Thursday, 11 December 2014

2 Weeks Traveling in Chilean Patagonia and Bucket List Stuff!

The sea kayak symposium was over and we were all back in Valdivia.  A few of the coaches were leaving that afternoon, while others stayed on.  I had a few days hanging out with James Manke, which was good to hear how his business was going and growing.  

Looking back into Valdivia - the covered area is the fish market were the Sea Lions hang out and a few different types of Vulture. A truly mesmerising experience and one I enjoy watching.  Its mellow and raw, all at the same time.  For example, sunny afternoon most of the seal lions are basking on the rafts, after eating their fill of fish guts.  A gull briefly lands on the water to pick up a morsel of fish and ... a sea lion rises from the depth, swallowing the gull .... Live life while you can, eh! 

It was time to begin my travels and start my adventure.  I needed to get my first coach down to Puerto Montt, to ready my self for the Navimag ferry.  One way to get to Puerto Natlies (to access Torries Del Paine),  that also takes you through some amazing scenery of the Patagonian Fjords.

A selfie with part of the Tienda Outdoors and symposium team

It was the first time for probably 25 years that I had decided upon traveling solo, with the main plan of catching the 4 day Navimag ferry (buck list goal) down to Puerto Natalies, to then get a bus into Torries del Paine.  It felt exciting leaving Valdivia on the bus, and I just hoped it was going to `Puerto Montt!  Seeing the signs was a relief a few hours latter and part of another bucket list goal - of traveling solo in a a country I dont really speak the llanguage.  I had taken a photo copy of the map to the hostel, on my ipad, so I could easily navigate.  This worked really well.  

The boat was leaving a day later, (due to a storm) so I settled into my new hostel and went for a wander to get a feeling on my surroundings.  The following morning, with a breakfast of fresh coffee and pancakes, wow ... I'd really lucked out on this one.  Plus there was 6 other people who were staying at the hostel who were also going to take the boat ride.  Two Canadian girls who had been travelling for a month and had another 5 months, a dutch couple who had been cycling through South America, 5 months down and one to go and two individual french people, one who had only really started and another who was travelling around the world.

We wandered into town together to get some supplies for our journey.  The boat apparently no longer had a bar, so any alcohol, snacks and chocolate you had to bring your self.

I had gone for the cheapest option of 3 in a room, no window (windows don't open anyway) and although the first night was very hot as we travelled further South, the rooms cooled.  To be honest the engines were quite noisy, so ear plugs worked pretty well and the 2nd and 3rd night I slept really well.

The photo below with the initial gentle and lower lying hills and the changing weather as we progressed South.  Another reason why I was also keen to travel on the Navimag, was it went through region X1 which is where I had a sea kayaked for 3 months back in 2004, while working for a youth charity, Raleigh International.  It felt special to be back, even if it had taken me 10 years to get there!

Map of the route ...

The journey overall had been worthwhile, despite rough sea's on one occasion, the amazing scenery made up for it all and it had been an interesting way to travel.  Three days had also been enough, for me.  The 3mt seas,had been for 10-12 hours as we entered the Pacific via the Gulf de Penas, which Ive kayaked in a good few times, seems much rougher in a big boat!.  The captain had  chosen some more protected channels but eventually we had to deal with the seas.  I could sleep ok, but only in two positions.  A few people felt sea sick and decided to have no dinner and went to bed early.   I had seen giant petrels, Albatross and two Orca's and many other small sea birds ... Food had been filling and I had enjoyed my time.  Anther bucket list goal achieved!

What I wasn't to realise was that it also had set me up for the park as during my trek, I often came across other's I had met on the boat, so conversation was easier as a link had already been created.

On arrival, above in Puerto Natales, I moved quickly to get a cab to the bus station.  I was keen to see if I could get into the park on the same day.  I think we arrived at about 1100?  I originally thought busses leave between 0730 and 1400.  But they leave at 0730 or 1400 and I was able to get the latter one.  I was self contained having bought my food before the boat ride and carrying my tent etc.  I was off to Trek the 'W'.  Some useful information I found is here,  here and here.

A larger number of fellow travellers booked a hostel, bought food locally, left a bag with the hostel and also hired tents, stoves sleeping mats etc.  As long as you were staying in the hostel on your return, they would look after other kit for you.  I met a couple of friends after wards and they stayed here and really recommended them.

It was probably 1.5 hours bus ride to the park and arriving at Guarderia Laguna Amarga, where you pay an entrance fee and have a briefing (very strict re fires with heavy penalties). Then depending if you trekking east to west or west to east.  Either get another bus to Lago Pehue, to then catch a boat and camp (single payment for each).  Then begin the walk into Glacier Grey.   Or catch the bus (or walk), into  Las Torres, which is what I did.

First nights view and a wander to the Refugio (these get booked up early, so worth booking well in advance if you fancy some comfort).  I settled for a beer!  But the place was smart, warm and comfortable.  Camping was about £8 and although they prefer you to book before hand, for me travelling in early November, this wasn't a problem.

The next day I trekked into Refugio Chileno, booked in (£8 approx) and set up my tent on a wooded platform (steep sided valley) and being free standing my Hilleberg tent was easy to set up. I re packed my ruck sack and set off light, for the Mirador Las Torres. If I had trekked further up the valley, it would have been free at one of the Conaf, ranger sites.

One of my highlights of the trek and amazingly windy.  While I was taking photos, I saw the wind take a buff of a woman's head and it fly 200 meters into the air.  Blue skies and fierce winds, that you could hear roaring towards you.

The next day I was up early again, enjoying the piece of the morning and moving through this amazingly beautiful landscape ... I'd seen lots of small birds and a few bigger ones to and huge hares.  Like medium sized dogs ...

The French valley was partly closed due to very strong winds, which apparently blows the ice of the glacier and its like a serious hail storm.  I settled and it was worth doing the hour up to get a glimpse ... and turning back.  I camped at the Conaf site.

Note the Conaf sites .... DO NOT HIRE TENTS!!

This is a photo of an American brother and sister, that arrived late evening and rather than look sad and cry, got sorted with creating a shelter for the night.  Good skills guys ...

The burnt areas due to the forest fire, is slowly recovering but the damage to the trees and huge wooded ares, is pretty sad ...

This was my favourite camp.  Light, airy and relaxed - Refugio Grey.  The previous two site had specific cooking areas, which are quite small and I could imagine these could be difficult in the peak season.

Another one of my bucket list goals .... the colours where amazing ... paddling with ice bergs!

Big thanks to Alexis Romo of Big Foot Patagonia for this super experience ...

I walked up in the afternoon and looked down on another kayak group ... lower and to the right on both photos.

Now I put this photo here as overall I was really pleased how I managed my travel plan.  It had  been great spending time with my self, meeting new people, travelling in a different country and being reliant on public transport.  The bus and coach service is super and really cheap.  Im also glad I only went for the 'W' route.  I hadn't trekked for 10 years, so carrying a 55lt ruck sack and being self contained I had found tough on my feet.  Probably also due to the trails being hard (granite chipping's and blocks).  To do the 'O' I would need to put some training in and Im sure it would be an amazing trek, as I only really got a glimpse of the park.

I however while in the UK had decided to book my flight in advance from Punta Arenas, back to Valdivia.  This seemed difficult to find and arrange.  I could get a bus and fly out of Puerto Natlies and fly to Puerto Montt and then get a bus back to Valdivia (all my paddle kit was back in Valdivia and my flight to Santiago was also pre arranged).

Well I managed to book a flight to Valdivia, which stopped of at Purto Montt on to Satiago, then back to Conception and finally arriving in Valdivia ... I had to just laugh at what i had booked.. and just smile as I travelled for over 13 hours!

Waiting for a flight and supping a Kunstmann beer (brewed in Valdivia with German origins and very fine to ...), reflecting on what a super time I had, some plans for 2015 and beginning to think about finding a Spanish teacher on my return to the UK!

Ciao, Roger

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