful trekking information for the park. Depending on how many days you have available you can hike the W, the Circuit or the Q, or you can just do day hikes.

Afterwards we strolled through the town centre and picked up some Chilean pesos from the cash machine at Santander Bank (max. 300.000 pesos/365 euros per withdrawal).

 We decided to have an icecream from a small shop opposite the bank. They were unable to pay out the change from a 10.000 pesos bill (12 euros)!

We took the car and followed a dirt track south for a little while. There were a lot of old fishing boats as well as birdlife to be seen.

For dinner we went to El Rincon del Tata (Arturo Prat 236) next to the church: 2x King Clip with mashed potatoes and red wine for 19.000 pesos (23 euros) plus tip.

Total kilometres: 308

Monday, 2nd Feb. 2009
Puerto Natales – Punta Arenas
Weather: sunny, first calm, then windy, approx. 18 °C

The room at Erratic Rock 2 was a bit noisy as the walls were very thin but we got the best breakfast that we had in Patagonia with homemade bread, cheese, jam, cornflakes, coffee, tea, juice and even an omlette. The owner was very friendly and spoke good English.

We left at 9 a.m., filled up on petrol for 500 pesos (0,60 euros) per litre and continued south towards Punta Arenas: 250 km on a tarred but fairly empty road. We even saw a couple of Patagonian Foxes along the road. From Province Ultima Esperanza we passed into Province Magallanes.

Traffic in Punta Arenas was fairly heavy but we dit manage to find our accommodation: Hostál Maipu Street. However, at 12 p.m. there was noone to let us in. So we decided to walk into the town centre first The main square is Plaza de Armas with its statue of Magellan. We bought some empanadas for lunch and climbed up to Mirador Cerro de la Cruz with a view over the town and the Strait of Magellan. The sun was warm but there was a cool wind.

Afterwards we visited the town's famous cemetery. At 3 p.m. we were back at the Hostál and managed to be let in. This was 70 US Dollar per night. The owner did not speak so much English, so I had to try to get along in Spanish as well.

After checking in we got into the car and drove 60 km further south along a dirt road to Puerto del Hambre. This used to be Spanish territory but the first immigrants soon starved to death.

After another 6 km we reached Fuerte Bulnes, a reconstructed Chilean fort of  1843. This was the furthest you can get in a car on the South American continent. The southernmost point is Cabo Froward, 25 km further south. After that comes Tierra del Fuego.

On the return trip we spotted several shipwrecks just south of Punta Arenas. After 3 hours we were back at the Hostál.

We picked La Luna (O’Higgins 1017) for dinner: 2x Lomo (sirloin steak) with mashed potatoes or chips, a tomato salad, a coke, a beer and two Piscos Cortes for 17,600 pesos (21 euros) plus tip. This was good and pretty cheap.

Total kilometres: 380

Tuesday, 3rd Feb. 2009
Punta Arenas (Estancia San Gregorio, penguin colony at Seno Otway)
Weather: a.m. rainy, p.m. partly cloudy, calm, approx. 18 °C

Today we drove east along Ruta 255 in the direction of Río Gallegos. After 1.5 hours (120 km) we reached the remains of Estancia San Gregorio (1876). On the beach on the other side of the road lie the wrecks of the steamboat Amado and the clipper Ambassador.

On the return trip we saw another fox. 70 km north of Punta Arenas (5 km from the airport) is the turn-off to the penguin colony at Seno Otway. This is reached after 38 km (approx. 1 hour) on a dirt road. Part of this road costs 1000 pesos (1.22 euros) per person as it is a private road. Entry to the pinguinera is 10 US dollars or 4500 pesos (5.50 euros). It was shortly before 2 p.m. when we got there.

There's a 1.5 km long boardwald which leads to several viewpoints. However, of the 11,000 penguins that are supposed to live here, only about 100 young ones were still here during the day. Their parents were supposed to return from fishing around 7 p.m. but we didn't want to wait that long. After two hours we returned to Punta Arenas.

It was unusually calm today. Normally southern Patagonia is known for its strong winds. The penguins are here from September till March. You can also take an organized bus tour from Punta Arenas, or a boat trip to Isla Magdalena with an even larger colony.

For dinner we went to La Marmita (Plaza Sampaio 678). We had congrio (king clip) and cordero (lamb) and it was really good. With a glas of wine, a bottle of beer and a dessert we paid 22,000 pesos (27 euros) plus tip.

Afterwards we went to an internet café: 30 minutes for 230 pesos/CLP (0.28 euros). We could hardly believe how cheap it was. In Argentina the price for 30 minutes was 5 pesos/ARS (1.10 euros), still cheap.

Total kilometres: 331



Wednesday, 4th Feb. 2009
Punta Arenas – Parque Nacional Torres del Paine
Weather: partly cloudy, calm, approx. 25 °C

We left Punta Arenas at 8:45 a.m. The drive to Puerto Natales took 2.5 hours. We took the new dirt road to the west entrance of the Torres del Paine National Park which passes by Cueva del Milodón. After another 2.5 hours we arrived at the park administration at Lago del Toro. We paid a fee of 15,000 pesos (18 euros) per person which is valid for the entire stay in the park. They also gave us a map with the roads and hiking trails in the park.

The park's highest peak Cerro Paine Grande rises 3050 m from the Pampas. It was a very calm day so there were beautiful reflections in the lakes.

Accommodation in the park is expensive and it needed to be accessible by car, so we came across Posada Río Serrano (not the hotel of the same name). This is an old building located at the park administration. It was very basic but at least we were able to get a double room plus private bathroom (107 US dollars including breakfast). We had booked for two nights. Unfortunately it was quite noisy till late in the evening as we were right next to the restaurant. Electricity was provided by a power generator until 10:30 p.m. There was no television but an internet PC.

The hosterías in the park would have charged around 260 US dollars per night. But Hostería Pehoé has a great location. After checking in we drove to Hotel Explora and took the boardwalk to the Salto Chico waterfall. Next we parked at the Lago Pehoé camping site and hiked the steep trail up to Mirador Cóndor (45 minutes) with a beautiful view.

(click to enlarge)

Today it felt quite hot even in a t-shirt. At 4:45 p.m. we were back at the car. It was great to have a car and be able to stop everywhere we liked. After this stop we drove to Salto Grande waterfall, not far from Guardería Pudeto (10 minutes walk from the upper parking lot). From there we started off on a nice and easy hike to Mirador Cuernos (4 km, 1 hour).

(click to enlarge)

Back at our accommodation we found a nice place to sit on a little hill overlooking the lake. From the supermarket in Puerto Natales we had brought empanadas, potato crisps and a bottle of red wine. This was our dinner for tonight. You can buy food and drinks at the posada's reception but this is expensive. The water in the park has good drinking quality.

Total kilometres: 380

Thursday, 5th Feb. 2009
Parque Nacional Torres del Paine (Hike to Glaciar Grey)
Weather: cloudy, some raindrops in the morning, sunny in the evening, no wind, 19 °C

We left in time to reach the ferry from Pudeto to Refugio Paine Grande on the other side of Lago Pehoé. After 30 minutes drive we arrived at Pudeto. The catamaran service from Hielos Patagonicos cannot be booked in advance. It runs three times a day in summer. A return ticket costs 18,000 pesos (22 euros). The boat left at 9:30 a.m. 30 minutes later we reached Refugio Paine Grande, which is the starting point of the hike to Glaciar Grey (11 km, 3.5 hours one way, 350m elevation). We were a bit concerned that we might not make it back in time for the evening ferry at 6:30 p.m.

After 2 hours walking mostly uphill we reached a first viewpoint of the Grey glaciar in the distance. This is the point to turn back if you don't want to continue to the official Mirador Glaciar Grey because after this follows a steep downhill climb and the trail continues mostly through woods. Shortly before Refugio Grey a path leads up to the viewpoint of the glaciar wall. After a short lunch break here of 30 minutes we returned on the way we came. We made it back to the Paine Grande Lodge with one hour to spare before the evening ferry's departure.

An alternative shorter hike from Refugio Paine Grande is Mirador Pehoé with a view of the Torres del Paine range, or you can hike into Valle del Francés to the Cuernos. The hikes to Glaciar Grey and into the French Valley are part of the famous W trekking route.

This evening we had dinner at the restaurant of Posada Río Serrano. WE had lomo and milanesa with fries, a salad and drinks for 17,600 pesos (21 euros) plus tip.

Total kilometres: 34

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