Hop in, hop out

28 03 2010

Santiago de Chile is a warm relaxed, almost European looking and feeling  like city with a  perfect quarter with restaurants, bars and cultural life: Bella Vista. We had a hostel right there. Which meant we had only one minute to walk to sit and relax at a nice restaurant. And it also meant that we nearly did not sleep because our room was close to the lively street and it felt as if all the shouting, laughing people walked right over our bed at 3 o’clock in the morning.

We had to get up early because we had booked a flight to Caracas at 9.00 in the morning and – as rumours said – you had to be at the airport 3 hours before your flight left because of the chaos at the airport caused by the earthquakes some weeks earlier.  So we had to get up at 5 in the morning. Which brings me to the fact that travelling is not always holidays….  but, hey, no complaints.

Nearly asleep we arrived  at the airport just to learn that everything was working fine and there was no visible damage or problems – as we had also not detected any damages in the city at all. Trust only the facts you dramatized yourself … or so goes a journalist’s saying.

By the way: The food in Santiago was very good – I had mussels with cheese (yes) and Kim had a big salad with all sorts of veggies and  fresh green stuff. But the best was the celebration of the “wine month”: Buy a bottle from a selection of a special menu and you get a second one for free which you can either drink or take home with you. Feels like “Happy Month” instead of “Happy Hour”. We decided to take it to Isla de Margarita/Venezuela, our next station.

Switchback heaven

27 03 2010

After a nice relaxing day at the International Hostel Uspallata we took a bus to Santiago de Chile which should have departed at 9.00 o’clock. At 11.00 the bus arrived at Uspallata. But this was really the first time that they were far from punctual. To travel by bus in Argentina and Chile is super comfortable and quite cheap.  The five hour distance to Santiago (including a time and paper consuming border crossing) costs around 20 USS.

250 km to Santiago means a 5 hours roadshow with panoramic views.

Besides you have a 180 degree panoramic view of the landscape – if you are lucky like us and can book the front row in the upper compartment. You also can see some nearly crashes and blood pressure rising manoeuvres of other drivers overtaking the bus.

Panoramic view from the first row in the overland bus.

Switchbacks for 2000 vertical meters downhill

The route from Mendoza to Santiago is amazing. You drive by the Aconcagua which you can spot from the road and after the border to Chile the road is winding down in inumerable switchbacks. A dream for every cyclist or motorcycle rider. The route passes through a ski resort with limited capacities and how it looked with unlimited freeskiing possibilities. We herad that they have up to four to five meters snow for two to three months in winter  and that the road is closed at this time. A little bit tricky to go there (especially when arriving from Europe) and the chairlifts looked quite old – but definitely worth remembering if you are looking for unusual scenery while skiing and good snow conditions. But that is another topic…

The international asado

26 03 2010

After our sightseeing tour we had a perfect easy day at the very nice International Hostel Uspallata where the usual-unusual crowd of backpackers  were hanging around. Besides the interesting places and landscapes you encounter while travelling you also dive into a mixture of people of countries from all over  the world with totally different backgrounds (students, ex-formula 1 engineers, ex-hedgefund brokers from London, artists, dive instructors from Israel ….).  What they have in common is their motivation to see parts of this planet, do strange stuff in remote places and to carry a netbook with them which they intensively use in all likely and unlikely spots like hostel lounges, toilets, bus stations, supermarkets, coffee shops and airports – thanks to WiFi.

How could you plan from day to day and book flights, buses and overnight stays the day before you decide to do it before the age of IT and bits and bytes? I don’t know. I guess you had to make a plan, book everything in advance and stick to the schedule. Now you are as free as a bird and can decide in a flick of your eyelid where to travel, where to stay and what to check out. And stay connected to your facebook crowd and tell the world what you are doing. I love the time we are living in….

Sorry for the detour. So in short another perfect day in the middle of nowhere – almost nowhere.

The International hostel is situated some miles outside Uspallata (which isn’t a big city either) and the manager Christian and his crew are the most polite, relaxed and helpful guys we met so far.

We had  a nice mountainbike trip of 40k to the seven coloured rocks about which Charles Darwin said:

We crossed the Uspallata range, and at night slept at the custom−house−−the only inhabited spot on the plain. Shortly before leaving the mountains, there was a very extraordinary view; red, purple, green, and quite white sedimentary rocks, alternating with black lavas, were broken up and thrown into all kinds of disorder by masses of porphyry of every shade of colour, from dark brown to the brightest lilac. It was the first view I ever saw, which really resembled those pretty sections which geologists make of the inside of the earth

We biked on to  the stone engravings of Cerro Tunduqueral (by the way  there are not so many more attractions around). We skipped rappelling, horse riding and river rafting.

Highlight and wonderful ending of the day was a big asado at the hostel with a combined wine tasting a la Christian: Everybody buys some wine (or let Christian do the job for you in a given price range), then you drink one bottle after the other with more or less expert comments on the quality, taste, colour etc etc on the wine. Much more fun (and much more alcohol intake) than a “real” wine tasting. In between you eat tons of great meat which is carried in from the asado (barbecue) every 15 minutes and after this smorgasboard you get a desert Uspallata style: Pückler icecream with Malbec red wine. Yummy.

We slept perfectly this night dreaming already from our trip to Santiago the next day. We would drive with the bus over the same pass Charles Darwin did (coming from Santiago) on “The Voyage of the Beagle” 1835.

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Christo, Victoria and Fernando

25 03 2010

Gracias Victoria y Fernando for a perfect day!

After having walked down from Camp Confluencia we wanted to do a  tourist day: visit Christo el Retendor, the puente del Incas and somehow get back to our International Hostel Uspallata some 120km away.

So we started hiking on the border of the ruta internacional #7 and noticed that none of the heavy trucks would stop to give us stinky hikers a lift. But only half an hour after sweating in the hot midday sun a small blue Peugeot passed first – to stop after some hundred meters. Victoria and Fernando, an argentinean couple made us a big present: a perfect day with a lift back home. The two had planned the same program we had had in mind and they just invited us to go everywhere with them.

Thanks again for a wonderful day! And for bringing us home to the hostel.

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Camp Confluencia – the gateway to Aconcagua

24 03 2010

It is one of the seven summits and the highest mountain outside  the himalayan range: the Aconcagua. We decided to stop by there and visit the gateway to this famous mountain,  the Camp Confluencia at 3400m altitude.

Aconcagua - the south face seen from Campo Francia.

From Campo Francia (4100m) the spot we visited the next day you have impressive views to the technical difficult south face of Aconcagua. I added some detail shots of the seracs and icefields hanging there. It looks brutal even with clear sight. I don’t want to imagine how it is hanging in there and clouds and stormwinds howling with up to 120 miles per hour….

Okay, there is also the normal hiking path over the north face. You have to go to Campo de Mulas and then on to the Nido del Condores, the nest of the condors. But what we heard sounded more awful than inviting: up to 800 tents in the high season, loud music, crowds and overfilled loos and so on…does not really feel like a real experience of remote wilderness on a mountain.

Luckily there were only 3 more tents at the Camp Confluencia – end of the season when only trekking permits for 3 days are given out. You don’t get a permit for the summit at the end of march anymore. Which is quite a pity because the weather we had was perfect – over 20 degree C in the sun and nights with temperatures around 2 C.

The hikes are not difficult. You just walk along a trotten path in brown and grey gravel, sometimes up, sometimes just levelled. And you try not to walk to fast because you feel the altitude and you have to listen to your body to avoid AMS aka altitude sickness.

After three days in the outdoors and surrounded by stunning mountains we hiked back to the entrance of the park and to the ruta nacional #7 where we started to walk in the direction of Chile hoping that someone would give us a lift.


Mendoza – wine capital of Argentina

22 03 2010

We had half a day at Mendoza to get the permit for the Aconcagua Trekking and to check out the local winefarms. So we went to our preferred sort of vine: bubbly and got an appointment at Chandon – yes, the second half of the famous french “Moet et ….”, being the mother of this entreprise in Argentina which produces a very nice Brut and an even nicer Rosé.

Maria gave us a very nice and complete tour with the tasting at the end proving what we already had known – it is champagne even when it is not allowed to be named like that. All the other ingredients are there, high class grapes, a technial outstanding production line and the long years of ripening and bottle fermentation including the remuage  (german – das Rütteln) of the bottles by hand.

The other wine farm called Alta Vista produces the usual range of Malbec, CabSauv and some drinkable whites and had a nice old production part with tanks made from thick concrete – an old method to keep temperatures stable.

Sorry that we can’t post any of the taste experiences we had. And, nope, the argentinean Chandon is not exported to Europe.

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Villarrica – a view inside mother earth

19 03 2010

The volcano of Villarrica is still active – which means that the streets of Pucon at the foot of the snow capped mountain have green signs where to flee to if the volcano bursts out.

You see always a cloud above the summit – which is not really a cloud but the gases flowing out of the volcano.

Huffing and puffing was not only the volcano. Myself coming back from Germany two days ago and totally out of shape was puffing heavily while trying to follow Kim and our fast guide Mauricio Bustamante

Our path (gpx) to the summit of Villarrica

After a one hour drive from Pucon to the beginning of the ascent, the ski resort of Villarrica, Mauricio and Kim started very fast to hike up the gravelly steep slopes. After an hour I knew why Mauricio had walked so fast – groups in identical anoraks and boots stepped out of the chairlift besides us – you can rent all the equipment and go in big groups up the volcano. We didn’t want to get stuck behind these and walked even faster.

I felt like on the Transalpine Run –  sore legs, no air to breathe and the mountain before me seemed to grow bigger and bigger.

Luckily Mauricio guided only us two and after 3 hours we were on the top. Because  of the activities and the earthquakes of the last weeks you were not allowed to hike Villarrica on your own.

After crossing some ice- and snowfields with crampons you reach the crater rim. To look inside the volcano you have to wait until the wind changes. Then you jump to the crater, try to get a glimpse inside and when your guide yells you quickly run back to get out of the cloud – which contains toxic chloride gases.

We had very good sight to the Volcano Lanin and to the Lake Villarrica. But the best part was still to come. Instead of walking down 1800 vertical meters and adding pain to the already strained quadriceps we could slide down on the snow. All the companies and guides provide you with a sliding pant – like diapers for adults with a reinforced backside. You just sit on your butt and control your speed with your ice axe….

Great fun and definitely not within the mountaineering ethic rules of the German Alpenverein DAV…. but, hey, it saved my legs for the next days.

View inside mother earth

The slding pant - saves your legs


The long and winding road to Pucon – and back

18 03 2010

With big doubledecker busses you can travel through South America comfortably

With our super Chevrolet Corsa we drove from San Carlos de Bariloche to Pucon to climb the active volcano Villarica (2800m). On the way you pass Volcano Lanin – which we could not see because of low clouds. The dirt road through the Lanin Park shows the not so good relation between Argentina and Chile – the road is in ok condition but not something you want to drive on for hours and hours.

You drive over small bridges without railings and just wide enough wooden planks your tyres will barely hit them.

Wooden bridges without railings mean straight steering

What is called in the map “pavement in construction” means only construction – pavement you won’t see. Therefore we chose on the way back a “Consilidatet Rooad” which was worse than a dirt road – but we hit an unspoilt landscape and remote lakes which was worth the long and unnerving drive on paths you would have needed a 4×4. The border posts we passed were looking at our Corsa shaking their heads. Their comments on the following miles of dirt road were: very rattling.

The border post coming back to Argentina was so small that the guys had to take their handbook on how to fill out the papers when you pass the frontier in a car.

But we were rewarded with endless views of glistening lakes, snowcapped mountain summits and ongoing green lush forests – stunning.

Kim disvovered her rallye driving ambitions and was named Röhrlquast by me. The Chevi Corsa and us made it safe and sound – don’t ask me how – back to Bariloche to our nice hostel Perikos.

The day after we hit the road again – in a comfy bus rolling relaxed to Mendoza, the wine capital of Argentina.

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Reunion at Bariloche

17 03 2010

After my trip back to Germany Kim and me met again at Bariloche (a three hours flight west of Buenos Aires), known for it’s outdoor activities and skiing possibilities in the Argentinean winter.

Kim gave me a lift from the (also very small) airport of Bariloche with our new rental car – first name Chevrolet (wow), second name Corsa (ok – it was a Opel Corsa …. German readers know exactly what I am talking about).

A quick hop on the local mountain with the funny name of Cerro Otto and an antique cable car of Austrian provenience. Our local Wallberg-Bahn is a liitle younger than the Cerro Otto cableway I suppose.

View back to Lake Nahue

Austrian gondolas on the Argentinean Cerro Otto

Mountaiuns around Bariloche and lake Nahuel

Bariloche is a typical tourist mountain lake outdoor activity town with strong winds barely used for watersports on the lake Naihuel (1 windsurfer, 1 kitesurfer – could it be because of the cold water temperatures???!!!). The surrounding mountains are perfect for hiking and climbing.

But as often – not enough time. Our plan was to drive to Pucon/Chile the next day.