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Being Lost, And Found, In Strange Lands

22 May

Being in a foreign country, especially when you have a minimal grasp of the language, is both exciting and exhausting.  Travelling on a budget means that we pretty much never hire a tour guide, and we always go for the public transportation options.  Guidebooks are okay for getting a general idea of how to get around using public transport or our own two feet, but often the book falls far short of any real help.

Once in Valdivia, Chile we knew that we could get to a small park reserve by bus, but we just weren’t sure of the times, or where to catch it.  We asked our hostel, who told us a bus number that was totally incorrect.  We asked the tourist information office. Twice. They gave us the correct bus name, but couldn’t be specific about where it stopped.  We asked 7 different people who worked in the general area and they all pointed us in different directions.

FINALLY, the next day, we found the bus stop and, surprise surprise, it wasn’t anywhere near any of the places we’d been directed to.  Once we were on the bus we asked about specific return times since the reserve was nearly 50 kilometers outside of town.  We were told there were two return times – 2pm and 5pm.  As the reserve was the last stop, the driver assured us that this is where we needed to be to get picked up.

We were at the stop at 1:30pm, just to be safe.  We waited. And waited. And waited.  Finally, at 3, we started walking.  At 4:30 we managed to hitch a ride with a very nice couple who spoke zero English and didn’t seem to understand our Spanish very well.

Justin attempts to get us a ride on the long walk back to Valdivia…we had seen nothing but these sheep for 45 minutes.

Thankfully, they were able to drop us reasonably close to a town that had another bus that could take us back to Valdivia.  It was an adventure, to say the least.

My point is, sometimes getting around can be tough.  Every once in a while though, we encounter a stranger who helps us avoid yet another fiasco.

Today we were attempting to get to one of Istanbul’s oldest Byzantine churches, which is a bit off the regular tourist circuit.   We knew we could take a bus, but the place we had to get on was riddled with buses and we had not a clue which one we needed.  After asking about 7 different drivers, all of which just waved us towards the general direction of another dozen buses, we were approached by a man who asked (in English!) if we needed help.  We told him where we were going, and as luck would have it, he was also going that way.

Then we realized we couldn’t pay the fare in cash, we needed some sort of metro card, which we didn’t have.  The man paid our way with his own card and refused our multiple attempts at paying him back.  He then rode with us to our stop, got off with us, and led us for the 20 minute walk through winding streets to this little church.  There is no way we would have found this place on our own.

The whole time he’s helping us I was thinking, “What does he want? Is he going to charge us something for this?  Is he really dragging us to a carpet shop to try and sell us something?” but no, he was just really nice.  After getting us to the church he wished us a happy day and went on his way.

Every once in a while we are reminded that in this huge and crazy world there are genuinely kind people, and we are very thankful that we encountered one of them today.

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Word on the Street – Trekking the W in Torres del Paine

26 Apr

During our initially planning for our hike on the W in Torres del Paine, I spent hours sifting through material about the park, the hike, gear lists etc.  This post by World Travel for Couples was incredibly helpful for us and contains a whole wealth of information.

I was nervous because we aren’t generally big hikers and I wanted to make sure that we were totally prepared.  I stressed about the route, and then I stressed when we realized we’d have to change the route.  I stressed over what clothes to bring, what kinds of food we would need and how much food to bring.  Now that it’s all said and done I can honestly say that I could have spent that time doing other, more productive things.

I had pictured the trail as a great wild wilderness, where we would be out on our own, miles from nowhere, reliant on only ourselves for survival.  While the park is a great wilderness to some extent, it’s also incredibly heavily travelled.  Puerto Natales, where you will stay to base yourself and leave most of your regular travel gear, has built a huge industry around supplying trekkers for this area.  You can buy or rent everything, and I mean EVERYTHING you need in this town. If you do forget something, the refugios along the way have everything you might need, for a higher price of course.

The trails are very well marked.

There is no chance of getting lost, the trail is like a backpackers super-highway, and while there were plenty of times when we were alone, there was always someone just a few minutes behind.  The trails are very clearly marked with signs telling you where you are, and often, how far you have to the next stop.

The refugios that you will come across on the ‘W’ portion of the trek have bathrooms with flushing toilets.  Inside they have hot water available for you to use for free.  If it’s cold and raining you can sit in the dining area next to a fire and play cards, or buy boxes of wine and warm meals.  Occasionally you can find an open electric socket to charge a camera battery.

By the time this post goes up the free sites with the pit toilets will be open for use, and those will provide a considerable amount more of the “wilderness” feeling, but we hear that they too can get really crowded during high season so you’ll never really have to worry if you run out of toilet paper or need an extra package of crackers.

If you want to undertake the 10-day trek you will need more careful planning as the back half of the circuit lacks the amenities of the ‘W’, but as a novice, the ‘W’ circuit is challenging enough to make you proud of yourself, but not so wild as to require any knowledge of how to tie your food up into the trees or start a fire with nothing but a piece of flint and some dried grass.  In fact, you can even decide to just trek with the clothes you need since you can buy full meals from refugios, and if you arrange it in advance, you can rent tents and sleeping bags at specific campsites so you don’t have to carry your own.  One woman we trekked with decided her sleeping bag wasn’t warm enough for her, so for the second and third nights she rented one from the campsites we were at and returned it in the morning.  If you really feel like blowing some cash, you can even sleep in dorm rooms inside the refugios.

At the end of the day, what it all boils down to is this – if we can do it, you can do it.

Here are my personal top bits of advice if you are planning a trip to the park:

*      Even if you don’t stay at the Erratic Rock, you MUST attend their daily ‘3 o’clock talk’.  It is chalk full of info, in English.  If covers what to bring, routes to take, where to buy any food or gear supplies you need, and generally what to expect regarding trail conditions in the moment.  These guys are experts, they spend a lot of time in the park and they know what they are talking about.  You can rent all the gear you need from them (or a variety of other places in town).

*      Bring, or rent hiking poles. I have never in my life hiked with poles, but I swear, with a huge pack on your back they will save your knees on the down-hills and help you balance if you get hit with giant gusts of wind.  They also really help distribute the weight going uphill…”4 legs good, 2 legs baaaad.”

Our daily food bags

*  Think about what will fuel your body.  We met some guys who, I kid you not, brought 4 loaves of white bread, a huge jar of dulce de leche, and a bottle of whiskey for their 4 day hike.  Yeah, they survived, but still…give your body something to work with.  We found it easier to deal with mealtimes once we portioned our food out per meal ahead of time.  We had a huge ziplock bag for each day, and inside was all our food for that day – oatmeal with chocolate and raisins for breakfast.  Trail mix, chocolate, granola bars and dried fruits for snacking while hiking. Noodles or rice and meat sauce in foil bags for dinner.  We also had some random cheese, sausage, and apples that we ate along the way.

*      Speaking of fuel, if you plan to stay at the pay campsites, you don’t need to buy a whole new canister of fuel for your campstove.  Simply root around the “almost empty” bin at the Erratic Rock and pick out a canister or two that feel about half full.  You can use the already near-boiling water supplied by the refugios to get you started and you’ll end up using very little gas.

Justin fills up our bottles from one of the many streams.

*      You only need one Nalgene bottle.  The water from the streams really is drinkable.  Growing up in Colorado I was instilled with a healthy fear of getting Giardia from drinking mountain stream water.  Well, I swear, it doesn’t exist in Torres del Paine.  All the water you encounter is fresh, cold, and perfectly healthy to drink.

*     Bring two sets of clothes – one to hike in, one to sleep in.  When you take your hiking clothes off, hang them outside for a while if you can because, well, they stink.  Does it suck to wear stinky, dirty, damp clothing for four days in a row?  Not gonna lie here, it totally sucks at first, but once you get moving in the morning you just forget about it.  That shower on the fourth day will feel like heaven.

*      Blister band-aids.  If your feet don’t thank you for these, I promise you’ll run across someone who will.

*      Bring a spare camera battery.  We met a few girls who only had one camera between them, and the battery had died.  They were on their way up to the Torres and had no way to capture the moment.  Super bummer.

*      Go to the ‘3 o’clock talk’.  I have to put it one more time because really, you’ll get all the info you need from them.

Miscellaneous Details

At the time of writing….

  • To get to the park there are multiple busses that all leave from Puerto Natales and take you as far as the entrance to the park. Your hostel can probably sell you a ticket.  They tend to leave twice a day – around 7am and 1 or 2 pm, and return from the park twice a day – around 1pm and 5pm.  Cost – 12,000 – 14,000 per person, round trip ($25-30, depending on the company)
  • Entrance to the park for foreigners is 15,000 Pesos, which is about $30 depending on the exchange rate.
  • From the park entrance, you can walk, or take a shuttle for about $5 to the Hosteria Las Torres, which is where we started the trek.  If you prefer to start at the other end of the W you’ll need to take a catamaran across the lake to Refugio Grey, which costs more.  If you start where we started you will end up taking the catamaran back across the lake at the end.  Check for current catamaran pricing, it’s not cheap.
  • Camping in the park is free at some sites, but not at others.  In January 2012 we paid 6,000 Pesos (about $13)  per person for the Los Cuernos site, and 5,000 Pesos (about $11)  per person for the Chileno site.  Prices change though, so check out the website for each of the major refugios before you head out – Fantastico Sur and Vertice Patagonia

Trekking the W – Torres Del Paine, Chile.

24 Apr

One of the original bits of inspiration for our trip was the desire to head way, way south to hike the W in Torres Del Paine, in Chilean Patagonia.  Unfortunately, the park was closed at the end of a December due to a devastating fire that was set by a careless trekker who chose not to follow the rules, and we feared that we wouldn’t be able to see this rugged bit of nature.

We delayed our journey south for a few weeks, which proved to be a wise decision as more and more of the park was re-opened to the public every week throughout January.  Just a few days before we were set to start our trek the entire circuit we intended to hike had officially been opened, though we were cautioned that the most recently opened part (the west side of the classic ‘W’ trek, named for the shape of the route through the mountains) would still be smoky, ashy, and not such a great place to be wandering around in. We decided to play it safe, and shortened our trek to just a ‘U’.

It was the first time that we have been ‘real backpacking’ together, which means carrying all our own gear – tent, sleeping bags and pads, cook stove, and all our food.   Patagonia is notorious for wild weather and it’s not uncommon to encounter anything from blistering sunshine to snow or sleet all in the course of a single day.  We attempted to balance packing enough layers for all the possible elements, while trying to keep our packs at a reasonable weight.

We had attended the infamous “3 o’clock talk” given at the Erratic Rock hostel, which is where we ended up staying both pre, and post-trek in Puerto Natales, Chile.  With their guidance, we diligently separated our food into ziplocks, portioning out each meal for easy access and efficiency.  We brought mostly lightweight, carb-rich and sugar loaded food such as oatmeal, noodles with packets of meat sauce, granola, peanuts, and tons of chocolate bars and caramel candies.  I cannot tell you how thrilled I was to be eating chocolate every few hours to keep my energy up, and knowing all the while I was definitely burning it all off.

Ready to go!

Looking ahead.

We set out with high hopes and heavy packs, and day one was fairly uneventful.  We chose to trek first to the Campemento Cuernos, the traditional middle part of the W.  We originally wanted to be able to stay in one of the free sites in the French Valley, but due to the fire the camps were closed so we knew we’d need to stay two nights at Cuernos to accommodate a long 26 kilometer day hike to the valley and back.

One of many river crossings

Towards our first campsite

The big attraction at Torres del Paine is, well, the Torres.  However, we had heard that the French Valley was majestically beautiful, and we were looking forward to spending the whole day exploring the valley.  The day started out beautifully and it didn’t take us as long as expected to reach the base of the valley where, unfortunately, the weather took a turn for the worse.

Storms in the French Valley

As we made our way over giant boulders, past glaciers, and wound our way into the forest at the top of the ridge, the weather turned from chilly and drippy to downright freezing with whipping winds and sideways rain and snow.

I swear, there's a view back there somewhere!

We made the push to the very top where the last mirador (viewpoint) lay just to say we did, but we weren’t able to see much.  By the time we made it back down to camp we were soaked, exhausted, and my feet had multiple blisters.

The next day was another big push, retreating out of the campsite and up towards the towers.  We started early and made good time, though we ended up stopping at Campamento Chileno instead of continuing another hour up to the free site at Torres.  My feet felt like they were on fire and I wasn’t even sure I wanted to continue standing, let alone hike another 5 kilometers.

Down into the last valley before the Torres

We spent the rest of the afternoon relaxing inside by the fire and debating the merits of waking at 2:30 am to hike the last two and half hours in the dark to see the Torres at sunrise.  We ended up deciding to sleep in a bit and start the hike at the more reasonable hour of 7.

The next morning we made it to Torres in great time since we weren’t weighed down with our heavy packs, and we were greeted with clear skies, and only a few other trekkers marveling at the immensity of the stone towers.

The Torres in the freezing morning

On our way down we began to encounter huge groups of hikers on their way up, as well as people on their way down who had stayed at the free Torres campsite and gotten up early to see the towers at dawn.  Apparently, there was nothing much to see at dawn as the sky hadn’t yet cleared, so it turns out we’d had the perfect timing – arriving after the sky cleared, but before the bulk of the late-morning crowd appeared.   We rushed back to the campsite, packed up all our gear, and started down the mountain, for the last 8 kilometers.   My feet screamed at the thought of being back in my hiking boots, so I wore my New Balance barefoot trail runners for the remainder of the day and while I might not recommend them generally for multi-day hiking, they were so much more comfortable for my aching feet.

We arrived to the end of the trail with plenty of time to spare before the shuttle left for Puerto Natales, so we rewarded our tired bodies with huge glasses of beer and some of the most expensive hamburgers we’ve ever eaten.  I have to say, after 4 days of oatmeal and ramen noodles with tomato paste, those hamburgers were the most delicious things ever!

We made it!

After it was all said and done, we had hiked around 60 kilometers in 4 days, consumed something close to a million calories in chocolate and peanuts, and realized that we are more ‘outdoorsey’ than we thought.  With the exception of one trip a million years ago when I was in college, we just don’t tend to do these kinds of multi-day outdoor hikes.  We weren’t really sure what to expect, and we were both pleasantly surprised at how much we enjoyed ourselves. Initially we were really disappointed to not be able to do the last part of the ‘W’ trail.  The thing is, Torres del Paine isn’t going anywhere, and we can always come back to finish the circuit.  In fact, when we come back we plan to do the full 10-day loop, which promises to be even more spectacular than the glimpse we saw in our 4-day version.

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Word on the Street

In the interest of not making a blog post into a novel, I’ve made a separate post dedicated to what you might want to know if you’re thinking of doing this hike.  Look for it in the next few days!

Until then, check out the slideshow on Flickr!

Photo Friday – Street Art in Santiago, Chile

13 Apr

Street art in Santiago, Chile

We’ve seen plenty of graffiti around the world, and generally we think it’s destructive and ugly.  Wandering around Chile we were delighted to see that many of the walls around the city were covered in an entirely different kind of graffiti that truly was art.  We took hundreds of photos of the different murals from Santiago to Valparaiso and beyond and we continue to be impressed by the quality of the street art we’ve found throughout our travels.

Blown Away in Patagonia

4 Apr

The title pretty much says it all.  We had heard that we should expect some ferocious winds during our time trekking Torres del Paine in Chile and in the Parque National Los Glaciers  in Argentina.  We sort of thought people were exaggerating when they said you might literally be knocked down sometimes, but that’s exactly what happened to me on more than one occasion.  The winds can supposedly reach speeds, in bursts, of 180 kilometers per hour!  We didn’t feel anything that strong, but there were times when it was strong enough that we had to just give up for a bit, sit down, and wait it out.

So far, hiking in Patagonia has been one of the highlights of our trip.  We love the feel of the small mountain towns, and just when you think the scenery can’t get more spectacular, it does.  We’ve got lots to say about each of these parks, but for now we’ll leave you with a video of some of our windiest moments.

Photo Friday – Wine Tasting near Santiago, Chile

30 Mar

The cellars at Concho y Toro

There are many great wineries in the area around Santiago, Chile.  You can take public transport to Concho y Toro, just 45 minutes outside of Santiago’s city center by a combination of subway and bus and spend the day sipping wine on their lovely patio.  The tour of their grounds was lovely, and we particularly enjoyed seeing the huge cellars filled with barrels and bottles.

The Chile Roundup

23 Feb

The Statistics

Number of days spent in country – 61

Cities/towns visited – Santiago, Vina Del Mar, Valparaiso, Banos Morale, Pirque, Futaleufu, Puerto Montt, Valdivia, Niebla, Pucon, Puerto Varas, Puerto Natales, Fruitillar

Number of different lodgings – 11

Flights – 1

Local bus journeys – 29

Combi/collective/taxi  journeys – 2

Metro rides – 57

Long distance bus journeys – 1

Bikes rented – 1

Days of rain – 3

Dangerous encounters with Mother Nature – 1

Things we lost – Justin’s Swiss Army knife (left in carry-on luggage accidentally and TSA took it) and Ashley’s fleece on a bus in Valparaiso.

Moving Box Bet – Pancora erizos

Budget

Total US dollar amount spent – $5177

Average cost per day, per person – $42.40

We had 2 big expenses in Chile that really bumped up our spending.

1)      $280 ($140 per person) reciprocity fee for flying into Santiago.  You can avoid this by bussing in.

2)      We took a few weeks of Spanish classes that cost us $705 total.  Chile isn’t the cheapest place to take classes, but it was where we had the apartment and the time to do it, so we think it was very much worth it.  Our Spanish was pretty terrible at the beginning of our trip, and while it’s still not excellent, it’s much improved.  At this point we are able to understand others, and make ourselves understood in most situations, including social situations.  We went to Escuela Bella Vista and were very happy with them.  We had very small classes (the first week was just 3 of us, the second week we had 5 all together) and each week we had 3 different teachers, which was great since each of them had a different style and spoke a little differently.  We’d highly recommend this school if you are in the area and looking for a class.  They can also arrange home-stays and apartments, even for as short as a week, if needed.

Average lodging cost per night – $12.68

*This is a little skewed because for 5 weeks we were fortunate enough to be staying in a friend’s apartment and didn’t incur lodging costs.  If we average the cost for just the 25 days we paid for lodging it ends up being $31.46 per night.  Rooms in Chile are expensive compared to Peru, especially in Patagonia.  In larger towns we’ve managed to find hospedajes where we can have our own room for the same cost as staying in a hostel dorm.  In Patagonia we didn’t have as much luck with this strategy, and as a result we ended up spending most nights in a 6 bunk dorm room.

Most expensive lodging, per person – The Erratic Rock, Puerto Natales, approx $18.50 per night for a shared dorm.   We could have stayed somewhere cheaper, but the Erratic Rock is locally famous for their hearty breakfasts (Omelets! Homemade bread and jam!) and helpful explanations for trekking in Torres Del Paine.

Least expensive lodging per person – Campsite at Refugio Chileno in Torres Del Paine, $9.75 for one campsite with 2 people.

Average food/drink cost per day (per person) – $14.

* In Santiago we predominantly cooked at home, though we did eat out for lunch most days while we were in Spanish School.  We had a few nice dinners out, but generally we found the food in Chile to be ‘meh’.  Most places we’ve stayed in had well-equipped kitchens, which make it easy to stay in and socialize with everyone else who is cooking in.  We drank a LOT in Chile.  We bought a lot of wine and beer at the supermarket, went wine tasting outside of Santiago, and had a few debaucherous nights on the town that really increased the daily average in this category.

The Best

Accommodation

Adolfo’s in Futaleufu.  It’s an actual house complete with a living room furnished with super comfy overstuffed furniture, cable tv and a maid who makes scrambled eggs to order as you sit down to breakfast.  They have a golden retriever named ‘Gringa’, and another scrappy little pup named ‘Pichhu’ who will loyally follow you around town if you are good to him.  A great comfortable place that really feels like home.

Casa Aventura in Valparaiso.  Lonely Planet doesn’t give it a great review, but it was one of the cheaper places we found (for booking online before we went, you can find cheaper if you go and wander around but we were only there for one night and didn’t want the hassle of walking around looking for a place).  They have clearly done some work since the LP review came out and there are sparkling new bathrooms, a nice upstairs lounge area, and huge rooms that are filled with light.  The people who work there were very helpful in giving us a route to walk to see the best of the street art, and the breakfast is good with eggs and fresh fruits.  My personal favorite thing about this place is that THEY RECYCLE!  They have bins set out for paper, cardboard, glass, plastic, and they actually take the time to take it all down to the recycling center.

Food

Tiramisu (Isidora Goyenechea 3141) in Santiago.  Delicious pizzas!  We had great huge salads, real bruschetta, and good wine here.  It’s packed at lunch so be prepared to wait for a table.

I don’t really know what it’s called, but in Niebla, just outside of Valdivia, there is an amazing market of sorts that is filled with vendors selling empanadas by the dozen, grilled meats, fish, steamed clams and mussels, cakes, pastry, and beer.  We stumbled on it randomly while looking for the way to the beach, and were so impressed by the food that we went back…twice!  When you get off the bus in Niebla just walk towards what looks like a marketplace and you’ll run smack into it.

Delicious Express  – Pasaje Galvez 358, just uphill from the Shell station (and just downhill from Casa Aventura) in Valparaiso.  These were easily some of the best empanadas we had in Chile, and they have dozens of fillings to choose from.  They are big and made fresh to order.

Drink – Mote con Huesillo.  So good!  It’s sold at little stands on the streets everywhere.  It’s a food/drink of grain and peaches served in the sweet broth it’s cooked in.  It’s served cold and is both refreshing and a perfect light snack.  The quality varies from place to place, so if your first is sort of ‘meh’, try another one somewhere else.

The Worst

Austral Glacier Travel Agency.  BEWARE!  They are recommended by the Erratic Rock, which we very much liked, so we let our guards down and were blindsided by a huge overcharge for the one thing we let them book for us. They claim they don’t add commission for their bookings, and they came so highly recommended that we didn’t do our due diligence with price-checking before we put the money down, and we didn’t check that they were using the correct exchange rate for the currency conversions from US Dollars to Argentine Pesos to Chilean Pesos.  Stay far, far away from this dishonest place.

The Power of Water

9 Feb

We learned of Futaleufu, Chile from a fellow traveler we met in Mendoza.  It didn’t take very long for us to be convinced that this was a place we wanted to visit.  The name alone is reason enough, especially if you say it with a thick French accent.  Go ahead and try it (Foo – TAh – lay –foo), I dare you not to laugh.

We arrived to the minuscule village, just 1700 residents, in the midst of a summer storm that soaked us with freezing rain, and left the surrounding mountain tops dusted in snow. In just under 36 hours the tide had turned and we could see that we had chosen wisely.  Futaleufu is situated in a valley that is truly jaw-dropping.

Valley outside Futaleufu, Chile

Valley outside Futaleufu, Chile

Huge, lush mountains give way to the most spectacularly turquoise blue, crystal clear river I have ever seen.

It’s the river that draws people from around the world to this little dot on a map.  The Rio Futaleufu boasts some of the best rafting and river kayaking in the world, ranking in the top-5 by most accounts.

Rio Futaleufu, Chile

Much of the town’s industry is built around river trips, and it’s an easy task to find a company ready to take you on the ride of your life.  We promptly signed up for a full-day excursion.

We’ve been rafting before, though only minimally on supposed class III and IV rapids, but we were assured that if we were fit and could swim that we would be just fine on the prominent class IV and V runs.

The day we set out on our adventure was bright and warm, a perfect day to get soaked.  We ended up with seven people in our raft – Justin and I, a man from our hospedaje, and 4 other girls (two of which had never been rafting).  We were outfitted with wetsuits, lifejackets, and helmets and given the whole safety spiel.  After a bit of paddle practice at the put-in, we were off!

Justin is ready to go rafting.

The storm had delivered a healthy amount of water to the area making the river swollen and quite high for the season.  The first set of rapids was fast and furious, and we made it through them clumsily, but successfully.

As we approached the next stretch of white-water, a set of three class V+ rapids, appropriately named The Terminator, our guide made it clear that this section was difficult and that we needed to give it everything we had and follow his directions exactly and immediately.  It was essential that we hit our line or we would be in serious trouble.  This section of the river is riddled with ‘holes’, which are basically whirlpools of a sort that can suck you in and just keep you spinning underwater.  These holes can be up to 80 feet deep, and are very dangerous places to get stuck in.

The apprehension was palpable and a few moments later we came around a bend and were all of a sudden right in the thick of it.  It was as if we had no control over the raft.  Sometimes the waves rocked the boat so high that as we went down to paddle there was nothing but air beneath us.  It quickly became clear that we had not made our line and we could see that we were about to hit a huge obstacle in the middle of the river.

My side of the raft got pushed up vertically on a rock as the opposite side got sucked into the hole just in front of the boulder.  I felt myself falling, and had about a hot second to think “Oh shit!” before I hit the river.

The roar of the water was deafening, and the only thing I could see all around me was bubbles. It felt like ages before I broke the surface and was able to take a small breath.  I tried to look for the raft, but there was only water and before I knew it I was going under again.  Have you ever been inside a washing machine on the ‘super’ cycle?  Me neither, but I bet being in that river was similar to what it might feel like.  I was tossed around, sucked along, turned upside down and smashed into rocks.  Despite being more terrified than I have ever been, I made a valiant effort at keeping my feet in front of me and trying to get to the surface but it seemed like I had very little control over my movement.  When I realized I was out of air I did my best not to panic, and just plugged my nose and covered my mouth to try and keep the water from forcing its way in.

Eventually I came to a slightly calmer spot and I was able to see the safety kayaker motioning me to swim over to the side.  I made it to a little pool area and was momentarily relieved thinking that the raft or the kayak must be coming over to fetch me.

I watched uncomfortably as the raft passed me on the opposite side of the river, and my panic increased ten-fold when I realized I was being sucked back towards the middle and into the second part of the Terminator rapid series.  I clawed desperately at the closest rock in a last-ditch effort to stay in calmer waters, but I only accomplished ripping off two of my fingernails.

I remember very little from that second set of rapids, only that I kept thinking “Justin must be freaking out right now” and “keep your mouth shut or you will drown”.

I was in the water for less than ten minutes, but it felt like ages and was so thoroughly exhausting that by the time the raft found me I couldn’t even lift my arms to try and grab onto the safety rope.  The man from our hostel, Celestino, hauled me into the raft by my life vest and I had about 30 seconds to recover before I was handed a new paddle as we entered another set of rapids.

I was still shaking from the adrenaline nearly a half hour later as we went up to shore for a lunch break.  I was nervous and on edge for the rest of the trip, and I was happy to be back on solid ground at the end of the day.

Being in that river was easily the most terrifying moment of my life, and another clear example of the tremendous force that water holds.

Despite the scare, Futaleufu has earned a spot as one of our favorite destinations from this first three months of travel, and if you’re into rafting and gorgeous scenery, we’re sure you’ll love it just as much as we did.

Southern Skies

3 Feb

The first thing about we noticed about Puerto Natales, Chile was the sky.  It took us a while to figure out what’s so captivating, but we finally realized that the sky looks bigger somehow than in other places.

We’re pretty sure it has something to do with the clouds.  We’ve never seen anything like it elsewhere, but the clouds here are layered in the most incredible ways and it makes the depth of the atmosphere seem even more expansive than usual.

Our pictures simply do not do it justice.

Merry Christmas!

25 Dec

On the path to the San Francisco glacier

We spent Christmas Eve hiking up in the Cajon Del Maipo (more about that in a future post) and grilling up another delicious steak.

Incidentally, I discovered where Santiago has been hiding its Christmas Spirit.  It was alive and well all along at an enormous mall in Las Condes.   I made a mad dash there late on the 23rd in an attempt to replace the fleece that I lost in Valpariaso, and the instant I entered the doors I was awash in the sparkling lights, heaps of cotton snow, and holiday consumerism that is typical of home.

I managed to get my fleece and get out without being sucked in by the appropriately extravagant window displays, which seemed to scream “Ashley! You totally need a new summer dress!!!”.  I did, however, stick around long enough to see Santa in his rightful place – a giant throne, surrounded by lovely elves in very short skirts.

On the walk back to the subway I cranked up the Christmas mix on my iPod, and the irony of listening to “Baby It’s Cold Outside” while wondering if I had applied enough sunscreen to prevent yet another sunburn, did not escape me.

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