I was traveling on a bus the other day from Puerto Varas which is in the Lake District of Chile to Santiago and on the bus was a boy about 3 years old traveling with his Mother, Father and Grandmother. The boy walked to a closed dividing door and as he reached it, stopped and turned giving the man seated closest to it a look of “Mister, it is obvious I am not going to be able to open this door on my own, can you help a brother out”.
Not long after I boarded the bus the night before, the Grandmother was teaching the youngster how to count…Uno, Dos, Tres… I joined in the little game and although it was close, beat the boy almost every time. So, after my great victory and with my pride swelling, seeing the boys face in the morning at the door, I realized during this trip, I am that boy. In the past weeks I have given that same look hundreds of times.
If you ever want to find out what it is like be a 3 year old again, travel in a country where you cannot grasp the language. Supposedly Chileans and Argentines have modified their form of Spanish from what I normally hear (ex. ch sound vs. y), speak quicker and have all sorts of slang terms which has made it more difficult and I just have not been able to get it. I am having fun trying but right now, am still jealous of the 3 year old´s mad language skills.
I get by with a lot of hand gestures and smiles. Many of my attempts at communication while speaking in Spanish have ended with a response of ¨just say it in English¨ and after my further attempts ¨no, really, please just say it in English, please¨. My favorite was the laugh I got from someone when all I said was Hola!. But, there are always locals willing to assist the gringo.
The past couple weeks have been a blast. I did a glacier hike in El Chaltain which is a small town in Argentina. Currently you need to take a dirt road for 30 miles to reach it and there is only one paved road in the town. However, since every other building in town is a hostel or hotel and the scenery is absolutely stunning, that will change very soon. It is on the verge of becoming a major tourist destination no less than Torres Del Paine where I was previously. The glacier hike started at an ungodly 6:30 hour when we hiked about 3.5 hours to the glacier, crossed a river using a pulley system, hiked for about 2 hours on the glacier and did a little ice climbing (first time for me). All of this with Monte Fitz Roy (the Patagonia logo) towering above.
After that it was back to Chile for a boat trip from Puerto Natales to Puerto Montt through the so called Fjords of Patagonian Chile. Well as far as cruises go, it was no Norwegian Cruise Line but it was a carnival. The boat was actually a lot better than what I was expecting as far as accommodations go, but it is an actual working cargo ship. We saw several truck loads of cattle being brought on board and could hear the mooing throughout the trip.
The boat trip started Thurs. night when we boarded for an early morning departure. We cruised for a day and a half through the fjords which were small, green, rocky, forested islands that were truly small mountains popping up out of the ocean. A few glaciers here and there but not what I was expecting when I heard the word fjords. Also after the first day, the weather did not cooperate with us and clouds and rain blocked most of the scenery.
We then had to go out into the open ocean to navigate to our destination but because the sea was angry that day my friend, we ended up spending the night anchored, sheltered from the storm (I think I may be able to commit even more plagiarism in this paragraph). The next day, when the ocean had calmed, we made our way through the average 10-15 foot waves which were still large enough to cause some people some…¨discomfort¨.
Overall the boat trip was very good although it was truly more like a beer cruise for 4 nights. All of the travel guides tell people to stock up on alcohol before the trip to save on your bar tab and that is just what everyone does. I myself brought 3, 1.5 liter boxes of red wine. While I thoroughly enjoyed myself, I do not think I will ever drink boxed wine again in my life. I met a lot of great people on board and took lots of pictures of them with my new digital camera. When I can I will also show the video of the ships entertainment which can only be described as so bad it was good.
Following the boat trip, 5 of us rented a car and during the next couple days explored the nearby Island of Chiloe and a national park near Puerto Varas. We did some hiking in a national park that has several active volcanoes but currently the top halves are covered in snow. One even has a ski lift on it. Sorry to say the skies were once again not cooperating so I could not take any pictures of the volcanoes.
I am now in the Santiago/Valparaiso area for a few days and will head back this week to Argentina, rounding the bend back towards Buenos Aires. I will spend some time initially in Mendoza which is the Argentine wine country and then around Aconcagua National Park (highest peak in the world outside the Himalayas at around 22k).