How's it goin there

Trip Start Sep 2005
Trip End Sep 2006

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Sunday, January 8, 2006

Thats a serious amount of driving. I wouldn't say I could take it up professionally, but if there was an event which involves driving down dirt roads with your knees while peeling a banana and reading a map upside down - I'm your man. Yesterday I upped sticks in Chile and drove to Los Antigos in Argentina for the Cherry Festival. I can only take so much rain, and I'd almost reached my limit on my first day in Chile. Los Antigos was famous for it's fruit because it's supposed to have a sunny microclimate. You wouldn't lounge about in your speedos and hairgel, but at least it was dry. The festival wasn't. One of the big attractions is the street drinking which turned out to be very civilized. There were lots of stalls selling the usual shite. Actually the whole thing was a bit like Nutts corner, but even more tacky and cheap. For the gentlemen you could get a really chunky gold signet ring for 2 quid. (Engraved with name for an extra 10p). What a bargain. For the ladies you could buy a pack of beads for platting your hair for 20p, and face paint for 10p. Just the spot for stocking up on homecoming presents.

Surprisingly, there wasn't a cherry in sight. I'd tasted the cherries from here before and they really are the best ever, and driving to the festival I was really looking forward to a big bagful. But I had to walk 1km out of town before I could get a kg.
There was also a free concert. The headline act was some guy called Leon Hikey or something like that. He was really good. Looked a bit like Hugo Duncan, but sounded nothing like him, thank God. Next day I was driving to El Chalten. I'd already been advised that the drive is 12 hours long by a boy racer. I guessed you could add at least another hour on for the bravado factor. Either way it meant a red-eye start, so I called it an early night.

The drive is down the "Ruta 40" which is the Argentian version of Route 66 in the US. It's legendry amongst road-trippers. Once you leave Los Antigos you're on a bumpy road for an awful long time before you see any civilization. Just me and my wheels taking it easy. The scenery is straight out of the Marlboro ad. Very flat with a few rugged mountains in the distance. The road narrows to a thin wedge as it stretches out to the horizon. There's just you the road and the wildlife, mostly guanacos, which are a type of hornless deer that gets startled-bunny-rabbit syndrome any time a car gets within 1 km of them.

It's a great drive, glad I've done it but I'll not be going down that road again. It was an authentic road trip experience. With a lot of willpower the cherries lasted 5 hours drive through wilderness. The first petrol station I came to was another 4 hours further along that bumpy, dusty, windy road. There I had the best cup of machine coffee I've ever tasted. Another thing, you need a bladder like a ...... actually I don't know if there is a creature that can hold it in that long. Even for blokes. It's incredibly windy, like standing behind a jet engine, I guess. You can't just point Percy in the direciton of the prevailing. If you really really need to, I recommend you use an oilskin suit and motorbike helmet, with full-face visor. The wind is so strong that theres all sorts of eddies, side gusts, up gusts and down gusts - you get the picture.

It took 11 hours before I arrived in Chalten. Eat my dust kid. Or should I say Paddy the Irishman arrived in Chalten. It's a tiny little village in the Parque Nacional de Glaciers. But what puts it on the map is the fact that it is the closest town to Mount Fitzroy. This really is a scary looking mountain. It's got shear faces on all sides, which stretch over a 1000 metres to the peak. Luckily I got a great viewing day so I hiked it up the route to the base camp for the climbers. I hadn't heard of it before but I could see that it would be a big draw for climbers. So I headed back into town to try and learn a little more. There was a place there called "the house of guides" so I reckoned I'd get some good info on it there. Due to a misunderstanding and my ignorance, they thought I wanted to hire a guide and go climbing it. They were looking at me in disbelief. Apparently this is the toughest mountain in South America, some experts reckon in the world. On a good year only about 10 professionals make it to the top. There is no such thing as guides on this mountain. "Not to worry girl. Sure isn't it a grand day for climbing that big mountain there. You wouldn't have a few oul ropes handy there that you're not using."

I also discovered that the long life milk out here doesn't last that long. I'd only had it in the car for 3 weeks, and already my cornflakes are starting to change their flavour. There was a stronger taste of cheesy walnuts, which isn't that bad, but the smell was a problem. It's a bit like stale fruit on a sunny day. Makes you wonder what they put in the milk to make it last so long in this heat.

It gets fairly nippy at night here in the Glacier Park. I didn't think you'd be able to camp but there's plenty of other eejits apart from myself in the campsite. Of course you don't want to show that you find it cold. So I took my cornflakes sitting on the bonnet of my car with just by boxers and the Antrim top of course. You want them to know we're a hardy lot in the North.
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