The end.

So the trip is over! We are home and (most) of our stuff is in one piece. So how did we end the trip?

We took a holiday! Yes, a holiday from our holiday. The idea of getting up and hiking or cycling everyday was getting a tad tiring so we had an idea to take it easy.
We arrived in Mendoza and went to visit some wineries (by bike). We had a great tour at two of the wineries and tasted some great Malbec! We visited Traipche (circa 1883. One of the oldest and biggest wineries in the country), Familla Zuccardi (circa 1863 still run by original family and has all the orginal wine making equipment/tanks) and Tempus Alba (circa i dont know but quite modern – they are trying to clone a pure malbec and analyse its DNA or something). Highlight was going inside an original fermentation tank made of cement and brick from the 1860s where they used to line the tank with beeswax prior to every use! We cycled home and clocked more than 60km that day. Holiday meter = not yet a holiday but getting closer!
The following day we slept in, ate cake, bread, ice cream, lazed about in a park by a lake and watched the Viedema festival pageant. The pageant was crazy! There is a performance equal to an Olympic opening ceremony and then they select a wine princess. I could not understand half of it but it was pretty hilarious. We then bused back over the border to Valpariso where we spent the last 3.5 days of our trip.
We stayed in a hostel in a little loft apartment. They had the best veggie burger! And their pisco sours were amazing too. We wandered the streets which are plastered with graffiti and murals everywhere. This place is amazing. Set on a steep hillside where houses are built almost on top of one another and they has these outdoor elevators that have been restored from around 1900 that take you up the hillside. Went on a walking tour, surveyed the local market, ate pizza, drank beer and piscos. Slept in most days ( until 8am a vast improvement from 6am most cycling /hiking days). From a travel point of view Valpariso was my favourite town we visited. However we have not really visited many towns this trip so there are not many to chose from. After 6 visits to different bike stores and much confusion we managed to board the local trolleybus with 2 bike boxes and spent most of a day packing up and cleaning all our gear. After an interesting box shuffle to get both bike boxes and 2 heavy packs to the bus stop 500m down the road we got on a bus and went to the airport.
I almost missed the days of cycling. With the exception of my quads. They were happy to be wandering the street at a leisurely pace and sitting at cafes rather than pedaling.
Trip highlights for me:
  • Discovering that I prefer cycling to walking to discover places.
  • Patagonia, glaciers and wild windy places of southern south america. Outstanding.
  • Chipa (south american cheese balls)
  • Pisco sours ( Chilean/Peruvian cocktail)
  • Watching Chris’s disgusted face as I eat manjar (insanely sweet caramel)
  • Learning how to ride a bike on gravel roads.
  • Walking on the southern continental ice field
  • Seeing Andean Condors fly over as at close range.
  • Meeting some amazing people and making great friendships.
  • Eating amazing home made jam

Chris’s reflection on the trip: “so long and thanks for all the fish”

Now its home to pack for our next life adventure. UK here we come.

Lakes District: El Bolson a Pucon

Okay. We still have not posted photos. We have finally found internet though. So Watch out!

I have been reflecting on the brokenness of this trip in the last few days. Between the two of us we have broken a lot of stuff this trip. To date the list looks like this:

  • Near new exped mat ( successfully warrantied thanks to Iba and Jenny acting as international mat smugglers)
  • A very old exped mat ( unsuccessfully warrantied due to its oldness.)
  • The brand new nemo mat we bought to replace the ancient exped mat. Repaired the leak we found but have failed to find the other secret hidden leak that leaves one of us on the floor each night.
  • Holes x2 put in bottom of Chris’s canvas backpack. Successfully repaired with trusty seamgrip and gaffa tape
  • Holes x2 put in hilary’s only pants. Repaired with tried and tested needle and tread ( thanks to Lee Sen for giving us the sewing kit)
  • Broken pole segment of tent. Repaired as per manufacturers instructions. Broken some more. Repaired with help of Spanish climber at backpackers. With the trusty gaffa tape and emergency pole repair sleeve with another helping of gaffa tape on top.
  • Hilary’s $10 front handlebar pannier bought on ebay. Velcro attachment points broken on 2 separate occasions and repaired at trusty Chilean shoe repairers. Status: currently appears to be holding on by a few threads. Longevity questionable.
  • Hilary’s watch. Stopped working. Unknown problem. Multiple attempts to replace battery failed. Status: given up, using the sun and moon to judge time.
  • Hilary’s phone. Was given an icy bath in Rio Pollone. Status: May cost more than its worth to fix. Hilary has given up using phone.
  • Chris’s laptop screen crushed by bouncing up and down on ripio for last 3 months. Ironically screen broke on last day of significant ripio riding. Status: laptop still operational but somewhat annoying to use.
  • Rackpack pannier hole repaired with seamgrip and gaffa tape as we have gotten into a rut of repairing everything with seamgrip and gaffa tape
  • Chris’s down jacket suffered ember attack whilst cooking on campfire. Repaired holes with needle, thread and you guessed it… seamgrip!
  • Hole in Hilary’s “raincoat” aka known as a coat one wears when raining. This definition does not include any reference to the garments ability to prevent the user from becoming wet. This is in part due to small hole in middle of back ( repaired with seam grip) but more likely due to mass delamination event resulting in small particles of h2no water proof membrane falling off coat onto the track/road whilst in use. Current percentage of jacket with membrane still attached to jacket less than 75%.
  • Chris’s new rainpants repaired with gortex repair patch. Hole incurred only an hour after Chris boasted that he had managed to not damage his new rainpants during main hiking/alpine section of trip.
  • Chris’s sleeping bag liner. Torn to shreds. Currently only covers lower half when in use. Status: unable to be repaired. To be retired upon arrival home.
  • Chris’s sunglasses. Likely broken. Location: somewhere downstream of where chris fell into a river at which time the glasses fell off in sympathy.
  • Most of Hilary’s clothes are no longer the same colour. Mainly due to poor wardrobe planning resulting in tops in shades of off white and light blue being included on the trip. The only garment unaffected is the brown travel dress and black pants. All other clothing is turning various shades of grey and brown.
  • Hole in camelback repaired with bike puncture kit
  • Hole in wine bladder repaired with the universally useful seamgrip and gaffa tape.

Synopsis carry seamgrip and gaffa tape everywhere you go!

I am sure I have forgotten things. Aside from breaking things we also have been doing things. We have been doing a lot of cycling and munching of late. The lakes district is full of resourceful locals who can make tasty things and sell them from their houses/farms/side of the road. It makes cycling exciting as you never know around the corner could be some cheese, bread, honey, marmalade or cake!

We started off in El Bolson, it was a slow start. We hung out in this relaxed place for 3 days eating icecream, drinking beer, Hilary’s went for a day hike to a local swimming hole, Chris did some work. Finally we packed our bags and hit the road. Over two days we covered 150kms to reach Bariloche. We immediately got sick of the big town feel with traffic lights, traffic and generally lots of people. We sampled the tasty goods they had on offer ( beer, pizza, chocolate and cake) and promptly cycled out of town. We spent the next week wild camping by lakes and rivers stopping in towns such as Villa Angostura and San Martin de los Andes to munch our way through all the tasty pastries, coffee, beer, icecream and chocolate they had. As Chris said “Cycling has never tasted so good!”

We also took a dose of culture just outside of Villa Angostura. The local rodeo was on! It was like watching a car crash over and over again. The local ambulance service was there eyes glued to the scene (so that they knew the mechanism of injury they were treating over course!). Men ( no girls) young and moderately old jumped on the backs of young untrained horses and used a leather whip to make the horse jump about. Most only managed to stay on for a few seconds!

Just before crossing from Argentina to Chile we made a detour to a hot spring 12 kms down a 4×4 track then 4km on single track. The detour took a whole day and we were relying on the word of a random man we met in El Bolson at our camp kitchen who had raved about this place. And he was right! Amazing! So out of the way that you barely had to share it with anyone else. The hot water emerging into the river and with the help of a few logs placed downstream a natural pool had formed. It was quite hot. Only spending  20minutes at a time in there before sitting out for a while. Eventually we returned to the road and the next day we crossed the border into Chile again.

We bordered a ferry and soon after disembarking found a brewery! We stopped to have a second lunch of pizza and beer (or pisco sour for hilary) before rolling 5km down the hill to camp in a little village called Neltume. This place had a great little feria combruista ( food hall) with tons of stalls of Chilean cuisine. It most 99% meat dishes but still cool to hang out and see families and friends gathering over food. The campground here backed onto the local river where everyone hung out in the shade to avoid the heat. It reminded me a lot of days spent in my teens hanging out in Bright during the summer!

The next day we rode into a town called Conaripe. We had intended to continue on to Pucon the following day but we were so taken with its bakery and lake that we stayed for 2 nights. Having a rest day sampling local cheese, icecream ( red wine flavour!) and baked goods and swimming in the lake in the afternoon.  The place was full of locals enjoying the beach, stores filled the main drag with pool inflatables and swimming costumes. It has been great to spend a week or two in the lakes region where a majority of tourists you meet are either Argentines or Chilenos. The whole place has an atmosphere more chilled out and at the same time crazy busy!

The next day we rode on to Pucon and found the coolest hostal to stay at. We immediately felt at home as the tour passed by a swimming pool where someone was learning to roll a kayak and there was a slackline setup over the pool too! We spent two nights there hangout by the pool and chilling on the couch. We went on a day hike up Cerro San Sebastian which offered amazing views of the areas volcanos and lakes. We found real sourdough bread and great pizza too!

Just as our holiday days are coming to an end Chris and I recount how this is our holiday from our holiday! Chilling out by the pool, eating ice cream, going to breweries, pizza, couch time with popcorn, reading. Its been pretty good to wind down before we head home to moving to UK chaos yet again.

We are about to run an exercise in logistics! Bussing to Mendoza with bikes, picking up our cargo and bussing to Santiago with bikes and cargo. I see headaches and bribes to bus drivers in my future…

El Chalten take 2

Sorry for the delay in posting folks. I had written 80% of this post on my phone. If you keep reading you’ll find out the fate of the phone. Since I cannot recover the post I had written previously I had to rewrite. Also ongoing apologies for lack of photos. In El Chalten internet is via satelite as there is no fibre optic connection for the town. It is worse the days of dial up internet… Once we get further north we will post photos retrospectively. Sorry!

We left Puerto Natales by bus with all our gear and bikes ( each sporting a hiking pack, 2 rear panniers and a rear rack pack of stuff) for El Chalten stopping briefly in El Calafate to change buses.

When we arrived it felt like a new place as the sun was shining and the mountains were on show! Last time we visited this town it was cloudy, windy or raining at all times. We spent the next day hanging out at the Cerro Torre lookout taking in the scenery. It is an amazing place. Pictures do not fully capture the scale of this place. Upon return to town we sampled the local beer and hatched a plan to start the Huemel circuit the following day. The good weather should last another day at least we thought. We returned to camp and repacked/resupplied.

The following day we headed off the complete the Huemel circuit. We were held up at the parks office in a steel vs aluminum carabiner debate. It was unsolved and we disappeared onto the trail without permits. We hiked through the forest and open valley to Lago Toro. From here the walk got interesting. Crossing the river via a tirolean traverse ( a steel cable bolted over the dangerous river crossing with a pulley on it, you wear a harness and clip into the pulley and pull yourself across the river) which was positioned with a slight incline in the direction we were travelling! After hauling ourselves up hill with heavy packs on our backs we scrambled up the hill side and onto a glacier. After crossing the glacier and scrambling up the next hill we came to Lago Tunel. I believe it is named so because of the wind tunnel effect here. Cooling air over the glacier above and a glacier below must create some microclimate effect because the wind was pumping! We rock pegged out our tent in the gravel camp site and tried to sleep. I am completely unable to sleep in windy tents. So I read a book for most of the night.

Early in the morning we got up ( ironically the wind had eased at this point) and walked up and over the mountain pass aptly named Paso del Viento (Windy Pass). As with all other mountain passes we have completed in Patagonia we received ice bullets to the face heading into the wind.  But our consolation prize was a view of the southern ice field. Chris has pointed out it is not an ice field/cap as its only 13000 sq kilometres and needs to be at least 50,000sq km to count. It is still massive!! Ice as far as you could see in all directions that did not have a mountain in the way.  After going through the pass we dropped down to calmer ground we skirted around the ridge passing the Paso Del Viento shelter and continuing on until rain stopped us. All the while terrific views of the southern ice field and glacier Viedma were to our right. We found a sheltered campsite and made hot chocolate.

The following day rain continued but only lightly and winds had dropped a lot overnight. We continued to circle Cerro Huemel (Cerro = Mountain in spanish) and climbed over Paso Huemel to gain views of the Viedma Glacier terminus. The track then turned downward into a mud slide all the way until you hit the shores of the Viedma Lake. We continued a short way in the valley heading back to town before camping for the night.

The wind had been calm at the time we went to bed but turned into a violent rage by 12am. Hilary could not sleep and so at 5am woke Chris and they walked back to town through valley and fields. The walk had been beautiful and isolated. The track was well formed in parts and near non existent at other points. Best of all we had not seen anyone from Lago Toro until returning to town! After the chaos of Torres Del Paine and crowds at the Cerro Torre lookout it was great to get some peace and quiet.

Back in town we feasted on cheesey balls ( “chipa”) and pastries. We then had the fanciest meal of the trip. We went out and enjoyed housemade ravioli and gnocchi and a chocolate volcano for dessert. After two days of admin and cleaning we felt ready to take on another challenge. This time we selected a circuit of the north part of this park which involves a traverse across the southern ice field. We packed 8 days of food, crampons, ice axes, rope and mountain boots.

The following day we rode 15km north of town with all our gear. Stashed the bikes in the trees and walked in through the valley towards the Marconi Range/Glacier. After a rather wet river crossing of Rio Pollone ( I fell onto my knee and pulled Chris with me, such that Chris was sitting on a rock in the river as my anchor whilst i got back onto my feet) , we made camp by Lago Electrico. I discovered at this time that my phone had been in my pocket in the river crossing and was now soggy!

We woke to light rain and cloud, we tentatively made our way towards the terminus of Glacier Marconi. It took some time to navigate our way onto the glacier from the southern edge but then found the terrain quiet easy until we had to take a hard right. The glacier must have seen better days and now is not in as good condition. After a moderate climb on snow and ice once again you navigate around some seracs to exit the glacier onto the rock buttress. Rock scramble up the buttress and back onto the glacier. Finally a long trudge along the glacier to reach the Paso Marconi. From here we could see the refugio on a rocky knob 1-2 kilometres off course. Tired and not keen on making ice walls to protect our tent from winds on the pass, we shuffled over the hut. Here we met 2 Germans with their guide who had essentially started only 30 minutes walk from where we had started. They took 7 hours to reach the hut where we had taken 12… After a short discussion it became obvious they had taken a different route. ‘Did you take the tirolean traverse?’ They asked. ‘There is a tirolean in the valley?” We responded. It turns out a tirolean had been installed after the glacier had become too difficult to guide people on, such that you can rock scramble up a rock gully and reach the pass without the technical ascent of the glacier. I am still glad we got go the way we did. The hut was placed in the most spectacular spot with mountains of every side and the southern icefield on view from the kitchen window.

The next day we recovered at the hut, slept in and started to lighten our packs by eating food! The following day was rain and low visibility so we stayed a second day in the hut. After two days of lazing about broken by trips outside to see the views every time the clouds parted it was time to make a move.

At 5.30am we set off to traverse the southern ice field! Distances seem so massive when you can see so far in the distance. After a few hours of walking on the snow covered icefield we could see all the way to the end point of our days walk ( that day we would cover approximately 25km!). We passed the west faces of the Marconi and Torres Ranges. Cerro Torre was cloaked in to clouds and only parts but not the whole mountain cleared into view during the traverse. Even so the parts we could see were amazing. The ice mushrooms! There is a unique ice formation in this area due to the crazy winds blasting the mountains with ice (rime) it gets piled on top of the mountain creating these mushrooms of ice! We walked until we saw the land formation that the map indicated was where we exit the glacier. When we arrived we realised that it was not so simple as stepping off ice onto land. After a brief wander around the seracs of the glacier we found a spot to build a snow cave to camp in for the night. The wind had long passed gale force and there was no great places to pitch a tent. After 2 hours digging the cave with ice axes and pots ( no snow shovel). we had built a space just big enough for the two of us. Just. We crawled in and used a bag to partially close of the gaping hole of an entrance we had built. (ideally one would make a cave with a smaller entrance and the room further in from the outside to protect from wind and rain/snow but we had not the time).

We slept a little whilst the wind outside made these sonic boom noises as the gusts picked up. It was like a car backfiring but lower key and more bass added. In the morning we woke to snow flakes drifting into the cave from outside. It was cold! Dressed in thermals (top and bottom) and down jacket plus waterproof shell jacket and pants I packed up our gear whilst Chris scouted around the rock gully near camp to see if we could scramble our way on rock rather than on the seracs of ice. He returned with success! A short fixed rope in a rock gully leading to a moderate section of glacier terminating at the lake where the track starts! We had slept the night only 500m from where the track starts. We scrambled with our packs in the wind and snow to the fixed rope and slowly rappelled back onto the glacier and walked over to the lake. By this time it was lunchtime! We picked up speed on the rock/ground as we climbed over ridges to Paso del Viento and reversed the path we had completed on the Heumel circuit. We made great time all the way back to Lago Toro where there are trees for a protected campsite! We made a late dinner and slept in.

We debated if we should continue to town, stay the day and rest or climb another pass towards Cerro Torre. The clouds were low and we decided to return to town. A 6 hour walk through the valley with grass and trees was such a change from the previous few days of walking!

On return to town we booked our tickets north to the sunnier lakes district of Agentina where we will swap crampons for wheels and cycle again! El Chalten certainly lived up to its reputation of wild weather. Snow, rain, wind, sun, poor visibility and clouds all of which at some point was featured in our visit.

Villa O’Higgins a Puerto Natales

Hola readers.

Since our last post we have crossed the border into Argentina and back into Chile again. What have we noticed in terms of differences?

  • Argentine roads are sealed but have narrow shoulders
  • Argentinian’s know how to bake bread and pastries! We have been consuming a dozen chouettes a day.
  • The pampas in Argentina is very pretty but dry and windy!
  • Everything is more expensive in Argentina.

On boxing day we left our hostal (el mosco – best hostal in town) at 6am to cycle to the wharf where we took a boat ride across Lago O’Higgins along with 6 other cyclists. The weather was fair ensuring a smooth boat ride. We cycled 1 km along a 4×4 track to reach the border control for Chile. This is a pretty nice place to wait for your passport to get stamped.  There were a few horses hanging about, a makeshift soccer pitch out front and stellar views of lake and mountains. We were able to cycle right up to the front door, lean our bikes on the fence and walk in, get stamped and jump back on our bikes and continue along the 4×4 track. This track lead up a significant hill on loose gravel and rutted trails to the border with Argentina. From here the track became a single track which was overgrown and sodden after recent rains. Crossing creeks and wadding through shin deep mud, walking the bike through many sections of complex tree roots and steps. At 5pm we finally and muddily entered Argentine Border control. A simple singular roomed building painted entirely in a sunny yellow colour with only one chair and table with a journal on it. Seated on the chair was a member of the national guard who wrote our details down in his book and stamped our passports. Behind him through the only window in the room you could see Lake Deiserto and the FitzRoy  mountain range. We camped here for the night and slept in after a long day. Taking the ferry at 11am to cross the lake and pedal 37km on ripio to El Chalten. The landscape had changed dramatically. Gone were the lush forests and waterfalls, they had been replaced by wide open valleys with low grasses and shrubs. The wind was pushing us to town and up the hills.

In El Chlaten we had wet and cloudy weather. We attempted to hike up to the various lookouts but cloud prevailed. We turned back and decided to return with our hiking packs after Torres Del Paine. Hopefully with a better weather window!

We cycled from El Chalten to El Calafate. We experienced the windy pampas. We flew down and up hills barely pedalling at times. We took a 90 degree turn to experience the same winds blowing us across the road into traffic. We took another 90 degree turn to cycle into this wind. It is possible, even with a fully loaded touring bike with well inflated tyres to go down a moderate hill and HAVE to pedal a LOT. We tried to have a rest and coast down the hill slowly. This is not possible. The bikes came to a stand still. We slowly ( pedalling 1 km in 14 minutes) pedalled into El Calafate and promptly feasted on pastries.

We visited the Perito Moreno glacier by bus. It was amazing! Listening to the glacier carve into the lake. We then ‘cheated’ aka bused to Puerto Natales thereby re-entering Chile.

We immediately went to the bus office to pick up our hiking gear that we sent in November. It was still there! We ate great pizza and hung out with the Famille de Bru ( a french family we have bumped into since La Junta in Chile many weeks ago).

Next? Off to Puenta Arenas to see some penguins and visit the Torres Del Paine National Park.

Photos to be uploaded when we get decent internet