El Calafate: the place everybody has in mind when they picture Patagonia. In reality, Patagonia encompasses the southern half of Argentina and Chile. The land area measures 1.043 million km² and is, to the guanacos’ delight, mostly flat.
I watched the terrain pass underneath me from 30,000 feet for the duration of the one hour and forty-five minute flight from Trelew to El Calafate. Other than blue ribbons of sharply bending rivers, I spied with my little eye a whole lot of earth-toned nothingness. It was the desert, the world’s 8th largest and the least-talked-about!
I’m not a fan of planning my trips based on the information given by TripAdvisor. The site is full of people who believe an escape room is the #1 thing to Toulouse (at least it was ranked #1 when I was there last summer), and people who think $10 CAD admission to a museum is too steep. How would reading reviews by that lot help me?
Instead, I try to gather travel tips from personal blogs where I can get a feel of what type of person the writer is. Of all the blogs I read, the one that offered the most useful information was the Nomadic Boys, which is a gay travel blog. It was their advice that led Mélissa and me to choose El Chalten over Chile’s Torres Del Paine. They were the ones who got us interested in making the long road trip to Punta Tombo to visit the penguin colony. We splashed around with sea lions based on their recommendation. Had Yann been my travelling partner rather than Mélissa, I might’ve considered spending a romantic night in a yurt.
As I work for an outdoor retailer, I was expecting to get tips from people at my job on what to do/see in Patagonia. While many intend to visit someday, hardly anybody had been there. The one co-worker who had been to El Calafate was able to offer some solid advice on when and where to book transportation/tours. According to him (and now me), it is cheaper to book transportation and tours there than in advance online.
Mélissa and I were in Patagonia during peak season but had no trouble booking any of our activities at the last minute. Peak season on the Valdes Peninsula and in Los Glaciares National Park (El Calafate/El Chalten) is still less busy than peak season in, say, Victoria, BC.
Peak season in Valdes Peninsula meant a higher concentration of out-of-province Argentinean tourists whereas peak season in El Calafate meant Euro tourists galore. It was Goretex central in downtown El Calafate: I fit right in.
El Calafate is the only town on the shore of Argentina’s largest lake (and possibly bluest lake): Lago Argentino.
The top things to do in El Calafate were all just outside El Calafate. In El Calafate, there was the Laguna Nimez Natural Reserve which is excellent for bird watching. I had never gone bird watching before. At most, I watch my cats watch the birds.
Even with prescription glasses, my eyes weren’t suitable for this activity. If I were a TripAdvisor reviewer, my review would read like this:
“Birds were too far away.”
Paid 800 pesos to enter park then saw a bunch of birds fly out of the park. Went back to ranger station to ask for a partial refund to compensate for the escaped birds, but ranger did not speak any English.
Birds were too busy either snacking on shrub or floating in the lagoon to come by to say hi. A White-tufted Grebe pooped right in front of us. Very rude.
Bird shelters were covered in graffiti. Dirt and sand were found all over the reserve. Save your money and look up at the sky for free.
Two-and-a-half green circle-dots out of five.
Laguna Nimez Natural Reserve is a great place… if you’re really into birds. Otherwise, it’s not much more than a pleasant place to spend a sunny day.
If I were to write a raving review, it would be for the Argentinean tour buses. Clean double-decker buses with roomy reclining seats. “With a cashew dispenser!” I told Yann to see whether he was still listening. (Yes.)
We took one of these buses the following day to Los Glaciares National Park. Our driver had slicked back hair, golden rings on every finger, and an exquisite scorpion pendant to signify that his astrological sign was Scorpio. Just like me.
There are 47 large glaciers found in Los Glaciares National Park. The three biggest glaciers are Viedma, which we did not visit; Upsala, which we also did not visit; and Perito Moreno, which we visited for five frigid hours.
There was a winding trough for tourists along the shore. Mélissa and I started at the far end of the coastal path to acclimatize ourselves to the impending spectacle.
The glacier was only about an inch tall to begin with.
Within an hour, it had grown to 240 feet.
Before the walkways were built, people were getting impaled by shards of falling ice. The park has recorded 32 deaths, but the number is likely higher.
Look at this thing, it’s a beast!
My TripAdvisor review would be something like this:
“Ice is nice.”
I am so happy I travelled 10,600km to get here. This may sound sarcastic, but it really is not. This was one of the coolest things I’ve ever seen on any of my travels.
Niagara Falls can go fuck itself.
five green circle-dots out of five!
When Mélissa and I climbed off the bus in El Calafate, our driver shouted out to her, “Your friend is cute.”
Mélissa had been the darling of the Valdes Peninsula: one of the guys at the hostel in Trelew told me via Google translate, “Your friend is very pretty.” The guys at the dive shop in Puerto Madryn flirted with her. And I can’t forget the wine-cooler-for-breakfast Italian tourist at the airport.
In the Santa Cruz province of Argentina, however, I was undeniably swoon-worthy in my technical layers and quick-dry pants. Even the ranger at Laguna Nimez Instagram-stalked me.
The issue wasn’t that I already had a far-less ornate guy in Montréal, but that as a fellow Scorpio, the bus driver and I simply weren’t astrologically compatible.
Believe it or not, the bus driver will make another appearance in my next post. Get ready to cringe.