Tag Archives: bushwalking

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?

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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.

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 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 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!”

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

Hog Wild! Hogsback is the best place you’ve never heard of!

I’ve been told that Hogsback draws people to it, that the mountain has a soul and personality of its own, and that certainly seems to be the case. A South African girl I met told me to come to this tiny village in the Eastern Cape hills, and I’m so glad I followed her advice. This place is as unique as its name suggests, incredibly strange, and spectacularly beautiful. It’s odd in the best way possible.

Hogsback is well off the tourist trail and is home to a weird assortment of artists, hippies and burnouts. A lot of people who live here never intended to stay, and can’t really explain why they can’t leave. It doesn’t feel or look like the rest of South Africa, or anywhere else in the world. People here believe in fairies and drink hallucinogenic cactuses. Cows wander the streets. Homemade statues decorate the town. Restaurants and bars are hidden away between the trees.

There are some incredible walking trails around here, winding through the surreal landscape and racing past delightful waterfalls. The trees are full of monkeys, everything is green and lush, and there’s a special peacefulness that is impossible to resist. I’ve spent the past few days exploring this wonderful place, and there are still so many trails to scramble along and mountains to climb.

Of course, a man can’t exist on hiking alone, so it’s a good thing that Hogsback provides some of the finest drinking I’ve ever encountered. My hostel is home to a really great bar with cheap beer, awesome company,  and seemingly endless free gin shots. I’ve been drunk or hungover since I got here, which has made my journeys into the bush even stranger.

Hogsback is also one of those places where lots of 19-year-old sheilas come to ‘find themselves’, meaning females massively outnumber males here. The first night I shared my dorm with seven pretty, blonde American teenagers exploring the big, wide world for the first time. And so, after drinking heavily at the bar for six hours, I did what any redblooded male would – I went in there, tripped over a hair straightener, banged my head on the floor, failed spectacularly to climb into my bunk, fell out of bed, then passed out in the corner. It’s safe to say that’s not the sort of spiritual awakening those girls came to Hogsback for.