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January 27, 2010

Argentina Pictures, Patagonia To BA

Here are photos from our hiking around Monte Fitz Roy up to our time in BA, as well as a few photos from Punta Arena, Chile. I took an abnormally large number of shots in BA, so this is a minor representation.

Talie & Us On Beer Tour, Punta Arena (Chile)

Painted Building, Punta Arena

Pier, Punta Arena

Monte Fitz Roy On Clear Day

Campsite Below Fitz Roy

Glacier & Lake, First Campsite

Jess Hiking, Parque Los Glaciar

Aaron Hiking, Parque Los Glaciar

Clouds Clear From Fitz Roy, Campsite 2

Jess Hiking Out In Cold Weather

Aaron Hiking Out Last Day

Jess & Aaron, Parque Los Glaciars

Valley Near El Chalten

Jess & Aaron, Parque Los Glaciars

White Horse Near El Calafate, Argentina

Flamingos In Lagoon, El Calafate

View From Hostel Room, BA

Pizza Lunch, BA

BA Street, Microcentro

Plaza de Mayo, BA

Plaza de Mayo, BA

Plaza de Mayo, BA

Church In Plaza de Mayo, BA

Street Band, BA

Street Kids, BA

Jess & Red Cross Nurse

Big Church, BA

Building & Murals, BA

Street Vender, Palermo, BA

Man On Stilts, Palermo, BA

Street Cafe, Palermo, BA

Young Homeless Man, BA

Statue In Cementerio de la Recoleta

Angel, Recoleta, BA

Lighting Up, Recoleta, BA

Angry Nun, Recoleta, BA

Grieving Family, Recoleta, BA

Eva Peron´s Marker, Recoleta, BA

Intricate Design, Recoleta, BA

Doctor Scene On Crypt, Recoleta, BA

Rescuing Angel, Recoleta, BA

Crypt For Family Drunk, Recolta, BA

Antique Market, San Telmo, BA

Soda Kid, San Telmo, BA

Sunday Market Wares, San Telmo, BA

Fruit Stand Near San Telmo Market, BA

La Boca Barrio, BA

Dog Sleeping, La Boca, BA

La Boca Buildings, BA

La Boca Decorum, BA

La Boca Street, BA

More La Boca Buildings, BA

Colorful La Boca Band, BA

Until next time, be safe.


January 25, 2010

Fun In Buenos Aires

We are having an excellent time in BA. This is arguably one of the most famous cities of South America, and as such, it is a great place.

Naturally, we have been walking our legs off in the last three days. BA is a moderately sized city of only 3 million folks, most of whom trace their ancestory back to Europe (mainly Spain and Italy). As a result, it definitely has a European flair to it. Also, many of those immigrants were blue collar workers, and BA is famous for its gritty feeling. That´s not to say that people here are particularly coarse or rough looking, but there are plenty of neighborhoods that seem quite rough, and even if you are in a very nice neighborhood, a rougher barrio isn´t too far off.

This was especially apparent yesterday when we decided to visit a colorful neighborhood south of the Microcentro (the center, where our hostel is located) called La Boca. The LP guide notes that it is "raffish to the core," a description that proved quite apt; the LP also noted on its map of the barrio that a good sized section of it is considered unsafe for tourists, the first time we have seen that on a map. Most tourists arrive in the most famous area of La Boca, called Caminito, on tour buses, from which they wander around a three block area painted bright colors in a bold attempt to attract tourists (which seems to work). Then they board their buses and head north again to the safer parts of BA. Jess and I decided to walk down to the barrio, partly because we didn´t know how to get onto a bus, but also because we are far too cheap. We just tightened our belts a little, hid the money better, and clipped my camera bag to my belt with a karabiner, and off we went.

It didn´t take long for us to get that sense of crossing the tracks (which in this case was actually going under a freeway); we left a neighborhood called San Telmo, which we had just finished thoroughly exploring and was crowded with tourists hunting for souvenirs in this huge Sunday outdoor market. Just past the freeway, we found ourselves in the real BA, where the Shirtless Ones of Eva Peron live. We were immediately and literally marked as outsiders; within a block or two we felt something wet on our backs. This young girl flitted around us, saying "Sucio, sucio (dirty, dirty)." There was obviously something going on with her, and we gave her a hard stare but didn´t stop walking at all. She moved on up to a companion ahead of us, and I took a look at Jess´s back, to find that the girl had squirted green chile on her; Jess confirmed my back was dirty as well.

So, this is a variation of a fairly common ruse in South America, very common in Bolivia and Peru. You are distracted by someone while their friend takes your wallet or bag; in this case, the girl would have offered to wipe us clean, while her friend would have swooped for my wallet. He would´ve gotten away with about $2 for his efforts. As we didn´t fall for the trick, they disappeared. Our friend Talie lost a bag this way in Peru; a distraction by one man in a cafe allowed another to snag her bag. It´s quite helpful to be aware of such tactics.

At any rate, the rest of the walk was uneventful, and we found that the rough neighborhood was still very clean and tidy, little trash about, and people were nicely dressed; families wandered around with babies and children, and people chatted outside of their houses. That´s not to say I wanted to be there after dark; we made our way to the Caminito area, walked all around and snapped the photos of the bright buildings and made another uneventful walk back up to the center. It was a bit enlightening, to have a snatch attempt made; again, it pays to be aware that it does happen.

Our exploration of BA has been fairly extensive. The first day was fairly relaxed, we probably only completed half of the walking tour, but we felt like we got the hang of the center. The second day was extremely long; we were out of the hostel for 11 hours. Jess had a bit of an Eva Peron focus for the day, so we went up into the trendy Palermo area, where Eva´s museum is. We spent about an hour there, after which I needed some coffee to wake up. We strolled all around Palermo, a fun area of cool cafes, expensive shops, and residences. We found a Chinese buffet, which to my delight was all-you-can-eat, for lunch. Then we went the Cementerio de la Recoleta, a famous cemetary that not coincidently contains the remains of one Eva Peron. The cemetary was fascinating, a necropolis of huge family crypts and ornate statues. We eventually arrived back at the hostel in the evening, and found our way to an Irish bar for a couple of beers and some hamburgers.

Of course, a visit to BA would be incomplete without a big steak dinner. Last night we went to a little steakhouse that the hostel folks recommended. I ordered a t-bone, Jess had a big rack of ribs, and we shared a bottle of Argentinian red wine. The total bill came out to be 128 pesos, which is about $32; a meal of those portions would have easily cost over $70 in the US. Argentina is known for its beef, for good reasons.

Today we head into Uruguay. We decided not to go to the capital, Montevideo, but instead to a smaller city closer to BA called Colonia del Sacramento. From there we hope to take a night bus up to Corrientes, on the Paraguayan border, where we will head north to the worldclass Iguazu Falls, which lies where Argentina, Brazil, and Paraguay all meet. We might be lucky enough to cross into Brazil for a daytrip, but apparently to enter Paraguay, we´ll need to buy visas, which will cost $100 each, so I´m thinking that we´ll just skip Paraguay. After visiting the falls, we´ll return to Corrientes and then head up through northern Argentina into Bolivia and eventually Peru. We have six weeks now to complete our trip.

Which I´m sure will fly by far too quickly.

Until next time, be safe.

January 22, 2010

Bittersweet Developments

We have had two developments in our plans for this trip, in the past couple of weeks. We find them to be a bit bittersweet.

First, we´ve decided that we won´t be able to successfully complete the initial goal of this trip, to visit all seven continents. We found that we weren´t making any headway in finding an affordable, time-conserving way to get to Antartica. In the end, we were looking at a minimum of $9000 between the two of us for a nine day visit on a cruise to Antartica. In the spirit of this trip, where we felt that we have been most fortunate to have had the experiences that we have encountered, spending so much time and money simply to reach the shore of Antartica to snap a picture and say we´d been there just lost relevance. We have had a wonderful trip, and loved every moment of it, so it doesn´t feel so necessary to try to reach Antartica, unless some new development such as a fund to get us there (pretty please?) suddenly pops up.

Hence our decision not to go to Ushuaia. We´d planned a visit to try to bargain with travel companies and get a good deal, but when we realized that we weren´t so dedicated to getting to Antartica, the idea of a 12 hour bus ride from Punta Arenas to the end of the Americas seemed a little pointless. By not going there, we have allowed ourselves more time (and money) to enjoy Argentina and the rest of our South America segment more.

The other development is that we now no longer have an open-ended trip. We finally decided upon a return date, and now have in our possession two tickets from Lima, Peru to Charlotte, NC. We will arrive in the US on March 5. The trip will come to an end, and back to reality we´ll go.

Or will it?

Until next time, be safe.


Finishing Up Patagonia

We have arrived in Buenos Aires early this morning. It was a long trip, not so much by the length of the travel, but just because of our exhaustion. We flew here from the port city of Rio Gallegos, which had such bad reviews in our book that we didn´t even bother exploring it. What was exhausting about the trip was that we took a mid-afternoon bus to Rio Gallegos, then sat in the airport from 7 pm until they finally boarded us at 3 am. Oddly, the plane was a half hour late taking off, even though it was only one of two flights in a seven hour period; it seems they had a difficult time boarding us. At any rate, regardless of the delayed departure, they somehow made up the time and even arrived in BA earlier than the 6 am arrival time, much to my sleep-deprived dismay. We figured out which bus would take us to the center, and arrived in the correct neighborhood, though I made quite a spectacle when I tried my best to squeeze my big bag out the door as quickly as possible, getting hung up on a handrail and knocking my glasses off in the process. It had to have been amusing, this disheveled homeless looking man with a huge pack trying to pop out the door.

BA is great so far. We´re midway through a walking tour, though the fact that I´m sitting in a computer lab right now shows just how serious we are about it. This is a big city for certain, and it gets some bad rap by people who just dismiss it as such. However, there is quite a personality about this city, an old, bohemian character that can frequently be noted by walking around. Our hostel has quite a character as well, very friendly folks and interesting art painted all along the walls. They were nice enough to hold our bags for us when we arrived at 8 am, though check-in wasn´t until 11 am; they even let us drink coffee (the cafeteria lady withheld the bread and jam though), which is the first time in 5 months that has happened. We´ll probably end up staying here in BA, exploring the city, finding as much tango, wine, and cool barrios as possible, for four nights.

As a matter of fact, Argentina itself has been as great as I was expecting it to be. My last entry was about hiking in the Torres Del Paine park. From Puerto Natales, we headed with our friend Talie down to the most southern city in South America, Punta Arenas, Chile (Ushuaia is the southern most town). Legend has it there are ropes along sidewalks to help pedestrians keep from being blown over by the frequent high winds. While we didn´t see any ropes, we did notice that the trees tend to grow at a slant, all in the same direction. We´d gotten mixed reviews on Punta Arenas, some people love it and some people hate it. Ultimately, Jess and I wanted to see the Strait of Magellan, which played a prominent part in a book about the history of circumnavigators, and so we went. I can see how people might not like Punta Arenas, if the weather were horrible, which apparently it can be. We were fortunate that our two full days there were spent under sunny if windy skies. It´s actually got a bit of pioneer charm to it. Better yet, the Austral brewery is there, and at 5 pm on weekdays they offer English language tours, including a decent sampling of all their brews. We love a good brew tour.

We sadly parted company with Talie at that point; she continued on to Ushuaia on the Tierra Del Fuego island, where she gleefully ignored a sign posted about her trail being closed and was rewarded with a couple of nights of solitary camping in a beautiful if forboding part of the world. As for us, we bused back to Puerto Natales and then on into Argentina, to the tourist trap of El Calafate. We were glad to be in Argentina, though sad to be leaving Chile (we were there a month to the day). It is our 17th country on this trip, and my 40th country outside of the US. On the other hand, we quickly ascertained that we needed to clear out of Calafate as quickly as possible. Walking down its one major street, one quickly sees what sort of town it is; the street is lined with chocolate shops, souvenir stores, and any other kind of kitschy or overly priced outdoor equipment that you can imagine. Kind of like Gatlinburg of Patagonia. It´s funny how frequently we find oursevles in these types of towns.

So, we stayed one night in the town, as it was nearly 8 pm when we arrived. The next morning, we immediately set out to buy tickets up to this crazy little village up in the mountains called El Chalten. After stocking up on some food supplies, we headed up to the town. It is the youngest town in Argentina, apparently born in 1985 based on some border dispute with Chile over who owns the 300+ glaciers in the area. The town itself is in the Los Glacieres Parque Nacional, an aptly named park that contains the famous climber´s peak of Cerro Fitz Roy, which is where we wanted to do some hiking. The town is obviously a frontier town, with no banks, post offices or similar expected businesses other than loads of hostels and a couple of dingy super-mercados; it even has a graveyard, empty as no one has died and been buried there yet, which speaks for its youth. But despite the persistent feeling that you are on a Old Western movie set, the town is great simply because it is the entrance into the hiking system of the park; you literally walk off of the streets onto trails and up into the mountains.

The park itself is free (besides the bus ride), an amazing difference from Torres, which sort of broke the bank. There is no entrance fee, and there is no charge for camping in the free campgrounds inside the park. On the other hand, the established hiking system is pretty limited, with a couple of campgrounds only three or four hours from each other, and the town pretty much three hours from any point on the hike that we took. Our hiking pals from Torres, Annabelle and Dan, hired a guide to take them further into the backcountry, which is recommended if you want to avoid the throngs of dayhikers coming into the park for the views. We weren´t up to exploring backcountry given our supplies and our lack of experience, so we stuck with the trails. It was enough of a challenge, as it turns out; what the Fitz Roy range lacks in technical trails, it makes up for in ferocious winds and rapid changes of weather that can go from bright sunshine to freezing rain and sleet being blasted into your face. It´s impressive. Ironically, between the hikes in Torres del Paine and Fitz Roy, this was the hike my mom worried the most about, as we were going it alone. That was before I informed her that camping in freezing cold a mere three hours from a warm hostel bed is self-inflicted punishment, akin to camping in your backyard in a blizzard, for the novelty of it all. That´s not to mention the hordes of hikers we met, which meant we were never really alone. That´s ok, though, mom.

Our first night we hiked up to a glacial lake, which was beautiful, though we had a late start and didn´t see much of the glacier or the lake that night. We had a cold night but I slept well, and in the morning, we woke up to brilliant sunshine. We lazily had breakfast and packed up, and hiked the four hours to the next campground, assuming we´d set up our tent and go further up the trail. All went well until about 45 minutes before the campground, when we came over a crest and found the wind blasting into our faces. We staggered through the freezing rain until we reached the campground, our pants wet, ice forming in my beard. It seemed strange to have such weather in January in the southern hemisphere, but this is what Fitz Roy is known for. By the time we set up the tent, we were freezing, so we hid in our sleeping bags for about three hours, trying to warm our limbs, until suddenly a calm arrived. We ventured out and went hiking up towards the Fitz Roy for about an hour; again we were driven back to the tent by a driving...snowstorm? We had a frigid dinner and ended up in our sleeping bags by 7 pm. We listened to huge wind gusts pounding our tent and driving sleet balls into its walls, until around 9:30 again there was an absolute calm. I went outside (Jess refused) and suddenly I found myself looking up at the massive Fitz Roy, which is so commonly veiled in clouds that many visitors never see it. It was gorgeous in the falling dusk, so I snapped a few photos and headed back to the sleeping bag, as a lack of wind didn´t stop the snow or the biting cold.

I woke up at 5:30 (no surprise given that we´d been in our sleeping bags since 7 pm). I looked out, and was surprised to see the outline of the Fitz Roy above. I decided against getting out of the tent for sunrise photos against the peak, figuring it would still be visible at 7:30 when it wasn´t so cold. I was wrong, instead finding a huge cloud bank looming in its place. We decided that indicated another storm was coming, so we quickly had breakfast and packed, and even so found ourselves being helped along by huge gusts of wind driving rain into our backs. At least it wasn´t in our faces. We soon walked out of the worst of it, which seemed to be concentrated in the valley below Fitz Roy, and the rest of the walk was really beautiful. Along the way to El Chalten, we kept passing folks who looked woefully unprepared for the weather further back, wearing minimal jackets and cloth shoes. Even those more appropriately dressed, I didn´t envy, because by the time we reached town and found a restaurant for a beer, the storm had followed us in and was pouring rain. Good day to leave El Chalten and Fitz Roy, I thought.

Back in El Calafate, we found that we´d made an error in our calculations, and that we had a spare day to spend in Calafate before we headed on to Rio Gallegos. That afternoon we tried to keep ourselves busy, which is difficult in a town with as little to offer as Calafate (it is strictly known for its easy access to Fitz Roy as well as the Perito Moreno Glacier, which draws people from all over the world; we had decided against paying $45 each to see the glacier, because nothing will beat our view of the Glaciar Grey in Torres del Paine). That night in the hostel, I was awoken in my bunk bed by incessant itching, the sypmtoms of bedbug-infested sheets; I ended up with a stripped bed in my travel sheets, with plenty of little bumps to prove the issue, though I didn´t look like I had in Morocco after such an attack, where I could have been mistaken for having chicken pox. Fortunately the next day I was able to move to a different bed, and Jess and I spent the day relaxing in town, eating and drinking and reading all day. Of course, the next day we headed on to Rio Gallegos, to catch our flight to BA. 

Thus ends our saga in Patagonia. It took me three visits to Chile to finally get down there, but it was worth every penny spent and the years of waiting. It is one of those places, where in the midst of a constant wind dreading your hair for you and a persistent chill despite being summer, you can´t help but think that it is a real special place, magical in its own way.

Until next time, be safe.


January 13, 2010

Photos From Torres del Paine

Pictures just don´t do the Torres del Paine any justice. Here are my best efforts to attempt that.

 Jess & I Start Out

 Meadow On The Circuit

 View From Tent, Camp Seron

 View En Route To Dicksons

 Trekking Towards Dicksons

 Refugio & Glacier Dickson

 The Squeezed Glacier

 Resting On The Pass

 Glacier Along Pass

 Snow Field On Pass

 Looking Back From Pass

 Jess & Aaron On Pass

 Annabelle, Dan, Talie, Jess

 Glacier Grey From Pass

 Peaks Near Pass

 Jess & Annabelle On Pass

 Another Shot Of Glacier Grey

 Front Of Glacier Grey

 Bergs In Lago Grey

 Misty Peaks Near Lago Grey

 Mountain Near Refugio Grey

 The Green Lago Peohe

 View From Refugio Peohe

 Aaron & Jess Near Refugio Peohe

 Glacier Up Valle del Frances

 Ghostly Peaks, Valley del Frances

 Possibly The Massif, Valle del Frances

 Lago Peohe Near Los Cuernos

 Snowy Peaks Near Los Cuernos

 Waterfall Near Los Cuernos

 Morning View From Tent, Los Cuernos

 View From Los Cuernos

 Walking Towards Refugio Chileno

 The Torres del Paine In Clouds

Sign At Torres del Paine

Jess & Aaron At Torres del Paine

The Torres & Lake

Eerie Shot Of Torres

Jess Keeping Warm, Torres

Hiking Out Of Park

Looking Back Into Park

Looking Back At Torres

Our Group After Hiking

Jess & Aaron After Hiking

Guanaca Outside Park

Another Shot Of Guanaca

Until next time, be safe.


Trekking The Circuit

We´re back in Puerto Natales for a day of relaxation and reorganization, after spending eight days trekking in the nearby Parque Nacional Torres de Paine. What an incredible week it was!

We started out last Tuesday morning, catching a bus from Puerto Natales that in the traditional South American fashion was a half hour late and then circled town a couple more times picking up various hikers rather than departing from a central location. Two hours through some very bleak territory later, we arrived at the park, where knowing that we would have to pay $30 each to enter the park (after paying $30 each for the bus ride) didn´t make the transaction less painful. From there, it got better and better.

We started our hike from Laguna Amarga with a woman we met on the Navimag ferry, a 63-year old fellow Coloradoan called Talie (you can see a link to her blog on the right side bar). We set out on the Circuit, going in the counter-clockwise direction (see a map here). Torres de Paine has over 200 km of trails, but the most famous is the W, which takes hikers along the front side of the massive towers, and up two valleys for close views of the peaks, hence the name. The Circuit includes the W as well as continuing along the backside of the peaks. This section of the park is equally beautiful as its famous counterpart, but has fewer people given the total distance as well as much fewer amenities. The fact that it was far less crowded was the great attraction, and so we set out, covering nearly 15 km that first day up to the first campground, Campamento Seron. This little campground was beautifully situated in a large field of white daisies, and though a harsh wind blew throughout the night, it was a favorite campground of ours. We also met up with a British couple we´d met on the ferry, Dan and Annabelle, who had started earlier but were camping at Seron. Our hiking group was thus complete.

The next day was not as kind as that first day. We walked about 30 km that day, more than 18 miles, with our bags fully packed with food for the trip. Consider that I arrived in Chile out of shape, and then had a week in Santiago, a week in Loncoche, and then five days en route to Torres de Paine where I had very little activity; needless to say, it was an exhausting day. We first came to the Refugio Dickson, which sits near a glacier and has a pleasant little meadow to lie in the sun. The trip from Seron to Dickson was long, but mostly flat and very beautiful, and if we´d chosen to to stay at Dickson, it would have been a perfect day of hiking. We chose to continue to the next campground, Los Perros, because though it was only 10 km away, it was a stopping point, as it sat at the bottom of the Circuit´s pass, the Paso John Gardner. It was recommended that we take on the pass starting in the morning, when its snowfields would be firm; thus we took on 30 km to reach Los Perros that evening.

Leaving Refugio Dickson had us start up a steep valley almost immediately. Having already walked 19 km, that had us staggering quite quickly. From there, it was more of a mental game, keeping our feet going. We climbed up and up, and eventually came to a bridge that seemed to fit a description of one that was only 15 minutes from Los Perros. A quarter hour later we realized that not only was it not that particular bridge, but we had a full hour ahead of us, and we had to climb up a huge pile of glacial rock to boot. At one point, on our final break, Jess and I were curled up fetal positions, ready to spend the night there on the rocks if necessary. Further on, as we came up to one really amazing glacier that was squeezing through a little gap in a rock face, a pale green lake below it, and a rock debris field all around it, there was just a sense of palpable isolation and desolation. A terrific Patagonian wind howled against us, and it seemed that we were at the end of the world (which in a sense we were the entire trek). Just when it seemed like I´d have to lay down on the rock field and stay the night there, we staggered into Los Perros, an equally bleak campground but such a beautiful sight to behold. We set up our tent, cooked a bit of pasta, and collapsed in our sleeping bags.

Climbing the pass the next morning was an absolute highlight of the trek. We climbed through a bog out of Los Perros, which gradually became alpine scrubland, and eventually changed to windswept rock fields and snowfields. We slowly made our way up, thankfully with little wind, and around noon we crossed through the pass. There, on a football field-sized flat area, against a roaring wind that finally had found us, we looked down on the magnificent Glacier Grey, which stretched out before us like blueish-white ocean. The view of looking down on such a glacier was a first for myself and Jess, and it was more breathtaking than the wind. We took our shots and then retreated down the long descent to the next camp, Campamento Paso.

The next day was the Ladders Day, which took us on a route rumored to have steep 50-foot ladders dropping in and back up out of ravines. It was a short day in distance, but we figured we might need plenty of time for the ladders. We found the two ravines with a ladder each, but that was rather anticlimatic, as they were quite short and easy to climb. The walk itself along Glacier Grey, which took us down to the front of the glacier near Refugio Grey, was really the highlight of the day; we consistently had this massive, almost surreal glacier to our right side as we hiked along. It was a beautiful and fairly easy day of walking; at the refugio we found hot showers and were able to clean ourselves for the first time in four days, though the cold water was gone by the time I took my shower and the water too hot to rinse off the soap, leaving me either the cleanest or dirtiest person in our group, depending on how you think of it. Jess, Talie and I had an expensive dinner at the refugio; being a big piece of turkey, it was the first piece of meat we´d had since our night in Puerto Natales.

The next day was another long day, one of our two roughtly 18 km days. We hiked downhill to the Refugio Peohe, where a boat drops off and picks up hikers wanting only to walk the W and takes them across Lago Peohe to a bus. It was quite a ritzy place given its isolation; going in for some food, I found internet in the lounge which someone had neglected to log off from, and I quickly snuck in to send an email off to our folks to let them know we were doing well. Then we continued on to our campground for the night Campamento Italiano, a rather primitive place that sat at the bottom of the first valley of the W route, Valle del Frances. That allowed us to get up the next morning and head up the valley without our packs to the end of the trail for a good view of some of the iconic towers. Along the route were a couple of glaciers that hung tenaciously from the walls of the valley, occasionally loudly groaning with tension and giving us hope of seeing some massive wall of ice calve off and drop into the valley. Once back at our tents, we loaded up and went a further 5.5 km to the Refugio Los Cuernos.

Spending the night there allowed us to make another long trek across the 11 km front of the W to the eastern point of the W, which plunged into the Valle Ascencio to the Mirador Torres, the viewpoint right at the base of the majestic Torres Del Paine. These massive spires of stone were certainly worth the hike, but what a hike it was. We ate the kms up getting along the front, going about 14 km to the Refugio Chileno. We felt pretty good at that point, and we´d been told that it was a simple meander up the river to our final camp, the Campamento Torres, by some Aussies. Those guys were either cruel or totally full of crap, because that last 3.5 km was no meander but for me, a step-by-step struggle up and down the sides of endless ravines. Eventually we arrived in the camp, weary but happy, and set up our tents. Before we had dinner, we set out for the Mirador Torres, an additonal kilometer straight up. We found ourselves some of the last folks of the day there, and enjoyed the views as well as occasional bursts of sunlight until a snowstorm and the blustery wind pressed us back down to our tents. There, we´d planned on a night of cardgames, but that campground was the coldest we´d been to, and once we got bundled up in our sleeping bags, wrapped in all the layers we had, no one was willing to face the cold again for games.

The next morning Dan and Talie headed back up to the Mirador at 4:30 am to try to catch a chance at seeing the glow of the sunrise off of the towers, but myself, listening to the snow pellets hitting the side of the tent, I opted to stay in my relatively warm sleeping bag, though it had been a very cold night. After breakfast, we happily left the cold campground and retraced our tracks back to the Refugio Chileno, and then on down to the Hosteria Las Torres, passing crowds of day hikers making their way from the ritzy hosteria to try to see the towers (a long, steep 18 km day hike). By that point my knees were giving me troubles, so I must have looked like quite the character staggering down the slope, wearing the same pants that I had started in eight days before, dusty and windblown. At the hosteria, after being in the backcountry for more than a week, I found myself quite shocked when they tried to charge $4 for a Snickers and $5.50 for a hot chocolate; I had to leave, before they started charging me to breath the air.

We eventually arrived back at Laguna Amarga, where we calculated from the large map there that we´d traveled a total distance of 136 km, which is about 82.3 miles. We had set out on a Tuesday and returned the next Tuesday at almost exactly the same time of day, roughly at noon. We waited for our bus, which brought us back to Puerto Natales. After sorting out our hostel situations and taking much needed showers, we re-gathered for a celebratory dinner of big hunks of meat and plenty of beer, which I´d been thinking about since the second day of trekking.

So, the trek has been a true highlight of Jess and I´s entire journey. We saw some of Chile´s finest, most enchanting landscapes, and even better, we had some great hiking partners. Dan, Annabelle, and Talie really helped us keep going, and made this trek, which was Jess´s first, a great experience.

Until next time, be safe.

January 04, 2010

Photos From The Ferry Ride

Here are some photos from our ferry ride to Patagonia.

 Jess On The Ferry

 Scenery Along Route

 Tiny Town Of Puerto Eden

 Houses Of Puerto Eden

 Jess Keeping Warm

 Aaron On The Ferry

 Arriving At The Pio XI Glacier

 Floating Iceburg

 The Pio XI Glacier

 Glacier & Mountain

 Peaks & Crevasses

 Jess & Aaron At Glacier

 Waterfall Off Mountain

 Jess & Our Boxed Wine

 Dawn Over Water

 Snowy Mists In Channels

 Cloudy Dawn

 Islands & Mountains

 Our Navimag Ferry

Until next time, be safe.

Ferry To Puerto Natales

We have arrived in the little port town of Puerto Natales, famous for its close proximity to the world class national park of Chile, the Torres del Paine Parque Nacional. We just arrived a few hours ago.

The time since Christmas, nearly two weeks ago now, has gone by in a flash. We stayed at our friends´ house in Loncoche until January 1st. It was a very relaxing time, we slept in late, chilled with the family, played with Carla´s son, and walked around the very sleepy city (?) of Loncoche. We managed to get in a day trip to Temuco to pick up some woolen supplies for our time here in Patagonia, a day I enjoyed thoroughly as we went to see the new movie Avatar (which was excellent by the way). We also went one day to Valdivia, to walk around in that very scenic little city. Of course we stayed with the family for New Years, which we celebrated by a huge meal about 10:30, then a few drinks until midnight. Then we headed down to the one big bar in Loncoche, where apparently the entire town had crowded inside. It was so hot that my glasses fogged up whenever I would come in from outside, where a light rain was falling. (So much for warm holidays--the clouds never broke over Loncoche). We danced there until 5:30 am, then went back for a half hour of sleep before catching a bus to Puerto Montt at 7:30. Needless to say, we were a little exhausted by that point, carrying on merely by the intrigue of finally getting an opportunity to go to Patagonia.

So, in the afternoon of January 1st, we tiredly boarded the Navimag ship as it sat in the port of Puerto Montt. I´d read a bit about the ship, and had my preconceptions of what our trip might entail. For example, in the winter time, when there aren´t many passengers, part of the cargo might include a large herd of cattle, which I can imagine would taint a four day journey a bit. Actually, the ferries themselves are really cargo ships, which at some point somebody had the bright idea of outfitting them and charging folks large sums of money to ride down to Patagonia. Ourselves, we opted for the cheapest option, which had us sleeping in a 42-bed bunk room. Again, I had a picture of this big, metal, open room, lined with metal bunks that had little mattresses on them.

Gladly, I was quite wrong about the ferry. Indeed, it was a cargo ship, it had a large area where large trucks could be pulled in for the trip (or a big herd of cattle). It certainly did not have the appearance of a cruise ship, more like a ferry ship that takes people from one place to the other. On the other hand, our bunks were in a maze of hallways that seemed closed off from other areas. We had perhaps 14 bunks in our little corner, and Jess and I´s bunks only faced two other bunks, which happened to be occupied by an American couple from Boston. Even better, the bunks were not metal but rather attractively decorated with wood. There were large lockers at the ends of the bunks, and curtains could be closed, which kept the bunks very dark at night. So, it was quite comfortable in the living quarters.

On the deck abover our quarters, there was a large dining hall, where we ate three meals a day, as well as watched a couple of really good Chilean movies and attended a couple of talks about the nature around us, which were a little less quality. On the top deck was a small pub, with tables as well as couches. Outside of the pub was a large viewing area, and you could walk around all of the decks as well as up to the front of the boat for good views. Of course, the best part, indeed the attraction of the ferry ride, was the scenery. This was really breathtaking, as the ferry cruised down the channels and fjords of the Chilean archipelago. We passed the large island of Chiloe and then continued on down, turning amongst of the many islands. Soon after Chiloe, signs of humanity disappeared and were replaced by roadless, unadultured nature. This started as dense green forests, and the further south that we went, the more snow began to appear on the peaks above the shoreline.

The second day was the worst, as we knew it would be. For twelve hours we would leave the calm waters of the channels and head off into the rough, dark oceans that notoriously lie off of the Patagonian coast. So, for twelve hours, we endured huge swells, which really helped define how large our ferry was. Before, I´d considered it fairly large, big enough that I didn´t think that most waves would be felt, unless they were big. Perhaps this is true, but either the ferry wasn´t as large as I´d thought or the waves were just that big (or both), because we felt the swells just fine. Sitting in the dining room playing cards, we could always judge the biggest waves by how much they rattled the dishes in the kitchen. Outside on the front deck, we could watch as the bow rose high above the water and crashed down in the next trough, sending foaming water spraying out from the sides. Jess and I did fairly well through the afternoon, though the hours seemed to drag on terribly. During dinner, though, we looked up at each other and realized that we both were feeling the effects of a chicken leg on our tenuous stomachs. We survived, though, without either taking any medications or vomiting off the side of the boat, the latter of which I am most happy about.

The third day was really the most spectacular. First, it had long periods of sunshine, whereas we´d pulled out of Puerto Montt under cloudy weather, which for the first two days only included periodic rain and gusty winds, especially once we had left the channel for our ocean segment. So, the sunshine was most welcome. Also, the highlight of the day was a visit to a glacier, which was really stunning. We could see the glacier from a distance, and as we drew closer, we started to notice little iceburgs bobbing in the water. These grew larger the closer we came, and some were really large. The boat was able to get quite close to the glacier itself, and of course I took more pictures than necessary. It was very difficult to stop snapping shots of the pale blue ice, with its towers and valleys. The glacier was immense, but we learned later that it is only a small part of a massive ice field, so one could say that we only saw the tip of the glacier, to warp a phrase.

Besides the nearly constant scenery of the trip, we also met several memorable people, which will probably mean more to us in the long run that the views we had. There were our Bostonite bunkmates, who taught us to play Rummy500. We met a couple from Britain and an Irish lassie who we enjoyed playing Bingo with the last night. We also met a fellow Coloradoan, a lady who inspired us with a number of great stories as well as a raw passion for the kind of travel life that we love. I can´t reveal what we have been inspired to do now; our parents will have to find out about that trip once we plan it out a little more.

Now we are getting ourselves situated for our next adventure, which is a hike in the Torres del Paine. We have to decide how long of a hike we will be taking. There is the shorter option, the "W," named for the pattern of its route. This hike takes 3-5 days, we would probably take four days to complete it. There is also the Circuit, which includes the W but returns on the backside of the spiral peaks, which takes 7-8 days to complete. At this juncture, I´m thinking that we will just take the W and see how we feel at its end about finishing off with the Circuit. We easily found a hostel here in Puerto Natales (they were waiting with a pickup truck when we got off of our ferry), and tomorrow morning we´ll leave all of our unnecessary belongings at the hostel and set off into the wilderness. This park is supposed to be one of the best parks in South America, so I am getting very anxious to get on the trail.

Especially after four days on a ferry.

Until next time, be safe.

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