Wednesday, 30 November 2016

Puerto Natales to Punta Arenas – Days 70 to 77

Have a look at our Youtube video of our trip to see the penguins: Youtube penguin island

The penguins on the Isla Magalena
We crossed the border from Argentina back into Chile at a tiny checkpoint in the middle of nowhere and had to get all our luggage off to be scanned and checked to make sure we weren’t taking any animal products or seeds into the country, arriving at our hostel, El Sendero in Puerto Natales at about 9:30pm after getting a taxi at the bus station. 

We saw this Argentine flag on entering El Calafate on the way to Puerto Natales. It just looks like the colours of the flag have run into the sky
Breakfast at El Sendero, Puerto Natales
It’s quite a nice but rustic hostel with plenty of space in the common rooms and an owner, Juan who is a bit of a character, renting out gear for Torres del Paine trips and running 3 busses to take people there and back – and he makes sure you use his bus and rental gear! His breakfast was a bit of a sugar experience, two types of cake, a piece of fruit, a yoghurt with cereal in the corner, fruit juice and tea or coffee.

A walk in Puerto Natales. 'I see no ships!'
We weren’t going to Torres del Paine on this occasion as we’ve booked a night in a tent in the El Chileno refuge in the park at great expense for the night of 2nd December, since it was fully booked until then. The idea was that we will go in on the bus on the morning of 2nd, walk up to the Mirador to see the view of the Torres, then walk back to El Chileno, stay the night and then walk out the following day. We have therefore booked into the El Sendero hostel for the 1st and 3rd of December and, in the meantime will return to Punta Arenas for 5 days just to pass the time until our booking.

Art in Puerto Natales?
Sunny by with a cold wind and she does suffer with achy ears in the wind!
We met some interesting people in our 3 nights in Puerto Natales, a ‘50 something’ couple who intend spending 2 years travelling from here in the very south, right up through South and Central America, through the USA and finish in Canada, mainly staying in their tent to keep costs down (they are more adventurous than us!), a couple from Brazil who went into raptures about how good their country is, gave us their contact details and said they would plan our trip for us if we go, and another couple who went backpacking in Torres del Paine park for 5 days without booking anything, something that now you are not supposed to do. From this year all overnights must be booked and you won’t be allowed in without proof of booking. However, no-one checked them and they got in and found the campsites half empty. 

We went for a walk along the front and these two dogs followed us. They ran down this pier and chased the flock of birds
In case I don't get a photo of real guanacos!
We checked online and they are all reported as full, so we can only do our 1 night, we just don’t have the nerve to wing it as they did. It seems they haven’t got the booking system properly sorted yet, but we still don’t want to chance it. Our 1 night will allow us to see the main view, so hopefully the weather will be OK.

A perfect day in Puerto Natales - as long as you have a coat on!
Jackie copying the athlete sculpture, 'tribute to the wind' or something!
We returned to our Airbnb room in Punta Arenas, run by Hernaldo for 5 nights on 26th November but, to date, we haven’t seen him! The house has been full of people we don’t know, all Spanish speaking, but we think they are probably family, one moving in a load of furniture, another gardening and washing and someone else we have seen before who lodges in one of the rooms. 

Have to include a photo of a pussy cat every so often
The NAO Victoria replica
We also had fellow Airbnb guests this time stopping in the other upstairs room. They were a mother, son and daughter from Santiago on a 5 day holiday and we managed to hold a conversation with our limited Spanish. On their third night they had to move to a house a few doors down as the son had only booked 2 nights instead of the 3 he thought he’d booked, however no-one else turned up that night so we don’t know what happened. We got talking about our stay in Santiago next week and Felipe, the son told us to use Uber taxis as they are much cheaper. When I told him we can’t as our UK phone won’t connect here he went out and got a local SIM card for us, fitted it in our phone and connected us to Uber all for no cost. They left with hugs and ‘you are like friends to us’ parting words, such nice people. However, we still don’t know how to use the Uber app, so not sure if we’ll use it or not.

Jackie trying out a hammock on the Victoria
Whilst here we’ve had some good days out. We visited the private exhibition of the full scale replicas of the Beagle, that carried Captain Fitz Roy and Charles Darwin on his voyages of discovery, the NAO Victoria that carried Ferdinand Magellan on the first round the world voyage (actually he didn’t make it round the world as he died, but the ship made it), the ‘James Caird’ lifeboat that, in 1916 Shackleton modified using parts from the ice bound, doomed Endurance in order to escape from Elephant Island and make his epic journey through mountainous seas to mount a rescue for his crew stranded on the island some months later, plus the ship ‘Ancud’ that was used by Chileans to claim Patagonia for Chile and build Fort Bulnes in 1840’s. 

On the Victoria
The NAO Victoria from the Beagle
We later visited the Sara Braun palace, a beautiful building overlooking the Plaza de Armas, built in the mid 19th century and now a national architectural monument. Shackleton visited there in 1916 to summon assistance for the successful Chilean rescue of the crew on Elephant Island and the building and adjoining hotel now has a ‘Shackleton Bar’ with paintings depicting the crushing by ice and sinking of the Endurance in Antarctica, the escape in the James Caird and subsequent rescue.

The Beagle replica
Yesterday’s trip was the highlight of our time here and that was a visit to a penguin colony on Isla Magalena, a small island 30km off the coast of Punta Arenas, containing between 56,000 and 58,000 couples of the rare Magellanic Penguins. After visiting lots of agencies round town we picked the ‘Comapa’ company that offer trips three times a week on an old ferry that takes just over 200 people at a time. We visited their office to find they were sold out for Tuesday, the only day we could make, but the girl did say that they sell 200 tickets from this office, but there are usually 20 more available on a first come first served basis at the port from 2:00pm onwards (the boat sails at 4pm). After visiting the tourist information office the lady there phoned the port to find they still had 40 tickets available from there, and she should know as her son, Edward, is one of the guides on the boat. 

Shackletons 'James Caird'
We arrived just before 2:00pm, got our tickets, waited for the 4:00pm sailing. Jackie met Edward, who was expecting us, his mum had phoned him to say two English people would be turning up. He even offered to run us back to the house afterwards, but we had to wait until he had finished helping all the old people off! We declined and caught a collectivo back. But how sweet is that?

Jackie on board the Ancud
The island is about a mile in diameter and has a fenced off path round the outside where close viewing of these inquisitive penguins can be done. They are completely unafraid of humans and some of them come close to view us, we wonder whether we’re a human zoo for the penguins to observe! Even with a boat load of 200 people turning up there is plenty of room and doesn’t feel crowded or a problem to the penguins and it was an absolute delight. Though we were first off and kept ahead of the crowd! They are fabulous creatures living in holes in the ground, some with new born chicks and always fun to watch. 
Jackie propped against the strong wind waiting for the bus
We had an hour on the island, which passed very quickly, but we were both quite glad to get back on the boat as it was so cold and windy! The two hour trip out and two hours back again was relatively uneventful, we did spend a lot of time looking out to sea, hoping to see dolphins and whales, which apparently do visit quite regularly at this time of year, but sadly we didn’t see any, swimming penguins, many sea birds including huge Skua and three sealions, but no cetaceans. It was still a great 5 hour trip and we can absolutely recommend it. Have a look at our ‘Youtube’ video of the trip

Inside the Sara Braun Palace
Today is our last day here, as tomorrow we head back to Puerto Natales and El Sendero for our trip to Torres del Paine. Before we go we have to walk into town to use the free wifi at the bus station to post this blog and Youtube video as the wifi here at Hernaldo’s isn’t working. It’s been pretty intermittent over the last few days, starting when the wind picked (we could hardly stand up in it!) but has been non-existent for the last couple of days. Still, at least it’s mostly sunny, just a little bit of rain, but such a cold, strong wind! Let’s hope the weathers OK for our trip into Torres del Paine!

A painting showing the crushing of the Endurance in the Shackleton Bar
We had an evening meal out too, I had warned him of this impending expense but King Crab (looks like big spider crabs to me) is just not something we get at home, so having surveyed all the menus we took our choice. A big serving of King Crab for two to share, beautifully presented and simply eaten with hot bread, homemade mayonnaise and spicy salsa, and a crisp bottle of Chilean sauvignon blanc. I was on a charm offensive and managed to get extra bread and dips before talking to the American guy on the next table. He appeared to have had the same crab we did for a starter followed by a huge portion of lamb. He offered us some of his red wine after we’d finished as he couldn’t drink it all, and then offered some of his lamb as it really wasn’t as good as he’d hoped. He was probably right, it wasn’t as good as it should have been here, but compared to lamb on the average British BBQ it was pretty good! I had a lovely evening, and may have woken with a slightly dull head, but that was soon blown away the next morning!
Our King Crab meal
Painting showing Shackleton leaving his crew on Elephant Island to go to get help
The Sara Braun Palace
How does this work? We saw this pool table in the Sara Braun Palace, but we've seen others like is as well. There are no pockets for the balls to drop down. Perhaps it isn't a pool table at all
On the boat to penguin island!
The island in sight
Penguins everywhere!

This little guy creeps along behind Jackie while her back is turned
Mum with two babies peeking over her back
Another mum keeping her baby warm
Multi-tiered living!
An intimate moment between penguins
A bit out of sequence this one, but this is Jackie filling in the immigration forms before getting on the bus at El Chalten in Argentina, for crossing the border into Chile

Wednesday, 23 November 2016

El Chalten & Mount Fitz Roy National Park - Days 67 to 69

Have a look at our Youtube video of the hikes we did in Fitz Roy National Park:
Our trip so far: Central and South America

A near perfect reflection of Monte Fitz Roy in Laguna Capri

We trundled off, the 1.5km with our little wheeled rucksacks behind us (a good buy so far) arriving in good time at the bus station via the Santander bank, where we pay no charges, here or in the UK, for our three hour bus ride to El Chalten. It turned up 45 mins late, making us glad we didn't go for the half hour changeover time on our return before going to Puerto Natales. By which time I'd accosted some poor bloke, a big bearded American, in the queue, asking him when he was going to finish his book, where he was staying, he probably thought he'd pulled!

Sarah and Vaughan and the big yellow lorry they are travelling in
Relatively short bus ride but through much of the same sort of boring scrub landscape we've spent lots of time driving through, so thought perhaps I'd better give finishing my book a go. Success, by both parties, just before the scenery changed and 'Mount' Fitz Roy came into view.

Vaughan and Sarah showing us the inside of their lorry
Trundled the 1km from the bus station to the hostel, if we'd remembered we should have booked a transfer with the company based out of the hostel as we could have been taken all the way there. Ho hum, still, not as bad as people we know who were on the right bus, but forgot, walked the 1km with huge packs on, only to find the bus parked outside! We were greeted by a very nice young man telling us we were the lucky ones, we'd been upgraded to the hotel next door. Also that the last two days had been the only ones in the three months he'd been there that it had been sunny and not completely clouded in! It is a proper hotel, toiletries and everything, not to mention bowls of toffees all over the place! Goes for about twice the one we were booked into, hurrah!

Our up graded hotel in El Chalten
Thought we'd go out for a beer and have a look at the facilities in the hostel, after all, if we were going to cook, it would have to be there, and the Tripadvisor reviews all say the same things, kitchens small and not well stocked, probably to make you give up and eat in the hostel, serving food 24 hours (why?) walked out of the kitchen towards the book exchange to be stopped in my tracks as there was Sarah, the English half of the U.K./NZ couple last seen at Santiago airport. 
and our room - posh isn't it!
We knew they were doing 51 days in Patagonia in a big off road lorry/bus thing but what were the chances of that? Grab a beer and sit down for a good catch up, only for Nancy and Josie the French Canadians from the glacier to walk past! That was not quite so surprising, but there are a lot of hostels in town so still quite a coincidence, and we'd so nearly walked down the road, not up! Lovely evening.

On the Laguna de Los Tres walk
Up for a good breakfast, though all sweet, no savoury, before heading up, along with everyone else in El Chalten, to Laguna de los Tres, the standard hike to get the best view of Fitz Roy. It's a relatively easy 10km until the last km which is quite steep and just seems to go on and on. Good views and lunch before shouting rude comments to Nancy and Josie as they sauntered past from the lake edge. Good chat and made a dinner date at B&B the beer and burger bar before letting them head off, well they are both very quick, running down whenever possible, trying to encourage me to do the same, as they have both suffered in the past with painful knees, for which I carry my walking poles, running reduces the weight in each step apparently! Hmm, don't do running, and not sure the brain can process information fast enough!

Our first view of monte Fitz Roy
Back in time for a shower and quick look round town, not that that took long before, our date, met my American waiting for his burger, hope we are not all going to be disappointed. No, absolutely fabulous, and a happy hour pint, and good chips too! We decided not to join N&J for their sunset hike, another beer was calling, and we have English movie channels......

At Laguna de Los Tres with Monte Fitz Roy behind
Second day, second standard hike, Laguna Torre, recommended by N&J and Sarah and Vaughan. Interesting lake, with icebergs floating in it, slightly shorter than yesterday and relatively flat, till Brian stuck his oar in and decided that with a path on his GPS, not on the map that they hand out to all and sundry, and not on the 'proper' map we borrowed from Alex we could make a nice circular walk! Hmmm. Questioning people we met, everyone looked blank, but sure enough, at the point marked on the GPS there sort of was a path, they'd blocked it off, and didn't want you to use it, and it was very overgrown, but the other options were a lot further, so I was sent in to bushwhack! We did hit Laguna Capri where we expected it, and I suppose it worked, but there had been a lot more up than I'd allowed for when I set my pace on the way in! So, knackered, we bought a beer (from the supermarket at 1/3 the price of the bar) and some crisps for after our shower and decided we'd then go and treat ourselves to our first, and probably last, Argentinian steak, though actually we shared a meal as 400g of meat is quite enough for two. It was fabulous, made all the better with the thought of an easy day tomorrow!

And who should we see there? That's Nancy in front, Josie behind
Ha, we started talking to the lone lady sitting next to us who recommended another hike, I thought this had a viewpoint after a short while and we could just go there, but sadly I was a bit confused, this was another 'hard' rated climb, 4 hours in! It was a pleasant walk, but without much to see till we got to the top, or the viewpoint, which wasn't the top, but to the top we had to go, very steep, and a lot of a slog. Fortunately for Brian who should we find at the top but Nancy and Josie, so he didn't get the ear bashing he deserved. He was surprised to see them there, I would have been more surprised not to see them there, knowing they were planning their relaxing day yesterday!

And there they are back at the hostel about an hour before us
We let them go ahead though I did try a gentle jog for some of it, and we would have really made it back in record time, except we met an English guy who thought he was going to the easy viewpoints, I gave him my map and explained his mistake and took him back to where the path divided, though not before meeting a Spanish speaking family who thought they could pop to where we'd just been in a few minutes too. We left them heading off to the viewpoints too! Our good deeds done we arrived at the icecream shop two minutes before it opened, about an hour after Nancy had got there, but she was still waiting! Great icecream, back for a shower before meeting up at their new hostel for a quick beer before going over the road to the burger joint, which was so busy tonight it really couldn't cope, the food was just as good but arrived in random order, along with random beers. Oh well, we shared a table with a couple from Barnt Green, 10 minutes away from where we live, who have been travelling 18 months! 

El Chalten as we walked up on the Laguna Torres walk
Walking through meadows with amazing scenery up ahead
We had a fabulous evening, lots of laughter, before saying our farewells to Nancy who we will be sure to look up if we ever end up in Canada and Josie who we may catch up with later in this trip, who knows. We are all off to El Calafate tomorrow, them earlier than us to get their flight to Buenos Aires and us to catch our connecting bus to Puerto Natales.

And it was worth the effort once we were there
People go to amazing lengths to get a good photo
How about this one?
Does that iceberg look like its got a birds head and beak to you?
The deviation to Laguna Capri following a track on my gps where no map showed a path!
But we did eventually find our way to Laguna Capri and got this photo and the perfect reflection photo at the top of this entry
A condor flies overhead
And we spotted this red headed woodpecker on the way back
On todays walk up to Lomo del Pliegue Tumbado. El Chalten in the background
What is stopping that rock from rolling downhill?
A parrot/lorakeet
After a 2.5 hour walk in trees with little view we finally emerged onto open hillside. Our final target was that white pointed top just to the left
Getting into the tough steep part of the walk, but the views really opened up
Jackie consults with a couple of people on the way down to see if its worth it
The really steep part of the final ascent. Jackie was not happy and I'd already been called a bully!
But as we got to the summit who should we find there but Nancy and Josie. Look at the smile on Jackies face, I am saved from an ear bashing!
And the views were as good as we'd hoped. Monte Fitz Roy on the left, Laguna Torre glacial lake beneath it that we'd walked to yesterday, Laguna Capri just about in the centre that we took a detour to yesterday and El Chalten is in the distance on the right
A closer view of Monte Fitz Roy and Laguna Torre
This little chap was gliding around overhead on the summit hoping for scraps from the trekkers
Back down in El Chalten again. The mountain we climbed is just peeking out on the left behind that big mass of rock directly below that upturned 'T' shaped cloud
A final drink with our new found friends Josie and Nancy. We've done a lot together since we met a week ago on the bus from Ushuaia. We may see Josie again somewhere in South America, but we're only likely to see Nancy again if we visit Quebec in Canada. Farewell you two, we've had great times