We left Puerto Natales on the bus to El Calafate. We would be returning in a week or so as we had decided to treat ourselves. We are planning to go to the Argentine/Chile Lake district at Bariloche. This would normally be a 3 day coach ride from El Chalten. We've decided to take a ferry from Puerto Natales to Puerto Montt through the fiords of the archipelago. I say ferry, it is actually an old cargo boat which has been converted but word is the trip is fab. All except for the bit where it leaves the fiords and goes into the open sea. The sailors among you will know that the sea round these parts gets mighty rough and they reckon half the passengers are sea sick during this bit. We'll worry about that when the time comes.
Anyway 6 hours after leaving Puerto Natales we arrive in El Calafate. The weather is sunny and quite warm. We book into the hostel and head for town. Now I understand it's a catholic country and its Easter week end but what follows leaves us speechless.
We've come from Chile back into Argentina so we need money. No worries we think there are loads of ATM's here. It's mid afternoon and the first bank has a small queue for the ATM. People go in and come out empty handed. I try the machine but it gives nothing. Ok on to the next one, same story. Then the next and the next and the next. El Calafate has run out of money. Groups of people are shuffling around the town trying to get cash but without luck. Fortunately we have some money and our credit cards. Most of the restaurants are empty as no one has money.
We ask at the hostel and are told the Easter holiday was all week and the banks are always running out of money. We say we want to go on a trip tomorrow. Don't worry they say, we will lend you some cash and add it to your bill. We book an afternoon trip to the Perito Moreno glacier.
Next morning we return to the ATM's. The queues are 20 deep and it takes 30 minutes to get cash supervised by an armed guard. All day and evening there are long queues at the ATM's.....unbelievable.
Off we go to the glacier. This is reckoned to be one of the best in the world. It comes off the mountain down to a huge lake. It is one of the few glaciers in the world that is still growing. It moves about 3 metres a day.
There are 15 of us on the mini bus. We arrive in the park at the boat jetty. Only Jill and I get off. Ok, but why would you come all this way and not see the glacier by boat. It's right up close and personal and only cost £10. Each to their own I guess. We board the boat and go on the water for an hour. The boat is almost empty so we get some great views. The glacier is massive. The face at the water's edge is 150 ft high and it stretches across about 5kms wide and is 35 kms long. It is an awesome sight.
After the boat ride we head for the walkways that give you another view of the glacier. Again they are almost empty. As you view from above you can hear the glacier moving. Long loud creaks are followed by thunder like crashes then cannon like bangs. Large chunks of ice fall off and hit the water below. The sound is deafening, and the sight spectacular. We sat and ate our lunch for several hours just watching and listening to this huge natural beast as it creaked and moved. Nature wins again.
Back in El Calafate people were still queuing at the ATM's.
One of the phenomena of South America is the number of stray dogs. No more so than here. Packs of them roam the streets. Most look well fed and some have collars but their past time is car chasing. It's bizarre, if it moves run after it and try to bite the bumper. They don't bother people although they will follow you to see if you have food.
It's now Tuesday morning and I've logged on to check my bank balance. I know immediately something is wrong. Sunday I tried at least 10 ATM's for money with no joy. However the Bank of Tierra del fuego reckons I withdrew £150 quid. So I fire off an email to Santander to dispute this. To be fair they've said they will look into it. I went to the bank branch at 1.30pm to speak to them. The security guard (with a gun) said they were now closed. Ok I said thinking he just meant for lunch. When should I come back? Tomorrow he said. I noticed they now had an Out of order notice on their robbing ATM. I suspect this one will run for a while.
We queued for another 30 minutes to get some more money and had a lazy day around town. We walked to the flamingo reserve to find all but one had gone out for the day. One of the good things about Chile is that their wine is excellent. It's also not taxed so you can get a very good bottle for about £2.00. It helps to forget about the banks who I now hate on an international level.
Today we had an early start. We were catching a bus to El Chalten 'the hiking capital of Argentina. It was a 3 hour drive across the steps. The t shirts round here have a slogan ' Viente Mucho Viente'. It means Windy very windy. They are not wrong.
The bus was blown all over the road as we crossed the open plains. On the subject of coaches. It appears your coach will not pass a ministry test unless it has at least a 3ft crack across the windscreen and 20 stone chips. That aside the landscape here is quite stunning and the 3 hours flew by.
We arrive in the pouring rain and wind in El chalten. Described by Lonely Planet as one of Patagonia's traveller magnets. In the sun its paradise on earth. Hmmm a bit of creative writing me thinks. It does have the Fitz Roy mountain range which is cool. The truth is it looks like an unfinished shanty town. It would make Dale Farm Gypsy site look like a Beverly Hills suburb. On top of that it's shut. I'll take some pics so you can judge for yourself.
We had dinner in one of the few open restaurants to the accompaniment of a Jack Johnson CD. Is there no escaping him !!
The hostel is warm and cosy and it needs to be. Outside its cold wet and windy. Tomorrow we are going to try and get to Fitz Roy base camp. Wish us luck !
It's tomorrow, it's still raining.............