Saturday, December 31, 2011

Torres del Paine: A Real Tragedy

We arrived at TDP after an hour and a half bus ride to the park lookin at beautiful scenes and local wildlife. Got our entrance tickets ($30) and took the bus to the third and last stop called Administration to start the hike up the Q (so at the bottom of the tail of the Q)I had lost my water bottle under the bus and a girl at the station gave me a plastic one thank goodness. Inside the building they had info about the local flora and fauna of TDP and a bathroom. Outside there were cold and fierce winds blowing us around, not the best weather to start hiking out in but also normal for Patagonian summer. We also learned that a fire had started the night before and Glacier Grey was closed, but since that would be the last part of our trek we might be ok. We figured out which way to start and were told to keep an eye on the smoke and good luck..

Stopped at a rest stop on the way

We saw many guanacos on the way in
Don't do it! (sign in bathroom before entering park)

at Administracion about to set out


The start

This day was going to be a long one, the campsite we originally wanted to get to (Italiano) was closed due to a toilet explosion which left poo everywhere so we had 3 other options... there was a campsite 2 hours in (but that would be silly to hike for 2 hours and camp! and would throw us off a day) go to pay campsite and pay a ridiculous amount of money to set up the tent there or push ourselves to a site 2 hours more from Italiano. We said we'd play it by ear. But the wind was so strong and was pushing us head on it was taking longer to walk anywhere! It was especially difficult because we were mostly walking in fields. Thank goodness the scenery was so stunning! Although it was being kind of ruined by the smoke from the fire in the background.

1st campsite we got to 2 hours in

With the wind pushing at us relentlessly we decided to get to the closer, paid campsite because we knew we wouldn't be able to make it to the free, farther away campsite that day. As we got closer we started to climb up and down some hills. We climbed up one and saw an amazing lake, sooo blue, unfortunately the smoke from the fire was hiding half of the mountain in the background.

As we were nearing the campsite an Australian family passed us and the dad told us that they were closing the park and evacuating people out! I kinda had a feeling this would happen...

When we made it to the paid campsite, Paine Grande, we saw how close the fire was. People were lining up to get evacuated by the catamaran.

So we lined up to get out of the park, rumor had it that it was closing
Getting closer! soon it would be only 1 Kilometer away

 Ash was starting to fall on us and it was getting a bit hard to breath, but not to bad. It was also getting really cold!

This is them closing the gate when the catamaran became full, of course right in front of us.

We had an hour wait for the catamaran to come back and by this time we were really cold since we had stopped hiking and were standing around. So we did the best thing we could do, eat our food.

spraying the area around the hotel in hopes to get the vegetation wet

yeeaah...good luck w those doing much

smoke is really close now! catamaran arrives again

This is how much the smoke advanced by the time we got on the boat. They managed to get everyone on this boat
The hotel staff had to get on our boat as well, this guy stopped before getting on the boat holding the flag of Magallanes and Antartica Chilena Region (or their regional flag) to his face and crying, while the fire destroyed one of the most visited places in Chile
View from the boat as we pulled away. That's actually the sun shining, not the fire.
Picture I took from the bus as we drove out of the park

So 12 hours after we left the hostel in the morning, thinking we would be back in 9 days, we arrived back and of course had no beds. We ended up in another hostel across the plaza owned by a very nice Chilean who guides at the park. At this point we didn't know how much of the park the fire would hit and thought maybe we could get back in a couple days when it died down. The hostel owner, Shakana, said he would take our entry tickets with him the next day and get them stamped and signed for us so we would be able to enter again without paying again (we weren't sure if they would make us pay again but we figured they would).

The next day we went back to Erratic Rock to see if we could stay on a couch for cheaper since we hadn't budgeted for this thinking we would be camping, at least we had all the camp food though. We were hearing reports that the fire was spreading but the park was still open and the back part was hikeable so we made plans to return for a 4 day hike since we had come all the way down here. Unfortunately the fire had spread more due to the winds and later that night they finally closed the park and were evacuating everyone. I had some PC friends hiking at the time and we were waiting for them to come back, around 12 am they still hadn't and we figured they'd be back the next morning when more buses were going out. We also got to take their beds in the hostel.

One of the guides who works at this hostel actually was near where the fire had started. He saw a group of people camping illegally by a river and later saw the smoke. He went up and tried to do what he could to put it out. He was out there for 4 or 5 hours he said before anyone (park ppl) even showed up. Many of the local people here are saying that it's just as much the Chilean gov fault as the people who started the campfire. They say that they have no orginization or plans for something like this. This is the third big fire to start in that area and still nothing is done to protect the park, no pumps put in or more trained people. The guide was saying that they should be prepared for this because people are stupid and will do stupid things and they have to bet on this happening.

So we've been hanging out here at the hostel just listening to reports and hanging out with everyone. The fire burnt the buildings by the catamaran the night we got evacuated and we heard that it was heading down the tail, the part we had just walked up and had burnt that campsite we passed, carretas. At the moment more than 11,000 hectares have been burnt. Such a shame, the park had a fire in 2005 that was started by a Czech tourist camping in an unauthorized area meant for grazing when his camp stove caught fire and burned over 13,000 hectares of the park. This area in Chile isn't meant to have forest fires and the trees are slow growing so you can still see the effects from this fire (burnt trees).
The buses out are all packed and we're leaving after New Years day to go to El Chalten in Argentina and do some camping finally!
I heard on the news today that they had a confession from one person out of a group they detained. A 23 year old Israeli.

I think it's all an example of the same ol same ol, money taking precedence over everything. I've heard that the park didn't regulate how many people are in there at one time or have proper trained park guards. It was just there as a money maker for the government. I mean, they didn't even close the park right away!! I'm glad I at least got in there to see it. I hope this is a lesson learned for a lot of people.

Back in Puerto Natales, locals protesting about the gov'nts reaction and what will happen now. This is the beginning of the tourist season and they were banking on it for their livelyhood, no they want to know 'now what?.

Friday, December 30, 2011

Puerto Natales

It took us 51/2 hours to get from Calafate to Puerto Natales, the base camp for doing a Torres del Paine hike. We had to cross the boarder into Chile which took maybe 45 mins to get everyone stamped in and the bags through the x-ray. I had to empty my bag because there was a bottle of olive oil in it (which thank goodness they didn't take away!) and they let me keep the nuts and seeds I had because they were roasted. Another couple from the US threw out all their food just to be safe but accidentally left an apple in the bag and they made her refill out the customs form, claim the apple, throw it away and then wanted to fine her! I'm glad I didn't get all that! After arriving we went to our hostel, Erratic Rock, and went straight to the talk they offer at 3pm everyday to get you ready to hike the trails. Because of the talk we decided we would hike the Q. What people most normally do is hike the trail in a form of a W to see all the good stuff in the middle, it's about a 4 day 3 night hike. Less people choose to do the circuit which is a 8 day hike and the Q is the circuit plus a hike up the 'tail' into the circuit. After the talk we went into town to buy 9 days worth of food and came back to back our bags ready to go for a 7:30 bus ride to the park!

El Calafate and Perrito Moreno Glacier

The road down
We left Puerto Madryn the way we came in, on the top front seat of the bus.We were told that we couldn't get a direct bus to El Calafate and we would have to take two buses, one to Rio Gallegos then up to El Calafate, but as it turns out you can take a bus direct! We booked it with with RP Transport and they also offered us a 30% off bus ticket to get to Perrito Moreno which was awesome. It took us 21 hours to get to El Calafate which includes a one hour stop we made outside of Perto Madryn to fix the video player on the bus which they then blasted Fast and Furious 235 out of. They also put on Due Date and when it was finished no one turned it off so it played again and when that was finished no one turned it off and it would have played again if someone hadn't gotten up and told them.
So the biggest thing El Calafate has to offer that is close by is the Perrito Moreno glacier which is one of the only glaciers in the world that is still advancing. After our first night in Hostel Buenos Aires we had tickets to go the next day to the park. Our bus ticket was only 70 pesos instead of 100 pesos because of our discount, the park entrance was 100 pesos because we are foreigners (about $23) and we took a boat ride out to see one side of the glacier up close (70 pesos). The area is sooo pretty and the glacier is really amazing. After the boat ride the bus took us to the part of the park with all these walkway trails that take you to different parts of the glacier. In one area you can see all these little icebergs floating in the water that had fallen from the glacier and if you sit around long enough you will see a part of the ice fall of and crash into the water and make a terrific noise. Very cool. The ice that falls off looks pretty small but it makes such a grand noise. We spent about 5 hours there and most of it was just sitting and looking at the glacier. We didn't even do most of the trails, just started a long one that took you down by the shoreline. We left at 4:15 and I passed out on the way back.
We planned on only staying 2 nights but had to stay one more because the bus was sold out to get to Puerto Natales on the day we wanted to go. It was a nice day so we took a walk down by Lago Argentina and through the town and had some icecream.

roadside view going to the park

view of Perrito Moreno glacier from the road
boat tour

Rupture zone

Path to the coast
walking near lago argentina in el calafate

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Puerto Madryn: Lots of cool wildlife to see! but not for the thrifty backpacker..

We spent four days in Puerto Madryn, which is a town founded by Welsh settlers who came over from Britain wanting to preserve their Welshy ways. The town was interesting. When first coming in it's not so nice looking, very cementy, but down more toward the beach and touristy bits it was pretty cute. It took us around 15 hours to get from Buenos Aires to PM and we had the top front seats with the nice view aaand we were told it was a half bed seat but it was really a full bed seat! Not only that but we stopped at a rest stop and were able to get a sit down dinner of raviolis included in the ticket!
Anyway, we pulled into PM and did not have a hostel so spent almost an hour in the bus terminal trying to figure out one to go to. There was a sign up with prices but when calling we found out the prices were higher. We chose one called Don't Worry Be Happy because it  was $12 a night but it was very cramped and didn't have a nice vibe to it so immediately we went looking for another hostel to book into the next day and we found one called Hi Patagonia which seemed  to have an awesome vibe. Then we walked along the beach to check out a campsite that was another possibility but it turned out to be not so nice for the price they wanted. It was also located in the spot where the Welsh first landed and there were remains of the caves they dug out to live in.
The next day we moved into the new hostel and it was so much better! although $17 a night it was worth it. To be able to see the wildlife in the area you either need to do it through a booked tour or you can go see them in your own car. So if you're a backpacker you pretty much have to use a tour. They have such a monopoly on the whole thing that you can't get a local bus to get to any of the reserves and the tours are expensive!! We thought we could do it cheaper by finding two other people and renting a car, so the second day we were there was a beach day/info gathering day. There is a peninsula there called Valdez which has Southern Right Wales and Orcas and sea lions and little black and white dolphins only found here and guanacos (like llamas) and Magellin Penguins. There is also a place called Punta Tumbo where there is a huge colonies of Magellan Penguins and that's where I wanted to go. After running around like crazy trying to rent a car we realized it was to risky, someone had to put it on their credit card and if something happened it would be alot of money to fix, and things could happen on those stone roads so in the end we did take the tour to see the penguins for $60. Also included was a stop in a town with Welsh tea houses and in another town with a museum about the dinosaurs of the area. We didnt' go into either of those though because we are penny pinching backpackers but the penguins are soo cute!!! The babies had hatched last month so they were about and the parents were taking turns watching them and going to the sea to eat and get fat to feed the babies. We saw one penguin coming back from the sea so fat that he was extra waddling and had to stop to take a break. Our guide told us that Sept is the best month to visit it all because all the animals are out and active. The whales are around and the penguins are fighting for nests and the male elephant seals visit their harems..

Bus ridin
Good museum to see

The Beach

Old Welsh cave

Ash in the sky floating over from the volcano in Chile


hum dee dum, just another tourist

The coloney by the beach, we had to stay behind the rocks

The last two days we were here got pretty chilly. It was funny to think we were on the beach the first two days and then wearing jackets the second two! We spent five days there and don't have too much to show for it but it was a great hostel so it was ok!

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Let the travels begin! Buenos Aires.

After packing what feels like half my house into three bags that I apparently feel I need to lug around South America and saying goodbye to everyone Nick and I were ready to head out of Paraguay.

We bought our tickets a few days before to head out of Carapegua around noon and arrive in Buenos Aires the next day. We took a Rio Parana bus, double decker, semi-cama that I knew I wouldnt sleep too well on but we need to be money concious now. We ended up sitting behind the one seat that was broken, permanently in the all the way down position and across from us was the most attention seeking, loud woman and child pair. I'm mean, the girl was making noises, talking loudly and literally jumping in the isle while the mom blasted music from her cell phone for most of the 22 hour journey. Normally it's not 22 hours but it took 3 hours to cross from Encarn into Posadas plus the bus stopped/broke down? a couple times along the way. But we made it and now we're on our way!!

The hostel is called Pampa Hostel in Belgrano. We picked this hostel because it aws next to a camping store we wanted to buy a camping stove at :p It's aaalll the way at the end of the subte D line! We're only here for 2 days, it's baisically a stop off before we head down to Puerto Madryn, Patagonia. Yesterday we pretty much just got the stove and hung out at the hostel. Today, our second day, we headed down to Avinida Florida so nick could exchange his travelers checks (SUCH A PAIN IN THE ASS ALWAYS!) and to hang out. On the subway 4 guys got on speaking in English and Nick noticed one had a Peace Corps sticker on his water bottle. Turns out they were volunteers from Peru and COS'd in Nov and have been traveling around. It was really amazing that they just happend to come on and stand by us! I would have loved to have gotten to talk to them more about their experience!
It was a really nice day to walk around and take in the BA atmosphere. We saw some good street music, I got some spandex pants, we changed what was left of our Guaranis for $18, saw people in costumes marching and the street was closed because all these commercials were being shot which we watched. Very long process. Tonight I will repack my bags and we're headin out tomorrow early for the bus to Perto Madryn! Not ready to leave feels like we just got here! Oh wait, we did...

Doesn't feel like christmas!


He can paint with his feet!

Commercial filming. Wonder what he'll be pushing?

more filming