Pucon – waiting for Volcano Villarica to erupt (again)

Volcano Villarica erupted a couple of weeks ago when I was still on Easter Island and we saw the spectacle on the news, but were also worried about the evacuation of Pucon and all other villages surrounding the spitting beast. It was over in a day and ever since Villarica has been puffing away in the usual manner.DSC_1638 The Pucon alert system was put on yellow when I arrived and while numerous TV teams were nervously roaming around, eagerly waiting for the Volcano to erupt, the locals stayed calm and relaxed!20150326_183936


It did not erupt while I was there (and to my knowledge hasn’t ever since) … That said, because of the high alert it was impossible to climb Villarica and also the neighbouring Volcano Lanin, which, too, might erupt sooner or later. The option of climbing the in-between extinct Volcano Quetrupillán wasn’t very appealing. Instead I took the early morning bus to National Park Huerquehue (I’m still unable to pronounce that!) and climbed 1200m up to San Sebastian (6h return). Once again, it was worth the pain, for the extraordinary nature, bird life and especially for the 360° view from the top (including a view of the Volcanoes):



I went to Punta Arenas for two reasons: to catch a flight to Puerto Montt and thus skip a 36 hour busride – and to see the Pengüinos (spanish for Penguins) on Magdalena Island! They were about to change their fur and leave the Island (in fact some already had but there were still hundreds left). Aren’t they the cutest animals!?! See for yourself:

DSC_1437 DSC_1441 DSC_1443 DSC_1449 DSC_1451 DSC_1457 DSC_1473 DSC_1488 DSC_1497

And so are the sea lions on neighbouring Martha Island, even though they hunt the cute little Penguins… DSC_1409 DSC_1411 DSC_1421 DSC_1424 DSC_1427

Ice, Ice, Baby!

I forgot to mention that before heading off to Chile and the Torres del Paine Nationalpark I had an overwhelming encounter with ice. No, not ice cream (I’ll get back to that in another post), but ice in its purest form: glacier ice!

The Perito Moreno Glacier is the no. 1 tourist attraction in Argentinian Patagonia although it is tiny compared to all the other glaciers in Patagonia! But it’s the only glacier that you can easily get this close to. And seriously, tiny is not a word you’d use to describe it. From the so called balconies on the mountainside opposite the glacier it looks huge! I could have spend more than just 2,5h looking at its beautiful blue colours, the blue being lighter or stronger depending on the thickness of the ice, and listening to the creaking sound of the ice moving or the thundering roar when parts broke off.20150315_13021020150315_12453920150315_12264420150315_13013820150315_12244820150315_133309

Of course I didn’t leave it at that. I had to walk onto the glacier! A popular way to explore the glacier up close is by way of a mini ice trekking.

Start of the trekking on the left
Start of the trekking on the left

You’ll be equipped with crampons and two knowledgeable guides then take a group of twenty people for a different glacier experience, one that takes you over little crevasses, some of which are filled with water, and up and down the characteristic glacier towers.20150315_16105920150315_16551920150315_16554120150315_17053920150315_172634 It was more strenuous than I had imagined, for the steel crampons are heavy and walking up and, especially, down is harder than expected (bloody knees!). But I highly recommend it! At the end you’ll even be rewarded with a glas of Whisky, on the rocks of course (taken directly from the glacier).20150315_173945

There is also a big ice trekking that takes you further up onto the glacier for several hours. Depending on the crampons they use for this trek it might be worth doing, but if you have troubles with your knees it might not be advisable…

A little hostel side story from El Calafate: in Argentina and Chile hostels mostly have mixed dorms, but in that particular hostel we’ve been four girls in my room on the first night. One moved out and the next eve the rest of us disbelievingly looked at the new suitcase in our room that had the size of a wardrobe!! As it turned out it belonged to a 22 year old Brasilien guy… when asked why in the world he was travelling with such a huge suitcase (on a 5 day vacation!) he replied “cause not all my shoes fit into the smaller one”!!! We almost cried laughing!

Torres del Paine – Trekking with THE TEAM

We’ve had it all on the so-called W-Trek: snow, rain, sun, wind! We’ve hiked up and down, crossed rivers and streams and huge mud pools and I was very glad that for the first time in my life I had rented trekking poles! No trekking in the famous Torres del Paine Natinal Park in chilean Patagonia would be complete without experiencing all of this. That said, I wasn’t able to see the Torres up close, as it was first raining and later snowing on that first day in the park. I still went up to Laguna Torres and saw, well, the laguna and… clouds. It happens to the best of us.

However, that day I also met THE TEAM (in reference to the German MANNSCHAFT during the last world cup)! In fact, I had already shared a dorm with 4 of the guys (Emiliano from Argentina, Christóbal from Chile, and Daniel and Átila from Brazil) in Refugio Torres. And now, in the cozy Refugio el Chileno, we sat together, with Tiziano from Italy, and THE TEAM for the next days evolved. We’ve had loads of fun (at some point when the sun came out I started off an “O sole mio” which Tiziano then sang to us in full, making it our anthem for the trek – music really helps marching on) and pushed each other to our limits (special thanks to Emiliano and Tiziano for pushing me up to Mirador Brittanico) and I am very grateful for this time with all of you guys, you rock!! (Question: why do I always end up in a group of guys? Not that I don’t like it, just wondering…)

It was amazing, yet strenous (hell, some parts took a lot of will-power), but I’d do it again any time! Not going to go into more details… check out the photos instead:

W Trek 20150321_110007

Day 1: Refugio Torres – Laguna Torres – Refugio El Chileno:

Torres in the morning from far away
Torres in the morning from far away
First day - starting with rainbow
First day – starting with rainbow
Wet, wet, wet.
Wet, wet, wet.
Laguna de los torres without torres.
Laguna de los torres without torres.


Patagonian "bridges" (nope, that's not me in the pink poncho!)
Patagonian “bridges” (nope, that’s not me in the pink poncho!)










Day 2: El Chileno – Los Cuernos


Day 3: Los Cuernos – Mirador Brittanico – Paine Grande


Lago Nordensköld from Mirador Frances
Lago Nordensköld from Mirador Frances


View from Mirador Brittanico
View from Mirador Brittanico




Day 4: Paine Grande – somewhere on the way to Glaciar Grey -Paine Grande

Glacier Grey



And check out Daniels and Átilas professional travel blogger photos and videos, if you like:



For those of you who’d like to do the W: I’d suggest to book refugios incl. full board, if you can afford it. That way you’ll have to carry less and won’t get wet or cold at night! If coming from the east (start from Laguna Amada) get there in the late afternoon and spend the night at Refugio Las Torres. Start walking the next morning up to Laguna Torres (see Las Torres close if you’re lucky) and either spend the night at the small Refugio El Chileno or make your way down again to the larger and more comfortable Refugio Las Torres (I liked El Chileno for its cozy athmosphere and the fact that I did not have to walk all the way down again. Also, you can shortcut the way on the next day into the direction of Los Cuernos). Spend the third night at Refugio Los Cuernos and get an upgrade to a Cabin with beautiful views of the mountains and the lake and relax in the HOT tub! Alternatively spend that night at Campo Frances in a dome. That way you’ll have to do less walking on the next day! It is a long day, so start early! But the view from Brittanico is worth the effort! Spend the fourth night at Refugio Paine Grande. Consider spending a fifth night at Refugio Grey, as otherwise you’d have to walk a strenous 22 km return and hurry to get the 6pm boat from Paine Grande. Refugio Grey is said to be nice and you could even consider to do a tour onto the glacier – I’d certainly do this next time!

Bookings (incl. bus and boat) can either be done directly through fantastico sur or vertice patagonia (who manage the refugios) or even better through an agent. I recommend to contact Carla Alcayaga (www.australglacier.com, she has a small office in Puerto Natales on Baquedano 695) and discuss your options with her! She’ll  then book for you whatever you like! You can also book any bus and any tour in Patagonia (even in Argentina ) through her.

River Plate vs. Tigres Mexico

I followed my brothers advice to go to a football match: River Plate (one of the two major clubs in BA) played against Tigres Mexico in the Copa Libertadores (which is similar to the Champions League in Europe)! As a tourist you cannot simply buy a ticket, you have to join a group tour. My lovely host only had to do one phone call and I got the last ticket in a group of eight (together with a Brazilian family and an American couple). Yes, it was expensive, but well worth it! In the taxi, Paula (or energetic guide) told us how we’d get to the stadium when dropped off three blocks away: hold up your entrance tickets when passing the three police controls and do not talk English until we’re in the stadium (apparently some fans are a bit sensitive towards visitors). It was just as busy as walking to a German football match and I thought it was rather normal, though we do not have such thorough police controls.FB_IMG_1425913996814 In the stadium the Brazilian father and me were quite devastated to hear that no beer is being sold (there is an alcohol ban in the stadium and 3 km around it!). That said, there must have been some really bad riots in the past if they’ve taken such drastic measures! So we had water and Hamburguesas (obviously THE food to have here) and the Brazilians and I were reminiscing about the world cup and the game Brazil vs. Germany…  FB_IMG_1425914039632The lack of beer did not affect the athmosphere, though! 90% of the fans were dressed in River Plate trikots, singing and cheering all through the game (not only in the standing terraces, but everywhere). Many brought their children along, I even saw a couple of babies. And the kids sat there cheering, just as excited about the game as everyone else – you couldn’t hear any whining nor see bored faces or any signs of fatigue (the game started at 8.15 pm!)!20150305_203243 The Tigres scored a goal in the rather uninteresting first half, but River Plate equalized with a spectacular goal in the fiercely contested second half. I guess for the two Americans it was more like us watching American football: “interesting”… I was seriously asked if this was my first time in a football stadium, followed by a useless attempt on my side to explain what an “offside” is. I’m quite certain, though, that it wasn’t due to my profound explanation.

The night ended with a late dinner and 4 l of beer (they usually have 1 l bottles here) shared between Paula, the Taxi Driver Norberto and me! It also helped language wise… I still struggle with the spanish language. I do understand quite a lot, it seems, but speaking is so much more difficult. It’s more like lining up words and hoping someone else can make sense of it. That eve we basicically spoke spanglish. It was fun!

“Mana” and the wonders of Easter Island

You can feel the “MANA” just about everywhere on this beautiful island, situated in the middle of nowhere in the Pacific Ocean (it is in fact the worlds most remote inhabited island). Mana is what they call the spirits that can evolve from anything, a person, object or nature. The Island’s nature is, despite its small size of only 163 square km, very diverse. The breathtaking view from the edges of  the extinct volcanoes onto the freshwater crater lakes certainly makes you feel the mana of those places!

Rano Raraki
Rano Raraki
Orongo crater lake

And then there is the “Moai”, massive statues carved at the Rana Raraku Volcano, which were then schlepped and put up in various places on the island. Many of them still lay face down, but a lot have been reerected in the past 60 years and they, too, exude a lot of mana, which is why you’re not allowed to come close to them. 20150225_152745

Now, I can alraedy hear some of you, screaming “now she’s trying to lecture and bore us with Rapa Nui culture and history”! You might just want to stop reading here. I’m far from lecturing anyone with the little I learned, but it’s just too impressive to not mention it.

In short: Some 100 Polynesians arrived with their canoes ages ago and the 12 or so sons of the arriving polynesian chief formed different clans that all lived happily for some hundreds of years in which they created a strong culture based on polynesian beliefs. What is special, though, is that they carved and put up hundreds of Moais, most of them looking inland towards their villages to protect them with mana. These Moais represent respected elders and were created to resemble them. As time went by the Moais created appeared less human and more god-like and they got bigger and bigger. Somewhere along that line the birdman competition evolved, meaning that every chief sent off one warrior to a motu (small island 1km from the western cliffs) in order to bring back the first sooty tern egg laid by the migrating birds. The winner’s chief was declared Birdman (thus having loadsof mana) and his clan took command of the whole island for one year. This cult was probably a result of the failing ecosystem, as the growing population outpaced natures capacity to renew itself.  This also resulted in fights among the tribes, who toppled many of the almost 300 Moai statues. All other statues fell as a result of tsunamis and other natural disasters. The missionaries ended the Birdman cult in the 1860s. Slavery, diseases and other catastrophes led to a decimation of the population to only around 100. Although Easter Island officially belongs to Chile, the Rapa Nui culture is still strongly influenced by its polynesian ancestors, especially the language, music and dances.

I had plenty of time to explore the island’s volcanoes, quarries, Moais, caves, beaches and the (only) village by foot, bike (really needed to be active again after that lazy week in French Polynesia and luckily the climate is much more pleasant with a high of only 27°C) and with a small group tour (photos to follow). It is amazingly “empty” and you can walk for at least two hours without meeting anyone! They only have 90.000 visitors a year, but tourism is increasing, so you’d better visit this amazing island sooner than later…


When it comes to food, there is a great Chilean influence: tasty tuna empanadas, Ceviche (raw fish)20150303_192655,  all kinds of seafood, most definitely accompanied by Pisco Sour – love it! 20150227_195054 What’s best though, and this came as a surprise, is Mikafe’s ice cream parlour at the small pier! The ice cream is by far the creamiest and tastiest I have had in ages 20150228_165618 and they have a great variety, e.g. “Piña” made from the small and sweet local pineapple. To die for!

We’re gonna indulge in seafood and icecream again tonight before we’ll watch the sunset!

Stand up paddeling

On my last day on Moorea I finally got onto one of the B&B’s stand up paddle boards. I probably wouldn’t have if it wasn’t for M., who – being a surfer – easily made his way out into the bay. I avoided the shallow water at the shore to stand up and instead paddled to the deeper water kneeling on the board. I am proud to say that I managed to stand up and paddle for quite a bit, despite the wind and the waves (and according to M. looked rather stable even though feeling a bit wobbly). Rookie mistake: I paddled out with the wind and getting back through the wind standing up proved to be difficult and I eventually had to get back on my knees. I did not fall once, though! Now that I’ve tried it I can say that, yes, it forces you to tense up every part of your body, which makes for a good work out. But it also proved to be rather dull and I definitely prefer a sea kayak over a stand up paddle board – it’s faster and much nimbler.

Snorcheling with stingrays and sharks

Moorea’s “Lagoonarium” is sited at a “motu”, a little island close to the Moorea reef.20150222_091228 Every guest is assigned with his own little hut, snorcheling equipment and a pair of those pretty plastic sandals – stepping onto a poisonous stonefish is said to be a very unpleasant experience. 20150222_095323Every hut has a view of the sea, the adjacent bar area is formed like a ship and everything, even the bathroom (which is equipped with a flushing toilet!) is tiled with shells. 20150222_094652Several buoys are fixed to the reef area, all connected by a rope, allowing guests to safely make their way around, as the current is quite strong. 20150222_143524At 10 am there was no one else in the water and I enjoyed fabulous views of the underwater world with plenty of fishes. But the real adventure started with the 11am feeding session! The guide arrived with a bucket full of (dead) little fish. Attracted by that, a growing number of large stingrays already made their way into the shallow water. He fed them like riding a donkey with a carrot: by holding the fish close to their mouth he lured them around and the soft stingrays touched us gently while passing by. 20150222_142524They even seem to enjoy being padded. This is not a zoo, though. And even though the animals are obviously used to being fed and touched by humans they are still wild animals. I found it a bit scary, but I must admit that for the most part I was simply amazed! After a white the guide asked us to make our way along the rope from the shallow 1,20m into the deeper water (about 5m deep). There he rode the stingrays by holding onto their front with a fish in his hand – sourrounded by at least ten 1,50m long reefsharks, anxious to get their piece of the cake. Obviosly, there were plenty of colourful fish, too. It was truly spectacular! The downside is that these beautiful animals get used to being fed and might thus lose their hunting skills, being increasingly dependent on humans.

I tried to stay away from the sun, as far as possible, and protected myself with a t-shirt to protect me from getting burned. I “only” have a factor 50 sunlotion, which I constantly applied to my body until it was empty. I’ve now learned that the locals use a factor 110 (!) sunlotion, which is indeed very useful in this kind of sun. The UV index is 14! A UV index higher than 11 is considered extreme. In Brisbane, for example, the current UV index is 12, whereas german summers usually don’t see anything higher than 8.

Making my way back  to the B&B was a bit tricky. Taxis are rare and strangely enough the drivers don’t seem to like far drives. Their names and numbers are listed in a leaflet and you have to call them directly. One of the Lagoonarium’s employees kindly lend me her phone (my smartphone does not accept any of the local providers and is thus useless as a phone). But after I was turned down by two and couldn’t reach a couple of others I decided to hitchhike instead. That’s not a big deal here, as there is only one road going around the island. Luckily, a local in a crappy Peugeot soon stopped, though driving the other way. He was going to pick up a parcel at the dock, thereafter returning to Haapiti, which is exactly where I wanted to go. As it turns out, Nico (coincedence, that he’s named like my brother?!) picked up a box full of mangos and handed one to me as a present. I love mangos! Needless to say I indulged in the sweet fruit right after he dropped me off at home.

The Magical Island

Friday, 20 February. This is my third day on Moorea, the cute heart-like shaped island next door to Tahiti, French Polynesia. The first two days I felt virtually brain dead because of the heat. I still suffer a bit, especially now, at 3pm, when the sun is unbearable and there is no wind to cool me down, let alone water (it is bathtub warm). Don’t get me wrong, this place is beautiful! The volcanic mountains that soar behind me, covered by deep green rainforest. The turquoise blue water that I’m looking at right now, the waves breaking on the reef at the horizon. The tranquillity. The smell of trees and fresh fruits. However, all I can think of right now is an ice bucket and how much I’d like to empty it over my head… Look at the “Feel” section: Screenshot_2015-02-21-10-57-37-1

One hour later: I think I’ll have a cold beer now…

Three hours later: It is cooling down, sort of…

So what have I been doing so far? I’ve done some serious hanging out. I don’t mean reading a book or anything. I mean SERIOUS hanging out, doing nothing, thinking of nothing, waiting for the day to pass by. I flew in from Auckland – I stayed there just for the night (thinking how much I’d loved to stay in NZ). I probably was a bit wistful. I left Auckland on Wednesday morning, 18 February. Now here’s the weird thing: I landed 4h later at Papeete airport, Tahiti, on Tuesday, 17 February. Crossing the date line really is bizarre. I still can’t get the days straight. It was pouring with rain when we left the plane over the gangway. After all, it’s still rainy season. But the rain vanished as soon as it came and it hasn’t been raining ever since the first day. Europeans get their own line through the passport control and no stamp in their passport. Feels strange to sort of entering the EU so far from home (technically, French Polynesia does not belong to the EU, but its citizens are French, so it is EUish).

I caught the 5pm ferry to Moorea, Tahiti’s “little sister” and am now staying at a Family B&B, meaning that the guesthouse is on the same ground and next door to the owners family and his brothers family. Even though  M. , a Canadian guy staying here, and me crave for spending some time in an airconditioned room at one of the beautiful (but very pricy) resorts once in a while, I am glad to stay where the real people are and to get a glimpse of how they live (surfing at the reef is a very important part – apparently there are some of the worlds best waves breaking along the reefs surrounding the islands).

Yesterday afternoon I took a bike ride along the road. The newer parts even have a bikeline, but the crappy parts have no tarmac and countless potnoles.20150219_17350920150219_17190120150219_174517 The people are incredibly friendly. They remind me of the Malawians in that they waved at me, shouting a happy “Bonjour” along my way.

This morning we did a 4×4 tour with the owner around the island:


The water is not as turquoise where I am staying, because there is no sand, but at least we can see the sunset from here.20150220_183053

Tonight, we’ve had fresh Mahi Mahi from the local fish market (actually its just a small shop) for dinner. Luckily M. rented a Vespa – it is quite far and there is virtually no public transport.

DELICIOUS! 20150220_19453120150220_200039

Brisbane – the joy and pleasure of being with friends

I had the pleasure of meeting up with friends in Brisbane. Esther and Cass are actually friends of my childhood friend Henny and I met them at her wedding in Germany in June last year. I was lucky enough to be placed at the same table. It was a marvellous eve that involved lots of laughter! Half-jokingly, half serious I said I might becoming to Brisbane this year. Back then my Sabbatical was not fixed, yet a route already formed in my mind.

I do meet a lot of people on the road and I  enjoy that a lot. But to meet these two, their families and neighbours was special to me. It’s so good to be taken care of, sometimes! Thanks to Esther I spent six days at the beautiful, cozy and airy granny flat of her neighbour Linda  (and family) in Paddington… furnished with a huge bed, ensuite bath (with a rain shower!) and a kitchen – in short : PRIVACY! Those of you who’ve travelled like I do probably know how good that feels once in a while! But to top that I  was welcome at Esther’s all the time, getting to know her family and indulge in great food, especially at the sunday BBQ 🙂 20150215_15031220150215_150330

While I explored the Brisbane CBD by myself (partly accompanied by P. :-)), Cass took me to the New Farm neighbourhood for a beer at the local bowling club (as it turns out bowling on the green is a popular sport…) and an iced coffee at the powerhouse, both with pretty views of the river. Later that day we enjoyed the view from Mt. Coot-tha 20150214_171612 and a spicy japanese noodle soup in St. Lucia – hot, but yummi! I really appreciate the BYO culture, but the poor young japanese thought we wanted to drink all the alcohol we had just bought at the next door bottle shop (two bottles of sparkling wine, one bottle of red wine and six beers). Hilarious.

We spent a lovely morning at Lone Pine, watching the cutest coalas and kangaroos, dingos, wombats, birds…20150217_09553620150217_095658IMG_20150217_101617290IMG_20150217_121851343_HDR.

Thanks so much, gals, hope to be back!