Winter in the Patagonia!

Winter is coming: So go and enjoy it!

I have previously written a blog post about fun things to do in Punta Arenas in the winter, but there is so much more to do and see!  Will you be traveling in the region this winter and wonder what can you do?  Here are a list of different tourist activities that are great in sun or snow!

1. City Tour of Punta Arenas: Check out the highlights of Punta Arenas, including the Sara Braun Municipal Cemetery, the Plaza de Armas, historical and natural history museum, a drive along the Strait of Magallanes waterfront, and visits to the city’s best viewpoints (Cero de la Cruz).

2. Gastronomic Tour of Punta Arenas: Along with all of the stops in the regular city tour, you will also taste your way through the gastronomic world of the Patagonia.  Flavors include chocolate, calafate berry, king crab and more!

3. Historical Fort Bulnes: This beautiful fort, located 60km from Punta Arenas, offers sights of the secluded Southern tip of the continent, including the Darwin Mountain Range and Tierra del Fuego.  The beauty of the Fort’s coast line and forests is overwhelming, and there are many trails that take you throughout the fort.

4. Kayaking in the Strait of Magellan! This year-round sport takes on an enchanted and almost spiritual feeling in the winter as the human world becomes quiet and the natural world flourishes.  When I remember of kayaking in the winter, I think about the peacefulness of the water, the activity of the dolphins, sea lions and birds, and the stillness of noise except our paddles hitting the water.

5. Club Andino and the Reserva Magallanes: Get out and enjoy the hiking/skiing/cross country skiing in the forest reserve located only a 10 minute drive from Punta Arenas! What are you waiting for?

6. TORRES DEL PAINE: While the services in the park are closed for the winter, including the hiking trails and refugios, you can still do a Full-day Torres del Paine tours leaving from Punta Arenas or Puerto Natales.

7. King Penguin and Tierra del Fuego: Head across the Strait of Magellan to visit the Chilean/Argentinian Island of Tierra del Fuego.  Here you will visit the King Penguin colony, the towns of Porvenir and Cerro Sombrero, and drive along sheep and guanaco filled estancias in this remote land.

Club Andino Puerto Natales Kayaking

GORP!

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GORP, standing for “Good Old Raisin’s and Peanuts”, is a backpackers best friend.  This simple snack provides important sugars, fats and proteins that your body needs while trekking.  The best part of GORP is that EVERYONE can make it, you don’t need to bake or cook at all, and the best GORP recipes tend to be those that happen by accident.  All you do is mix whatever you want together, and bam! A delicious, crunchy, sweet, salty and whatever you desire trail-mix. Meet your new best friend.  When in need of energy, GORP is always reliable and offers a  surprise in every handful.

On the Road’s Basic GORP Recipe (make any substitutions you desire)

  • 3 cups cheerios
  • 1 cup mix of peanuts, walnuts and/or almonds
  • 1 cup raisins
  • 1 cup peanut butter m&m
  • 1/2 cup chocolate chips

Tropical GORP

  • 1/2 cup dried pineapple
  • 1/2 cup dried mango
  • 1 cup banana chips
  • 3/4 cup walnuts
  • 3/4 cup almonds
  • 3 cups granola

Dark chocolate, berry and mixed-nut GORP

  • 1 cup almonds
  • 1 cup cashews
  • 1 cup walnuts
  • 1 cup dried cranberries
  • 1 cup dark chocolate (or semi-sweet or bitter sweet) chocolate chips
  • 1 cup dark chocolate covered raisins

There are so so so many more GORP recipes, I will update later with more! Feel free to send me your favorites and I will post them 🙂 Happy eating!

The Andean Condor

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One of the largest and most sought-after bird in the Patagonia, the Andean Condor (Vultur Gryphus) is a giant scavenger who roams the Patagonia looking for carcasses of large animals such as lamb or guanacos.  Found widely throughout the region, the are common in Torres del Paine, Punta Arenas (dozens of them are found flying about the sheep located near Seno Otway), and Puerto Natales (not to mention most all of the Andes).

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Andean Condor’s can have a wingspan up to 3.2m (10.5ft).  These birds typically soar, rarely flapping as they ride the air currents in slow circles. Once considered endangered, the condor can live up to 50 years.

How to Roast a Magallanes Lamb

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There are several different ways, and everyone from the region will tell you how they do it, which of course will be slightly different and obviously more delicious than how everyone does it 🙂 Typically it is roasted slowly upright on a stake (cordero Magallanes al palo), like in the photo above.

Another way to roast it is sideways on a stake, cutting the lamb into 4 pieces.  We prepare lamb sideways because we have accesses to this type of  heavy metal stake that is necessary to hang the meat on.

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The trick to slow roasting is in the fire and charcoal. It is important to keep a fire constantly burning, and scatter the hot coals underneath the lamb while always keeping the fire separate to produce more charcoal.

The flavor of the lamb comes from salt and a combination of onion, garlic, cilantro, aji, vinegar, water and whatever else you choose to add, combined into a liquid sauce which is basted on the lamb so as to not dry out.  As it cooks, these flavors integrate themselves into the crunchy skin and meat, mmmm.

After 4-5 hours of roasting, listo! A feast of Magallanes lamb ready for whatever event.

Torres del Paine Full Circuit (9 days)

amazing views of Grey Glacier

Grey Glacier from the John Garner Pass

During the end of January/beginning of February ORP took a tour to trek the Torres del Paine Full Circuit (often called the “O”).  We had an amazing time, were led by (mostly) incredible weather, laughed constantly, and kicked some serios trekking butt.  Below are the notes from the trip, to give you an idea about what this whole “O” thing is all about (and why it is the ABSOLUTE best way to see the entire Torres del Paine park!)

Day 1: Seron

This day should be called “The Margarita meadows,” in honor of the endless fields of white and yellow margarita meadows that spread in every direction, all waving in the breeze that had picked up. We passed a group of several dozen horses as we walked to where we ate lunch by a  beautiful river that ran down an open wooded area perfect for a picnic.   As we stood to leave, suddenly appeared all of the horses, who followed us to the river where we had been not 30 seconds prior, and watched us start down the trail. Seron has a small cabin it uses as a refugio for meals (serves breakfast, lunch and dinner), and a nice campsite on the edge of a giant wildflower meadow which sits between camping and the river Paine.

Day 2: seron to Dickson

We woke to intense rain in the morning, with a rainbow over the campsite promising sun. By the time we headed out, the rain had subsided and the sun was breaking through. First we rounded the corner at the river Paine, then started the uphill march to reach the windy pass, about 30 minutes or so from seron. Out of breath but enjoying the view, we turned the mountain pass to views of the lake Paine, and started a descent along the side of the mountain with views of condors swirling above our heads. The descent starts out exposed to wind and elements until it dips down at the western shore of lago Paine and into wooded conaf lands. You will walk upon a conaf station called coiron, with domes for CONAF staff and 2 toilets. The trail evens out from here, taking you through margarita meadows until you reach ‘the dead marshes’ (for those Lord of the Ring fans). Wooden planks and walkways span parts of the trail, other parts you must navigate through mud and swamp, killing Mosquitos as they swarm. About 45 minutes of walking through the marshes and the trail opens up to a view of lago Dickson and the Refugio on its shore. To finish you must climb up then down a steep cliff until you reach the open grassy fields of refugio Dickson. The Refugio is small and cozy, with 2 long tables and a small sitting area. Immediately after arriving the rain storm came, and threat of continuous rain haunted us through the night.

Day 3: Dickson to Perros

The day was threatening rain from the beginning, so we decided to take it easy and leave around 11:00am. The hike immediately starts climbing a muddy forest for about 30 minutes, then continues to climb more gradually up a forested valley. We were lucky with the weather, because although it was apparently super cold and stormy, we were protected under the canopy of the Lenga forests we were walking under.  Closer to Perros we hit the open rocky area, which we followed around a glacier lake at the bottom of Perros Glacier, just in front of the campsite and before you have to cross the pass. Two of us decided to get a better view of the glacier, and scampered on the loose boulders until we reached the end… however by this point the blizzard was upon us.  We returned to camp soaked through all our layers, which happened to be all of our dry clothes 🙂 Dinner of mashed potatoes, peas, and chorizo and off to bed with a blizzard on and off throughout the night, just before we are to summit el paso.

Day 4: Perros to paso

What luck! We woke to a sunny, beautiful day as we prepared to cross el paso! It was t he perfect day to summit the John Garner pass, with sun and few clouds, light wind and clear visibility. Leaving the campsite at Perros we immediately started the uphill scramble, trying to keep our shoes clean as we hopped on fallen branches and sunken rocks along a mud filled trail. In rainy weather the trail would have been a slippery disaster. About an hour later, we broke out onto an open rock slope.  Behind us the valley we had just climbed up and in front of us loomed the mountains that held our beloved pass, gently dusted on top with a layer of fresh snow from the previous day’s blizzard. The climb was constant but not strenuous, and as we reached the summit the view of the grey glacier opened up in all directions. This magnificent, awesome 300km glacier stretches as far to the left and right as you can see, set with striking mountains and forest above its monstrous path. This is part of the Southern Patagonian Ice Cap, home to the world’s 3rd largest source of fresh water, and my favorite part of the circuit.  After crossing the pass we started the steep downhill descent to arrive at Paso campsite (simple and cute campsite set under the trees).

Day 5: Campamiento Paso to Refugio Grey

It rained all night, relentlessly pounding on the tent and dripping from the trees.  By the time we woke and rose, the rain had subsided and we began to eat breakfast and get our packs ready. We started walking along the ridge above the giant grey glacier through dense forests. After about an hour of wooded climbing we hit open fields. For the next 2 hours we walking was up and down, rounding the mountain, and climbing metal ladders. We stopped at several lookouts to views of the side of the glacier, getting closer to grey with every step. The forest starts wet and green, and finishes open and warm, less dense with tall trees making soft light on the canopy below. We arrived at grey on a beautiful, sunny day.

Day 6: grey to Paine grande 3.25hr

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Rainbow at Paine Grande

This is a short, 3.5 hour hike around Paine massif to the shore of lake Pehoe. A storm chased us the entire way, rain flicking our faces until we sped our pace up to feel the warm sun on our backs. We arrived early at Paine grande, ate lunch, and enjoyed a relaxing afternoon off. The wind blows strong at Paine grande, but fortunately our trusty porter arrived early to reserve a protected camp site.

Day 7: Paine grande to Cuernos

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Los Cuernos

We started the day early in order to take the time to hike to the French valley. At 8:00am we were on the road, a slower pace at day 7 of hiking. The path is relatively flat and uneventful reaching Italiano, but the wind was up and the weather cool. By the time we ditched our bags and we’re heading up the French valley, it was overcast and cloudy. We made it to the first lookout after an hour, then headed back down again as visibility was poor.  The trail to Cuernos has been rerouted in order to advertise the new Refugio Frances that Fantastico Sur is building.  Once at cuernos, we rested throughout the afternoon underneath the mighty stone mountain.

Day 8 and 9: Cuernos to Chileno, Los Torres del Paine to Puerto Natales

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Sunrise from the base of the Towers

We started our last full day to rain, which followed us to el Chileno. For the first 2.5km we climbed uphill from the Refugio, then dropped down for 2 km before branching off to take the trail up to el chileno. We left at 9:40 and arrived around 2:30pm, with a lunch break but otherwise very little stopping. We decided to hike up to see the Towers as sunrise, so rested throughout the afternoon and went to bed early.  In the morning we woke at 3:30am, dressed and started the steep climb to see the towers in the dark. Headlamps ready, we climbed throughout the early morning, sweating and out of breath for 1.5 hours until we reached the Torres (45m chileno to camp, 50min camp to Torres). It was cold and the clouds rolled in covering the towers, but the sunrise was beautiful and illuminated the sky with orange.  We arrived at the base to catch the transfer to Puerto Natales, incredibly happy with our adventure.

Lesson 1: How to pack a hiking backpack

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I just returned from guiding a 9-day backpacking trip through the Torres del Paine Circuit (see trip post!), and can’t help but write a post about the backpackers most symbolic piece of equipment (and the one I saw constantly in need of some serious help): the backpack.  We saw big packs, small ones, lopsided ones and backpacks so full of random gear hanging off the back that it was questionable how the people were able to finish the trek with all their gear! (not to mention people carrying duffel bags, bringing electric water heaters, and carrying entire bottles of shampoo and conditioner).  So here is lesson #1: How to pack a hiking backpack, and other useful packing tips.

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My beautiful drawing of ‘how to pack a hiking backpack’. I am better at trekking than I am at drawing, apparently.

  1. There is a specific order in which to fill your backpack.  The general idea is to put the bulky, heaviest gear at the bottom/middle of the pack and nearest the spine.  Traditionally, the bottom of the backpack is reserved for the sleeping bag.  It not only provides a more protected compartment for that oh-so-crucial piece of gear that you need to keep dry, but also keeps in out of the way and acts as a cushion for your other gear.  Line the sleeping bag stuff sack with (or put it inside of) a heavy-duty garbage bag to ensure that it stays dry.
  2. On top of the sleeping bag or in the middle of your pack you should put your heaviest gear, positioning it as close to the spine as possible and well centered for balance.  This can include food, cooking gear, and extra water if you are carrying it.  Make sure to pack these evenly, so all of the weight is not too much to the left or right of the pack.  Some people recommend putting your clothing below your cooking gear, but this depends on the size and shape of your pack (I put mine below and in front of the cooking gear).
  3. Clothing, lower-weight item, and softer items can then be packed in and around the heavier items.  For example, if you do not have a tent bag, stuff the tent fly and body around the heavy items to fill space and stabilize the items.  I like to keep my clothing in a dry-bag, which I put in front of or around the heavy items.  Other lower-weight items can include the first aide kit, sleeping pad (see below), toiletries, rain jacket, etc.
  4. Frequently used items: These can be put on the top of the gear or in the lid of the backpack.  Items include camera, headlamp, snacks, pack cover, toilet paper, map/compass/GPS, sunglasses, sunblock, etc.
  5. Sleeping pad, tent, and other awkward items: The most important tip is to reduce the amount of gear hanging off the pack, which can throw off your balance, increase the risk of injury to the back, or get lost/broken/wet.
    1. My sleeping pad is very small (NeoAir), so I also put it in my backpack along with the lower-weight items.  However if you are low on space or the sleeping pad is too big to enter, I recommend securing it outside of the pack in front of the sleeping bag compartment (where you can also put the tent if it is in a stuff sack), vertical along the body of the pack, or even underneath the lid of the pack.
    2. If the tent is in a stuff sack, you should put it outside of the backpack in front of the sleeping bag compartment, or vertical along the body of the pack and securely strapped down.  Again, I recommend putting it in a heavy-duty trash bag or dry sack, there is nothing more uncomfortable than a wet tent, wet sleeping bag, or wet gear.  If you just have the poles (i.e. have shared the tent pieces amongst other backpackers), they can be secured firmly to the side of the back vertically, just make sure they won’t slide out! They can also be put inside of the backpack or with the sleeping pad.

Here is an example of what NOT to do (sorry hikers we met in TdP!):

Hehe, some hikers we passed with crazy backpacks

Hehe, some hikers we passed with crazy backpacks

USEFUL TIPS:

  • LINE YOUR BACKPACK WITH HEAVY PLASTIC BAGS! When the conditions are wet, you want your gear to stay dry.  Also, line your stuff sacks to keep your gear protected from the elements! Use a pack cover, which will help reduce moisture entering your bag and gear.
    • Bring a lot of ziplock bags for your gear, which will help keep it dry and organized.  Books, camera, toiletries, etc: put them into zip-lock bags.
  • If you are carrying a bear canister, then it should be filled with food and cooking gear unit full and placed where you would put the heavy items, along the spine in the middle of the pack.
  • Bring repair-items, for example duct tape (wrap it around a water bottle, trekking pole, cardboard, etc) or a small sewing kit (not super necessary, but I have seen a lot of ripped seams and it can easily fit in the first aid kit).
  • TREKKING POLES are amazing tools that increase your speed while protecting your body from the impacts of trekking, especially the knees. They allow you to more evenly distribute the weight of your backpack between 4 points (arms and legs) instead of just 2, help with balance, and can increase your speed and rhythm.
  • WATER HYDRATION BLADDER (i.e. camelback): Soooo much more convenient than a water bottle.  Hands-free, you don’t have to stop and look for your water bottle, and makes it so you can easily stay hydrated.

Have fun and happy hiking!

CODDA: Punta Arenas’ Animal Shelter

CODDA is Punta Arenas’ only animal shelter.  In this guest blog, our friend Bruce Willett explains what CODDA is, what it does, and how both locals and tourist can help make a difference.CODDA

CODDA

By Bruce Willett

OVERVIEW OF HOMELESS ANIMALS IN PUNTA ARENAS:

One of the things many tourists notice when arriving in Chile are the large quantity of homeless dogs, especially in Punta Arenas.  Maybe less noticeable are the many feral cats. I noted this immediately when first arriving in 1999.  It  may appear a little chaotic to have all these animals wandering around, and while people here are not outwardly cruel, they are often neglectful. Many of these animals in fact have or had owners, but are now abandoned and left to their own devices. In addition, when people move or tire of the grown puppy they acquired, they dump them on a street far from home or out in the country where many dogs don’t know how survive. This is the circumstance of the many un-spayed, pregnant dogs we often pick up on the streets or countryside.

The Chilean federal and local governments do not regularly provide animal control services.  In cases of a dangerous animals, the police will take action, and sometimes if an animal is injured or neglected, a caring Carabinero or city employee will help.  But in most cases these are left to individuals, kind-hearted veterinarians, and non-profit organizations.  The municipality and health department will do spay/neuter campaigns, and several small scale spay/neuter programs are financed by the government, but these are too small to make a difference. For many years, the over-population problem has been exhaustively discussed at all levels with no long term solution.

WHAT IS CODDA:

True, there are many concerned people who are privately assisting animals in need.  Additionally, in Punta Arenas we have a humane society operating with an animal shelter.  Commonly refered to as “La Protectora de Punta Arenas,” or, officially , “Corporación de Defensa de los Derechos de los Animales” (CODDA).  We are the southern-most animal shelter in the world, a legal Chilean non-profit, and run several programs along with our shelter. Education and a sterilization program are our two other priorities.  Our leader, Senora Elia Tagle, founded the organization in 1990 to stop the cruel and flagrant poisoning of street dogs in the early morning hours.  To curb the population, the local and federal health department used strychnine. From there the organization grew to spay/neuter animals and provide a shelter to house unwanted animals.

We are a very small organization with literally a handful of supporters and volunteers operating in a human population of 130,000 and a stray population as high as 15,000.  Though we perform a public service, we receive very little public funding.  Our work varies from sterilizations, low cost veterinary care, taking in unwanted stray animals, neglect cases, and more.  Though our operating budget is less then $US 20,000 a year, we are able to stretch this pretty far.  With this money we operate a shelter with somewhere between 50 – 140 dogs and 2 -15 cats.  Though we have problems with mud when it rains, most of our animals are not locked in cages.  Most run around free in several pens, playing and sometimes fighting.  Several of our furry friends have lived here many years.  They eat twice a day, either kibble or raw meat.

The cooperation of several veterinarians provides low cost medical services, discounted spay/neuter and dignified euthanasia.  With the help of the local police we can respond to cruelty and neglect cases.  In addition, we receive outdated and slightly spoiled meat, rice and pet food to feed our friends.  Our work also extends to several pilot education projects.  One provides education curriculum on the responsibility of pet ownership.  In the other, we host a group of high school students from local schools who are obligated to volunteer in order to graduate.

Sterilization is another under funded priority. Many people in Punta Arenas cannot afford to sterilize their pets. In a country where a normal low monthly salary can be as low as $450, the cost to spay a female dog runs about $40 – $60. Every year we work with the Municipality and local veterinarians to provide this service at low cost. We would like to greatly expand this program.

HOW YOU CAN HELP:

As a passing tourist is there anything you can do?  Yes, of course!

  • Help us with a donation!  Though we are never short of animals we are always short of funding, sometimes to the point of closing.  We receive very little public money.  You are welcome to call, email, visit or go to our Paypal account listed on our web site.
  • Make a visit to our shelter and see our work.  We are located on the outskirts of Punta Arenas on the road to the airport, km 9.5 on 9 North.  We are always looking for volunteers.  Help is always needed with cleaning, feeding, training, plumbing, carpentry, bringing in donations, publicity, and other tasks.
  • Make it known that animal neglect is an eyesore for tourism.  This region depends on tourism and the government has invested a lot of money to make tourists comfortable and happy.  This problem has never been correctly addressed because few tourists express concern. If more tourists speak up the politicians and population will take notice.  The local paper (La Prensa Austral), tourist offices – SERNATUR, Municipality, and your hostels are just a few places to bring this up.  We have been seeing an increase of letters to the editor on this subject.

If you see a case of neglect, please report it to the local Municipality or police.   It is against the law in Chile to intentionally abuse or neglect an animal.  If they don’t help, call or email us. If this is in Punta Arenas we can investigate.

We would like to collaborate with other organizations doing similar work!  Contact us if you are interested.

When you visit other parts of Chile or Argentina, check out the local la protectoras.  Actually, there are quite a few with programs and shelters.  Temuco, Valdivia and Villarica each have one. Santiago has a bunch.  A Google search will bring up many. This website lists a few: https://www.clubmascotas.cl/guides/Protectoras

For more info, contact:

Bruce Willett

DirectorCODDA

bdwillet@gmail.com

Corporación de Defensa de los Derechos de los Animales (CODDA)

Phone: (56) (09) 77723319

Km 9.5, Ruta 9.5 Norte

Punta Arenas

perros@chileaustral.com

FB : CODDA Magallanes,  Corporación de Defensa de los Derechos de los Animales

January tour in Torres del Paine “W”

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On the Road recently returned from a beautiful tour hiking the Torres del Paine “W”. We experienced incredible weather, hiked to the end of the French Valley, and witnessed the magnificence of a giant condor flying only 3-meters over our head as we looked out onto the beautiful Grey Glacier.  Click on the gallery below to see some photos from our trip!