When you get to the end of the world there's only one way you can go and that's north. (Technically, there is Antarctica, but that requires a sturdier bank balance than I've ever had.) After a second unscheduled stop in Rio Gallegos, where we arrived at one o'clock in the morning to find large groups of people exiting a very popular concert and thus having to stay in an expensive room, we journeyed to El Calafate. The town is pleasant and situated on one shore of Lake Argentina, but its main function for tourists is as a place from which to visit the spectacular Glaciar Perito Moreno.
Why name a glacier Small Brown Dog(?) my Spanish speaking friends may ask. Well, Perito Moreno was in fact the nickname of great Argentinian explorer Pedro Moreno. He did not discover it however, that was a friend of his, who named the glacier after him and the aforemention Moreno never even saw the collosal ice mass. Moreno must have been a pretty popular guy, as the glacier was the first of three Perito Morenos we came across as we headed north, the other two being a town and a railway station.
We took a boat on the lake and had great views of the intricate blue peaks and crevices, but it wasn't until we walked in the National Park that we could hear the mighty glacier creak and groan as it calved massive blocks of ice from its perimeter with the lake. The glacier is immense and seeing those bergs come away makes you feel very small. I really enjoyed Perito Moreno, but it is a tourist attraction with bus loads of people going to see it. Several days later when walking in the mountains around El Chalten we climbed up to another, smaller glacier, I was reminded that it is a natural phonomenon, created by nature, and not just something put there for tourists to goggle at and Argentinians to make money from. Seeing the smaller glacier, surrounded by mountains, almost tucked away and with only half a dozen other people there, I was reminded how awestruck I was when I first saw Perito Moreno.
El Chalten is a tiny city, nestled amongst the mountains in the Fitzroy range, which mainly just caters to the number of tourists that come to climb the surrounding peaks. It is Argentina's youngest city with only 800 occupants and was only made official in order to secure the claim on the land over Chile. On our first evening there we walked around, getting our bearings and went to take a look at the school in an attempt to see how many children go there. As we stood outside the caretaker came and asked if we were there for the tango lesson? We said we weren't, but he invited us in to take photos. Before we knew it we were ingratiated into the group and taking our first tango steps. For some reason in Latin America I am always picked upon to demonstrate dancing, in Cuba and Costa Rica it was the same, and I was chosen to demonstrate some tango! After the lesson we spent the evening in the company of the tango teacher and some of his pupils at a local bar, where a friend was singing tango. As is common in Argentina the evening ended late and we found ourselves heading back to our hostel in the early hours of the morning, only to find the door locked. After much knocking, the tango teacher set off his car alarm and someone else called the police. This did not rouse anyone and in the end we woke up a fellow guest by knocking on a dormitory window. Luckily she wasn't too surprised and let us in.
We really enjoyed our stay in El Chalten, drinking homemade bitter hot chocolate in the Chocolateria that looks deserted from the outside, but is a haven inside and getting lots of walking done. I found a great walking partner in Manon, a Dutch girl who was travelling solo and walked at the same pace as me. On our trek up to Laguna de la Torre I gave her a Spanish lesson and tested her all the way down. She learnt really well. At the time I didn't realise that I would later see her put it to good use when we travelled together in Chile. One morning I got up early to join Kevin, a American guy to see the sunrise. He has travelled extensively in South America and was travelling back to the places he has loved before. He had been getting up early every moring to try and get a perfect shot of the sun making the Fitzroy mountains pink. Because of the weather it only happens once or twice a month. He was convinced that that morning was going to produce the results he was waiting for. We waited and waited and nothing happened. As we walked away and I was taking a photo of the rather standard, but nice sunrise he suddenly noticed that a tiny piece of the mountain range had turned pink. As we ran back to our viewing spot the mountains grew pinker and pinker - truly beautiful and after five minutes they were back to the brown they were earlier, as if the morning light had never transformed them into such a spectacle.
Travelling up the West side of Argentina is no easy task, due to the famous Ruta 40. Ruta 40 is famous due to its huge distances, bad surface and few buses. Travel must be planned well in advance and takes a lot of time to get anywhere. We travelled from El Chalten up to El Bolson over two days, stopping at the aforementioned town of Perito Moreno overnight and spending a total of twenty four hours on that bumpy road. As we boarded the bus in El Chalten, I reached up and put our bag of food that we carry around with us on the luggage rack above my head. It slipped onto its side and a pile of dried spaghetti rained down onto my head, much to the amusement of my fellow passengers. Before we had even started our two day epic trip north with these people I had already gained a reputation! But none of them seem to have held it against me, as several of them met up with us a few days later in Bariloche to celebrate my birthday.