photography

  • Tibet, Yarchen Gar the final part – 8,000 nuns, a naked lama and passing out

    Yarchen Gar was such an unexpected place. We had never even heard of it only a week ago and here we were, two of the very few foreigners to have seen and stayed in the place. It is described as the world’s largest Monastery with 8,000 Nuns staying here but also about 2,000 Monks, quite simply it’s a huge sea of Burgundy robes! read more

  • Trekking the stunning Langtang Valley in Nepal

    I expected trekking the Langtang valley in Nepal to be a peaceful stroll along a wide open himalayan valley. However we started by descending into dense jungle.
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  • Skiing the World Famous Vallee Blanche, Chamonix

    The Vallee Blanche is the world famous ski route in Chamonix. Starting from the 3842m high Aiguille du Midi it follows the glaciar down to Chamonix via the Montenvers cog railway train. read more

  • Hiking to the Southern Patagonian Icefield, El Chalten – Argentina

    I think we may have left the best to last. This trek to the Campo de Hielo Sur or the Southern Icefield is a wild and remote adventure that has a bit of everything and all starting out of El Chalten. read more

  • Perito Moreno Glacier and El Calafate, Patagonia

    The Perito Moreno Glacier is located in the Los Glaciares National Park in Patagonia, Argentina. The access point is the busy and sprawling El Calafate, this place is certainly not off the beaten track and the town has seen enormous growth over the last few years. read more

  • Winter Hiking in Torres del Paine, Patagonia, Chile

    This is a rather epic blog post about both just getting to and then exploring a rather incredible place even more so in the depths of winter; read more

  • Eating Chilli and other Chilly adventures in Chile

    So besides hiking in about 20 national parks and ski touring some cool places we did a lot of duller stuff associated with such a long trip. While this was often a bit dull it also sometimes led to micro-adventures of its own!

    Chile has so few laundrettes, it is harder to find a place to wash clothes than it is to find a sober travelling Australian. We always ended up wearing the same stuff for several weeks after giving up walking around towns and getting directions to places that were non-existent, closed or took 3 days to wash my socks! Osorno was a “favourite” place; we had 6 hours to kill here, and kill is an appropriate word as after 5 hours here you were about ready to! (One exception it had a fantastic cake shop). We had a similar long wait in Chillan, which has a fascinating market but nothing else. After 2 hours of hanging about in Chillan we drove until we got bored and then cooked up pancakes in a public park with an audience of local, slightly feral village kids! The place we ended up at had a super cool huge wooden bridge – see below:OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

    During our trip we drove miles and miles and we saw some amazing stuff from the side of the road. Rarely anything uber spectacular just lots of cool scenes; rainbows over forests, sheep being herded; flocks of ibis in cow fields. We particularly liked this traffic island near the Argentine border before Volcan Lanin:OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

    Before my trip to Chile I had never seen oxen pulling carts before, these beasts are huge – taller than the locals (OK so Chileans are quite short!). Often the carts were attached directly to the horns which must be a little uncomfortable for them. The island of Chiloe was a particular oxen hotspot, which went with the slow way of life there. Below is a picture of horse and cart, fairly common in remote rural areas of South America; I guess it’s cheaper to run than an old tractor. After our earlier trip to Eastern Europe and Albania in particular it seemed to have become a fairly normal sight this summer.

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    After celebrating our escape from Osorno a few weeks earlier, we found ourselves once again stuck in the town. This time we were en route to Argentina and Bariloche, however Chilean national day was on and the connecting buses from Osorno to Bariloche were full so we had to overnight in Osorno. Worse still everything was closed as it was a national holiday. We knocked on guesthouse doors trying to find a place to stay, and of those that answered the prices seemed sky high; finally we used our old Lonely Planet book to find a budget B&B. The lady who answered was in her late 60s wearing her dressing gown at midday. We entered her house, which was full of… lets call it “old lady chic”. Porcelain, white lace everywhere, jars of jam in glass cabinets in the hall and a pervading smell of the 1970s. It was cheap and had cable TV to pass the time in Osorno though so we weren’t complaining!

    We coincided with both Bolivia’s and Chile’s national holidays celebrating their foundation as countries: cue much band playing, marching and partying. We did see a great parade in Orsorno including canons mounted on donkeys, men with truncheons dressed in hats and the ski regiment of the army. We ate some bitter oversized rhubarb which came with a free bag of MSG(?!) from a street vendor and watched kids throwing confetti in random people’s faces. See the ski army in picture below;

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    With all this driving we got to know the roads well. Generally the highways are in great condition; better than Belgium’s anyway. The Pan American Highway is like the backbone: a fast dual carriageway, the major artery, loaded with executive coaches, lorries and 1000s of cars around the Santiago area. However given how busy this road is it was surprising how many people used it as a footpath and cycle lane regardless of the direction of traffic. Some stretches were so busy with people that it was like a computer game where you had to swerve to avoid hitting people – it was sketchy, super sketchy. Now walking along the highway during the day is bad enough, but at night with no reflectors or lights it is crazy. Hitting a stray dog was even more inevitable, amazingly we avoided hitting the hordes of pure breeds roaming the streets. The “road” in picture below was particularly fun, it was up Shangri La valley near Nevados de Chillan resort. You can just make out the snow starting to fall:

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    This is what the same area above looked like the next morning……powder day! We skied the volcano you can see above the resort.
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    There is little more disturbing than being suddenly awoken by a loud “thump, thump, thump” of the police banging on a window, with the blue lights flashing as you open you sleepy eyes. It happened last to me in Banff, Canada, my nemesis city (it really is just a tourist-filled Disneyland outdoor town), where I was fined for illegal camping in a fairly non-illegal looking place. In Chile we knew it is legal to camp/sleep in our vehicle if we were just off public highways, but this parking up in random places sometimes led to a bit of suspicion from the police hence the early morning wake up calls, however they just wanted to know what we were up to. They were always friendly after seeing our passport and wished us a good holiday. A lack of Spanish always sped things up too – the police quickly lost interest in trying to communicate using our pidgin Spanish!

    The weather frequently got the better of us on this trip. This is the approach to Volcan Lanin; we never summited as the cloud was always too thick. It also started snowing soon after we took this picture. 

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    To live up to the Chilli title we found the food fairly wanting in Chile, although the fresh fruit and veg could be superb. The empanadas were also a saving grace, especially with sweet onion and dash of chilli. Otherwise the food just seemed to lack imagination, and there seemed to be an obsession with western fair like pizzas. It appears to me that the economic and cultural development that has rapidly overtaken the country has not yet been applied to the cuisine. It is very much subsistence food: basic but filling with limited spice or flavour. Of course I am generalising – there are spectacular restaurants like in Putre in northern Chile where we found a real gem. Also some dishes that use great fresh simple ingredients can be spectacular, the traditional fish dishes on Chiloe follow this logic. However generally in random towns in middle and southern Chile the food sucked. The wine though is a different story!!

    Marion is vegetarian, and wasn’t too sure in advance what kind of veggie options she might find in Chile. In general we cooked fresh stuff to save money and to save ourselves from the large amount of artificial additives that frequently make an appearance in S American processed food. Generally we found that good fresh fruit and veg was available almost everywhere and it was much cheaper in the local green grocer shops than in the supermarkets. In particular Avocadoes were crazy cheap and we had them with almost every meal. The supermarkets were full of processed junk, a lot of which contained non veggie animal fat and gelatine, not to mention a lot of weird random stuff that’s mostly banned in Europe. As for eating out, the veggie options were generally pretty limited / boring, although at the above-mentioned favourite restaurant in Putre we did find some interesting vegetarian options on offer using local delicacies like pond weed (tasted better than it sounds!). All in it is probably is a better place to be a meat lover, and we haven’t even started on Argentine steak….

  • Snowboarding Volcano Villarrica, Chile

    Well the weather finally cleared leaving 20cm of fresh snow on a perfect bluebird day to ski tour on split boards up Volcano Villarrica near Pucon, chile. It is without doubt the most popular volcano to climb, it is pretty straightforward, not easy but not as steep as many of the others. We felt pretty sorry for the few large guided groups who were trudging along walking the whole way in crampons. The slow pace up and more notably the long drag down in this fresh snow meant all but the very fittest and quickest walking groups had no chance of summiting. Do the guides tell them this in advance? A certain smugness was to be had as we skied up past them, but not as smug as the way down!

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    As seems normal now, we camped in a random spot, potentially illegally within the national park just off the access road. The night before a sudden cold snow shower left the lower elevations of the park blanketed in a white dusting, a stunning sunset then illuminateed the fresh snow, it was beautiful. Marion panicked that we would be snowed in by morning, but the van was fine driving up the final slopes to the volcano base. 

    In the carpark we were surprised by the number of people, up until now we had only shared a volcano with one other group. Here there were at least 50 people. Mostly walking, but a few skiers too. We made progress up under the stationary lifts, following an ice ridge up that required crampons. We then hit the main face which was filled with deep powder and a long skin up to the crater edge. The top got progressively more icey with huge ice boulders blocking the path. The picture below is just as it started getting interesting! OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA 

    The wind had transformed the snow higher up, but with axes and crampons we climbed onto the crater rim. The view had gone, replaced by whispy cloud and the pluming white sulphuric gases belting into our faces, more than a few minutes resulted in light headedness and shortness of breath. As you would agree not ideal when on the crater of a active volcano. We traversed upwind of the toxic sulphur, narrowly avoiding a huge hole down into the snow ,disappearing to goodness knows how deep and probably ending in magma!OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

    It was then time to start down. The intial section from the crater was intimidating as it fell away steeply and was covered in ice. We progressed with ice axes in hand as per above picture, this was to help arrest us if we fell and started to slide a bit. It wasn’t long until we found the softer snow lower down, which let us open up and shred the consistent slopes for the full 1000m odd of powder descent.

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    Lower down the trees in the distance were still iced in snow  as we reached the natural half pipes of the old lava flows. We raced past the walking groups, who sadly all but one had failed to summit. The walk back home must have felt longer for them as skiers whistled past them having the run of their lives….sorry! All together a fairly unforgettable experience that I would highly recommend.

  • Ski Touring Volcan Antuco, Chile

    Volcano Antuco at 2979m was an impressive sight for our next Ski Tour, located in the Laguna del Laja national park in Chile. The access road was as usual a long gravel drive in of about 65km. A few narrow exposed sections but generally the road was fine to drive. At the base is a small ski resort with a couple of drag lifts along the flatter flanks. It seemed to be only open on weekends when we were there.

    We arrived on a Saturday night fairly late. We parked up in the camper van just before the park entrance. A strange experience in the pitch black with no idea of our surroundings, the van was rocking violently from some pretty extreme wind, a stream ran past us into what looked like a large lake. The ground was black with old volcanic rock.

    A few trucks sped past, one stopped and about 5 guys jumped out, we saw their faces lit up by cigarettes as they sheltered from the wind, for a moment we were afraid of what they were up to. They soon piled back in and sped off into the darkness.

    Next day the wind was still battering us. An ascent of the volcano was off. It was way too windy. We explored the park and its setup hiking trails. These were actually pretty stunning. A few information boards told us that a German Botanist, Eduard Poeppig  passed through and sheltered from the locals and the last eruption in 1854. There were huge Coihue trees and big waterfalls.

    The road and national park was relatively busy, despite the wind, locals were driving to the small resort and using the drag lifts to ski the gentle slopes.

    The next morning the wind had died down and we drove to the resort and soon started skinning up the slopes. It was totally empty not a soul in sight, tumbleweed rolling through the 4 or 5 buildings that marked the resort, in the light wind. We quickly reached the top of the ski lifts. The next section was surprisingly steep, after a few kick turns it was crampons and ice axes out until we reached the defined ridge on the lookers left. The ridge was much mellower. We followed this up to the summit, it got steeper, harder and more exposed but with crampons and axes we were OK. We took shelter from the wind just below the summit cone. The view down to the lake was amazing it was perfectly clear to spot the lava flow curling down the volcano flank and damming the river to create the huge lake after the 1854 eruption.

    We then started back down, sadly for us the wind had destroyed the snow. We traversed to the front face away from the ridge we had climbed up, however it was a treacherous ride down, crust and ice on 40 degree slopes for almost 1800m of vertical height, we were scared for each turn. The lower section had softened and let us open up to the base.

    A stunning volcano in a stunning setting, a ski touring must.