Category Archives: South America

South America Part 1 – Bolivia, Argentina(Buenos Aires & Ushuaia)

This month long trip took us from the high altitudes of Bolivia – Uyuni and its salt lakes across the Atacama Desert and then down to Chile, Buenos Aires and finally the ultimate goal – Patagonia for trekking, challenging weather and hopefully some photography.

I was not happy in Bolivia – a combination of long travel time from Hong Kong(54 hours), struggling with altitude(up to 5,000 metres), low temperatures, very average food and so on.

I picked up in time to enjoy the mountains of Patagonia from El Chalten, El Calafate to Torres Del Paine – see  South America Part 2

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(see featured image above – the Atacama desert squeezed into a 4X4)

Atacama Desert Bolivia
Atacama Desert Bolivia – underfoot – you have to be tough to hang on here

I wasn’t going to include the dry Salt Lakes near Uyuni here as even HSBC Hong Kong has a large one on the Pacific Place branch wall. But – ah well – here goes another salt lake photo.

The tour guide livened it up a bit by doing silhouettes, setting up photos of plastic dinosaurs chasing the tour group into a Pringles container etc etc.

Uyuni Salt Flats
Uyuni Salt Flats
Uyuni Salt Flats
Uyuni Salt Flats – my silhouette – not Clint’s
Atacama Desert
Atacama Desert – geothermal area
Atacama Desert
Atacama Desert

Buenos Aires

After a fascinating city walk, which on the day happened to focus on Political and Economic aspects of Argentine history, the mural below seemed to sum it all up for me.

Wall Mural - Buenos Aires
Mural – Buenos Aires – a ‘potted’ Argentinian political history for me

And while the barricades around the Pink House (Casa Rosada) now have openings for visitors to stroll through the police vans and water cannon are parked obviously nearby – a reminder. The openings in the barriers were not that large and could clearly be closed off quickly at any time.

Something I had not previously realised about the Grandmothers of Plaza Mayo who regularly gather near Casa Rosada(water cannon against grannies?) is that the scarf they sometimes wear and their symbol is a baby’s nappy – the nappy worn by the missing child. A perfect symbol but the ‘disappeared’ sadly remain mostly missing.

Recoleta

Much is made of the Recoleta Cemetery and Evita’s tomb but what struck me instead was in the midst of impressive monuments to the formerly rich, powerful and famous were obvious signs of decay and neglect including exposed caskets, some monuments being used as rubbish receptacles and caved in roofs.

Maybe the later generations did not care for Grandad/Grandma, an old crumbling tomb, or maybe the family fortunes had taken a turn for the worse ….

Recoleta Cemetery
Recoleta Cemetery
Recoleta Cemetery
Recoleta Cemetery
Recoleta Cemetery
Recoleta Cemetery

Patagonia

Christmas Day in Ushuaia – most of the shops were closed for the day. We heard of a famous bakery in Tolhuin. We arrived to find they were doing a great trade – take a number and get in line …. it also seemed to be the social centre of town with photos of large fish from the lake proudly displayed. Our number is  called – fresh bread, cakes and Churros to enjoy in the sun by the lake(with the inevitable Patagonian wind blasts of course).

Tolhuin - Patagonia
Tolhuin – Patagonia – had to wait for a break in the wind for the tree and flowers to stop waving around

Tolhuin Volunteer Fire Brigade – would hope their equipment was in better condition than the building. The bumpy pot holed road between  their base and downtown Tolhuin indicated a rapid response was unlikely.

Tolhuin - bomberos voluntarios
Tolhuin – bomberos voluntarios

Back to Ushaia for Boxing Day and a chance to explore the Tierra del Fuego National Park close to the Chilean Border.

Ushaia with its snow, wind and grey white capped sea looked to me rather like the entrance to Hades and this was summer!

The park was a welcome change – sheltered and slightly warmer on the day. But a tough environment softened by flowers and grasses in the sun.

Parque Nacional Tierra Del Fuego
Parque Nacional Tierra Del Fuego
Parque Nacional Tierra Del Fuego
Parque Nacional Tierra Del Fuego – seen it all
Parque Nacional Tierra Del Fuego
Parque Nacional Tierra Del Fuego – they build them tough here but in the end all eventually succumb.
Parque Nacional Tierra Del Fuego
Parque Nacional Tierra Del Fuego – hanging on

next – South America Part 2

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South America Part 2 – Patagonia(El Chalten, El Calafate, Torres Del Paine)

El Chalten

By now feeling better and into Patagonia ‘proper’ – interrupted by a trip to El Chalten hospital for a suspected infection. Doctor speaks no English and my Spanish is extremely limited – conversation was reduced to me pointing to inflamed area:

‘Infection’?

Doctor – ‘Si’

‘Antibiotic’?

Doctor ‘Si’

Doctor ‘ Penicillin OK’?

‘Si’

Doctor then managed to convey – if not better in 4 days you must get medical help!’

‘Si!’

Then we hit the trails around El Chalten with occasional views of Mt Fitz Roy through the gaps in the clouds.

El Chalten- Los Cóndores and Las Águilas trail
El Chalten- Los Cóndores and Las Águilas trail
El Chalten- Los Cóndores and Las Águilas trail
El Chalten- Los Cóndores and Las Águilas trail
From the trail to the Huemul Glacier
From the trail to the Huemul Glacier
Near El Chalten
Near El Chalten – forest trail – first glimpse of fresh melt water from the Huemul glacier
Huemul Glacier Near El Chalten
Huemul Glacier Near El Chalten

No photos from El Calafate or the Pireto Moreno glacier – had too much fun watching massive chunks cracking & crashing from the glacier face. El Calafate – nice town, nice accommodation and food but not too many obvious photo opportunities for me.

Torres Del Paine

Torres Del Paine
Torres Del Paine – en route by rental car

The goal of the trip and great to go from guide books and maps to the real thing!

There are 3 common treks in Torres Del Paine collectively referred to as the ‘W’ plus a less popular trail ‘the circuit’ which includes the W and much much more.

We chose to travel between the legs of the W via rental car – first stop at Hotel Las Torres to walk to the Torres viewpoint(leg 1 of our W), back to the hotel and drive to the Lake Pehoe Ferry  for an overnight at Refugio Pehoe and do as much of the French Valley trek as we could(Leg 2) then back across Lake Pehoe and drive to Lago Grey where our last W leg consisted of a ferry trip to Refugio Grey, camping overnight, kayaking and a glacier walk(which unexpectedly included a strenuous 1 hour clamber over broken rock to the glacier and then back of course).

2 lessons learnt – it is very easy to trip over yourself when wearing crampons – luckily no major damage done and a trekking company’s ’45 minute walk’ isn’t always as you might imagine it.

Leg 1 – Walk to Mirador Las Torres.

From the hotel there is a steady climb(400m approx) to where the photo below was taken – followed by many ups and downs and a final up hill to the Mirador(viewpoint) around the corner in the distance. Total return distance of 18km and altitude gain for me of 680 metres(a bit more for my wife as she walked all the way to the viewpoint).

Despite the trail seeming busy there are actually only 2 tiny dots visible ahead from here.

Torres Del Paine - part of the walk to the Mirdaor
Torres Del Paine – part of the walk to the Mirador
Cool fresh Patagonian Glacier water.
Cool fresh Patagonian Glacier water – tasted beautiful.
Torres Del Paine - on the trail
Torres Del Paine – on the trail

I have a soft spot for rotten, fallen and decaying things.

Torres Del Paine - part of the walk to the Mirador(view point)
Torres Del Paine – part of the walk to the Mirador(view point)
Torres Del Paine - part of the walk to the Mirador(view point)
Torres Del Paine – part of the walk to the Mirador(view point)
Torres Del Paine - part of the walk to the Mirador(view point)
Torres Del Paine – part of the walk to the Mirador(view point)
Torres Del Paine - part of the walk to the Mirador(view point)
Torres Del Paine – part of the walk to the Mirador(view point)

No photo from the viewpoint? The last ’45 minutes’ looked like a killer and I wanted to enjoy the trip back to the hotel without risking a twisted ankle etc etc. So my wife carried on to the top(we stayed in touch by walkie talkie) while I had a nap in the sun before a leisurely walk back to the car. My wife, on the other hand, hurried back to ensure we met the Lake Pehoe ferry  had one fall and broke her trekking stick – but no injury other than to pride.

Mirador Las Torres - the last climb
Mirador Las Torres – the last climb

I had hoped a few tiny figures would be visible in the photo on the ridge but no luck – it is steep!

Las Torres are just peaking over the ridge in the middle.

Leg 2 – Refugio Pehoe to French Valley

A quick drive from Hotel Las Torres got us onto the Lake Pehoe ferry on a perfect afternoon.

Lake Pehoe - on the ferry to Refugio Pehoe
Lake Pehoe – on the ferry to Refugio Pehoe

The return trip the following day revealed a very different Lake Pehoe – blasts of cold wind, horizontal rain and white caps with the passengers huddled inside the cabin and one person, who had been blown over by the wind, just behind where photo below was taken, in the centre of the cabin on a stretcher with a broken leg – hopefully with travel insurance!

Refugio Pehoe to French Valley
Walking from Refugio Pehoe to French Valley – trail goes through the bare trees at the end of the lake and then left up the valley

On the return walk the wind roared around us, occasionally turning the lake into a white froth and sending small tornadoes slamming into the bare trees. A larger tornado started a whirlpool in the lake before in turn rushing off into the trees. No photos sadly – our focus was on staying upright, hanging on to hats and enjoying ‘shock and awe’ Patagonia style.

Lake Pehoe - bare trees
Lake Pehoe – bare trees
Mingi on the Refugio Pehoe to French Valley trail
On the Refugio Pehoe to French Valley trail
French Valley - first view point
French Valley – first view point – it was difficult to keep footing to take photos  while being buffeted by the wind

Having reached the first viewpoint we were concerned about getting to the return ferry in time – so that was it for French Valley – time for a very windy trek back to the Refugio Pehoe and waiting in  the ferry queue in horizontal rain.

On the other side – I don’t recall ever being so excited to see a car – we walked quickly to the car jumped in – motor on and heater turned way up.

Time to look back at the return ferry – looked like many of the passengers had no idea what  conditions awaited them at the Refugio and Trail.

A few were turned back, the ferry was full.

Leg 3 – Lago Grey

Lago Grey micro landscape
Lago Grey micro landscape
Lago Grey
Lago Grey
Lago Grey - briefing
Lago Grey – briefing
Lago Grey - nervous anticipation
Lago Grey – nervous anticipation
Lago Grey - intrepid kayakers
Lago Grey – intrepid kayakers crossing Lago Grey
Glacier Grey
Glacier Grey – zoom in – the tiny kayaks are close to the glacier middle left

On return trip infection returned so off to outpatients in Santiago – tests, much head scratching by doctors – opinion – infection which was accompanied by a large bill – different antibiotics, which worked this time.

 

 

 

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