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When Plans Change...

Knee Problems, Planning An Exit Strategy, What I Learned in Argentina, Thwarted By An Orange

sunny 70 °F

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With one-step I was walking, the next, I was limping. I didn’t think much of it, my left knee has bothered me for years, and I figured this to be just another episode. Throughout the week, it has slowly been getting more painful. It began to limit my mobility, to the point where I could barely lift my leg. Enough was enough; it was time to take care of myself.

With my mind made up, I told my farm hosts the bad news. They understood, offering me any assistance I needed. My hosts and I had a hard time communicating with verbal language during my stay. However, the language of hugs spoke loud and clear.

I decided to head back home. This is somewhat tricky, because I don’t have a home. I’m homeless. However, I figured I could call on friends and family to put me up for a bit, while I recovered. There’s nothing like the unconditional safety net of a good family to land in. In family, I am blessed.

My Last Sunset In Bolson
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The mountains around Bolson are incredible. I will be back.

My next task was to organize an exit strategy. My first job was to change my airline ticket. Once I had a fly out date, I knew when I had to be in Buenos Aires. I made the call and found out the only real option I had was to fly out on the 30th, which I opted for.

This left me two days to get to Buenos Aires.

Sometimes my life seems to fall into place without any effort at all on my part. Think of an autumn leaf that finally let go of the branch. It floats easily on the air as it spirals downward to the ground. It's seemingly a short journey. Just before it hits the ground, its trajectory takes it over the river and the colorful leaf lands with a silent plop in the dark waters. It is the beginning of another grand adventure!

The morning of the 28th went something like this.

7:30 My alarm goes off.
8:00 I finally get out of bed.
8:30 I finish packing
8:45 I finish eating breakfast
9:05 I find out bus leaves to Buenos Aires in 25 minutes.
9:10 Farewells given, off to town.
9:30 I limp to a cash machine
9:35 I purchase a ticket
9:40 I’m leaving El Bolson on a bus with the best seat in the house.

Bing, bang, boom. I went from a stationary unknown position, to sitting comfortably on a cama class (sleeper class) bus that was winding northward along the east side of the Andes. I smiled. I love traveling by bus.

I looked out at the mountains, and felt a mix of yearning and acceptance. More than anything, I wanted to explore those mountains. I could barely walk on flat ground, much less steep and rocky mountain trails. I sighed. The mountains will have to wait.

I turned introspective. I had on the right music for proper bus trip musing, and was soon lost in memory. Here are a few things I learned in Argentina.
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There are times when I should keep my mouth shut. I joked with a great Irish couple who I had dinner with a couple of times, “I should’ve had my top teeth glued to my bottom teeth when I turned sixteen.” Seamus understood my plight, and told me he was fluent in “idiot.” He would translate for me when I needed it. I thanked him for his kindness and we all laughed.

The WWOOFING experience was awesome, but next time I would find a farm that spoke English as well as Spanish. I wasn’t ready for total immersion Spanish. There were many times when everyone was laughing, but me. I didn’t understand the joke.

I should never purchase a return ticket before a long trip. Life flows fast and unexpectedly. There is no reason to try to contain it.

Don’t hurt your knee.

Be prepared for the type of travel you want to do. It was killing me not have all of my trusty trekking gear for this trip. I should’ve planned better.

People are the same all over the world. Dogs are the same all over the world.

Don’t worry, things will work out. The proof of this statement was that I was sitting on a bus cruising to Buenos Aires.
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The bus ride was enjoyable and uneventful. I listened to music and lectures by Ram Dass and Alan Watts. I heard several pod casts of This American Life, The Moth, Stuff You Should Know, Stuff You Missed in History Class, and Radio Lab. I watched the sun arc over us. I dozed off. I wrote in my journal. I watched the landscape change as I crossed from the mountains, to Patagonian scrub, to the Pampas, to the city. I slept. I ate. I only had five hard-boiled eggs for the journey. I grew hungry enough to eat the meals they handed out. Lunch was good. I had mashed potatoes, some sort of beef patty, a sandwich, and jello. Dinner was inedible. It was supposed to be lasagna, but I think they mixed it up with the road kill. No matter, beggars can’t be choosy.
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I arrived at the BA bus station at about 8:30 in the morning. It was a 23-hour bus ride. I’m sure I looked like I had just spent 23 hours on a bus. A trusty cabbie must’ve seen my weariness because he hauled me off to the cab counter before I could decline. I paid for my ride. He led me through the bustling terminal to his car. We drove through northern Buenos Aires and dropped me off at my hostel. Man, that was easy.

I don’t really want to talk about my stay in BA. The hostel was a shit hole. It was probably the biggest shit hole I’ve ever stayed in. What do you expect for twelve bucks a night? I was a bit grumpy from lack of sleep, the shit hole hostel, and the fact I couldn’t explore Buenos Aires like I wanted to. My knee kept me stationary. However, one can’t appreciate the good without going through some shit holes now and then. I still have my health, my humor and my positive attitude. I survived a tough day, and moved on.

After a long day of waiting at the Buenos Aires airport, I boarded the night flight to Houston. It was a ten-hour flight, and I watched “Beverly Hills Cop,” before falling asleep for the rest of the trip. When I awoke, we were a half hour out of Houston.

I only had about an hour to get through customs and security before my next flight would leave. It was going to be close. I stood in line and waited patiently for my turn. There was no point in getting antsy, I would make the flight or I wouldn’t. I had made it through customs, and they asked me if I had any food, and I told them I had an orange. They asked me to go to the x-ray room for more questioning. After more standing in line, I gave them my orange. They let me pass.

After security, I had ten minutes to try to make my flight. I decided to go for it. I started limping as fast as I could down the corridors. I can limp pretty fast when I need to. When I left the transit train, I had four minutes left. Houston passengers will talk for years about the “Blonde Blur” that whizzed by them on New Years eve 2012. I reached my gate. I asked them if I was too late. They said, “You’re too late.”

I would’ve made it had I not mentioned the damn orange.

I smiled. I enjoyed the thrill of the airport chase. Fortunately, I had planned for this contingency. I thought that I might not make the early flight to LA, so I booked my flight from LA to Chicago for 11 pm. This would give me plenty of time to get to LA, without having to rush. My reward for my foresight consisted of an upgrade to a first class on my flight to L.A. four hours later. I love it when a plan comes together.

The only bad part about missing my morning flight was that I missed continuing a conversation I had started with a beautiful woman I had met before I had boarded the plane to Houston. Damn it. I guess it wasn’t meant to be.
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So it goes, and so do I. Tomorrow I’ll be among my family once again, and getting ready to take care of my knee.

Posted by Rhombus 17:29 Archived in Argentina Tagged mountains buses argentina plans photography airports patagonia philosophy Comments (0)

The Trails of El Chalten and the Road to Calafate

El Chalten, Los Glaciares Nacional Parque in Pictures, Patagonian Road Thoughts, Friends of Calafate

all seasons in one day 63 °F

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El Chalten was exactly what I was looking for. It’s a small town. I walked everywhere. Everyone walked everywhere. The streets were full of day hikers, trekkers and climbers. There were more hikers in the streets then cars. The buildings were of simple designs- half shanty and half chalet. They were painted bright colors, cozy, but with a ramshackle feel to them. The bistros and café’s were plentiful. They were all plying for the pre/post hike trade. I would attend the latter, exhausted, thirsty and hungry. The hostels poked out of the ground like spring flowers. Some of them are good (Lo De Trivi). Some of them are not so good (Rancho Grande). The grocery had only a few items, but the gents behind the counter were fun.
“Where are you from, man?” He asked.
“The states,” I replied.
“Yeah, which one?” he said.
“Denial.” I said, “It’s near Michigan.”
He laughed, “Yah, I think I’ve been there.”

The dogs roamed through town in packs. These aren’t strays, these are family dogs that run free during the day, and go home at night to sleep it off. They met in open areas, sniffed butts, wrestled, and chased each other around. Dogs love a good social hour.

The hiking was incredible. It’s easy to find the trails of Los Glaciares Nacional Parque from the hostels. Beyond the first ridge, Cerro Fitz Roy and Cerro Torres dominated the landscape. I spent my days in search of new angles to stare at them for several hours a day.

I offer you the following images as the highlights of my stay in El Chalten.

Chorrillo Del Salto
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I heard the dull roar of the waterfall through the forest. The spray from the falls floated over the viewing area leaving everything with a sheen of water. I walked further downstream to try and find a unique angle for a photograph. I set my tripod up in the river, and spied this bird scratching through the underbrush. It stayed with me for quite awhile, keeping a four foot distance between us, despite my maneuvers to get a clear shot.
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After awhile, I climbed up the side of the cliff to get close to the roar of the water. I took a deep breath of the fresh moist air. It tasted wonderful

My First Llama
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At First I thought this Llama was a stump painted to look like a llama. When it blinked at me, I rejoiced. My first llama!

The Fitz Roy Range
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When I reached Rio Del Salto I hurried down to the edge of the river. I had found my first photo opportunity. Fitz Roy slipped through the clouds with clear blue skies beyond. The clear river gave me the leading line I wanted, and all I had to do was wait for the sun to break through the clouds behind me to brighten up the green shrubs next to the river.

Lago de los Tres
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I like the human perspective of distant hikers in front of the massive mountains.
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Rio de las Vueltas Valley
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On my way back from Lago de los Tres, I saw this light over the Rio de las Vueltas River Valley.

Locro
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Locro is a traditional stew consisting of four different meats, white beans and vegetables. I highly recommend it.

Alpine Flowers at Loma del Pliegue Tumbado
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While sitting quietly atop Loma del Pliegue Tumbado, I noticed a small movement on the rocks in front of me. I focused on it, and saw that it was a grasshopper - a mountain grasshopper. I had never seen a grasshopper this high before.

Laguna Torre
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At Laguna de Torres, I sat on the shores of the lake and stared at Cerro Torres for three hours until the tip of the spire cleared of clouds for ten seconds. Sometimes, you have to put in the time to make things happen.

Forest Scene
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I really like this quiet scene. I was walking behind Steph when I stopped to take this photo. She didn't hear me stop, and she went on ahead continuing to talk as if I was still behind her. I laughed.

Horse in the Afternoon
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This horse wanted its picture taken.

Ben
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I have had good luck with room mates here in El Chalten. Every day when I returned from a hike, I would cautiously open my dorm room door to see if I had gained another room mate. One afternoon, Ben was there.

Ben is one of the best people I’ve met on the road. He’s genuine, generous, and genial. He has a knack of being able to approach and talk with anybody on the street. I wish I could do this. He’s a philosopher, who appreciates the quiet moments in life. He was the first person to show me the matte ceremony. This world needs more people like Ben.

Slack-lining at Laguna Capri
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This is the most gorgeous location I’ve ever slack-lined.

Parrots of the Lenga Trees
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I was hiking up a long hill and I stopped to take a rest. I looked into the trees and saw two parrots foraging among the lenga. I slowly unsheathed my camera and took a lot of photos. After awhile, they flew to a branch close to where I was standing. They “kissed”- they bit each other on the beak. Then simultaneously noticed me. They craned their heads to see if I was trouble. Before I could react, one of them dove low and flew inches above my head. “Whu-Wha-Whuh-Whuh.” I grinned wildly, what a moment!

Piedras Blancas
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My favorite hike was to the glacial lake at Laguna de Peidra Blancas. The last quarter mile involved scaling across a moraine of massive house sized boulders. I love this kind of exploration.

Rio Blanco
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I followed Rio Blanco on my way back from the glacier lake at Peidras Blancas. I took this photo just before the clouds covered the sun for the rest of the day.

By night, I ate my fill in town, or made it for myself. I hung out with some of the best people in the world. Paul and Camille (French), Ben (South Korean), Philip (German), Stephanie (United States). We talked about everything. We shared fresh wine, peanuts and stories. We raised our pints to one another in good cheer. It might have been the best days of my life.

If you want my advice, bring your own produce to Chalten. Bring lots of cash, as there is only one cash machine in town. It occasionally runs out of money. Eat at La Senyera. Eat at La Tempura. Stay at Lo de Trivi. Go hiking everyday. Stay for a week.

The Road to Calafate
Philip and I traveled together to El Calafate. We boarded the bus at the small terminal on the outskirts of Chalten. There were only five passengers on the bus. Patagonia stretched before us. We stopped at Rio Leona to take a break. A simple wood chair stood against a wind battered hotel. Fast moving dark gray clouds whistled by above the greenish opaque river. Without a word, we boarded the bus and rolled on.
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Patagonia is everything I hoped it would be. I sat listening to the prose of Ram Dass and choice music selections. I stared out at the wind swept landscape while everyone else dozed. I love this kind of travel.

In El Calafate, I thought the selection of produce in the grocery store was amazing. We chose salami, cheese and rolls. We ate them in the plaza with a coke. We wandered through the town. I looked at the flamingos at the public refuge. I didn’t want to pay to enter. I despise having to pay to visit a park.

Two women stopped next to us in their car and tried to explain to us in Spanish that we could not cross the river on this street. We were going the wrong way. When I finally agreed with them, they drove off. I asked Philip, “How do they know where we are going?”

We drank afternoon beers and went shopping for dinner. The store was hectic. It was busy with shoppers gathering the evening supplies. We found our produce quickly, and headed back to the hostel.
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That evening we prepared penne pasta with sautéed, garlic, onion, tomato, zucchini, and peppers. We topped it with fresh parmesan. It was heavenly. We sipped a Trapiche Merlot, Philip continually filling his tiny cup. We chatted with our housemates. I did the dishes before joining our hostel mates in lounge to talk the night away. We drank all of our beer. It was a great night, perhaps the finest hostel experience one can have.
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Before he left Chalten, Phillip bought a tiny metal cup. He loves this cup. He spent the entire night in Calafate drinking wine and beer out of it.

The next morning I went shopping in the notoriously expensive shops of Calafate. I needed a pair of trousers. By some piece of random luck, Phillip found me the perfect pair of jeans that cost one-third the amount of every other pair in the store. They fit amazing. I had to laugh. I had to come all the way to Patagonia to find a pair of jeans that fit me. What are the odds?

Philip headed back to Buenos Aires, and I’m heading north to El Bolson tomorrow. The bus will be traveling Argentina’s famed Route 40. Imagine spending 25 hours on a bus rolling across the rising steppe of grassy Patagonia. My friend Camille, who I met in Chalten will join me for the journey.
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I can’t wait. I wonder what’s out there?

Posted by Rhombus 15:26 Archived in Argentina Tagged waterfalls mountains birds parks hiking trekking towns argentina photography patagonia Comments (0)

To Argentina: Suspended Animation

On Working Nights, Los Angeles, Problems in Houston, Waiting, and Hope

sunny 66 °F

Do you know what it’s like to work night shift? I’ve had to work nights out of necessity this past week. My fellow deckhands suffer from motion sickness, and the ocean was giving us a hell of a ride on our positioning trip from Portland, Oregon to Los Angeles, California. The ocean’s motion doesn’t affect me, so I volunteered to stay up and do the hourly rounds all night long for the last five days.
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This isn’t normally a problem. I like the nights, and I love the ocean’s movement. However, yesterday was the start of my trip to Argentina; a travel day. Starting a travel day without a full nights rest is akin to spraining your ankle five steps before running a marathon. I knew it was going to suck, but that‘s the way it goes. There was nothing to do about it, so let’s get on with it. Ha! I love my stoicism, sometimes.

A Day of Suspended Animation
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I sat along side of the trash-strewn road in the dusty bleakness that is the industrial wastelands of the Los Angeles waterfront. Fare the well, Seabird. I am gainfully unemployed and uncaring. After three and a half months aboard my beloved ship, it’s time for a little rest and relaxation.

At LAX, my friend and I breezed through check in requirements and soon found ourselves with drinks in hand at 10:30 in the morning. A good start. My friend surprised me with a gift from one of our chief engineers. It was a travel pillow. I choked up a little bit, moved by his kindness. When I’m sleep deprived, the highs are higher, the lows are lower; life gets more potent.

I passed out in a terminal chair, fading into suspended animation. These places are terminal. I woke up a half hour later, feeling much worse.

Finally, our flight time arrives, and I board the plane. Inside, I could feel the mood of the plane was reaching the boiling point. Everyone was exasperated, nearing meltdown. “People, please! The overheads are filling up. Please check them to your next destination.” My fellow passengers were annoyed and turning selfish. Ugh. I sat down. I had no room to stretch my legs, and crumpled into the most comfortable position I could. I looked out the window as passed over the ocean beach. I see a white line of waves. We arc, turning east. At ten thousand fifty feet, I pass out.

I awoke two hours later. My dreams were vivid and of the terrifying kind. I think I angered the gods, but I’m not sure. I feel like a zombie. I can’t remember how long I’ve been awake compared to these paltry naps. I don’t care. I will carry on. I can sleep on the next flight.

“Houston, We Have A Problem…”

The Houston airport was nice. We had a long walk in front of us, but our flight was delayed by a half hour, so there wasn’t any hurry. We ate dinner. We sat around. The intercom blared, “Flight blah-blah-blah to Buenos Aires has been cancelled. Please wait in line.” Uh-oh, now what?
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We waited somewhere near the end of a very long line. In ten minutes, it didn’t move. I laugh. What can you do? Suddenly, the kiosk at the other end of the terminal opened right where we were standing, and just like that, we were first in line. Ha! What a twist of fortunes. The patient airline representatives offer us apologies, a hotel, a cab fare, food fare, and an amazing display of stress management. Imagine dozens of travel weary annoyed people who want answers, and alternatives. They are impatient and surging, and looking ready to scream.
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My friend and I are not impatient. After all, we are first in line, and we understand that shit happens sometimes. Then the booking system crashes, and the airline people are really feeling the crushing stress. They make calls, they offer more apologies, they keep trying. When they hand us our documents, minus one boarding pass, we thank them, and wish them well.

We walked through the quiet terminal to ground transportation and the next fiasco. United gave us vouchers for the Yellow Cab Company. The six other taxis in line couldn’t help us. We thought of the hundred people that would soon be waiting for a yellow cab, and shuddered. This was going to get ugly, very soon. Luckily, a yellow cab rolled up and we hustled over to it. After a confusing conversation about the validity of our roundtrip voucher with our driver, we settled on a compromise. We’d call him in the morning, so he could give us a ride back to the airport, which would settle our voucher.

I tried to enjoy a long ride to the hotel through the dark freeways of Houston, but I didn’t. I was exhausted beyond caring.

The Breakdown

What does this mean for me? Well, first things first: I slept in a bed instead of an airplane seat. Gods, be praised. Six hours of sleep in a real bed was a short trip to heaven.

Here’s where I now stand.

The next flight leaves today at 1 pm. We crunched the numbers, and figured out that we will arrive at 2 a.m. After customs, we’ll have to beeline it to the hotel to meet our charter flight group at 5 a.m. It’s going to be close, but it looks like we can make it. It’s important that we make our charter flight, because this is the one going to Ushuaia, where we will board the cruise ship.
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At this moment, I’m sitting in a chair at HoustonX. I look like hell, but feel much better than I did yesterday at this time. Someday, I will sleep, but not today. Our flight leaves in three hours, and I’m optimistic we will make it to our destination. It’s going to be a long day, but I’m still smiling.

If all else fails and we miss our ship, we’ve decided we’ll just rent a beach side cabana and chill out for a couple of weeks. How can I lose?

Wish me luck!

CODA

We sat in the plane still connected to our gate for another hour and a half. We were waiting on approval from the Argentine government, which required a piece of paper. I kept running the numbers through my sleep-deprived head. “Ok, if we leave here at two, that makes it five o’clock in Buenos Aires, a ten hour flight has us arriving at three a.m.” Two o’clock came and went. We finally took off at two thirty, meaning we would land at three thirty in the morning. With customs, and trying to find the rendezvous location somewhere downtown, this didn’t leave us much time for any more delays.

This was my first long international flight, and I spent my time engrossed with my entertainment screen on back of the chair in front of me. This system was our in-flight entertainment, with games to play, movies to watch, television shows, music, and an in-flight map of our current location. I played a couple dozen games of “Battleship”, some golf, and chess. I watched part of “The Hustler,” “Finding Nemo,” and all of “Prometheus.”

I only slept for an hour. This meant that by the time we landed at three thirty in the morning, I had more or less been awake for eighteen and a half hours. And I still had a completely full day in front of me before we even arrived at the ship.

There were no problems at customs. They stamped my passport, wished me luck, and motioned for the next person in line. We were fortunate to find out that there were other members of the Antarctic expedition that were on the same flight. This meant that there was no way we would miss our flight to Ushuaia, and we could relax a little. The van to the rendezvous was full, so we had to take a cab. This was easy, but we forgot to get an address to the hotel where we would all be meeting. Our cab driver was a saint, called for information and soon had the address. He hit the gas, and we rocketed through Buenos Aires at five in the morning.

It was sweet relief to see the hotel, and our friends waiting for us. The hard part was over. We had made it with an hour and a half to spare. There’s nothing like making it interesting.

I’ve had some very bad luck with my flights over the years, and this one was one of the better pressure cookers I have faced. There was a lot at stake for this one. If I missed my flight to Ushuaia, chances were good that I missed my shot at seeing South Georgia and Antarctica. I was aware of the stakes, but kept my usual calm demeanor. It was kind of fun racing the clock to make the trip, it made it a lot more interesting than being in the city a full day ahead of time. Despite staying awake for endless hours, waiting in the airport, airplane, and all the rest, we made it. And that’s the bottom line.

The rest of this story isn’t as interesting as what I’ve already told you.

We had breakfast at an opulent hotel for the well to do. I looked like hell, felt worse, but thoroughly enjoyed breakfast, chatting with my friends, and relaxing. I’ve never been in such a luxurious hotel before, and I kept my manners in mind as I ate. I can only imagine what the staff was thinking. “Who let this bum in here?”

We took a bus through Buenos Aires, and I fell in love almost immediately. I will be back. You can count on that. We took another flight south to Ushuaia, and by the end of it, my lower lumbar region was cramping and I didn’t want to sit on airplanes anymore. I was sick of it. We landed, disembarked into the brisk wind rain and snow of Ushuaia.

Our guide on the bus told me, “We have two winters here; one is colder than the other. We don’t have any summer, and the wind always blows.” I smiled. I was unprepared for this as I wore my leisure airport wear. I am used to cold wind and rain, and I walked on enjoying the fresh air. My “high watered” pants actually came in handy when I had to walk through an icy puddle.

More on Ushuaia in future posts.

We took a lunch cruise along the Beagle channel in a catamaran. It was a full lunch, delicious and made with love. I ate a ham salad, chicken stew, and drank three glasses of wine. It was delightful. I stood on deck in the chilly breeze and saw my new home moored to the dock. We unloaded, grabbed our bags, and walked up the steep gangway to our flagship, The National Geographic Explorer.

I made it.

Posted by Rhombus 08:30 Archived in Argentina Tagged food friends argentina airports waiting philosophy problems Comments (0)

On Travel Philosophy

Delving Deep into the Art of Travel, An Autumnal Romp Through A Western Landscape, Misfits

semi-overcast 53 °F

Argentina Travel Philosophy

I was thumbing through my brand new Argentina Travel Guide the other day. I suppose it was going all right. I was looking at various towns and locales, trying to memorize the interesting tidbits each place offered. I hoped to piece together enough interesting locations for my upcoming trip. I was “making a plan.” Something about it didn’t sit right. I wasn’t interested in reading this humongous fact book, and I felt overwhelmed by the task. That’s when I set the book down. I had reached yet another epiphany.

I don’t know much about Argentina. My attempt to memorize a travel guide isn’t going to help me understand it any better. I’d rather enter the country without a clue, making each experience that much more thrilling.

This bit of logic sent me deep into the bones of travel philosophy. The fact is, the planet has been thoroughly explored. It is mapped, photographed, and documented. Argentina is no exception. However, my ignorance is a beautiful concept. No matter where I travel to when I’m in the country, it will be new experience. And I will feel that surging high of excitement at each “new discovery.” This can be as simple as a pleasant park in Buenos Aires, or as involved as my first glimpse of Mt. Fitzroy.

While I’m at it, why plan anything at all? I’m going to bring a map. I’m going to start in Ushuaia, and somehow I’m hopeful that I will end up in Buenos Aires by January 30. What I experience in between is the great unknown. This is how I want it.

Now, this might mean I may not get a place to sleep every night, or food on a regular basis, and I might have to wait a week before I can catch a ride on a bus to my next town. That’s the way it goes. That’s all part of the fun.

I’m inclined to admire the wisdom of Lin Yutang who wrote, “A true traveler is always a vagabond, with the joys, temptations and sense of adventure of the vagabond. Either travel is ‘vagabonding’ or it is no travel at all. The essence of travel is to have no duties, no fixed hours, no mail, no inquisitive neighbors, and no destination. A good traveler is one who does not know where he is going.”

Last Ride on the Columbia
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Before I leave the country, I still have some business to take care of in this one. Namely, finishing the River season, and positioning the ship down to Los Angeles, California.

The Columbia has been good to me this year, but I’m ready to move on to other adventures. In nine days, I’ll be unemployed. This thought doesn’t scare me; I’ve been unemployed before, and will be again. At heart, I’m a writer, a rambler and a photographer. I just don’t make any monetary gains with my passions. I’m ready for a change, though. If anybody has any ideas what I should do for my next occupation, I’d be interested in hearing what you have to say. I’m certain something will work out, I’m just curious to see what that will be.

Autumnal Romp
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The thigh high grass was wet from the rain that had fallen the night before. The autumn wind is like smoke. It carries a tang of something soothing, sweet, and earthy decay. The sky was mostly cloudy, but large patches of pale blue sky were forming above me. It appeared the rain had passed, at least for now. I follow a mule deer trail as it rises along the steep grassy bluff to where the black basalt outcrops break through the earth. High atop the rock eyre, I pause for a moment to admire the view. The Palouse River is far below stretching wide between the steep canyon walls. This is the confluence, where the Palouse and Snake Rivers join in Southeast Washington.
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I move on; walking easily among the wind swept grasses and bobbing prairie sunflowers. The only part of the flower left on the stalk is the center, which has turned a dark Dijon beige. In the distance, the bluff rises higher to more basalt outcrops. I’m happy. I love early morning autumn jaunts through beautiful landscapes. Who doesn’t?
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I reach the first of the section of columns, and I know I have found what I am looking for. It’s peaceful here. It’s far away from the ship, and the view is spectacular. I put down my backpack, and start composing pictures. I take a few shots, but I’m waiting for the light to get better.
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In the meanwhile, I sit on top of the highest rock column. The column has layered horizontal sections of basalt piled on top of one another. Wind and water have eroded it over the eons into a beautiful sculptured piece of stone. If this rock were to crumble, I would plummet off the face of the cliff reforming myself into a twisted pile of broken bones upon impact. I’m not worried about that just now, as the view is excellent. The wind is buffeting my back, letting me know that its there to support me. I drink some water. I eat a granola bar, and a kiwi. Life is good.
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I love the landscapes of this region. If it weren’t for the fabricated infrastructure that dots the land, I’d think I was in Mongolia.

Palouse Falls
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Later in the morning, I find myself perched high above Palouse Falls. I love this waterfall, and I love the park that contains it. It’s one of my favorite in all of Washington.

The wind is amazing. It whips the waterfall spray, dragging it high above the waterfall on a strong updraft. The cloud swirls in the air, forming the symbol for the number nine (my lucky number) for the briefest of moments. I smile. I love noticing quiet details.
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The wind gusts pluck leaves from trees on the rim of the canyon and carry them far out into the gaping void. They never get a chance to touch the ground. They fall for twenty feet before twirling upward in the draft high overhead. They disappear in the distance, and I am envious.

I love autumn.

Photos That Didn’t Belong
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In a given week, I’ll take many photos that I enjoy, but don’t fit the scheme of what I’m writing about. Since I’m nearing the end of a work period, I thought I would share with you some of my favorite misfits that didn’t find a home.

Author’s Note: The line, “The autumn wind is like smoke” is taken from Lin Yutang’s classic, The Importance of Living. I love that line, but I felt quotations would have been distracting in context. I give him his deserved credit here. Thanks.

Posted by Rhombus 08:31 Archived in USA Tagged landscapes rivers hiking travel autumn argentina photography washington palouse philosopy Comments (1)

Antarctic Dreams

Antarctica, Justification of Zen, Lucky Me, Oh, Yeah 2 Months in Argentina

semi-overcast 56 °F

Antarctic Dreams
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It was somewhere near ten in the morning when my friend busted into my dark man cave. She beat my leg and announced, “Thom! THOM! Wake up. WAKE UP! I got the email! I GOT MY TRIP! WE‘RE GOING TO ANTARCTICA!“ At this point, I sat up in bed, and mumbled, “Wha? Grgup deer. Diggumrifits johberglubs. Okeh okeh.. Greibits.”

My friend realized I probably wasn’t comprehending this information. She hurried out saying, “Sorry to wake you, now go back to and dream about Antarctica.“

My friend later told me that I didn’t say anything coherent during that conversation. I thought I was communicating clearly, but I guess I was wrong. I was very agreeable. I figured the faster I agreed, the sooner this person would go away. Before I passed out, I thought to myself. “You might be going to Antarctica.”

At one-thirty p.m. the same day, I woke up from my sleep and one word popped into my head. Antarctica. At that point, my head exploded.

When I say my head exploded, I mean that I immediately began to think of the things I was going to need for the trip. What did I have to do before November? I had to get tickets, maps, accommodations, and timetables. How long was I going for? There was no way I was going to sleep anymore that day. This was a problem, because I was working night shift that night, and I had only gotten a measly 5 hours of sleep.

With my mind aflutter, I still didn’t quite trust the fact that I was going to Antarctica. After all, I may have dreamed the whole thing. After an hour of laying in the dark, I flipped on my computer and began to make tentative lists of things that I needed to do. After another half hour, I went up stairs to get a cup of tea, with a muffin. I wanted to verify what I believed was true.

I walked into the galley where my friend was working, and asked her, “Is it true?” She jumped into my arms, and yelled, “WE’RE GOING TO ANTARCTICA! We got the 21 day trip, including South Georgia and Falklands!” I smiled. I’m from the Midwest. I don’t know how to show enthusiastic displays of excitement in public. I was very excited, but it had not really sunk in yet. I had my tea, and watched a movie, I tried to sleep, but it didn’t happen. I went to work, and somehow made it through a very long night.

Zen Flow = Antarctica and Argentina
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Since July, I’ve been running without a plan. I think I’ve talked of this before (see Sangre de Cristo Mountains and Nebraska July 2012). In short, I had such an enjoyable time driving through Nebraska without a map that I decided to apply this concept to my life. This is not easy. I’m a man of action, of plans, of adventure. It was hard; I even turned down an offer to go to Morocco, because it didn’t feel right. Many people have asked me, “What are you going to do after your contract?” My best answer was, “I don’t know. I’m just going to let the Zen flow and see what happens.”
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Well, the Zen has flowed.

This is happening fast. In three weeks, I’ll be in Ushuaia, Argentina (the southernmost city in the world). I have made many decisions already concerning this adventure, but there are many that I have yet to determine. The biggest decision I’ve had to make was, “how long are you going for?” I figured that since I’m going to be in Argentina, I might as well spend some time there. However, that still didn’t answer the original question. I looked at tickets, and decided that I would fly out of Buenos Aires two months after I got back from Antarctica. My mind exploded for the second time in a week.

How Did You Get So Lucky?
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The obvious question is “Why do you get to go to Antarctica?” I’ll tell you. I work for an expedition based touring company that runs small cruise ships all around the world. One benefit to working for this company, is that they offer some of their trips to crewmembers when there is space available on the ship. In order to qualify, one has to complete a four-month contract or work full time, and one has to sign up for a space on the waiting list for that trip. My friend heard there were cabins available on this Antarctic trip and put her name on the list. Three weeks before any trip departs, they fill any open cabins with crew applicants. For this Antarctic trip, my friend was at the top of the list. The cabins are double occupancy, so she can bring a guest if she chooses (for a price), and she chose me. We’ve signed the paperwork, bought our plane tickets, and paid our ship fees. It’s a done deal, at least on paper. We still have to get there.

I feel like the luckiest man in the world. Who takes a romantic getaway to Antarctica? This guy does.

A Two Headed Monster

It’s very hard to live in the moment right now. I still have three weeks to work on the ship, which includes a four-day positioning trip down to Los Angeles. Every other thought revolves around either Antarctica or Argentina. This is a huge two-headed monster of a trip. The first half is very structured for the most part. Our ship will visit the Falklands, South Georgia and Antarctica making stops at known locations. The second half is completely free forming as we speak. The only thing I know for sure is my flight out of Buenos Aires on the 31st of January (unless of course my plans change).

I have a few ideas, but my mind tends to wander. I’ve looked into taking Spanish classes in Ushuaia. I also plan on hiking in Patagonia. Maybe I’ll learn to Tango, who knows? The world is my oyster.

Amundsen, Shackleton, Ross, and now Miller. Holy shit, I’m going to Antarctica!

Posted by Rhombus 15:35 Archived in Antarctica Tagged friends ships argentina planning antarctica Comments (0)

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