Skip to content

Posts from the ‘Chile’ Category

Day above the Clouds

My flight from Santiago to São Paulo was around 8am. I left the hotel at 5:30am and it was only a short 20min drive to the airport. When trying to check in with TAM Airlines I was told I can only check in one bag and in case I have two bags I need to pay an extra 150 USD or so. I wasn’t keen on doing so especially because the overall weight of my two bags wasn’t more than 18kg and the maximum weight allowed is 23kg. The guy at the check in proposed I tape my two bags together so they are considered as one bag which was the weirdest advice I’ve ever heard regarding “overweight” luggage. Instead I went into a quite area next to the check-in, emptied one of my bags and stuffed everything into my big backpack. Back at the check-in they wanted me to line up again but I didn’t want to wait another 20 to 30min. After a hot tempered discussion with one of the staff members I pushed myself to the front of the line and finally managed to check in.

Due to the extended check-in procedure there wasn’t much time left until the boarding of the airplane. I tried to spend my last Chilean money but couldn’t find anything I fancied buying. So I just spent the coins on some snacks and kept the notes hoping I will be able to change them later on this year when I will be travelling to Peru, Ecuador and Colombia.

The flight to São Paulo was rather short and I arrived at lunch time. In São Paulo I had to spend five hours in transit waiting for the departure of my flight to Frankfurt. I first was confused because I didn’t see the flight on the departure screen but then I noticed the plane will take off from another terminal. I killed the waiting time in São Paulo by using the free Wi-Fi and talking to people. When logging into the free Wi-Fi I needed to fill in an extensive form with twenty fields or so. I made up most of it since I don’t want to give my private information to any random Brazilian telecommunication company. While waiting, I also met a German guy who was on his way to Paraguay. For whatever reason he had a residence permit and wanted to stay in the country for a while in order for the permit not to expire and for him to validate if he would like to spend the rest of his live in Paraguay.

The flight back home was with the German airline Lufthansa. It’s strange but when I enter an airplane for an international flight I have the feeling I’m already entering the territory of this country. Probably it’s the case because the stewards speaking to you in their mother tongue and the food on board has a taste of the local cuisine. While having dinner I watched the movie Tower Heist and fell into a deep sleep afterwards.

Last Day in South America

It’s my last day in South America. I really enjoyed the last three months on this continent and look forward to come back in October for my travel between Lima and Cartagena. Brazil, Argentina and Chile are much more developed than the African countries I visited on my last trip from Cairo to Nairobi. Travelling was certainly much easier and convenient but more expensive too. However, for whatever reason I managed to stay under the travel budget I calculated for this trip. I’m on the road now for six months and still enjoying being out there in the world. There isn’t much I miss about home: #1 is the personal contact with my family & friends, #2 the inability to establish a close relationship to someone since I’m usually not more than 1-3 days in the same place, #3 the craziness of some Germans, #4 reliable access to internet and hot showers, #5 specific foods on a regular basis such as excellent Sushi, #6 frequent visits to the gym and sauna.

I’m already looking forward to my Central Asian experience, especially to visit Iran and Tibet. I haven’t been to this part of the world and I have little idea about how life is in Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Kirgizstan and Kazakhstan. Even being a big fan of the Kazakh journalist Borat didn’t help much to increase my knowledge about his country. If someone would ask me what I imagine I would probably answer: lots of Vodka, steppe type of landscape and rare access to the internet. Let’s see how it actually will be.

I started the day with a hotel breakfast with some of the traveler who left the truck in Santiago. There was Anki and a new Dragoman trainee who will be working on the truck “Yana” left behind in Santiago while two different groups of travelers are now on “Mamacita” until the next stop in Mendoza. There were also Stuart and Sarah who will leave the trip for a while for a little side trip to the Easter Island. This island belongs to Chile and the shortest way to get there is a six hour flight from Santiago. Therefore, the island is claimed to be the most remote inhabitant island in the world. The island is actually quite small (25km long and 12km wide) and many people fly there just to see the islands main attraction which are 887 statues called Moai. Since it takes quite some time to travel there I haven’t included it in my schedule but I’m sure one day I will go there.

Interesting about the hotel I’m staying in is the differentiated service experience. While in German hotels they come and clean your room in the morning (in business hotels even at 8am) here they don’t show up before 6pm. They also take cleaning that literally that they actually touch your belongings and throw away the stuff they think you might not need anymore. So a piece of lava I took from my climb of the Villarrica Volcano, some paper on my desk and my nearly empty shower gel got removed.

I spent the majority of the day with chilling out in the streets of Santiago, enjoying the sunshine on my skin and following up on this blog.

To conclude my South America trip with numbers, these are the kilometers we have covered and the liters of diesel we used for it:
Manaus to Salvador: 2,928 km / 907 liters
Salvador to Rio de Janeiro: 2,812 km / 1,297 liters
Rio de Janeiro to Buenos Aires: 4,476 km / 1,198 liters
Buenos Aires to Santiago: 8,664 km / 2,550 liters
Total: 18,880 km / 5,952 liters

Santiago City Tour

Today I went to discover what Santiago has actually to offer. In the past I was very much excited about cities and visited more or less all sights listed in the guide book in the shortest amount of time possible. This drove my friend Michael, who did many city tours with me, crazy since he likes to sit in little cafés or restaurants and simply enjoying the atmosphere of the surrounding area. Nowadays, I’m less excited about cities since in the end a city is just a city and many big cities are kind of the same. Santiago is such a city where you have nothing to regret if you haven’t seen it. After reading about it the Lonely Planet I was really wondering what is actually to see there. Stuart and Jeremy even decided to split from the group and spent one more day with outdoor activities in Pucón. Also talking to the people who went sightseeing yesterday while Jurie and I were in Viña del Mar and Valparaíso didn’t made me enthusiastic about the city.

I purchased a ticket for the hop on hop off tourist bus driving a two hour loop around the city. The ticket was with 19,000 Pesos (42 USD) not really worth the money since most of the stops are not sufficiently marked which makes it impossible to walk between them and also some of the loudspeakers are very quiet making it hard to listen to the explanations. My hotel (Hotel España) was situated right next to the Plaza de Armas where the bus was supposed to stop. However, since the stop wasn’t marked in any way I was unable to find it and needed to walk to the next stop at the Mercado Central where one of the tourist information centers is situated.

Before hopping on the bus I had a look around the market which is mainly known for Chilean seafood. There was a large amount of market stalls where you could buy fresh fish from the Pacific Ocean. You could also sample them at the heart of the market where typical Chilean seafood dishes such as Conger eel were prepared. Next I got off at the Sanhatten area which is the new financial and hotel district of Santiago featuring a number of skyscrapers. As you might have guessed the name is a mix of Manhattan and Santiago. Right next to Sanhatten is the large private golf club Los Leones where probably most of the business is made.

At lunch time I stopped at the Parque Arauco shopping mall where I had a brief look around in the shops and some delicious pizza. Next was the exclusive residential area around the Alonso de Cordova Avenue where you can find the more expensive shops such as Louis Vuitton and Armani. There are also a number of good restaurant, cafés and art galleries. Here I even spotted a German beer garden called “Starnberg”.

In the afternoon I took a funicular to the peak of the San Cristóbal Hill situated in the Metropolitan Park. From there I had a view on the smoggy city and the statue of Virgin Mary. To get some exercise I decided to walk down which wasn’t as steep as expected but 6km long and took me an hour. While walking down I noticed the park is very popular among mountainbikers as I saw a countless number of them. Down from the hill I landed in the Bellavista neighborhood which offers a colorful mix of handicraft and clothing shops, cafés, bars and restaurants. I ended my sightseeing tour in the city center with a look around at the National Fine Arts Museum and the Plaza de la Constitucion.

Since I was born in the German Democratic Republic (East Germany) whose head of state Erich Honecker spent the last year of his life in Chile I tried to find any kind of sight or his graveyard in the city. I found out there is actually nothing to see since according to internet sources his body was never buried, neither in Chile nor Germany.

At the evening our group met in the lobby of the hotel. Anki gave us a read of the trip diary she kept during the last three weeks which was very much entertaining. We also celebrated Ross’s 40th birthday which was actually yesterday when he and Anki disappeared into the luxury of a five star hotel. It was also time for me to say good-bye to everyone since tomorrow morning the trip will continue to travel to the Argentinean wine region of Mendoza while I will connect over Germany to Istanbul for my Central Asia adventure.

Organic Winery Emiliana, Viña del Mar and Valparaíso

Jurie, my fellow traveler from Japan, and I went on a day trip leading us to the organic winery Emiliana as well as to the cities of Viña del Mar and Valparaíso. We chose a tour which was a bit more expensive than the other ones offered, promising personalized service and the tasting of more exclusive wines. Around 9am our guide Juan picked us up in our hotel. We were his only customers and so we enjoyed a full day private tour with him.

Our first stop was the winery Emiliana which is a certified organic winery. During a tour through the vineyard we received interesting information on how they actually produce organic wine. One component is they are growing other plants next to the vineyard which attract specific insects eating worms. Therefore, the use of pesticides can be avoided. Since the vineyard is situated in a valley between the Pacific Ocean and the mountains of the Andes, they have also chosen to create a special climate by using large wind wheels to mix the air from the mountains with the air from the sea.

After the tour though the vineyard and some gardens, where they grow organic vegetables, we tasted four of their premium wines, two white ones and two red ones. I liked #1 und #3 while everybody else liked #2 and #4. It somehow happens often that I like what nobody else prefers. Wondering what’s wrong with my brain :-) Since I drink alcohol very seldom sipping on four wines was already enough to make me a bit tipsy. It was the same for Jurie. I guess it’s their strategy to make people tipsy to sell them wine afterwards. Jurie bought a bottle of wine for Ross’s birthday and I bought a bottle of “G”, the best wine available at this winery, as a gift for a friend who is very much into wine.

We continued our tour to Viña del Mar where we stopped at the Fonck Museum specialized in archeology and the Easter Island. In front of the museum you can find a Moai statue from the Easter Island. While there are 887 statues on the island there are six outside of it and the one we saw is one of them. The statue is supposed to be one of the smaller statues and I was surprised how slim it actually is.

At lunch time we stopped at a restaurant close to the beach where we had a nice view at the sea. Jurie and I shared a portion of fresh white fish which was excellent. To digest the food we went for a walk on the beach. The waves were very strong and Jurie took her shoes off to put her feet into the Pacific Ocean. She also jumped to get a fancy photo but when landing there was a wave underneath her feet causing her to fall. I didn’t see it since I was looking into another direction but our guide jumped into the water to rescue her since the waves were about to pull her out to the sea. Jurie was completely wet from head to toe and bought a shirt from a street hawker to have something dry to wear. We finished our visit to Viña del Mar by seeing a big rock with a sea lion colony. I wasn’t too excited about it since the colony was quite small and I saw already many of them. But I found it interesting to see that the rock was only 100m away from the beach, very much close to the street and houses.

It was only a short drive over to Valparaíso also lying on the sea right next to Viña del Mar. There we went on a walking tour seeing many of the old houses making the city a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Unfortunately most of the houses were in not so good condition or currently under restoration. What’s interesting about the city is the Chilean congress is situated here and not in the capital Santiago. Due to historic reasons there is also a stock exchange in this small city with only 276 inhabitants which is actually the very first one in South America. We walked by the court where there was the most interesting statue of Lady Justice I have seen so far. While she is usually shown blindfolded and balancing the scales this one was very much different. She wasn’t blindfolded, holding the scales loosely in her hand without balancing it and had a very arrogant look. I’m really wondering why she was made this way.

We continued our tour by going up a mountain using a funicular which is a small cable railway going up a steep slope. The ride was maybe only 100m long, but very steep and with 100 Pesos (0.22 USD) quite cheap. Up on the mountain we had a wonderful view over the city and saw many graffiti while walking. It somehow reminded me of the street art documentary “Exit through the Gift Shop” I watched recently giving you some good insights into the street art culture. We also met an architect student making sketches of the old town of Valparaíso and had a chat with him.

We finished our tour in the harbor area where we invited our guide to join us for a coffee. Back in Santiago I was desperate to have some Sushi for dinner. Jurie wasn’t too excited about it since she doesn’t really like to eat Sushi outside of Japan since it’s often not very good. However, our guide recommended us to eat in the best Japanese restaurant in town featuring a real Japanese chef what made her come. Our guide also did us the favor by driving us there. The restaurant is named “Japon” and seems to be associated with the Nippon Hotel. It’s situated at the Baron Pierre de Coubertin Street #39 very close to the Argentinean embassy. Jurie and I had some Gyoza for starter and shared a platter of Sushi for main. We also wanted to try the Udon noodle soup but we were stuffed from the Sushi so we needed to cancel our order. All in all I can say it was certainly the best Japanese food I had in South America and strongly recommend going there when you are in Santiago. Not just the food is nice but also the atmosphere which is very much Japanese including a tatami room.

Arrival in Santiago

We had to leave Pucón early since it’s an approx. 800km drive to Santiago. Jurie, my fellow traveler from Japan, had reserved a taxi since she didn’t want to walk in the dark from our hostel back to the campsite where the others are staying and from where our truck is leaving. Unfortunately, the taxi didn’t show up and so she joined me walking.

We started driving at 7am and again had our breakfast in the truck while moving. I spent the majority of the morning sleeping while Jurie watched a movie on my iPod. Later on I looked up in the Lonely Planet what there is actually to see and do in Santiago but couldn’t find much. There seems to be no major sights and the book recommends spending your time in museums, restaurants and the streets of the city. I also read the city has a serious smog problem since it’s situated in a valley. Especially during winter time when there is less wind the air pollution will not be blown away and simply stay in the city. Therefore, Santiago was named the #9 polluted city worldwide. All in all it doesn’t sound too inviting for a three day stay.

The main activity to do in Santiago is actually to leave the city and go to Valparaíso, a city situated at the Pacific Ocean approx. 170 km to the west of Santiago. Another activity is to visit the vineyards of the region. When we arrived at the hotel right in the city center, Julie and I had a look at the different tours available and booked one for tomorrow going to both Valparaíso and to a vineyard for wine tasting.

When checking into the hotel I noticed the group dynamics again since two people refused to share a room with one or two specific other people. I don’t know what the reasons are, probably because some people snore or getting up much earlier than others. Maybe there is also a personal conflict, who knows. I don’t have a problem with anyone and don’t mind sharing a room with anybody in the group. The next two nights I will be sharing with Ann, a fellow traveler from Canada. This will be the official end of my South America trip and after two extra nights on my own in Santiago I will fly back to Germany for two days to get ready for my Central Asia trip. I also took the opportunity to say thank you to the Dragoman crew members Anki and Ross who are with me since the beginning of the trip in Manaus. Besides a monetary tip I also gave them a USB stick containing all sneaky pictures I took of them during the last weeks. I hope they will enjoy looking at them.

In the evening Jurie and I went to an Argentinean restaurant recommended to us by the manager of our hotel. We both enjoyed some good steak and a nice women type of conversation.

Relaxing Day at the Huife Spa and Thermal Bath

After all the activities in the last days (kayaking, mountain biking, volcano climbing) I wasn’t up for more action today and decided to have a relaxing day instead. It started with a sleep in and a nice breakfast. Then I went to the bank which according to the owner of the hostel I’m staying in has the best exchange rate. Jurie had given me some of her USD to change since she is taking a private lesson in horseback riding today and therefore has no time to go to the bank. Unfortunately I didn’t have my passport with me since it’s stored in the safe of the truck. Therefore, the bank refused to change my and Juries money and I needed to go to a foreign exchange with a less favorable rate instead. There I only changed a bit of my money to pay my hostel bill and kept the rest for an exchange in Santiago where we will be going tomorrow. The foreign exchange gave me a shitty rate of 550 Pesos for one Euro. The current rate I looked up in the internet is 635 Pesos and the last time I changed I got a rate of 625 Pesos. So with a change of 100 EUR I lost 12 EUR just because of the bad exchange rate. The exchange rate for USD was with 450 Pesos (internet rate is 480) slightly better so I should have changed USD instead of EUR.

At 11am I left for the Huife Spa & Thermal Bath a bit outside of Pucón. I have booked the transport and entry fee, a total of 18,000 Pesos (40 USD) with the same adventure tour provider we did yesterday’s climb with. I was picked up by a van belonging to the Spa and afterwards it picked up a couple of more people. The drive took us approx. 45min and once we arrived we had six hours’ time to soak our limbs in the hot water of the thermal bath.

There were three pools containing water of different temperatures from lukewarm to hot and very hot. In the very hot one I couldn’t stay longer than 3-4min and when coming out of the water I was red like a crab. So I spend some time in the medium temperature one where I could stay approx. 10min in the water before it got too hot. For cooling down you had the possibility to jump into a river with ice-cold water. The rest of the time I spent lying in my bikini at the pool which felt great after the cold and windy weather of the last days. The air was still a bit chilly, especially when being in the shadow, but I desperately needed the feeling of sunshine on my skin. I really much enjoyed this lazy and relaxing day. It felt a bit like a vacation from the vacation.

I was back in Pucón around 6:30pm and there wasn’t going on much. Pucón is really a small sleepy town and so I just chilled a bit at the terrace of my hostel where you have a wonderful view on the town and the Villarrica Volcano in the background.

Dance on the Villarrica Volcano

We had to be at the office of the adventure tour provider at 6:45am in order to grab our equipment for the climb of the Villarrica Volcano. Since my biorhythm isn’t really up to speed at this time of the day I needed to return three times to the hostel to get stuff which I forgot to bring. First it were the ski gloves, than I needed to exchange my normal sunglasses against the ones with strong protection (spectron 4) and lastly to get a pair of shorts. I was only in a layer of thermals at the bottom and planning to wear the ski pants provided to us but it turned out I better walk up in trekking pants and use the ski pants only for sliding down the mountain during the descent. So I put my trekking shorts on top since I didn’t want to climb the mountain in underwear.

It was a 45min drive from the office to the volcano. When driving towards it we could see its peak glowing in red fire. This made me actually realize what I have signed up for. It’s an active volcano, steaming and with a lava lake in its crater. It was really amazing to see that glowing mountain in the dark.

We started the ascent with a chairlift ride bringing us up to 1,870m. I was sharing a chairlift with Mollie my fellow traveler from the UK. Since she doesn’t ski or snowboard she never went on a chairlift before and was a tiny bit scared but everything went smoothly. The chairlift itself was pretty basic and you didn’t even have a security bar to pull in front of you.

From the chairlift it’s a roughly 1,000m climb until you reach the peak at 2,847m. It took us 3.5 hours to walk up there. The guides set a speed which was convenient for me to walk. For a number of people it was either to fast or the mountain to steep so they became exhausted and needed to return.

The first part of the climb went over ashes and small volcanic stones and took roughly 1h and 20min. Then we hit the glacier ice on which the second part of the climb took place. Therefore, we needed to put on our crampons and gaiters to protect our pants from the spikes of the crampons. In addition we got our ice axe out and one of the guides demonstrated to us how to use the equipment. When walking in crampons you need to take care you always put all spikes in the ice and not just half of them to get maximum stability. You also need to open your legs a bit when walking to not put the spikes in your gaiters causing you to fall. The ice axe always needs to be on the mountain and not the valley side when walking because otherwise it is too short when using it as a kind of walking stick for additional stability. In case you fall and slide down the mountain you shouldn’t use your crampons to stop you sliding since this could break your legs. Instead you hold the ice axe with both hands in front of you, turn on your stomach and hew the axe into the ice which should stop you sliding down the mountain.

The third part was a roughly 30min climb over volcanic rocks without the use of crampons. This is supposed to be the hardest part of the climb although I personally didn’t find it harder than the previous part. We reached the peak at lunch time and had our sandwiches right at the rim of the crater. The view up there was amazing. You could see the surrounding mountains and the big smoking hole of the crater.

We spent a bit more than one hour at the peak. My fellow traveler Jurie from Japan was a bit scared of the smoke since it is toxic. Our guides said a short visit to the peak will be of no risk to our health. The guides are actually much more exposed since they come here frequently. I could actually feel the smoke in my lungs and needed to cough a couple of times. We spent the time at the peak with walking along the crater rim and having a look into the big steaming hole. From time to time we could even see pieces of red glowing lava in the crater which was truly amazing. While being up there me also remembered the German movie “Tanz auf dem Vulkan” (in English “Dance on the Volcano”) and I ask Jurie to dance with me which she did. There is no photo so you need to use your imagination to see Jurie and me dancing on the volcano.

For the descent we put on our pants, jacket, gloves, the special protection for the bum and attached the plastic to slide on to our gear. After walking for a few minutes we arrived at an ice channel which we used to slide down major parts of the snow cab. One of the guides demonstrated us the technique for save sliding and how to use the ice axe to brake. While sliding down the sun was very intense leading to parts of the channel being filled with ice water. After a while the ice water was also in my pants and underwear which was a not so pleasant feeling. We quickly left the ice cab behind us and stepped into loose ashes to go down to the bottom of the mountain. In this terrain you basically go with your heels first and when stepping into the loose ashes you slide a bit down which speeds up the whole process of going down. This reminded me of going down from the peak of the Mount Kilimanjaro where I had to deal with similar terrain.

Around 4pm we were back at the bottom of the mountain. On the way down we not just covered what we walked up but also the piece of the path we went by chairlift. Down at the bottom a van was already waiting for us. We drove back to Pucón where we returned the equipment and had a drink with our guides. Afterwards I went for dinner with Ann my fellow traveler from Canada. She heard the curry in the vegetarian restaurant around the corner is especially good and the both of us enjoyed this lovely food.



We left Bariloche at 8am because we wanted to be ahead of the other Dragoman truck travelling roughly the same route as we do. The reason is we are driving on our spare tire and in case it breaks down we want to have the other truck behind us helping out. Luckily nothing happened and so we arrived at the border around lunchtime.

We stopped approx. 15km before the border to have lunch. Since we are not allowed to bring any fresh food into Chile we needed to eat everything fresh. Today’s cooking group had also prepared some Hummus which was very delicious and a welcomed change for everyone.

At the border it was the same procedure as last time. First, we saw immigrations and then customs. We did a lot of border crossings in the last days, mainly because Argentina and Chile have both a length of several thousands of kilometers. Therefore, it is not practical to first visit all sights in one country and then go to the other one because this would mean you need to cover even more kilometers as we did during the last days. So this is now the third time we stamp into Chile. Due to the amount of border crossings, my fellow traveler Sarah from the US is already running short of pages in her passport. She actually has only two left. So Sarah reviewed all the stamped pages in her passport in order to identify any tiny space. At immigration she gives the immigration officer a big smile and kindly asks if he can stamp her passport in the space she has identified as appropriate. This worked so far. At customs we again needed to unload and x-ray all bags but in the meanwhile we are already very efficient in this procedure and don’t carry food products with us which can cause trouble. In addition our whole truck including all food boxes, the fridge and our camping equipment got inspected.

After the border crossing we continued our travel to Pucón. It’s a small town right next to a lake and the Villarrica Volcano. We were supposed to camp her for the next three nights but approx. half of the people including myself upgraded to a hostel or hotel. I actually don’t mind sleeping in a tent and rarely upgrade. But here our truck will be gone to get some stuff fixed (tire and exhaust break) since when we are in Santiago it’s Rosses 40th birthday and he doesn’t want to spent it working on the truck. Therefore, the luggage we need for the three nights need to be kept in the tent which I’m not really keen on due to space and security reasons. It’s also kind of nice to have my own room and a bit of privacy every few weeks, including access to electricity and WiFi. My research on Hostelworld turned out the hostel “La Bicicleta” is supposed to be the nicest hostel in town and so I and five other people stayed there. Interestingly a private room has the same price as dorm accommodation and so I made a good deal.

Pucón is mainly about outdoor activities such as rafting, kayaking, horseback riding, trekking, paragliding, sky diving, bungee jumping etc. There is also volcanic activity in this area, meaning a number of hot springs around the town where you can soak your limbs in. The main attraction is the climb of the snow-capped Villarrica Volcano which I and some other people in my group will do tomorrow. We will go with the adventure tour operator Aguaventura at a fair price of 40,000 Pesos (89 USD) a person. After the activities of the last days I actually don’t feel like climbing any mountain but I thought when I’m already here in Pucón I need to do it. Interestingly, the Villarrica Volcano is one of only five to seven volcanoes in the world having an active lava lake in the crater which makes it very special to climb.

At 8pm we had a briefing meeting for the climb. The volcano has a height of 2,847m but there is a chairlift going up to 1,870m which our guides recommended to use to save energy and increase the likelihood of actually reaching the peak. Everybody in our group will use the chairlift and so all of us will stay together. They also told us security will come first and in case of a weather change (strong wind, rain, snow) we might need to return without having reached the top. Also the guides will watch us walking and in case somebody looks tired he will not be allowed to continue the ascent. It actually happened in March this year that two guys died in an accident at the volcano. At least the weather forecast for tomorrow looks good (clear and sunny) so we are confident we will make it to the top. We also received our equipment for tomorrow consisting of pants, jacket, gloves, gaiters, a special protection for the bum when sliding, a plastic to slide on, boots, crampons, a gasmask and a backpack to carry all the stuff. The gasmask will actually only be used in case the wind changes and the smoke of the volcano is blowing on us. In addition we need to bring drinking water, sunglasses, sunblock and our own packed lunch which Jurie and I quickly shopped in the supermarket around the corner.

Drive Day, Central Asia Visa and Burger Feast

Last night was again very windy. Although my tent was protected by a few bushes the wind was so strong and the ground my tent was standing on so soft that a few picks came out in the middle of the night. During nighttime I needed to get up 3-4 times, first to align my tent with the direction of the wind and then a couple of more times to put picks back in, thus avoiding my tent from falling down on me.

For today we had nothing planned but driving towards the Strait of Magellan which we will cross tomorrow. On the way we stopped in Puerto Natales so people could return their rented camping equipment and todays cooking group could shop for food.

I had none of these duties and went to an internet café instead to check my emails. It’s very much funny how attached we are to the internet today and how it spans the world. While being on my first overland trip in Africa I had no access to news, my family and friends for three months. When travelling today you try to get online whenever you can.

Staying connected also enables long-term travelers like me to work on the planning of the trip while going and not plan everything in advance. Today I received an email from my friend Michael informing me the visa service has returned my passport and I now have all necessary visas for my Central Asia trip from Istanbul to Beijing. There were three visas outstanding I have asked the visa service to obtain: Iran, Turkmenistan and China. For Iran you first need a reference number which needs to be issued by the Iranian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and also for Turkmenistan you need a letter of authorization. Therefore, applying for all required visa is a lengthy process. If you use a visa service it can also be quite expensive as I paid 440 EUR for the three visas mentioned above including visa fees and the fees of the visa service.

Unexpectedly the visa for China was also a challenge. Usually China issues tourist visa with a duration of 30 days which are valid for three months after they were issued. While this is perfectly fine for the standard tourist on his two week vacation, it’s an issue for overlanders like me. First I will need two months travelling from Istanbul to the Chinese border and second I will stay for three months since the country is so huge and there is a lot to see and experience. A letter from Dragoman confirming I have booked and paid this long-term trip with them along with hotel booking confirmations and the kind request to issue me a respective visa turned out to be helpful. I received the double entry visa as I have requested it enabling me to spend two times three months in China. This visa will also enable me to leave the country between my two trips from Istanbul and Beijing and from Xi’an to Kathmandu. I will use the week between the trips to do a little side trip to South Korea which isn’t far away from Beijing.

You might also ask how it’s actually possible to apply for visas while travelling. The key in my case is a second German passport and a good friend back home holding the contact to the visa service. Usually you are only allowed to hold one passport but in special cases like mine, where you would need to interrupt your travel for several weeks just to apply for visas, you can actually receive a second passport which is valid for six years instead of the regular ten.

After driving all day we arrived at a place with the atmosphere of a ghost town. There were many empty houses and nobody on the street. At one house we spotted a farmer and asked him for permission to camp on his ground. He agreed and charged us 30 USD for the whole group.

We were pretty early today and it was still daylight. After pitching up my tent I went for a walk to take some pictures of the ship wreck in the ocean and the empty houses. In the meanwhile the cooking group prepared dinner. We had very delicious burgers with melted cheese, fried onions and salad.

Torres del Paine W-Walk – The three Towers – Day 5

It’s the last day of the W-Walk and the highlight of the day will be the “Torres del Paine” itself, those three towers which gave the national park its name. While most people visit the towers on a day trip from the “Hosteria Las Torres” the walk from the “Torres” campsite up to the viewpoint is only one hour. This gives you the opportunity to get up early and be at the towers when the sun is rising.

First I was planning to walk up to the viewpoint for sunrise and set my alarm for 6am. However, the wind outside my tent changed my mind. There were strong gusts of wind during the whole night. They were so loud that I woke up from them a couple of times although I usually have a very deep sleep. I was a bit scared a tree will fall down on my tent so exposed was it here on top of the mountain. When waking up at 6am I thought there is no way I’m getting up and walk in the dark and strong wind like this. Probably I get blown away and nobody will ever find me.

When it became daylight I got up and had a look around. The wind was indeed quite strong but the sound of it was even worse than the wind itself. I left my backpack in the tent and made my way up to the viewpoint. While being up there I was running into two handfuls of other people. Two Spanish guys even came here for sunrise and said I haven’t missed much since its cloudy and the sun didn’t come out. I’m really wondering if the three towers are actually a good spot to take sunrise pictures at this time of the year. The sun is not rising behind the towers but on the opposite side of the valley. There it was covered by other mountains until 9:30am or so. The two guys were already waiting a couple of hours just for the clouds to disappear and the sun to come out to get a perfect shot of the mountains. They were already half frozen and jumped around to keep warm. I joint them waiting for an hour or so but then I gave up since there were more and more clouds coming.

Back at the campsite I packed my tent and started to hike down to the “Hosteria Las Torres”. On the way I met a few people from my travel group. The guards had warned them to come up here because of the strong wind but I told them it’s actually not too bad and they should continue to the viewpoint. In total maybe only a third of our group went up the mountain today. The others were too exhausted and preferred to have a lazy day drinking coffee in the hotel.

On the last meters of the trail I slipped and fell down. Unfortunately this ripped two holes into my rain trouser and I was not amused about it since it’s the second day I’m wearing them and they shouldn’t rip that easily. When I’m back in Germany in the middle of April I will try to claim a guarantee case on them.

Since I more or less only needed to walk down today I was the first one finishing the W-Walk.  Actually only five people walked the full W and two the full circuit. The rest was doing either no hiking at all or only day trips. I arrived at the “Hosteria Las Torres” around 1pm and spend the time waiting for the others by cleaning myself a bit, changing cloth, having some lunch in the restaurant and talking to other people chilling out there.

When everybody else was down in the late afternoon we drove to the ferry to pick up Ross and Stuart who did the full circuit in the Torres del Paine National Park. Afterward we went back to the base camp at “Lago Perhoé” where we had a nice group dinner in the associated cozy restaurant and exchanged our adventures of the last days.