Category Archives: Chile

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End of The Road : Chilean Patagonia

Crossing to Tierra del Fuego and driving all the way south to Ushuaia just wasn’t realistic in our time frame. So for a long time now, the Torres del Paine National Park in Chile has been our planned end point. We expected that this would the farthest south we would go before turning around. And our plans included a big multi-day hike in the mountains to end the trip on a big adventure.

We had been forced to take a few detours due to horrible road conditions. At one point the wind was so strong and the road was so muddy and slippery that the van was sliding sideways across the road. After a few very long days of driving across endless barren plains the mountains of the Torres del Paine massif loomed large on the horizon. And it is incredibly beautiful.

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This entire area of Patagonia is really rich with animal life. Before reaching the mountains and lakes, the animals were the only things that added a bit of interest to the many boring miles. There are probably a hundred times more sheep and cows than there are people out here. And on top of the livestock there is an abundance of native animals like guanacos (the wild relative of llamas and alpacas) and ñandus (like an emu).

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Unfortunately the weather didn’t improve when we arrived. Actually, it got worse. This was always a risk of travelling here in the off season… but it was even worse than we imagined. It was cold and rainy, and the wind howled relentlessly kicking up huge swirling clouds of water from the lakes. We spent most of our time sitting inside the van where it felt like a turbulent plane ride. All plans of hiking with backpacks and sleeping in a tent were quickly abandoned. But the scenery was still amazing.

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Since we didn’t go trekking, we decided to push on a little further south through the pretty coastal cities of Puerto Natales and Punta Arenas. We went as far as possible on the roads of mainland South America.

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When we ran out of road, we popped the top and a bottle of wine and settled in for the night. The fact that the trip was almost over and that our lives are about to change drastically was really starting to sink in. This was sort of a special moment for us. We were happy to enjoy it in solitude with the soft lapping of waves and a clear view of the mountains of the Tierra del Fuego islands in the distance.

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We woke to ice covered windows, and hoped that it would be the last time. After enjoying a rich and colourful sunrise with breakfast we hit the road, heading north for the first time in a long time.

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Posted from: Buenos Aires, Argentina

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Green Miles : Carretera Austral, Chile

After the great times we had around the Lakes DIstrict of Argentina, it was seriously hard to leave. But the deep south beckoned and we answered the call.

Austral 01 Bird watching. 

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We crossed back into Chile to take the Carretera Austral (Southern Highway), keen to spend as much time as possible in the mountains and forests.

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The Andes trap all of the rain on the Chilean side as it sweeps in from the Pacific. This means foggy rainforests, huge lakes, glaciers hanging from towering peaks, and more shades of green than I thought possible.

There are no tourists this time of year, so the gravel roads were mostly deserted and we could camp anywhere we wanted for free. Often times we would pull into a National Park campground, with not another soul around and nobody to accept payment.

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Once in a while we rounded a bend and realized that the dark body of water before us wasn’t a lake, but an ocean fjord.

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We are moving pretty fast these days, but we found time to take a wander through one of the forested trails in the Queulat National Park. The temperate rainforest is amazingly rich in plant life. The continual rain makes the ground soft underfoot, every inch of space is covered with something alive. Trees grow on other trees. A rock isn’t just a rock, but a foundation for a miniature bonsai-like forest of ferns and moss. The thick forest and the soft rain dampened all noise, so it was really peaceful. Just soft footsteps, bubbling creeks and birds chirping.

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There’s a glacier here that hangs over the side of a cliff, melting into a waterfall, which drops into a lake and empties through a river into the ocean a few kilometres away. The thick clouds rolling in from the coast completed the entire water cycle on a grand scale right in front of us. We sat and watched for a while as the occasional chunk of ice broke loose and fell into the water, the loud cracking sound reaching us a little later.

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Later that day we stopped in at another deserted campground, and couldn’t believe our luck when we found one of the wood cabins unlocked and stocked with firewood for the stove.

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Another drifter dropped by to share the warmth.

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As we travelled further south, the temperature dropped. Towns and gas stations became fewer and farther between. But with a van stocked with food, all we needed were flat spots to pull off for the night. And they were plentiful.

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This is a seriously beautiful part of the world. I have filed away a few moments and images in my memory, to be revisited someday when I need a brief escape from a long day at the office.

Posted from: Olavarria, Argentina

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The Volcano Curse : Pucón, Chile

Pucón in Chile seemed to us like a clone of Banff in Canada. It’s very beautiful and very touristy. I think that winter is a more mellow time to visit, which suited us just fine.

We have been wanting to do some ski touring for a while and hoped to break our ‘volcano curse’ by tackling Volcán Villarrica. Every time we have visited a volcano on this trip, things haven’t gone as planned.

We arrived in Pucón to rain and clouds, found the only shop in town that offers ski touring on the volcano, and booked a trip for the next day. We woke up at the crack of dawn to totally clear skies. The volcano looked so beautiful and ominous smoking in the early morning light. Lucky for us, the conditions were almost perfect for attempting the summit.

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And so we climbed… and climbed… and climbed. It may have been slightly ambitious for my first ski touring attempt. Going straight up was fine, but turning on the steep slopes was a bit of a debacle for me. It requires almost doing the side splits, then bringing one long loosely attached ski over to meet the other. Very tricky for the flexibility challenged!

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I’m not sure how long it took to reach the summit, but they estimate about 4-5hrs. By the time we got there, the wind had really picked up, and we were being blasted by ice and snow. It was pretty amazing being at the top of an active volcano, looking down into it’s smoking crater, only once copping a face full of gas. From the top we could see the snow capped Volcán Lanín, which marks the border between Chile and Argentina.

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Finally, the moment I had been waiting for! There had been a dusting of snow overnight, so I was pretty keen to start the ski down. I clicked into my skis, hit the slope and then tried to make my first turn. Then things got weird… I could barely communicate with my skis. I felt and looked (confirmed by Mark), like I was back on the bunny slopes. I was falling on almost every turn. The touring bindings I was using allowed for a lot of movement, which is not what I’m used to at all. I felt completely unstable and out of control. Soon my confidence was shot. I even had to walk part of the way down.

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At least this guy got some fresh tracks…

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We celebrated at the end of the day with the guides and the rest of the crew, over some rooftop beers and this spectacular view. I’m sure my poor guide was breathing a few deep sighs of relief.

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At first I was just thankful to have made it down without any broken bones. But after a while that wore off, and I was just annoyed. The terrain wasn’t any more difficult than what i’m used to, and worst of all, the volcano curse lives on.

Soaking in the hot springs at Los Pozones was the perfect cure for my aching ego and tired muscles.

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The next day, we leisurely made our way towards the Argentine border. Saying our farewells to the smoking Volcán Villarrica, still visible from the quiet backroads.

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This pretty campsite in the woods was home for our last night in Chile… but we’ll be back, real soon! This country is absolutely blowing our minds.

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Posted from: Bariloche, Argentina.