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El Chalten and Elsewhere

Toon Traveller on the way to Patagonia

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by Toon Traveller, Travel Correspondent for outsideleft.com
the Andes, a distant mirage 5 minutes ago, now arms outstretched
by Toon Traveller, Travel Correspondent for outsideleft.com
the Andes, a distant mirage 5 minutes ago, now arms outstretched

Friday 15th
Eased out of oil and tourist gateway to the Magellens, Puerto Arenas. Missed the Wednesday night riots but Thursday’s churros and chocolate accompanied by hosing ash, the smell of bone fires, and bank windows being sheeted, closed museums, and a tourist town? Future fearful.

Easing out from tourist glitz, though forests of nameless factory sheds, scrap yards, and shanty homes turning to moorland, sheep and  cows. Rolling moorland flattening to an artless, cowless, featureless flat steppes. Pleasing at first, but sitting in an airline ‘economy plus super seat’ on a  coach, it was not to him.

I'm in a first class travelling section, free coffee requesting, non-stop coaching, long distance travelling,


Pink Floyd can't have done this road trip. Outside the stepps roll on, tracks slide away from nowhere, disappearing into a Zabriski point somewhere beyond oblivion. Distant sheep scattered, tenacious dandruff flecks on a brushed funeral suit, and startled llamas heads alert, turned and snatched from sight, of an 85 km coach on a straight road, a tank full of gas, and a border to cross, get me to Los Galleos on time.


You’re a long way from tourist flesh pots here, as “real” as any trendy tourist would want or maybe not, broken pavements, boarded windows, ‘se vende' but no buyers, plethora of hotels, something must be happening, looks like I missed it. Craft beer, coffee, a museum, at least I know the guide book didn’t lie.

Los galleos. Traffic lights, supermarkets, scrap piles, open road, sheep strewn stepp, straining engine green to yellow, sheep to llamas, grey, just Rhias.  Always far distant hills, if you screamed, it would die in the emptiness before it reached your ears. Even on coach your insignificance, is dwarfed in Stepps’s sweep. High on the stepp the road it’s the only human activity, maybe for light years.  


Rock wall, a level road, and the low pIain opens, distant Andes touch amber clouds, a turquoise lake so clear, bright, and sharp, it must photoshoped. Photos? No point you can’t capture the whole world on a match box, just revel in the view, savour the colours, and promise yourself a return at sunset next year, beautiful memories can live for ever

Never realised Icebergs  in lakes really are actually BLUE, as blue as Vim bleach used to be, was amazed, even in lashing rain, low mist, and concrete grey clouds, glaciers are stunning AND blue. Dull weather can't kill the magic or majesty of the place, overheard one Hawiian lady remark, ‘This is awesome, I’m breathless...' and she was right... I was both. 

Thursday 21st
Calafete to Chaltean 
All stepp’s life slips slowly away. The Andes, snow dusted, start to peak above the rolling grey gravel of Patagonia, mountain shadowed, even Guanacos fear to tread in a rain free zone. You ponder the imponderable, why is there a fence, separating nothingness and eternity, closed gates, AND who holds the keys to pass between the two.

Nature calls, WC, waddle back, and... the Andes, a distant mirage 5 minutes ago, now arms outstretched, clad in green, welcoming, enveloping, heads proud, their sheer scale, lost for words, sip and savour the vision, a tender lovers soft kiss.

CHALTEN, less of a hidden gem, more an emerging butterfly, as lovely as one and delightful as the other. Cliffs, rivers, towering cloud caressed razor peaks. Chilled mountain air and vibe, wish I was staying longer, garden sitting, sun ray soaking, trail strolling days... Ah, but... Hotel rooms, places, explorations, wistful thoughts return, before I get too old or sick to insure longhaul, some time, next time, never.

The legendary Bernardo Higgins crossing, yeah had all that feel of a cold war rendezvous on a hidden iron curtain crossing. Towering  mountains, silent lake, swept by sun, racing cloud, and flecked mountain snow dust. Just me, and the boat crew. In the distance, a hut, a flag pole, a lifeless flag, a single stationary uniformed guard, slowing engine - only things missing - sudden mist. A second figure in the bows, from the hut a coat wrapped figure with the guard - the pier - figures swapped, boat speeds home, yeah Hollywood spy drama in deepest Patagonia, always loved mystery and romance.

The reality, just crew, me, lonely border post, and three passengers, who did emerge from the hut, and  trekked the legend, and lived to tell the tale, albeit in French and Italian. Where’s a signal and Google translate when you've got the scoop of the week? Two short treks, let down, come down, hotel, beers, chats.

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Toon Traveller
Travel Correspondent

Born - happy family, school great mates still see 7 / 8 in year, degreed, beer n fun, work was lazy but usually happy, retired. Learning from mum and dads travel exploits.

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