14 July 2011
11 February 2011
As I fly back to Sydney my mind travels back to April 2010, when I started this journey….
I had felt a little stressed as my friend Andrew drove me to the airport. I felt unsure about what lay ahead and my decision to travel solo. Was I completely crazy to have thought of travelling for so long? Did I have everything I needed in my backpack? Would I feel lonely?
As I travel home to my friend Steven who will be at the airport to pick me up, I feel elated, excited and joyful. It has been an amazing year. Better than I had expected. While there were many things that might have gone wrong - riots I might have been caught up in, luggage that might have gone missing, stuff that might have got stolen, flights I might have missed…I have been incredibly fortunate. Some of the countries I travelled through are now in turmoil. Yet after travelling through what others might call risky destinations, I complete my time away with beautiful memories; of friendly locals, amazing travel companions, wonderful photographs and stories that will keep me and my friends entertained in my old age!
When I look back on this year, I can say that I have truly accomplished my dream and been true to my goal:
A year spent stepping outside the established routine of my comfort zone to explore the realm of fresh possibilities along the road less travelled….
This year away has enriched my life with new friends from around the world, new experiences in places I had only dreamt of visiting previously, interactions with people from all walks of life, and a new found confidence in myself! The world truly became my oyster. I have re-discovered the free spirit in myself and when I look back I can say it was a year in which I truly lived life to the fullest.
I can now tick off my long-term goal of spending time on every continent before I turned 50. With the exception of Antarctica where I only spent a few weeks, I have now spent at least 3 months travelling through the 6 other continents. With the completion of this journey, I have visited more than 50 countries and taken more photographs than I care to think about! I have spent time with countless locals who showed me there are wonderful people the world over and shattered any preconceptions I might have had.
The highlights have included many challenges and activities I had never done before:
- Watching the sunrise at Angkor Wat - Cambodia
- Enjoying a mud bath - Vietnam
- Cruising the Mekong River in a long boat - Laos to Thailand
- Bamboo rafting in hill tribe territory – Thailand
- Eating crabs with my mom in Jaffna - Sri Lanka
- Four wheel driving in Dubai - UAE
- Trekking impenetrable jungles to interact with mountain gorillas – Uganda
- Photographing the Drakensberg mountains and visiting friends and family - South Africa
- Tracking hyenas and cheetahs - Namibia
- Hot air ballooning over the wildebeest migration in the Massai Mara – Kenya
- Camping in the Serengeti –Tanzania
- Dancing at the full moon party – Zanzibar
- Swimming in Lake Malawi at night - Malawi
- Walking with lions & a micro light flight over Victoria Falls – Zambia
- Interactive drumming - Zimbabwe
- Floating on the Dead Sea – Egypt
- Exploring Petra - Jordan,
- Enjoying a Turkish bath - Syria
- Hot air ballooning in Cappadocia – Turkey
- Re-connecting with my cousin & attending classical music concert – London
- Strolling the streets of the Falkland Islands
- Observing the penguin colonies - South Georgia,
- Touching the rocks of Antarctica
- Camping, Riding, Hiking the Torres del Paine – Chile
- Ice Climbing & a glacier walk in Videma Glacier – Argentina
- Reuniting with old friends in New Zealand AND
- Falling in Love Again – Sydney
Yes, that’s right…even as I complete this journey, and travel home in time to celebrate my birthday, a new journey awaits me in Sydney. I fly home to my best friend Steven, who unbeknownst to me, became single just before I set off on my journey. While I have known him as a friend for more than 6 years, I re-connected with him on a deeper level via emails and skype while travelling in Turkey, about 2 months ago!
He was one of those friends who always kept in touch, supported and encouraged me in all my endeavours. Over these past couple of months our friendship transitioned into a deep love for each other that was based on the foundation of mutual trust and respect, built on the 6 years of friendship that preceded it.
I hope our partnership will take us down a far more interesting path than I have ever travelled previously. Our new journey together is completely unmapped for now but I know it will include foreign shores, exciting challenges and more unexplored territory.
Many of us put off living our lives till we reach retirement, till we find that perfect person to live it with, till the weekend, till we win the lottery, till the kids leave home. I want to share with you that the time to live your life is NOW! When your start living your dream, everything else actually does fall into place. The Universe never fails to deliver, when you go in search of your destiny.
Remember that the greatest risk of all, is a life of riskless living!
I always wanted to share my life with a person who shared my passion for living. I started this journey not just to discover places I had never explored previously, but also to discover myself and to rediscover love.
It is amazing to think that my year of living life to the fullest will culminate in the beginning of a new dream. The start of a new journey with a man who is not afraid to live an unconventional life. A man who is not afraid to think outside the square and live life outside the rigid bounds that society and people incapable of lateral thinking impose on us…
A man travels the world over in search of what he needs and returns home to find it. ~George Moore
Epilogue: I would like to send out a very special thank you to all of you who made comments on my blog, wrote messages on my wall and sent me emails about my adventures and photographs. Your emails, stories and photos from your lives at home were incredibly important to me and helped me stay connected to my life back home. I thank you for keeping in touch, for your encouragement and support. I truly appreciated it.
Thank you as well to all of you who listened to me as I planned this trip and then helped me through the months and the years of upheaval leading up to this journey. Thank you to my managers who gave me a year off to rest and rejuvenate. I feel inspired and ready to tackle whatever new challenges might await me at work, although the thought of returning to a day job is daunting!
Thank you to Shane Wallbank, from Flight Centre, who helped me plan the year and booked all my flights – you did an amazing job. It has been an incredible journey with absolutely no hiccups!
Thank you to all the travellers, tour guides and friends and family, I met or re-connected with along the way. The instant connections one makes with perfect strangers who then become life long friends is one of the most enjoyable fruits of travel. The travellers I met were brave, courageous people who were adaptable and flexible enough to travel rough in places very different to the places they called home. We helped each other through many sticky situations and always shared a laugh. I thank you for your friendship and look forward to the reunions, some of which are already planned!
And so sadly, I think it is time to close this blog. Please do send me an email if you have any comments on my blog, questions on my journey, or anything to share . I would love to hear from you: email@example.com
I will keep you informed if I do start up a new blog. I still have a month at home before I start work, but I think I might take a break from blogging to truly rest, have a holiday(!) and enjoy the start of my new journey!
Steven Covey wrote that it was important to value a child for his/her own uniqueness rather than base it on motives that stem from internal sources of security based on our children's ‘acceptable’ behaviour.
I would like to dedicate this year to my beautiful mom, who always kept in touch in spirit, via emails and skype and has always supported me in my mad schemes and valued my uniqueness!
– Thank you.
9 February 2011
We arrive in Wellington to find Radhi at the arrivals gate as we walk off the plane. More warm hugs and greetings are passed around the 3 friends, reunited after a very long time. We are all delighted to see each other and the sound of our laughter echoes around the arrivals hall.
It has been a very long time since we have all been on the same continent. It might possibly even be more than 20 years ago, back when we were all still working in Sri Lanka. We remember our friend Sureshnie, who still lives back in Sri Lanka and wish she were here as well.
Radhi drives us home to freshen up and meet her parents who also migrated to New Zealand and now live with her. I knew her parents well, in the ‘good old days’ when I worked at IIMI and visited them in their home in Kandy for great meals and a ‘weekend home-stay’.
We have a wonderful reunion with her parents who are incredibly warm and welcoming. Her mom has cooked us a great Sri Lankan meal of rice and curry and hints of more Sri Lankan delights she has in store. We tuck in to a great feed before Radhi takes us on a drive to show off the city she has called home for more than twenty years.
Sush has come here on a mission. She wants to visit Wellington’s famous museum, TePapa. Unfortunately, I am a little ‘museumed’ out and Radhi just wants to chat – not unusual for her. We end up at the museum but the two of us just breeze through, more interested in chatting and catching up than in browsing. Sush gives up in disgust and threatens to visit Radhi again so she can see TePapa in peace:)!
After a hour of pretending to be interested in the exhibits of TePapa, we leave to find a cafe overlooking the waterfront and sip coffee shakes while we catch up on Radhi’s life and share news of our own personal journeys. Radhi’s son is now in Uni but unfortunately out of town. He is in Las Vegas, attending the finals of a Barbershop Competition! His college won the national finals and he has gone overseas to represent his country. We are sorry to miss Rueben but overjoyed to hear of his success.
We fit in bush walks, coastal walks, road trips, chats, visits to Radhi’s friends & movies in between meal times. Food is a big part of Sri Lankan culture and Radhi’s mom makes us many delicious meals that I would never have the patience to make from scratch in Australia. We tuck into thosai, hoppers, string hoppers, pittu, chapati, and of course our staple of rice and curry! I was hoping to lost some weight before I went back home but that diet might have to be shelved for a few more days. I can’t possible turn down this feast!
Sush leaves a few days before I do and I take everyone out for a Thai meal in the city before we say goodbye to her. Radhi takes us up to a wonderful lookout and we look down on the night lights of Wellington. Sadly, the wind is blowing a gale, so we rush back to the warmth of our car. Wellington is a beautiful city but a little too windy for me.
Re-connecting with old friends has been a wonderful way to end this time away from home. I am truly thankful to my two dear friends and their wonderful families, to the warm welcome and the wonderful hospitality extended to me. Now it is time to re-connect with the friends and family I have left behind in Sydney. I am excited to be flying back home and look forward to the wonderful reunions and hugs that await me in Sydney.
Your friends will know you better in the first minute you meet than your acquaintances will know you in a thousand years.
~ Richard Bach
It has been more than 12 years since I last saw Sushani in Sri Lanka. We were on our way to Australia (in 1998) and had stopped off in Colombo for a holiday. We had a few reunions both at my parents house and at the house of another mutual friend (Sureshnie) who still lives in Sri Lanka.
Sush and I both worked at the International Irrigation Management Institute in Kandy, which is how we met. Sush, moved back to Colombo, shortly after I started working there, but she was friends with the group of people I hung out with at IIMI and so we got to know each other over time. I moved into her room in the house I shared with Sureshnie and Sush would visit occasionally at the weekends for reunions with her friends. We have kept in touch over the years via the internet and she followed my journey this year and invited me to visit her in Auckland, on my way home to Sydney.
As I walk into the visitors lounge, I wonder whether I will recognise her after all these years, but she hasn’t changed a bit! She comes to pick me up at the airport with her son in the early hours of Tuesday morning and we greet each other warmly.
Auckland had been experiencing a bit of severe weather in the lead up to my visit but as promised, I have brought the sunshine with me. After a nice cup of coffee and brekkie, we settle down for a chat and reminisce about the years since we last caught up. Sush has 2 grown up children now who I meet for the first time. Her mom is also visiting her and her brother drops by to say hello. I am reminded of my own mom and my Sri Lankan culture as they all extend a warm welcome and I get more than just a taste of true Sri Lankan hospitality.
We spend 3 wonderful days together. We drive around Auckland and visit its beautiful parks, look outs and museums. I enjoy great food from buriyani and curries to roti and waffles! We go on long walks and sit under the trees for a bit of time out, laughter, chats and extended picnic lunches packed with great care.
I am lucky enough to have 3 beautiful days of warm sunshine and we spend most of our time outdoors. I enjoy getting to know Sush’s children, now grown up and on the brink of starting their own lives. Anik, her daughter is going to Uni and we sit around the table discussing everything from ‘personality types’ to the latest movies we have seen.
I am at the tail end of my trip and catching up with friends and spending a few lazy days together is just what I need. My three days draws to an end and I say goodbye and thank you to my wonderful hosts by throwing them a mini BBQ in true Aussie fashion. At the last minute we find out we are out of gas and decide to cook the food indoors! We sit around the dining table for hours chatting, eating and laughing. I discover that Ajith (Sush’s brother), went to school around the same time as my cousins and in true Sri Lankan fashion, discover we have more mutual friends than do Sush and I who have been friends for years!
The next morning, Sush and I get on a flight to Wellington. We are off to spend time with Radhini, another very dear mutual friend of ours from our days at IIMI.
“What lies behind us and what lies before us are tiny matters compared to what lies within us.” Oliver Wendell Holmes
24 January 2011
It is time to say Goodbye to Peggy, our Tucan Truck that has brought us safely all the way from Ushauia, Argentina, the southern most city in the world, to Santiago, Chile, one of South America’s largest cities.
We’ve had a great bunch of people on this trip, and we’ve all bonded well together. We have shared laughs, adventures and conquered new challenges such as the ice climb in Viedma Glacier. It was fun getting to know both Andy our truck driver and Ally our group leader.
I had a chance to ride up the front with Andy on one of the drives, and learnt he started his career with a degree in Geography, that we shared a passion for writing and we both had dreams of publishing a book one day. Andy has been driving overland trucks for many years now, having been enticed away from the UK, while travelling as an overland passenger himself. He keeps me entertained with tales from his overlanding life and the passengers that have passed through these parts. He knows Patagonia like the back of his hand and just like Ally knows where the best beer and a good steak can be found in the towns we travel through.
Ally herself is a great trip leader. An Aussie, still in her late twenties, she is fluent in Spanish and a few other languages and has travelled through most of the countries in South America. She has completed most of the challenging hikes and ice climbs on this trip, so it is great to get the inside scoop of what we are in for, before we sign up for an excursion.
We say goodbye to the group at a steak dinner in Santiago. Many of these guys will go there separate ways, but Sarah, Rose and I spend the next day exploring Santiago together. Santiago is reputed to be the largest and most important financial centre in Latin America and is a modern cosmopolitan city complete with sky scrapers, a good selection of restaurants and the usual hustle and bustle of a big city.
When we arrive, I have feelings of culture shock and instantly miss the quaint, quiet towns of Patagonia, we have left behind. I find the noise of city traffic grating. Santiago is not a city that instantly appeals to me, even on this my second visit. I realise I prefer the low key, smaller cities, in the country where one can walk everywhere and where there is a sense of character and atmosphere.
We visit the fish market and decide to have lunch, sampling the fresh seafood on offer. We also visit the local arts centre and go through one of the local photographic exhibitions showing at the moment, titled ‘Chocolate on my Jeans’.
Then we walk to Bario Brasil, a bohemian neighbourhood with painted houses and a few murals. It was more run down than we expected, but still fun to poke around a neighbourhood that was full of locals having long lunches and enjoying their weekend.
The old Palace has now been converted to government buildings and is heavily guarded with security guards and guard dogs. The guards seem rather bored, standing around all day with nothing to do and we people watch for awhile before we head back for a nap and Rose takes off to the airport.It is just Sarah and me for dinner, so we head out in search of something different. We dine at an Indian restaurant and have drinks in a downtown cafe that our guidebook promises would have tango music. Unfortunately they’ve got the days mixed up but we still enjoy our pisco sours and baileys! It is a lovely atmospheric cafe that has seen many eras of Chileans pass through. I realise that after wandering for most of 2010, my travels are almost over. I still have some time in New Zealand with friends, but this was the last major journey before I started to head for home.
We drink a toast to our wonderful experiences in Patagonia before heading back to our hotel, for our last night in South America!
Few people know so clearly what they want. Most people can't even think what to hope for when they throw a penny in a fountain. ~Barbara Kingsolver
22 January 2011
The Seven Lakes Drive to Pucon is one of the most scenic we have been on this far. We stop at each of the lakes (9 in total!) to take photos and stretch our legs. Mirror lakes and tumbling water falls keep us shutter bugs busy. By late morning the weather changes and by the time we stop for lunch it is incredibly windy outside. We decide to eat lunch inside the truck to avoid the Patagonia winds and a healthy dosing of the sand that gets blown around.
We have one more border to cross, from Argentina back to Chile, so we have a feast eating up all the fruits and vegetables which we are not allowed to take across the border. Thankfully, the problems at the southern borders have not travelled north, and we make it across to Chile without too much hassle. From what my friends tell me, the news hasn’t made it to Australia, but the southern border was closed due to protests about fuel price hikes.
We arrive in Pucon late evening. As we sit at our first Arabian restaurant in these parts and dig into hommos and pita bread, we get chatting with a British couple who had been air lifted by the Red Cross. Thankfully we had crossed a few days earlier and were not inconvenienced!
Pucon is our last stop before Santiago, the end of this trip, and almost the end of my travels. I decide it is time for a bit of pampering, before I call it quits. I have a hair cut, browse the shops and do a bit of grocery shopping.
We are staying at an Apartment Hotel, which means we have a little kitchen, living area and dining room in addition to our bedrooms and bathrooms. As I hang my washing out and put away my groceries, I am reminded of what it is like to be home on a Saturday, and am briefly stricken with feelings of nostalgia for my home in the bush and the daily routine of a normal life!
Since our accommodation comes equipped with a kitchen, Andy decides to cook us a curry for dinner. We bring our drinks and turn up for a feast and a night of socialising. We have a lovely group and everyone gets on well, so it is fun to relax in the company of friends and enjoy the night. Tomorrow, some of my friends will climb Villarica, the active volcano after which our trip is named. Villarica last blew in the 1980’s and is about 2,800m high. The top of this volcano is a glacier and the slopes are covered in snow even in summer. There are more active volcanoes in the surrounding area, making this one of the most active volcanic regions in South America. About a 1,000 years ago, a 6000m volcano in the vicinity blew its top. Today, it still stands, now a mere 2000m but an amazing testament to the immense power of nature!
I have decided to give the climb a miss. I feel that I have climbed, hiked, swum and run my way through my year away and it is time to wind down, have a bit more pampering and enjoy another slice of Europe in Chile. As we chat, someone yells that the volcano is now visible. Villarica, which had been shrouded in cloud all this time, has finally decided to show us her face. She stands majestic looking down over the town in all her glory as the sun sets. Tomorrow, my friends will make their ascent on Villarica. Today, we drink a toast to another natural wonder and hope for fair weather for our climbers.
By the time I wake up to cook bacon and eggs, my friends are already on their way up the mountain. It is a glorious day and I am happy they have the opportunity to climb in such good weather. For me, it is a perfect day for more pampering and wandering. I have to look after the body, which has stood me in such good stead during a year of abuse! I walk to the lake, browse the markets and take more photos before I go in search of a day spa! My friends come back in the early hours of the evening, tired but exhilarated from their achievement. We have decided to spend the day in the hot springs close by. They need to soak their weary limbs..and I …well, after a year of wandering, my muscles need a bit of relaxing too.
We drive through the surrounding countryside which is absolutely beautiful, to soak in the springs and have my final bit of pampering – a South American massage. For me, it has been a wonderful, relaxing day and I have finally learnt am important lesson - I don’t have to push myself to climb every mountain!
19 January 2011
We drive for 2 days on Ruta 40, breaking journey at a small town called Perito Merino to reach Bariloche. Ruta 40 is one of those legendary stretches of highway here. It is popular with cyclists and is the road that Che Guevara travelled through as a young man on his motor cycle and we came to know through The Motorcycle Diaries.
The Route, parallels the Andes & stretches for 5000 km through the remotest parts of Patagonia, in Argentina, starting from Cancha Carrera near the southern border with Chile, to La Quiaca the northern border with Bolivia. While these miles of nothingness is quite incredible to travellers from Europe, they remind me of of drives in outback Australia. Just like driving the Oodnadatta or similar tracks, one has to plan a road trip between petrol stations, which are very sparsely spaced.
Pit stops are behind a bush if you can find it and we stop along the way to chop up a salad and make a quick burrito for a picnic lunch. The cars, lined up at the petrol station, remind us of the fuel price protests in southern Chile. One of the Chilean borders we crossed was closed just days after we passed through due to the unrest caused by protestors, so we feel lucky to be here!
There are many legends attached to this man, and Ally shares her favourite with us. Gaucho Gil found himself on the run due to being on the wrong side of the military. He was a wanted man and when he was caught, he was up for execution. He looks his executioner in the eyes and while begging for his life, predicts the executioner’s son will get so ill, he will be lucky to survive the night. The executioner pays him no attention, executes him and leaves his body where it fell. He then goes home to find his son very sick & struggling for his life. Mortified, he comes back to Guacho Gil’s body and gives it a decent burial. When he gets home, he finds that his son is recovering. He spreads the word about this man, who then becomes a South American legend!
As we go north, the scenery changes from flat land that stretches for miles to mountainous terrain. After driving for most of the day, we arrive in Bariloche, the centre for the Argentinean Lake District. The city appears to be a small slice of Switzerland, with log cabins, wooden chalets, St Bernard dogs (with a barrels of whiskey around their necks) and amazing chocolate! I love this city, which surprisingly is much larger than I expected, and has a population of 100,000! Many of the first settlers in these parts were Swiss, Germans and Northern Italians, hence the European feel to this place. Today, rich Argentineans, Brazilians and foreign film stars, holiday here. I love the unique architectural style of housing here and the wooden houses blending into the natural environment remind me of my own home in the bush!
The area is a paradise for hikers, climbers and outdoor enthusiasts. If you love the outdoors, this is a place you could happily spend lots of time in. We spend our free day in Bariloche by taking a chair lift up to Cerro Campanario. It is a lovely view at the top and we sit on the rocks up there to enjoy the sunshine and spend a lazy day together. I’ve come here with my friends Katie, Sarah, Rose and Dave. It is Katie’s last day with us as she leaves the tour to visit her boyfriend on an impulsive visit to Colombia, planned just a few days ago! She has mixed emotions today, feeling both excited about her impending travel and sad at leaving the tour.
Soon, we are joined by Bob and Diane who have also made their way up here, as have the rest of our group. We chat and laze around for hours, before our stomachs remind us it is time to go in search of lunch.
We catch the bus to the rather posh Hotel Llao Llao, a landmark in these parts. We notice the well dressed security guard, give us a strange look, as we walk up to the entrance. We are questioned by the doorman, who kindly informs us that we can’t walk in for coffee without a reservation! We wondered later if we could have bluffed our way in, pretending to be guests, but Diane feels we don’t even come close to fitting the profile of guests at these digs and it would have been a waste of time! We spend time in the garden, take pictures of the place and then go looking for lunch. We are starving and I wish out loud for a lunch of hamburgers and focacias. I spot a sign that says restaurant and as we walk down the road we come across a cafe in a converted service station. This certainly looks more our style, and as we settle in to the sheepskin padded furniture and turn the pages of the menu, I find that hamburgers and focacias are on the menu! The Universe has delivered once again!
We make the bus trip back to town, feeling satisfied but there is one more thing to do, on this our chilled out day. Try the hot chocolate in this chocolate heaven!
We walk around the square to find a place that appeals. Earlier we had purchased a great assortment of chocolates so we feel we did this town justice. We are now equipped with the requisite snacks for the long bus trip the following day.
We find a hot chocolate cafe, grab some couches and settle down with large mugs of hot chocolate & cream, feeling very decadent as we sip what seems to be pure melted chocolate. This is pure bliss or..chocolate heaven!
"At night, after the exhausting games of canasta, we would look out over the immense sea, full of white-flecked and green reflections, the two of us leaning side by side on the railing, each of us far away, flying his own aircraft to the stratospheric regions of his own dreams. There we understood that our vocation, our true vocation, was to move for eternity along the roads and seas of the world. Always curious, looking into everything that came before our eyes, sniffing out each corner but only very faintly – not setting down roots in any land or staying long enough to see the substratum of things; the outer limits would suffice."
— Guevara aboard a ship in the Pacific Ocean
16 January 2011
After lunch we make our way back to the glacier for a walk on the ice. While I have done this once before in New Zealand for many in our group this is a first as well. The scenery is spectacular and I am looking forward to taking more photos of the glacier close up.
We still have all of our safety gear on. We walk on narrow ridges and there are crevices and canyons on either side of us. Our health and safety is our responsibility but the guides are amazing and keep a close watch as we negotiate the glacier.There are 3 guides to the 11 travellers in the group, which is a really good ratio. They are extremely professional and attentive and I would recommend Fitzroy Expeditions to anyone venturing out for a bit of adventure in Patagonia!
The guides chisel the ice on the really steep bits, making it easier for us to get a grip. Unfortunately, the weather has turned and the infamous Patagonia winds are blowing a gale.
We look out over fabulous view points before the guides lead us to a special place and promise us a surprise. Plastic glasses are whipped out and they chisel away at the glacier, filling each glass with ice. Then, out comes a bottle of baileys, the alcohol is passed around and we drink a toast to an amazing day!
It is time to head back to camp and the catamaran that will take us back. What an amazing day! Perhaps one of the top ten highlights of my life!
To dare is to lose one's footing momentarily. To not dare is to lose oneself. ~Soren Kierkegaard
When I came to Patagonia, I expected to wind down after my travels through Antarctica, after what has been a very hectic year of travel. But Patagonia has forced me to sit up and notice her and continued to challenge me physically, dishing up new challenges and stunning vistas that have left me awestruck at the beauty of this planet we live in. I guess I will have to wait till I am back in Sydney to have a holiday!
At the start of my year off, I vowed I’d challenge myself to live outside my comfort zone. When we are informed that we have the opportunity to go ice climbing Viedma Glacier, Argentina’s largest glacier, I can’t possibly turn it down!
Viedma Glacier is also situated in Los Glaciers NP, which stretches for 170 km along the Chilean border and is the second largest park in Argentina. There are 13 main glaciers that descend into Lake Argentina and Lake Viedma so it is a chance to ice climb in a stunning place. Almost half of this park is covered by the Southern Ice cap although this section is completely inaccessible.
Initially, Sarah, Katie and I vacillate between wanting to give the ice climbing a go, and being a little apprehensive about the whole exercise. We make a final decision to throw our hats in the ring the evening before the excursion. There are few places in the world, where beginners can ice climb, especially with such a stunning back drop! The three of us are joined on this excursion by Dave and Rose as well as Bob & Diane, a couple from Brisbane who travelled with me in Antarctica. It is another clear beautiful day as we make the catamaran trip to ‘base camp’! We are fully kitted out with our safety equipment including crampons, which we wear over our boots (for walking on ice) a safety harness and helmets in case of a fall.
After the guides install the climbing ropes, we are given some basic instruction on technique and then its time to hit the wall! Bob, goes first, but he is suffering from a bad foot and is unable to get to the summit. I am next and despite my initial trepidation, get up to the top with only a few slips from which I recover from quickly without losing too much ground.
It is an amazing feeling to get to the top of the wall, and hit my pickaxe on the ridge! I feel an amazing sense of achievement at completing this basic climb. It is my first ice wall climb, (as it is for the rest of the group) and the buzz I get from reaching the top stays with me for awhile.
Everyone is cheering and I feel quite elated. One of the best things about travel is how supportive your fellow travellers are, when you are attempting something new. I want to keep going but there is nowhere to go but abseil down. I am instructed on what to do, and I hold my axes free of the ice, keep my boots flat and make my way down, in a similar fashion to an abseil off a cliff face when rock climbing.
I’ve set the tempo for the group and everyone is raring to give it a go. There are 2 ropes against this ice wall, and I watch as a few people seem to struggle going up the second rope. Once everyone has their first go, the guides inform us that we can switch ropes and try a different ice wall face. I am excited at the prospect of going up again, and walk up with a determination to get up this second more difficult wall. While I slip a little, I am confident in my recovery and reach the summit of the second wall, with an even greater sense of elation. I am more relaxed the second time around and have lots of fun rappelling back and make little jumps off the ice on my way down, just like the pros!We then move on to a different area, with a fresh challenge. Two adjacent walls, with very different levels of difficulty. The ice wall on the left is almost vertical and very hard to climb. The wall on the right has a flatter slope and is easier.
I feel quite comfortable now and am enjoying this so much that I try for the hardest wall right away. The ice is much looser than on my previous climbs and crumbles as I struggle to get my ice pick to hold. I have a lot of determination but my body is tired from climbing the first 2 walls and despite my best efforts I don’t get further than half way. Most people didn’t master this wall, but Katie shows us how its done by climbing her way to the top!
I want to finish the day on a high so I make my last attempt on the easier wall. This one is so much easier in comparison, I am almost running up the wall initially. I make it to the top without a problem and shake my ice picks in the air and give out a whoop of delight! I’ve had a blast. It has been a marvellous morning and we are all on a high before we make our way back to base camp for lunch. The day is only half over and we have a glacier walk to complete after lunch!