30 March 2010

End of the World

The bus from Punta Arencas was incredible. It followed the Strait of Magellen and finally boarded a ferry to cross it. I took a boat across the same East-West Passage that helped prove the Earth is round. Hours later, I arrived in the "Southern Most City in the World", Ushuaia.

After completing the standard tourist adventures in this city include stamping the passport 8-10 times, going on boat rides, and short day hikes, I planned a longer trek with some friends from Torres del Paine. We gave ourselves three days, two nights for a very easy trek with possible side trips. The plan was through a valley, up the side to a couple of lakes the first day. The second, back down in to the valley, up and over a pass. Then a leisurely stroll down and back to civilization.

The taxi driver dropped us off near the trail head, but not at it. We figured this out soon enough, and found the stream we needed to be close to. At this point, a pack of five dogs found us and decided to come along for the adventure. We made it back to the trail head, though without keeping our feet dry. Crossing the valley led us to our first lake, a chilly, glacial bowl for lunch. The nine of us (four humans, five dogs) then backtracked and up the other side to our second lake and first camp. Because we were not in the park yet, we were able to have a warm fire and dry our shoes.

The second day started well, we made good time out of the valley, the dogs leading the way. We made it back to the central valley, and even to the park entrance. After some hiking in the park, we came to a lake/bog that wasn't on the map. The dead trees located throughout gave us the impression it was rather new. We decided to go around, and ended up scaling down some cliffs, wading through rivers, etc. We found what we believed to be the trail, it even had logs cut of out the way. This eventually ended, and we tried to use the compass and map to find our way.

The dogs, at this point, were no longer leading, but following us. We were definitely lost, off trail, and it was getting dark. We backtracked, and eventually found out that we circumnavigated the entire bog lake from before, also discovering the reason for this unmapped lake. Beavers had built a series of damns which completely flooded the valley and trail. We found our way back to the park limits, camping on the outside once again to allow for a fire to dry our things.

The dogs followed us out and left us when we passed their home. We kept on, enjoying an all-you-can-eat dinner and a warm shower that night. Today, I took my muddy things to a lavaropa and bought my ticket north. At 5am tomorrow, I will begin traveling, and will not stop until 8am two days later. That is 12 hours, a 3 hour layover, then 36 hours.

Some photos:

Somethings Interesting
--As big as this continent is, all travelers are going to the same cities and same destinations. I have run into the same people multiple times. This fascinates me.

--I was expecting more violence and bloodshed in Lord of the Flies.

--25 breeding pairs of beavers were introduced here in the 40s in an attempt by the Argentine government to develop trade with Europe. Epic fail. Turns out, beaver pelts were popular pre-Industrial Revolution, not post-WWII. Also, without any natural predators, they have flourished and are destroying Patagonia, literally.

25 March 2010

Patagonia is Cold

It has been awhile since the last post, mainly due to the fact that I have kept so busy. I have been to two Parque Nacionales, experienced a 25+ hour bus ride, trekked for four days, and lost my debit card to a cajero automatico.

After crossing the Argentine border, I got my first of the two PN with Parque Nacional Los Alerces. It is a beautiful park in Northern Patagonia with several lakes and the South American equivalent of the Sequoias we have in California. After a glassy boat ride between peaks and glaciers, we got to the old forest with our guide. He spoke only in Spanish, but my abilities have progressed so that I could at least understand what plant or animal he was talking about, and sometimes what was interesting about it. Boat ride back, and a bus ride back to town ended a long day the night before an even longer bus ride.

25 hours is a long time on a bus, but I got through it with the help of lots of food and surprisingly good movies (personal favorite was a ripped copy of Sherlock Holmes). I arrived in Esquel, leaving myself only enough time to let an automatico eat my card before traveling back in to Chile to prepare for a trek in Torres del Paine. I made this trek with Ben Birnbaum, a friend of a friend from the Melville, and our base camp was Puerto Natales, where we enjoyed a night of partying with some locals met through Couchsurfing before taking off into the Parque.

The Parque Nacional Torres del Paine is arguably the Yosemite of South America. It has incredible views, challenging and rewarding hikes, and lots of people. We completed the "W" a hike which doubles back on itself three separate times, forming the shape of a "W" on the terrain. We took our time, completing the entire trek in four nights, and ended with a spectacular sunrise giving amazing color to the Torres. Some happenings of note include several moustaches meeting up, Ben's backpack being chewed into by mice, possibly a dead man in the drinking water, and amazing dinners (salmon with rice, pasta with red sauce and hot dogs, ravioli soup, and macaroni with three types of meet).

Returning to the "real" world, we enjoyed some amazing lamb and chicken barbecue that was near impossible to find. We took the weekend to recover, with laundry and personal cleansings. A second night of partying with the Couchsurfers saw us getting VIP access to a club opening. We shared the night with only locals as we danced and stared from our lounge on the second floor. The next day, I said my goodbye to Ben and got on a bus to Punta Arenas, where I am now.

Somethings Interesting:

--Patagonia is Freezing cold.

--While the continent is large, all travelers are heading in the same direction, going to the same attractions. I run into friends previous all the time.

--Penguins are too expensive to see, sometimes costing $70. Hopefully I can get some cheaper up north.

11 March 2010

Chiloe, etc

I had the chance to explore Parque Nacional Chiloe, my first of hopefully many Parque Nacionales during my travels down here. I walked along the main road, enjoying small loop trails to dunes and lookouts on either side. I eventually found a GIANT secluded beach for lunch; about 200-300 yards wide, and miles long in either direction. Nobody within sight, I saw a truck a ways down, but it turned the other direction. Otherwordly almost, to be that alone on such a big beach.

That night, I made my way down Chiloe Island to get to Quellon, the takeoff point of my ferry to the mainland. The ferry left at midnight, and arrived in Chaiten at 7am. In between, I got to watch a terrible States movie, picnic, sleep, and have a sunrise over the mountains that flanked us as we traveled through the volcanic spires in this area.

Chaiten is a very small town, with little to offer since the volcanic explosions in back to back years recently. The place where I had breakfast didn’t have electricity. I read as I waited for the bus to Cara del Indio, a campground where the Rafting Festival I had heard about was being held.

The Futaleufu is world renowned for kayaking, rafting, etc. and this festival draws the best kayakers from around the world to enjoy the FU. Here I am, never seriously kayaked before in my life, random backpacker, heard about it a few days before. Needless to say, I had a great time. I swam and watched the kayakers go by during the day (my campground was above “Magic Carpet,” one of the more trecherous stretches on the FU), and partied with the best of them at night.

The second night, I figured out the sauna in the campground and took it easy in preparation of my border crossing the next day. I am now in Argentina, with little confusion at the border concerning my shore pass and letter given to me by the Melville. I plan on spending tomorrow in PN Los Alerces which contains the South American equivalent of the Sequioa, and then to head south.

Somethings Intersting

--It is good to enjoy, but not exploit the “free food” bin at hostels, etc. Never use it to create your meal, simply to enhance it (i.e. a potatoe for hashbrowns with your eggs, pasta for your salad) . In return, leave anything that you can´t take with you.

--The term “American” for somebody from the States is considered insulting for those not from there. It is another way us United Statesers assume we are the only important people around, in this case more important than the rest of North and South America.

-- The self-help book I found turned out to be a Christian self-help book. While it was certainly thought provoking, I definitely enjoyed Slaughterhouse Five more. So it goes. I also found No Country for Old Men and am halfway through a John Grisham.

04 March 2010

Saltos, Onces, and Ferries

The day following the barbecue at my friends house, I went on an adventure to see Petrohue. First was Los Saltos, some very gorgeous waterfalls curving and shooting through a small lava field. I guess Puerto Montt is a very large port for Cruise Ships, and Los Saltos is a very accesible local sight to bus tourists up to. Still, however, I was able to find some respite on a small nature hike nearby with informational signs in Spanish.

I then hoofed it up to the town of Petrohue with its lake situated beneath Vulcan Osorno. I took a pleasant boat ride around the lake and barely made the bus to get back to Puerto Varas. The evening saw some reading, a pasta/tomato/steak/avocado/red pepper salad, and Snatch with my P. Varas friends. The next day, I finally finished Aztec and got lucky with the book exchange. I now am reading Vonnegut´s Slaughterhouse Five and a self-help book about a guy asking a bunch of people about the meaning of life (I got two because of Aztec´s length; thank you Thomas Decloedt from the Melville).

Meanwhile, I switched into a friend´s place so I can enjoy a benefit concert for Concepcion, the city hardest hit by the earthquake. Some dancing, mingling, and piscolas saw my last night in Puerto Varas off well before I found my way home and slept on my buddy´s couch. The next morning, I cooked soft boiled eggs in his hot water pot, said my goodbyes, and headed to Calbuco by way of Puerto Montt.

Calbuco was amazing, with another Couch with which to Surf on. It was with a traditional Chilean family, which was nice because I was coming down with a small cold. A good nap, Onces (sort of a high tea but for dinner), a good nights sleep, and an Almuerzo (lunch, but with hot dinner-like dishes) all aided in my recovery. It was what I needed to have a mom and big sister look out for me again. I of course miss my family back in the states.

Today, I got back on a bus to Puerto Montt, where I needed to figure out how to get to Futaleufu and a possible rafting festival. I had no idea the schedule, but just assumed it would work itself out. It has, and I am now in Castro, halfway down Chiloe Island. My method involves buses, ferries, and possibly penguins.

Somethings Interesting:

--I´ve complained about dull knives before in hostal kitchens. I have since learned a way to sharpen them; use the bottom of a porcelain cup or plate as a sharpening stone (the part which touches the table). Works perfectly.

--Where there is a heat source, there is breakfast. I used a hot water pitcher for some delicious soft boiled eggs.

--Couchsurfing continues to provide me with an experience I would not otherwise have.