South America

  • Traditional churches on the wild & remote Isle of Chiloe, Chile.

    The Isle of Chiloe sits off the coast of northern Patagonia, it’s only a short ferry ride across from the mainland but feels a world away. read more

  • The adventure of a lifetime – My guide to skiing the length of Chile and Argentina

     

    Ski after ski we slowly slide uphill, all the time between the trees but gaining ground on our goal;  the remote peak of Volcan Quetripillan.  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

  • 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.

  • Snowboarding Volcanoes in Chile – The Movie

    This is a Go Pro edit of us in Chile; hiking, splitboarding and snowboarding 9 Volcanoes across the country. We had every condition possible; sunshine and periods of endless rain, we had deep powder and scary windswept ice, winds that rocked the van and snapped trees and calm perfect days. Somevolcanoes had 40+ degree, super steep, 2000m of uninterrupted conical slopes, some were cruisey, but all had spectacular scenery.

    The Volcanoes were as follows; Volcano Antuco, Volcano Chillan, Volcano, Lonquimay, Volcan Casablanca, Volano Villarica, Volcano Quetrupillan, Volano Calbuaco, Volano Lanin and Volcano Llaima. If anyone wants more info check out my blog posts or let me know. It seems there is a lack of info on skiing volcanoes in Chile so I am happy to answer any questions.

     

     

  • Patagonia the Movie…..

    The first installment of my South America snowboarding edit is now on You Tube. This is part 1 of 3 that will make up the whole movie at about 15 minutes in total, so take a look at the movie below.
    This episode is centered on Patagonia and the national parks – Mt Fitzroy, Torres del Paine and the area around Bariloche. It was a dry year so we ended up hiking more than snowboarding in the deep south, but the views are inspiring. Also it has been selected to enter an Epic TV competition, so please view it and vote if you like it at the following;

    http://www.epicthule.com/videos/video/snowboarding-adventures-in-patagonia/

  • Exploring Potosi, Sucre and Oruro, Bolivia

    A quick tour of Potosi, Sucre and Oruro three cities that sit proudly on the high Altiplano of Bolivia. Potosi fabled for its silver mines is actually the highest city in the world at 4090m. It has outstanding colonial architecture with a beautiful renovated central square. The square is lined by Potosi cathedral and the Spanish Colonial Mint. The dominating Cerro Rico was rich in silver from 1556 to 1783 about 45,000 tons were mined. The Spanish decimated indigenous labour and imported 1000s of slaves to endure the mines, it is fair to say the history of the city and mines is hard. The current mines are a bit of a tourist attraction where you can go and see what a hard life the miners have, most are drunk or on narcotics it seems. The life expectancy is less than 40. We declined to take a day trip to the mines and instead explored the fascinating streets and buildings. There is a bit of an ethical dilemma here as to whether the ‘extreme’ tourist mine tours help or hinder the progress towards safer conditions.
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    There were numerous interesting artisan shops, I purchased some nice warm hand woven Alpaca socks and a fashionable hipster Alpaca jumper. Marion picked up a nice scarf and some woven wall hangings all at very fair and pretty sustainable prices. If we didn’t have 2 months of ski touring ahead we would have bought more of the locally made artisanal textiles.
    Cakes in Potosi, Bolivia
    Next up was the stunning Colonial Acrhitecture of Sucre, a good spot to take time out and learn Spanish or exploring the surrounding villages. The downtown is well preserved with many interesting buildings. There is also a good sized covered market full of lots of random stuff. We bought a few nice woven items but it was significantly pricer than Potosi. It is also known as the Chocolate capital of Bolivia as the French translation hints at. TO be honest I wasn’t blown away by the chocolates, maybe I just didn’t buy the good stuff though! At 2810m it is not super high but a nice all round cool climate. It felt pretty warm during August i.e. mid winter when we were visiting.
    National Day celebrations in Potosi, Bolivia
    As the constitutional capital of Bolivia it hosts many interesting buildings such as Sucre cathedral, the national library, The house of freedom and the Archbishops house. All date from colonial times and most share the whitewashed exterior that I felt defines the city.

    We were fortunate to time our visit with Bolivia´s national day on 6th August. This meant huge celebrations, many marching bands, a few well dressed dignitaries, military parades and so many versions of the national anthem!

    Potosi was hosting a national marching band event, while Sucre was more of an event fitting of its constitutional capital status, with endless marches of endless groups of people. The entire city must have been involved. It went on for literally two days. We came back at 9am after a late night and they were still marching!
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    From Sucre we bussed up to Oruru an eight hour ride so we paid a couple dollars more for the cama deluxe bus. It also left at a convenient time. Sadly it had no working toilet, massively bald tyres and generally a scarily worn out. No toilet all night was interesting we had to ask the driver to stop then find spot by roadside, fine for me but Marion found it less tolerable! It was also bit disconcerting trying to sleep on a bus when it is dark outside but the road is twisting and turning up and down some seriously under engineered roads in the Andes all at some great altitude. It was probably best not to see all the roads but then again your imagination runs wild with what was behind the veil of darkness!

    Oruru was dull we arrived at 6.30am and decided to leave as soon as possible. We wanted to get direct to Sajama National park, this proved hard, no one would help. We were sent on two wild goose chases to random bus offices around town trying to find a bus. It seemed like one should exist but it was beyond us to find it. We bought a ticket to Arica in Chile then we just had to get off by the border so we could hitch or taxi into the park. The village of Sajama is 15km off the main road so walking at the 4400m altitude is not your best bet. In hindsight getting a local bus to Patacamaya a junction with the La Paz-Arica road would be the best option and getting a ride from there would be possible.

  • Wine tours, hot springs and did I mention the wine? Mendoza, Argentina

    After an epicly long bus journey from BA to Mendoza. We relaxed in a funky hostel offering great free breakfasts and a free glass of wine or two each evening. The scenery was dry dusty cold mountains, but no visible snow, this was our first indication of a below average winter of snow. We had hoped to stay in the St Benard mountain refuge, a popular ski tour base, but there was no answer to phones of emails so we assumed it must have closed down for the season. We visited some hot springs in a stunning location, marveled at some of the hideously inappropriate Argentine swimwear. We explored a bit on local buses but other than touristy wine tours we found the local area a bit dull so we left.

  • Istanbul, London, New York and Buenos Aries in 5 days

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    We have been travelling a lot. In 5 days we have visited 4 continents and 4 iconic cities.  We flew Istanbul to London after finishing our cycleride. We then swapped bikes for snowboards and warm clothes in London. For our 3 months of winter in South America. United airlines canceled our flight from New York to BA so we got a free hotel and visit to NY! This sounds good but United have to be the worst airline I have used and I have used a lot in fact 19 airlines (I was a bit bored waiting for the flights; British Airways, Cathay Pacific, Easyjet, Ryanair, Air New Zealand, Air Canada, KLM, United, Japan Ailines, ANA, Lufthansa, Thai Airlines, Air Asia, Singapore Airlines, Sky Airlines, Star Airlines, Tyax Air (floatplanes canada!), Gulf Air, FlyBE and LAN Argentina). Anyway our 3 months in South America to ski tour starts now. It is now winter and we are in Buenos Aires. The day before it was record breakingly hot in NY today there are spots of snow in the air. This is going to be fun.

    Enjoying the sunshine in central BAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA This is Marion looking cold at Recoleta Cemetery in BA, this was a surprise find it is a mini city of tombs and mauseleums. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA