After farewells to the group I had spent the last few days hiking with I headed a few miles down the road to a village called Puerto Bories. I spent the next 4 days at Bories hotel, which is owned by Heidi and Gustavo (Heidi is originally from Yorkshire), where I helped them with riding horses in return for a bed.
On arrival at the hotel it was one of the windiest and coldest days I had experienced, possibly ever. Heidi had a group she was taking for a ride, so I offered to join and help out. After 2 hours of being outside on a horse unable to even speak to the person next to you as the wind made hearing impossible I was starting to think Patagonia wasn’t quite as great as I had thought. Once we got back inside however it all changed. Within a few minutes of being inside the lovely cook who works in the hotel put a large cup of tea and a slice of lemon meringue pie in front of me, things were definitely looking up! That night I sat in front of a fire, as it teemed down with rain outside, and finished the last book in the Hunger games trilogy. Pretty much perfect!
The following 3 days the weather got back on track. We had beautiful sunshine everyday and luckily no wind at all which meant you could enjoy the surroundings.
Riding around the area is a truly stunning experience with snow capped mountains in all directions, the sea and glacial lakes it is a wonderful place to spend some time. The horses that Heidi and Gustavo have are mostly a criollo and arab mix, which produces a hardy pony-type horse which is excellent for endurance riding and very quiet to handle and ride.
(Disclaimer for this photo-I rode everyday with a hat, except when this picture was taken. I had to give my hat someone with greater need than myself. I do not in anyway endorse riding without a hat. Mum, please take note!)
One afternoon Heidi took me to see the estancia where they own land and used to be based. It is the most beautiful location, with its own bay and fjords set in front of the mountains. We then went to a nearby tourist attraction, the Miladon cave, which is a huge cave formed from glacial melt water. Inside the remains of a prehistoric sloth were found amongst other fossils. From there you can climb up to a viewpoint which affords great views of the surrounding area.
After 4 lovely days spent riding in the sunshine in Chilean Patagonia it was time to say goodbye to Heidi and Gustavo and also to Chile. Time for me to head back over the border and to the Argentine side of Patagonia.
We arrived into Puerto Natales on Monday at lunchtime after 4 days on the boat. I had met a Swiss girl called Carla who had similar plans to mine regarding heading out to the Torres del Paine national park to do a few days trekking. After a fantastic fish lunch (with all this coast around it seems a pity not to have fish!), we headed off to a very informative talk about trekking in the park then went out to rent all our gear, including tent and stoves. The hardest part of the afternoon was shopping for food. We planned to be out for 4 days and were both keen to keep weight to an absolute minimum. We bought a lot of chocolate! We spent the evening packing and drinking wine and enjoyed a final shower before our big expedition.
We ate as much as we physically could on Tuesday morning before catching a bus for the 2 hour ride into the park. Once we had signed in at the entrance we got on another bus further into the park where we met a catamaran which took us over lake Pehoe and to the start point of our trek. The weather at this stage was beautiful sunshine and fairly warm with little wind. The trek we planned was the famous W trek (you walk up 3 valleys so the path looks like a W).
We set off for our first camp at around 1pm and made fairly slow progress. Nothing to do with the 15kg backpacks, it was due to the fact that the views were so stunning. After about 2hrs hiking you get your first glimpse of glacier Grey, which is one of many glaciers off the Southern Patagonian ice field. In the sunshine it looked amazing, especially as it was the first time many of us had seen a glacier.
We arrived at our camp at around 4:30pm, we set up our tent, then headed further along the path to get a better view of the glacier. On our way back we got chatting to sone guys who run kayaking trips on lake Grey in front on the glacier. After a bit of persuasion we managed to get a discount for a trip the following morning. We had dinner (rice mixed with soup powder, surprisingly nice actually!) and spent the evening chatting to other trekkers who would become our W trek friends as we would see each other along the way and at each camp every night.
We got up early on Tuesday and headed down to the lake for our mornings kayaking, although it wasn’t sunny it was clear. After getting our kit on we had a short briefing and got into our kayaks. As soon as we paddled out there were huge icebergs everywhere which had carved off the glacier the previous day. As I asked our guide if we could go closer to one of the icebergs we heard a huge crash as the said iceberg broke into 2 splintering ice everywhere and causing a huge wave. The guide started laughing and asked me if I would like to get closer now, I said I was happy here! We paddled up close to the face of the glacier which was pretty special, you only start to get an idea of how big glaciers are when you get up close to them. We then left our kayaks on the shore to get up close on the side of the glacier and have a lovely warming cup of tea. After this we paddled back and were back into our trekking gear by 11:30am, time for a hot chocolate and a quick lesson about the glacier and we were back on the path trekking to our next camp by midday.
We arrived at our next camp at around 5:30pm and set up our tent straight away. After a mornings kayaking and an afternoons hiking we were feeling pretty exhausted, to add to this the wind had really got up in the afternoon so this had added a certain challenge to walking in a straight line! We had another rice and soup meal (sensibly finishing all of our rice, we decided there was bound to be a shop at the next campsite) and had an early night.
The next day we hiked further into the valley del Frances (the middle part of the W) whilst we left our bags at the campsite. We were rewarded with beautiful panoramic views made even better by glorious sunshine.
By the time we got back to camp we were hiking in t-shirts. We packed our bags and hiked to our next stopping point. We were at another campsite by 2:30pm and had the big decision to either keep hiking to the next campsite which would mean that we would do the trek in 4 days or camp where we were and do it in 5 days. As we sat in the sunshine looking at the map another hiker told us about the amazing hot showers at the campsite. That made our decision. We had showers, washed our hair and then sat in the sun all afternoon, with SPF30 on as the rather large hole in the ozone layer means you burn quickly as we both learnt the hard way! We managed to persuade a guy at the campsite to sell us a bag of pasta and he gave us some leftover cooked pasta and sauce from the kitchen as well. We made friends with a very professional looking hiker called Thomas who insisted he cooked for us aswell, so we enjoyed a couscous and vegetable starter that evening!
The following day we hiked up the last leg of the W. This involved most of the day hiking uphill which was tough at times. In the morning we had glorious sunshine but in the afternoon the winds were really strong again and at times this meant you had to stop walking just so you didn’t get blown away! We made it to our final campsite by late afternoon, by then we had made a lot of trekking friends so the campsites become very sociable places. Within an hour of being there someone is offering to make you a coffee and asking if you have enough food! We were lucky enough to be with Thomas again who made us a lovely vegetable soup starter then we had a mountain of pasta afterwards. Feeling unpleasantly full we went to bed ready for an early start the next day.
We woke up at 5am, got dressed and hiked up to a viewpoint further up the valley in the half light with our head torches on. The plan was that we would see sunrise come up behind the 3 towers (the namesake of the park, Torres del Paine), basically 3 massive shards of rock sticking out of the ground. As we hiked up to the viewpoint it was snowing hard. The higher we got the harder the snow fell. We arrived at the viewpoint and could see nothing. No towers, no sun, in fact we could hardly see each other! It was freezing cold so we decided that the best thing to do was to get back to camp and have a hot drink!
Whilst disappointed by the lack of views at the top, both Carla and myself felt like we had had a more authentic Patagonian experience for it. We had been told Patagonia throws all 4 seasons of weather at you in 1 day and so far we had had a lot of sunshine. This way we felt it was balanced out a bit, also it was our last day and we knew we would be having a hot shower and a warm bed that evening so we felt we could handle anything! We walked the final hike back down the valley in time for the bus back to Puerto natales at 2pm.
After hot showers, putting our clothes in to be washed, returning our hired equipment a group of our hiking friends all met for dinner. We went out to an amazing steak restaurant where there was not a grain of rice or piece of pasta in sight! We ate loads, dranks lots of wine and reminisced about how much fun we had had over the last 5 days, but also agreed we were all happy to be back in civilisation again. Then it was time for farewells. It was particularly sad for Carla and I to say goodbye as we had spent 9 days together and had got on so well. We have made promises of meeting up to go hiking together again, either in England or Switzerland, we will have to see if we make it hapoen!
I decided that a more interesting way of heading to Southern Patagonia would be to take a boat, so I booked myself on to the 4 day cargo ferry to Puerto natales. I arrived early at the port and met a couple of other girls also getting the boat, who luckily spoke excellent English! We headed over to go and get onto our boat and as we had our tickets checked we realised we were all in the same cabin! We headed up to our cabin, which was suprisingly spacious with an en suite bathroom, dropped off our bags and went out to explore.
We quickly found out that the cargo was not live (a relief since a number of people had led me to believe this would be the case) and that there were only 30 passengers on the ship, only 6 who were English speaking. This seemed to be no big issue as we quickly ended up chatting with other passengers, our favourites became 2 Chilean lorry drivers who seemed to have a real soft spot for us all!
The first day on the boat it was beautiful sunshine and we were all out on deck enjoying the warmth. We saw the most amazing sunset and the boat hardly moved at all so there was no seasickness in sight. Dinner much exceeded expectations, whilst it was basic school-type food, we had 3 courses at every meal and there was a lot of it. It is slightly worrying how quickly I get used to this/expect this!
Our second day was not quite as we had come to expect. It was grey, overcast and cold when we got up and as the day progressed it started snowing. We couldn’t see any of the wonderful scenery we had hoped for. To add to this one of the ferry staff came around at lunchtime offering us all seasickness tablets as he told us it was going to get rough as we went out into open sea. As someone who has suffered from seasickness before I took the tablet immediately, just as I was told that it would make me drowsy. I spent most of the afternoon asleep as a result. Not that I missed much, as the weather remained poor. That night the boat lurched around a lot, whilst I did not get sick it was not a fun night. Very few people got any sleep at all that night.
The following day was a completely different day. We had a lovely clear day with sunshine most of the day. As a result we saw lots of fantastic scenery including the very impressive fjords. We were also lucky enough to see seals and dolphins which was totally unexpected. The boat was back in between the mainland coast and the numerous islands off the coast, which meant we were back to a steady boat and a sea looking like a mill pond.
One of the great things about there being so few of us on the boat is that you ended up chatting to lots of different people. Many of the people on the boat were there with work, either directly with their cargo or heading south with work. As I mentioned earlier, we made particular friends with 2 lorry drivers from a town near Santiago. They were great fun and incredibly tolerant to my stilted conversation due to my needing to translate everything before I can understand or say it! One of my favourite conversations I had I summarise below:
Toledo (chilean lorry driver) – do you know the pirate Francis Drake?
Me – what? Pirate? He isn’t a pirate, he is… (I burst out laughing)
Toledo – Do you not know him?
Me – I know him. Its just in England we see him as an explorer or a conquistador. Not a pirate.
Toledo – No, he is definitely a pirate.
Me – Yes. From a South American perspective he probably is. I just had never thought about it like that.
Both of us are laughing at this point. Difficult to know if Toledo has understood enough of what I have said for us both to be laughing at the same thing, but it seemed like progress in our friendship!
Our final day on the boat was pretty clear again, so we were able to admire the views of the islands that hug the mainland. At around midday we arrived in Puerto Natales, which marked the end of our voyage. After some fond farewells we all headed off in our various directions. However, the 6 of us English speakers stuck together and all headed to the same hostel in order to start our preparations for the imminent 4 day trek in the nearby Torres del Paine national park.
I arrived into Santiago just after lunch after an 8hr bus ride from Mendoza. Despite a rather confusing experience crossing the border where I realised that chilean Spanish really is as difficult to understand as people had told me, the journey was stunning. The bus takes you through the Andes and the Cordilleras, which certainly make for an impressive sight. I don’t think I have ever taken so many pictures on a bus journey!
In Santiago I was lucky enough to be staying with a friend, Rob, I had met in Bolivia. I got a taxi to my friend’s flat and was informed by my very friendly taxi driver that this was a very rich area! After dropping off my bags we went straight out to hike up a hill in the centre of Santiago (the city has lots of random hills in the centre, which afford beautiful views of the city), which we managed to do perfectly in time to have the last sun of the day. Santiago is surrounded by mountains on all sides, most significantly the Cordilleras, which means on a clear day you are guaranteed a very good view!
Later on we met up with one of Rob’s friends for a night out in Santiago. This was my first experience of a night out in Chile, where you don’t show up to clubs until 1am at the earliest. This makes for a late finish! We had a fun night with lots of piscolas (the local tipple of pisco with coke) and ended up going home early at 3am! The reason for the early finish was that Rob and I were heading to a nearby town called Valparaiso for a day trip on Sunday.
Our plans for an early start did not really materialise, however we managed to make it to Valparaiso by lunchtime which given our hangovers wasn’t too bad really! The city is one of two halves. There is the port area that is not pretty and I’m reliably informed that crime rates here are incredibly high. However, once you get away from this area up the hill it is a very pretty place. Lots of houses are painted an assortment of different colours and there are nice restaurants, boutique shops and much less crime! We had a fun day looking around the town, then headed back to Santiago in the evening.
My final day in Santiago actually gave me chance to see a bit of the city. It really is a very beautiful place with lots of places that give you wonderful views of the city. Since it is surrounded by mountains it is very sheltered and was very sunny and hot. The other thing I really noticed was quite how organised the city is, I could have been in any European city.
Rob and I managed a quick dinner before I headed for another night bus heading south to the Chilean lakes district.
After a rather long 19hr bus journey I arrived into Mendoza on Wednesday morning. I went straight to my hostel and after a quick shower and a coffee I was ready to go explore. The street my hostel was on looked incredibly familiar. Lots of nice looking restaurants, bars and boutique shops in a smart looking neighbourhood not far from the centre. I was on the Northcote road of Mendoza! After 4 months of countries being totally different, it felt like I was home!
Mendoza is bigger than Salta and more picturesque. It clearly is a city with money, not only from my very upmarket street, but from the avenues of trees down every road which certainly make it feel very European. I am going to try to restrain from writing more about the Argentine beef again, but needless to say I enjoyed some very nice meals during my stay. Most of them included steak.
Once you leave the city centre the first thing you realise is that this is a wine region. Obviously, I know! Whichever direction you go in all you see are vineyards. I went on a wine/bike tour which took in 4 vineyards which we cycled to. Since we probably tried 3 wines at each vineyard by the time we were cycling to our final destination I think there were a few wobbly cyclists! It was a lovely way to see a few different vineyards, the weather was beautiful and the wine very good so a pretty perfect day!
I met 2 sisters travelling from the US who are in their 70s and still staying in hostels and seeing places. Very inspirational ladies. Myself, an Italian girl from my hostel and the 2 sisters all went for dinner after the tour. At midnight we had just finished eating and were finishing our wine. I think I know how I will be spending my retirement…
The following day I took a tour that took us to the foot of the Andes very close to the Chilean border, including a trek in the national park. The 3 hour drive to the park was beautiful, after passing through hundreds of vineyards the terrain became increasingly mountainous and a number of snow capped peaks were around us.
We passed by the ski resorts closest to Mendoza, whivh were shut due to it being the wrong season. Once we arrived at the park we set off on out trek, we spent the trek in full view of Mount Aconcagua, which sits at nearly 7000m making it the highest point in both north and south America. A truly stunning site, with visible glaciers at the top and plenty of snow from about two thirds up I was not at all tempted to have a go!
After 3 lovely days in Mendoza I took the bus to Santiago in Chile, so onto country number 6 but only for a while then back to Argentina for more steak…
Onto country number 5, Argentina.
Having been travelling for almost 4 months now actually staying in someone’s house was a real treat!
As someone who has very little contact with children I realised how much fun it is to play games again. I have learned how to play with lego, watched Peppa pig (actually quite good!), read Thomas the tank engine and been impressed by the creativity and complexity involved in any game! In between this I did manage to see a bit of Salta!
On Saturday they hosted an asado (Argentine barbecue) at their house. These was a lovely group of us, both adults and children, but the highlight for me was the food. Absolutely amazing! The time invested in asados makes the English barbecue really seem inadequate in comparison. We had a beautiful piece of Argentine beef slow cooked and sliced up, which produced the most tender and juicy beef. This was the start to Argentina I was wanting!
I had an explore around Salta on Sunday morning, which is a very picturesque city itself. Then out for lunch for more amazing beef and the biggest steak I have ever seen! In the afternoon we went for a walk to a nearby river, where you suddenly appreciate how stunning the views are around Salta.
I had a day trip booked to go to Cafayate. This involved about a 3 and a half hours drive each way from Salta through the most incredible scenery, including canyons, bizarre rock formations and multi coloured mountains. Once in Cafayate we had a wine tour around one of the numerous vineyards in the area. We then had lunch. I did rather well on the group I was with, since the rest of the group were from different parts of Argentina. As such they insisted that I tried everything, so were continually putting more food on my plate! Also, I have now fully experienced the famous Argentine hospitality, as I had lots of kind offers to come at stay!
My final day involved seeing some of the museums in Salta, including the amazing MAAM museum which showcases 3 mumified children from the Inca period. The children were found, along with a number of other items, at a very high altitude and as such have been preserved to an almost perfect level. They are eerily real looking!
Then, onto a bus to Mendoza, 19hrs of fun…