^ FitzRoy mountains. So beautiful at sunset.
This is the kind of town where you can feel the lust for the mountains, the endless desire to get blissfully lost in what the national park has to offer. We cast aside our dependencies on the digital world and traipse into mother natures’ best creations as we explore the natural world. Existing way before any of our electronic inventions have, nature is that which remains relatively untouched by man and continues to thrive.
This is the kind of town where hiking and mountaineering is the currency and the most obvious thing to do. Weather aside, people will trek tens of kilometres to see relatively nothing; a mountain shrouded in cloud is still as valuable as seeing that mountain on a clear day. It is the effort, the willing to go that extra mile to see the clouded mountain that counts; a visit into the national park is a must-do and remains the main drawcard of El Chalten. The welcome sign says it all, welcome to the hiking town.
The melting pot of cultures culminates at the many brewpubs and restaurants around town, that the only suitable way to celebrate conquering a mountain is to drown your liver in the local drop, whether that be based on hops or grapes, the many Resto bars around is testament to the popularity of drinking here, beyond the rules of a standard pour.
^ A "Blooming Onion" as an entree. What is it: An onion, cut into sections so as to resemble a flower. It is coated in a spicy crumb and deep fried. What's it taste like: Raw onion with a weird deep fried crumb and chilli sauce that isn't spicy. It's like someone said "Onions are as cheap as potatoes, and they're versatile, let's see how much money we can get for this deep fried invention." It was a blooming waste of money.
There is no single happy hour, indeed all hours are happy, overflowing with incredibly cheap drinks and nibbling food that beggars a head scratch. Here, it is not a risk that you will get drunk; this is certain, rather the risk is that you will run out of cash, as the ATM also has as well. It becomes a quest to find a shop that accepts VISA, as you desperately want to buy something local to prove that you visited a town where the ATM runs out of cash, the tourist shops don’t have card facilities, and even your hostel wants you to hand over a wad of pesos in exchange for your 5-day long stay.
In a world where we’re advised not to travel with large pockets of cash, that indeed does not apply to El Chalten. Dubious looks from people are exchanged when I tell them that this tourist town mostly does not have card facilities, indeed it seems bizarre that this town would even shut down over winter, but alas it does.
When our feet are worn from the trails and when our hearts are full of the satisfaction of getting back to nature, many a traveller staggers back into town, eager to put points on their social noticeboards to say “I came here, I conquered a mountain, I need to tell the world, I am a legend.” And so by the droves they wander into the local hotels, bars, restaurants in search of the newest drug to hit the town: WiFi. It’s never been so obvious in a town like this. What is loud chatter and talk on the trails is silence and bowed heads in the cafes, bars and pubs. Many a meal is shared in silence, humans hooked up to their digital umbilical cords. Social engineering has turned one half part of hiking desire into the chance to earn a badge on your social slavery pages, a proof that you dealt without your device long enough to walk 5, 10, 50km to the tunes of nothing but birdsong, wind whistling through the trees and the sunlight colouring your skin to prove that you left the comforts of home. While I know I am not absolved of this guilt as well, just as keen to keep in touch with those at home, I am too beginning to wonder if our digital dependence is ruining travel. The idea of truly getting away from the reaches of home is becoming harder and harder to attain. Yet we all seem to accept that this is the norm now. True disconnection is visible in the lack of patrons in a certain shop, if there is no WiFi, guaranteed there are no zombies staring down at their electronic bricks. There may actually be conversation, intellectual debates and discussion between humans as it was meant to be.
When we have fed at the electronic trough like pigs, we once again switch off our devices, having gotten that fix that is enough to last another few hours. Back into the mountains we go, or back onto a bus to take us to the next place to again explore and repeat this endless cycle of dependency.
^ The allure of mountains, discovery and back-to-nature feelings. aww
The allure of travel is always there, I will always continue to want to go to new places, take more photographs and get some time apart from the busyness of home. But what I have vowed to do is spend less time looking down at my phone and instead taking in what is around me, before that becomes virtualised too.
Being here has taught me that while nature is alluring, we are threatening to override that with digital-social comforts, and it’s a bit too scary to see on the level that I’ve seen it so far. We are too afraid to be disconnected, isn’t that just a bit concerning?
Digital drugs aside, El Chalten is a beautiful town to visit for a few days. Take some time and go into the national parks, they’re unlike anything we have at home in Australia. There’s many things that are so different and so great to see. The mountains are spectacular, the weather is always going to throw interesting light at you, and although you may not get the conditions you hoped for, go out anyway.
^ Because Tent