A Travellerspoint blog

The Lakes District

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After a few days travelling with a couple of stops overnight at Punta Arenas and Puerto Varas, we arrived at Bariloche on the other side of the Andes in Argentina. The day of travelling to Bariloche was pouring with rain so we never got to appreciate the scenery. It was still raining when we arrived and for the whole of the next day so there was not much to see. However, we met three South Africans (Jan, Pascal and Tamlin) and an Argentinian guy called Nacho who we had a couple of silly nights out with until the weather improved. We were very impressed with Nacho's near perfect impersonation of William Wallace's speech whilst on his horse in Braveheart. It is amusing how many times you get the reply "FREEDOM!!" after you tell South Americans that you are Scottish.

After two days of constant rain the weather improved and we were able to see what Bariloche was all about. We met a nice Australian couple, Luke and Emma, who we hired bikes with and spent the day exploring around Bariloche. It was very scenic with many mountains and lakes. The following day our friends who we had initially met in Buenos Aires, then randomly in Puerto Natales, arrived at our hostel. They are two Australian sisters, Paula and Leah, and Leah's English boyfriend, Chris. We did a day trip with them up to an amazing viewpoint, which has been declared as one of the best viewpoints in the world. We had a good laugh with them so we arranged to meet them again in our next destination back in Chile, called Pucon.

Following our fifth Argentina / Chile border crossing so far, we arrived in Pucon. It is fairly similar to Bariloche but has a huge volcano that towers above the town. Some other friends had hiked up the volcano about a week before, which looked superb, so we arranged this as soon as we arrived. Volcano Villarica is Chile's most active volcano and it is one of the only volcanos in the world with a lava lake within its core, which makes it look even more spectacular as it is always smoking. We got very lucky with the weather as the previous five days all excursions to the summit had been called off. We set off at 7am with our waterproofs, crampons and icepicks packed for a 4-5 hour hike in the snow and ice up to the summit. It was a hard climb but worth every minute being able to look down into the crater of the smoking volcano. Although it was freezing the day got even better, as we sledged about 2000m down from the summit. Although we hardly had a chance to stop coming down from the top, we managed to take a quick video of Linda sledging (see below). Great fun and the best ending to anything we have done yet.

Paula, Leah and Chris arrived that night and their crazy friend, Linda from London, arrived the next morning. We all had a great few days staying in a really good family run hostel. The owners young son kept us all entertained especially with his obsession with throwing waterbombs! We all went to the outdoor thermal springs one night then had a wee party back at the hostel after, which was a cracking night.

On our final day the others had booked to do the volcano trip, so we decided to try horse trekking. Neither Linda or myself had been on a horse before so we were a bit unsure on how it would go. However, we had a great day and it was just the two of us and our Mapuche guide. Mapuche is the name of the native indians whose decendants still live within this valley beneath some sacred mountains and the volcano. Our guide was great and told us various things about how they used to live. Linda got a very timid horse, called Bambi, who she really bonded with. However, mine was a bit temperamental and although I thought I was doing well with mine he changed not long before we were due to finish. Although I managed to stay on when he shot off, he was a nightmare after this. We all thought he was trying to put me into a river at the end too! We really enjoyed (most of) our first time doing this though and will definately do it again soon. We are quite sad to be leaving Pucon now as this has been one of our favourite places so far.

Posted by Del-Linda 18:22 Archived in Chile Comments (0)

Patagonia

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Patagonia covers regions of both Argentina and Chile. It stretches from Tierra Del Fuego (at the southern tip of South America) up to the Lake District (about one third of the way up Chile) and comprises provinces such as Magallenes and Ultima Esperanza, meaning the last hope. Many Scots and Welsh emigrated to Patagonia for the sheep farming, plus it was also popular with some Germans and Croats.

As some of you may already know both my (Del) Mum´s and Dad´s sides of the family emigrated here, and strangely ended up in the same small town of Puerto Natales (the main base for accessing Torres Del Paine). We allowed ourselves a few additional days in Puerto Natales to try to locate my Dad´s cousins and to also try to find my Mum´s uncles grave, as her cousin has never seen his fathers grave so we were hoping to get some photos for him. We spent an afternoon at two different cemetaries searching for a Kenneth Mackenzie but unfortunately the records did not go back that far and the majority of the older graves had been badly weathered and not looked after so there was no way of identifying these graves.

When searching the death certificates we also checked for my Dad´s side of the family. We found the records for my Grandfather´s sister and an address for her daughter, Marie-Elena. The address tied in with the directions that my Auntie provided for their house when she traced and visited them over ten years ago. We decided to work on our Spanish before going to knock on their door the next day. Unfortunately things didn´t go as well as planned.

Marie-Elena´s husband, Pedro, answered and we had a patchy conversation with him. He said that Marie-Elena would be back the following day and her sister, Innes (who also lives there), was sleeping so he asked us to return tomorrow. It was our last day in Puerto Natales so this wasn´t possible. It wasn´t the most successful of attempts at finding the family, but I am glad we tried and managed to say hello to Pedro at least. We also managed to pass over a family tree from my side that I had drawn up, and we now know that they are still alive since they are now pretty elderly.

The following day we left Puerto Natales to travel 5 hours north-east, crossing the border into Argentina, to get to the Perito Moreno Glacier near El Calafate. It is absolutely spectacular and dwarfs the previous glacier we went to see in the Torres Del Paine national park. It is part of the Patagonian ice field which is the third largest in the world, behind the Artic and Antartic. The glacier itself is 30km long, 5km wide and averages 74m in height. It is growing, estimated at about 2 metres a day, although scientists have no idea why. You can actually hear it cracking and see massive chunks of ice falling off the front face which is an amazing sight and the noise it makes hitting the water is great! It was a long way to travel to only spend a few hours there but I don´t think we will ever see one as impressive as this again.

Our final destination, before flying north to the Lake District, was Punta Arenas where we managed to squeeze in a trip to a penguin colony. There were meant to be about 10,000 Magellanic Penguins here but most of them were out of sight within their burrows with their chicks. The ones that were about certainly kept us entertained though! They were pretty photogenic too and didn´t appear phased by us being close to them.

We now head north where some warmer weather would be welcomed. We are not going to miss the cold wind down here as it just goes straight through you. We have seen some amazing things down here and it has been good to come and see the area where some of the family had emigrated to many years ago.

Posted by Del-Linda 08:46 Archived in Chile Comments (0)

The W Trek - Torres Del Paine National Park

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Following a 16 hour journey we arrived in Puerto Natales. The journey through Tierra Del Fuego was not the best as 2-3 hours of it was on gravel roads which were so bumpy both of us were feeling sick. When we arrived we spent a few days arranging our trip to Torres Del Paine National Park which proved to take a bit more preparation than we thought. We chose to do the popluar W trek which is about 80-90 kilometers and we decided to camp for 4 nights which would give us 5 days trekking. After renting our equipment and discussing the trek with people returning from the park, who had great weather and were sunburnt, we were excited about leaving the following day.

Our thoughts of trekking in good weather were soon out the window and it seemed that the weather had taken a turn for the worse. It was freezing cold and really windy and it wasn´t long before the rain started! We started at the far side of the trek and on the first day we did a 7 hour round trek to see Glacier Grey. This was the first large glacier either of us had ever seen and it was spectacular. The walking was made difficult by the strength of the wind which was unbeleivable and actually blew us over on several occasions.

On the second day we did a 2 and half hour walk to the central part of the W where we camped then hiked up Valley Francis to see another glacier. The glacier was not as impresive as the one we saw on the first day, however, we saw a small avalanche and heard some larger ones which unfortunately we couldn´t see due to the clouds. The noise was unbelievable sounding like thunder. There was heavy snow and the wind comming off the glacier was freezing. The campsite we were staying at had no facilites apart from a shelter and a nearby river to get water from. That night we were huddled in the shelter cooking over the stove wondering why we thought it was a good idea to camp in the snow! So many people commented that we must be used to this weather being from Scotland and we tried to explain that we would never do this back home! The water was so cold it felt like it was burning our hands when we were trying to rinse our dishes in the river and that night despite wearing several layers, hats & fleeces and our apparently minus 9 degree sleeping bags we were still really cold. It is a night we won´t forget in a hurry!

The following day was the hardest day as it involved a 8 hour trek, mainly up hill, with our backpacks & tent. We had light snow & strong winds again which thankfully were behind us most of the way. We both started struggling in the last few hours of the walk but we finally got to the next campsite in one piece but with very sore shoulders & backs. Another rememberable day!

We stayed at this campsite for 2 nights as it was a good base to hike up to the Torres Towers. The following day we did the 2 hour hike/climb to the viewpoint which was a tough climb in the ice & snow. It was certainly worthwhile as the views of the towers was amazing and we were finally lucky with the weather which cleared up as we approached the towers so we got a clear view.

On our last morning Del decided to join a small group of people from the campsite to hike up to the towers to watch the sunrise. Leaving camp at 3.30am with his headlamp on they made it up there in the snow just before sunrise but it was unbelievably cold and although Del had on all his layers he had to come back down after an hour. Some others had taken there sleeping bags up with them so they stayed up there. Thankfully, the views of the towers were clear, and again lots more photos were taken so it wasn´t a wasted journey.

After 2 more freezing nights in our tent it was time to head back and typically on the last day the sun came out! Although the trek was challenging, both mentally & physically, we did really enjoy it and we met some really nice people along the way, including the first Scots we have met since the start of our trip. After returning to Puerto Natales and having a much needed hot shower we went out for dinner and drinks with some friends we made on the trek which we thought was well deserved!

Posted by Del-Linda 13:40 Archived in Chile Comments (0)

Ushuaia - The Worlds End!

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As soon as we stepped off our flight from Buenos Aires we realised it would be a very cold few days as the wind from the Antartic hit us. Ushuaia is the most southern city in the world and is the gateway to the Antartic. It is located on the south of Tierra Del Fuego (land of the fire), set between the Martial mountain range and the Beagle channel. It makes a spectacular setting with the snow-capped mountains towering behind the city.

The Martial glacier is located up in the mountains behind Ushuaia. It took us the best part of a day to hike up and back to see this. There was too much snow to make it to the top, but we made it most of the way where there were impressive views down over Ushuaia and the Beagle channel. The weather turned quickly though to rain and snow followed shortly after. The sun then came back out before some really heavy hailstones. All this happened within a couple of hours, but apparently these crazy changes in the weather are not uncommon. The wind reduced the temperatures to below freezing which made a huge change in temperature when compared to being sheltered.

The following day we visited Tierra Del Fuego national park, which in many ways was similar to Scotland with its lochs, mountains and forrests. Thankfully we got a good days weather albeit still very cold. We did a lot of walking and the scenery and wildlife were good but nothing too spectacular. However, we did manage to walk to the end of Route 3 which marks the end of South America, and is as far south as highways go.

Posted by Del-Linda 14:28 Archived in Argentina Comments (0)

Buenos Aires

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Buenos Aires is an extremely large city and is the capital of Argentina. Thankfully it has a very good metro system so getting around was not a problem. There were many things to go and see all over B.A. and many beautiful parks where everybody seems to go when they are not working. it has a very European feel and the majority of people who love here seem very friendly.

Unfortunately there are high levels of petty crime here, and over the last ten days here we have met many people who have been pickpocketed or have had their bags stolen. Thankfully nothing happened to us although we had a minor incident one Saturday afternoon in town but everything was okay. This certainly made us more aware to be alert at all times whilst there.

We spent many days exploring the city and seeing the sites since we never saw much the first time we were here before going to Uruguay. We went to La Boca to see all of the painted houses and we did the stadium tour of Boca Juniors, which is Diego Maradona´s team. We thought we would check out their ground since Del went to River´s to watch them beat Boca. However, Del has since bought a River Plate top so Boca didn´t really have a look in.

We also went to the famous cemetery in Recoleta, where the body of Evita lies within a very modest tomb compared to the other tombs. The cemetary was huge and although it was very impressive it was also a bit monotonous so we didn´t stay for too long, plus it was also a bit eerie seeing all of the coffins above ground level within the tombs. There were many other sites in the city, such as the Casa Rosada (pink house). This looks like a smaller version of the white house but it is pink. Historically the building was painted pink, as they used to mix cows blood with white paint. The balcony was where Eva Peron have her famous speeches and was also used for the filming of Evita.

We also had a day trip to Tigre and a day at the zoo. Tigre is about an hour north of B.A., which is at the head of the River Plata. The river forms hundreds of small islands which are only accessible by boat. It is a very scenic area with large houses on the islands with their own private jetties. The zoo was pretty good although located adjacent to some of the busiest avenues in the city. When walking past you can see the giraffes towering above the fence. There was an entertaining orangutan who throws wood and stones into the crowd until people throw food back to him.

Buenos Aires has certainly kept us busy and we have met some more friends, including a couple we have arranged to spend Hogmanay with. We also spent a few more days with Pablo and Leticia who we hope to meet up with again before leaving this continent. We have spent the first part of the trip at big cities and beaches and although the weather has been great and we have had an amazing time, we are really looking forward to Patagonia for the trekking and scenery in the great outdoors.

Posted by Del-Linda 06:28 Archived in Argentina Comments (0)

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