Monthly Archives: November 2012

Trials and Tribulations of a Photographer

There are, without a doubt, easier ways to see Torres del Paine – the jewel in the crown on Chile’s National Parks. To see the Torres themselves can be, just about, done in a day trip.

However, for the more adventurous, and those who are wanting more of the park than just it’s centrepiece, there is the 5 day W Trek – the stuff of legend for those hiking around Southern Patagonia.

It’s a long trek, just over 80km, most if which takes place on the middle three days. This is exacerbated by the 15-20kg of kit that you must take with you, tents, sleeping matts and bags, enough food to last you 5 days and clothing suitable for the -5 degrees that can be experienced at night.

But all of this hardship is offset by the sheer beauty of the park. Soaring peaks, turquoise lakes, knife edge towers of granite and a 27km long glacier that marks the end of the great Southern Patagonian Ice-field.

Working from west to east, we were bucking the trend and “doing the W” the wrong way round. After a fairly easy 11km walk uphill to our campsite on the side Glacier Grey. After pitching the tent, I thought nothing would beat sitting in wall-to-wall sunshine on a bay, looking over the glacier and watching hundreds of icebergs bob up and down. However, after dark and dinner cooked over a camping stove, we went to the disproportionately swanky refugio, where the more monied (read American) tourists stay. Next to a log burning fire and classic black and whites of the surrounding park, I sipped down a large Johnny Walker Black Label on the rocks. The whisky was a blend of minimum 12 year old Scotch’s. The ice, perfectly formed 25,000 year old glacial ice.

The next few days were even more challenging, averaging 20km each day, but the mountains to our left and the emerald and turquoise lakes to our right more than compensated.

By the end of day 4 we had climbed more than 600 meters in a few hours, through a blizzard and our chances of seeing the main event, the three Torres (towers) we’re fading fast. After pitching camp with damp equipment in the snow, we fired up the stove and had dinner. As we wolfed down our last mouthful, the weather broke and we could see, just, blue sky and sun.

Camera in waterproof bag was grabbed and almost at a jog we climbed the remaining 1km and 250 meters in altitude in just over 35 mins. When we crested the rim of the crater we were greeted by one of the most majestic sites I have seen in the trip so far. All three Torres unobstructed by cloud, with the sun behind them and a shimmering blue lake in front.

Had we done a day trip, we would be on our way home by now, disappointed as so many visitors are. It goes to show, with photography, it’s all about patience and perseverance, that and having the stupidity to hike for 5 days.

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Lago Grey with Glacier Grey in the background and icebergs filling the small inlet

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Lago Nordenskjold

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Torres del Paine, or Blue Towers in the mixture of Spanish and Native American in which they were named

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It’s not about Patriotism…

A few years back, I was marched out of Tate Britain, the art gallery in London. It wasn’t by security or staff, but by my girlfriend. The reason was, we had seen a painting depicting the government reprisals after the Battle of Culloden in 1746.

Under the painting, the gallery staff had included an explanation of the painting, stating “English troops round up a Highlander after the Battle of Culloden.” the problem was that the soldiers, regardless of where they were from, weren’t English, they were British.

The Battle of Culloden took place 39 years after The Act of Union, making Scotland, England and Wales one political entity – Britain. Any government forces were acting in behalf of the British Government. It wasn’t because I was Scottish that the inaccuracy annoyed me, but because it was simply inaccurate, and further more it was an institution that people took to be accurate and educational.

Anyway, I was marched out before I could ask for the curator to complain, so I’m sure it’s still there if you wish to check

The reason I mention this is thus: For just aver a month now we have been traveling around Argentina. In almost every place we have stayed there has been a map of South America and/or a map of Argentina. On every single one has been an archipelago of islands about 300 KM south of Argentina’s southern tip. They are labeled as “Islas Malvinas (Arg)”.

In many towns, they have gone so far as putting up signs stating that “Islas Malvinas son Argentine”.

That they want to call the island Islas Malvinas doesn’t bother me. On English language maps we call Germany Germany, not Deutschland. What bother’s me is that the islands are not Argentine sovereign territory, nor are they administered from Buenos Aires. They are, by the islander’s own wishes, British.

If the Argentine authorities want to spend tax payers money on this agenda, that is there business. But for me it’s sad that children are being thought this instead if basic economic principles that may help bring their county back from the fiscal brink.

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In Search of… Something

In 1962, Walt Disney made a film. In the late 1980’s, my Mother, remembering the film from her childhood, and thinking it a film my sister and I would enjoy, popped a VHS into the machine and recorded it.

The film was “In Search of The Castaways”, a live action adaptation of the Jules Verne novel “Les Enfants du capitaine Grant” or “Captain Grant’s Children”, in it’s translated version.

The plot centres around Captain Grant’s two children chasing clues to find their missing father having received a message in a bottle after his ship was wrecked.

One of the reasons that I enjoyed the film so much, and it sticks in my memory to this day, is the setting for the main adventures. I can still remember the excited voice of the French professor helping the children – “ah, PatAgOOnia!”

I had no real concept of where or what Patagonia was, only that it was a place one could ride horses across The Andes, experience earthquakes, avalanches and ride giant rock sleds over glaciers and through ice caves. There were native American Indians, giant condors and vast flood plains. To top it all, there was a chance of meeting a young Hayley Mills.

From that day to this, Patagonia has had a hold on me. Not necessarily a driving, obsessive hold, but a hold that sticks in the back of your mind. A hold that says, ‘one day’.

So when we were planning our South America trip it was that, and Patagonia, that were for me, going to be the highlights. For most, it is Machu Picchu or monkeys in The Amazon. These were very nice, but for me, as we drove south from Bariloche along Ruta 40, that was where the trip really got exciting.

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