Our journey to the end of the earth
11.23.2008 - 11.30.2008
View A Rough Outline of our Trip on daveliz's travel map.
Our journey on the infamous Ruta 40 started out nice enough. While driving out of Bariloche we were treated to great views of it's pristine lakes and mountains that are all part of Nahuel Huapi National Park. For the first half of the day there were paved roads, several cars and buses zooming past, lots of sheep and horse ranches, and plenty of Patagonian wildflowers to keep our curiosity arroused. At around 3 p.m. the pavement ended and the bus slowed to 30-40 mph, starting to bump, clunk and swerve as the driver navigated the dirt road for the rest of the 24 hour trip.
(Elizabeth´s two cents: If you thought the drive from Boston to Rochester was bad with no exits for 30 mile increments, then don´t do Ruta 40. No exits. No drastic scenery changes. And a ride where you probably should wear bike shorts on the bus for ultimate comfort!)
As the journey progressed we noticed fewer signs of human life. The sheep were appearing more and more emaciated. A few wild horses and road runners crossed in front of the bus on occassion. Water was scarce, but to my amazement we passed a tiny pond after lunch that had pink flamingos basking in the sun. I wondered what the heck pink flamingos were doing near the end of the earth in the Patagonian desert. Although known for its mountains, Patagonia is primarily desert. I pointed the flamingos out to Elizabeth and she acknowledged them with little reaction. So, I figured I must have missed out on the Patagonian flamingo Discovery Channel special.
As we continued, the sheep were bordering anorexia and not due to a recent sheering! We then saw a strange species that was a cross between a llama and a deer. Elizabeth coined them Llameer, to later find out from a postcard they are really guanacas.
The flamingos had been on my mind for much of the day so I finally said to Elizabeth, "Who would have thought that pink flamingos would be in a place like this?" Apparently she didn't believe there were flamingos in Patagonia either. She thought the pink things in the pond were just pink booeys. Since there didn't appear to be much shipping traffic in the miniature pond, and it certainly couldn´t be designated a swimming area with population zero, we were at a loss as to which one of us was halucinating.
Moving on, we stayed the night in one of the few towns between Bariloche and El Chaltén called Perito Moreno of which there is nothing to say except our hotel was very sketchy. As efficient as it sounds, think twice about staying at a place where you can shower, brush your teeth, and go to the bathroom all at the same time.
The next day, another 12 hour drive where the land became more barren. The amazing thing was we still stared out the window and enjoyed the scenery. Perhaps in amazement of the emptiness of this large landscape. We did see one strange species on this day, a group of mountain bikers biking the desolate Ruta 40! It probably took them at least a couple of weeks to complete the road.
Nearing 10 p.m. and still light outside, things finally started to spring to life. We reached a huge lake, mountains, a river, sheep and horses as we neared El Chaltén. What a journey!
We spent a few days in El Chaltén, a city built circa 1985 that used zero urban planning skills. Built by a bunch of 20-something mountain guides for the sole purpose of trekking in Parque Nacional los Glaciares, this town has very little character, lots of old beater cars lying around, half built houses, and a location smack in the middle of a long, windy valley (this place might beat Mt. Washington in the Whites for avg. wind speed!)
(Elizabeth´s two cents: I´m taking the title of ´windy city´away from Chicago. They don´t deserve it! In El Chalten I could barely get my footing outside to make progress down the road. )
Never-the-less we enjoyed two days of hiking around Mt. Fitz Roy. The hikes were long, but not too difficult. The first day was a beautiful six hour hike to Glaciar Torres. The highlight was on the way back when we learned a very valuable travel lesson. A herd of llamas came stampeding down the trail followed by their owner. Elizabeth and I jumped out of the way, but they were eventually slowed by a group of German hikers. The llama owner politely asked , "permiso?" which in spanish is short for "please permit me (and my llamas) to pass." I'm afraid in German it might mean "you are permitted to hug the animal." The owner quickly yelled and stopped the embarrassed German girl from petting the llama before it bit her hand off. It gave Elizabeth and I a good laugh for the better part of the two hours left in the hike. Moral of the story, if you don't understand the language, be careful what you assume someone is saying to you!
The wind on the second day was so strong that Elizabeth couldn´t stand up straight, so started, but didn´t feel comfortable completing the hike. I went on and was rewarded with a truly special view of Fitz Roy Mountain and Laguna de los Tres. This glacial lake was such a bright emerald green I was suspicious the glaciar was contanimated with anti-freeze! Beautiful never-the-less.
Elizabeth couldn´t take the wind anymore, so we got back on Ruta 40 and headed to El Calafate, a town with a lot more charm, artesenal shops, and home to one of the few expanding glaciers in the world, the Perito Moreno Glacier. We did an ice trek around the glacier and were awed by its immensity. The amazing thing is that the Perito Moreno Glacier is a tiny fraction of the immense size of the Patagonian ice field that it is attached. The glacier is 8 km wide and the ice cap is 84 km wide and nearly as long as Patagonia itself. Another interesting fact is that the glacier exists below tree line near sea level and in a relatively warm climate due to the snow generated by the Pacific Ocean and Andes Mountains. We enjoyed listening to the loud cracking and splashing as large chunks of ice continually broke and fell into the water. It was so loud that it could have been confused for sounds of a war going on in the distance.
(Elizabeth´s two cents: A few other notes about El Calafate. Dave found an inexpensive wedding ring to wear during our year trip. Although his bargaining skills aren´t up to Chernack standards, he is now wearing a fantastic, unique ring made by a local artist. ((Dave´s two cents: Who bargains for a ring that costs just over $18 U.S.?)) Also in El Calafate, there was a power outage while we were using an ATM machine. Dave´s card got sucked in and never popped out. The next day we spent several hours at the bank, where lines are worse than any deli counter during Thanksgiving. Good news though...he got his card back! To kill time while he was in the bank, I went to the drug store to get anti-itch creme for some bug bites. With my little Spanish, I simply pulled up my pant leg to show the pharmacist the bites. He said, aha, and came back with several Veet hair removal products. I got a good laugh on that one and got the subtle hint too! With a little more charades, I was successful and left with calamine lotion.)
Over the past few weeks we've also been getting to know great people from all over the world. Tonight we had drinks with Jelle and Evelyn from Holland, Kath from South Africa, and Syndey from Atlanta, Georgia. One of the best parts about meeting up with other travellers is sharing stories and getting their thoughts and tips on places we may visit in the future.
In El Calafate we also solved the pink flamingo mystery with yet another informational post card. Sure enough, pink flamingos migrate to these parts during the Patagonia summer (Nov. - May).
We're now in Puerto Natales, Chile, and off of Ruta 40. This is our launching point for our trek in the Torres del Paine National Park where once again we'll be out of internet range. So, until we arrive in Punta Arenas (the land of penguins), signing off!