23/03/02 San Pedro de Atacama
After check in and a quick shower we walk around the town to find a tour to the moon valley. There are a lot of moon valleys in these countries but this is the one where Nasa tested there mars pathfinder robot. We are lucky and a tour is leaving in just an hour so we can have a quick bite and buy some water. The first stop of the tour is at a nice viewpoint over the valley and surrounding landscape. Then we go for a walk throught the valley of death, called like this because there is almost nothing growing on this dry grounds. Finally we arrive at the center of the moonvalley where there is a kind of crater with a huge sand dune on one side. The guide tells us to walk up for the sun set. The walk is more breathtaking then it looked like, and finallt we reach the top. A beautifull view and spectacular colours when the sun finally sets. We try to ski down the hill and with shoes full of sand we arrive back in town around 7. We pick up Inge and Paul, 2 belgians we met in the hostal to go for our first Chilean restaurant. Besides the good food and wine, we write down some good tips for the rest of Chile and go to bed early.
24/03/02 to Antofagasta
We book a bus for the afternoon to go to Antofagasta and be lazy all day. We want to get a flight down to the far south of Chile as soon as possible but the closest city to book suchg flights is 5 hours away. Also Martin joins us because it is on the way to Santiago as well. Around 11pm we check in in Atofagosta and follow the Oscars on our cable tv television in the room !
25/03/02 to Santiago
Today seems to be our lucky day. We find a cheap flight from Santiago to Punta Arenas and also a cheap bus fare to Santiago. After a picknick with real cheese at the harbour we catch our next bus, this time a long one. 18 hours, but it includes dinner and a small breakfast. It is certainly the most comfortable bus we had so far.
We slept like a rose on the bus and use the metro and our feet to arrive at hostal Indiana, one of the cheapest central hostals for backpackers. It is a nice old house with high ceilings and big rooms, but the owners decided to paint it in all kinds of blurry coulours, from pink over bleu and yellow to red. It looks more like a circus then a hostal. We are not sleepy at all so we take of for the city. We eat a typical Chilean snack as breakfast: hot dogs. Here they call then completos, and they come with tomato and/or avocado, and lots of mayonaise and katchup. Then we wander around in the shopping mall and check our mails. Afterwards Sofie decided to get her hair cut (finally) and me and Martin wander around and get some pictures developed. It is a great feeing to be in a big çivilised'city agian. It is not that other south american cities are behind are uncivilised, but this is what we Europeans are more used to. In the afternoon we take the metro to get to the Usit office. We finally decided to which date we change our flights. We know it will be impossible to reach Caracas again by 1st of june without having to skip lots of nice parts of Brazil and Argentina. So Sofie decides to come back 1st of July and I will stay some more untill the end of July. The Usit office is great and the girl very helpfull and friendly.
Back to the hostal and time for some cooking. we get wine and pasta and have a last supper with our dear friend Martin. It is almost time to say goodbye after a few weeks travelling together.
27/03/02 to Punta Arenas
We leave early with a taxybus to the terminal and check in quite on time for our long flight to Patagonia. There are 2 stop overs on the way down and the more south we go the nicers the views become. Gletshers, mountian peaks, fjords, lakes... Finally in the afternoon we land in Punta Arenas. We go to the nice guesthouse recommended by An and Daan and it is very different from a normal hostal. It is the house of a family and you use the same kitchen they do, use their living room and bathroom. Very nice people and a cosy house with a hot stove and lots of small kittens.
28/03/02 Punta Arenas
We leave quite early after breakfast to go to the 'zona franca', a type of tax free zone. We can't really find a cheap tent and sleeping bag so it seems to be true that it is not cheaper for all products. At least I find some good lightweight hiking boots, as my old ones are quite low and definately need some replacement. We also find some camping pots but no stove. Back in the guesthouse 2 sympathic scottish guys want to sell us their tent. Brand news, only used once and quite expensive. We buy it for half the original price which still is more then the cheaper tents we could by in Puerto Natales, but it seems to be quality...
After some In the afternoon we head to the tour office were we bought the ticket to go see the pinguin colonies. They have bad news for us aand say the colony is closed aand no more tour visits go. Too bad for us, we get our money back and return to the hostal. Just 15 minutes later the bell rings and the person at the door asks if anybody wants to go to the pinguin colony. We run and jump in the van quickly. The reserve where the colony stays is closed, but this tour agency knows the guard of the reserve. Once there the gate opens and we get in. We find out why they close the colony as we try to count the number of maggelanic pinguins that are still her. We guess it is about 50. Some of them are standing ready to go on the beach. They will go for hotter regions on the atlantic coast of Argentina and even Brasil. When the sun starts setting we go for some hotter regions as well, back into the mini bus. In the evening we cook a simple pasta on the stove and pack our bags for the next bus.
29/03/02 to Ushuaia, Argentina
The bus leaves at 7 am and it is going to be a long day. There is no quick way to Ushuaia and the bus has to go north east first, then cross the strait of Magalen by ferry, and then drive south east for hours before turning west to Ushuaia. It is a long bus ride but the isolated and deserted 'tierra del fuego', Fireland, gives us a special feeling. After a border crossing into Argentina and a few hours more we start getting into the accidented landscape of the so called énd of the world'. Ushuaia is the last town on this continent and the closest to Antartica. a few channels and rocky islands down is the cape Horn. Half our trip is finished.
From Caracas to Ushuaia and back. From now on only to the north, back to Caracas.
We rushed down quite quickly from the north of Chile all the way to Patagonia. The winter is coming in quickly in the south so the sooner we get down, the more chance to see pinguins and seals the more chance for camping in 'Torres del Paine' national park and hiking without being frozen.
05/04/2002 Back to Chile
It is time to go back to Chile for the hiking in the Torres del paine national park. We get the bus to Puerto Natales through remote and isolated land. When we arrive in the Chilean village it is time for shopping.
We want to camp for 5 days so we get pasta and sauce, salami and bread, a gas stove and gas, a sleeping bag , ... Not cheap but still a lot cheaper than sleeping in the refugios. In the hostal we meet 2 tsjechs and an Australian who are going to to another circuit, we shoul meat them the last they on the way back.
06/04/2002 Torres del paine, day 1
The bus brinngs us to the eastern park entrance. From there a minibus will bring us up to the refugio where the W circuit starts. The W circuit is a trek doing the eastern side of the mountains, then down to the south center, from there straight up north to the valley on top, down again to the south west and a last trek up to the glaciar on the western side. Another option is doin the circular circuit, all the way arounf the mountain massive. We say goodbye to the Tsjech and Australain who leave for the ciscular circuit. On the way up the first part of the W is also a French guy, programmer, and a crazy French writer women. They speed up as if energy is for free for them and we only see them again when they are sun bating up at the river. After a first heavy hike of only 3 hours (but exhausted) we reach the free campsite at the foot of the Torres de paine. We put on the tent and I decide to go up to the torres, even with rain and clouds coming in quickly. I have a good gore tex vest and perfect rainpants and for this is the first time they have been tested so thoroughly by the laws of nature. On the way up I pass the french who warn me I´ll probably not get a clear view because of the fog. They are rght but still I´m happy to have reached this ´magical place´. On the way down I even get more soaked and I wander how the tent is holding out. I recon Sofie is inside praying for the rain to stop. It is difficult to get in the tent with leaving my wet clothes outside. Everything is wet, at leat on the outside. An hour later it is dark and two hungry Belgians are stuck in a small wet tent because of the rain. This is a free camping spot, and except for a fresh water stream running through it there is only a smell shed of wood and some plastic. I decide to run to eat and to see if it is possible to cook in there. I meat a funny english speaking couple. He is from the states and she is polish. While cooking my pot of pasta they made a fire inside to driy thier clothes and tent as the tent was flooded being in a bad camping spot. Luckily for them and for us the rain stops and we will not see it again for another for days.
07/04/2002 Torres del paine day 2
The sun wakes us up and we are ready for the long trek to the Los Cuernos camping. It should be about 8 hours so we leave early after some eggs with bread and cheese. The walk down is quite comfortable and after 4 hours our legs still feel ok. We stop and cook some soup and take of again with a great view on the lake at the foot of our hill. The next 3 hours are really tiring going up and down, with a strong wind hitting us in the face. The last hour we both walk on empty batteries and automatic pilot. A first blister brakes and I´m happy I can see the refugio and campsite just 100 meters off. Normally it is a pay camping but the busride the first day included one free campnight in the price. It is really a cosy place, with big windows giving out to the colourfull scenery of the mountains and lake when the sun sets. the gaslamps go on and we dissapear in the kitchen for another pot of pasta. The tent is outside and the sky is clear so it will be freezing for sure.
08/04/2002 Torres del paine day 3
We wake up comfortably hot, as both our sleeping bags carry out their duty well. Mine goes untill minus 2 as extreme temparature. While braking up the tent our hands almost freeze off as some ice is formed from comdensation on the inside of the inside of the outside tent. We have a hot tea and eggs and decide to get up to the Italian camp as quickly as possible. It is just 2 hours and from there we will continue the next day. It is still quite cold when we set up the tent and prepare for the hike up into the franch central valley. The sky is blue and it promises to be a nice hike. The first part passes a glaciar which sometimes rumbles and rolls when snow and ice run down the slopes. The colourfull forest to get up to the river and the entrance of the valley. Sofie is finished and decided to take some sun on a rock at the river. I continue another hour to reach the french camping. Just a spot, nothing more. From here it is only a few hundred meters up to be above the tree level and enjoy the views. It is great and just look around untill my stomagh yells for some food. I still have a freeze dried pasta and I also took the stove and some fresh water. While eating I notice there are some Dutch guys here as well. We have some chats and then also the two french arrive. It is a nice bunch here in this marvellous site. After they all leave I enjoy the sun and silence for another hour before turning back. When darkness falls I arrive at the camp and find Sofie. She enjoyed her sunbath a lot and fell a sleep there on the rock for some hours untill a preoccupied french guy asked if everything was ok. We watch some start from the hang bridge over the river and then join the dutch campfire where we have some chips and vodka.
09/04/2002 Torres del paine day 4
The campsite is in full shadow so we decide to break up and have breakfast on the way down to the refugio at the lake. From that refugio you can take the boat back to the bus stop, and it is also the starting place for the last trail of the W, up to the Grey glacier. But Sofie feels quite destructed when we are at the refugio at the lake, especially her back is hurting. I really want to continue and talk her into taking a smaller bag leaving the unnecesary stuff in hte refeugio. We have bean carrying around a big bag with 15 kilos of food, rainclothes, tent and gas stove, sleeping bags... I take the big bag with everything except Sofies sleeping bag and clothes. 4 hours from here to Grey off which the biggest half is up. A strong wind is trying to stop us, but we don´t give in. A few kilometers from the site we see our friend from Tsjechia nad Australia. The first two look happy but the Australain guy seems to be suffering. He tells us later that he´s walking on rented hiking shoes, so full of blisters.
From the refugio and camping it is a small hike to see the fromt of the glaciar. Coming closer and closer to it the weather gods really want to stop us. We stand there in the hail trying to have a quick look of the glaciar.
The tent is put up and we settle down in the really cosy and hot refugio. We normally can´t use a kitchen, but the super freindly talks of the french woman opens the kitchen door quite easliy. We decide to celebrate our succes of doing the W circuit and buy some Gato Negro wine. Also the Australian Ann and English dude Craig join us with some wine.
10/04/2002 Torres del paine day 5
The boat back is at midday so we have to leave before 8 am to be one time. After reaching the top it is a peice of cake to get back . On the way also the french and Ann and Craig reach us and together we go on the boat and stretch out our legs. After some chatting the bus arrives and most people fall alseep quite quickly. After a shower and foot inspection we enjoy some real food, salmon with schrimp sauce and fresh mashed potatoes. We meet Emma and James again in the restaurant, the couple that was on the jeep tour of Uyuni with us.
11/04/2002 Puerto Natal
Tomorrow we will leave with the boat for a four day trip up to Puerto Monnt. Everybody advised us to get some drinks on land as they are more expensive on the boat. We get some liter of Gato Negro wine and cheap bottle of vodka (2 US $ for 1 liter). A nice relaxed day to recover from our hiking advebture.
12 - 14/04/2002 cruise to Puerto Monnt
We already boarded the Puerto Eden the night before and got to know some of the other tourists on board. Ann and Craig are there as well, also a Swiss girl and German we guy we saw in one of the refugios. The Dutch guy of the campfire, some Austrailans we saw before as well. There is not much to do on the boat except for looking outsied from the deck or the bridge, drinking and playing card games. Breakfast is at 8am, lunch at noon, evening dinner at 6 sharp. The food is not bad for being on a boat, and definately better and more varied then 5 days camping. We have a lot of fun and enjoy beautifull sunsets, jumping dolfins, seals and great weather. The German guy beats me with chess 3 times in a row on the roof deck, but I must say the games where exiting untill the near end. The last evening we decide with Ann and Craig to rent a car once on land for exploring Chiloe island and the surroundings of Purto Monnt and Osorno.
We have to leave the boat early as we already arrive the night before. We get a hotdog for breakfast and try to find a rental car. The girls go shopping and me and Craig wait for the car. At noon we are ready to leave, of to Chiloe. Chiloe is a big island, only half an hour by ferry from the mainland. It was one of the last places where the Spanish tried to rule and stay boss. The traditional cultures of the fishing villages and the beautifull wooden churches is what attracts so many people to the island. We have a nice lunch stop in one of the small villages and find a family house where we can sleep in Castro. Today Ann and Craig cook and the food is great. Some more wine and then to bed.
16/04/2002 Cucao, pacific coast
We drive of to the national park of Cucao at the pacific coast. There is a lot of wind and only few people. We drive to the end, trying to find bread and end up close to the beach. The wind is so strong the it is possible to walk like Michael Jackson. Spectacular nature again, this far from the modern world with fabrics and noise. Here it is only the wind that blows and makes the noise ruling over anything else.
After asking around for an hour we finally find some bread and are lucky as outside the rain comes down in buckets. We decide not to go in the park with this weather but to drive around and visit some other small towns and churches in stead. One of the most famous ones is the chusrch of Chonchi, but when we get there we find out the top gas been blasted of during a storm about a month ago. We visit the local culture and traditon museum insted. This evening me adn Sofie cook and we tuck in a little bit earlier this ime, after some nice chats and wine.
17/04/2002 to Puerto Octay
We drive of early to takesome nice pictures of the pittoresk palafito house (houses on stilths) and the wooden church of Nercon. This church can be visited as a museum, explaing the roof cuople is made using the techniques of making a boat kiel. Not one peace of metal was used when the church was built, it was completely made of wood. Afterwards we drive back to the ferry and pass Peurto Monnt to go to Puerto Octay. This ia small village next to a lake with a view on the Osorno vulcano. When we arrive at ´the yellow´shoe hostal we can see the vulcano clearly, for the first but also the last time. The house is built by a Swiss giy and his Chilean wife. Very cosy and in a quite, beautifull location.
18/04/2002 Puerto Octay
We drive to the Cascades town where there should be a nice waterfull. Through the forest on a bumpy land road we reach the river we´ll have to hike up. It is not very difficult except for the last part where it seems impossible to reace the fall from theis side off the river. In a heroic attempt of reaching the other side I slip on a rock and land with both feet in the water. Unsuccesfull and also wet I get back to the car and we drive back too the town for a thee and a peice of cake. Our dear friends Ann and Craig will leave, lets hope we will once meet them again. Me and Sofie do some walks around the town, trying to get another viww on The Osorno vulcano, but it is always covered with clouds. We get the bikes of the house and drive of to the lake but turn back when dark clouds start threatening us. This place is really relaxed and must be beautifull if the weather is perfect.
We arrive early in the morning and wait for the first metro to go from bus terminal to the Indiana hostal. In the metro and on the streets are a lot of people with a badge saying ´censo´on there jacket. We check in and when we want to go eat we find everything closed. Today is the day of the censo, when the country is being counted. The vbisit you at home, have some question list about study level, income, childresn, ... They tell us everything will open again after 5 pm. We are very happy getting some food at 5 and then we take a movie break. A ´beautifull mind´ is quite good movie, we both liked it a lot.
When Sofie studied in Spain she lived with a Chilean guy called Tuto. The nephew of Tuto, Raoul came to visit his nephew in Barca and Sofie and me went to party him a few times. He told us that when he goes back to Santiago he wanted to by a motorcycle and open a bar. We called him and afterwards surprises him at the bar in barrio Nunoa. He did do what he said, only the motorcycle was sold already, his long hair and beard where gone, and he just got married !! A lot of good old memories and stories from his friends. A really nice evening out in Santiago.
We decided to go 2 days to Valparaiso, the coastal town of Santiago. It used to be the Monaco of Chile, as it was an imortant international port when cargo ships still rounded the cape Horn. Now it is a poor city but with interesting wooden architecture on the several hills that form the town. On the way to the center suddenly something hit me in the neck. It was a blurry chocolate coloured flew, splashed on me from behind. A guy shows up with a napkin and points up like something fell from the sky. Off course we would have liked me to drop my back so he could clean me and his accomplish could run off with the bag. But we know this trick so we walk on and look angry. We found a bedroom in Stella Maris, the house of a french priest who is like the chaplain of the barrio. The same evening there is some goodbye party for some members of the community that go on a pension. We stroll around the smell curvinf streets and enjoy a beautifull sunset. The way of transport up the hills is by some type of elevator, mountain train. Nice, quick and cheap.
We walk up to the cementerio where we find all foreigner names on the graves. Enlgish, American, Polish, Russion, ... Immigrants from all over the woprld settles her when the international port was still important.
Afterwards we visit one of the house of Pablo Neruda, the famous Chilean poet. La Sebastiana is only one af many houses Neruda owned around the coast. Very nice and also a little bit extravagant at parts.
In the afternoon we go back to Santiago and the Indiana hostal. We try to reach Raoul for another night out but he has some family obligations.
I don´t feel really well. Maybe from the wine of the day before, but it is the perfect day for some extra sleeping and a lot of doing nothing. In the afternoon we catch another movie, this time ´Spy games´. Not a bad movie but neither to remember. It is time to leave Chile so we take the nightbus to Mendoza.
Chile is a very developed country, if you compare it to the rest of South America. Santiago could be a city in Spain or Italy, quality of life here is better then in lots of countries that want to join the European union. The people are very nice and the nature, from desert in the north over the lake district and camino austral to Patagonia are astonishing.