A story of exploring and growing.


Lake Tahoe, California

As I write, it has been three weeks since I stepped on the plane to bring me back home.  The strangest part of being home is how eerily it feels like I never went anywhere… how those whole five months of traveling and adventure where just some strangely vivid dream.  However, I have 4,000 pictures, two journals, 33 blog posts, and a plethora of new worldwide friends to remind me that my time in South America was in fact a reality.

Overall, it has been really good to be home.  My first few days back in the States I caught myself getting excited every time I heard someone speaking English around me or making sure I was speaking slow and clear when I spoke English, until I realized that everyone speaks English around me.   I would get a little anxious about ordering or asking a question to a stranger because I kept thinking I would have to speak in Spanish, until I remembered that hey, I don’t have to!  But then all those new revelations and re-adjustments has turned into missing speaking Spanish, and utilizing a new-found ability to communicate and understand in another language. I have found immense satisfaction in the superficial comforts such as a full pantry, a comfy couch, my own computer, having a cell phone, and a dresser full of too many clothes.  But, in turn, I miss the freedom of simplicity of possessions, making dinner with whoever is around in the hostel that night, and exploring a new place everyday.

Lucky for me, I live in a beautiful mountain area with epic winter wonderland activities.  So taking full advantage of that, I have gotten a job as a lift operator at a ski resort, enjoyed gazing out at the white bliss of a blizzard (also with the knowledge that I would have to spend a good amount of time shoveling as a result of our feet of fresh powder), and spend a good amount of time snow-shoeing in the woods.  I have been able to see some wonderful friends, and talk to others on the phone who I have not been able to see yet.  I have unpacked my boxes, started reading some good books, and pretty much take a break from moving around and traveling.  It’s been so nice to be in one place for a while.

I loved my time traveling.  I loved the adventure, the new sights, the amazing people, and the incredible experiences.  I miss the clarity I felt about seeing God, my calling, and learning more about myself and others everyday.  And yet, I continually dreamt during my travels about having a garden, investing in a community, rekindling good friendships, and dwelling in the local while appreciating the global.  And now, I get to practice those dreams and start to build upon them once more.  It was nice to take a pause for an adventure and step out into the global community for a period to learn, gain perspective, and pretty much have a blast, but I am excited to be back to my roots, and investing in my world around me, trying to leave it a little bit better everyday.


Punto Arenas and Buenos Aires

I passed a few restful days in Punto Arenas with my friends Adam and Carla before heading out to my final stop for this trip.  It was nice to relax, see the historical Strait of Magellan, and make a bomb dinner with my friends to celebrate the finale of our time traveling together in Patagonia.  We spent days dreaming up a beautiful stuffed pumpkin, and it turned out beautifully!  That is, until I promptly dropped it on the floor when I was taking it out of the oven. We salvaged some of the delicious creation, but I don´t think I will ever forget the grief I felt over losing that beautiful dinner!

After about 44 hours of traveling by bus (ugh), I arrived in the bustling metropolis of Buenos Aires. I decided to stay in San Telmo, a more historical, working-class area with cobbled streets and tango bars.  With a pretty relaxed atmosphere, it helped buffer the culture shock I was experiencing from entering to a huge city after two months in quiet Patagonia. 

I spent the first few days hanging out with an English couple who had been a part of our trekking group in El Chalten and were staying two blocks away from me.  With the motivation and encouragement of an Australian friend, we decided to check out one of the soccer games that was happening that week in the city.  It was one of the best decisions I have made in South America!  The home team was Independiente, an evidently popular team in the Buenos Aires area, and they were matched up against a team from Uruguay called Peñarol.  The entire day of the game you could see fans from the Peñarol team wandering around the city with banners, displaying their colors proudly, singing, and basically flaunting their team spirit in the heart of the city.  Talk about a build up.  When we arrived at the stadium we were stopped a number of blocks away by the riot police, who were controlling traffic and the crowds.  These guys were dressed to the “T” with shields, batons, helmets, and any other classic equipment you would think of, reminding me that this was serious business.  To say that Latin America is passionate about their soccer is a wild understatement.  Even blocks away from the stadium you could hear the roar of songs, bands, cheers, and chants, and the moment you stepped into the stadium you couldn´t help but be swept up into the electricity, emotion, and excitement of the game and the crowd.  Standing in the stadium, you are completely surrounded by thousands of people in a mass of red and white (the colors of Independiente) all jumping, flinging their arms in the air, and singing the songs.  Huge banners, steamers, and lines of cloth adorned the stadium.  We had gotten tickets to stand in the popular section where all the die-hard fans are, and even though we were standing on cement steps, the ground was shaking and moving from all the jumping and cheering.   The Peñarol section was directly above ours so we didn´t really get to see much of their action, except those that were hanging on the 20 foot high barbed wire fence and net to keep the crowds apart and help prevent objects being thrown at each other.   Oh, and yes there was the game, which was what all this energy and passion was focused on. Every move had a chant or cheer, every shot taken a universal response went up, and if there was a goal, well, let´s just say I have never seen so many grown men cry, cheer, hug, and go completely crazy in one moment.  We were swept up and hugging complete strangers, cheering, jumping, and celebrating the victory of three goals during the game, resulting in an Argentinian victory.  It was incredible.

I have also met up with some other friends, including a friend from back at camp! It was so incredible to see Mulan´s face and catch up with someone who has known me outside of the world of traveling. I also met up with some Argentinian friends I met in El Bolson and re-saw in Parque Nacional Los Alerces.  We spent two days wandering around the city seeing all the classic sights.  It was awesome getting an inside perspective and explanation of the city, as well as get to catch up with some great friends.

One of our stops was at the Recoleta Cementery.  This is essentially a miniature city of mausoleums filled with historical persons from the renowned Evita to generals from the independence movement.  You walk path after path of tombs which are more like small churches with ridiculous marble statues, columned walls, and multi-story alters.  Each mausoleum is dedicated to a family, and beneath these small houses will rest the entire line of people.  It was incredible.

Now, I am starting to pack and get ready for the journey home.  It is my last night in South America, and I can hardly believe that this time is over.  In some ways, it seems like I was just clicking the button to buy my tickets to come down, experiencing a rush of excitement, disbelief, and a little panic.  I had no idea what I would experience in this trip.   It has been a lot harder, and a lot more incredible than I could have ever foreseen.  In other ways, I am tired and it feels like I have been moving for a long time.  I am ready to put down the pack, not leave a place every few days, and essentially be still.  To have more than three dingy t-shirts, a stocked pantry, and my own comfy bed are huge luxuries at the moment that I can´t wait to have.  More than that, I am ready to get back to friends and family who I have known for longer than a few days, and I will hopefully know for a very long time to come.  Don´t get me wrong – this trip has been incredible and I don´t even know how to begin to express how I have been changed and shaped by this experience. I will never forget the beauty of the places I have walked, the crazy stories from the people I have met, or facing a world alone only to discover that I am not alone at all.  But now it is time to retire my walking shoes (or in reality throw them into the bin because they are completely trashed), and to take up the slippers (oh I can´t wait!).  So, next stop, HOME.

The “O” of Torres del Paine – Numero Dos

The front side of  the “O” circuit in Torres del Paine joins up with the ever-popular “W” circuit.  If treks were amusement parks, the “W” would be Disneyland.  The scenery is so renowned yet the trail so catered and developed that you encounter droves of first timers and expert trekkers.  You find people decked out in top-notch equipment to people who scrounged up some extra clothes, a jansport backpack, and a plastic bag for a poncho.  But the equipment doesn´t always dictate abilities.  Take my friend from the States for example.  He has trekked the Appalachian trail and has been traveling and trekking through South America for three and a half years.  And yet he wore these shoes for the duration of the “O” circuit:

Yup, those are zipties holding together the bits and pieces of these old school New Balance shoes.  It just goes to show that people will pull anything together to ensure that they can walk around this park.

Back to the trek.  We came down from the pass, and stayed at Campament el Paso for the night, which is situated along the Glacier Grey with a marvelous lookout over the sea of ice.  We spent the evening drinking tea and making dinner at the lookout, taking turns at looking through binoculars, and marveling at the mysteries of glaciers.  By this point, Adam, Carla, and I had joined forces with another American and two traveling friends from the Czech Republic.  It was a merry bunch to share the rest of the trek with.

We continued down the trail the next day, hugging the ridge that followed the glacier to it´s toe which spilled into a large lake.  We stopped and ate lunch (in the sunshine once again) at a mirador overlooking the end of it´s long stretch which gave great views to some spectacular crevaces.

The glacier from the trail.

Lunch spot.

Looking back.

We camped that evening at Refugio Grey, where we rewarded ourselves with some greasy but oh-so-tasty burgers… after 9 days in the backcountry they were probably a lot more appetizing than if we had eaten them anywhere else in any other circumstances.

The next day we continued down the trail, thinking that we were going to have a good 6-8 hour day ahead of us as we wanted to push to Campamento Italiano at the foot of the Valle del Frances.  Half-way through our hike however, we stopped at a ranger station by another HUGE hotel-of-a-refugio, where they had posted that the campground was closed due to it´s unkemptness from all the lazy tourists.  This left us with some not so appealing options as we had to either push on that day for at least an extra two hours than what we had originally thought, or have a 10 hour day the next day.  We were musing over this at lunch, when we discovered that we were all about to fall asleep at the table, so we decided to pitch our tents and rest for that day and opt for a longer day the next day.  Pretty much as soon as we pitched our tents, the skies opened up and it started pouring rain with heavy wind, giving us the perfect excuse to nap and take it easy that afternoon.  We woke early in the morning ready for a long day, but were greeted with torrential rain, once again.  We agreed that if we weren´t going to see anything due to the clouds and rain, we might as well sleep in, rest up, and just hike to the next campground, skipping the Valle del Frances.  Having seen everything else in it´s full glory we figured we were due to one bad day.  However, it stopped raining at around 11, and by the time we had packed up and were on the trail (with refreshed and rested legs after almost 24 hours off of hiking), the skies were beginning to clear.

Los Cuernos appearing through the clouds.

By the time we had gotten to Campamento Italiano at the foot of the valley, we had blue skies and we could see all the peaks with a beautiful fresh dusting of snow!  It was too good to pass up, so knowing that we probably wouldn´t get to the next campground until around 10:00 that evening, we decided to drop our packs and head up into the valley.  It ended up being one (if not the most) spectacular parts of the trip.  The valley is encircled by walls of granite towers, from the famous Cuernos, and the backside of the Torres, to the triangular Aleta del Tiburon (Shark Fin) and the namesake Cerro Paine.  Climbing in, I was awestruck by the grand Cerro Paine, which is flanked with tierred glaciers that send down avalanches of snow, crashing among the numerous waterfalls.  A gushing river raged through the valley with so much power due to the recent rainfall.  The classic Cuernos rose up in their box-like form like presents on top of the ridge.  We couldn´t get enough of these mountains.

Cerro Paine

To the left are the Torres and straight ahead are the Cuernos

The back of the valley – to the left is the ridiculous Aleta del Tiburon (Shark Fin)

The group with the best backdrop you could ask for.

Knowing that we were already in for a late night, we decided to hike down before getting to the tip of the valley.  We were all dreading pulling into camp that late, especially because it was already past dinner time, but we all agreed that it was worth it.  However, an unexpected blessing greeted us at the “closed” Campamento Italiano.  The ranger came out and told us that we could stay the night there if we wanted, but just had to leave by early in the morning and keep it on the down low.  Sweet!  So, we pitched our tents, and enjoyed our last night in the park.

Carla, Adam, and I packed up in the pre-dawn, parting ways from the rest of the group who had yet to see the Torres from the laguna.  We hiked out towards a beautiful sunrise, creating the perfect atmosphere to remininsce about the past 11 days and how incredible of a time we had.  12 condors circled the skies above the buses as we pulled away from the park, leaving behind an unforgettable trek.

Sunrise our last morning.


This trek was an incredible finale to my time in Patagonia.  With only a week and a half left, I am at the tail end of my time in South America.  It is hard to believe that this journey is almost over, when it in many ways seems to have only begun.  But on the other hand, I am ready to come home. I am excited to be back with friends and family and investing in life around me, near at hand, for long term results.  I am heading to Punta Arenas for a day or two before taking the LONG bus ride up to Buenos Aires to finish off my time in South America.  It is hard to believe.




The “O” of Torres del Paine – Numero Uno

I have decided to write about the “O” Circuit of Torres del Paine in two parts, mainly because I have so much to say about those incredible 11 days and I figured that nobody (including me) would want to sit through all that rambling in one go.  So this way, there is a natural break.

Let´s begin.

Let me just start by saying that I must be the luckiest person to come to Patagonia.  First off, great weather in Fitz Roy, great weather in El Calafate, and I am pleased to report we had phenomenal weather in Torres del Paine.  Unreal.  Who said that Patagonia is supposed to have horrible weather?  The weather was such a blessing, and was one of the main reasons our originally 8 to 9 day trek stretched into 11!

Still traveling with my awesome Australian friends (Carla and Adam), we caught an early bus to the park not quite sure what our first day would bring.  We had purposely left our schedule open to give us three opportunities to see the famous Torres of the Torres del Paine due to the unpredictable weather.  Completely disconnected with the Andes mountains, the Paine masstif is it´s own unique range that rises up from seemingly nowhere.  The classic “O” circuit wraps pretty much around the entirety of the range, with numerous side-trips possible.  Our first glimpses were of dramatic mountains, teal lakes, and foreboding clouds, giving you the impression that this place is truly wild. On a tip from a fellow traveler, we opted to do a short mirador hike apart from the circuit to start out, giving us a view from a distance of the mountains on whose feet we would soon be walking.  It was my first real glimpse of the sculpted Cuernos (or Horns), whose photos were one of the inspirations for this trip.

So excited to be there!

We caught a bus back to the beginning of the true circuit only to find that the skies were clearing and the sun was coming out.  Low and behold the Torres came out of the clouds and we knew that now was our chance to see them.  Even though it was late in the day by this point, we decided to climb up to the Campamento Torres (with full, 10 days worth of food, packs – ugh) which is situated directly below the classic laguna and vista of the Towers.  We hiked up, made camp, and went to bed early, hoping for a clear sunrise which would turn the granite Towers a fiery red.  We were not disappointed.   We hiked up in the pre-dawn with a stunning sunrise behind us, and were rewarded with a perfect fiery view of the Torres.  Unforgettable.



Post dawn

We hiked down that day in pure, warm sunshine, that matched the euphoria we felt from seeing the Towers in all their glory.  We ended up camping by the base of the trailhead relaxing and getting ready to begin the real trek the next day.

The next day was once again beautiful and we left on a rolling walk to Refugio Seron.  Let me just pause a moment to talk about the refugios on this trek.  I am not used to trekking with refugios, so staying by a building every night with flushing toilets, hot showers, a restaurant, and a store where you could buy soda, candy, snacks, wine, or beer was crazy.  At some of these refugios you can even pay with a credit card! What?  And this all miles away from civilization…

Refugio Seron was peaceful, but more of a stopping point before the more dramatic scenery ahead.  The next day we walked to Refugio Dickson, a beautiful refugio situated by a glacial lake and framed by the backside of the masstif.  With perfect skies, we lounged around in the sun and were more worried about our chocolate melting than any sort of bad weather.  A nice problem to have.  We couldn´t believe our good luck with the weather, and decided that we would push our chances and opt for a day hike to Glacier Dickson the next day instead of continuing on the next leg of our journey.  So, we jumped on board the raft the next morning to take us across the river, and we walked the beautiful miles to a massive glacier that spills over white, iced mountains, defining the border from Argentina and Chile.  Looking back behind us we were able to perfectly see the Paine range rising up.  Every ranger we talked to that day expressed how rare it was to have such clear skies where you could see both the glacial range and the Paine masstif perfectly.  Blessed.

Part of the hike to Refugio Dickson.

Adam and Carla relaxing at the campground.

View of Glacier Dickson from the campground.

View of the Paine range from the backside (the Towers are to the left)

Glacier Dickson

Continuing on from Dickson, we marched up into the mountains, the scenery changing from open rolling bluffs, to forested narrow valleys.  Once again, more glaciers, beautiful clouds, and a peaceful walk up.  We camped at Campamento los Perros, the campsite at the foot of the hardest leg of the trek – climbing up over the pass to cross back over to the front side of the range.

The day of the pass was a bit windy and overcast, but created a pleasant temperature for the arduous climb ahead.  We started early, and reached the pass in good time, only to be greeted by sweeping views of the largest glacier in the park, Glacier Grey.  This creature is massive, I mean, HUGE.  It takes your breath away as you gaze up and down the long, mass of white ice, and it seems to just disappear over the horizon into the white ice fields of the Hielo Sur.  Hiking down from the pass, you have the glacier always in front of you, and if anything it just seems to get bigger the closer you get to it.  The steep hike down was painful on the knees, but pleasing to the eye, and a breathtaking way to cross over to the other side.

View looking back from the pass.

Whoohoo! Yup, that´s pretty much how I felt.

(side story – you may notice that I am wearing my glasses, and I NEVER wear my glasses unless I have to.  Well, there is a bit of a saga regarding my eyes this trip… first of all, I forgot my sunglasses which I didn´t think would be a problem at first until we had the most brilliant sunshine as our constant companion.  Brushing that aside, I opened my pack the first evening to find that my contact lens solution had exploded all over the inside of my pack, dampening everything inside.  Luckily I could dry everything out in the sun, but that also meant no contacts for me for the duration of my trip.  Bummer.  And then, I was setting up my tent at Refugio Dickson, and the right side of my glasses randomly fell off!  What?!  Luckily (again), Adam had super glue and I was able to glue the piece back on, but I ended up doing it a bit crookedly so they were a little loose and kept slipping down my nose throughout the trip.  A bit of a nuisance, but at least I could see!)

Stay tuned for part two of the Torres del Paine adventure!


El Calafate and Perito Moreno

Venturing South from El Chalten I landed in El Calafate, the gateway to the famous glacier, Perito Moreno.  Stretching 30 km (19 miles) long, 5 km (3 miles) wide, and 60 meters (197 or 20 stories tall), this giant ice creature is one of two glaciers in Patagonia that is not receding.  It travels down a valley to end at beautiful teal lake and the edge of a steep peninsula which is filled with catwalks making this glacier prime to visit as you can get up close and personal with its steep walls.

Still traveling with my English and Australian friends, we discovered that it costed half the price for us to rent a car to see the glacier than it was for all of us to take the bus for the day.  Excited about having the freedom and flexibility of our own vehicle, we decided to rent the car for 24 hours, allowing us to camp in the park near the glacier after the day of sight-seeing.  For those of you who have traveled for a long time in buses, you know that the ability to have your own vehicle  to go and please where you want is a luxury.  We rolled down the windows, blasted the most random Argentinian radio station, and headed out to the glacier.

The glacier was impressive, but the greatest part about it was the location due to it´s accessibility.  Because of the strategic location of the peninsula, you could get really close to the walls, and have a front-row seat to the panorama and performance of the glacier.  We ended up spending the hours drinking wine, eating cheese, and watching the walls, waiting for the next larger-than-house sized iceberg to crack and break off into the lake sending out huge waves.  The glacier creaked, cracked, and popped all day long, reminding you that it was still expanding and moving.


Just so you get a feel for how HUGE this thing is, see that little spot about halfway up on the right hand side?  That is a big, double-decker, couple hundred people plus person ferry checking out the walls.  Pretty cool, huh?

Group shot.

I think this one is my favorite.

Finally, after hours, we left the park to find our campground.  The drive was on a dirt road through the classic wide-open range of the Patagonia steppes.   The ground was filled with hues of green, red, and brown, and with the occasion small pool to provide a habitat, we saw flamingos, and large birds of prey flying around.  We ended up stopping at a random estancia restaurant along the way for a quick cerveza and a chance to enjoy the sunset.  While we were there, a 2 week old lamb stumbled into the building, and the owners laughed as we oohed and ahhed at how cute it was.  So, she let us hold and feed the lamb which was more like holding the bottle carefully as it slurped and sucked the milk getting only about half of it in his mouth.  He finished so quickly that I thought it would all come right back up.  Instead, he settled down and took a few naps as we passed him around the circle.

Carla feeding the lamb

We camped by a beautiful and peaceful lake before heading back to El Calafate the next day.  There, we said goodbye to our friends from England who were heading up to Buenos Aires, while the Australians and myself took a day to hang out in the town, visit a reserva nearby filled with flamingos, and get things ready to cross the border the next day into Chile.

Now, we are in Puerto Natales, Chile, the gateway town to Torres del Paine.  We are leaving tomorrow on a potentially 10 day trek around the Torres Massif with a few side-trips included.  It should be pretty incredible, but I am a little nervous to lug around that much food!  Wish me luck!

El Chalten – Monte Fitz Roy

I stepped off the bus at 1:00am in El Chalten with a welcoming gift of winds so strong that they stopped me mid-stride.  Welcome to Southern Patagonia, where the weather is just as extreme as the scenery. The first night was the true tent test, and at times I woke up ready for my poles and canvas to come crashing down on me, or be whisked away like a kite with me in it.  But, the next morning, my tent was still sturdy and standing, unlike some of the other tent casualties around.

I ended up running into a couple from Australia and a couple from England that I had met in Bariloche and we banded together for a five-day trek through the Monte Fitz Roy area, the picturesque mountain dominating the skyline.  We had a window of good weather pretty much right when we got here (which was awesome because some people had been waiting for over a week), so after a day to get supplies we headed out into the backcountry.

Day one was to Campamento De Agostini.  Sitting right next to a glacier-fed lake tucked back into a granite and glacier filled bowl, it´s the prime spot to view the classic spire, Cerro Torre.  However, clouds were hugging the ridge line the entire time we were there, so we didn´t get to see it, but never-the-less, the surroundings were stunning.  We got up for sunrise and walked the moraine ridge line, trying to not be blown off by the wind, and saw the clouds and granite walls turn bright pink, and new icebergs floating in the water.  One thing is for sure, when you can barely hold up your camera for a photo because it keeps getting pulled away, you definitely feel an awe for the power of this invisible force.

But enough about the wind. It ended up dying off later that day, and we headed out to our next camping spot, Campamento Poincenot, located at the foot of Monte Fitz Roy.  When we arrived, it was stormy and cold.  You could sometimes glimpse the mountain walls through the clouds but that was pretty much it.  So we hunkered down, prepared to wait it out a few days if necessary to get our glimpse of the fabled peak.  But we didn´t have to wait long.  At about 6:30 the clouds cleared revealing our first true glimpse of Monte Fitz Roy.  The winds were whisking the clouds upward and away from the mountain giving it the appearance that it was smoking.  Incredible!  Nervous that it would cloud over again and we would miss our chance to see the peak from the classic Laguna de los Tres at the foot of the mountain, we decided to head up the hour hike that evening.  For all of you rational hikers who would acknowledge that 6:30 seems a little late to be setting off for a hike within daylight hours, remind yourself that it doesn´t get dark around here until about 11:00 at night so we had plenty of daylight.  So, we headed off and caught sunset behind the peak with clear skies and the view pretty much to ourselves.

Part of the group. We were stoked to be there.

The laguna is a beautiful little, green lake at the foot of a glacier that leads up to the mountain, and is one of the famous shots of the mountain.  But the hike is classically done as a sunrise hike when the light from the dawn turns the granite walls a bright red.  I didn´t want to miss out, so I set my alarm for 4:30 and me and my friend from Australia got up and reached the top a bit before dawn and got to see the most spectacular show around.  In a brilliant moment the tip of the mountain turns a fiery pink, and then slowly creeps down the face until it is all lit up, but just as quickly, the color changes and it gone into a golden morning glow.  The red show lasts only about 10 minutes before it merges into the morning light.  It was one of those magical moments when everything stands still and you know that you will remember it for the rest of your life.  We took a ton of pictures before heading back down to join the rest of the group.

The first light.

Notice the color difference in just a minute or two!

Later that day we bouldered hopped up a creek bed to the beautiful Laguna Sucia, another lake nestled back in a deep bowl below a hanging glacier and Fitz Roy.

Getting there.

Pretty sweet.

The next day we hiked to a refugio with a lunch stop at yet another hanging glacier that sends avalanches of ice and snow down into the iceberg filled laguna every hour or so.  It seems that there is another glacier around every corner down here.  The refugio was nestled back in a nice valley below snow capped peaks and a beautiful river… a peaceful end to the trip before our long hike out the next day.

We have spent the past few days relaxing in town and waiting to see if another window will open to do some day hikes.  But, the weather turned and we have been cozying up in our tents or a coffee shop in the town.  Today, we are all traveling together to our next stop, Perito Moreno!  I will be sad to leave El Chalten as there is so much to do around here and I am standing in some of the most stunning scenery in the world, but time is becoming short as I only have 4 weeks left before I am back in the States.  It is hard to believe!

Photos from the Carretera Austral Numero Dos

Here are some pictures from my drive from Cochrane to Chile Chico (see the previous post):

Driving from Cochrane to Chile Chico

Small town along the way.

Along Lago General Carrera

Traffic Jam

Lago Verde, along the way.

I wish these pictures did more justice!  But I hope you get a taste of the beauty. Enjoy.

Carretera Austral – Numero Dos

I spent a few uneventful rest days in Coyhaique (except for losing my tent poles and recruiting some construction worker friends to help me chase down the bus – don´t worry, I got them back) before continuing on with my Southward journey.

After talking with the information office I discovered that the bus I wanted to take to the border from another town further South only left Tuesdays and Sundays. That day being Sunday, I decided I didn´t want to spend an entire week more on that side of the border and so I jettisoned down to Cochrane, the town where the bus was leaving from, a little bummed about skipping a few spots I wanted to check out along the way. The drive was beautiful, though. It was a cloudy day so the peaks were partly covered, but we were still able to glimpse parts of their epicness, while being completely stunned by the teal rivers, steep hills, and jade lakes. Upon arriving, I found out that the bus leaves Thursdays and Sundays, giving me three days to spare in the small town of Cochrane. Fortunately, the Reserva Nacional Tamango was within walking distance of the town and so I headed up there to camp. Reserva Nacional Tamango is one of the projects started by Conservacion Patagonia, an organization started by Doug and Kris Tompkins that focuses on purchasing large amounts of land in Patagonia, and then transforming them into parks of reserves to be permanently protected. I had been hearing quite a bit about this organization for the past year, so it was awesome to get to see one of their projects. The next day, I went on a nice hike along the river when I met two guys from Santiago and one from the States who is currently living in Santiago. We chatted for a minute, and it turned out that the guy from the States was heading over to the town that I wanted to go to and offered me a ride. So, I hung out with the three that night, and the next morning, we set off for Chile Chico, the border town.

It was perfect conditions for a long drive. Sunny with a brilliant blue sky contrasted with scattered white clouds which were tossed about by a changing wind. With clear skies I was able to see all the peaks in their glory that I had missed on the way down, and with the advantage of being in a personal car versus a cramped bus, we were able to see so much more through the windows and have the freedom to wander and stop at our leisure.
And so, we took out time driving one of the most beautiful roads I have even been on.

The Southern part of the Carretera Austral is a lot drier, leaving the land less jungle like and more open to the long gaze. The lakes and rivers are not as much like moving water and more like liquid color. Each one seemed to be a different vibrancy of electric teal, aquamarine, or jade. Match that with rising mountains that ranged from forested hills to red rock cliffs, and above that dramatic snow-capped peaks with a fresh layer of snow all framed by a brilliant blue sky. The road to Chile Chico follows the shore of Lago General Carrera, the second largest lake in South America. The route drops, twists, turns, dips, and flattens out with the curvature of the terrain, making the drive almost as breathtaking as the scenery. It was incredible. There were many a moments when we would round a corner just to be stunned by what we saw. My camera was out the entire time trying to do justice by taking pictures through a dusty window.

We came to the small but fiercely windy town of Chile Chico, had a pleasant evening, and then I crossed the border into Argentina. Now I am heading to El Chalten to see one of my dream mountains, Monte Fitz Roy!

Again, no photos for the moment due to slow internet connections, but hopefully I will post some soon!

The Carretera Austral – Numero Uno

In 1976, Augusto Pinoche, the controversial ex-dictator of Chile, began to build a road from Puerto Monte to the southern areas of rural Patagonia.   This road would thereby link the greater Chilean community to the small communities that run along this impressive range which had previously only been accessible by boat or through their influential neighbor, Argentina.  A mainly unpaved road, it winds through some of the heart of the Chilean Andes, around national parks, by countless fjords, and through small and slow-paced villages.  Upon hearing of its breathtaking natural beauty, and the opportunity to see a different side of Chile other than the typical, crowded, and upscale tourist destinations, I crossed over from Argentina to explore this quiet land.

And it has not let down. 

I crossed over from Argentina through Futaleufu, home to a beautiful teal river and some of the best rafting in the world.  It reminded me a lot of some of the small mountain towns back in the states, with a laid back atmosphere and not much to do in town, but surrounded by beautiful mountains and much to do out-of-town.  I stayed for a day and went on a nice hike to Piedra de los Alguilas, a rock outcropping with an extensive view of the valley, rivers, and snow-capped mountains.

View from Piedra de los Alguilas

The next morning, I caught an early bus from the Futaleufu to a small town on the Carretera Austral to begin the journey South.  I got to the town around 8 in the morning only to find out that the next bus South did not leave until 1 or 1:30 in the afternoon.  The bus had dropped us off in front of a little hospedaje and restaurant (really it was no more than a home that had converted its living room into a dining area and had the back room for rent).  I ended up spending the morning inside having coffee and eating homemade rolls and chatting the time away with a man from Coyhaique (a town on the Carretera Austral further South) who was also waiting for the bus (side note, it was all in Spanish! yay!).  The lace-curtained, mis-matched plates living room was heated by a cozy fire keeping out the dreary cold from the rain outside.  It felt like a dream that morning.  So idealic. 

The bus came and on we rode South.  Always South.  The drive alone did not disappoint as it passed countless waterfalls, emerald lakes, stormy fjords, and steep mountains robed in clouds.  This area is a temperate rainforest getting anywhere from 4-6 meters of rain (about 13-19 feet!) every year depending on how far North you are, so the forest is more of a thick mess of green. 

I stopped that night in a small port town called Puyuhuapi.  It was settled by Germans in the early 1900s, who came to explore the new land. Today, it is a small town known for its nearby thermal spas and being a launch pad to the nearby Parque Nacional Queulat, home of a beautiful hanging glacier.  But more on that in a minute.  I met a really nice couple from Ireland who were traveling in the same direction, so we joined forces and found a camping area, which again was nothing more than the backyard of this awesome family living in town.  The family cleared out their fishing shed for us to put up one of our tents inside so we could be nice and dry, and shared their bathroom, stove heated living room, and T.V. with us.  The next morning we woke up early to head to the National Park.  It was rainy (surprise), but we managed to get a little respite to head up to a viewpoint to catch a glimpse of the awesome glacier.  And awesome it was.  Perched on the edge of this ridge between two mountain peaks, it sits on a cliff face so the water running from the glacier created two huge waterfalls falling down the side into a teal green lake below.  It was stunning.  I guess this glacier is receding so quickly that in another 20-30 years they are expecting it to be gone.  I feel lucky to have seen it.  We spent the rest of the day relaxing, exploring the jungle-like forest, and playing scrabble at the campground. 

The town of Puyuhuapi

Cooking in our “camp” (the wood shed).

Crossing a sweet bridge over a raging river on the way to the lookout.

The lookout.

Pretty sweet.

Giant leaves! I thought these were pretty cool, and pretty much everywhere down here.

Yesterday we took another early bus to Coyhaique, the biggest town in this part of the country.  The drive again was spectacular, and I was almost sad when it ended.  I have decided that I really enjoy bus rides because it gives room for your eyes to wander on usually inspiring surroundings and your mind to drift to dreams, ideas, and reminiscing. The town should be a good spot to get some supplies, do some research and dry out for a bit before heading onto the next phase.

Pictures from El Bolson and Parque Nacional Los Alerces

As promised, photos from El Bolson and Parque Nacional Los Alerces (see previous post):

Rio Azul from Jethro´s property

Jethro´s home-made generator

One of Jethro´s cabins.

Parque Nacional Los Alerces – View point from the first day of the Lago Krugger trek.

Cerro Torrecillas is in the background with an awesome glacier.

It was a beautiful few days, that´s for sure!