Patagonia - practically perfect in every way
Trip Start Nov 15, 2012
25Trip End Jul 10, 2013
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Left you last time as we were about to embark on a couple of days luxury cruising in the fjords and mountains of Patagonia.The cruise is called CruzeAndino and whilst its not exactly a backpackers budget trip, in fact quite far from it, we would recommend that should you ever be down this part of the world, save a little extra and do it. The route that more than 400 years ago the Huilliches, the natives of Southern Chile, used as a commercial route, and later the Jesuits of Chiloé used to found the missions in the Nahuel Huapi region. It covers an area that contains two important national parks: Nahuel Huapi in Argentina and Vicente Pérez Rosales on the Chilean side
We started off the first leg of the journey by bus (luxury bus might I add) by leaving Puerto Varas and following the Llananquihue Lake - to dive in Mapuche language,the second largest lake in Chile. This was about an hours drive and took us through to the Vicente Pérez Rosales National Park where we got to jump off the bus and check out the beautiful waterfalls and rapids which run parallel to the Osorno Volcano. The water is crystal clear and on a warm day you would be tempted to jump in and ride a rapid. Little did we know then that that's exactly what we would be doing on our return to Puerto Varas ten days later...more on that later though.
Back on the bus heading to the first port, Puerto Frias, where we took our first lake journey in a little ferry. The views along the way just got better and better. The colour of the lakes changed from turquoise blue to emerald green and we were amazingly lucky enough to have the most stunning weather. In fact, each guide along the way kept telling us how lucky we were as usually it rains two days out of three.
We opted to take the two day journey and stay the night in a teeny tiny town, Puella. It's literally in the middle of nowhere and totally built around tourism. I can only imagine how incredible it looks in the winter with all the snow about. When you stop in Puella you have a number of activities you can choose to do for the afternoon before dinner time. From horseback riding to farm visits and then for the more adventurous, things like canopying and river rafting. We opted for the canopying (zip line) and thoroughly enjoyed the adrenalin rush. They threw in a few abseiling bits too which was great fun.
After a lush dinner and fantastic nights sleep in a real hotel, with all the aded extras you do not get staying in hostels, we continued to make our way by bus, ferry and catamaran towards Bariloche, Argentina. We stopped for lunch in Puerto Blest and made our way by a five minute catamaran ride to a spectacular cascading waterfall and 1500 year old tree. Three lakes (Lagos in Spanish) and 3 bus journeys later we entered Bariloche on a Friday evening around 8:30pm.
DOWNGRADE of note!! The princess within me was severely disappointed at the fact we had to go back to the real life of a backpacker: hostels, manky beds, bread and beer! However, our hostel in Bariloche was one of the better ones and came avec Jacuzzi...a perfect way to ease back into the lifestyle our budget can afford. We were also given a room with a lake view. The lake is the Nahuel Huapi, surrounded by the Andes Mountain range and nestled within the Nahuel Huapi nature reserve. It is incredibly beautiful and not a bad view to wake up to each morning, or to watch the sun go down over whilst chillaxing in the jacuzzi ;-)
Our original intention was to stay in Bariloche for three days and then make our way further south towards Porito Moreno glacier. However, due to the length of time it takes to get down to El Calafate and the fact we had to be back on our Mother Earth Bus by 26th March, we just didn't have the time, this time round - we will be back!
Unfortunately both the Chile and Argentina side of Patagonia do not make it easy to head further south into places like Torres Del Pain or Tierre Del Fuego. You can hop on a cattle boat for four days, but should you hit bad weather chances are you will be head over board watching your latest meal make its way south, whilst taking in the smell of the numerous amounts of cattle on board with you. Another way is a three day bus journey...we had already decided we weren't going to be doing anything longer than 12 hours max in buses...too old for that crap lol! There is an option to fly...for like five million pounds and after our luxury trip on CruzeAndino...need I say more.
So, we stayed in Bariloche for a week and got a pretty good deal at our hostel where they threw in an extra night for free, a backpackers dream. One free nights accommodation = more moola for crazy things like trekking, mountain bike riding, white river rafting, a good meal in a restaurant oh and of course, the beer budget. We met some South African peeps in Puerto Varas and they were heading the same way as us, arriving in Bariloche a day later and staying at the hostel next door to ours. To Matt, Heather and Vic: thanks for a wicked few days together. You got our adrenalin/adventure juices going and certainly made our stay in Bariloche one to remember.
With our Safa crew we jumped on a local dodgy bus out towards Cerro Campanario. A camera- battery-depleting-360 degree view of the area. You catch a chair lift up and are awarded with one of the top ten views in the world: a fantastic eagle eye view of the area we had covered whilst on our cruise. Grabbed some lunch on the way back at a lake view restaurant and made our way to the Club Andino Bariloche, where we had to register our hike for the following day. Our hike WTF!!
Taken by the energy of our fellow South Africans but possibly not taking into account that the were pretty much seasoned hikers, we enthusiastically signed up for a day hike to Frey. Frey is a 24km all round trek with an ascent of 750m. It starts off at Villa Catedral which you get to via another dodgy local bus ride through the mountains. There is a refugio (little camp site type vibe) up there where you can either stay the night or just hang out for a couple of hours taking in the view of the surrounding mountains, watching the stupidly mental mountain climbers and, in our case, recovering from the STEEP hike up to 1700m that we had just done.
It's supposedly one of the most straight forward treks in the region, passing through lakes, forrest area and towering peaks - but I guess it depends on whose doing it ;-). Totally worth the "oh shit I can't go from horizontal to vertical" feeling the next morning though and we were very proud of ourselves for having achieved our first trek. We bid farewell to our Safa friends that evening over a game of pool and a few drinks in our hostels communal areas.
Next day we made our way a little further south to a town called El Bolson for a couple of nights. A load of people had told us about this place and said we had to do it and it couldn't be missed. Each to their own. Nothing worthwhile to write about really. Pretty little town but dead as anything and not much to do apart from trek...umm incorrect not interested, just did it. We chilled there for two nights, met a few cool french travellers and were more than happy to return to Bariloche.
Clearly taken by our previous achievement, Chris thought it would be a great idea to try a little more exercise, and so reluctantly I signed up with him for a 25km mountain bike ride called Circito Chico. Please note: this route CAN be done by bus, jumping on and off at the various view points along the way. Nope...we did it by bike. Amateurs riding mountain bikes mostly uphill for four hours...not pleasant. However, another first (tick) under our belts and you are awarded with spectacular views along the way which makes up for the painful arse you endure for four days post cycle.
Our time in Bariloche had come to an end and our first rainy day arrived. Thankfully we were on a 6 hour bus journey making our way back toward Puerto Varas and by the time we arrived back in Chile the sun she was shining again...gotta love it when nature fits into your plans. Back to our cool little hostel in one of our favourite cities, sad to have left Bariloche but keen to be jumping back on our Pachamama Tour and heading north again for some warmth. The sun shone on us continuously in Patagonia but the temperatures were low.
One more little tick needed...Chris had decided in Pucon (on our way down south a few weeks back) that he wouldn't do white river rafting. The weather was pretty manky and it was cold, so we opted for massages instead. However, since then, he had it in his head that he was going to do it, come hell or high water. Oh and that I was going to do it with him and that I apparently didn't have a choice in the matter. Argentina had it but it was ridiculously expensive so he didn't get the opportunity to do it there either.
We had one day to spare in Puerto Varas and as we walked into our hostel there just very conveniently happened to be a white river rafting guide sitting at reception. Fate perhaps? Chris booked and paid for it before I could even think of some feeble excuse. Don't get me wrong, I like a bit of adrenalin every now and then - like the kind I felt when walking down the aisle a few months back when getting married lol. Call me a pussy but I sort of fancy my life, having all four limbs and a head sans scars (well almost)...I know, I'm a woes, but I did it and I will have to admit here that it was possibly one of the most exhilarating and awesome things I've ever done.
Apart from the fact there was only Chris and myself (plus guide) on a six man raft which meant the chances of flipping, and we almost did, were high. The fact that I probably told Chris that I hated him about 105 times in a 90 minute rafting session and the fact that I only realised how much I had enjoyed it after we were safely back in our hostel that evening. Chris however LOVED every minute of it, so much so that he got so excited every time we hit a big rapid that he kept forgetting to put his ore in the water and row....it's ok though as I know the way I was screaming at him "Row Chris Row I hate you" pulled him out of his daydream and back into reality ;-) It was the best thing he has ever done and he is now keen for Zambezi...you're on your own there babe.
Knackered but alive we settled down for our final sleep in Patagonia :-( I had said in our previous blog that I was sure South America would continue to touch our hearts...I don't think either of us realised how much Patagonia would, it's perfect and we want to return and see more in years to come.
Finally back on the Pachamama Bus and heading back north to Santiago. We had met an English couple in Bariloche who were staying at the same hostel as us and were also on the tour so next morning when jumping onto the bus we had friends...a nice change from the trip down south. With a new guide, a new driver and our English mates, Claire and Andy, we chatted for 550km along the Panamericao Highway, to Saltos del Laja, our overnight stop before heading all the way back to Santiago the next day.
Saltos del Laja has a beautiful waterfall where the Laja River falls into a deep rocky canyon formed by water erosion. We stayed in a cool little cabin for the night, sharing a room for the first time on this trip and jamming into the wee hours of the morning with our friends, driver and guide whilst being treated to a delicious Chilean barbeque. Arose the next morning, our heads a little worse for wear, but nothing like a bit of hair of the dog to cure that, as we stopped at a wine farm, Vina Balduzzi, half way to Santiago.
Vina Balduzzi is located in the middle of a 100 acre vineyard, family owned and famous for being a small winery. They produce around 800 000 litres of wine a year and we got to taste about 3 of those hehe. Three hours later, a wicked wine tour, some delicious tasting, a couple of pics, dodging crazy drivers and some grub we arrived back to Chris's happy place - La Casa Roja Hostel, Santiago.
Our friends Claire and Andy checked into the hostel with us for one night and we got down with the La Casa Roja locals...of which we are certainly becoming part of at this stage. Had a fabulous evening of laughter under the warm Santiago sky and bid them farewell yesterday as they made their way to Mendoza. We are planning on hooking up with them again in Buenos Aires in a couple of weeks which I've no doubt will be a great adventure,
For now, it's onward and upward to the ATACAMA desert. We leave tomorrow morning on our ten day trip up north where we will witness completely different scenery to that which we saw down south. It's all about the desert, the salt flats and the pink flamingoes...too excited.
And that my friends and family completes another rather lengthy blog entry. I hope you have found it a little entertaining, a little inspiring and that it has perhaps stirred within you a hunger to follow your dreams of travel and adventure. To end, an apt quote by Hans Christian Andersen "To travel, is to live".