Week 7: Cochrane, Tortel & Porto Natales

This week I made my way down further south and ended up in Cochrane. It’s a really nice little village surrounded by snow-capped mountains. On the carratera austral there are no hostels so the only option is to camp or stay in expensive hospidaje, which are shared accommodation in a family’s house. In Cochrane, the woman of the house was a bit of a grinch.  I asked for some sugar to try and improve my daily breakfast of gruel (porridge with water) and was blatantly refused.  There were killings when I burnt one of her pots with my porridge and the second with my rice. My current roomies are two 80 year old Chilain women (god only know they are in this place or me for that matter!). I’m really looking forward to a bit more civilization in the next week in ‘normal’ hostels.

In an attempt to get away from the grumpy woman I decided to explore Cochrane’s Parc Tampoca, a huge national park only a 4 km walk away. There are multiple routes  in the park but I opted for the easy 4 hour trail still bruised and sore from the night on the mountain. I wanted something easy-going. Once again I had the park to myself. The stunning 4 hour trail turned into 11 hours of desperate struggle trying to get off the mountain range. I mixed up the routes and somehow ended up on the 4 day trek trial. Horrifically lost in stunning rocky mountain ranges with huge lakes and rivers was great at the beginning but soon lost its novelty. Energy levels were quickly dwindling. With the sunset fast approaching I was getting worried. I sat down ate the last of my orea chocolate and stale bread I thought I might be a bit more rational after this. I genuinely was more frightened on this mountain because I was completely isolated, I only had a thin rain coat and no food.  I was also planning on how to defend myself against pumas in the middle of the night (apparently they are famous in this particular national park). There are about 7 different routes in this park divided by lakes and rivers. I somehow ended up on the completely wrong side.  It’s not high season yet so the trails aren’t that well paved so it’s easy to get lost. I was almost coming to terms with the fact that I’d have to spend another night on a mountain  (I’m becoming a seasoned pro at this stage). I climbed for about an hour to get to a view point to try and see how to cross the river and eventually stumbled across a bridge and got onto a trial which led me back. The park ranger had started to look for me so it all ended well thank god. Myself and Patagonian mountains have had a rocky start (if you will pardon the pun).  Myself and the grumpy woman were both delira to say our goodbyes the following morning. I robbed a few teabags for the road and made my way towards Tortel.

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Parc Tampoco, Cochrane
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My only companion for the day, Parc Tampoco
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Not the worst place to get lost in, Parc Tampoco Cochrane

Tortel is a tiny village with a population of only 600 people. The entire village is built completely on stilts. It’s beautiful but probably one of the most remote places in Chile. You can’t even buy an egg in this place so the prospect of any fruit or vegetables was hopeless. Their diet consists  mainly of bread and some industrial plastic cheese. We were kicked off the bus into a raging blizzard. I spend over 2 hours in the rain looking for the ferry man (apparently he owns the ‘supermarket’ too). The ferry company would only accept cash and obviously there in no bank in Tortel so luckily I had enough for the ferry but not enough left to buy food for the next two days. For breakfast I made my usual concoction pasta, tuna and mayonnaise. With no money for food for the day I transported the remainders of the pasta in a dirty cereal box I found in the bin and few loose plastic bags. Later that day I ended up eating the pasta with my hands sharing it with another homeless Australian man I picked up wandering the streets. It’s moments like this and you genuinely feel like a wild beast ( I’ve  started to resemble too).  Long gone are my days of dining in Michelin star restaurants.

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Views of the tiny village of Tortel
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Tortel, a village sitting entirely  on wooden stilts
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A brewing storm in Tortel

Drenched and absolutely frozen I ended up at Casa Maria. Maria was a different specimen altogether. She  had no visible teeth and was missing a significant amount of her fingernails. She abruptly let me in insisting I paid up front. Maria wouldn’t give you a crumb off her shoe. Thankfully I met some gas people in Maria’s and we drank carton’s of wine and sang Elton John ballads for the night. The 3 guys I met had been stuck in Tortel for 4 days and were slowly loosing their minds in Casa Maria. The ferry only leaves once per week and its really the only reason people come to Tortel. One of the germans remarked that I looked like a wild dog as I entered Maria’s Casa. He was seriously impressed with my natural formed dredlocks.  This nicely coincided with someone earlier that day repeatedly calling me signor ( I am technically a Sinorita).  In fairness to the lad i’m getting more masculine by the day. You don’t need a picture for this so I’ll leave it up to your imagination as to what I currently look like….

Dinner in casa Maria consisted of soup made with stale bread and garlic. This meal was complements of an  eccentric Spanish Man Gregorio.  Gregorio even carries his own saffron a proper gourmet. The saffron subsequently went missing that night  and we’re  all convinced Maria robbed it when she got wind it was worth a few dollar bills. It became quite clear nobody was getting on of this house intact.  The sheets smelled of cat piss and apparently Maria never changes them even for new guests arriving. We asked was it possible to leave our bags in the house the following day as our Ferry wasn’t until 11pm. Needless to say Maria refused. So the following day I was homeless and moniless in the lashing of rain with all the backpacks. Not the most ideal set up.

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Snowflake keeping me company for my homeless day in Torel
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Snowflake, Tortel’s cutest dog
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Board walks surrounding Tortel
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Tortel’s Port 

All delighted  we survived Tortel we boarded the 3 day ferry making our way to Porto Natales. We were allowed off the ferry in Puerto Eden for a 30 minute walking break.  Myself, Martha and Hosé found a random fruit shop and stocked up on apples amazed to find fresh fruit in the Patagonian wilderness.  We lost track of time and somehow managed to get lost in the smallest village you can imagine. Frantically trying to get back to the ferry  we starting sprinting.  We could hear the ferry’s horns ringing warning us it was leaving (we still couldn’t even see the ferry).  Maria ended up slipping off the board walk. It was a horrific fall and we knew it was bad by her screaming. She ended up breaking a bone in her knee. We had to wait for paramedics to come via speed boat with morphine and all sorts of injections. 3 hours later we were all on board an angry ferry. Poor Maria was in bits with the pain  and had to camp out in the children’s playroom for the duration of the trip. The ferry was great and a stunning journey through Patagonian fjords. It was also a great opp to learn some much needed Spanish. I happily ate the prison food and spotted lots of dolphins and seals en route. There was a lovely gang on board so the days flew.

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Sun setting on the ferry en route to Puerto Natales

After arriving in Porto Natales Gregorio decided to join me in my hostel which was less than ideal (another chronic snorer). I stayed in Refugio Hosken’s which was recommended by a friend in Valpo. A fab hostel with lots of young Chilains who cook everything from scratch. Gregorio’s snoring was driving me to drink. Desperate for some space I resorted to sleeping in a tent for the night. Martha, the girl who broke her knee on the ferry kindly lent me hers.

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My new home in Refugio Hoshken

In other news, I ended up throwing my visa in the bin, an easy mistake to make. Anyway with a lot of my day taken up with the police station I eventually got it sorted.  I couldn’t pitch up my tent until 11pm that night. A near impossible task. I soon realized I was getting nowhere and a gent from Germany pitched it for me. We figured out quickly the tent had holes in it and the sleeping bag was more of sheet.  I froze my arse off in the icy tent for the first night. I was so cold I ended up going into the hostel in the middle of the night to turn on the oven to try and heat up. One of the hostel workers felt so sorry for me he let me sleep in his tent. He had the complete works inflatable mattress, fleece quilts etc. I felt like I was in the Ritz! Tomorrow’s plan of action is to try and organise a trip to go trekking in one of Patagonia’s most famous national Park’s Torres Del Paine!

 

 

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Week 6: Chaiten, Coyhaique, Cerro Castillo & Rio Tranquilo (Patagonia, Chile)

I arrived in Chaiten a shadow of myself having not slept in 48 hours.  There is basically nothing happening in Chaiten. It was wiped out in 2008 when a volcano erupted. Most people ended up fleeing the destroyed town. You can still see the destruction from the eruption. There is plenty to do in the surrounding area but we all settled for a day of relaxing, eating and drinking lots of cheap wine. Just what the doctor ordered after the turbulent journey.

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The ghost town of Chaiten

The Carratera Austral is a motor way that was build only 28 years ago and it 1,240km long.  This road is famous for it’s lack of transport, shops, petrol stations but more importantly for its stunning scenery of fjords, glaciers, steep mountains and lakes. You are warned to bring enough food, water and money when travelling as public transport is a rarity. Most locals and backpackers hitch hike and camp on the side of the road. My first experience was a 12 hour bus to Coyhaique. I ended up finding a lovely Chilain mate, Cris and wore the ears off him for the solid 12 hours. Cris is travelling home for Christmas  and is taking a total of 4 days using public transport via the Carratera Austral!!

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1,240km of amazing scenery. Carrartera Austral

We were dropped off in the middle of Coyhaique at 1 am in the morning in the pissing rain. V grateful for the mates (we also picked up a grumpy American en route). I was happy not to be flying solo on this occasion. Trying to find accommodation  was almost impossible. Absolutely every where was fully booked, closed or extortionately priced for a kip of a place.  We considered camping in Cris’s 2 man tent on the street. Looking progressively worse we knocked on one last house and the grumpiest man in Chile let us in. Myself and the two random bus men squeezed into the last single bed for a cosy night. We were told we would be charged 1000$ peso’s if we used the kitchen and an additional 1000$ for the tap water. Needless to say I was on the toilet water for the night. Sick with the hunger we all shared the last of my dried oats, bleek isn’t even the word.  The conservative American was less than impressed when I asked could I borrow his toothbrush (mine has been missing for a while now). We couldn’t have gotten out of there quick enough.  I got the nod to Cris’s house for Christmas dinner so all in all a success!

With no other way of getting to the famous national park Cerro Castillo I set my alarm for 5 am to hitch hike 90 km south of Coyhaique. Delighted to say hasta luego to the moody American I set off excited about my first hitch hike on the Cattera Austral. Novelty obviously soon wore off as I was desperately trying to flag down a car. It can get quite bleek as car after car passes you by and you’re just stuck on a motor way. Diego, a Chilain saved the day and picked me up. He was en route to a soccer match and provided me with lots of beers during the journey. We said our good byes and he gave me a can for the road and a black bag (? Actually was life saving later that day).

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Not the worst place to wait for a ride, Cohyique, Carraterra Austral
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My first hitch hike on the Cattera Austral (in pj’s)

You can trek for 4 days in Cerro Castillo or what most people do is a day trek up to see the glacier and the laguna which takes approx 8 hours round trip. This is what I had planned on doing……

I attempted to find a hostel to dump the bags and get trekking. Unsuccessful and struggling with the weight of the backpack I ventured inside the national park to try and rent a tent. It was soon apparent this wasn’t an option either so I made the erratic decision to continue trekking up this steep mountain. I underestimated the trek and the weight of all my stuff. All of my backpacks and food weighed over 30kg. I had done a huge food shop the day before as it was the only supermarket for the next few hundred miles.  Needless to say, I went a bit over board and bought 1 kg of oats, rice, pasta, bottles of oil, shampoo, conditioner, wine, beer the complete works. Little did I know I would be carting them up to the top of a glacier. The steep incline was absolute torture with weather hitting 30 degrees. I started trekking at 12.30pm so I was comforted by the fact I had 10 hours to get to the top before darkness fell. I took regular breaks but with the  backpack so heavy I couldn’t take it off my back because I couldn’t get it back on with out help. I was fairly isolated for the entire trek and definitely started to question my sanity.

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Not a sinner in sight en route up the mountain

I met an incredible man John en route up who is currently undergoing chemotherapy and radiotherapy for a tumour in his lung. He decided to take a break from his treatment to visit his daughter in Chile. He was trekking up the mountain and saw how bad I was struggling that he even offered to carry one of the backpacks. An absolute superstar. Unfortunately John didn’t make it to the top but he did amazing to get so far. The heat was unbearable causing my 4 tubs of yogurts  to burst and a pound of butter to melt. The melted butter dripping down my legs was the cherry on the cake. I got attacked by a swarm of bees for the majority of the hike with them constantly stinging my skin. This made things a lot more challenging.

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Getting attacked by swarming bees
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Stunning views en route up Cerro Castillo

I don’t know what came over me but I decided quite quickly I had no other choice but to sleep on the mountain as darkness was closing in. Without a tent or sleeping bag  on the side of a Patagonian glacier it was probably one of my crazier ideas. It was without a doubt  the most physical and psychological challenge I have ever done. People coming down from the mountain were urging me to turn back but I just couldn’t. Once I set my mind to something I have to complete it. I was comforted by the fact that it didn’t get dark until 10 pm so I had time. The entire climb was a steep uphill with the terrain really rocky and loose near the end. This was actually the scariest park because the backpack was extremely heavy I kept loosing my balance. Having reached the amazing Laguna all of my problems seemed miles away. A beer with this view made it all so worthwhile.

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Laguna
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Recovery Beer

This moment was short-lived when I was told the camp site was another 1 1/2 hour walk away. At this stage my feet and shoulders were bleeding from the weight of the backpack and the bees. I trudged through it and arrived just before the sun was setting. To my delight there were two other men in the campsite a German and a Chilain I thought I’d hit jackpot and could have bunked in to one of their tents. Unfortunately they were having none of me despite me trying to sweeten them up with some wine and chocolate. My only option was to wear all of my clothes and sleep on the black bag I was given earlier that day by Diego.

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All smiles with my DIY bed for the night on top of Cerro Castillo

Needless to say I didn’t sleep all night. In fairness to the German he gave me 3 shots of rum and the Chilain guy gave me 3 cookies. Having lugged up a bottle of wine the whole way I was definitely going to drink it in the hope it might warm me up a little and help me sleep through the icy night. After 2 glasses I ended up knocking it over destroying my ‘blankets’ for the night. Things were looking fairly grim at this stage so I took a few paracetamols in the hope they would get rid of my pain and help me sleep. Throughout the night I got up  on the hour to do a few jumping jacks/sprints to try and keep warm and get the sensation back into my feet. In the middle of the grimest of situations I did actually appreciate how beautiful it was sleeping under the stars beside a glacier and laguna with them all the myself ( would I recommend it? probably not) but an unforgettable night nonetheless. I even watched a few episdoes of Narcos deciding I may as well make the most of having my laptop on the mountain!

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View from the camping site

The following morning I was up at 4am because it was quite clear at this stage sleep wasn’t going to be an option. I ate some stale crackers, cheese and chorizo and a beer (an Israli guy gave me this en route up). The hike down was extremely challenging with steep declines, painful body and lack of food (I ate all my snacks in the middle of the night to warm up). The weight of  both backpacks kept throwing me off balance and I had no trekking poles.  The bees were less of a burden this time because I wasn’t covered in butter and yogurt so I was grateful for that. Taking regular breaks I ended up falling asleep on a rock half way down the mountains which was bliss.

 

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The I survived pose. 7am on top of the Cerro Castillo.
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The views lessening my pain in Cerro Castillo

25 hours later I managed to get off the mountain in one piece. Extremely shook, exhausted and homeless I camped out at the bus stop to try and get out of Cerro Castillo. I had to wait 4 hours for a ride but eventually made it to Puerto Rio Tranquilo.  Dinner was an exquisite concoction of pasta, mayonnaise and tuna. I will never forget my night on Cerro Castillo!

Porto Rio Tranquilo is a stunning lakeside area. It’s famous for the glaciar exploradores. Myself and two other Chilain girls headed off to explore them. It was incredible we trekked for about 2 hours to get to the glacier. We were given ice crampons and spent the next 3 hours exploring the different ice sculptures and caves.  An incredible experience. I’ve never seen anything like this place. Really special.

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One of the many hidden caves in glaciar exploradores
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Trekking on glaciar exploradores
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View of Mt San Valentin from glaciar exploradores
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All of this to outselves
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Increible colours of glaciar exploradores
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There are hundreds of this hidden caves in glaciar exploradores

The following morning myself and a gang of Chilains went to visit the famous marble caves. We almost got blown out it with all tours subsequently cancelled that day conditions were atrocious. Anyway delighted I managed to see the caves. Afterwards we all tried to get the sensation back into our limbs with the most expensive tea of my life  €4.50!!!! (this didn’t include any milk). All in all a challenging week with lots of amazing (+traumatic memories).

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Naturally formed marble caves
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Marble Caves, Rio Tranquilo
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Man and Dog, Carratera Austral

Week 5: Chiloe Island

I arrived at the station planning on going to Argentina. The bus man stared at me blankly as I attempted to buy a ticket with my usual Spanish spiel. Before I knew it I was on a bus (on a boat) en route to the Island of Chiloe, not Argentina.  I had never even heard of Chiloe.  It’s a large Island off Chile and really reminds me of Ireland with its green rolling hills and coastal towns. It’s one of the most chilled out places I’ve been to with practically no tourists here, in fact there are hardly any people here at all.  Most backpackers bypass this beautiful destination because it difficult to navigate around the Island without a car. Hitchhiking is a must here!

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The sleepy coastal town of Ancud, Chiloe

I hoped off the island in a place called Ancud. I checked into the first hostel I could find after about 1 hour of walking in blistering heat. Excellent hostel (13 Lunas hostel, Ancud). The beds were top drawer. Ancud is famous for penguins with the Magallanes and Humbolt penguin living here. The following day I rented a bike and cycled out to  Puñihuil to see them. You could take a tour bus but i’m allergic to them at this stage. I underestimated the 60km cycle. The bike was ready for the bin and the tyres were as flat as pancakes. I had a pump, but in my experience pumping wheels I generally let all the air out so opted against it. I went along with the dodgy tyres. The pain was worth it for the incredible panoramic views of the coast. When I arrived, I hoped onto a boat (the tour was Spanish speaking only) I managed to get the gist of it but was in my element just watching the penguins pottering about.

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Penguins having a stroll
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Puñihuill spotting penguines in their natural habitat

Dreading the trek home, with no restaurants en route. I stopped off at a church (the only building open) and told the priest I was hungry (tengo mucha ambray). He randomly sold me a prawn empanada and a warm/dusty beer, a beautiful combo. Now that’s the kind of church I would happily attend every Sunday. He saved me big time and the cycle home was so much more manageable!

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The best church ever that sells Empanadas and Beer!

With so much to see on the Island I decided to make tracks and took a bus to Castro. Maka, my trumpet friend put me in contact with a friend of hers who lives just outside Castro. I ended up staying with Lorena and her girlfriend Kaaje for 4 days. They live in the most idyllic place with amazing views of the island. Trying to find the house was less than idyllic. I was given the instructions to get a taxi; 4,000$ or a bus; 350$. Bus it was! The instructions were to look out for a green house made out of plastic. Quite strange but sure it’s Chile so anything goes. After hours of trying to find a house made out of green plastic I started asking randomers but to no avail. Literally drenched in sweat and getting desperate  I ended up asking 5 different houses did they know Lorena showing  every passer by her photo. The delirium was getting to me. Afters hours of trekking up and down the mountains with my 4 backpacks a random man pointed me in the right direction.

It turns out they live in a normal house they just have a green house (for vegetables!!!). It was such a treat having my own double bed and private  bathroom and some much needed laundry! Absolute heaven.

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Castro’s church made entirely of timber

I ventured to Chiloe National Park where I met a lovely Peruvian girl, Meriza and Swiss guy, Stefan. We were literally the only ones in the park. Crazy!  Stefan was hard core and ended up sleeping on the beach (no tent /no food/no water). He ended up leaving his passport and all of his money somewhere on the beach and we went exploring for hours and we all feel asleep. We eventually made our way back and luckily Stefan’s goods intact. An awful ejet but I most likely would have done the same thing. Myself and Meriza obviously missed the last bus home but experts at this stage managed to hitchhike off a grumpy old man.

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Stefan’s accommodation for the night!
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Foliage in Chiloe’s National Park
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Refreshing swim in the lake/ Pacific Ocean in Chiloe’s National Park
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Miles and Miles of deserted beach

The food in Chile has been fairly bleak to say the least. I’ve been on the coast for  weeks now but it’s actually really hard to find good seafood. They are big fans of deep fat frying everything and are hot dog obsessed. A specialty here is completo: A hot dog laced with mayonnaise, guac and ketchup. I haven’t actually tasted one but they look pretty violent. The three things I’m missing most are good coffee (Brian you’d be proud I’ve been drinking minging instant coffee on a daily basis), dark chocolate ( a sub average bar of chocolate here is the same price as wine, wine will win any day of the week) and cheese (the cheese here is more of a texture as opposed to a taste really awful shit). What I would give for one of Úna’s mince pies with freshly whipped cream and an Irish coffee and mulled wine.

So because the food is bad and overpriced I have been cooking most meals in the hostels. In fairness to Chile they do excellent avocados (paltas). I have them pretty much every day. To thank Lorena and Kaaje I offered to prepare a meal for them. With the days jam packed my only option was to cook the meal in the middle of the night, not a problem with my insomnia issues.  The menu was Rice ( leftovers from phone recovery operation) and mango chicken (inspired by Senong) and apple crumble for dessert (rotten apples were on discount). The meal was edible helped massively by the two bottles of wine.

From Castro I took a day trip to beautiful Dalcahue. From there I hoped on a ferry to go explore some of the nearby islands. Once again completely deserted. Where are all the people? I did a stunning coastal walk which stretched for miles and I had it all to myself. I was looking forward to some seafood on the island but everywhere was closed so I settled for a stale cornetto.

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Coastal walk in Dalculae, Chiloe

Gorgeous few chilled out days in Chiloe but am looking forward to seeing some humans again. Travelling down south towards Patagonia is not straightforward, not cheap and extremely confusing. I considered getting the Navimag which is a popular ferry that takes you from Puerto Montt to Puerto Nalates in 3 nights and 4 days (covering almost 2,000 km). Its’ over 400$. I’ve opted against the Navimag and am planning on DIY (ing) it.

I left Chiloe  island by taking the ferry at 3.00am (obviously I thought this was 3.00pm). This left me with plenty of time to kill. After a few too many vinos I stumbled onto the ferry. The party soon ended. The ferry itself felt like Antarctica, absolutely baltic. I forgot to wear clothes. I would have paid someone good money for their blankie. I just kept eating peanuts to try and warm up (didn’t work and now I just hate peanuts). I identified at least 10 different culprits of snorers (Snorla & Storm Cian you have serious competition). An appropriate soundtrack for a torture chamber. Absolutely abysmal.  I was blaring  Eminem to try and drown out the snores until my earphones also had enough and kicked the bucket (I don’t blame them). I desperately found 1 earplug on the floor which I had no choice but to use. A grim first experience on the ferry. I will be better equipped next time with surround sound, wine, food, multiple ear plugs, whiskey and more wine!

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Ancud’s rocky beaches
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Puñihuil, Ancud
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Chiloe National Park’s Tour Guide; the happiest dog on the Island
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Flock of birds in Puqueldon Chiloe
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Necron’s Timber Church, Castro

Week 4: Valparaiso & Pucon

My time in Valparaiso has finally come to an end with my credit card eventually arriving in Santiago. I reluctantly left the addictive city of Valaparaiso. 2 days  somehow turned into 3 amazing weeks with some special people along the way. My final days included a visit Las Docas just outside Valparaiso. Squeezed into the coolest car ever I was on the verge of pucking for the entire trip. Well worth the turbulent journey. We arrived in the afternoon and did a cool hike around the forest areas until we reached a secluded lake where we went swimming.

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Nacho & Mirko
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Flo hiking to the waterfall in Las Docas
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Watching the sun set in Los Docas drinking red wine: Tough going

The beauty of hostels is you don’t know who your going to meet. So with the arrival of the eccentric character Senong (conveniently pronounced Seán). We hit it off immediately and we became instant cooking partners. He is 69 and backpacking around the world on his own. He’s very tapped but then again so am I, so we have a good giggle. After a heavy night of jazz and boozing myself and Joe polished off  the last of Senong’s cheese, absolute murder scenes in the kitchen the following day. I’ll definitely miss this funny fish.

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Senong acting as my body guard for the day carrying my pepper spray!
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He is almost 70????

An extremely hungover and dehydrated Ró eventually managed to find Niall’s house in Santiago (after about 1 hour of knocking on the wrong street). I ended up loosing one of my runners in the metro station en route to credit card retrieval . Probably just as well my bag weights a ton. Cheers Niall for organizing the credit card. Turns out I really needed it. The following day I left my debit card in a bank machine and a legend of a man ran after me with it ( I promise Úna this is the last time) .

After a 9hr overnight bus I arrived in Pucon, a beautiful lake town with lots of hot springs, volcano’s and an abundance of national parks. I am staying in Chilli Kiwi Hostel just over looking the lake a seriously impressive view and good hostel.

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View from the Chilli Kiwi Hostel, Pucon

A German couple in my dorm said they were taking an early bus to El Cani National Park to do a 9 hour hike (22km).  I ended up third wheeling with them ( wouldn’t be like me). It was absolutely stunning.  We were treated to some serious panoramic views from the top of the climb where we stopped for lunch. The lunch itself was was fairly bleek  and consisted of stale bread, margarine and parsley. I was so hungry that it actually tasted fairly gourmet. We ended up picking up a beautiful Colombian Man, Juan on the way down. A gang of us finished off a hard days climbing with some well deserved Cervazas.

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Stunning Scenery in El Cani National Park
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Myself and Joe at the top of El Cani.
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Snow ball fights in 30 degree heat? Bizarre. El Cani National Park

One sunny afternoon myself and Joe packed a picnic and an extra large bottle of wine and rented Kayaks to visit some of the many beaches around the Peninsula. This was my first time kayaking since a horrific kayaking incident in Cambodia a few years back (v long story). It goes without saying that I have learned absolutely nothing from it. We packed the kayak up with grub, camera, phones and vino. Not realising how turbulent the water was we ended up drifting into the middle of the lake and the kayak started to fill up with water from the waves. Frantically paddling, we eventually managed to find a ‘beach’ someones back garden essentially. Obviously I thought it was an appropriate time to take a boomerang (Instagram video thing for the older generations reading this). Anyway I dropped my phone into the lake. That night, phone submerged in pasta (I had no rice) we all prayed for a resurrection. It’s kind of essential having a phone here for music, google maps and contacting people etc (the general features of any phone I suppose). Despite phone incident Kayak was fab we had the lake to ourselves with magical views of the volcano and lots of hidden beaches along the way.

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Joe pre turbulence  with Volcano Villarrica in the background

One of the biggest attractions in Pucon is climbing the Villarica Volcano (South America’s most active Volcano). It’s not cheap at €100 but you can’t go alone. It only erupted 2 years where the erruption exceeded the height of the volcano. There was a group from the hostel who had to turn back during the climb because the winds were too strong. They don’t take any risks and are extremely strict. You need ice crampons, gas masks and protective clothing because of the fumes from the lava. With the phone missing in action my dorm mate Philip kindly set his alarm for 5am! Philip is Brazilian and has been teaching me ‘Spanish’ for the past few days turns out he’s actually been teaching me Portuguese!!! Qué pena!

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The following day’s challenge: Volcano Villarrica

There were 12 of use signed up for the volcano trek. When we arrived at the base of the Volcano the weather was fairly grim and the guides advised us to leave it and try and again tomorrow. We all agreed and  I extended by stay in Pucon by another night. All geared up and packed lunches brimming we decided to check out Huerquehue National Park to make the most of the day. I ended up with a gang who didn’t like walking so I managed to convince one of the lads, Chee to come explore  further with me. We ended up horrifically lost. It was a treacherous route walking on frozen lakes, ice, snow and waterfalls. We subsequently found out that side of the park was closed off as a girl recently went missing and had to spend the night in the forest (luckily she was found the next day). Needless to say we missed the last bus home but no fear I secured us a lift home by hitch hiking off a local with my Spanish/Portuguese. Myself and Che had good craic and I definitely appreciated the company. He is an accomplished anesthetist in the states  who also wants to abdomen ship on his carer and become a professional tour guide( he might need to scrub up on his mountaineering skills).  Back late that night we started getting ready for round two of Volcano climb praying the weather would clear. (some poor fecker was on his third attempt of the volcano).

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Chee attempting to cross a river using a fallen tree in Huerquehue National Park
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Getting lost in Huerquehue National Park
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Stumbling across Laguna Los Patos in Huerquehue National Park

Some people in the group were packing obscene amounts of foods. One chap from Germany had 6 sandwiches, chocolate, Gatorade, Lucozade tablets, biscuits, nuts and dried fruit (not including his continental breakfast). He would have been well equipped to attempt the summit of Everest with all his grub. The climb itself is tough around 5 hours up and 1 down but definitely not the hardest thing I’ve done. There is an option to take a ski lift up at the beginning which cuts out 1 hour of uphill ice climbing. It costs a steep $10, 000 peso (if you’ll ptp) so I opted against it. It was only me and an Israeli lad left to tackle the Volcano. This was tough because we had to try and catch up with the rest of the group . Our pace was fast and breaks were limited we ended up catching up with the rest of group just before sumitting which was great. We were delighted after the challenge. The feeling at the top is surreal. We saw lava (which is apparently quite rare). We couldn’t have been luckier with the day we could see for miles absolutely  spectacular.

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Trekking up Volcano Villarrica

Going down was the best bit. You can either ski or snowboard down (at additional cost) or slide down the volcano using a nappy. No joke you literally just slide down the side of a Volcano using a piece of plastic. It was insane you go so fast. The day ended with me  badly needing to pee, unable to hold it in after 7 hours. I just went on the side of the volcano with a random woman covering me with her coat. A few unexpected skiers were treated to some nice scenery on their way down. It’s not the first and it won’t be last! Happy heads and full bellies (for some people) we all headed back to the hostel for some delicious happy hour craft beer.

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View from inside Volcano Villarica
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On top of Volcano Villarica
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Myself and Chee at the summit of Volcano Villarrica
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Amazing views on en route up to Volcano Villarica