Friday, January 23, 2009

The Road Ahead


Alas, my day to return to the United States has come. It is bitter sweet. This trip has no doubt been one of the best experiences of my life. I've seen things, and been to places that I had only dreamed of. I just don't want to stop. I feel like I've just got my feet wet, and now I have to get out of the pool altogether. I do know that this is not the end of my travels, just a temporary lull between trips.

But really, I should be looking back fondly of the marvelous things I was able to experience. If I had to write a short list of the my trips highlights, it would go something like this.

- Climbing Volcan Villirrica
- Befriending and socializing with Fredrico, our Maupuche Indian friend.
- Camping by different lake sides, and sleeping without tent underneath the Patagonian star plastered sky.
- Watching Chicago Bears trounce the Green Bay Packers, in Calafate at 3 in the morning.
- The epic 5 days of beauty, weather, and rock at Torres Del Paine.
- Penguins at Punto Tumbo
- The entire city of Buenos Aires
- The Tango Show
- The Art museums of Buenos Aires
- Iguazu Falls

However, its sometimes the little things in the journey, between the sights and big events that really mold your experience and make your time great. I'll remember my first conversation in Spanish, and how my control of the language began to improve over time. I'll remember meeting all the fascinating travelers who are traversing the globe. I'll remember the stifling heat and humidity of the jungle. I'll remember the endless games of Rummy, and completely owning Ryan in ping-pong. I'll remember the countless hours of bus rides that lead to some good thinking time.

It should be interesting re-entering "normal life" in the U.S. I can't tell you how absolutely astonishing it feels to leave your continent for another, and with it you leave your responsibilities, daily concerns, and pettiness. When you step off the plane, you enter a world that is there purely for the experience. It feels so good, that you say to yourself, "this is the way life is supposed to be lived". And its true. Life should be lived for the experience. Which isn't to say one can't live for the experience unless he or she travels thousands of miles away. It means that in you're day to day life, try not and concern yourself with things that you can not change, and instead take heart of the beauty around you. Be it a tree, a loved one, or the way the wind blows through the grass. Make decisions that make you happy, not more prosperous.

I'm going to try and adopt this mantra when I return. I have no idea where life is about to take me, but I think that's part of the process. I believe I will be taken care of, and I'm going to enjoy the ride along the way.

Just for fun, I thought I'd break down my trip by the numbers:

- Days in South America - 54
- Long distnace buses taken - 13
- Total number of hours on a bus - 144
- Cities visited - 15
- Days camping - 11
- Lakes visited - 9
- Glaciers seen - 2
- Guided Mapuche Indian tours -1
- Countries Visited - 3
- Days Trekking at Torres de Paine - 5
- Miles hiked 41
- Most miles hiked in one day -17
- Penguins chased by - 2
- Steaks eaten - 11
- Volcanoes Climbed - 1
- Days of beard growth - 24
- Days wielding a mustache - 3
- Swollen knees - 2
- Ladies that had to be turned away- countless.

So that's it for now. For photos of the trip, please check out my website here:
http://kipgerenda.com/section/81452.html

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Iguazu Falls

On my second to last 20 hour bus ride, I had to prepare myself. Although it was hot and muggy in Buenos Aires (87-90 degrees), I was about to go closer to the Equator during the height of the South American summer. I've been in the Jungle before, and experienced its wrath. A little over a year ago, I was trekking in the Thailand jungle, and although it was thei cool season, by the time the trek was over, I was dripping with sweat.

This time, I was headed for Iguazu Falls, which borders three countries Argentina, Brazil, and Paraguay. This is rain forest, and thick. However, when I got off the bus early in the morning, it was overcast, and dare I say cool. Maybe I wasn't in for the torture that I previously prepared for.

Unfortunately, I was right. The clouds broke around noon, and when they did a harsh, penetrating sunlight burst through. The humidity was stifling. The situation, on the edge of intolerance. As I unpacked my bag, in my supposedly air conditioned room, I sweated profusely just standing. I took off my shirt, dried off with a towel, put my shirt back on and within a minute I was perspirating again. It was just something I was going to have to get used to.

I got on a bus to Iguazu Falls. Iguazu is the second largest waterfall in the world. I believe there are something like 273 separate waterfalls, all crashing down in a deafening tone. I arrived in the park, and to my dismay, there were hoards of tourists. The great thing about the Argentine side is that its easily accessible, and has many trails. This however makes it a tourist magnet. If it wasn't for one of the most beautiful natural sights I've ever seen, I would have gone postal from the pushing, shoving, click-clacking of the cameras in combination with the sweltering heat.

I took my own photos, but vowed to return early the next morning, when the light would be better, and hopefully less people.

To my pleasure it was better the next day. (Although I wouldn't say it was empty by any means). I knew where I wanted to go, so I swiftly walked down a certain trial, when I came across quite a scene. A group of German tourists were hovered around a woman laying on her back. As I got closer I took note that it looked like she had heat stroke, her eyes were rolled back in her head, and she was murmuring and dripping with sweat. The jungle heat had claimed its first victim of the day, and it was only 8:45 AM. Her party was acting quite strange, they had her feet and legs up in the air, while another person held her head. Two people were pumping her legs up and down, while another put cold bottles of water to her head (not giving it to her to drink!!!). It looked like some odd Jungle Pilate session. The situation didn't look great, so I pressed on, got to the first park ranger, and in my splendid Spanish, explained the situation. He radioed for help and I saved the day. Some might call me a hero, but heroes save the world, and my world is past saving. (joke)

After the eventful Hike, I got to the spots I wanted to, and got some pretty cool pictures. I've been playing around with multiple pictures put together in a panorama. I think they're cool. I don't have them posted here, I'll save them for my website. However if you look at the picture of me below, you can note my shirt soaked in sweat, and if you can zoom in you could possibly see the beads of sweat cascading down my face (this was after sitting down for 10 minutes).


Anyways, I'm back to Buenos Aires tomorrow for my last long bus ride. I'll be there for 3 more days and then home. Not sure how I feel about it, sort of mixed feelings. But all good things must come to an end. There will be one more entry in this blog.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Uruguay

So right before I left for Uruguay several minor tragedies had befallen me. The first is when I found out that I would not be able change the departure city on my airline ticket. I really wanted to extend my trip and head north into Brazil, but the evils that be at cheaptickets.com would not let this happen. This bummed me out a bit, for I really don't want this trip to end, I feel like I'm just getting my feet wet, and now its time to dry them off. The second issue happened with my camera, or my zoom lens to be exact. Something got stuck in the lens, and it is not able to zoom in or out. This really bummed me out, but the fact that it still was able to take pictures was good enough for me. I only have two weeks left, and I will get it fixed when I get back to the states.

I once heard that nothing soothes a troubled soul than the sweet people of Uruguay. (ok I never really heard that, but it makes a good segway). So off I was on a 2 hour ferry ride across the river to the small town of Colonia. The main attraction here is the old Spanish ruins in the part of the city called old town. Situated at the mouth of the river, Colonia was a main port for the Spanish in the 1600-1700's. Although not very large, its cobbelstone streets and old ruins had a nice charm to it. If fetl a bit turisty with all of the people scattered about taking snapshots though. And after a day, it was time for me to move on.

A two hour bus ride later and I was on to the city of Montevideo, which is the capital of Urugauy. All in all it's a fairly nice city. It has a section called old town as well where the old architecture resides, and the people are predominately friendly. However I had just came from the uber metropolis of Buenos Aires, and Montevideo just can't stack up. Its like visiting Chicago, and then going to Indianapolis. Its nice enough, but in comparison, it lacks.

Kip vs the Chivito

Since being in Uruguay for the last few days I kept seeing a food on the menu called a Chivito. I had no clue what it was, but since I saw it so often, I decided before I leave tomarrow I better give one a try. There were mutliple kinds, and not being able to read the ingredients, I asked the waiter to recomend a classic, which he did.

Now I've ate a good number of sandwiches in my day; I've wrangled huge Chicago beef sandwiches, taken down Gyros galore, and made quite a few sub sandwiches my bitch. But never before have I encountered a combination such as a Chivito. The sandwich is made up of two large toasted pitas and in the middle: flank steak (or something similar) lettuce, sliced hard boiled eggs, peppers, fried ham, cheese and olives. The first couple of bites tasted good enough, but half way through I knew I had met my match. As I waddled out of the restraunt, unable to eat the whole thing, I hung my head low, defeated. The Chivito had beaten me, and I felt sick the entire way back to the hostel.




Sunday, January 11, 2009

Buenos Aires!

Buenos Aires! As I said earlier, it is really a gem of a city. Its really hard to describe, but if I had to I would say it has the diversity of neighborhoods like Chicago, or New York. There is Micro Central, which is down town, full of shopping districts old European-esque goverment buildings, and the hustle bustle that encompasses any good city.

To the south there is San Telmuo, which has aging building from years ago accompanied by cobbelstone streets, street vendors and bohemian spirit.

To the North there is Recoleta the posh area, remincent of Chicago's Gold coast or the Upper East side in New York. It contains a cemetary which is like none other I've ever been. Buenos Aires' rich have been burried here for decades, but in such a manner it's incredible. These are no mere head stones, rather huge above ground mini houses made of marble and cemetnt, adorended with statues, crosses and all kinds of religous iconography. Rows and rows of these huge tributes take over more than 2 city blocks. One could spend hours getting lost here looking at all the relics of Buenos Aires rich and elite. Evita Peron is burried here along with countless generals and presidents.

Further north is the yuppie enclave of Palermo, which is divided up into sub areas of Palermo Hollwood, and Palermo Soho. Here hip bars, restaurants, and botiques line the main streets, while the rest of the neighborhood is treelined and residential. If I was to live in Buenos Aires it would be here. It reminds me slightly of Lincoln Park in Chicago. Tre Bien!

And finally to the far south is the working class La Boca. Its close to their soccer stadium who houses the La Boca Juniors. Its a rougher, neighborhood, but bustling with color and charachter.

The sophisticated nature of this town really speaks to me. There are two great art museams. Countless restraunts flaunting possibly the best steaks I've ever eaten, a easy and cheap subway, and equally good bus system. And then there is the Tango.

Known as the birth place of the Tango, you can see it from posters everywhere, to small street shows, or my favorite a theatre show. After Ryan left, I met up with some people I met down south in Puerto Natales. We decided to attend a tango show / dinner.

Although a bit costly (only on my budget) it was well worth it. We were served fine steak, and great Argentine wine, and then pleasured with a Tango show that went on for about an hour and a half. This is the first time I was ever privy to see Tango in person, and it didn't dissapoint. It is beautiful, passionate, and emotional. The dancers knew every inch of eachother and it seemed with ease, breathed the same breath. I've never before felt the need to take a dance class, but this show definately put the spark in me.

I've been in Buenos Aires now for a week, which is the longest I've stayed anywhere in South America. And allthough tomorrow I cross the river into Uruguay, I intend on coming back to this dazzling city in a few days, and use it as my staging ground for the remainder of my trip, which unfortunately is coming to an end. Two weeks left. I'll make them great!

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Things change, things begin

In all travel nothing stays the same.  Circumstances inevitably change, and you must adapt and move on.  Unfortunately for me, Ryan has left today, and although its sad for me on many levels, I'm trying to see the positive, and embrace the change.  

In looking back we've had a really great month.  We've climbed volcanoes, camped on beautiful lake shores, trekked the epic landscape of Torres del Paine, played endless games of Rummy, and mastered the art of long bus rides.  But with all good things, it must come to an end.  

I find myself in Buenos Aires.  I've been here now for three days, and although I've not seen the whole city, I can safely say its a gem.  For the most part its clean, the people are beautiful and gentile.  It has neighborhoods which are full of character and culture.  I'm truly in the honey moon phase with city.  Fashion is here is very European in nature, as is the architecture.  This is the first foreign city I could see myself living in.  Now if I could just find a job........

Since Ryan is gone, it does free me up to focus on my photography, which should be a bit of a challenge.  I'm not the best architecture photographer, and it seems that this is one of the most compelling points of interest here.  I'll try and put something up in my next post.  


Sunday, January 4, 2009

And then we journey north....

After a day of mandatory rest, following our Torres de Paine excursion, Ryan and I had to get out of doge. Unfortunately he has to return back to the states. However, in order to do this we needed to travel by bus to Buenos Aires which is anywhere but close.

Our first stop was the town of Rio Gallegos. Besides being the hub of travel if you're anywhere in the south of Patagonia, this place is a hole. Half built, or half
dilapidated this town is not on anyones must see list. However, we needed to get here before we could head north up the coast.

From here it is 40 hours by bus, no small task, and instead of doing it all in one push, we chose to break it up into two smaller sections. We traveled 20 hours to a place called Puerto Madryn, and stopped for two days. Its here where we made a small journey to Punto Tumbo to see the Penguins.

It took us roughly two hours by car to reach this largest colony of Magelinic penguins in South America. It was certianly a weird experience. Durring the height of the day, alot of them were sleeping standing up, looking like zombies sitting outside of their nests, with the young chicks inside.

However the closer we got to the water the more livley the Penguins became. Watching them waddle around, sqaucking, was a humourous treat. It was really cool, how close you could get to them. I literally had a camera inches away from their faces, and they just stood there patiently, waiting for me to go click. Not all of them were this pleasant though. A couple actually waddled after me, pecking at my feet with fevor! All in all, it was a pleasurable way to spend the afternoon.


video

Now Penguins are fun, but there was a lot of other down time between Rio Gallegos and Buenos Aires. Walking around the town, we happened to see this sign with an hombre sporting a hefty mustache. Inspired, and with hair to spare, I took the next couple of days to sculpt my own artistic treasures. Each day sporting a more ridiculous look than the next. Finally on the third morning, I woke up, saw myself with the 70's porn stash and decided to take it all off. I could look ridiculous no more.

I'm now in Buenos Aires..... its seems so awesome already. I can't wait to start exploring!

Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Torres de Paine

We arrived in Puerto Natales, fresh off of our trip to the Perito Moreno Glacier (see picture below). It was Christmas eve, and we were in this small town, back across the border in Chile for one thing and one thing only. To Trek the famous "W" circuit in Torres De Paine National Park.


Through some fellow travelers we met in Bariloche, we found out that we could go to a hostel called the "Erratic Rock" and get a primer on what we were going to need for the next 5 days in this legendary park.

It was a great break down for a serious preparation. The guide told us about the extreme weather that we were likely to see, the best way to pack for it ( to keep our back packs dry), how to travel the circuit, and which parts of the park were the gems to be seen. It was great pre-curser, to the trip, and we prepared accordingly.

After taking a 2 hour bus ride north to the entrance of the Park, we were greeted by a clear view of the range. Torres de Paine is a random act of nature which occurred millions of years ago, when magma penetrated through a crack in Magellan's basin, pushing up granite and sedimentary rock, forming a magnificent spectacle. It also hosts the third largest ice field / glacier in all of the world. We were informed that this is one of the places weather is born, and we should be prepared for nothing short of epic weather conditions on a daily basis. It is not impossible to see all four seasons in one day.



It was Christmas day, and the weather was clear, but a wind blew gusts up to 60 mph, enough to through dirt and gravel in to the air, and make walking into the wind a task in itself. After taking a 45 minute boat ride across a lake to the trail head, we started the trek. Out destination for the day was the shore of Lago grey and Glacier grey. The sights did not disappoint as we made our way up and down craggy trails, battling the wind. We finally found ourselves at the camp site at the side of the lake, which featured large chunks of Ice, some the size of motor bikes, recently broken off from the nearby glacier. It was great first day, which thankfully gave us enough spirit to make it through the next two days.

The next two days were miserable. We had to hike in high winds, and icy rain. Our clothes, packs, and feet were nothing short of soaked as we trekked on to the next campsite. Thankfully the packing instructions gave to us a few days before paid off, and all of our contents remained dry.

We were camping at the foot of a valley called Valle de Frances. This, according to our sources was supposed to house the best views during our trek. In order to see it, we stayed an extra day, trying to wait the rain out, but alas it never cooperated, and on the fourth day we had to pack up camp and make up a day of hiking to stay on schedule and see to see the crown jewel of the park.



Day four will probably be the most memorable to me. We started early, and the weather finally cooperated. This was a choice situation as we had to make up a lot of ground. To date my longest day hiking, we completed just short of 17 miles up and down some steep terrain. The fuel to this madness was the insanely beautiful scenery which had just been exposed from the rainy cloud conditions.

We needed to make it to the base of Torres (Towers). Which according to our sources, seen at sun rise would become on of the best things we have ever seen. Although it took most of the day, and bared blisters, sore knees, and semi-sprained ankles, we made it to the final camp. Exhausted, we made camp and fell asleep after eating a hefty meal of noodles and powdered cheese.

The final morning. The site I'd been waiting to see. The Torres de Paine. Three magnificent spires jutting up from the mountainside, made of pure beautiful granite. We woke at 4 AM. Early, yes...but we still had to scramble up 45 minutes of rocky talus, to reach the valley where these gems existed. As I battled the soreness in my legs and knees from the previous day, I came to the top of the talus field to see nothing shot of pure beauty. Thankfully the weather permitted a view of the spires. However the wind howled in gale force as the sun raised, and Ryan got back in his sleeping bag and prepared some soup to warm his wavering soul.

I however was on another mission, I wanted to get a great photo. I tramped up more rocks for a better view, getting pelted with spurts of icy rain that felt like light bee stings to the face. The sun danced upon the spires as I rifled off shot after shot. At one point we were even blessed with a morning rainbow across the face of the rock. A truly magnificent experience.




The weather became to much, and we had to retreat back to camp. We packed up and made our way out of the mountians and to the main reception area where we would be picked up by a bus, and ride back to town.

After several days reflection, this was definately one of the hardest things I've ever done. In total we hiked over 40 miles in 5 days. Even when weather was at its worse the precious yet rugged beauty of this place shined through. Little things made this trip even more memorable. The glacier water, was so pure, we were able to drink directly from the streams and rivers. I tell you water has never tasted better than in its coldest, freshest form. I was also able to somehow summon some inner hiking strength, and hiked faster and harder than I ever have. I remembered the words of my hiking super star friend Damon Corso; " People don't pass me, I pass people", and proudly I kept true to form. Not one person passed me walking on the trail.

We have now crossed back into Argentina. We're still very far south, but preparing to take some unfortunately long bus rides up Buenos Aires. We decided to break it up, and stop off and see some penguins half way up. I'm excited. I'm not sure why I want to see these birds in their natural habitat, but I do. Next stop BUENOS AIRES!