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Build up to Brazil

After returning from Tronador I began my research for Brazil. Fortunately it rained all day in Bariloche so I didn’t regret staying in. Though the cheapest flight I could find was only a week long, it seemed like I could squeeze in a trip to Bonito (but save the Pantanal for another time during the dry season) and a couple of days at the Iguazu Falls. With the help of the internet and a fellow from Pantanal Expeditions, I was able to learn much about the logistics for Bonito including available tours, accommodation, and transportation. I had read about the cost of a visa for US citizens but it seemed like a minor inconvenience at the time.

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Brazil

Before I left this on this adventure to South America, I was thinking about visiting Brazil as a backup plan in the event that I couldn’t find a climbing partner. However, in my head I imagined that my main option would be Rio or Sao Paulo for Carnival. To visit during Carnival requires planning far in advance because it becomes impossible to find a bed. Additionally, since Carnival in the major Brazilian cities is basically the largest and craziest street party in the world, I figured it wouldn’t be fun alone. Thus, I nearly ruled out Brazil and focused my planning on Uruguay, Argentina, and Chile.

Brazil re-entered my thoughts in Bariloche when I was talking to a girl from the Rio Grande do Sul state of Brazil. She was giving me plenty of new information but what piqued my interest was the Pantanal. Somehow I had never heard of this place which is the largest marshland in the world and has one of the most diverse flora and fauna of anywhere. The relatively small area (about the size of Wisconsin) has more species of birds than all of North America.

When I was rethinking my plans in the hut on Monte Tronador, the Pantanal seemed like the most interesting option. Even better is that a town called Bonito is not far south, making for an awesome combination. Bonito is one of the ecotouring capitals of Brazil, featuring large sinkholes, caves, rafting, freshwater snorkeling, and various other activities. Unfortunately by the time it came around to booking flights, the only modestly priced one was only a week long. Since February is a bad month for wildlife spotting in the Pantanal anyway, and I didn’t have my 400mm lens, I decided that a week of Bonito and the Iguazu Falls would be my plan.

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Crossing the Andes back to Argentina

About an hour after we were told that they had no cars available at the Puerto Montt airport, despite my reservation, I was over the initial frustration. This wasn’t completely unexpected for me, as I’ve read many stories of this happening at other small places. Regardless it meant we couldn’t go to Cochamó and had to find a backup plan. Puerto Montt wasn’t very appealing to us so we decided to give Puerto Varas a try.

It didn’t take long for us to realize we made the right choice of leaving Puerto Montt. Though touristy, PV definitely is more attractive and kind of reminded me of Jackson, WY with a beach with the picturesque Volcán Osorno as a backdrop. We walked into the Casa Azul and made reservations for 3 nights and set out to figure out what we would do for the next 3 days.

I really wanted to climb Osorno with Ange and a guide because I figured it would give both of us good exposure to volcano climbing with less risk. Not to mention apparently guides are required now after two Frenchmen died in crevasse last month (still need to verify this story). Unfortunately we discovered once again that prices have skyrocketed since my guidebook was published. All of the companies wanted at least USD$360 per person, which was almost double the USD$200 my guidebook reported. Next option was seakayaking which was still expensive but 1/3 the price so we booked it.

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Tierra del Fuego and the Chilean Fjords

The areas of Chile from the island of Chiloé south to Cape Horn are so remote and fractured by fjords that the only way to travel in this area is through the numerous fjords. Ever since visiting Doubtful and Milford Sounds in New Zealand l have been fascinated with the remoteness and uninhabitable nature of these deep fjords carved by glaciers during the ice ages.

Not only does the Navimag ferry allow you to see these remote lands, but it provides an excellent method of travel from Puerto Natales to Puerto Montt. The Navimag started as a cargo ferry, but as its popularity grew it became less of a means of transporting cargo and more of a means of transporting passengers. For this reason it is in no way a luxury cruiseliner, though the scenery is 5 star.

As it turns out, when factoring in the full board meals, accommodation and cost of travel its not a bad deal either. We paid USD$380 per person (10% code in TDP map given by CONAF!) for a 4 bunk room that we would end up sharing with a great young couple from Holland: Renzo who works on a boat that builds offshore drilling rigs and Lonica who is a KLM flight attendant.

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Torres del Paine

One of the main focuses of our trip to South America was a trip to Torres del Paine. TDP is a national park that, despite being in a remote southern point of Chile, celebrates international acclaim and is visited by many foreign and local visitors every day. We visited this park during one of the busiest, but warmest, months of the year.

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