mercoledì 8 aprile 2009

Ren and the new Pompei impressed me

1st april 2009, San Martin de Los Andes, Argentina, tired, crossing to Chile tomorrow morning way too early.

1st of april…pesce d’aprile…not here I believe, or at least nobody made any joke to me today ;-)

Lately I have been crossing up and down Argentina and Chile few times…I counted by the end of the trip I will have 11 stamps of each country…I know I know it’s crazy, but hey, I have obligations here: visit as much as possible to be able to tell you about the places people and experiences I’m doing, and also visit friends scattered around the world. And this is the simple reason for all this crossing, nice, eh??

Anyway, that’s a more recent story, I still have to tell you about the end of the Carretera Austral, Chiloe and Bariloche….it will take me ages. For today I will keep it short, just Carretera and Chaiten…impressive I tell you.

I was in Puyuhuapi, arrived there after 4 rides and a final leg by bus, together with the aussie couple, Jodie and Glen. Puyuhuapi isn’t a big town, 3 streets parallel to the see (which looked like a lake, the town is at the end of a fjord…maybe I was in Norway brought there with teletransportation??), and 5/6 crossing streets. Few hostels, we check them out and find the best one, I had a lovely pink and red room, the perfect colors for me, bright ones! The highlight of the night had been walking around to find a good place for dinner…what a choice…2 places! We headed to the one with more people…other 3 tourists ;) Usual food: salmon and either salad/rice/French fries. The salmon was just huge, I have never seen such a huge slice! I had cod, and was the same, huge! The restaurant was in the house of a woman, she was the cook of course, nobody else. She couldn’t wait for us to leave to go to bed, and it was just 10pm! Long and good sleep, I was still unsure what to do the next day, it was a Sunday, no public transportation available, but I wanted to get out of town so was thinking of HH again. But the weather was kind of nice so decided to join the aussie to the visit to the Ventisquero Colgante: hanging glacier. Looks like in Chile they call “ventisqueros” the one that in Argentina are “glaciares”…I still haven’t understood why…maybe they actually refer to 2 different things? Who knows! Anyway, got a taxi there, and hiked up an hour to reach the mirador. It is called “hanging” glacier because looks like it’s hanging there, in between 2 mountains. What is strange of it is that from its bottom a huge amount of water is flowing down, into another smaller glacier out of which only very little water exits…so now the question is: where is all this water going? Miracle??? I was thought that materia cannot disappear…where is it gone?? We saw some pictures of this glacier 40 years ago, it was arriving all the way to the lake below, but the global warming…damn, we are destroying all glaciers, well not the Perito Moreno, that one sticks on the same size all the time more or less! The glacier was nice, but I had seen hundreds already so was not necessary to stop there ;-) We’ve also been lucky, when we decided to head back down a lovely cloud decided to stop just in front of the glacier, covering its sight for the tourists which had not been as early as us!! It pays waking up early…ah ah it’s a joke, I think we actually woke up at 9 that morning!! Back in town, we had 2 options: heading for the Termas, spa, or trying to get out of the town towards Futuleufu at the border with Argentina. Naaa, not the right company for the spa, so I packed my bag and headed towards the end of the town, across a bridge, the best spot to catch any possible lift. Weather ok, it wasn’t raining, I sat there, reading. Not so much traffic, many cars passing in front of me, turning left down a road and 5 minutes later reappearing going back from where they had arrived. Ok, it’s Sunday, and this is a small town so there’s nowhere to go for windowshopping, but taking your wife 5 minutes down the road doesn’t seem very interesting to me. After car number 5 or 6 I decided to ask to understand the secret of that place: there’s the gas station!! Ah ah ah! Jodie and Glenn had arrived, and we started playing cards sitting there on the kerb. Finally a man stopped. He works for road constructions, he lives in Puyuhuapi for the weekend, with wife and kids, and in Las Juntas during the week, for work, 1.5hr away for those 50/60km. He was going to Las Juntas and was happy to give us a ride. He was so talkative. I was sitting in front and sometimes I could not understand him. Chileans have a very strong accent, or better said, they “eat the words” all the time, and use a lot of slang. But he again was nice, and started telling us about life there, and people living around. Mainly about this german family (or better of german origins, like lots of people in that side of Chile): the parents died leaving a son and a daughter with lots of land. The daughter has her estancia, and the son too. The son has a huge amount of land, he showed us the boundaries and the houses, and he is still single. He cannot find the right woman for himself. The man said he had tried to propose his daughter for him…ah ah. The guy drove us to the best spot for another ride and suggested few places to sleep and eat in case we would get stuck there…it was 6pm already! We tried a little bit but nobody was passing. Few hundred meters before where we were there were 3 israelis…we found out the next day that they had been there the whole day waiting for a ride. I understand people doesn’t stops: there’s 1 guy hitching, and 2 sitting under a tree, almost hidden. If a car stops they all jump out, a bit scary for this simple people. Anyway, by 6.30pm we gave up and looked for a place. Found a nice one, with even free wireless internet, or to be honest I used the one from the town hall…it was unsecured!!! Dinner was ok, steak and rice, more or less the same diet every day in this side of the world: steak or fish with salad/French fries/mashed potatoes. What impressed us of this place has been the many roadworks ongoing and the big square. All roads leading to the square were undergoing some renovation. And the square…huge! And new, very new! A patio in the center, even a false river (with no water) and a bridge, handicapped ramps, benches and some slowly growing trees. It just seemed over scaled, too big for such a small town. The man of the day before had made comparisons with Puyuhuapi mentioning: Las Juntas has even a square!!! In the morning I asked the lady of the hospedaje: she said the square was 2 years old (it looked 1 month old, it was so well kept! They are so proud of it that they keep it perfectly cl;ean!), and everything going on was due to the new major who was from the winning national party (i.e. had money!) who was trying to change the town, making it more attractive to attire more tourists. As for her, she had started last year with renting rooms, and she now liked to have visitors, to look after them, so was trying to improve her facilities, better beds, better toilets and things like this. She spoke about the people passing by, a mix of everybody but lots of Israelis. Every 10 days there’s a bus of Israelis passing by and staying overnight. I had heard this story before, so I guess it’s an organized trip that goes so often. She didn’t say nice words, too loud and too many. Anyway, somehow I can understand that when 15 people from the same country travel together will make lots of noise. Is just that for me it doesn’t make much sense to travel so far away with 15 people from your country, avoiding any contact with other nationalities! At 10.00 I was ready for the next hitchhiking bit. It was already Monday and I had given up the idea of going to Futaleufu, I would take the ferry the next day between Chaiten and Quellon on Chiloe island. So the plan was to get out of Las Juntas till Villa Santa Lucia 1.5hrs away, the last living town before the ghost town of Chaiten, named the new Pompei by myself (guess many would call it the same). The aussie had been there 1 hour already when I joined. Luckily the weather was nice, sunny, not too bad to wait, but nobody was passing. Only big trucks crossing fast and moving lots of dust, difficult to breath. But they were only going 5km away to the roadworks, damn! At 11am we got a ride, the 3 of us (the 3 israelis were still there waiting. I heard afterwards that when a bus passed they were still doubting whether taking and paying the ride or waiting more for a free one, crazy guys, they had been there already 36 hours!). The lift was just till 20/30km out of town, but enough to get rid of the fast trucks and the dust. We knew it would take time before getting another ride so we sat on the grass and waited, chatting, reading and playing cards. We’ve waited almost 3 hours before the first car passed, but they were stopping just next to us, to work on a bridge, Next arrived a red truck. He could only take 2 people: either me or the aussies…they’ve been nice, didn’t want me to stay there on my own. So off I went, with Alejandro, the camionero (truck driver). He was going all the way to Chaiten, the place I had to catch the ferry the next day at 10am. I was told and believed nobody was living there, that no accommodation was available there. But…but the guys who gave us the ride in the morning said it wasn’t true, there was people living and it was possible to find a hospedaje and something to eat. Alejandro the camionero added that I could sleep in the truck with him in case I would not find anything, and also I had heard there was a small terminal house at the harbor. So…I decided to join Alejandro all the way to Chaiten. Furthermore he was going to stop at the Termas de Armarillo, I would get the chance to go to the spa, that was luck! This Alejandro was a bit of a weirdo. He carries whatever needed, he drives down to Carretera Austral, delivers the goods and then on the way back he does some visiting, and often stops to the spa. He showed me some nice views, we stopped the truck on a bridge to take some pictures and then we drove the big truck up this very small road to the termas. The termas were just a pool with hot water, maybe 38 degrees not sure, in the middle of a light forest, in the middle of a narrow valley. The view looked good, there in the middle of the mountains, the blue sky, the sun… Alejandro really enjoyed, guess that was his weekly bath ;-) The reason I say he was a kind of a weirdo is he asked me where I was from, Italy I said. After I spoke about Europe being a small continent, distances being small compared to Chile…it seemed he had no clue what Europe was. Half an hour later he asked me again which country I was from, and again another time, he just could not remember, but he did remember perfectly that the other 2 guys were from Australia…uhm, not sure, anyway, he was a bit over reacting on things, kept saying I was the lucky one I had got the ride with him so I could stop at the termas, and so on. Yes, I had been lucky, also cause the other guys wanted to go to Futaleufu which was the other direction anyway. At the termas we got “once”, which means “11” but which actually is something more similar to the 5 o’clock English tea. You get tea/coffee and some food. The woman had prepared empanadas, they looked good and…they tasted fish, marisco to be more precise, seafood. ARGHHH. I hate seafood! I hate its taste of sea, I really don’t like it. But I had already started eating it, and I was hungry, so I had 2 of them, keeping my nose closed trying not to taste the taste. Didn’t really work, but I am glad I did it as no dinner was waiting for me. You see, this travelling is doing me good…I even eat seafood ;-)

By 6.30pm we entered Chaiten area. I could see some smoke coming out of a mountain very far away and I was very impressed, Alejandro kept telling me it would get much closer and visible, I could not believe. Along the road there was ash, the trees seemed burned, some were still green, some others were brownish. Then we got closer…more ashes along the road and then…the volcano, there, standing in front of me, smoking so much, such a big crater. Impressive, scaring. The volcano is 9km away from the town, and between them there is just an ample valley, perfect to get the magma flowing down to the town. Dead city, all covered in ashes, few cars around, all empty, nothing working more or less. Pompei…this is how I imagine Pompei when the volcano erupted. With different consequences…nobody died in Chaiten. Anyway, before telling you the story of the eruption, I tell you my story. With Alejandro we started driving around town to find signs of hospedajes or hotels. I see a sign, and next to it a car, so probably someone is living there and renting rooms, go for it. Getting there I realized those were 2 different houses but still went inside the one with the car to ask information. Horatio was there, I asked him some help, he suggested me a couple of places, than looked at me and said…I have no running water, electricity only with a generator, but I have a bed, you can stay with me. Brain working quickly…WOW that’s a nice offer, thanks I will accept it! Picked up my bag from the truck and off I went. I am so happy I decided to stay with this guy, he told me so many things about what happened there, what’s happening now, his life, why he is staying there. It has been a once in a lifetime chance, not many people get that chance, basically everybody passes on and off the ferry, looking at the houses covered in ashes, the smoke out of the mountain and that’s it. I lived it. Amazing. Well, it did not exploded, there was nothing dangerous the night I stayed there, and I was also told we had 6 minutes to evacuate the town in case of danger, Horatio’s car is big and had fuel, I am sure we would have survived!

At first I felt a bit out of place, not sure where to sit, what to do. Horatio was pretty talkative and had things to do. Like helping a family to transfer a stove from one house close to the flooded river to another place out of town. So off we went, exploring the town. And the story starts… Beginning of last year…lots of earthquakes in the area, mainly felt more down south, Puerto Chacabuco for example. Big concern there, lots of people started moving out of town, direction Chaiten. Nobody thinking it could be the volcano. Then…well…earthquakes moving up north, stronger and stronger, direction Chaiten. End of april, big one in Chaiten, something was going to happen, the volcano…1st of may a big one, dogs getting crazy, 2nd of may, the big blast, the big eruption. The whole top side of the mountain exploded, magma in the sky, big smoke cap. There are some pictures on the web of lightings in the smoking cap, impressive and scaring. It was sometimes during the 2nd of may that the city had to be evacuated, 5000 people used to live there, many had left already but big number still. Many were evacuated by boat, all ferries in the area had been called in help. Other people went in the mountains, Futaleufu, Argentina… Resident could only go back in july, too much activity before, too many dangerous gases coming out of the volcano. And…the disaster. The smoke going in the direction of Argentina, El Bolson and Bariloche got covered in ashes. No magma arrived in Chaiten town, but the ashes made the big patatrak. There was a river passing on the edge of town. This river got filled with ash, too much ash, the river could not flow it’s normal way, so it flooded, right through town, through the houses. It brought away 200 houses, all gone into the sea. You can still see TVs and furniture in the water, this impressed me a lot. The town is now cut in 2, roads end in the new river, to get to the other side you have to drive 2/3kms, and you have to drive over the ashes, where previously the river was passing. What is left of the town is not in better condition…just ash all over, everything covered, you can see some houses have 1m of ash in the garden, in front of the door. The disaster here hasn’t been the volcano, but the river. This town is not a ghost town, 5000 people before the 2nd of may, 300 since December when they were allowed to go back, 50/70 now, after a further eruption happened the 19th of February this year. This has been more scaring than before I think, the magma has stopped 2km away from town, dangerous, very dangerous. Situation is still critical, the mouth of the volcano is blowing ashes, gases, it can clearly be seen from the town, and it’s scaring if you think it is only 9km away! Horatio told me that when the smoke is black is because there has been a collapse in the vault, when it’s red it’s an explosion…and you can clearly see the color difference! The government wants people to leave, to move out of the area, too dangerous and too much job to evacuate them in case of another eruption. Government is closing down any possible activity. The guys of the gas station wanted to stay, but they have been closed down. There’s not much left there. A store, few items though, but a big quantity of wine. And you can see the wine bottles have been hit by the ashes…the labels are all ruined by the ash, they cleaned it but they are damaged. There is no running water, there is not electricity, there is no gas. Everything has to be brought from outside. Horatio owns some land outside of town, approx 3km away along the beach, in the safe area (sheltered by a hill). The land had a small river, that’s where he gets water for cooking and washing, He gets big buckets of water that he then pumps up the roof and uses as running water. Of course he cannot drink this water, not safe anymore. Drinking water is in bottles, more things to carry from the outside world! For electricity he has a generator, which he turns on as late as possible in the evenings as he wants to save fuel. For the heating he has a wood heater, so he is sorted. Food is not a problem, lots of cans in the storage. Furthermore almost every evening he has people coming over to eat together, they make asados that’s it! We met various people and he told me their stories. The german tv crew who came filming the ghost town, setting their headquarters on the beach next to his property, a table and a broken tv to make it look more like a real workplace. There’s one girl he calls the crazygirl of the village. She is hyperactive, she comes over to his place to use internet, she asks for coffee to be served to her by him, and then she leaves without thanking. We spoke to her a bit, she didn’t seem so bad, but a bit strange yes, coming in and out of the house, taking things and not bringing them back! We didn’t have proper dinner, just a slice of a very very good dulce de leche cake, with tea and wine. Dulce de leche is the most famous dessert/sweet here, both in Argentina and Chile, they can put it everywhere. At first I didn’t really like it, too sweet but then now… WOW, I love it!!! Lots of times I am misled thinking a cake/croissant has chocolate instead is dulce de leche, and I love it!!! Horatio’s life isn’t easy. His wife decided to stay in Puerto Montt, she is a lawyer there, and could be reassigned there from Chaiten. As for him…he is a shipbuilder (yes JJ, if you want I can put you in contact with him…mind moving to Chile??), he makes 4-16 passengers boats, mainly for tourism. I saw some pictures, they look good but I’m not an expert. All his machineries are there in Chaiten, and it is difficult for him to move, as in Puerto Montt competition would be much harder and he being an artisan could not survive. So he wants to stay, he is completely against the government shutting everything down. Well, he understand that it’s not safe to live in the town right now, but he doesn’t want the State to buy his house for little money (they give them 20000 dollars more or less, which is not bad, but not enough to buy a new house in another town, especially in Puerto Montt). Government is planning to buy off all the houses, close them down, destroy current Chaiten and create a new town 10km away, in a safe area. They plan to have the first layout within the next 3 months and within 2 years a new Chaiten ready, with a new airport and port as well. Will they make it in the planned town? What will be doing the people who wants to live there till then? Horatio is building his own house in his piece of land. From the road there’s a thick forest before reaching the beach, that’s his land. He brought me there, explaining how he is doing. He is cutting down trees, every day 15/20 trees, he has 3 fireplaces always running to burn the trees he is cutting. He works morning till night there, cutting and burning. In 40 days he wants to have his new house ready, 6x5m, a room, a kitchen and a toilet. He has already bought all the things needed, like bed and sink. He is a hard worker, and a great person. He told me he was pleased I stopped, it was the first time in ages he had invited someone to stay at his place, all the times he has uninvited guests. He loves this place, he wasn’t born here, but further north, but moved along the Carretera Austral 30 years ago, lived in few towns, settled down there, and there he wants to stay. He is quite rich I am sure, he has 5 daughters and 1 son, all going to private universities, all travelling. I am not sure I would have stayed, it’s a hard life, it’s somehow a solitary life, even if I noticed there is a lot of support between those who stayed. His regret nowadays…he cannot work on his boats, all people who used to work for him have fled, too worried, so he is left alone, building his house and building his ships. When it was dark we went to the beach, to look at the stars. Argh. There are no lights in the streets, it’s a dead city, there’s not a light polluting the sky. It’s amazing, millions of stars all there, in front of me. I don’t know the southern sky, he showed me the fake Southern Cross and told where is the real one. We saw many shooting stars. Wow, we in Europe can just see few around the 10th of august, but there…oh, for the half an hour we were there I counted at least 3. He told me that a person can see up to 7 shooting stars per hour…it’s possible down in Chaiten, surely not in polluted old Europe. I love the sky at night, the stars. It reminds me so much of the hours spent on the “muretto” of Cervo when I was a teenager. In the dark was also very easy to see what was going on on the volcano…magma flowing down, it was all dark and a bit of incandescent red, not to worry Horatio said. I didn’t worry, as I said we had 6 minutes to flee in case of danger ;-) We spoke till midnight, he told me about his life, his kids, his boats, I told him about my life, it was time to switch off the light, I went to “my room”, a bunk bed with only a mattress on the bottom bed, I used my sleeping bag to sleep and my pocket light to read a bit, and dream of this strange place. I was up by 8.30am, Horatio was up already, but he had waited for me for breakfast, bread tea and eggs. Last chat, and he drove me to the ferry, la barcaza which was going to take me out of this magic place, back to civilization in Chiloe. It has been an experience, seeing the best hotel in town with 2m ash on its doorsteps, an octagonal house with the bottom quarter gone, but still standing, completely shut down houses, stores, all grey, all like Pompei, but still somehow alive, wanting to live, to be born again.

It’s strange to write this story today. Approx 24 hours ago there has been the big earthquake in Abruzzo, Italia. At least 150 people died, many wounded, 100000 lost their houses, all historical churches destroyed, entire villages disappeared, 27 months to live again has been said. How can those 2 immense tragedies be compared, how can you survive such a big natural disaster? I think it’s hard to lose all your properties, all gone, your memories, your pictures, your clothes, your house, the thing you have spent money on, where you wanted to live, the perfect place you had chosen to settle your family. Maybe a bit I understand Horatio, strongly fighting to live in his own house, to continue his job, to be stronger than nature. I wish him good luck, and same to all those guys in L’Aquila and all over Abruzzo.


mercoledì 1 aprile 2009

Julieta Venegas

Andar Conmigo

Hay tanto que quiero contarte
hay tanto que quiero saber de ti
ya podemos empezar poco a poco
cuéntame, qué te trae por aquí
No te asustes de decirme la verdad
eso nunca puede estar así tan mal
yo también tengo secretos para darte
y que sepas que ya no me sirven más
Hay tantos caminos por andar...
dime si tu quiseras andar conmigo
cuéntame si quisieras andar conmigo
Estoy ansiosa por soltarlo todo
desde el principio hasta llegar al día de hoy
una historia tengo en mi para entregarte
una historia todavía sin final
Podríamos decirnos cualquier cosa
incluso darnos para siempre un siempre no
pero ahora frente a frente, aquí sentados
festejemos que la vida nos cruzó
Hay tantos caminos por andar...
dime si tu quiseras andar conmigo
cuéntame si quisieras andar conmigo


No quisiera detener
esta oleada que me lleva
a dónde, adónde no lo sé
sólo me muevo con ella.
Y nadie ahí me conocerá,
y a nadie ahí reconoceré
pero no tengo miedo.
No quisiera detener
esta oleada que me lleva.
Y todo lo que ya viví,
lo sigo cargando.
lo llevo muy dentro de mí
nunca lo he olvidado,
lo siento tan cerca de aquí
lo llevo muy dentro de mí
Voy en busca de un lugar,
en este mundo abierto
donde me pueda yo quedar,
para empezar de nuevo.
Y nadie ahí me conocerá,
y a nadie ahí reconoceré
pero no tengo miedo.ohoh
Y todo lo que ya viví,
lo sigo cargando.
lo llevo muy dentro de mí
nunca lo he olvidado,
lo siento tan cerca de aquí
lo llevo muy dentro de mí (bis)

Lo que venga despues

aqui queda todo lo que fui
aqui empieza todo lo que soy
cuentame como era yo
que yo ya no recuerdo
aqui es lo unico que tengo
y lo unico que quiero
ve aquel lugar de donde vengo
yo ya ya no, ya no recuerdo
y lo que venga despues
asi sera y no le temo
y lo que quedes
sera siempre mas
no me falta nada mas
y nada me va sobrar no
me va sobrar no
esta aqui lo unico que tengo
y es todo lo que unico que quiero
es todo lo que quiero
aqui queda lo que fui
aqui empieza lo que soy
lo que soy
dime como era yo
que yo ya no ya no ya no recuerdo
ya no recuerdo
no me falta nada mas
y nada me va sobrar no

martedì 31 marzo 2009

Ren and Austral...Carretera Austral

27th march 2009, Cruz del Sur bus between Castro and Puerto Montt (currently in Ancud – Chiloe island), rainy and cold, escaping to the north and towards mass tourism

Before even starting I wanna do an update to my last mail…the story of that woman who died in desert without water. She was named Difunta Correia. She didn't die with the husband but with her kid that she was carrying on her arms. She prayed to God to not allow her little baby to die in the desert and the baby was found breast-feeding from her died (difunta) mother.

more infos can be found:

Thanks Renata!!! (for those who doesn’t know, it’s not that I am thanking myself, I got a friend as crazy as myself and with my same name!!!!)

She didn't die with the husband but with her kid that she was carrying on her arms. She prayed to God to not allow her little baby to die in the desert and the baby was found breast-feeding from her died (difunta) madre.

Let’s not lose sight of what is important…my stories!!! I was in Los Antiguos, ready to cross to Chile for the 3rd time in this trip, not the last crossing of course! The crossing went pretty quick, we were only 8 tourists so the backpack checking and border formalities were not too long. There was people with raisins, with sandwiches, they had to eat everything there at the border or throw it away in a locked box, it’s just so strange all this. Fortunately nobody was caught trying to smuggle in an apple so we managed to go through and reach Chile Chico, a small town on the shore of the Lago General Carrera (this is the name in Chile, instead called Lago Argentino in Los Antiguos!!). Small town, nice lake. We all went straight to the tourist information, I wanted to leave this town asap direction Caleta Tortel, towards the south, towards the end of this famous Carretera Austral. Actually not so sure why this road is very famous…maybe because it’s the road that leads to further south of Chile without having to cross to Argentina? Or because when it finishes you only have ice ice ice in front of you? Or because its official name is Carretera Augusto Pinochet? Or because it is mostly unpaved so very slow to drive it? Or because transportation within it is slow and sporadic? Or because it is impossible to do it all outside January and February? I don’t know…but it’s a fascinating road, and I wanted to do it!

I just mentioned how difficult is to move within this area, and I realized right there at the tourist office: it was Monday and the next bus towards the south (not even where I wanted to go, but a town 3hrs before it!) was on Wednesday afternoon, and from there the bus to Caleta Tortel was on Thursday morning… 4 days to drive 350km was a bit too much don’t you think?? I decided to try with hitchhiking out of this town: no way, impossible, there’s nobody going further than 20/30km beyond town, and I didn’t want to get stuck in a small village, with possibly no accommodation. I tried few hours in the afternoon and again the next morning few hours. There were some Israeli guys who had been there for a few days trying to get a ride. Well, I guess it’s not easy to find a passage when you hitch in 5 people, there are actually 2 on the road and 3 sitting under a tree semi hidden, but ready to jump out as soon as a car stops…I would be intimidated if 5 people would try to get into my car! And actually Chilean of that area are intimidated, they don’t like very much Israelis too noisy, too many, too scaring…Anyway, no lift that day so ended up staying overnight. I wanted to get a book to read, so went to explore town and to the shope which had the bookstore sign on the front. When I asked for books they looked me like I was E.T., questioning face…a book? Which kind of book? I don’t know, a novel, something like this…uhm uhm uhm… the woman thought of it a bit and then told me to go to the shop next door, they might have some…argh! I went next door, checked around and did not see any book so didn’t even ask. Uhm…this Chile Chico is very very chico (small). Actually it has 5000 inhabitants, just like Bagnolo, but I guess you can find books in Bagnolo…argh! hanging around with Yafit, a nice Israeli girl, the one who was in Chalten also. We had dinner and chat, and a nice breakfast the next day, the hospedaje where we stayed was really nice. Hospedajes are basically homestays, families with a big house with many rooms, and they rent them to travelers. It was clean, I had a room on my own and the bed was comfortable…all you ask for when you have traveled for 6 weeks already. The next day I tried more hitchhiking with no success, so gave up the idea of Caleta Tortel, and took the barcaza (ferry) to Puerto Ibanez and then the bus to Coyahique, the big city in the all Carretera Austral, 50000 inhabitants, a lot I tell you! Very nice cruising through the lake, the colors and the scenery, it was supposed to be very wavy but it was quite calm and sunny, so enjoyed some fine views. The bus ride too was nice, between mountains and hills. Some of them are rocky and steep from one side while gentle and green on the other side…I believe they might have been a full hill long time ago, but the earthquakes or volcano eruptions might have changed drastically the environment thousand years ago. I just liked to watch outside and absorb every inch of this place. My idea was to quickly head up north the next day, towards Futaleufu on the border with Argentina and off to Bariloche from there. So I needed to approvechar as they say here, take advantage of the view. Something nice of the buses around here: before reaching the final destination they ask you where you want to go and they will drive you straight in front of your door. I was going to the main square, meeting there Yafit who was on another bus, and then finding a hostel for the night. But…on the way we dropped off an Italian woman (maybe 50/55 years old, traveling alone…is this what I will be in 20 years??) in front of the bus station, but above all in front of a travel agency with an inspiring paper on the window: direct bus to Caleta Tortel. Why I wanted to go to Caleta Tortel so badly? Well, I do like remote places, you all know this. Jordi had told me about it, he saw an article about this place and mentioned he was impressed by its beauty. Also Juane, a Spanish met in Puerto Natales, he did go all the way down the Carretera Austral and mentioned the best place he saw was Caleta Tortel: more than enough to make me wanting to go there, even if that meant 12 hours on a small bus the next day, 1 day there and another 12 hours back to Coyahique, as I had to go north anyway. I didn’t think of it twice: I bought the ticket and slept very very happy. I was so disappointed and sad when I had realized it would have been too difficult and too time consuming to make it down there. But most of all what made me decide to go were Yafit’s words. She said I had to stop thinking of this, and not even think of coming back, because if I was coming back to Chile in 10 years or so, and then going there, I could be disappointed, because maybe the place would be different, touristic, reached by hordes of americans spending dollars. Argh..I don’t wanna see this place spoiled, I want to see it now, and not have any regret for missing it out…so off I went! Really good decision my dear Renata!!Had an easy night, dinner with 2 Israeli guys in the hostel, they had cooked chicken, I bought icecream, watching some movie, chatting about travelling and these guys experience of the Carretera Austral. They were funny, they had tried 3 times to get to Caleta tortel, hitchhiking, but no lifts, darkness and rain had stopped them every time. They decided to go by bus and a big flood almost stopped them this time too, they actually reached the town, run through it for 1 hour and then drove back on the same bus, they didn’t want to get stuck there for days as the road was going to be closed! Coyahique…the big city…when myself and Yafit walked to its street we were looking around in ecstasy…gas stations, shops, shopping centers, people, bars, a REAL city! I think it was probably 1 month since last I saw a shopping center, with for example clothes which are more or less in fashion, we looked like someone who has never been in a city!

Anyway, next morning 8am my bus was picking me up, we were 6 in total plus Manuel the driver. There was an unidentified guy, a teacher there in Tortel, he just took pictures and spoke to Manuel. There was S.ra Iris, owner of a hospedaje and panaderia (bakery) in Tortel: she had been away for 6 weeks now going back home. Then a trio, 2 women and a guy from Vina del Mar, near Santiago. Approx 50 years old, they were traveling to Tortel to visit Maria paz, the daughter of one of them, Imelde. She has a library in Vina; while Cecilia is selling Indian jewelry she personally buys in India every eyar; Jorge is a writer, a periodist and owns an editing company. A funny trio, these guys know each other for many years, been traveling together a lot, and they liked me a lot. They were impressed by my trip, especially Cecilia, by my writing long mails to you guys, this was Jorge, and by the extreme similarity to Maria Paz, and this was Imelde. We became friends. We spoke lots, stopped for pictures, discussed about life, about travels and so on. The 12 hours drive had been so enjoyable, thanks my friends! Manuel the driver was nice too, he played good music, lots of international or Julieta Venegas which I like a lot, he was keen on stopping for a coffee of to give us the chance to shot a picture at a nice spot. Not all of them unfortunately: this was the best scenic road I have done so far. Every bend was a WOW, LINDO, BEAUTIFUL and so on. We crossed hills, and mountains, we saw glaciers, the Cerro Castillo range which is just amazing, and the Lago general Carrera which is a not to miss of the area. Its colors…you just can’t imagine them. Blue, green, whitish, and so on. Small islands, rivers, waterfalls, one next to the other. It was sunny, which of course made the journey even nicer as you can imagine. One of the views that stroked me the most were those of dead trees. Ok it seems macabre, but the landscape result is impressive. Hectares of grass with dead and burnt trees, they have this grayish color and strange shapes, some on the ground, some still standing, some still high, but visibly dead. The explanation I was given is that years ago, in the 50s Europeans arrived in these areas to colonize them, a bit like the 2 million Italians in Argentina. People here was mostly german though. When they arrived they found forests and lakes, not what they were looking for, farming land. So decided to make the farming land…They burnt down big areas of forest, trying to clear the land. They haven’t been lucky: this land is not good for farming, maybe potatoes and apples but not much more. The remains of those acts are the forests of dead trees, still a very nice view to my eyes. The lake was of a green/with-ish color, something difficult to explain, I shot so many pictures, hope some of them are good. The reason for the color is the argyles which are in the water coming from the glaciers, they are carrying something which in contact with the algae and soil of the lake give this strange color. Caleta Tortel waters are the same. Oh yeah, something I haven’t mentioned yet is the location of Caleta Tortel. It’s on a fjord between 2 immense ice areas: Campo Hielo Norte and Campo Hielo Sur. Those are glaciers which cover most of south Chile. The Norte one (north) is smaller by meant to be beautiful, the Sur (south) is immense, one of the most inhospitable places to reach in the world. I know of an expedition of 3 italian women trying to cross it. Unfortunately they failed, after 50 days in snow, snow storms and ice. Good girls anyway, I could never do that I think, too cold and too remote! We crossed more rivers, and an area which is part of a big debate: the government want to create some dikes to make electricity using the much water of the area. To make the dike they will have to flood a big area, few villages and then of course the whole area would be covered in electricity poles. The Patagonians down there do not want this, I have seen a book showing what will be the effects of its construction. I don’t know the truth, but this landscape is so pristine and gorgeous like this, with the difficulty of the unpaved road, its wildness, no people and no constructions around, that it’s a pity to change it. Currently there is no approval of the project, all papers are being handed in, maybe another 2 years before the OK, and then maybe 5 years to build it, still long to go, but back to what I said above…in 10 years probably this place won’t look as beautiful as my eyes saw it last week. I have also heard people mentioning that a Spanish company is smuggling in the area machinery for building the dikes, even if no permission yet…big scandals for this. Again, I don’t know if this is true or not, but I know what men can do to destroy nature so…somewhere the truth might be in the middle.

The last 3 hours of the drive had been the longest ones, we got more people in the bus so we were less comfortable, it was getting dark and anyway 9 hours of unpaved road on the back are enough to tire you. It took us 3 hours to drive the last 100km separating Cochrane and Tortel…this gives you an idea of the speed on these roads! I think the whole way was about 450km…in 12 hours…that’s probably a slow record!!! It was 8pm when we reached the parking in Tortel. I said goodbye to the trio and headed to Iris’s house. I had mentioned I wanted something cheap, but did not ask her the price…surprise to come I was afraid. Her house was simple as all the houses around there and with lots of rooms. A big living room close to the kitchen, some kitsch table clothes, curtains and souvenirs, and the TV always on. Then a couple of corridors with many closed doors. A toilet with cold shower and the private one with warm shower (which I got to use anyway, lucky me, but I really needed a shower after 2 days without…it’s just so normal down here, either there’s no shower at all, or the water is cold and as it’s cold outside too, you just give up showering for a day…let’s see it this way: I save the environment by not using water and soap when I don’t shower…isn’t it a better and brighter way to see things???). My room has a double bed, not much space on the side, enough for my bag. After shower it was immediately time for dinner. It was dark, I didn’t know the place and being off season I was expecting not many places to eat, so I chose to eat at Iris. Her husband had cooked some soup and some beef with potatoes, very tasty it’s to be said. I wasn’t alone, there were 4 guys who were working in Tortel to do some studies for a new small harbor. Didn’t talk much with them, but it was interesting to hear them talking about the big flood happened the month before, I guess the same one the 2 Israelis got trapped into. They were telling about water 1/1.5m high, cars crossing with water half way in, and a car which for some reason got flooded and brought away by the stream…it was the car of one of their coworkers, and they even had pictures to show me. Argh, water was really high. Manuel the driver had showed us where the problem occurred, the road was a bit going down but mainly the problem has been that the road had cut in 2 the natural flow of the water, so in case of heavy rain…the road is flooded and the village cut away from the rest of the world for 3 days! Early night for me and long sleep. Up at 9am hearing someone who didn’t sound being Chilean…in fact were a French couple, not very talkative but I understood they are traveling for 1.5 years, they shipped their Toyota Land Cruiser very old model from France to Buenos Aires, they went south and now they are traveling up north and planning to reach Alaska in 1.5 years…good luck to them! A small not on the senora Iris…strange woman, quite hyperactive, she had short hair combed in front of her face, and most of the time on the bus she wore a hat, a male hat. She was wearing kind of Adidas leggings, with boots…she was just a phenomena, a strange look. But she was funny, and enjoyed to laugh. The day wasn’t that good, was raining, but I went out exploring anyway, I had gone all the way down there, and I was going to visit this town! First stop at tourist information, to get a map: I had not realized that Tortel was such extended along the coast, they predicted me 45 minutes/1 hour to reach the other side. Also I didn’t know it was spread along 3 bays, with 3 hills to cross. Finally I didn’t know much about the “pasarelas”, wooden foot bridges which connect the town. There are no roads, just pasarelas or boats. This is part of the charme of the town!!! Every building is made of wood, they are very careful with this. This town was built years ago to serve as a base for cypress processing, there’s a special variety of cypress here, it has a particular smell and it’s reddish.

Every now and then along the pasarela there is a square. It’s a bigger pasarela, like a square, and they covered it. There are at least 4, few benches and that’s it…curious to know how they use it! I went all the way to the end, to a small beach, you can’t swim there but it’s nice, there’s a swing, I play a bit before heading back. The library is a nice red and yellow building, they have internet free. And some nice books, I love this small library, it’s so cozy, and it had some good books as well, I would be there all the time if I would live in Tortel! After the library I met the trio of the day before and headed to the hotel with them: WOW! What a hotel! Maria Paz, my secret sister (she really looks like me!), is an architect and designed the hotel and made it just as she wanted it. It’s amazing. You enter into the living with kitchen, huge living, all wood, great kitchen, all very simple but perfectly chosen, the rooms are fabulous, the bathroom amazing, with a great view over the town. I loved the place. And wow, it’s expensive…130 dollars for a double room, much much higher than everything else (I paid my stay approx 20 dollars a night, including breakfast and dinner!), but it’s worth it, such a lovely place. If you will have go there on honeymoon, that’s the place to go!!!And she is a very good cook, ate so good! I was there, chatting with them, when they started preparing some food, and they offered it to me too. I did not mean to invite myself for lunch, it was 2.30pm when I met them so thought it was after the critical time, but it wasn’t! We had a small appetizer, some wine, I had to taste some kind of grappa homemade, after Jorge the writer prepared some salmon, we had so much laughs during the preparation..he wanted to do something special but turned out being nothing amazing, so the girls teased him lots! We just stayed there chatting, enjoying the fire, the view and the food. Jorge gave me one of his books, it’s so good, I really like his short stories. I stayed there till 6pm, then it was time for a short walk, the sun was shining more than before, so I wanted to catch a glimpse of the town with the sun. Jorge and Cecilia came with me, then we said goodbye, they were staying 1 week, I was leaving the next morning. Lucky guys, they would be taken out by boat to discover the beauties around, they would enjoy books, relax, good food! Back home another good dinner and a long night sleep, next day I wanted to get back to Coyahique…easy to do by bus, but no buses that way, so hitchhike was the only option left. In the morning I went for a last walk around town, last sight of pasarelas, of wooden houses, of this strange place at the end of the world. I was ready to go at 9.30, seen another girl waiting for a ride so we waited together and got something by 10am. A guy, who is delivering books to schools around the Carretera Austral. Every week, or every time new books arrive in Coyahique, he jumps in the car and visit all schools around to deliver them. Many schools, and many kilometers on dirty roads. For a 150km journey it can take 3 hours. This guy was strange, he didn’t talk almost at all. And his air conditioning was very high, it was freezing cold. We realized it was because he hadn’t slept much in the last days so he wanted to keep awake: argh. I was freezing, but he was giving us a ride, didn’t want to be impolite! He was going all the way to Coyahique, so I hoped he could drive me, but he could not as he was picking up 3 guys somewhere. He left both of us at a crossroad, the girl was going to Chile Chico, I was going the other direction. I’ve been luckier than her, the second car passing gave me a ride. He was a young guy who works there for a company related to the damn they want to build. They do checking of the soil, and start building electrical plants or something like this. This guy was nice, he knew about the world and he was interested in Italy. He told me things about life there, nothing new, but he also told me about parties in C!!! He drove me straight to the hostel in C. where I checked in before heading to internet. There for some reason I heard/understood that there was a ferry leaving that night from not far away, direction Chiloe… that was lucky, I wanted to get out of the Carretera Austral, too slow driving there! You know I am crazy enough to jump on a bus direction the harbor to catch a ferry…which I am not even sure it actually goes. Crazy me! So again I did not manage to stay in Coyahique, gues I haven’t missed much. So off I went, got my backpack and jumped on a bus, and then another one. And then I arrived at the harbor and…no ferries leaving that night, argh! I knew it would end up like this, but I wanted to try my luck. No luck. Well that’s ok sometimes, isn’t it? So I stayed for the night in Puerto Aysen, an awful town with just 1 restaurant open in the center. Half of the menu was not available, food was ok but around me there was nothing nice. I was staying in a single room, and…I had TV, first time since the start of the trip, it felt so strange! So I watched TV, there were 3 nice movies so did some zapping before being too tired and giving up, let’s sleep. Damn Chileans…probably because it was Friday night, at about 2am they were chatting downstairs, maybe it wasn’t even too loud, but being the walls very thin, I could hear everything, while I actually wanted to sleep! Long night, didn’t want to get out of bed that morning, but I had to, I was planning to get to Futaleufu at the border with Chili, approx 250/300km away, I thought would be feasible…I overestimate the Carretera always! Oh yeah, of course I did not count on buses, from where I was I should have gone back 1 hour to Coyahique to catch a bus. I thought I would get one on the way. Easy lift out of time. A guy who after few minutes asked me if I believed in life after death, in reincarnation… then he told me that since he was a kid he dreamt of a place, very detailed, always dreaming of it. And then once…he saw a picture, and this was exactly the place of his dreams, in Italy somewhere. He was sure he never saw a picture of this place when kid. Next ride was a young guy with a small truck, and his brother on the truck behind. Their job is to go up the mountains to fetch wood and bring it back to Puerto Aysen where they sell it. They are collecting lots of wood to have enough for the whole winter. Every day they would go up and fill 2 trucks of wood. He showed me nice places, and stopped for me to take pictures in a couple of them. He also wanted to show me condors but at that moment there was none, he was surprised! We crossed a town, there were lots of hitchhikers there, so I asked to be left just outside town. All HH (hitchhikers!) were Israelis, in groups of at least 3, I knew I would be luckier than them to find a lift. Not only because I’m a woman, but because I’m not Israeli. The first car passing stopped, a 70 years old guy, going up the mountains to bring food and supplies to the shop of his nephew. Another nice guy. He was really talkative and he told me about all his life, how he moved to Argentina with his grandmother, how when he was 16 he wanted so badly to be a military so got back to Chili to get his Chilean accent back before applying for military service. He got refused for some health problems but he has been so stubborn that finally he got it, signing that if anything was happening to him because of his heart it would be his own responsibility. He stayed there many years, then married and went back to Argentina and other things like this. I almost didn’t talk, and sometimes it was difficult understanding him, very strong accent and speaking very fast. He was a nice man, he looked so happy of his life, of his wife, his kids and nephews, it’s good when you see something like this, a happy man! He drop me in a small town, where I had to wait for 2 hours for next lift. Again interesting people. They were 4 adults and a kid, in a small bus falling apart. As soon as I got in we had to stop to fix the brakes, something had broken, the wheel was not straight, they fixed it with some rubber and then was ok. They were from Puerto Aysen and they were going to Puerto Cisnes to see some churches. Did not really understand this, they were still debating whether coming back the same evening or staying overnight. They had booklets talking about God and they mentioned they always do this kind of trips. The parents of the kid, possibly a brother and a friend. There were road works and the pavement was very muddy, and because of the bad wheel we ended up out of the road. Luckily there was one bulldozer which pulled us out. Few kilometers after same thing, and another bulldozer helped us. I think it was the guys fault, he could not really drive well, damn, at a certain point I wanted to tell him I could drive instead!! Anyway we survived to get out of the road works and arrived to the crossroad where they were turning out of my way. They left me there, I was so worried I would not get a ride that I happily got a ride with the bus, I was tired and I had already understood that Carretera Austral was going to be slow, and any possible ride was the best choice, I didn’t want to get stuck there, it was even raining!

On that bus there were 2 aussies, which became my travel companions for the next 2 days! But again…this mail is long enough…so this will be the next story!

TortelLen (as Japanese would say my name…making me a good pasta!!)

venerdì 27 marzo 2009

Ren and the big climbers

23rd march, middle of nowhere close to a bridge on the rio Palena, sunny, waiting for a lift together with an aussie couple

Sun is shining, setting is nice, sky is blue, river is green…all is missing is a car picking us up driving us to the next town!! But we have faith, someone will pass by, by the end of the day. And if not…there’s a house just in front of where we are, they are not gonna leave us in the middle of the road, right??

Anyway, my story has to go on, back to the 12th march, for another hitchhiking day. I had to go from Puerto natales to El Chalten. I could have taken a bus at 8am to Calafate, then wait 4 hours there for another bus, arriving in Chalten at 9.30/10pm. Too much of a hassle…let’s go hitching! Yency was with me, and Yency set the starting time to 10am, maybe a bit too late. We went out of town, and waited…many cars passing but all going just around the corner. It’s so funny to see the signs people does to tell you where they go…either pointing right or left, or turning the finger around meaning they just go a bit further and come back. But each of them has different ways of doing, it’s something you learn after the 1st day. Anyway, a guy on a small truck picked us up, only for 5km out of town, then waiting more, walking a bit, trying to get to the junction with the road to Rio Turbio, the border crossing. Nothing, by that time we had spent there 2 hours and moved 5kms! An Argentinean family stopped, they were going to Punta Arenas, so passing by the famous crossroad, iuppi! They were on holidays, 2 weeks around south of Chile, good for them! More waiting at the crossroad, but the 2nd car passing picked up. They lived in Dorotea, the town before the border crossing. This town is so small that there are no shops there, so all shopping has to be done down in Natales, what a life, every week having to travel 30km to get your shopping. They had lots of things but still made place for us. I asked what Dorotea lives on….farming and people working in the mines on the other side of the border, that’s it. Not the place for me! We had to cross the border walking, then decided it wasn’t worth waiting just after the border, we’d better walk to the other border, it’s only 3k away. Argh…it was all uphill! But it was nice thinking we were walking on no men land: we were wandering how it is to live in this place, would you feel Chileanteanian ot Argenteno??!!Finally we reached the top, and then it was downhill to reach the next border and the town. On the way we saw a shrine, there are plenty in Argentina and Chile. There are those for the Gauchito Gil, and other which are small shrines and loads of plastic bottles around, very very strange. I was so curious knowing the reason for it. So when I was passing in front of one, and there was a guy walking the other direction, I stopped him asking what was it! All those shrines with plastic bottles are dedicated to a woman (can’t remember the name..). She had a husband who went to war, and she decided to follow him to support him. They went to the desert and they died there because they had no water…she became a saint (for following her husband!) and to pay respect to her they place plastic bottles with water or even without… I’m not so fully convinced this is the right explanation…but I still have 1 month to find out!!! Back at the border we got all our papers stamped easily, as we weren’t on a bus with lots of people. That’s one of the reasons I prefer crossing hitching, it’s just quicker! The worst one is going into Chile. They do not allow any fruit/diary product into the country. In Argentina there are farm diseases which are not in Chile so they want to prevent them to get in. This means they check every single backpack, small or big. And if you bring something in, they may give you a fine of more than 100USD! Actually if you cross by car or truck, it’s much easier, they check much less, I think they are bothered more by the tourists! Yency had a good story! Coming into Chile from Ushuaia. He had bought an apple to have his healthy day, he doesn’t even like apples that much. He didn’t know about this law. He was caught at the border, they put him on the side, they called him into an office and kicked his ass. Then he had to fill in 3 forms: one to acknowledge he had taken in a prohibited item, the second that states the item would be destroyed and the 3rd to say sorry for having done such a bad act! Finally the employee gave him the mail address of her boss and asked Yency to write him to apologize. Argh!! We kept saying Yency that if he wouldn’t write this mail, he would not be allowed into Chile anymore!!! Anyway, isn’t it a nice story?? Back to Rio Turbio, we walked maybe 7km, a long way, before we got the next ride, a couple from Natales driving to Rio Turbio to get fuel and some other shopping, it’s cheaper there they say! They left us at the famous crossroad I had been before. We headed for some food and then back to waiting. Many trucks passing but not much luck. Until a nice truck stopped, this guy was nice and talkative. Yency’s Spanish isn’t that good yet, but he managed some conversation, I did more anyway. This guy spends most of his time on the road. That day he was going to meet his son in Rio Gallegos for a coffee, then he would head north and his son south. He often spends X-Mas, NYE out of home, sometimes his wife or his daughter are with him. He even told us that his daughter was born on the road, the wife was 7 months pregnant when they set off for him to work up and down. Luckily when she was due they were close to a town, and there they had the baby. He drove us to Esperanza, a crossroad in the middle of nowhere (but how many middle of nowhere there are in this story???), with a gas station, a restaurant, an hospedaje and a night club. There were other 2 hitchhikers, they had been there for 2 hours and nobody stopped. The 3rd truck since I arrived stopped, it wasn’t properly to pick us up, but we asked and he said he would take 2…we let the French go, fairness is important. And luck is even more! 3 minutes later another truck stopped, picked us up, and he was much faster than the first one which we overtook after less than 10 eh eh! This truck was going to Calafate, perfect for Yency, less for me, I wanted to go to Chaiten, another 180km up the road! He left me at the crossroad, wishing me a big good luck, they were a bit scared for me, it was 6.30pm already and the way was still long. But I wasn’t worried, I was there at the crossroad, 45km away from Calafate and the road was pretty busy in that direction. I had decided to wait there till 7.30pm, if nobody I would go to Calafate! But…as soon as I got off the truck a car stopped. A couple, they said they were going to a town half way, perfect for me! Young guys with wool just sheared off some sheep, they were also smoking marijuana and asked me if I had any problem…as long as I don’t have to smoke it, it’s up to you, Finally they didn’t manage to lit up the strange pipe they were using, so they smoked a cigarette…and they drop me off 20km further up in the middle of nowhere…they were turning westwards towards a town 95kms away. I felt a bit desperate. It was 6.50pm, and I was even more in the middle of nowhere, no gas station, no houses, no shelters, I was looking around trying to figure out where I could spend the night in case I couldn’t get a lift. The guys told me to walk a bit, in few kms I would find the house of the viability guys, they would help me. So I started walking, it was windy, it was uphill, I cried…of course because of the wind, not because I felt lonely out there! A car passed, didn’t stop. Another one passed, didn’t stop, I looked at them in despair…they realized I was there, on my own, they stopped and reversed, made space and picked me up. They saved me! They had gone to Calafate to do shopping, pay bills and so on, and now they had to go back to hom, Tres Lagos, a town 30km after the crossroad to Chalten. They didn’t stop at first because they thought it was strange to see a girl in the middle of nowhere, they thought maybe there was a guy hidden somewhere, or things like this. But then they saw my despair, and understood I was just a lonely girl in need of help! Nice guys, they played some nice music, they chatted a bit, and they drive me through wonderful landscape, lots of lakes, hills, I again felt I was on the moon (not that I know how it feels like being on the moon!). Another though life is theirs…living in a small town, working for the government, having to drive 200*2km every 2/3 weeks to do shopping, having to stock for the winter as road condition gets worst with snow…I do not envy this people, but I admire them. Maybe it’s just because you are used to this, so you don’t know what else can be life. Sometimes I feel spoiled…my life is so very easy! I can get everything I want whenever I want! At 8pm they left me at the crossroad. I was sure I would be picked up (I knew the bus leaving Calafate at 6.30pm would pass there sometimes at 8.30/9) but they still suggested me in case I would have to stay there to walk a bit further up, there was a small bridge, those for water to pass under the roads. This bridge is small but enough for a person to shelter in it. This made me a bit more confident. 5/10 minutes later a guy passed by, and picked me up, and drove me all the way to town. He owns a hotel in town, a good one, too expensive for me. He gave me some good suggestions for hikes. He had been to Rio Gallegos for a week, he also had to do some shopping and pay bills, go to the bank and so on… In Chalten there are no banks. Everywhere it is said there are no ATMs and no exchange offices. Actually since few months 1 ATM has reached this town…which is very good as I didn’t have enough money to survive the 3 days I was going to stay there and the bus fare to leave town!! Chalten is a relatively new town, the hotel guy had arrived there 15 years ago and at that time only 40 people lived there, now there are 1200 in summer and 400 in winter. This town was created to give a sign to Chile that this area is Argentinean, there had been some fights and even a small war for the border line, I actually think there are still problems in that area! After the town was created, tourists started arriving, as it is very close to the Fitz Roy, a wonderful peak, one of the most difficult peaks to climb, the biggest challenge for a climber! That’s the reason we all tourists were see this mountain, and the nearby Cerro Torre! The hotel guy drove me to a hostel, Rancho Grande, I got a room there and spend an easy night writing my mail and relaxing. This hostel was so very busy, too many people around, I didn’t like it that much, just didn’t feel comfortable there. Furthermore that night it’s the night in which the Israelis came in the room at 1am switching on the light, talking if I wasn’t there, leaving the room with the light on, and coming back again at 4am chatting and not caring. At that point I said to shut up and switch off the light…it took them another 15 minutes to actually do it. Where is respect for other people?? In the morning I just wanted to leave, I couldn’t stay there a minute more. Even if those guys were leaving as well, I had to leave! It was raining, not the best day to go hiking, so just took it easy and slowly made my way to another hostel, Condor de los Andes, which resulted being very nice with nice people. The girls at reception were also very useful, which made my stay even nicer. There I immediately met this kiwi girl with whom we went to buy the bus ticket to leave town. A nice Israeli girl (respectful, older than the big groups making lots of noise, and travelling alone…so you could actually talk to her!) told us she had been stuck 4 days in that town because she didn’t buy her ticket early enough…this convinced us to quickly buy it, there were only 6 places left when we got our tickets, lucky!!! That day I just chilled out, slept a bit to recover from the lovely Israelis noise, and then in the afternoon headed out to some hills out of town. Weather turned better, sun was out, and these were easy walks to get a nice view of town. Very easy walks, it took me half of the time the rangers predicted, and the view was ok. The second hike was to a nicer place, there was a nice view of the Lake Viedma, I hoped I could see the glacier Viedma but no chance from there. I even walked further out in the bushes but still nothing. On the way back…Carramba…I met again Ellen! We walked together back to the view point and exchanged stories of our trips, nice adventures both of us! Back in town we had a coffee and headed to the Rancho Grande being also an information point, but not being very useful to be honest! There I discovered every night that week there was a movie night, and Slumdog Millionaire was the movie for that night. As I had missed it in the cinemas, I couldn’t miss it there, it was even for free! So back to my hostel for a shower, some advertisement to the people there and off I went. Very very nice movie, enjoyed it a lot. Although the bloody Israelis of the night before were still there not watching the movie and talking loud about whatever just in the middle of the audience of the movie…terrible! After that a beer with Ellen and friends, and another one at the micro-brewery of Chalten. It’s such a small place and they brew their own beer…this is worst than Belgium!! But the place is nice and cozy, and the blond beer not so bad (the dark one is too bitter for me). The next morning weather had changed: SUN!!! From the town we had a wonderful view of both Cerro Torre and Fitz Roy, AMAZING! Felt like you could touch them! Met Ellen again and off we went for the hike to Fitz Roy base. We did hitchhike to a Hosteria and started from there, slightly different from what most people does, a bit shorter, and at least you don’t go up and down on the same path. Nice views, nice glaciers. The mountains are so rocky! We arrived at the base camp before the steep hike to the base of the Fitz Roy and…in the distance…Sara and Jakob, the Danish of the Torres del Paine. We run towards each other shouting of joy, ah ah ah! So funny! They had been camping the night before, getting up there in the rain and even snow, poor them. Now they were going to see the Cerro Torre, we decided to have a beer together that evening in the brewery, to have a quiet chat there. The walk up was very steep and the sun was shining, not easy. This time I didn’t have hiking boots, just my running shoes, which are good but not that strong on the ankle, so I had to pay lots of attention both going up and coming down. But what a reward! Up the last ridge and…THE FITZ ROY, just in front of you, stunning, high, steep, rocky. What a view! A small lake at its feet, I can’t believe there is people climbing it!! It was the perfect setting for lunch, and for a nap, in the sun, with the breeze and with the view. It was so relaxing and enchanting. Uhm, I believe by the end of this trip I will have to learn new words to express feelings of beauty or happiness…it’s all just so amazing! We had no words, we stayed there admiring the mountain, in silence, enjoying the color of the lake, of the glaciers, of the sky. We stayed there 1 hours or so, we had lunch and a nap, in the sun, lying on a rock, enjoying the peace. But it was time to go on, to check out the Laguna Sucia which means “dirty lagoon”, it was just a lake and it looked so clean, I guess the name comes from the fact that this lake is not directly formed by a glacier, so it’s dirty??? Not sure ;-) At that point we were in such a good form and the weather was so good, and the weather for the next day was forecasted as pretty crap, that we decided to add an extra 2 hours hiking for the day, and go to the other side of the park to check out the Cerro Torre. This mountain is like a spike, very thin and high, again a big challenge for all climbers, and very famous within Italians as seems like the first guy climbing it was Italian, but nobody actually knows if he actually reached the top or not, taking into account that the top of the peak is covered in ice, and he never climbed it…those Italians you can never trust them ;-))) Anyway, we happily started this extra leg of circuit to see this Cerro Torre, it was worth it, the hike was wonderful (and easy as it was mostly downhill!!) and the sight was again a prime sight, it’s such an amazing mountain! For this part of the hike I had joined the guys from the hostel, an American, a kiwi and a swiss, chatting most of the time with this swiss/german. Can’t even remember his name, because he had about 3 names and 4 surnames, or better to say his grandpa was a count or something like this, so he is a Von something…we even checked out his passport to make sure he wasn’t saying a lie, there was almost no space in the passport page to write the full name, argh!! But he was a nice guy, nice chat so it was enjoyable. As the view was so good we decided to wait for the sunset, to watch it from a viewpoint. Again so nice, the sun was setting behind the Cerro Torre, giving reddish colors and a nice picture light. Quickly back in town I realized we could see both mountains straight from town…why hike 10 hours when you can have same view from the terrace of a café in town??? Well…because maybe there are no nice café tarrces in town?? Or…well…because hiking in mountains is such a nice thing to do!!!!

As said times before, the world is very small, so as soon as I reached town I met the dutch couple of the Torres del Paine, same thing as the dutch, we run to each other, or better after 10 hours hiking I let Mark running towards me ;-) I also invited them to the brewery meeting, and also mentioned I was going to be late…argh it was 8.30pm already and I was supposed to cook pasta for the swiss, I would never make it by 9.30!! Shopping and then a wonderful pasta with zucchini and cream sauce was ready to be eaten…considering the cheap pasta I found, the almost rotten zucchini, the little salt I had…the pasta was delicious…I got lots of compliments…but compliments by swiss/American/kiwi/Israelis maybe are not the most fair. Still I think it wasn’t that bad! After…beer with the guys and again lots of fun and chats! This guys are just so fun, hope we will meet again sometimes. Oh yeah, we decided we will go and meet the American teachers (Liz and Jim) in Jakarta next year, we need to take advantage of them ;-)) The next day was Sunday and we already knew it was going to rain…looks like people in Chalten are the best weather forecasters in the world: if they say it’s gonna be sunny, it’s true, if they say it will rain, it will be true, just trust them and don’t ask questions! So lazy Sunday. Had to wake up by 10am to free the room (why so early??), but stayed around for breakfast (the usual sweets from La Panaderia Nieve, the best in town, trust me!) and for more chats with the guys. Rain stopped a bit and I decided to venture uptown to Rancho Grande for internet and to check out if there was anything going on there. And…Carramba ;-) Jim and Liz where there, preparing their backpack to go hiking…I think they are crazy. Was such an awful day, and they wanna go walking 3.5hrs under the rain in the cold, to reach a camping and stay there hoping for a better weather the next day…I hope they got it, I left town 11.30pm that night and haven’t heard of them since, but I trust they somehow managed…well they had an appointment up there with the dutch couple so should be ok! I then spend the rest of the afternoon there, playing cards with 2 irish and 2 dutch met on the spot, they needed a 4th playes (the 2nd dutch wasn’t there when I joined!) and I was just there. Really nice guys, we had lots of laughs. One of them is an aircraft engineer, he is the one who is flown wherever there is a plan in need of fixing…he is my man, better he do a nice work when they need him, with all the flights I take every year! He is a specialist for 2/3 types of planes, including the Avro Arj, the Brussels airlines aircrafts which I use so often!!! At 5 or 6 I headed back to my hostel for dinner time, the guys cooked me a steak, some salad and we still had pasta leftover, even more tasty than the night before. We still had hours to wait before the 11.30pm bus, this was such a boring day, doing nothing but waiting for a bus, I hated it, like a lost day, not productive at all. I was even so lazy that I didn’t manage to write more than few lines of my mails, what a waste! But this is what I am, if I have lots of time, I will waste it doing nothing…lazy Ren! Anyway, 11.30pm finally arrived…not the bus but…be faithful and you’ll be rewarded. By half past midnight we finally hit the road, the bumpy one of course…we had 14 hours of dirty road ahead of us…to be honest I should say I had about 10 days of dirty road ahead of me, as I was heading towards the Carretera Austral in Chile…didn’t know it was so very unpaved…and I have actually been lucky as they had been paving big bits of it in the last 2/3 weeks!!! Even if I had done nothing the whole day, I could still sleep on the bus, quite a lot I should say. We stopped for breakfast in a town along the road: this town had a gas station, a hotel, a strange toilet guy directing toilet traffic in and out and petting a small dog all the time, a camping and maybe 4 houses…what a town! And 3/ 4 hours from the nearest town who can actually be defined town! Contenti loro! I slept again after breakfast, then chatted with the English guys sitting behind me and finally reached Los Antiguos, the end of my trip on the Ruta 40, the longest unpaved road in Argentina, the dream of many, few gas stations, unpaved road, pampa, the Ande in the distance and not much else. Kind of boring ;-)

And this is also the end of today’s mail, now I am only 10 days behind in my stories, argh, and I did so many kilometers and many adventures…I will succeed in catching back…maybe!


martedì 17 marzo 2009

Connection between blackouts

22.03, 12th march 2009, El Chalten, exhausted, survivor, very windy

I moved on, re-entered Argentina, another 2 stamps on the passport…it’s getting pretty full, and it’s only 2 years old…do I travel too much??

But I am late with my stories, 12 days of so many adventures that it will take me a full day to write them all! But…I love it so much to write them, and to read your enthusiastic comments, that I happily spend my time writing instead of sleeping or wandering around town in the wind (and darkness, I cannot even see the mountains I came to see!!)

It was the 28th of February, the day I got back from Antarctica, back on the known, on land, on land covered with trees, with cities, shops, hostels, people, internet. With Leonie we have been the last ones leaving the ship, apart from the crew obviously! I didn’t have any hostel booked, but Jordi had, having so many cameras and lenses with him (and pretty expensive ones!) he had reserved a private room, and this room had 2 single beds, so he asked to share, why not, at least I’m not gonna be alone and I can be very very messy again, eh eh! Sometimes I ask myself if I am an internet addicted..don’t think so, maybe more a communication addicted…the first thing I did when getting in the room has been switching on the computer and connecting to the world, to let everyone know I was safe and happy back! Chatted with Mum & Dad, with RS, and got the beautiful news of J&C getting married in june: I am so so very excited for them!!!Congratulations guys!!!

We were then hungry so got out to find some food, and while wandering around town we came across with half of the people who was in the ship. 5 of them were in an irish pub for lunch, so we joined them. Few minutes later the dutch/german couple passed by and waved through the window (we had a tactical window table!), then passed Leonie and she came in as well for food. Then another one, then the Japanese, and finally 2 guys from the crew came in for some beers. It was just the unplanned meeting point! Lunch went by nicely with sharing memories of ice and leopard seals. Next step was a nap, I’m getting old for sleeping only 3 hours a night! With Leonie we organized to go for dinner, we picked her up in her hostel, she was chatting with an aussie guy who also worked on Antarctic ships and has been long enough in Ushuaia to know some good restaurants. So he suggested us Mama Lola, he couldn’t have given us a better suggestion. This place was fancy from the outside and inside but the food not too expensive and the best tasted ever! I had a bife de chorizo and it was just amazing. Corona, this is the place to eat the best meat in argentina, so far! Jordi has been a bad boy…he left us to go for a 5 minutes phone call, but he came back 45 minutes later, and we two gentle girls had waited for him to eat…that’s not the way to do my dear guys!!! He said he had to call his brother for a job thing, but we are sure he called the girlfriend! Anyway, food was exquisite, I can still remember the taste of that beef, how was melting in the mouth, how I savored every single bite of it. It wasn’t too late but we were tired, and the schedule for the next day was though: be up and ready by 10am to catch a bus to the Tierra del Fuego national park for a bit of hiking there. We made it on time the next morning (well, kind of bit late, Jordi is very Spanish for this, always late!) and we started a very nice day in the middle of enchanted valleys. We did the first bit, was supposed to be 3 hours long…it took us 4.5hrs, would have been longer but at the end we rushed!! We started at the post office: you could have an “end of the world” stamp on your passport for 6 pesos…stupid…we have an Antarctica stamp for free!! (and also a penguin and a walrus…my passport is very nice and unique now!!). We started our way into the path, in between trees, small bays, birds, flowers, ducks. Every step we would stop to take a picture. Who was the worst?? Jordi of course, being a photograph, he could not stop changing lenses (he had 3! Well I had 2, but changed them maybe 3 times, he changed 50!!), making sure the light was ok, the aperture was the correct one and so on…at the end we had to forbid him to take pictures to make it to our bus connection to go to the very end of the world in that area! Later in the day we wanted a picture the 3 of us together, so we asked some guys to take it, with my camera. I had normal settings, but Jordi didn’t like the result of it, so changed 4 times the settings, then we were too far away, then too close, than it was not the best background… those guys have been very very patient with us! And he also made sure the pictures were RAWs, so he can play with them to have them perfect…still need to find a way to give him the RAWs as they are huge files! On the way we have also found 5 Calafate berries. These are similar to black (or blue) berries, but are typical of Tierra del Fuego/south Patagonia (Torres del Paine) areas. It is said that if you eat the berries, you will come back to Tierra del Fuego/Patagonia: we wanna come back one day!!! Also I am very sensitive with this thing about coming back… In 1975 my parents went to Rome and threw a coin behind their shoulder into the Fontana di Trevi… few months later my Dad got moved to Rome and I was born there!! Anyway, we had our Calafate berry, so we hope the superstition works! From this trail we went to the end of the world in this area, a view point into a lake with some islands, nothing special. But walking back has been pretty nice. The sun came out, we visited a “turbal” (sorry can’t remember the English name…only thing I can say is “turf” but this is a private joke between Leonie and Jordi with myself as a witness, so please don’t ask…. Guys the turf bit still makes me laugh my heart out!!!), we saw nice lakes, nice rainbow, mountains where it was snowing and you could see the snow was coming down just at that moment…It was 6pm and Leonie had to go back to town to buy her bus ticket to El Calafate for the next morning (5am start..20 hours ride…crazy! I decided to do it by plane, 1h flight, 20 euros more…for once I take it!!). Me and Jordi stayed a bit longer, to visit a nice lake. It was cold and windy, so we decided to go to the cafeteria and have a tea…but Jordi saw some birds and disappeared leaving me alone sipping my hot tea…where are gentlemen gone?? Ah ah. Back in town quickly, just enough time to get changed and off to dinner again. Picked up Leonie and asked that aussie guy again for another suggestion. The Comedor Patagonico was good but less than Mama Lola. Patrick (the aussie) joined us as well: it was so funny when P. was asking questions to J. and sometimes J. could not understand (P. had a very strong accent, I had problems myself sometimes!) so he would turn to me and ask translation…sorry Jordi I am teasing you, don’t be permaloso!!! We hugged Leonie goodbye, I wasn’t sure myself where I would be the next day, was thinking of taking that flight out of there. But in the morning I could not get a place on the plane so stayed longer. Took the chance to buy a new pair of trousers and…bumped into Leonie, who had missed her bus having stayed up chatting with Patrick till 4am and then slept through the alarm. It’s good that none of us is in a rush, so a small change of plan didn’t really bothered us! Jordi was going diving, Leonie had things to do, so I headed to a nice hike out of town. A bit of an off the road hike. I didn’t want to stay out too much, so I made my own route, putting together 3 pieces of 3 different hikes. The first part was entirely within a forest, a very thick forest, very thin and tall trees. There was absolutely nobody around, I felt a bit lonely to be honest. From there I turned into the second leg, which took me within bigger trees and wet ground. Then I hit the turbal field, it was so wet that my shoes were drenched and my trousers (the new ones!) were very dirty… I kept going for 20 minutes before realizing that I had lost the track, I was completely lost! In a turbal/forest where there was none else, nobody knew I was going there..if anything had happened to me, I would have been stuck there, with very little chance to be found! Not a nice feeling, I tell you! So, wise Renata came out and decided it was not worth trying to go on and reach the 3rd leg, so I turned back and walk all the way back to town on the same path I did to get there. Luckily I have a very good orienteering sense!

I was wet, dirty and cold when I got back to the hostel, I took a shower and got into bed to try to warm up, and waiting for Jordi to cry my misadventure out (internet was not working! For whatever reason the whole Tierra del Fuego had been cut out of internet, someone cut a line in a northern province!). But of course J. didn’t come back when he said he would! My shoes were wet (I washed them) and I had no other warm shoes, only the flip flops and the black sandals (those of the Antarctic party), so it was not easy to get out for a stroll. But I couldn’t stay home, so left wearing socks and flip flops: I never thought I would be able to do something ugly and out of fashion like this, but life is strange and bring us doing strange things ;-)) On my walk I met Leonie and we went for a sort of lunch and chat. Back to the hostel J was finally back (he had a good dive!), 1 hour and we had to be ready: Leonie and P. were coming over for an aperitif (a bottle of San Telmo Malbec red wine: we love it, it just taste good and is cheap!), to celebrate our last day together! L. and P. the next day were going hiking around there, and I was leaving to Calafate. Jordi was staying, few more days of diving for him, in the hope for a perfect shot…hope he got it! Celebration went on in Mama Lola of course, we all love that place! And who do we meet there? Some guys who were in Antarctica with us, they were also leaving the next day…el mundo es un panuelo… (y tu eres my mojo preferido!!!). The beef was amazing again, and the Calafate icecream might give us an extra chance to go back there sometimes in our lives! The night has been short, 7am wakeup call as Jordi was diving at 8am, and I had to pack all my mess to catch the 10am flight. It was a wonderful day, not a cloud in the sky, I almost decided to stay another day just to enjoy the sun (I still didn’t have my flight ticket, they said I could just go to the airport at 9am and get it right there at the check in!), but then…every good thing has an end (I did write this sentence in my last mail, isn’t it? Does is means that I am having all the time only good things???), I want to keep Ushuaia in my heart as the place that brought me Antarctica, that gave me the best meat ever eaten, and who brought me 2 very good friends I hope I will not lose (remember guys: we have the cheese and the beer tour planned! Jordi what do you offer from Barcelona??).

So I got that taxi to the airport, I bought that ticket, I boarded that plane, I flew above marvelous lakes, mountains, glaciers, to land at Lago Argentino shore, ready for the famous Perito Moreno. I did feel a bit lonely. I had been within known people for 20 days or so, now I had to start over again, but I was just not feeling ready to do it, I wanted to be social but at the same time I wanted to be on my own. I guess it’s ok if this happens every month or so, isn’t it? I actually didn’t know what I wanted to do, maybe straight to Puerto Natales hitchhiking, tried to convince a Mexican guy to come with me but he didn’t want, so ended up taking a transfer to Calafate and check out from there. Still not clear what to do, I wandered through bus companies and tourist information finally deciding to stay in town for 2 nights, visiting Perito Moreno and then off to Torres del Paine. The hostel was fair, I just couldn’t be bothered with looking for a nicer place, I just wanted a bed and internet! And sun…it always help. I headed to the river shore, and stayed there for a little while reading and enjoying the lovely view. Back to town I headed for a milkshake in a very nice and cozy place, nice music and good milkshake (strawberry: my ratio for the whole week…if I eat too much fruit my body will feel strange!!). Something that impressed me is that in many shops there were signs in Hebrew, there are so many Israelis around that they even make posts in their language. They all travel in big groups after finishing the 2/3 years military service. And they are…noisy and… I will not say anything now about it, will keep it for later on, after my stories of Torres del Paine! Anyway anyone who have travelled a bit will understand what I mean. The evening arrived slowly, and I was there in this hostel on my own. I went to buy some food for dinner, but I hadn’t brought much money with me so had to give back some food/water to reach the amount I had…the girl saw me giving back the water, and felt bad so she gave me the water anyway even if I could not pay it (ok, it was something like 50 eurocents so it’s not much…but this people is always very nice and genuine in their help!). The common room was empty, I sat there, luckily there was internet, and Fra looking for celebration mate, he had got a good work opportunity, so we spent a couple of hours chatting over facebook and skype, and this made my evening, together with a bit of chatting in the kitchen area where I met some of the girls in my room. It was actually very nice, we were an Italian, a French, a Belgian, a german, and Austrian and only one Argentinean…and we all spoke Spanish together, it was so funny, we had at least another if not 2 common languages but being in argentina we spoke Spanish! The Argentinean girl was really funny and full of enthusiasm, especially being the only local in the group! The next morning the tour to Perito Moreno was planned or better decided, but obviously I didn’t have a ticket yet. No worries, I went to the bus station and bought my ticket, all smooth! Bus ride, panorama view point stop and then off to the lake shore for a boat ride close to the glacier. Nice. The sun was shining, and the color of the glacier was white and blue… definitely not as blue as in Antarctica… I was actually a bit disappointed after this catamaran ride, we got close to the glacier, we could see it falling apart which was nice, but not much more it was not that high and not as impressive as the Paradise Bay ones. I learnt a bit about this glacier…its size is bigger than Buenos Aires area…can you believe???And it’s not the biggest one in the area!! It has many cracks/crevasses, these are due to the different speed of movement between the center and the side of the glacier. It moves forward 2 m/day!!!!!But it also cracks so it’s actually not visibly moving much. It’s 30km long and 5km wide, and it’s not made of frozen water!!!!! Yep, do you think a glacier is made of frozen water??? Then you are wrong! The glacier is made of compacted snow. The other peculiarity of this glacier is that one of its side is expanding towards the side of the lake, and every some years it actually reaches the shore and start building a wall of ice, blocking the 2 sides of the lake. But then pressure arise, and water excavate the ice creating a kind of bridge which then may fell off, a big crash of ice into the water, making it one of the biggest natural shows in nature around here.

After the boat trip I moved to the glacier lookouts, some path down towards the glacier, getting pretty close to it. Amazing, I really liked this, it impressed me lots, mainly hearing when it was cracking down, it made such a noise. The longer the noise, the big the cracking. Not been able to take a good picture though, you had to stay there and wait and be fast enough to have the camera on pointing to the right spot and then you could catch this natural wonder of ice cracking and falling into water. You know, I am not patient enough to stand still for more than 5/10 minutes so I missed many good shots. I walked all the way, enjoyed every single crack, took pictures of each and every one of them, it was sunny and then cloudy so the colors were rapidly changing. The path went very close, I heard of people crossing the barriers and getting onto the ice, right down the glacier. I didn’t do it, I’m a wise woman! Then I started raining so everybody jammed the cafeteria to drink something warm overpriced of course. Then the sun was out again and off I went for a last look. During the way I spoke with a Spanish couple, they actually started talking to me, after we met the second time I asked them where they were from…Burgos…oh I have been there once, for 5 hours…oh yes, why? Well I was visiting a supplier… We find out that the guy actually worked for that supplier (which was actually my worst supplier… James can you recognize them??) and now he works for another one of them…can you believe? I’m 15000km from home and someone tells me about work…arghhhhhhh. He was even asking me something about the Toyota Way…I don’t wanna know anything about it…I’m off from work!!!!!!!!!

Anyway, time at the glacier was over, the bus was there waiting for us, El Calafate another time! Arrived there I had my big surprise…I wanted to leave the next morning at 8.30 for Puerto Natales, but the 2 buses were full, the only chance was to leave on the 4om one, arriving at 9.30pm, uff too late, I would miss the 3pm chat about the Torres del Paine trekking and my chance to find someone to do the trekking with, meaning having to spend an extra day in Natales waiting for the next 3pm chat. No way, I really didn’t want to spend more time in Calafate, and I didn’t want to miss the chat. So…the decision came quickly and easily…I will hitchhike to Natales, it’s not that far, I can do it!!! Decision taken, I felt hunger coming up, so stopped at the bookbar for some food! I loved that place, lots of books, smooth environment, lots of sentences written all over. The one I likes the most: “a farewell is necessary to return to meet again. And a reunion, after a moment or after the whole life, is something unavoidable” (una despedida es necesaria para volver a reecontrarse. Y un reencuentro, despues de un momento o despues de toda una vida, es algo inevitable...)

That’s the sentence, do whatever you want with it, I like it anyway!

No dinner that night, but stayed in the kitchen area chatting with the same people of the night before, working on my pictures, uploading them and waiting for bed time. I was feeling better, ready to go on with the trip, to move to Puerto Natales and to the first 5 days trekking ever of my life..will I succeed to get to the end without blisters, cold, injuries?? What do you think???

This section of the story will finish in a short while, after the brief story of my hitchhiking. The bus was leaving at 8.30, but I was tired and anyway it was full, hitchhiking can be done at any time, so being my lazy self, I woke up at 8.30, got ready, bought some food for the way and at 9.20 off I went to the main road out of time and waited for my first ride…it didn’t take me more than 5 minutes, and the first truck passing stopped there and picked me up. It was so fortunate! He was driving all the way to Rio Turbio, which sits at the border with Chile!!!He was a nice guy, young, we chatted a lot, he was so interested in my trip. He did a truck shortcut (on a dirty road – unpaved) so we got there in 2.5hrs, very quick I tell you. Just off the truck, few cars passed and then a bus stopped. I was not even hitchhiking then, buses are not the best one to take you, but this guy was actually a bus driver for the workers in the mines of rio turbio, he was empty and he drove me few kilometers towards town. Rio turbio is a big mining town, 2500 workers there, coal mine, they even have a mining museum and a train line directly to Rio Gallegos, just to transfer coal! Off the bus I got another guy who drove me to the town center, from there I walked a bit, and another guy picked me up and drove me to the border. This guy was going to play football, he saw me and decided to make a deviation to drive me. He seemed nice but he drove at maximum 20km/h (and the road was perfectly fine) and after few minutes he said he wanted to go and visit Europe but the only way he could stay there longer was to marry an Italian or a Spanish girl…not me!! Of course I didn’t say it, and I was not even worried, the border was 4km away and there was just one road. I actually guess he just wanted to know a bit more about Italy! At the border I quickly passed and behind me there was a guy by car. I crossed the border and when he crossed it by car he picked me up. He was Chilean from Chiloe (I will go there!) but he had been living 15 years at the mines in Rio Turbio, and that day he was driving those 30kms to Puerto Natales to see his brother who was living there. This was very fortunate…he drove me right in front of the hostel I had booked! So my first hitchhiking alone was very successful. I started at 9.30 and arrived at 13.30: the bus had started an hour earlier and arrived 30 minutes after me… hitchhike beats bus 4 to 5.5!!! I was so proud of my very quick ride!!! I settled down in my room and…waited for 3pm, the famous chat about Torres del Paine, my chance to find someone to do this hiking trip together with!

But…this is another story ;-)))

So, great time in Ushuaia, quiet time in Calafate, if we wanna make it short! But still nice experiences, nice places and nice people, which is exactly what I want from my trips!!!

9pm, still 2.5hrs to go to my next bit of my trip…13.5 hours on a bus to make it to the Chilean border to cross there, I would love to be able to start my Carretera austral trip tomorrow…but it all depends on buses: that side of Chile is the least populated and connected to the world. There’s a town called Villa O’Higgings: the road ends there, after that Chile is just mountains and fjords covered in ice, inaccessible place unless by boat!

Next story will be about the 5 days in Torres del Paine…I just tell you that these can be renamed “Towers of Pain” as everybody going there experience wind/rain/sun/snow all in one day… how has it been for me?? Stay tuned and you’ll get the answer in a couple of days!!!

FindelMundoRen (EndOfTheWorldRen)

giovedì 12 marzo 2009

If there's Ren, there's party!!!

18.56, 4th march 2009, El Calafate, Borges&Alvarez librobar (bookbar), tired after a day at the blue glacier (Perito Moreno)

Well, I guess you all know it, but the penguins didn’t!!

The second day in Antarctica saw us arriving at an Island, Courveille Island. A bit disappointed… very similar to the first landing the day before, penguins all over, some birds, some seals, but not even a lovely Weddell seal. I wanted ice, I wanted icebergs… I had to be patient few more hours! We had seen our first icebergs the night before, to be honest actually only small pieces of ice, nothing more, but enough to get all of us excited! Nothing compared to the next day, the second landing in the afternoon… Paradise Bay. It’s THE CONTINENT!!! Finally we are landing in the real Antarctica. I was excited, like a baby jumping and laughing all the time. Couldn’t wait to set foot on this place, all white around (also the sky unfortunately) and only a handful of us! This is something very good about this trip…we were only 39 passengers, and only 14 “topside” people, which means every time we were landing we were few, you could feel alone. I had almost booked a trip with a bigger ship, 110 passengers…this means 110 people landing at same time, and there is actually a restriction on landings…maximum 100 people, which means I could have missed a landing…mine has been a wise decision!!

Anyway, we landed at the Argentinean Base Almirante Brown, we did not actually went to the base, but we crossed it and climbed a hill in the snow. From its top we had a beautiful view of the bay, but mainly the glaciers reaching the water, it was all so white, but also blue, which is what actually strikes me the most. We climbed up, and then walked a long way in the snow, it was snow never touched before, all so white it was so easy to get lost. I walked on my own, listening to the sound of the ice, and of the glaciers falling apart and crashing into the water. I felt like one of those explorers 20 year ago, with sledges and husky, crossing the white continent from corner to corner looking for a new discovery… ok ok I am exaggerating a bit too much now, but sometimes it good to feel powerful, isn’t it?? Anyway, we enjoyed the great view from up there, I would have loved so much to camp there for the night, must be cool. Unfortunately this was not included in this trip, so missed this chance. They do it normally at the beginning of the season, and another organization, anyway it might have been too cold to sleep, isn’t it??

After the ice walk, we had to get back to the zodiac…and we did bumslide!!! SOOOOO cool!! Downhill on our butt, we got some speed to, and laughed a lot. Obviously I was so wet afterwards, but who cares to get wet when you can slide in Antarctica??? Anyway the day wasn’t over yet, our zodiac driver Dyma took us on a small zodiac cruise next to the glaciers: FANTASTIC (as Jamie would say!). I am unsure how to describe this. I could do it in 5 words: blue color, strange shapes, huge. This is summarizing pretty well the glaciers and the icebergs we saw. But…it’s not my style, to reduce this experience into 5 words…ah ah, Mum made me too chatty for this!!! We got on the zodiac and we got very close to the glaciers, you could clearly hear them moving, luckily we were at a safety distance as few times they’ve been falling apart, with huge noises, something like when your stomach rumbles cause is hungry, like this but much more loud! You see they are breaking, they have holes, and the holes are even more blue than the outside, the blue light is more trapped there. 1 hour we stayed there, we saw seals as well, we went through icebergs and brash, which are those small pieces of ice which is the beginning of the big icing of the water. The zodiac navigates on top of it, and crush it a bit, but mainly goes over it. It was cold, we were wet but we didn’t care, our eyes were all for the ice, I could have stayed there the whole night, shooting pictures and staring at it. But the hour went, and we had to go back to the ship, the day was over, we had to say goodbye to the continent, I kept looking back from the zodiac, and when I was already on the ship, from the portholes of the bar and then the restaurant, I had to grasp each and every second of this fantastic and remote place. Not sure I have mentioned anything about our evenings on the ship…not much to mention to be honest. Dinner always early, too much food, then a bit at the bar to finish off with the chats. Then we would normally watch a documentary about Antarctica and that’s about it, too tired to make it a long night, by 11pm we were in bed. It’s also understandable seen the way TOO early wake up calls in the mornings! One day they woke us up at 6.30am, can you believe? ME UP AT 6.30??? NO WAY!!! But what I hated the most was that they would wake us up at 6.30, then breakfast was starting at 7am till 8am and we had to be ready for the excursion by 8.30: 2 hours to get ready??? 30 minutes were more than enough!!! So I would normally sleep an extra hour than carry myself out of bed down to the breakfast, walking like a zombie for about 45 minutes, looking in the void, not even being able to smile, having auto-pilot breakfast and trying to finally have my eyes open by the time to get into the zodiac for the landing. That 3 days in Antarctica had been the worst one, I have been sleepy till 11.30am, just could not wake up. Petr, one of the guides, kept asking me every half an hour if I was finally awake, and I kept answering no, till lunch time! Not that in that morning there was anything very exciting to do. We went to Port Lockroy, which is an English base where they have a museum and a post office. You can buy souvenirs, see how people used to live there, talk with these guys living there 6 months a year and send a postcard…if the boat would be coming over! But the last mail ship had gone already for the season, next one is gonna be in November, so they don’t get mail anymore, damn it! I anyway stamped my passport, and checked out the museum. Actually what was more curious has been to see the room where this people is living now. They are 3, and they have a room big like my living room in Brussels, and that’s where they have their bed, their clothes, their kitchen, basically their house for those 6 months. Nothing more. At least they receive lots of tourists so they have plenty of chances to chat. I cant imagine living on a base, with little amount of space for yourself (never on your own), with nowhere to go for all the time, cold outside, maybe dark in winter, 6 months with the same 12 people, in same bases there is even less people. But I have to say that they do have things to do. They work with fisheries to prevent frauds, they do research on animals, the collect data that will be processed back in the country of origin, and they take their time to have fun. They do trips into the area (this is what Jamie did when he lived 25 months in South Georgia, but those staying in winter on the continent have nothing to do!), go skiing, Jamie has even organized a half marathon of South Georgia…wow that would be a nice one to run isn’t it? They have lots of time on their own, to read, to watch maybe some movies, to think, to make persona projects, to enjoy nature. Jamie was so enthusiastic of his life in South Georgia, he could not stop telling us to go there once in our life, nature there is amazing and the animals are at their full power. There you can actually see the king and emperor penguins, the big ones!!!

Right, the story was at the post office. That day lunch was very early, because at 1pm we started the crossing of the Lemaire Straight, a channel that at its narrowest point is only 500m wide. I can tell you that down there 500m are just nothing! We were all out on the deck, well not all, most of the people was on the bridge, inside, fearing the cold. No no, not for me, I wanted to see the wideness, the whiteness, the power of this place. So I was in the front of the ship, hearing the ice crushing below us. Our ship is an icebreaker so perfectly done to crush whatever found on its way. I took a video when it was crushing ice, well it wasn’t thick ice, was just again the brash, but impressing for sure. And when you were lifting you head from the sea to the surroundings, you could see glaciers, 100m high above you, icebergs, pieces of ice falling into the water with a big splash. Impossible to describe better, you need to get down there as well!! And there, in this white and cold environment, Renata surprised the whole ship with a typical Pazzaren thing! Jordi the photograph asked if I minded being in his pictures, he wanted pictures of the channel but with people in it. I said of course not (ehi ehi, I am a model then!!!), but then I looked at myself, with my black tracksuit, black jumper, ugly dressed to be sincere. Not a nice model. And then…all became clear in life. This landscape was too white, something was needed to brighten the view, to made this place more charming… something red… a little crazy Italian girl in a red dress! I asked Jordi to wait a minute, I rushed in my cabin, I wore my red summer dress (the same I wore in Buenos Aires to dance tango, 28 degrees there…), I wore my black high heels sandals and I went out on the deck. Under the amusement of the passengers and the crew, I was out there, at 0 degrees, wearing a simple red dress. I can tell you, the effect has been amazing. I had so much fun, and wasn’t so much cold. I was laughing, I was moving around as a model, I just could not believe what I was doing. Jordi shoot the photos, other people did the same, the guys on the bridge could not believe it. Jonas the expedition leader commented that he hoped I would not climb the bow to do like Titanic… did not even think of it, it was crazy enough what I was doing. I loved it, it has been just amazing. Check out the pictures (whenever I will manage to upload them) and tell me what you think! I attach a nice one here too, just to make you laugh!

Of course I stayed out there for 5/10 minutes only, then changed back (together with slipping on the stairs and hitting my leg, was bleeding quite a lot, but it’s all ok!) and enjoyed more the view. The afternoon landing was not a landing, but a zodiac cruise, probably the best part of the trip, racing for first place with the continent landing. I was part of the second group, good choice as the weather got better and we stayed much longer. 2 hours cruising icebergs. You can clearly see how the wind and the sea carve them, shaping them in the most amazing ways. One of them had a clear woman face, check the pics. We also got the chance to see leopard seals very close. In a small bay of an iceberg there were 5 seals playing around us, coming out of water making nice faces to us, going under water and coming up on the other side of the zodiac. The sea was crystal clear and blue (due to the color of the icebergs underwater), and you could clearly see the shape of the seals. Those guys love to play, but sometimes might be dangerous…one bit the Norwegian guy when diving (no problems for him, just marks on the dry suit!). Then we went through the icebergs, at a certain point we went through 2 of them, we could touch them both. Sometimes they have water pools inside, or they are in moon shape making a small bay, sometimes there is a small waterfall. I took hundreds of pictures there, so many to the same iceberg because it was just too much, too beautiful! At a certain point we saw a leopard seal on a small piece of ice, and behind it a kind of a blue cave. We stayed there 20 minutes to admire the view. And I again took many pictures. I got the compliments of few good photographs for those pictures, it made me quite happy!!! This time was really cold, my gloved were completely wet and my hands were freezing, but the rest of the body was still alive, especially my eyes, they had to soak up every single centimeter of the beauty!

But every wonderful trip has to come to an end, and this was the end of our Antarctica experience, or more or less. We still had to enjoy a special party that night, an Antarctic BBQ!!!! Argh, was a bit worried as all my warm clothes were wet after the 2hrs zodiac cruise, but I managed to put together enough clothes to be decent and at 7.30pm we were all out at the rear covered deck. Hot wine welcoming us, bbq meat ready to be warmed up, glaciers and icebergs as panorama: this is gonna be an unforgettable bbq I am sure, and we will help it to be unforgettable!

First we saw a whale very close to the ship, it was going up and down, you could clearly see the spray and the tail, it was so close. Then a big noise of ice, like a bang, and some ice crushing, and an iceberg, just in front of us, 100m from us, started falling into the water, sinking, like the Titanic. It went almost all into the water, the re-emerged again, but its shape was completely changed. It has been such a show! I took pictures of it, you can see all the phases, obviously you don’t hear the noise but I think it can impress you as well!

Food was served and eaten, dessert came along, hot wine was helping to keep warm…and music was finally on for some Antarctic dancing!!!! My jeans were not proper for a real Antarctic disco! So…with Leonie we went to my room and… wore my summer dresses! Of course I wore the red dress, she wore the black with white spots, and later on Gemma (the hotel manager) wore the greenish one, and even later Masheed wore my green skirt. All the young girls of the ship were wearing a dress, flip flops (I had sandals) and not much more. When we appeared on the deck we heard a big WOOOOW from people around, hundreds of pictures, and there the party really started! They were playing mainly Russian music, being a Russian ship. But we didn’t care, we just danced and had fun. Leonie got the hat and the tie of one of the officers, he didn’t let her go for at least half an hour! The most scary bit was when Javier the weird Spanish guy grabbed us for a dance, he was so slimy, we both pushed him away! Another highlight of the party had been a group of people who disappeared having a sauna and came back with only a towel on marching like soldiers, wonderful! As for me, well after my red dress show on the front deck, the captain started looking at me with funny eyes, he was amazed of this little Italian girl, also because I spoke to him a bit in Russian some time on the bridge. So I danced with the captain, under the laughs of everyone! The party went on and on, and I believe at midnight we went inside, it was a bit cold by that time! The bar was big enough for the 20 of us to keep dancing, this time no Russian music, IUPPI! We went on till 2am or later, till we were all exhausted, it had been a very long day, full of activities, amazing sights and crazy things! I believe I will never forget this party, we were all so happy. The people was amazing, everyone was dancing, laughing, joking, just having pure fun.

The next morning breakfast was not an option, we all needed sleep, and anyway, there were no activities planned, just full recovery, trying to be in perfect shape for… Mr. Drake! At 6am we started our way back, and by 11am we hit the Drake, and this time it wasn’t that flat sea we had found on the way down. Big waves…big rolling in every direction…seasickness hit me, damn! Really not nice at all. More than 24 hours feeling shit. On that first day back I could not eat anything, I would just vomit it. Even the seasickness pill, so I had no chance to recover but to stay in my bed, sleep and hope it would disappear somehow. I still woke up for the lessons, and for the meals, but I was feeling really bad. The good thing is that there was nothing else to do, so staying in bed was not a bad option. I also started watching “Coupling” (yes Italo, started it, and I like it quite a lot!) and survived those infamous 24 hours. But we still had 2 days on the ship, some whale watching, penguins, albatrosses, reading and lots of chatting down in the bar. I learned about photography asking dozen of questions to Jordi. I discovered what’s the meaning of the RAW on my camera!! Now I just need to upload the program on the computer to be able to play with the pictures!!! – I also discovered that photographs do not do fake pictures, they just use the information available in the RAW file to make the picture look better, I discovered the function of all the buttons on my camera. I saw millions of stars in the night, I enjoyed chatting about differences between English and Italians, politics and automotive crisis, played some stupid artic games (with polar bears!!), had weird discussions (about Antarctic being a chicken farm!) with the weird spanish, spoke hours about life with Jordi and Leonie. We basically just enjoyed each other’s company and got the most out of it.

It was then our last night, the last meal, the last recap meeting, the last party, the last chance for chatting.

During last dinner we had the chance to thank the captain and the cook. I was forced to rush to the captain and to hug him to thank him…so funny his face when I did so!! Then Jamie and Jordi draw a cartoon on the board… it reflected maybe 8/10 characters of the ship, like me and Leonie, Jamie, Joe the “I am the best” man, the Americans looking like terrorists, the arm of the Norwegian bit by the leopard seal, and so on. The staff had also prepared a video with the best moments/pictures of the trip, very nice one. They gave it to us, will be a memorable memory of this adventure!

We stayed at the bar till 3am chatting, wakeup call was at 6am, but we didn’t care, we had to “disfrutar” as they say in Spanish.

Breakfast was somehow sad and happy. Good to touch ground again, but sad to leave all this people, to finish this adventure, it was really over, the dream holidays for so many people, and I did it, and I was back to normal world. We hugged everyone, we waved goodbye to everyone. Myself and Leonie were the last ones to leave the pier, with our big backpacks and our eyes filled with all the beauties seen.

It’s always like this, something good has to finish (well, let’s not be so pessimistic, there are good things everlasting, isn’t it??? Like our friendship!!!).

So, final words about this trip… AMAZING! FANTASTIC! BRUTAL! That’s the only way I can express myself.

But…there is a but. They do sell this very expensive trip as a 10 days trip, but you actually start in the evening of the 1st day and end in the morning of the 10th, so it’s actually 8 full days. Then you spend 5 of them on the Drake, which leaves you with 3 days in Antarctica. And you land on the continent only 1 time, you spend more time seeing animals than ice. This disappointed me a lot to be honest. I wanted to see ICE!!! This is Antarctica for me, not animals…well ok, penguins are Antarctica of course, but, I mean, ICE is what I want!!! Still I enjoyed every minute of every landing (maybe not much the one at the post office, we could have spent there 30 minutes and then done something else!), and I had what I wanted, the continent! So I am overall super happy, amazed by what I did, what I’ve seen, the people I met and the memories I will keep in my heart. I hope I have been able to share this experience with you guys, it’s not easy to explain what is ice, but… I tried my best!

Wow, this ia a very long mail, sorry, but there was so much to tell!

And I have so many other stories…it’s already the 11th of march, and the above story ends on the 28th of February…when am I gonna find the time to write you? I will, I promise! And for now…enjoy the pictures!