Chile, Argentina & Brazil
DescrizioneSteve and I saw the New Year in for 1998 in Santiago, Chile, at a huge fireworks display in the city center. It took us a few days to recover from the excesses of the New Year's celebrations. We hung out in the city until 5th January and caught up on a few chores and prepared to continue our journey south. The old city center was much like a European city with interesting old buildings and people bustling around everywhere. In Santiago we almost seemed to blend in and in many ways we didn't feel like foreign visitors.
After Santiago we traveled down to the beautiful Chilean Lake District. The Lake District was perfect hiking country and we were able to do some great treks among the pristine lakes, snow-capped volcanoes and lush forests. We spent several days relaxing at a homely B&B at the beautiful Pucon resort which was set on a lake at the foot of the huge Villarica Volcano.
From Puerto Montt, the most southerly part of the lake district, we took a ship for a four day journey south through the channels and fjords of Chilean Patagonia. On the 2000km trip we saw spectacular scenery including rugged snow-capped mountain ranges, huge glaciers advancing down to the ocean and virgin forests. We also saw a good range of fauna, including whales, dolphins, penguins, seals and bird life. There was a really good crowd on the ship so the social life was really good - a great trip all round!
The ship took us right down to the southern Patagonian town of Puerto Natales, which is the access point to the world famous Torres Del Paine National Park. We went for a tough five day hike in this spectacular park which National Geographic apparently described as one of the most beautiful parks in the whole world! The weather was quite extreme with winds up to 100km an hour, which was quite a challenge for our cheap little tent. It really was difficult to imagine how the park could have been more beautiful, with vivid blue lakes, jagged snowy peaks, lush forests and massive glaciers. The wildlife was also impressive with wild foxes, Guanacos (like Lamas), Condors etc. We returned from the park exhausted, but we all agreed it was one of the best nature experiences we had ever had!
After Puerto Natales we did a three day trip across into Argentina to visit the famous Glaciers National park. Here we took a boat trip to visit the awesome Perito Moreno glacier, which is fed by the third largest icefield in the world and is one of the few glaciers that is actually advancing. We sailed through the icebergs right up to the 60m high wall of ice and watched as huge chunks of ice crashed into the lake - incredible! Next we traveled down to Punta Arenas, the most southerly city in the world and visited the well known penguin colonies. From here we investigated all the possible ways to travel further south to the southern tip of South America.
From Punta Arenas we took a cargo ship south to Puerto Williams on Isla Navarino. Isla Navarino is one of the most southerly islands of the Tierra del Fuego Archipelago and is regarded as one of the most beautiful and unspoiled. The 36 hour boat trip took us through more spectacular scenery of the Tierra del Fuego Archipelago, including the famous Beagle Channel. On the journey we saw snow-capped mountain ranges, glaciers, sea-lions, penguins and other birdlife - spectacular! Our small cargo vessel did a beach landing and we were off loaded with the rest of the cargo!
On Isla Navarino we went back-country trekking for 6 days - it was difficult terrain, but the scenery and wildlife were certainly worth it! Steve, Jean and I prepared some basic provisions and then set off into the centre of the island. There were no paths as such so we ended up wading through swamps, scrambling up rock faces and pushing our way through the undergrowth. The great reward was that we didn't see a soul in the 6 days we were away. The weather was also unseasonably warm so we were even able to go swimming in the lakes. Each night we would build a large campfire and enjoy the star studded skies above - we were certainly far from any of the normal city lights that obscure the night sky. The hiking trip was certainly one of the most memorable of my life.
To get back from Isla Navarino to Punta Arenas I managed to catch a ride on a Chilean Navy Ice-breaker on it's return journey from Antarctica. It was quite an experience sailing up through the southern Patagonian fjords in a large naval vessel. The crew were really friendly and I even managed to get my hair cut by the ships barber - bit of a severe cut though! It seems that many of the officers were trained by the British Royal Navy, so I was quite a celebrity!
From Punta Arenas I had planned to cross the border to Argentina and then hitch-hike up to Buenos Aires (normally takes 6 days!). However, LAN-Chile airline had a special offer on flights to Santiago - only $90 for the 3.5 hour flight - so I decided to fly up to Santiago and then do the much shorter journey across the Andes to Buenos Aires. Also the scenery from the south of Argentina up to Buenos Aires is notoriously boring - flat, windswept pampas grass and desert! I enjoyed going back to Santiago, especially as I was able to look up some of the Chilean travelers that I had met on my journey south through Chile. In the end I actually spent a month in the city living an extremely nocturnal life - good fun!!
After Santiago I caught a bus across the Andes mountains to Mendoza in Argentina. It was a beautiful journey with a magnificent view of the highest peak in the Americas, Aconcagua 6960m. I spent a couple of days in Mendoza visiting the famous vineyards and bodegas, doing plenty of free tastings - very enjoyable! After Mendoza I traveled across to Buenos Aires, where I spent a couple of weeks exploring the city. Buenos Aires is called the Paris of South America, but I do not think this is really fair to Paris! I did go to a ballet at the Teatro Colon, which is supposed to be one of the worlds great opera houses - very civilized! I also spent some time down in the San Thelmo area watching the street Tango performers - they were quite something and definitely a highlight of the city. Buenos Aires was however extremely expensive and it seemed that one had to watch every expense - some of the night clubs charged US$25 entrance fee!
From Buenos Aires I took another 18 hour bus journey up to the world famous Iguazu Falls. I saw the falls from both the Argentine and Brazilian sides - they really were magnificent. The falls are more than 20m higher than those of Niagra Falls and half again as wide!! Set in the tropical rainforest they really are beautiful. I had previously seen the film 'The Mission', which told the story of the original inhabitants of the area, and this really added to my experience.
From the spectacular Iguazu Falls I traveled almost directly to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. What a place!! It was as exotic and exciting as its reputation - not a bit disappointing. I spent a couple of fun packed weeks in Rio enjoying the beach life of Ipanema and Copacabana . The beach seemed to be an essential part of city life with each sector of the sand being populated by different groups of society. The exotic nightlife also lived up to it's steamy reputation. I took the funicular railway up to the Cristo statue high above Copacabana and also did the cable car trip up Sugar Loaf Mountain - Rio really is a special place - it certainly made an impression on me.
After much deliberation on whether I should continue north up through Brazil or fly back to the UK I finally decided to fly back to home. On the 11th May 1998 I caught a direct flight to London. I managed to get a great student fare of $530 one-way, bargain!! Back in London it was time to decide whether to settle down and get a job or to have a little rest and then continue traveling? Well, the rest of the year I spent back in London. The time flew by and before I knew it, it was Christmas. Over the 7 months until Xmas I caught up with my friends, spent allot of time in the local gym shaping up, and carefully considered whether to go for a job or whether to hit the road again. I kept analyzing my motives for getting a job, and finally decided that it was probably better to continue traveling and enjoy the life style that I love.
I spent Christmas at home with my mother - the first time for 5 years. I enjoyed the festivities, however, my mind was really on when I would be off traveling again!