Sunday, February 05, 2006

It's a hike....and that's just getting to Patagonia!!!

Got up this morning to head off to Puerto Montt, which will lead us (eventually!) to Torres del Paine National Park and the W trek in beautiful Patagonia It's a bit of a trek just to get to where the W trek begins, but I know it will be worth it! From Puerto Montt, we will be flying down to Punto Arenas and then we'll bus it to Puerto Natales.

So the bus from Pucon to Puerto Montt took about 6 hours; we got into town late afternoon to our "recommended in Footprints guidebook" hostel.....hmmn think we were the only people staying there! Went out for a look about the "town".. what a grimy, depressing place, and you know it has to be bad for me to describe it that way! Thank goodness we only have to stay here one night as we fly out tomorrow to Punto Arenas. We walked down to the port area of the town to check out the seafood restaurants, to be honest everything looked a bit run down, but we did end up having a great dinner of freshly caught salmon! See.. the healing power of food strikes yet again!

Feb 6th. Caught the bus to the airport (aka tiny wee shack!) and on to Punto Arenas one of the most southerly points in Chile (seriously, check it out on the map.. its south!!)...so we got dropped off at our hostel....and hmmnn, this would be one of those hostels that you took one look at and said "that's why this costs 3,500 Chilean pesos AKA $7 a night!" OR "I wonder if there's another hostel close by we could switch to".... Just kidding, it was fine, well, except for the flimsy curtains that were in place of walls for each dorm area, yes, that is correct! Curtains! BUT, and this is the amazing thing about traveling, we met such brilliant people here, so it was all worth it!! As we sat with our cuppa tea and chocolate in the hostel, we met Barak and Nir, two lovely boys from Tel Aviv, who were cooking up a storm in the kitchen! We even got to try some "Shakshuka" a traditional breakfast dish from Israel, quite delicious (although as they teased us later, we were very polite when they offered us some... "no,no thank you" we replied initially!). !!!.....I definitely found this to be a big cultural difference between people from different countries over the last few months, some folks are very upfront and say "hey can i try that", others don't wish to impose "no, really, but thank you" even tho' they do want to try some (or was that just me?)....anyway i digress. If anyone wants the "shakshuka" recipe let me know, and I'll ask Barak if i can give away his culinary secrets. Also met Jennifer, a whirlwind, crazy, fun girl from Boston.. who had met up with Barak and Nir in Bariloche, Argentina and was traveling with them down to Patagonia. After dinner, we all ended up chatting away and suddenly..there were more! Jonny, Leroy, Sabrina and Lotan from Israel, (yes, you are seeing the Israeli influence again....remember i had mentioned this when visiting Buenos Aires... very social folks indeed!!!), Anatoly from Siberia and Silka from Germany also arrived, and we spent the evening enjoying Barak and Jonny playing guitar, with lotsa chat and lotsa vino tinto and cerveza between us all... one of those nights that made you feel like traveling is the best thing in the world!!! Oh yes, and we also met Ducky, Barak and Nir's special friend, who has been traveling with them throughout their trip, and apparantly has been quite busy, sightseeing, meeting girls, going for dinner etc....stay tuned! There may be more pics of Ducky..who knows!

Feb 7th. Most people only stay one day in Punto Arenas on their way to Puerto Natales, so we said goodbye to Jennifer, Barak and Nir this morning! Despite what some girls had told us, Punto Arenas was certainly not a fun "going out" kinda town and there no real reason to hang around except for the fantastic penguin island the rest of us went to visit. There are currently 30,000 (yes, that is correct. I am NOT exaggerating!) penguins on the island of Magdalena. This is a wild, protected area, established in 1966 as a national park and then in 1982 it became a "natural monument". The main goal is to protect the local fauna such as penguins, cormorants, seagulls etc. and during the high season there can be as many as 120,000 Magellanic Penguins on the island! ,It was incredible, seriously, penguins as far as the eye could see! Loved this..and penguins are just so cute!! There is no other word for it. They were everywhere; they look so funny, almost like mini-Charlie Chaplins waddling all over the place! And they talk ..or screech.. or whatever the technical term is...alot! Let's just say they are pretty loud when they get going! So, after this strenuous day (haha!) we came back and all made dinner together (which we served around midnight.. yes, our timing was off slightly!) and i made my signature banoffee pie for dessert (see, that recipe works all the way around the world.. amazing!). Had to say goodbye to some good chums as we were leaving the next day, but ahh, email is a wonderful thing....

Feb 8th. Early rise this morning - so tired, too much vino - to get the bus to Puerto Natales! I know all these names are so similar... Punto, Puerto, i keep getting them mixed up!!! Strangely - and in complete disagreeement with Lonely Planet - this is by far the nicest of the three towns we have visited recently. Walked around to find a hostel; first time we haven't really been organized beforehand hence we ended up at probably the most expensive place on our travels so far...Casa Cecilia. Lovely but at $18 each akin to staying at the Ritz (remember we had been paying $2-3 in Bolivia teehee!). Out for lunch and who do we bump into.. Barak and Nir from Punto Arenas and our old hostel! Yah! We knew they were doing the trek but thought they had already started (come to find out these two boys like to take their time so no rushing around for them!). We said we might end up seeing them on the trek, but it depends on which side you start from.. the Torres or Glacier Grey. Those in the know say if the weather is bad you wouldn't be able to see the "Torres" aka towers so better to start at the glacier end!

FYI.... i know i keep talking about the W Trek as if you all know what it is, so of course in good blog tradition, here is some background info! Essentially, the W Trek is a 4-5 day trek within the Parque Nacional Torres del Paine, Chile's most popular backpacker destination. There is a very well developed network of trails that access everything from granite pillars, turquoise lakes, roaring rivers, icy glaciers and dense forests.. a hikers paradise as they say! Most people come to this park to hike either the "Circuit" or the "W Trek", around the main mountain peaks of Torres del Paine (2,800m), Paine Grande (3,050m) and Los Cuernos (2,220-2,600m). The reason the W is so-called is because there are three key highlights on this trek that take on the shape of a W... those more hard core hikers/campers do the "Circuit" which means 8-9 days rather than the 4-5 days for the W!! More than enough for us, well, definitely more than enough for me!! We headed off to the supermarket to get our supplies in for the next 5 days as we had to carry everything we would need .. tent, clothes, and of course most importantly food, in our "mochillas"...yup, no porters here my friends!!! Went for a last supper (hey we deserved it, no more high living for 5 days.. and what if we got lost!!) and then off to bed to syke ourselves up for the big trip ahead!!

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