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Torres del Pain(e)

“What are you doing??? You…can’t break the spaghetti in half. That’s criminal.”, screamed Roland in a thick Swiss German accent.

“Yeah but, dude”, I replied in a thick Californian accent, “We only have so much gas. And we can’t boil a whole pot full of water.”

And with that, I cracked the spaghetti and threw it in the pot. Roland looked disturbed. But hey, camping in the middle of the forest with one can of gas requires sacrifices, you know?

So how did I get in the middle of the forest with a can of gas, you may ask? Well, I’ll tell you – just calm down for a second and let me write.

It all started several days before (imagine a harp playing that music when people think about a story they are going to tell as they look up at the bubble over their head).

We were going to the famous Torres del Paine, which is a beautiful Chilean national park and it has a really cool circuit that you can walk with spaces provided to camp at along the way. We were so there. But, I needed hiking boots, a tent, a stove, and some pots to cook food in. And lots of food. Our plan was a four day hike. And we would be walking about seven to ten hours a day. Not too bad. So we walked around town after arriving to Puerto Natales on the Navimag boat (you may recall my post about my four day cruise through Patagonia) and rented our stuff. When we split the cost, it wasn’t too bad and before long, we were all ready to go. We bought our bus ticket and would be leaving the following morning, so we went and got our food. Lots of pasta was bought. Along with chocolate, fruit, bread, and meat (which the frozen vegetables and canned fruit we were going to freeze that night would keep cold for a few days in the backpack). I also bought a mini, magnetized chess board so Roland and I could play chess at a moment’s notice.

So we slept well that night and before we knew it, the next morning we were off to the park. After a two hour ride, we arrived and went to take a look at the first lookout point as we waited for the boat which would take us across the lake (where we would start the hike). It had some pretty incredible views and the first thing we realized was that it was going to be very windy. We took turns taking pictures of each other leaning into the wind while it supported all of our weight (it was really cool). I also noticed a slight discomfort in my boots. I didn’t realize that this discomfort was just a taste of what was to come, however…

So the boat took us across the lake. And like I said, it was very windy. At one point, the wind picked up the boat several meters and slammed it back down, and two seconds later, everyone else landed back in their seats with a thud. I think the boat had almost flipped – and yeah, the captain slowed down after that.

So we arrived to the shore, hiked to the first camp, ate some lunch and then started on a trail to see Glacier Grey, which was about two hours away. We were to go see it then turn back around, come back to the camp and continue in the other direction (the trail is kind of like a big “W”, which means you have to turn around a lot). The good news, however, was that we could leave our bags at the camp, which made things faster. We walked and walked and contemplated the beauty of the park. It really is incredible. At one point, we saw a lake nestled next to the trail which was elevated above the land around it. It looked like a swimming pool, and the wind was so strong that it created waves like the ocean – which really throws your mind for a loop because you don’t expect to see stuff like that on a lake (let alone a small one like that). It was almost like something out of the Lord of The Rings (which I saw in Cordoba) and I half expected to see some wizard standing at the front of the lake commanding it to get all wavy (I think that’s a word). Or maybe Moses from the bible standing at the shore just before he commanded the sea to part. But nope. I didn’t see either. Just wind. Did I mention that the wind was strong?

So anyways, we saw the glacier, which was cool and then headed back. My feet were really hurting at this point and I inspected the damage when we arrived back to our backpacks. Two big blisters on the back of my foot. Damn. This is going to complicate things. I put on another pair of socks and we continued on (with me kind of hobbling). Only four more days to go, mentioned Roland.

We arrived at our first camp (Italiano) and made some dinner. Spaghetti. And now we come to the noodle breaking fiasco of 2004. Yes. We must break the spaghetti. It has to fit in the pot. And we ate really well. Pasta, soup, fruit, wine and we slept well too. The tent served perfectly.

So we woke up early and headed towards Britain camp to check out the lookout point (you ascend quite a bit). And my feet really hurt bad. The blisters were really sore and they chaffed my feet despite the three pairs of socks I now had on. We stopped and examined the damage of the trail. The shoe had a really bad design and I stuffed some stuff in the heel to keep it from chaffing my foot. It helped quite a bit, but the damage was already done. I was walking very funny. But it was easy to keep my mind off it, since the park is was beautiful. Roland ended up taking me off the trail (I wasn’t paying attention) and we scaled the side of a rock in front of an angry and raging river of melting glacier water, where I almost fell in.

“Man, that’s dangerous. I don’t see how people could make it over that without at least half falling in.”

“Oh, this isn’t the trail. I thought you noticed.”

“You asshole! I almost fell in!”, I replied and punched him in the shoulder.


Damn Swiss.

We made it to the top and by then, I had twisted my knee from walking funny over the rocks. It really hurt on the way down and Roland went ahead to get the tent packed up so we could leave when I finally made it to camp. It took me a long time and when arrived, we set off. That part of the trail was supposed to take three hours and I think it took me close to four. I just kind of limped along, but the nice thing was that I was able to go very slow, not push myself and really take in all the beautiful scenery. Lots of lakes formed from melting glacier water (with that really cool wave effect from the wind), spectacular views of the snow-capped mountains, condors flying overhead, and when you got thirsty, you just stopped at a stream pouring down one of the mountains and filled up your water bottle with cool, crisp and refreshing glacier water. It was incredible.

When I limped into camp, Roland had the tent up already and we made dinner with some Swedish backpackers who were in the camp next to us. We chatted about stuff, then I took a shower. And damn it felt good. Roland played some guy chess (and lost), and then I headed to bed. I was going to have to decide in the morning if I wanted to continue the hike for another two days or just end it the next day (on account of my knee). I was hoping that it would heal in the night.

Well, it didn’t, but it wasn’t too bad so I decided I would continue. The day of hiking would include an ascent of over 1500 meters, where we would camp out at the base of the Towers (Las Torres), and continue up to watch the sunrise reflect red onto them the following morning. I went really slow and it took me a long time to make it to the camp. On the way, I met quite a few people from the boat and I got another really cool day of taking in all the beauty of the park. It took me many more hours than expected for the trail, but we still had time so we took a break and then continued on to the camp at which we would sleep for the night. That took me a long time too, and when I arrived, we made dinner and got ready for bed. We would need to wake up at 5:00AM to hike up the viewing point for the sunrise.

All I needed to do was brush my teeth. But where was all my stuff? Not in my bag. Not anywhere in the camp.

“Fuck, I left it in last camp”, I thought.

And in the bag of stuff I left was my retainer. I had a replacement made before I left the US, but it was many miles away and sending it in the mail when I am in no place for more than a few days would be nearly impossible. I would have to go back to the other camp in the morning and hope it hadn’t been thrown away. And that was a long ways away. And my knee was in really bad shape. And then I found the pain killers I had in my bag. I consulted a nurse from Germany I met on the trail. They would do the trick. Right on.

So in the morning, we watched the sunrise over the mountain and onto the towers (although it didn’t quite reach the towers completely), and then fought the wind and the rain back down to the camp. After packing up, we headed down the mountain and the painkillers really made the pain bearable. I was able to walk at a normal pace and we made it back to Camp Chileno an hour ahead of schedule. I had them call the other camp on the radio to see if anyone had found my stuff. No one had. And they burn the trash every day.

Damn. That sucks. But I have to go look anyways. It would be a very expensive loss if I lost it for good. And my teeth felt really grimy (my toothbrush was in the bag). So I headed off. I figured I could make it there in a few hours and back in time to catch the 8pm bus. Roland would carry my backpack down the mountain (because, as he reminded me many times, he has so many muscles) and he would go back to town on the 3pm bus and return the stuff we had rented. He would leave my backpack at the hostel at the base of the mountain. Right on.

I hiked and hiked and hiked and after five hours, I made it to camp. The pain killers were wearing off and my knee was hurting bad. And I was really really hungry. But before arriving to the camp, I noticed a small raft that was heading in the direction I was heading.

“Man…that would be cool if they could give me a ride back to the other camp. It would save 6 hours of hiking and my knee.”

I arrived drenched in sweat, found my stuff (It was in the trash and a girl that worked there had pulled it out), and begged the raft guy to take me back.

He looked at me sceptically as I explained my plight.

“So is there space?”

“Yeah, there is space. But what if something happens?”

“Please. I’ll will pay.”

And those where the magic words.

“We need to wait a little while for the wind to calm down. Don’t go too far.”

“HELL YEAH!”, I thought. I would get a boat trip over the lake, make it back in time for the 3pm bus with Roland and not have to kill my knee!

The next thing I knew, I was standing in front of the boat (which turned out to be a supply boat delivering food and beer to the hostel) as everyone looked at the huge waves on the lake. As we waited for an opportune moment to shove off, the captain wrapped a flimsy life vest around me and my backpack.

“Now!”, he shouted. And we all pushed the boat into the water and three of us jumped in and started paddling while the captain tried to start the motor.

“RRRRRRRRRRRR”, the motor started and we were off.

The waves were huge. The water cascaded into the boat and drenched me – I struggled to catch my breath from the shock.

Glacier water is very cold.

We dodged the waves and navigated in between them as we danced towards the middle of the lake.

The engine made a weird noise and cut out.

“What does that mean?”, I though. Me and the other guy started paddling to keep the boat straight (so we wouldn’t flip with the waves) as the captain pulled the motor onto the raft and pulled out his tools. I guess it happens a lot. And 15 minutes later, we were on our way again. It was a good thing too – my arms were getting really tired.

So we arrived to the other end of the shore, loaded up the boat in this little truck and headed off towards the camp. I wasn’t going to catch the 3pm bus – as I was a few minutes late, so I would have to wait around for five hours. When we arrived at the camp, I took out my wallet.

“How much do I owe you?”, I asked.

“How much will you pay?”, he replied.

I pulled out a 10,000 peso note and handed it over. $15 bucks. He took it quietly and put it in the ash tray. I said goodbye and we went our separate ways.

I limped around the camp looking for my bag and found it. And then I looked for food. Sandwiches cost $9 US, but I was to hungry to pass up the only opportunity for food I would have for many hours. As I was eating, I met some other travelers who were doing some overland trip they paid for over the internet. Apparently, some big truck takes 30 people all around South America for several thousands of dollars. They had to buy their own food, but the lodging was included in the cost (which entailed a tent, most nights). I think the company was making a pretty huge profit off of it, but I guess it would be good for people who thought just catching a bus from city to city and sleeping where you find space is a little too wild.

And then I took a shower. A long, hot, beautiful shower. And then I sat around for three hours. When I finally took the transport to the place that the bus picked us up, I sat around some more and drank some soda. It was really cold and windy and I was wearing some really thin rain pants since my jeans were wet from my water adventure early. It was really cold. But the bus finally arrived and I headed over to continue on to Puerto Natales.

And then I saw Nic! I met Nic on a bus in Peru two months prior and we went our separate ways in La Paz, Bolivia. He was trying to explain that he had to return a pot so he could get his drivers license back, but the problem was that the bus didn’t return to the place where he needed to do it, and he had to leave that night since he was out of money and his tent had been stolen (you got all that?). Stolen things are a rarity in this area and he had just been unlucky. He asked me for help and I explained the problem to the guys and we got a delivery of the license arranged to Puerto Natales the following morning at 6AM (We both doubted that it would show up at 6AM, but knew that it would probably show up in the next few days). So we hopped on the bus and got caught up on the past few months.

It’s really weird how that happens. How many things had to happen for us to meet back up at this place, at the same exact time. He had been trekking in the park too. It was really funny. We chatted and at the bus station split up, as we had different things to do, but we will probably run into each other again in New Zealand as we leave for there one day apart from each other (Feb 15 and 16). Roland had met several people he hadn’t seen for months on the trail and it’s really funny how it happens so often.

But anyways, Roland was standing at the bus station when I arrived and we joked around for a bit and walked to the rental place to return my boots. I was limping really bad and eventually just took them off and walked in my socks. It was much more comfortable. We turned them in (they didn’t charge me for the extra day on account of the pain the boots had brought me) and we checked our email and then headed back to the hostel to get some sleep after an exhausting day (I walked around town for several hours that night in only socks. It felt soooo good). In the morning, we would leave for El Calefate. We would have to get up early.

I slept really well that night.

Arrrrr, mateyyyyy!

Well, I just got done with a four day boat trip from Puerto Montt to Puerto Natales (quite a distance if you want to check a map). Before that, I was in Valdivia, a small town right in between Pucón and Puerto Montt. I didn’t really do much there except walk around the city and take a little 45 minute boat trip up the side of the city. I made a pasta dinner and watched the owner of the hospedaje feed her dog by hand and then woke up early in the morning to catch the boat to Puerto Montt.

I must admit though, I was a little worried. I had sent a confirmation to the boat agency to reserve a spot, but hadn’t received a confirmation. So my options were to either not do the boat trip and just go to southern Chile by bus (a 30 hour marathon ride), and either take the boat back up to Puerto Montt (which would mean I wouldn’t have much time to see southern Chile), or just fly back up to Bariloche in Argentina from the El Calafate. So I hopped on the bus just hoping against hope that I would make it on the bus down…it would make things a whole lot easier.

So when I arrived, I headed straight for the Navimag office (check out if you want to see exactly what I did) and asked if there was any space. I was cutting it close. The bus was to leave in an hour and a half.

“Yes…”, she replied – “there is space, but only in the C berths”, which are the cheapest beds since they are just a bunch of dorm beds divided by walls (no doors, but for $275 bucks, all food included, what do you expect).

“Great!”, I replied – “that´s all I can afford.”

And I was on the boat in no time, awaiting my journey to begin. I was a bit disappointed though, as I didn’t see any rich, good looking girls (I was hoping to do something like my boy Leo did in Titanic, except without me dying at the end – you know, just drawing a girl like Rose naked and then sleeping with her), so that was a bit of a let down, but what can you do, you know?

Soon I was off and everyone got acquainted. The guides explained what we would be doing and we soon had dinner. The next few days were pretty uneventful though.

I met a Swiss guy named Roland and spent the entire trip trying to beat him at chess, but to no avail. They had movies in the afternoon and evening and on the final day, we had bingo – with jackets and stuff as prizes. It was pretty fun and relaxing, with beautiful scenery and to boot, and I think it was a much better alternative to sitting in a bus for 30 hours straight and not being able to move.

So now I am in Puerto Natales and I am getting ready to leave with Roland on a three or four day hiking trip to the Chilean national park called Torres del Paine, which is supposed to be stunning. We just got done renting our equipment (tent, stove, mattresses, etc…) and are gonna go get our food right now. So yeah, mom, dad, I wont be answering my emails for another four days or so.

Anyways, time to run. Hopefully, weather permitting, I will have some pretty awesome pictures for my next post!

The volcano… it´s erupting!!

Well, after a night on the bus, I ended up in Pucón. The service on the bus was the best yet as they provided food, blankets, pillows, a movie, a bathroom, and the staff was very attentive. I arrived to Pucón relatively refreshed and took upon the task of trying to find a hospedaje (a house in which someone has a few rooms rented out. I got a taxi (and soon realized that the town was so small that I didn’t really need to) and headed to my first pick. All full. Next. Nope. Next. 24,000 pesos?! Hell no. Next.

The door was open to the lobby but no one was there. It was about 8AM and I said hello a few times, but to no avail. Finally, a lady came out, but said she didn’t know how much it would cost a night and said there would be space at 11AM (The señora was sleeping). Yeah…well, I need to know how much it will cost if I´m going to stick around and eventually stay. And with that, the “señora” came out and told me it was 4000 pesos. Fair enough. I´ll sleep on the couch until the room is ready.

I met some Israelis in the lobby (and soon realized that all 30 people staying here were Israeli and had no desire to talk to me – who isn’t Israeli) and got a feel for the place. You can take a day hike up to the top of the volcano for 60 bucks. Cool. And then my room was ready. I got all settled in, took a shower and headed out on the town to get something to eat at the supermarket. I did just that and before I knew it, I had rented a bike and was headed to the base of the volcano to get a good picture. I wasn’t going to climb it…I didn’t have time. With one day in Pucón, you aren’t left with many options – and a $7 dollar bike rental seemed like a good idea. It was only 15 kilometers there, but then I realized that it was all uphill and on a dirt road (and the cars don´t slow down for you, leaving you covered in dust). I also had these annoying beetles that would fly around my head the whole time (I guess they were attracted to my sweat). They would always maneuver around my hand swatting them so when I got fed up enough, I would stop and smack them with my helmet, which would keep them away for 5 minutes (then another one would find me fascinating and follow me).

I eventually gave up getting to the base of the volcano as I realized two K´s short would be just the same and sat down under a tree to contemplate the volcano and my plans for the next few days. I was at a loss. What to do? I was planning on taking a 4-day cruise from Puerto Montt to Puerto Natales ($275 bucks for the C-berth in a boat that is basically a freighter), but they hadn’t yet confirmed me so I didn’t think there would be space when I got there. But there could be, so I should get in the general area in case they confirm. Or I could take my time and head down to Puerto Natales (very southern and arctic Chile) and then just catch the boat back up. What to do, what to do.

I headed back down the hill – which was fun, since it was all down hill (and you get to go really fast). When I got back, I took a shower, changed my clothes and then went to take pictures. I am really excited about photography now. Pucón was a pretty cool place to take pictures and I took them until the sun went down, and then I had a beer while reading the paper, got some dinner (where I met an Italian guy traveling through South America) and then went back to my hostel.

But the lady that was to clean my clothes wasn’t there and had taken my clothes home with her (uhhh…okay). So I waited around while the lady that ran the place and her daughter tried to get a hold of her and then just went to bed and told them to wake me up when she arrived. At 12:30 (yeah, past midnight), she showed up, I paid her in a sleepy haze and went back to bed. I had to get up early for my trip to Valdivia (oh yeah, I had bought a ticket to Valdivia at the bus station), and I set my alarm system (drink a lot of water before going to bed so you get up early needing to go to the bathroom). I never hear my watch go off because I have to wear earplugs to get to sleep in hostels (lots of noise) and my water system seems to work pretty well.

I made it to the bus after a quick breakfast and hopped on. And away I went to Valdivia.

Tired, hungry, moneyless…and exhausted.

Kristofer and I hopped on the bus. Right on. We started getting comfortable. The nice thing about overnight bus trips is that you get to sleep and wake up in your destination. But…something sinister was stirring. The man behind us had met a girl. And although we didn’t yet know it, he was going to talk to her the whole night. Not quietly, mind you, but like you and I would talk in a crowded and noisy room. It seemed that even after she went to sleep he kept at it, talking about life, himself, her, his job – you know the story. It´s okay, I figured, he can´t talk forever. He has to get tired eventually. It´s midnight already, after all. Nope. He kept talking. And talking. And talking. Two hours at the Chilean border (standing in lines, getting bags inspected) didn’t tire him out either. He kept at it. And at it. And at it. Now, my friends, that´s how you win over a woman (if he can show her that he can talk this long…she can infer how long he can do other things, if you know what I mean *wink wink*)

I think I got about 30 minutes of sleep the whole night as I didn’t want to join Kristofer in the back of the bus (he had moved) on account of the incredible heat back there. So there we were, in Santiago (at least we arrived…at least), and me without any Chilean Pesos. So I had to find an ATM, which is easy in Santiago.

“Invalid Transaction”. What the hell? Let´s try again.

“Invalid Transaction”. Okay, we´ll find another on the way to the hostel (which we had not yet picked out).

We walked a lot that morning looking for a hostel. I think we walked for nearly two hours, and I really had to relieve my bladder, because it cost 100 Pesos to use the bathroom in the bus station and I didn’t have any money. I also tried a lot of ATM´s. All with the same (F$@”ing) response. But we eventually found a hostel and then got something to eat (while I tried more ATM´s).

No luck. And the banks couldn’t do a direct withdrawal unless I had my passport, which was back in the room.

OK, timeout. I need some sleep. I went back to the room and slept for a few hours and then returned to the bank. But it was closed. Yep. Bankers in Chile only have to work 5 hours a day, so it seems. Must be nice.

So I went online and had my dad call my bank to see what the problem was. As it turns out, they decided after nearly 5 months of international traveling that the past transaction was suspicious as it was done out of the United States and they didn’t know I was going to be traveling. So they shut me down. No email or anything. Awesome. So we finally got it squared away, but not before I took out some money on my credit card in desperation (which I will pay a hefty commission for, I promise).

No worries. Let´s just enjoy the city. Kristofer and I explored the streets for a while and went back to the hostel for dinner. We met the other travelers at the hostel (there were a ton) and then walked down to see if there were cheaper hostels close by. We found some, but not close by, and when we got back, we passed out with exhaustion.

The next day, I went exploring solo, and after a few rude encounters with people (everyone we have met has noticed that the people in Chile seem to be noticeably rude, for some reason), and visiting the modern art museum, I randomly met up with Kris in an internet cafe. We headed off to get his pictures developed and then went to a jazz concert in the middle of a park in the city. It was pretty nice and there were a ton of people and the wine we had smuggled in in water bottles helped us enjoy it even more. We ended up sitting on the grass talking for a while and then a few girls came up to us and started making conversation. After a while though, we got tired out and headed home unaccompanied, despite the requests on behalf of one of the ladies sitting next to us to both come home with her that night (remember what I said about the fact that there don´t seem to be many attractive Chilean girls like in Argentina), and hit the sack.

The next day we spent wandering around the city again and Kris gave me a pretty awesome photography tutorial. He taught me a lot of things about the settings for your camera when taking pictures and I am really excited. I am starting to get creative with my pictures and I think they will start getting a lot better and more interesting (better late than never). We didn’t do much that day, nor the day after – but we go our different ways from Santiago and I am now in Pucón, in Southern Chile. Our buses were at the same time, so we got to say goodbye at the bus station, but he was headed to Bolivia. It really is amazing how close you get to random people and you get better at saying goodbye and not letting it get you down. The bus was pretty comfortable and I arrived here without a problem, although I have no clue where I am going next. South. That´s all I know. South. Yeah…South.