Patagonia Expedition – January 2008

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Thanks for writing to me!

I am currently out in the middle of absolutly nowhere in the Argentine
Patagonia, South America where no cellphones nor WiFi Internet
receptions are abundant. About once every four weeks I will come in to
civilization again where I can access a phone and Internet again and I
will be happy to reply to you at that time, thanks for your patience!

What I am doing is called a:
Patagonia Exploration and Wildlife Research Expedition

There will be two research projects operating alongside a continuous
trekking programme and expedition members joining for 12 weeks will be
taking part in all three phases on a rotation basis. Short
exploratory/survey treks will be part of the science projects and
further challenging treks consist of the traversing the Patagonian
steppe, the demanding summit attempt of Tronador volcano and other
short adventures such as attempting to summit Lanín Volcano and kayak
traversing of lakes (depending on season). The research projects have
been chosen not only for their value in their field of study, but also
to compliment each other by providing a range of both landscapes and
fieldwork.

This expedition will aim to raise awareness of the need for
conservation and preservation of Patagonia’s highly threatened and
sensitive habitats, while also giving expedition members access to the
beauty and adventure of living in Patagonia for an extended period of
time.

“Nine and a half hours of hiking, hanging out and getting lost in the
beauty of the Andes… If only every day of my life could be like
this one.”
JB Haab, 2006

http://www.gviusa.com/pages/expeditionDetail.asp?expedition=74

Patagonia Trip Note 1 – GVI training in La Lipela
(text kindly contributed by Lee Martin)

Seems like a very long time since I updated this (well actually I never have as Hot Blog seems to have vanished), and I guess that’s mainly because it is, but it’s also because I’ve done so much great stuff! So, what I thought I’d do was split it into 3 updates, basically because what I’ve been up to so far has been in 3 more easily digestible chunks!

To recap then, I’m on a volunteer expedition with a company called Global Vision International. They run volunteer weeks, fortnights, months and longer expeditions of 10 to 12 weeks like this one in a number of locations around the world, teaching English in developing countries, long term Coral Reel surveys in Mexico and the Seychelles, park management in South Africa etc etc.

The expedition here in Patagonia (we’re based just outside a town called San Carlos de Bariloche in Argentina – look it up on a map!) has 3 sections to it really, a trekking element (something for fun, learning mountain skills, seeing some of the spectacular scenery), working on long-term studies of the endangered Andean Condor, and assisting in many different ways with a number of linked projects in the Lanin National Park. Plus, preceeding these 3×3(and a bit) week chunks we had 10 days of so of training and bonding at a place called La Lipela out in the country, and this is where I’ll begin.

La Lipela is a small land-holding where GVI rent space for the training part of the expedition. EMs (that’s Expedition Members, me and about 18 others) spend the first 10 days here learning; what projects we’ll be working on and what’s being done with the data we collect and who the scientists are we’re assisting; camp-craft-erecting the tents we’ll live in for 3 months, using the MSR stoves we’ll be cooking pasta, rice and porridge on for what feels like 3 years; emergency first aid and CPR; using machettes, axes, starting fires. We also went on a 2 day mini-trek as a taster (and probably to help the staff sort out which groups to slot people into) and we split up into 10 groups to do an overnight Condor census at 10 locations, something done at the start and end of everfy expedition; a test on our bird of prey identification skills, in Latin!

At the end of the training in La Lipela we have an Asado (BBQ) where the Goucho who owns the place, Juan Carlos, slaughtered a goat for our eating pleasure. There are photos of this now posted so be careful if you’re squeamish! I also have video that I may get on one day if you’re really interested.

In terms of how the conditions where for this which I’m sure my mum would like to know if nobody else, we lived in our tents, we ate communal meals (pasta or rice with porridge for breakfast and crackers for lunch), we used a long-drop for a toilet (just a big hole in the ground), and our water came from a stream. We did have the luxury of a shower, which was even hot if you got in there early as the water came down from the stream through a black pipe which was heated by the sun! Otherwise there was a small pool further up the stream (which was freezing) to take a dip in, and occasionally we’d wander across the road and swim in a fantastic flowing river to refresh after the heat of the day. Daytime temperatures hit 30 degrees, but at night it would drop below 10 degrees, sometimes down to 5, quite a range which required multiple clothing changes!

Training was great. The people on the expedition are lots of fun, all ages and a wide variety of backgrounds and nationalities and everyone basically getting on really well. At the end we were split into 3 smaller groups for the following rotations in Lanin, on Condors and on Trek. Oh, and  Ipassed my birds of prey test with flying colours!

So, look at the photos and I’ll get on with the next update.

Photos

Patagonia Trip Note 1 – Trek

Before trek began we got a short break in town. To say I was desperate for a beer (yeah ok we had a drink at the Asado but you can never get enough of a good thing when it’s been denied to you for so long). It was a little rushed as it involved catching up on civilization, drinking (possibly too much), making the most of a real mattress (and no Cock waking us up at 5am every morning) and eating non pasta and rice food like a couple of KGs of fantastic ice-cream.

After this mini-holiday our group of 9 went back to La Lipela to prepare. Preparation basically meant packing our bags, but packing included splitting our food for the next 18 days into several drops. We were to carry the first 5 days food with us and then recieve 3 further drops of food as we went (more rice, pasta and porridge), plus baking Dog Biscuits (fan-bloody-tastic but soooo full of fat and sugar!) that would help maintain our energy levels as we went. In addition to the food we prepared our fuel and of course our shit-kits, toilet paper rations and little plastic bags to put it all in once used, with a trowel for the whole group to dig our own personal little toilets when required!

And then off we went. I won’t bore people with lots of detail of our route, hiking with 20kg+ packs, the heat and super-strong sun and hence constant sweating which produced a lovely aroma by day 4, the bush-bashing through undergrowth which you seriously wouldn’t think was passable by anything bigger than a rodent.

What I will bore you with instead is a little bit about how great it was to see some really wild country, to hike up untouched mountains and over passes that may not see a living soul for weeks at a time, to spot Puma poo, cross white-water rivers (in my crocs!), have lunch half way up mountains twice the height of Ben Nevis in the company of circling Condors, to wash and swim in ice-cold rivers and lakes, to sleep out with nothing over your head but maybe a tree canopy and an amazing sky full of stars….

Basically it was pretty awesome! The trek itself was split into 3 phases, firstly trekking around a collection of mountains, bagging one of them (Mount Utne) and then 4 days on Kayaks on a beautiful lake (we are in the Lake District in the north of Patagonia) with a chance to relax a little and recharge the batteries, and sleep on the beaches, and play kayak pirates!

Then finally we climbed Mount Tronador on the border with Chile, with some snow-school skills and iced-climbing in 80 feet crevasses on one of the glaciers for good measure! In fact we managed to summit the Argentinian peak of Mount Tronador (there are three separate summits, Argentinian, Chilena and International!). This was a long day (11 hours) up about 1200m and back down for beers! It wasn’t particularly technical for most of it, but guides certainly needed as it was almost all across crevasse filled glaciers, and then at the top the final push was a mixed ice/rock climb of about 20 to 30 feet which was great fun, if a little scary for those with a fear of heights as the drop was several hundred feet back down!

Look at the photos, it was stunning, and we were the only people on it that day, unlike the 300 people who set off up Mont Blanc every day in summer, plus it looks like we’ll be the only group to summit as the conditions now are getting too dangerous (they’ve had a really hot dry summer and the ice melt up there has made things pretty unstable near the top with lots and lots of rock-fall).

On the last day we came back down to Pampa Linda, where a lot of trekking in the area begins (and the road ends, one-way road, open to come in through the morning and to get out late afternoon), for an Asado and some beers!! And then back to Bariloche for a weekend break (and more beers, plus ice-cream and pizza and steak).Trek was great, physically hard but fantastic fun.

Unfortunately due to my backinjury I left this cool group of individuals after the first face of the three and headed home to Sweden for rehab and rest.

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