Sunday, 16 February 2014

King Penguins of Tierra del Fuego


So awesome! The King Penguin chicks were just hatching, and listening to their sweet little calls and attentive but silent parents was just so peaceful.  Big contrast to the honking mayhem of the Magellanic Penguin colony we'd visited earlier!

Apparently this small colony of King Penguins only very recently set up base here on the island of Tierra del Fuego just across from Punta Arenas - and the farm owner whose land they chose is smiling... Oh yes.  20USD per person to visit smiling.  But hey - we got here on public transport for pennies relative to the crazy sums paid by some tourists to come here.  All agencies back in Punta Arenas assured us that there was no way to get here on our own - but ha!  They would say that...

Fantastic to see King Penguins- and they are indeed the King of all Penguins- in Chile. We saw around 50 adults, juveniles and chicks which was a treat. They really are much more serene, beautiful and graceful than the Magellanic Penguins who were like rowdy paupers in comparison.

Wednesday, 12 February 2014

Torres del Paine - 7 day hike


Beautiful 7 day hike around and above the glaciers in the Torres del Paine National Park of Chile.  Every day had a different environment, and it stayed exciting for the whole 100+kms.  From riverside savannah, to meadows, to rugged hills covered with berries, to dense forests, to muddy bogland, to impossibly windy and stormy boulder and stone strewn glacial passes.  We chose to hike the infamous and rugged "O" circuit that leads around the whole park as opposed to the oft-promoted and overcrowded "W" path that takes in some of the highlights along tidy trails.  It was a good choice - the build up of hiking for 4 days to get to a high mountain pass - then looking out over the top of a huge glacier 1000m below is just awesome.  Great times!

There were excellent little flowers and insects on the way to keep the hike interesting (and to justify little rest breaks!) Even spotted a four-leafed clover!

Camping and hiking have never really been my cup of tea in the past. I love beautiful scenery but trying to sleep on a tiny sliver of a roll mat on hard ground has not worked for me. Ty decided to dub me the Princess and the Pea. Having met two awesome aussies on the Tierra Del Fuego boat we travelled together to Puerto Natales and they were the impetus for doing the hike. Both were experienced campers/hikers and I felt sure I would be in safe hands doing the trail with them. In order to prep we went shopping to stock up on the provisions that we would need for a week- think sausage, sausage and more sausage. I also got a large roll mat that was super comfy to ensure I would get the best sleep possible, good job Ty volunteered to carry it, whilst I carried his mini mat!

The first day was an easy walk for around 5 hours, but my bag felt impossibly heavy and uncomfortable and I wasn't sure quite how I was going to manage the more extreme days. That night we had a great meal, I slept very well and the next morning woke early to see the sun rise followed by a hot shower. I felt refreshed and assured that this hiking malarkey wouldn't be as difficult as I had thought. 

Each day grew successively more challenging and it seemed that the trail would always throw in a little treat for us at the end of a hard day! This culminated in day four- described in the guides as 'hard'- I think that was an understatement. Unfortunately for us, this day was not a calm day. After hiking 400 metres straight up the mountain we had to brace winds that blew 100kph. The wind was so strong that I had to keep throwing myself on the ground to cling to a rock so as not to be blown away! Once we had reached the summit of the pass people were huddling by rocks to try and get some relief from the wind before making their way down the other side. You can see the look on my face in the photo at the top of the pass! It was a little galling to later hear accounts of people who had made this journey the next day say that they had calm weather and there was even a ranger there to make sure that they crossed safely! However, once over the top we were rewarded with the most spectacular views of Glacier Grey and the huge ice sheet. I had never seen anything like it. The journey down was steep- 600m- through super slippery mud 'trails', over trees and at one point we were below the level of the glacier so it looked like it may engulf us. After over 8 hours of hiking through incredibly difficult conditions we made it to the camp site in the forest, to be welcomed by a sign that said it should take 4.5 hours! The name Towers of Pain felt pretty apt. I was relieved and proud to have made it through the most difficult part of the hike. 

The following day I had a lot of fun climbing ladders in and out of ravines, and over waterfalls. My bag felt lighter and I felt stronger. Throughout the whole trip we had spectacular views of blue lakes, glaciers, forests, fields and saw beautiful flora. It was an experience I will never forget and we really couldn't have done it without the help of our new buddies. What an adventure!

Monday, 3 February 2014

Tierra del Fuego


Everything all came together on one day when we booked our Antarctica trip and also got a great deal on a 5 day trip down to Cape Horn and up to Punta Arenas. The boat included three course meals, an open bar and two zodiac boat shore excursions every day- result! It was a fantastic boat and we felt very comfortable in our luxurious cabin where we had someone make our bed three times a day! It was brilliant to sail around Patagonia and see some stunning blue glaciers, flora and wildlife. We were lucky enough to see Cormorants with their chicks, Skuas, Vultures, Condors, Oyster Catchers and a huge colony of Magellan Penguins on the last morning. It was fascinating to watch: a baby Cormorant who had fallen from its nest whose fate was sealed, fluffy baby penguins moulting and the adults interacting and a Skua who was injured desperately trying to hunt for food around the Penguins' dens. I got pretty used to being greeted after an excursion by a man serving out hot chocolate and scotch. A nice little tipple when one has been out exploring in the cold!

Pretty awesome - especially with the great hikes, wildlife, awesome 4-course gourmet meals, and free bar.  And the HUGE last minute discount - we paid less than 1/4 the fare of some others in the same-sized cabins.  This trip plus our upcoming Antarctica trip still came in under our original budget.  And did we mention free bar?