people always go gaga for waterfalls, and most any national park will have at least a couple of trails that lead to one. small waterfalls, large waterfalls, groups of waterfalls, etc etc… waterfalls are everywhere. next to sunsets, I would bet that waterfalls are one of the most photographed natural phenomena. I’ve seen a ridiculous amount of waterfalls in my lifetime. I’ve even seen the Niagara falls which is one of the largest waterfalls in north America. yet, I’ve heard that pretty much no waterfall can even come close to iguazu falls in Argentina. at about 2km wide and 80m tall, this is supposed to be one of the most impressive waterfalls anywhere.

near the falls is a small town called Puerto Iguazu which is where we stayed. the town itself is actually pretty nice. it’s really warm here and there’s a very tropical feel: large lush green jungle, palms, etc. we read that when there is a full moon, you can take a tour of the falls by moonlight which seemed like a really cool way of seeing the falls. after asking around all over town, it turned out we were totally in luck. due to bad weather, the moonlight tour had been cancelled for the last 3 days, but tonight it would be happening. perfect timing!

we took a bus to the park, and everyone piled out peering at the sky. clouds. lots of them and everywhere. the moon was nowhere to be seen, so we all started worrying that we wouldn’t even be able to see the falls. after waiting a bit, we boarded this gas powered train, and took the short ride to the “devil’s throat” which is supposed to be the most impressive part of the falls. after the train, we started the kilometer long walk to the devil’s throat. the walk went on and on a long metal catwalk over water. only after walking for quite a bit did it actually hit me… I was on *top* of the falls. the water I was walking over was the Iguazu river as it was about to plummet over the edge. for some reason I had thought that I would be seeing the falls from the side, and had no idea that I’d be looking down on them from above. it was a bit disconcerting, walking in the murky darkness on a wet slippery catwalk, and knowing that all the gurgling churning water rushing under your feet was on it’s way to a 260 foot drop.

eventually we got to the falls. the roar of the water all around us was incredibly loud. devil’s throat is “U” shaped, and you are standing over one leg of the “U”. this is a kind of perfect vantage point because you see the waters of one side of the falls crashing below you, but you can also look across the “U” and see the falls from the side as well. watching the water crashing all around under the moonlight was awesome. there is so much water crashing down at all times, that it sends up a cloud of mist that rises and falls, and on certain parts of the catwalk it felt like it was constantly raining. I took a few photos of the falls, but it was difficult since it was so dark. a few of them turned out ok.

the next day, I returned to the park. this time, I took two trails that take you level with the falls so you can see them from the side. the paths went through lush dense jungle, and there were butterflies and lizards everywhere I looked. I even got a photo of a toucan, but from far away… unfortunately the toucans are shy.

the falls themselves were amazing. of course, it had been really cool seeing them at night by moonlight, but during the day they were just insane. they seemed to just stretch on and on forever. the whole stretch of falls is made up of over 200 sections of falls. some are really wide and others narrow, but put them altogether and it really is quite a sight. there are so many waterfalls, and the stretch is so long, that from the ground there’s no way of actually seeing them all at once. at any given time, you’re only looking at a chunk of the falls, and even that is breathtaking. plus, one of the reasons why so many people prefer iguazu to Niagara, is the setting. the falls are in the middle of beautiful jungle which makes the view even better.

at the end of one of the trails, you get to a part of the catwalk that goes really close to the falls. the water is spraying everywhere as you look up at this monstrous waterfall. this thing is HUGE. if you saw this anywhere, you’d be absolutely impressed… and it was just mind boggling to think that this gigantic waterfall was just one tiny section of the iguazu falls. people were taking turns running out to the end of the catwalk and getting their photos taken, so I did too. I was instantly drenched.

insects and birds weren’t the only wildlife that we saw. there are also these small raccoon-like animals in the park called Coatis. they had long pointy noses, striped tails, and they roamed the park in small packs. these things were hella funny and at one point we saw a bunch of them all jumping on each other and rolling around while squeaking. these guys liked people food a little too much, and at one point we saw one climb into a garbage can with only it’s stripey tail sticking out.

eventually, we noticed that the sky was getting more and more grey. then it started sprinkling. then it was raining, and soon it was pouring like crazy. we ran back to the train and stood there waiting with all the other dripping people. it was raining too hard to stay any longer, so we took the train back and then caught the bus back to town.

at that point we had a difficult decision to make. we had already been to the park twice now. but, we still hadn’t yet seen the devil’s throat during the day. should we go back a third time? on one hand, the devil’s throat is the best part… but going to the park *3* times?! plus, we were worried that the weather would continue being crap. that night it rained all night, and we were woken up over and over all night by thunder and lightning. surprisingly though, the next morning when we got up, the clouds had parted and it was warm and sunny. oh well… I guess it’s back to the park then.

of course, once we got there, we were really glad that we went. the devil’s throat is just amazing. there’s just so much water rushing everywhere. unfortunately, due to all the mist flying up, it’s really hard to get a good photo… all you get is cloudy mist everywhere.

so, yeah.. I’ve seen a million waterfalls. but of course, this was the best one. I cant imagine anything being bigger of better than iguazu…


From South To North

from el calafate in the far south of Argentina, I had to make my way north to Buenos Aires to meet up with caryn. unfortunately, there’s no quick and easy way to do this, at least without flying. my only option was to take a 5 hour bus to Rio Gallegos, and after sitting around there for a few hours killing time, I would need to take a *36* hour bus up to Buenos Aires. ouch. the first short bus ride was uneventful. I arrived in Rio Gallegos, and then went to an internet cafe a few blocks from the bus station to kill some time. it was crazy windy outside. insanely windy actually and I was literally being blown off the sidewalk as I walked along. after a few hours online, I headed back to the bus station to grab a quick snack before my bus ride. I was *starving*, and at 8pm, I still hadn’t eaten anything all day. at the station, I decided to buy a sandwich and some crackers, but the crackers were a bit far behind the cashier so I reached to put on my glasses to see what kind they were and… holy shit. my glasses were gone.

I frantically tried to remember what could have happened to them. I *know* I had them when I got off the bus. did I leave them at the internet cafe? I was pretty sure I hadn’t. I *know* I have a tendency to forget things, so I make sure to NEVER put my glasses down. if I’m not wearing them, I hang them on my shirt collar so I wont forget them. but who knows. maybe just this once I did actually put them down next to the computer. I run up to the bus attendant, and tell him I need to go find my glasses. he tells me I have 1 minute before the bus leaves. I start running. I run up to the internet cafe totally out of breath… no glasses. CRAP! I run back to the bus, and scramble on. I have no idea what happened to my glasses. my only guess is that they might have been blown off by the wind earlier. what a crap day. there I was… no glasses… no food… and a 36 hour bus ride ahead of me.

the bus ride was long. hella long. I went to sleep, only to be woken up by the snoring of the bus attendant. the whole bus was practically empty, yet he had chosen to go to sleep across from me. I moved, and fell asleep stretched out across 2 seats with my legs stretched across the aisle onto the seat across from me. I woke up the next day and realized that after all that time on the bus, I still had another whole day and night ahead of me. ugh. unlike previous bus rides, they made no effort to show movies in English or even have English subtitles. instead everything was in Spanish. in the span of 36 hours, I watched “pappy, you’re acting so crazy!” *twice*.

finally, after what seemed like an eternity, I got to Buenos Aires. it turned out that caryn’s bus would be 3 hours late, so I sat around at the station bored. finally though, her bus arrived. it had been a fun 3 weeks traveling solo. there’s something really nice about just being the master of your own destiny and just winging it on your own. but after 3 weeks of it, I was super excited to be meeting up with caryn again. it was great to reunite.

we spent the next few days just chilling in Buenos Aires. we found a hotel in the Palermo district, which is one of Buenos Aires’ nicer and more fun neighborhoods. we went to a bunch of good restaurants. we went out to a bunch of bars. we slept in. we lounged around. basically, we did everything except for sightseeing. during all of our time in Buenos Aires, we didn’t see a single sight. instead we just spent our time relaxing, and enjoying what big cities have to offer. it was really nice, and I can really see why people love Buenos Aires so much. it’s like a mixture of Spain and Italy, but at a third of the price.

there was one more thing we wanted to see in Argentina and that was Iguazu falls. they are in the very northeast tip of the country on the Brazilian border. 18 hours by bus. so once again, I was on the bus. this time, I almost didn’t even notice the time pass by. when we arrived, it actually seemed like it had been a short ride. I guess 18 hours is nothing compared to 36!!


Vlad Versus the Ice Cube

in Argentina, there’s this huge ice cube named Perito Moreno. actually, calling it huge would be a ridiculous understatement. it’s fucking enormous. this thing is a glacier that is about 5km wide, 30km long, and at its deepest point, about 700 meters deep. yeah, it really is unspeakably big. seeing it was one of the things that I had been most looking forward to in Argentina even though I kind of didn’t really know what a glacier really was. I mean, what’s the difference between a glacier and just a ton of snow? is it the same thing? if you get enough snow together, then can you call it a glacier?

well, it turns out that a glacier is not at all the same as a bunch of snow. so, this glacier starts off in the mountains where it is basically snowing nonstop. there is so much snow, and it is so heavy, that it compacts on itself and becomes ice. but there is still more and more of this ice being made constantly, so the ice at the top of the mountain is pushing the rest of the ice outward and down the mountain. as one person put it, it’s basically like a river that flows down a hill… but instead of it being made up of water, it’s made out of ice. so, this massive wall of ice name Perito Moreno slowly makes its way down the mountain at about one yard per day and effortlessly plows through anything that gets in its way like massive boulders, full grown tress, etc. finally it reaches the water, and as the water melts the front end, enormous chunks of ice that are larger than tall buildings come crashing off of it. it’s pretty insane to think of this huge thing, larger than all of San Francisco, slowly moving along as if it were alive.

most people that come to see the glacier just go and stare at it from the viewing platforms across the water from it. but caryn told me that there is a company that takes you out to actually do some trekking on the glacier. this way you really get to see some of the more interesting features on the glacier’s surface. that sounded like quite an experience, so I signed up. in the morning, a bus picked me up from my hostel and took me out to the park. on the way to the glacier itself, we stopped to see it from a viewpoint. wow. it was really unbelievable how huge this things was. even from far far away, it really seemed incredibly immense. eventually, we got to the water near the glacier where we needed to wait for a boat to take us across the water. apparently the boat was delayed because there were too many icebergs in the water, and they needed to be cleared away. finally, we got to take the boat across, through a long field of ice chunks, dodging the larger sized icebergs that got in the way.

the glacier from far away

ice on the water

a *huge* iceberg in front of the glacier (keep in mind, that the glacier wall is 60 meters high, as big as a 20 story building

we got off the boat and got ready to go hike. most people who do the short glacier trek, go and walk out onto the glacier from here at its edge, but I had signed up for an extended trek (4 hours on the ice!) and this trek started a few kilometers away, so you were much deeper into the glacier. we hiked for about an hour and a half and then got ready to set out onto the glacier. to walk on the glacier, we had to wear crampons which are basically these spiky things you attach to your shoes to get good grip on the ice. we also wore harnesses just in case we fell into some huge chasm out there.

we got a lesson on how to walk using the crampons, but really it’s super easy and after like 2 minutes, you stop even noticing that you’re wearing them. being on the glacier was awesome. it was so incredibly beautiful out there, just ice stretching out in all directions for what seemed like eternity. so much white. but, the most beautiful thing wasn’t the white. wherever there was a tear in the glacier and you could look inside it, its insides were *blue*. you know the color of blue glowsticks? that kind of eerie artificial blue glow that obviously cant be found in nature? well, it actually can be found in nature… it’s the color inside a glacier. I’m still not exactly sure why the inside of the glacier glows blue, and maybe I’m biased cause I like the color blue but the glow is one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen. as we walked across the glacier, and we looked at fissures, caves, cracks, and sinkholes, all of them had that incredible glow from inside.

it was fascinating to see all the different kinds of surfaces this glacier has. a lot of it just long areas of hilly ice, kind of like your average snowy mountain, but a lot of it was not. there were huge chunks of ice that had broken off from the glacier that just sat there like odd geometric sculptures. there were huge sinkholes that were created whenever too much melted ice formed a river that slowly bore its way into the center of the glacier. these sinkholes could be extremely dangerous since they can be up to 700 meters deep, and if they are covered by snow, you could easily fall in and never get back out. there were areas where the land under the glacier was really uneven forcing the glacier to crack and from all sorts of ridges and peaks. so much varied topography out there on the ice.

one of the most striking things out there was the lagoons. often melted ice would form large pools of water, sometimes shallow and sometimes deep. these pools of water were a beautiful light blue color, not as dark vibrant blue as the crevices, but a paler blue. there would be small rivers leading into these pools and the water was safe to drink so we had some. it tasted incredibly delicious. there’s nothing like pure fresh glacier water straight from the source.

we spent about 4 hours hiking around on the ice, and I could easily have spent 4 more. it was just so nice to walk through the whiteness listening to the quiet crunch of ice under my feet. luckily, our group was also really small, only 6 people so there wasn’t a huge crowd plowing along. our guide showed us around and pointed out unique features and cool things to see. 2 of the cooler things we saw were this spot where there were 2 random horizontal holes in the glacier and another spot where there was a natural ice bridge formed that you could stand under.

eventually we came to a spot where the glacier stretched for 2km to either side of us. I just couldn’t stop marveling at the size of the glacier. after we ate our lunch and walked around some more, it was sadly time to head back. we got back to the lodge and there had to wait for the boat to leave. while at the lodge, all of us couldn’t help but stare at the glacier some more. really, even after all those hours, we just couldn’t get enough of it.

finally, the boat came and took us away. on the way back, our guide offered us each a shot of whisky that came in a glass with a huge glacier chunk of ice in it. it had been quite a day. I had taken a TON of photos and even as the boat sped away from the glacier, I kept snapping away. after caryn had seen the glacier, she had sent me an email saying that she had seen the coolest thing that she had seen out our whole one year trip. I can totally see how she could say that. the glacier was really *so* spectacular.


random night in Chile

when I returned back to Puerto Natales, I stayed in the same hostel that I was in before I left. I was in the middle of unpacking, when there was a knock on my door. Odd Man was back. he had been in the park for the last several days as well, but had only gone for 3 days instead of 4. the thing about Odd Man was that he was a bit difficult to understand. he is from America. and he speaks perfectly good English, but he would have weird ways of saying things that made it confusing. Odd Man would often lose his train of thought and start talking about something completely different than what he had started talking about. or, he would start telling me the same thing he had told me just a few minutes before. he often had this far off look on his face and I would wonder what he might be thinking about.

anyways, Odd Man said he was hungry, and seeing as I was starving as well, we decided to go grab some dinner. we went to a small restaurant, and we each ordered a Barros Luco which is this huge sandwich served on a burger bun, with thinly sliced steak inside it. the version we got also had avocado, mayo, cheese, mustard, and tomato in it. it was hella good. we also ordered a couple beers. so, these sandwiches were pretty full of sauces and stuff so they were a bit difficult to eat. they kind of reminded me of the Carl’s JR commercials with the “if it doesn’t get all over the place, it doesn’t belong in your face”. still, I tried to eat mine at least semi-carefully so as not to get sauce *everywhere*. Odd Man on the other hand, didn’t seem to notice that his sandwich was in shambles. soon, it was dripping and oozing all over his hands. dude, it was CRAZY. I mean, like imagine if you took a burger and just squished it completely in your hands till it oozed out between all of your fingers. it was like that. I was hella disgusted. and yet, he just sat there, slowly taking bites and not noticing the explosion of burger that was taking place all over him.

the other problem, was that this restaurant didn’t use the best meat for their sandwiches, so the steak was a bit chewy. so, Odd Man is in the middle of chewing for hella days… and then he just gives up and spits out this HUGE chunk of meat/sandwich mash back onto his plate. UGH! and then he puts the remainder of the sandwich explosion that is still oozing in his hands on the plate as well. but it gets worse. after eating a lot of my fries, he decides that it is not yet time to give up on his sandwich. so… he starts digging into the huge pile on his plate with his hands to eat some more… yes, the pile that is partially chewed and spit up food mixed up with the mush from his hands and dirty napkins. wow. I just couldn’t believe it.

after this, he suggests we go to a bar. I was planning on getting online, but sure, I’m down for a drink or two. so we start roaming the streets and he is looking for this bar that he went to before. we find it and try to get in but the door is locked. finally, someone comes up and opens the door for us. we enter what is probably the Chilean equivalent of a dive bar. there is what sounds like mariachi music playing, and the small amount of clientele is visible intoxicated. the decor is random like engine pistons and such. I’m not sure why, but they make sure to lock the door after each customer enters… are they trying to keep out undesirables? Odd Man orders us drinks, and the bartender pour us a HUGE amount of clear alcohol… like two or three shots worth, and then tops off the glass with sprite. I ask Odd Man what’s in the drink but he doesn’t seem to know himself even though he ordered it. the drinks are hella strong, and pretty soon I’m fairly buzzed.

the atmosphere in this place is hella cool and everyone is talking to each other animatedly about something. at this point, a guy on my left, Julio starts talking to me. Julio looks around 40, has half a finger less than the standard issue, and he keeps talking to me in Spanish despite me telling him I don’t understand. I dig deep into my Spanish vocab and manage to tell him I am from America, and to ask him where he is from. he is from here (I think). he then asks to see a map of Torres Del Paine park, which I happen to have on me. he animatedly starts discussing the map, pointing at things and speaking rapidly in Spanish. I tell him I “no comprende”, but this doesn’t satisfy him, so I change tactics to the “smile and nod approach”. this seems to work and he lifts his glass to me. we clink glasses and everyone seems to be happy. the drunk next to Julio, who has 3 half fingers less than the standard issue start yelling across the bar to me excitedly and lifts his glass as well. I have no idea what I’m doing, but I guess I’m doing it well.

I get another beer. the guy on the other side of me starts handing out cigarettes excitedly to everyone in the crowd. another man is so far drunk that he is somehow managing to slide around on the floor rather than walk, but still doesn’t fall. Odd Man keeps trying to hit on one of the bartenders, but it seems Odd Man´s Spanish is worse than he thinks cause she just keeps telling him she doesn’t understand. one of the bartenders asks if I have a woman, and I say yes. she passes this news on to everyone else, and they all grin and look really happy. well, at least I *think* she was asking if I have a woman.. the only word I understood was mujeres which means woman. I guess she could have been asking if I am a woman or if I want a woman. who knows. after a while, I take off.

later I meet Odd Man back at the hostel. I ask him if anything else happened while at the bar. he said that he managed to score a date with the bartender after work which seems odd seeing as she didn’t seem to understand him at all. he also tells me that the guy Julio from the bar, invited Odd Man back to his place because he wanted to give him a “present”. hrmm. Odd Man wasn’t positive what Julio’s present might be, but definitely didn’t want any part of it. in the end, Odd Man just goes to bed instead of going on his date.

man, what an odd night…


Torres Del Paine

I was going to Torres Del Paine for 4 days. what kind of food does one need for that kind of trip? I wanted to get enough food so that I wouldn’t be starving, but at the same time, I didn’t want to weigh my pack down w/ too much food. the grocery store across the street from the hostel was tiny, only 5 aisles or so, and yet I still spent over an hour in there agonizing on what to buy. I kept picking up items, then putting them back… too heavy, too bulky, too much prep work, etc. in the end, I settled on what I thought would be the optimal stuff:

  • 2 small packets salami (280 grams)
  • 4 bread rolls
  • 2 small bags of pasta (600 grams)
  • 3 small tins of pasta sauce (580 grams)
  • tiny packet of parmesan cheese
  • 3 cereal bars
  • 2 small packets of peanuts
  • a few small packets of powdered kool-aid type stuff

as you can see, there would be absolutely no variety to my meals. pasta and sauce for all my dinners. cereal bars for breakfast. salami sandwiches w/ no condiments of any kind for lunch. peanuts for a snack. yeah, sounds pretty sad doesn’t it. but I’d rather have it be that way than haul a ton of crap. I put the food, my tent, a bit of clothes, the bare minimum toiletries, a saucepan, fork, gas, mini stove, umbrella, and mp3 player in my backpack. camping gear kind of amazes me. it’s unbelievable what kind of crazy technology there is out there. how is it possible for a tent to fold down so small as to fit in my backpack and still leave room for other stuff? how can they have a stove that is literally 3 inches by 2 inches when folded up? crazy. my backpack didn’t really have any of the proper straps for backpacking, so I kind of haphazardly tied my sleeping bag and sleeping matt to it. everything just kind of dangled ridiculously and I’m sure any real backpacker would have laughed at it, but oh well. I guess I was ready to head out to the park.

that night, a new guest checked into the hostel, so unfortunately, I didn’t have my room all to myself. I cant remember this guy’s name, so I’ll just call him Odd Man from now on. There will be more about him later, but for now let’s just mention that Odd Man snores. yes, Odd Man snores a lot. when I came into the room, the lights were already off, and I didn’t want to wake him up by turning on the lights to get my ear plugs. so I went to bed w/ no earplugs, and a bit later, the snoring commenced. I didn’t get too much sleep that night.

Day 1

Distance to hike: 19km
Map’s time estimate for this: 8 hours

although hella tired, I got up feeling fairly excited about going to the park. I had heard so many good things about Torres Del Paine. this place practically seemed legendary or something. after a short bus ride to the park, and then a shuttle transfer, we were ready to start the day. by “we”, I mean me and these 2 girl from Finland who I had met one a bus to Ushuaia and then again on the bus from Ushuaia.

The path most people take through the park is the “W” (I traced it in black on the map above). the first day, you start off on the right at Hosteria Las Torres, you go up to the top of the right leg of the “W” and then back down and camp where you first started. day two, you walk along the right curve of the “W” till you get to where the two curves meet in the middle at Campo Italio. day three you walk up the middle leg of the “W” to the top, then back down to Campo Italio and then head down the left curve down to camping Pehoe. the last day, you head up the left leg of the “W” and then back down again. the nice thing about the way things are set up is that you retrace your steps a lot. this way, you can set up camp, ditch as much of your stuff as possible (tent, etc), do the hike with a minimal amount of weight, and then pick everything up when you get back to camp later.

I was able to set up my tent with minimal difficulty, and then we were ready to set off. I just took my small daypack, but the girls took their large packs since they were worried about leaving their brand new sleeping bags behind. it was a beautiful day and the weather was great. the trail we were on was really scenic and the views all around were really good. as we kept hiking, we kept getting small glimpses of the Torres (towers) from time to time. the trail wasn’t super steep, and was wayyyy easier than the hike I did in Tierra del fuego, but was still steep enough to make you sweat. the trail kept heading uphill for a long time, but just when you were stoked that you’ve gotten up so high, the trail would plunge back down till you were at the bottom again, only to have to go up once more. up, down, up, down, over and over. we walked by rivers, snow covered mountains, through forests, and many times had to hop from rock to rock across streams.

the going definitely got tough at times, and the girls did a fair amount of trailing behind, which I attributed to the fact their packs probably weighed a little more than mine. but by the time we were about 3 hours into it, one of the girls was starting to have a really hard time of it. actually, I think she may have started crying, but I’m not sure. I couldn’t understand what they were saying to each other in Finnish, but I got the picture that one of the girls wasn’t too sure about making it the rest of the way. so, I did the only thing I could do, which was to tell them that I’d go on ahead of them and just see them at the top. without the girls, my pace up the mountain was much faster and… no, I’m just kidding. what I actually did was to volunteer to trade backpacks with the crying girl.

I handed her my daypack (contents: bread, salami, mp3 player, and a highlighter), and she gave me hers (contents: EVERYTING SHE HAD BROUGHT WITH HER). yes, I had thought that she had just brought her expensive sleeping bag along to protect it, but instead she had made the genius decision to not unpack a single thing out of her backpack. it had all her clothes, stuff, huge cans of food, and probably at least a few bricks or something for good measure. it really was unbelievable. this pack weighed more than my backpack did when it had everything I own in it including my tent. so, with my new cargo, we started uphill.

this switch in backpacks coincided with us getting to the hardest part of the route. there wasn’t really a trail anymore, just a mountain covered in large boulders that you had to climb over. actually, this is my favourite kind of terrain. when I was a kid, my parents used to take me on family vacations a couple times a year, and inevitably these vacations would be to national parks. over my lifetime, I’ve seen quite a large percentage of the national parks the US has to offer. whenever there were rocky hills, my brother and I used to love to try to scramble up as high as we could, navigating a path upwards and jumping from boulder to boulder. I’ve always really enjoyed trying to figure out the best way up while scrambling up as fast as I could. so yeah, this should have been my favourite part of the trail, but instead it was really difficult and exhausting with this huge backpack weighing down each step. there would be no jumping from rock to rock… only slow calculated difficult steps. *sigh*

eventually, we made it to the top. holy crap. the view of the towers from here was absolutely fantastically amazing. I was totally blown away. this was really one of those kind of sights were you could just stare and stare and then still want to stare some more. the towers were enormous and had these incredible vertical sides where it looked like the rest of the mountain was just lopped off with a huge axe. I must have taken a billion photos with my camera, I just couldn’t stop snapping away. to make the scene even better, the towers were situated right above this frozen pond. well, the pond was partially frozen, and it was this incredible shade of light blue with the less frozen bits contrasting with the more frozen parts. the edge of the ice was really cool where you could watch the ripples of water lap up onto the ice boundary. if it wasn’t so cold and windy, I think I could have really sat there for ages and just looked at the towers, and then at the lake, and then at the towers, and then at the lake again. it was definitely one of the most beautiful things I’ve seen on this trip.

the view in the other direction

I wish there was some way that the photos could do the scene justice, but they just don’t. one of the most stunning things about mountains is that they are huge. their sheer size is awe inspiring, and gawking up at them you cant help to be overwhelmed. a photo cant capture this. a photo will always be small. sure, there are tricks that a photographer can do. you can photograph a person or something in the scene so that the viewer can look and see the relative hugeness of the mountain. but the problem with these tricks, is that they are still just tricks. you still look at the photo and think “oh, these people look tiny, that means the mountain must be ginormous!”… but you still don’t see the mountain as it is and feel its immenseness.. you only see it in 4 by 6 inch size.

we sat and ate our lunches, and then after switching back to our own packs, headed down the mountain. by the time we were 6 hours into the hike, I was starting to get fairly tired. it had been a long day and my legs were starting to hurt a bit, especially my knees. plus I was getting hungry. ok, actually I was starving. I couldn’t wait to get back to camp to make some food. luckily, after 7.5 hours hiking total, we got back to camp.

(on the way back down the mountain)

at camp it was quickly getting dark, so I cooked my pasta as fast as I could. I had never been this happy to eat pasta before. after hiking so many hours, it just tasted so damn good! the girls had a huge spread of food: bags of rice, random condiments, cans of vegetables, etc. I couldn’t help but glare at their food, not cause I was jealous of it, but because I had hauled all that junk up the mountain. couldn’t they have packed light? or at least left their stuff at camp? not only was it getting dark, but it was also starting to get hella cold. trying to keep your hand warm by holding them next to your tiny camping stove only does so much. after eating, even though it was only 8:30, I was beat, so I went to sleep. surprisingly the sleeping bag kept me warm despite the freezing temperatures outside and the fact that my tent was a bit broken and the flap that is used as a “door” didn’t shut at all. I put on my headphones so I could listen to this Bloc Party cd that I’ve been obsessed with, and passed out.

Day 2

Distance to hike: 16.5km
Map’s time estimate for this: 6.5 hours

I was worried the night before that I’d wake up today and be sore as hell, but surprisingly I was only slightly sore. mainly my knees were feeling a bit jacked. I was really glad to find out that the campground had hot showers since I had sweated like a filthy monster the day before. after my shower and breakfast (the girls had a large spread of all sorts of things that I didn’t even begin to look at and I had a lone and fairly small cereal bar) we packed up and set off. today was gonna be the hard day since we couldn’t leave anything behind. we would have to haul our packs the full 6.5 hours.

hauling my pack sucked. a lot. when you’re constantly looking at your watch, 6.5 hours goes by really slow. each time, after an eternity, I’d look at my watch, and only 5 minutes would have gone by. my pack weighed me down like crazy, and having straps etc not adjusted well at all made things even worse. the sleeping bag would swing forwards and back, hitting my back with each step I took. the sleeping matt would fly all over the place when the wind blew and often would get caught on branches of trees etc. there was plenty of uphill on this stretch and when going uphill, each step was an effort. once again, I was sweating like crazy. it kind of sucks that I was hauling this damn pack cause the trail was actually really nice and scenic. there were beautiful views all around, but I didn’t really feel like stopping and enjoying them… instead I was just concentrating on keeping on going and staring down at my feet instead of up. my knees were slowly deteriorating more and more. my feet were developing blisters. my hips were hurting where the pack sat on them, and I found out later my waist was actually bleeding from being rubbed so much.

I started wishing that instead of camping (and thus hauling all this stuff) I had stayed in the refugios in the park. the thing with the refugios was that they were so expensive. 38$ for one night for basically just a bed. back in Buenos Aires, I stayed at a nice hotel for only 15 bucks.. how could I spend 38$ on a Refugio? plus, food at the refugios was bank too. I heard later from someone that one night at the Refugio along with food and everything winded up costing him 52$!! ouch!! actually, in a lot of ways, the people who run this park totally rip you off. you pay 7$ per person at the campsites where all you are provided with is a shower basically. the bus to the park costs 15$ for a rather short journey. the short 20 minute catamaran ride across a lake costs 20$. all of these prices really high for south America. and the sad thing is that they don’t even really use much of this money to upkeep the park. during high season, this park is *swarming* with people… who knows what happens to all their money.

halfway though the hike, I realized something horrible. the previous night, when I went to sleep, I had left my glasses in the tent’s pocket… and I forgot to get them out today. the glasses were still inside the tent when I rolled it up today and I had taken great care to apply as much pressure as I could and roll the tent as tightly as possible. crap. there goes a couple hundred bucks down the drain. *sigh*, I have the worst luck with glasses.

I had been counting down the hours to the end of the trail today, and finally we made it. I was so relieved!! the girls, hoping to do equal amounts of hiking each day in the park, decided to keep going along the trail till they reached the next campsite further north. yeah, this would mean less hiking the next day, but this would also mean 4 hours of hiking with their packs when they could have gone without the packs. seemed like a bad decision to me, so didn’t continue on w/ them. to be honest, I was kind of glad that we had split up at this point. it’s not that we didn’t get along, I think all parties were courteous and friendly to each other, but I wasn’t really sure they really wanted me around, and I didn’t really care if they were around either. plus, I was kind of excited about hiking the trails by myself… just me and the outdoors.

at first I was excited that this campsite I was staying at didn’t cost anything, but soon I found out why. the campsite I was at was a sorry excuse for a campsite. there were trees everywhere, and all the spaces between the trees were mostly covered in roots. the bathrooms, for some reason had a board across the door. I snuck under the board, and figured out why. when I lifted the toilet lid, I was greeted with a sight so disgusting and foul that I wont even begin to describe it here. it was so disgusting that later, when some other girl wandered in there, she actually let out a scream when she saw. well… I guess that’s what you get when things are free. I set up my tent, and to my total amazement, my glasses were still totally intact. I don’t know how they survived. too lucky. one thing that I didn’t bring along (to conserve weight) was a book. crap. so here I was at the campsite, all by myself, and there was nothing to do. it was only 4:30pm, and even though it had been a tiring day, I doubt I could have made myself fall asleep quite that early.

I walked down to the nearby stream to hang out for a while and stare at the scenery. above me was Glacier Frances, a huge mass of ice on a mountaintop. below me was a crystal clear stream tumbling over rocks. everywhere around were trees. definitely a nice place to hang out.

after half an hour, I was too cold to stay there any longer. here is a checklist of my cold weather gear:

thermal underwear: NO
gloves: NO
scarf: NO
big jacket: NO
wool socks: NO
fuzzy hat: NO
thin sweatshirt: YES!

so, as you can see, I wasn’t exactly well prepared. I had no choice but to get in my tent and lay there huddled in my sleeping bag until 6:30 when I decided it was late enough to start dinner. I didn’t want to get out of my sleeping bag. for a moment, I contemplated setting up the stove and boiling my pasta inside the tent while still inside the sleeping bag, but then decided that that would just be *begging* for trouble. I got out of my tent and quickly realized that my knees were now barely functioning. I kinda hobbled from place to place. I gathered water from the river to cook my dinner which was fun. there’s something cool and rugged about just going to a river and getting water from it. after scarfing my food, it was back into the tent where I huddled in my bag and listened to Bloc Party for a while. it was extra cold tonight and even in the sleeping bag, I was still not all that warm. plus, my tent was on a slight slant, so I would constantly slide downhill as I slept. as I began to fall asleep, I began to wonder what tomorrow had in store for me. waking up after two days of hiking, would my legs work at all? also, it had been threatening to rain today, would tomorrow’s weather carry out the threat?

Day 3

Distance to hike: 22.6 km
Map’s time estimate for this: 9 hours

I got out of my tent in the morning and to my total shock, my legs seemed to be working ok. they felt much better than they did last night. I quickly ate half a sandwich, and put a cereal bar in my pocket for the hike. I mixed one half the kool-aid packet with some water, and stashed the rest of the packet in my pocket. grabbed my lunch, and mp3 player and set off. ahhhhh, it was SO nice not to have the pack on! I felt light as air. the hike today was really great. fairly easy, and I just walked along and enjoyed the views. the views were pretty amazing. I got to see glacier Frances from much closer and I also got to look out over this incredible aqua colored lake. it was nice to be hiking alone, with Bloc Party providing the soundtrack to the hike. I realized that I was pretty lucky that I had done the hike during this time of year. as I mentioned before, during the high season, there are TONS of people here swarming all over the trails, but right now, when winter had just ended and it was still cold, the place was practically empty.

in the end, after a few hours of hiking, I made it to the end of the trail… or what I thought was the end. by the timing estimates, it seemed like I should have kept going longer, but I looked everywhere and it seemed like this was where the trail markers ended. heh, actually the trails out here were not so clearly marked. it was weird, you’d go for days in these parts where the trail was dead obvious and they’d have trail markers everywhere, and yet often when you got to places where the trail was much more obscured and difficult to see… they wouldn’t have any markers! so lame. well, end of the trail or not, this was an excellent place to end the hike. I was on top of this gigantic boulder and I had a wonder 360 degree panorama view of the surrounding area. there were all sorts of interesting rock cliffs all around me.

after taking it all in, I started making my way back to camp. somehow I had lost my cereal bar. also, somehow my packet of kool-aid mix had turned upside down in my pocket and emptied itself. *sigh*. anyways, a few hours later, I made it back to camp. it had been a great morning! I had my lunch. ugh… so sick of salami sandwiches. and I also had pasta yet again to expect for dinner. sad! then I packed up my tent, taking care to not leave my glasses inside (phew!). the last 7.6 km would be done with the pack on. I was a bit nervous, seeing as it was so hard to hike w/ the pack last time, but this trail was marked “easy” on the map, and in the end, it totally was. the trail was not very steep, and there weren’t and rivers or obstacles, just easy straightforward hiking. actually, this is what I had been kind of expecting from all the trails before I got here. so I walked and walked and walked. as always, the scenery all around was awesome!

as I walked, it kept getting windier and windier. my sleeping matt was flying all over the place, and I was almost getting blown off the trail. I looked up and the clouds above were an ominous shade of grey. hrm. soon enough, it started drizzling. really lightly, so it was ok, but I was really worried that it would get worse. I picked up the pace, trying to walk as fast as I could. if it started pouring, I would be screwed. luckily though, I soon reached the campsite. reaching into my pocket, I realized I had somehow lost the remainder of my pesos along the trail. crap. luckily, I had some reserve dollars in my pack, phew.

this campsite was the best so far. they had kitchen facilities, a small minimarket, and hot showers too. I quickly set up my tent which was a bit difficult cause the wind was getting insane. honestly, if this place didn’t have a kitchen, I don’t know if it would have been possible to cook in the wind. I was craving something to add to my pasta dinner, so I paid the 7$ for a can of domestic beer and a pack of Pringles. after dinner, I needed a shower. badly. there was a slight problem though: I had forgotten to bring a towel. I know what you might be thinking: sheez, vlad, what were you thinking, it seems like you’re not really well prepared for all this!! well, if that’s what you’re thinking, then I only have one answer to that… you’re right. so, to shower, or not to shower. I desperately needed a shower. the other day, when I showered in the daytime, it was ok to kind of just drip dry since it was warm, but tonight in the freezing cold with crazy winds, that wouldn’t be possible. so I improvised. I went into the bathroom, and stuffed my pockets as full as I could with toilet paper. desperate times call for desperate measures! the hot shower felt amazing, and I went to sleep fairly dry.

that night, the wind was insane. my tent was rattling around like nuts and kept hitting me and waking me up. I had a horrible night’s sleep.

Day 4

my alarm woke me up at 7:45 today. it was the last day of the hike and all that was left was a short 1.5 hour hike up the hill to go see Glacier grey (the HUGE glacier on the map) and then back to camp. but, I had to make it back here by 12:30 no matter what or I’d miss the catamaran and not have a way to get back. I crawled out of my tent and… everything was wet. it was raining and had been all night. not raining hard, but it was enough. crap. what to do? it was my last day and I really wanted to see the glacier. so I had my enormous breakfast (breakfast bar) and set out. the problem was that I only had a waterproof jacket and not waterproof pants. within 15 minutes, my pants were getting soaked. I didn’t think I could handle 3 hours of that, so I turned back. I would have to waste my last day just sitting around waiting for the catamaran. oh well, at least there was the Bloc Party album. I went back in my tent and huddled in my sleeping bag till noon, and then caught the catamaran back. after the short bus ride, I was back in town.

view from camp

the catamaran coming to take me away!

so, the 4 day trip had been amazing. Torres Del Paine definitely lived up to all of my expectations. one of the most beautiful parks I’ve seen. I can see why people love it so much. the view of the towers on the first day especially were just so dope!! also, it had been fun actually getting out into the outdoors and kind of roughing it for a bit. i had hiked a total of 58.1 km (36 miles) in 3 days!! walking till I could walk no more. hauling stuff on my back. drinking from streams. living in nature. it was a blast. but at the same time, it was also so nice to be back in the real world and have a comfy bed to sleep in, a variety of food to eat, and clean clothes. ahhhh!


into the great outdoors

I spent the last two days doing pretty much nothing. the day after my hike, I woke up feeling completely sore *everywhere*. my legs were aching like crazy, and walking or even getting out of bed was difficult. the one other really cool thing to do in Ushuaia is to do this short hike up to a glacier, but I was in no shape for hiking. instead I spent my day reading, being online, and just being lazy. the next day I felt a bit better, but there weren’t any buses out of town, so I was stuck in Ushuaia, and still couldn’t be bothered to do anything. the day after that, I had to wake up at 4:30 am to get down to the bus station and hope there were still tickets available to get out of town. luckily there were, and soon enough I was snoozing away on a bus heading north.

now, I’m in a town called Puerto Natales in Chile. I’m here to visit this park called Torres Del Paine, one of the most popular parks in all of south America. the scenery is supposed to be stunning and there is really good trekking around the park. the most popular trek is called the “W” because you follow a path that makes a “W” shape through the park. the trek usually takes about 4 days, so as of tomorrow, I’m spending 4 days out in the great outdoors.

the thing is, despite my short stint in the boy scouts at a young age, I really don’t know anything at all about trekking or camping. sure I’ve gone camping over the years… but it was always car camping, where you drive up with your car, haul out all the modern conveniences you could ever want (air mattress, electric inflator, collapsible picnic table, tons of cooking stuff, etc etc etc), and then spend a few days just sitting around, cooking, and taking in the sights. I’ve never really done the real kind of camping, where you hike for hella days and have to haul everything you need w/ you.

heh, it’s gonna be an interesting 4 days. I rented a tent/sleeping bag/mat/ tiny stove. I still need to figure out what food to bring (something not heavy I hope), figure out how to strap all this junk I’m hauling to my pack, find out what the deal is w/ water, etc. of course, I could have taken the easy way out. there are some basic shelters in the park, but it turns out that they charge like 32$ a piece and that’s just for a bed… and it’s freezing cold so you still need a sleeping bag etc. total ripoff.

so, tomorrow, off I go! wish me luck!