Category Archives: hiking

I Can’t Help Iguazu Falls-ing in Love With You

I’ve never met a waterfall I didn’t like – and trust me, I’ve seen a few over the years – so there was no chance I’d miss out on Iguazu Falls during my adventures through South America. Along with Africa’s Victoria Falls and North America’s Niagara Falls, Iguazu is part of the holy trinity of big, wet, splashy things, and it’s absolutely magnificent. If you don’t believe me, just have a squiz at the photos.

Iguazu is 82 metres tall, 2700 metres wide, has 275 drops and woos millions of tourists every year. And ladies, he’s single! The locals reckon the falls were created when some tart named Naipí was meant to marry a god named El Kevin, but she fucked off with some other bloke (probably a Maori) and so Kev cracked the dirts and sliced the river up. I don’t know how historically accurate that is, but it sounds good enough to me.

Half the places to view the falls are in Argentina and the other half are in Brazil, but it’s a short trip between the two sites so it’s possible to check out both. There are three main tracks through the Argie side of the falls, so it takes at least half a day to check everything out, and that’s if you don’t spend too much time stuffing around, oohing and ahhing at all there is to see. I headed out after a 26 hour bus trip from Montevideo and managed to see it all before beer o’clock, so it’s not that much effort.

Circuito Superior and Circuito Inferior both give a good idea of what the falls are all about, with some really pretty spots, but these walks never reach the spectacular highs found at Victoria Falls. The falls are, for the most part, a little too far away, with only the final fall of the Inferior stroll rising up above the boardwalk. Luckily, that’s not the best of it.

Garganta del Diablo, or The Devil’s Throat, is what it’s all about. After catching a fun little train through the jungle, a wooden boardwalk took me out over the gurgling Rio Iguazu, to a bottleneck where thousands of litres of water crashes down every minute. The brute power of nature is astonishing, and I just stood back in wide-eyed wonder as the spray smashed into me and the whole world sounded like it was being torn apart. If this is what the devil’s throat is like, perhaps someone should hand the poor bloke a Butter Menthol.

As has become tradition when I visit waterfalls, I befriended a couple of coloured gentlemen. Reuben and Bert, a gay couple for Suriname, are very much in love and enjoying their honeymoon together. Whilst marvelling at the spectacular views, Reuben declared that the only thing more powerful than the raging waters of Iguazu Falls is one of Bert’s kisses. I dunno about that, because my urge to chunder was pretty bloody powerful right about then.

The comparisons with Victoria Falls are obvious, but I have to say that, so far, Africa’s Smoke that Thunders reigns supreme over South America’s Big Water. Not only is it larger and more imposing (but enough about my penis!), but the tracks offer more variety and allow you to really get up close to the massive wall of water. Don’t get me wrong, Iguazu is superb and truly one of the most awesome things on the planet, but I did feel a tad let down after visiting Victoria Falls.

Going from Victoria Falls to Iguazu is like rooting a chick with big tits, but being slightly disappointed because you rooted a chick with bigger tits the night before. It doesn’t make rooting the chick with big tits a bad experience, but in a perfect world you’d have the big tits first, and the bigger tits second – or in this case, Iguazu for an entree and Victoria for the main course. Sorry, I got distracted by all those tits for a second.

.

Advertisements

A hell of a time in El Chaltén

El Chaltén is a great little town surrounded by natural beauty, but when I found out I’d be stuck here for a week due to a lack of buses, I wasn’t the happiest little Vegemite. The townsfolk are preparing to close the place down for the winter, so there are hardly any restaurants or bars available, and the streets are almost deserted. With some dodgy weather around threatening to keep me off the area’s world famous hiking trails, I was looking at spending day after day locked up in my hostel watching re-runs of M*A*S*H and eating stale Argentinean bread – but as it turns out I’ve had a fuckin’ cracker of a time here.

With dark clouds all around, I took a trip along the Laguna Torre track, which is really gorgeous. It’s an easy hike that offers stunning views out over the valleys and canyons, which are burning orange and red at this time of year. After 8km I found myself at the lake, which was actually a bit disappointing. It’s basically a poo-brown pond surrounded by mounds of dirty rocks, with a pretty sad-looking glacier at one end. The hike is like a Stephen King novel – brilliant all the way through, with a crap and disappointing ending.

When the sun finally shone down upon El Chaltén, I took a stroll up to Lago Capri, which lies at the base of Monte Fitz Roy. Now this is a nice blopdy lake. The whole thing was frozen over so I couldn’t go for a dip, but that’s probably a good thing because it would have been a similar experience to getting fucked up the arse by Frosty the Snowman. Seriously though, you’d struggle to find a nicer place anywhere on the planet.

Loma del Pliegue Tumbado is a hard name to say, and the hike out to this mirador is just as difficult. It climbs 1000m over the course of a 9km scramble through forests, ending with a steep climb through deep snow. It was pretty much deserted when I was there, because I guess all the fat cunts who tried to climb it died of heart attacks and rolled back to the bottom.

My struggles were repaid many times over, because the views from the top are astonishing. I found myself in a perfect position to kick back and marvel at the shimmering Andes. Until I saw Fitz Roy in all its glory, basking in sunshine, I couldn’t have imagined how incredible it is. In the right light, the entire mountain range glows. The whole experience was made even more special by the fact I was smashed on bottles of ice-cold Quilmes.

So now, as I prepare to board a bus for a 24-hour ride to Bariloche, I’m glad that I was forced to spend an extra couple of days in El Chaltén. It allowed me to take my time and explore more of Patagonia’s astonishing wilderness. I was able to form a more intimate relationship with Fitz Roy, as I saw the massif in all sorts of different conditions. And more than that, it allowed me to get really, really wankered on cheap boxed wine every night back at the hostel – and that’s what travelling is all about, right?

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.

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.

Ice to meet you! Adventures at the Perito Moreno Glacier

I thought my ex-girlfriend was the most frigid thing on the planet, but then I met the Perito Moreno Glacier. This 250-square-kilometre block of ice is absolutely magnificent, incredibly cold, and one of the highlights of the Argentinean side of Patagonia. If you like massive slabs of ice and being so cold you think you’ll lose a few fingers, then this place is for you. In fact, you’ll probably find it a chill-a-minute!

The town of El Calafate (pronounced smell-curry-far-tee) is a seven-hour bus trip from Puerto Natales, where I bid tchau to my Portuguese mate Tony and left him to rebuild his life after nearly being sexed up by a couple of admirers. El Caf is a decent little tourist town (although sleet-ly too cold for my liking) with some nice restaurants and bars, and a really shitty lake that looks and smells like it’s made out of dog turds.

Which it might well be, because El Calafate has more dogs per capita than anywhere else in the world. There are three dogs for every non-dog, which means they’re everywhere. You can’t scratch your dick without hitting a dog. They’re all over the streets, chasing cars, fucking anything that moves, and crapping on bushes. It’s like having thousands of Todd Carneys in one place.

But enough about the town. People only come to El Calafate for the glacier, and it’s one of the most astonishing sights anyone could wish to see (along with the arse on this one chick I befriended in Slovakia, but that’s another story). The size of it is snow laughing matter – the ice field is 5km wide, 30km long, 100m high and as blue as a Smurf’s blurter.

You can pay top dollar to walk on the glacier or cruise around it in a boat, but I wouldn’t bother because you can get a bergs-eye-view from the park’s numerous trails. There’s a number of walking tracks that get nice and close to the ice, offering the chance to see it from all sorts of different angles and heights. It was bloody freezing, with snow and high winds, but none of it bothered me because I was pissed had such a cool view in front of me. In fact, I froze to the occasion and explored the entire park.

My sidekick for this adventure was my Japanese mate Sean, who had probably warmed himself up with some sake before taking on the sub-zero conditions. If not for that reason, he needed to be piste to put up with the chill-dish jokes fluttering around him. My hilarious acts of wordplay were snowballing, and receiving a frosty reception, so he looked like he was ready to ava-launch himself off the nearest cliff. I don’t know what I did wrong – after all, isn’t Japan known as the land of the icing pun?

Torres del Paine, Day Tres: Avalanches A-Go-Go!

Patagonia’s hiking wonderland of Torres del Paine is like 50 worlds in one. It doesn’t take long to walk from dense forest to sparse flatlands, or to wander from bright sunshine into pelting rain, dense fog or worse. For my third day on the W Trek, I made my way up the Frances Valley towards Mirador Británico. It was a bloody unreal trip, but also saw the onset of horrible weather that threatened the rest of my hike.

The day began with angry winds that rocked Camp Frances, but nothing looked as wild or unkempt as my little Portuguese mate Antonio. He was wandering between the tents in nothing but his underpants, with scratches all over his body and a distressed look on his face.

“Did the rodents eat your clothes, Tony?” I chuckled.

“I wish,” he replied. “I ended up in a tent with a fat girl who had run out of chocolate. She took out her frustrations on me until I finally found a Mars bar in my pocket. I threw it into the bushes and when she dived after it, I escaped. I feel violated and unclean.”

I grabbed my daypack and left the European to piece his life together as I got back out there to see more of the park. The hike up to Mirador Británico is really pretty, running along a roaring river for several kilometres before heading up into the snowcapped mountains. Just look at these photos – it was fuckin’ beautiful and I enjoyed every second I spent looking out at that astonishing landscape.

The most stunning aspect of this hike is the massive glacier that clings to the cliffs far above. Every few minutes, a frightening rumble echoes through the valley, but while it sounds like thunder, it’s actually regular avalanches. They’re incredible to watch – tonnes of ice crashing into the abyss far below. Each frigid tumble emphasises the relentless power of nature, and it’s not hard to feel small when confronted with something that large (something I’m sure Antonio can attest to).

The hike heads through ancient forests full of skeletal trees clawing at the sky, across windswept plains, and ends up with a brilliant view of the rear side of the legendary Cordillera Paine. When I finally made it to the mirador, I had giant mountains on every side of me, providing a memorable view. I didn’t spend too long enjoying it, though, because the wind and rain started up and it actually became pretty dangerous being in such an exposed part of the park.

It was good to have a day’s hiking without my tent and other gear weighing me down, so I’d highly recommend spending two nights at the lovely Camp Frances. By the time I returned, Antonio had moved on to escape the clutches of his plump lover, so I drank a box of lukewarm Clos down by the lake with a group of excitable Chinamen I met.

“He who see rain at night will see mountain in morning,” slurred one of the fellas, before passing out in a bush.

“Ancient Chinese proverb,” explained his mate, whilst not realising he was pissing his pants. “It mean tomorrow will be good day for hiking.”

I just nodded and assumed the bush-diver was Shanghai’s answer to Tim Bailey, but when I woke up the next morning and looked out of my tent at the pouring rain, I realised the truth of another proverb; Never trust a Chinaman who’s smashed on cheap goon. I hope you enjoy these lovely photos because trust me, the story gets a lot nastier from here on.

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!

Santiago Shenanigans

The winds carried me and my bright orange paraglider across the oceans. Over Samoa, where the volcanoes are angry and the people are wonderful. Past Fiji, with its golden beaches and endless reefs. I even swung past Easter Island, which is full of heads bigger and uglier than your ex-girlfriend’s. When the breeze finally dropped me from its loving arms, I found myself in a strange city surrounded by imposing mountains and populated by the most beautiful women I’d ever seen. I asked a little bloke who was digging through a bin where I was, and he told me, “Senor, you is in San Diego!”

“No I’m fucking not,” I told him, looking around at the throngs of people who swept around us. “I’ve been to San Diego and the women have arse cracks you could park a Sid Fogg’s in. And I haven’t had a wannabe tough guy try to stab me with a rusty kitchen knife yet. Where am I really?”

“Not San Diego, fuckwit,” he spat, whilst juggling a soccer ball. “You is in chilly!”

“It’s not chilly, you goose, it’s about 24 degrees and sunny,” I chuckled, then swaggered off to check out my surroundings.

Turns out I was in a place called Santiago, Chile, which I would’v learnt earlier if the locals didn’t run me around in circles. I traded my paraglider in for a six-pack of Austral and started exploring, and ended up discovering one of the most unusual cities I’ve been to It can be beautifu one minute, with elegant European buildings, exotic parks and brightly-coloured houses, and hideous the next, with poverty and dirt smeared everywhere. In many ways it reminds me of South African cities, with two disparate worlds somehow existing together.

Santiago is known for its food, and I was bombarded with options as I walked around. The mouth-watering scent of sizzling beef and chicken wafts through the streets, and it seems like the locals are constantly shoving something in their gobs. The main options are empanadas, which are a relation of the glorious meat pie, and completos, which are fully-loaded hotdogs. My dad has often regaled me with stories of all the foot-longs he gobbled in South America, so I was relieved to discover he was actually talking about hotdogs, and not man-dogs. There are also plenty of pizza places and hamburger shops, so if you’re looking to chuck on some weight this is where you should be.

I saw a big hill with some sort of statue at the top, so I downed an icy cold can in one gulp and sauntered that way to see what was up. The path up to the top of Cerro San Cristóbal is poorly signposted and difficult to find (and possibly closed, since there was a big barrier in the way), but that didn’t stop meclimbing up there. The path is poorly maintained and eroded in many places, but the sweeping views back over Santiago make it more than worthwhile. Once I made it to the top, I realised there’s a cable carand some sort of train that canbe usedto scale it easily, but unless you’re a fat cunt or you once stepped on a landmine, I suggest making the 45 minute trek.

The main reason for scaling San Cristóbal is to check out the view, but that’s not all that’s up there. The statue, as it turns out, is of the Virgin Mary and stands 14 metres tall. Alright, she’s not as big as certain other hilltop religious statues I’ve encountered, but she’s still pretty impressive. There are also cafes (that don’t serve beer – trust me, I asked) and some little museums that I didn’t bother with. If you ever visit Santiago, you’ll end up at San Cristóbal at some point it would be like going to New York and not visiting the Statue of Liberty, or going to Wyong and not shitting on the floor of the public toilets.

I was pulling down my shorts so that I could takeone of my popular Drunk and Jobless World Tour Nude Selfies™ when a couple of horse police (police on horses, I mean. Not horses who have found emplyment in the police force) rocked up and politely suggested I fuckoff. I’m grabbed a cheap room in a hipster-filled part of the city known as Bellavista, which if full of bars and live music joints. Energetic Chilean rock bounces between the intricately-painted buildings and smoking hotsenoritas walk around in next to nothing, so it’s the place to be. The bars are great, with plenty of al fresco seating options, but the beers are a bit pricey – around six Aussie dollaridgeridoos each. The quality is top notch though, with Kross Golden proving a standout.

Needless to say, I got smashed on cheap supermarket beer in a nearby park and passed out halfway through eating a chicken and olive stuffed empenada. I’m stoked to be exploring my sixth continent (which means I’ve hit them all, except for the one that’s run by penguins) and have decided to hang around for the next nine or so weeks, so stick around for more mesmerising entries. Chile is already surprising and delighting me, and I can’t wait to see what else this bonkers country has to offer.

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