Monthly Archives: February 2004

the gringo trail

a few weeks back while hiking the Paines del Torres circuit i found myself alone on the trail for the first time in 4 days. during the rain it was great to have fellow hikers to comiserate with, but i tire easily the game of leapfrog that ensues when too many people at varying paces populate the trail. looking back towards the direction i was walking from, i caught the last glimpse of glacier grey and wanted to hold onto it a bit before moving on. above me to the right of the trail i spied a rocky outcrop i thought would make an excellent resting vista. with full pack i negotiated a bit of a climb to get there and as i reached the rock i was stunned. at least a dozen people previously hidden from view turned my way in unison, rolled their eyes, muttered, snickered and went back to their own business. seems we all had the same great idea, or did we? i discovered only later that i had stumbled onto one of lonely planet’s “must do” activities.
it is sometimes sobering in the quest for adventure to find that my unique and thrilling experience is actually a carbon copy of someone else’s. the days of finding solitude in the planet’s grandest placest is tragically gone thanks to the guidebook inspired gringo trail.
as if we don’t set ourselves apart enough by costume, style and language, nothing stands us out more than a well worn Lonely Planet guide clutched in our hands as we stand cluelessly lost on a corner in heavy consultation with our bibles. i have to admit that it wasn’t by choice, but this last week along argentina’s atlantic coast, i found myself without a guidebook and without any idea where i was going. i sort of made it up as i went along and without anyone to warn me otherwise, ended up in the second worst of beach towns. i say second only because the megalopolis of mar del plata further south has all the natural wonder and tranquility of Vegas by the sea. the little town of santa teresita, so unasuming as viewed from the main road, appeared more and more like the county fair as i neared the coast… with all the personality and diversity you would expect


on the way to ushuaia, i struck up a conversation with another traveller, sean, asking him how he broke his foot. the word going round the bus was that this crazed canadian jumped off an iceberg and broke his foot… the reality… he’s australian and he slipped off a block of floating ice while polar-bearing in lago grey. it’s still a good story, and the video is hysterical, but the myth going round had become legend and the reality, no matter how cool, just wasn’t the same. while he was telling me the proper story he compared the water in lago grey to that of southern australia, so i asked him what part of australia he was from. aw, south of melbourne. where? aw, the mornington penninsula. where? its a small town called balnarring. he kacked when i told him i’d been to the balnarring horse races, which, like cricket and any hour of any day, is simply a good excuse to drink beer in the sun. turns out he knows my friend jim who works just down the road. jim has interviewed sean a few times, to give publicity to the national park where he is head ranger.