Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Ushuaia, El Calafate and the Holidays

I wanted to do something fun on Christmas day to make up for missing all the festivities at home so I spent the day at the end of the world in Ushuaia, Argentina with the wildlife.ushuaia 024

Found out that sea lions are called ‘lions’ because the males have a mane…learn something new everyday.  These aren’t males, just pregnant females.ushuaia 068 Went walking with penguins.  They sure do walk funny.ushuaia 095 It was on a wildlife preserve so we could get really close…you can see the mommy and baby right behind me.ushuaia 126

After an 18 hour, four border crossing bus ride, I’m up in El Calafate which is a pretty little town with lots of cafes and shops.  The main draw here is the Puerto Moreno Glacier which I visited yesterday.elcalafate 026 It’s ridiculously beautiful.  Our tour started out by walking along kilometres of balconies across from the glacier where we could eat lunch and watch huge chunks fall into the lake.  The sounds of cracking and thundering were amazing.elcalafate 030 Then we hopped on a boat to get closer.elcalafate 064

We walked through a lush forest….elcalafate 110.. and went trekking on the glacier for about 90 minutes. elcalafate 094 The trek ended with glacier ice in whiskey.elcalafate 099

So far, the holidays are shaping up pretty well.  :)

Friday, December 24, 2010

Torres Del Paine

I spent the day in the famous Torres Del Paine Park.  I was going to spend a couple of days and do some easy hiking but the weather didn’t co-operate and I just went the one day.  It’s an incredible place with over 200kms of trails and views that just don’t stop.  Started out looking at Los Torres torres del paine 041

The (towers) del Paine really are quite impressive.  They were formed when magma entered under the rocks and forced then up into jagged peaks so there are layers of volcanic and granite mixed together.torres del paine 067 Saw some really cool animals like the flightless nandu, a relative of the ostrich and who, according to locals, produces delicious eggs that are the size of a dozen chicken eggs.torres del paine 023 and I finally got to see the forth member of the camel family, the guanaco.  This is a baby.torres del paine 031

The whole place used to be a sheep ranch until 1959 but now, at the base of these amazing towers of rock, are rolling hills of grass and trees with rivers, lakes and waterfalls.torres del paine 060

The last part of the day was spent hiking up to a lookout for the Grey Glacier in the drizzling rain.  There was a huge variety of flowers in the forest  which made up for the lack of view once we got there.torres del paine 049

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There were some beautiful icebergs floating around.torres del paine 110

I got back to the hotel very wet and very glad that I had taken a one day tour instead of camping out there.

Monday, December 20, 2010

The Navimag

What, you ask, is the Navimag?  It’s part ferry, part cargo ship and part cruise ship that travels between Puerto Montt and Puerto Natales in Chilean Patagonia.  navimag 081We boarded on a beautiful day and watched the volcanoes of the lake district disappearnavimag 017 

As we sailed off into the sunsetnavimag 019

That was the last time I saw the sun as we hit rough weather in the open seas.navimag 031

A lot of people were tossing their cookies but I had motion sickness pills for my roomies so we were mostly okay.navimag 152

Julia, Elizabeth and Jenny, who not only didn’t snore, but turned out to be a lot of fun.  The next day, we got to take a hike at a national park and through a small village.navimag 077

We also visited the biggest glacier in South America, Pio XInavimag 114

Where it was bloody cold but also incrediblenavimag 120The weather became a crazy thing that tormented and amazed us with freezing rain and heavy clouds…. navimag 134 stray shafts of sunlightnavimag 136

and rainbowsnavimag 138

It was a great trip that I would recommend to anyone, regardless of the weather.  The crew was fantastic, food was tasty and plentiful, the entertainment was great and the wine wasn’t too expensive, although, you could bring your own bottle to the pub.  They also gave lectures on the wildlife that we would see, Chilean phrases, glaciers and National Parks but mostly, we just watched the fiords of Patagonia slip by our decks. 

Friday, December 17, 2010

Puerto Varas

I got a little tired of traveling so I spent the last week hanging out in a sleepy little pueblo by the lake.   Walked around a lot, ate good food and went horseback riding. 

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The Cochamo Valley was incredibly beautiful and I had a nice day out in the sun with a trail guide and my horse.

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Perfect day…puerto varas 044

I’m on the road again and will catch a 4 day cargo ship ride down to Puerto Natales in Southern Patagonia.  Hoping for good weather as a lot of people get seasick on this journey…

Thursday, December 9, 2010


santiago 013

I’ve finally found a South American city that I would want to live in…it’s great here!  The city is a mixture of colonial and new architecture, has lots of green spaces and it’s wonderfully clean and vibrant.

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My hotel is across the street from the most interesting park/ cultural space/ church/ archaeological park.

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I spent a whole day wandering up and down the tree lined streets but don’t worry I made sure to keep myself hydrated and well-fed.santiago 024 I ate fish and chips at the seafood market where they bring in all the catches of the day…a little smelly but at least you know it’s fresh.santiago 045

Lot’s of police presence especially around the government buildings , but they mostly seem to give directions and look pretty.santiago 030

It’s interesting to note that there is absolutely no ‘traditional’ culture here.  It’s completely modern city with none of the woven bracelets/hats etc. seen in Peru and Bolivia.  The people look much more European too.   

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

First few days in Chile


Well, it really was like entering civilization again.  As soon as we crossed the border from Bolivia, we hit paved road again.  The Chilean border crossing was very professional and efficient and we didn’t get ripped off by the guards, who actually put our stuff through a pretty thorough examination.  San Pedro de Cama was the entry city and I spent one night there.  Had a great goodbye dinner with my friends from the desert trip. (Richard, Sara, and Lucy),la serena 002 only to find out that we all booked the same overnight bus out the next day and didn’t have to say goodbye quite yet.  I got off in the cutest place called La Serena la serena 005and took a few tours into the Elqui Valley where they grow grapes for Pisco (brandy) la serena 012They grow everything there, including walnuts.

la serena 034and copau, which tastes like a kiwi but grows on a serena 010One of the most interesting things I learned in the valley was about Gabriela Mistral who is a national hero (has her face on money) but she also wrote the charter of children’s rights for the UN and, seems to be responsible for Chile’s success as she forced education along before other South American serena 027  My favourite tour was a great couple of hours at an observatory with an astronomy guide who showed us galaxies, planets and explained how to find your way by the Southern Cross.  They have the biggest and best observatories Chile due to weather and clean air.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

The Altiplano

I’ve just come out of three days in the high desert of the Bolivian Altiplano and I will never take running water for granted again!  All the books say that this journey is a crazy mess and you have to be prepared for the unexpected and they were all right.altiplano 001 - Copy Here’s a picture of our 9 hour bus ride into the region turning into a 14 hour bus ride with a busted axel.  We all had a good time joking about who we were going to eat if the stranding went on long enough.altiplano 062 - Copy  Here’s our jeep with the hood up because Shorlando, our guide, kept having to fill up the radiator along the way.   It proved to be tough enough to climb over volcanoes, around mineralized lagoons and through an amazing variety of terrains including, the salt flats.   We actually sat here and ate our lunch of grilled Vicuna (llama’s cousin) and quinoa (superfood that cooks like rice)altiplano 012  We also had a little fun with perspective on the flats and toilet paper.altiplano 021

Next, we trekked up an incredible coral island in the middle of the salts.altiplano 027 - Copy

There were even coral caves to explore.altiplano 044 - Copy Next, we happened upon drying salt lagoons and flamingos.altiplano 079 - Copy altiplano 098 - CopyAll around us, the scenery was stunning.altiplano 130  That night we slept in a little village.  No water but the food was good.  By now, our group had become friendly enough to joke about how badly we were going to be smelling over the next few days.altiplano 118 - Copy Here we all are having lunch the second day.  We fed the leftovers to some chinchillas hopping around the rocks. The second night found us in concrete bunkers with six beds to a room.  Not a restful night especially as we got up at 4:00am to see the sunrise over the volcanic geysers. altiplano2 006 It was a great trip but now that I’m in Chile, I’m really going to enjoy sleeping alone and having a toilet with running water.altiplano2 011