Another update   Leave a comment

Internet is really slow in this part of the world, as you may have noticed by the lack of daily updates. Last night I had to leave the laptop in the hotel lounge just to upload a grand total of three photos overnight… Anyway, here’s a quick catch-up to let you know where we are and have been – and that we are still enjoying ourselves immensely.

Friday 24th October 2014

We travel from Trevelin in Argentina to the border with Chile on a regional bus that only runs twice a week (later we hear that this service was cancelled the other day…); then by minibus on to Futaleufú. Here we are extremely lucky again: there is only one connection to Coyhaique per week, scheduled for Friday at a quarter to twelve. We arrive around 10 o’clock and thus still have time to exchange money and get some supplies for the journey. Considering the sparse connections serving the Carretera Austral we decide to do the 10-hour trip to Coyhaique in one go and will not stop in Puyuhuapi as previously planned.

In the end the journey takes over twelve hours, because the Chilenos are working frantically on paving the whole distance of the Ruta 7 from Chaitén to Coyhaique. A major project which will not be completed until 2017 at the earliest, as the road will also be broadened to two lanes and huge amounts of rock need to be blasted and disposed of. While the construction is an admirable effort, it will also take the adventure out of the famous route…

The landscape along the Carretera Austral is absolutely stunning; we are blessed with surprisingly good weather and arrive tired but happy in Coyhaique just before midnight. Luckily we even find a room in the first place where we ask for accommodation. Photos can be found in this gallery, #1 to 118

From Trevelin to the border between Argentina and Chile

Our luxury minibus from Futaleufú to Coyhaique – shared with only four other passengers…

Between Futaleufú and Puerto Ramirez

In La Junta

One of the many road closures

In Puyuhuapi

More road works…

Just before it gets dark we cross the Cordillera de Queulat; the pass still being unpaved…

Saturday 25th October 2014

Rest day in Coyhaique. We move to a hotel where we have more space and a baño privado and explore the town. There is not a cloud in the sky – an extremely rare occurrence in Chilean Patagonia. Photos here; #119 to 190.

Car wash for a good cause in Coyhaique

The bomberos (fire brigade) are helping as well

Araucaria (monkey puzzle tree) – extremely tough to withstand the harsh elements in Patagonia

Río Simpson

La Piedra del Indio – the Head of the Indio

Nice place for a farm – with the trails right on your door step

Coyhaique is the main supply centre of the whole region

Enjoying the regional Cazuela – and the Cerveza, of course

Sunday 26th October 2014

Without a reservation we just try our luck and go to the bus terminal for 9 o’clock. We are fortunate enough to snatch the two last seats on the minibus to Cochrane. There is another service half an hour later but we don’t want to risk being stuck in Coyhaique for another day if that bus is fully booked as well. We sit in the last row on the left, where we don’t have the best views of the gorgeous countryside but occasionally we catch a glimpse.

At 2 o’clock in the afternoon we get off in Puerto Río Tranquilo where we want to visit the Capillas de Marmol. While we are searching for accommodation, a young couple approaches us to tell us that they have booked a boat trip for 15.00 hours and we can join them if we want. That accelerates our efforts to find somewhere to sleep and we just make it on time for departure.

The crossing is rough and exciting, the caves are absolutely amazing and we think this experience is the start of a beautiful friendship with Tal and Chen from Israel, who are in the middle of a 2-month trip through South America and freshly engaged since Machu Picchu. After we’ve reached terra firma again they offer to take us to Chile Chico in their hire car the next day.

Photos are in this gallery; #191 to 502

Breakfast is served in our room

… and it is quite a good one!

Near Villa Cerro Castillo

Cerro Castillo

Five seasons a day – it’s a bit like Scotland

Río Ibañez

Lago General Carreras – Chile’s biggest lake

In Puerto Río Tranquilo

With Tal and our skipper

 

Capillas de Marmol – the Marble Caves

 

 

Monday 27th October 2014

¡Feliz Cumpleaños, Babbelito! Today is Johannes’s special birthday. The landlady has decorated the breakfast table with a homemade cake and accessories the friendly ladies in the tiny village shop have helped me sourcing the previous evening. Tal and Chen pick us up at 9.30 hrs and we drive along the shore of Lago General Carrera to Chile Chico on the border with Argentina.

Again we are blessed with gorgeous sunshine and stunning views of the biggest lake in Chile – a fantastic birthday present for Johannes. The route is unpaved but mostly well maintained and we would make good progress if we wouldn’t have to stop for photos every other kilometre… We have a nice late lunch in Chile Chico before we cross into Argentina and find accommodation in Los Antiguos.

By the way, we haven’t seen a single minibus the whole day and wonder how long it would have taken us to get here by public transport…

Photos here; #503 to 718 and here (Argentina) #341 to 360.

Happy Birthday, Johannes!

Cisne de cuello negro – black-necked swan, native to the south of South America

Driving the actual distance of 166 kilometres would probably take three to four hours only…

Lunch in Chile Chico

Into Argentina

Los Antiguos

It’s not easy in this village but we finally find a birthday dessert!

Tuesday 28th October 2014

Just before they drop us at the bus terminal in Perito Moreno, Tal and Chen ask if we would like to join them on the 700-kilometre journey to El Calafate. Wow, we are gobsmacked by their kind offer and gratefully accept.

Long stretches of the Ruta 40 have been paved since 2010 and the only ripio left are the 174 kilometres between Gobernador Gregores and Tres Lagos, where we lose the hour that Chen has gained on tarmac against the GPS’s estimate. We are lucky that the wind is not half as strong as the last time I travelled this route and was almost blown off the road. Photos here (not fully uploaded yet – please check later).

Wednesday 29th October 2014

When we wake up there are patches of blue sky but on the way to the Perito Moreno glacier the clouds are closing in and it begins to snow. Tal and Chen are hugely excited, as snow is rare in Israel, but the weather also means that the view from the Miradores is zero. Fortunately the sun comes through for about twenty minutes and we get some glimpses of the glacier and all the wonderful blue shades of the ice. Photos here (not fully uploaded yet – please check later).

Thursday 30th October 2014

Tal and Chen take us with them to El Chaltén; it’s their journey back to Bariloche where they have to return the car. Although it is snowing in the morning, the weather improves on the way and grants us the most wonderful views of the Fitz Roy mountain range.

The hotel I stayed the last time is fully booked but we find a lovely room in the excellent Hotel Lago del Desierto which is even closer to all the amenities. Like in El Calafate we have difficulties getting cash from the only cajero in town and find that hardly any business accepts payment with credit card. The season here lasts only four months from the middle of November to March and it isn’t worthwhile for the small enterprises to pay a whole year’s fee to the credit card companies. While this is absolutely understandable it leaves us in a precarious situation and the risk of having to wash dishes for the rest of our stay.

Out of the blue we come across the perfect solution of our problem: the restaurant where we have a delicious dinner takes Euros at an incredibly good exchange rate for us – we will return with more money than we set out with… 😉

Friday 31st October 2014

Today we do the Capital Nacional del Trekking justice and trek to the Lago de los Tres. Thanks to cloudless sky and bright sunshine we have splendid views of the Fitz Roy Massif. The first three hours of the trail are pretty easy going but the last two kilometres it’s a backbreaking climb up to 1,150 metres above sea level. As a reward we see a condor, the frozen Laguna de los Tres and the Fitz Roy in their full glory. We are happy but a tiny bit tired after the 28 kilometres we have covered in 12 hours… Photos to follow.

Saturday 1st November 2014

We think we have deserved a rest day and take it easy: just a little 11-kilometre stroll to the Mirador del Torre, a nice lunch with the leftovers from last night’s Milanesa, a visit to the local Heladeria on the way back, some shopping for presents for the loved ones at home and another attempt at uploading photos to finally post an update here…

Cerro Torre

At the Mirador del Torre

Please come back to this post in a day or two – I will keep trying to upload photos and add them to the days in the text. Thank you for your patience.

Posted 2 November 2014 by Pumpy in Argentina, Chile, The 2014 Rucksack Trip

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A couple of pictures   1 comment

We are already in Coyhaique! The only bus serving the Carretera Austral from Futaleufú went two hours after we arrived in the Chilean border town on Friday!

But before we tell you our stories from Chile, here are some photos accompanying the recent ‘Quick Update’ –

Tuesday 21st October 2014

Our high-end coach on the route from Puerto Varas to Bariloche

Bye bye, Panamericana…

Lago Puyehue

Río Pilmaiquén

And whoosh – we are in Argentina!

Snow on the Paso Cardenal Antonio Samoré at 1,314 metres above sea level

Iglesia Catedral

First chocolate samples…

Wednesday 22nd October 2014

From uptown to downtown Bariloche it’s a steep descent

We find adventures everywhere we’re going…

We are briefly tempted to buy a car for independent travel through the Patagonian wilderness…

Bariloche and Lake Nahuel Huapi

Of course, we have to feel the water

Careful, Johannes – I haven’t seen any shoeshine boys in town…

We make a friend

The Neo-Gothic cathedral

Time for a coffee…

… and chocolate!

For our British readers…

Thursday 23rd October 2014

Hasta luego, Bariloche

Parque Nacional Nahuel Huapi

In El Bolsón

La Patagonia argentina

Our cabaña ‘Ty Gwyn’ – the white house

Afon Percy – downstream becoming Río Futaleufú in Chile

Posted 26 October 2014 by Pumpy in Argentina, Chile, The 2014 Rucksack Trip

Quick Update   Leave a comment

Tuesday 21st October – we travelled from Puerto Varas in Chile to San Carlos de Bariloche in Argentina.

Wednesday 22nd October – rest day in Bariloche to thoroughly sample the excellent local chocolate (and admire the gorgeous setting of the city in the Parque Nacional Nahuel Huapi, of course).

Thursday 23rd October – we are now in Trevelin (south-west of Esquel), the village of the mill, founded by Welsh settlers in 1889. Still two Welsh tea houses and plenty of Welsh names about – our cabaña is called ‘Ty Gwyn’, the white house.

Friday 24th October – tomorrow morning we will head to the border and enter Chile again; then we will try to get as far as possible from Futaleufú towards the Carretera Austral and further south – Santa Lucía, La Junta and maybe even to Puyuhuapi.

Internet is already flaky and we don’t expect major improvements until we’ve reached Coyhaique. Buses will become a rare occurrence, too, we have heard – nothing and no one seem to move during weekends in this part of Patagonia and some connections run only thrice a week. Wish us luck…

Pictures – as could be uploaded so far – can be found here.

Posted 24 October 2014 by Pumpy in Chile, The 2014 Rucksack Trip

Decisions, decisions…   Leave a comment

Sunday 19th and Monday 20th October 2014

From Valdivia we take the bus to Puerto Varas on Lake Llanquihue, starting point of the Cruce de Lagos, one of the most iconic crossings of the Andes that takes you via Lago Todos Los Santos, the most beautiful of the lakes, Lago Frias and Lago Nahuel Huapi to Bariloche in Argentina. This trip I couldn’t do in 2010, as there is no way to take a motorbike on the boats, and I am very much looking forward to an unforgettable experience.

When we enquire about the details of the journey, three obstacles raise their heads: the price – 280 USD per person, the weather forecast – rain, clouds and fog will last at least until Thursday, and the time – we cannot wait three days until the sky clears, as we will need sufficient buffer days on the Carretera Austral where buses are scarce and may only run twice a week. There is no point spending a vast amount of money if we can’t see anything of the gorgeous landscape.

Well, what are our priorities? I would like to see the Saltos de Petrohué (waterfalls) and the Lago Todos Los Santos – the fact that the ferry trip also takes you to Argentina is a welcome side effect, but there is also a very beautiful bus journey over the Paso Puyehue (Complejo Frontizero Cardenal Antonio Samore), which is far cheaper and more reliable.

A tour agency offers a day excursion to Petrohué which includes visiting the falls and a boat trip on Lago Todos Los Santos for CLP 34,000 (around £35) per person. With the helpful agent we arrange that we can just turn up on the day after checking the weather in the morning (usually they want you to book a day in advance, understandably).

As we have found an absolute gem of a hotel (El Greco), we decide to stay two days in Puerto Varas and hope that the weather improves.

We are not the only ones affected by the cold climate

Puerto Varas in the rain

This is what it should look like

Our superb accommodation – Hotel El Greco

Local delicacy Paila Marina in the evening

We do a bit more research and then take the local bus to Petrohué the next day. The route follows the south shore of Lake Llanquihue.

The driver drops us at the waterfalls, the road is being repaired further ahead and apparently closed. Ok, although we have planned to visit the lake first, we obey and head for the –

We can almost see the Volcán Osorno…

The vegetation is absolutely amazing

We spend just under two hours at the falls – in comparison: on the Cruce de Lagos you are allowed only 20 minutes… Leaving the visitor centre, we start walking the six kilometres to Petrohué village along the unpaved road.

It’s dry and pleasant but still a long stroll – fortunately, after 1.5 kilometres, we manage to blag a lift with an empty tourist bus to the shore of Lago Todos Los Santos. And here I am very grateful to have my dad with me; while I am far too hesitant, Johannes just approaches a skipper who is about to set sail and asks in a mix of English, Spanish and sign-language if he can take us on a boat trip. The reply comes in German – by chance we have stumbled across a group of German tourists who are shipped across the lake for a long hike; we can join them for a small fee and will then be taken back in the otherwise empty vessel. I am over the moon!

Petrohué

The weather has held the whole day and our self-made trip has cost us CLP 9,000 (under ten pounds) per person – we are more than pleased!

For the next day we buy the bus tickets to Bariloche and look forward to the road journey to Argentina.

Puerto Varas by night

All pictures from Puerto Varas, Saltos de Petrohué and Lago Todos Los Santos here, #857 to 1,185

Posted 23 October 2014 by Pumpy in Chile, The 2014 Rucksack Trip

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Carnival in Valdivia   Leave a comment

Saturday 18th October 2014

With a heavy heart we vacate our cottage on Saturday morning and head to the bus terminal, where the super-friendly owner of the café serves us a lovely breakfast. The coach leaves on time but Villarrica disappears from the horizon without Johannes ever seeing the volcano. We will have to come back one day…

A pleasant 3-hour trip takes us to our next destination Valdivia, capital of the Los Ríos region appropriately situated at the confluence of the rivers Cruces, Calle Calle, Valdivia and Cau Cau which also connect the city to the sea. Valdivia is also called the Capital de la Lluvia, the rain, as we hear and notice later. After two fruitless attempts we find a nice hostal near the Costanera along the Río Calle Calle, make ourselves comfortable and then set out on our usual sight-seeing tour.

Among the must-see places are the docks and the sea lions, the mercado municipal, the distinctive houses built by the German settlers, the plaza and the Isla Teja. The helpful señorita in the oficina del turismo also recommends to visit the sea-side resort Niebla on the Pacific coast and we duly obey. On the way back we stop for dinner at the Cervecería Kunstmann, which is quite a tourist trap, to be honest – but visiting a brewery that makes beer according to the German purity law and then advertises it as ‘das gute Bier’ in Chile is almost mandatory for us.

When we return to Valdivia we get off the colectivo in the centre and are in for a nice surprise: the city celebrates its Carnaval de Primavera (spring carnival) and we join the locals lining the costanera and watch the colourful parade. What a great timing that we arrived in Valdivia this weekend!

Breakfast at the JAC bus terminal in Villarrica

The Chilenos are constantly improving their road network

Wanna-be Matador…

Mercado municipal

All pictures from Valdivia and Niebla here, #574 to 856

Posted 21 October 2014 by Pumpy in Chile, The 2014 Rucksack Trip

A cottage in Villarrica   Leave a comment

Thursday 16th and Friday 17th October 2014

We leave Chillán early to make the most of the day and board the bus to Temuco where we have to change to a colectivo that brings us to Villarrica in the Lake District.

Housing estate Chilean style

On this side of the world the rapeseed is just coming into bloom

Villarrica lies very picturesque by the lake and the volcano of the same name. Unfortunately the impressive mountain is hiding behind the clouds and if I hadn’t told my dad how beautiful the volcano was he wouldn’t even know it was there…

This is what it should look like… (picture from 2010)

… and this is what we are presented with today…

On the way to the tourist information, where we want to enquire about suitable accommodation, a bright lilac building catches our eye, the Hostal Donde Mora. “No, we don’t have any twin rooms, only matrimonios”, says the landlord, “but you can have a whole cabaña with two bedrooms for the same price.” Well, we like the idea of having our own cottage in Villarrica very much and so we agree without complaints.

Our cottage in Villarrica

A stroll to the lakeshore is mandatory and with every hour that passes we hope the clouds will lift and reveal the gorgeous volcano. But nothing – the sky turns blue, the sun comes out but the mountain towering over Villarrica and neighbouring Pucón remains invisible. So we decide to stay another day in our cabaña and hope for the weather to improve.

Huh, there’s at least the tip!

When we look out of the window the next morning the sky is overcast again. Never mind, it’s dry at least and we can explore a bit more of the Araucanía region. Colectivos take us along the lake and on towards Caburgua, where the river of the same name creates beautiful waterfalls and deep blue ponds – the Ojos de Caburgua.

Laguna Azul – the blue lagoon

There are actually two sites to visit the waterfalls, one on each side of the river and for some strange reason the landowners haven’t come to an agreement yet to build a bridge. This means that you can only see a fraction of the ponds, then you would have to drive seven kilometres, pay another entrance fee to see the other part and then drive back the way you came or carry on to Pucón for another 15 kilometres. Not an option for us on foot.

After pondering the moral aspects of our behaviour we decide to ford the river at our own risk and save us the hassle of extreme trekking that day.

We don’t mind paying the extra pesos, as there are quite a few walkways and miradores to maintain, but walking 14 or even 22 kilometres more to see an area 10 metres away is just unreasonable. Why don’t the owners raise the fee, build a bridge, share the income, minimise the traffic and environmental impact and make visiting the site more user-friendly? As it turns out later, the crossing is also commonly used by the local pedestrians, who helpfully advise us that there is no alternative path anyway and that the only minibus serving the other side won’t pass until six in the afternoon – far too late for us.

View of the other side from the other side

You see, there are adventures to be had on a rucksack trip as well. On the way back to Villarrica we stop in Pucón and have some shockingly expensive but heavenly delicious coffee and cake in the Café de la P.

Then it starts to rain and doesn’t stop until the next day. We still manage to make the most of our time in Villarrica.

The big question remains, will Johannes see the volcano after all? Don’t miss the next episode!

All pictures from Villarrica here; #348 to 573

Posted 20 October 2014 by Pumpy in Chile, The 2014 Rucksack Trip

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Santiago to Chillán   Leave a comment

Wednesday 15th October 2014

Our next main destination is the Chilean Lake District, 770 kilometres further south on the Ruta 5, the Panamericana. Without our own transport we have to stick to the main roads where the coaches run and can’t meander along the Pacific coast as I did the last time. The town of Chillán lies halfway between Santiago and Villarrica on the northern end of the lakes, it is described as picturesque place and it’s also the birthplace of Bernado O’Higgins, one of Chile’s founding fathers and leader in the country’s struggle for independence from Spanish rule. A perfect overnight stop.

We enjoy the last freshly squeezed raspberry juice in the Happy House Hostal, use the last credit on our BIP card for the metro and arrive early at the perfectly organised Tur Bus terminal near the Universidad de Santiago. The bus is only 15 minutes late, we drive conveniently through the fertile Central Valley and arrive early afternoon at our destination.

The sixth hotel where we ask for a suitable room is ours and we set off to explore the apparently slightly boring town. Rarely has a contrast been so unexpected – from our tranquil neighbourhood we stumble into buzzing community life on the other side of the Plaza de Armas, the main square, with chaotic traffic, mercados, shopping malls and life music everywhere.

We spend a very pleasant evening in Chillán and are glad we have chosen this somewhat hidden gem as our stopover.

Cathedral of Chillán, built to withstand earthquakes

You can get literally everything in this department store

All pictures from today here – #380 to 447.