After two early starts in El Chalten, we sleep in again. We have a late breakfast and check out of dorm room, which given it's the off season; we've had to ourselves for our entire stay. We spend the day chilling in the big open loft of the hostel, doing journal entries, postcards etc.
Our bus picks us up at 5.30pm and by 6pm we are on the road back to El Calafate. We stare out at the scenery passing by, getting one last look for now, as this part of Argentina is somewhere we'd really like to come back to one day.
Skeletons pass my window. That's not metaphorical. Acutal animal carcasses. Long since plucked clean by swooping soaring condors. The bones now bare, bleached white by the winter sun. For a girl who hails from the rolling green hills of Southland, NZ, it is incomprehensible how the farmers and ranchers eek a living from this seemingly inhospitable land...
The landscape is reminiscient of parts of Central Otago, but multiplied by a thousand and then twice over again. But is seems unfair to compare it. All or most traces of man are removed. There are few animals to be seen and fewer buildings. It is a Graham Sydney landscape bought to life.
Eventually the long daylight hours give way to darkness and we are back in El Calafate by 9pm we walk back to the America del Sur hostel in the mild night air, though they do offer a free pick up taxi service! Our welcome at the hostel is just as warm this time around. We head off to our room, amazed at the amount of gear spread around the 4 bed dorm room we are sharing. Two girls clearly. And they've taken a bottom bunk each, rather than one top, one bottom, so leaving us the two top bunks. Who does that!? Our two roommates are on the razz and are in and out of the dorm continuely, whilst we are trying to get to sleep and after an hours sleep or so, we are awake again at midnight as they come in to get ready for town. Come on ladies, its only El Calafate and who are you trying to impress, everyone else is just wearing their best pair of backpacking pants and their cleanest t-shirt!
After they leave, we doze on and off, and wake when our roomies stumble back in at 2am. They unzip bags, re-zip bags, rustle plastic bags, and generally are loud and inconsiderate for a dorm room at 2am in the morning! Once they are bed they start to giggle and talk, presumably oohing and aahing over who is the cutest bloke in the hostel. This is when Ryan loses his cool. He asks politely if they speak English. No, they answer. Ryan takes this license to use some colourful English, to tell them plainly to 'shut the f***ing up'. And then it emerges that our roomies do speak English, very good English with their cute blonde French Canadian accents. The girls tell Ryan that it's a dorm and they'll do as they want, they continue to read and chat to one another until 2.30am when they finally turn out the lights.
We all doze off, until one of our on the razz roomies start to snore and wakes us and we sigh at each other in exasperation on our top bunks.
Ryan decides at 6.30am that he's hungry for some breakfast, so gets up, and banging and crashing (because as our thoughtful French Canadians pointed out, it's a dorm and you can do what the hell you like) heads off for breakfast. But he's forgotten his socks and has to come back into the dorm, banging and crashing once more. He has a rather forgetful morning as our razz roomies try and sleep in to sleep off the hangovers, and is in and out of the dorm all morning. Eventually this elicites an apology for their behaviour the night before, with a realisation that yes, it's a dorm room, and whilst you can do what you like, you should do unto others, what you would like in return and some consideration goes a long way to making everyone's travel that bit much more enjoyable.
We are up fairly early and wonder what to do with ourselves for the day. We get laundry done and ponder a horse trek for tomorrow. We go into town and check exchange rates to off load our Chilean pesos that we aren't going to need anymore. We hit the supermarket for lunch and dinner and then head off in the direction of Lago Argentina. At a nature reserve we are told it's a further 4km to the lake. So we head back to the hostel instead for some lunch.
Ryan is moping and downcast about the weather forecast for the next couple of weeks in Brazil and about not having gone as far south as Ushuaia. So I send him out for a photographic seeking walk to the lake to clear his head and improve the mood. While he's gone I put together an application for a planning job at Palmy North CC.
Later we have a mean dinner of spaghetti bolognaise and chat with a lovely Irish couple who have just arrived until late into the evening. We are just about to head off to bed when we run into Amy and Dave who have just arrived from Ushuaia by bus. We sit around catching up on what each other have been up to and then toddle off to bed.
The following day dawns sunny with a beaut blue sky again. But wouldn't you know it, we decided yesterday against the horse trek as the weather was forecast to be rubbish. So the good weather is to our chagrin as it would have been perfect for a horse trek in this beautiful landscape! Boo.
We chill at the hostel before exchanging our Chilean pesos. I wander the craft and artisian stores and then have lunch back at the hostel. We siesta and then head out to dinner with Amy and Dave to a parilla just up the road from the hostel which does delicious lamb - the dish to eat down in Patagonia. The boys get invited back to see the bbq'ing meat and then our lamb comes out, some of the best lamb we've eaten. Argentinian men have got this bbq thing down pat.
Back at the hostel we stay up chatting before we say our final farewells, we are flying back to Buenos Aires before embarking on some long bus rides, first to Iguazu and then to Rio de Janerio, whilst Amy and Dave are heading by bus to Puerto Madryn to see the whales, then cutting west to Barochile, Mendoza and finally Chile.
The next morning we enjoy our last breakfast at America del Sur, kiss the amazing staff goodbye and get a shuttle out to the airport.
We are ready for our flight out of this other worldly Patagonian region that we have fallen in love with. We have loved every aspect of it. The milky green/blue lakes with jagged icebergs floating serenly on the surface. The snow capped mountains that surround the lakes. The yellow tussock covered hills, undulating off into foreverness, covered by brilliant blue skies or moody steely grey clouds. The landscapes have a vast emptiness, a vast go-on-forever feel, but at the same time they are not empty, or why else would I, for one, be unable to take my eyes from my plane/shuttle/bus/bus/shuttle/plane windows?
The vastness has a somewhat calming quality whist simultaneously making me itchy to capture the landscapes passing by. I'm not sure any of our photos have managed to capture the essence of this place. It would take a very skilled photographer to do so. I'm not sure my journal entries have managed to do so either.