Saturday, March 6, 2010

Out of the hills

Marc and I are now fresh new people after a shower, laundry and a good meal in our bellies. Feeling very different than the sweaty stinky hungry us of just a few hours ago when we got down from our 3 day hike around the Fitz Roy range. Very impressive big solid granite blocks heading up 12 blocks into the sky. That´s a lot of vertical. Marc was very impressed. He must have said ´shark toothed spires´at least a dozen times in the 2 days. It´s his favourite discriptive of the mountains in this area. They are pretty darned impressive.

We flew into the town of El Calafate from Bariloche after our car rental explorations. The town of El Calafate is pretty much the hub of the area. Directing tourists to the various glaciers to visit and ranges to hike. Marc and I arrived, found our hotel, dumped our stuff and set out to make plans for the next few days. In just a few hours we planned our hike out of the town of El Chalten (about 3.5 hours away), booked our busses, bought food, researched and booked a rental car for when we get back into town, and found and bought road maps. Whew! Sometimes independant travel is very labour intensive. But the payoff.....ahhhh, so fabulous.

We spent that evening in our hostel-hotel chatting with a couple of french girls who we shared a table with, and ate the most amazing smorg bbq put on by the hotel. The service industry is very alive and well in this area.
Bright and early the next day off we went by bus to the town of El Chalten. This is the jumping off point for hiking the Fitz Roy mountain range. The bus driver made 2 stops on the way to the town. The first was at a little restaurant-hotel where we could get a cup of coffee and a nice treat to eat. Turns out that this rest stop was one of the first buildings in this wild west type area of Argentina. Pioneers passing through would make a stop over here before crossing the mountains to Chile. In fact Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid passed through this very hotel on their way through. They were running from the law and trying to get to Chile.
All very interesting.

The second stop that the driver made was at a beautiful view point where everyone trundled out with their cameras to snap photos of the impressive Fitz Roy range which was for a rare moment, brightly lit up with blue sky all around it. The range is notoriously hard to see as it is usually covered by low hanging cloud which forms above the glaciers.

Into town, got our packs ready and had an early night for an early start the next day.

Off we headed on day one of our hike. So easy! The town borders the park so all we had to do to reach the trail head was walk up the main street for 10 minutes. We had a gloriously sunny day. Once again, apparantly rare in this area. We walked the 2.5 hours to the first camp site. After setting up camp and having some lunch we made a day trek up a rocky river bed to laguna sucio´ a lake at the base of Fitz Roy. The mountain ranges here are like no other with big huge chuks of granite shoved up above glaciers. We´ll have to do some research to see the geological explaination of how the range was created. We spent a few hours at the lake just looking up at the massive spires, with Marc taking photos, before making our way back. The riverbed that we negotiated to get there is filled with boulders the size of cars and small houses with a rushing glacial water river beside it. Of course, this was there we chose to drop our lonely planet trekking guide book into the water (notice how I said we, rather than Marc or I. No need to assign blame) Marc bravely stuck his head under a boulder to fish our now soggy guide book out of the water. It will look adventure worn once it dries out.

Day 2 in the hills
Up at 5am to get an early start up to a viewpoint (1 hour away) for dawn. Marc is of course a much faster hiker than me (I keep blaming my short lets and knee placement) so blasted up the final portion of the trail. Once at the top, we ended up in the dark, not able to find each other for each other for over half an hour. A little early morning comedy. Back down the hill, pack up the camp and we headed off the 3 hours to the second camp site. As we walked we thought that our good luck might be turning with the sky clouding over and rain seeming emminent. But no, the travel gods were with us as we made it to camp with no rain. Very lucky. this next camp site was supposed to afford us views of the Cerro Torre, the pointiest bit of the range. But alas, low hung clouds blocked our views. We really couldn´t complain though as we had had such luck with the weather until then. We spent the rest of the day having showers in the glacial river that ran by the camp site, eating then hiking up to the nearby lake. A very full day.
Day 3
Marc woke up early again to see if he could catch a photo of the torre without the cloud. But no, the glaciers produce so much moisture that the normal state of the peaks is to be shrouded in cloud. So after breakfast, we packed up and hiked out. What a great adventure.

Tomorrow we take a bus back to El Calafate where we pick up another rental car and head out to the coast. Apparantly penguines, sea lions and whales await us. I hope so!

Take Care

Monday, March 1, 2010

Shaken not Stirred

So Marc and I just got to the first computers we´ve been at for 5 days to a slough of emails from people hoping that we weren´t caught in the earthquake in Chile. Earthquake? That´s what we felt while we were sleeping the other night. So yes, we are all safe and sound.

So Marc and I arrived in Bariloche after hiking our 4 days route through the mountains near Bariloche. We spent that afternoon running like mad fools to find a car rental company, load up on groceries, get laundry done, etc..etc.. we did it all through. And after a good nights rest in a well deserved kinda fancy hotel, we had our car delivered at 10 am and we were off in the wild blue yonder by noon. Our goal was to drive north up to San Martin de los Andes through the spectacular landscape of ´la routa de siete lagos´. Up we headed through mountain passes, on gravel roads past pritine lakes and steep drops down! We decided to spend the evening at a small lake called Laguna espejo chico (meaning little mirror lake). We parked the car, set up our tent, then spent the rest of the plutzing around in the water. Trout fishing in the area is suppose to be spectacular and we got to watch several people fly fish in the lake and its stream. Such a relaxing afternoon and evening after a busy morning and some dusty driving. To top it all off, the camp site had a cat, who we named Franco Fiore, we also fed him lots of scraps. He loved us very much and begged to come into our tent at night. We were tempted.

Day 2 of the car rental!
Off we went from our beautiful little lake onwards to a small village (Villa Traful)We poked around there for a while, soaking up the beautiful scenery before heading back up the dusty road. After an hour or so we finally hit pavement!!! The windy roads were so much more scenic without all of the dust flying around. We picked another lake to camp by (Lago Falkner). The camp sites here are for the most part clean, well serviced with bathrooms, hot showers and bbq area. All of that, a place to pitch your tent and beautiful waterfront views for about 15 canadian per couple. What a deal. That night I woke up for some reason and Marc said, do you feel that? Yea, what the heck. It felt like the whole tent was rocking back and forth. We were feeling the earthquake that left Santiago Chile in shambles. To us, over the mountains in Argentina, it felt like our tent was resting on a giant hammock that was swaying back and forth. Dogs started barking at each tremmor and the lake that had been so still suddenly had waves lapping up at the shore. We of course didn´t realize that Chile had had an earthquake, we assumed that it was just a small localized tremmor.

Day 3 of the car rental.
Up we drove to San Martin de los Andes. A very pretty little town with similar beautiful surroundings as Bariloche but without the huge hordes of people and tourists. We hopped on a boat that took us across the lake to National Park Lanin where we had a very nice lunch on the shore, looking out over the water at the mountains that surround the area. I had a raspberry dacquari. It was very nice.
Back to town via boat a few hours later and we continued up the road, passing views of volcano Lanin in the distance. The big mountains slowly turned into foothills, and ranch land. We spent the night in a beautiful campground in Junin de los Andes. Fabulous little place on an island between 2 rivers, just in the middle of town. There Marc spotted a campervan with BC plates. We chatted with the occupants, a Swiss couple who had purchased the van in Canada, drove it down to Panama, shipped it over the Darien gap to Columbia, and made their way down to Argentina where we ran into them. So far they have been on the road for 2 years and 7 months. Eviable!

Day 4 of the Car rental
Up and off early as we wanted to cover over 300k today. Roads here are in good condition, but very windy and mountainous. To top that off, there are some drivers who fluctuate between 40 km per hour and 85 km per hour, making passing or keeping a constant speed difficult. It´s not a race though. Once again we passed through ranch land that looked like arizona, then the hills got greener, then steeper, back into foothills, then again into huge mountain ranges. Past Bariloche where we had origionally started and on to El Bolson, a small town 100k or so south of Bariloche. We found our campsite, visited the local fair that was going on. Bought raspberries, blackberries and blueberries before setting up camp. We desided to have a real argentinian grill, so we heated up some charcoal and set some lamb to grill. We had just finished our nice relaxing meal when some very loud music started. Our campground was right across the road from a huge temporary stadium. Unbeknownst to us, it was the annual hops festival. Clearly Marc had to try some of the local beers so over we headed to savour the local delicasies and watch traditional dance. All very fun.

This morning we headed out for a short hike into the surrounding mountains to the bosque tallado. (the carved forest). After a small forest fire, local artists carved the fallen trees, so now tourists can hike on up to check it out. All very cool.

so today we head back to Bariloche, where we once again have lots of sorting out of stuff to do. Tomorrow morning we fly out to el Calafate in the south. Once there, we´ll be taking a bus to El Chalten and hiking for 3 days in the Fitz Roy range. This time if we feel the ground shake, we´ll be sure to head to an email cafe as soon as we can.

Big hugs to all