In southern Patagonia winter comes fast and furious. By May 1st most hotels, restaurants, stores and even entire towns in the southern regions have shut down for the 4 month winter. El Chalten is definitely one of those towns. The gateway to some of the most amazing trekking and spectacular scenery in the world, El Chalten is a speck of a town perched on the edge of the Los Glaciares wilderness and the Fitz Roy Mountain range. When we arrived in the last week of April, windows of hotels and stores were already being covered with plywood, streets were empty and El Chalten was well on its way to becoming a ghost town. We absolutely couldn’t have picked a better time to visit. The trees in the hills around us were blazing oranges and reds and the trails that are typically packed during high season were practically empty. We came to Patagonia to experience nature in its rawest form and truly get away from it all. That is exactly what El Chalten was now offering us…
Our first day trek would be a wonderous adventure to Laguna Torre, a majestic glacial lake dotted with blue icebergs at the foot of several massive mountain spires which seem to crown the icy waters. The 8 hour trek took us along gorgeous rivers through gold and orange forests and fields of boulder covered grasses. Up and down, up and down, the trail wound its way through the mountains beneath moss covered trees and the shadows of the many great peaks around us. We were seriously out there, and the natural beauty, the silence and the smells of the forest enveloped us as we sat beside the lake in the chilly mountain air. We had arrived.
Our second day would bring yet another awe-inspiring journey as we made our way along the Fitz Roy trail to the gorgeous Laguna Capri. An orange and red tree shrouded lake with the great peak of Fitz Roy Mountain reflecting in its mirrorlike calm icy waters. We sat for hours in the cold silence, the breeze, the warm sun and the gentle sounds of the wind rewarding us for the long hike to get here. Southern Patagonia is a magical place and in the late autumn it is that much more enchanting. We spent a few more days in El Chalten in a constant state of awe over the beauty and bounty of the nature that surrounded us. As May 1st arrived and even the small town grocery store was closing, we headed north fulfilled from our time and ecstatic that after hustling to get to Patagonia before it was too late, we had done it. And done it very, very well.
Our next stop, Buenos Aires, would prove to be pretty much the opposite of Patagonia. As we arrived in the bustling and beautiful cosmopolitan city we experienced a bit of shock coming from such tranquility in nature to a sea of skyscrapers, concrete, traffic and all the noise and unatural aromas that a large city has to offer. But Buenos Aires takes about 2 hours to grow on you, and and as we walked through the San Telmo Sunday market on our first day in town, surrounded by the arts and music of a city known for its bold colors and that moves constantly to the rhythm of Tango, we knew we had arrived somewhere special. We spent almost a week in Buenos Aires. We watched incredible Tango performances and took lessons in the passionate dance. We visited the truly unbelievable ancient and modern tombs of the Recoleta Cemetery, home to 300 years of Buenos Aires’ wealthy deceased. We made our way to the incredible multi-colored neighborhood of La Boca, where every house is painted a different bright color and tango dancers perform in the streets for tips. We saw so much in that week and yet the city never ceased to amaze us with its beauty, creativity and energy. Buenos Aires is a unique and wonderful city.
It was time to head to yet another one of our dream destinations on this journey. So from Buenos Aires we made our way north to the incomparable Iguazu Falls. A long time dream of mine to visit since I first saw the massive falls on a National Geographic program as a young boy. We arrived at the gate of the park at first light and were the very first ones inside. A large wild toucan greeted us in a tree nearby as we made our way hurriedly towards Devils Throat, a platform over a thunderous horseshoe-shaped fall where millions of gallons of water crash into the river below and a cloud of spray is sent a hundred feet into the air all around you. The word “spectacular” is a vast understatement. Being the first ones there with our Aussie friends Will and Jason made for an especially amazing time as our clothes were instantly drenched and the roar of the river and falls around us shook us to the core. And this was just the beginning. We would spend the entire day at the falls, winding around the many wooded trails that lead you alongside, under and above massive waterfalls to discover and experience something spectacular at every turn. Then, in the afternoon we boarded a small speedboat a ways down river. It took us slowly to the base of the falls, dozens of massive falls in a 360 degree view all around us. Iguazu was so massive in its role as one of the 7 Natural Wonders of the World that we genuinely felt rather small and insignificant in its glorious presence. We sat there for a bit rocking back and forth in the boat before our driver, without any warning, accelerated straight into one of the giant beasts, pounding everyone in the boat with thousands of gallons of raging water. We tried to open our eyes and look up but the deluge was so great and so intense that we could only keep our eyes open for a split second before having to close them again. The sound was deafening and unlike anything I’ve ever experienced in my life before. It was amazing. As we left the park that afternoon drenched, battered and exhausted but so thrilled by what we had just experienced, I thought to myself, “What will tomorrow be like?”. As the next morning we would cross the border into Brazil… and visit the falls from the other side.