Saturday, February 25, 2006

Agro-tourism (15-23/Feb/06)

Bariloche, Argentina

In the end we spent 5 nights at Esther’s cousin’s house. He lives in between the 2 main towns, Coyhaique and Puerto Aisén, in the countryside where he has a few greenhouses and grows mostly lettuce and coriander. The first day there we learned how to harvest them and prepare them for the shops, then went to Puerto Aisén to all the small supermarkets and corner shops to sell them. Since then we have mostly been farmers, learning a few tricks of the trade, planting the next batch of lettuce, and fighting a bug invasion. On the last day we visited the neighbours and oversaw the slaughter of a sheep (if you’re gonna eat meat you should see how it’s made at least once), crucified it on a roasting stick, and plonked it next to the fire (of coigue wood, very important) for a few hours. Hmmmm, tasty. We missed out on milking a cow (but at least had seen it the day before) because of a hangover. Oh, and we grabbed & held our first chicken.

Our next stop down the Carretera Austral as this neck of the woods is called was Futaleufú (al these weird names derive from the local Indian tribes), but the best way there by bus is through Chaitén (which involves doubling back on yourself a bit) and spending the night there. Due to the constant rain there is an “urban campsite”, a big bare room in a house where you can sleep on the floor and even pitch tent if you want. Before going to Futaleufú we had a dip in the local thermal baths, quite amusing being in the open air in shorts while it’s freezing cold and raining around you.

Futaleufú is the rafting capital of Chile, but in the end we didn’t go down the river because it seemed a bit hardcore (even though they assured us it was OK for beginners), but mostly because the weather was a bit crap and we found out it was half price (even if not as good) in Bariloche. And so we spent the night there and caught the next bus across the border…

…To Esquel, to see the Alerces national park. But since it was a bit tame, what with having to hop on pleasure boats (and pay!) to get to the good bit and no long distance treks we just breezed on through, pausing just to hop on a tourist steam train called La Tronchita (aka The Old Patagonian Express) which was really nice.

Now we have been a day in Bariloche, the town my father fell in love with (not quite sure why, the town is nothing special, but the location is pretty amazing – maybe he meant that). Yesterday we did some rafting, which sadly was tamer than expected, more or less the same as the other time we did it in Northern Spain a few years ago. Still, the river was beautiful, with eroded rock canyons & vegetation along the shore. Now we are off for the king of all activities (and cheapest) – trekking. We have a nice 3-day route ahead of us, and some rock climbing saved for when we get back.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

More trekking and glaciers (4-14/Feb/06)

Coyahique, Chile

With all this talk about Southernmost part of the continent, penguins and glaciers you’d think we are freezing out nuts off here, but it isn’t like that at all. Penguins seem to be pretty happy in the baking sun. And glaciers seem to take an awful lot before melting too.

Definitely a glacier is much more appreciated if you have to trek 4 days to see it. Riding on a boat or getting in a bus isn’t the same. Still, the boat trip was pretty awesome no matter what, and you get really close to the edge of an 80m high chunk of ice. The Moreno glacier was also amazing, spent the whole day just waiting for massive chunks to fall off (it is one of the few moving glaciers, so is pretty more active than the rest).

After El Calafate we took a short (ish) bus ride to El Chalten. Here things are much less traditional-touristy and much more backpacker-touristy. The roads are still unpaved, there are much more trekking routes (virtually non-existent in El Chalten, which is why we had to take boat & bus), and accommodation much more basic. We did one amazing route on the 1st day. The 2nd day we were going to do some rock climbing with an instructor but the weather turned pretty bad so we cancelled. After that the weather turned great again so we hired some shoes and did some bouldering. Third day we went for a trek on one of the glaciers with some crampons, as ended it with a bit of ice climbing.

Had a mini economic crisis coming into Chile, which is why we haven’t been in an Internet café for a bit – the only bank for some time accepted only MasterCard and we only have Visa. They also wouldn’t take our emergency travellers cheques. Luckily we had a few Argentinian pesos left and changed those. Took a detour (for more trekking!) to Villa Cerro Castillo but then realised it wasn’t worth it so only stayed 1 night. From there we have taken the bus to Coyahique to see if we can hook up with Esther’s cousin who lives in the area as a farmer or something. I hope he rears sheep or cows. I’m starving.

Paine, glaciares y por fin verde otra vez...(26 ene-14 feb/06)

Somos unos hachas! Nos hicimos Torres del Paine en 6 noches y 7 días! Mis botas eran casi nuevas y volví con los dos dedos gordos de los pies infectados y como choricillos y los tobillos ligeramente resentidos pero el médico de la farmacia de Chile se apiadó de mi (su hijo estudiaba en Madrid y buscaba novia) y me curó que da gusto…

Torres del Paine fue alucinante y allí vi mi primer glaciar, el Glaciar Grey, y el campo de Hielo Sur frente al cual acampamos una de las noches. Hubo rutas un poco interminables, especialmente una de 30 km y 10 horas (que la gente normal hace en dos días y no en uno!), pero las vistas desde todos lados eran alucinantes. Prometo que dentro de poco enviaremos alguna foto…

De vuelta a la civilización nos dimos el lujo de cenar en un restaurante y dormir en una cama y todo volvió a la normalidad (menos mis dedos que todavía tienen un color así como moradillo). Y a partir de ahí más y más glaciares, esta vez en Argentina (El Calafate) y aunque quizá más espectaculares que los del Paine las miles de personas que hay a su alrededor les quitan un poco el encanto…Eso si, en otra zona menos poblada (El Chaltén) hicimos trekking y escalada sobre hielo. Fue la bomba!

Y basta ya de hielo! Después de 12 horas en bus Patagonia arriba la naturaleza ha cambiado y el verde ha vuelto a aparecer en nuestras vidas! Estamos en la Carretera Austral en Chile por unos días antes de volver a cruzar a Argentina para ir a Bariloche.

Ayer hicimos nuestro primer mes de viaje y tomamos dos grandes decisiones, hacer balance del mes y lavar la toalla de la ducha! Ambas acciones fueron muy satisfactorias.

Hasta la próxima!

Saturday, February 04, 2006

Torres del Paine (25/Jan-3/Feb/06)

El Calafate, Argentina

Last time you heard from us was over a week ago as we have been in the big outdoors, with no modern conveniences like Internet, toilets or biscuits...

The Torres del Paine national park in Chile is absolutely amazing. There are two main trekking routes, the W circuit (5 days, for wusses) and the full circuit (7-8 days, for cool people). We obviously went for the big one. Did it in 7 days but sincerely recommend doing it in 8 to split up a 10h stint which had us nearly in tears for the last 2h.

We left from Puerto Natales by bus, and by 12ish we were in the park. We'd stocked up on food the evening before and were armed with pasta, rice, tomato sauce, sausages and cereal bars (water isn't necessary as you can get it from any mountain stream, all fresh, cold and perfectly drinkable). Not the most varied of diets for a week. We'd been told to pitch tent at the entrance and go up to one of the viewpoints on the first day (rather than leave it to last), as it was a hard uphill and we would have nothing to carry and have fresh legs. As it turns out I think this wasn't the best advice as on the last day we were OK, having got used to all the aches and pains, and on the second day we had muscleache from our big toe to our eyelids. And the second day was the big 10h stint. No matter, the views from the top were amazing. Winds are normally 80km/h but that day it was around 120, which was pretty scary, but we were brave.

Third day was a short 4h and we recovered from the second day and started getting into our stride. These few days are outside the W circuit so there were less people and there was a great air of camaradery at the campsites. On the fourth day we crossed the main mountain pass and had amazing views of the valley we had been crossing, and of the huge glacier at the other side, which we walked next to for a day (and camped for the night).

The park itself is a mixture of steep peaks, a central massif (which is basically what we walked around), and various glaciers and lakes. Even though you see snow & ice it isn't cold - pretty hot in the sun and a bit chilly in the shade and at night. Wind is generally on the strong side, especially in the W circuit and higher up, but you get used to it. There are signposted tracks, a few capsites and even hotels. Oh, and we think we saw our first condor! Sadly Esther got a toe infection (doctor blames the boots, he says all trekking boots are very bad as they squeze your feet too much) but is slowly recovering.

Back in Argentina now, in the Glaciers national park. Tomorrow we take a boat tour of a few glaciers, including the magnificent Upssala, and the day after we visit the famous Moreno glacier. After that we are off a bit further North to the other part of the park to do a bit more (lighter) trekking.