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South America » Chile » Araucanía » Villarrica
February 13th 2009
Published: March 5th 2009
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Getting ready for the climbGetting ready for the climbGetting ready for the climb

All the gear, just no idea!
Hi, Rich here to carry on our South America adventure.
So after a few days in Santiago it was time to say our farewells to half of the travel group we had travelled from Lima to Santiago with, spending New Year, Christams day and the Inca trail with. A fantastic group of friends!

We soon met up with the new guys for the Santiago to Rio de Janerio Leg. We had previously discovered that the best way to get to know each other was over a beer or 2, so we headed over to our friends Hostel across town for a good get-to-know-each-other session. It seemd to work as we all get on!!

We left Santiago for Pucon, a 6 hour drive south to a small town on the shores of the lake Villerrica.

Our main reason for being here was to conquer the Volcano Villarrica and to do some white water rafting. We arrived in town with the view of the snow capped 2900m Volcano in front of us. It is Chiles most active volcano and is one of only 4 in the world known to have an active lava lake. So what do you do? Go to climb it (or i did anyway, after the Inca trail Caral wasn´t so interested!!) But first up was a relaxing evening round the freshwater lake at the town of Pucon and a good tear up on the cheap jetski´s that were available. The waves were a bit choppy but that just made it more fun! We hit the waves and Carol repeatadly tried to throw me off by getting as much air time as possible whilst screaming like a small child! She had great timke, i sh@t myself......and fell off. lol

So we got up early the next morning (5.30!!) made our lunches up, and caught the transfer into town. I first realised something was up due to the amount of confused tourists standing around outside the office, 5 mins later our fears were confirmed.....climb cancelled due to weather conditions. So the early wake up was for nothing, so back to bed, ready to get up at 11pm for the white water rafting! We had waited the whole trip for Pucon having been told that it was the best area to do the rafting on our trip, with rapids up to grade 4/5 so we were both quite excited! Carol had never been before so was a little more eager to get going!

We geared up, launched of raft and headed down the river for a bit of training on the instructions (turn right, turn left, forwards, back, and IN!!!!!!) We were a little nervous due to our rather poor track record of kayaking togetehr. We figured it was nealry the same, water craft, oars, team work. Would our relationship survive another water borne activity? Would carol attempt to drown me yet again, or would we scream at each other whilst dropping over a waterfall? Thankfully enough, none of the above although some screaming did occur on the drop, but screams of adrenaline!

We spent 3 hours going down the river, going over 5 big sets of rapids and sadly enough having to walk around 1 set as the company would not let inexperienced persons go down it. To make up for it we did have to do a 5m jump down into the river to get back into the raft! It was an amazing day and we were glad that we went for it, however it does not even come close to restoring our faith in water activities togther!

I rose early again the next morning and returned to the office, and got the good news....climb on! We jumped into the minibus and made the half hour run to the base of the volcano for the start of the 5 hour ascent, and immediately got some good news, the ski lift that had been broken for the last year had started working so we jumped on and avoided the first hours worth of climbing! Now thats the start of a morning that i like!! At the top of the lift we suited up, put on the leggings, overcoats, helmets, gloves, sunglasses and clampons for the boots. We received instruction on how to save ourselves if we started to slip down the ice using our ice picks and the best way to climb using it. This was the one thing i hadn´t really thought of, when they said climb a volcano i envisaged a hot mountain, high but just up. It was actually snow capped with plenty of ice, biting wind and hard work! We set off for the now shortened 4 hour climb and made slow work zigzagging our way up the slopes leaning heavily on the ice picks gripping into the ice and attempting not to slip down the slope under us. Occasionally the shout ´ROCK!!´ would stop everyone and throw nervous glances up the slopes as rocks skittered down towards us and we prayed that the bigger ones would not turn towrads us! As we got higher we cleared the cloud line for some staggering views, unfortunatley though the weather was turning and visibility was getting less and less, and the wind was picking up throwing ice into our faces. We literally had to hunker down at some points to avoid getting blown away and wait for the wind to subside before continuing up. The cold weather started to hit my face and i started to wonder whether it was worth it or not.......I never found out as 30 mins from the summit we got bad news, the air quality was too poor at the summit to continue. The weather was causing the Toxi gases to swirl around the volcanic summit and not clear making it potentially dangerous for us to continue.....GUTTED! As we took in the news we started to think about the descent, we had been told it might be a bit quicker...well we were going downhill after all!

Our guide said, right should take us about 20 mins to get down.....ummm.....nah, don´t think so mate........ah.......it appears that we´re sliding down! We had a nappy contraption to put on our ass to get a bit more speed up, an ice pick to slow us down and a god almighty steep slope to hit going down! The guides fashioned out a u slide for us to try and stay in and that was it, off we go! God i got some speed up! The scariest momnent was when i tried to brake, lost the ice pick, and picked up more speed, going past the guide in a bundle of legs and arms dong 360´s. Luckily enough after a bit i managed to purchase some grip with my heels and stop myself. Thankfully enough after i looked down getting closer to a cliff face! Oops! Itw as a lot of fun getting back, a lot more than the climbing up but it was well worth it and i thoroughly enjoyed the day if not a little put out by the cancelled summit attempt!

The next day was another days drive, back towards the Chile/Argentina border to cross back over and move into the Lakes district. We hit the border after a 3 hour drive making good time on our way to the town of Bariloche. We got stamped out of Chile and drove throught the forest towards the argentine border post with an impressive view of volcanos on our right hand side. We stamped out and sat on the truck for an ever increasing amout of time. After an hour or so we figured out we had a problem, reinforced by the fact that we had to have a border gaurd on our truck for our drive to the next town. It transpired we had a problem with our insurance documents that we needed to get sorted. We stopped at the next town and wandered off to let our driver and guide get it sorted and got back at about 3 to carry on. We actually sat around until 5 until we were told that we had to stay overnight until the problem was sorted. To say we were unimpressed was an understatement! We made a makeshift camp out of town, cooked a meal and hit the sack, having to
View from the bporderView from the bporderView from the bporder

Between Chile and Argie
get up early in the morning to get back to town to sort out the documents and get back on the trail. It took until midday to eventually get the border gaurds to let us out of there! I could go into the details but it was a stupid misprint on the document that some 20 something officious tw@t decided to get fussy about! ah well!

The drive to Bariloche throught the lakes district was absolutley stunning and an good insight of what we were to see over the next few weeks. We drove into the town of Bariloche a little put out as we had lost the time we ahd here hanging at the border. Barioche is THE ski resort of south america and also the chocalate making centre, sorrounded by lakes and mountains, ski lifts and posh hotels. We managaed to squeeze in a night in town for a meal and drinks out, and a dip in the lake early the next morning.

Unfortunatley that was it, again the next morning was another long drive day further south entering an area that we (especially me) had wanted to go for a long time. Patagonia.

We
Entering the lakes districtEntering the lakes districtEntering the lakes district

Not a bad view eh?
have really adapted to life on the truck, (called Trevor BTW) and by this time we´ve spent nearly 8 weeks on it! Most drive days have been spent sleeping, reading, playing cards and watching movies. We have 2 tables at the front which we play scrabble, Uno, 500 (an addictive game!) and a whole host of other games at whilst socialising with all the friends we´ve made and playing music. 12-14 hour drive days this far south are not uncommon due to the hundreds of KM´s we have to drive along dirt tracks. over 2 drive days we would typically cover about 1600KM, leaving at 7am, meaning a 6 am brekkie, pack tents away and all the equipment, and get on the truck. We would stop for an half hour lunch which would usaully be rolls, or salad or pasta salad, anything quick and easy for 25 people! Having been on the truck for the amount of time we had meant we were quite used to jumping off unloading, sorting stuff out, and packing it away again. A lot of the campsites we stopped at during these drives were Municipal campsites in a small town or village depending on where we got to. they would normally be dusty sites with 1 or 2 toilets and a shower but this takes away form the fact that we stoppe din some of the MOST picturesquew places on earth to camp, sometimes by a stream or river, or lake that we could swim in. Nearly always stocked with ice cold beers and of course the best thing, with a group of mates thatw e ahd bonded so well with. Of course there are so many variables in all this, road conditions, truck conditions....yes we had a few problems on the way.....the roads are not the best and the suspension takes a hell of a beating!


Anyway late on our first day we stopped on a small town called Rio Mayo, all prepared for a quiet free camp. Fortunatley it was the towns anniversary and there was a concert and Rodeo on with full on proper Gaucho´s (argentine cowboys) demonstarting how to break in horses. It was a great spectacle and a real treat for Carol as well as me! Sadly we have no photo´s but we hope to get some off our friends so we can show you!!

The next day was another drive day into Patagonia proper, the vast region covering southern Argentina and Chile and one of the worlds last great wildernesses and least populated places on earth. The area is flanked in the west and south by the Andes and in the east by vast steppe like regions covered by shingle and scub. Driving along dirt tracks through the undulating landscape was impressive and awe inspiring,. I managed to get some time in the cab with our driver Pete to get some real impressive views (and talk some engineering geek chat!!). The wildlife was sparse to say the least but occasionaly we would see some Rheas zig zagging of in the distance. Rhea´s are cousins of Emus and Ostraichs, just a little smaller and we were just a little surprised to see them here! Soon enough we got into Los Galciers National Park and closer to the Fitzroy mountain range. An impressive range of peaks flanked by glaciers and glacier lakes with icebergs drifting in them as chunks fall off the glacier into the lake at the foot. Again the campsite was beautiful and waking up every morning was a treat! We decided to save some of our budget here and not visit the galciers as we had already ticked that off the world travel list in NZ and also we were saving the best for last - The Moreno Glacier furtehr south. So we spent the next day as a day off and found some Premiership football on TV and hung out with some friends in a warm bar in the swiss like town!

Next up was another (sigh) drive day south to El Calafte and the Moreno Glacier. It was also down here we got the áll you can eat buffets´with a ton of beef, lamb, chicken and a selction of just about everything you could want for a cheap nosh down, it was superb! SA meat rocks! Gonna miss it so much....
Anyway we were soon on our way out to the galcier region, stopping at a ranch first for a look around (carol stared at horses for a while anyway) i chased lambs and goats and we soon kicked on.

The Moreno glacier is one of the most impressive things i have seen, a 30km long glacier advancing from a southern patagionian ice fields region, which contains the 3rd largest body
Approaching FitzroyApproaching FitzroyApproaching Fitzroy

Thats what you call a view
of fresh water in the world! (fun, yet educational blogs!!) The face of the glacier is 5km long terminating into the Lago Argentina.

TYhe next day (your getting the idea here) was another big drive day heading further and colder south, we corssed the border into chile (again) and crossed the Straits of Magellan via ferry onto the largest island in the south Tierra Del Feugo, and then crossed back into Argentina again (gets tiresome after a while!) before overnighting in a sailing club in Rio Grande. This was anice nighta s we didn´t have to worry about tents and cooking as we got a takeaway of Chicken and Chips!

From here it was south alkl the way and into the southern most city and location in the world....the end of the world.....Ushuaia......




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Tents and the campsite in El Chalten (fitzroy)


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