South to El Calafate

I have made it to El Calafate, in the far south of Patagonia, and with the increased proximity to Antarctica the temperature has dropped by about 15 degrees and the wind speed increased by about 25 mph.
It was worth packing the woollens.
But it is the good sort of cold. Its freshness is balanced by clear blue skies and the sun still burning powerfully, warming the cheeks at 8pm.
From the air southern Patagonia looks like a desert, arid and inhospitable. From the ground its undulations and sharp peaks become apparent. To the newcomer it is like arriving on a different planet. Beautiful but eerie.
My hostel room offers views down over the gleaming glacial waters of Lago Argentina. It is the purest azure, luminous against the dark rocky landscape which surrounds it.
The small town of El Calafate determinedly clings to its southern shore.
Tourism appears to be the town’s only raison d’être. I have no idea how the locals survived before people began flocking here to explore the majestic glaciers, lakes and mountains of Patagonia’s Parque Nacional Los Glaciars. Perhaps many of them didn’t.
But, despite the plethora of tour operators which have since sprung up and the gimmicky tourist shops, selling matte cups, knitwear and chocolate, the town somehow maintains a quirky charm.
It has an alternative slightly hippy feel with craft stalls lining the little side streets and colourful makeshift houses which appear to have been bashed together with whatever came to hand. I get the impression life moves at a slower pace here – which it has to if you are travelling against the wind!
Rock, country and blues blares out onto the main street from bars, cars and houses.
This is intermittently disturbed by the town’s ‘youf’ who, probably for want of anything better to do, seem to delight in driving at about 15mph up and down the 200m stretch, which is the closest thing to a El Calafate has to a town centre, playing brain-splitting dance music at ear-splitting volumes, drowning out the more melodic notes coming from the bars and cafes. If this is their only form of rebellion then it is rather quaint.
One thing none of the travel guides mention about El Calafate which seems worth a mention is its enormous dog population. It is a dog lovers paradise. There seem to be as many dogs as humans in El Calafate. They all look healthy and well looked after so I assume they have owners somewhere, but during the day they just roam the streets. Sometimes alone, sometimes in small packs. They lounge in the sun outside cafes, sit on street corners watching the world go by, join the crowds exploring the market stalls. I watched one patiently waiting to cross the road until all the traffic had gone past.
For me, that alone is worth a visit.
But my actual reason for coming will have to wait until tomorrow when I hope to reach the Glaciar Perito Moreno. An early night for me tonight…


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