A Travellerspoint blog

Entries about mountains

Waking Up In Sitka

Lounging In Dandelions, Photos of an Alaskan May, Complacency, Waking Up

all seasons in one day 65 °F

I remember very clearly lying on a picnic table in Petersburg, Alaska. I said to my friend, “I wish we could do this all afternoon. We could get a bottle of wine, maybe do a crossword and fall asleep.” She agreed. Then we checked the time. Our sunny revelry was over. We had to go back to work.

Well, my life has changed since that sunny afternoon. A week has passed by and I’ve fulfilled my contractual agreements with that ship. It left me behind in Sitka, Alaska and I’ve been happily unemployed for the last four days.

I spent my last week on the ship working a very odd schedule. I started my shift at 9 pm and finished it at 9 am. It’s not a good schedule to have, especially if you have any desire to be social. But, I did it without complaint, as that was what they asked of me.
BAA5C1642219AC6817ACAAB3F5DD5E43.jpg
I was in a sleepy torpor for two days as I tried to shift my sleeping schedule to more traditional patterns. I spent a lot of time lounging in sun strewn dandelion patches. Sitka has great dandelion patches. The flowers are bright and robust - nestled into the thick mat of fresh green grass. I thought back to my afternoon siesta with my friend back in Petersburg and I knew that lying around in a sunny park is everything I thought it could be.

At one point, I thought to myself that I should really write about my last week on the ship. I had a lot of fun teaching some new deckhands the tricks of the trade. I enjoyed the Alaskan seascapes in full bloom. I knew it was a passing thought, when I looked up at the clouds. I was just too tired.

The following photos will be my voice for the past week. They ring loudly and true about the supreme beauty in which I live, work and play.

Alaska in May

The Waterfalls of Tracy Arm
DSC_1758.jpgDSC_1762.jpg

Midway Islands
DSC_1874.jpgDSC_1876.jpg

Three Shades of Gray
DSC_1817.jpg
Point Anmer, Point Styleman and Grave Point

Sunrays Over Taku Harbor
B9D7745C2219AC681771EC9BD74A8946.jpgB9D917062219AC68173EDA0C0A26577E.jpgB9D837762219AC6817D99B02921A780F.jpg

South Sawyer Glacier Explorations
DSC_2038.jpgDSC_2043.jpg

Arctic Tern Taking Flight
DSC_2065.jpg

Harbor Seals and South Sawyer Glacier
DSC_2139.jpg

Icebergs
DSC_2134.jpgDSC_2159.jpgDSC_2117.jpg

Davit Crane Fancy Work
BA34BFE12219AC6817CCA9682591697A.jpg
This is the best piece of fancy work I have tied so far. This sling holds the hook of our davit crane to a rail. There are two different types of chain sinnets, two different types of whippings, and a four strand star knot atop the wooden button I made out of an old piece of wood. Look for another article on knot tying in the near future.

Early Morning in Glacier Bay
DSC_2311.jpg
I love working the night shift in Alaska because the sun rises so early in the morning. I saw this scene around three thirty in the morning. It is a very peaceful time.

Afternoons in Front of the Marjorie Glacier
DSC_2323.jpg
I’ve been spending a lot of quality time watching the Marjorie Glacier. Glaciers, like whales, often require many hours of patient observation before they will do anything of note. More often then not, they will remain motionless for hours at a time before rewarding the persistent with a grand show. Even if nothing happens, the suspense and pleasure of watching glaciers is time well spent.

Complacency
BA928B8F2219AC68171A569B6493C8BC.jpg
A friend of mine asked me, “Do you ever get complacent about the views around you?” It was a fair question. Have I become jaded? Maybe I have, I don’t know. For example, I remember the awe I once felt about seeing a humpback whale from a distance and hearing its powerful blow. Now, after seeing hundreds of them up close for the last three years, I wonder.

I enjoy seeing a whale as much as I always have. It is fair to say I’ve gotten much more fussy about which whales I’ll choose to photograph. After sorting through thousands of boring whale pictures and deleting most of them, I know what I’m looking for: An interesting composition in good light of a whale. If it isn’t intriguing, I’ll set my camera down and simply enjoy them.

Speaking of which, another friend of mine came down to my cabin to wake me up. “Thom! There are twenty orca outside, right now!” I leaned on my left arm and sleepily replied, “Twenty, hunh? Twenty one is the magic number.” With that, I rolled over and feigned sleep. I thought it was a good line, considering she shook me out of a dead sleep. Now, don’t get any ideas. After a few minutes, I got up and went out to watch the orca. There were three pods with about six members in each group. There might have been a single or two swimming around as well. It was the most orca I have seen together in one big pod. I didn’t take many photos as the whales were far away, but I like this one.
BA33BC1D2219AC681766F9224B28B539.jpg

Waking Up In Sitka
DSC_2525.jpg
On the third day of my stay in Sitka, I started waking up. My friend Annie and I went for a long walk in one of the most beautiful forest settings I have ever found. I called it a “Celebration of Green.” I’ll offer more on that later this week.

Today, I woke up to a beautiful blue bird sunny day. I lay in the warm womb of an afghan blanket as cool air from the open window wafted over my supine body. It was the best night of sleep I’ve had this year. I felt totally refreshed and energized. I was a new man. I looked at my clock, which said 7:32 a.m. I knew in that moment I had my mojo back! I have left that sleepy torpor behind, and it is time to embrace my life projects with all of the energy I can give them.

I wish I could convey just how happy I am right now. Words can’t do it.

Posted by Rhombus 22:32 Archived in USA Tagged mountains flowers ice alaska oceans ships glaciers photography sitka icebergs fancywork Comments (0)

Consider Alaska

Unique Views of a Sparkling Jewel

sunny 43 °F

Considering Alaska

Here are some things I’d like you to consider about Alaska.

Male Orca
DSC_1049.jpg
This whale marks my first orca sighting of the season. This male carries a fin that can grow up to six feet long. It was part of a four whale pod foraging somewhere near the border of British Columbia and Alaska.

Sunrise South of Ketchikan
DSC_1075.jpg
Sunlight arrives in the early morning hours in May. I love the energy that a new day brings. The sun removes any lingering listlessness I might carry after working through the shadowy night. This beautiful scene rings of cold air, placid waters, and good color.

It soothes me.

Bow Riding Dall Porpoise
DSC_1232.jpg
When I talk of “bow riding” animals, I am referring to dolphins and occasional porpoise that ride the cushion of water that our ship pushes as it makes way through the water. These animals ride this wave because they don’t have to expend any energy to move. In short, they are surfing a wave that lasts forever.

However, most of the animals that bow ride can swim much faster than the paltry ten knots our ship makes. They use us for as long as they want, before diving away. In my experience, dall porpoise don’t spend very much time bow riding.

The pod that rode our bow this morning stayed with us for twenty minutes -shattering my opinions. I took hundreds of photos of the porpoise, but really only liked this one. I like the color.

Aerial Views of the LeConte Glacier
DSC_1384.jpg
I’ve given up making prejudgments about experiences I’ve never had. When I learned that I was going to take a float plane flight above the LeConte Glacier, the crew kept telling me, “That‘s so awesome!” To which I replied, “Yeah, it might be. I don’t really know, I’ve never done this before.” My lack of enthusiasm bothered many people. My friend Eva really got her dander up. “Well, I think it’s f’ing awesome…” I don’t know how I do it, but I always seem to push the right buttons. I’m just being realistic. Yes, it sounds great and I’m excited to go. But there is a possibility I might hate it, and I’d have to retract my previous declarations. I’d rather not.
DSC_1410.jpg
It turns out, taking a low flying flight over a glacier IS f’ing awesome. I was blown away. I’ve seen many glaciers but I’ve never seen them from the sky.
DSC_1460.jpg
Glaciers are essentially slow moving rivers of ice. We spiraled from the top of the glacier down to its face. It was a gigantic jumble of jagged ice. We banked steeply over the main ice field several times, finishing each loop with a grand view of the broken face.
DSC_1462.jpg

Reflections of Endicott Arm
DSC_1567.jpg
This was my first visit to Endicott Arm since the late summer of 2011. I had forgotten how beautiful the reflection of the Dawes Glacier looks on a bed of perfectly smooth water.

Evening Over the Fair Weather Range
DSC_1610.jpg
I was having a great conversation with my brother Karl. You know the kind, where the topics are interesting, the one-liners are sharp, and the laughter rings true. Towards the end of our chat, the sun began its descent over the Fairweather Mountains. This range of high snow-capped peaks protects the western side of Glacier Bay National Park. I went downstairs to grab my camera, and warned my brother that I was going to take some photos while he talked. I’m a guy. Multitasking is something I cannot do very effectively, despite my delusions. While he talked on, I took this photo. When I look at it, it reminds me of him.

A Birthday in Glacier Bay National Park
DSC_1676.jpg
Yep, I’m 32. I like the number much better than 31. I am now divisible, as where before I was an awkward prime number. It has been a good day. Glacier Bay was bathed in crisp sunshine. The mountains that surround this waterway were brilliant, wearing their snow shrouds proudly.
DSC_1692.jpgDSC_1688.jpg
The Marjorie Glacier tossed ice off its face. Most of the crew were high up on lido, laughing, hamming it up, singing and dancing. I like the camaraderie. The glacier liked our energy and responded in kind.
E328522D2219AC68171D20DC2BB4964B.jpgDSC_1699.jpg
DSC_1655.jpg
It was a tranquil day of work. I didn’t over tax myself, that’s for sure. I stayed up late last night, enjoying the social scene, and I felt tired most of the day.

My friends presented me with the following:

3 types of chocolate in different shapes. My weaknesses are well known it seems.
3 awesome journals. I’m a writer, and therefore easy to shop for.
3 bookmarks, which I’ll put to use in my journals.
1 Sperm Whale
1 loaf of homemade pizza bread. How I love this tasty treat.
Lemon pound cake. I can’t wait for breakfast tomorrow.
Countless hugs and salutations

It occurred to me after work, that I wouldn’t be who I am today if it hasn’t been for all of the good people I have met along the way. Those experiences, whether good or bad has been important in the making of this Thom. For that, I thank you.

I would consider Alaska to be one of the sparkling jewels in my crown of travels. It continues to surprise me, to stun me, and to inspire me.

Posted by Rhombus 20:16 Archived in USA Tagged mountains alaska friends oceans ships glaciers Comments (0)

When Plans Change...

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

sunny 70 °F

IMG_4235.jpg
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
DSC_6484.jpgDSC_6478.jpg

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.
IMG_4372.jpg
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.
IMG_4427.jpg
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.
IMG_4436.jpg
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.
IMG_4396.jpg
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

IMG_4092.jpg
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
DSC_5423.jpg
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.
DSC_5412.jpg
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
DSC_5441.jpg
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
E0B3CCD62219AC6817B0D9357751189E.jpg
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
IMG_4070.jpg
I like the human perspective of distant hikers in front of the massive mountains.
E0E678952219AC6817063084CB6B9EB4.jpgDSC_5512.jpg

Rio de las Vueltas Valley
DSC_5839.jpg
On my way back from Lago de los Tres, I saw this light over the Rio de las Vueltas River Valley.

Locro
IMG_4086.jpg
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
DSC_5858.jpg
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
DSC_5917.jpgDSC_5966.jpg
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
DSC_5903.jpg
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
DSC_5993.jpg
This horse wanted its picture taken.

Ben
IMG_4118.jpg
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
DSC_6141.jpg
This is the most gorgeous location I’ve ever slack-lined.

Parrots of the Lenga Trees
DSC_6072.jpg
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
DSC_6203.jpg
DSC_6241.jpgDSC_6266.jpg
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
DSC_6274.jpg
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.
IMG_4132.jpgIMG_4131.jpg
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.
IMG_4153.jpg
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.
IMG_4137.jpg
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.
DSC_5847.jpg
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)

Ushuaia And The Long Road to El Chalten

Returning to Terra Firma, In the Forest, On The Bus, and Patagonian Road Thoughts

semi-overcast 59 °F

It took me a couple of days to get used to Ushuaia. Actually, I should have said it took me a few days to get used to civilization. After four months of ship life, I was a landlubber once again. The transition is hard. I suddenly (and violently) realized that if I wanted to eat, I had to prepare something, or go to a restaurant. It’s a cruel world, sometimes.

I was nervous. This time I was starting in a foreign country, I didn’t know the language, and I was alone. But, I did it. I put one foot in front of the other and I walked off that ship. I haven’t really looked back. Argentina has been too alluring.
DSC_5356.jpg
Ushuaia is a bustling city. People have places to go, and a never ended stream of traffic moves along its sidewalks and streets. The city was bigger than it appeared from the ship. The city looks and feels like a larger ski town, with upscale outdoor clothing shops, and very high prices.

Ushuaia reminds me of southeast Alaska. I think its the climate. One can see every type of weather in one hour. The mountains are similar. The forests are similar, but the plants are not all the same. They both have clean mountain streams, and the town is perched at the base of the mountain. I almost felt at home.
DSC_5364.jpg
I spent my first day attending to business. I found my hostel. I bought an adaptor for my computer, a small lock, a bus ticket, and food. I managed all of this without speaking many words. I don’t speak Spanish very well. So, while I may be able to ask for directions to the supermarket, I don’t know what they said to me in response. They could have told me it was on Mars, and I would’ve replied, “Yes, thank you.”
D2411F622219AC6817F3D5B56449BF94.jpg
I feel bad about it. I don’t want to be another dumb American who demands English in a Spanish-speaking nation. Therefore, no matter how badly I mutilate their language, I will still try to speak it.

It is always difficult to shop at a grocery store after being on a ship for so long. I never know what to buy, or what I want to eat. I’ll spend the first ten minutes kind of wandering around in a daze. I’ll touch various pieces of produce remembering that somehow French fries come from this earthy brown thing. A mom was pushing her cart around with two kids in tow. The one sitting in the basket looked at me, smiled, and said, “Hola!” I smiled back, and said, “Hola!” Then I repeated the process with her brother. Kids are the same everywhere.

After a good night of sleep, I felt much better. I could do this. I met all my daily requirements, and slept well besides. I decided that the day’s mission was to find a place to slack-line.
IMG_3981.jpg
My small city map indicated there was a park six blocks west of my hostel. I found it, and I set up my line between two likeable trees. Whenever I have an audience, I always perform my best tricks. I think I’m trying to show off how fun slack-lining can be. I listened to the usual catcalls, but this time I didn’t understand what they were saying. No matter, I was having fun.

On my last day, I decided to see if I could find a hiking trail. I had two different sets of directions on how to find the trailhead, sandals, my adventure bag, and good weather. I wanted to see how feasible it would be to hike in sandals. I reasoned that people have been using sandals for thousands of years, yet hiking boots are a modern invention. If I could hike in sandals, it would save me the hassle of shopping and the cost of the boots.

I found the trailhead to Cerro del Medio right where they described. I grew confident. I know what to do with an unknown trail that ventures into the mountains. The trail snaked upward through thick woods that covered the foothills. The trail became increasingly muddy. Mud doesn’t pose a problem if you have boots, but it becomes a challenge in sandals. I clung to any patch of higher ground and stepped off into the woods to make my passage. I broke the hiker’s commandment, “Stay on the Trail.” But, it worked.
IMG_4020.jpg
Then I took a bad step and sunk up to my ankle in mud. When I pulled my foot out, I discovered my sandal had broken at one of the straps. Sandals were not a good idea. Fortunately, only one strap broke. This meant I could still walk in them, but they were very loose.

I heard rushing water through the trees, and decided to investigate. I wanted to wash my foot off before slogging back down to town. When I neared the stream, I found a long gently sloping waterfall running over a carpet of green moss. It was beautiful. I forgot about my sandal, and pulled out my camera. I spent the next half hour setting up scenes through my camera, and blurring the water into a silky white.
DSC_5368.jpgDSC_5382.jpg
DSC_5383.jpg
When I returned to the trail, I turned uphill. I saw no reason to return to town. I felt good. I liked this mountain track. I passed the tree line. I clawed my way up a snowfield onto a rocky side the mountain. I followed the track for another half hour. I wove along moss-covered rocks with beautiful patterns.
DSC_5393.jpgDSC_5398.jpg
I could see forever. The beagle channel and Ushuaia lay far below. The wind whispered through the rocks, but I’m not sure what it said. The trail went on up to the ridgeline, but I did not. I was satisfied.
DSC_5392.jpg
The Long Road to El Chalten
IMG_4027.jpg
I walked to the bus station through the early morning gloom of a rainy day. I boarded the bus at 5:00 in the morning. I would not reach my destination until 9:00 the next morning.

Even at that early hour, I was excited. I was heading into the nether regions of Patagonia. All I wanted to do was listen to a good book and stare out the window. I love endless landscapes. I love moving through new country. This was going to be great! Within ten minutes, I fell asleep.

I woke up some time later in the town of Rio Grande. Soon afterward, the road had turned to gravel, and we were slowly bouncing through the mud at a steady clip. The mud flew up and slowly spackled my window into an opaque layer of filth. Light could pass through, but I couldn’t see out of it at all.
IMG_4029.jpg
The bus stopped, and the driver told us we had to pass through customs. I didn’t know what he said, but when everyone else left the bus, I followed. I understood when I saw the building. I went through the line. With my passport stamped, I stepped back on the bus.
IMG_4031.jpg
A little while later, it stopped again. I didn’t like not being able to see where we were going. Again, we all filed off the bus and I saw we were on the south side of the Straits of Magellan. Aha! I walked on the ferry. It was weird to be crossing another famous waterway. I never imagined I’d ever see the Straits of Magellan. Yet, here I am.

Once I was back on the bus, we passed through customs into Argentina, and Rio Gallegos.

The bus station in Rio Gallegos was dirty, but had plenty of seats. Stray dogs with ratty and matted looking hair wandered in an out of the station trying to get out of the cold. They scratched their fleas, and chewed their fur. They smelled of dank dog sweat, and stale fur. They were a sorry lot.

It’s a five-hour bus ride from Rio Gallegos to El Calafate. I slept through most of it. I remember waking up somewhere out in the middle and trying to see out of the window. From what little I could see, it reminded me of nighttime in North Dakota. Wind whistled through the crack in the window near my head. My eyes were dry and unfocused. I tried to remember my dream. I couldn’t grasp it.

Outside El Calafate, the police checked our passports once again. We motored to the top of the hill to the bus station. The station was mostly empty, the station kiosks closed for the night. There were a handful of passengers waiting for the next bus. I sat down on a wooden park bench. I had six hours to wait. I brushed my teeth. I washed my face. I applied deodorant. This was my shower, El Calafate style.
IMG_4036.jpg
When the last bus for the night arrived, it took the rest of the passengers. I was alone. I wondered if I could stay there all night. There were no signs, and I reasoned I wasn’t the first gringo to stay overnight at the bus station. I tried to get comfortable as I could. I sighed. I settled in for the long haul.

I had Chatwin to keep me company. I read his prose and tried to relate. I was getting sleepy. Every half hour or so, and army man would walk around the deserted station. He didn’t look at me, or talk to me, and I didn’t say anything to him. At four thirty, I sprawled on the uncomfortable bench and fell asleep. I woke up an hour later to one of my snores. I would have been embarrassed, but there was only the stoic army man to hear me.

I huddled by the heater for the next hour as the station began to come alive. At 6:30, I boarded my last bus that would take me to the promised land: El Chalten. I dozed off. When I awoke we were rolling through the grassy steppe of Patagonia. The steppe was mostly grassland, but there were many stones and rocks sprinkled throughout. I wondered if I would see Mont Fitz Roy from the road. I really didn’t know what to expect, but I was glad my journey was nearing an end. I couldn’t wait to sleep in a real bed.

Finally, we rolled into El Chalten. I had made it right on time, twenty-nine hours later. I was glad to be here for many reasons, but the number one reason is that El Chalten is gateway to Los Glaciares National Park’s north side. This is home to Mont Fitz Roy, Mount Torres, glaciers, lakes, rivers, waterfalls, and as it turned out, one of my favorite towns in the world.
DSC_5491.jpg
More on El Chalten to come…

Posted by Rhombus 08:33 Archived in Argentina Tagged mountains islands hiking buses photography forests patagonia ushuaia roadtrips Comments (2)

(Entries 1 - 5 of 26) Page [1] 2 3 4 5 6 » Next