Iguazú Falls

Having been to Patagonia, Tierra del Fuego, and Buenos Aires, the main Argentine attraction left was Iguazú Falls. Supposedly one of the most spectacular sights in the world, I figured it was a fitting end to my Argentine travels. Though I have to admit I’m ready as hell to get out of this dysfunctional, overpriced wasteland of conspiracy theorists. I think I’ve been here way too long and am getting jaded. 

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Iguazú Falls in the far northeastern part of Argentina.

As seems to be a common theme on my trip, my intended destination wasn’t the easiest place to reach. Located where Brazil, Paraguay, and Argentina all converge, the gateway town of Puerto Iguazú is a 19 hour bus ride from Buenos Aires.

A very confused looking woman at the Devil’s Throat part of the falls.

The falls can be viewed from the Argentine or Brazilian side, though I’ve been hearing over and over that the Argentine side is more impressive. Maybe that’s just because of my selective hearing and the fact that Brazil makes Americans, Canadians, Australians, and Kiwis get a visa. Either way, I didn’t think it was worth the $210 to get a Brazilian visa just to visit the falls (it’s $50 cheaper if you get it in the US). I’ll do Brazil on another trip.

There are dozens of buses per day leaving from Buenos Aires’s Retiro terminal for Puerto Iguazú, and the journey in cama ejecutiva class (very comfy seats that recline about 160 degrees) cost me approximately $112. I misread the departure time on my ticket and had to rush down to the terminal to catch it, in the process losing and having to replace my admittedly inexpensive metro pass.

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View from my seat on the bus to Puerto Iguazú. In cama ejecutiva seats there are three seats per row, compared to four per row in semi cama. The seats are rather comfortable in both classes, and comfort can be quite variable from company to company. I went with Vía Bariloche, which I had positive experiences with in the Lakes District of southern Chile.

The Retiro terminal is a gargantuan labyrinth of ticket booths, food stalls, and departure platforms. Ticket sales and departure platforms are all grouped by region. Going to the northeast to Iguazú? Better not make my mistake and try to get your ticket printed out in the Patagonia section of the terminal.

Despite my panicked worrying that I was going to miss my bus, I arrived at the platform to find that it had been delayed an hour. As I heard in Spain all the time, es lo que hay (it is what it is).

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The Buenos Aires Retiro bus terminal is 400 meters (a quarter mile) long.

Long distance bus journeys in South America are quite comfortable, especially if you travel with a reputable company. This isn’t as important in Argentina and Chile, where buses go off cliffs with lesser frequency than in Bolivia or Peru, but comfort of seats can vary greatly from company to company.

Upon arrival in Puerto Iguazú, I heard mutterings from the coach attendant about a bus driver strike. My hostel was only a 4 minute walk from the terminal, with prices a fraction of what they are in high season, and I discovered at reception that the strike meant no buses to the falls today. It was a stunningly beautiful and cloudless day, quite atypical for such a high rainfall jungle climate.

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My favorite hostel resident.

“Wait, you speak Spanish. Want to help us find and split a taxi?” asked a pair of Arctic Norwegian women at my hostel that I’d met on the ride from Buenos Aires. The receptionist at the hostel told us 400 pesos ($26) one way would be ideal, but some dude on the street named Pedro offered to take us for 550 pesos ($36) round trip.

Pedro turned out to be a great deal. He claimed to be a taxi driver, even though his car didn’t have taxi written on it anywhere, but he delivered us to the falls at the agreed upon price. He didn’t speak English, so I sat in front and we chatted.

“It’s so good those women have a man traveling with them,” he told me, which I declined to translate for the Norwegians in the hopes of averting an international conflict. Having spent ten weeks in the Nordic countries last summer, I did not think that would go over well. Norway is perhaps the most gender equal country in the world.

Entrance to Iguazú National Park costs 500 pesos ($32). Although it’s only valid for one day, if you bring your passport and register at the ticket office upon exiting you can enter at half price the next day.

There are three main sections of the park:

  1. Entrance area – There’s really not a whole lot here other than the ticket office and a small visitor center.
  2. Cataratas (falls) – Views of the falls from lower and farther away. There are two circuits, an upper and lower, where you can walk on elevated boardwalks with many viewpoints. From the lower circuit you can take a boat to San Martín Island.
  3. Garganta del Diablo (Devil’s Throat) – A boardwalk leading to a massive semicircle of roaring waterfalls, one of the more iconic views. This part isn’t visible from the Cataratas section.

Iguazú Falls is almost incomprehensibly massive, and you can’t see all of it from any one point on land. All three of the above stations are linked by train, with departures every 30 minutes in each direction. Apparently sometimes you can walk from the entrance to Cataratas, but the trail was closed when I visited.

Entrance

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The entrance train station.

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Riding the train through the park.


Cataratas

I found this section to be the most impressive, and on my second day I spent all my time here. San Martín Island was closed my first day because of high water levels, but I was able to visit on my second day. The island is very close to the falls, and you get wet from the spray quite quickly.

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Coatíes are similar to raccoons. I saw many people feeding them. They were most definitely not afraid of humans.

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Lea, one of the Norwegians I visited the park with, was fascinated by the coatíes.

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Looking at the falls from one of the many viewpoints.

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The Norwegians on the boardwalk.

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Looking from a viewpoint to the river, the water jetted off by Iguazú Falls. There were some cool views of the jungle from the boardwalks.

 

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Looking out from the upper circuit boardwalk in the evening. Most people had left by 4pm, so after that I largely had the park to myself for a couple hours until it closed at 6pm.

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There were tons of views of the falls from many, many viewpoints.

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Walking along the path in the evening. The falls are surrounded by jungle, which was cool to experience.

Garganta del Diablo

The Devil’s Throat was impressive, but that’s largely the only part of the falls you can see from here. I visited this section  on my first day with the Norwegians and did not return.
On my second day the bus strike had ended. Buses depart from Puerto Iguazú to the park and vice versa every 20 minutes. The round trip ticket costs 130 pesos ($8.40).

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Another view of the Devil’s Throat.

 

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The butterflies came out with the sun, and they were everywhere.

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The mist thrown up by the falls made photography a little difficult.

Visiting in the April shoulder season was phenomenal, even if it was 85F/29C with high humidity. There were much fewer visitors than in the summer high season, and in the evenings I largely had the park to myself. Lodging was a fraction of what it is in summer, and I was able to get a bunk in a four person dorm in a nice hostel for about $12 a night.

I really lucked out with weather. Both days of my visit were sunny and cloudless, a break in a week of thunderstorms.

Not only are the falls impressive, but the surrounding jungle is also pretty interesting. The bird watching in the area is supposed to be superb, and from the boardwalk I was able to see toucans and hummingbirds.

Overall, I’d say the falls were worth braving the heat, humidity, and days of bus rides to and from the park.

Sleeping With Dead People

“If you’re looking for a place to camp in Coyhaique, just go to the graveyard! That’s what we did. It’s free,” a young University of Santiago student gaily told me while having me pose for a ridiculous photo on the boat. 

Crossing Lake Buenos Aires, the second largest in South America, from Chile Chico to Puerto Ibáñez.


“It’s right by the river, perfect location,” she added. “The dead won’t care. I loved skiing in Colorado.” Confused, intrigued, and a little weirded out, I thanked her and left to seek refuge from the wind in the cabin. 

My plans for making my way south through Patagonia had fallen apart pretty quickly, which seems to be a fairly common theme on all my travels of more than three days. 
Almost out of cash and sunlight at the end of my trans-Andes trek from Argentina to Chile, I hopped in a van whose driver promised to drop me off an hour down the road in exchange for the equivalent of about $2. According to my maps, this town just an hour from the tourist hordes in picturesque Puerto Varas was home to ATMs and supermarkets. 

“No, the closest ATM is in Puerto Varas. We have a Neighbor Box, though,” the owner of the shack that was the ‘supermarket’ told me. 

What the hell? I asked, in more polite terms. 

“A Neighbor Box is exactly what it sounds like,” the cashier told me with a verbal eye roll. “And no, you can’t use it to get cash.”

Having finally found a campground that took credit cards, I paid the $9 and set up my tent in the rain. Then the campsite next to mine decided to have a dinner party with music until 1:30am, and I used the last of my cell phone’s power and the unreliable wifi to book an Airbnb room for the next night. Totally worth the $27. 

Also with the last dying embers of my 3.5 year old phone’s dysfunctional battery I made plans to meet up with my cousin, who by pure coincidence was in the same part of Chile at the same time. 

In Puerto Varas, Chile with my cousin. We asked some random stranger to photograph us.


Ready to get away from the north, I bought a bus ticket to the working class rainforest island of Chiloé and reserved a few more Airbnbs (one of which involved an elderly technologically retarded woman who still wasn’t really sure what Airbnb was, and asked “young gringo, can you help me with my online banking?”; the perils of Airbnbs with no reviews). 

Day hike in the thick vegetation of Chiloé National Park.

On the ferry to Chiloé Island.

Loading the boat for the 6am departure back to the mainland.


The next bus south wasn’t leaving for another few days (a common theme on the Carretera Austral), and hitching seemed difficult with lots of competition. So, after 24 hours in Chaitén without a whole lot to do, I made my way across the border to Argentina’s Esquel, gateway to Los Alerces National Park. 

A panorama from the trail in Los Alerces National Park, Argentina.

The abandoned Refugio Lago Kruger, my home for the night. I wouldn’t have stayed if it weren’t for a couple other Argentines also sharing the space. It was creepy, but I liked having the whole second floor to myself. The other two saw a puma walk outside the window the next day.

I finished the hike in only 2 days, and hoped to do some day hikes on my third day. Unfortunately, a fire had closed the trails so I rinsed my clothes and hung out on the beach.


From Esquel I headed south on Argentina’s Route 40, popularized by author Bruce Chatwin (and home to much better connections than the Chilean side). After 9 hours passing through the dry Patagonian steppe, with the snow capped Andes rising to the west, I arrived in the border town of Los Antiguos. 

Los Antiguos is a phenomenal little one street town solely because its campground is blissfully quiet. No screaming locals blasting music until 4am is a godsend down here. I shared the hiker campsite with a German couple and a Japanese guy who was biking from Canada to Tierra del Fuego. The Germans were also coming from Los Alerces National Park, and reminisced about being called nazis in the park campground. The Argentinian people are so charming, and remind me a lot of Israelis. 

Is this Argentine candy bar named after the white supremacist pariah state in post-colonial Africa? Could be.


There’s no bus service across the border to Chile Chico anymore, so with a combination of hiking and hitchhiking I was able to painlessly cross into Chile. Even walking 7 or 8 miles, I got to town at about the same time as those who hitched the whole way. 

From the Futaleufú/Esquel border crossing, which was beautiful.


I was able to nab one of the last tickets on the boat across Lake Buenos Aires to Puerto Ibáñez, from where there are vans to Coyhaique on the Carretera Austral. Two others, from France and Belgium, and I arrived late and went to the aforementioned cemetery-side campsite. There was nobody there except a dog that was weirdly protective of us and growled at a couple passing by who asked for rolling paper. 

I have a ridiculous number of pages in my passport dedicated to stamps from Argentina and Chile.


Coyhaique, with a population of around 40k, is easily the largest city in the region. Unfortunately, I don’t think I have the time to take the Carretera Austral all the way to its terminus and hike El Chaltén in Argentina. Rather, after a very frustrating day having spent six or so hours trying to figure out transportation info, I checked the weather forecast and opted to just book it to the Fitz Roy Range in Argentina and disappear into the mountains for four days. I’ve forgotten what sunshine and warmth feels like, but the weather prediction says I should get a taste of those this week in El Chaltén on the other side of the Andes!

Argentina to Chile on Foot – Part 2

Day 3

Unlike the trail I’ve just done, where you can camp almost anywhere, you’re only allowed to spend the night by the hut halfway to the Chilean border. I won’t have enough time after that to get to the border, so I’m…free! I only have a few hours of walking today, and I won’t make the boat in time the next day, so my schedule is now very relaxed.

While I’m enjoying the January sun, a dog comes up and abruptly licks my face. It goes rigid and stares off into the woods, where a herd of horses runs out of the woods and towards me. I immediately stand up and try to get away, but the dogs and gaucho shepherding them keep them away from me.

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On the way to the hut at Paso de las Nubes (Cloud Pass).

The trail meanders along a stream for a while, and it’s weird seeing other people on the trail. Only a few are out here, but this trail is definitely more popular than the last one. We ascend up and up and up to the Paso de las Nubes (Cloud Pass), with the Rocca Hut and an expansive view of glaciated Mount Tronador.

For $9, you can camp outside the hut and use all the facilities. The hut is heated, powered, and has running water with real toilets! It’s heavenly. A high school girl gets really excited at the opportunity to practice English with a real live native speaker, and we chat for a while while staring out the window at the glaciers and waterfalls. I get a little bored, missing the thru hiking lifestyle of camping anywhere and running yourself into exhaustion each day.

I don’t sleep well that night. I don’t think I drank enough water in the evening, and I get very irritable while dehydrated. I fret over everything that has and could go wrong, which isn’t exactly conducive to good sleep.

Day 4
The next morning I berate myself, as always, for worrying during the night about things that have sensible solutions.

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Very different from the high and dry passes in Argentina.

From the hut I descend steeply to the valley floor, and it’s evident I’m in a rainforest now. I usually listen to music or podcasts while I walk, a habit I picked up on my 2600 mile Mexico to Canada hike in 2015. It helps break up the monotony and lets my mind wander. I eschew my earbuds now in favor of listening to the sounds of the rainforest, lost in my own little world. I’m damp, sweaty, and caked in mud with a bad odor but I wouldn’t trade this for anything else.

At Puerto Frías the trail ends at a lake. There are just two buildings there: Argentine customs and what I think is a national park office. The border guard post is empty, but after a few minutes I see a boat approaching on the lake. A bunch of tourists pile out on their way to Chile by bus, led by the border guards.

“Can I help you?” Inquires an older woman.

“I’m walking from Argentina to Chile, and I need an exit stamp,” I reply. She looks at first like she doesn’t believe me, but after looking at my pack and how disheveled I am she seems to accept it.

“It’s a long walk from Pampa Linda!”

“I actually started in Colonia Suiza, just outside of Bariloche,” I correct her, not sure if it’s necessary for their records. My hike is much longer than what they originally thought. She and the border guards obviously think I’m a crazy gringo, but they put me first in line and within seconds I’m stamped out of Argentina.

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The view as I climb out of Argentina.

I drop off my hiking registration at the national park office, which seems unsure what to do with it. Hopefully they don’t call a search and rescue on me. They take my passport to look for my exit stamp, but are unable to find it amidst the cyrillic scribbles from obscure Eastern European border crossings. I show them my pages of Argentina and Chile stamps and they wish me luck.

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Welcome to Chile!

It’s only 40 minutes climbing to the Chilean border, but 18 miles/30km to the border station at Peulla. Leaving around noon, I know I won’t be able to make the 4:30pm daily boat across Lago Todos los Santos back to the Chilean road system. The road from Puerto Frías in Argentina to Lago Todos los Santos in Chile just goes from lake to lake. There’s no access to the outside world and nothing else in between, except for a few farms just outside the Chilean border post. Thus, the only vehicles there are a bus that ferries tourists from lake to lake, border guards, and a guy in a truck transporting goods that I see every few hours.

I stop around 7pm on a rocky platform overlooking a river, but get an inexplicable vibe of uneasiness and opt to keep on going. After less than an hour I find a perfect campsite, but something smells weird…and then I notice the rotting corpse of what might have once been a cow or horse. Yeah, let’s not deal with pumas tonight, I think to myself. Going 20 more minutes down the flat gravel road I walk into the thick rainforest, where the undergrowth seems to be less dense than before, and set up my tent out of sight of the road. Which, because it’s a rainforest, is less than 10 meters away.

Day 5

Last night’s sleep was amazingly restful, and I immediately start walking. Based on the GPS on my phone, I’m less than a couple hours from the border station.
 

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Mount Tronador and the sign for the border police. I went and talked to an officer, a very friendly grandfatherly old man, just to let them know I was in the area. He didn’t seem too concerned.

There aren’t even any aggressive dogs trying to stop me from trespassing on their territory, and it’s an easy couple of hours to the border station just outside town.

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Getting closer to town.

“Got any fresh fruit or animal products?” I show him my food back to make sure I’m following Chile’s strict importation guidelines meant to protect their environment.

“You sure that’s it?” Oh god they’re going to search through my entire bag. I’m not hiding anything, but all my stuff is so filthy and it’ll take a while.

“Okay, I’ll take your word on it,” and then he gives me my entry stamp and Chilean tourist visa slip, which I have to save until I leave the country. Every time you cross between Chile and Argentina you’re given a new 90 day visa, so I don’t have any issues staying here for six months like I did in the European Union.

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Lago Todos los Santos, the end of the hike and departure point for the ferry to the Chilean road system.

Argentina to Chile on Foot – Part 1

 
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I found this in Puerto Montt, a Chilean working class town I visited just to catch the bus to Argentina. I have no idea what it is, but it scared me a little.

Day 0

Argentina’s Nahuel Huapi National Park came up next on my list, with my plans for hiking further north in Chile having been dashed by the fires. It was getting too hot there, anyways. Time to go to cooler altitudes and/or latitudes.

The park is known for mountain passes with amazing vistas, glaciers, and the striking Mount Tronador on the Chilean border. The Nahuel Huapi Traverse is probably the most popular route, hopping from valley to valley and hut to hut, but I opted for a less frequented (and supposedly much more rugged) trail: Colonia Suiza to Pampa Linda, then walking over the Paso de las Nubes to Chile and taking a two hour ferry across a lake to the road.
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Mount Tronador as seen from a mountain pass on the trail.

After a Bariloche steak dinner ($11 in total, which seemed super expensive, but I now realize the same thing would be much more in the US), I stopped by the Club Andino to get some more info.

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Trailhead at Colonia Suiza. It took me a little less than 48 hours to get to Pampa Linda.

“You want a map?? Okay…but it’ll cost $6.” Um, yes I do want a map and that’s totally a reasonable price. Call me old fashioned, but I tend to like to know where I am and where I’m going. I had the route’s GPS coordinates in my phone, but you can’t rely on electronics.

While waiting for the bus to the trailhead, which never came, I gave up and decided to just sleep in a campground 4km from town. It was getting late, and I could try again the next day. I didn’t think I’d be able to sleep with all the noise of a campground, but the next thing I knew I had woken up from a 10 hour slumber.

Day 1

It turns out the info on the Bariloche website for getting to Colonia Suiza is incorrect. What a surprise from a government website! You have to take bus number 20, which leaves every 20 minutes, to the roundabout at kilometer 18. Tell the driver you’re heading to Colonia Suiza and he’ll charge you for the whole trip, which should cost under $2 and is cheaper than paying separately. He’ll then announce when you should get off, after which you transfer to the number 10. The latter leaves every hour on the half hour from the roundabout.

Colonia Suiza is just a collection of campgrounds and little shacks selling meals at the end of a dirt road. The bus dropped me off less than a 10 minute walk to the trailhead, where I lounged for a while and had breakfast.
Ambling up through the gentle grade of the forest I ran into a young Argentinian couple I’d chatted a while with on my first hike a few weeks ago near El Bolsón, a few hours south of here. They’d spent the night at the hut just ahead of me, which seems to be a popular overnight trip.
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The red Refugio Italia as viewed from the trail.

There was a sign saying to register at the hut, but when I went there nobody seemed interested so I just continued. After the hut the number of people dropped dramatically, and the route involved a lot of scrambling up and down rock faces with ropes. Not that easy with a full pack! The trail went up steeply to passes and then plunged back down below the tree line to valleys with forested trails overgrown with trees, and towards the end of the day I found it dead ended into the lake. I walked in the shallow water on the lake’s edge to rejoin the trail, after which I dried my soaked shoes and socks in the dying sun and cooked on my tiny butane canister stove.

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The trail just ends at the lake, so I walked in the shallow water on the edge.

Back in Iceland I would pack out hotdogs for my first night of camping. Hotdogs in Iceland are cheap and ubiquitous, and the tradition seems to have followed me to Patagonia. It’s a nice treat for the first night, and I just boil them for five minutes. After eating crackers all day it’s a delicacy.

The pass loomed above me. It’s to the west, so once I get up there I would have more sunlight descending, I thought to myself. I pack up all my things from dinner and hike on.

The trail is difficult to follow, but with the map and GPS file on my phone I’m able to manage it. It’s steep, but once I get above the marshy tree line I can see the pass and make my own way.

At the top I’m tired, and not entirely sure the route down. The wind isn’t that strong nor is it that cold, so I opt to camp right on the pass. The ground isn’t firm enough for my tent stakes to stay down, so I weigh them with rocks and fall asleep.

Day 2

At 3am I jolt awake, disoriented and cocooned in fabric. There are creatures jumping over me, and they trapped me in a sack! my panicked mind screams. When I come to my senses I realize my tent has collapsed in a windstorm, and no kidnapping bears are dancing over me. I can’t find all the tent stakes, which scattered when my tent fell down, and decide to just wrap myself back up in the tent and go back to sleep. I can find the stakes in the morning, when it’s light and I have my contacts in. It starts to rain, but I’m too tired to care.

I awake at 8am, later than I’d like. It’s cold, but my water thankfully  hasn’t frozen. After putting my contacts in I find the last of my tent stakes within 15 seconds. Putting on all my layers, with socks over my hands to act as gloves, I hurriedly pack up all my stuff and hustle down the pass.

The route isn’t well marked, and I realize I have to reach into my pack to get my phone. But it’ll take a minute to power on, and I’m COLD and it’s WINDY. FUCK THIS TRAIL, AND FUCK ARGENTINA! I scream. I realize that won’t help, so I get out my phone and easily find the route.

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Looking down into the valley.

It leads across yet another pass, not into the valley that I had thought. After a couple hours of hiking I pull out my sleeping bag by a stream and crawl inside while I yard sale all my gear on the rocks to dry. Filtering water, I see two people below me in their campsite. I don’t know if they can see me, but I watch them for a while. Just to make sure they’re okay. Soon they’re up heading towards the next pass.

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Selfie over the abyss.

I catch them fairly quickly. They’re from American Samoa, down in Patagonia for two months. We talk for a while about their hikes, and I get more info about the best way to head south. I’m meeting my cousin in Argentina on February 6th and 7th, and after that I’m taking five weeks to go down to Tierra del Fuego. But there’s so much to see and hike along the way.

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The trail goes up there…somewhere.

They get cold and I head on, climbing over and descending the next pass. It’s seemingly near vertical, and going down takes a long time while I try not to contemplate the vertiginous abyss below me. I get lost at the bottom, but after a while find my way back to the route.

At a lake before the next climb I finish my book, Barbara Demick’s Nothing to Envy. It’s about the lives of defectors from North Korea who now live in South Korea, and the difficult adjustments they face. I spend most of my breaks reading, and in town usually load up lots of new books onto my kindle.

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Looking back from where I came.

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These passes have some pretty nice views.

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The lake is so blue!

Ascending this next time is easy, because it’s up a slab of granite that hasn’t eroded as much as the other slopes. I’m able to run up this one, then enjoy the vistas at the top. *My last ascent!* I excitedly realize as I look at the elevation profile for the next part of the hike. It’s all downhill from here.

Back below the tree line I meander through forests, and the trail seems to be better maintained. There are some people by the lake, but my misanthropy takes control and I decide to keep going. I quickly cook a ramen dinner and am back on the route, camping just out of sight of the trail. I could’ve continued to Pampa Linda, but I’d have to camp in a campground. There will be lots of people and noise, so the forest is a much better place.

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Getting closer and closer to Mount Tronador.

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Leaving the higher passes to head back down to the green valley.

Day 3

In the morning I’m woken up by the screaming of cows, which is a little strange. I don’t want to get up because it’s cold, but I have to go to the bathroom. The latter ends up winning and I put on all my layers, rush out, then jump back into my -12C sleeping bag.

Eventually, at 8am, I muster up the courage to hit the trail. My latest start on the PCT from camping on trail was 8am, which seemed ungodly late. I just couldn’t get myself out of my tent that day, and instead spent a couple hours reading some ridiculously awful gay Amish romance novel that was circulating the hiker community.

Out here, 8am is ungodly early for most people. Then again, I’m pretty atypical in that I hike more than 2 hours a day. I much prefer getting up early and walking until sunset. If I’m not tired out from walking all day, then I don’t sleep as well. Old PCT habits die hard.

After a very steep descent the trail levels off, and then crosses a river. Knowing my shoes and socks will dry fast in the sun, I just walk across it like normal. In Iceland I did the same thing during a storm, which made German hikers yell at me to take off my pants first (still not really sure what that was about).

This river was much more peaceful (read: I haven’t seen a single human yet today), and I meander on over to the ranger office in Pampa Linda. There’s really nothing there besides the office and a campground, and after checking in with the ranger I lay all my stuff out to dry in the sun.

La Región Patagonia

Maybe I shouldn’t write this as my hometown gets hammered by an ice storm, but at the moment I don’t really care: Uruguay and central Argentina were getting so damn hot and humid that upon arriving in Córdoba I immediately bought a bus ticket down south. Walking around during the middle of the day was unbearable and necessitated spending hours in air conditioned book cafes (admittedly what I was going to do anyways; I’ve finished six books in the past month).

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This is usually what happens when my hometown gets more than a millimeter of snow.

My main memory of Córdoba was being a stupid gringo that lost the key to his padlock. Thankfully (or not, from a security standpoint) it only took the receptionist 7 seconds plus a hammer to break it open. I accidentally woke up my Scottish roommate during the process, who turned out to just be an American with a cold and not actually Scottish. He was also sleeping in some other guy’s bed due to a mixup in bunk assignments by the staff, which made for a very entertaining scene when he came back really drunk at 2am. As the only person in the room who spoke both English and Spanish, I translated the scene for the very startled Argentinian engineering student the next morning.

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The quite comfortable cama ejecutiva seat on my 23 hour bus ride. The seat reclines 140 degrees or so.

The 23 hour bus ride to tiny Junín de los Andes was surprisingly nice, and I slept better than I did in the hostel. They did play some bizarre music videos, including one of an Argentinian guy dressed as Hitler in what appeared to be a Japanese video game. Argentina’s roads are pretty bad, so it was a little like being on a bumper car ride from the state fair, but other than that I can’t really complain about anything other than the disgustingly sweet food they handed out throughout the trip.

The main attraction of Junín is its proximity to Volcán Lanín National Park, where I was hoping to do some hikes around picturesque lakes under a volcano. The first woman at the tourist office seemed a little dense, but gave me maps and a bus timetable. When I went back to ask for a more detailed hiking map another worker looked aghast at what the first woman had written.

“There’s a weather alert in the park and it’s way too dangerous to go right now! Who the hell wrote all this on your map?!” She exclaimed as the perpetrator suddenly found something to do in the back of the office.

At the bus station, I inquired without success on available seats across the Andes to Chile. Desperate not to have to spend the next three days in this tiny town with the crazy homeless woman who kept glaring and growling at me all around the central plaza, I was able to procure tickets five hours south to El Bolsón via the picturesque Ruta de los Siete Lagos (Route of the Seven Lakes). And the next morning, after a relatively sleepless night while everyone in the local campground had a rave and blasted music until 4am, I watched the scenery change from desert to lush pine forests surrounded by snowcapped mountains.

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Walking to the start of the hike.

El Bolsón is a pretty hippie-ish place and, after registering my trip with the local mountaineering office and procuring a map in the undying rain, I was largely set for spending some days in the mountain. The municipal campground was again noisy, with what seemed to be air raid sirens (I later learned it had to do with a fire) going off around midnight.

There’s a bus every hour or so to the start of the hike, but the weather had cleared when I awoke and so I opted to instead walk the 8km on unpaved farm roads. A dog from the village followed me most of the way, which caused the farm dogs to go berserk.

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Drying out my tent next to the rickety old bridge of death.

After the rolling hills and farms, the trail began to climb. Mile for mile it was probably one of the most difficult hikes I’ve ever done, ascending at a ridiculous rate for 10km. I did it in about 3 hours not including long breaks (I didn’t want to get to the end too early), which upon arriving at the Cerro Hielo Azul Hut I was told was impossible and should take over twice that time. I replied that I hiked 4400km from Mexico to Canada and spent two months hiking solo in the Arctic, which they didn’t seem to believe. One ranger asked me about the northern lights, and didn’t seem to understand that the farther you get from the equator the more light there is in summer (and thus you can’t really see them in summer, when I had about a  month of perpetual daylight). After this I pretty much didn’t listen to what they said.

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Climbing the boulders up the mountain towards the glacier.

Camping is prohibited near El Bolsón except by mountain huts, which charge about $5 a night for you to put up your tent. The Hielo Azul Hut had flush toilets and a special shelter for campers with a stove for heat, which was quite nice in the higher altitude temperatures. I spent the evening chatting with Argentinians in the shelter, where they gave me peach marmelade and the tea-like drink mate. As a gringo that speaks Spanish, I get a lot of comments about how respectful it is to come to a country already speaking the local language. People here have been very friendly to me, and as practically the only foreigner I stand out.

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View from the hill above the glacier, overlooking the valley where the Cerro Hielo Azul Hut is.

I awoke early the next morning to ascend the glacier, a popular day hike from the hut. The ranger didn’t want to let me go solo, but relented after I talked about wandering off into the Icelandic tundra by myself for days at a time. He said it would be a minimum of 3 hours round trip, not including time spent at the glacier, but I was able to return within 2 hours including some rests.

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Selfie at the small glacier because I was the only one there. I didn’t see anybody going up, but ran into about 30 people while going back down.

During parts of the ascent I had some don’t look down and don’t fall, what the hell am I doing out here?! moments as it was fairly steep. Some parts I had to ascend using my hands amid loose scree. Looking back, I can definitely see how they don’t want people to go alone.

The steep climb on uneven, rocky terrain played hell on the muscles around my left knee. Still wanting to continue with my original plan, I downed two ibuprofen (aka Vitamin I on the Appalachian Trail) and was fine.

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Hanging out in front of the Retamal Hut.

After a terrifying ascent and subsequent descent into the next valley, I decided to take a day off at the hut campgrounds. There are worse places to spend a sunny day than reading and resting one’s knees on a Patagonian riverbank. My Spanish sure got a workout, as all the chatty locals wanted to know what an American was doing in a popular Argentinian vacation spot.

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Overlooking the river.

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Path through the forest.

The end of the hike was very easy, and since I left the hut around 6:30am I didn’t see anybody until almost two hours later. A porteño (someone from Buenos Aires) social worker, his northeastern boyfriend, and I walked to the Wharton convenience store bus stop and asked around until we found out how to take the $2 bus back to the hippie village. They were interesting to talk to, and said that although Argentina legalized gay marriage a few years ago it still wasn’t that welcoming of a place outside of Buenos Aires. They had to go back north for work, and I was on my way to Chile, so we parted ways.

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Heading down to catch the bus back to El Bolsón.