Wednesday, 9 April 2014


27th - 29th Mar 2014

Typical central Patagonian landscape. 

The bus we boarded at 6.30am was not of the luxury variety. The fact that it's windscreen was covered in wire mesh gave some clue as to the character of the journey we faced which, in total, would be about 800 miles over two and a half days. It was a 60 seater bus but there were only 6 of us passengers and a lady 'organiser' on board, plus two drivers who took shifts at the wheel. I can't describe the lady 'organiser' as a guide because she spoke no English and never gave us a clue where we were or where we were going. The other pax were a Uruguayan man, a Dutchman, an Indian/Canadian girl and a British couple. The Uruguyan was the only one of us who spoke Spanish and I got the impression he lived in the USA. He was one of those (to me) irritating people who never stopped talking and giving 'advice' whether you wanted it or not. Fortunately he latched onto the Brit couple and the Dutchman. Off we went on good roads south through El Bolsón (notable only for the Gayastri Casa Hindu restaurant) and then we stopped at the small town of Esquel about 100 miles south. It was never made clear why; nobody got on or off. I suspect the driver had a friend there, or needed a resupply of mate. This town is near Trevelin at the west end of the Chubat Valley. At the east end, on the coast, are the towns of Trelew and Puerto Madryn. It was at Puerto Madryn that a number of Welsh settlers arrived in 1865 and they spread out along the Rio Chubat and eked out a precarious living by farming. I suspect, for whatever reason they left Wales, they thought they were going to Australia but due to a cock-up at the local Thos. Cook travel agency the three letter abbreviation on their tickets was mistakenly printed ARG instead of AUS. They probably wouldn't have spotted the difference when they got there as they all spoke Welsh and the local Indian language (Tehuelche) could have been 'Australian' for all they knew. Anyway, I was quite keen to witness some 'Welshness', but there was no sign of the Yakkida tribe or anyone wearing funny tall hats and Eisteddfod costumes. Not even a sign saying 'Bienvenidos Boyo'. I was told that most of the Taffs (now rather cross-bred with the locals) are at the eastern end of the valley where they do still hold the occasional Eisteddfod, wear leeks in their hats and specialise in quaint tea-rooms serving Welsh vast price to the tourists.

The journey on the first day was through flat and relatively featureless 'steppe' countryside covered in clumps of pampas grass, or sage-brush (left). It was a vast empty space, but I did see some sheep so the Welsh couldn't have been that far away. I think there are some sheep in this photo.

Other wildlife consisted of many groups of guanaco (right), herds of wild horses, the occasional fox and large flightless birds called, I think, ñandús, a sort of rhea.

Down the whole length of the route, even when the road turned to gravel track, there were well kept fences along the roadside and the occasional cattle-grid across the road. The whole area must be divided up into enormous 'estancias', or maybe the fencing is just to keep the animals off the road. There was no sign of human habitation for hours at a time.

We stopped for lunch, not provided, at the half-horse town of Gobernador Costa. We had to scavenge for something to eat as our 'organiser' and the drivers just disappeared somewhere and there didn't appear to be anything resembling a cafe. I dug into my rations. Onwards across the barren landscape, mostly on metalled road but occasionally onto  gravel. It was noticeable that efforts are being made to tarmac the route as we passed occasional road-building gangs. We arrived at about 8.00pm at the uninspiring township of Perito Merino and the Belgrano Hotel. The Lonely Planet guide, which normally has some good things to say about even the most filthy dump, had nothing positive to say about Perito Merino. I suspect the Lonely Planet even has some good things to say about what, in my opinion, are the two most horrid and depressing towns in the world, namely Luton and Cowdenbeath. I worked out of Luton for six months and once got diverted off the motorway through Cowdenbeath (Fife), and luckily escaped with all the wheels on my car.  If ever someone is searching for sites to test nerve gas or tactical nuclear weapons then I couldn't recommend two more suitable places. Actually I rather liked the Belgrano Hotel. The room was basic and clean, the bed was comfortable and it had a fully functioning bathroom, plus a TV (which admittedly didn't actually work}. However, and happily, this was a place where 'elf 'n' safety diktat had not reached, or was purposely ignored. There were ashtrays on the dining-room tables, the food was good and cheap and a large glass of perfectly drinkable wine cost 6 pesos (about 50p) The bottled water cost 15 pesos!

There was the opportunity (extra price) to set off at 6.30am the next morning to visit some prehistoric site with hand-prints on the roof and walls of a cave known as the Cueva de los Manos. I'm sure there are much more accessible places with dirty hand-prints of primitive people, and much else, on the walls. Public lavatories in Luton and Cowdenbeath spring to mind. None of our little group chose to do this and settled for, by Argentinian standards, a relatively decent breakfast with hot toast and butter and a 8.30am departure. 

Onwards for another 12 hour drive, sometimes along rutted and stony track (hence the metal windscreen grille) which slowed us  down a bit (left). Our lady 'organiser' was not on our bus now. She must have got a better offer, or went with some others to the 'hands' cave. Anyway, we didn't see her again.

......and sometimes along  newly constructed metalled road which stretched straight ahead as far as the eye could see (right). There were increasing number of road-building gangs the further we went south. I expect in a couple of years the whole route will be tarmac.

Left: We passed this sign/monument/marker, or whatever welcoming us to the tiny hamlet of Rio Mayo. It was bigger than most of the houses. We stopped at a garage here for lunch and a refuel. It sold coffee, sandwiches and snacks. It was in the middle of absolutely nowhere and I don't think I would like to live there somehow.

Right: The metropolis of Rio Mayo. It was like a little oasis in the middle of a vast desert where the drivers watered their wagons and  themselves.

Left: A photo of our little group at one of the short stops.

From here on the scenery became more craggy, and then mountainous in the west with rolling hills in between. Good 'tank' country.

Trees even began to appear; hadn't seen any of those things for a day and a half.

It was at the lunch stop that two Argentinian ladies joined us. After this the driver left the main road and without explanation made a detour of quite a few miles to this Estancia, a rather run-down place, called Estancia La Siberia. The ladies got off here and the drivers went inside for a snack and to replenish their mate equipment. I expect they were just giving these two women, friends of their's perhaps, a helpful lift.

Eventually we came to the next night-stop location, El Chaltén. We were now in the northern Parque National Los Glaciares (glacier country) and the landscape had changed dramatically. On approach to El Chaltén there is a magnificent view of Mount Fitzroy and the surrounding range (left).

El Chaltén has become a successful tourist magnet with much building in evidence catering for those who like arduous hiking, climbing, pony trekking, fishing and visiting the biggest glacier in Argentina (if not the most famous) at the bottom of Mount Fitzroy, Glacier del Torres.

We were put up in a very jolly Alpine style hostel which was obviously popular with the younger crowd. I was given a smart room with all facilities so had absolutely no complaints. I hadn't unpacked, fortuitously, and was tucking into a glass of wine in the restaurant when the receptionist came up and said there had been a bit of a mix up. My room had been double booked. Oh hell, I thought, with visions of perhaps having to share a billet with the non-stop talking Uruguayan. No such misfortune; I was upgraded into a 5 star luxury hotel next door. What a pleasant surprise. This place, for the first time I had experienced in Argentina, had plugs in the bathroom sink and eggs and bacon for breakfast (free)!

Off again the next morning for the final leg to El Calafate which was only a 7 hour hop in a different, a luxury double-decker, bus. We stopped at a rather pleasant little cafe on the riverside for a snack. It was apparent that we had now entered a much more touristy area, as indeed the whole of the Parque National Los Glaciares is.

Right: This unfortunate flat fox was pinned up on the wall. Road kill or maybe the result of a successful hunt by the El Chaldrén and District Foxhounds?

And so on down into El Calafate (left) which is situated on the shore of the enormous Lake Argentino.

Welcome to El Calafate and to a quaint and hospitable guesthouse/hotel, the Los Loma. This had been quite an interesting trip and, amazingly, the whole package (including accommodation, but not meals) only cost $190! Well worth it, I think. 

Next, off to see some glaciers.

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