Monday, March 29, 2010

Mas y Mas

Still playing catch up here:

From Ushuaia, at the very bottom of Argentina we took a bus North and West to El Calafate. The route crossed through Chile for about two hours, and included a 45 minute ferry ride. Stunning scenery all around, so it seemed a shame to be sleeping, but we had not slept the night before, so there was little choice. The bus left at 5 in the morning, so we figured it' be easier, and cheaper just to stay up, and not pay for another night in the hostel. So we went to the casino. Doub won 80 pesos. Cap lost 100. i stood watch and sipped bourbon.

The main attraction of El Calafate is the Perito Merino glacier. At one point, we'd seen 4 different Patagonian glaciers in the space of about 10 days, but this was by far the most impressive. It was a massive, jagged wall of black and blue ice. Black from all the earth it picks up as it rolls down out of the mountains; translucent blue in the center where the ice is most dense. The contrasting colors, the ice, the verdant mountains on either side, the lake water a sublimely tropical color, and to top it all off, a rainbow struck across the blue and white sky combine to create a somewhat pleasing scene.

Next was Puerto Natales, about 6 hours south and into Chile. This is the most convenient jumping off point for journeys into Torres del Paine National Park. This park is all about grandeur. If Tierra del Fuego is small and sublime, Torres is enormous and untamed. Untamed, save for the 3 or 4 refugios strategically placed along the trekking route, where those folks not intrigued by tents can rent a bed and buy a hot meal or three. There are two options for dealing with Torres: the Circuit takes about 10 days, and as the name implies, is a big circle; the W took us 4 days and 3 nights. Again, as the name implies, the route requires climbing up and back down again, then across, up and down. At a rough estimate, we walked 70+ kms in those 4 days.

So I will refrain from describing in detail all the mountains and rivers and forests and glaciers which are standard fare for Patagonian National Parks. Cap and I camped for the first two nights, enjoying fine wine, playing chess and feasting on spicy beans and rice. Like this:

However, the third afternoon of hiking was rudely interrupted by gale-force winds and rain. Coming over a ridge, I stopped and with arms spread wide, laughed into the wind. A gust arose immediately, briefly loosening the agreement I keep with gravity, and suggesting that maybe I humble myself in the face of Nature and just hug a tree for a minute.

We arrived at the refugio/campground soaked to the bone. Dripping and dirty. We told ourselves we would wait an hour before pitching the tent, just to see if the rain let up. So we sat in the lobby, uncomfortable as can be, picturing ourselves setting up the tent in a puddle, then attempting to cook, and imagining ourselves pulling on the same soaking wet clothes in the ice-cold morning. Then I learned that the refugio accepts credit cards, and suddenly things were looking up. Suddenly we had beds, a heater to dry our gear, a hot shower, and a bar with a spectacular view, looking out over the lake.

We were sitting in said bar with our fantastic new friends, Tom and Hannah, from the South of England, when there was a clatter against the back of the building, followed by some scraping on the roof, and then, ahh there it is, a mostly set up tent flying away some 100 ft in the air, wafting and drifting in the merciless wind until finding respite under water, 200 meters off shore. It was only moments later that a young man and girl came running around the side of the building waving their arms in the air, eventually settling with their hands on their heads in complete disbelief. After witnessing this, and later hearing stories about rats who chewed through tents to gain access to peoples trail mix, we were happy to think of the egregious price of one nights lodging as money saved.

Thus we passed a fantastic evening sipping wine and rum, delving into the intricate depths of dental hygiene with Tom and Hannah (Tom is a dentist; Hannah an oral surgeon), getting Hannah riled up about how bad she is at checkers, and generally bemoaning the fact that we were irrevocably trapped in the unbearable midst of a full-on luau. Oh well.

Okay well I'm paying for internet right now, so I'm going to stop. Slowly, surely, we're getting back to real time here. I'll try to continue with my diligent updates. I still need to discuss the NaviMag, Bariloche and El Bolson, the volcano in Pucon, then this past weekend in Santiago and ViƱa del Mar/Valparaiso. We are at the bus station in Santiago, waiting for our bus to Mendoza. Time for chess, a truly cruel and pointless game that Cap and I have become quite obsessed with ever since we bought that little magnetized travel board in Uyuni, Bolivia.

Seems like a long time ago.

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