‘Ummm, Faye. I’m worried I might have gone mental.’
‘Huh? Why?’ Says Faye absently mindedly from the bed adjacent to mine.
‘Well, my toes are itchy. They were itchy last night, and they’re itching now.’
‘What kind of itchy?’ Faye enquires.
‘Like a stingy, burny kind of itchy…’
‘Get your sock off then, let’s have a look.’
Sitting on a bed in a hostel, in the town of El Chaltén, I remove my left sock.
‘Woah!’ Says Faye, leaning in to get a closer look. ‘Mate – that is not good.’
Staring back at us from behind my recently removed left sock are four puffy, red, swollen toes. The skin on them has taken on a shiny quality, on account of it being stretched rather thin. Only my biggest toe seems to have escaped the plight.
I think back to the previous day’s events: wading through icy rivers, followed by six hours spent shivering at the dockside ferry shack. Evidently my toes took a battering. There was no hope of playing ‘this little piggy went to market’, because all of the piggies were ice blocks.
The following morning, as we begin our ride into El Chaltén, I just can’t seem to get my left foot to warm up. As we pedal off in the the early morning light, the sun hasn’t yet hit the valley and so it feels Baltic out here. I can see my breath on the air and my nose begins to tingle in protest. As the jagged snow capped peaks of Mount Fitz Roy comes into view for the first time, Faye understandably stops at intervals to take pictures. I however, can’t focus on anything beyond a searing pain in my left foot.
‘Sorry mate, I’ve got to nail it and get some blood to my toes’ I yell as I zoom past her, pounding on the pedals, desperate to bring my feet back to life. It seems to work and eventually the blood returns to my extremities. Although my toes are still numb, tingly stumps when we make town, I don’t think anything of it until they start itching again that afternoon.
After much consultation with Dr Google, and a phone call to my Mum (AKA Dr Sue, medicine woman) I breathe a sigh of relief that I’m not suffering from terminal, degenerative neuropathy, but instead just a good old fashioned case of chilblains. ‘Chilblains?! I sit back and exclaim. I didn’t even know they were real, chilblains are the kind of thing your Nan tells you your going to get: ‘Oooooo don’t put your hands next to the gas fire young Anna, you’ll get Chillblains.’ My nanny Rose would say. Nanny was right. The myth is real, and chilblains are bloody painful.
The shame in all of this is that we had just rolled into THE hiking destination in Argentinian Patagonia. El Chaltén is famous for its uber accessible one day hikes. The most famous of all to Lago des los tres, right at the foot of the Mount Fitz Roy massif. We’d planned to do that very hike while in town, but I now look at my toes and sigh.
‘Don’t suppose we’ll be going to see Fitz Roy today then.’ I conclude solemnly.
On the plus side, unplanned R&R is always welcome. After cycling 1,200kms along the Careterra Austral, with just one day off – our bodies crave a little stillness. So for 2 days we hang about in El Chaltén, sleeping, drinking coffee or submarinos (take a glass of hot milk and submerge a chocolate bar in it) and eating as many vegetables as humanely possible. Vegetables are the food of the gods, after all.
On the third morning in the hostel, we are all set to leave. We are packed up, checked out and now standing outside the hostel, where we both look longingly at Mount Fitz Roy in the distance.
‘I’m gutted we didn’t make it up there. It’s such a nice day today’ I say to Faye.
‘Me too.’ She replies. There is a long pause before… ‘We could hike it today? If your toes are okay? Just stay one more day?!’
‘My toes are GREAT! Yes. Sod it! Let’s do it!!’
So we checked back in, I went and bought a new snuggly pair of extortionately priced hiking socks (just to be on the safe side) and at midday we set off for what the guidebooks bill as a 7-9 hour hike.
Naturally I tell Faye about my family tradition of trying to skim as much time as possible off the ‘official’ hike time, and after a brisk 5 hours and 45 minute stroll (including a 20 minute break at the top) we are back in town. Yes I may have pushed Faye so hard on the way up that she almost chundered, and yes we may have ran a little on the way back – but it was very worth it.
So here we sit. Eating a gigantic pizza smothered in cheese. I’m drinking a big glass of Malbec and we’re eyeing up ice cream for desert. The piggies are warm and well again, if a little sore still – but they’re glad that I took them out for a day out at the Mt Fitz Roy market.