Archive for February, 2011

Picture of the Week

So many amazing shots from Torres del Paine to choose from.  But this one stands out for its crazy halo cloud.

Torres del Paine

Extremo Sur

It was such a great feeling to get off the Navimag Ferry in Puerto Natales, Chile, and have friends to call. Puerto Natales is at the tip of Chile – Extremo Sur (south) as it is called – and Ted and I have not one, but two great friends living down south.

Drew is a Boulder connection who moved down here over a year ago and just fell in love with the place. He is now managing the one and only microbrewery in town and dabbling with many other smaller projects. He’d spent the previous cold, dark winter studying Spanish, and it showed – impressively. Chilean Spanish is particularly difficult to speak and understand not only because of the speed and pronunciation but due to the ridiculous amount of slang used between Chileans. Drew was speaking like a local by the time we caught up with him.

Drew, whipping up Thanksgiving dinner

Our other friend Francisco is Chilean, born and raised in Puerto Natales. He lived in Boulder for several years and now splits his time between the US for our summer months and Chile for their summer months. He does a lot of guiding in Patagonia both in Chile and Argentina which keeps him super busy during the tourist season.

Francisco, whipping up some fresh bread

Both Drew and Francisco were amazing and generous hosts, and we are so grateful for the time we got to spend down there. Ted and I stayed at Francisco’s house for nearly a week, but he was only there for a couple days of it (due to his guiding schedule). He has an amazing place just outside of town with a wicked view and the most adorable puppy, Poco, that we got to watch. We loved cooking food at his place, taking life easy and staying in one place for more than a couple days.

View from Francisco's back yard

Sarah and Poco

Drew also works entirely too much, but Ted and I visited his bar every night to say hello and enjoy some American-inspired food and delicious micro-brewed beer. We covertly planned our visit to coincide with Thanksgiving as Drew is an amazing cook and we knew our meal would only benefit from his culinary skills and company.

Thanksgiving Dinner - Chilean-Style

Drew and Francisco have a very good thing going on in Extremo Sur, and it was a treat to see such great friends on our trip, and to see them so happy was icing on the cake.

The Boulder Crew in Natales

A Backpacker’s Cruise Ship

Except it’s not a cruise and it’s not just for backpackers. The Navimag Ferry is a converted cargo ship that takes passengers (and cargo) from Puerto Montt, Chile (in the Lake District) all the way down to “Extremo Sur” – Puerto Natales, Chile. The journey takes 3 days and 3 nights and is quite a unique way to travel the long distance between the two places – with the alternative being a 36+ hour bus ride. Rooms range from ‘dorm’ beds in a public hallway to private rooms with private bathrooms. However, the Navimag Ferry is far from economical so the private rooms are not an option for most.

The Navimag Ferry

Ted and I shared a window-less four bed bunk room with a lovely couple from the U.K. Our only criteria was that our roommates were normal and trustworthy and preferably non-snorers. We lucked out on all accounts.

Oli and Jo, our roomies

The boat travels all day and all night with only one stop on the whole trip. During the day there would be various presentations about the flora and fauna of Patagonia but mostly you entertained yourself by reading, talking with people or taking in the views from the outdoor decks.

Though we had good weather every day, we also had rain every day and lots of wind. One minute it would be lovely (though cold!) and everyone would be outside and the next you knew, it was a torrential down pour. But regardless, the views from the ship as you wove in and out of the islands, channels, and fjords heading south was pretty unbeatable.

Cruisin the Fjords

Cruisin the Fjords

Passing the time onboard

There was one night on the boat that we were not protected from any nearby land and we were exposed to the Pacific Ocean and its waves. We were all advised to take sea sickness medication and avoid drinking alcohol that night. Neither Ted nor I get seasick normally, but we thought we’d take the pills on this occasion – and I’m glad we did. The giant boat was dipping and diving in the 6m waves. You could barely walk straight without holding onto anything and in fact, Ted and I were eating dinner and through no fault of our own, the whole table with our trays of food (and us) just tipped over from one of the swells! It was quite hilarious though slightly embarrassing at the same time. We looked around, and other tables lost trays of food, but we were the only ones that managed to tip all the way over!

Rough Seas!

One of our favorite sights from the boat was a little detour we did to see a gigantic glacier coming into the sea. It’s called the Perito XI Glacier and it measures 6 km across and 80 meters tall. You can only access it by boat and it was breath-taking.

Perito XI Glacier

Another great thing about the ship was that passengers were allowed to visit the captain’s bridge which is the ship’s control room. It was a great view and very interesting to be in there when they were steering through narrow passages.

The Bridge

The last night on the boat is one big party. We met and talked with more people on the last night than we had on the rest of the voyage. We continued to run into our new friends for the next week around Puerto Natales as we all disembarked into the small town together.

Overall, the ferry was quite an experience and we’re happy we did it. It didn’t do great things for our budget but we were learning that Chile and Argentina were gonna to make that difficult for us all around.

Gauchos and Gringos

Here’s a piece I wrote for World Nomads’ blog.  My take on our visit to Campo Aventura in the Cochamo valley.  Can you tell we both LOVED it there…

Original post can be found here, but I’ve pasted it below, as it’s one of my favorites.

Gauchos and Gringos – Keeping it Local in Chile’s Lake District

I’ve found some new travel role models.  I’m not talking road warriors on 2-year jaunts, or country counters that have topped 100.  No, I’m talking about a family that dropped everything and relocated their lives in an unfamiliar environment, doing unfamiliar work, and surrounded by an unfamiliar language.  Meet Kurt and Armin, American citizens who began their international careers in journalism and charities in South Africa.  After 10 years of the grind, they decided to quit their jobs, buy an eco-lodge and horse trek company, and move their family to the Chilean Lake District.  When they arrived 3 years ago, they spoke not a lick of Spanish, had never worked in tourism before, didn’t know anything about horses, and began homeschooling their two young sons just to add some extra challenge to the mix.  Many of their friends called them crazy.  I call them inspiring.

Campo Aventura is situated in one of the most beautiful valleys of Chile’s Lake District.  Known as the Yosemite of Chile, the Cochamo Valley is filled with a lush green rainforest below, surrounded by stunning granite walls above.  The valley carries with it a rich history of the gaucho (Patagonian cowboy) culture as a former cattle and trade route between Chile and Argentina.  Campo Aventura operates two lodges – one at the base of the valley, and one situated 16km up in the high country – as well as a horse and trekking tour connecting the lodges and surrounding regions.

View from the lower Cochamo

Kurt and Armin inherited Campo Aventura as a functioning business, but with some serious challenges.  First off, they purchased the business right before the travel industry’s bottom fell out with the global economic meltdown.  That same year, Chile experienced one of its worst earthquakes in history, causing a mass cancellation of most pleasure travel to the country.  But their biggest challenges were in their own backyard.  The previous owner had done very little to integrate, liaise with, and support the local community, and many people (employees first and foremost) harbored deep-seeded animosity towards the company and its management.

Gringos on Horses

Three years later, Campo Aventura has weathered the economic storm, but more importantly, they’ve revamped the company’s approach to responsible tourism with a primary focus on community support and development.  Before they had the money to do so, Kurt and Armin invested in their staff, building new homes for on-site workers.  They hired more gauchos to lead trips, tend horses, and maintain their 100+ acre properties.  They have invested in environmental rehabilitation and conservation projects up and down the valley, ensuring that materials and workforce are sourced throughout the community.  Campo Aventura is now the largest private employer in Cochamo, and aside from the owners and 1 guide, all staff was born and raised in the valley.

Cochamo Valley

River Crossing

Cochamo has been called one of Chile’s best kept natural secrets, and after visiting, I couldn’t agree more.  But beyond the spectacular scenery, Cochamo is also one of the country’s best kept cultural secrets.  The traditional gaucho culture is nearly extinct, and the laid-back, peaceful Chilean campo lifestyle is hard to find on the tourist path.  If you go visit my new role models, you can experience Chile at its finest, while helping to support the best kind of responsible travel – tourism focused on people.

About the Author: Ted Martens

Ted’s journey into the travel and tourism industry started the summer after a two-month backpacking trip throughout Europe ignited a life-long passion for international travel. With a master’s degree in Tourism Development, Ted has focused his efforts on helping non-profit Sustainable Travel International promote responsible tourism across the globe as their Director of Outreach & Development. After working too hard for the past 5 years, he is on the road again, escaping the office for some field research… is the responsible travel movement taking seed across the globe, or not?

People Are Fascinating

Want to hear a cool story? Ted and I got to stay at this great little spot just a couple hours down the road from Puerto Varas, Chile, that is run by an amazing couple named Kurt and Armin. Kurt is from California’s Bay Area and Armin is originally from India (though she’s spent a big chunk of her life in the US).  Together they moved to South Africa where they lived and worked for nearly 10 years – Kurt for the Boston Globe as their South African correspondent and Armin in the NGO world. They also have two sons that were born in South Africa.

One day they decided they wanted to do something completely different.  Like COMPLETELY different. They started researching places that they could buy and operate as a B&B or some kind of tourist operation. After a bit of searching and one site visit each, they found themselves with an amazingly beautiful plot of land along the Cochamo River AND another fabulous spot up in the Cochamo Valley. They are now the owners and operators of Campo Aventura which provides accommodation, meals, and horseback riding trips between their two properties and beyond.

View from the lower property

They have been in Chile for 3 years now and have never looked back. Though neither of them were ‘horse’ people or had experience in the tourism industry, you’d never know it. Every family member does a bit everything, including the little guys (who are 11 and 13, I believe) who help with the horses and assist the gauchos (Chilean cowboys) as needed. Though no one spoke Spanish when they arrived, Armin and Kurt have now mastered it enough to engage the local community and mend some broken bridges left from the previous owners. Their boys are fluent in Chilean cowboy slang.

Gringos on horses

Ted and I had the amazing opportunity to stay with Kurt and Armin in the Cochamo Valley and highly recommend that others do the same (Adventures Within Reach sends trips here)! We spent our first night on the property near the river and loved everything from exploring the area to eating a delicious home-cooked meal with other travelers.

The next day we headed up into the valley with Kurt leading the way on horseback. The trail was intense – lots of mud, rock, narrow passages, low branches and stream crossings. The horses were incredible. We rode for over 5 hours to a clearing surrounded by the most immense and impressive granite walls. In fact, the area is known as the Yosemite of Chile. Their other property is nestled against the big walls, and is a pretty idyllic place to spend time.

Riding up the Cochamo Valley

Cochamo Valley

Big Granite Walls

I could go on and on about how much we loved this place and our time here. We are so happy to have met Kurt and Armin and we can’t thank them enough for their hospitality and generosity. It is inspirational to know people who had a wild and crazy dream and just went for it. We told them that if they ever need someone to run the place for bit, to be sure to give us a call!

Heading West to Chile

From Bariloche, Argentina we headed west to Puerto Varas, Chile. The Chilean border crossing was quite intense and not recommended for drug smugglers. Checking out of Argentina was pretty routine, but getting into Chile is a pain. Everyone had to get off the bus and everyone’s luggage had to be sniffed by dogs AND put through an X-ray machine. They are very strict about all the normal stuff, but ridiculously strict about any food or beverage item. Ted and I had made some sandwiches for lunch to be cost-conscious but there was no way those sandwiches were going to be allowed over the border so we had to eat them on the spot at 10:30 a.m.!

Puerto Varas was luckily worth the hassle. As Bariloche is part of the Argentine Lake District, Puerto Varas is in Chile’s Lake District. However, while Bariloche is surrounded by mountain ranges, Puerto Varas is surrounded by volcanoes. Big ones.

Osorno Volcano

For a day trip we headed out to the Vicente Perez Rosales National Park for some walking around. We met a large group of Americans on the bus ride out there who were living in the area and volunteering at schools by helping the local English teachers with their classes. They invited us to hike with them and we happily accepted. While hiking you could look to your left at a beautiful, cone-shaped, snow-covered volcano or to your right at the fjords and the lake. It’s nice to have options!

Hiking in the Park

Hiking in the Park

Hiking in the Park

On the ride back to town we stopped to see some incredibly powerful waterfalls just down the road from the National Park – the Saltos de Petrohue. Though not impressive in height, the quantity and strength of them certainly was.

Saltos de Petrohue

Saltos de Petrohue

Thanks to our good friends at Adventures Within Reach (AWR), we were able to sit down and have drinks with a local and learn a bit about both Chile and tourism in the region. We met with a wonderfully great guy named Gerardo who owns a sea kayaking and rafting company called AlSur Expeditions. AWR uses AlSur for their trips in the Lake District, so naturally we had to test them out!

Rafting the Petrohue

Rafting the Petrohue

We celebrated Ted’s birthday in Puerto Varas, starting the day on one of Gerardo’s half-day rafting trips which was a blast. The weather didn’t invite too much more outdoor activity that day, but we managed to entertain ourselves with wine and a delicious seafood dinner. We later met Gerardo out for another round of drinks and then onto another bar where we met up with the Americans that we hiked with earlier that week. Considering we didn’t know anyone in the area when we arrived a couple days earlier, Ted was properly celebrated as he rang in the big 3-1.

Picture of the Week

Chile’s Patagonian Lake District is stunning.  This shot was taken just outside of Puerto Varas, overlooking the Osorno Volcano from the Saltos (wateralls) de Petrohue

Chile's Lake District

Industry Bloggin’

My latest contribution to the World Nomads Responsible Tourism Blog, this time about our stay at Refugio Frey in Argentina’s Lake District.  Check it out at the link below:

Argentina’s Accessible Backcountry

Frey Rhymes With Hey

Our favorite activity in the Bariloche area was a hike and overnight stay in the Frey Refugio. The trip was recommended to us by our friend Steph from Boulder who was down living in Bariloche when we were there. We were able to get together for drinks and we can’t thank her enough for the tip!

A refugio is a backcountry hut that you can only access by hiking. It offers ‘refuge’ to any hiker, climber, or skier in the area that needs a place to lay their head at night. You don’t have to have a reservation to stay, you can just show up. The refugios will also provide hot food, sleeping bags, tents, gas for cooking, and other things you might need up there (for a cost). Some people bring a tent and all their own food and only have to pay if they wish to use the refugio’s stoves for cooking. Some people bring nothing and pay for meals and supplies when the arrive.

Our hike up to the hut was fantastic. It was a cruisy 10km (6 mile) hike overlooking a lake and up through a beautiful old forest. When we got high enough, we got to walk through a bit of snow up to a mountain pass to get to our final destination. The air was quite warm but the snow still remained from the previous winter and just made the beautiful mountains look more beautiful.

Hike to Frey

Hike to Frey

Crazy Bridge

The view from Frey is pretty ridiculous. It is surrounded by a (snow-covered) lake and lots of pointy, jagged peaks. A lot of rock climbers set-up camp at this refugio because of all the amazing routes in the nearby vicinity. No rock climbing for us, just exploring the area by foot and taking in the views is quite entertaining. We also met travelers from all over, read our books, wrote postcards, enjoyed a refugio-made pizza and just relaxed.

Frey Hut

Hot Pizza at a Hut?!?!

Sunset at Frey

There are several other huts in the area and even a trail that connects 3 or 4 of them. However, the trails were closed because they were still too snow-covered to be safe. I guess we’ll have to add Bariloche’s refugio circuit to our list to do next time!

View from Frey

A Beautiful Love Child

Bariloche, Argentina is ridiculously beautiful. Think snow-capped mountains surrounding big, blue lakes and lots of trees. Ted was so blown away by the place that he described it as Interlochen, Switzerland, Queenstown, New Zealand, and Lake Tahoe’s Spanish-speaking love child. And I think that about wraps it up.

Beautiful Bariloche

Lake Nahuel Huapi, Bariloche

The city itself is a ski town in the winter and a resort town in the summer. We were on the front end of the high season but there were still plenty of tourists around eating ice cream and buying post cards (us included!). Bariloche brags about the quality of both their ice cream and their chocolate which, for anyone who knows me well, are about my two favorite things. Ted also indulged and I believe we had ice cream everyday that we were there. It was that good.

In addition to sweets, Bariloche is known for it’s ridiculous outdoor activities. We rented mountain bikes one day and biked a famous loop known as the Circuito Chico. The views are insane and we loved just stopping wherever we liked to take a picture or just to appreciate the view.

Circuito Chico

Circuito Chico

Circuito Chico

We also did some day hikes in the area including to a nearby ski area, Cathedral, that Ted has vowed to return to some day.

A highlight of our visit was a hike and overnight stay in a backcountry hut, but I’m going to wait to tell you about that one because it was so cool that it deserves its own post.

Overall, Bariloche is one of Argentina’s many gems. It is technically the way north tip of Patagonia (the Lake District) and was a wonderful little tease for what we had in store for us heading south.


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