Monthly Archives: January 2013

Argentina: Tierra del Fuego

On 15 December I flew to Ushuaia on the island of Tierra del Fuego. The flight was fun – the plane had to travel up the channel and back in order to descend to land on the runway. I stayed at Galeazzi-Basily Bed and Breakfast, where I had a room in a fantastic little house with very sweet owners. I had planned to camp a few nights in the park, but the weather was extremely cold and I decided to stay in the cozy warm house in town instead.

I went to see the penguin colonies at Estancia Haberton – this requires booking a tour from town and traveling in a tour bus down the coast to Estancia Haberton. We had a tour of the museum, which was fabulous with complete skeletons of many species of whales and dolphins that beach in Tierra del Fuego. The boat ride to the penguin colony was short and I did not throw up (yay!) and the penguin colony was rainy but full of penguins!! I was a little bit sad because there had been a king penguin at the colony on the previous day, and he wasn’t there when I visited. But I got to see Magellanic penguins and gentoo penguins, squee!!!

I also hiked up to the glacier above town, where there are supposed to be a couple of good bird species to see. I ran into the local birding guide with a paying tourist, and subtly inquired whether they had seen anything interesting. They hadn’t seen the bird, and I was glad I hadn’t paid several hundred dollars for the morning tour! I hiked up to the glacier on my own and walked all the way back to town.

On Monday I was supposed to rent a car, but the people of Ushuaia decided to lodge a protest in the middle of town. It started with garbage cans with fire in them, drums, and many work trucks, construction vehicles, and delivery trucks blocking the main street of town. This grew quite extensive by mid-morning, with piles of wooden pallets blocking streets and more of the main streets in town blocked by trucks and other vehicles. Needless to say my rental car was trapped and I could not rent a car that morning. Instead I caught a bus to the national park and went hiking. I hiked the coastal trail and over to the lake and campsite. There weren’t many birds, but it was a nice hike and a pretty day. On Tuesday I returned to the park and hiked the remainder of the trails.

On Wednesday I succeeded in renting a car and drove down to Estancia Haberton, birding along the way. I also drove up past Garibaldi pass and birded this area as well. I didn’t have a very good birding day because it was raining, but the scenery was very nice. I did get to drive myself to the rubbish dump, where I saw a few new species of birds (I know, birders visit weird places).

Argentina: El Calafate and Parque Nacional Los Glaciares

On 7 December I flew to El Calafate. This flight was also delayed, which I had again accounted for. I found another van shuttle to take me into town, and they dropped me off at my hotel – the Miyazato Inn. The owners were very sweet and helpful, although this was the most expensive place I stayed during my entire trip (El Calafate in general is quite expensive).

For anyone planning to travel to El Calafate, it is best to withdraw enough cash from ATMs before flying into town, because there is a limit on how much you can withdraw in town per day. El Chaltén (a nearby town where most tourists visit) doesn’t have any working ATMs, so you have to bring enough cash to pay for your stay. This was probably just about the worst place on my trip to realize that my ATM card had been stolen out of my bag.

This day was a nightmare, and I got a harsh lesson in thinking on my feet. My iPod and a wi-fi connection were invaluable – a friend set up an emergency Skype account so I could call home to talk to my bank and credit card company. My bank would not help me, beyond canceling my ATM card and mailing me a new one. I still had a VISA credit card, but while VISA would let me withdraw cash from a bank with the card, they charged a 25% interest rate per day). I discovered that the nearby gas station would charge my credit card and give me a few hundred pesos in cash. I also discovered that the town had a Western Union, and I managed to call home and have some money deposited into a Western Union account. However, when I went to pick the cash up the following morning, the office was closed because it was a federal holiday. As a result I had to travel to El Chaltén using my emergency cash and I wasn’t able to withdraw from Western Union for another week. I was eventually able to withdraw funds successfully, and again several times for the rest of my trip. However, I was passed some false money at the Western Union in El Calafate – I’m not sure how much, because I didn’t notice until I was leaving town, but I reported them to the police station at the airport. If anyone is planning to travel to Argentina, learn to match the faces on the bills with the watermarks anytime you are passed $20 pesos or more in a touristy area. It’s ridiculous to do this in front of ATMs or Western Unions, but there are usually cops standing around these areas so you should be safe enough.

El Calafate had the best shopping of anywhere I visited. There were actual folk art stores with carvings and hand-made dolls and paintings and pottery and other awesome stuff (instead of just souvenirs). I did a lot of shopping there once I had money again!

The tour books say that everyone visiting El Calafate must go to see Glacier Perito Moreno. I wasn’t too excited by this, but I had a free day and the bus ride wasn’t too expensive, so I went to see the glacier. I’m so glad I did – it was awesome!! I took tons of pictures and they are all pretty – the glacier is so blue! It’s actually only the very tip of a glacier that extends like a river out of the huge icefield in Parque Nacional Los Glaciares. The park has a network of boardwalks several kilometers long that you can walk around and view the glacier from different sides. I had about 4 or 5 hours to walk around before the bus picked me up, which was more than enough time as the weather got quite cold and unpleasant after awhile.

On 9 December I took a bus to El Chaltén, where I stayed at Nothofagus Bed & Breakfast. I liked this place a lot! It wasn’t too expensive, breakfast and tea were yummy, and they were really nice and helpful. I went shopping in town for backpacking food… and quickly realized that I should’ve bought food in El Calafate because they had hardly anything in El Chalten! I wound up with pasta and sauce that was only tomato purée.

I spent four days and three nights backpacking and camping in Parque Nacional Los Glaciares. Compared to my last hike, this trail was quite easy. I spent my first night at Campamento de Agostini, next to Laguna Torre. The weather was awful and there was no visibility at the laguna, so I didn’t do any extra hiking there. I found a great campsite out of the wind and huddled in my tent all night eating snacks instead of cooking so I didn’t have to go out in the rain.

The weather was much better on the second day, when I hiked to Campamento Poincenot. It was a nice hike, albeit quite windy, and I found another good campsite at the campground. I met another girl traveling by herself and we hiked to see the Glaciar Piedras Blancas. My second night camping was also extremely cold, but I managed to cook some pasta before I crawled into my sleeping bag.

On the third day I hiked up to the Laguna de los Tres. It was a steep uphill hike that totally kicked my butt, but I made it up before any of the tourists hiked in from town. People were waiting at the top for the clouds to clear to get views of the peaks above the lakes, but it was very clear to me that the clouds were not planning on clearing anytime soon. I stayed for an hour or so and then hiked back down the trail. I spent the afternoon hiking around near camp and birdwatching, and reading my book in my tent. It was still very windy, and I was cold.

I hiked out on 13 December. It was cloudy and a little rainy, but I had a nice hike anyway. I saw some good birds on the trail and made it back to town before the rain started falling very hard. I was glad to take a hot shower, turn on the heater in my room, and eat a meal that was prepared from more than two ingredients.

Back in El Calafate, I spent my last day at the Laguna Nimez Reserve – a migratory waterbird reserve just down the street from my hotel with easy trails and tons of great birds.

Argentina: Bariloche and Parque Nacional Nahuel Huapi

When I arrived in Bariloche there was a storm with torrents of rain. I took a van/bus into town, and they dropped me off at my hosteria, Costas del Nahuel. The hosteria was very nice, I had a room with a view of the lake and the staff was very helpful. I spent the afternoon curled up in the heated room reading a book and watching the rain.

I didn’t have anything to do the next day because I didn’t want to pay for a birdwatching tour, so I walked around town. There must have been 20 chocolate stores in town, and lots of tourist/souvenir stores. There were a couple of nice stores as well, and some artesans in a building near that National Park office. I checked in with CAB and with the National Park office for my upcoming hike.

On 4 December I took a morning bus from Bariloche to Villa Catedral (1039 m), where the trailhead to Refugio Frey is located. I should mention at this point that Bariloche did not have any dehydrated food, and I was carrying three days worth of groceries because the National Park office said that the food at the huts wouldn’t accommodate special diets. The 11.0 km hike to Refugio Frey was quite difficult from a pack-hauling perspective. It was really pretty, though! And most of the hikers got to see a flock of Magellanic woodpeckers – awesome!!

Refugio Frey (1754 m) was really nice. One of the CAB members in the kitchen spoke English, and assured me that he and the cooks in the next refuge could cook something I would be able to eat. I gladly gave him all of my heavy food and ordered dinner. They even had Coke, which was blissful after a long hike. The refugio was packed with climbers in the evenings – the climbers were camped out in nearby areas and spent the evenings in the common room looking through climbing guides and drinking beer (there was beer!). I sat and talked with some American women during the evening. We stayed in the bunks upstairs, which were crowded but warm with so many people staying there.

I was up early the next morning, and I left for the trail before most of the others. The trail went around the lake and up a really steep rockslide, then up a steep slope with snow and up another rockslide to the top. The path was marked with spray-painted red dots on the rocks, and was actually quite easy to find. The climbing over rocks was fun, and I found it more pleasant than hiking at a steady pace up a steep slope because clambering over boulders is less tiring.

I made it to the top (2046 m) – it was ridiculously windy, but there was a really pretty view into the next valley. I took a ton of photos very quickly, and then hiked down to get out of the wind. At first there were large rocks, but then I was basically skiing down a scree slope. Trekking poles were essential, I was really glad I’d brought mine!

I hiked through the next valley (1530 m), where I saw some new bird species. This part of the hike was relatively flat, and went quickly. I stopped to eat at the base of the next ascent upward. The hike up to the top wasn’t so bad until I got to the final part, which was straight up a snow-covered slope. The snow on all of these slopes was melting underneath, so it wasn’t very safe to walk on. I followed the tracks of the one hiker in front of me, who hiked up a ways and then abandoned the snow for the rocks to the side, which required literal rock climbing to get up. It was a bit difficult with the pack on, but I made it (1951 m)! Refugio Jakob (1584 m) was in the next valley, and I could see it when I crested the hill. It was a long ways off, though! It took forever to get down this slope – it was all large rocks, and I had to go slowly because 1) my legs were basically jell-o, and 2) I didn’t want to destroy my knees. Again, trekking poles were essential. I made it to Refugio Frey (8.7 km) after only 6.5 hours, which was a really good time! *ninja*

At Refugio Jakob I ate some lunch and chose a good bunk since I was the first one there. In the afternoon I visited the small lake nearby. The CAB staff at the refugio helped me find the trail, and I hiked over some hills to reach the lake. It was pretty – I guess sometimes it has icebergs floating in it, but there weren’t any during my visit. I hiked back to the refugio where a couple of other hikers from Frey had made it, although most were still on the trail.

We ate dinner and I slept like the dead until mid-morning. I left the refugio and started my hike out. It was all downhill, which was hard because my legs were really sore from hiking over the steep mountains the day before. I passed some other hikers (and was passed by other hikers) but made my slow way downhill along the river. The trail ended at an unpaved highway, and my options from there were either hitchhiking or hiking the remaining 7 km to the bus stop. I didn’t see any cars, so I hiked the 7 km along the highway to the bus stop (44.62 km total).

I took a bus into town – a nice girl let me charge the ride on her card and pay her back (there was no way to buy a ticket) and went back to my hotel. I spent the afternoon and evening packing for my plane flight the next day and enjoying being warm and clean.

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