The End Of The World (As We Know It)

1 02 2007

We left Punta Arenas at 5am last night and got to Ushuaia – the Southernmost city in the world – at around 7pm.

FOREWORD (WHAT HAPPENED NEXT)

In the morning, WAMM drove us to the airport where we had a long and tearful (yeah, right!) good bye with the group.

They left and we went into the terminal where we were informed that our flight was delayed. Evidently, they later told us that most 2pm flights in Ushuaia get delayed – god only knows why.

So, we had about 4 extra hours to kill. It was a bit problematic since we had a connecting flight in Buenos Aires at 9pm and this didn’t really leave us with a lot of time to transfer. But, as we were warned, time moves differently in South America.

We headed into town where, of course, we ran into everybody. They were quite a bit surprised to see us, truth to be told.

We just spent a few hours walking around, picking up souvenirs, and getting some food. Then we said good bye to everybody yet again and headed to the airport.

After another hour and a half delay, we finally left. We landed to Buenos Aires about 10 minutes before our flight to JFK was supposed to leave. Leaving Alex at the baggage claim, I ran (as the wind) to the American Airlines counter prepared to ask them to hold the plane.  There, I was informed that the plane is about to leave and there is nothing they can do about it.

They did agree to put as on a different flight, but by the time we were deciding, the seats dissappeared. Finally, after extensive search, they found a standby flight to NY through Miami that was leaving in an hour. Taking our chances, we paid the extra $150 “change fee” and ran to the terminal.

Fortunately, we got the seats and 12 hours later, we were in New York – just 3 hours later than originally expected.

So, there you go, fellow readers. That concludes the South America – Patagonia Express Trip 2007.

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Closing Up Shop

30 01 2007

So, last night, me and Alex came back from the Internet cafe at around 1am in the morning. The rest of the people went into a bar, but we decided to take it easy, so we didn’t join them.

Earlier that day, we had to select one of the two options for the next 2 days. Either to drive today to Punta Arenas for 15 hours to see a Penguin colony and then drive for another 15 hours tomorrow to get to Ushuaia or drive directly to Ushuaia, get there a bit early and spend some time there before we leave. Unfortunately, the decision was made to go to Punta Arenas.

The problem with that is that it’s cutting really close to our arrival to Ushuaia and limits the amount of time that we spend there. In fact, we will be arriving there late tomorrow night, camping, and then in the morning, the truck will probably drive us to the airport.

Anyways, we got up today at around 4am and spend the bulk of the day on the truck. The Penguin Colony that we were expecting to see actually left a bit early for the season, so there were very few of them left. But they were still adorable.

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We spent about an hour there and then headed to the hostel.

The hostel is actually quite interesting. It’s run by an ex Opera singer from Croatia and just seems to be a converted house. It’s pretty cozy, though, so we are enjoying it. We came out to see the city for a few hours, but it seems to be a pretty shady place. Plus, in this area, the wind gets so strong, that you have trouble walking against it. Many of the trees here are actually bent from being under a wind current all the time.

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* that’s Des from our group holding up the power cables so that WAMM could pass

Tomorrow morning, we got a long journey to Ushuaia. We are getting up at 5.45 to catch a ferry that will take us through a part of the way. Depending on how much road we cover, we may spend the nigh camping in the middle of nowhere and catching the flight in the morning. I’m not sure if I’ll be able to post again before I come back, so I’ll see you all at home.

Thanks for reading!





What It´s Like to Be Inside the Ice Cream Cone – Perito Moreno Glacier

29 01 2007

Today was the day of our glacier hike. We (me and Alex) were the only people from our group that decided to go on it, since everybody else either already did it in the past or opted out for just a little boat cruise around the glacier.

We got picked up directly from our hostel on a really awesome bus. For some reason, the buses in South America are light years beyond the coaches in South America. Many of them are actually 2 floors, but they only have 3 seats per aisle, so you have a lot more space for yourself. Plus, the seat reclines back completely, so you can sleep on it quite comfortably. Moreover, on many of the bus rides, you even have a waitress serving food every 3 hours. Of course, our bus wasn´t as fancy as that, but still quite comfortable.

We picked up some more people and headed to the Moreno Glacier. The Perito Moreno Glacier is a glacier located in the Los Glaciares National Park in the south west of Santa Cruz province, Argentina.

It´s about 5 km wide, with an average height of 60 meters above the surface of the water, with a total ice depth of 170 meters. It advances at a speed of up to 2 m per day, although it loses mass at approximately the same rate, meaning that aside from small variations, its has not advanced or receded in the past 90 years.

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We reached the park about 2 hours later and were given a bit of time to go on several observation points from which we could check out that massive ice cube.

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One of the coolest parts was watching giant chunks of ice just falling down from the top, making a huge water splash and producing a hell lot of noise. In fact, a little bit later, we also saw a chunk of ice that actually broke off from underneath the water level and came up – kind of like a submarine.

Anyways, a little bit later, we got on a boat that took us closer to the actual glacier.

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When we got off on the ground, we were divided up into groups. We got to go with an English group where we had 2 guides and about 15 people.

The guide told us a little bit about the glacier and gave us the crampons which went on top of our boots.

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Since the actual surface of the glacier is solid ice, they were necessary for walking on top of it. We began our hike on the glacier, which was quite an interesting experience. Going on a flat surface was quite easy, but going up and down proved to be more of a challenge. Since the actual surface of the glacier wasn´t flat but rather was composed of crevaces and hills, most of the walking involved either uphill or downhill movement.

To go down, for example, you had to assume the monkey pose, where you would put out your feet in the front, lean backwards, and make small steps downwards.

We got to spend about 2 hours on the actual glacier. It literally felt like we were inside of a giant ice cream cone.

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The pictures will show it in more detail later, but it was definitely a great experience. Atthe end of the hike, we went into this little secluded place where the guides kept a bar and treated us to whisky and chocolates. It´s actually quite great since after many of our previous activities (e.g. hydrospeeding), we were always treated to booze and snacks at the end.

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We got back at around 7pm, so we just had a little bit of time before we met up with our group at an all-you-can eat meat buffet. You just can´t be a vegetarian in this country – it simply won´t work.

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We stuffed our faces and are now getting ready to head back to the hostel since we´re leaving tomorrow at 5am to go to Punta Arenas – our last stop before Ushuaia.

We got 2 days of about 15 hours of driving each, so it should be pretty tough. I´ll try to post again before my flight back.





El Calafate (or Don´t Give Alex Anything with 4 Wheels or Legs)

28 01 2007

Today, we began to make our way into El Calafate – a small Argentinian town from which we´ll begin our glacier hike tomorrow. On the Argentinian border, we managed to hit a car that parked behing our truck. Our driver didn´t see him in the mirrors, so he kind of bumped it when we were backing out. Fortunately, that was resolved within an hour or so.

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The truck also broke down a bit in the desert. Our accellerator cable fell of, but it wasn´t anything a bit of rubber couldn´t fix.

When we got into town, we settled in a hostel (finally!) and went out to explore the city.

First thing we saw were ATVs (All Terrain Vehicles). Within 30 minutes, me, Alex and our guide were on the vehicles making our way out of the city.

We spent about an hour and a half riding in the sand dunes and off-the-road. It was a bit difficult to operate at first, as the ATVs were manual, so we had to get used to switching speeds on the go.

It was a lot of fun. There were some pretty steep hills, so it was always a challenge to see if the ATV will be able to make it up (or down). Alex managed to fall off once after hitting a shrub, but fortunately he landed on a prickly bush which softened it. So aside from taking out needs out of his a*s for the next hour, it was all good.

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Towards the end, our guide took us to a local airport, so we were able to put the ATVs to the speed test on really smooth flat surface.

Anyways, the Internet place is closing down really soon, so there is no chance to upload the pictures, but I´´ll try to do it soon.

Tomorrow, we got a full day glacier hike – from 8am to 6pm, so I´ll try to post an update about that tomorrow night too.





Puma Central

27 01 2007

In the morning, our driver offered to give us a lift to the nearest town to use the Internet. He also said that there are a few hiking trails that go from there, so we´d be able to hike back to the campsite within 2 hours.

The town, unfortunately, turned out to be a few strange buildings in the middle of the park. The ´Internet´was actually only available in the reception of the local hostel. The guy let us use it for an hour, which was funny because we were confused with the employees of the hostel by the visitors.

About an hour later, when everybody already left, me and Alex decided to head back.

The road back was actually more than 2 hours, but we figured we had plenty of time. We were walking on the dirt road for about 20 minutes, but then got a little bit bred, so we decided to go off-the road and climb the nearest mountain. It seemed like a good idea at the time, but about halfway into that, we realized that even if the way up was feasible, the way down would be a whole other ´pickle´.

So, we came down and continued. On the way, we did another small hike and eventually just hitched a ride back to the hotel. The driver that picked us up was curious as to why we were walking on the road. When asked why, he said that there were a lot of pumas in the area. When we got back to the campsite and broke this news to our driver, Dan, he didn´t seem surprised. In fact, he also mentioned that there were a lot of landmines left on the land, as there were a few military conflicts that took place in this area. I kind of wish we knew that before we started climbing random mountains.

Later in the day, we did another hike – awesome pictures are coming up later – and then called it a night at about 11.

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Eight Hour Workday

26 01 2007

Today was the day of our first hike in Torres Del Paine. An 8 hour hike to the top of the mountain. It started off relatively easy but got a lot harder very quickly. The first part was really steep and the trail was right on the edge of a cliff, so when you walk, you have to be very careful of the moving gravel underneath you.  We started off with a pretty big group, but as we kept going up, it kind of broke up and at some point, I wound up walking alone, which was actually really enjoyable, as you can set your own pace and stop wherever you wish to enjoy the surroundings. Sometimes the trail was clear. Sometimes it went through small rivers that you had to walk through.

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After an hour and a half, we took a short break. Turns out that hiking is really enjoyable when you stop. It’s only when you have to start again that it becomes hard work. As I kept going, it started to get colder. We were warned to bring clothes for all 4 seasons, so it wasn’t much of an issue. A few hours later, I reached the base of the mountain. Man, it looks steep from the bottom. The way up was to climb hundreds of large boulders.

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As climbers say, you have to negotiate with the rock and pick your own path. It was difficult to climb, but was bearable. Since it was a steep angle, oftentimes you have to use your feet and hands to climb from one to the next. When we reached the top, though, the climb was well worth it. It looked spectacular. We were so high that the mountain peaks were covered in clouds. There was a small green lake at the bottom (which we suspect formed from melted snow). We sat at the top on the rocks with our group and had lunch which we packed in the morning.

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After that, we began our descend. Truth to be told, it was as difficult as the way up, as you have to be really careful not to slip (especially when it began to rain). Most of us, including myself, fell at least one on the boulders, but fortunately nobody got hurt. We completed the hike about 8 hours after we started it. Tomorrow, we got another one and then we’ll head to El Calafate – for our glacier climb.





The Fairy Ride

25 01 2007

Day 1

In the morning, the campground owner told us of a shortcut to Puerto Montt which, of course, got us lost.

We arrived there in about 2 hours – right on time. There isn’t too much around. It’s a port city, so it’s primarily meant for sailors to have a good time (if you know what I mean).

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The ferry we were supposed to go on broke down, so they gave us a smaller one. We were actually kind of lucky as the next Kumuka group doesn’t get the ferry ride at all, since the main one won’t be fixed until March.

The waiting area for the ferry was quite interesting. It seemed as if a train or a bus wreck occurred right beforehand, as the entire area was filled with different ripped out chairs from various buses. You’ll be able to see what I mean on the picture.

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At around 4pm, we started boarding the ferry. Now, keep in mind that a ferry is a ferry is a ferry. It’s a very far cry from being a cruise ship or anything to that sort. It looks very industrial with metal floors, weird ladders, and everything else your usual ferry would have.

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On the bottom, all of the trucks were being loaded up. We all had to come on a big platform on the first floor which lifted us on the 2nd one (it actually serves as a lift for cars and truck trailers).

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It felt a bit as if we were sheep ordered to go from one place to another. We had a tiny room with 4 bunks and 4 small drawers and pretty much nothing else. The bunks were too short for us, so you kind of had to sleep with your legs crunched up… or diagonally.

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Most of the 250 people on the ferry were actually tourists from groups like ours. We met some pretty interesting characters. 2 russians… one of them looks like a Mafiosi, although he claims that he works as an investment banker. The other is a lawyer. They actually turned out to be very cool and very avid travellers – had over 40 countries under their belt.

Met some people from other overland groups. Most of them turned out to have paid a lot more and received a lot less. One of the groups were even placed in the crew cabins on Level D (which wasn’t even on the ferry map) because there was no space for them anywhere else. In the evening, we watched Motorcycle Diaries in the dining room and went to sleep at around 1am.

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Day 2

We woke up a bit late and missed breakfast. Fortunately, after begging a bit for it, we got it.

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The morning was spent on the deck – watching the sights, talking, eating, taking pictures, etc. We also started to play a lot of chess with Alex. Over the course of the ferry ride, we wound up playing a ton of games with each other. The bulk of our ride was going through Chilean Fjords – which are small passages between mountains or islands. However, a part of it also took us to the open sea.

When we reached that stage, the waves started rocking the ferry around. I started feeling a bit nauseous, so after fighting it a bit (even the pill didn’t help), I went for a nap. When the dinner time came around, I tried to make it up (never miss a free dinner) but only made it for a few steps and went back to my bunk (with a plastic bag just in case). Alex started feeling crappy, as well, so he joined me in the cabin. Both of us wound up sleeping for about 15 hours through the evening and night.

Day 3

We came back to the fjords and were passing some surreal places. The clouds are really low and gray, which gives it a mystical atmosphere. Mountain after mountain on both of our sides – completely untouched by man.

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The weather in this area is very unpredictable. People say that you can experience all 4 seasons within 1 day, as it came be sunshine one moment and heavy rain the next (which is exactly what kept happening). We haven’t seen any other boats or vessels for the last 3 days, which just added to the experience of being in this secluded space.

In the afternoon, we actually stopped in Puerto Eden – a tiny village on what’s supposed to be the biggest island in Chile.

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Only a handful of people live there and most of them survive on government assistance and selling handicrafts to ferry passengers. Man, if this is what Eden looks like, I wonder what Hell is like. There are no roads or sidewalks in the village. Only crudely constructed wooden pathways. It’s rainy and humid. Houses are broken down and the activity in the town looks pretty dead. Every once in a while, somebody tries to sell you something, but pretty much nobody buys their stuff. One of the guys from our group did make it to their only convenience store and bought a box of wine with 800 pesos written on it… for 2,000. As in many places, there is a local price and there is a tourist price. We just spent an hour on the island and then moved on.

A few hours later, it began to rain. The raindrops were sharp, fast and non-stop – like sleet. We got up on the upper deck. The wind was blowing so fast that when you lifted up your arms, you would have trouble bringing them back down against the wind current. Everybody was cuddled up and wearing raincoats. Suddenly, you saw IT. First it was very far, but then we began getting closer to it. Blue and majestic, it stood out of the water like an island. A glacier. It has an interesting blue glow to it and covered a massive area. We got closer to it to get a better look. It was just surreal – glacier in the front, mystical islands in dozens of shades of gray retreating in the back.

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Day 4

During the first part of the day, we saw a few more great views.

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We disembarked at around 4pm and began our drive to Torres Del Paine – a Chilean
National Park. The 4 hour drive was like something you would see on a postcard. Vast valleys, mountains, hills, etc. etc. It’s a shame that some thing you just can’t take back with you (not even on a camera). You just have to enjoy it in that specific moment. As usual, we were driving on the dirt roads. Whenever a car would pass us, it would raise a cloud of dust which would absorb our entire truck into it for a good 5-10 seconds.

We entered the park and went to a small campground. According to our guide, it gets very cold and windy here during the night, so hopefully the tent will live up to the pressure. Another adventure tour company – Exodus – actually stopped in the same place we were. They didn’t seem too friendly, though, so we didn’t get a lot of interaction with them.








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