Second to last post (about locations; I’ll probably write a couple “best of” posts). Oh, how el tiempo ha volado….
The Most Remote Border
We’ve crossed international borders almost twenty times on this trip. Some were crowded (Guatemala to El Salvador). Some bureaucratic (Costa Rica to Nicaragua). Some ramshackle (Ecuador to Peru). But none were as remote as our third crossing between Chile and Argentina.
We’d just spent three days exploring the Parque Patagonia, an incredible and inspiring national park discussed here. We exited from Chile to Argentina. Even woke up early to avoid the crowds. And avoid we did. Only two stray dogs and a horse greeted us upon arrival. We had to poke our peepers into various structures to find the border agent. It felt like searching for life after the zombie apocalypse.
I’m guessing crowds don’t exist at the border discussed above because of the pampas discussed below.
The Argentina side is desolate — besides the errant guanaco or rhea. Thousands and thousands of kilometers of pampas. Plains. And plain they are. Not much to entertain your eyes around here.
Your ears will be entertained, however. Or at least annoyed. Perhaps freightened. The wind is relentless and extreme. Our van practically sailed the highways. I couldn’t take my hands off the wheel for a nanosecond. At one point, we had to pull off the road and, using our van as a shield, help a motorcyclist that had been blown off the road back on his bike — and he was the only human we’d seen in fifty kilometers.
Los Glaciares National Park
Yet some of Patagonia’s most spectacular sights blossom just beyond the pampas. Like Los Glaciares National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site encompasses forty-eight large glaciers (hundreds of small ones) and the fourth largest icecap in the world, after Antartica, Greenland, and Iceland.
We spent two nights taking showers, procuring groceries, and paying someone to do our laundry in the nearby and charming Chilean town of El Calafate before entering the park. Then we spent one night camped just outside the national park. Caught the sunset above. We entered as soon as we could the next morning.
The main draw here is the Perito Moreno glacier. It’s a unique glacier in that it’s easily accessible by a road on an peninsula across Lago Argentino and that it’s one of the only glaciers in the world actually advancing (most are retreating). You can hear and see it advance on any one of the dozens of viewing platforms connected by kilometers of decking in the park. The sound, a deep crackling that to me sounded like the creaking of some old wooden pirate ship, is ever-present. And occasionally, if you’re lucky, you’ll see a massive chunk of ice severe from the glacier into the lake.
Torres Del Paine
We headed south here first, since the weather had been cooperating and we’d planned to head back north toward the lagos region of Argentina, skipping El Chalten. It was as far south as we’ve ventured. The northern part of the End of the World route, on the cusp of Tierra Del Fuego.
According to some brochure we read, Torres Del Paine National Park is the most popular national park in the world. I’m guessing that’s on reputation. It certainly seemed much less crowed than any of the major national parks in the US.
The main attraction in the park are the three massive, granite towers (torres) jutting from the middle of the Cordillera Paine mountain range, which is seemingly ruggeder and jaggeder than the Sierra Nevadas or Alps — the closest I’ve seen to this level of jaggedness are the Sawtooths in Idaho.
It’s often difficult to the see the main attraction, however. The weather in Torres del Paine is notoriously and consistently erratic and extreme. The wind was as intense as any wind we’ve ever experienced. We couldn’t even stand upright at the top of one of our hikes. We almost lost Paheli at one point…. Yet, if the weather cooperates, and the clouds part, as they did for a few hours during our few day stay, you’ll be blessed with one of the most beautiful sights on the planet.
To Bidet or Not to Bidet
Wikipedia, perhaps, gives the most accurate/graphic description of a bidet: a hand-held triggered nozzle, similar to that on a kitchen sink sprayer, that delivers a spray of water to assist in anal cleansing and cleaning the genitals after defecation and urination. Usually in a shallow, toilet-like bowl.
I’ve seen bidets in Europe. Even a few times at swankier places in the US. But, perhaps to retain my hillbilly pride, I’d never used one. Until Argentina. They’re everywhere here (including the house we’re renting).
My first attempt failed. I turned it on, misjudged the temperature, nearly burnt my nether-regions, hopped off the bidet while simultaneously screaming obscenities and attempting to shut off the bidet yet instead turning it further on, and then sent a rocket of intended rectal spray into the ceiling. I’ve gotten better with trial and time. Now I use it regularly. Don’t even need toilet paper. My anus is sparkling.
The mountain village of El Chalten is, seemingly, a hiker’s and climber’s paradise. The town, of all the Patagonian towns we’ve ventured through, is perfectly situated for outdoor exploration. There’s a trailhead at the end of every street. Climbing cliffs on two sides. And of course, the famous Fitz Roy and Cerro Torre mountains in front.
We hiked halfway to Fitz Roy one afternoon, the third longest yet perhaps steepest hike we’ve yet attempted with our snot-nosed monsters. While it drizzled on and off most of the hike, and the clouds never left Fitz Roy’s side, it was an enjoyable hike. Even met another (and the first since leaving Mexico) Idahoan on the trail.
The town itself is also quite quaint. And cool. A few craft breweries. Several boutique outdoor shops. Decent restaurants and bakeries. You could, and should, spend a summer here. And that’s still probably not enough time to drink and eat yourself through town. Certainly not enough time to explore the surrounding splendor.