Saturday, February 19, 2011

El Chalten

On The Way

Getting out of El Calafate was quite easy, as we had a bit of back wind. We camped by the side of the road, behind some calafate bushes, which served us well for breakfast.


The day after was quite boring, with a lot of side wind. We camped near a bridge, on the river side. 

On the third day we started seeing some snowy mountain tops, and met many cyclists going south, including 3 Italians and a 50 year old German woman traveling alone, who spoke German and Spanish, but no English. 


After 30 hard km due to strong face wind, we camped under a bridge.


On the next day we were lucky, as there was no wind at all, and we got to El Chalten quickly. The view of the mountains was astonishing, especially the clear view of the Fitz Roi (3,400 m).



We started gathering information about the hiking possibilities in El Chalten at the ranger´s station in the entrance of the town.


It is really impressive how many trails they have on just 3 mountains. They have short trips for a few hours, as well as long and dangerous routes for adventure seekers. As a guy we met in the camping said, El Chalten is climber´s heaven and hell.

Another source of information was Ido in Rancho Grande hostel. This is an Israeli guy who has been living there for over a year. He gives daily lectures in Hebrew about hiking in El Chalten and the Carratera Austral (the southern road of Chile). Of course, he is not doing this just for fun, at the end of each lecture he sells bus tickets and arranges organized tours.

We started from a small hike to a view point over the Fitz Roi, which was quite easy, and had amazing views of nature. 





On our way back, we met a guy living at the edge of town, on the hill, with tents in his garden. We asked him if it was a camping, and he said: "no, but if you want you can camp here". He agreed to keep our bicycles for a few days, behind his shed, while we would hike.

On the morning when we planned to start our 4 days hike, our tent finally gave in, and one of the zippers broke. Fortunately, we could fix the tent as well as some bags at a very cheap place (Mountain Repair, Guemes 142 - Mario y Daniela put their advertising all over town).

The first day of hiking was very promising as we had lots of sun and the trail was well marked. 


We were in a bit of a hurry because of a late start (4 pm), and we wanted to get to the campsite before dark. We managed barely to do so, and it was worth it, as we found a free food bag in the refuge there. 


Near Death Experience
There weren´t many people at the campsite, and they all left before we got up. We started walking the second day with a bit of worry as we had to cross some rivers.


After a few low streams, we got to a very high and strong river which we did not know where to cross. Stupidly, we got in one of its higher points, as the water reached our chests, but there was no going back. We slipped and were flown with the water. Shoham managed to get to the other side after a few seconds. Amit did body-rafting for about 30 m in the freezing water and lost his glasses and sandals with the stream. Fortunately he was swept to the shore, and held on to gravel with his fingers. Shoham watched everything from the side, left her backpack and crossed the river again (in a safer place to cross…) to pull Amit from the water (100 kg including his bag). After seeing that Amit was safely far from the water, she crossed the river a third and forth times to get back her backpack. Then we went quickly back to the campsite which was quite nearby, while Amit was screaming from pain all the way. 

In the refuge we changed to Shoham´s clothes which were surprisingly dry (everything from Amit´s bag was soaked wet). We heated water and tried to get warm quickly. Thinking back, our biggest mistake (after trying to cross the river…) was when Amit put his feet in the boiling water, after getting freeze burns from the water. In the evening we met Mario Fernandez who offered to walk us down the following day, and let his 4 lamas carry our luggage. The whole nights we hesitated if it was better to walk down with him, or to stay there until Amit´s feet shrink back to their normal size. 

At noon of the following day we went on our way as promised, and on the way we chatted in broken Spanish, trying to get to know Mario. He is a 25 year old single guy who dreams of having his own farm, and in the meantime plans to study to become a veterinarian. His love for animals is obvious, but, however, we are not sure how well he could do in his studies. Interestingly, he knows a lot about the bible, as he is a great believer in Christianity. When we got to town, all the tourists were amused by the lamas and took photos of us.

The following day, Shoham went to retrieve our bikes, and gave Amit his spare pair of glasses (good planning!). When Amit could see again he cycled painfully to the local clinic, where he got infusion, antibiotics and other stuff he can´t remember by many injections. After a few hours of lying there the doctor decided it is better to transport Amit to El Calafate´s hospital to do some routine checks. All findings showed that the feet were alive from the inside, even though Amit couldn´t feel his toes, and they had a frighteningly dark blue color. The private ambulance took him back on the same night and the kind nurse and driver searched for a cheap hostel which wasn´t full. At Ahonikenk hostel (45 AR$ per night) Amit stayed for 5 nights, while Shoham chose to stay in the quiet camping. 

In the hostel, we met interesting people such as Abraham, a 68 year old Jewish multi-millionaire from Plano, Texas. He is a world champion in weight lifting, for age and weight category. He can lift 100 kg from lying down (bench-press). We also met Fransisca from Holland, and Julia from Ushuaia, Argentina, two women in their 30´s. All the other guests were loud Israelis.
We made there Gnocchi, something we planned to do since El Calatate, which came out very tasty, and some quite tasty chocolate balls (it is hard to make them good here because the cocoa powder isn´t too great). We also cooked there a Shabat dinner with a few nice Israeli guys (not all Israelis in the hostel were nice). We had a Shabat halla (bread), white beans paste, mujadra (rice with lentils), fish in tomato sauce, roasted potatoes, an Arab salad and banana cake for dessert.

At the beginning, the doctor told Amit that he would have to rest for at least 3 weeks, so we decided that Shoham would proceed alone for a while with her bicycle, and that we would meet later when Amit gets better. Therefore we bought a small tent, to save some weight, from an Israeli guest at the hostel. Everything was set for her to go, and before leaving she went with Fransisca (the Dutch woman) on a walk up to the Fitz Roi. 

Good News

When Shoham was hiking, Amit received good news. The doctor told him he was better off cycling than sitting in the hostel all day. So Amit went bare foot to buy sandals, and when he had them he could walk easily again. Therefore the plans of Shoham traveling alone were abandoned, and we decided that we would leave in a couple of days. 

Before leaving, we printed a nice photo of us, to give to all the good people who helped us in El Chalten: Mario, Dr. Dante and Jesus.


On the night before leaving, we had a small goodbye party. We invited Julia and Fransisca (from the hostel) as well as Mario (the guy with the lamas) to our camping to have dinner. We had a good desert of too much very good ice cream that Julia bought. We gave Fransisca our newly bought tent, in hope that she would use it more than us.

In the morning of our leaving of El Chalten (finally!), we met again Naoki, the Japanese cyclist whom we first met in Puerto Natales.