“Lo siento, Allan. No hay disponible por este noche,” Sebastian, the tall lanky son of the owners of Hosteria Los Nires in El Calafate said as he pulled the ear buds from his ears. He admired my motorcycle, my journey and enjoyed our several conversations about Argentina. At the time of checking in I had no idea how long i’d stay in El Calafate. So my room wasn’t available tonight. The disappointment I detected in his voice was perhaps greater than my own. Yet El Calafate can be challenging when trying to source cheaper accommodations. I was forced to load up Doc and cruise the town for a place for just one more night.
The plan was to head to El Chalten, a tiny encampment at the base of the Fitz Roy Range, with its towering granite peaks, glaciers and lakes. At barely twenty years old, It’s actually Argentina’s youngest town. Yet after three nights in El Calafate, I wanted to wait out the rain and tackle the half-paved, half-dirt road to El Calafate in drier weather. My daily contemplations focused on issues of weather. With a scant month left in summer the further south I would travel the quicker fall would arrive and bringing with it rain, whipping cold winds and increasingly shorter days. These preoccupations drift in and out of my mind when reviewing the map — which seems to be several times daily. I want to be in Ushuaia before the weather gets worse. But these thoughts don’t dissuade me from moving northward to El Chalten and then making the U-turn to head South toward Chile and the magnificent Parque Nacional Torres del Paine.
So after one more night in El Calafate I wake up committed. Taking the postal service’s approach, nothing would stop me from making the journey today. The clouds hung low and formed a wavy drapery effect made me feel like I was riding through the biggest opium or harem den. Though threatening the rain never ensued. The ride to El Chalten took a few hours. The first hour was gleaming new pavement then a good dose of ripio (dirt) in fairly good condition. A few muddy spots from the previous days’ rain didn’t put a damper on the ride. Few cars passed me in either direction and I felt once again riding high with hints of the magnificent Fitz Roy range occasionally peaking out from the clouds. And the stunning Lago Viedma provided a perfect reflecting pool for the stunning cloud dance and surrounding mountains.
By the time I arrived in El Chalten the drizzle started. Not a stitch of pavement in town with roads in various states of ruts, rockiness and sand, El Chalten seems to be set in a different era. Without a bank, ATM, supermarket, police force or traffic light, it’s the tiny brewery, quaint bookstore and abundant restaurants and hostel/hotels that lend the town charm while hinting at its growing importance in tourism.
The owner at my hotel, Los Nires (the same name but different owner as the place I stayed at in El Calafate) was keen on the changes. He said next year the entire road from El Calafate to El Chalten would be paved. Eighteen years ago he moved with his young family was the first hotel in El Chalten, offering simply a single room with a bathroom shared with his family. This enticed the first travelers eager to set up base camp for the ascent to Fitz Roy.
While tackling the ascent to Fitz Roy is an admirable task, for me I plan to embark on the 8 hour round trip trek to the base of Fitz Roy and Laguna de Los Tres. Though with the rain this evening, I’m wondering if the skies will clear and give me the chance to wander through the meadows, lakes, glaciers and mountains that make El Chalten the self-described “trekking capital of the world.”
Vamos a ver.