Friday, March 27, 2009

Torres Del Paine, Chile

From Ushuaia we jumped on the bus for a 16 hour bus and ferry ride off the island of Tierra del Fuego and into Chile for a few days to do some hiking in South America´s most popular National Park: Torres del Paine. The park is approximately 1810 sq kms in size.


Have we mentioned that the weather in Patagonia is erratic? It is mostly the knock-you-off-your-feet winds that are the dangerous part. Not only did they knock us off our feet, they also changed bright sunny and even a little bit warm mornings into blustery, rainy, cold afternoons. In the picture below, we started the day with no jackets and our pants rolled up. Here, Rebecca is standing in the blowing wind, soaked from the hiking the last 2 hours of the day in a down pour! The flag on the left is the Chilean flag and on the right is the flag for that region of Chile.


To access the park we travelled by bus from the town of Puerto Natales for 2 hours on gravel roads. On the way we saw these guanacos grazing in the plains as the base of the rolling hills. Guanacos are part of the llama family and are pretty tame in the park. They just stand by chomping on the grass as the busses rolled by.

When we arrived at the park gates we could see the mountains in the distance. The mountains in the Torres del Paine National Park are not part of the Andes range. They were formed when lava broke through the surface of the earth and cooled off.

Many people who visit Torres Del Paine choose to hike either a 5 or 7 day loop in the park, famously referred to as the ¨W¨ or Paine circuit. We aren´t exactly set up to camp, so instead of hiking the circuit we choose to stay in a lodge located in the heart of the park. On our first day we did not arrive at the lodge until the afternoon and so only went for a short hike (3 hours) to stretch our legs. The is located on Lagoa Pehoe wich is a beautiful turquoise color. In the mountains on the right hand side of the picture, you might be able to make out the distinct bands of light and black colored granite which were characteristic of this small range of mountains.

On our first full day in the park, we decided up on a day-hike that would take us along Lago Grey to the base of Glacier Grey. The trail started at the lodge and made its way or a small pass in the foothills until we arrived at the shores of Lago Grey. Up arriving at the shores of Lago Grey, we could not see the Glacier right away, and had to hike along the shore for several hours before we would catch our first glimpse. Lago Grey(grey lake) is aptly named as the waters were a murky grey color, likely the result of sedimentation from the glacier. Before we had a clear view of the Glacier, several icebergs came into view which had broken off the glacier and were floating down the lake. The icebergs were a distinct blue color.

This picture shows our first real view of Glacier Grey and shows how immense it is.

Several hours later, we arrived at this lookout point which was perched above the toe of the glacier. The toe or end of the glacier is divided or slit into two by an island of land that you can see over our right sholders.

The sun came out for a brief moment to warm our chilled bones and cast a shadow over the edge of the glacier. To give you an idea of size...the glacier is approximately 30 metres higher than the water at this location.

The bright blue colors in the glacier came out when the suns rays shawn through it.

After an amazing day of hiking, we retreated back to the lodge for a couple cold ones and a much need semi-hot-sometimes shower. We hiked around of 30 kms that day.

On our second full-day in the park, we headed out on another day-hike which would take us along glacier fed river, Rio Frances, and up into a valley where we would be surrounded by mountains. This picture shows a downstream view from one of the precarious suspension bridges that we made our way across.


The trail ends at a lookout point where we were surrounded by mountains around us. It was as if we were in a bowl, surrounded by mountains. We rewarded when we got to the lookout by sunshine and clear skiies. Everyone we talked to at the lodge said the the summits were hidden on the previous day by a thick cloud cover.


After enjoying a summit view and having a snack, we made our way back down the valley to the lodge. On that same day, before getting back to the lodge and after enjoying a sunny morning, we would get pelted by snow and rain for several hours.

The following picture is taken of the most famous peaks in the range, a series of 3 granite towersa (cerre torres) that are arranged along a line north to south, which we referred to as the three sisters. The granite peaks are popular destinations for elite rock climbers and mountaineers.
If you have a high-speed connection, we have attached a short video for you too check out. This clip gives a 360 degree view of the French Valley(Day 2) once we reached the lookout.

video

It was really hard picking which pictures to show you from our time at Torres Del Paine...we have more than 100 hundred images and look forward to sharing more with you when we get home. By the end of our stay in Torres, our bodies were tired and sore - we did a rough calculation and figure that we averaged about 25 kms a day hiking.

Argentina Fun Fact #3:

Argentine people love there mate. As soon as we crossed into Argentina at Iguazu falls, we noticed that everyone around us was sipping, through metal straws, a strange drink that had green leaves floating on the top. Mate is an infusion prepared by steeping dried, chopped and ground leaves of the South American Planta - yerba mate. Hot water is poured into a unique gourd shaped vessel (available at most gift shops here) directly with the leaves and sipped through a unique metal straw that has a small filter on the end of it. The drink is a stimulant and is high in caffeine. We have both tasted it now, and the closest thing we can compare it too is green tea. More than just a drink, drinking and sharing mate has a long list of rules and traditions associated with it. According to tradition, mate is not shared with just anyone, because in sharing mate, you share your soul.

Epinada Count:
Chris - 31
Rebecca - 30

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Fen Del Mundo

Greetings from Ushuaia, Argentina which is also referred to as
Fen Del Mundo (the bottom of the world).

After some deliberation, we decided to fly south from Buenos Aires to Ushuaia saving us bussing all the way down. As much as we were looking forward to seeing some of the landscape, one way is enough and we decided we would get our fill as we work our way from Ushuaia all the way north...maybe too Peru. Arriving in the airport in Ushuaia was a bit of a shot to our bodies - after spending 6 weeks in warmer climates, we were greeted by the cold temperatures and high winds of southern argentina. We reluctuantly pulled our pants (and even our toques) which were buried at the bottom of our back-packs.

Ushuaia´s claim to fame is that it is the southern-most city in the world. The town has a small airport but more importantly serves as an important port town for people heading south to antararctica. Ushaia is located on the southern shores of the island of Tierra del Fuego. The island is seperated from mainland by the magellan straight, and Ushuaia is at the south end and looks out across the beagle to channel to a series of islands including cape horn. The area has seen a fair share of explorers over the years, including Darwin back in 1832.

Ushuaia is located in a region known as Patagonia. The Patagonian region is somewhat difficult to define, but is generally considered the land south of the Rio Negro which is shared by both Argentina and Chile. Patagonia is a region that we both wanted to visit badly, and thinking back it´s interesting to reflect on why. Niether of us knew that much about the region, but the word itself conjured up images of remote, untouched wilderness waiting to be explored. Now that we are here, we are able to learn more about the amazing diversificaty of habitat types (deserts, andes mountains, coastal forests) that can be found here. After settling in Ushuaia, we decided to explore some of the surrounding region and Patagonia has to offer.

A visit to the nearby Tierra Del Fuego National Park seemed in order. We decided upon a hiking trail in the park that was described as strenous, and not knowing what to expect in terms of weather we set out with our lunch and plenty of layers of clothing to add or peel off. The description of strenous was fitting, as the trail began at one of the lakes in the park and made its way uphill, eventually beyond the treeline, until we found ourselves scrambling on scree to the summit of a mountain. In the picture below, you can see the lake behind Chris that we started from. Pictures never seem to accurately depict scale, the photo was taken from a point that was already higher than the mountains on the opposite side of the lake.

The trail we were on was a little over 4 kms in length, and the gain in elevation was approximately 1000 metres. The trail took a little under 4 hours one way (and we were passing people), which means our speed was just over 1 km an hour! At the top of the mountain, we were greeted with snow, fierce winds, a beautiful view, and two french guys (just back from an arctic expedition) who agreed to take our picture.

After a strenous hike in the park, we decided to give our bodies a rest and take in a boat tour of the beagle channel. We booked with a small charter, and the only other people (besides the captain and guide) who joined us where a couple from the states.

Our charter headed out on the beagle channel, weaving in and out of small islands while the guide shared the local history of the area as well as described the flora, fauna, and wildlife. Several of the islands have become the homes of several species of wildlife including the South American Sea Lion, as well as the Imperial Cormorant. Because we had a small and quiet boat, we were able to get up fairly close to the islands without disturbing the inhabitants too much. The sea lions actually seemed happy to see us, and enjoyed barking at us and playing in the prop-wash of the boat.


After our boat tour, we walked around town and visited several musuems. One musuem was dedicated to remember Yamana people and their culture. The Yamana inhabitated the island of Tierra del Feugo for thousands of years. They were a nomadic people, travelling by boat and sustaining themselves mainly on a diet of sea lions and kelp. They did not wear any cloths, and instead rubbed the animal fat on their bodies to stay warm. They kept fires going in the middle of their canoes (on sand and clay) which were used for warmth and also used to help start fires when they went ashore. One early study that was done revealed the average body temperate of a Yamana was 38.5 degrees celcius. A core temperature that would indicate a fever to us appears to have been one of their many physical adaptations. In 1870, when the first missionary was established on the island, their population was estimated to be around 3000. By 1890, thanks to introduced disease(small pox, etc.) and rumors of some killings, the Yamana population was only around 100. Today, there is thought to be only one direct decedent of the Yamana left, a woman who is in her 80´s and lives in Puerto Williams.

After a day of rest on a boat and walking around town, we decided another hike was in order. Directly to the north of town and within view, lies Glacier Martial. This time we cheated, and took a chairlift about half-way to the observation point. Above the tree-line, we had to climb the remaining 400 metres up to the base of the glacier. The view of this glacier was actually not that spectacular, as the pitch was still quite steep and all we could see was a dirty face of snow. Perhaps more impressive than the view of the glacier, as the view back down the valley over the village of Ushuaia.


Ushuaia is an amazing place to visit. We look forward to heading north now and exploring more of what the patagonia region has to offer.

Argentina Fun Fact: Argintinians love their beef. Per capita, they eat nearly 70kg per person per year. Compare that to 43kg in the US and 31kg in Canada. Argentine beef is thought to be amongst the best in the world, because of the breed and also because of their diet. Argentine cows are free-range and feed primarily on pampas grass oppostded to corn and other food lined with antibiotics and growth hormones. This makes for a leaner, more natural-tasting meat.

Epinada Count:
Chris 25
Rebecca 24






Thursday, March 12, 2009

Buenos Aires, Argentina

Hello Everyone,
Sorry we haven´t posted anything in a while - computer access has been scarce and even when we have had access the computers aren´t always been capable of uploading photos.

We had a super first day is Buenos Aires. We headed over to downtown, the microcentre, by Subte (subway). We spent the day wandering the two major pedestrian streets, Florida and Lavalle. They are jam-packed with business people on power lunches, tourists, and other portenos (people of BA). We found another book store (we are now carrying a small library of extremely exciting reads) and managed to buy BA´s daily english newspaper, the Buenos Aires Herald. Amazing how out of touch with world news and pop culture we seem to get while we are traveling. We strolled and perused some shops and spent some time in one outdoor store called Montagne. It´s like a mini-MEC, Argentina style. All the clothes and gear are made here and we each had a little splurge. From the pedestrian streets we made a quick stop at the post office and ended up having a lively conversation (him excitied talk, us smiles and nodds) with the security guard about the prides of his country: futeball (soccer) and Evita. He took us over to some framed stamps to show us pictures of these. He was so animated and hilarious- just trying to make us feel welcome in Argentina.

From there we headed over to the Plaza de Mayo, home of BA´s main cathedral Cabildo and the main parliament for the country, Casa Rosada. There is a lot of history of protest and civil unrest in this plaza, and protesteres still come every Thursday to march for whatever is on their minds. We rested in the shade on the grass for a while taking in the huge old buildings around us.

In true Argentinian style we finished our day with a late night steak dinner and a bottle (or two) of red wine. DELICIOUS. An excellent cut of beef grilled to perfection will cost you approximately 7-10 Canadian Dollars, while an average bottle of good wine costs you about $3 Canadian Dollars in the grocery store.

Day 2 in BA was just not as great. The theme for the day was booking our flights south to Ushuaia. It ended up alright (as things always do) but not without a bit of a struggle that entailed at least dozen calls to the airline of which all but 3 we were disconnected, hours spent online and on the phone, and one trip to the airport- frusterating! But we got it and we leave for Ushuaia on Monday. We hope. It seems most businesses shut down on weekends completely making for some challenging planning techniques. We know the reward of having to work for getting where we want to be will pay off by the beauty of the place so we are not discouraged, just cranky :)

On our 3rd day in Brzil we decided to try and catch a glipmse into an Argentinian past-time and passion. A group of us from the hostel enlisted the services of a guide(strongly recommended for gringoes) and made our way to the stadium in BA to take in a finals match between the Boca Juniors and the Argentinos Juniors. On our way into the stadium, one of the people we were with recognized a famous player, Maradona, making his way into the stadium. We got our picture taken with Maradona but it is on a disposable camera left over from Carnaval that we haven´t gotten processed yet. Maradona played for the Boca Juniors, and has a box seat directly across from the section we were sitting. As for the match - WOW, what an experience! We were in a section with the rowdy locals. There were no seats, and it was squished standing room only. Throughout the entire match, everyone around us was singing and chanting songs to the sounds of drums and trumpets. Luckily for us, the local and favoured team (Boca Juniors) won the match 3-0. At the end of the game, the riot police went on the field and the police helicopter hovered overhead. We had to stay in our section for more than 30 minutes while the fans from the opposing team were escorted out of the stadium. Taking in a soccer (futebol) match in Argentina can most accurately be described as a relegious experience- and it was Sunday!

We have both enjoyed our time in Buenos Aires, and have agreed that it probably the coolest city we have visited so far.

Argentina Fun Fact numero uno:Unlike Brazil, there is stiff competition amongst bus companies (our usual means of travels) which has resulted in competive rates among companies but more interestingly different classes that you can travel in. From what we can tell, there are about 6 different classes you can travel beginning with the most luxurious or Super Cama, Exectivo, Cama, Semi-Cama, and Commun. From Iguazu falls we travelled on in in Cama class, and enjoyed wide leather seats that almost completely folded flat (similar to first class on a plane), meals, movies, etc.

Empanadas are our new favourite food and we are keeping track of how many we eat.
Empanada Count:
Chris 17
Rebecca 16

Foz do Iguacu, Brazil & Puerto Iguazu, Argentina

We were reluctant to move on from the Parque Natural do Caraca because we had such a relaxing time there. Plus, we knew there would be a series of long bus rides coming up. From the village closest to the Parque we took a 2.5 hour bus ride west to Belo Horizonte where we almost immediately hopped another bus heading to Curitiba. This bus was a 11 hour over-nighter. Surprisingly, it wasn't as torturous as we had expected. When we get on a bus for that long we seem to slip into a time warp and the trip passes relatively quickly. This bus stopped every 3 hours so we could stretch our legs and grab a snack and we usually took the chance to get out and move around a bit.

Curitiba is a pretty big city (1.2 million), and it mostly served as a stop over for us to do laundry and find some new books. We spent the afternoons strolling the pedestrian walkways...the mosrnings perusing outdoor markets....and the evenings eating good food and drinking cold delicious beer on outdoor patios, listening to live music.

From Curitiba we boarded another overnight bus ride. This one was 14 hours and only stopped once! Our destination was the small city of Foz do Iguacu. The city serves as a point from which to explore the nearby Iguacu Falls. This series of waterfalls is higher than Niagara and wider than Victoria. It is absolutely stunning. The falls border Brazil, Argentina and Paraguay and we were able to explore from both the Brazilian and the Argentinian sides.

The Brazilian side offered a shorter walkway leading up to the biggest falls, the Devils Mouth. All the way along the trail we caught great panoramic views of the entire falls. We had lunch nearby and then headed back to our hostel for some reading and swiming in the sun.

According to Guarani tradition the falls originated when a warrior named Caroba incurred the wrath of a forest god by escaping downriver in a canoe with a young girl, Naipur, with whom the god was infatuated. Enraged, the god caused the riverbed to collapse in front of the lovers, producing a line of precipitous falls over which Naipur fell and, at their base, turned into a rock. Caroba survived as a tree overlooking it.

The next day (March 10), we took the bus over to Argentina, went through a very lax immigration process. The border town of Puerto Iguacu is a much smaller and walkable town. We put away our Reals and got out our Pesos and tried to switch our minds from the little Portugese we had picked up to the little-to-no Spanish we know. To explore the Argentinian side of the falls we were told we needed a bit more time so we relaxed the rest of the day and decided to get an early start the following day. That was a good idea in theory but somehow our watches ended up an hour behind again! We are somehow out of the loop this way...maybe it was daylight savings time??


The Argentine side of the Falls has many different paths we could walk to get an up close look at the individual falls. We started with the lower loop and circled around to some smaller but still very impressive waterfalls. From certain points on our walk we could see the ridge where all the falls met up and poured over the edge.




Our panoramic views from Brazil were a great introduction but being so upclose offered us the chance to realize how powerful these falls are. The walkways are not just a trail in the forest along the falls, they are a series of boardwalks that cross the calmer headwaters and took us right to the edge of each waterfall.

The most impressive and powerful (and wet!) of these was the 1200 metre walk out to the edge of the Devils Throat! We had no choice but the get wet as we stood by the edge of the falls. When we looked down into them all we cold see was white mist rising from the middle. We took pictures, but we really feel like they do not do justice to what we saw.

We chose to walk back down to the park entrace (as oppose to taking the passenger train like on the way up) so we could stretch our legs. We had another long bus ride that evening. Once we were back in town, we jumped in the pool for a quick dip and went to board our bus for the 17 hour journey to Buenos Aires.



Brazil Fun Fact #4

During the past five weeks we have been exploring the south-eastern part of Brazil. When we look at a map of the country we are amazed at just how little ground we have actually covered when taking into account the country´s massive size. Brazil is the fifth largest country in the world and has a coastline of over 7,491km. We have left Brazil for now, but it is stil in the back of our minds as a place to return to at the end of our trip, perhaps this time to some of the diverse regions in the northern part.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Into the Interior

In Vitoria, we hopped on a train which headed into the interior of Brazil. We were a little sad to leave the coast(and beaches) behind, but excited to see new country-side (and ecosystems). The train ride was 11 hours long, and we got off at a stop that turned out to be in the middle of no-where. There was one bus at the train stop which we boarded, cause thats what everyone else seemed to be doing, and took the bus into Santa Barbara where we grabbed a cab and headed for our destination: the Santuario Do Caraca in Parque Natural do Caraca(National Park).

Santuario do Caraca is a church and monestary that have now been converted to an inn and are now located with the borders of a National Park. The church and monestary were built in 1774, and have only recently been converted to a small inn that is still run by the catholic church. Father Marcos was our host and his job seemed as much to run the daily services in the church than it was to be in charge of feeding the wolves at night. Yes, that's right, feed the wolves. At night. See below.

One of the main reasons we decided that the long train and bus times were worth it was for the unguided treks we were able to do while in the Parque Natural do Caraca.

Our first trek took was 6 kms long, took us through a rainforest ecosystem, and ended at a beautiful waterfall. To our surprise, once again we were the only ones at the waterfall.


Our second major hike was about 5 kms long and took us through a savannah ecosystem that the we later learned the wolf calls home.


So anyway, about the wolves...A fewyears ago, one of the preists at Caraca decided to try and get the wolves the come up to the church for food in the evenings. Bit by bit, the pair of wolves whose territory is the savannah of the park were tempted by the meat left for them each night. Now, they show up on a semi-regular basis to eat while visitors to the park wait eagerly on the terrace. Every night after we ate dinner, we went out to the terrace with our drinks to sit and socialize with other guests while Father Marcos pushed the tin pan around the concrete terrace to attract the wolves. From the pictures we saw, these didn't look like a wolf we might see in Canada, but more closely resembled what we think of as a fox, the size of a wolf, or maybe even bigger. Their name is chrsocyon brachyurus or golden short-tailed animal. They are the biggest canine in South America, ranging from 90-95cm tall and 1.45m long. Unfortunately, all we got to see was pictures as the wolves did not some to cisit on our nights there. You can check out some pictures of the wolves and the monastery by going to http://www.santuariodocaraca.com.br/

On our last day in the park, we got up early in the morning and headed out on one last hike on the most popular trail in the park that ended at another waterfall. A cool dip in one of the many pools was a perfect way to end of our time in the park.


And yes, that is a little statue of jesus behind Chris. You could find them throughout the park, usually in the places with the most beautiful views.

After the park we bussed to Curitiba which was pretty much just a stopover where we did some laundry, caught up on some emails, found a great used-book store, and even rode around on one of those touristy busses. From Curibita, we are headed to Iguazu Falls and the Argentina boarder.

Brazilian Funfact #3
Portugese is in fact Brazil's official language(opposed to spanish which many people may think).
Portugese is similar to Spanish in written form, but spoken is very different.
Translation example:
Rice - Arroz
Arroz is prounounced or sounds like ay-hoze (the r is silent).
Rebecca therefor sounds like hey-beycca in portegese. (Chris calls me this sometimes!)

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Sack-town and Vitoria

Decisions, Decisions...

We both enjoyed celebrating carnaval in Rio, but by the end of it I think we were looking forward to leaving the craziness behind, so...we decided to head further east(and north) along the coast.

After doing some research, we decided to head to the small town of Saquarema. Saquarema plays host to the national surf championships every year, is known for its small beaches and great surf. We arrived to Saquarema to find waves that were so large that they were not safe for surfing or swimming. Everybody was held up high on the beaches, enjoying the sun and staring out over the massive surf.
We made our way to the hostel(HI affiliated) we were hoping to stay at, only to find it appeared to be closed. After walking around for a long time, we settled on a skuzzy little motel. We´ll spare you the details of our lodging but feel the need to mention the bed did not have a mattress, and was made up of several unevenly sized and placed pieces of plywood. On our first night there, it was Rebecca~s turn to enjoy a bout of food poinsoning that we suspect may have been brought on by some bad lula (squid). We spent a couple of days in what we now refer to as Sack-town and have decided that Sack-town is a dirty little place that was not worth going too. To boot, when we went to leave we discovered there was no bus service east of Saquarema. Instead of being able to continue east, we had to back-track to Rio only to use a different bus company to head east again past Sack-town. Anyways, if you ever find yourself in Brazil, skip Sack-town (Saquarema). Rant over. You win some, you...

After ruffing it in Sack-town we felt like splurging a little and opted for a reasonably priced chain hotel that had rooms complete with air-con and mattresses on the beds. Vitoria is a small city that served as a stop-over and recovery place for us. We enjoyed some beach time, great food, live music, and even managed to find a book store to replenish our stock of books. Turns out we don´t have any pictures of Vitoria, so close your eyes and imagine a medium sized city(1.75 million) in Brazil.

We are both excited to board a train and head into the interior of Brazil next in seach or great adventures.

While we were in Vitoria our 1 month anniversary of being away passed.

Some things about our first month away:
Our tans are coming along nicely (Rebecca had one good peel).
We have swam until we turned into prunes, and hiked until our legs seized-up.
We have not had to put on pants yet (only shorts and bathing suits).
We regularly enjoy acai & granola for breakfast and fresh sugar-cane juice from street vendors.
We have both suffered from food poisoning once.
We have read either 3 or 4 books each.
We have seen enough speedos to last a life-time!

In summary - Brazil has been good to us!!


Brazil Funfact #2
They love speed bumps (sleeping police-man) in Brazil. Speed bumps are used through-out urban centres, and even regularly on major highways to slow you down and/or wake you up.