|Holiday 2001 in Patagonia|
The ranges of the Andes are widest in the northern region, forming broad plateaus
and containing many mountains with elevations in excess of 6,100 metres (20,013 feet).
The great Atacama Desert, with its vast nitrate fields and rich mineral deposits,
is situated in the plateau area.
In the central region, the plateau gives way to the Central Valley, which is 965
kilometres (about 600 miles) long. The fertile area between the Aconcagua and
Biob&íacute;o rivers forms the agricultural heartland of Chile. The central
Andes are narrower in width and have lower elevations than those in the north.
The country's finest natural harbours are located in this region in Concepci&óacute;n
The long chains of islands along the southern coast are formed by the peaks of
the submerged coastal mountains, and the coastline here is indented by numerous
fiords. The southern Andes have elevations that seldom exceed 1,830 metres
(6,004 feet). Chile lies in a zone of geological instability and is subject
to earthquakes and volcanic activity.
About 95 per cent of the people are of either European heritage or are mestizo -
a mixture of European and indigenous descent. Only about 3 per cent of the people
are Native Americans, while 2 per cent have other ethnic origins. Chile has a
strong European-American influence, in population and culture; German and Swiss
immigrants, among others, intermarried with the Spanish colonists.
More than 4 million people live in the region of the capital Santiago, in the
northern end of the Central Valley. Only about 14 per cent of the population
lives in rural areas.
About 85 per cent of Argentines are descendants of western European immigrants.
Mestizos (people with both Spanish and Native American ancestry), Native
Americans, and others make up the remaining 15 per cent.
About 88.1 per cent of total population (1995 estimate) lives in urban
areas-the Buenos Aires conurbation is one of the largest metropolitan
areas in the world.
Day 1: Amsterdam - Madrid - Santiago
Due to circumstances I can only pack on the day I leave. Fortunately my flight is in the evening. Although I only bring the most essential stuff with me, my backpack is still quite heavy; just over 18 kg. Plus a daypack with several kilograms of photo equipment.
During the trainride to the airport I chat with a KLM stewardess who is interested in where I am going. Although she has never backpacked before she would like to do it sometimes, maybe in Canada. At Schiphol Airport we each go our own way, she is going to Cairo, I am heading off to Madrid.
Around 11 p.m. the plane lands in the capitol of Spain. Because I couldn't get a ticket for the same flight as the rest of the group I am travelling alone to Santiago. Hopefully we'll meet on Thursday in the hotel.
Day 2: Santiago
Around 1 a.m. I'm heading off to Santiago. The flight will take about 13.5 hours. The legspace in the plane is pretty bad, but fortunately the seat next to me is empty. I manage to doze for about 4 hours, almost a new record for me. I just can't sleep in a plane and the very cold air from the airco isn't helping either. Even with a blanket it is still chilly.
The first part of the flight is quite bumpy. Especially above Portugal. There is a lot of turbulence and the cabin crew decides to postpone serving food and drinks until we are out of the bad weather. As soon as we fly over the Atlantic Ocean the turbulence disappears and the plane is climbing to its cruising altitude. After eating some food I try to sleep something. It is already 3 a.m. Around 7 a.m. I wake up and realize that we are about halfway. We should be near the equator, it is my first trip to the southern hemisphere.
The time difference between Madrid and Santiago is 4 hours. At 10:30 a.m. local time the plane arrives at Santiago de Chile. Although the weather is perfect I miss the opportunity to see Aconcagua, the highest mountain of South America, since I don't have a seat near the window. This means I'll have to come back one day to make a picture. I am trying to make pictures of the highest mountains on each continent, just like some mountaineers do when they are doing the 7 summits. The only difference is that I don't climb mountains, the picture taken from a distance is good enough.
In the terminal of the airport a taxi driver has spotted me already. He knows the hotel where I stay and drives me to the center of Santiago. We talk about the Netherlands and Chile and I realize that living in Spain for more than a year pays off when speaking spanish. Although I still consider myself a beginner a conversation is possible and the people like that. Meanwhile I watch the roadsigns and check if the driver is not trying to screw me. The guidebook says a ride from the airport should be between $10 (if you speak spanish very good) and $25. I pay $23 so probably a few bucks too much. Since I am deadly tired I don't want to haggle. I am glad I am at the hotel. The man behind the desk is very friendly and also speaks a bit english. They were already expecting me. Although it is a low budget hotel the room is cleanand after a few minutes they bring me towels, soap and toiletpaper. According to the guidebook toiletpaper is a rare item in the bathrooms so this is very promissing. I decide to sleep during the afternoon and after about 6 hours of sleep I feel much better.
In the evening I go out to explore the neighbourhood. There are many shops where you can eat and on Avenida de Londres I have spotted an internet cafe. A pizza with a Coke is all I need for now and when I return to my room I fall asleep within half an hour despite the fact that my room is noisy.
Day 3: Santiago
I wake up quite late and and remember that the hotel is not serving breakfast after 10 o'clock. So I decide to walk a bit north towards the shopping area. There I have a Big Mac brunch. I should go back to the hotel now, because the rest of the group should arrive within one or two hours.
At 1 p.m. a group of about a dozen people enter the lobbyof the hotel. I recognize the name of the travel agency on the labels attached to their backpacks. Since there are two groups of that company arriving today I have a 50 percent chance that this is my group. I introduce myself and the immeadiate response is "ahh, you must be the lost person from our group". So I have found my travel companions. Now I have to remember 13 names. Lets hope I'll manage within 2 days.
I get a new room today. I will share it for the coming 2 days with Frank, the tour guide. The first impression of the group is quite good. Most of them seem to be experienced travellers. I'll bet that we will exchange some travel stories in the coming days. After a small briefing some people head off to the bank to get some money, while others stay in their room to rest a bit. They suffer from the same fatigueness as I experienced yesterday.
Since I am trying to meet with my collegue Bruno and his wife Christina tomorrow I am trying to figure out where I have to go.I have the street address and with the help of Italo, the man behind the desk, we find out that I'll have to take the metro to Avenida Departamental. I also realize that Bruno gave me two different phone numbers, one of them contains a typo....
In the evening we go out and have dinner in the Barrio Bellavista area.
Day 4: Santiago
Around 9 o'clock I wake up. Quietly I have a shower and get dressed, because Frank my roommate is still asleep. When I enter the room where breakfast is served a few people from the group are already there. We decide to explore the center of Santiago together and visit the cathedral and the mercado where we meet a man who talks pretty good German and a young Chilean guy named Vladimir, who speaks Dutch with a flemish accent. He lived in Belgium between the age of 7 and 17 and explains to the group all about the restaurant where he works and the many dishes that they serve.
Then it is time for me to go back to the hotel and call the parents of Christina. My guess about the correct phone number is a good one and in my best spanish I explain who I am. I ask if Bruno is present and after a few seconds I hear a familiar voice. We have a small chat and then I take the metro downtown. The place is very easy to find and the welcome Christina's mother is very nice. After a good lunch with typical Chilean ingredients (e.g. something similar like a tortilla española, but then with pumpkin and cheese) we have a very nice time together with the entire family. They insist that I stay for dinner as well. Their hospitality is overwhelming. Bruno drives me back to the hotel. It is already a bit late and it reminds me of the fact that we have to get up very early the next morning. At 6 a.m. we should be ready in the lobby.
Day 5: Santiago - Puerto Montt
At 5:15 a.m the alarm wakes me up. Time for a quick shower and packing the last items. Around 6 o'clock most people are in the lobby, some of them still a bit sleepy. The bus that will bring us to the airport is on time. It is still dark outside. but when we are close to the airport it gets light. After checking in most people take a sandwich and coffee to really start the day.
The flight to Puerto Montt takes about 1.5 hours. When you go south you can see a dramatic change in the landscape and climate. The mountains are not so high anymore and the surroundings is much greener, due to the colder climate and the fact that it rains more ofter. It is definitely better for hiking than in Santiago. Lets hope we don't get much rain.
With 4 other people we try to find the highlights of Puerto Montt in the afternoon. Along the waterside you can find the Palafitos, houses build on wooden poles. We discover a few locomotives which were used in the last century for the railroad between Puerto Montt and Santiago. Near the harbour there are a lot of restaurants where you can have a good meal for less then 3000 pesos. The most important item on the menu is salmon. In this area we also discover a restaurant that looks like an antique shop. This is the place where we have dinner in the evening.
Day 6: Osorno vulcano
At 9 o'clock in the morning a bus brings us to the Saltos del Rio Petrohue, a nice waterfall where we start our first hike in a rainforest (1 hour) and then we go to the Osorno vulcano. Part of the top of the vulcano is covered by the clouds. The bus drops us off at the foot of the vulcano and we hike from 640 m. to 1165 m. where we are picked up by the bus at the refugio. The bus ride is quite bumpy. Today the majority of the group is a bit ill. Most of them have cramps and diarrhoea. Bert is staying at the hotel and Arda has a tough day during the hikes. At the end of the day we return to Puerto Montt.
Day 7: Alerce Andino national park
Today we go to the Alerce Andino national park. Due to the high humidity and the mild sea climate the vegetation is abundant. This park is more or less a rainforest. There are lots of beautiful flowers and even humming-birds. Also the Alerce tree (Cypressoida fitzroya), a family member of the North American Redwoods, can be seen. Some of these trees are about 4000 years old. The plan is to follow the trail to the last laguna (9.5 km.), but I decide to stop after 5.5 km. The speed at which the group is hiking is a bit too high for me and I've spend too much energy already. It is hot and humid and I am sweating enormously. Since we know that the last part is very muddy with several steep parts I think that I've made the right decision. So I enjoy myself at another laguna for 2.5 hours. Meanwhile I have a few talks with several other hikers who stop here to enjoy the view.When I see the first people coming back, covered in mud, I know that I am very happy that I didn't continue.
Today the single woman are talking about Valentine's Day. It looks like they are expecting something ....
Day 8: Puerto Montt - Chiloé island
We are going to Chiloé island. It is a bit rainy in the morning and it takes about 3 hours to get there. We visit the fishing village Achao. We spot the first sealion in the water near the ferry and even a pinguin. In the afternoon we arrive at Castro. Time for some Valentine's shopping. Together with Joop, Nico and Bert we buy a few cards. The girl behind the counter is smiling and knows exactly what we're up to. Near the harbour we have a drink in a restaurant where we write the cards together with some poetry. The waitress also smiles when she realizes what is going on. In the evening we return to this area to enjoy a nice meal with the entire group.
Day 9: Chiloé island - Chiloé
national park - Puerto Montt
I wake up because I hear a few people talking in the hall. I recognize the voices, they belong to my group. It is 6:45 a.m. Almost time to get up. More and more people wake up and because we are sharing the toilet and the shower in the hall I get up as well. Bert has the envelopes with Valentine's cards and places them in front of the door where the single women are sleeping. Within a few minutes they spot it and later we hear that they liked the attention. Despite their earlier statement they now think that Dutch men are not that dull.
We have breakfast in a kind of livingroom and then the bus brings us to the Chiloé national park. A small boat takes us to the other side of the river and a bit downstream. Different kind of birds are near the waterside.
Some parts of the hike are a bit muddy, but the scenery is very nice. At the beach we find 2 dead sealions and a bunch of vultures who have just started lunch. At 13:30 p.m. the same boat picks us up again and then the bus brings us back to Puerto Montt via Ancud.
When we go to our rooms in the hotel we find a piece of candy hanging on our doors with the message "besos de ...". The ladies have done their part of Valentine's Day.
Day 10: Puerto Montt - Punta Arenas
In the morning we fly to Punta Arenas, the largest city in Chilean Patagonia. We spend the afternoon to visit the city, read our email and just relax a bit. There are not a lot of exciting places to visit here. The town is mostly used as a starting point for hikers to the Torres del Paine national park.
Day 11: Punta Arenas - Seno Otway - Puerto Natalis
Early in the morning we visit the Pinquineria at Seno Otway. This is definitly a place worth visiting. Although you are only allowed to walk on the paths and boardwalks you can get very close to the pinguins. Also nandus and foxes can been seen here. One of the foxes was quite tame and we all make fantastic pictures. Visit this place early in the morning or late in the afternoon, bacause then the pinguins are on land. The rest of the day they swim in the water.
The bus brings us in the afternoon in 3 hours to Puerto Natalis.
Day 12: Puerto Natalis - Torres del Paine national
park (refugio Lago Pehue - refugio Grey)
The bus brings us from Puerto Natales to the Torres del Paine national park. It is a 3 hour bus ride. We leave most of our luggage at the refugio, and only take our most essential stuff (including our sleeping bag) to the refugio Grey. The sign says it is a 3.5 hour hike, but it takes me 4.5 hours. I am deadly tired when I arrive. During the last hour Nico has carried my daypack. I probably didn't eat enough during lunch so my body is empty. I'll try to eat more tomorrow.
Day 13: Torres del Paine national park (refugio Grey - refugio Lago Pehue)
The rest of the group starts early in the morning with a 5 hour walk to the foot of the Grey glacier. Since we also have to hike back to refugio Pehue (4.5 hours for me) I decide not to join the group, but only make a small hike to the viewing point. The hike back is nice and I feel much better than yesterday. It is perfect hiking weather.
Day 14: Torres del Paine national park (Valle Frances)
Today we are going to the Valle Frances. This hike will bring us in the center of the Paine massif. The weather is perfect, but since it has rained a lot last night the trail is muddy at several places. From the refugio Pehue we walk along the lake and after crossing the bridge at the end of the lake we arrive at Campamento Italiano. This is the start of the trail that takes you all the way to the glacier in the valley. Since I don't want to walk too long I stay together with 3 other people of the group at the morene wall. The rest will walk up to the viewing point beyond Campamento Britannica, a hike of 4 extra hours. We hear the sound of pieces of ice falling of the glacier. It looks like thunder.
At the end of the day when we have dinner in the refugio it starts to rain again.
Day 15: Torres del Paine national park (refugio Lago Pehue -
hostería Las Torres)
Last night is has rained and it is stormy weather. When I woke up in the middle of the night I could feel the refugio moving. Outside a group of Dutch people travelling with the same travel company are sleeping in tents. I am glad I am sleeping inside the wooden building. Although it is quite cloudy in some areas you can see a lot of stars in the sky. I recognize Orion, but it looks funny upside down. Betty claims she sees the Milky Way from her window.
In the morning we take the boat back to refigio Los Torres. It is still rainy and windy. But the water level in the river has dropped more than 1 m. so the bus can drive over the bridge crossing the river. A few days ago this was impossible. We also see a lot of guanacos.
In the afternoon we start a new hike to the center of the Torres del Paine massif. The tour leader claims that this is the only way to see the Torres. It is cold and after 30 minutes it is raining quite strong. A few people decide to return to the refugio and I join them. When I walk at the campground near the refugio I take a look to my left and I realize that the Torres are clearly visible from where I am standing. So you don't need a tough hike to make good pictures. Of coarse the bottom part is ot visible, but this is good enough for me. After 4 hours the rest of the group enters the refugio. The say that this was the toughest hike so far. A lot of climbing, cold windy weather and even snow. Again I am glad I returned earlier.
Day 16: Torres del Paine national park - El Calafate
A minibus takes us back to the entrance of the park. Another bus is waiting for already to bring us all the way to El Calafate. During this 6 hour drive we cross the border of Argentina. On the pampas we see sheep, nandus, guanacos, foxes and condors. At the end of the day we are all tired.
Day 17: Perito Moreno glacier
At 7:30 a.m. the alarm clock wakes me up. We have breakfast at 8:15 because at 9 o'clock the bus will pick us up for a trip to the Perito Moreno glacier. The weather is good although there is a little bit of rain near the glacier. It is really impressive to see pieces of ice falling into the water that have the size of a house. The sound of falling ice is something you cannot desbribe. It sounds a bit like thunder. Although I have whitnessed several of these glaciers all over the world it will always be fascinating to watch them. Because of the danger of falling ice and big waves you cannot go to close to the Perito Moreno glacier. Fortunately they have made nice trails towards the it.
On our way back the bus has some problems with the suspension. The driver has to stop 3 times, so we arrive a bit later as planned in El Calafate. We have just enough time to do some shopping for the lunch of tomorrow and then have dinner. We end the evening in a little cafe and then rush back to the hospedaje, because we have to get up very early the next morning.
Day 18: El Calafate - El Chaltín
It is 5:45 a.m. when I wake up. The alarm clock is making a lot of noise, but my roommate Nico has some problems waking up and decides to sleep until I have taken a shower. I have a light breakfast, because yesterday's dinner was quite heavy.
The bus that takes us to El Chaltín is at the hotel at 7 o'clock. It is a 4 hour drive over unpaved roads. The landscape is empty but still impressive. Halfway the bus stops at a bar in the middle of nowhere. Two very tame guanacos amuse the whole group. El Chaltín is a small village near Fitzroy mountain. Today the weather is reasonable. We stay at the Albergue Patagonia where a Dutch woman is running the place together with an Argentinian man. She says they only had 8 good days since november.
During the afternoon we hike a bit and see part of Fitzroy every now and then. At the end of the day it is getting colder and the wind is getting stronger. I will put on my thermal shirt and put on an extra blanket on the bed.
Day 19: El Chaltín (Lago Torre)
The plan for today is to hike from El Chaltín to Lago Torre. We leave at 8:30 a.m. together with a local guide. Apparently you'll need a guide when you are with more than 10 people. The terrain is not difficult and the weather is good. Some people in the group complain that we are not walking fast enough, but it is perfect for me. After 3 hours we arrive at the glacial lake. We have lunch there and then return to El Chaltín. Cerro Torre is not visible today. It is almost completely covered by clouds. This is a bit disappointing. Apparently the mountain was perfectly visible in the morning at 7 a.m. People who have seen it say it had the typical red color that you only see for a few minutes when the sun is just above the horizon.
We take a slightly different route back and arrive around 3:30 p.m. in town. There we go to a nice little shop where they sell homemade icecream. I have a combination of vanilla and calafate. This is made from the berries of the calafate shrub. A legend says that everybody who eats from the calafate will return to Patagonia. Lets hope that this is true.
Day 20: El Chaltín (Lago Condor)
Since I have an inflammation on my left big toe I am not joining the rest of the group today. They are going to hike to Lago de los Tres.. I decide to rent a mountainbike and go towards Lago Condor. The road is rocky and since I haven't been ride a bike for almost 2 years I can feel my muscles. The strong wind that blows in the valley is also not helping. I pass the waterfall Chorillo del Salto and stop for a few minutes to take some pictures. Near the road is a group of horses who carefully watch what I am doing.
Every now and then I get off my bike and walk for a while. Especially when I go uphill. This is definitely not the terrain for a flatlander out of shape who only bikes on well paved roads and bicycle lanes. But I continue and after 3 hours I have a nice view of the glacier Marconi. The mountains in front of Fitzroy are also clearly visible, but Fitzroy itself is hidden in the clouds. Again I feel a little disappointed. But I got a very nice picture from Joop of Fitz Roy. He was lucky enough to see the peak for a few minutes on that day. At this place I have my lunch and then I go back to the albergue. Because I now have the wind in my back it takes me 1 hour less to return. At the moment I enter the building it starts to rain. Perfect timing.
Day 21:El Chaltín - El Calafate
The bus that will bring us back to El Calafate leaves in the afternoon, so we have an easy morning. We visit a few souvenir shops, have a drink and a walk near the river.
During the 4 hour ride back to El Calafate we see a nice sunset and beautiful patterns of clouds in lots of colors. It is a nice goodbye from Patagonia.
Day 22: El Calafate - Buenos Aires
In the morning we do some shopping and I also check my email. Then we go to Pietro's, a cosy cafe where Arda treats us for a drink and a piece of cake, since it is her birthday.
In the afternoon we fly to Buenos Aires. We stop halfway for about 30 minutes. Buenos Aires is hot and humid. What a difference with Patagonia. With 5 taxis the group goes to the hotel.
Day 23: Buenos Aires
Today we can decide ourselves what we are going to do in Buenos Aires. So I join Nico, Joop, Arda, Jan, Anne and Bert and head off towards the Plaza del Mayo. From there we go in the direction of Boca. We visit the a museum and on our way back we enjoy a very good icecream in a local shop. We also visit several churches. In one of them a service is taking place so we are very quiet. In the evening we have dinner in a restaurant where they have great roasted lamb and beef.
Day 24: Buenos Aires - Madrid
We only have a few hours in the morning to do some shopping or so, since we have to go to the airport just before noon. During the night it started to rain (the thunder woke me up) and it has not stopped since. So I'll take it easy, have a late breakfast, and start packing. After that I take the last pictures, do some last writing in my notebook and have a chat with a people from the group. Since Arda and I return with a different flight we say goodbye already a the hotel. With a taxi we go to the airport and there we have lunch. At the time we have to board we meet the rest of the group again and say goodbye again.Then we fly via Madrid to Amsterdam.
Day 25: Madrid - Amsterdam
In the morning I arrive at Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam. I say goodbye to Arda and take the train to Rotterdam. Then I take taxi that brings me back home. I am tired, but have a very good feeling about this great trip.
This document was last updated on 22/09/01