Published: April 23rd 2012April 22nd 2012
The last two and half weeks since my last entry have been fairly fast-paced and I’ve travelled a long way from El Chalten to Santiago, visiting Patagonia and Lake Districts in both Chile and Argentina. It’s been one of the most interesting and rewarding sections of the trip so far – combining stunning scenery, touristy highlights and some off-the-beaten-track locations.
I arrived in El Chalten expecting a hiking Mecca and found it had closed for the winter. To describe it as a one-horse town would be to overstate its liveliness. The first day there was actually fairly grim – a futile five hour hike through rain, snow and ice with literally no views of the surrounding mountains. I arrived back at the hostel soaking wet and fairly miserable.
Yet the next few days were to be a real highlight as the weather cleared and I was rewarded with excellent views of the Cerro Torre and the absolutely stunning Cerro Fitz Roy. The scenery around El Chalten rivals even Torres del Paine and I spent an excellent Easter weekend there, making sure to consume Dairy Milk between hikes.
The next few days were spent travelling to Bariloche, in the
Lakes District of Argentina. This journey was along the iconic Route 40, and gave us another opportunity to see just how empty Patagonia is. Route 40 is a bit of a work in progress so it took two full days of driving to reach Bariloche, stopping overnight in Perito Moreno, a town that made El Chalten feel like Vegas.
It’s difficult not to love Bariloche, despite it being very touristy and a little tacky. The biggest town I’d seen in a few weeks (by a distance), it was a welcome return to civilization. A ski resort that was first settled by Austrians and Germans, it has an Alpine feel complete with chocolate shops and beerhouses. It’s also next to the stunning Nahuel Haupi national park which was blessed with three days of perfect sunshine while I visited.
I spent a few days exploring the nearby lakes by foot and bike and enjoying the weather and then headed back into Chile. My first stop was Ancud on the Isle of Chiloe, a windswept island that’s famous for giving the world the potato and which looks a little bit like the English countryside. I had hoped to see some penguins
here but unfortunately discovered that the last ones had left in March. I was about to leave but then caught up with some travelers I’d met in Puerto Natales, so spent a couple of days exploring the coastline around Ancud before moving south to Castro.
Chile is an incredibly beautiful country with extremely likeable people. Like Brazilians, they live life to the full, and are enjoying the good times while the economy is booming. On numerous occasions we’ve been invited to locals houses for drinks and an asado – a large barbeque with titanic slabs of meat. This has been a great opportunity to move away from the Gringos and practice the Spanish with some real Latin Americans. We decided it would be fun to hitchhike from Ancud to Castro, as it’s considered standard procedure in Chiloe. Within twenty minutes we had been offered a ride and were even taken along a longer scenic route as the local driver wanted to show us the most beautiful parts of the island - they really are that welcoming.
I left Castro for Validivia, a small town known for being the location of the Kunstmann brewery (as I mentioned before, Chileans
like their beer) and a fish market which is frequented by incredible fat and lazy sea lions that live off the huge quantity of available scraps. From there we went to Pucon, a touristy town located next to the Villarica volcano. Our first day here was spent White Water rafting, which was great fun if a little cold, before attending another asado and then heading to Pucon's slightly drab casino in the evening.
The next day we were going to climb Villarica, but windy weather meant out tour was cancelled. Guides have been especially cautious in recent months due to the fact that two people died on the mountain in bad conditions earlier in the year. Instead, we had a rather less active day drinking beer and watching El Clasico - worth watching for the reaction when Chilean Alexis Sanchez scored alone.
The next day we climbed the volcano which involved trekking up a glacier with crampons and then sliding down on our backs. Unfortunately I never worked out how to use my ice axe to break, something which didn't make me particularly popular with the ultra-cautious guide.
I'm now in Santiago, having a very slow day
after yesterday's hiking/ night-bus combination. Unfortunately, despite travelling a long way north overnight, it is much colder here than in Pucon so it seems that the flip-flops and shorts are not moving from their position at the bottom of the backpack just yet.