Argentina baby!

A noisy little boat took us across the glacier lake.

After an hour we reached the other side and walked to the Chilean border control to check out. Since we were not returning to the other side, we walked with super heavy backpacks, carrying all our gear. We realized the 2 day hike to Argentina was going to be tough. Sofia, Theo, Melanie, Jonas and us started the hike together and created a fellowship that would last a bit more than a week.

The first part of the hike was pretty easy though. We walked on a gravel road. In high season, tourists can rent horses to walk this part. The views were nice, but the trail not that much so we chatted away, got to know our fellowship a bit better, and enjoyed each others company.

It was a 17 km hike to the border and the Chileans had marked every kilometer with a little sign. In the beginning that was very demotivating, regarding the load on our backs. The Argentinians had decided not to do that, and so we were very pleased with our first footsteps on Argentinian grounds.

We past the border, took the obligatory silly pictures and continued our hike, this time through a beautiful, but swampy forest.

Late in the afternoon we got very close to the Argentinian border control and campground. We saw Mount Fitz Roy rise on the horizon and were stunned by the view.

In comparison to Chile, the border crossing in Argentina is piece of cake. We got a quick stamp in our passports and were allowed on the free campground by the lake with a view on Mount Fitz Roy.

We had a nice time with the fellowship and Jan even made a forbidden fire by the lake, where a Brazilian guy, Filipé, played some self written songs. It was beautiful.

The next morning we got up early to reach the other side of the lake before sunset, since we would have to hitchhike for 30 km on a very quiet road to El Chalten afterwards. Keeping in mind we were with the six of us, that would not be like a walk through the park.

The hike was tough again: the trail went up and down constantly and after a while we didn’t try to keep our shoes mud free any more. You understand it was a big relief when we reached the other side. We were all tired and decided to go with Sofia’s plan to take a little bus, waiting for other tourists, that was willing to drive us to El Chalten for half of the normal price.

El Chalten was tiny! But the sun was out and there were nice little bars with cool music and good beer. We got lucky with the cheapest hostel in town so we could afford a few beers and a nice burger as well.

Meanwhile we discussed if we would walk the 4 day Huemul circuit or not. It is a hike along glacier Viedma. You climb a pass, walk along a huge icefield towards the lake where the glacier melts into.

As I write this down, it sounds silly we were even doubting to go, but, the hike involves 2 river crossings, using harnesses. And renting those, was pretty expensive, because every single person had to have a harness, before he was allowed to start the hike. In the hostel we met some people who just came back from it and they told us how they managed to leave with a group of six, renting only 2 harnesses: you just go into the registration office 2 by 2, showing the same material 3 times in a row.

We decided to try this as well. And although the rangers were really on to us, they let us go any way.

Now if you like hiking and you are going to Argentina, you simply cannot miss out on this 4 day hike! The Lonely Planet describes it as following: “The only trail that is in a neck to neck race with the O-circuit of Torres del Paine, the most famous hike in whole Patagonia!” (And after walking both of them, we slightly prefer this one.)

The Huemul circuit

We left all our unnecessary stuff behind in hostel Big Ranch, that offers secure storage for 1EUR a day, and went to the start point of the trail with reasonable back packs, except for Melanie, who’s back pack was still very heavy…she couldn’t explain why herself. 🙂

The first part of the trail went through meadows and a light forest. It was breathtaking and relaxing. We decided to have our first lunch with a great view on Mount Fitz Roy in the sun. It was a beautiful sunny day so we took a lot of breaks. And a lot of pictures. 🙂

When we got close to the first camp site, we had to cross a glacier river. It was a refreshing experience for the first 3 steps. Afterwards the cold started hurting my little toes.

We had dinner together and Melanie made us really scared of the Patagonian mice by telling a story about the deadly Hanta virus they carry: one of the most dangerous things in Patagonia! We stored our food away carefully and went to bed.

The following morning, the first river crossing was on the program. When we arrived, after a short climb, there was a line of other hikers, waiting their turn. Since none of us had previous experience with river crossings, we watched them carefully and asked some help. When it was finally our turn (we were the last ones), I was a bit scared and considered crossing the river bare feet a bit further upstream. But today the sun wasn’t out and I saw other hikers cross: The water reached their hips. So I quickly got rid of that idea.

Jan went first, so he could help us out. We decided to go without backpacks and it went smoothly for every one. Luckily, because a fall into that wild river, wouldn’t be a pleasure.

The video’s of our heroic river crossing, you can see on our facebook page

Feeling very euphoric about our first harness experience, we walked on in the direction of glacier Viedma. Glacier Viedma is a large glacier that is part of the enormous Southern Patagonian ice field. It lays on the border between Chile and Argentina. On the Argentinian side it is located in Los Glaciares National Park, which is declared a World Heritage Site. On our way to the pass which would give us a view on the ice fields and glacier Viedma we passed some other “smaller” glaciers with stunning views.

We had lunch and drank glacier water for the first time. It had a lot of chalk in it, but tasted nice.

The views were amazing and the trail was by times a bit scary: the gravel was very loose and sometimes very thin, barely covering the ice of the glacier. There were some slippery moments, but we all made it. Later on there was a big pass to conquer. We climbed 800 meters, each on their own pace. The view over the ice fields at the end was definitely worth it. It is the closest you can come to an ice field this big without special gear and experience hiking on top of the dangerous ice. Also the sound of the wind over the ice, the clouds and the emptiness of the landscape are things never to forget. What a beautiful place.

The walk to the campground was nice and easy.

The next day we mostly walked along the glacier Viedma and after a terrifying, everlasting descent, we got rewarded with, again, stunning views.

In the evening we got the company of three Israeli guys. I tried to make conversation and asked about their country. When I asked which was their favorite city, one of them answered: “Tel Aviv, because there are less muslims.” Perplexed I stood there, not knowing what to say. While I was still processing what just had happened he asked where we were from. Not interested in further conversation with this guy, I quickly answered ‘Belgium’ and while I was turning my head away Sofia said: “I am from France, and my dad from Marocco.” Haha, best response ever! But what a pity that even on the most beautiful and quiet places, among mostly open minded people, you get confronted with the hatred in this world.

Anyway, we had a good time having dinner, all fitting in our little tarp. It was very cozy and warmer than outside. Theo and Sofia made tea and shared their Amazonian honey. Afterwards everyone  went to their own tent. A chilly wind had come up and promised nothing good for the next day.

We got up early, because we had 24km to walk. The sunrise was beautiful! After jumping over a river, or walking through it, we headed for El Chalten again, the heavy wind not blowing in our favor.

We got separated and when we met again, Sofia told she had been blown away and landed in a prickly plant. It was only a bit funny.

We arrived first at the second river crossing. I overestimated myself and went with back pack. At the end it almost went wrong: Jan had to pull me, as I got stuck and panicked. This river was a lot wider than the first one.

When everybody had crossed, we started to hike the last part of the trail, through smoking hot meadows. We were all exhausted when we arrived in El Chalten again.

We took a very bad hostel, where the mushrooms grow, literally, in the shower, ‘freshened’ up and went to the best steak house in town. And boy it really was its name worthy. It was everything you hope it to be: the best meat ever. Even the french fries were acceptable. Afterwards we went for an El Calafate ice cream. The calafate is a Patagonian berry. The story goes that if you ever taste the berry, you will return to Patagonia. 🙂 I’m curious, because I ate it a lot. 🙂

In the morning Melanie, Jonas and we decided we couldn’t cope with the mushroom shower any longer and so we traveled to El Calafate, another town in Argentian Patagonia. We said goodbye to the sweetest Frenchies and hoped we would see each other again further southbound.