January 4th, 2010

I stepped inside of Katie and Garret’s Bubble (a power couple from Seattle who I had met on the Navimag about 5 days before.) So, you guy’s mind if I tag along? “Not at all. We can provide a little boiling water for you :)

It was set, I was to walk with Garret and Katie, I was going to follow them along for the first 5 days and then go back while they finish the entire circuit (an extra 2 days (one of them involving snow up to their knees). They were 28, high school sweet hearts, married since they were 22, and too bright for their own good. We had a last supper of sorts at their hostel including roasted chicken, salad, and boiled potatoes. It was to be the best meal we would have in the next 5 days.

On the way to the entrance of the park, Katie and Garret expressed the desire to skip a portion of The W in order to make their 7 day trip a bit easier. In true backpacker fashion, I elected to go with a different couple at the last second who were planing on completing the entire W. In a quick negotiation, I had switched over to Tomer and Yael, an Israeli couple also the age of 28. Although I would have loved to spend more time with Garret and Katie, the Israelis would prove to be a far more culturally enriching experience. Over the course of the next 5 days, I would grow to understand Israel and Judaism to a level that most Americans will sadly never get the opportunity to gain.

To begin with, Tomer is a 28 year old computer science engineer who works in video. He is hilarious and I forgot his name twice before it finally stuck. He remembered my name the first time I gave it to him. He is the type of guy who has to touch you while talking. He puts his hand on your shoulder to open a sentence. This is his 4th trip to South America and he is interested in Not doing it “The Israeli way” this time. You see, there are very specific traits that an Israeli traveler takes on. Yael is much more quiet, but usually what ever she has to say is funny in a brand it’s own. She works in Pharmaceuticals (I think).

Saying that they had heavy packs would be a complete understatement. They brought enough food to sink a ship. 12 eggs, 5 oranges, 4 tomatoes, 2 onions, one kilo of rice, a proper salt shaker, a proper glass of olive oil, a full sized can on peas three canisters of gas (3 hours of cook time), and believe me, the list goes on. On top of that Tomer had invented a new way to cary his 4 bananas by emptying a 5 liter jug of water and cutting a slit in the middle to clear the meager circumference of the mouth. This clipped onto the outside of the pack.

To go back a bit, the first time I met this power couple, they were starting a movie in my hostel in Bariloche. The next day, we sat down again and they insisted on feeding me. It was the Israeli version of 3 cups of tea (2 cups). During the first day of the hike, Tomer began to spill the beans about the Israeli travel syndicate. He began his first two or three revelations with the phrase “Since you are practically family now, I’m going to tell you ……” I can’t promise or certify that all Israelis would be this warm and welcoming, but I sure hope so.

This particular national park is known for it’s horrendous weather. Compete with rain, snow, sleet, and a gale force wind that takes the life of at least one park goer each season. The problem is that a gust can pick a full grown man (and his pack) up and off of one of the vast expanses of cliff that the park specializes. The recommendation from the experts at the lecture were trekking poles (like ski poles only a little more rigid). I figured, why the hell not, so I opted into renting a pair. This would prove to be the best $20 that I’ve spent in a long time.

The weather during the 2 hour bus ride into the park was auspicious but left us suspicious that it might be the last that we see of it. We were advised that the ice field in the park dictates the weather and it will tend to act how it likes despite what other neighboring weather systems might suggest. It is the third largest ice field in the world (Antarctica is the first.) The plus side is that weather doesn’t tend to hang around, so if it is raining, it usually will stop before you can even unpack your beloved Gortex.

We started hiking and I instantly saw a pattern forming. A little break here, a little break there. We were not going anywhere. We had 5.5 solid hours of hiking until we were to hit our first camp site. Tomer loved to ask what time it was. It was his clever way of asking “are we there yet?” He knew what the estimated times were on the map, so he could determine, quietly, how much further we had to go. Only 15 minutes into hiking and he had asked for the time 3 times. Then there was the survey of the cross traffic. Every person who walked by, Tomer would ask how far we were from a certain point on the map. Of course, people are imperfect in these estimations and would give a spectrum of times. You see, when you have to stop to ask someone a question, you have to stop. Then he would freak out if someone 10 minutes down the trail gave him an estimate that increased in time. It was as if he was concerned that we magically went backwards. No amount of logic and reason was going to cary that oversized pack to the camp site. He was stuck, no amount of patented Israeli thinking outside of the box would make this trip any shorter. He needed brute force. Blunt brawn, and the stamina of an ox. Does an ox have stamina?

Our first leg of The W was Glacier Grey. From an aerial view of a map, this would be the western most side of a W. This portion of the park was wild and rugged. It had jagged granite peaks, hidden lakes, wind swept trees, and of course, a unforgettable glacier. The weather remained perfect at the moment. It was a sunny day without a cloud in the sky. Before we made our way around the bend, there were large omens blue omens floating down the lake. Pieces of her majesty.
Tomer pointed out the glacier at first sight. I look far past it to a distant mountain range that is lit by the sun. But much closer was the obvious leviathan. We had a laugh. After 5.5 hours, we agree to stay at a closer camp site for fear of not making it to the original site before dark (10:30pm). Here we get our first taste of the worshipers (a flying creature the side of a gnat, with more aggression, but no ability to bite.) “They just hover around you and then dive bomb into your face.” “It’s like they are worshiping a shrine or something.” Tomer comes in with a pristine observation “They are ignoring our food. But do you know what they eat? hair!”

I walk down the the water front where there are tons of icebergs and daringly stick my hand in the water. The water is glacially grey as I dip. Surprisingly enough, it is not even as cold as a mountain stream. This partially explains the rational of the crazy German girl who decided it was a good idea to jump into the lake earlier today.

We set up our tents (mine takes much longer, due to the lack of my experience. In fact, when renting the equipment, the clerk said “just take that out back and set it up to make sure everything is in working order.” I walked to the back of the shop and dropped the bag onto the grass. What the hell am I supposed to do now? I came back into the shop after 5 minutes and said “I’m sorry, is there something I should be doing now. This thing is just a bag. I’ve never done this sort of thing. Do you think you can come out and show me?”) I successfully bent 3 of the light weight aluminium tent pegs while trying to hammer them into the granite saturated soil.

Tomer laughed. He had been on dozens of treks, the longest of which being 17 days in Peruvian jungles. Like a first chance, call it beginners luck, it began to rain the moment I sat down in my fully built tent. It continued to lightly rain through the night and I learned first hand the lesson of touching the inside membrane to the outside rain cover. In the night, I had stretched out, pressing my feet into the foot of the tent. I woke up with a wet sleeping bag up to the knees. I was worried that there was a hole in my tent until Tomer explained the technology.

The next morning we went down to the bay that all of the ice bergs gathered in. getting a closer look, the bergs were tightly compacted almost dry in a sense. They resembled a jigsaw puzzle. We had a big day ahead of us so we kept moving. This day grew more and more tedious as we stopped everyone who walked bye to ask how much further we had to go, so I suggested we not ask, because it wouldn’t make us any closer. Then the idea of a teleporter was brought up. “I mean, I don’t have the technology just yet, but I can sell you the option for the future right now. Or how about just a big promenade thats down by the lake? It’s much more beautiful. I just can’t stand wasting energy going up and down. It’s just so inefficient.” Tomer spit out in disgust. “And what the fuck is the time anyway!!!!” He shouts as I nearly fall to the ground laughing. Essentially screaming “are we there yet!”

That night we get to town and I resolve to put a trash bag around the foot of my sleeping bag as I go to sleep. I wake with wet feet once again even though it didn’t rain and make the assertion that the plastic bag trapped all of the moisture in the air. Remember, Patagonia maintains about 70% humidity in this season.

Again, more tomorrow….