One way to get to the Patagonian region from Buenos Aires is to fly into El Calafate, a little village located in the southwest part of Santa Cruz Province. It is named after a little bush with yellow flowers that one sees all over Patagonia, which has small, blue berries called the calafate.
From El Calafate, one can access the gigantic Perito Moreno Glacier, or take a bus over to El Chalten, from where all the hiking trails in the Los Glaciares National Park can be accessed. And this is just what we did.
As our plane approached El Calafate, I excitedly peeped out the window, expecting to see snow-capped mountains, giacial streams and greenery below me. I was a little taken aback to see a rocky desert landscape, littered with small clumps of pale brown grass. Was this really Patagonia?!
At that point, those sitting on the other side started excitedly taking photos, and when I craned over to see what they were looking at, I saw the milky, turquoise blue waters of Lake Argentino shining in the sun like a jewel amidst the brown tones of the rocky desert landscape. I couldn't get a picture, since I was on the wrong side of the plane for that.
Here is a beautiful image from NASA, showing Lake Argentino (max width 20 km, and surface area 1,466 km²!). It is a freshwater lake fed by melt water from several glacial rivers, giving it its rich turquoise color.
El Calafate is a dusty and windy place. When we got off at our hostel America del Sur and stepped in, there was a sign asking us to please leave our hiking boots at the entrance so that we wouldn't trail the sand into the hostel! Here's a picture of the hostel entrance - Lake Argentino is visible to the right.
America del Sur is a very friendly hostel, with a clean kitchen and helpful young staff. This was the common area at hostel where we had some very interesting chats with other travelers - most notably a Dutch naturalist who leads annual cruises to both the Arctic and the Antarctic - what a career!
We shared a dorm room with two women from Poland. The lovely lake was visible from our window too.
Before heading out to explore, we quickly made some lunch (Maggie noodles that we'd taken along) in the hostel's kitchen, and ate it at a table by the huge windows, with a view of Lake Argentina in the distance.
In the early 1900s, El Calafate was just a place of shelter for wool traders. It was officially founded in 1927 by the government of Argentina to promote an increase in its population. Once the Los Glaciares National Park was founded, this little town became much more popular, with increasing numbers of trekkers and travelers arriving here each year.
I will remember El Calafate as the town of roses and goofy stray dogs. Huge and colorful roses were in bloom in every yard, the stalks bending over with the weight of some of the larger flowers. Here are some pictures from around town.
Colorful roofs and fence posts, along with the flowers make this town really cheerful and charming.
The girls at the hostel told us that there are flamingos on Lake Argentina, just a short walk away. So we set out to look for them. What we didn't count on was the wind! Patagonia is a very windy place, and as we got closer to the lake, the wind was so strong that I was afraid to even move! We were being pushed in directions we didn't want to go, and eventually we just gave up and walked back to the hostel.
The stray dogs of El Calafate are silly, adorable, and the happiest dogs I have ever seen. They deserve their own post ... next time.