Archive | February, 2010

I am not dead

28 Feb

Hey folks,

Just a quick message to let you know that I am currently back in Paraguay, therefore was safe from the earthquake in Chile. Cheers for the emails of concern.

To everybody in Chile, big love at this time.

NBL Hap

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Torres del “Pain”

25 Feb

National Geographic say the Torres del Paine hike is one of the 50 things you should do before you die, but I believe there was a mix up when they published that and it was meant to read “the top 50 ways to die”. So I have amply named this post Torres del Pain, not Paine, let me share my “memorable” Torres del Paine experience with you.

I had already completed the busier 4-5 day “W” section of the Torres del Paine circuit. I said good bye to my Dutch, Swedish, Scottish and English “W” hiking buddies and set off to hike 3-4 more days on the less visited back section of the circuit where I bumped into Craig and Roz a kiwi couple who were to be my new hiking buddies.

On what was my 5th night we made it to Los Perros camping ground which is the jumping off point for “The Pass”, the hardest part of the hike. Your experience of doing the pass relies a lot on the weather, you can have blue skies and wonderful views looking over the Patagonian ice fields coming down the other side, or you can have knee deep snow, strong winds that would send a five year old flying and visibility that would make a blind man feel comfortable!

Well guess what experience I had! Actually I had no experience of the pass, I will explain.

When we arrived at the camping ground we set up our tents at 8pm and then it started to rain and it didn’t stop for 36 hours! To add to the fun DJ Mother Nature decided to mix in some tent breaking icy cold winds, fluffy white snow that lost its appeal right away and every other kind of natural element you don’t want when camping.

The morning of day 6 I woke at 2.30am thinking a freight train was passing my tent but then realised I was in the heart of Patagonia and it was only the wind and rain. I managed to grab a couple more on/off hours of sleep as the cold kept nibbling away at my body and mind.

At 7am I got up and cooked some porridge with Craig and discussed the plan for the day. As it was raining which meant it would be snowing in the pass and no visibility we decided to wait a couple of hours and see if the weather passed as in Patagonia the weather has the “four seasons in one day” reputation. The video below is of me waiting in my tent, worth a watch, pretty funny looking back at it.

Well 11am rolled around and the bad weather kept rolling. 5 people tried for the pass but all turned around due to the dangerous conditions and ended up back at the camp wet and cold recommending us to wait out the day, stay dry and hope for better weather (little did we know at this point the bad weather would last 36 hours – unheard of here).

So that’s what we did. There was one smoke filled canvas sided shelter that the camping ground population swarmed to for some protection from the elements. As the afternoon dragged into evening hikers kept coming in varying forms of unhappiness, wet covered in snow, some with blue lips, some crying. It really was quite dangerous, a serious risk of hyperthermia as you have a lot of people that are just unaware and unprepared.

Torres del Paine attracts a lot of tourists, a lot with no hiking experience, which is great for them to get out and experience it, but also in these situations can be quite dangerous. When they arrive cold and soaking wet wearng jeans and sneakers and have a lack of dry clothes and their tent is wet from the night before, the night coming is not going to be enjoyable one in the freezing cold climate. Fortunately growing up in NZ I had done my fare share of hiking and with the local knowledge I picked up from the Erratic Rock seminar I was prepared for the inevitable bad weather.

As the stormy grey skies were taking on a darker shade indicating the arrival of night I pondered our situation. We were at was the most isolated point on the circuit where you would have to hike 14 hours in either direction just to reach a point where you could be transported out. There is no rescue infrastructure here in Chile like back home, forget about the helicopter to safety, think more like being slung over a horse – just what you would want if you had a broken leg.

As I was thinking all this I got a nauseous feeling in my stomach. Then my thoughts turned to thinking that “yeah this would be a shitty place to get sick”. With that thought the days macaroni and porridge starting knocking at the door saying they wanted out, so I left the smoke filled shelter to get some fresh air (rain) hoping that would help. No sooner had I left the hut and I found myself power spewing at the base of the nearest tree! As I was hunched over with my hands on my knees looking down at my rather impressively large puddle of spew I couldn’t help but think “wow, my porridge looks the same as it did when I had served it up”.

My fascination with my porridge puddle was shortly lived as Mr Macaroni started knocking at the back door. I made a bee line to the 2 camp toilets that just happened to not be flushing and being used by the 60 hikers. Let’s just say I thankfully made it in time and I was not as impressed with Mr Macaroni’s appearance as Mr Porridge – and remember the toilet wasn’t flushing! (sorry campers)

I made my way through the mud, puddles, rain and wind to my semi dry bright orange tent oasis and crawled into my cold sleeping bag. I contemplated my night ahead, cold, spewing, diareaha and a nice 2 day hike (14 hours) to get out. At this point all I could focus on was the bus back to Puerto Natales.

But I also felt very thankful that I was prepared, I was dry unlike a lot of the people, and I was warm. Craig and Roz offered their assistant but there was nothing they could really do, I just had to ride it out. They kindly made me some lemon drink and I swallowed down some Imodium pills to board up the back door as the last thing I would want to be doing during the stormy night is making the 50 metre dash through the mud and rain to the camp toilet.

My night consisted of me with my head outside the tent in the rain heaving, I couldn’t even keep down water. I didn’t get any sleep and probably my poor neighbours didn’t get any either but I’m sure they weren’t too worried as they would of rather been in their situation than the poor barstard beside them. A couple of time they shouted out above the wind “Are you OK?”, I just replied “yeah mate, dry and warm”, and I was just soooooooo thankful for that Imodium.

This continued most of the night. I was just praying that the wind didn’t blow my tent down as at some points the poles flexed near breaking point (I was so glad I decided at the last minute to rent a quality tent than risk it with my cheap Paraguayan tent). I finally nodded off at 7am until 9am when Craig came over and offered me some hot water and looked down at me in my tent with eyes that said “you poor barstard”. He told me the weather hadn’t given up and the pass was still blanketed in a fury of snow and wind so they had decided to go back the way we had come. Probably surprisingly to him I said “let’s go”, the whole night I had been sitting there and I knew there was only one option, and that was 2 days hiking for that bus, I had prepared myself (the photo below I put on my angry face being the poser I am but actually I was glad to be leaving and making a move towards that bus).

After breakfast, I popped my last Imodium so I wouldn’t have to keep stopping and we started the hike out. Finally the rain had stopped although the skies were still grey and gloomy and with the past 36 hours of rain the once nice tracks had transformed into rivers of mud.

Many games of famous people and going through the alphabet naming countries took my mind off the walking and the tiredness I should have been feeling. After 7 hours we set up camp, all exhausted and we had a tired laugh as I said “and we do this for fun?”.

The next day I was up early at 5.50am as I had 7 hours hiking between me and that 2pm bus that I had been thinking of the last 2 days and I was catching that bus no matter what. And as fate would have it, my 8th and final day I was welcomed by blue skies!

But Mother Nature decided to send me off and remind me of my inferiority and battered me with winds that made me feel like a rag doll battling a hair dryer – check out the video, sorry I drop the “F” word.

I made it back an hour before the bus left. I snuck into the national park hostel, unboarded the Imodium barricaded back door, peeled off my clothes and put myself under the hot water of the shower that was the most amazing feeling after 9 days of no showers (9 days because the morning I left my Puerto Natales hostel I went to have a shower but there was no hot water, so icy cold water at 6.30am in the morning didn’t sound too enjoyable and I thought “what’s one more day”)

After I showered I went to the bar and ordered a beer out of reflex. For some reason there’s something about that victory beer that tastes soooo sweet after achieving something. Obviously my stomach and brain weren’t communicating too well as that beer did not sit too well. But as I sat there I looked up and right there in front of me bathed in sun with blue skies as a background were the three towers that had eluded me. Beside me at another table was a young guy showing his girlfriend the photo of the towers and recounting his day hike tour. I sat there, and recounted my hike to myself; it had snowed so I hadn’t seen the towers, I hadn’t completed the circuit (although I had walked the same distance but what would have been last 14 hours hiking the pass and the glacier were spent retracing my footsteps) due to the weather and getting sick, but it was memorable. As cheesy as it was I thought to myself “it’s not all about the photos, it’s about the memories”.

I arrived at Puerto Natales, dropped my gear off, gave the poor lady at the laundrette my bag of 8 day clothes that were soaked in ALL mine and Mother Natures body fluids (you try peeing in those winds) on them and even someone elses! And then headed for some homemade Pumpkin and Ginger soup and green tea.

After that I made my way back to the hostel where there were some excited hikers preparing their packs for their hike in the morning. They asked me “how was the hike, any advice?” “ummmmmmm…..beautiful scenery…………………take some imodium”.

A “shit” time at Torres Del Paine!

22 Feb

The photo below is the famed Torres Del Paine photo that every tourist like myself is after (I hope I’m not breaking any copyright laws, but this pic I took from http://www.cornforthimages.com). It is like Machu Pichu, everyone wants the photo with the bragging rights.

Some people get that photo by doing the 4-5 day “W” trek, some the 8 day circuit or some the day hike, or some just get it off the internet and save themselves a lot of money – it’s bloody expensive here in Chile, prices are more like New Zealand than South America.

Of course I wanted that photo as well and so did everything in my power to get it, but some greater force had different ideas for my Torres Del Paine photo. Check the video out below, it’s of me getting up at 4.30 am, basically you get a good view up my nostrils and I continually rub my beard.

I set my alarm for 4.30am and was welcomed by wind and light snow outside my tent. But the locals say that even if it’s snowing you still have to go to the towers as the Patagonian weather is so unpredictable that within an hour you could be experiencing the most breath-taking Torres Del Paine sunrise.

My “W” hiking buddies on their way past in the early morning shook my tent to make sure I was up, I shouted back to say I would meet them up there. I put on my hiking clothes and stuffed my sleeping mat, sleeping bag and dry clothes in my pack. I exited my tent like cocoon to the darkness outside to start the 45 minute hike up to the look out.

I decided to follow some rat tracks and take a short cut up through the back of the camp ground onto the lookout trail. As I clambered over bush and between branches it wasn’t long before the unmistakable smell of human faecal matter started following me. The photo below I took after the sunrise shows that unbeknown to me I had actually entered a human poo mine field (that’s toilet paper)!

My first reflex, I point my head lamp in a downward direction to inspect where the smell is coming from, only to be disgusted by a distinctly coloured brown smear down the left inner calf of my pants. My second reflex with my 4.30am brain was to wipe it off, so with my right shoe I scrap it off! Yep, real bright idea Hap, you guessed it, the brown smear just got bigger!

The sole of right shoe and my inner left calf now made me look like I had been hiking through mud……………..human mud. In a frantic attempt to rid myself of the smell and dislodge as much of the poo matter as possible I got on all fours and like a dog that has had his hind legs clipped by a passing car I started dragging my left inner calf along the dirt and shrubs.

Despite my “shit” situation I had a photo to take and so the show had to go on!

I made it to the look-out where my “W” crew had already set-up camp ready for the photo. Much to their disgusted amusement I tell them of my unfortunate morning and changed my pants and hop into my sleeping bag to wait for the sun.

But it looked as though my shit situation was going to get shittier………………………..or was it better. As you can see from the photos there was a distinct lack of sun. But we all took great amusement in how stupid our situation was, here we all were, freezing sitting in a snow storm waiting for a sun rise! Haha.

We all sat there laughing, drinking hot tea which Julia kindly made for us as she had lost cards the day before.

I didn’t get the photo of the famed towers, but the photo below to me is even better (usually the rock pillars tower in the background of the below photo). Good memorable times.

Then we made our way back down the snow covered trail, to break down camp and move on. For my “W” buddies it marked their final day and for me it marked my half way point with the back of the circuit waiting for me…………………………………….more on this in the coming post.

Torres del Paine photo journal

18 Feb

First of all if anybody is reading this and is heading to Puerto Natales to do the Torres del Paine hike then make sure you go to the Erractic Rock Hostel information seminar that they hold at their base camp everyday at 3pm. And also they are the only place in Patagonia (the southern region of Chile and Argentina) that recycles your gas canisters – so take em along and join the “rucksack revolution”.

OK, in this post I’m going to give a day by day photo tour of my Torres del Paine 8 day hike, which didn’t go quite to plan let’s say, but I will explain the “didn’t go quite to plan” in my coming two posts that will make some entertaining reading for you guys, although it was very UNentertaining for me.

If you don’t know, Torres del Paine is a famous eight day hike that circles three phenomenal rock towers (Torres del Paine). If you read some hiking websites they rate it as one of the best hikes etc, obviously that’s a pretty big claim, but yep it is pretty darn cool.

The circuit is split up into the 4-5 day “W” section which is popular for people with less time and people not wanting to carry 8 days worth of stuff for the entire circuit. It is the busier part of the hike where you are constantly passing hikers going both ways along the track (I was here in the peak of high season). The “W” also has many facilities, there are Refugio’s which are basically hostels in the park that charge ridiculous prices for bunk beds and meals for hikers not wanting to camp.

Then there is the 3-4 day back section of the circuit which is more isolated with less facilities but home to some different landscapes and a bit more tranquillity and not to mention some crazy winds.

The total circuit comprising of the “W” and the back section is an 8 day (can be less or more depending how fast/slow you want to go) loop covering 93 km of varied terrain. But anyway, I will let the photos do the talking for me.

Day 1 – Paine Grande up to Mirador Grey then to onto Campamento Italiano to camp the night (6 hours)

 

It looks like I’m quite enjoying getting blown. Strong winds with Glacier Grey in the background.

 

My virgin smile on my first day, little did I know Mother Nature was going to slap that off my face and violate my happiness in the last couple of days.

 

Lucas my Dutch violin playing Astronomer hiking buddy. One of many instant macaroni cheese dinners.

 

Day 2 – Up Valle del Frances then onto Campamento Cuernos (6 hours)

Looks to me like a river and Rocky Mountains

 

A backpacker in a hiker’s world.

 

I call this photo, “dead trees and a big rock”

 

Lucas and I literally “chilling out” at the top of Valle Frances.

 

Not a bad spot for lunch.

 

Is it just me or do I actually look buff in this photo? Oh yeah, Lucas and I went swimming, and for the record lakes that are fed by Glacier melt are rather cold.

 

Day 3 – Cuernos up to Campamento Torres which is the jumping off point to see the famous Torres del Paine sunrise (7 hours)

A video of my early morning tranquil settings.

 

A lake

 

I really enjoyed this part of the hike, I was up early and only had to share the track with these horses.

 

My campsite at Las Torres camping ground. Hanging out my pack and towel to dry off.

 

The “W” crew, cooking dinner (the UK contingent were cooking crackers sautéed in beef stock and tuna oil as they had run out of food) on our last night together.

 

Day 4 – Up early to catch the sunrise (more on my sunrise experience in the following post), then down to Hosteria Las Torres where I said good bye to “w” hiking buddies and then carried onto Campamento Seron, the first camping ground on the back circuit. (7 hours)

Patagonia is known for its unpredictable extreme weather. We enjoyed the summer snow!

 

A diverse landscape, rocky mountains to fields of daisies.

 

Talk about 4 seasons in one day, I started the day with snow, I walked through rain, hail and relentless winds and ended the day with glorious blue skies!

 

Camping ground Seron, the first stop on the back circuit. A surprising amount of tents. The sunshine gave me a great opportunity to dry my gear out.

 

 

Day 5 – Met kiwi couple Craig and Roz. We did a big 10 hour day, pushing through to Campamento Los Perros which is the jumping off point for “The Pass” (Paso John Gardner).

A video with lots of wind noise I say it’s rather windy (I say it’s day 4 but it’s actually day 5)

 

My first real chance to get my feet wet. Little did I know there were plenty more opportunities to come.

 

After 5-6 hours hike to Refugio Dickson on the backside and 4 more hours to go up to Los Perros I thought a photo of the soccer field was a better idea than a game. Not a bad setting for a kick around though.

 

The Chilean flag and the Chilean Patagonian flag blowing in the wind.

 

Craig and Roz blazing the trail through the forest on our way up to Los Perros camping ground.

 

A lot of times during the hike I thought I could of been back home in New Zealand, very similar landscape. Oh yeah, this photo is of a river!

 

You can’t see but the wind was pretty darn strong. At one point the wind was blowing the waterfalls in the back ground back up the cliff.

 

Kiwi hiking buddies Craig (how kiwi is Craig in his shorts – classic) and Roz enjoying another instant macaroni cheese meal in the drizzle at Los Perros camping ground.

 

Day 6 – Ummmm lets just say the coming days are going to require a post of their own!

The most beautiful place in the world!

12 Feb

Over the years of working the world I find nothing more satisfying than completing a chapter. And this chapter has been my most challenging. Sitting here in a smoky café in Puerto Natales, Chile I reflect on my early days of the chapter when I arrived in Ushuaia. The streets that were once foreign to me, spending my birthday at the bottom of the world, the constant battle to stay positive as I kept pushing to find work on what was the illusive continent, the people I had met and new friends I had made, the people that helped me.

And of course I reflected on Antarctica. I sum it up as the worst job I have had, but the best continent I have been to. I have been a little disappointed at how negative my blog posts have come across as I have documented my journey. But I suppose that was how I was feeling. Don’t get me wrong I would not change the experience for anything, I learnt a lot from it, and as the saying goes (well something like this) “you learn more from a day of discomfort than a life time of apparent happiness”.

As I sit here in the comfort of this small Chilean town with the freedom to do what I want and the famed Torres del Paine hike waiting for me I wonder if the cruise ship life was as bad as I portrayed it to be. But time is a devious creature that disguises the past events with illusions of good times, like a lady that leaves her abusive partner but then a year later she only remembers the fun times and then gives him a second chance only to realise he’s still a spineless woman beater.

But I’m not stupid, there is no way in the world I would take back the job. But I would like to remember the good times. The goods times of the SPECTACULAR fairy tale white continent that will forever hold a place in my heart.

A place that is the most beautiful place I have been to! I made nearly 20 landings whilst on the cruise ship, I didn’t have time to write posts on them all, but theres only so many posts you can do about comical quirky penguins, belching masses of seals, surreal icebergs and out of this world landscapes. But I left this post as my last, to leave on a good positive vibe. These photos and videos are from Nikau Harbour located in Paradise Bay on the Antarctic Peninsula. It was a beautiful blue skied day, calm, peaceful, we had whales surfacing just 30 metres from the shore, abundance of penguins, ice bergs, ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh, I’ll just let the photos and videos try to do the talking of the place that is the most beautiful place I have been to!

 

What day is it today?

9 Feb

The title to this post, “what day is it today?” is the question I asked my co-workers whilst inhaling our food at the crew mess before rushing to work. Out of the five of us, not one of us knew. Why? Because every day is the same, it’s Groundhog Day. My body calendar is controlled by laundry day which falls on every second day. Watch the above video for a day in the life of an assistant waiter onboard a 6 star Antarctic cruise ship.

My body clock is all over the show as I wake up and go to sleep three times a day. Sometimes when that droning beep beep beep brings me from my dream land where I’m frolicking naked in a field of daisy’s back into my dark coffin like top bunk it’s not until I look at the time I realise if it’s breakfast, lunch or dinner.

On one occasion I turned up to the crew mess before work, my immaculately groomed and dressed head waiter approaches me and says “Mark what’s wrong with your shirt?”. I thought he was talking about the fact my shirt was missing a button so I start on a big rant about how my shirt came back from the laundry missing a button and how I hadn’t been able to find the tailor to fix it etc. He just smiles and says “Mark it’s dinner time, you’re wearing your lunch uniform!” – classic, I totally thought it was lunch time, awesome I just gained half a day!

Our days are totally dependent on the expedition landings ie if we are at sea or if we are in Antarctica and the guests are doing outings on the zodiacs which can start as early 5.30am. We start breakfast between 4am and 7am, and this goes for 3-4 hours. For lunch we start work at midday and work another 3 -4 hours. For dinner we start at 6.45pm and work 5-6 hours until around midnight. This schedule is very taxing as it takes up the whole day. I have worked the oil rigs and Australian mines where I worked 12 hour days, but it is a shift, 6am to 6pm and you can have coffee breaks etc during the day, and then at the end of the day I had 12 hours off, I had time to relax, go to the gym, watch a movie etc. But with the cruise ship lifestyle my work is spread over the whole day and at most I will have 6 hours continuous sleep.

When I’m at work, I work! There is no relax time, there is no standing around the water cooler or making a coffee. You start 30 minutes before opening preparing everything for the guest’s arrival, everybody is rushing to be ready for when the doors open, then the 132 guests are there and everybody is stressed trying to meet the orders. Then the guests leave and everybody is going flat out trying to clean and finish up so we can have more time to sleep.

In this job you take whatever chance you get to sleep. The lifestyle is a work/sleep lifestyle, and any landings you do, or crew parties you attend come at a great sacrifice to sleep. In this job there are no days off. You get a breakfast duty off roughly once a week, so you will finish dinner service at midnight, you have breakfast off, but you still have to start back at midday, so a “day off” is only 12 hours off which isn’t much if you want to tidy your cabin, do your laundry, sleep, have breakfast and get ready for work.

The lifestyle to me is a very unhealthy, you’re constantly running on empty due to lack of sleep and pushing yourself to the limit and at times it feels as though your body is shutting down. It was common for me to have a couple of ibuprofen before going to dinner service to dull the headaches and back pain (I only have myself to blame for this a I didn’t disclose my back accident in my medical- there was no way I was going to have my dream taken away from me when I was that close by failing a medical!).

For me it as though the skinny get skinnier and the fat get fattier! I have 6 meals a day because I also eat the left over’s from the dining room, and Annemarie the pastry chef is trying to fatten me up with 4 desert portions after dinner, but still I look like the Save the Children Fund pin up boy. Just check out the photo below from my polar plunge, there are two 12 year old bodies, the only difference is that one of them actually belongs to a 28 years old – haha.

Obviously the crew food is not 6 star, we get served various kinds of slop that usually takes on a different shade of brown and the salad bar usually consists of lettuce, and some tomato and cucumber if we are lucky. But I cannot complain as I said the dining room teams gets to help themselves to the left over buffets.

Many times I hear “Mark you look tired”, more accurate would be “Mark it looks like you have been on a 5 day sleepless herion bender”. But for me, bags under the blood shot eyes and looking tired is part of the uniform; it would be more out of the ordinary to be told “Mark you don’t look tired”.

To conclude this post, the cruise ship lifestyle is far from glamorous, you are made to earn every cent, you appreciate every minute of sleep in a Groundhog Day routine. The other reality is that you don’t get to see the world; you get to see the inside of a cruise ship.

Don’t miss the bus!

4 Feb

When I disembarked from the cruise ship at 5pm on Friday in Ushuaia (Argentina) I had 72 hours to exit the country. For these 72 hours I was the responsibility of the company’s local port agent. The port agent had organised me a bus ticket leaving at 5am on Monday morning (most crew members fly out on the first flight back to their homes, but I had wanted the cheapest option to exit Argentina). When he came to my hostel and handed me my passport, bus ticket and all the immigration papers he had got notarised showing that I was leaving the country his last words to me as he left were “DON’T MISS THE BUS”.

You probably know where this is going………………I missed the bus. What makes this even more comical is that at 1.30am that morning as I was saying good bye to friend Vikky I remember answering her concern that I had to catch the bus in less than 4 hours with a “I’ve travelled for 7 years and I’ve never missed a bus (not totally truthful, once in Mexico I thought I could wait all night in the bar and then catch the 6am boat – I found out I couldn’t).

For whatever reason my alarm clock didn’t go off, maybe that reason was the red wine, maybe it was the 1.80 metre male that goes by the name of Hap, or maybe it was little alarm clock turning off lepricorns. Anyway, I ended up waking at 5.28am with a sinking feeling in my stomach that sunk even further when I turned my cell phone on and saw the time.

I grabbed my pack and took off out the dorm room door hoping that the bus driver was a true Argentinean and would be running late. I got to the street corner where it was leaving from, and my stomach sunk even further so that the turtle was poking his head out. No bus. In most places in the world this would be no problem, just go to the bus station and buy a ticket for the next bus. But you have to remember that I’m in Ushuaia, not just any place in the world, but the proclaimed “end of the world”. There is no bus station and the bus to Chile only leaves 3 times a week at 5am on a Monday, Wednesday and Friday.

I weight up my options to exit the Argentina by 5pm when my 72 hours would be up, or should I say “option”. As the sun rose over Ushuaia where I had arrived 3 months previously, I stuck my thumb out and started the walk to the main (the only) highway out of town.

After an hour of walking, feeling cold, cramps in my hitch hiker thumb and battling to fight the weight of my eye lids who were striking due to the lack of sleep the previous night I decided to ring my port agent. You can imagine my poor port agents joy as he is woken at 7am on a Monday morning by an incoming call from the client he told “don’t miss the bus”. “I missed the bus, I’m really sorry, I’m trying to hitchhike but there isn’t much traffic”, “Urrgghhhh, OoooooooK, come back to town, go to the hostel and wait, I’ll talk to my boss and then call you”.

As Murphy ‘s Law has it, I turn around and start to hitch back into town and was picked up by the first car. I arrive back at the hostel and bee-line it to the hostel reception couch where I give into my eye lids protest, drifting off while grasping my cell phone like a rescue rope to a drowning victim.

The tug of the rescue rope wakes me from my shallow daze, “Hello Mark, I have talked to my boss, the next bus doesn’t leave until Wednesday, but he thinks you can probably use the same immigration paper but will have to pay an overstaying fee or they may hold you at the boarder”. Ok, there are two phrases in that sentence that didn’t really fill me with reassurance, the first being “overstaying fee” which usually translate to “let’s screw this foreigner for all he is worth” and “hold you” which from previous experience in America has led to a windowless concrete room with a room mate by the name of Philip who is staying in the room due to drug trafficking allegations.

I go to the hostel reception, which by the way if you go to Ushuaia make sure you stay at Hostel Antarctica, this was my home for a month before I found my job on the cruise ship, Gabriel and staff are awesome. Maia the receptionist rings around and confirms that there are no more buses leaving for Chile until Wednesday, but there is a bus leaving at 11am to Rio Grande that is 3 hours out of town.

So that was my only option if I wanted a chance at reaching the Chilean boarder by 5pm that night. My plan was that I could get 3 hours sleep on the bus and then try my luck hitch hiking from Rio Grande to the Chilean boarder.

After 3 hours of bumpy of/off bus sleep I arrive in Rio Grande where the bus driver drops me at a truck stop and farewells me with good news that the Chilean boarder is only an hour and half away (My original bus ticket had been for Punto Arenas in Chile, which turns out is 6 hours into Chile from the boarder). Awesome, I can make it before 5pm.

After an hour and a half of sitting on my pack with my thumb out in the chilling Tierra Fuego wind I required a coffee. I went across the road to the car wash that had a little kiosko attached to it. I sit at one of the three rickety tables set in a black painted concrete wall car wash that is decorated with photos of the owner with various rally driving stars. Despite the sign advertising coffee in the window there is no coffee so I settle for a cold beer to warm my soul. The rally driving owner gives me advice to walk a kilometre down the road to a round-a-bout, as there all the traffic will be leaving for “la frontera de Chile”.

As I exit the rally photo clad black walled car wash with an Argentinean Quilmes cerveza brewing in my stomach I stick out my thumb as I start the 1 km walk to the round-a-bout where I should have more luck. Within a minute a 2 door silver VW sports car pulls over on the busy road and honks it horn signalling me to hurry up. Under the weight of my pack, I rush to the waiting car like a person rushing to the movie theatre toilet after watching Lord of the rings and consuming a jumbo sized coke.

Middle aged Claudio and Ricardo who are on their way to Rio Gallegos on the Argentinean mainland pick me up (You have to go through Chile to get to the Argentinean mainland from Tierra del Fuego). They aren’t that talkative but from Claudio’s driving I know that he has driven the gravel road many times before and I conclude in my restless mind that they are mafia men going to the mainland to smuggle illegal foreigners back into Tierra del Fuego. As we arrive at the boarder set amongst sheep paddocks with fluffy white clouds floating in the blue sky I look at my cell phone clock, 5pm, perfect.

A bus had just pulled up before us so there was a big queue of tourists waiting to be processed. Claudio kindly ushers me into the Argentinean nationals queue with him and fast tracks me to the front of the queue saying hello to all the immigration staff with their first names, confirming my people smuggling thoughts – or more likely he’s just a friendly guy that drives that road a lot and feels sorry for a freezing cold foreigner on the side of the road. With Claudio at my side I show them all my immigration crew visa papers that my port agent had given me 72 and ¼ hours beforehand, and after a minute of perusing them they stamp my passport and signal me to leave with Claudio.

Later on we arrive at a narrow fast flowing body of water that Claudio tells me is the channel between continental South America and the island of Tierra del Fuego at the end of the world. We board a car ferry and Claudio get outs to pay, talking to a couple of Chilean military guys along the way.

20 minutes later we arrive on continental South America and drive a further hour through the flat farm lands until we arrive at an intersection. Claudio pulls over, waves down the passing truck which is driven by the Chilean army guys, throws my back pack in there, gives me a kiss that I think was held for a bit too long for the amount of time we had known each other and wishes me good travels and then he speeds off in the direction of mainland Argentina.

I squeeze into the back seat of the 4 door pickup truck beside white polystyrene boxes with “fresco” stamped on them – Fresca means fresh, but I never did ask what fresh contents the boxes housed. Military uniform clad Giraldo and Nicolas occupied the front seats and were very friendly and enjoyed the unusual company of the guy from Nueva Zelanda.

A couple of hours later around 9.30pm as the sun was thinking about exiting the sky we reached the cross roads of Punta Arenas (the destination of my missed bus ticket) and Puerto Natales. I decided to get out at this cross roads in the middle of nowhere and try my luck at getting a ride the further 193km to Puerto Natales, the home of the famous “Torres del Paine” hike, which is rated by national geographic as one of the top 50 things you have to experience before you die.

As I jump out of the truck into the unobstructed wind that rips across the flat barren Chilean farm land I see there isn’t much traffic. As the sun goes to sleep I realise I’m better off at setting up camp than trying my luck with the next to nothing traffic.

I doze off to sleep with the intermittent roar of a semi truck passing a 5 metres away and the constant thread that the roaring wind is going take my wind sock designed cheap Paraguayan tent fly into the night sky.

All goes well through the night; my fly stays intact and the dark rain clouds that loomed in the distance as I went to sleep stayed in the distance. I wake to the noise of passing morning traffic, and the cold even though I’m wearing my thermals, woollen hat and 3 sweat shirts. I have my breakfast which consists of some “CHILLean” water and eat the remainder of my night before dinner that was a packet of crushed water crackers. I break down my camp and set up my new camp beside the isolated narrow highway, doing some back exercises to try and keep me warm against the unrelenting wind that this area is famous for.

After not long Franciso, a Punta Arenas born and bred local picks me up on his way to Puerto Natales. For a couple of hours we chat away and he tells me all about the surrounding area. As we glide through the Chilean plans mythical condors fly above us and the funny wild lama like animals that look like the result of a night spent between a sexually frustrated horse and shaggy sheep roam the road side.

Finally I reach small welcoming Puerto Natales, 19 hours after I was meant to, but also a lot more memories than I was meant to as well! The end, or is it the start

OK folks, as you read this I am probably just starting my 9 day Torres del Paine hike (providing my back can handle carrying the 9 days of supplies and my cheap tent handles the 100km+ wind and rain). But don’t worry hapworkingtheworld.com will continue, I have queued up my 2 final Antarctica posts to fill the 9 day gap. So enjoy and I will catch you in 10 days or so.

Nuthin but love Hap