13 Days

13. Amazing things happen every day. You just need to keep your eyes open and be unafraid to look.

Countless times in this trip, I’ve slowed down (usually by force) on long bus rides or other places. In those slower moments you can appreciate things more and notice incredible things. Maybe someone giving some food to a homeless person or the person with a big cart of groceries letting someone pass them. Amazon things happen every day. Slowing down reveals those storylines in ways that nothing else can.


Hiking with New Friends

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!

14 Days

14. Don’t be afraid of making mistakes. And definitely don’t be afraid of fixing mistakes. The only thing worse than not making a decision for fear of consequence is ignoring a consequence.

I always regretted not going on a semester abroad in college. But that doesn’t mean I couldn’t take my own semester abroad. My trip to South America is my version of fixing a mistake. Big or small, it’s all the same. Don’t dwell on the thought of a mistake. Fix it. Now. 

15 Days

15. Be hungry. Don’t be satisfied and don’t accept the status quo just because. The world is because someone said so. It can be if you say otherwise.

Taking time off has been a great way to renew that hunger for me personally. Taking a vacation or just a weekend trip to decompress can be a great way to feed that hunger machine in you. It’ll feed many others in your life as well.

Going Solo through Patagonia

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!

16 Days

16. Steer clear of judgment. People are beautiful if only observed under the proper light. Enjoy all the colors they may shine.

It’s so easy to judge because it’s a natural thing to do. We’ve needed to judge our surroundings for survival and many other reasons in human history but it can also be toxic to us.

I’ve had multiple moments in this trip in which I’ve been skeptical of a person based on how they were dressed or acted, only to realize how kind and generous they were after a simple hello and a conversation. Never hold yourself back from saying hello, it can be the best decision you’ll ever end up making. 

17 Days

17. Rely on others. Without them, you wouldn’t be able to achieve all that you have until now. Don’t be foolish enough to think you are better alone.

We live in such an individualistic society that it’s easy to take credit for most of our achievements or at the very least show a strong desire to not accept help even if we truly need it. Accepting help isn’t a way of saying that you cannot do something with help from another. It’s a way of saying that we are together in the big picture and can share in any goal or ambition.

18 Days

18. Be the best version of yourself. People will notice and you may even inspire others to do the same without words.

I’ve been very fortunate in this aspect, I’ve had so much glowing support during this trip from loved ones back home and also from people I’ve met throughout. You never know when you yourself might be inspired by others, and being the best version of yourself makes everyone else that much better too.

19 Days

19. Be uncomfortable. When you find out what your greatest weaknesses are, you will discover your truest strengths. You only need the courage to see yourself in the mirror.

At one point, I was thinking to do a walk on the edge of a platform atop a skyscraper as an excursion. I was nervous but I decided to try it and loved it. It was thrilling and definitely worth pushing through to try it. During this trip, I’ve had multiple experiences when I’ve been a bit uncomfortable at first but then had some of my favorite experiences in the end. You never know what you will find waiting at the end of the rainbow.

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