Tag Archives: Patagonia

El Bolsón, Argentina – Impressions

For my final stop in Patagonia I caught a bus 100km south of Bariloche to the small town of El Bolsón.

El Bolsón is known in Argentina for the typical Patagonian trekking and mountaineering experience, fly fishing, art, its regular markets, micro-breweries and for being a hippie town. The label of hippie town was what caught my attention and is the tag line that draws most other travellers to the town.

wpid-dscn2439-2013-05-21-15-401.jpg

I only spent a couple of days in El Bolsón and while it did seem like a nice small community in a great location, I didn’t find a lot to actually make it a hippy town. The sculptures in and around the town centre were pretty cool, but the markets were fairly typical selling many of the usuals: home-made jewellery, carved wooden things, sewn items and a myriad of different semi precious stones.

wpid-dscn2432-2013-05-21-15-401.jpg

El Bolsón sits between two great rocky ridges, a 2km tall range that got a powdering of snow on my second day…

wpid-dscn2438-2013-05-21-15-401.jpg

…and one 1,600m tall range. The trekking did look amazing but El Bolsón is in Patagonia. But since my visit was during a rainy last week of autumn, I hadn’t planned to go hiking.

wpid-dscn2434-2013-05-21-15-401.jpg

While my visit to El Bolsón was inexpensive and relaxing, with winter arriving, it was time to head to warmer climates.  After a brief stop off back in Bariloche, I headed north into the desert to the wine region of Mendoza.

Some things to do in El Bolsón:

  • Kayak Lago Puelo
  • Hike Cerro Piltriquitrón
  • Walk up to Cabezo del Indio – Indian Head Rock

The Lone Trail Wanderer

Bariloche, Argentina – Impressions

Nestled in the foothills of the Andes and alongside Lago Nahuel Huapi is San Carlos de Bariloche.  While there were no direct buses from Pucón in Chile, I took a bus for 4 hours across the Andes and south to the city of San Martin de los Andes.   There I waited for several hours before catching another 4-hour bus south to Bariloche.

Somehow I’d messed up my booking at the hostel and there was no room for me when I arrived.  But they were kindly able to arrange a room in an empty hostel nearby for the night.  I returned the following night when my booking was actually due to start.

DSCN2355

While Bariloche is set up for hiking, mountaineering and skiing, there’s more to the city than just the standard Patagonian wonders.  With a heavy Swiss influence, Bariloche has become famous for its chocolate with more than a dozen boutique chocolate vendors in the city.

DSCN2351

The mountains near Bariloche have plentiful hikes, but as it was nearing winter many of the longer trails were closed. I chose a couple of shorter hikes to work in with a two-week spanish course I’d booked, to revise what I’d learned and to help with my confidence.

Booking the course was easy, the hostel manager rang for me and that afternoon I went down to meet to the director of the spanish school, took a placement test and sat in on a spanish cooking lesson.  Beyond the lessons there were additional means to practice the language such as the cooking class, a city tour and going out for drinks.

DSCN2353

My hostel was 41 Below and was owned by a kiwi guy, although he’d retired from running it. There I met a lively bunch of people and enjoyed several dinners and nights out with them – just not so much on school nights!

Because of the Swiss influence in the area, the city’s architecture has a European feel, especially the cathedral – which was actually built in 1946 to resemble the buildings of Europe a thousand years earlier.

DSCN2347

The state buildings around the city centre also have a European feel…

wpid-dscn2343-2013-05-14-13-30.jpg

Worked around my spanish course:

  • I had great steak and red wine meals at Alto el Fuego restaurant
  • I climbed Cerro López to Refugio López on a day walk.
  • I hiked up Cerro Catedral for an overnight stay at Refugio Frey
  • I tried chocolate from each of the different vendors
  • I caught a bus south for 100km to the hippy town of El Bolsón

Other things to do near Bariloche:

  • Sail on Lago Gutierrez in summer
  • Ski Cerro Catedral in winter
  • Hire bikes and ride the 60km Circuito Chico
  • Explore Llao Llao peninsula

After returning from my foray in El Bolsón, I headed north out of Patagonia to the wine region and the city of Mendoza.

The Trail Wanderer

Pucón, Chile – Impressions

Ninety minutes by bus north of Osorno in the Lakes District of Northern Patagonia is the town of Pucón.  Nestled between the shores of Laguna Villarrica and the imposing cone of Volcán Villarrica, the large town has the reputation as somewhat of a party town. Like the rest of Patagonia, the tourism industry here is rather rife based around climbing the volcano in summer or skiing it in winter.

DSCN2271

I had come in Pucón with the intention of hiking the Villarrica Traverse, a 6-day trek around the bases of Volcánes Villarrica and Quetrupillán, but the weather hadn’t looked so good. The forecast had spoken of some rain followed by a week of sunshine, not surprising for the end of autumn, so I decided to wait it out.

The first hostel I stayed in was El Refugio and had a couple of kiwi guys working there. The good thing about it was that it was right next to the bus terminals. The bad thing about it was that it was right next to the bus terminals. There was nothing wrong with the hostel beyond it being the busiest one in town, even in the low season. To accommodate that fact, they’d built a pair of large dome tents in the back yard that slept 6 in bunks. Because it had been so busy, I only stayed a couple of days before moving to another hostel, Paradise Pucón, this one owned by a kiwi guy.

DSCN2294

Paradise Pucón had a reputation as being a party hostel in high season. But as it was low season, the parties had mostly died down.

wpid-dscn2295-2013-05-10-19-08.jpg

Unfortunately, the rain didn’t let up with no sign of respite, so I took advantage of it by catching up with my writing. Long term travelling works best when you take long breaks between periods of movement. I located a nice cafe in the centre of town that made good coffee and scrambled eggs – Cafe Agora – and got to work. I also found an awesome restaurant for dinner run by an American couple which had the best burgers and a nightly happy hour. Latitude 39 is a must visit if in Pucón.

wpid-dscn2292-2013-05-10-19-08.jpg

There are numerous hot springs near Pucón and one night the hostel owner drove a group of us guys to one.  Bringing plenty of beer we sat in a pool about the size of a regular spa pool drinking and enjoying the heat.  Then after a while, as a group, we climbed down to the river and threw ourselves in, before climbing back into the hot pool. A great night!

The next day Pucón hosted the annual chocolate festival – chocolate production being very big in this area of Patagonia. There were many tables for tasting and buying different chocolates, and in the corner of the tent there was even a chocolate volcano.  The volcano proved popular with the kids as at the end of the festival it was broken into pieces and handed out.

wpid-dscn2269-2013-05-10-19-08.jpg

The party life in Pucón is pretty good, I was taken out by the owner and one of his workers – another kiwi guy – to a couple of the local clubs. Three kiwi guys on the party… Gringos are treated highly in clubs in South America and this being the first one I’d been in, I felt everyone’s eyes on us. Being the only three gringos in the club, we were also getting great drink deals. 6 drinks for the price of 2! It turned out to be a great night, even though I couldn’t talk to many people.

wpid-dscn2270-2013-05-10-19-08.jpg

Then, after being in town 12 days, I decided to give up on the traverse and just climb Volcán Villarrica, a popular day activity.

Overall, Pucón was a lovely place to spend a couple of weeks, I made some friends and caught up with my writing. Next, I crossed the border into Argentina to the Chocolate capital of South America, Bariloche.

Things to do in Pucón:

  • Climb Villarrica Volcano
  • Hike the 6-day Villarrica Traverse
  • White water raft in Trancura River
  • Ride horses in Lancura Valley
  • Visit the thermal springs, of which there are many

The Lone Trail Wanderer

Osorno, Chile – Impressions

Just an hour by bus north of Puerto Montt is Osorno, a small city in the Lakes District of Northern Patagonia. Osorno sits under the volcanic cone of Volcán Osorno, is home of the National Cattle Ranch of Chile and has a heavy german influence.

wpid-montaje_de_osorno-2013-05-2-14-59.jpg
Collage courtesy of Wikipedia

Osorno is typical Chilean city with some very spanish markets, far too many stray dogs and cheap beer. I stayed at Hostal Vermont, 10 minutes walk from the bus terminal in the city centre. The main streets and shopping malls are characteristic of larger cities with many bustling shops and people.

I came to Osorno for one reason, a hike in the neighbouring Parque Nacional Puyehue called ‘Baños del Caulle’. The hike climbs the side of Volcán Puyehue to the rim, walks around the side and down to a set of hot springs, the ‘baños’. This had originally a 4-day hike but I discovered that two years earlier, an eruption on the baños side of the volcano had destroyed the hot springs. I decided to do the hike anyway, climbing to the volcanic crater and camping further down.

As I prepared for the hike, the hostel owner informed me that one of her previous guests hadn’t returned from the hike. Three other’s had seen him there and had returned, but he had not. This didn’t worry me, and it turned out two other guests at the hostel would be doing the hike also.

To get to the national park in low season I had to catch a bus to a point about 20km from the trailhead and hitchhike the rest of the way. I was finally picked up after walking 12km and dropped off at the hike’s registration point where I could see the cone rising into the clear blue sky. On arrival I was told the police had closed the hiking trails as they were conducting a manhunt for the missing man.

That night I stayed at a small hotel next to the National Park called Anticura.  Close by was the river and several waterfalls.

DSCN2253

By morning, they still hadn’t located the missing hiker and park was still closed  as they were continuing the search. The weather had also turned, so I decided to head back. I flagged down a bus heading from Bariloche, Argentina to Osorno and an hour later was back in town.

The next day, I boarded a bus to Pucón, the party capital of Chilean Patagonia, where I was planning a 6-day hike around a pair of volcanoes.

The missing walker did eventually turn up on day three of the man hunt.  He’d gotten lost on the route.

Things to do in and around Osorno:

  • Visit Lago Puyehue
  • Climb Cerro Pantoja
  • Relax in the Termas Aguas Callientes – Hot Springs

The Lone Trail Wanderer

El Calafate, Argentina – Impressions

Just one border crossing and a five hour bus ride north from Puerto Natales is El Calafate, nestled on the edge of Lago Argentino. Named after the yellow-flowered, blueberry plant found everywhere in Argentina, El Calafate is the major access point to all ends of the vast Parque Nacional Los Glaciares.

DSCN2189

El Calafate was a pleasant place to spend a couple of days. I stayed at I Keu Ken hostel slightly up the hill with excellent views of the lake. Having the new La Anonima, Argentina’s biggest supermarket chain, only two blocks away was a bonus. I was also lucky enough to arrive the night of an asado, an Argentinian BBQ, something they have every Friday night. They served the best blood sausage I’ve ever tasted and the meat just kept coming.  There was so much, in fact, I just couldn’t eat it all. It was a great dinner and cheap at 90 Argentinian Pesos (AU$18), which included beer and wine. I Keu Ken also had the best internet in Patagonia, allowing me to post the backlog of my blogs and photos.

wpid-elcalafate-avenidasanmartin-2013-05-2-14-56.jpg

While the streets around the hostel aren’t sealed, the lower portion of the city has a certain beauty. In a bare countryside with yellow, over sheep-farmed fields, the garden town was filled with trees and flowers. The main street had the usual adventure stores and tour operators seen so commonly throughout Patagonia.

wpid-dscn2192-2013-05-2-14-56.jpg

My trip to El Calafate was merely a two-day stop off on the way to El Chaltén, a township at the northern end of the national park. After 12 days in Antarctica, and 9 days of hiking around Torres del Paine, I enjoyed a restful couple of days.

Things to do near town are:

  • Walk across the 30km long Perito Moreno Glacier
  • Sail through icebergs on Lago Argentino
  • See the rock paintings in the Walicho Caves
  • Explore the petrified forest of Bosque Petrificado La Leona

A lovely place to spend a few days and with an airport, it’s a centre point of travel through lower Patagonia.

The Lone Trail Wanderer.

Puerto Natales, Chile – Impressions

Three hours by bus north of Punta Arenas is the port city of Puerto Natales. Puerto Natales was originally a beef producing fishing port, but over the years has embraced tourism based on its proximity to Parque Nacional Torres del Paine, the most popular and most expensive national park in Chile.

Because of the number of people coming to walk the ‘W’ trek – the most popular hike in the national park – the city has expanded rapidly. While it still has a small town feel, the plentiful hostels, tour operators, adventure stores and restaurants makes it feel bigger.

wpid-dscn2200-2013-05-2-14-56.jpg

There are multiple main streets crisscrossing the city, a restaurant square, a tourist triangle and a brand new supermarket. Along most of the north and eastern horizons are the fantastic mountains of the Andes, including Torres del Paine Massif, while along the north and west of the city is the harbour.

wpid-dscn2195-2013-05-2-14-56.jpg

Puerto Natales is all about Parque Nacional Torres del Paine. Every hostel and many convenience stores – not to mention the adventure stores – hire out equipment, arrange tours and organise bus trips to the national park. And every day at 3PM at a bar called Base Camp there is an hour-long free lecture about the hike.

The hostel where I stayed, Backpackers Kaweskar, was set up specially for the hike and can provide everything you could need, even discounted transport fees. While its owner, Omar, is crazy (in a good way), is very knowledgable about the hike and definitely loves his football. While I was there he spent two solid days playing FIFA 2012 on the X-box with one of his friends. It was the low season and he did pause when needed by someone, but it made the place feel down to earth. Definitely a recommended place to stay.

DSCN2194

Puerto Natales is also the southern port of the Navimag ferry. The ferry wends its way through the Patagonian fiords for five days to Puerto Montt in the lakes district at the northern end of Patagonia.

wpid-dscn2199-2013-05-2-14-56.jpg

Puerto Natales is in a class of its own and should be on everyone’s visit list if they wish to hike anywhere in Patagonia.

From Puerto Natales:

The Lone Trail Wanderer

Navimag Ferry – Puerto Natales to Puerto Montt

wpid-ferry-evangelistas-02-2013-04-18-16-07.jpeg

The Navimag is a large ferry that travels a regular route through the fiords of Patagonia from Puerto Natales to Puerto Montt, and back again. The trip takes four nights and five days, although the first afternoon and night are spent in Puerto Natales Harbour, waiting to set sail in the early hours of Day 2.

wpid-mapa-pnatales-pmontt_en1-2013-04-18-16-07.jpg

While it was not the cheapest or quickest mode of transport in Patagonia, for the price we got many amenities, time through some amazing landscapes and food included. Alcohol was also available for purchase at the bar. The Navimag has been a transport for many years, but only in the last decade has been allowed to transport people.

The ferry was larger than the ship that took me to Antarctica, but there was about the same number of passengers. Much of the boat consisted of cargo bays, carrying vehicles and other cargo for the local market, including live cattle that could be heard mooing at the most unusual times.  Once we were onboard, the cargo bays were of limits to us.

The ship contained three levels we passengers were allowed onto during the voyage. At the top was the bar, a fairly large area where we spent most of their time when not eating, sleeping or doing some of the other activities on board.

DSCN2233

Level two contained the more expensive cabins and the dining hall. This large room was used for, well, dining, but also for lectures, which they gave twice, once in spanish and once in english. These lectures were about Patagonia, birds, whales, our destination and the like. In the afternoons/evenings they showed movies or documentaries here also. While we were sailing, they showed: The March of the Penguins, Ice Age 4, James Bond – Skyfall, The Vow and several others.

wpid-dscn2238-2013-04-18-16-07.jpg

Lastly, on the lowest level were the main sleeping quarters. There were several different levels of cabins, from ones with windows and toilets to ones without. Also in the sleeping quarters was The Dorm, a figure eight corridor with a series of 22 bunks set into the walls. Each bunk had a curtain, a light, a power socket and at the end a locker. There were several bathrooms scattered around the corridor. This lowest level of accommodation was adequate, but the noise of people going past or having conversations  kept you awake unless you have a good set of ear plugs.

DSCN2236

I boarded the ferry on Monday night and hung out in the bar with a friend before heading off to bed. The ferry left port at 8am on Day 2 and meandered its way along the fiords towards the southernmost part of the route, a place called the White Narrows, before it again heading north along a series of channels. The weather grew steadily worse as we went, but we did get a few pictures in the morning.

DSCN2204

While I was expecting landscapes similar to Antarctica because of our proximity to the South Patagonian Ice Field, the low cloud ensured we saw little of the ice field. The views were mainly of rocky islands with the occasional bird.

wpid-dscn2217-2013-04-18-16-07.jpg

There were apparent sightings of dolphins and a seal, but not while I was out looking for them. The White Narrow was the only place in the fiords the ship can pass through to head north without heading into the Pacific Ocean and while it was particularly narrow, it wasn’t white.

DSCN2219

For the rest of the day and night we worked our way through channels with the aim of coming out through the English Narrow into the Golfo de Penas. We were warned that the sea might get a little rough and many of us medicated with seasickness pills just in case. From the gulf we headed out into the Pacific Ocean to round Region Alsen del General Carlos Ibanez del Campo.

wpid-dscn2209-2013-04-18-16-07.jpg

The rain started before we headed through the English Narrow on Day 3 and continued for most of the rest of the journey. Strong winds hit us in the gulf as did the swell. While my group of companions and I held out fine, that evening the dining room was only half full and many people hovered in their rooms/bunks or threw up in the bathrooms. After my trip to Antarctica, I actually rather enjoyed the roughness of the sea, finding it fun fighting against the listing of the boat to get from one area to the next.

DSCN2227
An old shipwreck sitting on a bank.

In the afternoon of Day 4, we crossed back into the fiords and reached Canal Moraldes.  Overnight we sailed north through Golfo Corcovado, passing Isla del Chiloe before eventually arriving at Puerto Montt in the early afternoon of Friday. We’d been due to arrive earlier that morning, but the winds in the Pacific caused us to run 7 hours late. While cruising slowly into Puerto Montt harbour we were escorted by a Southern Right Whale, a pair of dolphins and a seal. And yes, I saw them this time.

While the weather wasn’t the best for the trip and the views weren’t always great, the cruise itself was still most enjoyable. I made friends and hung with them in the bar, playing my board games (Carcasonne and Coloretto). They were very popular as they were different to the standards: the chess, checkers, dominos and the like that was available at the bar.

From here, I spent two nights in Puerto Montt planning my trip north and getting supplies ready for hiking in the Lakes Regions, a slightly warmer region of Northern Patagonia.

The Boat Wanderer