Monday, May 7, 2012

Segment 55: Villa O'Higgins, Chile to El Chalten, Argentina (March 6 - 10, 2012)

starting at Villa O'Higgins (top of map), one can see the broken, fjord-lined topography that forms Chile as one moves south.  Our next stop is to be El Chalten.  (photo: Greg Altman) Posada Fabiana Tom and Jeff jammed with Nicolas, Chilean cyclist travelling this section (photos: Cat Magill)...

...the colorful houses of Villa O'Higgins, a sleepy town where everything always seems closed for siesta...
the ramshackle abandoned evangelical church

plenty of horses in the area... (photo: Greg Altman)

... as they are an important part of the local culture and homesteading lifestyle...
... this one though - a horseskin displayed alongside several other furs- had us puzzled, until the locals explained that they EAT their horses here! (also apparently in Argentinian Patagonia)

(photo: Cat Magill)
                                      ...some parting shots of the Villa O'Higgins environs...
Lago O'Higgins, near the dock site

at the docks, we can't believe we are about to board.  We have been waiting for days for our salvation from Villa O'Higgins... (photo: Greg Altman)

Jason and Tom getting ready to fish from the boat, judging their lures and weights (unsuccessful ploy: lake murky, lures invisible to the fish)

our boat was to be the one on the left here: "Alberto Lorenzo".  This is not the typical boat used to cross this lake, which is normally a large ferry.   Due to the general strike going on in all of Aysen, the normal ferry has been cancelled and our only choice is to take this boat.  Which is going to cost us over $70 each.
as you can see, this boat has lots of character (photo: Greg Altman)

we made ourselves at home for the 4-hour ride

there were 15 cyclists on the boat!  plus 3 backpackers.  Makes us feel like the long-awaited bicycle takeover of the planet is imminent...

Tom enjoying the scene (photo: Cat Magill)

Meet Po.  Po happens to be an ex-street dog, now travelling companion of Deborah, a Swiss cyclist on the boat with us.  Po has had quite an adventure for an ex-street dog: she joined Deborah in Coihaique, over 500km ago!!  She has run the whole way... and loves the sight of touring cyclists.  Patagonia seems to be the antithesis of Peru, where the dogs attack cyclists viciously without provocation.  In Patagonia, on the other hand, they instantly befriend you and attempt to join your journey! 

Sonja, Nico, and Santiago (Chilean) (photo: Greg Altman)

Greg, and Jason trying his luck (photo: Nicolas Garnham)

great scenes opened up as we plied the lake

...spectacularly-sculpted peaks and distant glaciers(photos: Cat Magill)...

at the landing dock at Candelaria, still in Chile, we encountered our mirror image: a dozen or so cyclists and backpackers who have been holed up on this side of the lake waiting for the boat to come and save THEM. 

Jeff climbing up from the lake (photo: Cat Magill)

a look back at Lago O'Higgins (photo: Greg Altman)

this was a 7km climb up a loose rocky road

another look back towards the lake

when we reached the top of the climb we had this fantastic view awaiting us.  The spired peak in the center of the photo is the famous Patagonian mountain FitzRoy.  It was to dominate the next week-or-more of our travels.

we camped in the forest here: 9 of us.  (Nico, Santi, Jeff, Greg, Tom, Cat, Jason, Sonja, and Deborah).  It was to be a mystical full moon-guitar night.

having breakfast (photo: Cat Magill)

Nico and Sonja (photo: Cat Magill)

Tom's sandals have been reduced to this, held together by old bicycle tube rubber straps (photo: Cat Magill)

checking out the map and the routes we are to follow (photo: Cat Magill)

another splendid day

Nico fording a rushing creek

back into Argentina, again.  This is the third time we've exited Chile/entered Argentina as we've travelled south.

Cerro FitzRoy (3359m, or 11020 ft.) as seen from the hillock which marks the border. 

the next 6km are no more than a footpath, mostly-navigable singletrack... and some of the funnest riding to he had anywhere on this trajectory (at least in this direction, which is nearly all downhill).

Santi and Nico making their way

Cat weaves though the dense forest

Deborah and Tom taking a breather

as we descended towards Lago Desierto, the trail became eroded and gullied, making quite a challenge for loaded touring bikes.

Jason on mythical singletrack...

...heading towards this...
Lago Desierto backed by FitzRoy.  One of the most magical moments in our entire journey.

Tom crosses a log bridge

the dock at Lago Desierto and another ferry

loading up, again (photo: Cat Magill).  This was to be even more expensive than the last boat: $26 for a 45-minute ride.

Lago Desierto is noteworthy for its status as the last-contested area of a long-standing border dispute between Chile and Argentina. It was finally determined to be Argentinian soil in 1994, which enraged (and still enrages) Chileans. Santiago decided to reclaim it (symbolically) for Chile, and jumped in. 
(photo: Nicolas Garnham)

A frigid Santi after his dip

... we had these kinds of landscapes surrounding us on Lago Desierto...
lots of glaciers around

Lago Desierto in late afternoon

... another woods camp, this near Lago Desierto...
Jason caught a trout and grilled it on the fire, impaled on this stick...
(photo: Nicolas Garnham)

the surrounding forest the following morning

nearby Glacier Huemul (photo: Greg Altman)

Greg getting freaky on the glacier (photo: Greg Altman)

Jason cast his fishing line and got all tangled up

this guy had better luck than Jason, catching a four-foot-long Chinook salmon (introduced, of course) with FitzRoy towering beyond

along the Rio de las Vueltas heading towards El Chalten, there is a strict catch-and-release policy (photo: Greg Altman)

...a simply stunning ride to El Chalten (photo: Cat Magill)...

the road passed close by FitzRoy and its host of nearby peaks

the north entrance to El Chalten

El Chalten, a recent (1985) settlement of 500 inhabitants at the base of the FitzRoy range

we were welcomed at the Casa de Jesus... a local man (Jesus Torres) opened his house years ago to all travellers, making his place a gathering point for international travellers of all sorts, a small space invaded by tents and backpacks and parties. 

Jesus explaining the finer points of "pollo al disco" (chicken prepared in a giant farming disc-turned-cookpan), a common Argentinian dish, to French and Russian travellers (photo: Cat Magill)

the wood stove in Jesus' cabin

We motivated for a fantastic dayhike to Mirador Loma del Pliegue Tumbado, located in Parque Nacional Los Glaciares (photo: Greg Altman)

looking back towards El Chalten as we start the hike up

Patagonian Caracara

Cat feeling the forest

the local deciduous beeches starting to change color

a view towards Lago Torre and backing peaks (photo: Cat Magill), one of the most famous and characteristic ridgelines of all Patagonia

Jeff and Tom mesmerized (photo: Nicolas Garnham)
... we had 360-degree panoramic views up here...
looking west towards the luminous peaks that back the nearby Southern Patagonian Ice Field

a clear look at Cerro Torre (3133m, or 10275 ft.), considered one of the world's hardest climbs.

hanging glacier seen across the valley
chilling at the top; L-R: Greg, Deborah, Cat, Santi, Nico, Tom

Here our Persian friend Byrum captivates us with the story of his injured ankle, which occurred while on a camel-led safari in India 4 months before.  According to Byrum, camels are "filthy beasts", and the camel he was riding was a female in heat; several days into the safari a horny male camel tried to mount his camel while Byrum was riding it!  The male tossed Byrum off the female, and tried to have a go!  Byrum ended up on the ground with an injured ankle, cursing the Indian guides for putting him on a camel that everyone knew was in heat. (photo: Nicolas Garnham)
Greg snoozes (photo: Cat Magill)

condor overhead (photo: Greg Altman)

beech forest dominates the slopes

rising like shark teeth (photo: Cat Magill)

a parting look at the range (photo: Greg Altman)

glum fat cow
Austral Parakeets, the world's most southernly parakeets, somehow adapted to live in Patagonian climates

1 comment:

Prima said...

WOW! Thank you for sharing your wonderful adventure! I wish we had talked on the flight from Chile to Miami I would have loved to hear YOUR favorite parts of these amazing stories!