Torres del Paine- walking the “w”

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Egg and I decided that with the spare time that comes from overreacting to a dog bite in Chiloe, we would undertake our first proper walking adventure. Everyone in south america has heard of the w trek, it is the 5 day walk that takes in the most beautiful areas of Torres del Paine national park.
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Hardcore walkers can do the “o” at around ten days but we are so not ready for that.
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Torres del Paine has the reputation for being the most beautiful park in all of south america and don’t let my awful photos disenchant you, it is spectacular. We walked west to east, which meant on our first day we saw grey glacier, and we finished with the granite towers that give the park their name ( torres = towers).
Photo highlights:
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This is a photo of an avalanche on Paine Grande. It was incredible. They happen quite frequently but this was a bogie and we were lucky to see it.
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We stayed in refugios the whole time, and ate dinner there, so all we carried was our breakfast and lunch for the five days, a change of clothes and extra layers, and some toiletries and sun cream and water. I have no idea how much that weighed but I’d guess around 5-10 kilos each. People who camp can easily carry about 25!

As we brought out own breakfast we started our walk each day and stopped to eat when we found a beautiful spot. So morning one by the glacier
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Morning two on the beach
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And morning three on the trail
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The final morning we were cold and it was wet; we ate in the drying room of the refugio by the fire and I didn’t take any photos of that. It didn’t seem worth it.

The refugios were really quite nice; Grey is the fanciest and the newest and resembles a ski lodge, Chileno the worst but only because so many people stop there to warm up it is really overcrowded.
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We walked between 3 and 8 hours a day, and despite our lack of preparedness we handled it just fine, enjoyed everything and consistently beat the recommended timings by some distance. The weather was as it will always be this far south in Patagonia, pretty nippy, pretty windy, and with a little bit of snow. Casual reminder that it is the middle of summer here now.
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It was an amazing experience, I think I could have happily wandered around the park for longer, if only they let you of the set trails. Even the parts of the walk that aren’t meant to be that special are really beautiful. Really blue lakes (from melted glacier), lush green woodland, waterfalls, flowers and fallen trees, every minute there was something interesting to look at.
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One night we stayed in a cabin (due to booking so late we had to take whatever accommodation we could get. This is the most expensive). It was the best night we have had so far on our trip. Relaxing in the hot tub, yes hot tub!,
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admiring the lake, the waterfall, the cuernos, was amazing, and such a treat after three walking days, and it was nice to have our own space (all the other accommodation is shared).
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The only downside was that it was rather cloudy the whole time, sometimes beautiful clouds that I kept taking photos of, but sometimes no visibility kind of clouds. This many when we got to the end of the climb up to the towers, the end of or trek and in many ways the supposed highlight, we were effectively in a cloud and could make out only the scantest outline of a tower. And it was showing and we were freezing. It isn’t really a down side though. The park is famous for its changing weather and it was very atmospheric on the day we saw it so we can enjoy that instead!
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When we finished we even had enough energy to walk the 7km back to the bus stop (normally a shuttle takes you), thereby getting another view of the park, doing it all alone and saving ¬£5, yes! (It’s petty expensive this far south so any saving counts!)

We returned to the warmth of Tin House hostel in Puerto Natales, which we just loved and then took ourselves of to El Living, where they have a gluten free menu and it is veggie. The food and atmosphere is amazing, if you are nearby just go right now. NOW!

Learning to walk on the ice – in El Calafate

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Having concluded our boat holiday in Puerto Chacabuco, we did an overall uninteresting journey to get to El Calafate (original plan had been for El Chalten but there is only trekking to do there and as it was forecast to bucket it down we skipped over and may return later).

Disclaimer: I will now describe said uninteresting journey in a teeny but of detail so I don’t forget what a pain it was. Please skip this paragraph.
Just one shuttle from the ferry and then a further bus took us to our first stop, Coyhaique. Sadly, one night there, (in what I have to admit was the most comfortable bed since we left we UK) was so expensive we nearly booked flights home then and there. So we revised our plan to travel in a leisurely fashion taking 5 or 6 days through Coyhaique, Chile Chico and Los Antiguos and instead we left Coyhaique, got a mini van, boat (had to wait 5 hours, first one full, very windy), taxi to get across the border, and then an overnight bus down to el Chalten. Accomplished in 1.5 days rather than a week but less fun exploring. Also, that was our first overnight bus, and having continually boasted of my ability to sleep anywhere, I found myself incredibly restless on the last comfortable bus of the trip so far. Disappointing. Egg fared a bit better in pleased to say.

And just like that we were in El Calafate, a city which generally accepted traveling wisdom has it that you can do in one day. Not being ones to follow such nonsense, we passed a leisurely four days here, and greatly enjoyed them. I reckon people underestimate it.

Generally, the thing to do here is drop off your bag, get on the first bus you can to see the glacier, and then get on the first bus out. And whilst I will admit the town itself is really none too charming (unless you adore postcard shops and overpriced ski wear) there was enough to keep us happy.
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Our first day we went out to see the glacier, Perito Moreno. It is awesome. 4 hours watching, and it was a nippy day, and we were transfixed. It is part of the southern ice fields, which make up a large chunk of our freshwater reserves (I think third biggest after Antarctica and Greenland for you fact hunters) and is the only one in the area that is considered stable and is still advancing, the others supposedly falling victim to global warming.
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Every day huge sections of the glacier break off and plunge into the lake below, making it not only an incredible visual spectacle, but also an extraordinary auditory one as well.
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Second day we had some time to do some less visited things: in the morning the bird reserve and beach around the lake
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, and in the afternoon the world’s first glacial ice bar! Strangely egg was happy to visit the ice bar, but would not let us go to the attached museum. Think of all the fun things we will never know about ice!!!
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The bar was a strange experience, I suppose not really designed with us in mind. We enjoyed the outfits, and the animals and the ice glasses, but rather less the disco lights and club music which are a bit at odds with the children running around. Really, it is designed for people who want to spend the entire time posing for photos. We managed a couple, right around the time they announced our time was up. Still, good way to enjoy ice cold amaretto and we tried liqueur of calafate, the local berry, pretty similar to blueberry.
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We also had the treat in the evening of seeing Daniela and Tomas again (you know, from the first farm in Argentina). It was really nice to see how they were getting on and did not seen like 4 months has passed at all. Also funny, terrible service in Librobar, trying to get the bill for half an hour, finally guessing the money and just leaving only for them to suddenly be attentive and catch up with us on the street demanding 4 pesos more (that’s about 30 pence). Shame, as the place is so nicenice but the staff really are awful.

The final day is really what we came for. BIG ICE. I hope that was as dramatic as I wanted. 7 hours of glacier trekking on Perito Moreno.
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So first you get the boat across, then you hike up through the first for an hour until you reach the middle of the glacier…
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Then you strap on crampons, pull on a woolly hat and stride up on to the ice…
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And then you walk for two hours past the bluest water
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Fresh water streams
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And just amazing landscapes
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until you reach the summit where you lunch (and take panoramic photos)…
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Afterwards we all wandered back via a different route
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Saw a different type of waterfall
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And got to see this really deep ravine
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And then we even stopped by an ice cave
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On the boat back we were treated to whiskey and then we received a little present for making it safely back to the bus. Egg things it is just something extra to carry, but I was happy with my little gift.

It was an incredible experience.
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Heading south!! Chiloe to Puerto Chacabuco, 28 hours on a boat

This is something I really nagged egg for us to do. The journey to el Chalten can be done faster and easier direct on a bus from Bariloche. Instead, we are getting a boat and then many many buses to and from tiny towns until we reach the same location many days later. But as I keep saying, this way we get to see less visited places, and if we were lucky with the weather the boat provides an amazing trip through the archipelagos on the coast of Chile.

And the weather was great! We were very lucky.

But nearly a day and a half with no coeliac friendly food so we packed our own. Cold jacket potato and an avocado anyone? For all three meals? No?
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At least the hot drinks were surprisingly cheap
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But look at the views…….
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And we didn’t get at all bored…
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Yep. Egg is more beard than man now.

Chiloe – a week on the island of potatoes and rain

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Arrive at another farm for wwoofing
Emma does work and gets bored
I help cut down a few trees
Emma plays with the four kittens
I help build a workshop
Emma plays with the four kittens
I get a little bit bitten by a dog and panic
Emma panics
We leave to go to the capital of Chiloe, Castro
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Arrive in Castro
Find out we forgot to transfer money so can’t take any out
Try to not spend any money for a day
Emma eats a milcao*
Walk around trying to find somewhere to stay
Find a hostel in a palafito (house on stilts over the water)
Emma gets excited about a seagull
After extensive googling we realise we are being silly worrying about the dog bite
Emma eats a milcao*
Try the local dish Curanto. Emma doesn’t like it, I do. I eat hers
Go to cultural centre for music
Emma eats a banana split
Go to a town called dalcahue and see sea lions, or something we believe to be sea lions
Emma eats a milcao*
Try to walk to Castro art gallery 2KM out of town, get a taxi when it starts raining and find out it’s closed when we arrive
Ask the taxi to take us back into town
Emma looks a seagull
Buy unusual looking potatoes and make mashamole (mash with avocadoes). Emma doesnt like it, I do. I eat hers
Go to national park and kayak in the rain
Emma eats a milcao*
Go to a feria, Emma buys a bag that’s falling apart but has a nice pattern
We get the Bus to Quellon where we get the ferry
I buy an empanada and Emma buys a final milcao* just before getting on the ferry

* A fried potato cake popular in this part of Chile

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Workaway by the sea in Puerto Montt

From goats we moved to another farm, forty miles or so outside the very dull port town of Puerto Montt.
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When we arrived we found not so much a farm, as a living family project. A thriving kitchen garden, various construction projects, a lot of land and some chickens (because Everyone has chickens). Steve and Loreto have built a beautiful home overlooking the ocean, and we were lucky enough to snag the first cabin before other volunteers arrived.
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Here in return for our three or so hours of work, six days a week we received what can only be described as an incredibly generous breakfast and a place to call home with a path to the beach.

Our first night set the tone for the rest of the stay; we pulled the table out on to the grass to share dinner cooked for us by the outgoing volunteers, enjoyed a beautiful sunset over the water, and then were invited in to Steve’s home to enjoy a bottle of wine by the fire. To be honest, I’m not sure my three hours of leisurely painting earned this (although egg’s slightly less leisurely hacking out of the troublesome gorse roots definitely did!).

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This is a cat, finding the most comfortable seat. Cats are great.

So, that was what we did, a bit of painting, a bit of firewood moving, a bit of weeding. Steve showed us his plans to generate his own power hopefully by harnessing the water that runs through his property, as well as providing their own water supply. We helped paint the foundations for a sauna, which will be incredibly pretty and just missed blueberries becoming ripe. The raspberries and fresh peas were delicious, and the latter reminded me of eating the peas fresh from the pod at my grandma’s when I was a little bit smaller.
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As I said, the beach is only a hop, step and a jump away from the cabana, so after our back breaking labour this is where we often decamped to. It is again a pebble beach, which at least for now I prefer (no pesky sand to stick to your face) but with an amazing selling point….. DOLPHINS! We had no idea and seeing something in the ocean thought it was a man swimming. But no, DOLPHINS. Well, our first clue was the fins, shortly followed by the recognition that there were several all playing together, maybe 20 feet from the shore. Incredible. Egg saw them once more, but for me that first beach visit was my only sighting. He managed to count them the second time, six dolphins having a swim. We were to excited for photo taking, and caught by surprise, so instead here is a photo of Odine, the adorable puppy who joined us on our walk to the beach a couple of times.

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I continued my two main non-travel pursuits here, baking and running. Putting it like that’s they seem like unlikely bedfellows, but I see them as complimentary. Actually I went a bit overboard with both. As I made my own gluten free flour for the first time, I had a larger quantity than usual and didn’t want to take it with me, so I made brownies, chocolate sponge, lemon and raspberry polenta cake, cheese biscuits, traditional Argentinian bread, pizza and banana bread. We were only there for ten days! Luckily we had help eating all this from the other volunteers and Steve and Loreto.

Similarly, after a very slow reintroductory run with egg (around 14 min per mile), I decided I wanted to see if I could comfortably run faster so tried for 11 min/miles. Being a bit fitter than I thought, I accidentally went a bit to fast but was pleased with my first 9 min/mile. Regulating myself a bit more, egg and I then managed a comfortable 4 miles in 44 minutes, which I was very pleased with. Having gone from exhaustion after 3 minutes, to maintaining a conversation at that pace we are very happy (and yes we are aware that all things considered we are INCREDIBLY slow, but we were incredibly unfit to begin with, so baby steps).
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Definite highlight of the trip was the asado we did one day all together. Great weather, great food, great drinks, great people. Put my pisco sour skills from the lodge into practice and everyone seemed happy (and tipsy).
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Being far from Puerto Montt, we had to hitchhike to get to even the bus stop, which we achieved comfortably and this spurred us on to hitching to Chiloe, our next stop. Egg put his design skills to work and made us an impressive sign and it must have worked because we waited not even 5 minutes for our first lift! This got us closer to the very crossing to Chiloe, and our second lift took us all the way to the town we needed and again was a maybe 3 minute wait. Both great people and a very nice experience. We may try again later.

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And we met a llama!

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Christmas with goats

And the search for something less touristy terminated swiftly with our arrival at Praderas del Sur, a goat farm just south of Osorno.

So, I had been dwelling a little on the terrors that Christmas outside of my warm family home might bring. A little, a lot, potato, potAto. Especially as we were arriving on 23rd December, so close to Christmas. So we bought each other some presents in Bariloche (I did anyway, egg was more prepared), downloaded some Christmas songs, bought a teeny bit of very nice chocolate, wrapped our presents and headed to Purranque.

On arrival we met Katrin, her two sons, Aaron and Nathan, Tommy another Wwoofer, 3 cats, 5 dogs, 1 horse, a flock of geese, 2 ducks, a bunch of chickens, 95 goats and 35 baby goats. And we immediately felt welcome.

I was initially disappointed that there was no tree, but this turned out to be amazing as it meant we got to go and choose the tree on Christmas eve. It also meant I had a Carrie moment when I emptied a bucket of water to use as the base only to discover it was full of goat blood and guts. Oops. And ugh.

So Christmas eve we spent getting to know the farm routine which is briefly:
Milk goats
Watch goats
Eat lunch
Rest/play with dogs
Fix fences so goats don’t escape
Pick cherries
Watch goats
Chase escaped goats
Eat
Have bucket shower
Sleep

It sounds quite busy but in reality these tasks are juggled so you have about 6 hours work a day. And we really enjoyed all of it.

Goats are so much fun and really affectionate. Some have names,- by the time we left we could identify friendly goat, diahhorea goat, baby diarrhoea goat, Bambi, Elvis, the jumper family, canela, zebra goat, mangy goat and naima. They are also a pain in the arse and even after two sells it took us at least 20 mins (but normally more like an hour) to get them back home after grazing. 20 minutes of chasing, yelling, coercing, running hell. Oh sorry, I meant fun.

Christmas itself was pretty special. It was only us three wwoofers, so we got all the work done and had a lovely festive lunch and dinner together. I made Christmas custard (which worked) and meringues (which did not). The meringues were not really my fault as I left them in the oven too long due to the fact we had some  unplanned goat chasing to do. For a while I was very concerned that we had managed to lose a third of Katrina,s goats on Christmas day. But they were recovered and all was well.

Most importantly egg made the day very special, I even got a stocking, and we had after eights as our one thing that felt very English.

Christmas eve is the more celebrated day here, so the night before the day we had the family’s traditional dinner, chicken with chips. Maybe not our idea of traditional but very good chips all the same.

The time went very quickly here; we used our free time to go to Frutillar, a lake side town we nearly did some workawaying in. We were glad we didn’t. It is a very stuffy, very quiet place, where the only thing of note was the very well designed theatre. So we decided to not even spend the day there and instead hoped on slither bus to Puerto Varas, which we much preferred. We found some internet too so I could catch up a bit with people which was nice.

New year’s eve was passed by Katrin’s friends joining us at the house, a big meal, lots of wine and a big fire outside onto which we put things from last year that we did not want to carry into 2014, so we will see if that worked.

I miss friendly goat and rocky (my favourite, and probably in general the least loved, dog) already.

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