Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Trip to Patagonia - Dec 31, 2014 - Overland to Torres del Paine National Park; Salto Grande Trek

- from the Itinerary:

Today, we travel overland to Torres del Paine, widely considered to be South America’s finest national park and one of the most remote and beautiful places in the world. We’ll spend two nights here, giving us time to hike winding trails over rippling currents; witness the ostrich-like rhea (known locally as nandu), condor, fox, and other wildlife protected by this UNESCO Biosphere Reserve site; and take in the stunning land- scapes of snowcapped mountains rising dramatically over mirror-smooth  lakes and flowering fields.

We’ll stop for a boxed lunch at a scenic viewpoint en route to Torres del Paine, and check into our hotel in the early afternoon. Then we’ll hike to Salto Grande, a rushing waterfall set between Lago Nordenskjold and Lago Pehoe. We’ll witness the awesome power of the falls, and have a chance to spot some of the indigenous wildlife—like the guanaco, a cousin of the camel—that comes here to feed on the verdant foliage along the riverbank, before returning to our hotel for dinner.

Left the hotel at 8:00 AM, heading to Torres del Paines National Park (the reason I wanted to go on this trip and a destination that has been on my list for years). On the way out of town, we stopped at the NAO Victoria Museum, an open-air museum centered on a replica of Magellen's ship, Victoria. There is also the start of a replica of Darwin's Beagle.

On the long drive, the bus driver would stop and point our wildlife along the road - Black-Chested Buzzard Eagle, Rhea, Guanaco, Southern Crested Caracara, Ibis and a Patagonian Condor (although it was not really close enough to see any detail).

Black-Chested Buzzard Eagle

Male Rhea with the children


Patagonian Condor

Guanaco family

We had a "box" lunch that we had picked up when we left our hotel this morning. We ate this lunch on the bus as we continued our drive. We also had additional discussions of books about Patagonia, such as Isabella Allende.

We stopped at a couple of lakes and overlooks as we approached the park.

After entering the Torres del Paine National Park, we left the bus for a 2 hour hike where we again saw many Guanaco, including a mating pair that seemed oblivious to all the people stopping to watch and take pictures!

After the hike, we still had 1 1/2 hour drive to our hotel on Lago Grey. The views from the hotel were wonderful! I'm so happy to be here!

View from our hotel across Lago Grey

Another view from the hotel

Lago Grey Glacier across the  lake

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Trip to Patagonia - Dec 30, 2014 - Fly to Punta Arenas; Walking Tour

- from the Itinerary:

Today we rise early and take a ferry back to the mainland. Then we fly to Punta Arenas, a bustling port overlooking the Strait of Magellan. Founded in 1848 as a military penal colony, Punta Arenas leapt to international prominence in the late 19th century because of its sheep and wool industry and the discovery of gold nearby. On our way into town, we’ll stop at the Nao Victoria Museum, which has a replica of one of Ferdinand Magellan’s ships complete with original furniture and hardware.

After lunch your own in Punta Arenas, we’ll take a walking tour, see mansions built during the city’s boom time, and take in panoramic views. We’ll also visit Plaza Munoz Gamero—the main square at the heart of town.

You’ll also have some free time this afternoon. Dinner tonight is on your own. Locals recommend seeking the seasonal centolla (king crab) and erizos (sea urchins).

This morning we took the ferry back to the mainland and drove to Puerto Montt Airport for a flight to Punta Arenas. Although the itinerary indicated we would have lunch once we got to Punta Arenas, we actually were arriving too late for lunch, so Pat and I made sandwiches at breakfast which we packed for eating on the plane.

Once we got to Punta Arenas, we were met by a new local and very young guide, Kike, and bus driver. On the way to our hotel, we stopped above the city to get an overview (about 200ft away from a geocache which was no longer there due to construction, rats). Then we walked toward the hotel and were told about some of the old homes, churches and other building we passed on the way. Right across the street from our hotel was the Southernmost geocache in South America at a monument. Got that one!

We were on our own for dinner and ended up going to Kike's favorite restaurant with him and Myriam, out trip leader. At dinner we found out Kike was just recently in Singapore while traveling around Southern Asia. Interesting young guy.

Monday, December 29, 2014

Trip to Patagonia - Dec 29, 2014 - Discover Chiloé Island; Puñihuil Wildlife Sanctuary

- from the Itinerary: 

This morning, we’ll visit villages on the coast of Chiloé Island, including Quinchao Island, Curaco de Velez, and Achao. In Achao, we’ll see one of the 16 historic wooden churches of Chiloé that are recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Begun by Jesuit missionaries in the 17th century, these churches represent the blending of Spanish Catholicism with indigenous culture, with some details of their construction showing that they were built by carpenters who had learned their trade building boats.

You’ll have time for lunch on your own, after which we return to our hotel.

Later, we’ll ride to the quaint fishing town of Puñihuil. Weather permitting, we’ll board small boats and sail out to observe the residents of a local wildlife sanctuary that is home to both the Humboldt and Magellanic penguin (from approximately October to March), as well as sea otters, sea lions, seals and a variety of marine birds. Afterwards, we’ll have dinner in Puñihuil, and then return to our hotel.

We visited several of the smaller islands around Chiloe Island and did a walking tour of Achao. The market here sells a strange (to us) seaweed and smoked mussels.

A type of seaweed

Smoked mussels

We also saw this wooden church, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. We learned that these churches do not allow votive candles - pretty obvious why.

Later we visited Ambrosio, who builds boats. He was in the process of working on one that had been contracted for his son.

Ambrosio explains his work

Smaller boats awaiting completion

After returning to the hotel for some free time, we again boarded the bus for a trip to Punihuil, a wildlife reserve for penguins. This reserve consists of several small islands that are off-limits to humans, but are populated by Humbolt and Magellanic penguins and lots of marine birds. To see these animals, the local fishermen use boats to take people around the islands. Getting into the boats involves climbing onto wheeled carts that are pushed out through the surf to the boats. Sure better than walking into the surf, for sure.


Boarding cart for transport to boat

Heading out to the boat


Patagonian Sea Lion

We had dinner at a restaurant on the beach and left just before the tide closed the road out of the area!

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Trip to Patagonia - Dec 28, 2014 - Visit Local School; Home-Hosted Lunch; Ferry to Chiloé Island

- from the Itinerary:

After breakfast this morning, we’ll continue our travel in Chile with a visit to a local school (when in session). We’ll meet some young students and get a look at what a small, rural school is like in this part of Chile. Then we’ll be the guests of a local family in the community of Pargua, where they will prepare a traditional meal called a curanto for us.

Curanto is a stew consisting of typical local fare—shellfish, meat, potatoes, and
vegetables, cooked in a hole in the ground lined with rocks. As the meal is cooking, we’ll help prepare a few popular local snacks, like milcaos (fried potato pancakes). Then we’ll sit down to lunch with our hosts, enjoying the flavor of these local specialties.

In the afternoon, we’ll take a 20-minute ferry ride to the island of Chiloé, where we’ll transfer to our hotel and have dinner.

Today was unlike any other, and nothing we had ever done before.

We drove to a local school in the countryside that is supported by the Grand Circle Foundation (part of the OAT family). However, because it was Sunday, the school was closed. We gathered outside the school and was given a description of what their support has done, flooring, play areas, etc.

We then walked down the road to the Parqua Community Center where we met with several of the village women to discuss how their community lives and works together. We also got to meet one of the school students. Because the villagers did not speak English, all the conversations were translated through the local guide and the trip leader.

These ladies we so excited by our group's visit they had tea waiting for us. We all drank out of the biggest collection of mismatched tea cups and saucers I ever saw. They served homemade biscuits and cookies and loved telling us about where they lived who was related to who.

The community center's floor was old rough cement and the rafters were open beams with loads of nails and hooks. This center is used for weddings and parties, too. Humble, clean, and well used. A cow looked through the window during our meeting.

Parqua Community Center

Parqua villagers

After about 45 minutes (and the ladies did not want us to leave), we left and boarded the bus for a short ride to another family home in Parqua, where we were going to have a typical meal with them. This meal is known as a Curanto and is cooked in a pit dug in the ground. The curanto is a traditional gathering feast for barn buildings, holiday celebrations, and any other reason they can come up with.

A fire is built in the pit and large rocks are added to be heated for cooking. Once it is decided the rocks are sufficiently hot, the coals are carefully removed, leaving only the hot rocks. At this time, a large amount of mussels were added directly on the rocks. Then chicken pieces, sausage, chunks of pork, potatoes, chapaleles and milcaos (2 different kinds of potato dumplings). The whole thing is then covered with fern leaves and then bags and sealed around the edges with dirt to keep the steam and heat in the pit. After an hour or so, it was all uncovered, taken out of the pit and served as a sit-down meal. It was very good and great experience.

We ate family style on two long tables in their home heated by several wood burning pot belly stoves. Red wine and a really sweet white wine was served.

Heating the rocks


Chicken, sausage and pork
has been added

Chapaleles and Milcaos

Covering the pit

Adding dirt to seal

Starting to remove things

Removing the meat
and mussels

Everyone gathers
around to watch

While the curanto was cooking, our host took us for a walk around the family farms. One of the really neat things was an old barn just waiting to be photographed. The homeowner said that the wood will be reused in other building projects.

When we were finished with lunch, we boarded the bus for a ferry ride to Chiloe Island and our hotel in the town of Ancud. Dinner was at the hotel. The hotel dinner was good but could not match he curanto.

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Trip to Patagonia - Dec 27, 2014 - Osorno Volcano Hike; Explore Vicente Pérez Rosales National Park

- from the Itinerary:
This morning, we head towards the Osorno Volcano, whose snowcapped cone towers over Lake Llanquihue, and enjoy a hike in its vicinity.

We continue to Vicente Pérez Rosales National Park and have lunch with a local fisherman and his family who live inside the park. After lunch, we witness the Petrohue Waterfalls, where clear turquoise chutes of water flow over ancient lava from the Osorno Volcano that has been polished by silt over the centuries into a bed of smooth stone. The Mapuche Indians call this area the meeting ground between man and God, and with its mirror-like lakes, cascading falls, and volcanic mountains, it’s certainly one of the loveliest regions of Chile.

We return to Puerto Varas, where you’ll have some free time to explore the town and get dinner on your own.

Ever since arriving in Chile, we have been able to see a couple of volcanoes in the distance. Today we finally got close, as in walking up the side of one of them - Osorno Volcano. The weather as we started up was less than ideal - as you can see in the photos, we were covered in a fog. It actually was so dense at times that the local guide recommended not going any further and returning to the bus. However, there was a group of 4 of us (Pat, Bill, Mary, and I) who decided to continue. I'm glad we did since it finally cleared!

Pretty foggy

Pilar recommending we turn around

At the top, it's starting to clear

Volcanic rocks (one of Pat's obsessions)

Completely cleared back at the bus

Once we got back on the bus, the fog rolled in again. It seems like we were very lucky to have been there when there was a break in the cloud cover. It was an awesome thing to be on the volcano and actually be able to see into the caldera (although it was still mostly obscured with fog).

We then drove to a dock on Todos los Santos lake, where a local fisherman took us in his boat across the water to his home. The ride was only a couple of minutes, but there is no other access to his home, as no roads exist on that side of the lake.

Once we got to his home, we had lunch (a way for the fisherman to supplement his income) and met his family. The daughter shown below is learning the tourism business and speaks good English. She has decided to continue the family's eco-tourism business (which includes guiding fishing trips and providing meals at their home).

Getting ready for lunch

Alex (the fisherman), Roseta (his wife)
and their daughter
After our lunch, we were again ferried back to the other side of the lake and boarded the bus for a short ride to Saltos del Petrohue in the Vicente Pérez Rosales National Park. The Saltos del Petrohue is a falls/rapids that the Chileans love and is a destination like Niagara Falls for Americans. It was crowded and not easy to get to a good spot to take the definitive photo.

Then back to our hotel, Solace, in Puerto Varas, where we all got to try a Pisco Sour. As Pat and I both agreed - Yuck!

We were on our own for dinner, so we asked our local guide if there were any brew pubs in the city. She recommended one that was only about 3 blocks away from the hotel and told us of their specialty dinner. Off we went to Cafe Haussmann where we had the recommended Steak Tartar (crudo). It was excellent! In addition, the locally-brewed beer the waiter recommended was very good.

Our beers

Pat had the Porter

Ray had the IPA (as usual)