Tuesday, January 31, 2012

What A Week

This whole week has been a little wild, but yesterday was absolutely, positively nuts.  Get comfy folks, this is a long one...

After leaving Puerto Varas (the place with the Front Porch house) we started traveling down the Carretera Austral. The Carretera Austral is the very scenic (and mostly unpaved) highway through rural Patagonia. The road runs from Puerto Montt (45 minutes from Puerto Varas) 770 miles south to Villa O'Higgins.  The first leg of the trip was great; we caught a bus/ferry combo to the nature reserve of Parque Pumalin. The ferries through the fjords were extremely awesome.

We were mostly unprepared from there and just going along for the ride. We'd done enough research to know what town was next but otherwise had a hard time finding specific information on bus times, accommodation, etc.  Once we started bouncing along, we realized that we'd gotten ourselves into some country that is sporadic with buses and every person we asked gave us different information, if any information at all. After attempting to hitchhike for 6.5 hours out of Parque Pumalin, we realized 1. being denied rides really is a blow to the ego and 2. standing on the side of the road for 6.5 hours really makes you realize that an attitude adjustment is the only thing that will get you through.   The highlight of the day was a man on vacation with his wife and three kids, car packed to the brim, who gave us a beer and apologized for not having space.

We finally got a bus to Chaiten, a town that was wrecked by a volcano in 2008 and is still covered in ash.  It's pretty bleak as only 800 of the 9000 residents remain and seems to totally lack infrastructure. We arrived on Wednesday evening to learn that the one bus to our next destination, Coyhaique, had left that morning. We'd be stuck in Chaiten for two nights and then would have to take a series of buses, over a series of days, to Coyhaique.  We laughed off the delay, still in our 'make the most of it' frame of mind and signed up for a tour with Nicolas, the director of tourism, a title we still think might be self-appointed. Nonetheless, Nicholas had tons of information and we enjoyed our day in what he calls the 'Family Van'.  We ventured to ancient forests, waterfalls, a stunning beach and the site of one of the lava flows.

New life growing in Chaiten

Campsite next to abandoned house

Volcano damage

Family Van!

Our tour guide

So Friday we got on the bus to La Junta, a town that is not much more than a stopover on the way south.  We went for a walk around town which took about 20 minutes and this sight re-reminded that awesome and happy things happen wherever you are. 

At 5 am the next day, we were finally on a bus to Coyhaique.  Once we arrived, we started our search for a place to stay.  We went door to door, disappointed by high prices and lack of availability.  But again, fortune smiled upon us and we finally found a great hostel where some of our Swiss friends from the bus were staying.  Our next task was to plan our exit. Coyhaique is an okay town but we were ready to leave about as soon as we'd arrived. We still had a while to go on the Carretera Austral and felt the time remaining in our South American Adventure dwindling by day. Mostly, we were anxious to get off the highway, out of relatively uninteresting towns and into some of Patagonia's famous wilderness. Back at the bus station, we learned that the first bus out of Coyhaique was Monday, 2 days away. We forced smiles and spent the next day in the regional nature reserve, an hour or so out of town. It was a nice day of hiking in the rain with a new puppy friend we made.  We finally had some success hitchhiking on our way back.

Puppy friend leads the way

Clouds over Lago Verde

So yesterday morning, at 8 am sharp, we charged the bus station, ready to buy tickets to get the heck out of Coyhaique. The attendant informed us that tickets didn't go on sale until 9, when she heard from the main office how many seats were left.  We inquired about tickets for Tuesday at a few of the other windows, and learning that there were still some available, we prepared ourselves for plan B. At 9 on the dot, no news. At 9:07, BAM!, no tickets. And nothing for Tuesday. Dejected we rushed the other ticket windows and BAM!, BAM! Same news. Tuesday was full, Wednesday it was.  Frustration set in and our ability to look for the fun and light didn't work. We sulked in the rain back to the hostel, which had no availability for that night either. Our minds started racing. At this rate, we had no idea how far south we'd make it. It's the busy season down here and hostels and bus tickets are (obviously) difficult to come by or count on.  

Grumpy panic at the bus terminal
Our end goal has been to make it to Puerto Natales, the town nearest to National Park Torres Del Paine.  We had a really long way to go and it seemed to be getting farther and farther away.  As a last ditch effort, we bolted to the Sky Airline office around 10:15 am. We waited for 45 minutes and by the time we got to the desk, we learned that there were a handful seats remaining on a flight leaving at 1:20. The airport was an hour away. There was little time to debate the decision so we went for it. We climbed into a cab at 11:35, feeling like contestants on the Amazing Race. The driver's eyes widened when we told him our take off time and proceded to go full petal to metal.  He pulled into airport at 12:20 with a satisfied grin.  When our butts were in our seats on the plane, we took our first deep breath of the day. We were off to Puerto Natales. We were guaranteed enough time to explore the Torres Del Paine AND make it to Fitz Roy (in Argentina) for more backpacking! Our minds swirled with possibility and excitement as we rolled into town.  Puerto Natales is the capital of the province of Última Esperanza...translation: Last Hope. Perfectly spot on, I'd say!

Welcome to the end of the world

Are we really here!?

Phew! What a week... Now we're off to romp and play in the presence of glaciers and ancient trees. Have a great week y'all, we'll be back Monday!

Friday, January 27, 2012

Dirt-bag Dinner, Dialog, and Dylan

After Cochamo and before leaving Puerto Varas, Trav and I had one of my favorite evenings yet. We sat on our small balcony and watched the sky change. We ate brie, homemade bread and chocolate while drinking wine from mugs. We listened to one of our most favorite albums, Bob Dylan's Desire (favorite track, One More Cup Of Coffee (The Valley Below)). We had one of those conversations that makes you remember why you love someone who makes you a better you. I've been reading Gretchen Rubin's The Happiness Project and was at a chapter where she explores what she's really passionate about versus what she thinks she's supposed to be passionate about. After bringing it up to Trav, we discussed the idea for hours. Mind awakening. Heart opening. Self realizing.  And a perfect way to kick off our journey into the unknown. 

Thursday, January 26, 2012

The Ultimate Swimming Hole

While in Cochamo we had the opportunity (and great, great fortune) to swim in what may be the greatest swimming hole ever. Of all time. Always.

It's complete with an ice-cold pool, 50+ foot natural water slide, and rocks for sunning. There may be few things in life that I love more than swimming followed by laying in the sun to dry out. I mean... what's better!?!  On one of our four afternoons at this spot, we climbed up to the top of the falls for a new perspective and sat for a while to take it in. Now that we're less than a month away from coming home, we're making a habit of savoring every day. When we were months out from returning, it was easy to take this time for granted. Now we're focused on making each day/hour/minute count. This epic swimming hole was a perfect place to relish in. 

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Valle De Cochamo, Sin Color

Cochomo Valley, Chile. The most breathtaking scenery I've ever set foot in. Color or not.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Way Down in Cochamo

Well, hello again! We're back from what might be one of the best weeks ever. Now, I realize that we use excited superlatives like that often, but really, this week was awesome. We spent 5 nights in the Cochamo Valley, camping near Refugio Cochamo, delighting in excellent hikes and scenery that is reminiscent of Yosemite.  Granite domes and towering walls surround. Lush greenery and giant trees overtake the valley. Pure, crystal clear water flows everywhere. It was heavenly. 

With all that Granite, the valley attracts rock climbers from all over the world. One climber expressed to us that he felt like he was in the Golden Age of the Cochamo Valley... it's still largely unclimbed and new routes are discovered all the time. Even though we don't climb, we felt the magic too.  

The Refugio and La Junta Campground are run by Daniel and Silvina, two warmhearted souls committed to preserving this incredible environment and making it accessible. We spent our days doing long hikes and swimming in freezing pools. We did battle the notorious giant horse flies, but it was a small price to pay to share this wondrous landscape. If I were a horse fly and this was my turf, I'd put up a good fight too. Each afternoon we'd chat Daniel up, picking his brain for information on the area that he was happy to share.  In the evening we'd venture across the river (via a hand powered cable car) to the Refugio for food and drinks. Our days were the perfect mix of challenge, fun, exertion, relaxation, and enjoyment. 

Shoo fly!

Front Porch Cochamo

Easy, breezy life

Trav crossing the river via cable car

The Cochamo River chariot

Evening light

That's where we wanna go, way down in Cochamo...