Monday, December 17, 2007

El Chaltén

Recovering from bronchitis, I spent two nights in El Chaltén, but the lingering effects kept me from doing any hiking despite fine warm weather--never before have I seen people in T-shirts around sunset (normally they're wearing parkas and hunkered up against the wind). The day before I arrived, though, there had been a brutal storm that kept almost everybody indoors all day, and the lower mountains had a new dusting of snow (which quickly melted with the sun).

When I first saw El Chaltén, in 1990, it was almost only the hardiest hikers and backpackers who made it there--only the Fitz Roy Inn offered accommodations, and most people camped in the free national park sites in the vicinity. Nowadays there are numerous hostels and the biggest of them, Rancho Grande, is building an even bigger hotel. While it only has about 200 or so permanent residents, there are many more hotel, hostel and cabaña beds than that.

Likewise, in 1990, there were only few places to eat, among them the still existing La Senyera (where campers also lined up to get hot showers, as there was no running water, or even toilets, in the campground; campers had to dig latrines). Now, though, El Chaltén has at least three very fine restaurants--Estepa, Ruca Mahuida, and Fuegia Bistro--and several other above average places. At the end of the day, all that hiking--and the hiking is still great even though many more people are on the trail--requires more than just ordinary refueling.

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