Pucon - Santuario El Cani by Mark Boyd

My original plan fro Pucon had been to tackle the 81km four day trek known as the Villaricca traverse, which I was very much looking forward to  -  I think -  hahahahah!  Four days of trekking around the base of the Villaricca volcano carrying all my equipment and food.... Hmmmmm. 

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A visit to trekking office to obtain the necessary permit and check conditions brought a halt to my plans, and on arrival I was informed that the route was impassable due to deep lying snow.  They wouldn't be opening the trail for at least another three weeks.  So that was that.  Instead of punishing myself with lesser multi day treks I took it easy on myself choosing to explore the local waterfalls.  With the most impressive cascades ticked off I decided I needed more of a challenge and Santuario el Cani trek sounded perfect.  What did I know about this trek?  Well it was a three to four hour 'strenuous' uphill trail.  Okay.  I could do 'strenuous' and I could do 'uphill'.  What am I waiting for?  Nothing.... Ah, how would I get there?  It was 13 miles east of Pucon.... Hmmmm bus and hitch seemed to be working so far.

The following morning I enjoyed another wonderful hearty Hostal de la Libre breakfast, grabbed my day pack and headed out to catch a local bus that went in the right direction.  I checked GoogleMaps, and jumped off the bus approximately 4 miles from the head of the trail.  The little road was quiet, but I hoped that a passing car would take pity and run me to the next village.  Sure enough after half an hour of walking a truck stopped.  I jumped in the back.  They dropped me twenty minutes walk short of the trail.  A fine warm-up for what lay ahead.

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On picking up the trail I passed what looked like a home made ticket booth come ticket table, where normally I'd have been charged around $6.00 to proceed, but with no one there I sauntered past.  The track immediately took on a more menacing gradient.  After 10 minutes of what felt like vertical ascent I passed an almost dead guy in his late fifties.  He attempted a few words then gave up....

The trail was at this point already 'strenuous'.  I was impressed.  I'd begun around 11am to give myself plenty of time and with my normally speedy pace I hoped to make the ascent in around 3 hours.

The sky was clear, the sun was baking, and maintaining hydration required regular bottle dunks in the crystal clear streams.  There was no one, this was just what I was looking for...

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As I got ever higher the terrain changed. Araucaria trees (monkey puzzle) appeared towering in to the heavens.  Some of the trees up here were estimated to be over 2,000 years old!!!  Suddenly feeling youthful in comparison to my surroundings I bound on past the lake, legs getting scratched by the sharp brambles.

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Then there was snow... What?  Snow?  I wasn't expecting that.... The path seemed to disappear from time to time. 

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I pushed through brambles and fallen trees.  Was I lost?  Then footprints would appear again from time to time, where others had lost track of the path.... The snow was knee deep in places and very hard going.  I referred to my downloaded map and I was definitely in the correct area and close to the path.  I fought on through the undergrowth.  

I passed a guided group sat on a fallen tree beside another lake.  I hopped across a clear stream.  Pausing to fill my bottle again.... It was cooler up here.... a far more pleasant temperature.  I'd made really good headway and looked like I'd reach the viewpoint within 2.5 hours.  Even I was impressed!  Then I reached an incredibly steep snow covered incline... Super steep!  How on earth would I get up this without crampons.... Eeeesh.... I wasn't looking forward to it one little bit.  I crunched onwards and upwards.  As I did so I wondered how on earth I would get back down!??

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At the top, according to my map, the invisible snow smothered 'path' turned across to the right. 

 At the top of the steep snow field..... This view doesn't tell the half of it.....

At the top of the steep snow field..... This view doesn't tell the half of it.....

It was narrow, rocky and snowy... and two little sections required the use of tree limbs to get across safely.  It would be easy to have an accident here.... an accident here would be bad news!  I followed the path/climb/clamber passing a couple of lady trekkers.  I was less than five minutes from the top.

And there it was.... A view spanning across four volcanoes with blue sky back drop.  Impressive.  A young group of trekkers sat looking out. 

 Volcanoes..... and Araucaria trees....

Volcanoes..... and Araucaria trees....

Two young american ladies a lad from south London and an Aussie chatted amongst themselves, impressed with their achievement.  I sat quietly across from them.  I ate the water based porridge and banana I'd put in to my thermos.  It had turned to a stodgy lump, and with no honey or cinnamon it was bland at best, but I need energy.... The English lad began chatting with me.  He was a lovely young fella, and offered some of their high energy, way more delicious, Oreo biscuits with peanut butter.... Oh my!  I was in calorie heaven. 

'How long did it take you to get up?'  I looked at my watch.  'Just under two and half hours.'  I replied.  All their heads turned at once, their eyes almost popping out of their heads as they began to laugh.  'WHAT??!!!' said the young lad.  It had took them almost four hours... The old legs had served me well, but I have to say the descent was already weighing heavy on my mind, and even heavier on my knees.  The youth group had said there was a bus around 4.15pm which passed directly on the road.... Then there wouldn't be another until 6pm or later.... It was just coming up to 2pm.... We all decided to go for it.

The youth team went ahead, I set off three or four minutes later.... I'd reached them by the snow covered steep descent.... One chose to bum slide, one attempted a snowboardless snowboard style, one ran taking huge steps and the other tried everything.... I wondered what would be best.  In the end I decided to just go for it.  Big striding running steps down.  The deep snow cushioned the impact and also provided a little grip due to the holes made by the pushing down of the feet.  Getting down turned out to be easy!  I left the youth team in my snowy dust... My knees were already pained, but I was expecting it, so I just ploughed down.  The last section of snowy field was a maze of trees and brambles again.  I got totally lost for 5 minutes with snow coming up to my mid thighs.  It was tough going.  Once past the snow I could really move, and I was going at quite a pace.  This was fun!

By 4pm I was down.... I'd made it in 2 hours.... I was knackered!  Hahahahaha!  I sat in the little bus shelter and waited.  I'd have liked to chat with the group for a little longer and thank them again for their kindness, but it seemed unlikely that they would be down within the next 10 minutes.  

Then I heard hollering and whooping as the Aussie lad appeared, followed shortly by the girls and Londoner.... As they approached me the bus came around the corner!  Perfect timing.  We all chatted on the bus back to Pucon.  The girls were yet to sort out accommodation for tonight, so I suggested Hostal de la Libre and they followed me there.  They loved it and booked in for two nights.  My act of kindness was rewarded with a plate of delightful pasta that evening.  Happy days!

I'd been in Pucon for 5 or 6 nights, it was time to move on.  Fabrizio (the Argentine manager of the Hostel) had mentioned somewhere in his home country.... Something about a moon....  I'd go speak to him later...

 

Cascades of Pucon by Mark Boyd

A 90's RnB band once said 'don't go chasing waterfalls', but here I was considering flouting their words of wisdom in favour doing just the opposite.  It was day three maybe even four in Pucon.  I liked it here, and I loved the hostel and folks working there.  I was in an extremely easy going environment, and I liked it.  Pucon seemed to be all about waterfalls, and yesterday's one had been a beauty, but I'd heard there were bigger and better.... Really?  Once again I jumped on a bus, got off at a place I was told to get off and then began walking on an unpaved road towards the first of three waterfalls.... A local guy stopped to give me a lift, we rattled along for 5 minutes, then tackled a tiny track.  He then told me that he owned the land and that I'd have to pay an entrance fee.  I wasn't sure if this was true, but he seemed like a very genuine chap, ahem, so I passed over the £3.00 and walked on.  The waterfall was impressive.  It was loud... But it wasn't overly stunning. 

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I walked back out to the track and continued trudging.... I think all in all to get to the final fall I'd be looking at around 20 miles of walking, with a few intermittent car rides.... I walked for almost half an hour when two British ladies pulled over and gave me a ride for almost 2 miles... They were off on a little guided walk.  I wandered in to the next waterfall.... This one had a little pay booth and families playing around, an altogether more touristy affair.... It was high!  It was really loud!!! It was impressive.... I clambered up a set of mist sodden, slippery, wooden steps, then hauled myself higher, going off the beaten track.... I was perched rather precariously, but it was worth it for the view. 

I wandered back out of the jungley glen, got yelled and smiled at by some local ladies who invited me over to join their BBQ, I smiled, waved and continued on my way to the third waterfall.... There were no car rides.... I just walked and walked... A dog barked, snarled and charged out of it's garden in hot pursuit of some tender Manx ass.... Then on realising the ass wasn't as tender as it looked from a distance, it hesitated, snarled a little more and awaited me to calmly pat him and stroke him.... I walked on.

When I got to within 200 metres of the waterfall I came across a little cabin with a tiny shop.  Here a man charged me almost £4.00 to go look at the waterfall.... The further along I walked the more expensive the gravity affected liquid flows became.... Just for looking!

Enroute I decided to sit and observe reptilian culture.  I watched one lizard scamper keenly in to a local 'lizard bar' and order a drink.  The barman lizard did not like the look of him one little bit, or maybe he was underage, but either way, he refused to serve him and kicked him out.  Sad times.

 Your finest ale barman!

Your finest ale barman!

The third and most impressive waterfall was thunderous and huuuuuuuuuuuge!  Sopping mist filled the air.... So I decided to use my iPhone as I had with all the day's wet cascades.  It really was a massive, beautiful waterfall.....  The volume of water was incredible.

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Walking back out towards the main road I found myself a tad tired... The baking sun, lack of breeze and rough road had left me whacked.  And with about 45 minutes of walk remaining, and no water in my bottle I wasn't looking forward to it.  Then a kind soul and his little girl pulled over and gave me a ride not only to the end of the unpaved road, but all the way back in to town where we both lived.  I could have hugged him!  I wandered to the supermarket grabbed a beer and cooked up some food.  Tonight I would relax in front of the wall mounted screen.

Getting to Pucon.... by Mark Boyd

My bus was departing at 3pm, I enjoyed breakfast, then went back to writing and editing images.  The lovely lady who ran Dorodtea with her husband wouldn't take anything for laundering my trousers... Probably just happy to have nice smelling clothes around the place.

As usual I sat staring out the windows of the bus hoping to see wildlife.  As the sun was getting low in the sky I eventually got to see one of the smaller creatures I'd been hoping to get a glimpse of, the Patagonian Hairy Armadillo, it was scampering along the edge of a field alongside the road.... Tremendous!  The bus arrived at the airport at 6pm.  I checked in for my flight to Santiago which departed at 8pm.... The turbulence was excessive and very displeasing to my uneasy flying nature.  I listened to various podcasts on health, sleeping and digestion (yep, I'm dull as dishwater).  The plane landed at 11pm.  I already had my sleeping place in Santiago airport.  The far end of the second floor and up some stairs brought me to a lovely rough carpeted area outside a couple of airport offices.  Obviously everywhere was closed.  There was no one here.

At 2am security came up and moved me a long, stating that I couldn't stay up here (in the lovely peace and quiet) and would have to return to the bustling airport below.  I deflated and rolled up my sleeping mat and found another quiet spot.  My bus to Pucon left at 10.15am across the road from Santiago airport.  The journey time was 7.5 hours. 

The actual journey time was actually 4 hours longer at 11.5 hours, as we rolled in to Pucon at 9.45pm under the night sky.  The Volcano Villarica looked amazing as the last shards of light cast a pink hue over the snow.  I was hoping to do a two to three night trek around it's base.... but that would need further investigation.  I walked around trying to find my hostel.  On finding my Hostal Libre I realised what a great view it had of the volcano (which had a substantial erruption in March 2015 where almost 3,500 locals were evacuated, the Google images pictures are impressive!), this was very pleasing.

I was met by Fabrizio, a lovely full of life Argentinian gentleman.  He showed me around the wonderful hostel.  I was going to like it here.  Fabrizio went on to tell me about the amazing waterfalls all within close proximity to Pucon.  Buses and walking, or maybe hitching, we'd see.

The following morning I rose nice and early.  I headed down to make coffee, only to be greeted by a delicious breakfast of eggs, fruit, toast, bread, cereal, milk, yoghurt, juice along with tea or coffee.  It was awesome!  

 The Hostal, with Villaricca, the local volcano in the background.... Impressive!

The Hostal, with Villaricca, the local volcano in the background.... Impressive!

I decided to head to Ojos Caburga, a series of beautiful blue waterfalls only half an hour away by bus.... I waited over half an hour for a local jalopy to arrive, but when it did, all I needed to do was ask for 'Christ on the Cross' in Spanish.... The bus driver would stop and I would then follow the track.  I think I went a little further than Christ, and found myself on a gravel road, that when vehicles passed I became engulfed in clouds of dust.... I stuck my thumb out and the the truck slowed to a halt beside me.  They knew were I was headed.  We spoke in Spanish, I understood very little, and they understood very little of my Spanish.... We all laughed and smiled so the atmosphere for the next 5 minutes in the truck was nice.

They threw me out at the trail, I paid my entrance feel to the land owner and walked for 10 minutes before I could hear the sound of water.

 Oooooh a prety pool, with cascades of water.... very nice.... iPhone 6 panoramic.

Oooooh a prety pool, with cascades of water.... very nice.... iPhone 6 panoramic.

The thundering sound of water became louder and louder.... I descended the wooden steps in to the shady, glen like area.... The greens of the foliage and the aqua marine blue of the river was stunning.

 After a little clambering I found myself at the top of the waterfall on the left in the previous image.... Don't fall!!!  Sony A7rII camera, Zeiss Batis 18mm lens, Big Stopper lens filter.

After a little clambering I found myself at the top of the waterfall on the left in the previous image.... Don't fall!!!  Sony A7rII camera, Zeiss Batis 18mm lens, Big Stopper lens filter.

I mooched around taking the various views of the waterfalls in, then sat in the sun and relaxed.

Eventually I'd need to walk back out to the road.  I checked my iPhone for the map of the area and saw that if I could clamber across the river just at the falls, I could pick up a far shorter track out to the bus stop.... The temperature was pushing 28 degrees and the sun was blazing.  I loaded my camera gear on to my back and began crawling on my hands and knees one metre to the left of where the water tumbled down to my right... The last stage necessitated a small 'leap' from one rock to another.  One that I could not afford to misjudge.  Bystanders looked on in anticipation.  Ten out of ten, a perfect landing!

Half an hour later I was back in Pucon relaxing at the hostel.  I chatted with the hens who provided our fresh morning eggs..... One of them took a liking to me and followed me everywhere.

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Then she decided it was time to rest.....  As for me....

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I grabbed a bottle of wine (wine was so cheap, under £3.00 for a decent bottle) from the nearby supermarket and some fresh veg to make a big three day curry.... maybe four!  I cooked and played guitar that evening, it was wonderful.  The big hostel was almost empty.  This was a peaceful time.

Tomorrow I'd investigate regarding the 2 night trek around the volcano....

El Chalten to the wonderful and remote Sierra Baguales.... by Mark Boyd

I got up at 5.30am, I couldn't really sleep.  The wind was howling around the roof, and the thought of hitchhiking in terrible conditions was obviously on my mind.  I prepared a lentil and veg curry, whacked it in to my Thermos, boiled all my eggs and then made banana and honey porridge oats for breakfast.

I stood on the side of the road in El Chalten.... My backpack loaded with all my gear and all my excess food.

My thumb reached almost as far out on to the road as my smile.... The smile must be welcoming, as opposed to the grinning madman smile!  My aim for the day was to reach the village of Cerro Castillo, 400km south.  Tomorrow morning I was going to meet a Patagonian Trekking and Fishing guide called Gonzalo.  A friend of a friend of a friend.  Gonzalo is the owner of 'Into The Wild Patagonia'.  Before departing Puerto Natales almost a week ago, Gonzalo and I had agreed to exchange a day of Patagonian trout fishing for a handful of photographs depicting our adventure.  Gonzalo was planning to drive up from Puerto Natales to Cerro Castillo, a trip of over 2 hours.... He told me tomorrow's weather was looking grim and we may just end up driving back to Puerto Natales until the following day.  Lovely camping weather by the sounds of it I thought to myself.  Sheesh.

Within 10 minutes Dave & Julie a lovely couple from England, on their first International road trip pulled on to the side of the road in their little hire car.  They were driving to El Calafate, and would be able to drop me at the main road junction that connects the main road towards Cerro Castillo and onwards to Puerto Natales.  Perfect.  Three hours of chatting later we were at my stop.  The wind was tearing straight down the road at around 40mph.... The sky was bright and blue, and the dust storms were frequent.  I rummaged in my backpack to get Dave some superglue.  He'd managed to break his spectacles.... Once he was all sorted I headed across the road and waited..... and waited.... and waited.... there weren't many vehicles on this stretch and I was getting blown away!  After 20 blustery minutes and around 7 or 8 cars I decided to hunker down behind my backpack to get a little shelter from the cutting wind.  It wouldn't be long before I started to feel the cold.  As cars or trucks approached I'd pop my head and thumb out from behind my backpack.... I'm pretty sure I had a wind tunnel smile on my face.... more grimace than smile actually.... then a car slowed down... Oh my Lord!!!  What a relief.  Michael and Barbara were from Poland.  They too were on a road trip.... They were headed all the way to Puerto Natales.... Hmmmm tempting.... The weather was already grim.... and if I headed all the way to PN I could let Gonzalo know that he didn't need to head up to meet me if the weather was awful as I'd be there where he lived, thus saving him a 4 hour round trip for nothing.... I decided to that 'going all the way' with my new Polish friends would be the best idea..... and was I pleased!  Around the area of Cerro Castillo the weather turned and blizzards hit.  The surrounding hills were quickly grey, then white with a light covering of snow.  Camping would have been brutal at best.  One thing I did forget was that I would now be crossing back from Argentina in to Chile...

At the border Barbara did all the speaking, whilst Michael and I carried off the docile look.  She worked for a Spanish international company, and could therefore speak incredible Spanish without one iota of Eastern European accent.... and she spoke fast too... really fast!

As they scanned our bags I remembered that I had a couple of bits of food in there.  I mentioned a piece of Chorizo, rummaged around and couldn't find it....  They found it.... It was in my cooking pot.... The lady looked displeased... and decided to continue exploring my bag for any further illegally smuggled organic items.  I knew this wasn't going to look good.  I had a very small coffee container in which resided an avocado... another small container with an apple and another with the boiled eggs... The remainder of my pack was like a game of 'vegetable Jenga', with carrots, ginger and garlic pushed in to any available spaces along with a bag of lentils and a bag of oats. I was in trouble.  The woman began to rant at me.  Barbara went on to explain that I thought I was stopping at Cerro Castillo, short of the border, and that I'd totally forgotten about the foodstuffs in my pack.... The lady asked why I'd signed the form to say I had nothing.... and this was a very good point.... I had the option to complete a replacement declaration form or pay $100.00 fine.  Pass me the pen!  Because the eggs were cooked and the lentil curry was cooked they didn't fall in to contraband items.... I'd almost been charged with vegetable smuggling.... Good heavens.  I thanked Barbara for her assistance and apologised to everyone for the inconvenience.

On reaching PN we said our goodbyes and I headed back to Dorodtea Homestay where my lovely old couple welcomed me in with open arms.  Santiago even brought me some freshly baked Chilean style bread whilst I sat on the stairs just above the radiator, basking in the warm rising air.  The following day was indeed a right off, just as Gonzalo said.  I took a rest day.... 

Gonzalo and I chatted all things fishing on the drive to Cerro Castillo.  From here we picked up a little single track road that took us towards the wilds of Sierra Baguales.... and the scenery was spectacular.  Would I see a puma today I wondered?

There was no one out here at all.... It was wonderful.  Rhea (the ostrich/emu looking bird) dinosaured about the place,

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whilst guanacos leaped and charged all over the place.... A pair of condors soared 50 metres above us.  It was wild out here.

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The final few hundred metres were offroad and through rivers, before parking up and getting the gear ready.  The air was bitter and carrying horizontally driven snow from time to time.  Flyfishing would be challenge in this strength wind, and in these icy temperatures.

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We walked for just over an hour to reach the lake.... By which time flurries of wind driven snow were becoming more and more commonplace.

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Gonzalo got to rigging up the rods..... It was baltic.  I'd never fished in such freezing and windy conditions, the wind chill bringing the temperature down to a finger aching -9 degrees celcius.  We battled on, casting across the wind.... I turned to see Gonzalo's rod raised high as he bent in to our first Patagonian trout of the session.

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 Stunning looking fish.... Returned to it's own element a few seconds later....

Stunning looking fish.... Returned to it's own element a few seconds later....

Then it was my turn.....

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After battling with the wind for over an hour, and landing two more good trout each, we decided to tuck up under the hills and get out of the wind.... In the shallows I was able to see more good trout.... and went on to land five more.

 Each and every trout was carefully unhooked and released....

Each and every trout was carefully unhooked and released....

The walk back to the truck was as beautiful as the walk out.... The same views, under different light at a different angle.... Stunning.... The huge herds of guanacos parting as we approached.  It had been a long day, we'd left the house at 8.30am and returned at a similar time in the evening.... I was bushed and ready for my bed.

Tomorrow I'd bid farewell to the little Guesthouse and the local couple who took care of me, I'd leave Puerto Natales for the final time..... I was headed towards Pucon, another 2,000km North. 

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So a bus would be the cheapest way right?  Wrong... At almost £145.00 and two days of travelling.  It turns out the most cost effective way to do this was to take a bus in the opposite direction towards Punta Arenas then fly all the way up to Santiago, then take a bus back down to Pucon.... Strange... But if that's the cheapest and quickest way that's what I'd have to do.  It would mean a night sleeping in Santiago airport, but that would do me no harm..... Onward to Pucon! 

Patagonia - El Chalten - Fitz Roy II by Mark Boyd

I woke early.  I consumed what little food remained in my tent, which consisted of a little quinoa and half and apple (held back a nugget of cheese and salami) and then headed towards the Fitz Roy viewpoint.  After following the track for a little over 10 minutes then taking a left turn for another 10 minutes strange signage suggesting that I may be going the wrong way began to appear.... You know... Danger, loose ground, stay away you're gonna die, those sorts of signs.  In addition to the off putting signage the trail seemed to whittle away to nothingness.  I checked my iPhone map against my GPS location and sure enough the left turn should have been a right.  It took almost 15 minutes of off trail boulder hopping along the river to get back to right 'right turn'.  My legs felt heavy and tired which could have been down to spending almost 36 stationary hours in my tent or maybe a lack of breakfast.... It wasn't long before the trail headed skyward at a 40% incline!  400 metres altitude gain over 1km.  My legs were not appreciating the burn, but I ploughed on over the rocky, and at times loose trail.  The overtaking other walkers process seemed to take minutes as opposed to seconds... Everything moved in slow motion up here. There seemed to be nothing left in my legs.  Every now and again I'd stop and look over the landscape.  It was impressive, as always seems to be the case here in Patagonia.  My knees wept at the strain.

It took me an hour to reach the view point.  A few small groups, couples and single walkers were there ahead of me.... Maybe twenty five people all in all.  I drank in the cool, still air whilst surveying the peak... I was tired and hungry.  Previous folks had mentioned how steep this short trek was but in all honesty I shrugged it off.  In this case 'folks' were right.  I was in desperate need of food.  I got chatting with a young Norwegian lad in his late 20's.  I was well aware there was yet a fine lake to see.  But I was feeling so fatigued, another 10 minutes of trekking was as unappealing as staying at a public campsite!  In addition to the extra few minutes, I needed to keep in mind the knee busting descent that lay ahead, followed by the three hour trek back out to the village carrying all my gear back out.... Sheesh!

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Mr Norway went on to tell me that I'd be crazy not to walk the extra few metres to see the blue lake.  He went on to tempt me further, 'You'll probably have it to yourself.'  I told him of my food situation.  'I have some food I can give you' he said, adamant that I was not leaving without witnessing the blue lake.  The excitement of being able to help a fellow traveller in need showing in his big blue Scandinavian eyes was clearly visible.   It was exciting to be offered some consumable energy.... Maybe a Snickers bar or some nuts and chocolate, anything to fuel my legs.  'I'm not sure how many calories they'll provide.' he went on to say as he rummaged about in his backpack, then pulled out a half packet of plain Snack-a-Jack style rice crackers.... I attempted to hide the immense disappointment that washed over me... This kind and generous act must remain appreciated I thought to myself.  I smiled with gratitude as I bit in to the first of one of the dry polystyrene textured rice cakes, simultaneously burning off the 10 calories it was providing through mastication... I was going to need more water!  With almost 4 hours of trekking left to get from top to bottom and then on to El Chalten I was going to burn in excess of 2,000 calories.... I thanked him again through a blizzard of puffed rice grains, headed down the slight descent, and along the frozen, snow covered lake edge, up the otherside and around until I could just about see the incredible blue lake that 'Norway' had promised.

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I walked around and found my very own rather precarious view point.  One wrong step on this loose shale and I wouldn't be climbing back up.  I sat and watched in silence whilst a chap 100 metres to my right attempted to line up a series of catalogue pose style selfies. 

As I walked back around the top of the ridge and towards the frozen edge of the lake, I passed behind a man who was in the process of 'writing' a warm, yellow inked message in the fresh snow.  One hand controlling his writing implement the other filming on his smart phone.  This really was a creative release of excess bodily fluids, the yellow stained letters with the snow capped mountains in the background negating any need to visit the post office to send a stunning vista of Fitz Roy via the standard (and more socially acceptable) medium of the postcard.  This gent was not going to be up for any handwriting awards anytime soon, but I was impressed at how long his.... message was.  I could see he clearly had a massive.... bladder.

The walk back down to camp was brutal on the knees.  I tried to move as fluidly as possible, and I was definitely far quicker on the way down than on the way up, which is not always the case.  I arrived back at my forest based camp at 2pm.  My feathered friends had kindly decided to decorate my tent with droppings, so before packing down I needed to wash off my canvas with river water.  I engulfed the final nuggets of cheese and salami whilst the tent dried, then packed down my camp.

A couple of hours later I was back in the village.  I was ravenous.  I headed in to one of the many eateries, ordered a gourmet burger with a beer to wash it down, then went back outside to sit on the veranda in the warm sun.  A basket of bread was put in front of me.  Within five minutes it was gone.  I really was hungry.  A baby face sized burger was delivered 10 minutes later which sat heavily and uncomfortably in my belly that night back at Pablo's place.  At 2am I rose to move slowly through a series of yoga poses to ease the discomfort....

I rose at 8am had breakfast with coffee, then around midday headed off on the trail to Lago Torres.  A two and a half to three trail lead up to the lake and the same trail lead back home....  It was a stunning 'big blue sky' day.  I decided to bring water, a bit of fruit and my Iphone.  I felt like travelling light.

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It took me only two hours to reach Lago Torres.  The lake itself was an anticlimax, but the walk in through the hills and valley was stunning. 

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I enjoyed the return journey just as much as the walk in, surveying my vistas from a fresh angle, with shadows being cast longer as the sun had fell lower in the sky.

Tomorrow I need to get from El Chalten to Cerro Castillo.... I'd be hitching... I hoped the weather was going to be kind.

Patagonia - El Chalten - Fitz Roy (well it did before Christmas!) by Mark Boyd

I woke early again.... had a good breakfast, loaded my gear on to my back and set off in the direction of Fitz Roy....

The trail was a joy.  A tad steep here and there, but that's what I was here for.... As I walked through a densely tree populated area I heard a drumming.... and again... there was a woodpecker about.  I wondered could it be the Megallanic Woodpecker, the crimson noggined bark buster!  A truly magnificent looking bird.  Then I spotted it!  Wow!  It zipped by before I could even consider lifting my camera.

Every now and again through the foliage I'd be treated to glimpses of Fitz Roy in the distance... and it looked as impressive as ever!

I settled for a campsite (that wasn't a campsite) on the edge of the woods, nestled against a glacial river... Perfect.  The campsite had people talking loudly... I wanted silence, or bird song, or puma roar or the rustles of foliage. 

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Having walked back up the trail 10 minutes from the campsite I erected the tent, then went exploring.  I heard the drum of woodpeckers! 

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Was it the Megallanic Woodpeckers?  I wanderered, and the drumming became louder... Yes!!! It was!!!

The big male with the crimson red head (Woody Woodpecker) 'wood'nt' stay still for me to photography....  He remained high and slightly out of reach.  I spent around an hour with these guys before exploring upstream.... 

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And what a view I had of Fitz Roy.  There was no track, just me and the wilderness, making little mental notes of where I was going so as to find my way back, and thankfully I did.

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That night I ate and prepared my gear for an early rise and clamber up Fitz Roy.  When I awoke the wind was blowing hard and the rain was falling.... There was no way anyone was going up to the base of Fitz Roy today.... I needed to just hole up.... But I was aware that my food situation was potentially not suited to a two night stay.... This was going to be tricky.

I fasted for the day.... I spent the entire day in the tent.... dozing on and off.... meditating... thinking... I'd need food tomorrow morning.... I hoped the weather was going to improve....

I slept....

 

 

Patagonia - El Chalten by Mark Boyd

With my £30 handed over the lady behind the counter pointed to where the bus would come in and depart from.  I walked outside and waited beside the other buses which were already loading up.  Each of the buses left one by one over the next 20 minutes.... Mine was late.  I walked back in to inquire.  The woman behind the counter immediately asked why I wasn't on my bus.  Apparently it had come in to a different bay to the one she had told me to wait in.  She then told me to get a taxi and chase it..... I laughed and just asked for my money back.  It was expensive enough without going on 'The Great Bus Chase'..... I told her I'd take the 10.30am with the other company.  I settled down for a couple of hours editing on my Microsoft tablet.

There was slight disappointment when the 'bus' arrived.  It had shrunk in to a rather shabby looking 7 seater mini bus, all for the same price.  The disappointment continued when we drove to the airport, and were then redirected on to another shabby minibuses.  We then waited 45 minutes for more passengers.... We were then instructed to change back to our original minibus... Fun times!  I had a distinct feeling we wouldn't be arriving in El Chalten by 1.30pm....

We stopped a couple more times at insanely windy viewpoints, which I decided to 'sit out' having seen absolutely stunning vistas already in more settle weather, before returning in to 'Rattle & Hum' to continue our journey at a snails pace.  Whilst in the minibus I got chatting with a very nice gentleman and his son (who was super into photography).  He knew the Isle of Man as he worked with Royal Skandia from the Buenos Aires office through the 90's.  Lovely chap. 

The last hour or so of the journey was stunning.  Incredible rock formations and the very imposing figure of Fitz Roy partly smothered by storm clouds.  Fitz Roy is not your standard looking lump rock.  We reached our destination at 4pm, almost twice as long as the original 8am bus would have taken.

I wandered about the town looking at various campsites.  Went in to a cafe to gain the right to use their wifi for another perusal of local campsites through the purchase of fine local beer and fries.... I found a campsite near the head of the trails and walked another 15 minutes until I reached said destination.  Next door was the local 'Drugstore', which from it's appearance may actually have been a local 'Drug store'.  I mean what pharmacy doesn't sell cigarettes in this day and age???  

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Pablo, the 'campsite' owner offered me space upstairs in the wooden house he'd built, where a couple of local folks who come to El Chalten to work in the tourist season were sleeping.  Saved me erecting my tent and sorting out my camping gear.  I took him up on it.  The floor space was dusty but sufficient for my needs.  It was also toasty!  Bonus, as it was a tad chilly outside!

Italian Sam, a lad in his late 20's chatted with me about his own adventure.  Basically walking a large chunk of Patagonia with a 'wheelbarrow' of gear in tow.... Strong... Crazy... Lovely fella.  He was cooking a massive load of pasta that evening which included a hearty portion for me.

I think I'm going to enjoy El Chalten.... Tomorrow I'm going to trek to the base of Fitz Roy!

Footnote.... I rose early the following morning but by the time my gear was ready the weather had turned somewhat grim.  I remained inside using the wifi to work then that evening wandered down in to the small town between the heavy showers to enjoy an Artesenal beer.

Patagonia - El Calafate by Mark Boyd

I bought some more camping or dormitory kitchen supplies before heading to the bus station to buy my ticket to El Calafate.   £20 seemed extortionate for the 3 hour jaunt.... But I was quickly recognising that in Patagonia buses do not necessarily mean good value, this one was better than most.... As we approached the border to cross in to Argentina a group of young travellers back up the bus were chatting about their friends getting pulled for not declaring that they were carrying  'organic matter' in their bags.... Oh bugger... I'd just spent £20.00 on organic matter... honey, fresh fruit, vegetables, cheese and salami.... I'd risk it and say nothing.  They mumbled about our bags being removed from the bus and scanned.... Was I going to be charged with smuggling groceries?  Keep cool Mark.... As it happened we passed through without a problem.... But coming back in to Chile from Argentina is a different matter (organic matter) altogether apparently!  I'd have to be careful.

The barren landscape was kind of surreal.  Flat as far as the eye could see, bordering the longest straightest roads I'd ever experienced.  I stared out the window.... watching for animals.  I saw a couple of huge foxes and a flock of wading flamingos! 

My hostel was a 25 minute walk from the bus stop at El Calafate... I dumped my bags then went to find a cash machine for Argentinian Pesos.  When I did find an ATM it charged me the princely sum of £7.00 and would only allow me the equivalent of £50.00..... Wow!!!  I needed to find a better value ATM.  Eventually I found a Santander ATM which allowed £100.00, which halved the overall impact of the hefty withdrawal charge.

El Calafate wasn't really my scene.  It was more like a glitzy, high end ski town.  Posh brands lined the high street hyphenated by fancy eateries.... The only reason I was here was to see Perito Moreno, the awesome glacier an hour and a half out of town.  I'd heard the return bus ticket was almost £40.00 so decided I'd hitch.

I rose early and walked for 45 minutes out to the edge of town where the road split in to one that went to Perito Moreno and one that looped back around town.  At almost 9am a car stopped to pick me up.  It was full of young, drunk guys.... even the driver.... damnit.  They conversed with me in slurred, extremely loud Spanish.... I tried my best to reply... and hoped we'd make it in one piece.  The driver's ability to take selfies whilst swerving all over the thankfully quiet road was second only to the lack of volume control on this passenger seat sidekick.  After an hour of antics we had reached the ticket booth where they dropped me and about turned.  It was very kind of them to go out of their way for me.

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It was raining.... and it was still a long way in to the glacier.  About half and hour drive.... I handed over the equivalent of £25.00 to look at the hard packed layers of snow and continued to walk.... thumbing at cars as they cruised past me.... It was only 20 minutes before a lovely local couple, George and Sandra (recently retired and living within 5 hours drive) stopped and gave me a ride the rest of the way.  They really were lovely.  Sandra's English was very good indeed.  George's didn't exist.  Even though they'd seen the glacier on numerous occasions they still stopped to allow me to appreciate it.  They couldn't believe how much it cost as a 'foreigner' to visit the glacier.  It was free for them.

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On reaching the car park we went our separate ways.  I followed the boardwalk out to the main viewing points.... Even from a distance it looked mighty impressive.

As I drew closer and one of the boats loaded with tourists approached to within a couple of hundred metres only then could you really tell how tall this thing was....

It was indeed massive!

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I stood watching it from various viewpoints.  Listening to it's groans of pain and creaks of discomfort as large chunks readied themselves to 'calve' from the face of the glacier.... People would cheer as huge pieces collapsed in to the sea (these folks were no doubt headed off to cheer on some Brazilian deforestation next, or maybe chuckle at the melting of the polar icecaps (shutup Mark)) displacing vast amounts of water and sending large smooth waves in the direction of the tourist boat. 

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The sky was dark and ominous, and drizzle filled the air.... It was difficult to appreciate the 19 miles that this glacier tracked back up the valley.... All in all the area covered is almost 100 square miles.... Immense.

 

At 2pm I decided it would be wise to start hitching again.... at 2.15pm it began to rain.... A few cars passed then one slowed down.... Sandra's smiley face popped out of the window.... Yay!  I'd gotten lucky.  They were staying in El Calafate too, so I got a ride all the way back..... Perfect. 

Tomorrow I'd head on to El Chalten, a smaller town in the mountains.... 

Patagonia - Lago Sofia by Mark Boyd

 Lady's Slippers beside Sofia.... 

Lady's Slippers beside Sofia.... 

Each morning I'd rise ahead of the sun and explore my surroundings. This would be followed by breakfast a little rest period, maybe some yoga then off on another jaunt. The evenings would be more exploring and walking around the local vicinity until dark.... I loved it here.

 The morning following a wet night... 

The morning following a wet night... 

The first evening I explored 'my land' and it's boundaries. Patagonia suffers no shortage of animal fences.... and only fifteen minutes up the trail there it was. The main trail ended here. But on the other side there was unbridled potential for animals and birds.... Tomorrow I would explore 'beyond the fence'. I'd found a supply of fresh water running from the top of the hills seven minutes walk from my tent. This necessitated a couple of trips each day to fill my bottles and my water bladder for drinking and cooking.

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I perched on a huge boulder as the air temperature fell away. I watched the landscape. There were no pumas as yet, but to be quite honest, I was in such a fantastic, peaceful landscape I really didn't mind.

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During late afternoon I found a variety of paw prints, none of which looked feline, but were of impressive size nonetheless.

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…. then within 20 metres of my tent I found what I suspected to be puma 'belongings'. Fairly fresh scat full of hair and fur. Promising stuff.

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On one side was Lago Sofia on the other was a huge flat top mountain where condors soared on the developing thermals towards midday.... The top of that mountain needed exploring.

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Day 2. Having explored my surroundings at dawn, eaten breakfast and sorted my daypack I explored 'beyond the fence'.

 Warming my feet on the saucepan.... 

Warming my feet on the saucepan.... 

Tracks formed mainly by cattle snaked through thick brambles, brush and trees leading to a huge 'Ayre's Rock' type formation that I'd been keen on clambering. I climbed and sat for an hour.

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The ledge I sat on provided an incredible view across the landscape. A huge grey buzzard eagle perched on a rocky outcrop as a small bird demonstrated it's dismay through a series of dive bombs. The buzzard-eagle ignored the constant barrage and continued to relax.

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Day 3. Midday I set off in pursuit of condors. I walked to the end of the huge rocky formation until it tapered down to the mainland.... Once again I relied on animal tracks to lead the way. After half an hour I reached a steep, loose, energy sapping section which lead to the top. Each time I thought I'd trekked high enough my curiosity would kick in and I'd trek on further. Each time the views improved. I found a good looking ledge then crawled on my hands and knees to peer over the edge. My stomach felt a little fruity. The vertical drop was enough to provide a slight lightheaded sensation. I could just about see my tent a few hundred metres below.

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 See the little circle and arrow.... There's my tent!

See the little circle and arrow.... There's my tent!

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A condor soared by.... I watched as it moved higher on the thermals before dropping down to eye level again. The condors huge wings generated a jet like sound as it abruptly slowed to come in to landing ledge 30 metres or so below my ledge. The displacement of air sounded incredibly powerful....

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Another buzzard-eagle flew past with purpose, again at eye-level. It was awesome being able to watch these huge birds soar by on the same level.

 Out of focus.... But worth sharing....

Out of focus.... But worth sharing....

Having nibbled on some snacks I decided it was time for a nap. Almost two hours passed by before I decided it was time to make my way back down....

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The wind had picked up during the early afternoon and it was gusty and cool. Two male Andean condors were battling over a female on the wing. The display was pretty awesome. These huge birds were tangling midair, turning, falling and tumbling. This female condor was one very lucky lady!

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 The Condor Aerobatics Team (CAT) lacked finesse.....

The Condor Aerobatics Team (CAT) lacked finesse.....

That evening after eating I decided that with the impending clear night I'd try some night sky photography.

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At 10.45pm the sky was dark enough and the stars were bright enough. It was spectacular. The air temperature had fallen back to around 4 degrees Celcius so it was a chilly session. I was keen to try out my new camera and lens combination, but the cold and the dark, as always, made everything trickier, including battery life. Discovering where and how accurate the infinity settings on a digital camera lens should not be tackled on a freezing cold Patagonian night. What was I thinking?

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After an hour or so of attempted shots I retired to wrap myself in to my sleeping bag. It was past midnight so I decided I'd treat myself to a lie in the following morning.

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Day 4. After a relaxing morning of waking, eating and packing down my gear I hoped the biologists would appear so I could get back to Puerto Natales....

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 Charging gear via solar panel..... 

Charging gear via solar panel..... 

 Ready to go.... 

Ready to go.... 

It seemed as if yesterday had been their last day of work. Unfortunate. I loaded my big pack on to my back and my 'techno' pack on to my front and began walking with the extra 25kgs of body weight. I knew it was unlikely that anyone would be driving along this gravel road, so I'd have just over 4 miles (6km) until I reached the main road. A good brisk walking pace would have me on the main road in around an hour, but with the gravel track and extra weight I'd be looking at a little over an hour and a half....

 Why does it feel so damn heavy if it's AntiGravity????

Why does it feel so damn heavy if it's AntiGravity????

On reaching the main road I constructed a new hitchhiking sign.

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Within 10 minutes I was sat in the back of a cosy 4x4 enroute to Puerto Natales. I was dropped a 5 minute walk from my favourite bar 'Wild'. I popped in to say 'hello' to the guys, supped two sun soaked beers with a good meal then wandered back up to my Puerto Natales homestay, Dorodtea.

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Tomorrow I head 300km North to Calafate and then on to Perito Moreno on of the most accessible and impressive glaciers in all of Patagonia.... El Calafate is known to be one of the most expensive places in Patagonia. Note to self, buy supplies in Puerto Natales tomorrow morning.

 Two millimetres across miniature flower.... 

Two millimetres across miniature flower.... 

 Forget me not.... 

Forget me not.... 

Puerto Natales to Lago Sofia.... by Mark Boyd

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Following a couple of days of rest, recuperation and image processing catch up whilst in Puerto Natales.... I also enjoyed three or four fantastic local craft beers at 'Wild' with young U.S. Derek whom I met whilst trekking the in Torres del Paine circuit.... That evening I found myself getting ready for bed then suffering the realisation that I hadn't paid my tab.... A forty minute round walk later and I was snuggling down in to my duvet with a clear conscience!

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I was all prepared for my visit to Lago Sofia, a beautiful spot (according to Yorch from Santiago and Gonzalo, a guide for 'Into the Wild Patagonia'.) with very few people.  Having spent two comfortable Homestay nights, along with a set of freshly laundered underlayers I was more than ready to leave the relative comfort and social scene of Puerto Natales.

With a backpack loaded with all my food, camping and camera gear I wandered along the exit road back towards Torres del Paine with my cardboard sign indicating where I'd like to go. Lake Sofia was 26km out of town, then another 6km along a gravel track.  I'd walked 45 minutes from where I was staying before I decided that the post I was approaching would make the perfect inanimate object to lean against.  There was also plenty of space for any willing drivers to pull over for pick up..... I waited twenty minutes before a big Nissan 4x4 slowed and pulled on to the lay-by.  Two female biologists who had seen me on their way in to town were now on their way back to Lago Sofia.... They were studying the algal and sediment content in the water.  Perfect!  A run all the way to the lake.  The ladies said there was every chance I'd be able to get a lift back to town in the a few days.  If I see the boat on the lake there'll be a return to town ride!

So here I was Lago Sofia...... and it was stunning!

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Patagonia - Torres Del Paine - 'O' It's Closed? by Mark Boyd

I had come to the Torres Del Paine National Park to complete a trail known as 'The O Circuit'.  This encapsulated the 'W Circuit' which I had now completed..... I was curious as to 'how closed' the O was, so that evening I decided to draw up a plan.  I put together a little day pack of snacks (not enough as usual as I was almost out of food) and I also left a note in my tent with my personal details on.  Why did I do this?  Well I was considering walking the first 10 miles (16km) of the The O Circuit, and I wouldn't be registering anywhere, so if I managed to injure myself or suffer a puma attack (pumas were the reason to walk this section for me) they discover me at some point.

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The following morning after a good breakfast I grabbed my 8kg day pack with extra clothes just in case the weather turned, and picked up the O Trail.  The sun was still yet to rise.... I made a couple of wrong turns in the first twenty minutes, but once the light improved the trail became easier to spot.  Eventually it became a fully fledged rough path.

The landscape was different here.... As always it felt 'puma-y'.... and as always I believed I was going to have my first encounter.  The path became exceptionally muddy, necessitating main trail avoidance.  I eventually came upon two well stuck ranger vehicles.  Their wheels had become buried in the soft mud which had eventually solidified around the wheels.... I wondered if this was the reason the trail was yet to officially open?  

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The bird life was exceptional on this section of the trail.  It was far quieter than the main W Trail, partly because it's more challenging, and partly because it was officially closed.  I spotted other human footprints in the soft mud which suggested there were definitely others on the trail.  There were animal prints too!

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As I entered a beautiful green glade I noticed something moving in the grass..... I edged closer and closer, moving as slowly and quietly as I possibly could.  It was a hognosed skunk.  I crouched down and began filming the snuffling creature.  I could only assume it hadn't seen me as it drew ever closer until it was almost within touching distance.  Now the last thing I wanted was to be sprayed by a skunk.  My trekking gear would be ruined.... I remained as still as a statue hoping that it wouldn't be spooked by my presence once it noticed I was there.  I held my breath.  A few seconds later it moved away a couple more metres and I took this as my opportunity to stealthily back away.  What a wonderful experience.

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I crossed a little stream and followed the trail upwards.  At the peak of the path I could see something in the distance.  It was a long way off.  Maybe it was the first camp, Seron.  I lifted my binoculars.  Sure enough, at the end of the plain there was the first camp.  It looked around 45 minutes away.... I took the steep, dusty, rocky path down on to the plain.

I had been walking around 2.5  hours when I reached a wide shallow river.  Crossing said expanse of water without totally soaking my boots was going to require a little reconnaissance combined with fast forward movement.  By now the wind was howling under the bright blue skies.  Ten minutes later I was on the other side stomping my way across the plain.  Two guys were walking in the opposite direction to me.... Would I be getting told off for being on a closed trail?  I shot them a big smile as we walked by one another asking how the other's were doing.  Perfect!  I noticed another couple of trekkers on the same trail but different path, again in the opposite direction.  It seemed I was not the only 'naughty' walker in Torres del Paine.

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A pair of Patagonian Lapwings began to shriek and dive bomb me, they had obviously chosen to build their nest within 50 metres of the walking trail and weren't happy with the unwelcome passers by. 

Fifteen minutes later I arrived at the camp... I was surprised to see a guided group packing down their tents.  Interesting!  Everyone was at it! 

It was still before 9am so I decided to continue walking for another hour.  As I did so I scoured the hillsides for pumas, but nothing.  

On reaching a pretty lake I decided to take shelter from the stiff, cool wind and just meditate in the silence.  I loved the idea that I could be the only person in a circumference of 5 miles or more..... I wished I had been camping out here.... 

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I spotted movement on the trail in the distance.... It was another big guided group.  What was going on?  I thought this trail was closed (to everyone but me!).  Then another group followed on..... Hmmmmm, closed indeed.  Apart from these groups and the porters carrying all their gear it was perfect.  It was silent.... It was amaaaaaaaaaaazing! 

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As I sat there taking it all in I could feel a slight fatigue in my legs and body not only from today's 4 hour stomp, but also yesterday's 6.5 hour steep up and down to The Towers.  I knew I was going to be much slower on the way back to camp.  At 2pm I began the return leg of the trek.

The half way point was the steep ascent having passed through the camp.  It was hard work.  My feet were hurting and my legs were tired.  The sun was strong and bright but the brisk wind kept the temperature down.  After the decent back down to 'skunk glade' I rested on an old dead tree and watched a woodpecker work it's way along the ground searching for ant's nests.  I estimated reaching camp at 7pm if I could maintain my current pace.

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....... and that's what happened.  I sat to ease my feet a couple more times whilst wishing I had more food with me before dragging my backside in to gear and continuing. 

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The light was wonderful during the final 30 minutes to the camp. 

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On reaching the tent I collapsed down on to my bum and sat.  I eased my boots off to allow my feet to breath.... ecstasy....  I disappointedly assessed what food remained.... I needed a tin of tuna to accompany the pasta and remaining tomato passata.  The thought of walking to the little tiny shop 20 minutes away was as unappealing as having nothing decent to eat for dinner following a total of 9 hours rough ground trekking..... The tiny shop was closed.... The shop keeper was on a break.... I sat on the step awaiting her return.... 'Back in 5 minutes'.  Twenty minutes later the young lady reopened the tiny retail outlet.  I grabbed tuna and three fresh eggs.  I dawdled uncomfortably back to camp.  I cooked, ate and then fell asleep before 8pm.  I was completely shattered.

 

Patagonia - Torres del Paine - Los Torres! by Mark Boyd

It was 4am.... I was awake far too early... The morning was still holding on to it's dreams.  I fired up the stove for coffee and breakfast and relaxed.  I needed a hint of light before leaving the warmth and relative comfort of my tent and by 5.15am the landscape became visible amongst the blue shadows.  I headed off....

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I was told it would take between 3.5 and 4.5 hours to walk from the camp to Los Torres.... It would take the same to walk back down depending on the terrain.  I walked quietly and quickly, frequently stopping to view the hillsides with my binoculars.... Come pumas.... Show yourselves....

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At 6.10am the sun glimpsed over the distant hils, casting a the most beautiful golden highlights upon everything it touched.... The blue shadows began to take on a deep pink hue... The snowy peaks blushed pink... This next few minutes was going to be stunning.  I stood still in the silence and watched the golden highlights trickle gently in to the ever diminishing shadows....

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I was enjoying this section of the trail, there was plenty of hillside to scope out.  If felt like puma country (I'm not obsessed... honestly!).  I seemed to be covering ground at a good pace reaching the expensive camp and restaurant only an hour and half from Los Torres.  I had seen no one.  Setting off at 5.15am meant that hopefully the sunrise crew would be on their way back down from the top and the 'normal' folks and guided groups would set off no earlier than 7am and as late as 10am.

The last half hour of the Torres trail is notoriously steep.... it's notoriety should cover more aspects of trekking.... Such as the roughness of variety of surfaces.... From huge, slippery boulders to clamber over to soft, traction-less energy sapping shale.  It's a good push.  

A chap and his lady were sitting off the side of the streamy, boulder section.  'Do you have any painkillers?' they asked..... I inquired what the matter was.... He'd only gone and broken his leg... Eeeeesh.  I offered him my jacket and some cookies, which they politely declined.  He informed me that two others were on their way down to inform the rangers.  I informed the remainder of the sunrise crew who were on their way back down, to have any medication at the ready for the 'broken American guy' at the side of the trail.  It was 7.45am.... I had a feeling he was in for a painful descent.

As I drew closer to the top the trail seemed to disappear amongst the sandy coloured boulders.... A few little wrong turns whilst looking for tiny wooden markers ate two or three minutes.  I was still feeling strong.

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The last group of four were grabbing a few selfies and group portraits before they departed..... Before I knew it I was alone.  I perched myself upon a big flat boulder and stared across the small lake towards the infamous Towers.... They were indeed beautiful.... But I have to say I was more impressed with Britanico, which probably isn't as famous because there'd be at least one night camping and two days trekking involved in visiting.

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An Andean Condor leaned out from one of the peaks to the right, opened it's wings and soared across the azulean backdrop.  This wasn't a bad place to spend an hour or so.  I cracked open my Thermos and enjoyed my second breakfast of the day.  It had taken only three hours to reach The Towers, and at 10am I decided to make my way back down.  I was hoping to bump in to young Derek as we'd missed one another at the camp the evening before.  We had walked together for an hour the day before on the trail, before I told him to plough on as I was taking it slowly.  We agreed to meet at the camp in the evening, but neither of us realised how many tents would be there and how big the area was!  Sure enough I bumped in to the big fella only twenty minutes in to my decent, we chatted for a few minutes and then went out own ways, once again agreeing to meet up in the evening (which we didn't manage again!  Hahahaha!).

The broken American had been carried by one ranger and a group of male trekkers down to the next open area.  I assumed from here there'd be a helicopter coming in.  Perfect weather and a big open space.  I chatted to his girlfriend who was pretty teary by now, the broken American was covered with a foil blanket, face and all, and wasn't in a chatty mood at all.... Poor guy was in agony and had no pain killers.... He'd been broken now for 4 hours.... I hung around but was told there were more rangers on the way.  They had a huge wheel barrow type contraption with a stretcher fitted to it.  Rather him than me.... Good heavens.... Feeling surplus to requirements I continued down.

Every now and again I'd hear an English fella chatting to folks on their way up.... He was just behind me.  We were both going at a fast pace.  I could hear him singing to the tracks on his iPhone, but couldn't quite work out what I was hearing.  He chatted to another small group telling them about the Broken American, I slowed a bit to allow our gap to close.  He was from the North.  Manchester by the sounds of it..... Manchester?  I said to him as he closed the distance.  How'd you know?  He said.... Because I'm listening to Oasis?  I laughed.... Jake was fast becoming the finest example of a Mancunian Stereotype I had ever encountered.... We walked together for around an hour together, then he marched on ahead.... Jake was shifting, and by now my feet were a tad sore.  He said I'd probably catch him up as he began to slow down.  I thought to myself it's more likely that his knowing everyone on the trail will slow him down.  

Sure as anything I spotted Jake in the distance, he was on the final steep descent, chatting to a group of well spoken and well aged English folks.  He joined me as I passed.  By now we were both feeling it in the feet and legs.... It was a long steep descent.... and we knew we had at least another half hour walk on the flat once we were down.  Jake had a bus to catch.  I accompanied him to the Torres Hotel where he'd left his main bag.  From here he'd be catching his bus onwards.  I'd been off line for almost 6 days and was aware that I'd told Hem I'd be back in touch within 5 or 6 days.... I asked about the wifi in reception.  HOW MUCH??!!!  Ten pounds for an hour.... Good Golly Miss Molly.... I told the girl on reception I needed to send one email.  She kindly allowed me to use her laptop.... I asked Hem if she could also let my folks know that I was safe and sound.  With that done I walked with tired legs back in the direction of the camp.  My feet were aching.  I kicked off my boots and collapsed on to the warm grass outside my tent.  I then rummaged around inside and discovered the last of the sweaty cheese and 'on the turn' salami.... I bolted down both.... I was ravenous.  I needed a shower.... and so did my socks.... Once I'd showered in my socks I decided I needed something to go with my pasta tonight.  I had nothing.  This necessitated yet another walk of around 45 minutes to a tiny hut style shop which sold overpriced necessities which shared counter top space with overpriced luxury goods such as cans of beer.  I had the equivalent of five pounds on me.  This would get me three eggs, a tin of tuna, a sachet of preserved tomatoes.... The can of beer was almost four quid and was staying on the counter!  

Dinner was amaaaaaaaaazing!  Obviously!  I was asleep by 8.30pm.

Patagonia - Puerto Natales to Torres del Paine..... by Mark Boyd

Yannic sat down beside me.  He was on a semester in Santiago, but had a few days break to walk the 'W Circuit' at Torres Del Paine.  We chatted for the best part of two hours as the bus rolled in to Puerto Natales.  We arranged to meet for food and beer later,  The next hour would be spent sorting out my gear for the 8 day 'O' circuit.... I'd leave anything I didn't need at the hostel, and collect it on my return to Puerto Natales (PN).  This preparation included purchasing supplies at the local supermarket.

I met Yannic at his hostel.  We'd both heard that the 'O Circuit' was yet to open for the season, which thus restricted my plans to the 'W'.  My plan hadn't originally been to leave for Torres Del Paine until the day after tomorrow, but as Yannic and I got chatting, I thought it may be nice to have some company for a day or two.  I agreed to join him on the early bus the next morning.

During the night I could hear the rain hammering down.... It sounded awful.... At 6am it was still hammering down.  Poncho donned and bags covered I wandered to Yannic's hostel, then onward to the bus station where I purchased my return ticket for twenty GBP. It was a miserable day.  The bus journey took a couple of hours to reach the National Park office.  Here we paid our entry fee of twenty seven GBP and completed the registration forms along with the rest of the park visitors.  It was still raining outside.  Half began their trek from here, the other half including myself and Yannic, headed to the next stop, where we took the ten GBP ferry across to Grande Paine Camp..... The ferry was jammed... and the backpacks were piled up at the front.  Everyone cosied up.  We sat and chatted with an American couple.  It seemed most folks were renting camping gear, or camping in pre-erected tents at the camp grounds.

Everyone was talking about their camp ground reservations.... and that it was imperative to have them due to camp grounds being full to capacity..... This was not the case.... I had no reservations and experienced no such thing..... I suppose chancing it on this occasion paid off.  We set our tents up underneath the wooden porch area of the camp office.  It was grim...  Yannic was on a strict schedule.  He needed to hit 'Glacier Grey' this afternoon.... this was the first part of the 'W' trek from this end.... It was hammering and I was thinking of putting it off until tomorrow.  It was a 7 hour trek up and back.  I bit the bullet, sensing that Yannic would like the company.

My Outdoor Research jacket and waterproof trousers, combined with my Salomon boots should go some way to keeping me dry..... I hoped.  I had two boiled eggs from breakfast time in my pockets.  Not a huge supply of calories, but they would have to suffice.

We walked to the ranger's office to say we were heading to Grey.  He said when it gets to 3pm you must turn around and walk back..... The walk towards the Glacier Grey was plain sailing.... Up, down and rough.... Then flat for the most part.... The rain eased off and stopped for and hour or so, then returned with even more force than the past 10 hours.... 

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A large area of water appeared in the valley... Icebergs floated serenely, no doubt having calved a few weeks before from the main glacier.....

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The little stream crossings offered the potential of a good foot soaking, but we picked our way carefully across, maintaining dry feet for now.... Though if the rain continued the way it was currently falling, wet feet would be unavoidable.

As we tackled the final section of the trail which lead towards 'Grey' we were totally alone.... Which was great.  We would have the view point to ourselves and anyone else who was already there ahead of us.  We'd already passed the 3pm mark, but we weren't turning around until we'd reached Glacier Grey.... 

At 4pm we were there!

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Wow!

It really was worth it....  A large iceberg sat in the middle of the bay, with the glacier itself set back in the distance, almost totally masked by the miserable mist filled horizon.  Even so the view remained spectacular in the moodiest of senses.  I hadn't brought my camera, just the iphone 6.  It wasn't worth risking water damage.... Even grabbing pictures with the iPhone proved challenging with the heavy rain and low light levels.  In the end I was just grabbing a couple of shots to share what I could see with you guys at home..... 

We had at least a 3.5 hours walk back.... 

The little trickles of water had now turned in to flowing streams.... The tiny streams had turned in to small rivers.... and finding the trail at times became a real challenge.... There was water every where.  My body, my feet... Everything was soaked.  The Gore-tex had eventually given up the ghost.  We squelched on.... It was almost 7.30pm when we arrived back, and the ranger was on his way up to find some folks who'd managed to get lost (they were found later safe and well, they'd just managed to lose the trail).  

Back at the camp I stood around shivering.... Yannic had gone to take a hot shower.... I was feeling totally shattered.  The fast paced 7 hour trek had took it's toll.... I hand't had enough to eat and my body knew it.... I stood shivering under the wooden shelter.... I didn't want to shower.... I just wanted to sleep.  I knew that the only way I would warm my body core up was to get in a hot shower.... I just didn't fancy stripping off in the freezing cold.  My base layers were soaked and stuck to my skin.... brrrrrrrrrr.  I grabbed a block of cheese and chunk of salami from my backpack and took a bit from each.... then another.... I eventually pulled myself together, headed to the shower block and stood waiting patiently in a daze waiting for one of the three showers to come free.  The wet steamy air was warm.  Five minutes later I was in.  Teh hot water warmed me from the outside all the way to my core.  It was well worth it. 

Everyone at the camp could be found hanging clothes in the camp kitchen and dining area.  It was the most humid room ever.  There would be no drying in here.  I'd return tomorrow morning.  I ate a little more food then tucked myself in to my tent for the night.... At least the night time temperatures wouldn't be as cold as Tierra del Fuego.... I fell to sleep.....