Friday, October 28, 2011

Sweet home Chicago

Home now.

Sitting at home in my  - about to be moved out of - half empty apartment is a lot less fun than sitting in a mountain hut drinking average wine and playing cards with friends from around the world.  But all adventures must end eventually.  Soon enough I'm sure I'll be well into the plans of the next one.  I can't wait!

If anyone out there has been reading this regularly, I plan to get more pictures and descriptions of this trip posted soon. Monday maybe?  Thanks for reading!


Wednesday, October 26, 2011


No Complaints here, life is pretty good.

Rio Sunset at Arpoador Point

Punta Arenas and the Penguins

Descriptions and a little more writing to come... during the 10hr layover in Sao Paulo Tomorrow!

Fun restaurant in Punta Arenas

Some of my favorite little creatures

Careful who you kiss

Saturday, October 22, 2011

the "W circut"

Torres del Paine - The “W Circuit.”
Today, Tuesday October 18th, we set out for three and a half days in Torres del Paine National Park to complete a popular trek known as “The W-Circuit.”   
Our first view of the towers
We started the day in Puerto Natales, so we had to take a bus ride of a few hours to get to the park entrance.  The scenery along the roads on the way there was unbelievable. It was hard to believe we about to put ourselves of the middle of all the beauty to set out on foot and see what we were capable of. 

To get to the starting point of our trek we had to cross over a few interesting bridges.  By interesting I mean the kind where passengers have to get of the vehicle for it cross safely!

We started the first day’s hike from the parking lot of a fairly fancy hotel - you can stay there for $400 USD a night if you really want to. The trail was 9km in and 9km out, but when the day was over I think we had hiked about 21km in total, because we started about 1km short of the start and finished about 2km further on than where we’d begun. 
By 10am we were headed out on out first section of the “W.”  We were on our way to see The Towers, along the east leg of the “W.” The weather was beautiful at the start. I think I was down to my very last layer within about 30mins of beginning the hike.  About two hours in and little bit of down-hill hiking later we stopped at a campsite called “Chileno.”  We had lunch at the picnic tables outside the refugio (shelter) there.  While we were eating the wind picked up, and it started to look like rain, so I changed out my hiking pants for my rain pants - it turned out to be a wise move.

Onward we went.  The terrain went from the dirt and rocks on exposed land to stones and logs thorough forest.  It was beautiful.  There was a lot of up and down through the forest, but mostly a gradual uphill.  One of the coolest things about this park was that if you needed a refill on water you could get it from the always nearby waterfalls, and it was clean!  


The hardest part of today’s hike was the final kilometer.  It was only 1km on the map, but the elevation change was about 400meters up!  It was tough, and the whole time I was going up, I was getting a little nervous about going down.  The longer we hiked, the stronger the wind became.  A few times I had to stop and ground myself as to not get blown off the mountain.  We had come for adventure, and we getting an adventure alright!

Working our way to the top

It's just a few minutes past that giant rock, Reb!
Giant rock, achieved!!!

The view at the top was unbelievable.  Just like in the pictures, but even more magnificent and more unbelievable!  It was mighty cold up there, too.  We took a few pictures a tooled around a little. I wanted to get up close to the glacial lake, as did Mark.  Brandon and Rick were already a few steps ahead of us.  On the way down we saw a load of rocks falling off the mountain and into the lake.  Rick and Brandon were on some of the rocks near the water.  Midway through the rock fall, they realized the water was rising and their feet were nearly covered by water.  A few pictures later the weather showed no sign it was going improve. Clearly, it was time to head back.  We still had a good three hours of hiking ahead of us. 
Group shot at the towers

Going down the steep rocks in the wind was just as tricky as I anticipated it would be. It didn’t take too long, before we were all at the bottom of the steep section safely.  Then it was back though the forest, up and down the rocks, over some bridges.  Every time you stopped to look around your breath was taken away by the beauty of the environment.  It was wonderful.  Rick and Mark took their long longs and found their way ahead of us girls.  But Brandon hung back with us.  Every couple hundred meters he would stop and turned around to wait for the “Yankee girls” to catch up.  

When we realized we were getting close to the refugio where we had stopped for lunch, we decided we wanted to stop there again for a short leg rest.  Not only had we been hiking for 6 or 7 hours, but it had been the first activity our bodies have seen after 4 days on the Navimag!  We were getting tired.

After affixing back at “Chileno,”  we had a beer, and some snacks and about 20minutes later we all set out for last stretch of hiking for the day.   The only hic-up now was that it was pouring down rain!. It was wet and muddy trek back.  I managed to only fall once in the downhill mud hike, but it was raining hard enough and from all directions, that most of the mud was washed off by the time we were finished.

21km later, we had finished our day, we were soaked, and we were hungry.  Jay and Jem pointed out which tents belonged to whom, and handed out duffel bags and sleeping bags. We all headed for the refugio where there was a hot dinner waiting for us, and place to change our clothes and place to hang out our soaking wet stuff.

Clothes hanging out to dry

Dinner was nice - chicken and mashed potatoes.  Afterwards we all went back to the room with our wet clothes and gathered near  the warm fire. We plugged in the ipod speaker and shared some wine for a little entertainment, while reliving our day and watching our clothes dry. One by one people made their way back to camp site.  

When we got to our tent, Michelle and I discovered it was much smaller then what we had while hiking the Lares trail, but we made due with what we had, laughed at ourselves some, and made our way into our sleeping bags.  And then we realized we were stretched out on a slight hill.  Haha,  Ahhh… isn’t camping fun!

Day 2 on the "W"

Today is a “short” day, not nearly as difficult as yesterday.  The trail on the map is 11km.  By 10am we on our way.  I looked at Mark and said, “So today is our short day…”  He smiled and said, “Yep, I’ll bet you we’re there by 3oclock.”

At the start of day 2

The trail was east to west on the SE bottom “U” of the “W.”  The trail was relatively flat.  A few steep elevation changes here and there but for the most part it was a pretty steady up and down.  I think the elevation change at the end of the day was up about 250meters or so, not too bad. 

The trail actually started out with a rather steep 3 or 4 min uphill stint, but at the top of the first but was a nice look at “Lago Nordenskjold”  A magnificent glacial lake.  We took a few pictures and continued on along the lake.  The whole day, for the most part, was  spent walking the trail along the lake.

A couple hours in, a guy hiking VERY FAST passed us on the trail.  The crazy part about how fast he was hiking was the amount of stuff he was carrying.  It looked as though he were wearing at least a 100L bag packed to the max.  Shortly after he passed us we came upon the others of our group settling in under a giant tree near a water fall.  It was so picturesque, right out of a movie, I would have to say.  However,  it was all real, and it was our friends.  It was lunch time. Shortly after I sat down, another guy with a giant pack came running past.  He stopped briefly to say hi to Jay and Jem.  That was when we figured out that these crazy-strong guys were our porters!  Wow, those guys are unbelievable!

Our lunch spot was also a good photo-op spot.  Rick got out his tripod to try to get some waterfall shots.  Padrick bent over backswards, literally, to get the perfect shot of the waterfall with lake in the background. I just messed around with the manual setting on my camera to try and get something with waterfall and mountain in the background.  Waterfall pics are tricky when it’s really bright outside.  

Shortly after lunch we came to the steepest, longest climb of the day.  I don’t know what the elevation change was, but it was only about ten minutes to get from the bottom of it to the top.  At the top we were well rewarded with a magnificent view of the lake with mountains and more lakes that seemed to go on forever beyond the Lago Nordenskjold .  Rebecca,  Michelle, Brandon and I decided to take a few cheesey pictures up here.  You know, the kind with our backs to the camera and then turning around to look at the camera, as though we were taking our senior pictures again.  The really cool thing about this photo stop was when we were all sitting there looking at the lake and all of a sudden about five condors flew up from the lake below right in front of us and over is.  It was REALLY cool. 


At about 245PM Jay gathered the group to explain that we were getting close to the refugio  - our destination for the day.  He said we wanted to get there quickly before the wind picked up so we could watch as it got stronger and stronger over the lake.  He said when the winds reach over 100km/hr (about 60mi/hr) it pushed the water on the lake sideways.  He pointed to spot on the lake where it was already happening and said “let’s go…”  I asked him how close we were to the refugio and he said, “about 15 minutes.”  I looked to Mark, and said, “nice estimate on the hike time, we’re going to get there right at 3:00!”  15 minutes later we arrived at “Refugio los Cuernos.” Well done, team!  

Los Cuernos

In the refugio we had bunk beds that stacked three beds high, and we had a chance at some hot showers too.  We were Becky-camping now!  (luxury camping, that is.)

It was still early in the afternoon, and dinner was not until 7:30pm, so being a large group - 13 - we quickly clamed an empty table, pulled out the snacks and cards and got comfortable.  The beer was $5 a can so Michelle and I quickly decided to opt for a bottle of wine.  We can share this with everyone, and it will last much longer.  Mark opened the Pisco, Sam still had the whisky from Felicity’s BINGO win, and Padrick discovered a rather affordable box of white wine for the table. Rebecca discovered they had hot chocolate.  Everyone was quite happy with the beverage situation.  Let us not forget we still have two days of hiking ahead of us!

Michelle, Rebecca and I dove right into the card games.  Brandon started a movie on his ipod, Felicity settled in to her book, Sam, Mark, Jay, Jem and Rick got in to some good conversation at the other end of the table.  Rob and Padrick came in and out of the card games.  Dinner was the same as the night before, but a little different.  It was chicken and mashed potatoes again, but it was prepared completely differently and VERY good.  

After dinner, people began to go to bed one by one again, similar to the night before.  Several of us stayed up and played some more cards and had more good conversations about nothing in particular.  I was playing with my camera and got a few cool shots in low light.  My favorite one is of Sam, it’s catches him wearing an interesting facial expression, but I like it especially because, out the window behind him, you can perfectly see Los Cuernos perfectly, even though it’s in the dark.

We played a few rounds of jenga and had some pisco sour and by about 10pm 

The Navimag

We knew it was not going to be luxury.  If anything it was going to be an adventure….

The Navimag is ferry boat that carries cargo between Puerto Natales and Puerto Montt in (Chile) Patagonia.  Several years back they discovered they could put passengers on the boat who were looking for an affordable way to travel between the two cities.  They have A, B, and C cabin classes.  We were in C-class.  In C-class you have 42 open bunks and shared bathrooms.  Yep, this thing is an adventure!
Navimag cargo
The good news was that we traveling at the very beginning of the season and there not many people on the boat.  In the peak season the thing carries over 300 passengers.  We were among only 72, so it was actually quite comfortable.  

It didn’t take too long to find our way around the Navimag.  There were three decks for passengers.  We were at the bottom - in what I, and others, like to call steerage!  One deck above us was the cafeteria level, and it was about as cafeteria looking as it can get.  There was white walls, white floors, white tables, blue kitchen chairs.  And a high school style cafeteria line for feeding times.  Above the cafeteria was the “Pub Deck.” It’s nice on the pub deck, many leather lounge chairs, 6 tables - the kind that are good for playing cards, and a nice looking bar.  You can walk around outside on the Pub Deck too.  The stern end has some benches and the bow end just has a nice view.  

It didn’t take long to settle down on Pub-deck.  With cold and cloudy weather outside, it didn’t long before we were playing Uno, 500, P’s&A’s, last man standing, casino and Euker.

Day two on the Navimag I tried to get up early for sunrise, but it was cloudy and rainy so I went back for bed until breakfast.  I think the best part of the day was when a few of us found our way to the bridge and the captain let us in.  We are on one VERY OLD boat.  The navigation instruments are very old fashioned.  And they actually us the map to track out where they are and where they want to go. There’s no obvious use of any sort of GPS system at all. It was very cool to be able to wander around in there.

Today was the day we were supposed to sail in to the open ocean and things were going to get rough. Not long after lunch it was suggested that people take their “sea-sickness tablets” as we were to be headed into the open ocean around 6 and 9-12ft waves were expected.  Everyone started taking Dramamine.  Felcity  and Sam took ginger. And I decided to take nothing.  I’ve been sea sick once in my life, and it was a time on rover in 15-foot swells.  Besides, I have no idea what Dramamine would do to me.

We sailed in to the open water right around the time they predicted, somewhere between 5 and 6pm.  The ride did begin to get noticeably more rocky, but I kind of liked it.  It was vary relaxing.  I was on the computer, Michelle and Brandon and Rick and Rob all fell asleep in chairs and Mark, Felicity, Sam and Rebecca all played some more cards.  

Occasionally we would all wander outside finding it to be SUPER windy at the bow. It was pretty cool.  By standing over the bride long enough you could watch the bow fall onto giant waves and make huge wave splashes.  It was pretty fun, but it was pretty cold, too

When we got in the dining room the movement of the boat was way more dramatic.  Standing in line and attempting to get your dinner back to the table without falling was a great challenge.  Then while sitting at dinner people began to question their ability to keep their meals down for the entire night. I felt great, and the spaghetti was good, so I ate it.  Some of  the others, on the other hand… not so much.  Reb ate bread with her eyes closed,  I don’t think Rick ate anything, Padrick was looking questionable and Brandon wasn’t feeling the greatest.  At dinner everyone started taking round two of the Dramamine.  I was still trying to stand my ground.

After dinner and an attempt at some whale watching, many went to bed. Rebecca took a nap in a chair - then perked up about 15 minutes later. I took one of Felicity’s ginger pills because I was questioning my stomach, slightly.  Michelle, Felicity, Sam, Mark, Rob and myself continued to play cards.  Then, pretty much out of nowhere, I got sick, very sick.  Put my cards down and darted for the bathroom, arriving there just in time to empty the contents of my stomach - my entire dinner.  Gross!  I win! Goodnight!

By day three on the nNvimag we were pretty much in a routine now.  Breakfast at 8, lunch at 12, yada, yada, yada.  This morning the scenery began to get better however, and we went past a shipwreck, , Cotopaxi.  Ironically, it was a year ago today Michelle and I climbed Cotopaxi, I think. So that was cool.

The catch today was that we got to get off the boat at a town called Puerto Eden.  There are no roads here, it’s accessed only by boat. The catch was the lovely orange lifejackets we had to wear all around town because we had to take little boats to actually get to land.  

Cotopaxi  shipwreck

Navimag emergency disembark

Not too much to say about the afternoon, really.  Just cards, wine, beer, dinner, and then more cards, wine and beer.  Later in the evening  they put on a few games of BINGO.  Rebecca won the first round, then through out the course of the game I won a round and Felicity won a round.  I determined that we were the group that was likely really annoying to everyone else on the boat.
Happy group of card playing friends

Day four I tried one more tome to see if there was a sunrise to see this morning.  Once again, no luck… just a lot of clouds.  Standard breakfast. Eggs, yogurt and cereal, ham and cheese, bread. 

 After breakfast we went outside for some pretty incredible scenery.  Snowcap mountains in every direction.  At one point we sailed through a channel described as requiring 80 maneuvers to get transit! 

As we approached Puerto Natales, the wind picked up out of nowhere. Jay said that sometimes when there is a lot of wind it makes it very difficult to dock.  About tem minutes later they announced that we were going to have to stay anchored until the wind calmed down so they could dock safely.  A few card games and seven hours later they finally docked the Navimag!

It was quite the experience. I’d do it again, but not with 300 passengers to share the space with, and probably not anytime soon.  

Thursday, October 13, 2011


I visited South America for the first time in Jan 2009.  I was a cruise.  Cruising is great because it allows you to see a lot of things in short amount of time.  Unfortunately on a cruse you can never the full experience of a place. Puerto Montt was the first stop on that cruise.  Osorno was the first "taste" of South America.  I knew I had to go back someday.  So today I did just that

Okay, time to go board a container ship for a four day journey to the South of Patagonia...

Hopefully by the time we get back to a place where there are roads and phone lines I will have done some more writing and will have a little more to post.

Puerto Varas

I must keep my days in order...  hoping to write the entries while on the boat the next few days.

Stay tuned...

a day in Santiago

Okay, so we didn't actually spend the entire day in Santiago.  After sleeping in until 9am we decided we were going to try and tackle the public transit and go out to vino Concha y Toro in Pirque.  And it actually worked out very well.  

We found another member of our GAP group at breakfast, Rick.  He decided to join us on our Journey.  I'm going to lie.... It was nice to have a guy around while wondering the streets of city where I am very bad at communicating!

The Transit station was just down the street from our hotsel.  It took us about 30-40 minutes by train to get to Pirque.  Then we walked about 2miles to the winery.  We arrived at 12:55. I remember because the tasting tour  was to start at 1pm.

The first time I ever has "Casillero del Diablo" wine was last year while visiting the Galapagos Islands.  Every since that trip, it has been among one of my favorites.  I'm embarrassed to admit, I did not the the wind was made at Concha y Toro until the day before.  So I was rather excited when we got there!

Carmenere!  One of mu favorites. Produced only in Chile

                                                The grapes are not quite ready yet...

In the wine cellar was a good place to try and lean how to take decent pictures in very low light!
They don't call it Casillero del Diablo for nothing...

This days description is not over, I more to say, but not enough time at the moment. 
Stay tuned...

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

A travel day in Buenos Aires... or maybe the twilight zone?

Today is a travel day.  We got up at 6am to organize and pack for our 8am pick up to go back into Argentina and fly to Buenos Aries where we have a 9hr layover before our 10pm flight to Santiago.

The lines to get over the border were very long.  I was quite happy to not be on a bus with 50 tourists where it would have likely been an hour wait for the guide to get all their passports checked out.  It was just the three of us in a van so crossing the border was not a long process.

Bridge over the natural border between Argentina and Brazil.  

When we arrived at the airport we had about 90mins before our flight was scheduled to depart.  There was short line at the LAN counter, but no agents, yet.  It didn’t take long for them to arrive and the line started to move along.  When we finally made it to the counter we discovered they were having a computer problems and all the boarding passes and bag tags were being hand written.  And because of the broken computer system they could not check our bags through to Santiago.  Dang-it, we just lost a bunch of time in Buenos Aiies!
Hand written boarding pass.

The flight turned out to be delayed again, though not by too long.  So we chose to sit down instead of stand in another line, my swollen feet can not hand handle it any more.  

We landed a little late and waited a little while for our bags.  Then we headed for another line to try and check our bags.  No luck, you can’t check your bags until three hours before your flight. And there are no lockers. We tried the ticket counter to try and find an earlier flight.  The guy was rude and did not seem to have time for us, he did not even attempt to help us out.  

Now what??  Tourism desk, no luck, just info.  So Michelle had the idea to bring our stuff to a hostel in the city and see if we could store our stuff there for the day.  Worth a try, right?

The guy at the counter where we got a car sent us to a hostel called Millhouse.  Score! They let us store our stuff in their locker room for the day, for free!  There are still good people in this world!  After the hostel, the driver who left my stuff in the street took us to plaza mayo.  This was definitely worth the “expensive” ride into the city

Working hard for tips...

We got a taxi to the colorful neighborhood near La Boca stadium where all the tango dancers are dancing and posing for pictures with tourists.  We sat down at an empty table to get a late lunch.  We got some local beer and local dishes and watches some locals people dance the tango. It was a rather entertaining afternoon.  

After La Boca we went to get out bags from Millhouse.  Somehow the taxi meter cost double on the way back, and the taxi driver was happy to receive a large bill and have to produce change.  He kept s a nice tip for himself, jerk! (A few hours later we learned that he gave us fake money I change, super jerk!)

Before going back to the airport we tried to go see the cemetery where Eva Paron (don’t cry for me Argentina) is buried. Unfortunately it was closed.  And unfortunately this was where we discovered we got ripped off by the nasty taxi driver earlier in the day.  Normally I would have been mad and but not really cared too much.  Except for that face that we had no more Argentina money and we were short the exact amount we had been ripped off by to get back to the airport.  Thankfully there was an English speaking couple who was able to help us out with the taxi driver and we paid half in Argentina money half in USD money.

The airport was uneventful.  We got there two hours early.  No line to check a bag, no line to ‘exit’ the country.  Just lots of people waiting around at the international gate area.  Reb and Michelle and  played some more cards.  It was not long before we discovered that our fight was delayed, again.  But despite our flight being delayed, we somehow managed to miss the part where they called for the boarding of our flight… we were just minding our own business, playing cards, and out of nowhere (and I’m not sure how) we realized there calling the ‘last call’ for our flight to Santiago. RUN! 

We made it, but I’m not exactly sure when the other 180 people on our flight got on the plane… because I swear, they never boarded. They (LAN) borded a Sao Paulo flight and then all of a sudden, it was Reb and Michelle and me left to board our Santiago flight. Yikes!!! But, we made it. All is well.  And by 1am we were in Santiago.  

More to come soon... Computer battery about to die and it takes years to up-load photos right now.  let me know if you find any typos, so I can fix them!

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Iguassu part two

Today we visited the falls from the other side, the Brazil side.  We got to sleep in an hour later than yesterday.  This was a good thing as Michelle and I took our chances with with local drink last night, Caipirnha, last night. Unlike pisco sour, it was easy to stop after just one!  The started with a visit to Itaipu, the world's largest hydroelectric dam.  It was rather interesting. The best part, however, was the part where the bus took over the Paraguay.  Add one more country to the list please, thankyou!

After the dam we took a brief stop at the hotel to pick up Dave and Katy - our travel friends for the day, then we were off the see the falls.  The weather has not been the greatest the last couple of the days so we were happy when we saw a hint of the sun on the way there. With the weather clearing, that also meant a better chance we were going to be able to take the helicopter ride over the fall! 

After we got the entrance Dave and Katy went a different direction to rappel down the falls, and Reb and Michelle and I headed down the trail to see the panoramic view of the falls.  It was magnificent.

Here's a few shots from the walk...

The boats we took for a ride yesterday

You had to be quick to get a picture without strangers, but we managed to get a few:

The trail along the Brazil side of the falls is only about 1km long  Despite the crowds and the pushing and shoving at all the good photo-op stops we managed to really enjoy it.  It took an hour and a half to go from one end to the other.  We saw many creatures along the way…

After leaving the falls we stopped for one more fantastic view. The view from above. The weather had remained nice and the helicopters were running!  We got in the short line and waited for our turn.  Katy and Dave joined us, so there was five of us in a six passenger chopper.  Perfect, everybody gets a window seat!  

So our visit to Iguassu Falls was nothing short of successful.  We saw the falls from Argentina and Brazil,  in the rain and in the sun, from the bottom and the top, from the inside and the outside! We didn’t get to eat three meals in three countries in one day, but that’s okay, I think Katy and Dave are going to do that for us!