Friday, December 31, 2010

Trekking Journal- Day 5: Glacier Grey

Our last trekking day was a race against the time. We had to leave Paine Grande, make it to Glacier Grey and back before the catamaran left us behind and we would be stuck in the park for an extra night. So with the clock as our enemy we significantly picked up the walking pace. Luckily the hilly trek was not as strenuous as some of the other days. As we passed by Laguna de los Patos, a hanging laguna over the much larger Lago Grey, we headed into a forest and then back out again into the very very windy hillside. When we emerged from behind the mountains, the immense and impressive Glacier Grey revealed itself. It filled in the whole of the mountain side on three sides and definitely upped our motivation to keep the pace up. From there it was more hills- up and down and up and down along Lago Grey, into and out of little forests. The quick pace had us arriving at the glacier right on time, but unfortunately it was quite far away from us (apparently it has receded a lot in the last few years) that it was quite a disappointment. From up close we could only see the front edge and none of the immensity of the height and depth that we had seen earlier. It was time for a quick lunch break and then, exhausted, we started the way back. The way back was difficult times with the physical toll of the last few days of trekking making the journey a challenge. Our motivation was time- so with the help of a couple walking sticks we made it with a bit of time to spare back to Paine Grande. D had an orange from the local shop- the first fruit we have had in days. After consuming oatmeal, backpacking food and energy bars for the last few days, it was delicious. The catamaran ride along Lago Pehoe was a little money extortion, compensated only by the free hot drinks on board, and the bus ride to Puerto Natales was not short but mostly forgettable. It was a wonderful feeling getting back to town sore but accomplished, for real food at Masay restaurant, a hot shower and a comfy (non-shared dorm-shared bath) bed, where we could close the shades and make it artificially dark (the sunset at 22:30, sunrise at 05:30, never actually dark, was starting to get old). 

on the way, Glacier Grey in the distance

Glacier Grey

back of Los Cuernos, view from catamaran on Lago Pehoe

llamas at park entrance/exit

back in Puerto Natales, eating well at Masay

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Trekking Journal - Day 4: Paine Grande

Today finally started on the right foot- we left Los Cuernos bright and early with renewed motivation for a good walking day. The trail had some hilly ascends and descends as we hiked by the impressive Lago Nordenskjold. At one point we made it to the shores of the lake and then ascended back, with views of the back of the cuernos, through the forested woods until we reached Campamento Italiano. At about that point, the clouds turned increasingly cloudy and a steady drizzle joined the party. We left our big bags, ready to take on the French Valley. As we started our way up- the drizzle drops only grew bigger and the huge cloud up ahead forebode limited views. So we cut our losses and returned to head towards Paine Grande. This section was even milder than before and the lack of wind made it an easier and quieter walk. It was, however, still a race against the drizzle as we walked along smallish Lago Skottsberg and into the cloudy hills. As we turned away from the lake, we were bombarded with bugs- harmless, but swarming and annoying. Just as we were going to take a break, we caught a glimpse of Lago Pehoe, where the next lodge was located. In a race against the growing drops, we made it to Paine Grande just in time before the real rain set in

just outside Campamento Italiano

in the French Valley

view from French Valley looking back towards lakes

view from rainy Paine Grande

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Trekking Journal - Day 3: Los Cuernos

Our second full day began with sore limbs and a scurry out of the lodge just past checkout time. The previous day had obviously taken a toll but we tried to stay upbeat as we had a mostly sunny day. Today was our first day carrying our full packs and it was going to be quite a struggle. We had only just begun when huge gusts of wind had us quite literally toppling over. As we climbed the hills, the winds only got worse. At one point we were literally airborne for a few brief seconds before crashing to the ground on some thorny bushes. In the times when we weren´t battling against the wind we tried to enjoy the turqoise lake beside us and the ever-increasing views of Los Cuernos (horns) ahead of us. The hike was a challenge and took us significantly longer than "alloted" or "expected ". At one point we suspected the clouds ahead would bear rain and we put our bag covers on. Mś cover blasted away within 5 seconds. Thank you Doite. Unfortunately our late arrival at the not-so-great Cuernos lodge left us with the top-bunks in a pretty uncomfortable lodging and eating situation which ended with pita and peanut butter on the 3rd story bunk.

starting off

blustery day

approaching Los Cuernos

crazy winds on Lago Nordenskjold

Monday, December 27, 2010

Trekking Journal - Day 2: Las Torres

The stormy winds and rain didn´t allow much rest throughout the night, but we awoke with a decision at hand: walk through the rain or stay in? In order to avoid kicking ourselves in the behind later (and with the faint possibility that it might clear up later) we decided to go ahead and attempt the trek. From the moment we stepped outside pouring rain and strong winds made us mostly miserable. The steep ascent towards El Chileno camp didn´t help the matter and within half an hour we were wet, within the hour we and all our stuff were soaked to the core. We ascended almost without stop- the wind whipping at the little bit of face skin we had exposed. Finally we made it to El Chileno lodge for a bit of a hot chocolate break. Any attempt to dry our things with the other dozen hikers packed into the small lodge was futile. And any chance of our continuing to hike up in the unceasing rain were lost. Regretfully, we descended down the steep hills to the lodge drenched and disappointed. The rest of the evening was not much easier as we struggled to dry our clothes by the small wood burning ovens with everyone else in the lodge vying for the same limited space, After shuttling back and forth and not getting much rest miraculously we managed to dry our things.

our wet stuff :(

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Trekking Journal Torres Del Paine - Day 1: Laguna Amarga

It's a bit ludicrous to call this a trekking day, since we didn't actually do any trekking. Nevertheless today was our arrival at the Torres del Paine National Park. We started the day in Puerto Natales with last minute errands and packing. M¡d-day we had our "last" cooked meal for a few days at a good little local hole in the wall, and then we were off. The bus took us down a mostly gravel road for the better part of three hours. Luckily, the clouds and drizzle of the morning were quickly fading away. We got glimpses of the Torres (towers) from nearly the beginning of the ride and the whole way there. As we neared the park entrance, dozens of llamas lined the road in the mostly green hills around us. We passed the sea-green colored Laguna Amarga and then it was time to pay. From the entrance a short shuttle bus took us to the lodge. The refugio (lodge) is quite basic and they really push their ridiculously priced "restaurant" meals, so they don't make it too easy to make your own food. Daylight hours were still numerous as we headed over to the full-service hotel down the road for a short geological presentation of how the park landscape was formed (by glaciers). We particularly enjoyed the little museum there with explanations of the local biosphere, animals and especially history and mythology of the now-extinct local peoples- the Patogones. We strolled a bit in the vicinity of the lodge and came in to get well rested for our real trekking the following day.

view of the Torres (towers) of Torres del Paine

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Punta Arenas

Our flight via Sky Airlines to Punta Arenas was quite surprising: slightly hilly terrain, with spots of lake and grassy lands, nothing like the snowy mountains we expected at one of the  southern-most points in the world. It was a surprisingly sunny day as we arrived and we headed with a bus transfer to town. To take advantage of the day we immediately headed with all our gear to hop on a tour to the Seno Otway pinguinera to see magellanic penguins from up close. The ride through private ranches was bumpy but scenic with lots of farm animals on the way. Once we got there the park area was amazing- lots of penguins in the grassy terrain, some of them just a meter or two away from us waddling onto land and into their burrows with the baby penguins, and several others near the water. We made our way through the walkways and were truly enamored by these cute animals. From there it was back to town to find a place to stay, some dinner, and bed.

Magallenic penguins at Seno Otway

The next day we had time to explore town a bit. The grid made it easy to get around and the cleanliness and serene vibe made for a really nice time. Then we had one more area to get to know: Punta Arenas' Zona Franca for some cheapo shopping (tax free) in big, warehouse-like, no-name stores. We managed to get the rest of our hiking gear (made in China) and food provisions (made in who-knows) for really, really good prices and then we were off to Puerto Natales on the bus where our afternoon was busy with last minute logistics planning: getting to the park, buses to Argentina (!), and so on.

with Ferdinand Magellan, in Punta Arenas plaza, overlooking Strait of Magellan

Friday, December 24, 2010

Puerto Montt

Puerto Montt truly lived up to its reputation of being una mierda - a s***hole. We started the day with the long drive-ferry-drive from Castro through a rainy Chiloe. We arrived in town mid-day, finally in time for a cocineria lunch. We headed straight for Angelmo, the area near the water with fish and artesania markets. Despite the numerous touts, we managed to find our first great meal- fried merluza and seafood soup. With our bellies full, we checked out the artesania market which was mostly full of wool clothes and unfinished wooden chotchkies. With several hours to spare we checked into our hostel and tried to explore this ugly industrial town. With no tourist attractions and one of the most deserted town squares (plazas) we have come across we regressed to the one pathetic mall in town. The place was bustling with Christmas shoppers but the variety and cleanliness were pretty pathetic. Nevertheless we got a couple of steps close to completing our gear purchases and headed back to the hostel for a relaxing evening. Only our laziness persuaded us to go to the restaurant at the hostel, but boy were we surprised for the better- gratined albacore tuna, risotto cebolline, and squash soup- this was the closest thing to gourmet we have had in Chile. And so, the saving grace of Puerto Montt was surprisingly good food.

[We have no pictures of Puerto Montt; it must have been too ugly.]

Thursday, December 16, 2010


To come to Chiloe you have to make the effort. There are no airports on this island and so a ferry ride is the mode of transport. As we boarded the ferry a man from sernatur approached us and asked if we would talk a little about our travels through Chile. So now we are famous. Check back for details. The ¨carabineo¨at the exit of the ferry picked us out of a line of 10 cars to be the receivers of a quick document check. Then we were on our way. Our first stop was Ancud- the second biggest city on Chiloe. Tourist info was a great help to plan the rest of our visit and the delicious coffee gem we found was just what we needed before making our way to Punihuel - the site where 2 species of penguins (the Humbolt and Magallanes)  come to an island just off the beach to lay their eggs. Time on the island is a sparse 25% of their life. The boat tour to view the penguins up close was great- baby penguins jumping out of the water onto the rock island, beatiful birds overhead - ducks and a rare cormorant species. oh- and an otter appeared as the tour was ending and jumped on the rocks to enjoy lunch. after the tour we followed a recommendation to eat empanadas (which sounds weird being on a rich fishing beach), the empanada was locos-queso (a mix of delicious cheese and abalone). a bumpy ride back up the road we visited a few of the beaches on the peninsula northwest of Ancud. On one of these beaches a small ¨homemade¨ prehistory museum appeared. A man had begun collecting artifacts around the area and had compiled a bunch of items- some would call it junk, others treasure, we lie somewhere in between. It was time to find a place to relax for the evening so we drove south to Castro-the largest city on Chiloe. After a few stops checking on rooms and prices we decided to check the tourist info office in the main plaza. We magically ended up at our best accomodation in Chile so far- a small hotel built on the traditional ¨palafitos¨- basically houses on stilts over water. In Chiloe at this time of year it gets dark at 10 pm so we had plenty of time to enjoy our surroundings.

on the ferry to Chiloe


birds above penguins...must be lunch time

Puente Quilo Prehistory "museum"

view from our hotel

The next morning we ventured northeast to Dalcahue to visit a church and the town, and then to Isla Quinchao by short ferry where we meandered down dirt roads to more churches and rocky beaches with calm waters and fishermen crossing the tiny islands back and forth. It was a relaxing day, although lots of driving. In Achao, another small town, M got a haircut, we visited another church, had sandwiches on the beach, and observed as the yearly firemen benefit rally was taking place. The grand prize... a brand new shiny fridge.
Back to Castro for a pit stop, some potential shopping, and some fuel- coffee, not gas, we were off to Chonchi. Yet another small town south of Castro. Here we had a grilled salmon at the local ¨cocineria¨ small restaurant on a pier. Then it was time to head back home, or what is home until tomorrow.


nicer than typical

above the "big city" of Achao



In sum, Chiloe was chill. The weather treated us well, if you consider that it rains well over 80% of the year. The towns were all very serene, nestled amongst rolling hills, with sheep grazing, cows sleeping, and kids playing. The famous wooden churches found all along Chiloe are important sites for many, we visited just a handful and got our fix. The penguins were grand, our hotel was divine, the food was ok, the views were inspiring, and our time is up. Next up is the Patagonia and the famous Torres del Paine... Stay tuned!

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Ensenada and Petrohue

We decided to bite the bullet and continue with our plans regardless of the stormy day that greeted us. We set off along Lago Llanquihue to base ourselves out of Ensenada. From there we set off to the Saltos de Petrohue - the Petrohue waterfalls. They were quite impressive, but the clouds and drizzle never let us forget that we were missing a peice of the puzzle- beautiful mountains and volcanoes in the background. Nevertheless we did a little hike in the park, and then were off to our second destination- Volcan Osorno. We ascended up the paved road and into the clouds, where we quickly realized that not only would we not be seeing the slopes up-close, any thoughts of a walk up top was busted by the mounds of snow that greeted us. We made the best of it with a hot coffee in the lodge and headed down to the lower slopes of the mountain. Luckily, we were able to make the walk to the Laguna Verde- which really was a green green lagoon. And with that we retreated back to our lovely and toasty cabin for a night on the lake.

on the way to Petrohue

Saltos de Petrohue

our little Corsa on snowy Volcan Osorno

at very green Laguna Verde

The following morning all our prayers had come true; we awoke to a stunning snow-covered Volcan Osorno in our window, while literally still in bed. We made the bumpy trip to Petrohue where we embarked on a catamaran to Peulla. The boat took us from one side of the emerald-colored Lago Todos Los Santos to the other, and the views it afforded were stunning, truly beyond words. We saw Osorno in it´s entirety, the eroding Volcan Puntiagudo and the tallest (locally) Volcan Tronador, Isla Margarita and the Yaffe waterfalls. After arriving in Peulla we had a few hours to explore. The boat we took is part of an international crossing from Chile to Argentina, so many passengers continued on to Argentina by bus, while we waited for those coming from Argentina to join us for the way back. In Peulla, with limited time we only made it to the Veilo de Novia waterfalls and the creepy cemetary. Nonetheless it was worth the break, because on the way back the views were even better- bigger and clearer- as we headed back towards Petrohue. We couldn´t resist going up Osorno halfway for one last look in the late night sun.

on the catamaran

Volcan Osorno from Lago Todos los Santos

Volcan Puntiagudo

at Yaffe Falls

from right outside our cabin in Ensenada, Volcan Osorno

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Puerto Varas and Frutillar

We arrived in Germany, oops, I mean the Lakes District, greeted by clouds, rain and wind. From the Puerto Montt airport (where M was first off the plane), we picked up the car rental and immediately continued on to Puerto Varas. The small town is a tourist mecca and despite that we had trouble getting information about what to do and where to stay. Eventually we found ourselves in some wood cabins away from the rain. The afternoon we spent driving around to see the "architectural tour"- some of the first houses of the German settlement in southern Chile from the nineteenth century (and yes it does sound more interesting than it actually was). We ascended up the Cerro Phillip (hill) to see a tree-obstructed view of the area. Unfortunately the volcano views eluded us behind the clouds and we still had no idea in which direction we should be looking. So we tried to visit the next closest "picturesque" town- Llanquihue (pronounced Yan-kee-way). But the highlight of that town was a colorful cemetary and a Nestle factory- so we cut our losses and headed back to our wood cabin.

Puerto Varas

Llanquihue Cemetary

The following morning the rain had ceased and we quickly drove away from the clouds. We made an attempt to visit the jaggedy Volcan Calbuco, and as the hours passed the sky cleared up and we had a great view of the volcano from up close. Only later did we find out that the access to the volcano is blocked by private property and therefore our attempts at a hike were actually quite futile. By this time we had been driving several kilometers on a gravel road, and our tiny and somewhat pathetic Corsa was relieved to make it back to the highway. We headed north to Frutillar by which time the sun was shining and our outlook was picking up. We visited the vast and impressive German Museum to see artifacts and history of the German settlement in Chile, which included everything from replica houses to old (and impressively sophisticated) farming tools. There we enjoyed what the Lakes Region is really about: Kuchen (cake). We went from one fabulous coffee and torta to another very special tea and strudel located in the center of lavender fields. Although Frutillar is a significantly smaller town- it houses the regional theater, whereas Puerto Varas houses the regional casino. And that really says it all.

side roads on the way to Volcan Calbuco

(sadly) the BEST coffee we have had in Chile, Puerto Varas

Frutillar German Museum

who needs a fancy coffee grinder when you can get one of these? (German Museum)

Yeah! We finally saw the volcano!!!

Volcan Osorno (first of many looks, view from Frutillar)

Kuchen! Yum!!!

lavendar fields

casa de te