Vagabonding Field Report: Autumn in El Chalten, Patagonia

Victoria taking in Fitz Roy peakCost/day: £35

Whats the strangest thing youve seen lately?

El Chalten is full of the tiniest houses we have ever seen – no bigger than a single room. We puzzled over why this might be for days – perhaps to conserve heating costs or serve as teeny holiday homes – until someone finally explained. They are temporary homes for the seasonal workers. They used to stay in tents, but the campsite became noisy and messy so the government banned them from doing so. As land is expensive and the main holiday season only five months, these little houses are the compromise.

Describe a typical day:

June is the off-season in El Chalten and around 75 per cent of the town shuts its doors and heads elsewhere, making it feel like a ghost town. For the first few days the town was covered in thick grey clouds and intermittent rain. My boyfriend and I stayed huddled inside, learning the ukulele. Then one morning we woke to about two foot of snow and clear skies, the mountains showing themselves for the first time of our visit. It was a breathtaking sight. On the days that followed, we woke early and went hiking in the mountains to glaciers and lakes. We finished each day with an Irish coffee in front of the fire at the town’s whiskey bar – one of the only places that stays open all year round.

Describe an interesting conversation you had with a local:

Tiny one-room house in El ChaltenEduardo, the owner of the whiskey bar and El Aldea hotel, became a friend during our time in El Chalten. We loved his passion for whiskey and the mountains of El Chalten. When interviewing him for our blog, If I had a Superpower, we learned his story. Eduardo moved to El Chalten after being in a car crash where he lost his Mum. The tragedy taught him to live each day to its fullest. He finds strength though nature and the mountains, and his spirit was an inspiration to us.

What do you like about where you are? Dislike?

El Chalten is one of the most beautiful places I have been to. The jagged Fitz Roy range that presides over the town is majestic, and the whole place looked like a wonderland when the snow arrived. The self-guided trails are free and spectacular, although the longer ones were closed due to the snow. Most people go to El Chalten during the summer, but we felt lucky to be there when it was quiet and wintery. That said, we were curious to know what some of the closed businesses would be like – for example the bars and spas. Going there in summer would be a completely different experience, and one we’d like to do one day.

Describe a challenge you faced:

Walking! After the snow, the roads became covered in a thick layer of ice. Getting anywhere was treacherous.

What new lesson did you learn?

Victoria beneath a great tree on the way to Fitz RoyTalking to Eduardo reminded us of the fragility of life, and human strength in overcoming tragedy. We were also repeatedly reminded of the awesomeness of nature.

Where next?

We left El Chalten a few weeks back and have since been to see the whales in Puerto Madryn, which was incredible. Now we are in Salta where we’ll stay for the next month or so working and volunteering.

You can see more photos and stories from our journey on our blog Bridges and Balloons.

Posted by | Comments (2)  | June 23, 2012
Category: Destinations, South America, Vagabonding Field Reports

2 Responses to “Vagabonding Field Report: Autumn in El Chalten, Patagonia”

  1. James Ahern Says:

    When I found your book Mr. Potts, it was like finding the translation to exactly how i felt about my life and my dream of travel. My friend and I are getting ready to walk from  Baja California to Alaska next year. And I wanted to send a personal shout out to you! Thank you, and I hope to see you on the road some day, in any foreign country! 

  2. Rolf Potts Says:

    Thanks, James — and best of luck to you in your adventure!