Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Trekking my way up Patagonia

The last month has been a pretty solid succession of trekking through various national parks in Chile and Argentina, doing multiple day treks, camping, eating copious amounts of ice cream, chilling out, battling wind, rain and exhaustion and having some amazing moments, seeing majestic mountains including a complete spread of the Andes range, chilling out in the park with artensanal beer in 36deg heat in El Bolson, as well as meeting some pretty awesome people at hostels and campsites! Throughout the text I've put links to sounds/ music from my trip, as well as pics here and there to try and share the sorts of experiences I've had. (Just note that not all media players will play the file format - but VLC player does)

After leaving Ushuaia, I headed up to Puerto Natales in Chile to do the full circuit trek at Parque Nacional Torres del Paine with Shai and Rick. It sort of seems a fair while ago, so I'm going to just recap some of the main memories of my time trekking. For me, Torres del Paine was an exhilarating challenge – with 2 very capable 22 y/old boys pushing me along we managed to complete an 8 day trek in 5 days. There were moments of utter exhaustion – trying to make the final steps up to Campamento Paso after 9 hours of battling the strongest wind I've ever walked through (and with a pack on) going up to and down from the John Gardner pass, to tranquil moments of wandering along the lakeside in the sunshine on our final day and the sound of waves on the pebbles, tasty memories of Shai's coffee to perk up the morning, to the exhilerating memory of running down stones in Valle Frances being chased by the snow and rain, to the utter hilariousness of snacking on every sweet we could find at the mirador for the Torres, and finally, the MOST amazing hamburguesa back in Puerto Natales after completing the trek – stinky, tired and in utter heaven. The boys made the trek so awesome - Rick has written an amazing account of each day on his blog – so Shai and Rick – thank you so much for pulling me along and can I just say we are bad ass!

Next stop was El Calafate for a day of chilling out, and then to Parque Nacional Los Glaciers at El Chalten to visit Cerro Fitz Roy and Cerro Torre. Rick was pushing on to Bariloche, so Shai and I took advantage of sunshine finally (at TdP we only had 1 day of sunny weather) and took our sweet time getting to our campsite. Had a fun time being pushed around by the wind as we walked along the glacial lake to the mirador and cooked up a rice storm for dinner complete with postre as a treat. The next day we had intended to head up to Laguna de los Tres, but after about 4 hours of more wind and rain (yes it was back) we were like, this is no fun and decided to head back to El Chalten to find a hot shower and dry bed. Cloud was obscuring Cerro Fitz Roy so although it was a pity we weren't able to get up to the Laguna (it's meant to be very beautiful) we did get glimpses on our way back. El Chalten is an odd sort of place – a climbing mecca, the town is very seasonal and filled with mountaineers and climbers. It also has regular power outages and very slow satellite internet. (the things you remember about a place when you're travelling!). It is beautifully sited though, and the next day even though the mountains were still in cloud we had a bright day to pound the pavement in town. (it's really not that big so it was a little repetitive). I did find an amazing shop that had awesome cookies, coffee and best of all – bulk buy oats, nuts, raisins etc. This has been the one thing I look for when I go through towns – like a natural shop were I can pick up snacks. Odd the things you end up gravitating towards!

After El Chalten, Shai and I took a 24hour bus ride up the gravel Ruta 40, my legs and feet got a bit swelled from so much sitting down but oddly, it didn't feel long. After clocking up 124 bus hours so far, it's amazing how easy it is to pass 10 hours on one now. Before coming it would have been 10 hours! Eek, but now, it's like, great, time to relax and sit. And it passes so quickly (having a computer helps though to watch movies or catch up on blogs:) I said goodbye to Shai and got off at Esquel which is 4 hours south of Barilcohe. My intention was to try and find a farm to volunteer on for 2 weeks or so near El Bolson, to rest my weary feet before trekking my heart out in Bariloche. Didn't quite happen – ended up the next day in Parque Nacional Los Alerces, did some day hikes, met 2 great people – Lissa and Max who I decided to stay an extra night at the campsite with, made my way up to El Bolson and well, a week later I'm only just leaving. Los Alerces was nice – not breathtaking, but peaceful and dare I say it sort of 'pedestrian' – lots of families holidaying by the lake with short easy walks etc. After 2 nights in the parque I headed to Lago Puelo for a night and did a nice short day hike up through pine forest to one of the ridges alongside the lake. Oh the glorious smell of heat in pine needles, after so long in cold weather it was sensory overload.

Getting to El Bolson was like walking into heaven. It was dry, hot, there was NO WIND, I headed out to the pubs till 4am, ate too many empanadas at the craft market, drank beer on the grass while listening to live music and cooled down with amazing ice cream multiple times a day with new friends.

I did also see one of the most special vistas of my trip so far – climbing up sliding gravel/rock to Cumbre Piltriquitron, to get a 360degree view on the north-south stretch of the Andes range and glaciers towards Chile, and facing the other way mountain ranges stretching into the pampas in Argentina. And all of this in bright sunshine, spotless blue skies and blue sunshine.

I also went on a solo 3 day hike up into the mountains. It was lovely doing it alone, and I learnt that I have a tendency to not stop and confirm whether a track Is the right route – but my sense of direction is good enough to find the right way. A lovely morning scramble up to a small glacier just after sunrise, swimming in a very cool and refreshing Rio Azul after 5 hours of climbing down 1000m of track in over 30 degrees and the ice cream back in town! (Hmm. I can see an ice cream theme emerging slightly)

I had hoped to see Lissa or Max in El Bolson, but they had both left the morning I got back, but in trying to find them at the campsite I met 2 other people – Evan who started in Santiago and is cycling through South America and Mark has motorbiked it down from Alaska other the past year and a bit!!!. I had intended on going to Barilcohe, but in the way things evolve, ended up staying an extra 2 nights in El Bolson, stocking up on spices, drinking beer while listing to jazz in the park - listen to some chunky beats, making the most amazing steak on a campfire with Evan, meeting a group of young Argentineans who adopted our campfire and played/sung amazing tunes into the night. The girl's voice was divine – you've got to listen to one of their songs!

The days have also had moments of contemplation, thoughts of what I am doing, how I can make it less 'consumerist' and more meaningful, and there are inklings starting of what I think I'd like to give a go in the future. But after a week being gloriously lazy and decadent in El Bolson, I'm now off to Bariloche where I'm devising a plan to trek into Chile, work my way up through the Chilean lakes there, then back into Argentina and to Barilcohe for a bit of rest and maybe even Spanish school! We shall see how plans evolve – the magic of this travel is the way it evolves and changes depending on mood, who I meet and what my body tells me. Just listing to the world and letting it guide me. On that note, it's now guiding me to snacks for the last 20mins of the busride, and hmmm perhaps to some chocolate in Barilcohe when I arrive! (after all that's partly what it's famous for so better be a good tourist!)
Until next time:)

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