Patagonia: Villarica Trek 21.12.06 - 09.01.07
Posted at 09:36, 25 December 2006 in South America
21.12.06 Santiago - Pucon
Early in the morning the bright yellow Tucan bus was ready for us. Now this is not just a bus... this is a truck! I was quite impressed when I saw it the first time. The bus can seat 32 people, so with 13 of us we were very comfortable - nothing like those overfull buses in Bolivia ;-) A good start of the trip! Oh by the way - the bus is called "Peggy"...
Today we covered over 800 km, and drove 10 hours - very long to sit on a bus. But it gave us time to get to know each other, and it seems a good group again (of course, never as good as the Bolivia/Peru group ;-).
The drive actually was very scenic, leaving Santiago for the wineries in the South. For lunch we stopped at "Salto de Laja", a big waterfall. Lunch is often provided by Peggy, so we all help and set-up tables and chairs, chop vegetable etc. and then each one makes his/her own sandwich. It's really a luxury trip this one :-)
Now in Pucon, THE thing to see is the still active Villarica volcano. Unfortunately it was raining, and we did not see anything. And to our disappointment, the tour to climb this volcano was postponed until further notice.
22. - 23.12.06 Pucon
Next day it was still raining, very cloudy and quite cold. Instead of the climb some of us decided to go Riverrafting - as you got wet anyways ;-) And it was fun and quite exciting (a 4-rating for those who know what that means).
And in the afternoon we strolled around the cute little village and enjoyed the cafe's - and then the nightlife. It was really fun here, as there are a lot of interesting people from all of the world meeting here. However - all of them (as we did) were hoping to climb the volcano, but again... the climb was postponed due to bad weather.
Well, the following day it finally stopped raining in the afternoon, but the volcano was still in the clouds. What a bummer :-( But we by now had seen the village, so we chose to go horseback riding... Was not that exciting, but it gave us some good laughs!!!
Towards the evening the sun came out, and we heard the news: tomorrow the volcano climb was on - BUT... we left the next day :-(((
24.12.06 Pucon - Bariloche
6am - wonderful sunrise - clear blue sky - and a breathtaking view of the absolute gorgeous Villarica volcano!!! With this we left Pucon to drive ca. 400 km today to Bariloche... Well, our guide cheered us up by saying, that probably only 20% of all climbers today would make it to the top (2'864m), as there was a lot of fresh snow (it is a 8 hours climb anyway).
The landscape changed - we were now in the so called Lake District, a really beautiful area with lots of lakes (reminding me a lot of Canada - even though they say it is like Switzerland...). We drove on dirt-roads, so quite bumpy and slow drive! But we had great weather, and so wonderful views of volcano Lanin (3'700m). In this area there are a lot of funny looking trees, the Monkeypuzzle Trees. Reminded me of Christmas Trees...
We crossed the boarder from Chile to Argentina and arrived in Bariloche in the late afternoon. Now - my expectations were very high of Bariloche, as all the guide-books say it looks like Switzerland... BUT... oh no, the buildings are nothing like home! The names are (Hotel Edelweiss etc.) - and all the chocolate shops prove that there were lots of Swiss and German immigrants in the 1900. But thats it.
As it was Christmas Eve, there was not a lot open in Bariloche. We did a group dinner in a huge All-you-can-eat place... not very cheerful place for XMas, but we had a very funny evening.
Christmas Day - again, not the day to be in a city... But the weather was perfect for to hike in the National Park Llao Llao, and that's what we did. The chairlifts were not running, so we hiked along the beautiful Lake Nahuel Huapi and also went up to Cerrito Llao Llao, which gave us an overwhelming view over the huge lake.
Climbing here is quite easy :-), from 700m up to 1000m, so no longer in high altitude as in Bolivia/Peru.
We also checked out one of the worlds rare 6-star hotels, the Llao Llao - just WOW!!!!
In the evening, another 2 couples joined our group (UK and an Aussie couple, but they are from Swiss and USA origin - so I get to speak Swiss German again, how exciting ;-)...
26.12.06 Bariloche - Perito Moreno (the village, not glacier)
Pouring rain - quite incredible after the beautiful weather yesterday! But it did not matter, as we were all tired from all the trekking and so we dosed on Peggy. But the scenery was changing drastically today: from the Lake District with lots of trees and colourful lilac Lupinen flowers we entered the typical Patagonian landscape of scarce gras, flat as far as you can see - and no trees!. This because the wind is so strong!!! If you did not really hold on to your sandwich at lunchtime, it blew away!
778km today - a good day to sleep on the bus and recover. And then we entered the lifely village of Perito Moreno...NOT. One street with crooked-looking houses, and as soon as you get outside, the wind almost blows you over and you get sandblasted! So all we did was having dinner and go to sleep again.
27.12.06 Perito Moreno - El Chalten
This trip really has distances to cover - in total we will be doing around 3'300km!!! So today again a long travel day through the steppe. We saw some wildlife though: Rhea birds (look like Emu's) and Guanakos.
El Chalten was founded in 1985, and is the youngest village in Argentina. It was actually founded to ensure, that the northern entrance to the Los Glaciares Nationalpark belongs to Argentina, and not Chile. Now this village has no bank, no mobile phone connection and only lives from tourism. So again, here you meet people from all over the world - all keen on climbing either Cerro Torre or Cerro Fitzroy, the parks highest peaks.
That evening we did not see any of the mountains.... again it was raining - and with the stormy winds it sounded like a hurricane!!! We anyways walked through the streets to find a restaurant, and that was incredibly strenous agains the hard wind.
Now I was never cold in Antarctica - but here the wind really gets to you!!! I am very glad to have good clothing :-)
28. - 29.12.06 El Chalten (Los Glaciares Nationalpark, also called Fitzroy Nationalpark)
When we got up it was still raining, but during breakfast the sun pushed through - and yeah: the peaks of Cerro Fitzroy were showing a little bit :-)
We had booked a boat tour on the Viedma Lake, taking us to the Viedma Glacier, and it was an absolutely GREAT day:
The Viedma lake is a glacier lake, so has the typical milky colour. The boat took us along the edge of the glacier, which is ca. 30meters high. We did not see any ice fall off thou :-(
After the boatride we got off on the edge of the glacier and had 3hours trekking with crampons on the glacier. Now I have seen a lot of ice in Antarctica, but I had not actually walked on a glacier there. So this was quite exciting and so much fun. We had to be careful not to fall into the crevasses, but of course the guides knew their way around. And the different shapes of the ice aswell as all the shades of blue in the ice - stunning!
Four of us were still keen on doing more trekking after that exciting excursion, so we took off towards the Fitzroy Lookout point (3hours) and took advantage of the sun being out until 10pm. It was a very nice hike, but unfortunately the mountain peaks were in the clouds - it even snowed a little bit up here...
After that strenous day we enjoyed down-town El Chalten (...there is not a lot, but it is a charming, fun place...) and finished the great day with a huge Argentinian steak...
Next day again the peaks were not out of the clouds. Nevertheless we (and that is mostly us 4 "girls", two Aussies, one Scottish and me - the group calles us the "Crazy Girls" - guess because we have so much fun together), so we got up early to do another hike, this time up to the Torre Lookout point.
Again, wonderful landscape to walk in, crooked trees - often only growing in one direction as the wind always comes from the West. The Cerro Torre was just showing a little bit unfortunately... But we anyways had a wonderful trek and really enjoyed it.
For lunch then Peggy picked us up in El Chalten, and we drove to a lovely waterfall in the area. With this we left this area and drove on to El Calafate - and then - WOW, the peaks of all the mountains just came out to say good-bye. Breathtaking view really - I loved it!!!
Now in El Calafate I was really expecting the strong winds, as that is what I have been told by everyone I met on this trip so far. But hey - the sun was out when we arrived, so it was nice and warm - and not that windy! So finally we were able to walk around in a shirt and jacket only - not in x layers of warm cloth :-)
But you can tell that there is wind normally, as the area around the city is full of plastic bags stuck in barb-wire.... Not a very nice sight!
30.12.06 Perito Moreno Glacier
Rain, rain, rain... not exactly what I was hoping for on this day, as this glacier was (next to vulcano Villarica) the reason for me to travel this route. We started with a boat tour along the edge of the glacier, which is 60m high and 5km wide. But it was very disappointing, as the hard rain and cold weather prevented us from seeing a lot. I even skipped the 1 hour walk to the balconies, as I was freezing cold! So I took the bus...
But then around lunchtime the weather changed - yippie!!! From the balconies we were able to see more and more of this huge glacier, and by 3pm the mountains around the glaciers were free of clouds and we had a stunning view from the balconies to this incredible icefield. And once in a while you heard a cracking noise, or even big parts crashed into the river - wow! now that was exciting!
In the evening we gathered at the Shackleton Lounge for dinner... yes, dear old Shacky is also very well known here, not only in Antarctica ;-)
31.12.06 Puerto Natales
Another of those long driving days, as we have to cover quite a lot of kilometers on this trip. But dear Peggy always is a good way to catch up on sleep, read and have good chats :-)
Puerto Natales then offered not too much of exciting sightseeing, but we found a cute little restaurant, where we had a great dinner for this special evening. And we had a lot of fun, celebrating everyone's New Year by doing countdowns per country :-)
HAPPY NEW YEAR
01. - 03.01.07 Torres National Park
Well, to get up at 5.30am on a 1st of January is rather rare for me... but today we were off to do the "Towers Walk". This walk is one of the famous hikes to get up to the base of the "Torres" rockformation, after which the park is named. We started in a cloudy morning, but the weather improved and we enjoyed a very scenic hike.
4 hours uphill - and I mean uphill!!! And at the end it was climbing over huge boulders to get to the top... puh, I was glad to be up there at the end. But the view was spectacular. It was very windy thou, and so we went back again soon - again climbing over those boulders... autsch the knee's!
After this strenous day we then drove to our campsite - a picturesque place right on Lago Pehoe, with the other famous rockformation in the background; the "Horns".
Our tents were already put up, and dinner was in a restaurant on the campground - so luxurious camping :-)
However.... it is still early summer here in the South, and the winds of Patagonia added to it... we were freeeeeeeeezing cold in our sleeping bags that night!
Next day we were able to choose different things to do: I decided to go for an easy morning, enjoying the sun and beautiful scenery to write my diary, chat with others and just relax a little.
In the afternoon then we went horseback riding. What a great background for it: blue sky, very interesting landscape with crooked trees (twisted due to the strong wind), turqoise coloured rivers (due to the ice cold glacier waters) and all kind of wildflowers blooming. We had a little adventour, as we crossed a river, where the horses were in the water up to their bellies... and we almost had to crawl on the saddle to not get wet ;-) Was really funny and we had a great time.
This night was warmer, and we put on more layers to not again be cold in the tent. It worked, however at 4am the wind got so strong, that the group tent went down...! It was quite cozy to snug up in the sleeping bag, as you could here the wind coming from far away until it hit the tent and shook it heavily.
That day we were up to another famous walk: to the Grey Glacier. Again uphill, but not that hard this time - but the wind was like one of those storms at Christmas time once in Switzerland - it blew you over. Some people even fell!!! Incredible.
Grey Glacier was in the clouds, and as we mostly walked in valleys and little forests, we did not see to much of the icefield. And fighting against the wind was hard - so we were very glad when we reached the refugio at Grey Glacier. From here we were supposed to hop on a boattour to see the glacier and drive back to the starting point... What we did not know: this boat was cancelled due to the strong wind. And this meant, that we had to walk all the way back again - aaaaahhhrgggg!!!
Not only was it now getting an 8hours walk, but also we were under time constraints, as we had to make it on the last catamaran across Lago Pehoe. So we almost ran all the way - I guess I have NEVER ever gone uphill that fast! My poor heart was close to exploding...
We all made it thou... and that night all were cuddling into their sleeping bags pretty soon. Unfortunately another rather cold night, and so we all were happy that it was the last night camping ;-)
04.01.07 Torres del Paine N.P. - Punta Arenas
A quiet day, just a little wind, clear blue sky and a postcard-like view of all the mountains - this is how we left Torres del Paine N.P. for another of those long driving days (440km on dirtroads). I guess it was the most quiet drive of the whole trek, as everyone was exhausted from all the trekking and lack of sleep - we all snoozed in the bus :-)
It felt really good to have a real bed again (and you dont have to go outside of your tent to get to the restroom!). We found a great little restaurant with GREAT steaks... yammie!!!
05.01.07 Punta Arenas - Rio Grande
On our way to Ushuaia, we had to cover a lot of kilometers/miles, so today again we had a long driving day. The scenery changed, as after all the steppe and crooked trees we now hit the coast of the Atlantic ocean - again crossing the boarder to Argentina. First however we had to cross the Magellan Straits on a ferry - with all that wind and the waves no wonder so many ships sunk in previous years!!!
And I was excited, as today we visited a Magellanic Penguin colony in Otway. There were quite a few of them in the grass on the beach. New for me was to see the teenagers loosing their wolly feathers - cute!
Rio Grande then was just a place to stay overnight - and again have a nice steak for dinner (yes, Argentina again!).
06.01.07 Rio Grande - Ushuaia
By now we all had enough of driving on Peggy... My back started to hurt, I had finished reading my book, we all knew our IPOD songs now and everyone had burned their fotos on CD's etc. - yes, after 4'700km! we were really happy to arrive in Ushuaia today :-) To me it felt like coming home... as it now was my 3rd time to arrive here.
After checking into our hostal we went for lunch and in the afternoon did a Beagle Channel boattour. Now... that was not to exciting, lots of seabirds and a few sealions... was allright.
Best of this trip was the Hot Chocolate with Baileys ;-)
07. - 09.01.07 Ushuaia
On Sunday we explored the Tierra del Fuego Nationalpark, enjoying a wonderful scenic hike along the Beagle Channel coastline. It was mystic, as the crooked trees made the forest look spooky :-)
Monday then we went up with the chairlift towards the Glaciar Martial. Now this is a tiny glaciar, but in winter apparently this is THE skiresort here in Ushuaia... We hiked up to a snowfield, where we had a little snowball fight with our Australian friends, who only rarely see snow in their life :-)
In the evening we then had the farewell-dinner with the group. A last ride on Peggy to a campground, where we enjoyed a typical Argentinian "Asada", meaning lots of big steaks from the grill..... mhhhhhh ;-)
On Tuesday most of the Tucangroup people left, and it was me again waiving good-bye to them :-(
I did some last souvenir-shopping and had a short "Antarctica-homesickness"-moment, when I saw "my" ship coming in from another Antarctica trip...