I decided that the beré that I bought in Buenos Aires is to be my hat for all walks in Patagonia; my brand, if you will. The presence of this hat (actually called a boina) adds a certain gravitas to my look and suggests that every word that comes out of my mouth is one that is reflected upon by a very wise man. Sounds spot on right? Moreover, I have been described, as a young, slightly more handsome, slightly more ginger Che Guvarra. The fact that this description comes mostly (entirely) from me is neither here nor there. I am thinking that any one of the images below is likely to be the face that launches a thousand posters within the year! I guess all I need do in the interim is be aboard a socialist revolution. I hear T.May has called another occasion to trust the populace; perhaps Corbyn is recruiting for the Reds?
Bus ride of 4+hours number four of the week is where I begin this blog’s entry. I suspect bus ride number eight will be where I finish it. My principle of zero busses has, quite evidently, failed miserably ~ “a la mirda” they would say here. Good thing Steinbeck wrote a rather drab book that reminds us of how everything we intend to happen tends to get buggered-up anyway! (“Best laid plans of mice and men oft go awry”. Only non-UK citizens will be forgiven for not knowing this as it is on the GCSE syllabus for every sixteen year old in the country!)
<One remark about flights in The Americas. They clap when you land. Now I feel applauding the Pilot for doing is job is just not the done thing. One does not applaud the Postman walking down your drive with the correct post, envisage the English slow-clap + “well done dick-head, you managed it today”. Nor does one clap the taxi driver when you arrive at the correct destination, nor the waiter when he succeeds in brining the correct dish to your table. As such, clapping the Pilot for not killing everyone on board seems a little odd! While they clap for him, I tut at them.>
After a notable number of hours that were spent: sleeping on the floor of an airport due to my flight being at the obscene time of 3.35am 2); my flight landing in Ushuaia (nicknamed The End of the World) and then taking-off again from Ushuaia having not left the plane; pottering on a small bus to the rather odd El Calafate (which exists exclusively to serve those going between Chilean and Argentinian Patagonian National Parks); sitting on another bus to get to the ghost town of Puerto Natales (Chile appeared to be having one long holiday for my time in the country); hiring the required camping kit with my Dutch companion Martijn Spoon (henceforth Ma Spoon); getting on another bus the next day to get to the National Park itself and then a boat to start the four-day track from the recommended far-side of the “W” track of Torres del Paine – we began the first of many long walks in Patagonia.
Torres del Paine
I laboriously list the above in an attempt to articulate how very very difficult it is to get to this place and how it seems a complete anathema that people would go to such lengths to go anywhere. Moreover, even in the lowest of the low season (which we are now in) the hostel in which I stayed was alive with tourists all with similar trips to mine. This is because Torres (towers) del Paine (the best of Chilean Patagonia) is quite simply breathtaking. It is very had to begin to put into words how deeply, awe-inspiringly incredible it is. I heard Scotland described as the Lake district on Steroids. Perhaps we might say that Patagonia is Scotland on LSD? I shall allow the photos of the four day, three night trek speak for themselves (a sigh of relief to for those wishing to avoid a Dickensian narrative)…
Lets not kid ourselves though, this is not for the faint hearted! Sleeping in a tent in the mild English summer is somewhat of a chore. In sub-zero temperatures in Patagonia, I can assure you that it is somewhat more of one. We were warned that mice like to eat through everything (including bags) thus hung-up everything on trees. We also had to carry our food and all camping gear between each campsite, having opted for the camping option as opposed to the Dorm one. Alternatively you could approach this as did two unwashed American children and bring all the wrong gear, all the wrong food-types (half of which were eaten by foxes on the first night), the wrong fuel for your stove and only dollars to the deepest depths of Chile. (I heard one of them negotiating the exchange rate with a fellow traveller kind enough to do the swap!)
CB likes to consider himself a pretty fit kind of chap, but day three below though was tough, the statistics do not include the 3 stone bag that I carried all day up said 400+ flights of stairs! We passed a few more rotuonned individuals. God only knows how they managed it!
Cold during the night was undeniably ameliorated by the obligatory sunrise view of the Torres themselves (8am), which involved scrambling up the rocks of a mountain in the dark… an especially perilous path for CB who managed to lose the path and was thus scaling an ever increasingly steep mountain in the dark, while half asleep… After standing around waiting to see if the clouds would relent to give a glimpse of a beautiful sunrise bathing the column of rock in a golden hue. Undeniably worth the cold, the discomfort and the effort.
In a rare moment of fondness and appreciation. Ma Spoon- the Dutch chap that I did the trek with – made the experience pleasure that it would certainly not have otherwise been. It is not so much that any company is good company. But certainly good company is good company. I think we had a pretty great time and some good laughs along the way!… Thank you Ma Spoon.
<This brings me to an observation / musing… Travelling alone is a gamble because you rely so much upon the “relationships” you build along the way. These relationships tend to be very intense very quickly due to the expedited nature of the interaction and the shared memories that you immediately accrue. It is almost a friendship performed in reverse. A little like the introductions, “where have you been and where are you from” – two integral attributes of a person are conducted before “what name did your parents choose give you?” In a similar way, with these travelling friendships (and often more!) you accelerate to trust and dependency and then retrospectively fill-in the middle ie. what are people actually like. If you want to accelerate that process also, then a four day trek together will do it!>
Perrito Moreno Glacier
The second thing of note from the first of the Patagonian weeks was a trek on the Perrito Moreno Glacier – back in Argentina (can you guess how I got there?). While not what one could consider cheap, a staggering £250 for three hours on the ice, the real cost would have been to miss such an experience because of something as stupid as money. A motley group of perhaps nine people wandering around on an active glacier, while not quite as volatile as its volcano cousins with dizzying speeds of 1.7m/day (5.8 ft for the old folk reading), it was a unique experience. From the approach you can see great sheets of ice carving off and collapsing into the water of the lake. We beheld one such spectacular fall from the far end, that i was reliably told by my Dutch friend was a far inferior view. Moral of the tale = Never doubt CB.
By this point, a ragged collection of travellers had formed an immutable bond. We were three Englishman (having met two other English guys on the Chilean trek, brought together while mocking the American children), one Dutchman and a Mexican. This collection meant two things. The first was that the conversation was firmly routed in English, except when I wanted to bitch about people with the Mexican, the second was that the “banter” was somewhat brutal, four guys in the presence of one girl is always a great recipe for some good ego bashing! Never have so many wished for so few to fall in melt-water of the Glacier. Being not a fan of small spaces as well as feeling the early onset of hypothermia, the following impression of Picasso’s blue period captures my emotions of the walk on the ice: this is nice, but fuck I’m cold!
The post Glacial night was indeed a heavy one, but one that requires noting because of how the English undoubtably let themselves down. None of the upstanding citizens of the group – of course – but the two Essex girls who insisted in making conversation / insulting us throughout our otherwise pleasant meal. Now, in Argentina being an attractive blonde girl (which this girl nearly was) buys you a number of liberties from the outset. But popping a pill in a restaurant and proceeding to dance and rub yourself against every single guy in the place is not really the done thing. Nor is insulting everyone who can speak your language acceptable. Her biggest beef with us was the burger (intended pun). Apparently we had murdered a cow. I was keen to point out that actually it was more likely to have been a Calf to ensure the tenderness of the meat! In any case, I would like to formally apologise to Argentina on behalf of the English. I have a feeling we may have further embarrassed ourselves in the following Ice-bar that had zero ice in it, “Yeti”. But I really cannot remember!
One of only a few brilliant choices I have made on this trip (and in life): don’t buy a ticket for the 8am bus after you expect to have a “heavy night“ of it. In spite of this brilliance, I almost managed to miss the 1pm bus given my delicate state. An episode of Sherlock, coffee and a huge chocolate brownie, two sandwiches and three croissants, one chocolate bar and a slice of banana bread, a grapefruit and some almonds got me through the journey. Who would have known a hangover cure was quite so simple…?
El Chaltén / “The best of Argentinian Patagonia”. I am afraid that the crown goes fairly comprehensively to the Chileans! People often to say that “you have to work for something” in order to really appreciate it ~ Shell Dog. I have been sceptical of this before, but now wonder if it is true. The wonderful towers of El Chaltén were a three-hour walk away… Was it that I didn’t have to work quite so hard for the experience that detracted from the beauty of the place? Was it just less magnificent than Torres del Paine trek? Perhaps it was simply that we arrived to in snowstorm and could see nothing of the majestic peaks that did for us? Or is it more simply that you cannot continue to be overwhelmed by the beauty of a place; have I built-up a Patagonian immunity?
It doesn’t help that the pact the Mexican and I had to walk and speak only in Spanish was broken by the accompanying American noise-bag. This chump insisted on explaining that he was ashamed of the US at the moment (a point which, credit where its due, he articulated well), yet spent 90% of the garbage that came out of his mouth was talking about the job he hated, the money he despised and the experiences that he wished to escape from. He was also unfit leading to us waiting for him all the time, however, that night he showed us a photo of himself topless from 2011. I forgot that fitness is a thing you only had to obtain once and therefore had bragging rights for life! He did make a rather funny remark that our Mexican friend became more and more latin as the drinks wore on!
On the second El Chaltén trek, the Mexican and I “broke the rules” (and broke with the American) and took a more direct route to a viewing point of the mountains. Interestingly, I do not feel at all disappointed with this view. Not immune to the beautiful mountains nor the level of effort, but only to the company of (US) Americans then…
Now on another f***ing bus. This one takes the bacon though. It is a 23-hour one that has me changing seats three times. The views of the Andes have given-way to a vast expanse of scrubland upon brown-grey soil. It is magnificent in its expanse and consistency. It is amazing how such dramatic and (almost) violent landscape can become so barren. If I succeed in not killing someone or myself on the bus then there will be further blogs from Bariloche and beyond. If not I shall cling to tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow.