A Travellerspoint blog

Parque Nacional Torres del Paine

sunny 16 °C
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Cathérine, a woman from Ghent I had met on the boat, and me decided to do the W in the National Park together, so we could share food, cooking material etc. On Friday afternoon, we left and arrived at the park's entrance around 6pm. By taking the wrong way, we lost half an hour, good way to start! Once we got on the right track again, we could enjoy the beautiful landscapes, climbing a fair bit, and we got to Refugio El Chileno before we knew it. From there, we got to Campamento Los Torres, the base camp and free camping to go and see the peaks the park is named after. It was quite late when I set off for the Torres, Cathérine was too tired to join me, but it was well worth it. After a steep half-hour-climb over small and big rocks I found myself looking at the Torres, not a cloud in the sky. Moreover, I was the only one up there, it was beautiful!

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The second day, we got up at 4 am and walked up to the Torres for the second time, to see them shine with the early morning sun. Again, there were no clouds. The fact that we were so lucky was proved by a man who was up there for the seventh! time and it was the first time he could catch a glimpse of the Torres. Around 7 am, we got back down and I got back in the tent for a little sleep. When I woke up again, Cathérine was setting off for the Torres and I used the time I waited for her to have breakfast, to pack my stuff and to break up Cathérine's tent. By 12.15, we could finally leave. At Refugio El Chileno, I caught up with Diederik and Pieter, two Dutch blokes I had met on the boat, and we started walking together, Cathérine prefered to walk at her own tempo. We walked for a few hours, down to a lake where we could take water to cook our lunch and by the time we had finished eating, Cathérine arrived there, too. After about an hour more, we took a wrong path and walked all the way down to the lake and only there, we found out we took the wrong way. There were two options: either to walk all the way back up the steep path with loose sand or to climb an almost vertical rock wall to continue our way. We chose for the last option which was quite dangerous, seen we were wearing our rucksacks and all, but nobody fell and so we survived. Our detour took a lot of time, though, and a lot of our forces, too. We only arrived at Refugio Los Cuernos around 8 pm and Pieter and Diederik decided to stay there for the night. Because of our little detour, I was not sure any more whether Cathérine was in front of us or behind us and since we were going to meet at Campamento Italiano, I had to continue. After about 1.5 hours, I arrived, completely dead. I heated up the rest of the pasta from lunch, lying down in my tent and fell asleep before 11pm, I think I even was a bit feaverish, my forehead was glowing like crazy.

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I slept for over 11 hours, but still felt like crap. Anyway, I dragged myself out of my tent, had breakfast and started walking up the Valle del Francés. I walked very slow and felt like I would not make it to the top, but I caught up with Jasik, one of my cabin mates on the boat, and started walking with him, which gave me a bit more strength. I was feeling better and better and when we got to Campamento Británico, I met up with three English and one Irish girls I had met in Bariloche. We walked to the mirador, with a beautiful view on the Valle del Francés and decided not to walk up the final bit as all the people who came back down told us it was not really worth it. So, back down to Campamento Italiano we went, I had some noodles and some coffee with Diederik and Pieter who had made it to Italiano, too, and then went to sleep.

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On the fourth day, I felt quite well again and decided I wanted to finish the W that day and get back to Puerto Natales. At 5.30 am, Diederik, Pieter and me got up, had a good breakfast, packed and started walking around 7.15 am. It took us 1h45 to get to Refugio Péhoe, where Pieter and Diederik decided to take the 10 am catamaran back. I decided to walk on to the Glaciar, 11 kms from Péhoe. I had blisters on my feet, from the first day on, but really wanted to make it. They hurted very much when starting to walk, but after a while, you do not feel them that much any more, you get used to them I suppose. Anyway, just before half way, after a good climb, you can have a first look at Glaciar Grey and that is a very good stimulation, you just want to get there as soon as possible! I walked past Refugio Grey to the mirador, very close to the glaciar, the view was excellent! Everything was even better when two Chinese (twee Chineskes) appeared on a rock just above me and started doing poses and taking pictures of each other, they made me smile, yes, even laugh! The way back was marked by wind, downpours of rain and sun. The wind was in my back, so I arrived at Péhoe, completely wet from behind and dry in front, thirty kilometres later. Finally some of the Patagonian cold, rainy and windy weather I had expected. Luckily, there was a free and warm kitchen at campsite Péhoe, because I still had to wait for three hours before the catamaran would sail of at 6.30pm and take me to the bus. I had a nice pack of rice with already-made-sauce, four portions it said on the back.

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Conclusion: although the W-circuit in the National Park is very touristic, it is very beautiful and at times quite though but oh so rewarding. The 80 kilometres can be done in four days, or five days if you want to take it easy. Take loads of food and if you can, take a tent to camp as prices in the park are unbelievable. Some examples: US$33 for a night in a refugio's dormitory (and take your sleeping bag, or you pay extra!), $15 for dinner and $8 for breakfast. To check your e-mails at Refugio Péhoe, you pay 1,000 Chilean pesos ($2) per fifteen minutes, in Puerto Natales, you pay 600 pesos for an hour! And from what I have heard the profits go to private investors in Santiago. A final warning, do not wear shoes that are too big or too small.

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Posted by Gitan Jean 14:53 Archived in Chile Tagged backpacking Comments (2)

Puerto Montt-Puerto Natales

sunny 17 °C
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A few hours late, we set off from the harbour of Puerto Natales. I was lucky enough to get a cabin with only six people and private bathroom where I had only paid to be in a cabin with 18 or 22 people. Although the cabin was small, three bunks above each other and only four cupboards to put our rucksacks in, it was not bad. My five cabin mates were: Jasik from Poland, Andy and Alex from the UK, Walter from the US and Travis from Australia, they were good fun and just like a lot of people from the boat, I would meet them all the time afterwards. Seen the price of the trip, I did not find the food very good, it was definetly enough though. Prices for drinks and snacks at the bar were crazy, 1500 pesos for a beer (almost 3 euros) and 5000 pesos for a bottle of wine. Luckily, I had taken a bottle of rum, peanuts and a lot of fruits, so I did not have to buy anything on board.
The first day passed quite quickly, as we only sailed off around 6 pm or so. At night, we had the possibility to watch 'Los Diarios de Motocycleta' which I enjoyed even more than the first time I watched it, as I could recognise a lot of places and well, the travelling feeling was familiar, too. After the film, we were chatting with some French girls in our cabin, drinking some rum and all of Walter's red wine. It was well after two when we got to bed, so next day's wake up call at seven am was quite hard.
As the boat sailed through some breathtaking landscapes, we were sitting on the deck, watching, reading, taking a siesta etc. The second day, we passed by a glacier and went very close to it, it was beautiful and very blue. At night, a Chilean film was shown, Machuca. It was the second time I saw it and it is quite okay. Late in the afternoon, we had reached the open sea and the boat was rocking a bit but I did not see any seasick people at all, I suspect a lot of them had taken pills. After the film, I went straight to bed to catch up some sleep.
On the third day, we had the chance to get to land at Puerto Eden.

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The only problem was that I had forgotten to buy my ticket to do so the night before and there was no possible way I could still go, I asked about every single person in the crew, there was nothing to do about it. Though luck, so I spent an hour on an almost empty ship, which had its charms though. At night, there was a bingo night in the bar! No cruise without a bingo night of course, so I was in the first row, trying my luck. I was never lucky, but my cabin mate Walter won about every time: one line, two lines, three lines, etc. After the bingo, the couches were put aside and it was time for some dancing.
The fourth day, we arrived in Puerto Natales just after lunch and for me, it had been enough, it was good to be on land again.

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Puerto Natales is nothing special in itself but is is quiet and has some good restaurants and pubs, very touristic though. If you are going to Puerto Natales, you should pay a visit to Hotel Remota. Walk in and ask the personnel if you can take a look, they will let you and it is well worth it, take a look at the top floor as well, it is unbelievable. Puerto Natales, above all, is the ideal jumping point for the gorgeous Parque Nacional Torres del Paine! More about that next entry.

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Posted by Gitan Jean 10:54 Archived in Chile Tagged boating Comments (6)

Isla de Chiloé, Puerto Montt, Puerto Varas

sunny 20 °C
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Upon arrival in Puerto Montt, I went straight to the Navimag Office and to my extreme surprise, there was still some space left for the ferry Puerto Montt-Puerto Varas. 'Only in the cheapest category though', the lady of the office told me, and that was the one I wanted of course, I was not prepared to pay 1700 dollars for the votage! So, tomorrow, we sail of for four days through the Patagonian fjords and interesting landscapes, very excited about that! I will share a cabin with five other people and we will not have any windows in the cabin but I think I will not pass too much time in the cabin anyway.
The Isla de Chiloé was just lovely. There were plans to build a bridge a few years ago, Rough Guide said there might be one by 2005 but I can confirm there is none yet, you still have to take the ferry to get there. I stayed in Ancud, a quiet little city in the north of the island. It was good to relax a bit, stayed in hospedaje 'Su Casa' where in the beginning I was the only foreigner and there seemed to live a whole family there. They serve lovely breakfast, included in the price, all home-made with, of course, kuchen, the region's speciality. I went on a tour to Puñihuil to see los pingüinos de Humboldt and Magallánicos, Chiloé is the only place on this earth where those two types of penguins live together. I met a Belgian couple doing a RTW trip by tandem on the island and they are going to take the ferry to Puerto Natales on Monday, too.
Next day, I went to Castro, the capital of the Isla de Chiloé. It has some nice sites, like the cathedral with a nice wooden interior and the colourful 'palafitas'. I walked to the next village, Nercon, to watch the little wooden church. The Isla de Chiloé is very famous for its wooden churches, there is about 150 on the island. The one in Nercon made me think of the stave churches in Norway, although from the ones I have seen I prefer the Norvegian ones. On the way back to Castro, I went to eat a 'pastel de choclo', a maize pie in a very little bistro next to the road. I sat down at the only table there was with Fernando, who had already finished eating. We talked a little bit and when I stood up to go and pay, it proved to be that Fernando had already paid for my pastel de choclo! The coffee and chocolate biscuit were on the house, so I did not have to pay anything! Friendly people on the island. By the way, Tía Annemie, el pastel de choclo era delicioso.

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Puerto Montt depressed me a little bit. I don't know, it is just the atmosphere that I do not like here and there is not a lot to see, so I took the bus to Puerto Varas, which is nicer, but still not half as nice as la Isla de Chiloé. You do not miss anything if you just pass by Puerto Montt and Puerto Varas, I think.
Phew, that's it, for the first time in my blog history I can write in the present as I am in Puerto Montt right now and will take the ferry to Puerto Natales mañana por la mañana, which also means that I will leave all of you in peace for the next four days! Finally I hear you thinking...

Besitos, que les vaya bien!

Posted by Gitan Jean 16:58 Archived in Chile Tagged backpacking Comments (1)

San Carlos de Bariloche

sunny 23 °C
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Back in Argentina, the hostel Amanda, Alessandra and me were supposed to meet was booked, it is the high season, there are so many people travelling in Argentina! It was late when I arrived, so I went to another one, had a good night's sleep and guess who I met in the new hostel on my way to breakfast next morning? Yep, Amanda and Alexandra! We went for a walk and for something to eat in the city centre, a few streets that are packed with fancy clothes and chocolate shops. Not only the Swiss and Belgians claim to have the best chocolate in the world! Then, I went to get some information for planning the next part of my trip. Not a big success: I found out that the trip from Bariloche to Puerto Montt, Chile, over three lakes by bus and boat costs 170 dollars, a bit too expensive for one day, but it is supposed to be very nice. Next thing, the website navimag.com where you can book ferries to the south of Chile did not work so I could not reserve the ferry, nore could I find out if there was some place left. I went to buy a very little tent, cooking material and a matress, so Patagonia, here I come!

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At night, we had a good party with a huge pan of paella cooked in the hostel and two famous Argentinian artists playing flamenco, it was lovely. In the end, there was only some Argentinians, some Brasileros and me left. The DJ was asked to play some Brasilian music and so he did. That is how I got my first Samba and Forró lessons from Amanda. It is al very simple: Samba is um, dos, tres and Forró is um, dos, um, dos but if they speed up the rhythm of the dance, than I do not see the um, dos, tres any more! Anyway, we ended up with Amanda taking the leading role, so I just had to let me guide, which is a lot more easy, I can tell you! It was after four when we went to bed.
Next day, the alarm clock went of at 8 am. At 8.30, Amanda and Alessandra had still not appeared at breakfast so I went to their room to ask what was going on. Of course, they were still sleeping and they asked me to take the bus at 10 am and so we did. The bus went to cerro Catedral, a hill with a beautiful view on the lake that Bariloche is next to. We took two lifts up, lifts that are used for skiing in winter. It was very strange to take a skilift without snowboard attached to my feet, I hardly knew what to do to get of. Anyway, at the top of the cerro, there was snow and that was the main reason for our trip. Alessandra and Amanda had never seen let along touched snow in their lifes! So, to celebrate them touching snow for the first time, we had a little snow fight and it showed they had never done it before. Later that day, we had to say goodbye because unfortunately they left for Buenos Aires.
At night, Gabriella, the girl I had met in Salta and who is doing voluntary work in Bariloche at the mo, went to have a Swiss cheese fondue and then sadly we had to say goodbye as well, cause I had a bus to catch early in the morning.

That's all, folks, byebye

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Posted by Gitan Jean 16:22 Archived in Argentina Tagged backpacking Comments (5)

Pucón

sunny 25 °C
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After all the big cities I had visited in the north of Argentina and Chile, it was nice to return to nature again. Pucón, although a very touristic holiday resort that reminds of a Swiss mondain skiing resort in summer, is very enjoyable, especially because of its surroundings. There is the huge lake just next to it, national parks close by, the mountains that surround it and above all el volcán Villarica which can be seen from about everywhere in Pucón.

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The first day, I took it easy because I had not slept very well on the night bus and I knew I had to get up very early next day. I strolled around the streets of Pucón a bit, up to the lake, where they were windsurfing! Well depending on what you call windsurfing though... In the afternoon, I took the bus to Lago Cabargua and walked to the Ojos de Cabargua, a set of nice waterfalls hidden in the forest. At night, Amanda, Alessandra (the Brasileras I had met in Valpo), two other Brasilians and myself went for some pints on a terrace on Calle O'Higgins, the main street.
Next day, my alarm clock went off at 4.15 am because at 5.00 am we had to start our mission of climbing the Villarica. After about one hour by car, we arrived at the point where we would have started walking but unfortunately, the wind was so strong that we gave up and returned to Pucón after a few hundred meters of walking. In the afternoon, I went to el Parque Nacional de Huerquehue, walked about 9 km to two nice waterfalls and to the first of the lakes, 550 meters up a hill and back. It was all very beautiful and the views on the volcán Villarica and the Laguna Grande were magnificant. I wish I would have had some more time to explore the park, but helas, I had to take the last bus back to Pucón. I had the time to take a dip into the ice cold lake though. Parque Nacional Huerquehue is an excellent place to do a few days of trekking by tent by the way, there are very nice and quiet camping sites.

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The day after, same story with the alarm clock, and this time it was bingo, the weather was beautiful and the wind had calmed down. With all our equipment (helmet, boots, trunchons, pickel and special trousers and jacket) we started the mission at about 6.15 am. We were the only group who started that early, so we, two Swiss people, one Austrian, one German, two Chilean guides and me, had the volcano to ourselves. We climbed up 1.400 metres, one hour in the sand and almost four hours in the snow, to the crater where we arrived at 11.00 am. The view there was just gorgeous! The lake, Pucón, all the surrounding mountains and the crater, beautiful! The only annoying thing was that there was quite some sulfer fumes coming out of the crater and I can tell you it is not exactly a nice smell! Anyway, to get back down, we slided on our back and walked when it was not steep enough, or to icy for sliding. It was so good to meet all the other groups, there was quite a few, about half way down!

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So, back in Pucón, we had a bit of a celebration on the terrace of our hostel with quite a few beers under the ever present sun. The celebration went on about the whole afternoon and then by 8 pm we left for the Termas Los Pozones, lovely hot springs at a one-hour-drive from Pucón. They are open 24 hours and you can take your own drinks and snacks inside! The springs are all a bit too warm for me, but luckily there is a cold river flowing just next to them, so you can go and cool down a bit at any time.

Saude! Que nunca nos falte!

Posted by Gitan Jean 17:42 Archived in Chile Tagged backpacking Comments (5)

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