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.


Julia said...

sounds cool...but we miss you

Nicholas said...

I don't miss you

Chrysogonus said...
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