El Chalten – Won’t Do That Again – Part One

Heather Markel, Writer, Speaker, Photographer, Traveler, Business Strategist

Sometimes a place just doesn’t match your style…

As I travel I don’t do extensive research on places. Instead I learn from people I meet, get their reviews or speak with locals. Often times that works out well. Sometimes it does not.

At least I didn’t get lost.

Photograph by Heather Markel, Copyright 2019

I’m in the small town of El Chalten. It’s a lovely town if you like hiking. It’s not so great if you don’t. There’s nothing to do but hike, eat, drink, sleep and buy souvenirs. On the way there I’m traveling with two lovely women from Argentina I met in my hotel in El  Calafate. We’re on different buses but plan to meet in El Chalten and hike together. The buses all stop at a park information/ranger station before bringing us to El Chalten. We’re told about safety, fire risks and not to pet the dogs before a hike because they’ll follow us and hunt animals on the trails. We’re also told that hikes can be up to 8 hours or longer because you have to hike BACK from wherever you go. There are varying levels of trail difficulties as well. We learn that most accidents happen when unskilled hikers take these big trails and understimate how hard they are.

“The park ranger makes what I thought would be an easy day of hiking sound like I might die and cause a wildfire…”

I meet The Argentinian women, Jessica and Silvina, in El Chalten. They decide to do the 8 hour steep and scenic hike. And they’re in a rush because they have to make a 7pm bus back to El Calafate. I realize theres no way I want to do that hike and we say goodbye. (I’m glad about this decision because in addition to the trail difficulties the day is cold and windy and hikers I meet later in the day who are bigger than me talk about open points on trails that were so windy they were almost blown away.)

Mountain view beautiful, but definitely missing some sunshine…

Photograph by Heather Markel, copyright 2019

I feel more alone here because while I did see solo hikers during the day, at night, when it came to eating drinking and sleeping, everyone else seemed to be in groups. There were a lot of couples, and a few groups of friends. I felt like I was on the outside of  the entire experience. 

Dinner time is rough because I don’t want to eat pizza, pasta or a hamburger which is what most restaurants serve. There’s only one restaurant that is reputed to have excellent food and choices and it’s THE place everyone else goes, too. (La Tapera.) You’ll wait an hour, at least, to get a table without a reservation. Possibly less if you’re a party of one or two. Note to self – waiting for a table with huge amounts of other people in a small waiting room is a fabulous way to meet people. I meet a couple from Canada who’s just back from Antarctica with wonderful stories. The husband was in Southeast Asia 30 years ago, before it had any kind of civilization. Wow. I meet another couple from California who end up sharing a table with me for dinner. When we sit down and get menus we all momentarily freak out when we learn it’s cash only. (They later claim its because the wifi isn’t working but I think that’s just a story.) We exchange fun travel tales and adventures and talk the whole meal. Paula, the wife, and I order the “Lomo”- apparently the back of the cow which has no fat and is tender and delicious. We also enjoy the vegetables that accompany it. 

Everyone wants cash. The wifi is often not working anywhere, so using a credit card is near impossible. My hostel wants to charge me an extra $20 to use my card so I give them the rest of my cash. (Hostel Los Viajeros – lovely staff, very basic but has heated floors!)

The wifi actually does suck. I think they have 2 gigs for all the tourists to share. If you can actually get an email to download or Facebook to populate its like being on dial up. If you’re too young to remember dial-up, go to El Chalten and try connecting to the internet.


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