Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Patagonia: The Sequel: The Wind, Mud and Glaciers Galore

Friday morning we woke up bright DARK and early. In the southern most part of the globe the sun ceases to rise until approximately 8:00am- talk about having a problem getting out of bed- I couldn't even find my way to the bathroom! (serious Carly problems here). After convincing myself that I could not hike in the same clothes that I would be wearing to bed that night (and all the nights after that....gotta keep them dry and cleanish!) I painfully removed all of my clothes in the freezing cold and put on 4 new layers of protection. Secondly Sophie and I had to reason with ourselves that the monkey-esque noises coming from outside our tent could in no way actually be monkeys- right? It had to be a bird or something because the instructional video we watched did not mention this potential danger....and therefore we must be safe...
We proceeded to chow down on cold oats, peanut butter and pita. SO MUCH PEANUT BUTTER. We packed up our tent, did some jumping jacks and breathed hot air on our numb fingers and then got the heck out of that snowy campsite and onto the next. The atmosphere rapidly changed from an eerie snow covered forrest to a cloudy (but slowly becoming clear) blue sky that began to reveal the mountains we had just camped in. It was an incredible sight to see and furthermore- the weather started to warm up!

First day- pre-snow
Everything looked like a winter wonderland after the snow! So beautiful(:
On this day in particular we hiked 14.9 miles from the snowcapped mountains, past two lakes, a valley and many streams. It took us about 6 hours total and the elephant in the room for that day was whether or not we should carry on and hike another 2.5 hours after our 6 hour endeavor. Oye. My feet and shoulders said no, but the prospect of free camping vs. paid (a mere 12 dollars per person!) seemed to create some debate about whether or not we should march on...Thank goodness I was in the majority because I don't think I could have taken another step.(our peak mileage) When we finally reached the Refugio of Los Cuernos I chowed down on my tuna, pita, peanut butter and then proceeded to buy a snickers bar. Mmmm...sweet nostalgia. That night we were fortunate enough to camp on platforms- that's where the 12 dollars was worth it!- we also had the opportunity to take a hot shower and use indoor bathrooms our entire stay- I opted out of the shower experience- not because I wanted to smell, but more because I couldn't imagine myself getting wet in this windy and cold climate- it just wasn't worth it to me. This night we were also able to cook in a building instead of a shelter so it was much warmer and we even had a table where we got to play cards.
I resisted the urge to buy a glass of wine (it was so easy to get a beer or bottle of wine at the refugios!) and I stuck to our delicious feast of pasta (approximately 15 servings were devoured by the 7 of us). I actually kept a wee bit of my pasta and had some for lunch the next day- as to not tire myself of peanut butter and bread all day everyday. I added some tuna to it the next day and mmmm. so good. 
On that note- the note of food that is- let me tell you a little something about the prevalence of rats in this national park. Apparently on our first night- when it was snowing and sub-zero (maybe- that's what it felt like but don't quote me on that!)- our ignorance to the possibility of rats eating our food didn't harm us one bit. However- on this night- we actually made the revelation that the rats in the park would chew through our tents if we had food in our backpacks. The suggestion was to put all your food in a bag and then tie it to a try. Now this maybe seem simple enough- but- when you add the wind factor to this equation- there is no way in heck that those bags would have stayed in the trees because we could barely keep our tents on the ground with that fierce wind, let alone a wimpy bag of crackers and canned tuna. 
Our tent!!
Alas- nice people exist in Chile too and a girl that was staying inside the refugio offered to let us store our food in her room. Yay for friends! I cannot even imagine what would have happened if A) the rats had chewed a hole in our tent and then we had to pay the rental place... and B) if they had ruined all our food supplies and then we STARVED. An irrational conclusion I know- but let's just say there was a constant thought process on my mind about food and when my next meal was due to the intense amount of effort I was exerting all day EREDAY. 
Side note- check out this trash bag swag :D
Thats me in the purple(:
Alas we set off the next morning to our third and final campsite. Although it was quite brisk in the morning, the day turned out to be nice, clear and sunny. We got to go out to the coast line of one of the lakes, Lago Nordenskjold (no I did not make that name up...) and take some really pretty pictures of the sunrise- these pics will be on facebook shortly I swear! The only remarkable things I can remember about this hike were the extreme winds, serious mud and my face-to-earth incident. Yeah- that's Carly speak for- I got blown off a 'bridge' type thing and fell into the marsh. All was good though- when I saw bridge I really just mean a handrail-less collection of wood planks that keep you from sinking into the swamp land. The wind was so strong that when I was walking along these wooden planks I just blew right over! It was probably the best time to get blown over though because previously we had endured strong winds along the coastline as we were treading carefully on some gravel trails that were exposed to the mountainside. Ow- ain't nobody got time to get blown over in those parts. Additionally I remember passing through a large valley filled with burnt tree trunks from a forest fire that apparently went down in January. The trees almost looked as if they had been spray painted with silver, but we determined as a group that their weird coloration and appearance must have been the result of the fire damage. Anywho- After we had fully encircled an entire mountain and walked so far that we were now facing an entirely different lake, 15. 2 miles later, we were at Campamento Torres Grande (I'm pretty sure that's the name). And you would not even believe what made this refugio/campsite so special....not the 4.000 peso camping charge (so cheap!) and not the fact that they sold Almond snickers...but the fact that they had a bar, a TV and a satellite dish that was streaming the Final Four game against Wisconsin and Kentucky. Let me tell you something- I thought Jack was going to cry tears of joy when he heard that one. Who would have thought- in the middle of complete isolation- that we would be watching the NCAA Basketball tournament. Unreal. 
The next morning- our final day in the park!- we woke up as early as possible (granted it was only around 7am due to the time the sunrises), packed up all of our stuff for the catamaran ride (kind of like a ferry) and headed towards the glacier lookout as fast as we could. The map estimated it would take approximately an hour and a half to reach the lookout and we barely had just that amount of time. We half job-half speed walked our way to the glacier and were met with sweet success! It was totally worth it- even if we were only able to marvel in it's beauty for 5 minutes before we sprinted back...
So this is the famous Lago Grey and then behind it you can see the glacier. A glacier is really just when the lake becomes frozen and starts to cover the mountain with a blanket of ice. I actually saw my first glacier in India- but in my opinion this one was much cooler because the real beauty of the scenery was due to the reflection of the mountain on the lake. ¡Que Linda! 
So the last mileage statistic was 12.6 miles (not too shabby!) and that was bulk of our trip in the national park.
We boarded an overpriced catamarran- 30 USD for a 30 minute ride across the lake!- and arrived at a bus stop where we then took a 2 hour bus to Puerto Natales- where we once again stayed in the lovely hostel of Erratic Rock. 
The first thing I did was take a hot shower, and then of course I texted my mother to tell her I was alive- priorities though(;
That night we FEASTED. Hamburgers- what typical Americans we are right? Actually now that I saw that I think that Chileans may actually consume more hotdogs and hamburgers than Americans. I don't know why I haven't seen more obese Chileans but I was told it may have something to do with the quality of their bread...seriously though! Someone told me that since they don't put preservatives in their bread and they buy it fresh (it goes bad after like 3 days but they sell it everywhere so it's not really a problem) their bread is actually better for you than the white bread we have in the states. Granted I would LOVE some 12 grain bread up in here, I'm also happy that I don't have to eat Wonder bread. Back to the story...
So we all ordered a hamburger and then everyone except me ordered a local beer (that tastes like a BLUEBERRY!- I actually probably could have finished that beer in particular) but since you all know how much I adore my dear wine- I went with a classy glass of red grape juice(: 
Funny story about the burgers though- when we all got ours and realized that they were approximately the size of our brains and then some (lovely reference point eh?)- my one friend turned to me and said- "I dare you to finish it"- oh girl. You didn't even have to dare me. I demolished that thing. Granted I didn't order an appetizer (what noobs my friends are for ruining their appetite before the big prize!) but nevertheless i took that burger down like a house of cards. Maybe I didn't eat all of the bread (the burger was about 2/3 the size of the bun) but I did eat every morsel of beef, tomato, avocado and lettuce. and it was GLORIOUS (sorry I keep screaming at you people- I'm just excited). Let's just say the challenger of my bet barely finished 1/2 of her burger...mmhmm. Only the boys and I finished our burgers(; so take that! For your viewing pleasure- (I am holding a quarter of the burger in my hand, this is real life I promise). 

So what did we do after we had our sweet victory dinner? Pass out in a food coma? Nope- we had our sweet victory dessert. All I wanted was ice cream while others pursued some Easter candy (it was Easter Sunday after all!). When I asked several Chileans where I could some ice cream on this night I was received with quizzical looks (what else is new) and responses like "it's winter." lol. I finally encountered some ice cream cones in one of those small freezers they have at the minimarkets here. So after a night of hamburgers, dessert, wine and a movie- we went with the Goonies- what a classic (it sounded right to say that, but in reality I've actually never seen it...don't judge)- I fell asleep as soon as my head hit the pillow. After the first day of trekking I became a pro at sleeping in any and all conditions (the car alarms and dogs were nothing new and the cold, hard ground proved to be only a small hurdle in my struggle to achieve a beautiful slumber). The next morning we did that bus thing again, arrived in Puntas Arenas- walked on the Strait of Magellan (once again- so close to Antartica!), called ourselves tourists and checked out the number one recommended food stop in Puntas Arenas- it was definitely a local favorite but I would say it was mostly overrated- it was just a sandwich with chorizo and cheese. But in retrospect- they were less than a dollar and made a good snack! It was packed with people so we shouted our orders (picture a diner with only one bar and maybe 9 bar stools) and then ate outside in the beautiful sunshine. In case you were wondering- it was called Kiosko Roca and this is what the sandwiches looked like (they are little, maybe a little bigger than a deck of cards):
That is totally someone else's photo, but you get the drift. After lunch we headed over to a free museum, checked out the local cemetery and then took a cab to the airport. I had my first female cabbie! Other than that I have nothing else remarkable to report- okay I lied- I will mention that the Puntas Arenas airport was less than secure. The security checkpoint consisted of a single x-ray machine, one lady who was 'monitoring' the screen and no need to take off your jacket, shoes or jewelry. Luckily there were no bombs on my plane :D

That is all. xoxo. 

Sunday, April 12, 2015

The Eighth Wonder of the World- Part One

Some may say I'm spontaneous. Or ignorant but adventurous...let me explain
I went to India thinking they spoke Indian (this is embarrassing but all too true) never knowing who Tibetans were besides the obvious fact that they were the people I would be tutoring in English
I chose Tulane under the pretense that it was "far" but not too far from my hometown- I was thinking maybe 6 hours driving, an hourish flying. It wasn't until I google mapped the distance in May of my senior year of high school (after committing to Tulane of course...) that I realized New Orleans was approximately a 10.5 hour drive...
I only knew a few things about Chile when I came to this beautiful country- the most important things obviously- I knew it had many vineyards, was near the coast, they speak spanish, oh and once some miners got trapped underground in Chile for a really long time. Yuup- ignorant little princess right here- I didn't know anything about the culture, the history, the intense dictatorship of Pinochet that many Chileans that I interact with here on a daily basis endured. 
When I described this problem I have with jumping into life decisions without any pretenses to my friend here she actually replied interestingly enough with an alluring response- she said that it's actually great that I am willing to travel and do things without knowing much- I'm not afraid to be outside my comfort zone and experience new things. I kinda liked the sound of that-I'm adventurous- let's go with that. Of course I have continued this trend here...and that's what brings me to the purpose of this post- my INCREDIBLE adventure to the one and only PATAGONIA. It all started when my friends who had been talking about planning a trip to Patagonia asked me if I wanted to join their group. At this point my familiarity with Patagonia included the fact that it must be a big, beautiful mountain because there was a company named after it. I had no idea that Patagonia was a protected natural region where there are valleys, wetlands, lakes, glaciers, mountains and "towers" that are unlike anything else I have ever seen. Nevertheless, approximately 24 hours after I am invited to join this group of my fellow adventurers, I find myself frantically buying a plane ticket to a town that I trust is close to Patagonia (is it a place or a mountain or something? I don't even know) because we soon discover that once one of us buys a plane ticket, the price goes up, and therefore I must put in my credit card information right now and book this trip. Yuup- classic Carly. Purchasing a ticket to a place I have never heard of- Puntas Arenas- looks pretty far- ends up being incredibly close to Antartica too- that's cool. I trust that they have a plan (thank heavens they do) and I just go with the flow from this point. When we all gather to discuss things and the questions fly about what we absolutely want to see and do- I just nod my head when people say things like "Glacier Gray" and "catamarans". Mmmhmm. sounds good to me. I'm sure it's pretty there. Camping? Okay- I was a girl scout once. I think we camped outside. It may have just been in my backyard though, I can't remember *insert laughing out loud emoji here*
Things progress and we are buying food to eat while camping, finding sleeping bags to borrow and assembling tents. Packing of course is the hard part. Packing and I have a bad relationship. There have been fights, tears, changing of know- the usual. So in anticipation of this mental breakdown that is bound to occur if I try to pack alone, I invite my friend Hannah over for dinner so she can sit on my bed and coach me through the process of carefully selecting which things are most important and which things are much too heavy to be carrying around on my back for 4 days. She is a gem and no tears are shed. Albeit there may have been a brief cry seesh previous to this lovely packing experience- something to do with a library fine and the inability to check out my textbook or pay the fine at all....but that's a story for another day. Let's just say that sometimes you have to cry at the wrong moment because the stress just builds over time. And even though I pretend I'm spontaneous 90% of the time, sometimes even I get a little scared. 
Moving on...After about 2 1/2 hours of sleep, I wake up in the dead of the night to hop on my shared "transfer" taxi type thing that is a much cheaper option than getting my own taxi (imagine 60-70 dollars versus 14 dollars). The only downside is that you have to be ready almost 2 hours before you want to be at the airport. Thus for my 6:15am flight I am picked up from my house at 3:05am. I meet everyone at the airport, sleep on the plane and eventually arrive in Puntas Arenas- the town where Magellan passed through on his journey to Antartica. As my friend put it "I could have spat on Antartica!". 
Google informed us that we were there^
We then took a 3 hour bus to another town (actually more northern) called Puerto Natales, which is where most people stay before and after their trek to Torres de Paine (that's right- Patagonia isn't a mountain- it's a region. and in that region is a Natural Park called Torres de Paine- for the iconic "towers" that are in the Park- more on those later). We stayed in the best hostel ever- very crunchy, but clean and super helpful! Plus they had hot showers, breakfast included and homemade peanut butter and bread at that breakfast table. mmmm. That night we got our last minute essentials- Trash Bags! You have to put anything and everything you carry in a trashbag in case it rains, snows, etc. so that your clothes and sleeping bag are dry when you are freezing at the end of the day and need to get warm(ish)- and then we FEASTED. I'm talking a "treat yourself" feast. I ordered sea bass and finished with a slice of cheesecake. YESSSS.
After dinner I proceeded to re-evaluate my entire packing situation. Typical. I was informed that my 32ºF sleeping bag, blanket and sleep liner would be no match for the cold of the park. Being the cold natured person I am- I said where do I sign up for the warmest sleeping bag you have. We also rented sleeping pads to provide that crucial layer of insulation between you and the cold earth (take notes! this is crucial camping advice! :D )  Of course then I had to re-arrange my entire backpack, but it was okay because you could store things at the hostel because otherwise I would have been carrying so many unnecessary things. My backpack was still heavy- here's a rundown of what I packed: two sets of warm clothes (long underwear, one pair of leggings, hiking pants, ski jacket, rain jacket, fleece), wool headband, two pairs of gloves, sleeping bag, canned tuna, a jar of PB, pitas, protein bars, beef jerky, apples, oats, nuts out the wahoo and chocolate(:
Quick note about that beef jerky. Or should I say Ch'arki. Let me clarify- Chilean Beef Jerky is quite different than the Jack Links you can find in the US. 
That is a very accurate picture. Really- it kind looks like a raw hide or something but the truth is that once you put it in your mouth it tastes the same as the beef jerky I'm used to. I'm not going to lie and say the texture isn't slightly hairy and weirdly crumbly. I don't even know what I'm trying to say but just go with it(; And I haven't even told you the best part- when I was trying to find beef jerky in the grocery store- after I finally explained what I was looking for- the nice sales boy tried to convince me to get the other kind of jerky they had. On the label it said Equine. Mhhmm... that's the same Equine synonymous with Equestrian- AKA he was trying to get me to buy the HORSE JERKY! I died- and then told him I had a horse and that I absolutely would not be buying that type. My host mom even insisted that it exquisite when I told her that story- but I just kept shaking my head- no way. 
ANYWHO-The next morning- without much a plan (we actually found that you can't really have a plan when you are trekking throughout the park because you have to be flexible with the weather, what's open, where you can camp, etc.) we boarded another 2 hour bus to the actual park boundaries. We watched an informational session on how not to get put in jail for starting a fire and then we got on one last bus that brought us to one of the bases of the park- 

where it says H (Hotel Las Torres). Although the initial weather conditions were cloudy, raining and downright depressing, we embarked our journey in the direction of the famous "Torres". We hiked for about 2 hours to the first refugio along the trail. Refugios are indoor areas that you can pay to stay in but they are much more expensive that paying to camp. You can hang out in these areas if you buy something, so we stopped for lunch and purchased a few things to satisfy the guys working there and then took advantage of the bathrooms (with TP!) and the nice warm stove. At this point it was snowing and we were climbing in elevation at a rapid pace. It turned out that our first day was actually the steepest climb we did the whole time. Additionally it was snowing essentially the whole time- it started off as sleet and quickly turned to snow. The cherry on top was the fact that this was my day to carry the tent. Lovely. Nevertheless we pushed on to the next campsite where we figured we would be staying for the night. Unfortunately we had heard that the lookout for the Torres was closed due to weather conditions but we still pushed on in the hopes of potentially still seeing some incredible views (although it is virtually impossible to see anything that is less than incredible in the park- even if the sky is cloudy). Through the snow and cold we pushed on and FINALLY made it to the campsite. The worst thing about the way the park is laid out is the fact that once you leave one campsite/refugio to go to the next one you are met with the fact that you cannot see anything in your path for the next 1-4 hours. It's almost like you have no destination and it can be really discouraging when you feel like you should have arrived hours ago. The only gauge of distance we had was the estimated times they print on the park map- which were pretty realistic, but still varied due to stopping and such. When we got to the campsite we signed in (this one was free! yay!) and began to clear off some areas to set up our tents while it was SNOWING.
We really roughed it the first day. And while in retrospect was the perfect way to do it, that did not make it an easier for any of us to be optimistic about what we had gotten ourselves into. The first day of hiking we covered about 10.5 miles- according to my fitbit- but unfortunately we really didn't have a view of much due to the snow and clouds. We made it up to the point on the map that says Campamento Torres. 
I leave you with the pathetic yet hilarious account of our first dinner. Oh the noobs we were (noobs=newbies). Not only was one of our camping cookers broken, but we also were unaware of how to use the can opener on the swiss army knife we had. Thankfully the campground "guard" took pity on us and let us use his camping cooker. We set up shop and started boiling water for the rice we brought and then I began to read the directions on the bag. Cooking time- 45 minutes. WHY DID WE BUY BROWN RICE- were we trying to be healthy or something??! Surprisingly I had no part in that....gasp. I was the one who purchased the pasta that cooked in 8 minutes. You win some and you lose some.
Here's how dinner went down- we had two camping cookers (we had one functional one and then the guard's cooker) along with two pots cans. I believe that I could equate the capacity of these puny pots with the amount of food that you fill one can of soup with. Yuup. We were struggle busing hard core. I knew it was bad when I couldn't feel my toes in my wool socks and hiking boots at about the same time in which the rice was approximately 30 minutes from being done. The other great debacle of the night? Our can opening technique- knife to can
That would be the knife-to-can technique- I was holding my beloved chocolate and Ari was pretending to be warm and happy
DANGEROUS- I know. I survived Grandad- don't worry(;
Luckily I only found one small piece of metal in my tupperware supper of green beans, chickpeas and rice. Additionally we tried to be semi-gourmet and served up some powdered asparagus and tomato soup with our (crunchy) rice. Everything tasted delicious and I actually became fond of the semi-cooked crunchy rice. Who likes soft rice anyways..
We finished cooking and cleaning asap and ran to our tents while it was STILL snowing. After painfully removing all my clothes and putting on dry wool long underwear, sweatpants, my ski jacket and zipping myself up (almost all the way) in my sub-zero temperature sleeping bag I pretended I wasn't cold, moved so that I was up against Sophie for some body heat and drifted off to sleep (kinda). Although I had dreams about my toes falling off- maybe dramatic, but they were quite numb all night long and I was scared!- I SURVIVED CAMPING IN THE SNOW. 

There's more to come- don't fret. 

Friday, April 10, 2015

My last page of notes I have saved to blog about...

So these blog posts are becoming more random as we progress- sorry about that. I feel like I'm at the point in my study abroad where my spanish is decent, I have re-taught myself how to do homework and my mama no longer hides her passive aggressive nature....lolz. Oh mama. She has a habit of repeating her stories over and over *cough dad* and most of them include life lessons about how not to be a bad host student (make sure you compliment her food and don't stay in your room the whole semester...) and others include her summary of what it means to be a host mom (clean the house, wash the clothes, cook- things that she insists she does spectacularly...). Last but not least she just got off the phone with her mother (my abuelita you could say) and spent the last ten minutes complaining about how I just mentioned that the peanut butter jar was almost empty...eek! I don't know where the line is apparently....She bought it for me the first time so I just figured I would mention it- but we shall see! Of course I have no problem buying my own peanut butter too..The thing is- when she then came down to the kitchen and started talking to me she was all smiles- oye dios. These Chileans and their cooped up emotions- I guess we all need to vent.
On the flip side- my mentor- a Universidad de Chile student that was assigned to me- Andrea, is the bomb dot com. We meet last week over dinner and she was incredibly friendly and happy to help me practice my Spanish. She also rolls her own cigarettes- so there's that. She claims that if she rolls them then she know's what's in them, ie: no nicotine (not sure I believe that's how it works...but then again I don't know much about tobacco). I knew she was a keeper because she also agreed to have our first meet up at a pizza place that got rave reviews on Trip Advisor (so of course I knew it HAD to be good). Nom Nom!
Her first impression of me via facebook? I must really like wine and sports because that basically sums up the contents of my facebook photo library- very accurate eh. Maybe I should start putting down my glass of wine before posing for all facebook-possible pics (said no one ever..)

I'll leave you with a summary of my recent bus ride companions- so far I've had the lady that talks to herself, the students that walk on the bus like they own it- and somehow talk their ways out of paying (like way more than "that one time"), additionally I've had the overly-nice grandmas that stand up out of their seat claiming that they are getting off soon- and then proceed to remain on the bus even after I hop off- and my favorite- the lady that asked for my bag and then proceeded to hold it in her lap for me (so she could watch it and no one would pickpocket my stuff) the entire bus ride while I stood squished up against the hand rail. Oh the bus- what great friends you introduce me too...

GET READY for the PATAGONIA POST! It's coming folks(: