On my latest trip to Patagonia I had the pleasure of meeting John & Georgie who are enjoying a 3 month trip around Latin American. We met on the Carretera Austral and shared similar experiences of a very wild border crossing into Argentina that can be accessed only on foot. They were kind enough to share something of their journey…
Our ‘real’ Patagonian journey began on the carterra austral following the overnight ferry ride from Puerto Montt to Chaiten. With little more than a rough guide to the towns and buses we needed to connect to make it to Villa O’Higgins to cross the border into Argentina, we were off.
What many would consider to be a rushed journey south (5 days to make the Saturday ferry for the crossing) the need to arrive in certain places by certain days was critical so any local information received about the passage was received with gratitude.
Once you get off the paved roads and onto the gravel, the countryside opens up in dramatic fashion. No longer are you seeing the mountains from afar, rather you inch your way across their summits and valleys past scattered farmland, cascading waterfalls and more than a fair share of breathtaking scenery. By the time we had arrived in the last recognized “city” of Coyhaique two days later, we were already immersed in the wild Patagonia.
It must be said that while ever there is an element of doubt there also exists a level of excitement – this was true for the next two days travel to get to Villa O’Higgins. Were the buses running? where did they leave from and at what time? and what happens should they be full? The next bus won’t be through for another week and we may need to turn around. Who cares! Let’s press on!
With much relief we made the connecting buses eventually arriving in O’Higgins with a day to spare before catching the ferry on the Saturday – one boat per week in November and hence the urgency of the previous 5 days.
As mentioned, we were planning on making the walk across into Argentina from O’Higgins to El Chaten which was recommended to us by friends living in Chile and apparently one of the more stunning and lesser known treks in Patagonia. When we met up with Luke from Swoop Patagonia in Coyhaique this was confirmed as one of the must do treks. Personally I feel they all undersold it!
A 3 hour ferry ride from O’Higgins to the other side of the O’Higgins lake saw glimpses of Mount Fitz Roy, glacier ice and snow peaked mountain tops on either side of the lake. A stunning introduction.
Public Enemy once said, “don’t believe the hype”, and as a lesson for many of us, the Internet should fall under the same banner at times. If a website says that there will be horses available to carry heavy luggage across a 40km trek, there is a fair chance that those horses will still be in pasture if you visit in the first few weeks of the official tourist season.
A quick farewell to chile through the Cabrineros office – quite possibly the worlds least busy police station and we set off up the gravel road and any form of organized transport.
The trek was at times taxing on the body and mind but with stunning scenery and weather, the pain was temporary and irrelevant.
Five or so hours into the trek, and with teasing glimpses for the previous couple of hours we were confronted with Del Desierto acting as a welcome mat to the stunning Mount Fitzroy. Quite possibly one of the most stunning natural scenes we had ever witnessed and one we will never forget.
Making it to the foreshore of the lake and to Argentinian customs, would rate as one of the most satisfying days of our trip in Patagonia and an amazing prelude to the more talked about areas further south where we continue our journey.
After getting our passports checked, we made camp at the edge of the lake under the watchful eye of the local constabulary. We were permitted a small fire so long as it was put out before we went to sleep. No problem officer and thank you for the use of your front yard!
The aim of the second day of the trek was to make it to the other end of the Laguna Del Desierto by 4pm for a connecting bus to El Chaten. Again, this information was provided locally as the police station at the lake barely had electricity let alone high speed Internet.
Across the beach, up and down hills, with many crossings of streams, the trek was completed with about an hour and a half to spare.
More stunning scenery and always with a clear view of Fitzroy which apparently is a rarity!
An earlier off the cuff remark about how nice it would be to be met with a cold beer at the end of the lake was made reality by the Argentinian store owner who also acted as tourist information. After two days and 40 odd kilometers of trekking, the taste of that pilsner was one of pure satisfaction.
A relatively short bus ride into El Chaten for some much needed rest for a day or so and then we continue south to Torres Del Paine and more unbelievable Patagonia.