Patagonia : The land of ice, wind and beauty

Ivan:

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 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 with Marinela, 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 to 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

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

and Cerro Torre.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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 couple of nights together, drinking wine and talking (especially Marinela).

Milko and Toshko, thanks for the great time we had together!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

 

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 kilometers, with maximum depth of 700 meters in some places. With face 5 kilometers wide, 70 meters height and 170 meters depth below the lake surface, the glacier looks impressive.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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 with size of a 25-story building slowly separated from the glacier face and crushed into small pieces just in front of us.

In the recent years Patagonia has become a very popular tourist destination. Like everywhere else, the mass tourism and the industry around it not always look pretty. The small Argentinian village of El Chalten, 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 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 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

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Reading our posts, you may get the impression that everything in our travel is magnificent. To make the 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.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The Chileans in Torres del Paine area are extremely inventive and sophisticated in finding ways to milk the foreign tourist. To start with, almost everything there (accommodation, park entrance fees, transportation) is with different price 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 owing these sites have very limited camping spaces where you can put your tent at 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 such expense. 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 a tea.

– You can buy a tea in the cafeteria on the other side.

– Thank you, this will work.

Few minutes later in the cafeteria

– A cup of tea please.

– $5

– There you go. May I have it in a large cup instead of this coffee cup, please.

– No, we have only one size 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.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s