Just a few weeks in Patagonia and it's already turned us into proper outdoorsy types! Post-W trek, we travelled to El Calafate with the sole intention of seeing the Perito Merino glacier. It was definitely worth the trip. We only stayed 2 nights, arriving on a sunny afternoon in time to take a bike ride to the lake (Lago Argentina, apparently the largest in the country) where I ventured to dip my toes in. It was not warm. Next day we hit the glacier - it's huge! There's something like 4km of walkways with views of the northern and eastern walls where you can watch chunks cleaving off and crashing into the surrounding water, and also a boat trip to see the southern wall and a few icebergs floating about. We'd heard from our guide en route that an archway had recently formed in the glacier and that there was a chance it might collapse that day, apparently a very impressive (and loud) experience. We stood for a good few hours in the freezing cold, watching it and willing its destruction but sadly it was not to be. We were lucky to see a block of ice about the size of an apartment block crumble off though, also pretty humbling. While shivering and scanning for cracks, we struggled to decide how many glacier photos is too many - the jury's still out but we're pretty sure we've exceeded it.
From El Calafate we had a refreshingly short bus journey of just 3 hours to El Chalten, a town that seems to exist purely as a base camp for hikers and climbers. The town sits in the shadow of a mountain called Fitz Roy which is apparently one of the most challenging ascents in the world, not least because 99% of the time most of it is shrouded in cloud. We contented ourselves with hiking the trails at the base and lucked out on our last day with clear skies which afforded us a stunning view of Fitz Roy and the nearby Torres (no relation to the Torres del Paine), apparently a rare occurrence.
El Chalten is also where we wound up spending New Year's Eve, not being overwhelmed with better options in Patagonia (it's not a particularly lively region). We happened to bump into the American guy from Puerto Natales there and decided to tag along with him to the bar in his hostel. We ended up having an awesome night with a group of total strangers from all over the world, not a bad way to celebrate. I always find the best NYEs tend to be the ones with the least planning and the lowest expectations. Although I guess being on a massive holiday with a bunch of other similarly fortunate and happy people probably helps too :)
We learned a valuable lesson on the way back to El Calafate - don't take the evening bus from a town where the only entertainment is hiking up mountains. People do not smell good on that bus. Fortunately this was another 3 hour bus; the next day (and the day after I suppose) we had a 30 hour bus to look forward to, our longest yet. That mission deposited us in Bariloche, part of the Argentinian lake district and apparently famous as a haven of chocolate (although I have to say I've had better). It also shifted us from the 10 or so degrees we'd grown used to in southern Patagonia into a balmy 25 degrees so we happily dug out our shorts from the bottom of our backpacks on arrival. After 30 hours of inactivity, we were pretty keen to get our blood pumping again so hired bikes and cycled the circuito chico - a gorgeous (if hilly) 30km ride past lakes, forests and small villages with a few nice stop-offs to have a wander and a bit of beach time. Not satisfied with that, on our way back to town we hiked the unexpectedly steep trail up to the top of Cerro Campanario which, according to National Geographic, has one of the top 10 best views on the planet - we were not disappointed, it was like a still from a Disney film. Particularly impressive that it was so breathtaking considering I had started to wonder if we're perhaps becoming desensitized to beautiful scenery, having been spoiled with so much of it recently. Gerard - the guy who was blown away by the "mountains" on a visit to the Cotswolds just after he moved to the UK - arrived in Bariloche and decided that the peaks we could see in the distance were just hills. You know, those well-known hills, the Andes?
After a lazy day spent organising and chocolate sampling (guilt-free after all the exercise of the previous day), we continued our active streak and went white water rafting. It was an amazing day taking on class III and IV rapids on the Rio Manso in the Nahuel Huapi national park. So much fun, we even jumped in the water (again, not warm) to go through some smaller rapids on our backs. We were lucky to be able to say we only went in the water voluntarily though, one of the rafts ahead of ours flipped on one of the more challenging rapids and tipped everyone out - did not look fun.
Next stop is Mendoza, our last destination in Argentina! Can't believe how fast the time is going! We'll both be sad to leave, Argentina has definitely lived up to expectations so far.