Spring Explorations 2019
Had a busy March with travels taking me to Patagonia and Easter Island.
The Patagonia portion of my trip, about two weeks, was my annual trip with my climbing buddies. The ten of us spent over a week trekking through a very seldom traveled route using pack horses, guides, and a lot of stamina.
Sorry it has taken this long to collect my thoughts on the Patagonia trek, I have been very busy with other things since my return. I broke my ankle a couple days ago and because that has slowed me down a bit, now I can write about my experience and encourage you to check out this destination if you are so inclined.
I arrived in Buenos Aries a few days ahead of my trekking buddies so I could do a bit of sightseeing and take in the ambiance of this city which has been described as very European, which, indeed, it is. I wrote some blogs about BA earlier, so I won’t go into it here.
Once everyone arrived in BA, we had one night to get organized and then it was off to Patagonia, which is the southern region of Chile and Argentina. There you will find mountains, plains, and desert. Most people who travel to this region make their way down to El Charten (which is very much like Estes Park here in Colorado) to hang out and trek the immediate vicinity. My group, which is comprised of my buddies who annually take a challenge, started at El Condor and made our way, 60 miles, down to El Charton. If it is worth doing, make it a challenge and rememberable.
So, off we go. We had a four-hour flight from BA to El Calafate airport which is literally in the middle of nowhere. Looking out the window during the flight the Atlantic Ocean coastline was most of the view on the port side of the aircraft. The coastline was barren and uninviting. Upon arrival at El Calarate, we were met by our guide, Diego, and endured a five-hour bumpy van ride to our destination, an estancia named El Condor, after the abundance of condors in the immediate area. As we drove along the barren landscape wild emus and guanaco (Lama relative) were seen along the roadside. The emus blended in with the gray tumbleweed like bushes. In the distance were the Andes mountains and the aqua blue lakes of the region. One lake being the largest in South American, the other, the deepest. Very surprising, there were no boats of any type on the water. I’m sure the remoteness of these lakes has something to do with this.
Once at our destination we were all pleasantly surprised by just how nice the estancia was, rustic and inviting. I would have been happy to stay at this location for the entire time we were scheduled to trek. The owners and staff were all hospitable, the food was exceptionable, and the scenery, breath taking. We spent the next two days, getting our gear ready for the trek, horseback riding and climbing the peaks in the immediate vicinity.
The day of the trek begins. We had downloaded gear into smaller and lighter packs for the horses to carry and had our day packs reduced to somewhere around 20 pounds each. There wasn’t a need to carry a lot of water since glacial streams and rivers were abundant and the water so clean and pure filtering wasn’t required.
We had three guides and our packhorse gaucho, Victor, leading the way. Since we had chosen a very remote region in which to trek, we never saw another group of hikers, no contrails in the sky, nothing, just a great vastness void of humanity. The forests were lush, the trails (when we had trails) were rocky, the knee-deep bogs we had to slog through were many, and the streams to wade across were ice cold. Sometimes we had to use machetes to hack our way into the lush forest and sometimes the forest would just open up to reveal the surrounding mountains and deep blue sky. I will say we were very lucky as this was the beginning of the rainy season and yet we only got sprinkled on one day.
After a full day of elevation gain, we reached our first overnight stop, an abandoned farmhouse which had a wood burning stove and a loft for sleeping. Our guide team began preparing the meal and our gaucho, Victor, apparently found a steer to slaughter and he prepared it over an open fire. We had tongue, heart, ribs and sirloin. Nice flavor, grass fed, no antibiotics or hormones, lean beef. There is an abundance of wild horse and cattle in the area. They will vacate the area as humans approach, so I will give Victor credit for being able to take one down. What was kind of funny, one of the guides tried to prepare a vegetable soup, but she dumped the entire package of spices into the pot and while it was something warm to eat, the intensity of the spices made the concoction almost vomit inducing. Fresh beef and avocados were the lifesaver that night.
The first day had been a bit tiresome and while most the of gang sat around the campfire, I took off to get some well-deserved sleep. Morning would come early, which indeed, it did.
Our second day was full of elevation gain, deep bogs, and multiple streams to cross. One bog in particular was so deep even the horses were having trouble crossing, the mud up to their chests. Crossing the streams did give one a chance to clear mud and debris off, but yet you still had to stop, take off your boots, put on your Crocks (stream crossing shoe of choice), freeze your feet off, replace boots and carry on. I have never experienced water this cold, your feet would sting like hell and then go numb, even in the least wide streams and in a matter of seconds.
From this point on we were in tents and cooking over open fires. The great thing was there were very few mosquitos, in fact, I never saw or felt one. Bugs were nowhere to be found, the water was good, the temperature was pleasant, and we were moving at a pretty good clip considering the amount of forestation we had to move through.
Probably the toughest part of the adventure was once we were out of the forest and then moving through high plains, glacier fields, and all the while still gaining elevation. A lot of this travel was through bogs and rock fields.
We were hugging steep mountain slopes and sidestepping for miles. This cause numerous blisters due to the unusual position of one’s feet as the transverse was made. Every so often we would stop at the glacial streams, take out boots off and dunk our feet in the frigid waters to reduce the swelling.
Three more days of hiking and we were out of the mountains and headed back to the forests and eventually civilization. The last day was the longest and most difficult. Everyone was pretty well spent. Our pack horse had turned around since they could no longer navigate our route and we had one day to get to our final destination. Tough, tough day. There was a lot of elevation change, thick forests to hack our way through, and what seemed like a never-ending slog.
Eventually, and a couple hours behind our schedule, we popped out of the forest at a luxury resort on the lake. I think the guests were as surprised as we were. Europeans who had spent a fortune for solitude were now entertaining a dozen stinky westerners who had nothing on their mind except drinking cold beer and getting a boat across the lake to El Charten. Some of the hotel guests came out of the patio to speak with us and hear of our adventure.
Once the boat arrived, we bid adieu, and crossed the lake to our waiting van which in another two hours would drop us in El Charten. Pizza, hot showers, beds, clean clothes – the good life.
The next two days were spent in El Charten. Some of the crew went glacier climbing. I opted for a whitewater rafting trip which included class 5 and 4 rapids, and of course, ice-cold water. What seemed like the adventure of a lifetime, which it was, was over too soon. Everyone was satisfied with the trip and ready to go home. As you know, I went on to spend five days on Easter Island, which you may read about below.
So, my friends, if you have the urge to trek in the most beautiful place on the planet, Patagonia will come highly recommended from me. You do not have to go the rugged route, there are plenty of opportunities. Go do this while you are young, do it with friends, you won’t be sorry.
Immediately following the Patagonia adventure, I visited Easter Island for 5 days.
Mystical, magical, mysterious.
Easter Island is located west of Chile 2,185 miles. The nearest island, Pitcairn Island (famous for Munity on the Bounty) is 1,290 miles away. There are two flights a day, both from Santiago. It is inhabited by the Rapa Nui people.
You might consider Easter Island a microcosm of planet earth. As an extremely isolated location and in 1300 years of inhabitance it evolved an entire cycle. If you plan on going, it would behoove you to see the movie Rapa Nui. Rapa Nui (1994) - IMDb
I flew in from Santiago and hailed a taxi which took me to my B&B, which was no more than a tiny shack close to the airport. Of course, everything is close to the airport, but noise is not an issue since there are so few flights. There wasn't
any air conditioning, which would have been nice, but not really necessary. I did have an electric fan and a cat who would visit me daily. There was a small convenience store a couple blocks away where I got Pringles and a soda for the days I didn't feel like walking into town, just five blocks away. I booked a couple tours and spent most of my time walking the island. Of course, one must attend a pig roast complete with entertainment while you are there. The tours take you to the quarry where the moai were excavated, carved, and then dragged to their final resting places.
There are many theories about how Easter Island developed and then declined. The most popular follows.
When the Polynesians landed here, they found a paradise. Lush tropic jungles filled with palms, abundant fish, and fertile land. It was a new beginning which they were looking for. They brought chickens, sweet potatoes, and other assorted fruits and vegetables to sustain themselves. Life was good.
A monarchy developed which was based on bloodline. Over time the monarchs became more entitled. They did little except direct others how to live their lives. They used intimidation and religion to manipulate the people.
A cast system developed which favored those who directly served the monarchs (long-ears). Fishermen were highly prized by the monarchs since they sustained a diet of fresh fish and lobster for them. The artisans who carved the moai were third in line and
were granted favors and fed well. The underclass had to grow the crops to feed the island, and other than that and having to transport the moai, really had no purpose. They lived inland, away from the ocean. Doomed to a life of servitude.
As the Long ears felt the populace becoming disenfranchised with their situation, they attempted to distract the underclass with a demand for larger and more moai. The moai, by the way, were used to honor the ancestors of the Long-ears and to intimidate the underclass.
The natural resources were being depleted by the constant stress on the land. Over farming in order to feed the multitude which carved and moved the moai. The total destruction of the palm forest (only trees on the island) as they were used for the rollers to move the moai, and maltreatment of the underclass. The elite did not care, or pay attention, they were taken care of. The underlings were starving.
Eventually, and demands for increased number and size of moai was the flame which started a rebellion which overthrew the hierarchy. The void was filled by the cult of the Birdman. While the Birdman culture allowed a distribution on assets and a chance for leadership change annually, it was a failure, and as you might guess, headed down the same path as the Long ear.
A constant invasion by foreigners who took advantage of the islanders lead almost to their extinction. Diseases, slave trade and warfare took its toll. The island was raped by the invaders and most of the history disappeared along with artifacts. When the population of the island dropped from over 20,000 to 110, Christian missionaries stepped in to save the remaining population. The cost? Convert, which did occur.
The island and what was left of the heritage was saved for future generations.
Such is human nature.
Class warfare, politicians, greed, distractions, invasions. Take from this history what you may, but there is a lesson here if you see it.
My memories which will remain with me forever.
Patagonia 1. Being able to drink the delicious glacial water right out of the streams without a filter. Never tasted water such as this. 2. Best steak ever in Argentina and it was under $15. Lean. No hormones, grass fed. No antibiotics. Cooked to perfection. 3. Trekking for days without seeing a single contrail in the sky and hearing only nature. No TV, no radio, no politics, no cars, no outsiders. 4. Sleeping under a billion stars, unobscured by light or pollution. 5. Wading kneed-deep while crossing glacier fed streams and rivers! Cold! 6. Wild horses watching us from afar. 7. Rafting through class 5 and 4 rapids. 8. Trekking with my buddies. 9. The hospitality of the Argentine people. 10. The howling winds.
Easter Island 1. The majesty and mystery of the moai. 2. Warm smiles and friendly people. 3. El gato, the cat which, uninvited, visited me in my bungalow daily. 4. Seafood. Best ceviche ever, every day. 5. How nice it is when a breeze develops to cool you down.