If you’re ever in Patagonia you have to spend some time in El Calafate. A beautiful city situated on the banks of Lago Argentino. The city is the gateway to the south Patagonian ice field and only 80km’s from Perito Moreno glacier. Tourism has made El Calafate wealthy.
The town centre is beautiful and filled with quaint tourist shops and restaurants which cook Argentine specialties like melt in your mouth steak, locally produced and slow-cooked (all day in the restaurant windows) Lamb. I have a lot of respect for Argentine food culture, maybe I’ll go into more detail in another blog but one of the foods they have really mastered is Helado (Ice Cream) when in El Calafate make sure you try Calafate Ice Cream. Calafate is a type of berry native to the region that has lent its name to the city.
If you love dogs like me then this town has another characteristic for you, in fact, I gather it might be right across the whole of Patagonia as we first started noticing this in Ushuaia.
Everywhere you go in El Calafate there are dogs, well kept, well behaved, loveable dogs. The dogs seem happy, wagging their tail as they go about there business and with coats that glow suggesting a healthy diet. When we first saw this we assumed that the dogs were just well trained and were just walking themselves, they seem comfortable amongst humans and they weren’t begging for food. However, the volume of dogs on the streets of El Calafate and watching how some of them appeared to be out all day and night made us enquire with the locals where they had come from and that’s when we discovered what was really special about these dogs.
The dogs are all strays, strays that have in effect been adopted by the town. My Spanish isn’t good enough to find out if the decision to look after them was a community decision or more organic in nature. The dogs live on the street of the town, they wonder sometimes in small packs of 3 or 4 sometimes just by themselves, they allow tourists to pat them and don’t get in the way of traffic or wander into shops (often).
Each dog has one particular spot where they sleep, this spot is picked strategically and is close to the restaurant/pub/cafe/shop/house that will be feeding the dog. It’s unclear how the dog has picked the place and what came first, was it a generous chef leaving some bones out or was it a dog begging at the door?
The dogs of El Calafate are an amazing phenomenon that has to be seen to be believed. It highlights the warm hearts of the people and also makes me question the nature of dog ownership in the UK, would dogs be happier if they were left to roam by themselves and only came home for food much like the way we expect cats to behave?
There is one question I have unanswered though and I’m sure you’re asking it as well… no, you aren’t avoiding dog poop everywhere you go, I did see some dog poop but not as much as I was expecting…!