OK new post. Here’s what I’ve been up to. Last we talked, you knew I had traveled the W trek of Torres del Paine, the famous park/destination for Patagonia (the southernmost section of South America, including both Chile and Argentina). I separated from Yoav and Niv, the two guys I traveled with in Torres del Paine to go to Ushuaia. They had already been there, and they told me it was great! 🙂
The most direct route from Punta Arenas is to take a ferry to Porvenir, the capital of Chile’s Tierra del Fuego region (which is a small town, despite being a “capital”) and then hitchhike (no bus routes). I stayed here 4 days camping. There’s nothing to do here for hikes; I just needed a break from the W trek and didn’t want to pay for hostels! While camping, two cops came by to visit and take my information and one pseudo-invited me to eat. I’m not sure if he was maybe being nice and just making small-talk or was genuinely curious and wanted to invite me over to eat. Either way, I responded that yeah, we should eat, how about lunch? LOL. So I made a new friend, and then I befriended his wife who’s also a police officer, and I’m currently staying now (on my return journey back from Ushuaia) with another coworker of theirs at her house. Crazy! No English with any of them, so that makes it fun. Also, none of them cook, so I get to cook for them tonight!! (Update: I baked a chicken/onion/carrots with rice…delicious!!) Also, I’ve made some killer pastas the past few meals!
Anyway, going back to my original visit to Porvenir…I left Porvenir on my way to Ushuaia, but along the way, I did a small detour to see some King Penguins (too far away to see well with my camera but they have red on their beak and neck and are really tall compared to the Galagapos penguins that I swam with… and then I continued hitchhiking to a lake that I heard was really pretty on the edge of Chile and Argentina (southeast of Porvenir about 4 hours by car) – it wasn’t – and I met another cool cop named Victor at the outpost there. He offered us free coffee, free snacky food (he wasn’t supposed to lol), mentioned the church was open to camp inside of (instead of camping with the wind and rain outside), and just generally was a really nice guy. We talked about his job, his pay, his life as a cop, and I loved this guy. Totally would want to be his friend!
(Later, I would send him a postcard saying that he was so cool and really generous and it meant a lot to me. I also mailed one to my friends in Porvenir, and hopefully they’ll get my postcards during my stay here lol.)
At the border of Chile and Argentina where there are about 4 cars PER DAY, I waited roughly 30 minutes before getting a ride (lucky me!!) to Ushuaia with, you guessed it, a funny and generous and beautiful Chilean couple! I’m just in love with Chileans, as you can tell. Again, no English, but no worries. My Spanish is sufficient. Late in the night, after we walked around Ushuaia to get info on hostels, we bid our farewells (bye Lorenzo and Gabriela!) and I found another cool Israeli named Dor to go hiking with. His English was the best I have experienced since I had done the W trek and he’s not a native speaker! He basically was that good though. He relied on me for Spanish though lol, so at least I could be useful.
I did 3 things in Ushuaia: Passage of the Sheep (3 days, 2 nights), Laguna Esmeralda (day trip), and Parque Nacional Tierra del Fuego (5 days, 4 nights). Dor rented a (shitty) tent for $15/day and we did the Passage of the Sheep together. It was freezing cold with sleet on the night of day 2 (and it rained all day of day 2), and it was the most miserable, most memorable, trip I’ve done so far. Nothing like ringing water out your socks 4 times a day for 3 days straight, having hypothermia so bad I couldn’t even set up my tent by myself because my fingers wouldn’t cooperate at all (thank God he was there to help me), and having someone else to join me in my hatred of peat bogs (looks like red moss, or red clay from a distance, that has nice give to it, so it’s soft to walk on, but your feet sink down into the water beneath the surface and get soaking wet). Not real hate, obviously, but like feelings of disappointment and frustration combined. Needless to say, Dor and I both got to experience the abject misery of being snowed on after being pelted by rain and high winds in the summer of Tierra del Fuego! Marvelous experience!
Laguna Esmeralda was beautiful, and Dor and I hung out with a guy from Buenos Aires (new friend!) and a Spain girl whose English is amazing (lucky Dor that we all spoke English haha). I stay in contact with all of them still! Hopefully we can meet up again at various points in our journey.
The national park of Tierra del Fuego was amazing. It was even better than the Passage of the Sheep to me, being as good as Laguna Esmeralda for every day I was there. (I had heard the national park sucked but don’t believe the lies! It’s gorgeous!!) Truly, pictures don’t do it justice. Guess you’ll just have to come down and visit it for yourself! Technically, I was supposed to buy another ticket to extend my stay past 3 days-2 nights, but I didn’t – I did get caught by a park ranger who came by but who was cool about it. (I recommend speaking Spanish if you do this trick.) I did get a little sick drinking the water from the lake (should have boiled it), but besides a small headache and a little stomachache, I was fine – and it was a funny story for the workers who then gave me hot water in my 1L cup every time I came by.
Also, because I spent so much time there (most people who visit are retired and hence do day-trips), I was able to do every single trail in the entire park. I could have done it in 4 days if I was faster, but we all know that I hike pretty slow…just enjoying myself and the oreos that I brought with me! Every day!! Every day I eat a sleeve of oreos!! OMG I have truly underrated who delicious oreos are.
So that was my trip so far for the past 2 weeks! Amazing how fast time flies.
As you know, I am headed back north after my time in Ushuaia (to retrace my steps basically, but skipping Torres del Paine because I already did that) to go to Argentina (the borders are so close to each other that, as I said, you often cross them) and do the big glacier at El Calafate (seeing huge parts of the glacier fall off and crash into the lake) as well as a lot of hikes at El Chalten (spend 8 days there?) before I start hitchhiking/walking/camping the parks along the Carretera Austral (yay for entering Chile!). It’s a very famous area for hitchhikers because if you have a car, good for you and help a brother out. If you don’t, there are no buses, so you hitchhike. And on the Chile side, which is where the Carretera Austral is, it’s just full of national parks. One lady I know spent 4 months doing it, which honestly seems ridiculous to me, so I’ll probably just do 2-3 weeks.
Actually, I’m wrong. I just signed up for two volunteering opportunities along this Austral Highway (as they translate it), one at a brewery (way cool) and another with a farm with animals and such. All food, and beer at the brewery, is included in your stay, and you work 20-25 hours a week. Usually it’s 5 days a week, 4-5 hours a day, and I get to practice my Spanish! Yay! But once I get to the northern edge, the border of Patagonia and the Lake region, I will stop in Puerto Montt, which is the “large” city there, and do some more “volunteering”! I know it’s confusing to say volunteering since I’m not like helping kids or anything useful. It’s more like an exchange of 4-5 hours of labor a day for free room and board. But it’s one way to travel super cheaply – and I use the websites helpx.net and workaway.info. I hope to do volunteering everywhere else I go because I have very little money left. So sad! But exciting nonetheless.
Because I actually need to save money, I’m going to have a different mindset than before like I did in Colombia. Now, I actually need to find places to stay and will have lower standards regarding the opportunities that present themselves. Ideally, of course, I hope to learn new skills: ranches, wineries, breweries, farms, construction work, carpentry – but because living is so expensive (housing is triple Colombia at about $20/night… for dorm beds…and food is easily double Colombia, sometimes triple like here in Patagonia where everything is imported). Thus, I need to get those included in my volunteer exchange. 🙂 But when you can stay at a place and just slow down, it’s really nice.