22 Days

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22. Never be afraid to speak your mind, or just speak at all. Tell your story and perspective, but with an open mind. There are no wrong thoughts, just ones that have an opportunity to succeed and ones with no opportunity at all. 

Being right doesn’t consent the need to gloat, but it does give you a responsibility to speak your side of things and also be open to realizing that you are wrong, if not fundamentally then perhaps in a smaller way. There is nothing wrong with learning that you are wrong, it can only improve you. 

Apologies for the political infusion, but I think it is very relevant today. When speaking about political opinions, I think that this lesson applies best. Sometimes it is more important to have a conversation than it is to just simply get your point across. 

23 Days

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23. Don’t be afraid of trying. Ask the shy questions, take the foolish leaps, and definitely reach for the dreams that others call risky. It doesn’t matter. Just do it. Eventually it will pay off, either as a lesson or a memorable moment.

I would use this trip as the example. I was scared at every step, but I was certain that it was what I wanted and now I sit here in a hostel happily recalling the memories of a lifetime. It doesn’t need to be this dramatic though. Just trying something new such as taking a different route home from work, walking in your neighborhood, or saying hello to the people working in a supermarket you frequent are great ways to try something. 

But don’t take my word for this, try it for yourself and maybe, just maybe we’ll have more to enjoy 🙂

24 Days

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24. Patience is key. The right opportunity or thing may not come right now. But if you make the most of what you have and trust that what you really need will come to you when the time is right, pleasant surprises will abound. 

This could not be more true in situations both large and small. On one occasion, my glasses on this trip actually broke. The hinge connecting the arm to the frame just fell off. The hostel didn’t have either glue or tape but a friend I’d met had super glue and was more than happy to offer some. A combination of that and some duct tape I had were the perfect temporary remedy!

Something as small as waiting for the nice weather days on a long hike and being rewarded by incredible views can make experiences that much more worthwhile as well.  It’s all about attitude. 

Keeping faith in this thought is one of the more difficult things to do in life. But if we can do it even a limited portion of time, I’ve found in my own experience that it can be incredibly rewarding, both at home and on the road. 

25 Days

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125 days down, 25 days to go. Oh what a magical time!  My first 4 months have been something of whirlwind of adrenaline and running from one amazing place to the next. Don’t get me wrong, I stopped to smell the roses PLENTY of times. Just ask many of the tours I went on where I’d return to the bus late because I was gazing at a glacier or transfer buses I’d be scrambling onto, savoring my scrambled eggs a few moments too long. Yes, I have had a wonderful time thus far. But in the last week, I’ve been reflecting on this trip much more. I’m really just smelling the roses more emphatically. The world is moving slowly around me but the clocks are doubling their rate. It’s an inquisitive feeling, and I feel fortunate to feel more alive than I ever did when I had work perks and an easy life at home. 

I know that I’ll be both ecstatic and saddened by returning home, but it may not be for the reason I thought before the trip started. I am not fearful of working again, quite the contrary actually. I am excited to return in the same way that I was excited when I started my first full time job about 4 1/2 years ago (yes, I know I am a strange creature). Things feel fresher, and I do too. Those same roses smell stronger and look brighter. Applying for jobs may not seem like an attractive thing to do during a trip like this, but I’ve been excited about looking for something new and what new adventures lie ahead. 

To celebrate the end of this trip, I’ll be sharing 25 memories and lessons I’ve learned that I think are worth sharing. So without delay, here is the first!

25. Question everything. 

From a “waterproof” jacket to a “fast” wifi connection, there are no guarantees. Miscommunications happen, with even greater frequency when different languages meet. One such example of questioning things is a short story of my first flight during this trip.  

Flying from Newark, NJ to Lima, Peru, I was to take a flight onward to Cusco in just a few hours. Me and my friend asked if we needed to reclaim our bags before catching the connecting flight and were specifically told, NO. Well, after walking halfway out of the baggage claim area, something didn’t feel right. We decided to check anyway just to be sure. Sitting in a lonely corner next to a baggage belt were there bags. Mine, my friend’s, and some other poor soul’s bag. 

The start to this trip easily could have been ruinous. Thankfully, because we questioned the advice of an airline agent, we kept our bags from being eaten by the airline industry. Of course, as you may know if you’ve already read my Wild Galapagos part two, my bag had some misfortunes in any case. But the lesson remains. Question everything.

 

Hiking with New Friends

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So for this post, I’d like to focus on about 2 weeks of time.  These two weeks were one of my most highly anticipated ones, right next to spending time in Colombia for what I think to be obvious reasons.  But was the time I’d be spending in and around Torres del Paine national park.  This was one of the biggest, if not the biggest reason I wanted to come to South America.  The stories and pictures I had heard of this magical scene were just that, magical.  It captivated me and I was enthralled by the thought that I had the opportunity to spend time there.

So to start, I took a very early morning bus (6am) from my cushy hostel in El Calafate for Puerto Natales and my last new country in South America, Chile.  It was a difficult ride, spending about 3 hours on a bus, 1 hour unloading all my bags to be checked for customs (they are very strict about any sorts of produce being transported), reloading my bags, and continuing by shuttle for another hour or two.  But we finally arrived and I filtered my way through the town by foot until I reached the hostel.  It was a good enough place, I’d only be there for one night so I spent that day walking around town a bit and feeding my panging stomach.  After eating my fill, I went to bed early that night and awoke to meet a lovely Dutch couple with whom I’d spend most of the day.  After having breakfast at a cafe, moving hostels, and listening to an extremely informative park info session, I prepared myself for the next day, the day I’d be going to Torres del Paine!

I met my cohort which included just two others, a crazily kind couple from Pennsylvania and Connecticut.  They would be my trusted companions throughout this adventurous week and I couldn’t have been more thankful!  We rode through the entrance of the park and suddenly found ourselves at the foot of incredible peaks and spires swirling above the clouds, topped with snow and mystique.  We weaved among the foothills to a ferry that would carry us to our first resting place in the park, an easy first day lacking the challenge of any hiking.  We would be camping that night, and we had a great dinner that had me rolling out of the cafeteria.  Me and the kind couple shared a few drinks in the bar upstairs, eyes all twinkling with the anticipation of the hiking coming in the following week.

It rained that night, a fair warning of what was to come.  We rose early for a hearty breakfast and slugged our “rain proofed” packs onto our still blissful shoulders.  To reiterate, it was wet.  It continued raining steadily all day.  We started at about 10:30am and made lunch at a campsite along our trail.  It was a misfortuned site with poor bathrooms and a gloomy look with the cold, hard rain slipping from the tree leaves and sky.  So we finished quickly and made headway for the day’s destination.  Slipping and even falling once or twice through the afternoon, we all made it to the refugio and campsite beneath the Cuernos towers.  Unfortunately, the poor weather throughout the day prevented us from having any opportunity to see the French Valley, one of the two main attractions of the park.  However, we compromised as the clouds cleared just shortly before sunset and we had spectacular views of the Cuernos towers and the edge of Paine Grande peak, poking out just behind the towers from our view.

It was a surprise to me, having “enjoyed” boxed wine on several occasions, that when we tried the boxed wine (Clos) in the park it was some of the best wine I think I’ve ever had.  This isn’t saying much as I’m no connoisseur, but believe me, this stuff was a gold mine.  We enjoyed luscious cups of the drink each night as we recollected the events and sights we’d seen.

The next day was more challenging that the first, which was actually the easiest day of the entire trek.  A light appetizer sampler to prepare us for a heavy steak for each day that followed.  On this day, we were tricked by our sense of direction into thinking that we’d finished some of the difficult climbs of the day already.  In fact, we were only about halfway at that point.  We trudged up the hill, appreciating more greatly with each step the difficulty of the trek.  Thankfully on this more difficult hike, the sky was clear and cooperative to see more views of the Cuernos towers and other equally beautiful views.

We finally arrived at the next refugio and camping area, the one from which we’d climb the namesake peaks of the park, and the main attraction.  The Torres del Paine.  But before we did that, we enjoyed a delicious dinner that included salmon and several courses.  I was very impressed with the meals in each of the refugios that we were provided, both by the taste and by the presentation.  Hiking for a week in a remote national park didn’t bring me thoughts of delicate meals served on ceramic plates.  But that’s what we had.  We shared this meal with some amazing people, as would be the case all throughout the park.  As it always is, it’s about the people.  The views of the park were in this sense just a glorified medium to meet these people and I’m thankful for both of these benefits!

The next morning, rising at 5am we took a hike in the dark with headlamps lined in a row as we all climbed to the base of the tower with the iconic views.  After about 2 and a half hours of hiking and climbing up some technical trails, we finally made it!  And just in time.  Clouds hovered over the torres and quickly descended within 20 minutes of arriving, but we got our pictures and our time with these incredible toothy ridges ascending from a clear blue glacial lake, fed from endless sheets of ice just aside the torres.  It was incredibly cold once you stop moving at the viewpoint, so after less than 30 minutes we climbed down the equally difficult trail back down to our resting place the night before.

It was a fulfilling and amazing adventure for our first few days.  This piece of the circuit was called the W, the trail being a rough outline of a W if done in entirety.  It ended with us returning down to the next refugio and campground which was a luxurious one by standards of the last few days.  It was also here that we met some amazing doctors at our preassigned dinner table.  What started out as friendly conversation quickly turned to additional boxes of wine and a dreamy night of sleep.  Once again, people prevailed as the highlight of the park.  We knew we’d see more of them as we were lined up to meet our last night in the park, but more on that later.

So this concluded the final stretch of the W as the next morning we’d start the even more remote and certainly more tranquil portion of the park trails.  We would also be accompanied by a guide, caring for us and showing us some of the lesser known beauty of the park.  More on that in the next post!

Going Solo through Patagonia

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Let me tell you, there is nothing quite like traveling alone.  It will bring you up against some of your strongest fears, force you to confront difficulties, and create confidence.  There are also no competing itineraries as anything you want to do can be done.  But it also creates so much time to yourself, which can be frightening.  Especially when you live in the metro area of NYC, a place where being out of shouting distance to anyone can make a person cringe.  But I think this silence is also a beautiful thing, something I’ve been cherishing ever since I’ve been down in South America.  Time to just think and be my own director.  My first scene traveling alone?  Cycling for 66 miles.

When my mom left, I already had the plan in place to do this bicycle ride from San Martin de los Andes to Villa la Angostura.  So, I packed my things together on my bike rental hitched my bike trailer on and pedaled away!  Naivety helped me in a way on this first day as the significant portion of climbing was that morning and early afternoon.  At first, my legs felt fit and ready as I pushed triumphantly through the early miles.  But then, the heat of the day arrived and my legs coincidentally began turning to mush.  A stubborn personality that delayed lunch until I arrived at the campsite made for a great story of an American nearly passing out on the side of a rural highway.  Images of James Franco in 127 Hours crossed my mind.  Thankfully, after shoving a modest sandwich down my throat and gulping some water, I took a nap and returned to the road to finish the last of the day’s hills.  All limbs intact.

Coasting down the final portion of roads that day, I couldn’t have been more excited to see a small restaurant housing a few road trippers and hitchhikers.  I sipped on a cold drink, bought some extra water, and rambled down an old dirt road to my first stop, Lago Hermoso.  With wifi, a restaurant on the water, and a shady campsite, I was literally a happy camper.  This continued with fewer but still resistant hills to climb over the next two days as I met several people riding along the way.  It was a physical challenge that was a bit harder than I thought but was only more enjoyable to complete as I rolled into Villa la Angostura feeling fresh and accomplished.

The next few nights included a few short buses and some fun nights spent with locals and fellow travelers Bariloche.  I spent some wonderful days and nights exploring the area with splendid strolls above sunny lakes and hitchhiking with sketchy samaritans.  My days there were definitely filled with plenty of adventure!  And the fun didn’t stop there.  My newest stop after saying farewell to those friends was a town called Esquel which was one of the last more populated towns on the northern end of Patagonia.  It was here that I met a few wonderful friends, locals from northern Argentina on vacation who I met and spontaneously spent the day with, swimming in a gorgeous mountain backed lake, talking about life, and sucking in hot dust on the road from town.  That night, we cooked a scrumptiously delicious pizza.  Actually, the pizza was cooked for me and I had the difficulty of having to eat this pizza.  Tomato, Tomahto.

It was a great way to start the big solo portion of the trip.  The next few nights would be quiet and peaceful as I camped near Lago Verde in a national park known for its incredibly old Alerce trees, something akin to the Sequoias of California.  I saw wonderful wildlife, but no pumas (probably a good thing), and one of these old trees that was 2,600 years old!  It was a wonderful way to end my tour of the lakes and continue my journey into southern Patagonia.

Taking a bus for 20 hours into El Chalten, I was not disappointed as I rode a bus with only one other passenger through the night and woke with a stunning view of sunrise colors climbing up jagged peaks lining the Andean mountain range.  I couldn’t believe my eyes.  I wouldn’t believe my luck either as the weather was perfect that first day.  I trailed through 15 miles of hiking up to Mount Fitz Roy, the star attraction of El Chalten with picture perfect views.  It was terribly cold and windy but I still stayed there for 2 hours absorbing the stupendous view of this toothy set of peaks that resembled a crown tipped with diamond-like snow and ice.

That night, I had another stroke of luck in meeting some wonderful people who I shared a dinner with and a conversation of our stories in quitting jobs and traveling the world.  The rest of the week was filled with only more of the amazing views and long hikes alternated with rainy days that made my time in this town so memorable.  It’s not terribly important, but I think I had some of the best empanadas ever in Chalten.  The same kind man received me day after day as I returned to this spot at least 4 times that week for the scrumptious post hike snacks.

My next stop, Calafate, was only better.  I met some wonderful people staying in the same dorm and hostel who I shared sunset bike rides, crystal clear kayak trips, and icy glacier walks with.  One highlight was kayaking through a “tsunami” that was clearly exaggerated, both by the guides who took us out on the water near a glacier that calved causing the wave, and by all of us at dinner, gliding on the thought that we had survived this “near death” experience.  In reality, it was a big wave but nothing that could have significantly harmed us.  Instead it was just a memorable experiencec that we’ll likely exaggerate to impress others the rest of our lives…I also enjoyed one of my favorite hostels in all of South America here with nightly barbeques, large rooms, and plenty of room in the kitchen.  It didn’t hurt to have gorgeous views of the lake and mountains behind the large bay windows lining the dining area.

I also enjoyed one of my favorite hostels in all of South America here with nightly barbeques, large rooms, and plenty of room in the kitchen.  It didn’t hurt to have gorgeous views of the lake and mountains behind the large bay windows lining the dining area.  It was a beautiful place to do some reading, writing, and enjoy conversations with fellow travelers.

I had an incredible time in this first chapter of Patagonia, but much more was on the way that would create some of the best memories of the entire trip!  More on those experiences in the next post!

A New World: Argentina

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Colombia was a wonderous place but I was now on my way to Argentina.  Flying from Cartagena through Bogota to Buenos Aires, I felt a bit uneasy.  I had become so comfortable in Colombia and with Vanessa that even though it would only be 1 night on my own I immediately became fearful.  I wasn’t sure that I’d have the courage to meet people, being that I’m a shy person.  A lot of self-doubt crept in during the first few days.  I went to my hostel and walked through an eerily quiet city.  Because it was a Sunday, nearly all stores were closed and the streets were lonely.  Being from the greater NYC area, a city that really never sleeps this was a strange experience.  I walked down several blocks and didn’t cross a single person’s path.  While the city ended up being a bit more interesting than this first impression, it didn’t seem very unique.  The one unique aspect that did arise was that it seemed far more European than any other city I’d been to in South America.  It was an interesting mixture of South American city flavor and European city charms.

The next day my mom arrived and we saw each other for the first time in over 2 months!  It was a wonderful reunion and I was definitely happy to see a familiar face with my lonely first day in the country.  We spent the next few days exploring some of the typical sights of this huge city.  We saw an interesting cemetery that was filled with rows and rows of incredibly ornamented tombs that looked nearly like a miniature walled city.  With no chance at being able to see every tomb, we skipped through the blocks to observe at some of the highlights.

After spending the rest of the time exploring parks and scenic areas of Buenos Aires, we woke up our last morning before we’d head to Bariloche and the surrounding lakes district further south.  But, we had a bit of a hiccup.  My mom woke up sick and we scrambled to get her feeling better before the afternoon bus.  Being the tough mom that she is, we made the bus with only a confused taxi driver slowing us down.  Oh, and the bus being delayed by about 4 hours too.  We sat in the terminal for quite a long time but thankfully the bus finally rolled in and we boarded.

It was a 22 hour bus running from about 7pm that night until 5pm the next day.  While that sounds incredibly uncomfortable, I actually slept like a baby overnight.  From midnight til 8am, I never woke and barely stirred lying on a synthetic cloud.  My mom didn’t sleep quite as well but managed through it.  I give her plenty props for getting through that ride not feeling well, I know it wasn’t easy!  But we had finally made it.  And it was gorgeous.  Slowly as we left the pampas and approached the beginning of the Andean mountain range, hills rose while lakes fell below them with pine green and hues of blue filling the views.   We weaved alongside the lakesides sweeping up and down the sides of those rising hills until we finally emerged into a huge open lake area with wide views of rock topped mountains, the entrance to Nahuel Huapi national park.

As we pulled into the station and stepped outside, the crisp air and light breeze complemented the strong sun amazingly.  I had been waiting for this weather for a while. Being from a temperate climate, I look forward to each season (yes even snow!) and had been anxious to feel some cooler weather that I missed on the Caribbean coast of Colombia and in Buenos Aires where the temperature was easily 85 degrees and higher.  Taking a taxi, we labored up the rocky steps to a place I would end up calling home for 6 nights over 3 occasions.  It was a great home that brought us friends and a comfortable shelter.  Being that we were only in each city for 1-2 nights before bussing to the next stop on the itinerary, we made the most of all the first days in each place.  In this one, San Carlos de Bariloche, we explored the city walking up and down the main street and gazing through the windows of succulent chocolate shops, quirky gift stores, and sugary ice cream parlors.  We enjoyed a delicious home cooked meal at the hostel and readied ourselves for the hike the next day.  We would take a bus crammed with tourists and locals alike to go to Llao Llao hotel where the trail started to Hidden Lake.  It was another beautiful day.  We shuffled along the lightly trodden trail, a refreshing experience compared to the hiking in NJ where it can frequently be difficult to pass gas without a crowd turning a corner the same moment.  Here we could explore the place mostly uninterrupted and gaze at the crystal clear blue lakes served up along the forested mountains.

I am not afraid to admit it, along the course of the following 10 days, my mom outpaced me in our hikes.  She is in greater shape than I and was easily pushing through the trail as I nursed joints and muscles weary from anything other than solitary states.  But this didn’t prevent us from enjoying all that these places had to offer!  We toured through Villa la Angostura, San Martin de los Andes, and El Bolson, each place offering something unique and different.  Though all of them were incredibly beautiful by any standards.  

Bariloche was like the parent to all of them, larger and more citylike while still holding great views. Angostura was the richer town, much more local and filled with expensive shops and restaurants. Bolsón was a hippy town with lots of flavor and interesting people. Its extravagant crafts market of only handmade products and food was a great place to meander through on a sunny day, stuffing crispy fries down my throat. But San Martín was my favorite. Nestled between two mountains at the end of a windy lake, it was also one of the scenes depicted in Ernesto Guevara’s Motorcycle Diaries. A wonderful read or movie to watch for anyone interested in South American history, vivid travel writing, and profound mind being curated by his changing environments. 

We also lived quite modestly, cooking meals that honestly were just as good if not better than some of the meals in those expensive restaurants.  I missed vegetables and fruits more than I realized until we made our own meals.  It’s something I took with me after my mom left as well, cooking for myself and I was much better off both health wise and money wise.

I cherished the conversations me and my mom had throughout this trip.  It has been over 4 years since we both lived in the same place and 8 since we lived together for more than a few weeks at a time or a summer between semesters.  During that time, a lot has happened and many stories have been told, but most of the time they have been told over a semi weekly dinner with little opportunity to get into details.  This was the perfect chance and we wasted no time in sharing those detailed stories.  On one occasion, we almost lost track of time on a long hike in El Bolson as we shared an ice cream on a dusty summer day.  I’m very thankful to have had these conversations, beyond all the wonderful views and people we met.  It was also a nice luxury to have another person traveling with me who knew Spanish.  Buying bus tickets is much much easier!

As we made our way through each of the cities finally returning back to Bariloche for her final night, it began to dawn on me that I’d be partnerless for the remainder of the trip.  A remainder that would last for over 2 months.  Pushing those fears to the side, we spent the last morning rising early for a view of sunrise down on the waterfront.  It was a nice moment just reflecting on the trip and wishing that it wouldn’t end.  But all good things must come to an end and that was the fate of this trip as well.  I’ll leave this post with a thank you to my mom for accompanying me on 2 fun weeks through Argentina!  It wouldn’t have been the same without you. Up next, the first chapter on solo traveling through the wilderness of Patagonia…