Santiago heading back north....

Trip Start Sep 16, 2005
Trip End Ongoing

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Saturday, January 21, 2006

I´m currently in Arica just over the border into Chile heading for Santiago to catch my flight to NZ. I finished my teaching project in Cuzco and made a stop back in Arequipa on the way down to climb the volcano El Misti which was pretty tough with the altitude.

After leaving Ushuaia we were heading for Torres Del Paine National Park with just a quick stop in Puerto Natales for supplies. The campsite was idyllic with amazing views. We all caught a transfer to the start of the Torres Trek which is part of the famous ´W Trek´. We started out on the trek with pretty bad weather and some people turned back but the weather did gradually improve. The last section of the trek was all up with lots of boulders and stones but the view well worth it when we got to the top with the granite towers and blue lake. We took in some lunch before we got to cold and had to get moving again. The trek was meant to be four hours there and four hours back but I think we managed it in slightly less including stops for hot chocolate at the hosteria on the way up / down. Some well deserved beers after 19km trekking were had at the hotel by the pickup point before we returned to the campsite. The next day those of us who had booked the pehoe hostel while we were in Puerto Natales and even some of the group who were just going for a day trip caught the catarmaran across the lake. Those of us staying at the hostel which turned out to be very nice dumped our stuff and then headed out on the grey glacier trek which was about 22km. Again many set out but not all made it there and back. After the trek back at the very nice hostel with log burning fire, great food and a bar... yes we had a few well deserved beers before crashing out. The second day Graham, Sandra and Chris set off on the Francis Valley trek at 8 in the morning. Given I had a couple of blisters and I fancied a bit of a sleep in myself and some of the others decided only to do the 15km round trip to the first camp italiano and had lunch there. We then caught the catarmaran back and had dinner at the campsite which seemed to be being invaded by overland trucks. Another Dragoman truck turned up while we were eating dinner, there was already encounter, SAS and a couple of budget and toucan trucks there! It was only once we arrived in Argentina and Chile we saw any other overland trucks, as you can imagine it was quite a drunken night had by all which started with bottles of wine in the restaurant progressed to beer in the cook tent and ended with neat Pisco from the bottle around the campfire! Needless to say after about an hours sleep I was still pissed and feeling a little green for our truck day and border crossings the next day back to Argentina.

Next stop was El Calafate our opportunity to see the Moreno Glacier. On arrival we cleaned up and then out for a exceptional and cheap meal as always in Argentina. Next morning we got picked up for the tour to the Glacier where we stopped at various view points and then at the closest we got off and wandered round the view points listening to the glacier grown and crack and very occasionally a chunk drop off. We then walked to the boat which takes you out in front of the glacier, while onboard you can have a drink from the bar with a chunk of glacier ice in it! Then back to el calafate for more good food and wine. The next day we had a late start to allow time for food and personal shopping.

We set off for el Chalten, Los Glaciers national park for a couple of nights where the fitzroy range is. We headed straight for fitzroy expeditions where most people signed up for the boat trip to view the glacier with some glacier trekking. Graham and I signed up for the Glacier trek with ice climbing. The trek was suppose to be from 7 - 8 (think we actually got back around 9)and although it was only about 26km in total with getting to and from the glacier we spent quite a while on the actual glacier itself. During the walk there we had to pull ourselves across the river on a zip wire. We got to wear crampons walking round on the glacier and stepping across big crevices, viewing pools and drain holes. Then we tried ice climbing which I can guarantee isn't easy! Check out the pics.

We had a drive day the next day we visited the cave of hands at rio pinturos, more than anything though it was the stunning view down the canyon / valley that was amazing. We then camped at a hacienda where we managed to rustle up some birthday pancakes for Nancy and toasted marshmallows round the fire. Then it was a drive day through Los Alcers national park the Argentinean lake district on to Bariloche which is famous for its chocolate and chocolate factory´s. We stayed at a campsite for the first night, Brett made a bet on our arrival time in Bariloche which he lost and had to eat a tin of sweetcorn which he hates, to make it more bareable he mixed it in with beer and sauce! Then we moved on to hostels for the next couple of nights. There wasn't enough room for us all in one hostel so the group was split between two hostels. The first full day in Bariloche Graham, Lucy, Roland Annamika and myself did a bike ride around the lake with spectacular views. After hiring bikes from town we stopped for some food at a little beach by the edge of the lake about 20km into the ride. Lucy decided to stay and chill at the beach, write her journal and enjoy the view and the rest of us set off on the many ups and downs. Even the 28 gear mountain bikes we had weren't enough for some of those hills, Roland and I got off and walked up a few while Graham and Annamike speeded ahead. We did witness a particularly nasty accident while we were slogging our way up a particularly steep hill a couple of guys were going some speed down the other way and one of them came off and took a nasty fall... it made us all a bit more careful. I gave him some bits and pieces from my medical kit and we continued on our way. We met back up with Lucy at the welsh tea rooms (they get everywhere) but didn't feel much like anything to eat or drink so we headed back into town the final 20km to drop off the bikes. Then after our 70km bike ride we caught a taxi back to the hostel to freshen up before we went into town to join the others for a Chinese and some ten pin bowling. Next morning Graham and Hannah and some of the others went rock climbing but Lucy and I decided to have a easy morning with a leisurely breakfast before heading into town to get a few things done, look round the shops and for Lucy to finish some present shopping. We took in some lunch and were going to drop in to the offices of the writers of the travellers guru who are based in Bariloche to say hi and let them know how good the ice cave trek was that we got the information from one of there articles but we couldn't find the office. Bariloche being famous for its chocolate before leaving town we went and saw them making chocolates and of course sampled a few, we also joined max in a cafe and tried a local speciality called a submarino, they bring you a cup of hot milk with a special chocolate bar which you open and drop into the milk when it melts it makes a delicious hot chocolate. As always we headed for superb wine and food in the evening, Argentinian wine really is good although we hear more about the Chilean wine back in the UK which is also excellent (not that i´m boozing my way around the world honestly its for medicinal purposes!) I really liked Bariloche and could see myself returning at some stage, the town has a alpine feel to it and a ski resort not to far away I believe. They even had some st bernards in the main square!

Next was a long drive to Pucon in Chile which is dominated by the Villarica volcano. We arrived late and went straight to the sol y nieve tour agency to book up our activities for the next day. Most of us opted for the volcano climb then picked up some supplies for the next day. Lucy, Hannah and myself had upgraded to hostel in town while the others headed back to the campsite just outside of town. Next morning we all met at the office early to be kitted out with waterproofs, crampons, ice axes, hats, gloves and boots for those who didn't already have them. We were then transported to the volcano where on the way up you can catch a chair lift for the first 400m which just saves time on walking up the volcanic material. It was then meant to take 4hrs walking to the top and we did it in about 3hrs walking mainly on snow to the top and then volcanic and rocky ground around the crater. We walked round the crater and sat just inside it looking into the crater at the occasional spurt of lava while eating our lunch. At some points the sulphur smoke was so strong it was making my eyes water and felt like it was burning the inside of my nostrils. As if peering into a live volcano wasn't exciting enough the best was yet to come. After walking out of the edge of the crater we got to slide down the volcano on our bums on the snow. 3hrs up and 25mins to get down the various sections. The chair lifts don't run in the afternoons so we had to walk down the last bit of volcanic material after the snow finished. Apparently you can ski and snow board there too and the snow goes all the way down to the bottom in the winter. We headed back into town and then early evening we all headed to the hot springs with wine and beer and snacks. The next day some people took up more activities but I just had a chill day and then we all met up for a superb bbq at the hacienda of the owner of the tour agency. We had our bbq at his club house we played golf (well I tried) and did some horse riding, beautiful grounds with superb views of the volcano. Roaring fires, much alcohol and card games!

We finally camped at a site next to Salta de Laja on the way to Satiago. Our first night in Santiago was taken up with a end of trip meal where I tried Ceviche (raw fish marinated in lemon juice with onions and sometimes chillies and sometimes served with choclo corn) for the first time, it was delicious! My other favourite is lomo saltado (strips of beef, alpaca or lama stir fried in with onions, tomatoes and chips served with rice). Much beer and wine was drunk by all and you can see the picture of me in crazy bar with a insanely big beer! Next morning no one was feeling great and we had to make it to the pre departure meeting for the next trip. Then I was in charge of arranging the trip to the concha y toros vineyard which was the last thing I felt like thinking about with a hangover. Needless to say a quiet day was had by all and we went to the Vinyard the next day. The tour was superb we got to visit the devils cellar casillero del diablo, the devils cellar (i´m sure some of you will have had the odd glass) which apparently got its name because the owner was having problems with his wine being stolen and back in those superstitious times he spread the rumor that the devil lived in the cellar and he didn't have anymore problems. We tried many wines including a glass of the rather pricey Don Mechelon.

Well that´s all for this edition chaps. More updates soon!
Miss ya all, hope your all well.

Karen. x

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