MAR 12, 2016 – From Chiloé I took a bus towards Santiago and changed in San Fernando to get to the village of Nancagua. I had found a CouchSurfing host by the name of Felipe who lived there with his parents. The reason why I chose this general area was that I wanted to see one of the wine regions of Chile, and it turned out I had chosen the right host: Felipe’s father was about to harvest his grapes, and Felipe drove me around the valley to visit some of the wineries (ViuManent, Montes, Lapostolle). Besides learning a lot about the local wines and their production, I also found some that I really liked and later ordered at home. The valley’s central town, Santa Cruz, felt very sleepy – I barely managed to find an open restaurant – but then again, it was Sunday evening. On Monday, before leaving, I briefly visited an English class that Felipe was teaching. Unfortunately his students were very hard to motivate, and didn’t seem to be learning a lot.
Chiloé National Park – Cole-Cole trek
MAR 9, 2016 – Back in Castro, we found a little bus to the entrance of Chiloé National Park. From there, we took a trail along the coast that would take us to Cole-Cole. We spent one night at a little campsite near a river, and another one at a somewhat run-down hut at Cole-Cole beach. The scenery was very beautiful, especially in the forest behind Cole-Cole, which felt a bit like a jungle.
Quellón and an attempt to reach Inío
MAR 9, 2016 – It turned out that Tantauco National Park was very hard to access since they only allowed through hikes when a flight from or to Inío was bought, which was very expensive. They seemed to be working on a better solution, but they didn’t seem very flexible or keen on finding a way for us to visit the park. Nevertheless, Jeff and me decided to give it a try and look for a fishing boat in Quellón that would take us to Inío. From there we could at least have visited the southern part of Tantauco park. Unfortunately we arrived during a “marea roja” (red tide), a kind of algal bloom that makes all marine animals unsafe to eat (see Wikipedia). Therefore no fisherman was going to that village, and a public boat link to it was only going to start operating in a few days. Nevertheless, it was a nice challenge to try and get information from the local fishermen, and we spent a night in a cute little hotel along the coast. Finally we gave up and decided to go for a three-day hike in Parque Nacional de Chiloé.
MAR 7, 2016 – From the harbor of Puerto Montt, I directly took a bus to Chiloé, via a ferry. Jeff from the Navimag ferry came with me, and we found a CouchSurfing host, Nato, for two nights in the town of Castro. Holiday season had just ended there, but it was nice to see the town deserted, and have the stilt houses (palafitos) and wooden churches to ourselves. We also got informed about the National Parks on Chiloé, of which there are two: Parque Nacional de Chiloe and Parque Tantauco.
APR 8, 2016 – I arrived in Budapest and was impressed how close it was to Vienna, yet how foreign it seemed to me because I couldn’t understand a word of the written language. Oystein, a Norwegian exchange student, had agreed to be my host here, and he even had time to show me around. I loved the city for its street art, but also for the “ruin bars” and other alternative nightlife outlets. Budapest has the beauty of an ancient capital, with the vibe of a modern student city. I will return for sure.
APR 5, 2016 – From Santiago de Chile I traveled back to Switzerland on my longest flight connection ever, which safely brought me to Zurich in 26 hours, with Stopovers in Panama, Punta Cana, and Frankfurt. I then spent a few days relaxing, organizing photos, and preparing the next stage of my trip. Over Easter I went skiing with a group of friends, to make sure I didn’t miss out on Winter entirely. It was in early April that I boarded a train to Vienna, with the goal of exploring the railway route to Bucharest and eventually reaching Bulgaria by land.
In Vienna I visited my friend Laura and went to see some nice places I hadn’t been to during my first stay in 2010. In particular, I was fascinated by the colorful art of Friedensreich Hundertwasser.
The last months in a nutshell
SEP 9, 2016 – I can’t seem to keep up with blogging, so here’s a quick summary of what I’ve been doing. I will publish more detailed posts after the end of my trip on September 21st.
The rest of Chile
After arriving in Puerto Montt, I visited Chiloé for a few days, then the wine region of Colchagua Valley and the capital Santiago. From there I did a side trip to Valparaíso with its amazing (but mostly broken) wooden elevators. Thanks to CouchSurfing and a guy called Franco, I climbed above 5000 meters in an epic two-day trip from Santiago on the day before leaving Chile.
Volunteering in Europe
Over Easter I went skiing in Switzerland and then traveled to Bulgaria by train with stops in Vienna and Budapest. After spending most of April in Bulgaria preparing Velikden Cup, I went to Greece with the goal of volunteering to help refugees there. On May 12 I started working in and around Idomeni Camp, north of Thessaloniki, near the Macedonian border. After the camp got evicted, I worked for other camps in the area. Among other things, I chopped vegetables, sorted clothes in a warehouse, reorganized the sorting system, helped paint a medical van, installed a solar panel and some power outlets, helped distribute food, and collaborated with local students to bring better internet connections to the camps. At the end of June I came back to Switzerland for about three weeks; I needed some time to organize visa and bookings.
The Asia trip
I finally started the Asia part of my trip in Jakarta (Indonesia) on July 15. From there I travelled around Java for a few days, then attended my friend’s wedding and went to Bali with the newlyweds. On July 29 I flew to Myanmar, where 12 days were enough to visit the main tourist destinations and do a nice trek with a small group in the countryside. Next I went to Japan, which impressed me a lot with its great food and unique mentality. Besides visiting cities, I climbed Mount Fuji and did a great 2-day mountaineering trip in Kamikochi. On August 23rd I took the 48-hour ferry from Osaka to Shanghai. Ten days in China were barely enough to visit Shanghai, Beijing and the ancient city of Pingyao in between.
Back home by train
On Sep 3 it was time to board the Transsiberian Railway, first segment from Beijing to Ulaanbaatar. With a guy I met on the train, I toured the Mongolian countryside for four days before continuing into Russia, where I arrived this morning. I spent this afternoon in Slyudyanka along Lake Baikal and will continue to Irkutsk tomorrow. The day after tomorrow I’m taking another night train to Krasnoyarsk, where I plan to spend three days and go climbing in the Stolby area. The remaining distance to Moscow will be covered in three days non-stop. After a stopover of three nights I’ll catch the Moscow-Paris sleeper train until Karlsruhe, then continue to Bern in regular trains. I will have traveled from Beijing to Bern using only railways. See you soon in Switzerland!
The Navimag ferry – Experiencing the vastness of Patagonia
MAR 6, 2016 – I had booked the four-day ferry trip from Puerto Natales to Puerto Montt to experience the distance between central and Southern Chile, and in the hope of seeing more of the diverse landscapes that this part of Chile has to offer. I also did it because I still remembered travelling on a Hurtigruten boat in Norway back in 2005, and I had really enjoyed chilling on a boat for a few days. The standard was a bit lower here: Since this is a cargo ship first and foremost, they were serving relatively basic meals, and terrible instant coffee. But the landscape was really beautiful, and the travel guide on board always pointed out when something interesting was happening, such as whales, dolphins or particular birds appearing near the ship. The only sad part was that the boat was transporting live animals – horses and cows – that were being brought to slaughterhouses further north, but suffered a lot during the journey. Also, they emitted a sickening stench that filled the entire stern of the boat.
Weirdly alcoholic beverages were entirely banned on the ship, so in practice people were drinking smuggled alcohol in their cabins or disguising it as some other beverage. Apparently this rule is due to some drunkards causing a fire some time ago. We all agreed that banning alcohol seems like an overreaction to that, given how much money Navimag could make by selling it on board, and doesn’t really solve a problem. I had seen a mention of the alcohol ban on Navimag’s website previously, but I assumed that meant they would be selling alcohol on board and just wanted to have a monopoly on it.
I was not the only backpacker on the ship – many of them were traveling in the shared cabins, even a few that I had previously met in Puerto Natales. I shared my cabin with Mark from the UK and Jeff from Canada. With Jeff I traveled to Chiloé afterwards, while others continued in different directions.
Rock climbing near Puerto Natales
MAR 2, 2016 – After my three-day trek near Ushuaia, I had spent a day in Punta Arenas, where I enjoyed some downtime and didn’t see much of the city. Then I took a morning bus to Puerto Natales, where I wanted to check in for the Navimag ferry – only to find that it was delayed by a day, and the ferry company hadn’t succeeded to inform me about it. I had already planned to spend a night here, but now I had a day and a half on my hands. This time I stayed at Yagan House, which costs a little more than Rio Tindal, but is well worth it for the nice staff, decoration and breakfast. In a local tour agency, I saw an offer for rock climbing at nearby Laguna Sofia. After some negotiation, the owner suggested he could organize a private half-day trip there. The next day I went to Laguna Sofia with the owner and one other guide, who helped set up top ropes where necessary. The climbing was a lot of fun, and the difficulty level was just right for me – some routes feasible, others a bit too hard. And the whole thing cost me about the same as an entrance to one of the big climbing halls in Switzerland, so I felt like it was well worth the money.
This trip was also the first test for my new Sony DSC-H300, one of the few cameras I could find in Puerto Natales. I decided that I could use a decent zoom for the upcoming boat trip, so I bought this mediocre camera.
Sierra Valdivieso Trek – A bit more adventurous than planned
FEB 28, 2016 – I had left with the usual supplies for a three-day trek. Due to time constraints I didn’t manage to organize any printed maps, so I just had my phone & tablet with me, which both contained the OsmAnd app with a GPS track of the trek I wanted to do. I had also taken a photo of the map in my friend’s book – a 1992 edition of “Lonely Planet: Trekking in the Patagonian Andes”. After my good experience with OpenStreetMap in previous treks – notably Salkantay – I decided that this had to suffice as map material. After a night on a free campground, which I shared with a few horses, I started hiking. It later turned out that I went the opposite direction to the one described in the Lonely Planet book. The first two hours or so were quite easy, the weather was good and the landscape breathtaking.
At some point, I suddenly realized that my GPS track was crossing the river, while the trail was not. I found a way to cross over a beaver dam, only to find that there was no trail on the other side. From then on, I was dependent upon my path-finding skills and the batteries of my devices. Due to the heavy beaver activity – the North American Beaver being a plague in this area – the landscape seemed to be ever-changing. Luckily I just had to follow the river and turn right at a little creek flowing into it. Still, it was quite hard work, crossing many creeks and climbing over lots of fallen trees. By late afternoon I had reached the turnoff and hiked uphill to a nice lake near Valdivieso Pass. I spent the first night there in perfect solitude.
The next morning I considered my options and decided to keep going for as long as I found the way – even after another half day, I could still go back the same way if I ran out of battery. But it turned out to be a difficult compromise – I got lost several times because I didn’t want to keep my tablet out the entire time, and I couldn’t read ahead much since the map didn’t contain any useful details. At some point I realized that the more rocky parts of the hike were marked with cairns. In the late morning I met a group of Polish hikers going the other way, which gave my motivation a boost. They had an e-book of the current edition of “Trekking in the Patagonian Andes”, which they shared with me via Bluetooth. Here the trek was described as requiring four days rather than three, but given the distances, I was confident that I was on track for three. I even considered walking past Laguna Esmeralda, which looked like a worthwhile detour.
I passed the rocky part and came into flatlands again towards mid-afternoon of day two. It started raining, which meant I had to wipe my tablet dry every time I checked the map. When I was ready to set up camp, I suddenly saw a wooden hut appear in the distance. The surprise was perfect: This was Refugio Bonete, a little hut built by an individual for public use. It was described as the place to spend the first night in the LP book, but my map didn’t mention it. From here it was not far to go! I made myself comfortable, started a fire in the little wood stove and hung up my tent to dry. The next morning the weather still didn’t look too good and I took the direct route back to the main road, which was only about two hours. So in the end I had done the “four day hike” in not even two days and a half. Despite the difficulties, I highly recommend this gorgeous trek – but please bring a proper map, a compass, and some extra food.