A Travellerspoint blog

Copiapo', Caldera and the Pan de Azucar National Park

semi-overcast 20 °C

From Pisco Elqui we travelled straight to Copiapo'. Literally ‘straight’, given that the bus from Pisco Elqui took longer than usual to get down to La Serena bus termina, despite racing with another bus to get there (who gets there first starts back up the valley first, and who goes first picks up the most passengers, who pay money). They crawled for the first stretch of the valley looking for passengers, then, when the bus that was following got close, they started zooming down the valley in formula one style. By then, however, we had lost a lot of time and we were risking missing the bus. When we told them this, they rushed to the terminal even faster and deposited us right next to the Copiapo’ bus, handing over our luggage to the next operator. So that was cool.

Copiapo’ is the worst town we have visited so far. If anybody is planning to stay there, even because passing through, DON'T! We tried to reserve a night over the phone and only managed to find somewhere after 6 attempts. When we finally got there, at Residencial Rodriguez, they had not actually reserved the room and did not have a double for us (fortunately - the place was reeking). So we checked across the road at Ben Bow (where it was supposed to be full) and found that half of the 30 odd rooms were actually available?! Took one and paid for 2 nights, thinking we were going to stay there for a while since we were going to visit both the coast and the interior from there. While Gregory was sitting down in the main Plaza playing chess with the locals and losing badly, I did a reconnaissance tour of the place and discovered that the trips that we wanted to do in the interior to Parque Nacional Nevado de Tres Cruces cost £60 EACH FOR THE DAY!! Same to go up to the Pan de Azucar from there, absolutely bloody ridiculous. On top of this and the town looking pathetic and not seeing anywhere nice where to eat, the room stunk of cigarette really badly and the residencial did not appear too safe either – long, impersonal corridor with flimsy door lock. Really bad vibe about everything and unaffordable trips. So I took courage and went back to the owner and explained that the tours in town were too bloody expensive and we could not do them and therefore we wanted to leave the next day – and so could we have our money back... He did actually refund the second night and so, after a very exciting meal at SchopDog, a Chilean fast food, the next morning we were off to Caldera.

Caldera is a small port village that is used as a base to visit la Bahia Inglesa, supposedly too expensive to stay at. That was a great decision. We got there early in the day, got the cheapest residencial on the main town square - which actually was a lot better than the Ben Bow back in Copiapo’, dropped our stuff and off we went to Bahia Inglesa. It is actually really pretty like in the pictures, only it is not summer any more and the water is 15 degrees… Not cold enough to deter Gregory, determined to swim at whatever cost (back in Pisco Elqui the swimming pool was less than 15 degrees and full of leaves and insects and he still went in and got bitten everywhere…). We actually both bathed for some 20 minutes and then enjoyed a coffee at the fairly new Dome Café before heading back to Caldera. The Dome Café’ looks like the domes of the Eden Project in Cornwall (a lot smaller obviously) and offers 3 small room-domes at decent prices, by the way, so this is a good place to stay next time!

Next morning we went to Chanaral, about 1 hour north of Caldera, which is the base town for the Pan de Azucar, a national park on the coast with beautiful beaches. We booked a taxi to the park with Hector, the guy at the Sutivan Residencial where we were going to stay in Chanaral, so when we got there off we went to the park. Unfortunately the weather was terrible – it never rains, but the weather can still be quite cloudy – so we missed out on the beautiful golden colours that the sun brings. All the same, it was worth going, it is really beautiful and we saw lots of pelicans and decaying cactuses. The cactuses along the coast are getting eaten up by some sort of bug that, combined with the sea mist, eats them out till they disintegrate. Not a pretty sight, though on the whole the park is stunning.

Hector at the Sutivan Residential is a lovely old man with lots of time and good will to help out with anything - recommended.

From Chanaral we left for San Pedro de Atacama on a 10-hour direct bus, which was 2 hours late and got us there in the late evening.

Copiapo´ disused train station
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Caldera port
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Bahia Inglesa
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Pan de Azucar
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Decaying cactus
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Our lunch at the Caleta de Pan de Azucar
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Posted by Flav-Greg 17:24 Archived in Chile Comments (0)

La Serena y la Valle del Elqui

e no monte dei Mammalucchi...

sunny 25 °C

Monday morning we left the Hostel Forestal in Santiago for La Serena, 500 km north, on the coast. Pato at the hostel told us that it is a 'beautiful colonial town'... Maybe colonial, but certainly not one that I would have noticed if it hadn't been mentioned...maybe because I have been to Central America already? Not sure. Maybe people have funny taste. The lady at the house where we stayed in La Serena recommended that we went to the beach La Herradura for a swim, and it turns out that it is really ugly and you certainly cannot swim in it, not with a gigantic tanker sitting in the middle of it loading iron mineral!!! And then the Argentinians we met told us that the good beaches are back at La Serena!!! Never mind, it was a wasted day to La Herradura but then the only real reason why we went to La Serena was to do an astronomy tour. The hills around La Serena are famous for their observatories, some of which can only be looked at, while in others they let you use the telescopes > that's the whole point, isn't it???!!! So we went to Collowara - we wanted to go to Mammaluca but it had been rented out for the whole week by a group of Brasilian astronomists. Tour left at 7 pm, to get up there for 9 and then back at midnight. Well, at the beginning I was sceptical, I thought it was all a tourists' set up, but in fact from up the observatory hill you could see the MILKY WAY!!!! And this with a naked eye, without the telescope. Just incredible! We watched an introductory movie and then moved on to the telescope. They showed us Jupiter, a few costellations (Chinese to me, I have no fantasy), and then Saturn. SATURN!!! When I looked in the telescope it seemed like a cartoon drawing, white with its ring just perfect like in the poster drawings! Surreal. So it was a good experience, thanks to Gregory who insisted to go.

From La Serena we decided to spend 3 nights up in the Elqui valley, which is the valley in Chile where they grow the grapes to make PISCO - see cocktail PISCO SOUR, made with pisco, lemon and sugar (in Peru they add egg white and sometimes in Chile too). Beautiful valley with lots of vineyards and small villages with pictoresque church and arid mountains all around it - and the first cactuses!

So here we are, in Pisco Elqui, we are the only guests at the Hotel Elqui, where we own the whole top floor of the ancient wooden hotel - very nice! The village only counts with 1000 inhabitants and we are out of season, so it is really the ideal spot to chill out away from people. The hotel also has 3 swimming pools, only problem is that they are not being used by anybody and so are full of leaves and insects... But nevertheless the place is lovely. Here's some evidence:

Gregory at the observatory
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Elqui-pisco valley
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Pisco Elqui downtown restaurant
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Posted by Flav-Greg 17:10 Archived in Chile Comments (4)

Valparaiso and guess who...

INTI ILLIMANI 40 years on!!!

sunny 20 °C

Today we came for a day trip to Valparaiso, the centre or the beginning of many of Isabel Allende´s stories - which I had to see no matter what!!

Well it has lived up to our expectations, the small houses on the hill are cute and there are tons of them all over the hills. In fact, thinking caefully, they very much look like the favelas in Rio, not that I would ever dare saying this to a local here... We spent our day on Cerro Concepcion and Cerro Bellavista, walking through the beautiful alleys and murales which are found everywhere on the upper part of town. We then spent some 3 hours in a nice little restaurant with a great view on the port and a very cheap set menu with wine, pisco sour, starter, second starter, main, dessert and god knows what else.

And while we are walking around what do I see? A poster saying that Inti Illimani are playing in the evening at 21.30!!! As I start sulking to the locals about the fact that we are going back to Santiago and that Inti Illimani are playing in the evening and does anybody know if they are on tour and where next - and nobody knows - I discover that Inti Illimani are actually Chileans and not Bolivians and that they have been exiled for ages under Pinochet and that one of them lives in Valparaiso and has a restaurant!! Ah! So next we go to check out the venue - and Gregory somehow manages to sneak inside and there he is, talking to the black member of the band!!!! They even took a picture together!!!! All this while I am waiting outside because the lady guarding the door is telling me that I cannot enter - so why did she let Gregory in? Because he is black!!!!!! Yes, yes, because he is black like one of the band and the reality is that there are no blacks here, so the nice lady must have thought he was a friend of his! We have only seen 4 other black people so far, one was earlier on today and Gregory and the guy shook hands at least SIX TIMES. While many women look at him and then react with a ´negrito bonito´ or simply a ´que bonito´!! The youngsters simply tend to cheer or smile. So it appears that he is a rarity and they find him cute, as well as young - most people seem to think he is 35. I have not so far dared asking how old they thought I am...I DON´T WANT TO KNOW!!!

Anyways, here are a couple of pics of Valparaiso

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Posted by Flav-Greg 17:31 Archived in Chile Comments (3)

Santiago de Chile - bye bye Exodus overland

farewell in the smog...

semi-overcast 18 °C

After Pucon, where the weather was horrible and we could not see one single volcano cap because it was all a misty cloud, we drove straight to Santiago - home town of my once friend Gonzalo. It was a couple of days of farewell with the group, lots of people going their own way, some going back home, some staying for a conference, others continuing on the truck and 3 unfortunate new souls joining. Well, hopefully not really unfortunate, let´s just say that things had gotten a bit rotten in the past couple of weeks with our leader, so we cannot be entirely confident that all will be well. Anyways, WE are off and I think it was just at the right time. Time to slow down a little and relax!!!

Santiago is not as bad as I had expected, though the air is really terrible as they describe it and you can forget seeing the Andes on any day!!! First day we went to the fish market, where we were attacked by a storm of fish restaurant owners trying to get us over to eat at their place. When we finally sat down in one, we had then to endure the wrath of the others who were cursing us for not eating at their place - quite an incredible scene!! In a nice way, but on the way through the market at least 3 of them shouted ´mala!´ and ´mala, me engañaste!´to me!!!! Generally they were quite nice though, despite the grudge for not eating at their restarant, and the fishemongers were very friendly and playful. One found a baby shark in a pile of prawns that he was cleaning and insisted that we took it home with us, saying that we could essicate it and display it..right.

Second day we went up Cerro Cristobal, which is a bit of the Andes sticking out into Santiago and from which you have a great view of the city. So we took the funicular up to the top of the hill and then from there a cable car that looked like an egg over to the end of the Cerro. Not a bad day at all.

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Posted by Flav-Greg 17:12 Archived in Chile Comments (1)

Bariloche to Pucon

Bloody freezing!!

rain 12 °C

We left Bariloche around 8 am on Easter Day: 4.8 degrees!!!!!!!!The days are nice and hot but the nights are really cold, and it is not even winter yet…

On day 2 in Bariloche we went for a walk in the woods and then spent the afternoon in a SPA place with pool and sauna and had a massage. Managed to get back home just before 9 pm to collect our laundry and then got back to the Rincon Patagonico Restaurant for a second meal (located at km 14 in Bariloche - the campsite is at km 13 - all locations are identified as per their km distance from town). We ate there the first night we arrived and the place is really worth it. A huge building built with shiny huge wood trunks offering delicious food and parrilla.

See www.rinconpatagonico.com

We went back there and had the same grilled provoleta especial – grilled cheese with a mushroom delicious sauce – and lomo con champiñones – beef fillet with a mushroom sauce again and squash mash. We then indulged in a £5 dessert (this is as much as a main course, my heart was bleeding but Gregory didn’t want to have none of it), we could not even finish it between the two of us!!! Very nice, but then we had to face the cold tent and sleeping bags, of which one of the zips has broken and we can no longer shut… thank goodness we only have another 3 nights camping to go with it!!! From Santiago onwards it will be hotels or cabañas of some sort, so we will dispose of the broken bulky sleeping bags altogether, and we are counting down!!!

The 10-hour journey to Pucon was good. We chose the 7-lakes route – much longer and winding but panoramic – however nothing comparable to either the lakes at Torres del Paine or the General Carrera. Pine trees and dark blue lakes everywhere and lots of mountains. The best view was at the border with Chile, with the Villarica volcano and fabulous monkey trees all around it. We stopped for a few pictures there and then got into Pucon at around 7 pm, just in line with the usual trend to get to places and plant the tent just after the sun has gone down and it is pitch black and you cannot see what you are doing. This method has ensured that everybody on the truck has lost at least one piece of equipment along the way – pegs, tool bags, dividers for the rain, you name it. The dividers for the rain are a popular bit to lose, since they are tiny and they easily fall off onto the ground if one is not careful when dismantling the tent. Gregory and I have lost at least 3 of them – sometimes finding them back the next night though, hidden somewhere inside of the layers. On the first night with the new truck we lost the pegs bag, which flew away when we rough-camped ON THE SHORE of the Magellan Strait with gale force +++.

Anyways, first day in Pucon and it is POURING DOWN. Thankfully we have managed to find and put the 2 rain dividers in place in the tent this time round, otherwise we would have been floating in the campsite by now...
We cannot even complain because it has not rained once in these whole 3 weeks, and the west side of the Andes is notorious for its rainfall. Because it is raining, the volcano trip has been cancelled (Gregory and myself were not doing it anyways, £40 to go up a volcano????), so we are thinking of having another SPA afternoon since Pucon is famous for its TERMAS – this is a region full of volcanoes so there are a lot of thermal hot springs to enjoy. Or we might just laze around in some cafe´and do Internet stuff, which we have not had much time to do while on this holiday. One might think that we spend our day doing our blogger, but in fact we are constantly rushing through it.

I have found a way to reduce photos to a very small format so we should have solved our photographic space problem:

Lake view in Bariloche
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Dawn in Bariloche - 4.8 degrees...
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In the truck after we left Bariloche
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Volcano Villarica from the truck
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At the border onto Chile
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Posted by Flav-Greg 12:37 Archived in Chile Comments (2)

HAPPY EASTER FROM BARILOCHE

Brought to you by Cerro de la Cathedral in Bariloche!

sunny 12 °C

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Here we are in Bariloche, one of the most popular holiday resorts for Argentinians.

Bariloche is a very famous place and terribly commercial. It is the Switzerland of Argentina, in fact (along with San Bermando’s dogs for which you have to pay 10 pesos for a picture..) it offers plenty of chocolate and really looks Alpine -like. Like a Spanish-speaking South Tyrol...crazy!!

Since we covered 26 hours of driving over 2 days instead of 3, we have earned ourselves an extra night in Bariloche for a total of 3, isn't that cool! Amongst other things it means planting the tent one less time and leaving it up and standing for 3 consecutive nights, which is a rarity and very very welcome.
Yesterday we went up the highest cable car mountain, Cerro de la Cathedral, and took an Easter egg with us to wish you all A VERY HAPPY EASTER!! BUONA PASQUA A TUTTI DAL CERRO DE LA CATHEDRAL!!! Gregory actually had understood that we were going to a cathedral in the mountains, never mind, what can I do… When we got up there he got the idea, so that’s ok.

We have decided to go out for meals while we are here and have a party on the second night, which we had last night. That means joining up 2 days budget into 1 and buy illegal alcohol (Kim our guide says that we cannot buy alcohol under the budget, however we have already protested and bought wine back in Falafafu’, so I think she has resigned herself and accepted ammutiny…)
Well, the party was great, BBQ delicious and the PUNCH knocked most of us out... I have taken a picture of the punch given it was sooo good, see below..

Cable seats up to the Cerro Cathedral
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View from Cerro Cathedral
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Posted by Flav-Greg 16:43 Archived in Argentina Comments (3)

The Carretera Austral and Ruta 40

From El Chalten to Bariloche through Chile

sunny 8 °C

From the wonders of the Fitz Roy Parque we started our next 26-hour driving stretch up to Bariloche following the Ruta 40 in Argentina first and then the Carretera Austral in Chile, stopping twice to sleep ‘rough’ by Lago General Carrera and in a pine forest in the Queulat National Parque. It wasn’t a real rough camp in either places though: at the lake we stopped by the lake shore at a patch that Rob knew - with toilet - while in Queulat we camped by a clear spot in the woods where toilets and a quincho were available (a quincho is a shelter hut where a fire can be made and it usually has tables and benches.) While the Ruta 40 was barren and desertic, the road around the Lago General Carrera was stunning. The lake lies horizontally between Argentina and Chile and it is known as Lago General Carrera in Chile (West side) and as Lago Buenos Aires (East side) in Argentina. This lake is absolutely beautiful, surrounded at the Chilean end by predominantly alpine forest and at the Argentine one by dry pampa. The road is narrow and winding and EXTREMELY dusty, with the truck filling with dust regularly, but all worth the views.

In the Queulat National Parque we had a semi-free morning to go and hike up to the mirador to view the Ventisquero Colgante, which is a hanging glacier over a green lagoon. Kim, our guide, told us that it could be done in 3 hours round trip, so we had from 8 till 11 to do it and then be back to jump onto the truck and continue on. When we got to the path the sign said 2.5 hours (presumably each way) so we tried to hike as fast as we could. After about 1 hour we crossed some of our fastest hikers in the group who had decided that it was too far away and wanted to be back at the truck for 11. Some of us decided to continue for another half hour (at least use up the time we definitely had, and who cares if we are 30 mins late…) .. well.. not even 10 minutes after we crossed with the others, we reached the viewpoint!!! Poor things. Unfortunately for us the glacier was covered by the mist so it was only half a success and fair for the others, I guess... Of course we were all back at 11 on the dot to continue the Austral odyssey onto Futalefu, which we have renamed FALAFUFU’ for ease of pronunciation for everyone on the truck.

By the way, I wanted to clarify who Rob actually is. Rob is our current driver, in fact the owner of the truck that came to our rescue from Ushuaia – driving 8000 km down from Lima to pick us up!!! Clearly a bit of a crazy guy and very knowledgeable and solid. Rob used to work for Exodus, then bought off the truck and started his own company. He is kind of suffering at the moment because his tours consist of himself and a chef and a maximum of 14 passengers, who clearly do not have to bother to cook and mess about with the truck. Because he his lending his truck to Exodus and we have to cook, he has ended up with 20 people handling his equipment and placing most of it in the wrong place at every meal… I think he has resigned himself to let it all happen and then take stock and repair once we are all gone, poor thing.

FALAFUFU’ is known for its white water rafting opportunities. Since only grade 4 and 5 are available, and at high cost (some £ 50 per trip) we have decided not to take part and take the day out instead, doing Internet and sitting by the river at the camping site. Our Exodus itinerary is quite fast-paced and this sort of opportunity to have a rest does not come often… Sometimes it gets crazy. The other day I put on only one sock and only noticed 5 hours later when Gregory informed me that he had found one of my socks outside the tent… so I looked at my feet and realized that one of the woolen socks was missing!!! How tired can one be??!! Most days it is 5:30 and 7:00 starts (start meaning everything including tents packed and ready to go), unless we are not traveling, in which case we have breakfast at 8 or later. But hey! It is an interesting experience and thankfully, after 7 weeks of it, it will end on the 12th in Santiago, where we will stay for at least 3 nights to recover before we start our independent travels north up to the Atacama Desert.

A few pics of the Carretera and the Lake General Carrera:

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Posted by Flav-Greg 07:18 Archived in Chile Comments (2)

Autumn at the Fitz Roy National Park

and another 10 hr 'walk' up to the peaks...

sunny 10 °C

From Torres Del Paine National Park we travelled some 4-5 hours north to El Chalten, a small town at the base of the Fitz Roy mountain peak. While half of the group went on a ice-trekking trip of some 12 very exhausting hours with crampons and hanging cable river crossings, we decided to go trekking up to the Fitz Roy viewpoint - el Mirador Laguna de los Tres. This is marked as a 4-hr trip each way... it got recommended to us from a really nice couple of Argentinians that were staying at the same hut that we hired, so there we went. We missed the 7:30 start that we had agreed with another couple in the group and set off at 8:30 instead, after a nice and for once relaxed fried-egg breakfast. At 10 am we caught up with the same very couple at the first mirador - they had left early but it was dark and they got lost in town and could not find the beginning of the trail for an hour!!! My thoughts had to go back to the delicious eggs I had earlier while being late....

This park, north of the Parque de los Glaciares, which includes Perito Moreno (more south), is almost better than Torres del Paine!! Stunning, very different park, though when we were at the Torres we were sure that was the best park we had ever seen! This one does not have blue lakes everywhere, but has the most stunning autumn trees I have ever seen, just beautiful (the pictures will explain better). Anyways, we climbed up to the base of the peaks, this time to find a very blue laguna and a crazy wind. When we finally decided that it was too cold and windy to stay up and it was time to return and face the other 5 hours on the way back, the wind got us. In order to descend we had to go round a small rocky hill on top of the view point, and this point was hit by extreme wind. Fortunately the wind was blowing towards the mountain and not away from it (if it had, I don't know what would have happened) anyways it was blowing us down onto the ground along with sandblast and for a few minutes I thought we were stuck up there - we had to throw ourselves onto the ground in order not to be flown away and could not move for ages! Well, for a few minutes that seemed ages, but that was enough to really worry us that it might not stop.. We finally managed to take advantage of a minor wind recess and crawled to the base of the viewpoint. From there it was a very steep way down through the rocks and a fantastic view. About an hour away from base, we bumped into a PUMA!!! We were walking and Gregory was in front. I saw the puma walking in front of us about 30 m away, I said to Gregory un puma, un puma!! Gregory turns round and says yeah right!! When he realised that I was extracting my camera and pointing in front of him, Mr Bonds finally bothered to turn and look ahead and realise it was no joke!!! It just looked at us for a few seconds and continued walking down his path, completely uninterested. I managed to take a picture but I moved the image, I guess between the hurry and the fear!! Well I was not sure if I was supposed to be scared or not, the puma was not coming towards us and it is not huge (maybe 150 cm in length?). In fact, I wanted to move up a bit closer for a better picture, very discreetly of course, but I think Gregory guessed my thoughts and yelled not to even think about following the bloody puma!! Well it seems that we were exceptionally lucky, puma sightings are extremely rare.

I am being kicked out of the Internet shop as it is closing

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Posted by Flav-Greg 10:25 Archived in Argentina Comments (4)

Perito Moreno and the Peritonitis Fotografica Morenica

What a glacier people!!

sunny 15 °C

We left El Calafate this morning at an unsually comfortable 10 am, after cook group 2 (which includes Gregory - the curry night was an extra performance while on free-style catering schedule) did the shopping for tonight and tomorrow. Each cook group (4 people) have to do one dinner, breakfast and lunch the next day. After the great success in the Torres del Paine, Gregory has been nominated head chef and has decided to go for beef stew with polenta and risotto with pumpkin (ok, I have had some tiny influence on this, I admit). Needless to say that I am looking forward to dinner tonight!!!

Anyways, yesterday it was day trip to the Moreno masterpiece, a huge piece of creased ice 30 km long, 5 km wide and 60 meters high. We took a boat ride to go close to it from the lake and then continued on a mountain path on foot to view it from land. Every few minutes big chunks of ice detach from the ice body and fall down in the water with a very loud roaring, the ice falling disappears quickly with a wave but the sound is soooo dramatic!! it is almost like a gun shot and then a huge cracking, very very impressive.

It was another great day and I could not stop taking pictures. The thing is so incredibly immense that each time one moves a couple of meters, one feels like taking another picture, well I could not stop I must have taken over one hundred till Gregory demanded that I hand over the camera. Call it Peritonitis Fotografica Morenica... ? I have managed to delete a few off and am down to 40 or so, but this is still too much for just one spot. Will upload in a couple of days now.

Here´s a website with a couple of pics to give you an idea in the meantime
http://www.patagonia-argentina.com/e/andina/glaciares/perito.htm

Today we are in El Chalten, a small town 4 hours driving north of El Calafate. Tomorrow half of the group are going to do ice-trekking, Gregory and I have decided to opt out once again and go for a long straightforward hike instead, possibly 9 hours again. We are obviously very optimistic, aren´t we.

On the way to Perito Moreno
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Perito Moreno
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Posted by Flav-Greg 11:46 Archived in Argentina Comments (2)

Torres del Paine

in Italian best described as: Torri della Madonna!!!

sunny 10 °C

Here we are - have been off-line for a couple of days, courtesy of the National Park Torres del Paine. To date the best mountains I have seen, I think possibly better than the Dolomites, or competing pretty close!!
We spent 4 nights there, in a camping called Camping Pehoe, which is the best camping site in the Park, at the centre of the scene. Perhaps if we put some website addresses here this will make up for the missing pics? Well only 3 days to go and then we will be able to upload some on the relevant entries, how is that Mr greenegg?

http://www.campingpehoe.com/camping-es.html

Anyways. The park is fantastic, full of blue lakes everywhere and the Cuernos and Torres peaks which are really stunning. Bloody cold and windy as well. Half of the group decided to do the ´W´walk, which is basically a walk of about 4 days which follows a path in the shape of a W. We only had 3.5 days to do it so Gregory and I judged that perhaps it would have not been such a good idea to do it, given our inexperience with mountain trekking as well as my unfit state. However, I decided to join the group for the first day (which is by the way the HARDEST) going up to see the famous PAINE TOWERS. Gregory dissociated himself from the idea as he had a PAINFUL KNEE...right.

So there I went, 8 am ready to go up with another girl who turned from a W -walker into a \ -walker like me. The others left at 3 am - yes, that says THREE AM - because basically we got to the park late the day before and so the W walk had to be shrinked from the already tight 3.5 days to 3!!!! They wanted to be up to the towers for 7 to see them pink, except that it was not a very good day and they weren´t. But they still had 13 hours to cover in total for the day, so it possibly made some sense. I decided that I could miss out the pink and leave at 8 am instead (I did not have to do the 13 hours either, thank goodness) and it was great, as well as wise since there was no pink. Unbelievably, I walked for 9 hours that day (ok, most people do it in 7, I have already admitted that I am totally unfit, ok) and still managed to hop around the next day with only a minor blister on my foot. The towers were great and I will add the glorious pic of myself next to them as soon as feasable. Ironically, on the same day the rest of the group back at base were hitched onto an unplanned glacier trip and so Gregory also ended up walking some 9 hours - there is justice in this world!!! We both had a great day but in different parts of the park. On the way down from the valley I got stuck there another night away from the rest as we missed the last bus - but on day 2 in the late morning I was back at base and we spent it together doing the washing and short walks around base. On the last day the W walkers were coming back, so we prepared a feast and Gregory made his world-famous chicken curry. One of the other trucks broke down (lost a wheel while driving, apparently...) and a group of 8 was stranded with no cooker, so we kindly invited them to join us making the dinner party a grand total of 30 people!!! We had champagne bottles waiting for the grand walkers and had a great evening.

Next day we packed for El Calafate, which is the next town to the Perito Moreno Glacier. What a glacier!!! Will blog on that in a short while.

View from the campsite
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View that cost me 9 hours
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Gregory cooking curry for 30
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Posted by Flav-Greg 14:00 Archived in Chile Comments (2)

Next stretch, Ushuaia to Santiago

Here´s our VERY BUSY schedule for the next 21 days...

-17 °C

Exodus - Ushuaia to Santiago

Date From To What´s happening

21-Mar Ushuaia
22-Mar Ushuaia-RC Driving, 2 border crossings
23-Mar RC-T. Del Paine W walkers begin walking!
24-Mar Torres Del Paine Trekking, trekking, trekking
25-Mar Torres Del Paine
26-Mar Torres Del Paine
27-Mar T. Del Paine-El Calafate Moreno Glacier, boat trip
28-Mar El Calafate
29-Mar El Calafate-El Chalten
30-Mar El Chalten Fitz Roy mountain, horse riding
31-Mar El Chalten-Rough Camp Drive day
01-Abr Rough Camp-R. Camp Drive day
02-Abr Rough Camp-Coihaique Lake, the most beautiful drive days
03-Abr Coihaque-Queulat National Park, Carretera Austral
04-Abr Queulat-Futalefu Hanging Glacier at Queulat NP
05-Abr Futalefu White water rafting
06-Abr Futalefu-Bariloche drive to chocolate heaven
07-Abr Bariloche Glacier trek, cable car
08-Abr Bariloche Pucon Optional 3+ hrs drive though 7 lakes
09-Abr Pucon Volcano climb
10-Abr Pucon Thermal springs, NP
11-Abr Pucon Santiago
12-Abr Santiago

Posted by Flav-Greg 15:06 Archived in Chile Comments (5)

Ushuaia and beyond

moving back up north on the other side...

rain 5 °C

Ushuaia has been another good spot. 3 nights here have meant a bit of rest and the chance to recover from the frenetic driving of the past few days.

Day 1 was entirely dedicated to relaxing, laundry, Internet, and a visit to the dentist to finish off the job started in Buenos Aires, where I had a root canal treatment done as the inlay replacement they did in London was hurting like hell when chewing and, believe me, you do not want to have tooth problems with all the Argentinian beef there is around here... The dentist in BA were great, they did a very good job and treated me like an old friend (they were recommended by Miriam, a friend of mine, so fair enough). But the dentist here was picked at random, and treated me like a friend just the same! All ladies dentist, wonderful women!! I had to have the canal root treatment finished off - permanent filling - so I popped in the first place I saw. Miriel saw me immediately and filled up the hole. Since we had spoken about the prices I had paid in London to do the crap job she could see and not believe, when she finished she told me she had a surprise for me and guess what? While she was sealing off the tooth in question she also whitened out another small adjacent filling as it looked like an eye sore and she could not believe that the person who had done the rest of the job had left it there like that!! And she gave me her email address and asked me to email her when I am in Mexico to tell her that the job she did lasted!! Honestly!!

On day 2 we went on a boat trip in the Beagle channel. Very nice, 4 hrs long trip going round to the lighthouse spot and a couple of islands, one with the seals and the other with the emperor cormorants, or something like that. Big birds. It is crazy how all these seals cramp up this tiny island one on top of each other when there are so many other empty islands?? The guide reckoned that it must be due to either security or lots of food around this particular island, seen that they never leave it and all the females have their babies there. Then we went for a walk on an island that was once inhabited by this indigenas that lived there NAKED!!!! Since they lived out of the sea and they were getting constantly wet, they worked out that they were better off not wearing anything and cover themselves with seal´s fat as insulation and dry themselves by the fire!! This is at 0 degress or so. BAH! The sad part is that once the European explorers got here, they wiped them out by poisoning them as they were competing for the seals, can you believe that? Then a British guy called Bridges arrived and he tried to save the last 100 survivals but of course it was too late - so today their island is called Bridges Island.

Day 3 (today) we went to visit the Parque Nacional de Tierra Del Fuego. We walked on itinerary 2 which is the path along the sea - 6,5 km, about 3 hours, and the views were very nice.

I have managed to squeeze a pic in, took me 10 minutes but worth the effort I think!

Seals in the Beagle Channel, boat trip
seals.jpg

Posted by Flav-Greg 19:17 Archived in Argentina Comments (2)

From Buenos Aires to Patagonia & Tierra del Fuego

...by "luxury" minibus!!!

semi-overcast 5 °C

The minibus that we got was well above expectations - modern, fast, with lots of extra space (24 seats and only 10 of us). And the head rests were white and smellt of fresh washing powder... There is a god!!

In fact, losing the truck and acquiring the bus has meant an overall improvement for all of us. The minibus could travel faster than the truck (120 km/h as opposed to 90), was much more comfortable (2 reclinable seats EACH), 2 drivers meant we could travel for longer and make up for the lost time and, more importantly, we could not take the camping gear with us and therefore hotel rooms instead of tents!!!! OK, the whole point of paying loads of pounds for this trip was to camp. However - camping when travelling 3500 km over 4-5 days including shopping for food and cooking for a group in the Patagonian steppe (= cold and windy) has got to be pretty hard, so we have all been quite happy to miss this one out and move onto the nice bus with hotel lodging.

We stopped at Peninsula Valdes and stayed with a lady called Nora in a fantastic apartment. Exodus sent us on a day tour around the island to see the various animals - we visited sea lion and sea elephant colonies, penguins and saw lots of animals - foxes, armadillos (really ugly with a pink hairy bum and very very fast), guanacos (type of lama with beautiful eyes, also very fast). From Pensinsula Valdes we moved south to Camerones, famous for the penguin colonies, penguins everywhere. They are quite small and ugly though, but still quite fascinating. Then we went to the petrified forest, which is not really a forest, it was one about 150 million years ago but now it is just a few HUGE trees lying across the desert in petrified form - the gases and ashes of some vulcano turned the trees into stone.

After that it was lots of driving again, getting the ferry through the Magellan Strait through Chile (Chile have cut off Tierra del Fuego from the rest of Argentina so you have to cross Chile before you can get to Tierra del Fuego) and finally here we are in Ushuaia, the southernmost city in the world, el FIN DEL MUNDO!!! The place is incredibly modern and there are lots of seals and penguins around and a national park which we will visit tomorrow.

Unfortunately we cannot upload any pictures until the end of the month as we have used up all of our monthly space, very sorry!

Greetings to everybody

ITALIAN CORNER

Alla fine la perdita del camion pare sia stata piu´una fortuna che altro!
Exodus ci ha noleggiato un minibus a 24 posti molto molto comodo, specie considerando che siamo solo 10. Il fatto che il minibus fosse molto piu´veloce del camion, che ci abbiano dato 2 autisti e che non ci si poteva mettere dentro tutta l´attrezzatura da campeggio ha significato due punti cruciali a nostro favore: 1) notevole guadagno di tempo sul percorso dei 3500 km che abbiamo percorso negli scorsi 4 giorni 2) permanenza in hotel invece che tenda su di un territorio non proprio ideale (vento, freddo).
Cosi siamo andati di lusso, beh insomma piu´o meno. Alcuni degli hotel erano un po´patetici, ma in generale non possiamo proprio lamentarci. L´hotel migliore e´stato quello che ho prenotato io - ho capito male il prezzo - erm erm - cosi siamo andati di lusso! La nostra guida, che non parla spagnolo e fa una fatica bestia a prenotare gli alberghi per telefono visto che le mettono giu´il telefono quando si rendono conto che non parla spagnolo, mi ha chiesto di aiutarla a telefonare in giro per trovare da dormire. Insomma io ho capito male il prezzo pero´siccome e´abbastanza pieno dappertutto e la categoria dell´hotel era quella giusta, mi sembra che non se la sia menata molto - sicuramente molto meno di me, che ho continuato a menarmela per un bel pezzo per aver capito male il prezzo.

Da Buenos Aires abbiamo fatto tutta la Patagonia e visto nel tragitto varie colonie di pinguini e foche e anche addocchiato un paio di orche - da LONTANO. Abbiamo visto altri animali tra cui il guanaco - una specie di lama dagli occhi bellissimi - armadilli, volpi, struzzi e varie specie di volatili.

Purtroppo non posso caricare piu´foto sul sito fino alla fine del mese perche´ho finito lo spazio!! Accidenti!!

SONO INGRASSATA.

Saluti a tutti

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4th April - adding some pics:
Penguins in Camerones
penguins.jpg

Armadillo in Peninsula Valdes - really funny ugly fast walkers!!
armadillo.jpg

Bosque Petrificado
bosque_pietrificado.jpg

Guanaco
guanaco_with_dog.jpg

Posted by Flav-Greg 04:07 Archived in Argentina Comments (3)

Mein Wagen ist kaputt...

Exodus truck Papa 5 is no more, sigh sigh

overcast 27 °C

Right, it was obviously going too well... 364 km south of Buenos Aires, on our way to Patagonia, our truck decided to pack up.

We will overlook our BA experience for now, it was great but too short anyways.

We broke down some 20 km after the last service station. After 2 hours of waiting around for help from the Exodus UK helpline, which did not materialise, a couple of Argentinian road controllers came to our rescue - probably called out because we had stopped in an hazardous position and someone had already hit and disintegrated our red hazard triangle. We were advised to drive back to the previous town (the truck could still move, only at 20 km an hour, and we had exactly 20 of them to drive back...) so we did. Our tour leader found accomodation through the mechanic in this place with lots of rooms and a kitchen which turned out to be very very old and mouldy and full of guess what? Mosquitos - of course!!! Bloody mosquitos again, this time in a civilised town and no swamps, but they were millions all the same and all came to feed on us while preparing dinner. The place was pretty grim, damp with a damp smell, the showers an hazard with electric cables running underneath the water, dim light and pathetic dirty crockery and pots to the point that we decided to go all the way back to the truck to fetch our good old utensils and forks. The bed was the worse, but thankfully we had bought 2 very nice pillows in BA (best investment ever) and stolen a couple of pillow-cases along the way, so, together with our beautiful cotton sheet that is meant to be our sleeping bag liner, we could sleep almost decently despite the damp stench.

In the evening it was diagnosed that the truck needed a new engine altogether, and therefore we should abandon the vessel along with ALL our possessions. Argghhh!! Now, that was a very big problem , considering that we are overloaded, we have just bought a huge bag full of warm clothes for Patagonia and the pillows and the sleeping bags and sleeping mats.. erm erm.

But we managed! We actually managed to pack the rucksacks back together and since we are not expected to be able to walk for miles with the possesions, we can manage.

Next, Kim our tour leader informed us that another truck was coming down the same route the next morning and it was half empty. So all we needed to do was to be by the road side by 8 am and look out for a big yellow truck and get rescued - the idea being that trucks rescue each other in case of trouble as they could easily be next. So there we were this morning, waiting for 5 hours and no bloody yellow truck in sight.. till Gregory convinced Kim to go and make contact via email and she found out that in fact our saviours had actually set off the night before!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

So ... here we are, with plenty of time to do some Internet for once, stuck in this small town called 9 de Julio now waiting for a minibus that is going to replace our truck, of which we know only that it seats 24 and has reclinable seats, but Kim has not seen it so god knows what it´s like. On the bright side, this means that we have lost all of our camping and cooking equipment and that we will therefore have to stay in hotels rather than tents. Maybe a stroke of luck after all??

We will let you know once we see the minibus...

Posted by Flav-Greg 12:43 Archived in Argentina Comments (7)

Rough camping

on the way to Buenos Aires

sunny 38 °C

From Iguassu we had some 1,500 Km to cover till Buenos Aires, including stopping somewhere to camp rough.

The nightmare!!! We could only stop when dark in order not to be seen (obviously it is illegal to plant tents onto somebody´s land without asking), the drawback being that choosing somewhere where to camp when it´s dark means that you do not quite see where you are going.... But we have a great leader - Jim - he´s been doing this for years and is really smart, so full trust in his judgement... JIM ARE YOU READING??!! Well Jim picked this very well hidden side road into the pine woods - surrounded by pools of water - and actually got off the truck to go and inspect the chosen spot, and then told us it was ´good´. Right. We got off and planted the tents in all haste with the last remaining day light - this is under the trees in this tree-logging area. About 2 minutes into the tent planting, though covered with insect repellent, I made the immediate and extremely smart decision to go and cover up arms and feet (Gregory was even smarter and covered up before he even ventured ouside the truck, given that Ed the doctor had shouted Jim, are you aware this looks like a swamp??...) Got the first item of clothing with long sleeves I could find (Gregory´s thick shirt that Simona and Franco gave him as a present) put my boots on, and back to the tent... While the others started cooking. Well, by the time all tents were up and the lights inside and outside the truck were lighted, the raid attack started: flocks of insects of all sorts - black beetles, green beetles, flies, mosquitos, bugs small and big, mites, you name it!! They all came out onto us and the pots, falling in them whenever someone tried to stir the contents. We managed to eat and then retired as soon as possible to our tents. Departure time in the morning, 5 o´clock - someone suggested 3 am but was rejected... At 3 minutes to 5 we were all sat down ready to go, Jim shouting let´s get the hell out of here!!! Some of us did better than others - Carl ended up looking like he´s got chicken pox, Gregory with 35 bites on his neck and face, and me with about 15 on my rear side (collected at 4:45 during a 30-seconds wee that I could not avoid having...).

Yes, we are still talking to Jim by the way, he´s a great guy, really!!

Erm... did not quite have the presence of spirit to take any pictures...

Posted by Flav-Greg 09:07 Archived in Argentina Comments (2)

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