El Chalten to the wonderful and remote Sierra Baguales.... / by Mark Boyd

I got up at 5.30am, I couldn't really sleep.  The wind was howling around the roof, and the thought of hitchhiking in terrible conditions was obviously on my mind.  I prepared a lentil and veg curry, whacked it in to my Thermos, boiled all my eggs and then made banana and honey porridge oats for breakfast.

I stood on the side of the road in El Chalten.... My backpack loaded with all my gear and all my excess food.

My thumb reached almost as far out on to the road as my smile.... The smile must be welcoming, as opposed to the grinning madman smile!  My aim for the day was to reach the village of Cerro Castillo, 400km south.  Tomorrow morning I was going to meet a Patagonian Trekking and Fishing guide called Gonzalo.  A friend of a friend of a friend.  Gonzalo is the owner of 'Into The Wild Patagonia'.  Before departing Puerto Natales almost a week ago, Gonzalo and I had agreed to exchange a day of Patagonian trout fishing for a handful of photographs depicting our adventure.  Gonzalo was planning to drive up from Puerto Natales to Cerro Castillo, a trip of over 2 hours.... He told me tomorrow's weather was looking grim and we may just end up driving back to Puerto Natales until the following day.  Lovely camping weather by the sounds of it I thought to myself.  Sheesh.

Within 10 minutes Dave & Julie a lovely couple from England, on their first International road trip pulled on to the side of the road in their little hire car.  They were driving to El Calafate, and would be able to drop me at the main road junction that connects the main road towards Cerro Castillo and onwards to Puerto Natales.  Perfect.  Three hours of chatting later we were at my stop.  The wind was tearing straight down the road at around 40mph.... The sky was bright and blue, and the dust storms were frequent.  I rummaged in my backpack to get Dave some superglue.  He'd managed to break his spectacles.... Once he was all sorted I headed across the road and waited..... and waited.... and waited.... there weren't many vehicles on this stretch and I was getting blown away!  After 20 blustery minutes and around 7 or 8 cars I decided to hunker down behind my backpack to get a little shelter from the cutting wind.  It wouldn't be long before I started to feel the cold.  As cars or trucks approached I'd pop my head and thumb out from behind my backpack.... I'm pretty sure I had a wind tunnel smile on my face.... more grimace than smile actually.... then a car slowed down... Oh my Lord!!!  What a relief.  Michael and Barbara were from Poland.  They too were on a road trip.... They were headed all the way to Puerto Natales.... Hmmmm tempting.... The weather was already grim.... and if I headed all the way to PN I could let Gonzalo know that he didn't need to head up to meet me if the weather was awful as I'd be there where he lived, thus saving him a 4 hour round trip for nothing.... I decided to that 'going all the way' with my new Polish friends would be the best idea..... and was I pleased!  Around the area of Cerro Castillo the weather turned and blizzards hit.  The surrounding hills were quickly grey, then white with a light covering of snow.  Camping would have been brutal at best.  One thing I did forget was that I would now be crossing back from Argentina in to Chile...

At the border Barbara did all the speaking, whilst Michael and I carried off the docile look.  She worked for a Spanish international company, and could therefore speak incredible Spanish without one iota of Eastern European accent.... and she spoke fast too... really fast!

As they scanned our bags I remembered that I had a couple of bits of food in there.  I mentioned a piece of Chorizo, rummaged around and couldn't find it....  They found it.... It was in my cooking pot.... The lady looked displeased... and decided to continue exploring my bag for any further illegally smuggled organic items.  I knew this wasn't going to look good.  I had a very small coffee container in which resided an avocado... another small container with an apple and another with the boiled eggs... The remainder of my pack was like a game of 'vegetable Jenga', with carrots, ginger and garlic pushed in to any available spaces along with a bag of lentils and a bag of oats. I was in trouble.  The woman began to rant at me.  Barbara went on to explain that I thought I was stopping at Cerro Castillo, short of the border, and that I'd totally forgotten about the foodstuffs in my pack.... The lady asked why I'd signed the form to say I had nothing.... and this was a very good point.... I had the option to complete a replacement declaration form or pay $100.00 fine.  Pass me the pen!  Because the eggs were cooked and the lentil curry was cooked they didn't fall in to contraband items.... I'd almost been charged with vegetable smuggling.... Good heavens.  I thanked Barbara for her assistance and apologised to everyone for the inconvenience.

On reaching PN we said our goodbyes and I headed back to Dorodtea Homestay where my lovely old couple welcomed me in with open arms.  Santiago even brought me some freshly baked Chilean style bread whilst I sat on the stairs just above the radiator, basking in the warm rising air.  The following day was indeed a right off, just as Gonzalo said.  I took a rest day.... 

Gonzalo and I chatted all things fishing on the drive to Cerro Castillo.  From here we picked up a little single track road that took us towards the wilds of Sierra Baguales.... and the scenery was spectacular.  Would I see a puma today I wondered?

There was no one out here at all.... It was wonderful.  Rhea (the ostrich/emu looking bird) dinosaured about the place,

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whilst guanacos leaped and charged all over the place.... A pair of condors soared 50 metres above us.  It was wild out here.

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The final few hundred metres were offroad and through rivers, before parking up and getting the gear ready.  The air was bitter and carrying horizontally driven snow from time to time.  Flyfishing would be challenge in this strength wind, and in these icy temperatures.

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We walked for just over an hour to reach the lake.... By which time flurries of wind driven snow were becoming more and more commonplace.

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Gonzalo got to rigging up the rods..... It was baltic.  I'd never fished in such freezing and windy conditions, the wind chill bringing the temperature down to a finger aching -9 degrees celcius.  We battled on, casting across the wind.... I turned to see Gonzalo's rod raised high as he bent in to our first Patagonian trout of the session.

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 Stunning looking fish.... Returned to it's own element a few seconds later....

Stunning looking fish.... Returned to it's own element a few seconds later....

Then it was my turn.....

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After battling with the wind for over an hour, and landing two more good trout each, we decided to tuck up under the hills and get out of the wind.... In the shallows I was able to see more good trout.... and went on to land five more.

 Each and every trout was carefully unhooked and released....

Each and every trout was carefully unhooked and released....

The walk back to the truck was as beautiful as the walk out.... The same views, under different light at a different angle.... Stunning.... The huge herds of guanacos parting as we approached.  It had been a long day, we'd left the house at 8.30am and returned at a similar time in the evening.... I was bushed and ready for my bed.

Tomorrow I'd bid farewell to the little Guesthouse and the local couple who took care of me, I'd leave Puerto Natales for the final time..... I was headed towards Pucon, another 2,000km North. 

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So a bus would be the cheapest way right?  Wrong... At almost £145.00 and two days of travelling.  It turns out the most cost effective way to do this was to take a bus in the opposite direction towards Punta Arenas then fly all the way up to Santiago, then take a bus back down to Pucon.... Strange... But if that's the cheapest and quickest way that's what I'd have to do.  It would mean a night sleeping in Santiago airport, but that would do me no harm..... Onward to Pucon!