"We all live in the sublime. Where else can we live? This is the only place in life."
-Maurice Maeterlinck, Belgian writer
Only 31,000 more to go from the rest of the world…
Who knows how many thousands I deleted along the way (I generally weed out about half the camera exposures during my catalog-grooming process). There will, of course, be future editing, sorting, labeling, and developing to do, but I’m relieved to have finished my first phase in the New World.
And it’s also the end of the Old Year and the start of a New; an ideal time to post one of these few-and-far-between photologue entries, completing the two-part chronicle for the Argentine/Chilean-shared Patagonia.
The charted course across Patagonia at this point is rather well-worn and uncomplicated. The wonders of this landscape are well-worth the long bus rides, meager lodging, and slightly-steep prices, but they are also scarce enough throughout the continent and sufficiently well-known throughout the world that there’s really no mystery about where to go next or question as to whether someone else will already be there.
One such someone was on a like-minded excursion as me.
Puerto Natales is about 50km from the mountains themselves, adjacent to ocean water filtered through hundreds of islands, gulfs, and straits, but it’s the only decent specialized supply center for trekkers, and for someone like me who traveled two years with nothing but a carry-on sized backpack (one which did not contain anything other than daily essentials and a few peripherals), I would have a hard time navigating the Torres without the aforementioned supplies.
Daniel and I reunited there, after a few weeks apart while he took some time off in Buenos Aires. It was an exciting surprise and warming thing to find him waiting for me at where the bus deposited me [after he had spent the day hitchhiking through inclement weather from Calafate]. He had also already found us a small bed for the night, and a renter’s outfit to provide us with the tents and sleeping bags we would use while in the park (a tent which tragically and horrifically must have had some toxic mold embedded within, since my allergies leapt into high gear anytime I was inside for more than a few minutes and would then persist to torture me ALL DAY afterwards… So much snot… so much red eye).
Mandy joined us in gathering what we would use, and we prepared our food before going to sleep, knowing that our first of several extra-early mornings wasn’t far away.
Darkness still sat heavy upon the port when we woke, and we made our way to the bus which would deliver us to the 4-day, 25 km hike ahead.
Many lakes dot the undulating landscape around the mountain range; all pristine, still, and brightly colored. We spent some time hiking around those lakes, and eventually crossed one whose water was blue like some fruity sports drink.
*One piece of the story I want the reader to keep in mind: It is customary (to the point of being equal parts legendary and laughable) for passing hikers on the trail to offer each other a quick but hearty "Hola" as an exercise in solidarity. It literally happens almost every single time, and I started finding it amusing.
Anyone who has trekked Patagonia will remember: "Hola." "Hola." "Hola." "Hola." Over and over and over again.
I wanted to see what the world looks like when dawn breaks at the bottom of the world.
As the sun rose and slowly warmed the reluctant air, it also warmed the muted colors in the sky to help me capture a vibrant scene.
Patagonia is why my knees don’t work so well anymore.
Not just because of knees aching and vertebrae fighting me in full revolt, but also due to amply provided opportunities to take photographs was it easy to find reason to stop and take photographs.
That afternoon, after setting up camp and before climbing the mountainside, I sat by the river, sometimes on the sun-heated stones I used to dry myself and my clothing after bathing, and sometimes on the rustic bridge straddling the whitewater below, and listened for glaciers cracking and small avalanches cascading down the façade in front of me.
Torres Trek, Day 3:
The following day was the day that nearly did us in.
At one time or another, all three of us were in a bad mood (despite gorgeous land laid before us, deliciously quenching spring water, and unexpectedly encountering our sweet friend Roberta from Rio [small world!]).
That day’s 15km felt relentless, and my back hurt. My knees hurt. My feet hurt. My stomach hurt. My head hurt… I walk rather quickly, and I was unjustifiably frustrated slowing down for my more casually-paced companions.
We were tired and hungry and probably losing perspective a bit, which all contributed to short fuses all around.
Eventually the rain let up, and we turned upwards on the mountain for some time.
We passed by a couple of camps, before eventually and immediately before dark set up the tent for our last night amongst the trees, falling asleep easily despite resting on bare, slanting stone.
To explain, we can begin by stating that the stone here is granite, meaning its amalgamated composition features various elements and therefore various color fragments. During most of the day and night, when the light is neutral, the rocks respond in kind and look a neutral grey. But in the first rays of morning, when the light is so warm and horizon-tinted, the Torres glow orange against a blue sky. (See Daniel’s photograph below from years before)
It was for this image we traveled here, and while I’ve mentioned previously my affinity for the “mystery mode” that fog and cloud can offer (partially from true pleasure and appreciation of the beauty, but also partially by default because my luck is such that I rarely score good weather) I really wanted to see that morning gold, which can only happen with a clear sky.
It was just a sprinkle; perfectly tolerable for an ascent which was rapidly activating my sweat glands as I removed layer after layer of winter clothing. But rain means clouds, and when I beheld the Towers at the summit, they were swathed in thick mist. It was beautiful, truly, but it wasn’t why I came here.
As the morning light pushed away the shadows of the peak, I worked hard to catch the scene as artistically and unresentfully as I could manage (and at the same time worked to not harshly judge other hikers on the scene who seemed to be breaking rules of reverence and acting disrespectfully in my mind).
This event just played into a long history I have of unknowingly converting ideas into expectations, which then lead to disappointment. It's something I've been working to better manage for years, and I'm improving, but the habit still sneaks up on me from time to time. Daniel is often quick to point it out, which is sometimes helpful, and other times can get me defensive.
In due time we turned to climb down the entire mountain, which would take a majority of the day.
Fortunately, true to mist's mysterious nature, as we descended and passed through and below those rain clouds which hid the Torres, we were granted some really remarkable vistas.
Now, Daniel and most others prefer a downward trek to an upwards haul. I don’t. I find every foot step a fight to not succumb to the gravity that I’m already partially allowing to pull me down. My legs want to quit the quasi resistance, and holding myself up becomes a constant battle.
One couple was from the Netherlands; a very kind, intelligent, and interesting pair who were instantly pleasant and with whom we had an immediate connection.
Maurice and Michiel would come back into the picture both soon and later…
The road back to Puerto Natales felt longer leaving, and upon arrival we treated ourselves to an enormous street sandwich with another European Daniel befriended; Giacomo, a police officer from Switzerland.
The sandwich reward was good idea to lift our spirits, considering our room for the night would wind up being double-booked.
We were suddenly stranded (US American customer service doesn’t exist much outside of US America).
We desperately scrambled for affordable accommodation, and I don't even remember how we found ourselves in a small room for just a few hours before the next day began.
After resting for the night, everyone made their way to El Calafate, about 100 miles away, and home of the Perito Moreno glacier.
This massive shelf of ice is covers almost 100 square miles of land, and is the third largest fresh water reserve on earth.
I must say it was a truly awe-inspiring sight, and like many other wonders possesses a scale that photographs fail to convey.
Before seeing it for ourselves, however, we had some difficulty finding a (cheap) way to get there, and Daniel’s luck played for us one again when we fortunately encountered the audacious and gorgeous Min and her fun, friendly then-boyfriend (now, husband), Brian.
Min is amazing is so many ways (she’ll return to the story when we talk about Barcelona!). One of her many amazing characteristics relates to how she seems so fearless and so actively achieving.
She doesn’t let things stand in her way!
The glacier opened up before us between snowy cliffs on either side, and we marveled at its breadth and depth. We didn’t make time to ice hike atop it, but that would have been incredible. Min made quick friends with everyone, and even shared a cup of mate with some Argentines.
We arrived there an hour or so before the viewing was closed, and enjoyed the sunset’s rays playing upon the glaciers ruggedly icy surface as pieces of the shelf would periodically calve off into the surrounding water, forming the icebergs we identified during the drive in.
We went on a few day hikes (one which left me arriving back into town alone long after the dangerous dark and frigidly cold…
I was tired and failed to catch the Torre naked a second time, and foolishly declined Daniel’s invitation to head back while it was still light).
Afterwards, we met up with our good friends Gusti and Rafael (remember them from Brasil?), their friends Christian and Daniel, and our new friends from Torres del Paine Maurice and Michael for some lunch at a quaint, local eatery in town (who probably never before and never since had so many gay men in one place at the same time).
We also shared a hostel with a very smelly but kind roommate, broke down a storage cabinet after accidently locking ourselves out with all our belongings within (the door to the actual room wouldn’t shut, so we had to do something to secure our things!), saw a rainbow, and had one of the best travel meals of our entire trip (thanks to the discovery of Knorr© plastic oven bags with themed seasoning packets, which we would then put to use ALL THE TIME while in Argentina and Chile; so simple and tasty!
Those bags even had the culinarily unskilled Gusti confidently declaring to the chef-like Rafael, “I can be cook! All I need is an oven”).
There’s no shortage of specialty chocolate made and sold here (where worked our dear, sweet hostess in Humahuaca, Paulita, with one of the chocolatiers). Additionally, the signature blue lake nestled between green hills could seem Swiss-ish, and the traditionally central European-inspired architecture flanking the town streets (complete with whiskey-bearing, heavily panting St Bernard’s dotting the streets for photo ops) was an obvious but effective tourist attraction for mostly Argentinians but also internationals.
Even as our bus pulled into the station, we were unsure of where to stay, but surprisingly and blessedly found ourselves housed by a group of delightful Christian volunteers from around the world who run a donation-only house for travelers.
They were ALL wonderful, heart-warming people, and we had so many reasons to enjoy their lovely company (how are you, Lisa!?).
I did venture out once to see a famous hacienda down the road past many-a-lakeside cabins in this vacation spot. The hacienda is now a fancy hotel which is partially known for its lavender garden, but coming from Sequim in WA state and also imagining the fields of Provence, I once again found myself feeling that, with the exception of our truly fabulous hosts and other friends, second-best Bariloche was not my scene.
Only two more American countries to go! Mid/northern Chile on the Pacific coast and then back to a new region of Brasil against the Atlantic.
There is more to see than a post has room for!
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