Wrapping Up

Its been a month and half since Aidan and I returned to Canada. So that would be a month and a half of me guiltily thinking about my lack of blogging, especially since I had a story half written by the time we got on our plane home. It was a day-by-day account of our last real adventure – by far the most intense yet. We trekked for 9 days straight, climbed 4 mountains, covered over 180 kilometres, and ended up at Machu Picchu! It was such a wild undertaking (seriously, guides with mules kept stopping us to ask if we were truly doing the whole trek unassisted) that I felt compelled to make it my best post yet. So I procrastinated, and got distracted (I was home again with unlimited internet – the true motivation killer!)
The story will get written – it’s just too great an adventure to be kept to ourselves – but until then, here’s an update on our lives. Like the jet setters we are, Canada couldn’t keep us for long. Aidan only stayed a week before taking off to Israel on her birthright trip (which you can do if you if you’re technically Jewish – apparently eating bacon and celebrating Christmas aren’t exclusionary factors). I left for Europe just a couple of weeks later, and explored Finland and Iceland with my family. This trip was pure luxury compared to our way of travel in Latin America. Rooms that came with sheets and towels, bathrooms with toilet paper included (2ply!), beds instead of forest floor… Never mind the fact that every home in Finland has a sauna, and every home in Iceland has a hottub! I made it a point to always carry the food pack on our day hikes, to at least maintain some integrity as a hardened trekker.

I asked Aidan to send me a picture of her in Israel, and this is what she sent… The human form of the Star of David!

The Seely-Mahoney clan breaks for lunch after scaling a volcano

So now we’re back in the real world. Just kidding! The adventures won’t stop for us, although we’ll be writing this next chapters of our lives separately (cue separation anxiety attack). Aidan’s going to the New Zealand College of Chiropractic in the new year (a real pity she didn’t have these skills after our treks in SA); she should be out and practicing by 2023. I’ve got another year before I head back to school, and the travel bug is still biting hard. Northern Canada and Southern Spain are both incredibly appealing, as is South Africa, Italy, Mars… Stay tuned!

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Trekking through Colca Canyon – A Cautionary Tale

Disclaimer: we were not paid for this post. Not that we’ve been paid for anything previously published either, but we definitely weren’t paid for this one. We might actually have been paid not to publish this particular story… But time+tragedy = comedy, and Aidan and I have been laughing ever since the nausea stopped!



My last post was essentially a tirade against deserts. So what did we decide to do the moment we arrived in Peru? Go to a freaking desert of course. 

The Colca Canyon is the second deepest canyon in the world, known for it’s beauty and it’s abundance of condors (sign number one that we shouldn’t have gone – those who know me well are aware that I’ve seen enough birds for a lifetime). Although it’s one of the most famous tourist destinations in Peru, it is still incredibly hard to get to; 7 hours by bus, where bathroom breaks are taken on the side of the road (I became very stingy in my water consumption after seeing a Peruvian woman sit down on the side of the road, spread her skirt around her, and letting loose). 

We were determined to make our trip worth the commute, so we planned on doing the longest possible hike. We spent a night at the Pachamama hostel in Cabanaconde, where we got a trail map and packed our bags for a four day trek. We set off the next morning at 730 am.

So as not to relive the horror that was this trek, I’ll just skip straight to day five (remember we were only supposed to be gone for four…). But before I get to our harrowing evacuation by mule, you need some context. Every leg of the trek was forecasted to take around 4-5 hours. This sounded like nothing to us – we’d been hiking 7-8 hour days in Patagonia with no problems! What we failed to take into account was the canyon’s blistering heat and lack of water. That first day I was feeling woozy after a couple hours, and desperately seeking refuge in the shade every chance I got (which wasn’t often, seeing as trees had been replaced by cactuses). Taking a dip in the icy river at the bottom of the canyon was the only thing that saved me from severe heat stroke that day.  

Desperately searching for shade!


We rose at increasingly earlier times over the next couple days in an attempt to outrace the sun’s evil rays. We ate breakfast under the stars and used our headlamps to navigate out of each campsite. We made great time through the trail until the sun peaked out over the mountains, at which point I would once become a frail and faded human being. 

Savannah, most likely imagining jumping down into the cold waters below!


We arrived at “The Oasis” at the end of day 3, dripping with seat and seeing double. We shared a couple of celebratory mojitos by the pool, at which point Aidan became violently ill. She thinks it was bad water; I think it was sun stroke. We’ll never know – there was a lack of health care facilities at the bottom of this particular canyon. Aidan did get some treatment in the form of a complete Aloe Vera rub down.

Neither of us are convinced that the aloe did any good, but the experience broke up the monotony of waiting out Aidan’s illness in the “Oasis”


We were desperate to get out of the canyon, but we were effectively trapped by a steep cliff of switchbacks ascending x meters. The sun had reduced me to a shell of human, and Aidan could barely walk 10 paces without collapsing. I entered bargaining mode, and managed to procure us a mule each to carry us up the mountain the following morning for 20$ CAD each (much less than an evacuation by helicopter!). 

Looks like paradise… A lesson in not believing everything you see!


We left at 6 am, hours after many other hikers had set off. Our mules carried us up at double speed and soon became overtaking groups of hikers. Most people stared at us with poorly concealed looks of anger and resentment as we rushed by. What they didn’t realize was that, if it had been at all possible, we would have vastly preferred to be walking as well. 

You see, it appeared that Aidan’s mule had a death wish. He took the route closest to the edge of the precipice at each opportunity, to the point where pebbles he kicked with his hooves plummeted down hundreds of meters. We called him Heart Attack. I was following behind on a mule who earned the name of Chomper. He clearly hated the mule preceding Heart Attack (for the sake of the story, let’s call her Victim). Whenever I let my guard down, he pushed past to try and take a bite out of Victim’s backside. Oftentimes Chomper’s chosen route would take us even closer to the cliffs edge as he tried to overtake Heart Attack. 

Picture of Heart Attack and Victim, taken from the back of Chomper


We did eventually reach the top of the canyon in one piece, although my back was in spasms from gripping Chomper’s reins for the better part of two hours. We walked/crawled towards town, picked up the rest of our gear which we had stored at our hostel, and made our way to the bus station. We loaded up on snacks in the plaza and then we were off! We were headed for Cusco, where we would convalesce for a week before taking on our most intense hike yet to Machu Picchu. 

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Bolivia – Not The Worst!

Aidan and I arrived in Bolivia with a sort of nervous trepidation. You see, neither of us had heard a single good thing about the country*. This started with our good old friend Baldy O’Ryan (refer back to our post about our long drive from Argentina to Chile) who warned us that both the people and the country were “feo”. Subsequent encounters with Chileans yielded more of the same comments; the land is ugly and littered with garbage, the people are rude and hateful, white people are seen only as walking cash… This hostility apparently dates back to a war a few hundred years ago between Peru, Chile, and Bolivia. According to the Chileans, Peru and Bolivia teamed up against Chile, then lost the war, and Chile took (or won, as we’ve heard it said one night over a bottle of Pisco) a sizeable chunk of land from both Peru and Bolivia, effectively turning Bolivia into a land locked country. It would seem that Chile has taken on he role of the gloating winner ever since. As a side note, Argentina was causing trouble for the Chileans at the same time, so Chile ended up giving most of their Patagonian territory as a “gift” to their easterly neighbour (pretty sure this is a word to dress up the fact that they lost a quite a lot of land – once again, all our info comes from Chile).

Our introduction to life at altitude. We’re standing beside the car because walking any further would have had us on the ground, gasping for air.

Our first few days in Bolivia did little to remedy the country’s bad reputation. We arrived in Uyuni after a three-day expedition through the Atacama desert (a story for another time, involving hot springs, pink lakes, too many volcanoes to count, head splitting altitude, and an inconceivable amount of salt), while the town was in the midst of an insane wind storm. Sand pelted our faces and garbage flew at high speeds down the dirt streets. We stumbled into the first bus kiosk we found and booked a ride to get as far away as possible. Our night on the bus proved to be a sleepless one – climate control has yet to be discovered in Bolivia, and temperatures drop precipitously at these high altitudes. On the plus side, we got a great view of the brilliant stars shining over the desert. I hadn’t had a lot of opportunity to star gaze in a while, seeing as I had been falling asleep before sunset ever since reaching Bolivia (just surviving at 4000m above sea level is exhausting!).

We arrived in La Paz before sunrise, hours before we would be allowed to check into our Airbnb. I fetched us a nutritious breakfast (coffee and cookies) and then we turned the open air terminal into our temporary home. We unpacked our sleeping bags and set up the iPad with a previously downloaded show on Netflix. The sleeping bags proved to be a much better insulator than our thin alpaca printed rugs from the bus, and soon enough blood was rushing back to my extremities.

Netflix and street popcorn! Only slightly less fancy than a night at the theatre…

After binging the hell out of “13 Reasons Why”**, Aidan and I made our way to the Airbnb for some much needed rest. We proceeded to sleep for the next three days. I should have realized our bodies needed a break. Apparently even the soccer (sorry, “futball”) greats need to run off the field for oxygen when they come to Bolivia, yet Aidan and I had plunged into this country without even a supply of coca leaves.

Coca leaves – Keeping them in baggies and stuffed in random pockets really makes you feel like a narco queen

I had begun to feel extremely travel weary. Making even the most simple decision was exhausting, and I had started going out of my way to avoid conversations with strangers. Both Aidan and I kept reminiscing about the peace and beauty of Patagonia. Nature and no people – that’s what we were craving. Then Aidan found out there was an incredibly secluded town hidden away in the mountains a fair distance down South. Quime was situated in the exact opposite direction of our chosen route – travelling there would mean another 14 hours in a bus. But nature and adventure was calling, so by pure force of will I packed up my bag and headed to the terminal once again. Our bus broke down, making me really rethink our decision. We flagged down another one and got dropped off at an intermediary town, and then hopped on a colectivo to Quime. That’s when the trip took a turn for the freaking unbelievable.

Savannah waiting patiently to get some money back after the bus broke down. It was fairly easy to get the conductor’s attention, being a head taller than everyone else!

We drove past little pueblos, where men and women in traditional dress were working hard in their fields while children ran amok (an impressive feat since we were still struggling with the lack of O2 on the altiplano). We drove up and down terrifying switchbacks at breakneck speeds, passing by endless green pastures with too many llamas to count. Soon enough giant trees were replacing the scrawny shrubs from before. Lakes, rivers, and waterfalls were everywhere , and the world became a vibrant landscape of blues and greens, rather than an endless expanse of dull yellow and brown. I had never seen a place like this before, yet I felt like I was coming home.

You can spot the triángulos in the background here. Also pictured – unwashed hair artfully disguised in a fancy braid

Quime means “the place to rest” in the Aymaran language. Aidan and I did the opposite. We spent our first full day on a never ending road of switchbacks, trekking up hundreds of meters while the little town grew smaller and smaller below us. Later, while recovering in the most comfortable hammock, Aidan spotted some incredible triangular cliffs that looked like pyramids on the side of the mountains. We named them “the triángulos” and decided to trek to them the next day. We got there in what can only be described as a lord of the rings inspired journey – the part when Frodo and Sam leave the shire and have no clue what kind of adventure they’d signed up for. We crossed meadows and vegetable patches, forded streams and hopped stone fences. We followed paths, both llama or man-made, and when those ran out we made our own. We came home well after sunset with revitalized spirits, although I did feel bad about scaring our hostel host (no doubt he had visions of us having tragically died in the mountains – did I mention how steep those cliffs were?).

Shirelike, wouldn’t you agree?

Aidan wasn’t completely ready for this photo, but to be fair, she did have to run a long way down a precarious slope to get into position!

 

Our time in Quime was brief, but incredible. Without this experience I would have definitely agreed with all the Bolivia haters out there, but I am thrilled to have proved them wrong (and so happy I didn’t have to agree with Baldy, the racist truck driver)! All it took was getting out of the desert. Seriously, why would anyone choose to live in such a dusty and a barren land? To each there own I guess…

Footnotes

* Actually, a friend from back home said she loved it, but that’s most likely due to her love for cocaine…

** Could I date this post any better? All right, at this point of time, Trump also said he was sending an armada towards North Korea. Making me think that Bolivia might not be the worst place to wait out a World War 3. But I digress…

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The Great Santiago Escape Of 2017

My apologies (ie. my excuses): Most of this post was written while we were Couchsurfing in Iquique. However, before I had the chance to polish it up, we took a bus to Arica, then another to San Pedro de Atacama, then drove for three days through a desert. This desert is over 4000 meters above sea level, and both of us were hit hard by altitude sickness. Brain swelling and lack of oxygen has rendered us practically useless, and we are now recovering in La Paz (getting here involved another long bus). We took a five hour nap yesterday, then slept for another 10 hours after scarfing down a delicious Bolivian meal cooked by our Airbnb hosts. I feel just rejuvenated enough to be guilty about neglecting the blog, so here goes…


Leaving Pucón marked the end of our Patagonian adventures, and our departure was incredibly bittersweet. We had been surrounded by awe inspiring scenery for over two months, and neither of us were eager to be in cities again (ie. around other people). On the other hand, there was the promise of oceans and sun up north, so we booked a bus to Valparaíso.

A mural of Valparaiso in Valparaiso. Inception?

We’re Canadian, so of course we were natural sandboarders!

But in Canada we have ski lifts…

I was more than happy to stick to the coast and skip Chile’s capitol altogether, but our friends in Santiago – the couple we met on that rainy day in La Junta – persuaded us to come visit. We arrived with the intention of crashing on their couch for a night or two, after which point we would keep making our way north. We hadn’t figured that they would fall in love with us and try to keep us there forever. Apparently our charm overshadowed our dirty and disheveled appearance (Aidan’s socks could kill a small animal and my only remaining pair of pants have two sizeable holes in the butt). José’s wonderful mother kept us in a semi comatose state by plying us with delicious home cooked food, and we ended up staying much longer than planned.

The most incredible food. The coffee was even hot!

Pure luxury

The hitchhiking crew together again!

We spent a very unusual week in Santiago, experiencing the city in ways no other backpackers have. We didn’t go to the typical tourist spots, and completely spurned the multitude of bars and discotecas. Instead, we climbed a Cerró, explored a university’s experimental farm, and attended a wine tasting class!

Our favourite mystery fruit from the farm – if anyone knows what it is please email us!!!

Grapes 101 – an introduction to pretentious wine tasting!

This might not have been the most legal way to see Santiago

Fun fact: Santiago has approximately the same geographical area as Ottawa, yet has 8 time the population. Hence all this smog…

So as not to overstay our welcome, we decided it was time to continue our adventure. Besides, we were getting far too comfortable. It had been over a week that we had been enjoying hot coffee, rather than the swill of lukewarm water and instant that we’d become accustomed to, and we were becoming soft (in all senses of the word, because we were consuming far too much bread). So we planned our escape for the following morning.

Because neither of us enjoy confrontation, neither of us actually told them we were leaving. We assumed watching us pack our bags would make that clear. Alas that was not the case! All members of the household made their cases for why we should stay in Santiago forever, but we remained strong (although María Antonieta’s homemade empanadas nearly broke us).

Despite our aversions to being late for trains/busses/planes, we ended up staying far too long to make public transport a feasible way to make our departure time. We ordered an uber, and took off with plenty of time to spare. Or so we thought. Our driver made the unilateral decision to ignore her GPS, so we ended up getting to the station exactly when our bus was due to leave. Luckily Chilean time is a bit flexible, so the bus hadn’t even arrived yet.

Ten minutes later we settled into our seats, and we rolled out out of the station. We had achieved our escape! “Upbeat Latin music plays”*. It was at this point it dawned on us that we hadn’t fully thought through this trip. We had initially planned to head to La Serena, a port city 5 hours north of Santiago. But when we looked at the weather forecast for the upcoming week and saw that it would cloudy, we completely shifted gears and chose to go to Iquique instead. Which was 25 hours away. The full magnitude of this choice settled in when we woke up from a restless sleep and realized that we hadn’t even driven halfway. The fact that Narcos hadn’t downloaded was also quite a bummer. “Sad Latin music plays”.

Far too excited to be on a 25 hour bus

You go through a myriad of emotions while on a bus. Here is a glimpse into the psychology of a busser**

Thoughts had while on a bus

  • What a pretty view. I could just stare at the passing scenery forever…
  • Every sand dune is different. Like a snowflake! Hmm, i wonder if there’s any snow left in Canada?
  • Wow, we are seriously in a desert. I don’t think we brought enough moisturizer. We definitely don’t have enough sunscreen. How burned are we going to get?!
  • I think I could live on a bus. It’s like a more crowded caravan. Let the gypsy life begin!
  • Nope, busses are terrible. I really need to stretch my cramped limbs. And the bus smells are getting to me.
  • I figured out I can do lunges down the aisle. This bus is now my gym!
  • Aisle surfing is fun.
  • Note to self – do NOT make eye contact with the man you fell on while aisle surfing. This is not a relationship you wish to continue.
  • Do keep making faces at the little girl across the aisle. It’s a funny way to pass the time. Man I wish I was that small. She has so much leg room.
  • Children should not be allowed on busses. At least not the crying ones.
  • Ooh look, more mountains!
  • I think I just spent 5 minutes without having a single thought. Have I figured out mediation?
  • I am at one with the world. It’s just me and the beautiful country side.
  • If I don’t get off this bus soon I may stab someone.

We got off the bus after sunset, with no plans for a bed that night. We strolled past a somewhat homeless man (he had a tent, which is a type of home right?) and strongly considered following suit. It had been ages since setting up our little Castillo! Our very faint sense of self preservation kicked in though, and we rented a room at the first hostel we found.
We used their sketchy wifi to contact Couchsurfing hosts in the area, and hit free lodging gold. We stayed in a bomb apartment with views of not one but two beaches, and spent our days body surfing and getting tan (finally! I swear I got whiter in Patagonia!) and living way above our means. For free. Which really expands our wine budget!

We stayed in one of those high rises… Quite the upgrade from our tent!

These waves did their best to drown us. Luckily we had VERY attentive lifeguards to keep us safe

The nights were spent fulfilling our DJ dreams in underground clubs

Footnotes

*the result of watching too much Narcos with English subtitles

** I was originally planning to only post this list – easier to do and that way I wouldn’t keep being told that I was neglecting the blog. I began by writing a simple introductory paragraph, and suddenly found myself 1000 words deep! Guess a career at buzzfeed isn’t meant for me…

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The Day We Climbed A Volcano

I’m writing this from the waiting room of Hospital San Francisco Pucón. We are not here, as previous posts may have led you to believe, due to any mishaps from reckless adventures. We’re here because Aidan’s tonsils have decided that today is the day they explode. Although our climb up a volcano may not have helped her body fight them off… So while we wait here (a seemingly endless event), let me recount the story of one of the best adventures of our trip so far. Aidan and I are both in agreement that it was well worth the exertion, even if it results in her tonsils combusting. 

Climbed a volcano only to be conquered by overactive tonsils

We had had this expedition in our sights for a while. In fact, it was Aidan who found out about this trek before we even left Canada. She sent me a link (an activity occurring multiple times a day in the months leading up to takeoff) describing the magnificent Villarica Volcano, which you trek up and toboggan down. Too cool to pass up!

After some haggling with a few different tour companies (an act I’m finally getting comfortable with, due in large part to my ever expanding Spanish vocabulary), we paid our deposit, and were told to show up later that evening to get outfitted for the expedition. Side note – although you can technically do this trip solo, it is not advised. You need some serious gear to get up this volcano safely, including an ice pick, crampons, and a gas mask! A fellow traveller we met back in Buenos Aires saw someone climbing up alone – without any gear – who proceeded to fall and rip off all of their exposed skin (again, how are we in a hospital because of tonsillitis?!). Alright, there’s your PSA.

We showed up to meet the rest of the group to find that we were the only ones there

. Turns out we were getting a private trip! Traveling during low season has some serious perks (no crowds, cheaper fees…) as long as you can handle the rapidly degrading weather. Which Aidan and I obviously can, since our bank accounts are emptying at about the same rate!

The next morning we piled our gear into the back of an old truck and set off to the volcano with our guide, J.R. (pronounced hota-er-eh). He is a man in his mid-fifties, with a beer gut and a devilish look in his eyes. He’d been doing this his whole life, and had ascended the volcano over 2000 times. He’s planning to retire once he hits 3000.

J.R!

The stars were still shining overhead when we got to the base of the volcano. Since we had decided to spurn the chairlift (not because we wanted the extra exercise, but because it would have costed us 8000 pesos each – that’s the cost of an entire bottle of pisco!), we were one of the first groups to start our ascent. We were racing against the clock – the lift would be up and running in less than an hour, at which point throngs of people would be with us on the volcano.

Why we woke up early…

And we made it! While we p

paused to let Aidan cough up some phlegm so that she could breathe again, the chairlift hummed to life below us and started to transporting all the (lazy) people up. They wouldn’t be able to catch us though, even with Aidan’s airway being the size of a dime.

No chair lifts for us!

We kept climbing, obviously taking breaks to marvel at the mountains and valleys around us. We made it to the glacier after ascending for about two hours. We put on our crampons and pulled out our ice picks, and set out onto the snow.

Switchbacks on the snow!

We were just called into the examination room. No doctor yet but there’s an open window – perfect for Aidan to spit out of. 

We trekked through the snow for a couple more hours, then got to where we’d be eating lunch. So as to outrace the hordes of people on our heels, we dumped our gear (minus the ice pick and gas mask) and started our last ascent up to the mouth of the volcano.

And what a sight! Aidan and I stared transfixed as lava erupted from the fiery crater, that is until we both stopped being able to breathe. J.R. laughed at us as he gestured that we should put on our gas masks. These proved to be much more effective at filtering out the noxious fumes than the sleeves we had quickly held up to our mouths.

Kaboom!

After a long photo shoot (J.R was only to pleased to be our photographer), we headed back to our lunch spot. There were lots of people there by that point, and we started to fully understand how lucky we had been to get a group to ourself. Language barriers, cultural differences, and “touristy” behaviour made it so that even taking off crampons was an ordeal. J.R. was quick to brag about his two intense Canadian chicas, and we were invited to go out with the guides that night. An offer we would have taken them up on if Aidan’s tonsils hadn’t decided to grow even larger. But I’m getting ahead of myself – at this stage in our story they were only the size of small golf balls. Totally manageable.

The doctor just came into our room. She took one look in Aidan’s mouth and visibly recoiled, saying “Ooh that’s bad!”. Which is word for word what I’ve been saying, so clearly I have what it takes to be a doctor in terms of bedside manner. The doctor is gesturing that Aidan should take off her pants. She’ll be getting a shot of antibiotics straight away. 

After downing our PB+J sandwiches, we donned our sledding gear and headed to a sort of luge track. We used a piece of plastic as a sled, and our ice pick as a steering wheel and brake.We shot down the mountain, digging our axes into the snow as we zoomed through the snow trails (and sometimes right off the track!). I had a huge smile pasted on my face, and behind me I could hear Aidan giggling like a child jumping on a bouncy castle with handfuls of candy (I just thought through that simile and I have to admit I was dead on. She was that happy, and the experience was probably just as fraught with risk!).

Ready to slide down a volcano!

Who knew we’d find the best slopes of our lives in Chile?!

We ran out of snow far too quickly, and then it was time to walk again. Except we didn’t walk- we ran. We slalomed down the scree, leaving a massive wake of dust behind us. It was almost like we were back in Canada on the ski slopes! It had taken us 50 minutes to walk up the area we would have skipped with the chair lift- it took us less than 5 minutes to run down.

We made it! Now let’s get to a hospital!

We blasted the radio on our ride back to Pucón, then cracked open a few cervesitas out on the patio. The reason for J.R.’s physique finally became clear as he put back beer after beer! We tipsily walked back to our hostel, claiming that we needed a siesta before the fiesta later that night.

But first, beer!

Aidan just got her shot, time to go back to the hostel! Let’s hope she gets better soon!

Epilogue

Since I’m posting this weeks after our time in Pucón, I can tell you that she did not get better in any hurry. We had to make another trip to the hospital to get more antibiotics and pain meds, where we met a doctor just as scared of her tonsils as the first one. At that point they resembled moons, both in terms of size and topography. We were also kicked out of our hostel in a classic “no room at the inn” situation, and so we rented a private room at a nearby hotel. While Aidan recuperated, I explored Pucón. I rented a bike one day to visit Lago Cabulga, and ended up falling helmet first off a bridge into a ravine full of rocks and blackberry bushes. Apart from a few bruises and scrapes I was fine, although a snapchat sent back home (where I filmed myself under the bridge saying “Fuck I fell off a bridge!”) did nothing to assuage moms fears of my well being in South America. Anyways, Aidan’s tonsils have shrunk and now resemble fat men who lost a lot of weight far too quickly, and my bruises have faded to a nice blue. All is well!

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Hitchhiking the Carretera Austral

People often ask you what your plans are when you travel. Where you’ve been and where you’re going next are often the first topics of conversation (coming in right after country of origin, and well before formal introductions). And while Aidan and I have a general idea of what places we want to visit, we have definitely not been travelling according to any set itinerary. ” No tenemos planes! ” might be one of the first complete Spanish sentences Aidan has learned.

But now we had a plan! We were both cold (re. the rain, snow, and hail from my previous post), and wanted to see a bit of sun. As my ever-tactful brothers pointed out when I last Skyped home, I was still extremely white despite being in the southern continent for over a month. Who knew that UV rays didn’t penetrate layers upon layers of thermal clothing?! So we sharpied in big block letters “AL NORTE” onto a scrap of cardboard, and headed to the highway. That was the extent of our plans. North.
Highway might be a generous term for the Carretera Austral. It winds it way through the entirety of southern Chile, home to waterfalls, glaciers, rainforests, volcanoes, valleys, and mountains. This can all be seen from the roadside, which happens to be gravel for almost all of it’s entirety*. Seriously, this place of the world is extremely remote. Busses are infrequent and unreliable; cars are rare. We viewed this as the perfect opportunity to generate a blog worthy story, featuring two intrepid Canadians who dared to go where few had ever gone before…
For those of you reading this as a sort of travel guide (rather than as a means to ascertain that Aidan and I are still alive), here are some words of advice. Only embark upon this adventure if you have packed a significant amount of food, and have a tent (to be set up on the side of the road if you get caught in the dark without shelter). I’ve come to view all other gear** as luxury items, to be lumped into the same category as warm showers and functioning stoves.
Our Route***

A complete lack of information about travelling in this part of the world made me think that documenting this adventure might actually be useful to future backpackers. Unfortunately the nature of hitchhiking means that you have to fly by the seat of your pants, rendering any set itinerary worthless. None of our stops were planned, so a trip that began as a way to get Chaitén then switched to going to Futaleufú, back to Chaitén, at which point we decided to turn back and go to Futa! In any case, here’s a list of the places we pitched our tent on the journey, along with pictures and reviews of each location. I tried to make the reviews professional, then quickly abandoned that in favour of using lots of lots of parentheses and dashes (my apologies to my high school English teacher). This journey was a long one – it took us a full week to get to our final destination. I’ve compiled some of the most notable events into mini stories below.

Coyhaique

Quick description: absolutely breathtaking, quite touristy

Recommendations: go horseback riding (especially if you can befriend a local and ride for free), spend a chill afternoon on the cliff by the river (but know that if you camp there that things can get rowdy), eat a steak at Chelenko (I broke my vegetarianism to have one and was consequently ill for the next week, but Aidan claims it was the best she’s ever had)

Thoughts while there: “Damn this place is pretty” “Is that a matte statue?!”

We stayed on a farm for a few days. Aidan spent most of her time there chasing horses!

Guy Gavriel Kay + Sun + Precarious Cliff = A Perfect Day

Queulat National Park – 2 nights camping just off the side of the Carretera Austral

Quick description: Gorgeous national park – mountains, rivers, glaciers, and waterfalls

Recommendations: There’s a great flat spot right on the side of the road after you enter the park, with enough space for your tent, a clothes line, and a fire pit (do not light a fire, this is illegal. We learned this after the rangers told us to put out our fire…)

Thoughts while there: “Ok, we’re river people now” “What a great place to set up for few days. We could even wash our clothes!” “We really should have remembered we were camped in a rainforest. Rain is in the damn name!”

Our illegal fire


Puyuhuapi – 1 night camping

Quick description: Blink and you’ll miss this town. Unless you happen to visit it when the Carretera is under construction, in which case you’ll be stuck there for hours! While there, take in the ocean view, and… Yup that’s about it!

Recommendations: If there happens to be a tsunami, do not follow the evacuation signs. They point along the beach for some reason. Better luck trying to scale up the mountains behind the town.

Thoughts while there: “Does it count as camping if we’ve pitched our tent in a shed?”

Puyuhuapi roadside – time to check the bruises while waiting for the Carretera Austral to open again

La Junta – 1 night roadside camp, partially hidden by a tree
Quick description: Charming town nestled in innumerable mountains. The towns beauty begins to fade after spending 9 hours in the rain, but that’s true for anywhere!

Recommendations: Camp by the bridge, you do not have to do as we did and camp two feet from the bustling highway. If you do follow in our footsteps, make sure to make friends with the dogs – there’s a great gang of 3 mutts that wander the streets.

Thoughts while there: “What beautiful misty mountains!” “Oh no, the mist is rain!”

A street dog invasion! Aidan was not helping the situation…

Chaitén – 2 nights in a secret campsite at the top of the town

Quick description: Their volcano exploded some years ago, and is thus a much less bustling town than before

Recommendations: Time your food shopping times wisely. This is actually a fair recommendation for anywhere in southern Chile; Aidan and I have been caught many a time absolutely starving at 2 pm while every store in town is closed

Thoughts while there: “Is all this dust from the Volcano?” “Wait, are we actually going to take refuge in a church? Nope – the Padre’s not home.”

Sunset in Chaitén

Futaleufú – final destination, most nights spent camping behind a tourism office, could happily stay there forever

Quick description: An amazing little town named after it’s absolutely awe-inspiring river.

Recommendations: Rafting/kayaking obviously, but a great chill activity is walking to the Futaleufú river to take a swim (beware of the currents and waterfalls)

Thoughts while there: “How is the water this colour?!?” “I’m never leaving”

Futa Madre!


Washing clothes in a rainforest. Because we are super intelligent. 

Clean clothing has come to mean that you don’t whip your head back in disgust after performing the sniff test. Nothing was passing that test anymore, and the smells inside the tent were becoming intolerable. Aidan’s shoes and socks were especially foul. Clearly, it was time to do a clothes wash.

Aidan found a great spot by the river we were camped beside, and set to work. After cleaning the clothes, she hopped in herself, figuring that everything might as well get clean. We then hung it all up out on our makeshift clothesline, and waited for the sun to dry them.

The river wench

So picturesque. So dumb.

Unfortunately, the whole “drying” part of the laundry process never happened, since we had set up camp in a rainforest. After lulling us into a false sense of security, the weather took a turn, and rain fell steadily for the rest of the day. We left the clothes out overnight, hoping that the winds would dry them (while also praying that they wouldn’t be so strong that they blew our clothes off the line).

We finally realized the error of our ways after another downpour the following morning, and accepted that our clothes would remain wet. We stuffed all our clothing into a dry bag (irony not lost me), and went to hitch on the side of the road again. Aidan did this in flip flops – her hiking boots were also soaked!

Hitchhiking on a Sunday

The other day neither Aidan or I could remember what month it was – remembering the day of the week is almost impossible. Our days centre much more around the weather and our degree of hunger. An arbitrary 7 day schedule just doesn’t matter right now. There are many upsides to this vagabond lifestyle. For example, my horror at what’s happening in the states right now is limited to the days when Aidan and I find wifi strong enough to load John Oliver and Sam B episodes. This is a long winded way of saying that neither Aidan or I were aware that the day we started hitchhiking again was a Sunday. A day where respectable people don’t typically drive through national parks.

Taking turns thumbing by the road didn’t make much sense since seeing other travellers was such a rarity. Instead we both hopped up every time a car passed, hoping that our soaking wet (we were in a rainforest remember?) and disheveled appearance would engender some sympathy in the drivers.

Who wouldn’t pick up this mess?!

We were getting tired and hungry, and had begun contemplating walking back to the paved road and abandoning our Carretera Austral adventure. First we pulled out a snack, and low and behold, a truck rolled by and stopped! Clearly we were just looking to desperate – playing “hard-to-get” is the way to go. We made it all the way to Puyuhuapi that day, and ended up camping again, this time in a shed…

The cattle car – Aidan got to sit up front with the driver

Positive interjection

So I’ve just reread what I wrote for this post, and I realized that my writing has become very Bill Brysony (ie. depressive and fear-mongering). I need to clarify that Aidan and I are having the time of our lives in South America. We’re getting to see amazing places, meet incredible people, and live through adventures many travellers would never get the chance to experience. Much of this is due to our willingness to put our trust in the strangers we meet along the way, who turn out to be some of the most “simpático” and “agradable” people I’ve ever met. Aidan and I just spent an incredible week in Futaleufú, which was largely made possible by the friendships we formed on this hitchhiking adventure. We are safe, alive, and happy (no dad, that’s not code for “come save us!”). Now back to the doom and gloom!

Thrilled to be exploring this part of the world, rain or shine!

Stuck in the rain for 9 hours

So this day was absolutely pure hell. Yet from the sodden ashes of that dusty highway, Aidan and I emerged – better and stronger than ever. I guess that makes this experience blog worthy, even though it means reliving it!

We’re two hours in to our wait in La Junta, and my addiction to the weather network has made me aware that I should expect no respite. Keen not to let my disintegrating mood flare out in Aidan’s direction, I kept walking in laps. This was also a handy technique to keep warm – every so often I would start doing jumping jacks.

Tuning out the rain with musical soundtracks

Remembering that it was our dads birthdays, we temporarily abandoned our hitchhiking post and walked to a nearby restaurant that promised wifi (to send birthday wishes like the ever dutiful daughters we are). We were promptly told that they were closed. We realized as we walked past by their open sign that we were being turned away due to our disheveled appearance, which did nothing to improve my mood. We started walking back towards the town, knowing that we wouldn’t be getting a drive anytime soon. More and more hitchhikers were swarming upstream from us – they would be claiming any car passing by before getting to us.

However, on that walk back, a couple we’d met a few hours earlier hailed us over. They were boiling water, and offered us some hot coffee. Those of you who have read my long passage/ode to caffeine on a previous post will understand that we hadn’t the power to resist. We stayed with Angie and José for the rest of the day, exchanging travel stories and playing with the street dogs. We took turns thumbing it on the roadside, and came up with increasingly eccentric ways of capturing a drivers attention – Angie faked a heart attack on more than one occasion.

Look closely, and you’ll find the rock this pup was fetching!

A car finally pulled up, and offered to drive the four of us 9 kilometres north. Well, that was 1/13th of our journey, but better than nothing! We hopped in, shouldering past another couple who had just appeared (in a very vulture like fashion). This poco-a-poco travel worked for the next little while, and then against all odds, we were picked up by a man headed straight to Chaitén.

We got a ride!

Trying to keep the packs dry. A losing battle

No cars? That’s fine, time for pictures!

Making a U-Turn and heading to Futaleufú 

We got to Chaitén in the rain (classic), and spent 2 nights in a sort of secret camp, situated right on the ocean. The people we met there kept telling how beautiful Futaleufú was, so we decided to brace the Carretera again and head East. This time we’d be going by bus – there was a forecast for more torrential rain and we didn’t want a repeat of La Junta! The ticket turned out to be only $5 Canadian anyways – well worth the cost of a three hour bus.

We’ve been in Futaleufú for over a week now, and are only just contemplating leaving. While there is tons to do here (exploring, rafting, kayaking, riding, trekking…), I would be genuinely happy just living by the river. Aidan found some obscure Chilean law stating that if you live on a piece of land for 5 years, and somehow manage to build a home there in that time, then you are legally entitled to that land. Every exploratory run I go on has become a scouting mission. If for some reason I go radio silent for the next few years, it’ll be because I’ve managed to “acquire” some prime riverside acreage. I’ll be splitting my time between building my dream home and becoming the best kayaker there ever was.

So much available real estate!

Another “it’s so beautiful, I cry!” picture

Acknowledgments

This trip would not have been possible without the support of some amazing people (and animals) we met along the way. First and foremost we would like to thank Jose and Angie for somehow making our time spent soaking wet on the roadside memorable and enjoyable! Unfortunately I never learned the names of the many, many dogs we met along the way, but thanks to you guys as well! Even though we know most of you were just waiting for us to let our guard so you could steal our food, we still think of you fondly. And finally we extend our thanks to all the drivers past and future willing to pick up us hitchhikers. Every ride is an experience in itself, and the whole “free” thing is pretty neat.

Footnotes

*There are plans to have the whole Carretera Austral paved by 2018. I’m already planning on making a pilgrimage back on my bike!

**Both of us are also carrying first aid kits – a necessary risk management tool, especially in light of our recent adventures!

***You can follow our whole adventure on our “Find Us On The Map” page

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A Particularly Windy Day (or the more honest title “The Day We Almost Died”)

Note to our more concerned/fretful readers: We are posting this story from an area of safety, and are both alive and well (if a bit black and blue!). We are resolved to make mistakes only once, and believe us, we have learned this lesson. We do not intend on crossing mountains with winds exceeding 100 km/hr again. And definitely not during a hail storm!

I have never been so scared in my life. As I took one disjointed step after another, two phrases kept reverberating around my mind, repeating as if on a broken loop. “This is fucking stupid” and “People have died on this mountain”. As if those were the last things I wanted to be thinking before I got blown off a cliff. In front of me Aidan was tossed to the ground and I crouched down as the gust that caught her whiped around my hunched body. I contemplated what would be worse: me dying, or having to call home to break the news that I’d be bringing my cousin back to Canada in a body bag. Not that I had any idea how I’d drag an entire person down this mountain, seeing as I could barely hold myself upright. Then back to the loop. “This is fucking stupid!”

Alright, let’s back up a bit. This story begins several hours earlier. We had slept late, our plan to get up at sunrise ruined since the sun never actually emerged from the behind the rain clouds that morning. This went expressly against a rangers advice a few days before, telling us to leave as early as possible to beat the wind that would be raging over Cerró Castillo. Come to think of it, that would be a better place to start our story. Let’s rewind again.

Three days before the fateful one I’m describing, Aidan and I walked into the park information centre to log our trip plan, as any responsible (and rule abiding) hiker should do. The ranger there described the route to us. After a couple days filled with beautiful forest walks, river crossings, and mountain passes, we would arrive at a laguna at the base of a glacier. Our third day would entail fording a small river and then passing over mountains of scree. Breathtaking views were, of course, promised on either side. It was at this point that the smiling ranger adopted a serious expression, and advised us take the emergency exit should the weather be bad that day.

“Oh, and it’s best to leave early in the morning, when the winds are less strong. Seriously girls, people have died on this mountain. If it’s really windy, start following the yellow trail markers, not the red ones. It can get dangerous.”*

His words of warning gradually dissipated over the next couple days. As promised, we did cross many streams, and saw some enchanting forests. But the weather was sunny and wind free – our biggest fear was getting sunburned!

Stretching every damn damn day!

We walked right down the middle. My observation that we’d be screwed if an earthquake occurred spurred us to take a later lunch!

River crossings – an excuse to ice your aching feet!

That second night the wind ripped through our campsite. Clouds rolled in and rain stared pouring. It seemed like the precipitation was easing up in the morning, so Aidan and I decided to wait out the worst of the weather in our tent. We were letting the rocks dry off after all. We were being safe! As an added bonus (most definitely not the reason we elected to stay in our tent…), we both managed to finish the books we’d been lugging around for the past month.

We did eventually manage to drag ourselves out into the world, after it had become apparent that the rain would not be letting up any time soon. We were shocked and amazed to find out that our tent had survived the night. I had been harbouring the belief that our little green tent, bought hastily a couple days before our flight, would not be able to withstand a strong breeze, let alone the gale force winds that regularly occur in Patagonia. Apparently Aidan had shared my doubts, having admitted that she had hardly slept at all that night for fear that we would be blown away, Wizard of Oz style.

We’ve named the tent castillo – our “castle” – in honour of it surviving the Cerró

All the other tents at our campsite were still up as well, and we took that to be a sign that our decision to sleep in had been the correct one. We wouldn’t find out till later that they would all elect to take the emergency exit.

We set off, and soon arrived at the base of Cerró Castillo. Sure enough, there was the turquoise laguna, and there was the river we needed to ford. We also found a young man walking back and forth by the waters edge, trying to a find a place to cross. Let me formally introduce him to you here, as he became our companion for the rest of the day.

Meet Samuel, the only other person crazy enough to brave the wind!

What would probably have been a relatively small stream the day before had turned into a torrential river overnight. So as not to be swept away by the current, we proposed that Samuel join us on the crossing. We all removed our boots, linked arms, and stepped into the river. We were soon thigh deep in freezing glacial water, trying desperately to steady our bare feet on the sharp rocks below. We crossed slowly, at times only just managing to stay upright as the water rushed past us.

This is to illustrate my point about the water levels – Aidan’s perch in this picture was completely submerged the next morning!

We pulled our socks on to our now frozen feet, laughing with relief that we had made it through the worst part of the day. We then ascended the mountain on the other side of the laguna, stopping every so often to take in the beautiful sight of Cerró Castillo. This was what we had been hiking to see, and partially frozen extremities wouldn’t stop us from revelling in the view.

A post river crossing shot – taking photos in the river would probably have resulted in one of us being swept away

Freshly melted glacial water…

We crested the mountain bank, and soon realized we were nowhere near the top. That was when we saw the yellow markers – our invitation to bail and take the emergency exit. At this point it was raining, but not too heavily, and the wind just added to the intensity of the sights around us. We decided that emergency exits were for the weak, and proceeded to follow the red markers.

We kept ascending the mountain, each switchback revealing increasingly beautiful vistas. We would stop to catch our breath and admire the glacier to our right and the valley to our left, then quickly set off again. Stopping for too long meant feeling the cold, and I was starting to lose sensation in my hands. I was also beginning to regret my decision to wear shorts, as I was becoming painfully aware of the rain on my legs. That’s how I was the first to realize that it had stopped raining, and started hailing.

But we were so close to the top – we could see the mountain ridge just above! Then we would have a fast descent down back into the tree line, where we would be protected from the elements. We kept climbing.

Thinking we were basically at the top here…

Alas, when we arrived as the top of the mountain, we discovered that we had fallen victim to the “summit fallacy”**. We still had just a little bit further to go, and then we’d be at the top. This occurred for the better part of an hour, while the weather became more and more inclement.

We have no photos to help illustrate this part of the journey, as Aidan and I had both put our phones away in order to protect them from the constant onslaught of rain, snow, and hail. We kept trudging steadily up the interminable mountain. At one point I turned to Aidan and said ” Alright, I’m ready to be off this mountain now!”. And then I smiled to convince her (or rather myself) that all was okay.

The wind was blowing very hard now, and a gust caught Samuel’s backpack and ripped off his rain protector. I pulled off my sodden mittens and reattached it, and then discovered that my hands had frozen into claws. With Aidan’s help I forced my useless digits back into the mitts, and we kept on marching.

The wind’s next victim was my own backpack protector, which went sailing over the mountains edge. Then the wind started to push us over as well. A huge gust sent me crashing down onto the rocks. I looked around to see that both Aidan and Samuel were also on the ground, all of us adopting boulder like poses.

If anything, this would have been the point to turn back (many people will say that point was many hours ago), but we had finally reached the summit. We had to get down this mountain somehow, so we really had no choice but to keep going.

Next began a period of time that loses all linearity. Rather I remember this part in flashes, periods of clarity amidst chaos. One such moment occurred after I had taken a particularly rough fall on some jagged rocks. I became acutely aware of my exposed legs, and decided it was time to put on another layer. Aidan and I found a relatively protected area on the slope where we dropped our bags. I managed to locate some pants (a sheer force of will considering the state of my claw hands) and a couple pairs of socks, which Aidan and I used to replace our wet gloves. We also split a bread roll – it was well past noon and neither of us had refuelled in hours. It took a while to eat that bread since our mouths were devoid of saliva. I had a moment to marvel at the sympathetic nervous system in action, and then we continued our descent.

Every so often we would see Sam in the distance, executing the same maneuvers we were doing – the drop and play rock, the bum scooch, the shuffle/sprint every time the wind subsided… These times came as a great relief – I was seriously not in the mood to conduct a rescue.

A casualty of Scooch Mountain

Another moment tattooed forever in my memory is the time we saw The Double Rainbow. Aidan and I were taking another break, this one brought on by necessity. There were times when the wind blew with such force that there was nothing to do but huddle among the rocks (that we hoped against hope would not start rolling) and wait out the worst. Aidan sat a bit in front of me and I huddled beside her, trying to conserve as much heat as possible. I pressed my head against her side, desperately trying to avoid the shards of ice that were being hurled in our direction.

Suddenly the clouds opened up above us, and the sun came streaming out. The rays mixed with the rain still pouring down, and two massive rainbows appeared below us. I have never felt so alive, so full of love and awe, as Aidan and I stared down at the patchwork of lakes, rivers, and pastures stretching out into the distance. I won’t pretend that that was the moment I knew we wouldn’t die on the mountain – I was fairly sure one of us would at least break a leg that day. But we were doing this together, and neither of us was going to give up.

After a particularly fun bum scooching time***, we saw Samuel running towards us. We were close to the tree line, and he’d come back to make sure we were alright! If I wasn’t as jacked up on adrenaline as I was in that moment, I probably would have cried – for the incredible kindness of fellow humans, and for the promise of safety.

What happens when you descend a mountain on your bottom

We walked in silence for a while, all taking in the gravity of what we just had been through. That silence was soon shattered as Aidan exclaimed “What the fuck just happened?!”, prompting us to reminisce for the rest of the walk, and late into the evening over some well deserved beers. To be perfectly honest, we’ll be talking about this day for the rest of our lives. Most likely after someone mentions a strong wind.

A post mountain selfie – only made possible by functioning hands warmed by socks

Footnotes****
*Words translated from the original Spanish, as recalled to the best of my ability. The words peligroso and muerta are what I remember most vividly.
**I’m not sure if this is a thing. If not, let me be the first to describe summit fallacy™. This occurs when one can see a horizon, and mistakenly takes that to mean that they have reached the top of whatever they are ascending. One is more susceptible to this phenomenon when one is tired, cold, wet, and hungry.
*** I was singing “Castle on a Cloud” from Les Mis under my breath while sliding down the rocks – Cerró Castillo translates to Castle Mountain, and we were indeed in the clouds. How embarrassing if this had been what I was singing in the last moments of my life! Yet another reason I’m glad survived the mountain.

**** I’m experimenting with footnotes now. I may have gone slightly overboard…

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The Day We Escaped Esquel

We last left you with a crazy hitchhiking story from our travels down to el Bolsón. Those of you who follow on social media know that we then made our way to Esquel, where we got stuck for a little while. Aidan and I are both of the opinion that Esquel doesn’t deserve to mentioned, at risk that we accidentally give it some free publicity. There may come a rainy day when I am somehow tempted to lay that story down (it includes a surprise blues concert, an old train, boxed wine passed around bunk beds, and a braided mullet), but for now suffice it to know that it’s a horrible little town that we had to escape.
Escape it we did, by means of another hitchhiking adventure of course! Now I am very aware that this subject has become a touchy one (re. a lecture received last time we Skyped home… Note to the mahoney grandparents: mom has offered to wire Aidan and me money so that we stop thumbing our way through South America. Our blatant disregard of this offer is purely due our reckless and adventure seeking nature, and not a reflection of our upbringing. Besides, this story is much better than the one we would have gotten if we’d ridden a bus: We got on a bus, slept for 10 hours, got off a bus. Boring!)
Instead, we headed out after being passively aggressively forced out of the hostel we’d made our home for the better part of a week. We walked out of town, looking for a good hitching spot: a long straight of way, preferably some shade to protect our depressingly still-white skin, and then ideally some wild fruit to scavenge. We found such a spot, but kept going because just beyond it was a particularly dusty man, also hitchhiking. If you’re to glean any wisdom from this post, let it be hitchhiking etiquette! It’s bad manners to set up in front of another hitchhiker – especially if you’re a girl with much better odds of getting picked up.
We eventually got a lift – by way of another car just as eager to get out of Esquel as we were I’m sure – and were left on the Ruta 40. Aidan and I took turns thumbing it on the highway, while the other rested in the shade. I was on the thumb shift when a massive transport truck pulled over, having spied Aidan plucking away at my guitar.

 

Killing time hitchhiking

We scrambled in – me on the bed (a feature of all camións) and Aidan in the passenger seat. Our driver, José, then politely demanded a private concert. Apparently the guitar, and the fact that we looked halfway clean, was the only reason he had picked us up. I was only too happy to oblige, and I played to my captive audience for the next two hours, stopping only when I ran out of songs [the highlight of the concert was when José held up his hand to stop Savannah so he could finish singing “Will you still love me tomorrow”. Carole king bridges all language barriers] .

Camión concert!

José dropped us off several hours later at a gas station in Rio Mayo, which is where we set up our tent. As far as campsites go, I can’t exactly recommend the rear of a gas station – the wild street dogs made for some interesting night companions, and the policeman we met while going to the bathroom made us question the legality of our accommodation [but it did have the best wifi so far]. Nevertheless, Aidan and I managed a few hours of sleep before the next long leg of our journey.

Gas station camping – we started our own community, complete with neighbours!

We headed for the 40 again, and got a ride with a lovely family of three. We told them that our plan was to cross over to Chile that day, to which they responded that they had no idea there was a border crossing near this part of Argentina. But we had assurances from our dear friend José that the Lago Blanco-Balmaceda crossing was the one to choose. We nodded our heads indulgently as the family voiced their doubts, and left them at our planned intersection. How we should have listened to that family!

Ruta 260 appears to be a straight road running perpendicular to the 40, leading straight into Chile. Google told us we’d be there in three hours. What Google failed to take into account was the that the road was 200 kilometres of gravel. And that the only ones to typically drive down it are transport drivers, in trucks that would break at any speed exceeding 30 kilometres per hour. The truck that picked us up never went faster than 20.

His name was Baldy O’Ryan (name changed to protect his identity [no it’s not, that’s just his trucker nickname (yeah I’m not too concerned about him reading this…)]. He seemed to be a nice enough guy, if not without a few quirks. I was ready to kill him by the end of our drive.

All smiles at the beginning of the journey…

If you check out the aerial photos of Patagonia, you’ll see green mountains to the west, and a great expanse of yellow to the east. This desert – with it’s vast plains, far off blue mountains, and pillow like bushes- is probably objectively beautiful. Getting stabbed in the ass by one of those bushes on a wilderness pee break drove all thought of beauty out of mind. My thoughts turned instead to my hatred of our crazy truck driver, who delighted in sharing his views on Bolivians (lazy and ugly), Argentinians (untrustworthy), and Chilean superiority (apparently even their hotdogs were better). What kept me sane was Aidan’s music – I’ll let her tell you this story.

Baldy was apparently enamoured by Canadian musicians, but his favourite / love of his life was Shania Twain. He knew everything about her and dreamed of her coming to Chile and falling in love with a certain hair challenged truck driver. When he was unable to find her music on his phone, I offered up my own playlist. I played all of my Shania collection, then I played more that he claimed to like – some Buble, Celine Dione, one Sinatra. And then he started his racist rant and I put on a playlist our dads would have enjoyed plus a few musical numbers thrown in there. Savannah and I sang along for the next 6 hours. I think he stopped appreciating my music by hour 2.

The Patagonian desert

Then we crossed the border. To our disbelief, Baldy O’Ryan had been telling the truth about Chile. For the first time in 8 hours, we drove on a paved road. The deserts disappeared, to be replaced by the most lush hills and mountains I’d ever seen. Every turn of the road brought another breathtaking vista – once again, I’ll let the pictures do the talking.

By the time we got to Coyhaique, Aidan and I were both completely in love with Chile. We were in no hurry to take off (or to get in another vehicle), and have been staying at a farm for the past week. More stories to come!

Savannah’s last insta pic – I went radio silent after posting this, making mom believe I’d been abducted

Sneak peak of the farm life

 

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The Days We Spent In The Mountains

The camping culture in Argentina is incredible. Refugios scatter the Patagonian countryside, linked by well maintained trails that lead you through some intense and breathtaking vistas. You could spend a good few weeks in one area just trekking from refugio to refugio, indulging of course in some hearty home cooked meals prepared by volunteer staff (necessary to fuel you up those mountain climbs!). I’ll admit to fantasizing about the ease of hiking with a just a daypack, knowing that I would arrive to a clean bed and warm food at the end of the day (and even have a shower!? [who needs a warm shower, when you can go take a swim in a glacial lake!]).

Refugio Frey

But we came here to camp, not glamp! This is made very apparent by our excessively large 70 liter backpacks – into which we have stuffed our tent, ground tarps, kitchen equipment, and first aid bags. We have a love hate relationship with our gear – it keeps us alive and the added weight will give us some killer legs, but in times of weakness I’ll admit to fantasizing about accidentally on purpose losing my bag off the side of a cliff.

All fun and games until you go one way, and the bag goes another

But it’s the price we paid for paying next to nothing on our three day trek through the mountains of Bariloche. There’s a Spanish saying here – you pay with either pesos or peso ($ or weight!). We were perhaps a touch too ambitious. That first morning saw both Aidan and I stuffing our bags with growing apprehension, having also bought food to supply the whole trip. It was with great relief that we both aired our fears (communication is important people!) and decide to leave our nonessential items in storage. With a load off our backs. [haha great pun! Love it], we set off for the hills.

 

Peso porque no tenemos pesos!

Now we made a ton of memories in these mountains. Essentially we threw ourselves into an activity in which neither of us was prepared. As a result, we had many bloggable moments. We saw some incredible vistas, which we’ll pepper throughout this post, but since my words couldn’t possibly do those views justice, I’ll talk about the misadventures. Mini story style.

Getting lost – an Aidan & Savannah classic 

We knew navigation was going to be an issue for us. We both tend to be incredibly confident in our sense of direction, while history keeps teaching us that we have absolutely no sense whatsoever. What did surprise us was the speed at which became lost.

After taking a quick look at the map posted at the trail head, we set off. We probably should have given it more than just a cursory glance, since we basically got off the trail the moment we entered the park. What resulted was an hour detour through an extremely dusty bike path.

This is what you get when you don’t read maps. We did not learn our lesson

We fared a little better the next day, having clued in that all we had to do was follow the red dots. Aidan became extremely adept at finding them, whereas I tended to get distracted and forgot we had to do anything but wander and look at vistas [Those vistas were surreal, but I’m pretty sure you were just shite at spotting them]. We all have our strengths!

Bulls eye!

Equipment struggles

The moral of this story is pretty simple – test your gear before you go on a trip. Especially if the loss of a particular item will result in an inability to eat. What we did instead was trust that an old borrowed MSR stove would work just as well as it did 20 years ago. Not the case!

While Aidan began to prepare our supper for the night, I attempted to set up our stove. I poured the white gas into our fuel canister, inserted the pump, and started to apply pressure to the system. A weird popping noise occurred after each pump, and I was unwilling to do anything more, at risk of blowing both of us up. I’ve had lots of experience with stoves, but not with this relic I was trying to operate, and my troubleshooting skills are subpar at best.

So we went down to the refugio, in the hopes of finding some savvy campers. We didn’t end up having to actually ask for help – our sad and desperate expressions brought on by seeing the hot pizza being served soon brought us a kind soul willing to come to our aid. After confirming my fears that the pump was indeed broken, he ran up to his campsite to loan us his own stove. Seriously, you’ve got to love the kindness of strangers.

Cooking on our loaned stove

Our supper for the next few days was to be lentils and rice, and seeing as we didn’t know when or where we would find another stove, we decided to cook all our food that night. Which is when we realized that instead of instant rice, we had bought the stuff that took 20 minutes to cook (that’s another moral in this story – reading is important). After depleting the kind stranger’s entire supply of gas (luckily we had enough of own to replenish his canister), we finally got to sit down and eat our supper – with our sporks of course!

[lentils and rice!]

Food might taste better out of camp cups

Our coffee woes

This is also in reference to the broken stove. But I think we can blame this particular misadventure on our grandmother. You see, she drank many cups of coffee throughout her pregnancy with the twins, so it was inevitable that Aidan and I should become addicted to the stuff. We’ve learned from many occasions how bleak and painful life becomes when we don’t get caffeine, so we planned ahead. We bought instant coffee bags (didn’t know that existed before getting to Argentina), thinking that would be the most efficient and cost effective means of caffeine consumption. Unfortunately, hot water is needed for those packets to work.

It didn’t take either of us much time to realize our predicament. We used the kind stranger’s stove again in the morning to brew our first coffee, and then placed two packets into my bottle and filled it up with hot water. That was for lunch.

Pouring what we started referring to as The Swill into our mugs

Neither of us were feeling very social at the next campsite (most likely due to the sunstroke – see next post), so there was no kind stranger to lend us his stove again. Not to worry, Aidan and I could solve this problem at least! Two more coffee bags went into my nalgene (my water will never taste the same), and were then left to steep overnight. Coffee the next morning was absolutely horrendous, but at least we had caffeine to fuel us through our last trek out of the mountains.

The face says it all

 

Sunburns

It was inevitable really, for two white Canadians having just left a cold winter, to become extremely sunburned. We swear we applied sunscreen, but apparently spf 30 with sparkles (applied only once) does not cut it when it comes to the Argentinian sun on exposed mountain tops. The pictures really say it all.

Collage of shame

Selfies in the shade for these two sunstroke victims

Aidan takes sun safety seriously

Hiking out

Our legs were suffering on our last day of hiking, having ascended and descended two mountains the day before. If you’ve ever trekked through scree you’ll understand. Imagine skiing on powder, but instead of snow, it’s rocks. And sometimes you’ll break through that layer of powder (still rocks) and get slightly buried. And then sometimes you’ll dislodge a huge snowball (boulder) down the mountain, and have to warn fellow skiers (insane mountain goat people) to avoid fatalities.

So ridiculous, so fun

That’s all to say that we were very excited to find shelter for the night, preferably one with four walls and a shower.  If you’ve read our previous post, you’ll know that that bed was a long way away…

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The Day We Hitched A Ride To El Bolsón

We stumbled out onto a dusty road on the third day of our hike through the Bariloche mountains (future blog post for when we upload all our photos from the trek!) – both of us fairly sun burned and in need of a rest. Our hasty pre-trip research showed that the best way to return to Bariloche was by getting a taxi to the main road, boarding a bus to the centre of town, and then boarding another to the reach the campsite where we had left some of our belongings. But taxis are for the week, so we decided to hitch. We had heard this was easier for girls [the shorter the shorts, the shorter the wait] and apparently this even applied to our dusty sunburned selves, since the first car to pass by picked us up!

We may have left the guitar and some clothes back in Bariloche, but it still felt like we were carrying our whole lives on our back!

After two very lengthy showers, Aidan and I donned our bags once again (this time loaded with all our unnecessary items) and headed back to the road. People raised skeptical eyebrows when they heard that we wanted to get to El Bolsón that night, since hitchhiking is a game of patience, and getting a ride could take all day. Maybe we were spoilt by our earlier experiences, but we were committed to our original plan. South or bust!

I’ll admit that I was more than slightly worried that we’d get a ride halfway to our destination, only to be left stranded with no place to sleep. Aidan pointed out that we had our tent – we could sleep anywhere we wanted! The thought of us setting up camp just off the 40 (the highway spanning the entirety of Argentina) is what kept us going. After all, it would be a story for the blog!

Sun’s out, thumb’s out

Somehow our recklessness paid off once again. A man picked us up in an exceptionally small car (or that’s how it seemed once all of our bags were squashed in the vehicle) and drove us to the best spot to get picked up. Then we just had the time to take a few pictures of us sticking out our thumbs before a transport truck picked us up. He was heading all the way down to El Calafate, and was thrilled to share his ride with us for a couple hours. I’m writing this post in bits and pieces as I take breaks to stare out the window at the beautiful vistas passing by (Aidan is of course taking time-lapse videos). The blessed life continues!

Valentin was not photo ready…

Our view out of the transport truck!

 

Listen, Savannah is leaving out the ridiculousness of our drive down to El Bolsón. I’ll lay it out for you here, in point form because I don’t have a firm grasp on punctuation or sentence structure…

  • Before getting to Bariloche, neither of us had ever been picked up by a stranger on the side of the road, but the assurances of fellow travellers about the safety of hitchhiking eased our minds
  • We decided to give it a go. Less money spent = more money for adventures
  • Our first experience: On our way back into town, the second car that passed pulled over. I was elated to see it was the man who had called out “Oy Chicas…” in our general direction not ten minutes earlier
  • His car was a tiny two door truck covered in a few layers of dirt
  • I clambered over the passenger seat and sat on one of the two parallel benches in the back – my knees up to my chest and head low to avoid knocking the tarp roof
  • Savanah hopped in the front and proceeded to have a jovial conversation in Spanish with our new friend. I was able to understand a few words and tried to capture the moment

Our first hitchhiking adventure – Savannah speaking with the driver in the front, Aidan taking sneaky snaps from the back

  • After almost hitting 6 pedestrians, we arrived safely in town
  • Cut to four days later, three of which were spent trekking in the Andes, and three more hitchhiking experiences under our belts, we found ourselves on the famous Ruta40 at 7pm
  • Savannah is on the side of the road with her thumb out; I am trying to hide in the shade to protect my badly sunburnt everything
  • No luck for 10 minutes and then a huge transport truck rounds the bend
  • I joke about the insanity of being picked up by that monstrosity of a vehicle
  • “Oh no that’s my dream to get picked up by a truck driver. We’re getting a ride!” – Savannah confidently declares
  • He makes eye contact with me. He points his finger towards the side of the road. I raise my eyebrows in disbelief. He pulls over. We grab our bags and hoist ourselves in.
  • I get the luxurious copilot seat, Savannah is relegated the bench behind the front seats
    [
    Not a bench, it was his bed! Seriously such a weird experience]
  • We are played strange Chilean music after Savannah suggested some tunes to ease the agonizing silence [Yeah, because before that all we could hear was Aidan gasping at the passing vistas]
  • Two hours later we are dropped off just south of El Bolsón, fully prepared for the short walk to our hostel and a real bed (for the first time in 4 sleeps)
  • Surprise! It was an hour walk up another mountain face – up what I swear was an 80% grade hill, whereas Savannah believes it was closer to 40%. Apparently my grasp on elevation isn’t the best either…
  • This trek involved : a dinner break of sugar cereal and water, the sun going down (we had to pull out headlamps), and almost being attacked by two dogs
  • The hostel wasn’t expecting us so they didn’t have enough dinner prepared for 2 extra people [we had to watch the rest of the guests eat their decadent meal while our own stomachs started self digesting] but we were free to use the left over communal box
  • Made pasta, devoured pasta, passed out

How we started our day – bright eyes and fresh(ly burnt) faces

How we ended the day – tears of joy that we made it to our hostel

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