Sunday, April 4, 2010

Trip Stats

Countries visited: Columbia, Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, Chile, Argentina, Canada(for a few hours).
Total # of days: 203
Most days in one country: 62, Argentina
Fewest days in one country: 10 Columbia
Most days in one place: 18 La Luna, Otavalo, Ecuador
Highest point: Chachani summit, 6075 meters(19,931 feet)
Most elevation gained in one day on foot: (Only Anika) 1935 metes (6348 feet)-Piedra Grande camp to summit of Vallecitos (5435 meters or 17,831 feet).
Longest bus ride: 34 hours, Ushuaia to Puerto Madryn, Argentina.
Sick days: Brad-6 Anika-2
Pairs of shoes worn out: Brad-3 Anika-0
Sunglasses lost or broken: Brad-3 Anika-0
Total number of cups carried: 1, Lost in Quito(day 32) and never replaced.
Modes of travel used: Feet, bike, taxi, van, bus, train, airplane, tram, ferry, hitch hiking, subway.
Total Number of taxi trips: 7
Longest trek: Torres del Paine loop, 102km (63.4miles). 6 nights 7 days.
Total number of different overnight treks: 11
Most distance covered on foot in one day: 28km (17.4miles) 1st day of Torres trek.
Total number of nights spent in tent: 85 (41.9%)
Most consecutive days in tent: 22
Night spent at highest altitude: Chachani base camp 5300meters (17,388 feet)
Nights spent on transportation: Bus-17 Train-1 Airplane-2 Total 20 (9.9%)
Bus ticket purchased furthest in advance: 5 days. Easter Sunday bus ticket to BA 2 days before our flight leaves for home.
Number of MP3 playing devices broken: 2
Sample list of products containing beef lard: Wheat crackers, scones, oriental flavor top ramen, vegetable empanadas, vegetable broth cubes, chicken broth cubes, dry vegetable soup mix, croissants.
Days before Anika realizes this: 195
Number of books read by Brad: 48
Books read per week: 1.66
Number of Books read by Anika: 36
Total number of pages: 11,894
Average number of pages per day: 58.6

Books read by Brad:
1. Walking Across America
2. Bel Canto
3. The Old Man and the Sea
4. Left for Dead
1st 100 pages of Marching Power
1st 100 pages of The End of Mr. Y
5. Journey to the Center of the Earth
6. The Yearling
7. Starship Troopers
8. The Martian Chronicles
9. Animal Farm
1st 75 pages of Patagonia, History, Myths, Legends
10. The Three Musketeers
11. Dune
12. The Da Vinci Code
13. To Kill a Mocking Bird
14. Dune Messiah
15. Congo
16. The Joy Luck Club
17. Sphere
18. The Clan of the Cave Bear
19. The Green Hills of Earth
20. The River Why
21. Lord of the Flies
22. The Chosen
23. Of Mice and Men
24. Stranger in a Strange Land
1st 100 pages of Oliver Twist
25. Gates of Fire
26. Around the World in 80 Days
27. The Silmarillion
1st 300 pages of The Green House
28. Narcissus and Goldmund
29. Last 250 pages of Marching Powder
1st 100 pages of Walden plus Poems
30. The Autobiography of Malcolm X
31. The Red Tent
32. Tai-Pan
33. Pirate Latitudes
34. The Way West
35. The Last Step
36. The Three Daughters of Madam Liang
37. The Cat Who Walks Through Walls
38. The Good Earth
39. The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao
40. The Book Seller of Kabul
41. An Elegy for Easterly
42. Eva Luna
43. The Journey to the East
44. The Dragon in the Sea
45. The Sea Wolf
46. The Perfect Storm
47. Water Method Man
48. Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde
First 300 pages of the Mater and Margerita

Books read by Anika:
1. Middlesex
2. Bel Canto
3. Marching Powder
4. The Famished Road
5. We'll Meet Again
6. The Bell Jar
7. The Three Musketeers
8. To Kill A Mockingbird
9. The Joy Luck Club
10. Congo
11. Sphere
12. The Clan of the Cave Bear
13. The Lord of the Flies
14. The River Why
15. In the Time of the Butterflies
16. Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim
17. Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close
18. Women in Love
19. Narcissus and Goldmund
20. The Red Tent
21. The Autobiography of Malcolm X
22. Gabriel Garcia Marquez Short Stories
23. La Hija de La Fortuna (in Spanish)
24. The Last Step
25. The Three Daughters of Madam Liang
26. The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao
27. The Good Earth
28. The Bookseller of Kabul
29. Eva Luna
30. The Water-Method Man
31. Journey to the East
32. The Perfect Storm
33. The Catcher in the Rye
34. Robinson Crusoe
35. The Sea-Wolf
36. Elegy for Easterly

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Buenos Aires, Iguazu and Salta

It´s Saturday morning in Salta, Argentina, a long way from where I last posted in Puerto Madryn! We´ve traveled a long distance since then as well and we have seen a huge variety of climates and landscapes. First, we spent about 4 days in a cute little mountain town called Sierra de la Ventana. I´m not entirely convinced that it is a legitimate mountain town since most of it´s surroundings are beautiful grasslands, fields of sunflowers and rolling hills but the closest thing in the Buenos Aires province to a mountain, the 3,720 foot Cerro Ventana, is also nearby. Of course, since I´m always looking for the views, I climbed up the steep rocky slope to the large hole in the rock face known as the Ventana that opens up amazing vistas to the countryside.

Next stop, Buenos Aires, by way of a very cheap, very interesting train. Brad and I decided to be super cheap and go with the first class tickets in order to have reclining seats but no other services. The train itself was marked by grafitti and had no numbers to describe the cars or the seats so we made our best guess as to where we needed to sit and spent a very long night trying to sleep under ever blaring flourescent overhead lights and beside windows with a film of dirt so thick that even when the sun rose it was hard to tell. But it was fun! And we made it safely to Buenos Aires and Meghan was waiting for us at the train station to take us back to her cute, comfortable apartment in a very neighborhoody area of the massive city. I know I have mentioned before that big cities are sometimes a bit difficult for us as travelers but when you have friends who can also be tour guides, big cities are made much smaller and much more attractive! Meghan and her boyfriend, Pablo, created space in their packed work and study schedules to show us all of the best corners of Buenos Aires and of course the sights that all tourists must see as well. The center of the city choked with cars, buses and a mix of business suited men and women, tourists, students and protesters milling about in the famous Plaza de Mayo and the tree lined streets shading adorable sidewalk cafes was frenetic and exciting. The shopping streets in the trendy neighborhoods of Palermo and Villa Crespo were fun to explore and a great place to observe the beautiful fashionable people who live there but actually making purchases was out of the question because prices were high! I fulfilled my long standing desire to actually buy things by visiting outlet stores along Cordoba and Corrientes streets and among the street vendors at several outdoor markets. The weekend was a whirlwind of activity that ranged from wandering the relaxed hippie market and the famous Recoleta cemetary where Evita is buried (Brad and I somehow stumbled upon her very simple, unassuming tomb) to discovering antiques and clothing by young designers and street performers dancing the tango in the bohemian San Telmo area of the city. Thursday evening found Brad, Pablo and I at an important River vs San Lorenzo soccer game at the huge stadium where fans shouted and sang their devotion to the team for hours until River came out victorious in the end. The weekend nights started late, usually after a 7pm nap, a 10pm dinner and then drinks or dancing at hidden jazz clubs or techno clubs which kept us out until the sun came up and we found our weary selves on a bus back to Meghan´s apartment and to our beds until at least 2pm! We had fun visiting with some friends that Meghan has made in the city and we spent Sunday evening at their apartment having a large and delicious asado with meats, salads, breads and famous Argentine wine.

Buenos Aires is so huge and there are so many people who live there that activity and action are on every corner at every hour. I definitely could spend more time there especially hanging out more with Meghan! This wish will be granted because on April 5th, Brad and I are hopping on a flight bound for Vancouver BC (the cheapest destination close to home) that leaves from Buenos Aires. So we will definitely try to return to the city a couple of days in advance to spend every last minute possible with Meghan and Pablo and to do a few more exciting things in the capital. It feels funny putting a cap on our trip that for so long has be indefinite but it also feels pretty good to be thinking about heading home to be back in Portland just as the good weather is rolling in (hopefully)!

After spending one week in Buenos Aires Brad and I got an 18 hour bus ride up to the northeastern most corner of Argentina to see Iguazu Falls. The minute we stepped off of the bus and were immediately drenched in sweat caused by the stifling humidity of the rainforest we realized that we were very far from the bustling capital city, the windswept Patagonian planes, the sunny beaches, and the mountainous lakes district that we had experienced in our other Argentine destinations. This part of Argentina is bordered by Brazil and Paraguay and, in fact, there is a park from where you can see all three countries divided by 2 rivers that converge at the junction. The lifestyle is very laid back and slow, appropriate to the oppressive heat. Iguazu Falls is made up of hundreds of waterfalls of various sizes and levels that thunder over grassy cliffs and between gorges in the landscape creating spray so dense that often the bottom half of the falls is not even visable. It was an impressive experience to stand on the catwalks and balconies that are built sometimes directly over the edges of vast cascades and it took us the entire day to get our fill of one of the largest waterfalls in the world. We even got to take a short boat ride to more closely observe a couple of the waterfalls but the main purpose was to get completely drenched when the boat drives directly into the crashing spray! It was a great relief from the heat!

Two days in Iguazu was all we needed and then we were off on probably the last over 20 hour bus ride of the trip. Our destination, Salta, is in the northwestern corner of Argentina and we have been enjoying our time here wandering around the beautiful plazas and ornate churches that characterize this city. But more than the sights, I am loving being back in a more Andean feeling city. We are very close to Bolivia here and it is obvious in the darker skinned residents, the woven artisan crafts, and the hectic mercado central scene packed with musicians, fresh fruit, cheap food stands selling tamales with spicy hot sauces, and odds and ends that keep you entertained for hours. We will spend a bit more time here in Salta and then use our last 3 weeks to make our way down through the central part of Argentina until we end up back in Buenos Aires in time to fly home.

And now my time is up on the computer and I´ve gotta head out!
Love, Anika

Friday, March 5, 2010

Yo te quiero, no importa nada.

Anika and I went with Meghan's boyfriend Pablo to Buenos Aire's largest stadium to watch River play against San Lorenzo. It was an impressive experience; the energy and passion were beyond anything I have seen at any sporting event. The cultural differences were equally fascinating and are on display in the video.

The fans from the different teams are separated by seating section and there was a large crowd for the visiting team as well. The two groups of opposing fans take turns singing insulting songs to each other. In the USA, when have you ever seen tens of thousands of men, sober men (no alcohol sold plus searches and breathalyzers upon entry), singing to each other? Here in the video the home town fans are singing to their team. The text of the song is roughly -

Ole ole ole
Ole ole ole ola
Jugando bien
O jugando mal
Oh yo te quiero
No importa nada

In english: Playing well or playing badly, I love you, nothing else matters.

It must feel good as a team to have tens of thousands of fans sing that to you. Our team, River, won with the only goal of the game coming late in the second half. When the game was over all the home team fans stayed in their seats and waited another half an hour for the visiting fans to leave, to ensure that they do not mix on the streets outside the stadium. I hope the post and video give a small impression of this magical experience.


Wednesday, February 24, 2010


Wednesday afternoon in Puerto Madryn, Argentina. Two o´clock is right around the corner which means the entire city will shut down leaving nothing open except, if I´m lucky, this internet cafe and a fast food place called Mostaza. More than any other country we have visited, Argentina adheres strictly to the siesta schedule. The small stores along the beachfront street that sell souveniers and excursions to Peninsula Valdes are in the habit of posting a hand scribbled note on their doors noting the hour at which the shop will reopen for business (usually 5 or 6 in the evening) but when the specified hour rolls around, inevitably the store will remain closed until the employees show up sometimes hours late. Brad and I have begun to accept tardiness and we´re trying really hard to adjust to this, in my North American mind, ridiculously impractical schedule. Showing up at 9am to open the store, then taking a 3 or 4 hour break in the middle of the afternoon only to return to work until late in the evening seems like a funny business model. I would much prefer to get all of my work done during the day so that I could go home at night and enjoy my entire evening free. But of course, that´s just me, and Argentina has a very different view of the workday. So here we are at 2pm, getting ready to wait out the afternoon on the beach or perhaps eating softserve ice cream at Mostaza!

Going back a few weeks: After we spent a night in Punta Arenas, Chile, we caught a bus 12 hours south to Ushuaia. In order to arrive in Ushuaia, we had to cross the Straight of Magellan on a ferry to land on the island of Tierra del Fuego. It was a windy, rainy day and we watched black and white Commerson´s dolphins chase the wake of the ferry as we were blown across the famous waterway. The bus continued through a surprising and snowy mountain range which opened up onto the Beagle channel (named after the boat on which Darwin travelled) and the small, hilly city at the end of the world, Ushuaia. Given the blustery weather on the day we arrived, Brad and I wisely decided to stay in a hostel in town, which broke our 22 night streak of sleeping in a tent. It was a bit of shock to sleep in a bed and I could hardly sleep because it was so hot in the heated dorm room compared to the tent! After 2 nights in hostels and taking advantage of being able to use a kitchen to cook a delayed Valentine´s day feast (we spent the real Valentine´s day on the 12 hour bus ride), we moved out of town 3 km to a lovely campground surrounded by maroon colored lupin at the base of a ski run. We did a short hike out to a glacier that the campground host correctly described as nonexistant compared to Perito Moreno and Glacier Grey! It was a beautiful hike, though, with panoramic views down the valley to the Beagle Channel and Ushuaia. It was definitely nice to get out of the touristy center of Ushuaia that seems always to be crawling with older, rich people just in town from the cruise ships long enough to purchase outrageously priced outdoor gear and trinkets and chocolates from the boutique shops. Although the weather improved to reveal pristine blue skies and sunshine until almost 10pm for a couple of days, the wind was still brisk and Brad and I decided it was time to make the big turnaround and for the first time in months, head north.

After busing it 34 hours farther north, though technically we are still in Patagonia, Puerto Madryn, where we have been for 5 days, feels like a tropical paradise compared to Tierra del Fuego. We have enjoyed several days of very warm, though still windy, weather and sun that doesn´t just shine, it actually warms you up too! On Monday we took a tour out to the Peninsula Valdes, which is a protected area teeming with sea lions, sea elephants, penguins, armadillos, guanacos, and whales (though we didn´t see any). I was very excited to finally see some penguins waddling around the beaches and some of them even seemed to mug for my very eager camera! Also in Puerto Madryn, we spent a really great day with some friends, Gonzalo, Luciana, Cynthia and Inés. We had met Gon and Luciana in Washington last summer when we attempted to climb Mt. St. Helens together. They work in marine life research here in Puerto Madryn and we have been looking forward to contacting them for months. They took us to a fun restaurant for beers one night and then helped us get our hands on some bikes so we could all ride out of town to Punta Lomo, a sea lion colony, and some beaches with beautiful deserty backdrops and blue green water. It was a great chance to get out of the city and to practice our Spanish!

Tonight, we are scheduled to take a bus up north to the city of Bahía Blanca, a scant 9 hours of bus time. From there we will decide if we want to visit the mountain town of Sierra de la Ventana or the beach town of Monte Hermosa. When we leave Puerto Madryn we will be out of the Patagonia region for good, heading north for warmer days and sadly, less daylight. At this point in our trip we are going toward Buenos Aires where we will stay with Meghan, our good friend from Portland! I am looking forward to it so much that it is almost hard to want to stop between here and there. Hopefully we will be able to post some pictures from BA if we can find a good internet connection and a few hours to spare! That´s all for now.
Love, Anika

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Punta Arenas Cemetery

Today we spent a few calming hours walking amoung the rows of both above and below ground tombs in the old cemetery of Punta Arenas. There was a fasicnating variety of objects used to create individual altars for the family graves. The well manacured grounds have earned it the reputation for being one of the most beautiful cemeteries in South America. I´ve tried to give you some idea of what it was like, but it is hard to improve upon the town´s free English language tourist map/guide:
The necropolis of Punta Arenas -capital city of Patagonia- is an open museum full with symbols, art and human feeling, open in 1894.
Here, dreams are memories that goes scrutinizing those who enter this field of peace, where rests she that one that got ahead of us history and that, with its pioneer spirit, colonists and contemporary were building our Patagonian identity.
In this cemetery are the perpetual cradles from each human epic that remebers the time that encouraged their lives.

We hope you enjoyed it as much as we did.

-Brad and Anika.

Glaciers, Hiking, and Heading Still Farther South

Hey all! It´s been a little while since I´ve found cheap enough internet to do an update so bear with me while I try to let you all know what we´ve been up to in Patagonia! I last left you in El Calafate, Argentina, where Brad and I took a tour into Parque Nacional Los Glaciares to see the impressive Perito Moreno glacier. It is one of the biggest tourist attractions in Patagonia because the front of the glacier is 3 miles long and can be easily observed from a series of intricate walkways that allow visitors to see the glacier from different vantage points. The glacier is also quite important because it is still advancing and it is said that it grows as much as 2 meters everyday. All of those miles of ice pushing the glacier forward makes Perito Moreno the most exciting piece of ice you will ever observe nonstop for 6 hours! Chunks of ice constantly break off and fall dramatically into the chilly water below creating large waves that send the icebergs floating off to the middle of the lake. I chose to sit in one spot where I could see the best of the glaciers faces and listened to the popping and cracking noises that indicated where the next icy plunge would occur and shockingly, before I knew it, 4 hours had passed! Though expensive, the trip to see the glacier was one of the highlights of this trip so far.

Two nights in touristy and expensive Calafate was all that we needed and after the trip to the glacier, Brad and I were off to Puerto Natales, which required a border crossing and more stamps in our passports! In Patagonia, there is almost no difference between Chile and fact, it almost seems as if we have left South America entirely because prices are so high, there are so many tourists around, and English is either spoken or written everywhere. I am actually quite excited to head back up north to explore the real Argentina and actually speak some Spanish again! Anyway, Puerto Natales is a colorful, windy little town on the edge of a lake surrounded by mountains and glaciers. That´s the other thing about Patagonia...there are glaciers everywhere! You can hardly walk around a corner without running into another glacier and the really crazy thing is that all of the glaciers are at sea level, not just confined to the mountains. So, we camped in Puerto Natales, in the yard of a hostel, and we spent a few days organizing ourselves to head into Parque Nacional Torres del Paine, the most famous park in South America.

In our travels we have run into many people coming from the south who had done Torres del Paine and we have gotten a lot of mixed information and recommendations about the right way to experience the just the circuit, do the W trail, wear raingear, just get wet and dry out later, you will get muddy feet, the wind will knock you over, the sun is so hot you will sweat like an athlete, etc. I had initially thought that we could wait around for a favorable weather window in which we would be safely able to see the entire park with little rain but upon arriving in Puerto Natales, I learned that the weather in Patagonia is incredibly complex and completely impossible to predict. If there is one constant, at least in the summer, it is the strong gusty wind. So Brad and I did some grocery shopping, enough to last us 8 or 9 days in the park and headed out to hike the circuit trail. Most tourists who come to Torres del Paine hike the W trail, which leads you to the highlights of the park and only takes something like 4 days. The circuit takes about 8 days and leads to the backcountry sections of the park which are more remote and visited by far fewer people. On our first day we hiked 28 km to Refugio Dixon in the most gorgeous, sunny, windless weather you can imagine. We assumed that our offerings to the weather gods had paid off and we could hike blissfully in ideal weather for at least a few days. But the following day we hiked for hours in the pouring rain, though it did remain windless. On the third day we set off in freezing, snowy, and windy conditions to hike up the John Gardener pass, the highest point on the circuit, which is not actually that high when compared with other hiking we did in Peru and Ecuador. It was a thrilling experience to emerge from the trees onto the snow covered, windswept trail that lead up to the pass. By the time we reached the top, we were taking a few steps and then stopping to hold onto rocks as the wind gusted, threatening to blow us over. From the top, where we stopped long enough to take one photograph, we had our first view of Glacier Gray, one of the biggest glaciers in the Patagonian icefield. But we descended quickly into the trees on the other side as the wind was relentless. After a steep, muddy hike down toward the glacier, we arrived at Refugio Gray for the night. There are a variety of campsites in the park, some you have to pay to use and others are free. The free sites are less tidy and often have problems with mice or overflowing pit toilets. It was a mystery to me how the park could charge a hefty entrance fee and then provide less than stellar accommodations for it´s campers. Also the trails, especially around the circuit, were often covered in calf deep mud and it was impossible to avoid getting extremely muddy even on dry days. Oh well, that´s just Chile. From Refugio Gray, we hiked to a free campsite at the base of the Valle Frances, which many people claim is the star of the Torres del Paine show despite the name of the park. When we poked our heads out of the rainfly the following day, however, it was pouring rain, and Brad had a little stomach bug that had him running down the trail to the bathroom frequently. I emerged from the tent only twice during the whole day as it continued to rain without pause. The next day, it was still raining but I made a gallant effort to explore the valley but after hiking one hour in without seeing any mountains and with the wind blowing in my face, I gave up and returned to camp to pack up and hike out to the final campsite, Las Torres. (Brad was feeling much better by the way). On the way, we hiked on the shore of a lake where you could observe the gusts of wind building up over the water to push the waves in a huge misty spray in toward the was pretty exhilerating! On the final morning, we woke up to sunny skies to see us out of the park and back to Puerto Natales and my first shower in 7 days. So, overall, we did some great hiking and saw many unforgettable things and I left feeling proud of completing my longest backpacking trip yet but a bit disappointed for not getting to see ALL of the sights.

In Puerto Natales we had a great time hanging out with our NW friends, Ryan and Molly and also with a couple from Vancouver BC, Claire and Dan, who we met at the hostel. We had a couple of really great bbqs and we spent a lot of good times there. But we said goodbye to them this morning and headed south to Punta Arenas, the southernmost city on continental South America. We spent the afternoon sightseeing around this windy city situated right on the Straight of Magellan. They have a gorgeous cemetary which Brad has already told you about in the previous post and there are wide boulevards which make walking around very easy and comfortable. The population of Punta Arenas has been incredibly mixed in the past from prisoners to soldiers and sailors to my favorite, ´dandies of the wool boom` who made their fortunes on sheeps wool and who built elaborate mansions that still stand around the plaza de armas downtown. It has been fun but we are off to Ushuaia tomorrow on a long bus ride that will take us to Tierra del Fuego and almost as far south as you can go on this continent! It is unbelievable to have reached this point in our adventure.
Hope all is well! Love, Anika

Monday, February 1, 2010


We have just arrived in Patagonia...well actually is has been a few days now but it is pretty unbelievable to be in this place that we have constantly been dubbing as the southernmost destination of this crazy trip! In Chile, we spent a couple of days in Valdivia, a beautiful city in the Lakes District but which is actually surrounded by 2 rivers that eventually arrive at the pacific ocean. I wandered around the town and talked with several young people who are students in the city during the school year and who work in tourism during the summer months. It was nice to speak some legitimate Chilean spanish and use the traditional kiss on the cheek Chilean greeting! When I arrived at the river the first thing I saw were crew boats practicing and I got very excited realizing that my sport existed so far south! Brad and I also made our way out of town to the Kuntsmann brewery, a very popular microbrew throughout Chile. We had the sampler which consisted of a blonde, a lager, a red, a honey and a wheat beer as well as several others of the same designation except they were not filtered. We were appreciative of different flavors but we grew quite nostalgic for the varitey of brews available in Portland.
After Valdivia, we spent a night in Osorno and then crossed the border into Argentina on a bus that broke down twice. The first time we were able to contiune our journey and the second time required a rescue bus to take us stranded passengers into Bariloche. We made the somewhat unwise decision to leave our backpacks on the stranded bus so that we could make it to Bariloche but the we had to wait one hour for our backpacks to arrive, which they thankfully did. When we were reunited with our backpacks we hopped on a micro headed toward the center of town but only minutes later I discovered that our tentpoles were missing. Usually they are secured into place by the ties in my backpack´s side pockets but they were no longer there. We immediately exited the bus and sprinted back to the bus station where we were reunited with the poles at the lost and found office. It was a close call considering how many nights of camping we have ahead of us in Patagonia!
I spent one night in trendy Bariloche where many rich Argentine tourists were spending their vacations and then I headed 2 hours south to El Bolson where Brad had gone the night before and where I was joyously reunited with our tent. Since it is high season in Argentina, there were almost no vacant dorm beds and I wandered around Bariloche until I found a place to bed down for the night. It is much easier to find a place to sleep when you have your own tent. El Bolson is an amazing little hippy town surrounded by rocky rideglines and green forests. When I exited the bus on Saturday I was immediately confronted by a fair full of dreadlocked hippies selling amazing crafts, artisan foods and microbrews. I was completely contented to spend several days there enjoying the bounty of delicious foods and creativity as well as a hike or two into the beautiful green wilderness littered with mountain climbin refuges.
From El Bolson Brad and I caught a southbound bus for the tiny town of El Chalten, located directly in the middle of Parque Nacional Los Glaciares. It was amazing that to arrive in that northern area of Patagonia even though it still took 30 hours. We left El Bolson on Wednesday night and didn´t arrive in El Chalten until Friday morning and we didn´t get any movies or food along the way.
El Chalten at 7am is a little bit of a disapointment but we had taken some benedryl and we had slept very well so we felt very revived when we stepped of the bus to brisk winds that made us immediately want to change into every layer of clothing we posessed. We pitched our tent and then went to talk with the national park ranger who recommended a trip into the park immediately because of a substantially good weather window. So we repacked our tent and headed off into Parque Naional Los Glaciares. But first we ran into our NW buddies Molly and Ryan who were camped at our campsite and we ended up heading into the park to see the star attraction Cerro Fitz Roy. It was a great hiking day and we saw some amazing blue glacial lakes at the base of Fitz Roy and all of the amazingly pointy peaks that surround it. There were some clouds that covered the summit but by the following morning they were all gone and we had an unbelievable view of Fitz Roy and the surrounding peaks. We did more hiking that lead us to a glacier and a lake and then were headed to the other side of the park where we had a fairytale view of Cerro Torre, the snowy spire of rock that shoots up straight from a glacier that feeds Laguna Torre at it´s base. It was an amazing couple of days and we felt extremely lucky to be able to view so many amazing sights without a breath of wind or a hint of rain.
On the third day we hiked back into El Chalten to the comfort of a delicious pizza, a microbrew beer and many clouds that gathered until this morning when we hopped on a bus to the next town farther south, El Calafate. We are currently in this town waiting to catch a tour in to see the giant star of the Patagonian show el Perito Moreno glacier. Maybe we will go tomorrow. It is hard to believe that we have reached so far south after so many months of anticipation!
Hope everything is well!

Sunday, January 17, 2010

In South America....

1. Broken bottles cemented atop a wall is your security system.
2. All men sleep on buses no matter how poor the roads.
3. People have great hair.
4. Virgins are cool.
5. Women miraculously walk in stiletto heels on cobble stone streets.
6. Purchasing a bus ticket does not always entitle you to a place to sit.
7. Inkacola tastes like bubble gum.
8. Track suits are school uniforms.
9. Overnight buses show horror movies right before you are supposed to go to sleep.
10. Dirty or scratched coins are not accepted
11. Llamas wear sunglasses and pose for photos.
12. You have to decide when is the right time to kick a dog.
13. Every window on the bus is a trash can.
14. Stupid tourists buy digoridoos at indiginous Andean markets.
15. Cultural differences in sidewalk etiquette make crowded city navigation difficult.
16. A 9 seat van holds 21.
17. Every item gets its own plastic bag.
18. The claws of chicken feet break the surface as the level of your soup drops.
19. Distance is measured in time instead of kilometers.
20. Except at banks lines are unacknowledged.
21. Machu Picchu has the only soda fountain in the Andes.
22. There is only one type of cheese.
23. Prices are not fixed and never indicated (except in Chile).
24. It is cheaper to eat at a resturant then to cook for yourself (except Chile).
25. Water is electrically heated in the shower head; which is shocking when not installed correctly.
26. No one has change.
27. Directions are given with a series of hand gestures and repeated ¨por alla¨.
28. At each hostel you must register your passport number and list your occupation, but no one seems to notice if you are a ´rock star´or ´sex machine´.
29. No meal is complete without at least one liter of soda.
30. All grass areas in parks are fenced off and strictly not for walking on.
31. In Bolivia the fuel we use for our stove in also the poor man´s drink of choice, (192 proof ethenol).
32. In Colombia, a leading coffee producer, everyone drinks instant coffee. In Ecuador, a leading cocao producer, the chocolate is terrible; all the good stuff is exported to Switzerland.
33. Look with extreme skeptisism upon the phrase, ¨We have hot water 24 hour a day¨.
34. On Sundays, nothing but God´s store is open.
35. Boxed wine and bottled wine are the same quality and cost.
36. Always, at minimum, double the recomended amount of water for powdered drink mixes.

Typical Local/Tourist exchange:
Brad: (in Spanish) What flavors of soft serve icecream do you have?
Icecream Lady: Chocolate and peach.
Brad: Can I have a cone of just chocolate?
Icecream Lady: Chocolate?
Brad: Yes, chocolate.
Icecream Lady: Here you are. (handing Brad the cone)
Brad: (After paying and taking his first bite) This is peach.
Icecream Lady: Yes, I ran out of chocolate.
Brad: So you only have peach?
Icecream Lady: Yes, only peach.
Brad and Anika walk away laughing.

Most common exchange in South America:
Local: What is your name?
Brad: Brad.
Local: Bratt.
Brad: No, Brad.
Local: Brett.
Brad: Brad.
Local: Like Brad Pitt?
Brad: Yes, like Brad Pitt.
Local: (very excitedly) Ohhh! Yes Brad Pitt.

-Brad and Anika
Today is election day in Chile. I have fond memories of watching the US presidential primary election in a movie theater full cheering people in Portland. I hope we can find some place to watch the results, but I am doubtful as much of the town in closed down today. Anika and I are still enjoying each others´ company and we are both exited to be heading to Patagonia. On the way down I am hoping to stay on an oganic farm and work for a few weeks in exchange for our room and board. I have been feeling a little restless with my lack of physical productivity and it would be good to expel some energy in this way.

Traveling in Chile has been very relaxing as the transportation infrastructure is excellent and we can relax our guard somewhat against theft and scams. Chile is South America´s richest country and therefore the wealth disparity between the locals and us is much less. This has served to ease some of the strain on my conscience, which was heavy at times, especially walking the streets of Bolivia. The inequality in the world is not just, and everyone knows this, but it is easier to ignore when not looking it directly in the eyes.

We spent a few nice days in Santiago, Chile´s capital. The days were warm and sunny and our hostel had a swiming pool. We reunited with two friends, Morgan and Daniel, from our tour of the Bolivian salt flats. Morgan was about to return to the US and we were able to attend her going away party/BBQ.

The wine here is good, Anika is getting better at cards(cribbage), and the days are getting longer with every mile we make southward. I hope all is well in the north half of the world.


Saturday, January 16, 2010

Another Jump to the South

Today is Saturday, and I only know this because I happened to look at my watch this morning and notice the little S in the upper part of the screen. Sometimes I literally go for days without knowing what day of the week it is. And then one day I try to go explore a little town and everything is closed...and then I know it is Sunday. But today is actually a significant day because tomorrow, Sunday, January 17th, are the run-off presidential elections in Chile and they are hotly contested. The first elections happened in December and since there was no majority reached the top two candidates, Piñera and Frei, are facing off. Piñera is the more conservative candidate and he is said to have a slight lead since he won more of the vote in December but Frei, the more liberal candidate, may come through on top since the Independent candidate who is generally favored by liberal voters, is no longer in the race. There is such a split in the population that nobody really knows who will win and there is some anxiety since Chile has not had a conservative president in decades. I am pretty interested in the outcome and I am hoping to be able to get access to some election coverage tomorrow. This is somewhat improbable, however, because in Chile, as in Bolivia, election day is treated almost as a national holiday and businesses begin to close today in the afternoon and will remain closed through Sunday so that everybody can vote. Alcohol sales are also cut off tonight and will not resume until Monday. Another interesting election tidbit is that once you vote in Chile for the first time you must vote in every subsequent election or you will be either slapped a huge fine or worse unless you are physically a certain distance away from your voting district. Because of this, we heard that many residents of Santiago travel 6 hours north to La Serena to avoid their voting duties.

Whatever happens in the Sunday elections, Brad and I will be camped out in a little campsite near the lakeside town of Villarrica, in the Lakes District of Chile. We arrived yesterday after a ridiculous day of travelling that consisted of 5 different buses and as many different cities. For the last couple of days we have been in the Reserva Natural Radal Siete Tazas, a park just to the east of the Panamerican highway and south a few hours from Santiago. The park is famous for it´s sparkling clear river that snakes it´s way through an impressively deep but narrow canyon, dropping in a series of waterfalls into 7 pools known as the Siete Tazas (seven cups). There is a beautiful trail that runs alongside the waterfalls and we were lucky enough to observe 3 kayakers descending through each section of of the seven pools! The final sight on this small section of river is a waterfall known as Salta La Leona which plunges out of the steep sided gorge into a wide bowl and a nice pool that swimmers can enjoy (if they can endure the icy water which Brad compared to Crater Lake and I definitely didn´t get in far enough to say). It was really a relief to be out in nature for a couple of days after spending the last few weeks in Valparaíso and Santiago, which were great fun but intense places. We realized that in Chile we have camped almost every night except for when we stayed in hostels in the big cities, but even though we have been sleeping in a tent, we have not been in nature. However, we have reached the Lakes District, the gateway to Patagonia, and that means we will be embarking on some serious nature adventure very soon! On Monday we will begin a short backpacking trip to traverse the side of Volcán Villarrica, which I climbed back when I visited this area in 2005.

The Lakes District is obviously rich in lakes but it is also has plentiful volcanos, most of which are very classically cinder cone shaped and covered in a nice layer of snow. None of the volcanos here are over 4,000 meters so they are not tall compared to any of the Andes mountains in Peru or Ecuador. But they are quite scenic mixed with the landscape of lakes and pine forests which very much resemble areas of the Pacific NW. Last night we also had the first rain we have experienced since I can even remember...maybe it was La Paz...or perhaps there was a slight rainstorm in Tupiza in southern Bolivia that required the use of our raingear. But since then we have seen not a drop of rain so I certainly have no animosity toward a little sprinkling. Plus our tent could use a bath!

That´s pretty much the news for now. I do have one story to relate about Valparaíso. There´s a dance club I used to go to called El Huevo which was amazing because it consisted of 4 floors and at least as many rooms playing a variety of music. Well, of course I had to take Brad there and so we went on the Friday night before leaving Valpo. Besides a higher cover charge and a slightly remodeled space, it was the same place I remember from 5 years ago! Without realizing it, we danced, heard a couple of live cover bands play, and observed some amazing salsa dancers in the rooftop bar until the club kicked everyone out at closing time, 5am. By that time, I had gone back to the dark corner where I had stashed my white fleece sweatshirt earlier in the night and I found it missing along with another light cardigan sweater. I was pretty upset considering I have very few clothing items on this trip and the fleece was a key layer for warmth for me. But then I remembered that on one trip to Huevo back in 2005, I had inadvertantly walked away from the coatcheck with my own 2 jackets and many blocks later realized that I had also taken a light black jacket that certainly was not mine. I wore that jacket all over Chile and Connecticut and Boston and I continue to wear that jacket in Oregon these days. So I guess it was just club karma that took that white fleece from me! Besides, after leaving Huevo, who could be upset while observing the crowds of partiers in Valpo on a Friday night/morning all devouring the classic completo (hotdog with avocado, katchup, mustard, and mayonaise) before stumbling home to bed as the sun rises?

More later!

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Revisiting Valpo

You know how people say that no news is good news. Well, considering it has been a couple of weeks since either Brad or I have updated the blog, I can assure you it is because things are proceeding excellently here in Chile!

I guess to start I should wish you all a Happy New Year! I hope you all had delightful celebrations. Brad and I were in the beach town of La Serena for the festivities, camping just a block away from the ocean among the highrise condominiums and apartment buildings that line the very posh seaside strip located about an hour walk from the colonial church filled city center of La Serena. The beach is a very popular New Years destination for Chileans and they come in droves from the inland cities to enjoy the wide, fine white sandy beaches and to soak up the plentiful summer sun. There were moments when you could hardly see the sand for all of the colorful umbrellas that were crammed between the boardwalk and the waves. It was very obvious that the majority of the Chilean tourists who were populating the lodgings near the beach were quite well off financially and many of the restaurants and invitation only New Years Eve parties were well beyond our budget. Luckily, the best parties were found directly on the beach where families set up card tables stocked with Pisco, wine, champagne and plenty of munchies to fortify their late night celebrations. At midnight there was a fireworks display (actually there were 4 of them up and down the beaches) that was not as impressive as some I´ve seen but still provided entertainment as they appeared to actually light the waves on fire (there were probably some pretty scared fish out there)! Brad and I were able to chill a bottle of champagne by placing it carefully between 2 bags of ice we found in the Hiper Lider (huge Costcolike supermarket). It was the first bagged ice we have seen during the entire trip!

When we were sufficiently finished with our explorations of La Serena we moved 2 hours inland to the Valle de Elqui to the little tiny town of Pisco Elqui. This valley is a series of stark deserty mountains cut down the middle with a vein of leafy vineyards where grapes especially suited for making Pisco are grown almost exclusively in this one location in Chile. The dry heat was perfectly balanced with a blustery wind to create a lazy climate. If I lived in Pisco Elqui I would never get anything done due to the irresistable urge to relax with an ice cream cone in the shady plaza. Luckily I was there to do just that as well as to take a walk down the road to the nearest artisan Pisco distillary, Los Nichos, where I got to check out the bodegas where barrels of the grape brandy were slowly aging. Samples were also provided and Brad and I ended up buying a nice bottle of Pisco to mix with cocacola (for a Piscola) or sprite (for a Pisco blanco). In Pisco Elqui we camped in a rowdy campsite where hoards of Chilean revelers often stayed up until sunrise singing and playing bongo drums but it was amusing enough to keep me from feeling annoyed.

After 2 nights in Pisco Elqui the day finally came for me to return to Valparaíso, the port city where I spent all of my 5 months abroad almost 5 years ago. I have been biding my time for a chance to return and I was pretty much beside myself with anticipation through the whole 7.5 hour bus journey (that should have been just 6 but there were "muchos tacos," or traffic jams, according to the bus driver). In Valpo, Brad and I have been staying at a beautiful hostel that is artistically decorated with colorful walls and little art installations in every corner. It has been a perfect base for exploring the city since it is centrally located just partway up Cerro Carcel, one of the many hills that surround the bay of Valparaíso. The hills that depart from the slight 3 block wide downtown sector of the city help to create the haphazard image of Valpo that is conjured when travellers remember the colorful houses hanging on the sides of rocky outcroppings and the curvy, meandering streets broken up by endless staircases and secret passageways that give the city so much character. Exploring the city this time around has been exciting because we have had 4 days of blue sky and sunlight that sparkles off of the bay and the activities of cargo boats and cruise ships that come and go. Everything is extremely familiar to me and it is a comfort knowing where I can find hardware stores, the cheapest groceries, and the best places for getting beer or pastries. Also Brad and I sat in the general admission galeria of a very important, first of the season, soccer game featuring the cherished Valparaíso team oddly called the Santiago Wanderers. The game took place in the stadium on Cerro Playa Ancha, right next door to the Universidad de Playa Ancha, where I attended classes when I studied in Valpo. It was definitely a trip to revisit that spot. When the Wanderers won there were many celebrations and repetitions of the quick s-s-s-santiagowanderersvalparaíso! The game was monitored by the intimidating Carabineros (riot police) who were patting everyone down in a pretty invasive search and were not allowing any plastic bottles into the stadium. Somehow Brad managed to charm one of them into letting him keep a ratty ductape wrapped bottle that we have been drinking from throughout this entire trip! On a side note, purchasing and throwing away plastic has been one of the most mentally disturbing aspects of this trip for me. I can´t stand throwing away plastic and that includes plastic bottles, plastic bags, the thick plastic jugs that drinkable yogurt comes in and all of the plastic packaging that comes standard on most items. It´s tough to contribute to the trash heaps especially when so much of it can be seen in roadside ditches and washing up onto beaches. I try to reuse the plastic bags that the produce sections of the grocery stores insist you use even when purchasing a single tomato but I do endure some funny looks from people!

So, Valpo has been amazing and we still have at least one more day here, just until I feel like I have seen everything that needs to be seen. Brad and I went to the top of a tall hill yesterday to see La Sebastiana, one of three houses owned by Chilean poet Pablo Neruda. He was an amazingly clever decorator and everything in his quirky houses served a purpose, had a back story or related some joke or poem to the visitor. It is an inspiring place with a stunning panoramic view of the whole city of Valparaíso. Today, Brad and I took a micro (little public bus) over to the adjacent resort town of Viña del Mar where the beaches are suitable for swimming and sun bathing and there are tree-lined, shop-filled streets. It is a less gritty version of Valpo but has none of the artistic touches or funky student presence that I appreciate so much in Valpo. Still it was nice to wander there for a day and to have lunch at Cafe Journal, a spot I used to frequent when I lived here.

Santiago is the next stop on the list but we probably will stay just long enough to see a few sights and to try to get our ipod fixed at an Apple store since I know there is at least one in the capital. We have been without music for a couple of months now and I´m getting a bit desperate! Check out the picture page...we´ve added some photos and we´re slowly working on captioning the rest.
Best wishes and besitos from Chile!