Chile- Geysers El Tatio

It takes an early bird to catch the worm at the El Tatio Geysers. It takes an early bird with many layers of clothes. Actually, there are no worms at El Tatio. We early birds were picked up at 4:30am for this adventure.

After ninety minutes on a bus, we pay an entrance fee to the park and are handed a brochure to read. Its impossible to read because we have arrived before the sun. After we had returned to our mud brick house in San Pedro de Atacama I read the list of safety steps. They are designed prevent me being burnt by the steam and the boiling water and protect my lungs at 4300 metres. I should not have drunk alcohol the night before, I should not have inhaled the vapours from the geysers, I should not have walked in the steam and I should have worn warm clothes. I did wear warm clothes. Its zero when we arrive and possibly less than that as there is ice on the ground. I have four layers including ski jacket on top and two on my legs. I write this at 2400 metres at San Pedro de Atacama at 4-00pm the same day, here its 27 degrees and our washing is drying very quickly.

Arriving before dawn ensures you can see the steam in the chilly atmosphere before the bright sun arrives and dilutes its impact. It also enables you to watch the colours change on the landscape around you.

This was a fantastic seven hour trip. The landscape on the way back is dramatic. It was equally dramatic on the way there; only it was pitch black and I was asleep on the bus. Photos that attempt to capture the fantasticness follow:

As dawn breaks

As dawn breaks

Many steam holes and geysers

Many steam holes and geysers

Some of the geysers blow boiling water out all the time. Some erupt with a regularity that you can set your watch by.

Some of the geysers blow boiling water out all the time. Some erupt with a regularity that you can set your watch by.

Boiling water at this altitude is actually 86 degrees celcius.

Boiling water at this altitude is actually 86 degrees celcius.

Lauren braves the waters. The waters in the pool are between 25 and 30 degrees. Its the getting changed twice to get in and out that causes me to leave my bathers in my bag.

Lauren braves the waters. The waters in the pool are between 25 and 30 degrees. Its the getting changed twice to get in and out that causes me to leave my bathers in my bag.

While Lauren is swimming myself and Lucas keep ourselves protected against the cold.

While Lauren is swimming myself and Lucas keep ourselves protected against the cold.

 

A well wrapped Lucas.

A well wrapped Lucas also decides to stay dry.

The sun rises in the sky.

The sun rises.

And illuminates the surrounding dry mountains

And illuminates the surrounding dry mountains

The busride home stops off twice.

The busride home stops off twice.

Once to see the flamingoes

Once to see the flamingoes

Here they are again

Here they are again

And again

And again.Well more their habitat than them.

The second time we stop is at a small town, inhabitants 5. Cannot recall its name and have included a picture of Alex here as she does not appear previously. At the tiny town we eat llama BBQ'ed on sticks over charcoal. Very very nice.....but possibly not for the llama.

The second time we stop on the way home is at a small town, inhabitants 5. I cannot recall its name and have included a picture of Alex at the Geysers (not the town) . She does not appear previously and I want to record that she was with us.
At the tiny town we eat llama BBQ’ed on sticks over charcoal. Very very nice…..but possibly not for the llama.

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Chile- Punta Arenas

Before we leave Chile I shall return briefly to Punta Arenas.

Punta Arenas was not a highlight of our trip. It did have one fabulous attraction. Around 15k’s outside town is a shipping museum. There they have a one for one scale replica of the Nao Victoria. They are building a replica of the Beagle on the same scale and have two others that were of little interest to me. The Beagle was captained by Fitzroy and carried the researcher Charles Darwin.

Which was the first circumnavigation of the globe?

The Golden Hind captained by Francis Drake ? Nope, beaten by almost 60 years.

Oh, oh its that Portuguese guy…….don’t tell me……..don’t tell me…………tip of my tongue………….Magellan.

Almost.

Magellan decided to interrupt his circumnavigation by taking on a few of the locals in the Philippines. This proved to be a personal error of judgement as he was killed in the encounter. After his death the Spanish expedition he was leading (the Portuguese wouldn’t back their countryman) continued and arrived back in Spain in 1522. Sebastion Elcano was captaining the last ship at that stage. Having left with 5 ships and 260 men in August 1519, Elcano brought home 18 survivors in 1522 on just one remaining ship……..the Nao Victoria. So Drake did captain a circumnavigation start to finish. The Magellan/ Elcano expedition was the first circumnavigation. Yhe Nao Victoria was the first ship to circumnavigate.

The Nao Victoria 1:1 scale replica.

The Nao Victoria 1:1 scale replica.

Nao Victoria replica.

Nao Victoria replica.

 

The ship is  rebuilt from the original drawings.The astonishing thing is that it made it at all. This ship is small. It is leaky. It must have been freezing cold as there is little shelter. To fit 52 men (I am assuming the average per ship applied to this one) would have been cramped and smelly.

On board Nao Victoria

Storage deck on the Nao Victoria

Its an advantage being short.

Height would have been a disadvantage to any sailor that had any.

Two men, working in shifts had to continually operate the bilge pumps to ensure the leaks didn’t sink the ship. The crew decks are so low you must have been on all fours for your leisure hours.

The ship looked, to my untrained eye, crudely knocked together and I was surprised that it was able to resist rough seas. Only 18 of the 260 made it all the way and only this ship of the original five boats that set off.

Well worth a visit if you ever find yourself in Punta Arenas, Chile.

 

 

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Chile- Christmas Day in San Pedro de Atacama

The town of San Pedro de Atacama exists for the tourist. It is filled with tourists and the shops are mostly there to cater to the needs of the tourist.

Consequently, on Christmas Day the supermarket was open, many of the coffee shops were open and many of the restaurants and even the bank.

San Pedro de Atacama mostly open for business on Christmas Day.

San Pedro de Atacama mostly open for business on Christmas Day.

We did find this happy group of costumed individuals who marched around time walking forwards and backwards  accompanied by  musicians.

We did find this happy group of costumed individuals who marched around town walking forwards and backwards accompanied by musicians.

In the main Plaza a nativity scene.

In the main Plaza a nativity scene.

We had astonishing luck at San Pedro de Atacama. Santa found us and delivered small gifts to each of us. I don’t think the combined talents of Santa, Elves and Reindeer should every be underestimated.

A tree created by a very skilled Artisan from garden waste and decorations collected from each country of our travels.

A tree created by a very skilled Artisan from garden waste and decorations purchased in each country of our travels.

Presents at base of tree prove the existence of Santa to all those doubters out there.

Presents at base of tree prove the existence of Santa to all those doubters out there.

 

 

 

 

 

 

We had intended meat and potato pie for lunch. The previous day, we spotted a single frozen chicken in a mini mart and decided we must have it. We started its journey from thaw to table.

A fabulous chicken Xmas lunch enjoyed by everyone in our mud brick house....SPdeA.

A fabulous chicken Xmas lunch enjoyed by everyone in our mud brick house….SPdeA.

We hope everyone had a Christmas as fabulous as ours and wish everyone a very happy New Year.

 

 

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Chile- Christmas Eve in San Pedro de Atacama

The Atacama desert is very dry. San Pedro de Atacama is a little less dry as water runs beneath it and trees grow oasis style. The houses are mud brick and the roofs are less well constructed than would occur in a rainy place.

It is here that we spent four days over Christmas.

We usually drive around Inverloch on Christmas Eve looking at how people have decorated their houses with lights and nativity scenes. This is low cost entertainment and I approve of low cost entertainment. Some years are more entertaining than others. This year we booked a tour from 4-00pm until 9-00pm to look at Death Valley and Valley of the Moon and watch the sun set over the Valley of the Moon.imageimageimageimage

The sun begins to fall and we and a hundred of our best friends crowd the ridge of a hill with a sickeningly large drop on the other side.

The sun begins to fall and we, and a hundred of our best friends, crowd the ridge of a hill with a sickeningly large drop on the other side.

The shadows get longer

The shadows get longer

And the colours across the salt flats change in a pleasing manner.

And the colours across the salt flats change in a pleasing manner.

This was a most fabulous and worthy replacement activity to driving around Inverloch.

When we arrived back at San Pedro de Atacama it was 9 pm and dark and the guide warned that restaurants may be full as many would be closed. As we walked back to our house, we did see many full restaurants, some stating reservations only, and some closed. Our house was, is next door to a restaurant that was open. We dropped off our daypacks and went to investigate. It turned out to be a Fawlty Towers experience delivered by a cast who had terrifically good intentions that far outstripped their ability to deliver upon them. In positive Christmas mood we enjoyed a chaotic dinner.

At the entrance to the restaurant we reviewed the menu neatly printed on chalk boards. Quite a selection, and there was something everyone wanted. So we went in and we sat down. The waitress arrived and explained we could have shrimp salad or palta salad for entree and turkey or pig for mains. The large variety on the chalk board outside had suddenly shrunk to a choice of two, summarised as el menu del dia. What is palta? we asked. We knew it was a Chilean word as we had seen it before but had not understood it. Our waitress spoke no english. After attempts to describe in Spanish….which generally went….” well it’s palta ” she turned to the whole restaurant and shouted out ” What’s palta in english?” A helpful soul on a table shouted back….”aguacate” ………which is not actually an english word. It is the spanish for avocado that is used in most other South American countries.

“Two camarones and two paltas we said. And follow it up with four turkey dinners”

We tried to order drinks. We ordered a bottle of wine and a water and the waitress shot off. The children had wanted a beer and a coke. No one cared much what they wanted, certainly not our waitress.

Eventually, the waitress returned carrying two bottles of wine, neither of which were the one I had ordered. I asked her which was the best and we went with that recommendation. It was awful, but it was organic.

The children at this point managed to ask the waitress for coke and a  Cristal beer. Some time later the waitress returned to tell us there is no Cristal beer, only Corona. We were a little confused as we could see a large fridge decked with Cristal signage. Through its glass doors we could count around twenty cans of Cristal beer……but it was to be Corona. We went with the flow and the Corona beer and Coke arrived. The wine was opened and the waitress disappeared once more. This left the children with the difficult task of removing the crown seal from their respective bottles. Eventually, Alex picked them up (bottles not children) and took them to the bar to be opened.

Two palta salads arrived from the kitchen, which were consumed by Alex and Lucas. Myself and Lauren looked around hoping two shrimp salads would arrive. And then one did. It was placed in front of Lauren and the waitress again disappeared. We thought she was going to get the other salad. Lauren very politely waited for my salad to be delivered, before she started eating. Mistake. The waitress returned, not with the second salad, but to remove Lauren’s salad. We were becoming accustomed to all this and watched with bemusement. Five minutes later, two shrimp salads arrived. We held onto them, ate them speedily and they were lovely.

The main course. Turkey. It arrived on four plates at roughly the same time. The waitressing was improving as the meal progressed. The portions were enormous. We could have ordered one meal and shared it between us. An eight kilo turkey (my exaggeration) had been roasted, quartered and placed upon four plates. We tried hard, we ate as much as was possible, it was very nice, but very big and defeated each of us.

The waitress expressed surprise when we declined our desserts, included in the price.

Getting the bill was a lengthy process, that was very good natured. A ten percent tip had been added that was not justified on grounds of the professionalism of the front of house staff. Overwhelmed with Christmas bon homie we paid it. We considered it worth the money for the unexpected treat of receiving traditional xmas fare, in fact, very large volumes of traditional xmas fare. And well worth paying for the entertainment value of this theatrical restaurant.

Christmas Eve had been a most satisfactory experience.

 

 

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Chile- Punta Arenas

We chose a hostal in Punta Arenas from bookingdotcom. The reviews written by previous guests were of the type that are short and say little. This generally means that the reviewers like the owners, the reviewers do not wish to say anything negative …….but struggle to say something positive.

When we arrived we discovered what the reviewers were not saying. We had selected a hostal in a “colourful” location. The next six photos are businesses that thrive within 100 metres of our hostal.

Alex was not very happy about about this selection. But as I said to her, this is a true port town and a true port location. Watching sailors brawl from the bedroom window is a unique entertainment not available to us at other places we have stayed. Alex, I have given you a fabulous port experience. At a very reasonable price.

 

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Reasonably priced. But unattractive and the basic end of basic. But reasonably priced !!

An anonymous door on a seedy street. Yes, its unattractive and at the basic end of basic. It was very reasonably priced !!

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Chile- Ushuaia to Punta Arenas

We got on a boat in Ushuaia. The boat was called Via Australis and we were anticipating luxury beyond imagining. We received luxury beyond imagining accompanied by as much alcohol as we were able to consume. We were 98 passengers and 45 crew. For four nights this was fabulous as we were motored to Punta Arenas through Beagle Channel, Cape Horn, Straits of Magellan and the rolling Pacific (blessedly only briefly). We stopped at glaciers and islands and Fjords and admired Patagonia while dressed in many layers of clothing to protect us from the wind. We listened to lectures and watched films and felt educated of things nautical, things flora, things fauna, things geological and all accompanied by three hearty meals that were culinarily positive contributions to our waists.

The photos:

Via Australis had lovely big cabins, lovely big beds and was lovely and warm.

Via Australis had lovely big cabins, lovely big beds and was lovely and warm.

The bar was very pleasant, very free, served very large measures and had great views from large windows.

The bar was very pleasant, very free, served very large measures and had great views from large windows.

First stop was Cape Horn, Capo de Hornos as it is phonetically translated into Spanish. Rather lovely weather on arrival.

First stop was Cape Horn, Cabo de Hornos as it is phonetically translated into Spanish. Rather lovely weather on arrival.

Cape Horn monument to the wandering albatross. Half knocked over by the wind.

Cape Horn monument to the wandering albatross. Half knocked over by the wind.

It is a great honour for the Chilean Navy to select you and your family to operate the lighthouse for a year.

It is a great honour for the Chilean Navy to select you and your family to operate the lighthouse for a year.

Hmmmm. Calm weather and sunshine wasn't going to last. And it didn't. Cape Horn, wet windy and desolate. Rather than rounding the horn I think I would opt for the Panama canal.

Hmmmm. Calm weather and sunshine wasn’t going to last. And it didn’t. Cape Horn, wet windy and desolate. Rather than rounding the Horn I think I would opt for the Panama Canal.

Next stop Wulaia Bay.

Next stop Wulaia Bay.

Wulaia Bay. Wulaia means beautiful bay in local language. So it is beautiful bay bay when translated.

Wulaia Bay. Wulaia means beautiful bay in local language. So it is beautiful bay Bay when translated.

Pia Glacier.

Pia Glacier.

Pia Glacier, well not actually, a few people in a zodiac actually.

Pia Glacier, well not actually, a few people in a zodiac actually.

Garibaldi Glacier

Garibaldi Glacier

Garibaldi glacier

Garibaldi on left and Blue Peaks glacier on right.

Blue Peaks Glacier

Blue Peaks Glacier

Piloto or Nena glacier

Piloto or Nena glacier

Nena or Piloto glacier

Nena or Piloto glacier

Cormorants nesting on cliffs next to Piloto or Nena glaciers.

Cormorants nesting on cliffs next to Piloto or Nena glaciers.

Nesting Cormorant

Nesting Cormorant

Family photo in front of Piloto or Nena glacier.

Family photo in front of Piloto or Nena glacier.

Magdalena Island is home to 70,000 pairs of penguins.

Magdalena Island is home to 70,000 pairs of penguins.

All the penguins here are Magellan penguins. Named after a man who used them to replenish his larder !!

All the penguins here are Magellan penguins. Named after a man who used them to replenish his larder !!

Another very cold day that penguins thought was just fine for sitting around and splashing in the surf.

Another very cold day that penguins thought was just fine for sitting around and splashing in the surf.

Bye bye Magellan penguins and farewell Via Australis cruise. A tremendous four days.

Bye bye Magellan penguins and farewell Via Australis cruise. A tremendous four days.

 

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Argentina- Ushuaia

The most southerly city in the World.

Visitors to the end of the World. Ushuaia.

Visitors to the end of the World. Ushuaia.

There are towns that are more Southerly, Port William across the water from here is more southerly. Puerto Torro is the most Southerly town or village, it is in Chile and has only twelve inhabitants. The bar on the Russian Antarctic station is the worlds most southerly bar.

The Worlds most Southerly Irish pub.

The Worlds most Southerly Irish pub.

In Ushuaia there are many overseas visitors and the vast majority of them wear good quality waterproof hiking boots, expensive jackets and waterproof pants. These are recommended for the visitor to Ushuaia. In Ushuaia, it can be cold. In Ushuaia and environs, the wind can be very strong, it makes you wobble and steals your body warmth. It also rains here a lot. A person told us it rains every day. That is not true as we enjoyed two days of fabulous sunshine and no wind…….we knew this would not last.

Old Asics and Levi Strauss were all I had to combat the cold. That is cos I am ARD, ROKARD.

Old Asics and Levi Strauss were all I had to combat the cold. That is cos I am ARD, ROKARD.

It is Summer in Ushuaia. A time of the year when it is light for 18 hours a day. A season of the year when the all time high of 26 degrees was reached………..but the average is 16. It was 4 when we arrived.

While it is Summer and cool. The Winter is actually temperate due to the warming influnce of the oceans. So it doesn’t get really cold in Winter, the average temperature is zero and minus two is the minimum according to our guide. As a consequence European ski teams come here to practice over their summer. The only negative is that the hours of available light is restricted to about six at the solstice.

It is a port city and boats to Antartica leave from here. It has 65,000 people that live here. Not always so many, the Argentine government wanted the place populated to counter any Chilean claims to the territory. So they forgot about tax for businesses that established, and there is now a healthy electronics manufacturing sector and a population to work in those factories.

Mountains and harbour and the town of Ushuaia.

Mountains and harbour and the town of Ushuaia.

A lot of corrugated iron and bright paintwork.

A lot of corrugated iron and bright paintwork.

The town also has abundant natural gas which is sold to dwellers at encouraging prices. The tour guide who took us to the penguins said his monthly gas bill was $1.20. As a consequence indoors in Ushuaia can be stiflingly hot.

It was reminiscent of the television series on Alaska. A town locked between mountains and the water. The buildings here are fairly short.

Somewhere closeby,  giant crab is captured. On Worlds Most Dangerous Catch the fishermen of the far North caught monster crabs. Smaller examples with long spidery legs exist here. We saw them in tanks and they look scarey. We saw them on plates and they looked less scarey. They were great eating and we returned three nights in a row to dine on large volumes of crab.

Vibrant pink places sell giant crabs.

Vibrant pink places sell giant crabs.

Giant crab meat arrives in dishes with a garlic and white wine sauce. Very satisfactory

Giant crab meat arrives in dishes with a garlic and white wine sauce. Very satisfactory

 

 

 

 

 

We got onto a bus for 90 minutes and then a Zodiac boat (covered) for 15 . We then found ourselves walking with the penguins, on martillo island, filled with hundreds of nesting birds and blasted by wind.

See I said it was windy. It was very windy this day.

See I said it was windy. It was very windy this day.

The Magellan penguins didn't seem to mind the wind.

The Magellan penguins didn’t seem to mind the wind.

Three king penguins had turned up for no reason that was clear.

Three king penguins had turned up for no reason that was clear.

But it was mostly Magellan penguins.

But it was mostly Magellan penguins.

Resting Magellan.

Resting Magellan.

Magellan with chicks.

Magellan with chicks.

And finally where the nature documentaries will not go. Penguin poo. A lot of penguins, a lot of penguin poo.

And finally where the nature documentaries will not go. Penguin poo. A lot of penguins, a lot of penguin poo.

 

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