Friday, February 29

Torres del Paine, Chile

(m) The cruise disembarked in Punta Arenas (Chile) where we jumped on the first bus to Puerto Natales and checked into Hostal Las Carretas. This mellow port town serves as the gateway to Torres del Paine (Towers of Paine) National Park.

Torres del Paine is a three hour bus ride from Natales on a well maintained dirt road. The park is extremely popular, particularly in January and February, and arguably has the best trekking in South America. At the base of the eastern side of the Andes, Torres has an abundance of glaciers, lakes, rivers and breathtaking peaks which were indeed quite amazing. In addition, what makes Torres unique is the availability of “refugios” (basically rustic hotels) spread conveniently across the trek so, if desired, you can hike for five days and each night have a hotel room, hot shower, and prepared hot meal, what luxury! We planned to camp but would still end up enjoying a beer and one hot shower (well, Trin´s was cold) at these establishments along the way. Most trekkers opt for either the 8-10 full trek or the “W” which is an abbreviated 4-6 day version hitting most of the highlights the park has to offer. The W refers to the outline the trail makes on a map and is what we selected as our plan.

We spent the afternoon shopping for our rations. There is no dehydrated food available down here so creativity is key to come up with a palatable menu that is both nourishing and not too heavy. Thankfully Trin does a GREAT job at it.

We were amazed at how cheap our three course dinner with wine was, just $20, or so we thought. Our guide book (2004) mentioned 1 dollar was worth 700 Chilean pesos. Eventually we discovered with our weak greenback you will get just 450 Chilean pesos hence our supplies and dinner were nearly double what we anticipated though thankfully still inexpensive by American standards.

Day 1: 6am bus ride to Torres.One hour catamaran ride across Lake Pehoe to Pehoe campground.Hike up to Grey campground with some great views of Grey Lake and Glacier Grey.

The catamaran was packed with trekkers all with the same agenda as us, the W.

A view of Cerro Paine Grande from the catamaran.

Our first siting of Grey Lake, Glacier Grey, some vibrantly blue icebergs. Our destination is the far right corner of the lake.

Day 2: Backtrack the same way passed Pehoe campground on to Italiano campground. Our longest day, roughly 11 miles. Rainy and windy initially, Trin not happy. We have now completed an L. While in the tent, we can hear the sound of ice falling off of Frances Glacier high above us.

Cuerno Principal with Lake Stokenburg in the foreground

Day 3: A bit tired, we decide to diverge from the standard agenda and do the relatively short yet steep hike up to Britanico campground through Frances Valley and set up camp. Most people day hike up and back, without packs, and continue on to Los Cuernos campground. Windy, minimal rain, very cold. Day hiked from camp up to the mirador (view point) to take in the valley below and the surrounding towers and glaciers.

Trin cooking dinner in the wind/rain shelter at Britanico.

Day 4: The weather is great, hot and no wind!! Trek back down the valley is fantastic with 360 degree views, our favorite thus far. Pass Italiano and continue on to Los Cuernos. Shower, drink some beer, and play cards in the warm refugio.

Morning sun reflecting on what we coined "the sharkfin"

A shot back down the valley we came up the previous day.

Trin crossing the suspension bridge near Italiano looking back up Frances Valley and Glacier.

Trin washing peanut butter (which we ate every day) off of her hands in Lake Nordenskjold.

I went for a quick COLD dip in Lake Nordenskjold. Two unfortunate hikers saw me in my undies. It has been about 10 weeks since my last haircut, 4 weeks longer than ever before!

Cuerno Principal.

Trin refilling our water bottle. No water purification required in Torres or Fitz Roy!

Day 5: Low on money, food, and energy we shorten our W to a U with a long tail and hike out to catch the bus back to Puerto Natales.

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Sunday, February 24

Cruise to Chile

(m) We booked a four day, three night cruise from Ushuaia, Argentina to Punta Arenas, Chile onboard Via Australis. The cruise agenda includes a expedition each day, weather permitting, to Cape Horn, an uninhabited island, some glaciers, and a penguin visit. Trin was particularly excited as this would be her first cruise.

The boat itself is relatively small and was dramatically dwarfed by the Princess Cruises´ Star Princess she shared the dock with that day.

Catching the last bit of sunshine as we pull out of Ushuaia.
The cruise company uses four zodiacs to bring passengers to shore. Below we are decked out in our loud orange life preservers for our first outing to Cape Horn National Park.

Cape Horn is the southern most tip of South America. Sailing around this point has claimed more than 10,000 sailors due to the strong currents, weather, and ice burg danger that prevails here. The park has a monument of a flying albatross dedicated to those lost at sea here. There is also a lighthouse and home inhabited by a Chilean military fellow and his family (they rotate yearly). The area we disembarked at is on the same island but not actually at the Cape Horn itself. As luck would have it, "calm" seas would permit us to sail around it later in the day which we were told is a rare occurrence.

Passengers loading up in the zodiacs off of the rear of the boat.
Boats returning after the Cape Horn tour.

The monument and a line of spectators heading towards it.
Cape Horn is a 1300 feet sheer rock wall. This picture is a bit cloudy because I was sea sick at this point and took the photo from our cabin.
A shot of our boat and Wulaia Bay after a small hike.

On the third day we zodiaced for twenty minutes up a ice burg filled bay to our first sizable glacier. With camera ready in hand the glacier was kind enough to drop a big chuck off into the water which was quite a loud and exhilarating experience. If you look closely at the before and after photos you can see the large area of glacier that fell.

Later that day, the boat parked at the even larger Plüschow Glacier. I found it was hard to appreciate its size after reviewing the photo. It looks this was taken from water level but it was actually shot from the upper deck of the boat.

The last day we would disebark early at Magdalena Island to see over 200k Magellanic Penguins getting ready for their day. In the info session leading up to the visit, we learned that penguins only inhabit the southern hemisphere. Also, they all have the same moring routine (1 hour or more) including washing off the dirt from the previous night and applying a special oil which water proofs their coats.

Sunrise was awesome.

My favorite part was watching the penguins porpoising along side us (same as dolphins do) as we approached in the zodiac. They do this in order to breath without losing their swimming speed.

Humans are confined to a small roped off area to view the penguins in their natural habit which consists of thousands of small dug holes used for child rearing. Suffice to say they are spread across the horizon in every direction and the roar of their collective calls is deafening. Not surprisingly, they don´t use sight to recognize one another, only sound. Also, they were not particularly skittish and often crossed our path within a foot of us to reach the sea.

Wednesday, February 20

Ushuaia, Argentina

(m) Hello! Our apologies for the lengthy delay in posting. The last three weeks have included a combination of backpacking and painfully slow internet throughout but we hope to get back on track. Besides Ushuaia, we finally updated our Goodbye Xela and Antigua entries.

Ushuaia is the southern most city (excluding Puerto Williams, Chile, with 2.5k people) in South America. It sits on the largest island in South America known as Tierra del Fuego (land of fire). Following Britain’s example with Australia, Argentina thought it would be a great place to harbor its worst criminals. Today its primary tourist attraction is outdoorsy stuff and it also serves as the starting point for most Antarctica expeditions.

As we approached the runway, I half expected to see icebergs, glaciers, and penguins every direction which wasn’t the case. Turns out Ushuaia is roughly the same distance south as Scotland is north. That being said, we would get our fill of all three over the next three weeks.

We lucked out with our hostel here, room number 10 at xx. The nearly new room had heated cement floors and a huge window overlooking the Beagle Channel.

We hiked up to Glacier Martial on our first day. It was a good warm-up hike for the next couple of weeks taking about 3 leisurely hours. From the relatively small glacier you can look back the way you came and enjoy some great views of Ushuaia and the channel far below.

The following day, we took a shuttle out to hike up to Lago Estrella (Star Lake). It ended up being our favorite of Ushuaia. At the start you can see a large group of sledding dogs which train year round preparing for the winter season. A portion of the trail stretches across peat moss which we read can be harvested here in six foot deep blocks. It has a uniquely nice padded feeling as you squish across it. The lake is a greenish color due to the mineral deposits from the glacier feed rivers flowing into it. Also enjoying the lake were a group of school kids on a field trip. The whole bunch was decked out in rain boots and wading as far as possible (some too far) into the cold lake in equally cold weather, huh?

Our third hike was in Tierra del Fuego National Park. The trail we chose winds along Ensenada Bay and enjoys some great lookouts to the surrounding mountains and Beagle Channel. The weather was surprisingly perfect weather (Ushuaia is known for extreme wind in Dec-Feb). As we walked along a group of four horses randomly strolled passed us without any human supervision. We will never know if they were wild or somehow allowed to explore the park alone by their owners.

After several days of hoteling it, we decided to get a small cabana(Cabañas del Hain) on the outskirts of town so we could cook our own meals, enjoy some peace and quiet, and relax. Trin whipped up some great pasta and we savored some tasty Malbec. Dinner was complimented with music from our ipod and some great travel speakers that Shaun and Ang gave us.

The prison museum is worth a visit as well.

Monday, February 18

Mar Del Plata, Argentina

(t) While we waited for our flight to Ushuaia, we decided to get out of the city for a few days. We took a bus south to Mar Del Plata.

The bus was so nice. It was like flying first class but not on a plane and the bus station in Buenos Aires was bigger than the San Jose Airport.

The road to Mar Del Plata. It looked like this for five hours.

The main beach in Mar Del Plata. We got there as the people were leaving for the day. It was kind of gross. Apparently, it is so packed during the day that people sit shoulder to shoulder. Fortunately for us, we found some better beaches further from the heart of town.

Friday, February 15

Buenos Aires, Argentina

(t) Don´t Cry for Me Argentina...

Plazo de Mayo and the Casa Rosada (Pink House). We didn´t do much research prior to arriving in Buenos Aires. All of my prior knowledge was based on the musical Evita. The first day we headed to the Casa Rosada where the baloncy scenes for the movie were filmed. In real life the building serves as the presidential office and the square is still the sight of ralleys and protests. Although, it was pretty quiet the day we visited.

Mike crossing Avenida 9 de Julio. The Obelisco de Buenos Aires is in the distance.
Trin playing tour guide at the Plaza de los Dos Congresos. While reading the description of plaza a pigeon crapped on my head. I guess he didn´t like the tour.

Obelisco de Buenos Aires

The following day we visited three neighborhood. We used a walking tour book that we picked up at the i. It worked out great and we saw a majority of the city on foot.

La Boca is the colorfully painted neighborhood. The buildings were originally painted bright colors because the inhabitants used the leftover paint from the ships in the adjacent harbor.

San Telmo was another neighborhood we visited. This is an example of a typical street.

Puerto Madera is the newest neighborhood in Buenos Aires. There was alot of big construction in progress. It had a manufactured feeling. We passed a Friday´s and Hooters on the same block. Not what comes to mind when you think of Buenos Aires.

Buenos Aires has a very different schedule. We could not figure out when the people sleep. The restaurants fill up around 10pm. People typically start a night out at 12am or later.

Mike in the Jardin Japones. The city parks were extensive and popular.

The Recoleta Cemetery was impressive. It did remind me of the acid scene in Easy Rider. (I never really got that movie.)

Some of the mausoleums were so elaborate.

Eva Peron's final resting place.

Tango Show.

Farewell dinner in Palermo. We ate red meat and enjoyed a bottle of Malblec. Yum...