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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.

Sandra waiting for a permission to ride forwards. We spent 2,5 weeks in January cycling from Puerto Montt to Coyhaique on the road number 7, better known as the Carretera Austral. It is the main and only road leading south in this part of Chile. Most of the villages and towns on the way are small so the traffic wasn't heavy, and the road surface was in many parts still gravel. However, as the only land route south it is becoming increasingly important, and there is a big effort going on to make it paved at least for the complete northern half until Coyhaique.

Fishing boats next to the Carretera Austral. The first 60 km from Puerto Montt the road followed the seaside, a relatively narrow passage between the island of Chiloe and the mainland. The coast was lined with small fishing villages which looked pretty in the late afternoon and evening sun. We camped on a small grass field facing the sea and could see the sun setting behind Chiloe.

Arto playing with cats at the guesthouse. The next day we left the sea for a while and hit the first section of roadworks: 20 km of bad gravel, dust, trucks and other machines preparing the road for pavement, which unfortunately wasn't ready yet. The day was saved by a very nice guesthouse where we stayed with eleven cats, other animals including dogs, ducks and goats, and a nice family taking care of all of them and us as guests of course. We even got homemade bread and duck eggs to complement our dinner which we cooked ourselves in the kitchen.

Huge wild rhubarb leaves in the Pumalin Nature Park. From Hornopiren there was a 5 hour passage by two ferries until Caleta Gonzalo, where we entered the Pumalin Nature Park. It is private land but maintained in a similar way than national parks, with marked hiking trails, campsites and information services. The park was full with lush vegetation, in particular large ferns and huge wild rhubarb leaves (nalca in spanish), some of them more than two meters across. It was clearly a region with lots of rain and we also had our share, but luckily also a few sunny moments between the clouds. The campsites were beautifully arranged and the same aesthetic appearance was carried out throughout the park, including every sign and information board. Unlike national parks, there were no entrance fees to access the trails, and the campsites were very modestly priced at 2500 CLP (about 3,5€) per person.

Glacier at Ventisquero Yelcho. From Pumalin we came to Chaiten, where we stayed one night in a guesthouse and refilled our food reserves in a supermarket. After Chaiten the road was paved, relatively flat and we even had a good tailwind for the next 40 km so it was easy cycling for a while. Then it was gravel again, but a fairly pleasant and smooth one this time. At Ventisquero Yelcho there was a free camping and a walking trail leading to a glacier hanging down from the mountains.

Small road in a mountain valley leading towards lake Claro Solar. We started meeting more and more cyclists on the way, most of them travelling south as we did. The majority were Chileans, but there were many from other parts of the world as well. One of them, Alex from Australia, joined us for a few days. Together we did a very nice detour in a small quiet valley leading to lake Claro Solar. With the mountains in the background and a couple of farms with cows on the fields it looked a lot like German or Austrian Alps.

A bird in front of the mountains coloured by the sunset. Photo by Sandra Teräs. We passed the town La Junta and about 40 km later stopped in another called Puyuhuapi, where we stayed mostly inside because of the rain and had a rest day. The Internet was good enough to call our families, catch up a bit on what's happening in the world (which we rarely do on the road) and search for information about the areas coming up. In the night there were fireworks and a dance party to celebrate the foundation of the town about 80 years ago.

Bosque Encantada trail in the Queulat National Park. After Puyuhuapi we came to the Queulat National Park, where we saw another glacier and had a relaxed evening with our own small campfire at the park campground. The next day we cycled further and walked the "Bosque encantada" (enchanted forest) trail through a beautiful moss-covered old forest until a laguna up in the mountains. Sandra dipping in the laguna at the end of the Bosque Encantada trail. About 20 other people had also found their way there — surprisingly many considering that the beginning of the trail was poorly marked, and it wasn't one of the shortest nor easiest walks either.

The last 180 km until Coyhaique the road was paved and not too hilly, following river valleys between the mountains. It was sunny again and one of the days was so hot that we had a long afternoon break cooking in the shade and swimming in the Maniguales river. Lake view on a windstill day on the road towards Coyhaique. Traffic became heavier as we approached the city and the road was narrow so it was probably one of the most dangerous sections of the whole trip. Still, almost all the passing cars left us plenty of space and we arrived safely to Coyhaique. That was a perfect place to have a break, take a nice warm shower, get our clothes washed, communicate with our WarmShowers hosts and prepare for the way further south.

Camping up in the mountains between border controls

Posted: 2015-01-17 05:47:00, Categories: Travel, Cycling, Hiking, Chile, Argentina, 592 words (permalink)

Cooking in front of the tent near the Antonio Samore pass. Our most spectacular campsite on this trip so far was near the Antonio Samore mountain pass, right on the Argentinian-Chilean border. We set up our tent on the plateau facing the Puyehue volcano with a panoramic view of other volcanoes and mountains in every direction. The sunset coloured the sky first orange and red, later violet, followed by a clear full moon night.

In Argentina we cycled the classic "seven lakes" route from San Martin de Los Andes until Villa la Angostura. It was a pretty road, but the weather was cloudy and rainy so we didn't spend much time at the lakes. In Villa la Angostura we stayed in a hostel and celebrated New Year with other travellers, mostly Argentinians on their holidays. On New Year's day we already headed back towards Chile.

Sandra enjoying the view on top of the mountain. We camped one day at a river still on Argentinian side, and reached the border at the top of the Antonio Samore pass on the second day. The Argentinian customs and passport control had been already 20 km before and the Chilean ones were 20 km further ahead. It seems to be pretty common here that the border area is dozens of kilometers wide, and it's not a problem to spend even several days between the control points.

Our campsite with Volcano Puyehue in the background. Only a few hundred meters after the pass on the right hand side was a small jeep track leading up towards the nearby peaks. We followed that and were soon like in a different world: sand everywhere, small streams in deep canyons and a view towards all directions. We could see the Puyuhue and Casablanca volcanoes, various other mountains and also Puntiagido and Osorno volcanoes further away.

After about a kilometer we left most of our bags on the side of the track and continued further up with a lighter load. Then we left the bikes behind as well and climbed on top of the nearest peak. In the loose sand we got our shoes full of sand and small stones, but otherwise it was quite easy to climb. On the top we had a picnic and enjoyed the sunny afternoon.

Volcanoes Puntiagudo and Osorno during the sunset. We descended on the north side and were directly on the border, indicated by an old metal sign saying "Chile" on one side and "Argentina" on the other. The track ended there but some footsteps were going forwards. We followed them and climbed still the next, slightly higher peak before coming back and picking up our stuff.

The tent under the full moon. It was surprisingly windstill so we chose to set up the tent directly on the open plateau at 1500 meters of altitude. It was a rare place, with so much sand around and looking very dry, but still having water available in several small streams. We cooked dinner and prepared tea while admiring the sunset. Then we had a rest in the tent, but came later out for a while to watch the moon and the stars before going to bed. The temperature dropped below zero during the night, but our sleeping bags were warm enough to sleep comfortably.

In the morning we had breakfast, packed our things, cycled back to the main road and further down to the valley towards Entre Lagos and Osorno. On the good paved road it was a fast ride through a quite strange landscape of dead trees. Later a park ranger explained us that it was a result of an eruption at one of the Puyuhue volcano side craters just a few years ago. The grey scenery lasted for about 10 kilometers, down in the valley everything was green again.

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