Santiago and Valparaiso

Santiago
After a one month tour through Patagonia we were finally back on our own and in a big city. We rented an AirBnb for a week and enjoyed the benefits of city living; heading out to nearby cafes, doing some shopping at the mall and going to the movies! We even had friends over to our AirBnb for cheese and wine and dinner (Jen was in her element)! It was a pleasant change from camping and the quiet towns where we had been staying.

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While we were in Santiago we met up with some friends from the tour and headed out for a night of salsa-dancing. Everyone who knows Tristan, knows he really loves to dance, especially salsa! It proved to be a very interesting night and a very late one (especially for Tristan’s standards). A lot of mojitos, vodka and even whiskey were drank, at one point even a round of jagerbombs. Something we both hadn’t shotted since uni.

We also took a couple of days to head to the nearby sea-side city of Valparaiso. The city was a chaotic maze with winding and steep streets which we spent a few days exploring and taking in the unusual street art. We also decided to stay in an Airbnb here, it had a fabulous view across the port and the city and we spent our afternoons drinking red wine and eating cheese from our balcony, watching the sun set.

After our 10 days of relaxation, we were ready for our next adventure….. San Pedro and the Salt Flats!

 

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Pucon

We left Argentina for the final time and headed to the Chilean town of Pucon. Pucon was most famous for being home to the Villarica Volcano and we were very excited to attempt to try and reach its summit. Pucon was to be our last stop on the tour before Santiago but we decided to leave our group in Pucon rather than make the trek to Santiago. This was partly because we wanted some extra time to to avail ourselves to all the different activities in Pucon but mainly because we couldn’t stand to be stuck on the truck for the final 12 hour journey to Santiago.

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Unfortunately, during our 4 day stay in Pucon the mighty Villarica volcano did not reveal itself from behind the clouds and we were unable to attempt the climb. Instead, we went canyoning and hydrospeeding. The canyoning was good fun and had some intimidating cliff jumps of over 12 metres. The hydrospeeding was even more extreme and involved heading down some class three rapids on a boogie-board. We were a bit nervous when we collected our wet-suits and boards and saw that they all had large chunks taken out of them from being bashed against the rocks in the river. However, we managed to make it down unscathed with Jen at one point gaining some serious air down the rapids. Tristan paddled over to high-five after he saw this but Jen was having none of it as she was in full survival mode.

For a bit of a come down after our extreme sports we headed to Geometrica pools. These were about 18 different thermal pools with temperatures ranging from 30 degrees up to a sweltering 45 degrees. Nearby the pools was a massive waterfall and we stood under the icy cold water before running and jumping back in the pools.

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Quelat and Bariloche

We continued on our route north through Patagonia towards Santiago by crossing back into Chile and into the Queluat National Park. The drive had us going through the spectacular scenery of the Chilean fjord land. That night we camped on the shores of the Atlantic Ocean and braved the chilly waters for a quick dip.

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Our night in the Quelat national park also saw the start of our cooking groups. We had been divided into teams of 5 and would be responsible for preparing and cooking two meals each in the following days. The shopping, food prep and cooking process was ample opportunity for numerous personality clashes  and provided great entertainment on what was already becoming a very tension-filled tour. That night the first group (which obviously didn’t include Tristan and Jen) came close to exploding the campsite up with a gas malfunction.

The next day we went on ANOTHER hike through the national park to see the Colgante Hanging Glacier before jumping back on our faithful truck an onwards towards Futalefeu. Jen was excited!

Futalefeu is known as a mecca for white water rafting, unfortunately due to a limited budget we were constrained to take a few peaceful walks by the river and taking a quick dip in the icy waters while the rest of the group were out rafting.

 

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The campsite for our couple of nights in Futalaefu also housed a small soccer pitch and we managed to organise a game amongst our tour group between England v Rest of the World. The field  made for an interesting game with our attention focused between the ball and attempting to dodge numerous cow patties (although not always successfully). Tristan may have been a bit overexcited at an opportunity to finally be back on the sporting field and let his  competitive nature get the better of him when he tripped one of the geriatrics on the England team at a crucial time. Fortunately, the septuagenerian was too badly injured to be able to convert the resulting penalty and the RoW triumphed in the end.

Bariloche

For our next stop on the tour we were crossing back over the border into Argentina and heading to Bariloche, a beautiful town in the Lake’s District. Tristan was excited about the opportunity to complete some more scenic hikes whilst Jen just wanted a break from all the bloody hiking and to sit down and enjoy some chocolate and ice cream for which Bariloche was famous for.

When we ended up on a hike it only spelt trouble and the resulting eruption was something more specular than any Volcano we would encounter on our trip. Fortunately some ice cream and chocolate was located and the raging tempest was somewhat quelled.

That night we headed out to a highly recommended steak house and enjoyed some of the best meat of our trip. We were out with an English couple some of the other Australian girls on our tour who just happened to be some of the only people that Tristan had met who could match Jen in volume. When copious amounts of Argentinian red wine was thrown into the mix it could only be a recipe for disaster and resulted in numerous complaints from nearby diners and calls of “Silencio”. Fortunately we were able to escape dinner before things escalated to point of physical violence and returned to the safety of our hostel.

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El Chalten & El Calafate

El Calafate

It was time to to leave the Torres Del Paine National Park and head to El Calafete, which is the main stepping point to see the Perito Moreno Glacier. it was also Tristan’s Birthday. Jen knew that Tristan wouldn’t want a fuss on his birthday or for anyone else on the tour to know, so obviously she told everyone and he was forced to listen to everyone sing him happy birthday on the bus. That night we headed out with some new friends to celebrate Tristan’s old age with some fatty pizza and of course a lot of boutique brewed beers.

The next day, we headed out to visit the stunning Perito Moreno Glacier, one of the most spectacular sights in Patagonia. We spent the day walking around the park and were lucky enough to spot some ice calving from the glacier!

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El Chalten
El Chalten is a tiny quaint town, a short drive across the Patagonian steppe, situated in Los Glaciares National Park which is famous for its incredible mountains, glaciers and world-class trekking opportunities. We were excited, our guides had pumped this place up! When we got their, we were surprised to find a town that had no groceries in the mini markets and no money in the ATMs! On the first night we tried to keep busy, by drinking a lot of cheap red cast wine! It worked! The next day, Jen spent the day in bed while Tristan finally got to take on some rock climbing!

El Chalten was also home to Mount Fitzroy and the following day we went on a walk in the national park to check out a view of the mountain.

Torres del Paine- W walk

Tour Part 1

It had been six week since we started off on our adventure and it was time to switch from self-sufficient travellers to being part of a tour for 23 days. Tristan was excited as there was finally others for Jen to blame when things went wrong! Jen was excited to socialise with other people who weren’t Tristan.

We met the rest of our group at a hostel in Ushuaia and found out the trip had been booked to full capacity + 1. It was going to be a very full and crowded bus (aka truck with seats) to travel in for the next few weeks. After our first night in the hostel together, the next morning we all piled into our new home and set off towards the Torres del Paine national park where we would be starting the W-Walk.

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The plan for the first day was to drive for as far as we could towards the park and then pull-over to bush camp for the night. However, after numerous bus breakdowns, which included a “make-shift” fan belt it turned out we wouldn’t be travelling very far at all. Whilst the bus was being repaired our new tour guides tried to keep us entertained by displaying some of their special talents including playing the didgeridoo and not speaking a word of Spanish!

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We finally limped into a desolate and forbidding bush camp on the side of a dirt road in the middle nowhere. After unfolding ourselves out of the bus we had a demonstration of setting up our WW1 era tents.  Dinner was rice and beans which we ate huddled next to the bus trying to get some protection from the biting winds and rain. We crawled into our dark and dingy tents falling asleep shivering hoping that tomorrow would bring a better day.

After the time we lost the previous day it was an early start to pack-up our tents and then we were back on the road to cross the border into Chile. Passing through customs proved to be slightly difficult but fortunately a local truck driver was able to point us in the right direction while our flummoxed guides stood by.

We stopped off into Puerto Merino to pick-up our guides for the W-Walk before heading off to the Torres Del Paine National Park. Luckily for us these guides were from South America and they could speak Spanish. Juan was a friendly Columbian who thrived on difficult hikes and mountain biking. Omar was a local Chilean who was a man of few words with a very dry sense of humour. He hated city life and after four days with him, it was discovered that he may also hate tourists.

Day 1 of the walk was a 22km circuit up to Los Torres, one of the main highlights of the park. The last kilometre was a brutal uphill rock scramble to the highest point. It was tough going but the views at the top were well worth it. On the way down the rock faces, Jen fell and bruised her bottom. Tristan had already charged ahead and was no where in sight, luckily some kind tourists helped her back up.

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Day 2 was a short 14km stroll to the next campsite. It was a beautiful walk along the shores of the lake and we were again lucky enough to have near-perfect weather conditions with sunny skies and little wind to speak of, nothing at all like the Patagonia that everyone had warned us about!

Day 3, was another big day with a walk up to different viewpoints in Frenchs forest before making our way over to the next campsite, 28kms in total! We had some amazing views along the way but it was a relief to finally stumble into our last campsite for the trip. We were so famished that night we eagerly ate our dinner which consisted of cheap hamburger patties and rice.

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For the last day of the W-Walk we were headed to the Grey Glacier before returning to camp and catching the ferry across the lake and back to our base camp. Our group was split in two with one group just walking to the first view point of the glacier and the other walking an extra 10km for a closer inspection. We chose to take-off early and try and make it the whole 22km to the end. Out of the 23 people we started with we were down to 6!

It was another tough day but we were well-rewarded with some fantastic up-close views of an impressive glacier. The return trip was one of the toughest we had ever made and we needed to push ourselves to make sure we didn’t miss the final ferry for the day at 5pm. Jen’s feet were covered in blisters and she had convinced herself that her big toe on her right foot was broken, but we managed to make it just in time and after 86km the W-Walk was completed. We celebrated that night with a lot of Chilean vino tinto.

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Two things were confirmed at the end of the W walk. The first thing was that maybe we should have listened to Tristan’s mum when she suggested we bought trekking shoes rather than wearing joggers and the second being that we are the worst photographers. The photos we took do not the park justice, the places we saw were incredible. Lucky they were so beautiful to distract Jen from the pain of her feet.

Ushuaia

After our peaceful week in BA it was time to jump on a plane and make our way down to Ushuaia, the city at the end of the world. When we touched down we were greeted by a 20degree temperature drop and some icy winds.

We had booked our hostel for our stay in Ushuaia in advance. There had been the choice of two hostels, one known for its excessive rules and the other with a bit more of a “party vibe”. Obviously, we choses the hostel with rules which included no shoes inside, only boiling water on the stove, kitchen closing at 8.30pm and no food in the rooms. While we were there we met lots more backpackers who were seemingly more courageous and adventurous than us. So much so that they got around South America by hitchhiking with truckies for days rather than catching the bus. It was decided then that we would never be ‘true’ backpackers.

Day 1: Walk to Laguna Esmerelda

Our first excursion in Ushuaia was to head out to Laguna Esmeralda. It was a 14km round-trip from where the bus dropped us to the glacial lake. After a few days of rain the path was very muddy and at times we sunk in it up to our ankles. Regardless of the wind, rain and mud our spirits were high and Jen was keen to see a wild beaver. We saw numerous beaver dams along the way and their trail of destruction through the forests but unfortunately did not spot any of the creatures themselves. It turns out that in Patagonia they are trying to hunt the beavers to extinction because they destroy the forests.

We returned to the hostel covered in mud and as soon as our host spotted us coming in through the door she took us outside and hosed us down with some freezing water before allowing us inside.

Day 2: Tierre del Feugo National Park

The next day we went our to the Tierre del Fuego national park for another hike. While most people in the hostel tried their luck to hitchhike to the park, we decided to take the much more expensive (and safer) way via bus. After some ferocious hand gestures and broken Spanish to our bus driver we were pretty confident he was going to pick us up at the end and Jen thought to herself for the 5000th time she wished she had committed to learning Spanish last year. Fortunately this hike was a bit more protected from the elements through some thick forest and we had a nice time exploring 20km of National Park.

Day 3: Penguin Island & the Beagle Channel

The day had come, where we would get to walk with thousands of penguins. Jen was more excited than the morning she was going to marry Tristan. She had spent the last 2 weeks convincing Tristan the excessively overpriced tour was worth the money. This compromise had meant no more expensive dinners out, Jen didn’t even mind the sacrifice. The tour started with a cruise down the beagle channel where we spotted cormorants and fur seals. We spotted bubbles coming up from the sea…. but sadly no whales emerged 😦
It was all very exciting but everyone on the boat was keen to walk with the penguins. Finally the time came for us to hop on a speed boat and fly towards Penguin Island, where 9,000 penguins would be waiting for us. As soon as we touched down on the Island it was confirmed that today would be better than our wedding day. We were an arms length from the cutest animals on earth. Unfortunately we weren’t able to touch them but they were inquisitive and often waddled up to you. The Magellan and the Gentoo penguins called this island their home during the Summer months. Luckily for us the day before, a King penguin also showed up to the island. The hour passed in a blur of happiness and before we knew it, it was time to head back to Ushuaia to meet our new Dragoman family for the next few weeks.

Buenos Aires

3 March 2017- After 3 weeks it was finally time to say goodbye to Uruguay and jump on the ferry to cross the River Plate back into Argentina. We were spending 8 days in Buenos Aires before flying down to Patagonia.

Despite a somewhat shady reputation, the first thing that struck us about BA was how helpful and friendly the people were! A big night the night before (for us anyhow), enjoying happy hour at the local craft brewery and a dodgy late night hotdog from a street vendor with a totally legit Tripadvisor sticker on the side of his cart meant that we were feeling slightly worse for wear as we disembarked the ferry. We had also neglected to change over any money before crossing the border. This meant the first few hours of our time in BA was spent wandering around with our packs in the CBD, trying to find somewhere to change money. Fortunately, the locals were more than happy to try and point us in the right direction.

After finally managing to change money we jumped on the metro and headed towards our AirBnB. As we hopped off at our stop and the subway was taking off we were surprised to see Jen’s sunglasses which she had left behind flying through the window towards us.

We settled into our accomodation and then it was off that night to the Argentine Experience, a dinner party with a bunch of other random tourists from around the world. During the night we made our own empanadas, tried the traditional herbal drink matte, had some juicy Argentinian steaks and washed it all down with lots of delicious red wine.

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Our AirBnB was located in the tranquil and upmarket area of Recoleta. Once again we booked this suburb based purely on the notion that it was known as ‘safe neighbourhood’. Whilst there we visited La Recoleta Cemetery, where we strolled past grave sites that were over 300 years old.

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It took us a few days in BA to finally work up the courage to finally head out and try a bit of  quintessential Argentina culture… the Tango! We chose the La Catedral club, for 100pesos, we got entry into the club and a tango group lesson. The club was in what seemed to be a converted old barn which was dimly-lit and had some mouldy looking couches surrounding the dance floor. After the lesson started, it didn’t us too long to realise that we had a long way to go before we weren’t a complete embarrassment to our families.

Once the lesson finished we stuck around to wait until the band started and see the locals take to the floor to strut their moves. Despite, all being amatuers out for a fun nights these guys were all amazing dancers. Needless to say we didn’t attempt the tango for the rest of the night.

The next day it was off on a bike tour with BA Bikes to explore some of the different neighbourhoods of BA including the colourful Caminito of La Boca and the street art of San Telmo.

For our last night in BA it was off to a soccer match. Due to a player strike the start of the local competition had been delayed so instead it was off to a Copa Libertadores match between one of the Argentinian side Lunes and the Uruguayan side Nacional.  At the ground the away fans were separated from the locals by tall barbed wire and empty stands filled with security guards in riot gear to help prevent any violence. This didn’t prevent the Nacional fans from being very raucous with drums, trumpets and chanting throughout the entire match. It was a great experience but unfortunately the local team went down 1-0.