Chile – Day 13 – Lago Grey Glacier Tour

Today we woke up at 7:30am and made breakfast as well as more salami sandwiches for lunch. We left the loft at 8:30am and drove the 2.5 hours towards Torres Del Paine National Park. The drive went slower this time as traffic was heavier and there was some construction on the road.

We checked in at the main office before entering the park and heading towards the Lago Grey Hotel, where we checked in for the Lago Grey glacier tour. The hotel lobby is absolutely beautiful and overlooks Lago Grey, and you can even see chunks of icebergs floating!

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After checking into the tour at the hotel we were asked to drive a few kilometers down the road to this beautiful cafe where we could relax until noon before starting a one hour trek along the lake to the catamaran. Lago Grey is fairly low at this time of the year so the catamaran can’t come to the hotel. I had a coffee and Catherine had a diet coke. We decided it would be an opportune time to also eat lunch.

After relaxing in the cafe we started the trek towards where the catamaran docks. The trek starts out by crossing a rickety suspension bridge that only 6 people at a time can occupy it. There was a park warden to ensure the bridge was not overloaded with people.

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The trek continued through a forested area for about 15 minutes before ending up at the edge of Lago Grey. We walked along a raised sediment area of the lake towards where the catamaran docks. We ran into Martin & Sophie again at the waiting area and talked for about 15 minutes before the Catamaran arrived.

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After boarding the catamaran we were instructed to wear life jackets when we go outside, but we didn’t have to wear them inside like we did for the Magdalena tour. We were onboard the catamaran for roughly 3 hours and got to see 2 different glaciers at the opposite end of the lake. On the return trip we had some pisco sours made from 10000 year old ice; they were delicious and the ice was the clearest ice I’ve ever seen. The wind picked up significantly on the way back and made from some slightly choppy waves, but it was no problem for our catamaran.

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After docking we were hit with some 120-160 kph winds and it was comical watching ourselves and others barely able to walk back along the lake. It was already 4:30pm by the time we got back to the truck so we decided to drive back to the loft and make dinner.

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Catherine cooked us some fajitas for dinner and then we watched an episode of Mayday before going to bed. Mayday is a Canadian documentary investigating air crashes, near-crashes, hijackings, etc. There are currently 19 seasons and the show is still going strong. It is one of my favorite shows on television.

Be sure to check back tomorrow, or the day after for the next installment in my Chile series!

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Chile – Day 12 – Torres Del Paine National Park

Today I woke up at 7:00am. Catherine was still sleeping so I made us some coffee as well as some cheese and eggs on toast for us. Once I had made breakfast I woke Catherine up and we had breakfast together. After breakfast I made us some salami, cheese and avocado sandwiches for our lunch later on. We quickly got ready and hopped into the truck for a 2 hour drive to Torres Del Paine National Park. During our drive the scenery just kept getting more beautiful.

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Torres Del Paine National Park encompasses mountains, glaciers, lakes and rivers in the southern Chilean Patagonia and is known for its three massive granite peaks, which are actually an eastern spur of the Andes mountains. The park receives about 250,000 visitors each year and is a very popular hiking destination in Chile. I would absolutely come back here to hike more than the one hike that I did here, and would easily spend a week or two here just hiking.

The entrance to Torres Del Paine is setup similar to a passport office but has multiple steps. “Step 1” has a booth where you fill out a double sided piece of paper with a lot of your personal information, including your address as well as your passport number. After you fill out the paper you take it to “step 2” which stamps the paper and takes your money; in this case 21000 Chilean Pesos ($42.30 CDN) for 3 days of entry. “Step 3” involves taking your stamped piece of paper over to a different desk where they will stamp it again with a different stamp and provide you with instructions and a very detailed map.

After checking into the park we slowly drove to Mirador Condor Trail (a hike I wanted to do), while taking multiple stops for photos. We arrived at the Mirador Condor Trailhead at about 10:30am. The hike takes about 1.5 to 2 hours return and has an elevation gain of roughly 200 metres over 4km (2km each way) and has a beautiful view from the top overlooking Pehoe Lake. When we started the hike the sky was fairly clear except around the three granite peaks of the Paine mountain range but the temperature was a cool 15 degrees Celsius. We were both wearing jackets when we started the hike, but I quickly took my jacket off because I was starting to get hot. Catherine kept hers on the entire time because she is usually always too cold.

Half way up to the viewpoint we noticed the wind started picking up, but we had no idea what we were in for until we actually got to the top. At the top we could barely stand up and we later learned in the day the top regularly sees 160 kph winds, which is very substantial. At the top I took the opportunity to make some hilarious faces with the wind morphing my mouth into all sorts of ungodly positions. The viewpoint is absolutley breathtaking. On one side you see the beautiful shimmering turquoise coloured Pehoe Lake and on the other side you see the remains of a 2011-2012 fire that an Israeli backpacker deliberately set by lighting up some paper rolls. The fire burned 176 square kilometers of the reserve, destroying 36 square kilometers of native forest, which you can see in my photographs. The Israeli government sent in reforestation experts to the park and has committed to donate trees to replant the affected areas.

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While on our way down from the top we ran into an older couple named Martin and Sophie who were visiting from the Netherlands. We talked for a bit and then realized that we were going to be on the same Lago Grey glacier tour tomorrow. After talking for a bit I was really starting to deteriorate because of my cold and being out in the cold wind so we head back towards the truck. The return only took about 30 minutes and we even saw some condor birds on the way down; they’re huge!

Once we arrived at the truck we were both quite hungry so we ate the salami, cheese and avocado sandwiches that I made for lunch. We continued on driving throughout the park stopping at multiple lookouts and doing short hikes. Another one of my favorite stops was the Salto Grande waterfall. It’s not a very large waterfall but the colours were absolutely stunning.

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We ended up leaving the park at around 5:30pm and arrived back at our loft around 7:30pm. On the way back we passed Puerto Natales airport where I saw a BAE-146 (Avro RJ-100) taking off. These old workhorses are a dying bread and most have come to South America to spend their last years before they get turned into scrap metal. Many work for the airline DAP which flies to Antarctica.

Catherine made us some pasta with chicken and some red sauce for dinner. I wasn’t feeling too good so we laid in bed and watched “The Impossibles” movie. I’m surprised that I had never seen the 2movie before but it was actually pretty good and is based on a true story on a family that was affected by the 2004 Thailand floods.

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Chile – Days 10 & 11 – Travel Day, Punta Arenas and Puerto Natales

Today we both woke up at 6:45am. We finished packing our bags and had our complimentary buffet breakfast. Today the breakfast was much better than the previous two days with a better variety of food. Perhaps its because we went a bit earlier than previous days.

We drove to the airport and I returned the rental car to Budget. It actually went quite quickly without any issues. We went through security, which took about 2 minutes since we were the only ones in line. After heading through security we purchased some bottled water for the plane and then sat in a coffee shop and had some coffee’s before boarding a Sky Airlines flight to Santiago.

Upon arriving in Santiago we purchased some McDonald’s for lunch. I had a 1/4 Pounder with Cheese, while C had a Big Mac and fries. We both shared a cola. We had a few hours to burn at the airport so I did some photo editing, and C did some drawing. We purchased some sandwiches from Starbucks for dinner on the next flight. While waiting for the flight we noticed 8 PDI (Investigations Police of Chile) surround an incoming LATAM flight and wait for the passengers to deplane. They surrounded a guy and took him away from the plane. We were not sure what it was all about but I suspect he was a wanted person of interest.

The next flight was a Sky Airlines flight from Santiago to Punta Arena’s. The flight was one of the smoothest flights I have ever been on and the sky was completely clear with beautiful breathtaking views of Torres Del Paine National Park prior to our arrival at Punta Arena’s.

After arriving at Punta Arena’s airport I went to the Europcar rental check-in desk and the experience was a night and day difference to my experience with Budget in Calama. I was upgraded to a very nice fully loaded Nissan NV300 diesel truck and the whole check in process took less than ten minutes.

We loaded our bags into the truck and drove to our accommodation for the night; Hostal Ventisqueros. It was a cute B&B style accommodation run by this very nice lady who didn’t speak any English but we got by with Google Translate. One humorous thing to note about the hotel was the extremely small bath tub.

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After checking in we purchased some groceries for the morning breakfast and then went for a walk along the Punta Arenas boardwalk. The sunset was absolutely beautiful and we took many photos. Sadly it was then time to head to bed because we had to get up early in the morning for a Penguin Tour!

The next day we had to wake up at 5:00am, as the Penguin Tour started at 6:00am. We drove to a nearby coffee shop to get some coffees and we ate the food that we had purchased the night before. We drove downtown to the Solo Expediciones tour office. The tour was a bit late starting because of numerous late arrivals, but the buses eventually set off at around 6:45am. During the bus ride the girl next to me got sick and yacked all over the floor, getting a bit on my jacket. I felt really bad for her because she was about to be getting on a boat. Her dad took everything in good stride and helped to clean it up the best he could.

The bus arrived at the dock at around 7:30am. We boarded two large zodiac style boats and heat towards Magdalena Island. Before we head to the island we took a quick stop close to Isla Marta where there was literally thousands of sea lions and birds bathing in the sun. It was an incredible sight to see.

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The next stop was Magdalena Island. We were only allowed one hour on the island as they want to try to minimize the amount of distress that we cause the penguins. This was especially important at this time of the year because they were just having their baby chicks. It was such an amazing experience to see thousands upon thousands of penguins on the island. The average amount of penguins on the island is said to be about 300,000! Most of the island is roped off and people follow a set route that takes about one hour at a snails pace. This gives everyone ample opportunity to take photographs of the penguins.

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After boarding the zodiacs to head back to land we were greeted with pisco sour’s, cookies and coffee. The pisco sours were very strong! The seas were extremely calm today and we were told we were pretty lucky to have such a beautiful and calm day. We arrived back on land, boarded a bus (different one this time because we wanted to avoid the bus we took where the girl had her episode), and took the bus back to the Solo Expediciones tour office. We arrived back at the office at around noon.

When I went out to my truck I had a panic because I saw what appeared to be a parking ticket, but it turns out it was just a parking slip that I had to pay for parking in a paid zone. I wasn’t sure how this worked so I was a bit panicked. At first I decided that perhaps I would ignore it, but then I didn’t want to get into trouble. I decided that we should go for lunch and that I could ask one of the people there how the parking system worked in Punta Arenas.

For lunch we went to La Marmita. The server explained to me how the parking system works; basically you have to find a person that prints the slips to settle up the tab. I ran out to go find one of the people while C stayed behind at the restaurant. Turns out its actually harder to find these people than I would have thought. I spent a good 20 minutes literally running around to find one of these people. I eventually found one and settled the tab. While I was gone C ordered me a pisco sour because she could see that I was a bit stressed out. Upon my return I ordered a guanaco (llama) stew and she ordered some seafood soup as well as a delicious ravioli. We both agreed that this was one of the best restaurants that we’ve ever eaten at. The price for this reflected that at nearly $80 CDN.

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We spend the afternoon walking around Punta Arenas, before purchasing groceries at the local Unimarc. Punta Arenas has numerous very well preserved Art Nouveau and Art Deco style buildings, which excited me as both are my favorite styles of architecture. Art Nouveau was prominent between 1890 and 1910, and Art Deco was prominent between 1910 and 1939. I have wrote about these in detail in numerous other posts but two that come to mind with lots of photos are my USA Route 66 trip in 2018 (link), and my New Zealand trip in 2016 (link).

We purchased enough groceries for the next 3 days in Puerto Natales. Groceries down here are a lot more expensive; 3 days worth of food cost nearly $80 CDN.

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It was time to start our 3 hour drive to Puerto Natales. The drive was long and boring, but about 15-20 minutes away from Puerto Natales the scenery changed and became extremely beautiful and we were getting excited for what was the come for tomorrow!

We checked into our accommodation; DT Loft (Dorotea Loft), which is run by the local ice cream store in the front. The ice cream store runs four of these beautiful mid-century modern lofts. The price was actually very affordable at $360 for 3 nights. We both agreed it was the cutest place we’ve ever stayed at. The loft had a beautiful blue 1950’s themed kitchen and living room area. From the living room you step up into the bedroom loft area, which houses an exceptionally comfortable king sized bed. At the very back of the loft is a gorgeous well appointed bathroom with a rainfall shower.

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After settling in we made some gourmet nachos for dinner. After dinner I messed around on my computer for a bit while C messed around on her iPad before we both head to bed.

Check back tomorrow for our adventures to Torres Del Pain park!

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Chile – Day 9 – Calama & Antafagasta

Today we woke up at 7:30am. I was starting to feel a bit better today already because of the decongestant medication. We had the complimentary buffet breakfast and set off towards the coastal town of Antafagasta, about a 2.5 hour drive west from Calama.

Something we both noted on the drive to Antafagasta was the great conditions of the highway and the fast driving speed of 120 kph that was allowed. About 2/3 of the way to Antafagasta we came across a toll that cost 1850 Chilean peso’s ($3.70). This is where they’re getting some of the money for the high quality highway.

On the way to Antafagasta we stopped at the Hand of the Desert, a giant sculpture of a hand emerging from the desert sand. The iron and concrete sculpture was constructed by the Chilean sculptor Mario Irarrázabal in 1992. It’s exaggerated size is said to emphasize human vulnerability and helplessness. We took some photos and continued on our way to Antafagasta. Upon arriving in Antafagasta we stopped at Don Taco for some lunch. I had spicy chicken taco’s and C had chicken fajita’s. We both agreed that this was some of the best Mexican food that we’ve ever had.

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After eating lunch we drove to the Huanchaca Ruins Museum where we explored the ruins of a refinery that was built in 1888 and closed in 1902. The refinery resembles something of a castle. The refinery would process about 100 tons of mineral per day, out of which almost 20 tons of silver were extracted each month and send to various destinations around the globe.

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After exploring the ruins we walked along the beach and boardwalk before driving back to Calama. On our way back into Calama we stopped at the grocery store and got some tortilla chips, an avocado, a tomato, and Stella beer for dinner. We made guacamole and drank beer while watching the other half of the movie we started the previous night. We ended up going to bed around 11:00pm because we had to get up relatively early for a mid morning flight, and I wanted to give myself ample time to return the rental car because it was such an ordeal to get it a few days prior.

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Chile – Day 8 – Anita & Chacabuco Ghost Towns

Today I woke up at 6:45am coughing uncontrollably. My cold was definitely getting worse. C was still sleeping and I let her sleep until 8:00am and then woke her up. We had the complimentary buffet breakfast in the hotel and then set off to explore.

Today we visited a very famous Chilean ghost town near Calama called Chacabuco. On the drive out to Chacabuco we came across another ghost town called Anita. Anita was an abandoned Nitrate or “Saltpeter” town that was founded in 1902 and abandoned in 1912. The town fell into quick disarray and is not that well preserved. Vandalism covers most of the Anita property. Our next stop was Chacabuco; the main highlight of the day.

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Chacabuco is an abandoned Nitrate or “Saltpeter” town that was founded in 1924 by the Lautaro Nitrate Company and soon fell into ruin as the nitrate mining boom in Chile came to an abrupt end in the 1930’s The Germans had invented synthetic nitrate and by the end of the 1930’s most of Chile’s nitrate industry came to and end. At one point in time nitrate provided 50% of Chile’s GDP. Chacabuco finally shut its doors in 1938, where it remained closed until 1973. In 1973 things took a dark twist and the town was reopened as a concentration camp during the Pinochet regime in 1973. Chile was under a Military dictatorship from 1973-1990.

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I was really starting to struggle with my cold so we drove back to Calama and went to a pharmacy to get some decongestant medicine. We spent the late afternoon resting before venturing out for some delicious corn and egg pizza from La Pizzata; yes you read that correctly it was corn and egg.

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After pizza we walked back to the hotel and watched half of a movie before going to bed.

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Chile – Day 7 – Calama & Alto Loa National Reserve

Today we woke up at 7:00am and had some delicious complementary breakfast, probably the best we had on the trip to date. We checked out of the hotel and started a 3 hour drive towards Alto Loa National Reserve. On the way to the reserve we stopped at Lasana and visited some prehistoric ruins that overlooked the valley. The ruins date back to the 12th century. On our way back to walking to the car we noticed a young local girl trying to break into our rental car. I hit the panic button and she casually backed away but still sat on a wall near the car. When I approached the car to get in she still stayed there. C had to go to the washroom so she went and the girl followed her in there. When C was coming back to the car the girl was talking to her loudly in Spanish demanding Pesos. C got in the car and I backed out and started to drive off when we noticed the girl get on her phone. About two minutes down the road there was a woman (probably the girls mother) who was on the phone and standing in the middle of the road demanding that we pull over. I drove around her quite quickly and sped off into the distance. We deduced that they were trying to either steal from tourists or demand compensation for the “free” ruins.

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We continued our journey towards Alto Loa was created 14 years ago in 2005 and is Chile’s largest reserve. The park is full of mountains, hills, flamingo’s, and guanacos (llama’s). An interesting fact about Guanacos is that they can live in some of the most hostile environments on earth, some living in areas where it has not rained for over 50 years. fog that condenses to water droplets on cacti and lichens that cling to the cacti. The lichens soak it up like a sponge, which are then eaten by the Guanacos.

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We checked into our hotel; Geotel Calama and were welcomed with a pisco sour and mango sour as welcome drinks, which were delicious and quite strong. The hotel was well appointed and even had a small kitchen so that we could prepare and cook food. After checking in we went to the nearby Lider (Walmart) to get food for dinner and for tomorrow. Dinner was simple; we made mushroom soup. After dinner I still wasn’t feeling great so I had a bath and listened to podcasts. After my bath it was time to go to bed. The bed ended up being extremely terrible for a brand new hotel… it felt like a broken mattress that transferred movement very easily.

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Chile – Day 6 – Travel Day & San Pedro De Atacama

Today we woke up at 5:15am because we had the airport shuttle departing for SCL Airport at 6:00am. Security was a total breeze which makes you wonder if they’re even looking at the screens or peoples tickets and passports. I recall when I travelled to Peru in 2014 with my father that there basically was no security for internal flights; this basically gives the same perception. We then purchased some Starbucks; I had a drip coffee and C had a Chai Tea Latte. Our 8:15am flight boarded quickly and we arrived at Calama Airport (CJC) at 10:50am.

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The day fell apart from here and it started with the Budget rental car agency. The rental car took almost three hours to figure out and we were given about ten different excuses as to where the car was, but it was obvious they were not prepared. I left a nasty 1 star review on Google Reviews during the whole process. While waiting for the car we talked with a bunch of people dropped off cars at other rental agencies and they said the entire park was closed due to flooding and heavy rain; which was not great news for us… more on that later! After finally leaving the airport at close to 2:00pm, three hours later we went to Lider (Walmart) and purchased water and a few groceries and started our adventure.

We drove one hour to San Pedro de Atacama and saw the Valley of the Moon from the top of road. The weather looked okay at this point in time and we had yet to see the flooding until when we drove into the town. That’s when things really changed… the roads were red mud and completely flooded. We drove to our hotel; Hotel La Casa de Don Tomas. The hotel was absolutely beautiful and we were greeted with Champagne. After checking in we decided to walk into town and get some dinner at Las Delicias de Carmen. We both ordered vegetable lasagna with a side of potatoes and quinoa. We were told the portion was large and could probably share it, but we didn’t heed to her advice… we should have though! While we were waiting for our meals to come out there was a torrential downpour and the power in the entire city shut off. Our server casually came over with a candle as if this were a regular occurrence. We ordered a thousand layer cake to go for C as it was her birthday. We wanted to have it while watching a movie back at the hotel, but sadly with no power there was no internet.

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We watched a previously downloaded episode of Marvelous Miss Maisel, the second last one before we’re all caught up. If you have not seen this series I highly recommend it! I came up with a plan B for tomorrow for us to explore Reserva Nacional Alto Loa. It was still raining, my cold was getting worse, and it was time to go to bed.

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