February 27, 2012

Leaving Torres

The bus back to Puerto Natales from the park was silent, save for the occasional whisper of wind through a neighbors' nostrils. Seats filled with twenty people and a pile of large packs, everybody slept, probably dreaming of achingly hot showers and juicy steaks. I was thinking about donuts again. Assuming the "I feel comfortable and accomplished" position, I slouched with my feet in the aisle and one hand in my waistband. I awoke an hour later wondering why I would dream of eating tuna after eating so much of it, until it occurred to me that there was tuna juice on my pants from lunch an hour before and that the entire bus smelled of it. There were about 14 pine tree shaped air freshener tags hanging next to the bus driver's seat. I can only imagine how thrilled he was to smell tuna for three hours, in addition to the aromatic assault of twenty hikers in a short bus whose windows don't open.

I was thinking about donuts on the entire hike. Dreaming of them. Every day, day and night. This is one of the first things I hope to eat upon my return to the US. Thanks for the picture Eliza. It made me want to die... Of longing... Not to be melodramatic or anything!

Guess what we ate when we returned to town? Youre thinking steak, arent you?! Wrong. Amazing oversized hot dogs called Completos are the national food of Chile. Slathered in 1/4 cup of avocado, fresh diced tomatoes, a tablespoon of hot onion-based salsa, and a streak of mustard, and encased in freshly baked crusty buns, these hot dogs transcended what I perceived as the properly prepared dog. Everybody eats them like this, though the locals prefer mayonnaise on theirs (I drew the line here). Though given the choice between a chili dog and a Chile dog, I would certainly choose the former of the two.

Torres cont.

Following the bends of the milky teal glacial river, we wound through the valley, climbed over the ridge line and headed toward Lake Dickson where we would camp for the night. The hike was relaxed once out of the mosquito zone, so long as a stiff breeze kept the blood thirsty certifies at bay. No one ever talks about the mosquitoes in Patagonia--just the wind. This makes sense, because it is rare for the wind to cease, and being in the warm river valley at the one moment it stopped proved to be the only bad weather related timing we have had since we came to Patagonia. We have had weather so perfect that it is nearly impossible. I guess Bolivian llama fetus voodoo really works.

Using a zoom lens....

The gradually sloping trail from Dickson takes you to Perros where you spend a chilly night next to a smaller glacier. Crossing the river and traversing up the valley, Perros is the last campsite before crossing the mountain pass and connecting with the upper left corner of the "W" circuit. We did the "O" circuit, or rather, the full circuit of the park. This section, between Perros and over the mountain pass, is where mediocre hiking becomes fabulous. As you ascend the mountain from the valley floor, you cross in and out of the receding tree line. The trail turns to blockish sheet rock and scree which can be sketchy but is generally easy and pleasant to walk upon. Up and up you go for an hour or so and voila! You stumble across the mountain pass with a classic cairn shrine to boot. As we rounded over the peak of the mountain pass we were confronted with a vista of Glacier Gray, a mile wide and 30 miles long. The surrounding snowy mountain peaks each house several smaller glaciers which spill into Glacier Gray. The weather was perfect and clear and allowed for a rare panorama of the entire glacier from end to end. This spot is special. The clean air of this lightly tread mountain pass is, in my opinion, the best part of the entire trek. The towers were great of course, but this was so much bigger than that and the feeling of awe and disbelief for that sight is still with me.

And a slightly different shot with the wide angle....

Our last day was quite cold and the perfect weather we had all week seemed to finally take a turn. Layered in wool sweaters and down jackets, we scooted out of the camp--we were most likely the first to wake as we were up by 7 and gone by 8. Clouds obscured the towers from view, but created perfect conditions for walking and admiring the views, as the bright sun was not pounding so harshly upon the landscape. We had to cover 11 miles by lunchtime if we wanted to make the afternoon bus, so it behooved us to set out before the large clusters of tour groups clogged the trail as we were no longer in the back country.

Camping at Dickson on the peninsula on the left.

Notably, as long as you are out and about by 8 or so, you will have at least two hours of peaceful time to yourself on the trail. Tour groups leave around 9:30, and by then you will have likely left them far behind. While in the back country, we tended to sleep late and leave late as we wanted to take our time in the more peaceful sections of the park. Twelve hours of sleep each night and leaving camp by 10 or even 11 is pretty average for hikers out here, and even then, we were often the first to break camp!

Almost 1/4 of Glacier Gray from the mountain pass.

Torres del Paine Circuit

Bussing into the park, we hit the trail and scooted up the mountain past large clusters of tourists. The cloudless sky allowed the sun to beat mercilessly upon us as we trudged up the trail with our heavy packs. 8 days of food weighs a fair amount, especially when carrying a lunch as exotic as carrots, peaches, avocado, and cheese. Such a feast, however, is reserved only for the energetic legs of day 1. It would be nothing but tuna, rice, beans, and cheese after that. Yet compared to other hikers, we ate like kings, and probably had enough chocolate to survive from it alone.

Really great photo, Will!

Arriving early in the afternoon at our campsite, we napped, ate a quick dinner, and scampered 45 minutes up to the lookout to watch the sun set. Will was bolder than I, and committed to rising at 5 am to watch the sunrise at the lookout. I witnessed one Patagonian sunrise in Bariloche and deemed myself exempt from the responsibility. I had no regrets for trading the sunrise for a few extra hours of sleep, but it was certainly spectacular. With a few basic tips, Will took some fantastic shots (one of which you already saw).

Torres del Paine from Laguna Amarga at the park entrance.

We left the mountains for the trail that would wind through the pampas and take us to the first backcountry campsite, Seron. The going was easy, only one hill (sort of) and the flat river valley proved to be quite pretty. The variety of grasses ranged from soft mauve brushes and delicately carved wheats which whispered as our legs brushed their tips. The attractive scenerycame as a relief to us, as the hike had started out being rather underwhelming. Walking along a poorly maintained gravel driveway for several miles when you paid a park entrance fee of $30 for a world class trek would come as a surprise to anybody.

Sunrise photo by Will

Torres del Paine National Park is a sadly mismanaged park. Will pointed out that there is just as much damage to the famous burn from this past January as the privately owned land... Cattle and horses displace guanacos (an endangered and endemic type of llama) from the pampas in the private section of the park--i never actually saw any wildlife in the park, save for a single condor. Pack horses supplying the refugios with an assortment of overpriced cookies, tuna, and beer erode the hiking trails more than a gaggle of inexperienced hikers--of which there are plenty. I could list the issues for an hour, but I will focus instead on the adventure we had, which despite the faults of the park, was good.

Arriving at Seron, we were quick to identify the insect which would determine what we would be wearing for the rest of the evening and part of our hike the next day: the mosquito. The cloud of mosquitoes surrounding my head made it impossible to think. I donned my rain jacket and pants and pulled the drawstring so only my eyes peeked out from my hood. Even Will was being mauled by the bloodsuckers! Apparently he is not immune to South American bugs, which I took some vengeance based pleasure in knowing. :)

We were in our tent the second dinner was done cooking and stuck for the rest of the night. Before I fell asleep, I counted around 200 mosquitoes and by midnight when Will awoke to a 1 liter water bottle of bladder pressure, he observed the convulsing tent covered in over 800 mosquitoes. We practically ran out of the campsite the next morning, despite our 40 and 50 pound packs.

February 24, 2012

Sneak peak at our Torres del Paine trek....

Torres del Paine, 6:15 a.m. Just before the sunrise... Photo taken by Will! I preferred to sleep in since I already did a sunrise stint at our last camping foray....and there is a 45 minute hike up the mountain. Will managed to borrow a tripod which is why it's such a fantastically clean shot.

Photos and stories later.... I need to process everything!

February 16, 2012

8 Days of Food

Leaving tomorrow to do the 6 to 9 day Torres del Paine circuit. Why the wide range of days? You never know what the weather will do. Last week they received 1.5 feet of snow and had to close part of the circuit. This week it's supposed to be sunshine and daisies at 70 degrees. Three minutes from now, Armageddon will come, but not to worry, will dissipate within the hour. We plan to do the 65+ mile trek in 7 days (Why do it in six if its so beautiful?!) but have extra food in case of bad weather.

8 days of food! This includes an entire kilo of Milo (that chocolate cereal in the back that is a double size...note how it dwarfs the 1 liter water bottle next to it), a pound of dry black beans, and best of all..... THE GIANT TOBLERONE that cost $5 because we are in a tax free zone!

Remaining Parque Nacional Los Glaciares Photographs

One of many quirky bridges spanning the park's deep waterways. They're stable enough, but we didn't dally lest an old log give way or a gust of wind knocked us into the water.

Laguna Toro

Continued from "More Fitz Roy"....

The weather cleared enough that by the time we reached the meadow, I had shed all of my layers and was hiking in my long john's!

The wavy cow path wandered through meadows, past the bleached white trunks of trees which lost their bark in a forest fire, and across deep glacial creeks. We prayed that each time we teetered and tottered across old logs and slippery stones, of creeks both wide and narrow, that no gust of wind would rob us of what balance we had. Trodding across the river valley we reached Laguna Toro, basked in the satisfaction of reaching the end of the glacial valley, and made an about-face to head back up the mountain. This time we had the wind at our backs, and we were practically able to float up the valley, occasionally jogging as the wind slammed into our backs. Miraculously, the weather began to clear, fresh snow gleaming on the higher peaks, and sun splitting the thick clouds.

Nine a.m., leaving El Chalten (tiny town below) via grasslands for Laguna Toro. El Chalten is actually part of the National Park and was founded in 1985. Sadly, the town seems to lack a zoning official. The buildings are poorly and dully constructed, yet it seems that a town based entirely on the hefty and comparatively wealthy tourist crowd visiting Fit Roy could and should be more restrictive and creative with their building styles. There is so much opportunity for the proper development of a town this new that has such a strong cash flow, despite it's seasonality.

Laying on our backs in the wild wheat of the Patagonian pastureland, we admired the looming figures of Fitz Roy and several surrounding snow peaks emerging from layers of downy cumulus clouds with crepuscular rays shooting dramatically upon the valley. Scaling the mountain and returning to our packs, I lacked the gumption to walk 30 minutes back to the picturesque pasture we had so enjoyed--it had, after all, been a 15 mile day and we still had another 2 miles left. Yet I was content to imprint the image of us, Will's head on my stomach, basking in this remote and peaceful grassland, without the benefit of my camera. I believe that the best moments are those that remain unrestricted by the superficiality of a single sense. Photography exposes us to new sights, but it can never replace the sensory feast of knowing the rough touch of the wild wheat or the fresh taste of the pure glacial streams.

This is the view we had from the meadow, but taken from the top of the mountain, nearer to my pack.

February 15, 2012

Perito Moreno Glacier

After spending the night in Hostal Albergue whose cinder-block 8x8 foot rooms for 2-3 people made one feel more like a jailbird than a paying guest, we boarded the first a.m. bus to Parque Nacional Los Glaciares. The bus wound along the pancake flat valley and an electric blue lake, small mountains jetting vertically on either side. It had rained the night before, and as the sun had not peeped from behind the clouds, the bus tires picked up a steady spray while the fields still smelled of fresh rain.

The glacier was enormous, nothing I expected, but then again I had never seen a glacier before so I didn't know what to expect. 30 kilometers long and three kilometers wide, it stretches far out of sight. It calved car sized chunks of ice, occasionally losing an entire sheet from its broad face and sending a series of 5 foot waves in its wake. Each calving was preceded by a deep rumble, the same sound as a thunderstorm less than a mile away. Splashes sounding like loons plopping into the water were actually car sized chunks of ice. Even a bushy tailed fox darted devilishly between the erratic boulders and occasionally tumbling blocks of ice.

Ever so blue... The colors were unbelievable!

More Fitz Roy!

Playing with filtering materials to help combat haze issues!

Unfortunately our view was totally blocked by a mass of clouds, but our spirits remained high as we passed our evening in the company of fellow backpackers: Andre from Russia, Mauruse from Switzerland, Corey from Vermont, and Joal from Portugal. Wearing all of our clothes and burying hot water bottles in our sleeping bags (rather, Will gave me the water bottle, while he was able to actually zip his zero degree bag for the second time in its existence), we zipped ourselves like mummies, and went to sleep, dreaming of the shortbread jam cookies we would devour upon our return to town the next morning, before continuing our trek. The trailheads are disconnected, as the park spans sections of terrain that are not impenetrable, but easier to create trails elsewhere. The entire backside of the mountain range is an ice field called Campo de Hielo (Ice Country). It is passable by guided tours of the 8-day circuit, though spending a fortune for three windy, frigid days on the ice field, jumping over crevasses somehow didn't appeal to me....

Promising a stern, but friendly Ranger that we would practice all leave-no-trace principles, as well as notify him of our return from the more remote Laguna Toro trail, we climbed out of the canyon and up into the high rolling pastures which host grazing cattle and huemul (native undersized deer). The cattle were easily the largest pastured creatures I had ever set my eyes upon--pregnant, I suppose, but still larger than life, and undoubtedly the source of the steak we've been savoring when in town. Though bulls are color blind, I couldn't shake the feeling that I had a KILL sign on my back as both my pack and rain fly are bright red. Despite my childhood fears coming to light (I once accidentally stood between a cow and her calf on my granddad's farm in Virginia), the giant cows and bull were, if anything, bored by our presence. Too pregnant to care?

Fitz Roy... Hmmm, I think it's a 3,000 meter peak, so that's still another 1,500 to 2,000 meters higher than where I am sitting. How's that for scale?!

As we continued, the weather took a downturn, and we donned our down coats and rain gear, following the sketchy, eroded cow path which appeared to be the trail. Knowing that rain was due in the morning and that the weather was worsening by the minute, we decided to ditch our packs, bringing only chocolate and water, and race the clouds to the end of the trail, camping deep in the sheltered woods closer to town. The 9 mile day became a 16 mile day, and we skittered down the scree, sliding and leaping against the wind, our coats expanding like sails. We had started down the mountain at a jog, though I didn't taper off soon enough so when the wind stopped, I found myself hurtling blindly down the hill, suddenly ten feet in front of Will when I was previously thirty feet behind.

Tres Lagunas at the base of Fitz Roy, taken with a wide angle lens and a bar of chocolate in my mouth. Funny how you can remember specific photos....

Fitz Roy Continued...

Getting a lazy start to our day, we ate breakfast in El Chaiten's bakery-cafe with fantastic coconut macaroons, jam cookies, real coffee, and the slowest Internet on the planet that still mostly works. As we rode into town the night before, two of five passengers on the local bus, we were serenaded by views of the Fitz Roy tower at sunset--now it was shrouded by clouds and we realized that Patagonia is a Carpe Diem sort of place because you probably won't get another chance. Were I to relive those beautiful 15 minutes, I would have begged the driver to stop for just one picture. I didn't bother asking because buses stop for nothing except strikes, avalanches, and landslides.

Patagonian WIND. See how far Will's sleeping pad is bending backwards! The quintessential "I climbed and conquered this mountain" photograph degenerated quickly to "this mountain is currently kicking my ass". I could barely even stand up and removed my flare guard on my lens for fear of catching too much headwind.

The trailhead begins at the edge of town, and save for the gusty headwind, the going was easy. Stopping at the top of the first hill, we devoured twenty shortbread jam cookies, downed some fresh glacial melt river water, and continued until we stumbled upon giant sheets of exposed bedrock along the river with direct views of the elusively shrouded Fitz Roy. Snacking on cheese, crackers, tomatoes, and chocolate, we basked in the sunshine, admired the cliff rising alongside our picnic sight, and chuckled at the tour group of 30 Germans who were so delighted with the entire trip. Their collective gasp drew my attention away from my satisfying mouthful of chocolate (Cadbury with Almonds) and up along the cliff where a pair do Andean Condors friskily wove forty feet from us, riding the wind that ripped along the valley.

Lunching location....

Arriving at our campsite after our three or four hour stroll (Who really counts the time when it's such a pretty day?), we pitched the tent, hung our food, and loaded a day bag with chocolate, water, rain gear, headlamps, and my camera. Walking for thirty minutes led us to a mirador where we could overlook one of the prettier glaciers tumbling from the cliff which supports Fitz Roy. Jagged spears of bright blue ice hang precipitously, giving us the sensation of suspense. Yet our eager, child-like anticipation was in vain, for while the sonorous rumblings indicated that the ice was indeed shifting, no large calves gave way before our hopeful eyes. We headed back to the campsite, as a cluster of ominous rain clouds condensed over our heads, planning to make dinner and seek shelter in the tent instead of hiking up to Fitz Roy. It appeared that we would have to save that trip till morning.

Piedras Blancas Glacier

Despite the threat of rain, raindrops were sporadic, more of a consequence of actually being IN the clouds rather than in a rainstorm. Even after eating dinner, there was at least another three hours of daylight left, and the clouds didn't appear to be much worse than before so we figured, what the heck?! Up the mountain we went, laden in shorts, down coats, and rain jackets--Will in crocs, of course. The sign at the trailhead warned that the terrain was extremely steep and unstable--at last, a trail that didn't resemble a casual boardwalk! The hour long walk took us less than forty minutes as we hoofed it up the mountain, with the increasing wind speeds and growing rainstorm marking our rapid ascent. Reaching the top, we watched the clouds whorl and the rain rush sideways in the gale force winds. Satisfied and soaked, we jogged down the mountain, crawled into our bags wearing all of our dry clothes to ward off the creeping chill of the night air, and slept.

After sleeping for a mere 12 hours, we rose and climbed the mountain for the second time, eager to see Fitz Roy up close. What had been a black and gray mass with violent winds the night before proved to be a beautiful, glacial lake lined peak by day. Snacking on chocolate and chatting with fellow travelers, the atmosphere was optimistic and light hearted. Packing our camp, we departed for Laguna Torre, walking briskly along multicolored green and blue lakes and through verdant dappled forests littered with crooked and tumbledown trees no longer able to withstand the constant pressure of the wind. Rounding the mountain and walking up the glacially carved valley, the wind picked up (almost knocking me down, though my hiking poles saved me many a time) and the temperature dropped degrees with each step toward the campsite, nestled near the foot of the glacier.

February 5, 2012

Hour by Hour Continued....

Please start with post titled "Hour by Hour" before continuing.

Yoga on the platform (to the left of that boulder in the foreground) this morning, then this shot taken around 3 o'clock. Not a cloud in sight till now.

Damn... Going to be a long night in the tent. 3:15 p.m.

Approximately 3:20 p.m. Winds are about 40 MPH, mostly in long gusts. Rain arrives 15 minutes later--mostly sideways and stings my skin. While running to the refuge to store the food inside, I was blown helplessly about each time a fresh gust hit the broadside of the pack. Will's 6 year old LL Bean tent stood up to the challenge, keeping us dry. Though after the regular wind abuse and powerful UV of Patagonia he will probably have to end this tent's career. In the meantime, what a tent!

Hour by Hour

Dawn: Pre-Sunrise 6 a.m. Very cold and wondering why I thought it would be a good idea to leave the comfort of my down bag.

Sunrise 6:30 a.m. Starting to understand why I forced my lazy self out of bed. Please ignore the GIANT fingerprint smear/dust clod... The problem with switching lenses is that I am quite vulnerable to these alien objects and I don't have photoshop on hand (will get fixed upon return to states). Will clean lens upon return to Bariloche.

Ooooookay, I guess I am grateful that I rose on time for this. (I must admit to you that I went directly back to bed.)

Now this gets interesting so stay with me. Go to the post titled "Hour by Hour Continued..."

Nahuel Huapi National Park

As soon as we read about the five day trek through Nahuel Huapi National Park, we decided that we shouldn't miss it. The stunning park is located in the lakes district in Argentine Patagonia and the trek itself runs along a Refugio system which allows you to carry only your day clothing, water, and snacks--but we are cheap and tough and carried our tent plus 5 full days of food, including 6 types of chocolate. I was presented with lots of options at the grocery store, so Will suggested that we try them all. I have eaten one giant bar per day entirely by myself for the past 4 days... Only two to go and then I will know which is my favorite chocolate. I lack a control for the experiment, but it is otherwise scientific. If you have any doubts as to the decision I will make two days from now, I am willing to conduct an empirical study, but I will need outside funding to do so as it is not very affordable to eat $5 of chocolate per day (after all, that is 10% of my maximum daily budget!). I haven't even gotten to try the locally made chocolates yet! Bariloche is famous for its chocolate boutiques, amongst other things.

The Monkey Puzzle Tree

Hopping the bright red and yellow local bus, we rode 15 minutes outside of town until the driver deposited us on a gravel driveway and pointed for us to follow the road to the trailhead. Two kilometers and five unsuccessful hitch hiking attempts later we entered the coolness of the forest and began our trek. Stopping alongside Lago Gutierrez, we ate cheese, bread, and local salami before scaling the steeper mountain toward the refuge. An hour later, we both felt ill, but we had not been too active lately and figured that we were just tired.... Arriving at a rushing mountain stream, I ate the rest of the salami log with more cheese while watching a train of mules trudge down the mountain, led by a group of trail workers. Another hour later, I realized that my burps tasted like salami--you should never be able to taste your food once you've already eaten it....

I accidentally shot this with my leg. Just as I was getting ready to delete it, Will said, "This is exactly how I remember the Refugio!"

We both took Pepto-Bismal and hoped for the best. I got better. Will got worse. Downright bad. Fortunately there was only 1 kilometer left by the time his fever struck and his stomach evacuated its contents. Arriving at Frey Refugio two hours late, I gave Will his down jacket, set up the tent, and scurried about to get dinner ready while Will rested in the tent. Needless to say, the food poisoning took over, so we returned to town two days later with a dose of ciprofloxacn coursing through Will's veins. Despite the brevity of our trip, the trek was stunning and incredibly diverse. I would do it all over again any day!

Will's contribution:
I was really sick. Frances absolutely took care of me as lay feverishly in the tent clutching my stomach or scurrying to the bathroom -- I mean, she brought me a kitten? This is why you travel with someone. She even carried my pack for the last few miles of the hike out! Let us compare: me lying in ditch with me lying in bed with kitten. My travels without Frances to my with my travels with Frances. Amazing.

Will and Emilio, the kitten, read together in the tent.

One of the refuges on the way up.

Thank the Germans

Fur den Argentinian Deutchvolk in San Martin de Los Andes,

I want to thank you for not forgetting how to bake pastries and leavened breads when you left your mother country, and deciding not to adopt local baking customs instead. The wheat roll I ate today weighed about 1 pound, yet it was fluffy and moist in the interior. The lemon curd danish was flakey and crispy on the outside, delicately moist on the inside, and lightly sweet. Best of all, 5 pastries and 4 rolls only cost the equivalent of $2.50 USD. If your Leavened goods are this delicious, then I can't wait to eat what you are internationally renowned for: carne de bistek, you call it, or steak! In a land so known for its fabulous steaks, it must be tough to carve a name for yourself. I will eat this famous slab of meat cooked medium rare, almost rare enough to moo, after I earn my keep on a 5 day trek with little more than canned tuna, risotto, chocolate, and oatmeal.

Danke schon, meinen freunden!


Sherwin Williams: The One Stop Shop for Cooking Fuel

We were only 60 miles from Argentina by the time we reached Pucon. Since our stay in Pucon was something of a washout, thanks to three straight days of raining sideways and gusts of wind that made a stone house groan, we figured we might as well cross the Andes (much easier in the South due to less extensive peaks) and head for a rain shadow region with a similar climate and scenery to a Montana summer. Upon arriving to San Martin de Los Andes, we devoured giant cheeseburgers and shouldered our packs, heading for the wooded hills. The land outside of town is part of the southern section of Lanin National Park, though it certainly isn't wild. Wandering through a scattered hillside neighborhood, we searched for an outlet, or at least a non-vertical slope where we could quietly pitch our tent and make a small dinner.

We spent the majority of the afternoon wandering about town in search of white gas, a super efficient, lightweight, clean-burning fuel for cooking. The search, done with our packs, proved to be a goose chase as we were directed from one store to another spread within a 1 mile radius. One man even directed us to the Sherwin Williams paint store. Finally we went to the nearest gas station, hoping to buy a low-octane fuel, but the attendants refused because the high pressure pumps would make a mess of the fuel in a 1/2 liter bottle. Instead they gave us diesel. Yummy....

Have you ever cooked with diesel? The smoke coats everything with black scum (just check out the blackened exhaust pipes of diesel vehicles) that spreads a greasy slime across everything it touches. The whisperlite was either jetting a 4-8 inch flame, or the fire went out. The red pepper risotto proved to be quite tasty, despite nearly burning it on several occasions thanks to our lack of heat control, but we decided to ramp up our fuel search again after a bit of blog scanning to see what other campers have resorted to using when Bean's or Dick's isn't around.

We did find white gas (Adventure Store, San Martin) though it cost 10 USD for about 1/4 liter. We bought one bottle as a precaution, but returned to the paint store after having read about other campers who have used a solvent called naphtha. Apparently the original local who directed us to Sherwin Williams for cooking fuel knew what he was talking about--even the guy at the paint store understood how we planned to use it. We will do a test run tonight, but 1/2 liter for 5 USD isn't bad!

The old business of hospitality

The morning fog clears, revealing blue skies and hour before we boarded our bus to Argentina.

Will's contribution:

It has always been a great regret of mine that I missed the golden age of travel hospitality. In my mind, a time when travelers were rare enough to elicit special treatment -- Invitations to a home, lavish feasts, plentiful libations, and most importantly a warm feeling of welcome. A traveler these days though, is in some parts of the world more plentiful than the stray dog and receives only slightly better treatment. Yet in our brief interludes of being hosted by others, the Frickes, the Franklins, I had an occasion to think that Marco Polo, Darwin, or Munchausen could hardly have received better treatment. To our splendid hosts, my thanks.

And then, the clouds parted...

As soon as the clouds parted, I left my cozy spot in front of the wood stove, donned my boots, and grabbed my camera. The five of us had already settled in with our glasses of wine before dinner and hadn't anticipated doing more than listening to podcasts referencing Obama's state of the union address or savoring a meal of pork chops and stir fried cabbage and noodles. Standing on the lawn, I noticed the white shoulder of the smoldering mountain I had heard so much about. I asked Roger, "Is that Volcan Villarica?"

One minute later, Grandma Norma, Caren, Roger, Will and I were piled in the Subaru, camera in one hand and wine glasses in the other, hurdling down the narrow gravel driveway toward the flood swollen river bed where we could snap photos and catch glimpses of the volcano just before the sunset peaked. We hadn't gotten more than a minute to glimpse the volcano's alluring peak when Roger, seized by an ecstatic frenzy fueled by the desire to show us how stunning the scenery is in Pucon, ordered us back into the car and we positively flew up an even smaller gravel road, swerving around engine block crushing boulders. Roger was determined as hell to whip around the mountainside before the sun fully set so we could see the looming snow covered volcano contrasted against the lush pinnacles, volcanic rocks, and colorful lichen. We missed the sunset by mere minutes, but we're dearly rewarded with the sight of the moonrise.

This was the photo I took along the river, before rounding the mountain to move closer.

Despite the nearly complete darkness, The volcano, no longer shrouded by clouds, never disappeared from sight. It's perfectly conical white peak was illuminated by the hazy dusk reflecting off the snow.

Rain, rain, rain, rain, rain, rain, rain, rain...WIND.

Roger Fricke and Will--probably talking about the Florida primary with Blackie (part dog, part giant beast) in the background.

Lush, verdant, pristine: Adjectives and superlatives rush to mind as I think of Pucon. I find myself reluctant to leave, but am delighted to know that we may return on our way back to Santiago. Our first afternoon was partly cloudy. Great cumulus clouds skirted the rounded pinnacles which resembled Thai karst formations and we drank beers on the patio with Roger and Caren Fricke and their wonderful helper and friend, Sigfredo. Rain threatened, so Will and I quickly finished our libations so we could have a chance to hike to a set of waterfalls in the valley below the house. The downpour came sooner than anticipated and though we were drenched by the icy rain and turbid river water, we happily scrambled and scampered about the black volcanic boulders and ribbons of gray igneous rock. Apparently there is a volcano, but even the nearby mountains were well shrouded in fog.

My dream come true: A wood fired grill and brick oven. Not to mention, the view....

Every dinner at the Fricke's is an event worth remembering thanks to Caren's phenomenal cooking. A 16 pound rib roast with mashed potatoes and gravy, fried noodles with cabbage and pork chops, pumpkin pie with a lard crust, avocado laden salads, and lots of delicious red wine. Heaven! Not to mention Norma's tender ginger cookies.... Dinner for this family is more than fulfilling the requirements of subsistence, and I value that.

Frisky kitten thinks she is a dog. She enjoyed tramping about the property with me as I documented the picturesque landscape.

Well...the rain kept coming. And coming. For the next two days the sky sobbed, sometimes raining down and sometimes raining sideways. When there was a brief lull, Will and I headed up the mountain, but disturbed a hornets nest and Will was stung 8 times, including on his head, leaving him with a throbbing headache and little inclination to forge ahead through the freezing rain. We had lost the trail anyway, and stood in an endless, chokingly thick bamboo thicket that required us to crawl. We lost the trail at a downed tree and saw some pink markers thinking that was the new way around. Turns out, those markers are actually for a native tree seed experiment run by one of the Fricke's sons!

February 1, 2012

Vertical Valpo

An excellent example of the verticality of Valparaiso.

"The town is built at the very foot of a range of hills, about 1,600 feet high and rather steep. From its position, it consists of one long, straggling street, which runs parallel to the beach, and wherever a ravine comes down, the houses are piled up on each side of it. The rounded hills, being only partially protected by a very scanty vegetation, are worn into numberless little gullies, which expose a singularly bright red soil."
--An excerpt on Valparaiso from Charles Darwin's 'Voyage of the Beagle' that was first published in 1839.