Thursday, February 09, 2006

El Chaltén to El Calafate

From Maine, Kevin Allen. He was having a tough time trying to hitch-hike out of El Chalten.


A terrible night. The air seemed filled with dust from the roads, and it was choking me. Didn’t sleep until after 3:00, and then tossed continually. A chest cough this morning. Too much dust and insufficient rest. Not a good combination.

Haven’t bathed or washed in days and the mud has dried and turned to a chalky coating over everything. I need a hotel, but it might be days before I reach one, in Punta Arenas or Ushuaia.

Breakfast consisted of a few small “Flow” cereal bars. Speaking of "flow": nearby is an outhouse. The first of this type I’ve seen. It’s plastic – just like those “Johnny-on-the-Spot” units you see in the States, but this sits over a hole in the ground. There’s a hole in the floor, with two outlines of shoes in front of it. You assume the squatting position (there are little wood blocks that elevate your heals a bit, and you hold two grab rails on either side of the door. It takes some getting used to!

After thirty minutes awake, I finally begin to feel human again. The jeans that I started this trip with are almost falling off me now. I guess I have lost a few pounds. That’s a good thing!

There’s a big power generating plant across the Fitz Roy River from my campsite, and its generators whine perpetually, at night lighting the plant and much of the El Chaltén with an institutional sodium glow. It seems quite incongruous with this magical setting.

The weather moving in last night didn’t appear to materialize into much: the mountain peaks were shrouded with low-hanging clouds, but it was dry.

As I was packing up camp, a hitchhiker who had been standing across the road reading came over to chat. Kevin Allen runs a landscaping business in Maine, where his services are in little demand right now. He was having a rough time getting out of this town.

We went over to a bakery he knew of "downtown". At the bakery, most pastries are made with dulce de leche, which I just can’t warm up to. Next door, I checked e-mail at “Chaltenet”, where they charge 10 Pesos per hour (about $3.30)! But they have nice, padded “executive chairs” and new equipment!


The rain started as I left El Chaltén this morning. It didn't bother me much. I just put on my "Gore-Tex" jacket and pants over the riding suit. The gravel section out of El Chaltén gave me another pounding this morning. Why did they leave this last section unpaved?

Reaching blacktop, I cruised toward Ruta 40, In the misty air, the sky had a pinkish glow over land, and a turquoise glow out over Lago Argentina, which was off to my right. It was quite unusual.

Returning to Ruta 40, that beautiful asphalt ended a short distance south, and I was back into gravel road again. A new section of highway is under construction. Argentine roadwork is confounding. Stretches of asphalt appear and disappear. Why don't they just start at one end and pave until they reach the other?

And on the temporary road paralleling the new highway, the surface changes continually: gravel, rock, mud, slick clay, sand. What would have been a breeze yesterday had turned into a slippery mess today. It’s incredible and really tried my patience, as it was over 100 miles to El Calafate and much of the time, I was creeping along at 10 to 20 mph. The reddish clay was particularly troublesome. My bike is like an elephant on ice skates in this stuff. It’s quite insane.

I finally could not resist crossing onto the new highway that is still being paved, and taking off. I jumped back to the gravel road just before reaching a road crew. But I had not eluded their attention. They just gave me a curious look as I passed by.

Tired of dealing with the mud and gravel along the temporary road on the right, I drove up onto this closed section of new highway and took off! I exited just before reaching the work crews, who gave me a curious look.

Coming into El Calafate, I stopped at the hilltop “Alto Patagonia” hotel just to see what a nice room in a full-service hotel might run: about $200 per night. Found another, the “Kau Yatun Hotel de Campo” tucked into a pastoral setting, like a rancho: about $550 for two nights. Really nice though. (It’s a four-star hotel.) The receptionist there was very helpful and provided names and locations of several other, less expensive, options.

In town, I rode past two other riders parked in a gas station. I waved, but for some reason, didn’t want to chat right now. I was spent and needed to find a hotel.

I was finding most fully-booked. Coming out of one hotel, I saw Sacha driving down the street and pointed to him as he looked my way. He was in a nearby hostel and offered to take me there, but first he had to get the number of a pretty young lady who just rode up to the hotel on a bicycle. His hostel, however, had no rooms available.

One nice little hotel a bit far from downtown was tempting, but cost $70 per night, for just a nice room. "This is robbery out here! They need more competition in this town!"

El Calafate is a riot of dirt streets, new construction (some quite shoddy), boutiques and restaurants. Tourists of every type and origin can be found here.

"Hotel La Loma", was about the 7th or 8th I tried. An old rancho-style hotel with rates from $50 to 60. Too much, but the search was wearing me down. Carmen, the receptionist, was very patient as I rejected room after room. At last, I found one meeting my criteria, with a decent view and good air circulation. It was $60, but included breakfast and dinner.

Before I could bring anything into the hotel, the bike and everything on it required a hosing-off. The manager allowed me to use a garden hose. Washed the motorcycle, giving it the most thorough cleaning in months. Noticed both valve cover guards broken – they certainly can’t take much impact. The same holds true for the BMW crash bars. The panniers, though well-dented, appear to have survived the numerous falls.

This evening, I chatted with Carmen. She's a tourism student and has to spend a couple months working in her field. So that's why she's here, though she confides she doesn’t particularly like this hotel.

Dinner consisted of vegetable soup (which really “hit the spot”), steak, mashed potatoes and a pickled vegetable called verengena – with a quite strange, fibrous texture. (I have no idea what it is!)(3/08: It's eggplant!)

As an appetizer, I was served some bread with bleu cheese and liverwurst. Mortadella, salame and liverwurst – I haven’t had this many cold cuts since I was a kid! They love their sausages down here!

To bed with music in my ears. Listened for over an hour, concluding with Laurie Anderson’s “Hiawatha”, one of my favorites for late-night, a musical masterpiece.

1 comment:

Drew Kampion said...

America is reading ... and writing! Hope you get some rest and let your lungs heal. What's this talk of "winter" colds? It's "August" down there!!! -- Drew