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Santiago de Chile, end of the road...


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A few days later, after a short stop in Punta Arenas in the south of Chile, I decided for once to throw my principles out of the window and to take a plane to Santiago, to avoid spending again hours and hours in buses and also avoid having to cross again the border between Chile and Argentina (the whole Chilean region in the south being full of fjords, there is no direct road that links Punta Arenas to the cities north of Puerto Natales). One option would have been to take a cruise boat and admire the magnificent fjords of Patagonia but alas there was not enough time for me to do so and this would have been quite pricey as well.

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So once arrived in Santiago, I decided to spend the next few days to relax whilst waiting for my flight to New Zealand. In 6 months and a half I had seen countless museums, taken 10,000 pictures, hiked I don't know how many trails, so it was enough and I really felt the need to not to anything. Funny fact, when I had first arrived in Mexico city, I had met two guys from Chile in my first hostel. We had exchanged our contact details when I had told them that I should be finishing my trip in Latin America 6 months later in their capital and they had offered for me to contact them at that time. So instead of spending a few more nights in a hostel, I therefore stayed with my friends Walter (and Max), which also offered me the possibility to test my new spanish skills... Well, hum... I still have some progress to make but at least I can have now a (very basic) conversation! :)

The feeling I got from Santiago was actually quite good. The city is surrounded by high mountains offering a nice sight (according to Walter, the views are also more amazing in winter time when snows cover them all) and even though it is a big city, there are lots of local bars and restaurants which give you a true feeling of the Chilean culture. Apparently the Chilean capital is also economically booming so I will definitely keep an eye on it in the future. The weather was also a lot warmer than the previous weeks spent in Patagonia so definitely a good place to spend my last days on that continent.

The last few beers in South America with Walter

The last few beers in South America with Walter


Punta Arenas

Punta Arenas


Cormorants colony in Punta Arenas

Cormorants colony in Punta Arenas

Posted by manolo84 23:28 Archived in Chile Tagged towns english Comments (0)

The End of the World

Close Encounters of the Penguins Kind...


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That's it, the journey in South America was almost over when I finally reached Ushuaia, dubbed the End of the World city, in Argentina. After travelling thousands of kilometres from Mexico, I had finally set foot on the most southern city in the world, the closest from Antarctica. I could have carried on a little bit as there is also this village called Puerto Williams, in the Chilean part, at only a 15 minutes boat ride from Ushuaia, but technically this is only a village hosting no more than 2500 inhabitants and besides that this 15 minutes boat ride costs 125$, one-way! So let's say Ushuaia is the most southern point in America. :)

The first impression when you arrive in Ushuaia is that this town seems to only benefit from tourism. There are tons of souvenirs shops, hostels, restaurants but always at a higher price than the rest of Argentina. Everything here is dedicated to "El Fin del Mundo" and after a while your wallet starts to feel it...

I have made it!

I have made it!


Mexico, 8771 km... 6 months ago...

Mexico, 8771 km... 6 months ago...


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Ushuaia by night

Ushuaia by night

Unfortunately when we were there the weather wasn't at its best and it prevented us to visit and hike in the national park Tierra del Fuego which is supposed to offer some very nice views. However I managed to realised one of my childhood's dream, to see penguins in their real habitat! There are lots of marine wildlife around Ushuaia and it is common to spot whales, dolphins, seals, orcas, penguins, it just depends of the time of the year as most of these species are only passing by to migrate between different oceans.

But one common attraction here is as I said, to visit one of the several penguin colonies around Ushuaia. Magellanic and Gentoo penguins can be seen almost all year round, with the odd King penguin making an appearance as well. But to see Emperor penguins, one would have to hop on onto one of the cruise boats to Antarctica and spend around 15 days navigating the glacial waters, for a "small" cost of minimum 3000 US$... I guess this must also be the experience of a lifetime but that is not really an option when travelling on a budget... Well whatever, it will be for a next trip!

Ships waiting to set off for Antarctica

Ships waiting to set off for Antarctica

And after a few days spent in Ushuaia, I felt that it was now time to go back up to Chile as my flight to New Zealand was only a week away. I would then hop off on a bus, through snow and strong winds in direction of Punta Arenas (Chile), only to find out that all the ferries which make the crossing in the Magellan Strait were not running because of the strong winds blowing off that day. Fortunately after a 6 hours wait, the wind decreased and we could finish our journey to Punta Arenas.

Magellanic penguins

Magellanic penguins


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More rare though, the Gentoo penguin

More rare though, the Gentoo penguin


And even more uncommon, the King penguin, it was the only one we could spot that day. It felt like that lovely penguin had taken the wrong turn and was like: "WTF am I doing here!

And even more uncommon, the King penguin, it was the only one we could spot that day. It felt like that lovely penguin had taken the wrong turn and was like: "WTF am I doing here!


The King penguin keeping an eye on the Gentoos brooding their chicks

The King penguin keeping an eye on the Gentoos brooding their chicks


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Be careful...

Be careful...


Penguin attack! <img class='img' src='https://tp.daa.ms/img/emoticons/icon_smile.gif' width='15' height='15' alt=':)' title='' />

Penguin attack! :)


Trying to communicate with the penguins... Not that easy!

Trying to communicate with the penguins... Not that easy!


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Tree shaped by the wind on the J Road

Tree shaped by the wind on the J Road


Lots of snow on the way back, not even sure how the bus managed to go through

Lots of snow on the way back, not even sure how the bus managed to go through

Posted by manolo84 15:17 Archived in Argentina Tagged animals cities english Comments (0)

Torres del Paine


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Happy new year and all the best for 2014!! It's been now a bit more than 7 months that I have started my travelling quest and I have to say that I have never seen the time flying so quickly... There is so much to discover in this world and I have only started to realise that probably a whole life is not enough, so my advice for this year to all of you who are reading me, is to get out and do things you've never done before or go where you've never been, should it be 10km from your house or in an exotic location! There is little chance that you will regret it and who knows, it might convinces you to keep on trying new things or start travelling? ;)
Anyway I wish to all my friends (old and new) as well as to my family, all the happiness possible for this new year! Some people already told me that my blog (especially the pictures taken) really gave them new ideas for future travels so thank you, it really makes me happy when I hear that! Keep on reading, there is more to come! :)

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When it comes to Patagonia and its national parks, Torres del Paine in Chile receives a lot of praise. Praise which is really well deserved as the landscape can definitely blow your mind off. Besides, add extreme weather conditions and you will understand why hikers from all over the globe come to challenge themselves here.

There are two main ways to walk Torres del Paine (unless you only want to do a day-hike and therefore only seeing a small part of the scenery), the famous W trail or the full circuit. The W trek, as its name suggests, has a shape of a W and can be walked in 4 to 5 days, in opposite to the full loop "the circuit" which will take an average of 8 to 9 days to be completed.

With my new friends Matt and Gerry we decided to opt then for the W trail, not that the idea of doing the full circuit wasn't attractive but we all didn't have enough time to do so. I just had a bit less than 3 weeks left to spend in South America and I still had to go down to Ushuaia and then go back up to Santiago. We then packed up our food for 5 days, rented the camping equipment, and set up early morning for the bus which would take us to the start of the trail.

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And this trek really didn't deceive our expectations, on the first day we set up for a gentle walk, a bit windy sometimes but totally bearable and arrived in mid-afternoon to our first campsite, next to the glacier Grey. This allowed for a bit of time wandering around and taking a few shots of the second glacier I was seeing in my life, after the Perito Moreno. I also realised pleasantly that compared to the long trek I had done in Peru, the sun here sets very late, which allows for late cooking and especially allows you to start walking later in the morning as you have more daylight.

The following days would see us walking a bit more, through rain or really windy conditions (a few times the wind was so strong that we were blown away into the bush or pushed to the side of a mountain!), but always allowing us to see amazing mountains, rock formations, forest, glaciers, sunrises, etc... The nights were also actually quite cold, definitely colder than we expected, with a +3 degrees being recorded the last night and forcing us to sleep in our thin sleeping bags with all the clothes we could possibly wear....

But at the end of the fifth day, we had to recognise that we had been lucky with the weather and that the whole trek had been really smooth (maybe at the exception of a dodgy knee for Matt and the oat meal and tent pegs we had forgotten along the way...). There were also definitely more trekkers than in Peru and the last day was a bit of a motorway because of all the day-trekkers who took the opportunity of the nice weather to climb up to see the "towers". Therefore if you are thinking of trekking Torres del Paine and enjoy being alone in the nature or with very few other trekkers, I would definitely recommend doing the full circuit which receives less attention from the hordes of tourists.

Anyway to sum up, great adventure with great people! Patagonia rocks!

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Glacier Grey in sight!

Glacier Grey in sight!


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Backpacks really loaded!

Backpacks really loaded!


Chilean and Patagonian flags

Chilean and Patagonian flags


We can start seeing one of the famous towers...

We can start seeing one of the famous towers...


The water from the streams is so clear that you can even drink it "from the source" ! <img class='img' src='https://tp.daa.ms/img/emoticons/icon_smile.gif' width='15' height='15' alt=':)' title='' />

The water from the streams is so clear that you can even drink it "from the source" ! :)


One of our "friends" met during the trek

One of our "friends" met during the trek


Weird shaped mountain, which has a volcanic origin I have been told

Weird shaped mountain, which has a volcanic origin I have been told


A rainbow suddenly showing up with the wind gusts blowing the water off the lake's surface... Really impressive

A rainbow suddenly showing up with the wind gusts blowing the water off the lake's surface... Really impressive


More wind gusts, the same ones which will blow us off into the bush a few minutes later

More wind gusts, the same ones which will blow us off into the bush a few minutes later


Waking up at 5am and climbing up to see the sun rising on the famous towers, just incredible

Waking up at 5am and climbing up to see the sun rising on the famous towers, just incredible


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Our fine team

Our fine team


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The End!

The End!

Posted by manolo84 02:10 Archived in Chile Tagged mountains nature glaciers english treks Comments (0)

The Perito Moreno glacier


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Merry Christmas everyone!

I know I know I am now quite late behind with the blog... So I will try to catch up as fast as I can in the next days, maybe writing condensed articles with less pictures, but I have been saying this now for a while so I would better not make any promises! :)

After Mendoza and Bariloche, I arrived 28 hours later in El Calafate and with new friends met on the bus. Already the prices for accommodation and food were higher but apparently it is common knowledge that Patagonia is a lot more expensive than the rest of Argentina. Yes you read correctly, I had finally reached Patagonia, the last region on my list in South America! I didn't count all the hours spent in buses but it would be interesting to make some statistics. However Patagonia is a big region, encompassing both Argentina and Chile so a little bit more to go still...

Anyway, in El Calafate the main attraction is the majestic Perito Moreno, a huge glacier which unlike others, is still growing and advancing. I didn't know much about glaciers before seeing one, so I will just provide a bit of information for those who want to know more about this nature wonder.

Basically a glacier is a large accumulation of snow, which forms ice over years and years. The main thing for a glacier to form and grow is that the glacier has to grow larger in winter than it is receding during the summer time (ablation). And finally, because of the gravity, the glacier will slowly move downwards like water and due to the effects of pressure, some parts of the glacier at the front will fall regularly, creating small icebergs and huge cracking sounds.

That's for the very very simplified explanation of what is a glacier and on the right is a diagram showing the different glacier parts.

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The Perito Moreno is quite spectacular and a famous tourist attraction as it is one of the most accessible glaciers in the world, after just a short ride in bus, it is indeed possible to admire it and to be right in front of it. And the difference with this glacier is that the accumulation stage is more important than the melting and evaporation stage happening at the front so that's why the glacier is still growing, by sometimes up to 2 metres a day! And after a bit of thinking, we decided to squeeze some extra dollars in and do a guided tour on the glacier itself, with crampons. I have to say that the money was really worth the trip as you can judge by the few pictures below...

The right side of the glacier

The right side of the glacier


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Lago Argentino

Lago Argentino


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A bit far away, but I managed that day to capture the ice falling from the glacier

A bit far away, but I managed that day to capture the ice falling from the glacier


You feel very little in front of this wonder of the nature...

You feel very little in front of this wonder of the nature...


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The glacier from the "inside"

The glacier from the "inside"


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Our expedition

Our expedition


Matt and myself celebrating our day with a glass of whisky to warm us up... <img class='img' src='https://tp.daa.ms/img/emoticons/icon_wink.gif' width='15' height='15' alt=';)' title='' />

Matt and myself celebrating our day with a glass of whisky to warm us up... ;)


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Posted by manolo84 20:15 Archived in Argentina Tagged glaciers english Comments (0)

From Salta to Bariloche

via Mendoza


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After San Pedro de Atacama I decided to cross straight away the border to end up in Argentina, in Salta more precisely. Salta is one of the biggest towns in the north of Argentina and located at the foothill of the Andes, also surrounded by the desert. The architecture is nice, with a colonial style, but I don't know why I wasn't feeling a good vibe there. My mind was probably already thinking of Patagonia and therefore after just a day, I took another bus (22 hours...) to reach Mendoza...

And I think Mendoza is probably a more familiar name as this town (and region) is the centre of the Argentinian wine industry, for which it is world renowned. It is also located near the Aconcagua, the highest mountain outside of the Himalayas, just a few hours away by car (or bus....). The weather is good, not too hot (at least when I was there) and it seems to be a lively city where it is good to live in. And there are a few things to do when you come to Mendoza, the first one being to visit as many bodegas as you can! :) Be careful though, sun + good wine (+ food) is a lethal combination which can send you to bed by mid-afternoon! It definitely felt like being in the South of France....

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View to the Andes from the vineyards

View to the Andes from the vineyards


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The next day, I packed my small backpack and took the bus in direction of the Aconcagua National Park. We were the 14th of November and the park officially opens the 15th of November for the summer season so I couldn't get very close or even reach the first base camp of this enormous mountain (almost 7000 meters) but it was enough to have a glance at it and to tell myself that I would come back one day and make it to the top! I also had the chance to meet a nice french couple who offered me a ride back to Mendoza (and thus avoid waiting hours for the bus) and on the way we couldn't resist but to stop in a typical Argentinian restaurant to eat the local parrilla (meat grill). I think I easily ate at least 500g of meat that day...

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Condors circling in the national park

Condors circling in the national park


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bridge formed by thermal waters and minerals near the Aconcagua national park

bridge formed by thermal waters and minerals near the Aconcagua national park


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But time was running short once again and once back in Mendoza I decided to take a bus for my next stop in Argentina, Bariloche.
The bus ride was quite long (22 hours) and the landscape changes drastically between the two cities, but for the best I should say. Bariloche is a little jewel of a town which reminds a lot of several ski resorts in France. The main reason why people stop there I think is the amazing landscape as the town is located on the shores of the lake Nahuel Lapi and inside the National Park of the same name. There are a lot of outdoors activities available like hiking, horse riding, biking, kite-surfing, etc.. and I really felt it was a good place to relax and spend a few days...

Lake Nahuel Lapi

Lake Nahuel Lapi


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Stream inside the Nahuel Lapi national park

Stream inside the Nahuel Lapi national park


View from the Refugio Frey

View from the Refugio Frey


A weird shaped tree

A weird shaped tree


More waterfalls...

More waterfalls...

Posted by manolo84 00:58 Archived in Argentina Tagged mountains lakes cities wine english treks Comments (0)

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