Friday, 30 November 2007

El Calafate and the Moreno Glacier

This place is a town full of chocolate shops, grill bars and things made from wood. Biggest highlight is that there are lots of busses to take you somewhere else..

Good things
Trip to Moreno glacier included a scheduled stop at a bar in the mountains full of happy goats
Estancias need 4 acres per sheep to stop the uprooting all the grass. Hence massive farms or large gardens with 1 wooly pet.
Glacier moves at 1m per day and falls off into the lake with a thunderous noise until you try and take video, then it just waits...
The glacier forms an ice bridge where it crosses the lake and meets the land on the other side.
Did not have to stay at the $900 per night hotel overlooking the glacier!
Our boat trip in front of the glacier was delayed while the boat had to lassoo a couple of icebergs and drag them out of the way of the landing dock. Crowd provided much encouragement to the rope swinging sailers
Renault 12 appears to be the 70s car of choice for Calafate
Al found an 'all you can eat' steak and chinese food restaurant. Quite a combination but we've given it a couple of goes.

Bad things
Can still only get around 50 GBP per time from the ATM and most of them have stopped working. Will be trading beads soon...

Sunday, 25 November 2007

Flowers of the Torres del Paine

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Originally uploaded by beckygrantstr
Another photo of the beautiful Torres del Paine scenery!

Los Cuernos

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Originally uploaded by beckygrantstr
Here is one of 'Los Cuernos' (the horns). For more information see the Day 3 description of the Torres del Paine.

Las Torres

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Originally uploaded by beckygrantstr
Here is a photo of all three 'torres'. I was finally able to take it when the clouds dispersed. For more information see the Day 2 description below.

Thursday, 22 November 2007

Torres del Paine National Park

We have just returned from a four day trekking adventure in the Torres del Paine National Park. We stayed at three different lodges in the park and carried our backpacks and sleeping bags from one to the other. The scenery was spectacular. We didn't have to rough it nearly as much as I expected. The lodges served three-course meals and gave us huge packed lunches to take with us on our hikes each day.

Day 1:
The bus dropped us off at one of the park entrances on Sunday. There were mini-buses available to take people to the first lodge, but the walk was only an hour and a half so we decided to go for it! We were surprised that no one else opted to walk. Soon we discovered why. It started as a nice, flat walk winding alongside the road... until the winds came up. They were icy and incredibly powerful. They blasted us for the last hour of the walk. By the time we reached the lodge, Athena and I were laughing hysterically...I think trudging along with heavy backpacks struggling against the wind finally deprived us of our senses. We decided that 'Patagonian trekkersize' could be the next fitness revolution, even replacing boot camp! We would just put people on treadmills at maximum incline and blast them from all directions with super powerful fans so that they could work all of their muscles. For added benefit, they could even carry giant backpacks. For effect, we would paint the room with mountain scenery. As you can see, we had lost our senses at this point....Fortunately, the first lodge was much fancier than we expected and they had wonderful showers.

Day 2:
We ate a huge breakfast, picked up our boxed lunches and set off to see the 3 Torres (towers). For the first leg of the journey, we walked uphill until we got to a refuge. Then we carried on through a lovely valley following a stream. The second part of the walk was really nice. Finally, we came to the last section of the walk which consisted of a steep incline lined with enormous boulders. We scrambled over boulders for 30 minutes until we finally came to the mirador (viewpoint). The clouds were so thick we could only see one of the towers. Stephen and I decided to wait a little while longer just in case the weather improved. Fortunately for us, the clouds began to disperse and we even saw a ray of sunshine. Within a few minutes we could see all three 'Torres' towering above an aquamarine lagoon. It was breathtaking. We were really lucky. All the people that went up earlier in the day only got to see one of the 'towers'. On the way down, I ran into a guy from California who was so cold he didn't manage to get past the refuge. I was much better prepared for adverse weather conditions after having lived in England for five years. I now have really good cold weather gear after trekking in the Scottish Highlands for two years running. We stayed in the Las Torres lodge one more night. The only problem with it was the thin boards separating the rooms. They didn't cut out any of the noise. I never realized just how many adults snore. I felt like I was surrounded by buzz saws. Thank goodness for ear plugs!

Day 3:
We thought it would be a much easier day with a flat walk along the valley floor to the next lodge. The sun was shining and the wind was down. We really enjoyed the morning and had lunch sitting on a large rock overlooking a really icy blue lake. It was beautiful. After lunch the winds came up again just as we were attempting to climb up a really steep hill. It was hard work! We were blasted by wind as we scrambled over rivers and tried to keep our balance with full backpacks whilst creeping across precarious ledges (well - Athena and I crept, the boys just clambered). We were so happy to finally make it to the next lodge. It was nestled below 'Los Cuernos' (The Horns - these interesting black and white peaks). It was a really cozy, little lodge. There was no road or boat access to this part of the park so the only people there were backpackers. We played cards, ate dinner and fell asleep really early! The winds continued to pound the building all night. Thankfully, we weren't camping!

Day 4:
We woke up even earlier to avoid the wind. The weather was lovely. We walked up the French Valley and found a lunch spot overlooking the French Glacier. We stayed for an hour napping in the sun and we were lucky enough to see some of the glacier break off and crash onto the mountain below.

Day 5:
This was my favorite day. The temperature exceeded the 15-16C (the maximum summer temperature of the park), we didn't have to carry our packs and we were able to walk in T-shirts. It took two hours to the first mirador. From there we could see Glacier Grey. It was spectacular - one of the most amazing sites I have ever seen. It was especially interesting to view a huge glacier surrounded by snow-capped mountains when it was hot and sunny. We carried on for another hour and a half to the mirador closest the the glacier. We ate lunch there and spent an hour gazing at the majestic scene before us. We had to go by 1pm in order to make it back in time to catch a ferry and bus back to Puerto Natales. It was a great day! We reached Puerto Natales at 10pm to find that the entire town didn't have water - so much for showers and washing my really smelly hiking socks! We attempted to find an open restaurant for dinner. We waited nearly an hour and half for food and then decided to leave. It was almost midnight and we were exhausted. I ate trail mix and an apple for dinner instead. Luckily, the water is back on today. I have now washed my clothes and had a really warm shower.

Friday, 16 November 2007

Ferry from Puerto Montt to Puerto Natales

We are now in Puerto Natales after spending four days at sea.
The scenery was spectacular, kind of how I imagine Alaska or the Norwegian fjords...
We shared a tiny cabin with four bunks and had to take turns entering and exiting the room as space was limited. The beds were comfortable, however, and each one had its own reading light and curtain. I felt like we were on the Orient Express everytime I closed my curtains.
We passed the time reading, writing, playing cards and sleeping...
I spent a lot of time doing laps around the deck to enjoy the scenery and keep active.
I have trouble sitting still for long periods of time so each day I did my 'hamster laps' as Stephen called them.

The first full day at sea the weather was glorious and sunny, unusual for the southern passage.
We passed lots of tree-lined hills backed by snow-capped mountains. That night we left the channel, entered the open ocean and discovered the meaning of 'Pacific Rollers' firsthand.
Most people didn't manage to eat their spaghetti dinners as the boat rolled back and forth...I was still able to eat a healthy portion. Stephen felt a bit queasy. Luckily, I had my dramamine. We watched the sunset, spotted an albatross (we think) and then went to bed doped up on dramamine. By morning we were back in a calm channel so appetites were restored.

Day 2 we photographed a ship that got stuck in the Cotapatxi shallows, Stephen wrote his MBA application essays and we played Texas Hold 'Em in the bar with the poker chips we made out of popsicle sticks.

Day 3 - The highlight was Glacier Number 11, the biggest glacier in South America. The captain pulled the ship up next to it and I got carried away taking pictures. It was really beautiful though. That night, in honour of our last night on board, we were entertained by Jorge, the bartender/cabin cleaner/lounge singer. He used all the automatic drumbeats that come with a keyboard to entertain us as he sang Guantanamera (for the 100th time), Frank Sinatra and a few Oom Pah Pah songs in honour of the many Germans on the ship. It really was cringe-worthy. Our peppy guide led everyone in a huge game of bingo. We played some more poker and then went to bed when Alan could no longer bear the enthusiasm of the guide.

Yesterday, we saw the southernmost point of the Andes Mountain Range in South America (they reappear again in Antarctica) and our captain successfully navigated our ferry through the narrowest pass on the journey (80 meters wide). We just squeaked through. It was a fantastic experience, but we were all ready to get off the boat and back onto solid ground.

Sunday, 11 November 2007

Pucon Chile with Volcanoes

Pucon has a volcano which you dont know about until it is sunny or a tour guide tries to sell you a trip. Seemed like a good idea. Only 2850m high (I was higher up on a bike in Bolivia), bit of snow, bit of smoke. Safe excitement with some bragging rights right? What they didnt mention was that it would be mountaineering with ice picks, crampons, and sub zero winds that tried to blow you off the edge. Plus when you get to the top you are choked by the toxic fumes and then have to pick your way down the mountain in freezing fog. The guides thought that this would be most fun if you slid into abyss and used your ice pick to slow you down. Very scary to start with, especially when you couldn´t hear or see anyone below you. Less scary when I started to get my arse stuck in the channel and had to bunny hop down until some fatties crashed into me and helped me down. Looked like we were doing the row boat song with back packs and pick ices.

Good things
Crampons, ice picks, looking like Sir Edmund Hillary with Oakleys
Hats - wooly, hood from fleece, hood from anorak, helmet. Need all of them
Sliding down the Volcano
Cosy wooden cabin, with log fires, hammocks and waggy tail dog
Deep hot springs where you can eat chocolate and drink beer with a bus load of Germans under the stars (Now friends)
Pretty lake district scenery with mountains, cows, grass streams etc
Sticky toffee pudding and ice cream

Bad things
Volcano climbing is like skiing but without skis and only half the lifts working
Freezing cold, I was only given half the stuff of everyone else - mentioned to the guides in very basic but understandable Spanish.!You cant see anything when you get there
It smells
It´s toxic
Blows up occasionally
Can´t turn head while wearing so many hats
Drinking water freezes in camel pack
Ham and cheese sandwich froze
Warmed up sandwich under my arm on the way down
Crunched water after crunching sandwich
Girls cheered up after 2 or 3 hours
Walked with Alan who is always cheerful even when exhibiting his own volcanic properties
Volcano alarm woke us at 2am. We think it was a test..?
Took champage up as a special surprise for the ladies but due to massive sense of humour failure of both half way up we decided to open it at the bottom. Cups were a sorry state but the bubbly was chilled. Points for the lads!

Thursday, 8 November 2007

San Pedro de Atacama Chile

I like San Pedro de Atacama. Sleepy village with sandy roads and no cars or donkeys. Hired some bikes and persuaded grumbling wife up a mountain to look over a cliff edge at the Atacama desert. Technique is to stay 10m ahead out of grumbling range.

Good things
Candle light dinners during power cuts
Sparkly stars due to walknig home at night in the dark having forgotten torches
Going downhill on bikes

Bad things
Going uphill on bikes
Getting chased from bar to bar with El Condor Pasa pan pipe blowing Chileans
No hot water in the showers and ony a dribble of cold water
Power cuts

Wednesday, 7 November 2007

Geyser Video

Here is a video of the geysers we saw on the third day of the Uyuni tour.
We had to wake up at 4:30 in the morning to see them!
It was absolutely freezing. You can see people attempting to warm their hands in the geysers.

Laguna Verde

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Originally uploaded by beckygrantstr
Here we are in front of the Laguna Verde (the Green Lagoon). This lagoon is toxic. That is why there are no flamingos in this one. The green colour comes from copper and arsenic. The volcano behind the lagoon is almost 6,000 meters high (18,000 feet). Just behind the volcano is Chile and the Atacama desert. The volcanos and mountains separate Chile and Bolivia geographically.

Laguna Colorada

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Originally uploaded by beckygrantstr
Here is Stephen in front of the Laguna Colorada (coloured/red lagoon). The red colour comes from algae growing in the lagoon.

Arbol de Piedra

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Originally uploaded by beckygrantstr
This is the Arbol de Piedra or 'Tree of Rock'.
The rock was thrown down after a volcano explosion and then eroded by the wind. There were several unusual rock formations that looked like they just fell from the sky.

Salar de Uyuni

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Originally uploaded by beckygrantstr
Day 2: We visited several lagoons full of flamingos.
We were up 4,000 meters and the wind was icy, but the flamingos didn't seem to mind. They eat micro-organisms in the lakes.

There were three varieties of flamingos: Chilean, Andean and James flamingos. They were beautiful!

Salar de Uyuni

Three days ago we embarked on a three-day jeep tour of the Salar de Uyuni in Bolivia.
We took a very bumpy overnight bus to the small town of Uyuni where we had breakfast and set off in a Toyota Landcruiser. Our guide acted as driver, chef and mechanic. His name was Agostino and he was really funny...even with his limited English.

Day 1: First, we drove to a train cemetary outside of Uyuni. Some of the trains were only 50 years old, but they were really rusted and looked positively ancient. One of them was a train that Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid robbed.

Next, we drove to a small town that makes figurines and houses out of the salt from the salt flats. They also collect the salt and sell it to the rest of Bolivia. Bathrooms there were pricey, but worth it after bouncing around in the jeep for an hour.

Then, we stopped to take crazy photos. Something about the vast salt plains skews perspective in photos. We attempted to take some creative photos. See the giant bottle w/ Stephen and Athena behind it and the enormous book with Athena and I holding it up...

The third stop the first day was to 'Fish Island', an island in the middle of the vast salt plains. It had enormous cacti that had been growing for thousands of years. They only grow a cm each you can see how old they are by comparing their size with Stephen...

The entire are used to be under the sea millions of year ago. Plate movement pushed up the Andes and then the hot sun evaporated the water creating the salt flats. The salt was 10 meters deep and went on for miles and miles. It was very interesting scenery although we kept falling asleep in the jeep after our night on the bus.

Saturday, 3 November 2007

Worlds Most Dangerous Road

Had fun charging down a 40km 4000m decent on gravel roads with unprotected sheer cliffs at the side. Snow and ice at the top, rain in the middle and tropics at the bottom. Additional challenges were a number of overhanging waterfalls, boulders that banged into the shins and several people lacking basic braking skills crashing into our group at cheese sandwich time.

Good things

Huge mountains, deep valleys, rear suspension enabling us to sit down the next day; wearing a bandana at 40mph, not falling off.

Bad things

Gulping dust behind the lead pack of peddlers, wearing my helmet the wrong way round and then getting told off in front of the girls.
Extra excitement

Traffic actually drives on the left hand side on the way down but on the right hand side on the way up! Makes cornering around the precipice extra exciting with or without the surprise sluicing waterfall.

Thursday, 1 November 2007

Pampas and Jungle on Beni river Bolivia

Cruising along in skinny motor boats looking for Caymen in the shallows and being chased by blind pink dolphins. Dolphins couldn't find us and they look a bit silly being pink, but they dont know this.
The Caymen are supposed to be small alligators - kind of like cats are to lions but they get really big when you crash a boat into them and they jump aggressively into the water. Now I jump when a drop a pint of milk...So I would usually get into trouble for scaring away the perfect photography moment - twigs snapping - crashing into crocodiles etc. Take them faster I say, it´s supposed to be an automatic anti idiot camera. It just needs to be set on jumpy audience - and me and Al were at the eating end when we crashed into them....

Also the best way to scare the timid creatures is to rush past at 40mph and then rev the arse off the motor in reverse. A new guide methinks

Saw lots of monkeys, a sloth - reminded me of the office - parrots, large rabbit type things, big rattle snake they can kill 5 humans with one drop of poison. What is the point of that. How many bunnies does it need to get with one bite. Didnt look very bothered about eating bunnies or humans when we saw it under the bush. Irritating tourists maybe..

Hooray for mosquito nets. Managed to cover my whole body with one meant for the face. Looked like a travelling bees nest with a hat.

The area is surrounded by hills (Beni Hills...) and forest with the huge chocolate orange rivers snaking off to Brazil. The main road to Brazil is rubbish by the way. More pothole track with no trees in the way. Best go by donkey.

Planes in from La Paz have to land in the grass and stop before crashing into the village, hence no flights after wet days or when it is raining or when it might rain in an hour or so. Try booking that in the rainy season...

Enjoyed siesta times in the jungle. Usually just me and the mozzies in the hammock strumming the guitar to the great voices in my head. One person liked it.

Another highlight was me trying a jungle swing and falling followed by a cartoon moment of vine snaking down and falling on top of me. No anvil this time.

Found lots of wild pigs in the jungle, crazy chickens etc. Wild pigs are actually scary and make screaming noises when they ve been spotted. There can be over a hundred in a group, and they can charge and try and eat you. They charge past like a herd of angry pot bellied elephants. Its always best to stand close(behind) the guide in these situations and look for trees to climb which are more difficult to do in practice. One bloke climbed a tree but it leaned over and he was eaten by pigs until his friend rescued him with a large stick and lots of apple sauce. True - apart from the apple sauce bit.

La Paz

I like La Paz. Its like the whole city was put inside a huge football stadium. Here is a picture of me with someone else´s gilfriend.

Good things
Loads of taxis, millions of anti riot police with guns - no riots yet, street stalls at night so you cant see what you re buying, happy people willing to sell you anything including their mother.
Bad things
Sucking in diesel fumes as you struggle up the hills in the thin air - 4000m