Published: April 28th 2009April 9th 2009
So friends (and stalkers) welcome to the 'difficult' Post Antarctica blog,...but how does anyone (especially a ginger) follow such an adventure? Well as the budget wouldn't stretch to a trip to somewhere equally exotic like the North Pole, The Galapagos Islands or Bourton on the Water (Cotswolds, Eng) ....you'll have to settle for a bit of hiking along with some gags thrown in at my expense...so strap yourselves in kiddywinks cos the fun starts here..... Post Antarctica
With the sea faring over it was time for more land based fun (which on the plus side didn't include a bed that rocked up to 45 degrees either side....all night....) ...And after very little exercise for 10 days it was 'excercise' that the Dr ordered. I on the other hand cheekily tried ordering some Xbox and Sky Sports but as the hostel didn't have either it ended: Dr 1 Me 0. So to keep said Dr happy I went in search of things that would fit the bill. Luckily for me I was in one of the best places in South America for hiking being in Tierra Del Fuego with Patagonia not far away (by local standards) meaning there
were a few plenty of things on the menu (not that sort of menu Reevesie). Tierra Del Fuego
So what actual land based fun was there in the region known as Tierra Del Fuego then?....Well, hovering above Ushuaia was the Martial Glacier, and a short bus ride away was the T De F National Park. Sorted for the next few days then.
First up was the Martial Glacier. Now this bad boy sits over the town of Ushuaia and starts with a short cab ride to a cable car...or if you don't get the cab to the cable car it actually starts in Ushuaia (obviously). I opted for the cab ride as road walking was just plain dull in my book. Once there I met a friendly (non English speaking) cable car attendant, and as I was only on Spanish Lesson 4 on my ipod all I could really do with any degree of confidence was ask him his name and count to 10. However with this combination I ran the risk that he may see this as some degree of threatening ultimatum so I decided to point and say 'Glacier' in exaggerated Spanish accent.
At the Martial Glacier
It worked and he gave me a map and pointed up the mountain, so armed with this crucial info, off I set.
It was a good stroll with the mist and wind making it all the more enjoyable. Before I knew it I was at the base of the glacier. It was nothing like Fox glacier (NZ) but had great views over Ushuaia (which Fox obviously didn't have). From where I sat down to lunch there were various glacial streams flowing down the mountain which proved a perfect resource for chilling my can of Coke (more shameless plugging boys, seriously this wont go on for long.....u may be a global brand but do you know how many people read my blog?) The weather got icy on the way down but luckily my North Face gloves did the job (North Face, yep also open to offers boys). Tierra Del Fuego National Park
For this place you pretty much have the choice of 4 main hikes and if you don't have a tent you are restricted to day trips to the park. Of the 4 hikes I wanted to go for the toughest one (I know, I'm
hard) so went for Cerro Guanaco which the guidebook said was 'strenuous' (whoah) and would take 4 hours each way (wheey), a whopping 8 hour day walk if I took no breaks (eeey) and I had to do it within this time to avoid missing my bus (you serious?) ...the added incentive for this being that there were no hostels in the park and I didn't have a tent....
On the way to the park the bus driver tried to talk me out of doing the walk which I found a tad strange. Then when at the entrance to the park I had to properly register to let them know I was doing it too (this wasn't a requirement for the other 3 walks). I asked the other hikers in the queue which they were doing, none doing mine. Did they know something I didn't? As I headed for the start of the trail, a couple more signs seemingly acting as a warning (see photos). I have to admit I did pause at the cross roads for a bit before going on the trek known only as .....Cerro Guanaco.
It started with a wooded area which went up....and
..not trying to put you off...
up...but when I got to a clearing I had great views of the light blue lakes that I had seen previously on other people's blogs when I was researching the trip. Next bit was a bit boggy where I nearly got stuck (not on people's blogs) then another clearing. I wasn't too sure where I was supposed to be going and there was no one else around so I kept going and every now and then I would see an orange marker.
The path then ended up being up the side of a steep scree slope which looked cool and once again had good views of the lakes. The last km was pretty steep but knowing that I didn't want to miss my bus I 'attacked' it (in the words of Palin).
Once at the top, the views were well worth it. When I checked the watch I had done it in under half the time, probably spurred on by Coca Cola (seriously boys, I can't keep this up...not that I want to put pressure on you but Pepsi have been sniffing round).. At the top it was similar to Mount Roy (NZ) insofar as there were views
At the first clearing
from either side. Unlike Mt Roy tho, it was much colder, had more snow with icy wind and (luckily for me) I didn't leave my sunglasses at the top before my descent.. Bus to Chile
Now, first things first, this is not like the Oz Greyhound. Why? Well you have more than one bus company to choose from (great - if you like to complicate things that is. I don't), you couldn't book online (boo) and none actually went to my destination of choice - Puerta Natales (boooo). But the guy that sold me the ticket to somewhere else said that my bus would 'probably' meet the bus going to Puerto Natales along the way and it would stop and I could swap over....not convinced? Nah nor was I... I just had to hope that Terry the Tour Operator (not really his name) was telling the truth as I had no accom booked for the place my bus was actually going to. Plus I didn't want the lady whose hostel I had booked into to be up all night with worry for my safety should I fail to show up....er.
So at 8am I boarded
At second clearing
the bus and get this, the seats were fab. Really comfy and reclined enough for me to get some more kip. Until border control that was when I had a bit of a fright as I read that we weren't allowed to take fruit and animal products thro. I've never eaten 3 bananas so quickly but that still left me with 6 eggs and I wasn't that hungry........ Luckily as they were cooked I was able to take them thro unscathed. Well as the customes chap smashed one just to 'check', only 5 actually made it through unscathed. Still, 5 eggs and no hefty fine and I was in Chile. Puerto Natales
So into Chile then and PN. As I arrived late I headed straight to my base for the night...it was a hospedaje. A what? Yeah it's kind of like someone's house. Well no 'kind of' about it really is someone's house. Mine was cosy but sooo skanky, altho I didn't tell the owners. I felt a bit bad checking out the next day as the owners were so nice, but man that bathroom, the bed, the room etc were all pants...altho it
did have wi fi tho....
Impressions of PN were that there were lots of street dogs and it pretty cold altho I can't really crack the 'chilly' gag as Chile is in fact pronounced chill-ay. Boo. Talking of colds tho, I hadn't been able to fight off the one kindly share by my roomies in Ushuaia so had 2 choices. 1. Continue my (losing) battle with my cold in the National Park (the windiest in S America) or 2. Sit tight for a few days eating crisps and watching telly or tell-ay as the locals say....(they don't really really) waiting for it to pass. I chose the latter and made sure the my accomodation had a telly, ...and a crisp shop nearby.
As the town is base for all trekkers to go to the Torres Del Paine National Park, the info about the place was surprisingly scarce...and I had lots of questions....how get there, how do it, how long would it take, what hostels could I stay in, did I need to book them in advance, which ones would be open, did I need a tent, need a stove, need to take food, and there's a boat? What
View from the top
are the boat times... I couldn't ask the hostel owner as all he could say was 'what time you want breakfast senor?'. And i hadn't progressed to Spanish Lesson 5 yet. Luck was on my side tho as a German girl (from my bus) had told me about a cool little hostel that ran free lectures daily and had a magazine with info too. Result. The place, 'Erratic Rock Cafe' was true to the build up and dished out a top lecture on the place, the hostels the routes etc.
So what did I learn: it was windy, don't change plans based on weather, don't go too close to the edge of cliffs as wind comes from nowhere and is like a 6ft bloke knocking over you (previously a girl has been thrown 25ft when putting her tent up, ok so a big 'no' to camping then), the wind would make the rain feel like needles in your face (he wasn't selling the place to me, to be fair) don't overpack, you can drink the water altho wont be the case in 10 yrs (so 'yaah' to all my mates who are planning to do this trip after the
The first clearing
Valles de Frances, T de Paine (Day 2)
kids have left home...unless of course your kids leave home within 10 yrs, or if u leave them home alone (illegal).)....I left the lecture with all my questions answered (well ones aboutt the Nat Park at least) even if I was a tad on edge about the 6ft bloke who knocks you over, altho if I did spot him I would report him to the police (not the band). Torres Del Paine National Park
My trek was called the 'W' cos that is what it is shaped like altho with my ability to lose markers I was wonderig if I would leave the park having invented the '@'. You could do it east to west or vice versa and it takes 4-6 days. I had planned to do it in 4 days and 4 nights (again, cos I'm hard) which started with a 2.5 hr bus journey there.
On arriving at the park I was joined by 2 girls who had attempted the easterly side of the 'W' and were wet thro and their views? .... rubbish views. And as we shared the same boat to Paine Grande Refugio (hostel) they told me that the
weather forecast for the next 5 days was more of the same. Day 1 - Up to Glacier Grey
I went on the walk to Glacier Grey, and was keen to check time it took against the guide books. I did it in shorts (cos I always do, again - hard) and weather was brutal: 80 km wind, rain and sleet. On the way back I was wet thro and the wind had ensured that I was pretty cold too. My joints were icy cold and my knee began to hurt. Wasn't sure how I would fare the next day with a full rucksack.. That evening at the refugio I met Allan and Nat coming the other way and over a Pisco Sour I kind of envied them leaving the park the next day. Day 2 - Up Valles Frances then to Cuernos
I started the day with long trousers and a much slower pace knowing that it was the toughest day including the hike up Valles de Frances - although the views were appparently the highlight of the park. On reaching the Valley the weather was still pretty bad but I
stilll thought I'd give it a go (again - hard). On the way up I came across a strong waterfall/rapids and went up close to take some pics. As I continued along along side of it clambering over slippy rocks it crossed my mind that one slip and I would be a goner (not an Arsenal fan). Couldn't figure why the trek would take me to a dangerous place.
It was a good 20 mins before I saw someone else walking on a different path and realised I had taken a wrong turn. C arefully back down and back towards Valles then and the weather hadn't improved. A few people were turning back but I wanted to go to the next viewpoint which wasn't far away. The weather had got worse and was snowing which was combined with icy wind. So at the viewpoint I stopped for a short lunch break, and with no point continuing further I headed back to camp Italiano and then on to Cuernos for the night.
At refugio Cuerno I had the choice of bed or tent, decided to rent tent. It was a top setting to be camping. It was however, cold
At the Torres Del Paine
shortly before my knee ceased up
cold cold during the night.. but due to the toasty fire in the hut I could dry my boots and clothes. Day 3 - Hike to Hostel Las Torres
I set off with a full pack and sore knee and the weather didn't lift the mood. Not much to look at by way of scenery as it was pretty cloudy/misty.. When I got to end bit had choice of getting last bus home or staying night and getting up at 530am to leave at 6am to do the stretch to the Torres which was 4.5 hrs each way, yep 9 hrs total (assuming no breaks), with a sore knee and an odds on chance that the weather would again be pants... Day 4 - Hike to Torres Del Paine
I had mixed views then when the 5.30am alarm went off, partly cos I was cold and tired but also cos I needed to start off with a torch cos sun wasn't up. I started walking as fast as poss as didnt want to miss the 2pm bus back plus I had been warned to look out for Pumas that early. The sky
was clear, but would it hold..?. Sky got lighter and lighter, then a gorgeous sunrise. It was an interesting walk too as I briefly descended down the valley to Refugio Chilenos. I followed the river and kept going and going, then as I saw the people coming down from the Torres (they had camped closer) I knew I had just the 45 mins of scrambling up the last bit to go. As I scrambled up I had still had blue sky (eeeey).....and then as I turned the final corner there they were......the Torres.....in all their glory. The setting was perfect..a small still lake at the bottom of 3 sides of scree slopes and the Towers in the background...the silence only broken by the odd piece of scree tumbling earthwards......Luckily for me a chap from Chile arrived a bit later so were able to take some photos of each other (not like that, u pervs)
After bout an hour I headed back and whilst 'Paine' doesn't mean anything Spanish it took on personal significance for me as realised my feckin knee had kind of ceased up. Knew I had plenty of time til bus and going down would be quicker
anyway. Altho the last 45 mins I was swinging it like it was wooden. Then back at refugio and enjoy some more sun while I chilled out waiting for the bus to PN. El Calafate
Next up was place called El Calafate and the Perito Moreno glacier after a shortish bus ride (5 hrs). Why was it so good then especially after i'd been to Antarctica? Well kiddywinks, it is the most acitve one in the world according to some sources and is good enough to be on the front of Lonely Planet's guide to Argentina, so 'When in Rome' I thought.
It was am amazing beast. Fully 60 m high, and stretched as far back as the eye could see, and true to the sources, lots of movement/activity. You could literally hear ice cracking falling every minute, and it consisted of amazing colours deep blue, perfect white and steel grey. And after bout an hour of waiting a huge column crashed off the front of the glacier sending huge waves radiating towards us (luckily the viewing platform was safely out of the way)
Then plan was to go to El Chalten for more
hiking, glacier walks and stuff but my knee was still playing up, plus I had worked out that if I got to Buenos Aires by the sunday I would be in time to watch Boca Juniors play Godoy Cruiz at the Bombanero... click, flight booked then...
....But would I get tickets? Well folks here starts your agonising wait for you til my next blog.
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There are more photos below