On the 3rd. of January we flew from Frankfurt to Buenos Aires, our starting point for a three month-long journey through the south of South America. We spent three days wandering that very European city (dodging dogpiles and broken tiles though) and loved the activity as well as the many parks and Cafes. Highlight for us was San Telmo district with a Tango Show on a public square and a walk around Palermo district where I spent a few months 12 years ago.
Since it was summer, most of the Portenos (inhabitants of Buenos Aires) were out of town, spending the best time of the year on the Atlantic Coast a little further South. We followed them to Pinamar, giving the biggest holiday city Mar del Plata a miss. Too loud and hectic. Even Pinamar was full, so we opted for a campsite in one of the many pine tree forests. The only problem: white winter people like us need shade on the beach and that was as expensive as a double room! So we moved on soon and that is when disaster struck! On an uncomfortable busride with Lilian being sick and me concerned, I didn't realise that my god tent poles on the side of my rucksack in the luggage compartment had loosened and fallen off. I never saw them again!
We paid for it by spending the night in a borrowed tent ( one roof only, entrance not closing, add wind and rain!) in Punta Alta, a little village just to the north of Bahia Blanca. Obviously, we didn't get much sleep so that we needed tree days to recover in a little hotel in Bahia Blanca. I bought a cheap tent and used its tent poles to replace mine. Not the same though!
Next stop was lovely Puerto Madryn, finally a nice spot with a nice hostel, a beach, a restaurant with wireless access and a peninsula full of wildlife nearby. Highlight of the area is Peninsula Valdes, which is quite barren but on along the coast it is teeming with life. Our absolute favourite was the colony of sea lions. It is a wild mess of males, females and tiny black babies. Inbetween were sea gulls fighting for the placenta of newborn babies. Altogether they made a sound that seemed to come from another time. Sea elephants and Penguins could also be found on the Peninsula.
We would have stayed longer, but the hostel was fully booked and we did not want to start looking for another, so we moved on to Comodoro Rivadavia after two days. We pitched our tent in a little beach town called Rada Tilly (1 supermarket, three restaurants and a few kiosks), The place was even windier than Puerto Madryn and I worried about my tent, but things went well thanks to some decent windshields on the campsite.
We used Rada Tilly as our base for a day trip to Sarmiento (200km inland) to visit the petrified forest. Absolutely fascinating! Large tree trunks were just lying around all over the barren place. Only they were not wood, but solid rock. Over millions of years the tree trunks had turned into rocks. By osmosis, cell by cell was replaced with minerals and turned into stone. What a sight!
Next stop on our way south was Rio Gallegos. We started to sense how near we were to Antarctica. It was constantly windy and although the days were longer (daylight until about 11 pm) it was fairly cold. A sad place (the saddest so far, not counting Punta Alta) that we were happy to leave the next day towards Punta Arenas, Chile..
As citizens of the European Union we have become used to crossing borders within seconds. Not so in South America. Borders are sacred and for countries, that have not yet completely defined the national boundaries, even more so. (After the Falklands War in 1982 there were a few more occasions, where Argentina and Chile were on the verge of entering a war). Well, it took us 2,5 hours to cross the border, not because of complications, oh no, just because they let people wait.
Punta Arenas is a nice enough place, considering its situation in the very South of the continent. There are plenty of parks and trees in the street and with little wind even the Magellan Strait can look inviting. I went for a swim but got a headache immediately afterwards, the kind of thing you get when you eat ice cream too quickly. We spend three days in a homely little hostel, where you share the kitchen and practically the life of the landlady and her cat.
In the hostel we met Tuende from Hungary and Jose from Spain. The couple is on our wavelength and we spent a day hiking with them and planned to meet them again further along our trips. They actually live near Frankfurt, so that communication jumped between German, English and Spanish (more headaches). Since we didn't want to go to Ushuaia (time) or Antarctica (money) we made Punta Arenas our southernmost point of the trip.
The next stop was Puerto Natales, the gateway to the famous national park of Torres del Paine. We wanted to spend five or six days in the park and spent two days in Puerto Natales preparing for the hiking tour. The main problem in the park is food, you need to bring almost everything yourself, as the few stores are quite expensive and badly stocked. Only water is no problem, all water sources in the park including lakes are potable. Although we left quite a lot of gear in Puerto Natales, we still carried 30 kilos of equipment and food.
The park offers two main hiking routes. One is the "circuito" which takes you around the whole central massif, the other is a W-shaped trek that enters the most beautiful valleys. We choose the shorter W-route, which still takes us six days. It was absolutely worth it, we saw a glaciar calving into a lake and filling it with bizarrely shaped icebergs, lakes of different colours, breathtaking mountain scenery with ice and snow falling done the steep slopes. The highlight of the last morning was hiking up to a viewpoint and seeing the sun come up on the Torres del Paine.
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