Patagonia landscapes

Trip Start Sep 16, 2002
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Trip End May 31, 2004


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Flag of Chile  ,
Friday, May 30, 2003

The world of Patagonia is a strange and beautiful one. Mention the word and most people are not too familiar with this region or what too expect when they arrive. It is quite isolated and dirt roads are the only way to travel through it overland. The region is shared between Chile and Argentina in the south of the continent. Containing huge glaciers, jagged peaks, pale blue/green lakes and desolate windswept planes it sometimes really does feel like the end of the world down here.

To start i took a flight from Buenos Aires down to Ushuaia, the southernmost city in Argentina. It used to be the southernmost city in the world but now the Chileans stake this claim. The place has quite an alpine feel to it and sits on the Beagle Channel under snowcapped mountains. The main park here is Tierra del Fuego - land of fire. So called because when the first ships sailed by, small indian fires could be seen.
It was here i started my hiking phase. One day in Tierra del Fuego among mountains and forests. The highlight was making a fire on a sea cliff re-enacting the indians, while watching a sea lion swim past completely unaware of us.

After the isolation of Ushuaia it was time for even more isolation in Torres del Paine park further north in Chile. In the summer this park is very popular, but it was nearing winter and the wind and cold were not attracting many visitors. After stocking up on food and camping equipment i headed into the park for 7 days hiking and camping. Even before you enter the park you can not help notice the centrepiece which is the huge peaks of Cuernos del Paine. The striking feature about this mass of granite are the unique two-tone colours. Black on top and sandy brown in the middle. However the more famous attraction is probably the 3 towers - Torres del Paine. Looking more like giant termite nests, these are transformed into golden towers at sunrise. It is probably the best sunrise i have witnessed without actually looking at the sun.

While you wander through the park you see the huge boulders (some as big as houses) carpeting the valley floors, the old tools of what used to be enormous glaciers.
One night was actually spent in a valley near a creaking Glacier. Alone in a forest, dull rumbles could be heard while the glacier slowly disintegrates, wind screeching above, rain rattling against the canvas, me hallucinating and thinking i saw a giant puma head when it was in fact the silhouette from my clothes, and what was that strange noise.......thinking about Blair Witch Project and questioning why i was here....

Towards the end of the circuit i spent a night next to the Grey Glacier. All night you heard creaking and what sounded like hollow drums being banged together from the small icebergs scraping the bottom of the lake and knocking into each other. After 7 days and in dire need of a shower i left the park and headed back to Argentina to see the Moreno glacier. Patagonia itself has the 3rd largest ice field in the world after Antartica and Greenland. And the Moreno glacier is one of the few advancing glaciers. It is 3km wide and 14 km long and it towers 50 metres above the lake. I did an ice-trek over part of this glacier which was fantastic. However to stand in front and watch huge chunks of compacted snow drop in what seems like slow motion, 50 metres into the lake, was quite a sight. Sounds like rifle gunfire as it shatters on the lake surface.

After the Moreno it was onwards to El Chalten where you can view more pointy peaks and hike around autumn coloured forest and valleys. Unfortunately the weather was cloudy for most of the stay, however i met some Colombians who were driving around South America. They offered me a lift north and after bussing all over the place it sounded more adventurous. We then commenced on a memorable drive. The morning we left El Chalten the day was cloudless and we finally got to see Mount Fitz Roy. And then it was almost a 4 hour journey on a dirt road out of Patagonia. During the journey Esteban translated Colombian songs for me and i began to become more and more interested in a possible venture into the country at some stage. Despite the media perception of Colombia, I have always heard it is a real gem of a country as long as you are sensible and avoid the dangerous parts. After celebrating the car reaching 100 000km (this involved pulling over turning up the stereo and dancing around the car wearing only your shoes) we arrived in Puerto Madryn. I only stayed here one night but near here is a town called Trelew. It boasts a Welsh community (not sure if boast is a good word). You can buy tea, cream cakes and a Welsh doll if you are feeling homesick.

After Puerto Madryn I took a bus to the lake district, Bariloche. It seems there is a heavy Germanic influence here, wooden chalets, kuchen (German cake) and good beer. Alot of German and Swiss immigrants arrived in Chile and spilled over the border into Argentina creating a little Germany or Switzerland. It was here I met up again with Rene who I had met in Torres del Paine and Mount Fitz Roy. A hiking fanatic he had been hiking around Alaska, Canada and now here. Although i was not planning on any more hiking I ended up doing a 4 day hike in Nahuel Huapi Park with Rene. Our first night was spent in a refugio (lodge) on a ridge run by Pedro the Swiss ice-skating whiz and his cat Draculina. That night the moon was full and so bright we were warned not to spend to long outside due to radiation. Down in this part of the world the ozone layer is badly destroyed and so you need to be more careful. The next day we hiked over a ridge and through another valley to reach a refugio (lodge) which had been closed down for the winter. Unfortunately we did not get much sleep due to a mouse scurrying around most the night in search of food. And the next day we had to turn back due to too much ice in the the mountains. After hiking back to Bariloche we headed into town and treated ourselves to the local cuisine: a fondue.

After Bariloche I headed through more quaint wooden towns. I stopped by for a visit at Sonia´s to see her famous Art shop (called Blumenhaus)in La Angostura and to visit the Arrayane forests. These trees have a cinnamon coloured bark which is quite cold to touch. And then San Martin de los Andes, a very pleasant little town sitting on Lake Lacar before heading back into volcanic-ridden Chile to start my tour of the famous wineries....and the end of my liver.
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