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!