Sunday, January 23, 2011

El Calafate

Road Block
We benefitted a bit more from the strike after leaving Torres del Paine, because the road was empty. Near Cerro Castillo there was a road block.

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We met 3 Chilean bullies who organized the strike, and they wanted to stall us for a few minutes before letting us pass. After talking with them for a few minutes, we found out that they didn´t know what they wanted, except cancel the raise of the gas price. We offered them a few realistic alternatives, such as proposing actual demands including budget for house insulation and alternative energy production (wind and sun) which are not found at all in Chilean Patagonia. They told us to go straight to the border without stopping to shop in town, but we didn´t listen.
 
Pampa and Wind
After 20 km of strong back wind (40 km/h), we arrived to Tapi Aike police station where we kindly asked to camp. It is a bit strange to camp at the garden of the police station, but apparently it is quite common - we saw a camping truck parking there! There is not much to say about the continuation of the way to El Calafate, except that there was nothing around us, only some bushes, a lot of dust, and strong wind.
 
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We camped 44 km before El Calafate, in Rio Bote, right on the river. There we met a british couple, Jonathan and Emma (tandemthings.blogspot.com), on a tandem bicycle. The last 30 km to the town were exceptionally hard because of the very strong face wind.
 
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Gourmet Cooking
We spent a few nights in the very touristic town of El Calafate. Because the prices were so high, we spend most of our time cooking, eating, and chatting with different campers. We talked with a German guy, Florian, who traveled with Dafna. He told us she left to El Chalted a few days ago, so we might catch up with her there. We spent an afternoon on walking around the coastal reserve, taking pictures of birds, and picking Calafate berries, we enjoyed at breakfast.
 
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Our special dishes for these days were pancakes with apple confiture, pasta and Israeli peas soup.
 
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We enjoyed very much Emma and Jonathan´s Chili sin Carne.
 
Meeting Amit´s Uncle and Aunt
Gino and Rita are traveling around Argentina in a guided tour of 2 weeks with a group of Italians. We were supposed to meet them on the day of their arrival, but their flight was delayed by 4 hours. We spent with them the day after, walking in town and dining in their hotel with the Italian group. Everybody ordered the same dishes - pumpkin soup and a steak. Surprisingly, most of them finished the 300 gr steak they ordered. All the people on our table were in a good mood, and were very curious about us and about our trip, as all people are. The day after, we bought food for the next 2 weeks, because we don´t expect to find a real supermarket. Then we went with Gino and Rita for a windy walk on the nice promenade on the lake, where you can see many types of birds.

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More photos here.

Torres del Paine

Parking
After the entrance (15,000 CH$), there are 7 km of ups and downs, until you reach the first camp site (near Hotel Las Torres). We asked at the hotel if we could leave our bicycles there for a week, and they said of course (1000 CH$ per bicycle per day). Eventually we left our bicycles behind the house of the van drivers, 300 m from the hotel (thanks Marco!).
 
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Trekking
After parking we still had time to climb up the mountain to the free camping, leave our stuff there, and continue to Mirrador Las Torres.
 
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At the camping we had the pleasure to meet Ai from Japan, and Kim from South Korea.
 
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We did the whole circuit around the park (about 100 km) in 6 days, and camped wild 2 nights, even though it is forbidden, so as not to pay for the nights.
 
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We enjoyed a lot the less traveled parts of the circuits, in which we met about 6 people per day. On the way we found a tent we carried to the next camp site and an Argentinian guy on the pass, whom we also dragged to the next camp site (litterally). We absolutely recommend to do the circuit counter clockwise, the scenary is better, and you avoid a terrible climb to the pass, from the glacier side. After reaching the pass, there is a beautiful view of Glaciar Grey, which is a huge glacier. We found this the most beautiful part of the park. 
 
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Strike / Free Camping, Free Food
After we finished the hike, we found out there was a strike going on for the past 3 days, due to the raise of gas price (which is actually a reduction of the subsidition on gas). The camp site was free for the night we got there because of all the people stuck in the park. They also cooked the campers a free dinner. At breakfast we got free cookies and brownies and left the park slowly, after meeting two swiss cyclists, Philipp & Isa (tourdereve.blogspot.com), and an interesting argentinian cyclist, Damian (Jamerboi.com.ar).
 
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Puerto Natales

The Way To Puerto Natales
On the way, we met many other cyclists going on the other way, and we slept together with some sheep for one night. There is no real grocery store on the way, but you find various places to fill in water.


As we are very cheap, we spent the night 20 km before the town, to save some money.


Camping Hostel Lili
Following the advice of a swiss cyclist (named Heinz), we camped in Hostel Lili in Bories street. There we met the famous Japanese cyclists whom we heard about from all the cyclists we talked to in the last few days. The Japanese guy was intriguing and he carried a looot of stuff on his bicycle. We almost convinced him to cycle with us to the park, but he gave up and took the bus there (8000 CH$) with his bicycle (another 5000 CH$). Surprisingly, we met Dafna again, a girl we met earlier in the camp site in Ushuaia. At the hostel, we met a very interesting tourist guide, who speaks 6 languages fluently, and knows a bit about everything. Dafna spend a few days traveling with him, but we couldn´t join due to our tight schedule. Amit´s uncle and aunt from Italy, Gino and Rita, were surprisingly due to be in El Calafate very close to when we planned to be there.
Puerto Natales is a very boring town devoted to only one purpose - bringing people to Torres del Paine National Park (and earning quite a bit of money by doing so), so we decided to leave towards the park after one night in the town.



Stocking Food
Knowing in advance that the prices of food in the park are amazingly high (at least twice than in Puerto Natales), we bought food for 2 weeks. This means we had 7 kg of rice, 5 kg of pasta, 4 kg of beans, peas and lentals, 2 kg of oat meal, 3 kg of crackers, 3 kg of spreads, 10 bags of tomato sauce and a lot of cookies.

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The Way to Torres del Paine
After buying all the food, we left the town in the evening. The view from the way out is very beautiful, and it is a shame you can´t see so much view from inside the town. With all this food on our bicycles (and mainly on Amit´s bicycle), we were very heavy, and therefore went quite slowly. When riding on the beatiful and empty paved road leaving the town, we changed our original plan of taking the scenary gravel road, and took the paved one until it ended. With the help of the wind, we reached Cerro Castillo quickly. 20 km from there the road stops to be paved. 

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The lake near the entrance to the park (Laguna Amarga) is surrounded by hundreds of guanacos that seem quite indifferent to the presence of tourists. We even saw a couple of guanacos having a fight.

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For more photos of this post click here



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                         SHOHAMIT

                       Shoham & Amit
                 South America by Bicycle


Ping├╝inera

Which Road?
Going out of Punta Arenas was fast with the help of the wind, but right after the airport, the road curved, and we had strong side winds. By our large scale map, there are two ways to get to the penguins in Seno Otway, near Punta Arenas. That is a lie, the northern old road doesn´t exist anymore, but unfortunately, we heard this from a policeman, 15 km after the turn we should have taken. We went back, and camped near the beginning of the road (1.6 km, on the right) between the trees.

 
Penguins / 1.1.2011
We left all our stuff in the tent, and traveled light with our bicycles to see the penguins. We think we might have been spotted by the military RADAR next to us, because a police car went after us, and turned back after seeing we were just cyclists. We cycled on the bad gravel road with strong face wind, and reached a private road. We were supposed to pay for riding on the road (1500 CH$ per person), but the guy at the entrance, said we could pass for free as a New Year´s good will. The private road was full of dust waves, and we trembled the whole way to the beach. In the Seno Otway reserve you are not allowed to walk wherever you want, and you should follow the comfortable trails.



The penguins there dig their nests in the small hills, and come out with their pups to catch some sun and bring food from the ocean.


We saw a few hundreds of penguins (and Amit took some few hundreds of pictures), although it was said that the reserve contains a few thousands of them.


Other animals
We enjoyed very much the unique experience, and even more the surroundings which is packed with different birds and mammals.



We expected to have strong back wind, but instead there was no wind at all. Still, the way back to the tent was much faster. After we got back to our hiding place (which took us some time because it was hidden so well), we heard a siren noise which we suspect was due to our slow movement next to the RADAR.

For more photos of this post click here


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                         SHOHAMIT
                       Shoham & Amit
                     South America by Bicycle

Reserva Nacional Magallanes

Getting There
In Punta Arenas, we heard from a local tourist agency that there is a national park near by. Nobody else knew anything about this park, so we had to check it by ourselves. After climbing for an hour, we finally entered the park (1500 CH$ per person). We still had time to see the mirrador at the top of the camp site. We camped there for the night (5000 CH$ per tent). They don´t have any showers (though the brochure claimed they had ones, with hot water...), and the drinking water is simply the river´s water.


1st Day
We left the bicycles with the forest rangers, and asked them about the trekking possiblities. They were very surprised there was anyone interested in hiking in the park, but they kindly showed us the best trail, which is called ¨Sendero de Chile¨. The full circuit of 3 days is still not completely marked, but you could do it anyway, if you wish to navigate using the map without the marking. While climbing to the top of the ski lift, we encountered a few people, but from there on, we were by ourselves. From the comfortably marked trail, we soon arrived to the less well marked trail, where we took the wrong way, and had to walk back for 2 hours.


After passing the small swamps, we continued to the windy mountain cap. From there, there are no marks at all, except piles of stones and sticks coming out of the ground, which were left behind by other hikers. We as well added a few marks, where it was hard to find the next one. Going down from this mountain is throug the bushes, and from there we had to walk through an endless swamp for 2 hours. The land there is spongy, and is fun to walk on for a few minutes, but more than that is too tiring, especially with a heavy backpack.


The camp site was completely destroyed, so we enjoyed camping inside the forest.

2nd Day
We woke up by the angry tiny birds that where screaming around our tent. We decided to leave all our stuff in the tent and travel light for the day.


We tried to follow a few marks we found on the way, but ended up losing them and walking in the wrong direction. Fortunately, we could walk down the stream and get back to the tent. All this way was full of different animals.


3rd Day
On our way back to the rangers, we walked quickly through the huge swamps, climbed the mountain through a bad way closed by bushes.


The way back was much shorter than we expected, and we reached the rangers after a few hours.


To avoid paying for another night at the shower-less camp site, we camped right outside the park, next to the river.

For more photos of this post click here


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                         SHOHAMIT
                       Shoham & Amit
                     South America by Bicycle