Argentina: El Chalten
Argentina! El ultimo pais!
The road from Chile was the same in Argentina: a dirt ribbon pockmarked with potholes and accompanied by endless miles of barbed wire fencing. The land, directly across the border from Parque Patagonia, was also spectacular.
If you cross the border late in the day and are looking for a campsite, this little creek looked like a nice place to stop for the night.
We spent two days driving from the border crossing at Paso Roballes down to the Argentinian town of El Chalten. The tiny dirt road winds through picturesque hills before finally meeting up with the lone highway in the area: Ruta 40.
We immediately wished we were back on the border track; Ruta 40 is a miserable ripio road filled with flying gravel and boring vistas. We also nearly ran out of gas, our first close call in 10,000 miles of driving. There isn’t much between the border and El Chalten; a few sorry gas stations and small clusters of buildings that pass for towns in this wind-blown plateau.
The single pump station was old and derelict; no credit card machine in sight. We hadn’t seen a bank or ATM and were completely without Argentinean pesos. The old grizzled man at the counter stopped puffing on his cigarette long enough to snort decisively when I asked if he accepted Chilean pesos. No. I tentatively asked about dollars. He contemplated his nails before naming an exchange rate that bordered on piracy.
Beggars can’t be choosers and I practically shoved the money over the counter. A full tank of gas counts for a lot when you’re in a new land.
Unbeknownst to us, there is a town called Gobernador Gregores that lies an hour and a half off of Ruta 40. This collection of 2,500 souls is in possession of a single ATM, a YPF gas station, AND a supermarket. How we wish we hadn’t passed it by in our quest to make tracks southward. We spent the night huddled behind another lonely gas station in an attempt to shield the camper from the ferocious gusts that tore across the landscape. It was a long night.
We spotted guanacos everywhere. Tragically, we also saw lots of baby guanaco skeletons caught in the barb wire fences. The adults can clear the fences in a single leap, but the babies must muscle through the strands of wires, often unsuccessfully, and with fatal results.
Chris and I had a heated discussion about guanaco rescue. Do you attempt to free a trapped and scared baby that is protected by a worried (and unrestrained) mama that is in possession of four sharp hooves and strong teeth? I was firmly in the rescue camp; Chris was equally firmly in the stay-far-away-from-wild-animals camp. Fortunately (for both of us) we never had to test our resolve on that issue.
After two long days of driving across flat grassland, the scenery began to head back into the vertical realms.
The wind is Patagonia is no joke.
The reason we were making tracks for El Chalten was simple: two of our people had flown in to join us for a week of hiking and exploring.
Blog readers, meet my parents! Oh how I’d missed them.
We’d rented a house 17 miles outside of town at a place called Estancia Los Huemules. It was a small development nestled among the hills; hiking trails left from the front door and connected to the famed treks that fanned out from El Chalten. It was perfect.
We also took the time to unload the camper and do a massive vehicle clean. We’d reached a tentative arrangement to sell the camper to an Austrian couple upon reaching the very bottom of the southern continent: Ushuaia, Argentina. We were rapidly closing in on that destination and it was time to figure out how to transport everything back home.
The town of El Chalten sits nestled at the base of Cerro Torre and Fitz Roy, the iconic peaks of Argentinian Patagonia. In December (high season) the town is bursting with tourists; there are yoga studios, craft breweries, and fancy coffee shops. After having spent that last two weeks in the wilds of the Carretera Austral (without showers!), finding ourselves in posh civilization was a bit disconcerting. That was short-lived, however, as we are never ones to turn down a fancy pastry or plentiful, plumbed hot water.
We found ourselves a pizza joint that came equipped with a homemade playground – our kind of place. They also have camping and room for rigs: Camping Bonanza.
It was a great week. We slept late, ate lots of good food, saw gorgeous scenery, and spent time with family. My favorite things (not necessarily in that order!). Argentina was treating us well.
Hiking! We highly recommend the Los Huemules trails. There are also wonderful (and iconic) treks that leave directly from El Chalten.
La Bonanza Pizza and Playground. The pizza was pricey but then again, everything is expensive in El Chalten. This spot was out of town (on the road to Los Huemules). The kids enjoyed the playground.
Airbnbs and Campgrounds
El Chalten/Los Huemules House – highly recommended. A lovely house in the middle of nowhere, equipped with a ping pong table, gorgeous vistas from every window, and a roaring fireplace. You will be awed by the power of the winds that shake this house to its very bones. Hiking trails leave from the house.
We didn’t stay here but this small spot next to the Paso Roballes border crossing looked lovely.
Gas station camp. Eh. It was sort of out of the wind, and we could fill up the gas tank. Nothing special but it was a safe place to spend the night in a land where there are very, very few options.
And remember, stop in Gobernador Gregores for dinero, gasolina, y comida!