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. 

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