A Freezing Summer in South America
For our first week in Chile we had rented a comfortable small apartment in Santiago, where we stayed over New Years.
After three months of campervaning (with short intermezzos in tents and hostels...) we TOTAL DOLL enjoyed the small comforts of our own living space, kitchen and TV.
We went to markets to enjoy the local sea food and shop fresh ingredients four our own cooking.
New Years Eve we celebrated twice, once in GMT+1, watching the gigantic golden ball drop at Place de Sol, Madrid; thanks to satellite TV and TVE. We even had our traditional twelve grapes at the tolls of the Spanish bell. Then we had a delicious home made dinner. The second New Years we spent four hours later on the roof of our apartment building, where we met about one hundred other tenants BBQing, drinking and dancing...
After Santiago we spent a few days in beautiful Valparaiso. Paradise Valley has earned it's name. Cobbled stoned streets with colourful houses hug the hills around a natural harbour. We spent a few relaxed days before boarding a bus to the south, Patagonia was calling!
Chile is divided in four regions, the north, the centre, the south and ... Patagonia!, which is the several thousand kms of mountains fjords and islands, glaciers, seals and penguins that can be found south of Southern Chile...
We arrived at its northern end, Puerto Montt, by bus. From here we took our first of many ferries to the tranquil islands of Chiloe. After the busy cities of Santiago and Valparaiso we enjoyed our first few days of Patagonia's laid back lifestyle and beautiful landscape. We also tasted delicious local specialities, like seafood with sausage and boiled potato...
We took a 24h ferry From Quellon to Puerto Chacabuco, close to Coyhaique the centre of the Carretera Austral.
On this trip we got our first taste of the Patagonian time difference. We arrived with a light delay caused by unfavourable tides, after about 40h on the boat. The bunk beds were booked out and the seats rather uncomfortable, so we made our beds on the floor.
La Carretera Austral
The Carretera Austral is a rather famous road, that rumbles for 1500km from Puerto Montt southwards to the Southern Glacial Field. The locals are rather separated from the rest of Chile. The further south you travel the less the signs of civilisation become. The last few hundreds km's are all on gravel, It's end, Villa O'Higgins not much more than an agglomeration of a hand full sheds. When visiting the local grocery shop, one realizes how far off one is. The vegetables on sale were onions, potatoes and peppers. The fruit: pears. Quite different from the filled shelves we are used to from home. Well, if the locals need something special they travel to the next bigger village, Cochrane, 300km of gravel and a one hour ferry ride to the north, where they can find a general store, selling everything from foodstuffs to chain saws, from medicine to wood ovens...
From Villa O'Higgins, the plan was to take two ferries, a bus, a couple of horses and do a 12km hike to cross the border towards Argentina. After a beautiful crossing of Lago O'Higgins with Amazing views of it's glacier we were told that the horses would have the day off or something. So we had to take a Jeep instead (after we spent the night in a nice local Hospedaje). The actual crossing we did on foot.
The next surprise awaited us at Lago de Desierto: The ferry is broken and probably won't go today... You might have to overnight on this side of the lake somehow... No there is no beds for rent. No idea where you can sleep...
We were very happy when the ferry arrived in the end to take us to the other side and a bus to El Chalten.
El Chalten is a nice little touristy town and considered Argentina’s Trekking-Mekka. We enjoyed the Argentinian beef, the local beer and the overall availability of everything a tourist wishes for.
We did two beautiful day trips around Cerro Fitz Roy before heading on to El Calafate.
El Calafate, another little town catering for tourists. We only tackled the main attraction: Perito Moreno (and some more Argentinian beef).
The glacier Porito Moreno is an amazing white tongue of ice and snow, stretching out of the southern glacial field into a beautiful lake in Argentina.
The 60m high ice wall is a stunning sight, but the sound track makes it even more impressive. The glacier is creaking and rumbling, as it slowly melts in the sunshine. Hundreds of spectators don't take their eyes of it, waiting for the moment when once again one of the ice towers tumbles in to the water.
The next day we took a bus back to Chile, but this time to the part of Patagonia south of the huge glacial field, that forbids overland travel from northern to southern Patagonia in Chile. We arrived in Punta Arenas, Chilean Patagonia's capital.
Near to Punta Arenas we had a very special encounter with Patagonia's wild life. We visited Isla Magdalena, a penguin colony about an hours boat ride from Punta Arenas.
On Isla Magdalena we could chatter away with the approximately 60'000 couples of Magellan Penguins that stay there to breed in the summer, before heading north to Brazil to spend the winter in warmer waters.
After a few days in Punta Arenas we boarded a Broom ferry to Isla Navarino, the southernmost point of our travels. On the 30h cruise through Patagonia's channels. We enjoyed the ever changing scenery, green hills, rocky cliffs, a labyrinth of waterways and in between a handful of startling blue glaciers.
The wild life delivered further entertainment; penguins, seals and sea birds abound. And as a highlight, Myriam saw a black and very big fish. Ah, not a fish, it was a mammal indeed! Sadly it was gone within a few seconds, so that Andreas didn't get more than a glimpse of it's back.
Puerto Williams on Isla Navarino is about 20km south of Ushuaia in Argentina, which claims the title "World's southernmost town"... It's mainly a naval base plus civilian appendage, a few fisherman and approximately three B&B's. There is not much to see, but the world's southernmost yacht club and a beautiful museum about the indigenous. The life of these people wheeled around the fire that kept them alive in this freezing landscape. When Magellan upon discovering these islands saw their fires from afar, he called them Tierra de Fuego, "Land of Fire".
Our main reason to visit Isla Navarino was the rugged mountains in it's centre, las Dientes de Navarino, "Navarino's Teeth". An (according to our guide book) easy five days trek leads around the teeth. The challenge lying mainly in it's remoteness, we would have to sustain ourselfs without any civilisation, carrying tent and food for the five days. So we rented a nice wind proof four seasons tent, sleeping mats, warm sleeping bags and what else one needs on such a trip and set off. Luckily the nice guy at the rental shop also gave us a compass: the trek turned out to be much less well signed than hoped...
The Circuito Dientes de Navarino started with a very long day, climbing up through forests that slowly recede. After a few more kilometres through moss the ground turns to rubble. And not a signpost to be seen in miles and miles... Throughout the trek the sights where stunning, on the first day of the Beagle Channel, which separates Chile and Argentina, later of the rugged Navarino Teeth.
Our well tried diet of porridge, muesli bars and pasta kept us going, the water from the countless rivers is clear and drinkable.
Once again, the feeling of leaving civilisation kicked in. In five days we met seven other human beings To be away from all man made noise is a relief. The easy routine, having breakfast, breaking camp then walking, climbing through a beautiful landscape to reaching the next camp site, setting up tent and enjoying a well deserved hot meal before falling asleep shortly after dusk... All this is a welcome change from the bustle of civilisation.
The only buildings to be seen were countless beaver dams. Introduced in the 19th century, these cute beasts have become a pest. Huge areas of destroyed forests filled with dead white trees create an eerie, ghostlike atmosphere.
On the third day we got lost for an hour or so. The weather changed between snow and fog, reducing the visibility, which made it hard to navigate with our rather bad map. The compass saved us here, as we knew the rough heading of the trail from a textual description of the trek.
On the fourth day we feared for our lives (or at least for the health of our legs) as we descended about 300m through a steep rubble field. In parts we switched from walking to sliding down the slope.
We returned dirty and smelly, tired, exhausted and very happy to Puerto Williams Seven kilometres before reaching town a small truck gave us lift. Enjoying the views of Beagle Channel and Argentina without having to use our feet was a welcome change. And the prospect of a hot shower in our cute hospedaje in Puerto Williams made us even happier (not to talk mention the toilet, the soft bed and the big chunk of meat that were waiting for us).
To add some glamour to our travels, we celebrated our return from the wilderness in the yacht club, a grounded german river boat, with pisco sours and three co-survivors.
The next day we took a boat to Argentina. Ushuaia is much more lively than Puerto Williams, were we had had our lunch in the same/only restaurant every day. We tried to go for a few hikes around town, but our legs turned out to be too lazy for anything but a short stroll.
We spent the days talking to other travellers and making plans for the next part of our trip. On February 2nd we boarded a flight to Buenos Aires (the 40h bus ride would have been more expensive...).