Category Archives: Guest posts

Mt. Tronodor, Argentina

Meet Sally, the Latest Swoop Member

Sally, the latest member of the Swoop team, is a true Patagonian enthusiast. Having worked as an English teacher and Tour leader in Chile and Argentina throughout the last 8 years, Sally has a wide and diverse knowledge of Patagonia. Take a few minutes to find out about her Patagonian adventures and her top tips on where to go.

Mt. Tronodor, Argentina

What is it that you love so much about Patagonia?

It is impossible to name just one attribute, but a combination of many is what makes it such a unique place. Here is a list of a few of the reasons why Patagonia has really got to me…..

  1. The Landscape – a bit of an obvious choice, but the Patagonian landscape really is simplyincredible, surprising and at times completely unexpected. For example, I have been fortunate enough to visit the Torres del Paine National Park many times, and it never once looks the same; the light changes, the clouds frame the peaks in different and unusual ways and as the colours change through the seasons, they are landscapes that are hard to tire of.
  2. The birds – as an avid bird enthusiast (a true twitcher at heart), Patagonia is an exciting place to be. From the mighty Condor to the tiny Wren, the Patagonian steppe and forests have a surprisingly large variety of birds. The stunted growth of trees in the Southern Beech forests make the birds easy to spot and even a novice can become a birding expert by the end of a trip.
  3. The food – I’m sure many people don’t think too much of food when they consider Patagonia, but it can be quite the gastronomic experience; from roast lamb to hearty stews, fresh Trout to delicious King crab, Patagonia really is a place to get the taste buds going. And obviously, with a large range of vineyards in both Chile and Argentina, there is never a shortage of wine to wash it down with.
  4. The history – Patagonia has a huge wealth of history and the incredible part of it is that much of it is relatively modern; whether to do with the indigenous peoples, Colonial wars, Darwin, Missionaries or Gauchos, knowing a little will add a whole new dimension to your visit. Drop me a line if you’d like some recommendations.

Do you have a favourite place in Patagonia?

A very difficult question to answer – I love it all! But to name my top 5, I’d have to go with:

  1. Chiloe Island – come rain or shine the beauty and magic of this place always leaves me wanting to stay.
  2. I still can’t decide which I find most impressive, Torres del Paine or El Chalten – both are incredibly breathtaking and great  for trekkers of all abilities.
  3. The Argentinian lake district – a great place for cycling as every tough up hill climb is always rewarded with a another stunning lake view.
  4. The Beagle Channel – a place full of history that really gets your imagination going as you sail up the channel accompanied by soaring albatross.

What is your best memory of Patagonia?

It would have to be reaching the glacier line of Mount Tronodor, reached from Bariloche, it literally translates as ‘The Thunder’ due to sound made by avalanches from its many glaciers. After a steep 5 hour hike through a glacial valley and up through virgin forest, I popped out onto a high plateau where I was faced with one of the most incredible views I have ever seen. I was surrounded, 360°, by the snow capped Andes and I was higher than all of them (or so it seemed!). Mt. Tronodor sits at 3491 meters above sea level and I was at about 2400 meters, at the snow line, where there was a little refugio to spend the night. A moment I will never forget was, as the sun set it turned the 3 peaked Mt. Tronodor a shade of pink that was so intense and surprising, when seen in a photo, you would never believe it to be true.

iceberg

Travel insurance for a trip to Patagonia

For those who have a taste for getting out into unique wilderness environments for different adventures – whether it’s climbing Mount Aconcagua or hiking on the Southern Patagonian Ice Cap – it is important to look into all aspects of safety and preparation, and that includes insurance. Patagonia is bold and beautiful, and begs the attention of adventurous types. But without proper preparation for a hiking or climbing trip in this region, you could be putting yourself at risk for various misfortunes.

Unfortunately, while you may look into ordinary insurance companies such as Aviva before undergoing a Patagonian trek or climb, many travel insurance companies are a bit hesitant to specifically cover adventurous activities that may be considered dangerous. Specifically, high altitude climbs and wilderness hikes, and in this case, glacier treks are often left out of travel insurance.

Fortunately, if you dig a bit deeper, it is possible to find travel insurance that is geared more specifically toward the types of activities you may be planning on in the Patagonian region. For example, consider mountaineering insurance, which, as you can see at JS Insurance, typically focuses on two different types of dangers.

Objective Hazards – These are risks and dangers that can occur while hiking or trekking regardless of your level of expertise or preparation. Some examples might include storms, avalanches, etc.

Subjective Hazards – These hazards include anything that could happen to you as a result of your own planning and execution, rather than as a result of your environment. Basic errors and failure to take proper precautions can lead to subjective hazards.

With injuries and losses that can occur as a result of these sorts of hazards covered, you can feel secure on your next trip that you will be financially secure in the event of an accident. If your trip involves a larger potential for injury or danger, and you wish to take things a bit further, you can also look into insurance coverage for the following emergency care costs:

Helicopter Rescue

Emergency Medical Expenses

Emergency Evacuation

Again, finding insurance for such things can be a bit difficult within ordinary travel insurance policies, so securing the proper insurance for your next climb or trek may involve digging a bit deeper. There are, however, plenty of insurance providers that have travel insurance packages specifically aimed at adventurers, climbers etc., and within these policies you will have better luck finding coverage for the events and needs referred to above. Be careful not to pay for more insurance than you need, however – for example, some adventure travel insurance includes extra costs for high altitude climbing, which may not be necessary depending on the nature of your next trip.

Patagonian field

‘A Few Memories of Our Own’, Tim Moss Walks Patagonia

We were very excited indeed when, in early December, Laura and Tim Moss contacted us about their plans to walk all the way across Patagonia from the Pacific to the Atlantic. Not an everday request at all, but for Tim and Laura this expedition is the latest in a long line of extraordinary adventures.
I was lucky enough to meet them in Bristol and look through the maps with them, however many places on their itinerary were new even to us. It was a pleasure to help out such bold explorers, and I’m delighted that Tim has taken a moment to share his story here.
————————————————————————————————————–
The word “Patagonia” will mean many different things depending on who you ask but I suspect in any game of free association, it wouldn’t take long before the words “beautiful” and “mountains” sprung up.
So why then had we decided to spend our precious time in the region marching along a dirt track away from those beautiful mountains?
Well, because beauty is in the eye of the beholder.
 Or, for a less trite explanation, it’s because I enjoy approaching things from a different angle to get a novel perspective. Let me give you some examples:
After living in London for many years, my now-wife, Laura, suggested that we explore some new areas of the capital by following the route of all the London Underground Tube lines. We did it by running (above ground!) and not only did we get to visit new parts of the city and connect those coloured dots from the map, but we formed many new memories for places already familiar.
A few years prior, I went on a climbing expedition to Bolivia – a country with four major mountain ranges. Rather than going for the biggest and best mountains, we deliberately picked the smallest and least popular of the four areas because we knew no Britons had been there before. As a result, we were the first team to wave a Union Jack on their summits (metaphorically speaking, you’ll be pleased to hear).
Then, last January, my wife and I set out to walk across Patagonia. We didn’t know anything about the area. We selected our start point – Rio Bravo – not because it was a well known tourist destination with things to see and do (on the contrary, no one seemed to have heard of it) but simply because it was the only way we could reach the Pacific coast without crossing the ice cap.
It’s a pretty boring place – nothing more than a single building and a dusty trail – but it was disproportionately exciting for us as the start line for our adventure.
Similarly, we spent many days slogging alongside roads that could just as easily have been driven at 20 times the speed. Sometimes this was debilitatingly demoralising, undermining any purpose for being there. But it also provided a challenge and a sense of achievement at the end of each day as we rose to it.
We weren’t completely blinkered though. We did see some of the better known areas. We diverted our route to spend the first week walking parallel to the mountains on the recommendation of others and spent a few days in the stunning Torres del Paine National Park too – some truly beautiful areas. But it was nice to add to these well-known beauty spots, a few memories of our own, wild camping and walking on paths less trodden.

Restaurant in Puerto Natales: Afrigonia

If you find yourself in Puerto Natales before starting your hike in Torres del Paine National Park but don’t have much time to find somewhere for fine dining, head towards a great restaurant in the centre of town called Afrigonia. We speak to Rolando, who visited the restaurant in 2011 as he explains and shows why this African/Patagonian fusion really does work. It’s not hard to see why this is Puerto Natales’ best rated restaurant.

‘I had heard about Afrigonia before I arrived to Puerto Natales. As it turns out, this restaurant is owned by a charming Zambian and his a Chilean wife, both chefs and hence the reason for Afrigonia’s name.

You soon notice the African table décor, soft lighting and a enormous green bank safe transformed into a wine cellar.  Afrigonia is not your average restaurant, the food is  creative, flavoursome and topped by impeccable service. The atmosphere is relaxed with a mix of locals and foreigners. The menu is not extensive but it is focused on local produce and the prices are more than reasonable, you can get a starter from approximately £5 and a main course of up to £14.
 
 
 
Out of the foods I have tried there my favourite dishes have to be: King crab ‘trilogy’, the spicy seafood soup, (a Patagonian Bouillabaisse), salmon ceviche with lemon, mango and coconut milk and roasted lamb rack with mint sauce. For dessert it has to be ‘Kilimanjaro’, a warm chocolate cake topped with a white chocolate and berry sauce. I was also impressed with the wine list, which offers an excellent selection of good Chilean and Argentinian wines.’
 
 
                                                   Owners Kamal Nawaz & Nathalie Reffer
ice hiking

Guest Blog Post: We talk to Patrick Usborne, Architect, Skiier & Ice Cap Adventurer

I was fortunate enough to meet Paddy, an architect, skiier and mountaineer, when we were on the same expedition onto the IceCap earlier this year. Paddy is exactly the kind of guy you want in your expedition team: incredible endurance and endless good cheer. He’s been kind enough to share some of his thoughts and photos of Patagonia.

Paddy, tell us a bit about yourself.

That’s a big first question! I guess I have two main passions in life; architecture and being in the mountains.  I’m just finishing my architectural training after a long and exhausting eight years at the drawing board.  Combining both architecture and mountaineering is proving a challenge, but hopefully I’m achieving a good mix.

I always find it difficult explaining to friends how I feel about both, but there are a lot of similarities between them.  We’re becoming much more aware of the effects we have on the environment, and even though we constantly hear doomsday reports in the news and television programmes, that can so easily numb us, it is right to be concerned.

We, as architects especially, have such an enormous responsibility to design and build not only to protect the environment, but also to work with it.  I live in London and am currently sitting in front of my laptop looking through my window at a ‘Freshly Clicked’ Tesco van delivering bags of food to a neighbour that was, I imagine, ordered at the confines of their laptop.  We are already so detached.

So, this is why being in the mountains for me, and having an adventure within them is so important to give a sense of attachment to the enormous scale of our environment around us. It might sound a cliché, but it is only here, that I really begin to feel myself.

Where else have you visited before visiting Patagonia?

I’ve been really fortunate as both my parents met in the mountains. They both were mountaineers at my age now, but our main passion has always been through skiing. Skiing has really defined us as a family and we have visited so many incredible parts of the world through it.  It has been a passion that has given so much to us, but has also taken so much away from us.

Tragically my father was killed in an avalanche whilst skiing ten years ago.  The first few years we’re very difficult, but instead of turning my back to the mountains as many of my friends thought sensible, my sense of adventure in the mountains grew much stronger.

Soon after the accident I visited Nepal to climb a mountain called Mera Peak, which remains one of my most memorable adventures. It was ‘only’ a trekking peak, but I realised then, the adventure wasn’t just to reach the top, but was instead the experience either side.

On the decent, our local Nepali guide invited us all into the house of an old friend of his. The owner was a farmer who worked her small plot of land to feed herself and her family. The blackened timber house had room for her small herd of cows on the lower floor and living upstairs.  I will never forget her enormous smile as she greeted our guide and us into her home. Without pause, she began to plunge repetitively a long thin tube, to prepare for us her best buttermilk.  She wanted no money, but instead you could see how immensely proud she was.

What made you decide to visit Patagonia?

The third largest icecap in the world after Antarctica and Greenland; the Patagonian Ice Cap. Just looking at this vast expanse of ice on the map makes the hairs on the back of the neck stand tall.  The thought to be able to walk on this frozen river of ice and look across at its endless scale was something I couldn’t pass up. And apart from the odd mountain hut on the edge, the ice cap is a place that has seen no human intervention, just pure nature at its rawest.

I also heard the Argentine beef and red wine was rather good (the Argentines are well known for banning the export of their finest wines)!

Where abouts did you go in Patagonia and what did you do?

Most visitors to Patagonia will hear of Torres del Paine National Park and its famous ‘W’ trek; a beautiful spot to the South of the ice cap.  Not as many will have heard of the Fitzroy range to the East. Here, you have such peaks as Mount Fitzroy, Cerro Torre and all their sister peaks nested on the edge of the ice cap.

My time there was to squeeze in as much climbing as I could as well as the adventure of getting onto the ice cap itself. In the end I also found that waiting for that elusive Patagonian weather window was second to none!

What were your top three highlights in Patagonia?

There were so many, it’s hard to know where to begin! The memories of the adventures I had when leaving far exceeded my expectations before arriving. The mountains, people and culture together created such incredible highlights.

The first though must be the people I met.  After my partner pulled out, I found myself a solo traveller; a liberating experience that allowed me to meet so many people that I wouldn’t have done in a team of two.  My base was a small town called El Chalten; a trekking Mecca that draws people from around the world to a ramshackle town of corrugated roof buildings. The owners however were always so proud of their town and what it had to offer.

For the more demanding climbs I was part of a team with a brilliant American mountain guide called ‘Coop’ of Andes Mountain Guides, Charlie from the Telegraph and Luke of Swoop Travel. Together we had a real adventure of attempting to reach the ice cap, and climb a peak on its edge. The adventure was due to last nearly a week and was certainly another highlight.

The team spirit was high, but the weather was not on our side. We made it through cascading ceracs, that were constantly falling from above, to a windswept blanket of white. Even though we had to turn back, it became clear that retreat in the mountains is never a failure; instead, it becomes a chance to try again another day.

The third highlight was the most special. I had a week to explore the mountains on my own, and I chose a five day loop around the peak Mount Huemul.  In those five days I only met five people.  The remoteness and being alone amongst the mountains was inspiring.  On the third day the weather opened to blue skies and a gentle breeze. My tent was pitched on sand near a melt water lake on the edge of the ice cap and that morning I decided to venture alone onto the depths of the ice cap.

Now, this is of course a dangerous adventure! Indeed, even today a friend over lunch claimed I was reckless.  But the draw of being amongst the ice; the emptiness and vastness was too strong not to.  With crampons, an axe and ample chocolate I walked for hours to the centre of the ice cap, jumping over crevasses and avoiding patches of snow that obscured hidden dangers.

Eventually I found a lonely rock that must have fallen from a cliff many miles away that had since been carried by the ice to where I was. Sitting on the rock having lunch whilst admiring the snow clad peaks around and to know there were kilometres of ice below my rock will be a moment I will never forget.

After taking a few photos I turned back and followed my footsteps to the edge of the ice and my tent. I saw nobody the whole day.  The experience really captured the vastness of the world we live in and certainly puts into the context that ‘Freshly Clicked’ Tesco van!

What’s on your cards for your next adventure?

I’m currently finishing my architectural training, so will be busy preparing for the final exams over the next year. I would love to return to Patagonia one day, but there is so much more to see in the world. I hope my career in architecture will take me to explore many new places.  Indeed, my interest in how we can build a better way of living for our future that works with our environment and not against it will be an important part of what I do next.

More immediately however, Greenland and its ice cap has been on the mind. Not to be done solo, but as part of a team to traverse its length on skis whilst measuring the changing conditions of the ice and finding out how the local Inuit community are coping with their changing environment.

A big adventure, but through exploring, if I can play a small part in improving our relation to the environment and allow others to share the sense of inspiration the world has to offer as I have done in Patagonia and elsewhere, then all the better.

wine tasting

Guest Blog Post: We talk to Pamela Villablanca from Andes Wines about Wine Tasting in Patagonia

 

Many people visit Patagonia to sample delicious Chilean and Argentinian wines in the region’s best vineyards. We actually offer some trips that allow you to not only to trek the highlights of Patagonia but also visit some of Patagonia’s famous wine regions to sample the local products:

Patagonian Lake District Adventure – Sample Cabernet Sauvignons in the Colchagua Valley

South America – Wild Patagonia – Visit the Maipu and Colchagua Valleys en route to beautiful Pucon

Below we speak to Pamela Villablanca about wine in Patagonia and about her role in marketing wines abroad and at home.

So Pamela, tell us a bit about yourself, when did you start working for Andes Wines?

I joined the Andes Wines team early 2011. and before that I was a Veramonte Ambassador for Huneeus Vintners in the US for six years. I was based in California and in the last 2 years was the California Sales Manager for an importer & distributor of South American wines. With vast experience in wine tourism designing and conducting, I educated travel agents in the US to generate a strong image of Chile and understanding of the many possibilities Chile offers for exploration. Andes Wines has 10 years of experience in developing new wine & adventure tours around Chile and Argentina.

So Pamela, what makes Chilean wine so great?

There are so many Chilean wines and all of them have contribute to recognize Chile as a great value and quality. Overall i would say the wines are clean, expressive, sharp and ripe. In the U$ 10 range you will find beautiful expressive fruit. I would recommend to look accurately at the labels and use your judgement to find specific denominations instead of the general. The wines I drink and enjoy come in conscious weight glass bottles, an easy to read label and priced between U$ 13 to U$ 40. In the high end wines, you can find wines that cost over 200 dollars per bottle.

What’s your favorite wine?

My favorite wine has a beautiful bright ruby color, is deep and has a great density. Should include ripe fruits but also flowers and forest. A multi-cultural personality and a great speaker while i swirl the wine in the glass. Velvet in the mouth and long finish. Hard to mention a brand, but for sure the Denominations of Origin like Aconcagua, Rutherford, Alexander and Barosa Valley are recurrent for me.

Where are the best wineries in your opinion?

It’s no secret that Chile posseses amazing world recognized premium DO (Denominacion de origen meaning ‘place name’) like Apalta & Puente Alto, but for me there are extreme areas like Limari that open the spectrum of the tasting profile and offer a great challenge in diversifying the potential of the varieties planted in the country. The wines coming from San Antonio and even the Maipo Alto are becoming quite interesting.

If you had 2 weeks to spend touring wineries in Patagonia, where would you go?

I would go first to Bodega Noemia de Patagonia. The contribution of Condesa Noemi Barone Cinzano  to the wine industry in the area has been crucial. She took the oldest vines in abandonment in Patagonia and recovered them. For me its remarkable how women take these type of challenge in this Latitude/solitude. My next visit would be Familia Schroeder for two reasons: wine & archaeology. The vineyard is an emerald shining in contrast with the dry land escape; long days and amazing clear nights to enjoy wines. The gossip about a dinosaur discovery is not a secret anymore, and I want to see it!

How popular is wine tourism in Chile?

I remember when I first designed my wine routes in Chile back in 2002, I was pioneering working for several tourism companies designing these routes. Most of the wineries were not open, drivers & guides did not know about wine or routes. Wine tourism is popular today and so is Chilean wine. Good wine tourism is a hidden secret, same as the good wines. There are big challenges in service and facilities implementation for wineries, restaurants, hotels and b&b, and tour agencies/operators. Colchagus valley in this case was titled few years ago the most important wine region of the world by an important wine magazine and people from all around the world come to visit not just Colchagua, also Casablanca and Maipo Valley.

What are the future plans for Andes Wines? We see that you’re going to run tailor-made wine tours.

Our future plans are endless since our team of professionals is growing, we just founded the first wine private equity fund and opened a highly specialized consulting area. If i shall apply the saying “Bird by Bird”, i could say that our next step is to position the South America tailor-made wine tours. We have fun and very educational wine trip proposals in South America for wine lovers, collectors, enthusiasts and for those from the wine industry who want to travel undercover. We are wine professionals who offer guidance in your wine explorations in South America so you get the best out of it. We will launch the next couple of weeks the “Malbec Wine Route of Argentina and Chile” where visitors will be able to visit wineries that produce Malbec in both sides of the Andes. Also, The “Carmenere Wine Route of Chile” will be a unique tour open for foreign and national visitors and wine lovers.

 

 

rafting2

White water rafting on the Futaleufu Guest blog post with Adriana Radwanski from H2o Patagonia

H2o Patagonia is a white water rafting company based on the edge of the world-famous river, the Futaleufu in the Chilean Lake District in Patagonia.

H2o offers white water rafting for all ages and abilities and an all-inclusive adventure lodge where you can relax in the hot tub and enjoy a cocktail or two after a hard days rafting. They also offer trips for families and student groups, that can choose from a ranging of rafting, horse riding or trekking activities.

Adriana has spent considerable time in Brazil, Uruguay, The Netherlands, Panama and the United States. Always looking for a new challenges, Dri arrived at H2O Patagonia for it’s first season as Massage Therapist & Spa Coordinator. She is now responsible for coordinating trips and she’s in charge of administration. I asked her about H2o and the Futaleufu:

What’s special about the Futaleufu location?

Futaleufu is a small town located on the foots of the pristine Andean mountains in Chilean Patagonia. Patagonia is of the least explored regions in the world, making this a very special place and providing an incredible landscape in which guests can enjoy the different activities.

Sum up this region in 3 words
Magestic, breathtaking, inspiring
Why do you think H2o is rated no.1 on Trip Advisor?
A personalized adventure is what you’ll get with H2O Patagonia. The dedicated staff and guides work to make your stay comfortable and memorble by creating a friendly, inviting atmoshphere full of smiles and cheers. All your needs, and more, will be met while relaxing in rustic luxury at “camp.”

The same attention to personalization is given during all the adventures. Professional guides demonstrated expertise in their trade and knowing just how much to push guests in order to provide maximum enjoyment and personal feats through adventure.

And let’s not forget the food! Great breakfasts with variety for all, amazing picnic lunches during the adventures, and dinners that surpass expectations! And once again, personalized to your dietary needs.

What do you offer that other rafting operator’s can’t?
The lodge is located on 175 Hcts of land in which one has a view of the Andean mountains and at the same time overlooking the river.
How long has H2o been running for?
2011-2012 will be our 8th season.
Is rafting on the Futeleufu available for everyone or just experienced rafters?
It’s for everyone over 16 years of age and the only requirement is to know how to swim
Which is your favourite programme at H2o?
Relaxing in the hot tub and drinking a cold beer (That’s my personal choice! I’m not much of a rafter!)

How can you relax at H2o?
Hot tub in the afternoons, cocktails, massage, reading in front of the fire in our Patagonia style Quincho, strolling around the farm, we provide yoga mats for those who enjoy stretching on their own.
What’s the best way of getting to H2o?
The best option is coming through Argentina via Buenos Aires and from there taking a domestic flight to the Patagonia town of Esquel which is just a 1.5 hour drive from H2o’s riverside lodge. We highly recommend spending a night or 2 in Buenos Aires which provides many cultural activities and entertainment, aside from great steakhouses!