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Travelogue 1, in which we arrive in Chile, enjoy the splendors of Santiago and then head down to the deep south, on Isla Navarino.
12 days in chile - so many new impressions that i thought it is about time to share some of our adventures with you. i put this list together in the assumption that you like to hear about our current travels. if that is not so please drop me a line and i will take you off the list. enjoy!
what happened so far:
after our usual packing it all up and getting it together stress, this time topped by my little dental surgery over christmas, i started off with two huge gaps in my mouth to explore the mystical land of patagonia. we had our traditional chillout and tune in stopover in frankfurt with samada and this time absent loki. on new years eve we took off for our 17 hours journey to santiago de chile. at midnight we were flying over mallorca, the captain wished us happy new year and that was it. not a single firecracker, nor any champagne
i sleep most of the flight soundly through, just to open my eyes for a short stop in buenos aires and then at 11.00 local time we set our foot on chilenian soil. We hopped on a bus to santiago centro and found our wonderful hotel "las vegas" in an old bohemian quarter called londres. we had three days to crash out and explore the city. as usual i am utterly unprepared in terms of language and country. we didn't even have a spanish phrasebook, which was the first thing to be bought after a hopeless try to decipher a menu.
chile is actually a very long thin country, 4300km long and at its widest point only 180km broad. within its borders it has the worlds driest deserts, the highest peaks outside the himalayan mountains, lush forests, a coastline as long as the country full of fjords and about 2000 active volcanoes. so in this country you can find about everything nature displays and that is the tale of chile: after god had finished creating the earth he had all this leftovers which he put into chile. originally the land was occupied by different tribes of indians until the spanish came, slaughtered most of them and tried to educate them in missions. an interesting read makes "the voyage of the beagle" - the story of charles darwins travel.
the capital is santiago with about 6 million citizens and a lot of smog. it reminded me a lot of athens. the center of town has a very european buzzing feel about it. temperature a pleasant 28-30 degree. shops over shops, people over people.the chilenians are very friendly and happily speak along to me in spanish, not minding that i don't understand a word
now to be a vegetarian in south america is probably like being a teetotaller in an irish brewery. this country and its people thrive on meat, mostly in form of fast food like hotdogs (completos), hamburger, slabs of grilled meat all prepared on huge grills, put in a bun the size of a child's head. vegetable or salad is a slice of tomato and a bit of onion on the meat. i started a diet of french fries and avocado creme.
we spent the next days visiting the fishmarket and its big hall full of restaurants, checking out bella vista, the artist and freak quarter of santiago with lots of cool places to eat something else than patates frittas. we were going up mt christobal to see the huge virgin maria in a funicular.
absolut mindblowing for me was a visit to the national historical museum of the capital where chile's history ends precisely on the 11 of september 1973 with a display of the broken pair of glasses from allende, found under the rubble of the bombed out palace. not a single word about the following 17 years of the pinochet era, not a thought about people disappearing, being tortured, killed, deported - nada! i am stunned. having grown up in a country in which as soon as you are halfway able to comprehend history, you learn all about the fascist past of the country and that over and over again, where you made feel guilty for what your forefathers did, for being german and where every second issue of der spiegel magazine still carries a third reich cover - and here i find a country which doesn't even mention this chapter in their history in the national museum - i am speechless (and that is not so often!)
apart from all that i must name santiago the kissing capital of the world - i have never been in a town where everybody seems to be constantly smooching, kids lovers anybody will do. and not surprisingly i saw more pregnant women in three days than in the whole last year in freiburg and mostly these mothers-to-be were under twenty - well its catholic after all.
after three refreshing and warm days we flew down to our first destination in patagonia - punta arenas, the largest town in southern patagonia. the temperature dropped sharp to 13 degrees and leaving the airport we were greeted by the famous everpresent patagonian wind. lampposts bending down and nothing stays in place. if you have ever seen american beauty and loved the scene with the dancing plastic bag (which i think is a cinematic highlight) - this is the scenery here but not only one bag
we found a nice backpackers and started off to have a look around. this
is a completley different scene here. the houses are built of wood or tin
(very musical indeed) with gaps you don't need to open a window (most of
them have no handles anyway). and i never knew that you can use tesafilm
to mend cracks in glass.
we found a nice shoperia (shop=beer) and had a drink. i did my usual first time stunt and leave my bag there with all money, docs etc. just to find out later and run back in sweat and horror. in the shop the friendly women were already waiting for me, patting my back and consoling me. there is a very interesting salesian (some convent brothers) museum which shows the whole history and wiping out of the local indian tribe called the onas, the last fullblooded died in 1972. so i do all my learning about the country while i am there. we even found a restaurant where i could have an omelette with french fries. there were also daytrips to penguin colonies but we are just not a sort of excursion people so we gave it a miss.
then we booked a flight to our first trekking destination and i think now it is about time you get your map out. we stocked up on supplies and flew to puerto williams on the isla navarino, fronting the beagle channel which is the only maritime border between chile and argentinia. this is the most southern permanent settlement of ca.1500 people in the world - after that it is only penguins. the island is just off the coast of tierra del fuego (fireland) which is mostly argentian with the booming town of ushuaia. the chilean and argentian connection is not very friendly when it comes to borders of the countries. one time they even called on pope the pollack to tell them who gets what and as true catholic they obeyed to his decision.
so on the 6th we got into a little propeller machine (20 seater) after a bit of a mess with me not being on the passenger list despite of having a valid ticket in my hand - system error so sorry senora. we had to wait until the last minute to get on the plane, hoping that we will also get our packs on there. i was quite worked up when i entered and by the sight of this tiny plane suddendly thought may be i should have just dropped it and not pushed destiny (luckily i haven't heard about the peruvian plane crash by then). this thing was so little and noisy i was horrified and went into a kind of shock. i wished i'd be anywhere else in the world but not there - it was the longest hour of my life. i will spare you the details of my mental state. while landing i went into hyperventilation including rabbit claws (hadn't had any of that since my last rebirthing session) and throwing up. well i guess that is what you can call pure panic.
after putting my feet down on firm ground i recovered pretty fast and we decided to immediately set off on our trek to camp out our first night straight away. as we are so close to the southpole we get a lot of daylight (gets kind of dark at 23.30!) which gives us good walking times. we found a nice and sheltered spot after a couple of hours on the trek where we set up camp with campfire and all else needed.
well our first trek was actually supposed to be an easy warm up trek for the ones to come. in our book it is rated medium to hard and an easy five short days walk - so we thought we do this one in four days as we couldn't get a later flight back to puerto arenas.
next morning we set off to climb our first pass. soon we realise that not only are we at the end of the world, but there is no actual trail and we have to spend a considerable amount of time trailfinding. there are the occasional cairnes (stones put on top of each other)or little red markings but there is no path - we just have to walk crosscountry, through bogs, bushes and rivers. after a steep climb we reach the plateau, greeted by an icy wind which blew me off my feet (and that with my pack on!). i see my first condor circling above me. he is huge and his wingspan is frightening. i try to make a very alive impression to remind him that he is actually a vulture and should not get any silly ideas.
we scramble further over loose scree and big rocks at the edge of a ridge to finally drop down to laguno el salto - a glacier lake and our place for the night. there is even a bit of sunshine and i refresh myself with some splashes of icy lake water. on its mossy shores we find a nice place and set up a campfire and cook our meal - pure wilderness and nature - blissful.
next day it looks pretty bleak and we head off to tackle the next plateau which starts with a muddy climb on hands and knees up a little stream. once on top it is hard going, more rocks, snowdrifts. we are walking around a glacier down a tiny valley always trying not to loose the trail. we wanted to reach a lake further down for the night but we are already exhausted after walking for eight hours in such tough terrain. we need to make it over another pass which will take approx. another 3 hours. i ask myself why am i not holidaying in mallorca right now. useless, we have to go on - we make the pass and reach a soggy shore of a lake where we collapse, pitch the tent and after a quick meal sink in our sleeping bags. it is stormy and raining quite hard, i sleep like a baby in this so called subantarctic wilderness.
we decide to lie in next morning to wait for the rain to ease off. surprisingly it did and we can pack up dry and move on. there is yet another pass to climb over a small ridge and we fight our way through waterlogged land and bogs. what the possum is for nz is the beaver for here. they have no natural enemies so they spread and gnaw away on every tree in sight to built huge dams and flood the land in creating their own private swimming pools. at some shores it looks like a battlefield ony stumps left. meanwhile we get lost on our way up to a glaciaral plateau and end up in dense bushes, holding on to roots to lift ourselves up over rocks to the top. up there we find a endless sea of more broken stones - as far as i can see broken stones - very enchanting. we walked to the end of which seems hours and then we look down to the lake we want to spend the night at. the only disturbing thing is that we are standing on a cliff with a sheer drop of 300metres down. i look at jalal and wonder how we gonna get down there. to the left is a slope of loose scree and i realise that will be it - i start to sweat and move over. this is concentration to the max every step, every time i try to get footing i sink in take stones with me - in front, behind, left and right. so i just scramble down, hoping to have enough hold under my feet and leaving the rest of the mountain where it is. finally down there we find yet another soft soggy mossy patch for our tent - my knees feel like scrambled eggs, my toes are bruised - but we have warm food and a sleeping bag and that makes up for it all. and after a hot chocolate i feel alright again.
the next day brings us back to civilisation after some wild trailing through forrests we end up on the road (road is not quite the right word, but it feels like one) to puerto williams. we crash out in a small residencia, have a shower and go out to have a shop and our first hotdogs
this was one of the most difficult terrain we ever trekked but we did it and were rewarded with incredible nature and wilderness. all my bones ache but i am a happy bunny.
next morning is our flight back to punta arenas. when i wake up in the morning something feels weird and i realise that there is no wind outside - spooky. i am easy on the flight back, somehow i am all chilled out and not very worried, admiring the mountains out of the window.
we are back in punta arenas in our hostel and tomorrow we will catch a bus to puerto natales at the feet of the legendary torres del paine national park, where we plan to do the 7-10 days circuit of over 100 kms. but first some rest for the legs and knees and more pampering.
beloved friends, that's it so far i hope you've enjoyed this little trip to south america with us. i will keep you posted with more of our adventures.
until then much love from the end of the world from ajara and jalal