A perfect ending with majestic Fitz Roy
Today was not only my last full day in El Chalten, but the last full day of my entire trip to Patagonia. Tomorrow, I begin the long travels back to the United States.
I awoke early so that I could make the most of my day. I set off to wander the town and buy some snacks for my hike, and found a cute bakery and coffee shop. Most of the stores and restaurants hadn't opened yet, and similar to the 3rd day of my Torres del Paine trek, I relished the quiet and calm of the early morning.
My hike today was titled Laguna de los Tres, and promised spectacular views of Mount Fitz Roy. I decided again to hike alone and soak up the last part of my solo adventure.
But of course, I was solo, but not alone. Just 10 minutes into my hike, I ran into a group of recent Peace Corps members whom I had first met on my bus from El Calafate to Puerto Natales, and whom I had coincidentally run into several times on my trip. Throughout my trip, I loved seeing familiar faces and felt a strong sense of closeness and community amongst all the travelers, despite being in such a vast region.
The hike was fairly flat, and I was very motivated by the view of Mount Fitz Roy, which grew closer with every bend of the trail.
There were many gorgeous miradors, including one at Laguna Capri, where there was also a small campsite tucked away.
I continued walking for about another half hour, following the trail signs towards Laguna de Los Tres.
I was happy to see that the top of Fitz Roy was clear on my way up; I knew the notoriously fickle weather made it likely that clouds would obstruct my view when I reached the top of my hike.
I loved all the wooden walkways on the trail.
The last part of the hike was notoriously steep. Similar to the hike to the base of the Torres on my fifth day of the Torres del Paine trek, I had to earn the beautiful view! Again, I was scrambling up rocks on the steep mountainside, but compared to Torres del Paine, the trail was a lot more obvious here.
I kept turning around to see the valley behind me growing deeper as I climbed higher. The view of the river and lakes were absolutely breathtaking.
By the time I reached the top of the hike, I was damp with sweat but completely satisfied. Mount Fitz Roy majestically towered over the deep, rich teal water, and because it was fairly early in the day, there were fewer other hikers around.
I knew that there was a laguna at the base of Fitz Roy, but I realized I hadn't seen any pictures of Fitz Roy and the lake together; most postcards and guide books only show Fitz Roy with the forests or rocks in the foreground. Perhaps most photographers don't want to lug their cameras up the last steep part of the climb?
I walked down to the laguna, and was happy to find a little shelter built out of rocks to protect myself from the wind. I ate the empanadas I bought from town as I looked at the view, thinking about how crazy lucky I was. Lucky to be in South America, to have had perfect weather, to have met wonderful people, and to see these unbelievable landscapes.
I was mesmerized by the very tip of the Fitz Roy towers, which was covered in a misty cluster of clouds. The wind was so strong that it looked like grey smoke was erupting from behind the towers, and the shape of the rock that was visible to me changed every second as the clouds were pulled left and right by gusts of wind.
After an hour or so, I decided to head back down to town. The wind was just starting to pick up. I realized later, speaking to a few girls at my hostel, that I was really lucky to have made it up to the top so early; it was so violently windy that they weren't even able to go down to the laguna!
I encountered quite a bit of wind on my way down as well, as you can see.
As with all of my hikes, the way down felt like a completely different trail, and I was pleasantly surprised that I enjoyed the less epic and less popular valley views just as much as those of the mountains.
I made it back to town by 3:30 pm, so I ended up doing a quick foodie tour of the city. Since it was my last day, and very rarely ate out on the previous days of my trip, I decided not to hold back at all. I first got dulce de leche gelato, and then went to a local bookstore, which was absolutely adorable.
I also got an alfajore (a local sandwich-like cookie with a sweet filling) at Calma Chica. I had read about this place on TripAdvisor, and as the only patron, got to speak to the woman who owned the place, Lala. Lala put a lot of effort into minimizing her waste. In addition to composting and making as much as she could from scratch, she refashioned old milk cartons as takeaway containers, stacked egg cartons to make stools to sit on, and used leftover plastic wrapping as parchment paper for her cookies.
I also got to know a little bit about how she ended up in El Chalten, a very young town (less than 3 decades old) in which most people are transplants. She had moved from Buenos Aires when she was in her 20s to open this shop, because she felt that the rhythm of the city didn't match her own, and that undermined her own happiness:
Some people enjoy a faster pace of life, but for Lala, El Chalten offered a calmer rhythm that better aligned with her values. This part of our conversation really struck a chord with me, since my move back to California from New York was for similar reasons.
I ended up having dinner with 3 people I met at my hostel. Continuing my food tour, I convinced them to go to a more upscale restaurant, where I had a delectable lamb stew, and finish with a beer at the local cerveceria. I loved hearing about how other travelers ended up in Patagonia, how long they were traveling for, and what their "normal" lives were like back home.
It was hard to think of what my normal life was, when the question was returned to me. I must say, in reflection, I am very grateful that this year has been so not normal. If I died, tomorrow, I'd feel pretty satisfied with my decisions. Holding onto that positivity, I went to bed completely happy with everything I saw, did, and ate today; I couldn't ask for a better last day of my trip!