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Quote by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

‘If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up the men to gather wood, divide the work, and give orders. Instead, teach them to yearn for the vast and endless sea.’

Back from Torres del Paine – Hiking the Circuit + “W” in 5 days

So, I went to Torres del Paine thinking i’ll do the “W” and maybe, just maybe i’ll do the “circuito”, which normally takes 8 days. I ended up finishing the full circuito + w in 5 days (including today) and feel fantastic, going through the 2nd liter of chocolate milk now, thus granting myself this permission to brag. Averaged about 30km/18miles per day of hiking. Some in flats, some in hard mountain terrain, especially the John Gardner Pass, which rewarded me with beautiful view of the glacier. Heard incredible cracks and breaking of glaciers in Valle de Francese, swam in Lago Nordenskjold near Los Cuernos Campo. This morning woke up to a moon hanging over “the horns” Los Cuernos and camped in some truly incredibly beautiful places. Torres del Paine is great, but i would say that Fitz Roy in Argentina is really no worse. — at Parque Nacional Torres del Paine.

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Villa O’Higgins. End of Carretera Austral. On to Arrrgentina.

Yesterday arrived in time to Villa O’Higgins’ Fiesta Costumbrista – a village festival where gauchos were chasing and taming horses. Kind of a strange tradition. Then had some delicious goat meat. At night we danced with the locals. 

This is the end of Carretera Austral. Tomorrow I am taking a ferry across Lago O’Higgins to Candelaria Mancilla, passing by some glaciers, and then will hike for a couple of days, crossing into Argentina by foot. Following that, trekking in the Fitz Roy area and then El Chalten. 

Cold here, but I love Patagonia’s massive landscapes, remoteness and ruggedness. My thin 45F (7c) rated sleeping bag is definitely making me tougher – the nights here are about 2-4c. (38F).

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Life in Cagalandia

Life in Cagalandia

Road to Rahul Marin Balmaceda and Cagalandia

The road to Cagalandia from Puerto Montt to Rahul Marin (by the way the name has a pretty cool story, even though if you speak spanish you know the root of the word is a bit offensive) 

Back to civilization

I’m back alive and refreshed. On Feb 10th I left Cagalandia, a remote and beautiful land of Thomas Verster near Raul Marin Balmaceda in northern Patagonia.

Adios Cagalandia!

I spent 2 weeks there with another volunteer (Bjorn from Holland who is going to stay there for a while to help Thomas build a house) and then a week of solitude, only with some 16 chickens and a beautiful dog Bethoven. Here’s his glamour shot one early morning.

The place is pristine and I don’t have time to upload many pics, but found a great album of one of the volunteers back from 2009 when he took these photos. Frankly not too much has changed there since then. The land is beautiful. I trekked the jungle-like forests trying to reach Lago Escondido 6km up north, but the vegetation there is incredibly thick and moving with machete is the only to move at all. I also used the old canoe to go around the corner and get a glimpse of Volcan Corcovado and a glacier next to it. Unfortunately i didn’t want to risk taking my camera on the canoe, so wasn’t able to picture the moment there. Otherwise spent time completely unplugged, without any connection to the outside world (even radio signal only works if you get higher on the hill or canoe out into the Pitipalena Fjord – luckily i didn’t need to use the radio). No electricity (the hydro dam that Thomas built had a broken generator so couldn’t even charge batteries), which left a lot of time for long evenings near the oven baking bread, drinking tea and reading. Walden Pond was truly of the most perfect choices on my kindle for this place. 

For the past 4 days I’ve been hitchiking south toward Villa O’Higgins, which is the last town on Careterra Austral*. The road ends there but I will continue via ferry and trekking to cross the border into El Chalten, Argentina. It is suppose to be a beautiful trek and a bit of a different way to reach Argentina. I’m excited. Currently i am in the town of Coyhaique so today I will stop by NOLS outpost 15km south of town, get some gear for the upcoming treks in Villa O’Higgins, El Chalten, Torres Del Paine, et al and continue south stopping by in towns of Puerto Tranquilo and Caleta Tortel. The further south you go here the fewer people are here and the fewer opportunities to hitch a ride. Also, it’s a holiday season so i have some competition on the roads with Chilean students and backpackers, but there’s no better way to get to know the people and these places than spending time on long rides with local people. 

My next steps below: 

*Carretera Austral is a 1,240km road (mainly gravel) stretching through the evergreen forests, channels, Patagonian fjords, vast pampas, glaciers, rivers, national parks and reserves of Chilean Patagonia from Puerto Montt to Villa O’Higgins. It would continue south if not for the massive glaciers it hits south of Villa O’Higgins.  

And then border crossing via ferry/trekking into Argentina. 

Into the wild for the next few weeks

Today I’m heading out to a beautiful area just south of Parque Corcovado (as seen in the movie 180 Degrees South – which is an amazing film if you haven’t seen it). So for the next few weeks i’ll be in a very remote area volunteering (more details here: www.chileadventure.50megs.com and another volunteer’s pictures here).  Aproximate location on Google Maps is here

Other than taking two boats, there will be no access to the civilization and i’m very excited to live in this beautiful area for a few weeks. 

The view of the area. 

Slow down

As you walk and eat and travel, be where you are. Otherwise you will miss most of your life. -Buddha

Bolivia (a guest blog post by Robert Byla)

After 2 weeks in Bolivia (Dec 13-26) with my friend Robert Byla, I asked if he would write a guest blog post about his experiences, and he agreed. So for a bit of fresh voice and perspective here’s what Robert took away from our journey through “Un’bolivia’ble” Bolivia.

My recent journey across Bolivia with Karolis Karalevicius was a challenging and unforgettable experience. With practically zero Spanish and no prior experience travelling in South America, I was grateful for the opportunity to enjoy Bolivia’s colorful culture and breathtaking environment. Above all, I was awed by the country’s unbelievable ecological and geological diversity. From alpine mountains to sub-tropical landscapes and volcanic deserts, the beautiful yet constantly-changing scenery made it seems like the entire thirteen day adventure was just a dream.

The entire trip was a spellbinding affair, however, if I had to pick two highlights, it would be trekking up Mount Huayana Potosi and the Tunupa Volcano in the Southwest. While I have enjoyed hiking all my life, prior to Bolivia, I had never before scaled any mountain with ropes and crampons. That said, it was daunting to know that my commitment to climb Huyana Potosi would lead me to climb to an elevation of 20,000 feet with no prior training. I couldn’t even imagine having to jump a three foot crevasse in the dark at such an elevation. Throughout the journey, I had to fight against negative thoughts telling me I wouldn’t make it. At approximately 18,700 feet, however, I had to make the decision to turn back as I was unable to speed up my pace to keep up with the group. Heavy snowfall from the night before made our trek more difficult than normal.

While substantially less challenging, climbing the Tunupa Volcano was an equally incredible experience. Set on the side of the beautiful Salar de Uyuni, the climb featured spectacular views of the surrounding mountains and salt flats stretching to the horizon. One of the most thrilling aspects of this climb was the weather and geology, which changed dramatically as we ascended. Reaching the rim of the volcano was the most satisfying part of this trek, as it gave us a fabulous view of the horizon and the crater itself. Together with the Huyana Potosi climb, this was an inspirational experience that helped me learn more about myself.

While I have travelled to so-called “developing world” in the past, my recent trip to Bolivia was profoundly different from my other experiences exploring lower-income countries. Compared to other places I have visited such as India and Indonesia, Bolivia felt significantly more isolated from the rest of the world. Connections to the internet and foreign media/press seemed significantly less prevalent and reliable in Bolivia than other places I have visited. While I had heard about South America’s slow-pased “mañana” lifestyle and reputation for service unreliability, I was not expected to run across two politically-motivated roadblocks that threatened to upset the logistics of my entire trip. In contrast, my experiences travelling throughout South and Northwest India (which in 2011 had a GDP per capita of $3,700 versus Bolivia’s $4,800) were marked by reliable infrastructure and transportation services. Finally, in comparison with Jakarta and Delhi, Bolivia’s capitol of La Paz did not reflect comparable levels of income inequality as in the former. Whereas in India and Indonesia, fancy cars, shopping malls, and skyscrapers mingle with slums and abject poverty, the situation in Bolivia seemed a lot less extreme—walking through La Paz and scanning its horizon, not once did I see a fancy Rolls Royce, Prada Boutique, or flashy five star hotel. While it would be impossible to do justice to my experience in words, I can truly say that the journey was an educationally fulfilling and spiritually enlightening one.