Torres del Paine, Patagonia

Trekking the W – last week of February 2015

Probably the most popular trekking in Patagonia is the trekking in the National Park Torres del Paine. Getting to Puerto Natales, the closest town to the park, you can find lots of turists, many hostels, restaurants displaying grilled lambs in their windows, shops where you can buy dried fruits and nuts (very good for the trekking), and also free lectures about the trekkings.

So there we went, to listen the lecture and get the informations we needed. There’s a dutch girl who pretty much covers all the informations one might need speaking in very good and pretty fast english. We also had a good laugh because she makes lots of jokes and has a very funny way of explaining stuff.

There are three options for trekkings: the W, the circuit and the Q. First is the shortest and the last is the longest. Last two include the W. Most of the people do the W and that’s the one we did also. You have two options to start, from east to west or from west to east, we chose to start from west, they told us are better views from that side. Also you can sleep in refugios (or rent a tent at the refugios), which is more expensive and a bit more complicated since the refugios are less than the camping sites and you have to walk more each day, or you can camp, and in Puerto Natales there’s a lot of places to rent all sort of equipment and is not very expensive. If I will ever go back there I will try to do the Q carrying my own tent, now that I have more confidence and I know it’s not very hard and not very steep there.

I was stressed a lot at the beginning thinking it will be hard, that my backpack is too heavy and so on. The guys carried the tents, stove and gas and I think I had the lightest backpack in the whole Patagonia. Now, after the trekking from Lago del Desierto to Candelaria Mansilla with the 24 kilos backpack and after the other trekking when I bought a tent and camped by my own in Cochamo Valley I think I underestimated myself a lot in Torres del Paine, but it made sense to test my strength when I’m alone and not with a group, not wanting to bother anybody if it’s getting hard.

Basically we prepared for the possibility of bad weather putting all our stuff in garbage bags, we prepared the money for bus, entrance fee and for camping, we rented tents and stove (from Base Camp, the place where the lectures are also, near Erratic Rock hostel), we bought food (mine was actually no food but 20 chocolate bars) and we left the rest of the things at the hostel in a locker (we stayed at Singing Lamb hostel, very nice hostel with helpful staff, locker is 500 chilean pesos per locker per day).

IMG_0730

Early in the morning we went to the bus terminal (15000 chilean pesos for the bus to go to the park and come back) and in around two hours we got to the entrace of the park where we paid the entrance fee (18000 pesos), we had to fill some papers with passport number and number of nights we will spent in the park, we received a map and we had to watch a video about the rules in the park. Some years ago there was a fire set by a tourist which burned a vast area in the park leaving behind charred trees which and vegetation which are not prepared to recover since in that area natural fires don’t occur, thunders being inexistent there. You’re not allowed to smoke on the trails, and when you camp you have designated places for smoking and cooking your food on the stove. Also you have to camp only in camping sites. In the video they emphasize a lot on the fire and it seems maybe weird and we made jokes about it but when we saw the consequences of the fire we understood why is such a big deal.

Next the bus took us to another place where we embarked in a catamaran (15000 pesos) to cross Lago Pehoe to Guarderia Paine Grande. And there we started the trekking, first day only 3.5 hours from Paine Grande to Refugio and Campamento Grey located very close to Glaciar Grey.

day1view

From left to right Cerro Paine Grande, Cuernos del Paine and Monte Almirante Nieto as seen from the catamaran.

catamaran

Our first trekking day was cloudy but we got the chance to see the landscape in sunny weather the next day.

day1_cloudy Grey_glacier

We arrived at the camping site, set the tent, ate some noodles and walked closer to the glacier in high winds and rain. The price for camping is around 4000 per person, they have a sort of place for cooking, quite small when everybody wants to cook at the same time and they have also showers with hot water until 9 pm, but I preferred to see the glacier and then I had a cold but refreshing shower later.

GreyGlacier

During the night we had beautiful view of mountain with stars and clouds.

Grey_night

Each morning we woke up early (for me) but in decent time for the trekking we were doing, had breakfast (coffee and cigarettes for me), packed the tent and go. In our second day we returned at Paine Grande and from there went to camping Italiano, around 6 hours in total. At camping Italiano you cannot rent anything, you don’t pay and you don’t have a refugio to sleep in.

grass3 grass1

cuernos2

Up are Los Cuernos as seen while trekking from Paine Grande to Italiano and down is the view of Lago Pehoe from Paine Grande.

paineGrande

italiano_bridge

We camped near that river and slept with the sound of the water in the background. I have to say the sleeping bag I had from home wasn’t good enough for that weather and I didn’t want to rent one, therefore I felt cold almost all the time while sleeping,next time I’ll know better. I think a good sleep is very important and I advise to have a good sleeping bag there.

britishMirador

moss

Day 3 we had probably the best views, we left our stuff in the tent and went with day pack 2.5 hours up to mirador Britanico, enjoyed the beautiful landscape, and 2.5 hours down to camping, packed our backpacks and tents and head to camping and refugio Los Cuernos, other 2.5 hours trekking. That night we had beers and very expensive dinner at the refugio, and for me again cold water for shower although somehow the boys had hot water for their showers. The camping costs around 4000 per person.

day2_goingup

Panorama

cuernos1

We were warned that fourth day is the hardest and longest one and we mentally prepared for that and probably that’s why it didn’t seem that bad. We left Los Cuernos and headed to Refugio Chileno around 4-5 hours far. From there we went to Campamento Torres , one hour up, also free of cost, as Italiano, also you cannot rent equipment there, but the most important to know is that you have to book it in advance, before starting the trekking or at the registration in the park. From there I went 45 min uphill to the Mirador Las Torres and 45 min downhill back to camping. I was lucky to have good weather and to see almost alone the beautiful view there. The plan was to wake up very early and go there to see the sunrise, but in the morning was raining very bad and I just skipped it.

day4_tochileno

torres2

torres3

Last day we trekked around 3 hours to hotel Las Torres where we took a bus (2000 pesos) to the administration and there we took another bus which we already paid at the beginning to go to Puerto Natales. We saw flamingos, nandu and guanacos from the window of the bus but couldn’t do any photos. The weather in general was very good during the trekking and I think we were pretty lucky about it. The water in the park is plenty and good for drinking. Unfortunately, trekking in Torres del Paine is sometimes like walking on the boulevard due to the great numbers of tourists coming in this park.

All in all I just loved it! Amazing landscapes, nice people and good time spent in nature. 🙂

Surreal Antarctica

Crossing the Antarctic Circle

After two days of flights from Bucharest to Ushuaia, I finally arrived in the southernmost city in the world. Next step was to find a last minute deal to Antarctica and for that, I estimated I should have at least four days to search. It turned out to be much easier than expected, I found a nice last minute deal in my first three hours in Ushuaia. The girl from the reception of La Posta hostel made a phone call and got me a deal and some hours later the agent of Freestyle came to talk to me in depth about it. They work with many companies which make tours in Antarctica, therefore, she knew exactly what are my options. I planned to spend maximum 5000$ but the trip cost me 6899$. I chose this G Adventures trip because of the extended length (13 days instead of 10) which meant more time actually spent in Antarctica and also because of the crossing of the Antarctic Circle.

Port

The conditions on the ship are much better than anything I ever expected, I was spoiled for two weeks with lots of good food and the bed made two times per day although I wasn’t using it twice, just threw some stuff on the bed which were very soon getting folded and organised. I would have been happy with much less but I guess all the cruises to Antarctica have hotel and restaurant conditions. I shared my cabin with two Chinese girls which got engaged during Valentine’s day.

First two and half days onboard Expedition were about lectures, drinking in the evening while listening good music played by one of the guys from the expedition staff, bird watching, pretty bad weather and meeting new people (most of them quite seasick) while sailing the Drake Passage.

Getting closer to Antarctica we started to see icebergs and ice floating in the ocean, beautiful landscapes, antarctic wildlife and soon I started to feel like I went to another kind of world. The wildlife was very impressive but what I liked the most were the icebergs and the ice floating everywhere, the mountains covered with ice and snow, the amazing skies and the moody weather. Every day was different from the other day, every day brought new and amazing experiences. It was so very easy to forget about myself and just live the perfect moments I had there.

icecubes2

The fourth day we had our first zodiac cruise around the Melchior Islands, we saw seals and one chinstrap penguin, birds and whales. Later in the afternoon we made our first landing on Antarctica at George’s Point where lives a big colony of gentoo penguins and seals. Spent there one or two hours and made hundreds of photos.

humbacktail

zodiacs

argentinianst

argentinianstation

Pingupaths

Pingugentu 

On 13th we passed the Lemaire Channel in beautiful weather and amazing landscape. It was so hard to go from the deck inside the vessel. We also saw lots of icebergs and whales.   

icecubes

mountains

Topdeck

Next we set as a target to cross the Antarctic Circle and so we did on 14th February around 1 a.m. We celebrated with champagne and good music.

Screen Shot 2015-03-03 at 20.20.19

Due to bad weather we couldn’t do our two landings as planned south of the circle so we  were forced to turn and go back north. That day was a day of lectures and organising photos. 

Our next destination was Petermann Island where we saw a colony of Adelie and Gentoo penguins. Before that we had a long cruise around the island and we saw seals swimming while  around us were a lot of amazing icebergs.

penguincolony2

adelie

In the afternoon we went to Paradise Harbour, an amazing place where we went a bit uphill to see the wonderful view and we went back down sliding. 🙂 Antarctica was much warmer than I expected.

paradise_bay

Although we were waking early every morning it was always exciting and different. We saw whales feeding at Cierva Cove and an island of whale bones and Gentoo penguins at  Mikkelsen Harbour.

whalemouth

bismark_selfie

me&pinguMolting

Mikkelsen_Harbour

Pingu&bird

Last day in Antarctica was a special day, the very last thing we did was the polar plunge at Telefon Bay, Deception Island (the water was 3 degrees Celsius and my polar plunge was around 3 seconds and after that I thought for a while that I’ll die because I couldn’t breath properly).

We watched chinstrap penguins at Bailey Head in the morning and after lunch we walked on the top of the crater at Deception Island. 

pingujump

polarPlunge

polarPlunge1

DeceptionIsl

It’s two months now since I’ve been there, in the most surreal place I’ve ever seen. When I think back about it the first thing that comes to my mind is a morning when I woke up because of a weird noise and looked on the window and saw in the almost morning light the icebergs around and one very close which was actually scratching the vessel making the loud noise. It was so beautiful and surreal, it’s the most special moment I had there. I keep saying it, wildlife was amazing there but the most impressive for me were the icebergs, the ice around and the mountains covered in ice. I thought I will sleep every night early because the people on the cruise weren’t very young but actually I had lots of fun in the evenings and drank lots of shots which I didn’t find on my bill ( later I found out that the bartenders were advised to be generous with the backpackers to keep them happy). I even sang “Don’t let me down” from Beatles although I’m the worst singer ever.

Because all the plans we made for landing the next day were strictly dependent on the weather and always subject to change I’m sure I can go again in Antarctica and see something different. When I decided to go there I thought is once in a lifetime and probably I won’t ever have the money to do it again, but now I dream about going back one day and one thing is for sure, if I’ll go back I’ll have better photos. 🙂

Wishlist

  1. See Aurora Borealis at least once again and shot a good photo of it
  2. See the Aurora Australis (TAsmania, New Zealand…)
  3. Go round the world at least once before 30
  4. Volunteer at least once in conservation sites and / or farming
  5. Travel as close as possible to the South Pole ( Antarctica)
  6. Spend at least two weeks on a beach and write
  7. Attempt bungee jumping until I can do it (South Africa-Bloukrans Bridge, the highest bridge bungee in the world)
  8. Dive in depths greater than 30 m
  9. Take the TransSiberian and TransMongolian train from St. Petersburg to Beijing
  10. Swim in the infinity pool in Marina Bay, Singapore
  11. Photograph Cinque Terre again and hike the Love Path
  12. Hike to Preikestolen, Kieragbolten and Trolltunga
  13. Drink ayahuasca in South America
  14. Take a trip around Mediteranean Sea
  15. Explore Easter Island
  16. Air ballooning trip (Capadoccia)
  17. Explore Turkey
  18. Swim in the hot Blue Lagoon in Iceland
  19. Jump at least once again with a parachute
  20. See the blue tide at night in Vaadhoo, Maldives or see bioluminescent plankton at least at one of the many places where is possible
  21. Paint my body with henna
  22. See at least one pink lake (Laguna Colorada – Bolivia)
  23. Explore the Cancun underwater museum in Mexico
  24. Be romantic at tunnel of love in Ukraine or Romania
  25. Take dinner at bird nest restaurant in Thailand
  26. See Ronda cliff side city in Spain
  27. Explore Socotra island in Yemen
  28. See the world’s largest salt flat in Bolivia
  29. See the rainbow eucalyptus
  30. See the cherry blossom in Japan or South Korea
  31. Enjoy a lavender field (Provence-France)
  32. Take the TGV train
  33. Take the Maglev train
  34. See the Foucault pendulum
  35. Visit Peru  (Machu Picchu, Paracas, Ballestas Islands, Colca Canyon, Nazca lines, Cusco, Amazonian jungle) 
  36. Explore Tierra de Fuego
  37. Visit New Zeeland and Australia
  38. Relax on the Fiji beaches
  39. See the puffins
  40. Go to as many amusement parks as I encounter in my trips
  41. Take the breath taking rides (for example the Atlantic Ocean Road in Norway and the one in the forest in Ireland)
  42. Go once more in Faroe Islands
  43. Tulip festival, Netherlands and Bonn, Germany in spring
  44. See Madrid in spring again
  45. Visit Wien, Budapest, London, Edinburgh, Paris, Geneva, Istanbul
  46. Enjoy a beer festival (Bremen-Germany)
  47. See the midnight sun
  48. See wild reindeers in Hammerfest
  49. Visit or volunteer in Galapagos Islands
  50. See pyramids (Giza – Egypt and El Castillo – Mexico)
  51. Visit and photograph India, see Taj Mahal, Himalayas, Tibetan monasteries
  52. See the 12 Apostles in Australia
  53. Write a book in Thailand
  54. Swim with sharks
  55. Swim in the Caribbean sea
  56. Have a romantic escape in Jade Mountain, St. Lucia
  57. Swim in To Sua Ocean Trench, in Samoa
  58. Enjoy the Bulgarian beach and July Morning festival
  59. Visit the ghost town in Namibia
  60. Take a long ride to the northern Norway 
  61. See Wat Rong Khun in Thailand
  62. See the colored mountains in China and Walk on the China Wall
  63. Pass the Panama Canal   
  64. Cross the Equator line 
  65. Go to a concert in another country (Roger Waters in Budapest)    
  66. Take a long trip to Italy and see Etna and Vesuvius volcanoes and Pompeii ruins
  67. Go to the underwater restaurant in Maldives
  68. Viceroy Bali Resort, Indonesia
  69. Go to a masks festival in Venice
  70. Sleep in an igloo (for example in Finland) and go on safari with huskies
  71. Sleep in an yurt in Mongolia
  72. See Valley of the Moon in Chile (Atacama)
  73. Live at least one month in a house on a beach
  74. See the Great Canyon
  75. See the frozen bubbles in Lake Alberta
  76. See the Nile
  77. See Bazaruto Archipelago, Mozambique
  78. Swim with dolphins and turtles
  79. Go to Sarmisegetusa , Romania
  80. Visit Maramures, Romania
  81. See the daffodils blooming in the mountains, Romania
  82. Climb Moldoveanu and Omu summits and see the Danube Delta, Romania
  83. See Giant’s Causeway, Ireland
  84. Go to Madagascar
  85. Sleep in a very old castle
  86. Attempt Kilimanjaro
  87. Participate in the colored powder holy festival in India
  88. Visit one Easter Jerusalem and one Vatican
  89. Reach at least first basecamp on Everest
  90. Float in the Dead Sea
  91. A long visit to Barcelona
  92. Visit Bagan, Myanmar (Burma)
  93. See the Hill of crosses in Lithuania
  94. Dive in the Great Barrier Reef , Australia
  95. Visit Serengeti National Park, Tanzania
  96. Go to Memmo Alfama, a chic stay in the heart of Lisbon
  97. See the Nugget Point, the iconic site in Otago, New Zeeland
  98. Go to Huvafen Fushi Resort in Maldives
  99. Stay at the underwater hotel in Manta Resort, Zanzibar
  100. Walk in a bamboo forest in Kyoto, Japan
  101. Stay in the Shy Gardens Hotel in Singapore
  102. See the Batu Caves in Malayesia
  103. Walk the Breathtaking Walk in Tianmen Mountains, China or Breathtaking Glass Skywalk in the Alps, France
  104. Attempt Mont Blanc or at least spend one week-end in Chamonix
  105. Visit the Coral Castle, Florida
  106. Visit Tulum, Mexico
  107. Take the railway route in Swiss Alps
  108. Dive with the jellyfish in Palau
  109. Enjoy an amusement park in USA (Galveston) 
  110. Stay a couple of days at Cambrian hotel in Alps
  111. Visit the Waitomo Caves in New Zeeland ( see the glowworms)
  112. Take the Sierra Verde train in Brazil
  113. Participate in the Shining Yi Peng Festival in Thailand
  114. See the wildlife in Pantanal, Brazil
  115. Lay on the Bondi Beach, Australia
  116. See the colorful umbrellas in Portugal in Agueda
  117. See the ancient city Jerash in Jordan
  118. See the red Laguna in Bolivia
  119. Visit a cave with paintings from the old times (Lesotho – bush men paintings)
  120. Meet and speak with a shaman
  121. Go to one of the Dalai Lama initiations and meet him
  122. Practice yoga every day although I travel
  123. Go in Tibet to meditate
  124. Learn to do massage
  125. Read at least one book in every new place/country
  126. Read the 100 best books
  127. Take a cruise to see Greenland, the icebergs and polar bears

Making my dreams come true

I spent my last three years half of the time traveling around the world with a seismic vessel where I was processing seismic data and the other half traveling with friends, alone or in photography tours. This opportunity increased a lot my desire to travel and explore our beautiful world. Recently I got rid of my job, although it was the best job I could have (5 weeks on the vessel and 5 weeks on holiday), and decided to focus only on traveling and photography. I call this “my sabbatical” but is much better than a sabbatical because I have no job to return to after one year, therefore there’s no time limit for my travel.

I studied in Bucharest, Romania and graduated the Faculty of Geology and Geophysics in 2012. The best choices I ever made were choosing this faculty, quitting my first job, applying for the second one and finally getting rid of it, just because all of them were perfectly synchronised with the best opportunities at those times.

I like to be on the road, to photograph and write and I want to improve all three of them because I never had the time to focus only on the things I like. I think my time is the best fortune I have if I use it to do the things I love the most.

"A journey, after all, neither begins in the instant we set out, nor ends when we have reached our door step once again. It starts much earlier and is really never over, because the film of memory continues running on inside of us long after we have come to a physical standstill. Indeed, there exists something like a contagion of travel, and the disease is essentially incurable.” ― Ryszard Kapuściński, Travels with Herodotus