Letter to Home – Month 2: January

Can I just say how much I love Patagonia!  So this month’s update is going to be a big one. Here we go…

January was an amazing month to discover some of what Patagonia possesses – glaciers, forests, mountains, snow, blue azure lakes, etc.. just all simply stunning!

Picking up from where I left off in December, I was in Valparaiso for New Years, where I went especially for the fireworks show. The year before, I had spent it in Alice Springs, NT, which was immensely anticlimactic in terms of fireworks. So I thought the next year, I have to go where they do a mammoth display – I decided on Valparaiso, Chile.

Valparaiso is on the west coast of Chile, and is part of a stretch of gorgeous beaches, so they put on the fireworks show that spreads along 5 of the bays.
But I admit the show was a bit strange – they do a small burst at 12am, then wait around 5 minutes, so that people can celebrate, kiss, hug etc.. Then the 20 minute show begins, so that all eyes can be on it to enjoy!

valparaiso fireworks - just exploren
See what I mean?? Gorgeous New Years Fireworks Show in Valparaiso, Chile

In the morning, 1st Jan, I had to sort out my next big bus trip down to Puerto Natales, so I could start my Torres del Paine trek on the 4th Jan. The only bus I could grab that would get me down there on time, was leaving that night.

At 10pm, after a good day walking around Valpo, I was in for a 2 day bus extravaganza.
In fact it’s the longest I’ve done so far, some 3,200kms. First leg, Valparaiso to Osorno, 14 hours. Then changing to another bus at 1pm, that went to Punta Arenas right at the bottom of Chile, that reached there at 5pm the next day! The first bus I didn’t see much, due to being nighttime. The second one was gorgeous, as it weaved into Argentina, and around the lakes district. I would love to do this bus journey again! Although we had to enter Argentina near the start of the trip, and then exit again near the bottom, to get down to Punta Arenas, Chile. They can be lengthy procedures as commented on last month!

Then the 3rd leg was 3 hours from Punta Arenas to Puerto Natales, reaching the final destination at 8.30pm. Thankfully, Southern Patagonia has an almost midnight sun at that time of year! So I could still find my accommodation at 9 at night! And talk to mum at 10pm at night! It finally got dark at around 11pm.

The township Puerto Natales was simply gorgeous, I stayed in the middle of the town, by the shops, and it was a short walk to the marina/wharf area. It is located beside a channel, and across the way, you could see so many snow capped mountains. It was a sight to behold, and a definite pinch me moment!

Next day, I woke at 6.30am, and set off to Torres del Paine National Park.  Myself, and around 40 strangers, went on a bus, and after around 1.5 hours we could see the celebrity peaks, ‘Las Torres’ – another ‘just wow’ moment!
It was so incredible that myself, and many other people from around the world, could be gobsmacked from the scenery, and the only noises apart from the bus, were camera and phone clicks!

At around 10am, we got to the office, we all signed in and paid the $38USD fee. There are a few different walks at the park, You can do the ‘O’ circuit which is around 8 days, clockwise or anticlockwise. Then there is the ‘W’ trek, which is around 4 days, done east to west or vice versa. I chose to do the ‘W’ West to East, as the main highlight ‘Las Torres’ would be at the end, and be my reward for the hard trekking.  After a catamaran across Lake Pehoe, I was at the bottom left of the ‘W’.

Here was the moment of truth, and start walking! The first leg was up to the top left of the ‘W’, to stay the night at Refugio Grey by the Grey Glacier. I can’t believe how blimin’ windy it was!
The toughest part for me was crossing over a peak of the walk, and the wind kept slamming me into the rocky wall! Grrr! I’m normally quite nice, but that wind!!  I was so angry at it lol!

The next day (the 5th), I set off for the glacier to check it out, then walked back in my footsteps. Again, I dealt with the crazy wind, and once I reached the refugio by Lake Pehoe, I thought, sod it, I might stay here the night if there is room, instead of walking to the next refugio I was booked at – 4 hours away! Fortunately there was room, so I booked myself in, charged my phone, napped, and gorged myself on choc brownie dessert!

I ended up loving the start of the 3rd day, even though I had so much to catch up on. It was more sheltered from the conditions, and was absolutely stunning. I loved walking towards the stripey Cuernos peaks, and crossing bridges over fast flowing streams and rivers. Very reminiscent of some parts of NZ.

Although jam packed of glorious landscapes, it was such a long day! It ended up being 12 hours, 61,728 steps/31.38 kms! I did have a bit of a time waster, a so called “short cut” near the bottom right of the W, that would’ve shaved off some of the point. But after a while, the sign posts died off, and I couldn’t see many signs of life.
My pop (granddad), was infamous in our family for his shortcuts and getting himself into trouble, and now I was envisioning myself getting the same reputation! I knew there were bulls, pumas etc around this area, and I was really keen on not meeting any!

So there I was looking like a chicken without its head, looking for anything that resembled a track! Finally I found one, and after a really steep, gravel hill climb for an hour, I reached my refugio!  I was so freaking exhausted, but man was I proud!

Last day of the trek, I ended up sleeping in until 8am, and missing the walk to the base of Las Torres for sunrise, and had to do it mid morning.  Sometimes it’s ok when an idea can change, because when I got up there, I was the only one there!  For about an hour, I had these incredible towers, in all their beautiful glory, that are featured in Chile’s tourism promo’s and billboards, and they were all mine.  Such a precious moment.  It was just wonderful sitting on a rock, memorizing the moment, and feeling so grateful for it…

las torres - just exploren
The stunning Las Torres (towers), at Torres del Paine National Park

After my time, I set my way back down, and passed hoards of people and groups heading up! It was amazing – I must’ve passed around 100 people, who would be all up there together!  Thank you to my amazing guardian angel!

Then it was a walk back to another refugio, where I caught the bus back to Puerto Natales, not surprising I slept most of the way!  What a great few days that had been!  Lots of highs and lows, literally and metaphorically!  There were so many parts of it where I struggled, but in the end, I was super happy with myself, and I’m looking forward to doing it again, but with more time, like 2 weeks!

For the next few days, I decided to rest up and recuperate in Punta Arenas, rather than Ushuaia in Argentina (next time!). I stayed at such a lovely modern hostel, that had sea views. And I spent a couple of the days, visiting penguins. I saw the majestic King Penguins in Tierra del Fuego, and the funny personalities of the Magellanic species.

On the 13th Jan, I travelled to El Calafate in Argentina, and visited the Glaciarium, and it’s Ice Bar, and also did a day tour to the Perito Moreno Glacier. I don’t think I’ve stared at anything for 3 hours, like I did at the glacier!
It is a fast calving glacier, which means that it quite often has chunks of ice fall off and dive into the azure blue lake, Lago Argentino.

It is utterly fixating!  You constantly stare at it, because you would hate it if you missed parts of it falling off. You may be looking along the width of the glacier, and then you would hear a loud clap of thunder, although it is actually a small chunk coming off and falling. Though these ‘small’ chunks are the size of cars!

Next up was El Chalten on the 15th, until the 19th, and I was excited to meet up with Megan, who I met in our Valparaiso hostel over New Years. We heard about Mirador de los Condores, and ventured up to the viewpoint.
I know you guys will get sick of these words, but like most places I saw, the view was gorgeous…
I mean sickeningly lovely – the town of El Chalten below, with it’s weaving river, and the peaks of Fitz Roy with the last of the golden sun shining on it… I mean come on!! Another place to put on your bucket lists!

The next day, we had organised a horse trek, and for the 2 hours of it, I was terrified! My horse near the start of the trek front reared, when going down a small hill to the river. Thankfully I stayed on! Didn’t really enhance a love for horses!!  My one had recently been separated from her son, and kept whinnying for him as well!
Meanwhile, Megan had a lovely horse, and managed to gallop a bit!

A bit later, I had very welcome drink, and received the best pasta meal I’ve had! Pumpkin Ravioli! – If you are ever in that neck of the woods, be sure to check out “Cerveceria Artesanal El Chalten” and order that meal!

A couple of days later after a few walks, and more food sampling, Megan went down to Ushuaia, and I headed up to El Bolson on another bus, this time for 22 hours. The hippy town came highly recommended by a couple of other travellers, and it was well worth the add on.

I only stayed there for 1 night, but I really loved it. I stayed at a neat place, that was really homely. The property was made up of a few buildings, with a stream in the backyard, cute bridges, tree lined river at the back, lavender fields nearby, hammocks, onsite restaurant, and best of all, offered Yoga in the mornings viewing the lavender fields. Pure. Bliss

After Yoga, I went searching for a ice creamery, and farm that produces many things including cheeses. The Ice Cream was AMAZING!! I got 3 flavours of sorbet, and it came in a waffle bowl, berries, choc almonds, and walnuts. – I’m dying inside writing this!

Bariloche was the next place I hopped up to.
Bariloche was like the best parts of Switzerland in one little town, surrounded by blue lakes, snow capped mountains, St Bernard dogs as the photographed mascot of the town, and your daily diet consisted of multiple stops at ice creameries and chocolate shops.

Nearby, to Bariloche, I had heard of Circuito Chico, and on 1 of the days I headed off to do it. Right from word go it was a mission. First to catch the bus to the starting point.. I had to wait for the 2nd one since they were so packed, then to stand most of the way until a seat became free, etc.. It was a beautiful day, but I felt apprehensive somehow.
The reason became apparent after around 30 mins, when I was on the first part of the trail, and this tiny, leaf covered, tree stump coming out of the ground, literally made me fly..

…into the ground!

I fell over so hard, and landed on my left hip bone, and also skinned 2 knees, albow, and hurt my right ribs! I was so winded, and cried for about 15 mins on the dirt track from the shock! I could barely move!

So I gave up the idea of completing it, and angrily stomped my way back to the bus stop!  I was feeling a bit better after 10 mins on the bus, so I got off at the Cerro Campanario, and went up on chairlift. Amazing amazing views! Wow it was breathtaking!  Too good for words, so hears a picture! :

You can just make out the skinned knees! 😉

Next day I was off to Buenos Aires (BA)!
I was fortunate enough that Lucas (who I met on the Inca Trail), said that I could stay with him. So after another long journey from Bariloche, I landed in BA’s surburbia which I loved!  Lucas and Erica (who also was on the Inca Trail), then took me off to La Boca, BA’s colorful neighbourhood. It was so great! We also went to San Telmo and it’s market, and Puerto Madero for late lunch.

The next day I went to the shopping mall nearby to get some things that I had lost along the way, but while I was at Starbucks checking my balance… Umm where’s lots of my money gone???!!!

After calling the bank, and a series of heart palpitations! I found out my card had been skimmed/read and then money had been taken out. To say the least, it has been a mission to sort out!

On the 26th, I went off to Uruguay for a couple of days.  As it was an international water crossing, I cleared customs in BA, boarded the ferry, and then entered Montevideo, Uruguay a couple of hours later. After setting down my bags at the hostel, I went to explore the city, including: Ciudad Viejo, Cathedral and the Fish Market, Playa (Beach) Pocitos and Montevideo letters, Punta Carretas lighthouse & Playa Ramirez for sunset.

The next day, I went to Colonia del Sacramento by bus.  A lovely small town with tree lined streets, ivy and bougainvillea covered buildings, and a lovely lighthouse built above a ruined convent, set next to the ocean. I loved walking around this town and it’s cobblestoned streets, aahhh..  In the afternoon, I caught the ferry back across to BA, and stayed 1 more night with Lucas, and then I met back up with Megan at her hostel in BA’s CBD.

We strolled around its city centre, and albeit BA’s lovely buildings, we decided we didn’t like the city centre so much, as it was so loud and chaotic.

So the next evening, we bused to Iguazu Falls on the Argentinian side. This was my favourite bus journey as we got a small bottle of wine!, great food, and my seat could become almost flat. First class baby…

The next day after exploring the town, we went to the famous falls, and proceeded to get drenchedby the rain!!  It never stopped!  Megan and I also wanted to go do the jetboat near the falls, so we didn’t have to worry about getting wet!!  It was so much fun on the boat, but there were times you couldn’t see – so much water!! ..and I wear contacts!
Thankfully still had them in afterwards!! Amazing day!

iguazu falls - just exploren
Gorgeous Iguazu (at that time was a brief stop in rainfall)

 

Sorry for the long novel, but that ends my second month of travelling.

As a summary of sorts, here are my highlights from January:

Countries visited: 3
Chile, Argentina & Uruguay

Highlights:
1. Having the famous peaks of Las Torres to myself for an hour – something even money can’t buy
2. Some of the best food I have ever experienced, throughout Argentina.
3. Catching up with new friends in Argentina – Megan, Lucas & Erica

Lowlights:
1. Finding out in BA that my card was skimmed in Bariloche, and lots of money was taken!
2. Pouring rain in Iguazu Falls, sometimes was quite hard to see!
3. More ouches: Tripping over a tiny tree branch out of the ground in Bariloche, and consequently having skinned knees, hand and albow,  sore ribs, and being quite winded!

A Funny:
Doing my video blog post one day in Montevideo, and I’m talking away, when a guy comes up behind me, and gives me such a fright, as he waves at the camera lol!

A Challenge:
Still the language I hate to say!  Slowly getting a bit better, and I can understand more when listening, but the speech side of things is still not great..

Take care, and talk next month, while I’ll keep exploRen x


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