A Travellerspoint blog

Lakes and Volcano's

in and around Pucon

sunny 34 °C
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For quite some time now over the trip the volcano's in the lake district of Chile have had a certain pull for me. Maybe it's the excitment of knowing they are bubbling away under the rock, maybe it's merely because we don't have any at home, or maybe it's because Volcan Llaima had an big rumble recently.

Either way our next stop was Pucon, a beautiful small town in the lake district. Nearby there lies many volcano's including Llaima and Villarica. The town is a hotspot for holiday makers looking to persue outdoor activities from rafting to kayaking to ascenting the volcano's themselves.

We found ourselves a small family run hostel where we were pretty much givena free reign. The host was a great man called Eric and he made us extremely welcome in his home, much like many before him. We really have 'lucked out' on many occassions now with our accommodation.

Over the next couple of days we tried our hand at some cycling, crazy golf, a visit to the odd volcanic ash lakeside beach and ate plenty fondu and ice cream (best yet) to keep our strength up.

We took some time walking around town looking at the various options for climbing Volcan Villarica. Eventually we chose a company that started the 10 hour trip at 4am so as to take in the morning sunrise. When we got to the top we would see the molten lava and then we would slide all the way down the volcano on the remaining snow. The evening before the ascent we sorted ourselves out with all the equipment we needed at the agency; helmet, gloves, waterproof suits, crampons, ice axes, boots etc. We were all set. On the day the wind was getting up a bit but we set off at 4am nonetheless. Unfortunately come 5am it was agreed amongst everyone that it was a little too dangerous to go ahead with the full climb. We had seen other companies about turn so it definately made sense. Ali and I were absolutely gutted. The ascent was the main reason we had come here and this was our final day in town.

Fortunately we got a full refund so as an alternative I chose to go white water rafting instead. I'd only been once before so I chose the rapids up to 4.5 level. As it turned out the day was fantastic. There were several rafts in the water but only 5 including myself in my one. Two Israelies and two Irish made up the numbers and we had good some craic all the way down although it never ceases to amaze me how fearful some of these Israeli guys coming out of 3 years national service are!!

Posted by tricky 10:39 Archived in Chile Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

Long Winding Road

The Bus Journey from Hell

25 °C
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Before we embarked on our travels we agreed that we would try and avoid the use of flights where possible. This next part was to fully test our resolve. Puerto Natales to Osorno was scheduled for 30 hours by bus. To top it off the area we would travel through was exceptionally barren and we would need two border crossings. Firstly we would cross from Chile into Argentina and then 20 odd hours later we would switch back to Chile. The reason being there basically just is not any roads worthy of a bus that far south in Chile.

We set off at around 7.30am on the Friday. Before long we met our connecting bus and the real journey began. Pullman coach company was the choice, not that there was one now that I think about it. Straight away you could see it wasn't going to be the most pleasant of trips. To cut a long story a touch shorter the bus was uncomfortable and stank. Over the course of the entire jurney we received one spam, yes spam, sandwich and a carton of pineapple juice. A far cry from travelling first class in Argentina!!

On the plus side there were a few movies showing and we had some music. About 8 or 9 hours into the journey we hit a small rain and lightening storm. Soon after a huge bang rang loud and the bus ground to a hault in the middle of nowhere. The bus had been hit by lightening. Everyone on board seemed pretty shaken and it took about 30 minutes for the driver to regain his composure. However the windscreen was cracked all over so we needed to find a service station. To my utter amazement the drivers of the bus proceeded to buy circa 10 rolls of sellotape then started to tape the whole windscreen back together!! Amazing really. I assumed that it would be a short term solution till we met up with a new coach. It wasn't!! A further 22 hours were driven with a windscreen sellotaped together. Completely incredible. 100 kmph and it didn't fall through.

All in our bus journey, which turned into 32 hours, was pretty hellish. Sleeping wasn't really an option with the constant thought that at some time the windscreen was coming in.

Anyway, we arrived in Osorno late afternoon for what was to be a short stay. There really isn't much to Osorno so it was merely a pitstop to avoid further hours on the bus. We caught the final of a street football competition and grabbed a quick bite to end the day slightly less fearful than the previous 32 hours had been!!

Oh how we wished we were having a birthday dinner with TJ instead!! At least we lived to manage a toast.

Posted by tricky 10:13 Archived in Chile Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

The W Trek

in the Torres del Paine

sunny 27 °C
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After the exersions of the Navimag a few quiet days in Purto Natales were required prior to trekking the Torres del Paine national park. PN is a small bustling town in the southern most part of Chile. We found ourselves a cracking hostel and settled in quickly. The town seems to buzz on the day the ship arrives with most bars and restaurants bussier than normal.

I took the opportunity to visit the local hospital and have my stitches checked out by a professional. Fifteen minutes later I was out the front door with the green light. Seemingly I should wait another 4 days or so then have them taken out. Oscar had done me proud. We celebrated with a fine meal of lamb (local speciality) and steak. Really it was just a chance to overly feed ourselves prior to the trekking which was now fairly well planned.

As mentioned above the main reason for sailing 4 days south was to trek in the Torres del Paine National Park. It is widely regarded as the most beautiful of all national parks in South America. It was created in 1959 , and in 1978 UNESCO recognised it as part of the International Biosphere Reserve Network. The Paine Massif is a small mountain system which is completely independent of the Patagonian Andes range. To put the above dates in context the rock formations there came about 12 million years ago when granite pluton penetrated a crack in the Mallegan Basin. Over the years the ice age and various other weather conditions eroded the rock to leave the formations we saw and loved.

Apologies if you are now asleep!!

Within the Torres del Paine Park itself there are numerous trekking opportunities, the main two being the W Trek and the Circuit. What we chose to do was a modified version of the W. I think we actually made our trek harder than necessary but the information we had to hand when booking didn't exactly make it easy for us. Either way, we got to see everything we wanted over the 5 days.

On the morning of the 19th we pulled ourselves out of bed to catch the early bus to the park. As usual the bus was running a little later than planned but after the driver had picked everyone up we were soon on our way and not long passed before we could see the Paine Massif from afar. It's approx 150 km's to the park so it's a fair distance. Fifteen pounds to get in seemed a decent price given the price we pay at home to see very little. We were getting as many days in the park as we needed!!

After the bus ride we hopped on the catamaran which took us on a 30 minute cruise over Lago (lake) Pehoe to our accommodation. Pehoe has to be one of the bluest lakes I have ever set eyes on. All those postcards I had seen I suspected had been hit by photoshop. Well, it turns out they probably weren't. The colours were almost unreal, although I hasten to add that not all the lakes were this colour.

Our accommodation was set at the lower base of the Paine Massif. It was basically a hostal with a campsite attached to the side. We opted to stay indoors, partly because we didn't know what to expect weather wise and partly because we never took any camping equipement with us. It's hard enough to pack for the 4 season's in one day they tell you to expect.

By the time we got over to the starting point it was too late in the day to start any of the W Trek itself so we decided to take a shorter, easier, 20km trek south over some fairly rugged land to get us warmed up for the days ahead. It went pretty well and the maps we had suggested times we should manage the various routes in and we actually managed to pull in an hour under so I felt that put us in a good position for the rest of the trip. Perhaps we were fitter than we had thought!

Since our trip on the Navimag I had become increasingly obsessed with glaciers so day 1 of the trek would take us to the Grey Glacier and back to base. The previous day had given us hope that the 30km would be do able despite the path ways being very up and down and rocky. We set off around 8am and the first 2 hours or so were entirely up hill. Not exactly what you need but the day was beautiful, around early 20's with a nice breeze. Of course, as per usual, we had to carry packs with lunch and full waterproofs for the expectant change in weather. That change fortunately never came and before we knew it we caught our first glimpse of the glacier. Everyone seemed to be in awe. It was an amazing sight. Unfortunately it is shrinking by almost half a meter with each passing day. Most people would finish their trek here but I wanted to go further, to get to the glacier itself. This meant a harder trail to follow but it was definately worth it when we finally got there. From the viewpoint we could also see Pingo Glacier. In fact, as far as the eye could see their were glaciers. An amazing sight and certainly a picnic spot to cherish for some time.

Day 2 started out in a similar fashion to the first with a seemingly never ending trek up the hill for hours on end. This time we were on our way to the French Valley which forms the central part of the W. At the midway point we reached a fairly rapid river with quite a rickety bridge to say the least. After a little while Ali felt comfortable enough to tackle her fear of the bridge and we crossed with relative ease. Ali is now saying over my shoulder that the bridge was actually "wonky and swinging and not safe at all" and the water wasn't rapid but "torrential and gushing". Anyway, we had reached the Italian camp and now everything would become twice as difficult towards the summit. A few more hours later and we reached the Britanico camp. Just like us to try and get the highest camp site in the French territory!! The views were stunning.

On the way up we built a small cairn to commemorate our trip and to think about all the people who aren't/couldn't be with us at that time.

Much like day 1 I wanted to go a little further so off we set from the camp Britanico. Not long after we came to the most breathtaking place I think I have ever been. Again the weather had done us proud and we basked in the sun on top of some rocks in the valley. It felt more like the top of the world and the views of the Horns, the Paine Massif and the 3 Towers were simply awesome. An hour or so later we started to make the descent to our base. The wind had picked up dramatically and was probably around 80 kmph. The wind can pick up to 125 kmph so it definately gets a little gusty up there. As we descended we met loads of crazy people who were still making the climb up. Evidence of the power of the wind was all around us with felled tree's everywhere and several large area's of petrified tree's. Nonetheless the day was magnificent and one of our main goals now had a tick in the box which was a great feeling.

We were also managing to do all the treks in good time, albeit at the expense of some tired legs and a few blisters. Evenings were usually pretty short for us here and it wasn't unusual to have dinner then just fall asleep till the next morning.

Fortunately for us we had some extra time built into our trip to account for conditions beyond our control. Little did I know that day 3 would be too bloody hot. Most unusual but the sun was exceptionally strong that day leaving our trip to the base of the towers on the east side of the park unmanagable. The hole in the ozone above southern Chile is massive so it's not always the temperature but the rays strength that gets you. Factor 60 was call of the day.

On the morning of our last day we had to be up and out of the hostel not long after 5am if we were to make it up to the base and back in time for our bus connection. It was fairly odd walking in the dark but an hour or so we witnessed a magical sun rise. All the better as we were the only people about. Unfortunately the weather was not so kind to us on this day with a thick fog covering a lot of the mountains. Mind you, we could hardly complain given the glorious conditions we had the fortune of getting in the previous four. Despite not seeing the top of the towers themselves the day was great and we bumped into some friends whom we met in various other places around South America. We arranged to meet in town that night for a farewell meal which went down a treat.

Within the park itself we were lucky enough to encounter most of the wildlife that was listed in the guides; Guanaco (like a llama), wild fox's, rhea's (like an ostrich), pink flamingo's. What we didn't see was the black widow which can surely only be a good thing. There had been lots of recent sightings. The condor eluded us too but we are sure to see many in the future and have seen some in the past already.

On returning to the local town we treated ourselves to an afternoon at the hot tub with a massage afterwards. It was simply brilliant and eased a lot of the aches and pains built up over the past few days. A meal at Afrigonia (an African/Patagonian) restaurant did the trick too. At last a curry that had some kick!!!

Posted by tricky 18:24 Archived in Chile Tagged backpacking Comments (1)

Sailing South

on the Navimag

sunny 20 °C
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Before we even left the UK one of the few things we had organised was the Navimag ferry journey from Puerto Montt to Puerto Natales so there was quite a high level of expectation for it despite us booking into C(attle) class.

A few hours after departure tme we finally left the port and managed to tuck into a beer on board. The day was beautiful and as it turned out our 4 person dorm was really good. We were paired up with a couple from Spain which was supposedly meant to help our Spanish!! Oddly the guy had a weegie accent. At first I thought he was taking the preverbial but it turned out he learned his English from a few chaps from Glasgow and every year he took his holidays in Portabelo near Edinburgh. No different to us going to the Costa's I told myself. Aye right.

The journey would last 3.5 days so in order to keep us entertained the ship crew put on some presentations on various aspects on the journey and Chilean life, visits to the bridge, movies, games etc. All in the package was fantastic and we met some superb people including several from Scotland. First up was a girl who was a friend of someone (Kirsteen) I went to university with and then there was an old chap, Bob, from Methlick. Oddly I have decided to take up playing chess again which is something I thought had left me a long long time ago. Eventually I found the winning habit but it's a bloody frustrating game.

The weather throughout the whole trip was unusually calm, including the venture out to the open sea over the second night. The vast majority of the trip is through islands, fjords and glaciers so the water remains very stable. Day three saw the vast majority of the action on the boat. Firstly we stopped off at Puerto Eden where a small community of around 200 people remain. It's completely cut off from civilisation so the boat is pretty much the only way they can get supplies to get them by. As such a few of the locals rowed out to meet us and pick up what they needed. Normally the boat would stop off here and the passangers would be allowed a few hours on land but as we left late this part of the journey was cut short.

Soon after we left Puerto Eden the boat reached the Amalia Glacier. It was the first time I had ever clapped eyes on a glacier. Awe inspirring to say the least and one of the main reasons we have come to Patagonia. The ship stopped here for an hour or two but we could see the glacier almost 2 hours before we actually reached it which is pretty remarkable.

Treat of the night was Patagonian bingo. Wooopeeee. Rather than deprive someone of a prize we, along with our new found friends, thought it best to consume all the alcohol we had taken on board (to avoid the sky high prices). Someone must have told us it was a 2 week trip because we seemed to have a little too much. To cut a long story short all the wine, pisco (Chilean liquor) and rum was polished off and a few beers added in for good measure. That's when accident's happen. I should know better I guess. I tripped going downstairs on the way to bed. Why I had my sunglasses on is still beyond me but they in turn cut me and a fellow passanger had to administer some stitches amidst a reasonable amount of blood (don't worry mum he was a doctor, I think). It's pretty amazing what you can do with some thread from a cap and 2 needles from a sewing kit. Anyway, a great big thanks has to go to Dr Oscar for sorting me out. When I arrived to have it double checked at the local hospital the doctor already knew about it!! Incidently the stitches came out today and all is A ok. A two minute job and it seems I don't have to pay for it either which is always a bonus.

On the last day the sun came out to welcome us to Purto Natales, Southern Patagonia. We had travelled circa 1,500 kilometers and every moment was fantastic. Strangely a lot of the journey reminded me of Scotland but on a grander scale. It's strange how so much of SA reminds me of home. Certainly to the extent where sometimes I am not sure if it really is or I am a little homesick.

Posted by tricky 17:35 Archived in Chile Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

Crossing the Andes

and into Chile for the first time

sunny 23 °C
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Leaving Bariloche was a bit of a sad day as we really enjoyed our time there but heck, there are heaps more places to visit. The day we left it was lashing with rain so that eased the pain. It's become somewhat normal for this to happen so we're feeling pretty lucky to be honest. We seem to catch all these beautiful places at the right time and from the comments I have heard from other traveller's it makes a heck of a difference.

Our destination this time was Puerto Varas about 20km's from the coast in Chile. Again we landed lucky with our hostel. The owner Nico treated us fantastically well and the guys and girls we met there were tremendous. A few good nights out to listen to some local music were had and quite a few of the local beers were consumed.

However, the main purpose of the visit was to climb a volcano. The recent "rumbles" at Volcan Llaima has seen them make headlines of late and it definately sparked an interest for me. The most accessible volcano was called Volcan Osorno, a 45 minute bus ride from town. We spent the day hiking up as far as we could but the fact that it is still covered in a lot of snow meant we could only get so far. It stands at 2652m high so it's quite a climb but when you get to where the lava flowed many years ago it is well worth it. I think it was circa 200 years since it last had a spit of of lava so chances were it wasn't going to do so again on the 10th January!! The trek then took us onwards to some pretty amazing waterfalls which finished the day off nicely for us.

After a good look at some of the local activities I decided to try my hand at canyoning. For those of you who don't know what that is it is basically throwing yourself off waterfalls and rocks into small pools of water, going down rivers head first and basically just having some damned good fun in the water. Eleven of us took up the challange and I have to say that despite a few nerves at one point I had a great day. Unfortunately the camera isn't waterproof so no pictures are available! We started out with some smaller jumps of 5 meters or so and then made our way down the river moving on to some bigger jumps. We got to a point they call the Matrix where if you run really quick you can run round some rock formations in an almost horizontal fashion before innevitably falling into the water. Eventually we ended up at the point of no return which was a 10 meter jump into a pool below. Quite an adrenaline rush. Following on from that we had to abseil down the final waterfall as jumping 40 odd meters down just doesn't seem like the right thing to do.

Today we left Puerto Varas for Puerto Montt and tomorrow we leave here on the Navimag to sail for 4 days and nights down to the far south of Chile. There we shall set foot in the Torres del Paine which is supposedly the best national park in South America. I sincerely hope it is as it's a bloody fortune to stay there! Anyway, I'll keep you posted and here's hoping we don't get sea sick .....

Posted by tricky 18:11 Archived in Chile Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

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