Ha so here I am in Santiago – Blimey O’Reilly – it has certainly been an adventure.
So it all started in Ushuaia – the city at the end of world. It was grey and hmm a tad cold. But that’s ok – because I had prepared myself for such. What I had not prepared for was DOGS everywhere! They literally wander the streets like humans.. crossing the roads, walking along side you.. My thoughts went from ‘bugger I should have got my rabies injection’ to ‘they are taking over the world’ and shadowing humans to a unsettling degree. I am pretty sure a couple of dogs tried to get on the bus in Bariloche (chocolate heaven) the other day – the only obstacle was the bus ticket process which I swear they were concentrating on from the bus stop. True fact -Dog domination will start in South America.
So Ushuaia is nice – the gateway to Antartica and an opportunity to see penguins and sea lions. A nice boat ride on the beagle channel but if you ever come here – try and book in advance to go on to the penguin island where you can walk amongst the little fur balls. They are well cute little tings. Sea lions are too but their smell is quite um ‘fragrant’. And you cant walk amongst them. You can also hike in the national park which others said was nice. I opted for the penguins and a lie in. Then it was time for le tour to commence – Ushuaia to Santiago. Woop.
The dragoman tour began with our introduction meeting. ‘All your itineraries are wrong’ was how the chat started with Yves our guide. Hm, good. I should point out that I spent most of the tour not really knowing what was happening so the itinerary issue did not really affect me. I have learnt that i am more like a sheep – a follower rather than a leader.
The group is big – it took me about a week and a bit to learn everyone’s names and even then I often got it wrong :s Everyone seemed nice and I made friends with an Australian girl called Marion who was to become my tent buddy (or perhaps more aptly my hostel buddy) throughout the trip. She is 22 years old but bless, I am quite immature for my age so we get along dandy. She also doesn’t seem to mind my incessant, random ramblings (in fact she quite often has her own!) Ha! We also discovered that we had been placed in groups of 5 and we would take turns to cook for the group (of 23!!) when camping and decide on meals between us. HAVE YOU EVER TRIED TO GUESS PORTIONS FOR 23 PEOPLE!!? Lord.
Sooo we were then introduced to ‘Mamasita’ our truck and off we went – Patagonia herrre we come. First stop was crossing the ‘Strait of Magellan’ – a supposed 20 minute ferry ride which took 1 and half hours as ‘the tide was too low for Mr Ferry Driver to park le ferry’. Great start. We then ‘bush camped’ on some deserted land near an empty barn for the night [cue horror film images] and were introduced to our tent and hammer. It also resulted in our guide Yves slowly saying ‘Girls, this is how you hold a hammer and this is how you use it’ talk. Yay – I have truly grown as a person.
The next day we then headed to Torres Del Paine National Park. And the introduction to rain, wind and cold which has pretty much followed us this WHOLE trip. Good times. Oh and a damaged ankle, bleeding-cut head, sunburnt scalp, achy back and splinter that won’t come out and appears to have set up home in my hand. Thank goodness mum is here soon. Oh and the mother of all hangovers.
The refugio we stayed in in the National Park was lovely – views of the lake and mountains. I gathered my hiking boots, hiking socks and got my ‘waterproof’ outfit together. I felt quite the professional hiker! Although no gandalf walking stick (until later in Mirador woodlands)… I also lent my ‘spare’ waterproof trousers to another guy in my group. How I loved watching him hiking in front of me super dry whilst I quickly discovered that my ‘waterproof’ trousers were not actually waterproof in torrential rain. Rather they dried quickly. Marvellous.
Day 1 was an uphill hike to see a glacier but due to the extreme rain and wind, this was not visible when we got there – the bitter, cold end. I did see some wee icebergs though. Also my hiking boots had decided to turn against my ankle bone and render me incapable of walking. Hobbling in pain was pretty much how I spent the first day – and the bone has still not recovered as I discovered when water rafting 2 weeks later! Grr. And YES I know that everyone told me to ‘wear them in’…Oops. I think my ankle is just shaped in such a way that the boot was incompatible. Darn….. However, the saving grace was that I could not do the W Walk – which after being the coldest I have EVER been from a three hour walk, suddenly this did not seem SO bad. ‘All’s well that ends well’ as Nanna Joy used to say!
The national park is lovely and the scenery is totally amazing. HOWEVER, having experienced voluminous rain and people carrying winds, I would say your experience is likely to be weather dependant. I couldnt really see much view wise sometimes (as you are pretty much staring at the floor the whole way trying not to trip) and when its raining heavily and fareezing cold, enjoyability levels sort of diminish.
We mulled around this national park for a few days and a few of us hiked again – a smaller sized hill with gorgeous views. It was superrr windy and we had nowt else to do as the truck broke down.
Then I attempted to hike again on the Day 4 – the last day of the W Walk. IN MY PLIMSOLS. It was sunny-ish but uphill and I must admit, walking in cath kidston flowery plimsols was probably not designed for such! As the group passed, I cut my losses at the half way point. Hiking is not my bag – staring at the floor and breathing like an 80 year old on a treadmill does not quite fall within my definition of fun. So I headed back to base where two cocktails awaited. FUN at last.
I should point out that I did participate in hiking to high, scenic points a few times and have photographic evidence for this.
We then headed back to the mainland for the next part of our journey. But not before the lovely DJ, a lady in our group (aged in her 60’s) chatted up a cowboy looking, harmonica playing marine from Argentina! Ha. Go DJ.
Next stop El Calafate – home of the Perito Moreno glacier – and a rare sighting of the….SUN! aMazzzing. Especially as I did not expect it to be warm near a glacier. The Perito Moreno glacier is beautiful and the sounds it makes when the ice is falling off is amazing. definitely worth a visit. And we had SUN! Double celebration.
Also had a chance to get some washing done which when you’re living out of a backpack, this is a very exciting moment! Althouuuuu I thought I put my hareem trousers in and then when I got my washing back and they were not there, I ‘accused’ the hostel of losing them. No one else had them and tears welled after this and banging my head on a window and cutting it open. Note – blood seeping scalp is not a good look. Luckily a good Argentinian meat feast with wine helped cheer me up. Oh and I then found my trousers buried in the bottom of my sleeping bag a few days later! (a common issue when residing in a two person tent and changing in your sleeping bag I should point out. I wonder what else is in there….). Turns out I didnt place them in the wash as I presumed. OOps. Wish I hadnt asked everyone in my group to check that they did not have them by mistake. Ditzy blonde anyone?!
We then headed to El Chalten and I signed up for ice climbing. And rented hiking shoes so that I could do this activity with my deformed ankle. However, due to the strong winds (I am not kidding, they were SO strong) this was no longer possible. So instead I went for ice trekking and I think it is the best thing I have done on this trip. So AMAZING. And terrifying. I mean the crevices were gigantic and one slip from me would likely render me down at the bottom, sobbing – and cold naturally. Thankfully this did not happen. Woop. Did I also mention that I had the second BEST burger I have ever had in El Chalten – naturally nothing can beat Queenstown Ferg burger. It was super big and yummy. Mmm. This was also where camping ceased for me and Marion – hoorah.
The next day Marion, Svenja and Yentz (a lovely couple from Germany) and I went hiking. A last attempt to see if I enjoyed this activity. Rain again and it was confirmed that I did not. Not uphill anyway. I did however, find a Gandalf like walking stick and posed mystically with this. And posed like a tree in a forest with super cute small trees. Its the little things.
That evening I went out to dinner with Marion, Nam (a lovely Aussie girl who is travelling for a WHOLE YEAR!!), DJ, Carol (the oldest member of the group at 66 years old and travelling for 6 ish months) and Karleen (a really sweet, integrally honest lady from Belgium who has pretty much travelled everywhere!). It was really nice learning about other people and their lives etc. It could be that at home, you generally meet and befriend kindred spirits but on a tour with people from all walks of life, you see a wider range of personalities, beliefs and experiences. Suddenly wanting to spend the rest of my life travelling does not seem so unusual.
Then on route to our next destination, the truck broke doown again. I was ok with this as we got to stay in a cafe with internet and I had my first Pisco Sourz. Yay. Plus obviously it was raining and we had been due to camp. Due to the time that it took to fix le truck, we got placed in a looooovely hostel. Cue clean sheets and a bed. Happy Tara.
The next day was driving to a farm in Chile for horse riding and meat feast bbq. Stopped off at the famous cave of hands and basked in the glorious sun. Its a rare thing on this trip although it may not sound like it as I have mentioned it quite a few times. Horse riding was good but terrifying and not something I would EVER do again. Marion’s horse tried to buckeroo mine (on purpose ;)) and my life flashed before my eyes. I also screamed ALOT. Did the gorgeous horse ask me if I wanted to gallop super fast with it across the Chilean terrain – er NO! I was literally like a jelly bean bouncing from one side to the other praying not to hit the ground. I have never felt my insides jiggle around SO much. Its like my stomach internally touched my throat passage and my heart hit my shoulder. Seriously. The next day I couldnt bend from back ache. This tour is hard work. Then I got the splinter that wont leave my hand.
Next up was to Fufutaleufu (Foot a la foooo as we liked to call it!) where we ‘camped’ for the night. Due to the truck breaking down we couldnt spend a whole day here as planned and that was a bit disappointing as it seemed a lovely place and the water rafting is supposed to be ace here. Oh and I say camped but actually, there was a chalet free so Marion and I went in that with the carol, karleen, dj and dirk and ingrid – who have been travelling to the most amazing places. We had a lovely time here, the group cooked burgers and potatoes which were YUMMY and we had some cat wine. Its just got a cat on the carton – dont fear – there isnt some wierd animal cruelty thing going on here! We then discussed having a night out in Barliloche as although it may sound like I have been drinking somewhat on this tour – alcohol rationings would be the case here. A nice evening but on entry to the chalet we encountered millions – I kid you not – of moths circling the light outside. Think swarm of locusts for the imagery that awaited us. And fear. I woke up said older ladies as I screamed, running through the swarm to get inside.
Next stop Bariloche. Cute town, super nice chocolate and I got some for mum – however, I shall see how hungry I am by the time she gets here! Ha. It feels like we are back in civilisation and there was SUN!! It went the next day though. Of course.
Decided to do a small HIKE, it seems like this is all there is to do so I dont know why my jeans are getting tight! Some of the group decided on mountain biking but to be honest, I am tired now! So hiked a little then went to this lovvveeeeeely 5 star hotel for lunch which was soooo luxurious (and a tad pricey but sometimes you just need that reward!). This might be the reason for the jeans issue. Then, me, Nam and Marion decided to find a bar. Enough was enough now – give me a cocktail or ill cry was the general thought. And damn did we find them! The first long island was deceivingly ok, the second knocked my socks off and I don’t remember the remaining two that I had. But we danced, laughed and then headed home at half 5 that morning. Amazingly fun night and well needed. However cue major hangover on the bus at 8.30 am and genuine fear that I would throw up on the bus in front of fellow group whilst on bumpy road. Why was the road so bumpy!? Not good. However, I am a super strong person as I got through this trial, sick free.
Next up Pucon and torrential rain. We went white water rafting. In Torrential RAIN. But well, was in the water anyways! It was really good but panic of being flung onto a rock and drowning did cross my mind. I am definitely turning into a bigger worrier in my old age. I survived. Good times.
Then on day 22, we left at 6.30am to head to Santiago for our 12 HOUR DRIVE. I kid you not. But we arrived and were super happy to be placed in a lovely hostel with hot water and clean sheets! WOop.
Looking back over the tour, I am sooooo glad I did it. Dont get me wrong throughout – what with the wind, rain, cold, camping (and setting up the tent) and truck breaking down a few times – I did not really appreciate the amazingness of it all. Its hard being constantly on the go, getting up super early every other day and being stuck on a truck for houuurrs at a time. Also I was with 23 people I did not know that well – all with different personalities and habits. However, looking back at the photos I cant help but feel super happy about it all. It truly was an amazing adventure.
And I will miss the people from the tour – especially Marion, Nam and DJ – the lovely ladies who helped keep me sane.
SO now I am in Santiago where a new adventure awaits with my lovely mum. The hotel is super nice and I have done very little today but smile and enjoy the sun. Apparently rumour has it that the sun resides here. SO far so good 🙂