Home again, safely

This is just a quick note to say that we have made it back to Sydney safely.

The task of transferring and sorting photos from the trip must now begin, and we will have to get down stories of the travel in Antarctica fairly quickly, before the memories start to fade. So there will (yet) be photos, just slightly retrospective.

We are now inured to the smell of penguin guano, although perhaps we have been more successful at scrubbing it off our outer-clothes than suspected, because neither the airport dogs nor those waiting for us at home have been particularly excited by the smell of us or our luggage. I am very slightly disappointed by that, I think.

I had been slightly worried about the flight home for most of the trip, because (despite reassurance by the airline check-in attendant in Sydney) the flight had never shown up in the itinerary of the Latam app on my phone, nor was it visible when looked-up by booking code on the Latam web-site. We received no app or e-mail invitation to check-in, either, as we had for all of the other flights. We arrived at the airport in Santiago last night in plenty of time (about 8:30PM, for a 1:30AM flight) which is just as well, as we spent about three quarters of an hour at the check-in counter while the attendant first couldn’t find any record of us, then (when I showed her the ticket receipt) she disappeared across the hall into a ticketing back-room for twenty minutes. She returned all smiles though: we were indeed going to be traveling, it’s just that our flight had been changed from LA801 (via Auckland) to LA803 (direct to Sydney). It hadn’t occurred to their systems or anyone to actually update that information in our itinerary, or e-mail us or whatever. Also good: we still had our extra-legroom seat allocation, although since the aeroplane itself had changed, that put us up against the first bulkhead, rather than the couple of rows back that I had hoped for. Turned out not to be too bad: all of our carry-on luggage fitted into the overhead bin, and the legroom was good enough. Indeed, we both think we had about as much rest on a flight as we ever had, and have arrived quite chirpy (especially after the administration of a couple of good coffees, at home).

Interesting possibility, based on the in-flight info flight path diagram, is that the furthest south that we reached on the trip might very well have been last night:

Last day in Torres del Paine

Well that seems to have flown past, but I understand why.

We spent a morning trying to get a replacement camera to meet us in Punta Arenas, but came to understand that it could not be done, (at least in that way). Cameras come with batteries in the box, and so cannot be shipped air-freight. Ground freight to Punta Arenas involves trucking through Argentina or ships, and the locals assure me that looking inside of a month from order is wasted grief. We had a tenuous link through a fellow traveller to Antarctica from the US, but in the end we couldn’t get the right camera to him from local shops before he left: not in stock or not local enough. Weekend shipping. So. Whatever we can find in Punta Arenas already will be it. We’ll see.

Having leapt that intellectual and emotional hurdle we went on another excursion that afternoon: the Hunters Trail.  Cave paintings, hiking through freezing rain, seeing another puma reclining near a tree.  That sort of thing.  Van for the ride home wouldn’t start.  Sat in the van taking pictures of the guanacos who came within meters, while waiting for a jump-start to arrive from the hotel.  All ended well.

Yesterday I went on the “French Valley Lookout” walk, an all-day hike to see a mountain with three levels of glacier, and back, while Cath stayed at the hotel to luxuriate.  The hike was great, and the views spectacular.  The wind, in parts, was also spectacular: I’ve never seen wind blow spray off white-caps into visible vortexes, twisters and swirls like that.  Must have been over sixty knots.  I took a video on my phone, so there will be evidence. We reached the top at a gallop, just ahead of rain, so I was able to grab some photos before discretion moved me to put the camera somewhere safe and dry. The trip down the valley was intense. The guide had clearly decided that getting back in time to catch the 5PM ferry (instead of the last, at 7PM) was a worthwhile goal. I kept thinking of Gimley in the Two Towers: “the important thing is to keep breathing”. Still, I made it, and I’m sure I’m better for it.

Today we went on two easier half-day outings: back to the “Bosquisito” or little forrest, and after luch to the Rio Baguales valley, in search of wildlife. The little forrest was lovely again, and this time we found a horned owl and its nearly fully-grown (but still adorably fluffy) offspring. We also saw eight foxes, and have good photographs of many of them. (Will appear in a future edit, I’m sure.) The walk after lunch found puma scat, and vultures at great altitude, and a few small birds, but nothing really substantial. Oh, there was a good bit with a nursery of eight or so Rhea chicks being herded ineffectually by a lone male: they ran hither and yon, crazily. Hope some of those photos came out.

Tomorrow we’re back to travel mode: check out in the morning, and transfer to Punta Arenas leaves at 1:30PM. We hope to have time to do the walk of the hotel grounds after packing, before we go, as we did in Chiloe. Depends on the weather and the success of packing, of course. Then four hours in a van south, and checking into our next hotel, probably too late to do much else. Maybe we’ll get out for a walk.

Travel days…

The 20th was our last full day on Chiloe, and we had an easy, cultural day. Drove to Dalcahue and caught the vehicular ferry to the island of Quinchao, just across the channel. Then drove to the town of Achao, about half way along. We walked along the waterfront, which has a shiny new board-walk, and ate some local oysters. Wandered through the local craft market, and Cath found a throw-rug that she liked, so I had to do battle with a local ATM. After many goes it yielded to a variation in strategy, and all was well. Our lunch stop was a visit to the organic farm that a local woman runs all by herself. The tour was fascinating. Back to Dalcahue and more craft markets resulted in another throw rug purchase.

The 21st was check-out day. We had to leave by 12:00 to transfer to the airport at Puerto Montt for our 17:10 flight. Did the walk around the hotel property beforehand, which was nice. Unfortunately, I had forgotten that my good Parisian pocket knife/bottle-opener was still in my satchel, and it failed to sneak past the airport security, who have it now. Very sad.

The flight to Punta Arenas was uneventful, and the taxi ride to the hotel exciting (our driver seemed to think that 30% over the limit was a good idea), but ultimately also uneventful. Arrived at the hotel in time for dinner, and turned in for a relatively early night, as pick-up for the transfer to the hotel at Torres del Pine was at 8:30. That four hour trip was mostly boring, but we got there in time for a bit of lunch and the afternoon activity.

We grabbed our camera gear and went in search of views of the “horns” across one of the lakes. It started a persistent drizzle that stayed with us for the afternoon, and by the end we were relatively soaked, despite spray jackets. On the way we saw a puma, scouting around a copse of trees near the road to check that it was safe, we assume a place to sleep. Didn’t see puma on the last trip, so that’s a big win straight away! Saw the falls and the view, and the walk was lovely. Half way home, Cath’s camera siezed up and would not turn on. Apart from a brief episode last night, it has not powered up again since, and so we are now trying to figure out how to get a replacement to meet us in Punta Arenas before we depart for Antarctica.

Photos to follow once we have time….

Boating to Chelin and Quehui — Unesco church and walk on the beach

No road travel at all today! We started with a stroll down the hill to the hotel’s jetty, to board the Willichi again. All aboard, we set off in the direction of the island of Chelin, site of one of the sixteen Unesco-preserved wooden churches around Chiloe.

Along the way, we passed a couple of traditional sailing boats, apparently on their way (along with much of the rest of the archipelago) to Chaulinec, site of a particularly popular religious festival/party that starts today. This was no doubt also the reason for the large family group departing Chelin by ferry, while we were there, and the fact that there were no boats moored in the harbour at Quehui.

The Church at Chelin was beautiful in the way of these things. Well maintained and clean, even the lovely “Chelin marble” paint job on the interior pillars and surface highlights. The big advantage of being with a guided tour, we’ve discovered, is that you get to go inside and look around: something we didn’t manage on our 2016 visit. Since the church is built much like a boat (including the curved vault of the ceiling), and is just sitting on its stone foundations, it has had enough flexibility and strength to survive the many earthquakes that have happened in the region since it was built.

After exploring the church, and seeing evidence of the various restoration projects (new and old timbers, chalk-numbered pieces, the old steeple-cross), we walked around behind to the cemetary. This shows the mixing of native religious ideas along with the Spanish’ Catholicism: the graves all have little houses built over them. These give visitors somewhere protected to sit, as well as give the souls protection from wizards in the vulnerable three days after death.

Up and over the hill, and down the road back towards the pier, we were passed by many cars full of people heading to the ferry. We were shuttled back to the Willichi by zodiac, and then cruised across the channel to Quehui harbour while we had the first (of two) lunch. Since the wind was up, the proposed activities of kayaking, zodiac riding and walking were moved from the harbour itself around the corner to a more protected reach of beach. Cath went on the zodiac again, and apparently was treated to a spectacular display of dolphin play. Having done the kayaking two days earlier, I opted for a walk along the beach. Very pleasant hour stroll in silence. Good for hearing all of the bird calls. I was moo-ed at very vigorously by a surprised free-range cow, one of a family that I encountered nearby. The large bull was reclining on a sunny patch of grass, just back from the beach. I also met a local fisherman hand-shaping a piece of wood to repair a damaged plank in an up-turned fishing dinghy.

Back on board, we set off for the hotel and the second lunch was served. We got back to the hotel a little after five, and had plenty of time to wrangle photos and text. Yay!

Punting the Chepu river and the sunken forest

Today started with another fairly long drive up to the north-west corner of Chiloe, to the Chepu river.  There we met Seignor Alfonzo, our river guide and boat driver.

Apparently there was a strong earthquake some time ago, and the resulting tsunami pushed 20km up the Chepu river valley, killing an area of riverside forrest. Today, the forest is just stumps poking out of sandbanks, weathered and rotten to the high tide level. A strange sight. Surrounded by coastal swamp and scrub, but not mangroves. Quite a lot of bird life: herons and ibis, but also kingfishers and a variety of waders.

The horse-flies were a phenomenon. The lovely Alfonzo supplied us with birch switches to ward them off, and just as well. Otherwise we would have been carried off. Dense swarms, each creature about two cm long. Luckily easily dissuaded from feasting on the slow-moving humans, no one in the party was seriously harmed, although one or two photos have unexpected and mysterious black blobs in them…

Once we within river-reach of the pacific ocean, we stopped at a jetty and cut across country (through redoubled swarms of enormous horseflies) until we reached the beach. And a lovely sweep of beach it was! Rough rocky headland at each end, strewn with pippi shells at the tide line, and the rusting hulk of an 80’s vintage logging barge (an industry that never was, apparently), stripped of machinery long ago. Alfonso introduced me to the orange-red meat of some sort of moss-covered sea creature that was growing on the rocks. I missed what he called them. They took a fair bit of manual effort to break into, but they were lovely: fresh like an oyster, but fleshier, and with a bit more flavour. I wouldn’t even have recognised them as a creature, on the rocks: they just looked like more moss-covered rock. They haven’t made me sick yet, six hours later, so I have to assume that they were food.

Since picnicking was not advised, thanks to the host of horse flies, we ate lunch in the van on the way back to the hotel, stopping at Dalcahue on the way. Cath remembered the little cafe that we had visited in 2016 and bought three lovely felted sheep souvenirs, and wanted a couple more. Found the cafe, found the sheep. Borrowed cash from our driver to buy them, since they didn’t take card and we had no cash. Sigh: the future really is not evenly distributed.

Back to the hotel earlier that yesterday, so we have time to sort phots and write blog entries before dinner!

Boating to Mechuque

Had a marvellous day, yesterday. A boat trip from Tenuan to the island archipelago of Mechuque, including some kyaking around between the islands, some zodiac sightseeing, and a walk through the main town of Mechuque. Well, Andrew did the kyaking and Cath did the zodiacing, but fun was had by all. The wind was quite ‘up’, so lunch on board the Williche was postponed until the trip back to the hotel, which turned out to be quite late: nearly 4PM. Did put a dent on appetite for dinner.

Consequently, it was a fairly late night, and I didn’t get around to penning a blog at the time, so now is catch-up. I haven’t even had much luck curating photos for the day: the back-up strategy is fine, but actually accessing them for review is even slower than I remember. And the NBN went down again, of course.

So I plan to edit this “place-holder” post once I’m more organised, and have some pictures to add.

Arrived Chiloe

I mentioned, previously, that when we arrived in Santiago, we showered and went to bed, in anticipation of a 4AM start, for a flight at 6:30 or so. Luckily for us we woke up around 8PM, decided that we didn’t need dinner, but would see how the network was going. At that point we (re)discovered that Latam had moved our connecting flight forward by five hours, to 11:15. Yay? Went back to bed, knowing that we would be able to have a civilized breakfast in the morning.

The flight to Puerto Montt was packed, but not too bad. We had booked exit-row seats, so we had leg room, but no under-seat storage. That turned out not to be a problem either, so we arrived OK. Our ride was indeed waiting for us, but we had to wait for another coupe who were on a different flight, and another couple returning a rental car. That didn’t take too long, although the other couple from the next flight had lost their luggage somewhere between Madrid and Santiago, and it being missing for several days, needed to get to a shopping mall. The hotel kindly arranged a detour for them, via Castro, so that the rest of us could arrive at the hotel as planned.

We had a productive activity-planning session, on arrival at the hotel, and now have a properly packed schedule for the next four days.

Drinks and the most delightful canapes on the deck, surrounded by the wildflower field and views out to the water. Stayed there until the sun started to set, around 8:30, then we went in for dinner. Then back to the room to get devices plugged in and charging, photos stored on hard drives, and blog posts posted.

Even better (touch wood), the network at home seems to have been up and stable all day. Huzzah! NBNco must have fixed something in yesterday’s maintenance session. Hope it stays up.

Well, that didn’t last long…

I think that our NBN stayed up about ten hours, before bouncing another two times. In my personal yesterday afternoon, I’d been sent an SMS to say that NBNco were going to be doing network maintenance in my area, and that I should expect outages. So perhaps that’s OK?

Anyway, my stats show that the current address has been stable for ten hours, and I’ve got the DNS aligned again, and I can post. Yay?

On the up side, we’re in Santiago, Chile. All well. The economy+ seat upgrade was totally worth it. We had a spare seat beside us in our middle row of three, and the extra leg room made a huge difference. Also: being nearer the front meant that the airconditioning was better: nicer air and cooler. Luggage arrived in the appropriate number of pieces. Immigration and customs waved us through, despite having to declare our second cameras, because the official definition of “baggage” only includes one.

So we walked to the airport hotel, showered, and are now crashing out. I know that’s contra-indicated for jetlag minimisation, but we have an 0400 start tomorrow morning, for our connection to Puerto Mont. Weirdly, we’re checked all the way through, so we have to leave our luggage tags on our checked bags.

Touch wood: network up for more than an hour!

Several sessions with Telstra service techs later, and an overnight “watch” was able to convince them that sure enough, my modem had been in yoyo mode. Their remote-end tests, and the ones also done on behalf of NBN infrastructure all suggested that the network side of the wall socket was “fine”, and that the problem was therefore at my end. Suggested I try plugging/unplugging everything and hit all the resets.

Now factory-resetting my router is not something I’ll undertake lightly, because it has quite a bit of configuration and setup that doesn’t seem to have any way to save and restore. Resetting the NBN modem seemed do-able though, and I’ve done that, along with power-cycling it and holding a prod on the “Reset” button for a goodly while. Took it a while to get going again, but it’s up. The router is happy about it. Took quite a while to grab an address from DHCP this time, which is perhaps a good sign? That first one only gave a one-hour lease, but I’ve checked after that hour and not only has it been renewed, I have a one-day lease to go on with.

So, unless there’s some physical badness that I haven’t uncovered yet, I think that I might be up and going again.

Yay! Not a moment too soon. Packing is underway.

Oops, where did the time go? Off again in 30-ish hours

Talk about leaving things to the last minute. Well, not entirely, the organizing and booking are all in hand (touch wood). There’s some data-wrangling still to go. The NBN seems to have chosen this moment to go into yoyo mode: we’ve had a new IPv4 address assigned at least half a dozen times in the last day, after the usual long periods of stability. I was just about to write this post when everything seized up and I turned around to see the modem and router both in logged-out/no-connection mode. Sigh.

And now that I’ve fired up the blog, I find that the new “blocks” editing thing has kicked in. Sure it looks pretty, but it wasn’t what I was using for the previous posts, so there’s something else new to worry about. Hopefully that will work out fine.

So: where are we off to?

We’re going to spend another ten days slacking off in Chiloe and Patagonia, in Chile, before flying across the Drake Passage to Antarctica.

Cameras have been serviced.

I didn’t end up figuring out anything that I liked better for review and photo manipulation than my trusty Android tablet. So that’s going to get another run.

Good deal of running around to be done yet. Then an early start for an 11AM flight, on Wednesday.