Tag Archives: Chile

El Viaje

When Justin and I were in Cordoba we went to the Evita Fine Arts Museum. on our way out our heads turned and our attention was drawn to a rather dark painting of a small bus filled with passengers travelling through the dead of night, traulling through empty land depicted by grey speckles. The only color on the painting was from the two yellow headlights beaming out in front. Somehow, we understood what the painter was trying to communicate. And then we saw the title: El Viaje.

It’s now been a week since we finished our Viaje (‘journey’ in Spanish). Our itineraries have slowed down to a virtual stop, Justin staying in Petaluma, CA and me in Bromsgrove, England. The music that entertained us on the streets, in the corner shops, and in the bars has been replaced with birds tweeting, the rumble of lawn mowers, and the friendly chatter amongst the neighbours (which we can now understand fully!). The views of beaches and small, rather sloppily put together red brick houses are now views of the English or Californian countryside with perfectly put together houses and manicured lawns. The temperature has now dropped so that rather than feeling like your brain is about to boil even at 4:00 in the afternoon, you can leisurely bask in the sun at all hours of the day (surprisingly I’m only talking about England right now since it’s been raining in California). And the ever-changing company of fellow travellers and South American locals is now the solid company of family and old friends.

I posted on Facebook before leaving that I was excited, scared and sad about coming home, and I think that relates to Justin as well. We had been saving for over four years to go on the journey of a lifetime, and the fact that it was coming to an end scared us. We wondered how we would adjust to the Western World after eight months in South America; would it be too quiet, would there be too much order, would we become bored with just being in the same familiar place? On the other hand, we were also excited, dreaming of the foods we would eat first, mine a Cornish pasty, his a deep dish pizza with extra sauce, being able to communicate without any effort, having our own beds and mostly seeing our friends and family.

Over this past week I think we can both say that coming back wasn’t as hard as we thought it would be and have fit back into the more orderly way of life pretty quickly. What does seem surprising is how the last eight months seems more like a dream. It’s crazy to think that last month we were at Sambodromo in Rio, the month before we were sailing around the Galapagos, the month before that we were visiting coffee fincas in Colombia (which makes choosing Colombian coffee a little more fun now), and the month before that we were hiking the Inca Trail. The list of adventures, experiences and journeys we’ve had goes on an on, and will be memories that we will cherish for a lifetime. As well as the adventures, the people we’ve met along the way have added so much to our journey, especially the Buus family, whom we lived with in Bariloche, Carina and Carolina our Spanish teachers in Argentina, Elizabeth our Spanish teacher in Bolivia, Fabiano and Lina who took us in over Christmas so we had a family to spend the holiday season with, and numerous inspiring other travellers. The two that stand out the most we met in Patagonia; one who sailed a small boat from France to Ushuaia with his wife, another is a back country skier who went alone to Glacier National Park and had to cross a treacherous avalanche zone to get to the slope he wanted to ski down. While we thought we were cool travelling around the continent, these guys brought adventure to a whole new level. Then there were the friends we made, some of them we may never see again. And this really is the notion of travelling. One day you could be sat in a hostel chatting away with someone from Israel and the next you could be hiking up a mountain with people from Denmark. Travelling not only provides you with fun memories, but also helps you to cease the day and meet people you may normally just pass on the street.  This is one of the reasons we just couldn’t carry out our original idea of having you help us with our journey, and vote on what we should do next. Our itinerary was too spur of the moment.

Along with the good there is the bad. South America is a third world continent and I feel so privileged to come from England where I can have pretty much whatever I want; clothes, a car, a house. Simple things that we expect, rather than hope for. The governments we have in both the States and the UK are more or less for the people, vs. for themselves. Yes we could argue the other way, but we are so lucky to have education, world class health care, well built houses, roads, and a well organized waste disposal system! I have seen poverty before, but have not had time to absorb it like we did in South America. Yes, there are areas where the standard of living is similar to the UK or the US, but the poor areas are much greater with locals living in tiny brick boxes, most with metal supports sticking out of the top while they save up for a second floor. They don’t just throw their washing in the machines but do it by hand and hang it out to dry by a smoggy road. They throw their rubbish on the floor because they don’t have the education to realize what it does to the environment. Sometimes they don’t use soap, because they don’t have the education to understand about germs. And some still live in fear of guerrillas.  It’s a shame that it is still like this now we are in the 21st century, but unfortunately they were part of the new world that had everything taken from them and left to deal with what was left. Hopefully one day they will be able to find their feet and become competing countries. Brazil is showing signs of change with the upcoming Olympics and World Cup and the fact that it is one of the BRIC countries, however they still have a long way to go.

One of the travellers we met described South America as a wonderland and I couldn’t agree more; from a continent long mountain range, to wide, flat salt lakes; from jungles to deserts; from the world’s largest glacier to tiny hot pools; coffee, wine and cachaca; friendly wildlife and unsure tribal people; South America has so much to offer. I hope that Justin and my journey has educated you, inspired you and one day maybe we shall meet somewhere in the world. We only get one life, and we only take with it memories so go Shadow Travellers and explore!


Challenge in Patagonia

“Romantic visions of glaciers tumbling into fjords, jagged windswept peaks, gauchos and condors.” (Patagonia, 2011) We have admired the enormous mountains, marveled at the never-ending glaciers, gazed up at the star filled skies and been stunned by avalanches. No wonder why the founder of Patagonia Outdoor Clothing, Yvon Chouinard, chose this special place as the name for his company.

We left the comforts of our home in Bariloche and took a 30 hour (yes 30!) bus ride down south into the heart of Patagonia. I have to say that the bus ride, as terrible as it sounds, wasn´t too bad and they even served us meals. Our first stop was El Calafate, a small town originally for wool traders, now exists because of the Los Glaciares National Park and the Perito Moreno Glacier visited by an abundance of tourists each year. Fortunately we went in the low season and almost had the place to ourselves. However we were happy that our hostel, America del Sur, had a good vibe and was full of fellow backpackers coming and going with eventful stories. We took a tour to go and see the glacier which is considered the eighth wonder of the world spanning five km wide and 35km long. The size of this thing is incomprehensible and spans for as far as the eye can see. We met a friendly ozzie bloke (Ash) on the tour and spent the day walking the maze of balconies they have built in front of the glacier and trying to catch a glimpse of a piece of the glacier breaking off. If you didn´t see a piece break off, you definitely heard the thundering noise. It was stunning. That night we met up with Ash, had a couple very large beers and shared notes about our trips.

After touching the surface of Patagonia, it was time to get deeper into the wilderness so we headed to El Chalten, an even smaller town literally in the middle of nowhere. This pueblo was mainly built for climbers and hikers to explore Cerro Torre, Cerro Fitz Roy and the numerous glaciers. Or if you´re crazy, like one guy we met on the bus, you can do back country skiing and ice climbing. He ventured out there on his own and we found out later that he nearly got stuck in an avalanche! The area and especially Cerro Fitz Roy is so formidable that only two climbing trips actually summit the mountain each year. Fortunately for us we arrived on a picture perfect day (many others at the hostel in El Calafate had returned from El Chalten without even a peek at these majestic mountains) without a cloud in the sky and were welcomed with more glaciers, fresh air and the beautiful mountains. The town however, was like arriving into a ghost town, hardly anything was open because of the time of year and hardly a soul around. Perfect for us…we would have the trails to ourselves! We checked into our lovely little cabana atAnita´s Place, grabbed some grub at a very tasty rotiseria (so good we even went back for dinner) and headed for the Lago Torre trail. This was our favorite hike so far, winding by the river, up hills, through little groves and finally to the magnificent finish. Iced over Lago Torre, Cerro Torre standing tall and Glaciar Grande. It was a sight we will never forget and literally took my breath away. The next day was pretty cloudy so we hiked to a waterfall and then ventured to Lago Capri to get the tourist photo of Fitz Roy, however it was too cloudy so we headed back down to try to find some lunch. When we reached the bottom everything was closed except for the main hostel. We went in with our hungry stomachs but after watching the waitresses continue to clean glasses and talk to each other for about 15 minutes without even bringing our water we left and headed further down the street and found a gem of a place called La Lucinda´s, a grandma, mum and daughter outfit serving the most delicious food. The sandwiches were delicious and when we had dessert it came with two different liquors. With our stomachs full, feeling very satisfied with our trip to El Chalten, we headed for the bus station. Next stop Puerto Natales.

Puerto Natales is again another small town on the Chilean Border that serves as a base for tourists heading to Torres Del Paine National Park. Our original thought was to just do day trips into the park, however after our experience in El Chalten and speaking to other travelers we decided to be a little adventurous and do the famous ´W´ hike. The hike is meant to take 4 days in the best weather, leading you by glaciers, lakes, mountains and vast lands. Along the way you can either stay at refugios or camp. We opted to camp since we weren´t sure if the refugios would be open and it costs $40 per bed in the refugios.  Daylight robbery! We met another guy in the hostel, George from Brazil, who decided to join us…perfect someone else to help carry the bloody food. Our journey started bright and early with a two hour bus journey to the park. Well it was meant to be two hours but the drivers kept stopping to have breakfast or sip mate with the park rangers. Our plan was to start on the east side of the park and head west as we were told that none of the boats taking you to the start of the trail were operating. Fortunately we met some Germans who told us that one of the boats was working and so we could probably get that back otherwise we would have to walk for an extra day to even get out of the park. We checked times at the ranger station and they didn´t even know what was going on. This seemed to be the theme of the employees working within the park; we would get one answer from one employee and then get the complete opposite from the next. Always a reassuring feeling when you´re going into the wilderness. We decided to just follow the Germans and continued with them along the windy road to the visitor center. This took about an hour and within that time we saw about 3 other people. The land was covered in a fresh blanket of snow and the sky was thick with clouds, not exactly welcoming. When we were finally dropped off at the visitor center I think we were all feeling like we had been abandoned in the freezing cold. It was an exciting but weird feeling…that feeling would get worse. We took a transfer to the hotel where we could get the boat giving us a chance to warm up once more until finally it was time. We hiked out to a small dingy which then took us across to a larger boat. The views on the journey were beautiful with a glacier in the distance and icebergs floating all around. When we arrived at our destination we were dropped off on the side of the lake and had to clamber up rocks to get onto shore. Then they left us and this was the weirdest feeling ever. I don´t think I have ever been in that situation before where if you can´t hike out you are pretty much screwed. It seriously felt like we were the only people in the park, well we kind of were. Waving the boat good-bye and realizing our situation we decided to get a bit of food in us before heading for the trail; a lovely lunch of salami and cheese sandwiches. The trail was covered in snow so our feet were pretty cold and wet straight away. Along the way we could see the glacier and small lakes that were almost black. We made it to the first refugio just after dark and what a relief it was to see ¨civilization¨ in front of us. We were welcomed with a lovely fire and a huge kitchen to cook in. We put up our tents, made some tasty cheese quesadillas, and joined the 4 others warming their feet by the fire. We met another German who has been travelling for the past 5 years and has 4 years to go with the aim of visiting every country in the world. Sounds interesting but he was quite defensive in everything he said so he just became annoying. Loved Justin´s line of ‘So you´re just doing this just to say you´ve been to every country then’. After a while he left and we decided to make the most of a golden opportunity and camp in the dining room by the fire rather than head out to -7 degree temperatures!

 The next day was beautiful without a cloud in the sky and I think we were all feeling a little more motivated. We headed for the middle of the ´W’ called  Valle Frances. We set up camp at Chileno had an interesting lunch of tuna, wraps, mustard and raisins (it wasn´t too bad). George decided to stay behind as Justin and I headed up the valley. It was hard to see the trail as it was covered in snow and we had to climb over huge boulders. Looking across the valley we noticed that the snow was piled very high above the cliffs and we both even mentioned that it looked like it would avalanche. Right on cue, well five minutes later we heard a loud crack, then a thunder and then the snow started pouring down. A few seconds later an even bigger avalanche started pouring down the mountain. (See the photos above.) It literally took my breath away, and my hiking spirit. A little freaked out we decided to head back down to camp, pack up the tent and move on to the next refugio. So glad we did as we were welcomed by another toasty fire and showers. This night we camped and it wasn´t so bad, except when I had to pee.

 Our third and what turned out to be our final day, was a day of morals and ethics. It started off well. We got up early and Justin even saw a fox. Our aim was to try to make it up to the needles or at least a camp site just below them, however George, the guy from Brazil, was walking slower and just couldn´t keep up. We tried helping him out by carrying his tent but his legs were two tired. After about an hour we had to confront him and decided to leave him behind. We felt like crap and for the next hour and half kept trying to reason as to why it was OK and that he should be fine on his own. Further down the trail we ran into some other Germans (so many German´s in this park) who said the trail up to the needles was extremely difficult to finish with the time we had. So, along with the fact that we had left George and the news from the Germans made us realize we shouldn´t be rushing to do the needles and we should finish this thing as a team. George caught up to us after a little and then we carried on the trail, although this time funnily enough he had picked up the pace a little. We amazingly reached the last refugio 2 minutes before the shuttle and then headed home with a stunning view of the needles standing tall. That night Justin and I toasted our experience with the ‘W’ pizza at Mesita Grande. We never really saw George again. I guess we deserved that.

P.S. We decided against going to Ushuaia since we were ready for summer.