Lodgey and Life on the Road. Stories from South America.

9 April 2010

Patagonia: El Chalten and Route 40

We allow ourselves a few days to recover from the pain of Torres del Paine and head further north back in to Argentina to El Chalten – another popular hiking spot. El Chalten is nestled in a valley and is surrounded by jagged, rocky peaks, one of which is Mt Fitz Roy. We get in late to Chalten and the hostel tells us that they only have a ten bed dorm available (we’ve become dorm snobs and generally a ten bed dorm means no sleep tonight with the comings and goings of eight others).

We are both on the top bunk and the beds are barely wide enough for a child. My bunk has no walls next to it so I feel as though I’m suspended precariously in the middle of the room afraid to turn over in case I crash to the floor.

We are up early the next day to do the nine hour hike to Mt Fitz Roy. The walk is moderately difficult except for the last hour which is vertical. I keep thinking thank god the view will be good. And it is. Sensational in fact. There is barely a cloud in the sky and we walk crunch, crunch, crunch over fresh snow. It is beautiful.

I don’t think we have recovered from the four day hike in Torres del Paine because we struggle back down the mountain.

The next day we hike up to Laguna Torre to see the Cerro Torres peaks but when we get to the lookout it is cloudy and I’m knackered and still recovering from a cold so I head back leaving Geezer to finish the hike. I decide to head back a different way and am overwhelmed by the view coming back down the hill towards Chalten. Maybe walking on your own makes you notice the scenery more but I sit for about half an hour staring at the view. There is no noise except a soft wind. There is no pollution so I can see for miles and miles. The water is so pure that you can drink straight from the stream and it is icy cold and delicious. And the air smells earthy and yum. What a life!

I fall asleep back at the hostel, enjoying a people-free dorm, and wake at 7pm just as the sun is setting. Have a quick look around the hostel... no Geezer. Am not overly concerned until I bump into some dorm mates who have come back from the same walk and left slightly earlier than us. They hadn’t passed him.

At 8pm it is now dark and I’m worrying because Geezer has no jacket, no food and no torch and I’m feeling horrendously guilty for having left him. By 9pm it is pitch black outside and I’m frantic asking people in the hostel if they have spotted him. Nope no one has and even the receptionist starts to look concerned. At 9.15pm I put my jacket on and start off down the street not having a clue where I’m going but feeling useless pacing the floor of the hostel.
And then I spot him. Stumbling towards me in the dark, sweating, sore, exhausted and a bit distressed. He had taken a wrong turn and had run most of the way back in the dark. We are both relieved! I knock back a shot of whisky and Geezer curls up in bed.

We are up with the sparrows the next morning to catch a bus out of El Chalten to Bariloche via Ruta 40 (Route 40) – a famous ‘adventurous’ road.

The journey takes two days with an overnight stopover in Perito Moreno. Day one is a 14 hour bus ride and it is horrendous... actually it is horrific. The bus has no air conditioning and the windscreen is so cracked it looks like it is about to fall out. The road is a dirt road so it is bumpy as hell. The bus has no toilet so people line up on the side of the road when they need to go. (I gracefully hold it in until the bus eventually stops and then run to the toilet screaming.) To make matters worse, when we finally do reach a bathroom, I’m followed in by a weird Israeli guy who stares at me while I’m waiting for the loo. I give him my most menacing look but even that doesn’t deter him.

We arrive in Perito Moreno, a tiny country town, late in the night and stay at a hotel that can only be described as an absolute sh*thole (literally - I will say no more). We are put into a dorm with two other blokes (one who has a bowel problem all night and the toilet is right next to my bed - and the other has a zip fetish and zips and unzips his bag ALL night). I crawl into the top bunk which lurches over towards the wall and I feel like I’m going to pour out of it onto the guy below. THEN I discover that there are bed bugs in the bed!!! The whole dorm scratches like mad (except Geezer who is snoring within minutes) which is kind of funny but not really. So I lie awake listening to the music created by four people scratching, snoring, zipping and flushing sometimes in unison. Then up at 7.45am for another horrendous 14 hour bus ride on another dirt road in a slightly better bus with broken seats. At least it has a toilet – although I’m so dehydrated from the day before so as not to need the bathroom that it’s of no use.

They say that Ruta 40 is for the adventurous. Personally I think it’s for the plain stupid. The scenery is desert and scrub and the whole journey turns out to be another budget breaker.

But in the last hour of the trip we enter into the lakes district and the scenery is again stunning. And the sun is setting so we are rewarded with another bright pink sunset. We arrive in to Bariloche with no accommodation booked and head towards a hostel (Hostel 1004) that’s been recommended. It is on the 10th floor of an apartment building with a great big balcony overlooking the most spectacular lake and Andes mountains. They have great music playing and a huge kitchen where you can cook your own meals. They even have spices and oil to cook with... AND it’s $10 a night. We can’t believe it.

See??? It IS the simple things!!

"Always look on the bright side of life..." (**whistles**)


Peter said...

lovely story K - miss you! Dad

Suzie said...

Awesome K. Now when are you getting on Picasa and loading up some pics ?? or are they on facebook and I've missed them. Sounds like you're having a fantastic time anyway. What an adventure :)