Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Fast forward - from Patagonia to Bolivia!

One month's travel resume...

Last time I had written I was in Puerto Natales in the south of Chile. Since then we have been to:

PATAGONIA - ARGENTINA (26.02.09-29.02.09)
- El Calafate in Argentina to visit the largest moving GLACIER called Perito Moreno - incredible!
- El Chalten to hike up the mountian of Fitz Roy - absolutly beautiful! but very expensive little village, it had gotten us all very frustrated! But this was compensated by the BEST Alfajores we had ever eaten! (Alfajores are Argentinian cookie type biscuit with a caramel like filling called Dulce de Leche and covered in chocolate)

30 HOUR BUS JOURNEY UP and away from the cold of Patagonia to...
- El Bolson (29.02.09-04.03.09). Cute little hippy village which was very relaxing. We went into the forest and swam in "El Cajon del Azul" - absolutly gorgeous turquoise lake in the mountains - it was freezing but extremely exhilirating!

MENDOZA & CORDOBA REGION (05.03.09-17.03.09)
- San Rafael - wine region of Argentina. We visited a Canyon and wine making "Bodegas"
- Mendoza - capital of the wine region! We visited the town and the parks...as you do... We also took an excursion "on the Inca Trail". There we saw the highest peak in South America called the Aconcagua, a magical Inca bridge called "el Puente del Inca" which was yellow and we went right up on the mountain to the border with Chile at 4000 meters above sea level - the highest altitude I ever been at!
- Cordoba, the second largest city in Argentina. According to Argentinian's recommendation as the most beautiful region in Argentina (as they all are), the "cultural capital of Argentina", the best Alfajores and overall a "mini Buenos Aires". After a day in t }he city we couldnt handle the noise, the pollution and hecticness of cities - we needed to get back out into nature! So we rented a car for two days and visited the surrounding mountains and stayed in little villages called San Javier and Alta Gracia. Che Guevarra used to live in Alta Gracia so we visited the museum. All very nice.

NORTH ARGENTINA (18.03.09-22.03.09)
- San Salvador de Jujuy - the capital of the Jujuy region of Argentina. At this point we realised that our time is very limited so we are literally spending one night in each place and constantly on the move. Jujuy was nice, but the spectacular areas are outside of the city centre. We spent one night there and headed north.
-Humahuaca. Just the name I love! Gorgeous little village of under 20,000 inhabitants. Here we started feeling our proximity to Bolivia. The faces became darker, rounder and we no longer felt in Argentina. In general Argentina doesnt feel too different from Europe, it is not that much of a culture shock (or perhaps I got used to it after a month and a half?). But here things started to change. The clothing, the music, the food, the street markets, the smells...
In Humahuaca there is a mountain range from the norhtn of Argentina to Bolivia where the rocks and stones are all different colours, seriously. Red, orange, turquoise, yellow, purple, green... all beside one another. The formations are spectacular and you really start to question "HOW ON EARTH?????" Absolutly incredibly beautiful... Its called the "Quebrada de Humahuaca".

BOLIVIA (23.03.09 - )

- Tupiza - as I wrote in my meagre diary "absolutly rediculously beautiful". Bolivia has welcomed us with the most beautiful scenery ever - cactuses, cliffs and canyons! It feels like Mexico and the Far West cow boy movies... so beautiful! Here we went on a 5 hour horse back ride around the canyons to visit "la garganta del Diabolo" "el Canyon del Inca" amongst other geological features. It was so much fun horse riding! I thought I wouldn't like it but my horsy "Mora" was great, she even did a big jump and we galloped...it was great! And fantastic weather too - despite having put on factor 50 sun block, I still got a little sun burn.
- Uyuni, renown for its "Salt Deserts", this small village survives off tourism. We are about to go on a 3 day excursion around the world's largest salt desert (and the highest one too!). We are now at 3600 meters above sea level and we are starting the feel what used to be a mystery to me "altitude sickness". Short of breath, tired, dizzy, nauseous... but its great! We cant wait to get to the Salt Desert....apparently we are going to go up to 5000 meters in altitude to visit some steamy hot geysers and volcanoes!

No photos, cos yet again the computers. No comment. But I will be posting loads as soon as I can.
In general, in terms of my state of being - I am starting to find it hard to reflect upon myself and I am starting to wonder whether I will ever be able to live in a city or town again. I am so used to being out in nature and seeing and experiencing beautiful things, I feel so incredibly priviledged. And I dont want it to end! The first month or so, my mind was still somewhat back in Barcelona, but now that it has been three months (today) that I have been travelling - I am starting to feel the changes. I dont know what they are or what I actually mean, but I will resume it as "I have fully embraced my travelling lifestyle!"

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Fast Forwards - Goodbye Ushuaia, Hola Chile!

Approx Mid-February 2009... Punta Arenas & Puerto Natales

Ok, recap - We left Foz de Iguazy, nature's incredible Brazilian beauties and hopped on a plane to Buenos Aires (which we nearly missed as we were on the wrong side of the border! We went to the Brazilian Airport and not the Argentinian airport). We spent about a week in Buenos Aires and visited all the places one must visit (hopefully one day when I can upload pictures I will recount the tales of Buenos Aires). We then took a 16 hour bus ride to Puerto Madryn, where we saw sea lions, sea elephants, penguins etc... Then we took another 16 hours down to Rio Gallegos (extremely windy!) and spent just 2 nights as a stop over before catching the bus to Ushuaia (another 14 hours ride) So in the space of 4 days we did...(do the maths) on the bus between Buenos Aires and the end of the world. We had a great time in Ushuaia, the hostel was fantastic (called Yakush) and we visited lakes and walked through peat and swamp and got our feet soaked - it was great!

It wasnt as cold as expected in Ushuaia (approx. 16 degrees) but from one day to the next it can drop 8 degrees o we got very lucky with the weather! We left Ushuaia and headed to Punta Arenas in Chile, to buy some mountain gear before Torres del Paine. This is where my vegetarian fantasies came true - a big cheese and advocado sanwich with lettuce and tomato for 2 euros!!! MMMmmmm!!! Finally I could eat something other than bread and cheese!
The special mountain clothes there were very cheap because it is a tax free zone, so I bought waterproof Timberlands for 67 Euros and a sleeping bag up to 0 degrees for 35 Euros. It was great! Although the town itself was nothing attractive at all...and the hostel was the cheapest and scruffiest place we stayed at. It was ok though, for one night!

Next day we headed to Puerto Natales, 3 hours away. Here we stayed in a family run hostel and had great breakfast! Here we rented all the equipment we needed for our big hiking trip in Torres del Paine. We had to accomodate for 4 days in the mountain - food and camping and clothes. We rented the camping the material, including the stove and matress and went to a little seminar in a place called Erratic Rock. And good thing we went there! They gave us great tips for our preparation (including wrapping everything in plastic bags in case of rain) and we were set to go. We discovered a little vegetarian restaurant where I could indugle in Chai tea with Soya Milk and had the luxury to pick anything on the menu! The place was run by an English couple from London who have been living there for 15 years. All together Puerto Natales had a good vibe to eat, some "modernity" or as I shall call it "international aperture". We even met the writers of the "Guide du Routard" (french version of Lonely Planet) in a pizza restaurant.

Packed and wrapped up in case of serious rain storms, we were ready to hit the mountains. At 7.30am a bus picked us up for a 2 hour bus journey to the national park. Now I hope that you are all noticing that I am making a big deal out of this whole Torres del Paine business. But for thoe of you who do hike and know about hiking mountains with a 15 kilo backpack on your back, uphill as well as downhill for 8 hours a day... indeed it was quite a challange. (little did I know the day I decided to go there! I thought it would be a nice walk in the park!)

The first day we took a boat and set camp at the Lago Pehue (check this out on a map on google!) By this time it was midday. We walked up for 4 hours to see the Glacier Grey. The first Glacier I set eyes on, and my god was it big! After sweating and abusing your body muscles for several hours and reaching a point on a mountain where you get fantastic views of lakes and mountains and to top it see a GLACIER - I can tell you that you cant feel anything else but EXTATIC! What joy, what joy! I think it was that feeling, that buzz which keeps you going. Absolutly fantastic!
But soon the rain and strong winds approached and we were forced to return to camp. There we cooked our delicious packet pasta (cheap, light and does not take up much space). The next day we had to take the tent down and walk to our next campsite, this time with our backpacks on!

We had a planned route, to do the "W" which consists of going up and down 3 valleys which are all more or less parallel to each other. It is recommended to do it in 3 or 4 days, we did it in 3.5 days. On Day 2 managed to leave camp one hour later than planned (at 10am) and set off to Camp Italiano. Along the way we walked with Dale, a Canadian we had met on the bus on the way there the day before. This is one aspect that I loved about Torred del Paine. We met so many people, socialised with everyone along the way and did some of the route with different people at different times... you always bump into the same people, sometimes ahead of you, sometimes behind you, but one thing is for sure - you all have to survive those mountains! And most importantly, you all know what physical efforts we all have done to reach where we are and to enjoy the spectacular views.

We got to Campo Italiano in 3 hours. Here we put our bags down and walked up the vally to see the views of Valley Francis. Then we walked back down, picked our bags up again and continued to walk until Campo Cuernos, another 2.5 hours. Here we set up camp, it was coming close to 6pm and we had our pasta, yet again. Here we bumped into Rob, another Canadian we met on the trail. It is in fact countless to tell all thoe we met, but these two are the ones we always seemed to meet everywhere.
By the way, our breakfast consisted of premixed oats with powdered milk which we just had to add hot water to, soup and tea. Lunch was a bit "on the go" and consisted of nuts and dried fruits (which were bought from a very cool, good taste in music rock and roll dried fruits shop) and cereal bars! oh how we loved those cereal bars! We took brakes every half hour for 5 minutes to drink water and munch on some fruits. We had to keep ourelves motivated so shouting out "lets do it! rock and roll!" got us up everytime!

Day 3 must have been the toughest. By that day we were exhausted, and apparently to get from Campo Cuerros to Campo Torres was the toughest route. Many steep hills... but we managed and somehow, the views just kept getting better. We had gotten up to Campo Chileno (at the bottom of the last valley) at around 5pm, after walking along a narrow path on a cliff which I named "The Great Wall of China". We were happily exhausted, knowing that tomorrow is the last day of this extatic torture. However, it was apparently a beautiful thing to see the sun rise onto the Torres, right on top of the valley, at dawn. We were exhausted but I knew that we would never manage to do this from the bottom of the valley to the top at 5am. I was determined to do another torturou hour uphill with the backpacks on, to Campo Torres, in order to have one hour extra sleep the next morning and be up the mountain at dawn. Poor Nat and Steph were dragged off their seats and up we went for another hour and a half of steep mountains. We finally got there, beyond exhaustion. Here we met up with Dale again, set up camp, ate our fantastic pasta and slept.

Day 4 - the glorious last day where we planned to go up the mountain for another hour (without backpacks but with breakfast) to watch the sun rise and then run down the 1000 meters to catch the bus leaving back into town at midday. However, despite our incredible luck of having 2 days of glorious sunshine, on the 3rd night, rain decided to take its revenge, hence cloud and fogg. We woke up, cold and unmotivated to climb up the mountain. But we made it! In the dark of dawn we climbed one of the steepest parts I ever came across and after an hour we were on the top of the mountains facing the 3 Torres, that the national park owes its name too. We found a corner which sheltered us from the wind and set up our breakfast to watch the spectacle of the Torres being lighten up all in red for 15 precious minutes at sunrise. But unfortunetly, as it had rained the a couple of hours earlier, we had big foggy clouds instead! Hey, but in the end, what matters is that we made it there!

We ate our oats, soup and tea and got back down to catch the bus. I think that walk down was the most joyous of all - firstly it was downhill! It was fabulous - especially to know that all your clothes are going to be washed very soon!
We spent another 2 nights in Puerto Natales to recuperate before heading to El Calafate to visit the Perito Moreno Glacier.


This is what I am talking about - a big fat juicy advocado stuffed vegetarian sandwich!

Very happy faces! Fantastic (well deserved) pizza in Puerto Natales after our prowess!

Looking back at Torres del Paine, upon exit.

Three very happy faces coming down the hill!

View of the park

Trail down on the last day.

In the campite "Torres" with Canadian Dale after sunrise at the Torres. This was a free campsite in the forest.

Coming down the steep moutain after the sunrise (this time in daylight)


The sunrise we got to see...

Walk through a forest on the way up to Campo Torres from Campo Chileno

View of the Valley de las Torres on day 3 - nearly there! Notice the small trail on the left hand side of the valley? This is my infamous "Great Wall of China" leading to Campo Chileno

Walking up toward CAmpo Chileno on Day 3

Stephy and the wild horses...

Having a break to admire the landscape between to cereal bars...

And Nat s nice little cheeky siesta!

Sunshine on the trail


Great spot found for a break on the side of the mountain, above a turquoise lake

Cascade within the Valley Francis

View from the Valley Francis (the middle of the "W")

Valley Francis

River leading out of Valley Francis

Me with my plastic bagged backpack on!

On the way to Valley Francis.
Please note my confused German look consisting of thick knee high turquoise thermal sock, black leggings, jean shorts and brown hiking boots.

Oh yeah I looked fantastic!

Campsite in Lago Pehue - first night in Torres del Paine

View of Lago Pehue from the campsite. Yes we woke up to this!

Glacier Grey on the first day. Glacier Grey is part of the largest blocks of glaciers in South America.

Having a break on the way to Glacier Grey on Day 1, overlooking one of the 1000 of lakes in the park

View of the mountains of Torres del Paine upon entrance.

View of Torres del Paine at sunrise - as we saw it and as it was supposed to be!