10 Things I Learned while Visiting Chile/ Argentina (in no particular order):
1. Always carry some spare pesos.
2. Bring sunscreen (lots of it).
3. Learn a little Spanish, or at least buy a tourists’ translation book.
4. The septic systems cannot handle toilet paper, even in the cities you throw it in the trash, and many of the toilets you do encounter are made for squatting not sitting.
5. Siestas are a real thing. Do not expect many stores to be open early afternoon.
6. The packs of dogs wandering the streets are more interested in scraps of food rather than attacking you (and many are actually quite friendly if you stop to pet them.)
7. Book your bus tickets in advance (in person at the station, not online), and get to your bus at least 15 minutes early.
8. It is okay to drink glacier water without treating it, especially when you are standing next to the lake at the base of the glacier.
9. A smile and kind word to a stranger can go miles, literally. You never know who is heading to the same place as you, and will be able to help you out
10. Customs agents in Chile are extremely strict so you should eat your delicious dried mango slices on the plane, before they confiscate them.
Hopefully my introductory list and picture have enticed you to read on and learn a little bit more about my recent adventure of backpacking through Patagonia!
Only 3 short days after celebrating Christmas with the family, I found myself packing and then on a 13 hour plane ride to the tip of South America; Punta Arenas, Chile to be more exact. The plan was for the group of us, four students, two faculty and my dad, to enjoy an 8 day trek through the famous Torres del Paine in Chile. We would then conclude our adventure with a four day ferry ride up the coast, before flying back to the states just in time for the Bucknell semester to start. However, as my title suggests, this plan was soon to be scrapped and re-worked. It turns out that the day we landed was the same day Torres del Paine National Park was evacuated due to forest fires.
Thankfully we were all comfortably situated at our hostel, Imago Mundi (which is a phenomenal little oasis with comfy beds, bright fun colors, a new puppy, a climbing wall, and a phenomenal porch), and had time to create an entirely new agenda. One consideration was Tierra del Fuego, which is very wild, perfect for a backpacking adventure, and happens to be the last landmass before Antarctica. However, reaching the remote land was not conceivable for our time frame. Therefore, we settled for backpacking around Fitz Roy instead. In other words, we were headed for ARGENTINA!!
Since no bus company crosses country borders on the first of the year, we enjoyed New Years eve in Punta Arenas. The joke “celebrating the end of the world at the end of the world” was made on more than one occasion. For me though, the memorable part came at midnight where we were on the coast with the rest of the city enjoying the fireworks. The impressive part, however, were the flares that signaled midnight. In every direction you looked you could see the little red orbs slowly falling; in the city behind me, from the boats on the water, even across the water to the island of Tierra del Fuego the flares were visible. The other exciting addition to our itinerary was visiting Seno Otway which hosts a penguin colony! Everywhere you looked there were penguins and their little babies waddling around.
Fast forward two days, a border crossing (make sure you hold onto any papers you get from Chilean customs because they expect to see them whenever you leave or enter the country), and about 10 hours or so on various buses, we finally arrived at El Chalten, Argentina, and the entrance all treks around Fitz Roy. El Chalten is the definition of a shanty town; thrown together in the 80′s as an attempt to define borders and claim land in the Patagonian region for Argentina. While it is a bit more of an outdoorsy tourist haven, there are still countless buildings mid-construction which will probably never be finished.
While I could write paragraphs about the backpacking itself, I think I will save those lessons for another day. Instead I will focus more on the views! Since we had daylight from about 5am till 11pm, we were able to everything possible. Our first few days on the trail were dedicated to setting up camp at Poincenot and then going on day treks. When I say day treks, I mean normal day hikes up dried river beds (well more like regions that flood during spring thaws) and ending at crystal clear, blue lakes formed by the glaciers that are mixed in among the peaks. After warming up under the clear skies and strong sunshine, nothing (and I mean nothing) cooled you off faster than jumping in a lake that had icebergs floating in it. In addition to waiting and watching for chunks of ice to fall (calving is the technical term), listening to the glacier was just as incredible. The first night we though we heard thunder from an incoming storm, but we soon realized that the noises were a combination of mini avalanches, falling chunks of ice, and interior sections of the glacier shifting.
Before we moved to a location further south for a view of Cerro Torre, we had to do the sunrise hike to Laguna De los Tres. This hike was basically switch-backing at a constant 45 degree (or more) angle for a 1.5 mile hike over an elevation change of 1300ft. This was also the morning where it decided to not only remain cold and windy but also rain. While the sunrise itself was not worth the night hike, the double rainbow cast over the lake was definitely worth the pelting rain and fear of being blown off the side of the ridge.
After one more night on the trail and a day hike to see Cerro Torres (which sadly spent the entire morning shrouded in clouds), Laguna Torre, and Glaciar del Torre, we hiked back into El Chalten. Our spare time there was spent taking a horse back riding trip into another region of Los Glaciares National Park. The views were just as breath taking as we rode along on our horses and actually trotting for some of the ride. I’ll be honest, I could not stop giggling and I had the biggest grin imaginable. I felt like a little girl again, and must have looked ridiculous.
After departing el Chalten, we headed back to el Calafate and took one more day trip out to Perito Moreno Glaciar. Perito Moreno is one of the three Patagonian glaciers still growing and is a huge tourist attraction. A series of boardwalks are set up on the hillside facing the glacier. What is neat about the glacier, in addition to its astounding size, is the fact that it acts as a natural dam separating the lake it forms into two halves. One half of the lake is significantly taller than the other, and periodically the pressure created by the wall of water breaks through the damming ice, before another section of the glaciar calves creating a new dam.
Finally, we headed back into Chile where we boarded our ferry at Puerto Natales. After a number of days backpacking, sitting on a ferry, practicing newly acquired knitting skills, and chatting with other travelers, watching the uninhabited coastline slowly coast by was the perfect way to end the trip. All in all, a trip where it seemed as if everything that could go wrong did turned out to be the most fantastic adventure of a lifetime. Hopefully, studying abroad in Scotland will be equally exciting and challenging.