A Travellerspoint blog

March 2012

Chile - Santiago

26 °C

Santiago, the capital of Chile. A huge city which had a great vibe, rivalling that of Buenos Aires.

We arrived early morning following a night bus from Pucon and and ended up staying in Santiago´s eastern suburbs with an Airbnb host (a website where people rent out their house or a room). We stayed in a room in a sweet old ladies house complete with plasma tv, a luxury that we had forgotten even existed.

The subway in Santiago is a dream, slick and clean...day 1 we decided to head to Domingos, a market type area near the Plaza Egana subway station. Full of locally made goods..we were advised against going to the city centre due to protests which could get ugly.

The next couple of days were fine and we walked pretty much the entire city centre..Plaza de Armas, Palacio La Moneda, Cerro Santa Lucia and the Central Market were some of our favourites. The place had a great vibe and not the 'keep a lookout for pick pocket' reputation it had. The local dish 'Cazuela' was nice, a chicken and veg soup.

The climb to the top of Cerro San Cristobal showed just how big the city was, very impressive, especially with the faint view of the massive mountains as a back drop. The cemetary was well worth checking out except for the fact that I arrived 3 minutes after it had closed.

On our last day we checked out the crazy people participating in the Santiago Marathon and then the Memory and Human Rights museum which was interesting.

That evening we jumped on a bus for a short ride to Valparaiso...

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Chile - Pucon

21 °C

Heading deeper into volcano country, in the middle of the Chilean lakes district we arrived at the town of Pucon, which sits on the edge of lake (lago) Villarica, and is dwarfed by Volcano Villarica, lingering for anyone considering the volcano climb. The town has many Hostels/Hospedajes and caters well for the tourist crowd. After carefully selecting a tour operator (a decision not to be taken lightly due to the dangers involved!!) we decided to do the climb.

We set off a 7am, driving to the base of the volcano in the dark we climbed a few hundred meters. We watched sunrise over the fantastic view we already had of the valley and then it was time to climb climb climb! After a couple of hours of steep incline we reached the ice, and attached crampons and clung tight to our ice picks! The going got tough and as we crossed across the sheer ice face numerous times, reaching an altitude of about 2650m.

When we were nearing the top the wind really began to pick up, one of the biggest dangers for climbers, and after seeing some boulders roll down the face we had just crossed, we were happy with our guide’s decision to descend! This involved sliding down numerous snow slides, similar to bob-slay runs until we reached the rocky section again. The way down was a lot less taxing, except for peering over our shoulders for possible boulders, and a lot quicker than the ascent! That evening we enjoyed a few beers with the other climbers in our group, including another Australian couple, and celebrated making it down in one piece!

We also did a day trip to the national park and walked up to view 3 lakes sitting at 1000m, very peaceful and a nice relaxing day. While we waited for the bus back to Pucon we were treated to a hot chocolate and kruchen (German style pastry). Odd I know…German pastry in south America, but there have been many German immigrants to this area of Chile and German foods, especially pastries are found across this area of Chile...yum!

We also spent an afternoon in the town of Curarrehue, where we had some delicious indigenous food for lunch!

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Argentina - Bariloche

24 °C

The Swiss like town of Bariloche was very cool, loads of chocolate shops, fondue and swiss style wooden buildings. We scored a with a great hostel too. There was loads to do so we ended up staying longer than we thought.

A nearby town called Colonia Suiza was a stunner with swiss style chalets set in the mountains. It was completely quiet, but we were still able to enjoy some apple strudel, hot chocolates and hot chips to top it off.

The next day was an utter highlight at Villa Catedral, a ski mountain and resort in winter...mountain bike heaven in summer. A day pass on the cable car gave me unlimited rides for the day and after going up to 2000m I was was treated to masses of downhill mountain bike tracks back down varying in difficulty. It was incredible fun..especially racing the cable car down...8 times.

Llao Llao park wss also nice, we hiked by lakes and saw ancient Arrayan forests then we went to Cerro Campanario...a lookout nearby which National Geographic says is one of the top 10 views on the plant. We agreed, lakes and mountains surrounded usin every direction, stunning.

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Argentina - El Bolson

24 °C

We decided to check out El Bolson as a day trip from Bariloche and arrived at 11:30am, just in time for the 'hippy' market. It was cool, locals of the hippy variety with arts, crafts, street performers, food and more. Again the town is set in a perfect place, surrounded by mountains.

After cramming our stomachs with local goodies, we walked up to the nearby lookout for a squiz, nice. On the way back we ate blackberries by the dozen on the side of the road. A relaxing day...we then took the scenic road back to Bariloche.

After a brief sleep we woke early and took the bus back into Chile via Osorno once more and we arrived in one of Chile's outdoor capitals, Pucon. Driving in, Volcano Villarica dominated the skyline...couldn't wait to tackle it...

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Chile - Osorno

18 °C

After a good sleep in a comfortable but slightly odd Hospedaje (the owner didn't seem to want guests), we ate breakfast and headed into the town centre. There was not a lot to do in Osorno, so we just checked out the main streets and ate loads of food from the mega supermarkets (as good as home) where we found brown bread, as rare as hens teeth in this part of the world.

The town square had a massive bronze bull, and the market near the sqaure was interesting, then we sorted our bus tickets back into Argentina to Bariloche, the outdoor capital of Argentina.

The drive went up into the mountains and wound through beautiful scenery. The border crossing took its usual couple of hours, and we arrived around 10pm in Bariloche...

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Chile - Puerto Montt

23 °C

After an overnight ferry from Chaiten, sleeping in an armchair we arrived early in Puerto Montt and quickly scoured the town for a place to stay as the sun came up. Using a recommendation from the Lonely Planet we finally found a guesthouse. The town is nice, set on a hill, we first wandered down to the salmon markets and, tasted cheese, ate some lunch and bought some salmon and veg to cook that night in the hostel. Fresh as a daisy and delicious.

From there we checked out the town centre and did some shoe shopping (no luck for Paul, Chileans have small feet).

The next day we joined the guesthouse owner and her family on a road trip which was a nice day... we visited Frutillar, a small German town and tried some kruchan (German cake). We drove past lakes, volcanoes, ate a traditional Parilla (complete with blood sausage) and into the Puyehue National Park.

Very scenic and to top it off, we swam in natual hot springs for a few hours which were right by a creek! Brilliant. From there, we got dropped off in Osorno for the next leg...

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Chile - Chaiten

25 °C

A gorgeous day on the road heading north on the Careterra Austral, surrounded by lush green hillsides and waterfalls as we drove down the middle of the valley. We stopped off in small isolated towns along the way to stretch our legs and get some food, as it was about a 12hr drive along the single lane windy gravel road. It was a great day full of fantastic scenery, and as we were sharing our mini bus with 5 local men and we felt a long way away from any other tourists!

When we pulled into Chaiten we were surrounded by shells of houses and ash strewn across the town, remnants of the ash eruption in 2008 which reached as far as Buenos Aires. The dominating Volcano Chaiten sat on the horizon, threatening its plume of ash and steam above the town. We stayed at one of 2 options, which was also the only restaurant in this ghost town! We did make it to the volcano about 20kms away from town, and undertook the couple of hours uphill clambering to view the lava dome over the top of the volcano which emits ash and steam, and we had a great view back across the valley.

The return trip back to town wasn´t easy due to there being no transport options! It involved waving madly at the one bus passing along the road that evening, which luckily stopped to let us two dust covered gringos on! With a sigh of relief we made it back into town just in time to jump on the cargo ferry to Puerto Montt...and saw a great sunset over the calm water as we sailed away from Chaiten!

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Chile - Coyhaique

17 °C

The Carretera Austral, meaning ’Southern Road’, is one of the most isolated roads which runs along the south-western side of Chile. Nestled to the west of the Patagonian mountain range, this part of Chile receives an astonishing amount of rain which gives it such an amazingly tropical feel for such a cool climate.

Mid-way through the Carretera Austral is the town of Coyhaique, although this town was not that small, it really made us feel like we were in the middle of nowhere! It may not have helped that we were dropped off at 10pm at night in the rain, skipping over puddles for 2 hours before we were able to find any accommodation.. The Chilean style accommodation in this area was mainly Hospedajes - someone’s house who lets out a few rooms for tourists, and generally not well signposted as we found out!

The town itself was on our map as a stopover and a way to access the rest of the Carretera Austral. Sometimes waiting for days for the next bus, we were lucky to get one 2 days after we arrived. Another battle during our time on the Carretera Austral were the strikes, no commercial transport was able to get through, including food, so the supermarkets were VERY bare!

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Argentina - Los Antiguos

19 °C

Decision time...heading north from deep south in Argentina we had a couple of options, proceed up Argentinia's Route 40 or the Chile's Carretera Austral.

The famous Route 40 is a huge journey on a mainly dirt straight road, with little wildlife or anything interesting along the way...the less travelled and less touristy Carretera Austral on the other hand, winds north along the mountains with rivers, waterfalls, lakes and small towns...Despite transport strikes and threats of more, we decided on the Carretera Austral.

To get there, we took a bus from El Chalten to Los Antiguos in Argentina, a small town with loads of fruit farms. In search of a fruit farm, we wandered up a long drive without sign posts hoping we found one, reached a house and was greeted by an older couple who took us around their farm and loaded us up with apples, pears, raspberries, peaches and more. Delicious and they refused to accept any payment.

Fresh fruit with cheese and crackers for dinner went down a treat...

Los Antiguos is an entry point into Chile, so we stayed here for 2 nights to link up with the ferry in Chile Chico and start the Carretera Austral.

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Argentina - El Chalten

20 °C

In contrast to El Calafate, Chalten is a small town nestled in a valley surrounded by magnificent hills and mountains including Mt Fitzroy. We stayed in town and did day walks from the town, which was a nice relief after camping at Torres Del Paine! There were various viewpoints we walked to for magnificent views over the town and across over Mt Fitzroy range, and multiple surrounding glaciers.

And the 8hr day hike (with lots of photo taking) to Mt Fitzroy was a definite highlight. It was one of the most breathtaking views we have ever seen. There were great views of the mountain throughout the walk, and the surprise of two pristine sky blue lakes at the top miradore were a great reward!

Apart from sharing our dorm with some crazy Russians, we also bumped into some English and US guys we had met earlier in the trip who were good fun, so that gave us something to do in the quite town most evenings!

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Argentina - El Calafate

16 °C

A great setting, small town with wooden buildings, we checked into our hostel which turned out to be a bit of a dive and walked the town. A lot of touristy shops but with the surrounding glaciers, no wonder!

As it turns out, the famous Perito Moreno Glacier had just had its biggest ice fall in 4 years the day before us, so we were in for a treat (the news even made it to Australian news sites). The largest fall meant the whole glacier was unstable so from the moment we arrived we witnessed massive chunks falling off into the water creating huge waves.

The glacier was is incredible, massive, jaw dropping and we sat in awe for hours. The maze of raised wooden pathways allowed us to see it from different angles and all were breathtaking. An experience we won't forget...

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Chile - Puerto Natales (and Torres Del Paine)

16 °C

The W Trek!

Time to head north again...we crossed back into Chile from the southernmost tip of Argentina and bussed up to Puerto Natales.

This town was full of hostels and restaurants...catering for the tourist crowd on the way through to Torres Del Paine National Park.
We decided to give the ´W` trek a go.. As novices to outdoor trekking with packs and camping equipment we decided on the 5 day 4 night option instead of the longer 8-9day circuit!

We felt well prepared after heading along to the Erratic Rock info session and began our 5 day adventure on a bleary early morning bus out to the park with our backpacks (full with tent, sleeping bags, mats, stove and alot of food!). The next few days were full of highs and lows and were some of the best times we´ve had on our trip, plus the spectacular scenery we were surrounded by! It was a hard slog, we trekked about 80kms over steep inclines, many many rocks and through mud, rain and sunshine.

Glacier Grey was magical to watch sunrise over, and on our second night we could hear the ice falling from other glaciers nearby. It was a fantastic sense of achievement to make it to the Torres view point for our final morning...climbing for 45mins steeply uphill in the pitch dark and horizontal rain. Although a ray of sunshine would´ve been a nice touch for our last morning (and would´ve made Paul the photographer happy) it was still a great experience!

We returned to Puerto Natales for a night after the trek and wow did a shower and bed feel nice!

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