Monthly Archives: November 2011

Back to Punta Arenas.

16th November 2011.

Our last day today at Torres del Pines but not leaving until 3 pm so time for another quick hike. Sue and I thought we had seen everything but the Park had one last surprise for us.

We decided to take a short and easy hike down to Lake Sarmiento to see the Thrombolites, these are formations made in the lake which looks like white coral. The melt lake has receded over many millennia and so the Thrombolites have been left standing high above the water level and on the beaches of the lake. I was a bit unsure how worthwhile this hike would be but sure enough the park came up to its very high standard of surprising me yet again. These formations and the colour of the water were just spectacular. I have said on a number of occasions that if an artist were to use the bright colours for the water in a painting everyone looking at his work would say he had got it wrong.

On our way back to the mini bus the winds picked up to a level we had not experienced before and our guide got us to stand in a stable position when big gusts were about to hit us. We could tell a gust was on its way as the lake water was getting whipped up into a mini tornado and as it moved across the lake we knew we were about to get a big blast. Walking behind Sue and our guide was like returning in a group from a very heavy night at the local pub. None of us had control of our movements and were staggering all the way back to the bus.

We returned to our hotel and enjoyed a very good lunch and then got on our minibus for the 5 hour road trip back to Punta Arenas. We checked back into our hotel Diego de Almagro who had made a good job of looking after all my Polar gear. Sue and I are now in place to start meeting the South Pole team as they start arriving over the next few days.

Animal Day

15 November 2011

Today we decide to split the day in half with a BBQ in the middle. In the morning we took an easy trek to see some old Indian cave paintings which were interesting but the big bonus on this trek was the amount of wildlife around us. We ran into herds of Lama type animals called Guanaco which in fact are a distant cousin of the Camel from when all the continents were joined. We saw lots of bones from where the native Puma had been hunting the Guanaco although it is very rare to spot a Puma which is a very shy animal.

This park has lots of bird life and the Condor is a magnificent creature that looks like a bird of prey but in fact is a buzzard like creature feeding off the meat of dead animals usually from Puma kills. We have also seen much to our surprise Flamingo’s and Rhea which is a smaller version of an Ostrich. We were also very close to a young grey fox foraging in the bushes and not at all worried about our presence so close to him. This Park is full of wildlife that can be seen very close up.

Lunch today was at a teepee type building with a major fire in the centre and full lamb carcasses spread eagled around the fire. This was the best meal of our trip. The lamb was so tender and tasty and the views from our teepee spectacular.

In the afternoon the winds picked up blew away the cloud and we were off to do our horse ride. Now this all sounded very romantic when in the hotel but for a non rider it was now becoming one of those “why did I sign up for this” moments. I mounted my trusty steed and was introduced to him but immediately forgot his name due to the fact I was concentrating too much on hanging on to his neck.

The knack of riding a horse so I was told is to let it know you are in charge. I decided to take control and steered my horse to the right, he decided however to turn left and follow the rest of the group out of the gate. I thought it best to give him a second chance and decided to ignore this disobedience and concentrate instead on gripping the saddle. I will deal with the issue of being in control in a few minutes I decided.

The group was about 10 strong including Sue and me. We also had Helena with us and two Gaucho’s who just looked on in amusement as I took control of my horse. This in fact became a lot easier when one of the Gauchos suggested I let go of the saddle and hold the reins. Apparently this stops the horse eating grass and he will in fact move forward.

With this new found skill and with a fully trained horse I now felt capable of dealing with anything that came my way. All of the horses are working animals and in the morning had been out with Gauchos rounding up cattle. Mine did act a bit like a bored tour guide doing his last shift of the week and puffed and sighed each time I decided to make him move left or right. I decided to ignore this very poor attitude just in case he went from bored to angry mode. It would be a shame I thought to upset his day even more.

We made our way up hills, down into valleys and my horse ridding skills were improving with every step. I sat back in my saddle and felt in full control. I remember reading somewhere that if you want a horse to go faster you just give it a kick with your heels. Well of course I decided this would be a good idea and sure enough my horse went from walk mode into a trot. Whoooahhh I immediately found out why more girls than boys go riding. Each time I went down the horse went up catching bits of my anatomy. I can tell you it is not easy to steer a horse when you are cross eyed.

Our route was through some wonderful countryside ending up with a fabulous view of one of the many waterfalls in the park. Even my horse who up to this point had only been interested in dandelions seemed to enjoy the view. Either that or he knew the stables were only just around the corner.

The day ended with a dismount in the stables and a walk to the mini bus looking just like an advert for Pampers. This was a great experience and the staff were tremendous looking after all of us, taking our cameras and shooting lots of pictures to help preserve these wonderful memories.

A few more photos:

Every Trek Is Different..

14th November 2011.

After two sunny and beautiful days in Patagonia the winds dropped and it started to rain. Sue and I had decided to take a long trek today into the Forest and mountains. We set off with our guide wearing our waterproof gear. It was a short van ride to our start point and after a climb we soon forgot the rain as the views were just stunning. The area we had picked for today’s walk is so very different from the other parts of the park we have already visited. This area has many melt lakes and lagoons high up and each corner we turned and every wooded area we exited had another garden like scene. If we had been walking in a formal garden it is hard to imagine how better laid out these lakes and surrounding areas could be.

Lunchtime was in a sheltered spot as the rain had slowed down bringing with it higher winds. Explora (correct spelling) Hotel has a policy that their guides carry a mix of salads and garnishes to add to the sandwiches they provide for your packed lunch. What is very amusing but a nice touch at the same time, these have to be laid out on a checkered blue and white table cloth. So here we are in the mountains in the rain, sheltering from the wind having lunch on the floor from a blue and white table cloth.

This trek came to its highlight when we made it to a high point that gave us an all round view of the park. The wind had dropped to a moderate blow and the rain had also stopped but unfortunately the cloud did cover the tops of the snow covered peaks that make such a magnificent backdrop. This did not spoil the moment however and we spent time soaking up the views and enjoying our achievement in reaching this high spot.

Upon returning to the hotel we showered, changed and joined Carol & Jim for a drink, by now our group was starting to grow and we have made friends with an English couple Andy and Claudia, also two English ladies travelling together Annie and Helena. As a group of 8 we are having a great time and once a couple of glasses have been quaffed the laughter levels increase. It is great to have been able to meet up with a fun group to share these experiences with.

Arrival and first day at Torres Del Paine National Park, Chile.

11th/12th November 2011.

Having been so busy before leaving England and also with all the travelling to get here my training has been less than I would have wanted in the last 3 weeks. Our arrival at Torres Del Paine is planned to bring this to an end and with some trekking, swimming and horse riding. I hope these activities will help me tone up before setting off for Antarctica.

After nearly 5 hours of driving with as I said on my previous blog a stop for a blow out and a short lunch break we made it to our hotel the Explora Pategonia in the centre of the Park. This is a very modern building all pine lined with very nice rooms. Sue and I have been lucky and have a corner room overlooking the mountains and lake in one direction and the waterfall where the lake goes into the river from our 2nd window.

This hotel deals with trekking and there was little time to settle in before we were asked what we would like to do on our first afternoon. Within 1 hour of arriving we were off with our guide Raymondo who took us on a fast but scenic 3 hour trek where we got great views of the mountain, lake and our hotel.

The one difference with this part of the World to anywhere else is the constant high winds which were difficult to walk against and when blowing from the side did in fact literally blow Sue off her feet. We did however survive the trek, back to our room for a quick shower and then down for an introductory talk within 45 minutes of our return. Nobody said this was going to be a holiday.

After an enjoyable dinner it was early to bed as the next day Nov 12th was Sue’s birthday and so we had decided to go on a day hike which starts and ends with a boat trip on two of the lakes, the 2nd trip to be to the glacier.

Our alarm went at 5.55am, up for breakfast and down to the boat which left the jetty outside our hotel. We set off on a 5 hour hike once we had landed at the far end of the lake which took us through some wonderful countryside but nothing had prepared us for the breath-taking views of a live glacier making its way off the mountains and ending in the lake. Large chunks break off daily and make their way down the lake and sure enough there were a number of icebergs moving along as we trekked to their source.

We were not sure if the boat would be able to pick us up as the winds were very high and we had to board a small tender from the rocks and then transfer to the larger boat out in the lake. Despite some doubt eventually we were given the go. This was a tricky and very wet exercise but one we all managed with ease as our group all seem very fit people.

The boat sailed access the face of the glacier using it to shelter us from the wind making this a very special experience and one I will never forget and I know Sue will put it down as one of her special birthday moments.

On returning to the hotel it was an opportunity for some running repairs, Sues boots have decided she walks too fast and so have come apart at the toe, another blow out. Hopefully the maintenance guy can get them fixed by the morning. We then took 2 glasses of champagne back in our room and Sue opened all her birthday cards and a present from me with the mountains of Torres Del Paine. Overlooking outside our window.

Still with time to spare before an evening lecture and dinner we went to the spa area and had a swim again with some spectacular scenery to keep us company.

This is a wonderful way to train and prepare for a polar expedition and I highly recommend it to anyone thinking of travelling to the South Pole.