Ahhhh, 2 rest days in the tourist hub El Calafate. Beautiful vacation homes line the streets facing Lagos Argentina, the largest lake in the country. Nestled on the east side of the Andes and one hour from Los Glaciers National Park and the famous Perito Moreno Glacier, the town is packed with travelers. January is the height of the tourist season. A huge campground, right at the edge of town, houses hundreds of mostly young back packers. I couldn’t help but imagine what adventures I might have experienced had I chosen the wandering life in my 20s rather than immediately embracing corporate America. As wonderful as it could have been to travel without the physical constraints of being ripe middle age, my choices have enabled me to enjoy the view of the lake from a comfortable room complete with its own sitting area. A pup tent in this wind would not cut it.
Speaking of wind, I decided that after hours of being on line, I would walk into town. It didn’t seem too far away. Seeing individual wind fences protecting evergreens from the westerly blast should have given me a clue as to what I’d experience during my walk. On the way to town, the wind would be at my back. I figured that if the wind were too strong, I could always get a cab to return to the hotel. The velocity was such that all I had to do was lift a foot and the wind would move it forward for each step. After 20 minutes, the town still seemed to be quite a distance away. I kept my eyes open for an abandoned skateboard, thinking that with it and a sail fashioned from my jacket, I could have made it to town in 5 minutes. I might, however, have wound up with more broken bones than Larry had I tried that method. After 40 minutes of brisk walking, I made it.
El Calafate is the most beautifully manicured town we have seen in Argentina. The walkways are made of individual paver bricks secured by perimeters of poured cement. This area is arid enough to grow huge, fragrant, lavender bushes. To have green grass in the medians, a city tanker truck sprinkles water. Bright coral flamingos dot the lake. They town is so progressive that the grocery store expects customers to bring reusable shopping bags. No plastic bags are available. Stacks of used cardboard boxes are avaliable for those unprepared.
After browsing many shops in search of the perfect, Route 40 T-shirt, it was time to return “home.” After several blocks of walking without seeing a single Taxi, I decided to hoof it. I chose to walk along the lake to contrast the main street walk I had chosen for the trip in. As I hiked, the wind strengthened. It felt as though I was leaning at a 30 degree angle. All of a sudden, the clean air above El Calafate was brown, not with smog, but with sand and dust. I could almost hear the farm hand in “The Wizard of Oz” say “It’s a twister!” After 35 minutes of hard walking, I had gone maybe half way. Time to find out if a thumb out would get me a ride. Understandably, women with children drove by. So did individual men. Did I look that threatening? An older lady clutching her tasseled white cap, threatening? When I got to a road construction area that funneled both directions into one, rocky lane, it was time for action. As a work type van approached, I stood in the center of the lane, waving my hands. At first, the young man thought I was asking for directions when I showed him the business card for Hosteria Los Heilos. Finally he got the message, probably from my pleading eyes, and agreed me to give me a ride. Happily I gave him a beer money tip. This Discover Our Earth Expedition is a real adventure!
Since we will begin the toughest part of Route 40 tomorrow, I ended our rest time in El Calafate with a relaxing massage. Ahhhh.
19 and 20 Jan El Calafate
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