• Giacomo Russo

A Game Of Peaks

It seems to be a trend down here. You think you have glimpsed paradise but soon enough this land of incomparable wonders slaps you in the face, scolding you for believing that the last heavenly spot you admired was the best nature could do. I would like this not to be hyperbole, but Patagonia is a place of infinite beauty.

Only a few weeks here, but believe me since I landed, the times the word wow has crossed my lips are countless; and people who know me quite well know that it is not a word I use often or very easily. I am a very hard person to please, but that doesn't mean I cannot appreciate the simplest things. On the contrary, I am at ease when all is simple. I am just not very good at showing my appreciation. This is why I want this blog (and the trip itself) to be an exercise of expression, emotionally and creatively speaking. So, if I say that something wowed me, you should really take me seriously and continue to read the next few paragraphs.

If you have been a faithful follower you will have read my previous post about my visit to Torres del Paine (if not, no worries, you can still find it here) and seen through the pictures how unreal the place looks. Well, what came afterwards, if on one hand was equally mind blowing, on the other has been much more fascinating because completely unexpected. In fact, El Chaltén and the nearby Los Glaciares National Park have been a tremendous surprise.

Approximately seven hours bus drive and a border crossing apart from Puerto Natales, El Chaltén is a fast-growing village which in only a few years has become the Argentinian trekking capital. Some of the road that leads to El Chaltén from El Calafate is the legendary Ruta 40, a partly smooth and partly bumpy and dusty road that cuts through the golden Argentinian pampa. The vast stretch of dry land, with its short and spiky bushes, extends and extinguishes at the horizon, which now and then is interrupted by the vertiginous peaks of the Andes. I wish I could have driven myself this part of the trip in order to stop every half a mile and take pictures of the surroundings and to capture the incredible light that bathes this land. It’s when you travel this kind of roads that the popular saying about the virtue of the journey over the destination proves itself. However, in this case the final destination eventually proved itself to be no less fascinating.

The small town is more or less the same age as me, that means it is relatively young :). It lies in a hollow between mountains and it is bisected by a single paved and deserted road. From there, a series of dusty alleys branch out like a spider’s web, occupying almost the entire stretch of available land. I had a lot of fun with my camera while strolling these intriguing lanes.The village seems to be a small beast, slowly awakening from a long hibernation. It has the features of something in between an hippie nomadic camp and a developing tourist hub.

The bright colours of the newly built houses and the many caravans and tents of those who are still building theirs, create a fascinating colourful pattern against the backdrop of the surrounding mountains. The architecture of the town here, has been clearly influenced and shaped by the tourism industry. The proximity to beautiful trails and jaw-dropping scenery, means the tourism boom has altered the townscape, of which 80% are hotels, guesthouse, bland souvenirs shops and ghostly empty-shelved supermarkets.

Here in my mind I couldn’t stop repeating WOW, WOW, WOW!! I was so amazed and excited by the view I nearly forgot to take any pictures and the unmissable selfie

Now, if you are wondering where the wow part is, you should wait until I tell you about the trails, even if it’s equally wowing that I walked into a supermarket dreaming of a super veggie dinner, to find that the vegetables on sale were one, and only one, shrivelled up broccoli floret.

El Chaltén is the perfect base for exploring the northern part of Los Glaciares National Park. From here it is possible to follow different trails and climbing routes; the most popular and approachable ones are those that head to Laguna Torre and Laguna de Los Tres. The walking here is much easier if compared to the trails in Torres del Paine, since mostly, they find their way through lush green valleys, wide glades, streams and grassy ponds where the elusive huemules or Andean deer hang out. But I must say that the best part was also the hardest. The last kilometre before the mirador of the Laguna del Los Tres is a steep, rocky and knackering climb with a drop of 750 metres in height. It seems to follow the path of dried rapids, which did not help my achey and worn out knee.

However, once on the top, I completely forgot about the pain while trying to soak in the immense view. In front of me was the Mount Fitz Roy, or “the smoking mountain” as Tehuelche people used to call this peak. A vertical pinnacle that majestically sits among other granite snow-capped spears with a cobalt blue and mystical lagoon at its feet. Here in my mind I couldn’t stop repeating WOW, WOW, WOW… I was so amazed and excited by the view I nearly forgot to take any pictures and the unmissable selfie. But that was not the only surprise, because from the top, all around at every degree the landscape was a continuous dreamlike scenery. Mother nature’s extravaganza. I was in seventh heaven and found it really hard to leave the top despite the biting cold and ferocious wind.

While walking back along the 10 km trail, partly limping and partly dragging my throbbing knee, I thought that Patagonia had surprised me again and I knew it would not be the last time. This land has already won a special place in my travel memories.

#Argentina #SouthAmerica #Patagonia #ElChaltén

© Giacomo Russo 2020