Saying goodbye to Skorpios III and Border Crossing to Argentina

8:30 left ship. But the big news The bag missing since we left Sydney was on the bus. Chris Martin was one happy man. Uneventful drive to Chile border apart from learning on our arrival that we now

had three extra bags on the bus. Apparently an Indian family saw us putting our bags out at the designated time and thought they should too, the crew efficiently loaded them all in the bus with ours.  We have net result of bags at the moment of 3+ ( they were found by the driver and sent back on next but going to Porto Natales) 

After 20 minutes in the gift shop we and quick passport check were set off in no man’s land for a few miles. 
Neither in Chile or in Argentina we arrived at Argentinian border crossing at 10:30am.  
Ivan our guide anticipated we would have to queue for two hours. At 2:45pm (4+hours) the last of our group were processed. It was a long wait standing in line in a shack in middle of nowhere with toilet facilities no water and no food. The haphazard queen was a mess until Jill Christine and few of the ladies got it sorted out. 

Henry and Grant made sure there were no queue jumpers, Peter was pronounced Mr Organised for having the foresight to bring his book and the girls just had to cross their legs but the boys ventured out the back for relief but this required a degree of skill to avoid those who had been before them. 

The rest of us shuffled forward a few steps at a time. Any wonder we could resist the urge to cheer after hearing that stamp bang down and leave the window (after a 30 second stay) Four hours to get to the window and processed within seconds and away. One guy processing Chile to Argentina and One guy (with hardly a person at the window) Argentina to Chile. 
The first food place was some 1 hour 30 minutes down the road. The toilet facilities were worse than none at all but the sandwiches were okay although expensive. Back on the bus for the final 2 hour run into Calafate. Here for two nights.

After a very slick bag drop at Hotel Koi Aiken then  it was off to the ice bar in El Calafate for most of the group. Another new experience for most luckily everyone was able to get some sleep on the bus after at roadhouse along the way (some highway robbery was evident during the purchase of a quick lunch)

Another late dinner of what turned out to be tasty chicken and very large potato wedges, true to form not a veggie in sight. Everyone turned in quickly after dinner as is becoming the new normal it was after 11pm. The bus pick up was 7.45am for our final visit to a glacier followed by visit and dinner on a Estancia (farm) tomorrow night 

MacWool Tour: Torres del Paine National Park

During the trip various members of the party are going to contribute to this blog today’s post is with thanks to Christine White
Photos with thanks to Christine and Simon Hunt 

Torres del Paine Park

Whilst Ange and Sharpy were having some down time back at the Rio Serrano enjoying the comfy couches and panoramic views, the rest of the crew headed off to the Torres del Paine National Park to explore the magnificent peaks up closer.  

Little did we realise that at an average speed of 20km/hour, the half hour bus trip took an hour and a half with a few scenic lookout stops along the way.  Patricio loved being part of the MacWool Farmers Tour group sporting one of the MacWool caps, but it didn’t speed his driving up.  

Being the hottest day in 5 years, the air conditioning struggled to keep up, as we oohed and ahhed over the sights. In fact I’m sure it was the first time the air conditioning had ever been turned on to ‘cool’. 

Lunch was by a waterfall, with a few game enough to test their cold tolerance by plunging their hand into the ice cold glacial waters. 40 seconds was the record, but most lasted barely 10.

We even managed to squeeze in a viewing of some more sheep as there is an Estancia in the middle of the National Park that we drove through, although they were panting hard in the heat wave conditions of 25 degrees C.

The group finally had their chance to stride out on a hike past another waterfall, a scenic lake and a close up view of the rugged peaks of Torres del Paine.  We struck one of the clearest days of the year, so the views were spectacular.  A few even clambered up to the top of a small peak to yell out a cooeeeeee for all below.

Back on the bus for the looooong sloowww trip back to the Rio Serrano, we stopped by a cafe for a few roadies to cool down.  

Ange and Sharpy were there to greet us on our return, and the evening drinks turned into a fun night of eating and drinking Chilean beers and wines.  

Our guide Ivan
A little room party

Our wine loving host, Ivan, suggested to us that the Chilean way of palate cleansing after your meal was to down a glass of Fernet (pronounced with a rolled ‘r’ as Ferrrrrrrr-nay).  Well, 30 glasses were lined up at the bar courtesy of Chris Martin, and we were all expected to down the mysterious Chilean liqueur.  It tasted like cough syrup.  

A well rested Sharpy

Most couldn’t get to the bar fast enough to wash their mouths out with a cool refreshing Patagonian beer (the preferred Aussie palate cleanser).  The rest gagged.  Only Ivan gleefully downed glass after glass of the pungent brew, praising the wonders of Chilean wines and liqueurs.  

The one common effect was that all were going to be very slow the next morning.

More photos will be added here after we leave cruise.

MacWool Tour: Down to business

Wool mill and farm visit in Punta Arenas 

I know you are all dying to know if all the luggage has caught up to us. Well after sitting of the tarmac and back in the terminal of Santiago airport for several hours after our plane was turned back with issues. We eventually landed at almost 8:15 pm some 8 hours after our 3 hour flight was due to leave Santiago.  So wearily we headed for baggage claim hoping the rest of the bags (the ones we still had) were there. As we rounded the corner there they were, the long lost bags last seen leaving Sydney 3 days ago, so with much excitement and enthusiastic greetings they were claimed by the
owners (with exception of Chris Martin’s and Charlotte Blake’s, yet to be located, their bags are believed to have run away to join the circus.). 

Still no sign of the bags we loaded in Santiago…but with relief they too started to roll around on carousel number 2. With everyone quite excited especially those looking forward to getting into clean clothes for first time in days we boarded the coach and due to the delay we headed straight the pre arranged dinner with couple people from the wool industry who had been patiently waiting for us. Thank goodness for private room in the very fancy Sofito’s seafood restaurant as we were all looking a bit travel weary and worse for wear.  

As soon as the pisco sours (what is a pisco sour I hear you ask – PISCO SOUR – popular Chilean

cocktail. Ingredients: pisco, lemon juice and sugar, one egg white, sugar – shaken together.) and Calafate Sour (Liquor Calafate Patagonia. fresh lemon juice, ice,1 egg white, powdered sugar) started flowing we forgot our scruffy state and settled in for an very good seafood meal and much laughter about the events for the previous three days.

With all our trouble behind us we are ready to really get started on our tour. 
 The late start to dinner meant another late finish to the day and it was almost midnight when we checked in with the knowledge we needed to be breakfasted and on the bus by 8:30am for a full day ahead.

We have been averaging 15-16 hour days so far…

Off we go to Standard Wools

Despite the 3rd late night in a row everyone was down in plenty of time for departure, a couple of early birds even got to walk around Punta Arenas before breakfast. 

Our first stop was at Standard Wools.  We were made very welcomed and began our tour.  

The first thing we all noticed was that wool is packed in plastic packs and tied with wire or in some cases strapping. We were provided with us lots of information regarding the wool types and shearing programs etc. Most shearing

in the area is done pre-lamb in September with some in December
and January, the wool store is currently full of wool which be processed over the coming year.

The group asked many questions which were all comprehensively answered and the information was interesting and gave a better understanding of wool growing in the

area. The selling of wool is different to our auction system. The mills negotiable with the grower to purchase the wool based on the weight and micron provided by the grower or results of testing in New Zealand (costly) or in house testing at Standard Mills.  The mill reserves the right to

re weigh and retest any wool.  As the clips are often poorly prepared prices are offered as an average price across the whole clip.

This while not sounding ideal seems to work well enough.  The hour and half we spent at standard

wool disappeared quickly and we finished our visit with a group photo taken by our guide Ivan (who will be with us for next 6-7 days and is getting more sleep than in months as a new father to 5 month olds twins)

Visiting Estancia Josefina  

An hour and half down the road we turned into Estancia Josefina owned by Hugo Vera who breeds Dohne’s and is a Dohne stud. 

This farm has a strong relationship with the Macquarie Dohne Stud in Australia.  We were warmly welcomed to the homestead by Hugo Vera (Owner) and Daniel (Manager).  

Hugo gave an interesting presentation on Estancia Josefina with very interesting facts and figures on his estancia and their breeding programs. 

The presentation concluded with the arrival of pisco sours and Calafate Sour which just the beginning of a very extensive lunch which included dainty open sandwiches a wide variety of empanadas lamb meatballs and the regulation ceviche which was so delicious and it was noted that many of us had a second serve. 

All this was washed down with an excellent red wine and champagne.  Little thought was given at the time to the reasonable high flight of steps we had to negotiate to leave the farm house.  All down safely!!!
Lunch concluded with promises of catching up again with Hugo and Daniel when they come to Australia later in the year before everyone gravitated to the woodshed for a look around. 

The shed was filled with more plastic bales of wool from neighbouring farms, three farms use the eight stand Josefina shed for their shearing.  

Before we headed back to the bus a gaucho that had been out working rode up on his horse tied up his dogs before coming over to give a us great opportunity to have a look at his saddle (all made by hand by him during the long winter nights) the horse was a sturdy unshod grey mare. They only shoe horses in winter. The shoes have special steel toes to grip in the ice to stop them slipping.  After a group photo with the gaucho and his mare we were headed back to the bus.  

Some of the men headed over to the AI shed for a look most of us stayed near bus (we did realise at time that where they were headed, we thought they were wandering off for another reason). Goodbye’s were exchanged with promises to show Hugo and Daniel around when they come to Australian later this year.

On the road again!!!

Another gauche at work
Been around since ’29
Back on the bus for our 6 hour drive to Torres Del Paine national park and our home for the next three days in the amazing Hotel Rio Serrano. 

Amazing view from here
Long way from ‘The Marra’ 
The drive was long but uneventful (given events of recent days) and with one comfort and refreshment break at Hotel Posada Rio Rubens and another at Puerto Natales (where we board our cruise in 3 days time)
Breathtaking views from hotel

Boys stocked up on Chilean Pesos and liquid supplies while the bus driver fuelled up for the last 3 hours on dirt road up into the mountains to our resort.

Waking up to this
Really at 11pm going to bed!!!
The buffet dinner that greeted us made the 6 plus hours on the bus worth every minute.  The array of foods was extensive and everyone ate their fill before turning in (although I think there a few that partied on a bit, it after all was there first real opportunity to do so)

Tomorrow is hiking in the national park for most but Sharpy and I are taking a rest day so I can catch up on some work, this blog and sort out some of the technical issues some travellers are having with their devices.
In conclusion Day 4 has turned out to be a great day, it didn’t have much competition in the best day stakes. At least it was filled with all highlights and the lowlights are well behind us now…

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MacWool Tour 2016 – Flying and Santiago

Getting there…

Surprisingly all travellers are still in good spirits despite so many hiccups in the first few days. All started when we started to arrive at Kingsford Smith to see that our LAN 800 flight had been cancelled between Sydney and Auckland. 
The saga begins… on check in we were advised that LAN airlines had chartered a
plane to get us to Auckland to meet LAN 800. After a delay, being bused to the plane and few other minor frustrations we were on our way. 
Arrival in Auckland saw us climb aboard another bus to the terminal before a 30 minute walk then through security again to find our gate. 

What could be next, a passenger (not one of our group) got lost in the airport so after waiting for what seemed like forever we had to wait a further 20 minutes while the ground crew located and unloaded the luggage of the ‘no show’.

We were off the ground late but on our way now it was to be all plain sailing/flying right. 
Well yes if we are only talking about the 11 hour flight but true to form that was the only break coming our way for Saturday 16th Jan. 
Getting through customs etc was some and super quick but that’s when things all fell apart again. Out of the 26 in the group more than half were left watching expectantly an empty carousel go around and around with not a sign of their luggage. It was still in the land of the long white cloud the along with that of a third of the passengers on the flight.

Let’s see what tomorrow brings…

Don’t worry we said it will come tomorrow so with a quick shopping trip for urgent essentials were started our adventure. Jumping ahead three day still no sign of luggage but have told it was sent ahead of us to Punta Arenas. We won’t believe it until we get to hug our bags.
Back to  our first night deciding to put our troubles behind us we headed out to have some dinner which fantastic a sign things were on the up right. 
Well not quite but anyway we were looking forward to day two which included a visit to a winery for a tour, tasting and lunch hosted by Rabobank. This was a very pleasant day and the food was excellent and the tour tasting equal to any. 
Following lunch we will head back to hotel for a rest well almost, why not take a detour and run to the coast for a look. Great idea we all agreed should have known this was not as simple as planned. 
The run over to the coast was about an hour okay let’s have quick look and head home …at about 5 mile an hour for several hours. Sunday was a Chilean holiday and every Chilean was at the beach and driving back to Santiago with us.

Eventually we arrived back to the airport (it was decided since we were passing that we should shake a tree and see if the missing bags would fall out.) So the men without bags stayed with Michael to chase this up and girls with a couple men headed back to hotel arriving at 10:30pm in time for a very late dinner. 

What day – the bag hunters arrived back at midnight to collapse in bed. Tomorrow will be an easy day quick 3 hour flight then rest and beautiful seafood dinner in Punta Arenas. 

Plain sailing now…

Hmmm well one couple completely overslept (on account of no sleep for two days) and were awaken with the news bus was just about to leave. They were the envy of those with little or no sleep due to jet lag. No big deal we were on the road within a few minutes of planned departure time. 
Now things are back on track smooth check in and security plane departs on time and we are away. 
Wait for it…. 30 minutes into the flight there is an announcement in spanish followed but a collective groan among the spanish speaking passengers. English announcement due to a problem with pressure or navigation we are turning back to Santiago as a precaution. 
Flying back for 30 minutes in a holding pattern for another 25 minutes and here we sit on the tarmac while techs work on the problem.  Hopefully when we pick up from where I am leaving you now all will be back on track (not that things ever been on track yet). 
In 17 years of extensive travel I have never travelled with anyone losing luggage, never had more than a 30 minutes delayed flight or a cancelled flight nor a flight with issues. With the exception of one landing ‘go around’ in a heavy storm once it has been exceptional. 
A lot of firsts for me on this trip the only thing that is running true to form is the true bush spirit and positive attitude of these people. Well done everyone the laughs keep coming although they are sounding a little more hysterical by the day. Michael Blake we would have been sunk without you and your local knowledge and fluent Spanish.  
Watch this space for some exceptional highlights from here on, we have all the lowlights out of the way. 


Visit to Vino Casa Del Bosque – thank you Rabobank
They way this group has already bonded together and kept their good spirits despite everything that has been thrown their way in first few days.


Too many to list (nothing but speed humps to this group)

 More photos…