Wednesday 29 June 2016

40 Days of Running - Zap!

For six years now I've been playing an annual pre-birthday game where I have to run everyday for the consecutive number of days of the age that I'm turning; with the last day on my birthday.

With organising Forest Run in May (and spending 10-hour days cutting trails in the week before the event and sleeping three hours a night) and then jetting off to Chile for 3.5 weeks, nailing my game this year was unrealistic.

I returned from Chile on Thursday last week and began my '40 Days of Running' the next day.

With five days done, my legs are settling in. I've been so erratic in my running training this year and thus my commitment to these 40 days is really what the running doctor ordered.

Yesterday, Day 5, also included a few kilometres of paddling on the Vaal River from our paddling club. Clear sky, good wind, vegetated islands, sparkling expanse of water... beautiful and uplifting.

In addition, I'm constantly beating myself up about yoga, which I love but rarely do. A number of years ago I got into Ashtanga yoga and loved the difficulty and challenge of it. When the studio closed, I would occasionally self practice - but never much and never enough.

So I've added sun salutations, standing postures and finishing sequence to my post-run programme - not every day, but most. After all the driving and flying, my body was craving a good stretch and after only a few days I'm already feeling better for it.

Doing a shoulder stand in Chile was the kick I needed to make yoga a regular part of my training again.

Monday 27 June 2016

Forests and fairies

How is this for a hoot!

Chris Hunter, a Forest Run follower on FB, wrote this post this morning: 
"Ok folks, I'm the village idiot. Can you believe that for a number of weeks now I have tried to understand the relationship between the Forest Run and people dressing up as fairies.
So, on Saturday morning, while eaves dropping in on a conversation between a mum and her 4-year-old daughter, I realised my mistake... "Fairies live in the forest mum... dah!" 
Need I say more? So now my world is a perfect place once again and saved by a 4 year old..."

And there I thought that everyone knew that fairies lived in forests...

Sunday 19 June 2016

Fabulous turning forty

We celebrated my 40th birthday in style today with a wonderful walk around a volcano crater (Raihuen), through the crater and with views of volcanoes all around. It would be hard to get better than this!

We stayed on Friday night (and tonight) in a cabaña on Lago Puyehue, near the town of Entre Lagos.

Late morning we drove to the Antillanca ski resort through the most spectacular forests. From about 30km before the park we could already see the clouds clearing and as we climbed upwards and upwards we were graced with blue skies and wispy high clouds. Below it was 2°C but up at the resort, in the sun and above the clouds, it was probably 8 or 9°C.

There is next to no snow around at the moment - no skiing is happening. It is a walker's paradise.

The area around Volcan Casablanca is complex - a bunch of cones and craters as well as the volcano itself. There must have been a lot of volcanic activity here at some stage.

We walked the 3km road to the Raihuen Crater and then enjoyed trails to the top of two 'cones'. From both of these the views were spectacular! We saw Volcan Orsono (the one that looks over Puerto Varas) as well as Volcan Puntiagudo and Volcan Puyehue. From this angle I'm not sure if we saw Volcan Calbuco too, which we saw beautifully yesterday when leaving Puerto Varas. There were some other snow-capped peaks visible but I'm not sure that they were volcanoes. Still, seeing and identifying four volcanoes on a birthday afternoon... what a win!

We walked halfway down the crater, descending down what looks like old lava flow from an eruption of Volcan Casablanca. And then we walked across the crater. Absolutely magical experience.

We had a delicious dinner at the small restaurant attached to the place where we're staying.

We haven't eaten out much so this was a treat. We've found restaurant food to be very expensive but also very good. Celliers has really spoilt me for my 40th birthday. 

Tomorrow we continue heading northwards and will pass through the small 'cities' of Orsono and Valdivia. We'll probably stay near Valdivia for Sunday night and then closer to Santiago for Monday night. We fly out Tuesday afternoon.

Friday 17 June 2016

Ferry riding and northward travelling

We've had two days of travelling to get back from Futaleufú to Puerto Varas.

The first leg of our journey started with a 150km drive from Futaleufú to Chaitén. It was a bit rainy and very overcast - fine for travel. We took it slowly on the slick roads and enjoyed what we could see of the scenery through thick cloud. We love how small bands of cloud just seem to sit in the middle of a slope or a patch that just hovers above trees.

We got a puncture! Totally fluke as the dirt roads are so good here. A sharp stone - shaped like a stone tool flint - pierced through the tread. We used the skinny spare, one of those smaller ones that you can't do more than 80km/hr, to get us to Chaitén. We found a mechanic in town. Interestingly, he used a patch on the inside of the tyre and not a plug. Maybe they don't  know about plugs out here? The patch seems to be holding up just fine.

We had the late afternoon in Chaitén so we walked along the massive and wide beach, checking out stones and driftwood. My theory about the wood is that this part was actually vegetated and maybe the vegetation died in the volcano explosion of 2008? There is so much wood lying around there.

I'm really glad we had clear weather to see the volcanoes and glacier on our trip down when we first hit Chaitén. This time there was such thick cloud we would never have known they were there! 

On Thursday morning we presented ourselves at the ferry at 08h30, as instructed. We're really impressed with the efficiency and punctuality of the ferries. And we love watching huge articulated trucks reversing on to them.

This was a cushy ferry and we grabbed front seats with massive windows looking out. I did some reading (busy with 'The Seed Collector') and some snoozing. We also enjoyed seal sightings - lying on the surface in small groups with their flippers visible and also 'dolphin-diving' ahead of the ferry. No dolphins. Loads of birds. Before we set off from Chaitén we enjoyed watching large pelicans on the water. They are so big!

We had spectacular weather and calm sea so the trip was a smooth nine hours directly to Puerto Montt (a brief stop in Aycara to offload and onload people).

From outside of Puerto Montt we had cell signal so we found a place to stay in Puerto Varas for the night. Turns out it is owned by a South African guy (from Bassonia - Jhb south) and his Chilean girlfriend. He came here four years ago for a software development job and stayed. We recognised his accent after a few words. Hahaha

We are heading a bit North (once we get ourselves moving!) to a place on Lago Puyehue. It is within close distance of a town called Entre Lagos and some great hiking trails in the nearby park. There is also a ski resort closeby. We've booked for two nights.

Tomorrow is my birthday. My lips don't quite want to form the word f.o.r.t.y... Yip, I  am turning 40 tomorrow. It used to seem so... old... and yet I still feel 24. That is certainly what counts more.

My 40 days of running has not been. We've had great days with long hikes and other days full of driving. I'm going to do a restart when we get back to really enjoy my annual game.

From my last day in my 30s... see you on the other side.

Wednesday 15 June 2016

A lucky ride

Today started slowly - as most cold and overcast mornings do. By 11, the sun was out and patches of blue sky had made it through. We were in for another beautiful day.

Yesterday evening I had a message from a Joburg friend asking if I knew his friend Lynn because she was currently in Futaleufú - as are we. Oddly, I'd seen through  Facebook shortly before we left that Lynn had bought land in Chile. I thought it was more South and had no idea that Lynn was staying here.

I'm not sure how I first met Lynn but it was years ago and our more recent contact had been about orienteering - our school orienteering programme - as she was teaching at a school in Eshowe.

What I didn't know is that Lynn has spent most summers here (over the past 10 years) as a teacher for the daughter of a guy that Celliers knows. He runs a rafting and kayaking company here.

I found this out when I met up with Lynn today. She starts heading back to SA tomorrow - our paths only just crossed.

She recommended a route for us to walk - one that she has mountain biked many times. She drew us a sketch with landmarks and off we went.

It was great to see the Futaleufú river. We had two sightings but missed the place to spot Dynamite, a big rapid. She had said we may have to crawl through vegetation to get the sighting...

On and on we walked. We saw two large bulls being led by their owner. Most of the cows here in Chile are really small. At first I thought they were all cute 'teenagers' but then I noticed udders and realised that these were a fully-grown, small breed of cattle. These two bulls were definitely the exception. Large, square and very strong with enormous heads. Working beasts. Their owner said they are used for work, like hauling logs from the forest. Celliers took a photo of me standing next to them. Magnificent animals. Fluffy too.

On we walked. We passed a small settlement, spotting the school 'with a Chile flag outside' and then the houses and poplar trees, which Lynn had indicated. We'd been out walking for about 3hrs (it must have been just after 4pm).

Then a lady in a truck drove past us and stopped just ahead. She didn't stop for us; instead to read something. I knocked on her window and asked about the route to Futaleufú and whether she was going there. She said no and that it was shorter for us to turn around rather than doing the loop.

And then she said that the teacher at the school lived in Futaleufú and he would be able to give us a lift back.

We turned around and walked quickly. It must have taken us 10 minutes to walk back to the school and there we saw the teacher locking up. Close! I asked if he could give us a lift back and he said yes easily.

In the car, I explained the route we had planned to take. He said that the road on the return went up and up and up and was very steep and long. He said the whole loop was around 23km; we thought it was 15km. We would have been walking until 19h30 if we'd missed him. Phew!

We had a conversation in Spanish and he was good to talk to because he kept his words clear and simple for me to understand. He was born in Futaleufú, studied in Orsono and worked as a teacher all over Chile for many years. He returned to Futaleufú three years ago and loves his town. He has three students at his little school and is the only teacher there. From September he rides his bicycle to school.

We were back in our cabaña before dark and had the wood-fired room heater going in minutes.

We have been blessed with very fine weather. Not very cold during the day and relatively clear. Lynn says she is rarely here this late in the season but the weather has been really unusual. By this time of year the snow would be all the way down the mountains with lots of rain too. Chile too is in a drought. There is some snow up on the surrounding mountains; but not much.

To us everything looks damp and wet - it is dry for regular conditions.

Tomorrow we leave Futaleufú.  It has been good to have a few days in one place. No driving; lots of walking. We're heading back to Chaitén and will meander along the way to enjoy the scenery. We're catching the ferry to Puerto Montt on Thursday morning.

Tuesday 14 June 2016

Hiking around Futaleufú

Our walk around the town of Futaleufú yesterday was cold. Ice cold. It was little wonder that we saw very few people out and about. Down jackets, thick gloves, beanies, warm leggings under pants... we took on the 7x4 streets of town dressed like the Oros man.

By 10am this morning (Monday), we could see a dash of blue sky through the dense low cloud and by 11am the temperature was up to a balmy 5°C. Perfect for hiking.

We'd found mention of some hiking trails on the internet as well as a depiction on a tourist cartoon map in our cabaña.

We were aiming for one with a trailhead starting just outside town and leading up a local hill. After initial mention on a sign, there was no other mention of the route. We found another: Piedra de Aquila.

The dirt road wound through farms, across a river and up, up, up a road with steep switchbacks. On it went, up and up. Really steep and muddy. We went through a pretty farm and over a rise.

2.5hrs in, the sun was out - soft that it is. We made this our turn-around snack stop before heading back.

The way back - on the same route - was prettier than before. The clear sky and crisp air gave magnificent views, especially from up high.

We have a few other options for tomorrow (Tuesday). Considering our lack success with locating the trails we set out to take, we'll just roll with whatever we find. We're thinking of the route that goes towards the Argentine border.

'Til then.

Sunday 12 June 2016

Crunchy ice

Thank goodness for down. We crawled to the surface and felt the subzero frigid air outside a little after 9am. It looked all frosty and foggy outside with frozen puddles on the roadsides.

We hit the Chaitén ferry office to book our ferry back to Puerto Montt next week. We were aiming for Friday but the only option is Thursday. This is a different route to the one we took to Chaitén and should offer great views.

With that done, we took the road to El Amarillo. Last night, returning to Chaitén,  we'd seen that the road was quite wet in places and would be iced. It was! It's a good thing we were driving slowly - we saw a bakkie off the road. It must have happened shortly before we got there. The carabineros were there already and the driver looked ok. We continued slowly through to the Pumalin Park.

It's a good thing we weren't there earlier. At 11h30 there were big sections of frozen road - iced vegetation along the road too. Like a scene from Frozen.

A signboard said something about the glacier trail starting 20km from the gate. We took the road and enjoyed spectacular frosty scenes along the way.

We got to the end of the decent road, beyond which was logging and squelchy mud.

We saw two locals on horseback (we should have taken a photo of them!) and I asked where the glacier trail started. They were concerned that we wanted to do the trail as it is quite long  (and it was already 12h30). I explained that we were just going to do a short section and then return. He seemed happy with our plan. I caught something about the trail being about 100 metres along the road and to the left.

The younger guy started speaking to me in rapid Spanish. I halted him and said I only had a little Spanish and to please speak slowly. He had a good laugh.

Off we went.

We didn't find the trail.

We saw some logging tracks but not one indication of a hiking trail. Maybe they remove the signs in winter? We haven't seen any other tourists around so we're definitely the black sheep travelling around out here in the cold!

We followed the logging road (and later more a cattle road) for a couple of kilometres. Ice, thick mud, steep ascents, bridges and a river were just part of the charm. After a snack on top of a hill, in the sun and with views of Volcan Michimahuida and the glacier, we turned around to head back to the car.

Once out of the Parque we headed for the town of Futaleufú. The scenery was extraordinary - of mountains,  snow-capped peaks,  Lago Yelcho (bottom and top) and glimpses of Rio Futaleufú.

We got to the town after dark and found a decent cabaña. We are exhausted from the driving and time on the road so we're thinking of spending a few days here.

We look forward to enjoying some hiking trails. The problem with the late, freezing mornings is that we're left with too little day. From 11 until four-ish it is pretty pleasant out. We've also had great weather the past few days.

Speaking of 11... a number of times I've seen once on signs outside restaurants as in listing breakfast, lunch, once and dinner. Once is the number eleven.

If you cast your mind back to The Hobbit and Lord Of the Rings, you'll remember that the hobbit enjoy elevenses. Like a tea time - they stop on their journey for a snack. I can't remember whether it is morning or afternoon.

I asked Mane about this. Here once is afternoon tea and the offering at cafés would be a tart - like an apple tart or such.

The parallel to Lord Of The Rings is interesting. I wonder whether there is a connection? Did JRR Tolkien experience once and then translate it to English as elevenses.

I like.

Saturday 11 June 2016

Frosty Friday photos pt2

A few  more...

Frosty Friday photos pt1

A bit of a glitch with the app...

Frosty Friday

Winter mornings can be challenging at the best of times. When you're camping... the sun is up after 7am so we figured we'd stay in our tent and get up when we feel a bit of warmth from the sun, which we did.

I was first out - my eyes taking in the frost on the grass and wonderful icicles on the tent, plants, car and everything else. It was cold! The sun was up but not yet visible, trying to make its way out from behind a nearby peak.

I got our gas cooker going and before long we were eating breakfast (Oatso Easy) and drinking tea and preparing to head off. We guessed it to be around 9am by the time the sun was shining (softly) on our site.

And then Celliers saw the time on the clock in the car - 11am! And it was still  sub-zero!  Brrrr... we took a while to get ready. We shook the ice off our tent, dried it out and packed everything away before we headed off on the trail to the cascades. We'd had a taste of the trail yesterday afternoon and oh goodness were we in for more and more magical!

From what we've experienced, Chileans know how to build trails. This rainforest is incredibly dense and it is also wet and mushy underfoot. There are wooden steps and ladders and walkways and it is just spectacular.

It is about 20 minutes walk to the bottom of the one waterfall and at least another 20 to the high falls. The second part is definitely used less often but incredibly worth the effort. The trails are a marvel and they are beautifully maintained.

The dense vegetation with ferns and mosses and trees is a wonder. The falls are a treat. Even more special was seeing the ancient, indigenous alerca trees, which have been protected here. I stood beneath a massive one (of many) and was dwarfed by the girth of the trunk.

What a magnificent walk! The pictures we took really don't do justice to the scenery but they at least show some of the magic of the route.

Our drive to Chaitén was excellent and we stopped many times to take photos of lagos, mountains, rivers... and then near Chaitén we stopped to look at the sea from a beach. Celliers was looking at stones on the beach when I spotted dolphins barely 20 metres from him! We watched for them for ages, spotting many in clusters all around. A superb sighting. It seems dolphins are common in this inlet in front of the town.

At a hardware store in town (to get another gas cannister) I met a Canadian - Chilean chap, Nicolas. He is actually mentioned in our guide book (we only read this tonight). He runs various tours and is the guy to speak to when it comes to activities in the area.

He told us about a hike to a glacier, which must be near Volcan Michimahuida. It sounds great. We decided to head for the next settlement in El Amarillo to get a good start for tomorrow. Unfortunately we couldn't  find any available cabañas so we had to return to Chaitén, where we found one on the main road.

Nicolas told us about a South African couple living in El Amarillo. It would be nice to meet them and say hi.

Our plan is to head into Parque Pumalin in the morning  (not too early!) for a hike. The forecasted weather looks decent (mostly clear). Depending on the timing,  we'll stay over in the area or head directly for Futaleufú.

Thursday for ferry riding

What a fabulous day for ferry riding! Calm sea, not a cloud in the sky and a comfortable ferry for the long trip from Hornopirén to Leptepu.

The ferry was a large one with an excellent passenger area complete with large tables, padded benches and warmth.

I spent most of the trip working on a cable crochet beanie for myself. I made a simple green one for Celliers last week. 

The trip was smooth and enjoyable. We delighted in the scenery along the way. We looked up two fjords and saw islands, Volcan Huequi and other snow-capped peaks. We also spotted some waterfalls cascading from steep cliffs and marvelled at solitary houses on the shores of islands - accessible only by boat. Really in the middle of nowhere.

We also saw many aquaculture farms. A decade ago my friend lived in Chile and worked on a project setting up an abalone farm off the coast of an island near Chiloé  (big island). What we saw may have been abalone or mussels or salmon?

My friend Mane warned us about eating shellfish because of the red tide in the area. Celliers is allergic to shellfish so that takes it off our radar but we definitely think we saw large areas of it, especially close to our stop at Leptepu. 

From here we had a 10km drive in convoy with the other passengers - across the peninsula. Here we got on another, smaller ferry, for the short  (40min) trip to Caleta Gonzalo. There is nothing more than a few houses at the harbour.

We had a large articulated truck, with two trailers, on the trips. He was carrying a load of large plastic pipes. We all had to reverse on to the ferries and while some car drivers found it challenging (the friendly ferry guys couldn't help laughing - neither could we!), the truck driver nailed it. The trailers alone were the length of six cars!

When he got on the second ferry I was watching from the deck. I gave him a smile and a thumbs up - he returned a relieved smile.

Our initial plan was to head to the main town of Chaitén for the night. From the ferry we'd seen signs for campsites and so we pulled off when we saw a nice looking entrance.

Most of this area is part of the Parquet Pumalin nature reserve, established by the late Douglas Tompkins of the Patagonia gear and apparel company (he died a few months ago while kayaking in this region - he fell into the icy water). 

We are super impressed with the infrastructure that we've seen. They are clearly not expecting visitors at this time of year and the two friendly guys we met clearing vegetation and tidying the site said that as they didn't  have camping tickets for us we could just stay free. And off they went home.

We walked a little of the sender (trail) to the waterfall but turned back to set up camp and make dinner before dark. Each site has an open piece of lawn for your tent and a wooden roofed structure with table and benches. The ablutions had only cold water - but tidy loos and basins. No electricity, but it looks like they hook up gas in the summer.

By the time we got into our tent at around 18h30, there was already frost on it! Sub-zero already! Fortunately we've got thick down sleeping bags. I finished off my beanie and bedded down for the long night. 

We both woke in the middle of the night to pee. What a sky! Cold but crystal clear and stars so crisp to see. Magnificent! We enjoyed a quick look and dived back into the warmth of our sleeping bags for more sleep. We looked forward to hitting the trails in the morning.

Thursday 9 June 2016

Heading South again

This morning (Wednesday) we left the warmth of Mane and Raini in Puerto Varas and headed to the larger town of Puerto Montt, 17km south and on the sea.

Our first stop was the ferry booking office to book our ferry trip for tomorrow - it has to be pre-booked. We then went a bit along the coast and walked some streets in the town before heading out on the Carreterra Austral for La Arena.

This is very much the end of the road because from here you have to catch a ferry to take you across the 5km of sea to the town of Puelche on the other side. It takes about 40 minutes. 

Just before boarding I got empanadas (like a pie, but different) from the port-side store and had a friendly and basic conversation - in Spanish - with the owner. The best empanadas thus far (our second of the trip).

I don't  have sea legs (errr... a sea stomach) but the trip over was smooth.

Then it was a 45km drive to the small town of Hornopirén, where we are sleeping tonight. We walked around a bit - after dark. We're not sure what happens here. Certainly fishing and maybe salmon and other aquaculture, ferry stuff...

We are staying at the first friendly and warm and open looking place we saw as we drove in. We had a super delicious dinner and are in for a good, warm sleep. The sweet lady informed me that we had a cama caliente, a hot bed. We've got an electric blanket.

Temperatures today have been between 8 and 11C. It has been raining and overcast. We got so lucky going to Volcan Orsono and the Petrohue River yesterday.

In the morning we catch a five-hour ferry to Leptepu. Mane says this is an awesome stretch of water (in a fjord with mainland on one side and islands on another). It is popular for sailing snd kayaking.

We then drive overland (the cars all follow each other) and get on to another ferry for a short crossing (40 minutes) to Caleta Gonzalo. We'll drive to the town of Chaitén for Thursday night and then on to Futaleufú on Friday.

Celliers has been looking forward to seeing this river for two decades.

Images show our route from Puerto Varas to Puerto Montt and down. A few shots from Puerto Montt and some from the ferry ride.