Walkabout: Travel Life and Photographs

Mountains and War

IMG_3136During the Obon festival we had three days off. For the holiday everyone travels back home to be with family and to remember and honor their ancestors. It is a big deal, kind of like Christmas in the States.

Rachel and I, along with two other WWOOFers (Margot from Austria and Chloe from Australia), decided it would be best to give the family some space and let them celebrate without us pesky foreigners hanging around. Thus we went camping. Kanda-san dropped us off at a trailhead to climb Mt. Kushigatayama. Walking back to his car he said, “watch out for big back flies!” in the car he said, “Oh! And watch out for bears!” We looked up the trail to see a few hundred stone stairs that climbed steadily upward to a Shinto Shrine, which are easily recognized by their Torii Gates of Vermillion Red, and a 1200 year old O-Sugi Cedar tree. The trail continued from there and was steep but shady and the coolness of the higher elevation was truly refreshing. We stopped for a short break and then movedIMG_3206 onward, eventually making it to a road crossing. We stashed our packs on the side of the road (gotta love that about Japan! Nobody will bother your stuff) and headed to a waterfall that Kanda had told us about. We found a small lookout for it weren’t that impressed because we were so far away. Therefore we traversed back to the river and followed it all the way down to the edge of the waterfall. We stayed at the spot where the waterfall dropped into a valley for some time. This must be where zen happens. We pulled ourselves away and made it back to the packs so that we could reach the hut. Chloe and Margot slept in the hut and Rachel and I opted for our tent because it was cooler and we were tired of the heat from the farm. We had a light meal and went to bed early to arise at 4am for the sunrise hike. We managed with two headlamps and made it to the summit just as the sun was breaking over the valley. We even caught our first glimpse of Mt. Fuji, just a faint outline in the far distance. We ate a breakfast of oats (very different than oatmeal in the states we learned) and returned to camp and packed and headed back down. No black flies and no bears.

We easily reached the start of the trail and traipsed in to the neighboring town to try and hitchhike back to the farm which was 20 minutes down the mountain. Along the way an old man polishing tomatoes flagged us down. We went over to him and he started talking to us. Luckily for us, Chloe knows quite a bit of Japanese and could translate for the rest of us. He gave us all tomatoes and then spoke of being alone on Obon and how he was too old to grow many crops any more. Due to the drought he had a small yield of tomatoes this year. This made us feel bad for eating them even though he offered them to us, but glad we could offer some company at the same time. He then gave us a bag of tomatoes to go! We said our goodbyes and wondered what other people we would meet along the way.

Further down the road we saw a sign for a gallery. Kanda said his friend ran the place and that we should stop in on the way back, so we veered off yet again in search of the place. We found some men out working and asked them for directions. They yelled over to a woman across the way hanging up her laundry to dry on the road guards. She apparently ran the place and replied the gallery was closed. We turned around but before we made it 5 steps, she invited us in for IMG_3246coffee. We entered her house, removed our shoes and sat on tatami mats around a table. At the table already sat an older man in a chair eating lunch. Chloe spoke with him while his wife served us a decadent cup of coffee and local sweets adorned by flowers from her garden. Through Chloe I asked the man what the book was on the table because there were many copies of it. He explained to us it was about the Korean War. His parents were brought from Korea to Japan as slaves and forced to work. Once the war was over they were set free, but could not return to their home. They had to live in Japan and were despised by the locals. He and his wife grew up in Japan and the kids threw rocks at them and taunted them. Now, since many years have passed, Koreans are not treated like that and many have married in to and integrated in to the Japanese way of life. While he shared his story I became incredibly touched and emotional. I felt bad for him and his family and the hardships they endured. In this man I saw the Korean counterpart of my own grandpa who fought in the Korean War. I had Chloe try and convey my sentiments and hopefully some of it got through. Who knew I would have had such an experience just by chance, it is miraculous to see in someone from another culture, someone so familiar to me and know that both stood on opposite sides of a war in two totally different cultures. He then spoke of peace and moving forward. Much more was conveyed even though I could not understand the words he spoke. IMG_3265While all this happened an alarm sounded throughout the entire town, possibly Japan, to commemorate the people who died during WWII. I never imagined such a day when I woke up that morning on the mountain. Then as if they hadn’t done enough, they asked us if we liked waterfalls because there was one nearby. We said we did and asked what direction to walk. They said it was too hot for us to walk and she said would drive us there herself since she hadn’t been to it in a while. Chloe tried to politely say no, but it is very difficult to say no to a Japanese offer, at least without severely offending them. We piled in to her little car and sped around the curved roads as she told us about the mountains. Next we followed her up, down and around metal staircases suspended above a river below to reach the waterfall. We drank straight from the pool below and cooled off as wind, created by the falling water, rushed around us. It was such a powerful place. We thanked her very much for showing us around on the drive back and then she insisted we try some local cuisine. Again there was no saying no, Chloe tried. We slurped Soba noodles and drank Sapporo beer. We then went to pay and the waitress refused our money and told us the woman with us put it on her tab. They gave so much to complete strangers and asked for nothing in return. As she drove away we bowed until the car was out sight, we were still in disbelief. I felt part guilt, part amazement that she would drop everything for strangers. This is Japan.

IMG_3284Back on the street, feeling full and happy we began walking towards the farm with our thumbs stretched out to cars passing by. I stuck my thumb out when I heard a car behind me and realized to the delight of my traveling companions that it is better to look at who you are waving down. I had flagged an ambulance! The driver had the biggest grin on his face as he passed. Along the way Margot began to feel ill and her face went pale. She said her chest was heavy and tight. We managed to flag down a car, probably the smallest one around, and we all hopped in. The lady was driving to work, but was running late. She offered to drive us to the hospital by her work. Margot was still not well so we decided that would be best. Luckily by the time we arrived there she was filling better and just wanted to go home and rest. We think she was dehydrated and exhausted from the hike. Having miles of trail and pavement under our feet we struck out towards Kanda’s which was all the way across town. We eventually made it home and that night we relived our glorious day while slurping the rest our camp food under the stars. These are the days that make traveling a love of mine, a reminder that we are on a journey that gives us precious memories to savor and one that has many bountiful experiences in store.

Paddy Full of Rice

IMG_3392About 1 week ago we stepped into a rice paddy and out of the jet lag daze that we have been in. From the exciting streets of Tokyo, where there was something new around every corner and more, we took the local trains to Kanda’s Natural Farm in the Yamanashi Prefecture, aka countryside. Very few travelers make it to rural Japan and as we rolled further from the heart of Tokyo we saw and heard less English, it became more difficult to navigate through the train terminals to get to the connecting train, but with the help of locals and some perseverance we found ourselves at our stop. We foIMG_3125und a pay phone and called Kanda himself to pick us up. The next day we followed Kanda, a long-haired man with a gentle smile and always a towel or two wrapped around his head, into a rice paddy. Our job was to rid the paddy of 2 types of weeds. The bottom and roots of the rice sit in water until harvest time which is at the start of October. For more years than not people have grown and weeded rice paddies bare foot. We wore rain boot and the classic wide brimmed hat (see pictures). Walking in a rice paddy is not so easy and at first I thought I would fall for sure which I would hate to do, since the rows were so tight and crushing rice that is just getting ready to bloom would be disastrous on our first day! We slipped and fumbled and tried not to push the rice which were in grass like bunches, the leaves are very sharp so we wore long sleeves and gloves. Kanda squared us away and left to do other tasks. There we were in 1 of many rice paddies in a neighborhood surrounded by lush mountains. Due to the swelter, the scorching heat that is surrounding me even as I write this, IMG_3431we work from 8-11 and then take a break from 11-3 and go back in the afternoon for 3 more hours. This is the best; we escape the extreme heat of the day, but don’t worry we get a good dose of it. When we arrived we joined the ranks with 2 other WWOOFers (volunteers on organic farms): Chloe from Australia and Margot from Austria. They both helped us with the language barrier and became our Japanese teachers. We worked for 2 days in the rice paddies before the O-Bon festival began. Nobody works during this holiday which celebrates the family ancestors and everyone returns to their hometown for 3 days. The weeding of the rice was finished as well since the plants are too delicate to handle trampling over the roots. Being the nature lover that I am I loved the creatures we would find among the micro ecosystem of the paddies. Little green frogs everywhere (once a local man walked by and there was a little green frog perched on the nape of his neck…glorious!) praying mantis, grasshoppers, caterpillars, and vibrant blue, white, brown and orange dragonflies and more. After 3 days off and a camping trip with Chloe and Margot (we will tell you more about that) we got back to work and this time Andy and I were in charge of putting fencing around all of Kanda’s rice paddies to protect the budding rice from the birds. Rice is a grass and we eat the seeds when the flowers bloom the husk will open and the plant releases the seeds which we eat. The plant gets heavy with seeds and slumps over the edge of the rice paddy and birds take the opportunity to munch on it. So we hammer in stakes around the paddy, string up fishing line in two rows to hold the weeping rice and IMG_3361then tie on flashy tape to scare the birds away. We learned the way to tie and tighten the lines and we have completed almost 20 fields. We have learned, not all rice paddies are the same they are different shapes and sizes and fencing them in can be hazardous with the maze of concrete water drainages and weeds. I took a spill when I stepped down into what I thought was solid ground, but was actually a concrete ditch. Don’t worry when we were stringing the fence on a 6 foot ledge neither of us fell! Yesterday we had a break from the stake making and line stringing as Kanda needed us to fix the net around the millet fields. Yes there is a net over the entire field and it was our job to drive the stakes into the ground to hold the net away from the millet plants; millet it a nice snack for birds too. In the jungle of millet we realized the ground was very hard and the long bamboo stakes were not going into the ground and the next gusty wind would just blow it over. Birds would win. Andy, being innovative found a solution by using bigger bamboo and driving that into the ground and then placing the stake in that to hold the net. Kanda wasn’t sure what Andy was doing but gave him the freedom to try it. It ended up working very well and the net looks much better. I felt a high amount of frustration with the project, not sure if it was the jungle of millet crowding me or the insane net that would get caught on everything, especially buttons! We can see the net from our dome house and it does feel gratifying to know we improved it. Birds won’t win for now. Well, that’s a bit about our work here. We (Andy’s turn) will write more about camping, food, and other adventures of Japan.IMG_3127

“Why Japan?”

5 Story Pagaoda in Asakusa

This trip is come about through a culmination of Andy’s desire to travel to Japan, which traces back to when we first met and my idea to travel on a one-way ticket.  The culture draws us both and through our research we have met many who speak about Japan in a way that made us more determined to visit. The hiking and onsens (hot springs) that pop up all over the country were a big pull for us as well. We also come seeking a deeper connection to the people and the land. That is why we are working on local farms through a program called WWOOFing to learn about organic farming and to go beyond the big cities to the small towns. Japan, as of now, is our first destination, but we want to see Thailand, Nepal and other countries. We have yet to figure out which comes next and for what length.  We arrived in Tokyo late last night. Who knows maybe there will be a teaching job? We may find enlightenment by hiking to sacred temples. Day 1 was intense. We traveled on local, public transportation, walked and walked through the Asakusa district of Tokyo, enjoyed a fresh meal, and so much more. The path is wide open and we are ready to put one foot in front of the other. Please keep in touch through our blog, leave comments and keep us up to date with what is happening at home.

Back in the CO

It has been almost a week since our return home. Our last few days in Viña were spent catching up with friends, celebrating Easter, and packing one last time. On Easter Sunday we took our last trip to Valparaiso and visited Pablo Neruda’s house that is located on top of one of the many hills. It overlooked the city and the port. It was great to see the old roommates and we thoroughly enjoyed a couple games of Kings with Morgan, Mara, Nunu, Diego, and Pete. I P1050454 (768x1024)felt an odd mixture of excitement for being home soon, and the feeling of sadness as our adventure was coming to an end.

Ma and Pops met us at the airport and the Rockies were covered with clouds as we landed. The cold, dry air reminded me that I was home. After stuffing ourselves with Old Chicago pizza we slept for a good 12-14 hours. The time change is about 2 hours, but after our month of pure travel and our hiking excursions we were exhausted and only now are getting back to normal. I would do it all again in a heart beat, but the homecoming has given me appreciation for the life that I have here in the CO.

Walking through Viña for the last time on our way to the bus station for our last bus ride, a friend of ours named Dan asked,” So where are you two going to travel for your next trip?” We both replied, “Nepal.” We don’t know when or how, but we will be at home for sometime first. Andy will be working and I am returning to CSU to finish up my Bachelors degree in Natural Resources. It has been great sharing our trip with all of you and we hope to see each of you in the near future! Nos Vemos!

-Raquelita y Andresito

Videos from our Travels

Now that we’re back in Vina we have a descent internet connection for once.  So here are a few more short clips from our travels.  In no particular order is Iguazu Falls (a little long, but it’s good), Perito Moreno Glacier, two clips from our trek in Torres del Paine and finally the earthquake video for anyone who hasn’t seen it yet.

(For those of you reading this on Facebook you might have to visit my website www.andyjcollins.com to view the videos.)


The Last Leg

P1050355 Rachel and I set out from Puerto Natales back to the North of Chile on a cargo, passenger ship called Navimag. We waited until the day of departure to get the best deal on the tickets. We risked not getting a spot, but it’s late in the season and there was plenty. We decided to take the boat because it wasn’t much more than a bus and was definitely more comfortable. We’re honestly sick of the long bus rides.

The Navimag ship cruised through the fjords and islands of Southern Chile to the northern port town of Puerto Montt over the course of four days. The trip was pretty uneventful. The crew fed us well, put on educational programs about the surrounding areas, showed movies at night and on certain days we visited places on the way like an old ghost ship that never sank and a tidal glacier. Then the last night they put on a raging Bingo party. It was actually pretty fun since the MC for the night made everyone who won or even said the word Bingo come up and dance in front of everyone. The trip was nice and allowed us to rest a bit. Once to port we took a 7 hour bus, which ended up being 10 hours due to a bus breaking down and having to get a new one, to Bariloche, Argentina. What is a trip without at least one bus breakdown?

P1050435 In Bariloche we wanted to do another long, multiday trek. After buying supplies we went to the trailhead, which was in Villa Catedral at the base of a ski slope. There the trail skirted along the bottom of the mountain until it reached the mouth of a river canyon and snaked along its shore. We hiked for a while in the forest until the trail jerked upward and above tree line to our first campsite. There was a nice, small hut that offered dorm rooms and meals, but we had our gear and put up the tent on the edge of the lake and had a great view of Cerro Catedral which made for a grand sunrise as well. The next day the trail was unclearly marked and we took an unintentional detour up a neighboring mountain until we realized the trail was actually across the valley below us. So back down we went and got back on course. The trail went up to a smaller lake and there climbed steeply in to the mountain peaks. At the top I realized this is how I pictured Patagonia in my head before we left. Before us lay a brilliant view of the surrounding area. Snow capped mountains were stacked, one on top of P1050556 one another, and stretched out in rows to the far distance, differentiated by shades of blue. And in the valleys below were large, deep blue lakes. The trail then tipped completely downward and ran us through a skree field and dumped us out in to a dry river gulley before we reached the valley floor. Then for good measure it went through the valley, back up another mountain side and back down again much like before. It was neat though to look back on top of the second mountain and see where we had come from and had been. The next day we were quite sore and didn’t really want to do another long with our big packs on the strenuous trail. So we decided to stay in camp a day longer and take it easy. We hiked up to a small lake and:

Journal Excerpt: “So here we sit side-by-side on a large limestone rock, protruding out in to our very own private lake, perched high above in the Andes mountains. Sheer rock walls surround it on one side with snow fields up above and one at its edge, which I’ve named Andrew’s Glacier because of its small size and that reminds me of the one in RMNP. The icy-blue waters spill outward to large slabs of rock that pour down the valley with small patches of grass. The water laps at our feet and the sound of a river echoes off the greater center wall. Needing to rest from out last 2 days of hiking we decided to stop and not P1050608 continue on this day, which is definitely needed. We got a little frustrated following the lack of trail up here, but have made it worth it. We’ve joked around, given each other love and attention and have goofed off. We took a bunch of timed photos of us doing crazy things like hands and feet in the air, me picking up Rach over my shoulder, us mooning the camera and so on. Then we got the idea to skinny-dip. Rach went for it right away and had all her clothes off by the time I could barely fish the towel from the backpack. She was in and I don’t think she breathed again until she was out, but she loved it. Soon, to Rach’s surprise, I too was naked and we both slid in together. I gave her a quick kiss and made way back to our rock. Yes, it was cold. We’ve eaten some carrots and cookies and sit together on my orange towel writing in our journals. We’ve named the place skinny-dip point.”

The next day we hiked out. At the base of the mountain we waited an hour for a bus, but one never came or any traffic for that matter. So we tried to walk to the nearest town of Colonia Suiza that was a few miles away. However we were stopped just short of the town, we could see it across the lake’s edge, by a sign that saying there was danger ahead and that people were working with P1050716 explosives. We didn’t know what to do and really didn’t want to backtrack. The idea of walking almost 10 kms back and possibly catching a bus sounded awful as the weight of packs were wearing on us. So we asked an old man and he told us we might be able to talk to the construction workers and we could pass by the lake’s edge. So back at the sign I found a trail that led down to the lake. I thought we were in luck! Unfortunately the trail quickly ended and we were soon wading in the water to bypass large bushes and trees. We thought it best to head back up by tearing through the thickets and were now back on the road. For a moment we thought we had gone around it all, but this was not the case. We actually just walked down and around a perfectly good road only to find another sign blocking away. This time we went around it and saw the construction going on. We could hear drilling and tractors and rocks were flying down the mountainside and being flung in to the lake. The road was impassable. So we then figured they have to stop working sometime since it’s late in the day, we’ll just wait it out and cross when they leave. After a while though a couple locals on bikes joined us and tried to get by too, but failed. Luckily for us though, one pointed out to us that a trail went up and around the work zone. It was super steep and difficult with our packs, Rach almost fell off too, but was saved by a cable they had put up for such occasions. But we made it to the small town of Colonia Suiza and decided put up our tent one last time and treated ourselves to a delicious trout dinner at a local restaurant.

P1050620 Back in Barilcohe we have been touring around a bit and seeing a few sites. Other than that we’ve bought tickets to head back to Vina del Mar, Chile and leave in a couple hours. We’ll have a couple days to see our friends, host family and then catch our flight out of Santiago on the 5th.

We keep reflecting on what a magnificent trip we have had. All the things we have seen and the ups and downs of the travelling life have been all worth it. We have been longing for the familiarities and people of home so it will be nice to return. Hope you have enjoyed the blog and we hope to catch up with all of you in the near future!


Rachel and Andy

Patagonian Wind

Rachel – March 22nd, 2010 – Blog 10

Patagonian Wind

We made it to Puerto Natales and prepared for a 5 night trip into Torres del Paine National Park. The night before we were suppose to leave my hives returned! They weren’t as bad as before but had spread across my stomach, back, chest and face. I wanted to pretend that everything was fine, and head into the backcountry, but knew that it could get worse so we went to the hospital in Puerto Natales. It was early morning and long story short I ended up leaving the hospital without any help. They gave me short answers and wouldn’t let Andy come in with me. We eventually went to a local pharmacy that offered consultations and tried to fight the hives with pills, but ended up getting another steroid shot. What luck. Worried about what we should do we contacted home and got advice from my family doctor and decided to head to the park with Benadryl in hand the following day providing that the hives were gone or better, hoping they wouldn’t return.

P1040625 We arrived by bus and started hiking at 11:00. It felt so good to get out and begin to enjoy Patagonia. Even if we had to hike out the next day we were able to hike 17 kilometers with a panoramic view of the mountains, the sun shining the whole way, and not a care in the world. The trail was flat and passed by indigo blue glacial lakes. We had everything we needed on our backs. We pulled into camp around 5pm. We realized right away that the park caters to all types of travelers at certain points called refugios. This particular refugio was accessible by a catamaran across Lake Pehoe, had had a lodge with restaurant, heated showers and a small general store selling snickers for $2 each. We took a different route and saw an area that is less traveled by visitors. The camp area behind the “hotel” was packed. These visitors were from across the world. We put our tent next to a noisy Israeli group and checked out the communal kitchen area, which was sheltered, warm and therefore the place to be. They provided running water and burners with fuel. For a night it was fine, but this was a noisier, busier camp experience then I wanted. We did meet a nice Chilean guy who gave us some advice on what trail to take and it was interesting being around such a diverse group of people. Some looked as if they had been hiking for weeks, while others had all the new shiny gear and were ready to begin their adventure. After our meal of pasta followed by hot cocoa we hit the hay and listened to the Israeli’s late into the night. Several times during the night we heard scampering of mice, a couple even climbed up the netting of our tent and back down the other side. If they stuck around too long we would scare them off since our food was in our packs.

P1040705 The morning was cold with frost, but the sun was coming over the mountain by the time we had finished breakfast. Once we started hiking we shed several layers and got into the groove of the trail. At the first mirador (lookout) to Grey’s Glacier we ate lunch and took a long break. The view of the glacier was impressive and we decided to hike to the next mirador since we had daylight and energy. The trail crossed streams and followed the blue lake. Of course it looked closer than it was and a couple hours later we made it to a outcropping that sat right across from the glacier. Still feeling ambition to move camp we headed back and retraced out steps. I remember feeling at ease as we made our way back along the lake and then down the valley to our campsite. Once back we looked at each other and realized how tired we were and that it would be stupid to hike 2 more hours to the next camp. The tent village that had existed our first night had diminished significantly and we literally picked up our tent and moved it far away from the Israeli’s. We completed our second day by enjoying dinner next to the lake. Besides the scurrying mice we slept soundly and were ready to move in the morning.

P1040924 Feeling great and not seeing any signs of the hives we packed up and headed to Campamento Italiano that sits at the base of Valle de Frances. It was tough to get into our stride. Andy led the way and the trail curved and proceeded to go up then down. I remember not worrying about our pace and knew as long as we were moving we would get there and that taking in the scenery was more important than pushing ourselves up a steep slope. Slow and steady was my mantra. We ate lunch after setting the tent up in the shaded hole of a campground at Italiano. This was a free campground and was much more rustic than Pehoe. We were among the real campers. We headed up the valley and while trying to find the trail through a scree field we heard the grumbling glacier above us. Sure enough we saw an avalanche! It was very far away but we witnessed the whole thing. Andy even caught some of it on tape. This was the beginning of one the most memorable hikes. The weather was perfect and the trail traversed waterfalls and rode along a ridge top in and out of trees. It was my favorite section and the trail continued along the roaring river until we arrived at the mirador where we were surrounded by Patagonian peaks on all sides. We lingered here until the last of the day hikers left. The sun was setting and we enjoyed the trail all over again on the way back down. We ended the day with a rice soup fortified with pasta. Getting smarter we avoided the mice problem by hanging our food from a tree.

P1050198 The next day the weather turned and I was thankful that we had such a wonderful day in the valley the day before. We heard later on that several people turned around as the wind was too much. We packed and hit the trail. We had a long day ahead of us as we planned to hike 22 kilometers with our full packs. The wind threw us around at will. I have never experienced such wind. At first I was worried, but eventually I resigned to it and actually enjoyed the powerful gusts. People along the trail were miserable. We passed couples that were bundled up in rain gear and not seeing any of their surroundings. A guide we talked to before we left said, “Make sure and feel the rain and wind in the park… it reminds you that you are alive.” I did exactly that. The trail dipped and skirted a lake and then headed back into the hills. We pushed on and I set a comfortable pace. In the early afternoon we plopped the packs down and ate a hardy lunch. From there we branched off onto a shortcut trail. I kept my eyes on the clouds and hoped that they would clear up so we could make it up to our last camp near the famous Torres (towers). The trail steadily rose and we could see the vastness of the mountain range and the rolling lake valleys. We spotted the Torres Hotel and laughed about all the wealthy gearheads that were staying in their nice rooms and keeping their expensive gear very clean. We had been  wearing the same clothes for the past three days and were as happy as could be. The hardest part of our day was still to come and it makes me think of the saying… no pain no gain. To get to Torres camp we had to go up in elevation through a deep valley. As soon as we turned onto the steep trail that was literally on a small ledge above the valley we were hit by a strong gust of wind. Seeing AnP1050205dy ahead of me being blown left and right I hugged the canyon wall, tried not to look at the scree field leading down to the river bottom below and kept going. There were a few really sketch areas of the trail that we spoke of later like wow that was dangerous! Finally ascending down to the Refugio Chileno we crossed a rickety bridge that swayed back and forth in the wind and had huge gaps in the wooden slats that we stepped on. We got water inside before heading out to complete 5 more kilometers to our destination. Luckily the trail weaved in and out of a forest and was not exposed like the previous section. Our packs felt heavier than ever and we constantly had to go up and then down again. The uphill put strain on our backs and hips and the downhill put the weight on our already sore and tired knees. Barely moving at a snail’s pace and about to freak out if I had to go up one more set of stairs we saw a sign that read 1 min from camp Torres. We made it. 23 kilometers in 8 hours. To reward myself I ate half a milky way that night with dinner. The camp was fairly busy as others had the same idea as we did to see the sunrise at the base of the Torres.

Having lost my alarm clock earlier in the trip, I woke Andy up several times during the night to ask what time it was. Not getting any sleep I got him up at 6:08 to begin the 45 minute hike up to the lookout. A stream of headlamps could be seen on the way up and near the top we were surrounded with other hikers and a strong wind. Andy and I took cover behind a boulder and saw a poor, crazy hiker with one big pack on his back and another on his front get taken out by the wind. Once at the top of the lookout ridge we found a less windy spot and huddled with a few others to watch the sunrise. I was glad that I brought up my pad and sleeping bag to stay P1050074warm during the wait. One person in the group brought up a celebratory beer to pass around when the sun came up. His dreams were shattered when an English guy stepped on the can by accident. They paid tribute by taking a picture with the smashed beer can in front of the peaks. The colors of the rock face were amazing in the sunlight. It was brief and we stuck around so Andy could get more shots with the rising sun. The area was so bleak, windy, and desolate. The Torres were something to see though and I’m glad we made the. For the rest of the day our eyes were irritated by the particles that were blown in them during the trip. Back at camp we ate and headed down. The sketch area was just as windy as the day before, but the sun was out. The clouds rolled in behind us and my last glimpse of the Torres I saw snow had formed on the tops. I didn’t envy any of the hikers walking into the wind up the trail to see them. We had an eventful descent down as the wind proceeded to pick us up and drop us where it pleased. At one point I saw Andy on his knees, clutching a sign in order to keep from being blown away. There is nothing like Patagonian wind. Once down we wandered around with other hikers until we found the bus stop and a shuttle to the connecting bus back to Puerto Natales. Dirty, tired, but thoroughly content with our trip we sat on our packs and I enjoyed the rest of the Milky Way and Andy ate a whole package of cookies. Before we knew it we were back at the hostel and scrubbing the dirt off of our skin. Even though I washed all the sweat and dirt away I will have fond memories of our 4 night 5 day trip to the magnificent Torres del Paine.

Hielo Sickness

Glacier Days

On the plane ride down we met a Spaniard lady named Christina and guy named Jonathan. We all ended up splitting a taxi in to town. Throughout our stay in El Calafate and El Chalten we would end up running in to them both several times and still might.

P1040140 In the morning we arose from our tent and walked up to the bus terminal. There we caught a shuttle up to the Perito Moreno glacier outside of town. There we were met with the biggest glacier we had ever seen, stretching for miles up in to the Andes Mountains and flowing down in to a lake. It stood 60 meters tall above water and we were told it was 9 times that below! We took a boat ride out to meet it head on and glided along its Southern face. Once off, we walked along the catwalks on shore taking all it in from different angles when we ran in to Christina again. She somehow managed to hitchhike there and avoid the entrance fee, but she said it wasn’t easy. The sun shone down upon us as we talked to her and then suddenly we heard a large cracking sound. We swung around towards the glacier and saw this massive chunk of ice break and slide freely down in to the water! We couldn’t gage how big it was until the boat we were on earlier, which could hold up to 300 people, drove up next to it and was dwarfed by it. We got to see this happen a couple more times too, but none were as big.

Fitz Roy’s Tower

P1040386 The next morning we took a three hour bus ride north to a city called El Chalten, which is known for its trekking. We had stocked up on food the day before and after running in to Jonathan we hiked in to the mountains that were in clear view all day. Below the towers of Mount Fitz Roy we setup camp. A couple people along the way had told us that the weather was unusually clear, meaning you can’t normally see the tallest peaks. With that in mind we left camp and hiked up a trail that took us closer to Fitz Roy. At the top sat two blue, glacial lakes and open views of the spires. And of course there next to one of the lakes was Christina eating a snack. We talked with her for a bit before she had to head back down. We ate a snack and drank water straight from the lake using cupped hands. The following day we headed out on P1040437another trail. A short ways from camp Rachel wasn’t feeling well and decided to go back. I went on alone and almost got myself lost since I left the main trail in favor a cairn marked trail I spotted running along a river. Eventually the cairns petered out and I found myself between the river and steep, forested slope. I  chose the slope and found the original trail, but not before thorn bushes and stickers wrecked havoc upon me and my clothes. With heavy winds and sprinkling showers around me I went back at the tent. There I found out Rachel had gone to the bathroom several times, had a headache, stomach ache and a possible fever. I made her some tea and we decided she should take some Tylenol. I got our bottle of mixed medicines and asked Rachel which ones were the Tylenol. She said the white ones, so I gave her two of them. About 10-15 minutes later a rash had broken out across her face and body. She said and her skin burned and felt really hot. I was freaking out and didn’t know what to do! We soon realized though that there were two types of white pills in the bottle, one being Tylenol and the other being Niacin. For those of you that don’t know, large doses of Niacin can create this type of reaction. I know because it happened to me a few months back. It’s not at all pleasant or fun, but does eventually pass within an hour or less. She still wasn’t feeling great though and wanted to head back down the mountain. I wasn’t sure what to do since trekking back down with packs on probably P1040520 wasn’t going to help, but at the same time she would be more comfortable in town and be able to rest easier. So I started packing up camp and getting things ready to go. I soon realized though she was too weak to carry a pack so I put hers inside the tent and said I would come back for it all in the morning. We started walking when not more than 50 feet outside of camp I see Rachel go limp and slowly drop to the ground. I thought she had passed out! Not knowing if I should yell or cry, I pulled open her eyelids and found her conscious. She said she didn’t pass out and was conscious the whole time; her body just couldn’t stand anymore. I thought great, here we were at least two hours from town and no real way to contact anyone if needed. I asked myself should we turn back and stay or go on. If we go on, will she even be able to make it. I also felt that she was dehydrated and started giving her small sips of water. I didn’t want her to chug it for fear that her body might reject it. I pulled her back to her feet and she insisted on going on, which we did. I walked beside her when the trail allowed, otherwise I was in tail watching her feet. She had good foot placement and seemed to be aware of what was going on around us, which were all encouraging signs to me. Every 10-15 minutes we would stop and I would give her a few more sips of water. After a while we walked out of the exposed, windswept valley in to the shelter of trees and in due time we made it to town. There we found a bed for the night and Rachel slept. I retrieved our remaining items at camp the next day and ran into Jonathan on the way up, took it easy with Rach and we caught part of a local rodeo going on. That night before bed Rachel noticed some swelling on her knees and other parts of her body. They kind of looked like bites so we didn’t think much of it, guessing they would be P1040554 gone in the morning. However they spread to other parts of her body like her back, chest and face. For the most part she felt fine, but her scalp itched liked crazy and her face seemed to be inflating as if she was having an allergic reaction. So we asked our hostel host where to go and found ourselves at a small clinic in town. The doctor was actually from New York, but had been in Argentina for the last 30 years. He determined Rachel had an allergic reaction to something she ate or drank. I personally think it was the polenta we had for dinner two nights previous because that was right before everything went downhill. Regardless, Rachel received, as she puts it, her “second shot in the ass in a foreign country” of a steroid. And she’s still waiting for her first in the ass back home. I am sitting in bed writing this next to her as she sleeps and can see that the inflammation has already started to dissipate. She just has to take Benadryl for the next few days or more until it completely resolves itself and avoid certain foods that the doctor laid out for her. I’m always surprised by the medical staff in third world countries. They seem to be with it and do a pretty good job. Plus it’s always affordable. For the visit, shot and medicine it only cost $5 bucks.

I’m happy that Rachel is doing much better and will hopefully recover to full strength in a couple days. Our time in Chalten was amazing even though the weather and circumstances weren’t the best. The ebb and flow of our trip continues and we will be in touch again soon.

Tonight we’ll catch a bus back to El Calafate and then hopefully another the following day to Puerto Natales and Torres del Paine.


-Andy and Rachel

Argentinean Days

Wine + Bike = Good Time

P1030346 Andy and I awoke very early and saw Vina as we have never seen it before. The streets were quiet and the sun wasn’t up yet. The micros were moving, but we walked to the bus station. By the time we got there it was light outside. It was my last look at Vina. The drive over the Andes was spectacular. Andy sums up the views very well in his journal (don’t worry he said I could share what he wrote, “For the first few hours the land was flat and arid like we’ve seen before, but soon enough we met the base of the mountains and began our ascent. I don’t know how to describe them, but they were gorgeous. They seemed young to me for some reason, maybe because they were rocky and barren without trees or vegetation. The raw mineral deposits popped out in different shades and hues. The rivers flowed freely down their steep slopes with little to no curvature, which was the opposite of the road. It switch-backed its way up the side. At some points the road was one way where crews worked to clear debris from the other side. At times it felt tedious and slow, but it also gave time to take it all in and watch the clouds appear and then float up over the Andean peaks.” We arrived in Mendoza late in the afternoon and made our way to the Sheraton of all places. We P1030378were traveling with our friend Dan and he had a free room at the Sheraton and he invited us to stay. We took him up on the offer and stayed the night in a king size bed. We were a bit out of place with our big packs and Andy had quite the bidet experience. The next day we visited the vineyards near Mendoza in the Maipu area. We rented bikes from a place called Coco’s and went from vineyard to vineyard with Dan.  The first place was actually a liquor and chocolate place called Historia y Sabores. All their creations were from old recipes with no additives. The process for some of the liquors involved putting fruit in vodka for months. Others were combined with chocolates and I enjoyed one called TiaMaria which was coffee, tea and rum. We then pedaled to some posh winery with snotty-American waitresses and wine that didn’t seem all that great, but what do I know. So we crossed the street to their neighbor, which was more laid back, our style and had a better vibe overall. After a brief tour we chose to taste 4 samples. We did one sparkling and then tried the Malbec line. I’m told the Malbec grape is famous to ArgentinaP1030408 and is fairly new. So anyway, we had a glass of young Malbec wine (1-2 years aged), a medium one (3-4 years aged) and a fully matured wine (5-6 years aged). The neat thing was they all came from the same grape from the same winery. So it was interesting to be able to taste the differences between them all. We then cycled to our last winery, did the tour once again and were tempted at buying their premium ‘perfect crop’ wine for only $25 bucks, but settled for something cheaper and split a tray of meats and cheeses with Dan. We were going to attempt to take a tour of a nearby olive farm with time permitting, but my bike ended up getting a flat tire and Coco’s wasn’t about to fix it being so late in the day. So we just caught the bus back home. With us all being a bit tipsy, it probably wasn’t a bad thing not having to bike back. Back in the inner city we said our parting words to Dan and headed to the bus station to catch a 36 hour trip to Puerto Iguazu.

The World’s Sink: Iguazu Falls

Besides the expected bad movies the trip North by bus was uneventful and we actually saw a lot of the countryside. It was a spacious double decker bus and we sat in semi cama seats that reclined pretty far back and gave plenty of leg room. The bus stopped multiple times during the day and night. Sometimes we woud get off and stretch and breath in the cigarette smoke of the passengers outside of the bus. We also felt the humidity and heat increase the further up we got. The morning we arrived in Puerto Iguazu I saw the massive palm trees and greenery. The town itself is small and the touristy stuff is located around the bus terminal. With all our belongings on our back we walked and tried to orient ourselves in this new town. Finally I convinced Andy to get on a bus to a camping site called El Pindo. It ended up being fairly close, but on a hot and humid day with our packs it would have been difficult. A woman helped us and just took Andy’s name and showed us to the campsite. They only had cold showers, but they felt really good. Not sure I would have wanted to take a hot one. We set up and then headed for the park. Things were looking up as we had just completed the longest leg of our journey.

P1030577 Stitch At the entrance to the park we paid 85 pesos each to get in! (That’s the equivalent to 22 dollars) It was a bit like an amusement park. We took the green train to La Garganta del Diablo or the devils throat. The boardwalk system in the park is very new age and low impact, but the building of it must have been a bit destructive. It needs very little maintenance and almost everyone can get around on it. After walking on the boardwalk above a flowing, but considerably calm river for about 10 minutes we saw mist rising in front of us. Andy commented that he thought this would be an excellent river to tube down. I reminded him that one of the biggest waterfalls was just around the corner. Sure enough we came to a platform that stood directly above the biggest waterfalls I have ever seen. They were all right next to each other cascading into the abyss below. It was almost too much to take in. The roaring sound, the mist splashing up at us, and the site of so much water moving so fast was incredible. The bottom couldn’t even be seen. We could look across the falls to the Brazilian side and see another platform with people sightseeing. I leaned over the railing and got dizzy from the waterfall beneath me. The train load of people that all hit the trail when we did started to disperse, but Andy and I stayed to really take it in. This was only the start to our waterfall exposure and by the end Andy took around 500 pictures. To finish the day off we took a stroll on another boardwalk trail that showed us a few other falls that weren’t as cP1030878 oncentrated as La Garganta del Diablo, but just as beautiful. There were falls flowing into the same river off the same cliffs and each platform offered a different, spectacular view. On our way out we decided to double back to my favorite look out and caught a glimpse of a Coatis which is an animal that resembles a raccoon, wrestling with a garbage container. There were warnings all over the park about not feeding these guys and I heard that tourists have been severely bitten and scratched by them. They look pretty cute and they are not scared of people. Andy got a couple shots and we headed back to catch the bus.

Day two we had to take care of plane tickets and money. I stood in a long line at the only ATM in the town of Puerto Iguazu while Andy ran around trying to exchange our Chilean pesos or American dollars. Eventually the ATM ran out of money, but Andy exchanged enough dollars to pay the half priced entrance fee into the park. Of course the ATM in the park had plenty of pesos. We looked at the map of the park and decided to head down the lower loop and check out these boat rides that take you almost into the bottom of the falls. The lower loop consisted of more boardwalks and gave a panoramic view of La Garganta and the falls to the right. Right in between the sets of falls is a small island that is usually open and people can take boat rides to the trails there. We were told that the water level was too high right now so the island was closed for now. We made our way down to a platform that stretched all the way out to a waterfall that you could almost touch. This ended up being Andy’s favorite spot. There is nothing as powerful as standing next to a huge waterfall. We got even closer as we bit the bullet and got tickets for the motorboat ride that took you part way up the river to La Garganta P1030910 and then to the other side to get doused and drenched by the falls. This was probably the best water ride I have ever been on. The first round we got up close to the falls, but not in them to take pictures. There was a guy in a waterproof suit filming all 20 people on the boat. The next round we all put our cameras in the waterproof bag that held our other belongings. Our driver gunned the engine and got the nose and most of the boat into the fall as we screamed and fell the wind and energy from the falling water. He took us to three different falls and I can officially say that I have kissed under a waterfall! Feeling great, but soaked we got off and refused to buy the 30 dollar video as we felt that our memories would capture the experience.

The heat of the day was on us so we made our way to the museum to check out the info. After resting a bit we started our last hike. The path was totally shaded and encompassed by jungle. There were very few people which seemed out of the norm at this park. We heard rustling in the trees and saw a family of monkeys on the move. We watched them for a long time jumping from tree to tree. One little guy was hopping around in search of scrumptious spiders that made their webs over the trail. He would grab onto the webs and try and pull the spiders towards him. On one attempt he pulled and the spider was hanging on the opposite tree. Being very determined he climbed down the tree and crossed the path on the ground and valiantly tried to jump to catch the spider. He pretty P1030892 much gave no notice to us. It was an amazing experience, but the poor monkey didn’t get his spider and moved on and so did we. We made it to the end of the trail to a small fall where you could swim, but feeling tired we enjoyed the scenery and headed back. Andy was putting the pack on when he gave a yelp. There must have been a wasp on the pack as he was putting it on he got stung again! Pobrecito Andres. I ended up taking the pack and we enjoyed the shaded trail all the way back to the center of the park. As we were walking to the bus stop and saying our goodbyes to the park we saw a group of tourists crowded around a tree. We looked up and saw a toucan. This had been Andy’s wish to see a toucan before we left the park and there he was with his brightly colored beak in plain view. Feeling good about our time here we headed back to camp and cooked dinner and fell asleep. The next afternoon we got on a 17-hour bus ride to Buenos Aires.

La Bamba in BA

We arrived in Buenos Aires after another long bus journey. Not knowing where to stay, we found a place in our guide book and figured out how to get there by using the local train. The train was old and rickety and when we told Nick about it he said he has never taken it and he has lived in BA for months now. The guide book must be a bit dated though because we couldn’t find the hostel, but P1040044 located another nearby. We got a few things together and hit the streets to tour around. Rachel was responisible for navigating our way through the streets and neighborhoods of BA. Later that night we met up with our friends Nick and Anna. We lived with them in Chile and they are back in B.A. studying abroad through a U.S. University with a new term about to begin. Nick knew of a place called La Bamba that he wanted to take us to. We arrived a bit late and caught the finishing act and encore. From what we experienced it was a live band made up of different types of drums, which created a rhythmic beat that changed as the director guided them. The place had no roof, the band was placed on a wide platform which resembled that of a staircase near the center of the floor and the people were shoulder to shoulder flowing around it all with small, but friendly mosh pits breaking out here and there. Rachel was kind enough to push me into the mosh pit and I really felt the beat then. After the show ended, we walked down the street deciding what to do next when a bus full of drunken people pulled up next to us beckoning us to get on. They said it was a party bus and that they were going to a sweet party with free drinks. So we got on. Onboard there was a guy playing a drum and others pounding their hands against the bus roof to keep the beat of the sP1040065 how alive as we rolled down the streets of Buenos Aires. It was quite the spectacle I’m sure because everyone turned their heads as we passed by. The bus stopped at some hostel with a club downstairs and NO free drinks of course, but we knew better anyway. We hung there for a while and eventually called it a night, saying goodbye to Nick and Anna again. The next day we awoke and found out we were not alone in our room at the hostel even though we were the only ones in there when we went to bed at 2 am. The 4 other guys had wandered in during the night… hostels are weird like that. Anyway, we cruised the streets some more and went to one of the oldest parts of the city. We toured some churches and walked up Defensa to the barrio of San Tomo. Rachel really enjoyed this part of the city and felt we needed more time in order to really get to know it. There was always a breeze that broke up the humidity. My favorite part was walking across the widest street in the world. I counted 20 lanes in all! That afternoon we flew out to the small, southern Patagonian town of El Calafate.

-Rachel and Andy

The week before….

P1020916 Hey I wanted to fill in the gaps of our trip that took place before the earthquake. All the birthday wishes that I received from everyone were great! Andy woke me up at 7am when I was born and gave me sunflowers! Then later that night we celebrated with our roommates. Andy bought 5 pieces of cake from 5 different types of cake so we all tasted each one and rated them. It was another 5:30 am night. Work and Spanish continued as usual and we both got into a groove. On Friday night Andy went to a local soccer game and learned how to cuss at the losing team in Spanish. After we went to a local bar experienced juice beer, half beer and half apple juice and a “columna” which is a glass column that holds 2.5 liters of beer.

P1030043 On Saturday Andy and I went to Valpo in search of a cemetery that Andy read about. The only directions he had was that it was near the stadium. I was skeptical about finding it and we caught a bus and walked down one hill and up another. I walked into a small plaza where there were flower vendors. You could buy any type and any color of fresh flowers that you wanted. I didn’t put two and two together, but Andy said we have to be close to the cemetery and we were. The Playa Ancha cemetery is about 100 years old and sits above the ocean so it constantly has a calming breeze. There are three main forms of burial and the most interesting to us were the mausoleums that looked like dorm buildings on a college campus, one right after the other. Due to the lack of space these buildings are very logical, but they are 6-7 stories high and each grave is right on top of the other. Many of the graves were decorated with fresh flowers and the giant palm trees really created a peaceful place. Before heading back to Vina we stopped at a restaurant to try chorrillanos, which are French  fries topped with tasty onions and flavorful meat. It looked awful, but tasted so good! Later that night we hit a club called Huevo (egg, sounds much cooler in Spanish). All the roommates plus some danced on each of the floors that had a IMG_1196different types of music. There was a hip hop room, reggatone room, techno floor, and a salsa floor. The building was full of different rooms and floors where people danced or chilled. When we traveled to all the rooms we kept near the salsa floor. Andy was on a roll after a few piscolas and found himself in the bathroom talking to a Chilean and a Spainard. Of course he doesn’t remember what about, but Nick, who went into save him swears that they were picking him up. We left Huevo with good vibes and headed back to Vina for an after party that we still talk about today… the towering egg, cheese, and palta sandwich, Andy dancing in the kitchen and many other memories from the Huevo night.

You would think after a long night of partying the next day would be worthless, but actually we got up and took a trip to a small cove beach near La Laguan Verde which is 30 min south of Valpo. It was tricky getting there, but a nice local man gave us a ride in the back of his pickup part of the way to the beach and then we walked. The beach was a treasure and there were other visitors P1030122 who traveled there to camp and enjoy the seclusion of Playa de Las Docas. Andy wrote in his journal and I took a nap on the beach before we hitch hiked back. The waves and the echo of the water hitting the cove edges was enough for me to realize that the journey there and back had all been worth it. A nice older couple picked us up on the road back along with two other couples and took us all the way to Valpo! We then hopped on a bus to Vina and were thoroughly pleased, but tired from our weekend adventures. The week to come was our last and then the earthquake unexpectedly happened.