After Alerces National Park, we were essentially “done” with the Lake District portion of Argentine Patagonia, although in reality there are so many hidden rivers, lakes and mountains that one could spend multiple seasons just in this area. We decided to head east into the Patagonian steppe to spend a quiet Christmas together before tackling the next portion of our trip.
Christmas is not a religious holiday in our home but Simon and I grew up with it and it is a fun event to give kids gifts. I must say however we felt thankful to not have to go through the highly pressurized Christmas shopping madness back home. The amount of money spent and quickly forgotten crap being tossed around is mind boggling. But when back home it is hard to not participate in it.
Ty was more excited about Christmas than ever this year. He was all about decorating a tree, talking about it since early November. So we found a good tree next to camp and decorated it complete with stockings too. He was also old enough to want gifts. Simon and I had been accumulating little gifts every time we came across a town, so we had enough to stuff the stocking with lots of cool candies, tattoos, a magnifying glass and a slingshot. We also bought him the classic fishing game he asked for. Incredibly it was still exactly the same game as I had as a kid!
Nothing is more exciting than candy to a one year old.
And what else is a big brother supposed to do – Ty quickly made a trade with Jamie, a lollipop for his klaidoscope.
We went to a place called Piedra Parada which means “standing rock”. It is named for the rock buttress that marks the entrance to the canyon, primarily a climbing destination. The canyon has a few miles of continuous vertical wall of which some sports climbs and fewer trad climbs have been developed. There is an online guide book out there somewhere but this area, being two hours east of Esquel on a dirt road in the Patagonia steppe, is remote enough that it is still raw.
To say that I miss climbing is an understatement. Climbing is a weird thing. For something that is quite literally a pain it is simultaneously exhilarating and spiritual. Few sports can be so addicting that it possesses some people to forgo prospect of career, money and family, maybe even life itself. It is not for an adrenaline rush as some might suspect, and words are inadequate to describe it just like the emotion of love. Suffice it to say the moments spent in climbing are like time suspended, when it is the single element that matters as if the rest of life is inconsequential.
But early on, I knew I wouldn’t be climbing on this trip filled with epic mountains. I hadn’t climbed for a couple years already. The trad gear took so much space (more than our food closet), and I don’t have a climbing partner. Logistically climbing can be a real pain. It took me a long time to accept that climbing is just not happening, not right now, and stop longing for and aching after it. I owe to climbing a lot of things mind and body and some day it will come back, but for now it feels silly good to just boulder to the first bolt and hike to the top of the climb.
Besides climbing, this area is beautiful in the desert and cliffs sort of way, very different from the green lush lake district that we came from. It is very remote and undeveloped. Jack rabbits were everywhere which drove Luna crazy on our walks. One day I swear I saw a surprised zorro running away from us after Luna and I scrambled to the top of the cliffs. We stayed at a campground on the Rio Chubut where Simon caught lots of percas, a native perch fish with a spiky spine. Sorry, no pictures.
The Andes Patagonia is often done by criss crossing between Chile and Argentina and that is the way we chose as well. Crossing the border however is a bit more complicated with Luna. For those who may travel here with a dog, here is the process in a nutshell. Before border crossing the dog needs a health certificate from SENASA (if you are in Argentina) or SAG (Chile). It requires an original rabies certificate (vaccination date longer than one month but less than one year) and a health certificate from a veterinarian (must be within days of crossing and include an administration of internal and external antiparasite medications), then back to the SENASA or SAG office who types up everything the vet wrote on their own official form and charge a small fee. If obtained from Chile this paper is good for 21 days of unlimited exit and entries. From Argentina, 30 days. When the certificate expires, a new one, including the whole shabang with the vet is needed again.
After Piedra Parada we originally planned to return to Bariloche to do dog paper work and start Chile’s Carretera Austral from the farthest north. However, after seeing how busy Bariloche was, we weren’t psyched about returning so we looked for a smaller SENASA office and found one back in Esquel. These bureaucratic things are often faster in small towns. In Esquel things went so smoothly we got everything done in two hours. Unbelievable! So the same day we headed for the border towards Futalafeu. Goodbye Argentina for now and onto Chilean Patagonia.