Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Tierra del Fuego

(19-22 April)

After a couple of days resting, working and waiting (for my glasses to come back from Torres del Paine) in the relaxing Puerto Natales, we finally decided to move south and this was for the last time our direction, for we hit the end of the world. To be fully honest, we would have liked to cross the Beagle channel and go further south to Puerto Williams, that indeed is the southernmost city in the world, and from there take a boat back to Punta Arenas. But we were one day late and we could not catch it. So we contented ourselves (for this time) of the most popular Ushuaia. 

If you happen to pass by these places, do not forget to try the King Crab.
I suspect we were out of season, but the locals could still cook it properly.
Ushuaia is a terrible city: so touristy that it almost feels arrogant, with private money running much faster than public ones and shape irregularly the city into a mix of huge commercial panels, mixed style buildings, streets with more space for cars than for people to walk. The weather did not help, as for most of the time it was the snowing, raining, or anyhow it was so foggy that you could not see much further out of the window. The reason why so much money is running into this city became however evident on Sunday, where the sky cleared from the clouds. We had decided to take a three hours boat trip into the Beagle channel and probably that was worth all the travel down there (12 hours by bus from Puerto Natales, crossing the strait  of Magellan). I guess what it made the difference was the mountains colors, divided by the red leaves of the tree at the bottom half and the white of the snow at the top. No ever-green tree to be seen. And of course see lions and other local fauna certainly helped making such a trip one to write back home about.

A sea-lion sounds like a mix of a sheep and a donkey.
Overall, of all the things that I have seen in the last 15 days, probably Perito Moreno is the most impressive and difficult to experience back in Europe. I am certainly not saying that I did not enjoy the travel so far. Rather, I would say that many of the beautiful things I have seen can also be experienced in similar places in Europe. Then of course the weather was cruel with us. But sure, it was great, and I am looking forward to see more.

Ok but that was it. I was (and still am) personally sick of bad weather. Fortunately we easily agreed to move northwards. Back to Buenos Aires where I am about to spend the first night after having started my one week intensive Spanish course. Ole'!

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Torres del Paine

(12-18 April)

It took us quite some time to get to Puerto Natales, the closest city to Torres del Paine. Puerto Natales is a small town, at least not entirely tourist made, with a small harbor. A pleasant place to stay a few days, if you can forgive the few youngsters on dark glass cars that cannot refrain from sharing with everybody their arguable taste for music. We stayed at the Amerinda hostel, that I would entirely recommend. If you happen to spend a night here, do not forget to try the chocolate bomb that they sell at the entrance bakery, it is an orgasm of chocolate.

We headed to the Torres del Paine on April 14. We were not sure how long to stay. Actually we are never sure what we are going to do a couple of days ahead. Anyhow we started the 'W' trail, so called because it looks like a 'W', a track of about 70 kilometers. At the end we did it almost all in 4 days, sleeping 4 nights in the tent. It is definitely a nice park, but I am not sure I would recommend to fly to this side of the world from Europe just to see it, especially because we got similar beauties on the Alps. Also, the weather was not the best, we got ice, snow, rain and, as it is obvious here in Patagonia, wind, lots of wind. 

Water proof materials are essential in Patagonia.

After having troubles with the rain, with mice entering the tent at night, with me losing the glasses in the campground and the weather that showed not sign of improvement, we decided to give up the last part of the trail.  The hike felt less and less like a pleasant experience and we felt more as if we had to throw the goddamn ring into the  Mount DoomHowever, waking up the planned day of come back, with surprisingly good weather, we changed our mind and finished the trail. And it was worth it, because we got to see the Torres Grande (that, as I mentioned, looks quite similar to "tre Cime di Lavaredo", in the Italian Alps). 

We have met a mouse up here, one of those that surgically made a hole in our tent and food bag.
Never leave the food inside the tent!

But I cannot hide that I was happy to come back today and get a shower after 5 days of stinking like a horse. 
We did our best to stay comfortable with food, but at end you need to carry mostly dry stuff, 
because it is light, and I was missing some fresh salad.

By the way, at the end it seems that my glasses have been found and I should see them again tomorrow. It is incredible how friendly and professional people are around here.

So now we are again in Puerto Natales, waiting for my glasses to come back, with a day of break that I will mostly use to finish some pending work. We are not sure where to go next, as usual, but probably we will try to go south the last time, towards Tierra del Fuego. Connections and weather conditions will condition our choice.

Numbers. The hike was about 72 Km. 
Day 1, 11.0 Km :  Refugio Paine Grande to Refugio Grey
Day 2, 18.6 Km : Refugio Grey to Campamento Italiano
Day 3, 15.5 Km : Campamento Italiano - Mirador Frances - Campamento Italiano - Hosteria Las Torres
Day 4, 19 Km : Hosteria Las Torres - Mirador Torres Grande - Hosteria Las Torres
Day 5, 7.5 Km : Hosteria Last Torres - Laguna Amarga

Friday, April 13, 2012

El Chalten


With the "power" of hindsight, I would have not spent much time in El Calafate, rather I would have just used it as a stopping place to go to Perito Moreno one half day, and I would have preferred to stay in El Chalten, about 200 Km away, north of El Calafate. While touristic as, if not more than, El Calafate, El Chalten is set right at the entrance of a national park (Glaciers North), and the trails start just at the end of the town, that is, likely, a few hundred meters away from where one sleeps. 

They say that if you spot a huemule (a kind of deer), you should report the position to the park rangers.

We stayed two nights in Albergue Patagonia, a lovely place that I would totally recommend. We also spent one day on the mountains, testing our outdoor gear at the feet of Fitz Roy, the smoky mountain. I have been told that people wait weeks in El Chalten for the good weather conditions in order to climb this peak.

We did not manage to see the peak of Fitz Roy from the park.
However, we got a nice shot on the way from El Calafate.

The weather in Patagonia is very unpredictable, locals say that there are four seasons per day. In particular, there are tremendous winds. I had never experienced something similar before: the second day of our hike, we were in the middle of strong rain and winds (and I was with the wrong gear) and the wind was literally moving me left and right at its will. Next: buy water-proof gear.

The ranger told us we can drink water straight from the lake or rivers.

We are about to move south now, towards Puerto Natales and then, hopefully, Torres del Paine. I will keep you posted.

Numbers. We are sleeping in double rooms with private bathroom in hostels, at the moment. The price is around 230 AR$ per room per night. The buses in this region are quite expensive: the 220 Km between El Calafate and El Chalten are costing us 180 AR$ round trip, and since we are in low season, there are very few connections.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Perito Moreno

(8 April 2012)

We are staying in El Calafate for a couple of days. El Calafate seems a town built in a rush, mostly for tourists. The most popular attraction here around is the Perito Moreno glacier, a majestic, blue hued, 4 Km front glacier that occasionally drops towers of ice into the lake that it feeds. 
50 meters above water, 120 below the water surface.

We were lucky enough to observe three major collapses, probably a 100 cubic meters of ice each? I am not sure, it is hard to estimate. But it was something like I have never seen before. By the way, the glacier is not receding (like, unfortunately, many other glaciers) because of global worming. Indeed it is not receding at all. Perito Moreno is stable and the ice that it donates to the lake is readily replaced by the new one that is formed back at the top.

Numbers. The entrance at the national park for Perito Moreno is 100 AR$, and the bus from El Calafate is also 100 AR$. To see the glacier from the lake, you have to buy a boat ticket for another 70 AR$, and this is totally worth it. To be honest, spending all the day at the glacier is not necessary. If I could choose, say with my car, I would go in the afternoon, for an half a day excursion.

Time to go

(6-7 April 2012)

This travel has been in the planning phase for more than one year and yet we have not been able to book the tickets earlier than 40 hours from the flight that took us from Zurich to Buenos Aires. I am still surprised that one can just do it, like that.

Do you know that flying is the third most dangerous mode of
transportation, if you count by journey? 

This was mostly a traveling day, and as I am scared of flying, a terrible one. Once in Buenos Aires, we decided to flight further south, to Patagonia. We booked right away a one way flight ticket to El Calafate and before the sunset we were at destination. Hopefully, from now on, there will be no more flights.

The brown water of Buenos Aires

Numbers*.  The ticket, Zurich-Buenos Aires and Peru-Roma, costed about 1200 Eur, while the one way flight to El Calafate, was about 200 US$. In particular, we bought the flight to El Calafate online from the airport, and we saved 100 US$ with respect to the price that they were giving us at the LAN counter at the same airport.

* As I hope that these posts will be useful to others, I am going to report some details at the end of the post, just to give you an idea of resources employed, mostly time and money.