Category Archives: bushwalking

Goon and lagoons: The Laguna de los Tres trail

The Laguna de los Tres hiking trail in El Chalten, Argentina, is one of the most awe-inspiring walks in tbe world. It sweeps along ancient cliffs, past raging rivers, and towards glowing glaciers – but I didn’t get to enjoy much of it because I was monumentally hungover after a night of drinking the dodgiest red wine legally allowed to be sold without breaking numerous United Nations conventions.

Actually, the first half of the hike was fine because I was still pretty pissed. With another box of Vino Toro in hand, I sauntered into the park with a smile on my face and a song in my heart. It’s a steep trek, but the path is well maintained, with heaps of brilliant miradors to provide views out over the valleys and mountains. Seeing as I was drunk, I was extremely personable and made lots of friends, including one pervert who told me that Australians are the best-looking blokes on Earth. I gave him a high-five and kept swaggering up the hill.

I’d heard that the last kilometre of the 12km first leg of the walk was challenging, and it fucking well was. It features a 400m climb through ice and snow, with strong winds making things even harder. I had to climb up on my hands and knees, sliding back down the cliff a few times and ripping my hands apart. It was made more difficult by the fragile state I was in, but this is a rough climb by any standards, so quadriplegics should forget about it.

The views from the top, however, made the whole struggle worth it. Not only is it possible to look back along the fiery orange valley, but the shining blue de los Tres Glacier stands imposingly in front of the mirador, and is spectacular. Laguna de los Tres basks in its own azure glory, and Monte Fitz Roy stands imposingly above it all, rising thousands of metres up into the clouds. It’s quite a nice spot, really.

The walk back to El Chalten was somewhat more difficult than the trip up, because with every step I became further consumed by the brain-stomping hangover that comes with guzzling Vino Toro. Twelve kilometres might as well have been 1000, as I lurched from side to side, seeing double and doing my best not to shit myself and hurl up my guts at the same time. My best, it seems, was not good enough.

The rancid red broth in my stomach was causing me all sorts of trouble, and I finally collapsed in the middle of the track and unleashed a steady stream of deep crimson bile that steamed angrily in the early evening air. When I started I couldn’t stop, and soon the path was awash with the tumultuous residue of my boozy evening. I lost all track of time and place, and was barely able to see or hear. I thought I might die out there, and at that point I didn’t really care if that happened. This was the sort of hangover that should be reserved solely for sex predators and Manly fans.

I was crawling into a bush that seemed a good place to perish in, when I felt a comforting hand on my shoulder.

“Come with me, my friend,” came a swarthy Latino voice, and I looked up into a kind, mono-browed Argentinean face. It was one of the park’s hard-working rangers, and he helped me to my feet and gave me a bottle of water.

“No, not water, ” I gasped. “I’m hungover, don’t you have a beer?”

The little bloke gave me a wink and rifled through his bag, finally producing a can of Quilmes. I guzzled it, did a little dance, and felt ready to run back down the hill.

“We carry these just for the Australians,” the ranger chuckled, and we both pranced back to El Chalten, hand in hand, as a full moon rose over Patagonia. All was well in the valley.

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El Chaltén is an el champion place!

I’ve been to plenty of out-of-the-way places over the years, but few have been as remote as the Argentinean village of El Chaltén. This tiny dot on the map is home to just 1600 people and a bloody long way from anywhere – around 220km down the road from El Calafate, which itself has a population that could fit in a phone booth, provided the locals hadn’t been eating too many empanadas. There’s only one reason for anyone to be in El Chaltén, and that’s because it offers some of the best hiking on the planet, underneath the imposing Monte Fitz Roy.

I arrived by bus in the early arvo and, because the weather wasn’t completely shithouse, decided to get out and see what I could see. The three main hikes (Laguna de los Tres, Laguna Torre and Loma Del Pliegue Tumbado) each take more than eight hours to complete, so I went for a couple of shorter options (like that time I banged midget Siamese twins. They weren’t conjoined freaks or anything, just from Siam. And I dunno if they were really twins or if I was just so smashed I was seeing double. Shit, if you’ve stumbled across this site because you’re interested in South American hiking, I feel sorry for you).

First up was the popular Los Cóndores walk, which starts just out of town and is only around a 3km round trip. It provides a top view out over El Chaltén, as well as the opportunity to watch condors cruising through the skies. The end of the track also offers the chance to marvel at the delightful Lago Viedma. It’s an easy walk – mobs of pensioners were scraping their way up there with their walking frames – and a great way to get acquainted with the area.

From there I walked through town to continue my adventures. El Chaltén exists only for touristic reasons – honestly, why the fuck else would a town pop up hundreds of kilometres from anywhere, at the end of a lonely dead-end road? So despite being a small place, there are heaps of bars and restaurants, which all sell drinks and food at highly inflated prices that a po’ ol’ unemployed champion like thyself could never hope to afford. But if you’re a valuable member of society and actually have more than five dollars in your pocket at any given time, you could have a ball going out every night.

At the northern end of town is the path to the legendary Chorrillo del Salto. Alright, maybe it’s not legendary. Maybe I just heard about it a few hours ago. But waterfalls are grouse, so of course I wanted to see it. The walk there is as easy as a Wyong girl with five Cruisers in her, but there are some stunning views out over the mountains and rivers. The waterfall itself is quite lovely as well.

With plans to hike the 25km Laguna de los Tres trail in the morning, I went to bed early so that I could get a good night’s rest… nah, fuck that. Real men hike with hangovers, so I ended up getting absolutely shitfaced at the hostel with an eclectic mix of Germans, Poms and Italians. We polished off our final box of disgustingly cheap Vino Toro around 4am, at which point I stumbled into bed with someone I didn’t know particularly well, gave her 30 seconds worth of reasons not to want to get to know me particularly well, and promptly passed out. And they say hiking is good for your health.

Torres del Paine, Day Quattro: The rain in Paine falls mostly on me

Torrential rain. Sub-zero temperatures. Sleet and snow. Cyclonic winds. They sound like good names for heavy metal bands, but they’re not the kind of words you want to hear while you’re hiking through Chile’s Torres del Paine National Park. My fourth day on the W Trek dawned with absolutely appalling weather that saw a number of tracks closed for safety reasons, and left me wondering whether I’d actually get out of my tent at all.

I did finally crawl out around 10am to start a wet, wild and at sometimes dangerous 16km walk towards the ccentral Las Torres campsite. I can’t say the views were breathtaking, because I could see dick-all other than the thick clouds around me and the rain that pelted into my eyes. It didn’t take long before I was wetter than a fat chick with a box of fresh donuts. As the weather worsened, I had to keep going, because there was no shelter or places to divert to. It was just one sopping foot in front of the other for hours.

There’s a section of this track that runs along the shores of Lago Nordenskjold,and that’s where things got truly dicey. The wind was smashing through at more than 150km/h – enough to knock me off my feet and send rocks flying at my head. It was kind of scary, and I was grateful when an attractive Chinese girl asked if I wanted to hold onto her pole so I didn’t get blown away.

“No thanks,” I replied. “But feel free to hold onto my pole if you like. You won’t be blown away by it, either.”

The last few kilometres of the walk felt like something out of a World War II prison camp. Lonely, skeletal figures staggered through the gloom, sometimes falling, never speaking. When I finally reached the camp, it was even worse. Far from the comforts of Camp Grey and Camp Frances, Las Torres is little more than a turd-smeared toilet block and a small tent, which was full of muddy, crying, shivering survivors. To make things worse, the shack that serves as a shop was out of Clos. It was a tragic end to an awful day – or so I thought.

“Hey man!” came a voice, and I turned around to see Antonio standing there with a girl under each arm. He told me he was heading back to Puerto Natales on the next bus, and planned to get drunk and go dancing. I looked around at the horror show surrounding me as I weighed up my options; I could stick around in the mud and misery another day in the slim hope that a miracle would happen and it would clear up enough that I could hike up to the Torres in the morning. Or I could jump on the bus, get epically drunk in a warm pub, and try to pork a stunning Chilean girl. If you’re wondering which way I went, just check the name of this blog.

I made the right decision, because the weather just got worse and I ended up having a top night. After getting back to Puerto Natales at 10, a bunch of us loaded up on boxes of cheap Clos and headed out to a swinging bar, where I got smashed on awesome local beer and worked my way through a kilogram of chips. I’m doing my best to rediscover all the weight I’ve lost over the last year.

Things then took a turn for the bizarre. On the way home from the bar, after killing another box of Clos, Tony and I ended up in a near-deserted pub with only one old pisshead drinking in the corner. At 3am it seemed like as good a place as any to continue the festivities, so we got stuck into more of Patagonia’s finest piss. Then a couple of perverts walked in, and we suddenly found ourselves in a more dangerous situation than anything del Paine could throw at us.

“You are handsome boys, why not you dance on the pole?” asked one of the creeps. At first I assumed he was talking about his dick, but then the barmaid flicked a switch and a sad string of rope lights lit up a pole in a dark corner of the room. The sicko started gyrating to a song that must’ve been playing in his head, saying, “You would look so good on the pole. Don’t be scared, I dance with you.”

I told the idiot in no uncertain terms that I didn’t intend on dancing on any poles, but poor old Antonio was drunk enough to be coerced into the corner. He bopped around a bit while the perverts oohed and ahhed and lifted up their shirts to expose their erect nipples, and I laughed along and did my best to cop a feel of the barmaid’s big tits. Suddenly, my Portuguese pal let out a squeal and raced for the door, spilling out into the frigid night. I skolled my beer and followed him, and when we saw that the perverts were after us, we ran through the icy streets of Puerto Natales until we were sure we’d lost them.

“I’m fine with dancing on the pole, I’m alright with their sexy comments, but I draw the line at them biting my penis,” he yelled.

I just nodded, afraid to ask any further, and then handed Antonio a box of Clos to help him suppress the memories.

“No more Clos,” he wept, throwing the carton into an open drain. “With you, it is always about the Clos! We hike, we drink Clos! We don’t hike, we drink Clos! Because of Clos, I was almost raped by a retarded guy!”

If the marketing team at Clos don’t use that as their tagline in the future, they should lose their fucking jobs.

Torres del Paine, Day Dos: Prances to Frances

After a spectacular first day in Chile’s Torres del Paine National Park, I was looking forward to a cracking second day that would see me hike 23km from Camp Grey to Camp Frances. This section of the W Trek winds past lakes, mountains and waterfalls, but when I woke up, all I could see was rain. I felt like snuggling into my sleeping bag and wanking the day away, but I put on a brave face and strutted out into the angry wilderness.

The first half of the journey involves backtracking towards Paine Grande, where I started the trek, but it was like I was seeing everything for the first time again. A different time of day meant that the mountains and valleys shone bright with new colours, and I was amazed by Torres del Paine all over again. I get the feeling you could walk these trails a thousand times and still fail to see everything.

The second half of the day saw me climbing up headlands that provided fantastic views over the shimmering lakes, with sensational snow-capped cliffs in the background. I splashed through icy creeks, and scurried across dodgy-looking wooden bridges that looked like they could fall to bits at any minute and causing me to bust my arse. It wasn’t a tough hike, so I was able to enjoy the stunning vistas around me, as I neared the imposing mountains of the Frances Valley.

It’s autumn in Patagonia, so the park is ablaze with burning reds and simmering oranges, which stand in stark contrast to the azure water and emerald hills. However, despite being a truly wild place, it’s surprisingly quiet. There are very few birds, animals or insects, so often the only noises are far-off rivers bubbling away, or glaciers collapsing in the distance. Just ignore the whinging Americans that pop up every hour or so, and it’s like being the only person on Earth.

When I finally made it to Camp Frances, my Portiguese mate Antonio was standing at the front gate with a beautiful Korean girl under his arm.

“Hey baby,” he cooed. “A puma ate my tent this morning, can I sleep in yours?”

“Oh no, that’s so sad,” replied the lass. “You’re very brave, of course you can sleep in mine.”

“Excellent. The puma also ate my pyjamas, so I won’t be wearing any to bed.”

With that, Antonio led the Korean beauty off so that she could sample his linguiça.

Camp Frances is a cool place, with dozens of wooden camping platforms strewn about the forest, like something out of a fairy tale. It’s a magical place, but there is an evil that lurks beneath the trees – horrible, razor-toothed mice that eat anything they can find, even if they have to chew their way through tents or bags to find it. These filthy pricks get into everything, and the only way to escape their hunger-fuelled wrath is to hang your food from a high tree. It’s also a good way to keep your chocolate bars away from fat cunts.

The best way to forget about the ravenous rats is to get shitfaced, and Frances is a great place for it. The on-site minimarket sells one-litre cartons of wine for 4000 pesos – a deal I most certainly availed myself of. Clos is actually a pretty good drop, and I ended up downing two boxes with Antonio when he finally emerged from the Korean’s tent with a smirk on his face. Everyone else was in bed by nine, but we rocked on till 2:30, when the Clos was finally empty and Antonio staggered off to find a tent to pass out in.

The W Trek never fails to surprise, amaze and challenge, and as I pushed further into the hike I fell even more in love with Torres del Paine National Park. It’s a top place to hike, and all those delightful mountains and valleys look even better when you’re smashed. Torres del Paine could well be the perfect pairing of alcoholism and ascending mountains. Speaking of which, I need to shake off this hangover and keep heading through the mountains…

Torres del Paine, Day Uno: Wild on the W

Tonight, Drunk and Jobless is coming to you live from Patagonia’s world famous Torres del Paine National Park. Don’t worry, I hadn’t heard about it until a few weeks ago, either, but it’s famous with the hiking set, and for good reason. The mountains in this part of Chile are incredible, the lakes are so blue it almost hurts. There are glaciers and icebergs, angry cliffs and violent winds. The weather changes its mind every five minutes, there’s the ever-present danger of being blown into a fjord, and every wonderful sight is beaten by an even more wonderful sight around the next corner. This place is great.

So great that thousands of people come to Torres del Paine every year. Seriously, this joint is Disneyland for people who enjoy looking at trees. I knew that when I found it on one of those shit ‘Top 5 Things to do in Chile’ blogs, but it was driven home when I happened on an introductory lesson for hiking the trail while I was picking up some gear.

“Are there toilets out there?”

“Will I get cold?”

“Where are the Wi-Fi hotspots?”

I’m not some unreal bushman, but I know that if you need to shit on a hike, you go behind a tree… but more on that later. Things didnt improve when I woke up at some some silly time, jumped on a bus, and ended up in the Park. I swear half the motherfuckers there were dressed as if they’d only ever read about hiking on the internet. North Face hard shells when it didn’t even look like raining, five layers of snow clothes when it was about 12 degrees, I even saw some fuckwit in a sombrero.

I took a catamaran across a windswept lake to the start of the hike, and that’s where I met a Portuguese chap named Antonio. He told me that he’d managed to sneak past the front gates of the park without paying, had climbed onto the cat without paying, and planned to camp without handing over a single peso. One thing I’ve learned since arriving in South America is that you don’t want to get between a Chilean and a dollar unless you’re willing to lose a finger, so when I said goodbye to him at Paine Grande camp, I didn’t expect to see him in one piece again.

I’m in Patagonia outside the peak times, but I was still worried that I’d be pushing through people just to keep going along the trail – and the truth is that I pretty much was as I started out on the famed W Trek. I can walk faster than most otber people (except the Germans) but I take a lot of photos, so I had to wind my way around the same people over and over again. For someone who usually hikes alone in Australia, I didn’t really get that feeling of being out in the elements that I usually look for.

It can be a clown show at times, but it is bloody amazing. It’s not just about the mountains and lakes, because every tree and shrub and rock is worth taking a photo of, or just standing back and basking in its glory. There aren’t many places that can match the epic scale of Torres del Paine, so watch your step whilst you’re gaping in wide-eyed wonder at the incredible stuff going on in the Patagonian wilderness around you.

The hiking in Torres del Paine isn’t exactly difficult. There are no really steep bits, or really rocky bits, so as long as you’ve got a set of legs that work, it takes no major effort to get around. What has made it tough for me is the fact I’m carrying everything I need for five days on my back – tent, sleeping bag, mat, and food. Most people choose to stay in the refugios along the way, or rent a different tent each night. Those who really have money falling out their arses also eat in the restaurants, so all they need to carry around is a spare cashmere sweater. Really, if you’re on a week-long camp and you can’t carry your own supplies, maybe you’d be better off staying at home.

Like most people who hike the W, I spent my first night at Camp Grey, about 11km north of where the catamaran docks. After setting up my tent, I hiked a further kilometre to Glacier Grey, which is absolutely astonishing. A wall of glowing blue ice lurks menacingly on the lake, while massive chunks of frozen water constantly break off and cause deafening crashes.

Things were also noisy back at camp, because I got the squirts. There was some bad stuff going on in my guts, and the toilets were full, so I raced down the track out of camp and let rip with last night’s chicken vindaloo, which looked like it hadn’t even touched the sides before coming back out. Unfortunately, in my panic I hadn’t realised that the path looped back towards the campsite, so when I started wiping my arse I looked over to see a couple of horrified Germans gagging on their sausages about three metres away from me.

“Sorry, Gunter,” I chuckled as I wiped my blurter. “I guess a threesome’s out of the question, then?”

There’s quite a nice bar at Camp Grey, but when I wandered in and asked for a cold one the little bloke behind the bar gave me a toothy smile and asked for 4000 pesos, so I stole as many complimentary olives off the bar and hotfooted it out of there. Luckily, I brought a bottle of Chile’s cheapest vodka with me, so when I got back to my tent I was faced with two options. I could take it out to the camp kitchen, where gorgeous European women would treat me like a king and fight for the attention of me and the bottle, inevitably leading to an evening of raucous sexual debauchery. Or I could mix it with a can of overpriced Sprite and smash it in my tent by myself, thus achieving maximum drunkenness and increasing my chances of vomiting on a puma.

I took a deep breath, made my decision, and walked towards the camp kitchen with the cheap bottle in my hands. A dozen women, each one looking stunning despite a hard day of hiking, was drawn to me like moths to a flame. For a few minutes, I was the king of Torres del Paine, as offers of sex and chocolate were thrown my way. But I’m a man of simple tastes, so I chose a delightful Brazilian lass and escorted her back to my tent as she sucked back the vodka.

Once inside, she began to strip off for me in preparation for hours of getting naughty in nature. And then… well, I don’t know, because I was so tired from walking all day that I passed out. When I woke up, there was no sign of the Brazilian or the vodka. I climbed out of my tent, and was stunned to see Antonio sitting on a log with a massive smile on his face.

“You wouldn’t believe my luck!” he told me. “Last night I arrive in camp late, a beautiful Brazilian lady come up to me with a bottle of vodka and asking for sex. She take me back to her tent, we make fuck all night. Three, four, five times. Free accommodation, free alcohol, free poontang. It’s a good day to be Antonio!”

Osorno Volcano is Beuno!

Since arriving in Puerto Varas, Chile, a few days ago, the mammoth spectre of Volcan Osorno has been haunting me. The ancient behemoth has been hiding behind the clouds, peering out sporadically to give me some idea of his glory, before disappearing again. I’d had enough, so today I decided to go out and find the big bludger and climb all over him. Serves him right for being a big tease.

It was cold and cloudy as I made my way towards Vicente Pérez Rosales National Park on the bus, and I could catch only glimpses of Osorno out the window. Things weren’t looking good, and I feared my run of bad luck with volcanoes would continue, but I kept going. When I jumped off in the tiny village of Petrohue, there was still no sign of the volcano, but the mountains and lake were truly stunning.

I took the Paso Desolacion (“The Path of Desolation”), which winds around the base of Osarno, without reaching the summit – probably a good thing because customs confiscated my ice pick. As I began climbing higher, the swirling clouds parted for just long enough for me to make out the shape of Osorno. I’d see a flash of something white and pointy, then it would be gone. He was proud and regal, yet shy and unwilling to expose himself to me – I guess it would be similar to encountering Prince Charles in the changerooms at the polo club.

When I finally stopped for lunch after 13km of pleasantly inclined rambling, something magical happened. The clouds slipped away, the sun shone brighter, the birds sang louder (not really, because I don’t think I saw a single bird the whole time, exceptfor a fat chick taking a selfie) and then there he was in all his glory. Volcan Osarno exposed himself to me, and I saw every rock hard ridge and gleaming crevasse. It was one of the most incredible things I’ve ever seen. I was so impressed that I almost dropped my empenada!

The sight of Osanrno up close is incredible, and I’m glad I was able to see the big fella both lurking in clouds and basking in sunlight, as it gave me a greater appreciation for his magnificence. Having the time to just sit there and take it all in, marvelling at the beauty of the world, and thinking about all that has happened to Osarno over thousands of years was brilliant. I really felt like I was in an incredible place, and at one with the planet.

Just then, I heard an ominous rumbling and smelled the frightening scent of burning sulpher. Osorno hasn’t been active since 1869, but I knew what it meant. I turned to run from the pending eruption, with thoughts of boiling to death in lava running through my mind, when I saw a hefty bloke standing nearby with flies dying all around him.

“Sorry,” he said as his cheeks turned red. “I must’ve had a bad completo last night.”

The only way to truly see Chile’s volcanoes is to get out there and experience them for yourself. Photos don’t do them justice, and tours don’t allow the time or the peace needed to connect wih them. You need to climb them, fall down them, get lost on them. Only then can you gain an appreciation for just how awesome they are. These massive chunks of rock are some of the most fascinating things you’ll ever see in your life – at least, I know that’s true for me. As for me and Osorno? He’s taking me out for pisco sour and dancing tonight. Wish me luck…

INFO ON FINDING THIS HIKE:

I apologise for veering dangerously close to travel blog territory here, but I had a bit of trouble trawling the internet for info on how to get to this hike, so I’ll chuck it up here for anyone having similar trouble. From Puerto Veras, buses leave hourly (or there abouts) from the stop at the corner of Del Salvador and San Francisco. They’ll say Petrohue on the front, take around 90 minutes to get there, cost 2000 pesos, probably be incredibly packed, and drop you off within spitting distance of the trackhead. From Petrohue bus stop, walk towards the lake, cross the lava river (it’s cooled down, so don’t worry), and you’re there. Enjoy your hike!

The Wetter the Better in Parque Nacional Huerquehue

After sleeping off my hangover, I woke up bright and early and ready to hike to the top of Volcan Villarrica, near Pucon in Chile. But when I skipped outside, the big bastard wasn’t there anymore. It was like he’d thrown up his massive molten hands during the night, said ‘Fuck it’ and just walked off, leaving a gaping hole where he’d once been (and no, I’m not going to mention my ex-girlfriend here). It seemed like magic, but it wasn’t – the weather was absolutely garbage, with rain pouring in and myst swirling around, meaning I could barely see the empenada in my hand. So I did what any sensible person would – I went for a six-hour hike in Parque Nacional Huerquehue.

The Parque is one of the most famous in South America, with hiking enthusiasts travelling from around the world to bask in the glory of its remote lakes and rugged cliffs. The views from the peaks are monumental when the weather is fine, but I wasn’t sure how much I’d see in a downpour. I needn’t have worried, because I was treated to a unique, ferocious, beautiful experience that was well worth almost drowning for.

Huerquehue is around an hour from Pucon, with buses available to deliver you right to the front door. It’s an interesting trip, with the ricketty old wagon climbing steep dirt tracks and descending into thick forests. Once at the park, there are two main hikes – the Los Lagos, which I took, and the more difficult San Sebastián, which was out of bounds because of the tempest. I was just about the only person stupid enough to be out there that day, so I really did feel like I was leaving civilisation behind and marching into somewhere truly isolated. I zipped up my jacked, checked my snorkel (Oi! Stop snickering!) and headed off into the unknown.

It’s a ravishing walk, first snaking through the thick Araucaria araucana, before racing along the edge of the picturesque Lago Chico. I would’ve like to sit down and soak in its glory, but I was almost getting knocked over by the wind and rain, so I bravely kept going. Of course, maybe I confused bravery with stupidity, because as the track started winding up the side of a cliff, I was slippin’ and slidin’ all over the place, and went closse to rolling all the way back down to the start.

There are a couple of majestic waterfalls during the climb that are truly spectacular. Nido de Águila and Trafulco come crashing out of the forest, with huge plumes of water spraying throughout the foliage. I felt tiny next to them – an experience similar to when I ended up between a couple of members of the West Indian cricket team at a urinal a few years back.

Once I made it to the top of the mountain – a height of more than 1000m, and around 8km from the entrance – I was presented with a delicious platter of lakes to explore. Laga Toro is an incredible place, and the horrible conditions did nothing to detract from how wonderful it is. In fact, when the wind picked up and the rain started scooting horizontally across the surface, I stood back in amazement at how raw and savage it all was. Sure, it would’ve been nice to see it on a bright sunny day, but I think the conditions allowed me to see the true ferocity of the Chilean wilderness.

With the weather getting worse by the minute and everything getting wetter than a fish’s arsehole, I made the decision to turn around and aim for the earlier bus home. It was at that point that I realised my phone was also on the wrong side of damp, which was disappointing in itself, but also led to one of the lower points of my life. I needed to find something to dry it with, so when I passed a filthy toilet block, I popped inside in the hope of finding some toilet paper. I was in luck, because there was some toilet paper – a whole bunch of filthy, shit-smeared scraps in a bin in the corner.

As I sifted through the bin to find a few pieces that weren’t completely encrusted with the remains of last night’s completo, I couldn’t help thinking that I’d wandered down the wrong track in life. But as I tidied up my phone with a chunk of paper that had ended its life deep within the sweaty arsecrack of an overweight Chilean bloke, I was certain that I hadn’t wandered down the wrong track when it came to Huerquehue. If you get a chance to go there, do it – and please leave a few squares of shit-free bog roll in the dunny, just in case.

How do you pronounce Huerquehue? I have no fucken clue!

Patonga to Mt Wondabyne Overnight Hike

The seaside village of Patonga is one of the nicest spots on Central Coast of NSW, with calm waters, golden sand and spectacular views across the water to the Northern Beaches. If you just want to rock up, have a decent feed at the pub and enjoy the serenity, that’s great, but the area is best explored by hiking along the section of The Great North Walk that leads out of town. The views are tops, the track is well maintained, and for the more adventurous, it’s possible to make it over to Mount Wondabyne for an overnight stopover in the bush.

The track is easy to find; just follow the beach east from the pub, and you can’t miss it as it winds up into the thick coverage of the headland (but click here for in-depth directions if you’re worried about getting lost and being forced to live on tree sap and wallaby dung). It’s not long before the path offers up stunning views back over Patonga, across the legendary Hawkesbury River, and out towards Palm Beach. Warrah Lookout is around 2km from the beach and fenced, but there are heaps of other spots along the walk that offer more open views (just stay away from the cliff if you’ve spent the past four hours at the pub).

Most people turn around at this point, but if you’ve got enough provivions, the walk continues another 8km up to Mount Wondabyne (and another 120km or so up to Newcastle – you’d want more than a 600mL bottle of Coke and a bag of Twisties in your backpack to tackle that, though). It’s a good walk, crossing creeks and dipping into valleys while the cicadas sing loudly and birds flutter around in the trees. Mount Wondabyne is remote and beautiful, with a pak that offers jaw-dropping views out towards the coast.

I tried to hike to Mount Wondabyne a year ago, but had to abandon my adventure when I was caught up in a ferocious electrical storm and had to hide in a cave (and subsequently spent the night drying off on my lounge whilst watching the mid-80s sporting classic, Rudy). This time, I headed out in winds that were approaching 50km/h, because I’m an idiot. The wind was smashing in and getting worse all the time as I arrived and, to make it worse, the drought meant that the ground at the campsite was so hard I could barely pitch my tent (ladies, I swear that’s the only time I’ve had that problem). As I tried to sleep, the wind was gusting in at close to 90km/h, which was loud enough to tear me from my slumber as it tried to tear my shelter off me.

It’s possible to continue along the track and spend the next night at Mooney Mooney or Somersby, but my car was back at Patonga, so just after sunrise I retraced my steps. I was tired and grumpy after a bad night’s sleep, and things were made worse when I crossed paths with a couple of good-looking Danish sheilas who were heading up to sleep at Mount Wondabyne that night. If I’d headed up a day later, I could’ve shared a tent with them, because there’s looked quality. To lift my mood, I nipped into the pub for a quick beer… which turned into an all-day session, and I ended up having to pitch my tent in a local park to spend the night.

WHERE: Patonga, at the southern end of the Central Coast, in NSW, Australia
WHY: It’s a great spot for hiking and camping

DON’T MISS: As well as unreal views out over the Hawkesbury River, the walk provides a scenic look at historic Woy Woy tip

IF YOU’RE THIRSTY: The Patonga Beach Hotel is a beautiful old pub with a remarkable view and cold beers (just don’t expect them to be cheap)

AND IF YOU’RE HUNGRY: The Patonga chippie does great food (and also sells booze). Make sure you lead up before heading into the bush, or you’ll be eating bark for dinner

WOMENFOLK: In Patonga itself, you might be able to find a pensioner who’s up for it. Up at Mount Wondabyne, a possum might be your best bet

A baboon with a view

Of all the monkeys in the world, the baboon is definitely the sexiest. Sure, some people prefer orangutans, and gibbons certainly have their charms, but baboons really know how to turn on the charm and flaunt their simian sexiness. I’ve seen plenty of beautiful ‘boons loitering by the side of the ride as I’ve ruised through South Africa, so I headed to a place that’s crawling with the cute critters.

The Tsitsikamma National Park clings to the rugged coastline between Plettenberg and Port Elizabeth, and is a stunning part of the world. There are windswept beaches and dense forests and hiking trails galore. It’s a truly remote area, but there are plenty of comfortable cottages and lodges to sleep in, restaurants and shops, so it would be a top place to stay for a night or a week. Hell, I could see myself moving there if I met the right baboon.

The most popular walk in the park is the Suspension Bridge Trail which, not surprisingly leads to a series of suspension bridges. It’s an easy one-kilometre stroll, but takes in some stunning coastline. But that all pales into insignificance compared to what’s at the end of the trail – a whole beach full of baboons! The place was absolutely crawling with the sensual beasts, and I raced over to check them out.

It was a unique feeling to be walking amongst the proud primates in their own environment, instead of in a zoo. I guess it’s how foreigners feel when they see kangaroos in the wild. They were climbing through trees, eating food and rooting each other only metres from where I stood. Walking with animals, rather than staring at them in cages, is such a special thing to do. I found it to be a truly unique and awe-inspiring experience, and just another example of why Africa is such a magical place.

Unfortunately, the serenity was spoilt when an obese Russian man named Igor (his identity given away by his unappealing wife, who kept on squealing, “Igor! Igor! Igor!”) trundled across the suspension bridge whilst shouting, “Boonba! Boonba!” I’m not sure whether that’s the Russian word for baboon, or if he just fucked up the name because he’s a dunce, but I suspect the latter. He blundered onto the beach, waving his arms around and trying to chase the poor monkeys, who started screeching at him.

Bloody Igor was ruining the day and I was worried he’d scare off the ‘boons, but they weren’t having any of his shit. The biggest monkey let out a high-pitched shriek and baboons poured out of the trees, surrounding Igor and causing a massive commotion. Igor’s first reaction was to wet his pants; his second was to race back over the suspension bridge while screaming “Boonba! Boonba!”, and almost causing the rickety structure to collapse into the clear blue waters below. What a dickhead.

Oh, and the baboons have the ugliest blurters I’ve ever seen – and having worked at The Picture for the best part of a decade, I’ve seen some crook arses. Seriously, someone needs to get those monkeys a few tubes of Rectinol.

I ended my extraordinary trip to Tsitsikamma with a hike along the mountainous Blue Duiker Trail, which took me through dense forest that was full of birds and looked almost identical to the National Parks back home. Seriously, when I looked around I could’ve been in Girrakool (actually, that would’ve been a good thing, because I could’ve headed home to get some fresh undies. I’ve been rotating the same three pairs for a fortnight and I’m getting funny looks). It was a very pretty walk, and no one else was along it, so it really felt like I was out in the wilderness.

The park also offers the 44km Otter Trail, but it apparently takes five days to traverse and I’m politically opposed to otters, so I gave it a miss. There are comfortable cabins at regular intervals along it, so I’d definitely like to come back and conquer that trail one day. With so many breathtaking places, South Africa is a country that would take a lifetime to explore, and every single moment of it would be a joy.

Into the Wilderness

I loved my time in Mossel Bay, but after the locals realised I wasn’t family, it was time for me to leave. The name of one town along South Africa’s Garden Route really stood out to me, so I jumped in the Jimmy Savile Mobile and drove at a reasonable speed towards the tiny village of elegantly-titled Wilderness. I’m happy to report that Wilderness is the Wilder-best – it’s a top town and everyone should go there. Book your holiday now.

My first stop was the very top of the hills above Wilderness, at a place called The Map of Africa. It’s called that because the river below kinda sorta doesn’t at all creates a map of Wyong the African continent. It’s a nice lookout, but there’s something better about 50m up the road. No, not the poor-people slums to the south, the other direction!

The paragliding launch at Wilderness is fuckin’ exxo (that’s the first time that expression has been used since 1991), and there were plenty of thrillseekers hanging around waiting for the wind to come on. It didn’t, and the flyers were left to pack up their delightful gliders, but I was happy to see that my chums from Cloudbase Paragliding have expanded to South Africa. What’s next, fellas? Botswana?

Wilderness lives up to its name by having a large wilderness area not far from the centre of town. The awesomely-named Giant Kingfish Trail winds through dense forest and races along a shimmering river towards a large waterfall. There’s even a little rope-pulled ferry to use to cross the water. It’s a really nice 8km round-trip, and the scenery was ver similar to what I’m used to back in Australia. I was half expecting some bloke to walk out of the bushes with a packet of Twisties in his hand and me for a smoke.

I ended the day at a backpackers in Plettenberg Bay, smashing beers at the bar and listening to one of the employees talk about his experience with ritual circumcision. It was fucking horrific. He was taken into the bush at 18, tied up, drugged, mutilated, and thrown into a hut with no water and minimal food while he bled out. He fought infection and thirst for the next week, only to discover that three of his friends had died from the same trials, and that he faced a life of medical complications because of what had happened. This shit’s still happening across South Africa.

In response, I asked a German girl from the hostel to check out my circumcision and was asked to leave the bar. It seems nobody has life-affirming reactions when it comes to conversations about my penis.