Patagonia – Mountains, glaciers and mucho, mucho viento!

The bus journey from Ushuaia to Punta Arenas is approximately twelve hours and takes in a great sweeping road around Tierra del Fuego. It’s worth taking the bus and it’s a single-decker so it’s not too important what seat you get. Bus-Sur have decent departure times and air-conditioning.

The scenery changed throughout the journey and I spotted lots of wild Vicuña along the roadside and a couple of huge Caracara. I also saw lots of wild rhea!

We arrived late into Punta Arenas, not really sure why but we seemed to waste lots of time at both sides of the Argentina/Chile border and then again waiting for the car ferry.

In Punta Arenas I stayed in Sol de Invierno Hostel, about 10 minutes walk from the bus station.

It was a nice hostel, with nice four-bed dorms costing $16,000 Chilean pesos for a night (cash only). The kitchen and bathroom are both simple but nice.

I arrived after 9pm and didn’t go out to dinner until 10:30pm. I was hoping to get some recommendations from the guy at reception but a German guy was there for about 40 minutes asking every conceivable question (and more) about hiring a car to the receptionist who had no idea (heard of Google?!). I was hungry because I had barely eaten anything all day.

Rustico Restobar was excellent. The atmosphere was nice and the place was very busy. I took a seat at the bar and ordered my first Calafate Sour (Calafate is the name of a local Patagonian berry), it was delicious and much sweeter than I expected. The barman also gave me a bit of a Rhubarb Sour to try and that was lovely too. I ordered a pizza as I didn’t want to eat a huge amount but the food coming out to the tables nearby (mainly sharer platters) looked excellent.

It’s 2nd February now and I’m on a bus to Puerto Natales, my next step on the journey North. The girl next to me has music so loud that I can hear it over my audiobook and the woman over the aisle is speaking loudly on the phone. The driver is blipping the gas so we are lurching our way for the next 4-5 hours. The scenery is beautiful though. As we go further North I am seeing more trees – twisted, bent, gnarled things covered in lychen. I’ve just realised that I hadn’t seen a tree with green leaves since Buenos Aires at the beginning of January. Strange. In the distance I can see a snowcapped chain of mountains. I think we are almost at Puerto Natales now. Which is great because I’m hungry and we didn’t stop!

I walked to Last Hope Hostel from the Rodoviario (the main bus station) in Puerto Natales and it wasn’t far at all. I had been recommended the hostel by some people earlier in the trip and it was a nice place. It was about £16 for the night which is about par for the city. The common area is nice and the four-bed dorms are comfy enough. There aren’t many showers for that many people but it’s not a huge issue.

My first task was to find some lunch and I had walked past this food stall called Viejo Lobo (old wolf) which sold burgers and hotdogs. But these are no ordinary burgers!

My burger was actually thin slices of steak with tomato, avocado and caramelised onions with garlic mayo. It was fantastic!! So tasty and I’ll definitely be trying to recreate this one day.

I then went for a wander through the town and headed down to the water.

I spotted an old man fishing so I stopped to watch and enjoy the view of the mountains. The breeze was really strong here blowing straight in from across the water.

I wandered down the waterfront to this hand sculpture, just called Monument of the Hand poking out of the ground and found this road sign which I quite liked.

Road to the end of the world.

I found a cafe that was part of Kau Lodge, with excellent coffee right by the water. I was surprised not to have seen more coffee shops or bars on that stretch of the waterfront. I had a cappuccino and then a mint lemonade (both excellent) for $5.570 pesos including a tip which is about £6.75.

Then I carried on my walk through town back to my hostel. I spent the rest of the afternoon battling with the WiFi to upload the photos from my boat trip to Facebook and still only managed to upload the Falklands and South Georgia!

Some people in the hostel had heard a recommendation for a new restaurant called Guayoyo so I headed there for dinner at about 2130 and ordered the salmon. It was one of the best meals I’ve had in Chile!!!

The portion was huge! I can normally eat a LOT and even I was full before I finished. Delicious and great value at $11.000 pesos (£13).

I might even go back there for a milkshake when I’m back from my Torres del Paine hike on 20th Feb!

My next leg is from Puerto Natales to El Calafate and then maybe straight up to El Chalten (depending what time the bus gets in) so that’s what I’m up to today (3rd Feb).

So the bus to El Calafate was pretty straightforward. I had genuinely forgotten I was crossing back in to Argentina so I hadn’t considered currency. But I had some on me from before so it wasn’t a problem. The border crossing went off without a hitch and we arrived into El Calafate by 1:30pm (bus left at 0730).

My seat was next to a German called David and it turned out that we’ve got tickets for the same return bus on the 9th so we might trek together. We explored the town of El Calafate for a few hours and got some lunch at a place called Viva la Pepa which was a cute café at the Eastern end of town.

There doesn’t seem to be a whole lot going for the town when you arrive at the bus station but sure enough, down this enormous staircase and across the bridge, the centre is quite nice.

Now David and I are on the bus to El Chalten. There are a couple of really good hikes so I expect I’ll stay for 2-3 days. There are lots of glacial lakes around here which practically glow they are so bright.

The weather is scorching hot. Much hotter than I expected so I really look forward to changing out of my jeans! I treated myself to an ice cream – Calafate berry and Crema del Cielo (cream of the sky flavour…)

The bus from El Calafate to El Chalten was nice and we had the front top deck seats so we could see the road stretching off into the distance.

We started getting glimpses of the glacial melt water – stunning turquoise rivers.

And the scenery changed a lot too as we were approaching some big mountains.

El Chalten is tiny and is still charming despite some really obvious boom in development work. The only reason (and it’s a good one..) to visit here is to go hiking in Los Glaciares (Glaciers) National Park.

I hadn’t booked any accommodation so I popped in to ask at the hostel near the bus station, La Comarca, and they have space so I’ve booked for 3 nights and will probably stay for a fourth. The price is $350 pesos per night for a dorm bed in a 6-bed room and the bathroom and showers are really nice. It’s got a nice kitchen and seating area which has a good sense of community. My roommates are really nice, a guy called Showza from Adelaide and James and Soph from the UK as well as David. I went to the supermarket for a beer and some ingredients to cook dinner and make breakfast and a packed lunch and hung out downstairs with people chatting. We all got a fairly early night after deciding on the different hikes we want to do tomorrow and for the next few days (4-6th February, separate post).

It’s now 7th February and I’m getting the bus back to El Calafate. El Chalten was excellent. It’s a lovely little town with nothing between you and the mountains. Plus mountain towns have good bars and restaurants so I ate and drank well while I was there. Mostly I ate steak but on my last night after a long hike I treated myself to an amazing burger at the Smokehouse! Fantastic and not bad value at £13.50 for the burger, fries and a cocktail.

It’s the morning of the 7th and the WiFi is horrendous in town as it’s all on a satellite link and the wind keeps knocking out connections but I managed to book a hostel for tonight which is great.

I also managed to get the bus station in time for the 11am departure to El Calafate. Sarah and I are on the same bus.

We arrived at our hostel, Nakel Yenu, near the bus station and not far from town, at just after 2pm. It’s a nice place with a good kitchen and dorm beds are $400 pesos per night.

I stayed for two nights and visited the Perito Moreno Glacier on 8th February.

It’s beautiful! And even after all the glaciers and icebergs in Antarctica and South Georgia I would highly recommend a visit. It’s not cheap though. A return bus ticket (1.5 hours each way) costs $600 pesos and then you’ve got to pay for entry to Los Glaciares National Park which is $500 pesos cash only and paid to a warden that jumps on the bus as you enter the park. So the day costs £40 before you get started but it’s worth it.

There are a few bus companies to choose between (only difference is the departure times). I took the 8:30am departure with Marga Taqsa, but CalTur and Chalten Travel had departures at 9:30am and 1pm.

The drive takes you around Lake Argentina, one of the biggest lakes in the country connecting some of the biggest glaciers (including Perito Moreno and Viedma up near El Chalten). The road along the lake when you get inside the national park is windy and you get some nice views and the next thing you know, you crest a hill and there it is, Perito Moreno Glacier stretching off into the distance with its phenomenal spiky peaks above deep blue crevasses.

It is really cold at the glacier unless the sun is beating down and you will probably spend a couple of hours stood still watching and waiting with bated breath for the glacier to calve so take some warm clothes! There are some trails you can walk to get different views, I stuck to the upper and lower circuits for the best view of the glacier.

The calving is spectacular and totally worth the wait. In the four hours I was there I saw four fantastic calvings on the face I was at, and could also see and hear some others further off. Sometimes the enormous booming noises would be accompanied by a gigantic spray of water and a huge tidal wave. The anticipation was exciting.

The bus collected me at 2:30pm and dropped me in the centre of El Calafate at 4pm.

I explored the artisans markets and went for a coffee and a piece of cake as a late snack before going back to the hostel for a 9pm BBQ. The food was excellent and it just kept coming! There was nice salad and salsa to accompany sausage, blood sausage, chicken, steak and roasted pumpkin. A feast. Washed down with plenty of red wine served in a penguin jug which I shared with a lovely Dutch/American couple.

Now I’m on the 5 hour bus ride back to Puerto Natales in Chile to begin prep for tackling the 130km O Trek in Torres del Paine beginning on the 11th February!

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