Yearly Archive: 2014

Torres del Paine

The day after we got back from Antarctica, we headed towards Puerto Natales, Chile to get ready for our next adventure – hiking the W trail in Torres del Paine National Park.  It took us a full day of busing to get to Puerto Natales and then we spent a day renting gear and buying food before setting off.

The W in Torres del Paine is supposed to be one of the most beautiful hikes in the world and it is definitely the best that we’ve done to date. It is about 75 kilometers and most people hike it in 4 to 5 days and you can start on either side – we decided to do it in 4 days and go west to east.  The first day we spent the morning getting to the park and then took a catamaran to the bottom of the western arm. We set up camp and dropped our gear before hiking up to Grey Glacier, at the top of the arm. The hike started out super windy – 60 KM per hour – but luckily it died down as the afternoon went on.

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Day two we got up and hiked 2 hours to the camp that we would spend the night. We set up our tent and dropped our gear and then headed up the middle section of the W into the Valle Frances (French Valley). This was our favorite day – the views were great and we spent a while just sitting and watching little avalanches happen on the mountain across the valley.

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Day three was a long one – and the first day that we had to carry our packs all day. We hiked from the middle of the W all the way to the eastern tip. The weather was perfect though and the landscape was diverse.

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The last day we got up at 4:30am to hike up to the Torres (towers) to see them at sunrise. Then we packed up camp and hiked back down the east arm of the W to catch the bus back to Puerto Natales.


The hike was amazing except for one minor issue – my boots fell apart! The right one developed a hole in the sole on day 2 and the bottom of the left completely cracked open on day 3!



Antarctica – Animals!

We obviously knew that we would see penguins in Antarctica, but I had no idea how many we would see (or that I would be able to identify 3 different types by the end of the trip!). We saw penguins every time we landed and they never got old.

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We had rules about how close we were allowed to get to the animals, but luckily the penguins didn’t have the same rules and were pretty curious. If you just sat there, they would come check you out.

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At the beginning of the summer in Antarctica, the penguins are coming ashore to build nests, find a partner and mate. We saw a lot of penguin lovin’.


We also saw several different types of seals.

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And whales! (You have to look closely for the water spouting up just left of center)


One afternoon the ship’s captain spotted a group of orcas off the ship.


He stopped the ship and dropped all the Zodiacs into the water and we chased after them – and got really close!

Emma Capel Orca

{Photo credit to our friend Emma Capel.  We weren’t quick enough with our camera to catch an up close shot}

We also saw a lot of other birds besides penguins.

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The last day, we did a polar plunge. The water was -2 degrees C and felt it.

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Here’s our last look at the continent as we were sailing away. Although it is supposed to be a “once in a lifetime” trip, we know we’ll be back again someday.DSCN5081

Antarctica – Cruise and Ice


Antarctica was a dream destination for us when we were initially planning our South America trip. It was high on both of our bucket lists and was the only continent Brandon had yet to visit. We figured there would be no better time than this trip to be able to travel down there, as we had complete flexibility on time. We initially planned on traveling down to Ushuaia at the END of our trip in late January, and trying to get whatever last minute deal we could find. Mentally, we were prepared for a pretty bare-bones accommodation and ship. However, we ended up lucking out and grabbing a 50% discount on a luxury cruise that was set to leave the first week of November. We had contacted a travel agent in Ushuaia (while we were in Bolivia) to let us know about any sales or last minute deals and she sent us one right before (literally minutes before) our jeep tour of southern Bolivia back in September. The deal was too good to be true so we jumped on it right away and sent her our credit card info and hoped it would all go through. Given the timing and the fact that we were about to be in the middle of nowhere in Southwest Bolivia with no internet for four days, we weren’t optimistic that everything was going to work out.  But as soon as the tour ended we checked our email and we were confirmed!


The cruise was billed as 12 days, but the first day was just staying in a hotel in Ushuaia and the last day we were back in Ushuaia by 8 am, so it was really only 10 days of cruising. The ship we sailed on was called the Sea Spirit and it was pretty small – only 114 passengers. This was ideal as there are limits on the number of people that can be on land at a given site at a time. It was really, really nice and the food was great – buffets for breakfast and lunch and then a 4 course dinner every night. And it had an open bar (with bottomless cookie jars)! We were in a “superior suite” and it was soooo nice after staying in cheap hostels for months.

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We spent the first 2 days of the cruise sailing through the Drake Passage to Antarctica. The Drake is notorious for bad weather and rough water because it is where the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans meet. The weather out was apparently pretty good – although we both ended up getting sick and spending a lot of time in the cabin. We weren’t the only ones though! When we got up for breakfast the first day, there were empty bags lining all the hand rails around the ship just in case someone needed one fast (which I did later that morning).

In the Drake we obviously couldn’t get off the ship so the expedition staff gave presentations. The staff was really great and had experts on all things Antarctica. There were glacier, sea mammal, bird and history experts. So before (and on the trip back) we learned about what we were going to see (or had seen). The talks were great and really interesting.


After 2 days of rough waters and not much to see (besides albatrosses) we were really excited to finally see land!

First Sight of Land

When we were actually in Antarctica for 5 and a half days, each of those days we typically did 2 excursions. The excursions were taking a Zodiac (small boat) to land and exploring, doing a cruise on a Zodiac around an area or doing a combo of a Zodiac cruise and a landing. We were the first cruise of the season so even though the expedition staff had plans everyday for us, they never quite knew what was awaiting us as we went to different areas around the Antarctic Peninsula.


The landscape was absolutely beautiful and everyday we saw glaciers, icebergs and snow-covered mountains.

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Make sure to look at the next post for all our penguin, whale and seal pictures!

Ushuaia – the End of the World

We finally arrived in Ushuaia from Puerto Madryn after 4 buses, 1 ferry, 2 border crossings and 36 long hours. Ushuaia is the southernmost city in the world and is on the island at the very tip of South America – Tierra del Fuego. Although we probably would have gone there anyway, the main reason for our visit was because our cruise to Antarctica left from Ushuaia.

We got into town a few days before our cruise to check out the area. The first day we hiked up into the mountains above the city to check out a glacier and the view from above the city.

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The next day we did a 4 x 4 off road jeep tour. The tour started off pretty tame with some visits to some beautiful lakes. Then we did the “off road” part to get to a little cabin in the woods.

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At the cabin, the drivers cooked us a typical Argentine asado with a lot of wine and meat and gave us choripan (sausage sandwiches) while we waited for the steak. Luckily we took a regular road back to town – I was in a serious meat coma!

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Behind the city are the last of the Andes Mountains and in front, the Beagle Canal. Besides being a tourist destination, Ushuaia is a busy port city with a lot of barges and cruise ships going in and out all the time. It was a nice little city to spend a few days in but I think we spent a lot of that time talking about and getting ready for our cruise to Antarctica!

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Puerto Madryn and the Valdes Peninsula

After Bariloche, we went to Puerto Madryn, which is the main stopping point for any activities on the Valdes Peninsula.

One of the big things to do on the Valdes Peninsula is to take a day trip driving around the peninsula to check out some of the local wildlife and then going out on a boat to see the Southern Right whales.

Erin had already visited the area when she studied abroad in Argentina in 2007, so she hung back at the hostel while I went on the tour of the peninsula.

I saw a variety of wildlife on the tour, from Magellanic Penguins to Elephant Seals to Rheas to Armadillos to Whales and a few other animals.

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The main attraction was certainly the Southern Right whales. They got their name from early whalers who considered them the ‘right’ whale to hunt, probably due to their docile nature. Another interesting thing about these whales is all of the marks you see. This is from the seagulls who hang around in the water waiting for the whale to come up for air to then start eating away at it. Apparently this is causing an increase in the mortality rate of the Southern Right whale, and the whales are slowly modifying their behavior when coming up for air. Cursed gulls (shakes fist in the air)!

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The day tour of the Valdes Peninsula was our primary reason for visiting Puerto Madryn, so we didn’t do much else save for walking along the coast.

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