Riding North

Standard

An illustrious half week in Futaleufu filled with camping, rafting, and lots of outdoors led to some pangs of desire for urban life.  I had been in the lesser populated and incredibly beautiful nature I so desperately craved coming from the graveled earth of the NYC metro area.  But now, I wanted that city experience again.  In a small way, a taste of home.  It was a big secret, but I was just weeks away from home at this point.  Another 10 days in Chile and a long week in Haiti before my unforeseen return.

To get there, it took some more long bus rides and a few detours.  First, there was no bus connecting Chaiten and Puerto Montt, two of the connecting cities to get to the capital, Santiago.  I stayed in one of the only places open in the entire town in Chaiten, a lonely, dusty hostel.  It took some time to even find the place, but luckily it didn’t stop me from catching a group rate taxi to nearby celebrity, Chaiten Volcano.  This friendly peak was smoking ominously after a raucous eruption in 2008 evacuated the nearby town that I now inhabited.

Thankfully, there was no eruption on this day.  Instead, I had a crystal clear sunny day climbing to the outer rim of a bluff adjacent to the volcano.  It was a great experience and a beautiful day to be up close to a volcano that was still steaming at the top.

The next day, I rode a long set of buses and ferries along the Carretera Austral.  A famed country road stretching from the northern end of Patagonia up to Puerto Montt, where more traditional highways carried traffic up to Santiago and riding north to the furthest end of the Atacama desert.  It took nearly 12 hours, but I finally made it.  Well, sort of.  I had another 20 hour bus to Santiago.  But thankfully I could sleep on this bus as there were no transfers or ferries to wake me up along the way.

And so, I had finally made it to Santiago!  But I wasn’t finished.  I decided to take a stop in Pichilemu.  It was a famous surfing town in Chile and promised of relaxing days and vivid nights.  The vivid nights weren’t on display, however, as it was offseason.  It was a bit of a ghost town.  Making the most of my time there with lots of reading and writing and long walks on the beach, I spent three nights before making my way to Valparaiso.

I was particularly excited about Valparaiso.  Since I hadn’t really stopped in Santiago for more than a connecting bus, this was my first legitimate city in South America since Buenos Aires.  With the confluence of rising hills, deep blue water, pearl white sand, and color-blasted streets, this city had a character like no other city I’d ever seen.  Taking walking tours to view the sights and sounds of this quirky place, I fell in love immediately.  It quickly became my favorite city in all of South America.

Accompanying me in this city were a few adjusted locals originally hailing from Germany.  Along with some other fun people, we took the walking tour together and explored the beaches and nightlife deep into the morning.  Once again, people made the experience better.  No big surprise.

One of my favorite parts of the city was the famed home of historic poet and Chile’s proud Nobel Prize winner, Pablo Neruda.  It was such a unique home, taking the quirky qualities of the city surrounding it into its very architecture.  The top floor, just one room occupying the space, was a marvel for me.  I always imagined being able to write in a room at the top of a house overlooking the sea.  With this room it was a reality.  While I won’t be able to write like Neruda did in his esteemed life, it felt like a privilege just to be there.

It was a nice surprise to meet a few guys at Neruda’s home who ended up being from my very own hostel without even realizing.  We all shared a delicious lunch before making our own ways out of the city.  And it was from there that I took my final bus back to Santiago.  In a trip full of bus rides and endless hours of jumbling in public transportation seats, it was a nice feeling.

I won’t lie, I wasn’t sure how this trip would end.  I was worried something bad would happen (lost wallet or passport, canceled flights, just feeling lonely, etc), but I realize I never should have been so concerned.  After a quiet night arriving in the capital, I took a walking tour the next morning.  I almost didn’t go as I was running late, but making it in the final minute before it started, I joined the English speaking group.  We meandered through the markets and streets of a city full of life and stories to tell.

Meeting several people throughout the group, it seemed that we all had a friendly connection and got along very well.  We enjoyed the rest of the tour including a particularly riveting speech by the young tour guide in the city cemetery as we basked in the shadow of former Chilean President Allende’s grave.  The sight of this tour’s conclusion was a foreshadowing of the colorful opinions and insights of a man living in the remnants of a terrifying time in Chile’s history.  Hearing his story was touching and worth mentioning.

After this, we all sprang from the somber topics discussed to come together for a favorite party drink in a nearby bar before enjoying lunch with some of the people I would spend my final few days with.  And oh what a lunch that was!  Our waiter was as charismatic as they come.  He gave us a few belly laughs in between gulps of delicious seafood stew and shellfish and soups.  Some pisco sours and a particularly minty drink on the house to round off the lunch left us all pretty happy.

After visiting an interesting Chilean cafe and going our own ways, I paid for what was a very long overdue haircut.  Feeling refreshed, I met the friendly mother-daughter duo traveling together and their newfound friend for dinner.  We joked and laughed for the long dinner about nearly everything that we could imagine.  After one too many pisco sours, we scrambled back to our respective “homes” and turned in another memorable night.

On this, my final full day in South America, I spent most of the day with a group of three friends from the US as we explored a somber museum detailing the rugged history of Chile and visited a fancy wine restaurant.  Picking up my last load of laundry on the road, I met up again with those girls and then with the mother-daughter combo as we ascended the view-laden peak of San Cristobal.  It’s a large greenery filled hill right in the center of the city.  The sights from atop that hillside were only outdone by the company I had.  And the sights were unbeatable.

Well, that’s it!  South America in a few words!  Ok, so maybe more than a few.  But thankfully there’s more.  Learn about the final chapter of this saga in the next post!

The Road Less Traveled

Standard

We began the next morning of our hike through Torres del Paine with a beautiful breakfast of eggs, toast, and fire glazed granite towers made possible by a glowing sunrise. We may not have had the picture perfect view of the Torres de Paine when we hiked to the viewpoint the day before, but we had an incredible view from further below on this morning. We patiently awaited the arrival of our guide and porter who would be accompanying us through the rest of the trip. 

It was a quick takeoff with an over abundance of food that filled our packs after the introduction. This was an easy day of hiking on generally flat trails towards our campsite for the night. It was a little cloudy but mostly mild weather that day. We arrived in the campsite around 3 and had plenty of time to take a nap which is exactly what I did before dinner. Dinner that night was stuffed peppers with a sunny side egg layered on top. 

During dinner we met a very kind South Korean artist who was mildly famous in her home country. She showed us some of her work which was incredible. We were blown away and she was here in Torres del Paine to work on some more pastel paintings. It was a cozy dinner in a tranquil valley on the more quiet side of the park. The road less traveled. 

It rained that night. I hurried to the bathrooms to brush my teeth before the drops really started falling. The next morning I noticed some leaks in my tent. Thankfully, none of my stuff got wet even with a pool of water that had collected on the roof. Breakfast was equally delicious as dinner the night before. It was a mix of rainy and cloudy weather all day. We had a mild climb and descent that day and spent plenty of time snapping pictures of the sloping valleys and climbing mountains that surrounded. 

The campsite that night was one of the more beautiful ones of the entire park. It included blue lakes curling around the flat land on one side of the valley with a pristine sun glistened glacier in the distance just beyond the lake. We would have our last night in a Refugio that night. 

During dinner we met others including a brother sister duo from China and San Francisco as well as a couple from Australia. We enjoyed warm conversation by a glowing fireplace in the cozy wood house. It was a friendly place and constantly reminded me of the reasons why I love traveling and more specifically hiking. The comraderie that develops between people who share difficult hikes is unmatched. 

Unfortunately, that night I forgot my pants outside where they had been drying along with my boots so they were a bit wet after some light rain. I dried my things as best I could as our little group prepped for another day of hiking, a very muddy one. The entire day was a mixture of slips and slides as messy as the dirt and water that mixed to create our precipitous hike. Rain continued to fall all day long as we took a few tumbles but we all fought through the hike bravely. 

Lunch was quick as we only stopped for enough time to stuff a tuna sandwich down our throats and continue the last few miles to our campsite after passing a glorious glacier falling down a staggering cliff into another cloudy blue lake. The views just never seemed to cease. 

The campsite was a gloomy place with cold rain and puddles surrounding us, but we were warmed by the hearts of the people with whom we shared the hike by nestling under a covered cooking area. It was filled with laundry lines and hanging clothes that made it look like a hazy maze with the steam of rice and pasta floating among us. I loved it! 

As everyone else was scrapping through every inch of their cooking pots, our little group was served gnocchi and fresh veggies with tomato sauce on a steaming plate. It made us immediate friends with some people we met that night as we shared in our elaborate meal. It was a great night with insightful conversations and a strengthening bond as we quickly neared the most difficult day of the entire trek. We went to bed with rain continuing all through the night just feeling lucky to have a pair of dry clothes to sleep in. 

We woke the next morning at 6am to a unique sight of bodies crammed into that same covered cooking area, this time prepping breakfast and packing our things to ready for the long day. It would be between 10-12 hours and over 12 miles of hiking over a pass that had over 1000m of incline and decline. 

And so we began. It was slow moving at first with some fierce mud occupying the trail including more than one occasion of stepping ankle deep into the chocolate sludge. After finishing that first piece, our second serving was climbing over rocky terrain glazed with sugary snowflakes dusting the trail more and more as we ascended to the top of the pass.

Reaching the top was a great feeling, but it wasn’t the difficult part. That was what immediately followed as a sharp descent tested our balance and dexterity with each step…or slide. At one point, I chose a poor step and slid down a part of the trail but thankfully swung around a fallen tree limb to catch myself before colliding with our guide. 

It took some time and patience but we made our way through the toughest descent without much more than some muddy boots and more greatly determined minds. We were roughly halfway through as we crossed paths on the trail with some of our friends from the campsite the night before and found a spot for lunch. It had an incredible view of glacier grey which had mostly evaded our sight with the clouds atop the pass that morning. It was massive. Spreading for multiple miles across and countless kilometers below the southern Patagonia ice field. The jagged and toothy cuts of ice being compressed atop the glacier still carve a beautiful image in my mind. 

It was around this point that I started pushing ahead quicker ahead of our group to go at my own pace with plenty of photo ops along the way. A challenge of crossing a hanging bridge that swung several hundred feet above a narrow gorge was among the more exhilarating experiences. Though I did flinch a few times as I held a GoPro in one hand and my pounding heart in another. 

Crossing through several of these bridges and a bridgeless river crossing and flooded trail areas amounted to some tired legs and exhausted shoulders. The sight of a sign marking the campsite area just a few hundred feet away felt like a cup of warm soup on a winter day. We had made it. 

It’s one of the more difficult days I’ve ever had but no doubt one of the best. After showering and getting a change of clothes, we awaited dinner in the warm and dry cafeteria. Just as we thought about where our doctor friends were as 7 o’clock arrived, they did too. Crazed looks of hunger preceded the story of a wrong turn down a trail in the opposite direction and trails turning to rivers. Apparently the rangers had even closed certain trails and had to pull some people across bridges that were becoming flooded. And we thought we had it bad…

We shared a well deserved dinner that night as we shared ghost stories after the hellacious day. We also spoke with some tour guides for ice trekking and glacier kayaking that we each had planned for the next day. It was a perfectly challenging day, the kind of day that makes for a ceaseless and peaceful night of sleep. And that is exactly what I had that final night of the trek. 

Okay, I’ve been dragging this along quite far enough so I’ll save the enjoyable conclusion for one final post on Torres del Paine. Keep posted!

10 Days

Standard

10. Descending on the smoky mountain of Machu Picchu.

It was dawn.  We woke at 3 and started hiking at 5.  As the sun shone through, we curled around the trail leading up to the sun gate.  It was cloudy and we couldn’t see the famed ruin.  So we climbed down the final stretch of trail with the dissipating fog slowly lifting as we closed in.  The puffs surrounded the city with sun shining through and we arrived.

Hiking with New Friends

Standard

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

Standard

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!

Realization

Standard

For those of you who have not worked in the professional services industry before, realization is the profitability of projects that a company is engaged to perform.  In more personal terms, realization is the point at which you are fully aware that something has become a fact or when you achieve something desired or anticipated.  Of course, you all knew that already, but I say that for a reason.  That reason is what my recent posts have been leading up to, which is this trip to South America.  Today, one of my goals will come to a realization point as I am flying to Peru and will not return from this southern continent until May 2017.  This trip is the realization of a long awaiting dream and as you can imagine, there are plenty of mixed emotions.  Anxiousness and pure excitement are just a few.

Just one week separates me from the day I quit my job but it also feels as thought it were just yesterday.  Stopping my life to make a trip like this hasn’t been easy, but it’s been much more manageable thanks to some special people in my life, including my girlfriend, family, and some close friends.  I’ve had some great moments with people I consider important in my life in the last week and it’s a fortunate feeling to have seen most of them.  To the rest I could not have one final hoorah with, I’m certain that these 6 months will pass ever so quickly!  But don’t forget that I will miss you all very much.  When I step on that plane in a few short hours, I know that it will be the beginning of something great and I appreciate all of those who have been a part of my story along the way.

Keep up for more tips and tricks on traveling abroad!

Taka