Today marks one year to the day that we embarked on our journey to Antarctica. Life and work have kept us very busy since we’ve been back in the UK, but we’ve got our act together and here is a mammoth blog post on what was our most amazing adventure.
When we left the UK in September 2015 this was not a post I ever expected to write. Our extravagance for this trip was our visit to the Galapagos islands, which was an incredible experience that we’ll never forget. At the back of our minds however was something that we’d read suggesting that it might be possible to go to Ushuaia on the southern tip of Argentina and get a last-minute trip to Antarctica.
The W trek is a five day hike through the Torres del Paine National Park in Chilean Patagonia. It is the most popular of three hikes known as the W, Q and O named after the shape that they form on a map. Compared to hikes in some other areas of South America these are popular because they are easy enough to be tackled by people with relatively little long-distance hiking experience and they can be completed relatively cheaply as they do not require a guide. However probably the biggest reason for their popularity is the variety of scenery that can be experienced along the way.
We opted for the W trek in 5 days (the most common choice) and chose the West to East direction of the walk.
This post is the final part of our road trip, picking back up with us in the Patagonian wilderness of Argentina. This was probably the most difficult but also exciting section of our road trip with petrol strikes, broken cash machines and a lucky escape from a small electrical fire in the van, in the wilderness, at speed. Sound scary? it was…….
Day 15: Patagonian Steppe and Ruta 40 to El Chalten (365km)
I woke up at about 6am freezing cold in the van, although we’d parked somewhere with some wind shelter it had still become pretty cold overnight. At around 8am we gave up trying to sleep and got up to a sunny but freezing cold morning.
This post returns to our road trip through Argentina and Chile, in which we pick up a friend and start to experience the real wilderness of Patagonia with all its beauty and occasional difficulties.
Day 9: Bariloche (Argentina) and around (92km)
We awoke in our lakeside campsite and had breakfast before heading into Bariloche to collect Stella, our new companion for the rest of our time in the van. We had met Stella in Salta at New Year and had stayed in contact. Realising we were all heading the same way with the same time scale after Bariloche, we decided to travel together in Amanda.
We needed to more than just a vague plan for the rest of our road trip so the three of us used the WiFi in Stella’s hostal to plan the rest of our road trip. While it it’s never nice to lose so much time to planning, we finished a few hours later with a rough plan. We also used the opportunity to do some laundry and stock up on supplies. While we waited for the laundry we sat outside in the sun enjoying a pint of beer from a local microbrewery and then drove to a nearby campsite.
We’ve been back in the UK for a fortnight now and while our first priority was to see family, a few of our closest friends, and to find somewhere to live in Bristol, we have finally found some time to get the next post ready to publish.
Here is the first of a few posts about our third road trip, where we hired a camper van for 27 days and drove all the way from Santiago in Chile, through Chile and Argentina down to Punta Arenas. We crossed the Chile-Argentina border four times and drove 4,678km in total.
Day 1: Santiago (135km)
The plan was to pick the van up nice and early, collect supplies and make a quick dash to our next destination. Well we all know what they say about the best laid plans, and sure enough our first day with the van ended up being something of an adventure (which of course is the positive spin for “a bit of a nightmare”).
Well although it is not yet reflected in this blog, we are now on our way home. Our flight leaves Buenos Aires around 9pm tonight and after a brief stop in Madrid we should be arriving home in the early evening tomorrow.
After boarding our bus at the Bolivian border we drove straight into Chile and towards San Pedro. Since we were off-road in Uyuni we drove through the dirt and eventually joined a paved road that led into San Pedro de Atacama. This was the first proper road we’d seen in nearly a week and the proliferation of roadsigns, painted lines and general good state of the road told us that we were definitely out of Bolivia!
About an hour later we reached the edge of San Pedro. San Pedro de Atacama (to use it’s full name) is a small laid back tourist town in the Atacama desert in northern Chile. Rather than taking us into town, the van took us to a police building on the outskirts that serves as border control. There we were stamped into the country and had all our bags x-rayed. Once we were done with immigration the van took us another few hundred metres into town and we hopped off, standing sweltering in the desert heat still wrapped up in jumpers from the Uyuni altitude.
We had no hostel bookings for San Pedro, we had tried to book a camper van before we left Potosí but had struggled with the website and slow internet. I’d emailed the company but, having had no internet access for nearly a week, I had no idea whether they’d received my emails and no idea whether we’d have a van waiting for us or not!
In contrast to our high expectations of Peru we arrived in Bolivia with low or maybe mixed expectations. Bolivia is the poorest and least developed of the countries that we’d be visiting. It also has a history of poor governance, is landlocked thanks again to its previous poor governance, and nearly the whole country exists at a high altitude which I’d already discovered does not always agree with me. There was also what we’d heard from other travellers. Before starting our trip we’d heard mixed reports and during our travels what we’d heard from people who’d already come through Bolivia was that although it was an incredible and beautiful place the people were unfriendly, the infrastructure was terrible and the food was pretty dire.
As a result of this we were thinking of Bolivia as somewhere to be endured whilst seeing the sights and saving money that we’d need later. What we actually encountered when we arrived in Bolivia surprised us. Although my first memory of Bolivia is of rushing around trying to find a working cash machine, we generally found the infrastructure to be reasonable, in particular the mobile phone network was no worse than anywhere we’ve been. On top of this although the food was nothing to write home about, it was no worse than Ecuador or outside of the big cities in Peru. Finally I never found the people to be at all unfriendly. What I did find is fewer people were as overtly friendly as we found in other countries. When we got to know a few people we realised they were not unfriendly, just not as talkative. Maybe it’s because we have spent so much time in London but I certainly felt a lot more warmth from Bolivians than I’d expect from Londoners!
Our last post finished with us navigating our way through the narrow streets of Potosi in the random taxi we picked up in Sucre. We eventually found our hostel and checked in to a reasonable looking room with a private bathroom. We decided to go out quickly to explore the town however Jacqueline was feeling ill and stayed back for a nap whilst Alex, Esmee, Katinka and I went out. We quickly found the central plaza (10 de Noviembre) and although it was smaller than the one in Sucre, they certainly hadn’t skimped on the Christmas decorations as there were trees and fake snowmen, candles, a model Father Christmas and thousands of lights. We then explored the central market which was surprisingly large but half closed. In our attempts to escape the meat smell we walked down some stairs and found a section selling everything from dried pasta to electronics.
It’s been a month since our last post thanks to having very little internet or time while on the road. We have however been writing as we travel so we have loads to publish. We’re currently sitting in Ushuaia, the most southerly city in the world while we await our Antarctica trip! We have 7 days so we’ll be using some of that time to publish a couple more posts and get more ready behind the scenes!
Anyway we left the story a month ago on a bus from Copacabana (the original one) in Bolivia to the city of La Paz. After a long but fairly comfortable journey we wound down the mountain towards the centre of the highest de facto capital city in the world!
On arrival by bus in La Paz, the biggest city in Bolivia, we walked to our hostel. Luckily it was only 5 minutes away in an area described as less than salubrious. Bus stations and the areas around them can often be a little sketchy and since we were arriving at 10:30pm I had a look at my map before we got off the bus and memorised the route. My efforts paid off as 5 minutes later we rounded a corner and found our hostel. We need not have worried as the area actually seemed to be fairly pleasant! We’d booked the Dutch girls into the main hostel where only dorms were available and ourselves into the hostel’s B&B 30 seconds up the road. Since both places were effectively part of the same hostel we could all use the facilities of both with the exception of breakfast. The hostel was called Adventure Brew and they owned their own microbrewery, one of the perks of the hostel was a free beer every night so, despite the late hour, we headed straight to get our beers from the bar. Within 10 minutes in the bar we’d struck up conversation with an Aussie, a couple of Brits and a rather strange guy from Denmark. All seemed to be travelling nearly indefinitely, and most had spent over a month in La Paz but had not done much more than we were planning to in a few short days. We ended up staying up until the bar closed, chatting and playing table tennis/table football.