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Happy Holidays

Posted: 2018-12-24 00:18:00, Categories: Travel, General, Work, Austria, Slovenia, Germany, Hiking, 757 words (permalink)

Sandra and I would like to wish you all a happy holiday season during the end of the year and all the best for the New Year 2019! Here's our traditional Season's greetings card. This year I've been lazy to write in the blog, so I'll use this opportunity to briefly look back on what we've been up to in 2018.

Making a hole in the ice at the Saimaa lake.
Making a hole in the ice at the Saimaa lake.
I spent a good part of the winter and spring in Helsinki, enjoying the city life as well as combining it with some IT work and other projects. Sandra stayed mostly at home in Germany but came to Finland for a couple of weeks in February and March. Together we spent a few winter days at my father's cottage by the lake Saimaa, cross-country skiing, having sauna and testing the new fireplace which was installed during the previous summer.

View over the roofs of the town Füssen.
View over the roofs of the town Füssen.
We both work part-time, which gives us quite a bit of flexibility in planning our schedules. Sandra is employed as a laboratory technician and I started in 2017 a new activity as a city guide in Füssen, the nearest town. That's a great opportunity to use my language skills and do a variety of different tours which I've enjoyed quite a lot. This year I wasn't employed at the Neuschwanstein Castle any more. It was a good experience and I could consider working there again in the future but two seasons was a good amount for now.

Classic mountain view on the Sadnig Höhenweg, Austrian Alps.
Classic mountain view on the Sadnig Höhenweg, Austrian Alps.
Our main holiday tour in the summer was a three and a half week hike over the Alps in July-August, starting from Lake Königssee in Germany and ending with a crossing of the Triglav National Park in Slovenia. We crossed the Alps on foot once before in 2010, but this was a quite different route. It was based on the route described in the hiking book Salzburg - Trieste by Christof Herrmann, but we adapted it according to weather and our preferences along the way.

One of the cute marmots we saw on the way.
One of the cute marmots we saw on the way.
The first part of our hike took us through the Berchtesgaden National Park, which is well known for its limestone rock formations. Then we continued over several mountain ranges in Austria, including parts of the Hohe Tauern National Park and the Kreuzeck Group. The Kreuzeck mountains turned out to be one of our favourite sections of the trip, with classic alpine views of rocky peaks, grassy fields, pittoresque lakes, small mountain huts and quite a few animals including marmots.

A capricorn in the Julian Alps.
A capricorn in the Julian Alps.
After Austria we walked shortly on Italian soil before entering Slovenia and the Julian Alps. There we had plenty of more limestone rock and the most demanding sections of our trip, not only because of the rough terrain but also because of the heat. The whole central Europe was experiencing a heat wave and although the temperatures up in 2000 meters of altitude were a bit cooler than in the valleys, it still got pretty hot both during the days and in the fully packed dormitories of the mountain huts at night.

Our highlights in the Julian Alps included sightings of majestic capricorns at close range and admiring the Edelweiss flowers blooming in large numbers. In most other parts of the Alps they've almost disappeared and we hadn't seen one for many years.

In addition to the walk over the Alps, we were quite a bit on the trails this year, including two nice hikes near Innsbruck. Our good friend Peter lives there, is often willing to join us in our outdoor activities and it's always a pleasure to visit him. On our last visit we also went together to a concert by Eivør, which we can definitely recommend!

Sandra showing some of the mushrooms we picked in Finland in September.
Sandra showing some of the mushrooms we picked in Finland in September.
Fireworks in Füssen on the New Years day, 2017.
Fireworks in Füssen on the New Years day, 2017.
In September we visited Finland again, which was a perfect timing for the mushroom season. We have never picked so many chantarelles, boletes and black trumpet mushrooms in two weeks. It was a challenge to conserve and bring even about half of the catch with us to Germany. One of our favourite dishes is potato dumplings with mushroom sauce, which we've been preparing quite often during the last few months.

This year we'll spend the Christmas Eve with the family of Sandra's old friends who live in a village about 30 km from us. They have two children and the grandparents will be joining as well, so it'll probably be the most traditional Christmas we'd had for years. For the New Year my parents and both of my brothers will come for a visit. We're looking forward to that, mostly we meet in Helsinki and my youngest brother Lari who lives in Canada we're anyway not seeing very often.

White wilderness in Greenland

Posted: 2017-11-11 01:35:00, Categories: Travel, Hiking, Greenland, 1925 words (permalink)

Arto and our friend Phil with his Land Cruiser.
Arto and our friend Phil with his Land Cruiser.
It's great to visit friends who live in exotic places. The eccentric scientist and wilderness expert Phil invited us in Greenland, where he works at a radar station just outside the town of Kangerlussuaq. The town hosts the island's largest airport in addition to 600 inhabitants, and is served by regular flights from Copenhagen, Denmark. That was an offer we couldn't resist so in March 2017 we flew over to experiment with various means of moving around in snow.

Kangerlussuaq viewed from above.
Kangerlussuaq viewed from above.
Upon landing, Phil was waiting for us in his Land Cruiser and we drove 15 km to Kellyville, along the only road which goes that far out of town. Kellyville consists of a big radar, main office and storage building, five container houses for the employees and a number of antennas and other measurement devices scattered around on the neighbouring hills.

Kellyville radar station.
Kellyville radar station.
Our headquarters was Phil's house, furnished in 1980's American style and stocked with all the outdoor equipment we could possible need. Phil had to work on most of the days, but he provided us a map and even a satellite phone, just in case we'd get lost or have an emergency. During the following two weeks, we explored the nearby surroundings on foot (with and without snowshoes), on skis, by car, by a snowmobile and on a dog sledge.

Sandra and Phil on tour.
Sandra and Phil on tour.
It was an arctic landscape of cliffs and small roundish mountains, with numerous streams, moors and lakes in between. They were naturally all frozen, as was the long fjord reaching over 100 km from the Labrador sea to Kangerlussuaq. There was not very much snow, the region gets little precipitation and the wind blows most of it away from the bare surfaces. Here and there bushes and grass were sticking out from the snow, hinting that in the summer there would be a colourful carpet of arctic flowers.

Sitting at the peak of Mt. Evans.
Sitting at the peak of Mt. Evans.
On our fist day trip we walked along the road a couple of kilometers further until it ended at an old warehouse filled with big rusting engines. It had been used in the past by the U.S. military to power a radio station, capable of sending a warning to the U.S. mainland in case of an attack from the east. After a quick look inside the building we headed towards the nearest peak, simply choosing a passable route between the rocks — there were no trails or paths.

Two reindeer passing by.
Two reindeer passing by.
On the way up, two reindeer passed by, searching for food under the snow. We also saw many ptarmigan tracks but no birds. Within an hour we reached the peak with views all the way until the huge ice cap, which covers almost the whole Greenland except for the coastal and most southern areas. It was a beautiful sunny day so we stopped for a while to enjoy the scenery and a cup of hot tea from our thermos.

Abandoned caravan in the middle of nowhere.
Abandoned caravan in the middle of nowhere.
We descended on the north side towards a lake and an abandoned caravan next to it. We wondered a bit how it had ended up there, as there were no roads leading up to the spot. The door was open so we took a look inside. It looked almost like a stage set from the movie Into the Wild, where Christopher McCandless leaves the civilization behind to live in an abandoned bus in the middle of wilderness. The idyll was broken only by the adjacent snowmobile and dog sledge track connecting the towns of Sisimiut and Kangerlussuaq. We followed the track around the mountain back to Phil's house to cook dinner and spend a relaxing evening with him.

Arto with skis and pulka by the fjord.
Arto with skis and pulka by the fjord.
The day temperatures varied between -10 and -20°C, nights being about ten degrees colder. We had sunny and cloudy days but no really bad weather during our two week stay. One of the sunniest but still the coldest days was the one when we went skiing on the fjord. In addition to skis Phil borrowed us a pulka to pull our extra clothes, drinks and snacks instead of carrying them on our backs. The pulka could also be used as a sledge to slide down after climbing up a small hill to enjoy the views.

A bit of colour sticking out from the snow.
A bit of colour sticking out from the snow.
On our day tours we saw reindeer, a few birds and two times an arctic fox. Muscox would be one more common sighting, but we didn't see any, only local hunters heading out on their dog sledges to shoot some. It was the hunting season and traditional ways of life are protected by allowing dog sledges out in the wilderness, while restricting snow mobiles and quads on a few marked routes.

Cooking party at Phil's place.
Cooking party at Phil's place.
Almost every day either Phil or one of his colleagues drove to Kangerlussuaq, so we could easily get to the town if we wanted. Most of the buildings were constructed by the U.S. Army during the time the whole town was an air base. They have later been converted to apartments and public spaces such as a school, swimming hall and a restaurant/bar. The supermarket was surprisingly well stocked and larger than one would expect for a population of 600. The inhabitants are a mix of Greenlanders and people coming from all corners of the world. Phil's Thai friends came once over to his house and cooked all of us a sumptuous meal, with leftovers lasting for several days. Authentic Thai food in Greenland - one of the surprises of the trip.

Northern lights at Kellyville.
Northern lights at Kellyville.
One evening, Phil gave us a tour at the radar station. It was a funky mix of analog and digital technology encompassing half a century from the 1950's until this day. The radar is used for measurements in the upper ionosphere, where polar lights are formed. At his house, Phil only needs to have a quick glance at the graphs on his TV screen to tell whether it's worth to go outside. A couple of times during our stay we could enjoy the beautiful dancing lights of the nature at night.

On the snowmobile towards Sisimiut.
On the snowmobile towards Sisimiut.
One of the highlights was our weekend trip together to Sisimiut, the second largest town in Greenland with 5600 inhabitants. Phil was able to organize us two snowmobiles — Sandra and I shared one and he rode the other with a bit more luggage in the back. Tucked in our warmest clothes, we set out for a 150 km ride on frozen lakes, rivers, snow covered hills and a couple of small mountain passes.

Icy landscape in the evening.
Icy landscape in the evening.
The scenery was fantastic on both sides of the snowmobile track. The small roundish hills near Kangerlussuaq turned into mountains, the highest peak being Pingu 1306 meters above sea level. Mostly we drove on lakes and rivers and once through a small canyon with high walls on both sides. Streches crossing land were rather bumpy and we had to carefully zig-zag between the rocks sticking out from the snow. On the higher passes we had great views over the smaller hilltops. There were a few basic shelters on the way to have a small break or to stay overnight. We saw a few other snowmobile riders, dog sledges and a few people on a ski tour, but most of the time it was just the three of us.

Break at a small wilderness hut.
Break at a small wilderness hut.
Our travel speed varied mostly between 30-60km/h. On the smoothest sections we drove sometimes a bit faster, but didn't push it near the top speed. There is no snowmobile speed limit in Greenland and the machines can do about 150 km/h — they're a bit like motorcycles, but off-road and on snow. Even on lakes the snow often accumulates in small ridges, which become dangerous jumps in high speeds. With photo stops and a couple of small breaks it was a full day ride. Sun was already setting when we arrived on top of the last pass and saw the lights of Sisimiut ahead us.

A small canyon.
A small canyon.
One of the first houses belonged to Phil's friends, so we met them and after a short chat headed together out to town center. We were lucky: it was Friday evening and a couple of local bands were playing at the multipurpose hall in the center. After a nice evening we crashed for the night on the floor at the same friends' new house — they were just about to move in there the next day!

Colourful houses at Sisimiut.
Colourful houses at Sisimiut.
Saturday morning we headed out for a walk around the town. It was a mix of nice wooden family houses and bigger apartment blocks, all painted in yellow, red, blue and other bright colours. Despite the cold weather the sea was not frozen at the coast, and the local marked offered various specialities such as seal meat and a fresh sea elephant head. We had lunch with another friend of Phil's who worked as a teacher at a local school. Most of the teachers come from Denmark and Danish is the main language, but also the local Inuit language is partly used in the schools. At the end of the day, we fetched our snowmobiles and checked into a hotel for the night.

Back towards Kangerlussuaq in fresh snow.
Back towards Kangerlussuaq in fresh snow.
On Sunday we woke up to a sunny morning with about 30 centimeters of fresh snow. That made our ride back to Kangerlussuaq smoother and even more beautiful than the other direction had been. We were the first ones on the track, which was now barely visible — it was good that Phil was able to guide us on the right way. We just had to give enough gas in the steep uphills to avoid getting stuck in the soft snow in the middle of the slope.

Following Phil on the snowmobile.
Following Phil on the snowmobile.
On the way we had a coffee break at a cozy wooden hut built by a local carpenter from Sisimiut. The Greenlandic flag was up indicating "Kaffemik" which means that everybody passing by is welcome to stop by for a visit. Often that means a house full of visitors, but at Amalie's wilderness hut we were the only guests. It was already dark when we came back to Phil's house, tired but happy.

Relaxed travelling by the dog sledge.
Relaxed travelling by the dog sledge.
On the last day before our departure we booked a two-hour sledge dog tour on the fjord ice. That was a quite pleasant way to travel, sitting relaxed on the sledge while the dogs were slowly jogging in front. Compared to the sledge dogs in Finnish or Swedish Lapland, the Greenlandic dogs are slower but have more endurance to run for hours and hours, covering longer distances per day. Contact was again through Phil, who recommended Jan as he treats his animals better than many other dog owners. After the ride, Sandra got to hold one of the puppies, which was at the same time very cute and stinky.

Sandra with the cute and stinky puppy.
Sandra with the cute and stinky puppy.
On the day of our return it was snowing and windy and Phil's four wheel drive car was the right vehicle to get from Kellyville to the Kangerlussuaq airport. Our return flight was delayed by more than ten hours. It waited for other planes coming from other towns and finally left late in the evening instead of in the morning. That's not a rare event in Greenland, a good reminder that despite all the modern services it's still an arctic and remote location. Greenland air is also specifically exempt on paying any reimbursement for delays in such cases. We did get a dinner at the airport on their tab, and only missed one night of sleep in Copenhagen — the flight arrived early in the morning and we were still able to catch our connecting flight to Munich.

Greenland was certainly one of the most interesting places we've been to, and we hope to return there some day. Perhaps next time during the short arctic summer, when the coastal areas are free from snow and full of flowers in various colours.

Mountains behind the fjord in the evening light.
Mountains behind the fjord in the evening light.

From sailing to city life in Cape Town

Posted: 2015-12-21 03:06:00, Categories: Travel, Cycling, Art, Hiking, Sailing, South Africa, 1412 words (permalink)

Canals at the Waterfront, Table Mountain in the background.
Canals at the Waterfront, Table Mountain in the background.
On the morning of 16th of April, after ten days of sailing from Tristan da Cunha, we arrived in Cape Town, South Africa. For seven weeks we had been living on the Bark Europa together with less than 60 people, hearing mostly waves and other sounds of the nature. As the ship was moored next to the Cape Grace hotel at the Waterfront, we found ourselves in the centre of a major city with a population of almost 4 million.

A small motor vessel slowly overtaking us.
A small motor vessel slowly overtaking us.
Already on the day before the change had been obvious. As we approached the South African coast, the ocean was suddenly full of traffic: cargo ships transporting thousands of containers, fishing vessels at work, private boats cruising in the sunshine. The coastline featured picturesque looking villages and small towns in front of the hills and mountains raising up from the turquoise water. We could already hear the traffic on the coastal road, and as the darkness fell the coast was dotted with lights all along the way. We anchored for the night in front of Cape Town, and listened to the hum of the city from the distance.

An excellent view from the mast when arriving in Cape Town.
An excellent view from the mast when arriving in Cape Town.
In the morning Sandra and I climbed up to the main mast to take some photos. Just as we were doing that, the pilot ship arrived and started leading us into the city. We decided to stay up at our viewpoint and enjoy the ride as the ship slowly made its way to the inner harbour in the centre. A couple of dozen people were waving to us on the piers as we passed by. Some of them were relatives of the three South Africans on board, others most likely just happened to be there at the right moment, admiring the arrival of our handsome old tall ship. It took still a couple of hours and a detour to the bigger main harbour and back, before immigration and customs procedures were cleared and we were free to step on the land.

One of the paths leading up the Signal Hill.
One of the paths leading up the Signal Hill.
We walked a bit around at the Waterfront area, listened to a street music band and bought some fresh fruit at a supermarket. Especially Sandra was overwhelmed with the transition from life on the ship to the busy city streets. A fair share of the crew headed out to a bar for the first evening, we joined them shortly but returned soon back to the ship. We had enjoyed good winds on the last leg from Tristan da Cunha and arrived in Cape Town two days ahead schedule. That meant that we could still use Bark Europa as our base for the first couple of days, a nice soft landing which we took advantage of.

Evening lights of Cape Town, as seen from Lion's Head.
Evening lights of Cape Town, as seen from Lion's Head.
On the morning of the third day our WarmShowers hosts Ian and Helen came to pick us up. We had emailed them from Argentina before boarding Bark Europa, and they had agreed to host us in Cape Town — although we didn't arrive by bicycle. After a short tour around the ship and last good-byes we packed our backpacks and drove with Ian and Helen to their cosy apartment just south of the city centre. Still the same evening we hiked together on top of Lion's Head and enjoyed a spectacular sunset with amazing views over the Atlantic and the city. There we felt of really having arrived in South Africa, the last part of our trip had begun.

Penguins on Boulders Beach.
Penguins on Boulders Beach.
On Sunday Ian and Helen took us for a trip out of the city towards the south. Our first stop was at Boulders Beach near Simon's Town to see ... penguins! As big penguin fans we definitely didn't want to miss that. It was a quite different experience than in Antarctica, this time we were mostly observing the animals from a viewing platform together with dozens of other tourists. But it was funny to see penguins in a warm environment, and a few hundred meters further we could even wade through the shallow water between rocks and get close to the animals without a fence in between.

Steep cliffs at Cape Point.
Steep cliffs at Cape Point.
From Simon's Town we continued to the Cape Point and the Cape of Good Hope. Unlike many think, neither of them is the southernmost point of the African continent, nevertheless they are popular spots to visit because of the magnificent cliffs and excellent views. Nearby we saw ostriches and later baboons right next to the road. Our classic day trip was completed by a drive back to Cape Town on the curvy road along the west coast and a stop in one of our hosts' favourite ice cream parlours.

An ostrich on the road near Cape of Good Hope.
An ostrich on the road near Cape of Good Hope.
The next few days we explored the city mainly on foot. For a major metropolis, the centre of Cape Town is fairly compact, making the city feel smaller than it actually is. We found the city quite pleasant and interesting with quite distinctive styles of buildings in different districts, and a mix of cultures visible on the streets. In the wealthier areas, fences and alarm systems were common, but most of the houses were not surrounded by high walls or excessive security measures. Some friends in Germany had advised us to always take a taxi when going somewhere — we didn't feel any need to do that and felt quite safe walking around and using buses. That being said, we did not set out to explore any townships of dubious reputation, nor wander around drunk in the middle of the night, which is probably the easiest way to attract pickpockets and robbers in any big city.

Playing with squirrels and pigeons in Company's Garden.
Playing with squirrels and pigeons in Company's Garden.
One of the great things about Cape Town is that it's relatively fast and easy to get out of the city. There are nice beaches nearby in both directions along the coast, as wells as several hills and the famous Table Mountain to get up and above the roofs. We spent one day hiking up the Table Mountain and walking around on the top of it, observing plants and colourful sunbirds on the way. On another day, right in the city centre we made acquaintance with other animals: in the Company's Garden we bought a small bag of nuts and soon attracted numerous tame pigeons and squirrels around us. They ate from our hands, climbed on us and we had many good laughs while playing with them.

Posing with the tandem on the beach at Table's View.
Posing with the tandem on the beach at Table's View.
The last few days we stayed with other very nice WarmShowers hosts in Table View, about 15 km north-east of the centre. They were a family with three children, who had a few years earlier done a long cycling tour in Europe. We compared our experiences and got some insight into cycling in South Africa, should we ever decide to do a tour there. On Sandra's birthday they borrowed us their tandem and we celebrated by riding it to the beach and watching the sunset. Neither of us had been on a tandem before, but it was relatively easy to get started. I was sitting in the front, which made the experience quite similar to a normal bicycle. Sandra behind me had to get used to not being able to turn the handlebar, in other words to trust that I'd steer the bike to the right direction.

The silhouette of Lion's Head at sunset time.
The silhouette of Lion's Head at sunset time.
After ten days we had a flight back home, which we had already booked half a year in advance. The stay at Cape Town had been a nice ending to our five month long honeymoon, but it also felt the right time to return home. Should we ever travel to Cape Town again, we'll certainly venture further out from the city and probably also to neighbouring countries. On this first visit, however, we had plenty to do and explore in the city itself and the surroundings — the day trip to Simon's Town and Cape of Good Hope was a perfect extension to that. Bark Europa, after a short stay in the dry dock for maintenance, left the city almost at the same time than us, continuing to sail the world with new crew on board.

Green and lively South Georgia

Posted: 2015-09-04 13:50:00, Categories: Travel, Hiking, Antarctica, Sailing, South Georgia, 548 words (permalink)

Our welcome to South Georgia by king penguins.
Our welcome to South Georgia by king penguins.
On March 19th, after eight nights and seven and a half days of sailing we arrived in South Georgia. Compared to the world of rocks, ice and snow in South Shetlands and Antarctica, it seemed like a green paradise. Far from tropical, it was still a harsh landscape with rocky mountains, glaciers and no trees, but the lower altitudes were covered with grass and moss, which gave the island a friendlier appearance.

Fur seals on the tussock grass.
Fur seals on the tussock grass.
Fur seal pups were playing in the water and on the beaches, or resting on top of patches of tussock grass. Penguins waddled in between, elephant seals lay in big groups and made burping sounds on the beaches, albatrosses, petrels and other sea birds flew around, all busy in their own activities. Overall, wildlife was even more abundant as it had been in Antarctica, and there were some new species and more youngsters to see. In Antarctica, the breeding season had already finished at this time of the year, but in slightly warmer South Georgia it was still going on.

A penguin highway.
A penguin highway.
We had a wonderful welcome by king penguins, who swam to our ship in large numbers curious to see who were coming for a visit. Shortly afterwards we had our first landing at Right Whale Bay and were able to observe them on land too. Unlike smaller penguins, king penguins live on the island all year around and don't all lay their eggs at the same time, so we were able to see their offspring in all stages of development. There were mothers taking care of tiny chicks and brown fluffy youngsters already walking around on their own, between thousands of bright white-orange-grey colored adults.

A king penguin mother with her chick.
A king penguin mother with her chick.
The following day at Salisbury Plain we visited an even larger king penguin colony and had our first experience of the terrain. Due to large swell we couldn't land at the main beach but had to search for a more protected spot around the corner. From there, it was a 2 km walk to the colony over tussock grass and along the beach. The grass, which looked like a green mat from the distance, consisted of big patches with mud in between. Seals were lurking in every direction, some of them still mothers feeding their pups, which made it a small challenge to find our way through. Sandra and I didn't mind, for us the walk to the colony and back was as interesting as the colony itself.

Sandra and Isabel having a quiet moment at a lake.
Sandra and Isabel having a quiet moment at a lake.
Our first day in South Georgia was cloudy and partly rainy, but during the following five days we were lucky and had sunny weather. The sunshine made the mosses on the ground shine in various shades of green and the landscapes were magnificent. We did a few hikes which brought us a couple of kilometers inland and to lookout points up to about 300 meters of altitude. Almost all the wildlife was concentrated near the sea, so it was quite a difference between the busy and noisy shores and the calm, quiet inland. We walked in a group but had many breaks and it was possible to sometimes stay a bit behind to enjoy the silence.

Like a painted scenery

Posted: 2015-02-21 14:52:00, Categories: Travel, Cycling, Hiking, Chile, 1462 words (permalink)

Arto on the ridge, looking down from the high plateau near Cerro Castillo. Photo by Sandra Teräs. We cycle with backpacks on top of our panniers so we can stop, repack, leave the bicycles and proceed on foot whenever we want. In National Reserve Cerro Castillo we went hiking for half a week, mostly through valleys but also over two mountain passes, near sharp high peaks and glaciers. On the top of the second pass, we had a view towards the south over hills, valleys, rivers, lakes and forests, looking like a painting.

The road a few kilometers south of Coyhaique. After a couple of days in Coyhaique we continued further towards south on the Carretera Austral. On the first day we rode through a rather dry landscape with a strong tailwind pushing us forwards. In the best downhill I reached 76 km/h and Sandra 66 km/h. Late afternoon just before the village of El Blanco we stopped at a house which had chicken running around in the garden and a sign "Eggs for sale". We asked for six, the friendly old man packed us seven and didn't even want to accept any payment. On the opposite side of the road was a house selling home made cheese and we also went there to buy some. This time we paid but got a quiet wind protected place to camp behind the house for free.

Sandra crossing one of the small rivers. On the following day we continued towards National Reserve Cerro Castillo and soon crossed the border of the park. The road was a steady uphill, but paved and not too steep. A French couple in Coyhaique had given us a hiking map of the area which they didn't need. Around 2 pm we arrived at the starting point of one of the two longer trails crossing the park. We checked that we had enough food and made a rather spontaneous decision to go on the trail. We hid our bikes and panniers between bushes, packed everything we needed in two backpacks and started walking.

Valley of the river Turbio, with the mountain pass in the background. The first 15 km of the trail was relatively flat, following a river valley through a forest. It was fairly easy walking except for several small river crossings without bridges, which meant that we had to take off our shoes and walk through the cold water. Sandals would have been useful but we had left ours at the bikes to save weight. On the first evening we walked about two thirds of the flat part and set up our tent next to the river. Officially wild camping is not allowed in Chilean national parks and reserves, but in less frequented areas it is usually rather easy. We're not doing open fires and naturally not leaving any trash behind us.

Approaching the pass. During the night and morning it was raining, but shortly before noon the rain stopped and there were more and more openings in the clouds. We came to the park rangers' hut and got some information about the route ahead of us. In Chile it's even more useful to talk to the rangers than in Europe because the maps are usually not very detailed and often outdated. Also in this case a couple of new campsites and one trail weren't marked on the map, and another trail which was on it didn't exist any more.

Glacier right after the pass. After a few more kilometers through the forest next to the river the path started climbing up towards a pass. It wasn't a very long climb, about 500 meters of ascent on a good trail brought us to 1300 meters of altitude. That doesn't sound very high, but it was comparable to trails a thousand meters higher in the Alps: above the treeline, windy and snow fields remaining in places where the sun didn't shine the whole day long. A nearby glacier reaching down to about 1500 meters of altitude was keeping the temperature lower than it otherwise would have been. We could see the glacier from just a couple of hundred meters away, with melting water flowing down in numerous small streams, joining each other further down to form a river.

Campsite in the forest. The crossing of the pass was easy, the descent on the other side rocky and steep. It probably took us more time to go down than we had needed to hike up. However, after an hour of carefully descending step by step we had the steep part behind us and the trail became easier again. It went still down for quite a while first through gravel and then through forest before reaching the campsite. The facilities were very basic as on every site in Cerro Castillo: some flat space to set up tents, a dry toilet, a table and a couple of wooden benches, drinking water from the river flowing by. We had the whole site for us, the park rangers at the hut had been the only people we met during the whole day.

The mountain lake being fed with glacier water. During the night and morning it was raining again but similarly to previous day the rain stopped before noon, with a mix of sunshine, clouds and a couple of short showers during the rest of the day. The trail led us up to a clear mountain lake with a small meadow of green grass on the eastern shore, gravel and rocks in all other directions. We had a picnic by the lake and then climbed the steep and rocky slope up to a ridge and a small highland plateau. There we met the first other hikers since the start of our walk. It was the most famous section of the park and there was also a shorter trail leading to the same point, starting directly from the town of Villa Cerro Castillo.

View down to the river Ibanez and the whole landscape below Cerro Castillo. On top of the ridge we could see down to the town and over the whole landscape towards the south. The valley of river Ibanez dominated the foreground, behind it were hills, lakes, other rivers, patches of forest and higher mountains in the background. The Carretera Austral road crossed through from north to south-west with a couple of tiny side roads starting from it. With the shadows of clouds over the land the scenery looked almost like a painting. We sat down and watched it for a while before continuing further on the trail.

On top of the shoulder. The trail went up on a shoulder of a mountain at about 1600 km of altitude, the highest point of the hike. On our right we could see the sharp peaks of the Cerro Castillo, partly hidden behind clouds. The wind was blowing hard and we had to watch our steps when coming down along the steep rocky slope on the other side. Then the trail went again inside the forest where it was easier to walk, but still quite a way until the campsite. Distance marked on the map was 1,4 km, which was apparently just the straight line between the two coordinates and had nothing to do with the actual walking distance on the path. On the way, we met Simon, Jose and Clara, three Chileans from Santiago, and walked together with them the last kilometers. Then it was time to set up the tent, cook dinner and go to sleep as usual.

Horses on the trail when hiking down. At the campsite there were a few more hikers going to different directions. We headed down towards Villa Cerro Castillo, again together with Simon, Jose and Clara. On the way we had a 1,5 hour break when Simon set up his equipment and made a multi-channel sound recording for his sound landscapes project. It was a sunny, hot day and we were all quite tired when finally arriving to the town. Next to the main road was a funny looking hamburger restaurant built into two old buses. We ordered a burger each and a plate of french fries to share. The service was slow but the burgers good and huge — I was satisfied with one and Sandra with a half, the rest we packed with us to eat later in the evening.

A huemul looking at us on the roadside. After eating we bought fresh fruits and other food at the minimarket on the opposite side of the street, said good bye to the Chileans and started hitchhiking back to our bikes. There were no buses any more, only a few cars and some competition from other hitchhikers so we had to wait for some time. Finally we managed to convince a pickup driver that there was enough space for us at the back and got a ride. It was a cool ride through mountain landscape in the evening light. And we were specially lucky because two huemules (a Chilean species of deer) were next to the road and the family in the pickup was also enthusiastic to see them. They stopped and we got good photos.

Back at the starting point of the trail our bikes were where we had left them behind a bush. We camped for a night, repacked our gear for cycling and continued further south along the Carretera Austral.

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