A Travellerspoint blog

Hello Brazil!

semi-overcast 30 °C
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We somewhat underestimated how much time we might need to traipse our way up to Rio where we had a plane to catch to the Pantanal on 13 April.

This meant that we only had time for a couple of days each for Sao Paulo, Ilha Grande and Rio. Despite the whirlwind tour – we packed a fair amount into the first week.

==São Paulo==

This city is the largest in the southern hemisphere – with something in the vicinity of 20 million residents. This is fairly evident in the sea of high rises as far as the eye can see. Perhaps the best way to get a good sense of the vast population is to ride the metro, even better – ride it at peak hour. Our bus arrived into São Paulo plum in the middle of the morning peak. Feeling like confident, seasoned travellers we opted for the metro. Undeterred by several trains that sailed by, packed with human-sardines (mandines), we took some notes from the locals and decided, if you don’t shove your way in, you ain’t getting on. Easier said than done with substantial packs, front and back. The only way forward, was to aim the pack at the open door, (and the mandines) and walk backwards. This worked like a treat, until you wanted to get off.

Turns out the mandines decide when you get off. Despite gallant efforts – we were unable to plow through to freedom and even were propelled off our feet in the process. Luckily we weren’t taken far off route – the next stop was where all and sundry burst out in a stampede with us in tow, astonished at what had just unfolded, and that we had survived.

Despite the enormous numbers of people using the metro (4 million/day), it still runs with truly impressive efficiency – with seas of people constantly on the move at pace.

With only two days in town (and one allocated to theme-park ‘Hopi-Hari’), we barely scratched the surface of this enormous city. The one exploring day we had was spent enjoying high tea at a knitting café (holy grail for some), followed by a visit to Pinacoteca do Estado museum and finishing up with a visit to the Municipal Market for a feasting on gorgeous tropical fruit and sandwiches with an unnecessary amount of meat. Without having more time to explore – the jury is still out on São Paulo, but it certainly lacks some of the obvious attractions that Rio has, and no-doubt requires a bit more digging to find the good stuff.

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Our high tea was awesome - we even got to sit on chairs made out of cardboard (needless to say us fatties were a bit nervous)

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Awesome knitting to advertise where to go

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Finally we have access to glorious tropical fruit

Day two was spent with adrenalin pumping through the veins - a Christmas gift care of Courtney & Intish. Located in the middle of nowhere, Hopi Hari theme park really served up a change in pace to our holiday and it was fun to see how the carnys do it in Brazil. Unsurprisingly there was that same vomit-inducing fun found at such establishments around the world, but perhaps with slightly more lax OH&S regulation.

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Awesome ride

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This is the fifth largest wooden rollercoaster in the world. Similar to the scenic railway at Luna but there are no brakes applied

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We watched some 3D movies - in Portuguese. We had no idea what was going on

This rollercoaster was so intense that it deserved its own video

==Ilha Grande==

Sweet island time, oh what a luxury. We were stoked to be able to squeeze in a couple of days on Ilha Grande en-route to Rio – it was just the ticket to get the heart rate down after our visit to Hopi Hari.

Between hammock time and consuming many a caipirinha and eating cake for breakfast we strolled over to one of Brazil’s best beaches – Lopes Mendes, which was a sweaty 2.5 hour walk from the main town.

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One of the many beaches along the way

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Well worth the walk over the hill

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Although some of the walkways were a bit dubious (this is a bridge which ends in the water...)

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...and at times some of us did need a hand off the ground due to the muggy heat

An incident worth noting on our walk to Lopez Mendez – we spotted a man walking quickly across the beach after a large snake, then giving it a couple of swift whacks on the head with a paddle, then dragging it into the bushes (whilst we squealed like girls). We later learnt this snake was poisonous, but even so, one is not supposed to bludgeon them to death…

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This is as close as we wanted to get even though by this stage it was dead

We really loved Ilha Grande, and could’ve done with a few more days, but never mind – things to see and do. Next up: Rio in all its splendor.

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How could we not love a place where there are no cars and the only way to collect rubbish is by boat

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Someone forgot her book so fund other ways to entertain

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Finally after the past three months of travel we finally get to swim

Posted by ladiesofleisure 05:34 Archived in Brazil Tagged landscapes beaches bridges boats beach brazil sao_paulo roller_coaster ihla_grande theme_park tropical_island hopi_hari lopes_mendes peak_hour Comments (1)

Wonderous Falls

Puerto Iguazu

sunny 32 °C
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This one is a short post for a fabulous couple of days exploring the wondrous Iguazu falls.

The falls form a natural division between Paraguay, Argentina and Brazil. Word on the street was viewing the falls from the Brazilian and Argentinian sides were sufficient (plus we hadn’t figured out how these cats had divided some waterfalls three ways? Sorry Paraguay).

Day one found us post 24-hour bus trip wanting to have a half-day activity rather than a full day. Even though it meant crossing the border into Brazil from Puerto Iguazu in Argentina, we had heard that one afternoon was sufficient so off we went.

The falls were indeed befitting of their wondrous status; breath-taking, immense and soggy (the spray carries for approx. 100m)! Fortunately we were semi-prepared and had a couple of ziplock bags so we could still tote our trusty Nikon around with us to try and capture the show.

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From the Brazil side
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Over-excited tourist, on the Argy side

Being in the tropical rainforest, we were stoked to make acquaintance with many species outside of the large population of khaki-wearing tourists.

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We were pretty excited when we spotted this guy (note the game butterfly sitting on its nose

The most charismatic of which was an interesting looking creature by the name of ‘Coati’. Like a cross between a raccoon and an anteater, they were very inquisitive - sniffing about as if they owned the place, but were seemingly friendly and cute.

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Seems cute doesn't he?

The Argentinian coatis however were another kettle of fish altogether. Dotted around the park were a number of warning photos outlining the potential for coatis to get aggressive and claw your arms into shreds, leaving apparent gaping septic wounds should you encourage them by giving them a taste of your foodstuffs. Thankful that we had had our rabies shots, we moved cautiously through the park, unwilling to fall victim to these lunch-thieving beasts.

True to form, an hour or so in, we stumble across a lady who having put her bag down on the ground to get something out (rookie mistake), was set upon by one opportunistic coati who caught a scent of her sandwich and proceeded ravage it in front of the hapless woman. The mob then ensued to squabble over the scraps. This was enough to scare us inside a café to consume our pack-lunch, eye-balling the coatis behind the safety of glass.

Enough about coatis - the falls however are incredible from the Argentinean side. Sorry Brazil but the Argentinian side offered a more ‘in-amongst’ experience, with plenty of vantage points. A whole day was required to explore the falls and the surrounds and we did not at any point feel like it was getting boring.

One of the highlights has to have been the boat trip underneath some of the falls for a major dousing. It was amazing and we have tried to capture it in the video below, but aside from being there nothing can really re-create what it was like to be hammered from every direction with tonnes of water falling from the sky at 100’s of Km/h. Intense.

Please excuse the background noise and the amateur video - we are working with slow internet here

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Just like an infinity pool, yes?
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The Garganta del Diablo - a mind-boggling amount of water flowing through this one. Spare a thought to the chaps that built the board walk out to this thing also... Yikes.

We left Puerto Iguazu having had two fabulous days frolicking around like little kids in a sprinkler and the falls having surpassed all expectation.

So it’s goodbye to Argentina for this trip and onto Brazil – first stop; Sao Paulo where we will be thrown into turmoil by not knowing the language again. Apparently Portuguese is like Spanish with a Cantonese twist. Ideal.

Posted by ladiesofleisure 13:35 Archived in Argentina Tagged waterfalls animals falls argentina brazil iguazu Comments (4)

Tango Town

Buenos Aires

sunny 30 °C
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There was a fair bit of nervous excitement on our way to Buenos Aires. In the previous weeks we had become accustomed to staying in towns that fit onto one Lonely Planet page, that could be lapped in half an hour and where everybody knows your name.

BA – with a population of almost 13 mill is the opposite of that. Wikipedia says it’s in the top 20 biggest cities in the world, which made us feel somewhat like country bumpkins.

Alas – we needn’t have worried. The city, as we found, was instantly likeable – perhaps because we could find comforting likenesses to some parts of Melbourne. This place had spunk. The locals (aka Porteños) are cool cats – a cultured, diverse bunch - they like to dance the tango, experiment with cuisines outside of BBQ and Italian, they like to eat late, drink late and head out to da club even later (when we are enjoying our 3rd or 4th sleep cycle = 2am).

We stayed in the leafy, hipper than hip barrio of Palermo Soho. This part of town is laden with boutiques, cafes, restaurants, bookshops which was just the ticket for our five days in BA.

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Leafy Palermo
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Plenty of time spent perusing cafe menus - cafe culture, oh how we have missed you
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Palermo Soho

We decided to tackle the days in suburb/barrio format, mostly on foot to soak it all in (and soak out the humidity). Day one was Recoleta and first stop the Recoleta cemetery (home of Evita ‘don’t cry for me Argentina’ –s grave amongst other grand resting places of Argentina’s rich and famous). We then looped back via the massive Steel Flower (see below) followed by a bit of culture at MALBA - Museo de Arte Latinoamericano de Buenos Aires, a welcome reprieve from the heat.

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Recoleta Cemetery

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Evita's spot
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The steel flower that opens in the a.m and closes in the p.m. Magic.

On the way back to Palermo we decided to drop into the Jardín Japonés – advertised in our Lonely Planet (published 2010) as a 5 peso-admission. We were horrified that the rampant effect of the now notorious Argentine inflation had had a 500% increase on the fee! Perhaps the gardens were worth 5 peso, certainly not the 25 we paid. Ah well – we felt semi-compensated when strolling home past the zoo – we peered in through a gap in the fence an enjoyed a pro-bono hippo sighting. Win.

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Hippo-spotting

After wetting the whistle in the mod-art scene the day before, we decided to dabble some more. This time with the private collection of billionaire Argentine personality; Amalia Fortabat (Coleccion de Arte Amalia Lacroze de Fortabat). This was a truly impressive museum with an incredible collection – including her own Andy Warhol! Why not.
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Suppose getting a Warhol commissioned is chump change for a billionare

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Puente de la Mujer - niiiice bridge
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Mucho calor!

That night we took on the hostel owner’s recommendation to hit up some Peruvian cuisine – specifically ceviche, with a Tango chaser down the road. Upon asking our taxi driver to take us there – he warned the area was laced with drug dealers and general dodginess. He implied we were a little loca – and questioned our desire to eat such strange food. After being convinced we were endangering our lives with gay abandon simply because we had a hankering for raw fish, we were thrilled to see the area was well developed with a plush ‘Westfield-esque’ mall with inhabitants of above average socio-economic status. Hurray, we hadn’t landed in South Auckland after all.

We were also very pleased with ourselves having made the effort to venture out into ‘the ghetto’ as the ceviche was outstanding. Next, we strolled down the road to a place called La Catedral, where Porteños come to practice their Tango moves in an unassuming converted warehouse. We let the locals provide the entertainment and instead chewed the fat with some friends we had met way back on the Navimag, yet again our paths having crossed.

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Hayley, Laura y Claire
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Tango at La Catedral

On our last day in BA – we headed down to the famous San Telmo Sunday antiques market. This part of town is pretty charming with its cobblestones, grand old Euro-architecture and artist-types. We were on a strict look-don’t-buy regime as we still have a good few months carrying backpacks, but it’s fair to say we were pretty tempted by their wares. Instead we opted for consumables in; half a kilo of dulce de leche and some choripan (read: delicious snaus in bread with ace condiments).

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One very long street is closed each Sunday for the San Telmo Market
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Agressive mobile library
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Getting the groove on
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San Telmo
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Off on our next port of call – Puerto Iguazu – and having eaten our way through this town we left with a taster and a hope that it wouldn’t be too long between tangos. Thanks BA – it’s been a hoot.

Posted by ladiesofleisure 16:30 Archived in Argentina Tagged art argentina buenos aires Comments (3)

Patagonian Face-off

Argentinian Patagonia

sunny 12 °C
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After tackling Chilean Patagonia and falling in love, we decided to give the Argentinian Patagonia a chance to compete.

First up, the Argy’s have a particularly massive glacier named Perito Moreno, which can be found in El Calafate. Since we missed the glacier on the W trek (partly due to the fact we knew we were heading to a bigger one in Argentina), its hard to compare. But it was certainly a solid effort.

We arrived to the glacier in the morning embarking on a little boat ride to the glacier schnoz (not too close as Perito Moreno is famous for ‘calving’ chunks of ice off on a daily basis). After an hour on the boat, we hopped off and strolled along the boardwalk type structures set up around the glacier to enable optimal viewing. As the sun climbed higher in the sky, the ice melted a little which lead to massive calves (? No cows were injured) falling and causing McMASSIVE explosions. As with most things we have blogged about, the photos and video really do not do it justice. The glacier was so big, as were the chunks falling from it but there is no way to adequately portray this or give the appropriate sense of scale (we didn’t have any matchboxes).

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Glacier as seen from the Boat

Very amateur attempt at filming. It certainly has a home video feel to it right.

As there was not much else to do in this little town (aside for search for promised, yet non existent flamingos and eat calafate icecream) we busted it out from there after only a night.

A short bus trip later and we had arrived in the tiny El Chalten, which is the hiking capital of Argentina. As we are serious hikers now, we thought we would give it a crack. This is where the competition ramped up a notch even though we had only two days here. It was decided to indulge in a rest day first off as we had been on the go for a while and were feeling a tad jaded. Don’t know why we did this as there is nothing much to do in El Chalten and the internet is woefully slow – think dial up but worse! So unproductive and boring, but a much needed rest for all.

The walk we did on day two was pretty impressive however and we can see how El Chalten earnt its stripes. The weather did not come to the party as much this time compared to the W and we altered our course a couple of times due to incoming snow, wind and rain, which you could literally hear coming down the valley. This meant missing out on a couple of the big-ticket views, but we were extremely happy with what we got and it was still pretty gorgeous. Unlike the W trek however, there was the knowledge of a comfortable bunk bed and proper meal at the end of it which made the long walk up hill easier!

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Intense studying of the map is not always helpful and we still manage to lose our way a lot of the timelarge_DSC_0164.jpg

Bulbous trees

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The beautiful scenery calls for some pensive moments to try to take it all in

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Pretty nice stop off for lunch

We are now in Bariloche, our last stop in Patagonia. After a painful two day drive north on Ruta 40 (which is a barren stretch of mostly dirt road surrounded by desert, tumble weeds and guanacos, following in the footsteps of Che Guevara, like the revolutionaries we are, we arrived here to this little haven town. There are a couple of good day hikes to be had here (as if we haven’t done enough yet), a 37 km biking circuit along with world famous chocolate. All of which we have sampled and enjoyed thoroughly. We are however a bit sore on our bum bones after an assault of the bike seat variety, plus all bike fitness seems to have disappeared = inverse correlation to bike ride tantrums.

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Aforementioned barren landscape

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After doing this....
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We look like this...

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Sophie is actually hiding up on top of this massive rock

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More pretty views

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We cheated and rode the gondola downhill

Unfortunately we found out that there is a chocolate fiesta here next week and we are going to miss it by two days – you can all imagine how extremely disappointed we are to have not been on top of this earlier. We have however been doing a good job of testing the wonderful chocolate as recompense which has gone a small way to making us feel better (in the form of cake, bon bons and hot chocs).

Back to the original premise of the Patagonia face-off – it’s a tough one. They are both amazing in their own ways. Argentina is so huge and like Australia, you can drive for hours and not see anything. It is literally a barren dessert but is interspersed with little oasis’ that are just incredible. Chile is a smaller region and has more in common with New Zealand with its lush green mountains and perpetual damp. After all the tallys have been counted, the results are in and Chile wins by a smidge.

We are still living the dream here and not sick of travel yet. It really is quite amazing to be outside everyday and watch the seasons change from summer to autumn before our very eyes. Every day the trees morph from the very common green to gorgeous oranges and reds of autumn and it is a pleasure to watch. Don’t worry we haven’t started hugging trees and wearing hemp. Yet.

We head out tomorrow on a 24 hour bus to Buenos Aires. Don’t know how we will cope in a big city again, wish us luck!

And just couple of final notes

1. We have just enjoyed our best bife de chorizo on tour (El Boliche de Alberto, Bariloche. Bravo!).

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Excuse the poor quality photo - its the only one we had

2. We may be eating too much bread and chips – Hayley is down to no long pants – they have all torn/ripped due to perhaps bursting out of the seams?

3. Dads - We think you will love Argentina. Amazing red meat, wonderful trout and a lot of great Red wine.

Posted by ladiesofleisure 05:31 Archived in Argentina Tagged argentina el bariloche calafate perito moreno chalten Comments (5)

How’s the serenity – Torres del Paine

Sophie and Hayley take on the Big W (with our lovely companion Mai)

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The main reason for our sail south was to stroll the ‘Big W’ in the infamous Torres del Paine National Park in Patagonia, which attracts 150,000 punters each year. For those unacquainted – the tramp is as described – in a big W shape in and around many natural splendours packed into a relatively small area. A real feast for the eyeballs – the stars of the show included a glacier, rivers, mountains, lakes and of course the piste de la resistance; the Torres del Paine themselves.

After arriving not-so-fresh-off the boat in the afternoon, in prep for the adventure ahead we scoured the town for substandard yet economical camping equipment and substances, which upon adding water become food.

The next morning we jumped on an early bus out to the park with various other Navimag alumni and psyched ourselves up with a two-hour nap onboard.

From the administration we paid up, got stamped and were explained to the ramifications of the use of cookers outside of campsites as well as the burning of loo paper whilst doing your business off-piste. The park has suffered two major fires due to the aforementioned boo-boo’s at the hands of tourists in 2005 and 2011 respectively.

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Pre-tramp snack

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Setting off

Day One:
We chose to navigate the W from east to west and got dropped off at the Hotel Torres at the base of the park to sweat it out up to our first campsite (Torres), which was a bit of a gut-buster with five hours up. Yes some prior training would have been useful – but nevertheless we had plenty of dulce de leche to burn off which has become the snack of choice lately… Our destination, the Torres campsite sits an hours’ hike below the Torres (towers), which we reached by late afternoon and setup camp. As we planned to make the sunrise hike to the Torres, we were eager to chat to the park ranger about what weather conditions we might expect up there the next day. Upon enquiring we are laughed at and told;
‘I don’t know what it will be like, it’s Patagonia’
‘No, really – what’s it going to be like cos I don’t want to walk all that way at 6am if those towers are covered in cumulous mate’
Stoney-faced we realise he isn’t going to throw us a bone in this apparent meteorologist’s black hole and it seems we will have to wait an see.

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Having a wee rest on the way up
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En-route to campsite #1

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Hayley 'I don't think I'm built for camping' Landy

That night was a rude awakening to the climes experienced up in them there hills – despite wearing all our clothes including jackets we had a freezing night (or 3 under to be exact) and looked forward to the 6am alarm when we can start walking again.

Day Two:
Lucky for us the morning was clear (explaining the overnight frost). We donned our head torches and followed the masses up the hill in the dark – somewhat dodgy as we found ourselves clambering up the mountain off-piste at one point. As the sun popped up we saw the towers catch the light and once we got to the top and saw them in all their splendor they progressively turned more and more orange as minutes crept by. It was a stunning sight and worth the pre-hyperthermia endured the night before.

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The Torres themselves
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This day was to be a big one. We scrambled back down the hill and packed up camp and got on the trail again – destination Camp Cuernos a short 6 hour stroll away. The entertainment on this leg were some stunning lakes on one side and the mountains on the other on a gentle downhill slope. Delightful! (But quite long). Arriving at camp we decided we had earned a 3 course meal, never having been so excited about cuppa soup and pasta. We also met some Aussies who we plied with Vegemite to their delight. We must also mention the delight of Cuernos’ hot shower – does this equate to ‘glamping’?

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Ladies of leisure + Mai who we picked up on the Navimag
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Bit of a pensive moment
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Just before Cuernos, our destination for day 2

Day 3
Another cracker of a day we set off early ready to walk up the guts of the W, aka the French valley. The first thing you notice is the constant sound of avalanches, which are all talk, no action – no need to switch on the emergency beacon.

Free of our packs for the day, we scooted up the hill taking in some more speccy vistas. The walk down was also faster than anticipated following an overzealous mauling of dried apricots having us gunning for the facilities.

The final stretch was two hours round to our camp for the night – Paine Grande, also where we would depart the park the following afternoon.

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heading up Valle de Frances
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Not as windy as it looks
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Atop the Valle de Frances
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The last stretch to destination Day 3: Paine Grande - going through a burnt bit which is reminiscent of Victoria, AU
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Looking back to the French Valley
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Paine Grande
Day 4
Our final day we decided to catch the 12:30 catamaran out of Paine Grande which meant we would have to forgo the full 7 hour round trip to Glacier Grey at the end of the W. Instead we went half way and spotted some floating icebergs as evidence of the river of ice around the corner.

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Icebergs!
With the W conquered, mas o menos – we slept all the way back to Puerto Natales excited about a snooze in proper bed and getting some other poor buggar to deal to our toxic laundry!

Posted by ladiesofleisure 08:00 Archived in Chile Tagged mountains trek chile del big w paine torres Comments (3)

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