Going Solo through Patagonia

Let me tell you, there is nothing quite like traveling alone.  It will bring you up against some of your strongest fears, force you to confront difficulties, and create confidence.  There are also no competing itineraries as anything you want to do can be done.  But it also creates so much time to yourself, which can be frightening.  Especially when you live in the metro area of NYC, a place where being out of shouting distance to anyone can make a person cringe.  But I think this silence is also a beautiful thing, something I’ve been cherishing ever since I’ve been down in South America.  Time to just think and be my own director.  My first scene traveling alone?  Cycling for 66 miles.

When my mom left, I already had the plan in place to do this bicycle ride from San Martin de los Andes to Villa la Angostura.  So, I packed my things together on my bike rental hitched my bike trailer on and pedaled away!  Naivety helped me in a way on this first day as the significant portion of climbing was that morning and early afternoon.  At first, my legs felt fit and ready as I pushed triumphantly through the early miles.  But then, the heat of the day arrived and my legs coincidentally began turning to mush.  A stubborn personality that delayed lunch until I arrived at the campsite made for a great story of an American nearly passing out on the side of a rural highway.  Images of James Franco in 127 Hours crossed my mind.  Thankfully, after shoving a modest sandwich down my throat and gulping some water, I took a nap and returned to the road to finish the last of the day’s hills.  All limbs intact.

Coasting down the final portion of roads that day, I couldn’t have been more excited to see a small restaurant housing a few road trippers and hitchhikers.  I sipped on a cold drink, bought some extra water, and rambled down an old dirt road to my first stop, Lago Hermoso.  With wifi, a restaurant on the water, and a shady campsite, I was literally a happy camper.  This continued with fewer but still resistant hills to climb over the next two days as I met several people riding along the way.  It was a physical challenge that was a bit harder than I thought but was only more enjoyable to complete as I rolled into Villa la Angostura feeling fresh and accomplished.

The next few nights included a few short buses and some fun nights spent with locals and fellow travelers Bariloche.  I spent some wonderful days and nights exploring the area with splendid strolls above sunny lakes and hitchhiking with sketchy samaritans.  My days there were definitely filled with plenty of adventure!  And the fun didn’t stop there.  My newest stop after saying farewell to those friends was a town called Esquel which was one of the last more populated towns on the northern end of Patagonia.  It was here that I met a few wonderful friends, locals from northern Argentina on vacation who I met and spontaneously spent the day with, swimming in a gorgeous mountain backed lake, talking about life, and sucking in hot dust on the road from town.  That night, we cooked a scrumptiously delicious pizza.  Actually, the pizza was cooked for me and I had the difficulty of having to eat this pizza.  Tomato, Tomahto.

It was a great way to start the big solo portion of the trip.  The next few nights would be quiet and peaceful as I camped near Lago Verde in a national park known for its incredibly old Alerce trees, something akin to the Sequoias of California.  I saw wonderful wildlife, but no pumas (probably a good thing), and one of these old trees that was 2,600 years old!  It was a wonderful way to end my tour of the lakes and continue my journey into southern Patagonia.

Taking a bus for 20 hours into El Chalten, I was not disappointed as I rode a bus with only one other passenger through the night and woke with a stunning view of sunrise colors climbing up jagged peaks lining the Andean mountain range.  I couldn’t believe my eyes.  I wouldn’t believe my luck either as the weather was perfect that first day.  I trailed through 15 miles of hiking up to Mount Fitz Roy, the star attraction of El Chalten with picture perfect views.  It was terribly cold and windy but I still stayed there for 2 hours absorbing the stupendous view of this toothy set of peaks that resembled a crown tipped with diamond-like snow and ice.

That night, I had another stroke of luck in meeting some wonderful people who I shared a dinner with and a conversation of our stories in quitting jobs and traveling the world.  The rest of the week was filled with only more of the amazing views and long hikes alternated with rainy days that made my time in this town so memorable.  It’s not terribly important, but I think I had some of the best empanadas ever in Chalten.  The same kind man received me day after day as I returned to this spot at least 4 times that week for the scrumptious post hike snacks.

My next stop, Calafate, was only better.  I met some wonderful people staying in the same dorm and hostel who I shared sunset bike rides, crystal clear kayak trips, and icy glacier walks with.  One highlight was kayaking through a “tsunami” that was clearly exaggerated, both by the guides who took us out on the water near a glacier that calved causing the wave, and by all of us at dinner, gliding on the thought that we had survived this “near death” experience.  In reality, it was a big wave but nothing that could have significantly harmed us.  Instead it was just a memorable experiencec that we’ll likely exaggerate to impress others the rest of our lives…I also enjoyed one of my favorite hostels in all of South America here with nightly barbeques, large rooms, and plenty of room in the kitchen.  It didn’t hurt to have gorgeous views of the lake and mountains behind the large bay windows lining the dining area.

I also enjoyed one of my favorite hostels in all of South America here with nightly barbeques, large rooms, and plenty of room in the kitchen.  It didn’t hurt to have gorgeous views of the lake and mountains behind the large bay windows lining the dining area.  It was a beautiful place to do some reading, writing, and enjoy conversations with fellow travelers.

I had an incredible time in this first chapter of Patagonia, but much more was on the way that would create some of the best memories of the entire trip!  More on those experiences in the next post!

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