So you might need to read this bit slowly .....
From Mendoza our next proper stop was in Argentine Patagonia, a small town called El Chalten, famed for its unreal scenery and world class hiking trails. The town is a bloody long way south and whichever route you take it's a long one!
From Mendoza we took a short (6 hour £22 each) bus across the border to Santiago, Chile. The following morning (my birthday) we caught a 2.5hr flight with 'Sky' airlines down to Punta Arenas in southern Chile. From there we took a 3 hour bus to Puerto Natales (which would be the starting point for our adventures to come). Some birthday cake and a night later, we took another bus (6 hours) back across the border to El Calafate in Argentina where we caught a 3 hour bus straight to El Chalten!! All make sense?? Good!
From the bus station we decided we still had enough energy left to walk 15 minutes to the far side of town to our budget hotel - Alma Patagonia (£40 a night - not that budget!) and were able to check straight in.
My weather app showed a cloudy day with potential for some rain but sunny for the rest of the week, but we had been told never to trust the forecast in Patagonia as you can easily get all 4 seasons in a day. I had been given some must do hikes by a guy I climbed a mountain with in Bolivia on my last trip here and not wanting to waste any potential good weather days we set off on the relatively easy 20km hike to 'laguna de los tres'.
Well, unfortunately about an hour into our hike the weather turned and the potential rain turned into actual rain. Thinking it would blow over we marched on regardless, clocking up the km's whilst taking in the scenery around us - a limited view from inside our rain jacket hoods!! After a few hours we reached the last km before the viewpoint, this is where the trail went from a nice stroll to a proper evil uphill climb. Just as we were deciding what to do, a couple of English lads came down to the wooden shelter where I was failing at making a cheese sandwich (due to my hands being so wet and cold) and told us that you literally could not see a thing at the top and it was trying to snow. Figuring the reward didn't match the effort, a quick look at the trail map showed that we were only a couple of km from a glacier viewpoint so we decided to save our legs and take a detour to come back another day. After taking in the view we started the long hike down, completely sodden and miserable as the weather did not let up for the rest of the day! Unfortunately hiking 24km in the wet and cold aggravated a knee problem I've been suffering with for a while - more on that later! Georgina had also destroyed her feet, a combination of new boots and wets socks producing the worst blisters you've probably ever seen.
Fortunately, the following morning we were greeted by sunshine and clear blue skies and not to be deterred we set off on out second recommended hike to 'cerro torre' another 20km (albeit easier) hike to a glacial lake beneath the craggy Fitzroy mountains range. The knee and feet were a problem! Luckily for me after the ups and downs of the first few km's the trail is pretty much a flat walk along the old river bed all the way to the lake. George struggled on with half our first aid kit plastered to her heels.
The view at the end was worth the pain though and we spent almost 2 hours having lunch, taking photos and enjoying the sunshine - a well deserved reward for our efforts. After hiking back to the town we decided another reward would be a 'meal' out at the cool looking 'beers and burgers' place near out hotel - these turned out to be probably the best burger I think I've ever had! So much so that we returned the following day and both had exactly the same!
Our third day we kept less challenging with the hope of returning to laguna de los tres the following day but even on a small 2km hike to a condor look out the knee was just not having it and I had to sit half way up the hill while George climbed further to the viewpoint (bit selfish leaving me behind). This was the end of my hiking in El Chalten as no matter how many internet researched stretches I did, I just couldn't get the pain to ease off!
We both really enjoyed El Chalten, its expensive, full of Americans 'finding themselves' and the supermarkets only stock 3 carrots and an onion but it has a ski town 'apres' feel to it and the scenery that surrounds the town was like nothing we'd ever seen. We were both sad to board the bus back to El Calafate.