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December 20-21, 2015

We returned to the airport Saturday evening to take a flight to Buenos Aires. Things were rather uneventful until we landed in Buenos Aires late that night. We asked the information desk for the name of a hotel closest to the airport for our over night layover. It was suggested to go a new hotel, Hotel Aeroparque. After a visit to the ATM, we took a taxi that drove to a dark area by a parking garage and stopped. We looked at each other nervously and then David asked, “Where’s the hotel?”

The taxi driver pointed to the building immediately to our left. We giggled with some apprehension and wondered what we got ourselves into, as the outside didn’t look terribly new or glamorous. Not to mention it was in a very strange location. We breathed a sigh of relief when we found the lobby to be nice and the room clean! The bedding, with thin sheets, was similar to Motel 6 and filtered water was available in the hallway, so we had all that we needed…a place for six hours of sleep before we continued our journey.

Monday morning felt like series of fails. Our taxi was timely and fortunately we arrived at the airport two hours before take off. Despite already having our boarding pass and our bags tagged to El Calafate from the night before, we still had to wait in the line that was beginning to extend out the airport door. It moved quickly until we were about six people away from the counter when all workers came to a halt. I don’t know if there was a shift change or if the computers went down, but about an hour after we arrived we were finally able to drop off our bags!

We decided to raid the ATM once more before passing through security only to find out we had to wait 24 hours before we could take more money out. This was a potential problem since according to Fodor’s the ATMs in the small towns run out of money from the weekends. I guess we will see! On our way to security, we went on a brief search for an adaptor for electricity since somehow both of us forgot ours. No luck. And to top it off the line at security was long! Eventually we made it to the gate. About five minutes after we got in line, we began to board (I like being at the gate earlier than that, but it worked).

Our flight was uneventful. We collected our bags in El Calafate, sent them through one more bag check, and stopped at the Las Lenguas booth to retrieve our bus transportation reservations for $500 Argentinian Pesos each…cash only! These reservations were one of the few I was able to make for transportation through email before we left, so I knew we needed cash. Before we squeezed into the full shuttle for a three hour bus ride to El Chaltén, we tried the airport ATM to find it was out of order…great. Our bus ride took us through vast tundra and scrub brush with a view of glaciers and aqua blue rivers and lakes to the west.

The only food, gas, and bathrooms (including on the bus) during the three hour journey could be found at a historically significant ranch 68 miles from El Calafate called, La Leona. Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid once hid from the law here! We ordered some empanadas, browsed the gift shop, and used the facilities during our ten minute break. It seems the ranch has a revolving door for buses as visitors came and went.

Eventually, the bus dropped us right at the door step of Posada Lunajuim, our lodging for the next four nights. From the outside, the internet pictures looked more appealing, but inside the red A-frame building was an awesome commons area with eclectic art, a small library and fireplace. I really liked the atmosphere though wasn’t too excited to find the adjacent coffee shop area was under its final stage of construction (paint fumes). Our room was clean, the bed large and comfortable, and the plumbing typical of small South American towns with a bit of surging water and a singing toilet. We only dropped off our bags in the room, as David noticed he left his phone on the shuttle, so we began a brisk walk to the bus station a few blocks away. Amazingly (he always has luck like this), the shuttle drove right by us, and he chased it down the street!

With phone in hand, reconnaissance followed. We stopped in a small grocery store to see about lunch food for our hikes, we stopped at the bus station and a travel agent to see about transportation to Puerto Natales on the day after Christmas, and last but not least we raided the ATM at the bank for cash. It was Monday and we did not have a problem getting money after the weekend, so the Fodor’s information might be outdated. We opted to purchase box lunches from the hotel for $12 each and bought two sets of bus tickets all in CASH! El Chalten is not a place for credit cards! We arranged for a return trip to El Calafate on Las Lenguas for a discounted price of $300 Argentinian Pesos each on Christmas morning and paid the travel agent $600 Argentinian Pesos each to get picked up at our hotel in El Calafate at 5:30am by Always Glaciers the following day for a six hour drive and border crossing to Puerto Natales.

I had read that buses fill up quickly during the high season, so I felt relieved to get all the administrative stuff behind me given I made countless efforts to contact bus companies while in the states to no avail. Only one website (http://www.omnilineas.com/) provided online ticketing possibilities for two bus lines within Argentina, but without the major component of our transportation to Puerto Natales in order, I didn’t want to purchase other bus tickets part way.

Now it was time to enjoy our vacation. We strolled the streets of the small town El Chaltén that was founded in 1985. It is booming! Quaint houses mixed with new buildings and half built structures line the paved and gravel streets. Hikers and climbers walked through the streets from every directions. While sidewalks are available, they are narrow and fit about 1.5 people side by side, so the streets were easier.

Our dinner at La Cerveceria was fantastic! The microbrewery features a pilsner and stout, both tasty. But the beer wasn’t the only thing that was good. The traditional South American Locro dish which is a stew with meat, corn, hominy and other vegetables was a hearty treat as was David’s giant vegetable sandwich! Entrees come with breadsticks and a cup of soup and anyone that sits down at the table gets a basket of popcorn (my favorite)! We loved it and really enjoyed our first afternoon in El Chaltén.

Our hiking in Los Glaciers National Park in the hills just above town starts tomorrow. We are ready to explore! ETB

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