You’ll remember from part 8 that Jack and I were trying to get out of Unuyi
“Hey taxi driver, take us to the road block” the taxi driver warned us it would be expensive, it was risky taking people to the roadblock. As we approached the road block which was made up of a few stones in the middle of the road, local people jumped in to action and started walking towards the taxi. They let Jack and I go, but the taxi driver was forced to walk back in to town and leave his taxi at the road block. We felt bad for a while but this was our only chance to escape. To add some context, the roadblock was about a mile out of town then if you were lucky to make it past that then there were concentric rings of blocks further out. Apparently they start the road blocks far from town and as part of the negotiations they bring it closer to town.
We’d been walking for half an hour, it was edging closer to the middle of the day and the heat was cranking up. In complete contrast to a few days before when we were walking in to town in freezing cold, we were now leaving town in the blistering heat. Looking back at the city you could really see how isolated of a location Unuyi is, there’s just a small metropolis popping out of the arid desert. It was becoming ever apparent that we hadn’t brought enough water, we were rapidly running out and we had no idea how long we would be walking for.
During the walk a few cars passed us with protesters in, but there was no interaction just curious stares from the locals who must have been thinking “look at those stupid gringos walking through the desert”. Picture a film scene where the heroes are walking through an apparently uninhabited city after a world ending event and on the building above them there are eyes just watching in silence, well that was me and jack as we walked through a gorge in the road. The road itself was strewn with stones and on the hilltops just a hint of people watching, until a bold boy of no more than ten openly stood on the edge of the cliff silently watching me and Jack whilst menacingly handling a rock. The pace quickened. After about two hours of walking, we saw a coach!! We saw a coach and a driver, he couldn’t get any closer but he was staying here until enough people found the coach….that worked for me and Jack. Over time more and more people turned up, buoyed by the energy of finding the coach many people excitidely shared stories of their escape from Unuyi. The drama did now end.
About 15 of us were sitting on the coach when the driver jumped on and drove about a quarter of a mile, it turns out the road block locals were coming for the coach but at the same time there were still people making their way out of town, again like a movie scene we had people running for the coach followed by a cool wave of “the enemy” slowly walking to the coach. The driver was off the coach with the engine running, shouting, “venga, rapido” the problem being, we didn’t know who were escapees and who were the protesters but eventually the breathless passengers got on reigniting the conversations about escape, the driver put his foot to the floor and in a cloud of dust we’d escaped Unuyi and we were on our way to La Paz….La Paz….and I thought Unuyi was bad if I was going to name the movies it would be Bolivia: Escape from Unuyi and La Paz.
We got to La Paz in the middle of the night, the bus station was quiet. The rain was coming down quite heavy and Jack and I didn’t fancy a wander through the streets. We got a cab to the Loki Hostel in La Paz, it was a few nights before Christmas so we were very pleased to find that we were staying in an empty ten person dorm!!! We went straight to bed ready to explore La Paz the next day.
When we woke and all signs of the rain were gone and it looked like a lovely day. We had no plans so we literally just walked, we walked to the station then to the stadium, up hills through markets and my first impression was that La Paz was ok, it was the first city we’d been to that didn’t have a “European” feel to it.
We planned out our next couple of days, we were going to ride death road, watch a football match, celebrate Christmas then move on, it didn’t go to plan.
Jack got ill I got ill, our room was no longer just me and Jack. I got drunk then had to right off a day due to hangover and generally the town after hearing and seeing all the pick pockets didn’t feel safe.
The highlights were though, finding miserable German from Unuyi WORKING at our hostel. He was very odd but much more happy that we’d last seen him, over time we ran in to one or two of the other Germans. They had a karaoke, obviously I smashed it. We met a couple of Australians. I made friends with a Bolivian, but we were too ill to go to football and Jack was too ill to ride death road.
Once we got the other side of Christmas we packed up our things and made our way to Lake Titicaca. That’s when I decided to start making my way back to Europe, so after one night at Lake Titicaca Jack and I had breakfast and got on separate coaches……Jack was heading to the paradise of the floating islands with our German friend Ben…..I was heading for numerous days travel which would eventually leave me in Sweden (including 24 hours on a coach in Peru sitting next to a above average size man :()
I got back to Sweden though and spent a great time there including some skiing, then eventually got back to England…..THE END (I swear)
The bus stopped again, the second unexpected stop, “not another puncture” I thought to myself. We all had to get off the bus again and the rumours were flying around, apparently there was a block in the road but confusion mounted when Jack and I scoured the road ahead we saw a lot of people on the side of the road but no block on the road. We regrouped with our bus companions and found our Columbian friends; they explained in more detail that the people on the side of the road were the roadblock there were some political protests in Uyuni and there aren’t letting buses in or out of the town. It 12 o clock at night we expected to be at our hostel at around 10. The conclusion was a group of people from the bus were going to walk through the desert at 5,000 metres high in the sky and very cold temperatures, at that moment in time Jack and I thought this would be a fantastic idea. How did you know the way? You might ask, and the answer is….we didn’t, we could see some lights in the distance and the plan was to head towards them. When we found the town we headed straight to our hostel. In the morning more about the roadblock situation was revealed to us and little did we know, it turns out we were being held hostage in Unuyi. The next few days turned out to be….eventful.
We were surrounded by rumours of what was going on the news seemed to be all coming from one guy….he was telling anyone who would listen about the unrest from the locals who had been promised land from the government only for it too be taken from them after moving to Unuyi, all very confusing. Despite my smiley demeanour and approachable personality sometimes I really don’t want to talk to people and today was one of them days I avoided hostel news man at all costs eventually hurrying out of the door of the hostel to explore Unuyi in the light of day.
My first impressions were that of complete contrast to all the other countries we’d visited, this was how I expected much of South America, run down old towns with people wearing traditional dress and no organisation, Unuyi was the first town that delivered on the somewhat stereotypical view of mine. Anyway Jack and I walked the streets with the aim of finding a day excursion to the salt flats, Unuyi being one of the salt flats excursion hubs so you must be thinking “Ross, why did it take all day to find a trip that almost every building in the town is there to provide” well read on……the same blockades that caused us to have an hour walk through a cold high altitude desert were also stopped excursions from leaving the town (we later find out that they were also stopping excursions coming back in) anyway we found a company that would do the trip and promised us that should we not get to the salt flats that we would not be charged, this seemed reasonable. We had some food whilst listening to some live music and went back to the hostel.
Internet coverage in this hostel was particularly bad so Jack and I were confined to sitting at the top of the stairs which as you can imagine was a bit of a thoroughfare, it was only a matter of time until the font of all local knowledge showed up, local news guy……it happened….he was with a Dutch guy and news guy shared the Dutch guys life story with us and then went on to tell us about all the horror stories he’d heard about people trying to leave the town, after all this nonsense eventually got to names and locations of where we live. We told him we were from Watford and a flicker of recognition appeared in his eye, Watford you say….how old are you? We knew people in common, not just in passing but this man had met my brother!! He was one of my brothers ex girlfriends Dad. Well it was all very surreal! The end, nah not really.
We’d planned an early night, but at around 10 o clock four Germans and a English girl entered our previously empty room much to our dismay. Germans, not known for their patience or reluctance to express disgust, were continuously moaning about what was admittedly a bad situation, but it was as if they felt personally aggrieved. Now wide awake Jack and I joined in telling them our story of how we made it to Unuyi….they wanted a drink we went out and found a building that was open and had a drink not sure we were even in a bar as right next to us there were two five year olds playing PlayStation. Jack got confused for a model by the Mancunian hippie, thankfully this was our last conversation with her BUT it was not the last time we spent with any of the Germans. I’m gonna profile them
Michael – talkative good at English and ironically aware of our hatred towards Germans
Ben – quiet good looking chap, but seemed like the kind of guy that would steal your bird if you went to the toilet
Michael 2 – most vocal about his disgust, had bed bugs earlier on his trip, was sure our hostel had bed bugs, quite moany in general.
I’ll try to keep their names as they are above for the remainder of the story…..
After two beers jack and I went to bed and were surprisingly not woken up by the Mancunian and Ben having sex the night before, we only knew because Ben was a dog and they were sharing a bed when we woke up.
Today was the day we were going to the Salt Flats….we hoped. Before we left we spoke to girl at our hostel who told us she couldn’t find a company to take her to a different city so she planned to walk, she wasn’t sure how far it was but she was just going to walk, we wished her luck then made our way to the meeting point. The 4×4 picked us up, it was me Jack and a Mild mannered Canadian man. The mild mannered Canadian man would soon change his tune in about 12 hours but we had a lot to experience before then….the first 15 minutes of our journey out of the town was plain sailing until we were set upon by about 5 young children who surrounded the car and then over the crest of a hill a rival 4×4 we tried driving off but the kids would hit the car with sticks and rocks. Our driver got out to speak to the rebels…..he got back in the car and turned around and followed the route back to the town….we were in convey with two other trips being shepparded back by the rival four by four but as soon as the rebel stopped following ……we went off route an experience that in other countries we may have paid for…..we were making good time through the desert but having to risk rougher and rougher terrain to avoid the protesters who patrolled roads and then eventually the inevitable happened one by one and in the space of ten metres each of the cars got stuck…..it was here that I saw the best and worse of human nature….
So, stuck in the desert there were three 4x4s all stuck in sand with apparently bald tyres. Everyone got out of their vehicles and assessed the situation, the verdict – it was bad. In some cases the tyres were half buried in the sand and any attempt to move was only making the situation worse. And it was here that I experienced the best of human nature….
The logic was to get the first car out the sand, so everyone went on a rock hunt, we were going to build a road. With almost 12 people looking for rocks and sticks and twigs etc it wasn’t long before we had a “road” in front of each wheel in the car and after many attempts and many people pushing cars in the middle of 30 degree heat one vehicle was free then after another 20 – 30 minutes the second car was free but the third car was proving more difficult another 30 minutes passed and we were no closer to getting the car out of what was rapidly becoming “sinking sand” and slowly but surely the will of the helpers was fading and quickly an elephant was forming in the room, mutterings of “well our cars free” ….and….”the people in that car weren’t really helping anyway” then it happened the passengers in car 1 slowly snuck off. Now I need to stress how much of a hinderance this was going to be for the efforts to release car number three. The first two cars took EVERYONE pushing to get free this was going to be a big ask, after an hour we did it “praise the lord (no religion necessary) it was done both cars were done and on their way to the famed salt flats, we caught up with the other car on the trip, they didn’t seem to be bothered.
I can confirm that The salt flats were both flat (you could see for miles) and salty (I licked the floor). After seeing what we were promised we got some obligatory pictures and headed back. It wasn’t underwhelming despite what my small description might make it out to be but remember we are talking about salt flats, what more did you expect apart from a very flat very salty landscape, on the day we visited it was kind of white ….also probably expected from the salty description, there were some “islands” where random cactus grow, the cactus were not flat (the were in fact categorically not flat) and neither were they salty (that’s an assumption I never licked them, a bunch of pricks stopped me) not like the bunch of pricks who wouldn’t let me out of the town of Unuyi, this was an actual bunch of pricks, if you’ve ever seen a cactus you’ll know exactly what I mean. If you haven’t seen a cactus, it looks a bit like a tree, except it’s smaller (although some of them were bigger) and they are green (but some were brown) and they were covered in spikes (but some of them were smooth) google it. If anyone corrects me about the plural of cactus fair play, can you proof read all the other posts and let me know what needs to be corrected?
Anyway, we left the salt flats and headed back to Unuyi. Anyone who is still reading this will know how difficult it was for us to get out of the town, well it was equally as difficult to get back in, we avoided the sentry points as best we could but inevitably we ran in to a group of protesters, they weren’t going to let us through until a Bolivian conversation erupted I can only imagine it went like this –
Driver: let us through
P: still no
D: I’ll do anything
*a porn film might have gone a bit differently but this wasn’t that
Protester: hmmm I would like to keep our fire going it gets cold at night could we have one of your passengers to burn
D: still no, BUT I do have a spare tyre you can have that
P: oh yeah that works
We gave him a tyre and continued back to the town. Forgive me for judging this protester but the fact he sold his principles for a tyre leads me to believe that his heart wasn’t really in it for the cause and more just for something to do because he was bored and it pisses people off.
Anyway 10 minutes later and very close to the town, we were stopped again….we didn’t have anymore spare tyres. We did have a secret weapon.
For those avid readers amongst you, I know you all be thinking “you told me about a mild mannered Canadian man earlier in the post” he was getting increasingly less mild mannered throughout this journey, he was Canadian as I’ve mentioned and notoriously they don’t get angry just irritated. The source of his irritation was his baggage which he had left in the building that the tour left from, the man working in said building said he would be leaving at six, it was five past six already…..he was irritated.
Anyway back to the timeline, we’d been stopped and this conversation wasn’t going as swimmingly as the previous one, up steps Canadian Dave, and the best Spanish since “donde esta el hombre” Canadian Dave come out with this beauty “hey, hey, es problemo” *points at watch* “grande problems, jack tell them there’s a problem” Jack replied after some hesitant laughter “I think you got the point across” well would you believe it the Bolivian Protester was so concerned about Canadian Dave’s big problem that he waved us through. So we made it back to the building at half six, Jack and I were half hoping we’d find the building locked and see how many Spanish adjectives for “big” Dave could find, alas it wasn’t to be as the boss had stayed behind and Dave got his rucksack…..
Jack and I decided that the next day we were going to try to escape Unuyi even if it meant crossing the desert in blistering heat like the girl who hadn’t returned from earlier that day. So the next day we woke and got in a taxi and asked him to take us to the road block….this was our first mistake but thankfully Jack and I weren’t the one who paid for our mistake.
We’d booked our penguin tour the next day, which meant a day trip out with other people. Those people turned out to be Jon and Sophie and to be honest, I tried to rack my brains about the notes I’d written and I don’t remember much, I remember them being nice and I remember being squashed in a car with them. We went to the penguin sanctuary, first in the penguin museum then to see them in the flesh. What I liked most was how many penguins there were, there were literally 1000s of them and we could walk right up them I could reach out and touch one (but we weren’t allowed 😦 )
we watched them for ages they were so entertaining. Then we made our way back to the car after a few hours. Jon and Sophie followed us back shortly after. What made this trip even better was the knowledge that our driver had, he knew all about animals and birds and all sorts. On the way back to Puerto Madryn we stopped and looked at some elephant seals unfortunately the big ones were at sea but we still got up close and personal with some very lazy seals and it was still all very fun.
We got back had a beer with Jon and Sophie then went to bed as we had yet another coach journey in the morning this time for a stop in Bariloche.
Bariloche was our last stop in Argentina, at least for about a weeks time when we went back in Argentina. Anyway we wasn’t there long we had intentions to do a bit of a hike in Bariloche but we didn’t. Bariloche is very German, that’s the best way to describe it it’s almost like an alpine Bavarian village.
Our hostel was like a war zone, first we spoke to a establishment hating Asian man, who in different circumstances would probably not be allowed to walk the streets, to give you a back story Bariloche harboured a number of Nazi’s who fled Germany during the end of the World War 2 and this guy may well have been fleeing some sort of war as well. His views were questionable at best and he was from North London. Nuff said.
As if we hadn’t had enough questionable views the lady who worked at our hostel Mira had Ill feelings towards isrealis. When I say Ill feelings it was prompted by Jack and I, who asked who the worst people to host are, she ranted for 10-15 minutes about how rude a lot of isrealis are when they come to the hostel she would say it was easier to put them in a room by themselves than make them share with other non isrealis, very strong views for someone who lives in Bariloche.
That night we went out for a drink in a local establishment we got very drunk despite having another coach journey the next day . During the night we got speaking to Miguel the Argentinian.
What do two englishmen and an argie talk about when we get drunk….the Falklands. Obviously we weren’t born but we know enough about it to hold a conversation but what we didn’t know is how to have that conversation in Spanish and what Miguel didn’t know was to have that conversation in English. What ensued was a very broken English/Spanish conversation about a war we weren’t alive for. It all ended amicably and it turned out to be a great night. We woke up the next day and then made our way to Chile.
Our first stop in Chile was the Adventure capital Pucon, it was like Cuffley Camp on steroids, think of an extreme sport and they offer it here. Jack’s reason for stopping here was to climb a Volcano (Villarrica Volcano) I was less inclined to do this but after listening in to the salesperson I was sold, Jack and I the next morning were going to climb a Volcano.
We got an early night as we had an early start. Climbing this Volcano was not straight forward, if the weather turns you can’t do it, if you get to base camp and the weather turns you have to turn back of the Volcano goes off…..well I’ll explain that in a bit. Jack and I set off to the meeting point where there were two guides, a lady of 61 (Patricia) and a couple of other younger dudes. I had not signed up for a Hike, I had not come dressed for a hike but we were going on a hike! We even had back packs and ice shoes, I’ve never felt more cool. The drive from the town was about twenty minutes and on the minibus there was a tangible air of excitement. We arrived at our destination and got kitted up, Ross “bare grills” Tunnicliffe was ready for action. Our two guides talked us through the ascent it sounded ok and we had Patricia with us if anyone was going to give up surely it would be Patricia.
The first task was to get on the chair lift, no bar across your lap and no safety harness to stop you dropping 20 metres on to a Rocky mountainside but…this is the adventure capital of Chile so who needed that. After the chair lift they reckoned it was a few hours hike from here…..I should have learned, I was already knocking off the minutes thinking We’d do it in an hour or so. After an hour we stopped the guides told us that we were halfway. This was not so bad, but this is where we had to change to the ice boots. It was going to get a lot steeper and a lot more difficult from here, I scoffed, Patricia hadn’t even broken a sweat. We had our midway break then began, slowly my buoyant mood started to dissolve each step burned my legs, one of the guides had taken the burden of Patricia’s back pack and the only talk was to warn one another of the cascading rocks which would occasionally fall from above.
The guides would occasionally ask Patricia if she wanted a break, she stubbornly refused, my legs were screaming (it was at this point that I realised this must be what Edmund Hillary felt like when he scaled Everest) we had a number of scheduled breaks and then we were at the top, I wanted to cry but we made it. According to the guides we had a fantastic day for it there was barely a cloud in the sky and the Volcano was bubbling away despite being high up a snow capped mountain the heat when looking over the top was nigh on unbearable. For a guy who initially didn’t want to do this excursion I had to eat my hat, one of the best experiences of the whole trip despite all the hard work it took of getting to the top.
Now the fun bit, the sledge to the bottom ….we’d each been given a bumsledge and the instruction to follow the person in front, despite being no end of fun this was arguably more dangerous than the hike, there was no way of controlling the sledge and the only advice you were given was of you lose control whack your ice pick in the snow and try to hold on. This did not work but that kind of made it more fun and no one died on the way to the bottom hooray. We went down and had booked ourselves in for a sauna later that night, we deserved it.
Walking around the town you would occasionally hear a siren so at the hostel we asked what it represented and it was a three way warning alarm to warn of dangers in the town here is what we were told “one siren, this means a small emergency, maybe a small fire, two sirens and this more serious and you need to be aware of where you are, three sirens and you need to evacuate to high ground, but the whole of pucon is evacuating and smoke and lava will move faster than your traffic so if three sirens go off, you sit round the table with your family open your best bottle of red and wait” I stayed awake that whole night listening for the three sirens.
It was a short trip in Pucon but a diversion I’m hugely glad we took, after Pucon we made our to Santiago for a couple of nights. I thought it was a great city, we took in some rap battles, a massive football match which lead to a city wide party, karaoke and in our hostel there was a guy who didn’t stop playing Grand Theft Auto so you could say it was a mixed bag but good none the less. I was going to go in to a bit more detail of the city wide tour we took but I’m further behind than I need to be so I won’t. One of the nights out found us in a bar talking to two Yanks and a Brit, standard conversation the two yanks hated trump and the Brit was a remainer. The Brit had a very bad habit of mentioning his girlfriend more than was neccessary and coupled with his extremely camp approach lead Jack and I to come to the conclusion that he was Gay, not that this was in any way a problem just an observation that he may well have been over compensating.
After Santiago we made a short trip to Valparaiso a hilly coastal town in Chile. Despite being incredibly difficult to walk around the town itself was very quaint. Again I’m going to avoid detail here but aside from some mindfulness on the beach, my highlight was when a lady (let’s say of Patricia’s age) took a shining to Jack in a bar they were most forthcoming and her and her friend sat with us. We had a conversation in Spanish, I literally had no idea was going on I could tell they were being vulgar because occasionally a loud cigarette fuelled laugh would fill the air….that wasn’t the highlight….I know I know you’re thinking how can that not be the highlight, well the highlight cane when a homeless man started talking to Jack and I, one of the women kindly told the man that we didn’t speak good Spanish, the man then took offence and proceeded to SPIT at the woman and with that the waiter came out the bar and kicked the man up the bum and half way up the street, the man got up and started walking towards the waiter and a fight broke out which the waiter clearly won…..then minutes later the homeless man came running back down the street shouting what I can only imagine were obscenities…..so that was the highlight.
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
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.
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.
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.