Day 157: Goodbye South America … I’ll be back one day!

South America has tons of distinctive traits and before flying out of the continent two specials ones showed up once more. The first being the pleasant chaos that is always around, however this is every time accompanied by a smiling face that makes the caused discomfort much more bearable. The latter is the apparently cheap cost of labour that results in tons of employees where one could have been sufficient. My endeavour  to fly out of Cartagena was characterized by both.

A couple of days ago a plane, of the company I was flying with, was struck by lightning upon landing in Bogota. Although the plane broke up in three parts, most of the passengers survived, leaving only one deadly victim due to a heart attack. This disrupted the whole flight schedule in the coming days as well as the flight I was planning to take. On my last evening in Cartagena I got two emails from the airline company, the first one for the direct connection I had booked, the second one de-routing via Barranquilla and leaving one hour earlier. Just to be sure I got very early to the airport and passed on a final night out in town. When I showed up at the airport, I got referred from desk to desk until I finally queued up for my flight check-in which started one hour later than promised. There it turns out that I got two flight tickets for the flight de-routing through Barranquilla, nevertheless I would be taking the direct flight to Fort Lauderdale, only on a different hour than either the ones that was originally sent to me (things were starting to get slightly confusing for me at this moment). During check-in I all of the sudden needed different documents than the ones requested up front, but we managed to make our way around this. Then I had to wait for another hour to get to customs check, since that one isn’t open at the moment.

Customs check turns out to be like nothing I’ve ever experienced before. First an airline employee writes down my name, then I go for a first interview with a policeman. After this I drop off my bags to get them through the scanner, while I go through one of those walk-through scanners myself. Everything normal until here. Never minding the result of the scanner, I get scanned manually by an officer as well. Then I take my bag to another officer who goes through all my stuff as well. A next officer pads me down, before sending me up to the narcotics officer who takes X-ray shots of my body (so far for privacy)! Then I go back down to the migration officer who questions me once more before giving me my stamp. Then another lovely lady takes down my name and sends me to another airport employee who once more goes through my bags before finally approving me safe to fly. I got to the airport at 7.30am and at 1.30pm, I can finally board my plane towards the States.

Don’t let this short history give you a wrong impression however, I’ve absolutely loved my time on this continent. Before I left I heard horror stories about the freezing cold in Patagonia, the unavoidable food poisoning in Bolivia and the fearless para-military groups of Colombia. All the while during my five months of travelling here I only had amazing experiences, met incredibly friendly people, ate (mostly) really good food and saw fantastic sceneries. I will take all of these with me as beautiful memories while my trip continues and hopefully far beyond. I can only recommend everybody to travel here yourself and experience the absolute friendliness and beauty of this continent.

In an attempt to organize some of these memories I’ve drawn up some lists that rank the most memorable ones.

Best Countries

1. Colombia
2. Bolivia
3. Argentina
4. Peru
5. Chile
6. Ecuador

First place here had for a long while been in the hands of Bolivia, which without any doubt is an amazing country that has so much to offer at a bargain price. In the end Colombia took over based on two reasons: having a coastline (sorry for rubbing it in Bolivia) with all related advantages and the always present joy the Colombians show while smiling, talking or dancing. Having the prettiest looking ladies of my trip might have been important as well. As for the other places I’ve been, if Patagonia had been a country it would definitely been on the top of my list, same for Galapagos. Peru was good fun, but limited to Huaraz and Cuzco area.

Best Regions

1. Patagonia
2. Galapagos Islands
3. Caribbean Coast

Because the country question didn’t cover the whole spectrum, I started looking at specific areas as well. Patagonia is taking first place here because it is just plainly amazing and I would recommend everybody to go there and to discover it by himself. It’s also a region that has changed part of me as well, where I discovered that I loved being outdoors and go trekking, thus it has definitely defined how the rest of my trip would look like. Galapagos Islands have a mythical aura around them and were the place where I felt most like I was a kid again, looking in amazement at the animals around me. The Caribbean Coast in Colombia is a deserving third that has a lot to offer for anyone who is up for it, stunning beaches with abundant marine life are linked to the cloud forest of the Sierra Nevada rising just behind it, with a flourishing nightlife in between.

Relaxation in the middle of Patagonian peaks

Best Food

1. Caribean lobstertails in Santa Marta
2. Patagonian lamb in Cafayate
3. Filet Mignon in Taganga
4. Mangrove Crab in Guayaquil
5. Self-made food whenever eating out became too expensive

When eating, the people you’re sharing the food with are probably just as important as the quality of the food involved. So it’s no surprise that all off these meals were shared with great fellow travellers. The lobstertails with one of the final evenings of travelling with my parents came in giant portions with freshly grilled vegetables. The Patagonian lamb was a delicious dinner after Tom, Tom, Joss and I finished our trek around Mount Fitzroy. The filet mignon was once again shared with my parents (we tended to go to slightly more expensive restaurants when they were picking up the bill) and it was a pleasure to finally have a nice thick piece of meat (so much that I even went back later on with Tom and Roy). The mangrove crabs were shared when I met Sophie and Jay, a superb Australian couple that I kept running in to later. From time to time, the urge to cook our own meal took over and moments like those mostly gave us the most gratification.

Best Drinks

1. Fresh stream water in Patagonia
2. Malbec wine in Mendoza
3. Caipirinhas in Buenos Aires

Rarely good food goes without a good drink and definitely not in the wine regions of Chile and Argentina. But drawing up a list of my favourite drinks didn’t turn out to be that easy, apparently my alcohol consumption has been more limited than I had expected up front. This reflects itself in the first place as well, the fresh water out of the small Patagonian creeks and waterfalls. After being used to bottled and tap water for 25 years, it was an absolute revelation to be able to drink straight out of the little water streams. As a balance for all this healthy water, there were the famous wines of Chile and Argentina. The Malbec variety was our absolute favourite here and it was hard to have a meal where we weren’t drinking a bottle of wine when we were in the area. Caipirinhas normally are reserved for Brazil, but on a great samba party during our first weekend in Buenos Aires the combination of these strong cocktails and good company made us dance all night long.

Tasting Malbec wine in Argentina (still with beard then)

Most challenging activities

1. Kicking off this trip
2. Climbing Huayna Potosi
3. Biking back from Lago Desierto
4. Surviving freezing cold nights in Huayhuash trek
5. Keep going on the Torres del Paine trek doing everything ourselves

Without any doubt, making the decision to start on this trip was the hardest challenge to overcome. I had been playing with the idea for three years before I finally gave in to it and decided to go for it. Everything since passing that hurdle seems to be a piece of cake. Some things however were a bit harder than others. Climbing Huayna Potosi near La Paz definitely is the achievement I am proudest of. Whilst feeling physically ill, I had the guts and character to continue and make the summit. Afterwards the dredging walk back might have been even harder, but in the end it was all worth it. The mountain-bike trip back and forth to Lago Desierto must have been the most painful experience, neglecting the advice of the locals we set of on a 75km trip over the worst dirt road possible. When coming back there wasn’t a single muscle that wasn’t hurting and every single rock along the road had been personally cursed upon. Whilst trekking the Huaraz area in Northern Peru, each night the temperatures dropped to zero degrees Celsius and I was shivering inside the tent trying to keep my extremities warm by putting a hot water bottle near my feet and sleeping with my hat on. All of this made our trek in Torres del Paine even more impressive, where we were carrying all our belongings, pitching our own tent at night and cooking our own food in harsh conditions. But back then we were still full of fearlessness and courage.

Magical moments

1. The first look of Glaciar Grey
2. Sunset in Pacific with sealions and flying fish
3. Hatching baby turtles in Galapagos
4. Night dive in Taganga
5. Sunrise on Huayna Potosi
6. Sleeping in a hammock at Parque Tayrona
7. Swimming with river dolphins and cayman in the Bolivian Pampas
8. Biking through a deserted Atacama desert
9. Sunrise in a thermal bath during Huayhuash trek
10 . Sunrise at Ciudad Perdida (pictures click here)

The whole trip has been full of amazing experiences, but some of them are even a bit more special. I can vividly remember them straight away and I knew I was thinking to be the luckiest guy on the world at those moments. It’s hard to make a ranking of them, but I gave it a go. The feeling I had when stumbling upon Glacier Grey must be at the very top, after 7 days of intense hiking the majestic view of a 30 kilometre long glacier was extremely overwhelming. Sharing a sunset on a surfboard with animals as well as the hatching of sea turtles used to be things I would dream of as a kid, now I have actually experienced them myself. The night dive I did in Taganga as a part of my advanced dive course was great fun, slowly plunging into a dark unknown world with only my flashlight to guide me was just amazing. The sunrise on Huayna Potosi is without any doubt the most rewarding one I have experienced on this trip. After a couple of days on the Caribbean coast I had gotten used to sleeping in hammocks, but none was as overwhelming as the one in the tower up on the small peninsula of Cabo. Sharing a river with dolphins and cayman was pretty damn cool, as well as taking our mountain bikes and find a part of the Atacama desert that wasn’t full of tourist tours. The last two sunrises were equally magical, it’s only the amount of mosquito bites in Ciudad Perdida that bumped it down to the last place. (Pretty hard to make the selection here considering I had to bump Uyuni saltflats, Macchu Pichu and paragliding in Iquique)

Foggy sunrise at Ciudad Perdida

Best trekkings

1. The Circuit in Torres del Paine in Patagonia
2. Ciudad Perdida in Sierra Nevadq de Santa Marta
3. Huayhuash trail in North Peru
4. Salkantay trail to Macchu Pichu
5. Cerro Lindo in El Bolson

I had never expected to do that much hiking during my trip, but it seems like you’re never to old to discover new things you like. Out of the 155 days I’ve spent travelling, it turns out that some  45 of them were dedicated to (multi) day trek through nature. I believe the following five were my favourites. Doing the circuit in Torres was something we planned up front and one of the reasons we headed to Patagonia. It didn’t disappoint us and set the expectation level very high from the beginning on. The trek to Ciudad Perdida was something completely different, going through the jungle over ancient old paths of Tayrona indians we had to cross rivers and fight off mosquitoes to finally get to the old indian capital. The Huayhuash trail was equally beautiful as the other hikes done, only we did it a bit more luxurious having our own guide and horseman. The Salkantay trail was great fun to share with an amazing group of people and ended up in the mythical city of Macchu Pichu. A short two day hike to Cerro Lindo finishes of this list, it doesn’t happen that often that you can climb a frozen waterfall in the end.

Huayhuash trail


Most Played Music on my Ipod

Rodrigo y Gabriela – Rodrigo y Gabriella
The XX – XX
Arcade Fire – Neon Bible
Isbells – Isbells
The Black Keys – Brothers

The music I’ve been listening most to on this trip, other bands that have been passing by a lot: Air, The Beatles, Beach House, The Black Box Revelation, Bon Iver, Dirty Projectors, Eels, Fever Ray, Fleet Foxes, The Hickey Underworld, Jef Neve, The Low Anthem, Monsters of Folk, The National, Soulwax, The Subs, Vampire Weekend, Warren Zevon, The Whitest Boy Alive.

Things I miss the most

1. Friends and family living their lives and big moments
2. My own kitchen
3. A good game of basketball

While I’m travelling around the world, I’ve taken a side track to the life all of you are involved with. This also means missing out on all the special occasions in your life: new girlfriends, family celebrations, couples getting married, buying houses and having kids, new jobs, … These are the moments I wished I could send myself back for a short moment and be part of all the joy in your life. Guess I’ll just have to catch up fast once I get back.
Asides from that it seems like the things I’m missing are rather trivial. Having my own kitchen with my own utensils, spices and ingredients to put together a nice meal as well as playing a bit of basketball at times. But I guess those two would be better with friends around as well.

Shortly going through these lists I can only see that this trip has been a great experience till now. Five months in six South American countries have flown bye and great memories will always be attached to them. Now it’s time for three weeks of cruising through the States before starting the final leg of my trip in Asia.

Take care,

David

Advertisements

Day 65: The desert sessions

Readers who have followed the rock and roll scene in the late nineties and early noughties will be familiar with the term ‘Desert sessions’. Josh Homme, lead-singer of the Queens of the Stone Age, gathered several of his musical friends for jam sessions in the middle of the Mojave Desert. After a period of isolation and contemplation they came back with some great inspirational music.

We followed in the footsteps of some of our musical heroes when we headed for the Atacama desert in the north of Chile. An overnight bus took us from the Chilean beach side into the town of San Pedro de Atacama, which has developed into the backpacker’s Mecca for this area in recent years. The tiny pueblo is brilliantly located in an oasis that is surrounded by deserts that haven’t seen rain in years but is nourished by underground rivers that collect the melted snow of the neighbouring Andean peaks. It consists of little more than a couple of blocks filled up with hostels, tour agents and restaurants. We were definitely on the Gringo Trail. Nevertheless it’s the ideal operating base to discover the surrounding salt flats, geyser fields, lagunas and valleys.

Laguna Cejar

Laguna Cejar

Not allowing time to pass by, we immediately took two of the bikes – that our hosts at Inca Huasi provided for free – to check out the nearby Valle de la Luna. The sensation of biking through a desert is just sensational, although the altitude and omnipresent dust certainly didn’t make it an easy ride. Enjoying sunset on one of the dune ridges in the the valley was downright amazing, with the last rays of sun projecting a beautiful pink hue over the low hanging clouds that topped off the moon-like landscape. Following days were spent on excursions that took us to the Laguna Cejar, Ojos de Salar, Salar de Atacama and the Tatio Geysers. Because of the large distances to be covered and the tourist nature of Atacama, we were forced to join tour groups to see these attractions. It didn’t really feel like the way we preferred to travel, so by the end of these two days we felt a little bit disappointed by it all.

Our first Salar

Our first Salar

Our original plan was to head out of this desert-town on Monday towards the salt flats of Uyuni, unfortunately it had been snowing in the Bolivian Altiplano during the last couple of days so our departure was delayed for a day in order to clean up the roads. It turned out to be a great delay, because we took out our bikes again to ride towards the La Corniza. After taking a scenic but bumpy road that was constructed in the 19th century to connect San Pedro de Atacama with Calama, we got up to a little tunnel that took us in an out-of-this-world scenery. With nobody around we felt like we were dropped on a lunar landscape, so we happily biked further. Route indication was non-existing and our orientation had been heavily pertubated by the winding road towards the tunnel, but our instincts told us to drive straight ahead. We continued through dried up stream beds, steep canyons and vast desert landscape. At lunchtime we did some rock-climbing and got up to a plateau that gave us a majestic outlook over this amazing scenery without a single sign of human interference. This was the way we loved to travel: off the beaten track, not following a guide like a herd of sheep but breaking a sweat to arrive in a place where we’re all by ourselves and can be surprised by an amazing landscape and then not be afraid to scream out how f***ing great this all is.

Jumping in La Corniza

Jumping in La Corniza

After spending the night gazing at the stars (as well as freezing our toes off) in the Observatory, an early wake-up call got us out of bed for a three day adventure in the Bolivian Altiplano. At the border we were introduced to our companions for the coming trip: Chris, a very likeable investment banker(no this is not a contradiction) out of the UK; Francis, our medical whizzkid out of Singapore; Alex, freshly released of the New Zealand army, Bobby, a creative globetrotter out of Australia and Epi, our Bolivian driver. All of us got in to a 4×4 Toyota, which was surprisingly comfortable and besides lacking a functioning dashboard has taken us safely throughout the Altiplano.

Chris - Alex - David - Tom - Francis - Bobby at Salar de Uyuni

Chris - Alex - David - Tom - Francis - Bobby at Salar de Uyuni

It took us three days to get to our final destination Uyuni, but these are the things that we’ll remember for a long while:

1. Salar de Uyuni: without any doubt the highlight of this trip. The image of the otherworldly sunrise is something that is burned in our visual memory forever. Amazingly beautiful.
2. Geyser bathing at Salar de Chalviri: this was so much better than our experience at Tatio Geysers. This time the water was truly warm here and the family of vicunas passing by in the background just made the image complete.
3. Dark Side of the Moon: without any doubt the best soundtrack for this trip.
4. Cold nights: if you want to have a decent night sleep in a refugio at 4200 metres of altitude, you’re better off when you nick a pair of sheets from the empty room next doors to be covered in nicely.

Sunrise in the Salar

Sunrise in the Salar

Upon arrival in Uyuni, a sinister feeling crept upon us. The city was rather dead and signs of poverty seemed to be everywhere, it just didn’t feel comfortable. For a moment we were afraid that this would be representative for the whole of Bolivia. A well-deserved good night sleep and our arrival in the city of Potosi the following day luckily changed that whole idea, but more on that in a coming update.

Hasta proximo …

Tom y David

Tom y David

Day 59: Still on the road!

Beloved readers,

It´s been a while! But lately we`ve been staying in quite desolate areas without any (workable) internet connection. But.. we do not want to let our dearest fans down, so especially and only for you an overview of our activities.

We arrived in the charming town of Salta after taking a bus out of Cafayate. At the Inti Huasi hostel the beautiful “lady of the house” Mariena welcomed us. She tucked us in, after giving us a great massage accompanied with some honey-flavored milk whilst reading our favorite bed time stories. (For David Pocahontas, Tom opted for the sad part in Bambi again). Anyways, could be that we were dreaming or hallucinating, but we slept like roses and woke up with our batteries fully charged. The next day we started off with a visit to the charming town of Salta in the meanwhile further planning our trip . We decided to head towards La Quebrada de Huamaca.

The bus dropped us off in Tilcara, a nice little Quebrada-town. One of the most well known natural sites around town is “El Gargante Del Diablo”. The name seemed quite attractive: we were at least expecting a devilish landscape with a huge waterfall cutting trough a frightening and amazing valley. We asked directions to a friendly man, living in Buenos Aires but camping somewhere nearby. We ended having a conversation lasting for more or less 15 minutes and got to know where exactly each of the man’s family members are living for the moment, how they arrived over there, what their favorite dish is etc,… Finally, the man sent us in the wrong direction. Some moments later we got on the right trail only to find out that the falls were not as satanic as the name made us expect them to be. For Dutch-speaking readers: a bit of a “tegenvaller”. The scenery, however, was well worth the hike: hills covered with cactuses and backed with spectacular snow-white peaks. At noon we walked back towards the city and stepped inside one of the cosy restaurants to taste some of the local specialities: locro and a stew of cabrito. We headed back to the station and got on the bus to Purmamarca, known for its “Cerro de siete colores”: a rock formation with several colors depending on the type of sediments. And again our timing was perfect. After having found our hostel for the night, we witnessed another amazing sunset. We finished the day in style with a party in a local pub together with a diverse crowd of people we met in the hostel.

David in front of the Cierro de Siete Colores

But… both of us were longing for the next stop. The scream of the seaside and the Pacific Ocean were getting louder and louder. After a short night’s rest, we continued sleeping on the bus towards the city of Calama, famous for its copper mining activities. In town we had a dinner (Pichanga – nice and greasy Chilean food) and a drink in what seemed to be one of the local dodgy pubs (a 100% male public and short skirted girls as waitresses). Around midnight we switched onto the night bus to Arica, having another 8 hours bus drive ahead of us. However, early in the morning whilst stepping out of the bus, the scent of the ocean and the clear bleu skies welcomed us and made us smile. Pretty fast we forgot about our tired muscles and wrecked bodies. Once arrived at the hostel-with-sounding-name “Sunny Days”, we got a warm welcome by Ross, born and raised in New Zealand. The breakfast was surprisingly extensive. Crispy bread! Fresh fruits! Quinoa!

Planning on how to fill in the days in Arica, blessed with Chile’s most consistent waves and warm sea currents didn’t take long . We looked into each others direction and simultaneously screamed out loud: let’s go surfing!. Ross recommended to get some classes with Yoyo, the local eccentric surf guru. Shortly after we were standing on a surfboard, with our teacher explaining about how to simply use the energy of the wave to move along the ocean on a board. Sounded pretty inviting and easy. Fully motivated we jumped in our wetsuits and into the salty water only to find out that “using the energy of the waves” is not as easy as initially assumed. The whole afternoon we drank a lot of seawater and used muscles we did not know the existence of. Finally we witnessed the sunset in an alternative and cool way, this time lying on our boards with cramped muscles but surrounded by flying fish, several types of water birds and jumping sea lions.

Back in the hostel we found out how demanding surfing really is. We climbed in our beds early, to head to the beach again the next morning for another surf session. Yoyo picked us up at the hostel Chilean style (thirty minutes late). We passed by his house and in the meanwhile got a glance on his collection of sufboards and pictures with him flanking world’s most famous surf champions and various celebrities (amongst them Fernando Alonso with his Renault F1 racing team and Kelly Slater). Shortly after we were floating in the water again, leaning on our boards waiting to catch some waves. The motivation, persistence and hands-on approach of Yoyo worked out quite fine, and soon we found ourselves riding some (tiny) waves. Surf’s up!

The next day we packed up and headed towards Iquique, more south along the pacific coast line. The city is famous for its paragliding and huge waves. We dived into the city and arranged ourselves a paragliding trip. The next morning we could not hide our excitement when we were picked up by the pilot of the day and took a cab and collectivo up the hill overlooking both desert, city and beach landscapes. After a short explanation Tom got to be the first to be wrapped up into an old school gangsta’ style paragliding suit. Soon David followed and the both of us found out how birds must feel when they are using the thermic currents to fly high up in the sky.

Tom flying high up in the sky

In the afternoon the both of us split up. David went to check out the Unesco World Heritage site of the abandoned miners village of Humberstone. Constructed in the late nineteenth century, it was one of the worlds main nitrate sources; around which a complete town with swimming pool, theatre and hospital was built. After the discovery of synthetic nitrates in the 1930’s, the town was swiftly left behind to be rediscovered as a ghost town many years later. With no other tourists around and a howling desert wind that was rattling the old doors, the whole place had a mysterious and creepy feeling. Whilst the sunset slowly took over the desert and the old miners’ village, it was the perfect location for some great photography.

The abandoned miners village of Humberstone

Tom on the other hand desired a more active afternoon and wanted to further improve his surfing skills, so he got an extra surf lesson on the beach with Lalo (not to be confounded with Lala), a surfing buddy of Yoyo. After a short but effective crash course of one hour, Tom was left on his own, to find out that 1. The waves in Iquique are way too high for a beginning surfer 2. Getting into a wave the wrong way or with a bad timing pretty much feels like falling into a superpowerful washing machine 3. Sea water does not taste better than mineral water and 4. The ocean deserves all our respect and waves are big and respectful objects that are to be feared.

Surf´s up (or down)

In the meanwhile we´ve entered Bolivia via the salt flat of Uyuni after passing through the wonderful San Pedro de Atacama desert area. An extensive report on these amazing places will be provided in our next blog post. We want to finish with thanking you all for thinking of us!

All the best!

David y Tom

Day 41: Roaming the Carretera Austral

Hola señores y señoritas,

After having slept the first night in the “charming-city-with-unpronounceable-name” Coyhaique we decided to visit the nearby Reserva Nacional. During our visit at the local tourism office we had met up with a nice French lady, with whom we could share a cab to get there. So everything went smooth. We arrived at the park and said bye to the friendly driver, who would pick us up again 5 hours later, leaving us some time to do a hike. Hiking again … our legs still felt like lead and how could the experience here match up to the ones we had in the spectacular sceneries of Torres Del Paine and Los Glaciares?
Nevertheless we dragged ourselves in the direction of the guardaparque (park ranger) and checked which tracks we could choose from within our limited time-frame. When asking about the most strenuous trail in the park, the ranger was clear:

– “No es possible.”
– “Porque?”
– “Necesita todo el dia y además con este condiciones es superdificil, ha nevado mucho!”

So we settled on tackling the shorter track, that is to say until we got to the point where the different paths split. A short look into each others direction and soon we were on the steep track and thus on the “impossible-to-do-within-the-time-limit-trail”. Seems like we made a good choice, because soon we were walking through ankle-deep, then knee-deep and finally thigh-deep (for Tom at least) snow. The “fairytale-factor” of the environment was very high and in no time we were running around like 10-year olds, throwing snow at each other and jumping around like only two Belgians would be able to do.

Flying through the snow in Reserva Nacional Cohaique

The following day we took care of some practical arrangements before a bus would take on our first part of the Carreterra Austral. To prepare ourselves for the 5-hour bus trip, we had a lunch in the “casino de bomberos“. Typically for Chile, this is a restaurant next to voluntary fire brigade of which the revenues are used to support them. The three-course lunch was all we needed and shortly afterwards we were on the road again heading to our next destination. No fire was going to stop us.

After an enduring and curvaceous trip along the Ruta Nacional 7 we arrived in Puyuhuapi, a village founded by 4 Germans sometimes referred to as the “charming-city-with-the-second-most-unpronounceable-name”. Darkness had already set but Don Luis welcomed us and offered our tired bodies a place to get some rest for the next two nights. Not unimportant, because the next day we had to wake up at 6 am to be in time for the early bus that would be taking us to Parque Nacional Quelat. This is the most famous national park in the province of Aysen and has its “Ventisquero Colgante” or “Hanging Glacier” as a highlight. We spent the early morning hiking around in this park, before setting off to the “Termas de Puyuhuapi” which are located inside the boundaries of the park. To get there we walked for another hour along the magnificent Carretera Austral until we reached the little docks of the termas. From here on a little motorboat took us across the lake to the remote location of the therms. Travelling at the end of the touristic season sure has it advantages, because it turned out that we’d be the only living souls who that day would be enjoying the pleasures of hot source water baths in a truly unique environment. Whilst we were overlooking the gorgeous scenery in quite frisky outdoor temperatures, we could choose between the 37 degrees pool or the 38 degrees tropic cave. Just amazing. We hitch-hiked back to Puyuhuapi and ended up in the trunk of a pick-up racing back over the Carretera Austral, better than any funfair attraction.

Jumping into a 38° pool

From here on we travelled further towards La Junta, where we hoped to connect to Futaluefu, only to find out that the weekly bus connection wasn’t as regular as planned. This implied that we had to rely on our hitch-hiking skills again, while our ever growing beards kept undermining our once so perfectly groomed ideal son-in-law image. Nevertheless everything worked out fine and Tom soon got a ride to the next town with Arthur , a friendly German speaking Swiss who is travelling around the world in his self constructed house on wheels with built-in cuckoo’s clock. David needed some more time to catch a ride and finally was picked up by a local on his way to visit his brother in Villa Santa Lucia. Here we were reunited again and took a bus a bit further towards the Argentinian border. When we jumped off to look for a suitable hitch-hiking spot we were immediately picked up by two friendly Chilean construction engineers that took us along for the final 40 km into the small town surrounded by snow white Andean mountain peaks.

Hiking along the Carretera Austral

Futaleufu is world renowned for being the “charming-city-with-the-third-most-unpronounceable-name” and even more for its white water rafting and kayaking. After arranging our accommodations for the night, we set off to explore the little town hoping to find some adventure. We ended up being lucky again: the seasons last rafting or kayaking trip (depending on the number of people interested) was planned. We woke up the next day and went for an empanada, a typical snack bite in Chile, before heading towards the agency and finding out we were going to kayak on the Rio Espelon. Under a shining sun we packed gear and drove off to an easy entry point along the river. After learning the basic security rules for kayaking, everything was gripped and sorted, we jumped into the water and started our descent of the river in “kamikaze-style”. During the kayak-adventure the most famous and challenging parts of the trajectory we encountered had infamous names as “the magnetic wall” and “el ojo de Mavelin”. At the latter David went for a semi-successful grizzly bear imitation and tried to catch a salmon with his mouth. Unfortunately, when he got back above water there was no fish to see and not enough fur on his chest to keep him completely warm.

Kayak Tom & David

Travelling along the Carretera Austral forces you in to a much slower tempo. You’re travelling of the beaten path (definitely when you get closer to the winter months as we did); you only rarely meet other tourists (if you do almost all of them turn out to be Israelis for some odd reason); there aren’t any must see sights and activities but at the same time it feels like you are dropped in the middle of a post card; bus connections aren’t as frequent as elsewhere and as we experienced might just be cancelled without notice; people are genuinely friendlier but are less likely to speak English (which without any doubt is a good thing); it’s impossible to book a hostel via the internet upfront, so upon arrival you just walk up to a hospedaje and hope that the lady of the house has a spare bed fore you; central heating is nothing more than a stove in the kitchen where everybody gathers around and somebody chucks a piece of wood in from time to time…

All in all it has been a great experience. We didn’t plan on spending so much time in this region when we set of on our trip, but are very happy we did. At the same time we are starting to long for some warmer temperatures, sunny beaches and wild parties. But that seems to be on the menu in the coming days/weeks. We’re crossing the border back in to Argentina now, where we’ll spend a week discovering the Lakes region (homely Esquel, hippy town El Bolson and vibrant Bariloche). Afterwards we have some long bustrips ahead of us, first getting to Mendoza which is in the middle of the wine region, then Salta which is in the North-eastern corner of Argentina. From there on we go one final time in to Chile heading for the grand Atacama desert and some surfing in Iquique. Let’s assume you have to experience the one extreme in order to appreciate the other.

Que te vaya bien!

David y Tom

Day 22: Still alive…

Dear all,

After a short break here we are again with some news. Earlier this week we got back from 9 days of hiking at Torres Del Paine, and as expected, it was an unbelievable experience.

And… the hiking really got us longing for more… Tomorrow we are leaving to El Chalten, where we are beginning a 4 day hike in the national parc Los Glaciares around Mt. Fitz Roy.

We promise to give you a more extensive update as soon as we are back!

¡Hasta Luego!

David y Tom

Day 11: Torres del Paine

To our lovely followers,

Don’t worry if you don’t hear anything from ourselves or this website in the coming days. We’re completely leaving behind human civilisation and are heading out for a 9 day hike in the fabulous Parque Nacional de Torres del Paine.

This was one of the prime targets of our trip and also the main reason why we had to get to the southern part of the continent this fast. Winter is approaching fast over here and we’re part of the final load of trekking tourists that pass through here before everything gets closed down for winter. Some of the bus connections have already been closed down as have some of the refugios in the national park. But we can gladly accept these minor downsides knowing that the park will be almost completely for ourselves.

Torres del Paine is seen as the most impressive national park in South America, Lonely Planet described it as the hikers’ Kubla Khan (I didn’t know what it meant before looking it up either). There are different trails available, but the two most famous ones are the “W” and the “Circuito“. The first one is the shortest and lasts for five days during which it covers the principal attractions of the park. The latter one, which we’ll attempt to complete in the coming days, takes up 8 to 10 days depending on the fitness of the hiker and the conditions of the trail and weather. Next to the W part this also goes around the back-side of the Torres and should be an amazing experience.

Yesterday in Punta Arenas we’ve already bought quite some hiking stuff (tent, gloves, hat, pants, thermos, …). Today we got some useful information from the guys of Erratic hostel where we are staying and further completed our shopping for food as well as renting high end sleeping bags (night temperatures are around 0 °C, ). Afterwards we spent most of our night trying to decide what we should leave behind, what we could cram into our 40 liter backpacks (first time we regret taking such little bags with us) and pouring ourselves another glass of great Chilean red Syrah wine to inspires us for these both questions.

During the bus ride today we also had some time to figure out how we would plan out our weeks to come. The idea by now is the following: after Torres del Paine we cross back in to Argentina to the city of El Calafate. From there we can make a daytrip to the Perito Moreno Glaciar, one of the most impressive ones on the world and also one of the few that is still growing. Next on the agenda in El Chalten, another hikers village in the Argentinian part of the Andes around the prestigious mountain Fitz Roy. This leads us further on the Ruta Nacional 40 towards the village of Los Antiguos, where we get back in to Chile. This is the area of the Carratera Austral, one of the nicest areas in the South of Chile, taking us along Coyhaique and Chaiten. At least that’s the plan, you can visualise it a bit on this map.

We’ll be back in 10 more days, until then you can be mesmerized by the picture below.

Take care,

Tom & David