Weeks 41 to 42 - Patagonia, Argentina

Buenos Aires Travel Blog

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Tierra del Fuego - mini glacier

The only way is down!

After the high of Antartica, there was only one way to go, and that was down.  We finished the trip in the town of Ushuaia, which apart from being the departing point for trips to the Antartic, there really is no reason to keep you there.  So as you can imagine, being stuck in the most southerly town in the world (it claims) and the dullest town in the world (not part of tourist ads) for a week (no bus seats), we were bound to start going down hill somewhat.   It seemed crazy to have post holiday blues when, technically, we were still on holiday, but we could not stop them. We tried various ways to keep ourselves amused to fight off the blues;

  1. downloading our Antartica pictures onto our website - too frustrating as the connection was soooo slow,
  2. sleeping, a lot - hardly exciting but at least we escaped the blues,
  3. phoning family - good, but very expensive rates,
  4. drinking - I ended up in tears in a restaurant (embarrassing), so we decided to avoid that for a while, and
  5. walking through the local Tierra del Fuego National Park to see a small glacier - nice, but it really only killed a day, and it still wasn´t the Antartic!

So we just rode out the Antartica blues and prayed the week would pass quickly.

Torres del Paine - where are the mountains?!?
  

We escaped...........

Finally the day arrived when we could leave Ushuaia and 13 hours later we were back in Chile, in the town of Puerto Natales.  I would just like to add at this point that Patagonia is known for being remote, but I can honestly say that for the entire 13 hour bus journey the majority of the scenery was green fields with no human life whatsoever - crazy!

The purpose of our visit to Puerto Natales was to go trekking and camping in the Torres del Paine National Park, which is supposed to be the best national park in the whole of South America.  We planned to trek the ´W´, as it is known,  for 3 days, which consisted of two peaks and some stunning walks in between.  This was the first ´full on´ hiking we had done, in the sense that we bought a camp stove, camping utensils, brought all our own food, our own tent and sleeping bags etc.

Torres del Paine - oh there they are!
, probably would not see a shower for 3 days and had to carry it all on our backs every day (James more so than me) - how exciting, and scary!  We caught the 7am bus and arrived at our starting destination at around 1:30.  We had our first camp food of instant noodles, donned the backpacks and headed out.  And as if on cue, the rain started.  It was just like hiking in Britain, but just so slightly warmer.

The mountainous scenery that should have been stunning was mainly covered by low cloud.  Our plan was to walk up the first peak that day via Valle de Frances.  However, after two hours of walking in the rain, wind and mist we decided to set up camp at the base and hope the fog would have lifted by the morning.  The purpose of climing the peaks was the views, and if you could not see anything there really was no point, so we set the alarm for 4am in the hope that we would catch an amazing sunrise at the top of the peak.

Torres del Paine - Fancy a dip?...
  That evening we cooked our first camp dinner of ´pasta cook´n´sauce´ and went to bed praying our tent really was waterproof.

Unfortunately, the rain and low clouds did not clear by the next moring, but our tent was waterproof.  We held out until midday and then took the decision to walk to the base of the next peak, which was going to take about 6 hours.  After an hour of walking, we had finally left the rain and the sun was burning our eyes out.  The views were stunning.  The mountains above us were striking, some of which were snow capped and the lakes below were such a stunning turquoise, it was unbelievable.  At one point our hike took us right next to the lake and it was sooo inviting, if it had not been freezing cold glacier melt we would have jumped in.

Torres del Paine. The Peak. It was worth the hike.
  After about 5 hours of walking through gorgeous scenery we reached a cross roads.  We could either walk one hour downhill and camp for the night (but we would have to walk that same route again, but uphill, the next day) or we could hike for another two hours uphill and camp there, making us nearer to the second peak for the following day.  My tired legs were saying downhill and my brain was saying uphill, so James practically pushed me uphill for two hours.

When we reached our campsite the sun was still shining so we could see the very tops of our destination the following day, so despite being exhausted we could not wait.  We collapsed into bed at about 10pm with the plan for another sunrise viewing.  At 4am, we were too tired to move and headed out at a more reasonable 8am.

Torres del Paine - I´m not built for downhill rock climbing
(Always full of good intentions, but wed o like our sleep!). The two hour hike to the second peak,a nd the name-sake of the national park, Torres del Paine, was mainly uphill with the latter half requiring us to walk over loads of boulders, which was tough but fun. I am definitely not built for speed over those rocks.  The views on the way up were great but the actual peaks of Torres del Paine were awesome. Take a look at the piccies. It actually did not look real, more like something out of a film.

After taking lots of pictures we realised we did not have that much time to catch our bus back to Puerto Natales, so we ran back down to our campsite, quickly packed the tent and then ran the majority of the way back down to the bus, despite the sore knees.  As we were on our way back down the rains started again, so we could not have timed it better.

Glacier Perito Moreno - Huge!
  We caught our bus, slept on the way back to town completely exhausted but totally happy and cured of the post Antartica blues - hurray!

It´s Huge!

The following day we left Puerto Natales and headed back into Argentinian Patagonia to El Calafate, where we would see a huge glacier.  Now having seen a lot of glaciers in the Antartic we were wary of how big andhow god it would actually be.  Anyway, we need not have worried because when we got there and it was huge; a truely impressive sight!  Also, it moved a lot so you could hear it cracking all the time and hear pieces dropping off into the water.  We waited for about two hours and witnessed a huge slab of glacier ice falling off and crashing into the water - very cool (no pun intended).

It´s going......

Will the whales still be there?

For our next destination we had to make a choice, to either stay east and head to Bariloche, a pretty ski town, or head west to Puerto Madryn in the hope of seeing whales.  The risk was that it was very late in the season and the whales may have, if not already, moved on towards Antartica.  But we decided to risk it and head to Puerto Madryn and the Valdes Peninsular.  We broke up the very long journey with an over night stop in Rio Gallegos, another dull town, and caught our 9am bus to Puerto Madryn, that was going to arrive at 1:30am.

Going.....
  It did not arrive until 2:30am and we guiltily awoke our very nice hostel owners from their slumber to let us in.

The next day was an absolute scorcher.  This was the first time in about a month that we were back in our shorts and flip flops, it was fantastic.  We spent our first day here wondering about the town and checking out the beach.  We also discovered that there were no more whale watching trips going out as all the whales had left - boo hoo.  But  there was still plenty of wildlife to see there, so we hired a car and headed into the Valdes Pennisular National Park the next day.  

First stop of the day was the tourist information centre in the park where they informed us that there were still whales watching trips going out as there had been a few sightings each day - hurray!  We headed down to the beach, where the trips left from, to see if any boats were going.

Gone!
  When we arrived, they said that they thought there were a couple of Southern Right Whales still out there.  There would definitely be a trip at 3pm and maybe one at 12:30, if there were enough people.  So, as we have seen whales before we decided that if the 12:30 boat went out it was a sign and we would get on it. If not, we would hop off around the rest of the national park. 

Luckily enough the boat left at 12:30.  After one hour we had still not seen any whales, but then all of a sudden the captain saw one in the distance.  But it was not one, nor two, but EIGHT!!!  All mothers and babies, brilliant.  All the babies were flapping their fins and tails and generally playing around whilst staying very close to their mums.  It was amazing.

The Money Shot - a Southern Right Whale shows us his best moves
  We must have been watching them for about 45 minutes and it just was not long enough.  It was mind blowing and made us realise just how lucky we were to be on this trip.

If that was not enough, on the way back to shore, we saw pink flamingos, penguins and watched a seal hunting in a shole of fish - superb!  After that amazing trip (even the staff were amazed that we had seen eight whales) we hopped back in the car to explore the rest of the park.  Along the drive we saw hundreds of sea lions, a colony of Magellan penguins and then on our last stop of the day we walked down to the beach to view the sea lions, but what should we see in the ocean, not far from the shore, but a Killer Whale, an Orca.  Not one but two.  The fin on that animal was enormous.

Mummy and Baby - the size of submarines!
The Orca was enormous.  They were really close to shore and then headed further out, playing in the waves.  We wating for an hour to see if they would go for a ´beaching´ kill of one of the many, many sea lions close to shore, but they obviously were not hungry.

We were soo lucky that day, the whales all should have left and the Orcas were not supposed to have arrived for another month.  That day was the highlight of South America for us.

Buenos Aires here we come.......

The next day was another overnight bus journey to the beach town of Mar del Plata, which would get us closer to Buenos Aires for Christmas, and the all important party celebrations!!!!.

The baby´s head
.....

Natasha says:
These pictures of the burg & the whale are amazing.....You guys are truly Living The Dream!!
Posted on: Feb 17, 2007
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Tierra del Fuego - mini glacier
Tierra del Fuego - mini glacier
Torres del Paine - where are the m…
Torres del Paine - where are the …
Torres del Paine - oh there they a…
Torres del Paine - oh there they …
Torres del Paine - Fancy a dip?...
Torres del Paine - Fancy a dip?...
Torres del Paine.  The Peak. It wa…
Torres del Paine. The Peak. It w…
Torres del Paine - I´m not built …
Torres del Paine - I´m not built…
Glacier Perito Moreno - Huge!
Glacier Perito Moreno - Huge!
It´s going......
It´s going......
Going.....
Going.....
Gone!
Gone!
The Money Shot - a Southern Right …
The Money Shot - a Southern Right…
Mummy and Baby - the size of subma…
Mummy and Baby - the size of subm…
The baby´s head
The baby´s head
Look mum! I can flap my fins!
Look mum! I can flap my fins!
The Happy Couple - Moreno Galcier
The Happy Couple - Moreno Galcier
Look how far back it goes..
Look how far back it goes..
Valdes Peninsular - more Penguins,…
Valdes Peninsular - more Penguins…
Valdes Peninsular - Seals
Valdes Peninsular - Seals
Ushuaia - the end of the world!
Ushuaia - the end of the world!
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