Ice, mountains, and trekking
Trip Start Aug 09, 2006
53Trip End Ongoing
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I think last I wrote, I was on my way out of Rio Gallegos. I am about to re-enter that bland little town for the 3rd time tomorrow, heading back north. For some reason, all routes going from this far south go through Rio Gallegos, where there is nothing. And if you get stuck there overnight, lodging is not cheap. But I suppose if you`re going to Ushuaia, your route options will be limited.
Ushuaia is the self-proclaimed ¨End of the World¨, the southernmost city in the world (they don`t count Puerto Williams in Chile for some reason, maybe because its too small or is mostly just a Navy base). Getting to Ushuaia, for awhile the terrain really feels like the end of the world. Just flat brown nothing, very end-of-the-worldish
There is so much to do in Tierra del Fuego. Skiing, snowboarding, hiking, boat trips, snow-shoeing, sled dog running, you name it. You get used to it a little bit, but its still odd randomly running into people you know. In Ushuaia, there were four people at the hostel that I already knew from other places. I actually saw an Argentine guy around town with a Troy Walters Lions jersey. Bizarre. He had now idea what the heck he was wearing, just liked how American football jerseys looked. Anyway, did some more snowboarding down here at Cerro Castro. Lot less people, more space, but fewer trails. And you had to use a T-bar, which is always interesting.
Have been following the Rugby World Cup and its great doing it here because Argentina is actually good at rugby, people get really excited over the games (especially after upsetting France at home in the first game of the tournament), and it makes for a great atmosphere
Was not as cold here as I thought it would be. Was definitely worse in Rio Gallegos. The hikes were alright but a little sketchy, as they weren`t marked at all and you soon found yourself imagining trails and just walking up the mountain. There is also the Tierra del Fuego National Park which has some super pretty spots, including one trail that just goes along the coast of a lake the whole time. And another trail which was postcard Argentina, wild horses, a bit of flat land with huge mountains right behind. Went there a few times. I also got pretty interested in the Indians´ story down here, mostly with the Yámana. Going around naked in a place like this with this weather, but always had fire with them, on land, in a canoe...(hence, ¨Tierra del Fuego¨). Hunter gatherers, so always on the move, leaving little shelters behind, along with huge mounds of their middens which are still around
Took a boat trip down the Beagle Channel. The Beagle was the name of Darwin`s ship when he made his famous voyage. Lots of history here. Didn`t know that the order of the red-white stripes on the lighthouse tell the sailors in which direction there is danger. There was also a sea lion and rock comorant colony. The male sea lions´ heads are just enormous. And the pups were playing in and out of the water, staring at the boat, and diving down into the water again. The older ones just looked lazy. The biggest you notice at the colony is the stench. Really strong smell of crap. The rock comorant birds were pretty as well. Interesting story about the Argentina/Chile border. Its formed by the largest peaks in the Andes, then in the Beagle Channel by the deepest depths. In the land part of Tierra del Fuego, there is a straight line though, that deviates from the rule. Apparently, when this agreement was made, Chileans were already living on the Argentine side, so they adjusted. Was almost a war over this. Anyway, ended up taking a walk on one of the little islands and it is tough to imagine living there like the Yámana (an Argentine I was with said ¨We almost went to war over this??¨)
One of the hikes was up a glaciar. My first glaciar, but it was covered in snow from the night before, so looked more like we were just hiking up a mountain
From here left for El Calafate, which is not in Tierra del Fuego, so needed to do the whole ferry/Rio Gallegos thing over again before heading west. But it was too windy for the ferry when we got there so we were delayed for maybe 4-5 hours. And we missed the connection in Rio Gallegos for Calafate. So...got stuck there for the night. It was just how I remembered it - boring. After getting into El Calafate the next day, planned for seeing the glaciar the next day. The glaciar, Perito Moreno, is the only reason to come to Calafate. Other than the glaciar, its just a really tiny, really expensive town. But I think the glaciar is so famous because it is easily accessed. You don`t have to hike for hours to get to it, its just a drive, and you`re there. And its pretty active. When we went, there were constantly HUGE pieces falling off it. Really loud and impressive. We were lucky enough to see a really oversized piece break off. The glaciar is 60m tall so its like watching a building collapse. The new ice berg would fall into the water, and then it looked like a dinosaur rising up when the ice would bob back to the surface
Just north of El Calafate is El Chalten. They both are little towns close to Parque Nacional Los Glaciars, but El Chalten is more about hikes while Calafate is about the glaciar. Chalten is seriously a ghost town. I guess that a few months from now it will be hopping with tourists, but for now, not even close. Places are boarded up, everything is just closed. Even in the few days I was here, though, a few places opened up, getting ready for the rush. You can do some big hikes and camp in the park, but whats nice is that there are lots of day-hikes (7 hours or so) and the park is totally free (Calafate wasn`t). And the bad weather finally ended. The peaks of the mountains are such that you have to have decent weather to see them, so its a bit of a crapshoot with the weather
If the last month could be summed up, you would just say ¨hiking¨. The next stop was the grand-daddy of them all. But first, I think a lot of the tourists take their hiking a bit too seriously
The currency thing is always a little screwy to get used to. But in the countries I`ve been in, its not even close, they`re completely different. For example, say you want to get a meal that cost 5 bucks U.S. In Argentina, its 15 pesos, in Uruguay its 125, and here in Chile its 2,500. This time accross the border was the first time anybody has ever been interested in my backpack. And nobody has ever been interested in what I may be actually carrying on me. Not exactly secure, but makes for easy transit. Anyway, the jump off for the park is in Puerto Natales so thats where I went. Got myself familiarized with the park, and decided to do a trekking/camping trip, doing a route called The ¨W¨, that I would stretch into six days or so. But a lot of folks I met there only had time for, or wanted to do only 2 days or so. Bo-ring. Met a couple of Canadian girls and we started at the same time and place, and then after the 2nd day kind of leap-frogged each other on the trails
The weather was pretty extreme in the park. The most glaring feature being the wind. I had been told that it gets up to category 3 hurricane speeds, 200km/hr, and it would have been tough to believe had I not felt it. Literally was blowing people over to the ground. Was especially dangerous when it was at your back and you were going downhill. Had to do the boulder or tree-grab to avoid being swept off the cliff. First day had pretty wide open terrain with lots of wind. Second day, went out to Glaciar Grey (my first overnighter at a glaciar!). Third day was pretty normal. I have to thank you, dad, for the long legs, because I was always arriving at the destination well before the map said I should be. And when you`re camping alone, getting to the campsite at noon or 1 makes for a boring day. Don`t want to do free-time walking, didn`t bring a book, and theres only so much relaxing you can do. So, for the fourth day, decided to try to squish two days´ hikes into one. Went into the valley between two mountains, back out, around the mountain, and up to the base camp. Made for a pretty tiring day, also on the extremely windy day. 35km, up and down mountains, in windy weather, with 50lbs on your back
Which pretty much catches you up! That was yesterday, and tomorrow I will heading off to Rio Gallegos again (gotta love that place!), hoping to catch a connection to anywhere north.