Chile: Parque Nacional Torres del Paine (Mar 8 to 16, 2015)

After a 13-day cruise in Antarctica (see previous post), I continued north to Chile. How did I spend 9 days in Patagonia’s famous Parque Nacional Torres del Paine? Trekking, of course!

My 9-day, ~81-mile (130-km) “Q” Circuit included the “tail”, the “W”, and the “backside”. I did the hike with Steffen (Germany) whom I’d met en route to Puerto Natales (the closest town to the park). After the first campamento (campground), we befriended Florencia (Argentina), Verena (Switzerland), Grant (Australia), and Jonas (Denmark) who we trekked with for most of the remainder of the route. We also befriended Chris (UK) and others along the way doing parts of or the whole circuit. Hiking with these good peeps added to the whole experience, and was especially helpful in keeping spirits up when trudging through copious amounts of mud and coping with almost daily rain and high winds.

Having completed the trek, I think the park is amazing. But to be honest, I had moments of doubt, like when trekking for several hours through pastures or scrubby foothills. While very pretty, I felt like the overall topography and vegetation were too similar to places I’ve hiked in the So Cal mountains or even the lower elevation areas of the Sierra mountains. From all that I’d read about this park and given the rain, crazy strong winds, and the amount of mud I encountered everyday, I wanted to be blown away (figuratively speaking). For the first few days, I was worried I’d be disappointed. However……the park did NOT disappoint, in fact, I was blown away (figuratively and literally). Along with pastures, I hiked through native grass and shrub lands and moss-covered beech tree forests; hiked along cloudy gray glacial-fed rivers and turquoise glacial-fed lakes; hiked underneath the many snow-covered peaks variously lite up by the sun and shrouded in dark rain clouds; and viewed the famous Las Torres peaks lite up by the rising sun’s rays and topped with an amazing rainbow. In addition to the Las Torres peaks, the park’s undisputed crown jewel, I hiked along glacier Grey, part of the Southern ice field, the 2nd largest sub-polar ice field in the world. And the day we hiked over the pass and viewed this massive glacier, it was speckled by patches of sun peeking through dark clouds, and also topped with an amazing rainbow. I’m not sure why this glacier and associated ice field don’t receive as much press as the Las Torres peaks, but to me, these were the crown jewels of the park.

Trekking in Torres del Paine exceeded my expectations both because of the people I shared the experience with and because of the park’s natural splendor.

Here’a a teaser picture. Click the link to see the full photo album & videos:


Rainbow over Glacier Grey.
Rainbow over Glacier Grey.

Argentina: Ushuaia, El Fin del Mundo (Feb 11 to 20, 2015)

What did I do for 10 days at the “fin del mundo” in Ushuaia, Argentina? After my plane from Santiago, Chile (see previous post) landed on a single track runway, seemingly inches from the ocean surface, I shared a taxi to my hostel with Lorraine and David, a Swedish couple that I befriended on the plane. Like me, there are traveling until the money runs out. After checking in to my hostel, I put on my rain gear and set out for an evening walk. It was about 9pm but still twilight. After walking around this new city a bit, along with other strollers, I found a little cafe to enjoy a salad and a local beer, a Beagle Golden Ale (who’s namesake is the famous Beagle Channel which fronts Ushuaia).

As for the days after that, I spent most of my time exploring the area with a fun-loving trio from the US, Carrie, Candice, and Don, who I met at the hostel. We day hiked to nearby Glacier Martial, did a 3-day backpack on the Camino de la Turbera through the mountains and canyons behind Ushuaia (the southern side of Parque Nacional de Tierra del Fuego) with a side trip to Lago Tempano, celebrated the national holiday of carnival enjoying lots (and lots, and then a little more) of Argentinean wine while watching a local parade, and hanging around town. I even got my first lesson in fire throwing (minus the fire of course) from Candice, a seasoned pro.

While I was tempted to join my new friends traveling north to Parque Nacional Torres del Paine (my next destination), I decided to spend a few more days in Ushuaia. And holy crap am I glad I did! I ended up booking a last-minute 13-day cruise to Antarctica (pics coming in the next post). I’m also glad I stayed as I got to do another day hike back to Lago Tempano and then to Lago Encantada with my German friend, Karen, and hang out a bit with three wild and crazy guys, David, Michael, and James, from Australia, Romania, and the UK. Too bad I had to turn down their offer to join them driving their rental car north to Punto Arenas cuz it would have been a blast, but Antarctica called.

Ushuaia is a safe, clean, charming little city (population 56,500). Besides the wonderful people I befriended, all of whom I hope to see again in the future, what stands out the most about Ushuaia is its location between the Beagle Channel and gorgeous snow-capped mountains (my favorite kind of place as you know).

Here are a few photos from my time in Ushuaia. Click the link to see the full photo album:













Travel notes: recommend Cruz del Sur Hostel (although tiny kitchen and a bit noisy) and Los Lupinos Hostel (large kitchen, rooms upstairs); tap water is potable (no treatment needed); can use collectivos to get to Camino de la Turbera trailhead (7 pesos); can easily get high exchange rate (higher than national rate) around town (better to bring lots of US $$ to exchange and pay cash for everything); recommend Ushuaia Turismo (Daniella) to book Antarctica cruise.

Chile: The Vibe of Santiago and Valparaiso (Feb 5 to 11, 2015)

How did I spend 7 days in Santiago? Well, for the first day, I continued living la pura vida, Costa Rica style (see previous post), and just chilled. After a long day of travel to Santiago via Panama, I arrived at my hostel at 1:30am only to find it without windows or charm. So, after breakfast, I used the spotty wifi to find a new hostel and made the short walk to a new hostel full of windows, charm, and lots of shaded chill space (Happy House Hostel). Now settled in my new Santiago home, I enjoyed the vibe for the day, chilled, stocked up on some groceries and chatted with some new friends.

Refreshed, I spent the rest of the week exploring Santiago: a wonderful art museum, gorgeous city parks and plazas, a few churches, a few bars, and lots of people watching. I also did a fun day hike to the Glacier San Francisco (about 2 hours SE of Santiago) with a fun brother & sister duo from New Zealand (their sibling interaction was very much like mine and Jabal’s) and enjoyed good wine, food, and company at the hostel with fun peeps from France (a documentary film maker) and Canada (a feed corn scientist). And on the day before leaving, I explored the lovely, coastal city of Valparaiso with my new Canadian friend.

Santiago is a lovely, modern, clean city with a welcoming charm but what stood out the most about this city, and Valparaiso, was the amazing street art, both the quality and the quantity. I was told that street art is a form of communication between residents of many Latin American cities, particularly as a way to transmit political views and allegiances. This is not unlike other cities, but what is different from US cities at least, is that street art is legal and encouraged in various forms including murals (as pictured below) and what we would call graffiti. For me, the charm and vibe of both cities is defined by the amazing, colorful, soulful, playful street art. Enjoy!
































Travel notes: can take bus to/from airport (about $3 RT); recommend Happy House Hostel; tap water in Santiago is good (no treatment needed)