Sunday, 25 February 2007

A "bonus" day in Bariloche

Today we discovered the joys of small airlines when LADE cancelled our flight. Sadly there were not enough seats for all of the passengers to slip onto the Aerolineas Argentinas flight to Calafate this afternoon but the promise we'll go tomorrow....
LADE is an airline run by the national air force. While they are cheap and don't have an evil system of charging foreigners close to twice as much as locals (like Aerolineas does) they have limited flights and apparently, have a reputation for cancelling flights. Ah well, this is why we've got an extended timetable I guess!
We are headed from here to the Torres del Paine and Fitz Roy National Parks, hopefully soon.

Paso De Los Nubes- The Clouds Pass

This trek goes along the valley north of Mount Trondador from Pampa Linda and over a pass (Paso de los Nubes) to Laguna Frias where you can catch a boat back to Bariloche.

We caught the Club Andino Bariloche minibus "Meiling Express" out to Pampa Linda south-east of Bariloche. Having had Mount Trondador ("the thunderer" named after the sound of falling pieces of glacier on it's side) watching over us for pretty much the whole time we've been trekking around the lakes district we were finally going to it's base!

Our first day was a little cloudy preventing a view of the summit but we could see the huge snow covered base as we walked from Pampa Linda to see a black glacier and the Devil's Falls. These two features are well and truly on the tourist trail and sadly we were sharing the road up with tour buses and tourists training to be rally car drivers. The forest itself is pleasant and the reformed glacier interesting. Basically black glacier refers to all the rock and gravel trapped in the ice that reforms a glacier at the base of the cliff when the Manso Glacier drops in huge blocks over the edge. The patterns in the ice are interesting even if the brown lake isn't the prettiest I've seen. The falls were not as spectacular as I'd hoped but this may have been the constant line of people we were part of walking up and back.

By contrast the next day was spectacular. We went up to Refugio Otto Meiling which sits at the edge of the permanent snow line at between two glaciers at 1920m on the side of Mount Tronador. The refuge is the CAB's base for ascents to the summit and a friendly lodge just to enjoy the view which looks over the valley to Pampa Linda and across mountains in every direction. On the way up we stopped for lunch at the falls at the base of the falls below Castello Overo Glacier. These falls were very pretty and we had a great view up to the glacier with fingers of ice teetering at the edge of the cliff ready to drop onto the valley floor.

Day 3 was perhaps the highlight of the whole trip for me as we went out onto the glacier with the friendly and patient mountain guide based at the hut, Morisio. In the morning we went with a group out onto the glacier to get close up view of the crevasses and try a little ice climbing in one of them. It was very exciting. In the afternoon we cut the trip down to the Paso de Los Nubes from 9 hours going down into the valley and back up into an afternoon across a glacier and down a ridge with great views the whole way of the surrounding mountains and lakes. Check out the photos on smugmug. I've tried to paste them here without success! Note the huge pack Marisio carried across to the Pass - his paraglider so he could try and have fly with the condors after dropping us off!
After camping with views of Glacier Frias at the well set up CAB campsite we walked out to Laguna Frias in the morning. Day four we could see why this is called the Pass of the Clouds walk with clouds shrouding the tops of the mountains. Thankfully it didn't rain until we arrived at the port though as while the trail is well kept there are many logs to clamber over which would have been very slippery. For this last day we had the pleasure of walking with Camilla from Norway who is working on a book on Patagonia and has been walking especially in Southern Patagonia for the last 5 seasons. Not only knowledgeable but also lots of fun to chat to making the journey pass quickly.
While our trek had finished the trip back is a long one. The boat-bus-boat combination you need to take is the last part of the Cruce del Lagos tour that goes from Puerto Montt, Chile to Bariloche, Argentina. It's definitely got a regimented tour feel with lots of waiting around it is when you're trying to move several hundred people. The little trip up to the Cascada del Condora was rainy but we did see an Alerce tree which is supposed to be a million years old which had a fantastic and expressive trunk.

Friday, 23 February 2007

More Photos

We've managed to get some more photos up - mainly of some mountain scenery, as well as us trekking across & climbing in some fairly spectacular glaciers!

Saturday, 17 February 2007

El Bolson

Taking a break between treks we headed down to El Bolson, a small town about two hours from Bariloche. This place is Argentina's answer to Byron Bay, with loads of hippies, tourists and beautiful scenery - though in this case it's surrounded on all sides by snow covered mountains, rather than beaches. It's also the home of the country's best ice cream, and some very good microbreweries - making for a very happy Kat & Tom :)

We chilled out and didn't get up to a great deal - accommodation is particularly cheap (& good) here, so we had a great room at "Los Helechos". This place was great - double room, private bath, kitchen & garden for $30AUD a night. And that's the top end of town - I think you can get rooms on some of the nearby farms for about $4 a night. Given that it rained/snowed pretty heavily while we where here the splurge was worth it.

The main reason El Bolson is famous is for it's market, which is held every Tuesday/Thursday/Saturday. About 300 (official) stall holders rock up, along with quite a few unofficial ones. Apart from the normal stuff you find at these sort of things (plenty of jewellery/wooden goods/home made jam), the microbreweries where well represented, along with some of the biggest waffles I've ever seen/eaten - just the thing for gaining back some of the calories we've been burning off :)

Tuesday, 13 February 2007

Nahuel Huapi Traverse

This was a three day trek we did around the national park outside of Bariloche, around some very scenic lakes and rock spires. The trek starts at the local ski resort (you catch the cable car up), and then hops between refugios along the national park. The full length is 4-5 days, but we ended up only doing a 3 day trek, as the route was closed due to snow beyond that. The Club Andino office in Bariloche wasn't particularly helpful on this front - after selling us the maps and talking about doing the trek, we had to specifically go back and ask about whether that section was open, and oh no, it's not! Luckily we'd run into Carrie & Abran again, and they'd had the same experience and warned us to check - the american guy at the CAB just hates his job...

The trek was a bit different to the other ones we've done so far - a lot of scrambling/climbing over rocks and up and down very steep sections, which isn't that fun with the packs on. Luckily we'd decided to not take the tent and stay in the refugios along the way, as that made them slightly lighter. A couple of great 'scree running' sections though, where you could almost ski down the slopes the earth was so unstable.

The first night we stayed at Refugio Frey next to Cerro Cathedral, which is also the premier rock-climbing destination in Argentina. We seemed to be the only trekkers there that night, everyone else was definitely there for the climbing. This provided some great photo opportunities, with people up & down rock spires that look like they could fall over at any minute.

Saturday, 10 February 2007

Bariloche

We've reached the land of chocolate and good coffee. Need I say more! :-)
Bariloche is definitely not a laid back normal town but it has enough normal town to at least partially disguise the fact that it's a tourist town all year round. When it's not a major ski hub in winter it's the place where Argentina's (and many other nationalities) young take their summer break. It is in a beautiful location though on the edge of a large lake surrounded mountains.
We had a strange start when we arrived at La Justina to find one of the other backpackers who thankfully let us in while the owner was missing in action on errands. Lucky we didn't wait for her cause this lasted most of the afternoon. While it's a relaxed place with a nice kitchen and garden and friendly host having difficulty finding Justina was a bit of a pattern throughout our stay. The lack of locks other than the front door wouldn't be to everyone's taste either I suspect.
We've found lots of tasty places to eat including a deli just opposite the famous Juaja icecreamery with great salads and sandwiches, a place that did international mezze plates inspired by indian and middle eastern cuisines (hard to come by over here) behind the CAB office and a microbrewery with 7 beers on tap.
Tom was not easily taken with the row upon row of chocolate shops that line Mitre Street but having tried the good stuff at Mamushka I think he may finally have come over to the dark side and even he is talking about when we can go back! The Russian doll theme to their packaging is very cute and the chocolates inside gorgeous.
You'd think all we do is eat! The plazas here are full of trees and good to lounge around in but so far I think Bariloche is a good place to prepare for activities near by than a destination in and of itself. So far we haven't found supermarkets that are as good for stocking up for the trail as in Chile but we've found enough to stop us going hungry on the trail.

Thursday, 8 February 2007

San Martin de Los Andes

We climbed back over the pass we'd reached on the Villaricca traverse and crossed into Argentina via the dusty bumpy road. After about two hours of our bus going through border posts we are the proud owners of two new stamps in the passport. Fortunately we had fantastic views of Volcán Lanín to keep us occupied as we waited.
Immediately the effect of the Andean rain shadow becomes apparent and the land on this side is much drier and there are wide fields of dry grass reminiscent of the western plains of New South Wales.
San Martin de Los Andes is a pleasant upmarket ski town that is also popular with summer travellers and sits on the edge of a lake. We were very pleased to have booked our accommodation as even the place we'd finally found was now also saying no vacancies in the window.
There is a touristy craft market in the town square and already I am seeing loads of people relaxing in the parks drinking the famous national drink, or should that be pass-time, Mate.
For dinner we went to Ku a Parrilla restaurant that serves typical Patagonian specialties including the tasty deer we had with wild mushroom sauce. Also tasted the local artisanal beer and managed to prize off the label for my growing beer labels of South America collection.

Wednesday, 7 February 2007

not dead having great time

For the record i was not in a hostel fire . We where too busy having a great time seeing magma at the top of volcan villaricca and fantastic views throughout our trek. more on that later.... We are now clean and looking at how we will get to Argentina.

Tuesday, 6 February 2007

Villarrica Traverse

We're now back in Pucon after completing the Villarrica Traverse, a 5/6 day trek through the length of the national park, starting at the base of the volcano and ending up in the one horse town of Puscoe. The views along the way where outstanding and constantly changing, as we circumvented around two volcanoes and then went between several very scenic lakes.

We where a bit apprehensive before starting the trek, as LP had it listed as 'demanding', and gave warnings about the lack of water and risk of exposure. However it turned out to be not too hard at all - the trail was well marked, there was plenty of water around, and while we where pretty high up, the weather held really well (apart from some rain on the last night).

We started the trek straight after climbing Villarrica, and so only got an hour or so in the first night (tired legs!). Our campsite was right at the base of the volcano, giving some great sunset & sunrise shots. The next day was then fairly short, as we'd already gotten a little way in - we'd finished up soon after lunch, and spent the afternoon lazing around, trying not to get too sunburnt. Days 2 & 3 ended up being fairly long (9+ hours), as we where condensing the trek down from 6 days (LP recommended) to 5 (park ranger recommended). We where out in the middle of nowhere by this point, unfortunately we where joined by a group of guys on dirt bikes exploiting this - they did the national park no favours!

The 4th and 5th days where pretty straightfoward, with some great views of Volcano Lanin along the way. We finished the trek on the 'International Highway' (read: dirt road) linking Pucon in Chile to San Martin in Argentina, where we though we'd be able to hitchike back - no such luck though, not enough traffic! We ended up walking down to the one restaurant in Puscoe with a dutch couple who'd also been on the trek, with the intention of asking the owner to call us a taxi. Instead he drove us himself, which was an experience all by itself - sitting in the front, careering down a dirt road in a van with a heavily cracked windscreen and several additional holes to the normal model. Got back into Pucon safe & sound however, and then went out for a 500g sirloin, cooked as only the South Americans can. Photos up soon!

Thursday, 1 February 2007

Climbing Volcan Villarrica

Today we climbed Volcan Villarrica, which was a great experience. You have to do the ascent through a tour agency, unless you have mountaineering experience. As we don't, we just made the easy/lazy choice, and went with Volcan Activo, which is run by the same people as our hostel. It turned out really well though - our guide for the day (Rodrigo) had one of his mates (Mathew) from Italy in town, so our group was just those two, us two, and Paul, an English guy we'd actually met in Chiloe. Some of the other groups we saw had more than 20 people in them - no thanks!

The actual climb was surprisingly easy - while we had ice picks and crampons in our bags, we never needed them, and the ascent wasn't particularly steep or difficult at any point. There are so many people doing it (up to 300 a day!) that the path through the snow is very well trodden and strightforward. It was more like a day off for Rodrigo with Mathew in town - he spent most of the day messing around making a video for another mate from Italy who'd bailed on coming to Chile at the last minute, starting snow ball fights and drinking the bottle of fine Argentine wine they took up to the summit. Definitely more cowboy than some of the other operations, but also a lot more fun :)

The view from the top was spectacular - a full 360 degree view for a long, long way. We had great views to Lanin (an even bigger Volcano on the Argentian border), as well as all over the national park and nearby lakes. We also got to see some (small) bits of lava flying about in the crater, and a lot of sulphuric gas - the noise and heat alone coming out of the crater was impressive.

The best part of the day - rather than walking back down the volcano, you take the much more enjoyable option of sliding down on your butt. After an hour or so at the summit for lunch, we put on all the full snow gear, along with a reinforced 'nappy' over the top. Then straight down the mountain! There are several 'chutes' in the snow specifically built for this, so it's kinda like a colder mud-slide. We managed to get down in about 30 minutes through 5 different slides - apparently November is the time to come, when you can slide all the way straight through from the top to the bottom of the mountain. Great fun, though snow gets everywhere! We then walked out to a very welcome beer in the car park, provided by Herman.