Do bears really sh*t in the woods?

Do bears really sh*t in the woods?

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It all started with a friend of mine asking if I fancied a quick trip somewhere sunny during March. She had leave to use and both of us were going stir crazy watching the rain bouncing off the windows in Northern Ireland.
2 days later she realised she couldnt really get the time off and I had booked a month long trip to South America including an 11 day photographic expedition to Antarctica. It all started with looking for a couple of days in Morocco then Dubai and then to the end of the earth and beyond.
This time last year I was at the highest city in the world and hopefully this time next week I will be at the lowest.
I have been to Argentina before and had been promising friends to come visit them in Chile to help build their house and to see their five month old daughter whom Ive agreed to be godfather for. It would just be rude not to go..
The last time I was in South America (4 years ago) I had looked at fitting in a tourist trip to Antarctica but as it was short notice (4 weeks) and there was a 2 year waiting list at the time, I had no chance. Thanks probably to the global recession, 3 weeks notice was more than enough to confirm a place on one of the smaller expedition ships. More on this later.

flight information boards London Heathrow Airport Terminal 5 early in the morning UK
flight information boards London Heathrow Airport Terminal 5 early in the morning UK

The journey consisted of just over 4 weeks, Belfast to London, to Madrid, to Santiago Chile and then a couple of nights there before the 6 hour bus ride to Constitucion (site of the big earthquake and tsunami destruction in 2010) then another half hour to my friends place hes cleared in his eucalyptus forest in Los Pellines right on the Pacific coast. A week there helping out build the house and install solar lighting and other such things before the reverse journey back to Santiago. A couple of nights there before an early morning flight to Punta Arenas in the southern tip of Chile, a few nights there and then an 11 hour bus ride to Ushuaia in Argentina and a few nights in the southernmost city in the world before 11 days hopefully culminating on an overnight stay on the Antarctic continent itself. The journey home would be a less laborious affair with a flight up to Buenos Aires, a couple of nights there and hoping to catch up with a friend there before flight to London and then on to Belfast for a rest.
Plenty of scope there for missed connections, lost luggage and so on.
In order to tie in with the expedition most of it was booked in less than 48 hours with little or no research, and sitting here a week into the trip before a 6am taxi to the airport for a flight which isnt listed…
The plan was simple, start early get an overnight at the travelodge in Heathrow for the early morning flight to Madrid. A great plan, Id read about the heathrow travelodge in a book by philosopher Alain de Booton when he was asked to be laureate for Terminal 5. A great plan indeed, except there was already a travelodge at heathrow named heathrow central… which is just outside the airport and by public transport at that time in the morning meant standing in the rain waiting on a night bus and… bugger that for a game of soldiers.
Anyway by the time I had realised this and thought I wouldnt bother about losing the 20 quid the original booking cost me the terminal 5 hotel was already full.
Standing in the hotel foyer I decided a cab was the best option… …at 5am.
Certainly sir that would be 16 quid. Now, you can see terminal 5 from the hotel. Its less than 3 miles away. Welcome to London!

terminal 4 Madrid Barajas airport Spain
terminal 4 Madrid Barajas airport Spain

I had 23kg bag allowance for most of the journey (more later) so I was quite proud of myself when it weighed in on the scales at 22.7kg, a wee victory there. Now if only all of it would turn up in Santiago, that would be a plus. The bag was so heavy because I was packing for 2 climates, the 25-30C climates of Santiago, Pellines and Buenos Aires and the 5-0C climates of the rest of the trip. Plus I was bringing a lot of photo gear for the expedition. For the first time I can recall I was going somewhere I couldnt just buy my way out of trouble. 11 days on a boat is a long time if one of your camera bodies or lenses fails.
Also for the first time in years I was away for periods where I wouldnt/couldnt be contacted. Well I was going to the end of the earth and beyond.
I cant sleep on flights so the long flight from Madrid to Santiago was populated by about 6 feature films. Handy to catch up on, just hope they are all different on the way home!
I arrived very late and very tired in Santiago and went to the transport desk to get a shared bus to my hostel. It is amazing how much your spanish improves when you are standing at 2am in 25c wearing the clothes you left wet raining 5C London in. I was told (I think) that a shared bus would be maybe an hour, but maybe not and from the shrugs of the shoulders I suspected the maybe not bit wasnt on the optimistic side. So I wandered over to the taxi desk and prepared to be bent over yet again.
About 20 quid to go the half hour right to the door of my hostel. Bargain!
I checked in, pulled my bags up the four flights of stairs with no lift, realised Id booked a single room with shared bathroom so decided to take a piss in an empty water bottle I had with me and just crash out and worry about the rest of it in the morning.

barrio paris londres Santiago Chile
barrio paris londres Santiago Chile

I awoke and was very careful which of the two water bottles I reached for first thing!
The time difference was only 3 hours so my usual dragging myself out of bed at midday at home was perfect for the 8:30am start for breakfast.
I was informed that I couldn’t have picked a worse night to fly in as it was the end of the summer holidays here and everyone was back to work on Monday and the airports and bus stations were bunged. Shit I was going to go to the bus station today and book my seat for the Pellines trip on Monday.
Over breakfast I checked that it really was 25C at 10am and yes it was!
Most of the day was spent wandering round the centre of Santiago city which is very hot, very dusty and as the day progresses, full of smog. About 5pm each evening I just gave up trying to breath and just went back to the hotel.

view of downtown santiago and financial district from cerro santa lucia hill Santiago Chile
view of downtown santiago and financial district from cerro santa lucia hill Santiago Chile

The hostel does deserve its ‘quaint’ and ‘historic’ tags on tripadvisor. shithole is another way of putting it 😉
I wouldnt go that far though, yes the air conditioning, well it didnt exist, the ceiling fans didnt work, the builders were all over the place, the tvs didnt work, the showers always looked cleaner after you got out, on the top floor room I had you had to leave the windows open all night and the city sounds disguised the occasional scurrying sounds heard around and about. The ground floor room I had on my second stay didnt have a ceiling fan, was slightly smaller than a prison cell and had no ventilation whatsoever. Temperature control was by sweating profusely. Glad I was knackered and woke up with only mild heat stroke….
Santiago itself is a bit like belfast in that there is fuck all to do on a sunday. The city centre closes although it does go pedestrian and allow people to cycle freely between 10 and 2. Apart from the real city centre which was cordoned off by police to prevent some sort of protest. I doubt it was flags but it did make me feel like home, only warmer.

officer briefing parade carabineros de chile national police officers in downtown Santiago Chile
officer briefing parade carabineros de chile national police officers in downtown Santiago Chile

Having covered most of what I had to photograph on the Saturday the sunday was just running around avoiding the sun, drinking a lot of water and trying to find somewhere open to eat that wasnt McDonalds. I failed on that last account and had my first McDs in about 4 years. Damn.
I knew it was going to be an early start down to the Pellines so got to bed early and like the sad old man I am watched a couple of movies on netflix. Yes come half way round the world to stream movies to your laptop. Big plus for the hostel, the internet connection is superb!
I had been told that the bus station next to the university metro station was the one serving the south of the country which played a great part in the hostel I chose, right next to the university metro station. A great plan because an early start down to the Pellines and late back (over 6 hours each way) meant that I could just wander with my bags, leisurely over to the station with my pre-booked tickets…
….of course all that assumes theres only one metro station called university… of chile, university of santiago…
…whats the difference?

universidad de chile metro station downtown Santiago Chile
universidad de chile metro station downtown Santiago Chile

Getting out of bed an hour earlier to get the metro early on the first monday back after the school holidays, thats what.
At least it was cool, by cool I mean merely 15 or 16 degrees.
I sat in the station with a coffee and thought the hour wait maybe was overkill but sure its done now…
Other than worrying about my bags going all the way to Santiago the next big hurdle, would the bags put into the bus hold be there by the time I got to the end. Watching at every stop just in case my orange swiss gear bag dissappeared off into the distance. Id also bought a cheap rucksack from one of the only shops open in Santiago on a sunday and put the more expensive stuff in that as it didnt look worth stealing…

andenes terminal alameda bus station Santiago Chile
andenes terminal alameda bus station Santiago Chile

I neednt have worried about that at all as I had had a strong coffee and was starting a 6 hour bus ride… …at some point I would more than likely need to take a dump on a moving bus in south america. In the heat..
I figured Id better get it over and done with before six hours of accumulation had built up but that didnt make it any more pleasant an experience. Not knowing the language and accidently picking the shittest seat with no legroom on the sunny side did allow me the full view of the drivers storage area. Pride of place in that area was a half used bog roll. Now this told me that before I made my way to the back of the bus and attempted to hold my nose and breath for longer than is humanly possible, I had better raid my bag for the tissues I always pack…
…I always pack them, dont I?
Yes, that and the alcohol cleanser…
Arriving in constitucion there were stark reminders of how heavy a toll this town took in the 2010 earthquake and subsequent tsunami. There were also signs that they hadnt really learned any lessons at all from it with wooden houses still climbing up the steep hillsides.

Constitucion Chile
Constitucion Chile

The journey had been long and arduous to get here, but seeing my mate for the first time in 4 years and setting off for the woods made it disappear into history quite rapidly.
I had updated my facebook and twitter throughout the journey and when I made my ‘off to the woods’ post I got a few ‘you can check if bears really do shit in the woods.’ comments.
I asked my mate if there were any bears and he said no, only mountain lions and they wont appear on his site for a few weeks yet.
I can confirm though that whilst I am uncertain as to bears toiletry habits in woodland areas, foxes do indeed shit in the woods…
…to be continued….
more chilean travel chile stock photography here
more travel and transport stock photography here
more daily life stock pics here
more conceptual stock photographs here

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