December 6 2022

Day 6, Paine Grande to Campamento Frances

The night was disturbed by the mass of kids camping right next door. A change to noise of wind and rain that is for sure. We listened to their whoops and gaggle for some hours and we might have provided some entertainment in return, had they watched our tent after dark, lit up with our solar lamp. But we shall never know!

The food at Paine Grande was far from the best and breakfast, like the evening meal, was pretty ghastly. We sat with an older American couple, members of The Appalachian Mountain Walking Club, who were part of a guided group on the ‘W’. We were in no hurry, this being a short walking day. Our Russian friends waved through the window on their way to the boat, their circle was complete, and they were heading out. We stopped for a farewell photo, before we pulled on our waterproofs and set off into the cold morning towards Camp Frances.

We soon found ourselves stuck behind a long line of kids. ‘Chico’s, podemos pasar?’, got their attention and they move aside. I wish my Spanish extended beyond such three word sentences, mostly assisted by google translate. Babble got me off the bottom rung, but come our next major excursion I will do better and attend a language school.

We passed through another large area of dead trees. Apparently these were lost to a fire a few years ago. Further along we passed the track which goes up Valle del Frances, our route for the following day. Our ‘rest’ day. The main valley opened out and we began to get spectacular views across the azure coloured Lago Nordenskjold. I wondered how this lake got its name, as I struggled along. I tried to keep up with Kris and Ona who were deep in conversation, if I could listen in, I might be able to distract myself from the pain in my growling stomach.

We arrived at Frances before checking in time, so took the steep track down to the hut and sat inside to eat our lunch. It was a hive of activity, bread was being baked and packed lunches for the following day were being prepared. The weather cleared so we ambled back along the route to a lookout over the lake. It was just about warm enough to sit out and enjoy the view.

Before supper, we showered in the best campsite showers on the track. The design of the block was terrific made from wood and corrugated plastic. The experience might not have been so great had it still been snowing of course. The evening meal in the tiny hut, was also very good, on par with Camp Seron.

Safe travels Yulia and Daria, you ROCK!
Leaving Paine Grande in the bitter cold, good advert for Osprey but there is a MacPac backpack under that wrapper.
Colourful school kids from Santiago causing grid lock on the path
Dead forest with new growth on its way
The beautiful azure Lago Nordenskjold, with some crazy people standing in the way!
Camp Frances
Kris reclining in the sun!
Ona in the fabulous shower block at Frances

Jan 17 2023

Don’t miss the boat!

Today we managed to get onto the Tasmania Ferry by the skin of our teeth. We were the last passengers to board. The doors were held, we carried all our clobber, by passed scanning, hasty security questions – no, we don’t have any fresh food nor weapons nor scuba diving equipment.

This next phase of our journey started yesterday. A lazy morning, a bit of stretching with Paula, who comes from these parts (@yoginimelbourne), a dip in the pool, laundry followed by lunch.

Then a fabulous bush walk in the Blue Mountains to Red Hands Cave which is buried deep in a wonderful narrow valley, along a near dried up creek in thick eucalyptus forest. Towards the top of the gully was a massive rock, hollowed by water over millennia and at some stage in the distant past, decorated with painted and stencilled hand prints, ancient Indigenous Australian art. These prints have been created in a similar way to those at Cueva de los Manos, in Argentina. These were described by Mary Beard in the recent BBC art history documentary, Civilisations. What a shame we did see them too! In the TV programme, Mary suggests that the hands could represent a greeting. A wave, from earlier inhabitants of this land, to Nicky, a recent settler, and to Andy and I, travellers, circling the world.

We got back to the car, hot and dripping, we had a few minutes to down a cold drink before we bade farewell and Nicky returned to her new Winmalee home for a zoom meeting on media strategy for the new Urban Transformations Research Centre she has set up at the Western Sydney University.

We caught the train back to Sydney where we had a generous hour before the night train to Melbourne. We walked all the way down platform 1 to car A, 1st class. I’ve never been in 1st class before. I’m not sure it quite met my expectations. We had a small cabin, which felt submarine-like, old, with heavy grey metal fittings, worn blue upholstery, pleated curtains, and strip lighting. However, between each grim little pod was a tiny cubicle containing an antiquated yet cleverly designed, drop down loo and basin, and, god bless Australia, A SHOWER! Shampoo, tooth brush/paste and fluffy white towels all provided! It was so good to pull off our boots and get washed after the wonderful but fearsomely hot walk earlier in the day.

Jessie, our host on the train, came to pull down the bunks and make up beds. Heavy-duty, crisp white sheets, slightly dubious duvet, pillows made of rocks and a plastic mattress. A mainly comfortable night was had, clean, if a bit sweaty!

The following morning we learned of the delay, first 30 min, then 45 and finally 50 minutes. We were going to miss the carefully planned connecting train but there was a later one so we were not overly concerned. We gazed out at the unfamiliar landscape. In his special and after 10 years together, all too familiar way, Andy commented that this was perfect habitat for Kangaroos. Seconds later, there they were, a family of three Eastern Greys, mum, pa and a little joey, bouncing by!

On the next train we tried to book a cab to take us from the station to the ferry terminal. With that sorted, we relaxed. The trouble started when we arrived at North Geelong station. There were car parks on either side of the train tracks. Which side would the cab come to? It took us some time to realise that the cab had failed to materialise. Andy got back on the phone, and another car was dispatched, but by now we were right up against time.

As we arrived at the port it was clear that cars and freight were still being loaded. However, when I walked into the foot passenger entrance, the person at the front desk told me that check in had closed. ‘But but but’…I stuttered in disbelief, ‘we have come all the way from England (via Chile, Argentina, New Zealand) and we booked this ferry months ago, cars are still being loaded, surely there is something you can do?’ The security man behind the counter ominously rose to his feet as Andy came to my side, having paid the cab driver. ‘I’m sorry you are too late’ said the receptionist, ‘I can book you onto the night sailing if you like? Your ticket has been cancelled.’

I could see our names on the no show list in front of her. ‘No no, we need to get on THIS ferry. Please can you see if something can be done to help us’. Reluctantly, she lifted her phone, ‘I’ve got a couple at the desk, their train from Sydney was delayed, they had trouble finding a cab, I’ve told them check in is closed and our policy on late arrivals, but they are pleading with me. You are the manager, it is your call’.

A few anxious minutes later, the manager came to the desk. He agreed to let us on and also waived the fee to reinstate our tickets. Just at that moment, there was commotion at the sliding door behind us, a women was distraught that the gate to the car departure area was shut, she too was late. We kept our heads down. Boarding passes were thrust into my hand, we clambered aboard.

Chatting to a man on board, I mentioned how lucky we felt to have made it to the ferry. ‘Oh’ he said, ‘so you are the reason we were delayed! I’ve used this service over 30 times in the past couple of years and never has it been late’. Had the boat been on time, we probably would not have been on it.

Red Hands Cave
Nicky on the Red Hand Caves bush walk
First class ‘twinette’ on the Sydney to Melbourne night train
Out there be Kangaroos!
Entering the Bass Strait