February 22, 2007 GMT
Pure Andean Air

We spent an excellent couple of weeks with my Mum and stepdad Bob, based in El Calafate (about 600km North of Ushuaia) in self catering cabanas near Lago (lake) Argentina. 'Cabaņas Nevis' was run by a Ricardo Paterson - yep, you guessed it, another person of Scottish descent. They really do get everywhere... We enjoyed the luxury of the cabanas and took the opportunity to mend and clean various bits of kit, discovered our tent was still green under the layers of Aussie and Argentinian dust.

Mum and I talked non-stop for the first few days having not seen each other for a year. We all enjoyed catching up, and sampling some of El Calafate's excellent and reasonably priced restaurants, as well as demonstrating our asado techniques.


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El Calafate's biggest tourist drawcard is its proximity to the Perito Moreno Glacier in Los Glaciers National Park; a 250kmē river of ice which edges forwards by two metres per day. This causes massive chunks of ice to drop off the end with resounding crashes and is an incredibly awesome sight.


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Stretching up and back into the Andes for 30 km and 5km wide, the glacier seems to be alive, with loud cracks and pops as the pressure mounts at the 80m high front edge. It is also one of the few glaciers in the world that is not retreating.


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Mum and me taking in the view

Los Glaciers National Park holds the third largest amount of fresh water in the world (after Antarctica and Greenland) in its ice fields. We took a boat to see some of the glaciers in the park and had a great day sailing past huge icebergs, getting as close as we could to the front walls of other glaciers.


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No trip to Argentina would be complete without a trip to an Estancia so the four of us spent a day horse riding, eating asado and walking in the hills near the farm. We rode near the lake with great views of the surrounding mountains and I was especially proud of Mum who'd only ridden twice before in her life and is afraid of horses.


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Part of the day included a sheep shearing show, which turned out to be a man giving a lamb a quick haircut. Hame gave us his own sheep grabbing show instead! (Yeah Roddy, a bit of a worry)


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We also visited El Chalten, a small mountain town built in 1985 to cater for the tourists who visit FitzRoy and Cerro Torro, two famous peaks in the Andes. We enjoyed a walk before heading back to El Calafate but Hame and I decided we'd go back in a few weeks to do some more serious trekking.

Mum and Bob have also morphed into twitchers so we took their new fangled anti-wobble binoculars out to a nearby bird sanctuary and bird-spotted for hours on end.


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All too soon it was time for more farewells, which don't get any easier despite nine years of practice, and suddenly Hame and I were alone again and back in our wee canvas home.

We rode 200km South again to Torres Del Paine National Park in Chile and pitched camp next to Lago Azul, a tranquil campsite with fine views of the Torres. The Torres (towers) are huge granite pillars formed by forces of glacial ice as they eroded an ancient volcano.


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First glimpse of the Torres


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Spot the Torres in the background

The park is a hikers' paradise and Hame and I enjoyed some great walks around the lake, sighting numerous birds of prey, foxes, hares, hundreds of guanacos, waterbirds and on one occasion, people.


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Hame also did his first paid work in ten months, he spent an hour or so helping Ramon (the park attendant) get his Suzuki TS running better by de-coking the exhaust. Ramon was so pleased that he rewarded Hame with a bottle of wine, some food and a free night's stay. I should whip him into action more often!


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Dr Hame giving his diagnosis

We wanted to see more of the park so we reluctantly left Lago Azul before we ate all of our supplies and headed to Los Torres campsite, from where we could hike up to the base of the Torres.


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Just had to get this one in

We bumped into Stefan and Sabine who we'd last seen in Ushuaia and swapped travel stories. The next morning we hiked up to the viewpoint and enjoyed stunning views of the Torres.


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The last 45 mins were a rocky scramble

It was all so raw; massive granite pillars, waterfalls running into a greeny blue lake and boulders strewn everywhere.


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It almost seemed you could see forces of nature at work, true, I suppose as the Andes are a relatively young and ever-changing range of mountains, part of the Pacific 'ring of fire' and full of active volcanoes and potential earthquakes. We've enjoyed exploring them immensley and look forward to much more as we travel North. The Andean mountain range stretches for almost 8000km, from Tierra Del Fuego to Peru, and is the longest continuous mountain range in the world.


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Hame checked out the sunrise; I checked out the inside of my eyelids

After the hike my body was protesting too much to do little more than eat, chat to the Germans who were sharing our fire, and crawl into my sleeping bag. The next day we stocked up on supplies - no choice but to use the extremely expensive shop - before moving Southwards through the park.


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We met two Spanish guys on BMWs

Our third and final campsite in the park was the best. Camping Serrano was a bit pricey but well worth it, if campsites had ratings this one would have been six-star. Soft grass next to a river, a shelter, an almost private shower - we could have stayed for weeks if we'd not eaten everything we had.


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We spent three days fishing with a borrowed rod (no luck), reading and studying a bit. I put my 'Miss Emma' hat back on briefly, as Hame and I went through our Spanish school notes. Hame was a very naughty boy.


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Behave or you know what'll happen...

We also had time to reflect on how fortunate we are to be able to do this trip at all and I can hardly believe we've been on the road ten months. It's been interesting to get to know myself minus all the trappings of society; no titles, numbers, job descriptions or roles to hide behind, just myself.

Hame and I have got to know each other incredibly well too (those of you who know us well can imagine some of the challenges!!) as we spend much of the day and night within one metre of each other, either on the bike or in the tent. On the whole it's been good but at times it's a bit like being on a DIY marriage guidance course - but one I wouldn't have missed for the world.

Another thing that has struck us is how little stuff you need to exist. It's refreshing and liberating to live with only what you really really need, just the bare essentials.

We left Torres Del Paine via a road not officially open yet, luckily we were able to open the barrier and sneak out before anyone noticed. We enjoyed some amazing views of the park.


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Last glimpse of the mountains - for now


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Don't let little things like barriers stop you

On the way back to Puerto Natales where we needed to buy supplies and fix our front door (the zip is a bit kaput) we passed the Milodon Cave. This is a 200m long cave where in 1895 remains of a sloth-like creature extinct for 12,000 years were found. There were theories that people and milodons coexisted in the cave for a while, with the milodons being domesticated. After standing next to a life-sized replica we think this is a tad unlikely.


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After stocking up on supplies we're heading back into Argentina, to El Chalten, for some more walking. We're getting progressively healthy and a bit fitter than we have been; especially as wine and beer hasn't been widely available in the parks. Hame even had a moment of madness when he said 'I'm not really missing beer that much', but watching him sink the first one last night I realised he was talking total rubbish.

(Emma)

PS

I forgot to mention this in my last blog but check out what Hame got up to in Ushuaia while I was hard at work at school...I don't know, leave him alone for five minutes and look what happens...


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The Flying Scotsman

Posted by Emma Myatt at February 22, 2007 03:52 PM GMT
 


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