Category Archives: El Chalten

El Chaltén to Bariloche bus: Are we there yet?

The worst thing about being at the arse end of the world is that it’s a really, really bloody long way from anywhere. So when I wanted to leave El Chalten, in Argentina’s southern Patagonia, I really only had one option – a 24-hour-long bus trip along Ruta 40 to Bariloche. And yes, it was every bit as grueling as you’d expect, with sickening food, stops in creepy towns and police busts.

At least the cops have cool uniforms

If you’re heading north from El Chaltén, the bus is the only way to go outside backtracking to El Calafate and taking an expensive flight to Buenos Aires, so they sell out early. During autumn there are only three buses a week, leaving plenty of people (like me) stranded in El Chaltén for a week or more. By the time I staggered to the bus stop at 10pm, I felt like I was breaking out of prison.

Look how much fun I’m having

Whilst the trip sounded like a nightmare, I boarded the bus with hopes and dreams of being seated next to a pretty European lass. As the Patagonian wilderness rolled past, I’d win her heart with stories of my drunken adventures and by saying that her hair looked pretty, and maybe get a handjob around the 17 hour mark. Instead I climbed on to find a fat German bloke sitting in my seat with half an empenada hanging out his mouth, and when I asked him to move he farted into my seat and said he’d kill me in my sleep. I suppose dreams arent meant to come true.

Expect to look at this for 11 hours straight

The first 10 hours of the trip crawl through the pitch-black Argentinean night. The road out of El Chalten is bumpier than a crack addict’s complexion and there are no towns, villages, windmills, trees or amusement parks to break up the monotony. There’s not even much cow shit to gawk at. With nothing in the way of heating, it was so cold on the bus that ice was forming on the inside of the windows. I was just grateful the bus actually had windows.

The best bit of the trip was when they played a Morgan Freeman film… in Spanish

There are two types of seating; the more expensive cama, with fully reclinable seats and plenty of space, and the cheaper semi-cama, which lean back a little and are a bit shit. I’d recommend the cama every day, but the little bloke at the bus station must’ve picked me for a poor cunt, because he didn’t even give me the option. So, squashed legs and an aching back it was.

Oh yay, it’s a dog! And a crack caravan!

Fortunately, the good folks from Marga serve food on the bus. Unfortunately, it’s of indescribably bad quality and the serving sizes wouldn’t satisfy a Somalian toddler who’d already stuffed his face with rice. Dinner and lunch were identical packages that consisted of some sort of dodgy biscuit, a slice of soggy garlic bread, and a sandwich that caused heated debate between diners regarding the identity of the contents. Some said chicken, some said tuna, I said arse. Homeless arse. Trust me, that’s the worst kind.

You wouldn’t feed this shit to a sex offender

It’s a boring trip with stuff-all to see, so if you think it’s a good way to check out Argentina’s stunning scenery you’re out of luck. Ruta 40 is nowhere near the Andes, and the only thing you’re likely to see hour after hour is dead grass and brown hills. The occasional llama or deadbeat town are the only things to break up the boredom. Well, that and the chance of being caught up in a major police bust like I was.

Wait! There’s a bush!

Alright, ‘major police bust’ might be the biggest exaggeration since I told a girl that I’m often confused with Peter North, but there was still some excitement when the bus was pulled over by the cops. A local woman on board was caught smuggling a small dog in her handbag, which meant our trip was delayed for two hours in the middle of nowhere. Honestly, there are so many street dogs in Argie that she might as well have left her old dog at home and picked up a new one when she arrived. The rude bitch didn’t even apologise!

Take your dog and fuck off, lady

There’s no denying that the El Chalten to Bariloche bus is a tough ride, and as far from the glamorous side of travelling as possible. It’s a never-ending journey for backpackers seeking adventures in far-flung destinations, with the ever-present danger of major delays or breakdowns. By the end I was so tired I could barely pick up a six pack to drink back at my hostel. But there was also something wonderful about being surrounded by people willing to go through such an ordeal for the sole reason of exploring the world. Would I recommend travelling through Patagonia this way? In a heartbeat. Would I do it again? Fuck no, are you crazy?

A hell of a time in El Chaltén

El Chaltén is a great little town surrounded by natural beauty, but when I found out I’d be stuck here for a week due to a lack of buses, I wasn’t the happiest little Vegemite. The townsfolk are preparing to close the place down for the winter, so there are hardly any restaurants or bars available, and the streets are almost deserted. With some dodgy weather around threatening to keep me off the area’s world famous hiking trails, I was looking at spending day after day locked up in my hostel watching re-runs of M*A*S*H and eating stale Argentinean bread – but as it turns out I’ve had a fuckin’ cracker of a time here.

With dark clouds all around, I took a trip along the Laguna Torre track, which is really gorgeous. It’s an easy hike that offers stunning views out over the valleys and canyons, which are burning orange and red at this time of year. After 8km I found myself at the lake, which was actually a bit disappointing. It’s basically a poo-brown pond surrounded by mounds of dirty rocks, with a pretty sad-looking glacier at one end. The hike is like a Stephen King novel – brilliant all the way through, with a crap and disappointing ending.

When the sun finally shone down upon El Chaltén, I took a stroll up to Lago Capri, which lies at the base of Monte Fitz Roy. Now this is a nice blopdy lake. The whole thing was frozen over so I couldn’t go for a dip, but that’s probably a good thing because it would have been a similar experience to getting fucked up the arse by Frosty the Snowman. Seriously though, you’d struggle to find a nicer place anywhere on the planet.

Loma del Pliegue Tumbado is a hard name to say, and the hike out to this mirador is just as difficult. It climbs 1000m over the course of a 9km scramble through forests, ending with a steep climb through deep snow. It was pretty much deserted when I was there, because I guess all the fat cunts who tried to climb it died of heart attacks and rolled back to the bottom.

My struggles were repaid many times over, because the views from the top are astonishing. I found myself in a perfect position to kick back and marvel at the shimmering Andes. Until I saw Fitz Roy in all its glory, basking in sunshine, I couldn’t have imagined how incredible it is. In the right light, the entire mountain range glows. The whole experience was made even more special by the fact I was smashed on bottles of ice-cold Quilmes.

So now, as I prepare to board a bus for a 24-hour ride to Bariloche, I’m glad that I was forced to spend an extra couple of days in El Chaltén. It allowed me to take my time and explore more of Patagonia’s astonishing wilderness. I was able to form a more intimate relationship with Fitz Roy, as I saw the massif in all sorts of different conditions. And more than that, it allowed me to get really, really wankered on cheap boxed wine every night back at the hostel – and that’s what travelling is all about, right?

Goon and lagoons: The Laguna de los Tres trail

The Laguna de los Tres hiking trail in El Chalten, Argentina, is one of the most awe-inspiring walks in tbe world. It sweeps along ancient cliffs, past raging rivers, and towards glowing glaciers – but I didn’t get to enjoy much of it because I was monumentally hungover after a night of drinking the dodgiest red wine legally allowed to be sold without breaking numerous United Nations conventions.

Actually, the first half of the hike was fine because I was still pretty pissed. With another box of Vino Toro in hand, I sauntered into the park with a smile on my face and a song in my heart. It’s a steep trek, but the path is well maintained, with heaps of brilliant miradors to provide views out over the valleys and mountains. Seeing as I was drunk, I was extremely personable and made lots of friends, including one pervert who told me that Australians are the best-looking blokes on Earth. I gave him a high-five and kept swaggering up the hill.

I’d heard that the last kilometre of the 12km first leg of the walk was challenging, and it fucking well was. It features a 400m climb through ice and snow, with strong winds making things even harder. I had to climb up on my hands and knees, sliding back down the cliff a few times and ripping my hands apart. It was made more difficult by the fragile state I was in, but this is a rough climb by any standards, so quadriplegics should forget about it.

The views from the top, however, made the whole struggle worth it. Not only is it possible to look back along the fiery orange valley, but the shining blue de los Tres Glacier stands imposingly in front of the mirador, and is spectacular. Laguna de los Tres basks in its own azure glory, and Monte Fitz Roy stands imposingly above it all, rising thousands of metres up into the clouds. It’s quite a nice spot, really.

The walk back to El Chalten was somewhat more difficult than the trip up, because with every step I became further consumed by the brain-stomping hangover that comes with guzzling Vino Toro. Twelve kilometres might as well have been 1000, as I lurched from side to side, seeing double and doing my best not to shit myself and hurl up my guts at the same time. My best, it seems, was not good enough.

The rancid red broth in my stomach was causing me all sorts of trouble, and I finally collapsed in the middle of the track and unleashed a steady stream of deep crimson bile that steamed angrily in the early evening air. When I started I couldn’t stop, and soon the path was awash with the tumultuous residue of my boozy evening. I lost all track of time and place, and was barely able to see or hear. I thought I might die out there, and at that point I didn’t really care if that happened. This was the sort of hangover that should be reserved solely for sex predators and Manly fans.

I was crawling into a bush that seemed a good place to perish in, when I felt a comforting hand on my shoulder.

“Come with me, my friend,” came a swarthy Latino voice, and I looked up into a kind, mono-browed Argentinean face. It was one of the park’s hard-working rangers, and he helped me to my feet and gave me a bottle of water.

“No, not water, ” I gasped. “I’m hungover, don’t you have a beer?”

The little bloke gave me a wink and rifled through his bag, finally producing a can of Quilmes. I guzzled it, did a little dance, and felt ready to run back down the hill.

“We carry these just for the Australians,” the ranger chuckled, and we both pranced back to El Chalten, hand in hand, as a full moon rose over Patagonia. All was well in the valley.

El Chaltén is an el champion place!

I’ve been to plenty of out-of-the-way places over the years, but few have been as remote as the Argentinean village of El Chaltén. This tiny dot on the map is home to just 1600 people and a bloody long way from anywhere – around 220km down the road from El Calafate, which itself has a population that could fit in a phone booth, provided the locals hadn’t been eating too many empanadas. There’s only one reason for anyone to be in El Chaltén, and that’s because it offers some of the best hiking on the planet, underneath the imposing Monte Fitz Roy.

I arrived by bus in the early arvo and, because the weather wasn’t completely shithouse, decided to get out and see what I could see. The three main hikes (Laguna de los Tres, Laguna Torre and Loma Del Pliegue Tumbado) each take more than eight hours to complete, so I went for a couple of shorter options (like that time I banged midget Siamese twins. They weren’t conjoined freaks or anything, just from Siam. And I dunno if they were really twins or if I was just so smashed I was seeing double. Shit, if you’ve stumbled across this site because you’re interested in South American hiking, I feel sorry for you).

First up was the popular Los Cóndores walk, which starts just out of town and is only around a 3km round trip. It provides a top view out over El Chaltén, as well as the opportunity to watch condors cruising through the skies. The end of the track also offers the chance to marvel at the delightful Lago Viedma. It’s an easy walk – mobs of pensioners were scraping their way up there with their walking frames – and a great way to get acquainted with the area.

From there I walked through town to continue my adventures. El Chaltén exists only for touristic reasons – honestly, why the fuck else would a town pop up hundreds of kilometres from anywhere, at the end of a lonely dead-end road? So despite being a small place, there are heaps of bars and restaurants, which all sell drinks and food at highly inflated prices that a po’ ol’ unemployed champion like thyself could never hope to afford. But if you’re a valuable member of society and actually have more than five dollars in your pocket at any given time, you could have a ball going out every night.

At the northern end of town is the path to the legendary Chorrillo del Salto. Alright, maybe it’s not legendary. Maybe I just heard about it a few hours ago. But waterfalls are grouse, so of course I wanted to see it. The walk there is as easy as a Wyong girl with five Cruisers in her, but there are some stunning views out over the mountains and rivers. The waterfall itself is quite lovely as well.

With plans to hike the 25km Laguna de los Tres trail in the morning, I went to bed early so that I could get a good night’s rest… nah, fuck that. Real men hike with hangovers, so I ended up getting absolutely shitfaced at the hostel with an eclectic mix of Germans, Poms and Italians. We polished off our final box of disgustingly cheap Vino Toro around 4am, at which point I stumbled into bed with someone I didn’t know particularly well, gave her 30 seconds worth of reasons not to want to get to know me particularly well, and promptly passed out. And they say hiking is good for your health.