Chile

Here are all the posts for Chile. This is part of the Patagonia trip. Also see the Argentina travelogue which overlaps with Chile.

 

Chile Photos

Here are some of my favorite photos from my first trip to Chile. Click any photo to see slideshow.

Destination: Patagonia y Tierra del Fuego

In a couple of days, Dawn and I will travel to Santiago and begin our exploration of the “southern horn” of South America. We will be in the southern parts of Argentina and Chile in the areas known as Patagonia and Tierra del Fuego.

We anticipate seeing the sights, taking photographs, practicing Spanish, hiking the mountains, walking on glaciers, and, of course, fly fishing for trout. Patagonia is one of several international destinations renowned for their trout fly fishing. We anticipate spotting unique wildlife including penguins, large condor birds, and guanacos (like deer).

The climate will be warm and getting warmer as spring turns to summer. Because South America is in the southern hemisphere, November is similar to our May. We expect the Patagonia area to be similar to the western United States (Colorado and Montana) and Tierra del Fuego to be similar to Alaska. When Bonny and Clyde escaped from the West, they went to wild and rugged Patagonia, the land of gauchos and estancias. Chile is about 3,000 miles long; its western border is the Pacific coast and its eastern border, the continental divide running along the spine of the Andes. Chile will be ragged peaks, glaciers, islands and harbors. Argentina will be high desert plateau with crystal clear rivers running from the mountains. Tierra del Fuego, the scene of Darwin’s voyages in the Beagle and innumerable shipwrecks, will be cool and windy

The fishing zones are described as northern, central and southern. See post, Map: Fishing Zones. The first two are in Patagonia and the southern is in Tierra del Fuego. The northern and central zones, around Bariloche (or officially San Carlos de Bariloche) are about 40 to 45 degrees south comparable to Colorado and Wyoming in the northern hemisphere. The southern zone is about 55 degrees, comparable to Kethikan, Alaska.

Our travel plans (see post, Map: Travel Route) are to fly to Santiago and spend about ten days tuning up our Spanish. We will be in class six hours per day for five days and stay at the “teachers’ house.” After that, we fly to Bariloche and will divide our time between the Junin and Esquel areas. Besides fishing, we will take hikes into the Andes peaks. Then we head west over the mountains to Puerto Montt in Chile, where we will embark on a ship that sails to Tierra del Fuego. We land at Puerto Natales where we will enter the national park, Torres del Paine. From there, we head south to Rio Gallegos and Rio Grande (towns and rivers). We hope to go as far south as Ushuaia. Finally, we fly from Punta Arenas to Santiago for the return flight to Atlanta and ultimately, home in West Virginia.

made it, Santiago

We made it to Santiago. It was a very long flight. From 10 p.m. from Atlanta, arriving 9 a.m. Santiago. I slept reasonably well. All our luggage made it. We are staying at the teacher´s house from the school. We are immersed in Spanish and Chilean culture. We are learning Spanish naturally, meaning Fernando spent Friday afternoon with us telling us about Chilean history, industry and geography. Yesterday we went on an excursion with other students to the countryside. We traveled by bus, subway, taxi and highway bus. We got to meet artisans making pottery, baskets and chairs. We ate typical Chilean food at the restaurant run by a friend of our hostess.

We are staying in the middle of a city of 5 million people. The house has a courtyard full of fruit trees. Today the students from the school are coming here to go to the market and prepare a meal. The weather is very comfortable. The Andes glisten with some snow remaining from winter. People are friendly. The taxi driver thanked us for the privilege of being the first to drive us in South America. Our hosts are Boris and Liddian. The grandparents of Boris are Russian and German. People are diverse. we met a member of the church of Latter Day Saints. In a country with 16 million peple, there are 18 milion cellphone accounts..

Tommorrow we start Spanish school for six hours per day. We will take the bus and metro to get to school. Class is from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. My Spanish has kind of come back If someone speaks slowly to me, I can understand. I say a bunch of nouns and verbs and they understand me. We have students from States, Brazil, Australia and Iran.

Happy Thanksgiving

We are still at school at 5.30. People are very friendly. For our afternoon class, we walked around the neighborhood, Bellavista. The teacher asked us questions like where is the school from here and where is Cerro St. Cristobal; he directed us to do things like turn right at the next corner. We entered shops and learned the names of different products and talked with the shopkeepers. Át the emporium, they had pate of ostrich and coffee made from quinoa and another of pinon nuts. We went to an artisans plaza and had a local specialty coffee (a cortado which is half coffee and half milk) while we talked about travel and life. Because it was our class, of course, we only spoke Spanish.

This morning we went to the local street market to learn the names of flowers, vegetables, fruits and different types of seafood. While we talked with one of the fruit vendors, Emilio, he offered us pieces of his fruit. The market was beside the river under some trees. Some local specialties included chirimoya and lucamá. They have a saying here that even the poor eat like the rich. I think it is true; the fruit was some of the freshest, largest and sweetest I have ever tasted–and the price was very reasonable. There is plenty of room for confusion. We know that Spanish for avocados is aguacate from our travels in Mexico. But here, they use an Aztec word, plata.

This morning we awoke and had breakfast with five other people staying at the house, the two proprietors, Boris and Lydia and three students. The students are from Florida, Japan and Iran. We are only allowed to speak in Spanish. Then we walked as a group to the a station where we jumped into cabs to the center of the city where we walked to the school. We visited with a travel agency where they only speak Spanish, paid for a reservation and received some information we had requested.

The student body is very diverse. We have conversed in Spanish with people from: Germany, Iran, Poland, Japan, Taiwan, the States, Brazil, and Australia. The method of teaching Spanish is similar to teaching a child to speak a language. We learn by being around our hosts (mama and papa) and listening to them speak with the older children (more advanced students). We learn in class by looking at photos of objects and listen to the teacher tell us about them. The teacher asks us what we did last night, how we are, etc. We have homework and typically work on it at 11 p.m.

Well, the day isn’t over….

People here are somewhat familiar with Thanksgiving, el dia de Acción de Gracias. A turkey is el pavo. However, Santiago is known for its seafood, so we plan to go to the Mercado for our Thanksgiving meal.

Thanksgiving photos

vendormarketWe were in Spanish class during Thanksgiving day. For the morning class we went to a street market. For the afternoon, we went to a cafe to practice ordering in Spanish and drink cortados (coffee specialty drink). The pumpkins (zapallo) were as close as we got to pumpkin pie. There were no turkeys (pavos).

on learning Spanish

-Learning Spanish is a great leveler. Socially, “foreigners” don´t seem foreign. In the United States, we have a mixture of people from all countries. “Foreigners” are those with clothing that is different and accents. Even if a person is fluent in English, it´s the accent that makes them sound foreign. Here, in Santiago, I am aware that my appearance is different with my quasi-backpacking clothing and oversized knapsack. When many “foreigners” get together to speak Spanish, we all have accents, the accent of not being able to correctly pronunciate Spanish. Listening to the basic Spanish of an Iranian or Brazilian or Taiwanese doesn´t sound noticably different than speaking with my wife in Spanish. (Although speaking to the Chinaman at the Chinese restaurant was somehow different.)
-a fair number of English words have been imported into Spanish and translate directly, “Internet,” “trek,” and “camping.” Others translate directly, but are difficult to recognize. In Spanish, the English “h” sound is not pronounced. “Shorts” doesn´t sound at all like “shorts.” “HBO” is “hacha-baay-ohh.”
-it´s easier to make myself understood than it is to understand someone else, especially if the other person isn´t acting out the communication or if if I can´t see his or her lips (telephone).
-to say a few words or expressions is relatively easy. To actually speak and converse is much more difficult.
-learning Spanish can be an ego crusher. I feel like a baby that hears language all around me; yet I don´t understand and can´t express myself. When I do speak and am understood, I am excited. However, my teachers patiently remind me of the use of verbs, consistency of nouns and adjectives, and consistency of verbs and prepositions.
-even if you say the right words, you may not have communicated. I am unsure of my Spanish. Usually I change my choice of words to help the other person understand. But often I find I need to speak louder, pronunciate more distinctly–or simply have the other person look at me and pay attention. As I talk to Dawn in English, I realize she frequently doesn´t understand me, especially the first time I say something.
-the diversity of the Spanish language suprises me. Chileans take pride in their Chiliesmos. Many times I say things and the response from my teachers is, That´s a real word of expression, but it is not common here. My question is, have I learned the Spanish of Spain and that is the problem–or is my Spanish old, bookish, or stilted? I know that Argentinians say things different than Chileanos. Chile: Son diez para doce. Argentina: Son doce moenos diez. English: ten to twelve or eleven-fifty.
-one class, we were looking at cartoon facial expressions that expressed emotions. We were trying to describe them and learn the related Spanish word. A German student said she couldn´t think of the right German word. The teacher said that was not important. It was important to know the meaning of the Spanish word.

student dinner

Boris-LydiastudentsWe had a dinner class at Boris and Lydia´s house. The students gathered. Boris and Lydia administer and teach at the school. They also provide housing and a family environment for students that want more intensive immersion. The preparation of the dinner was an opportunity to listen to lots of Spanish in a realatively familiar environment and hear about the food of Chile. Speaking with the students was fascinating.

made it, Bariloche

On Sunday, 26.11, we flew from Santiago to Bariloche via Puerto Montt. The Andes are spectacular. It was cloudy, so we only had occasional views. They are like the Rockies in that they have large peaks. But they are also like Oregon with the volcanic cones. Many of the cones are new. They are unique in that there are spikes of rock at the top of the peaks.

When we left Santiago, it was hard to get cool. Here, we are pulling out our warm clothes from the luggage. It is springtime in the mountains. Santiago was hot summer. From our hotel room we see a lake surrounded by snow-capped mountains.

We had excellent paella last night at a Spanish restaurant (as in a restaurant that serves cuisine typical for the country of Spain). Afterwards, we visited a chocolotateria. Bariloche is known for its chocolate and it did not disappoint. After breakfast and getting provisions, we head north.

photo, Santiago

streetThis little boy is watching an artist paint on the street in front of the cathedral in the center of Santiago.

photos, Santiago

guardsThese guards are at the Presidential Palace in Santiago that Allende used prior to Pinochet.

photos, Santiago

Santiago Xmas treeThey are ready for Christmas in Santiago. This gigantic, fake Christmas tree stands next to a church and palm tree.

review, Bellavista School, Santiago

Escuela Bellavista or Bellavista School, located in Santiago is a school for leaning Spanish as a second language. Overall, I was very satisfied with the school. I learned a lot of Spanish, met some very interesting and friendly people, gained an appreciation of Chilean culture and had fun doing it. The school served my wife and I well in terms of jolting our minds into Spanish. We came away eager to try to communicate in Spanish and with basic tools for accomplishing that. Our ability to understand spoken Spanish increased considerably.

See the school´s website at:
http://www.escuelabellavista.cl/

The school is located not far from the center of the city (La Moneda) and is in the community of its name, Bellavista; the neighborhood enjoys many restaurants and specialty shops, including lapilazuli jewelry. The school occupies the entire second floor of a building. The very front is administrative offices. The large entranceway serves as a group meeting room (every Monday morning) with classrooms down a long hall. A small kitchen and eating area are available for students. Additional classrooms are in an adjacent building. Overall, the facilities are suitable for study with adquate space, seating and lighting. Although there are fans, it can get warm in the afternoon.

The school has at least a dozen teachers plus various administrators. The morning is for group classes with individual instruction in the afternoon. Class sizes vary depending on enrollment and capability of the student body, but appeared small with maybe four to six students per class. The overall student body is about fifty students from all over the world. Some students appeared daily while others attended a couple of days per week. Alumni seemed to appear on an ad hoc basis.

The teaching method seemed appropriate and flexible. Students stayed in a given class while the teachers rotated. During the week, I learned from about six teachers. There was a book with specific exercises and dialog, but it often seemed to be a starting point for discussion rather than a strict guide. Typically the teacher would attempt to engage each student in conversation at the beginning of class. This was followed by exercises. Although the teachers rotate, they knew the curriculum and built upon the work of the previous classes through repitition and coverage of the same subject with a diffent tact. For exaple, one day we talked about food and learned words on the blackboard, the next day, we looked at photos of foods and the third day, we visited an outdoor fruit and vergetable market.

An important dimension of the school was the optional living arrangement and excursions. We chose to stay at the teachers’ house. This put us in an environment where English was not permitted and Spanish was spoken all the time. The excursions were another natural way to learn Spanish by engaging in activities like commuting and shopping. Additionally, many of the exursions had a tour aspect, for example, descriptions (in Spanish) of wine-making techniques or instructions for making local, typical foods.

We chose the “crash course” for one week. We had special considerations in that we are in South America for eight weeks and want to spend most of our time fly-fishing for trout and sightseeing Patagonia. We have an interest in getting to meet people and conversing with them, but didn’t want to spend too much time studying. Both my wife and I have some background studying and conversing in Spanish. The school served us well in terms of jolting our minds into Spanish. We came away eager to try to communicate in Spanish and with basic tools for accomplishing that. Our ability to understand spoken Spanish increased considerably.

The “crash course” includes six hours of Spanish instruction per day. From 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. is group class and from 2:30 to 4:30 p.m. is individual. We had received an appropriate warning form the school that this was a difficult regimen. For real progress, two or three weeks is more appropriate. A more ideal pace would include daily (Monday to Friday) group classes in the mornings accompanied by afternoon and weekend excursions supplemented by personal study and individual tutoring. One month of this regimen followed by a month living in a Spanish-speaking country followed by another month of schooling would provide a solid foundation.

Some words of caution, the school teaches the Spanish of Chile. As a U.S. citizen, I underestimated the diversity of Spanish. I thought there was the Spanish of Spain (Castillian) and the Spanish of Latin America. According to my dictionary, there are twenty Spanish-speaking countries. Here in Argentina, people complain Chileans speak so rapidly that they are hard to understand and that Chileans have so many different names for foods that it is hard to order a meal at a restaurant. My recommendation is to undertand your purpose in learning Spanish. Most of the students at the school either had a job in Chile or were married to someone who did. If you plan to travel throughout Latin America, be prepared for setbacks in pronunciation, idioms and expressions. I’m not sure if there is a country that has the most “neutral” Spanish. Also, note that Santiago is a big city and suffers from smog. The school and related accomodations are not intended to be a luxury environment; I found everything clean, appropriate and friendly.

In conclusion, I highly recommend Bellavista School. I thought Maria Christina was the best among many fine teachers. The international flavor is especially appealing. For additonal information, contact Cristian Lemay at the school or ask for Fernando, Boris or Lydia.

Happy Holidays

Christmas

arrived in Puerto Montt, Chile

Yesterday, we drove from the National Park Los Alerces to Bariloche. After some shopping and dinner, we repacked our belongings. We got up early and took a taxi to the bus station. We took a long bus ride from 9 a.m. to 4.30 p.m. over the Andes to Puerto Montt. We had to go through customs to leave Argentina and customs to get into Chile. The Andes were impressive. We saw the remains of an imploded volcano, bamboo rain forests, lots of snow, and jagged peaks. Our route took us slightly north to Villa La Angostura and then due west to Osorno, and then south to Puerto Montt. Along the way, we got great views of Volcan Osorno (aka Petrohué in Argentina).

The bus was comfortable with large, tinted windows to take in the vistas. A small TV screen played DVDs of U.S. music videos and movies (remake of The Longest Yard). I was somewhat embarrassed as an American watching Michael Jackson, Millie Vanelli and the disco era. Usually we drive a rental car because we need to drive to fishing locations after arriving to the city of our destination. But it is somewhat easier to cross an international border in a bus and certainly less expensive because we would have a drop-off charge for leaving a car in a different country from the one we rented it in. We are staying in a Holiday Inn Express. I choose it because it is less than a year old and right on the water. But I must say, I also feel somewhat more at home. It’s nice to have a king size bed, a coffee maker, and soap packaged with bold letters saying “Cleanse.”

And so begins the next chapter in our journey. Chapter 1 was Spanish school in Santiago; chapter 2 was fishing in Junin; and chaper 3 was fishing around Esquel and Los Alerces National Park. The final chapter will take us south via ferry boat to Tierra del Fuego, Torres del Paine and Rio Gallegos. Tomorrow on Christmas, we board the ferry for our four day voyage. I left Argentinian Patagonia with sadness, a feeling that our stay (four weeks) was short and a desire to return. Our Esquel trip was very different than Junin. Our numerous fishing destinations around Junin were about an hour drive with others as few as ten minutes. Once I walked out the front door of our cabaña, walked through town and started fishing the river.

Esquel is in the center of tourist (and fishing) destinations in Chubut Province; but the distances are greater–we typically drove two hours to our destinations. We were disappointed that Arroyo Pescado, located southeast of Esquel, is now private and quite expensive. Rio Chubut needs to be accessed from the town of El Bolson. Rio Grande showed promised, but is large, deep and strongñ the biggest problem was limited fishing access from the road. That leaves some smaller lakes and lesser rivers–and the Los Alerces National Park.

Ultimately, after exploring our options, we moved to the Park. There are only a handful of places to rent a room in the Park, a hotel and several hosterias. There are also a fair number of campgrounds. It was early in the season and very rainy. When we decided to move to the Park, it had been raining a few days and we reasoned the rain would stop.

Merry Christmas

Merry Christmas wishes from Puerto Montt Chile. Just arrived here after a 7 hour bus ride over the Andes mountain from Bariloche Argentina. Beautiful. Rivers, waterfalls, volcanoes covered with snow. All along the highways are lupine blooming in purple, pink and white. Masses, thousands of them, covering entire hillsides. And yellow scotch broom and trees covered with red flowers (Notros, the national tree of Argentina; it also has white blossoms in the fall) Have not yet seen an Andean condor, but did see Zorro de Darwin (a fox, rather rare) the other morning while eating breakfast. We have been in Argentinian Patagonia (really the Lake District) for the past month. I love the area. It reminds me of Colorado, with rivers and mountains, only the trout are about twice as large, and the pink flamingoes and bamboo let you know you are not in the Rockies. It has been too cloudy to see the night skis, but I bet they are amazing. I would love to spend more time here. The people are incerdibly friendly and so happy to find Americans that speak a little Spanish so they can converse. (It is rare to find anyone who speaks English there). I have finally figured out the Spanish pronunciation there, lots of ch and zh sounds for y and ll.
Tomorrow we get on a ferry and start a four day journey south to the Tierra del Fuego area, the end of the world. The passage is through the archipelago part of southern Chile, past islands, glaciers and near the mountains. Look for pictures in a few days.
¡Feliz Navidad y Prospero Año Nuevo!

Merry Christmas Cruise

We are about to embark on a four day cruise along the west coast of Chile from Puerto Montt to Puerto Natales. See the link for more info. We will keep posting as we have Internet access. I have lots of photos, but limited access time for uploads….
http://navimag.com/

Today is Christmas and all the shops are closed. We found a mall yesterday, and yes, they were playing Christmas carols and people were buying presents. We went out to dinner for seafood (Puerto Montt is famous for its seafood). The restaurant was on a jetty extending into the bay. I had sauteed crab, palm and avocado salad and fishermen’s stew. Dawn had crab bisque, salad, and sea bass. My stew had a variety of seafoods. I am lucky Dawn’s undergraduate was in marine biology, so I could identify everything. There is a big holiday tree in the town square. Restuarants and businesses have holiday lighting. But it’s not as lit up as the US, probably a good thing.

Christmas photos

Christmas chocolateHere is Dawn buying provisions for the long bus ride. Bariloche is full of chocolate shops, each of considerable size. Their chocolate is wonderful.
This is a view from the bus window on the way to Puerto Montt. It is Volcan Puyehue, near Osorno.
As we were driving on the bus, we went through a little town. I had my camera out with a long lens and was looking for photographic subjects. I saw this little girl and trained my camera on her. Before I could take the photograph, a bus came between us. In the meantime, the father noticed my attention. He was walking with his family on Christmas eve. I looked at him through the windows of the bus between us. He lined his family up for a portrait. When the bus moved, I snapped the photo before we moved on.Christmas treefamily
Here we are at our restaurant after dinner.
Here’s the sun setting over the bay in Puerto Montt on Christmas Eve eve.This is a view of our hotel with a cloudy volcano behind it. The other view is from our hotel room window.hotel viewfrom across the bay

Navimag in storm

boardingWe sailed from Puerto Montt, Monday, 25 December. As we moved from the Pulluche Channel on Tuesday evening we sailed into bad weather. By one report, winds were 120 kilometer or 80 miles per hour and the waves were five to six meters or 15 – 18 feet high. The Captain found himself unable to navigate around a point of land and was unable to head south to the Penas Gulf. Instead we headed due West and at various times were headed Northeast, essentially treading water in a treacherous storm. I’m unsure why we sailed into the storm. We saw numerous dishes broken and heard many more. Soup flew in the air, spaghetti covered the floor, hot coffee went into laps, waiters made heroic efforts to save food and drink. A section of the bar in the pub was broken and lay on the ground. A medicine cabinet and locker were ripped from the walls. Numerous passengers were sick and many (including me) retreated to the realative safety of their bunks to wait out the storm. By one report, it was the worst encounter by Navimag in three years.

lifeboatThe NaviMag website shows sunny weather, dolphins, whales, glacier and smiling passengers. After we embarked from Puerto Montt, we had a pleasant cruise through the Moraleda Channel. It was overcast with a few sprinkles and a brisk breeze. However, as we moved through the Erràzuriz Channel and went thru through the Pulluche Channel, we could sense a change in the weather and could see the whitecaps and storm cloud ahead of us. We had been previously advised to take our motion sickness pills around 1 p.m. in the afternoon in preparation for our 3 p.m. arrival in the ocean. Our normal course put us in the open ocean for about 12 hours. As a ferry service, Navimag is different from Skorpios and others that stay inside the inner passages.

The wind and wave height were abnormal. While standing beside the bridge, I could watch the waves crash into the ship. About every sixth wave was large enough to spray foam across the bow and cause the anchos to bang against the hull with a large boom. The weather progressively worsened. At dinnertime, plates were flying off the table and passengers chose to remain curled up in their bunks rather than stumble down the hallway to the dining room where they would grope bolted down tables while attempting to move hot soup from its bowl into one’s mouth. I found that lying in the fetal position in my bunk was the most comfortable position. Even so, my body physically moved in rhythm with the waves alternatively lifting me up to the had of the bunk and pushing me down to the foot; I was physically moving, being pushed around, up and down the bunk.crewAs the night progressed, the tempo of the anchor boom increased to a solid beat. The ship’s hull and walls squeaked and groaned. Everything in our cabin table flew onto the floor. I could hear more dishes crashing in the dining room. The mirror on the wall swung back and forth and banged against the wall. Rain and waves darkened the portal view of the horizon pitching up and down. At midnight, I got up to take more Dramamine. Our compass showed we were going due west. Our original course at midnight was to turn left on a southwest course. In the morning, I confirmed the captain chose to go out to sea to avoid bad weather and potential conflict with land. I put my ear plugs in and slept well until 7.30 a.m.

We are now about 12 hours behind schedule. We are cruising southeast through the Penas Gulf (yes, it means Gulf of Pain). I think we will be happy to see the San Pedro lighthouse where we will enter the Messier channel and presumably escape the waves and wind. We are now running with the wind. The waves rock the ship back and forth like a ferris wheel ride in an amusement park. The scene outside the window changes from looking at the sea almost at our feet toward gyrating up through the horizon well up into the sky.
beforeafter

good days on Navimag

abandoned shipThis is an old ship that ran aground and now serves as a navigational market (and house for seagulls).
I really like this photo. We were very happy to see the sun come out again after the storm. It is taken in color. This ia a glacier the Captain took us to as a consolation for not seeing Pio X, the largest glacier in South America. I don’t know the name of this glacier.glacier
Here’s our porthole in our cabin and a photo I took leaning out the window and the photo I took.
portholethe view
Here are peaks we passed just before we reached Puerto Natales. They might be from Torres de Paines.towers of stone
Dawn looks rather cold as we pass through a very narrow channel.chilly day
The Captain had to navigate through several very narrow channels.narrow channel

We were all happy to reach land again.
at the dock again

map, Southern South America

Torres del Paine

Torres del Paine
Torres del Paine is an icon, certainly for Chile, but more generally for Patagonia and southern South America. Guide books and tourist books prominently feature its photo. Granite peaks and towers soar from sea level to about 9,000 feet. Although these mountains sit within the Andes, they are much newer, about 3 million years old. The Torres are three pinkish, granite towers that sit in a row above a small lake formed by glacial run-off.
Torres del PaineTorres del PaineTorres del Paine
And me in a self-portrait.
From the beginning of our trip, we planned to go to the national park. But because of weather, it took several tries. We got our first glimpse of the peaks, the Cuernos, from Navimag (see previous post, Navimag on good days). When we first arrived at Puerto Natales, we planned to go directly to the park; but the rain was a downpour, so we jumped on a bus to Rio Gallegos, hoping to return for better weather. As we returned by bus from El Calafate to Puerto Natales, we got our second view of the park; the Torres shined in the distance across the plain.
Torres del PaineTorres del Paine is a long way from anywhere; it’s three hours or 250 miles from Puerto Natales. Although we stayed at an Estancia west of Cerro Castillo, it was still a 1.5 hour drive. The first day I attempted to see the towers, the guardaparque thought the weather might break, but warned me they were not visible. After hiking for awhile, the rain (and snow) became more intense. I went to the Refugio de los Torres, had lunch and turned around. I waited a couple of days and tried again; I got a gorgeous, sunny day. The lower trail goes through a forest of lengua trees. Gauchos use horses to take food to the refugios. The biggest problem is that I wore too much clothes and got hot. As they say, Se vale la pena (It was worth the trouble). They are truly a natural wonder of the world.Torres del Paine
My recommendation is to go in December or earlier. By January, the wind and the tourists are in full force. During my hike, I bumped into several groups of twenty hikers along the trail. At the mirador for the Torres, there were
Torres del Paineover 50 people. When I stopped to take photos of guanaco,
vans stopped behind me. Right around Christmas, the park fills up and stays that way throughout the summer. Also, if you can, plan on backpacking and NOT having reservations. Backpacking makes it easier to experience the interior of the park than staying at a hotel or hosteria. If you backpack, but have reservations at the refugios, this is also problematic. What do you do if it is cloudy and you can’t see the Towers? Go on to your next reservation and miss seeing them?< Torres del Paine

Goodbye, Patagonia

EstanciaEstanciaAfter hiking up to the Mirador Torres del Paine and down to the “Jeep,” I was tired. I had driven 1.5 hours to the park and hiked about 7 hours. I had another 1.5 hours drive back to the Estancia.
As I drove, I drank water to rehydrate. The sun was still bright. I watched guanaco, condors and flamingos on my way home. The Estancia Los Tres Hijos has a small sign and a red gate. To get to the ranch house, I had to open each of five gates, move the Jeep up, shut the gate and drive toward the next gate. The sun was low in the horizon and Cerro Castillo, the local mountain for which the town is named, was silhouetted. It did look like a large castle. As I drove, groups of sheep startled and ran in front of the car. Sometimes, it felt like a stampede. For most of the drive, nothing was visible except rolling plains, distant mountains and grazing sheep. In Argentina, a “Jeep” is any SUV; I was driving a Nissan “Jeep.” I had taken almost three gigabytes of photos that day and hoped I had some good ones.EstanciaEstancia
I arrived at the ranch house and was greeted with the wonderful smell of roasting lamb. Dawn had a great day exploring the ranch, including the greenhouse and vegetable garden. Nicolas, 16 years of age, slaughtered a lamb in the morning. He and his sister, Catalina, 14, were at the ranch house. The third Hijo was in town in Puerto Natales. We first met the family when we stayed at their B&B in town. Dinner was lamb, fresh lettuce, potatoes, and cucumber from the garden and greenhouse. There was a tomato-based pepper sauce. After a few toasts recognizing the last night in Patagonia, we began to eat. The lamb was delicious; it had been cooked in the wood-burning oven. After dinner, we warmed ourselves in front of the large fire in the living room fireplace.EstanciaEstanciaEstancia

We packed our suitcases for the long journey home. Alvin turned on the generator so we could take the chill out of our room with a small electric heater. It stayed light until about eleven. The wind was howling. The wind was always howling; sometimes it howled extra strong; mostly, it just howled. I put on a fleece and long-johns and crawled under a pile of blankets. It had been a warm day, so I left off my wool cap and socks. The wind howled through the walls around the windows. The air was always moving.EstanciaEstanciaEstancia
In the morning. we had breakfast in the kitchen. It was warm there with the wood-burning stove. The refrigerator ran on propane. There was no phone or Internet. There were 6,000 sheep spread over eight miles of Estancia. Cafe con leche, yogurt, ham, cheese, toasted rolls and marmalade. We were ready to go. Hugs and kisses. And good-byes from Pepe and Floracita, the pet bull and guanaco. Pepe and Floracita were orphans from birth and had been brought up on the Estancia. For whatever unlikely reason, they are inseparable. We were off, driving back through the five gates to the dirt road to Puerto Natales and the paved road to Punta Arenas.
Estancia
After five hours of driving, we took the plane ride to Sangiago. From the air, we could sometimes see through the clouds. We went over Perito Moreno and Los Glacieres National Park and marveled at the size of the glaciers. We flew along the coast of Chile and saw snow-capped volcanoes.
In Santiago, we rested for the night. The next day, we returned to our Spanish school and gave a presentation about our travels to our fellow students. We had successfully traveled our planned route to Bariloche, Esquel, Puerto Montt, Puerto Natales, Rio Gallegos and Ushuaia.volcanoour route
At 10.30 p.m., we boarded the plane for Atlanta. I told the flight attendant that our seats were “veinte siete a y b” and realized he didn’t know what I was talking about. For the first time in two months, English was the expected language. We stepped into the Delta plane and crossed the line. I thought, Goodbye, Patagonia.

Puyehue Volcano today

Puyehue VolcanoMy Christmas Eve photos of Puyehue Volcano are less dramatic than today’s news photos. Puyehue is located south of Santiago, Chile. We took a bus ride from Bariloche, Argentina (today the airport is closed because of ash) to Puerto Montt; we passed over the volcano and got a good view from the west side. See original post.
Puyehue Volcano
Puyehue Volcano