12/10/2010 - 12/24/2010
My schooling for the year is no más and I shall now pass the next couple of months roaming across the Latin American terrain like a lone Puma traversing the mighty Andes in search of bountiful water holes, a dry cave, and plump rabbits. The travels kicked off with style due to the mid-December arrival of Mother Susan and her tender heart.
We commenced the two-week trip by allowing her the full Austin Cloyed experience in staying with my host family for a couple of days in their Viña del Mar abode. During this time, I accompanied the lady in an exploration of the Valparaiso city where we strolled about the cerros and port in a way as to absorb the Valparaisiano essence. The next day, we attempted some ocean kayaking in nearby Con Con but a mighty wind there was and the kayak man allowed us only like a couple acres of water to explore; we paddled to a lighthouse and then let the wind blow us back to shore. On the mainland I proceeded to escort the Susan to the finest empanaderias that the Region has to offer...the day vanished in a cloud of empanada mastication. When the night time came we bestowed upon my host family this game, Spot It!, that Sister Cassidy sent down for them. It was near embarrassing the intensity that ensued; we got real into it, I had never seen the host family so excitable, they went loco for the "Spot It!". The next day, Susan and I took out the bicycles and cruised around the city to the markets and a lil cafe and what not. In the evening, the host family had a friend drive his truck to drop us at the bus station and the whole family piled in, putting us a few people over capacity. We arrived about 10 minutes late to the bus station, but fortunately the Chileans disregard for promptness is on the same level as our own and the bus still remained in the terminal. We hopped in, found our way to the luxurious chairs awaiting us in the sleeper section on the lower level and got situated in our chair-home for the next 15 hours. My family vigorously waved us farewell as the bus pulled out.
The first stop was Puerto Varas, this super tranquilo, well manicured Germanish town resting opposite of Volcano Osorno on the cusp of a lake. It was real nice, we ate some crazy German sandwiches in town and then took a bus to Lago de Todos los Santos, a glorious lake squeezed between Argentina, chile, and a few volcanoes.
The next day, six hours in bus and ferry awaited us in arriving to our next destination of Castro, Chiloe. Chiloe has this reputation of being really distinct from the rest of Chile because it is a mammouth, self-sufficient network of islands...One girl from my university kept raving about how mystical it was and talking about the witchcraft, but we never were lucky enough to meet some witches, unless they were cladenstine. It´s also one of the rainiest places in Chile, to the extent that its extreme precipitation is linked to the fact that the island has the highest suicide rates in Chile. We lucked out in our timing and had nothing but sunshine and views of lush, green countryside. There´s a national park and some touristy islands to visit, but the mother and I were fairly burnt out of being in buses and opted to just stay in Castro for the couple days. My main objective was to feast on the curanto , a native meal of the region, consisting of shellfish, sausage, steak, chicken, vegetables, and fish that is buried in the ground in between gigantic leaves with hot rocks and slow cooked to perfection. Unfortunately, it´s more of a festive dish, and they don´t really bother doing it for less than ten people; I came close to convincing this German group at the hostel to join forces to form a Curanto fiesta....but they just didn´t understand. We had to settle for imitation curanto cooked in pots.
After a few more bus/boat/airplane rides we arrived in the final destination, the legendary Patagonia. We passed one night in the capital city of Punta Arenas and the next day took a 3 hour bus ride through sheep country (I think the majority of Patagonia is sheep farms) to Puerto Natales, gateway to Torres del Paine. I had the notion of us doing this 4 or 5 day camping trip through Torres del Paine in the form of the "W" route, but never really did any research on how to make such an undertaking. After finally shaking off our hostel manager and his attempts to convince us that it´s a terrible, impractical idea to do your own voyage into the park and that we needed one of his tours, we met some other trekkers who gave us the truth and logistics on getting to and from the trail heads.
The next morning we rose at the crack of 6:30 and embarked in yet another bus ride to reach the park; at the 10:00, we were greeted by epic Mountains of Torres del Paine. The day begin well, the ferry ride across one of the lakes to our trail head was thoroughly awesome and the Susan and I were stoked to conquer. We started the trekking with a little day trip to see the Gray Glacier, leaving the bags behind the ranger station since we needed to backtrack to make it to our first campsight.
The walk to the glacier went swimmingly; it was the second leg of the days trekking when Susan crumbled to the might of Patagonia. It was in this segment, lugging our massive backpacks when the wind picked up (about 50 mph) and the rain began to fall. Susan´s frail, decaying body was fairly unaccustomed to the hauling of giant backpacks and after the first hour had lost all hope and began cursing every step and passing trekker who teased that the campsite was near. My encouraging words were in vain, the woman was miserable and I felt fairly resposnible for dragging her through hell. The rain washed the tears from her cheeks and eventually we arrived at the campsite. In order to not completely destroy the woman, we decided to just remain in this campsite for the next night and do a day hike sans packs. God graced us with near perfect weather to rise our spirits from the depths in which they had fallen and we had a swell time traversing through the awe-inspiring Valle del Francis. It honestly was the most glorious valley in which I have had the pleasure of laying my feet and we was able to fully enjoy it, having had eliminated the need to stick to a schedule of completing the semi-circuit. We hiked out the next morning and hopped in a bus just as the clouds descended and the rain started back up.
Back in Puerto Natales for another day, the Susan treated us to some gourmet Patagonian dining in the shape of Salmon Ceviche, fat tender steaks, Kingcrab and lamb pizzas, the local microbrews, and of course some fine chilean vino.
Another flight and 20 hours of bus and we were back to Santiago where the trip had begun to fare fair Susan well.