In an interview about the Oscar nomination for her role in Titanic, the 86 years old Gloria Stuart said – “When I graduated from Santa Monica High in 1927, I was voted as the girl most likely to succeed. I didn’t realize it would take so long”.
During the mountain climbing years in my youth, I read a lot about the iconic climbing places Cerro Torre and Fitz Roy. Back then, no one ever told me that I’m going to see them. To be honest, I didn’t ever dream about it. As we use to joke, during these times in communist Bulgaria, we had a better chance to go to the moon than to see Niagara Falls or South America.
It is too late for me to climb these magnificent mountains, but I’m more than grateful I had the chance to see them and touch them. On top of everything, I didn’t even have to wait until I’m 86 years old.
One must be a poet to describe the beauty of Fitz Roy
and Cerro Torre.
Since I’m definitely not, I’ll leave it to the pictures.
One of the biggest surprises for me in this part of the world was to hear someone speaking Bulgarian. On the trek, to Fitz Roy, we met two amazing young guys from Bulgaria exploring Patagonia. We spent a couple of nights together, drinking wine and talking.
Milko and Toshko, thanks for the great time we had together!
Perito Moreno is the most famous glacier in the Southern Patagonia Ice field.
It’s one of the very few glaciers in the world which grow rather than retreat. The area covered by the glacier is 250 square kilometres, with a maximum depth of 700 meters in some places. With a face of 5 kilometres wide, 70 meters in height and 170 meters depth below the lake surface, the glacier looks impressive.
We stayed for hours staring at it like hypnotized, listening to the loud cracking sounds coming from somewhere deep into it and watching small ice pieces calving from the face and splashing into the water. All this serenity finished abruptly when a piece of ice a size of a 25-story building slowly separated from the glacier face and crushed into small pieces just in front of us.
In recent years Patagonia has become a very popular tourist destination. Like everywhere else, mass tourism and the industry around it do not always look pretty. The small Argentinian village of El Chalten, the starting point for accessing Fitz Roy and Cerro Torre, has literally exploded in the last 10 years.
Almost all the buildings in the village have turned into hostels, cabanas, huts, restaurants, mini-markets or anything else that could serve the hordes of foreign tourists. Some people have converted shipping containers into some sort of rooms, placed them next to their houses and are renting them out. Others, not so inventive, simply have opened camping lots in their tiny backyards. The prices of the accommodations are insane, you can find a cheaper place to sleep in Manhattan than in El Chalten during the high season.
There is one ATM in the village, but there is no money in it. One morning they reloaded the ATM, but by 11 am it was already empty. There are two grocery stores and one of them accepts credit cards. The only choice for the gringos who couldn’t get any cash from the ATM is to shop there. As a result, the store looked like hit by a hurricane and there was almost nothing left to buy. For my Bulgarian friends, the shelves looked like a grocery store during the “Lukanov winter”. The other store was well stocked, but not too many people had cash to shop there.
After a few days we also run out of cash. With our last coins, we put enough gas in the tank to reach the next city, bid goodbye to the beautiful mountains and drove away.
Torres del Paine
Reading our posts, you may get the impression that everything in our travel is magnificent. To make things more realistic, I want to share some bad experiences, as well.
Torres del Paine is an incredibly beautiful mountain in Chilean Patagonia, but the National Park administration and tourist businesses in the region have made their best to make it a terrible experience.
The Chileans in the Torres del Paine area are extremely inventive and sophisticated in finding ways to milk foreign tourists. To start with, almost everything there (accommodation, park entrance fees, transportation) is at different prices for locals and foreigners. The “gringo prices” are 3 to 5 times higher, making the place ridiculously expensive by any standard. In the Argentinian Patagonia, the entrance is free and there are free campsites in the park. No such loopholes in Chile.
To trek across the entire mountain, you need to spend 3 nights in the park at places owned by 3 different private companies. To be even allowed to start the trek, you must make your sleeping arrangements for the 3 places in advance. The companies owning these sites have very limited camping spaces where you can put your tent at a relatively reasonable price (5 times more expensive than any US or Canadian camping). All these campsites are booked for 2 months ahead, so instead, you are offered a dormitory bed at the special gringo price of US $150 per night per person.
Thanks, we will pass. My project manager would never approve of such expenses. We will do a day trek instead.
At the park entrance, we had the following exchange.
– Sir, you are not allowed to use your camping stove in the parking lot.
– I’m not cooking, I just want to boil water for tea.
– You can buy tea in the cafeteria on the other side.
– Thank you, this will work.
A few minutes later in the cafeteria
– A cup of tea, please.
– There you go. May I have it in a large cup instead of this coffee cup, please?
– No, we have only one size of tea.
– May I get a bit more hot water for my $5 tea bag, please?
– No sir, you can buy another tea if you like.
End of conversation.
We ended up with one day trek in Torres del Paine. The mountain was magnificent, but the overall experience left a bad taste in my mouth.
My advice to every foreigner is to stay away from Torres del Paine. It’s one of the most successful tourist traps I’ve ever seen. All this greed deserves to be boycotted.