Chile and Easter Island
22nd January 2004 Early start (5:00am!) to catch bus for Punta Arenas (Chile), via a couple of Argentine cities. 23rd January 2004 Bus to Puerto Natales (3 hrs). Hired tent & stove & jumped on a bus to Torres del Paine (4 hrs) for 7 days hiking. Arrived and managed to successfully construct nice purple & yellow tent (it was cheap!). 24th-28th January 2004 Various treks along "The ´W´" to Las Torres, Los Cuernos, and along to Glacier Grey. Lots of climbs & descents so hard on the knees, but good for losing weight - am now about 5 stone lighter! Got thoroughly drenched one of the days, but dried out the next! Goretex boots? Could have fooled me! Blown along towards park entrance by F6-8 winds, reaching campsite with shelter shortly before dusk! 29th-30th January 2004 Left park, arrived back in Punta Arenas for evening flight to Puerto Montt, visiting Cueva del Milodon (where the remnants of a triple-size polar-bear-like creature - actually a pre-historic member of the sloth family - were carbon-dated to about 10,000 years ago. It was a cave. That´s it really. The fur remains they found are now in the British Natural History Museum. Have a look for us will you!!! 31st January 2004 - Rogers Birthday In Puerto Montt. Spent birthday finishing off having the cold, which had been neatly suppressed during strenous trekking activity in Paine! Checked out car hire. 1st-2nd Feb Hired car & went to Chiloe Island, to the southern end of the PanAmerican highway (beats us as to why it ends on an island!). Culture on the island is slightly different to mainland Chile since the Mapuche indians kicked the Spanish out of southern Chile, but seemed to forget about Chiloe. Everyone seems to live pretty happily together now though. Went past nasty car accident, thinking ourselves lucky until a lorry backed into us while we were waiting for the ferry! No injuries, just a crumpled bonnet. Returned sheepishly to Puerto Montt to get a new car. 3-4th Feb In our smaller replacement car (humph!) went to Lago Llanquihue then to Volcán Osorno, near Puerto Varas, and climbed up to the ice-cap. A bit of culture ensued where we happened upon a music festival so deigned to listen to the winner of a Chilean international singing contest. Following such exertions, headed for some thermal springs for a quick dip, via some pretty, small towns. Lots of cakes (Kuchen) for sale due to the germanic influence in the area. Returned car (intact this time) to Puerto Montt. 5-7th Feb Bus to Pucón (most fashionable place in Chile - as proved by the difficulty in finding accommodation there, and the throngs of youngsters (relatively speaking of course!) on the streets during the early hours of the morning. Did a bit of grade 4 white-water rafting (good fun). Foolishly booked to climb up Volcán Villarica (to see some molten magma first-hand) on a saturday morning, but guide had a few too many on friday night and failed to show. Hired some mountain bikes instead and went on the hardest, bumpiest, dustiest tracks in the area. Oh - to a beautiful lake (Caburgua) with sandy beach, where we consumed lunch. Couldn´t sit down for days afterwards! 8-9th Feb Delayed birthday present - recovery in posh hotel on border of Parque National Huerquehue, built around some thermal springs - private hot-tub & everything! Jolly nice time, what-oh! Then resumed punishment with overnight bus to Santiago, ready for flight to Rapa Nui. 10-14th Feb Easter Island/Isla de Pascua/Rapa Nui - pick which language you prefer! The most remote inhabited island (over 2000nm to Pitcairn island, and 3000nm to mainland Chile) Arrived during festival time, so loads of local activities/competitions (carving, costume-making, painting, surfing etc.) going on & free evening concerts - all with strong Polynesian influence. Lots of fit women wiggling their hips for Roger and fit men wearing feathers and strutting their stuff for Susana. Ah, getting distracted - we also saw loads of carved heads (Moai) - some still fallen from the inter-tribal wars (17th century) - and some put back into place again by people like Thor Heyerdahl, so people like us could take some smart photos. Most impressive was the quarry where they carved the heads and extracted the stone. Over 300 Moai in various states of being carved/extracted, spread around the volcano crater. Many standing or half-buried in the ground. Dived a few times - water was crystal-clear, corals were pristine, fish-life was present but not excessive. Trumpet fish, turtle, puffer fish, trunk fish, tuna, to name a few. Top place. Even has a few sandy beaches to boot. Almost forgot - bums had recovered by now, so tried out a few more bumpy, dusty roads. It was just as well we got upgraded to business class (aircraft, not mountain bike) for the return trip to the mainland. 15th -18th Feb From the pure airs and clear skies of Easter Island, we arrived in one of smog-capitals of the world. Bienvenidos a Santiago! We took advantage of being in the wine-growing area of Chile by visiting the Undurraga and Concha y Toro vineyards (hic!). We then finally got round to seeing "Return of the King", fortunately in English with Spanish subtitles! Santiago appears to be one of the best places in South America for ice-cream so we did our best to reduce the stocks a little. 19th - 22nd Feb Arrived San Pedro de Atacama to sample the delights of a remote settlement at 2400m - an oasis in the Atacama desert, complete with authentic water shortage, electricity cuts etc. However, being in the middle of nowhere, at altitude, dry, with clear skies, makes it one of the best places in the world for star-gazing. So we spied some distant galaxies through some rather nice telescopes that, unfortunately, wouldn´t fit in our backpacks. It just happened to be new moon, making the skies even clearer. Saw some more scenic landscapes (valle de la luna, valle de la muerte, oh, and the Salar de Atacama (3rd largest salt lake in the world)) and visited the altiplano complete with lakes and flamingoes, surrounded by volcanoes. Time for a bit of history (and a bit more dusty mountain-biking) with a visit to the Pukara de Quitor (see pic). 23rd - 25th Feb Having spent a few days getting used to 2400m, we felt ready for the 4WD Toyota LandCruiser trip across the border to Bolivia via the customs hut, lakes, geysers and volcanoes, pausing (or gasping...) for breath at 5000m.