After hanging out with the penguins and sea lions on the Peninsula Valdez in Puerto Madryn I continued my journey south to El Calafate. It took about 24 hours in all to get there but along the way I met some others who helped pass the time. I had heard from other travelers that besides the Perito Moreno Glacier, there was not much to do in El Calafate so I only booked two nights in a hostel. When I arrived I found that the hostel was about a half mile out of town and in the middle of nowhere. Once again, I found myself the only person who really spoke english but everyone else spoke Hebrew. It was a little more of a challenge, but I shared a room with a man from France and an older gentleman from Japan. The older man from Japan's name was pronounced Shoe. I have no clue how you would spell this in Japanese, but I have now continued to see him often along my journey. The night passed quickly and in the morning I took a bus into Los Glaciers National Park to veiw the Perito Moreno Glacier. This was the first incredible natural beauty that I had seen on this whole trip. The size alone of this glacier made one's mouth drop, and every few minutes you could hear a loud bang like a gun shot followed by a roaring splash as peices of the glacier broke off and crashed into the water. I caught on video a huge peice of ice breaking off and smashing into the water, pretty exciting as it was the second largest peice we had seen all day. I hung out with a guy from Isreal named Azziz who had very similar interests so this made an incredible day that much better. Around four in the pm we returned to the bus and went bak to El Calafate. Back in town, I checked out the shops at night and tryed to find information on trekking in El Chalten, my destination the following day.
Woke up just a bit after sunrise to pack my stuff, eat a quick breakfast and headed to the bus station. While waiting or the bus I began a conversation with a guy my age, Tim, who was also from Colorado. He went to school at East High and was headed to El Chalten to trek with his dad Simon. I ended up sitting right behind them on the bus and we went over the maps of El Chalten and possible routes for camping. Long story shorter, we got to Chalten and learned that we probably only had a few days of good weather so when invited to join them to head up the mountains that day I had no hesitation. After a quick trip to the market and dropping off unneeded goods at the hostel we planned to return to, we headed up into the mountains. After about four hours we reached the first campsite which sat next to a glacial lake with the glacier on the opposite side. This site looked up on Cerro Torre, one of the famous peaks El Chalten is known for. The peak jets straight up with little girth. The mountain tops here were incredible. So much different then what I am used to in the Rocky's. We set up camp next to a huge river that was not only freezing but a brilliat bright blue. All of these glacial lake have a tourquoise blue color due to minerals and sediment. It really was pretty cool. We made dinner and headed up the small hill to watch the sun set on Cerro Torre. It was so peaceful. There was a couple of others who were up there but no noise but the river and not a cloud in the sky. After hanging out we headed back to camp and headed to bed so we could wake up and watch sunrise and get started on our second day. This sunrise was the most beautiful I have seen as of yet, which is funny because I think I have seen the sunrise more times in the last month than I have in the last couple years. The sun rose and quickly illuminated the peak of Cerro Torre from top to bottom in about five minutes. Couldn't ask for a better veiw. Ready to get on our way to see Cerro Fitz Roy, a huge peak that climbs alone from the mountains and is veiwable from kilometers away. We packed up camp and headed on our way. The journey to the camp at the base of Fitz Roy took about four hours, and during these four hours the weather slowly changed from cloudless day to windy and cloud covered sky with the treat of rain fairly promenant. We decide to drop our packs and climb the the trail to the Lagos de Los Trece, which is a glacial lake that sits at the acutal base of Fitz Roy. The trail was steep and windy but we made pretty good time. Once reaching the top we were greeted with extraordinary views of the lower vally and as well as to glacial lakes, one many meters below fed but tens of small and one large waterfalls. We spent about an hour up here taking pictures and hoping the cloud cover would clear over Fitz Roy so we could see the peak but it didnt happen. We returned to our packs and with bad weather rolling in decided to head back to town as the people who we talked to said the next few days were supposed to be ugly, which they were. Another four hours through such different climates we reached the town and went on a search for a hostel. No luck was to be had so Simon bought us a great room at this little hotel or hosteria. We made dinner, shared some wine and laughs, played kribbige, and went to bed. The two of them got there bus tickets changed to be able to leave a couple days earlier so they could continue there journey, so as they were leaving the following day I walked down the street only to run into my good ol' Irish buddies, the James'. This was great beacuse I was able to spend the following days hanging out with these guys while in pissed rain and wind howled outside. We were unable to head north to Bariloche for a couple days because the bus only leaves every other day. El Chalten was awe strikingly beautiful in good weather but lacked many options for entertainment during bad weather. By the time it came to leave El Chalten and hopefully arrive somewhere with nicer weather. The bus we took stopped for the night in Perito Moreno, a small town between El Chalten and Bariloche. I think they split the trip up because most of the highway we took was on dirt roads which were not greatly maintained. The day thereafter we got back on the bus for another 12 hour journey but while riding the bus I decided that I was going to jump off in El Bolson, a small town a few hours before you actually reach Bariloche.
Leaving my Irish friends, I found a campsite in El Bolson where I could stay in my tent for a cheaper rate but still use the facilities. That night I met a bunch of people from all around the world and we hung out by the fire and laughed deep into the night. Four of these people were raft guides who solidified my previous belief that raft guides are a different breed. Brilliant fun and being surrounded by them make you want to just become a guide and travel the world doing what you love. One of the guys told me about how he lived in an abandoned school bus for a whole season and guided during the days. Sounded like a real unique experience. The following day I spent in the city center of El Bolson. I fell in love with this little hippie town. Everyone here had a talent, made crafts, played music, juggled, or something unique. It made me think of what Boulder was probably like a long time ago. People would walk on the tight rope tension lines, drop their butts to the rope, do a flip while bouncing up and land on the line again. There were alson little micro-breweries all over which was fun. With some people I had met we checked out the market where people sold thier crafts and goods. El Bolson has this market three days a week and it was pretty cool. Really enjoyed the day walking around, sitting and talking in the park, sharing a couple beers with new friends. This day was great because I really just got to take the time to slow down and enjoy the atmosphere and the beautiful weather we were given. The following day I woke and decided to head to Bariloche to start a new adventure as I was beginning to itch to actually be in the mountains. Took the bus to Bariloche, met Hector, a local older gentleman from Buenos Aires, who was in this area for the first time in his life. He was awe struck by the beauty and it made me ponder how lucky I was to be able to see all of this at this age. Upon arrival in Bariloche I found info on treks, grabbed dinner, found a hostel and crashed. Woke up early the next day to gather goods for a five day trek title the Nahuel Haupi Traverse. I arrived at the base of the mountain around noon and headed up to the first campsite Refugio Frey. While riding the bus I met a couple from California who had quit their jobs and just headed off to see the world with no real time frame to return. They planned on trying to work the greape harvest in Mendoza which is coming soon to cushion their funds. They were great company and made the four hour hike to the first camp seem like nothing. At the camp after Brittany and Jeff had headed down the mountain for the day, I ate pasta for dinner, enjoyed a brillient moon and then tried to go to bed. The sites for tents sat on stone grounds, and although they were flat the lack of a sleeping pad and the presence of howling wind made the night of sleep more of a night of a little rest. The morning was beautiful though, I packed up my tent and headed up the trail to the next Refugio. This day took about six hours and was full of some decent sized climbs up and over ridges, through forest, and finally down the other camp which at Refugio Jakob. This was a little paradise. I seriously thought of staying here for a week. I actually met a guy from Buenos Aires named Gonzolo while jumping off smalls cliffs into the water. We ended up sharing dinners which was great because he had some tomato, onion, and cheese empenadas which was bettter than crappy cheap instant pasta. We joked throughout the night through broken spanish about starting a secret community here and simply staying forever as it was that beautiful. At night we hung out on the rocks overlooking the lake. Gonzolo played the gutiar while me and a fellow traveler from Phili tryed our hands and playing the harmonica. Some of it sounded pretty good but I still need a lot more practice. Fun to try though. Went to bed and woke with plans of stiking around for another day. However, the Swiss guy next to me was goin over the part of the trail that was strongly advised not to cross. After discussion and deliberation, I decided to join him, another gentleman from Switzerland, and two German girls on this adventure. We had to sign a release saying we choose to do this trek and had been properly informed about the danger. I dont think that any of us really knew what we were in for. About 45 minutes into the trek we found oursleves rock climbing without a rope with our forty pound packs strapped as close as possible to our bodies. It was literally the craziest day of my life. We crossed mountains cirques and summiited Cerro Navidad, shoe skied on snow, crossed rivers along waterfalls, dipped, dodged, and ducked trees. Most of the day I spent focusing so hard because if I screwed up a little it probably meant death. Literally. I am not gonna lie, at some points i was legitimattly scared shitless. The veiws were unbelievable and to look back on what we had climbed was crazy as well. It was absolutely the best day of my trip so far. Together we formed a bond and have been hanging out since. Due to bad weather coming we returned early after a night at the third camp, but with heads held high for what we accomplished. The night was awesome as we sat in the refugio eating soup, beans, and rice and listening to an Argentinian family play guitar and sing. Its crazy the people you meet and bond with down here. You would never acknowledge them at home but here you become family. We returned to town, made a huge hamburger dinner, where we added onion, apple, cilantro, spices, and other stuff to the meat. We shared a few beers and a few bottles of win and decided to rent bikes the following day and try to visit the family from the Refugio, who had returned to their rented house on the beach of Lago Nahuel Haupi the same day tha we went to town.
The next day we met, rented our bikes and headed around a popular circuit overlooking the lake and the city. What a beautiful place. Someone described this town as the Breckenridge of South America. We found the lakeside house and hungout with the family the whole afternoon. We had to leave to return the bikes but we were invited to come back later that night for an asado, or bbq. We acepeted as this situation is the reason you travel. We got what we were told to from the store, showered and took the bus to the house where the cooking began around 10 pm. We all stood around the fire sharing wine and having a good time. The perilla is a pretty cool form of cooking as you set coals under and elevated grill which stands on the ground. The meat being cooked was the largest peices of meat I had ever seen. It also turned out to be the best meat I had ever tasted. With the company, live music being played by all, the food, this was by far one of the best and most authentic experience I have had. We hungout until 5 30 am before calling a cab and returning to the hostel. The Argentinian lifestyle is quite different with the times of events but its uniqueness is what makes the experience so great. Today I woke up, went and bopught a bus ticket to Mendoza, another 20 hour ride over night, and said goodbye to the little family the five of us trekkers had formed over the last four days. It really was sad to split from them as we shared so much in these few days. I hope to run into all of them on the road but it will be nice to have some alone time to reflect on the past few weeks because so much has happened, with so little free time to actually review the events. I guess thats what a 20 hour bus ride is good for.