Looking forward to a break

Today was perhaps our most disappointing day. We took a bus out to the west coast of Chiloé island where an uninspiring hike through the national park awaited us. Along the way, we inadvertently took a long detour on a rocky beach, and there’s not much worse than walking on a bunch of rocks, except, of course, if there’s horse and cow poo scattered everywhere… which there was.

We then took an insanely crowded minibus (there might have been as many people crammed into the aisle as there were in the seats… unluckily, we were standing among them, swaying violently back and forth with sharp turns) to the village of Chonchi, where we squeezed out just to get a breather and perhaps find a less crowded bus back to our hostel in Castro. This was perhaps the only thing right that we did today (besides buy a yum slice of Kuchen, a pie/tart of Germanic immigrant origins), and now we’re regretting the $20 we spent on the whole excursion.

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Sketchy bus to the national park was not nearly as sketchy as the crowded bus back.

Obviously, this won’t be the last disappointing day and I’m sure there are more to come, but they are disheartening nonetheless. In the last month, Craig and I have taken 14 buses, 7 flights, and trekked 115 or so miles. We’ve stayed 12 nights in a tent. We’ve been very, very cold. We haven’t spent more than 3 nights in the same place. In short, we are a bit tired.

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Yet another bus ride… I don’t even remember to where.

The fatigue takes it toll in many ways, but most distressingly is when it manifests as bickering between Craig and me. It was nice to meet the Wisconsonites and have Sonia and Alyssa for a bit while we were doing our Torres del Paine trek, since it generally meant there were buffers to any quarrels that might have been stirring. So when we were by ourselves on our Glacier trek, even though it was generally easier hiking and less mileage per day, we started to pick on each other and get really cranky. Such is the nature of relationships… one minute you’re totally in love, and the next you could murder each other for a snarky comment. Makes it difficult to share a tiny tent, especially when you’re freezing cold (again).

So very cold in Glacier National Park (although at least it was sunny that day).

In light of all this, we are really excited about our first work-exchange, because it means that we’ll be in one place for two whole weeks! Woohoo! Never have I been so pumped about working for less than minimum wage since my very first job at age 14. We will be roomed and fed in exchange for our menial labor (hopefully not too menial…), and two weeks without having to spend money on anything sounds really nice as well. We’ve heard good things about work-exchanges, so fingers crossed our first experience is a good one! At least it’s at a hotel that sits on the edge of a lake overlooking a giant volcano… could be worse. Frutillar, here we come!

photos from los glaciares national park

Cerro Torre reveals itself to us in dramatic fashion.

Not a bad spot to have breakfast. Aguja (needle) Saint Exupery is the one second to the left edge of the photo.  Saint Exupery has come up a few times on this trip.  For one, I was reading Antoine de Saint-Exupery’s “Wind, Sand and Stars” before we left for this trip.  Joel (Wisconsinite) was also reading it.  I heard that the ending gets a little bit racist, so maybe I’m glad I didn’t finish and left it behind in California… Our room in Puerto Natales was also named after this peak.  Saint-Exupery pioneered postal flights in Patagonia in the late 1920’s.

The bleak, cold, and windy valley of the Rio Electrico.

Relaxing at Laguna Capri on day 4.

Sunrise over Laguna Capri

los glaciares national park – el chalten, argentina

Aguja Saint Exupery, Aguja Rafeal, Cerro Poincenot, Cerro Fitz Roy… the gang is all here in Los Glaciares National Park

We (briefly) left Chile behind a week ago, and headed for El Calafate and El Chalten, in Argentinian Patagonia.  Our destination was the most northern part of Los Glaciares National Park, where we would spend 4 nights looking at some pretty spectacular bits of granite.  The aforementioned Wisconsinites had scouted ahead for us, and reported some cold conditions…  This mostly held true for our first 48 hours, as we shivered in the mid-afternoon wind while waiting around to eat dinner.  But man did we eat!  Sheena and I believe we spent the same amount on food for this 5-day trek, as we did for the Torres del Paine 9-day trek… peanut butter, chocolate, cookies, mozzarella, muesli… all things we didn’t even have the first time around.

Los Glaciares was definitely different than Torres del Paine, mostly in a good way.  We were sternly lectured by the Park Ranger when the bus pulled into El Chalten.  “Leave No Trace” was an important message.  The Park Ranger used every tactic to convey the importance of conservation here.  He scared us into using the latrines by warning of puma attacks.. he pleaded with us to preserve this place “for the children.”  He asked us if our own national parks had water so clean that we could drink it without purification (and then answered his question with a chuckle; no ours certainly did not).  This part of the national park was free to enter, and free to camp.  Following our normal backpacking guidelines was no burden, and a greatly welcomed message.

The two main attractions within this portion of the park are the Cerro Torre and the Cerro Fitz Roy massifs.  We camped near the base of each our first two nights, and were generally rewarded with stunning views (at times).  At Cerro Torre, we ran into a familiar traveler from the Netherlands.  He related a very specific weather report, that the changing pressure would bring clearer skies within the next few hours.  Lo and behold, two hours later the clouds magically started to evaporate and reveal the granite hidden on the other side.  The weather seemed much more fickle than in Torres del Paine.  We had rain, sun, cold, and wind just about every day.

In part because the Wisconsinites had recommended it, and in part because it was a place I hadn’t been before, we headed for the Piedra del Fraile refugio on night three.  As we made our way up the Rio Electrico valley the winds howled and the air become colder, coming straight off the southern ice field.  I had second thoughts about making the long trek all the way out there… but a nice Argentinian family greeted us upon arrival and showed us where the hot showers could be found.  We spent the evening indulging in the world’s most expensive Quilmes Cristal ($8 for a 12oz beer…) next to a wood-fire stove, drying our hair from the nice shower (they had soap!).

Today is a day for relaxation.  We spent 12 of the last 14 nights in a tent.  Today we have had two meals, multiple cups of coffee, picked up clean laundry from the reception, and made progress in books, all from the warm dining room in our hostel.  They say today is Sunday, so I guess it’s only appropriate that we rest.