The images

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Of course when I decided to go to South America for half a year it was clear to me that I would bring my camera as well.  Photography will be an important part of this journey and I will post pictures when I have web connection.  Of course I take a lot of pictures during this time and I won’t post all of them on Instagram and Facebook.  However, you will find more pictures  from my travels if you click the following button, or if you klick on one of the images at the beginning of every post. I will update the images in this link from time to time, when I also post something new here. 


The First few weeks - patagonia I

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 So the first few weeks of this trip we spent together as a family traveling from Buenos Aires in Argentina to the very southern most tip of Patagonia and back up to Santiago de Chile. And we saw a lot.  Some of the highlights include of course Buenos Aires itself, El Chaltén with the peaks of Fitzroy and Cerro Torre, Perito Moreno Glacier and, the cruise from Ushuaia to Punta Arenas on the Stella Australis.  I will post some stories, more detailed descriptions and more images in the coming days.

Buenos Aires 13.12. - 15.12.

Well, what did we learn in Baires? Clearly, that there's rain in South America, too. The day we arrived, it rained like crazy, absolutely bonkers. The streets were flooded and I remember this one time where we had a very good laught, at the expense of a lady that had just been completely drenched by a literal wave, originating from a bypassing bus. I have been splashed by bypassing cars and it's very unpleasant. But that was nothing in comparison. The woman was as wet as if someone had pushed her into a pool!

The first impression of South America for me was that it's a lot louder than Europe. Everything seems to be at another level of volume. Definitely something that will take me some time to adapt to.

Then, we were also introduced to Mate, by our great city guide. It's a hot beverage that many Argentinians drink day in, day out. I'd describe the effect of a one sip as the combination of drinking a can of coke and 3 very strong black teas at the same time. It's absolutely incredible, and a good explanation why Argentinian nightlife starts around 2 a.m. Well, I like it.

El Calafate 15.12. - 17.12.

In El Calafate we went to the world famous Perito Moreno Glacier, which many will know from photographs of Patagonia. The glacier forms up in the mountains and flows down into an immense lake. Sometimes, it grows so large that it cuts the lake into two, seperating it into two bodies of water. This separation is actually so tight that on both sides of the glacier tung, the water levels develop in different ways. From what I record there can be over 10 meters difference in water levels, which is absolutely massive, if you think about the amount of water required for that. After a while however, the forces on the icy dam become so strong that it eventually breaks and gives way to water flow. When we were there, there were no differing water levels, but one could still see the tunnel in the ice, connecting the two parts of the lake. We took a boat trip to get nearer to the glacier, which was absolutely stunning. While we were there, some smaller blocks of ice fell off the glacier face and dropped into the water, creating big slashes.

El Chaltén 17.12. - 20.12.

From El Calafate we went to El Chaltén, which is about 3 hours north of El Calafate by bus. El Chaltén is the home of some of the best known peaks of Patagonia, Mt. Fitzroy / Chaltén and Cerro Torre (the latter a bit lesser known to many, but in my eyes the prettier one). It's a paradise for hikers and mountain climbers. And guess what we did - hike. The days were very long with sun rising at about 5:30 a.m. and setting around 10 p.m. I managed to photograph sunset and sunrise once each, which resulted in a very, very short night of about 2 or 3 hours. Because after sunset I didn't directly go to bed and in the morning me and my dad hiked for about one hour before reaching the place we wanted to photograph from. Of course, we were the only ones. But as Patagonia has become very popular, especially with photographers, I doubt that this would be the case in high high season (we were there at the beginning of high season). Sunrise was absolutely stunning, we had some of the best conditions I've ever experienced and I think we both walked towards breakfast with a few very good pictures.

What I realized once again, standing in front of all these wonderful mountains, is that many mountains back home are not nearly as famous as these, but are just as beautiful. Of course, Cerro Torre has a stunning form and for climbers it surely is something different. But from a purely aesthetic standpoint, the Swiss Alps have a lot to offer that is at the same level. Don't get me wrong, I don't want to say that it's not worth seeing them. But I don't think it's worth it flying around the globe for only this if you have some pretty mountains at home as well. That being said, something that is different are the animals. There are just so many more in Patagonia than in Switzerland. And that is what really enchanted me. Mainly the birds. The ones that excited me most were the colorful Caranachos (hawks) and the huge Condors of course.

The First few weeks - patagonia II

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Ushuaia 21.12. - 23.12.

Ushuaia is the most southern city in the world (at least that's what they say - I didn't check, but if you look at the map, it sounds pretty plausible). And with around 100'000 inhabitants it's not that small for such a secluded place, either. From here, cruise and research ships leave to visit Antarctica. We came to Ushuaia to board a ship as well, but not one to the white continent.

When we got there, it had just begun to rain. We were picked up by our transfer to the hotel and not much after arriving at the hotel, we already left again, to go on a hike in the area. We went to Laguna Esmeralda, a lake fed by glaciers and therefore of a wonderful blue color.

As part of a bigger group of about 8 people (if I recall correctly) we hiked through beautiful woodland, until we reached a more open area, where trees were more sparse and smaller. When we arrived at the lake it was around 5 p.m., but due to our very southerly location, we still had a few more hours before it would get dark. So me and my brother decided to walk around the lake, which, in the end, took a bit longer than expected, but definitely was worth it. At first the trail was marked quite well, but at the far end of the lake, it vanished for a while and we were struggling for some time to decide in which exact direction we should go. That we came across a family of Upland Geese (see images) didn't help of course, because I had to take pictures of them (and I think I got some pretty nice ones out of that).

What we also saw was the shortsighted nature of (some) humans. Patagonia has long been struggling with economic growth and I guess only in more recent years, tourism has picked up a lot. But before that, this area in the far south didn't have a lot going for it (economically speaking). And so one of the ideas of the government was to introduce beavers, in order to sell their fur (around 1946). It wasn't quite clear, whether it was the plan to release them into nature or keep them contained, but it doesn't really matter. The Canadian beavers that were introduced thrived, because they didn't really have any predators and the people didn't hunt them because the winters are more mild than where they come from and so they didn't grow as thick and fluffy furs. (They do, however, grow very big, a lot bigger than their Canadian brothers and sisters.) So in the end, this plan of pushing the local economy all but succeeded and left the area with a growing population of beavers (estimates range from 100'000 - 200'000) And this might not be clear immediately, but they can have a rather destructive effect on their surrounding. Not only do they chew on trees, but with their (impressively tight and stable - you can totally walk on the bigger ones) dams, they flood large areas. And while that might not initially be an issue, the trees here are by no means adapted to beavers in their ecosystem. So they don't do well in constant submerged territory and die. If you look at the images of that day (21.12.), you'll see one that depicts this very well. One report states that the beavers are like "bulldozers thrashing through the area".

The Chilean and Argentinian governments have agreed on a plan to eradicate the beaver completely, which, apparently is the biggest attempt of eradication ever made. After a nice dinner in a simple and cosy forest hut, we drove back to town.

The next day we went on a trip to Tierra del Fuego National Park. In Patagonia, you often see trees that seem to bear weird, orange-yellow balls, that could easily be mistaken for fruit from afar. However, these are parasitic fungi, that live off of the tree's sap and make these colorful, squishy balls to disperse further. In some areas, there doesn't seem to be a single tree that isn't in a battle with a fungus. Then there are other areas, where you hardly see any. If you look at the images of the 22.12., you'll get an idea of what I'm talking about. The little thingys that hang off the trees are called indian's bread, because the native people used to eat it. Nowadays there are a few people that still use it in dishes, but for most it's way too tasteless to consider eating. I found it quite interesting to bite on. It doesn't taste like much, but it has a certain flavour and sweetness to it.

On our third and last day in Ushuaia (23.12.), we did a short boat trip to nearby sealion and bird colonies. That was very interesting as well, and of course I shot tons of photos of nesting Magellanic Cormorants (Phalacrocorax magellanicus) with their babies and of sealions lazing around.

After that, we boarded the ship that would take us on a cruise all the way to Punta Arenas in Chile. But more of that next time.

The First few weeks - patagonia III

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Stella Australis (23.12. - 27.12.)

Day 1 (23.12.)

On the 23rd, a very special part of our vacation began. At 6 p.m. we boarded the Stella Australis, a small Chilean cruise ship (small at least on the scale of cruise ships), along with around 200 others. We had a really big cabin, with a huge window to see everything around os on this 5 day trip. Sometimes, me and my brother would sit at the small table in front of the window and just watch the world passing by, while drinking mate. But as the schedule on the ship was full of excursions (or, as they called it - probably for marketing reasons - expeditions), presentations and eating, we didn't end up in front of the window that often.

Day 2 (24.12.)

Already in Ushuaia we had been talking about how long it stayed bright outside, in contrast to at home, where it was winter. On my grandfather's birthday, which happens to coincide with the shortest day of the year in the northern hemisphere, the 21st of December, it was most obvious. At half past nine in the evening, it was still almost like daytime. And on this year's 24th of December, I made myself a nice little Christmas present. I got up at 4, to photograph sunrise. That was a great idea. Not only because seeing sunrise from a ship, near Cape Horn, at Christmas day, alone on deck, is a pretty special thing. Also because in the days after we never got another real sunrise, it was always too cloudy that early in the morning.

Later this day, we were supposed to go on land on Cape Horn. But, due to waves at the place we would land, we couldn't. And so, we saw Cape Horn from the ship and didn't get to set foot on it, too bad.

This year was only the second time in my life, I think, not celebrating Christmas with all of my family. Usually, we would meet at someone's home and have a yummy dinner together, talk, drink and just have a good time. This year, Christmas felt a bit forced to me. The crew was running around in Santa hats and they even had one of the crew members walk in dressed up as a Santa and take pictures with people at their tables. Fortunately, we escaped the room before they came to our table. I really wonder, what kind of bet the guy in the costume lost.

As a Christmas present we also got to witness a beautiful rainbow over the patagonian landscape, unfortunately my camera was nowhere near and I could only snap a picture with my phone - but it turned out rather good (see it in the folder with the images which you can find in the first post).

Day 3 (25.12.)

On the following day, we did an excursion to a glacier, and we got pretty near to it's white and blue face, sometimes seeing and hearing parts of it fall off and land in the water. It was similar to Perito Moreno, but with a lot fewer people around and a different feeling of course - this was not a glacier that every tourist in Patagonia sees.

I absolutely loved the moody atmosphere while we were there, just before we stepped into our zodiacs to return to the ship again, it started to rain a little bit. And when we were back on the ship, leaving the glacier behind us, I saw how the rain had, just a bit further up, still been snow. So I guess we even got a white Christmas! Where the falling snow had melted and transformed into rain, it left a perfect border line of snow on the landscape. And the mountains around us were surrounded by clouds, revealing glaciated peaks and cliffs.

Later that day, we would go to another glacier, where we were given the options of either staying on the ship or doing a hike on land to a waterfall. I chose to stay on the ship, as we were told that the views of the glacier would be much better from the ship than during the trip on land. My brother and father chose to go on the adventure, walking on a path that gets very few visitors, compared to the likes of Torres del Paines crowded trails. I also used the time to edit some of my images of the trip, with the beautiful views of the patagonian landscape in front of me.

Next time: more glaciers, this time from even nearer, and penguins, tons of penguins!

The First few weeks - patagonia IV

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 Day 4 (26.12.)

On this day, we set out to do two excursions - one where we would once again set foot on land in a national park that is rather hard to visit due to its remoteness and restrictions, and one where we would stay on the zodiacs but get very, very near to a glaciers tung.

At around 9:30 our zodiac arrived at the shore and we all got off in a very strictly oranized manner - slide to the front of the zodiac, stand up, grab the arm of one of the crew members outside of the board, plant one foot on the rubber of the zodiac, then plant the other on the board used to connect the inside of the zodiac with the ground of the shore, and finally, walk off. They placed a lot of emphasis on us doing it exactly this and no other way...

On this day, the weather was a mix of blue sky and grey clouds, very characteristic of this region, I guess. We walked for a bit, to reach yet another glacier flowing down from the mountains, overlooking a beautiful lagoon. Our guide took us into the beautiful, untouched forest and we spent some time soaking in the lush greens of the mosses, ground plants and tree leaves.

What fascinated me most was the view of the mountains across the channel, towering over the sea, with the interesting shore of our side in the foreground.

On the way back, my father took a fun picture of me holding a king crab shell over my face - it reminded me of an image he had taken years ago, on my first big journey, through Canada. There I held the skill and antlers of a moose to my head and I always quite liked that image. Let's see, maybe I can continue that series.

When it was time to get back to the ship, they had built up a little stand where they handed out hot chocolate, if you wanted with a bit of whiskey mixed in. Obviously, I got myself one!

The second excursion this day was to a glacier in a fjord that didn't really allow for going on land, but instead we got really up close with the glacier. That was really impressive as well, and the guides on our boats took images of us with the glacier front in the background.

Day 5 (27.12.)

This day we woke up to know that it would be out last day on the ship. We would do one last excursion in the morning and then, around noon, arrive at Punta Arenas. So, I had promised penguins. Well, today we got to see a ton of penguins. This island near Punta Arenas, which actually is a wildlife refuge and park, hosts a ton of penguins. I've forgotten the actual numbers but I believe it's around 50'000 animals. As this is a protective zone as well, you can't just walk wherever you want. There's a path around the island, which everyone has to take, and the rangers and crew members watch closely that nobody leaves the trail. However, there's really no need to leave the trail either. The penguins don't mind the humans and so sometimes they cross the trail right in front of you, or some of them breed just a meter or two away from the trail. So it's easy to get close looks and, of course, photographs too. I took a lot of images of the small fellas and a few of them you can find with all the other images of my trip, just look for the link in the first post.

After we had spent about one hour on the island, we got back into our zodiacs and boarded the Stella Australis for one last time. We had a last lunch at the big, in parts vegetarian-friendly, buffet. Then it was time to clean up our room, pack our stuff and wait for the crew to allow us to leave the ship. Even though the pier was really small, they wouldn't allow passengers to walk on it and so we had to step into a bus that would drop us off again just two minutes later.

Here, we separated. The rest of my family had a flight to Santiago in the afternoon, while mine would leave the local airport in the evening. Why were we not on the same plane? Well, because when the whole trip was being booked, I hadn't decided yet if I wanted to go with the others to Santiago directly or if I wanted to start my own travels at the very southernmost tip of Chile. After some thinking I had decided that it would be best to go to Santiago with them, to celebrate my birthday with them and to learn some more Spanish before embarking on my travels through South America. But when I had reached this conclusion, there were no seats left on the plane they would take. So I had to get the one in the evening. However, this turned out to be just fine like this. This way I had time to meet the brother of a neighbor from back in Switzerland and give him a package from his sister that we had brought to Chile. No, no drugs in it. Just some swiss stuff that you can't find in Chile!

He was very kind and because I had time the whole afternoon, he took it off and showed me around Punta Arenas. I learned some things about Chile, Punta Arenas, and how a swiss guy would end up in such a far away place. Apparently, he isn't the only swiss guy here - there's a swiss club in Punta Arenas! I had never heard of something like a swiss club before...

In the evening I flew to Santiago, and because he'd given me the tip to sit on the right side in the plane, I even got a quick glance at Torres del Paine!

Lago Rapel

When I was in Santiago, I was living with a family that, decades ago, met my neighbours from back in Switzerland. Their daughter's husband had a very nice house near a weekend getaway place for many Santiagans, called Lago Rapel. When my family left Santiago and I stayed, it was the 31st of December and they invited me to spend new year's eve together with them at their house near the lake. I really enjoyed the time there - everything was so silent. On the first of January I woke up as relaxed as I hadn't been in months. Literally. After all the noise of the big city, it was a great relief to get away, to a more rural place.

So after that, I knew I wanted to go back. And so, one weekend, we all went again together. And this time around, I brought my camera with me, mainly to photograph the birds at the lake during sunrise and sunset. I walked away with a few really good ones I think. And so I'd like to share these images with you. You can find more of them in my collection of images that opens up once you click on one of the images in the slideshow above.

Circuito condor - 8 days of hiking, CamPing and photographIng

Day 1 - The beginning

This day would be the one, after one month in the city I would finally leave Santiago and start traveling with everything that fit in my backpack. I got up early, in order to catch the bus to Talca, 3 hours south of Santiago. I arrived at the bus station about 15 minutes early and so the bus wasn't there, which had me worried at first, if I was at the right bus station - Santiago has many of them and some are near enough that one could end up at the wrong one. But five minutes later, the bus arrived and I got in, handing my backpack to the staff, who in return, handed me a piece of paper with a number on it. On arrival at Talca I would have to show that to get my backpack. This way they make sure stuff doesn't get stolen.

After a 3 hours bus ride in the second floor and at the very front - I made sure to get a good view of the journey - we arrived at Talca. Here, one of the staff pointed out to me, where the bus to Altas Vilches would leave. Altas Vilches is the entry point to Altas del Lircay National Reserve, where I wanted to go. The bus would take another 2 hours, cost 3 CHF and be without the number for your baggage - that was "self-service" at the back of the (much smaller) bus. Luckily, nobody seemed to be interested in a ~25kg blue backpack and so I arrived at the final stop, only a few meters short of the park entrance. There they would check my campstove, because apparently there had been problems with malfunctioning ones in the past.

From there it was another 2km to the rangers office, where I had to pay the entry fee and tell them where I was headed. My plan was to do the Condor Circuit, which takes anywhere between 6-8 days. The ranger tells me that I won't be alone on the trail, as there were many others doing it at the moment. This relieved me a bit because I hadn't been on such a long backcountry trip where there's zero cellphone coverage and no houses or roads nearby.

After that, I made my way to the first camping. This one I had to pay as it was inside the park and included facilities like showers and toilets. On the way I felt my hips hurt from the heavy backpack and I hoped that that would go away in the coming days. When I arrived I was pretty tired, no wonder after one month of doing nothing in Santiago.

After I set up my tent - which proved to be more difficult than I thought because it was new and I'd never set it up before - I ate some snacks and decided to go to a viewpoint for seeing and photographing sunset. It took me about an hour and a half to get up the 500 meters, and I could still feel hauling the backpack to the first camp in my bones. But when I arrived I was stunned - what a view! I could see the valley which I would hike through the next day and behind it the majestic Vólcan Descabezado (=beheaded), just short of 4000m.

I brought out my camera and started photographing - there wasn't much time left before sunset. But clouds started to move in and soon they blocked most of the light from the scene. I felt a bit sad, because I had hoped for some colors around sunset and had only gotten a few not so strong golden hour images. However, when I had almost given up hope, because the clouds were pretty thick, sun burst through and illuminated the whole landscape in the most fantastic light. Needless to say that I couldn't believe my luck and thanked my earlier me who forced me up the mountain instead of the tired body.

Day 2 - Burning sun

The second day I started rather relaxed. I had thought about getting up for sunrise as well, but then decided not to. I didn't want to start into my adventure with a lack of sleep. When I got out of my tent at around 9 I think there still wasn't a lot going on on the campsite. So I searched for my cereals and added some water. I had pimped the mix of oats from the supermarket with dried bananas and slices of coconut that I had bought on the market in Santiago for a few pesos.

While I was waiting for the oats to soak in, I got some more water and enjoyed the warm morning sun on my face. While I was eating my breakfast I talked to two Chileans that had come to camp and hike in the park for the weekend. They were from Santiago - as so many others that I had met before. No wonder, I was still pretty near to the capital and also it was school break. The two were very kind and offered me a tea. I hadn't brought any tea to minimize gas consumption. I also didn't have a cup - weight savings - but a pot works just fine as well. Then I packed all my stuff into my big blue backpack and left the campsite at around 11 o'clock - off to the next campsite.

First, I had to get down into the valley, about 800 m of height difference. With a heavy backpack, downwards can be quite challenging. But it turned out to be less exhausting than I had expected. I'm sure the shade of the forest helped a lot as well. Down in the valley I decide to take a little detour to a waterfall marked on the map. I ended up having to cross the river, for which I left behind my backpack and just brought the camera. It was well worth it - the waterfall was really pretty!

I got back to my backpack and continued hiking though the valley. The sun had intensified and was burning on my skin, having me fear I'd get burned. The river crossing I did with my shoes on - it wasn't deep and the layer of sand and dust worked like the a world class impregnation - they didn't even appear wet on the other side of the river. At that time, I met some others, who told me that it was another 2 to 2.5 hours to the campsite. I thought okay, that's not too bad. But soon I felt how I was getting tired. And the final 150 m in elevation gain were really hard. I arrived at the campsite totally exhausted and thirsty. After a bit of relaxing I soon pitch my tent under a tree and start talking to two others who arrived a bit after me. They are from Talca and here to climb Descabezado. It turns out that the man also is into photography and so he guides me to a waterfall nearby of which I wouldn't have known if it wasn't for him. Actually there are two waterfalls, both of the same river that has carved its way through hardened lava. After that, we return to the campsite and I cook myself some dinner - risotto with tomatoes.

Day 3 - Chilean earthquakes

This day I get up early, to photograph sunrise. The day before I had seen a few locations where I could imagine taking a good photo in the morning. But it turns out that none of the mountains around get any good morning light, probably because it is blocked by Descabezado. It was still beautiful seeing some of the morning light and wandering around in the fresh, clear air. Then, on my way back to the campsite I see a fox. He stares at me while I slow down, stop and out down my backpack to slowly and carefully get my camera out. But of course, the moment I reach for my camera, he turns around and disappears into the bushes. Even though I didn't get any images, this really made for an uplifting morning. After a cold but tasty breakfast of oats, coconut shreds and dried banana chips, I take a shower before leaving. It was cold (the shower), but that was actually a good thing at the beginning of a day that, temperature-wise, felt like being inside a toaster. At the beginning, I progress pretty fast, but then come the elevation gains promised by the map and I get slower, having to take breaks every now and then. What gets me through this is listening to some good podcasts about the internet (Reply all), crime culture in distinct American cities (Crimetown), technology (Plusplus) and science (Science vs). I guess it works a bit like talking to people while hiking - it distracts you from the seemingly never-ending uphill stretches. After about 700 m uphill, I lay down exhausted in the shade to eat my sparse lunch: two energy bars (the worst part is that they're so tasty that you want to eat all you have after having just one) and some trail mix (also this is dangerous, because it's so tasty). It sounds like very little, but it worked, it gave me the energy needed and when I had put together my food I had felt like I couldn't carry more than this.

Afterwards, I climb down into a valley where, according to my map, should've been a lake. But there was absolutely nothing. Fortunately, locals had warned me the day before and so this didn't take me by surprise. Apparently, this lake dried out when the devastating earthquake and tsunami hit Chile back in 2010.

However, had I relied on this water source, I wouldn't have died. The Rio Blanquillo, that carved this valley, is still there. And it's gorgeous, with views of Cerro Azul and Volcán Descabezado in the background and it's lines of washed along pumice stone. After crossing it, the path proceeds into a strange landscape that almost seems a bit moonlike. Hills of small, light grey stones, complemented by black boulders around me, in the background the massive Vólcan Descabezado and Cerro Azul. Now, the campsite isn't far and arrive a few minutes later, completely exhausted. The sun had been burning on my skin all day long and I was desperate for some shadow to protect my skin, but also to cool down a little bit. The only shade I found was a big boulder in the middle of the campground that threw a tiny bit of shade. I squeezed myself into it and didn't get up for one hour, I just sat there and watched others arrive, all from the same direction as me. Then, I set up my tent, which was harder than expected due to the hard, stony ground. When I finished I had regained enough energy to grab my backpack with the camera inside and head back a few minutes on the trail to photograph sunset. But unfortunately, there wasn't much to be had - the landscape was fascinating but there was no good light that evening. So I get back to my tent and cook some dinner - couscous with some veggies.

Day 4 - Thermal spring

I had set my alarm for sunrise, but when I looked out my tent, I could see nothing but grey clouds. But I got out into the cold nevertheless, you never know what nature prepared for you. But just like the day before, it didn't work out. I didn't capture one single image this morning, there was simply no light that worked with the surrounding landscape. When I got back to my camp I mounted my tele lens and began to photograph the various birds that were present in this green oasis in the midst of volcanic desert. I had observed them the day before and had thought I would spend some time photographing them later. So I got a chance to do that. There are a few small ones that are being fed by their parents, a real eye-catcher.

Two others at the camp ask me if I wanted to join them to go see a few nearby lakes. But I decide I'd rather have a relaxed day, regarding the days to come. Some people had told me that these were the most exhausting ones and I also had to sew my pants before they would rip into two parts. So I continued photographing the birds and eventually a condor flew by pretty near and I even spotted a fox - and this time I had my camera ready. Later, I got back into my very dusty tent - the wind had been blowing strong and the fine stuff got everywhere. I hoped that I would get rid of it again at some point, everything was coated in a fine layer of brown dust and I didn't think it would do a lot of good to my equipment - tent, sleeping pad, camera, filters... I fell asleep shortly thereafter and when I woke back up it was afternoon and everyone had left camp. So I decided that it was time to wash myself - I got my (dusty) towel and walked down to the thermal spring that was literally 5 meters away from my tent. The water was cristal clear and so I sat down in the nice and warm (but not hot) water. It's a dream. You're a three day's hike away from civilization but there you're sitting in this wonderfully clear water, with a great view of a nearly 4000m volcano in front of you. I just thought to myself how great that instagram hasn't found out about this place yet. But then I remembered the three day's hike and the lack of WiFi - they're never gonna find out. With wrinkly hands and toes I got out of the water again and back into my tent. How nice to be clean again - or a bit less dusty at least.

This evening I took off again to photograph sunset. And this time it worked out, I had searched out a composition in the morning and it worked pretty well I think. I didn't get the perfect red evening light though. That seemed to be blocked by something and as I looked up and noticed the strong wind, I realized why. From the direction I was heading in the next day, I saw a cloud of dust and sand - it almost looked like a sandstorm approaching. So I packed up my camera and went back to my tent, where I spent the remaining few hours hoping that I wouldn't have to go against that sort of weather tomorrow.

Day 5 - Not getting fried

This morning I again went to photograph sunrise. But it didn't work out because there was so much dust in the air and so I went back to my tent, packed up everything and ate breakfast.

I lifted up my 26-or-so kg backpack and started walking. I felt good, relaxed and with my energy reserves filled up again after a day of relaxing. The landscape changed again, I left the green oasis and walked towards a valley of pumice stone sprinkled with heavy black and grey blocks. I was progressing well and the path was mostly pretty good and well visible. There was only one short stretch where it disappeared, and remembering the stormy weather of the past evening and this morning's lack of light, I knew why. These light pumice stones not only float in water, they are also easily blown away by stronger winds. Something I would get to feel first-hand shortly thereafter. As the wind picked up I felt the tiniest of the stones hitting the naked skin of my legs, arms and face - it felt like needles poking my skin. I turned my face towards the ground to protect it from the impact of the stones, with the result that they landed in my hair - I would wash out the last ones of them about three days later. A bit later, it began to hail. But just for a short bit and not very heavily, so I didn't even bother putting on my jacket. I just looked at the little particles of ice bumping off of the grey boulders amidst the whitish pumice. I reached a valley with a beautiful river and slowly climbed up the valley side, where the trail would at times get more unstable, making progress a bit harder. But I finally arrived to a beautiful plain with a river delta in it, that nourished some wonderfully colorful yellow, orange and red wildflowers along it's streams. This river as well, carried pumice in it, which created some beautiful lines, you can see some images of this in the link to all images of my trip at the very top of this page.

I put down my backpack and wander around barefoot, coming by a few places I pick out to photograph at later in the evening - at the moment it's only about three o'clock. I find a big boulder next to the river and build up my tent between the two. This way I would be sheltered from winds coming from one side at least. After that, I pack all my photography stuff into my backpack and wander back to the places I had picked out before. I spend a few hours photographing the wonderful landscape in which I am completely alone, no others are anywhere near. I get some great images of the river with its lines of pumice and the colorful mountains in the background. But clouds move in and block the last rays of light, so I wander back to the tent. But on the way there, the clouds start glowing in a beautiful pink and so I stop to pull out my camera and tripod once again. I get some final images, then I hear the sound of few but big raindrops on my jacket. I get back to my tent a bit faster than I would've without hearing that sound and start preparing my dinner - cheese risotto. I put on my rain jacket as well, as the rain is increasing.

Then I flinch, the flash of lightning had just lit up the sky. I love the mountains, but I hate thunderstorms, for obvious reasons. Nervously I finish cooking my risotto and crawl into my tent as quickly as I can. I try to enjoy my risotto with little success, the increasing frequency of light flashes and thunder make me nervous. On one hand I'm in a valley surrounded by mountains, on the other hand I'm next to a big boulder and the river, while the top of my tent is made of metal. I lay down on my sleeping pad and try to sleep - what should I do? Either, nature decides to fry me, in which case it doesn't matter if I'm sleeping or worriedly sitting in my tent. Needless to say I wouldn't have been fried in my sleep - you (at least I) can't sleep when there's a thunderstorm rumbling around you. I think the nearest the lightning came was about 600m, measured using the method of measuring the time difference between light and thunder.

Luckily, the thunderstorm stops about two hours later and I fall asleep.

Day 6 - Hotter springs

I wake up to my alarm and realize that I slept like a stone, I feel super relaxed and ready to get out of my warm sleeping bag to photograph sunrise. This night I had slept at 2400m, and coming out of my tent I feel how much colder it is up here as compared to the last few nights I spent at around 1100-1800m. But I'm not sure if that's really just the altitude, probably it's also connected to the thunderstorm of last night. There is not one cloud in the sky and so I walk uphill on the trail, towards a small lake that I had seen on the map the day before.

All of a sudden, while I'm walking up the sandy trail, the surroundings are lit up by a flash. It's so unexpected I actually flinch and immediately I think "oh no, more lightning! How can that be???"

But as I turn around and search for a sign of a thunderstorm on the sky I realize that I'm the opposite of unfortunate. What had lit up the sky was a very intense shooting star! In fact I could still see it, and after it disappeared there was even a streak of smoke viaible in the sky - emitted by the shooting star. Never before had I seen something like this. I had once seen this in a timelapse movie by a photographer from Switzerland and he'd said that apparently these are really rare to come by. I grinned, what a great start into the day!

About ten minutes later I arrived at the small lake and a little later, the first rays of sun touch the mountains around me - one of them having otherworldly bands of different colors. After the most beautiful colors of sunrise had happened, I hiked back to my tent and started breaking it down. As I was doing that I saw a weather front slowly moving towards me. I wasn't sure if it would actually bring bad weather, it didn't look very dangerous. Still, after the lightning storm last night I was a bit skeptical and I considered shortcutting my hike by taking another route from here, getting closer to civilization earlier. But after I checked the weather forecast via my InReach I was positive that this was harmless and started walking further on the trail. That turned out to be just the right decision. Even though I wasted some energy by walking up the hill side where there was no real path, realizing that I had to go all the way back down once I had reached the top, I still really enjoyed the walk through the rolling hills and valleys of sand and pumice, especially as I got another great view on the colorful mountains standing tall over the valley I had camped at.

After I had climbed about 300m up to the pass, I walked down about 700m to the next camp. When I came closer to the campsite marked on the map, I smelled it first: rotten eggs. When I arrived I saw where that was coming from: fumes blowing out of the side of the mountain, yellow and brown crusts, blubbering grey mud. Hot springs! Another chance to take a bath, which I did after dinner, just as sun was setting. And this time, the water was hot, in fact the water coming out of the mountain was so hot you actually had to cut off the water inlet and wait for quite some time for the water to cool down to a temperature that wouldn't burn your skin. Who needs Iceland when you've got Chile!?

On this campsite I wasn't the only one. There were a few Chileans that seemed to have come with horses, but then there was also a group of about 10 or 15 that were from the army. At home, I don't think twice about people from the army riding the same train or driving around in cars and buses. But in other countries it's always a bit different. In addition, the Chilean army doesn't have the most uplifting past and a friend in Santiago didn't seem to be too thrilled about them either, even nowadays.

I knew why they were there, they were searching for someone that had gone missing on the trail a few weeks ago. So when one of them came over and talked to me I already knew some things, but I got some more details. They had been searching for over two weeks now, and the person had disappeared almost three weeks ago now I think. So the chances of finding him alive were close to zero I guessed. Nevertheless, they kept searching.

Apparently they were a group of three, hiking the same trail as I was, in the same direction. When they left this camp they had some disagreement about where the trail went, nearer to the river flowing in the valley, or more uphill. One of them took the lower trail, and was never seen again.

Day 7 - Is that a cloud?

This morning, I didn't get up to photograph sunrise, simply because there wouldn't be a lot to see from this deep valley. Nevertheless I got going early, because I knew this would be a hot day, where I wanted to arrive at my destination as early as possible. The trail would take me along the side of the mountain that sun would burn down on all day long, with literally no chance for walking in the shade as there was no tall vegetation in this volcanic landscape. So I started even before the rescue team of the army had begun another day of searching for what by now most probably would only be a body.

The trail starts out going down hill for a bit, which makes it an easy beginning. After a few minutes I wonder how long this trail would continue going down hill and looked on the map on my phone, only to realize that I had taken the wrong path. So I turned around and found the right trail, now going uphill towards my goal for the day. The trail is well visible and pretty easy, there isn't a strong incline and so I progress quite rapidly. While walking on the slightly exposed hillside I look around and suddenly see a big cloud in the north and instantly hope that it'll nice over to me, so I'd get some shade today. But as I climb higher, I realize that this is a weird cloud and one that I probably actually don't want to move in my direction. It is coming right out the top of a pyramidal mountain - this is a cloud of volcanic ash! The volcano is far away and I'm not worried at all. Rather, I'm fascinated by what I'm seeing - this hike is proving to be more than worth it.

I leave behind the fascinating sight and continue on my trail along the side of the mountain, steadily progressing while listening to more podcasts. When I get near the pass that marks the highest point I'll go today I sit down in the shade of a big boulder in the landscape, pull off my shoes and eat my lunch. Then, I get up again to climb the last 150m, arriving at the pass shortly thereafter. I walk down the valley towards the lake I'll be camping at tonight. On my way I encounter a few cows grazing in another green oasis created by a river flowing out of the side of the mountain. Unfortunately, I also encounter a bunch of trash on the ground near the trail. A sign that I'm getting closer to civilization again.

Then I see it: the wonderfully dark blue lake that is called Laguna La Ánima - which would translate into lake of the soul or something like that - surrounded by a beautiful sandy beach.

I pitch my tent near the small creek, so I wouldn't have to walk far for water, and also because I was told by two that were just leaving that there was less wind on that side of the lake. All of a sudden I see a hawk flying by not too far a way. I get my camera and take some photographs, but he's still quite far away. So I walk up the creek towards a little waterfall to fill up my water bottle. It turns out to be absolutely wonderful. There are vivid red, orange and yellow flowers growing on its sides.

As I'm walking down towards my tent again, I realize that the hawk has returned. And it's extremely near this time. I walk more slowly, so as not to disturb him and make him fly away. I get in and out of my tent, grabbing my camera in the process, without him leaving. I am super excited - he's very near. I walk around him to get the sun in my back, so that he's evenly lit for taking photographs. I spend quite a while photographing the beautiful bird, getting nearer and nearer, until I am only about five meters away. He doesn't seem to mind me too much, as he just keeps sitting there staring at the surroundings and me. After a while I decide that I have more than enough pictures and so I leave him and go back to my tent. I pack my camera gear and head for the waterfall again, to photograph it in the warm light of the late afternoon. Then, I observe and photograph a beautiful sunset at the lagoon, before I head back to my tent and eat dinner.

As I crawled into my sleeping bag I felt and heard the wind picking up.

Day 8 - Blanquillos

I didn't really sleep that night, the strong wind kept me awake. So my alarm for sunrise didn't really wake me up, it just told me that the other day I had thought that maybe the wind would die off during the night. It didn't, so there was a lot of dust in the air and I didn't bother to get out of my tent that early. But a bit later I got up to go to the lake to photograph the Blanquillos (ducks) I had seen the evening before. They were really quite fascinating, with their red eyes, diving for food about every 10 to 15 seconds, and sometimes approaching quite near. Together with the soft early morning light it made for some really nice images.

Then, I went back to my tent and treated myself to a warm breakfast, which I had avoided during the trip in order to save gas. But at this point it was clear that I had more than enough gas.

That day I also had a rather short hike, 600m down to a campsite called El Bolsón, run by the park rangers. After only about 2 hours of hiking I arrived and immediately searched for a bit of shade to relax in, as it was really hot that day. In the afternoon I managed to get up and walk to a nearby waterfall that has created a pool where you could bath in. That's obviously what I did, allowing my body to cool down a bit - and to get a bit cleaner as well of course. I went there again for sunset, to take pictures of the beautiful waterfall and the mountain in the background. Then, I went back to my tent and ate dinner on a rather crowded campground - at least compared to the ones I had been on the last few days.

Day 9 - Back to civilization

This morning, my tent was pretty wet - for the first time on this hike. That was a bit unfortunate because I wasn't planning on pitching it again that evening, as this was my last day hiking. I had planned to go to the next village and find a comfy bed in a hostel or hotel. But I couldn't wait for it to dry either, because I still had a few hours to hike and get to where the bus departed. This day was descent only and it was actually more exhausting than I had expected. When I arrived at Parque Inglés, which marked the end point of the hike, I found a restaurant and treated myself to a nice meal of salad, fries, tomato, avocado and carrots (this might not sound like a great lunch, but believe me, after 8 days of purely eating trail mix and energy bars for lunch, this is great).

I caught a bus to a nearby park called 7 Tazas for it's formation of waterfalls and pools that lign up like pearls on a string. However, when I got there, there were so many people trying to snap a selfie with the formation in the background that I just shook my head and turned around - I did not feel like waiting in line just to take a photo of that thing. So I just talked to one of the park rangers and waited for the next bus to come. It arrived a few hours later. I got in, sat down and watched the landscape pass by through the window. As we drove away from the mountains, clouds started to appear and when we arrived in the town of Molina, it was a grey evening.

I went searching for a hostel with single rooms or a hotel and ended up renting a room in a rather fancy boutique hotel, but it was worth it - after 8 nights in my tent, I enjoyed a big, comfy bed, a private shower and a window to the world through the internet a lot.

In total, the version of the circuit I did (you could short cut it or even extend it a bit), was 91km. Including the side trips for photography I probably hiked something like 100km though. Not bad!


Conguillío is a national park in Chile which is situated in the Araucaria region, a region named after a special kind of tree that grows in this area. The Araucaria (Araucaria araucaria) is an evergreen tree that only grows in Central Chile and western Argentina, along the Cordillera. Their thick, hard leafs are ordered in a circular shape around the branches, covering the whole surface. The leafs have an almost triangular shape, with a pointy thorn at the end. Because they are a threatened species, they are protected in various national parks in Chile, one of them being Conguillío. As always, you can find more images if you click on the images.

CLimbing an active VOLCANO

So, I came to Pucón, a rather touristy place in the mountains, to cross into Argentina by doing the Villarica traverse, which ends near the border to Argentina, and then get into Argentina "a dedo" - hitchhiking.

But when I arrived there, the weather was bad and there were some more thunderstorms predicted. So I wasn't too keen on starting the traverse right away and therefore waited for better weather. I had some time to think and I came to the conclusion that it would be a great thing to climb the volcano just outside of town called Villarica. The special thing about it is that it's active and therefore there's a constant cloud of smoke coming out of it's top which makes it look quite cool from afar, too. How often in life do you get a chance to climb an active volcano?

So, like I said, Pucón is a rather touristy place. And there are tons of people that want to climb that volcano - it's the main attraction there. And many of them probably have very little or even no experience in climbing mountains. Therefore, there are a bunch of agencies that will guide you to the top, also if you have zero I experience in walking up mountains at all. Of course, they want to earn some money and so a summit attempt (without the guarantee of actually arriving at the top, be it for the weather, or your group just being too slow) costs you around 120 US dollars. And here's where it comes in handy to be member of a mountaineering club, because people with proof of being member of such a club (and mountain guides) are allowed to go on their own, with the necessary equipment. So I went ahead and rented helmet, ice pick, crampons and gas mask. Yeah, the smoke at the top isn't so healthy.

The next day I got up at 6 a.m., had some breakfast and waited anxiously if the taxi I ordered the day before would arrive. I wasn't sure how reliable the taxi would be here. But it arrived even slightly ahead of time, at around 6:45. I got in and we started driving towards the Centro de Ski, where everyone (read: tons of people in guided groups) starts the hike to the smoking top of the volcano.

We arrived at the park entrance (Volcán Villarica is inside a national park which has the same name) at 7 o'clock. There were already a few buses in front of us, the guides inside the building. I got a bit frustrated because the people at the hostel had told me that I would be the first one there if I left at 6:45 from the hostel. In hindsight it didn't really matter. And it was pretty unnecessary that on the way out I was in such a hurry that I jumped a fence but in the dark twisted my ankle when I landed on the ground. Fortunately I have sturdy ligaments, and as this was not the first time this happened to me, I was quite positive that it wouldn't be a problem. I wouldn't have let it become a problem either, I really wanted to get up to the top - ideally ahead of the pack that was now already in front of me. But I still thought I could make it.

When I got out of the taxi at the parking lot, I immediately felt what was going to be my biggest enemy of the day. Not slow people on the trail in front of me, but the strong wind. Nevertheless, I picked up my backpack, payed the taxi of 25'000 pesos (~35$ US) and started walking in the same direction as everyone else.

It was this time just before the sunrise where, in the right conditions, the sky is painted in a vivid palette of purple, blue and yellow - and that's exactly what we got for the first few metres up the mountain. I thought about getting out my camera to take some images, but I decided not to - I still had faith to get past everyone and get to the top (one of) the first. Still, I had to watch the sky constantly - at some point you could even see the volcano throwing a shade in the opposite side of sunrise. However, I had decided to go steady and quick, trying to pass as many groups as I could before we'd get onto the glacier, because on the ice I didn't really want to pass people - depending on the glacier, that wouldn't be safe.

Then, there was another checkpoint, where the guardaparques made sure, everyone (especially the people without guides) had the right equipment, otherwise they wouldn't let you pass. I had to show them crampons, ice pick and put on my helmet for the rest of the climb. I drank some water, put an apple in my mouth and walked on. Ha! I'd just gotten in front of all but one group, the one group that was in front of me still was a guide with just two clients (the other groups were of up to an estimated 15 people). The guardaparques told me that I couldn't go to the top if the guide didn't, because of the strong winds today that made it more dangerous at the top.

I kept going fast, and even though I lost the trail once or twice, having to go back or scrambling up over loose ground, I soon made it to the edge of the glacier, where the guided group was just putting on their crampons. The wind was still strong and so they were perches behind a rock. They didn't seem experienced, the guide even put on their crampons for them. I asked him what he thought about the wind, he said that it was strong, but still we could make it to the top. Then he told me that I could go on on my own, I didn't have to wait for them. I got the ice pick from my backpack to use as a walking stick and my crampons on my shoes. Ready.

Now I was the very first, leaving the guided group behind me. The ice was still hard as a stone and I progressed quickly. However, the wind had only gotten stronger and stronger. The worst were the gusts. It's not the nicest to walk in constant wind, but the gusts are what makes it dangerous. And my big but light backpack didn't help, acting as a big sail in the wind. I'll be honest, I was scared. I wasn't sure if this was a good idea and I thought about turning around and walking down a couple of times - usually when I had to sit down and dig my pick into the ice to hold onto it, because the wind was so strong. I closely that watched the guide behind me and waited for them to get nearer again, if they turned around, I would immediately do the same. However, they kept climbing, and so did I. Then we got to a stony phase again, with sharp volcanic rocks that would cut deep into your skin if you fell on them. That's why it's really important to wear gloves. The stones were covered in ice cristals, sticking out from the stones all in the same direction, apparently they had grown with the wind. I was enchanted by the shiny white coat of the rocks and I thought if I had to return because of the wind I would still be happy to have seen this sea of sparkling diamonds.

I progressed slowly, not only because I was fascinated by the ice, but also because the rocks were quite loose and I didn't want them to fall on my followers - another reason why I wouldn't have wanted to be in a group of inexperienced climbers. You'd probably get a lot of stuff falling onto you. The group had caught up and me and the guide got to the ridge at the same time. The wind got worse. Now the constant wind confined me to moving with three extremities on the ground at all times, and gusts made me stop and going into lockdown immediately. The guide passed me and got to the other side of the ridge. The wind forced us to scream at each other, normal talking was not feasible in these circumstances. The guide just shook his head and said there's no way we can go on. Game over.

But he kept looking up into the steep, rocky side of the volcano. He said it's only about 20 to 30 minutes more. Then he said he was going to try. "Try?", I thought. But if he saw a possibility, I thought it might actually be possible. And I didn't know how the wind would be further up.

Then, another unguided group came along, just two people. They just passed us and walked straight up, as if there had been no wind at all. So the guide also took off, into the rocks. I thought for a moment and then followed the other group over a more glaciated route, to me that seemed easier.

And as soon as I got into the next couloir, the wind died down. With new hope I climbed up higher, following the footsteps of the couple in front of me. Soon thereafter I got to the top, a bit bummed out not to be the first after having passed so many groups, but still happy I made it to the top.

It was interesting up there. You couldn't see much, the fumes from the crater were being blown around by the wind and everything was behind a white curtain. I had to wear a gas mask to protect my lungs from the less than healthy fumes. I had to wipe my nose a couple of times and therefore had to take off the mask, exposing myself to some fumes. I suspect that was the cause for my throat being sore the two days after.

Still, it was absolutely beautiful. We did get a view of the valleys and volcanoes around us. And the top was covered in the same type of ice cristals. Finally, I took out my camera and tripod and started to take photos of an active volcano. I was up there for about half an hour I think, and in that time, only two other groups arrived at the top. So I still got the place almost to myself.

Then I hiked down again, when I got to the ridge where we'd almost turned around there were a lot of people just getting ready, taking off their crampons for the top part, some of them seemingly not able to make it to the top because they were too tired. The way down was quite fun, a lot of it was on slushy glacier surface, so I could ski down using my shoes, although that definitely works better with a pair of real mountaineering boots rather than my semi-rigid hiking boots.

Soon I was down at the ski centre again, where I tried to get back to Pucón by hitchhiking. I met the couple that had passed me, it turned out they were French and had arrived later than me, in one of the tour buses. We managed to get a a lift from the guardaparques, sitting in the back of their pickup truck. Not the safest thing I've done in my life, especially not as sometimes they were driving on the wrong side of the street for seemingly no reason whatsoever. Oh well, no risk no fun.


Day 1 - Black water

The Villarica traverse had been on my mind for a while - it's a 80km hike along three volcanoes and starts out in Pucón and ends near the argentinian border. And because the time I could stay in Chile was coming to an end (as a swiss person I can only stay there for three months at a time), I planned to do this trek and then hitchhike across the border into Argentina.

So on the 10th of march, me and my new friend Michael that I had met in Pucón, waiting for better weather to a) do the trek and b) summit the active volcano Villarica, began our little adventure. We left the hostel at around 10 a.m., went to a place where we knew the WiFi password (because the WiFi at the hostel had been dead last day due to the strong winds that also led to power outages in all of Pucón) to download the maps on the phone and tell a few people not to freak out if they didn't hear anything from us in 7 days (in my case that included my parents). So after that was settled, we put our heavy packs on our shoulders and walked to the road that led to the national park that the trek is in. Even though, this trek was shorter than the Circuito Cóndor that I had done before, I had more food this time. I would soon be asking myself why. But at the time I bought my food I remembered arriving at the end of the circuit pretty exhausted and feeling like I probably hadn't eaten enough the days hiking and camping.

We tried to hitchhike to the park administration and got picked up by a family from a nearby town that was on a family trip up there. We registered for our tour and payed the 7000 pesos fee. The park ranger explained the trek to us and recommended us to start out with two rather long days because in that sector there wasn't a lot of water to be found. Now we still had to go further up hill, to the ski resort, where the trail starts. Luckily, I had heard some Swiss German in the adminstration building and so I quickly started talking to the two fellow swiss people and asked if they would have space for two more people to go up to the ski resort. They said yes and so we all hopped into their car and drove to the same place I had started from to climb the volcano a few days ago. The two were really nice - it turned out that they had lived in Bolivia for nine years and so we talked a lot abourt this country that I am drawn to so much, more than any other country in South America actually.

Once we arrived at the top, we thanked them, said goodbye, lifted up our backpacks and took off. It soon became clear that the winds had not died down at all since the day we both climbed the volcano. It wasn't as bad because we weren't on a steep, icy glacier where a strong gust could actually blow you off your feet and down towards your grave, but it was still a bit inconvenient. For some reason there was also a stray dog following us, so when we decided to eat lunch in one of the small and less windy valleys we had make sure not to feed him accidentally by dropping food - because we feared he might follow us forever after that. In the end he still stuck around for over two hours before finally disappearing.

I felt my backpack more than I had expected. But I remembered the first day of my earlier trek and it had been the same, so I wasn't too worried. At first, we hiked through very sparsely vegetated areas where our surroundings were dominated by volcanic lava flows. Then, we entered a wonderful forest and came by some beautiful ponds inside it. When we finally arrived at the location where we were supposed to camp we had only come about 12 kilometers and taken almost 6 hours (including breaks). And the worst part was: there was no good water here. The first riverbed was dry, the second only carried water that was almost black from the volcanic pebbles and sediment it was carrying. Not really drinkable, but we didn't have a choice. We tried if the stuff would sediment out, but the results didn't make us very hopeful. Then we tried to filter the water through teabags, which kinda worked but was very slow and also not 100% effective. So in the end, Michael ended up cooking his gnocchi in the tomato sauce he'd brought along and I just ate an energy bar, some piñones (the seeds of Araucaria trees) I had brought along, and trail mix. I really hoped to find clean water the next day.

Still, the food had given me new energy and so I decided to go photograph the sunset. The view was great from up here and I took a few nice images. Then, we went to bed.

Day 2 - Longer than expected

We knew that there was quite something in front of us, about 17km of trail. So we had decided to get up early and planned to leave by 8 o'clock. Sunrise was at 7:41 and so I went to take pictures of the volcano. I was hoping for an image with some morning light on the cloud of smoke emitted by the volcano. But because there was a lot less wind this day, the smoke wasn't blown up into the air that far and there wasn't a lot to catch light. I still took a few images, also to illustrate the color of the water we were drinking.

Before we left I went down to the river again to refill my bottle with water as we weren't sure where there would be another water source. I found a little side arm of the river, where the water was more calm and thought, maybe this water is better and with less debris. I filled my bottle and took a sip. This was actually drinkable, there was very little debris in it and so I started pouring it down my throat. How annoying, I could've cooked dinner yesterday! Then we took off, this time going quite a bit faster than yesterday, because we didn't want to spend the hottest hours of the day where there's no shade, possibly even with very little chances of refilling our water bottles.

We hiked through stunning landscapes of hardened lava flows and wonderful Araucaria tree forests. And we also came across water sources, first a river with less debris than the first one and then we even found a river with completely clear water. If they'd only told us this at the administration, we could've hiked a little bit further and enjoyed dinner and breakfast...

We were in awe of the landscape and progressed steadily, but I did definitely feel the lack of a real dinner and breakfast, especially on our last ascent of the day.

When we finally arrived at our destination, the second administration, we checked in with the very helpful park ranger. He gave us a more detailed map and marked the spots, where we would encounter water. Very useful. He also made a remark about climbing the next volcano, called Quetrupillán, which he said would only take two hours from the next campsite. We were really hungry and as soon as we got to the place where we would camp this night, we fired up our stoves and began cooking. I was so hungry that I just went for the first thing I pulled out of my food bag, ramen noodles. I added some dried soy chips and started cooking. Soy for 7 minutes in hot water, add ramen, wait 3 minutes, pour away excess water, add spices - done. That was a big portion, and even though I was hungry, I almost had to force myself to eat it all. But I knew that I had to - after missing dinner the last night I had to make sure to eat enough.

After we finished, we started looking at our next day. How far would we go, when should we start?

There was a big climb of about 700m and a distance of about 11km waiting for us, so we decided to try to leave by 8. We also talked about what we wanted to do the following day. We had both brought a lot of food, but for different reasons. Michael had brought it for having a ton of calories available, while I had brought more food in order to be able to stay out there longer and possibly stay in the same place for two nights and just generally walk a bit less every day. So we decided that we might split up in two days. But before that we wanted to reach the "base camp" for summiting the volcano that the ranger had talked about. And the plan was to climb the volcano the morning after we would arrive there, to observe sunrise from the top.

So we went to bed soon, to get enough rest for another tough day the following day.

Day 3 - Fantastic sunset colors

We didn't actually leave before about 8:30, but that was still okay. We started hiking up the mountain at a respectable pace for our heavy backpacks I would say. Soon we had climbed about 300m and so we stopped at a water source, drank a bit and filled up our bottles, as this would be the last water source before arriving at camp in still about 7km. We battled another climb of 300m, eating through beautiful forest that included more araucarias and arrived at the highest point of this day right around noon. So we sat down in the shade of a big boulder that sat there alongside a few others, on the top of a mountain. For me, lunch consisted of some more trail mix, an apple, some granola bars and also a few piñones that we had collected along the trail. We fried them in Michael's little pan, eating them like chestnuts during fall time. In fact, piñones resemble chestnuts quite a bit. Not in their form, but in the taste and the color of the edible part.

After we finished that, we started hiking down into the valley again and once we arrived there, we had to start hiking up another 4km and about 150m in height. Not much, but considering the hiking we'd already done up untill this point, it was a lot harder than expected. We had to stop and allow ourselves some rest, granola bars and water. But with some fresh enegery, we made it to the top and were greeted by a stunning valley where there were a few little waterfalls and rivers, in an otherwise seemingly quite dry environment. Soon we found a nice campspot, near to one of the rivers. I put my tent up to let it dry out - it had been a bit wet in the morning, from the condensation overnight. Soon thereafter I went down to the river to wash myself a bit. The water was freezing cold, but I managed to still get in there. There was even sort of a shower, a small waterfall that had a little pool on its bottom where one could walk in and hold the head under the waterfall. That's what I did to clean my hair. Afterwards, I went back to the tent and we both cooked some nice, tasty dinner. For me that was ravioli with tomato sauce and for dessert some Oreos.

Soon, sun would be setting and so I picked up my camera and we walked in the direction, where it would set. While I was walking towards a deep valley carved by the river, I noticed a very cool waterfall, where the water seemed to flow right out of the ground and over the surface of a big boulder, before it fell down into a little pool. And while sun was setting, I took a few images of that waterfall, but also of the fantastic sunset colors in the opposite direction. It was an amazing sunset, and it didn't seem to want to end - the clouds just kept changing their colors. I was sure I got some nice images.

Day 4 - Volcán Quetrupillán

My alarm woke me up at 4:45 a.m. I gave myself five more minutes and then got up. It was cold outside and most of my senses told me to get back into my warm sleeping bag. But, we had decided to climb the volcano for sunrise - I couldn't bail.

We started climbing upwards in complete darkness, the moon had set at around 2 a.m. and if it weren't for our headlamps we would have had no clue where we were going. We started out going along the trail onwards on the traverse because we thought that we would thereby reach a ridge that would lead to the crater. We soon left the trail and began hiking over ruff terrain. Sometimes, stones wouldn't be as stable as I thought and they would tumble when I set my foot on them, sometimes we had to go up steep slopes of scree, where each step would also mean sliding down a bit. But that would all not have been such a problem if my headlight hadn't stopped working after the first 30 minutes. I had realized that it wasn't very bright and wondered if I had put it in the dimmed mode, so I turned it off to turn it back on again, which would reset it to full power. However, it never turned back on again, the batteries were empty. And I had left my backup batteries in the tent. After that we depended on Michael's light solely, which worked but definitely wasn't the most convenient. We ended up realizing that we had taken a big detour to the east, which hadn't really helped us at all, because neither had we climbed that high, nor approached the crater that much. After a bit of confusion because on my map the bottom of the crater was marked as the top of the volcano, making me think that the peak was about 300m less tall, we realized that we still had about 400m up and 4km in distance to cover and there was only one hour left until sunrise. If there had been a trail, that would've been doable, but at that time we were still without. Because we also had to climb down a bit afterwards and find a crossing over a frozen and super slippery snowfield, it soon became clear that we wouldn't be able to reach the top by sunrise. So we decided to stay below the top to watch the sunrise. There was a wonderful sea of clouds below us and we witnessed the first rays of light creep down the Villarica volcano. It was absolutely stunning and I got some quite special photographs. Afterwards, we climbed to the top of the crater, where we were able to see in the other direction, where sun had actually come up. The crater was really fascinating, as there was a big icefield inside it. We threw some volcanic rocks onto the ice and watched them slide down its slope and enjoyed the warm sun on our faces. Then, we decided to get back to our tents.

That proved to be more exhausting then I had thought at first. Even though we encountered a trail and could go fairly straight towards our "basecamp". Michael took down his tent, ate breakfast and soon started hiking further on the trail again. I had decided to either stay another night here to explore the area a bit more, or not go far at all today, maybe 5km. So I took it slow and ate breakfast. It had been clear from the beginning that we might not do all of the trail together and that was totally fine. I had told him that I wanted to take my time to photograph and enjoy nature, maybe camping at one spot for two nights, something he didn't want to do. We said goodbye, knowing that we would probably meet again somewhere on both our travels, to do more hiking together. Either more down south in Patagonia, or in Bolivia.

I ended up staying another night in the same spot, photographing a waterfall we had encountered on the way down from the volcano. However, there were a lot of quite thick clouds blocking much of the sunset light and so I was a bit bummed out I hadn't continued on for at least a bit.

Day 5 - The short one

After I had stayed two nights at the same place today I wanted to progress to the next campsite. That was at Laguna Azul o de los Patos, yes, a lake that has two names. The blue lagoon or the lagoon of the ducks.

The lagoon was rather near, only about 5km in distance and more or less at the same altitude as my previous camp. However, there was a hill in between, so I had to climb up about 250m - not much.

That seemed like a pretty relaxed hike and so I wasn't in a hurry to pack my stuff and leave camp. But at around 11 I got going. It turned out to be quite easy walking, even though the 250m climb was pretty much straight from the beginning, without any flat stretches. When I got to the top I saw something strange, at first I thought it was a weather station and I asked myself why there would be a weather station here. But as I came nearer, I saw that there was also something buried in the ground and finally, I could read what was written on one of the silver boxes distributed around the tower I'd seen. It was a volcano surveillance station! I took a photo (which you can see in my online photo album) and went on to the edge of a cliff right next to the station. There was quite a drop, I would guess around 100m, and the rock didn't seem to be the most stable, so I didn't go too near to the edge. But what was even more fascinating than the cliff was the lake below. The Laguna Azul o de los Patos. All I could see was it's dark blue color and it's beautiful shape. I stayed up there for a while, soaking in the clear air and the wonderful view. Then, I began walking down towards the far end of the lagoon, where the campsite was marked on my map. It was quite a steep path down, my bag definitely didn't make it any easier. Soon I got to a nice, flat area, where there also was a small forest. And it was clear that this was the campsite. Why? It was filthy. In fact, it was so dirty - trash mainly - that I thought about leaving and finding another campsite. But apart from the trash, which included pieces of glass on the ground, which had me worrying about the integrity of my air mattress at night, it was a really nice place. So I relaxed some more at the lakeside, before starting to explore the surroundings a bit further. To one side, there was a big and ruff lava field. To the right of it a small forest of low growing trees and behind that was the sink of the lake - a small river of cristal clear, pure water meandering through a small valley that it had carved.

When I returned, I pitched my tent in an area that I thought would be fairly safe from winds and also seemed like no one had camped there before, so I didn't have to worry about pieces of glass slicing open my sleeping pad at night.

Soon clouds rolled in and it became cooler, so I put on another layer. Then, I went into the lava field for photographing its structures and the mountains in the background. However, with the clouds in the background blocking a lot of the sunset colors, I didn't quite end up with what I wanted - still, I got some good impressions of the ruggedness of the lava field I think.

That day, a few more hikers arrived at the same camp. Almost all of them were doing the shorter three day version of this trek, where you take a car to the camp we started at on day 3. There was a group of four Israelis that had just finished their military service and there was another group of three (one Dutch girl and a Chilean couple) that I only got to know the next morning, because I was already inside my tent when they arrived (which was after sunset).

Day 6 - Meeting Kyra

In the morning I did not get up for sunrise, but I was still up before everyone else. I went into the lava field to photograph some of the interesting structures that could be found there. However, it was pretty cold, the sun being blocked by clouds and a cold wind blowing through the channels of the lava field. So after a while I got back to my tent and started to prepare breakfast - oats with water and some berries from around camp. Pretty tasty, albeit cold, as I was saving gas in order not to end up with hunger but without gas to cook my dinner.

I watched the odd group of three that had arrived after sunset, as I was eating my breakfast. I wasn't sure if they were a family - parents and daughter, or just friends... It seemed like they were locals, boiling water for preparing mate, but then again they spoke English at times, but with an accent. They had two tents and their skin colors didn't really match up, so probably friends and not family. The girl that I first thought could be the daughter (pink hair, I doubted that the mother would have pink hair) was jumping around in a weird way (or was she dancing?) and I couldn't quite make out why, until I realized that she was just wearing leggings and a not so warm jacket - she was cold!

After I had packed everything into my big blue backpack, lifted it up and tightened the straps, I walked towards the hiking trail. On my way I met the Israeli group and we chatted a bit about the trail ahead. The pink haired girl from the other group joined us as we were speaking about the coming stretch of the trail and how fast we wanted to progress. It came out that they hadn't looked at the map too carefully and would've walked in the wrong direction if it hadn't been for our talk. But all in all, it was a short encounter. I said goodbye, thinking that we wouldn't see each other again. As the next few days should show, I was completely wrong.

I started out first and progressed quite fast. The terrain was rather flat and the relaxed day before made walking fast quite easy. The trail led through a landscape dominated by volcanos. Ashy slopes, little vegetation and lots of differently colored rock. The overcast sky played its part in making me feel like being completely alone in this doomsday landscape.

After a few hours of walking like this, I came to the last pass I had to cross. It was accompanied by a drastic change in scenery. All of a sudden there were lush green grasslands with ponds and little streams. The view was amazing and as I walked down I saw many locations where I could take pictures. However, I decided to go down further, to the next spot where my map had a campsite marked. When I came across a waterfall I had a little break, just because I felt like it. I wasn’t tired or anything, I just liked the place and I still had enough time. Hidden from the trail i found a perfectly flat surface with some small plants growing on it. It seemed like this would be another little pond in spring or when there was a lot of rain. I made up my mind that I would go back up to the pass for either sunset or sunrise and so I decided not to go further down to avoid having to hike up even more. The flat spot I found was perfect for camping and so I pitched my tent and made some soup.

When I walked back to the waterfall to wash my pot and spoon, I first saw only the pink hair, but soon I realized that the girl from earlier today was sitting next to the waterfall, staring at it. I wondered where the rest of her group was, but probably they were somewhere near. We talked for a bit and I kept wondering what she was doing. Was she here in Chile just for a few weeks? Was she traveling for longer, like me? And what threw me off a bit was the golden ring on her hand. Had I been right, where they a family and she was the mother? I didn’t ask immediately, but I really wanted to find out more. So I asked her if they wanted to camp at the same spot as I - this way I would for sure find out more. She said that she would love to, but had to talk to the rest of her group.

When we said goodbye they had already passed and so Kyra - that was the girls name - had to run after them to ask what they thought. But she didn’t return, apparently they wanted to go further down, to the lake nearby.

Soon I packed my backpack again, just with my camera, lenses, filters and tripod - nice, only about 10kg. I walked back up to one of the spots I had seen earlier on to photograph at sunset, I wanted to get some images of the next volcano, called Lanín, and I was lucky - the sunset and the landscape worked together to create some wonderful vistas.

Day 7 - Pancakes as a bribe

Because I had already photographed the scenes around me in the late afternoon and evening of the past day, I decided not to photograph that morning. Instead, I packed up my tent after another breakfast of oatmeal and got going. From now on it would be all downhill, till the road that goes over the pass between Pucón and Junín de Los Andes (Argentina).

Soon, I entered the forest and the trail went alongside a lake that was the most obvious camp spot for the past night, all the others on the trek had gone here to spend the night on the sandy beach at the one end of the lake. When I arrived there, they were just beginning to pack up their tents. Kyra and her group were there, too and so we chatted for a bit. I was intrigued by Kyra - she told me that she had a car and was traveling in South America as well and that she would like to do more trekking in the future, and that she wanted to drive to southern Patagonia on the Carretera Austral (the only road in chilean Patagonia). After maybe five minutes of talking, she asked me if I wanted to join her to the south in her car. I was a bit overwhelmed. We didn’t know each other the least bit and there she was asking me if I wanted to travel with her for weeks, even months! I told her that I would have to think about it, because I had already been to Patagonia on my trip and I wasn’t sure if I wanted to go so far again - and of course I didn’t know if it was going to work between us, after all, traveling in a car together you need to get along brilliantly, otherwise it won’t be an enjoyable trip.

After they had packed up all their stuff, we started hiking again and Kyra and I got the chance to get to know each other a bit. I thought she was great fun, very open and interesting. She’d saved up money for this trip for years and then quit her job in the Netherlands to explore South America on her own. She tried time and time again to get a definitive “yes I will travel with you to the south in your car” out of me. But I kept telling her that I needed some more time to think. Even though at that time I was already pretty sure that I was going to give it a try, I just wanted to have at least one nights sleep in between the proposition and my decision. But - probably only because I kept refusing to decide - then she said the thing that sealed the deal for me: “If you come along I will bake you pancakes in mornings!”

Well, how could I have resisted?

Still we had a few kilometers in front of us and Susanna, the other girl in our group of 4 now soon got tired and her knees started hurting her. Without a doubt it was because of the long downhill stretch. I felt good, not tired at all and so I asked her if she wanted to give me her backpack. A first she declined, saying it would be way too heavy. Sure, I already had my 25 kg backpack, but I felt like I could still take some more. After all it was very easy terrain and pretty flat. So I took it, and it felt like almost nothing. I put it in front and off we went again.

When we arrived at the road, me and Kyra exchanged numbers so we could stay in touch and discuss, if, where and when we would meet. I told her that I was going to cross to Argentina because my Chilean visa was ending in a few days and that I would stay in some hostel across the border. Then, we said goodbye and I hitched a ride towards the Argentinian border, but not all the way to the border post. I wanted to spend another night at the border of Lago Quilleihue because I was hoping to photograph some of those amazing black-necked swans (Cygnus melanocoryphus) that I knew lived in the lake. I ended up pitching my tent on the opposite end of the lake of where I suspected the swans to be, because I wasn’t sure if I could pitch it on that end. Unfortunately, I didn’t see any swans that evening, but still I was quite content, because I was camping next to the mouth of a crystal clear river flowing into the lake.

Day 8 - Hitchhiking across the border

I woke up to a slightly underwhelming sunrise. But I wasn’t here for the sunrise anyways, so I got all my stuff together and started walking on the road towards the other end of the lake, where I suspected the swans with their beautiful black necks and contrasting red beaks. There was a short interpretive walk along the side of the lake and soon I saw them, but they were quite far away and shy. So I didn’t get the images I was hoping for, but still it was a nice experience being totally alone, observing the swans and different species of ducks on the water.

Then, walked back to the road and put out my thumb. It was cold, and there were few cars on the road going to the Argentinian border, and even fewer that seemed fond of hitchhikers. After over an hour of waiting in the cold, misty mountain air, I finally got picked up. It was a Chilean who worked in Argentina and told me he was going to the next village in Argentina. I was super happy that I finally got a ride and soon we were at the border crossing. The Chileans didn’t like the fact that I had told them that I was going to stay only 30 days in the country when I entered in December but ended up almost staying three months. But after a few grim faces and me promising that next time I wouldn’t do it again, they let me leave. Then, on the Argentinian side, they told me I needed to tell them an address, where I would go first. Of course I didn’t have one... But there was a map of a nearby touristy town with a few hotels, so I just randomly picked one and told them I was going to stay there - of course without the actual intention of doing so.

The second we got into Argentina, the road went from paved to gravel. And the landscape changed dramatically, too. Everything was covered in a sheet of dry, brown grass. I spotted only few green bushes and trees - always in a riverbed. I had experienced this before in Patagonia, but it was really interesting to see this sharp change in the vegetation again. From green to brown in just a few kilometers.

After I got dropped off I had to hitch three more rides to finally arrive in San Martín de los Andes, where I wanted to stay in a hostel for a few nights to relax a bit before meeting Kyra again to travel to the south together.