Thursday, 31 January 2008

The Love Shack is a little ol' place, where, we can be together

It's quite common here for your kids to live at home with you,until they get married or shack up with someone. So you could be sharing your home with your 31 year old daughter or forty-something year old son if they haven't got lucky. Jaezus, I think I'd go postal. I'm thinking both sides of the equation here. If I'm the kids now, having to share a house 24/7 with your parents, till your 30 to 40 would drive me over the edge. Wasn't it the Menendez twins that 'off'ed' there parents and who could blame them.

Parents Question: "What sort of time do you call 4am to be out on a Friday night?"
Gobshite Answer: ".....eh....errr...... normal?!!"

But now that I'm pushing forty meself, I have to empathise with the ol' 'blue rinse crew'. I mean, all they want is a good nights sleep and a bit o' peace n' quiet and maybe some bingo every now n' again. Not, I repeat, NOT, loud drum n' bass pumping at full pitch in the wee hours and toilet doors slamming at all hours. They say the most difficult years for parents AND kids are the teengage years, so I've already decided, my kids (if my lads are swimmers), are OUT on their ear at 11 years old. If a ten year old Somalian kid can join an army and fire a rocket launcher, surely an 11 year old Paddy/Argie prodigy can shovel shite down the stables and earn a living and contribute to his parents upkeep. Away with ya now to the stables for the night, ya ungrateful wee nipper and don't forget to bring me the newspaper and a six-pack on your way back from confession tomorrow morning, may God have mercy on your soul.


Photo: Love Hotel - pay by the hour

Which brings me to the point of this post. - They have these hotels here called 'Love Hotels' for the couples without their own place, that want a bit of privacy and maybe some 'nookie' tonight. They charge by the hour and are mostly found in quiet streets in suburban neighbourhoods. Just look for the tell-tale trees outside the main exit, which is supposed to give some privacy to those exiting stage left in case mummy or daddy or real spouse is driving by at the wrong time.

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El Calafate and Perito Moreno Glacier


Photo: Mount Fitzroy, Los Glaciares National Park, Argentina

It was time to start making my way back to Buenos Aires. I'd arranged for a pickup at the town of Cerro Castillo which was nothing more than 2 cafeterias on the side of the road. As I got dropped off, there was a gale force wind blowing dust everywhere. My onward minibus transport arrived and I was surprised to discover the building beside the cafe was actually the border / customs control for both the Argentinian and Chilean immigration. No sniffer dogs, no bag check, just a quick stamp in the passport and back on the minivan. About an hour and a half later the minivan connected with a larger bus to bring us to El Calafate.


I'd been here a few years earlier and it's most famous attractions are the Perito Moreno Glacier and nearby Mount Fitzroy. The glacier is visually stunning, but because the glacier is slowing advancing, the huge chunks of ice, the size of a ten story building, that break off the glacier about every 30 minutes will leave you gob smacked. Quite a few people have died from being hit by the falling blocks (see warning in photo below) so don't get too close! You can also arrange to trek on the glacier for 2 hours and hopefully you'll be trekking far from the chunks that are breaking off into the ocean.





Photos: Danger! Don't get too close to the falling blocks of ice!


Photo: Perito Moreno Glacier

I spent the night in El Calafate and the next morning I left the cool air and ice behind. I took a 3 hour flight back to Buenos Aires where it was 35 Celcius and 90% humidity.

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Saturday, 26 January 2008

Torres Del Paine, Chile - Mountains n' Mole Hills

I had serious concerns the ol' tired legs weren't going to hold up for day #5 and had pretty much resigned myself to a lazy day. We got up late and contemplated the strategy for the day. We had a car, so why did I need to drag my out of shape Irish arse up yet another mountain? I was quite content to do the lazy car tour until I spotted a fifty something year old Asian woman with a backpack twice the size of mine, heading up the same trail I was shying away from. I couldn't let it go and thought if she can do it, I can do it. It was another eight to ten hour hike with four to five hours out, then four to five hours back, to see the close up view of the Torres (towers).


Photo: The only was is up!

I set off late morning and was in danger of missing dinner if i didn't make it back in time. This wasn't an option as far as I was concerned so I adopted the previous days tactic of running the downhill stretches and even a few uphill ones. I had no heavy pack to carry today, just water and food, as I'd be finishing at the same refugio. I'm not sure whether it was the fear of not making it back on time for dinner or whether I just wanted to shorten the pain, but I ran like the wind wherever possible. The adrenalin was pumpin' and I was at the Mirador (viewpoint), 90 minutes ahead of schedule.


Photo: Refugio Chileno in the background


Photo: At the viewpoint


Photo: At the viewpoint (continued), now if the clouds would just take a hike!


Photo: On the way back down I discover the easy way up - where were you guys yesterday?

The view wasn't at it's most spectacular due to cloud, but it was nonetheless exhilarating to have gotten there so quickly. I stayed almost an hour, chomping down a sandwich (not Tuna for a change!!) and waiting for the sky to clear, so I could get a good photo. It never did clear however and then in true 'Forrest Gump' style, I ran just for the fun of running and down the mountain I sprinted like a man possessed. I finished, back at base two and a half hours ahead of schedule. I was tired, sore but satisfied having completed the 'W' circuit and I was ready for a beer or two.

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Tuesday, 22 January 2008

Torres Del Paine, Chile - Foot Rot


Photo: Lake view - Almost halfway!

The previous night passed without any notable incidents, except the tent was set up on a slope and apparently I took up most of what little room there was. The rain and wind musn't have been too bad or we'd have been washed or blown away and the cold wasn't that noticeable. As I got ready to exit the tent, I removed my plastic bag socks which unleashed a horrid ammonia stench that would could have been classified as a W.M.D. I decided that any ideas about patenting this insulation idea were fraught with too many complications. We had a long nine hour hike ahead of us so finished breakfast quickly (yep - tuna sandwiches and chocolate again!).


Photo: A picturesque pebble beach

The weather had taken a turn for the better and it was actually quite hot. It was too hot in fact and after charging down the mountain at a fairly fast pace for an out o' shape paddy, my feet felt they were on fire (they probably were after the chemical saturation they'd endured in plastic all night!) . A foot bath in the cold river water was the only way to douse the inferno, but God help the fish or bottle refillers down stream!). In the limited strategy stages of the trip, we'd discussed the possibility of 10 or 12 hour hikes, but let me tell you, 9 hours is more than enough. At the halfway point, it looked as if there was a dried ice machine hidden in my shoes. There was literally steam coming off them, I kid you not. Longer and more frequent foot baths became a requisite. I took to running the downhill stretches to shorten the agony, but this also increased the burn factor and raised more than a few eyebrows amongst my fellow weary hikers.


Photo: The Torres in the background

We reached an interesting point towards the 2/3rds marker as the only way to continue was to wade into and across an icy river, but at least that helped the ol' foot burn problem. After what seemed an eternity, we reached Torres Norte Base where the car awaited with supplies and a real (bunk) bed and hot cooked food and BEER for the night!


Photo: Footbath #5


Photo: Guanaco's (Lama's) by the lake


Photo: ..and I would walk 500 miles and I would ... ach maybe not!

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Monday, 21 January 2008

Torres Del Paine, Chile - The Ascent


Photo: The hike begins at Paine Grande at Lake Pehoé


Photo: Wobbly bridge at Camp Italiano

After a hearty breakfast, we set off for the first real days hiking. The forecast was for strong winds and lots of showers and we had about 5 to 6 hours hiking ahead of us. Our plan was to get to Camp Británico in Valle Frances and stay the night in the tent. There was a viewpoint a further hike up from the camp that was supposed to have a good view of the valley with potential for great sunsets / sunrises.

To try and be somewhat prepared, I'd bought rainproof leggings which I donned as we began our trek. Unfortunately, all the leggings seemed to do was collect moisture / sweat and drain it into my shoes and after about two hours of walking in showers and sunshine, there was a discernable squelchy noise as I walked and it wasn't the exactly the most comfortable, but we had to motor on to reach base. We reached Camp Italiano which was sort of the half way point and scoffed down some sandwiches and then began the ascent to our base for the night. It's one thing to haul yer arse uphill, but to add a back pack is a whole different animal. I'm a light traveller or unprepared depending on which way you look at, so I had a relatively small, light pack compared to others. However, by the time I'd reached the summit, I'd made all sorts of empty promises about trying to keep in shape, sometime real soon!


Photo: Pit stop up Valle Frances


Photo: View of Lake Nordenskjold


Photo: Los Cuernos (The Horns)

We finally reached the campsite and it was pretty basic. No toilets, showers or running water. A nearby river was going to have to serve as water supply / bath.
We set up tent and it was fairly obvious the flimsy abode for the night, wasn't going to stand up to much. Only two other tents (professional looking kits) were set up that night on the summit and to detract from the little confidence we had, a German couple were vocally bemused that we were actually planning to brave the elements in this mere wind breaker of a tent. "Are you sure this is waterproof & windproof and big enough for two people + two packs?" they snickered.
"It's the best tent 45 pesos (usd$15) can buy" I snapped back "and we're Celtic warriors, well used to the elements!". I'm not sure they were convinced, mind you, I'm not sure I was convinced either.

About an hour after arriving, the temperature dropped five degrees and the showers started again. My feet a.k.a. 'sweat trophs' started to freeze over. This was clearly not going to be a comfortable night. What would McGyver do ? I thought to myself. And then the brainstorm of plastic bags on the feet kicked in. It worked a charm to keep the damp away from my feet. When the rain cleared again we headed up to the view point but the real motivation for me was just to keep moving. Exercise = Warmth = Comfort! It was a bit too cloudy for a good sunset photo but impressive nevertheless.


Photo: Mirador Frances


Photo: Eerie dead forest

As it started to get dim, we headed back to the camp for dinner a.k.a. tuna sandwiches and chocolate, then retreated to the tent for shelter.

The tent itself was quite a novelty indeed. When you lay flat out, your head protruded into one wall of canvas and your feet stuck out the other side. The fear was if you stretched out, you would pop the pegs holding the tent to the ground. This was either a two midget man tent or it had been swapped for a kiddies play tent. A picture of Kermit the frog on the side wouldn't have been out of place. To make matters worse, a plague of flesh eating flies/mozzies surrounded the tent . The plastic foot warmers were still working a treat. So much so, I decided I would keep them on in the sleeping bag. After a wee dram for medicinal purposes, I faded into a deep sleep.

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Friday, 18 January 2008

Torres Del Paine, Chile - Arrival


Laguna Azul
It took about 3 hours to reach Puerto Natales (150kms south of the park) and the car had been veering off the road due to a gale force cross wind. The plan was to have dinner and then continue to the park to camp at Rio Serrano about another 2 hours away. I had picked up a cheap two man tent in a supermarket in Ushuaia and other than sleeping bags and mats, we had little in the way of 'real' camping gear. When we got out of the car, the wind was not only gale force but freezing so being the hardened Celtic warriors that we were...NOT!, we quickly abandoned the idea of camping and booked into a hostal in Puerto Natales . At breakfast the following morning, a father and son duo told us they had been in the park the previous day and it was raining hail and snowing. Apparently this park can get four seasons in one day and we were going to need a bit of luck.


Map #1 of Torres Del Paine - Click image above to expand

We set off at about 11am for Torres Del Paine National Park which covers 2400 square kilometers. There are numerous hiking trails that can span a day or even several weeks. Our plan was to cover most of the 'W' circuit which as the name indicates, looks like a 'W' and takes about 4 to 5 days. We were going to travel west to east and since night #1 had been outside the park we were now behind schedule and needed to make up some time.

I had made reservations in the refugios (hostals) for night #2 in Refugio Paine Grande/Pehoé in the west and night #4 and #5 in Refugio Torres Norte in the east. Night #3 was going to be a bit of a gamble with the plan to camp up a mountain in Camp Británico in the Valle Frances which was supposedly great at sunset and sunrise. We needed to dump the car at Refugio Torres Norte in the east, so that when we got there on day #4 we could resupply our backpacks with food etc. There are limited transport connections within the park but after some rally style driving on the dirt road we packed up our backpacks with food and water and we just about made the last connection to Laguna Amarga, where there was a connection to Pudeto where there was yet another connection by boat across Lake Pehoé. The boat left us at Refugio Paine Grande at about 7pm which would be our base for the night, so on day #2 there wasn't too much energy expended.
I'd read a lot of reports of how the refugios were very basic and not overly comfortable but it was actually almost hotel style comfort with a restaurant and bar. It was also half empty which was surprising since this is peak season. Dinner, beers and heavy rain capped off day #2.


Map #2 - detailed - Torres Del Paine - Click image above to expand


Lago Pehoé

Lago Pehoé


Refugio Paine Grande

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Thursday, 17 January 2008

Punta Arenas, Chile


Fly south from B.A. to Ushuaia then overland /sea west to Punta Arenas then north to Torres Del Paine then north east to El Calafate for flight back to B.A.


Ferry thru Mageallan Straits




Punta Arenas, Chile

After a few pleasant days in Ushuaia, I hopped on a 12 hour bus ride across the border to Chilean Patagonia. It was yet another drawn out border crossing but this time, for whatever reason we didn't have to offload the bags for inspection. The journey heads north from Ushuaia to Rio Grande on the Atlantic coast. The roads then swings west and the bus literally squeezes onto a ferry which is docked beside a rather disconcerting 'Danger - Minefield' sign. It takes twenty minutes to cross the Magellan Straits into Chile and then its only ninety minutes to Punta Arenas on the Pacific coast.

Punta Arenas is a small colourful city with 100,000 inhabitants (approx the same as Ushuaia). There's not an awful lot to do or see in the city itself (a couple of museums) and most people use it as the landing point before heading north to Puerto Natales and eventually Torres Del Paine national park. I spent the night and the following day, I headed to the airport to meet up with a friend who was coming back from a three month stint working as a weatherman in Antarctica. After a bit of confusion at the car hire desk, and a pit stop to pick up provisions, we set off north for 6 days exploring the national park. The plan was to get to the park the same day (about a five hour drive) and do 2 nights camping and 3 nights in refugios which are hostal style accomodation set up at strategic points within the park. It had been a long time since I had been camping and I hadn't been overly active for a while so it remained to be seen how the the experience would go and weather was going to play a crucial factor, but why did I need to worry, sure I had an 'expert forecaster' in the car!


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Tuesday, 8 January 2008

What can a 4 x 4 really do?


Don't try this at home


In 'deep water'


Bright side of the road


Driver bails out and leaves passengers to fend for themselves.


Lives to fight another day

There are lot's of overland excursions available in Ushuaia and many, many boat trips to penguin colonies, glaciers and the like, but there is a highly recommended option to go off road in a Landrover to visit some beautiful lakes about 35kms from the centre of the city.

The trip takes you on some rough terrain where the car seems like it will tip over any minute but somehow doesn't and you make a few stops for photos including a lake and then proceed to drive into the lake (yes these cars rock!), where the jeep skirts the shoreline before ending up at a stop off for a short hike where a parrilla (BBQ) is awaiting you.

One of the highlights is when you're heading down a particularly rough stretch of road, the drivers hops out and leaves the car in first gear to navigate .....autopilot, guided by the mud track, while he chats nonchalantly with another driver.
The company is called Canal (http://www.canalfun.com) - definitely a step up from the blue rinse crew on / off the bus experience.

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Monday, 7 January 2008

The Light of Day


Midnight in Ushuaia


5am in Ushuaia


Sunrise in Ushuaia


High Noon in Ushuaia

I decided to have a lazy day after the rather hectic escapades of the previous day/night. Ushuaia is a small picturesque coastal city (more like a town really) set into a hill. I rested up, with a siesta and then in the evening explored the area on foot. It feels as if there are more tourists here than locals and tonnes of yanks and brits doing the whirlwind tour of Argentina.

I was eating dinner at 11:30pm and it was still bright outside which was a little strange (see picture of ship above). Apparently, it's normally bright until 11pm this time of year but Argentina just reintroduced daylight saving a week ago so now it's bright here until midnight & beyond.

The ol' body clock was a tad confused and although the body was tired, the brain said, ah sure, go for one pint. The body was catching up with the brain at the karaoke bar at 5am having met some friendly locals who reintroduced me to the joys of late night singing and I ended up doing s rendition of 'Jailhouse Rock' at full pitch and when I was toasting the sunrise a few hours later on the roof of a hotel, both body & brain were in harmony. Alas, this staus quo was not to last and as of 8pm the following day my brain and body are still not on friendly terms.

Let that be a lesson to you young 'uns.

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Sunday, 6 January 2008

It's the END of the WORLD as we know it!




There was a spate of family / friend gatherings over the holidays. It was as if one lunch get together melded into a dinner get together which ended up finishing in the wee hours, only to start all over again the next day.

There was a 50th wedding anniversary party last night with people flying in from all over. As with most things Argentinian, this one started late and finished late. I changed out of my tux at 6am and headed for the airport. I assumed because I was heading for a domestic flight to Ushuaia, it would leave from the domestic airport, Aeroparqu�. I assumed wrong and there followed a mad high speed dash to the international airport, but it all worked out in the end.

I arrived in Ushuaia, at noon a tad tired but happy to be travelling again. The itinerary for the next ten days is to leave the missus behind and spend three days here, in the so called southern most city in the world and then head to Chile and go hiking in Torres del Paine national park with a friend who is coming back from three months work in Antarctica.

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Tuesday, 1 January 2008

FELíZ 2008









I played 27 holes of golf on December 30th in a beautiful course called Olivos which is one of the top courses in the country ( www.olivosgolf.com.ar ) about 30kms outside of city (Capital Federal). It was ridiculously hot and humid, but we persevered in the mid afternoon sun and although my golf was not exactly top notch, it was nonetheless a great day. There was a large water trap on the 15th hole (probably the signature hole on the course) where a entrepreneurial young lad waited patiently for folks to hit their ball in the water, where he would retrieve it for a fee. Not wanting to deprive the poor lad of a few pesos, I cooperated by sinking not one but two balls in the water while notching up a score of ten on that one hole.

New Years Eve brought the hottest day of the year in B.A. and there was even a partial blackout/power cut in some areas most likely due to the drain on the power grid from everyone cranking up the air-con. The timing wasn't too good as most people were in the middle of dinner and waiting to do the countdown to the stroke of midnight. Luckily we weren't affected by the outage and welcomed in the new year in the inlaws apartment where we ended up doing an impromptu karaoke session till 5am.

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