Over the next few months, I'll give you dozens of reasons why South America is fucking great, but none of them will be the cost of living in Patagonia. In places like Ushuaia, it's no surprise that people are held to ransom – it's not like there's an alternative. But it's disappointing when the cost of things like a simple bus ride spins out of control. Take Ruta 40 for example, the world's longest highway. It costs the best part of a hundred quid to bump along a boring road for 24 hours, with a night in a dusty nowhere town in the middle. In every other part of the country, long-distance buses are surprisingly comfy, with movies, hot scran - steak, no less - and pleasant air-conditioning. For Ruta 40, they use their old, knackered buses, including none of the above. The fucking road isn't even paved.On the plus side, we now get to wear the chocolate medal that says we have ridden along the longest highway in the world – or at least part of it. And though the bus journey itself was tedious and travelled through some of the most sterile countryside we've yet seen on the continent, some of the stops along the way were OK.
Maybe better than OK.
Ironically, there's something about how obviously manufactured Calafate is that I don't like. There's a faux-Wild West feel to it, all wooden shop-façades and “authentic” handicrafts from “indigenous” peoples, none of which is genuine. I say that's ironic because the reason Calafate has risen to prominence is absolutely not man-made. Enough of my prattle - watch this.
If anything, though, the three-mile wide, 19-mile long, Perito Moreno Glacier is a work in progress. One of the world's last advancing glaciers, it's enormity – like some of the sights in Antarctica – was quite hard to capture in a camera lens. Still, between my shoddy video and Wee Mo's reliably excellent photography, I think we did a decent job.
But trying to take pictures of the beast as it cracks and smashes is like playing catch with an invisible ball. By the time the noise – and what a noise! – of a rupture reached our stupid human ears, the ice had already fallen. Curse stupid, slow sound. Despite being hindered by physics, we spent six hours on Christmas Eve staring at the glacier, trying to capture what we could of its awesome force.
In the Chilean part of Patagonia, the town of Puerto Natales is famous because of its proximity to the stunning Torres Del Paine National Park. This, to us, is false advertising – the bastard is almost two hours drive away.
So on arriving to El Chalten, which also purports to be close to a national park, we were a little worried that the situation would repeat itself.
It felt good to be wrong: Chalten is actually in the park, and its best treks were only a couple of minutes walk away from our shit hostel.
We spent our first day getting battered by the strongest winds I can ever remember experiencing. Walking anywhere was difficult – walking uphill sometimes felt impossible – but it was a helluva lot of fun too. The afternoon whipped past, watching clouds speed across vast plains and literally having the spit blown out of our mouths.
It was all just a warm-up for the following day's nine-hour Los Tres hike, a trek to the very feet of the impossibly Mordorian Fitz Roy range. We've been lucky to see many of the world's most famous mountains – Wee Mo has seen considerably more than me – but nothing has ever looked so dramatic as these. If you asked an excitable three-year-old to draw mountains, they might look a bit like the Fitz Roy range.
|Photo: Wee Mo|
|Photo: Wee Mo|
OK, so not everywhere was spectacular. We stopped in this dusty little town overnight to break up the journey through the non-paved section of the road north. It was shit.
San Carlos de Bariloche
Neither of us much liked Bariloche on arrival. The most tourist-driven town in the Argentinian Lake District, it was also the most populated place we'd been since leaving Buenos Aires almost a month before. Coming back to all those folk, and the colossal, rank tip unfortunately placed on the edge of town, left us feeling quite uneasy.
Still, this is where we were to spend New Year, so folk would almost certainly be a good thing. Before that, though, we decided to get outdoors again. Our current lifestyle means that its beneficial to be reasonably fit. Alas we are not – although we do have a degree of bloodymindedness and not a great deal else to do, so we found ourselves embarking on another extreme physical challenge.
In Bariloche, that took the form of mountain-biking, over and around the feet of Actual Mountains. However, because of our masochistic love of photography (there's a phrase you have to proof-read) before we started our 27km bike ride, we scambled up a virtually vertical hike for a couple of hours.
The 360 degree view from the top was undeniably excellent, and some of the macro-shots we got were pretty dainty, but the price for seeing it was being drunk on fatigue and powering through our water supply before our feet even touched a pedal.
Trek or no, the cycling was a virtual impossibility. The bikes had a few dozen gears to choose from, but, in truth, we almost walked as much as we cycled. A hot day, questionable stamina, dwindling water and some demonic horse flies, meant that we also spent about as much time loathing the trip as we did enjoying it.
But we only had to stop and look around in the glorious sunshine to see how sickeningly beautiful it all was.
Fate led us to take a break next to a Swiss guy who was cycling the same demented route as us. "This looks a bit like Switzerland, though, right?" I panted.
"Well, a little," he said, "but we don't have this many lakes."
|Photo: Wee Mo|