Tuesday, December 30, 2014

The Beagle Channel, Tierra del Fuego


Tierra del Fuego is the big island located at the very southernmost tip of South America. The Beagle Channel provides a safe southern route lengthwise from east to west, allowing ships to bypass the treacherous Cape Horn further to the south. This narrow channel through the mountains is named after Captain Robert Fitzroy's ship the "Beagle", used during a British surveying voyage of 1834. On board was Charles Darwin the ship's naturalist and recorder of the expedition. His account is now a classic book and collector's item, the "Voyage of the Beagle" , which was a precursor of Darwin's Theory of Evolution.

The Beagle Channel has spectacular mountain scenery with many glacier-filled fiords joining up with the channel. The best way to see everything is to take the weekly cruise ship "Terra Australis" (ca 120 passengers) from the Chilean port of Punta Arenas on the Strait of Magellan. The cruise goes easterly along the Beagle Channel to as far as Puerto Williams, which is a Chilean naval base on island of Navarino. Next port of call is to the northern shore and the Argentine port of Ushuaia, which is an important tourist and industrial town on the Argentine side of Tierra del Fuego. At Ushuaia the cruise ship drops off and takes on passengers and goes westward back along the channel to Punta Arenas, taking 6 days in all. When I did the cruise I left the ship at Ushuaia to explore that part of Tierra del Fuego for 10 days, then returned overland by bus to Punta Arenas



Docking at Ushuaia early in the morning. Snow still on the hills early November.



Old Chilean gun emplacement near Puerto Williams, one time guarding the Beagle Channel from intruders.

Allano views the Beagle Channel from the top of Cerro Bandera at Puerto Williams.

Friday, December 26, 2014

A visit to Volcan Masaya in Nicaragua


Volcan Masaya is an active volcano close to Managua, the capital of Nicaragua. It is part of Parque Nacional Volcan Masaya with over 20 kms of hiking trails. However, you don't have to climb to the top because a road goes to the summit giving a view from the crater lip. Half way there is an excellent museum which explains all about the park and the volcanism of the region.
(Click on fotos to enlarge)



The Spaniards regarded this volcano as the Gates of Hell. Masaya last erupted in 1772. The highest point of the crater lip, with a large cross on top, is at 632 meters. There is a hiking trail to the top now closed for it being too dangerous. Parrots (chocoyos) nest in tunnels made in the soft volcanic ash of the crater walls.




Lunch time sitting at the Plaza Central in Granada city, Nicaragua.

The horse drawn cabs are for hire. It's nice to take one for a trip to the lake shore a few kms away.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Isla Grande de Chiloe .... a glimpse at historic Chile


Isla Grande de Chiloe, or Chiloe for short, is a favorite Chilean island of mine, for to disappear in for a week or more, to eat at seafood restaurants and drink vino, and just enjoy myself for awhile at little cost. The island measures some 180 km long and 50 kms wide and is only a short ferry trip from Puerto Montt, the capital of the Chilean Lake District.


Fuerte San Antonio guards the town of Ancud (pop 25,000) a northern fishing port and Chiloe's largest town. The fortress was built by the Spanish and was their last Chilean outpost, until their final defeat in 1826. Other major towns are Castro (central) and Quellon the southern fishing and ferry port, all located on the relatively sheltered eastern side of the island.


(click on fotos to enlarge)
Churches on the island are of distinctive design and built of wood with wood shingle cladding. Likewise houses are wooden with shingles and a corrugated iron roof.

Market day at Dalcahue, a small fishing village near Castro.

The main commercial activities of the island are fishing, salmon farming, tourism and transport. At Ancud you must visit the fishing fleet when it's in port and look in at the fish processing plant adjacent to the wharf. Salmon and shellfish farming is done in the sheltered shallow inlets of the east coast out from Castro. The island of Chiloe is used as a convenient transport route to the fiordland part of Chile because the mainland route is too mountainous. Buses and trucks go from Puerto Montt to Ancud, thence south thru Castro to the ferry terminal at Quellon. The ferries (transbordadores) go south to Puerto Chacabuco to service the Aisen Region including Coihaique. The ferry also goes eastward to the main land to the port of Chaiten, which was wiped out by a volcanic eruption in 2008.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Puerto Varas, Chile .... a great place to chill out in


Puerto Varas is a popular tourist town in the Chilean Lake District. Situated on the shores of Lago Llanquihue (= yankeeway) it is very pretty and small enough to walk around from your hotel or hospedaje. You can hike up the hill of Cerro Calvario beyond the railway line to admire the fantastic view of the lake and distant volcanoes of Osorno and Calbuco covered in snow.


The Plaza de Armas is close to the foreshore where you can stroll in the mornings or evenings and watch how the local lads catch a trout (1 to 2 lb) with a spoon lure from the end of the muelle (stone jetty). Nearby is the Casino and a small craft market, and a tour agency that will arrange for you a "Southern Lakes Crossing" to Bariloche in the Argentine Lake District.


Many of the hotels and hospedajes are on the flat near the Plaza de Armas and the Avenida Costanera which follows the lake foreshore. It is very pleasant taking the evening stroll and watching the activity and then maybe check out the Casino for a drink.

Artisans display their jewellery on a blanket and hope for a sale. The national gemstone of Chile is lapis lazuli of which there is some production from a site in the Andes north of Santiago. The blue of lapis lazuli blends in well with silver as rings and pendants.

A fun day may be had by taking the minibus to nearby Puerto Montt and perusing the wonderful craft market stalls along the road to Angelmo, the fishing port. It is easy here to spend a lost afternoon by having lunch at one of many dinky seafood restaurants. You will arrive back in Puerto Varas well fed and happy with your day's outing.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Cape Town....the tourist jewel of South Africa


Cape Town is an unforgettable city and is the tourist jewel of South Africa (or even Africa as a whole, but I am diplomatic). It is Table Mountain that makes it great. The city sprawls around the base of this flat-topped mountain which has welcomed mariners from afar looking for a safe haven and fresh provisions.
Foto above: The Lion's Head from the summit of Table Mountain. Click on fotos to enlarge.

Once you have settled in to your accommodation your first challenge is to climb Table Mountain and get a broad picture of the place. Fortunately there is a cable car going up to the summit which makes life easy. However there is no point in going up there on cloudy day when the "table cloth" is set, for you will see nothing. Watch the weather and pick your fine day. A mini-cab will take you to the cable car terminus, and a little further on to the Kloof where the hiking track starts, if you are that energetic. Details are given in my Bootsnall article Table Mountain

I have found Cape Town backpacker establishments very efficient. Always there is a "travel desk" where they will organize local tours or book you on the Baz Bus to go off on the Garden Route. Advice on "what's on this week" and city maps are forthcoming. When visiting Cape Town I usually take a tour somewhere, my favourite being a wine region tour like to Stellenbosh and nearby wineries.

Mementos to take home? Obviously nothing bulky. I always check out the textiles and traditional fabrics to buy as gifts for friends. Wall hangings, table cloths, table runners, scarfs, sarongs etc are often brightly coloured, and clothing items made from traditional fabrics. Jewellery made from beads and shells are worth inspection.

Cape Town is a fun city to explore. You wont be disappointed and will come back time and again to relax amidst wonderful beach and mountain scenery.