The Argentinian-Chilean bordercrossing and the guanacos along the road are a welcome distraction during the long drive trough the endless steppe of South Patagonia. Sometimes a wooden gate passes by, behind which a seemingly endless road leads to a large ranch with names appealing to the imagination, such as ‘Estancia El Cóndor’ and ‘Estancia el Ombu de Areco’. Once in El Calafate, we scout a campsite together with Ines and Theo and decide to use the grill spots at the campsite the coming days. El Calafate is a small tourist hub with numerous souvenir shops, tasty ice cream parlors and trendy bars. When we decide to walk around the center, a bit later we meet a stunned Ines and Theo: one of the many street dogs decided to have a bite in their tent and destroyed the fabric. The next tent repair is carried out and all food is stored in a drybag high in a tree from now.
For the next day the four of us rent a car to visit the Perito Moreno glacier. This way we reduce the costs and have the opportunity to make a nice detour via Lago Roca. We search for a while to find the trail leading up a hill at the lake and picnic with a wonderful view of the glacier and the surrounding mountains. When we reach the entrance of the Parque National Los Glaciares at three o’clock, the buses return to El Calafate. The greatest hustle and bustle at the glacier is over and we have plenty of time to admire the huge icefield. The Perito Moreno glacier moves at a speed of about two meters per day towards Lago Argenrino, which results in small and large chunks of ice breaking from the glacier soaring into the lake. With the camera ready, we try to capture the dazling sight and after a number of attempts, just in time to see a large piece of ice breaking into the lake under loud roar. The various hiking trails not only offer a view of the seventy-meter-high front of the glacier, but also the expansive ice mass that extends thirty kilometers far into the mountains to the southern Patagonian ice field.
Because of the excursion towards Lago Roca and an extensive photo shoot with our rental car, we arrive at El Calafate at ten o’clock. We decide to bring back the car the next day, but for the planned BBQ it is too late. Theo – or rather Theo’s grandmother – invites us for the ‘tenedor libre’ in the restaurant at the campsite. Literally translated to ‘free fork’, so all-you-can-eat from the salad buffet, but especially from the grill. Large chunks of tender meat, ribs and chorizos are prepared incessantly and consumed by the guests in the blink of an eye. A pleasant evening as a suitable ending on a beautiful day! The shore of Lago Argentino on the outskirts of El Calafate is home to a large group of flamingos and many other birds that we of course want to admire. Furthermore, our plans for the last day in the town are limited so finally there is time for our own asado. Lighting a proper fire and scrounching bread and salad before the meat is ready while the real camping feeling comes up on us. Ines and Theo prepare the dessert: sliced-open banana (with peel), filled with cubes of chocolate, which then melts on the asado. Fifteen minutes later, the scooping of the chocobanans conjures up a broad grin on our faces that does not fall for the smile at the first glances on the Perito Moreno glacier.
We try to hitchhike the 220 kilometers to El Chaltén. With success, because after just twenty minutes a sweet family from Buenos Aires picks us up and takes us on a comfy ride with regular breaks for a photo moment when the Cerro Fitzroy and Cerro Torre loom up in the distance. In El Chaltén we move into a camp site as well and we carefully choose a spot with sufficient shelter from the wind. In the evening we study the hiking map of the area together with Theo and Ines also successfully hitchhiked to El Chaltén. Our plans do not last long when Nadieh regularly has to run for the baños at the campsite the next day. On the 24th of December we exchange our small tent for a large luxury bed in the Pudu Lodge as a Christmas gift to ourselves. After a long and warm bath Nadieh feels a lot better and we decide to reserve a table for two for a delicious Christmas dinner on Christmas Eve. But not before the two of us spend two hours walking through El Chaltén for Christmas shopping and Ruben builds a Christmas tree out of empty boxes Patagonia Weissbier in the hotel room.
When we start our dinner with a cocktail of langostinos y guacamole, we finally start to get into the real Christmas atmosphere. By the time we finish our main course and we toast on a great journey with a glas of champagne at a dessert of marquise de chocolate for Ruben and milhojas the manzana for Nadieh, the Christmas spirit is complete. It is almost midnight and freezing cold when we are back in the Pudu Lodge and quickly crawl under the covers. After the Christmas breakfast we skype home in Wijlre and Lemiers and after that unwrapping the presents starts. A collection of cookies, nuts, beer and chocolate pops up under the Patagonia Weissbier Christmas tree, while Nadieh seems to have to pay the price for a slightly too extensive Christmas dinner that probably came a day early. The stay in the hotel room is a good opportunity to decently fix our tent with the repair parts and glue we bought in Puerto Natales. The glue changes back and forth between us and Theo and Ines, just like the appropriate Christmas gifts: Yerba Mate and homemade cookies for us, Bon-o-bons and a marker for the hitchhike signs for Ines and Theo.
Meanwhile Nadieh is recovering, so we decide to start slowly with what we actually came for: hiking. The Mirador de Los Cóndores and Los Águilas, the Chorillo del Salto waterfall and Laguna Capri as day walks to get used to the mountains and the backpack, and then a three-day trip along Laguna de los Tres and Laguna Torre. Rightly the best known and busiest views around El Chalten, although the weather is not quite right and the sharp peaks of Cerro Fitzroy and Cerro Torre remain hidden in the gray cloud mass. In the meantime 2018 is coming to an end and we are planning to start 2019 in El Chaltén. The new kitchen at Camping El Relincho sets the scene for an extensive cooking celebration and half the camp gets a little jealous when we start to melt a large chocolate bar au-baine-marie for a chocolate fondue with fresh fruit. We are celebrating the new year with Ines & Theo and Reuben & Claire from Scotland, whom we got to know at the campsite earlier this week. Around two in the morning we change the shelter on the site against a shed in the village where a party is going on. We manage to stay until five o’clock, quite an achievement since our biological clock runs synchronously with the sunrise and fall through the weeks of camping. One and two January there is a last two-day trip to Laguna Torro, with better weather and thus a better, much better view and a wonderful start of a new year where hopefully many beautiful views, walks, camping and improvised ‘ culinary delights’ will follow.