EL CHALTÉN (Argentina), Oct 14 — The view at Laguna de Los Tres (or Heaven’s Lake, as we would learn) in Patagonia is worth hiking all day for.
Sometimes it’s the things you see on a journey that reminds you that you have travelled. For me, the food that I partake of, however humble, is a direct recall button to the treks that I had made, the trips across land and sea.
Perhaps the more stunning the vistas, the more magnificent or otherworldly the meals. Perhaps.
How breathtaking are the triple peaks of Mount Fitz Roy in Patagonia, how blue the waters of the Laguna de Los Tres! One can only imagine — fantasise, really — about the feast we will indulge in, to try and match the unparalleled scenery.
Perhaps whole pears poached in red wine and aromatic spice. Or a lobster bisque with thick slices of baguettes. Or a steaming bowl of double boiled chicken soup, with hidden morsels of abalone and dried scallops...
These are fantasies, you see. You will recognise them as much if you have ever embarked on a 11-kilometre hike across treacherous terrain before and amidst unpredictable weather, no less.
With temperatures dropping as we climb higher, we are grateful to have anything to fill our bellies. A bite and a respite.
So what do we feast on, if not poached fruits or fancy soups?
The answer began much earlier in the day, at the breakfast table. Specifically a buffet table for the various adventurers and mountaineers, the day trekkers and the serious climbers. The tourists and their guides.
Before we hit the trail, before we commenced our hike, it was paramount that we loaded up on supplies. We had to take our food with us because there were no restaurants or places to get food along the way.
This is the great outdoors, after all, Nature at its pristine best and everyone had to do their part to keep it that way.
One easy way to pack food for a full day of hiking and cram as much protein and carbohydrates in (for the high energy expenditure to come) is to make your own breakfast burritos. The breakfast buffet table, typically found in most hiking lodges and hotels, is a great place to prepare your customised wraps.. and even sneak some greens in!
For what is a breakfast burrito but a powerhouse of flavours and ingredients? A cornucopia of breakfast favourites (hence its name) wrapped inside a flour tortilla: soft scrambled eggs and gooey, melted cheese; crispy bacon and spicy pork sausages; creamy avocado and crunchy hash browns; refried beans and briny olives; all bound together by a piquant chilli sauce or salsa...
I am thinking of my precious breakfast burritos and the secret selections I had made, carefully gleaned from the spread at the buffet table, before wrapping the rolls in cling wrap and then foil for good measure.
They sit heavy in my backpack; what a relief it would be to lighten that burden! Especially if that meant transferring them from my bag to my belly...
But there’s a long way to go yet. Named after famed meteorologist Captain Robert FitzRoy, the peak of Mount Fitz Roy is 1,951 metres above sea level. While we won’t be scaling all the way up to the very pinnacle, still the hike before us seems daunting.
Fortunately for us, here at the beginning, the land is flat or flat-ish. It will get steeper soon enough. Though the ground is covered with snow, it’s actually autumn (as evidenced by the red foliage).
What a beautiful sight: the contrast of fiery tree tops and frosty fields.
Finally, it’s time to stop and have our lunch. Our fellow hikers all place their backpacks on the snow-strewn ground and unravel the drawstrings. One by one, we draw out our tasty treasures; everyone has their own and no one has made the same meal.
Unwrapping your breakfast burrito while on the trail is an exciting affair. The breakfast burrito itself isn’t a Patagonian staple, at least not outside the tribes of hikers. This breakfast wrap originates from New Mexico in the US, some say Tia Sophia’s, a Santa Fe diner, being the first to have it on a menu in 1975.
But it works well enough here, surrounded as we are by the dramatic mountain ranges and sometimes bitter cold winds. It’s sustenance that we can bring with us on our arduous trek, and a mighty tasty meal at that.
I smile at my choices: sun-dried tomatoes and caramelised onions, thin slices of leftover steak and discs of chorizo, sautéed spinach and crispy potatoes, jalapeños and sour cream.
My breakfast burritos taste heavenly. I had thought making two of them seemed greedy but after several hours of hard hiking, they barely seem enough to sate my hunger, quite honestly.
We discuss the remainder of the hike, how gruelling it will be, especially for first timers. Yet the veterans promise us it will all be worth it once we arrive at Laguna de Los Tres.
One of the guides quipped, “But we also call it Heaven’s Lake. You’ll know why when you get there.”
Time for us to get up, carry our backpacks once more and continue. It gets colder. The path gets harder. There is a desire to mimic a child at the backseat of a car on a long road trip and whine “Are we there yet?” every other minute but we all resist the temptation.
We will be there soon enough.
Soon it gets foggy and the going, tough as it has become, gets even tougher. The rocks are slippery, a mix of rain water and treacherous ice. Eventually some of us resort to using our hands to steady ourselves, finding purchase where we can.
But then, the mists part. We are there. Laguna de Los Tres. Heaven’s Lake.
The three soaring peaks in the mountainous backdrop. And the bluest water you can imagine, this close to the heavens.
As we approach the lake, the colour reveals itself to be more of a milky blue-green, due to the mineral deposits. Much of the startling blue we see from the distance is indeed sky blue; a reflection of clear blue sky on the surface of the lake.
Another stop, a longer one this time as we have reached our destination. To celebrate, a second lunch (or teatime, if you will).
I refuel with some cold pasta salad; this keeps for longer than the burritos that I had stuffed with sour cream. (Though, with the low temperatures, I reckon it’s the tropical lad in me worrying too much about food spoiling.)
There’s no need to bring our own water; we have been taught to look out for natural springs and streams. Just refill our empty drinking bottles and tumblers. It doesn’t get cleaner and more refreshing than this.
The same could be said of the view. And all the more beautiful for a full belly, I assure you!
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