Journey to Argentina, Part 2

Argentina as the embodiment of freedom, pristine and beauty, Part 2

I certainly didn’t come to Argentina for graffiti, soccer or to see cities in general. Of course, the most interesting thing in Argentina is endless expanses and a variety of natural and climatic zones – steppes, mountains, plains, northern tundra, glaciers, jungles, and Iguassu Falls, the most powerful waterfall in the world, which is considered the calling card of Argentina, as well as of Brazil, too.

But the most interesting place for me, beckoning me from my childhood with its wildness, wilderness and unpopulated is Patagonia. It was the main goal of my second trip and in general met any bold expectations.

In fact, there are two Patagonia’s in the world, the Chilean and the Argentine. The first insanely beautiful, mountainous, well maintained, fairly developed, with good roads, a gorgeous national park, great camping and trails, crowds of tourists and of course with fantastic views. I’ve already told you about it. But if you want to see the real Patagonia – the endless silent land of wildlife, untouched by civilization natural beauty, a secluded and unpopulated corner of the world where everything seems to be the same as it was millions of years ago – you need to go to Argentina.

You will not find any camping sites in Argentine Patagonia (just tents in the woods without any infrastructure and services is a kind of camping), you will not find good trails (you should take marsh boots and very strong shoes for climbing, otherwise you can easily break your legs or at best get them wet), often you can see where there is a trail and where not by old rare trails, and it does not matter in principle – you can walk anywhere, no one will follow you. No rangers, rules, prohibitions and restrictions. But if anything, no one can come to your aid.

This is not Iceland or Chile or the U.S., where it seems there’s a lot of wildlife but it’s always easy to get to and watch, because all the benefits of civilization are close by – the shower, gas, electricity, transportation, etc. It’s not like that here. It is in the Argentine part of Patagonia you can feel like a pioneer, a discoverer, abandoned to the edge of the world pioneer, left alone with the wilderness, to feel its incredible strength and untouched inner beauty. And this is what attracts thousands of backpackers, lovers of wandering with a backpack outside of civilization, outside of the usual life, outside the framework and boundaries, outside the rules and laws, outside the constant control, surveillance and monitoring.

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It is clear that there is some life here, and the small village of El Chalten is its center. This is not the Altiplano in Bolivia, where human life and traces of it do not exist at all, and where you can ride only completely autonomous from the world, about this will come next. But all the same feelings of boundless inner freedom, deep involvement with the real nature, dissolution in it and immersion to our origins, some kind of even primal contact with our ancient ancestors and their life – something like that can be experienced there. Not tears and emotions from the surrounding beauty – it is here, but not so concentrated and powerful as in Chile, rather the purest, primal and very natural, but exactly some special state of solitude, detachment, knowledge and, most importantly, real intoxicating freedom. That is what I was looking for there and that is what I found.

The last frontier of humanity

There aren’t many. left in the world of truly vast sparsely populated wild places. Maybe the Sahara, maybe Chukotka, maybe the Yukon and northern Canada, or say the interior of Australia, Greenland and Antarctica. But Patagonia, perhaps, remained the only practically unexplored and unpopulated corner of the planet, where at the same time more or less normal climate and where in general it is not so difficult to get, and besides with its unique and interesting nature, fauna, flora, active natural life and different natural processes, which are often absent in less suitable for life places.

In general, formally, Patagonia is everything that lies south of the 40th parallel, outside the agricultural areas where the wild steppe begins, including Tierra del Fuego. But the real Patagonia in the world of tourism is still the area south of the 45th parallel and more of the central and western mountainous part of the continent, outside the Atlantic coast, and Tierra del Fuego is considered as a somewhat different natural region, with its own characteristics.

The Argentinians began to conquer these territories very late – in fact, they only captured them at the end of the 19th century, and began to develop them in the twentieth. That is why these places are still so unpopulated and wild. At one time there were Indian tribes here, they are still there now, but they were always rare in relation to other places in SA.

Now in two southern provinces of Argentina – Chubut and Santa Cruz, which are Patagonia, lives less than 1 million people (if to count Rio Negro province – 1.5 million), the average population density is 2 people per square kilometer, but at the same time 80-85% of population lives near ocean, the real population density in Patagonia itself is somewhere around 0.3-0.4 people per kilometer. Roughly speaking, like Yakutia, although conditions here are much better. And in general almost all Patagonia is closer to equator than Moscow (which lies on 56th degree of latitude North, and the southernmost city in the world – Ushuaia – on 55th South), and in general there is quite a moderate climate. The only thing is that it is quite dry and there are terrible winds. So it’s hard to grow anything, and there are problems of their own.

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The largest and central city in the region is El Calafate, which I have already written about several times above and where only 15-20 thousand people live. There is an airport and it’s kind of a central tourist center, but it’s very small. Although all the most interesting things are not very close – El Chalten (which has 1.5 thousand residents) and Fitz Roy – 220 km drive, the glaciers – 80, Torres del Paine in Chile – more than 250. And in fact there is only one track – the legendary Road 40, one of the longest roads in the world (5 thousand km), which connects the whole Patagonia together (and at the same time with the other Argentina) – and outside of it there is virtually nothing – no settlements, no roads, at least with asphalt, no communication, and almost no civilization. Endless wilderness, where life has been going on for thousands of years, and is still going on. Very very sparse farms and that’s about it.

About megacities and the spirit of space conquerors

For me it is a bit of a mystery why Patagonia is so sparsely populated, yes it is dry and windy (three days before our arrival to El Chalten there was a hurricane with snow, which knocked down trees and broke many tents of tourists), but at the same time, the region with stunning nature, with many top tourist spots, with a comfortable temperate climate, an ideal place for people who love solitude, spaciousness, peace and freedom. In a way, you could say the last Wild West left on earth. And tourists seem to come here more and more, it is possible to earn something on it. But for some reason there is still freedom, solitude and peace and almost no civilization and life. Maybe Argentina, unlike Chile, simply does not invest much in these places, does not build campsites and new roads, does not pave trails, does not create infrastructure, neither for tourism development, nor for moving new inhabitants here. Although El Chalten, for example, is being built very quickly-new houses and hotels are being built all over town, and there is some movement. But in general, the region is not developing fast.

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Maybe modern people and, in particular, modern Argentines have lost the spirit of conquering and exploring something new, searching for their land, their place and their freedom? There was a time when people liked to settle on newly discovered and developed lands, to be on the edge of civilization, to live in new interesting and wild places, to develop them from scratch, to build their own houses, settlements and cities – whether in Oklahoma and California, northern Siberia and the Far East or Western Canada and Australia, many really liked such places, but now people more and more attracted to megalopolises, to concrete boxes with mortgages, to offices, etc. Although it would seem – modern technology, communications, communications, etc. allows you to live and work anywhere – but no, for some reason the megacities of the world are growing rapidly, and those places that were not particularly developed in the end instead of developing often die out and population density continues to decline.

To me it is a kind of paradox – why did mankind need for centuries to develop more and more land, and then seek to concentrate all 40-50 small points of the planet, united by thousands of flights, from NY, Tokyo and Paris to BA, Moscow, Jakarta, Rio and Shanghai, probably soon if not half, at least a quarter of humanity will live in a few dozen such megacities, and the rest will envy them – the trend is just that.

In our country, the largest country in the world with its gigantic expanses, one in seven already lives in a metropolitan region; in Argentina, also with its incredible expanses, one in three. And this trend is increasing all over the world.

With the declining role of agriculture and industry in the global economy, people no longer understand why they need to live near nature or in beautiful, but inaccessible, wild places – and that leaves Patagonia a good chance to remain so wild and beautiful forever, to be the wild west in a time when there is virtually nothing wild left in the world anymore. It just didn’t have time to be spoiled during the period of new land development, unlike many other places.

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The ice of the land of silver

The most interesting thing in the Argentine part of Patagonia is the area around Mount Fitz Roy, an incredibly beautiful mountain that every backpacker and mountain tourist dreams of climbing, and the Perito Moreno Glacier.

This time we couldn’t see and photograph the glacier because of bad weather, it was foggy and windy (although it’s always windy here) and there was not much to see. But in general there is a giant ice plateau in Argentina and Chile, one of the largest glaciers in the world, 500 thousand square kilometers, the third world’s reserve of fresh water, part of which is the Perito Moreno Glacier. Unlike other glaciers in the world, particularly in the northern hemisphere, this one is not only not melting or shrinking, but even seems to be growing a bit. As if global warming has no effect on it.

In the Argentine part, near one of the largest tongues of the glacier, the Perito Moreno, the national park Los Glacieres, along with Iguazu is a top Argentine attraction. Although in general different tongues of the big glacier can be seen in other neighboring lakes, not far from El Chalten, where there is even a special campsite near the glacier, where you can go and where you can stay for a while or, for example, in Torres del Paine in Grey Lake. But in general, Perito Moreno is the most beautiful glacier in the region – 80-meter wall of multi-millennial ice is certainly a very beautiful sight. In good sunny weather it looks great.

Every 3-7 years there is some interesting action. The glacier is constantly moving and sometimes reaches the other shore and blocks the flow from Lake Argentina, forming a natural dam. In one part of the lake the water rises to a much higher level than in the other, the difference reaches 30 meters, and begins to press on the ice and eventually the water breaks this ancient ice into pieces and bursts out. They say it’s an absolutely fantastic spectacle, which leaves just incredible emotions and impressions. But it is impossible to predict, it may happen in three years after the last explosion and in 10 years and on what day exactly will happen, no one knows. But even an ordinary ice collapse, not as global as the one in 5 years, looks pretty cool, something like that. It can be seen quite often.

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Attraction and cognition by Fitz Roy

But I’ve seen glaciers in Iceland – so here I was more interested in hiking, mountains, Fitz Roy, El Chalten – that’s it. As I wrote – El Chalten is a small village, but is the center of a large tourist natural region, an ideal place for climbers and nature lovers to wander with a backpack. It is surrounded by stunning mountains, unspoiled nature and clean water, absolutely fantastic and diverse nature. The mountains are absolutely stunning and unusual – in some places simply ethereal, as in Torres del Paine. The central mountain of the region of course Fitz Roy, to the foot of which considers it a duty to climb every mountain tourist, although the road there is not easy to say the least. But in general, the vast majority of those who come to El Chalten go there for hiking and climbing Fitz Roy.

Of course the ascent there is not to the very top of the mountain, it seems no one has been there yet, it is impossible to conquer it, and to the foot of its peak, where there is a gorgeous lake with views of the peaks. In order to be there, you need to do 3 things: 1) come to El Chalten, at least one day there to spend the night, the benefit where you can do it (you can also buy some equipment – but at prices much higher than in Moscow, Buenos Aires or even in El Calafate). 2) pass the first route from the El Chaltena to the base camp at the foot of Fitz Roy and also there at least one night stay 3) from the camp the next morning (or rather overnight) assault the mountain itself on a special trail (if you can call it so). Some people combine 2 and 3 in one campaign there and back – but in my opinion it is absolutely boring and uninteresting, plus it requires very good physics, alpinist level.

Already the first trail to the campsite will not leave anyone indifferent. It passes on very picturesque and wild district, around stunning views and it is rather uneasy, especially at a decent wind. To go more than 11 km, a set of height is not great, about 800 meters – but they come to one section where you have to climb the mountain, and there you have to sweat a little. But we walked there in beautiful weather, and calmly reached in 4 hours, while sometimes resting and photographing the surroundings.

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