In 9,000 years from now, the recent graffiti that have been done over the 9,000-year-old graffiti found in the Walichu Caves will be just as revered by archaeologists.
Guide: “You see this painting? What do you think it is?”
Hesitant tourist: “Is it a penis?” *goofy shrug*
Guide, pretending he’s impressed by the tourist’s observation: “Correct! Thousands of years ago, in the 1980s, teenagers bonded with one another by drinking a sacred liquid mixture made of fermented malted barley and wheat called Quilmes beer * . They would then sketch phallic images on the rock face to signify their brotherhood.”
*The Argentinian equivalent of Budweiser.
Mélissa and I had the modern-day version of that conversation with our cave tour guide. Argentina’s most famous cave is Cueva de las Manos, which is Spanish for Cave of Hands.
We did not go to that one.
Instead, we went to the Walichu Caves. These caves are so insignificant that a Wikipedia entry doesn’t exist for them. (By contrast, there is a Wikipedia page for toilet paper orientation.) These caves are so inconsequential that they installed a wooden deck inside one and placed picnic tables on it. I don’t even remember how old the paintings in the caves were supposed to be.
We were momentarily impressed when our guide directed our attention to paintings that clearly depicted guanacos.
“…this was done as a part of a school project.”
Jeez, just write “CLASS OF 2019 SUCKS” and be done with it.
The caves were far from being the highlight of our tame spelunking outing. We stopped at a viewpoint that gave us the bluest view of Lago Argentino.
A meal was included with the tour: lamb stew. At the time of booking, I requested a vegetarian meal which thankfully seemed to be a non-issue. As the lone “vegetarian” of the group, I was served the same stew with the chunks of lamb excluded.
There was a bottle of red wine allotted to each picnic table. The higher ratio of kids to adults at the other tables meant a few extra bottles migrated to ours. The cave tour concluded with two wine-stained smiles, although neither Mélissa nor I had to be carried back to the Land Rover.
I continue to be not fond of guided tours; I find that they overhype everything. It’s the unexpected sights that bring me the most amusement.
I’m observant yet juvenile. As such, I require myself to repost this picture:
I was unreasonably excited about seeing this just outside NYC’s La Guardia airport.
It was like watching a tall bullet-shaped Roomba run away from people.
I wouldn’t encourage fellow travellers to seek the trash-bot of La Guardia. But if you find yourself with extra time in El Calafate and have $2000 pesos popping out of your money belts, the Walichu Caves are a satisfactory option. Just get your money’s worth by drinking the wine fast.
What I absolutely would not recommend to anybody is any of the El Calafate’s three ice bars. We did not visit all three but based on the concept the other two aren’t going to be any better.
For $300 pesos ($10 CAD), you get to go inside a freezer and drink as much as you can in 20 minutes. There’s a disco ball, shitty lights, fake polar bear taxidermy, and they give you lightly insulated silver capes to wear while you drink from glasses made of ice.
TripAdvisor reviewers LOVED this shit. Maybe a lot of people liked the novelty of experiencing what -10°C (14°F) feels like. For us, -10°C was twice as warm as it was the day we left Montréal. Yeah, Canada is embarrassingly cold.
The forecast was looking bleak where we were headed next: El Chalten, home of Mount Fitzroy. Of course, it was going to be warmer than -10°C, but not warm. Precipitating clouds were expected.
What was unexpected was the first familiar face we encountered when we arrived in El Chalten. Based on the guy’s enthusiastic wave, I first tried figuring out whether he was somebody I knew through my job (I work in the outdoor industry after all). Then, I saw the glisten of his scorpion pendant. We had run into the bus driver from our Pertio Moreno glacier trip at the bus station! What were the odds?! (I’m being sarcastic.)
El Chalten means “The Smoking Mountain” in Tehuelche as a cloud usually forms around the highest of the peaks: Mount Fitz Roy. On our first day in El Chalten, the peaks were entirely shrouded by clouds and therefore weren’t visible from the town of El Chalten like they typically are.
El Chalten is a rustic village with all the amenities required to be one of the top tourist destinations in Argentina without the glitz of El Calafate. There were no ice bars here. Tents were pitched on people’s properties. Trailers and camper vans were parked along the streets. Many of these mobile sleeping quarters had been turned into works of art:
We had reserved a place through the Airbnb website. Our place came with a mini fridge, a gas stove, our own dining area, and a private bathroom. All this was crammed into a trailer.
It had been customized with black electrical tape in the shape of the Roman numeral “I” indicating it was one of the five trailers on the property. “Ooh, you got the big one,” our Airbnb host uttered when we checked in.
We opted to stay in a trailer because it was the most budget-friendly option aside from sleeping in a tent, which Mélissa didn’t want to do. Hotels in the area were taking advantage of the tent-averse travellers with high rates. This trailer Airbnb seemed like a good middle ground.
It was cold and windy on our first night in the trailer. Had I bought my lightweight tent, I would have been blown onto the peak of Mount Fitz Roy. It didn’t bother me much how flushing the toilet was a two-step process, or that the gas detector kept going off. We had the protection of actual walls, and we could make tea!
The hikes we did around El Chalten will be discussed in unexpected detail in my next post.