Villa O’Higgins

I’m woken up by talking in the room and it’s soon addressed to me. “I think you need to go over there”, Philippe says. By there he means the Robinson Crusoe office across the street, the folks who run the boat south of here. “On Wednesday they might be a running a boat with a capacity of 16. I was number 11 and there were three people behind me in line.” Hendrik’s already on his way out the door so I jump up, throw on shorts and hoof it over.

The Robinson Crusoe crew run a fancy-looking lodge across the street (apparently it’s something like $160 USD a night) and next to that is a yurt where they have information about expeditions like trekking, glacier visits and this border crossing. My understanding of the trip at this point is that they don’t actually send a guide with us, but they offer a bus that’ll take us and our gear seven km to the small port nearby and get us on the boat, a three-ish hour ride. After we disembark on the other side of the lake we check-out of Chile, hike for four or five hours then check-in to Argentina after handing over our gear to a guy who runs horses back and forth shuttling equipment. From there there’s another boat and a bus up a dirt road to the small Argentinian town of El Chalten. Hendrik’s in line ahead of me so I just saunter up next to him to try to figure out what the score is. They take my passport and say I’ve got a spot reserved, buuuut there might be a storm rolling in on Wednesday. If that happens the boat won’t run and we’ll have to wait another few days. That’s not an option for Hendrik as he has a flight to catch and he’s visibly unnerved. Doubly so because he spent the entire night puking his guts up – he can’t keep any food down and he’s feeling really weak, not the best state to be in prior to a hike.

Emphasis added for anyone planning to do this trip. Please read subsequent posts for important details…

I’m going back to bed. I could’ve done with a couple less glasses of vino last night and I’m not feeling terribly compelled to get up and do anything. After a bit of a nap I do eventually peel myself out of bed and decide to explore town.

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Above: The El Mosco hostel

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The road into “downtown”…

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The main square…

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The church and a museum dedicated to a former priest (maybe? It was closed every time I went by)…

Calling it “sleepy” would be a gross understatement. A handful of kids playing, a couple of construction workers building a sidewalk, a pick-up passing by every five minutes or so. I like it, though. Serious frontier feel and for good reasons, this really is the end of the line as far as roads in Chile go. Aside from the seven kilometer dirt path down to the uninhabited port, this is it.

There’s a small trail leading up to a mirador overlooking the town. At the start is an interpretative trail with a short history of the town (click on the image to blow it up):

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Along the trail are several rickety staircases which are missing steps or have holes here and there. Whenever possible I avoid them but in a few places it’s tricky to do, so I walk up them very slowly, testing the steps as I go. At the top is a fine view of the metropolis.

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I complete my loop of the town by stopping by the satellite dish – the communications link in and out of town – and the bustling airport, which was until 1999 the only way to get here.

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Back at El Mosco I hang out around the stoop for a while. Some people have left on a bus heading north to Cochrane and some new arrivals have shown up. One group is a French family – mom, dad and three teenagers – who have been biking the Carretera Austral and are now headed south to El Chalten. The parents are really friendly and we shoot the shit for quite a while. Turns out that although they’re French, they live in New Caledonia, a Pacific island northeast of Australia. Definitely a very different place from Patagonia.

Hendrik passes by and it turns out he puked *in* the doctor’s office. They didn’t have anything useful to give him though so he’s just trying to ride it out by drinking water and trying his best to keep it down. He’s moved his stuff out of the dorm and into a private room to try to quarantine himself.

I walk back over to “downtown” to hit up a bakery. I’ve been snacking on nuts and fruit all day and don’t really need dinner but a bit of bread would be alright. Even better, they have some killer beef + egg + raisin empanadas, about a buck a piece. Shit yeah.

When I get back Philippe’s got a six-pack of beer out and asks if I want one. Definitely. We drink them out on the stoop and are soon joined by another French guy who’s name I don’t get. He’s sipping some cheap merlot and I find out he’s heading south, all the way to Ushuaia as well. Trying to meet some friends there for Christmas so he’s on a pretty tight schedule. Not long after that we’re joined by a really cool German chick, a yoga instructor who’s down here for the trekking. She’s kitted out pretty well, sleeping outside and prepared to do so at altitude. Although it was 27 degrees yesterday today I’ve seen wisps of snow fall around me, so there’s no way I’ll be out in my tent tonight. Finishing my beer, the French dude’s wine compels me to get some of my own so I head back over to town to pick up a small box. German chick asks me to grab one for her as well. After I return we spend the next three or four hours talking about the usual suspects – work, travel, languages, etc. I never get the names of either the German chick or the French dude but they’re fantastic company, lots of laughs and some great stories, i.e. a six-month trip the chick took a few years back where she biked from Germany to Pakistan via the Central Asian Stans and China, hitting Islamabad via Kashgar and the Karakorum Highway. I think she’s absolutely nuts but that sounds really, really awesome.

I’m not sure how far south we are now but the sun doesn’t set until almost 11, shortly after which we all call it a night.

zzzzzzzzzzzzzz

It’s cold and blustery outside today and everybody seems to be sticking indoors in the common area. I walk into town to grab a couple of breakfast empanadas and when I come back it’s clear that no one has many plans of any kind – some folks have already crawled back to the dorms and under their blankets. Big time lazy day.

I walk around town a bit more and decide to venture down the road south of here. Technically this is the end of the Carretera Austral but the road does keep going for another seven kilometres, just not as part of the official highway. At the end of town is a carabinero checkpoint with wooden barricades on the road, forcing cars to slow down and swerve between them.

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I walk through sin molesta so I guess pedestrians get a pass. I stop when I reach the Rio Mosco, about a kilometer outside of town. Rabbits (or some kind of rodents that look a heck of a lot like rabbits) scurry away from the riverbanks as I approach. The Mosco River is slow and brown. Alright, back to the ranch.

Still nothing happening so I lay out and read. I bundle up in several layers, grab a hammock out on the stoop and fall asleep with the thrice-read-on-this-trip Road to Oxiana on my chest.

I wake a while later – damn, it’s cold! Cook some pasta. The German chick (whose name I discover is Marion) breaks out a bit of wine and she pours a few gloops in a glass for me. Philippe strolls by with a few beers in tow. The wine goes down well and nothing else is happening so I head into town with a two-fold mission – stock up food supplies for the two-day boat/trek beginning tomorrow and nab another box of wine. I also try to hunt down some long johns – it’s friggin cold here! – but strike out. I come back and pour a few glasses around and Marion, the French guy (whose name I discover is Damien) and myself hang out and drink away the rest of the evening. Not too late though – big day tomorrow!

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