Smokey Mountains

El Chaltén. A place where people come to admire the surrounding mammoths. A place where Zeus (Fitz Roy) admirably looks upon the town below. Every now and then peeking his head out from the clouds, showing off his white mane as it flutters in the wind. The town is juxtaposed between mountains and winding rivers. Hence the nickname ‘Hiking capital of the world’.

We arrived by bus and made our way to our hostel. It was quite late and we were keen to get to some place warm and cozy. Unfortunately upon arriving booking.com had conveniently lost our booking confirmation. We were stuck without any accommodation and made haste to the next hostel as quick as possible. We checked in and made our way through to our room. As we got to our room a stench of old sour grapes soon met our weary nostrils. The check in lady ran to open the closest window. The smell seemed to be coming from the well worn shoes on the floor. Having nothing to eat or a place to sleep left me in a rather grumpy mood. The owner of the stench burst through the door half expecting his dwelling to be empty. ‘Would you mind putting your shoes outside’ I exclaimed, in no mood to deal with such insolence. ‘They stink’. The poor bewildered Japanese man quickly rushed to put them outside the room and then ran over to fem and said I go 5am in morning, that okay? And cold with window open. Doing some sort of twirl, trying not to make eye contact with any of us. Weird first introduction to the town. We decided we needed to sooth our nerves, and looked for a place that served up some warm soup.

The next day we decided to give our weary backpack trodden bodies a rest, and booked ourselves in at the local spa. We had heard through various sources and hikers that there was a spa in town that was affordable but still okay. As I only booked a massage I was up first – a quick 30 minute back massage. The massage would be administered by a retired brazilian jiu jitsu champion, which of course meant a bit of cracking and crunching. My back was knotted and tense but by the time she was done with it, it was smooth as a babies bottom. Altho strangely the next day I woke with a sore back…

It was time to see what Zeus was up to and planned our trip up to Laguna de los Tres. A place where you could admire Fitz Roy and the other peaks in all their glory. The hike entailed 10kms of ever changing landscapes with the final kilometer ascending 1000 meters to the snow fields and finally, the lake. The day was pleasant and we met our new Swiss friend at the base. He had done the trek two times before, each time being plagued by clouds. He mentioned the last part was a bit of a toughy and said I was quite underdressed for the occasion (I didn’t think to bring any jacket – it was a mid day hike, how cold could it get?). Snacks and cameras packed, off we went through winding paths, enchanted forests and vast grassy plains. The way was flat and fairly easy, despite a few muddy bits. Perched in front of us as if waiting for us to arrive were the beautiful Andes. Fitz Roy towering above the rest, its ominous peak daring us to come for a closer look. A hop, skip and a jump and we had made it to the base of the mountain. Next up we had to traverse the treacherous rocky path upward toward the Laguna. It was steep and dogged with boulders. Zigzagging all the way we slowly clambered until reaching snow. Hoards of people were coming past, all saying about 15 minutes left to the top. With our last final efforts we made it to Laguna los Tres. Lake of the three, a very dull description for what stood before us. Their colossal size foreshadowing the lake below, each more impressive then the other. The snow seemed to make them even more pronounced than usual, the white beautifully contrasting with their granite faces. We hurriedly snapped some photos and (as tradition would have it in any snowy condition) built a snowman – Freddy ‘Frederico’ Fitz Roy. We left him under the watchful eye of his great uncle Fitz, and slowly made our way back to camp.

“Hey Ben, its Matt. I’m thinking of hiking to the Laguna Torre tomorrow you wanna join?” Matt was the guy we met on the first day of the our W trek hike in Chileno. Fem wanted some rest from the previous days activities and so I went on with him. The hike was flat and easy. Matt and I went at a blistering pace, reaching the lake in 2 hours (instead of the recommended 4). Arriving at 11:30 we had plenty of time to chill and admire our beautiful surroundings. Cerro Torre and Egger stood before us, distant cousins of Fitz. Their towers peaking 3000 meters, looking upon the glacier below. “I’ve never seen so many icebergs before“, said a tour guide behind us. “The glacier has retreated somewhat since 1995, now only cover half of that rock”, pointing to the base of the torre. It was sad seeing the effects of our warming climate having on these ancient structures. Pondering such existential ideas, we wondered if it earth that was in danger of extinction or us? Being in such reflective moods, we decided we wanted to see the glacier up close. Matt brought out the drone and attempted to fly closer, but after a km and a half we decided it was to far for the little machine to reach. We sat down for a bit and ate our snacks. As we settled in amongst the boulders, Henry the hawk thought it would be a dandy idea to scare the wits out of us and flew straight at our faces. We quickly ducked but before it reached us it darted to the right and perched itself on the rock, as if saying this is my house bitch. Fellow hikers flocked to snap photos of the bugger, leaving us rather bewildered. We decided it was time to return to town.

The following days saw us doing a few more hikes in the region, enjoying the delicious artisanal breweries and local delicacies, and delving our noses into our books. Currently I’m reading The Old Patagonian Express by Paul Theroux. A real life tale of adventure and exploration, Theroux evokes all the senses through his witty writing and I get the sense that I was there with him. Not shying away from being a bit of a negative nancy about some of the places he visited. I would need a bit of entertainment for the next leg of our journey, 23 hours on a bus north to a small town known as the shire of the Andes, El Bolson.

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