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Entries about lakes

Cairns: under the sea

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View Australian adventure! on Rebecca Heller's travel map.

I found Cairns to be a slightly odd place. Not not nice, just a bit odd. It seemed like no one was from there, they just moved to work there, but I suppose I just might not have met the born and bred locals.

My first night there was St Paddy's day so I found myself in the infamous Gilligans for a celebratory beverage. Gilligans is a big hostel with two large bars and a larger reputation for parties. People were really dressed up in there, it was the first time in ages that I was conscious of my backpacking attire, or rather, just my lack of high heels, body con dresses and false eye lashes. It didn't detract from a fun time though, I really enjoyed the outside bar with live music.

The following day I set off nice and early for my Uncle Brian's rainforest trip. As would suit our location, it absolutely poured at intervals during the day and we did pass through the wettest town in Australia (why would you choose to live there?!). Our tour guide 'cousin Brad' loved to chat incessantly and loudly, and allowed no sleeping on the bus at all. Brad was weirdly flirty with everyone for 7.30am, and the eyebrow wiggle was frankly too much.

Despite this, I actually enjoyed the trip a lot. We went swimming in various lakes and under the Mila Mila waterfall (home to Peter Andre's Mysterious Girl video - yes there was some hair flicking). And for all the weirdness, Brad had an excellent playlist that excused the eyebrow wiggle, just about.

The next day was my most exciting in Cairns as I went for my first trip on the Great Barrier Reef, and contrary to the forecast we had a beautiful day! On the boat they made us fill in medical forms and took us through the safety briefing for first time scuba divers. I felt fine about it so I got stinger-suited and flippered up for my first snorkel.

Now I've seen Finding Nemo, I went to the Natural History Museum Coral exhibition and I've watched the telly, but seeing the Reef for the first time is pretty cool. They weren't wrong about the different kinds and colours of coral, and they were fairly spot on about all the fish.

Oh and I found Nemo. Several times actually, I'm not really sure what all the fuss was about.

I wasn't nervous about my dive until I was in the water itself. I remembered all the tests I had to do under the water and it was after that that my unconscious took over and I struggled to breathe properly. It's odd really since the big instruction is to breathe as normal. It was as though my brain screamed 'WHAT ARE YOU DOING FULLY SUBMERGED IN THE OCEAN?! COME TO THE SURFACE AT ONCE!'

We came to the surface, I regulated my breathing and we went again. Weirdly, pinching my nose helped me to distract me so I wasn't overthinking the whole breathing thing. As you can imagine though, holding on to the instructor, pinching my nose, breathing and trying to take photos with my rented underwater camera was a bit of a performance but I managed it!

I'm really pleased I tried it, but I'm not in a massive hurry to dive again soon. I absolutely loved snorkelling though, and it was a relief to get back in the water to snorkel around, and find Nemo again.

Posted by Rebecca Heller 02:18 Archived in Australia Tagged waterfalls lakes snorkelling rain scuba-dive Comments (0)

Bariloche: chocolate in the Lake District

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View Getting to know Chile & Exploring Patagonia on Rebecca Heller's travel map.

After my adventures in Patagonia, I headed to Bariloche, a popular holiday destination in the Argentian Lake District.

This city is full of artisanal chocolate shops, most of which have gelaterias inside too. As you can imagine, I was in heaven since chocolate and ice cream are two of the best things in life, and I was still pretty tired after my southern adventures so this was a perfect way to unwind.

I stayed in Hostal Pudu, a small and super friendly hostel not far from the busy streets, with a view of one of the lakes. There I met two students from Santiago who were taking a short break there. I ended up spending the next day with them going to sunbathe on the lake beaches and wander around town.

The following day I agreed to go on a day hike up by Cerro Catedral (the main skiing spot in winter). I did not do my homework, so was unaware we were headed for a 24km day hike, but that we did, 12km up the mountain to the glacial lake, and another 12km down. Compared to the hikes I had just done it was very manageable; it was pretty, but not as stunning when compared to my views just days before.

I can imagine it feels very different in the winter when Bariloche is packed with skiers, perhaps it's somewhere to come back to in winter...

Posted by Rebecca Heller 04:44 Archived in Argentina Tagged lakes chocolate hike Comments (0)

Hiking the W at Torres del Paine

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View Exploring Patagonia on Rebecca Heller's travel map.

I didn't sleep all that well the night before; I spent a bit of time wondering if this was such a good idea after all but I got up ready to get on with it. I got down to breakfast and met Diego sitting there; he was also leaving that morning to hike the W, also in 4 days.

Hurrah! A friend! Someone to walk with, at least on the first day, I'd thought. As it turned out, we walked together every day, even when we didn't stay in the same campsites.

First stop is Administración, where you register and pay to enter the park. You also get briefing of the rules: leave NO litter anywhere, stick to the trails... You also have another opportunity to reserve a free spot at the free campsites. Unfortunately, I was still unable to book my spaces, which is apparently quite rare. If you are planning on going, it's worth being a bit planned and booked them in advance if you can.

I then got back on the bus so that I could catch the catamaran across the lake to start the hike at Paine Grande. At this point it started raining and I did start to wonder again, if this was the best idea ever but then I got the first glimpse of the outstanding scenery we were about to spend the next few days surrounded by and I perked up!

Since we were doing the trek in 4 days, we set up shop at the Paine Grande campsite, before heading up the first branch of the W to Mirador Grey. If I'm completely honest, I'm pretty glad I didn't have to carry my bag up there and could get used to hiking up with just me myself and I (and Diego) before the really hard work began! It gave me a chance to get accustomed to the walking poles, and really enjoy the first day of the hike.

The official map weirdly gives you time estimations rather than distances, so I was ready for a 3.5 hour hike but it actually only took 2 to Mirador Grey where you get a spectacular view of the Glaciar ahead. There we were exposed the well known Patagonian winds, strong enough that I didn't stand too near any edges!

Since Diego wanted to walk further up before returning to camp, I returned to camp by myself - my first real solo hike. I didn't really know how I would feel about hiking alone, but I really enjoyed that walk back. There I was in still unspoiled nature, that is both visually beautiful and a joy to listen to.

I have heard several comments about how quiet, silent even, it would be to hike alone. On that walk back I discovered that those nature relaxation albums you can pick up at supermarket check outs aren't as bullshitty as I had previous thought.

We rarely hear it but nature has it's own orchestra. There's the chorus of the wind whistling through grass and trees and the valley, rivers running large and small, quickly and slowly, perhaps some ice cracking or crashing down from a glacier. There might be insects, birds and animals. Rocks falling. The sound of me walking along the trails.

So you see the walk back wasn't silent at all. It was peaceful, calm, and fairly unbelievable. I have had plenty of opportunities on my trip to reflect on how privileged I am, but realising those nature albums weren't made up and acknowledging that some people will never hear earth's own music, struck a chord (if you'll excuse the pun). I am one lucky lady.

The next day, I realised that a morning routine that requires camp stove cooking, queuing to wash it all up, packing up my tent and organising my backpack was a far longer process than I had imagined. I'm fairly slow in the mornings anyway, and that's when I don't need to pack my 'house' away every morning, so add the extras and it was a slow process. Eventually though we set off from Paine Grande campsite to Italiano.

This trail took us about 3 hours with the path along the lake bank, with a view of snow peaked mountains surrounding us. It was the first real distance I had gone with my bag on my back, so whilst it wasn't the most difficult section, it was the first real challenge for me. We took regular breaks at river banks and waterfalls and made it in about the average time (according to the map).

I hadn't got a spot at Italiano campsite so I went straight on the additional half an hour to Francés. That stretch was full of black and yellow butterflies that flew with me part of the way one at a time, making me feel like they were keeping me company on my journey.

After setting up camp, I went back to Italiano to meet Diego to make the trip up to Mirador Francés. This part of the trek is through woodland areas, and you can hear the rivers from afar, even when it's hidden from view. We saw some people bravely bathing in a river (I say bravely because the river is fed by the glacier, so it's fairly chilly water).

You can also hear the sound of the glacier cracking and the crash as the ice falls. We were lucky enough to see this in action from the mirador, which was quite something to witness!

Back at camp, it was possible to cook in cooking cubes near the tents, or there was a bench with shelter, unfortunately near the toilets. I chose the latter for my cooking as it was less crowded and I was far less likely to cause a fire (which apart from the danger of a forest fire, could have resulted in a Large fine and/ or imprisonment!). By the time dinner was ready, I had made friends with a group of Chilean girls my age, a group of veterinary students who were trekking in their summer break. It was a fun way to pass the evening, comparing life notes and getting a be deeper than my planned travel route.

On day 3, I met Diego at 7.30am, knowing we had a long day ahead. As the previous morning had taken me so long, I got up super early to ensure I wouldn't be late. We set off in good time, and I was surprised that we were amongst the only people starting early, as at least some others were doing the same section as us.

As expected, this was our hardest day. We did more uphill climbing than the previous day and we found ourselves stopping every half an hour or so to rest our tired shoulders. The walk was still beautiful, breathtaking not only from physical exertion, but also from the turquoise lakes on one side, mountains on the other and the crystal clear rivers we crossed.

That is apart from one river. We came to this wide, fast flowing river having followed some trekkers up ahead. When we came to it, Diego bounded across, jumping slightly from rock to rock to reach the other side. I however, hesitated. At 5 ft tall, I am considerably shorter than Diego, who had needed to jump across. I was scared to jump, miss and land up on my back being dragged down the river. After much hesitation, Diego came back across to take my bag to make it easier, and I still struggled. I landed up both feet firmly in the river, being the only way to make it across with my little legs!

When we eventually got across, we needed to climb up a fair way, me with soaking wet feet, and damp legs up to nearly my knees. At this point we realised the bridge way way above us was clearly the path, and would in fact have been the better (and probably quicker) option. You live and you learn!

We still had a considerable way to walk through the Patagonian mountains, and after some lunch (and shoe drying time) we kept going on our epic adventure. We eventually moved away from the lakes, and climbed a fair way, making us exposed to the strong Patagonian winds. I was thankful for the walking polls here!

By the time I reached the Chileno camp, I was exhausted and happy to set up camp. I waved Diego off who still had another hour or so to go to the Torres base camp (where I had really wanted a spot!) and said I would probably see him at the Torres in the morning for sunrise.

Over dinner I spoke to a few people to determine that others were planning the two hour walk to see the sunrise at the Torres del Paine themselves and I resolved to do it too. So I hurried off to bed and set my alarm for 2.15am.

It took me all of about two minutes to be good to go in the morning, but being alone, I decided to wait in my tent until others walked past for the trek. It wouldn't have been at all clever to attempt the walk alone in the pitch black. Eventually at 2.30am some people headed towards my tent and I jumped up to join their group.

It took us about two hours to reach the top, which included getting lost on the way and having to retrace our steps. We reached the top as the light was starting, but way before the sun was visibly rising. Once we stopped walking, it was freezing up there, so I found a spot with other people for warmth, ate some breakfast and waited for the sun.

It was the most amazing sunrise I have witnessed; even my photos look edited (I promise they aren't!). To one side I saw the sky painted in inky blues, reds, pinks, oranges, yellows, with clouds for extra dramatic effects, all of which you see reflected in the lake beneath the mountains. To the other, I saw the Torres del Paine illuminate into view reflecting the colours of the sunrise opposite.

It was a hard trek in the dark, but honestly one of the best things I have experienced on my trip. As tired as I was after the whole trek, and particularly the early start, I am proud of myself for having done the trek and if I may say so myself, smashing it!

Posted by Rebecca Heller 04:39 Archived in Chile Tagged landscapes waterfalls lakes bridges night mountain glacier hike patagonia Comments (0)

Patagonia: Argentinian style


View Getting to know Chile & Exploring Patagonia on Rebecca Heller's travel map.

I had had it in my mind that I wanted to go to Patagonia as part of my trip. After looking into the buses, I realised I could fly from Buenos Aires to El Calafate for a similar price to the bus whilst saving myself a whole heap of time. It's not that it wouldn't be worth the bus down. To contrary, I think with all the time and money in the world it would be wonderful. That, however, is not my reality so fly I did.

The view of Lago Argentina as we flew into El Calafate was nothing short of magical. The water was turquoise in a way I've only ever seen on the telly or in an old Polly Pocket seaside toy I once had and the surface sparkled like the Eiffel Tower after dark.

The following day I went on the Alternative Tour to the Perito Moreno glacier that my hostel offered. Since I've never done one of those tours before, I'm not so sure what was so alternative, but that didn't really matter. For the record, you can go independent of a tour if you prefer but the price difference isn't very big and you get more for your money on a tour.

My guide book told me that the Perito Moreno Glacier is one of Argentina's greatest natural wonders, and it wasn't wrong. It is a pretty spectacular wall of brilliant white and bright blue ice that seems to go on forever. It's considered a stable glacier, meaning that on average it is not advancing or receding. However, I was lucky enough to witness it in an advanced state, where the ice blocks the river from the main body of water. Eventually, the pressure will builds, and the river water will force it's way through the ice. The rupture that will occur soon is said to be spectacular.

When I got back from Puerto Natales and the trek in the Torres del Paine national park in Chile (more on this in another post), I was pretty exhausted from the trek and had planned on a day of rest and laziness. However, I ended up meeting someone who'd been in the same hostel in Puerto Natales and we decided to visit the natural reserve and Laguna Argentina.

It was a gorgeous sunny day and we ended up spending over 4 hours there. I think it helped that Ofir is a bird watching enthusiast. I was planning to visit and mooch round quickly but enthusiasm is contagious and very soon I was excited when I spotted various species through the binoculars we hired. It seems enthusiasm may be not be good for memory as I can no longer tell you which birds I saw.

We were also befriended by a dog. It's often tricky to know if dogs are stray in this part of the world as they don't wear tags and this particular dog looked clean and well fed. However, Alexa, as we named her, stayed with us for hours and no one seemed to be looking for her so it's fairly safe to assume she's a stray. I'd describe myself as dog shy so it took me a while to bcomfortable having her bound about around us, but I warmed up to her eventually. Had we not needed to go to the supermarket, Ofir may just have tried to adopt her as his new travelling companion, and whilst it's probably for the best he didn't, he was very sad at the loss of his new best friend.

I didn't spend long in El Calafate, but I have great memories from my visit (apart from the names of the birds I saw...) and would highly recommend a visit.

Posted by Rebecca Heller 20:04 Archived in Argentina Tagged lakes glacier patagonia Comments (0)

Lake Titicaca - making ourselves at home on the water

My tour in Peru included a visit to some islands on Lake Titicaca, culminating in a homestay.

We were given a list of things to bring, including a gift of useful food (rice, oats, fruit, veg...) and had a little time to prepare ourselves.

Lake Titicaca is the largest high-altitude body of water in the world at a mere 284m deep and 8500m square kilometres. What does that mean in real terms? It means that once we left the Puno shore, it really did feel as though we were at sea, not on a lake.

Our first stop was to one of the Uros Floating Islands. These are man-made islands, built from reeds. We were greeted by island inhabitants, invited into their homes to try on national dress, offered handicrafts for sale, and went on an a short ride on their 'Mercedes Benz' (a large boat made from reeds.

We then made our way to Isla Taquile, where the big attraction is that men have to impress a lady by knitting her a hat. If she reckons the hat isn't good enough, a woman can send the man away, in one fowl 'must-try-harder', he must go away and practice and try again when he has improved.

Finally we made our way to Island Amantaní where we would stay for the night. First there was the football match against local boys and then we met our hosts for the night and next day. Before heading 'home', local men and women in traditional dress performed a dance, dressed us up in traditional attire (I had 4 skirts on!) and we had to try and copy the dance. I'm sure we looked fairly ridiculous and may have butchered the moves, but it was pretty funny.

Kat and I made our way to our host house, having been warned that everything may be extremely basic. Turns out, Kat and I had our own bedroom and bathroom (albeit with a self flush system) - pretty swish! The house was more a collection of rooms added over time, as and when necessary. The kitchen was a small room, with an old school stove - fire below and a collection of pots to make everything in.

We were entertained by the middle granddaughter, a very confident 11 year who lives on the mainland, her younger brother of 8 and their cousin, also 8. Whilst their Grandmother, Aurora, speaks primarily Aymara, the kids only spoke castellano, which meant I was able to play mediator and we could all communicate!

The first game up was hide and seek, which unfortunately only lasted a single round since there was only one hiding place in the whole room. Pretty sure they loved it anyway.

Conversation turned to ghost stories with all the kids convinced they'd seen ghosts. It wasn't until dinner that the conversation got really weird, with one of the boys describing an alternative version of the Teletubbies where Tinkywinky decapitates Po. It was one of those moments where I was convinced my Spanish wasn't as good as I thought it was, but he repeated the story and I do believe I understood correctly.

The next morning, my vegetarian gluten free breakfast consisted of...5 boiled potatoes and a boiled egg. I'm not complaining, I was very full. In fact, I didn't finish all the potato, it was a bit much really so early in the day.

Our 'work' consisted of us watching Aurora milk the cow and us following whilst she herded the sheep. I managed to help by tying up the sheep in the field so they couldn't escape. We then helped to clear hay, or dried reeds, from another field. It wasn't hard core farm work, but it did give a glimpse into their daily lives.

It was a little sad knowing that Aurora spends most of the year alone. Her children and grandchildren live on the mainland; the kids spend their summers there helping out but none of them speak the native Aymara, so the language will die out with Aurora's generation. Who knows what will happen on the island? As more people leave and those who stay open their homes to tourism, the culture and traditions are bound to change. We'll have to wait and see.

Posted by Rebecca Heller 18:38 Archived in Peru Tagged lakes tour altitude Comments (0)

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