Friday, December 14, 2007

Hot, hot, hot in Brazil

Greetings from Iguazu Falls! The falls form the border between Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay.

I arrived at the Argentinian side so went to visit the National Park directly from the airport. The falls really are stunning and cover a huge area so you get different perspectives from all different angles. I spent about four hours hiking the various trails which enable you to view the falls from across, below and above. It is seriously hot and humid here so it was nice when you could get close enough to the falls to get cooled from the spray.
After the park I crossed over into Brazil where I´m staying. So far I´ve been happily muddling along with my basic Spanish but as I haven´t a word of Portuguese this could be more fun - I think there´ll be a lot of smiling, nodding and pointing over the next few days!
Today I went to visit the Park on the Brazilian side of the falls. You get more of a panoramic view of the falls from this side with less walks available but still the chance for getting soaked to cool down. In the afternoon I went to the Bird Park close by which has an amazing collection of parrots, macaws, toucans, eagles, anacondas and all sorts of other feathery things. (Yes, I know anacondas are not birds but they were in the park so thought I´d mention them.)

Lovely day for a GUINNESS
Nice and cool under the canopy of the jungle walks. But if I´m finding it hot in t-shirt and shorts I don´t know how the poor Santa is fairing in the supermarket down the road in his big red suit with snowy lining and great big fluffy white beard. Somehow I think the southern hemisphere should invent a new image of Xmas more suiting to their climate!
Next stop Rio for an overnight before I board the Tocorime tall ship. We´re sailing from Rio down the coast to Paraty stopping at various locations along the way. Not sure if I´ll be near an Internet connection anywhere but if I am will try to post an update. If you want to see more about the boat here´s the site I´m really looking forward to it.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Buenos Aires

We left Ushuaia with snow falling and the mountains covered from a night of snow to arrive in Buenos Aires in 27 degree heat - woohoo!

B.A. is a big, busy, vibrant city of 22 million people. It is very European in its buildings, people and culture - very different from the other South American cities I´ve visited. There´s many different neighbourhoods with their own history, style and culture. Certainly a great place to spend a few days shopping and sight-seeing. Our first evening here was the last night with our whole group so we went to a Tango show which included a 45 minute lesson beforehand. With about 60 people in a tiny room it was more like musical bumper-cars but by the end we were all very proud at how we had mastered the basics in such a short time. We were then completely brought back down to earth when we saw the real thing in the show later...mmm think I´ve still a bit of practice needed.

The next day a few of us went out to La Boca, famous for its football club and the club´s most famous player, the one and only Maradona. La Boca has an area famous for its brightly coloured buildings where you can have your picture taken with a Diego lookeylikey i.e. just a fat fella with a mop of curly hair wearing a soccer shirt!

I´m staying my last couple of nights in the area of San Telmo which is an old area with an arty, bohemian feel to it. The hostel is in a lovely old restored art-demo building. Today I went on a guided bike tour around the areas of Recoletta and Palermo which are the rich´n´leafy areas with some lovely parks for biking around.

Off to Iguazu tomorrow to cool down in the spray of the falls...

Saturday, December 8, 2007

The End of the World

Well, in this trip I´ve gone from The Middle of the World to The End of the World. (And yes, there is a certain REM song stuck in my head for which I only know the one line). Ushuaia is very proud of its claim to be the most southerly city in the world and if ever you wanted an egg-cup that says ´Ushuaia the Most Southerly City in the World´on it then this is definately the place to get it!

Ushuaia is on the southern coast of Tierra del Fuego the island at the tip of the South America. We were surprised by the calm weather when we arrived two days ago but strong seas meant our boat trip along the Beagle channel was cancelled yesterday. So instead we went and got covered in mud in the Tierra del Fuego national park instead. Luckily today was much calmer so we managed to get out this morning. Lovely calm weather when we were leaving but it got really cold along the trip. We were all layered up like a Michelin man convention. Apparently the native people, before the European arrival, used to live naked here just covered in animal fat - madness! Don´t think I´d fancy winter here if this is mid-summer. Along the channel, which is surrounded by snow covered mountains, we saw lots of sea-lions, cormorants and some swimming penguins.

Flying back to Buenos Aires tomorrow for a few days shopping, sight-seeing and hopefully enjoying the nice warm temperature. Then off to Iguazu Falls on my way to Brazil for my final week!

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Perito Moreno glacier and El Chalten

The Perito Moreno glacier is unusual in that it is one of the few glaciers in the world that is still advancing rather than receding. It is incredibly hard to comprehend the sheer size of it let alone describe it. Even when you are there it is hard to get perspective on it. The front wall of the glacier is about as high as a twenty storey building and the whole area of the glacier is about as big as Buenos Aires. This is just a small section of the whole Patagonia ice-sheet which is second in size only to Greenland. As the glacier advances large sections of the front wall crash down into the lake causing huge splashes and new icebergs. We only saw some small breaks when we were there but they seem so load and dramatic it must be incredible when there are huge falls.
We caught a boat out along the glacier but still kept to 300 metres from the wall otherwise the falling ice can be really dangerous.

From El Calafate we drove to El Chalten across the Argentinian steppes, huge plains of scrub where´s nothing much but sheep estancias (ranches). They need huge areas of land in proportion to the amount of sheep as the land is so infertile. Due to the strong winds and low moisture the plants are all very low to the ground. El Chalten, is a funny little town which seems like the last place on the Wild Frontier. Mostly just used a base for hikers heading to Cerro Fitz Roy and Cerro Torre. In winter I think there are only 600 hardy souls left here.

Our first day we did about a 9-hour hike up to a view across Laguna de los Tres to Cerro Fitzroy. Serious climbers spend a number of days crossing the glaciers to summit the peak so we really just arriving at their first base camp. With the aid of a good support bandage, my knee was much better and managed to complete the trail. Again we were lucky with the weather in that we had a clear views of the peaks without any rain and only a light scattering of some snow flakes at the top!

(Connection doesn´t seem to be working too well at the moment so will have to finish this later. For now, there´s a giant piece of chocolate cake with my name on it. Just as well we´re getting some exercise in this place otherwise I´d be rolling home.)

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Torres del Paine - do you want iceberg with that?

We set out to Torres del Paine expecting the worst but I think somebody somewhere up there likes us as we had brilliant sunny views of the spectacular scenery. There was some of the famous Patagonian wind of course but you´d almost feel cheated if you came here and didn´t get knocked over by the wind a few times (see my hair in the photo below)!
Our first day´s hike was up to the Torres (or towers) themselves - dramatic high rocky towers formed into spikes by wind erosion.
We were completing the famous ´W´circuit of the park over five days. A night we were camping but have to confess to ours being the ´luxury´camping option i.e. someone was transporting our luggage, putting up and taking down tents for us and providing us with lots of food.
We got lots of dirty looks from all the hard-core trekkers who were carrying huge packs all day (probably filled with rocks for extra suffering). We´d been expecting freezing nights but it wasn´t cold at all at night really and each nice we had a nice lodge to eat together inside. There´s even been hot showers which we completely weren´t expecting.
The second day was a short hike and we were all in shorts and t-shirts it was so warm.Beautiful views and sunset from the mountain lodge where we stayed that night out over the glacial lake which is a deep green colour during the day.
The third day was a long day with a nine-hour hike up to view one of the glaciers in the valley and then on to our camping area lake-side. Unfortunately I´ve developed a bit of a knee injury which has make hiking a bit tougher but hasn´t stopped me doing anything yet. Hoping it´s just a short-term thing.
On the fourth day we hiked over to the Grey glacier where we took a boat trip right up to the impressive glacier wall where it meets with the lake edge. Quite bizarre with icebergs floating by on the lake (made sure my life-jacket done up tight just in case). Our complementary Pisco Sour came with a bit of iceberg floating in it that they had just fished out of the lake! The glacier is an amazing blue colour in the crevasses.
Our last day included a short hike to a view point of the whole mountain range and again we were very lucky to have a clear day. Some people come to this park and see absolutely nothing for five days which must be just gutting. We felt the full force of the Patagonian wind on our way back as it literally blew us down the hill and we just had to give in to it - luckily we weren´t hiking on a cliff edge at the time. It really is a stunning area and not sure that my photos will do it justice but hopefully you´ll get a taster here.
After a night back in Puerto Natales we travelled today back into Argentina to the town of El Calafate. Tomorrow we are off to the Moreno Glacier where again we will be doing a boat trip along the glacier wall. The following two days we are off to Chalten and a couple more days hiking in the parks here some hopefully catch up in a few days time.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Chilly in Chile

We´ve been working our down the coast of Chile for the past few days. We began with a beautiful trip across the mountains from Argentina to arrive at the lake-side town of Puerto Varas. We went on a full-day trip to Chiloe island and we blessed with beautifully clear skies all day. Chiloe Island was at one stage the most important point along the westerly South American coast as it was the control point of the Magellan Strait, which was the only available trade route across from the Atlantic across to the Pacific and vice versa. Also one of the last Spanish strong-holds as independance was gained by the mainland towns. But after the creation of the Panama canal Chiloe has become a quiet sleepy place with painted wooden houses in very Germanic styles inherited from its early settlers. We took a boat trip out along the coast to visit the penguin colonies where there were also sea-lions and loads of different bird varieties. My favourite though were the cows taking a stroll along the beach. Along the way we stopped to have some oysters fresh out of the sea, I´m not exactly an oyster expert but other in group told me these were the best they´d ever tasted. In the evening we had an amazing dinner cooked in a traditional under ground pit of huge amounts of mussels, clams, pork, chicken, potatoes and onion bread. A really enjoyable day but unfortunately due to full moon, very low tides meant we couldn´t get onto the ferry home ´till about mid-night.

Next day we took a flight further south to the town of Punta Arenas. You may have heard of it in the news as it´s the town where the passengers from the Explorer ship were finally airlifted to. If you haven´t heard the GAP Explorer ship, which set out from Ushuaia on a 19-day Antartica trip, hit an iceberg and sank. Luckily all passengers and crew were all evacuated successful though they did spend about 6 hours in life-boats in ice-filled waters. The boat is actually owned by GAP the company I´m travelling with. It´s terrible news for the company but great that the evacuation was handled well and everyone safe.

The highlight of Punta Arenas is a trip to the Otway Penguin colony. You can actually walk along designated areas of the penguin colony and nesting group so you can get really close and the penguins don´t seem bothered as they waddle by. I´ve some funny video footage which I´ll hopefully get to show those interested when I get home. Definately a bite in the wind down this far south so we´re preparing ourselves for our journey further south.

From there we have travelled further north slightly to the town of Puerto Natales, which is starting point for trips into the Torres del Paine National Park. Taking it easy today catching up on mail and doing some shopping before we head of on 5 days of hiking/camping in the park! The weather can get really harsh here, particularly the icy winds so we´re all wondering about the camping at night certainly. So we´re all sort though our best warm thermals, fleeces and jackets as we have a limited weight that can be carried on the trip. The park is supposed to be stunning though so definately hoping for some clear days. Better go get myself ready and hopefully have some great photos to share in a few days.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Bariloche, Argentina

Greetings from Argentina!

After a brief overnight in Buenos Aires, we flew down to Bariloche, Argentina´s biggest ski resort. (I´m coming back to B.A. for a few days at the end of this trip into Patagonia). It´s summer time here now so no skiing obviously - maybe I´ll have to come back in winter sometime. The town is all ´swiss-style´i.e. it´s looks like a US ski resort that it supposed to look Swiss. We´ve a Swiss girl in our group who is finding it all very funny particularly the St. Bernard dogs with barrels around their necks. There´s 12 in the group - English, Australian, Swedish, Swiss, and I´m the only Irish for a change. Lots of hand-made chocolate shops too which combined with the amount of steak we are eating is a bit dangerous. Everything you hear about Argentinian steak is so true - really delicious but you get absolutely massive servings. Just as well we´re going to be getting lots of exercise on this trip. Yesterday we hiked up into one of the surrounding ski areas with a great view around and today went out for a bike ride around the lakes - gorgeous views of the snow-capped mountains all around.

The weather here has been absolutely stunning since we arrived. Completely clear and about 25 degrees. From the top of the mountain we could see 360 degrees around and there wasn´t a wisp of cloud anywhere. Not sure how long this will last but enjoying it whilst we can.

The oddest to me is probably the long evenings - there´s still real heat in the sun at 6pm and it is still light at 9pm. We´re going to be going all the way south to the very southern tip at Ushuaia so not sure what time the sun sets down there - if at all.

That´s all for now, we´re off into Chile tomorrow to the Chilean lake district.