Volcano Villarrica

It’s strange, but I think we had actually missed being in the van after having spent the better part of two weeks on non-driving activities, between Torres del Paine and the Navimag trip. Driving off the ship it felt good to be on the road again.

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Navimag Ferry Eden – Chilean Fjords to Puerto Montt

After finishing our W trek we were happy to have planned for a day of rest back in Puerto Natales to wash all our smelly camping gear, relax, and prepare for our next move. The most awesome part about our day though, was our new friends Lisa and Mike, who were staying at the same campsite with us again, invited us to join them for dinner. Lisa made an awesome seafood chowder that totally hit the spot on another cold, windy, rainy day. We were so happy to sit around a table with friends, share a meal, and laugh together about our adventures.

The following day we were starting on yet another unique journey – a ferry ride through the Chilean fjords. We had booked our 4-night trip on the Navimag Ferry from Puerto Natales to Puerto Montt  over a month in advance, and we were glad we did – the morning of our trip Lisa and Mike tried to make a booking as well but were told the ship was full. We were so disappointed they wouldn’t be with us for the next leg of our travels, but we’d had such a nice time hanging out together that we went our separate ways feeling sure our paths would cross again. Continue reading “Navimag Ferry Eden – Chilean Fjords to Puerto Montt”

Torres Del Paine – The W Trek

Visiting Torres del Paine has been on my bucket list for many, many years. I don’t exactly know when or how I became fascinated with it, but for me, Torres del Paine was a non-negotiable as we thought about spending time in South America, so I couldn’t wait for our trek to begin. We didn’t quite have enough time to commit to doing the 7-9 day Circuit, which takes you around the backside of the park, and we figured 5 days would be plenty for us, so we chose the W, a 55km trek through the highlights. We learned that there are many ways to plan your time in the park, but we chose a 5-day trek, going from west to east. Based on the distribution of the camps along the route, we thought that choosing this route made the most sense for the following reasons:

  1. the first day of hiking would be the shortest, making it an easy first day for us to carry our packs the shortest distance when they were at their heaviest, full of all our food for the next 5 days;
  2. hiking towards the east, we would have the best view of the Torres as we came closer and closer, rather than having our backs to the towers the entire time;
  3. the last push up to the towers, featuring some pretty dramatic altitude gains, would be tackled on the last full day of hiking, when we had eaten most of our food and our packs would be at their lightest; and
  4. setting out on the first day it seemed like the weather was pretty bad, which meant the towers would probably be fogged in if we started on the east side and tried to see them right away.

It turns out that we were basically wrong about everything, mostly about the weather.  But, we’ve now learned that in Patagonia, the weather has a mind of its own. Most of the rangers we spoke to on the trail wouldn’t even talk about the weather – they had signs that said “Don’t even ask”. The only thing predictable about the weather in Patagonia is that it’s unpredictable. Day One: We were up bright and early to jump in the car with Don Pepe. We arrived at the bus station after a few stops to pick up other backpackers – the place was a total madhouse.

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Puerto Natales

We thought we might stop at another penguins preserve before heading out of Punta Arenas, but once we realized it was a few dozen kilometers down a not-so-great dirt road, and since the rain had picked up quite a bit, we decided to pass on this one. It felt somewhat wrong to skip seeing more penguins but we had loved the prior day’s adventure so much that we were satisfied and didn’t want to push our luck with daylight, weather, and the car’s ability to handle another rough road.

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Leaving Tierra del Fuego and Isla Magdalena

January 1st it felt good to officially start heading north, towards home, towards our families and friends, towards all the excitement of 2015. We headed out of Ushuaia early and started on the same route we had travelled south just a few days earlier. This time though, we planned to take a ferry from the town of Porvenir, on the Chilean side of Tierra del Fuego, which would take us to Punta Arenas. We had tried to make a reservation for the ferry, but we weren’t exactly sure whether our emails were received, and we also weren’t exactly clear on when we needed to arrive, and how long it might take, so we planned to spend our first day driving as far as possible. We were thankful we hadn’t depended on getting gas at the border in San Sebastien when we pulled up and were told the power was out so the attendant couldn’t pump anything for us.

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Journey to Tierra del Fuego

Before setting off, we tried to repair our busted hydraulic strut, but somehow in the wind, either the strut or our roof had shifted enough that we couldn’t quite return things to their previous state.  We gave up and moved on towards Rio Gallegos, the next major town. Upon arriving, we were disappointed to find that while the town actually did have a Volkswagen dealership and service center, it appeared to be closed, presumably for the holidays. We stopped for gas and a few basic supplies before heading south again. We’d done a pretty good job eating through all our fruits and veggies in anticipation of our border crossing back into Chile where we knew they would confiscate anything. Just before crossing we made one last set of sandwiches for lunch, finishing off everything we could.

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Groundhog Day in La Junta

Friday morning the sky was a bit bluer. But it seemed the road south was no closer to opening. The gas station attendant told us that the police had asked her to let everyone know that the road was still closed and would likely remain closed until Monday. Monday… three full days away, which would put us pretty well behind schedule….

We had debated over breakfast that morning about how to tackle the day. There are exactly four ways to leave La Junta. The road south, continuing down the Carretera Austral was not an option until the road opened, hopefully by Monday. The road west and out to the coast would mean waiting a week for the next ferry – not really an option. Driving north would take us back the way we came, which didn’t seem to make much sense. To the east, about 100km down an unpaved road, was a border crossing into Argentina at Lago Verde. We weren’t excited about exiting the Carretera after only a day, but we really didn’t see any other options. Since the weather hadn’t improved and it was still raining, we weren’t convinced that the road would open by Monday. And waiting until then to come up with an alternate plan didn’t seem wise to us. So, we decided to try our luck with crossing to Argentina, hoping we could cross back into Chile at the next border crossing south of the landslide.

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More Ferries in Chiloé

We loved waking up to a beautiful view over the harbor. The night before we had watched the ferries going back and forth, and enjoyed the same view over breakfast. Wolf gave some love to the local kitty before we headed out to try the ferry we had been studying from our campsite.

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The early morning drizzle didn’t bode well for our volcano trip, but we hurried to pack up our campsite and headed out. At the tour company, the outlook didn’t improve. Given unpredictable weather on the volcano, they’re pretty cautious about anything hinting at inclement. We chatted with one of the guides who showed us that it was raining on the volcano, with more cloudy skies in the forecast. The prior day ad been sunny and beautiful, but it was certainly hard to tell how today would turn out. If the current weather continued, the guides wouldn’t go up at all, and even if it improved, we probably wouldn’t have been able to summit. Weighing our options, we decided it wasn’t worth it to us if we couldn’t summit, and since the weather didn’t look like it would break, we decided against the whole thing. Since the weather was iffy cancelling was no issue. A bit disappointed that we wouldn’t be climbing a volcano, we consoled ourselves with the promise of more adventures ahead and took advantage of our early start to put some road behind us.

We decided to blaze through much of the Lakes Region of Chile in favor of making headway towards reaching Tierra del Fuego. We decided that since most of our Chile priorities were centered much further south, we would head there first, and hit anything else we wanted to do on the way back up and if time allowed. With that, we headed towards the island of Chiloé.

The ferry crossing couldn’t have been easier. We arrived and drove right on, they closed the gate behind us and we were off.

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