K + P Go Nuts!

Kim and Pauline take a whirlwind tour of Chile and Argentina.

Day Zero
Made it to the BA lounge at terminal 5, a bit thin and crispy and not a patch on Virgin but it will do! No Rose wine for Kim…..she’s making do with a beer
Still flight socks to purchase….

Day One
The Atacama Desert (Spanish: Desierto de Atacama) is a plateau in South America, covering a 1,000-kilometre (600 mi) strip of land on the Pacific coast, west of the Andes mountains. It is the driest non-polar desert in the world. That’s where Kim and Pauline were today.

Arrival at Atacama
Thirty hours and 4 airplane meals later and here we finally are!
Arrived at Calama airport, the gateway to Chile’s Atacama Desert (unless of course you have a private plane then you can land at San Pedro, we decided to leave ours behind for this trip). still another 2 hour car journey to our destination, the Awasi Hotel in San Pedro, but what a journey it was.

Meeting our fantastic guide Mabel who would be with us for the whole duration of our stay and driving into the vast sandstone landscapes, just making the sunset which was beautiful.

Although Atacama is the driest place on earth, it was raining! Course it was! But this did culminate in the biggest rainbow arc either of us has ever seen.
As we drove through the desert town of San Pedro de Atacama we actually felt like we were in a Mexican cowboy movie, the low rise red sandstone buildings are now more geared towards the increasing numbers of tourists and backpackers but it still retained an old world charm.

Our arrival at Awasi was warm and welcoming, the layout is not dissimilar to an African Safari Lodge withrondavel style huts for rooms with outdoor and indoor bathrooms. The staff were, without exception helpful, friendly and keen to ensure our stay was as memorable as possible.

Our first full day was adventurous, exhilarating and action packed.
We started the day on a 12 mile bike ride to Cerja, the salt lagoon, with water so thick with salt it’s virtually impossible to sink. The cycling is so easy here as it’s pretty much on the flat.

Awasi have a comprehensive list of included excursions which are perfectly clear about what altitude you will go to, how much uphill there is on the hikes etc so you are fully prepared … or so we thought until the afternoon!

This was our first taste of being an Awasi guest and boy, did it deliver. It didn’t matter that Pauline had brought with her 3 bags, 4 changes of clothing plus every medicine listed in the Medical Journal for our half day outing as not only did we have the lovely Mabel cycling with us but we also had an Awasi 4×4 pick up truck follow us carrying not only Pauline’s excess baggage but also an icebox with cold drinks, 3 foldout chairs for when we arrive at the salt lagoon (no sitting on dusty sand for Awasi guests) plus towelling robes for when we get out of the water.

Floating in the salt lagoon in Cerja
Floating in the salt lagoon in Cerja

We were looking forward to our afternoon hike through the cactus valley but on the drive there we witnessed a huge thunderstorm about 60 miles away, pretty much where we were heading to so Mabel had our driver divert off road and leave us all off, seemingly in the middle of nowhere next to a sheer cliff side for a different hike.

“Which way are we going Mabel?” I asked looking left and right and not seeing any sort of path. “Up there” she said pointing skywards up the sheer face. “Up there?” shrilled Pauline in a tone only dogs heard. “Don’t worry, there is a little trail” pointing to a 3 inch wide practically vertical line. “TRAIL? Yes, if you’re a mountain goat” I shrieked ” and I’m still not convinced he made it”. “Don’t worry” she giggled and virtually skipped upwards, followed by Pauline and her entourage of bags, and so I finally managed to hoist myself up, with several stops “to admire the view”, and once the colour of my face had returned to a recognisable shade of crimson, we carried on.

I soon forgave Mabel as we trekked through the changing surfaces of Devils Canyon, think Indiana Jones in Petra and you won’t be far from our reality.

blogAT!Once again the trek finished in true Awasi style when we turned a corner and there was Garcia waiting for us not only with the truck but with a cold beer, salty snacks and even cheesy pineapple sticks. How very civilised!

Highlight of the day: floating in the salt lagoon with a (pain free) Pauline (yes, you heard right!)

Funniest moment of the day: too many to mention but synchronised acrobatic cycling to Bolero is up there.

Spookiest moment of the day: definitely the bleat of the non-existent goat reverberating around Devils Canyon.

Day Two Atacama
Today we should be acclimatised to the altitude (San Pedro lies at 2400m) so we can head to the hills! Or indeed head to the magnificent Andes mountains.


We had decided that we wanted to see some of the most dramatic scenery the area has to offer but of course this means ascending, all the way up to 4800m over the pass and on to Pacana Monks which is a vast Caldera with many bizarre stone pillars shaped over millions of years by water, sand and wind erosion.

Our journey took us through so many different landscapes, colours, flora and fauna, as we got higher there was more life overall obviously due to the waters coming down from the mountain tops. What has struck me the most about this area apart from the incredible vistas is the almost total lack of living things both vegetation and creatures. We saw a dragonfly but no creepy crawlies, there’s nothing that can bite, sting, nip or just plain give you an evil look?

But the higher we climbed the more this changed – the colours more vibrant, bushes and even trees plus of course the flamingos and also some unexpected vicunas. But the real joy was the views. If someone told me that they had painted a picture and stuck it on my window I would be more inclined to believe that was the reality, it was so perfect I felt my eyes were deceiving me.

After several miles off-roading but in the safe hands of our experienced driver we arrived at the Reserva Nacional Los Flamencos & Salar de Tara. A stunningly beautiful lagoon with real live pink bummed flamingoes (guess there was a clue in the name) and not too shabby a spot for lunch.

We were expected a few sarnies, a packet of salt and vinegar and if we were lucky a pickled egg, but oh no, this is Awasi packed lunch. Out came the stove and our smiley driver Garcia stir fried for us firstly Pauline’s vegetarian black bean vegetables and then a beef version, coupled with quinoa and rice sweet corn salads and then a fruit salad with coconut cake. Doesn’t get much better than that. (Someone could have turned the wind down a bit but by this point neither of us were going to win any Vidal Sasoon competitions.)

Heading back across some rough terrain I have to admit that when we finally hit the tarmac I almost had a Pope moment, kissing the ground, we did feel like we’d just spent an hour on a Power Plate! The drive back with ears popping left right and centre was just as dramatic with snow capped mountains and icy roads changing to deep red sandstone calderas and then finally moon scape of dry rocks and empty craters.


A truly memorable day. That evening Pauline ventured outside San Pedro to join a small star gazing group.

Pauline said: “The conditions were pretty much perfect with a clear sky. Jorge from tatacama.com gave me a great introduction into astronomy breaking down the map of the sky into 88 constellations in total but within each lies trillions of stars. Two telescopes were set up to start our exploration of the Southern Cross and the surrounding planets. First up was Jupiter , Mars and then Saturn whose rings were clearly visible. We were then shown one of the oldest and biggest supergiant stars, 1000 times larger than the sun known as Betelgeuse (Beetle Juice) It was incredible to think I was staring at the past through this device (it’s approx 10 million years old) and makes one feel incredibly tiny.
“Jorge kept the best till last though, with a magnificent view of the half moon, dark craters and ancient gulleys were clearly visible. After looking through the lens it took a few moments to adjust my vision again I felt sure I had a new ailment, moon blindness, but thankfully it soon passed as I didn’t have any remedy for this in my first aid kit. I was rewarded with the best picture of the moon and a truly memorable experience.”

So, tomorrow we leave this amazing desert and head to the capital of Chile, Santiago, where we meet up with our surprise 3rd member of our expedition, who we’re very excited to have join us.

Watch this space to find out our mystery guest.

Torres del Paine

Torres del Paine is a national park encompassing mountains, glaciers, lakes, and rivers in southern Chilean Patagonia. The Cordillera del Paine is the centerpiece of the park. It lies in a transition area between the Magellanic subpolar forests and the Patagonian Steppes. The park is located 112 km (70 mi) north of Puerto Natalesand 312 km (194 mi) north of Punta Arenas. The park borders Bernardo O’Higgins National Park to the west and the Los Glaciares National Park to the north in Argentine territory.

Day 3/4/5
We fly back to Santiago, check into our gorgeous small hotel, Le Reve Boutique, really quaint, lots of nooks and crannies, a lovely courtyard and perfect location in the newer part of this enormously sprawling capital city.

Santiago was a revelation, not the prettiest city I’ve ever been to in parts but welcoming, relaxed and perfectly safe. AND we were very excited to see the 3rd member of our intrepid trio, my close friend and long time supporter of Travelwise, Ms. Portia Forte. Director of Rocco Forte Hotels, sister to Rocco, daughter of the late great hotel magnate Lord Charles Forte and aunt to Alex Polizzi, TV’s Hotel Inspector. This is hotel royalty and who better to help us with our assessment of the various accommodations on offer in Patagonia.
And then there were 3, we spent just the one night in Santiago, a vast expanse of a city but we were all pleasantly surprised at how much we enjoyed it. Pretty parks full of contemporary art and some up and coming areas with an eclectic mix of restaurants and unique hotels.

An amusing dinner was had with menus only in Spanish but with a helpful waitress drawing everything we couldn’t understand, although somehow we still ended up with sea urchin…which was …different.
So now we move on to the main event, the part of the trip that I had been most excited about….Patagonia, a place that both Pauline and I had been dreaming about visiting for more years than we could remember.

After another mammoth journey (the best places in the world are always the hardest to reach) involving an evening flight to the most southerly city in the world accompanied by 150 Chilean army recruits, most of whom it seemed had never flown before, much ooooing and aaahing when we hit turbulence and practically a standing ovation when we finally landed.

I have to admit that each time we flew over the Andes mountains my mind turned to the film “Alive”, if you don’t know it you won’t understand why I was scouring around the plane looking for the tastiest passenger!
 After an “interesting” night spent at Dreams hotel, a big glitzy casino of a hotel that looked more out of place than a pork sandwich at a bar mitzvah, we embarked on a 6 hour road journey up past the Magellans Strait, through to Puerto Natales with a quick vehicle change and a flamingo stop and onwards to the brand spanking new and totally unique Awasi Patagonia.

The journey itself really wasn’t that gruelling, great company, stunning scenery and a tuck bag provided by Awasi at the beginning of our journey helped the hours fly by.

By the time we got to the unassuming gate entrance leading into the Awasi reserve we were very excited, and rightly so. The setting of the 2nd Awasi property is breathtaking, overlooking the incredible Torres Del Paine national park and it’s instantly recognisable 3 towers. A huge amount of thought and planning had gone into the position and location and it certainly paid off, I can’t think of a hotel with a better view anywhere in the world.

Each accommodation (from the web site, slightly reminiscent of shipping containers, but in the flesh they really worked) had the view and the main lodge had the view of them all, jaw dropping especially in the bright afternoon sunshine. 
We waited to meet our guide who would look after us during our stay, unfortunately the many hours of travelling had taken its toll somewhat and so when the charming and handsome Rodrigo introduced himself to us he was met by 3 females in the midst of an uncontrollable giggling fit, seriously, how old were we? Am sure he must of started off that afternoon dreading the next few days.

We desperately tried to pull ourselves together (although one of the party had to physically remove herself so that order could be reformed). The fact that a condor with a 9 foot wing span did a very well timed fly by certainly helped, the sniggering stopped and we learnt all about the area and what trips there were on offer.
We were really keen to get a late afternoon hike in and although Rodrigo was probably about to throw a sickie, he obliged and guided us up, up and a little bit more uphill to Sierra Contreras.

At this time of year all the foliage was turning reds and oranges and as we hiked through the forests to a viewing plateau above the Awasi reserve the huffing and puffing uphill was certainly worth it, plus there was chocolate in his rucksack! By now the banter between us all was flowing and when I tried to convince Pauline that the animal droppings were from an elephant, Rodrigo’s smile started to appear and I believe we had redeemed ourselves.

The great thing about going uphill for so long is that it’s all downhill back to the lodge, we checked into the Master 2 bedroom Villa, how special? Had dinner and went to bed feeling very privileged.

Day 6 Awasi Patagonia
blo1Today we were embarking on one of the most popular hikes in the Torres Del Paine national park (& we still only saw one other person!). Lazo Weber, part of the “W” circuit which takes in several different aspects of the photogenic towers themselves. One of the major selling points of the Awasi properties is that you have your own dedicated guide plus 4×4 vehicle with driver so there’s no mad rush to scoff the extensive breakfast nor waiting around for the inevitable “oh, I forgot my camera / gloves / spare leg / photo of the cat”, you can take the day at your own pace – bliss!

So 3 hours later than scheduled (only kidding) Rodrigo herded us together and we set off. Five minutes down the driveway and we come up close and personal to a beautiful skunk, luckily not too personal as we were safely in the confines of our comfortable 4×4 vehicle but close enough to really see this beautiful spiny black and white creature. The day boded well and it certainly panned out that way, I could write tonnes about this day as it was one of my favourites but I will try to restrain myself.

Starting our trek at the beautiful Laguna Verde, such vibrant green (guess there’s a clue in the name!) water, we started heading gently uphill, firstly through fields & then into forests. We had quite an eventful mornings trek making way for a real life gaucho on horseback (the only other soul we saw) & being dive bombed by a flock of parakeets whizzing past our ears probably just as shocked to see us as we were them.

It was a gorgeously sunny day if abit chilly so we made a slight detour into a glade where there happened to be 3 very obliging logs in a triangle just begging to be used for a lunch stop. Rodrigo produced a fantastic lunch from his tardis of a rucksack, with hot soup, tailor made sandwiches and salads, even tea and cakes and finally produced the ultimate space saving NASA serviette – just add water et voila! It was amazing how cold it soon became once you stopped so hand warmer gel packs in gloves (thanks Portia…much better than a NASA serviette!) off we trekked and the final uphill soon arrived.

Once we hit the top Rodrigo made us all link arms, close our eyes & he slowly walked us forward. The slight worry that yesterday’s giggling fit had not been forgotten & he was about to walk us off the top of the mountain soon dispersed when he said “OK, open your eyes”. Wow, what an incredible 360 view, the mountains, the valleys and not a building or person in sight. The green waters of the lake looked so far away I couldn’t believe we had actually come so far. Not being known for my uphill walking prowess I was so proud that that I had achieved such heights – literally.

Even though the wind was quite ferocious it was instantly forgotten when looking at mile upon mile of nature at its absolute best.

Portia decided that there was another view to be had that even Rodrigo hadn’t seen in his many jaunts to this spot, so we lay on our backs with our heads overhanging a rock and viewed it upside down, even more more breathtaking ( or was that Pauline’s foot foot on my throat?)

blo6The descent was so much fun, sliding down the scree slopes landing on each other, stopping only to watch the condors (or we’re they vultures looking for a garden gnome P?) seeing the tiny speck of our vehicle grow closer until we could smell the cold beer waiting for us.