The morning was almost sunny… except for the dark clouds that were coming from the direction in which I was about to turn my steps to. I moved out of the hostel about 10 o’clock and something, I went through the supermarket to buy myself a candle so I would have something to kindle the fire with if I needed it. Then I went to the exit of Chalten. I had anxious thoughts in my head about the long walking on foot during the first 300 kilometers of Carretera Austral so I was in no hurry to hitch-hike.

I’ve walked about 6 kilometers when it started raining. I put on my rain trousers and my raincoat and went ahead but shortly after that the rain, which was going stronger, and the 25 kilos on my back brought me to my senses and I lifted the thumb. A few cars passed me by but one of them stopped and brought me 18 kilometers ahead. Then with the help of one more car I managed to pass the remaining part of the total 37 kilometers to Lago Desierto. It turned out to be a preferred touristy destination for the Argentinians even though it was hard for me to understand what was so interesting about it. It was just a narrow lake that was long about 12 kilometers. It is surrounded by two mountain elevations on whose ridges the snow gleams white. There was a small glacier on one of the ridges. Since the place is outside the national park Los Glaciares the owners have put into motion the money machine. The trek to the „glacier” costs 16 pesos. A walk with the little boat to the next shore costs 75 pesos.

My exact goal was to reach the other shore where the Argentinian frontier point is. Aviv had told me she had managed to get into the boat without paying but when I reached it it was already sailing away and I didn’t even have a chance to try.

As a compensation on one of the shores of the lake there is a pathway – precisely made for poor people. The surprise was that „one of the shores” turned out to be on the other side of a river that flows away from the lake and the rope bridge is destroyed… well, almost. The ropes were still standing there no matter that they were strangely hanging.

Not only the crossing was complicated but it was a scary and kind of dangerous task. And if it weren’t for the boy who sold tickets for the boat I would never know exactly how to cross it.

The system was the following – you step on the low rope and you hold onto the higher one. You walk slowly the first 3 meters where the upper rope is hanging too low and it is slippery. That’s the critical point where you should fling your arm on the other upper rope that is stretched at a very high point. To top it all somewhere in the middle the rope on which I was walking hung low enough so I managed to soak my shoes in the river. I had to perform that circus mastery with a big rucsack on my back and a small one on my chest.

The pathway that followed was long about 15-16 kilometers and could be described more or less that way:

1.Location of the right pathway among a few similar ones

2.Hillock, hillock, downhill, hillock (to be repeated at random times)

3.Crossing of brooklets and rivers by searching for the right spot to jump from stone to stone or on a damp half-decayed fallen tree (repeat it about 7-8 times)

4.Treading on mud and swampy pathways, and fields with an element of surprise (when they appear to be dry but they actually are not)

5.Hillocks and downhill. Whops, I think I have already written that.

And so that I would top up the romance all the time there was raining something between rain and snow.

Four hours of masochism later I finally reached the gendarmerie. The same soldier boys who had provided lodgings for Aviv for three days and the ones she had been fishing with. That was all very well but they were not so hospitable to me. They neither treated me nor did they offer me some wine. The only thing I managed to wrench out of them was the permission to pitch my tent under a shelter which wasn’t a small thing at all considering the continuous rain.

It was sunny in the morning. Hurraaay!!! Even Fitz Roy could be seen in the distance at an unusual angle. I collected my luggage, I went to have my passport stamped and meanwhile I found out that the captain has told me to sleep at the hut and not under the shelter. So I moved on to second phase – crossing of the frontier itself that is located 7 kilometers down a pathway. However, just a few meters upward I decided that the weather was very fine and I could spend the day there waiting for a good sunset and a sunrise above Fitz Roy that towered above the blue Lago Desierto. That was a good chance to dry my shoes and start reading a new book. I chose a fantasy one that matched the surrounding landscapes – the Belgariad.

The day passed and so did the night but I had no luck either with the sunset or with the sunrise. The morning was cloudy and under the threat of rain I collected my belongings at 7 and a half and went ahead. After about two kilometers I found the Canadian with the bicycle whom I had helped the previous day. He was still having breakfast. His task was a little bit more complicated because he had to pass through the pathway 3 times – once with the saddlebags, one more time with empty hands and then back with the bicycle.

That pathway was considerably easier than the previous one and an hour and a half later I reached the frontier itself where two boards stood prominently – “Welcome to Chile” and “Welcome to Argentina”.

The last phase remained – to walk the remaining 14 kilometers on a gravel not used road to the Chilean frontier post. There were no problems in here if we don’t consider the pain the shoulders and in the legs too in the end. The road meandered through lenga forests and almost all the time it was snowing (or at least that was the local equivalent of snow that looks like tiny grains of ice).

At about two and something I had already received my Chilean stamp and five minutes later the Canadian arrived too. The Chilean gendarmerie was more official than the Argentinean one but nevertheless the guy told me that a kilometer down the shore there was a small house I could sleep at.

The above-mentioned small house was located straight on the port and appeared like a sort of bungalow. The bathroom didn’t function but there was a wood burning stove. The Canadian pitched his tent on the shore in spite of my invitation and I kindled the stove because it was getting colder and rainier. Two or three hours later two Israeli appeared from somewhere and joined me.

The first thing I usually did when I met someone was to ask what did that person knew about the price of the boat. Until that moment I had heard of plenty of different prices and nothing seemed secure. Aviv mentioned 80 dollars, the Argentinean soldiers said it was 25 dollars; the Canadian also thought it was 80 dollars. I myself saw at a guide-book that it was 45. The Israeli, whose names were Max and Coby, had a printout from the site of Villa O’Higgins at which it also said it cost 45 dollars. But that price seemed to be from the previous season.

However, the more interesting part was that Max and Coby had no money. They had also met Aviv and just like me they hoped to pass for free. Even more interesting part was that on the following day they expected two more Israeli who had the same plan under Aviv’s influence.

Suddenly my mind evoked not such a bright picture. Maybe it was possible for a person to pass for free but the whole five of them – it was simply out of the question. And for the moment I really, really didn’t want to go back and that’s why I decided to wait for the boat and see what would happen.

On the following day the weather got better by some miracle. I slept until 12 and the Israeli did so until 3 or 4 o?clock. Later at dusk we went to the gendarmerie – Max wanted to ask if they could serve them with food if they had to go back. The answer was “no” but there was a house on the shore we could buy bread from.

Just at that moment about 50 years old Australian arrived together with his wife. They crossed the river with one more person but the luggage turned out to be way too heavy and they abandoned it somewhere on the road, 10 kilometers back. Now they wanted to find the person who does luggage transportation with horses against payment.

A little bit later the other two Israeli showed up and we ended up as five people at the hut. We discussed the strategy – the main idea was to ask if the five of us could pay 200 dollars. As a whole it didn’t seem like a bad idea and that’s why we had to wait for the next day so that we would go to check.

The main problem, which we were about to have, was that there were too many people ready to pay the total amount. So the boat would have enough of an income in order to refuse our 200 dollars. The other problem for me was that we would be six people who would hitch-hike on the same road with a very few cars moving on it.

In the evening Max and I went to the “bread house” that was also something like a camping site and a hostel. We found the Australian there in desperate attempts to come to terms with the owner through the help of gestures and facial expressions without a word of Spanish. We played the part of interpreters and cleared the prices and the situation with his luggage. Ricardo, the guy with the horses, would go to pick it up in the morning. The most important thing was that we found out that the price for sure was 80 dollars.

On the following morning when two more Israeli arrived with the intention to hitch-hike on Carretera Austral my wish to go there began to languish.

The Israeli are a weird herd. Yes, probably “herd” is the most accurate word. When they complete their military service of three years they work about a year and after that they rush around the world. By “world” I mean mainly South America. So far so good but what I don’t like about it is their style of traveling. They usually move in groups, they gather with their compatriots, they are loud and they go exactly at the same places. That’s the reason why almost every Israeli talks about Carretera Austral – as a sort of schedule he must go through.

When the boat arrived at 11 there was no chance for us t to talk to the captain but I managed to talk to a French couple who traveled with a tandem bicycle. As a whole they were disappointed by Carretera Austral and that was mainly due to the constant rainy weather – something I have suspected during the whole time. When it is rainy the clouds flock together low and almost all the peaks are hidden by them. The French doubted we would be able to go succeed in bargaining with the captain. The location gains popularity and that boat is the only way to cross the lake so the company was a monopolist and put whatever prices they wanted. 80 dollars for 3 hours of transition is an insane price. And what is even more insane is that this was a double rise in comparison with the previous year.

Now the boat was taking tourists (the Australians) in order to sail away with them until some glacier. Then it would come back about 5 o’clock in order to pick up the people who wanted to cross the lake.

Meanwhile the Israeli went crazy and two of them jumped in the lake to swim. They managed to swim for 20-30 meters and went out screaming and half stiff with cold.

At 5 o’clock the boat returned and the Israeli claimed the following. “We are from Israel and know how to bargain, leave that to us.” After that three of them went inside to the captain.

They’ve been talking to him in the following fifteen minutes and I could read by their expressions that it wasn’t meant to be. In the end the only thing they managed to agree on was paying half of it now and the other half when they reached Villa O’Higgins. I didn’t know exactly how they would do this because there was no cash machine in there. That was their only chance to continue because they hardly had any food in order to continue. However, I firmly refused it – there was no way for me to fill the pocket of some presumptuous money-maker. And I had food.

When we parted Coby gave me a pack of cornflakes and I went back on the martyr’s path. The weather was cloudy but it didn’t rain and no matter that my rucksack was just as heavy I managed to walk all the 21 kilometers to the Argentinean gendarmerie without almost any breaks. At 11:10 in the evening when it was about to start raining I arrived and I squeezed myself directly at the hut with the horses’ saddles and the spades where I spent a rainy night.

In the morning I went to have my passport stamped and after that I saw that the French with the bicycle have pitched their tent at the little forest together with one more tent. There was one French couple in it too – everybody was waiting for the boat in order to cross Lago Desierto. The roundabout pathway is simply impossible for a bicycle.

I asked them to take my rucksack with them and leave it at the gendarmerie on the other side because the Israeli had told me that the boat captain requires the total ticket amount even for just a rucksack.

The return journey around the lake took 3 hours and a half and it was a little easier than the previous time because the brooks’ water was not that high and I have been carrying just about 4-5 kilograms. Even the crossing of the fallen rope bridge was easier and the river level was at least 15 centimeters lower. On the other side I took my rucksack and the second passed car took me and brought me back to Chalten right on time for me to buy food for the New Year’s Eve and the days to come. Then I would try out my initial plan – Ruta 40.

And that’s the end of a perfectly unsuccessful attempt to hitch-hike a touristy boat. The result was 70 passed kilometers for four days and two more days of waiting.

Bookmark and Share