Onwards to Puerto Natales, Chilé
I'll start this post with a funny story. As many of my friends and previous roommates know, I am a frequent sleep talker. I've had the humorous affliction since I was younger; and while I've grown out of sleep walking, I'm still apparently quite chatty in the wee hours of the night. So, I should have known why the guys at the front desk and my bunkmates greeted me this morning and asked, with those unmistakeable inside-joke chuckles, if I had a good night. Apparently, last night, in my four-person hostel dorm, which shares a wall with the front desk, I cheered "Goal!!!!!" in my sleep and started laughing. While I have zero recollection of this, I'm guessing I was watching an exciting futbol match in my dream and my team scored? I'm not an avid sports fan but I guess I am very deeply aware, even in my subconscious, of the fact that I'm in South America! Needless to say, for the rest of my trip, I should probably make it a practice of warning the other travelers in my hostel dorms of my habit!
Anyway. After a lovely morning breakfast, I walked from my hostel to the bus station in El Calafate. It felt like an exodus; trekkers with big structured backpacks, coming from different directions, were all making their way to the bus stop for the 8:30 AM departure. Stepping onto the bus, I realized how freaking awesome it was that everyone aboard had come from all over the world to visit the same place. I'd say about passengers were pretty evenly split between Americans, Europeans, and other South Americans.
On the bus ride from El Calafate to Puerto Narales, I couldn't help see a resemblance between the scenery here in Argentina and those I saw on Bike and Build. Specifically, I remember on my birthday, when we crossed the geographical center of the continental US, standing with my bike in the middle of the road, doing a complete 360, and feeling so small when gazing over endless lands and skies. Maybe it's partly just the feeling of freedom and purpose I get when in an unfamiliar place. But I do think the two places share a couple distinct characteristics: expansive flat landscapes with a myriad of browns and greens, and endless blue skies. Of course, as we grew closer to Chile and the Andes, the scenery became noticeably more hilly and mountainous, with larger trees instead of meek shrubbery.
The entry and exit customs processes, while simple and straightforward, were a bit of a darg, taking probably over 2 hours including waiting time for everyone on my bus. Once arriving in Puerto Natales, I managed to find my hostel and check-in, where I found that the old Chilean pesos my dad gave me from almost a decade ago were rarely used anymore. The woman at my hostel was taken quite by surprise at the sight of my historic bills!
The hostel was a great place to meet some fellow trekkers. Everyone I've met so far at the hostel is doing the same trek as I, and also beginning tomorrow. However, instead of being a princess like me and staying in the hostel-like refugios with heating and beds, are camping and have to carry tents! The refugios are quite steep, at $50 USD for just a bed (no sheets, you have to use a sleeping bag), but I decided early on that my camping skills were not reliable enough to be tested alone. As a compromise to my frugal self, I've chosen to not purchase meals at the refugios, which are also notoriously overpriced and rumored to be sub mediocre. So, after settling into my hostel, I headed to the local grocery store to stock up on my food for the next 5 days. I'm a little impressed with myself for finding everything I wanted, including huge store brand chocolate bars.
After re-packing my bag and boiling eggs for my trip, I shared a beer with the people in my hostel, where I felt a greater sense of home and community. I met a Dutch guy who just finished the trek, an outdoorsy older British couple who were doing it in a couple days, and Thibault (pronounced Tebow :D), a French solo traveler who was taking the same bus as me the following morning. It was nice to finally be more social and hear about the different experiences people have had in the area. I have high hopes for the beautiful scenery and rewarding trek I am about to embark upon, but I'm just setting low expectations for the weather so I won't disappoint myself!