Category Archives: nature

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Desert, Ice and Snow : Patagonia, Argentina

We crossed the border at Chile Chico, and our first stop back in Argentina was a panaderia (bakery). Argentina’s baked goods are phenomenal… we are obsessed and of course always overdo it. Still, it’s a struggle to spend over $5.

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We tried to move as quickly as we could, though the flat and barren scenery. The weather however, kept things interesting. We had snow, rain, hail and shine. The only constant was the howling wind. Mark and Oscar were in a never-ending battle to keep us on the road, and I’m still amazed that we weren’t blown over.

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We were so travel weary at the end of each day that we’d just find a quiet gravel road and pull off to the side to camp. And I mean, just off to the side. One of my favourite things about Patagonia is the isolation. We only saw one other car the entire time we were camping roadside.

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Our spirits soared when we finally caught sight of mountains on the horizon, as they rose up gallantly to puncture the seemingly endless farmland. Mountains and glacial lakes are nature’s perfect match, and they suddenly exploded in abundance as we drove along the road towards Los Glaciares National Park.

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We stared wide-eyed and mouths agape as we approached the awe inspiring Perito Moreno Glacier. The size, colour and beautiful setting alone are enough to impress, but what stuck with me was the immense power it seems to emanate. The sound of the shifting, cracking and breaking ice echoed eerily as we walked around the viewing platform, giving me butterflies.

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We found ourselves a sweet wild campsite just off the main park road to the glacier. Life is pretty cramped these days as we barely pop the top in the relentless Patagonian wind. We have to make an effort to go outside, rugged up against the elements. Turns out ponchos are a bit breezy.

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We pointed the brown bus towards Chile for one last time, but Argentina wasn’t going to let us leave that easily. There was fresh snow on the roads and some very icy sections. At one point we thought we might have to turn around, but as we pushed on the roads gradually improved.

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A feeling of excitement was building gradually between us, we’d be reaching the end of our road somewhere in Chile. But where? We hadn’t quite figured that out yet.

Posted from: Buenos Aires, Argentina

Mountain Porn : Hiking the Cordillera Huayhuash Peru

Most people who hike in the Cordillera Huayhuash have a guide, a cook and a donkey train to carry their gear. We decided to do it self-guided, which is generally our preference and better suits our budget.

Initially we thought our packs felt pretty good loaded up with 10 days worth of food and gear, that is, until we started to climb. The first day began with a hot and sweaty, up-mountain slog. A local man kindly directed us off course onto a less traveled route. We soon lost the trail, got stabbed by cactuses and eaten alive by massive flies. The morning was not going well, but there is nothing quite like snow covered mountains and phenomenal glaciers to brighten my mood. Laguna Jahuacocha was a beautiful, although crowded, place to spend our first night.

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Every day we hiked for between 5-9hrs, roughly 150 km in total and over 11 mountain passes between 4,000 and 5,000 m in elevation. The circuit passes through picturesque pastural land, dotted with beautiful alpine lakes and follows one of the most magnificent mountain ranges I’ve ever seen. My lasting impression of these mountains is their incredible size and just how close we were able to get to them. I felt completely insignificant, but in a good way.

The farmland is governed by local communities, who we had to pay at intervals throughout the hike. Our fees totalled 145 soles each, but we heard of people paying more. It seems to be a fairly mismanaged system, and unfortunately if you are not on the ball you might get ripped off, like we did once. In one community we were sold two tickets for the price of one, so they were able to pocket half. The worst part is, that these individuals end up short changing their communities.  Overall though, the locals were very welcoming, friendly and happy to help. Coming from hiking in the National Parks of North America, there is an obvious lack of wildlife which we found a bit sad. The land has been well and truly taken over by domesticated animals.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAHuayhuash 06 IMG_2201 newSearching for Cuartelhuain campground, where we spent our second night. 

Huayhuash 10 The stone fences in the background could have been built a week ago, or hundreds of years ago.

Huayhuash 11 Huayhuash 12 Huayhuash 13 The view on our third night. At Laguna Carhuacocha

Domingo writes mountain poetry. We gave him way too much money for his book, and thought we might run out of cash before the end of the hike. A lovely fellow hiker kindly lent us some money, just to make sure that we made it. Huayhuash 15

Living in Canada for nearly five years has left us with pretty high standards when it comes to mountain lakes. The Cordillera Huayhuash however, has produced some serious beauties. One of the reasons we love to hike is the amazing views at the top. In that moment it’s possible to forget our heavy bags and aching bodies, if only for a while.

Huayhuash 16 Huayhuash 17 Huayhuash 18Huayhuash 20The weather cleared momentarily on the pass (Siula Punta). Also, which end of this dog is which? 

This the longest hike that either of us have ever done, and we definitely experienced all the moods of the mountain. We got it all… rain, hail, snow, wind and sun. Still, there is nothing quite like mornings in the mountains, even when it’s miserably cold and everything has frozen. We tried to hit the trail early each day and would celebrate when the shadows finally receded and we could thaw out in the sun.

Huayhuash 22 Huayhuash 21Huayhuash 23Huayhuash 34Huayhuash 24 Huayhuash 25 Huayhuash 26 Shaking the ice off at Huayhuash campground, after night 4.

Our morning at the Huayhuash campground was brightened by a group of Canadians, who coincidently live in Edmonton. They warmed us up with hot milo, jam rolls and friendly conversation.

That day we pushed on quickly, arrived at our campsite for lunch and then had plenty of time to relax and soak in the hot springs.

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Finally the hard miles and altitude started to take a toll and by day six we were absolutely wiped. We made seriously slow progress, and finally set up camp in the Cuyoc Valley late in the afternoon. The stars were phenomenal that night. All we wanted to do was lie on our backs on the grass and stare at the sky, but it was way too cold and the grass was frozen.

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Now for my favourite couple of days on the hike. We hiked up to the San Antonio pass to be confronted once again by Siula Grande, the mountain made famous by Joe Simpson’s harrowing mountaineering story “Touching the Void”.

Huayhuash 35 Huayhuash 36 OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA We loved having a detailed topographical map, purchased in Huaraz before the hike.

We thought that if we went around the the other side of the San Antonio peak, we’d get a better look at Lake Jurau. We’d also spoken to a guide who said that the descent from that side would be easier. Unfortunately we lost a lot of elevation and then had to climb AGAIN to make it back. I was not a happy camper, but the view was worth it when we finally made it back to the top. It was a long way down to the lake, which just looked so inviting in the warm sunshine. We braved the chilly glacial water for a quick dip and once the shock wore off, definitely felt better for it.

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We saw a bunch of tents and set up nearby thinking and that it must be the official campground. Lucky for us it wasn’t, but rather the base camp for a group of five Italian mountain climbers. They were on a three week trip attempting a number of climbs in the area, including Siula Grande. They were super nice guys and kept inviting us over for tea in their nice warm cook tent and gave us lots of tips for the remainder of our hike.

Huayhuash 42 Base camp.

Huayhuash 43 Quinoa curry, with fresh peas and soy protein. One of our staple dinners using supplies from the Huaraz markets.

Huayhuash 44 Sunset – day 7.

On the advice of the Italians, we hiked without our packs up to Laguna Sarapococha, the “Touching the Void” base camp. It really was an idyllic morning. The lake was sheltered from the howling wind, and we watched as the early morning sun gradually illuminated the magnificent colour of the water.

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From this point on, it was all about getting out. It was home time, but we still had two and a half days to go. Arrrgggh! We had a long valley walk to get to the little village of Huayllapa, where we caved and booked into a cute little hostal, Bodega de Yerupajá, also recommended by the Italian climbers. We had warm beds, almost hot showers and the Peruvian classic lomo saltado (stir fried beef) for dinner. It was just what we needed.

Huayhuash 48 Huayhuash 49Jack Kerouac was right. Salami, cheese and crackers is the only hiking lunch. After 10 days, we weren’t sick of it.

Huayhuash 50 Huayhuash 51 Rest stop on the long valley walk.  

Huayhuash 52Luxury.

We saw a lot of different birds on the hike, and also Viscachas, which look like a cross between a rabbit and a possum. On our second last day we saw lots of these guys bounding around the rocks, however for the most part, everything was just a blur of changing colours and landscapes.

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On our last day we were pretty down and out. That is, until Berta and her sons invited us over to their casa for some fresh milk (warm and straight from the cow) and some of the best fresh cheese that we’ve had since Mexico.

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We rolled into Llamac late on the final day, toes screaming from the last brutal descent. The family who has the secure parking lot in town were still out in the cornfields, and we couldn’t bare the thought of walking any further to find them. So we just collapsed at their door, cracked a celebratory beer and waited for them to return. In case there were any doubts, I carried my pack the entire way, even resisting the offers of a very nice German man who wanted to carry it for me.

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Life by the Sea : South Coast Ecuador

I have a confession to make. So far on this trip we haven’t seen monkeys in the wild. This seems pretty ridiculous given the countries we’ve been through, and it has become a bit of a running joke in the brown bus. We’ve definitely felt their beady eyes on us though, mocking us through the jungle.

Finally, the wildlife viewing stars aligned for us when we stopped in at Sendero Pasaje del Monos, a wildlife reserve on the pacific coast. We were guaranteed monkey sightings and if we were especially lucky, we might even see a sloth. Sloths are particularly hard to spot because they are well camouflaged and as to be expected, don’t move around much. We spent a few sweaty hours in the jungle, grinning from ear to ear and hanging out with a group of cheeky, camera shy monkeys and a very laid-back photogenic sloth.

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We found a section of private beach near Salango and set up camp for the night, where Mark was able to do a few repairs and adjustments on the van. It was also the perfect place to drink some whiskey around a driftwood fire.

Just as we were settling in for the night, the cops crashed the party. I looked at Mark “shit, we’re in trouble”. We went through the usual routine, the where are you from questions and the checking of passports. Of the three cops, two looked to be about 18 years old and were grinning sheepishly the entire time. I pointed to the fire “una problema?”, no problems there. Our campsite on the beach was fine too.

Turns out, you can’t drink alcohol on Sunday in Ecuador (this was contradicted at the tire repair shop earlier that day, where everyone was wasted before noon). The police pretended to confiscate our whiskey, then returned it promptly saying “para Lunes” (for Monday). Why thank you officers! As my Granny once said, “it’s not a good party unless the police show up at least once”.

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As we were back on the coast, it was time to look for waves. We eventually rolled into Playas, which on first impression is a rather uninspiring town. It’s the quiet beaches on the outskirts, that are the draw card here.

Dusty desert landscapes, friendly people, good seafood and great camping about sums it up. There are also a cluster of right-hand point breaks along this stretch of coast, but they were a bit scary for me. If possible I think my surfing got worse. I don’t think I’m ready to graduate from the bunny slopes just yet. 

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Nestled between two point breaks, this campsite was one of the best. It was perfect for watching the waves and the sunset.  After two nights here we were told by some locals that robberies are common near this beach. We saw no signs of trouble, but being unable to claim ignorance anymore, we thought we’d do the right thing and move on. 

Playas 05Playas 06Playas 07 Playas 08 Checking out break numero dos.

This other little fishing village seems almost deserted, until you gaze out at the foreshore where over a hundred boats cluster together in organized chaos. It was captivating to watch the fishermen preparing the boats in the morning, and then launching them out to sea.

Men shuffle under the weight of their outboard motors as they lug them on their shoulders down to the beach. The launching process then requires a lot of rhythm and some rolling logs placed under the boats as they are pushed out to sea. They really seem to take a lot of pride in their boats. They are handmade, and painted brightly, usually with biblical names emblazoned along the sides (Jhonny Alberto was our favourite, and one of the few exceptions).

Around 2pm the boats return with their first haul of the day, prawns. We cooked up a delicious feast with some of these tasty suckers for a steep $3.

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This village is also the home of a pretty decent right point break. These photos don’t really do the waves justice, some massive sets were rolling through and the take off was precariously close to the rocks. Mark snapped these pics and it wasn’t long before he had a list of names, and the email addresses of excited locals who wanted copies of their photos.

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For one night only, the clouds lifted and the sky was alight with a magical burnt orange sunset. On the coast, this is definitely my favourite time of day.

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At night the fishermen return late.  This time with fish, their second haul for the day. We camped right on the point and watched the action. Our new campsite also meant that Mark could hit the water for an early morning/smaller wave session. I went for a run on the beach and caught a fish. With a stick. A pretty tasty fish stew was on the menu that night.

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It was time for one last push to the mountains of Ecuador, where we drove up through the clouds to Parque Nacional Cajas.

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We finally made it to Cuenca and went out for a delicious meal at Salvia, a newly opened restaurant, owned an operated by an English couple in a restored antique house. The setting was beautiful and we were transported back to the English countryside, where we indulged in a phenomenal three course meal and a bit too much wine.

There was much to celebrate though, Ecuador has been truly amazing. Such friendly people, good surf and awe-inspiring vistas. Oh, and it was pretty easy on the old purse strings too.

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So once again, and hopefully not for the last time we yelled “ECUADOOOOOR”. Next stop, Peru.

Posted from: Lobitos, Peru.