Updated: 23 weeks 3 days ago
I got bored of working at REI and living in CT, and decided to go work with Shaun in Honduras. I headed north, wanting both to visit friends in Canada and attempt a different route across the US. I had a hard time from Detroit to Mississippi, but made up for it by having a blast in New Orleans and Austin. A chance glance at Craigslist landed me with a car heading to Montana, picking up a nice job tip along the way. I hung out and waited in NorCal to hear back from the job, and by May I was living and working on a boat bound for Alaska. A few months into the season I bailed (on good terms), and wandered around Europe, ostensibly for the last time. I returned to the US for dad's birthday, and hung out around the NYC area, doing a lot of nothing. I dated Kim for a while, but between wanderlust and her desire for chidren, we parted ways. New Years Eve saw me at a party with friends in Queens, soon to head off to yet another oddessy in South America. I write this now sitting in a small chocolate shop, looking out at the cloud-covered peak of Mt. Fitzroy, a 3000m mountaineering challenge. I am leaving here tomorrow to return to the big city for a moment, with a staunch promise to return. I plan on only being gone for a few weeks, as the wilderness here rivals my favorite of places, Alaska, without the ocean (or bears). I have no idea how much money I have left, save the few hundred argentine pesos in my wallet; quite frankly, I dont care. I have savings in the wings, and have a strange confidence that, even broke and without any other resources, I can get to wherever I am trying to go, either on this continent or any other. It is a strange and powerful feeling, once which threatens to overcome my normally stoic face with a wide grin. My life is truly an oddessy, and I am blessed.
Coldplay echos from most of a sound system. I (not so) nimbly dodge between swinging poi and a conversation in Spanish which appears heated on my mission to grab my tablet. I pause briefly, taking refuge from the wind for a moment behind the climbing wall which I have been playing with all day. My tablet and keyboard are quickly located in my dark tent, and I bring them back to the cooking, eating, hanging out area at La Cuerva, Friends of the Mountains in Clafate. I have spent the last few days here, helping to rebuild, enjoying relaxing days, throwing a party, and eating lots of good food. Languages have flucatuated from English to Hebrew, stopping briefly at French, German, Danish, and of course Spanish. Music, either songs from someone's media player or the band practicing, always fills the air. Smells of fresh bread, soups, pizza, potatoes, and heaps of other large group food have wafted through the air continuously. Slack lining and climbing has been a daily occurence, fun had by all encamped or living within. The fire which destroyed this structure nearly five months ago does nothing to damped the spirits of those residing on the property. From travelers, hitchhikers, bike tourists, and park rangers on vacation to those who live here year round, domiciles are formed from every concieable construction. Tents sit next to structures, from tiny homes to a geodesic dome made of cob, with every manner of family and wanderer within. We all work to rebuild, slowly but steadily, a labor of love but also art, avoiding the intense midday sun and instead working and eating late into the evening.
My camera is still without a battery, so my words shall share my vision...
It doesn´t look that big. I have certainly seen, and climbed, bigger.
-My thoughts approaching Torres del Paine (TDP) National Park in Chile
With nearly fourty kilometers to go, the mountains loomed imposing but not overwhelmingly so in the distance. As our ride, a middle-aged Chilean woman on a long trip around Patagonia, continued to drive towards the park, the scale of the peaks we were headed towards began to register in my mind. The road had long ago turned from pavement to dirt, something which I have become accustomed to here in South America, the bumps tranferring through the suspension a real feeling of adventure and that "off the beaten path" feeling. Eventually the entrance, a small building housing a few rangers with an outbuilding for a toilet and not much else, came into view. We slowed to a stop when flagged down by a ranger, dressed in the nearly international dark olive-green colors of wilderness rangers everywhere. My partner and I climbed out of the car, wishing the woman a pleasant journey and simultaneous utterance of "gracias." We were here. We walked into the building, registering our intent (The Circuit, a 130km trek), paid our fee (18,000 CLP, around $32), and walked over to the bathroom to fill our water containers and set off.
The bleak prarie seemed to stretch out in front of us endlessly, broken only by the towering mountains to our left, and the everpresent river to our right. We trekked across fields, criss-crossing horse trails complete with hoofprints and mounds of dung, crossing small streams on logs and rocks strategically laid out to facilitate crossing, to our first campamento (camping spot) for the evening. We set up our tent, cooked a basic meal of spiced lentils, and crashed out, the sun still up at nearly 10PM, with an everpresent wind fighting for control of the tent against my strategically placed pegs.
Morning saw us wake...not so early. This was to become common along our trip, never really in a hurry to rise and break camp, contrary to my normal trekking routine. Lazily we made a basic breakfast, with some assistance from the rangers living at the camp (Hot water was provided), packed up, and headed out. The night before we had discussed our plan, to skip the next campamento (18km) and instead proceeed to the base of the pass, approximately 30km away. We learned from our hosts that the distances were, well, inexact, but the times were roughly accurate for the average traveler. As we hiked, we began to pass individuals and travelers whom we had seen leave camp much earlier than we had. By the time we arrived half way, to eat lunch 18km later, we realized that we were hiking much faster than the average, and would need to adjust our time estimates.
The climb out of Campamento Dickson coencided with a light rain, and an increase in the everpresent wind. We had long since lost the river to our right, though the mountains to our left were becomming larger by the minute, individual glaciers visible hanging off of mixed-rock cliffs, with heterogeneous bands of rock presenting a dizzying array of blacks, browns, and light beige. A light rain reminded me that we were, in fact, in the mountains, and that care must be taken to avoid injury and misforture. Clouds seemed to come and go at a whim, promising rain and then showing blue sky without shedding a drop, or showing a beautiful blue sky while dripping from apparently nowhere. After another dozen kilometers or so, we scrambled up a glacial take to take in an awesome sight- a lake bordered on one side by a mountain, on the other by a dam completely made of glacial skree, with a massive white and blue glacier feeding the frigid water and occasional ice floe in front of us. Silt had turned the water a mixture of opaque blue with brown tints, though an incredible wind, nearly strong enough to blow me over even without a backpack, discouraged intense contemplation. Soon thereafter we arrived at our camp for the night, Campamento Perro, our last stop before The Pass.
But that is a story for another time...
I really wished that my camera worked right now. The incredible lightshow playing out across the wide open prarie is a treat like none else. The symphony of thunder crashes combined with faint sound of the howling wind left me speechless and in awe. This is why I don't plan.
I was snapped out of my reverie by a sudden gust of wind. It was dark, and a storm approached, and I had nowhere to rest my head.
RT 3 is the road to the end of the world. Alex, my current travel partner, and I picked up the road where we met in Bahia Blanca, and immediately began hitching south. Rides ranged from single men driving a personal vehicle to long-haul truckers with their entire family crammed into the cab. Our first destination was Puerto Madryn and the national park directly north, a beautiful peninsula with a mix of windy desert beaches and abundant wildlife. A late evening hitching in found us camped at a gas station, though we had no trouble in the morning thumbing into the park.
Upon arrival, we wandered around the sole small town of Puerto Pyramides, eventually dropping our bags at a local gas station and preparing for an adventure. It was a little after noon, and we headed back out the road to attempt to hitch the one long road encircling the peninsula. Our luck held out, and with one short lift up to an intersection, a wonderful couple on holiday from Buenos Aires stopped to pick us up, and drove us all around the park for the day. While windy, we saw Elephant Seals, sea lions, Magellanic penguins, Guaranchos (sp?), sheep, foxes, and other small animals. Alex had her heart set on Orcas, but none made an appearance. We eventually hitched back to town, picked up our bags, and, with daylight fading, managed to hitch a ride to a nearby beach which was known for free camping. We humped our gear behind a nearby dune and hunked down for the night.
The next day was overcast and windy, and we spend a bit of time mulling over what to do. We decided to go for (what I thought was going to be) a short walk, out to the nearby point. I walked barefoot, figuring that we would only be out a short while. Naturally, we ended up walking a dozen or so kilometeres back into town. There was a lot of sand, but plenty of rock, mud, and broken shells scattered about. I
made it without incident, though swore i would not make that mistake again. Once again purchasing food in town, we hitched back to our beach at sunset and cooked dinner in our little beachside camp.
Our final day in the park gave us quite the scare of a storm which never materialized. Nonetheless, we hastened to break camp and hitch out, once again rejoining Rt 33 to the south.
The hitch south was fast, furious, and constant, with no real stopping for nearly 48 hours. Cars, trucks, semi-trailers all seemed to stop, giving us lifts further down the road. We crossed the Chilean border, walking on to a ferry in Chile to get us down to the southernmost point. We met a gentleman on the boat who offered us a lift all the way to Ushuia, some four hundred Km down the road. Pavement gave way to dirt road, which his souped-up pickup handled with ease. Near midnight we crossed back into Argentina, and by two AM we were in Ushuaia, Tierra del Fuego, the end of the world.
From my friend's apartment, i decided to walk instead of hunt through the busses to get to the hitchspot which I had picked out the prior evening. Shirtless, dripping in sweat, I arrived approximately 5 kilometers later. The hitching sucked. The bathroom had no toilet paper. It was hot, and even cardboard for a sign was difficult to find. I decided to walk.
A few hundred meters down the road, by a stoplight, a car pulled over with it's entire passenger side caved in. The driver waved me over to the seat behind him. Trusting tht whatever had transpired to cause such damage was not under his control, I hopped in. The air was stale and hot. The man spoke no English, but told me that he was going to Batan, about a dozen kilometers down the road. There are less cars there, and the people are richer, so they speak a little bit of English. He wished me a good trip as he sped off, leaving me to marvel at the quiet, dusty road I was to travel down to reach my destination...
It is a terrible things to have to spend all day with beautiful women, alternating between hanging out at the beach and attending parties with music and dancing. My daily routine is a page from a travel brochure: late waking to the sounds of a bustling but not crowded city, a gentle saunter a few blocks over to the beach, stopping to purchase some snack along the way. Sunblock, water and mate are the only staples I carry in my bag from the house. The first two are self explanatory, while the culture here seems intrinsically linked to not only the consumption but the social experience of this strong tea.
At the beach we are joined by friends. Thin pieces of cloth are spread out, not so much a towel as a sarong, and clothes are shucked. Some of us head to the water, enjoying Mar del Plata's active surf and rolling waves. The beach is packed with people, from groups of young children to families and individuals just here to enjoy the sand. The sound of crashing waves masks any city noise, and if you don't look back, you may even forget that civilization is there.
Parties in the evening are a civilized and yet raucous affair, with consumption in moderation but at the same time a carefree atmosphere embraces dancing, passionate conversation as well as the introduction of new friends. This may last all evening, into the sunrise...