Monthly Archives: March 2013

Day 258-262: W Trail – Torres del Paine National Park

It’s been a long time since we’ve done any outdoorsy activities as we’ve been lazy bums after leaving Nepal. We’ve also been carrying all our hiking gear, which takes up about 50% of the space in our packs, so it was time to whip them out and we were really excited!

Torres del Paine is an extremely popular trek, as noted by the massive transport system that shuttles people to and from the park. From leaving the hostel to all necessary goods/park rules, everything was very smooth and simple to follow, and with the trails marked as they were it was almost impossible to get lost! We’re pretty confident even in North America, outdoor gear stores do NOT stay open until 10pm, and buses to hiking trails do not run 5+ busloads daily.

We both had our hiking gear, and packed our food+stove and were on our way. Inside the park, there are free campsites with bare minimal facilities, and there are refugios which felt more like a fancy travel log cabin with camping sites around it. Problem was, they charged a LOT !!!! So we were already self-sufficient, and being able to save quite a few bucks. One jerk move though, is that the campsites in the middle of the W were now all closed, but you can ‘sneak’ yourself in if you arrive too late to the campsite and it was unsafe for the park rangers to send you off on your way…. we felt like they were being jerks, and a lot of people just ignored them and camped there anyways!!

Day 1: Hike up to the base camp for Torres del Paine. Pitch our tents, cook dinner and were in bed by 8pm.
Day 2: Wake up at 5:45am and start heading up to the view point to catch the 7am sun rise. A steep 45min hike in the dark moonlight later, we arrived at the towers synonymous with the national park. Honestly…. the towers were nice but we felt it a bit overrated. We hiked until 7:30pm and camped at the ‘closed’ camp site. That’s a 28km day!!
Day 3: Sleeping in until 8am, we took a leisurely pace making ourselves some tea for breakfast. No rush, we thought. We hiked up the middle of the W for 270′ view of the mountains. We pushed on and got to a paying campsite, and took a much much needed shower!!! Not sure, but we feel it was overrated again! The best part about the hike though, are the crystal clear streams that wind its way around the trail. Water is totally drinkable, and tastes DELICIOUS! We drank stream water the whole time we were in the W!
Day 4: Hiking up to the western side of the W, we FINALLY got a taste of the infamous Patagonia weather. The skies were clear when we started out, then out of nowhere the winds started to pickup, and as we kept on it started raining SIDEWAYS! The winds were so strong, the rain feels like hail when it slams into your face. Soaked from head to toe, gale force winds, and before we knew it it was gone just as quickly as it came! Crazy!!
Day 5: Hike back out in massive plains of golden wheat with the mountains behind our backs, we actually felt this last part of the hike was the prettiest. Either way, no matter how you walk the W, there’s definitely something for everyone! Along the trail, we met some great people, a HK couple who were also traveling the world for a year, a Swedish psychologist, and a German kid who’s taking a gap year before going to University.

We ended up the hike by dining together with our new found friends, drinking delicious Chilean wine and eating grilled meats. The night was wonderful and we had some great conversation. Fun!! It was good to get back to society, but we wouldn’t have minded if we can continue to trek….just no more of that Patagonia winds please…

There’s a lot of pics, enjoy!

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Day 257: Puerto Natales – Chile – Mar 1st

Another early morning, we caught the bus to Puerto Natales, which is actually located in Chile. We’ve been jumping back and forth between the Argentina/Chile border a lot, and we realized that Alan’s passport is going to run out of pages really soon!!! Damn… a SERIOUS and unforseen problem…. dual citizenship to the rescue!!!

Puerto Natales is a charming city on its own, but what makes all the tourists flock here is the fact that this is ‘base camp’ for people wanting to hike the “W” Torres del Paine trail, and there were a LOT of people doing it! Even as we are in shoulder season, the city was full of Gore-tex wearing travelers. There’s even a hostel that provides daily briefings for trekking the W! We got some really awesome information, and highly recommend anyone thinking about the trail to drop into Erratic Rock hostel to listen in!

We spent the rest of the day buying our necessary supplies (we’ll be living off of soup mix and pasta, granola bars and chunks of ham). Food, you see, is very very important because despite having refugio campsites inside the park, the prices are RIDICULOUSLY high, and we need to be self-sufficient in several camp sites. Excited!

Packing up, we were quite excited to go hiking again since it’s been a while, and Torres del Paine is possibly one of the most famous hiking trails, and the build-up of expectations is undeniable! Tried to catch some rest before we hop onto our bus and into the national park tomorrow!

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Day 256: El Calafate – Argentina – Feb 28th

We got to El Calafate pretty late last night, but that doesn’t mean we could sleep in as booked ourselves a tour of the Perito Moreno glacier, part of the South Patagonia ice mass, which as mentioned before is the third largest reserve of fresh water in the world… behind Antarctica and Greeland!!! It’s MASSIVE!

The glacier is situated perfectly in a national park, and they designed it beautifully with massive pathways overlooking the glacier, with benches every couple hundred meters for your viewing pleasure. We took a boat tour, but it really wasn’t ‘necessary’ as you get this most amazing view even on the pathways. The most awesome part about this glacier is that it is very active, and you can watch the glacier calve massive chunks of ice right into the lake, creating a thunderous clap even for the smallest of chunks! The glacier itself is mesmerizing and very attractive, leaving both of us giddy with happiness as we walked around and saw/hear the thunderous claps of ice….

Back in El Calafate, the town is small but has all the modern-day comforts you’d need. It reminded us a bit of Banff, with wooden log houses and quiet streets outside the main drag. We spent the afternoon sitting in the sun, drinking artesanal beers and eating steak along the main road. Pretty sweet =)

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Day 255: Bus to El Calafate – Argentina – Feb 27th

For the third day in a row, we had to wake up before 5am to catch a bus/plane. Being so far south has its disadvantages when it comes to getting out of there, and for us that means a really really long bus ride back north. We were headed up to El Calafate in the Patagonia region of Argentina, but we wouldn’t get there until midnight, making for a 19hr bus ride.

We had to cross the Straits of Magellan, which was much narrower and calm than was expected, and the ferry service makes it almost pedestrian compared to what it meant to cross the Straits a couple hundred years ago. Ahhh, technology.

We had a 4-hour layover in Rio Gallegos, one of the least pretty towns we’ve seen so far in Argentina, but most likely due to the poverty-stricken areas we walked through before giving up and walking back to the bus station. Gladly, there was a Carrefour supermarket next to the bus stop, and we did some shopping! Luckily, free wi-fi saves the day and we managed to blow a lot of time just surfing the net. It’s really surprising the places you’d find wi-fi when you’re traveling, especially when you think back home that you can’t even find paid wi-fi at some places!

Mexico: Free wi-fi in PARKS….yes, sitting next to the fountain with vendors selling ice cream to little kids, you can surf the internet.
Rio Gallegos: Free wi-fi in the bus station
Honduras: Free wi-fi in most places in the Bay Islands….. it’s an ISLAND IN THE CARRIBEAN!
Miami: No free wi-fi even at airport!!!!!

Anywho, we got into town around midnight, checked into our hotel who didn’t really seem like they wanted the business, telling us that they were full unless we had reservations (which we did), but from the key box it was obvious they were barely half full. Hot shower, and we were on the bed napping like babies!

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Day 254: Ushuaia – Argentina – Feb 26th

Alan got to the airport at 3:45am to take the 4:45am flight down to Ushuaia, but again due to weather conditions the flight was delayed for about 2hrs, leaving him with a really long nap in the Buenos Aires Jorge Newberry airport lounge. Getting into Ushuaia, the town is totally different from what you’d imagine, with a beautiful airport resembling a rustic log cabin and some pretty lakes surrounded by scenic mountains, it was a city like no other. It also has a casino in the middle of the downtown!!!! Ha ha. Feeling a bit like Banff, Canada, this place is touristy but with a bit of charm, probably because it claims itself as the “end of the world”!!! It was a bit strange though, to see some teas, chocolates and gourmet foods coming out of this region as we’d imagine this place to be inhospitable, far from civilization and rugged, which it is totally the opposite of!

The day was spent running around working errands to prepare for our BIG trip to an awesome place. Dinner was a DELICIOUS fuegino lamb, which is a breed of sheep particular to the region and is delicious. And it also helps that Argentinean wine is delicious, and goes perfectly well with a good hunk of meat. 

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Day 253: Ushuaia/Buenos Aires– Argentina – Feb 25th

Being separated for the first in many months, Jiajia flew into Ushuaia with a 7am flight, but because of the crazy weather down in the southern end of America, her flight had to stop in Rio Gallegos before the weather cleared out and the plane was ready to land. Alan spent the day in Buenos Aires wandering around the town, visiting gardens and museums, taking pictures, and doing some grey market deals to exchange some spending cash. 

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Day 252: Buenos Aires– Argentina – Feb 24th

Back into BA at 8am, we checked into our hostel, took a shower and was back on the streets of BA.

Like most Latin American countries, it seems to just shut down on Sundays and this time it was no different. We already booked our flights out, but to save some money we are flying separately, with Jiajia flying on the 25th and Alan flying out on the 26th. Strangely enough, this works out perfectly for us in the end.

We tried to do some cambio at the grey market, but because it was Sunday the rate was much lower, and they didn’t have enough pesos to give us!! We scrapped the idea and headed over to Recoleta, the posh neighbourhood of BA with a pretty impressive cemetery. Wandering around the streets of BA, it’s quite easy to fall in love with the city and it’s diverse settings, while somehow maintaining a bit of the charm of a smaller city.

Exploring El Ateneo, a bookstore built from an old opera house, it looks ridiculously posh and we sat there for a few hours reading some more travel books. It’s nice to see how certain cities can retain a bit of their history with something other than a restaurant. Then again, a restaurant located in an ex-opera house is pretty awesome.

And before we leave the comforts of a big city, we had one final hot pot! Yes!!! There’s hot pot in Buenos Aires!!! Afterwards, we walked along the beautiful boardwalk of Puerto Madryn, and eating some delicious ice cream to cap off our BA experience. 

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Day 251: Iguazu Falls – Argentina – Feb 23rd

Today we did the tour of the Iguazu Falls on the Argentina border. At first, we were also wondering why we would need to see the same falls twice on both sides of the border (and go through the hassle for visas and such). Looking back and comparing both experiences, it was well worth the visit to both sides, especially since Iguazu is SO far from the beaten track that you’d be really hard pressed to be back again. And, everyone that’s gone there tells us both sides are worth’d!

Over on the Brazilian side, you feel a bit more voyeuristic as you walk along the trails and peek through the thick trees in between viewing points to catch glimpses of the falls from across the Iguazu river. Here on the Argentinean side, the falls are located right below your feet as you get an up close and intimate view, feeling the rush of the water as it tumbles down into the mist below. Up until 10m from the drop-off, the river is very calm and if you were paddling down the river you wouldn’t really know what’s coming!

The falls are actually a series of over 275 smaller falls, with one massive convergence point called the Devil’s Throat (scary name!). The falls are also in two tiers, making it seem a bit excessive but also very awe-inspiring. The best part though, has to be taking the boat ride in the Argentinean side.

There are a lot of excursions not included in the park entrance on both sides, but you really have to spend all day there which we didn’t have the luxury as we only had half day on each side. It’s also mostly geared for kids? But there’s one awesome thing that everyone that’s not pregnant or clear from heart conditions should try, and that’s the speedboat adventure tour (forgot the exact name). What it is, is you hop onto a speedboat, and you to do a simple cruise around, but then you see all the crew members start to change into some waterproof gear as they prepare for ‘the shower’.

Then, with a sudden burst of power the tail dips into the water and the boat starts thrusting into the waterfalls. We purposely sat in the first row, and that rush of adrenaline, not to mention the cold shower from a waterfall 20m high is just amazing! Then… we go again at another waterfall, but this time the falls have a bit more ‘umph’ and you can feel water just blowing at your face to the point where you can’t actually open your eyes! IT WAS SO FUN!

The rest of the day we spent going all the way up to the Devil’s Throat lookout point, which was a train ride and another 20min walk before we got to the crowded lookout. The view is pretty amazing as you’re surrounded by waterfalls and mist is streaming all around you. The problem is though, pictures come out horrible because THERE IS TOO MUCH MIST!!

And to be honest, after being blasted by the waterfalls themselves, everything else just seems inferior. Iguazu Falls, despite being very touristy, is definitely worth the visit…. even if it means a 20hr bus ride and nothing else in between! And after all that….we were on our way back on the 20hr bus ride back to Buenos Aires!

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