The photo of the town of El Chalten which was on the brochure from the regional tourist office did not do the area justice. The place that many referred to as "paradise" just looked like a dingy town with dry hills and no green. In reality it is paradise, a sometimes windy and rainy paradise but paradise none the less. It is surrounded by impossibly spiky mountains, green hills and turquoise lakes and rivers that have water so pure you can drink it directly. All this and camping is free!
After arriving we walked against the wind across town to what was supposedly a more "private" campsite than the one closer to where the bus dropped us off. It was fairly packed but we staked out a patch of land for our tent next to a wind abused tree. We fought against the wind to get it up, worriedly remembering the words of the guy in Buenos Aires who sold it to us, "Poles are not guaranteed. However they are strong enough to do OK under normal conditions. Now if you pitch your tent in a strong wind, that could cause problems..."
We got the tent up and walked across town where we realized the other campsite was not windy at all and had less people. We grabbed a sheltered spot by a lightly forested area and then dragged our bags back across town.
For a little while I had the chance to just lie in the grass, looking up at the rocky mountains and listening to music. I haven't felt so tranquil in ages.
By the time we got the tent up it was raining. We hid out in our tent until the rain stopped and then went for a short hike up a path to a lookout above the village. The mountains by now were mostly hidden by clouds but the closer hills were beautiful and the base of the mountains, including a glacier was visible.
After breakfast the next morning, we set off on a trail towards Lake Capri and several viewpoints of the valley and mountains. The weather was windy but pleasant hiking weather. The trail starts out through dry hills speckled with dandelions and a few gnarled trees. It turns around various hills revealing spectacular views of the river snaking below towards a mountain range and of the other mountains and hills in the area.
The path forked: one path going to the lake and one to a viewpoint. We opted for the viewpoint and were met with a splendid vista of the Fitzroy range. The top, was cloaked in clouds making it look like a puffy mushroom.
We watched the clouds swirl, seeming on the verge of dispersing only to shift slightly and remain obscuring the peak. In the distance was a blue glacier stretching down a mountain's side.
We walked towards the glacier, passing through forests of small twisted moss covered trees shading delicate green ground cover and yellow orchids hanging from the tops of long slender stems.
It is the type of forest that beckons you to run in and dance around elf fashion. We didn't go close to the glacier but as we were eating lunch, we heard the loud explosion sound of snow or ice crashing in a small avalanche.
We took a longer trail back through forests with woodpeckers who made the sounds of children pretending to shoot guns. Rowshan found a tiny frog on the path and when he tried to move it to safety it shrunk itself into a ball. We passed shaded meadows and a couple green-blue lakes. By the time we reached the trail back to town, we were tired but found ourselves underneath another mountain, Cerro Solo, with a thick layer of snow smoothing out the slant of the side facing us. Another small avalanche occurred as we were admiring it.
Fitzroy was still covered with clouds as we got back to town. We had dinner around 9. As we walked back to camp, we noticed that with the sunset, the sky had become completely clear. Looking up we saw the clouds on the mountain top had disappeared and the last light of sunset had touched the top. A crescent moon was above it.
WOW! All the mountains were out: white capped peaks carved against a dusk blue sky.
The first thing we saw as we got up in the morning was a little owl perched in the tree behind our tent.
The mountains were still out, so early in the morning we climbed a trail that gave us a panoramic view.
Then we took the same path we'd walked up the day before to see the Fitzroy range on this beautiful clear day. As we admired it, it seemed the clouds were on the verge of sneaking up to cover the peak again, but this time they didn't. We sat on a hill with a cold wind blowing, amazed at what a spectacular range of mountains were in front of us and amazed that we were fortunate enough to see such a day during our 2.5 day stay here.
We walked to the lake we had skipped the day before. It was calm and beautiful dark blue with the mountains rising dramatically behind it.
It's strange how nature invites long sessions of just sitting and looking. With other things you end up looking at quickly then moving on... but in a place like this, once considers just spending a day watching the light and clouds change the appearance of the mountains, the repetitive lapping of crystal waves on a lake, birds circling, listening to the quiet creak of a tree, of gazing at the uncanny blueness of glaciers.