A Travellerspoint blog

Chile

Torres Del Paine Part 2

There's a fine line between pleasure and Paine!

sunny 12 °C

Torres Del Paine Part 2

Part 1 can be found here: http://cbadv2010.travellerspoint.com/6/

We pick up the TDP adventure back up at Day 4.

Day 4: French Valley and Chileno, 35kms, 11 hours of walking

We woke up early on Day 4 as we knew ahead of time we had a big day ahead of us. Just how BIG though we hadn’t quite processed – or more likely we deliberately ignored (“ignorance is bliss; ignorance is bliss”). We had 35km of walking ahead of us, which is like walking from Sydney CBD to Hornsby, and then walking halfway back again.

The middle part of the W contains the French Valley, a steep walk that is about 4 hours up and 4 hours back from the Refugio we were staying at, Los Cuernos. Fortunately we could leave our packs behind at the Refugio and walk in relative comfort. Trust me - this is a godsend after 3 days of lugging 12-15kg around!

The walk to the bottom of the French Valley was quite mild, but from then it was uphill all the way, as you walk steadily up towards the Mirador (lookout). A short way into the walk we fortuitiously ran into our American friends form the Navimag, Don and Terry. Terry had caught the same bug I had, and I could tell we had similar war stories to share. Don was OK and joined us on the walk up. What a spectacular walk too! Waterfalls to the left of us, mountains to the right, here we were stuck in the middle of TDP heaven.

Rainbow sighting on the way to the French Valley

Rainbow sighting on the way to the French Valley


Mountains on side of French Valley walk

Mountains on side of French Valley walk


Looking out onto the lakes of TDP

Looking out onto the lakes of TDP

Despite getting lost a few times, and Don and I considering a not-so-sensible scaling of wet rocks near a waterfall that plummeted down into rocks below (common sense prevailed) we made it to the French Valley lookout after 2 and a bit hours walking. What greets you is a 360 panaroma of snow-capped mountains and Torres and your main problem is your eyes don’t know where to look! You're surrounded by towering landscape and feel slightly in awe of what you are seeing. There was also light snow starting to drop down as well, just to top off the immersive nature of what you could see, hear and feel. We couldn't even hope to capture the lookout in pictures, but here's a few attempts.

French valley

French valley

Mandatory couple shot in French Valley

Mandatory couple shot in French Valley


Don, Chelle and I at the top of the French Valley

Don, Chelle and I at the top of the French Valley

We left Don at the French Valley as we were on a mission to get to our destination Camp Chileno which was still a good 24km away. Slightly depressing when you’ve already walked for 4 hours and 11km, but soldier on we must.

Downhill walking in the Valley is a knee-killer (I kept apologising to mine, promising them a massage) but we made it OK back to Los Cuernos and, after a 30 min break that consisted mostly of staring vacantly into the distance, we started on the way to Chileno – 13km to go. 13km of MADNESS! Was followed was the most intense physical thing I’ve put myself through, even more so than trying to watch all 40-odd world cup soccer matches back in 2006. It was not so much the terrain, which was uphill but with mild incline, but the fact that there's only so much you can put a poor sick body through. We were taking each step at a time, one hill at a time, and doing a fair bit of this:

Down for the count!

Down for the count!

I really struggled as we were nearing 30km for the day, and if it wasn't for my superhero partner who took our bag on her shoulders I'm really not sure we would have made it to Chileno. Part of the problem was that I had not been eating, and so it was time to pull out the big guns: chocolate. A few rows of cocao goodness later and I was a different man. Like a marathon runner who knows they only need to push through that final barrier of pain, I took the backpack and became a madmen, power walking up the final hills to Chileno, breathing and grunting like a cavemen, and scaring women and children on the way. I was going to get to Chileno if it killed me! And get there we did.

We were meant to camp in Chileno in a tent, but Day 4 had a special meaning to it: Valentine’s day. Therefore I decided we were going to splash out: one more Refugio sleep and meal it was to be, on me! That night we spent at the table, eating dinner together at the Refugio over some Gato boxed red wine, both of us almost too comotised to talk. Who said romance is dead?

Day 5: Las Torres, 15 km, 5 hours walking

Torres in Spanish means “towers”, and to culminate our W experience we were to finish on the most famous of all the TDP landmarks, the three towers: Torre Sur, Torre Central and Torre Norte. Call them the 3 sisters of TDP if you will.

Before going to sleep we had spoken to some people in our dorm room who had apologised in advance for waking us up at 4am in the morning to go see the Las Torres over sunset. They need not have apologised – we were going there too. Only problem was that we had forgotten a basic essential when one wants to walk in the dark – a recent invention called ... a torch. And that is where our fellow dorm-mates came in handy – Celine and Allison – both of whom were much better prepared than us, and had kindly offered to be our unofficial night guides as we were to climb towards the Torres in the morning.

So up we got at 4am in the morning, blurry eyed and wondering what we were doing getting up in pitch blackness to walk through a national park. We had a gang of 5: Celine, Allison, Chelle and I and Neil, and off we set to conquer the Las Torres . The walk is relatively easy for the first hour and half, apart from getting lost when you take the wrong turn in the dark. The last hour however is the hardest walking section in TDP. It’s steep incline all the way, up gravel and dirt and boulders, and you have to take it one step at a time, often getting close to crawling on all fours. It's a funny sight though because as you walk up you can just see these headlamps meandering ahead of you all the way up the mountain, like fireflies in the pitch dark. I couldn't help but have some David Attenborough commentary in my head, "And here we see the human species of Chileno, often known to come out in the early hours of the morning in search of the Torres ..."

When you reach the top of Los Torres, an achievement in it's own, you find about 20-30 fellow crazy people who have also done the same morning climb. Together you sit on rocks facing the Torres, and wait in anticipation. Waiting in freezing cold. Except for those people you stare at enviously with their cookers and warm cups of coffee and tea. I was contemplating taking a few of them out in return for their bounty but decided against it.

The three Torres are a spectacular sight in the day time, but at sunrise the ice-shaped granite and the morning light waves combine to create a red-glow that we had seen in pictures, but didn't really expect to be like that in real life (thanks to photoshop). After waiting for about 15 minutes we were concerned that it wasn’t to be our day and maybe the Torres and Sun weren’t coming out to play.

Then, Chelle spotted the top of the Torre Central changing colour into a deep, dark, rich red. And soon all of them had their tips painted. And gradually this rich red got painted over all three Torres before your eyes, along with the surrounding mountains, like the sun had a giant paintbrush out sweeping the landscape.

What was left after the painting stopped was one of the most amazing sights I have seen and may ever see in my life. An entire mountain glowing red before your eyes. All 5 of us just looked in wonder at each other with smiles on our faces, going “how good is that!?” You had to see it to believe it and experience it.

That is TDP for you – it puts you through hard work and pain, but it rewards you at the end of it.

Us and Torres - hanging out

Us and Torres - hanging out


Las Torres in the cold of morning, waiting for that sun

Las Torres in the cold of morning, waiting for that sun


The tips of Las Torres start to glow red

The tips of Las Torres start to glow red


The sun continues its painting of the landscape

The sun continues its painting of the landscape


Yes! To, this!

Yes! To, this!

Painting near completion

Painting near completion

Up close to the fiery reds

Up close to the fiery reds

Towers with reflection from tha lake

Towers with reflection from tha lake

After dragging ourselves away from the red painted Los Torres (we kept looking back at it like we were saying goodbye to a friend we won’t see again) it was time to head on home to Puerto Natales. The W circuit had been completed! It was a real exhilarating feeling and sense of achievement, and we were so stoked that we got back off that bus to appreciate it in its entirety. For any nature and trekking lovers reading this blog, if you ever get a chance to do TDP – do it, you must! You won't regret it.

Stopping for a last time on the final descent

Stopping for a last time on the final descent

And so ended our time in Chile, and it was time to depart for the lands of Argentina. El Calafate – next stop!

Until then, adios!
Ben and Chelle

Posted by CBAdv2010 14:05 Archived in Chile Comments (1)

Torres Del Paine Part 1

No Paine no gain!

sunny 12 °C

Torres Del Paine
February 11 – February 15 (5 days)

After the hard work of Patagonian nature watching, playing cards and eating every few hours on the Navimag, we decided to spend a few days in Puerto Natales preparing for our hike in Torres Del Paine. Puerto Natales is a small little coastal town that has a very relaxed feel, with some great places to eat, including good vegetarian food (El Living) and good Mexican and local-made beer (at the microbrewery); perfect location to rest up before and after Torres Del Paine.

Puerto Natales

Puerto Natales

Torres Del Paine (TDP) – or, as we now affectionately think of it, Torres of PAIN – is a national park that is over 2,600 square km in size and has an elaborate set of trekking paths that go through it, the most popular of which is the “W” circuit (as that is the shape you make walking one end to the other – if you squint your eyes and use a little imagination). It is one of the most spectacular trekking locations in the world – according to seasoned trekkers not just the guide books. It is a treasure chest of lakes (and is one of the biggest sources of natural water in the world), mountains and glaciers.

You can do the W in 3 nights and 4 days but most people opt to do 4 nights and 5 days (or more) – which is what we opted for.

The W circuit - well, W ish

The W circuit - well, W ish

Now – I did my fair share of camping growing up, and have trekked a little here and there, however it is an altogether different experience to be carrying your tent, sleeping bag, clothes and food for 5 days of serious trekking – in fact, I’m quite sure if it was described exactly as we experienced it the tourist numbers would plummet. Not that everyone does the W that way – the park also contains trekking shelters called Refugios that contain dorm beds and provide meals, so one can be a flashpacker of sorts if one chooses. Only problem is they charge champagne prices for the privilege - $100+ in some of them for a dorm bed and dinner starts at $20 for cup a soup and pasta type food.

Chileno Refugio

Chileno Refugio

With our budget and the bullets we’ve already put through it refugios were out of the question; but we did find a compromise for the sake of my crusty reconstructed knee and Chelle’s dodgy hip: hire tents from the Refugios so we don’t have to carry them around. Genius!

So armed with cup-a-soup and food basics, cooking gear and clothes it was off to Del Paine we go!

Our trusty backpack loaded with only essentials

Our trusty backpack loaded with only essentials

Day 1: Glacier Grey, 11km, 5-6 hours walking

Chelle had been knocked cold with a virus that was going around Puerto Natales, and being the sharing type of girl she had kindly given it to me on the morning of our departure to Torres Del Paine. Consequently I had razor blades in my throat that no multi-vitamins or bourbon could fix (the latter - my Dad’s (Marcel’s) sound medical advice). In retrospect it was probably not the smartest idea to do the W circuit with a virus, but dammit we’d paid for our gear and booked our refugio hire tents and we weren’t turning back.

Getting to the park involved a bus ride of a few hours, and then taking a ferry to the park. And what a ferry ride it was! We called Torres Del Paine “adult disneyland” for the breathtaking eye candy it provided and the ferry was the first ride. As with much of Chilean Patagonia the pictures tell the story.

Looking back from the ferry onto Disneyland

Looking back from the ferry onto Disneyland


Where the white queen of TDP lives

Where the white queen of TDP lives


More views from the ferry

More views from the ferry

The Day 1 walk involved a 11km walk to the Glacier Grey campground, situated right next to, you guessed it – Glacier Grey. The walk is meant to take 3.5 hours but as this was our first day in the park we decided to take it easy, and allow ourselves to be trigger happy on the camera (truth be told we’ve allowed that for 7 weeks now). It was a damn TOUGH walk too, lots of up and down hills and boulders and rocks attempting to roll your ankle. The walk, like many in TDP, provides constant viewing of snow-capped mountains and lakes and the walk itself nestles quite naturally into the terrain – you really feel like you are walking in nature, not just observing it from a tourist trail.

And we're off!

And we're off!


The natural walking trails of TDP

The natural walking trails of TDP


Part of walking trail from Chileno to Las Torres

Part of walking trail from Chileno to Las Torres


Ankle killers on the walk to Grey

Ankle killers on the walk to Grey

The most memorable part of the walk was coming to the top of an incline and as you peek over you get a panoramic view of Glacier Grey set against the backdrop of the mountains. I think Chelle and I both just said wow! Seeing these type of views brings a drop to the jaw and smile to the face. It also can't help but bring out your desire to get your photo in front of it.

You climb up and this view awaits

You climb up and this view awaits

Nearly at the lookout

Nearly at the lookout

The lookout halfway towards Grey

The lookout halfway towards Grey


More of the lookout

More of the lookout

Green mountains, snow capped mountains, glaciers - TDP has it all

Green mountains, snow capped mountains, glaciers - TDP has it all


Not a bad location for a photo

Not a bad location for a photo

Feeling on top of the world

Feeling on top of the world

Spot Chelle!

Spot Chelle!

Taking time to take it in

Taking time to take it in


Grey and the Mountains

Grey and the Mountains

Chelle and I made it Campaneto Glacier Grey about 6:30pm, and by that stage we were STUFFED. We both literally threw our stuff off our backs, and slumped on the ground. There was a Rastafarian type guy managing the camp site and he told us the best news of the day – the tent was already set up and ready to go! Sweet!

Chelle and I collapsed in the tent and devoured some of our snacks and then it dawned on us – where the hell is the Glacier?! It is here isn’t it?? There was a nice lake in front of us with some floating Glacial ice so we knew it had to be close by (call us Sherlock), but it wasn’t in sight of the campground. Sure enough – there was MORE walking to be done. Chelle’s hip was hurting and she decided to call it quits for the day and do the walking the next day. I’d been warned though so many times about how TDP always rains that I thought I’d carpe diem it and walk out to the lookout.

Gorging on fruit and nuts to stay alive

Gorging on fruit and nuts to stay alive


Camp Grey

Camp Grey


Our little tent at camp Grey

Our little tent at camp Grey

What I came upon was the second “wow” moment of the day (yes – TDP is a wow-a-thon), particularly as the view of the Glacier from the Navimag was from a distance and in the rain. As you walk towards the lookout (it turned out to be only 15 mins from camp) you again come up an incline, and slowly as you walk high and far enough your eyes get that first glimpse of the mammoth ice structure that is the Glacier. I thought I was looking at giant blue clouds that had fallen into the lake. The Glacier spread out for as far as the eye could see back into the mountains, like part of the mountains had just melted off and was pouring down the lake. It was a spectacular sight and one that capped off a memorable first day in TDP.

Over the horizon and the first view of Glacier Grey

Over the horizon and the first view of Glacier Grey


Closer to Glacier Grey

Closer to Glacier Grey


Glacier grey front view

Glacier grey front view


Glacier Grey from the nearest rock viewpoint, and with some sun, beautiful

Glacier Grey from the nearest rock viewpoint, and with some sun, beautiful

Other misc photos from Day 1 (the narrator is getting lazy):

Water that tastes like heaven

Water that tastes like heaven

Ben, Chelle and Icebergs

Ben, Chelle and Icebergs

Holding glacier ice goodness

Holding glacier ice goodness

Lake with floating glacier break-offs (on walk from Grande to Grey)

Lake with floating glacier break-offs (on walk from Grande to Grey)

Day 2: Back to Paine Grande, 15km, 5-6 hours walking

Paine Grande is the Refugio where you first get off the Ferry. Our Day 2 consisted of getting back to the Refugio to stay the night. Simple, no?

Well, simple if you don’t feel LIKE YOU ARE GOING DO DIE from being feverishly ill! I woke up on day 2 having sweated through the night, muscles aching, throat still razor blades and feeling weak as feather. I’d carried our main backpack on day 1 but there was NO WAY I was carrying it on Day 2. Fortunately I’m engaged to a girl with superhuman abilities and one of the best power to weight ratios known to man, and she decided to take one for the team and carry the pack all day, all 11km to camp. And she did it alright! I was so proud of Chelle, carrying a backpack that looked bigger than her while I gasped behind her pale white, and doing bushman blowies every few metres (too much detail?)

Oh yes – we also decided to go to both the lookout I’d been to on Day 1, and the second lookout for the Glacier which has you climbing up the mountain to look down on it. Was it spectacular? Sure was! Was it smart to do when you have a man on deaths door? Probably not, but Chelle and I simply can’t bear to miss out on anything worth checking out.

Looking down on Glacier Grey

Looking down on Glacier Grey

We spent about another 6 hours walking on Day 2, though it felt like a hundred. Upon reaching Paine Grande (see note 1) we slumped down and collapsed, and started voraciously devouring food in order to refuel and make peace with our tired sore bodies (see note 2).

Chelle, my hero, cooked up a sensational brown rice and vegetables dinner in a common kitchen they had at the Refugio. After eating that and showering it was straight to bed. We came into TDP with ideas of kicking back and socialising at night time with fellow trekkers, and all I can say to that is, HAHAHAHAHAHA!

Note 1: I should have picked up by now that the South Americans were trying to give me hints. On Navimag the rocky seas were called Golfo de Penas which means, literally, “Gulf of Pain”, and that is where you feel sea sick for 12 hours and feel like throwing up the whole time. Now we were in Torres del PAINe and staying in PAINEe Grande)
Note 2: Chelle was particularly happy that I was not eating chocolate due to my illness and had it all to herself!

On the walk from Grande to Glacier Grey

On the walk from Grande to Glacier Grey


Camping at Paine Grande - not a bad backdrop!

Camping at Paine Grande - not a bad backdrop!


For TDP treks Chelle recommends: Snickers

For TDP treks Chelle recommends: Snickers

Day 3: The false departure and Los Cuernos, 14km, 4 hours walking

As we slept through Night 2 we were hit by gale force winds and torrential rain. It was so strong that Chelle and I muttered vaguely consciously to each other that there’s no way on earth we’d be trekking in that weather, especially with me so sick.

On the morning of Day 3 we woke up to grey skies and threatening rain. I had no energy and felt ill, and it was becoming clear that it was not sensible to keep going – “no need to be a hero! “ we kept telling ourselves. It was there and then that we bit the bullet and made the toughest decision to make: to turn back home and call it quits. Wave the white flag. You got us Del Paine, you got us!

Slightly forlornly we packed up our stuff and went to catch the Ferry and then bus back home. All the buses going out of the park stop at the park entrance for 15 minutes, so we decided to get off, and who did we see but one of our friends from the Navimag, Vera, who had just completed the W. I started talking to Vera and she told me that the part of the W we hadn’t done was, I quote, “so beautiful it made me want to cry”. Damn you Vera! How could I possibly leave the park hearing that? Forgetting in the heat of the moment how crook I was, I raced onto the bus to tell Chelle excitedly, “we’re getting off the bus, we have to do the rest of the W!” Chelle gave me the “are you serious?” look, and after realising the answer was affirmative we made a beeline for the exit. The bus driver looked at us surprisingly as we dragged out backpack back out and went to hop on another bus straight back into the Del Paine!

1 hour later we were back on the path, wearing a backpack, and yes – thinking who’s genius idea was it to do more trekking?? (I’m sure it was Chelle’s) The days trek was to Los Cuernos, about 13-14km and it was surprisingly easy. They marked signs along the way that we kept beating in terms of time (“take THAT Mr time estimator!”) and arrived in Los Cuernos surprisingly alive though still tired.

We had planned ahead of time to have one night in a Refugio, particularly as Day 3 was originally going to be a huge trek and we thought it a good idea to end it with a good nights sleep in a bed. Even though it had only been 2 nights in a tent, the fact that we were sleeping on rocky ground and waking up consistently meant sore hips and shoulders, and the thought of a real bed was music to the ummm, ears? Brain? One of the two.

We also decided to splash out and spend $20 on a Refugio meal, which may not have been the worlds greatest meal, but as they say “hunger is the best cook”. That night we both slept like a baby on the top bunks of triple decker dorm bunks. Little did we know how tough Day 4 would be.

Us getting in the way of a beautiful view yet again!

Us getting in the way of a beautiful view yet again!


And the view without us (near entrance to TDP)

And the view without us (near entrance to TDP)


Lake views on the walk to Los Cuernos

Lake views on the walk to Los Cuernos


There was a lot of this going on!

There was a lot of this going on!


On the walk to Los Cuernos

On the walk to Los Cuernos

Sitting in front of Los Cuernos

Sitting in front of Los Cuernos

The final mountain to climb for the day: the dorm bunk

The final mountain to climb for the day: the dorm bunk

But for that, we shall leave it to the next blog, Torres Del Paine Part 2.

Until then, it's over and out!
Love
Ben and Chelle

Posted by CBAdv2010 09:39 Archived in Chile Comments (5)

Valdivia and Navimag

River bound in Patagonia!

overcast 15 °C

PRE-AMBLE/RAMBLE

We know, we know – we’ve been pretty slack with our blogging! But in our defense we have been in places of the earth where – gasp – they do not have the intar worldy webnet; plus we’ve also mastered the art of manana, manana. But to make amends we have decided that this will be declared the official Chelle and Ben blog catch up week. We’ve been bunkered up in our hostel with fingers on the keyboard furiously working, and we’ve got 4 blogs to upload: Valdivia and Navimag; Torres Del Paine Part 1 and 2; El Calafate, Route 40 and El Chalten. To save you being blog-bombed we are going to publish one blog per day in the next 4 days! So take a sickie or tell the boss it’s a national holiday, and hopefully enjoy the reading! First, onto Valdivia …

Valdivia
February 1 – February 3 (3 days)

After leaving Pucon, we stopped off for a short stay in the river city of Valdivia on our way down to catch the Navimag Ferry. The bible of travel (The Lonely Planet!) describes Valdivia as one of Chile’s “most attractive and enjoyable cities” and it really did live up to this description.

During our 3 days in Valdivia we enjoyed:

A river cruise under a perfect blue summer’s sky. We thought it was perfectly reasonable to ask for a nice glass of chilled wine to enjoy as we cruised along, only to be disappointed to find out it was a coffee only bar!

Beautiful Valdivia

Beautiful Valdivia

Cruising the Valdivian river on a beautiful summer's day

Cruising the Valdivian river on a beautiful summer's day

Riverside life. It was lovely walking by the river, where young lovers stroll hand in hand and ice-cream peddlers push their carts up and down feeding the tourist masses their holiday ice-creams.

Watching the famous Sea Lions of Valdivia bask in the sun. Amazingly it turns out that Ben can speak Sea Lionese- see the photo of Ben connecting with Bob the Sea Lion. Sea-Lions can be seen relaxing all up and down the river banks in Valdivia, as well as on special pontoons built for them.

Sea-lions hanging out

Sea-lions hanging out


Ben communicating with Bob the Sea Lion!

Ben communicating with Bob the Sea Lion!


Bob soaking up some rays!

Bob soaking up some rays!

Our first “Couch Surfing” experience. ‘Couch surfing’ (http://www.couchsurfing.com) is a way of connecting with locals who show you around their town, and let you crash on their couch for a few nights or if you are lucky in a spare bedroom. We met Rod and Jenny through couch surfing. They picked us up at our hostel and took us out for dinner to the Kuntsman Brewery (not a German beer as the name suggests, but a locally brewed Chilean beer).They insisted that we all share a 3litre tube-thing (not it’s official name!) of beer with our meal, and being the courteous guests that we are we couldn’t possibly decline! What we really should have declined though was the beer ice-cream desert. Beer is really not meant to be enjoyed in flavours of chocolate, strawberry and vanilla ice-cream. Our stomachs churn at the memory! The next night we stayed at their place, and in return for their lovely hospitality we cooked them up a big vegetarian Shepherd’s Pie. Not wanting to appear immodest in any way, but we could have won Master Chef with our effort! Delicious!

Rod and Ben enjoying the final Shepherd's pie masterpiece!

Rod and Ben enjoying the final Shepherd's pie masterpiece!


Trying beer ice-cream

Trying beer ice-cream

At the Kuntsman Brewery with Rod and Jenny in Valdivia

At the Kuntsman Brewery with Rod and Jenny in Valdivia


Check it out!!

Check it out!!


Cooking up a storm at Rod and Jenny's

Cooking up a storm at Rod and Jenny's

Puerto Montt and Puerto Varas
February 3 - February 4 (2 days)

Not much to say about these two towns, except Puerto Montt is a bit of a hole, and we are sure that Puerto Varas is a lovely town however we only got to spend 1 day here and it was miserable weather. Moving on quickly to the good stuff.....Navimag!

The Navimag Experience
February 5 - 8 (4 days)

Our Navimag experience was everything we hoped it would be, and we can’t thank our friends and family who contributed towards this as our engagement present enough! It has been a real highlight of our trip so far, not only because of the beautiful scenery, the fun experience of being on a cargo-passenger ship, and the opportunity to relax and enjoy lots of card games, but also because of the wonderful new friends we met who became our little Navimag Family.

DAY 1:
Check in and departure. A smooth, easy, well-organised check in and departure (except that we were late as always!)

About to board and super excited!

About to board and super excited!

Thumbs up, we're ready for departure!

Thumbs up, we're ready for departure!

View of the navimag as we approach on our return from Puerto Eden

View of the navimag as we approach on our return from Puerto Eden

Our BB cabin. We stayed in the BB cabin which is a 4 person berth with a window and shared bathroom. The bathroom was shared with all the other BB cabins as well as C class, so really the only difference between the BB cabin and C class was that we had a door we could close for privacy and the C class berths were in a fluorescent lit hallway with only a curtain that they could pull across their bunk for privacy. Still, our friends who were staying in the C class berths had no complaints, because we really spent no time at all in the berths except to sleep.

Our tiny 'BB' berth!

Our tiny 'BB' berth!

Tour of the ship. The Navimag is a cargo-passenger ship, so we waited while all the cargo was loaded and finalised. The basic layout of the ship is the lower level is full of cargo and cars, the next level contains the berths, the middle level has the cafeteria and mess hall for movie nights and the informative talks they provide during the day, and the upper level has the lounge and bar area, with a big open deck at the front and back of the ship.

The Navimag Ferry

The Navimag Ferry

The Navimag Ferry front view

The Navimag Ferry front view

First afternoon and night. By the time we had jumped up and down on the deck with excitement, unpacked, toured the boat, attended an introductory talk and watched seedy Puerto Montt disappear, it was dinner time. Meals were served in a high-school styled cafeteria, and the passengers were split into 2 groups who ate at different times so that we could all get a seat and table. Despite having low expectations of the food, we were pleasantly surprised to find the vegetarian food well prepared and tasty. As the trip went on, people commented that they wished they had ordered vegetarian meals as the standard meals tended to lack fresh vegetables. We opened up our bottle of wine that we had brought on board with us, and enjoyed the meal followed by a Chilean movie.

Our first meal on board the ships high-school like cafeteria!

Our first meal on board the ships high-school like cafeteria!


Eating in with Panchita.

Eating in with Panchita.

Day 2:

Early morning wake up. We know we have adjusted to South American time when 8am is considered a very early morning! An announcement over the loud speaker that breakfast had started woke us at 8am. Breakfast was scrambled eggs, cereal and fudge brownies (a nice break from white bread with jam, and sliced cheese!)

Weather and scenery; It was wet, windy and cold out on deck (typical Patagonian weather unfortunately), so we spent short bursts outside watching the low clouds slowly lift to reveal the river hugging mountains. Occasionally through the mist we could see a waterfall plunging down a mountain into the river below. The snow capped mountains would reveal themselves briefly as the clouds parted, and it was all quite mystical as the scenery unveiled itself through the fog.

Out on deck enjoying the view

Out on deck enjoying the view


All aboard the navimag viewing deck

All aboard the navimag viewing deck


1,2,3 smile!

1,2,3 smile!

Gusty winds

Gusty winds

Playing cards and chilling out. As the day went on we retired to the lounge area, where Ben played cards with our great new friends Terry and Don, and I sunk into one of the big comfy lounges and read and wrote in my journal.

When it wasn't cards, it was writing in the journal or reading.

When it wasn't cards, it was writing in the journal or reading.

Card games kept us entertained for most of the trip!

Card games kept us entertained for most of the trip!

Choppy seas and a stormy sunset. At about 4pm we moved out of the sheltered channel and into the rolling waves of the Pacific Ocean. We spent some time on deck watching the waves crash, and trying to keep our balance as the boat rolled from side to side. Ben and I decided to take sea-sick tablets as a precaution, and they pretty much knocked us out for the rest of the evening and night. We emerged briefly for dinner, although Ben couldn’t stomach the creamy pasta and was quickly back in bed. You really had to hold onto the railings as you walked around the ship, and sleeping in bed that night was an experience as we rolled softly with the waves. We found out the next morning that we had had a very calm journey, so I can’t imagine how bad it must actually get in rougher seas!

Entering rough seas as we pass through the Pacific Ocean

Entering rough seas as we pass through the Pacific Ocean


Having fun as the waves crash

Having fun as the waves crash

A stormy sunset over the Pacific Ocean

A stormy sunset over the Pacific Ocean


Day 3:

Sleep in and no breakfast. The sea-sick pills really knocked us out and we slept through the call to breakfast. Not a bad decision as it was white bread with sliced ham and cheese.

Excursion to the tiny town of Puerto Eden. We opted to take the excursion out to visit Puerto Eden, even though the weather was cold and wet. We all had to wear a sexy, bright orange life vest and were piled like sardines into little life boats that putted us into the wind-swept port town. It was a fun little excursion though, and we enjoyed the walk through their national park up to a small hill top for a view of the place, and then along the riverside where colourful local fishing boats docked.

Waiting on deck to board into the little life boats for Puerto Eden

Waiting on deck to board into the little life boats for Puerto Eden

Everyone had to wear bright orange life jackets for the Puerto Eden excursion

Everyone had to wear bright orange life jackets for the Puerto Eden excursion

Puerto Eden's very own 'Titanic'!

Puerto Eden's very own 'Titanic'!

Puerto Eden

Puerto Eden

Asshole (the card game!). We got back to the ship and took up a position with our new friends (the Navimag gang!) at one of the card tables in the lounge area. We had a great time playing “Asshole” which is a dangerous card game for the looser, who becomes the “asshole” and has to do what is ordered of them by the winner, or “president”. In my frequent role as asshole I did 10 push ups, swum like Ian Thorpe on the floor, and performed a belly dancing routine, all to the amusement, or perhaps bewilderment, of the other guests in the lounge area. Ben didn’t escape the asshole experience either though- he had to perform an American cheerleader routine, and do an impression of a Gay Hairdresser selling a new product!

A serious game of asshole!

A serious game of asshole!

More cards!

More cards!

IMG_1716_547x730.jpg

Viewing the world’s 3rd largest temperate glacier. At about 5pm we came to the beautiful glacier. It was spectacular getting right up close to it, and seeing the different colourful layers. The bottom was a deep blue (the old ice), the middle section was opaque, and the top section was white (all the new ice). There were floating ice-bergs in front of the glacier, which moved quickly with the current. It was so unbelievably cold and windy out on deck, and our hands felt numb through our gloves and moving our lips to talk was difficult! But being that close to such a beautiful glacier was awe-inspiring, and we persisted through the bleak weather. It was easy to imagine how early explorers thought they were coming towards the end of the world when they sailed this far south.

Approaching the glacier

Approaching the glacier

Chunks of floating ice

Chunks of floating ice


The glacier

The glacier

So, so bitterly cold on deck viewing the glacier!

So, so bitterly cold on deck viewing the glacier!

Woohoo!

Woohoo!

Glacier ice for the whisky. As we were watching the glacier, a little boat set off from our ship and went right up to the glacier, where the men on board chiselled off a large chunk of glacier ice. They brought the ice back onboard the ship and took it to the bar, where it was broken into smaller chunks. There was a surge at the bar as people ordered a whisky served on Glacier ice. Ben was in heaven!

Bringing the glacier ice to the bar- he was a popular man!

Bringing the glacier ice to the bar- he was a popular man!


Chucks of glacier ice for the bar!

Chucks of glacier ice for the bar!


Ben enjoying glacier ice in his whisky!

Ben enjoying glacier ice in his whisky!

Party night. There was a real festive mood on board the boat for our final night. We enjoyed playing more cards until dinner. Later in the night there was a BINGO game, which we all took part in, although without any luck! After BINGO the lounge area turned into a big dance floor, and we alternated between boogying away to western retro tunes, and then attempting to dance to Latino rhythms, without much luck I have to say!

Hanging out with Terry and Don

Hanging out with Terry and Don


B-I-N-G-O night!

B-I-N-G-O night!

Day 4:

Sunshine. The sun finally came out for our last day, allowing us to cruise into Puerto Natales under a summer sky surrounded by snow capped mountains.

Finally, a bit of sunshine!

Finally, a bit of sunshine!

Ben and I on the final day

Ben and I on the final day


Passing snow capped mountains

Passing snow capped mountains

The morning sky

The morning sky


Passing through narrow channels

Passing through narrow channels

Never an opportunity for a pick up and spin to be missed!

Never an opportunity for a pick up and spin to be missed!

The Captain’s Cabin. The captain allowed the passengers to spend time up in his cabin, which was a great way to enjoy the view while being sheltered from the persistent Patagonian winds.

Hanging out with the captain!

Hanging out with the captain!

Puerto Natales. After a fun 3 nights and 4 days we pulled into the lovely town of Puerto Natales. Although it was sad saying goodbye to the Navimag experience, we knew that we had made some lifelong friendships and celebrated with a Navimag Gang dinner in town that night.

The Navimag gang out to dinner in Puerto Natales

The Navimag gang out to dinner in Puerto Natales

Posted by CBAdv2010 12:40 Archived in Chile Comments (5)

Pucon and the Lakes District

Volcanoes, lakes and hot springs, these are a few of my favourite things

15 °C

Pucon and the Lakes District
January 26 - February 3 (9 days)

Hola amigos!

Well, after finally leaving our adopted city of Vina del Mar, we had an eventful bus trip south to Pucon, in the heart of the Lakes District.

The buses here make our Grey Hounds and Fire Fly Expresses look outdated! Chilean buses have fully reclining seats that turn into a “semi-bed” (or you can take a full sleeper bus with a complete bed). We were immediately lulled into a sense of security and comfort that ended abruptly about 3 hours after departure in the Santiago bus terminal. As our bus was reversing out with new passengers aboard, another bus was reversing at the same time and they somehow slammed into each other (well, given the general chaos at the bus terminals it wasn’t such a surprise!). The bus window on the opposite side of the aisle to Ben and I shattered, but the glass panel remained in place. To our surprise the driver continued to drive and we sped down the highway at 100km / hour. Ben and I asked if it was safe, and we were told that we were going to the bus depot to transfer to a new bus, and not to worry. However a short 20 minutes later there was an almighty explosion as the shattered window gave way and glass exploded everywhere. By a miracle the 3 little children who were seated near the window were untouched by the glass, and Ben and I were fine, just a little shaken by the suddenness and volume of the explosion. We all transferred to a new bus, and continued our journey without event. The strange thing was the way it was accepted so calmly by all, even the father of the 3 children who had only just escaped flying shards of glass. In his words: “These things happen”. Ah, the Chilean way of going with the flow!

IMG_0738_730x547.jpgIMG_0744_365x274.jpg

As soon as we arrived in Pucon we fell in love! The town looks like it belongs in a movie set! Beautiful log cabins lined the streets, with open aired cafes full of glamorous people sipping espressos and chubby kids eating “helado” (ice-cream). Adventure tourism shops are everywhere, and there is no shortage of thrill seekers or tourists wanting some outdoor action. The tourist dollar means prices are high, so much so that a hot chocolate cost aussie $5. The centre piece of the movie-set town is the Villa Rica volcano that sits majestically in the back drop, snow capped and mighty. Beautiful Pucon itself is a lake town, set on a magnificent lake of dazzling blue calm water where mountains meet the water’s edge. The lake beaches have black, volcanic sand and are very popular with Chilean tourists who are quite happy to pay $5 for a beach umbrella to give a bit of shade. Ben and I thought it was a much better idea to spend our $5 on a beer at the beach cafe, where they not only provided shade and a view of the lake beach, but also live music that was fantastic!

IMG_0793_730x547.jpgIMG_0794_730x547.jpgIMG_0802_730x547.jpgIMG_0835_730x547.jpgIMG_0836_730x547.jpg

So, the highlights of Pucon in a nutshell;

Thermal Springs (Los Pozone in Rio Liucura Valley). WOW! Nothing beats soaking under a star studded midnight sky in hot thermal springs!

IMG_0773_730x547.jpgIMG_0775_730x547.jpgIMG_0777_274x365.jpg

Bike riding; We rented bikes for the day and rode up up UP UP and UP to a waterfall 5 km out of town. It should have been an indicator that it wasn’t a clever idea to bike ride when the locals pointed and laughed!! I pushed mine up most of the hill, but to Ben’s credit he was able to ride up most of the way. Sweat sweat and more sweat! But a stunning waterfall with a 95 metre drop.

IMG_0914_365x274.jpgIMG_0879_547x730.jpgIMG_0878_547x730.jpg

Hired a car; After physically exhausting ourselves with the bike ride we decided to hire a car and drive around the lakes and waterfalls instead! We visited Lake Carburga to see “Blanca Playa” which is known for its white sand. Haha! I think the locals must sit and take photos of expectant tourists, waiting to be dazzled by the white sand, only to find a murky mud like sand instead! So glad we had the car so we could drive straight out again! From there we visited more spectacular waterfalls and lakes. The area is really just so beautiful, and reminded us a bit of New Zealand.

IMG_1023_274x365.jpg

Music Festival; We met up with a great bunch of people (all Couch Surfers) and spent a night at a music festival. The night was meant to start at 9. Ben and I got there at 10:30, worried we were a bit late. But in true Chilean time the first band didn’t start until after 11! We boogied away to a rocky mix of jazz and reggae. Lots of fun!

IMG_1057_547x730.jpgIMG_1064_547x730.jpg

National Park Huequeque; This is a national park well known for its beautiful mountains and lakes. We did a 14 km day hike through lusciously dense pine tree forest, although a torturous hill! Again we just kept going up up UP, until it reached the point where it really wasn’t much fun anymore and we wondered how high the hill climbed! When we did get to the top it was well worth it- a pristine mountain lake awaited. It was way too cold for me to jump in, but Ben stripped off and swum out to the cliffs that came down to meet the lake. It was such a beautiful park and worth the aching body to explore it!

IMG_1092_730x547.jpgIMG_1103_730x547.jpgIMG_1104_730x547.jpgIMG_1108_730x547.jpgIMG_1118_730x547.jpg

Climbing Volcano Villa Rica; Our alarm went off at 5am, and tempted as we were to kill the alarm and go back to sleep we managed to drag ourselves out of bed, put on our hired climbing gear, and stumble onto the mini-bus that took us to the base of the volcano. We had chosen the perfect day to climb, as there was neither wind nor clouds to threaten our ascent. The first 2 hours of the climb were fun. The panoramic views of the Villa Rica national park and the Lakes District were breath taking. The snow was luscious and pure white (except for where walkers had been and it was dirty looking). In parts the snow was soft and our boots sunk in, but as we got higher the snow became icier and we had to use the snow picks to dig in to secure our route. As 2 hours turned into 3, and then 4 the layers came off slowly as our bodies got warmer and warmer (and sorer and sorer in my case!). We reached the crater after 4 ½ hours of climbing and while everyone else ran to get pictures of the volcano crater I collapsed in a relieved heap! Then came the wind gusts which blew toxic volcanic fumes over us all. Black gas passed over and through everyone and all the asthmatics (including me) started to wheeze and cough, and reach for our ventolins! Not quite the romantic crater moment I had envisioned! Just as I was thinking “It doesn’t matter this is amazing! Incredible!” my contact blinked out of my eye, leaving me half blind on a craters edge! At that point I just had to laugh and eat a lot of chocolate!!! The crater itself wasn’t full of red lava like the movies, but was a dusty ash, with black volcanic sand and toxic gas. The view from the top was worth the sore muscles and sulphuric air. The decent down only took an hour, as we slid down the snow and ice on pieces of canvas like toboggan sleds! It was by far the most fun part of the day, and Ben and I had competitions to see who could get the most speed going down the mountain (I won of course.......really... cough cough!)

IMG_1150_730x547.jpgIMG_1166_730x547.jpgIMG_1188_730x547.jpgIMG_1196_730x547.jpgIMG_1209_730x547.jpgIMG_1225_547x730.jpgIMG_1233_730x547.jpgIMG_1259_730x547.jpgIMG_1262_730x547.jpgIMG_1277_730x547.jpgIMG_1290_730x547.jpgIMG_1292_730x547.jpg

And that is some of our highlights of Pucon!

Following Pucon we caught a bus to Puerto Montt, a not-so-inviting port town that had only one highlight for us: the boarding of the Navimag ferry, a 4 day cruise along the south coast of Chile. We would never have been able to afford this cruise had we not been given it for an engagement pressie, and let's just say - having just come off the cruise - it was a pressie to remember.

So much so we'd like to dedicate our next blog to it.

So ... stay tuned!
Much love
Chelle and Ben

Posted by CBAdv2010 22:16 Archived in Chile Comments (5)

Vina Del Mar and Valparaiso

Living domestically by the beach and the sea

sunny 25 °C

Vina Del Mar and Valparaiso
January 16-25 (9 days)

After bidding chiao chiao to Santiago (note: no-one, anywhere says Adios, or Hasta La Vista baby here - they clearly have not watched Terminator), and saying goodbye to our decadent hotel, we started the slumming it part of the trip by heading to Vina Del Mar, about a 3 hour drive north of Santiago. Chile has got a first class transportation system and you really do travel comfortably - no rickety-rackety death traps round here (yet!). It almost feels like you are doing it too easy, and I'm assuming our Sydney state transport ministers went to a different school of politics than our Chilean friends.

Upon arriving in Vina Del Mar, we were picked up by "crazy Mirta", who was to be our host for the next 9 days. Mirta ran a family hostel in Vina, and spoke as much english as I (Ben) do Spanish - i.e. hardly a brass razoo. Mirta was highly flappable, very eccentric, and couldn't stop talking - an absolute crack up. Mirta's hostel also became a place where we got a taste of actually what it might be like to live in Chile. We originally went for 2 nights, decided we'd do some intensive Spanish lessons in Vina, and ended up staying for 10. We were based off the main city streets out of tourist zones and had a self-contained room that felt like our own unit. It was all highly domesticated, even if it required creativity in a kitchen the size of an airplane toilet and a lack of luxory items like salt and oil.

IMG_0477_730x547.jpgIMG_0498_547x730.jpgIMG_0501_730x547.jpgIMG_0530_730x547.jpgIMG_0563_547x730.jpgIMG_0579_730x547.jpg

Vina Del Mar sits on the coast-line of Chile and has long stretches of beaches that are heavily populated even on overcast days, and each beach is an eclectic mix of rainbow coloured umbrellas, merchants selling ice cream, water and beach toys, and girls and boys in skimpy swimwear - no budgie smugglers coming out from here though! On our first day of arriving in Vina Del Mar we met some Argentinians in our hostel who took us to Renaca beach, the most popular beach. Renace, like most Vina beaches, is for sunbaking not swimming as the waves are all dumpers amongst a competing body of rips, and the water often plunges from waist height to metres deep in the space of centimetres. Not that this stops people jumping straight in of course - but us beach-hardened Australians are far too smart for that.

IMG_0490_365x274.jpgIMG_0486_730x547.jpgIMG_0496_730x547.jpgIMG_0559_730x547

IMG_0559_730x547

IMG_0587_730x547.jpg

The city of Vina Del Mar itself is, like Santiago a very safe tourist-friendly place and very well policed - in fact they are everywhere, on horses and dirt bikes (true!). Chelle and I were trying to think of how we'd describe Vina and along the beach coast-line we would call it the love child of the Gold Coast, and inner city Sydney - trendy, tanned, hot and slightly identity challenged. There are skyrisers lining the horizon in all directions and there's plenty of obviously touristy set-ups for cafes and restaurants and the token casino on the beach. There's also, however, some upmarket shopping and dining to be had. It's an interesting mix, which often shares only one common denominator - Sydney prices.

Away from the coastline Vina Del Mar has wide open streets, with a market stall to be had every few metres and street performers EVERYWHERE: clowns, jugglers, fire twirlers, puppeteers - even some Australian dancers!! (OK - that may have been us). Interestingly a lot of the performers choose the traffic lights as their chosen stage, waiting for the red light before starting a quick 2 minute routine. Certainly beats those windscreen washers, and I'm thinking I might be writing Sydney council a suggestion letter.

90_IMG_0531_730x547.jpg

We were also fortunate to be in Vina on the night of the Chilean elections when Pinera - the billionaire harvard trained economist - got voted in as president, marking the first time the right had got back in power for about 5 decades. We went down to the CBD of Vina to be a part of the atmosphere and crazi-ness that surrounded it. Horns were honking consistently for hours and flags were everywhere. It felt more like a soccer match than a political election - I guess us Australians just don't care enough to get this excited about politicians.

IMG_0514_730x547.jpgIMG_0528_730x547.jpgIMG_0507_730x547.jpg

About 15 minutes from Vina Del Mar - and in some ways a world away - is the port town of Valparaiso. Whereas Vina can often be quite monotone, Valparaiso is an explosion of colours in all directions. It has high built narrow streets with walls covered in street graffiti, and is peppered with hostels, art galleries and cafes once you start exploring away from the main plaza. A very eclectic artisan style city, it also boasts the funiculurs, cable railways that date back to late 19th century and assist with transportation up some of the steep hills that surround the city. Many are part of the historic quarter of Valparaiso which has been protected by UNESCO.

IMG_0540_730x547.jpgIMG_0545_547x730.jpgIMG_0598_730x547

IMG_0598_730x547

IMG_0601_547x730

IMG_0601_547x730

IMG_0605_365x274

IMG_0605_365x274

IMG_0642_730x547

IMG_0642_730x547

IMG_0649_730x547

IMG_0649_730x547

IMG_0656_730x547

IMG_0656_730x547

IMG_0657_730x547

IMG_0657_730x547

IMG_0658_730x547

IMG_0658_730x547

Whilst one can get lost in randomly walking the streets of Valparaiso, it also does not feel like a safe city at night, and so our visits there consisted primarily of day trips. We were lucky in our timing as the annual Valparaiso Vivo ("I live") festival was on, and on the last day a parade is held down the main streets of the city which feels like a mini Rio Carnival. People come from all around South America for it, and form a mix of drummers, dancers, floats and musicians. It's an energising atmosphere and helps to make up for some of our pain at not being able to be in Brazil for Carnivale over the next month.

IMG_0719_730x547.jpgIMG_0713_547x730.jpgIMG_0695_730x547.jpgIMG_0675_730x547.jpgIMG_0670_730x547.jpgIMG_0664_730x547.jpgIMG_0662_730x547.jpg

The carnivale ended our domesticated Chilean experience and it was time to catch an overnight bus 14 hours south to Pucon for some adventure and to really get stuck into travelling.

So ... to Pucon we go!
Love
Ben and Chelle

Posted by CBAdv2010 21:02 Archived in Chile Comments (2)

(Entries 1 - 5 of 6) Page [1] 2 » Next