The backside of Los Cuernos
After a short hike to Campamiento Italiana (2.5 hours), we ate lunch on a rock and waited for Chuck and Anne, our dinner companions from Chicago, to show up so we could store our backpacks in their tent while we did a day hike up the Valle Frances. We had been warned to avoid the French Valley altogether if it were cloudy, but the weather was partly clear for the first time in two days, so we decided to go for it. Chuck and Anne, who were carrying much more weight than we were, arrived just in time and the four of us headed up the center leg of the W. An hour or so up, we witnessed stunning views of a blue glacier (glaciers ARE blue, btw) on the mountain to our left with two small cirques below. Plodding further along, we eventually hit snow (I made snowballs; I was VERY excited to finally touch snow) and a LOT of wind in the clearing before Campamiento Britanico. The wind in Patagonia, as I mentioned before, is often so fierce you can hardly stand or walk, and because it comes in unpredictable bursts, sometimes you nearly lose your balance from the force of your own weight against the wind. From the clearing we had a clear view of the back of Los Cuernos (the horns, which are two peaks that look vaguely like horns) and what Chuck said he thought was the Patagonia logo. I have yet to match it against my photos. At the top, we left C & A to race down the mountain because we still had another two hours to go to the next refugio, while they were planning to camp at Campamiento Italiano.
My knees were killing me going down, especially walking down boulder steps (the paths were often very rocky, sometimes just red paint markers through a field of boulders) and the wind, again, was fierce, but we arrived at the bottom on time and used the outhouse before hiking on. I had tons of blisters by this time, so added more moleskin before we continued across one of the dozens of rickety wooden foot bridges that straddle the streams of Patagonia. The hike took us longer than we expected, three hours instead of two. Nearing the end of it we had an incredible view of the dark cloud-covered Cuernos and Paine Grande behind us (which I called Mordor) and the bright blue (REALLY blue, from the minerals the glacier deposited) Lake Pehoé ahead. And green vegetation everywhere in between. It was like a dream. Then the wind picked up. The trail had unexplicably split into two deep side-by-side trails for a short time, both with sides so high that it was easy to trip on them. One burst of wind caught my pack and knocked me over. I rolled over the median and landed upside down in the opposite trail with my legs in the air. Fortunately, my pack broke my fall. We continued on down the hill to the fancy new Grand Paine Lodge, where we checked into our first refugio beds.
In all the traveling I’ve done, I’ve never stayed in a hostel. The closest I’ve come to sharing a bedroom with strangers is in a sleeper car on the way to Italy, with four beds in one room. These rooms were large and clean with carpeting and large, hot showers down the hall, but I hated sleeping on a bunk with Martin across the room on another bunk. We found out we had to rent sleeping bags separately and Martin didn’t way to pay the $9, so I got one and he slept in his coat and the sheet I gave him—but I’m getting ahead of myself.
First we had dinner in the cafeteria-style dining room. Unlike at the other refugios, this “fancy” refugio was very impersonal. The front desk staff was not very friendly, and we didn’t get to eat dinner with everyone else like at Los Cuernos. They even had a gift shop, a bar and Internet! After dinner we went upstairs to get our free welcome Pisco Sour (and two more), where the eight Germans from the night before were playing dice again, singing “Frere Jacques,” and singing along to the lyrics of Radiohead’s Creep and some Red Hot Chili Peppers songs. We got kicked out when the bar closed at 9:30 p.m. and went to bed.
Before I talk about “bed,” keep in mind that sleep deprivation is a form of torture in some countries …
I woke up at 2 a.m. to the sound of Martin snoring. Only one person can understand what this is like, his brother Michael. Martin doesn’t snore every night and, strangely, I hadn’t heard him snore at ALL the entire trip until this night that we were sharing our room with four strangers. It was SO loud. I can’t describe it. Like a lawnmower in your head maybe? SO loud. I threw a shirt at him. He rolled over. Silence. Then the lawmower started up again. I tried to sleep. No luck. I threw another shirt. The same thing happened. I crawled down from my bunk, walked across the room (noticed that the guy who had been sleeping under him was GONE), poked him, told him he was snoring and to try to sleep on his back maybe, then went back to bed. Two minutes later, lawnmower. Martin can fall asleep in about ten seconds while I’ll be up on the Internet or reading a book for two hours if I wake up in the middle of the night. This continued, with me getting out of bed once more, for TWO hours. At 3:30 a.m. I took a melatonin, but even then couldn’t sleep. Finally, at 4 a.m., I took my sleeping bag into the lobby and found a couch. The other one was occupied by the guy who had been sleeping under Martin. I slept like a bear until the cafeteria filled with clanging and voices at 7:15 a.m. I returned to my room where everyone was somber. Martin apologized to the Dutch couple for keeping them up and all the man said was, “Yes. It was TOO much.” No one smiled at us. No one talked to us. The guy from the couch came back in (a French guy) and asked if that guy (Martin was in the bathroom at the time) had continued like that all night. “Yes, it was horrible” the Dutch guy said. Before they could continue, I told French guy Martin was my husband and the French guy said, “You picked a good one.” During breakfast they all ignored us and when I would smile walking past them, they would act like I wasn’t there. The following day, Martin told me that during the night (after I had left) the Dutch guy had come to him and poked him, too. “You very noisy!” he said. “Turn around! Turn around!” Then he put his hands behind his head, arched his back like a butterfly and imitated how Martin should breathe. I was in tears laughing when I heard this story. But on to day 12 …