and the beginning of it for us!
02.01.2012 - 02.06.2012
Well we finally have some time in front of a screen for me to update and tell some stories in words and pictures. The last couple weeks have been really exciting and everyday seems to get better and better. We are now on the Carratera Austral, the highway that runs north south through southern Chile.
El Chalten and the Fitz Roy area is an incredible place. The trails leave right behind town and it isnt too long before you could reach amazing views of the famous mountain range. In fact, you could even see Mount Fitz Roy from town. The only trouble is that the weather is quite unpredictable in the area and goes from snow, to rain, to sun, to clouds, to rain, to sun etc. it seems over the course of hours. Some days there are no views of the peaks at all. We met a older American couple in one of our campgrounds who had been to El Chalten three times before and had still never seen Cerro Torre (one of the most famous peaks). We didnt get to see it either when we were across the lake from it, but we did get to experience some crazy winds (I put a pic of D leaning into them in the last blog).
The other really fun thing about being in El Chalten was being able to hang out with our friend Jon Jon who is working with Ned on the Alpine of the Americas Project. Check out their website...its an amazing project! They are taking pictures of glaciers in the Sierras, and now the Andes, from places where old photos were taken from in the past. That way they can compare the difference bettween the melting that has occured. We had two great dinners with Jon Jon before we left on our trek.
Here is one of their photos:
One thing that we have had a lot of fun doing along the trail is eating Calafate berries. They are tart and sweet at the same time and they turn your tongue purple! Thanks to Steve-Z for giving us the heads up.
From El Chalten began the exciting adventure of getting back into Chile through the Dos Lagos Frontiera. We started with a short bus ride to Lago Desierto.
We walked along the edge of the lake for about five hours, going up and down and up and down over little drainages. The hiking was rough, since most people do not hike that section, but it was one of the best hikes we have had. The scenery was beautiful, good hiking weather (not too hot or cold), and we didnt see another person the whole way. Definitley a change from the other trails we have hiked. Also we were incredibly lucky to spot a Huemul, the national animal of Chile. It is a deer that is a little smaller than a mule deer with smaller animals. It is on the Chilean seal. Unfortunatly, due to habitat destruction, they are very endangered and are now being actively protected in certain areas. Delaney gets the credit for the sighting. We were about 100 feet away and got to watch it for about five minutes before it grazed up the hill. Magical! Many people we have told have said that we are very lucky to have seen one. Try to see if you can see it in this picture (hint its right in the center!)
Our campspot on the other side of the lake was gorgeous and we woke up in the morning to an amazing view of Fitz Roy and Cerro Torre. So we were able to see the mysterious mountain after all. So beautiful.
The next leg of the journey included a 6 hour hike to Candelaria Manzenilla, a tiny port on Lago OHiggins, during which we hiked across the boarder. A very cool experience!
From there we were planning to take a boat at 5pm, a few hours after we arrived, but due to high winds on the lake the boat was cancelled for the day. It was definitely one of the best "layovers" I have had. There was a gorgeous camping area next to a small estancia, where a family offers modest accomodations, food, and the camp sites. We got a perfect private spot over looking the lake. The family were incredibly nice and had a beautiful garden. We ate fresh baked bread (pancito) and homemade raspberry marmelade for a snack and came back for a wonderful dinner that was cooked on the wood stove. We met another traveller, Pep, from Barcellona, who was climbing in El Chalten and most recently wandering through the mountains on a solo adventure. We had a great conversation with him over the meal.
Our camp spot:
There are only a few families that live along the shores of this immense lake (the deepest in the Americas). It was interesting to learn about the systems that they use to take care of each other and live a sustainable life being so far from civilization. In the morning, we were in the house paying for our stay and heard the radio call from the town Villa OHiggins. Each morning someone in the town calls on the radio to make sure that each family is doing ok and to see if they need emergency transportation. A very cool system. It was here that we first started to see a theme begining to run through our travels: sustainable living on the land. Each place we have been since then has added to that theme and we are learning lots of new things that we may be able to apply to our life back in Oregon. Very exciting.
The next day we were able to catch the boat in the morning, which meant that we had the option of going to visit te OHiggins glacier that feeds from the Southern Patagonia Ice Field into the lake. Although it was a bit expensive we decided to go for it. Thanks to all of you who contibuted to our Honeymoon fund at the wedding! It was very similar to the Perito Moreno glacier we saw before, but it had its own magesty. To me, it looked like a giant tongue laying out between the mountains. Also we got to enjoy a complimentary whiskey with glacier ice on the boat...fantastico!
On the boat we met some interesting travelers who gave us a tip on where to stay once we got to Villa OHiggins. There was German couple on their honemoon, who are spending one year traveling on a tandum bike, and a Swedish woman who was biking from Vancouver to as far south as she can go. She has spent two and a half years getting to this point and is almost there! So inspiring. They gave us the tip to stay at the Eco Camp in Villa OHiggins, which was by far the coolest place that we have stayed so far. We were able to spend three nights enjoying it.
The Eco Camp was recently built by a fabulous Chilean man, Mauricio, who has a passion for Chile and living lightly on the land. He built the camp all from fallen trees on the land and has tried his best to keep it the way it was when he arrived. There were really neat composting toilets, a wood stove that supplied hot water to the showers, and simple camping. He was doing some very cool sustainable things to reduce waste, like stuffing all unrecycleable plastic into large plastic bottles, which he is planning to use as bricks.
There were some other travlers there too, who were fun to talk to and two nights in a row (and a lucnh) we shared wonderful meals around the large table. Yesterday it rained all day, so we hung out around the wood stove, read books about sustainable buildings, rested our legs (which are starting to complain louder than usual), talked, and ate amazing food. There were three fishermen/woman who were there visiting from another town in Patagonia to fish the rivers. They made an amazing Chicken soup for lunch, then went out fishing when the weather cleared in the early evening, and after only two hours brought back perch, trout, and salmon for all to share for dinner. Plus, when we told them it was their honeymoon, they insisted on celebrating with Vino Blanco en Melon--basically a mellon hollowed out with white wine soaking in it. We passed it around the table until after 1am. So much fun! It was really great to spend some time with Patagonian folks and other travelers and get a feel for the culture.
We talked some about the dams that are proposed to be put on a handfull of rivers down here. Its a really sad proposal to think about ruining some of the last pristine rivers in the world, as well as changing the way of life for the people making a life along the river banks.
Now we are in the small town of Cochrane (which luckily has a bank...we were running out of cash!). We are staying one night here and then heading up to the proposed National Park, Patagonia National Park, which is run by Doug Tompkins, the former owner of North Face and controvercial land owner in Chile. There we are going to explore Valle Chacobuco for a few days, which many people have recommended to us. Then we are hoping to head north to another Eco Camp, 8 kms off the Carratera Austral. Very exciting!