A return to civilisation at the end of the world!

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!





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