The Road to Futaleufu

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It was back to two backpacks now.  The nice part about hiking for 8 days is that you only need to bring one.  I left the other in the hotel.  Clamoring to the bus station, I rode to Punta Arenas.  Another coastal town about 4 hours further south.  It was here, the following morning, that I met again with the same couple from Torres del Paine as we were scheduled to go on the same penguin tour on Magdalena Island.

Oh, those penguins.  Unfortunately, I didn’t get to see them on the Galapagos Islands, but I couldn’t miss them entirely!  At the peak of mating season, there are apparently 60,000 couples.  I’m no math nerd (I AM an accounting nerd), but that means 120,000 penguins roaming on a small island no larger than one square mile.  Lots of penguins.  I only managed to see a fraction of that but they were just as cuddly and small as any number of penguins might be.

It was terribly windy and cold, but we mustered through the trail and snapped some pictures before returning to the boat.  We couldn’t make the second leg of the trip to the sea lions island nearby due to weather, but I’d seen those before anyway.  So we roughly zipped back to land and rode back to town.  That night, we shared a last meal before a small choking incident led to a quick goodbye.  And with that, it was on to the next chapter!

At this point, it was all transport.  I needed to get back to Esquel where I had been roughly one month earlier and I needed to get there quick.  My time was running down on this trip and I wanted to fit as much as possible into my final weeks!  Of course, all the while I was starting to set things up for surprises back home as I planned to return earlier than advertised…

So I started by taking a bus back to Puerto Natales, the base of Torres del Paine.  The next day I took a bus to Calafate.  From there, I took a long bus the following afternoon to Esquel.  It took 30 hours of buses over the 4 day period but I reached Esquel!  Unfortunately, the bus to the next destination, Futaleufu, was not until the following morning.  So I sat tight for the night and took off the next morning.

It was a vigorous process crossing the border from Argentina to Chile once again but after a 5-hour ride to cross 50 miles, I’d arrived!

Futaleufu is not a busy town.  It’s a basic place and it was shoulder season.  That meant that restaurants only sold a few dishes, sometimes just one dish.  But it was a very cozy town with beautiful green mountains and rushing rivers surrounding it.  And those rivers were the reason I was here.  The Futaleufu River is one of the best for rafting in the entire world.  Apparently, the world rafting championships were hosted here 5 years ago.  I was excited for my first stint riding class 5 rapids here!

I decided at the last moment to go camping.  For both financial and nostalgic reasons, I wanted to be out in the middle of nowhere.  I was reminiscent of the experiences in Torres del Paine and wanted a piece of that action again.  It was perfect.  Being shoulder season, there were no more than 2 other tents so I had the place to myself.

The following morning, I signed up for a rafting tour that went through the entire route of the famed river passing rapids with timid names like The Terminator and The Rock House.  It was incredible.  The deep blue water that was as clear as glass.  We rumbled through the rapids that included a class 2 rapid which we swam through rather than rafted through.  We were splashed and kicked and turned different directions but we paddled to our guide’s desire through each section.  We even took a quick break to jump off a rock ledge 12 feet high.  Unfortunately, the video of this heroic feat was never taken, so of course it never happened.

I remember feeling that the trip was short by the time we finished.  I was still ready for more, but after a few hours rafting on this incredible river we were done.  Just as climbing a mountain feels incredible once you’ve peaked it, finishing a rumble down the river feels much the same.  It was a beautiful day and I celebrated it by getting dinner at a restaurant rather than cooking it myself.  Pasta, either with pesto or tomato sauce was my choice.  I decided to live a little and get pesto.

A Final Ride in Patagonia 

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We woke up in our last night of Torres del Paine national park feeling refreshed and a bit excited to be back in puerto natales that night. But there was plenty left to do before that!  We got up and had breakfast quickly before Ann and I walked down to the kayaking area. We walked in on the wrong house first but then found the right one with our doctor friends surprisingly sitting inside!

Apparently, for the second straight day the ice trekking excursion wasn’t possible because of icebergs built up near the area of embarking. So they decided to do he kayaking too!  We waited for a few others before getting ready.  Kayaking was amazing, we got within 50 meters of the enormous glacier that dominated our view.  

We skated across the icy waters with double kayaks and the best company. We were much more free to drift around during this kayaking trip than the last one in Argentina. It was a unique trip from the first and worthwhile to pay for it again for that exact reason. 

We paced back to the camp area, stuffed down some tuna sandwiches laced with balsamic (actually quite tasty), and swung our packs on our backs to make the final hike. It was a perfect day. I swung up and down our line of the group talking with different friends from the past few days.  I ended up catching up with the doctors who sped ahead and lasted the rest of the hike with them. We navigated some pretty wet conditions but were able to stay dry as we hopped around the trail. 

5 hours later, we made it. After 70+ miles over 8 days, we had finally reached the end of the line. It was an incredible experience with amazing people. We were all so relieved after being wet and cold and hungry for many long hours during the hikes. But that’s the best part, being rewarded at the end. In this case, I shared a cold beer with my weeklong adoptive parents as well as the world traveling group we befriended. I couldn’t have imagined the hike ending any better. But it did get better. 

After saying a bittersweet goodbye to those world travelers, we sat in line for the boat back to the bus stop that would take us back to town. It was here that, after 2 months of being in or near Argentina, I finally had my first sip of mate, a bitter herbal tea. For those unaware, it is a signature experience to drink mate and a significant piece of the social fabric. To be included in a round of mate is honorable and a sign of inclusion in a group. Or so I’ve been told. I received this gourd of mate from our porter who’d been carrying our tents and food all week. The smile I wore when he held it out for me to drink must’ve made the joker look sad.

And it didn’t go away, I must’ve been smiling the entire 2-3 hour ride home. When we got back to puerto natales, our group of the couple from Pennsylvania and Connecticut and the doctors all decided to meet for a late dinner. We met at a delicious seafood restaurant where we savored the seafood meals and recollected the memorable moments from our hikes. With lots of smiles and laughs, we said goodbye with hopes that we’d see each other again another day. And with those same thoughts I slept like a newborn fed with great memories. 

A Surprise

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So I know that I’ve been counting down the days and the plan was to arrive on April 24.  However, I lied.  And it worked.  My family never saw it coming but I flew in yesterday to NYC after spending a beautiful week in Haiti.  More on that in a future post.  Sunday dinners are a typical routine, so I sneakily crept up to the apartment with about 40 pounds of bags and walked right in.  Like I said, they never saw it coming.  I’m usually very good at spoiling surprises, ask anyone who has ever known me, but this one was a success!  Mainly because I got to eat Chinese food.  Only kidding.

There are so many thoughts running through my mind right now but more importantly, I’m safe, I didn’t lose my passport, and I haven’t gotten terribly sick.  Lots to be thankful for.  I’ll still be posting about the remainder of my trip but I wanted to send this brief announcement and let you all know that I’m back home!  Thank you for all the support thus far and I look forward to sharing more with you all, including the rest of the “countdown” that just happens to be 2 weeks behind.  Now to find a job… 🙂