La Carretera Austral – Day Five

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Futaleufu

What’s been nice about this trip is the waking up slow.  We’ve slept in every day. Yet I still feel like we’ve managed to do something exceptional each day.  It is awesome having daylight until 11pm, it allows for so many activities.  It’s new for me to be this patient, I usually want to wake up in the morning and get up and go but travelling with two other people is forcing me to wake up, and wait, and it’s so peaceful.  We will still get moving, we will still get to the places we want too.  If we don’t make it, we miss out, but it’s not the end of the world, we can do something else, go somewhere else.  It was hard to relinquish this control but I’m learning.  I usually I like to travel alone but the joy of having companions on this trip is also enough to allow for this little sacrifice.

We headed into Futaleufu to see whether Wendy and Scott could get on a rafting trip- part of the reason why we had driven slightly off the Carretera.  We hung around town for a few hours and eventually Wendy and Scott left for rafting and I took the car to hike Piedra Del Anguilla.  The hike was a steady steep climb for 45 minutes which brought me into a farm where I thought I had lost the trail until a farmer appeared and spoke to me in Spanish telling me I needed to pay 1000CLP to continue.  I hadn’t taken any money with me and he didn’t seem too bothered when I told him “no dinero, no pesos” he walked me over to the padlocked gate and let me through.  The last 15 minutes was again almost straight up and then I was at the peak, which involved a little bouldering to get the best view.  I felt on top of the world on every sense.  It was good to have some time alone and enjoy the hike back down, running and pretending to be an aeroplane intermittently on the way!

The hike had taken me about half the time I expected so I decided to head to Laguna Espejo 10km out from the other side of town. I picked up a French hitch-hiker named Patrice and we chatted in English for a few km until I reached the turn off for the lake.  We said goodbye and maybe we’d meet again since we will both be heading south the next few days!  It was only later I realised he had left his food bag in the car :/

I met back up with Wendy and Scott and we ate dinner for 1000CLP in Futaleufú plaza- they had a cooking festival going on and a chef was there making a delicious rice, veggie and meat platter.  We decided to skip out on paying for a campsite as the previous night had cost us 6000CLP each and that was double what we had been paying in the south, so we drove out by the river that leads to the lake I had visited earlier and we pitched our tents right by the water for the night.  We built a campfire and tried our very best to get the one log going that had been left behind by someone previous.  The log didn’t take, probably due to the rain the previous night but we did enjoy milk and cookies and a clear night, new moon, all the stars in the sky.

I think it was good for us all to take a break from one another today.  Go and do our own things and remember why we are here on this trip together – just to have fun and “be” while we transition through this phase of life.

Two more days on La Carretera and then on to our next adventure!

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La Carretera Austral – Day Four

Coyhaique – Rio Simpson Nacional Parque – Puerto Cisnes – Queulat Nacional Parque – Futaleufú

After a very rainy night, of which I was honestly glad to have chosen to sleep in the car, we woke in Coyhaique, showered for the first time on this trip, ate our standard breakfast which consists of some or all of the following- eggs, avocado’s, tomatoes, black beans, spinach and cheese and chatted with the other campers.  We spoke to a couple who were hitch-hiking.  This is a really common way to get around La Carretera Austral, they told us of a festival in Puerto Cisnes (which is a slight detour from Parque Queulat- our target for the day).  Unfortunately we weren’t able to offer them a ride, the three of us, plus our packs and food for a week easily takes up the majority of the room, but we took the information on board and all agreed we’d like to check out the festival first before heading to Queulat.
Almost as soon as we left the outskirts of Coyhaique we were surrounded by waterfalls on either side, small trickles to huge bursting showers which we could see from the road and then wander through these jungled trails, to the soaking bases.  There were giant ferns, luscious green leaves that were at least a metre across and all sorts of bright coloured flowers and tropical looking plant life, we kept commenting how it seemed we could be in Hawaii or Fiji.. we were actually in Rio Simpson Nacional Parque which ran alongside the road for about 50km.

On previous excursions the three of us have been performing handstands for memorable photographic circumstances.  We had joked that if we had room for a hitch-hiker, in order to travel with us they would have to perform a handstand.  Today was the day we got our chance.  We left the rain behind in Coyhaique, and gained a solo hitcher.  We pulled over, rearranged our backpacks as best we could and then Wendy requested him to perform a handstand, he was a terrible gymnast but a game guy and did his best despite probably questioning his own decision to join us.
The road was paved from Coyhaique until the Cisnes turn off so it only took us about three hours to get there.  After days of bumping along on the unpaved tracks it was nice to be on a smooth road for a while. About 30-45 min after we picked up our hitch hiker we were in Puerto Cisnes, ready for some fried fish and chips…. only to be told the festival started today but there was no fish until tomorrow and that’s also when they would also be (randomly) floating a house out on the water to celebrate.  After a little investigating, a piece of cake and turning down the option to pay for trampolining we decided to continue on to Queulat.  The road had been mainly paved, aside from the Cisnes detour, and we were in the park in about twenty minutes – on unpaved roads we travelled to the trailhead for the enchanted forest but it was 5.30pm and we learnt the trail closed at 5pm.  This was also true for Ventisquero Colgate – the trail to a glacier which cracks and carves into a waterfall.  After a quick chat with the ranger we decided to stop here at the trailhead and cook dinner- lentils, black beans, sweetcorn, avocado, tomato, cheese and tuna.  We are eating really well as far as I’m concerned- a lot better than my usual road-trip meals which ordinarily consist of whatever I think I can easily open while I’m driving along, i.e. Potato chips, cereal bars and cookies!
It was about 7.30pm when we finished dinner so we decided to continue on as far as Scott was happy to drive towards Futaleufú.  Wendy and Scott plan to go white water rafting and I plan to not.  The drive in is supposed to be spectacular but the sun had already set so I guess we will try to catch it on the drive out.. We arrived at Campsite Aldea Puerto Espolon around 11.30pm and settled quickly to sleep.

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La Carretera Austral – Day Three

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Chile Chico – Villa Castillo – Coyhaique

Today is a driving day, we woke in Chile Chico to beautiful sunshine- the warmest day I’ve had so far since leaving Buenos Aires.  Slow to start, we gathered our things, made double breakfast and did some yoga by the lake.  I acknowledge where I am at. I acknowledge what it took to get me here.  I recognise myself and my feelings.  I feel alive today.

I don’t need stability.  I can do stability.  Sometimes I even make believe it suits me.  It’s like a false dawn.  It doesn’t take long until something inside calls me on.  I need let’s wake up and go somewhere else.  Let’s see something different.  Let’s learn something new.  I can do let’s stay here a while until we want to move on.  I need change.  I need adventure.  I need some more.  I need expansion.  I need constant growth.  I need connection, to myself, the natural world, the earth, the universe, occasionally others around me.  I accept I am here, this moment is mine, this moment is all I have.  I have the choice to make it more, or less, or leave it as is.  I have the right to say no.  I have the right to say not that path.  I know all these things.

I am working on being able to accept what I cannot control.  Decisions that are made without my input.  I think the key may be to be consciously aware that where one path ends, several others begin.  Sometimes the trail isn’t yet blazed, the grass is overgrown, the way is far from obvious.  I must remember I have the tools to create a way out.  I must remember it’s okay to hide while I assess my whereabouts, tread lightly, brush the fern aside.  I must remember to take action.  To protect myself.  To push forward with ways to heal.  To scale myself, to input energy into places that will bring positive results and retract energy out of areas that don’t currently deserve my focus.

I can have what I want.  If all my dreams are destroyed I can sleep until I have new ones.  I am mind, body, soul and spirited.  I am going after my goals.

We set off around midday and by 4pm were back in Rio Tranquillo, the weather was amazingly even better than our drive down.  How grateful we are.  We stopped briefly just outside of Villa Castillo to check out the Monumento Nacional Alero Las Manos de Cerro Castillo.  A short walk up to some caves which had indigenous wall paintings and a panoramic view of Cerro Castillo.  We have decided that we aren’t going to hike at Castillo since the most popular route is 3-4 days long, and the “day hike” we had heard is at least 8 hours of steep climbing and ever changing weather.  We had squash dog salads from the Hyundai Grill (the trunk of our car) for dinner and then drove on to Coyhaique.  Assuming there would be an array of camping options we were surprised when we asked the gas attendant for a recommendation and he didn’t know of any.  We pulled up outside the hostel which our friend Sara worked at to borrow the wifi, jumped on google and found three campsites basically dotted around the gas station we’d been at! Ha! So we pulled in to camp at a place with no name that we could see, it had been raining for an hour or so already so I opted to sleep in the car while Wendy and Scott quickly pitched their tent.  We were all exhausted from not really having slept the night before due to noisy neighbours and so were all soon sound asleep.

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La Carretera Austral – Day Two

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Chile Chico – Reserva Nacional Lago Jeinemeni – Chile Chico

Today we drove the 50km from Chile Chico to Reserva Nacional Lago Jeinemeni.  It was another dirt road, google predicted 2.5 hours of driving time but Scott got us there safely within an hour.  The mountain range to our right provided what seemed like and example of every shape of peak available, the colours ranged from the dusty reds of Arizona to the turquoise blues spotted in Death Valley, they were exemplified by the sun and we were more than pleased to have the beautiful weather accompany our drive, and stick with us all day.  On the other side of the road the dessert stretched out into Argentina, wide open plains that were halted only by the distant snow capped peaks.
Once reaching the park entrance we discovered it would be 3000CLP (about $5 entry each). We made our way chunking down the road over rocks, potholes, puddles and rivers to the ranger station where we were given a lot of really helpful information (in Spanish) about our trail and hiking options.  I managed to understand trail distances, where to (and not to) drink from the streams and where to (and not to) take the car.

We headed first to Mirador Del Lago trail, driving the car 2.2km from the ranger station, across a very questionable wooden boarded bridge and around the very edge of the lake shore.  The 1km trail began by taking us through a small forest and then swept around and up to a series of lookout points affording us a stunning panoramic view of Lago Jeinemeni, like the kayaking spot of yesterday, the blue was a Mediterranean feast for our eyes.

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Our next stop was across the lake (and back across the dodgy bridge).  Escorial Del Silenco trail was a steeper climb, bringing us slightly higher and a little further along, opposite where we had been thirty minutes before.  It was 1.6km of almost straight up and we quickly questioned the “Baja” or “low” grade rating on the trailhead sign, this was definitely at least a moderate hike!

Eyeballs satisfied we headed back out of he main park entrance, slightly elevated, driving alongside the river, wind whipping by, sun beaming down.  We kept our eyes out for the signpost to Sector Piedra Clavada, Cueva de las Manos y Valle Lunar trail and took the steep road up to the trailhead.  This hike was a 7.4km roundtrip with a viewpoint or cave painting on average at each kilometre.  We weren’t prepared for just how much fun was in store for us! The first 3/4km we were heading up hill through a giants playground.  Enormous rock formations seemed to grow and expand out of the ground, racing to the sky whilst huge boulders lay scattered in between the valley as if some great being had tossed them aimlessly in any which way.  On we climbed to the peak where we had an incredible view of the Parque, mountains encircling us and lakes laying at their feet.  From here we could see again Lago Carrera, which we had spent the previous day driving all around.  We carried on heading downhill now, another valley of great rock structures opening out before us like a flower blooming, growing, getting more beautiful in the approaching sunlight.  We passed a small cave where petroglyphs from over 7000 years ago were visible, we walked in the footsteps of these indigenous people who told stories with their paintings on the walls.  From here we could see some crazy white rock formations, they looked like they had been one gigantic rock just blown apart and smoothed off by the wind.  In no time we were walking amongst them.  “Lunar Valle” (The Valley of the Moon) was a playground to us.  We were immediately transformed into inquisitive five year olds, climbing, jumping, skidding around these incredible rocks.  We were miniature versions of a life obsolete against these extremely old and beautiful formations.  They have been here, standing the test of time, for centuries.  We are merely fleeting butterflies in their worlds.  After playing “on the moon” we decided to head back to the car and make some dinner. Careful not to lose the trail- as we had been advised many hikers do, we headed downhill at a 45′ angle, sand and dust filling our shoes, sky and earth filling our souls.

Pulled up at another spectacular roadside spot for dinner, we noticed these crazy clouds, that looked almost like a cartoon drawing.  Fluffy white pancakes streaking across the sky in fading light which again sent a pink glow over everything it touched.

Day two on the Carretera.  The moon landing was mind blowing.

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La Carretera Austral – Day One

Coyhaique – Puento Rio Tranquillo – Chile Chico
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We picked up our Hyundai Tucson at 9am from Europcar in Coyhaique town centre (after Wendy deciphered the hefty Spanish insurance contract!) and headed to UniMart for groceries, where we spent around US$100 for 8 days of feeding the three of us, grabbed our backpacks from the Airbnb we had been staying at and were on the road by 11am.. we had a little window of time because we needed to be south of Cerro Castillo (about 90 mins away) before they closed the road for construction at 1pm.

The drive was absolutely stunning, mountain after mountain appeared on the skyline and about an hour into the journey we began to spot the spires of Castillo looming over the mountains in the forefront.  The rock of this mountain is so many shades darker than all of the surrounding scenery, and with snow scattered to and fro all over its obscure faces it really seemed ominous, in a truly captivating way.  We drove under its shadow, eyes drawn to this powerful formation.

Shortly after leaving Villa Castillo, the paved road turned to gravel and was like that for the entire rest of the day’s journey.  Mountains and hills rolled alongside us, each corner providing a new and wondrous view, I lost count of how many times I had my breath taken away today.  Our aim of the day was to reach Puerto Rio Tranquillo.  Tranquillo is home to Capilla de Marmol (The Marble Caves), Wendy and Scott have had it on their bucket list for a while and I was only too happy to accompany them along and check it out.  What an incredible sight.  We had been told that it was difficult to find places to rent kayaks once we got to Tranquillo and that we would have to be very lucky with the weather for a clear day and calm waters.  What do you know, we arrived in good time, around 3pm, the first place we passed had speed-boat/kayaking tours so we pulled into Explorasur Excursions, had a quick chat with the owner and within 30 minutes we were 107,000CLP lighter and in a speedboat that was carrying us and our kayaks across the lake.  The scenery continued to have us exclaiming with joy all the way through the boat journey and after about twenty minutes we were at the caves.  They reminded me a lot of The Apostle Islands which I had previously visited in Wisconsin.  These caves were made of marble and the patterns were quite exquisite!  We had about 90 minutes to kayak in and out, around and through, it was a lot of fun and we excitedly explored, climbing out of the kayaks (though not technically allowed) to get onto the rocks and closer into the caves.  A real fun afternoon!  The water was flat as a pancake and the weather was warm and bright.

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Since that portion of our day had gone so smoothly we were back on dry land by 5pm and headed into “town” to discover a few huts along the waterfront, all advertising boating and kayaking.. not sure how anyone had a problem locating them! One hostel, one gas station, one maybe restaurant.  We’d been told Tranquillo was not a big town but had not been forewarned that it was practically non-existent and with five hours of daylight we decided to continue South on La Carretera and head towards Reserva Nacional Lago Jeinemeni, which would actually bring us back to Chile Chico.

If the morning’s drive was wondrous then the evening drive was nothing short of spectacular.  We followed the shoreline of the lake and stopped off roadside for dinner- there were magnificent views in every direction with which to pull up and create our now infamous (at least among us!) “squash-dogs”.  Consisting tonight of chicken hot dogs, squash, spinach, cheese, tomato and avocado wrapped – barely contained – in a tortilla.  Delicious. Onward we went, mountain ranges of all shapes, sizes and colours popping up either side of us, every corner still providing a new and spectacular view.  At one point a cloud rolled in and it began to rain lightly, I had commented a day or two ago on how I hadn’t seen a rainbow here yet and suddenly there was a double rainbow, the initial one so bright and clear that we could see all of the colours, where it seems to begin on one side of the road and disappear into the mountain on the other.  We felt as though we would drive right underneath it but instead it accompanied us almost all the way until sunset, no complaints.  In fact we were so distracted by it’s beauty we missed our turn, although fortunately not by too much.

We were now leaving La Carretera and joining Ruta 265 which would take us all the way into Chile Chico.  I’m running out of words to describe the view but it was just constant. The mountains and lake were a stunning permanence punctuated by smaller lagoons and ranges, windey gravel roads and painting perfect clouds.  Sunset shed a pink glow over everything and replaced the rainbow with spotlight sun rays beaming down over everything we could see, and we could see as far as the naked eye would allow us.
Arriving after dark, we stopped at a campsite in Chile Chico which was US$7 each for the night and lay down in the warm night air for a well earned rest.

La Carretera Austral, I was prepared for beauty, but not on this scale and not this constant.  What an absolute treasure, and that was just after one day.

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Crossing the border: Argentina -> Chile – January 2017

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Leaving El Chaltén behind was bittersweet, I definitely believe I’ll be back there more than once.  It was the perfect combination of outdoors and cosy, beautiful skies and crazy storms!

We used the Cal-Tur bus company to book our trip from El Chaltén to Los Antiguos.  We booked it the day before we needed to travel, with no problem.  It cost $1100 ARS and they gave us a warm ham & cheese sandwich, and provided us with “jugo” and “cafe” for the journey.  The seats were really comfy, which was extra nice as it was a night bus- we departed El Chaltén at 7pm on the dot and arrived into Los Antiguos just after 6am.  There were two drivers who switched out every couple of hours.  It was a very smooth journey, aside from the actual road (Ruta 40) bouncing us along!

We had been told that once we arrived into the bus station at Los Antiguos we would be able to get onto another bus which would take us across the Argentinian-Chilean border.  However, none of the bus companies were open yet and the only one displaying any information was closed until 10am.  A paper note taped to the ticket window informed us that the first bus to cross the border wouldn’t depart until 1pm, it also didn’t have a price listing.  We opted to take a taxi-shuttle which cost us $50 ARS to the Argentinian border (about 3km away). The taxi driver assured us the walk across no man’s land was around 600 metres and then we would come across Chilean taxis.

Whilst waiting at the check point we chatted to some people who had just walked from the bus station and others who had taken a cab on the street which cost them around $10 ARS each.

We waited half an hour for the check point to open at 8am.  After a fairly swift flick through our passports we were given a stamped piece of paper and sent on our way.

It soon became very obvious to us and the others we’d been chatting too that 600 metres was actually more like another 6km.. fortunately about 1km down the road, just as we stopped to take our heavy packs off and stretch our backs and shoulders a shuttle bus pulled alongside us and offered to take 10 of us for $50 ARS each through the Chilean check point and onto Chile Chico – the town we were staying at around 10km after the border. THANK GOODNESS because I really wasn’t sure my back was going to make it carrying our entire packs that far – my backpack weighed around 18kg and then I was also carrying my daypack on the front which I never weighed but assume was around 8-10kg especially with my 3L water pouch full!

We went into the Chilean checkpoint, filled in two paper forms and then came across a problem.  It seemed that the Argentinian border patrol had stamped both Wendy and Scott’s passport with the wrong exit date- January 12th 2017 instead of January 21st, and they hadn’t stamped mine at all.  (Un)Fortunately this had befallen a few other travellers and so the Chilean officer made some minimal fuss and then stamped our passports and welcomed us all into Chile anyway.  Happy days!

Chile had some strict custom rules (and hefty fines apparently) about not taking in any animal products or fruit.. to our immense relief, the trail mix which we had excitedly put together from “Almazen” in Chaltén a few days before made it through!

We arrived at our hostel – Campament Nandu, Wendy and Scott had a nice talk with the receptionist in Spanish and I caught a few words here and there.  This place was in the conversion process turning from a disco hall into a hostel but it had an awesome vibe and the “staff” – it is being run by a family – were friendly and especially helpful with a power cut that took place and wiped out all electricity and wifi in the building we were in, and they kept the place extremely clean.  The sun came out to warm us and I managed to lay my yoga mat out, stretch and enjoy the rays!

Chile Chico is a small town, one long high street stretches languidly in the sun.  Water laps at the shore of Lago Gral Carrera to the north and desert stretches to the south before running into the National Reservations where the landscape changes drastically.  People are friendly and tourists frequently stop for a day or two after making the same border crossing that we had passed through.  Street dogs hang in packs, too lazy to cause any real trouble besides howling through the night, particularly favouring the dusk and dawn hours.

We headed into town to find out our options for travelling to Coyhaique the next day.  One option was to go to the marble caves at Rio Tranquillo (which otherwise we’d hit up on our roadtrip).  After being told it was 5 hours away, buses either left at 9am or 10.30am and the ferry left at 3pm but was possibly fully booked for another WEEK because of a festival, we decided to come up with a plan C.  We talked through our options and settled on trying to get ferry tickets and the back up plan would be to take a taxi to Rio Tranquillo and then catch a bus to Coyhaique from there.  We also found out that it would’ve been possible to book our ferry tickets (more than 24 hours) in advance with www.barcazas.cl . Good to know, but too late for us at this stage.

Thankfully; the two hour ferry was running and had plenty of tickets, one bus service from Puerto Ibáñez was full but another had space for us, just, since we brought the last three tickets!! So temporary stressing had in fact been just about unnecessary and thankfully not too high among any of us. Minor crisis averted.  I think travelling in a group highly reduces my worry about these things- even if everything goes wrong, it goes wrong for all of us and we will come to a solution together.  This was also doubly true for me at the moment because of the language barrier.  I am so thankful to be with Wendy who is able to discuss everything fluently in Spanish.  I think it would have been a slightly if not majorly different trip otherwise.  I have encountered plenty of people in these smaller towns who don’t speak any English, and as my Spanish is so limited it would not take long for us to reach an almost instant stalemate!

I took some sea-sickness tablets which promptly sent me straight to sleep for the entire ferry journey, and most of the one hour and forty minute bus journey to Coyhaique.  I was looking forward to meeting with Sara, a friend I had made through helpX and then Wendy, Scott and I would be starting our roadtrip on La Carretera Austral.

The Fitz Roy Range – El Chaltén – January 2017

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I am having a hard time adequately putting into words what it was like to stand in front of Mount Fitz Roy.  When the inspiration for your entire trip, your entire decision to change your life, is right in front of you, it humbles you, it can do nothing but render you speechless.

It was a little around a year ago that I first set eyes on this skyline whilst watching “A Line Across The Sky” at the Banff Film Festival in Los Angeles.  The documentary follows pro-climbers Tommy Caldwell and Alex Honnold as they make the first full ascent of the entire range.

I had heard that the first glance of Fitz Roy is visible from Ruta 40, the road which brings you into El Chaltén.  Known to the mountain community simply as Chaltén, the cosy little town which sits proudly at the base is a mecca for hiking and climbing enthusiasts, slowly building a reputation to rival Yosemite.  The Ruta 40 rumour did not disappoint.  The road snakes across the landscape, criss-crossing through dusty terrain, not unlike the California/Nevada borderline.  A few mountains, impressive in their own right, appear to the left and then suddenly, bursting from the dry, rocky desert ground, the Fitz Roy Range interrupts your line of sight and, if you’re anything like me, is imbedded spectacularly into your memory.

The minimal research we had done into Patagonian weather, and it’s reputation of being extremely temperamental, meant that we had tentatively booked into Hostel Rancho Grande for five nights.  Using booking.com meant that we would only have to give 24 hours notice if we decided not to use all of the reserved nights and that was fortunate because we awoke the next day to a clear blue sky.  In Patagonia, and particularly El Chaltén, you don’t hesitate to get out on track with that weather window.  We arranged with the hostel to lighten our backpacks and leave behind the majority of our belongings, so we only had to carry essential provisions for a 4 day/3 night trek.  Rancho Grande’s policy was that we could store luggage for free, as long as we stayed one night upon returning to town – considering we had to pay for at least one more night as per our booking.com agreement, this suited us just fine and we arranged our return for Thursday January 19th.

This was the circuit we would follow for the next few days (highlighted on the right in red):

Argentina - Fitz (23).JPGEvery day, every footstep almost, we were greeted with views that took our breath away.  There’s no way I can include enough photographs but hopefully these few will serve to do a small amount of justice.

Argentina - Fitz (9)Mountains slumber beside glaciers which feed rivers that trace lines across the landscape.  The beginning of the trek is mostly uphill, before flattening across the plateau as you make your way towards Fitz Roy.  The campsites were clean, sheltered and all situated a short walk from natural glacier water sources.  We had to tough it out through some rainy, windy, cold and at one point snowy nights but they were over quickly, (appeased with a chocolate bar, which we referred to as our Moral Booster, split three ways) and being greeted every morning with these beautiful blue skies certainly made the experience all the sweeter.

The only time when Patagonia really showed us what she was made of was during our time at the very base of Fitz.  After a strenuous hike uphill we couldn’t believe our luck to arrive into the valley with zero wind speed.  Exploring the nearby waterfall and scrambling around the rocks, grinning ear to ear, we felt truly in awe.  Suddenly, and seemingly from nowhere a wind swept in, so forceful it was knocking people off of there feet and we had to be extremely careful that we weren’t going to be slammed into the giant boulders and rocks that scatter the area.  I saw two girls get picked off the track and thrown into the ground at such a full force I was instantly fearful that there was going to be a serious accident.  Fortunately, Wendy, Scott, myself and the fifty or so other people made it down with no more than minor injuries.  A stark reminder that nature is as wild as it feels, and you are always at the mercy of the mountains.

The rest of the trek was fairly uneventful weather wise – wind, rain, beautiful sunny days the standard Patagonia (at least for us) turn around.  The stunning views never getting old, we all agreed we could have spent many days exploring, but it was time to move on and check out some more of what the vast countries of Argentina and Chile had to offer.  Four months later it is still this skyline view that is embossed in my mind when I think back to the South America portion of my trip.  I know my first visit to this wonderland will definitely not be my last.

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El Calafate & Perito Moreno Glacier – January 2017

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On January 12th I flew to El Calafate and stayed at Nakel Yenu Hostel where I had arranged to meet my friends Wendy and Scott, who were due to arrive the following day.  The hostel was warm, friendly and in a good location at the top of a hill about twenty minutes from the airport in one direction, and the bus station in another.  I’d been having a lot of trouble withdrawing / exchanging money and I finally figured out (with the help of the teller in Western Union) that only certain banks, and therefore atm’s would dispense money, linked to my account with Bank of America.

I had looked into travelling around South America, particularly Brazil a number of times over the past five years.  I had always deemed it too unsafe for myself, a solo female traveller with no Spanish speaking ability.  Finally, at the age of thirty, and with many other solo trips, moving to other countries and cities alone, under my belt, I just decided it was time.  If I didn’t just do it, then I never would.  Unlike my other trips, I had felt a lot of fear about travelling alone this time, I felt an overwhelming sense of loneliness about it.  On previous trips I had relished my own company.  It’s one of the things I value most about myself, that I love my time with myself and that I don’t have to rely on anyone else to be there with me.  The difference this time was that the trip was coming off the back of a very impactful and unexpected break-up, a relationship that for the first time in my life I thought I would be having to make room for in my travel plans.  The relationship was not to be, and as devastated and lost as I felt about it, I am too stubborn to let anything stand in the way of a decision I have made.  Stubbornness is my saving grace.  Still, I had spent many hours wondering how I would feel, and if in fact I had the strength to pull this off alone.  What I realised is there is a fundamental difference in being alone and lonely.  After many talks with close friends and my therapist about my fears, I began to accept and acknowledge that I could do it, and I would be okay.

Then along came Wendy.  A friend of a friend, our paths had crossed once, and through social media we connected our trips – we had both booked one way flights to South America with the vision of travelling for three-four months.  We first delighted in the fact that maybe we would be able to meet somewhere along the way, and as we talked more and more about where we wanted to go and what we wanted to see we realised that basically our entire itinerary for the first two months coincided.  I had been feeling happier about having the trip in motion but to know I now had a friend to be alongside was an overwhelming relief.

Scott, Wendy’s boyfriend had also decided to have his own adventure alongside Wendy, and now I, so we had agreed to meet in El Calafate and just see how it went from there.  Once they had arrived and we had caught up, Scott and I walked through town down to the shore to gaze at some flamingos; I was not surprised in the least that none of them were standing on one foot since the two of us were having enough trouble walking against the wind to see them!  My first introduction to the wild and ever changing weather fronts in Patagonia.

Our next and final day in El Calafate took us to the Perito Moreno Glacier, it’s one of only two preceding Glaciers in the world.  To get here we took a bus with Taqsa, which cost ARS 450 return, departing El Calafate at 8.30am and returning at 4pm.  It also cost an additional ARS 450 to purchase entry to the Parque  – organised by the coach service.

Once in the park, we followed the walkway around and over to the viewing points.  It really was quite incredible just sitting and listening to the ice crackle like thunder and every so often a small, medium or huge chunk would fall in slow motion and smash into the turquoise water, creating a wave of ice pushing away from the glacier; but within moments silence and stillness was fully restored.  What a metaphor for the emotional journey I had been through to this point.  Everything seemed to happen in slow motion until I got here, then it kind of smashed and imploded around me until I let go and started to accept that it was okay to be here, everything has levelled, and settled.

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Ushuaia – January 2017

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Ushuaia provided me with my first footsteps into the Argentina I had held in my mind for the past nine months.  Still having been unable to withdraw any cash I was able to rely on booking an airport transfer through Viator.  The guide who met me upon arrival was a local man, who happily informed me of the best restaurants to go to and recommended some day hikes that were accessible from town.  As we drove up through the small city, I commented on how similar the asthetics were to Iceland, he tallied with the comment that fishing towns all have a Scandinavian feel to them – similar weather systems and buildings that meet the needs of the town rather than the requirements of today’s “look at me” society.

I spent my one full day hiking to Laguna Esmeralda.  This involved a ARS 300 return shuttle from my hostel – Los Comoranes, to the head of the trail.  As I was able to pay for the hostel using my credit card I had the remainder of my cash to spare on this.  The trail was fairly well marked alternating between forest and muddy meadows.  The weather report had said it was due to rain between 9am and 12 noon, I was a bit concerned since we were due to be dropped off at 10.30am, right in the middle of the predicted rainstorm but after a moment on the mat, practising the yoga I find most effective for stretching my neck and shoulders, taking a conscious note of where I was, how I got there and my vibe for the day, I sent a wish up for good weather and was ever grateful that the rain actually held off, not only for my hike but the entire day.

The hike itself was not too strenuous, it provided some incredible vistas of the Argentinian wilderness and a few times I had to stop in my tracks to be in the moment and take it in.. you are supposed to allow yourself two hours each way, I proudly managed the first leg in ninety minutes and was more than happy with the reward.  The Laguna was beautiful, resting at the base where two mountains and a glacier meet. Perfect.  I took the time to sit and admire while I shared my lunch with the stray dogs who puppy dog eyed me out of a tuna sandwich.  I took my time strolling back, leaping rock-to-rock to avoid sinking in the mud and enjoying the wild feeling that had been absent for the past few weeks bubble back up inside me.  It was fortunate that I had time to play with since, in true Stina style, I lost the trail on my way back and managed to come across what I can only describe as a Husky Farm.  Here I also encountered a group of girls who were lost trying to get on the trail, as I was attempting to get off of it.  I pointed them in the direction of the Laguna, they pointed me in the direction of the road and just as I was anticipating having to hitch-hike my way back, the trail head came into view.

Back at the hostel I spent the remainder of the evening reading and chatting with my bunk mates.  At rest with myself.  Los Cormoranes Hostel had a really friendly vibe, a huge communal kitchen area and being high on the hill, a beautiful view of the bay.  The rooms were warm and comfortable, the staff polite and helpful and as a lone female traveller I felt completely at ease there.  It’s not often I visit somewhere and think I will never return, and Ushuaia is definitely going on the list of places I imagine I will return to at some time in my life.  Thank you for your pleasant scenery and healing vibes.  Next stop El Calafate to meet with Wendy and Scott, mis amigos Americanos.

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Mountains Heal – January 2017

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What a difference being in the mountains makes for me.  Ushuaia, in Argentina, is the southern most major city in the world before you reach Antarctica.  About as far away from everything as you can possibly be, yet it was the first point of feeling “home” for me on this trip.  As a discussion with my best friend most recently revealed,  “It would be nice to have a base,” I had said, “but I don’t feel that drive to find a ‘home’.”  “That’s because the world is your home.” He replied.  The mountains are my home.  I am my home.
I felt butterflies in my stomach but this time they were butterflies of excitement and awe.  I love glimpsing snow covered peaks from thirty-nine thousand feet.  I love flying through clouds and watching them part to reveal these majestic mountain tops, I am glued to the windowpane, forehead pressed against the cool glass, stuck in time.

I used to have a metaphorical box where I would “keep” moments and memories, I think by now it would be filled to the brim with cylindrical shaped airplane images.  That familiar border of the windows edge, framing sunrises, sunsets and all that is in between.  How grateful I feel to be able to fly all over the world.  Paramore were singing in my ear, “Honestly, can you believe, we cross the world while it’s asleep? I’d never trade it in ’cause I’ve always wanted this and it’s not a dream anymore.. it’s worth fighting for.”  I recognised the fight it took to bring me here, as we flew in over Tierra Del Fuego and I had this great big smile plastered on my face.

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