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Old 02-09-2013, 10:40 AM   #331
csustewy OP
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El Chaltén

From Baja Caracoles, we headed south towards el Chaltén, passing through Gobernador Gregores for some gas and food along the way.


(Gotta love the ñandús)

We had been driving on gravel and camping for some time at this point, so we were both tired and not looking to ride long miles. Instead of pushing for distance, we stopped when we saw a good place to wild camp, set up the tent and still had time to relax a bit near Lago Cardiel. The two liters of water we travel with went quickly due to the surprisingly high temperatures we had in this dry environment. Lago Cardiel was calling. The lake looked super close, but it ended up taking about an hour to get to the water. Making the trek in flip-flops did not turn out to be the best choice since the terrain was full of stabby grasses and bushes. Once we made it to the lake, we discovered that this was not a typical beautiful Patagonian glacier lake, but was instead a murky, stagnant, brackish lake. And the filter didn't want to work. After spending probably an hour getting the filter to produce two liters of water, we made the hike back.


(Mike at the "beach")


(The sunset was spectacular over our perfect spot to camp.)

Highway 40 is full of nothing until you get to Tres Lagos, where there is a gas station (although no gas when we were there) that has empanadas. Once you turn towards el Chaltén, however, you have this view to keep you occupied.




(this view of town isn't too shabby either)

As mentioned earlier, we had been camping, often with no facilities, for quite a while and it was definitely time for a bed (and laundry, but that didn't quite happen....). Unfortunately, el Chaltén is a little expensive, but we were fine with spending a little money for a room. We even sprung for a private room in a hostel instead of a dorm bed. Classy.

El Chaltén was established in 1985 and functions solely around tourism, as Parque Nacional de los Glaciares is extremely popular among climbers and trekkers. There is free camping in the park at some beautiful hike-in locations. We didn't really come equipped to hike-in to a campsite, so instead we took a couple day hikes.

Day one was Cerro Torre.


(This person has the right idea with the "Drugstore" kiosko/bar trailer at the base of the trail)


(just another view)


(This was at the top)


(coming back down was nice too)

Day two was Laguna de los Tres ("Three Lakes", more or less) hike, about 6 miles one way, but with a 1,200 foot elevation gain in the last hour, we felt like we did something at the end of the day. Lots of people on the trail, and this is also where climbers take off to climb Fitz Roy. It seemed like it would rain all day, but we got lucky and only got some periodic sprinkles.






(One of the three lakes at the top)


(This is the second lake. Not quite sure where the third one is.)


(view on the way back to town)




(Fitz Roy with clouds...)


(...and without)


(Town)

Our hostel, Albergue Patagonia, was a really great place to stay, and the staff was super nice. They let us store our stuff all day, then come back and shower and fix dinner before we left the hostel. We got out of town a ways after all that, and found a wild camping spot with a view.

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Old 02-09-2013, 05:11 PM   #332
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We got out of town a ways after all that, and found a wild camping spot with a view.

Looks as if you set the tent on the road... very cool. Awesome pictures and report.
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Old 02-10-2013, 07:56 AM   #333
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I Must get to Argentina, Chile, Puru, ASAP!


Absolutely stunning scenery.
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Old 02-10-2013, 08:25 AM   #334
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Looks as if you set the tent on the road... very cool. Awesome pictures and report.
It does look like that, and it's even kinda true. But this road was just the path to check the fenceline, so luckily the risk of anyone driving into us was about 0.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Hotmamaandme View Post
I Must get to Argentina, Chile, Puru, ASAP!


Absolutely stunning scenery.
Definitely put those places on your short list! We continue to be amazed daily. Tomorrow we set off for a few days of hiking through Torres del Paine, which should give us some more incredible vistas...
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Old 02-10-2013, 08:29 AM   #335
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Do you like Perito Moreno?...

...And long walks in the rain?
Thankfully, we didn't have much rain to walk in. But we did have some nothingness once we made it back to Highway 40.



Our main purpose of going to el Calafate, like most people, was to see the Perito Moreno glacier. This glacier is one of three Patagonian glaciers that are growing and advancing, is 3 miles wide, and about 250 feet tall. The glacier has major ruptures every 4-5 years and has smaller breaks and cracks several times every day, which are very audible.









After sitting around for several hours watching the glacier and drinking wine, it was time to find some free camping. There was a great campground called La Huala within the National Park, but on a different road than the glacier. There were no bathrooms, but the site was well organized with a beautiful view and lots of drunk Argentines in RVs.


(on the way to camp)


(view from the campsite)




(I'm sure this place has never heard of McDonald's. Or maybe they have the "Big Mic".)

We left the next morning without finding a need to spend much time in el Calafate other than to get gas and some food. People were very interested in the bike there, and she was probably in more photos than anywhere else we have been. Leaving el Calafate we definitely felt the strong Patagonian winds that everyone talks about, even stronger than what we felt south of San Rafael. Up to this point, we have been extremely lucky with the weather with no rain and almost no wind. We still haven't seen the worst of it, but have now had a couple days of hard, cold wind getting down to Punta Arenas.


(Mike made a creepy friend along the way, as usual)


(If you look really hard in this picture, you should see a fox. There were actually two of them beside the road, but I was too slow to get a good shot.)

We arrived in Puerto Natales cold, tired and in need of a shower. We found a good but expensive hostel in The Singing Lamb Backpackers , paying $20 each for a dorm room.


(The hostel cat loved sleeping on the motorcycle.)

After a night in Puerto Natales, we headed to Punta Arenas on another cold, windy, boring ride. We hoped to buy lots of motorcycle and outdoor stuff at the free trade zone, but were a bit disappointed with the Zona Franca in general.



It seemed just like a bad outlet mall in the Midwest. Although Mike was able to get some cheap oil for an oil change, we didn't buy anything else there. Perhaps the best thing in the Zona Franca was the good exchange rate for Argentine Pesos, at over 7 pesos to 1 US dollar, it is the best you are going to get in southern Patagonia. You can find the cambios in the big mall near the Sanchez y Sanchez.

Asking around for tires took us to RecaSur in Zona Franca, which had some moto parts, but more for offroad bikes. They directed us to Alejandro Lagos, who Mike had seen mentioned on the HUBB and ADVrider, as the guy to go to for anything moto related and who also rents BMWs. It seems that he took over the MotoAventura shop from a guy named Gonzalo who was highly recommended. Maybe Gonzalo is still around town (in fact, Gonzalo's shop, MotoEscar, still has a sign up at Carrerra 666, but we never saw the shop opened...), but this Alejandro guy was not our favorite. While he did have tires in stock, he was very expensive. Additionally, he was a bit condescending and wanted to charge a hefty fee (~US$45) to change the tires himself. Given that, deciding not to have him change the tires was easy, then it was easy to decide to give him as little money as possible when he wouldn't let me change my own oil - with oil and filter purchased from him - without paying him extra, claiming the expense of having someone take the used oil away. Throughout Latin America (hell, even in the states), shops have let us drop the old oil without any problem, including the shop we found in Santiago and RecaSur here in Pta Arenas, and the workshop at our hostel, and almost anywhere else. At most of those shops, we haven't bought a thing, sometimes we just buy a filter (~US$5), and other times the oil too. To be asked to pay to leave old oil was too much. On top of that, Alejandro strongly insisted that the wrong model HiFlo oil filter was the correct one for the TA, even though Mike told him the correct code for the same brand (okay, okay, maybe the one he was trying to sell could have worked, but it still isn't the right one). But I'll stop ranting now. We bought (an expensive at ~US$110) MT-60 front tire from Alejandro anyways, and took it to the gas station to change it (to use their free compressor).

The good moto shop experience we had was at Pablo Paredes Motos Honda shop. They had an MT-90 rear tire in stock for ~US$140 (much less than any of Alejandro's offerings), let me work in their shop, brought over tools, grease, tire lube, anything I needed, usually before I asked. They even told us to stop sweeping up after we finished working, that they were going to sweep the whole shop and not to worry about it. The guys in the shop were that helpful, and the woman running the parts side was maybe even more so. She knew what she had on hand, offered to order anything else necessary, and was genuinely interested in making sure we were all set. We even ended up stopping back in there on the way north to pick up a chain. Granted, this chain was expensive as it was Honda OEM, but I don't have any problem giving money to such wonderful people (and in full disclosure, I did ask around for cheaper alternatives, but no other O-ring chains available). They were fantastic. Highly recommended!

Pablo Paredes Motos
Magallanes 330
Punta Arenas
Fono/fax: (56-61) 224239
Cel: (09) 92267148
Emal: pablo_paredes_motos@yahoo.es
GPS: S 53 deg 09.370 min / W 70 deg 54.033 min

The 4 days or so we hung out in Punta Arenas was more than sufficient. Of course, in our usual way, we managed to include a Sunday in there, when nothing can get done. So we got to know the downtown streets a bit.





And, we also finally got caught up on the blog after being about a month behind. We'll see where our next installment takes us, but there aren't too many points further south...
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Old 02-11-2013, 04:36 AM   #336
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"So...now what?"

The ferry direct from Punta Arenas doesn't run on Mondays, building yet another full day into our time in that town. We were ready to get to Tierra del Fuego.


(The TABSA ferry was a nice boat, took about 2.5 hours to cross, and cost about 30 USD for the 3 of us.)

Porvenir is a small town that has a gas station and a couple of small shops, as well as a few places to stay. But we only took advantage of the gas station and continued on.



There is a 115 km loop known as the Circuito del Oro (= Gold Loop) where many gold seekers set up during the late 1800's, continuing today. The ride was beautiful and the best part is that we only passed a few other vehicles that whole way. The majority of them (+ 1 helicopter) happened to be in one convoy for the Prime Minister of Croatia. There is some strong connection between Croatia and Punta Arenas that we never quite figured out.


(bordering Bahía Inútil (= Useless Bay))


(finding gas at Russfín took us into a timber facility, where we had to ask around to find the actual pump. We also met a chef who had worked all around the world and was super nice. Random)


(this is the gas station)


(We were vastly outnumbered by sheep, on our way to reten Pampa Guanaco)

Talking with the Carabinero at the Pampa Guanaco stop about 15km short of Argentina, he pointed us to a nice spot to set up a tent - Lago Blanco. The ride there was nicely wooded, and we had heard that the camping area was protected from the wind.


(Mike and TA thinking about camping, but the strong, cold winds said otherwise. On the shore of Lago Blanco)

The wind was strong and a bit chilling. We saw a sign to a refugio just 1 km away, so we figured it worth a question to see how much it would cost to have a roof. That turned out to be the best decision we made in awhile!


(Refugio de Caza y Pescar at Lago Blanco)

Standing in the parking lot we spoke with the caretakers, Francisco (Pancho) and Roxane for awhile. Asking how much a bed cost (~US$30/ppn) caused us to quickly turn the conversation back to free camping by the lake, among other things. After chatting for a few minutes, they invited us into the kitchen/lodge to see all of the stuffed (as in shot and stuffed) animals. Inside was the owner of the land, as well as 3 other guys who were retired from ENAP, the national petroleum company, staying there for a week or two. Then they invited us to coffee...and bread...and fried ham. And when Francisco mentioned that we didn't want to pay, the owner said that he didn't mind, we could just tip Pancho and Roxane instead of pay him. Perfect! So we gave them a good tip the next day, still half of what we should have paid, but got 2 meals, a snack, and multiple rounds of coffee with it. Not only that, we got to spend some time with Pancho and Roxane who were fantastic!


(Pancho and Mike going fishing)


(The walk through the Refugio de Caza y Pescar took us across this very strange terrain that was deep, soft, and squishy)


(beaver dam and extensive damage)


(beaver leftovers)


(Jill sees her first penguin up close, with no risk of getting bit)


(Terry with his first round of sticker accumulating complete)


(dinner with Pancho (at left), Roxane (at head of table), don Horacio (to Roxane's left as she sits, viewer's right), and others)

The next morning we finally got out of there and made our way towards Argentina.




(Luckily the river was low, allowing us to cross to Argentina)


(Even with the water low, it was moving pretty good and shifted the bike around a bit. Nothing more than wet socks on the Argentina side, though. Which we changed in the Migración building.)


(pulling into Ushuaia)



After nearly 2 years and ~32,000 miles (over 50,000 km) we can now no longer head south. Jill's quote sums it up with simplicity: "so...now what?"



We had arrived at the park at 8pm, when entrance is free. It was also nice because there was not many other park visitors then. We met a few people from Ushuaia (who take advantage of the after 8pm effect, too) and saw a few animals.


(this little guy was hanging out in the parking lot at Bahía Lapataia)


(fox face)


(view of Bahía Lapataia)

Ushuaia is home to a lot of reverence towards the Islas Malvinas, as this town was greatly affected by losses during the war with the Brits in 1982. The Islas Malvinas are a touchy subject throughout Argentina (don't call them the Falkland Islands), but especially so in Ushuaia. The unsuccessful war was launched by the military dictatorship in Argentina as a way to bolster patriotism, improve the economic state (perhaps just distract from it), and show their power. I don't think the war accomplished any of those goals. Scary thing today is that Christina (current president of Argentina) has made mention of the Malvinas, as if she were considering an invasion for the same goals. Please teach us a lesson, history.




(view of Ushuaia)

We had a wonderful celebration dinner at Christopher's - a bottle of malbec, a bife de chorizo and some merluzza negra. It was tasty!




(The bike back outside of the Hostal Cormoranes. They let us park in their office for the days we were there. The staff at this hostal was some of the nicest we have run across, and while the price was high, it was reasonable for Ushuaia (US$16/ppn). They even gave us a nice private room with bathroom for the price of a discounted dorm bed. Score.)

After about 5 days in Ushuaia, some used for errands (including an only partially successful attempt to mail a box of souvenirs home that taught some lessons, including: even though the post office is open until 5 does not mean that they send boxes until then, that stops at noon; sealed foods cannot be sent; the customs office down by the water has some nice staff and some not-so-nice staff, but they have the power to release a shipment after noon if you lean on them hard enough), other days used to wait out the wind and weather, we were ready to move north (still a strange concept).


(view from Paso Garibaldi)

On the way we caught up to this French unicyclist, living in Vancouver now, attempting to make it all the way to Santiago in the next 6 months. That is quite the undertaking!


(she had just lost her sunglasses that day, so we gave our extra pair to her, and we gave her 2 alfajores for later. Hopefully those small gestures picked up her day a bit. Not that she needed it - she was in great spirits - but unicycling through Patagonian winds still seems crazy to us)


(we forgot her name, something with 2-3 syllables that starts with "An". But whatever, here she is getting going...)


(...and on her way!)

Crossing back into Chile at San Sebastian was much different than Paso Bellavista. It was much more built up, there was a lot of traffic on the road (for us, another guy said it was light that day), and the officials weren't as interested in chatting (less bored, I guess?). But it was smooth. Then onto the ferry, which is less than a 30 minute crossing here. It is also free if you forget to find the person to pay.






(view from camp, outside of Pta Arenas)


(beautiful sunset with lots of depth and texture, outside of Pta Arenas)


(view from our tent, outside of Pta Arenas)

On the 3 hour ride between Punta Arenas and Puerto Natales, we took advantage of a few stops to just get out of the wind for a minute.


(this roadhouse was a common bike traveler stop)

Now that we are back in Puerto Natales, we have a few days to find a backpack and get sorted for a hike in Torres del Paine with some good friends. We are looking forward to it!
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Old 02-11-2013, 03:55 PM   #337
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Congratulations!

Awesome, great pictures and the smile on your faces says it all, priceless!
I am not sure I'd be able to pick up again a regular office job after doing such trip without going into deep withdrawal, but whatever you decide, keep doing what you do as I think it does you good.
Love the TA gypsy queen looks decorated with all the attached luggage.
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Old 02-12-2013, 09:30 AM   #338
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Hi Guys,
Congratulations..can it really be two years since you set off; time flys as they say. Your photos especially the ones around Fitz Roy are some of the best. Shame you had bad vibes from Alejandro on the last leg; still you touched lucky with Pancho and Roxanne and pals.
How do you both feel to be there?
What have been the highlights and most prominent memories?
So does the TA go or ???? What now ?

Cheers
Potski
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Old 02-22-2013, 06:14 AM   #339
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Dracula View Post
Awesome, great pictures and the smile on your faces says it all, priceless!
I am not sure I'd be able to pick up again a regular office job after doing such trip without going into deep withdrawal, but whatever you decide, keep doing what you do as I think it does you good.
Hey Dracula - thanks for the congrats! Yeah, the whole back-to-the-office thing doesn't excite either one of us right now. But something's got to bring in a few bucks for us soon. I have a feeling we'll head back to the states in a couple of months and just figure out what will work out for us from there.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Dracula View Post
Love the TA gypsy queen looks decorated with all the attached luggage.
HA! I love the TA gypsy queen, too. (And that may be my new favorite description of her...)

Quote:
Originally Posted by potski View Post
Hi Guys,
Congratulations..can it really be two years since you set off; time flys as they say. Your photos especially the ones around Fitz Roy are some of the best. Shame you had bad vibes from Alejandro on the last leg; still you touched lucky with Pancho and Roxanne and pals.
How do you both feel to be there?
What have been the highlights and most prominent memories?
So does the TA go or ???? What now ?

Cheers
Potski
Hey Potski! Thanks also for the congrats. Yeah, it is hard to believe it's almost been 2 years. Wow, time really does fly. The sensation of starting to move back north for awhile is still setting in. It feels strange, but good. In fact, both of us are ready to stop packing up our same saddle bag every day and enjoy some of the finer things in life (like having access to a couch to sit on),

As far as most prominent memories, let me get back to you after some more processing. So many good ones, so many beautiful places and wonderful people.

The good news is that we are now planning on returning to the states with the TA in tow!! Details have not been worked out (or even considered at all), but we are sure something will work out. We just can't part ways.

We just enjoyed a 10 day hike through Torres del Paine, and are now leaving to retrace some of the Carretera Austral...
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Old 02-22-2013, 06:21 AM   #340
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Peru and Bolivia videos

Our friend Mark (aka Radioman) put together some nice compilations of his riding in Peru and Bolivia. We happened to spend a bit of time with him across those 2 countries. Here's a link to those videos so you can catch a glimpse:

PERU:



[LINK to his video post in his Ride Report]
We met Mark up north, but didn't ride with him until Cusco to Aguas Calientes. We did take a few of the same roads, though. Here's a breakdown of our overlap:

- 00:17 Huanchaco, where we met Mark, but then split ways until Cusco
- 01:04 we make our brief debut, followed by an intro to Ollantaytambo and stills of Machu Picchu
- 02:03 Ollantaytambo, riding through
- 02:31 on the way to Sta Teresa
- 02:55 we left the 1st hostel the same way (which happens to be in Potosí, Bolivia, but no matter), but weren't with Mark in Arequipa (03:10 until end of video)
BOLIVIA:



[LINK to his video post in his Ride Report]
We were with Mark for most of the riding that we did in Bolivia, but split ways after the Salar de Uyuni. Here's the breakdown of this video:

- until 04:18 we were with Mark, and the video is really well labelled, so just watch it
Thanks Mark! Your videos are well composed. But most of all, thanks for letting us join you for a small segment of your South American travels! We look forward to following your trip through New Zealand!
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Old 02-23-2013, 04:59 AM   #341
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Hi Mike & Jill,

Difficulty in choosing between so many good memories; that is surely the sign of a great trip.

Glad to hear your trusty Transalp stays, I think as time goes on it will be a decision you will be glad you made, money could not repace it! I wish I had kept some of the old vehicles that I had done things in, but finances at the time dictated differently :-(

Thanks for Marks (Radioman) video links, looks like he is living his dreams too; those Kiwi guys made me laugh, full of fun and spirit.

Cheers
Potski
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Old 03-03-2013, 11:49 AM   #342
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Quote:
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Hi Mike & Jill,

Difficulty in choosing between so many good memories; that is surely the sign of a great trip.

Glad to hear your trusty Transalp stays, I think as time goes on it will be a decision you will be glad you made, money could not repace it! I wish I had kept some of the old vehicles that I had done things in, but finances at the time dictated differently :-(

Thanks for Marks (Radioman) video links, looks like he is living his dreams too; those Kiwi guys made me laugh, full of fun and spirit.

Cheers
Potski
Hey Potski!

Glad you enjoyed those video links. And yeah, I agree that money couldn't replace the trusty Transalp "gypsy queen". I look forward to actually taking some time to go through and give her the TLC that she deserves after treating us so well for so many miles.

The difficulty that we have in selecting favorites is most certainly a sign of a fantastic trip. We consider ourselves extremely lucky. Even after thinking about it more, my list of favorites is still too long, but breaking it into categories makes it more manageable.

Short list of Favorites:

Countries: Colombia / Mexico

Rides: la Espinoza del Diablo, Mexico / Lethem to Georgetown, Guyana / Transamazonica from Belem to Manaus, Brazil / Yungas mountains, Bolivia / Carretera Austral, Chile / Chachapoyas to Cajamarca to Trujillo and other various mountain roads, Peru

Places: Perquin, el Salvador / el Cocuy and Tierradentro, Colombia / Futaleufu, Chile

Capital Cities: La Paz, Bolivia (even though it's not really the capital) / Bogota, Colombia / D.F., Mexico

Memories: asking directions to Tierradentro while covered in mud, but only on our left side, so people in town that saw us from the left thought we were ridiculous (and those that saw us from the right may have, too, but for other reasons) / hot tea and dinner brought to us after a tough day of hiking in el Cocuy / camping through the SouthWest USA / Couchsurfing in various locales / seeing friends and family along the way

Some of these things have been rattling around in my head, and I am sure to have left a few out, or misrepresnted a few. Given that, I reserve the right to future editing of this post...
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Old 05-24-2013, 03:07 PM   #343
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Sweet procrastination

So...back again...

During our radio silence a few things have happened:

  • almost 4 months have passed,
  • we backpacked for 10 days in Torres del Paine,
  • we helped pick over 50,000 kilos* of plums,
  • we rode at least 8,000 miles,
  • we took over 500 pictures,
  • we crossed 10 international borders (only 5 distinct countries),
  • and we have settled in one spot for the next 6 months.
Over the next few days we will (finally) do our best to present to you a condensed version of all of that.


Stay tuned...
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csustewy screwed with this post 06-20-2013 at 05:53 AM Reason: * number revised substantially after talking with John and Annette
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Old 05-24-2013, 03:14 PM   #344
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The "Q"

Torres del Paine is a national park in southern Chile known for its backpacking. What's funny is that the backpacking experience is much less serene than it should be because of how well known the place is and because of how developed it has become. Some of the trails and lodging options are just downright silly. But more on that later...

In general, Torres del Paine ("Towers of the Blue [Sky]") is absolutely stunning, containing jagged mountain peaks down to green pastures, huge ice fields and glaciers, as well as many amazing waterfalls. I will let the pictures below speak for the natural beauty.

There are 2 main routes in Torres del Paine, named after the shape that they trace out on a map. The "W" (in red below) is the easiest to access, has the most infrastructure, and can be comfortably done in 3-5 days. The "O", or the "circuit", (in red and blue below) combines the "W" with a loop over John Gardner Pass and is usually completed in 8-10 days (~110 km). Those routes are fine and all, but we were hoping to enjoy a section of the park less traveled. This is hard to do at such a popular park.

Enter the "Q" (red, blue, and yellow below). The advantage of the Q is that you don't have to rely on transportation within the park (which is expensive), you can more easily leave Pto Natales in the afternoon rather than dawn, you have better access to free camping on the 1st and last night of your trek, and you get to see more of the park. All wins.



(Torres del Paine trail map. Red shows the 3-5 day "W" route. Red and blue segments comprise the 8-10 day "O" route. Red, blue, and yellow make our "Q" route.)



A consistent highlight during our trip is when we get to see family and friends along the way. David and Christie, friends from Colorado, were able to take a vacation from their new (again) home in Peru to hike Torres del Paine. We are extremely happy that the timing worked out so well!

Jill and I hadn't planned on much backpacking, so we had a couple of things to figure out. Basically footwear and backpacks, as we had the rest of our camping gear. We found some relatively cheap and sturdy enough shoes in Ushuaia of all places, and were able to easily rent backpacks in Puerto Natales. Not quite the perfect fit, but they worked. Food planning was easy in Pto Natales - one stop at the grocery stores for all the oatmeal, tortillas, pasta, and cheese we would need for 10 days. And one stop at this little hiker heaven:


(dried food superstore, Pto Natales)

A bus ride took us to the entrance to the park, where we plunked down our almost US$40 (!!) each to go into the park. And that was just the first of many expensive fees, as most of the free campsites have been closed, forcing you to pay between US$8 and 16 per person per night to camp. You can see why we wanted to avoid the US$20 each-way catamaran ride, and try to catch as many free camping nights as possible.

The amazing and varied views that constantly surround you in Torres del Paine make it pretty easy to get over the expense of it. That is, provided the weather lets you take in those views.


(David walking towards Cerro Paine Grande)


(Refugio Paine Grande, where a tent city sprawls below Cerro Paine Grande)


(the quincho, or picnic shelter, gets crowded all the time, especially in inclement weather)


(life on the "W" is still plugged in)


(us trying to stay warm at the top of Valle Francés)


(forest fires have hit this park hard in the past decades, usually started by careless backpackers)


(classic)

Even though Campamento Italiano, at the foot of Valle Francés, was officially closed, it turns into a tent city every night. It was one of the few free campsites that everyone anticipates staying at given its ideal location across the W. We got a bit of rain the night we poached it, and were in for a good solid day of it as we made our way past Cuernos (that place is crappy, and the most expensive - AVOID IT!) and on to camp at the Refugio las Torres.


(valley view, Valle Francés)


(Monte Almirante Nieto)

We spent basically one full day inside the lodge of Refugio las Torres drying out and warming up, even though we slept outside. Although we brought in our own food and spread our socks all over the place, they didn't seem to mind. We did buy a couple of boxes of wine from them to make it even. And we even helped them clean up the plates late at night. Well, we helped them clean off the plates, but it's all the same, right?


(Jill, Christie, David and Mike at Campamento Chileno with the Torres in the background)


(Rio Ascensio)


(we were lucky to have clear skies to catch the towers. This is late afternoon after a day and a half of rain.)


(proof that we were there)


(just in case you were tempted)

The next morning we were excited to start our way around the circuit, leaving the busy "W" trail behind. The W is really busy. Lots of hikers going both directions on the one trail. Some have etiquette. Many don't. But it's fun to guess what language you should use for an "excuse me". Mike was batting around 20% on that one. Jill fared much better.


(Lunch at Campamento Serón. We decided to make this day a long one, skipping over the mosquito infested Serón to head on back to Refugio Dickson. Although it's 26 km (~16 miles) or so, it was mostly flat. Flatish. Some ups and downs. Ok, it was a long day.)


(Christie and David on their way to Dickson)

With the expense of visiting this park, there are some amenities that you just don't find in other national parks. Like a chance to take a hot shower at the refugios, even when camping. The chance to buy box wine (it's Chilean and just find by us!) almost every evening for a bit of a mark-up - it's twice as much as in town, but still only US$8 per liter. Access to toilets in various conditions, some even quite clean. The expense does not include impressive bridge work. For example, in the flat valley between Campamento Serón and Refugio Dickson there is an area that must always be really marshy. The first couple hundred meters was on a very nicely constructed pontoon style bridge. Then it stepped down a notch for a few tens of meters. Then down again. Then kind of left you wondering who just dropped 2x4's from a helicopter and called it a bridge:


(Christie and David working their way through the marsh)


(I don't know what kind of cloud that is, but it's neat)


(after Campamento los Perros the mud fest continued)


(Looking up at the pass)


(Jill towering above the glacier)


(Mike, Jill, Christie and David on top of Paso John Gardner)


(Descending towards Glaciar Grey)


(Mike looking for a way out, Campamento Paso)


(Jill on the jungle gym that is the trail between Campamento Paso and the old Campamento Las Guardas, yet another closed, free campsite)


(wild and tasty Calafate berries. Supposedly tasting these berries will ensure your return to Patagonia...)


(magical forest)


(Mike's self portrait on top of the next ladder jungle gym)


(Nice campsite at Refugio Grey)


(Fire tree above Lago Grey)


(yet another example of the interesting bridge work you can find at Torres del Paine. Here, Jill crossing a bridge ON a bridge)




(Cerro Paine Grande seen from across Lago Pehoé)


(Jill hiking back out towards Campamento las Carretas, our last night on the trail)

Our return to Pto Natales allowed us to indulge on two wonderful evening meals of asado and pizza. Thanks again, Dave and Christie! That asado was the best! We also spent some time warming up in the kitchen of our hostel. You didn't even really have to be in the kitchen, just near it, and you can feel the heat from the traditional behemoth of a furnace that Chileans of the region call an oven.


(Cocina Magallanica. Typical stove for the Magallanes area of Chile. This thing turns the kitchen into a boiler room. And kind of heats food, too.)


(Mike and TA preparing to leave our hostel in Pto Natales. The staff at Koten Aike was super nice and helpful, allowed us to store the bike for 10 days, as well as lots of our riding gear)

With our camping gear back in its usual spot, our riding gear back on, we were ready to cover ground northwards...
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Old 05-27-2013, 04:41 AM   #345
csustewy OP
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Carretera Austral redux

Heading back north it was an easy decision to catch as much of the Carretera Austral as possible, given how much more scenic that route is than the desolate (but still beautiful, just more stark) areas of southern Argentina. Leaving Puerto Natales took us through the smaller Paso Laurita - Casas Viejas crossing (instead of Dorotea on the way in). Even though this crossing was much smaller, these guys still knew to ask for our reciprocity fee paperwork. Only 2 times were we able to get into Argentina without paying that new fee, and I have a feeling those leaks are plugged by now...


(common gas stop for travelers, as evident by the sticker accumulation on the window. They even actually had gas this time past)


(rainbow over camp. Somewhere near Tres Lagos)

For some reason on our way back north, much more than on our way south, we passed an inordinate number of large moto tours. Some were fully guided and supported with chase vehicles and the like. Of the people we talked to, many were quite happy. But those groups looked like an absolute disaster waiting to happen. One instance had riders of varying ability jockeying for position on a slippery mud road. The rider in back was very unsteady, training wheels out with his boots down. Following immediately behind him was the chase truck, ready to run him over in a moment's notice. If you decide to take a guided tour, be sure you know who you're jumping on with. Other large groups were self guided. But the fact of traveling with more than 8 people seemed to turn that into a disaster all the same.


(After a night camping back in Bajo Caracoles, we saw this self-guided group of Aussies and Europeans on all sorts of fancy, late model bikes (even a Ducati Multistrada thrown in for good measure). A short chat with one of the riders was more than sufficient)

Just north of Bajo Caracoles is the entrance to Cueva de las Manos, (Cave of the Hands), a Unesco site with painted handprints on the walls from a long time ago. The over loaded TA on our new street biased tires, combined with a still slightly crooked front end and Mike's lack of mud-riding skills, did not make the super slippery conditions we encountered that much fun. Even the slowly moving AWD cars were sliding all over the place. Progress was so slow that we turned back.


(Cueva de las Manos is still on our list!)

Our route into Chile this time was on a different road around Lago Buenos Aires (Arg) / Lago General Carrera, taking us through the small towns of Perito Moreno, Arg and Chile Chico, Chile. That stretch was a fantastic ride, following the lake on our right, with distant views of glacier covered mountain ranges across the lake and straight ahead.


(riding alongside Lago General Carrera)


(This retaining wall seems absolutely necessary)


(view from just above our camp, Lago General Carrera)


(approaching the Carretera Austal)


(not-so "wild" campsite, tucked between the road and private property, off the Carretera Austral south of Coyhaique)

Futaleufú was a must stop on our way back north. The valley had such a spell on us from our first time passing through that we had to go back. We even considered ways to make living there a possibility and didn't find any immediate answers, but haven't given up completely on the idea. It's such an inviting place!


(Sunset over main plaza, Futaleufú)


(Reflections in Lago Lonconao (we think that's this lake). Outside of Futaleufú)

While both of us absolutely loved our time southbound on the Carretera Austral, covering the same ground was less enjoyable on the way back north (except for the Futa valley, that place still rocks). I suppose the fact that we were seeing it all for the second time had something to do with it, but I also think that the views are increasingly more incredible in the southbound direction. Perhaps even more relevant is that we had a couple days of cold rain on our way north - that makes everything a little less fun.
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