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Sube Sube Stephen Hey all, hoping that you'll follow my journey along the way and that we'll be able to stay in touch as much as possible. Hopefully some of you will join me along the way!

El Calafate and Ushuaia

ARGENTINA | Saturday, 31 March 2018 | Views [186]

Now I know that all readers are on the edge of their seats after the cliffhanger ending to my last post, but the story goes chronologically so hold tight. The four of us arrived in El Calafate late morning ready to rent a car and drive the hour to see the Perito Moreno Glacier, a staggering 250 square kilometers in size. The town itself is a complete tourist town with endless shops, restaurants and bars commanding prices some steep prices, but when one of the most sought after sights in the region is within a short distance, it is what it is.

After stopping at the store to get fixings for sandwiches of dreams (editor’s note: coined by Norma in which adding avocado to any sandwich transforms it into a sandwich of dreams), we drove the hour plus to the glacier via the hot tip route Norma learned about from a fellow Irishman. Turns out the way had no traffic because it was a gravel road for most of the way. The people need to know that Tommy is a pro when it comes to driving a manual transmission car in all conditions and in all fairness, the scenery and lack of traffic was awesome.

At first glance, the sight of Perito Moreno inspires pure awe. The sheer size of the thing is almost unfathomable. From the highest platform, it stretches to the outer reaches of the horizon with no end in sight with heights ranging from 40 to 70 meters as the towering, jagged pieces of ice reach towards the sky at intimidating angles. I know what you’re thinking, and yes, it is definitely The Wall from Game of Thrones. No doubt about it...also, have I not mentioned the colors yet? I think it’s pretty clear by now how fascinated I am by the all variations of the color blue I’ve seen during my trip. I think this glacier took it to a whole new level. The colors of the glacier range from deep blue within holes in the ice to the beautiful highlighter blue to the classic white. And as pieces break off from the glacier and melt, the lake on both sides was also incredibly blue.

Speaking of the process of chunks breaking off the glacier and falling into the lake (known as calving), this is definitely the highlight of the visit. As the ice melts and cracks, large pieces break off and fall into the water below creating thunderous sounds and large waves, respectively. In hopes of seeing this ourselves, we found a sunny spot on a bench and enjoyed our sammies with attention focused on the glacier and the intermittent cracking sounds. Within five minutes a large sheet of the ice on the face of the glacier came crashing down, enveloping the area with thunder and a splash followed by cheers. There were also people on a boat in the lake who got an up close view of the calving. Woah!!

The rest of Friday was for relaxation, empanadas and gin and tonics. Oh, how do those Brits love a good G&T! Now, onto the second main event of our time in El Calafate. So remember how finding available rooms was so difficult for Saturday night? It’s because every summer there is a summer concert series every weekend in El Calafate and we had incredibly good luck to be there when two internationally famous reggaeton bands/artists were performing: CNCO and Luis Fonsi. CNCO is a boy band and I don’t think I need to tell you who Fonsi is. Despacito crushed all kinds of records over the past year and while weren’t going to see Daddy Yankee in concert with him, we jumped all over getting tickets for Saturday night.

Quick side note: given that finding a place for that night was such a pain, I chose to take a 3 am bus to Ushuaia that same night, the city at the end of the Earth. I figured what the hell, I’ll be drunk and just sleep the whole time. Eh, it was an ok decision on my part…

The pre, during and post concert night was unbelievably fun. More people we had met in El Chalten arrived in town that day and after a couple hours of pregaming, we got another drink or two at a nearby bar and headed in. While I don’t think anyone knew any other songs than “Echa me la Culpa” and “Despacito”, I could not have had a better time. It was a bunch of drunk gringos dancing and trying to sing in Spanish and of course, it was all horribly off key. I apologize to those of you who witnessed all my greatness on Snapchat!

Concert over, back to the bar because you know, one or three more won’t hurt! At 2:00 I begrudgingly...and drunkenly said my goodbyes complete with hugs and kisses and headed to the bus. In retrospect, I definitely should have stayed another night, though I probably didn’t have as bad of a hangover in the end.

A somewhat miserable 18 hours later, which includes entering and leaving Chile I arrived in Tierra del Fuego and Ushuaia: el fin del mundo. I had a day before Norma and Eleanor were arriving. Sadly our boy Tommy went his own way into Chile. Hoping to cross paths with him again in Peru, Ecuador or Colombia. Beyond just being really far south, Ushuaia is probably best known for being the jumping off point for cruises to Antarctica. At one point earlier in Argentina I had a pipedream of buying a last minute ticket to do that; however, these tickets are at least five grand for a ten-day trip. Yeah, not so much…

Of the three or four days I spent in Ushuaia the highlights were a four hour boat tour of the Beagle Channel and a great hike in Tierra del Fuego National Park. On the boat tour we saw an old lighthouse and an abundance of wildlife: sea lions, penguins and an expected visit from a whale! The highlight is of course the penguin island. The three of us wanted the best view so we sat down on the deck and hunkered together in the relative cold for the ride to the island playing some boggle type game on Norma’s phone. Wooh, really expanded my vocabulary!

On the approach to the island we could see the little guys frolicking around on the beach and in the water. This island had two types: the small black and white Magellanic Penguin and the slightly larger Gentoo Penguin, which has orange feet and beak. They were incredibly cute, waddling and scurrying around on the beach and swimming along the shore. The funniest thing by far was when a woman leaned completely on top of Eleanor to take pictures. Eleanor was slightly hunched down to get a better view and this woman took complete advantage. If you know my occasional obnoxiously loud, cackle laugh, it was out in full force! So god damn funny.

Our last day in Ushuaia and Argentina (woah seven weeks flew by!) was earmarked for an amazing hike in the aforementioned Tierra del Fuego National Park. There was also another wrinkle thrown in however. Since it was our last day, we needed to strategically budget our remaining pesos so we didn’t have to take out more money. This meant our first attempt at hitchhiking. We didn’t know where the best spot would be to be picked up so we just guessed that the gas station opposite the bus station made sense. Right? We were incredibly lucky and almost immediately we were picked up a local guy in his sixties who drove us to the road leading to the park. Okay, halfway there. After walking towards the park for ten minutes, we got picked up by a Brazilian couple who took us to the point where we could start the hike. Spirits high and $15 saved, we were on the top of the world figuratively. The literal part would come hours later.

Among the four trails in the park, we chose the Guanaco Trail, the shortest but by far toughest in the park. Roundtrip it’s only 10 kilometers, about half of the treks we did in El Chalten just a week before; however, the steepness and differing terrain was something not for the faint of heart. The first two kilometers are in forest where you have to take the big, stair like steps with the assistance of tree roots. After that there is a clearing, which is a bog. I was really surprised to learn that the national park is characterized as a sub-antarctic forest. It was way wetter than I would have ever expected. The ground was mushy and sloppy, leading to the last and most difficult portion of the climb: climbing the steep cliffside of the peak and slick shale.

Once at the summit, the view was as beautiful as any I had yet seen. The 360 view included the Beagle Channel expanding east to the sea. Across the channel we could see the remote wilderness of Chile. We could also see amazingly beautiful green and blue lakes within the park along with the forest. The combination of the channel, the park and the mountains remains one of my favorite views throughout the trip and I’m writing this seven weeks later. Since we were riding so high, we easily hitchhiked our way back. I went solo with a super sweet Argentinian family. Got to learn about them in Spanish and their eight year old son got to practice a little English with me. The next day we took a 5:00 A.M. bus to Chile to start the equally amazing W Trek in the Torres del Paine National Park and since I didn’t have any camp sites reserved, we had to get a little inventive.

Argentina, you were very good to me. Big, beautiful cities and unfathomable nature of all kinds: waterfalls, desert, mountains, lakes, glaciers. And most importantly of all, great people and new friends I will continue to stay in touch with and hopefully see for many years to come. Muchisimas gracias!!

Tags: boating, concerts, hiking

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