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Published: November 25th 2006
Southern Splendour in Patagonia
In a nutshell, Patagonia is spectacular. Politically, it encompasses the southern tip of both Chile & Argentina, that pointy bit you see when looking at a map of South America; but geographically, it is a stretch of land that on its western edge contains beech forests, crystal clear lakes, towering granite mountains, glaciers and even the world's largest non-polar ice cap. It is the only significant landmass (siginficant enough to take over 20 hours to drive from end to end!) to lie between 40 degrees south and Antartica. To give you an idea of how south that is, Patagonia's most northerly point roughly runs in line with New Zealand's most southerly.
We landed in Santiago from Rio de Janeiro and after a 8 hour layover, pressed on to Pucon in the Chilian Lakes District on the overnight bus, ready to tackle this windy, wild adventure haven and have been blown away - literally and metaphorically! Pucon, Chile
Small, quaint, ski-town in the winter come adventure centre in the off season, we were delighted by Pucon instantly! Well renowned for usually being drowned in rain, we were lucky to find the town
bathed in sunshine for our whole 3 days there! After sussing out the activities on offer, we were quick off the mark in order to make the most of the good weather (less it turn quickly) and booked a climb up Villarrica Volcano for the next day. Still active, smoldering in the summer and smokey in the winter, we´d caught the beginning of the climbing season and what we hoped would be operating chair-lifts that would knock 3 hours of 1-foot-deep-snow-trekking off the day's schedule. Having all the previous afternoon to talk to tour operaters and other tourists, it seemed just about nobody had completed the ascent to the crater in the last few days and stories of ´being beaten by the volcano´abounded. But there was hope (if not a cop-out) and that lay with the possibility that the chair lifts had started. So with knot-in-stomach in anticipation for either a challenging day or a VERY challenging day, we set off at 7am, arrived at the base, and hooray, there were the lifts... operating! So you bet we jumped on, zoomed over kilometers of soft snow, popped up through the clouds, strapped on our crampons, and zig-zag-ed our way up
the volcano's snowy peak. After only a few hours, we reached the top, got a peak down the crater (amazing!) and soaked up the exhilarating feeling.
The descent was just as good as the summit, as we were able to slide down on our bums for most of the part! Woo hoo!
The next day we jumped on board a quick white water rafting trip - laughing and paddling through the fun, but gentle, Grade 3 rapids, as the guide shouted "enjoy! enjoy!". And enjoy we did, as we followed this up with several hours in the local thermal hot-springs, beer in hand, stars above... nice! San Martin de los Andes, Argentina
A short bus ride over the border and past the most amazing mountain scenery I´ve enjoyed since bussing from Christchurch to Queenstown some years ago. (yay Rits!) and we were in San Martin de los Andes.
And if we thought Pucon was cute, San Martin was something else! A wealthy Argintinian ski resort, there were wood-cottages, wood-phone booths and even cute looking wood-garbage bins amid perfectly tendered gardens, streets of delicious restaurants & chocolate shops and all framed by a stunning
We headed up to the local miradoor (lookout) by bike and I think the picture should really say it all! When Dom had taken a run by the lake a day before, I didn´t quite realise how true it was when he said "Vettie, I think I´ve just taken the most beautiful run of my life!" Barrioloche, Argentina
Barrioloche, about 3 hours from San Martin, was our next stop, and despite being the biggest town we were to visit during our time in Patagonia (300,000ish), we opted for a more rural experience by staying at La Morada, a hill-side lodge 7km from town with to-die-for views over Barrioloche, an open fire place, kitchen equipped with coffee maker, garlic press and any other little luxury you could imagine. Basically, we did nothing in Barrioloche except relax by the crakling fire, cook, drink hot chocolate and enjoy a red wine or two over conversation with the other guests until the early hours of the morning.
And this is perhaps where a great part of our time in Patagonia kicked off... as we started meeting other travelers and then continued to re-meet them during the course
of the next few weeks. From bumping into familiar faces on the side of the mountain or a supermarket cue, we really loved having a small network of fun, like-minded travelers to share a few hours, bus journey or a meal with. Puerto Varas, Chile
Back across the boarder, a few bananas, a yogurt and a pot of honey lighter, (it seems Chile is vying for Australia's position as "nation with strictest quarrantine control"!) we then spent some time in Puerto Varas, another small lake-side town with volcano views! Quite a lot sleepier than other towns we'd so far visisted, we simply spent our day there taking in the sights on foot, playing with a local dog or two and watching a DVD of the Bee Gees live in Las Vagas with the owner of our hostel! Those guys are actually pretty cool... 😊
So this was the end of our more northerly and temperate time in Patagonia/Lakes District, and next stop was Puerto Montt, for our flight to Punta Arenes and onward journey to Puerto Natalas. Puerto Natalas, Chile
So Puerto Natalas is really the kick-off point for each and every traveler
undertaking a trek in the Torres del Paine National Park for a glimpse of the post-card-famous towering granite rock formations of Las Torres. And here, is also where those roaring winds that have had nothing but southern seas to contend with, suddenly hit land, and wooshka!
....Any human brave enough to venture into this territory is going to face a battle with mother nature!
Anyway, Dom and I took some time to enquire about the treks, decided on the well marked 4day-3night "W" route, rented all our camping gear (thank goodness our friendly rental lady Magdalaina reminded us we´d need cooking gear! woops!) and set off on an amazing independent trekking adventure! Torres del Paine, Chile
Well, we weren't treated with the most amazing weather, we had one clear day, we didn´t get to see Los Torres, the wind whipped and hurled around us, it even snowed, but what we did see and experience was still truely spectacular.
I can´t say either of us have trekked in snowy conditions before, and in a kind of funny way, whilst it meant we didn´t get that blue-sky post card view of the Torres, it was still really really
beautiful. Kind of magical I guess. And as we scrambled over boulders and weaved through the forest, thanked our lucky stars as it was a million times better than the alternative... rain!
And everyone on the mountain that day was in great spirits - as we passed others, there was always a hello, a small courtesy of some sort about the weather, the path or a photo opportunity (trekkers really are the most polite bunch of people I know) and back at camp that night, everyone rallyed together to obtain wood, kindling or anything that might help out another.
Day two proved to be our only stella weather day, (but remember, it was still really, really, really windy!) and required a long walk with all our gear to the next camp with no landmark of mention along the way. However, we loved spending the hours in the fresh outdoors, skirting the edge of Lake Nordenskjold, passing seriously impressive rocky mountains and watching the wind whip unbelieavably large whirl-winds of water off the lake that I think could have moved a house.
Day three was a relatively easy, peaceful snowy day up Valle de Frances accompanied by two
great Aussie blokes. The miradoor was beautiful to say the least - you are able to see an entire 360 degree panorama of mountains around you! We felt like a little pea in a giant mountain bowl!
Unfortunatly our last day was a squalor of wind and rain coming from every direction, so we weren't able to see the Lake Grey Glacier.... but luckily the camp site on this day had a small hut for cooking and hanging out in, so we spent all our waking hours in the relatively warm and shelted hut with Stefano from Italy, Ellie from England and Sebastian from France!
Overall, trekking Torres del Paine was certainly hard work - but we loved it. It was exhilarating, tough, and the weather sure provided some challenges, but it also gave you a big wake-up kick up the bum and you had no choice but to take in every thing that this crazy land threw at you....from the cold, to the beauty, to the little plants and animals and the changing scenery. El Calafate, Argentina & The Perito Moreno Glacier
Back across the boarder again into Argentina, we knew it was time for
Day 3 - Valle de Frances
Sitting beneath a bowl of mountains. What a panorama!
a day's R&R before hitting the next big natural attraction - The Moreno Glacier.. the largest advancing glacier in the world!!! Afraid of sounding like a broken record, it really was beuautiful too!! And the best part was the ice chunks, the size of a car or larger, that would crash off the side with a tremendous thunderous roar and into the icy waters below! Rock on!
We spent about 3 weeks in the Lakes District and Patagonia, and could have spent more. We even got a taste for perhaps the next slice of this planet we'd love to visit.... Antartica!!! (no, seriously, I know we need to get on back to the real world and get jobs soon! Shopping in Aldee with $2 in your pocket and leaving with the cheapest cheese, the cheapest bread, the smallest and therefore cheapest avocado and an embarassingly cheap bottle of wine has proved very humbling.)
Next stop - more of Argentina... we love this place!
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The ever expanding Godfrey family
we like listening to broken records!!
Seriously those views are spectacular! The glacier with thunderous chunks of ice sounds cool! I think you could handle a harsh winter in Buxton now YT!!! Granted Antartica may be more 'out there'!! hey and if you've got to eat cheap cheese and bread where better to do it......... Take care x
Your trip sound spectacular. For more pictures of Chlie you can check my web sites, www.chilehighlights.com where you will find some information as well, and www.flickr.com/photos/gazpachon
What an awesome adventure you guys are having. I've always wanted to go to South America and these pictures definitely give me even more reason. Missing you guys! Nic xoxo