A Travellerspoint blog

Entering a world of Paine

At the incredible Torres del Paine, although they pronounce it 'pie-neh', so the pun doesn't really work

semi-overcast 13 °C
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Sam

It was a long and painful trip from Ushuaia. Going out of the city was beautiful, but punctuated with a few stops for engine repairs.

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Then Argentinian emigration, then Chilean immigration and customs, then dirt roads for hours, then a ferry crossing across the Magellanic Strait, then a long drive through the vast, bare countryside.

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Sniffer dog at the Chilean border

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Crossing the Strait of Magellan

We arrived in Punta Arenas after 12 hours, only to find the bus company didn't have our names on the passenger list for the second leg. Luckily, the person we made the booking with was working, and she managed to sneak us on to the (supposedly full) bus anyway. We turned up in the chilly Chilean town of Puerto Natales just after midnight.

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We took it easy the next day, organising some activities and exploring the town. It was a Sunday, so pretty much nothing was open, but we walked along the dock and saw the bustling main square.

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It wasn't really bustling

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The street signs are in Comic Sans...

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Ro-Ro!

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Exploring Puerto Natales

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Today was the National Park of Torres del Paine, rated by Lonely Planet as the best on the continent. There are plenty of multi-day hikes (it's calling you Simon) but unfortunately we only had one full day, so we made the most of it by joining a tour. Most of the bus was a large Polish group, and there were a couple of Hong Kongers and a Dutch guy, who we kept company.

We saw some guanacos (llama-like creatures) on the way. They're surprisingly nimble and graceful.

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Our first waterfall had a great view of the torres (towers). Paine, by the way, is the indigenous word for blue, because on a good day the towers look sparkling blue. Today was nice, but not that nice.

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Interesting lenticular cloud formations. Google tells me that these appeared over Cape Town, South Africa today as well, which is roughly on the same latitude. Coincidence? Probably.

Then we went into the national park, seeing some ridiculous scenery.

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Nördenskjold Lake (named after a Swedish geologist)

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Salto Grande waterfall

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Paine massif

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We had lunch by this beautiful lake

Our last stop in the park was Lake Grey, which is fed by the melting of Glacier Grey. Massive icebergs float down to the shore when conditions are right. It swept us off our feet, partly with its beauty, but also in a more real sense, because the glacial winds were incredibly strong.

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On the way out of the park, our Polish friends started singing traditional songs, and we tried to sing along.

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Caroline's hair shows the wind direction

We also dropped in to the Mylodon Cave, which was home to mylodons (giant ground sloths) until they became extinct about 10,000 years ago. In the late 19th Century a mylodon skin was found here, and it's still an active archeological site.

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Looking in

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Looking out

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Look out! (Although they're herbivores, so unlikely to harm me. Also it's made of plastic.)

Back to Argentina tomorrow.

Posted by samoline 15:56 Archived in Chile Comments (5)

The end of the world

In Ushuaia, the closest city to Antarctica, with glaciers, geese and gobsmacking scenery

semi-overcast 12 °C
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Sam

The freezing wind welcomed us to Patagonia, a reminder that we'd come a fair way from the Galapagos. After a rest, we ran some errands in the beautiful town, surrounded by snow-capped mountains on one side and with the Beagle Channel on the other. It's also a ridiculously expensive place, presumably due to its isolation.

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The high peaks surrounding the town are matched only by the high prices in the town

We also went to the Maritime Museum, housed in the old prison (this was once a prison colony). It's huge and well-presented, and covers lots of Ushuaia's history, from the prison to Antarctic exploration. There was even an art gallery.

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Prison guard keeping an eye on things

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A notorious prisoner

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Scott and his men, keeping a stiff upper lip

We cooked dinner ourselves in an attempt at economy, and slept very well, even though it was still fairly light at 10pm.

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The next day the sun came out, and we caught a shuttle bus to the Tierra del Fuego national park, an even more scenic area of this scenic peninsula. We walked mostly around Lapataia Bay, where the woods and the mountains meets the sea.

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Ponies in the park

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It's so stunningly pretty that you'd think you were dreaming, if not for the biting wind lashing your cheeks. Once you start walking though, it doesn't feel too cold.

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The paths are very muddy, as you can see on one of the pictures above. The foreground of this picture is a peat bog, which are common in the area

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The Argentinian flag flying outside the visitors' centre

In the evening, we made use of the 48 hour validity of our Maritime Museum tickets, and looked at the stuff we'd been too tired to see the previous day. The highlight of these was a completely unrestored wing of the prison, which we had to ourselves. Very cold, damp and a bit spooky.

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Today we had a later start, and caught a taxi up to a hill on the edge of town. From there, you can walk up a piste (ski run) to Glacier Martial, a small but spectacular mountainside of ice and snow. We didn't know that to walk up meant walking on snow about half the time, so our shoes got wet but it was incredibly clean snow, and surprisingly good fun.

Plus the views weren't bad either.

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Looking down over town (not even from the top)

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Selfie time! This is from the top, and when there's more snow, you can ski down here. The chairlift is broken though, so you have to walk up with your skis

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Climbing up the piste

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Views of the glacier

We walked back down the hill and along the Beagle, back to home and bed.

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A shipwreck at the dock

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One of the border collies at the B&B

Off to Chile tomorrow!

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Finally, a couple of brief and early observations about Argentina (and yes, we may be generalising based on one very isolated town). On the surface, they clearly look more European than people in Ecuador and Peru; Argentinians are generally taller and much lighter-skinned.

Below the surface, they're a very proud people, as evidenced by their attitude towards Los Islas Malvinas, or, as the rest of the world knows them, the Falkland Islands (but don't use that term in Argentina - you may well offend someone). They're still convinced that Britain are illegally occupying the Falklands, South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands, keeping up a fight that the rest of the world has all but forgotten.

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Sign at the port: "English pirates are prohibited to moor here"

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Next to this, a sign 'explains' the history of the Malvinas

Posted by samoline 17:40 Archived in Argentina Comments (5)

From the tropics to the snow

A gruelling series of flights gets us from the Galapagos to Patagonia. Pretty much a tour of the continent's airports

rain 9 °C
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While the Macindoes have been gallivanting around Lima, we've been in and out of five airports, in three countries, over three days. Luckily, everything went smoothly enough, and we're now safely in cold Ushuaia, the southernmost city in the world.

We started in Puerto Ayora, and discovered that the buses to the airport weren't running. (Later we found out it was a public holiday, the 'day of the dead'.) So we caught a cab, and the driver kindly stopped at a massive crater on the way so that we could have a peek.

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We flew back to Guayaquil, and had the afternoon there, enjoying the riverfront and climbing up Cerro Santa Ana for a great view of the city.

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The view from our seventh-storey room

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Climbing up Las Peñas, along with half the population of Guayaquil

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On Cerro Santa Ana

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The next morning we left Ecuador, and flew to Santiago in Chile. But we weren't there for too long, catching a delayed flight to Buenos Aires.

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View of the Chilean Andes

There we checked into a hostel for forty winks (at a rate of ten winks an hour - we got four hours' sleep) before going back to the airport for our 4.45am flight.

We're slightly brain dead, but the fresh Patagonian wind and marvellous scenery helped to wake us up. The place we're staying in has two resident border collies, who are very much like Romy and Cece (one old and slow, the other young and playful). Might have a bit of a nap before we go to explore.

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Sunrise over Argentina

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View of the Beagle Channel through the rain

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View from the tarmac

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Lara, the older of the two dogs (I'll get a better picture before we go)

Posted by samoline 04:47 Archived in Argentina Comments (1)

A cruise through paradise (part 3)

Ill iguanas, sunbathing seals and black beaches

semi-overcast 26 °C
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Saturday 31 October, 12.30pm

We landed this morning near a beautiful black sand beach on Santiago Island, and we waded on to the shore.

The walk along the beach took us past malnourished marine iguanas (apparently the water around here is now too warm to produce much algae). We also saw a one-day old sea lion cub, and our first Galapagos fur seal colony.

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Mothers with their cubs

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Fur seals, distinguished by their luxuriant coats (which almost saw them hunted to extinction a couple of centuries ago)

Then we went snorkelling, and saw masses of fish and a small white-tipped reef shark.

We're on our way back towards the airport now - we have one more stop today, at tiny Rebida Island.

9pm

Our last outing on the cruise took us to the red sand beach on Rebida. There's not that much to see on the island, but the hill has a good lookout, and the beach has sea lions.

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Dead starfish washed up on the shore

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Resting sea lions

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Guide Rodrigo's walkie talkie ran out of battery, and he was waving at the boat for half an hour for them to come and pick us up

The snorkelling was good again, and we saw another white-tipped reef shark.

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Our last night on board. As much as we've enjoyed the cruise, it will certainly be good to be sleeping on dry land again tomorrow, and not having our room tilt from side to side.

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The sun is setting on our cruise

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Back in Puerto Ayora now, having had a relaxing last day in the Galapagos.

This morning we had a brief tour around Daphne Major Island, a really small dot on the map with lots of Nazca boobies and other seabirds.

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Daphne Major in the foreground, with Minor in the background

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A Nazca booby

We said goodbye to everyone from the cruise, and worked our way back to town, using the hostel wifi to sort out a few administrative things. Then we went to German's Beach again, had a bit of a dip and walked to a lookout over the bay. Back to the mainland tomorrow!

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At German's Beach

Posted by samoline 17:18 Archived in Ecuador Comments (1)

A cruise through paradise (part 2)

Terrific turtles, blue boobies and sublime snorkelling

sunny 27 °C
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Not-the-captain's log: Thursday 29 October, 8.30pm

Our first stop today was on a recently-formed (a few hundred thousand years ago) part of Isabela Island. It's essentially a large lava field, with some mangroves, cacti and other hardy plants that have taken root in the rocks. There are also a few inlets where flightless cormorants and other lagoon birds can sometimes be seen.

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The hardened lava

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A flightless cormorant fishing

Then we went snorkelling again, just off the boat this time. It was brilliant; we saw whole schools of small brightly-coloured fish, a few huge bumphead parrotfish (so named for the protrusion on their heads) and four or five sea turtles. They're a bit more shy than sea lions but no less graceful.

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Photo courtesy of Ben from Perth

After lunch and a siesta, we went out on the 'panga', the lifeboat/raft/skiff that normally takes us to and from the shore. We cruised through the mangroves, seeing our first blue-footed boobies, more flightless cormorants, penguins, pelicans, sea lions and turtles.

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A flightless cormorant

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A blue-footed booby and sea lion

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Pelicans

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Sea lion snoozing on tree trunk

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Penguins

Our Austrian and Swiss friends went swimming off the boat as the sun set.

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We retired to our rooms at 7.15pm in a (so far) successful attempt to avoid seasickness.

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Friday 30 October, 10.30am

A busy morning already - after breakfast, we spent an hour and a half on Fernandina Island, seeing hundreds of marine iguanas, a few playful sea lions, and a handful of flightless cormorants. At one point a young sea lion tried to get a swimming marine iguana to play, to no avail.

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The slow marine iguana walk

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A playful baby sea lion waiting for its mum to return from fishing

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A lava lizard - these little creatures are everywhere, and will often do push ups in an attempt to keep you away from their territory

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Then we went snorkelling again, in the crystal clear waters off the Fernndina coast. We didn't see any diving iguanas, but we did see quite a few swimming around, as well as plenty of brightly coloured fish and several turtles.

Back onboard now, heading north back towards Isabela Island.

9pm

We've covered a lot of miles today (and we're covering more as I write), meaning we ate lunch as the boat lurched from side to side. We docked near the northern tip of Isabela Island, where there are dramatic volcanic cliffs.

You can see old magma vents in the cliff face (see the vertical lines below).

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We went out on another skiff ride, seeing more boobies and penguins.

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And then we went snorkelling again in the ridiculously clear blue water. We saw maybe thirty sea turtles, heaps of fish, played with a couple of sea lions and caught a brief glimpse of a huge shark or fish passing beneath us. Opinions differ on what it actually was - it was probably an ocean sunfish or a grey reef shark.

We set off again and after a few hours of travelling north we all gathered around the GPS for the big count down. As we passed across the equator to the northern hemisphere and the GPS read 0 0'0'', the whole world turned upside down. We're going back into the southern hemisphere overnight, so it should right itself again.

We had another early night in anticipation of more rough seas.

Posted by samoline 15:58 Archived in Ecuador Comments (0)

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