Archive | November, 2009

A Little Bit Chile

23 Nov

I love the Chilenos! From the moment I arrived I felt rejuvenated by their friendly banter. After three weeks of intense weather and moody Argentinians I was feeling slightly worn down, so much so that I felt so invigorated I decided it would be a great idea to pitch a tent halfway up a mountain, or Torres del Paine to be more exact, which is actually three huge towers of frozen magma and not really a mountain at all. I had already seen the towers in the day but wanted to see them in their glowering best at sunrise. This part of the plan failed spectacularly.

The night was so cold all I could do was retreat further and further into the depths of my sleeping bag. At 900m the night was always going to be pretty cool, but I just wasn’t prepared for the burst of rain that soaked the ground just before going to the bed and the snow that then fell for the duration of the night, ensuring the earth would be as low a temperature as could possibly be imagined. I had to turn over every couple of hours as the half of my body closest to the ground began to freeze and needed a respite.

So instead of heading out into the dark snowiness I waited for the sun to come and warm up the surroundings, and then headed off in search of a nice lake or something to sit by. By the time I found it I was roasting. Any memory of the cold was being completely lost to blazing sunshine and clear blue skies in what has to be one of the most incredible days I’ve experienced in Patagonia. I think summer is finally here!

Chalk this one up (Couchsurfing gone wrong)

16 Nov

Well I guess it was bound to happen sometime. I fell out with a couchsurfer. In fact, he kicked me out! A little bit drastic if you ask me but he was a military man, a man of discipline, and he wasn’t taking no prisoners.

I think he had it in for me from the start, asking me if I knew what happened in 1982 and how he’d worked for the Navy at that time, and how since then he’s had something of a special relationship with the English. I don’t know if that’s ever the way you should start the conversation. He kept referring to me as just a kid and how it’s crazy that kids can just go on holiday for a year willy-nilly, without ever really asking me if I was just on vacations or how old I am or anything, so I wasn’t too surprised when he asked me to leave.

I had decided to climb to the top of the nearby glacier. A 5km walk to the top of the hill followed by a 1000km vertical ascent. In my canvas shoes with holes in the soles it wasn’t the best decision I’ve ever made, especially since it had been snowing for the past 12 days. About halfway up I realised I had a plastic bag in my backpack and so could stop at least one of my feet from freezing to death, the other unfortunately was going to have to suffer. I didn’t make it to the top, probably about 100m off. The snow was getting too deep and I was started to slip more than ever so decided to call it quits before the summit. Nice walk though.

As soon as I stepped off the snow and onto land a Frenchman drove past and offered me a lift, straight to the door of my couchsurfer. Luis was sleeping so I quickly popped upstairs, grabbed my laptop and headed out again. I wanted to try and make a couple of phone calls to England before night-time across the atlantic seeped in a little too much. As it was, all the cafes in town have useless WiFi that I couldn’t use so spent around an hour or so jumping from one to another before I finally found a connection in a pub on the main road. It was too late to make any calls now but I had quite a lot of work. After a couple of hours of work, with a hamburger break in the middle I headed back to the house. It must have been about 1am before I got back to see Luis sitting in his armchair through the window. He wasn’t happy. He told me to go to sleep and we would discuss it in the morning. In the morning he woke me up by saying “can you please pack your bags and I will take you into the town center?” And that was it. If you ask me he should have just gone to bed instead of waiting up and getting angry, but hey I think maybe he wanted to make a point of something.

It has been a lot harder to find couchsurfers in Patagonia, and this has meant me asking some people I wouldn’t normally, Luis being one of them. I guess it’s just not possible to get on with everyone!

Another sleepless night (getting used to the siesta)

13 Nov

Whoever decided that 10.30pm was a good time to eat dinner? Going to sleep afterwards is like sleeping with half a lamb inside you, which it invariably is. By the time the meat sweats die down it’s already 2pm, which is probably why they have to have a siesta. Too much post-watershed gluttony leading to heightened restlessness between the sheets, meaning the odd eye willing itself to shut around lunchtime the next day is always going to be a possibility. They certainly can’t use the excuse of having a siesta because it’s too hot, because here in Patagonia if anything the afternoon is the coldest time. This is normally when 10 minutes of rain will be followed by 10 minutes of snow, then 10 minutes of sun before the clouds come across and all the different weather types decide ‘hey, we can’t compete with the wind, so let’s just give up!’

The days of sitting in front of Neighbours at 5.35pm with my jacket potato and beans seems a mile away. Even preparing dinner at 7.30 gets the odd furtive glance and question of whether I’m making a snack or actually making dinner. They don’t seem to realise that I need to eat before I go out. I can’t do the fancy Argentinean method of going out for one beer (maybe two if I’m feeling out of sorts) then be back at home for 10.30 to eat my supper. If I’m going to drink it needs to be 4 or 5 at a bare minimum, and I need something in my stomach beforehand to stop myself from going a bit gah-gah and upsetting all the local ladies.

For now, I’m piloting a new scheme, called bag of crisps, at 7pm each day, kind of a reminder of what used to be lunchtime but now is a laughable halfway-home between ‘hours before i last ate’ and ‘hours before I eat again’. Oh, and maybe a peppermint tea before bedtime, gotta be sensible when everything else is so fucking ridiculous!

Well thanks, but I'm okay actually (the joys of hitch-hiking)

10 Nov

There is a worrying trend emerging in Argentina.

After sticking my thumb in the air for about 5 seconds in Comodoro Rivadavia I had managed to catch a lift, and it was going exactly where I wanted, to Caleta Olivia. About 45 minutes followed in which the driver, an unbelievably camp man who seemed to get excited about every single word that left his mouth, asked me question after question of such ridiculousness that I didn’t realise I was being questioned. “Are there many fires in California?” was perhaps my favourite. For a few minutes I thought he was telling me they have a lot of fires in California, but no, he was asking me! I nodded, I guess so, not something I really know too much about. In between those questions lay a gluttony of enquiries about girlfriends, family and living arrangements. Eventually it was revealed that he had left home at 18 after he told his family he was gay, mainly just to avoid the aggravation.

It was at this point that he told me I was beautiful and had a great face. I thanked him and started talking about sea lions. He doesn’t care about sea lions, he wanted to invite me to his house. It was a bit out of the way so I declined. Silence prospered for a short while until he said: ‘This is Caleta’. At which point I asked him to stop the car and I got out. He invited me again and told me that if I had no luck hitching I could always give him a call. I told him I would bear that in mind.

But the worrying thing about all of this is that now, with the gay hairdresser and the portero in Buenos Aires, it does seem like I am getting far better offers from the men in Argentina rather than the women. In fact, I am beginning to believe the women find me repugnant. It could be because of the beard, but as the weather keeps getting colder and colder the more south I go I am cherishing it more and more. It’s one of my few defences against the whipping gales that keep pounding me wherever I go.

It's a hard road, but someone's gotta walk it! (Punta Lomo and Punta Tombo)

7 Nov

Cripes, it’s been some hectic days since the last update. It feels like a lot has happened. I spent one more day with Federico, Virginia and the family, enjoying their amazing food and never-ending thirst for beer. The last of these surely down to the fact that there isn’t all that much to do in Choel. I then hitch-hiked to Puerto Madryn, although it should be said that this was less of a hitch-hike and more Virginia seeing a truck on the road, knowing that I was interested in hitch-hiking, then going and begging the guy to give me a lift (as it was he was a friend of Virginia’s dad so all ended swimmingly). The only downside was that trucks take absolutely forever to reach their destination, and sometimes contain a Chilean with no teeth insistent on asking you questions (not once did I not ask for a repetition!) and that they stop on the outskirts of town, not nice and tidily in the center. So then I had to hitchhike for real, for the 13km to Puerto Madryn were by far too much by foot. With this success I reached the town center, gave Azul (couchsurfer) a call and got my head down for the night.

Sitting in an over-heating truck for 8 hours had obviously taken its toll as I didn’t wake far past 11am. I decided my best bet (taking into accounts costs) was to head to the sea colony. On my way to rent a bike the wind picked up and the rain started. The owner of the bike looked at me a bit sceptically and forsook a hard day but I was feeling resilient after my sleep. 16km later, and after being almost blown off the bike twice I reached, Punta Loma, glorious home of a beautiful sea lion colony.

I was quite aware that on the way to the colony the wind had been behind me, and that I was in more danger of being blown off the road rather than stopped in my tracks, and that quite possibly the way back could be treacherous. This proved to be exactly the way it happened, as the wind had also managed to pick itself up from a deathly gush to a completely galling gail from hell. Some of the way I had to walk head faced down trying to drag my bike behind me as the sand and rocks smashed into my scalp. Halfway back, an old man in a truck took pity on me and without even speaking a word threw my bike in the back of his truck. I followed the bike and after a wordless 15 minute drive returned to the relative comfort of Azul’s flat.

Battered and bruised (the bike’s seat I believe was made from concrete) I went out with Azul in town for a beer before we headed home and to sleep. In the morning my plan was to hitch to Trelew. This meant the 13km to the main route once more before then getting another truck to the city. As I left the house the heaven’s opened, and saddle-sore I limped to the bus station to find out how much it was to Trelew. 18 pesos and 1 hour was an absolute steal and I couldn’t believe I hadn’t thought of this before so I got in.

There is very little to do in Trelew, it’s more a hub for excursions, so I rested my sore behind for the day and prepared for another. The idea was to go to Punta Tomba, a colony of penguins about 100km away. Thankfully I managed to meet some people interested in renting a car, and off we went.

Quite easily one of the most amazing places I have ever been, I can’t believe they let you just walk around the penguins home, the little fellas just plodding along, ducking and diving, but mainly flopping and wobbling, quite content to have tonnes of people waking them up, staring at them, taking pictures. To be able to get so close is remarkable, I think only possible because they are such a passive creature. It’s no wonder some of the great explorers captured thousands of these little fellas, salted them up, and stuck them in the cargo. I felt like picking one up and putting it in my pocket.

After that we went to Rawson, where a drunk Argentinean, forever wiping oil from his hands and onto a cloth and then back onto his hands again, told us there were Elephant Seals about. All a figment of his imagination. The beach though, Playa Union, is definately worth a look. Beautifully tranquil and capable of 40 degrees in the height of summer.

And now I find myself in the hostel in Trelew for the last time. Rather than spend another night here I decided to book a bus, for pretty much the same price, and head south. I’m not really sure about the next part of the plan, but I really hope it involves more penguins!


1 Nov

How did this happen? How did I manage to get an all expenses paid trip to Buenos Aires for the weekend? I really have no idea, but feel quite like a responsible gent, with you know, all that responsibility of that, of having had meals paid for and accommodation for free, which means that eventually I will have to give something in return.

As soon as the idea was mooted, let´s meet in Buenos Aires I knew there was going to be some joy in it. I was told I would have my journey to BA paid for and my accommodation. Meals weren´t mentioned but they were easily part of the deal. I even had dessert on one occasion, my first dessert since I don´t know what, it had been a long time.

Now I am heading south to explore Patagonia. I have arrived at a couchsurfer´s in a little town called Choele Choel. Yesterday I was in Bahia Blanca where I had to stay in a hotel because the only hostel was full and then ended up going out for every meal (partly because I had no kitchen and partly because I was so tired for my journey that my body was constantly crying out for nourishment) and spending far too much money. The next day, after being secure of having a place to stay in Choele Choel I decided not to eat anything til I get there. Some kind of method of balancing the books. Despite feeling a bit faint on the bus all was good and worked out better than could have been imagined. My hosts drove me around the town to see the sights (really just a bunch of fields and a river, but enjoyable nonetheless) before planting a plate of sweets in front of me, filling up the matte, washing all my clothes, cracking open a few beers, a decent bottle of wine from Patagonia and finally home-made Milanesas. Things really couldn´t be any better!