From Puerto Natales, the five of us became three when we left Brendan and Bridget, and soon when we arrived in Punta Arenas the three of us became two when we left Gareth. After more than two months of traveling together, from Buenos Aires all the way to Patagonia, Gareth had been our constant companion, my fireside drinking buddy, and official monster mascot of the group. He was headed onto Ushuaia and Antarctica (leave that place alone for anyone considering it!!), while we were destined for some alone time and then back up north toward our next, faraway destination of Brazil.
We spent a quiet New Years together in an AirBnB outside Punta Arenas, cooked in an actual kitchen, watched US TV shows on cable (something we never did while at home—the super channel has a decent lineup!), and generally just rested and prepared for what was next. We also dropped Masi off to take care of an oil leak, which turned out to be due to a bad engine-reconditioning job so it took a bit more time and cash than we would’ve hoped (this theme comes up again).
While in Punta Arenas, miracle of miracles, who should we cross paths with but our dear friends, Angela and Trevor from NYC! We had both known we would be somewhere in Patagonia around the same time, us on our trip and them on their honeymoon, but we could never have imagined that we would be driving past the airport at precisely the same time they were landing! Due to differing travel schedules, we only got to spend a short three hours with them in the airport but it was completely worth it. Nothing like sharing great conversation and laughs with some of the best people we know at the end of the world.
We also decided that week that we’d become fishermen/fisherpeople, so we checked out the local tackle shop place where they sell that kind of stuff and came away with two poles (I was told we need those), reels (also necessary), and a bunch of hooks, weights, bobbers, and things with feathers on them.
Before leaving Punta Arenas, we also got to meet up with our old hitchhiking, farm-working, molkky-playing, French friend Paul. He was checking out the end of the world as well, but this time with a gaggle of French friends from home. We all agreed to meet out in the relative wilderness to do some camping and play one last game of molkky. We spent a great night out in the woods, broke out the molkky and even our new fishing rods in the morning—but caught nothing (this theme comes up again).
After saying our final adieus to French Paul, we pointed Masi north with her butt hanging off the end of continental South America. We’d first head back to Puerto Natales, the jumping off point for Torres del Paine, to lay up for the night and do some research on more hikes and camping spots around Torres National Park. We ended up staying in a great estancia on a lake an hour or so inside the park, which we heard was good for fishing. With high expectations, backpacks full of food and plenty of energy to catch all those Patagonian trout, we embarked on a full day fishing hike around the massive lake—just us two experts. Long story short, we ate our packed lunches, lost around $20 worth of lures (damn rocks and lake weeds!), but definitely got through our 10,000 steps. No fish.
After some really awesome camping, hiking, and just enjoying the great outdoors, we continued north toward the famous Perito Moreno glacier outside of El Calafate. We wild camped on the side of the road one night, and arrived into town the next to be greeted by massive (like 4-5 hour) lines for gasoline. Apparently Petrobras ships were being blockaded in Argentina, so ~%50 of gas stations had nothing. Womp womp, but this is also one of the benefits of being mobile and not having a plan—we could wait this out. We decided to see the glacier then come back to town a night or two later and hope the gas situation was resolved.
The Perito Moreno glacier is about an hour or so outside of town, and I can’t recommend it enough. You know how they say a fire is TV for people in the bush, or that a rotisserie chicken stand is TV for dogs? If that’s so, then this glacier is TV for penguins and also people who enjoy big chunks of ice falling off and making big sounds. It was amazing. Seriously great day, and one of the best organized and maintained parks of our trip so far. Downside was that you can’t camp in the park, and it was a little pricey for just a day’s admission, but totally worth it. Also, you don’t have to feel bad about ice chunks melting and global warming (which exists and if you don’t believe in it please immediately stop reading this and send me a message so I can cut all ties with you) because the Perito Moreno glacier is one of the only ones in the world that is actually growing. It stretches for nearly 100 square miles and is absolutely stunning. We spent four hours there and still had to tear ourselves away.
We spotted a nice wild camp spot by a river on the way to the glacier, so we pulled off on our way back to camp there underneath a bridge (overlanders and trolls alike know that bridges by rivers are great spots to camp due to shelter from the elements). A cyclist from the US named Walter was already setting up camp there so we made our greetings, set up our camp, made a fire, and invited him to share some food, chocolate, whiskey, and stories. We had a bunch of laughs and marveled at how grizzled and tough the cyclists we’d seen are, and talked about life back in our old lives for a bit. No matter what some snooty travelers will say, there’s nothing like someone who speaks your language, comes from your home country, and gets the trip you’re on—we don’t choose to seek out Americans or English speakers ever, but it’s really great to happen upon a good soul from your home.
We all went our separate ways in the morning—Walter onward toward Peru (do the KM on a map, then imagine pedaling every single one of them…..craaaazy!), and us back into town to camp and plan next steps.
We found a great little overlander spot outside of town, made it our home for a few days while Shan1 recovered from a bug, we waited out the gas strike, and made repeated trips to the local ice cream parlor.
PAUSE FOR JUST ONE SECOND
Glaciers. Patagonia. Torres. Fishing. Kombis. Epic. Friends.
These are just mere words compared to the incredible, mind-blowing, best of class ice cream that El Calafate has. For real, it was the best chocolate ice cream of my entire life. That’s like eating the best hamburger or spaghetti or simple delicious thing ever. If you go to Calafate and eat one pint of ice cream but miss the glacier, NO ONE WILL BE MAD AT YOU.
BACK TO OUR STORY
From Calafate we were headed straight north to El Chalten, the famed home of Mount Fitzroy and a mecca for the climbing set. Also tons of nature and hikes and fish just waiting to be caught.
Exiting Calafate, there were literal rows of hitchhikers, hippies, and travelers-without-transportation looking for rides. It’s been a long time coming that I owe the world a missive on “hitchhiking and how it’s not a thing”, but that will have to come later. The long and short of it, concerning Patagonia and the Route 40 drive, is that there are many, many, many more hitchhikers than there are vehicles to transport them. Why? Well, succinctly, because people are super cheap, don’t know how to travel, and somehow think that flying down here to hitchhike is kind of fulfilling our wish (us, as vehicle owners) to pick up random people and take them where they want to go free of charge. This will turn into a full blown blog post, meant for the appendix, where I just rant and rant and rant.
Being the excellent people we are, and looking to help out a fellow human, we pull over to pick up someone. Our criteria so far on the trip is absolutely no more than two people at once, too hard on the engine, and preferably a single person. We end up pulling over for a very kind, respectful, young Dutch man who is taking some time off before pursuing a graduate degree of some sort. We tell him we can take him as far as we’re going, but we will be camping somewhere random that night. After an hour or so, he seemed agreeable enough so we asked him if he has a tent and would like to camp with us…and that we’d also be fishing and catching oh so many fish. He liked the idea, and had never in his life been fishing, so we decided to all camp together and teach this young man a life skill: how to cast a rod into a river and come up with nothing for hours on end. It was fun, we shared food, made a big fire, laughed, played a dice game, some Israeli card game he knew (Aneef/Yassef??), drank some decent whiskey, and traded stories until our poor little table exploded underneath us and we all laughed ourselves to sleep.
The next morning I woke up feeling like I had caught Shan1’s bug from Calafate, so we broke down camp and jetted straight to Chalten. It was a beautiful drive (that I couldn’t enjoy as I was turning green), and we made it into town only to find it brimming with dirty ass dirt bag climbers (nothing but love you guys!), hordes of Asian tourists on buses (both Chinese and Korean), and roving packs of Israelis straight off their IDF gigs. What I’m saying is that Chalten is a bit of a shit show, and if not for the amazing nature there, it should not exist. We said our goodbyes to our polite young Dutch friend, then booked ourselves into a somewhat lavish pousada (all camp sites were full or incredibly expensive for being packed) so I could be sick for a day. Once recovered, we bought supplies and drove into the mountains to see some waterfalls (thumbs up) and even farther to access the trailhead for the Lago del Desierto hike. It’s the furthest trail from Chalten, and actually sits right on the foot border between Chile and Argentina. Being so out of the way has its advantages, as we saw almost no one on the entire day hike out to the north end of the lake (where we camped overnight), and almost no one on the way back. The one couple we passed on the way there was a Polish couple walking across the border into Chile. They didn’t look so great so we actually waited for them to finish and got concerned when night fell and they weren’t emerging out of the dense forest (seriously dense, and also almost no trail markers meaning we got lost for a solid hour). Eventually they did and we had a nice fireside chat with them. Next morning we woke up early and I bounded out of the tent ready to catch some goddamn fish.
This was to be my day—within minutes I had caught two decent sized rainbow trout, and was feeling pretty damn chuffed. Our working theory is that since this lake was catch and release it remained pretty well stocked aside from the fish we saw the friggin’ game warden taking out of the lake—c’mon dude, he was wearing his badge and everything, AND carrying a rod and cooler.
Besides nearly going insane from the horseflies on the hike back, we had an awesome time exploring the countryside and would hit up Chalten again for sure, but would skip the town entirely.
After four or five days there we bounced out to continue back up north and even saw an armadillo on our way out of town (cutest of God’s creatures??) and a monstrous Black-chested Buzzard-eagle. We were excited to make tracks back north, and will continue on next time!
This chapter is dedicated to Brendan Murton, his zinger got me to write it.