Patagonia, Part 2: Down Volcano Villarrica

~By:  Marco

PART TWO: DOWN VOLCANO VILLARRICA

When we packed our big backpacks at the beginning of this trip, I was wondering what the big round piece of plastic was used for. Due to my lack of Spanish, I had no idea and no one bothered to translate into either language I spoke. Now, all the pieces finally come together. We are going to slide down. With a big piece of plastic under our bums and the ice pick in our hands to steer (and brake!), we slide back down the volcano. As long as it took us to climb it, is was much faster sliding back down. A-MAZING! I reach the bottom with snow in my mouth, snow in my shoes and everywhere it can possibly go. Wauw!

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After being out and about the whole day, we peacefully fall asleep in our hostel. Soon, we are back on the road continuing our way further down south.

At San Martin we cross the border with Argentina, to finally reach Bariloche. As the weather was horrible we decide to make it a quick pass through and only stayed for one night. We quickly book a hostel through Hostelworld and are sorted for the night. After a short night of sleep behind us, we quickly prepared ourselves for the 25 hour bus drive which will bring us to El Calafate. Twenty-five hours.  I don’t think we realized how long that actually is. To sit. On a bus. Even after not seeing each other for over a year we could not fill the 25 hours with endless talks. Music, various naps and foremost Pisco, helped us get through the hours. The main reason why we are going to Calafate is because of the Petito Moreno Glacier. I can tell you everything about it, however, some things are better conveyed through pictures. The one thing I can tell you, it was definitely worth the 25 hour bus ride. Pictures tell a thousand words, right?

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The sound is unlike anything I have ever heard when those massive, massive, blocks of ice make their way into the water. Imagine thunder and then multiply that times ten. In-credible. Full stop. We stood there for hours. Carefully watching how those massive blocks of solid ice reacted with the elements. The continuous sounds of ‘thunder’ all around us. We all know that light travels faster than sound. But to actually see it for yourself, seeing those blocks of ice falling into the water and literally five seconds later hearing that massive ‘bang’. Very impressive. If you ever visit Patagonia, this glacier is highly recommended.

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As Calafate is more expensive than we budgeted, we decide to move up to El Chalten, which is about a 4 hour bus ride away. Nothing compared to our last ride. Funny, how travel shows you perspective. While a 4 hour bus ride before seemed tiresome, after those 25 hours it felt like a walk in the park. In Chalten hostels are cheaper, (and so are the beers) plus, there are a lot of free hikes. What’s not to like?

To start off easy, we began with the 18K hike of Torres Del Paine. The weather this day wasn’t on our side unfortunately. Very cloudy, which pretty much killed the view. Luckily, it’s just the start of a series of hikes and we can’t have it all, I’m afraid. Traveling wouldn’t be as satisfying either. You can’t always get what you want. All those Rolling Stones fans know what I am talking about! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7S94ohyErSw)

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After we get back to the hostel, we quickly go to the local supermarket to buy some well deserved beers. And some dinner, don’t forget dinner. If you’re hiking around 20K a day, you will be hungry.   Bright and early the next day we got ready for our adult hike, the Fitz Roy Mountain, only 20.2 km.  After yesterday’s hike we slept like babies, or was it because of the beer?  I don’t want to bore you with our Dutch conversations. I mean, it’s not even a real language. Anyway, what it is was all about: the crazy views!

 

Sad as I was to leave those amazing views behind I was excited to move on to the last bit of our South America adventure. Buenos Aires! It will be a transition from those stunning views, relaxing atmosphere and long hikes, but I was sure it wasn’t going to disappoint.

Check out parts one and three of Marco’s South American backpacking saga and our other blogs from Chile

Check out Marco’s adventures on Instagram: Marcookunst

Marco’s Travel Itinerary and Hostel Information

Flights: London Heathrow (LHR) > Aeropuerto Internacional Ministro Pistarini, Buenos Aires (EZE) > Aeropuerto Internacional Comodoro Arturo Merino Benítez, Santiago (SCL)

Bus: Santiago > Pucón > San Carlos de Bariloche > El Calafate > El Chaltén > El Calafate

Flights: Comandante Armando Tola International Airport, El Calafate (FTE) > Aeropuerto Internacional Ministro Pistarini, Buenos Aires (EZE) > London Heathrow (LHR)

Pucon- I love pucon hostel
http://webcache.googleusercontent.com/search?q=cache:kGXXEyIOAm0J:www.dutch.hostelworld.com/hosteldetails.php/I-love-Pucon-Hostel-and-Backpackers/Pucon/270352+&cd=6&hl=nl&ct=clnk&gl=uk&client=firefox-b-ab

Bariloche – Universal Travelers Lodge Hostel
http://www.hostelworld.com/hosteldetails.php/Universal-Traveller-s-Lodge-Hostel/Bariloche/79005?dateFrom=2017-04-07&dateTo=2017-04-10&number_of_guests=2&sc_pos=3

El Calafate-Hostel de las Manos
http://www.hostelworld.com/hosteldetails.php/Hostel-de-las-Manos/El-Calafate/38194

El Chalten-La Comarca hostel
http://www.hostelworld.com/hosteldetails.php/La-Comarca-Hostel/El-Chalten/59554?dateFrom=2017-04-07&dateTo=2017-04-10&number_of_guests=2

El Chalten-Racho Grande hostel
http://www.hostelworld.com/hosteldetails.php/Rancho-Grande-Hostel/El-Chalten/16797?dateFrom=2017-04-21&dateTo=2017-04-22&number_of_guests=1

Buenos Aires-Rock Hostel & Brewery
http://www.dutch.hostelworld.com/hosteldetails.php/Rock-Hostel-and-Brewery/Buenos-Aires/69163

Flight El Calafate – Buenos Aires – Aerolineas Argentinas
http://www.aerolineas.com.ar/Welcome

Bus company – Andesmar
http://www.andesmar.com/

Patagonia, Part one: Santiago

~By:  Marco

The 1st of December, a date that will never be the same for me again. A date which was the beginning of something new. Exactly one year ago, I had my first flight as an international flight attendant. It shaped me into who I am, and changed my perspective of life. On how we travel. Of what is out there.

Since then I have traveled to over 60 different airports – all around the world. To celebrate this one year anniversary, I wanted to explore a missing continent on my list: South America. Add a Spanish-speaking backpacking friend in the equation, and off I went. First stop: Santiago, Chile.

PART ONE: CHILE

At the gate I do a quick search of where I am actually going. Since this was a rather spontaneous decision, I honestly had no idea what to expect. I just booked the flight and that was it. I will see where it takes me. I find out that the area is called ‘Patagonia’ and after a quick image search, I start to smile. I always hate it when people smile at their phones, but now I am as guilty as everyone else.

Travel does funny things to me. I get a funny feeling in my stomach. The excitement of new places with new people is hard to match. As I walk towards the plane, I hear the oh-so-familiar final boarding call in the background. At the door I got assigned my seat–business class; hello job perks! I consider myself incredibly lucky, sitting there with a glass of champagne in my hand. The excitement in my stomach. Nothing booked, nothing planned. Just two weeks of adventures ahead. Why do people go to all-inclusive resorts again? I’ve never really understood.

After a smooth flight with actually a decent amount of sleep (probably due to the overflow of champagne), I meet my friend at arrivals. We have been friends since we went to school together in the Netherlands, where we both grew up. After school, he went traveling and I moved to the United Kingdom to work for my current airline. We hadn’t seen each other since, making the reunion even better.

My friend had met a family during his travels and without asking, an invitation was extended to stay in their guestroom. We were treated like family. The whole family lives close to each other. This resulted in breakfast at mum’s, lunch at a cousin’s and dinner at grandma’s. Even with me speaking zero Spanish, and them speaking zero English, you would be surprised how much fun you can have. Especially if you add in a few Pisco Sours (the local spirit). This particular family is possibly the most hospitable people I have ever met. Hearing the stories from my friend, it seems to be part of their culture. I wish we had a bit more of this in Northern Europe.

After being fed and watered, it was time to hit the road. We started with San Cristóbal Hill, one of the three hills of Santiago. I had just arrived from London where it was the start of winter and temperatures are just above zero. Here, with a clear blue sky and very little shade, the 25 degrees is quite a bit of change. A welcomed change. With one small bottle of water between the two of us (and the remnants of the Pisco Sour from last night still lingering) we definitely underestimated the 45 minute climb in the middle of the day. Luckily, we met a gardener on our way who happily brought us to a garden hose to fill up our bottle. Muchas gracias, señor! At the top, we enjoyed the incredible views over Santiago and some well deserved rest.

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On our way down we agreed on booking a night bus towards Pucón. As a backpacker, I can highly recommend night buses. It saves you a night in a hostel plus you cover the necessary miles. If you’re lucky, you can even manage to get some sleep. However I must admit, it is not the most comfortable way to spend the night but hey, we all know traveling is not always how it looks on Instagram, right? Plus it makes you appreciate the little things in life again.

After an 8 hour bus ride we arrive in Pucón. The further we go south, the quieter it becomes. The villages get smaller, the food becomes more expensive (as do the beers), and the tops of the mountains are covered in more and more snow. I remind myself of the fact that I only packed one pair of jeans and one sweater/hoody/jumper. Travel light they said. After we gathered some information from our hostel we decided to hike volcano Villarrica (pronounced Billarrica). One of the most active volcanoes in Chile, I find out later. At 6:30 the next morning we get picked up from our hostel to be kitted up, as it is freezing at the top. This being my first ever volcano hike, I must say I was pretty excited. Imagine a kid-in-a-candy-store smile.

On the way to the volcano my friend is speaking crazy-fast Spanish with the local guides. I am enjoying the time ‘on my own’. Carefully listening to what they say, to see if I can pick up any words I might understand. All the while enjoying the incredible views and mentally preparing myself.

The whole group takes the cable car up to the base of the volcano. But not us! If you do it, you have to do it right. As confident as we are, we decide to hike from the start. With an additional 30 minutes of hiking, the guide is taking the lead at a pretty speedy pace. And I find myself regretting our decision already. Luckily, it isn’t all too bad and we join the rest of the group at the base of the mountain. The pace changed. As fast as we initially hiked, we are slowly climbing now. Everyone climbs the mountain in one big chain. And you know, the chain is only as strong as its weakest link.

As we get higher and higher, the temperature gets colder. Heavy winds start to blow into my face which forces me to continuously look down. Step by step, meter for meter. Focused on the two feet in front of me. We slowly make our way up until suddenly, we stop. Used to the pace, I fail to react quickly and bump hard into the backpack in front of me. How exciting is hiking again?

As we slowly reach the top, I quickly put on my gas mask as the smell is now unbearable. The weird sulfur smell makes people gag. I am glad to finally be released of my heavy backpack. Curious by nature, I detrimentally walk to the edge of the crater. Within seconds I see lava squirting out of the crater below us. This is what I came for; this is what I wanted to see. I look around, taking it all in– snow is everywhere, mountains as far as you can see. Smoke is billowing out of the crater now. It’s crazy knowing boiling lava is right below me. I sit down and appreciate the view. It was all worth it: every meter, every step. Even hitting the backpack in front of me over and over again.

Then the guide brings me back to reality. We have to make ourselves ready for the trek down. Or at least that is what I thought……..

Check parts two and three of Marco’s South American backpacking saga and our other blogs about Chile

Follow Marco’s adventures on Instagram:  Marcookunst

Marco’s Travel Itinerary and Hostel Information

Flights: London Heathrow (LHR) > Aeropuerto Internacional Ministro Pistarini, Buenos Aires (EZE) > Aeropuerto Internacional Comodoro Arturo Merino Benítez, Santiago (SCL)

Bus: Santiago > Pucón > San Carlos de Bariloche > El Calafate > El Chaltén > El Calafate

Flights: Comandante Armando Tola International Airport, El Calafate (FTE) > Aeropuerto Internacional Ministro Pistarini, Buenos Aires (EZE) > London Heathrow (LHR)

Pucon:  I love Pucon Hostel http://webcache.googleusercontent.com/search?q=cache:kGXXEyIOAm0J:www.dutch.hostelworld.com/hosteldetails.php/I-love-Pucon-Hostel-and-Backpackers/Pucon/270352+&cd=6&hl=nl&ct=clnk&gl=uk&client=firefox-b-ab

Bariloche:  Universal Travelers Lodge Hostel
http://www.hostelworld.com/hosteldetails.php/Universal-Traveller-s-Lodge-Hostel/Bariloche/79005?dateFrom=2017-04-07&dateTo=2017-04-10&number_of_guests=2&sc_pos=3

El Calafate:  Hostel de las manos
http://www.hostelworld.com/hosteldetails.php/Hostel-de-las-Manos/El-Calafate/38194

El Chalten:  La Comarca Hostel
http://www.hostelworld.com/hosteldetails.php/La-Comarca-Hostel/El-Chalten/59554?dateFrom=2017-04-07&dateTo=2017-04-10&number_of_guests=2

El Chalten:  Racho Grande Hostel
http://www.hostelworld.com/hosteldetails.php/Rancho-Grande-Hostel/El-Chalten/16797?dateFrom=2017-04-21&dateTo=2017-04-22&number_of_guests=1

Buenos Aires: Rock Hostel & Brewery
http://www.dutch.hostelworld.com/hosteldetails.php/Rock-Hostel-and-Brewery/Buenos-Aires/69163

Flight El Calafate – Buenos Aires – Aerolineas Argentinas
http://www.aerolineas.com.ar/Welcome

Bus company – Andesmar
http://www.andesmar.com/