Archive for November, 2007

An ode to my gloves

November 29, 2007

It might be a sunny 60 degrees while you’re packing for your hike through Torres del Paine National Park. But don’t be fooled. You need your gloves.

The weather is unpredictable and often rotates through the four seasons in one day. It might be sunny when you wake up, raining by mid-day, snowing by 3 and sunny/blue again by dinner.

I learned this lesson the other day when temperatures plummeted midway through my ascent to the towers. As the weather worsened, my hands went numb, and tasks I usually complete without a thought suddenly occupied me for a longer than I’d like to admit.

Among the most daunting of my challenges were:

1. Opening the wrapper of a granola bar
2. Zipping up my rain jacket
3. Pushing the ‘take a picture’ button on my camera
4. Tearing duct tape off the roll to stick over the hot spot on a hiking partners’ heel
5. Unclipping the waist belt of my daypack
6. Unsnapping and unzipping my pants’ fly / re-snapping and re-zipping my pants’ fly (It’s especially embarrassing if you manage to accomplish the former, but not the latter.)

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A moraine made slightly less impressive by freezing hands

For those of you heading out for a day in the park, I recommend you wear a synthetic outfit and broken-in boots and pack the following items, even if you don’t think you’ll need them:

Warm gloves
Warm hat
A fleece or wool pullover
Rain jacket
Sun hat
Sunglasses
Sunscreen
More than 1 liter of water
A snack
A first aid kit

Despite my trials, I made it to the towers the other day. Here they are and here I am:

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I would like to thank this statue for allowing me to be here

November 27, 2007

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I owe the chance to live and work in Chile to the foot on this statue. I touched it three years ago when I was here, and guess what? I’m back.
According to legend, travelers that touch — or kiss — the toe of the Ona man on the statue in Punta Arenas’ central plaza will someday return to Patagonia. The statue was commissioned by wool baron José Menéndez in 1920 to commemorate the 400th anniversary of Portuguese navigator Hernando de Magallanes’ discovery of the Strait of Magellan.

I touched the toe again last Saturday, which means… maybe I should open a bank account here.

Thanksgiving in Patagonia

November 25, 2007

Cranberries are next to impossible to find in Patagonia. Gabriel and I hunted/gathered at three separate grocery stores on Thanksgiving and finally had to give up on the idea of cranberry sauce to accompany our turkey parts (turkey, too, is difficult to find).

But we did manage an otherwise delicious feast to celebrate the day the Pilgrims and the Indians sat down together at a table and shared a bursting cornucopia, despite their differing hat preferences (square buckle/feathers).

It was comforting to celebrate ye old American holiday all the way down here in Patagonia, to eat semi-accurate renditions of the dishes my mom puts on the table back in North Carolina. We whipped up the feast in the kitchen of Gabriel’s apartment and partook of it with Gabriel’s girlfriend Gloria, who was born and raised in Chile but more than willing to help us celebrate the all-American holiday.

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Gabriel preparing to peel apples for the stuffing

Here’s what was on the menu:
• Turkey parts (with, ummm, butter, salt, rosemary and whatever else I found in Gabriel’s cabinet. Failed to look that one up on epicurean.com beforehand.)
• Sausage, apple and cranberry stuffing (minus the cranberries, sage and cooked turkey liver, which Abu Gosch grocery does not carry). This was the definite highlight of the meal for me, which is why I had 2-3 servings.
• Cornbread, with tiny bits of green pepper baked inside
• Carrots, cucumber and celery salad
• Instant mashed potatoes, remembered last minute, purchased at the corner store across the street 10 minutes before the plates hit the table.
As we clinked glasses of sparkling apple cider, we took a minute to give thanks for what we have. For me, that includes the chance to be in a place that doesn’t have cranberries, whole turkeys and the other trappings of a culture I already know.

Go ahead, take a sip. Everybody’s doing it.

November 17, 2007

I’ve heard enough horror stories to reject any water taken straight from the creek. I’ve had friends incapacitated for days on end by the giardia bug that rejects, projectile-style, any food or drink that dares enter the body. ‘Purify, purify, purify’ has been pounded into my head during so many backpacking trips and outdoor leadership training sessions that I can fix a broken water filter with my eyes closed.

That’s why, when a friend assured me on a hike that Paine water is safe from it’s source, my first reaction was ‘Whaaa? No way! That goes against everything I stand for!’

But, as I stood in front of a mountain waterfall sipping a Nalgene of water taken from the bathroom sink at work, I grew tempted by the clear, cool H2O flowing by my feet.

Then, I did something unthinkable. I poured out my carefully chlorinated sink water, submersed my bottle in the creek until no more bubbles rose to the surface — and, without taking any precautions whatsoever, took several long, deep gulps.

After that, I waited. I waited through the afternoon and evening and into the next three weeks for some sign that what I had done was a really, really bad idea. But a sign never came.

My conclusion: Paine water really is safe to drink from its source. And, it’s damn delicious.

All quiet on the Southern front

November 15, 2007

A 7.7-magnitude earthquake rattled the desert 780 miles north of Santiago yesterday morning, but we felt nothing down south in Torres del Paine. While the plates shifted under Chile’s second region, injuring hundreds and killing at least two, they remained really quite still under its twelfth. Oblivious to the news, the people in Paine appreciated blue skies behind the often-clouded rock towers and thought to themselves, ‘I wish those damn gulls would quit their squawking.’ Now, as Navy seals unearth the laborers trapped in a collapsed highway tunnel and relief workers hand out food to those left homeless by the quake, the people of Paine check the news, but strap on their boots and hit the trails anyway.

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The advent of the bicycle in Torres del Paine

November 15, 2007

Las Torres hotel took a bold first step in creating a mountain biking program: they bought the bikes. Two guides and I agreed to sample the merchandise for company photographer Gabriel Ortega, who needed some pictures for marketing material we’ll put out soon. We three did our best to look like bad asses as we rolled over the trail toward Laguna Inge and Los Cuernos: We took downhills extra fast and splashed extra big as we rode through streams that crossed the trail.

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Though the hotel has not yet decided which routes it will open to the bikes, the terrain we rode that day was ideal for biking: smooth, fast and in the shadow of some incredible snow-capped mountains. Give me a bicycle, and I’ll sample it anytime.

Photo by Gabriel Ortega

Un cumpleaños feliz!

November 11, 2007

I hiked up to Refugio Chileno on Nov. 5 with a dozen eggs in the top of my backpack and down on the 6th with an apricot cake to share.

My roommate Alejandra radioed the folks at Chileno the day of my hike to let them know it was my 27th birthday, and I must say, the folks at Chileno did me right. A ‘Happy Birthday’ sign, printed in box letters on sheets of graph paper, greeted me above the hiker hostel’s entrance. Pato, the gregarious hostel jefe, led the dining room of guests in a ‘Happy Birthday’ song after dinner. And after the dishes were clean and the guests tucked into their bunk beds, Freddy combined those eggs with flour, sugar and fruit, and we all ate the result. Mmm, mmm, good!

There’s no ‘I’ in team

November 1, 2007

Here’s my itinerary on a recent morning:
1. Pack a gourd with yerba mate, a traditional Chilean tea that, in a very ritualistic manner, is infused with hot water and passed among a group of people who take turns sipping it through a metal straw, or bombilla
2. Saddle a horse.
3. Help a compañero run from one point to another holding a shrieking piglet by the forearms
4. Split firewood and light a fire
5. Clean a bathroom
6. Pitch a tent, taking into account the wind that’s blowing in from the northwest
Ok, I’ll admit. That’s not a typical morning for me here. It was actually a teambuilding exercise for some of Fantastico Sur’s employees. I learned a lot about the jobs other people — the gauchos (cowboys) and the maintenance staff — have around the hostería property, how to pack a gourd of matte, oh, and how to work as a team.

My team:

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Quick, before it melts!

November 1, 2007

I almost touched a glacier yesterday, but I couldn’t reach it because it’s rained a lot recently, and the river in front of it was too wide to cross without getting swept away and possibly drowning in ice-cold runoff. But I got really close — and by that, I mean 25 meters close. To a glacier.

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The glaciers in Torres del Paine National Park are among the most accessible in the world. You can strap on crampons and hike across the top of Glaciar Grey, a 26 kilometer long finger of South Patagonian ice field. Or you can settle into a kayak and paddle up to the ice mass’ base. In a world of rapidly receding glaciers, that’s pretty rare.

Here’s a brief history of the park’s ice: The Earth’s plates shifted in this area about 12,000 years ago, thrusting the once horizontal layers of sedimentary rock out of the ground and into the air. Then it snowed and it snowed, and rather than melting like it’s known to do, the snow compacted into glaciers.
The glaciers advanced, mostly during the Pleistocene era, eroding away at the uplifted rock, carving the dramatic formations this park is known for. Several of those same glaciers still remain, but are receding at between four and 10 meters each year. That means I’d better touch, walk on or otherwise experience the glaciers here quickly, before they’re gone.

Check out pictures, like the one below of Los Cuernos, from my hike up Valle Frances.

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