the deep south, part 3

Okay, so it was out of Torres del Paine National park, and back in Puerto Natales. There we relaxed, recuperated briefly, ate another delicious breakfast, and bought bus tickets to get back to Argentina. We went straight from Chile’s ‘trekking capital’, to Argentina’s ‘trekking capital’, El Chalten. It took a couple days to get there, just because of the way the buses worked, but once we got there we went right back into hard trekking mode.

El Chalten is a tiny town crammed between mountain peaks and plateaus. It’s actually in the famous Glacier National Park of Argentina and so we were lectured on the rules of the park as our bus entered the town. We quickly found and booked a hostel for our last night in the area, used one of their lockers for all the things we didn’t need for trekking, bought all the food we’d need for the time we were out camping, and started our hike. We made it to Campamento Laguna Capri just as it was getting dark. The nice thing about this trekking adventure was that we’d only be carrying day packs most of the time. We pitched our tent once and took day trips from the camp.

The first day we hiked to the famed Mount Fitz Roy. It was around then that I noticed the trend: massive, bare-rock mountain peak with a glacial skirt followed by a pristine lake made up of freezing cold glacial ice melt and then a mirador (lookout) peppered with tourists. That’s what we encountered at least a couple times in Torres del Paine, and on both our trips to the peaks of Glacier National Park- each more stunning than the last. The second peak we hiked to in Glacier National Park was Cerro Torre- another mountain with the usual suspects surrounding it.

From El Chalten we took the bus north for two whole days. In the first day we made it to the tiny town of Perito Moreno where the bus stopped for the night. Instead of paying for a hotel like everyone else on the bus, we opted to keep camping- this time on the side of the road. Actually, the bus got in late and we were getting back on it at 7 am, so we decided even pitching the tent wasn’t worth it. Apparently, no one in Perito Moreno has anything better to do with their lives than drive up and down the main street, slowing down to point at and comment on the gringos on the side of the road playing cards or hacky sack, and then screech their tires speeding off as soon as we looked at them. That was what it seemed like everyone in the town was doing- over and over and over again. Needless to say it was a strange night. But it wasn’t long before we were back on the bus and staying up all night helped the second day of bussing fly by. We got to Esquel, a small town at the foot of the Argentine Andes, sometime in the late afternoon. We spent a couple days there, hanging out at a laguna, cooking a few actual meals in an actual kitchen (a treat after so much camping food- without a stove), and sleeping in actual beds. We also met up with Olivia, a friend we had met in Puerto Natales who was in Esquel helping the cause of the few native people left in the region.

From Esquel it was just a short bus ride (short meaning about 4 hours in this massive country) to the wonderful city of Bariloche. Unofficially the capital of the ‘Lakes Region’ of Argentina, Barlioche struck us as a South American equivalent to South Lake Tahoe. In the summer there is always a hike to take in the Andes or a beautiful mountain-surrounded lake to paddle out on and in the winter it is a ski resort hot spot. But in either season a good time is sure to be had when exploring the night life.

The first day we were there we hiked to a lookout (rather than paying to take the ski lift up) that gave us a great view of the many lakes surrounding the city. Again we had great weather and could see for days. It was beautiful.

While we were there we also did a bit of rafting on one of the area’s many rivers. We opted to explore the whitewater of the Rio Manso, which took us all the way to the Chilean border. The river ran along the edge of yet another National Park, this one called Nahuel Huapi National Park, with cliff faces towering above us on both sides. We also saw some awesome native wildlife- namely birds and foxes. Oh, and the trip included a meal at the end. They regretted telling us that it was all we could eat.

And of course we explored the night life. Bariloche isn’t a huge city, but it isn’t tiny either. That is, it doesn’t only exist half of the year and almost exclusively for tourists. There are a lot of tourists there, but there are plenty of locals as well. We had the privilege of meeting a few. Two of them, Pablo and Gustavo, made up La Gauchada- a band playing traditional Argentine music in one of Bariloche’s many parks. The guys were awesome, playing every instrument you could think of, recording it, playing it back on a loop, and playing over it to sound like an entire orchestra. We had a blast hacking to their music- so much so that we bought one of their CDs.

And with the local folk around, so too comes the local hot spots. Hopefully they didn’t mind a few gringos crashing their place for a couple days, because that’s certainly what we did. We were lucky to get the word on the cool local place with the good deals on drinks, and we of course brought along all our gringo friends from the hostel. It was fun to be out of tourist land and back to being more of a minority.

We sang, we danced, we drank- we made friends and told jokes and laughed. When it came time to leave Bariloche, none of us were ready to go. It was a special place that we all felt a connection to. Leaving was tough, especially because it meant losing a fourth of our crew. Yes, from Bariloche Kyle took a bus back to Buenos Aires to return to work. He was missed right away, but no doubt lives on in our travels through the trekker’s code. From Bariloche, John, Karl and I continued north. We took yet another 20 hour over-night bus to the city of Mendoza. More on that to come.

Thank you as always for reading. We all send our love and wish you all well.
Love, peace, and chicken grease.

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