Monday, January 30, 2006

Jan 30/31 - Chilean wines

We thought we'd take a couple of days to see a few of the wineries around Santiago. With no clear plan or map, Wade, Rena and ourselves decided to rent a car and just hope for the best.

The first stop was Concha Y Toro, which I think is Chile's largest wineries. They sell wines under a number of different brands (including Casillero del Diablo - The Devil's Cellar), and are exported practically everywhere.

It took a few stops to get the right directions but we finally made it there for an afternoon tour. We got to sample a few wines during the tour, and then we decided to belly up to the tasting bar for a few more. Rena had ate something dodgy for lunch, so she was the responsible one. Tanis went for the most expensive wines on the list, Wade and Casey (driver and co-pilot) went for volume.

We then headed south thinking we'd just trip over another winery or two and find a place to stay. We found Santa Rita, but were sent away as we didn't have a reservation. We then found a small micro-winery who's owner/tour guide didn't speak english. But we got some directions from him for the nearest town of any size, bought a bottle of wine and headed off with thoughts of hotel rooms in our heads.

After a few minor detours, we finally made it to Raconcagua and found a hotel downtown. The guide book didn't have many good things to say about the mostly industrial town of about 200,000 people, but we found it to be pretty friendly.

The next day we went to the Miguel Torres winery. It was a very nice winery with a very nice restaurant where we drank many nice wines with lunch. We then had the tour.

That was pretty much it for the wineries, as we had to get back to Santiago tonight as we were flying out first thing tomorrow morning to Buenos Aires. The ladies were pretty quiet on the way back - possibly the wine?

Saturday, January 28, 2006

Jan 28/29 - Bariloche, Argentina

We spent the next two days in Bariloche which was a very pretty town. Lots of lakes and mountains, with lots of buildings in kind of a swiss style (or so we're told - having never been to Switzerland, who knows). Its supposed to be a ski resort town in the winter, but it was very busy in the summer as well.

Tanis ate something dodgy on the boat ride to Bariloche and was under the weather for most of our time here. So we didn't get very far out of down town. However, Bariloche is also famous for its chocolate - chocolate stores everywhere. And apparently Tanis' 'illness' didn't affect her appetite for chocolate.

In the end it was a very relaxing couple of days. On the evening of the 29th we flew back to Santiago in Chile

Friday, January 27, 2006

Jan 27 - Crossing to Bariloche

Today we took the Cruce de Lagos from Puerto Varas, Chile to Bariloche, Argentina. Its a combination of 4 bus trips and 3 boat trips across a few high altitude lakes in the Andes. The first stop was the Rio Petrohue falls which was packed full of geriatrics on bus tours. The falls weren't really that impressive, so I'm not sure what the big attraction was.

Here's a pic of Volcan Osorno from the first ferry ride.

Not really much else exciting happened, other than Rena getting shat on by a pigeon, but unfortunately, no pictures.

Monday, January 23, 2006

Jan 23-25 - Kayaking on Reloncavi Fjord

The Navimag arrived in Puerto Montt at about 6am on the 23rd, and we were off by about 8am. We were then picked up in Puerto Montt by our guide from Ko´Kayak who was taking us on a three day trip down Rio Petrohue and into the Reloncavi Fjord.

We drove up to Puerto Varas and then on to their boat house in Ensanado. We were given the appropriate gear, signed the appropriate liability waivers and then taken to the drop in point on the Rio Petrohue.

This time of year, the area is plagued with tabanos. Tabanos are these giant horse fly type things that are incredibly annoying. They were our constant companions down the Rio Petrohue which made it difficult to focus on anything else.

It was easy paddling down the river as we were going with the current, and other than a couple incidents with some fallen trees in the river, things were going pretty well.

Right up until we hit our first and only real rapids. The guide went and checked it out first as they can change depending on the tide, as its where the river meets the ocean. We did pretty well until the last rough patch which dumped both Rena and Casey into the river. We managed not to lose any of our gear and after a brief rest period to get them back into their kayaks, we were on our way again. We kayaked out of the river and into the fjord for a few km, where we camped for the night.

The next day started out very nice with hardly any wind and lots of sunshine. The wind was predicted to pick up later in the day so we were trying to get as far as we could in the morning as we´d be going right into it. We kayaked past a number of salmon and mussel farms, and also got to see a few sea lions swimming around. In particular what appeared to be a giant bull sea lion (at least he seemed pretty big from a kayak - I'm guessing 2,000 lbs or so). Again, being accountants and not athletes, we didn´t get as far as we´d hoped. But luckily there was a support boat that picked us up and took us to the 'hospedaje' where we were staying tonight. And a more seaworthy vessel you won't find.

The hospedaje was basically an old family farmhouse with just the grandmother/mother left. The lady of the house was now running a bed and breakfast type set up. I'm not sure how often she gets guests as there are no roads to the place. It looked a little rustic from the outside but was very nice on the inside. There yard was also full of animals - 2 dogs, 4 pigs (with about 20 piglets), 4 cows, 6 geese and a few cats. There must have also been some chickens as we heard the roosters first thing in the morning. No power or tv, but plenty of entertainment. As they didn´t speak english and our spanish sucks, we´re not 100% sure of how it happened, but we gathered that some other dogs showed up one day while they were gone and attacked one of their pigs, and basically chewed its leg off. There´s obviously something we´re missing, but it was quite the sight. (this next picture may not be suitable for all audiences)

The last day we headed further down the fjord and around one of the islands that is usually home to a fairly large seal lion colony. We had perfect weather today, lots of sunshine and no wind - when we started in through the little islands the water was just like glass.

It was very picturesque with little houses here, while surrounded by mountains and volcanoes. We saw a couple of sea lions but as its apparently mating season (or something) there weren't any on the island. But we also got to see a few dolphins who were swimming/surfacing pretty close to where we were. Of course no pictures as they weren't really sticking around for very long, but still pretty cool.

The support boat then picked us up around noon and we made lunch on the boat. The boat then took us to a town on the fjord where we would be picked up by the van.

The support boat tows a row boat behind it for getting to shore, although its not the most sea worthy vessel as we found out on the way back. The solution was just to go faster and once the front of the row boat got out of the water, it pretty much sorted itself out.

After a few hours in the minivan, we made it back to Puerto Varas where we would be spending a couple of nights before heading to Bariloche in Argentina.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Jan 19-23 - Navimag

We took the morning bus from El Calafate back to Puerto Natales where we would be boarding the Navimag ferry this evening. We got into Puerto Natales around 2pm and then picked up our excess clothes, etc that we had left there before our hike, did laundry (which was very much needed) and got to spend a few hours hanging out with Shari and Eamon, who were just starting their trek through Torres del Paine the next day.

We boarded the ferry at around 9pm that night.

The Navimag ferry takes cargo and passengers from Puerto Natales to Puerto Montt through various channels and fjords along the coast of Chile. The whole trip takes abut 3.5 days. We had a cabin with 4 bunks which proved to be a little cramped if everyone wanted to stand up at the same time.

As we´ve learned, the weather in Patagonia seems to be changing all the time, and we only had one really nice day (day 2). We stopped in Puerto Eden and passengers had a chance to visit the town for an hour or two if they wanted. It was way too early for us, but we did get the chance to snap a few pics.

We got to see some impressive scenery, including a few more glaciers, some dolphins, and this wreck that grounded on a sandbar 40 years ago and now acts as a channel marker. We also managed to get through about 10 bottles of wine and a case or two of beer. Just what we needed to recover from all the hiking.

The afternoon/evening of day 2 was when we left the channels for a while and we´re in the open sea. Everybody was advised that the seas could be rough and if they thought they might get sick, they should take some sea sickness pills about 2 hours before we entered the open sea. This was taken about 5ish, after the pills had put pretty much everyone to sleep.

Wade and Casey took the opportunity to enjoy a few beverages, and to briefly take command of the bridge.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Jan 17/18 - El Chalten and Fitz Roy

We rented another car today and drove to north to another little town in Argentina called El Chalten, which is located inside in the Los Glaciares national park.

We again underestimated the amount of people travelling in Argentina during their summer, and ended up calling every single hotel/hostal in town until we found a place with availability (that we could afford). Once the hotel was sorted out, we headed out for dinner. Quilmes is the most popular beer in Argentina. We also discovered it comes in big bottles. And this makes some people happy.

On the 18th, we got the owner of the hotel to take us about 17km north of town and then hiked back through the park. It started out as a nice day and the hike was pretty easy, and we were again treated to some very nice scenery (although I can't remember the name of this glaciar).

The main point of interest on the trail was to see Mt. Fitz Roy, one of the highest peaks in Argentina. However, it had turned cloudy and rainy by the time we got to the path to the lookout, and as we had managed to get ourselves slightly off the trail again, decided there wasn´t much point in continuing any further as weren´t going to be able to see anything anyways. Tanis was disappointed.

But we made our way back to town through the wind and rain, had a quick beer, hopped in the car and headed back to El Calafate.

Monday, January 16, 2006

Jan 16 - Perito Merino

We made it to El Calafate last night and managed to find the last four beds in town. Today we took an afternoon bus to the Perito Merino glacier - one of the few advancing glaciers around.

The glacier was massive. Roughly 16 stories high, about 4 km across at the front and 30 km long. There are a number of observations decks for people to sit and watch as big chunks of ice break off the glacier and crash into the lake. You can see people on one of the decks at the bottom of the picture to give you an idea of how big it is.

The glacier has also cut the lake in half - on the left side the water is substantially higher. This happens every couple of years until the pressure builds up enough and then the lake blows through the glacier. After seeing what looked like relatively small pieces of the glacier fall into the lake and make a huge boom, we can only imagine what kind of explosion results when the lake finally bursts the dam.

We hung out for awhile watching the glacier 'calve', and what better way to enjoy the wonders of nature than with a couple bottles of wine (note the tin cups)

Saturday, January 14, 2006

Jan 14 - Torres del Paine

So we actually managed to get on the trail at about 3:45am. Anybody can hike to Torres del Paine, but we thought it might be more challenging to try in the dark. With a hangover.

We managed to make it to the base of this giant rock mountain, which it turned out we had to climb. Although at some point, we managed to lose the trail, which is probably Casey's fault as he was in the lead. So instead of going across the rock mountain to the look out, we went over the top. Much higher and farther than we needed to. We eventually came out at the other end of the lake. To give you an idea of how far away we were, there are actually people standing at the other end of the lake - we couldn't see them, but could see the flashes from their cameras. That was when we realised we'd gone too far. Not to mention the fact that we'd slightly under-provisioned for the supposed 4 hour hike. A tiny cereal bar each and a big chocolate bar to share.

Here we are hiking back down part of the rock mountain.

So we hiked back around to the main base area. On a positive note, our extra "efforts" got us a few pictures of what most people don't. And as there were some low clouds, we didn't actually miss the sunrise as there wasn't one, and we were at the main base when the sun finally came out from behind the clouds.

So after a brief photo session at the look out, we took our broken bodies back down the mountain.

We got back to the campsite around 10:30am - after about 6.5 hours of some of the more difficult hiking of the entire trip. We then had lunch, packed up, and headed down to the camp at the base (another 6 or so km away) to try to find a transfer to the park entrance and catch our bus to El Calafate in Argentina. We made it in time, but unfortunately the bus was full so we had to hang around for another 24 hours as the bus only runs once a day. But I don't think anybody was complaining as we all needed the break.

A relaxing dinner at the bottom.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Jan 11 - 13 - More hiking

We spent the next three days hiking through the park along the 'W' circuit. Although we had to cut out part of it due to time constraints or lack of physical fitness.

After Lago Grey, we hiked back to Lago Pehoe and stayed the night there again. The only real difficulty over the next couple of days occurred the on the 12th when we got to camp Los Cuernos. As we were hiking along the Lago Nordenskjold, the wind really started to pick up. It was lifting sheets of water off the lake and throwing it up the hillside, which was 'refreshing' if you happened to be in the way.

By the time we got to the camp, the wind was actually pushing some of the waterfalls back up the mountain. We'd bought some pretty cheap tents in Santiago and they weren't up to the task. As soon as we got ours pegged and up, the wind just ripped it off the ground and sent us tumbling back trying to hang on to it. Luckily, the campground had some more 'wind-resistant' tents which we were able to rent for the night.

The 13th we hiked from Los Cuernos to camp Chileno, about 2 hours from the actual Torres del Paine, the parks namesake. By a fluke, we ended up getting onto a short-cut that cut a lot of pain out of the day. So we were feeling pretty good when we made it into camp Chileno by 4:oo pm or so. And things got even better when we discovered that the local Refugio accepted visa. So we splurged on cold beers and dinner at the Refugio. Only one more day of hiking and then we'd be able to rest...

The plan was to hit the trail at 3:30am so that we could be to the base of Torres del Paine for sunrise. The changing colors of the peaks as the sun hits them was supposed to be spectacular. 3:30am came awfully early after the night's festivities.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Jan 10 - Glacier Grey

Our first actual day of hiking today. Turns out, we're over provisioned (5 litres of wine) and under fit. In the morning we hiked about 11 km with full packs to Lago Grey. There were happy smiles at the start of the hike...

You'll notice the lake actually has ice bergs in it.

After a short rest and an expensive lunch (since we didn't have time to cook one ourselves) we spent the afternoon hiking on Glacier Grey, crampons, ice axes and all.

Taking a short rest.

We finished it off by scaling an ice wall. One of our guides, a Frenchman named Miguel, kept reminding us to make the "sexy move" while climbing up. There was supposed to be 5 moves or steps, when ascending. 1 - secure right ice axe, 2 - secure left ice axe, 3 - kick in right crampon, 4 - kick in left crampon and 5 - "sexy move", or in other words, thrust your hips against the wall. The same Frenchman mistook Caseys Hungry Herbies shirt as reference to a marijuana joint. Poor guy.

Enjoying dinner on the shores of Lago Grey after a very, very long first day.

Sunday, January 08, 2006

Jan 8/9 - Pingüinera & Puerto Natales

We flew into Punta Arenas today, although we never actually made it to the town, just the airport. This is as far south as we go - Punta Arenas is along the Magellan Strait and even though its summer, it's still pretty cool temperature wise.

We rented a car at the airport, managed to squeeze all four of us and our packs into the little hatchback, and then drove north to the Pingüinera at Seno Otway.

It took us a couple tries to find the turn-off but we finally made it to the Pingüinera. And were rewarded with a bunch of Magellanic penguins running around with their short little legs. Any obstacle, stick or ledge, seemed insurmountable, but caused them little concern. They trek amazing distances once or twice a day between their burrows and the sea for food. We spent an hour or so amusing ourselves watching numerable penguins make the trek.

From there, it was on to Puerto Natales. We were staying the night of the 8th here and on the 9th were doing some organising/provisioning for our 5 day hike through Torres del Paine National Park.

We then took a bus to the park and then a catamaran to our base camp for the night before starting the hike the next day. On the catamaran, we were served nescafe, hot chocolate and powered milk. Tasty stuff.

Our first night of camping was on Lago Pehoe, with plans for an early start to Lago Grey the next morning. We were impressed with the campsite - the nearby Refugio had electricity and internet. A small provisioning store sold beer and meat. We soon found out that other locations in the Park weren't so well outfitted...

Friday, January 06, 2006

Jan 6 - Back in business

After our bit of bad luck, we had a fun New Year's Eve in Valparaiso and spent some time in the police station and various municipal offices trying to get the necessary documentation to get our passports reissued. We then took a trip up the coast before heading back to Santiago. There was some great scenery, but unfortunately we had no camera to take any pictures of it.

We've spent the last few days in Santiago trying to get things sorted out with our passports and visas and touring the city a little bit. So far, we've managed to get our passports, but we're still working on our visas (and will be for the next three weeks or so thanks to our bank in Cayman - personal service at it's best!).

Today we met up with some friends who also used to live/work in Cayman - Shari and Eamon who now live in Ireland, and Wade and Rena who are also homeless like us, but originally came from Saskatchewan. Wade and Rena were kind enough to pick us up a new camera before they left Sask and delivered it to us today. They are all taking a few months off and doing a tour through Chile/Argentina and then on to southeast Asia.

Once our friends arrived we spent some time relaxing and catching up. We'll be travelling with Wade and Rena through Chile for the next 3-4 weeks, but may only see Shari and Eamon once or twice over the next 2 months.

Eamon, Casey and Wade enjoying Chile's national cocktail, the Pisco Sour.

Rena telling Shari exactly what she thinks of people in plaid shirts, after a couple bottles of vino.

We had the 6th and 7th in Santiago, and then Wade, Rena and ourselves flew down to Punta Arenas on the 8th to start our trek through Patagonia...