Blown away in  Patagonia….


We re-entered Chile for the last time, where the process would’ve gone much quicker had there not been the cutest little kitty in the arrival hall who was just begging to be tickled.

After a quick stop in Puerto Natales to pick up supplies and our guides, Maria-José and Alejandro, we drove into the Torres del Paine National Park for what would become one of the highlights of my entire trip: the 4-day ‘W-Walk’, a nomenclature which doesn’t require further explanation I assume. The first night’s campsite, on the shore of Lake Pehoe, took my breath away. It was flanked by the snow-capped Los Cuernos mountains, while the resident armadillo, Marcel, who chilled out with us, added a certain gezelligheid (apologies to non-Dutch speakers) to the whole scene.

The following morning, those of us who were doing the W Walk set out early doors in order to catch the catamaran which would take us to the start of the hike, and our next campsite, in the shadow of the Paine Grande peak. On certain sections of the hike we were able to drop some of our bag contents to lighten the load, however, having learned my lesson on my Machu Picchu trek that you really need very little, I packed a very small daypack containing sleeping bag and mat, a couple of changes of clothes and a small toiletries bag. I probably carried 5kg in total, as opposed to some of my fellow trekkers who huffed and puffed with 12kg. The first day’s hike was 22km in length; 11km along Lake Grey to the Grey Glacier and back again, taking around eight hours in total. Over the next couple of days, we continued with linear hikes, sometimes having to double back on ourselves but not really minding given the spectacular scenery afforded to us in the French and Ascensio Valleys.

The third day was particularly hot at 22°C, and it was somewhat comforting to see even our guides struggling in the unusually warm summer weather. Atter lunch we rested by a lagoon and took an illegal dip in the glacial waters.


Seeing the relief and joy on our faces, one of the guides jumped in with us, telling us it was the first time he’d ever done something like this. The cool waters were exhilarating and it was a much appreciated break from the walking.

On the final day, the hike went to the three peaks which give the park its name, however due to adverse weather, they were obscured and I therefore decided to stay at the campsite and indulge in some of the best coffee I’d had on this trip and catch up with my blog.

I have been completely blown away by the beauty in Chilean Patagonia (hence the rather brief blog post as I believe the pictures speak for themselves) and I can’t wait to explore more of the region on the Argentinean side.

And when I say blown away, I mean it both metaphorically and literally. The wind here is like no other I’ve ever experienced, at one point actually knocking me off my feet. Lord knows how perishing it is in winter, but I’d love to return and find out one day.

Lounging in the Lake District…..


The high from the previous night’s meal in Santiago didn’t last long on account of even more diarrhoea coupled with an eleven hour day on the truck. I also said goodbye to Riley, a young and interesting Australian who had been my tentmate/roommate while Ian stayed with his lady friend who has also now left us.  I’ll miss Riley for many reasons, the main one being that not only did he not judge me for eating five ice creams each day, he actively encouraged such behaviour by paying for them! Thankfully the drive to the Lake District distracted both Ian and I from our tummy troubles as we were yet again treated to some spectacular scenery. Our first stop was the quaint town of Pucon, which sits on Lake Villarica. Its cute streets are well maintained with roses used to separate lanes on the roads and the low-lying wooden buildings give it an alpine feel. In fact I was reminded of a place called Idyllwild in California, which has a very similar look and feel, and was the scene of a very happy holiday. The town is very small so I decided to go for a walk by myself rather than do the guided tour. While I’ve met some fantastic people on this trip, I do crave some alone time, so while Ian made friends with his bed I strolled around for a few hours, enjoying some time at the lakeside beach. You could walk around the whole town in around 30 minutes, but as I stopped to play with the numerous street dogs, I took rather longer. The town is very geared toward tourists and there are a lot of adventure sports on offer, including scaling an active volcano. Unfortunately, never knowing when one will need toilet facilities and not wishing for a repeat of rainbow mountain, I shunned such excursions and enjoyed a couple of blissfully lazy days. I stumbled upon a great cafe which I visited on multiple occasions, despite it being 30% more expensive than Amsterdam!! Oh no, I’m complaining about the cost of things; perhaps I am becoming more Dutch than I realised.

The next town on our trip was Bariloche, on the Argentinean side of the Lake District, which we reached via the incredibly scenic Ruta de los Siete Lagos (Seven Lakes Route). As you can see from the pictures, it does what it says on the tin. Bariloche sits on the shore of the Nahuel Huapi lake and is flanked by the Andes, creating a truly picture postcard setting.  Similarly to Pucon, it is set up for lots of adventure sports however, arriving on Christmas Day, meant that most people took it easy.

Christmas Day was weird. After a disappointingly quick Skype (thanks to crappy WiFi) with Ken who was working in Dubai, we set off on a ten hour drive that included an international border crossing, but one which was made bearable by the two adorable Labradors ambling around the waiting area. Upon arrival at our hostel, we were treated to Christmas dinner, which meant a traditional Argentinean ‘asado’: barbecued meats. The meal and the heat meant it didn’t feel very Christmassy to me, but the bottle of local Malbec and the easy-on-the-eye chefs helped us enjoy the festivities.


The next day Ian and I decided to go on a short hike up to a nearby waterfall but twenty minutes in he felt ill and so we turned back. Unfortunately, Ian’s stomach was getting worse so we took him to a local clinic for some tests. Over the next couple of days things didn’t improve and he had to leave the tour in Perito Moreno to see another doctor. I’ve been really impressed with the healthcare in South America and was so again, although the 90 second ambulance ride to our hotel seemed somewhat excessive. Ian had gone with me to  the hospital when I had my accident in La Paz so it was an easy decision to stay behind with him and one of the tour leaders, Lars, while he sorted out his repatriation with his insurance company. New Year’s Eve was rather low-key however; Ian slept while I had two cans of beer before turning the lights off a couple of hours before midnight. Lars and I took a 12-hour overnight bus to catch up with our truck and we were treated to another incredible sunset. It’s just a shame that a) the bus played a ten-year old movie at full volume until 0130 and b) that I couldn’t drown it out with music because my iPod fell down the gap between the seats becoming irretrievably wedged.  It was lovely to see the group again, but I will miss Ian terribly; he’s been on the trip  with me since the very first day in Quito and quickly became a good friend. Both he and Riley live in Melbourne so I guess I’ll have to head there at some point!

Scrumptious scran in Santiago….

Taking a six hour bus journey, which includes an international border crossing, while suffering from diarrhoea isn’t much fun, as I can now unfortunately confirm. Thankfully, there were enough decent toilets – and by decent I mean porcelain was present rather than bushes, even if the aforementioned porcelain didn’t actually have a seat – that I didn’t suffer too badly. However, upon arriving in Santiago I wasn’t feeling my best so took it easy for the few days we were there. Thankfully our hostel was lovely: four metre high ceilings in the room; a double bed (to myself!); and best of all, a pool, albeit one that can be swum in its entirety after one and a half breaststrokes.

I had to go into the office while I was in the city, but I didn’t mind too much especially as the taxi ride there and back meant that I could at least see some of the neighbourhoods. I was impressed with the modern feel of the financial district and my stomach yearned for the offerings from the various sushi restaurants I could see out of the window. Not surprising given that it was 4pm and I was yet to eat anything that day due to my turbulent tummy.  However, it was the last day on the trip for two of my favourite people – Astrid, the sexagenarian with whom I shared a tent in Ecuador, breaking the tour company’s single-travellers-mixed-gender-sharing policy in the process; and Lauren, she of trekking-Machu-Picchu-having-just-had-knee-surgery fame – and to celebrate we were treating ourselves to a slap-up meal at BORAGò (yes, that spelling is correct), a restaurant which is ranked #5 in South America and #42 globally.

Let me start by saying, IT WAS THE BEST MEAL I HAVE EVER EATEN! I realise that’s quite the statement, but I honestly don’t think I can oversell the experience. Upon arrival, we were greeted by what seemed the entire restaurant staff of circa forty people, all at the same time.  After five minutes of Lauren protesting that she honestly wasn’t a celebrity and that this must just be the norm, we were escorted to the only private dining room. At this point, Lauren decided to confess that she made the booking on the Spanish- language website and ‘may have made a mistake in the booking’ and apologised profusely for the size of the bill that could potentially be forthcoming. Given that we were already salivating looking at the vertical grill at the entrance of the restaurant, we assured her that we honestly didn’t care.

The staff at BORAGò were the most attentive I’ve ever experienced, somehow managing to appear ever- present without being noticeably intrusive; an underrated talent. Our maître d’ explained the menu choices: Raqko, consisting of eight courses or the Endémica, which had an eye-popping 16 courses, containing only ingredients found in Chile. We opted for the latter, along with a wine pairing, natch, my empty stomach grumbling at the thought of what was to come, a feeling that continued throughout the evening as you are not shown the menu until you are walking out of the door, four hours after you first arrived! Having advised us that we would be drinking Patagonian rain water throughout the meal – something I’ve since had ‘at source’ – the maître d’ suggested a Pisco sour to start off the evening. We were all still agog at our surroundings but managed to confirm that we were happy to go along with anything he suggested. I’m not much of a cocktail drinker, usually opting for a whiskey sour when required, and I’ve taken to Pisco sours like a duck to water during my time in Peru and Chile. However, the green concoction that soon arrived was like no other Pisco sour I had experienced before, and not just because of the unusual colour!

Our first four courses arrived shortly after: chilenito, a deliciously light biscuit sandwich filled with succulent crab meat; palo palo sea snail, ulte and seaweed broth which was heaven to this escargot-loving Brit; stuffed copihue (the national flower) with shrimp from Juan Fernandez island; and baked marraqueta, a perfectly simple roll which was like manna from heaven having encountered disappointment after disappointment when it came to bread on this continent thus far.

Our fifth dish was a unanimous favourite (up to this point), chupe of mushrooms from Quintay, served with a light broth, a mix that conjured up the sight and smells of the woodlands, and the taste of chestnuts got us talking about Christmas and our various local traditions, living in five different countries as we do. Up next was the dish I liked the least – although I still scoffed the lot – jibia with almond milk, alfalfa, pajarito cream and roasted kolof.  I’m not the biggest cheerleader of the texture of squid, but the almond milk and pajarito cream made the plate very palatable indeed.

The following dish, rock vegetables from Punta de Tralca, was my favourite of the whole evening. I think. It’s rather difficult to pick just one. It sounds somewhat basic: four different types of seaweed  served with multi-coloured crackers. However, aside from being the best tasting green food I’ve ever put in my mouth, the concept behind it was ingenious and executed to perfection; the dish was presented in the shape of the Chilean coastline, with the Andes represented by the crackers.


The ‘rock secuence’ continued with a rock pure and kolof roots broth. As with everything else on the menu, the ingredients had been foraged by restaurant staff, and the puree was served on an actual rock. Having scraped it off in order to eat it, the resultant rock looked rather unappetising  with what now looked like skid marks. Moving swiftly on…..


Our next dish was fish ‘al rescoldo’ with wild pea flowers and it is here where I realised I’ll never become a food critic (although what’s the point when all food reviews should be written by the incredible Grace Dent anyway?), as I was so entranced by the flaky white meat melting in my mouth that I forgot to ask what kind of fish I was in the process of annihilating.


It was at this point that my stomach deemed it necessary to remind me that it wasn’t quite ready for such a gastronomic journey and I had the distinct look of an Olympic race walker as I dashed to the loo, trying to look like I wasn’t dashing to the loo. On my return from the immaculate bathrooms, I was able to take a look at the dining room, although my attention was soon captured by the frenzy of activity that could be spied through through the glass-encased open kitchen which dominates one end of the room. I was amazed to see no chef seemingly older than 25 years. I assumed the unusual taste combinations of each dish must have been conjured up by an old-hand with decades of experience.

The next dish was another favourite with me and my fellow diners: Chilean morels and red plum leaves, grilled duck on miso made of murra. I have no idea what murra is in this context. Thankfully Google doesn’t seem to either, so I don’t feel too bad. Although none of the dishes were large, this one took a particularly long time to eat, mainly because we were too engrossed discussing the artistry in its presentation. I usually get annoyed when watching Masterchef and seeing the majority of chefs spread purees across a plate with the back of a spoon, but I was more than happy to put aside those feelings on this occasion. Thankfully, the taste matched the appearance; the tartness of the jus being a flawless complement to the perfectly-cooked duck.


One of our fellow diners, a gentleman from Estonia, had previously enquired at what point we would be tasting the lamb from outside, but the waiting staff had been coy about giving an answer. He was very happy to see, therefore, that it was the next dish on the menu, served with a mille feuille of wild Patagonian apples.  I’ve never seen such tiny apples, but good things definitely came in those small packages, each one packing a punch as the ideal accessory to the tender lamb.


My belly decided to speak up again and during the resulting trip to the facilities I contemplated being sensible and calling it quits at course number eleven. However, sensible isn’t a word that features often in my vocabulary thus I rushed back to the table to play my hand, accepting whatever consequences befell me in the following days. It was now time for the first of our five desserts. Yes, five.  First up was some Nalca candy, shaped into a leaf and with the texture of a strawberry shoelace (apologies to any international readers who don’t know that confectionery).


img_20171221_185952_3141473818373.jpgOur second dessert was a ‘Chirimoya alegre’ cheesecake, and without doubt the biggest surprise of the night. We were presented with a simple cheesecake and accompanying piece of cheese. Except we weren’t. As each course was delivered, the chef responsible would arrive at the table to present it, detailing the ingredients and process. It was a brilliant touch and really hit home how a meal such as this is a real team effort. In this instance, the chef was unusually reticent to impart with information on the dish, something I initially took for shyness. I didn’t miss, however, the unmistakable glint in his eye as he returned to the kitchen. Wondering what was about to occur, I took my first bite of cheesecake and it took a few seconds for my tastebuds and brain to connect.  THE CHEESECAKE WAS IN FACT CHEESE AND THE PIECE OF CHEESE WAS A CHEESECAKE. Consider my mind blown. Each item had the appearance and texture of its visual form but tasted anything but. There were squeals of delight from the table and it was lovely to see the grins from the nearby staff, who seemed to take an equal measure of satisfaction from our reactions as we did from the experience.

I thought the meal had peaked, which at course number 13 is a pretty good run. How wrong was I?! Courses 14 and 15 arrived together, greeted with a chorus of oohs and aahs as it was set down in front of us. The bright pink rose of the year ice cream sandwich was accompanied by an ice brulée from the Atacama desert and bitter plants. The  ice cream sandwich was a revelation; eaten with one’s hands, the nougaty centre was ice cold yet easy to handle and the rose flavour was exquisite, which if watching the Great British Bake Off has taught me anything about baking, it’s that rose is a notoriously difficult flavour to get right. The black ice brulée was met with confused faces, prompting the waiter to tell us that we should hit it with our spoons.  The satisfying crack revealed a watery sorbet – much better than it sounds – in which the bitter herbs swam. After the sugary sweetness of the ice cream sandwich, it was an ideal contrast. Our sixteenth and final course was a cold glacier, which looked like a regular chocolate truffle, but by now we knew that wouldn’t be the case. For starters, there was a cloud of mist emanating from the top. The waiter told us to eat it quickly and once bitten into I experienced one of the strangest sensations ever. My breath seemed to physically be taken away. It sounds bizarre but I honestly couldn’t breathe for a second. The friendly face of our waiter ensured we didn’t panic, and once again, we excitedly discussed the experience.

And that’s exactly what BORAGò is, an experience. Calling it dinner or a meal doesn’t do it justice.  This was art. This was theatre. And the cast deserve every cry of encore.


Seeing stars in San Pedro de Atacama….

My time in Bolivia was all too short and I would have loved to have stayed longer. The last day’s drive out of the country did its best to persuade me to stay, but onwards to Chile I go.


20171207_142211-11961586155.jpgThe immigration exit post in Bolivia was a tiny brick building, and bizarrely we weren’t even required to show our faces. Our guide entered with all our passports and returned five minutes later with our exit stamps. We crossed  into Chile at San Pedro de Atacama, where the process was rather more onerous, although relatively painless, despite having to haul out all of the bags and undergo a truck inspection.

It was only a short drive to the town and our cute hostel, although the bedroom was so small, my hair barely fit in there. Thankfully, a few days later a lovely Scot called Kirsty came to my rescue and snipped my barnet back to a more respectable length. The streets of San Pedro are very cute; red clay roads, low-lying buildings and a beautiful main plaza, all surrounded by the nearby mountains. As usual, I could’ve stayed longer, exploring all of the little side streets, each populated with interesting restaurants and shops. The only negative aspect of the town was the extraordinary amount of tourists, something that I’d not really experienced thus far on the trip. They seemed to outnumber the locals by about fifty to one. Thankfully, this is offset by the fact that the streets are lined with dogs, all of whom are very well fed, impeccably behaved and wanting tickles, so obviously I was in seventh heaven.


Speaking of seventh heaven, the following day we went on a midnight stargazing tour where we learned that the phrase came from a time when astronomers thought there were only seven planets in our solar system, of which Earth was the sixth to be classified as a planet. The Canadian astronomer was very engaging and despite the very late hour, many of us could’ve stayed longer, and not just for more of the delicious hot chocolate.


Earlier that day we also drove out to Moon Valley, an incredible section of the Atacama Desert that was reminiscent of a set on Star Wars, or so I was reliably informed.  I’m not a sci-fi fan, and indeed on my first date with my partner, he spent 15 minutes trying to explain the merits and differences of Star Wars and Star Trek. He eventually picked up on my bored/vacant expression and thankfully the subject has  never reared its head again. Let’s just say I’m very happy the new Star Wars (or is it Star Trek?) film is released while we are  12,000km apart! Anyway, I digress. After a short hike up to a ridge, we were greeted with a landscape like none other I’d seen on this trip. And yes, I do realise I sound like a broken record but there are only so many superlatives available in my vocabulary. My introduction to Chile has been pretty special, but I have to wait a while to see if the rest of the country is equally impressive as we drive to Argentina tomorrow, the fifth country on my trip, before we spend the next few weeks criss-crossing the two countries.

Gary the gringo goes forth…..

In a few weeks’ time, I shall be heading to South America for nearly four months as I take a sabbatical from my job for what I hope to be an adventurous and enlightening experience.

I considered organising the trip myself, but after a couple of days of trying to put together an itinerary and already breaking out in a sweat from the stress, I decided to look online for help. It appeared in the form of STA Travel’s January sale! There was a trip from Quito in Ecuador to Buenos Aires in Argentina, taking in several other wondrous* countries along the 94 day journey which at first glance looked expensive, but with the post-Christmas discount applied it actually was comparable to organising the trip myself, so I put down the deposit and started dreaming of Patagonia, a part of the world I’ve always wanted to see given my interest in animals and nature.

*I thought it was spelled incorrectly too and missing an ‘e’, but apparently not.


My interest in natural history stems from spending school holidays with my wonderful grandparents who let me stay up to watch every nature documentary on TV. It’s no secret that David Attenborough is my ideal man. I also got my love of sport from Pops and Nanny Dot, who, whenever a sporting event clashed with a documentary, would wheel in the small television from the back room and plonk it on top of the main box in the lounge. We watched both programmes at the same time, with the sport commentary muted until the documentary had finished. Oh the youth of today have it so easy with their on-demand viewing.

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