A Travellerspoint blog

Maitencillo, Chile: Sun chasing halted in its tracks

overcast 12 °C
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Tuesday 11th - Friday 14th March 2014

The next morning we got some instructions from the friendliest receptionist ever on where to catch a collectivo to our next destination. Collectivos are a mix between a taxi and a bus. A mini-bus that has a set route but seems to pick people up and drop them off anywhere on that route. We were in luck and as we arrived on the designated street, so did our collectivo. And we were off. After our Bariloche experience I wanted to make sure that the driver knew we needed him to tell us where to get off, poor man. But fair play to him, just over an hour later he did. He made a wide sweeping motion with his arm tracing the endless stretch of white sand in front of us and declared that we were in Maitencillo and asked where we wanted to get off. Hmmm...I don't know. The centre? He nodded. But as the bus meandered along the beachfront we decided to hop off and continue on foot. In case we found a cabin we wanted. He pulled over, took our money and sent us on our way. Later, when we had walked the full length of the beach I was curious to know where he would have dropped us, because as far as we could see, there was no centre.

The sun was shining and the beaches were empty. It was off season so we'd have the place pretty much to ourselves. Yay! We pulled our packs on and started walking. There were indeed many cabins for rent but they all required you to phone a number to enquire. Not great. Forgetting the whole Spanglish issue, it meant we'd have to wait for individuals to come and meet us to view the place and what if we didn't like it? It could be a very long day! So we continued walking, mulling over our options. We then spotted a place that had a reception, aha! That was more promising and there must be more. So Zarius was left manning the bags while I went in to find us a cabin. The first place was very disheartening. She showed me two cabins and they were dark and pokey and depressing and had no views because the beachfront ones were fully booked. We carried on and found another place with beachfront cabins and this time we both went in. There was an old man running the place who informed us that he didn't have a beach facing one available but could show us something else. It had a braai outside, positive, the braai had some old chicken and an onion on it, not so positive...he opened it up and let us in. Bad. Really not good. We smiled, nodded and said we really did want beachfront so we'd have to pass on it this time. He told us to wait while he made a call and came back and offered us one closer to the road that was bigger but he'd give it to us for a special price. We knew it would just be more space to have more bad so we declined and went on our way. We tried a third, again no beachfront available and no outside area. We were out of receptions for beach cabins. We decided to grab a coke and weigh up our options.

There was a hostel that we knew had space but it was ridiculously expensive but we could go there for one night and at least leave our backpacks while we continued our search. It was miles away in the complete opposite direction, so we started walking. And that's when we found it. Our little cabin in the trees. Behind closed gates, surrounded by dense shrubbery so that they were almost hidden, we spotted some cabins dotted up a hill. Beside the gate there was a restaurant with a reception desk and the woman saw us looking longingly up the hill and waved us in. She turned out to be the receptionist for the cabins. They were self-catering but included breakfast in the restaurant. Would we like to view one. Yes please! Zarius stayed with the bags and I hopped, skipped and jumped up the steps behind her to the very top cabin that had the best views of the beach. She hadn't even opened the door and I loved it. It was hidden away surrounded by trees, stood on stilts, had a big braai on the terrace and a massive table. And then she opened the little wooden door and let me in and I was sold. Gorgeous! When I got back down to Zarius he took one look at my face and said 'so I take it we're staying here then'. They only had three nights available and we wanted 5 but we took it all the same. Which was probably a good thing because it was slightly over budget...

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Although it was a little, ahem, small for Zarius, it was perfect for me :-)
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The restaurant was pretty cool
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While all this was going on the sky was changing. Clouds were moving in. The wind was picking up and it was getting cold. Interesting. We pulled on an extra layer and went exploring. It really was chilly. So different to that morning. The place was like a ghost town but there were clues to how busy it must get in high season. Closed market stalls and huts, boarded up beach restaurants, signs for all sorts of water sports but absolutely nothing was open.

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The receptionist had given instructions on how to get to the closet supermarket and we set off to get some meat for a braai. The supermarket turned out to be a store that looked like it's shelves contained the original stock from when it first opened way back when. It was big and dark, everything had a thick layer of dust and the fruit and veg section was covered in flies. Of course I was delighted by all of this as I'm sure you can imagine. But, we had little choice and amongst the hardware and dusty shelves they had a very old butchers counter which Zarius declared to be fit for purpose. I personally wasn't so confident but he directed the lady to cut two huge steaks for us and wrap up a de-boned chicken too. We had meat along with some veg to go on the fire (I declared salad off the menu) and we were set.

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The next day we needed a chemist to get eye drops and asked a different receptionist where we would find one. Oh there's one beside the big Lider supermarket just over the hill he said. The big Lider supermarket. Really. 20 minutes later we arrived at a huge supermarket, a cafe and the chemist amongst other shops....

Weather wise it never improved. It remained overcast and cold for the duration, so much for chasing the sun! And the cabin was cold. Luckily they gave us a gas fire which I pretty much sat on top of for the three days and seeing as we had gone there to lie on a beach there wasn't actually anything to do without a car so we used the time to plan and write the blog and sort photos etc. It was actually really nice and every night we went to sleep to the sound of the waves crashing on the beach. One of my favourite sounds.

My 'winter' work station
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Zarius' 'summer' work station
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Although he did concede that it was cold at night and lit the fire
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View from the window
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When the three days were up we decided not to find another place but instead head to Santiago two days earlier than planned. We were meeting up with my cousin Damien to celebrate St. Patricks day in his Irish bar!

Posted by DeeandZarius 19:08 Archived in Chile Tagged chile chile_beach maitencillo north_chile_beach_destination chile_relaxation Comments (2)

Valparaiso, Chile: A visual sensation

sunny 19 °C
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At this point we are very behind with the blog. We're in Bolivia at the moment and the wifi has been poor to non-exisitant. This post is about Valparaiso, one of our favourite cities to date. It was written weeks ago, long before the tragedy of the wild fires that have been raging through the city since Saturday. From what I have read, thousands of homes and businesses have been destroyed and the very things that make the city such an amazing place to visit, the wooden houses, hills and long narrow roads are making containing the fire a hugely difficult challenge. We can only hope, that it is nearing the end now and that Valparaiso will be able to pick itself back up again because it truly is a very special place.

Valparaiso, Chile: Sunday 9th - Tuesday 11th March 2014
The bus from Pucon to Valparasio is 12 hours, our longest bus journey to date so we decided to treat ourselves to some comfort. Unfortunately, to get said comfort it meant changing in Santiago because we were booking very late (a re-occurring theme) but with the words 'cama suite' being dangled in front of us we decided to do it. And we were so glad we did. There are three or sometimes four types of seats; classic (exactly what it says on the tin), semi-cama (reclines to 40 degrees and includes a pretty useless fold out legrest that is meant to support your legs from the knee down) and cama (all the above but the seat reclines slightly further to 55 degrees and has a wider seat), these are the norm, then occasionally there's the elusive 'cama suite'. The ultimate in bus luxury. Or so we had been told.

We got on the double decker bus and we were directed to the left, through another door rather than up the stairs. When we opened it, we saw what 'suite' meant. There were only 6 seats on the bottom level, all fully reclinable. Lie flat beds! Cue many a photo! I think it's the closet we'll get to first class travel. We were given blankets and pillows and various snacks and bottles of water throughout the night. In hindsight, if we were ever going to get champagne, it really should have been then. I was delighted though and slept VERY well. Zarius seemed less excited about the whole experience it must be said.

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The connection was easy and we arrived in Valparaiso before 11am the next morning. We started walking from the bus station, in our usual aimless fashion. Guessing the direction that we thought the hostel might be in but soon realised this wasn't the place for aimless wandering and backtracked and hopped in a taxi. Our hostel, La Colombina, was located at the top of a very winding hill, Cerro Concepcion. Which, as luck would have it, is one of the best hills to be located on. The streets near our hostel reminded us of Shoreditch in London. Bursting with independent shops and art galleries. It's all a little bit quirky and cool.

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The hostel recommended a place for breakfast, El Desayunador, you could tell it was where the cool kids hung out. Original tiled floor, a huge mural on the wall, plants hanging from the ceiling and a very un-Chilean menu. And please don't judge me, but I was delighted. Sorry. I crave variety and choice. The menus in Chile and Argentina are pretty much identical no matter where you go, and breakfast doesn't really exist, so to find a place offering simple things like scrambled eggs and toasted granary bread and a fruit salad is amazing. 'Real' travellers wouldn't dare admit to such a thing, claiming that eating sweet cakes and sweet croissants and dulce leche (essentially soft toffee) for breakfast is all part of the experience but in that sense, I am not a 'real' traveller! Give me a bread roll and butter any day, I won't complain about that, but I can't cope with a sugar rush first thing in the morning! I think it's because when I was very young our mom told us that if we ate chocolate before having a proper breakfast we were 'feeding the worms'. The thought was terrifying. I never questioned why we would have worms inside us in the first place, but it was enough to put me off for life!

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We had heard mixed things about Valparaiso, it had a question mark beside it on our itinerary because it has a bad reputation and a lot of people said to give it a miss. I'd love to meet those people now. How they could possible say not to go there?! I don't understand. We loved it. It's rough and ready and a little bit scary in places but it has a real charm to it that we fell for immediately. The city, now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is a maze of winding streets and hills. The buildings are unique and beautiful and combined with the impressive array of murals on every single useable space, it makes for a wonderful place to simply walk and enjoy. Walking and looking. Soaking up the sights and the sounds and the smells! And that's pretty much how we spent our two days there. Wandering and enjoying the many murals and graffitti and street art.

Even this one!
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This post is really a picture post because essentially that's what Valparaiso is all about. We have hundreds of photos, but here are some of our favourites.

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It's a port city and when we were in town so were the Chilean Navy.

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There is a unqiue way of getting to the top of some of the steep hills if your legs turn to jelly at the thought of another steep ascent, using one of the many funiculars. A new word for me but we also came across it in Santiago. Some of them date back to the late 1800s which is impressive. It's like a cable car I guess. But not really...

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There were lots of places to sit outside and enjoy the sun and the views, something we have found hard to find in other places. So we took advantage of it and wiled away a few hours making plans, eating cake and sampling the 'Barro Lucas' which in Chile, is a steak sandwich with melted cheese named after a former president. It was pretty damn good.

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We really enjoyed our short visit to Valparasio and because we have loved Chile so much, we know we'll visit it again in the future.

But the weather, although sunny, was chilly. We felt like we hadn't had proper heat since Buenos Aires and decided to go chasing the sun for some beach time. We went online, looked at a map and then Googled all the little towns along the coast north of Valparaiso and settled on a place called Maitencillo. A small town with 5km of beach, lined with cabanas to rent. We decided to leave the next day and for the first time not book accommodation in advance, but instead turn up and find a cabin that we liked. Such a simple plan...

Posted by DeeandZarius 17:45 Archived in Chile Tagged chile street_art valparaiso bus_travel_chile Comments (2)

Pucon, Chile: Climbing Volcan Villarrica

sunny 21 °C
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Wednesday 5th - Saturday 8th March 2014

The bus pulled into Pucon in the early evening when the sun was still shining and as we walked from the station to our hostel (wondering how everyone else seemed to have a map) we immediately knew we were going to like this town. And we did. It's got such a lovely feel to it, despite the number of tour operators offering this excursion and that as you walk down the street, it still feels like a real, live-able town. If that makes sense!

We found our hostel, The Princesa Insolente, with little effort and we were very happy. It was recently taken over so everything is new. A nice clean room with new towels and bed linen and a lovely big outdoor garden area. We set off on our usual exploration and loved what we found. A really nice beach on the lake, a cute town with faux alpine log cabins and plenty of great restaurants serving...wait for it...vegetables and other vegetarian dishes! Yay!

There is loads to do in Pucon if you like being active. Hiking, rafting, kayaking, paragliding, sky diving, canyoning and of course one of the biggest reasons people visit, to climb the famous Villarrica Volcano. Now I had mixed feelings about this. I had been advised not to bother. But the more we read, the more keen we were. Until of course being me, I found the one and only super negative review on Trip Advisor. Two people on the same tour died in 2012 and others in the group were badly injured. And not from a single incident, but multiple accidents throughout the day. And then I read that out of every group that goes up, not everyone makes it to the top, they have to quit halfway because it's super difficult and hardcore and tough and blah blah blah. So I was worried. I wanted to do it, but I didn't. So we asked around and all the shops made it sound easy. Hmmm...then we got talking to a girl at the hostel who had done it and she claimed it was horrendously difficult but she got to the top and she wasn't that fit. Her words not mine. During this conversation we got talking to a Canadian girl, Kira, who wanted to do it the next day too so we eventually thought, sure why not, we may as well all sign up together. And we did. And then we went to the beach. And if you stayed lying down it felt pretty warm!

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The view while we had sundowners at the beach
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It turns out that the climb was not as horrendously difficult as everyone made out, BUT, it was surprisingly terrifying, which I had not banked on. And that is definitely a side effect of getting older. I now get 'the fear' more often and climbing this particular volcano took the fear to a whole new level.

We got up the next morning at 5am and as we drove to the base of the volcano the sun was rising and the views were beautiful. When we got out of the van we were above the clouds I decided that those views alone made the day a worthwhile event, even if I didn't make it to the top!

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We took a ski lift first, which cut out an hours walking. Not to be sniffed at when you have 4 hours of upward climbing to go even with the lift. Not everyone availed of this 'cheat' but they lived to regret it later.

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Our guide was very chilled and set a steady ( if not a tad slow) pace going up. We zig-zagged across the mountain making the steeps a lot more bearable. And the walk wasn't a problem at all for most. The pace and the zig zagging really helped. We did lose two of our group along the way. One older lady who I don't think knew what she was getting herself into and tried her best but had to eventually give up. And a young girl who had the worst attitude ever and from the word go dragged her feet, slumped over, huffing and puffing her way up. She was the type of person I knew Zarius wouldn't be able to handle and I laughed silently to myself as I watched him getting more and more worked up. She eventually admitted defeat and both ladies were escorted down the mountain by one of our guides.

The views looking down were breathtaking. We stopped regularly for breaks and took lots of photos.

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The climb really was beautiful. We couldn't stop looking around to soak up the views. Until we reached snow that is. And the rest of the ascent would be done wearing crampons and carrying ice axes. Scary. And this is where everything changed for me. As we strapped our feet into the crampons and looked up the mountain 'the fear' set in. 2 hours 50 mins to the top. We had a safety lecture on how to walk properly, how to carry the axe and most importantly what to do if we fell. How to stop ourselves from sliding down the mountain and off the edge of the cliff. Reassuring as it was meant to be, it was not. Especially because he gave such clear and precise instructions and then called first Zarius out and then me to drop to the ground and then stop ourselves and get up. Everything he said went out the window. I dropped to the ground, screamed, slid, forgot about my axe, remembered, dug it in, forgot to bend my knees, forgot to do everything he told me to do basically and there was only 2 metres of snow below me and then gravel. Not a mountain load and a crevice! But off we set. We continued with the zig zagging but this time I couldn't look down and enjoy the views. The views became my enemy. I was at times frozen with fear. A new experience. Luckily we had to concentrate so much on putting our feet one in front of the other and keeping the axe mountain side that I didn't really have much time to think about anything else. Thankfully.

The guide brought us around a long, deep crevice. Walking with it to our right so that it was mountain side and let everyone look in. Of course I didn't. In my head I was screaming 'just bloody move!!' I wanted to keep walking. We then, walked up to the end of said crevice and around it so that now it was valley side i.e. you slip now, that's where you're going. Why? Why, oh why did he do that?! So for the rest of the hike I was absolutely petrified that I was going to lose my balance, slip, slide down the mountain and either go off the edge completely or end up at the bottom of that crevice. The fear...oh the fear. It's steep. We took breaks which were just standing breaks. You couldn't sit, you just stopped walking. I hated those breaks. I was too nervous to try and take my bag off to get to my water so I just stood frozen. Willing them to move again. When we did eventually get a sitting break, the views were stunning. I have never in my life seen anything like it, the mountains stretched out in front of us. Peak after peak...beautiful. But if my eyes averted slightly and I caught sight of the edge of that cliff....

What lay ahead of us
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Zarius getting back on his feet from his practice fall
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The crevice...one of many
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To the right we could see where we would be sliding down!
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It just felt so steep! We decided we will never be mountain climbers
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At least one of us could keep smiling
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A sitting break
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You could tell this wasn't their first time!
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As we climbed the last stretch to the top the smell hit us. Not a rotten egg smell as you might expect but a poisonous gas smell that you can taste and you don't know whether to breath it in or eat it. And weirdly as soon as we smelt that I noticed a wheeze started. My asthma kicked in. Random. The fumes are seriously toxic though. Everyone is coughing and trying to cover their mouths. It can't be good for the guides breathing that in everyday. But being at the top was impressive. It wasn't what I expected, there was a glacier for starters! And I thought we'd see a big gaping hole with only a narrow walk way around it and we'd have to hang on to the edge to look in and a tiny bit of me hoped for lava! Haha but it's not like that at all. There is a hole of course, bellowing out toxic gas and putrid smells but it feels unreal. Almost far away. Our guide gave us the opportunity to get a look into the crater by walking up to the edge and digging his crampons into the ground and them letting us lean on him peering over his shoulder into the abyss. Amazing. And also nauseating. My eyes pumped tears, my throat and lungs screamed and I had to retreat.

The final leg
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Nearly there...
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Success!
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We were told to put our hand into this hole. The heat!! Wow. Incredible.
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I was also dreading going down! We were to use a plastic sled like contraption that you sit on, but once we started it was definitely the most fun part of the day! You were meant to use the ice axe as a break but I never managed to master that and instead threw caution to the wind and let myself go. Why 'the fear' didn't seem to effect us on the way down we really don't understand, but we loved flying down the mountain on our slides crashing to a halt at the bottom of each tunnel in a pile of snow.

Geared up and ready for some sliding!
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Zarius showing us how it's done
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Wheeeeeeeeeee....
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They got steeper and steeper and our smiles grew bigger and bigger
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And then the snow stopped and the chairlift was off and it was a looong walk down to the bottom. We skidded the whole way down on loose gravel. And of course I fell again and hurt my knee again. But not badly at all this time.

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We was such an amazing feeling afterwards. We were so happy to have not only made it to the top but to have made it back down again too! And in one piece! We were all wrecked, a lovely, tired from exercise wrecked. We originally planned on leaving that night and getting the overnight bus but arriving back feeling like we did we begged for our room back! Luckily we got it and after nice hot showers the three of us treated ourselves to some gorgeous Mexican food at Mamas & Tapas and I had my first glass of champagne of the trip. Happy.

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The next day it rained and there were no tours going up the volcano. We had been very lucky. We cosied up in the common room next to the wood burner and wiled the day away. We did pop out for lunch, back to a lovely restaurant where we had eaten the night we arrived only to have the worst experience to date. We ordered home-made empanadas, which were huge and freshly baked and gorgeous and as we discussed how wonderful they were and what a great chef he was, Zarius bit down and there was an almightly CRUNCH. I thought it was the stone from an olive, traditionally they leave one olive in, stone and all but Zarius' face told me this wasn't the case. He spat the food out onto his plate and it turned out to be a huge piece of glass!! And there was more inside the warm gooey parcel. I was shaking and so angry, Zarius was in shock and there was little we could do. We brought the plate up the chef and showed him and the waiter and then got our coats and walked out. Zarius really thought he had cracked a tooth but luckily he didn't. So with our appetites gone we went back to the hostel and sat it out until dinner time.

That night we left for Valparaiso on an overnight bus in 'Cama Suite' class. A truly different experience.

Posted by DeeandZarius 10:02 Archived in Chile Tagged chile pucón climbing_villarrica things_to_do_pucon Comments (3)

Bariloche: The Switzerland of Argentina

sunny 21 °C
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Thursday 27th February - Tuesday 4th March 2014

We set off early from Puerto Varas for our 4 night stay in the 'retro' hotel in Bariloche. The bus served coffee and a bread roll which was our first experience of food on a bus. We felt spoiled! But we have since heard stories (and seen photos) of champagne being served on the Argentian buses so now not only do we need to get front row seats, upstairs, but also get served champagne. And we're running out of bus journeys and time in Argentina...
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The drive was very scenic with beautiful views as you crossed over the Andes, but not the kind of scenery you can capture with a camera. Although the woman behind me didn't agree and clicked frantically in my ear for a good 30 minutes. Before finally giving up. When we arrived in Bariloche we did our usual, tried to find a map, took photos of a wall map when we couldn't find one and discussed how long we thought it would take to walk into town before inevitably hopping into a taxi which costs next to nothing anyway!

Our first view of Bariloche
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Our hotel turned out to be a lot better than we thought. A proper, nice, clean room. The first night was torture though because they pumped hot air in with no way of controlling it and we couldn't open the window. We had double doors but no balcony and we were on the 6th floor. We didn't try very hard to open it. I mean, what hotel would let you open full length doors when you have no balcony and only 3 slats of widely spaced wood going across? Turns out this hotel. Because after a day of complaints and beeing sent to this room and that and each time rejecting the alternative rooms, we managed to open it. All I can say is that this room is not safe if you own a handbag sized dog.

View from our room
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As soon as we arrived we went out and explored the town. It was packed as suspected. But with a different type of tourist, more the holiday maker. It really felt like being in a resort anywhere in the world. It was shop after shop of souvenirs and t-shirts and touristy restaurants offering the same food. Oh and a McDonalds. It was pretty grim and we didn't like it. Apart from the millions of chocolate shops that is. It's famous for its chocolate and I can understand why. I sampled some of it, solid chocolate, melted chocolate, chocolate in cake and I think it might be the nicest chocolate I've ever tasted. So I enjoyed that aspect. But even finding a chocolate shop to go into was painful. They were bursting at the seams with tourists buying kilo upon kilo of chocolates to bring home. And it's the kind of tourist that even though you don't know them you're embarrassed by them. When they raise their voice to be understood and talk loudly and very slowly...
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A rabid dog!!! Probably not, but it made for an uncomfortable lunch having him sitting next to me!
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Made me think of Niamho!
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More street art
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Some eating and drinking spots
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Hmmm...what will I have
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We're everywhere!
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But it wasn't all bad. I mean the surrounding areas and lakes are as amazing as they say they are and that's what Bariloche is all about. As soon as you leave the town it's beautiful. The views over and of the lakes are gorgeous and we were kicking ourselves for committing to 4 days in the centre. All we wanted to do was check out and move out of town to a little cabin with a lake view. But we were stuck. So we made the most of it.

We took the bus one day up to a festival that was taking place in a small town nearby. So small in fact, that Zarius asked me at least 3 times did I really think that was it, or were we missing part of it somehow! We definitely hadn't missed anything! There was a race on and the town held the finishing line. I'm not sure what kind of race it was, but it looked pretty gruelling especially with the heat. Bodies were throwing themselves over the finishing line before collapsing. Only being revived when offered a bottle of beer. In celebration of this race (I assume) all the locals were out in their garden cooking up meats on their front lawns and selling cakes and other sweet things. One had the meat buried in a huge pit in the ground slow cooking whatever was undrneeath. We settled for some sort of fish dish because it came with vegetables. You don't turn down vegetables here when you see them. A rare treat indeed.

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The next day we took the bus to go up on one of the chairlifts to have the views over the lakes. National Geographic put it as one of the top 10 views in the world. It was pretty amazing. The bus trip however was not. They don't have bus stops, it's a hop on, hop off type of service and it was absolutely packed so we were pushed down the back nowhere near the driver. The map is marked by km, so for example, we needed to get off near km 11. Difficult. We of course missed our stop. By 10 kms in the end, but a lovely local guy took us up to the bus driver and explained our situation and told us to stay on the bus because it did a loop. This was done in raised voices and at high speed because these bus drivers do not hang around and he started to drive off with this guy hanging out the door, half in half out, needing to get off, but wanting to help! We eventually got there. It was a white knuckle ride to say the least, particularly when standing.

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Say it how it is! Total tourist attraction!
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And then we got to the top...
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The one good thing about it being commercialised
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Snoozing after a long day!
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On our final day we rented a car from a lovely lady at Liz's Car Rental and drove the 7 lakes route which was beautiful. The weather wasn't great though and unfortunately Zarius was having citizenship woes. He was trying to get hold of the foreign office and they had promised someone would call back that day, but of course we hadn't thought about signal, so every time we lost coverage it became quite stressful! The loop was meant to take 8 hours and we did it in nearly half that time because we couldn't stop off in places that didn't have signal! They never called of course. Roll on the day when all this is over!!

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Can you see the face?
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Zarius making boring calls from a beautiful setting
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Well beautiful for me!
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Scary bridge! Missing planks and everything!
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Stopping for lunch we found an Irish restaurant and thought, sure why not. We walked in, did a loop and walked out. There were a lot of reasons why not!
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And what kind of post would this be without food photos? The title of best steak has now been taken from the Buenos Aires leader and currently sits with El Boliche de Alberto. The chef comes to the table to discuss the meat order with you. Which was a brief conversation as you can imagine. But wow. Now that said, it wasn't without problems. He refused to cook it medium. THREE TIMES I sent it back! But even with that and even though it still wasn't medium, I closed my eyes so I couldn't see it, and it melted in my mouth.

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This would feed 6 people ordinarily!
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Even though we didn't particularly like Bariloche itself, we ended up staying 5 nights in total. We had committed to 4 nights and bus schedules meant we had to do an extra night. We decided to head back into Chile and pick up on our itinerary in Pucon skipping the sea lions in Valdivia. The journey was a full day. A morning bus across the border to the town of Osorno and then an afternoon bus from there to Pucon. This was another stressful day because the foreign office had not been in touch and when we arrived in Osorno we discovered it was a barred number from Argentina so Zarius couldn't call them! He would have to wait for wifi and use Skype once in Pucon.

Posted by DeeandZarius 13:21 Archived in Argentina Tagged bariloche_argentina car_rental_bariloche soft_hotel_bariloche driving_bariloche Comments (3)

Puerto Varas: The start of the Chilean Lake District

sunny 20 °C
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Tuesday 25th to Thursday 28th February 2014

We landed in Puerto Montt to blue skies and sunshine. We were facing a couple of weeks of exploring with no big activities and it was hard to shift our mindset into just relaxing. We both felt like we needed to be on the go, doing and seeing! We had booked two nights at Hostal Melmac Patagonia in Puerto Varas, 20 minutes away, but on the itinerary we had 5 nights down. After looking around and discovering water, and sand we decided to stay 3 nights in the end.

Our first sighting of Osorno Volcano
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Shorts weather again!
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The town itself is small and compact and has a beach town vibe to it. It's very pretty, sitting on the lake with Osorno Volcano as the backdrop. But neither of us were really taken by it. We took a stroll along the lake the first night and the beach was packed with people enjoying the evening sun. We rented bikes on our second day and cycled 10km out to another beach on the lake which was pretty and quiet and nicer than the beach in town. The lake was of course, like ice, but that didn't stop Z from going in. Just me!

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We ate what is possibly the biggest burger I have ever been served
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And the best pizza we have ever tasted!
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We read about the nearby Petrohue Waterfalls and Todos Los Santos Lake in Rosales National Park and decided to do a day trip. We took the public minibus for the 1 hour journey, which turned into 2 hours because of road works. We picked up all sorts of people along the way and carried all manner of cargo. They're not too fussed about where you sit on the busses so the bus driver always had company with people sitting on the dashboard happily chatting away while others sat on the floor in the doorway making and then eating their lunch!

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The waterfalls weren't what we expected. In that they weren't tall, more wide and gushing but the water was the most amazing colour.
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It was busy so we queued to take our photos and then hopped back on a bus and went another 6km to the lake. Which was gorgeous. It's very close to the volcano and has amazing views. We fantasised about living in a little cabin on the lake and the kind of lifestyle we could have! It really was beautiful. We wanted to do one of the trails along the side of the volcano but after bumping into two Italians and together speaking to the park ranger, we were advised not to because we wouldn't make the last bus back. Which was a shame. The Italians were lovely though and we gave them some tips on Torres del Paine and they gave us their thoughts on where to go next in Chile and then we said our goodbyes. It's a funny one travelling, all these fleeting encounters and then you never see the person again.

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You can camp in the national park so the bus back was rammed full of backpackers who had been camping out for a few days. The bus driver piled their bags up high in the seat beside him. Up and up and up. I was very impressed that he managed to get us all the way back without one of them moving an inch!

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We tried a fish platter that night in a restaurant that had an American tour group in. Before we had ordered our drinks we considered quickly walking out because the restaurant was empty except for them and yet we couldn't hear each other speak! Luckily we stuck it out because it was great to taste so many different types of fish, even if they were all cooked in a huge quantity of butter!

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And our first Pisco Sours
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We enjoyed out time in Puerto Varas but we felt 3 nights was plenty. Our hostel wasn't great which didn't help, it had a weird atmosphere. The owner, although very nice, made us feel uncomfortable and it wasn't the kind of place where you wanted to hang out. We didn't really know what next, we thought maybe we would go to Valdivia for one night to see the sea lions but chatting on the bus on the way back from the lake we decided that because we now had extra days we could go back into Argentina to San Carlos de Bariloche. Not on our original itinerary but everyone raves about it and it was only 6 hours away by bus. So on a whim we went straight to the ticket office from our bus and got ourselves tickets for the next morning. Of course, because everyone raves about it, it's clearly where everyone was. We spent the night online trying to find a hostel but could not find a room. When we eventually found a cheap hotel we booked for 4 nights, despite the garish 1970s decor in the photos. It will be the last time we commit to anywhere for such a long time without seeing the town first...

Posted by DeeandZarius 20:26 Archived in Chile Comments (0)

Punta Arenas, Chile: End of the world

semi-overcast 14 °C
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Sunday 23rd - Tuesday 25th February 2014

Leaving Puerto Natales to travel further was strange. We both felt like we had seen and done so much that it was like the end of an incredible holiday and it was time to go home. Not go on! But that wasn't the case and we felt very lucky!

We took our first double decker coach of the trip and got to experience what 'executiva' class meant. Nice big comfy seats that recline very far back and have a fold out leg rest. Our seats were upstairs and I was hoping for front row but it wasn't to be. Four Germans who we keep seeing had nabbed them. They are super organised with their 'Chile' folder filled with maps and guidebooks and print outs. So I'm sure they had those seats booked months in advance. My goal is to get front row seats upstairs for one journey on this trip. My obsession stems back to my childhood. I've always loved the front seats on a double decker bus!

Punta Arenas doesn't have a great reputation but we were keeping an open mind. It's a naval town and people go there to catch planes or boats to go elsewhere so it's not a tourist attraction in its own right. Although it is famed for it's boat trips to Isla Magdalena to the penguin colonies. Whether it's the end of the world or not depends what your definition of that is. Tierra del Fuego, is further south but it's an island so withoutt crossing water this is as far as you can go.

As we arrived in the town we passed lots of sculptures and pieces of art which we took to be a good sign. Turns out that stretch coming into the town is pretty unique. We didn't see anymore.

We had read that the standard of accommodation was really bad but we had booked ourselves into a cheap hotel which looked good in the photos. When we arrived I was in my element. After double decker buses I love hotels. Karen will vouch for that. We had a lovely spacious white room, with a lovely hotel bed and lovely white hotel bed linen and a nice new and clean bathroom and I thought, how bad, if there's nothing in the town I'm happy to stay right here :-)

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We had 2 nights, 1.5 days there. It's not a pretty town and it didn't have a very nice feel to it. We wandered around a bit and went up to the cemetery which is one of the main tourist attractions. It's like a smaller version of Recoleta in Buenos Aires. But with cooler trees.

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Main square in Punta Arenas
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More graffiti that we are coming accustomed to in this part of the world
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Tempted to pick up a couple of pigs heads with our waters
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We did have one of our worst and one of our best local meals of the trip to date here. The best we found when we wandered into a run down looking restaurant at lunchtime. It was packed with people who all seemed to know one another and were clearly regulars. Always a good sign. There was a 'meal of the day' special which the waiter quickly explained to us and we caught that there was a soup of some sort and a main dish that contained egg. Everything comes with an egg so it could have been anything. And juice. He wasn't too happy to be dealing with people with such a poor grasp of his language so he quickly handed us over to his younger colleague while he headed to the bar to read the newspaper. This was not the kind of establishment where smiles and apologies were going to cut it so we ordered two of the specials and waited to see what we got. It turns out the soup also had egg in it, but just the egg white, floating around in a some unidentified tasty liquid. It was nice. We were happy. The main course turned out to be a type of stew but with lentils and sausage meat and a fried egg on top. It looked awful, a black slushy dish, the image I would conjure up of prison food, but it tasted Really good. And pretty much filled us up for the day. We didn't get a photo. I had my camera but I felt way too self conscious to take it out and start clicking away in this place!

The worst was in this very nice looking restaurant. It was such a shame. We had such high hopes. But the food was bad :-(
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The beer was good though :-)
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And that was Punta Arenas. Next on the itinerary was a flight to Puerto Montt to stay down the road in Puerto Varas, which we had heard very good things about. The short flight meant we avoided a 30 hour bus trip. Always a good thing. Even if I got a front row seat, upstairs, I don't think it would have made up for 30 hours on a bus.

Posted by DeeandZarius 18:32 Archived in Chile Comments (0)

Torres del Paine: Our first and last bus tour!

all seasons in one day 12 °C
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Friday 21st and Saturday 22nd February 2014

After the kayaking, I again found myself broken. I had to pop a couple of ibuprofen for the pains in my wrists when we got back to the hostel that night but luckily the next day it was mainly just exhaustion and only a little pain in my shoulders. Stomach. Arms...

We took the day off and enjoyed the town. We explored a little more and found a great coffee shop with amazing views over the water and free wifi (which was down) where we whiled away a few hours chatting to an Australian guy who came here to cycle pretty much the length of the continent but due to injury had to call it quits after only a few weeks. He was an interesting guy who loved cameras so Zarius and he discussed the ins and outs of various models and the joys of research for a good hour or so.

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Me willing the internet to work
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We decided to book ourselves onto a bus tour the next day to get back into the park to see a bit more and get some photos. Haha we still have mixed feelings about it, we got what we wanted, photos, but I think it was the first and last bus tour of this trip! It was every stereotype you can imagine when you think 'bus tour'. It was full, 28 of us, mainly Chileans, just two other English speakers, two French/Canadian ladies. Our first stop was at Cueva del Milodon, a cave where the remains of a giant sloth were found. We weren't so keen to begin with. Our first experience of being ushered off the bus and herded through the ticket office.

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Not happy.
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It was actually pretty cool though. You follow a circuit, walking in a long line behind everyone else clicking away.

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The guide suddenly appeared and insisted on taking a photo of the two of us. To bring the tone back up I reckon.
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We couldn't work out who this guy was and if he was part of the attraction
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Up close he turned out to be a tree stump!
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After the cave we were asked who had brought lunch and who hadn't. We knew we were meant to have brought a packed lunch but we had been lazy and didn't make it to the supermarket. So up went our hands. There was a bit of tutting, but the guide said we could stop at a cafe and pick something up. They saw us coming. We paid £3 for a Twix and even the girl who served me was horrified and I got the worst, and I can't stress this enough, the worst cheese sandwich in the world. Z went for an empanada which they heated up until it was soggy and put it into a thin brown bag so we spent the rest of the bus trip balancing it on our knees hoping it wouldn't burst open and leak its filling all over us.

The shop/restaurant that saw us (and every other tourist for miles) coming
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Cute wild kitten...
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On we trundled to the park. The view of the towers, what Torres del Paine is famous for, was amazing. We stopped at various points and piled out in single file, all running to the edge, cameras flying, snapping away and then back onto the bus.

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Zarius separating himself from the tour bus posse
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The bus
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The posse
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The views...
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The wind really picked up. We were meant to walk up to a waterfall but the guide said it was too dangerous which was met with a lot of eye rolling from Zarius and I. Until they stopped the bus and let us out to experience the wind for ourselves. Ohhhhh. Yes. It was indeed very windy and I could see where he was going with his concern. It was crazy. You could lean into it and it would hold you up. At one point a gust took me and I honestly couldn't control myself against it. I had to grab onto the tour guide before I was blown away. It probably wasn't the safest demonstration. After being hit in the face with blowing debris I retreated to the bus. The guide showed us photos of a bus that was blown over on it's side last year. It was full at the time and a gust just knocked it clean over.

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We stopped at various viewing points throughout the park. It truly is beautiful and it must be wonderful to spend 9 days in there hiking. Especially if you get good weather.

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These last two are using the vivid function on my camera, but the water is that colour. Normal photos cannot do it justice.
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At lunchtime it had started raining. Zarius and I were tired, sick of the tour and just wanted to get home. The guide came on the microphone and informed us that anyone who hadn't booked the hotel lunch (eh, what hotel lunch?!) would be dropped off in a picnic area and collected in 2 hours. Nice. So that was us then. Off we piled. Into the rain, with our rain jackets and worst packed lunch ever. Some of the others huddled around a picnic table under trees but we decided to walk. The walk turned out to be to the beach that we had been to the morning of the kayaking. So nothing new to see there. We turned back and huddled under the trees at a picnic table. The wind was howling at this point so we took shelter at the side of the toilet block and waited for the bus to return. We were never so happy to see our tour bus when it did finally turn up.

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You don't need to tell me twice!
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When we got back to Puerto Natales that night we treated ourselves to a nice fish dinner in a restaurant recommended by the hostel. The food was gorgeous and our waitress was so friendly although weirdly she talked us into swapping the side salad we had ordered for a side of 'locos', Chilean Abalone. At the time of course I had no idea what the swap was and assumed it would be salad, I wasn't expecting cold fish! Hardly a fair swap! Z tried it, I declined because I thought it was eel. So yup, still having confusing conversations in restaurants!

At least the local beers are reliable!
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Posted by DeeandZarius 13:28 Archived in Chile Tagged puerto_natales torres_del_paine_bus_tour torres_del_paine_national_park torres_del_paine_winds Comments (2)

Torres del Paine: A kayaking adventure

overcast 10 °C
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Thursday 20th February 2014

We did a bit of research online and discovered that you can kayak in the park starting at Lago Grey, a lake at the foot of one of the glaciers and heading down river where it joins Serrano River. It sounded like the perfect way to see some of the park. We booked ourselves in with a company called Kayak en Patagonia who get rave reviews online and the minute we met them we knew why. The loveliest people and clearly very professional, knowledgeable and full of enthusiasm.

The day of the kayaking was overcast but dry. We set out at 7.30am to the park which is just over 2 hours away by car and by the time we arrived the winds were picking up.

Our first views of the park:
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My favourite photo again
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My second favourite pic! Another of Zarius'.
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We stopped about 10 metres from the water to get kitted out. Wetsuits, socks, booties, wind breakers, life jackets...we were well dressed.

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And then it was down to the water. We had a short lesson on how to control the kayak, using the paddle and what to do if we capsized. My worst fear. We were a group of 7 and 3 instructors and we had tandem sea kayaks. We had team America, team Chile, team Spain who was a Spanish guy on his own and then we were the multi national kayak! It was a great group and everyone got on really well.

Some warm up exercises before we get going
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By the time we carried the kayaks over to the water (I'm not going to talk about the carrying of the kayaks, I'm too embarrassed...) it looked more like the sea than a lake. Waves were picking up! Pulling out for the first time was nerve wracking, the wind was howling, the water was extremely rough and neither of us had kayaked in at least 15 years! Yes people, I have kayaked before. In secondary school we must have gone on a school trip because I distinctively remember kayaking and abseiling in Blessington. Jo, you can probably remember?

But anyway, the aim was to get across to the other bank, easier said than done. We rocked from side to side, water splashing us every time we paddled and a strong current pulling us where we didn't want to go. We had been out less than 1 minute when team Chile capsized. It really threw my concentration and things got a bit wobbly but we made it to the other side. We had to take a time out. Team Chile needed to warm up and get a hot drink into them so we set off and explored the beach.

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Icebergs in Lago Grey
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We were meant to kayak with the icebergs but the wind was so strong it was declared too dangerous :-(

After a ten minute break we set off again. As we got to the centre of the lake a gust of wind caught hold of my paddle and suddenly it felt like somebody had taken hold of the other end and was pulling it wildly trying to free it from my hands. The kayak went crazy, rocking from side to side with my paddle straight up in the air as if it was possessed! Miraculously I managed to get hold of it and get it back on my lap without capsizing. I'm sure Zarius will take credit for saving us but really it was me. The instructor paddled over and told me to be careful of the wind and my paddle. Now he tells me!!!!

Once we hit the river things became more straight forward. We were going with the current which was fairly rapid so paddling wasn't too strenuous. Christian, one of our instructors had told us about a tricky area that we would have to manoeuvre and had gone as far as to draw a diagram in the sand. We were going to hit rapids on the one side and almost like a whirlpool on the other, so we needed to line the kayak up and go straight down the centre not too close to either side or we'd get flipped. There was a lot of talk of 'getting flipped' throughout the journey and every time it was mentioned I groaned internally. I had a knot in my stomach at the thought of ending up in an ice cold river. Literally, water with ice. But again we were lucky and made it through what I saw as an obstacle course similar to a pin ball machine and we were the ball!

Then all of a sudden we entered a valley with high banks on both sides and stum...silence. No wind. Just quiet. The river took us and we coasted along soaking up the scenery. Team America who were very experienced were happy to coast. I on the other hand wanted to paddle. We were there to kayak not coast! But I need not have worried, our time to paddle would come!

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Pics taken of us throughout the day

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Christian was asking the Americans if they wanted to try some rapids because the woman, Melissa, does rafting in the US. They were humming and hawing enjoying the easiness of it all so I thought screw this and piped up that we wanted to do the rapids. He looked surprised but eventually agreed and off we set. He gave us some quick instructions on how to get through without 'flipping' and then we paddled straight in. And wow did we have to paddle. The current is so strong and you're being pulled this way and that and you have to concentrate on staying synchronised with the paddling and the water is being thrown in our faces and being upfront I got soaked because going up and down in the rapids meant the water was coming straight over the sides onto my lap! It was a funny feeling, it's a little bit scary, it's tough and you feel responsible to your partner because you need to keep up so I was really pushing myself and it's so hard that I got nervous and when I get nervous I laugh, so there we are in the middle of the rapids, me trying as hard as I can to paddle and keep in sync with the left/right, left/right and I'm laughing my head off. But it was short and we made it through and we were delighted.

As we congratulated ourselves, beaming from ear to ear, Eric one of the other instructors in front started shouting something at us which we couldn't hear. He kept shouting and eventually started pointing to the side so we turned and started paddling over. He then told us to turn around and paddle against the current which was the weirdest feeling ever because the bank is moving the opposite direction to the water and you don't know if you're coming or going and it's quite nauseating. Turns out we were doing it to wait for the others. Christian our guide was so convinced that Zarius and I would flip he had paddled up close to us in preparation to help us up and his kayak hit a rock and he flipped!! First time ever in that river he said. Poor guy. Should have had more faith in us!

After a couple of hours we stopped for lunch. The van was there to meet us at the side of the river and a table appeared with all manor of foods. Sandwiches, cake, fruit, tea, coffee, hot chocolate, cheese and crackers. It was a feast after a hard morning of exercise!

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More awe-inspiring clouds on our lunch break

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After lunch we faced our biggest challenge. Still going with the river but against the wind. Unbelievable. Wow. The power of the wind is incredible. The water is very choppy because of it and again every time the paddles come out we get soaked. My arms were killing me, my wrists aching and I didn't know if I would ever be able to move my feet again because of the weird angle they were at. My body was screaming but I was loving it. Every now and then I would miss a beat, and over the sound of the gushing river, the paddles beating against the water and my heavy breathing I could still hear Zarius sigh! I thought it was hilarious and lost control of my laughter until I was in absolutely fits of giggles with my head pushing forward, my teeth gritted against the force and still I couldn't stop. Honestly, what an experience. I loved it. I loved pushing myself like that. And before we knew it, it was over. What a day.

It ended with beers and crisps on the riverbank where we bonded with our team mates before we climbed into the van and spent two hours on the dirt road back to Puerto Natales.

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We may not have done the W trek but the kayaking was an adventure like no other and we are both delighted to not have missed out on it. Funny how things work out sometimes.

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Posted by DeeandZarius 16:40 Archived in Chile Tagged torres_del_paine puerto_natales kayaking_chile torres_del_paine_kayaking Comments (4)

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