After two long weeks away from my computer, I’ve finally arrived back at our apartment in Buenos Aires. Still in the heat of summer, what better way to relax than with an iced coffee and a good old-fashioned blog entry.

Day 1: Our adventure begins at 3 a.m. Though our flight south isn’t until mid-afternoon, Trish and Paula make sure I have ample time to get ready for the big trip. Call it over-preparedness or call it wine-drunk-and-trying-to-get-me-to-throw-the-key-down-to-them-after-a-night-of-argentine-wine-and-men, half-asleep me found it very helpful! We fly from BsAs to El Calafate, in Southern Argentina in the Patagonia area (attn: it’s not just an outdoor adventure clothing and accessories brand! Who would have thought!). While T & P slept, I appreciated what non-American airlines have to offer; each seat comes with free Alfajor (Argentine’s favorite cookie/chocolate/caramel slice of heaven), free booze, and enough episodes of Latin-American Candid Camera to keep you laughing till landing.

El Calafate is set on the beautiful Lago Argentino, and reminded me of the quaint outdoorsy towns of Montana. After a mouthwatering dinner of cute widdle Patagonian lamby-wamby (obviously I’ve given up my Birkenstocks), we ambled our way through the town- running into a music festival redolent of a Raffi concert before settling down at our hippie-run hostel, iKeuken.

Day 2: Wouldn’t you know it (Trish and Paula already knew it...), there was an enormous glacier right outside of town! We got up at the crack of dawn and headed to the colossal ice cube, the Perito Moreno Glacier. Our trip included lots of free wind and German tourists, a great way to spend the day. It was overcast and drizzly, and this far south the air is pretty chilled. After an extensive photoshoot, T and P went to recovered inside. I stayed outside to take in what might be my only experience with something so impressive (Thanks, Al Gore!). Trying to warm the crowd up in my best british accent, I shouted “Iceberg, dead ahead!” but my Titanic reference went under appreciated. To soon? Or maybe these people’s senses of humor were as frozen as their fingers. I’ll stick with the latter.

Day 3: Up before sunrise, which is EARLY, considering we are at the peak of the southern hemisphere summer and we are about 10 meters away from the south pole [I’m still trying to get a grasp on the metric system] and the days should be at their longest, we hopped a bus to Torres Del Paine national park across the border in Chile. We were guided around the perimeter of the park by 17 year old hottie, who concluded our full-day tour with a hike to the top of a small mountain. Though it was beautiful, the winds were so fierce we struggled to stay standing (at one point this violent wind knocked me straight on my butt into a thorn bush, hurrah!).

[foxes and condors and flamingos, oh my!]

As the sun went down (I can only imagine, for the cloud of grey was so thick it was hard to distinguish night and day) we took a ferry to our first campsite of what was to be our 4 day backpacking hike on a trail called the “W.” At this point, we were hopeful and enthusiastic, but cold enough to opt for a room in the refugio at the campsite, equivalent to a hostel, instead of trying to brave the windy mess outside in tent and sleeping bags. We sat by the fire and played cards, hoping that the weather was as unpredictable and fast-changing as we had heard and tomorrow would be clear, sunny, and wonderful.

This would not be the case.

Day 4: The first leg of the “W” leads to Glacier Grey, another of our world’s wonders. It’s a little of 5 miles to get there, and then 5 to return to the campsite we started from. Our plan was to stay at the Refugio another night, then trek on with our stuff to the middle part of the W, spend the night and from there do the final stretch, finishing in about 4 days- covering over 50 miles of good solid Chilean earth.

This would also not be the case.

We made it to Glacier Grey. We started early with a spring in our step- heading into one of the magnificent valleys of Torres Del Paine. There was a slight drizzle, but we had come prepared with state-of-the-art, semi waterproof gear. It was in the first mile that I realized that maybe a shitty pair of reebok running shoes was not the best hiking-footwear choice. From here on out, I would be reminded of this every step of the journey. On mile two a blister was forming on the back of my heel. Mile 3 we had to stop and ring our socks out. Mile 4 was when Paula’s camera stopped working from being waterlogged. Mile 5, where we stumbled drenched and in pain, was when we reached the Glacier. We stared at it for about 3 seconds before retreating to the small Refugio station, where we stayed for almost 2 hours attempting to dry out every article of clothing before starting our return trip.

Putting on my wet socks and shoes on our way out was like sticking my foot in a blender full of ice. Then turning it on.

By mile 7 we were listing off all the things we were excited about to keep our spirits above non-existent. We found it easier to list off all the things on us that were in pain or discomfort, which at least gave us something talk about. Mile 8 we were reconsidering the rest of our hike. Mile 9 was silence, all of us stewing in our own thoughts. Mile 10 and I was ready to take off my damn reeboks and throw them in the lake next to us barely visible by the fog. Mile 11 was a painfully long, step by limping step haul to get back to the refugio in sight. There was no question about whether we would camp or spend another night in the refugio. All the time the rain was pouring down.

Now, Trish, Paula, and I are all well seasoned travelers. We’re from Oregon. We’ve all built our own campfires and backpacked through the woods. But I’ll tell you what: we were stupid. On retrospect, I can’t believe we were planning on hiking this thing. Things that were in our packs: 1 stuffed animal, enough clothes for 2 weeks, a total of 6 books, and my favorite, 1 laptop. A laptop. We were trying to hike 50 miles with a laptop. Not to mention my shoes were about as good to be hiking in as flip flops. Not to mention I hadn’t really done any strenuous exercise since last snowboard season. Not to mention I had a total of one long sleeve shirt. Not to mention the rain wasn’t about to stop. What were we thinking?

Day 5: I wake up and my foot is throbbing. In attempts to avoid a gigantic blister, I hiked approximately 10 miles on the side of my foot. People, you should NEVER do this. You know what else you should never do? Try and hike farther. We woke early to a beautiful sunrise, shining an array of golds and oranges and purples over the mountains we couldn’t even see the day before. Ambitious and excited, we decided we’d try the next leg of the “W.” But, as we had been warned before the weather in Patagonia can change in a heartbeat, so 2 miles from camp, the clouds came in and we were once again in a swimming sea of discomfort and disenchantment. The final straw. We were on the next boat out of there. This was pretty though:

After coming to terms with the fact that we were complete idiots, we landed in Puerto Natales, which, if you’re ever in southern Chile, I suggest you visit. It was like a warm little hideaway where we could forget our past failures (however recent) and drink wine to our hearts content. We ended up at a hostel called Erratic Rock (or as I like to call it, with a wine-induced slur, “erotic rock”), which was heaven on earth. Not only was this place run by a native of EUGENE, OR, full of warmth and hammocks and real coffee and homemade carrot bread, but also THEY HAD A KITTEN. It was perfect.

Day 6: Bus to Punta Arenes, south a few hours. We’d been wearing the same clothes for 4 days and hadn’t showered in as many, and settled into our hostel, La Estancia, which had a grandma’s-house-meets-South-America feel to it. Very cozy. They even did our laundry.

My foot was still throbbing with pain, which I’ve learned is about the last thing you want to have when you’re traveling around. We rented bikes so I could stay off of it, with hopes of learning the ins and outs of this small town. We spent 10 minutes finding the bike path, the next 10 realizing you can see the whole town in 10 minutes. After returning the bikes, we played cards for about 4 hours, me being the ultimate winner (like usual). We then headed to Seno Otway, a lake outside of town that is known for it’s penguins. We got to see the little creatures as they taught their young how to swim; it was no March of the Penguins, but they were pretty darn cute anyway. Instead of Morgan Freeman narrating, we had a Chilean dude who had a handful of pre-memorized English sentences to offer us. Then, as a warming treat before our drive back, we all had a round of sweet, syrupy mango liquor. Not sure what that was about.

Day 7: Foot rest for me. Also beat everyone at cards again. We had an evening flight to Puerto Natales, landing in a hostel reminiscent of a treehouse run by a crew of sweatpants wearing Frenchmen. Trish and Paula turned in early, but because of our lethargic days in Punta Arenes, I wasn’t ready to retire. The Frenchmen adopted me after I wowed them with my favorite French catchphrase, “Tire Mon Doight” and once the hostel had calmed down took me out to their favorite P.N. local hangout El Garage.

Now, I’ve been gone for more than half a year, and in this time have been involved in conversations of languages spanning the globe. Hindi, Filipino, Fijian, Spanish, French, German, Arabic: I’ve been around it so long I sometimes forget what my own language sounds like, but going out with these guys to their local bar was the most confused I’ve ever been. Be it the drinks we kept buying or the mid-sentence changes from French to Spanish to who-know-whatelse, I finally took my leave and started blindly into the faces of my new amigos, smiling and laughing at what I thought would be appropriate times (I get better at this every day).

Day 8: I grabbed an early bus to Bariloche, and after 8 hours of the most magnificent, tree lined drive through the Patagonian Lake District, I found Sam and his gang of travelers (when we parted ways he went up to Santiago and had be exploring Northern Patagonia while we explored the rainy south with some kids from CU). Bariloche, my friends, is the most amazing and breathtaking place I’ve ever been. The exact definition of “picturesque.” It felt good being back with Sam, and he made an extra effort to help me hobble around.

Day 9: Sam and I packed a lunch and while the rest of the crew went hiking, we took it upon ourselves to bike the 25 kilometer loop charmingly called “El Circuito Chico (The Small Circuit)”. It wasn’t small. The ups and downs made our 6-hour bike tour at times daunting, but in the end paid off with the most beautiful view of the area I could have hoped for (not to mention clear blue sky, a slight and necessary wind --we were, by this time, a little overheated). We returned our bikes, wiped off our sweat, and enjoyed a cold Quilmes before heading back to the hostel, where we were sleeping soundly by 10 pm. By far the best day of the trip.

Day 10: Sweater shopping.

Day 11: 20 hour bus ride back to Buenos Aires. Empty bank account and full camera memory card.


  1. Visual + Intent said...
    Awesome trip. Thanks for sharing.
    I love the last line.
    BrendaLou said...
    Kait, sounds like you've had a wonderful time. Thanks for sharing it with us.
    Aunt Brenda
    Anonymous said...
    That was wonderful! Thank you SO much for the narrative and photos... but mostly for making your way through the adventure SAFE and HAPPY! love, Mama

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