Tag Archives: Patagonia

In transit 2 – Bariloche to Puerto Varas

24th March 2018

Our time at the very swanky Llao Llao Hotel was all too short, and so we embarked on the next stage of a transit which would eventually take us to our next major segment of our South American odyssey, a couple of days in Easter Island. But Tierra del Fuego to Easter Island is a major schlepp, and so we did in sections, taking in some popular tourist sights en route, as described in part 1. Some more sights awaited us in the second part of the transit, as we travelled from Barioche to Puerto Varas. This is a well-established tourist route, having first been undertaken in 1913 and, notably, by Theodore Roosevelt in 1916 (it was apparently Roosevelt who, basing his knowledge on the recently-established Yellowstone National Park, suggested that the areas surrounding this route be set up as a national park before modern life could damage it too much; and so it came to be, in around 1927). We had catamarans and buses instead of sailing boats and wagons, but essentially the route we travelled was the same; and we had a guide called Eduardo to explain to us what was going on, which was occasionally reassuring.

We started in Puerto Pañuelo, which is conveniently located a few hundred yards from the Llao Llao Hotel.

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The boat took us to Puerto Blest, which is very scenic, but not very photogenic (WALP Factor 8, but all rocks and forests), so people spend a lot of time feeding seagulls.

where we joined a very short bus ride to go to Lago Frias, a volcanic lake. At the end of Lago Frias is the Argentinian end of the border, where passports are checked and you have a chance to see a replica of the motorbike that Che Guevara rode across the Andes back in the days before Andrew Lloyd Webber became a national hero.

The border crossing is a multi-stage process. At the far end of Lago Frias, the Argentinian border staff leave the boat before anyone else is allowed to, so that they can set up their computers and so forth in a hut beside the above bike and another small hut selling snacks. They check passports and then get back on the boat to go back home, as did our Argentinian guide, to be replaced by a Chilean guide called Victoria. She and the ongoing passengers then board a bus, which grinds its way up a rough and winding track to the actual border. A few hundred metres further on, there’s a photo stop to see a local volcano named “Tronador”, or “Thunderer”, so-called because of the noise that the glaciers make as they break up.

Mount Tronador

We were very lucky with the weather, as we could actually see something. Given that this area receives on average three metres of rain (yes, ten FEET) every year, and that it rains some 228 days a year on average, I think we got privileged access.

After this, the bus grinds on to the Chilean border, at a small village called Peulla, where everyone has to get out and open their luggage so that Chilean border guards can check that you haven’t brought anything illicit in. Once again, I had an agony of indecision as to whether to declare all four of the cameras I had with me, but decided not to; and the customs officer couldn’t have shown less interest in my luggage, which made this a good decision.

Peulla is a lunch stop with a choice of two local hostlelries, one of them being a hotel where we had grilled fish with vegetables (Jane) and fried fish and chips (me). We ate in the hotel’s conservatory, which featured a rather novel idea – a sprinkler (arguably a length of hose with holes in it) cascaded water on the transparent roof, and the sunshine through this made rather lovely patterns in the room itself.

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There’s one more boat trip after lunch, which takes the journey on to Petrohué. This is the longest ride, but features nice views of another volcano, called Puntiagudo.

Volcano Puntiagudo

(translated: pointy tip) which looks a little like a local version of the Matterhorn, and another volcano, called Osorno, which I would think that many people would think was Mount Fuji, if they didn’t know better.

Volcano Osorno

After this final boat ride, you take the last bus journey, 50km journey into Puerto Varas. However, the excitement doesn’t dim, even at this late stage, as there’s one final tourist attraction to visit, and time presses. In fact we cut things so fine that we had to sneak round the side of the visitors’ centre to get in to see the Petrohué waterfalls. I’m very glad we made it, as this is a splendid sight.

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And our vulcanological insight was further enhanced on the last kilometres into Puerto Varas, with views of Calbuco, an active volcano which has erupted, and violently, as recently as 2015.

Volcano Calbuco

Puerto Varas is a pleasant town. We stayed at the Hotel Cumbres, which styles itself as the best hotel in Puerto Varas, and I see no reason to gainsay this. We had only one day there, and so, since the sun was shining, we decided to go for a wander around. Before we did this, though, we saw an astonishing morning mist on the lake (Llanquihue).

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There’s little to make Puerto Varas out as exceptional (the hotel receptionist couldn’t when pressed, suggest a single thing worth visiting), but it’s a nice town, with the colourful buildings that we’ve seen elsewhere in Chile and Argentina.

and the same rather alarming approach to electrical wiring.

It’s called the city of roses, for good reason

and has, at one end, a hill which has been pressed into service as a park, named after a significant founder of the city, a German called Bernardo Philippi. One can climb the 500 feet to the top, where there is a giant cross, which is illuminated at night.

So, this was our transit, from Bariloche to Puerto Varas via Petrohué

Tomorrow we’re off to Puerto Montt, to fly to Easter Island via Santiago. I’ll report in from there in due course – stay tuned!

The (Glacier) Cherry on the Cake

21st March 2018

The main purpose of visiting El Calafate was as a staging post to see one of Argentina’s most striking sights – the Perito Moreno Glacier. The glacier is named after Francisco Moreno (“perito”means specialist, or expert), a prominent explorer and academic.

The trip is a day’s outing from El Calafate, some 50km to the Perito Moreno national park, and then taking up on various options: a boat trip on the lake to see the glacier from close at hand; a walk along prepared pathways to see the glacier from higher up but further away (but also, importantly, to be able to listen to the sounds it makes); and/or, if you’re young enough, a hike on to the glacier itself. We weren’t booked in to do the last of these options, and the age limit means that we will never now get the chance, which is a shame; a friend tells that it’s a fantastic experience. But that didn’t stop us from enjoying an entirely arresting sight – a glacier 70 metres deep debouching on to Lake Argentina.

Our guide, Jenny, made sure that we took up on all the available options to see the glacier, which is dramatically revealed as you round a corner; at first it’s difficult to understand what you’re seeing, but then the scale of the glacier dramatically becomes clear

Perito Moreno Glacier

and the crowds gathered at the first available viewpoint underline its appeal as a tourist attraction.

The next stage on our day’s outing was to board a catamaran to go to view the glacier from close at hand, which gives you the first impression of its scale and, importantly, the colours in it. The second video in this Instagram set gives you the general idea:

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After the boat trip, the next stop is at the official visitors’ centre, whence prepared footpaths run in various directions to give you different viewpoints of the glacier – the first video was taken from the topmost of these. The footpaths are very well-made, with metal grid surfaces and lots of steps, taking you to several different places from which to view the glacier.

As well as the lovely colours in the glacier (the blue is an illusion caused by refraction through the ice and the air bubbles trapped in it)

Perito Moreno Glacier

there is a striking outlier on the shore opposite one of the faces of the glacier.

Perito Moreno Glacier

This is caused by a regular occurrence, the last one being in 2016. This glacier is based on bedrock (i.e. none of it is floating on the water) and advances at an indecently hasty speed of 1-2 metres per year. As you can see from the picture above, this makes it inevitable that at some stage it will block the channel, thus preventing water from flowing through. So the lake level builds up and up (on the near side as we look at it), until eventually the tempertature and pressure of the water wins, first creating tunnel through the ice and then blasting its way through the blockage.

I don’t believe that there’s anything in Europe which cacn match the sight and the impression this glacier makes. It’s a superb day out and something of which the Argentinians are justly proud.

Tierra del Fuego – 3: All hail Cape Horn. And sun. And rain. And WIND!

19th March 2018

Every excursion from Australis ships is carefully explained to its potential participants, to make sure that safety instructions are well understood and that, if there’s a choice of arduousness of hike, you can choose correctly. The briefing about Cape Horn left me feeling really excited about the prospect of visiting a unique and historic site – all we needed was decent enough weather to be able to make landfall. And it was clear from the briefing that this is by no means a given…

We were lucky. Mostly.

In a relative way, the weather was kind. So, it was only raining at 45°, rather than horizontally, and the temperature was above freezing – a positively balmy 5°C. Getting into the landing craft was a bit more scary than usual, but getting out of them on to Cape Horn island gave us a real insight into the hard work that the expedition leaders on the ship do to ensure that we tourists – sorry, travellers – get the selfies we so desperately need. There were five people, including a couple waist deep in the freezing ocean (who, by the way, had day jobs as the two chief barmen on board), to catch an incoming rib, hold it steady and assist people to disembark on to a ramp. Absolutely sterling work, and these guys deserve all the applause (and tips) that they get. I took a little movie footage of our subsequent departure, to give some idea of what they go through for us:

The Ventus Australis expedition team working in pretty rough conditions on Cape Horn Island to prepare a ramp so that they can take visitors to the island back to the ship on the waiting RIBs

Ah, did I mention the hail? As we approached land, the rain turned solid, and we were lashed with hailstones. Small ones, to be sure, but they didn’t half sting.

Anyway, to cut a long story short, we got ashore and started the journey to see the sights. There aren’t many of these, but they’re certainly worth climbing 438 steps to see, and that’s before breakfast. On the island, there’s a monument and a lighthouse. In the lighthouse live the lighthouse keeper, a Chilean Navy officer, and his family. They run a small souvenir shop, with painted rocks being the staple, and live there for a tour of duty during which their only other human contact consists of one supply ship every three months and the odd bunch of tourists, sorry, travellers. There is, we’re told, a waiting list for the job.

The rest of the expedition is spent trudging up and down steps, which are definitely wet and sometimes slippery.

Everyone has to keep their life jackets on, which makes for a striking sight as people ascend and descend the steps.

And the monument is a thing of joy, with two pieces giving shape to an albatross in negative space.

The only other things of note on the island, apart from a weather station and radio masts, are the lighthouse

and a small chapel.

But at least the weather improved and we had some sunshine. And every so often the wind dropped a couple of notches to make it possible to take some photos.

The rain returned as we embarked to go back to the ship, but it couldn’t dampen our enjoyment of what was a very special part of our South American odyssey.