Friday, December 11, 2009

Oops! And, welcome to Argentina!

Peter and Dalene, you are the last team to arrive. I'm sorry to tell you, but you have both been eliminated.

Had we actually been trekking as a part of The Amazing Race this morning, we most definitely would have been given the boot.
The day started out pretty perfect - clear blue skies that allowed for some amazing views of the mountain ranges around El Chalten - which is pretty rare for this area. Given the beautiful weather, we decided to trek to Laguna Torre. This lake, at the base of the peak Cerro Torre, is a relatively easy 22km hike round trip and is only worth it when done in clear weather - otherwise Cerro Torre is not visible through the usual dense clouds. We had a good breakfast, stopped at a local store to pick up some sandwiches to go, and we were off. Just outside the south end of town, we picked up a trail and started the hike.

Uphill, uphill, and more uphill for the first hour. Pete's watch showed we had already gained about 300m in elevation which seemed unusual as the map showed it should only be 250m for the entire hike. Ah, the map must be wrong...we thought. We continued.

More uphill and some flat spots for another hour. We thought that we were probably only another 30 minutes from our destination as we knew we were moving at a good pace and would definitely beat the 3 hour time frame suggested by the map. Finally we came to a small meadow and we could see that there was a sign post up ahead. Good! We must be getting close...we thought.

Imagine our surprise when we read the sign that said we were still 4.5 hours from our destination. How could that be, when we had already hiked so far? Then we looked a little closer at our map and it all became clear. While our intended destination was Laguna Torre, we absentmindedly followed the trail to Laguna Toro. We walked about 8-10 kms (round trip) the WRONG WAY!!

Realizing that there was no way we could finish the trail to Laguna Toro and be back before dark, we had no choice but to turn around and head back to town. It was an easy and fast trip down the mostly downhill trail, such that we finished the whole trek in under 3 hours. We were pretty disappointed with ourselves, but it was hard to stay grumpy about it when we got to enjoy such incredible views on the way down.

Knowing that the weather is supposed to turn such that any trek is likely not possible tomorrow, and being that it was only 1pm when we got back to town, Pete decided to continue on and pick up the REAL trail to Laguna Torre. I, however, know my limits, and 30+ kms of walking in one day is beyond them.

Thus, I am back in the hostel to update the blog! There are a few days to catch up on....

We were welcomed into Argentina on Monday with glorious sunshine! After having been deprived of it for so long in southern Chile, it felt good to kick of our hiking shoes and wear sandals once again. After a six hour bus ride over the border from Puerto Natales, we settled into El Calafate for three nights - a small, touristy mountain town similar to the many we visited in Chile.
After a few wrong turns from the bus station (this town apparently doesn't believe in street signs!), we finally found our way to our hostel. Never, in the couple of dozen hostels we have been to by now, have we ever had such amazing helpful and friendly hostel owners. A young couple, Belen and Dario, own and manage the small hostel, and they instantly made us feel at home and offered everything possible to make sure we were comfortable.

We enjoyed a quick nap in our room and then headed out to meet an old friend for dinner. We know Aafke from our stay in Sucre as we shared the same hostel and she also volunteered at √Ďanta. She happened to be in El Calafate at the same time, so it was nice to catch up and swap traveling stories. Turns out that we will likely be running into her again over the next couple of weeks, and she has since also decided to join us in Mendoza for Christmas! It is hard for us to be away from our families at this time of year, but it is nice that we are able to create our own little family in a foreign land.

The following morning we slept in and bummed around town until catching a bus at 2pm to our first Argentinian highlight - the Perito Moreno glacier! It is huge - 30 kms long, 5kms wide, and 60ms high. But what really sets this glacier apart from the many in the Southern Ice Field is that it is constantly advancing, up to 2m a day. It is remarkably accessible, with several kms of trails built so that we could see the glacier from many different angles. We had four hours at the park, and easily passed the time by just watching and listening to the glacier (you can actually hear it moving!) We saw several large ice chunks fall off into the water with amazing sounds accompanying each - from the small bang of a firecracker to large echoing booms. It was an incredibly beautiful afternoon.

We returned to El Calafate and sat down for a late dinner at 9pm, which is actually early by Argentina standards! I have no idea how people in this country stay thin. First of all, dinner is normally served around 10pm. In Chile, it was 8pm, so that took some getting used to - but I think that 10pm is just downright unhealthy! Second of all, MY LORD is the food goooood! They are of course known around the world for their beef, but with a large Italian population they are also quite proud of their pizza and pastas. Pete has decided that he is starting an "all-beef" diet, whereas I choose not to discriminate, and will sample all fares! Both our waist lines are in big trouble.

All that good food late in the evening meant a late rise the next morning. There is very little to do in El Calafate besides visit the glacier, but we had a day to kill and thus decided to spend the afternoon on bicycles exploring the surrounding area, stopping often along the laguna in order to see flamingos and other birds that frequent it. That evening we stayed in for dinner - taking up the offer of our hostel owners to cook for us! They have an operation similar to the one that Pete and I are considering opening should we ever find a good location and opportunity along our travels - Dario is an aspiring chef and wants to expand their hostel to include a small restaurant. We were happy to support them in this quest by eating dinner in. He cooked up an amazing steak (to accommodate Pete's strict new diet) with roasted vegetables - we were not disappointed!

The next morning we were up early for a 3 hour bus ride to our next destination, El Chalten. El Chalten is Argentina's newest town (constructed in 1985) and supports the thousands of visitors a year that come to trek the beautiful mountain range.
Before even getting into the town, our bus pulled in for a quick talk given at the Parque Nacional Center. A brilliant idea, we both thought, as all visitors are then forced to listen to the rules of the park and are also given maps, weather conditions and guidelines on where to go (apparently we should have listened to this part of the speech more!) One of the great things about this park also is that it is FREE to enter - no $75 hikes here! It was just 2pm after we checked in and had some lunch, so we decided to do a quick hike and warm our legs up for the following longer hike that *was* to be the following day. 2.5 hours later and we were up and down a small mountain that gave some great views of the town and surrounding peaks.

If the weather doesn't turn bad, we may try one more hike tomorrow, although we both are admittedly getting a little "outdoor-adventured-out". We could never tire of seeing all of this natural beauty around us, but we are getting tired of all the work it takes to see it! We are both ready to leave the mountaineering behind and dive into more cultural aspects of this country. On Monday we begin a 2 day bus trip to Bariloche, which is the last of these outdoorsy type destinations before we hit the city of Mendoza for Christmas.

Here is a map of Argentina, and a rough idea of our route and some of the major stops along the way: El Calafate, El Chalten (not shown), Bariloche, Mendoza, Cordoba, Salta, Iguazu Falls and Buenos Aries.


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