A great adventure to the southern part of Chile and Argentina

Patagonia trekking notes

Well we made it to Chile OK. My Frequent Flyer ticket via the US worked out OK. The domestic flight in the US from LAX to Dallas was packed, the Airline lets passengers take two bags on board. I guess it took 15 minutes longer to load the plane as they ran out of locker space and must have put some of it on the roof rack! Pauline’s flight was packed with people going to Antarctica on cruises.

We did the Museum of Pre-Columbian Art yesterday. Pretty interesting, especially the Moche sexual rights involved when the leader dies. Lots of figurines with very large penises and other odd sexual positions.

Today we visited a palace that belonged to a very rich family. It was awesome, so much wealth! We have never seen a building of this age so well preserved and it has all the original furniture, most in mint condition. I`m guessing the four sideboards in the dining room were all worth over us$100,000 each. All hand carved from walnut and complete with the silverware and crystal. The crystal chandelier in the main room weighs over 500kg. Pauline then decided we should visit the cemetery as they are always interesting. It is a real eye opener. We have never seen such large and ornate tombs, and so many of them. A lot have a basement that you walk down into with crypts. Others are three stories high. All different styles as well, Gothic, Art Deco, Egyptian, Turkish. The cemetery is about 1km x 1km, so its huge! If you ever get to Santiago then you MUST allow a full day see the cemetery.

p1020059

If your a carnivore then this is the place to be. Most meals are just a pile of meat, with some bread and fried eggs thrown in for variety. The Ice Creams are excellent and cheap, a small one is 750 pesos (about AU$2)! They usually come in a tub with a cone inverted on top. Pauline who now feels really skinny has decided to live on these instead of the meat fest. I like the drinks you can get from the street vendors, it`s a mixture of soaked Barley and Peach juice, very refreshing, and for 350 pesos (80c) it`s cheap.

Tomorrow we are off south to Puerto Montt. We have booked a ferry trip on Monday from Puerto Montt to Puerto Natales. It takes four days for the trip down the West coast of Chile, in and out the fjords. Apparently there are lots of glaciers and waterfalls to see. Hopefully the weather will be fine so we can see it all!

Doggie Do to the Towers of Blue

Puerto Montt is a bit of a dive. Mainly an industrial port. Lots of high fences and packs of dogs on the loose. We didn`t roam around after dark!

We caused a bit of a problem at the super market, we didn`t weigh our bread or fruit before going to the check out and we payed by credit card which the staff were OK with but all the grumpy men in the queue behind us weren`t happy about. Supermarket stuff is much the same as Oz. Chocolate is expensive!!!

p1020563

We caught the Navimag ferry from Puerto Montt to Puerto Natales. Four days of extraordinary views of snow capped mountains and volcanoes. We saw Dolphins, Seals, Killer Whales and Albatross. The highlight was the ferry making a side trip to the base of glacier that ran into the sea, Fantastic views. The Captain timed it so that we were there at sunset.

This trip is definitely on the must do list for Chile! We would do it again. Took hundreds of photos, I have pruned these down as I was running out of room on the 1Gb card in my camera after just 9 days. Met a lot of other Trekkers on the ferry, most of them are doing the Torres Del Paine Treks. We also met an American that talked about how the US political system is screwed, really interesting guy.

We arrived in Puerto Natales at about 18.00 tonight. Looks like a great town. No roaming dogs, no graffiti, good food and finally HOT Chocolate and home made chocolate. Pauline is in heaven. Tomorrow we are getting supplies, then heading off on Saturday on the 8 day circuit of Torres Del Paine (The Towers of Blue). They are the mountains you always see on any show about Patagonia. We are expecting this to have awesome views, assuming the weather is OK. We have been lucky so far.

grey-glacier

We are back from the Towers of Blue (Torres del Paine). The legs sure feel the pain after nine days of solid trekking. We completed the full circuit of the towers with a couple of side trips. The high lights were crossing the Paso John Garner, the French Valley and the trek to below the towers themselves. We have been very lucky with the weather, the crossing of the Paso can be dangerous in bad weather. We had blue skies and got to see the Gray Glacier from above, it is huge! it`s over 6km wide at the base, we don`t know how far back it goes, we could probably see back 25km till it disappeared in the clouds. We have lots of photos, even a couple with a boat near the face where it drops off icebergs. The boat really shows the true size as the face is over 200 meters thick at the water line.

We spent a whole day at the French Valley just sitting in awe of the mountains. It is a huge amphitheatre about five km across and 1500m high with snow capped crags and sheer rock walls of over 1000m. Every few minutes there is an avalanche, some of them quite large. The sport from the camping ground below the valley is to sit and watch them fall. We managed to get a photo of one in action.

The last day of the circuit we waited at the bottom of the Towers themselves. We were hoping to see sunrise on them, it is supposed to be spectacular! Tragically it snowed most of the night and into the morning so we gave up and left.

p1020597

The circuit of Torres Del Paine has to be one of the best walks in the world, and certainly one of the most spectacular, I would recommend anyone that is fit enough to do it.

We pigged out on Steak Sandwiches (huge in Chile) and Juice after 9 days of Pasta and Porridge. And an ice cream of course!

We are now back in Puerto Natales for the night and off to El Calafate in Argentina tomorrow morning. We hope to rest up while we look at the Moreno Glacier from a tour boat, then we are off to do the circuit of Mont Fitz Roy.

Windy, You betcha

We made it to El Calafate in Argentina, bit of a tourist town. I think we caught the end of the holidays here as the town is packed. We did the mandatory trip to the Moreno Glacier along with hundreds of others. It was a bit of a let down as it rained most of the day and we had already seen better views of the Gray Glacier. We did meet up with a fellow traveller from Arizona so spent most of the trip inside talking to her.

p1020911

Stocking up on supplies for treks is interesting. Every place we go to has different supermarkets with different stock, bit like Oz was 30 years ago. We have the added difficulty that everything is in Spanish. A good example has been trying to buy fruit juice. As soon as it is a mixture it always has milk (con leche) or Soy milk (con Soya) in it. So far we have tried four different ones and always end up with juice and milk. We ended up with a new dinner to use in Oz for Trekking – Polenta and Soup mix, easy to cook, light and tastes OK.

After a day of searching for food we headed off to El Chalten and Los Glaciers National Park, the home of Mont Fitz Roy. We arrived at 5.00pm to a windswept town that was still being constructed. The Patagonian Winds are legendary, it was so bad the road construction crews were all wearing overalls with hoods and snow goggles to keep the sand out of their eyes. Because we are so far south we have 18 hours of day light, it doesn´t really get dark till 10.30pm, first light is about 5.30am. So at 5.30pm in the afternoon we set off to do the treks around Mont Fitz Roy. We climbed for a while out of the town on the main trail. I could hear the wind picking up behind us, it was already at about 60km/hr, sounded like a train coming. Pauline was starting to loose her footing so I grabbed her pack from behind, the wind then blew both of us flat on the ground where we stayed for I guess about two minutes while we were buffeted with wind and sand. We both tried to get up but the wind was too strong. When it all died down we checked each other. I was OK, Pauline had two large bruises on her left leg but could walk OK. After another hour and a half we reached the camp for the night, all the tents had barricades of rocks and branches on the upwind side to protect them from the wind. We picked a spot downwind of a few of them which protected us OK.

p1020938

The next morning the wind was gone and the sun was out! We did the side trip up the valley we were in to the glacier and views of Cerro Torre. We met a guy in the camp that headed off that morning to climb it. This is climbers paradise, they are everywhere. I´ve never seen so many guys with dreadlocks, must go with the climbing bug!

After the side trip we moved on to the camp at the base of Mont Fitz Roy. The view even from the camp is impressive. We were lucky enough the next morning to get a sunrise on Fitz Roy with no cloud. Apparently it is quite rare. Lots of Photos. Again we did the side trip to the glacial lake below Fitz Roy. More photos. Then moved on to a Refuge in the north of the park. This was a really pretty walk through miles of Legna (beech) forest. The refuge is on private property and on the other side of Fitz Roy, it´s where the expeditions to the top mostly start from.

p1020993

The next day we again did the side trip. This was a climb to a saddle to the east of Cerro Electrico (near Fitz Roy). Its a 1500m climb in 8km, about 5 hours of UPPPPP. We made it to about 1200m, well above the climbers base camp and discovered we were on the wrong ridge so had lunch and admired the views. From our view point we could see onto the Helio Sur (Patagonian Ice Cap) and of course down onto pretty much everything else. The trip down was a bit hard on the knees so we took our time. Arriving back at camp at about 3.30pm.

The refuge is way off the track and run by a couple. She makes excellent Torte (cake) so we had a piece before we moved on for the day. It was 15 pesos (about $5) which seemed a bit steep till we realised it was 1/4 of the cake and was as good as Ackland street! The last day in the park we walked the 6 hours back to the town past Fitz Roy again. I can also recommend this park to anyone that likes to walk. It is more accessible than Torres Del Paine. The main trials are easy walking, all the side trips are HARD but can be done without a pack.

p1030083

We are now back in El Calafate for the night. Tomorrow we are flying to Ushuia in Tierra Del Feugo (the islands of fire) in the extreme south of Argentina.

Col´s Travel tips. Things to watch out for backpacking –

  • Check that the room you get with the thin curtains isn´t near the floodlit front of the building or you will need sunscreen to sleep with. Some other punters had hung one sheet over the windows.
  • That musty smell in the room means it may be damp. Yes the blankets, sheets and mattress were musty. We even had snail trials on the floor in the morning. Still the lady running the hostel was nice and her mum served up a great breakfast.
  • Eat outside in restaurants. Most people here smoke and they all light up after eating! Yukkk
  • The strong smell of industrial perfume in the room is probably because the previous resident was a smoker.

The END of the world

The bottom end that is, Ushuaia. Big tourist city, all tax free. Mostly aimed at servicing the boats to Antarctica. We did some shopping for a day or so then headed out to do the Sierra Valdieviso trek. A spectacular five day walk over four high mountian passes. Lots of turquoise lakes and steep mountains surrounded by Beech forest. Unfortunately the rivers have all been invaded by introduced Beavers that create hundreds of dams which devastate the forests. It was a pretty tough walk, especially the last two days as we had to walk on Peat Bog for 12km. It´s like walking on a mattress for hours on end, I´d much rather walk up hill as it´s easier on your legs.

p1030196

Pauline has gone on strike with porridge for breakfast. After hanging it on Jim for coffee and cake for breakfast she is now eating hot chocolate and fruit biscuits for breakfast. Dinner has deteriorated into just Pasta, no delicious Polenta! Something about eating Goooooo all the time.

Ailsa will recall how I carried Pauline across the rivers in Tasmania, this tradition has continued in Tierra Del Fuego. She now owes me for two more river crossings in icy cold knee deep water.

So far I have worn out two sets of wool socks and one set of runners. We are getting some washing done here and had to spend a lot of time explaining not to tumble dry (sin secardo) everything, otherwise my clothes will all fit Pauline.

Antarctica

For a rest from Trekking we hunted around the travel agents in Ushuaia and managed to get two stand-by tickets to Antarctica. We leave on 7-Mar and return on the 16-Mar on the Polaris. The boat was built in Denmark so it sounds OK, the crew are Russian (maybe OK). It only has 68 passengers so we get to go ashore each time it stops. There is a limit of 100 ashore in Antarctica at one time. We think the Penguins will mostly have gone but the chance of Whales and other wildlife is greater as it is late in the season. If you hear of any sinkings, hope that it´s not the Polaris!

We made it back from Antartica OK, the ship didn´t hit any icebergs (well no big ones anyway). The trip was fantastic. Words and Photos can´t describe the scenery and wildlife. We were very lucky to get tickets to start with, if the Explorer hadn´t sunk there would not have been any.

p1030271

We boarded the Polaris and headed out the Beagle channel then turned south via the Drake passage. The passage is notorious for bad weather, and normally takes two days sailing to cross. The crew warned us it could be rough, sometimes they have encountered force 12 storms with 100 mph winds. The weather we got the crew referred to as the Drake Lake! It was a glassy mill pond for two days. All of us spent all day out on the deck looking for wildlife. The first day we saw mostly small sea birds and some Albatross. Apparently you don´t see them much when it is calm.

The second day we hit the jack pot with Whales, at sundown the count was 97 (Humpbacks, Minkie, White Tooth and another rare whale that I can´t remember the name of). The ship would follow the whales at a distance for a while so we got a good look.

The trip was run by GAP Adventures which owned the boat that sank, they had chartered the Polaris to finish off this season. There was a Marine Biologist, an Ornithologist, a Archeologist and a guy who had worked in Antarctica on the Ross Ice shelf for a season. Each of these gave lectures each day on what we would see and the history. It was fantastic to have guides that knew so much, and were so enthusiastic about Antarctica.  We only had 63 other passengers, and a lot of these were backpackers like us that had last minute tickets so they a very friendly group right from the start.

p1030331

The third day we arrived in the South Shetland Islands just off the coast of the Antarctic Peninsular. We all went ashore to a huge Gentoo Penguin Rookery at Danko Island. Most of them had already left, only a few thousand were left. Mainly young ones and ones still Malting. They had not see many humans and were not afraid to walk up to you and peck at your hand or leg. The ground is covered in about 50mm of Guano which has a very strong smell, so we all had gum boots on. The temperature was minus 5 deg with light snow and a breeze. After a couple of hours of looking and taking photos we all got back on the Zodiacs and the ship and headed down a narrow channel to land on the Antarctic mainland at another Penguin Rookery in Neko Harbour. The crew on the ship are expert at avoiding the many large ice bergs, some as big as house block that were blocking the channel.

At the end of the day the crew appointed ´Nacho´ one of the Zodiac drivers as the Antarctic Swim Team captain. They lowered the walkway down to sea level and pushed the Brash ice away and 48 of the passengers, including us, all went for a very, very short swim. We have photos and a certificate to prove it. Pauline won an award for one of the best entry photos. We beat the last record of 36 passengers so the trip leader and his assistant had to go in as they had used this as bait to encourage us to go. Three people who couldn´t swim even went in!

p1030867

Day four we went further south to Petermann Island to another Penguin Rookery, then on to Wordie House which is an old Base that has been preserved as a museum. We also visited Vernadsky, a Ukraine base that is a few Km away. This used to be the British Faraday base which was sold to the Ukraine for $1 provided they kept the research going. This was the base that discovered the hole in the Ozone layer. So we got to visit the most southerly Bar and Souvenir shop. Yes we bought a Tee Shirt and a CD of photos the base staff had taken. Pauline sent post cards to all the family from here. We are told they may take up to 12 months to get delivered as the last supply ship for this season had already left.

Day five we moved back North to Waterboat Point. Again another Penguin Rookery. We got see another unique event, a Leopard Seal killing and eating a Penguin. It must be rare to see, as all the crew ran down to the water and had the cameras out. There is also a cairn at the top of a small hill here to commemorate a couple of British explorers that had died here. On the way up one on the other passengers, a lady from the US slipped and slid into a large pool of ice water and Penguin Guano! She was covered in Pooh and was on the nose! She had to throw away her jacket as she couldn´t get the smell out. She was a really good sport about it and didn´t want to go back to the ship till the visit was over. I told her it didn´t count to the swim team as she didn´t put her head under 🙂

Day 6 saw us at a Chilean base that is right in the middle of a Penguin Rookery. The base is only there for political reasons, they do count the Penguins each year. I asked if they get used to the smell, the base commander replied NO! He said today was good as it was cold and snowing, when the temperature rises and the sun comes out it gets a lot worse. We did a tour of the surrounding area in the Zodiacs to see the many icebergs that get pushed near the base by the currents. Later in the day we did a two hour tour of an old whaling area. Lots of cool Icebergs, Seals lying on Bergy Bits and Whaling debris. These included a scuttled ship, Whale oil barrels and a couple of whale boats. Pauline and a lot of others were very cold at the end of this. One of the passengers had trouble talking as he was so cold, he was a guy from the US, we think he did body building as he had no fat on him and was bigger than Kev.

p1040276

Day 7 we visited Aitcho Island. This was a fair way north so we had a lecture in the morning on Marine Mammals. In the middle of the lecture some one spotted a large fin out the window. A quick look with the binoculars confirmed that it was killer whale. The ship turned about and followed a pod of 5 or 6 Killer whales for about 30 minutes. They were swimming right up to the boat and showing off. When they had moved on we headed off to the island again. This is a really large windswept island with Chinstrap Penguins, Gentoo Penguins. We also saw Weddell Seals, Elephant Seals and Fur Seals.

Day 8 and 9 we crossed back over the Drake Channel. This time it lived up to it´s reputation with a force 6 storm. Lots of people stayed in the cabins. We both took sea sickness pills and were OK. A couple of passengers needed injections, this included the Doctor! We were told he was a Gynecologist, don´t know if it´s true! So we had a fantastic time, one we will remember for the rest of our lives. If you get the chance to go then don´t hesitate, it really is the trip of a lifetime!

p1030961

The Trip operators GAP are members of IAATO which is a voluntary group that has strict guide lines for managing tourism in Antarctica. They have been instrumental in getting the scientific bases to clean up their own rubbish. They used to just dump it a sea!.  If any of you decide to go to Antarctica we recommend you go with an IAATO member.

We are off to Bariloche about half way up Argentina tomorrow to do some more hiking.

Nahuel Huapi Traverse

We are in Bariloche a very pretty city on a huge lake & mountains all round. This is the ski capital of Argentina so it is a very wealthy city. Lots of big houses on the lakes with their own jetty etc.

We have just returned from an amazing 5 day trek crossing 5 passes called the Nahuel Huapi Traverse. The views were fantastic, the steep ascents & descents were exhausting but probably the best panoramic views in Argentina. We were on all fours to reach the passes and our knees continue to remind us how hard the walk was. The final decent was 1500 meters in 3.5 km! There weren´t the hordes of trekkers we usually encounter because of the difficulty of the climbs. There is so much water in this country. We climb passes at 2000 metres and usually not far from the top of each pass is a massive lake to cold to swim in but adds to the incredible vistas.

p1050237

The local bus goes past the start & finish of the walks and costs about $2 for a 1 hour bus ride although the driver on our return trip thought he was in the grand prix, taking only 1/2 hour, selling tickets while he drove around corners doing at least 60km hour. He drove with a permanent grin on his face & all passengers had to hang on to their seats. He dropped us off in front of the best ice-cream shop in Argentina so we bought 1/4 kg of ice-cream. The women thought I wanted to share it with Colin & offered two spoons but I said only 1 please & she laughed. We sat down, filthy dirty & smelly & enjoyed our tubs of ice-cream.

We are off on a 3 day walk tomorrow crossing into Chile, over the Paso De Las Nubes (we hope). It ends in Peulla where we hope to catch the catamaran across the lake to Petrohue.

Across to Chile, the hard way!

We had a choice, an easy bus ride across the border to Chile, or the hard way, trekking over a couple of passes. So of course we went the hard way!

We got the bus to Pampa Linda (about $10 for 77km trip) in Nauel Huapi National Park and set off to go over Paso De Las Nubes (pass of the clouds). After four hours of mud and a long climb we made it over and started the descent. On our left was Mt Tronadour which has many hanging glaciers and some huge cliffs. There were a number of Condors that roost in the cliffs so we sat and watched with the binoculars for a while. They are huge birds that just soar in the thermals, beautiful to watch.

p1050286

We camped near one of the glaciers which we could hear calving all night long. It makes a lot more noise as the ice is falling hundreds of meters. The next day we headed off to Puerta Frias and the Argentinan Border Post to get our passports stamped. Then another climb over another pass into Chile. One of the tourist buses that has a monopoly on the road gave us a ride down the mountain to the Police check point. The weather was perfect so we camped the night just down the road. The next day we got up to wet tent and no sun until midday. We needed to get to the next town of Peulla before 3pm so we packed up wet and marched 15km to the Chile Border post. They searched all our bags for meat, fruit and drugs. By the time we arrived the whole town knew that two gringos had walked across from Argentina. We gather that not many people do it! We caught the ferry and a bus back to civilization in Puerta Varas where we are having a rest for a couple of days before we head north to do a trek through a lava field near Banos De Calle. Puerta Varas has some outstanding cake shops, as good as Ackland street! So we pigged out.

In the Lava

The trip up to Volcan Puyehue was fantastic. We thought it would be more of the same, peaks, glaciers etc. The volcano is quite different from what I imagined a normal volcano to be. The crater is 2km across and is surrounded by kilometers of ridges of Pumice and enormous black lava flows. We visited steaming fumaroles and geysers gushing out of pools of boiling water and mud pits.

p1050361

The trek to the top of the crater is gruelling. The rim is at 2400 metres, the start of the walk is at 400 metres so its a big climb. One night we camped next to a stream that was lukewarm. Turned out to have the side effect of creating its own fog which settled on the tent and froze solid overnight. I’m guessing it was minus two or three degrees. Pauline wasn’t a happy camper!

We met up with group of Israelis that took over the Refugio we were in. Yes Richard, they were NOISY. Great people, really generous, just bloody loud!

p1050398

The trip back to civilization was a recommendation for how good the bus service is here. We waited for the pick up from the walk for two hours, which took us to Osorno (30km $5). Grabbed a bus to Pucon 30min later. (150km $6). Makes the busses in Oz look pretty poor! No wonder people don’t like public transport in Oz.

We are in Pucon now. The Legs are Getting tired but we are heading out for one more 4 day walk before heading home.

Fineto

This is the last episode of this expedition, our time is almost up!

We caught the local bus ($4 return) for four days in the Huerquehue National Park (I can’t pronounce it either). The park was a surprise, small lakes surrounded by a forest of Araucaria (Monkey Puzzle) trees. Some of these are up to two thousand years old and grow up to 50m tall. It’s like visiting Jurassic Park without the Dinosaurs! We camped the night with clear skies on some nice grass. The following morning our luck with the weather finally ran out. It clouded over in about 10 minutes then started to drizzle. We pushed on for a few hours then decided the weather had set in, so we backtracked to a good campsite and set up for the night. The next day it was still raining so we bailed out and walked the 6 hours back to the Park entrance. The bus was waiting to go when we
arrived, which pleased Paulina as she was a bit wet and cold.

p1050486

The last couple of days we have been lounging around in Pucon drying and cleaning our gear ready to go home. Tomorrow night we are off to Santiago to check out the Fish and Fruit market then catch the plane home 😦

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA