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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.

Volcanic scenery in Malalcahuello and Conguillio

Posted: 2014-12-29 16:06:00, Categories: Travel, Cycling, Hiking, Chile, 823 words (permalink)

The Conguillio lake, with Volcano Llaima in the background and a row of Araucarias in the front. We spent 1,5 weeks exploring the Malalcahuello National Reserve and the Conguillio National Park, both on foot and by bicycle. Both parks were dominated by volcanoes and their past activity, including several eruptions during the last 100 years. The contrast between almost black volcanic sand and lush green forests was dramatic. There were a lot of magnificent hundreds of years old trees, with thick layers of lichen growing on the trunks and hanging from the branches.

The road crossing the volcanic area in the Malalcahuello National Reserve. We started by cycling from Victoria to Curacautin and further to Malalcahuello where we stayed with Claudia from CouchSurfing. She had a beautiful house a few km outside the village, so deep in a valley between the mountains that we didn't even have mobile phone reception there. It was a good place for relaxing and an excellent base for tours in the region.

. On one day we cycled up along the road leading to a ski center at the Lonquimay volcano, the highest peak of the area. There was still quite a bit of snow covering the higher parts of the volcano, but not enough for skiing so it was off-season and quiet. From the ski center started a still smaller road, marked as being for 4x4 vehicles only but it was also suitable for bicycles.

Crater Navidad and the lava flow behind it. The road led us across dark volcanic sand to a sign which marked the start of a walking trail to Crater Navidad, the crater of the last eruption of the volcano on Christmas day 1988. After a 1,5 hour walk through the dusty sand field and a slope of loose stones we stood at the edge of the crater, at 1891 meters of altitude. It was almost 1000 meters lower than the main volcano but had a panoramic view over the lava flow and the surrounding area. The rocks at the crater had many different colours, a lot of varioud shades of red, some white, brown and yellow in addition to the dominatic nearly black rocks.

. On another day we walked the Piedra Santa trail which started down in the village and went through a forest on top of a hill. There were a lot of old trees with lichen hanging from every small branch, creating a quite special atmosphere. In higher altitudes, other tree types gave way to the Araucarias, our favourite tree because of their beautiful shapes against the blue sky. Because of the approaching holidays we called them the Christmas trees of Chile. We also saw a pair of condors cruising in the air. Otherwise there were surprisinly few birds to see or hear, we thought that in such an old forest we'd be hearing birds singing almost all the time.

. From Malalcahuello we returned to Curacautin and continued south through the Conguillio National Park. It had also black volcanic scenery like the Malalcahuello Reserve, but more lakes and also non-volcanic peaks of more than 2000 meters. The main road through the park was a narrow gravel and earth road, allowed for all kinds of vehicles but some parts would have been fairly difficult to manage with a normal car. No wonder that the most common vehicles in the Chilean countryside are 4-wheel-drive pickups, jeeps and SUVs. There it at least makes sense to have one, unlike in most places in Europe and North America where even minor roads are so good that a normal car is not only more fuel efficient but also better to drive.

Colours in the water of the Laguna Arco Iris. The highlights of Conguillio were the lakes, each of which had a different character. Laguna Captrén had sunken trees sticking out of the water and several bays with more bird life than we saw in other areas of the park. The Conguillio lake was the biggest lake with a panoramic view of the mountain range behind it, and an interesting mix of volcanic rocks and plants on the shore. But perhaps the most beautiful was the tiny Laguna Arco Iris, which was surrounded from one side by a lava field and from the other side by forest, and had wonderful colours in the water when looking down from the shore.

Me on the Sierra Nevada trail in Conguillio National Park. We also did a one day hike on the Sierra Nevada trail, which went up from the Conguillio lake to the non-volcanic peaks. We didn't climb until the top but above treeline and had very varying scenery on the way. From a distance the mountains looked a lot like the Alps in Europe, but both the trees and other vegetation were quite different.

Overall, we were surprised how few people we met on the trails. They were easy to walk and well marked, but it seemed that most of the visitors just drove through the park by car, perhaps stopping at a couple of sightseeing spots. We think that by doing so we'd be missing a lot — even by going slowly on a bicycle it's not possible to reach areas away from the roads and see the nature in the same detail than on the walking trails.

Mountain view at home and other changes in life

Posted: 2012-06-21 12:09:54, Categories: Travel, Work, Germany, Hiking, 469 words (permalink)

Sandra enjoying the view on our balcony. In our new home in Halblech in Southern Germany, we have a direct view to the Alps. We moved here in the end of April after Sandra sold her food store. I quit my job at the same time, so we're both now free to move around and start any new projects we get excited about.

The changes had been in preparation already for some time. Like most small entrepreneurs, Sandra had endured stress and long working days for many years, and felt she needed a longer break. One of her employees was quite interested in taking over — a perfect opportunity to give her the chance of running the shop instead of a much harder decision of shutting it down.

I had continued working for CSC from home after moving to Germany. From a technical point of view it worked quite well, my employer had a positive attitude and I was able to make useful contributions to the projects. However, during one and a half years the lack of social contacts became more and more evident. I was more motivated to study German or help out with simple tasks at Sandra's shop than to work alone on a technical document in the corner of the living room. Therefore it was eventually not a hard decision to call an end to it.

The nature around Halblech is beautiful. On the east and south side are the Alps with high peaks up to 2000 meters and a large network of hiking and cycling trails. Towards the west and north are hills covered by meadows and forests, with rivers and lakes in between. I hadn't thought about it before, but a location at the foot of the mountains offers more varied scenery and opportunities for outdoor activities than a place deeper in a valley between high mountains would.

During the first weeks after moving in we didn't have to think about what to do with our additional free time. On sunny days we explored the nearby hiking and cycling trails, otherwise arranging things at home kept us busy enough. Building the kitchen was the largest amount of work.

In Germany it's common that apartments don't have any equipment in the kitchen: there are only connections for water and electricity. So we packed all our kitchen appliances, cupboards and the sink in the moving van, transported them to our new flat and reinstalled them there. That was already the second time within one year, including a new variety of small surprises during installation. In any case, after all the planning, cutting, drilling, screwing and sweating we have a functional and quite nice looking kitchen. And if we continue moving often, we'll do it faster and better each time. :)

Now it's time to enjoy the summer - and to have a housewarming party next week!

Winter nights in the Alps

Posted: 2011-03-24 21:52:14, Categories: Travel, Austria, Hiking, 493 words (permalink)

Bad Kissinger Hü at night. Most of the mountain huts in the Alps close their doors and send their staff home for the winter, approximately from mid October until mid April. However, many have a winter room which is either unlocked or accessible using an alpine club key. The winter rooms are wonderful places to cook a simple but enjoyable dinner, to look at the stars, to sleep and to wake up to the morning sun with spectacular views.

This winter we visited three different huts, for four nights in total. Twice there were nobody else, once we shared the room with a group of three others, and once on a weekend with particularly good weather there were about 20 hikers and the warden staying in the same hut. However, in that case the whole hut was open so there was enough space for everybody.

The photo of this blog entry is of Bad Kissinger Hütte, which is located in the Tannheimer valley, Austria, about 80 km south of our home in Memmingen. That's one of the easiest huts to reach with about 700 meters of altitude to climb along an easy path. It's also located on the south slope, which means less deep snow, particularly when the winter is already turning towards spring. For us it took around 2,5 hours to climb up including a couple of short breaks, and we did not have snowshoes or skis.

In contrast to the summer when the huts have full restaurant facilities, the winter rooms operate on a self service basis. Mattresses and blankets are usually provided so one could go just with a thin travel bedsheet, but we always carry our sleeping bags to be sure of staying warm. We've also taken a camping cooker which generally has been unnecessary: all the winter rooms we've been to this far had a cooking possibility with either wood or gas. In Bad Kissinger Hütte we did use our own kettle though, as there were two pans but no pots. Nowadays the winter rooms also commonly have an electric light powered by a battery, which is recharged by a solar panel during the day.

The cost of an overnight stay is usually 5-10 euros for alpine club members and 10-20 euros for non-members, depending on the place. Payment works on a basis of trust: people are expected to write their names in the visitor book and make a bank transfer afterwards to the account of the organization which takes care of the hut.

One piece of equipment which we found out to be a nice addition on the winter hikes is a snow glider, a piece of plastic just big enough to sit on, with a handle in the front. When coming back, we can often have fun by gliding down on the snow instead of walking during part of the way. The gliders are lightweight to carry so even if the slope is too icy, bumpy or otherwise unsuitable for using them, it doesn't matter very much.

Arriving to the flat parts of Veneto region, Italy. We descended from the Alps to Longarone, a small town near Belluno, in North-Eastern Italy. The high peaks of the Dolomites gave way to lower, grass-covered mountains, then hills, and finally to the flatlands of the Veneto region. The route followed small roads and tractor tracks through vineyeards, corn fields, fruit gardens and small villages. On the way, we had a few wonderful stays with CouchSurfing hosts.

In Longarone we were welcomed by Gigi, Francesca and their family, who had heard about CouchSurfing from an Italian TV program. We were their first guests. They were first a bit puzzled what they could show us as mountains were the most popular attraction in the area and we had just been hiking for almost three weeks. However, we didn't need much sightseeing — a tour in the garden, chatting, relaxing and family dinners including their own vegetables, local cheese and wine were just perfect. We also got good hints which route to take during the following two days.

From Longarone we climbed once more up to 1700 meters and descended to Tarzo. There we stayed two nights with Helio and Lori, a warm and funny Brazilian-Italian couple. With them and their friends we had a tour in nearby Vittorio Veneto old town, followed by more than excellent ice cream in a local gelateria and the most entertaining wine tasting ever hosted by Lori's father, also called Gigi. Helio and Lori didn't speak much English but it didn't stop us communicating in a mix of about five different languages, while enjoying delicious Brazilian food and the friendly atmosphere in their home.

One full day walk later in Spresiano we met Francesco, a guy of about same age than us who had recently come back from a 6 month tour around the world. We all had one thing in common: quitting our jobs to travel at least once in our lives. So it was no wonder we had a lot to talk about. :) Francesco had a lot of ideas about how to change his life and be happy. We might meet him again one day in his small cocktail bar on a quiet beach, where he will mix a drink for us.

After Spresiano we didn't have any more CS hosts and were relying on hotels and guesthouses instead. We also considered sleeping outside, but without a tent or a mosquito net it would have been a bit tricky. In a few places the personnel immediately guessed which trail we were on, probably thinking "Again two of those crazy Germans walking to Venice".

On the flat parts we could have taken exactly the same route by bicycle so it was a good opportunity to compare these two ways of travel. By walking we saw a few more details in the gardens of the houses and it was a bit easier to talk to each other. On the other hand we were limited to about 25 km per day while by bicycle we could have easily covered three times that, without missing much in the scenery or opportunities to communicate with locals. So we sometimes felt a bit silly walking along the roads, but nevertheless decided to go on for the couple of remaining days.

After a total of 26 days of walking (including two rest days) we arrived in Lido di Jesolo, a beach resort located about 20 km from Venice. It was a big contrast to all the other places we had been to on the trip. There were hundreds of hotels and restaurants on a few kilometers of shoreline, and of course thousands of tourists on a beach holiday. On the beach there were sections of sunshades and chairs reserved to each hotel, but fortunately the waterline was freely accessible for all. We walked to the waterfront and took photos in our hiking outfit in front of the surprised beach-goers.

From Lido di Jesolo it was only a one day walk to Punta Sabbione and a half an hour water bus ride to Venice, our final destination. We spent a couple of days exploring the alleys and canals, photographing the colourful houses of Burano and relaxing on the beach before returning home. There was a good feeling about completing the tour, but it was of course not as important than the experiences during the trip.

Overall, walking for four weeks was an interesting experience. The first two and half weeks on the Alps (see parts one and two) were beautiful and the mountains started to feel like home in way I had never felt on shorter hikes. I would do it again, although perhaps carrying a tent and choosing my own route instead of following a book. On the other hand, I don't think it'll be my ambition to walk hundreds of kilometers along roads as some people do. On roads I prefer the bicycle or some other kind of vehicle, depending on the trip.

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Copyright Arto Teräs <ajt@iki.fi>, licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported License.
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