South America – Part Five (Hiking and Biking)

We woke up the next morning, early so we could catch the coach and it was decided that there was nothing in El Chalten for us apart from Mount Fitztoy, serious hikers we are not, we would only stay a night then get a coach back the next day to give ourselves an extra day in Calafate to give Jack a chance to find someone to fix his phone. That was the plan

Whilst waiting for our coach, Chinese Rob, I told you he would make another appearance, appeared talking to people who were clearly too polite to tell him to go away he was helpfully giving people money saving tips and generally talking about subjects that people don’t want to discuss with total strangers at 7 o clock in the morning, as fate would have it he was on our coach. Oh and by the way it was Jacks birthday, the way he acted you’d never have known it.

We arrived in El Chalten where “all their water is drinkable” that’s literally the strapline and I took that literally so if I saw water….. I drank it, streams, rivers, taps, whatever, if it was wet it went down my throat. Anyway due to time constraints we had to climb Mount Fitz roy that day. To give you a picture The summit of Mount Fitz Roy can be reached by many different routes of varying lengths and difficulty some of which even include camping over night (do I need to say this is not the route we chose) Jack and I decided to take the mid length day route which meant taking a car for about 30-45 mins to a random path in the middle of nowhere and a driver pointing to path leading in to thick bushes.

Before I take you on the trek with us there was a noteworthy spot whilst driving through the rugged wilderness. Do you all remember Rob of two paragraphs ago, well his penny pinching ways had lead to what I can only imagine he was now seeing as a very bad idea, about 30 minutes out of town BY CAR and still 15-20 minutes away from any form of navigateable path leading to the summit Rob was there marching through the undergrowth alone. I wish I could help picture how arid and rugged deserted this area was, here is a picture to help but I have to stress the complete remoteness of this location


Imagine Rob strolling through this

There was a route from the town to the peak of the trek…..this was not it. Surprisingly this was the last we ever saw of Rob, I do hope he made it but I cannot confirm. Maybe in years to come there will be rumours of weary travellers bumping in to a wise old oriental man on the path to Mount Fitz Roy who fills you with knowledge of money saving coupons and energy saving tips I’ll keep my eyes open for stories.

Anyway jumping back to the beginning of the route and the one person wide path leading in to the forest with no map no signal no camping equipment, and the only guidance I had was Jack telling where to point my camara as he had no phone we embarked on our first Hike, appropriately dressed.

So Jack and I had become real travellers we were on a hike, first of what turned out to be a few. The plan was to climb (walk but I’m using hiking terms) 1200 metres to take a peek at the peak of Mount Fitzroy, it was about 2 in the afternoon a good time for trekking. It was a clear day and we had about 6 or seven hours of sunlight remaining.

The start of the trek was flat and ran alongside a fast rushing river, that you’ll now …was drinkable so there was no fear of dehydration. A little while in to the walk, the path became a bit steeper but nothing to put us off, our path took us higher up than the river and it was now about twenty metres below off the side of the cliff. This was our first picture break, remembering that I was camara man due to jacks phone issues. Jack, as it turns out is a diva when it comes to pictures. Waiting for the right lighting, photos with wind breaker on, the wind breaker off, leg up on a log then the leg off the log….literally all sorts until I captured the right one. I hate the think what it would have been like should it have been sunset…..I might still be there snapping away.

I photoshopped him in to these pictures

We went a little further and our route plateu’d somewhat which by then was a bit of relief and this is when we first started seeing other people each of whom looked far more prepared for a hike than Jack and I that being said Jack and I continued unperturbed by our obvious misjudgement in cloice of clothes. A few water breaks and picture breaks we finally got our first glimpses of the glaciers (on this walk) and they were well worth the walk. The first one we saw wasn’t the one we were on route to see. A quick aside from the narrative, these glaciers were different from the other one I describe these are smaller but feed in to lake and are impressive for a different reason.

We carried on following the path as was our only choice and were running in to more and more people they would say things like “nearly there” “only two hours left” “the clouds are coming over” or the equivalent in Spanish. Jack and I had both noticed the clouds neither of us had decided to admit it though. See with Fitz Roy you climb to a viewing point then LOOK at the peak, I mean there are Edmund hillarys amongst us who will climb to the peak but I was happy to leave that the the professionals, and there was a chance that if the clouds come over then the peak of Fitz Roy would not be able to seen from the viewing platform. With every passing minute the chance of bad weather stopping play became an ever more realistic possibility….we stepped up the pace and hit “base camp” this is basically a semi permanent tented village where the residents only ever stay for a day or two, maybe to make one with nature, I don’t know, but this is a village where Jack and I would be shunned, no wind breakers, clothes that aren’t from north face, don’t own a compass and haven’t drunk our piss from a water purifier so we hurried through tent town avoiding any contact with anyone….come to think of it ….most of my trip to South America was based around avoiding people…..anyway we made it through there was a small break out area. We rested up, then the saga walking tour come bounding down a particularly steep hill, picture it now there were Nordic walking sticks, massive camaras, denchers but they passed by with only one or two looking like tonight could be their last.

Whilst waiting for the over 80s walking brigade to pass I noticed a sign 1km left (approximate time 1 hour) “one hour” I scoffed, confidently I said to Jack “Jack we are for young men, you saw those people that walked past, this sign is obviously meant for people like them….one kilometre will not take us one hour” I am going to spoil the cliffhanger but that sign was wrong, we smashed it, 54 minutes. 400 metre climb. Kudos to the heavens waiting room collective how they even got up there to this day I will not know. I was half expecting to see a queue for a stanna stair lift half way up.

We made it, we were at the top the clouds had come over but we got 5/10 minutes before the peak was completely covered but that didn’t matter too much as there was so much else to see. Blue water, bluer than anything I’ve ever seen, massive waterfalls lovely landscapes I loved it. And I had done it all in chuck bass sweater a pair of sparkly trainers and leg warmers. Jack was off risking his life for the perfect shot whilst I got the pleasure of picturing it. We stayed around for about an hour then started our descent it took around two hours to get back to the town.

As I mentioned it was Jacks birthday so we had a beer ready to sleep and get an early bus back to El Calafete to give us an extra day to sort Jacks phone out. The withdrawal symptoms started showing, I would sometimes see him staring endlessly at his phone, just the black screen, plugging the charger in and taking it out again He was a man lost.

When we got back to El Calafete we checked back in to a different hostel, one more central. Then we set about trying to fix Jacks phone. None of the phone shops were open….so Jack set about on his ritual of charging his phone and then “the apple logo” just appeared, he was visibly shaking his phone come to life, notifications came flooding in and It so much weight come off his shoulders I swear for a second he floated in mid air.

Buoyed by this good news Jack skipped to the bus station to book our trip to Puerto Madryn. We knew this was going to be a long coach journey it would take mental preparation. The trip would consist of a journey to the city of Rio Gallegos then waiting around for an hour or so then 18 hours to Puerto Madryn all in all long.

At the bus station there was a man also trying to book a trip, this man of around 50-60 looked like the guy from Curb your Enthusiasm he had a baseball cap on and was clearly disgruntled at the service he was receiving, not helped by the obvious language barrier. He would speak in slow loud English and the woman would reply in Spanish. Rather than get involved and help, Jack decided he would watch. Eventually after the conversion went back and forth and not making any progress the man revealed he could speak Spanish “DONDE ESTA EL HOMBRE” he wanted to speak to the boss and his basic understanding of the lingo allowed him to ask for “the man” sexist undertones aside this was just ridiculous and there was audible laughter from both Jack and I. We didn’t stick around to listen to the conclusion because angry American was one wrong response away from declaring war on Argentino autobuses.

We were booked on to our journey, we had good seats at least and Jacks phone was working, which was a good thing because he was quoted as saying “I’ll die if I have to do that journey without a phone”. The journey began and all that is to be said from the journey is that there is a whole lot of NOTHING in central Argentina, commonly referred to as the most remote places in the world…..I’m surprised we didn’t see Rob strolling through the plains for Argentina. I felt like I was on a film set passing the same slide over and over but eventually we arrived in Puerto Madryn…..we’d done some landscape viewing and now we were going to see some wildlife.

Jack and I arrived in Puerto Madryn and took a long hot walk through the town to find our hostel, it was perfect weather the warmest we’ve been for a while, we were going to drop our stuff off and then head down to the beach. The first part we successfully did, our stuff was dropped off in a lovely private room which consisted of a weird shaped bunk bed. The hostel itself gave you everything a traveller could want a sun trap garden, hammocks, garden furniture and an abundance of beer stealing French people, but we will get to that. Anyway, we dropped the stuff of and walked to the beach but it was as if the weather gods themselves were looking down on us, Jack and I approached the beach and as we the clouds gathered above just like at the summit of the Mouth Fitz Roy trek and the closer we got to the sands of Puerto Madryn the darker those clouds got. By the time we stepped foot on the golden canvass we felt the first drop of rain, and that was that we marched back to the hostel to take cover and wait for the rain to pass by. Unfortunately the rain didn’t stop until the next day but that didn’t mean our day was wasted. Puerto Madryn is famous for lots of different reasons but it’s a great place to view wildlife so Jack I decided what animals we’d like to see most.

It was a tactical decision but the plan was that after a nights sleep we would rent bikes in the morning, to go visit some sea lions then the following day take an organised trip to walk amongst Penguins and elephant seals. When we woke the following morning we had our normal breakfast of bread and butter, then went to rent some bikes. Neither of us are Lance Armstrong and so we knew it would a struggle I mean we barely even knew the way, but we just had to “follow the coast” which it turns out is harder than it sounds. More challenging than the hills, was the terrain it turns out that mountain bikes might be good for mountains they are not good for gravel, every pedal stroke would get you about 1 metre it wasn’t very efficient but what we found much more efficient was cycling on the road which was about 10 metres on our right which we finally discovered after choosing the wrong track for an undesirable amount of time. We arrived at the Sea Lion viewing point a few hours after leaving the town. We viewed those Sea Lions he’d and which it turns out are much louder than I expected, I imagine they were huge as well but we were fairly far away.

Here are the very noisy sea lions

I think what’s good to point out now is, effectively the sea lions were half way (because we had to return) and we had drunk more than half our water…..problem…..our resolution…..drive faster home. We rode hard but it was so hot and the route was baron to say the least so on the journey back I became so dehydrated and there was zero shade, like seriously none. I mean picture the Sahara desert, now picture it drier and being yourself being on a bike, that was the situation we were in. By the time we got back to the town I had a banging headache we had to stop at a bar, a beer and a Coke did the trick I was back to being alive. I’m not sure Jack had ever done that much exercise but he was fairing up better than me. On the way back to the hostel we picked up a few bits to eat and a couple of beers which we stored in the communal fridge until later than evening.

Later than evening we went to get the beers walking through a group of French guys and girls, I opened the fridge and Jacks drinks were there almost freezing to touch and looking almost as appetising as that drink earlier after the bike ride so I looked in the fridge in eager anticipation and then I was brought crashing down when my bottle was gone, I was lower than the sea lions belly to the floor and then I heard over the giggling and frenchness “x cues meh ees diss urs” he was holding my bottle, open, the cool condensation dripping on the his thieving French hand. He apologised and thought that offering his warm unfridged beer would compensate for the crushing disappointment I suffered when I discovered that the beer I had been looking forward to for a couple of hours was being enjoyed by someone else not least this greasy frog. Needless to say I took his beer and then enjoyed a somewhat warmer than I’d hoped for beer.

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