Saturday, 11th January: “Where in the world is El Calafate?”

Today we headed down to the bottom of Argentina and almost the furthest most southern point we will go. The flight from Buenos Aries was delayed by 20 minutes with refuelling and we ended up taking off at 2:40pm. When flying it’s not the actual flying time that takes all the time, rather the time spent getting to the airport, checking in and then waiting for departure time. Usually this is around 3-4 hours all up although in Switzerland we were lucky as we were able to check in online and therefore get our boarding passes ahead of time. This meant that we didn’t need to be at the airport so early and gave us extra time in places like Lucerne.

Our transfer to the airport was another organised by Chimu adventures. We have now had a number of these transfers in BA but this time the smallest car turned up, almost like a Suzuki Swift. Claire looked out the window of the hotel and said “I hope that’s not our car as things are going to get interesting”. Upon finding out that it was ours, the porter on the door suggested that maybe we play Rock, Paper, Scissors to see who was going to fit. Three adults (two who are a decent size) three large suitcases (that are getting larger each day) and a couple of backpacks needed to go into one small car along with the driver… hmmm like I said interesting. In the end though we all managed to squeeze in for what was luckily not a long drive.

Buenos Aries airport is another one of those not so flash airports – definitely better than São Paulo but not up there with Zurich which is a whole shopping complex complete with supermarket, hair dresser and even an optical place for getting glasses made in an hour.

It is located on one side of a main road, the other side has a very long foreshore with the boundary between the water and land being a white brick fence that is about one metre high. The water is a dirty brown colour… we think it’s a river not the ocean although it is massive. All along the foreshore, fishermen rest their fishing rods on the fence. Now the fishing must be amazing as the distance between each rod would be less than one metre apart indicating the extraordinary fishing that is on offer or that there are a lot of men looking to “be out of the house on a Saturday morning”. Travelling along the foreshore people with small metal carts sell drinks and the like… as you wouldn’t want to move away from your rod and let the “big one” get away. Interestingly of the 5 kilometres or so that we travelled along this road, we didn’t see one person actually fishing or reeling anything in, so my guess is it’s about the act of fishing more so than what you catch… then again the tide may be on the turn and they’re just getting ready for the action to occur.

Our flight to El Calafate was around three hours, an easy one in the scheme of the flights that we have done. Flying in Claire was having knipchons as there was not a sign of a house, hut or building anywhere. Apart from some snow capped mountains off in the distance, the land was rocky and desolate, almost volcanic like. This view certainly didn’t match with the image portrayed on TV or in brochures about Patagonia. The terrain was a low scrubby appearance and looked liked nothing would grow on it. “You have taken me to some strange places in the world… but where have you taken me to now” was Claire’s response. She could not believe that we would take her to a place with no houses, no trees, a giant lake with nothing around it and therefore limited opportunities to shop and eat ice cream. I also expected different. I thought it would be much greener and lush, an environment conducive of snow capped mountains and glaciers that are some of the few in the world to be advancing.

Sensing that the free day that Chimu had planned might become a bit of a fizzer and being on an Elliot tour where time is never wasted and opportunities are always taken, we asked the transfer driver what would be possible to do. He knew about our tour to Perito Morena Glacier tomorrow and suggested a couple of other options for the next day. Claire was particularly keen to hike on the glacier however this was booked out for tomorrow when we would be there. With a bit of rejigging and a few dollars paid, we have managed to move this trip including hiking on one of the world’s most amazing glaciers to the following day and tomorrow we will be going by boat to see some of the other glaciers in Patagonia. This will include passing past icebergs, massive chunks of ice that have “calved” from existing glacial faces.
After confirming both of these trips, we were excited by the prospect of what the next two days would bring and content that our time spent here would be maximised as much as possible. This meant we could head into town and see what it was like knowing that our days were planned.

Walking into town, we traversed down the hill on gravelly roads to the Main Street. Now when you say Main Street of El Calafate there is really only one main street and the shopping precinct or centre of town spans the distance of around 300 metres. Philip said it reminded him of some of the Alaskan towns we visited whilst Claire said it was like a mini Mansfield – one main strip, centre island, interesting shops to look at and plenty of restaurants but move off the main strip and there isn’t much else that a tourist would want or need.

Whatever it reminded you of, it came alive at around 9pm as if the skiers from Buller had all got their bus back to Mansfield and were now looking for a feed. The crazy thing here is that like Tromso the light doesn’t match with the way your feel or the time of day your brain thinks it is. The difference here though is that the sun doesn’t set until 11pm and then will rise at about 4:30 – 5am. Therefore you feel tired but think that’s its 6pm when it’s really four hours later and you should be in bed. It’s like day light savings but you’ve put the clock back four hours not one.

We ate at a really nice restaurant and the prices seem to be quite good even though all reviews of this place say that it is expensive given that it’s peak season. Our portions were massive especially Philip’s steak. Claire had Patagonian lamb loin chops… not just one or two… nope nine of the suckers. I had a Neapolitana Supremo Chicken which was like a half chicken deboned and then done like a Parma with ham, tomato and cheese. All were really tasty and filling.

At the end of the day we also had one contented little Claire as there are loads of shops ready for her to make a purchase and even a couple of ice cream shops…one of which was sampled prior to walking home.

So…where in the world is El Calafate? Somewhere extraordinary in the world.

Tech note: Due to internet connection issues photos for this day will need to be added later – Phil.

By |January 14th, 2014|Argentina, Our Trips, South America|