Anything that requires foot power excites me. I could easily set off walking around town but I wanted to explore El Calafate by bike. Christian, one of the hostel clerks, suggested renting a bike at La Barraca, an outdoor gear rental shop just off the town's main street. For only 15 pesos an hour (or about 3.70 USD), I got myself a really decent bike but supplied without any lock. Good thing that the route I had in mind was part of the suggested itinerary in the map I was given. "I could do this in 2 hours", I told myself.
|Outdoor gear shops|
A long time ago, El Calafate was mainly a frontier Patagonian town which became the center for people working in estancias (ranches). Now, thanks to tourism, El Calafate is bustling with activity. Surrounded by Lago Argentina and the vast steppe that defines this region, the town is mainly a jump-off point for visitors going to see the massive glaciers at Los Glaciares National Park. Others also head off from here to El Chalten for some incredible trekking (which unfortunately I couldn't do due to time constraints).
|Asong Kalye in El Calafate|
The town's center is easy to navigate since it's arranged in a grid pattern. Along the length of Avenida del Libertador hugs most businesses related to tourism. There are the usual money changers, restaurants, tour operators and outdoor shops. I pedaled past these, dodging unleashed dogs that happen to be friendly and into the outskirts of town I went, heading towards Laguna Nimez - an ecological reserve brimming with birds. The main attraction in this lagoon? Flamingos.
|Bikes for rent @ La Barraca|
|My bike parked at the park office|
It was an hour before closing time when I got there but the caretaker allowed me in after paying 10 pesos (about 2.50 USD). I was ready to explore but I was worried about the bike being stolen. The lady told me in Spanish to park the bike next to the office where I hope it's more secure. Following a copy of the park map, I walked gingerly along the soggy shore, looking at flamingos (the most easily recognizable) and upland geese and some other species of birds I couldn't identify (even with the booklet I was given).
Meanwhile, my neck was craning back at the little park office to check if my bike is still there. The whole circuit is about 2.5 kilometers long, on a grassy path which also gave a view of Lago Argentino. From where I was, on the opposite side of the lagoon, I could still see the distant park office and my bike - and I thought, well, since I'm the only visitor at this hour, might as well enjoy my solitude in the company of some feathered friends. By the time I finished the walk, I was surprised to find the office already close but my bike was thankfully still where I parked it.
|Planks of wood kept the shoes from getting muddy|
|Upland geese: white male and brown female|
|Flamingos in flight|
|Don't know what this bird is|
I resumed cycling just as the sun was dipping its last rays of the day. Down into Avenida de la Costanera I went, a road that follows the shore of Lago Argentino. Some locals were enjoying a walk in the promenade and I disembarked to take in this moment, to enjoy the view as another day ends for me in Patagonia.
|Lago Argentino and iceberg|