Thursday, December 30, 2004

Walking In Patagonia

Before I start I would like to offer my sympathy to the people affected by the tsunamis caused by the earthquake on Boxing Day. I hope none of you have friends or family there and if so that they are safe and well. Boxing Day really doesn't seem to be a very happy day lately, as only a year ago there was the earthquake in Bam which killed around 40,000 people (it also made me sad because Bam was a beautiful city that I had not yet had the chance to see, and now never will).

Anyway, back to the journey. You only truly appreciate the size of Argentina once you get down into Patagonia: it took us two long driving days (made all the longer by one puncture and one complete blow-out) to get from Bariloche to El Chalten, which is next to the great southern ice field, a vast expanse of along the southern Argentina-Chile border. The landscape is impressive by its size and uniformity; huge undulating plains, covered only by hardy grasses, stretch out as far as the eye can see, with the odd mountain peak way off to the west. The wildlife is also correspondingly bare, with only a few groups of rheas and the odd guanaco punctuating the monotony. El Chalten is a strange town: it is Argentina's youngest and was quickly cobbled together (and it shows) so as to have the upper hand in a land dispute with Chile.

The town is next to the Los Glaciares national park where there are some beautiful hiking trails taking in some of the most stunning scenery in the continent; glaciers and their associated lakes, sheer, craggy mountain peaks, and gnarled old forests. I got to see my first glacier up close and personal (well, from a distance of about 100m. Any closer and you're at risk from falling ice) and it didn't disappoint. I also tested my walking limits. Just after 2pm I reached the turnoff to head back to town (distance: 10km, walking time: 2hrs), but I thought that that would get me back too early and I'd spend the rest of the day twiddling my thumbs (as there is absolutely nothing to do in El Chalten). So I decided to add a detour to my ramble and take the long way home. Perhaps not the wisest decision I had ever made as by the time I got back to camp it was half past seven and I had covered well over 40km, some of it over difficult terrain (up and down steep hills, along large boulder-strewn moraines, and even through a marsh), and had accumulated 3 blisters (which have gone away surprisingly quickly). Ah well, at least I know roughly how far I can manage to walk in a day.

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