I just happened to catch the sign welcoming us to a new country as we crossed the border. I was too busy staring out the bus window, seeing bright pink flamingos wading in fields, spectacular mountains emerging over the rolling green-brown hills, and those oh-so familiar waters of the Pacific Ocean…is that a salt breeze I sense?
Before we realized it, it was what will probably be our last night in Argentina!
And, it somehow managed to be one of our best. After 5 spectacular, exhausting days in El Chaltén, spent hiking to downright astonishing views, trekking on glaciers, ice climbing, even a little bouldering (rock climbing without ropes, lower to the ground, you know, on boulders!), some surprisingly great meals, incredibly friendly locals, and a refreshing time without internet, we were back in El Calafate.
It turns out we had to come back to make bus connections, and it also turns out it happened to be the towns 134th anniversary. This time we walked off the bus with no reservations in hand, walked to a nearby hostel I remembered seeing the last time we were there, and it all worked out great: cheaper, closer to the bus station, not up a steep, dusty hill on the other side of town…and the other travelers staying there were fantastic. After a very long, much needed nap, Tyler very nicely made us dinner while I attempted (without success at first) to upload photos. After a lovely, carbohydrate packed dinner of noodle soup with some potatoes and carrots thrown in, bread, and beer. Somehow, and this has been fairly rare in our travels so far, we struck up conversations all around us: one other girl from Seattle that I swear I’ve met before, a Canadian that thought we had accents from Vancouver, and a Swiss German. Somehow we ended up talking with our new friends for hours, even roping in the late-night hostel worker, who shared his Argentine wine with the Swiss guy, who had apparently needed it due to a lethal choice with boxed wine. Even our French-Canadian dorm-mate was super-nice! It was nice to just spend an evening conversing and chatting, talking about politics, culture, traveling, linguistics, and music late into the night before we parted ways.
After a short night of sleep (made up for later by bus-napping) we caught the morning bus to Puerto Natales, Chile. There doesn’t seem to be much to this town, besides a beautiful harbor with great mountain views, and it happens to be the closest town to Torres del Paine, a famously gorgeous national park that we’ll be visiting tomorrow. Already we’re noticing the subtle differences in Argentine and Chilean culture; for one, the grocery store actually has more interesting food, and in wider varieties, even with some spice options, and strangely heavy German influence. So far the people are nice, patient at least as our heads are swirling with new exchange rates – in Chile I believe the smallest bill is 1000 pesos and there’s even a 100 peso coin, so the numbers are a bit outrageous (not in an expensive way, but in a, what’s 10,300 divided by 470 way). But, we’re going to try our first bottle of Chilean wine tonight (first that we bought in Chile, anyway) – a Carménère that we think works out to be between US$4-5, recommended to us by a grocery store worker. I love Carménère so I hope Chile doesn’t disappoint!
The idea for now is to take a cheesy tour to see how Torres del Paine looks tomorrow, as we’re too exhausted to do any of the serious hiking and backpacking the park really requires. Maybe if its absolutely amazing we’ll make all the arrangements to spend some more time there. If not, we should head out the day after next for Punto Arenas, even further south, close to Tierra del Fuego. From there we’ll go see some penguins (since we didn’t go to any of Argentina’s famous penguin places). After that the idea is to finally start working our way northward through Chile, but, I could still be convinced to head yet further south via ferry/bus to Ushuaia, but for now we’ve cut that out for budgetary reasons. It should all be interesting, as we’ve finally left the realm of the almighty guidebook and the relative comfort/familiarity of Argentina.
And, as today is Valentine’s Day, I hope everyone’s day is filled with LOVE, in every sense of the word. I miss you all (and am especially missing the PNW as the weather and landscape is very similar here) and hope you’re all doing well.
Until next time!