I considered New Zealand to be the most majestic and awe inspiring of places I’ve visited. That award now belongs to Patagonia. When we arrived in Panama our booked travel consisted of a 1 way ticket to Panama. We had yet to plot our next adventure, which was shaping up to be the Galapagos Islands. As we started to spitball ideas, budget, logistics…one thing jumped out. Patagonia trekking had a window that was fast closing. March was shoulder season for an area well known for its temperamental weather. I dug into research and got excited about a popular route in Torres del Paine. It seemed a compromise between my adventurous outdoor streak and Carrie’s aversion to all things cold and wet. TDP has a series of refugios to stay and eat without the hassle of hauling a tent, sleeping bag, and 6 meals. Booking said refugios was a monster challenge. Availability changes hourly, everything was booked 3 weeks out, the prices aren’t cheap, and there are 2 companies that manage refugios. To further complicate the process we had zero clothing for the trip and had to navigate planes, buses, and ferries to get to said destination. This was shaping up to be our biggest travel challenge yet.
Traveling through Chile was cheaper than Argentina, a decision not often considered by travelers. Patagonia straddles Argentina and Chile as the 2 countries vie for noble esteem in this majestic area of the world. We flew into Santiago and luckily found an outlet mall to get some discount clothes. It was a long day of deal shopping but we managed to get 2 coats, 2 warm pants, socks, gloves, hats, and 1 pair of hiking boots (more on that later) for close to $300. We had a tight timeline and alot of holes in our travel plan. Our critical path was stacked and something was bound to go wrong. The next leg of our journey was to fly way down south to Punta Arenas and squeeze in a few more todos before departing the next morning for TDP. Right off the bat, my bag doesn’t show up on the single leg jaunt from Santiago. Shitballs. Just 2 days before we almost got bumped off our flight to Santiago, because we couldn’t check in online and the flight was overbooked. I pleaded desperation, because, down here, the squeeky wheel gets the grease, and we lucked into that flight. Today I pleaded desperation just the same. I needed that bag. In my head I was spinning alternative scenarios: reroute the trip or go with just the clothes I had. Luckily my bag came in 2 hours later and we scrambled to get groceries, rent some equipment for Carrie, get some travelint, find the hostel, and pack our extra stuff to store at the hostel while trekking.
We just made it and crossed our fingers the weather would play nice. We were ilequiped for a downpour. One that just passed through the day before that left many a trekker in a state of PTSD. There was water everywhere on the trails. Unfortunately we heeded the advice from blogs and the rental office that sneakers would be fine. Number 1 rule of trekking, make sure to take care of your feet. Carrie endured constant wet feet, while I was lucky to have a pair of boots that were Gortex.
If we weren’t trekkers going in, we were seasoned veterans 4 days later. I was awarded with stunning vistas of glacial valleys, azure blue lakes, snow capped rocky cornices, clear streams, and the sound of avalanches in the distance from active glaciers. My pictures should do the talking here, or a better author of the written word than my ackward ramblings. There was one day that stood out in the middle of the short journey: Frances Valley. They say if it’s cloudy, the juice isn’t worth the squeeze. But I lucked on a bluebird day with no wind. Furthermore I stumbled onto taking a right where the masses went left and had a vista all to my own for 30 minutes. TDP has plenty of traffic, so on this day, in this valley, I had quite the treat. It’s also, grounds for a fine or getting kicked out of the park. They regulate this park heavily since it suffers from tragedy of the commons. 2 fires have ripped through half of the classic trek we did because of dipshit campers. I’ve also heard stories of camping spots so choked with people the outhouses were overflowing. As of last fall a reservation is required for either camping or refugios, which according to a local guide, has cut traffic in half. To go from zero trekking to 4 full on days was a bit much. But we need to prepare for Macchu Picchu, which will be a harder hike above 10k feet a month later.
After TDP, we took a down day needed to figure where we go next. South to Ushuia, or north to El Chalten. After hearing accounts of El Chalten as better than TDP, plus the ease of day hikes from town, the decision was clear. We made the day long journey from Puerto Notales to El Chalten by bus. Again, we lucked out on weather. Sunny, 70, and no wind all week. El Chalten is an interesting little town. It’s all newly built and still getting finding its vibe. Cheap hostals, nice hotels, a small brewery, and lots of construction. It also has great views of Fitz Roy and other nearby ranges. We made our first day hike to Lago Torre and the next day, the longer journey to Laguna de los Tres. Both were amazing hikes, but los Tres was absolutely stunning.
At this point, I’m hiked out. Ready to get back in the water. On our way out of El Chalten, we hit another speed bump. The bus was sold out and we needed to get back to Punta Arenas. A few other travelers were in a similar situation and together we searched for alternate ways to get to the next transport hub of Puerto Notales. Rental car won’t work, neither will a bus to another transport hub. Only thing we could do was take an expensive taxi, that went to the border. We were in El Calafate, Argentina and needed to get to Chile. However, taxi drivers would only go to the border, which leaves a good distance to cover. How do get the final 30 km? Will there be other taxi’s there? Will we get stuck at the border? We rolled the dice and thought we'd take our chances on hitchhiking across. Carrie wasn’t thrilled with the idea, while I thought it a fine adventure. But another traveler was absolutely freaked out. While I thought the risky escapade exciting, she thought my attitude "stupid". Yikes. I looked at her beau and he had that defeated, "I'm sorry" look in his face. We got to the border and in my broken and desperate Spanish, I asked the first driver I saw if we could get a ride to the next town. I’m sure my question came out a little curt, poorly pronounced, and pretty forward were it not so obvious my Spanish was shit. The generous soul took us in his car, pushed us past suspecting border agents, and drove us right were we needed to go.
Next, on to Santiago to retreive my board, get a rental car, and drive to Pichelemu for what turned out to be the last Airbnb we’ll ever stay at. More on that next time. Ciao!