Posts Tagged With: Patagonia

Day 282: Villa Castillo & Marble Caves – Chile – Mar 26th

Sleeping in later than usual, we were welcomed by the warming sunshine on our cabin. Making the best of what we had, we made another pot of vermicelli and ate it outside in the garden. There wasn’t much distance to cover so we took our time and decided to head back on the road at 10am. We stopped at the supermarket for the last two packs of vermicelli and at the cash register, Alan even taught the attendant how to cook them. Seems like the locals have no clue how to cook them, so we’re REALLY wondering how they even get them in the first place!?!? We headed to ATM for some cash. Problem with the card….. !?!? Shit, so we head back to the hostel where the internet connection is fantastic (no sarcasm!) to Skype our bank… they didn’t have a problem so we tried again. Turns out, the ATMs didn’t have a connection to the VISA network since our MasterCard cards work… damn. Then we needed to get gas, since the gas stations are spaced far apart and we try to fill up whenever we can to avoid any unnecessary surprises, and then we couldn’t find the stupid gas station after asking around so we headed back to the hostel once again to ask…. haha, what a morning! But wait, there’s more!

Finally by noon, we were ready to go! The towns here are very small, and there’s usually two roads. One coming in, and another heading out, and we as we drove closer to the road out we see two hitchhikers. Thinking about how bad the bus service was, their standard backpacker’s look we said why not and were on our way out with two new friends! They were a nice newly-wed couple from Poland, traveling in South America for their honeymoon!

The drive was extremely scenic the moment we left town. Twisting and winding, uphill and downhill, we were driving along the coastline of Lago Carrera. It was an amazing lake with a distinct hue of blue and a wind swept surface rippling across the waters, and the Andes were the backdrop. There were a few mines, and a few small cattle/sheep ranches would pop up here and there. The more frequent sights were wooden signs advertising fishing, horse riding, cabanas and asado (grilled meats) as a form of cottage-country travel for people. Those log cabins look very, very cozy, but we must beat on!

One big motivation for us to come to this area was because through talking with our HK friends from trekking, they mentioned about how they failed to visit the marble caves at town called Puerto Tranquilo (awesome name!). Googling some pictures, we were so mesmerized at the colours and contours of the caves and really wanted to go. When we were at Chile Chico, and they only had tours going every Mon/Thurs/Sat, and we weren’t waiting 3 days. To add insult to injury, it costs $100USD per person!! So we dropped our hopes and gave up going to the (now even more attractive because it is unattainable) caves…. but hearing from our new Polish friends, they were saying that it was possible to get a boat outside the town and it was cheaper. They heard this from a girl who rode a bike 120km through hilly+rough gravel roads to see them…talk about dedication!

The scenery while we drove definitely made it awesome, but we stopped so many times for pictures and the poor road conditions made it really slow despite being only 150km or so away. We were quite afraid that, this being rural Patagonia, that the boats would stop after a certain time, and we didn’t know how far it was to go or how long it took! All these uncertainties layered above the anticipation for doing something unexpected and previously thought unattainable made it oh-so-exciting. Alan had to channel his inner Colin McRae rally racing skills, and we made it to the outskirts of the town, but Alan actually sped past several signs without reading them properly…we turned back in curiousity, but turns out the sign was pointing down towards the dock for a trip to the caves!!!!!!!!!!!!!! EXCITED. And to make things more fun, the road down was a 45degree winding dirt road with hairpin turns!

We got to the dock, and our Polish friends with his Spanish skills, talked us into a boat taking us out for $15USD per person. FOR SURE! Everyone was so happy and excited! FINALLY WE CAN SEE THE MARBLE CAVES! The boat ride from the dock was only 5mins, and when we got there……anticipation turned into a bit of disappointment…. The marble formations were really pretty and totally amazing as we sailed our boat right into the caves, but the were darkly lit as the mountains blocked the sun as it was already in the Western horizon… It was nice, but nothing compared to what we expected! Aahhhhh! Oh well, not everything’s perfect.

One big constraint with our Polish friends was that, they had a flight to catch, and they were never sure if there was any transport to get them to the airport. We ended up convincing them to join us as we went further along Ruta 7, closer to the airport and more likely there would be transport. We drove 3 more hours into the dark, and the slippery roads and tight corners made driving a bit more dangerous especially under moonlight. There’s a full moon, and it was extremely scenic as it casts its glow onto the overlooking silhouettes of the mountain ranges.

It was late, we were tired but we were so glad we saw the lights of what can be called a town. It probably has more than 10 houses, too! It’s hard to know what to expect around here! We looked around for a hostel using our LP, but turns out the hostel didn’t have any signs, it was really just some person’s house, and for some strange fucking reason, they were FULL. We drove around, asked 2 more hotels, and they were also full! W T F? We really doubt them, but apparently there’s a Chile vs Uruguay World Cup qualifying match going on, and we think they are all in a bad mood because Chile is losing. One last try, we landed ourselves in a simple but clean hostel with cheap beds at $15USD per person. FOR A BED. W T F Chile. At least it’s clean.

We wanted to get here at Villa Castillo to do a day-hike up to see the mountains, but our hostel owner says a 2-day hike is required as it’s a long walk. So, we can’t do a day-hike tomorrow but our Polish friends are much happier, because now we can drive them to the airport and save them the uncertainty of waiting for a bus and waking up at 6am to wait for one! Awesome!!

And now, we’re off to bed while the cows are having a mooing party in the distant. Not joking… cows have been mooing in the fields non-stop since 10pm, and WE CAN HEAR THEM IN OUR ROOM. Haha, you can’t make this stuff up.

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Day 281: Chile Chico – Argentina – Mar 25th

The ONLY reason we are staying in Baja Caracoles is because going from south → north, it is the closest town to the UNESCO heritage site, Las Cuevas de las Manos, or Cave of Hands. Getting out of our awesome hostel, the playful dogs came out to say goodbye and we were on the road before 8:30am.

The gravel roads here are wide and quite well maintained, and the scenery is pretty awesome. Throw in some guanacos and choique (ostrich-like birds) walking around, it was quite fun! The best part was when a fox crossed the road about 300m of the car. After crossing the road, it stopped at the side of the road, sitting perfectly still and observing us as we drove by. We stopped, looked it in the eye and was totally mesmerized by this beautiful creature.

Getting to the actual entrance at 9:55am, we were greeted with a warm welcome from a young man and his father, along with a wonky looking admissions guy and his cuddly cat. Tours start at the hour, so we came just in time for the 10am guided tour! The father wanted a picture, and very friendly, wanting to take one with us as well. He then pointed across the valley to a car atop the edge, and our understanding is that it was HIS car, and they walked down the valley and up again to the park entrance. W T F? We thought he was joking….

The hand paintings reminds us of paintings you might see on the walls of kindergarten classrooms, but when the guide mentioned that they date back up to 9500 YEARS AGO. It took a minute, but lets count again….that’s 7500BC! Wow, respect. Thinking about it, this is probably the first time we’ve seen any form of prehistoric human activity that you’d associate with grade school education. The caves were only housing 30-40 people of a single tribe of hunters, with other locations scattered around the valley containing similar paintings. The strangest part though, is that these paintings lay on PRIVATE land… lets hope they are well preserved. There were some pretty fascinating rock paintings, a foot of a choique, circles denoting pregnant woman, guy with 6 fingers, and the chief’s hand with a massive aura of paint around it. Really, really fascinating.

On our way out, the guide in some broken English asked if we can drive the old man out to the main road. We finally realized they weren’t joking when they said they walked into the park entrance, and the son was going to run back to the car again! The route is pretty damn steep, we’re surprised how the old man managed to get here on foot… so of course we said yes.

The roads out were pretty steep, but driving rally is pretty fun if only the car had better specs. We dropped the old man off at the main road so his son can pick him up, and we were off on our way! The closest town was Perito Moreno, named after an Argentine hero (Like many of the streets and cities). We wanted to stop by for lunch, and managed to find a small restaurant serving some really awesome steaks. Chicken in Argentina has never been a good experience, but on the flip side steak is ALWAYS a good choice no matter where you are! Every two days of so, Alan would have this steak craving which would be easily cured with a visit to any restaurant, or if you’re lucky at the supermarket for the price of a cupcake back home. Strangely enough, the supermarkets never seem to have good meats, you have to be lucky and buy right away!

Delicious lunch and a beautifully scenic drive along Lago Buenos Aires, looking more like an ocean with strong currents than a lake, we arrived into the border town of Los Antiguos. The town was small but its location on the coast of the lake, but it was too early for us to settle and we crossed the border into Chile. Crossing from Argentina into Chile is strange, as the Argentine officers are almost always rude, always in a hurry but fairly hassle free. The Chilean border crossings are less intimidating, but are 100x more tedious. Not sure why, but they are super anal about fruits, vegetables and the sorts from entering the border and do a THOROUGH check of everything. If you drive in, they check your whole car + luggage. If you go through by bus, they check the bus, your carry-ons and every piece of luggage you carry. No jokes here.

Clearing customs and driving into the Chilean border town of 4000 people named Chile Chico, it was not small by our standards. We’ve come to enjoy smaller towns which don’t have the hustle and bustle of the larger cities, but still have the normal comforts of everyday life, and this town made that fine line just spot on. The town was neatly decorated with wooden pillars as you enter the city proper, with patches of grass as the median along the main road and wooden fencing surrounding EVERY PATCH of grass in the whole town. Being built along the lake as well, they weren’t too keen on building nice homes along the lake with good views and didn’t seem to make good use of its geographic location.

We found a nice little cabin with a small kitchen, private bathroom, Wi-Fi in the room, and even satellite TV! We were watching Simpsons in Spanish! Ha ha. Making full use of the kitchen, we wanted to cook our own meal to save some money, and it’s also a way to refrain from eating out all the time. At the market, the fruits and veggies were definitely a bit of a sad selection but considering we’re in the heart of Patagonia it is somewhat expected. The strangest thing though, is that we found SOY SAUCE AND CHINESE NOODLES for sale at the market! W T F? This town, 4000 people, in southern rural of Chile and no Asian faces whatsoever. The best part was when checking out, the cashier looked at the noodles+soy sauce combo and looked at Alan, asking what would be a good way to cook the noodles as if she had no clue!! WHY WOULD THEY HAVE THEM IN THE FIRST PLACE!

We cooked up a storm back at the hostel, having noodles + wine outside in the main yard.

Crazy strange road trip….

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Day 280: Baja Caracoles – Argentina – Mar 24th

We slept in a bit, grabbed a quick breakfast at a small coffee shop while Alan ate leftover greasy pizza (at 10am!). And looks like our map was outdated as there was a gas station at the entrance to the town! It sort of looked like something from rural Nevada back from the 1950s, but as long as it has gas it’ll do. On our way out, we were lucky in that the clouds actually cleared out, and you can get this AMAZING view of the whole mountain range. Our puny imagination was good, but it wasn’t this good! Oh well, maybe one day we’ll come back =)

Where we are now in Patagonia, the roads are built but most of it is gravel. After a drive of about 120km to the next town, we were amazed at how small and uninteresting it was. A one-street town, everything was closed, the winds whipped the sand all around and nobody was walking around. The allure of this region is mainly for its landscapes and so we weren’t too interested in the towns, but we didn’t expect it to be THIS run-down. Ha ha. There’s quite a distance between towns, so we filled up our tank again just in case the next one runs out of gas or something. We also stocked up about 6L of water, just in case we get stuck on the road at least we won’t die of thirst… Actuaries traveling still know they should manage our own mortality risk.

The road was mainly gravel, with intermittent construction zones where it was paved. With our less than optimal SUV, the pavement was such a blessing, even if it only lasts for 5mins. The scenery was expansive, wild and charming all at the same time. Guanacos, the untamed cousin of the llama, can be easily spotted from the main road. The roads were difficult, but added to the experience for sure as we sped our way through gravel terrain without a (human) soul in sight for miles on end.

One strange thing we did notice though, was that the whole of Patagonia is FENCED along the roads, and inbetween parcels of land. Not only is this a monstrous use of human effort, but it was strange as there were barely any animals, or anything you’d really need to fence things out/in from….. Very strange.

Driving for most of the day, we arrived at a small ‘village’ called Baja Caracoles. It was getting late when we arrived, and this was the place we needed to stay for the night as it was the closest town to Las Cuevas de los Manos, a UNESCO Heritage historical site.

The village itself was uninspiring, if not creepy-looking. Driving around the village, you can totally visualize Javier Bardem holding his gas canister in a menacing look walking down the sandy roads, as in the movie No Country for Old Men. We stopped at the gas station to get some gas, and without any attendants or anything we simply drove up, filled our tanks and could’ve easily driven away. Being the honest folk we are, we headed into the gas station to ask if there was a hostel/hotel/camp site/someone’s backyard we could possibly sleep in. The gas station actually had some rooms, but the owner said he was full for the evening… W T F? Okay, whatever, but the best part came next as Alan tried to pay for the $175Peso of gas he put into his car.

With broken Spanish, this is what pans out:

Alan: “I want gas.”
Owner: “Okay” *comes out behind his counter to take Alan to the pump*
Alan: “No, I put gas. Already. Gas already.”
Owner: “Okay, how much?” *walking back to the cash register*
Alan: “100……75” (fading away as he tries to think how to say 175 instead of 100 and 75)
Owner: “100? Okay, give me 100.”
Alan: “No, 100 & 75. 100 & 75” *picks up calculator, types in 175*
Owner: “Oh, 175? Okay, give me 175.”
Alan pays the cash, and goes away thinking how easy it would’ve been to steal gas from this poor fellow. But the rule when it comes to honour system, is that you DO NOT BREAK THE RULES OF THE HONOUR SYSTEM. Shame on whoever breaks the honour system rules! SHAME!

We ask the gas station owner, and discover that there’s a ‘hostel’ in town, and it wasn’t hard to find as the village had fewer than 10 houses. The streets were dark now, but the lights were on but the door was locked, except for a sign in strange Spanish with an arrow pointing to the backyard. We entered, and two dogs happily greeted us, but the owner wasn’t there! This was around 7pm, getting late, and there wasn’t much we can do in a town like this. We waited in the car a bit until the neighbour told us to go to the gas station to look for Antonio. Okay, a 100m drive go to the gas station, but no Antonio there. The gas station owner told us to go to the police station, so another 100m drive we get to the police station but nothing but a small Yorkshire Terrier to greet us. We searched the back for some people, and the police chief told us to go to Antonio’s house, look for the house with the black SUV. Okay, we drive around the 10houses looking for a black SUV, none there!!!

We gave trying to find this elusive Antonio, and since the hostel door was open, we invited ourselves into the main room and set up our camping stove to make a nice single pot pasta meal (pasta + dried soup packages). We waited around, went to the gas station again to buy some snacks for the next day (in case we get stuck somewhere?). Strangely enough, they had some extremely ‘fresh’ tasting Pringles.. whowouldathunkit?

It was 11pm, we’re getting tired and the town is getting sort of creepy. It was creepy when the sun set, and the neighbour didn’t exactly give off the Love Thy Neighbour vibe, more like creepy old man that did 13 murders and had to hide out here, kind of vibe. We were in the hostel, so we just gave up waiting and checked ourselves into the room, which had a private bathroom and surprisingly hot water. It was all built like a temporary portable house but doesn’t matter, the place was clean and the bed was comfy. Alan waited out til midnight, nursing a beer and hopeful to meet this Antonio. No luck and off to bed we went.

At around 2am, someone knocks on the door. In a daze, Alan opens the door to find an extremely alert person who didn’t smell like he was out drinking all night. So…. why the fuck is he awake at 2am and checking his hostel when he could’ve checked it at anytime before 11pm? He was annoyed that we checked into his place without telling him, saying that I should’ve knocked onto a discrete, and totally unmarked door which connects to his own house. OKAY FELLA, fuck you. Anyways, I paid my money and he retreated back into the unmarked door to his own house, while we slept like babies until next morning in a strange start to our road trip.

Interesting day….

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Day 279: El Chalten – Argentina – Mar 23rd

We wake up, grab breakfast, and were quick to pack as we have a long day ahead of us. Planning to do a hiking trip into the famous Cerro FitzRoy to view some spectacular mountains and glaciers. We packed our stuff, bought some groceries for the day and headed to the park ranger’s office to get a briefing.

Unfortunately for us, the day was a bit cloudy in the mountains, because on a sunny day you see the whole mountain range from the town! And we were wondering where it was! Oh well, we’re here, we’re going to give it a shot and possibly the crazy Patagonian weather may work in our favour and the winds can gust away the cloud cover.

The mountain facade has a lot of similarities with the Torres del Paine, but to us the hiking trail is much more enjoyable. The spaces were wider, the trails were obviously marked but also very well maintained. Bridges were crafted with beautiful, fallen trees. The winds were whipping hard in some spots, but 50m later the winds are gone and it is whisper quiet. The water from the streams and lakes (yes, lakes!) are drinkable as it is melted glacier water, but the mineral content in the water is rather high and it isn’t as refreshing when you’ve got a splash of iron in your taste buds. Nothing can compare to that awesome creek back in Torres del Paine, which was for me, one of the highlights of the trip. If I could do it again, I may just carry a few more litres of that good stuff despite the weight.

Hiking up to the first camp, we were making good time and the biggest surprise of all though, was that Alan wasn’t even hungry!! Strange, first time he’s hiked without feeling hungry ever 30mins. At the camp, there was a 1hr hike up to a mirador with an amazing view of the glacier with the FitzRoy towers hanging above. We were 5min into our hike before seeing a couple coming back down so we kindly asked about the conditions. “Oh, the trail is really difficult and steep, and with the winds as it is now it is actually dangerous. And when you get to the top, there’s nothing to see because of the clouds.” OKAY, now those are some words of encouragement…. encouraging us to ditch the plan of the mirador and move on to the next campsite/mirador.

We were making good pace, and doing our usual of silent concentration mixed in with some strained arguments about life, future travels, sociological issues around the world and much pointless attempts by Alan explaining why golf is such a great game. The trails weren’t too steep up nor down, but as we approached the camp site we had a change of plans and decided that we should ditch the idea of camping for the evening, head back into town and so tomorrow we can wake up and make good time in the car. Oh, and did we mention there’s an artesanal brewery located in the town, that also serves food?!?!?! That was probably the single highest motivation to go back! Jiajia dropped her pack on the return route, and after an hour more we were at the final campsite/mirador. Overlooking a lake of glacial melt, we can understand that on a sunny day that it would be an amazing sight! Unfortunately for us, the clouds were smothering the whole area into a palette of grey, and the generally amazing colours of the glacier combined with the breathtaking views of the mountains were nowhere to be seen.

Returning down, we had no regrets doing the hike, as we thoroughly enjoyed the scenery (with a little imagination, thinking what it would be like if the weather was nice!), and also thoroughly enjoyed each others company… ha ha. It was already 6pm when we left, and we made it into town just when the sun completely set at 8pm, leaving us with no light to work with…. NOT a good idea to hike mountain trails in pitch darkness, especially when there are pumas!

We checked-in to a hostel (unfortunately, the awesome hostels were still full. They were nice enough to let us know, they were full until next week, good to squash our hopes of staying there!), bumped into a few of our friends from the Antarctica cruise who just rolled in this afternoon. We were too hungry, and too thirsty to chat so we rushed out to the warmth of the artesanal brewery.

The place, La Cerveceria, had an awesome mountain lodge vibe, and we applaud the owner as they paid a LOT of attention to each and every detail of the décor, from the woven light fixtures, the bamboo window covers, wooden benches+tables to the antique rucksack hovering above the entrance way. Two beers were on tap, and the bock beer was delicious (the lager fell a bit short), and the food was awesome! Especially delicious was the hearty locro, a supposedly Argentinean specialty. We weren’t sure what it was, but after our orders were taken we were treated with two small ‘cups’ of warm and tasty soup, accompanied by some breadsticks and a delicious dip! The soups were served in small clay cups! With that in our stomachs, we were even more amazed when the mains came. The locro is actually a very hearty stew, with chunks of TENDER TO DIE FOR meats, and a massive bread to go with. Beer would definitely work to wash it all down as well. The pizzas were fantastic, and even more impressive when you realize how far away from civilization you are…. Great dining experience!

So today, we hiked 32kms in about 9hrs and capped it off with a couple of cold ones and awesome food. Perrrfect!

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Day 278: El Calafate – Argentina – Mar 22st

After our lovely walk around the town last night, we woke up at around 9am, packed up and headed down for a simple breakfast. Breakfast seems to be a simple affair in South America, with coffee/tea and bread+jam/butter, possibly some cereal and if you’re lucky, eggs. Our hostel roommates were rather nice, and were very quiet when they left this morning. And last night, when we checked in at 2am, we were unpacking our things in the dark to avoid waking them up, and amidst the dark the girl awoke in a daze, waved her arm around the wall and turned the lights on for us! Nice girls. We didn’t even get to say hi!

We spent the whole day walking the main avenues, looking for car rental companies. Our plan, is to rent a car and drive through Patagonia in both Chile and Argentina in the famous Ruta 40 (Argentina) and Ruta 7 (Chile). Problem was, the roads are bad so we’ll need an SUV, and car rental in Argentina is SUPER expensive. And to add to the pain, to drop-off the in a different location cost us almost half of the actual rental itself. We managed to find a Hertz that rented us a small SUV, had no deductible for any insurance claims (VS the common $1000-2000USD) and cut us a deal by paying cash (and they spoke really good English!). As a reminder, paying cash means we don’t have to pay the ‘official’ horrible exchange rate, and still the rental for 10 days cost wayyy too much. Then again, if we had to take public bus, the tickets are so expensive in Argentina and comparatively, it wasn’t that bad.

So we scouted a good rental company at noon, went to lunch after triple confirming that the store doesn’t take the common afternoon siesta, or a 4hr nap during the work day usually between 1-5pm. So we grabbed lunch, sorted out our information and went back to book at 2:30pm and thinking we can start driving at around 3:30pm. Guess what, they were CLOSED when we got there!!! Arghhh. After waiting about 2hrs outside the store, someone finally opens the door!! We go through the paper work, and because we have to cross into Chile, we needed to fill another pile of paperwork as well. Being our lucky day, the customs site was down and so on and so forth.

We went out, grabbed dinner at a small side street diner which served an awesome steak for the price of a Big Mac back home! All they did was cut a fresh slice of sirloin, drop it onto the grill and sprinkle on some salt+pepper. Left it to do other stuff, came back couple mins later to flip the steak. A couple of more minutes later, the steak was ready to serve, and it didn’t take us long to finish it at all! Stocking up on necessary protein, we finally got the car and were on our way out on Argentine roads and up into the next popular “El”, El Chalten, situated inside a national park!

Driving for almost 2hrs, we made it into the small town with 1,800 residents during peak season, and only 600 people remain when winter hits. On our map, it doesn’t even say they have a gas station here! When we rolled into town though, you would never imagine how beautifully tranquil a town so small can be, and how amazing its tourist facilities are! We drove by several hostels, all of which had more Rocky Mountain ski-resort feel to it than hostel, but unfortunately for us they were all full. We found a hostel, checked-in and called it a night pretty soon.

For a sense of how ‘remote’ this town is, this place does not have fibre-optic cable, and the only internet access they can get is through satellite! Oh, and there was also no cell phone service either……That doesn’t mean this place can’t be super touristy though!

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Day 277: El Calafate – Argentina – Mar 21st

After 11 days of luxury confined aboard our ship, we woke up at 4:15am to catch a 5am bus. For the next 20hrs we’ll be confined to the pedestrian recliner of a long-distance bus, separated by a 4hr lay-over in possibly the least appetizing city along the Atlantic Coast. The only bonus was that the bus terminal has Wi-Fi!

We’re quite familiar with the formalities this time, as it was our 3rd time riding between El Calafate → Ushuaia! We were prepared this time with snacks, entertainment and a massive desire to sleep through it all. The strange part about this trip is that, although Ushuaia is in Argentina, it is located on an island and isn’t connected to the mainland of Argentina. The only road back to Argentinean soil is… through Chile! And Chile border customs are like, the most stringent we’ve seen so far, making quite a fuss about luggage ensuring you’ve got no contraband…. We were smart this time, and ate all our fruits before crossing the border =P

Arriving in El Calafate at 12:30am, it was dark and the streets were quiet, and we were headed straight to our hostel which was 15min out of the town, situated atop a hill on the outskirts. The hill seems like a new development, and despite the map having addresses, there were NO FREAKING SIGNS TELLING YOU WHICH STREET IT IS. In the end, we had to ask another hostel who were nice enough to tell us “Oh, I think that place is closed”. W T F? We just received a confirmation from them last night! So either way, we walked over to the hostel, which was indeed closed. They told us to walk over to their hotel, and they’ll give us a room there. And it’s only another 15-min walk back where we came from, and then up another hill. Walking around after a 20hr bus ride at 2am is not very enjoyable, and we really thought the stupid hostel should have at least let us know when they RESPONDED to our booking. Retarded.

Checking in at 1.5hrs after arriving into town at 2am, which was really a hotel with 4-beds in a single room. We showered, and fell fast asleep once the lights went dark.

Rio Gallegos 3hr pit stop in the ugliest city we've seen in Argentina.

Rio Gallegos 3hr pit stop in the ugliest city we’ve seen in Argentina.

Sunset getting earlier by the day

Sunset getting earlier by the day

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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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