Before the end.
Time has raced ahead since I have experienced what you are about to read, when undisturbed by future worries on a wave of joy and luck I had a ride in the amazing settings of nature of Southern Chile and Argentina. When I write this end of May my world has indeed changed, the Fab South America Trek is over, I have headed back to my boys for the European summer. Is this the end, is this already the end of 9 years traveling? It had to come to this one day, it came about so fast. Will there be a future FabTrek? Right now I don't know any of this but hey, there are 3 more pages about the last quest south in South America, so keep reading.
Bariloche's Cerro Lopez.
From Chile, Los Lagos, after Puerto Varas I hop over the volcano cordillera and the graveyards of pale stumps of trees that reach motionless, but ready to break, for the blue skies. Entire woods were suffocated under meters of ash, the victims of recent and nearby eruptions. In Argentina, Rio Negro, the lakes are again large, blue and serene and on arrival in Bariloche I dig half a kilo of slowly grilled roast beef, lamp and sausage, more meat than in the whole of the year so-far, a bottle of cheap and nice Cabernet Sauvignon goes with it, Elementos de Botega El Esteco, I quietly celebrate my first introduction to Argentina and Argentine BBQ.
In the morning out of Bariloche the hitch hiking would not work so well and I walk south all the way to Lago Gutierrez, and the Cerros Catedral rise over its dark blue clear. A bus takes me eventually a bit further to Lago Mascardi, and I pay the entrance to the Parque Nacional Nahuel Huapi, then walk and hitch rides to the bridge where I realize the water flows the other way, towards the Pacific, and that I am late as my road towards Pampa Linda and Monte Tronador is already closed, the glacier that I have come for I wont see.
Taking no risks I take bus 20 the next morning from central Bariloche along the shores of Lago Nahuel Huapi to Llao-Llao, then hitch a ride to the Lopez trail head and walk steep up the Patagonian Andes through the woods and the bleached fallen and suffocated trunks. I reach destination and Refugio Lopez at over 1,600m, and it is the view onto the stunning setting of Lagos Moreno and Nahuel Huapi behind with the green forests embedded between, the warm midday sun, and that I ascended 800m in less than 2 hours, that make ambitions rise. A Norwegian partner, Åsta, in trainers, but with no fear, is found in the instance and we carry on together, climb further up straight over ravines and water, overcome rubble and boulders, move ever higher over blank rock faces laboriously using our hands, watching our steps. And then after losing the path half way we finally get to the cliff's rim, and there it is on the other side, the massive glacier, a bit away, behind a deep valley that still harbors the Nahuel Huapi lake, white Monte Tronador, the massive mountain that I was denied a glance not even 24 hours ago.
Cerro Lopez, and I never expected to come all the way, takes me completely with its 360º panorama experience, and after the arduous climb the rush of happiness about the accomplished drugs the brain.
On down south, and I have a partner again, my partner and more.
In Bariloche a day later, I have a partner again, my old partner is back, the bird also known by C. flies in, and we do pretty well, and would do well for a while. After sending all the excess luggage via bus to Buenos Aires we hit the road south, the idea is to pick it up in some 5 or 6 weeks, travel as light as can down the very last bit of Patagonia in South America.
Via El Bolsón and Esquel, some hitch-hiking, some bus rides, we find our way back into Chile and picturesque Futaleufú. The rafting on the Futaleufú River (Rio Grande in Mapuche language) is supposed to be the best in the world only after the Zambesi, and I went down the Zambesi a long time ago and came out with just a bloody nose after the South African minister of tourism, sitting in front, crashed into my face; in one of the nastier rolls. But here something doesn't want to let me go and I give the Futaleufú a mis, I am a wimp, or just old, or don't like the rainy wet in combination with it.
One morning and the rains pound hard still, C. and I take a bus for 12 hours to Coyhaique down the dirt tracks of the Careterra Austral passing all the Hiello Norte glaciers without much of a photo opportunity. Somewhere we pick up a crew of film people and their all American arrogant tall blond male cast, testosterone squirting out by their ears, they act cool and mimic the looks of logs of woods. 'Kayaking Blond Americans on the Streams of the Last Wilderness, Patagonia'; another great documentary with the inevitable noble cause as some of these streams will go forever once the national government gets its way.
At the end of the day we are a lot further south but still have a lot to go. Late on another afternoon we take a cheap ferry from Puerto Ibanez to Chile Chico over Lake Gerneral Carrera and even later a yellow and orange fire lights up the Patagonian skies, then glows rose and purple till night and the cold sets in.
Chile Chico to Villa O'Higgins, hitching rides and trekking.
When looking at Chile's long skinny map when I was still north in the Atacama Desert only in the most hidden corners of my brain I dared dreaming to come down all the way one day, and venture beyond Chile Chico, the last regular exit to Argentina. In Chile Chico I send C. on the road and bus into Argentina while I hit the gravel, indeed from now on who knows what comes, the road will end somewhere, for now sticking out my thumb is the way to go, hacer dedo, do it with the finger, as they say. What a first day, I feel the power of earth and wind, the power to walk for miles and miles, I am carrying the essentials, a camera, my computer, rain gear, and jacket, a sleeping bag just in case, nothing else. Around Lake General Carrera I hitch 4 rides and walk at times, in the end haul down a bus to Cochrane, where nothing and certainly not the mosquitoes keep me out at night.
There is a bus to Caleta Tortel, the glaciers are near but the bus never stops, Tortel then is all wooden houses built on poles, beautifully set at a green/cyan bay that is part of the hidden Pacific ocean. The all wooden walkways and sun is up cannot keep me, and after some so so fried salmon lunch and beer I feel the power of the glaciers again and the need to walk or better I don't mind that the bus is full, so much space and the suckers don't take me, Chileans love rules. It is some 22kms back to the junction, in 4 hours only four cars pass, none stops. Past the junction night falls fast and I walk on south, the Lenga woods around give me a bit the quiet creeps and eventually I arm myself with a little rock, for the pumas, I think naively. The glaciers are close, I can almost smell their steely ice, I have walked a total of 30kms, my back and feet hurt, and it sinks in that I cannot spend night anywhere here, that I'd have to walk another 15kms to get to Puerto Yungay, where hopefully I would find shelter and take the ferry in the morning. I fill my bottle in one of the streams that come down through the woods, pause for a few minutes, I have no more food, walking on then there appears a shimmering light ahead, clearly a campfire near the road and I meet Andres and Valentina, young people with whom I have had a brief conversation in Tortel around noon. A bonfire in the dark of the night, how incredible, my heart lights up, I change my cold sweat-wet shirt and stretch out and warm my limps. These friendly young Chilenos come from heaven, they prepare instant puree and maté (South American herbal infusion) for me, and the fire dries and makes me drowsy, and each of us has to sing a song for the spirits around. Then Andres and I amass a lot more wood for the night, and I am glad I brought my sleeping bag. Sleeping under the southern starry night only to wake occasionally to reignite the fire. This is the usual FabTrek outcome, when the going gets toughest there is relief just around the corner.
The following morning after some tea, we all find transport with some road builders to Yungay, then still early the ferry to the other side of Fiordo Mitchell and Puerto Rio Bravo, and the ferry is for free. With no onward transport, I sleep a sleep of beauty; it's about waiting for the next ferry and a possible chance to hitch a ride, as walking the next 100kms with no known station in between by all means is senselessly too far. The next ferry comes at noon, while I slept the new found friends took a new decision, head back north via Chile Chico to Santiago, almost 3,000kms of road back, as transport has become too scarring damn scars down here, and I stay and wait for another 6 hours. The rains come a bit and go, the clouds lift and give view to the deep hanging glaciers on the other side of the fjord. At 6 p.m. the ferry arrives, the last in the day, and I know, that I better make something out of this last chance in the day or else spend night here. Speaking to the driver is key, 'Espacio hacia Villa O'Higgins? Estoy solo.'
More that 2 hours later past nightfall the friendly pair from Santiago let me out in Villa O'Higgins, at the end of the end of the most famous Chilean road, the Careterra Austral, and the dangers manifested themselves to us, a policeman off duty had steered his vehicle off the road and died in a lake.
Villa O'Higgins is small and the rains pound all day with dark clouds hanging deep. When sun comes out for a brief I rush out and around the block, else I sleep it out, drink beer, buy an expensive ticket for crossing and viewing the O'Higgins glacier.
The tour from Villa O'Higgins, Chile to El Chalten, Argentina by boats and by feet, is not everybody's cup of tea and the number of tourists undertaking it goes down to a hand full a day. The ferry that detours by the O'Higgins glacier has indeed left a deep dent in my pocket, but it should prove all worth it, best ever, that day, ...
I wake at 6.45, weather's changed, the half-moon in the cloudless sky promises an amazing day already. It dawns when I walk across town, catch the bus to the boat, for the cruise to glacier O'Higgins, and shortly after we glide into the gusty frozen winds over Lago O'Higgins. After 2 hours the first ice blocks drift by, towards Argentina where the lake is called Lago San Martins, and the floats grow in size, reach house-high proportions the nearer we get to their origins. The O'Higgins glacier past midday presents itself in blueish colors, a 2kms wide terminus, an ice shelf towering 60 meters from the green turquoise lake, a constant cracking sound is followed by the calving of some pretty huge blocks of ice.
The shades of blue of sky, glacier and lake take the brain on a special voyage, after hours of fighting the shakes of the boat and the chilly storm when taking photos on deck a drowsy feel sets it. In the end we are being served a scotch whiskey on the glacier rocks, what a nice celebratory treat, though I throw back the ice in the lake and ask for more whiskey instead. When we turn back and away finally, what remains are very happy special memories of having experienced nature at its purest on an amazing day, and our little boat had no more than 20 tourists on board.
Walk from Chile to Argentina's Lago Desierto.
The boat leaves me and a few at the southern tip of Lago O'Higgins in Candelario Mansilla, I find the only hostel El Previo Santa Theresita and it serves a tasty beef stew, sells cheap beer, and I change some Pesos Chilenos for some Argentinos at a good rate. In the morning after a fast coffee I walk, get stamped out of Chile at the police office, then walk, and walk fast through the moss layered Lenga woods in constant company of a slight drizzle, the weather is a changing affair here in the very south, after having been so lucky the day before. The path isn't marked, but I have my GPS, and after 2 hours I reach the pass and a sign says Argentina. 2 hours more and down Lago Desierto comes into sight and I make out the boat waiting and I really speed up now, reach the Argentine police station, get my stamps fast, and reach the boat just before it pushes off shore.
I end up in El Chalten freezing from my sweat-wet shirt, after an expensive bus ride, just the famous Fitzroy mountain unfortunately remains behind white clouds. After a hearty lentils and sausage stew with tons of aji and oily garlic sauce I head for Calafate, and take my shoes off on the overheated bus, to dry my socks and think the garlic smell from my mouth must be equally bad. What an adventure from Chile Chico down to here, I badly need a shower.
Perito Moreno glacier, El Calafate.
I meet C. in Calafate and first afternoon when the rains recede we take another overheated, of air deprived tourist bus to see the even more impressive 5km wide terminus of the Perito Moreno glacier ending in Lake Argentina and it is one of a few glaciers in the world, one in 3 in Patagonia, that are actually expanding for not so well understood reasons.
After this adventure, am I ready for the next, ready for Torres del Paine?