Sunday, January 31, 2016

Day Two: The IncaTrail, we take our first...


Ring! Ring! My I Pad's alarm clock woke me at the pre-rooster crowing time of 3:45 am. We were scheduled to leave sans breakfast, and worse no coffee at 4:30 am. 

As Elmer Fudd would say "west and wewazation at wast!" NOT! 

I met the rest of my fellow Inca Pilgrims as we stumbled aboard the bus. 

In total numbers there were seventeen Gringo hikers. Demographically speaking, we were a diverse group. Our ages ranged from 23 to 70 years old. I was the second oldest guest. There were sixteen Yanks and one Canadian (Eh!) The majority were married couples. There were four other solo travelers like myself. Most were still gainfully employed: two doctors, one dentist, an ER nurse, a pilot, one firefighter, a home decorator, and one nice man who designed displays in art museums (I think). There was a couple who struck the retirement lottery like myself, and one woman who was between jobs. All were well educated and had an interesting story to tell. I guess boring people wouldn't undertake something like this. That's a good thing.

We also had a complement of 23 porters and three guides. We were a zip code's amount of people in motion.

It was a long bus ride to kilometer 82 to our start. En route, we were allowed one bano/desayuno break. That's it. 

The previous evening, it had poured gatos y perros. Somehow the bus driver willed the vehicle and it's human cargo through mud holes and past oncoming traffic (on a one lane greasy dirt road). The coachman was nice enough to avoid a head on with an aggressive bicyclist too. Apparently, the wheelman didn't understand the basic laws of physics. Getting struck by lots of mass hurts. I know this first hand. 

At the put in, we unloaded our gear, took another bano break and snapped a few photos. We then presented our passports to two bored dudes at the trail's starting checkpoint. They matched our passport's numbers to the information on their list of permitted hikers. We all passed that test. We then spanned a bridge across the Urabamba River. After that we were officially on the Inca Trail and on our way to Machu Picchu. 

The first day of hiking was described in the brochure as a warm up stroll. That being said we still covered about 10 miles of undulating trail complete with a big uphill finish. 

For our efforts, we were rewarded with views of the river while walking past tiny trailside villages. The locals were going about there daily lives as we moseyed through their front yards. It made me feel like a voyeur, and sort of strange. It was definitely far from the wilderness experience I was expecting. 

The weather was damp, cool and kind of dreary by the time we arrived at camp. We were all feeling spent and tuckered out. Luckily, an enterprising middle aged local woman saw the potential to score a few sols. (Peruvian dollars) She stopped by and offered us warm beers and tepid sodas. The brews were bought up in a flash. The sodas, not so much. 

It was around 5 pm at this point. We've been in motion for over half the day. Alex the lead guide informed us of our 5 am wake up call for the following day. We groaned but accepted our fate. We were on a mission to Machu Picchu. 

Buenas noches, 

BTW: A Wandering, Wondering Jew has now passed 25,000 pageviews since I launched it on July 4th 2014. Thanks everyone for looking in, especially you Russian, Chinese and Indian wannabe hackers. 

Monday, January 18, 2016

Back to the M Park...

Where I slogged up an old volcanic field consisting of loose course black sand. 
If any of you ever climbed South Sisters Peak in the Three Sisters Wilderness of Oregon, you would be able to relate. One step forward, a half slip back. 

I followed the yellow marking poles to a prominent saddle. Once I achieved that height, I saw what looked like a small hill to my left. What the heck, I had the time. (I'm retired and Happy Hour was a long way off). So I headed uphill and met a few false summits. I hate when that happens. Finally I made the top where I was treated to a view of four volcanoes. 

I took a seat on a soft rock to admire the sights and enjoy a PB&J sandwich. Unfortunately two species of Arthropoda had other aggressive ideas. It was a two pronged attack. One air based - horseflies. One land based - biting ants. Many of them took the ultimate sacrifice, but yet they kept coming. Why can't we all just get along? I flew a white flag while retreating down the hillside and away from my scenic lunch counter. 

I'm back in the C town which was a two thumbs up hit for both Lisa and I. My cabana rocks. Of course it  comes with the obligatory barking dogs as neighbors. Can't have everything.

Tomorrow I'll see the Pacific Ocean. 



PS. The kid drawing is on a wall in my cabana. Obviously living under an active volcano influences the tykes around here. Note the vulture watching the action. 

Sunday, January 17, 2016

On the move again...

There was the H Park where I was going to send out some nice shots, but a Chilean Beer Gremlin intervened and forced me to delete photos instead of downloading them. I salvaged one panoramic pix from my I-Phone. 

Then there was the trip back to the V Park where fall weather made a comeback despite being mid-summer here. The trees capture the gloomy all around feel of that day. The one thrill was coming across El Toro. This bull would yield no quarter, not even a hindquarter. I'm no matador but I know when a male bovine paws the dirt, it's not the same as a dog wagging it's tail. 

Then a visit to the C Park where the real adventure is driving its single lane gravel, rutted through road. Its a game of Chilean Chicken when you meet an oncoming vehicle. No driver wants to back up a steep road bank. It was a contest of who blinks first. I'll admit to losing the battles half the time. When that ordeal was done, I spent an evening in a moldy smelling cabana complete with a cold shower and thread bare towels. Just like a stay in a Hilton Hotel only different. 

Then today, I was surprised in a good way. I visited an M Park which none of my three Chile travel guides mentioned. I took a chance and I'm glad I did. I found a delightful 12 mile hike to some splendid miradors  (lookouts). Summer was my companion again. This time the long range forecast looks like it's here to stay. Better late than never I suppose. 

I'll go back to the M Park manana. It was that good. OK, you are now caught up, sort of. 


Wednesday, January 13, 2016

The return of...


And it felt so good. For the first time since the New Year began, there were no clouds, no damp, no cool temperatures and no horseflies. It was my first hike since I got sick with a nasal sinus infection (for a guy with a large schnoz like mine, this could be a fatal condition).

Yesterday, I paid a visit to the CONAF Ranger Station in Pucon. It was cold, foggy and rainy so it gave me something to do besides starting Happy Hour too soon. The Ranger spoke English and pointed me toward the Chile/Argentina border for hiking opportunities. He provided information about trails that really do exist both on the map and on the ground. What a swell guy!

Today I wandered around in the warmth of Villarrica National Park. I got very close to the border. So, how close? Jeff? I was so close, I could practically tinkle into Argentina. 

I had the trail, the volcano, the gyrating dust devils, the lakes, the flowers and the monkey puzzle trees all to myself. It made me remember why I love hiking in National Parks again. 

My feet and legs are now sore after my illness, horsefly and weather related lay off. However, de nada a cerveza won't cure. 

Happy, Happy Hour from my cool cabana in Pucon,

PS. I'll be ready for an American IPA when I get back stateside. 

Monday, January 11, 2016

Patagonia Postscript:

few days ago I dropped Lisa off at the airport in Puerto Montt.

Little did we know when we made Patagonia plans so long ago, we were taking a Grand Canyon sized leap of faith. Who knew how it would turn out for two virtual strangers? 

I'm pleased to announce we got along better than I ever imagined.

The only times we had issues was in Patagonia. When we had disagreements, we sorted it out with direct eye contact. I would roll my eyes after an Uber Polly Anna statement she would make. Lisa would slam her eyes shut and hold her breath when I was being too in-her-face practical.  For the last time, typical men vs. women stuff. Somewhere between these Equator versus Antarctica beliefs was the ideal solution. 
Later on we were both grown up enough to laugh about what had transpired earlier.  

For Lisa, being at the end of the world was the culmination of a thirty year dream. For her everything was beautiful in it's own way, including the brief wind and weather. 

For me, being in a region described as a "Magellanic sub polar forest" climate wasn't my idea of a winter getaway. To be honest, the place scared me. The predictable unpredictability of the weather was a constant source of angst for me. Even the CONAF Rangers couldn't provide the most basic of weather forecasts. Contrary to popular beliefs, I'm a very conservative hiker. I hedge my actions with safety being my number one priority. I have a tendency to be a Jewish Mother when I'm with newcomers to the Great Outdoors. Patagonia was the Great Outdoors on a scale of wild and vast like I've never experienced before.

That all being said, the chance of seeing the Towers on a rare warm, blue sky day will be something I will cherish forever. The many glacier views we had after that scenic moment was the extra scoop of Moose Tracks ice cream on a warm piece of peach pie. That was my dessert. I still gaze at my photos in disbelief. 

In the course of those eight days and 80 plus miles of hiking, Lisa taught me a valuable life lesson. Humans are capable of amazing feats once they set their minds to the task. The driving force for Lisa was the thirty year carrot on the stick. She was one motivated person who would not be deterred from her mission. 

Upon returning to the Chilean Mainland, we didn't do much of anything besides try to get over our colds and swat at swarms of flesh gouging horseflies. 

I'm still sick and lying low in the resort town of Pucon. I set up housekeeping in a cabana for six nights. I'm now cooking meals and making my own bed. Outside, the Pucon Triathlon is in full swing. There's 1,600 participants racing about in a fine damp mist. Maybe the sun will come out to bake this crud out of my lungs. I hope so. I need to get back on the trails to get in shape for the Inca Trail and Machu Picchu in a few weeks. 

Well, that's it. I hope you enjoyed my dispatches from Patagonia. 
Happy belated birthday, Jenny. 

Thanks Lisa for being such pleasant company. Enjoy your first day back at work after your dream come true trip. 

Cheers from Pucon,

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Day Eight: New Year's Day and...

Seven miles of sprinting to catch a catamaran.

 One would think if the final day's victory lap was connecting Lagos Grey to Lagos Pehoe we would be strolling along the lakesides and riverside. Wrong! We had a few headlands to get up and over. The payoffs for the sweat labor were cliff side views of Glacier Grey, icebergs and one red catamaran on a three hour scenic tour. 

At a "mirador" (scenic overlook), Lisa and I compared notes on the state of our health. The news was no Bueno. We both woke with sandpaper scratchy throats and the usual suspects of sniffling and sneezing. Lisa sported a racking cough. Apparently the virus had been germinating in us for a few days before it had its "Coming Out Party" on New Year's Day. 

I blame it on the wear and tear of the journey, the days of damp and cool weather, the white foods we were served (colorful food have more vitamins), the dubious hygiene of the Refugios (no soap in the banos means no easy hand washing before meals). 
However the real culprit was probably being jammed in a three bunk high room with just one sick camper occupying it. Our night air was being recycled through all of us. This is my first cold in over four years. 

We made our catamaran appointment with an hour to spare. From there it was a seven plus hours of waiting and two bus rides back to Punta Arenas. We dropped our muddy packs at the hotel as the sun was setting at 10 pm. We found a warm, attractive restaurant to eat colorful foods and relax over beers and wine. We were both too tired and sick to really appreciate the fact that "We Did It!" 

I wonder what Lisa's next thirty year dream Bucket List trip is? I hope it's in a warmer place than Patagonia. 

Manana we take a morning flight back to Puerto Montt and mainland Chile. There won't be any hiking in the next few days with these illnesses. 

Wash your hands before you eat and stay away from sick backpackers! Oh yeah and once again Happy New Year. You too Jenny. 

Saturday, January 9, 2016

Day Seven: New Year's Eve and the Gods granted us safe passage over the pass...

It was fourteen miles and nine hours later, when we stumbled into the Grey Refugio. We were both knackered. Do we know how to ring in the New Year or what?

Our day began with my 5 am wake up call. I begged a fellow camper with a stove for a boil of water for my personal stash of Starbucks instant coffee shots. (Adrenaline and caffeine were my fuel for the week. Sleep avoided me as if I were a leper). I chugged the Java from my spare Nalgene bottle while wandering over to a clearing. I saw a welcome sight. No clouds on the pass, just mist on the nearby peaks. So far, so good. 

After a bountiful breakfast of two Cliff Bars (there is no meal service at this out of the way camp) we left Perros by 6. It didn't take long before the uphill and the bogs began. It was an obstacle course of muck, slick logs and tree roots with evil intentions. We started making real progress once we got above tree line. In fact, the ascent was reminiscent of Colorado's wilderness trails. The only thing newish about it were the adjacent glaciers diving down around us. After three hours of effort, we spotted the summit's welcome wagon - a good sized cairn adorned with Tibetan prayer flags. Photos were taken, high fives were given and the smiles came out before we headed downhill. 

And then the really hard hiking began for another six hours. There were steep slick drops, swaying bridges across deep canyons, a ladder and many ascents that brought us back to the identical altitude of Perros Camp. 
Huh? How can that be?  We thought the day's destination was a lake!  Apparently water still flows downhill in Patagonia although the trails don't. 

Ahh! But the views of Glacier Grey were beyond belief. It was the Shaquille O'Neil of glaciers. 
(Think 67,000 football fields minus the cheerleaders and steroid enhanced players). In comparison the others looked like mere ice cubes. Later on we saw icebergs calving from the glacier's tongue. They floated away placidly on the olive colored waters of Lagos Grey. I've never seen anything like that before. Then again, being a certified Cold Weenie I usually try to avoid frozen water in any shape, size or form. 

Unfortunately, the eye squinting glare caused my camera's automatic settings to have seizures. The photos don't capture the moment in real time and place. I guess you will have to come this way and see for yourselves. 

After a huge meal and a few beers with fellow hikers, I passed out three hours shy of 2016. It's hard to be a party animal in Patagonia. 
May you all have a happy, healthy and prosperous 2016 and beyond. You too Jenny. 

Friday, January 8, 2016

Day Six: A not too difficult climb...

to Perros Camp and the halfway point to John Gardner Pass (3,937').

Don't let that slightly higher than the lowest point in Colorado elevation fool you. At these closer to the South Pole than the Equator latitudes, there's glaciers practically licking at your trail runners. Tree line in Patagonia is approximately 2,000'. On Christmas Day, a half a meter of White Death fell on the pass prompting the authorities to close it. The Powers to Be will also detain hikers on high wind days as well. The CONAF Rangers consider sustained gusts over 60 MPH to warrant this radical action. It was apparent to me that getting our asses over this pass was the difference in making all our precise travel connections or not. So I kept crossing my fingers,  touching wood and looking up at the sky. 

The divide was named after Mr. Gardner who pioneered the route around the Torres Massif in 1978. (The trail we were now on). He was accompanied by two Chilean guides. History does not mention if he was planning on placing Refugios or campsites along the way. 

Upon arriving in camp, we set up and went into energy conservation mode once again. 

Stories abounded about the pass: boot-sucking mud holes, the potential for a blast of glacier inspired winds and a steep (almost vertical according to the elevation profile on the map), descent on the other side. It sounded crazier than any Colorado pass I ever hiked. 

With all these thoughts in mind, it was an early night for us and our fellow campers. 

Buenas Noches from Camp Perros, that goes for you too Jenny.

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Day Five: Our first meeting with...

the infamous Patagonian wind. 

I walked outside in the early morning light and did the usual glance upward. Hmm. Not bad, minimum clouds and pleasantly warm temperatures. Yippee! Another day of hiking in shorts was coming my way. 

We began our 13 mile hike to the Dickson Refugio by walking upstream along a riverbank. Our map's elevation profile projected fair to mostly flat with a 100% chance of a minor pass. All was honky dory until the divide. A blast of icy wind struck me full on in the kisser. I had to retreat to don my Windstopper jacket and hat. I tightened all my straps and Velcro snaps. In essence, I was battening down the hatches. I waited for Lisa to appear and issued a high wind warning to her. We headed up and over. 

I estimated the winds to be about 40 MPH. We were getting pushed around a lot. Luckily the gusts were forcing us into the hillside instead of down the hillside. It took about ten minutes before we were through the mini-maelstrom. For me, the experience felt like being a kite in a hurricane. On the other hand, Lisa found the experience to be "exhilarating and fun." Once again, typical men vs. women stuff. 

On the final descent to the Dickson Refugio, we spotted semi truck sized icebergs bobbing in the greenish waters of Lagos Dickson. The potential frozen margaritas were calving off the distant Dickson glacier. It was an amazing scene, and something I never saw in Tucson, Arizona. The rest of the day was spent in a long drawn out Happy Hour and glacier photo shoot. 

This sure beats working.

Sleep well Jenny and
Good night from my Refugio bunk bed.

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Day Four: We sure could use the...


At 2ish am, the not too gentle pitter patter of rain striking nylon rocked me from my sleep. Of course, the laundry was hanging outside. Oh well, an extra rinse cycle couldn't hurt. 

After breakfast, the rain subsided long enough to perform the unenviable task of packing a spongy wet tent and damp sleeping bag. Everything was divided in my too many black plastic garbage bags. One for soaking stuff, one for just damp stuff and one that held not many items - my dry stuff. I was wearing the dry stuff already. 

Downhill we went in intermittent showers and dappled sunshine. (Rainbow provided by Patagonian weather.) On an upscale hotel's patio, we made like we owned the place and set the gear out to dry. I was amazed no one came out to tell us to scram in Spanish. 

Once that chore was done, we repacked and started uphill once again.

It was a put on the rain gear, take off the rain gear hike through forested lands. The trees were as macabre looking as Edgar Allen Poe's creative writings. They were kind of spooky. Eventually the landscape changed dramatically (in a good way) below us. A milky glacial river sashayed across a wide valley, fields of daisies took up residence along its flood plain and the usual waterfalls cascaded down from the brown foothills. Pretty nice natural eye candy.

At the Seron camp, we wasted no time getting into the R&R mode. After four days of trekking, we were about to get into the hard stuff. We had many kilometers to go and one steep 3300' foot climb up and over John Gardner Pass to negotiate in order to complete the loop. 

We hope the tempestuous weather treats us kindly. 

Good Morning, Jenny.


Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Day Three: Where's my cotton tank top...

and shorts? 

I awoke (after a restless slumber in a one star rated Refugio) and stumbled outside. I looked up and saw sunrise colored peaks and a sky that featured absolutely no clouds. I pinched myself, thinking I was still asleep and dreaming. Fortunately, it was real and it was warm. 

After fortifying ourselves on instant coffee once again, (how hard can it be to make a few pots of real coffee?) we set off. I was wearing shorts and a thin long sleeve shirt. It seemed like eternity since I wasn't shrouded in full fleece and Windstopper. 
For the moment summer had returned. I felt energized and motivated. 
We trekked past fields of wild flowers to the next camp. The many peaks weeped waterfalls. It was all fun and games until we arrived.

The scene at the Chileno campground was a chaos of day hikers, horses (lots of poop) and backpackers. Everyone was there to see the objects of their desires (except the horses), the Torres del Paine. We checked in, set up and took off uphill.

One must not tarry in Patagonia when the sun is shining. You've got to seize the moment. We passed tour groups, mud holes and many rickety bridges. A series of switchbacks led to a high saddle. We crested it. There they were. 

I had to sit down to take it all in. Awesome is an overused descriptor. Same as magnificent, incredible and beautiful. The towers were better than I ever imagined and I have a lot of imagination. I was very happy to be there. 

I'll shut up and let the photos speak. 

Jenny, you would have loved this moment.