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Website Update 2008

On 31 January 2008 from Reuver, Netherlands | comments closed

I have been using a website traffic counter since one of the first websites I created in 1998. Over the years the company providing the counter has changed its name from Nedstat to Webstats4u to Motigo. The last name change also brought about a change in advertising: the horrible pop-under appeared. Since that really annoyed me in South America and I got complaints from site visitors as well, I decided to remove the counter with almost 10 years of history, and go with Google Analytics from now on.

I also brought my website fully up-to-date with the latest open-source scripts [updated 24 May 2008, 15 July 2008, 18 September 2008 & 15 December 2008]:

PatagoniaBack Home & Antarctica Photos

On 27 January 2008 from Reuver, Netherlands | comments closed

Travelling back home somehow seems more telling of the distance than travelling away from home. Maybe it has to do with not seeing any new things anymore, making time go slower (although some psychologists actually argue that time goes faster when you do not have new experiences). In any case, it took me some 20 hours to get from Santiago to home, flying 13 hours to Madrid and another 2 hours to Amsterdam. I arrived home Tuesday late afternoon.

All in all, it was a trip with many experiences. Of course Antarctica stands out most: the pristine white landscape, thousands of penguins, many seals and whales, cruising between huge icebergs with strange shapes, and imagining the hardship of the early overwinterers. When it comes to physical activities Antarctica does not top the list (aside for a quick run away from a glacier calving off), but Patagonia does: I did some excellent hiking, horseback riding, rafting, biking, glacier hiking, and volcano climbing. But my 6-week vacation also offered plenty of opportunities to just relax and enjoy the backpacker life that I got used to during my year in Australia, New Zealand and South-East Asia.

By visiting both South America and Antarctica, this trip completed a life goal of mine: visiting all 7 continents. And that before my 30th birthday. Guess I have to start looking for a new life goal, although I usually only come up with one just before achieving it. That said, the New 7 Wonders of the World may be a nice new challenge, as I have only visited the Colosseum in Rome so far.

PatagoniaRelaxing Last Days

On 21 January 2008 from Santiago, Chile | comments closed

The last days of my trip my travel pace has slowed down considerably, starting with a visit to the thermal pools near Pucón on Thursday evening. The warm waters made sure I had a really good night’s sleep. Friday evening I had an overnight bus to Viña del Mar, but instead of making it a busy activity-filled day in Pucón I slept out and wandered around the town and on the beach a bit on Friday.

When I arrived in Viña del Mar on Saturday I visited a small museum with one of the moais from Easter Island outside. Afterwards I took the bus to Valparaíso and explored the city. Because most of the city is on a hill, small cablecars have been built to get up and down, and I made frequent use of those. In the evening I just relaxed in the really nice B&B in Viña del Mar.

At noon on Sunday I took my last Chilean long-distance bus to Santiago. Because almost every museum was closed on Sunday afternoon, the walking tour I did was pretty short. Luckily the smog also was not very heavy because there was not much traffic. But it was still very noticable from the viewpoints at Santa Lucia and San Christobal.

This pretty much ends my travel blog for my Patagonia trip. I am off to the airport now for my flight back home. Upon popular request and keeping with my tradition I will let you know when the photos are online 😉

PatagoniaVolcanos Everywhere

On 17 January 2008 from Pucón, Chile | comments closed

Tuesday I crossed over into Chile for the last time this trip, as I will be flying home from Santiago. In Osorno I was able get a connecting bus to Puerto Varas, leaving immediately, so that worked out very well. The weather was great in Puerto Varas, so it was perfect to make some photos of volcano Osorno, rising up behind the lake. Besides making photos, I did not do very much in Puerto Varas, as I was there too short to make any of the daytrips. But it was good to relax and update my e-mail.

Wednesday afternoon I took a bus to Pucón, best described as the Chilean Bariloche. Only difference is volcano Villarrica in the background. And for the first time since Buenos Aires the temperature is above 25 degrees again. So it feels like summer as well. Not that I am very keen on high temperatures, but visiting South America in the summer and wearing a polar fleece every day is a bit strange too. Guess I went too far South. But I just love the long daylight hours, for the most part of my trip the sun did not set before 22.00 hours.

But even with these long daylight hours, I had to get up in total darkness on Thursday morning, as we set off at 04.00 hours to climb volcano Villarrica. The first bit of the climb was in the dark, but it got light after we put on all our expedition gear (gaiters, crampons, axe) to cover the icy slope. The climb took over 5 hours at a pretty slow pace, although we had to cover 1400 altitude metres to get to the top at 2847m. From there the views were amazing. The entire Chilean Lake District is dotted with volcanos, hence volcanos everywhere. The way back was a lot of fun, as we basically slided down through the snow at sometimes pretty high speeds. Sliding for grown-ups, pretty cool.

Patagonia7 Lakes Road Trip

On 14 January 2008 from Bariloche, Argentina | comments closed

Sunday afternoon Joanna, Willie and I picked up our Volkswagen Gol 1.6 to drive the 7 Lakes Route to San Martí­n de los Andes. By the way, Gol is not a typo, that really is the name of the car. When we got the car, the rental agency was not even sure if we could drive the unsealed bit of the road today, because it had rained in the morning. But after a quick telephone call they said it was OK, as long as we would drive carefully.

It basically took us all afternoon and evening to drive the 240km from Bariloche to Juní­n de los Andes, where we would stay overnight. This was mainly caused by many “Sunday drivers” on the road, and the fact that the unsealed bit was pretty rough. It was a very scenic road though, and we stopped at some of the 7 Lakes for photos and lunch. The scenic town of San Martí­n de los Andes was the last stop, and we got to Juní­n de los Andes just before dark.

Monday morning Willie and I left Joanna at the bus station in Juní­n de los Andes (she was travelling on to Mendoza), and we checked out some interesting religious statues and the view of the city and surroundings. Afterwards we took Ruta 40 back to Bariloche, which was sealed all the way, so even with some nice stops for photos and lunch, we got back at the end of the afternoon.

Tomorrow I will be leaving Argentina, and crossing into Chile for the last week of my trip. I updated the Itinerary post to reflect this.

PatagoniaRelaxing, Rafting & Biking in Bariloche

On 12 January 2008 from Bariloche, Argentina | comments closed

The morning before an afternoon flight is an ideal time to explore the little museums and attractions a city has to offer. That’s why I went to the Centro de Interpretación Histórica (museum about Patagonia) and Laguna Nimez in El Calafate on Tuesday morning. In the afternoon I had my flight to San Carlos de Bariloche. Only 2 hours delay.

Wednesday was a rainy day in Bariloche, and since most activities here are outdoors, I spent the day at Hostel 41 Below. They must be doing something right, because I planned to stay 3 nights, and ended up staying 6. The reason might be that Bariloche has it all: beautiful surroundings of lakes and mountains, lots of outdoors activities, good chocolate and ice-cream, and a fun nightlife.

Weather-wise Thursday started off bad as well, but in the afternoon it cleared, and Dan, Abbie and I went up to Mt Campanario to enjoy the views and eat some rich cake. In the evening we visited another local bar.

Friday the weather was good, and it made the rafting much more enjoyable. We rafted for over 2 hours on the Rio Manso, with some really nice class III rapids. One rapid we took head on, diving into the wave. Luckily the wetsuits kept us warm, because the water was ice cold. Just before the border with Chile we got out of the water, and had a nice asado (barbeque) in the mountains.

Saturday Joanna and I rented bikes to do the Circuito Chico, a nice 30km bike ride with some good views of the area around Bariloche.

PatagoniaPetito Moreno Glacier

On 7 January 2008 from El Calafate, Argentina | comments closed

After the 5,5-hour bus trip from Puerto Natales (CH) to El Calafate (AR) on Sunday, I spent the rest of the day relaxing in the hostel, and trying to get my flight to Bariloche. It seems it is almost impossible to get a flight with Aerolineas Argentinas. Making a reservation online works fine, but then no possibility to pay is offered, and the reservation is cancelled when no payment is done within 24 hours. So I lost my first reservation, called their office in Chile, got another reservation, but could not pay by phone because they would have no time to process it. I was told I could pay at the airport in El Calafate, so I went through the hassle of getting to and from the airport, only to find out there was no office at the airport, and I still could not pay. At least they extended my reservation and assigned me my prefered window seat. Today I physically went by their office in the city and was finally able to pay for the flight and get the ticket. On to Bariloche tomorrow.

The rest of the day I visited Petito Moreno, South America´s most famous glacier. I can understand why, it is picture perfect and looks much more blue than the glaciers in Antarctica. I spent 2 hours looking at it, waiting for a piece to break off. Unfortunately only very small pieces broke off, but it sure is an active glacier. After the lookout we took a boat across the lake to the south side of the glacier. When the guide was explaining about glaciers, there were actually 2 decent sized pieces that broke off. Of course all attention diverted immediately. After the explanation, we got crampons on and made a 2-hour walk on the glacier. We could see deep blue crevasses, small streams and sinkholes. It was a lot of fun as well to walk on the glacier. To top it off, we had some scotch whiskey with real glacier ice. No surprise everybody was sleeping in the bus on the way back.

PatagoniaTorres del Paine

On 5 January 2008 from Puerto Natales, Chile | comments closed

Freely translated: “Towers of Pain”, but I will get to that part later on. On Tuesday 1 January in the afternoon I took the bus into Torres del Paine National Park, and the catamaran got me the last bit to the Paine Grande Lodge. Before long I decided that roughing it on this trip would refer to the hiking itself, not to dragging around and putting up a tent, or creating warm evening meals. The accommodation and evening meals were provided by the refugios.

It was a good thing I did not start the hiking on 1 January, because it was raining all day long. On Wednesday there were still some showers, but much less. From Paine Grande I hiked to refugio Grey for some coffee and lunch. Along the way there were some good views of glacier Grey. All in all a good introduction day to the park, ended by a nice hot shower and dinner in the lodge.

Thursday would be the longest day: all the way from Paine Grande to refugio Los Cuernos, including the side trip to the Frances Valley lookout. Luckily the weather cleared up and it was dry all day long. The views from the Frances Valley lookout were amazing: 360 degrees of mountains and turqoise blue lakes. But it was a tough day: hiking from 9.00 to 18.00 with only a few short breaks.

Friday I could still feel Thursday’s hike in my legs, but it would be the shortest day, so that helped a bit. Since there were no lookouts between refugio Los Cuernos and refugio El Chileno, it was not the most interesting hike. Weatherwise it was OK: clear blue skies, but very hard winds. I literally almost got blown off the trail, only by holding on to some brushes I managed to prevent it.

Today all made up for it though. I left at 6.30 and reached the Torres del Paine lookout at 8.10. This is one of those places with a very high probability of bad weather, like Milford Sound in New Zealand. But like Milford Sound I had the luck of being there on a day with clear blue skies. Because I left so early I also got the chance to enjoy in it peace, before all the dayhikers arrived. On the way back I kept singing the few lyrics that I know of the song “Perfect Day”. Beautiful view in the morning, only having to walk downhill to the bus, wind in my back, and saying “hola” to everybody walking uphill: it was a perfect day.

PatagoniaHappy New Year from Chile

On 1 January 2008 from Puerto Natales, Chile | comments closed

My last day in Ushuaia (Saturday) I basically spent checking e-mail, updating this blog, downloading the data from my GPS travel recorder, getting very frustrated with the slow computers in internet cafes, and sending the now traditional New Year’s e-mail. In the evening I had dinner with Yannis, Aspasia, Michael and Patricia. It did not get very late though, since everyone was still quite tired from the Antarctica trip, and I had to catch a bus to Chile early in the morning.

For a trip that was originally intended to be Chile only, it has taken me a long time to actually get to Chile. Sunday was the day I finally crossed the border into Chile, after quite a long drive through no-man’s-land between Argentina and Chile. The luxurious bus journey between Ushuaia and Punta Arenas also made me realise how far away Ushuaia actually is. More than 100km of the road was still unsealed, leading through the empty and windy Patagonian tundra.

Monday the same bus company brought me from Punta Arenas to Puerto Natales, gateway to Torres del Paine National Park, the main reason for me to travel to Chile. I had gotten very worried about being able to get non-tent accommodation, since e-mailing the various companies and travel advisors had not resulted in a confirmed booking. However, when I went to a local travel agency in Puerto Natales, everything was settled within half an hour. Quite a relief. I immediately arranged the bus to El Calafate, as well as accommodation there and in Bariloche. All according the the Itinerary in another post. In the afternoon I also had some drinks with Pieter and Eva, whom I met in the local supermarket (it’s a small world).

New Year’s Eve a BBQ was organised by the hostel, complete with a campfire with the traditional Patagonian lamb. It was a good and relaxed atmosphere with more than enough alcohol. Anticipating this I got my bus to Torres del Paine today in the afternoon. The next 4,5 days I will be hiking in the national park.