Thursday, October 29, 2009

adiós américa del sur

Buenos Aires did her best to make me dislike her.

Arriving from Sydney late in the evening 6 weeks ago I had to get a taxi from the airport and it was pissing down with rain. Really heavily.

The next morning I woke and it was still raining. And it was cold.

So was the next day.

The following morning I left for the domestic airport to fly to Iguacu Falls. It was a clear sunny day.

About a week later I returned to BA from Uruguay and guess what?

Yup...raining again.

And so - another 4 weeks passed while I communed with Big Heads, cramponned most of the way up an active volcano, and hiked amongst glaciers and mountains, until it was time to return to Buenos Aires before leaving for home.

You may recall from an earlier post that I was delayed in El Calafate for 10 hours which meant I missed all afternoon and evening in BA. I finally arriving back there at 2am.

Would you be surprised to hear that it had poured with torrential rain for over 6 hours that day in BA? I wasn't.

I awoke the next morning for my final full day and to my absolute surprise it was hot and sunny with nary a cloud in the sky.

So I set off early and walked around the streets of Buenos Aires for the entire day, getting a bit of colour and catching up with Recoleta and Palermo (the zushy parts of town)

I spent a little while in the Recoleta cemetery - an extraordinary place with over the top crypts and mausoleums. I was surprised to see just how plain and understated Eva "Evita" Peron's crypt was. Simple and unadorned except for a couple of small brass plaques.

Very tasteful.

And so, in the dying rays of my last days sojourn in South America, I warmed a little to that heaving metropolis and looked a little more kindly upon her and the charms she deigned to show me all but briefly.

And so I headed home.

paint your wagon

evita was here

recoleta cemetery

recoleta cemetery

recoleta cemetery

ba graffiti

picket fence

fence abstract

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

big heads birthday

continuing a (new) tradition - my easter island birthday cake and candle video!

an ice place

one of my final visits was to the famous Perito Moreno Glacier in Los Glaciares National Park. It's huge, having a 5km front which rises in places to over 75 metres and is more than 30kms long. It's how I like my glaciers - BIG.

It is also one of only a few in the region that is not retreating.

I took a public bus from El Calafate and had to spend 5 hours there - which even for me is a tad too long to be staring at an enormous lump of ice.

What was fascinating was hearing the thing creak and groan, often followed by huge cracking sounds and occasional splashes as bits of it broke off and fell into the lake.

perito moreno glacier (click for a big view)

perito moreno

a big bugger

looks like the back of my heels after all the trekking ('ewww...')

before and after shot - constantly changing

The following lunchtime i was supposed to fly out of El Calafate back to Buenos Aires but my flight was delayed by 10 hours! And to cheer me up El Cal decided to drop it's temperatures by about 90 degrees so I spent several hours wandering the town desperately trying to find things to entertain myself with in what felt like sub-zero temps.

someone left the sprinkler on

The supermarket had lost its entertainment value by this stage, as had the TIT ice cream parlour. So i found a bookshop cum cafe and sat in there over an amazing hot chocolate (I think they simply melted a 250gm block of chocolate and put it in a mug) which was served WITH a foil wrapped chocolate on the side.

So naturally - I dropped it into the hot chocolate.

One's hot chocolate can never really be too chocolatey.

Thursday, October 22, 2009


Well more hiking after Torres del Paine - this time I took a bus over the border back into Argentina to Los Glaciaros National Park. Here I only managed two hikes as the third day was predicted torrential rain so I left and returned to El Calafate.

The first walk was to a glacier and lake and was relatively easy. Six hours return to Laguna Torres and apart from a steep climb out of El Chalten, the town that was my base, the rest of the walk was following the glacial river.

laguna torres

mini icebergs on laguna torres

some more and the glacier in the background

The second walk was murder! Eight hours return, which started out with a beautiful sunny day, but by the time I reached the halfway point Mt FitzRoy, snow had begun to fall and the wind had picked up and was getting stronger by the minute. Oddly, with the snow falling, much of the time I was still in sunshine.

After 4 hours I reached the base of the climb up to the Laguna de Los Tres - the furthest point of the walk. This climb was extremely steep on rock and moraine strewn slopes. As I climbed higher the wind got stronger and whipped the snow into my face like needles.

About a third of the way to the top the track became completely covered in snow and ice making it quite dangerous considering the wind. I have never hiked in wind that strong before. Several times I was almost blown off the path into the snow.

I reached the top and went through the snow as far as the last human footprints went. Thought it advisable to stop there and descend again!

Coming down was even more difficult. I was well and truly knackered when I got back to the hostel.

But the scenery made it worthwhile.

after the first climb out of El Chalten

fitzroy showing part of herself

terry and fitzroy

tit ice cream shop - i´m definitely having the sorbet

Monday, October 19, 2009

towers of pain

My five day hike to Torres del Paine has finished and I am sitting comfortably in the warm surrounds of an El Calafate (Argentina) hostel having arrived last night from the Chilean National Park.

My bad cold refused to go away so the entire hike was uncomfortably difficult as I was continually coughing and blowing my nose!

The day I arrived by bus in the morning from Puerto Natales was bleak, coldy, windy with sleety snow falling. The sky was gray and cloudy as about 50 intrepid hikers boarded the catamaran that was to take us to the western side of the National Park.

I was about to do what is referred to as the ¨W¨ Hike - a trip that follows three incline valleys that wind there way up the sides of two mountain formations - Los Cuernos (The Horns) and the Torres del Paine (The Towers of Paine).

The first days hike was only 3.5 hours and 11kms. My pack, with tent, cooking gear and 5 days food weighs around 20 - 22 kgs. This was a fairly comfortable walk with a few steep climbs. The weather began to behave itself, it didnt rain or snow and the wind died away. But the clouds remained.

On the catamaran I met a French woman, a German guy and a fellow from Quebec and we all teamed up to walk together.

gray first day

more gray/grey

The campsite sits close to Glacier Grey.

glacier grey

The following morning I woke to brilliantly clear blue skies. I broke camp and then walked back down the valley to the starting point for lunch. From there it was another 19 kms to the next stop Campiemento Italiano which sits toward the middle of the ¨W¨.

lunchspot day 2

This was a long and tiring days walk. But at least it was sunny.

This also gave us the best views of Los Cuernos, a magnificent and massive mountain with a distinctive 2 colour geological formation.

los cuernos

terry and los cuernos

more los cuernos


terry and los cuernos

After setting up camp I walked for about an hour up the central line of the ¨W¨for some different views of Los Cuernos. In this valley I could hear the loud rumbling of avalanches that were happening with regular frequency on the mountain. At one point I was lucky enough to see one.

That night in my tent i lay awake for a while listening to the the deep rumbles of avalanches - it was strangely comforting, like rain on a tin roof.

The following morning, another clear, still sunny day, entailed another long days hiking.

This took us along the bottom edge of the right side of the ¨W¨and up the right hand valley. This was about 22 kms on undulating paths with a steep climb toward the end.

This left me completely buggered!!

valley torres

the road goes ever on

view of lago grey

The fourth day was the hike up to the Towers.

I set off early after breakfast around half 7. I was at least able to leave my pack at camp as I was making a return trip to the towers.

The hike began with a 5km gradual climb to another campsite and once again I was blessed with perfect weather. From here it was another hour on a very steep path up to the towers which several people had said was very tough.

Fearing the worst I gritted my teeth and girded whatever needed girding, and set off. The path indeed was steep, wet in parts, and gravelly in others. One part had ropes slung between trees to assist in climbing.

Strangely. perhaps because of all the pessimistic warnings, or perhaps because I wasn´t carrying my pack (or a bit of both) I really enjoyed this part and didn´t find it a struggle at all.

Reaching the top, a sharp ridge where you are given tantalising glimpses of the towers, you suddenly emerge onto the most magnificent scene of the three towers set behind a half frozen lake. Breathtaking.

I spent at least half an hour here in the sun soaking up the scene and having a bite to eat before reluctantly heading back down to the campsite.

It was a deeply satisfying experience to finally get to see the Torres del Paine which a had already seen in many other peoples photos.

Once I picked up my pack I headed down to the final campsite, about 12 kms down the valley - thus completing the ¨W¨.

climbing to the towers

the splendid torres del paine

happy chappy

I treated myself to a bed in the refugio at the end and a hot shower. My bedroom had amazing views.

view from bedroom window

punta arenas cemetary

punta arenas cemetary 2

tierra del fuego

finding shoes to fit must have been hard

en route to puerto natales we came across a bus crash that had just happened. people were still climbing out of the front window. (No fatalities)

Tonight I catch a bus to El Chalten for some more hiking in Los Glaciaros National Park, and will hopefully get to see FitzRoy Mountain. Back to El Calafate in 3 or 4 days.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

co´d id by doze

I have just settled into my hostel in Punta Arenas - a small town right down near the southernmost part of Chile. It sits on the Straits of Magellan which explains the ruddy big statue of him in the main square. I hope to cross the Straits on Sunday to set foot on Tierra del Fuego, which has always held an aura of mystery to me as one of those far flung places like Timbuktou.

After I left Santiago I bussed it down to a town called Pucon. Pron. Puke-on - it´s unfortunate as it is a delightful little town which has the still active Villarica volcano sitting on its outskirts. There are numerous signs around town which tell you what to do should the volcano erupt. (Strangely ´Panic Hysterically´ didn´t feature.)

By the time I arrived here the bad cold I had contracted on arrival at Easter Island continued to make a Phlegm Phactory out of me and I feared this would jeapordise my Villarica climb.

It did. I couldn´t make it to the top. I gave it a bloody good go - but right from the start my legs felt really weak, and by the third stage (2,400 metres) I had to concede defeat. There was still 400 metres to go but the guide estimated it was another 2-3 hours. The volcano was covered in a fresh fall of snow, and we needed crampons almost from the start.

I should have stopped at the second stage but I stubbornly forced myself to continue. The view from stage three made it worthwhile.

Coming down was a blast as the trek company provides you with what looks like an adult nappy. Made of strong nylon and leather, it is attached around your backside and you slide down the volcano on your arse.

I stayed three days in Pucon before catching a bus 5 hours south to Puerto Montt and immediately wished I hadn´t. A dreary dirty town and the overcast grey skies didn´t help. Fortunately I was only here for one night in order to carch a flight to Punta Arenas.

While here I need to gear up for the 5 - 6 day hike in Torres del Paine. I´m really looking forward to this and i am desperately hoping this infernal cold will allow me to complete the hike.

Will let you know as probably the next chance I have to blog will be afterward in El Calafate.


santiago facade

3 locks

santiago sky

santiago building with gargoyle

gargoyle close

villarica from pucon

the volcano up close

me near the base

villarica stage 2

pucon reflection

must be a very small meal