Planet Hiker
2005-04-17 Bloody Hell! Buenos Aires, Argentina

After a 27 hour bus ride orienting myself given a map, a street intersection, names of the streets and a well marked bus terminal, turned out to be a rather complex task... I wasn't quite sure what direction I am facing, or was it that the map was upside down? Or may be there was a mistake in the map... Not that I have previously found mistakes but still, at the time it seemed like a reasonable possibility.

Out of the corner of my eye I noticed another backpacker coming towards me. "Arre you looking for a cheap but good hostel?", the he asked. "Therre is a place just two blocks away. It's cheap and it's good". I looked up to find a grinning smile of a tall man, with a full size red-hair beard that was split in the middle. He had his chin shaved in a style popular with 18 century Cossacks, but his Gore-Tex jacket and dreadlocks were shifting my impression towards a "long term backpacker". His cheap watch, crudely attached to different kinds of straps with electrical tape, confirmed my impression.

Since he was on his way to the catch a bus while I was falling over, interested only in finding a corner to sleep in, we did not converse at length, but he did convey a sense as to which way I should be walking. "Bloody hell, it's easy to find, just walk that way!" were his words. After some bumping into street lamps and rechecking my coordinates with the map that seemed "more correct" when held upside down, I finally did get to the hostel and crashed for the night.

Arriving in El Chalafate the following day was welcomed by the growls of my stomach - there was an "all you can eat" cafeteria, serving BBQ lamb, sausages and chicken. There were also vegetables and stuff, but I did not get to them till my second visit. Fattening myself up at every town had become the theme of my travels ever since entering the Patagonia region. Thing is, trekking burns off huge quantities of calories (lately I have been averaging 25-28 km of walking per day - roughly 2500 calories, while eating only two relatively small meals) and with so many national parks around, I had to be careful not to pass on a chance to stuff myself up.

When I was finally feeling full enough for another trek, I headed to El Chalten (Argentina) - a small settlement constituting the gateway to the part of Los Glaciers National Park in reach of famous peak Fitz Row. It was pitch dark when I arrived at the campsite, but with the headlamp on, I quickly set up the tent without much fuss as to what's around me - I'd figure all that later.

The morning presented me with a surprise - right next to my tent was another tent of almost exactly the same model. In fact, it was the just newer version. However, I wandered if it actually had legitimate improvements. As I proceeded to examine it more closely, a head with red haired dreadlocks and a bushy split beard stuck out of it. Of course, it was that Chzech whom I met a week or so earlier! "Bloody hell!" - he recognized me too and invited me over for breakfast of wine and crackers. To diversify the menu, I brought over a bag of cookies. The thing about the cookies was that there were 5 or 6 different kind of them, all mixed in one bag. So I declared a rule that one can not look into the bag for selection. You just have to reach in and pull out a cookie without knowing which kind it is going to be. This worked out well, as the uncertainty of the reward keep our interests high, facilitating the loading of the calories.

I complained that I loose a lot of weight with every trek and my Chzech friend replied that in India, he was loosing weight even when not trekking. However, he did made up for the lack of meat in the diet while in Mongolia. Since Mongolia isn't your typical tourist destination, I asked where else has he been to. It turned out that he has been backpacking for about 5 years and there are only a few countries left to which he hasn't been to yet. Although electrician by trade, he would pick up any shit jobs, like fruit picking and kitchen cleaning, that he could find on the road to finance his travels as he went along. Happy to find a listener, he then proceeded to tell some of the anecdotal experiences he faced while in odd countries like Afghanistan and Namibia.

Having spent a good portion of the day just sitting on the grass and drinking wine with cookies, I finally asked for his name before we went our ways. "Tomazz, but people here call me Thomas!" I also wanted to get his email address, but some how I had a feeling that I'll get a chance to ask for it some other time.

After a few day hikes around Fitz Roy I continued to Puerto Natales for a 5 day trek, which backpackers refer to as the "W" and the "Circuit" - accordingly shaped trails in Park National Torres del Pine (Chile). As expected, it was beautiful and windy (once, I took off my backpack (the big and heavy one) to put it on the ground and it flew out of my hands, landing good 2-3 meters away - Patagonia really is windy). For the first time, however, I began traveling North... Puerto Natales marked the end of my journey South. It was really strange to be making markings on the map for the "up" bound journey. After nearly a year of always drawing the arrows "down", it felt like the pen was magnetized and had a tendency to wear off the map. Never the less, the destination "next" was Puerto Monnt. So I hoped on a ferry and took a 4 day journey up, passing hundreds of islands of the Carretera Austral.

It was quite beautiful, I must say, even though the weather wasn't your standard tourist's "bright and shiny". The islands would often be partially lost in fog, leaving the impression of classical Japanese paintings that utilize various shades of gray to express dept perspective. But on the 3rd day, when the sun did cut through the curtain of clouds, I could not help but appreciate the "bright and shiny" appeal.

From Puerto Monnt, the journey took me to Chaiten, Futaleufu, then over the border to Argentinian El Bolson, Puerto Madryn, and in another weeks time, I landed in the magnificent Buenos Aires. Normally, big cities have little interest to me. I stop just to reload on trekking supplies, repair equipment, send couple of emails and then I head out again. But Buenos Aires kept surprising me with its bag of charms. Starting with cheap exquisite meals, to breath taking tango shows displayed till late hours of the night (we are talking 5am here), to strange tourists with split beards, there was always something to marvel over. Oh yeah, I did see Thomazz just wandering around!

"Bloody hell!" I yelled before he could see me. He turned around surprised but with the same grinning smile. Apparently, he ended up taking an entirely different route - first going to Ushuaia, having a few treks there and then taking a plain over to Buenos Aires. And as chance would have it, mixing in amongst 13 million "portenos", he happened to be at a street corner where I was passing. Not having a bag of cookies at hand, we headed to a local pub to split a few bears.

When departing this time, however, I did ask for his email address, only to learn that he doesn't have one. But still, I have a feeling that our paths will cross again. Who knows, may be in some odd courner of the world like Mongolia.