This journal documents a two-week journey to Ecuador, South America during the year 2010.
Note: This section of my trip is what inspired me to film and edit a documentary about the oil pollution and the communities it has effected over the 40 years. You can watch it here: CLICK HERE FOR MY DOCUMENTARY!
Part 2 – Continued! Re-Visit PART 1!
That next morning the sun was absent from the sky and the weather cool and dry. When we arrived at the airport, the sun began to peek through the clouds, and as I looked out towards the long horizontal landscape of Quito, the buildings were illuminated in a breathtaking purple haze. The whole day that followed was simply breathtaking. Just the plane ride alone was the most beautiful aero-trip I had ever been on. It was a small jet with two rows of seats, one on the left and a two-person row on the right. I spent most of the flight watching the sun rise into the clear blue sky as we soared over a massive layer of full white clouds. It sat underneath our plane as a vast expanse of clouds that looked like something out of a children’s fairytale story, like Jack and the Beanstalk. It felt like we were approaching a magical land in the sky. Or maybe the clouds were actually a soft blanket of snow, covering the air for miles and miles and I could jump and leap in graceful bounds. It was just gorgeous. A few times a snow-covered mountain top peaked through the white layer of fluff. It was mind-blowing and just fascinating, as I had never seen mountains that tall. As we descended towards the ground, flying through the clouds, the blank white fog opened up to an expanse of pure jungle canopy. The foliage and geography had changed dramatically in comparison to Quito. While the city was crowded with buildings and lights, this oasis was overflowing with pure jungle, Amazon rivers, handmade huts, and small sporadic towns.
The Lago Agrio airport was heavily guarded by army personnel who carried rifles and automatic guns. The town of Lago Agrio is near the Colombian border and a land bursting with natural oil and gases. The stifling air immediately felt ten times more hot and humid than the dry, crisp air of Quito. I wore a sweatshirt over my tank top, and I didn’t hesitate for a second to take the heavier layer off. The town in which we stayed was even more impoverished than Quito. Buildings were ruined in unexpected places, roofs were missing, electrical wires exposed, and trash was strewn everywhere. Wild dogs roamed the streets and a feral cat even haunted the outside dining area of the hotel. Beggars were constantly passing by to ask for money. One blind woman came repeatedly to my table. After giving her some money, against my natural tendencies, I was forced to begin to ignore her because she kept coming back. I am never sure how to act and behave towards someone who seems to desperately need help. It is hard not to feel compassion and a desire to help those in need, but it is hard to know when to draw a line and create the comfort balance in one’s own life. Though I question why I shouldn’t sacrifice my own privileged comfort for someone else’s. Whether I should or not, I always feel guilty after an interaction with an impoverished person. That is something that will never go away being some one in the “have” category.
Though deeply devastating, it was hard not to see beauty within the town. Something was strikingly different about the people and buildings so that I had a strong urge to film and photograph them. But wanting to be respectful and not unconsciously exploit them, I kept to myself mentally capturing the moments.
Once settled at the hotel, I had a breakfast of fresh mango, pineapple, guava, some eggs, and bread with cheese. I was already cutting down on food, and ate slowly and in smaller amounts (which is actually healthier). I then left to take a small van towards the oil fields of Petro Ecuador. Originally, much of this land was owned by indigenous tribes such as the Cofan. The oil companies that came to exploit the land’s resources in the 70s removed these people and have consequently polluted their land and water supply. A private (and I’m not sure if it was legal) tour took us through gated farms and behind oil drilling facilities into the jungle where I was able to document on video the leaking of oil and gas emissions into the jungle, and the pools of oil and water the size of large ponds, hidden within the jungle’s canopy. Large pipes ran throughout the area carrying the oil that had been drilled from beneath the jungle floor. The pipes stretched hundreds of miles through Ecuador to the coastal city of Esmeraldas, where it would finally be refined and exported. They transport it so far away to refine it because it is cheaper to transport it through the pipeline to Esmeraldas than it is to refine it at the drill site and ship it out afterwards. However, these pipes are old and corroded and when there are spills and holes, they are not maintained or fixed – the land and wildlife surrounding them are punished for it.
I remember walking past a wire fence, crawling underneath an opening, hiking through the jungle, hearing the noises of distant birds, and then… a menacing and slow rush of air that sounded like a doomsday machine that would destroy anything in its path (think LOST). I later learned that this sound was the gas being released by a valve and sent through a pipe across an open field and then high into the air, where it was set on fire. I walked a few feet parallel to the pipe and it was burning hot. The temperature had already risen to at least 90 degrees. The guide stated that all over this area they would burn gas 24 hours a day because there was no way to dispose of the chemicals other than burning them. He basically said that it was cheaper to burn it than to actually utilize the resources. Throughout our tour we came upon this apparatus within the jungle. Our guide said that the fire and poisonous fumes would kill the many bugs who were curious enough to approach it. Birds and other wildlife that fed on these dead bugs would be affected too. We walked further and deeper into the jungle, and came across at least three large pools of oil.
They were just sitting there, unattended, uncovered, and completely exposed to the surrounding environment. In one area, oil had dried on the edges of the pool and we were able to walk closer. There were two birds that flew over the deep, black oil-covered water and landed on the other side. One almost went into the ominous death “water,” but instead just sat on the side and cleaned itself. Seeing animals so close to the poisonous oil made me so angry and emotional – I immediately wanted to do something about it. On top of the pool and nearby the pipes, I saw hundreds of dead bugs, some nearly the size of my hand. It was a blatant example of how the mistreatment of oil can affect the surrounding biosphere.
Feeling unbearably hot, we took a break from the tour to eat under a small, roofed platform building that had a stereo system and sugarcane stand. The tour guide said this was where the oil workers got together to dance and relax. The restroom (like most restrooms in Ecuador) had no running water and was basically an outhouse with a toilet but no toilet paper. I was glad that I had stolen a roll from the hotel that day for the hike, but it instead came handy at this rest stop (if there are two items one should never forget they are paper/tissues and hand sanitizer. seriously). We had a bagged lunch of white bread and cheese, a banana, and tang. It is hard to find natural or hearty food in this town because they are so poor – they are forced to sell all their prized fruit and coffee to foreign countries in order to pay for housing and clothing. However, because we were near a sugar cane farm we were able to buy freshly made sugar cane juice with fresh cut lemon.
While I rested, one of the girls walked a little further down the road and found a couple farming cacao, the plant used to make chocolate. She was excited to discover this odd looking fruit and asked them if she could buy one. They were happy to see someone interested in their crop and gave her three for free. It is a reddish brown colored fruit that is shaped like a football and ribbed with bumps. Once cracked open, the inside looks like mold, but it is actually a white, soft juicy covering that surrounds the inner seed. It was messy, and to eat it I scooped out a few of the white seeds and sucked on them. It was a slightly sour yet sweet tasting fruit, slimy and chewy, one that I had never seen the likes of. I don’t recommend biting into it, though, because the seed is very strong and bitter, and it juxtaposed the chewy sweetness of its outer covering.
After lunch, many of our accompanying travelers were worn out from the day’s walking and the dramatic images we had been exposed to. We stopped by one more farm and walked a little into the jungle. I came across an old Texaco oil barrel, like the kind people see in images of oil cans being dumped into the ocean. It was strange to come upon one in person, and in the jungle, just…sitting there. Nearby, there was another farm where a large truck was releasing water and oil into yet another pool. Across the way was a smaller oil-filled pond where a drain directly filtered the waste into a nearby stream that flowed into the rainforest. You could actually see the pipes that lead into the jungle. astounding.
When back in town, my translator and the guide discussed how many of the townspeople are surprisingly unaware of the true destruction that is going on. Many don’t believe that it is harmful to their environment, and many are forced to work for these companies to survive. It is ironic and sad that the thing destroying their home is also the thing keeping them alive.
That night, Amy and I went swimming in the hotel’s pool, a nice and refreshing change to the contrasting heat and intensity of the day. The rooms of the hotel were nice, large enough for two twin-sized beds, but without space for much else. The bathroom and shower were interestingly constructed on a slant, angled when connected to the room, reminding me of one of those circus fun houses. Much of the lobby area was under construction, and at most hours we could hear the workers clacking away at the wall’s tile. In the center of the hotel was the pool, surrounded by a pretty garden (though many plants weren’t flowering and some were even dead) and there was no roof covering the area, and the sun could peek through to warm the bathers. It was cool to be inside and at the same time feel like I was outside when sitting by the poolside. I was perfectly satisfied with everything, but can see how a high-end North American traveler might think less of the accommodations in Ecuador. For the bargain price we paid, we got everything we needed: a place to sleep, eat, bathe, and even a place to hang out and cool off in the humid jungle heat. Personally, I feel over-privileged when I have such nice places to sleep and the people right down the road are crouched on top of rubble under scraps of clothing…
After my swim I sat outside and wrote in my journal, watching people until the sun began to set. Looking at the various Ecuadorians and townspeople near the hotel and on the street, I once again I realized how different I was from them. Not only was I a woman alone in a foreign country, but I was a white, freckled, young, English-speaking woman, in a Spanish-speaking country. I couldn’t strike up a conversation with just anybody, and I also had to protect myself from dangerous people, especially sketchy looking men. In the U.S. I find that many times I make comfortable eye contact with strangers in the street or at a café. I even casually make an acknowledging comment or talk to them. In Ecuador, I felt out of place and I couldn’t blend in as easily. I was unaware of local customs, and on top of that I couldn’t even speak the country’s language! (note: how different from my experience in Argentina after having a year of spanish under my language belt.)
Meanwhile, while I was contemplating my isolation, two of the other girls, Lizeth and Katie, had gone walking together down the road to explore the town. They had been hungry and had stopped to buy a salad and steak from a street vendor, against our travel guide’s advice. That night, both became sick and spent the night awake and ill. I wasn’t planning to eat food from the street, but their experience just reinforced my decision tenfold.
We flew back the next morning bright and early, and watched the sun rise over the misty rivers of Lago Agrio, an unforgettable experience that will last a lifetime. I was sent back with a feeling that something had to be done, and that these pools would not be hidden for much longer.
photo credits: Amy Clark (these photos are the still-shot counterpart to the footage I filmed!)
Please continue to follow this travel account in the future! It will be located under Travel and Ecuador! More parts to come soon!
To think that I am still on week 4 of my journals and trips when I still have 4 more months to go through!
Guess that’s something to think about and look forward to ~
>>>> Photos for this post can be found here: USHUAIA TOWN TOUR <<<<
Let’s get started!
After my late night bus trip I finally arrived at Ushuaia, Tierra del Fuego, Argentina – the southern most town in AR and here’s a fun fact – the first homosexual couple in Latin America or at least South America married there. Yay to freedom! Ohhh tangents. Anyway, I got there around 9pm and found my hostel: FreeStyleBackpackers which is somewhat near the center, but uphill enough to be able to wander around the smallish city (more like a large town).
The people running the hostel were around their mid-twenties and fairly trendy enough to have a few computers and televisions around the lounge area. The upstairs contained a fun-looking ping-pong table and usable couches which would come in handy when we wanted to hang out and flirt with cute and foreign back-packers.
One of my travel-mates, S, had her blackberry and thumbed away at her keys for most of the time, but eventually we got her to come out of her shell with a few bottles of Quilmes. The other, E, a shy but more sociable girl wandered the hostel with me. We came upon an open dorm room and spotted to young “men”, around our age (oh to be in age and maturity limbo – not a boy, not a man, not a girl, not a woman – what fun!). I, being enthusiastically outgoing and slightly uninhibited by my bottle number 1, merely poked my head in and grinned. “Hullo” one said, in a fun and cute british accent grinning equally if not more eagerly. The game was in motion.
Having been somewhat involved with another man who was stuck in Buenos Aires (and as we were still courting one another (oh language)) I was simply looking for some fun company and maybe a little bit of eye-candy for my pretty girl friend. These fellows, or blokes as they say, were attractive enough in my book (personality and looks-wise – I’m not so shallow haha – ‘perfectly tolerable but not enough to tempt me’, thank you very much Jane Austen) so we entered and began to chat about this and that, and pangs of jealousy arrived in my gut when I heard that they had already been to the Galapagos islands and everywhere else one could dream to visit, as they conveniently came from big money. In fact, one already owned a house in the Italian countryside and the other happened to be the grandson of a lord – who was even invited to the Royal Wedding! It’s fun when things like that exist in real life – something to entertain the everyday ‘common girl’ like myself haha. After their time here, they were to go up north and travel the long trail to the oh so famous and magical Machu Picchu.
We convinced them to join us for a few tasty and cheap brews (10 pesos for a kilo) and as the night continued and eyes were flirtatiously batting and oogling, I felt somewhat proud of my contained flirtatiousness and loyalty to that blasted pre-paid cellular phone – in other words…I couldn’t help myself from sending a text to that Porteno I had been seeing…..
We woke up the next morning and spent our time walking around the town and visiting the port – the water was brilliantly blue and it glistened under the bright and sunny weather.
As we walked back to our hostel, our male companion, D, started to feel slightly dizzy and out of breath. The night before he had been concerned with the amount of smoke from cigarettes that had wafted into our room from the outside garden where people were smoking. Worried, we stopped for a moment at the top of the hill and asked if he felt he was having some type of allergic or asthmatic reaction – my thoughts were in the direction of a panic attack as he just seemed too young for a heart problem and as I have asthma myself, the signs just weren’t the same. Being in a foreign country, and especially a small town where we weren’t sure of any medical facility, we resorted to calling the police. A patrol car stopped by soon after and was able to give us the name and location of the closest and only hospital. We quickly flagged down a taxi at a queue, cutting in front of a woman holding a baby, but as E felt it was an emergency, I guess things like that just happen sometimes. When we got to the “emergency room” which was basically a hallway, a few chairs, and three sketchy looking doors with who-knows-what laying behind them, D, and our best spanish speaking companion, S, went into the 1st room. This meant that E and I were stuck helplessly sitting in that hallway with 1 chair left as the others were taken up by elderly.
I called the program director to inform her just in case anything happened, and then we waited. and waited. I think I went to the bathroom 3 times before finally S came out and explained they were doing some heart monitoring and oxygen giving… Eventually it turned out okay, and I’m not really sure what it ended up being, but D seemed fine enough – He ended up staying overnight at his host mother’s sister’s home – lucky that she was living down there at the time, huh. The funniest part about this was the way the forms were filled out for him and the insurance company. D’s last name: MacDonald, isn’t a very common name in Latin America, as anyone could guess. The easiest way he could explain to someone how to say and spell his name was to say “mi appellido es como el restaurante, conoces McDonald’s?” My last name is like the restaurant, you know McDonalds? And they would go “Ahhh, si, si”.
This time, in a hilarious end to the unfortunate events that occurred, in his hand was a crumpled up paper that said “D– Restaurante”. I smile to myself when I remember little things like that. Ah the wonders of language and culture.
We ended the evening back at the hostel after a nice mexican dinner (we had a craving – though Ushuaia is most famous for its seafood) and hung out with the friendly Brits, excited and jittery for the morning to come when we would take a boat to visit the Penguinos!
I feel asleep last night, like most nights since I’ve been away from Buenos Aires, feeling a sense of loss, looking over to the empty pillow next to me and sensing that “change” and “another dimension” are words which describe me now. Every moment, breath, event always affects oneself – but I have encountered things in these last few weeks – and mainly from June-July, that have jolted me out of my self entirely. As I return back to my ghostlike self, I can sense the normalcy of habitual patterns and calmness, but it is not the same. Nor will it ever be. Nor does it need to be.
I write now, able to finally bring myself into my time in Argentina and my time post-Argentina, finally to reflect a bit more, and to sit for more than an hour in one place – something quite impossible to do in Buenos Aires, with all that seemed to go on in my life there. So, this summer, which seems to be increasingly shorter than I thought, I will – instead of staring at walls, gardens, ceilings, and stars, open my notebook and re-read the words I scribbled during my time in South America, and the final years of my “youth-hood”.
A scary thought, that I am now 21 years old, and of course feel at the same time a young girl and a young woman. I don’t believe that will ever change.
This year I experienced:
A new language, a new culture (a few in fact), new dances such as break dancing and tango, new friends – from the U.S. (even my own UMASS) and from all over the world, a new lover, a new kind of pain, a new kind of living, and a new way to breathe.
All in all, there were no regrets, only enjoyment and learning. I embrace the highs and the lows, I embrace it all.
I can’t wait to go on living and see what it has in store for me. But I will say this. I must strive to be pro-active. Waiting takes out all the fun.
>>>This posts PHOTOS can be found at: The Never Ending Road Trip<<<
If you don’t have an idea of what awesomeness I am about to write here, you should probably scroll up and re-read that title.
Did you read it?
Don’t believe it?
Oooohhyeaaahbaby. I made it to the “top” of the world (as they like to say it “down there”, oh geography humor).
LETS GET STARTED!
From Part 2 of BFP we left of at the beginning of my roughly 24 hour bus ride to Ushuaia, Tierra del Fuego, Argentina. A port town, developed from a population of prisoners and isolated explorers exiled from the center cities, Ushuaia receives annual tourists every summer/spring/fall (deeefinitely not winter, that place is COLD!) to visit the beautiful state parks and join boat tours that lead to isolated islands with PENGUINS! YAY!
Isn’t this post exciting already!?
Well, sorry but I got to stop you from jumping up and clapping your hands shouting PENGUINS PENGUINS for just a sec. Because, being the poor student I am, I elected to take a bus, to see the country side, and well… to save a few bucks. So, first:
THE BUS(ES) TO USHUAIA:
What we (my traveling mates and I) thought might be a semi-cama (bed) bus that traveled straight to Ushuaia, turned out to be much much more than a sore butt and a quiet journey where one can catch up on their reading. oh no. This is Patagonia and everything is an adventure here.
We left our hostel at 2am in the morning, just as the last backpackers went to bed and the solo night staffer was setting up camp behind the desk. Our backpacks stuffed and our iPods charged, we ventured out underneath the bright starry sky and headed down the dirt hill to the bus station. Like always, we picked up a guia dog who took us all the way to the station, where she even quietly laid down next to our things while we waited for the bus to arrive. We boarded and were happy to find chairs that unfolded into nice slightly elevated beds. Once I figured out how to lean back the damned thing, I was out like Ke$ha after a big bottle of Jack.
The next moment of consciousness was to my SUPER STRESSED OUT companion looking confused as all hell, and everyone on the bus was awake and up collecting their belongings. I thought for a second why this was happening and then I remembered I had TWO tickets. Must have meant something. Probably that we had to change buses as some point. Guess that point was now. We had reached Rio Gallegos, capital city of Santa Cruz, and pit stop for all buses that lead to Ushuaia. It was now 7 am (where did the time go?) and we sat for an hour looking up every time a bus came having absolutely NO idea which was ours and how everyone else seemed to know what to do except for us. Finally a bus pulled up with the same name as the one on our ticket and we grabbed our bags only to be told last minute that we had to “CHECK IN”. Crap.
Rushing back into the station and searching frantically for the right kiosk, we registered and then ran back in time to catch the bus. THIS bus was the long haul. I spent most of my time reading D.H. Lawrence’s “Women In Love” , and catching up on some Zs. At least that is until some stranger woke me up to tell me to get off the bus…which brings me to the next section.
For some historical and complicated reason, the tip of South America is split between the countries of Chile and Argentina. And for some complicated and historical reason, we travelers have to pass through not one, not two, but FOUR BORDER PATROL CENTERS. Each one 10 minutes away from the other, and each one takes 30 to 60 minutes to do the following:
- Get off and back on the bus
- Get your bags (all of them) back off and on the bus
- Have all your ID’s checked
- Have all your bags checked (yes, every damn time)
- And get your passport stamped (woo!)
- Also you get to ride a ferry (not so bad…except when the storm we had been out driving caught up to us and we happened to be riding that same channel that shipwrecked hundreds of people and oh look the waves are getting a little more ferocious looking, are we supposed to rock like that????)
So yes. more exciting that sitting on one bus for FOREVERRRRRRRRR.
After changing buses once more in Rio Grande, the next part of the trip wasn’t too exciting, the sun had begun to set as we started to weave through the mountains on our way to the town. The geography had changed from flat lands and golden fields to green forests and mountains. The last hour was my favorite as I got to watch the beautiful sunset over the Andes and lakes. As we reached Ushuaia, the last bit of sun set and a crescent moon rose over the glowing water. It was a beautiful and perfect way to feel we had passed through the gate into Tierra del Fuego and the End of the World.
I’ve realized, pretty much every week actually, that I failed to update this blog regularly, and that I, like most boring travel bloggers, fell victim to the “stop the blog” virus.
In reality, I have been documenting my trip by taking millions of photos, a few videos too (which I will eventually edit into a fun montage-y fun-umentary), and writing in my lovely black bound leather pocket notebooks (which I swear by – they are amazing, and just seem to pull the words out of you).
I have been thinking about my less-than-one-week-to-go return to my hometown Amherst, MA, USA, and how I will re-adjust to my life back there, out of Argentina, out of a spanish speaking CITY, and away from all the new friends and activities I have become so used to.
I think that I can now “kill two birds with one stone” (yes cliches are cliches for a reason, mom). I will progressively begin to update my blog, now that I am not swamped with dance classes, or “real classes” and consequently, I feel it will help me process my journey and my experience.
I am somewhat upset that I didn’t write down the feelings (the ups and downs) that I went through every month, for I am positive there was a big range, but I think I have a good nack for remembering the important things, and I hope to detail them, for myself, and for those who are curious.
In conclusion, if you are interested and want to re-join me, I will be happy to share the following:
city life, porteno life, Patagonia, Iguazu falls, Estancias, and northern Argentina and more.
Hope that is inticing enough. These places are BREATH TAKING. And if my writing bores you, or gives you a head ache, at least take a look at the photos. 🙂
Happy Passover from a very estranged Jew in Buenos Aires.
I know there is a large Jewish community here, and I have not gone a week without seeing some Hasidic family walking in the park with their adorable kids and their fashionable hairdos, but for some reason I have yet to attend any services or observe any sabbaths or especially this time of year, passover dinners.
Yesterday on the way home, I passed by a restaurant that had the sign “Feliz Pesaj” on the door in bright bold red letters and a fitting Matzoh caricature underneath with bright bulging white eyes to reel you in. Yet todavia, I did not search out for a place to read aloud the Haggadah, sit for hours on end, and meanwhile my tummy growls as I sneak crumbs of broken matzoh from underneath the table into my drooling mouth.
So, in conclusion, I would like to take this moment to remember my family and honor the tradition of my ancestors. Passover (besides Hanukkah) is the one holiday that I never never miss at home, so being here away from home, it seems strange to not partake in the celebration. So far, I haven’t eaten any bread today – guess that’ll have to do.
Love you Fam! Hope you get to eat giant meals this week! Happy Pesach!!
This title is a partial lie. One, I didn’t really make it to Fitz Roy…and Two..we didn’t really actually “see” Fitz Roy, we just kinda stood and looked at where it was supposed to be.
BUT, before we can get to what I hope seems like a very intriguing story, let us back track to where I left off in my last post, BFP part 1.
After our awe-inducing and entertaining ferry safari to the edge of the glacier, and after capturing a crackling and wave-making giant ice piece fall into the water, my 3 companions and I walked along the north side of the Perito Moreno Glacier for what seemed like a short while but in actuality was 2 hours. We leisurely strolled down the metal man-made path (with stairs and everything) over the edge of the peninsula’s cliff, getting as close as possible to the ever-growing and every changing mass of snow and ice. Every now and then we stopped to snap some shots, look pensively over the glowing white and blue, breathe some fresh air, and feel wonderful.
My favorite part of this trip were the moments when time ceased to exist and the present would seem to last a lifetime. It was a mind cleansing experience and one that I hope never to forget. A handful of photos are there to make sure that doesn’t happen. I spent the last 15 minutes sitting on a bench looking over the top of the glacier. It was a hello and a goodbye to this wondrous natural phenomenon. I felt so much at peace.
We arrived back around 4pm, took a nap, and then went into town for some FOOD. Somehow my exploration tendencies got me separated from the group, and I spent a few hours wandering alone through the streets. I spoke with some locals in a leather (the leather) store, and I should have bought a jacket or a bag because they were SO nice, but I wasn’t confident in my “leather quality” knowledge, so I refrained. I DID, however, purchase a really pretty cuero belt, which was a necessity as I seem to have shaved off a few pounds since my arrival. (Ironic because I seem to be constantly eating, but who’s to complain really?) Dusk turned to night, and I was getting hungry. I began to look for the group more intensely, though not really preventing myself from peeking my head into a few more art shops (and buying some cute earrings hehe)… but I was losing hope of finding them. Hoping to spot them soon, I bought some ice cream to boost my energy (the best ice cream exists in AR – BA is sooogooood) – I finally noticed them while crossing the street and ran up to meet them – unfortunately by that time of night (roughly 9:30) all the restaurants were pretty populated and thus, we ate at the chain restaurant instead of a local dig.
I seemed to always be hungry on that trip – Snacking like Woah. This chain of restaurants (I saw at least 3…which is weird because the town literally consisted of A Single Road.) was called La Lechuza (owls are their mascots…and very common in Argentina). I had the BEST hamburger. With Bacon. WHAT. :D. It lasted me until lunch the next day.
Speaking of “the next day” – we had signed ourselves up for a trip to El Chalten, nearby town and gateway to the northern section of Parque Nacional Los Glaciers AND Fitz Roy!
At 6:30 am, we ate a quick breakfast and then were dog-escorted to the bus station for our 3 hour coach bus ride to El Chalten. During the relaxing trip (which I enjoyed) we stopped about halfway at a cute rest stop (with cute men!) where I bought a DELICIOUS piece of banana bread topped with melted chocolate, and a factura (medialuna con dulce de leche -YUM.) The rest of the trip I went in and out of consciousness, and every time they opened, my eyes spotted a different landscape. After fields and farms came rocks layered in reds, browns, tans, and whites. Small rivers of blue ran through the earth and I could see the early formation of mini canyons. I looked to my left and just as we came around a bend, the hill opened up to reveal the tips of the Andes – I gasped audibly. We had arrived to El Chalten. It was 11 am and we were gearing up for our adventurous trek into the mountains.
After our quick info sesh and a debate about which trail to take, my failing navigational skills set us on the wrong path – which seemed to be the right one as I thought the town had ended – the road (I thought was the main one) cut off and all that was in front of us was a farm and a camp site. We veered left and walked up a ways before a sign finally appeared and said “Nope, wrong way.” Actually, what really happened was we walked up the hill, I was kind of like, I don’t really think this is right, but I really have no idea where else to go, everyone was walking briskly, and then we finally encountered some hikers. It was JIM and ANNA from America Del Sur (funnily enough, they also had accompanied us on our boat trip to Perito Moreno earlier that week)! They had come to El Chalten as well and were about to go hiking through the entire park, from Cerro Torre to Fitz Roy, camping and backpacking like the tough and awesome travelers they are. They pointed us in the right direction, and after some grumbling from everyone in the group, we set off for our REAL hike.
Too bad for us, the weather was being slightly temperamental. Clouds seemed to cover most of the mountain peaks, including the infamous Fitz Roy. The dark and moody mist was menacingly beautiful, reminding me of a historical pilgrimage somewhere in the middle of nowhere. It was grey and windy (VERY windy) and from time to time we would be splattered with some drizzle and rain. Though it never seemed to be too treacherous and miserable. In fact, I welcomed the coolness as when we started to pick up the pace I generated quite a lot of heat. I am proud of myself for hiking – though I don’t feel I could ever do a REAL camping hike, giant backpack gear and all, I really did enjoy that ‘walk’. I never thought I would be able to do it all, and I only had to use my inhaler once! (This is coming from a girl who is supposed to be healthy, but in actuality, I’m not – I don’t really have great lungs, asthma, etc. and I get dizzy pretty often. But this time I felt really good – besides being the slowest and the last one to get anywhere…but exercise is becoming a part of my weekly routine here in BA and I hope to continue when I get home.)
It was slightly cloudy (you could see the dark and billowing ones containing a frightful storm not too far away) but despite the greyness, the sun always seemed to follow us where we went. The wind barreled through the rocky pathways, sneaking through the trees and picking up speed over the cliff’s edges. We could literally walk on an incline and still be held up – a natural wind tunnel. We reached our check point in an hour or so (about half the time it was supposed to take), where we passed a campsite and then found ourselves miraculously in front of Capri Lagoon. Here, one should be able to see the towering Fitz Roy, through the bordering and painted snow-capped mountains.
The wind was picking up and rain began to fall so we didn’t stick too long by the water’s edge – a location that seemed to increase the speed of the wind. We stuffed our lunches quickly into our mouths and then headed to an outlook on the way back down the mountain. It overlooked the canyon and the rapidly flowing river down below. The wind blew rigorously through the forest at our backs, one could jump up in the air and land a foot father down the path. Needless to say, the way down took less than half the time it did going up.
At the bottom, we sat by the glacier water river’s edge, filled our bottles, and played with rocks. My only wish was that we could have floated down the awesome rapids. Exhausted, but with more than an hour left, we (regrettably) decided to go to the “Waterfall” that was only a “45” minute walk away, thinking it was going to be easy (it was not). The wind had picked up even more, and we were walking directly into it. Think man in a suit sitting on a lazy boy in a wind tunnel commercial. Think Sahara desert at the end of your energy with no water and hours of time spent venturing aimlessly. This was definitely a case of “are we there yet?” I don’t know why, but I was sore, and this was hard for me. I guess you could call it a hike, but it was really a just a rocky road that led to a “meh” waterfall populated by middle age men on “photographer” tours. My hips were giving out by that time, and so I sat on a rock and calmly munched on an apple while listening to the gushing water sounds.
Getting cranky and having a deadline of 5:30 pm, we headed to town, this time the wind pressing against our backs and speeding up the return process. Each time I turned a corner or passed a hill I would think, “yes we’re so close” but…I was usually wrong. Finally I made it, after what seemed like forever (when actually it was just 30 minutes or so). I hobbled back to the station craving a hot chocolate and went to purchase one to fulfill my chocolatey needs. Unfortunately I chose the wrong place to get it, and after a half an hour wait I was given a cup of milk with two pieces of “chocolate” (similar to a hershey bar minus the hershey-goodness). No spoon. No melted mixed thick yumminess. I took one sip, cringed, and threw it out. And at a loss of 13 pesos. Not one of my best moments, but you live and learn I suppose.
I spent the bus ride home sleeping and ending the last 15 minutes with a good listenin’ to Alison Krauss – always puts me in a good mood. By 9ish we were back in town (Calafate) and quickly purchased our snacks for the loooooooooooong bus ride to Ushuaia. This time, we ate at a local restaurant with 1.5 waiters (and quicker service than Lechuza) the .5 was a 5-6 year old girl who helped put napkins and salt-shakers on our table. The 1 was a handsome looking waiter who I did not dislike staring at, heh. Everyone ordered hamburgers (which were the SIZE OF MY HEAD) and I had raviolis – something I had been craving all day. Dos quilmeses and a football game later, we were stuffed and exhausted. At the hostel we repacked our belongings and sat deliriously in the lounge as we waited for 2 am to come so we could catch our 3am bus to Ushuaia…
To Be Continued…