Walkabout: Travel Life and Photographs

Hielo Sickness

Glacier Days

On the plane ride down we met a Spaniard lady named Christina and guy named Jonathan. We all ended up splitting a taxi in to town. Throughout our stay in El Calafate and El Chalten we would end up running in to them both several times and still might.

P1040140 In the morning we arose from our tent and walked up to the bus terminal. There we caught a shuttle up to the Perito Moreno glacier outside of town. There we were met with the biggest glacier we had ever seen, stretching for miles up in to the Andes Mountains and flowing down in to a lake. It stood 60 meters tall above water and we were told it was 9 times that below! We took a boat ride out to meet it head on and glided along its Southern face. Once off, we walked along the catwalks on shore taking all it in from different angles when we ran in to Christina again. She somehow managed to hitchhike there and avoid the entrance fee, but she said it wasn’t easy. The sun shone down upon us as we talked to her and then suddenly we heard a large cracking sound. We swung around towards the glacier and saw this massive chunk of ice break and slide freely down in to the water! We couldn’t gage how big it was until the boat we were on earlier, which could hold up to 300 people, drove up next to it and was dwarfed by it. We got to see this happen a couple more times too, but none were as big.

Fitz Roy’s Tower

P1040386 The next morning we took a three hour bus ride north to a city called El Chalten, which is known for its trekking. We had stocked up on food the day before and after running in to Jonathan we hiked in to the mountains that were in clear view all day. Below the towers of Mount Fitz Roy we setup camp. A couple people along the way had told us that the weather was unusually clear, meaning you can’t normally see the tallest peaks. With that in mind we left camp and hiked up a trail that took us closer to Fitz Roy. At the top sat two blue, glacial lakes and open views of the spires. And of course there next to one of the lakes was Christina eating a snack. We talked with her for a bit before she had to head back down. We ate a snack and drank water straight from the lake using cupped hands. The following day we headed out on P1040437another trail. A short ways from camp Rachel wasn’t feeling well and decided to go back. I went on alone and almost got myself lost since I left the main trail in favor a cairn marked trail I spotted running along a river. Eventually the cairns petered out and I found myself between the river and steep, forested slope. I  chose the slope and found the original trail, but not before thorn bushes and stickers wrecked havoc upon me and my clothes. With heavy winds and sprinkling showers around me I went back at the tent. There I found out Rachel had gone to the bathroom several times, had a headache, stomach ache and a possible fever. I made her some tea and we decided she should take some Tylenol. I got our bottle of mixed medicines and asked Rachel which ones were the Tylenol. She said the white ones, so I gave her two of them. About 10-15 minutes later a rash had broken out across her face and body. She said and her skin burned and felt really hot. I was freaking out and didn’t know what to do! We soon realized though that there were two types of white pills in the bottle, one being Tylenol and the other being Niacin. For those of you that don’t know, large doses of Niacin can create this type of reaction. I know because it happened to me a few months back. It’s not at all pleasant or fun, but does eventually pass within an hour or less. She still wasn’t feeling great though and wanted to head back down the mountain. I wasn’t sure what to do since trekking back down with packs on probably P1040520 wasn’t going to help, but at the same time she would be more comfortable in town and be able to rest easier. So I started packing up camp and getting things ready to go. I soon realized though she was too weak to carry a pack so I put hers inside the tent and said I would come back for it all in the morning. We started walking when not more than 50 feet outside of camp I see Rachel go limp and slowly drop to the ground. I thought she had passed out! Not knowing if I should yell or cry, I pulled open her eyelids and found her conscious. She said she didn’t pass out and was conscious the whole time; her body just couldn’t stand anymore. I thought great, here we were at least two hours from town and no real way to contact anyone if needed. I asked myself should we turn back and stay or go on. If we go on, will she even be able to make it. I also felt that she was dehydrated and started giving her small sips of water. I didn’t want her to chug it for fear that her body might reject it. I pulled her back to her feet and she insisted on going on, which we did. I walked beside her when the trail allowed, otherwise I was in tail watching her feet. She had good foot placement and seemed to be aware of what was going on around us, which were all encouraging signs to me. Every 10-15 minutes we would stop and I would give her a few more sips of water. After a while we walked out of the exposed, windswept valley in to the shelter of trees and in due time we made it to town. There we found a bed for the night and Rachel slept. I retrieved our remaining items at camp the next day and ran into Jonathan on the way up, took it easy with Rach and we caught part of a local rodeo going on. That night before bed Rachel noticed some swelling on her knees and other parts of her body. They kind of looked like bites so we didn’t think much of it, guessing they would be P1040554 gone in the morning. However they spread to other parts of her body like her back, chest and face. For the most part she felt fine, but her scalp itched liked crazy and her face seemed to be inflating as if she was having an allergic reaction. So we asked our hostel host where to go and found ourselves at a small clinic in town. The doctor was actually from New York, but had been in Argentina for the last 30 years. He determined Rachel had an allergic reaction to something she ate or drank. I personally think it was the polenta we had for dinner two nights previous because that was right before everything went downhill. Regardless, Rachel received, as she puts it, her “second shot in the ass in a foreign country” of a steroid. And she’s still waiting for her first in the ass back home. I am sitting in bed writing this next to her as she sleeps and can see that the inflammation has already started to dissipate. She just has to take Benadryl for the next few days or more until it completely resolves itself and avoid certain foods that the doctor laid out for her. I’m always surprised by the medical staff in third world countries. They seem to be with it and do a pretty good job. Plus it’s always affordable. For the visit, shot and medicine it only cost $5 bucks.

I’m happy that Rachel is doing much better and will hopefully recover to full strength in a couple days. Our time in Chalten was amazing even though the weather and circumstances weren’t the best. The ebb and flow of our trip continues and we will be in touch again soon.

Tonight we’ll catch a bus back to El Calafate and then hopefully another the following day to Puerto Natales and Torres del Paine.


-Andy and Rachel