I took hundreds of buses while traveling around South America. The vast majority were simple, straightforward rides where I got on and off without anything interesting happening. Some were the nightmare trips you read about in the guidebooks: overbooked local buses on unpaved roads with people in the aisle, chickens on board, music blasting, and the A.C. turned up way to high. Others were incredibly luxurious overnight trips that reminded me of an airline’s first class: personal t.v.’s, food, and a fully reclining, comfortable seat.
But, of all the buses I took, the three and a half hour trip from El Calafate to El Chalten might have been the most memorable.
The first two hours of the trip were almost mind-numbingly boring. The surroundings were flat and bereft of vegetation, and the road was nearly perfectly straight. We were driving through a boring, arid plain. I’ve never driven through Kansas, but the first two hours are what I imagine it must feel like. I ended up fitfully sleeping or reading my kindle to pass the time.
Mountains pierced the horizon, getting larger as we drove straight for them. The stark, rapid contrast from flat nothing-ness to jutting mountains was amazing. While Perito Moreno glacier was captivating, it wasn’t hiking, and I wanted to hike. It was impossible not to get excited when we were driving towards this:
I don’t think I will ever forget the moment when I realized the smudges on the horizon were actually the mountains that I would be hiking through in just a few hours. It was hard to sit still the rest of the ride.
We arrived at El Chalten at noon. Tiny is really the only way to describe it; you can walk from one side to the other in 10 minutes. Even with the huge boom that hiking tourism has brought, it still feels like a small town stuck in the past. Even the hostels and restaurants that cater to tourists fit in with the place’s small, sleepy town vibe. When not hiking, Julie and I found ourselves walking slower, relaxing, and just enjoying being in such a beautiful environment. The lack of wifi helped us disconect as well.
By the time we had settled in at our hostel and eaten lunch, it was nearly 1pm. Despite that fact, we decided to begin a 24 kilometer hike. While this would normally be inadvisable, we were really far south in the middle of summer, so the sun wasn’t going to set until 9pm. That, coupled with the fact that it was a mostly flat hike up until the last few kilometers, made it doable.
We made our way to the trailhead, and off we went:
Two minutes into the hike, I knew it was going to be a good one. This was the view we got as soon as we started down the trail:
And it just kept getting better:
The coolest thing was, we could see our destination nearly the entire hike, becoming clearer and more impressive with every kilometer we traveled:
Julie and I were both amped to be in such an incredible place, plus we had been stuck in a bus all morning, so we absolutely flew down the trail. The kilometers just melted away, and we averaged one every 15 minutes.
In under three hours, we had made it to the lake:
From the lake, we followed a small side path to this brilliant overlook of the glacier:
Even having started so late, the sun was only just beginning to go down on our return trek. The lighting was a picturesque golden-yellow:
We returned to town tired and starving, but very very happy. It had been a great day, and it culminated with good food and drinks at a brew house. Needless to say, we slept well that night.