Wednesday, April 22, 2009

I Went to the End of the World As We Know It

and I feel fine

Runway to roads I rambled alone. My travels brought me from the glacial tip of the Americas to the lakes of Bariloche and the Andean oasis of Mendoza. I stopped at a few more dots on the map along the way, chasing Patagonia for nearly 3,000 kilometers along the Andes. Here's what I found.

Perito Moreno, Calafate

Cerro Fitz Roy, El Chalten 3441 m

Camp Anario, Bariloche. Peaceful waters.

Some God Rays atop Catedral, Bariloche

An Andean Condor enjoying thermals at the summit. Graceful for a giant.

The first opening on the Cerro Piliquitron trek, El Bolson. To give some perspective on the summit.

A horse grazing in the saddle of the Piliquitron peaks.

Bosque Tollada, El Bolson. Half-way up Piliquitron. Leave it to hippies to make art out of a burnt landscape.

Well above the tree line. Well below the summit.

Still approaching...

Next couple are the panoramic from the Piliquitron summit 2712 m

Center of town, El Bolson

Rio Azul, El Bolson

A taste of Argentina's finest Malbec in Mendoza.

The Sundance Gaucho

Argentina's largest park, Mendoza

Sunday, April 12, 2009

El Chalten

First off, I added pictures to my Calafate post. Check em out!

I spent 3 and a half days in El Chalten. The skies smiled down on me with two clear days where the entire Fitz Roy range was framed by blue. Meeting people along the Patagonian trail, I've heard you're lucky to get a few clear hours (especially this late in the season). It's one of those places where you can live through three seasons in a single day, so I'm not a odds man but two full summer days wasn't bad.

Easter weekend is the last hoorah for the smaller southern towns like El Chalten. It's hard to get a cup of coffee on mainstreet come next week, but while I was there Chalten was still bustling. Because it was Semana Santa there was a large Argentine crowd in town. All of them smuggly drinking their mate and walking around like they owned the place.

I stayed at a hostel on the corner of town called Aylen Aike. It was a small place that someone I met on the bus from Calafate had heard about. The owner was cool, always calling it the Hostel of Rock and putting on painfully dated Deep Purple or Cult concert DVDs. I was the only foreigner there he talked to in Spanish. It ain't braggin if it's true.

There are two main hikes that originate from the edge of El Chalten, and they leave you with unbelievable views of Mt. Fitz Roy and Cerro Torre respectively - the two prominent peaks of the Fitz Roy range. The hike to Laguna de Los Tres was the longer of the two and I tackled it on my first full day there. It ends at a lagoon below Fitz Roy. The night before I had seen hikers walking around my hostel bow-legged after the hike, but didn't understand why until the last hour and a half which was a steep ascent, essentially straight up with small zig-zags where there was loose rock. In the words of Michael Sanders, 'You had to want it. Fact.' It was painful but led to one of the more rewarding views of my life. There are miradors along the way with clear shots of Fitz Roy, but nothing like this.

I had lunch down by the lagoon.

O.K. no gladiators at top, but tell me that doesn't look like the AgroCrag.

Pretty epic picture.

My last day in Chalten I had a bus to Bariloche at 11 pm. The skies cleared by noon so I did the Laguna Torre trek. These pictures are taking forever to upload but here are a few from the Cerro Torre trail. It had rained the night before, and when the clouds cleared the peaks had this fresh coat of white. (The picture at top of the blog is Laguna Torre).

I got into Bariloche this morning at 8 am but it might as well have been 5. Walking down mainstreet while the town woke up I finally found an open cafe and had coffee by the water. Andy recommended a hostel in town called Pudu which I'm off to right now, in serious need of some pampering after a 40 hour bus ride through a whole lot of nothing that is Patagonia.

Happy Easter America.

Friday, April 10, 2009

On the Road Again

After killin it in Calafate and El Chalten, I'm shakin and bakin to Bariloche esta noche. I'll be taking a bus up a 1,400 km stretch of the storied Route 40 which should put me in Bariloche Sunday morning. So I'll be off the grid for about 36 hours, until then viejos, chau.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Sometimes You Have to Walk Alone

Sunday, April 5th, I left Buenos Aires with just a backpack on my shoulders and a head full of the night before. Some friends had organized a dinner at a lounge in Centro called The Living, and the night ended at Rock & Beer just before sunrise because we're winners.

Calafate is roughly 2,000 km from Buenos Aires in the SW corner of Argentina's Santa Cruz Provincia (pictured on the left). It's a town of about 30,000 but you wouldn't know it. Flying in, as you follow Rio Guanaco snake towards Calafate, the only man-made thing you can see is the paine of glass you're looking through. I touched down at around 7 on Sunday, dropped my bag off at a forgetable hostel, and walked down to mainstreet.

The sun had already set and dimmed out the surrounding vistas, confining the granduer of the place to a ten-block strip of overpriced restaurants, winter apparel shops, and tacky window boutiques broken up by a large and out of place casino. Strike one, Calafate. It felt like Aspen. Couples dipped in and out of the shops wearing designer jeans and unused hiking boots; luxury cars lined the freshly paved main street which now and again would intersect with dusty, horse-trotten paths taking you away from the doll-houses. Identity crisis? Strike two.

I took an early night, and in the morning moved to another hostel down the road - America del Sur. I asked around about day-treks and found that the main show in town, Perito Moreno, had been prostituted out to the extent that you couldn't catch a glimpse without paying. So in the afternoon I hopped a bus to the national park (Los Glaciares National Park actually extends up most of the western-side of Santa Cruz), payed a second fee at the gate of the park, and held on to my doubts that having already hiked Fox Glacier in New Zealand, what's another icicle? I was wrong.

The entire face of this glacier's 5 km front is exposed, rising 60 m out of the water. From just across an inlet you can watch as sheets of ice break away from the glacier and crash into the water with resounding roars. It's astonishing how often this happens, and the magnitude of the falling ice.The glassy water surrounded by ice is evidence of a recent crash.

Sexy. God that glacier's sexy.

About every four years Perito Moreno pushes up against this piece of land, and the pressure of the waters on each side and the forward force of the glacier causes the bridge of ice connecting land and glacier to explode, leaving the gap you see here.

Back at the hostel I had to make the mind-boggling decision of whether I should spend my next 96 hours in El Chalten or Torres del Paine, Chile. A decision which, like dividing 31 by 9, is physically impossible and has no correct answer. I stuck to my guns and booked a bus to El Chalten, Argentina's youngest town and home of the Fitz Roy range. The town was thrown together in '85 to end one of the final border disputes between Argentina and Chile. It's is now the national treking capital, for whatever that's worth.

So on the bus this morning, in between suenos, I watched Fitz Roy slowly approach my window. It's pretty much the coolest mountain I've seen since I stopped watching Guts in 6th grade. It's even got AgroCrag like features, and when I climb it in the coming days, I half expect gladiators to heave rock shaped peices of styrofoam at me as I reach the summit - I'll let you guys know about that one.

The town of Chalten is cool. Patagonian flair from the start. A real quirky little fronteirish place. It has the patent-Patagonian layout of one-room shacks non-sensibly strewn about a field. The only self-standing bar in town is a one-room microbrewery which looks like it was made out of lincoln logs. Strike three Calafate, Chalten is cooler.

In the same way I felt that I was 10 years to late to experience the true Calafate, I feel I'm just in time to have caught Chalten before it's overrun by tourism. And I know that sounds ridiculous and contradictingly self-rightous, right? A traveler complaining about the tourism industry he is currently promoting by traveling. It's just that people sometimes get carried away when money is involved.

I'm not able to put any of my pictures up on this antique, but know that I'm taking plenty and looking more homeless by the day.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

House Cleaning

Wow, so I got a little caught up. It's been a month since my last post and is due time for some house cleaning. First with the formalities. I couldn't have asked for a better living situation than Casa Cochabamba. If you remember, I backed into this place through a friend of a friend. Now we've got a solid crew. The house itself has great open spaces for dinners, get togethers and lounging; it's a haven of tranquility surrounded by an exciting, constantly active setting.. haha ahhh writing travel blogs for three months has taken its toll. But anyway, we have an open door most nights of the week, very social environment, and plenty of couches to accommodate wayward roadjunkies traveling through BsAs. Matt Shuman crashed my couch a couple weekends back - which was a lot fun.

So now a review of last month in montage sequence. I ask that you turn up your volume as loud as it goes, get comfortable, and listen to this while you read the ensuing paragraph.

I bussed north to Gauleguaychu for a sleepless 24 hours of Carnaval, watched Manu Chao rock Luna Park for nearly 4 straight hours, chanted alongside the heady soccer fanatics at La Boca Stadium, drank and ate like I had some pesos at a rooftop party in the 'cheto' district, had a rooftop party/asado of our own for my birthday in the 'not so nice' district, got a taste of BsAs theater at Paseo la Plaza (so cultural), went on a few dates with a past student, subsequently retired from my teaching career at the top of my game (not at all related) and, just this week, bought my one-way ticket to the nether regions of Argentina. I thought that was going to be longer. You can turn the song off.

Now that I bought my Patagonia ticket I've been getting itchy feet. It's all I can think about. So far, this is the extent of my plans. Turn the volume back up, click here and press play.

Sunday, April 5th, get off the plane in El Calafate (although, because Argentina is in the name of my airline I expect massive and inconvenient delays), Monday watch Pitt win the ship completing the best March-Madness bracket of my life, Tuesday rent some camping gear and find myself in a series of thin-air and Peyote induced epiphanies during my isolated trek of El Chalten, April 12-15 bus up to the Lakes District via mountain passes along the Andes (which I've heard is about as fun and relaxing as roller-blading on a cobblestone street for 36 hours), and finally, April 15-22ish, explore Bariloche and the surrounding towns before a layover in wine country, Mendoza, on my way back to BsAs. Like any red-blooded American I appreciate freedom, so this is about as defined as my plans will get. I'll fill in the blanks while I'm down there.

Today is exactly one month before my flight back to the USA. I'll try to regain some sort of posting consistency before then, especially during my tour of Patagonia.

Yours truly and my favorite,


Sunday, March 1, 2009