Getting to the end of the world takes a very long time. After multiple flights headed due south from Minneapolis, I found myself in El Calafate, Argentina. From 44.9 degrees north to 49.3 degrees south, it would take another three and a half hour bus ride to reach El Chalten, a tiny Patagonian outpost that marks the setting off point for Los Glaciares National Park.
We boarded the one and only bus to El Chalten around 6:30 pm, just as the sun began to set across the vast, flat pampas and the bus was completely silent for the remainder of the ride. The bus meandered down the desolate, barren Ruta 22 taking us through windswept pampas and a vast amount of nothingness. It was the most extreme surroundings I've ever seen.
We arrived in the dark. The bus headlights bounced off the barren landscape and empty pavement. No street lights. No cars.
Then there it was: The first a twinkling of light.
Several old fashioned lampposts lined the streets of the small mountain town, an outpost, at the end of the world. It reminded me of some kind of Hollywood movie set for an old western film that used to run on TV in the middle of the night. It was like no place I'd ever been; it didn't feel real.
The bus drove down the one and only street, slowly passing rustic shops, restaurants and small, dated hotels until in no time it reached the makeshift bus station, a small, basic backpackers' hostel. We got off the bus, with knees aching and fatigue setting in, to find our host, Diego, smiling and welcoming us to the car. We drove the short distance to our small, basic hotel, El Puma, and settled into our room. But our night could not end without a much necessary bottle of deep, ruby red Malbec and a conversation with Diego about the hikes planned for the next few days. I was looking forward to exploring this mysterious, remote land. When I reached the room, I had no problem drifting suddenly and soundly asleep into a blissful, restful sleep.
If you go: Patagonia has a short season. Best time to head south is from November to April. Expect to be prepared for every kind of weather imaginable and some serious wind.