Tag Archives: gopro

Victory!

Man versus kite: man wins.

Got up! With a bit of aggression the kite came under control and I was skimming across the surface of the water. Stoked.

None of these guys are me.

Its a surreal experience. I thought it would feel like wakeboarding but when surfing downwind the kite skims across the surface. It felt like I was on ice.

That's not me either, but he says hi.

Until, of course, the edge of the board clipped a waved and once again I was inhaling the Pacific Ocean.

Saskia enjoys the pool.

Saskia went for the sensible option and spent her time poolside. The resort, which hosts the kitesurfing business Ecuador Kite Surf, was our home for about a week. We spent the time chatting to locals and taking the occasional trip to Manta, 20 minutes north.

But for the most part we sat by the pool and enjoyed a beer in the sun.

That's me!

 

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Kitesurfing is Madness

Salt water stings when it is forced up the nostrils at 100 km an hour.

This is me (Mark) during a kitesurfing lesson in Santa Marianita, Ecuador. I was doing my best but a water kite is a powerful piece of equipment. It can produce the same acceleration as a jet boat, but without the surety of control. All it takes is one gust of wind…

Still, if it wasn't for the risk I wouldn't be interested in kitesurfing. I get a real thrill watching people tearing along the surface of the water and launching into the air. I dream of being able to do the same!

It is an exciting sport but it is devilishly difficult to learn. From previous experience I knew that kitesurfing has a steep learning curve so I committed to an eight hour course to give myself the best possible chance.

The reason I'm still sneezing salt is because controlling the kite can be counter-intuitive. When a strong gust of wind catches me by surprise my muscles instinctively contract and pull on the control bar. This causes the kite to instantly gain power and next thing I know I'm swallowing pelargic fish.

We had an adversarial relationship.

For those unfamiliar with the sport it may help to think of motorcycles. If you pull back on the handle you accelerate, so time needs to be invested upfront to learn how to control the vehicle in all situations. And so it is with a 12 m squared kite, which at worst could drag me on land and through all manner of solid objects.

Speaking of which, my mates love to remind me of a time when I was demonstrating how to use my new kite on the beach. I misjudged the wind speed and a gust of wind lifted me off the ground and two metres forward in the air. I lost control, ripped the emergency chord and watched my friends run back and forth across the beach, doing their best to tame the beast while trying not to spill their beers.

Despite the hazards it is good fun. With practice my kite control has improved and by the end of the lessons I'm hoping for results…

My instructor Pauet, a great bloke.

 

 


Death Road Part 1

We are interrupting our scheduled broadcast to bring you our first posting on Death Road. We recently reached 1,000 subscribers for the blog and thought putting this up would be a good way to celebrate.

Mark gets ready.

That's Mark raising his hand.

This is part one of two postings on our Death Road cycle tour in Bolivia. We've had to split it up as there is an hour of footage and a lot of photos. The second post will go up as soon as the remaining video has been edited.

We picked Altitude on the basis of a recommendation from friends. They proved to be a good choice, great guides and there were enough to accommodate different speeds.

Mark switching on his GoPro.

The tour was split into two stages. The first began at the top of the mountain pass and ended near a truck stop. This was all on tarmac. The second stage involved getting back in the vans and travelling to the start of Death Road, a dirt road that hugs the side of a mountain range. This road has now been replaced by another route so it is much safer to use. However, unbeknownst to us when we booked the tour, the new road was partially blocked by a recent landslide so there would be traffic coming back up towards us…kind of a problem when the road narrows to one lane with no rails to prevent a fall.

The tip went well though. No-one was hurt, apart from the guy that front-braked for a shopping bag…Saskia rode shotgun in one of the vans as she didn't fancy riding a bike, but this was just as scary as she had to deal with traffic coming from the opposite direction!


A bit of video for ya. Best with headphones.

 


Bolivian Amazon: Pampas

There are are two tours that people commonly take when they get to Rurrenabaque: a jungle tour, which we just covered, and a pampas tour. The environments are very different. Whereas in Madidi National Park you are surrounded by dense jungle, the pampas is a large, flat, wetlands system. The pampas tours seem to be popular because they provide three unique opportunities:

  1. A morning hike searching for anacondas.
  2. A swim with the Amazon's pink freshwater dolphins.
  3. A boat trip to catch piranhas.

There are a range of tour operators offering pampas tours, with those promoted by Lonely Planet being the most popular. They are typically very cheap and some also offer a budget jungle tour. Apparently they all do the same thing but we would recommend doing a bit of research to see which ones are currently in favour.

We ended up going with Fluvial Tours, a budget operator. The choice was mainly driven by price – Chalalán was a bit of an outlay (although cheaper than the Pantanal) so we wanted to squeeze in another trip on the cheap.

Sunrise over the pampas.

The whole tour takes place in Pampas del Yacuma National Park, a protected area three hours drive northeast of Rurrenabaque. The tour was unique for us in that it was confined to the river. All travel is by boat, with accommodation provided by a series of lodges along the banks.

Travelling on the river is like cruising through an animal theme park. We saw many storks, herons, turtles, caimans and large capybara. The first afternoon was spent slowly cruising up the river to our lodgings. It was a beautiful day and very relaxing.

Chillin.

Fun with filters. A vulture soars above us.

The herons were quite striking. They are large, graceful birds and very photogenic.

We wrapped up two hours on the river with sunset beers. A nice opportunity to meet people and to watch as dopey tourists found their Dutch courage and got close to a caiman (no-one was harmed).

Searching for Anacondas

The next day we went in search of anacondas. This required a full morning trudging through marshlands in search of the python. Unfortunately we were unsuccesful but we knew in advance the chances were 50/50. It didn't help that our guides were not very informative and after some time our guide actually lost us. We wandered around for awhile, then decided to head back to where the boats were on the river. We eventually caught up with him back at the boat but no apology was given, which we thought was pretty slack given that he was supposed to help us find the anacondas!

Muy macho.

The land alternated between knee high water and dry grass islands.

The good news is we later found anacondas in a park in Trinidad. There are five of them in a cage near the military airstrip, much easier than trudging through the marshes!

Swimming with Dolphins

Everybody likes the idea of swimming with dolphins, and these dolphins are special. They are pink! The Amazon River Dolphin can be found throughout the Amazon Basin in South America in fresh water rivers. The dolphins have been there since South America was covered by a salt water sea, and got stuck in the basin when the sea receded.

They are a slightly stubby (uglier) version of the dolphins you might see in the ocean and are practically blind due to the murky river water. As a result, swimming with them is not as romantic as it sounds, and we heard several stories of people being bitten on their hands and feet while they were splashing around in the river. We jumped in the water when they were close by, but didn't get too close. They are quite shy and are after all wild animals. Still, it was a exciting experience to be swimming in a river in the Amazon surrounded by pink dolphins, caiman and piranhas!

Fishing for Piranhas

Another big draw is the opportunity to catch piranhas. Now, we'll be frank about this one. Piranhas are actually quite small and are not the flesh eating beasties you might believe them to be. Very anticlimactic. Still, they are infamous and people want to catch them. We gave it a go but the little buggers kept wriggling off the line (hooks were too big). We caught a few sardines and a catfish but otherwise were unlucky. Don't go out of your way for this experience.

Our guide with a little cat fish.

Monkeys Everywhere

We were surprised at the number of monkeys we saw. Our camp lodgings were visited by a pack of yellow squirrel monkeys several times a day. They would run along the hand rails and two even got inside a dorm room. We also saw kapuchin and howler monkeys several times.

A yellow squirrel monkey looking to snatch some food.

Howler monkeys staring at those funny homo sapiens.

All in all it was a good time. It was more social than Chalalán due to the mingling with other groups but we saw less animal species, although the ones we did see were in abundance. We would recommend a trip, it is good fun but bear in mind that they churn through tourists here and the wildlife is not always respected as it should be. Also, the guides may disappoint. We can't provide names of some the animals we saw because we never learnt them!

A Tiger Heron.

Two jabirus in their nest.

A capybara on the river bank. They seemed to be bigger here than in the Pantanal.

 


Day Five: Salt Flats

We got up early to drive out on to the salt flats to watch the sunrise. It was freezing, but the beautiful colours made up for it. As the sun came up we started to get a sense of just how massive the salt flats are!

We had breakfast at Isla del Incahuasi, one of 26 islands in the middle of the salt flats. The island was covered in cactus trees and provided a stunning lookout point over the salt flats. After wandering around the island, we said our goodbyes to the rest of our group who were continuing on to Uyuni. We jumped back in the jeep with our guide and cook and headed towards the opposite end of the salt flat to hike up a volcano!

Day Three: Quetena Chico to Laguna Colorada

We spent a lot of time in the jeep and covered a lot of ground, stopping every now and then to take photos and appreciate the amazing scenery. We passed by several lakes and lagoons which were half frozen and particularly beautiful. A few people tried to walk out on the ice, only to fall through it and end up with wet feet for the rest of the day.

Highlights for the day were the amazing Volcano Licancabur (5950m), swimming in thermal springs in freezing conditions, geysers, and watching the sun set over the pink Laguna Colorada surrounded by flamingoes. The photos speak for themselves, and even then they don't quite do justice to the absolute beauty of the landscapes in this part of the world.

 

Aguas Calientes (Hot Springs)

Laguna Blanca

 

Laguna Verde with Volcano Licancabur

Geysers

Laguna Colorada

 

 


Day One: Tupiza Triathlon

Crossing the border from Argentina was relatively straight forward. We caught a bus from Tilcara to La Quiaca, walked a few kilometres, then got our stamps and crossed into Villazón. From there we jumped straight into an overcrowded mini van with a crazy driver who delivered us safely to Tupiza. The town itself is nothing special, but the surrounding landscape is exceptional!

Most people seem to stop over quickly in Tupiza on their way to the Salt Flats, but we wanted to get to know the countryside a little better so we stayed for a few days. One activity offered is the Triathlon, which involves a combination of a 4x4WD jeep tour, horse riding and mountain biking. We decided that this was the best way to cover the area in a short amount of time and have a bit of fun along the way!

 

Jeep Tour
The off road four wheel drive experience took us north of town into a wide valley. We drove past amazing rock formations, through dry river beds, past wandering llamas, goat herders and through tiny villages made up of adobe mud brick houses.
We then came back south of town to visit a popular river spot surrounded by stone mountains. In summer the whole river is flooded but it hardly rains at all in winter, so it was almost empty. A picnic lunch consisted of the staple ham and cheese sandwiches, with llama tomales, a local specialty. Despite asking for vegetarian food, they forgot to pack it, so Mark ate all the tomales (he was stoked!), and I got an exciting cheese sandwich!
 

Horse Riding
We spent a couple of hours after lunch riding through Quebrada Palmira to Canyon del Inca, via Puerta del Diablo (Devil's Gate) and Valle de los Machos (Valley of Men). Apparently the route through the canyon was an old trekking trail for the Incas.
The scenery was stunning and we had a great time riding horses through Bolivia's wild west!
 

Mountain Biking
We ended the day with a sunset downhill mountain bike ride from El Sillar through the Quebrada Palala. The lighting was fantastic, it turned the grass a golden yellow and the red rocks glowed.

 


Torres Del Paine

Panaroma courtesy of Ben Anscombe.

Note from Mark: This post was drafted back in February but I needed time to absorb the experience. There's a lot in this one, might pay to get a drink before you start. My thanks to Ben Anscombe for the assistance.

Currently rolling along Ruta 40, a day after I completed the W track at Parques Nacionales de Torres del Paine, Chile. No injuries, just a bit of sun burn and the normal aches associated with hauling a pack.

Torres del Paine was an awesome adventure. It has so much going on – huge glaciers, imposing peaks, raging rivers, rickety bridges, stunning valleys and turquoise lakes. It gave me my first sightings of avalanches, condors and even pink flamingoes (of all things).

I started with dos amigos from the Navimag trip. Saskia decided to stay back in Puerto Natales (PN) due to a lingering illness, but hoped to meet us on the last night of the trip. We had all agreed to start at the Western end of the track and make our way across the Torres massif over five days. This plan was further fleshed out with help from the guides at Basecamp in PN (recommend the briefing, held every day in the afternoon).

For those familiar with the park or interested in the trek, we camped at Campamento's Grey, Italiano (free), Cuenos and Chileno respectively. We had the option of staying at Campamento Torres (free) instead of Chileno but for various reasons opted for Chileno.

20 Febrero, Glacier Grey

It took about half a day to get to our starting point, which included a bus trip from PN to the park and a short ferry ride to the Western end. This trip gave us a good view of the massif, which is easily viewed from the road. The rain that pursued us through the fjords had dumped plenty of snow on the peaks and the forecast was for clear skies. A good start.

We set off from the wharf at 1:00 pm. Here we could see the damage done by the fires of 2005 and 2011. The damage was extensive and, with jagged peaks and high cloud above us, made for a melodramatic setting. I was relieved when we reached the highest point in the track and gazed down onto Grey Lake. It's a great view from there, right up to the glacier.

Me, Ben and Floris. Photo courtesy of Ben Anscombe.

We made our way down towards the lake, stopping frequently to take photos of the lake, mountains and ice bergs that had broken off from the glacier. It was easy going and we had a good time taking detours and marvelling at the views. The cloud slowly cleared and eventually it was sunny with no wind. Perfect!

Playing with ice. Photo courtesy of Ben Anscombe.

We pulled into Campamento Grey at 6:00 pm. Its a good camp site with reasonable facilities and a great view of the mountains. Two condors circled the peaks above us as we debriefed on the day. Couldn't believe how good we had it.

21 Febrero, Grey to Italiano

It may be helpful to note that Campamento Grey is located near the glacier but it is not beside it. Further, you cannot access the glacier directly but it is possible to hire kayaks near C. Grey or you can walk up to a viewing platform about 1.5 hours north from the campsite. We decided we wanted to try the latter, so left at around 9:00 am to the viewing point.

There's no fire damage here and the forest is fantastic. After about 1.5 hours of uphill leg work we were rewarded with a stunning view of not just the glacier but the Southern Patagonia Ice Field and snow covered mountains. The view was crystal clear, just beautiful. I've never seen anything quite like it, it was an overwhelming experience.

We hung around waiting for the sun to throw a bit more light before taking photos. A bunch of people in kayaks paddled up to the glacier and gave us a real sense of scale e.g. huge. Eventually the sun cleared the Torres' western shoulder. We took photos and then to our surprise stumbled into a glade filled with Andean wood peckers. Some how we didn't scare them off with our excited yelps and snapped a few picks. Chuffed!

Returned back to Campamento Grey to decamp. Someone had The Rolling Stones blasting. We took our time as we still had the whole afternoon ahead of us. The hike back out of the valley was slow, hard work with the packs, hadn't realised how steep it was. Still, we had great weather.

It took the whole afternoon to get back out and down to the original landing point. By this time one of the amigos, Ben, had hurt his ankle and was limping. We got him to stick his leg into the nearby lake then strapped it. From there it was a 2.5 hour trek to Campamento Italiano. Doesn't sound like much but our legs were tired so it was slow going. Fortunately we were distracted by views of the southern lakes and the setting sunlight on the peaks.

Coming around the southwest point of the W track.

Eventually stumbled into Campamento Italiano around 9:00 pm. All buggered. We estimate we hiked for about 10 hours in total, my longest day hiking to date. Cooked up pasta with tuna and finished off with a hot chocolate. Big day. Went to sleep with the sound of distant avalanches providing a hint of what was to come in the morning.

22 Febrero, Valley de Frances

Despite the long trek the previous day, staying the night at Campamento Italiano provided a key advantage – it sits at the base of the Valley de Frances, the mid point of the W trek. This is probably my favourite part of the trip, but by a margin.

We got up early to get the most out of the day. Cloud had come in overnight but it was quite high and we could still see most of the peaks.

The trek up the valley to the viewing point takes around 3 hours. The trip began with an up close and personal view of Cerro Paine Grande and Glaciar del Frances. Within minutes of our approach there was a thunder crack and a plume of snow billowed from under the cloud on our left. We thought that would be it but for around eight minutes snowed poured down the face of the mountain like a waterfall. Amazing.

The path up the valley follows a river towards a wide bowl at the top of the valley. The valley itself is fairly evenly divided by the river and features near pristine forest and stunning views of the Torres' craggy peaks and towers. Facing south, one is presented by an almost perfectly composed view of the valley and the southern lakes and rolling hills beyond. I will never forget it.

Getting up early was the best decision we made that day. As we walked back down the valley low cloud quickly rolled in, spoiling the view for those still making their way up.

A quick lunch back at camp and we were off east to Campamento Cuernos. This was a fairly easy leg which we completed under time. Great views of the local lakes. Rain began around 4:00pm which was good as were able to set up our tents in time. I had booked dinner at the hut, or refugio, which with the rain turned out to be a brilliant idea. Sat down with the boys and smashed the largest pork chop I've ever seen. Finished off the night with a couple of beers and fell asleep pretty quickly.

The lakes under cloud.

23 Febrero, Cuernos to Chileno

Woke up to rain. Got up for breakfast at 7:30 am. Found Floris, amigo número tres, who had expected his EU7 tent to buckle under the rain. The tree cover saved him but the tent was soaked. Decamped in the rain and began trudging up and over the next hill.

Ben was not in good condition. He had remained stoic despite the injury but it wasn't getting any better. The night before he had stumbled through the door into the hut, wobbled over to us, then wiped out half the table when is ankle gave way. Hilarious but not good!

Fairly early in the walk we came across our first river. The water was maybe knee high but moving fast over the rocks. People on the other side directed us to a tree that overhung the river. So next thing we are climbing into the tree and dropping down the other side! Good fun.

After three hours of walking in the rain we reached a junction that lead to Chileno (north east) or out of the park (due east). Ben's ankle was a real problem and the rain meant Floris was in for a bad night. The lads decided to end their trip that day and walk out. I was tempted to join them as I wasn't going to see much at Chileno with the rain and cloud, however there was the possibility that Sas would be making her way in to meet me there. So we all shook hands and agreed to meet for dinner in PN when I got out.

Turned out to be the right decision for all of us. Within minutes of arriving at Chileno Saskia walked through the door! We spent the rest of the day in the hut with the other soggy campers. Booked dinner again, big piece of slow cooked beef. Went to bed in the soggy tent, warm but not exactly dry. Saskia bore it well.

Sas making her way in.

25 Febrero, Back to Puerto Natales

We woke up to rain again so decided to head off early. Decamped fairly quickly and after 2.5 hours we were out of the park and waiting for transport.

Looking down the Valley to C. Chileno.

While we waited we saw several native birds (tíques, caranchos and condors) and some wild llamas.

A tíque with a fresh catch and a condor soars above us.

 

A carancho keeps watch and a llama heads into town for a beer.

Arrived back at PN at 5pm, went out for dinner with Sas, Ben, Floris and another couple from the Navimag trip, Rik and Elena. We found a restaurant that specialised in BBQ meat, Asador Patagónico, which delivered the goods in spades. We demolished a delicious meal of Patagonian lamb, beef and salmon with local beer and wine to wash it down. A perfect end to our adventure.

Happy ending. From left: Rik, Elena, Floris, Saskia, me and Ben.

 


Video! Perito Moreno Glacier

Took a long time to pull this together but it was worth it.


Mouth Cam: Perito Moreno Glacier

Video 27-02-13 7 52 42 PM.mov from Mark Wolfsbauer on Vimeo.

Our first video! Leave a comment if you want more Mouth Cam!