|Posted by Leticia Hughes on February 16, 2010 at 9:16 PM|
After the surf, sun and vineyards of Vina del Mar, we ventured back to Santiago to prepare for our first big bus journey of 14 hours South to Puerto Montt. Initially I had planned to spend my days in the city constructively brushing up on my non-existent Spanish, however that sounded far too much like work, so we decided to leave the smog behind for a day and arranged a tour to Mount Aconcagua just over the boarder into Argentina.
The day involved a visit to an ancient Inca site and an easy 2 hour hike in the National Park. Mount Aconcagua is the highest mountain in North and South America and we were lucky enough to have the snow-capped peak in full view for most of the circuit.
After the hike, we crossed the boarder back into Chile and enjoyed the spectacular views of Lake Inca, which has been saturated with glacial blue water. Sipping on pisco sours, we took in the surroundings from the deck of the ski resort overlooking the lake and vowed to return one day for a ski holiday (mental note must learn to ski first!).
The next stage of our Chile adventure was the bus trip to Puerto Montt… oh how I love long bus rides (yeah right). Mazza did a great job speaking Spanish to the ticket agent and we were relieved to see that we were headed to the correct destination on the right day. Thinking we were on to it, we also booked seats at the back of the bus on the top deck. There was no way we wanted to be beside a toilet for 14 hours.
The evening we boarded the bus and found our seats, you can imagine our delight when we discovered we were right next to the stinking bloody toilets!! But it got better... at first we thought the bus was only half full but then it stopped at another depot and filled up to the brim and we were the lucky passengers who got small children in seats front and behind. Oh yippee screaming rug rats and a smelly toilet!!! After 14 long hours we made it to Puerto Montt and I was astounded I actually managed to get some sleep. While the toilet did get a little whiffy the children were so well behaved. The gorgeous little Chilean girl behind us, who would have been no more than 18 months old, actually sleep and sat on her mum for 14 hours without hardly making a sound. I could have kissed her cubby little cheeks for not screaming the bus down all night.
In Puerto Montt we decided to get out of the city and headed for a small backpackers called Hostal Mozart on the coast. When we arrived we could not believe our luck… Our room was spotless and the Austrian host Helmet was just delightful. In the morning while eating our breakfast, a pod of dolphins swam past. Yes it is a hard life… Catching the very small local buses to and from Hostal Mozart also gave us a glimpse of the real Chile – the smelly fisherman sitting on his box at the back of the bus, the old boy with this freshly shorn sheep wool stuffed into a sack, the eyes of curious children and the kind smile from the little old lady sitting up the front.
In Puerto Montt we boarded the Navimag ferry, which would take us 2500km South to Puerto Natales. The 4 day journey was a great way to travel as we saw some beautiful landscape and met so many other interesting travelers. While on the ferry we were lucky enough to stop at Puerto Eden where we walked through an isolated village. These people rely on fishing and the Navimag ferry to survive. I so wanted to buy all their goods they had for sale, which ranged from tasty lemon meringue pies to mini seal skin boats. Instead I just took loads of photos and was surprised some of the women and children were happy to oblige in their picture being taken without payment.
The Navimag ferry also took us within 1km of the largest glacier outside of the Artic and Antarctica. The Xio IV Glacier is 5km wide and the blue, compacted ice looked so vibrant against the grey, stormy skies. The ship actually collected a small iceberg and this is what we enjoyed in our drinks while on board.
We were thrilled to finally make it to Puerto Natales, Patagonia!! We wasted no time in organising the camping gear we would need for our trek in the Torres del Paine National Park.
On the afternoon we arrived in the park, the wind was howling 80kph and gusting to well over 100kph. It was also so cold it was actually snowing – yes apparently this far south it actually snows in summer. Thankfully we had brought some warm and wet weather gear. The only downside of this, is that our packs weighed at least 18kg with camping gear and food for 5 days.
Rather than head up the mountain that afternoon in the snow, we opted to make camp. So many tourists were headed up in the mountain in treacherous conditions and we couldn’t understand the attraction of getting blown off the mountain. That night in our extremely small tent, with the wind sounding more like a jet plane, I wondered if we were completely insane?!?! We were about to walk 46km unguided and without help to carry all our gear.
The next day the weather thankfully cleared and despite feeling like crap from lack of sleep and having a cold, I got my butt up the first major part of our trek to the infamous Torres del Paine towers. The walk through forest and rugged rocky landscape was fantastic and the views of lakes and mountains was just breath taking. That day we ascended over 1.2km – ouch!!!
On day 3 we set off for the middle campsite. At first my pack felt OK, but after two hours my shoulders ached, my knees were buckling, my hips cracking and generally I was in pain!!! Torres del PAINe alright!!! After 7 very long hours trudging up and down hills we finally made it to camp. It hurt everywhere and damn the can of beer we purchased for NZ$5 tasted so good. That night we crashed early and thankfully we survived the onslaught of mice in the middle of the night. Some campers ended up with massive holes in their tents where mice had bitten through everything to get to food. One girl woke with a mouse in her hair – nice!!
The next day I felt wonderful after a good nights sleep. We set off with zest in our step feeling stronger and fitter already. We walked for 2 hours and then left our packs at a campsite as we ascended another huge hill, which gave us 360 degree views of the parks mountains, lakes and glaciers.
That afternoon we decided to push on through to the last campsite and after 9 hours of walking we finally made it. Blistered and somewhat broken, we pitched our tent and headed for the bar!!! While this trek was short, it was not easy. I now have so much appreciation for the porters that supported us in the Himalayas.
We have spent the last two days recovering in Puerto Natales – sleeping and showering!!! Today we are catching a bus to Argentina, the home of great steak, huge lakes, Iguazu Falls and the tango!!!
Chile has been an amazing experience and we feel that we have achieved and seen so much in the first month of our South American journey. Patagonia has by far been the highlight for us so far and capturing the beauty of this region has been difficult because the pictures we take simply just don’t do it justice.
Today as I tap away in E-Living, the vegetarian café we discovered, I feel so content and fulfilled.
Bring on Argentina!!!!!!!!