Trouble in El Calafate

Trip Start Jan 14, 2009
Trip End May 2010

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Flag of Argentina  , Patagonia,
Tuesday, February 10, 2009

We reluctantly left the mountain paradise, El Chalten, to head south to El Calafate. Lindsey's knee has been bothering her during the longer treks around Fitzroy, so we made the tough decision to forego our planned circuit around Torres del Paine, and opt instead for rock climbing on huge Yosemite-like granite domes in Cochamo, Chile. Therefore, we bumped up our flight to Puerto Montt (nearest transportation hub to Cochamo) from Punta Arenas on the 13th of February.

Of course, there are no direct routes from El Chalten to Punta Arenas, so instead, we went from El Chalten to El Calafate (where the massive Perito Moreno Glacier lies) in Argentina, then from El Calafate across the border to Puerto Natales and finally to Punta Arenas. We had a lot of ground to cover in just a couple days, so we were on the move.

Our luck of good weather ran out. To and from the bus terminals, we battled gusts of wind up to 60mph, batting us and each of our 70lb bags from side to side like badminton birdies. Once in El Calafate, our mission was simple: 1) Find the campground and set up camp, 2) Get tickets to Puerto Natales, and 3) Get a couple groceries for the night and next morning's bus ride. Simple...right?

Task 1) We found the campground. Check. Off to a good start. The wind was going to make setting up camp troublesome, but we've had our share of Patagonian wind, so we weren't phased. We pop in our tent poles and race to get the stakes in before the wind carries off our shelter. Then, in one gust, SNAP!! Shit. It looks like the wind popped the middle pole apart again. Or did it break? We quickly yet delicately wove the pole out of its sleeve. It had snapped right in the middle, right where two segments fit together.

"How could this happen?" we asked ourselves. "We have an expensive four-season tent when it seems everyone else has the cheap, flimsy tents. Theirs seem to be standing up in this weather."
We pulled the duct tape off our trekking poles that we put there for these types of incidents and wound the black tape around the fractured poles several times. We slid the pole back into the tent sleeve and gently popped it into place.
Another gust. SNAP!! The wind broke the pole, AGAIN, just centimeters from the first fracture. We pulled out the pole and tried winding the tape around the newly fractured section but it did no good. Ben was defeated, for without a tent, our future destinations will be seriously complicated.
We take a breath, eat some food, and weigh our priorities. Tickets to Puerto Natales still won for first, and then came shelter. We could always stay at a hostel for a couple of nights while we fix the tent.
We hauled to the bus station and luckily bought the last tickets to Puerto Natales using the last Argentinian bills and moneda we had-down to the last peso-for the 8am the next morning (check next to item 2). Next, we ran to the nearest hardware store with the shattered pole at 6:50pm, just ten minutes before the store closed, pulled our ticket and anxiously waited for someone to call our number (you don't just meander around the store and take what you need like in the States). We were in luck. They cut us 3 sections of copper pipe to fit over the fractured sections and sold us some more duct tape to secure the pipe in place. They didn't charge us for the pipe, so all in, this fix (which has worked for us thus far) cost us 12 pesos (~$3.75 USD).
Finally, item 3 on the list: groceries. Ben went back to camp to try to set up camp again and Lindsey set off to get the groceries.
"Get us a treat to go with dinner," Ben said as we parted ways. As you all know, these words are dangerous when said to Lindsey. First item in the basket: brownies with walnuts! We'd been eating pasta, pasta, and more pasta, so in all her excitement for healthier eating, Lindsey arrived at the camp site with 3 bags of produce, meat, cheese and yogurt.
"It's for the next couple days," Lindsey explained as Ben shook his head in disbelief. "We'll have food for the morning, the bus ride, dinner and for our overnight trip up Torres del Paine if we are able to squeeze the trek in."
Before going to sleep, we ran into Evan and Leah, two Canadian girls we met camping at El Chalten.
"Are you guys going to Puerto Natalles tomorrow too?" one of the Canadians asked.
"So are we! Don't forget to eat all your produce before you cross the border to Chile. Evan left a mango on the bus going into Argentina and it was one of the scariest moments of our trip for her." Canadians love to tell border stories.
"Shit. Lindsey, we have to eat ALL the groceries you bought TOMORROW!" Ben acknowledged. Border crossing with fresh produce and animal products-a slight oversight.
Getting on the bus the next morning, we immediately asked how much time we had before the border. Three hours. Three hours to eat 4 yogurts, 4 bananas, 2 apples, a plum, a head of lettuce, a tomato, an onion, a whole sausage, a wheel of blue/brie cheese, raisins, and drink a carton of chocolate milk. Being goal-oriented people, we would stuff ourselves, pass out, and wake up each other to encourage one another to stuff ourselves some more. It wasn't pretty, our neighbors and our stomachs didn't like us, but we did it. Go team!
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davidkimber on

Oh please Lindsay, like you couldn't have handled all that food by yourself :D Though, that does sound like a marathon session there haha! I would have wimped out on it so hard, my stomach is like a hummingbirds.

I'm actually pretty glad to hear about your misadventures; those are always the most-fondly-remembered parts. Surviving in the face of odds and whatnot. They do really suck when they are happening though. One time in Bishop we came back to camp after a really really windy day, in the dark, and tents were literally flying by the car going down into the pit. Turned out almost everyone's tents had been uprooted except for mine, which was leaning precariously to the side but otherwise intact. I paid $16 for it haha! :)

Keep truckin'!

benandlindsey on

Yo yo yo!
Allan, Brooke, Blaine and Elly! Thank you so much for the birthday wishes! We miss you all and can't wait to share stories over a nice bottle of wine (Chilean or Argentine I hope!).

Dave - love your story! Keep em coming!

benandlindsey on

Re: Happy birthday both!
thanks Byron and all for the birthday wishes! we celebrated our birthdays in santiago, chile. we scored tickets to the santana concert and lindsey and i had a great dinner in the famous neighbourhood of Los Condes! Heading to Mendoza, Chile tomorrow to celebrate the wine festival!

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