Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Day 45, Magical. El Chaltén, Pt. III

(Monday, the 22nd of February, 2016) Picture heavy.
The weatherman promised good weather this day, the only day forecasted as clear. Although it really didn't look great at 7:30 am, pretty grey and cloudy.  We pressed onward though, and we got some great views later in the day. This trail was by far the most breathtaking, it's a lot more open that yesterday's trail and we got great views of the valley where El Chaltén is and of the famous Fitzroy range. We crossed glacier fed rivers, forest and plains and had a great time. We decided not to do the last kilometer on this path and we had lunch instead. This time, the trek back was a lot easier, more downhill. My feet were wrecked when we got back, 38 km in two days was super tough. We had dinner and then had to say goodbye to Susie and Martina who were taking a bus that night to Bariloche. All in all, a great day. I had a bus leaving quite early in the morning back to El Calafate so I was asleep pretty early tonight as well.

I loved my time in El Chaltén, and I would definitely go back. There are plenty more trails to do other than the three I did and some good long trails for camping as well. The hostel I stayed at, Rancho Grande, was great and it was in a great location. All in all I would highly recommend El Chaltén to begginers and experienced hikers alike. This place is going on my list of places to return to someday.

See all of my pictures here! (2000+)

Day 44, Magical El Chaltén Pt. II

(Sunday, the 21st of February, 2016) *Continued in next post. Picture heavy.*
The next highlight is the next hike. A 10 km long hike through foothills and valleys to get to a beautiful lake and a beautiful glacier. I started off bright and early in the morning after making some fried granola for my breakfast and lunch and heating up some water for mate on the trail. After the first few kilometers alone, I joined up with some mates from the hostel and we continued on as five. The views were magnificent, although not the best they could be because of the weather, but I'm not complaining because I thought it was still really beautiful. I got to see some woodpeckers and frogs and other interesting plants. There was quite a picturesque Valley that we passed through full of drowned trees, quite cool.

We all took a lunch break beside the glacier lake and we all got to know each other better. I was walking with an international crew, French, German, Welsh and Czech. Everyone had some great travel stories, which were shared as we scaled a rocky ridge along side the lake for the final 1 km push. We celebrated our victory over the path with some pictures and selfies and got ready for the 10 km back to civilization. I still think that the return is easier, but the last kilometer back was quite difficult. We all made some communal pasta together from all of our ingredients and played cards and drank until midnight, which was great fun. Although tomorrow, Susie from Wales and Martina from the Czech republic were going to do the Fitzroy trail tomorrow and I decided to join them. So we had to sleep in preparation for another massive hike the next day.
*Continued in part three.*

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Day 43, Magical El Chaltén Pt. I

(Saturday, the 20th of February, 2016) *Continued in next post. Picture heavy.*
Before I left, I had people tell me, "man, enjoy the beach for me" or, "enjoy the bars and clubs for me". I mostly just chuckled in response and told them that I would, because I really wasn't interested in that aspect. I'd rather be checking out the nightlife at home in Ontario with friends instead of doing it alone a continent away. This trip for me was more along the lines of wanting to experience the difference in cultures, learn the histories of the countries and to think about things. One might even say that the trip would be of a more spiritual and introspective nature rather than a get wasted and party nature. If anything spiritual was going to happen, it probably would happen at El Chaltén.

El Chaltén is a small town located within the borders of a natural park, it might just be the most naturally beautiful places I've been to. Beautiful hikes, beautiful views, beautiful food and really friendly people. The town is nestled in a valley, surrounded by cliff faces on one side and the gentle sloping foothills of the Fitzroy mountain range on the other. El Chaltén is known to one raining for most of the year and today was no exception. The hikes that I wanted to do were each about 10 km long one way, so I decided to warm up by doing a short (in comparison) 3 km walk to a small waterfall. The walk was quite nice, passing over scrubby windswept hills and then diving into forest for the last stretch. Right before the final twist of the path, there is a sign that says simply "contemplation area". I thought that was odd, but funny. It's rare you see a sign telling you to stop and take a moment to reflect. The water around that last twist is beautiful, surrounded by trees and with a rocky shallow hill facing it, covered in hikers. In the end, it's kind of nice that the sign was there, it made you realize why someone would come here and once you are paying attention to that feeling, you can't help but contemplate. After a few minutes if contemplation, I hit the trail back to town. The walk back is always easier than the walk there.

*Continued in part two.*

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Friday, March 4, 2016

Day 42, Glacier

(Friday, the 19th of February, 2016)
Here it is guys, one of the most unique and interesting experiences yet. The glacier. When I was paying for the tour the night before, I thought that I was overpaying. But, on the bus bride there, without even seeing the glacier I ended up changing my mind and man was the tour great. We had about an hour or so bus ride there, with stops along the way so we could stop to see the wildlife and to take pictures of the scenery. We got to meet some nice goats and a friendly cow whonlet people pet him, which was pretty cool. As we were on our way again, we passed a lake with a beautiful rainbow framing it. It seemed so surreal and made up, like, you're going to throw in a rainbow too?!

Once we get there we get three hours to walk the catwalk trails and to just absorb the majesty. The parking lot was quite far away (as it should be), so you have to pound out a 20 minute walk to catch a glimpse of it. You can definitely hear it though, about every 5-10 minutes, a crack like thunder, an echoing boom like a cannon shot. As you walk, you can see the vibrant blue waters of the lake that holds the glacier, sizeable chunks of deep blue ice float past in the water as well. Then, the catwalk turns, as you follow it around the bluff you are met with the image of a wall of ice that stretches from one side of the lake to the other. At this distance it looks deceptively small, it seems to grow as you get closer until your scale adjusts and you realise that you are looking at a 60 meter tall wall of ice. In my three hours there, about two hours in sight of the glacier, I saw it calve five times! I even caught a few pictures of the waves and mist it threw up as it hit the water.

The interesting thing about this glacier, Glaciar Perito Moreno, is that it is one of the only glaciers in South America that isn't shrinking, but actively growing. It moves forward two metres a day! It also happens to sit in a mountain valley that faces an elbow turn of the lake below. The glacier comes down the mountain valley like a wedge and drives itself into the lake and goes all the way to the other side, effectively blocking the flow between both sides of the lake. Over the course of the season, water movement makes a tunnel through the glacier and the tunnel gets wider and wider and eventually collapses, leaving a path for the water to flow freely again.

Suffice it to say, it was quite an impressive sight. There were other activities available as well, walking on the glacier, drinking cocktails with glacier ice, a boat ride close to the glacier, I ended on the boat ride. Now this part was a bit of a bust, mostly due to the fact that it started to rain. Pictures were nigh impossible from inside the boat because the windows were covered in rain, and going up top exposed you to the blowing wind and wet. But hey, I can't complain about the day.

After thee boat ride it was time to go back. I had a lot more fun (and some beers) with Chris the Kiwi and some other friends. We were quite the international table, we had New Zealand, the U.K., Canada, The Netherlands, France and Argentina represented. I will definitely end up writing about this later as well, but it's such an interesting feeling to be able to meet people from all over the world who are doing the same thing as you, travelling in South America, it doesn't matter the age or gender and there is always something to talk about, the trip! So it was quite a fun evening.

And that was my first glacier experience, I would definitely recommend, and I would do it again in the future.

See all of my pictures here! (1'700 and counting)

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Maintenance Post 1 (this was bound to happen...)

At a certain point, making a post a day becomes quite hard. People had told me that, but I persevered. I do enjoy writing a little bit everyday, it's fun and it feels like it keeps me organized. But since being in Patagonia, everyday has been busy from about 6:00 AM to 10:00 PM and there is no more time to write. I definitely fell off the wagon down here. Also, the writing seems to me to be very "surface", where I just describe my day in a linear fashion, no insights or anything more than a description. So I believe that I will be switching format to do something like weekly recaps to cover the boring days and to continue making posts for the exciting stuff. I also want to write a bit more about some of the issues down here and the actual "feeling" of being down here, walking these streets.

I will still upload pictures and put them in the daily folders, I'll mention the folders that are the most special, with the best pictures. I might even just do some picture spotlight posts.

I haven't really been consistent with this thing anyways, but now it might become more structured, but less frequent.


Day 41, End of the World

(Thursday, the 18th of February, 2016)
It felt like my head had just hit the last night, but the alarm was ringing so presumably I'd slept a little bit. I rolled out of my bed into my clothes and backpack and headed out into the early morning to the nearby bus station. Somebody told me that I needed to take bus 45, and I confirmed that online. What I didn't know is that there are two bus 45s, A and B. One goes to the airport which is where I want to go, the other goes to the Retiro neighbourhood, which is not the place to be at 5 in the morning. Once the bus driver convinced me that I was on the wrong bus, I got off and decided that a taxi might be better.

I made it to the airport all good after that little screw up and I caught the flight. The thing is, the cheapest flight that wasn't at an ungodly hour was to Ushuaia first, layover, then El Calafate. This looks quite crazy on a map because I fly farther south only to take a connection back northwards to my final destination. My layover was already quite long, but the plane was delayed as well which added another hour and a half to the layover. Finally I ended up in El Calafate, a little later than I expected, but what can you do. I checked into the hostel and then I scrambled into town to explore a bit and to get groceries before the grocery store closed.

I picked up a ticket for a glacier tour tomorrow and I ended up staying up cooking till about midnight. The kitchen was busy till about 11:30, because the hostel has 100 backpackers trying to cook in one room with only 8 burners to cook on, yikes. Although I did end up meeting this cool kiwi named Chris and we had a midnight dinner together. After a quick cleanup, it was high time to sleep, seeing as I was up at about 5:00 AM this morning.

See all of my pictures here!

Day 40, Exchange Pt. III

(Wednesday, the 17th of February, 2016)
I had been reading in a guidebook (which is from 2013, granted) that it can be extremely difficult to get cash out if ATMs in Patagonia, either because there are no ATMs, the because the few that are present run out of money because everyone drains them. So I decided to exchange my spare American dollars for pesos so that I won't end up stuck with no money. I had to go to the central bank downtown and go through quite a long process to exchange legally. I ended up with about 6300 pesos, although since their biggest bill is 100, it was a giant was of bills. I felt pretty jittery riding the Subte back to my hostel.
The rest of the night was spent packing for tomorrow's early flight to the end of the world. Although I did get sidetracked a bit and I ended up playing a few hours of pool with some hostelmates from Chile and Mexico, that was quite fun. I also used this last chance to Skype home, because the rumor is that the internet in Patagonia is quite terrible. The 4:45 AM wake up looms ahead for tomorrow, but I can always sleep some more on the plane.

See all of my photos here!