Wandering Chile (Part Two)

Punta Arenas (2 nights) >> Puerto Natales (2 nights) >> Torres del Paine (2 nights) >> Puerto Natales (1 night)

After a quick trip to Mendoza over the border in Argentina, we returned to Santiago for our flight on 1st December 2018 down to Patagonia.

As you can see, it’s pretty far south.

We were really excited to see snow-topped mountains, glaciers and penguins. Particularly Jonny, who was starting to melt in the Santiago sun.

Punta Arenas

Our first stop was Punta Arenas, a sleepy town with colourful houses. It took us a moment to adjust to the cold by putting all the clothes we had on, especially in the evenings.

An artsy shot, perfect for a canvas, of the pier in Punta Arenas.

Punta Arenas seemed most famous for King Crab. We tried this in the seafood empanadas in the local market and my absolute favourite was the King Crab lasagne.

Said seafood empanadas.

Sounds a bit weird but King Crab lasagne was one of the best things I’ve tasted! Try it at the restaurant La Cuisine.

Our main reason for staying in Punta Arenas was to visit Magdalena Island, home to a huge population of Magellanic penguins. It was a long 2 hour boat ride to get to the island and the weather was awful. When we arrived we had about an hour to roam the island with the penguins which was really fun, despite the wind and rain.

Queue the pingu theme tune. Just look at them!! 😍

The trip in total was quite pricey and had we realised we were going to get to see penguins two more times during our trip (in much better weather) we may not have splurged. However, they were amazing to see! Even the penguin who backed up to me to have a poo, the cheeky critter.

A penguin backing up to you to defecate is good luck right? The little shitter.

In Punta Arenas, there was a great chocolate shop decked out in Christmas decorations to help us begin feeling festive being away from home.

Sara’s Mecca.

Puerto Natales

Next we took a bus to Puerto Natales, the nearest town to Torres del Paine national park. This town felt much bigger and busier. It was a useful base to prepare for our multi-day hike through the national park.

We went to a talk provided by Erratic Rock which gave lots of tips for hiking in Torres del Paine. One tip was to put all your stuff into plastic bags because the weather changes so frequently you won’t have time to keep putting on a rucksack waterproof cover. They also strongly advised bringing walking poles to help in the wind, mud and for steep climbs. Plus to save your knees. We dutifully went and bought some after.

…and then celebrated our purchase with a pre-hike treat 😋

Using the excuse of a 3 day hike to treat ourselves to a crepe at Creperia Cafe & Te

Torres del Paine

Torres del Paine is a national park in Chile and most commonly people opt to take a day-trip, or hike the w-trek or the full o-circuit.

The W and O circuit marked out thanks to Goats on the Road travel blog.

You need about 4-5 days to complete the w-trek and all accomodation needs to be booked in advance. We only realised quite late into our trip just how popular this hike is and how fast the limited options for accommodation get booked up. Even if you bring your own tent, you have to pre-book a pitch.

We managed to book two nights, the first night in a dome and the second in a tent that was provided. Even for this, it was very very expensive!

The most expensive accommodation of our entire trip. To avoid this, book early peeps!

This is what a tent on a ‘platform’ looks like.

We just carried our day packs for the 3 days and managed to complete more of a u-circuit in the time we had. It was completely worth it as the scenery was absolutely breathtaking. In total, we walked 60km, 6-8 hours per day.

Day One – we walked from the boat drop off at Camp Paine Grande up to the first mirador (view point) of Glacier Grey, then back down and around to Camp Frances.

I vividly remember on day one, getting to the view point and seeing Glacier Grey for the first time, the first proper glacier I had ever seen.

In the background you can just about see the huge glacier.

There was only one issue I encountered which was on day one of the hike, the sole of my trekking boots decided to collapse. By the evening, even with blister plasters, I had 8 swollen blisters and my feet were in agony! Thinking off my feet (lying down to be precise), I considered how I was going to walk the next 2 days. We went to the small camping shop to see if they had insoles so I could line my boots for at least some cushioning. No surprises when they did not. Though, a little gem came to me when I saw a pack of sanitary pads on the shelf. The shop keeper realised what I was thinking and burst out laughing, “you’re the first person to suggest lining your boots with sanitary pads”. I swear, it was like memory foam! And that’s how I got my feet through the next 2 days!

These literally saved my feet. Best insoles ever.

Day Two – Camp Frances to Refugio Las Torres Norte (missing the middle of the w-trek to Camp Britanico which everyone said was amazing).

The trail was absolutely stunning, being so varied in landscape. In fact, we would proudly argue it was the nicest hike we’ve ever done! And that’s with multiple blisters on my feet.

Day Three – Refugio Torres del Norte up to the 3 towers and back, which is where the park gets its name ‘Torres del Paine’. This was the longest hike of the 3 days. One part was through windy pass – we were so glad we brought our poles to avoid us being blown off the mountain.

Crossing windy pass!

The view at the three towers. 9.5km uphill to get there and then all the way back. It was totally worth it

The celebratory beer at the end was truly magical.

Aaaa the sigh of relief that my memory foam trainers were only a bus ride away.

We returned to Puerto Natales with a day to recover before crossing the border into Argentina to go to El Calafate.

Up next, wandering Argentina!

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Wandering Mendoza, Argentina: An almost Useful Gringo Guide

Green Mendoza

Mendoza (3 nights)

I wasn’t too bothered about coming here before we went. The main reason gringos go to Mendoza is because it is the wine capital of Argentina. Sara enjoys a tipple now and then so she was excited to visit. For me, after being there it turned out to be one of my highlights. I’m now an alcoholic.

We started from Santiago in Chile on a mega scenic bus journey. You’re surrounded by huge mountains and snaking up the pass to the border is an eye opening activity in itself.

Scenes

The border really was a piece of cake compared to the Chilean border. There was a freaking owl in the rafters too. I told the bus driver in Spanish about it but he couldn’t care less. Or I said something offencive by accident.

We stayed in a reasonably priced, quality place called Hostel Alamo in a fairly big but dated room. The guys who worked there helped us out fitting in what we wanted to do in a short space of time, plus we had a BBQ with them one night (the first of many Argentinian BBQs.. and I thought Brits knew how to BBQ!)

If you can’t beat ’em…

We spent a day touring vineyards with some other gringos on bikes (the unmotorised variety). We tasted so much wine and sadly I don’t remember anything about the day now..

But thankfully we took a load of photos, it looks like we had a nice time. It’s exciting that there is no problem with getting sloshed and cycling on the side of a fairly busy road as a group. Silly, I mean silly not exciting!

Not exciting

Sara was well up for a sunset horse ride which meant I was to face one of my single greatest fears.. horses. Horses. HORSES.

Jonny – Age 19

Horses have a freaking mind of their own, if Hernandez the horse wanted to chuck me off at any point he could. Hernandez has a mind of his own and that’s what terrifies me. Anyway once I faced my fear I had a great time taking in the mountain scenery whilst putting in zero effort with only mild chafing. Of course we had a BBQ at the ranch after the riding.

Chafing

He could be thinking anything

I preferred this Mendozaian dog

TOP TIP – Blood sausage. It’s not that nice. It’s a soft, mushy sausage made from animal bumholes. They’re like Bounty and Milky Way in a box of Celebrations, they’re always the last thing left at the end of the BBQ.

The headline act for me – Argentinian Steak. They say not to meet your heroes (Meat your heroes?) but I would disagree. The steak was everything I imagined and more. It was love at first sight. It was a holiday romance that I’m gutted had to come to an end. I will remember the first kiss, the very first time I placed my lips upon (around?!) thee. You were a.. rare find. Quite the dish. I’m certain you had no feelings for me, but still I let you inside. And when you had nothing left to give, I just paid and left!

Love story aside, you could get a delicious steak dinner for 2 with a bottle of Mendoza Malbec at a relatively fancy place for $30. I know, heaven is cheap.

Sara likes steak now, our relationship is now perfect

Overall In Conclusion Mansell Experience Quick To-The-Point Travel Rating Points Score – 10/10

Perhaps slightly enhanced by my holiday romance with a steak dinner, I thought Mendoza was a proper south american highlight, plus there was a load of fun, active stuff we didn’t do! Take me back!!

Watching me out the corner of his eye 😭

15 Things To Know About Sri Lanka

After spending three weeks in Sri Lanka, here are 15 interesting facts and things we learnt about Sri Lanka:

1. Sri Lanka is often referred to as the ‘tear drop’ of India due to its shape and position located just south of India. The island itself is smaller than Ireland but is home to almost 21 million people (whereas Ireland has a population of around 4.7 million).

Photo taken from Google maps.

2. Sri Lanka used to be known as ‘Ceylon’. The new name of Sri Lanka was issued in 1972 following independence from the British Empire in 1948. You may recognise Ceylon tea though, and this is one of the main exports of Sri Lanka. The British had complete rule over Sri Lanka from 1817 and introduced tea plants to the island in 1824. By 1965, Sri Lanka became the world’s largest tea exporter and to this day remains one of the top 5 tea exporters in the world. Check some of the English well-loved brands such as Yorkshire tea, Tetley and Twinnings English breakfast teas and you’ll find it is part made from tea plantations in Sri Lanka!

A cup of Ceylon tea with a box of ‘tea-time’ biscuits.

 3. Tea is not the only British thing we oberserved, we saw traditional red postboxes, railway stations built by the British, British colonial hotels and architecture and ‘tea-time’ biscuits in every shop.

A photo of one of the vintage trains still in use today. We took the very scenic route between Ella and Kandy and it was like a step back in time!


4. Sri Lanka is situated near the equator so typically has a hot climate between 29-34 degrees Celsius all year. However, unlike other countries it is affected by two monsoons: the Yala monsoon in the south & west of the country from May to August and the Maha monsoon in the north & east from October to January. This is perhaps why you see such green and lush vegetation in the hill country and a large array of wildlife in Sri Lanka from parrots and buffalo to elephants and leopards. 

Some of the wildlife we saw in Udawalawe National Park in Sri Lanka.

 5. The south coast has a stunning coastline of white sandy beaches and huge waves so it’s perfect for surfing. We stayed in Hikkaduwa which had a lot of surfers. We also saw a lot of dogs on the beach. The dogs were all well natured but tended to all be strays that the locals would occasionally look after. We never saw a dog go into a home though.

A dog relaxing on Hikkaduwa beach.

 6. The main language in Sri Lanka is Sinhalese though we found the majority of Homestay and Guesthouse owners spoke some English. In general, we found the Sri Lankan people to be very friendly. Many would go out of their way to help you find your way. As tourists, we were always popular with the kids who wanted to say ‘hello’ to us in English.

7. Sri Lanka is one of the oldest Buddhist countries in the world and played a key part in the history of Buddhism. You can climb Adam’s peak to see what is believed to be Buddha’s own footprint, visit the Temple of the Tooth in Kandy to see the casket containing the tooth of Buddha and cave temples in Dumbulla over 2000 years old.

The Buddha statues we saw in the ancient Dambulla Cave Temple.

8. The currency in Sri Lanka is Sri Lankan rupees (LKR). The exchange rate from LKR to GBP is roughly 195 rupees to £1. Most of the Sri Lankan rupees are in notes rather than coins. We found the cost of living in Sri Lanka to be a lot cheaper than the UK- our average daily spend was £45 (or £22.50 each) for a double room with a fan and private bathroom, plus 3 meals a day and travel/daily activities. We used our credit card to withdraw money from the ATM and found Commercial bank to be most accepting of MasterCard. The Bank of Ceylon did not seem to ever accept our credit cards.

9. We found Booking.com to be wonderful for booking accommodation in Sri Lanka. It had a huge range of accommodation including guesthouses, home stays, hotels and hostels. Most of the time we would just book our next stay the night before with no problem. We tried to do a lot of home stays and found these to be the most rewarding since you could begin to understand the local customs, meet local people and ask questions about Sri Lanka and the area you were staying in.

Our home stay at ‘Ruwanpura’ and the host family in Udawalawa.


10. It is custom to remove your shoes before entering someone’s home or a place of worship. In general, women tend not to bare their shoulders or knees opting for a t-shirt style dress or t-shirt & skirt. 

11. Traditional Sri Lankan food is curry & rice. We were always presented with a big plate of rice and then 3-4 smaller dishes which normally consisted of Dahl (lentil curry), 1-2 vegetable dishes often with aubergine (eggplant) or okra, perhaps a chicken or fish curry and sambal (which is made from coconut), plus poppadoms if you were lucky. We also tried egg and string hoppers and milk rice. If you order food in a restaurant, we learnt that Sri Lankan’s like to take their time (I read somewhere that they like to socialise before eating) so waiting around 30 minutes for food after ordering is not uncommon.

One of the many Sri Lankan curries we had. This one had an aubergine (eggplant) dish called Wambatu Moju which we loved!

12. Public transport in Sri Lanka is pretty good and very very cheap, particularly the buses. We used the local buses mostly and found a 1 hour journey would cost less than a bottle of water! The buses can get a little crowded and many do not have air-conditioning. There is a conductor on every bus so you do not buy tickets in advance- just hop on and wait for the conductor to come to you! If you’re not on a tight budget you can also hire a driver for the day for around 60 USD.  Tuk-tuks or rickshaws are everywhere- on average expect to spend about 50 LKR per kilometre and slightly more in touristy areas. The benefit of tuk-tuk is that they can reach places cars/buses cannot like down trails or long driveways. We found it was all male drivers in Sri Lanka and be prepared to hear serious amounts of ‘honking’!! They use their horns more than the brakes! It can feel a bit unsettling for foreign travellers at first.

Jonny on one of the local buses in Sri Lanka.

13. Haggling or negotiating is part of everyday life in Sri Lanka, particularly for tuk-tuks or at market stalls. In a supermarket, prices are printed directly on each individual item so you can quickly build up an idea of how much you should be paying for a bunch of bananas or bottle of water for example. One thing to note is that you can only buy alcohol in a dedicated store which may be a side store to a large supermarket or even in the basement. It only seems to be men who purchase alcohol at these stores so it can be a little intimidating for a woman since you’re likely to get some disapproving looks.

14. Between 13th-15th April, the Sri Lankan people celebrate their New Year. It is a National holiday and a time for family gathering so many businesses, buses and restaurants will close over this period. Small fireworks can be heard across the country and sweets are prepared in every home such as Kokis and oil cake which we were fortunate to try. On New Year’s day it is tradition to wear a new piece of clothing.

A photo of food we received for breakfast on New Year’s Day including milk rice, oil cake often referred to as Kevum and Kokis in the shape of butterflies.

15. Lots of tourists carry the Lonely Planet guidebook which means more remote areas mentioned in the book have started to become more touristy. If you are looking for a really remote location, the locals have great knowledge or another option would be to take a bus and explore other areas. One more note for travellers is the plug socket – it is a cross between a UK plug socket with three prongs and a European one with rounded prongs. We brought a world travel adapter with us for our trip but found it would not fit. In the end we bought a plug adapter from the local supermarket.

A plug adaptor we purchased in Sri Lanka – you can see here the socket and pins.