Carretera Austral: Puerto Guadal to Puerto Tranquilo


matt 120pxThe second leg of our circuit around Lago General Carrera on the Carretera Austral was the short hour and a half drive from Puerto Guadal to Puerto Tranquilo. Although short, it was another super scenic drive. The mountains seem to be getting bigger as we drive deeper into the cordillera.


still driving along Lago General Carrera


behind town


in front of town

            Rio Tranquilo itself is a really quiet place. The carretera runs alongside the shore, between the village and the lake. There are perhaps a dozen small square blocks, a plaza, and a building that is a post-office/call center/bus ticket office/tourist office. There’s an ancient looking gas station, a few minimarts (including one called El Chino, which doesn’t have any Chinese people working in it), and a bakery. The bakery is just the front of a house; I know because we’re staying in it with the baker family. It’s a small village, but not boring. The spectacular scenery makes it more of a relaxing place than a boring one.


Snow-capped mountains surround the lake like walls and even the lake’s water is varying shades of attractive blues due to the various mineral concentrations. Not much to do or write about, but it sure is beautiful.

Carretera Austral: Chile Chico to Puerto Guadal


matt 120pxThe main reason we crossed into Chile to travel northwards (as opposed to continuing on Argentina’s Ruta 40) is to travel on Chile’s famous Carretera Austral. It is a mostly unpaved road which runs over 1000 kilometers in Chile’s scenic and rugged southern regions. The oldest sections of it were only begun the mid-80s, a pet project of Pinochet to link southern Chile and guard against Argentinean invasion. The decision was pretty simple really: rugged route through the most beautiful parts of Chile or more long bus rides through Argentine Patagonian desert?


            From Chile Chico, we could have either taken a ferry across the lake and continued north or spend several days circumnavigating the lake. It would be longer more expensive, and we might have to hitchhike some sections, but going around the lake sounded like a much better option. So today, we departed Chile Chico in a share-van to Guadal, the next village of any size. The four-hour drive was as expected: spectacular. From Chile Chico, we immediately climbed up into the mountains. High on the cliffside road, we had amazing vistas across the lake and the mountains in every direction. The man downing beers in the row behind us provided some interesting and colorful (and loud) commentary. Among other things, he pointed out an open-cast mine which had turquoise water, a phallic-looking rock, and commented on the “bad” people on the other side of the mountains (the Argentines). At first, I thought he was pretty annoying, but just as I was starting to like him, we dropped him and his boxes of supplies off at an isolated little homestead next to the river. It was just a house and a barn on a rare flat piece of land wedged between the river and the base of the mountains. As we drove further, the van slowly emptied as we dropped passengers off at seeming random desolate places along the way. Half the passengers did not even live in villages, but just single homes/farms way out in the middle of nowhere. At least there was a road now, as I cannot imagine what life must have been like before the 80s; probably just a horse trail.



            We finally pulled into Guadal just before dusk. Like Chile Chico, it was on the south shore of the lake, with snowy mountains visible on the north shore. The last couple canoes were coming in for the day as we took a short stroll. Although we only had a little bit of time in the small village before the darkness set it, I was surprised by it beauty.

Chile Chico


matt 120pxAfter six weeks in Argentina, we finally left. The only two other countries that we stayed in for six weeks or more were India and China; unfortunately we did not enjoy Argentina nearly as much. Argentine Patagonia did have some awesome highlights, but it is really touristy and extremely expensive. Our last night kind of summed up our recent experiences: an overpriced hotel, an unscrupulous shopkeeper who ripped us off on internet and a box of apple juice.

I cannot say that our introduction to Chile has been all that positive either. Joylani was caught, detained, and reported by Chilean customs for failing to declare the lentils and raisins in her backpack. I’m sure she’ll post a bit about her smuggling activities, but she did say the customs people were polite and kind (most importantly, they didn’t fine us). She also forgot her passport at the border after the whole ordeal. Then, last night, I got another insect bite on my eyelid while I was sleeping (yes, that’s right, my second one in three months) and like in Busan, my eye swelled shut. Joylani also stepped in some tar, which seems to permanently stuck to her shoe. But the kind woman who owns the hospedaje we’re staying at tried to clean her shoe, kept us up late talking, and had a great breakfast ready for us this morning. And our bus driver volunteered to pick up Joylani’s passport and deliver it back to us. People here in Chile Chico, the border town, seem to be a lot more friendly than their Argentine counterparts in Los Antiguos. They greet you in shops and say hello on the street, while a handshake is not uncommon either.

Besides the kind people, Chile Chico is a great place. It’s a very atypical border town, as it lacks the seedy moneychangers and bus touts. Perhaps, that is partly because it is a few kilometers away from the border. It is on the edge of the enormous and unbelievably blue Lago General Carrera. A long stony beach runs the length of town and supposedly there’s good salmon fishing. Snow-capped mountain ranges provide a nice backdrop to the lake and town too. We definitely like Chile Chico- let’s hope it indicative of Chile as a whole.

Casa No Me Olvides


joylani 130px After a less than ideal border crossing (I read the Chilean customs form incorrectly, filled the form out wrong, or according to the customs officials, lied. And then to top it off, I forgot to ask for my passport back, but luckily our very kind minibus driver picked it up for me on his way back from another border run.), we had a very pleasant afternoon and evening in Chile Chico. Chile Chico is really small, but apparently big for this sparsely populated region of Chile. This is looking down the main road into the urban area of town.


Since it was early on a Sunday afternoon, almost every single shop was closed until later in the day, so to pass time we walked around town. The streets were practically empty of any other people besides myself, Matt, and Reuben, a German kid we met who was just finishing up some public service in Argentina, and now spending some time travelling. We walked down to the lake shore and soaked up the beauty of the crisp blue waters surrounded by snowcapped Andes. It looked like an ocean captured by the mountains. Eventually we got hungry and headed off in search of food. Although the atm didn’t accept our card, and the bank was closed so we couldn’t exchange money, the main grocery store luckily accepted credit cards. (The wide use of credit cards in Argentina, and now, apparently, Chile has been quite handy…in Asia we were rarely able to use one.) So we stocked up on food for dinner as well as snacks for tomorrow. Back at Casa No Me Olvides, we hung around the friendly kitchen with its crackling woodstove and I made dinner as we all hung out with Maria, the owner. Maria has lived in Chile Chico her whole life and has been running the guesthouse since 1992 when she met an American travelling through Chile into Argentina. They had met on the boat that goes across the lake and Maria invited the American woman to stay at her house. The woman suggested opening a guesthouse (there aren’t many now, and I’m, sure in ‘92 there were even less). We listened as Maria told us stories from the early days of the hospedaje, or guesthouse. She said that when it was first opened, in those days, tourists didn’t speak much Spanish, their level was that of a toddler, so she said with a hearty laugh. Casa No Me Olvides had made it into a guidebook, Footprints, I think, and people would come to the house asking about lunch. Maria would look at the tourist and ask, “Launch?” and point down the road to the boat docks. Eventually, with the help of her husband, they realized they were asking about food. The name, No Me Olvides, came from the words of a song her husband wrote her before they were married. The house was always named this, before it was a hospedaje. Sometimes the hospedaje was very full and though there were no beds left, she would still let travelers stay if they wanted. People would be sleeping in the hallway, on the wood chest, etc. One of her sons especially liked meeting the travelers, and one day he offered to take a horse-cart down to the lake to pick up customers. The tourists got a kick out of the cart, which he told them was used often for transportation (though he left out that it was for transporting goods, not people, and Maria got a kick out of the fact that the tourists though it was fun to ride in such a cart. Her son would show the tourists around the area, and Maria told the tourists that if her son got obnoxious to just pull him by his hair. Maria told us about the first doctor in town and how he would help people even if they couldn’t pay. He helped organize a boarding house for patients, as there was no hospital yet, so that they would have a place to stay while they received treatment. Eventually he helped to open the hospital in Chile Chico. She pointed to the picture on the wall from the grand opening. Other pictures brought other stories, and some she just remembered with a laugh as she told us, and we had a fun evening. Nowadays it seems that Maria lives by herself. Her husband has passed away, and (from what we could gather) her children live in other areas. It seemed sad that such a lively and caring woman should have to live alone now, but she has her travelers. For a night we felt like family as she told us stories, showed me how to cook a sausage (and then washed the greasy pan while I wasn’t looking), and she even took my shoe from me and got her fingers black and sticky as she cleaned off the tar I had stepped in earlier in the day. It was definitely a casa we won’t forget.

First Bus of the Season

ruta 40

joylani 130pxWe had another mind-numbing 12 hour bus ride through endless shrubs on the first bus going north out of El Chalten this season.  There were, however, a few moments of ohhing and awing when we passed by surprises in the landscape such as a finally clear view of Cerro Torres and Fitz Roy as well as a warm sunset over ocher and red colored hills.  The funniest moment came in the last hour of the bus ride when a skunk suddenly ran into the road and froze in the lights of our bus.  I could tell our driver wanted to avoid it, but since it was in the middle of the road (and the bus was pretty big), not swerving was probably the best option.  Those of us in the front all grimaced as we passed over, then breathed a sigh of relief that it seemed we had missed the animal.  A few seconds later the smell hit; though we had missed the skunk, the front of the bus got sprayed and the odor permeated the air.

Ruta 40


matt 120pxRoute 40, known in Argentina as Ruta 40 or more simply as “la cuarenta,” is the highway that runs the length of the country, from near Tierra Del Fuego to Bolivia. It’s like America’s 66, a legendary road that has become part of the national lore. Although its mostly unpaved, I thought it would be fun to drive a portion of it, from El Chalten to Los Antiguos. The alternative would’ve taken us south, then east, then north, then west in a much longer (distance and timewise) route. Another thing I’ve learned about Patagonia besides it’s a big empty desert, is that highways aren’t plentiful and traveling often takes very circuitous routes. Anyways, we reserved seats on the first bus going north on 40 from El Chalten this season.

            As Joylani mentioned in her post, it was a pretty boring day. We left El Chalten at 9am, spent the next 13 hours on a bus with mostly European backpackers, and arrived late at the border town of Los Antiguos, where there is one overpriced hotel. The drive was not as romantic as the reputation (bumbling along at low speeds on a gravel road) and aside from the first hour or so (photo above), there was nothing to see.

The Perfect Trail

el chalten (8)

joylani 130pxOkay, so maybe the trails weren’t ideal—it was pretty windy and my toes got wet or muddy a couple times, but that is hardly a reason to find fault with the outdoors.  Overall I was impressed with the quality of trail maintenance and very satisfied with the landscape they led us through.  The trails we took didn’t require much skill, but were not boringly easy either.  And the landscape was beautifully dramatic in an unassuming way.  We walked around for four days and both had a great time.  It is no wonder that this area is the nation’s trekking capital.

el chalten (7)

and this little guy hopped around waiting to snag some of Matt’s sandwich crumbs

El Chalten: Mirador de los Condores


matt 120pxBeing our last day in El Chalten and having hiked for six hours each of the past two days, we opted for a very short hike this morning to the Mirador de los Condores, where we has awesome views of Fitz Roy and El Chalten.



El Chalten: Laguna de Los Tres


matt 120pxToday was another great walking day, as the weather was the best we’ve had yet. It was sunny all day and amazingly there was very little wind. The scenery was awesome, with peaks and glaciers all around us. The first hour was mostly uphill, but the last two hours were pretty flat, if not muddy. The final hour to Laguna de los Tres was closed for safety reasons, but it was still a great walk. I realize that that is very little to write about a great 6-hour trek, but hopefully my photos will do a better job than my writing.



as you can imagine, Joylani´s feet got a little wet on this balance-intensive part. but she wants me to tell everyone that she stayed dry on the return…


The day after the rain

el chalten

joylani 130pxAfter a solid day of wind and rain yesterday, during which I thought the roof might blow off our hotel, we had a beautiful day today which we filled with a long hike.  In our last 45 min or so of being out we did happen to get completely drenched (it would have only been half drenched if we hadn’t of had to make a detour to the store before returning to our hostel during which we had to turn around and expose our dry side to the wind and horizontal rain), but I really enjoyed today’s “epic” hike through various landscapes and up to a lake.  The walk kind of felt as though it were a miniature version of Frodo and Samwise’s journey in Lord of the Rings.  We started out looking for the trailhead on the hill behind our hostel.  I think we took a less trodden route, and though it was steep, the view along this ridge was definitely worth it and energized us for the main section of the trail ahead.

el chalten (1)

We continued gaining altitude past rocks and trees for a while before reaching a viewpoint of the valley below, chowing a couple of sandwiches, and heading downhill into the valley.  Here the landscape went through a few changes including grassy areas, swampy dead forest, a magical grove of trees with a fresh green canopy of leaves, riverbeds, and a windy lake. I know Matt put up a bunch of shots from this trail already, but I wanted to share a few of my favorites that he didn’t post.

el chalten (3)

el chalten (4)

el chalten (5)

el chalten (2)