There are 80 to 90 mile per hour winds in the forecast. No, it’s not a hurricane coming. It’s just another typical day in Patagonia! The locals don’t even seem to notice it, but us tourists sure do. Bryan and I have been through two hurricanes in the last several years in Southeastern Virginia, but I don’t recall winds like these. Or maybe it’s the 30 degree temperature combined with those crazy winds that really get you. It could be warm, sunny, and calm or freezing, windy, snowing and rainy. And all this within 10 minutes. We were sweating in t-shirts one minute and shivering in two fleece jackets, hats, and gloves the next. Nonetheless, all the wild weather conditions are worth it. Patagonia is breathtaking and is a fantastic place to hike. The ever-changing weather is part of the adventure of the region. We have spent the last week or so exploring Patagonia as we make our way North from the World’s Southernmost City, Ushuaia (where we disembarked after our Antarctic cruise).
Torres del Paine (Chile)
I’m proud to say that I survived a 4-day, 3-night hike through Torres del Paine National Park in Chile. I’m not sure if I’m more proud of myself for enduring the 33 miles of tough hiking or for going almost 4 days without a shower! 🙂 There were some steep and strenuous parts and we carried ALL of the things we needed for the time on our backs. We rented a tent, sleeping bags, sleeping mats, a kitchen set and hiking poles. We filled our backpacks with pastas, beans, dried fruits, cookies, and nuts. It was a quite a feeling of accomplishment after a full-day of hiking. The first morning we woke up before sunrise and hiked a steep, rocky hill to catch the sunrise over the Torres (granite peaks). The sunrise comes up on the other side but lights up the Torres peaks red and orange and reflects into the turquoise glacier-fed lake. There are streams and rivers throughout Torres del Paine. They are fed from the melting glaciers. There is no need to bring more than one small water bottle because you can always refill it with the cold, crystal clear water from the streams and rivers. It’s probably the freshest and most delicious water you’ll ever drink.
We were hoping to complete the whole “W” trek through Torres del Paine. After all, we are the “World Wandering Waughs,” so it would be fitting. However, when we began the hike they were calling for bad weather in a few days. We decided to do the W backwards to ensure that we saw the Torres in good weather. Our final section of the W would be the part that was recently destroyed in a massive forest fire. Now comes the “Troublesome Turd” part of the title that I know you’ve been waiting for. :-). A few months ago an Israeli hiker decided to set up his own camp (it’s illegal to camp outside of the designated camping areas in the park). He also broke the rules by burning his toilet paper after he …ahem…did his business. And he didn’t put the fire from burning the toilet paper out! This quickly started an enormous forest fire in the park that went on to devastate over 40,000 acres of the UNESCO Biosphere Reserve. Sadly, the trees in the park are extremely slow-growing and delicate. They take 200 years to reach maturity and only grow in certain conditions. The Israeli camper was in jail for a little while until his family hired an attorney. Chile is asking Israel to help with the astronomical costs of the fire and to assist with reforestation (not sure whether they will yet). Anyways, we opted not to hike the final day of the W to Glacier Grey in the horizontal rain and through the burnt forest.
Perito Moreno Glacier (Argentina)
We didn’t mind missing out on Glacier Grey because after Torres del Paine we headed Northeast back into Argentina to see Perito Moreno Glacier. Even in Antarctica, we didn’t see any glaciers that came close to Perito Moreno. This thing is massive – 19 miles long, 3 miles wide, 558 feet deep, and still growing! The glacier moves at a speed of about 5 feet a day. Every few years, there is a “rupture” when a portion of the glacier reaches the land and separates the lake. The pressure from the water pushes through the ice and eventually the ice collapses causing an enormous splash. We heard a few days before coming that the glacier was near rupture. It actually made worldwide news and the nearby area was glued to the TV in anticipation. They knew the collapse could be anytime. We rented a car with a lovely Canadian couple and woke up at 4:30 a.m. to head to the park. When we arrived, we discovered that the collapse had just occurred at 3 a.m. (when the park was closed to everyone but park rangers). The phenomenon happens around every 2-4 years and we missed it by only a couple of hours! I was actually relieved it was finished because if it was still intact, I knew we would be there all day in the cold while Bryan waited for the collapse and hoped to get the perfect picture. We were really fortunate that the glacier was extremely active during our visit. Every 10 minutes or so, massive chunks of ice would fall into the water and cause a mini-tsunami effect in the lake. I can’t begin to guess how old the falling ice was and it was gone in a few seconds. We spent the entire morning waiting for the next big wall of ice to fall. It was one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen. The glacier was filled with different bright, shiny shades of blue and natural gray stripes and other intricate designs. Throughout this trip I’ve realized that God has created things more spectacular than any human could ever dream up.
The friendliness of South Americans continues to impress us. Yet another thing to love about this beautiful and diverse continent! During our stay in El Calafate (the town outside the glacier), we met an Argentine couple and their Chilean friend staying at our hostel. We returned to the hostel one evening while they were eating a traditional parilla dinner. They excitedly motioned us over and insisted we join them in eating their steak and salad and drinking their wine. Although they couldn’t speak any English and we have very basic Spanish, we somehow conversed for a few hours. One of the guys is originally from Morocco. He began showing Bryan a website for a group of the Muslim Brothers of Patagonia. He talked about Bill Clinton, Osama Bin Laden, and George Bush. We couldn’t figure out where he was going with his conversation. That was our cue it was time to go to bed before Bryan’s limited Spanish caused him to accidentally be initiated into this group. I’m sure Bryan did look like a prime candidate for the group with his new “mountain man” beard. 🙂
El Chalten (Argentina)
From the town of El Calafate (near Perito Moreno Glacier), we continued our travels North to the teeny, tiny town of El Chalten. El Chalten is the Trekking Capital of Argentina. It’s also home to Fitz Roy Mountain which is one of the most challenging mountains in the world to climb. Don’t worry, Bryan didn’t make me climb it! 🙂 It was hard enough just to take a picture of Fitz Roy! We spent a few hours in hopes that the clouds would clear completely. Bryan was just lucky to have the opportunity to take a photo of Fitz Roy with only a small cloud at the tip. El Chalten offers some excellent day hikes with outstanding scenery. They were a cake-walk compared to Torres del Paine, especially since we didn’t have anything to carry.
The 27-hour Bumpy, Stinky Bus Ride
We thought we were pretty fortunate to score the last couple seats on the bus from El Chalten to Bariloche. Little did we know there was a reason those were the last-picked seats. I usually don’t mind the long bus rides through South America. But then again, we’re usually not sitting right next to the bus bathroom. And we’re usually not on a gravel road for a big part of the time. The bathroom stench was by far the worst part. It got worse and worse as the hours dragged on. Just imagine sitting right next to an in-use porta potty for 27 hours. Yeah, not fun. People would not stop going to the bathroom over and over again – waking us up with the loud door opening and closing and the wretched stink. One Chinese guy was in there for a good 45 minutes. The Israeli girls on the bus just kept taking turns going to the bathroom the entire ride. So an Israeli’s bathroom issues strike again! Bryan swears that we’ll wait around for 3 days in a town before we get stuck with the bathroom seats again. On the way from the bus station to the hostel, I told Bryan that I think 2 years is WAY to long to travel. He has to keep reminding me to focus on the wonderful, unique things we are seeing, rather than the sometimes dirty hostels and smelly bus rides. Hopefully after a good night sleep in a bed I’ll feel the same way.
On a positive note, we are in beautiful Bariloche, Argentina now. It’s the Northern point of Patagonia in the lake-district. We were able to meet up with our Welsh friends Bobby and Lauren (our mud volcano and scuba buddies from Colombia). We did a kayak tour on the lake today and tomorrow we are renting bikes. The weather is much warmer (and much less windy) here as well.