Well, as you know we arrived at the worlds Southerly most city before flying half way to Buenos Aires and visiting Puerto Madryn. There we felt like the only foreign travellers as the peak season was over and there were no ships in port lending the 2 thousand or so day visitors to the place. It was a dry flat landscape although I did note on our return to the Trelew airport there were a few hills in the area – but nothing like Torres del Paine.
Flying in to Buenos Aires was like entering another world. There was greenery everywhere and a massive waterway seemed to be surrounding this vast city. Arrival at the airport suggested we had arrived in a very affluent country and, we caught the airport transfer bus to downtown (the sick boy was not overly thrilled to find our hotel was some blocks away from the final stop), but the trip was interesting as a little detour due to roadworks showed us that a short trip off the beaten track were some pretty poor areas with some homes barely having a roof over the occupants heads. Clearly Buenos Aires (BA) has a great divide between the haves and have nots.
Walking the streets of the city you see (on more than one occasion) poverty stricken families begging for money in dirty clothes and clearly no home of great attraction – this is alongside some of the most expensive labels anywhere in the world. Practising something I had learned in Cambodia I suggested we do not give money to the children as (at least in Cambodia) that encourages the parents to put them on display and tug at peoples heartstrings. We agreed to give food when we saw someone clearly struggling. I did notice the same family street hopping a few times – and wondered what was going on there – we will never know.
The tourist bus around the city cleverly avoided the really poor areas so I’m glad we had the airport detour and accidentally caught the locals bus – BA is clearly not all the bright lights it seems on first impression.
On a different note – Just when we thought we had figured out the shopping hours (our last night in BA) we discovered we still had no idea what the hell was going on. It seemed they were closed in the morning as they opened late. Then they closed in the afternoon for siesta. Now it seems they close early at night so everyone can go and eat or dance – what the hell is going on? Day one was Sunday so maybe the closure in the morning was to do with that – the siesta is a given everywhere we go – but what is happening at night? How on earth does one find time to shop in this city?
Another point of note is an interesting titbit that my friend Ginger told me about. These ladies wear “big” shoes. This may be due to the fact that a high proportion of the population are vertically challenged or may be a death wish on behalf of all females here. These are not just high heels, these are platforms (even on thongs (or flipflops as the rest of the world call them) ) and they only just stop short of what I would consider to be a form of stilts! You can google High steppers and see one version of them. The reason I consider these “shoes” (read “stilts”) suicidal is that the footpaths and sidewalks are not exactly smooth sailing. Sometimes there are cobblestones, lids are left off service accesses, concrete is broken – you get the picture – what is going on here? You cant even tango in the darn things, yet every second woman is wearing them!
Colonia, as it is known to the locals, is a lovely little UNESCO listed town on the shores of the Rio del la Plata opposite buenos aires. Apart from some modern buildings there is a very old city with early portuguese architecture and also has the oldest church in Uruguay. My friend Ximena recommended a visit and all the guide books suggest its worth a visit, if only so you can have a break from BA and withdraw us dollars from the atms.
After our night of tango I was feeling the need for antibiotics myself so hit the medicine kit before leaving our hotel and therefore I arrived at another boat feeling nauseous and ready to be sick. This is before we've even hit the water – again! Husband is still not feeling too good either so we get through customs and find our way on board only to sleep most of the journey. I have had to take the antinausea drug as I think the antibiotic made me sick. Anyway when we disembark we arrive at a quiet little town with beautiful buildings, trees and sandy beaches beside the muddy waters of this exceptionally wide river (it takes an hour on a fast boat to cross). It really was a pleasant little town and probably was the best thing we could have done for the day. But it was hot – damned hot.
The trouble is neither of us are bouncing about with a spring in our step, the climb up the lighthouse just seemed too much in the heat of the day (it seems we are reverting to our prepatagonia selves) so we cafe hop for air con and cold drinks and site see in between stops. It is certainly a break from the chaos of BA and we do have the opportunity to withdraw some US dollars which are good for getting a better exchange rate than direct withdrawals from atms in Argentina but all in all I think we could have done with a complete day of rest. Oh well…
Tomorrow we are off to Iguazu Falls on the Argentine, Paraguay, Brazil border. There will be no rest for the weary there, so desafortunatement the melanga will have to go on without us tonight (without the hot new lord of the tango) and we will rest and recover in air conditioned comfort ready for the next adventure!
Photos will come – i need to upload and shrink them first and most of the internet has been too slow thus far – maybe tomorrow.
We were picked up early from our hotel and after a zig zag ride in the mini bus through the city, we were herded up the stairs into a dance space that looked like it had been operating for over 100 years. (I later found out it was built in 1895). There were probably 30 people in the lesson – some couples, some singles and a few small groups of guys and gals from all over – including Israel, South Korea and England – locals dont need lessons! It was the first time we had encountered so many Australians in the same place since leaving home. Was it a hidden desire of all Australian men to hold their women in these romantic poses? Or were they unceremoniously dragged through hot coals to get here? Or, like my beloved, were they doing it for the love of their wife or partner – happy to follow her to the ends of the earth – even though absolutely terrified? Actually many were backpackers out for a good laugh and, as it happens, the male dance instructer was hilarious. Husband was at the front of the mens group and he was smiling and he was hot (still had a bit of a fever actually)!
Women please move this way! One foot forward, one to the side,two steps back and then one two to the side. Men – the opposite. Then the leg lift – then the face! A few dropped out immediately as the horror of actually dancing set in. Not my man!
So they teach us separately then we have to put it all together – leg wrapped around husband – head turn to the side, serious face, no laughing!!! He held his hand out perfectly and danced me around the floor without fault. Twenty three years of marriage and I finally find out he can dance? Okay that might be an exaggeration as his rock and roll exhibits in the past (especially at bluesfest) have been a little lacking – but he can tango! Isn't that what is most important in the world? Isn't that what every woman needs? A man who can tango?
After the lessons we are seated in the theatre enjoying our meals and wine and this tango lady jumps off the stage, swoops down and grabs him up for another tango! He is sought after by the professionals! He is terrified! He grasps helplessly for his wine! Its too late – she has him in her clutches! I am laughing my head off just looking at his face as I quickly grab the camera for a snap. This night will be remembered – tomorrow night maybe the melanga where the locals go – he is too good to stop now!
But now i am coughing up a storm, aching again and feeling an undeniable need to be curled up in bed. Tomorrow we have a day trip to Uruguay how will we cope? Up all night dancing – fever – coughs – Just gotta love travelling haven't you…..
Okay he did it – he learnt to tango – and he was hot! But more on that later.
So we left Puerto Madryn for Buenos Aires with my beloved feeling a little less than ordinary. By the time we boarded the plane he was threatening to be sick. I was deeply concerned as he was in the aisle and I was trapped in the window seat. I sidled up so close to that window that I almost fell through it! Thankfully we made it to BA unscathed and, after hiking with our backpacks a little further than the sick boy would have liked, we checked in to our hotel which was perfectly located in the centre of the city. The only problem being that the plan to only book one night online and pay for the next three with cash failed immediately as they were booked out the next night. So husband ingested drugs and went to bed whilst I flitted around town seeking new accommodation, gathering supplies and generally window shopping (Saturday afternoon siesta meant everything was closed again). Anyway found a nice little hotel with great air conditioning and a pool only a block away (the Sheraton). So much for roughing it in BA! Our excuse – he was feverish and needed reliable airconditioning and I needed a shower where the water did not pool around your ankles as you showered – bliss!
Anyway next morning backpacks on and we walked the 250 metres to the new hotel and fortunately they allowed us to check in immediately. So after a brief rest in the air con (with husband ingesting more drugs) we headed off down Florida Street in search of the hop on hop off bus with air conditioning. The number of dudes yelling, whispering, singing “Cambio cam cam cambio” was overwhelming. It seemed like there were too many dodgy lookers to even contemplate changing our money with them. And then what do you know “Is that Gail and Tom?” Lorena and Stacey from Hawaii were walking towards us. Stacey entertained us with his tale of almost being robbed by the building junk being thrown on him as a distraction whilst someone pretending to help grabbed his laptop bag and replaced it with a decoy. (He chased the guy and retrieved it thankfully) I recalled someone else saying how the gypsies had thrown something foul on them and pretented to help rub it off while they pickpocketed them.
What do you know, another few blocks on and I have pigeon poop land on the back of my leg just before a pretend Australian asked us for directions to San Telmo – which is exactly where I wanted to take the tourist bus to. We couldnt stop for the bird poo as we were (I was) paranoid about the pickpockets (the pretend Australian didnt help either) and I had at hand the chemist bag as we had just bought antibiotics so I used it (the bag) to scrape the poop off as we walked, radar on and fully alert in a 360 degree radius – waiting for someone to jump up and pretend to help me whilst they tried to access my broken zip pacsafe bag ( I threw the cheap copy some time ago when everything kept falling out). How did they train the pigeon to aim so well? We continued on in a lather of sweat seeking the tourist bus. Me, not accepting of the possibility at this point that the bird poop was completely random.
Suddenly after too many blocks (probably 15 or 16) and a Tango dancer or two, we spotted a bus and in the chaos, and being fully alert for the bird poop thrower I bought us tickets and insisted husband get on. A few blocks later, we were heading into the dingiest part of town and there aint no tourists to be seen. After referring to the map I suggested we were heading to La Boca and we werent on the tourist bus! The back streets of La boca are where you shouldnt go apparently and husband is cursing me and saying we shouldnt have got on this bus as the sweat drips from his fever ridden body, and I am convinced I was pickpocketed my hundred or so pesos when the pigeon poo arrived. We were both wrong!
Just as I found my pesos in another pocket a swiss lady appeared in front of us, she spoke four languages at home – French German Italian and Romany or some mix of Italian and German. Just for extras she also spoke Spanish and English! We were in luck – today was Sunday and it was the only day of the week to go to La Boca, the place where Tango began! And there were markets on! She told us to hold our bags, and go in have a look and get out – have a look at the coloured houses but dont stop too long in one place. Well that is what we did! We saw a bit of Tango on the street, avoided buying any touristy trinkets, took a few photos and then – as if arriving on script – the tourist bus arrived!
After much marital discussion we purchased the $20 usd tickets (as opposed to the $2 local bus tickets) and we climbed aboard – grabbed some earphones and headed back to Centro – in air conditioned comfort! My beloved is still feeling more than unwell so we decide to hop off in town and head back to the hotel. I have a quick swim and then decide I need to once again find San Telmo antique markets – this time I take a taxi and leave husband to rest and recuperate.
Well what a find, these Sunday markets went on forever! Although the antique dealers were starting to pack up, the artists, the leather goods and the handicrafts stayed out in force. Just as I was ready to head back down the street and find a taxi I stumbled across Defense St – it went on and on and on and on. I kept checking the map and knew that it was heading back to where we had taken the not so touristy bus that morning so I kept going on and on and on and on. I dont think I have ever seen so many market stalls in one place – or in one line for that matter. At one point I see the Lululemon label on the back of a top in front of me – she looks a bit familiar – I know its Canadian – but its hard to tell from behind – so I just quietly say “Jill” and low and behold – there is Jill one of the nice Canadians from the bus trip to Torres del Paine – you know, the bear cave stop. We had a quick chat and she was heading off to find some food to eat at her hostel after reminding me the last time she saw Tom was when we missed the boat after French Valley and we “were forced” to wait it out in the bar! The day he donated the binoculars to the next lucky camper.
I continued on through the never ending stalls occassionally being swooped upon by a lost pigeon – still alert I am constantly looking out for the Gypsy pickpockets or the pretend Australians who have managed to train these darn pigeons! I think at this point I am becoming just slightly paranoid and again maybe a little insane but woe is he who so much as brushes passed my pocket!
Whilst doing this extensive market hike Stacey and Lorena have sent a couple of messages asking if we would like to catch up for dinner. The day was going well! Husband is still not lookin (or sounding) particularly well but we have obtained extra antibiotics for him and he decides to join us for and Argentinian barbeque. The setting was a little macabre to say the least, stuffed animal heads all around the walls, but I can only assume these large animals were eaten if the size of the servings on each plate was anything to go by. So I can accept their heads as monuments to those that have fallen in the name of hunger! But I dont think I’d want them on my wall at home.
So the next day we are up not too early and head up two blocks to the nearest tourist bus stop (yes I know yesterday two people at reception found it important to send us to the number 1 stop on the route rather than just the closest – which is why we had such an adventurous day so we shouldnt complain – although husband was somewhat unwell! ) Anyway on the bus we hop off at Recolleta and visit the City of the Dead – I know there are some graves like this in cemeteries in Australia – but not a whole city of them! You can stick your head in the little houses (if so inclined) or open the door and sit on a seat and talk to the coffin (if that’s your cup of tea) or, like us, you can marvel at the expense and intricacy of the displays and the fact that the coffins are placed on shelves for all to see and you can take plenty of photos. We did see where Eva Peron is “buried” or rather laying with her family, and I’m sure many of the other “graves” were those of famous people too (if you are Argentinian).
Back on the bus we went around the city and eventually decided to hop off and head home through Florida St. We popped into a less salubrious hotel and changed some money (at a good rate) and investigated Tango Shows in a number of little booths before stumbling across the Tango Show with lessons – just like the one in I had imagined – Jackpot! They would pick us up from our hotel – feed us – give us wine and beer all night and we would learn how to tango! I was thrilled and husband was terrified!
I do hope not. But since we disembarked from our sea lion trip the wind has steadily increased throughout the day. I have also received a message from the airline saying our flight was leaving earlier than planned. Fortunatemente (my second most favourite spanish word) this will be our last Aerolineas flight as the rest are with LAN. Aerolineas seem to like changing schedules and might be this continents answer to Jetstar!
Anyway another lady informed us that it is going to be very cold tomorrow so I guess we were more than lucky to strike the perfect day for boating and snorfelling.
I am just reflecting back again and forgot to mention that we bumped into our favourite Canadian couple again in Ushuaia (you know Lloyd and Marilyn who caught the bus with us from Punta Arenas up to Torres del Paine). It was like meeting old friends – when we went to find our luggage there they were looking like the professional hikers they are, lighting up the room with their smiles – they were checking in to head to Antartica – they had caught the 12 hour bus across from Chile a day or two before and by all accounts we didnt miss too much flying out of Ushuaia on the day we arrived – we had a few hours to walk around town and check the joint out. We still hope to see the German hikers again at Iguazu Falls and to catch up with our other favourite single Canadians Ginger Gail and Carol in Oz and or Canada and might even visit Hawaii and catch up with Lorena and Stacey one day. Who knows whether Adriana and Diego will ever make it to Oz but that would be great too.
Anyway another night has passed in Puerto Madryn, after the sea lion adventure we explored around town a bit. Rather than the touristy spots we headed out on foot to see a bit of the real town. Not overly attractive i have to say and since leaving the far South there are notably a few shady looking characters hanging about. I remember when we arrived in Punta Arenas our taxi driver Roxanne told us that the people in her town were “muy amable” very friendly and she was right. So for a while since flying out of Santiago we have been able to relax a little and enjoy and the broken zip on my pacsafe bag has not seemed such a problemo.
On our walk around we also dropped back in to the dive shop (Scuba Duba) – the nice people who had taken us out to the sea lions and found out that this town has a very unique celebration on and under the pier during holy week. They do the stations of the cross above and under the water. The priest gets decked out in dive gear and says the prayers from lit up crosses underwater and his voice is heard on the surface – it sounds like the whole town gets involved so if anyone is really looking for a unique way to celebrate their Catholicism we may have found it! Get your scuba gear on and get into it! (or apparantly stand on the pier with thousands and watch from above!)
This morning the wind is still up and I am glad that our boat trip yesterday was on the perfect day. Husband did not contract my tummy bug fortunatemente however he awoke in the middle of the night with rather severe coughing and seemingly a chest infection. He was whinging a bit yesterday but it wasnt too obvious because our morning with the sea lions was so good. Anyway out came the medical cabinet again. Hopefully he chirps up soon – we are flying to Buenos Aires today and guess what! Its time to tango!!!!!
believe it or not this is me with sea lions behind
The truth is I never left Chile! Yes that’s right, I think I’m having Chile withdrawals. We disembarked in Ushuaia yesterday morning and, due to Aerolineas schedule changes, had to fly out the same day to Trelew. There we thought we’d get to look around a bit but the transfer to Puerto Madryn was almost immediate. We caught a toyota coaster bus, not unlike the one Mum did tours in Cooktown in when we were kids, the bus followed a long straight highway past massive wind generators and local jails it seemed to be without so much as a turn for at least an hour and a half. Would you believe it – husband thought this country also looked like Julia Creek. Julia Creek isnt sounding that unique anymore is it?
Anyway checked in to our hotel and, to be honest, we were glad we didnt have all three nights reserved. We immediately set about finding something a little more comfortable and after finding a nice little place just down the road to move into tomorrow, we found a dive shop to make some reservations and a pizza joint for dinner and went back to our not so good room to sleep.
Today was a little brighter – there are two lovely girls at reception and we managed to get into our room almost as soon as we had checked out of the other one. On the down side, for siesta this afternoon it sounded like mum and dad had left the kids to create havoc in the room next door. I called downstairs and the noise soon abated! Dont mess with me little Julio! Perhaps he was sent to one of those lovely prison farms we passed on the way here from Trelew. We never saw him again!
So what do I miss about Chile? The fact that cars actually stop when you are standing at a crossing, (whether you want to cross or not); in Magellenica the people smiled at us when we walk into the shops and one lady who served us something kindly gave me a penguin with a missing beak! I love that he is the underdog so he sits on my table each night keeping watch as we sleep; the fact that we have endured some of the most extreme weather and made some great friends whom we hope to see again soon also made it a little hard to leave. During these extremes we still managed to sight see and hike (that includes the heat in Santiago and the horizontal sleet in Torres del Paine, and the freezing rain on the steep climb at Cape Horn). I also miss the language would you believe – suddenly we have left Glasgow and landed in the middle of Welsh Patagonia where the menus are different again! I think this time we could compare the language to Country Irish (with a mixture of Welsh) and we even went to a Welsh bar (unintentionally) last night. In addition to missing Chile I still miss my salad and vegetables from home. It seems that vegetables are seen as an unnecessary evil in these parts. I almost have to beg for some greenery on my plate!
You may recall that this stop in Puerto Madryn was necessary so that my beloved could scuba dive with sea lions. Personally, I was on again off again about snorfelling with them. That documentary we saw showing the orca’s teaching their young how to swim into the beach and eat the sea lions at Peninsular Valdes may well have had something to do with my trepidation. We were afterall on the South side of Peninsular Valdes! Then that mantra I had repeated played in my head one more time – and I remembered the regret I had after I didnt go on the ride in Disneyland and everyone said how much fun it was. So, orca or no orca, I signed myself up for a dip in the freezing cold Patagonian waters so I could snorfel with sea lions whilst my beloved blew bubbles from below. I would not regret sitting this one out!
We were up early which surprised me given the fact that we couldnt get our dinner last night before 10pm. After wandering aimlessly seeking an open restaurant I had purchased a nice little handmade leather bag at the night markets we had stumbled across (concerns were raised by husband that I may not have a need for another bag when I return home as I have so many – good grief has he learned nothing in our 23 years of marriage – one can never have too many bags (oh thats right thats meant to be shoes!) Oh well.
Anyway we made it down to breakfast in time to view a vast array of cakes and sugar coated cereals, hiding amongst the pancakes and sweetened fruit. We both managed a te negra con leche (black tea with milk) and I snuck in a sugar coated croissant. Off we headed along the shorefront on one of the most beautiful days we had struck. If we could have planned perfection we would have planned this day. So at the scuba shop I found myself a little hot once suited up in double layer 7mm wetsuits. We climbed a manmade sandwall and climbed into the boat for a trip across beautiful calm waters passing the comerant colonies and large caves in the fairly desolate looking coast line. Yep you guessed it, if Julia Creek was on the Ocean apparantly this is what it would look like! We were glad we hadnt bothered to go driving around here yesterday as we could see the lookout where all the tourists were taken to view the sea lions from the land.
Finally we dropped anchor and I found myself swimming amongst schools of sea lions. The trouble is they were better at holding their breath than I so they would pop their heads up and then go down very rapidly, I would tread water with my mask off wondering where the head was going to pop up again. To begin with while this is going on I can here the jaws music in the back of my mind and I could see the orcas in my imagination. As a few minutes went by I could see my husband below and I started to relax a little, the sea lions kept brushing past me rubbing my leg like a puppy dog would if I was sitting on the lounge. One finally decided to lay down in front of me and let me rub his belly. I do not regret this trip at all!
On the way back the divers had another stop at a shipwreck which was in reasonably shallow water. Rather than sit out and get bored I was offered another snorfel. This seemed all right but alone again I could hear the jaws music playing in my head – in addition to seeing Jeffrey Rush come swimming up in Pirates of the Carribean! So the nice young lady driving the boat said hold on, I’ll come with you it can be a bit scarey swimming around a wreck alone. She quickly grabbed a snorfel and mask and fins and jumped in and escorted me all around the circumference and over the top of the deeper parts of the wreck – so now I have not only snorfelled with sea lions I am also an experienced wreck snorfeller!
My beloved was thrilled, the sea lions loved him, they may have found him quite attractive I feel, they were biting his hand playfully and throwing somersaults in front of him as he cruised along below me. This was definitely a day to remember! Thank you Argentina!
I awoke very early this morning. Too darn early in fact. The boat was a rockin and it wasnt because of loud music and dancing. We were nearing Cape Horn and I was filled with fear and excitement all at once. I wanted to catch the sun rise at the end of the earth and as time went by I could see a line of red on the horizon from where we lay. Then it disappeared. I decided to have a shower and head up to the next floor to see if I could stomach a cup of tea. Before departure I ingested more drugs to keep the illness at bay and ward off any potential sea sickness and I also packed an emergency tablet in case I was to throw up again. Upstairs Carol and Gail popped in shortly after me and we caught a brief few minutes of sunrise shortly before the clouds closed in and visibility diminished. We were almost there and the weather did not look good. We still didnt know if they would allow us to disembark on Cape Horn as the sea down here is so unpredictable. I managed a cup of tea and half a cheese sandwich. My hiking boots were on, my life jacket was on and my beloved husband bounced onto the lounge next to us all kitted up as well. Would they allow us to disembark? Would we have the unique opportunity of walking the 6000 odd steps up to the lighthouse and the broken albatross monument at the end of the world? The Southern most tip of South America? To walk on the last land before Antartica, over 1000 km south of New Zealand’s most Southerly point? To physically touch the ground 2400km South of the Cape of Good Hope?
The captain sent men ashore to check the landing site first. The zodiacs were then accompanied by two men in dry suits standing in the water and a few others around catching the boats as they drove into the rocks. We threw our legs over and climbed out in time with the waves. There was no beach and our path led directly up. The steps were steep and wet. Our hands were frozen. God knows how they first landed here and built the lighthouse.
Well this means we did it! We landed on Cape Horn! The zodiacs threw us onto shore and we climbed up the stairs in freezing rain and climbed inside the lighthouse where flags from everywhere adorned the walls. The first flag I saw was from Koln near where my Aunt Christa hales from. (By the way I have no idea how many steps there are up to the lighthouse – just that there are a lot and it felt like 6000 to me!) We now can put one elbow on the table at dinner in my opinion (thanks to Cousin Charlie for letting me know that once a sailor rounds Cape Horn he is entitled to one elbow and another for the Cape of Good Hope – I thought we were going to have to get anchor tattoos! Elbows are so much more convenient).
So that was that, we have been to the end of the world, it was done, there was going to be another shore excursion in the afternoon at Wulaia Bay before disembarking in Ushuaia Argentina on the morrow but we were not doing anymore hiking today! We would disembark in Ushuaia tomorrow and that would be that. After all I was still unwell.
Well I wasnt going to do anymore hiking and neither was my beloved but we couldnt help ourselves. We were addicted! As soon as the announcement came at ten to four we were up dressed and ready to roll! But this time we did the slow walk again. We were determined to use the time and look closely at things. Stop and smell the roses so to speak. We visited this uninhabited bay where Darwin stopped off and Fitzroy returned the boys i mentioned before whom he had educated in England – these stories were really interesting, sad and adventurous all at once and so very much like Australia’s history. The land had once been used as a sheep station but had long since been abandoned. There were signs of wild pigs digging, just like in Australia. Pests left from a by gone era. A positive was that we could take many photos without holding anyone up – the negative, well, you guessed it – we were now super human and the likes of Colonel Sanders and the Bird lady were still entertaining me. These little walks along the shore were nothing more than warm up stretches now and strolling slowly means barely moving and you get cold – your mind goes numb – you start imagining things – But more importantly, it is so difficult to work out what to wear in these parts and that has nothing to do with fashion – just let me say if its slow and its windy and you aint movin, you need four layers at least. Maybe thats why bird lady looked a little like a penguin – so many layers – oh my good heavens — maybe I do too now!!!
So then was our farewell dinner with our Canadian friends – it was a little sad as we had become a bit of a team. We have also made some new friends from Hawaii and have had a few good laughs with Stacey and Lorena. We have shared some very unique experiences – the camaraderie that comes with the towers of pain and also here on our trip to the end of the world cannot be underestimated. We are so lucky to have struck such great travel companions to share these experiences with. Sadly and yet with eager anticipation we now move onward to new adventures!
I guess we are going to learn a lot more about the history of Patagonia when we catch the boat down to Cape Horn. For now though I should tell you that between Torres Del Paine and Punta Arenas there are lots of sheep and the land stretches forever – I guess the hills in the distance are still the Andes. You’ll have to look that up yourself on google earth if you want more detail. It was big country anyway you look at it and, apart from the fact that it was freezing cold and exceptionally windy, you could have been in Western New South Wales or even Julia Creek again! That is until those magnificent mountains come into view.
It is a truely unique place and I cannot imagine the hardships the early settlers endured when establishing there livelihoods down here. In Australia there were the snakes, the spiders and the crocodiles and numerous other species ready for a good feed. Here there was the wind and the occasional puma although I believe there were enough guanacos to keep them (the pumas) satisfied and away from humans. It was clearly too damned cold for anything venemous me thinks – although on our last hike when the sun was out, we were visited by the odd bumble bee. I’m not sure whether they count as venemous though. Apparently all the berries are edible too so we had the odd stop to eat the female calafate and some other not dissimilar berries that hid within the spikey bushes along the sides of the trails.
I have to be honest I dont know alot about the indigenous folk down this way either except to say that the great explorers decided to take four boys back to England and educate them before returning them to Patagonia to find that they denounced the ways of the “civilised” people and returned to living naked in this freezing cold territory. I have to be honest, I knew very little about South American history before arriving and now I realise how big a part the English, Welsh and Germans had in this neck of the woods in addition to the Spanish and Portuguese inter alia (yeh had to use it again) I realise I should probably go back and read up on it. I should say here and now that this blog is not committed to historical fact telling (other than in relation to our travels) and if anyone is seriously looking for some information on these places then wikapedia would be more reliable than me and thats saying something!
Our last morning was more than a rush, I quickly gave Diego our contact details, gave him and Adriana a hug and jammed myself into the window seat on a much smaller bus than the one we had arrived on. Sarah had suggested we would practice spanish words on the way to Puerto Natales but the bus was full and we were at opposite ends of the seating arrangement. The sun was on my face almost the whole time and I tried to create a tent with hiking poles holding my jumper up. I then lent against my new expensive chaqueta (thats spanish for jacket remember). It was still hot and I did not feel entirely well. We stopped at Puerto Natales and had to pack a quick lunch to eat on the way as half of the passengers needed to catch a plane. I also had a mission given to me by Marilyn from Canada – run across the road and buy calafate jam. Others on the bus told me the shop across the road was closed but as the door was still open and I could see jam in the window I tried my luck with friendly Spanish. Nope not closed for jam just no-one available to serve to tables. Suddenly everyone off the bus was back in there ordering take away coffees and I was forgotten by the manager and subsequently was the last one back on the bus. And wouldnt you know it – no Calafate jam!
Anyway another couple of hours with the sun on me and I definitely did not feel 100% – so we checked in to our hotel and didnt wander too far, ate some peruvian food which wasnt too bad and went to sleep. I awoke in the wee hours feeling a little worse for wear with stomach cramps etc. In the morning I loaded myself up with a few drugs and we eventually checked out and checked our luggage in early for our boat trip so that we could find this shopping centre which might sell accessories like those left at home for husband’s gopro. Found a store selling some but thought we’d better check out the competition – this was 12.50pm – then we realised all of the shops were closing at 1pm – many not opening again until 6pm when we were due onboard our boat. So we rushed back and bought the new gopro back which the store lady recommended only to discover it was really only meant for the earlier models without the lcd back. Lesson learned – consumer rights do not apply in Chile! Wallace Bishop would have a field day here!
At this point I was feeling quite unwell and I suggested I sit and wait whilst my beloved circumnavigate the remainder of the centre. No sooner had he returned to my side then I felt the rise of an uncontrollable wave of nausea and I threw up all over the floor – this was just after I managed to get the anti nausea tablet on my tongue. I had only ingested water and sprite that morning so it didnt look as bad is it felt. Chileans are really so nice. I directed husband to the Kiosk near where we were sitting and to just say the word ayudah and point. (I think it means beware or help or something). Frankly I felt so bad I didnt care what it meant. Security visited, centre management visited and finally the cleaning lady. She was so thrilled to be talking to an Australian who by this time had learned some Glaswegian that she didnt seem to mind why she was there. I felt like the tablet which had stuck to my tongue during the throw up process had actually worked but I needed to go to sleep somewhere fast and we werent boarding the boat until 6pm. So we caught a taxi back into town, liaised with the farmacia for some more drugs and went back to the cafe below our hotel where there was a nice soft lounge I could relax on. Not too long after our Canadian friends Ginger, Gail and Carol arrived with Calafate Jam in hand Yeh ha! and waited with us for the boat. We just love these Canadians too!
So here we are now – night three after day two on board. The first night was okay because I drugged myself up and slept and although I awoke with a fever and aching all over, after taking drugs I was okay to take on the trips to shore.
Due to feeling under the weather, particularly so on the first day, we chose the slow option hike first up. The first trip quite frankly was so goddamned slow we almost fell asleep and died of boredom at the same time. I quickly realised how painful it must have been for the experienced mountaineers to follow behind me in the towers of pain. But, it also made me realise that our experiences there were not for the faint hearted – or those week at the knees. These people on this slow walk truly were going slower than lichen grows on a patagonian boulder. This was even with me feeling feverish and a little out of sorts. I was so bored I started observing our comrades and developing stories about them. First was Colonel Sanders, he looked like he had eaten a bit of chicken in his time and he had grown an impressive white beard that would have looked good on a chicken ad. Then there were the ladies, gingerly stepping between blades of grass I think. The lady that impressed me most was shaped not unlike a penguin and her profile suggested a bird like tendancy. I had to chuckle to myself later when I saw she had the birds of patagonia book (extended edition) and binoculars to match. She was a bird lady! Every time I saw her after that I tried to identify which bird she most looked like. Yep that was one slow hike!
Our friend Ginger had taken the “difficult” trek first up and we realised there and then that after Torres del Paine “difficult” may never be difficult again! So, day 2 we took the “difficult” option up the side of Pia Glacier. Still after all the torment I have not metamorphasised into a mountain goat. It was only 1/2 an hour – it was through mud where the melting ice from the glacier was feeding into very fertile soil and then, yes you guessed it, over boulders and another “moraine” that the glacier had left. I have to be honest I did not complete the last 20 metres of this one either. I could see all that I needed to see and my knees have become precious commodities that allow me to get around – I aint gonna destroy them unnecessarily! But the hiking – it was easy peasy!
We passed the afternoon away cruising through Glacier Alley and observing some of the most beautiful glaciers in the world. The italians were singing when we passed theirs and the germans when we passed theirs. At least I think thats what was happening. There was clearly no Australian glacier so we just accepted the drinks and toasted to whatever they were saying ducking out on deck every now and then to snap a couple of photos. The sun was out and I realised also that we would never be as cold again as we were when hiking in the winds of Torres del Paine. This was summer in the sub Antartic and I can assure you we aint coming back in winter!
So I finally ingested some antibiotics this morning after waking up mi duele todo (aching all over) again… Miracle of miracles for a while there it seemed they actually worked and I could eat a meal. Then the aches came back again and I think I took one more dose in the hope of getting well. My new friend Ginger (who just happened to also be a doctor) gave me moral support during my meal time whining and aided my return to health with laughter and some Patagonian encouragement.
I did perk up a bit knowing that Husband was asked to model for this evenings fashion parade and, we gathered around to provide whistling and jeering as required. Our son would be proud – he always wanted to be a German backpacker after a holiday on Fraser Island a few years back. We had reliably informed him that he could be a backpacker but not a German one. I realise only now that you can really be whoever you want to be if there is a bit confusion – even a German backpacker. Tonight his father became an Austrian model. No matter how many times we informed the host he was “Australian” he was still Austrian to her and therefore also to everyone else. He was given a stuffed penguin for his troubles (for being an Austrian model) and won another playing bingo shortly after.
Anyway we go to sleep tonight knowing that we may wake at 3 or 4 to a large swell. At dawn we will be at or near Cape Horn and by 7am we will know whether or not we can land and explore the most southerly point of the americas El fin del Mundo – The end of the earth. If the sea is too large there is no way we would want to disembark after experiencing the swell last night when we ventured out from the Magellan Strait into the open Pacific – it was to say the least a little disturbing as we are not on one of those big cruise liners that takes people around the cape. We will be in the most dangerous water on earth where over 800 ships have sunk and where the Altantic meets the Pacific. I have it on good authority we will not see any change in the colour of the water nor will we see a clear dividing mark or border line so you will just have to trust me when I show you the photos.
Apparantly we are 2400km south of the cape of good hope in South Africa and over 1000 km south of the Southern most point of New Zealand. Another 1000 odd kilometres across the treacherous Drake Passage to Antartica – the area we are in is known as Sub Antartic and if survive Cape Horn, I am reliably informed by my cousin in the Navy that we will be able to put one elbow on the table when we eat. I am so thrilled to be so close to being granted this great honour and will have to post a photo at dinner tomorrow night all going well and assuming we can find some internet somewhere!
Firstly let me apologise for the many typo’s and errors in spelling and or grammar. Whilst I am usually somewhat of a perfectionist in regards to correspondence etc I am typing this on a bluetooth keyboard often late at night or on a moving bus so I just want to get the blogs out there for you all to read. Secondly, if you have only just joined the blog and read Time to Tango before arriving at this entry, I beseech you to scroll down, if not to the beginning at least to two entries back to get some context as to where we are now. Finally if you are enjoying the read then please like, follow and share.
Okay now as you will recall yesterday was somewhat of a long day. We were beyond tired and sore upon returning to Ecocamp. I managed a quick shower before dinner so that i could rub voltaren in some of the more tender spots on my feet and legs. Thank heavens those darn blisters had retreated! Anyway down at the dining tent we were to choose our option for the following day. Remember, I was eager to do the hardest hike in the park from the beginning – the Mirador los Torres. 22 kilometre round trip, ascending and descending along the way and ascending rapidly in the last 2 kilometres.
After the bus back from the French Valley I informed Adriane that if I could not physically undertake the trip to the Mirador I would not feel bad as the French Valley hike was without a doubt a challenging achievement. I was aching, I was tired – frankly I was exhausted. Husband and I discussed the possibility of taking the easy option. We catch a bus, take a gentle stroll through some native vegetation and along a lake or something and then view the towers from the comfort of a barbeque spot on blue lake. What then was I thinking when I sat down to dinner and encouraged Ginger to take the hike? I would be slower than her so she need not worry about holding anyone back! Honestly am I insane? Husband was happy to follow me whatever the choice as it was my plotting and scheming that had brought us to this god forsaken place! I could barely get out of my seat – how could I possibly back up for 22 kilometres on steep terrain in the conditions we had encountered over the last few days? The only thing I can say is that I had in mind that if I awoke on the morrow unable to move I would not and indeed could not go on and the decision would be made for me.
As it happens I awoke a little worse for wear but not too bad all things being considered. Perhaps the stairs in Valparaiso had prepared me better than I had thought. I left husband to sleep in and went off to yoga for some stretching. It was here that I discovered a rather sharp pain above my right knee whenever I tried to bend it. This is not the knee that I had had surgery on to realign the kneecap last year. I know you are thinking thats it – shows over you can all go home. But again some hidden level of insanity drove me on. After breakfast Diego provided me with a knee brace just in case and I put strapping tape everywhere that I thought might need some extra help. The twisted ankle had not caused too much trouble, the blisters were a fading memory but the knees were keen to show who was boss. I am not an old woman so I can only assume the knees obtained much of their deterioration during my youth when dancing all night every night was an important part of life – I should clarify that this was not professional dancing but social dancing to some of the best bands around and at discos where nutbush city limits was a good stretch for the knees. Oh well – they were not going to get the better of me today. We were off!
Out came the pacer poles — my hiking poles of choice – and off came the layers of warmth. Would you believe the sun was out! I cant pretend it was genuinely hot but the wind had died off, the horizontal sleet was nowhere to be seen and we could not have picked a better day for walking the track along the steep ravine that lead into our destination. We had a relatively easy walk out of camp and down the hill past the only true hotel in the park. We were glad to be staying where we were- it had character and charm.
Anyway over a bridge or two and then the ascent began. Our favourite guides had chosen the barbeque option with the glass of wine overlooking the towers and the blue lake so we had a new guide named Sarah who was from the States. There is no doubt Sarah was very safety conscious and extremely knowledgable – we were just not sure that she quite got our sense of humour. That was really neither here nor there really as walking up hill in Patagonia did not lend itself to great conversation on our part yet Sarah was clearly able to chatter on and provide us with many interesting stories about the land and its history and she proved to be a great hiking companion for this particular day. Of particular note was the story about the Patagonian bushranger after whom the valley was named Ascencior or something. I was also given the lead role due to the fact that I was clearly the slowest. This provided me with a level of guilt but also a level of motivation to keep up the pace so as not to annoy others. Ginger informed me quite early on that I was actually setting quite a demanding pace (at least in my terms demanding). The Germans decided somewhere around this time to go it alone and sped off in front. I would totally have done the same if I was used to this type of terrain and did not want to linger all day. The nice couple from Victoria, Shane and Tricia and Ginger happily followed along behind. All at times gasping for or complaining about butt muscles or tother! Husband preferred to go at speed and rest whilst we caught up – it all worked well so far.
I guess it seemed like hours before we reached the top and the views all around were spectacular. But reaching the top in these parts is not what it seems – no – you follow the narrow trail around the edge of a fairly steep drop maybe 400 to 500 metres and then you descend before ascending again and descending again. You can see people off in the distance with huge backpacks on and you wonder how on earth you can possibly do this. Something I had not actually mentioned to anyone at this time was that I was also absolutely terrified of the height and frightened I would fall off if someone passed me on the wrong side. Particularly after feeling like I was going to take flight the day before. Thankfully it was the only day we had been there where it wasnt windy. In fact we had come to believe that it was always windy and it would be only a brief period in time where we might not be subjected to such terror so I had this fear of wind always in the back of my mind.
The body was holding up but it was hurting. I had been told that after our stop at the refugio it was a relatively easy walk until the last kilometre where it was a near vertical ascent. This “easy” walk was known as Patagonian flats – but dont let the word “flats” fool you. It was certainly a busier track than the French Valley but it was by no means an easy stroll. I think the Chileans must have a great sense of humour to translate this part of the hike into the words Patagonian flats. It was up and down (but mostly up I think) through streams, across narrow bridges over rocks and beautiful forested areas with tree roots and finally out into a definite windy part at the foot of the mirador where some comedian had decided to place camp ground! Husband kept asking me if I was okay and I know now he was secretly hoping I would turn back. He had a blister forming on his heel due to the fact that his hiking boots had sat in the cupboard for some months back home rather than go out on hikes and get broken in! I think the compeed he put on at one of our stops had given him some reprieve so he too soldiered on valiantly being there to protect me.
So now we could see the mirador (that’s spanish for lookout by the way) well, we could see where it was supposed to be and it felt close. The only problem was that it was a near vertical hike mixed in with a climb to reach it. No dont go home yet – the show still isnt over! I soldiered on with a bloody cough tablet song singing in my head! Up up up. Did I mention it was up? Yes over rocks the odd stream and more rocks. Sarah suggested we may be getting a little too considerate letting everyone pass and that some of them could just wait if that did not say “Con permissio”. Well we were finally out on the bare face of the mountain when I first muttered the words “I think I’m done”. A little of that Patagonian encouragement from Sarah “but you are so close” so I kept moving – then Sarah also said that people need to stop when they know they should. So a few more metres clambering up the rocks and I knew if I went any further I may be staying up there forever as my knees would not allow me to come back down this rather verticle hike! I also knew that the 10 kilometres or so back were going to be pretty darn tough anyway and even though there were horses at the refugio, I had been thrown and dragged as a child and was terrified of horse riding. The fact that we had at one stage kept a Welsh Mountain pony that our kids rode had never encouraged me to lose that fear.
So husband immediately agreed to accompany me down the mountain and we were to wait for the team back at the refugio. We sat for a short while and Timotie the French photographer who had accompanied us on day one with Diego and Adriana arrived. He had been hoping to catch us up the top. He was a little sad for us because we were so close but seemed to understand the dilemma as he bid farewell and descended at great pace. I have to say I was glad I did not take one step further because every step down from this point was excruciating. But with hiking poles to lean on, the odd tree to grab for support and the man of my dreams to catch me I was destined to make it back. The alternative was to stay on the mountain and freeze to death – no roads, no air ambulance and no RACQ rescue chopper. The alternative was a tad bleak!
It seemed hours later we arrived at the refugio and I took my boots off and lifted each leg with my hands onto the bench seat to allow them to rest – we still had at least two and half to three hours to go with an extreme downhill at the end. I had no longer put my boots back on when our team arrived from a successful visit to the mirador. Shane had very kindly taken one of my little camera’s for the climb and Ginger confirmed that it was very hard and I was right to turn back when I did. So off we went again! Back up the narrow path following the very steep ravine then down then up then the big down. I was slow. I was slower than moss growing on a garden path. I was careful and I was in pain. But I was laughing. I think i was also going insane – oh no thats right I must have been insane already to have selected this option rather than the barbeque. Strangely I was not even remotely disappointed. Had I not done the French Valley the day before I still dont think I could have done the last 100metres or so as it was so steep. I actually felt quite proud of myself.
Sarah very kindly arranged for the bus to pick us up at the Hotel at the bottom of the descent. By this point I was near crippled. It was very much like I was walking on all fours with my hiking poles extensions of my arms. Dear husband was concerned that I looked so bedraggled and offered more than once to carry my little day pack. I declined on the basis that it was extra weight to hold me down should the wind pick up an want to carry me off to Antartica like Mary Poppins!
Well even the Germans informed me that they are used mountain hikes and this was a hard one. We went to the bar after dinner as it was to be our last night in camp and all of our friends were to be there, including the bus team who had been out at the refugios. Sarah got out her violin and one of the managers played his guitar. I was constantly commended for the effort I had put in especially when people realised I had had knee surgery less than a year ago. I was equally commended for knowing my limits and turning back when I did. Husband was commended for his harmonica playing and the red wine tasted very fine!
I may always be remembered as the one who almost made the Mirador but thats okay with me. I have another badge of honour not dissimilar from Mount Sinai many years ago. A friend and i were to climb it and sleep on top to watch the sunrise – desafortunatemente it was a desert heat wave and Barb got heat stroke and started vomiting half way up so we went back down and slept at the bottom – an equally unique experience I can assure you but I will save that for another day.
I actually thought that Torres del Paine meant towers of pain in spanish. I was however mistaken. It seems the indigenous folk down this way use the word paine (or something like it) to describe the colour blue. So there you go another fact that you probably didnt need or want to know – I have many of them! Personally I will forever remember them as the towers of pain as blue does not adequately explain the experience – read on!
So we were picked up from our hotel in Chile’s Southerly most city Punta Arenas at 10.30 am precisely on Monday for our trip to Ecocamp Torres del Paine. Had I known at that point that we would be driving all around town picking up others and then driving straight past our hotel again, I would have asked for the extra half hour to shop and obtain that warm weather gear I was clearly lacking. Apart from the fact that you can never have enough time to shop anywhere, here I was in a bit of a quandry. You see I had wandered back into town seeking thermals again at 9am only to discover that the shops dont open until10am. I had walked backwards and forwards numerous times past a gentleman in the street who was politely holding his hand out and smiling. Eventually after I had managed to ask my question in Spanish to a friendly looking lady about opening times I thought I should simply head back to the hotel and wait for the pickup. As I passed the smiling man one last time I felt the need to contribute to his dental fund so on my final pass by I handed him 2000 pesos. You can only imagine how big the smile got then and I have to say I was glad to have made the contribution as the bigger the smile, the more obvious the need for dental work.
Anyway we were fortunate to have stumbled onto a bus with a great team for the trip up to torres del Paine – Ryan, Jill, Richard, Christina and finally Lloyd and Marilyn – the grand partners of adventure – they have done Killamanjara, the Camino and even Base Camp Everest – all since retiring! Our team was a mix of mostly Canadians with three of us from Oz. Yet again this adventure into the unknown wasnt great – it was fantastico! Well if this was going to be the class of people in Ecocamp we were very pleased to have decided on glamping rather than camping! Desafortunatemente (you know my favourite spanish word by now) we were all going to go our separate ways the next day. But for now the bus was filled with laughter and travel stories, comparative shopping analysis and, without a doubt, a shared feeling of awe as we marvelled at the grandiosity of Patagonia. We met up with Juan (whom I later discovered was Joan pronounced more like Juan) who was to take the others on their W Trek the next day camping at refugios throughout the park. He was a wealth of information and helped me make a very quick and expensive purchase of a warmer coat and thermal base layer in Puerto Natales before once again heading into the great unknown. At least I was no longer facing the fear of freezing to death in this wild untamed land however credit card bills on our return home may prove equally as traumatic! Oh well…
We had a brief stop at a rather large cave that I believe was formed a few thousand years ago when a glacier melted and the water was washed in to the mountain. The cave was the place where someone discovered the remains of a dinosaur/sloth that looked very much like a bear. Well at least we all thought it did. We wandered into the cave in the hope of seeing some evidence of the bear however we were only greeted with manmade replicas and stalignites or whatever tthose things are that drop from the ceiling. I would like to point out however that bear or no bear the cave was pretty darn impressive and I do not think the stop was wasted at all. Anyway the shop outside had one pair of gloves available that would fit my beloved and we went back in and made this purchase just before departure which would prove life saving for him especially up in the French Valley in a day or two (or at least finger saving.)
On arrival at Ecocamp we thought we were about to have another experience where I had misread the reviews and we should have stayed elsewhere. First we were walked to tent number 6 which looked perfect as it was at the end of the track, very private, great view – oops someone is in there, then tent number 5 -sorry not this one either, then the girl ran back to the office and came back saying tent number 7. We walked down the track past the disabled sign and we were disappointed to see a) we were taking the disabled tent from someone who might need it and b) we would have big handrails taking up the already limited space in the shower cubicle attached to the tent. Little did we know how useful those shower rails would be after 9 and 10 hour hikes into the mountains! The tent was muy bueno with its own little fire place and super warm bedding and even though the wind was to howl all through the night – we were in the perfect Patagonian sanctuary with a view out of our tent window to the towers of pain.
We headed down to the dining tent before dinner as instructed and met with another Australian couple and our allocated guide Adriana to find out the next days itinerary. Another near disappointment was to be told that we could not do the Mirador for 3 days as differrent programs were running. This disappointed me as I felt I might only have one good hike in me and it had to be Mirador del Torres. Desafortunatemente – what will be will be.
So day 1 in Ecocamp the winds were howling, rain/snow was coming and going and we were making full use of all the warmest gear we owned. We selected the Grey Glacier visit whereupon we got to know our favourite guides. Adriana and her “friend” Diego – later known as the cousins! Enroute to Glacier grey or whichever way you say it, we were able to stop off at a couple of places, firstly the condors nest where Diego took a photo of us and suggested it would be great because we are married for us to be kissing. After the big kiss and posing for the photo I informed him we were not married but we were cousins! Ha ha poor Diego nearly had a heart attack. I have to admit it was a good laugh.
Anyway no sight that they took us to that day was more interesting than the waterfall stop where we were warned that the wind can be so bad that we may not even be able to complete our walk. Furthermore, if our guides were to signal with a dropped hand, we should drop to the ground immediately as we may be swept to our death by the wind. Because we had already visited the condor’s nest look out where we started to learn to fly and we had spent a night in the howling wind so loud that for me it required earplugs, we were finding the wind somewhat challenging but also kind of fun. Well were we in for a shock here. What happens is the stones get whipped up by the wind and you need your jacket more for protecting your skin from flying gravel than anything else. I think it was here that I first had the pleasure of sleet blowing horizontally into my ear also. I would grow used to this phenomenum after a day or two. Thankfully beloved husband remained close too my side in order to ensure I did not unexpectedly fly off the cliff!
After struggling only a few hundred metres we were able to cling to the guard rails and grab a few snapshots of the waterfall. Only after being there do you realise it is not the waterfall that is the attraction, very nice but we have seen a few of them in our time, no the wind is the attraction – a bit like a ride at Luna Park where you are unable to move due to centrifugal forces. Here it was the wind that pinned you and if you were able to hit the ground without being blown away you were clearly unable to rise again until the gust had passed! Had she been here Mary Poppins would have been swept up and arrived in Antartica before you could say supercalafragilisticexpealadocias!
Eventually we arrived at our boat at Lago Gris or Grey Lake. Nothing is boring in this part of the world. I felt like we were given a trip through the Perfect Storm! I eaven had my personal George Clooney at my side! Beloved husband, upon noticing my knuckles turning white as I clung to the seat in front, informed me that “you know it is perfectly safe” as the boat nose dived through what I consider a 6 metre wave rolling straightt towards us. I may not be the best estimator of wave height but whatever way you looked at it the weather was wild and the front window of the boat was under the water. My guess is we were in a 54 footer or larger – husband suggests at least 15 metres – do your own calculations – it was wild. After what felt like hours and the lady in front having to move up the back to vomit, the waves finally calmed down and icebergs everywhere came into view and there it was – the face of the grey glacier. Once the boat pulled up close enough we were able to climb up to the top deck of the boat, the wind was still extreme but I guess the waves hadnt had time to form yet. As you might have guessed out comes the pisco sour. This was interesting drinking in the wind. One gust hit so suddenly that my pisco sour sprayed over my camera and all through my hair. Luckily my genuine attempts to communicate with the boat crew lead to my being offered another, and then just before heading back, another. Yay to pisco sour – at least I could relax a little for the return trip.
Anyway day number two saw us agreeing to undertake the second most difficult hike on the menu. I was concerned that I would wear myself out or cause great pain to my knee, which might prevent me from doing the Mirador Los Torres which was scheduled for the next day. But by the same token, the weather may close in and the hike tomorrow may be cancelled anyway. Furthermore the hike to los Torres today was not appealling in strong wind and rain. So we committed to a hike up into the French Valley to the base of a great glacier. This was apparantly to be a15 km round trip but first we had to catch another boat from the windiest part of the park would you believe! Oh boy we really were having some fun. Funnily enough this boat did not even vaguely come near to the thrill ride of the day before. Before you knew it we were disembarking and having a brief stop at the refugio and camping ground to visit the toilet and get our hiking poles out.
I felt totally safe with our guides Adriana and Diego with one at the front and the other at the rear. On this hike we got to know our new German friends Heike and Ulrich and our new Canadian friends Gail and Ginger (what great names eh?). We were still with Heather and Peter from Oz who were also with us on the previous day. I think it was here that Diego taught me my favourite Chilean farewell. Chow Pescado – pronounced something like Chow Pescow meaning Goodbye fish! I know you may all be wondering what the hell am I talking about but another girl on the boat over to the French Valley hike informed me that it was like saying see you later Alligator because it rhymes. But I said it doesnt rhyme! It was at this point I realised how badly Chileans speak spanish as Chow Pescado in no way Rhymes unless it is said in Chilean. So Chow Pescow it is!
This hike into the French Valley was impressive – I recorded the GPS track from when we boarded the boat so when I get time I can update this blog with the track and statistics. Let me say it was hard work. Initially there was rain and wind so we all (except husband) had our waterproof pants and jackets on. Husband did have his thermal tights on under his trekking pants however and they looked so good I thought he was going to a pirouette for me before we had left our tent that morning. Anyway the wind again whipped so hard that sleet or snow was going sideways into my ear canals until I pulled up my new buff which I had bought with my other expensive gear on the way at Puerto Natales on advice from our new friends Marilyn and Christina (the Cuban Canadian) . That was excellent advice ladies – thankyou!
So we hiked for hours and eventually stopped for our packed lunches under the protection of trees in the camp ground. I have no idea why we stopped in that god forsaken spot or how cold it was but frankly it was too cold to pee and everyone who had their gloves off found fingertips freezing within seconds. I dont think we had seen the sun for days.
I think the ranger told Diego that the weather was too bad to go all the way but Diego had a plan, we would go up the centre of the Valley following the waterway and if we were lucky we would make the base of the glacier. After another couple of hours, up and down up and down, we were lucky! It was definitely worth the pain! More photos, a bit of a rest and then time to head back. Okay I was aching – actually we both were – surely we all were. It was during the last stretch back to catch the boat that I came to the realisation that I may need to eat more and I may actually be too light. I had told my beloved I was fine and he progressed ahead with great haste whilst I plodded along the last five kilometres or so. At some point in time I will admit the wind almost had me beaten. Ulrich very kindly offered to assist me for some of the climbing where the wind had grown strong again. It was only when I almost fell off the side of the mountain I realised how fantastic our guides were. Suddenly both Adriana and Diego appeared from nowhere and escorted me over the windiest section of the trail. Always encouraging me with its only a short way, about 15 minutes, just over that next hill – well practised in stretching the truth to encourage success I would say. Finally – the refugio and camp ground where we were to catch the boat for home was in sight. This where it all went pair shaped however!
The wind was so strong that we needed to stand behind a wall just to obtain some reprieve. Thankfully we were able to use the facilities at the camp site and buy a couple snacks to replenish our energy. Sadly the temperature had not improved at all throughout the day. We were then told we had to line up for the boat that was to come in 40 minutes. So 40 minutes standing in a freezing cold 40 knot wind fresh from the Southern Patagonian Icefields. Well it could have been 50 knots – how would any of us know really? Again it was an opportunity to cling to the fence and hope that one wasnt one of the unlucky ones whose body was flipped over the edge into the freezing cold lake. After withstanding this constant force we were excited to see the boat finally arrive. We were not however excited to see the boat take on passengers and then leave again – without us!
At this point Adriana and Diego insisted we go back to the refugio and wait in the bar and they would mind our spots. I know you are thinking why on earth would we want to sit in a bar by a fire place and drink red wine when we could continue to stand out in this once in a life time wind! Well we had to suffer this misfortune with a heavy heart! One positive was we were able to see our good friends who had caught the bus with us from Punta Arenas. Another positive was we had time to actually talk to our hiking companions and share the left over snacks we had carried with our packed lunch. The red wine was unbelievably welcome.
Husband sat watch perched atop the lounge arm peering out towards the far side of the lake with his binoculars. Finally around 8.30pm the boat arrived – its hard to keep track of times when the sky doesnt seem to get dark until midnight. Anyway in the rush to get back to the wind swept lineup my beloved left the said binoculars for someone elses pleasure! We arrived back at the camp site, my hair was so matted I could not even brush it, my legs were so sore I could barely raise myself from the sitting position – but we felt damned good – that was one hell of a hike and we had made it to the face of the glacier we had made even more new friends and were pleased to have chosen the hike and even more pleased to have made it back! Muy bueno!
The bear cave
More photos to come when internet allows – stay tuned