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Published: October 24th 2016
Another big South American hello to you all, this time from a rather chilly Chile, where we have so far spent a week marvelling at this country's simply stunning natural landscapes.
We arrived in the country by coach from Argentina, a five hour schlep that included two border checkpoints vehemently reminding us that the 'Malvinas', or Falklands to us, are in fact Argentinian ruled. At the second checkpoint, Vicky's backpack was singled out and searched thoroughly by several guards, adding delay to the coach party.
Once it was established that Vicky's entry was indeed legitimate, and our beloved scrabble-like game of 'Bananagrams' was in fact a game in the shape of a banana, rather than a banana itself, we were able to enter Chilean territory. We stayed that night in Puerto Natales, a small town that was once a fishing port, but has now grown significantly through the advent of tourism as a gateway to the Torres del Paine National Park. We used this place to book-end our time in the park, for carb loading before, and recovery massages after (they were more than required).
Aptly translated as the 'Towers of Paine', the Parque Nacional Torres del Paine has been designated as such for more than 50 years, and it only took the boat ride we needed to reach our 'refugio' (hostel) for the next three days to see why it is such a prized and protected area. Bright blue lakes and sweeping, open steppes are overlooked by towering, snow capped peaks. Using our 'refugio' as a base, we completed over 70km of walking, covering most of the 'W-trek', which is a famous trail in the park following an undulating route in the shape of its eponymous letter. The scenery on all routes taken was a geographer's heaven: glaciers, cirques, arêtes, moraines, kettle lakes, tarn lakes, scree, erratic, drumlins - all there straight in front of you. The most dramatic moment came on seeing a real time avalanche across the valley, with hundreds of tonnes of snow cracking off the side of a glacier like a gunshot, and steaming down the adjacent cliff face. This place would have made a first class case study! Even though our accommodation was very basic (Vicky particularly enjoyed the dorm shares with a rather large and snoring Chilean chap with a questionable use of effective deodorant), and reminded us of various geography field trip centres over the years, we found getting out in pure nature was both revitalising and refreshing - and that the beer at the end of the day tastes better when the legs are tired.
As an aside, we've quite literally continued our sampling of local cuisine in leaps and bounds, enjoying the delicious local delicacy of mountain hare the other night. Our tour of South American reds has continued in parallel, with our Chilean favourite being a Syrah from the Casablanca Valley. We hope to visit a vineyard there after our arrival in Santiago at the end of the week.
Still feeling a little stiff following our Torres exploits, we have found ourselves in Punta Arenas, a large town on the Strait of Magellan, that came about as a key supply point for gold rush vessels heading to California in the nineteenth century, before the Panama Canal was built. The reason for our stopover today however has been to visit the 150,000 strong colony of Magellanic penguins, on Isla Magdalena, about an hour offshore. Whilst we're not yet at peak breeding season, meaning there weren't quite as many as this, we were still able to walk amongst thousands of happy feet bustling about on the island, who seemed to have divided their responsibilities between fishing and building their individual burrows where each pair will later raise their young. On the boat trip home we were taken to another small island and saw a whole colony of sea lions, humongous things that were sunbathing with hundreds of seals. The day was rounded off with dolphins swimming and jumping alongside our boat as we returned to the shore.
As we embark on our final week in South America, tomorrow will see the climate warm for us, as we take a flight up to Santiago, and then onwards to the Atacama desert - the driest (non polar) place on the planet.
Speak again soon. D&V xx
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