Thursday, December 31, 2009

El Bolson

After leaving Bariloche, we headed to El Bolson which is a smaill town just south of Bariloche. It is much more quiet (minus the barking dogs and birds that want to be roosters) and surounded by mountains and streams. We had some amazing hikes and views, photos are posted on flickr, but the days are all beginning to blur together. I´ve given up trying to figure out what day of the week it is, the date will just have to do for now. We did one hike on Christmas eve that so far has been my favorite but I did manage to get a couple of battle wounds. If you´ve read Morgans blog you´ll note that he mentions I was trying to cut a new trail with my eyeball. In fact, the overgrowth of bamboo required us to hike mostly bent over, climbing under trees and over brush, fallen trees and rocks. There was one point where I was climbing up, bent over mind you, and when I stood I ran smack dab into a broken tree limb with my eye. Thankfully, I shut my eye just in time and only scrapped my eye lid and got a small cut between my eyes. At some other point I must have scrapped my knee, needless to say it was a bad day to choose to wear shorts for hiking. The sticker bushes were vile, but again if we had stayed on the trail and avoided trying to cut a new one up the side of a cliff things might have played out differently. Something tells me Morgan won´t believe me the next time I tell him "the trail seems to end here, we must need to go that way" (pointing up). The hike gave me fond memories of being a kid exploring in the woods. Its not often you find a fun trail that hasn´t been blazed wide open by frequent travelers. When we asked the guy at the refugio if there was a trail back to the town without retracing our steps he said many try and come back, that was our first clue that it would be fun. Glad we did it. When we got back, we got cleaned up and joined the rest of the hostel folks for a wonderful dinner hosted by the family that runs the hostel. By midnight I was having trouble keeping my eyes open and called it a night.

Christmas day was rainy and crappy so we mostly read and napped the day away. We had treated ourselves to massages the day before as our gifts so it was a lazy holiday. Thankfully we were in a cabin that was cozy and had a kitchen so it was a very comfortable stay, too bad the beds were as hard as a slab of wood. After a few days in El Bolson we were on our way back to Chile. We cruised by bus back to Bariloche and then to Puerto Montt, Chile to start our next stay.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

To Chile

Last week we made our way from Arequipa, Peru to the border of Peru/Chile by bus to a small town called Tacna. Once we arrived we began inquiring about tranportation options across the border to the northern most city - Arica, Chile. Before we could get our wits about us we were ushered from one window to the next and into a taxi (something like an old Buick Century) with 4 others and started our drive across the border. The taxi driver didn´t speak a lick of english but showed us through the maze of border crossing formalities and on we went. Less than two hours later we were in Chile and checking into a hotel. We didn´t see much of the town but hit a spot around the corner for dinner and called it a night. The next day we started to see that it was a neat beach town but found a cheap plane ticket out that very day and decided to go with it. By 8pm we were in Santiago, Chile.

Santiago is the first city where I´ve felt like we could have all the modern conviences we are used to. Especially a real cup of coffe, I´m getting really tired of instant coffee and was immediately drawn to a cafe where they had an expresso machine. We stayed in a nice hotel for the first couple of nights near a park but quickly realized that we were breaking the piggy bank and moved into a hostel in the Bellevista neighborhood about 10 blocks away for the rest of our stay. The hostel La Chimba had a great atmosphere and lots of Austrailian and British folks moving through plus a kitchen for us to use. We made several meals in the hostel, meals that consisted of vegetables and more vegetables! After a few days here we were able to get some advice on places to go, things to see and I found a couple of girls traveling solo to possibly meet up with in the future after Morgan goes back to the states. It was a great spot full of energy, friendly guests and employees but a bit young..... with all the late night activity I started to feel a bit old. We spent days wondering the city and not doing a whole lot of anything in particular, the biggest park (Parque Metropoliton) was closed on Sunday for elections so we put it off and never made it back. I did manage to catch the newest movie in the Twlight series and Morgan went to see an action flick, so far that it the only thing we´ve paid to see in the city which helped offset the cost of our hotel stay. The sun and heat tends to hit like a freight train from 11am - 5pm so hopefully the coast will bring some relief.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Bariloche, Argentina

The bus trip here was very long, even longer after spending the day at the beach in Vina del Mar and getting a little sunburn. Nothing like jumping on a 19 hour bus trip without showering off the sand and sunscreen for 24 hours, needless to say we were very eager for showers once we arrived in Bariloche. For the first time we landed a bus with a full cama service which means our seats converted to an almost flat surface for sleeping with pillows and blankets aplenty. I would have slept great if it weren´t for some strange beeping every 3 minutes. Thank god for earplugs. Once we crossed the border it became very apparent we were in a different area of the Andes. Everywhere I looked there appeared to be lush green valleys and alpine lakes. This place is absolutely beautiful, might need to come back here to stay for a bit after the holidays.

We showered up and went out for dinner, hit the grocery store to get some goodies for fixing our own breakfast and lunch the next day and hit the sack. Day 2 in Bariloche was a hike up onto a couple of lookouts by the lake.

After getting a view of our next adventure, a bike ride around the lakes we headed down the road to find a bike rental. We started off going the opposite way of most others and I have to say it was one of the most beautiful rides I´ve ever taken. Some challenging hills on a crappy mountain bike but the view was worth all the effort and shifting problems. We rode for about 5 hours by the time we finished the loop and headed back to town for dinner. It was a wonderful and exhausting day.

The following morning, at this point I can´t remember what day of the week it is so I´m just gonna give up... we went to the lake to do some kayaking. Morgan got some good photos on his camera so I´ll have to get them to post. We were only on the lake for a couple of hours and it was rather windy so we stayed close to the coast line but it was great. I highly recommend the kayak company in Bariloche called Cuadrante Sur, Chris and Pablo were our guides and they only allow small groups. It was Morgan and I in a double kayak and another couple also in a double. The guides paddled with us and chatted the whole time, a stark contrast to other guides we´ve had who didn´t make any effort to get to know their customers. These guys are great!

Today is our last day in Bariloche, tomorrow we are headed a few hours south to a small town called El Bolson to stay for x-mas. If it´s anything like Bariloche I think I´ll be in heaven. This is a place I could live.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Salkantay Glacier Trek To Machu Picchu

After looking around at options we landed a 5 day trip to MP via the Salkantay glacier pass. The trip was 4 days of hiking and the final day was spent in MP with a train ride home that night.

Day 1: We climbed to the 1st camp and had to cross many streams that had broken their banks due to the start of the rainy season. It was entertaining to try and make it across without getting soaked and we typically spent 5-10 minutes attempting to make a jumping point somewhere in the middle. After tossing several large rocks into the middle, most everyone made it without getting wet but a few weren´t so lucky. We had a 11 english speaking folks and a second group of 4 from Portugal and 2 Americans. The first day was incredibly hot and rainy which made for a steamy climb. We had some shelter at the first camp so the tents stayed dry but the area was incredibly muddy and messy. As soon as the tents were up I went to change into some dry clothes, no more than 5 minutes had passed before a little cat found its way into my tent, it must have known I´d be a sucker. It quickly decided to warm itself up on my lap and was content to stay as long as possible. In all it was somewhere between 8-9 hours of hiking for day 1.

By dinner it became clear that one of the gals from Portugal wasn´t doing well, she borrowed my inhaler and had taken some altitude meds but still wasn´t going to make it. That part of the group decided to turn back the following morning instead of going the rest of the way up the glacier the following day. The remaining two Americans joined our goup for the remainder of the trip. Now we were 13.

Day 2: The morning started out beautiful, it was quite cold so when the cook woke us with an offer of coca tea, I didn´t hesitate to indulge. We found an alpine lake on the way up to the summit where we sat for a break to soak up the sun and rest. A boy from England and a girl from Wales decided to get crazy and went for a swim in the freezing lake. After we were rested up we started heading the rest of the way to the top. It wasn´t as hard as I had anticipated. After we all gathered at the top for some photos, we started our trek down toward the jungle, it wasn´t long before the rain started and within an hour I was soaked from head to toe. Even my gortex jacket seemed to fail me. After 6 hours of hiking we were cold, miserable and tired. To top things off we learned that the trail was cut off due to a landslide from all the rain so we had to stop short of the original camp site for the night. We stopped in a very small pueblo village and camped on a family´s lawn for the night, I don´t think any one in the group stayed up past 8:30pm. We had hiked for about 10 hours in all on day 2.

Day 3: In the morning we awoke at 5am, as in the past we were stirred from our slumbers by the cook with an offer of hot tea in bed. The third day turned out to be more strenous than originally planned. We found a ¨short cut¨that the locals use which would take us up and over the mountain we had planned to walk around. It was a relatively steep climb through an amazing amount of mud, there wasn´t anyway to avoid it and everyone was covered from our knees down by the time we reached the top. Fortunately there were no falls but some close calls made for good entertainment on the way up. Thank god it wasn´t raining! It was actually pretty fun to scramble up. We took a breather at the top and I made a feable attempt to remove the mud from my boots and pants (at least my new boots aren´t so clean and shiny now). We made it down the other side of the mountain and in total hiked about 7 hours. Starving and exhausted we climbed into a van and headed into Santa Teresa to our campsite. We had lunch, relaxed and then headed to some local hotsprings to soak our tired bodies. They were amazing, by far the most beautiful hot springs I´ve ever seen.... a garden oasis after 3 days of wet, cold mountains, hot jungle, and did I mention wet weather. We returned to camp after a few hours to find a new resident had moved in, we´ll call him George. George, a small monkey, was right at home playing with us and a couple of cats which again, found my warm lap as good a place as any to curl up for a nap. It was Hanna´s birthday so we had a couple rounds of Pisco sours and stayed up longer than usual. Dinner was amazing with chicken legs, beet salad, and other goodies. The cook even whipped up a birthday cake for the following morning.

Day 4&5: On day 4 we awoke at 8am (sleeping in for our standards) and headed to a couple of waterfalls that were close by before starting our trek to Aguas Calentes. Most of the group got eaten alive by misquitoes but for some rare reason, I made it out with very few bites. The 4th night we stayed in a hostal in town. The following morning we had to meet the rest of the group at 4:30am for our trek up the mountain to the entrance of Machu Picchu. We made it to the front gate by 6am where we waited for the entire group to get through the entrance and started a guided tour through part of the ruins. There was too much fog to get many photos until almost 10am. However, by 10:30 it started to rain. I managed to stay in the ruins until just after noon then headed back down the steps in search for lunch. All in all it was an amazing trip and the journey there was just as meaningful and memorable as being in the ruins.

We are back in Cusco and catching a night bus to Arequipa and then heading to the border for Chile in the next day. Photos are up on flickr, check them out.