Published: February 12th 2007January 3rd 2007
After the heady heights and sleepness nights in BA, we head down to the more sedate Patagonian wilderness. In Pennisular Valdez the seals laze on the beach, the sealions fight and penguins shuffle right before you.
In southern Patagonia, Torres del Paine is listed as "the" area for "hard core trekkers". We have never been refered to as this before but this doesn't stop us as we head over to Puerto Natales in Chile which is the access point for national park. This far south during the Summer months we're still enjoying daylight at 11pm.
This is going to be our first real multi-day hike - 5 days over 80kms carrying all our own equipment and food. Not yet being "hard core" hikers, we have pretty much no hiking clothing - especially Paul who looks like he is heading out for a meal rather than a 5 day hike. Linen pants and trainers, need I say more.
The first day of the "W" sees us walking for 6 hours up to the famed Torres del Paine. Hiking up a rock flow to the summit we see the 3 Towers of Pain. They are well worth the effort -
3 huge granite towers behind a clear green lake. 30 minutes see the blue skies turn cloudy and when we leave the temperature has plummeted and sun is replaced by snow. This is the 2nd coldest place in the world after Antartic, and the change in weather is dramatic. Day 2 and we are walking alongside beautiful blue lakes, snow capped mountains - it is awesome. After pitching up that night though we quickly go off the idea of camping. 22km winds whip through the tent, bringing with them dust. Come morning we are covered in a layer of dirt, added to which is is pouring. Still we press on up the centre of the "W". The sleet is horizontal and it's freezing. Up between two glaciers, the view would be stunning if we could see it.
Paul's lack of hiking gear is proving a major problem. He is taking on the appearance of a refugee. His trousers are torn, he is cold and his shoes have finally fallen to pieces. With his shoes flapping we arrive on the second to last day at civilisation, a store and bar! The dried soup, pasta and water simply aren't doing it
for us. The overpriced store is like an oasis, cheese sandwiches and chocolate biscuits are our new staples - washed down with beer. Oh Yes!!
We simply cannot camp for another night, we are dreaming of the restaurant in Puerto Natales and decide to cram the last 2 days into one, with a 22km hike up to Glacier Grey - more rain, more winds but we don't care - tonight we will be in warm beds having devoured steak and wine. Some of the four most amazing days so far - from green fields to glaciers, from blistering sunshine to snow - absolutely awesome. We are now officially "hard core hikers".
Back in Argentina, Calafate looks like a town that has just been through a natural disaster and is quickly rebuilding itself for tourism. Everything is new and shiny, or in the progress of being rebuilt. It is one of the Argentinian tourist meccas and as such is crowded and expensive. We´re here to see Glacier Perito Merino though so we will be in and out quite quickly. The glacier is impressive. Moving at up to 2 metres each day you can see huge chunks breaking off, crashing
into the icy lake below, and hear it creak as it moves down the valley.
El Chalten as a town has been in existance for over 30 years, not that you can tell by all 7 blocks of it, and it´s dusty roads. Yet again we are challenged by the holiday period. There are no free hostels in town and we end up in a tent at the edge of the town.
We are here to do what is quoted as the most amazing hiking in Patagonia - not quite sure how anything can top Torres del Paine. The first day is pretty impressive, a huge glacial lake with towers of granite behind it. A mere 20km´s, easy for us newly found hikers - until that is Paul´s knee goes. For 10km´s he has to hobble back to the base. Yet again the curse of the holiday season as we find that we cannot get out of El Chalten for 4 days. Paul can´t walk - great! So I´m left to walk by myself while Paul sunbathes outside the tent until we can leave.
Leaving ends up behind rather traumatic. We have read about Ruta 40, a
direct 2 day drive up to Bariloche through some of the most desolate of Patagonia. It sounds great - empty, natural beauty, wild animals.... It isn´t. It is 2 days on a bus, with no food, no bathroom, straight back seats - the land is desolate, infact it´s totally bloody empty. I´ve never been so glad to get off a bus when we arrived 27 hours later in Bariloche hungry, tired and feeling thoroughly ripped off.
Bariloche in the Lake District is the capital of ice-cream and chocolate in South America, all modelled in the style of a Swiss village! A strange town filled with stores selling the above and crappy Christmas jumpers - who buys this stuff! Paul's knee is still causing problems, so after a day's hiking we switch to duckying - inflatable kayaking. We've met up with John from London again which guarantees that the peaceful amble down the rivers turns into a "battle" as each tries to board the others kayaks, and push each other in.
However after a great day on the river, Paul returns to the hostel to realise he has had an allergic reaction to his hairwax (you couldn't make this
up). Before our eyes his head is starting to grow! By the next day we have cancelled our 2 day hike and are in Argentinian A&E trying to explain why Paul resembles the elephant man, all in broken Spanish! A steroid injection later and Paul is hostel bound! Hiding under his cap and refusing to go out until dark.
We plan to spend 1 week in relaxed Mendoza learning Spanish, up until now we have fumbled through using completely incorrect grammar and in some cases fully invented words. Paul has seemed reluctant to learn any Spanish and is rather forced into it, however after meeting our teacher, the lovely Janinia, he is much keener!!
Mendoza is the centre of wine production in South America which obviously causes problems to our learning. Out late every night drinking, and then dragging ourselves out of bed each morning to learn more. Our first sentances are generally Estoy cansada! (I am tired!!), but we bumble through and after 12 hours can put sentances together which are passable.
We're fortunate during our week's stay to enjoy a really relaxed hostel. We are invited to an Argentinian BBQ on the first night. The
second is full moon, so we all take in a white water rafting trip in the eerie moonlight which was amazing and is followed by an all night party and BBQ. On our final day we cycle to various vineyards sampling wine and at night we arrange a BBQ for the hostel English style this time.
And so comes the end to our trip across the Pampas to dreamy Patagonia. A vast wilderness whipped and shaped by Antartica's harsh winds which for a few months during the Summer becomes a more hospitable oasis for el Gringo's. Also our passage through the lake district is at an end, a stunning area carved by glaciers which feed the beautiful mountain lakes. Finally we leave the sunshine heated wine region, an area where quality of life is king, and where siesta, wine and food are placed above all else!
We leave Argentina for Chile with heavy hearts and well fed stomachs. Adios.
There are more photos below