Monday, February 27, 2006

Third time's a charm for Buenos Aires....and me!

Phew - arrive in Buenos Aires for the third - and sadly - last time! Stayed in my fab Hostel Ostinatto again, feel like a regular here! As I was going to make a wee cuppa tea, who do I bump into - no, before you say it, not Alain and Julia! It was Mike and Di, our Kiwi/Aussie friends from Pucon that we bought the tent from before we went on the W nice to have a friendly face...we chatted the night away (now why is that not a surprise!!), and yes, there was some alcohol involved - a little rum and Coke no less - thanks for that, Di!

Feb 28th - my last full day in BA, as my flight is tomorrow, March 1st - muy trieste! Decided this was my day to power shop before I left, so off I went. From Corrientes to Cordoba, Ave de Mayo and back again... I literally walked around Buenos Aires for about 9 hours; and yes, about 2 of those hours was me getting lost but hey, still had a great time! I had a long list of CD's I'd heard and liked over the last 4 months, so I went into this place on Corrientes (where there are about 200 music stores, seriously, next to the 200 book stores! Handy to have them sorted for you like that!). Anyway, I talked to the guy working there, Gustavo, and along with his boss, an older gentleman, I spent over an hour going through my list of 30+ CD's ...They were so nice, they played each one over the store stereo system for me, and together we said "Yah, nay"..."we like, we don't like!" I ended up buying 12 CD's of amazing Latin bands like the Bombastics, Leo de Torres and my fave, Julieta Venegas. Was so delighted with the experience; the whole hour we talked in Spanish; they asked me where I was from, and couldn't believe Scotland...and said my Castellano was very good!! I was on a high! At last - I could string two sentences together (my tenses were all over the place but hey, they understood me!)..

Got back to the ranch, ahem hostel, and Mike, Di and I decided to revisit Porteno, that fab restaurant we had all gone to a week or so ago! We had such a lovely evening..ended with the lady I had been talking to (in the dessert line no less), who was from Santa Cruz, coming over with her husband, and giving me her business card. "If you are ever in Santa Cruz again, please come visit us" they said! See - that is the epitomy of South American culture - these people are so warm, open and friendly, it really is a wonderful thing!!

March 1st. Big check out day! Had to tip-toe around as everyone else in my 8 person dorm was fast asleep! Left the big mochilla and headed over to meet up with my friend Jo again, and her mum, who was visiting from England for a few weeks. We reunited at Cafe Tortoni, one of my fave places in BA...then I had to say my goodbyes and head back to pick up my stuff and get going to the airport. I was flying American Airlines, and unbeknownst to me, American are well-known for overbooking their flights. So - the airline crew asked if i would volunteer to give up my seat and fly out a day later!
Hmmn , having never done this before - I asked what it entailed - well, lets see! A $600 voucher towards my next flight, dinner, breakfast and lunch and my own suite in the Intercontinental Hotel back in BA, and my own private car service to and from the airport! Let me think -will I, wont I...yes, ok then! How good is that! So off I toddled to a night of luxury - a little different than my usual hostel haunts ...but not quite as friendly! There's a lot to be said for cheap and cheerful I tell you!

March 2nd. Called Jo to see if she was around for one last day out! Yah she was, - so I met up with her and her mum, and Amanda,her friend from LA also living in Buenos Aires for now, and we decided to head over to Museo de Belle Artes for some off we went! Great exhibit there..and had a lovely time then had to get back to my swanky hotel to pick up my stuff, to, yes, you guessed it, head to the airport again! !

As I returned to the hotel, there was this faint noise coming from the Plaza de Mayo, a few blocks away. It started getting louder and louder and then this huge demonstration appeared, covering street after street. It was the unemployed of Buenos Aires, asking the government for more benefits and to help with the current unemployment problem. There were hundreds and hundreds of people, a real mix of men, women and children, young, old, tons of student groups too. I asked some of the people in the hotel about why they were marching, and they seemed quite annoyed, saying they just wanted more benefits and didn't actually want to work! Hmmnn.. didnt say anything obviously, but it couldn't be that simple! The demonstration was so loud, tons of beating drums, whistles blowing, trumpets playing, confetti paper thrown everywhere. It felt much more carnival-like than a political demonstration and there certainly didn't seem any tension or threat of violence....I didn't even see any police around....

As I headed off to the airport (in my chauffeur driven car... ahem!) I realised how incredibly lucky I was, in so many ways! To experience South America and all its glorious countries (ok,not all of them but I did manage to visit Peru, Ecuador, Bolivia, Chile, Argentina, Brazil and Uruguay).....these are memories I'll never forget (thanks to this blog and 3,000 photographs 'cos as you know, my memory is non-existant)! Thanks for reading and get ready..... Phase 2 starts on April 25th when I head off on my next adventures! So stay tuned!!!

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Just popped over to Uruguay.....for a day or two!

Feb 23rd. Dominique and I took the 7:15pm ferry from Buenos Aires across the water to Colonia, in Uruguay! Funny - only takes an hour to get there...just enough time to give you a tiny bit of info on the country. It is about the size of the state of North Dakota in the US, with a population of 3.5 million people. Its claim to fame lies in winning the very first World Cup in 1930; and of course its beautiful beaches! Unfortunately, when we arrived, the weather didn't seem to love us, and we certainly couldn't see any beaches, as we stumbled around in horrendous gale force winds and heavy rain, trying to find our hostel!

Feb 24th. This morning, we had hoped the weather would lighten up! No such luck, but intrepid travelers that we are, we braved the rain and set out to check out the town of Colonia del Sacramento (described in Lonely Planet as "a superstar"...hmmn I beg to differ). This small town had little to offer; even the Barrio Historico, with its thick fortified wall at Puerto de Campo (built originally in 1745 and one of the highlights of the area) although nice, wasn't really anything too exciting. Maybe it was the rain that dampened my spirits...not sure but as we stood watching the waters rise higher and higher, we thought, might be time to head up the coast to the warmer weather - specifically La Paloma, which we had heard was a lovely town, with great thats what we did!

Feb 25th. Arrived in our newest destination after 6 hours on a bus.....but it was worth it. The weather was beautiful, sun was shining and you got the feeling La Paloma (pop'n 5,000) was defintely a laid back, surfie/beach bum kind of town. It's all flip flops and swimsuits here! Surprisingly for once, the local tourist office was really helpful (our previous "tourist office" experiences had not been quite so friendly!)...and the woman helped us find a room at Hostel Cribbel... funny name.. but ok kind of place (check out the shot - just kidding, but thought this looked like the perfect kind of beach hut..).. Dom and I decided to take a romantic walk together (haha) along the beach ... which was still packed in the early evening. We watched the sun set over our cocktails and were just saying to each other "Ahh this is the life" when the bloomin' rain came down in buckets out of nowhere!!! So we rushed indoors and finished off our drinkies....As we sat there, we chatted to our waiter, and he told us a bit about a great club called "Achacas" (I think that was the name?), which was about 30 mins away, but well worth the visit, or so he said! So later that night, Dom and I headed there to check it out! It was kind of in the middle of nowhere and looked like a giant, trendy campsite at first.. but once you got through the massive line (where we encountered our first very vocal, anti-American - who was rude and drunk, so we just ignored him!), you came upon this incredible scene, with lots of different sections; each area had its own thatched roof bar and different type of music playing, from chart stuff, to Latin, 80's, reggae and techno - even a live band! Somehow they managed to have all this music playing at the same time, without it overlapping so if you got bored with Bob Marley you could walk across and check out the techno hut (aka electronica in South America!) instead! Great place, mainly Uruguyan people there on holiday from other parts of the country; alot from Monte Video, the capital.... so all in all, an interesting evening!

Feb 26th. Another gorgeous day today. Took a walk to another beach about an hour away and just relaxed and enjoyed the sun!!! AAhhhh this is what people call chilling out.. got to try this more often! Had a lovely time here; visited the beach bar for a late lunch then headed back to town...and who do we bump into but Alain and Julia from Switzerland, again! See - small world indeed! Dominique and I decided to take a walk around town, and as we walked, we began noticing a strange phenomenom. Lots of groups of teenage boys throwing water balloons, at cars as they went past. Now one or two groups, fair enough, no big deal! But it felt like on every street where we walked on, there was another group of boys! Was this "National Water Balloon Day" in Uruguay? seemed too bothered by it, although when the police drove past, the boys did scarper pretty quickly! So there we were just minding our own business, and then from nowhere (ok from across the street!) comes this big balloon - that hit me!!! What! I looked over to see the boys laughing their heads off - yeh, very funny hitting an old lady like that!! Actually it was lovely 'cos it was so hot but I wasn't letting them know that! I managed a good, stern look before regaining my dignity and walking away....hahaha!

That night, we decided to have a fabulous "last supper" as I would be leaving the next day to head back to Buenos Aires and Dom would be staying on in Uruguay for another week or so! Had an incredible meal - I won't bore you with details but it was scrumptious ! - and as we sat chatting, who walks through the door but Nir! Of all the restaurants in all the beach towns!! We had such a laugh about it! He had just arrived on the bus and took a chance we might be in this particular restaurant... what are the chances! (ok we did know he was coming to our town as we'd been emailing but still, there were about 30 restaurants in La Paloma so obviously we all have excellent taste !!). After Nir had a bite to eat, and analyzed the hummus ingredients with the waitress vs. traditional hummus recipes in Israel! (you can rest easy, the missing ingredient was tahini paste - yes, it does taste different without it, I will agree!), we headed back to the hostel via a late night bar where a cover band were playing ...a nice ending to my short but sweet visit to La Paloma! And goodbye to Nir and Dominique - what would I do without my travel buddy - we had spent almost all of our 4 months in South America together, had an absolutely fabulous experience; we saw so many different and amazing things! Def felt sad at leaving the wee girl....but onwards and upwards we both agreed!! Just glad we managed to have such a great time and loved exploring SA with her!!

Feb 27th. I snuck out early this morning to catch my bus back to Monte Video where I thought I could just book my ferry ticket, grab another bus to Colonia, pick up the ferry, and get back to BA that night! Ahhh sounds easy doesn't it! Hmmnn - not so much! Due to an ongoing dispute between Uruguay and Argentina regarding Uruguay wanting to build a huge paper plant close to the water that connects both countries, which Argentina felt would be a huge environmental disaster, protestors were marching on the bridges and they were closed to bus traffic. Which meant everyone had booked the ferry. Which meant i couldnt get a ferry for 4 days ...ahh slight problem as I was leaving in 2 days from BA to fly home to Boston! How could i get out of Uruguay I asked - no buses, no ferries......Long story short - i ended up flying home AFTER i bought my ferry ticket in a panic, which 20 mins later, when i actually managed to get a flight (it was also a public holiday in Uruguay so lots of ticket offices were shut!). I went back to the ferry office to ask for a refund (which he said he would give me if I was back in 10 mins!) and huh! he wouldn't give it to me at all! I eventually put on the "I think I'm going to cry" look - to my feminist chagrin but still... - so he ended up saying "You are very lucky, I'm only going to penalize you 30% of the total price" You came back in 20 mins not 10"!!! Puuhlleeease! At that point I just took my refund and ran! So you see, what with the rain and the stinky ferry man, I don't have too great a love of Uruguay! What can I say - I'm shallow!! But anyway, off I headed, back to BA for the last time before flying home on March 1st!!

Friday, February 17, 2006

Buenos Aires .. "one more time we gotta celebrate!"

Feb 17th. (Happy birthday Siobhan! (my big sis!)) A tad groggy due to the early morning bus ride to El Calafate....and, lets be honest, the over-indulgence of alcohol the night before! Whiled away the day in internet cafes, trying to organize our hostel in Buenos Aires! Settled on Lime Tree - this apparantly funky hip place in the centre of town (more on how un-funky it really was a little later!). Who do we meet as we are dutifully updating the darn blogs - our good friend Bec, who we originally met in Santiago, Chile! Great news as we were all heading to BA tonight so we would be able to party in yet another town together !!! Ahh the traveling life!

So the Lime Tree - lets just say lotsa wierd guys with no shirts on, lotsa pierced nipples, sitting around smoking and drinking! Hey, that's totally fine but they didn't seem to move once over a 24 hour period... kinda wierd dont you think in BA where there is so much more to see and do than just the four walls of your hostel! Oh well, to each his own! The place was really manky (Scottish description for absolutely disgusting!) so we knew we were hightailing it out of there next day (only stayed that night cos we got in really late!).

Feb 18th. Found the BEST hostel ever - no, seriously, think this beats out all my other faves.. Hostel Ostinatto in the heart of San Telmo, the arty part of the city...! So modern with hip, white decor... and the people - Giselle, Pablo, Frederico and the boss lady whose name i never quite caught.. all so lovely!! Met up with Bec... and another fellow girlie traveler, Kelly from Wisconsin who was studying in BA for a year (lucky thing!) so we headed off to Recoleta Cemetary - on the bus - and i proudly did my tour guide thing as this was a replica of my first time in BA ... Of course it goes without saying that we had to visit Plaza Francia again for the craft fair...then Dominique and i popped over to Palermo where we indulged ourselves.... A mani-pedi for me (for you uneducated folks out there - you know who you are Jo and Helene!!! that would be a manicure-pedicure combo!!), and a fab new haircut for Dominique! Back to the hostel and then we all went out to Plaza Dorrega up the street for dinner, watched some fab tango in the square then headed off to El Cigale (a wierd wee pub!) for more drinkies then home around 4am.. a typical example of an early night in BA!!!

Feb 19th. A gorgeous, hot day in BA with beautiful blue skies! We got some visitors today - yes, you guessed it..Barak and Nir arrived (not a complete surprise tho' as we knew they were coming to BA ...) they had a mishap with their hostel, so they moved into our fab place that day!!! Jennifer was still in El Chalten for a few more day so we were def. missing a key member of the gang but Bec made a fantastic addition of course....Went to the antique fair in Plaza Dorrega: also tried to organize tickets for a Boca Juniors football game (a key highlight of any trip to BA!) but sadly, it was sold out a few days ago - darn it, sooooo bummed! So as I pottered in the square, I bumped into Julia and Alain, our Swiss friends from Punto Arenas, and also Snowball from Pucon! See, told you it was a small world! It was soooo hot today . .must be in the high 90's, so when the others decided to go for a snooze or go do some more shopping, Dom and I decided it was time for a civilized lunch - which of course included my new found fave beverage - Paulina cerveza!! Thouroughly enjoyable and followed by some post-cerveza shopping of our own - what more could you ask for!!

Feb 20th. We had BIG plans for today! We all met up, with the addition of Stefan from Germany, a new friend, in tow from Bec's hostel! Today was museum day...hmmn but of course we are such good travelers that we forgot museums are closed on Mondays! We are all officially pathetic!!! So what do you do when the museums are closed? Go shopping again, of course! We headed off to Palermo, shopping mecca of BA! Us girls hightailed it to the incredible designer boutiques in Palermo Viaje - oh - my - gawwwwwwwwd!!! There are SO many amazing places to shop....we all got a little giddy and thoroughly enjoyed ourselves, esp. Dominique who got more than a tad carried away, let me say!!!

Back to the ranch to get ready for - you guessed it! Dinner at Des Nivel, this very famous "parrilla" restaurant that we all separately had wanted to go to so it made sense that we all went together! As i popped out of the shower who do i bump into but Barbara - of Barbara and Grimm fame from the W trek!!!! Yah! They too were now at Ostinatto..told you it was the best hostel in BA! So we all went for dinner and had a fab time as usual...lots of the famous Argentinian beef was ordered with a healthy does of vino tinto to boot! We decided to try and find a club afterwards (for some reason BA's clubs are a bit out of the way and not always open - as we found out a few times!) so we ended up back at El Cigale for some deeelicious daiquiries... Had to rush to get Bec home for 4am as she had a plane to catch outta BA to Brazil...where would we meet again I wonder?

Feb 21st - just a pottering day...Feb 22nd. Barbara, Grimm, Barak and I decided to take a bike tour of BA with "La Bicicleta Naranja". Our guide, Ana, was fantastic and gave us tons of interesting historical perspective on the city (don't worry I can't remember most of it so I won't be putting it in here!). Needless to say we visited almost all of the city from San Telmo to La Boca and Caminata (a very poor part of BA with incredibly brightly coloured streets and buildings where in the past, the local, working class people would use left over paints from the ports to cheer up their buildings!), Puerto Madryn, Plaza de Mayo (where the pink palace is and the mothers of the disappeared victims still march to this day!).... then back to San Telmo! Really interesting trip!

Ended the night - and the trip for Barbara, Grimm and Barak who were flying home the next day - with a great dinner at Porteno, in the Puerto Madryn area of town.. As usual, we had a brilliant time and ended up dancing the night away at a club called "WaWa"..or something like that... You gotta love Buenos Aires! I know I do!

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Its off to El Calafate we go, yup, more fabulous glaciers to see!!

Feb 14th.....Ahh romance - on Valentine's Day, we all head off on the bus to El Calafate, in Argentina, so this bus trip takes us through the border where we have to say a fond farewell to Chile: yet another fab country on our South American adventure! Oh well.....

Got to our new port of call early afternoon and booked into America del Sur, DEFINITELY one of the nicest hostels we have stayed in. It's really gorgeous and up there with Hostels Bellavista in Santiago and Confluencia in Mendoza for both comfort, decor and the friendly people who work there!! Would love to have spent a few days just relaxing here, but no rest for the wicked, or should i say the weary traveler! We decided as we were so close we should head off tomorrow night (after visiting the amazing Perito Moreno glacier during the day) to El Chalten, a teeny tiny one street village, 5 hours away, to scale (haha just kidding, i mean to look at!) the amazing sights of the Cerro Fitz Roy...but i digress - let me get back to the moment!

The town of El Calafate is definitely very touristy and features almost every expensive outdoorsy store you can imagine, mainly to cater to the rich tourists who flock here to visit the Perito Moreno glacier. You see, you can take a bus right to the glacier and with very little effort, get pretty close to it, so there are def. alot of older, more affluent folks who unlike those intrepid travelers that hike around the W Trek with no money (oops that's right that would be us!) they don't have to actually break a sweat to see an amazing sight here! But I still liked the town and guess what!! They had some really incredible restaurants (hey, come on now, we are back in Argentina - food capital of South America!!) of course we asked Ana, our fab organizer at the hostel, for a recommendation! And wow, was it a good one. The gang (by now you will be familiar with our new little band of travelers - Dominique, Jennifer, Barak, Nir and me!) went to a great place called Pura Vida to celebrate our collective Valentine's night together...and it was scrumptiously fantastic! Def one of the best meals I've had on my trip so far..also really cool decor! So another great night of comida, vino and of course the company was A+++!!!! After dinner, when we were all complaining of severe over-eating, Jennifer had the clever idea that some ice-cream might help "sooth our tummies" which of course i agreed wholeheartedly too! Hmmnn bad move.. as we waddled home after my signature coconut and dulce de leche icecream, i realised this was why this particular traveler wasn't losing too much weight on her trip!!Oh well, i thoroughly enjoyed it so who cares!

Feb 15th. Got up early today very excited to be visiting the Perito Moreno glacier. This particular glacier is one of the fastest growing and most active icefields in the world (think it grows something like 2 feet a day?) and this was the perfect time of the year to visit the Parque Nacional Los Glaciares, due to massive chunks of ice breaking off and falling into the icy water below, causing huge waves of water to rise up and you hear really loud bangs as the ice hits that water....yah!! Hmmn but SOME people were raining on my parade! The "gang" began grumbling (good naturedly of course - is that possible?) that they had done enough trekking in Patagonia and didn't want to traipse around looking at yet another glacier.. "haven't we seen one of these already!" I think I heard! Between that and the tour guide eating the microphone so we couldnt tell if he was speaking in Spanish or English, things were a little more low key today, but as soon as we saw one of the giant chunks of ice actually fall into the icy waters below, and we heard the incredible boom from it, everyone got excited! See - the problem is you encounter way too many amazing things when you travel like this, so sometimes there is the tiny possibility that you may become a little blase about them ..but hey, its one of the very few negatives of world travel, so yet again, I can't complain!!

But seriously, the glacier is incredible; its almost bluey white in some parts (colour a bit similar to Glacier Grey on the W Trek) and so massive! We saw it from the north side on foot (didnt do ice hiking but you can, with crampons and get lowered down into the fissures!) and then the south side by boat, two different views, all incredible - see for yourself! And of course our glamourous campers decided they wanted to continue their gourmet tradition with a wee picnic of cheese and wine, an appropriate meal with just gorgeous surroundings! So i partook of a sip or two of vino myself.. quite the perfect afternoon!

Back to El Calafate, where Dominique and I said our goodbyes to the boys and Jennifer (dont worry, we were meeting up with them the next day!) as we jumped on our bus to El Chalten.. a tiny wee frontier town where the big draw was hiking to Cerro Fitz Roy. Bus took about 5 hours so we arrived around 11 at night..straight to our hostel (lets just say it was no America del Sur! - although I agree it looks quite nice from the outside!). Dominique and I thought we had the tiny and basic 4 bed dorm to ourselves so grabbed the bottom bunks (as you do; no-one likes to climb up to that top bunk, especially when most of them dont have ladders!) when 2 young Austrian boys arrived...darn it, but Dom was a doll and took the top bunk this time!!!! Yes, you get a bit tired of sharing every now and then so next place we stay we want to get our own room if possible! The luxuries we pay for when traveling!

Feb 16th. As we perused the trail map this morning, reviewing which path we would take to get to the foot of Cerro Fitz Roy, we met Rebecca and Shawna, two lovely girls from San Francisco; totally hit it off with them so enjoyed the day chatting away and hiking together. Alot of uphill (which you all know by now i hate!) but not too bad, until we hit the top of the trail. I have never "walked/crawled" in such gale force wind in my life. It was amazing, exhilarating, and a wee bit scary as you had to crawl on your hands and knees at some points so you wouldn't get blown over! Check the four of us out, we could barely stand for this shot!!! Once we arrived at the base of Fitz Roy and looked at the beautiful turquoise lake; we took tons of photos even tho' the actual peak was covered by cloud as it is quite often. Of course how daft did I feel when Shawna explained to me that I'd just spent about half an hour taking pics of the wrong peak. Yes, I'm SO outdoorsy and knowledgeable about these things!!! (not!). When we were sheltering from the gale force winds, we met a crazy Spaniard and a Dutch guy who shared his cookies with us! See, food finds us whereever we go! Fitz Roy is a very famous mountain in that it is incredibly difficult to climb, partly due to its size, at 3,441m, but primarily because the very temperamental weather conditions that change up here at the drop of a woolly hat! So much so that professional climbers camp out for days on end waiting for the weather to change so they can attempt to scale it!! Remember I told you about the "bathroom" conditions when's one I had to visit at a campsite on our hike to Fitz Roy - ahh... high living! We met some men (from Colorado i think) who had tried 3 different times to get to the summit, each time were pushed back by bad weather, storms and even an avalance!! Now why would you put yourself through that when you can sit at the base and just look up at it!! Enough for me! Still, it was a beautiful hike and gorgeous views so im really glad we added this into our itinerary (yes can you believe we could squeeze something into our already intense schedule!

Back to base and who ends up in our dorm! Yup, the intrepid travelers Barak and Nir. Jennifer - lucky girl - was in the nicer hostel across the street! So we decided all 7 of us (with our 2 new pals from San Fran!) should go out for dinner.. and what a dinner we had! Listen, i know i talk about food alot but the food in Argentina is simply the best in South America.. you can't believe the kind of 5 star meals you can have in a one street, frontier town that boasts 500 residents at any given time! I mean, really people!! "member I mentioned about our first introduction to Ducky in Punto Arenas....Barak and Nir's special friend, who has traveled throughout their trip with them! Well, Ducky came for dinner with us, so we added more photos to the album, with Shawna getting very romantic with him, Dominique giving him a massage, and I think I enticed him to drink some red wine! Barak is developing a website with Ducky's travel adventures so when I get it I'll pass it on...seriously this duck gets around folks! Had a great time here in El Chalten.....but gotta catch a 6:30am bus back to El Calafate tomorrow morning, where we will spend the day and then fly out to Buenos Aires....

Thursday, February 09, 2006

At last ...W Trek here we come!!!

Feb 9th. The big day dawns!!! Jumped on our bus that would take us to the park entrance, about 2 hours away so time for a good snooze, especially as it was a bloomin' miserable wet day, not looking too positive at all! Who do we see coming on board but Jennifer, our other fab pal from the last hostel! Yah! As we talked it over, we all agreed it made sense to start at Glacier Grey due to the weather (you can't see the Torres if the weather is bad - and it was rotten!). The bus left us off at Lake Pehoe where we would take the boat to our first Campamento and our official starting point! For the first time ever, Dominique and I both miscalculated how much money we would need for the trek (actually I totally forgot we had to pay for the silly boat across the lake, a mere 10,000 pesos, and then we had the darn camping fees too!) - oops! This meant we had to change our route slightly to make sure we could reach the "free" campsites if possible, rather than the more popular and slightly more accessible (in some cases!) sites that you paid to camp in! Great... now we had to lug these damn packs (we think they weighed at least 40lbs each at the start.. phew!) that much higher and that much longer. Could i do it? Well, read on!!

Remember i said about meeting people.. well, it kept happening. As we waited for the boat, we met Hazi and his dad from the Pucon hostel and who else should amble over from their bus but Nir and Barak, who decided due to the weather, they too would start on the glacier side! What a laugh!! Its so weird, you begin to feel like you know tons of people when this keeps happening... ahh the old gringo trail!

Arrived at the campsite completely soaked! Decided we couldn't wait around (unlike the boys who decided to set up camp and cook up a feast of steak marinaded in red wine.. seriously who camps like that???.. but these boys are gourmet all the way and love their food!). So we said goodbye to them and Ducky (remember him! he's checking out Jennifer's hiking poles above!), and us girlies headed off on the first leg of our trek...a mere 4+ hours hiking pretty much all uphill to Paine Grande and Lago Grey and of course, the immense Glacier Grey. Seeing the glacier for the first time was incredible - I'd never seen one before and it seemed to go on and on and on! Some of it was startlingly white, but some of it had this really blue tinge to it, almost as if it had been dyed with some sort of cleaning fluid (i to ruin a beautiful moment!) but of course it was all natural! Even in the cold, wet rain, you could see how beautiful everything around us was. We dropped Jennifer off at Refugio Grey and headed on upwards another steep 45 mins till we reached our "free" campsite! Met some lovely people here .. Matthias and Regula from Switzerland and a wonderful Canadian couple...they and everyone else at this campsite were doing the "Circuit"... def. seen as the more impressive of the two hikes primarily due to its length! "So, are you doing the circuit too" we were asked.. We quickly replied, "Oh no, we are doing the W". "Oh, we didnt know this site was part of the W"... "Hmmn well its not, but it is a free campsite and we have no money"...we replied laughingly!!! All good fun. Put up our new tent and actually cooked dinner.. pasta no less.. with a wee cooking stove (ok we had to ask for some advice on how to light it) but we were very proud of ourselves as real campers that first night! Ahh.. the fresh air, the starry skies... and of course,the bluuudy bugs!

Feb 10th. Woke up this morning with my left eye completely swollen shut. Lovely ..had Dominique swatted me during the night or was it merely a spider bite as some people on the trail diagnosed it? We will never know! Jennifer came up to meet us and we headed out to the mirador to check out Glacier Grey, the third biggest glacier in the world, behind only those in Antartica and Greenland! 50-60m above the water with up to 100m below. An incredible sight.. hard to put into words. It went on and on and on. A huge mass of ice, glistening jagged white-blue towers, spellbinding! Amazing! Took the obligatory 200 photo shots (I take photos like I write blogs...)and then headed down the mountain side, a mere 3+ hours to base camp where Jennifer was staying that night. So interesting coming down as the weather was gorgeous and sunny, so we had a totally different view of the landscape from the day before! Alas for us, at 5pm we headed off for another 2 hour hike to Campamento Italiano where we would spend our second night. Even the Canadian couple said we were hard-core to keep going (me - hard-core, I love it!!) Another beautiful trail with incredible views of pristine lakes and immense mountains all around... cant truly explain how amazing and wonderful it was!! Hope the photos do it justice! Had a giggle in this camp with the guides who said we couldn't imbibe our box of wine (don't snigger; boxed wine is quite delicious, especially at a campsite!) unless we shared it with them..hmmnn just a drop we replied as felt we needed it more! So much for us drying out while we were out in the wilderness!!! Lovely evening as we went down to the roaring river next to the camp to drink our wine and reflect on the amazing things we had already seen.....loving this trek!!!

Feb 11th. Today was our first day of not hiking with our big packs! It really did literally feel like a giant load was off our shoulders!!! We left them and skipped up to Campamento Britanico, a mere 2 hours up through the Valle of the Rio del Frances. This valley climbs between Cerro Grande Paine and the Cuernos del Paine; with a raging river down one side bringing all the melting snow with it! The views were amazing. And the wind! I had to hold on to Dominique as she took some photos in case she blew away! Seriously!!! You could hardly stand up in it! Loved this part of the trek, totally different from the last 2 days, equally beautiful! Felt more like a trail in New England or even Scotland than southern Chile. Headed back down and of course, we bump into Jennifer, Nir and Barak! See, its a really small world on the W Trek! Chatted for a while with our pals, and planned to meet up with them at our next destination, Campamento Los Cuernos (a big change as this would be our first paid site (with hot showers - teehee!), about another 2 hours away. The trek to the site was (sorry to be repetitive but!) amazing again! It was wild, windy, wet and just gorgeous!
There was a huge turquoise lake that the wind crashed along, picking up speed and then dumping huge amounts of spray onto the trail, and us! Soaked but fantastic! The wind was so strong we both fell over at different times. Lots of river crossings too.. fun but a little nerve wracking when you are carrying your heavy mochilla and have to balance on a muddy log and try not to fall in! But we arrived and tried to set up camp in what we thought was a picturesque spot; hmmm looked good but was so damn rocky, we bent almost every tent pin we had and it took us forever! We had dinner with Jennifer when she arrived and met two lovely new friends; Barbara and Grimm from Belgium. Chatted over our boiling pots of water for after-dinner tea, then decided more vino was in order (yes, the refugios sold everything you might need when camping, even vino!). The boys arrived late, late, later, think it was about 11pm....but still felt the need for culinary creativity so cooked up some fab lemon and ginger risotto! They are hilarious - such posh campers!!! We had a great evening...yet again! How lucky are we!

Feb 12th. So easy to lose track of days, dates etc. out here in the middle of nowhere. Ok, its only day 4 but it feels like we have been here for ages....We ran out of gas for our wee cooker so Nir kindly boiled us some water for our respective tea and coffee! Phew! Today was going to be a big hike day as wanted to get to Campamento Las Torres .. so we said goodbye to the boys (yup, they were slowcoaches again and needed time to cook their 5 course breakfast...!) and headed off! Today it was sweltering hot (or was it windy.. or both....the days are blurring now, oops!). The route to the Torres site went via a so-called short cut. Let me just say it didn't feel short at all, and it just kept going up, up, up! Have to admit the old calf muscles were burning today and i felt a bit knackered ... see, my old age is coming into play here! Think Dominique had had enough as she decided to bound ahead to enjoy the views.. either that or she just had MUCH more energy than me - a bit of both i think!!! Finally! After hours of steep climbing, we got to the campsite! After a quick discussion, we decided to leave our packs in the forest and head on up to the Torres right there and then! Now I'm being honest... Part of me was saying "What!".. more climbing. But we were worried about the weather for the next day, and wanted to see the Torres in all their glory, plus i was with my uberathletepals, Dominique and Jennifer, so couldnt let them down... so of course, onwards we went.The last hour up to the Torres is very different to anything else we have seen so far. Massive big boulders of rock everywhere, all around you. As i lugged myself up, trying to swerve the mini-showers of pebbles and rocks (one or two of which managed to hit me on the head - owwww!) i kept thinking, "this better be worth it!". Got to the top and it was SO, SO, SO worth it! These giant rock towers sit quietly over the valley; there is an amazing turquoise lake below, waterfalls cascade down the rock walls, and snow falls from jagged edges above every now and then when the wind picks up ..... so incredibly beautiful. Peaceful. Inspiring. Stunning. This time words really can't do justice to the landscape. Lets just say this was definitely one of the highlights of my trip!

Eventually headed back down the mountain to camp! It was an amazing feeling. We had officially "done the W", well, except for our last day when we had a few hours of hiking to get down the mountain but that was fine...The three of us celebrated, you guessed it, with more wine!! What can i say .. we hike in style! Well, apart from our delicious dinner of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches..yum! We polished off our box of vino and Dom decided we needed more to celebrate so said she would just "run down the mountain to the refugio store" and get another box... and very kindly offered to get the park rangers one too! Now i have to make it clear...running down the mountain, meant running an hour each way, down and back up a really steep trail, that we had already done that day along with about 5 hours of hiking! Was she mad - Jennifer and I asked her? I dont know but she did it!! I was SO impressed but also concerned about her new dependence on vino tinto (teehee!). She is mad as a hatter! We met up with Barak, who was waiting for Nir to come down the mountain as he had gone up for sunset on his own.. had a great campfire evening with them chatting away about how wonderful this trek had been!! Can't believe its all over! Although it was definitely tough going at times, it was such an amazing experience, from the incredible and very different views of glaciers, mountains and lakes, to the hundreds of "Ola's" we said as we passed our fellow hikers on the trails, we all had a feeling of accomplishment and wonder at such a fantastic time!!!

Feb 13th. Barak, Nir, Barbara and Grimm all headed up to see the Torres at sunrise (yup, they were literally up at the crack of dawn, about 5am i think!!). We decided once was enough so headed down the mountain that morning. Can you see way way,way back where it looks like the river begins? that's where Jennifer's campsite was (ours was even further away and higher up in the mountains than than that one!) Arrived at Las Torres resort (the end of the road!) and we all went crazy in the wee shop buying up Fanta, ice lollies, and chocolate as if we had been lost in the mountains for months! The gang reunited for our bus journey back to town, with a new pal, Anka, a German doctor the boys met over the last few days!

Back in town, we returned to civilization..yes this meant showers...! Im sure you know what came next.. our celebratory dinner and then drinks of course! Met up with our Swiss friends again .. see a pattern here! We were having a very jolly time in the local pub, when all of a sudden, Jennifer, Nir and Barak disappeared! Apparantly they were having too good a time, and the bench they were sitting on collapsed in two, dropping them unceremoniously to the ground! The whole pub gave them a standing ovation and the bartender said that had never happened before! Hmmn.. me thinks a little too much partying going on.. either that or the boys gained so much weight over the last few days from their gourmet camping meals!!!! It was hilarious and a brilliant end to an amazing adventure! We head off to another fabulous town and another hiking trip tomorrow but more on that later!!!