Me Embracing the World

Me Embracing the World

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Journey to the End of the Earth (Ushuaia, Argentina)

I think it´s only fitting that I call this entry that given that my first real entry was titled "Journey to the Center of the Earth".

And here I find myself in Ushuaia, the southernmost city in the world. Surrounded on all sides by lush yet jagged mountain peaks, nestleing the picuresque Beagle Bay, on the southern tip of Tierra del Fuego, Ushuaia really does have a "end of the world" feeling. Everyday boats disembark from the harbor destined for Antartica, a growing tourist destination in its own right. This place is an appropriate place for some reflection on my trip...

According to Ball of Dirt, I´ve travelled 10,838km so far, starting at the Equator and working my way down here, bassically all via bus except a flight to Peru. This is the southernmost point in my trip, and each step from here on out is one more northward, one step in the direction of home.

Home.... I haven´t forgotten it, in fact I think about it a lot these days, all you guys sitting back in Marin. But I still have a long way to go before I come back, and many more experiences left to be had. In fact, I´m only about halfway done! I do feel like I´m entering a distinctly different phase of my travel. The day after tomorrow, I catch a midnight flight from Ushuaia, to Buenos Aires (I know that´s cheating, but its 50 hours in bus, and would cost nearly as much).

When I get there, I have friends waiting for me to hang out with. Jose Luis who I travelled with through Bolivia. Rebecca from way back in Arequipa, Peru. Ben Lawson, who I started all this trip with. Even Renee from IHouse will be there finishing up recording an album, which hopefully I´ll arrive in time to help out with however I can.

After BA, I´ve been planning to head to Rio de Janiero, Brasil, to study music for 2 weeks at a highly recommended school. And after that, the plan is to catch a plane to Guatemala, to volunteer with AIDG ( for two months, finishing up in June in time to come home for JazzCampWest on June 23rd.

When I lay it out like that, it seems so small, short, contained. Bassically just 3 cities. 3 1/2 months. But of course plans always change, so it will be interesting to see how it plays out. I also hope to get to know these places on a deeper level than I´ve experienced my whirlwind rush south from the equator to Tierra del Fuego.

Tierra del Fuego.... I just realized I haven´t even described where I am! Too much sticking my head in the bucket of the future. Tierra del Fuego has totally superceded my expectations, primarily because I didn´t know what to expect. Leaving Punta Arenas, Chile, in a bus it was 10 hours to Ushuaia. After a short drive, we came to the Straight of Magellen, a short passage of water at our crossing point. We loaded the bus up onto a ferry and took a quick 20 min cruise across the straight. Luckily that day the water was quite tranquil despite the serious wind. Just left it up to the imagination what it must be like on a bad day.

Upon landing on the otherside, we found ourselves in a climate much like I was expecting for the end of the world. Loonnnnggg.... empty..... fields of grass. A sort of empty desolation that demands silence from its audience.

Oh, that and lots of minefields (aparently the area was victim to Chilean-Argentinian tensions from years past). The Guanaco herds didn´t seem to mind as the galloped through the fields, and I tried to avoid imagining the collision of these two worlds.

Anyways, openess... vastness... strong whipping winds. After a typically long border crossing, I was lured off to sleep by the vast emptyness. I awoke a few hours later to find us smack in the middle of a dense lush forest of beech trees. The forest rose up into sheer stunning mountains, huddleing around the lake at the middle of the island. We climbed high into the snowpeaked pass, into mountains that, for reasons I can´t really explain, striked me as some of the most beautiful in all my journey (and that´s a lot of mountains!). Maybe that I didn´t have any expectations, or maybe it was that the sun was setting, but the effect was just truly awesome. After several failed attempts to capture it on camera, I just sat back and enjoyed the ride.

Ushuaia itself is quite a bustling little city of 30,000 or so people, really well laid out for tourists. A strange combination of tourist town like Bariloche, and industrial port to Antartica and ships coming around the cape.

Yesterday, I went out for a hike, taking a chair lift up into a valley and climbing to the base of, yet another glacier. It was a beautiful walk, and better than the glacier itself was the stunning veiw down the valley on the town and the bay. Also they´res a lot of israelis at my hostel so we did a little kiddush last night for shabbat, and I spent all today having a lively debate/conversation about all those things that people stereotypically talk with israelis about.

Then I was lucky enough to just find a plane ticket a few hours ago (they´re normally booked this time of year), and I´ll be off onto my next phase of my journey soon.

I want to say a special thank you to everyone who´s been sending me letters lately. It can get a little lonely traveling alone and its been great having an inbox brimming with love each day :).

So that´s the news from lake wobegone,
Chao for now!

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Colds in the Cold (Punta Arenas, Chile)

Well here I am now, sitting around, lazying if you will at the bottom of the earth. I´ve been recovering from a cold for a few days now in Punta Arenas, Chile... on my way to Ushaia, the true southernmost city in the world tomorrow, but I get ahead of myself...

When I last wrote, I had just arrived into El Calafate, Argentina, and everthing went pretty much as planned. The next day I headed out on the "alternative" tour to Perito Morreno Glacier, which didn´t really mean anything more than it took a different bus road to get there, but such is life. It didn´t really matter that I think I overpaid for the tour, because it was really amazing. The Morreno Glacier is one of those things that you just can´t deny its grandeur, and you forget about the touristy stuff when you get there.

What is it? Its a glacier, 70m high, several kilometers long, that actually cuts a lake in two at a small channel. The two sides of the lake thus have different water levels. This, among other things, contributes to it being one of the most constantly evolving glaciers I would think in the world. For me, this meant that by midday, every few minutes you could see a chunk of ice a few stories tall fall off the face of the glacier, land in the water forming a tremendous splash, and an even more tremendous sound. Unfortunately, I didn´t get any of it on video, but the sound was really the amazing part. Like gunshots. Explosions. And it came after the sight of the fall so if you looked when you heard it, all you would see was the huge wave and icebergs emerging from the splash site. My tour include a boat trip up to the face, and a nice walk along the channel where the glacier meets the land. Very touristy, but quite spectacular as well.

But after hiking in El Bolsón, I was really feeling the urge to get out and use these new leg muscles I had discovered, thus I decided to head up to El Chaltén. 4 hours north of El Calafate, El Chaltén is a small town litterally at the base of Mt. Fitz Roy. You walk out of the town directly into Parque Nacional Los Glacieres. Funny fact, before coming down here, I thought there were only a few glaciers in the world, but then I found out that the park alone holds 360 glaciers, of which I ended up seeing about six.

I decided to take a tour to El Chaltén as well, because I´m going alone at the moment, have no tent, wanted to stay inside the park, and it just seemed to fit all of my needs. Glad I did, because it was a great trip! I think officially called "SuperTrekking", whatever that means, the real kicker for me was that we got to climbing on a glacier. We took the bus up early in the morning, a group of 4 (Lovely and active old couple, and a late twenties girl traveler, all from England.), and met up with our two guides (Lucho and Jorge) once we arrived. I really enjoyed talking with them, learning slang, how only foriegners say (uh... es possible..), and joking around as we walked. We hiked up to a lookout on Mt. Fitz Roy, but it was clouded over! Luckily the clouds lifted after about a half hour and we were treated to a stunning veiw of the truly magnificent mountain. Hiking over the mountain ridge, we decended to our campsite near the Mt. Torres, and its glaciers and lake that rest at its base.

The next morning we woke up early for what was, all told, a really long day. We woke up at 6am and, under the veil of clouds, climbed up to the Glacier Grande at the base of the mountain. To get there we needed to pull ourselves across a river on a rope hand over hand, and hike along its beautiful glacial lake. Once there, we strapped on our crampons and got a lesson in glacier hiking (Flat feet, legs apart, side step on steep surfaces, always align your feet to the ice grain). Hiking on the glacier was absolutely fantastic. I had done it before with my parents in New Zealand on the Fox glacier, but this was less travelled, no set route, with steep falls to either side, really quite an experience. We made our way up to a flatter section (I learned there are two types of sections V´s (that we were hiking on earlier, which are steeper but safer because you can see the bottome) and A`s (that are up much higher and more dangerous because the drops are covered by a thin bit of ice)). Once actually, when we were walking along, we heard an ominous booming sound with each step, and carefully moved ourselves off the hollow ice. So we walked our way up to an ice wall a bit up on the glacier, and had our lunch there, while Lucho climbed up it and attached a bolee to the top. We then proceeded to get our 5 min lesson in ice climbing,(left ice axe, right ice axe, left crampon, right crampon) and each had our turn trying out our new skills on the wall. Tirirng, but really fun. On our way off the glacier we saw about 20 people getting on, from the 5 other companies, so it was wonderful that we got up so earlier and really had the glacier all to ourselves for several hours.

From then on it was a race to hike out of the park and back to El Chaltén in time for the 6 o´clock bus. We busted our butts and got there with 15 minutes to spare before being wisked away back onto a 4 hour bus ride to El Calafate. As fate would have it, I met a musician(guitarist) named Daniel who lives with his family in El Chaltén and was on his way into Calafate to play with his band that night. Calafate was just beginning a 4 day festival of Argentinan music (Rock Nacional) and all the famous bands of Argentina were coming in to play a big open air concert. Daniels band had just won a battle of the bands in Buenos Aires, and was set to play right next to the festival in a popular bar. We talked about all things music, and ended up with him asking me if I wanted to stop by and help his band setup before the gig. Of course I said sure. When we got back I ran back to the hostel, dropped off my stuff, picked up my earplugs and headed to the festival. When I got there, I found they had A LOT of equipment (I´ve forgetten how it is with Rock bands...) but also a LOT of people to help setup, so I just sat back and enjoyed. I caught a bit of the large concert outside and had a long cold walk home to my hostal, planning to get up at 7 the next morning and catch a bus to chile.

But life had other plans. I did indeed wake up the next day, to find myself with a big fever, and there were no bus tickets till tomorrow for chile. So I slept, and rested, and nyquiled, and rested. I cooked myself some chicken soup, imitating my moms recipe as best as I could remember and I think I did a descent job. Did make me remeber that I want to learn every little recipe she knows when I get home, because they would have been so helpful on my trip :).

The next day took me across the border to Puerto Natales (still sick). Playing it safe, I decided to continue down to Punta Arenas that night to get checked up on the next day. When I arrived, I found myself straight up pampered by the loving chilean couple in charge of my hospedaje. The dad is a judge and took me to the best hospital in town where he knew the doctors and stayed with me to make sure I got the translations of everything right. Turns out I´m ok, just a little bronchitis that I´ve spent the past few days recovering from. My travel fatigue wears at me and I feel the urge to get to warmer environs of Buenos Aires, a change of pace, so I think I will save Torres del Paine for another trip.

All said, I´m still very happy I came to Chile, because I got to see a side of Chile other than Santiago, one much more friendly, casual, still expensive, but also filled with people that I can actually understand. I thought it was because I was getting better at spanish, but I watched a TV show last night and I just think its that people from Santiago speak a rare breed of spanish. In fact I´ve found that in all the countries, that the cities have their own languages which are always more difficult to understand... no difference with the US either....

Ok, Love to all, and hopefully I´ll write again a bit sooner this time :)
Oh and Pictures are coming! Many many pictures, as soon as I find a good connection.


Monday, February 12, 2007

Glaciers! Glaciers! (El Calafate, Argentina)

So, I´m in El Calafate, Argentina... and its only been... 10 days? I spent 10 days in El Bolson?! How? Why? Well, Its a funny story. I was waiting for my bank card, which I lost all the way back in Santiago to show up from the states. The funny part is that it was sitting in the bus station, just waiting for me for a week, while I toiled, labored, sweat, and cry, trying to work it out with Fedex representatives, Wamu representatives, Club Andino (where I sent the card) representatives, and Correo Argentina (where I redirected the card) representatives, over the phone, on the internet and in person.

Am I still upset? No, but I do feel more than a little foolish.

Luckily it provided me with the time to do a sublimely wonderful 4 day trek in the mountains around Hielo Azul. Accompanying me was the usual company of Kathleen, Andreas, and Katrine, but we also had the addition of Bruno from Rosario (which is a few hours north of Buenos Aires). It was a wonderful hike... heres the lowdown.

  • 1st Day: 6 hour hike up 1300 meters to the base of the Hielo Azul Glacier(Blue Ice, go figure...). This was the testing day to see how my leg would fair, and it felt great! It also was a reminder of what I learned in Colca Canyon, that 1000m is actually quite a lot more than 1000 ft. :) (3.3 times to be percise). Awaiting us up top was a beutiful refugio with water pressure, home cooking and great veiws. We celebrated Kathleen´s birthday in style with the free homade beer they gave us.
  • 2nd Day: We changed our plans and stayed an extra day at the refugio so that we could climb up to see the glacier. The path was steep... well no, the path was nonexistent! Which made for a great adventure on the way up and tricky footing on the way down. I walked up alone, and it was quite an empowering feeling to boulder up some unmarked terrain to a glacier up high in the Andes.
  • 3rd Day: We descend to Cajon del Azul, walking for 3 hours over a mountain ridge and then decending into the neighboring valley. The thing is... in argentina, they don´t really understand the concept of ´gradual´, so on our way down we were bassically falling, running, grabbing on to trees to stop ourselves from sliding down the mountain. And of course, half way through, the trail just disappears. At that point, Kathleen and I just started running, hopping logs, really hauling, and we decended the whole 1000m in around 45 mins. The Cajon is a small canyon carved by the crystal blue river and was just beautiful.
  • 4th Day: With what scraps of food we have left (I think it was 7 crackers and 2 pieces of salami) we walk back out to the road. I walked with Maria, from BA, who we met in the refugio, and we talked all about cooking zucchini. Apparently, down here they do zuchinni boats down here too, mom, but they use a white sauce! Also they use these cool round zuchinnis that they have down here... and white eggplant! I should bring some back... give you guys some variety.

So, as soon as my card arrived, I was out of there, hopped a bus that day to Rio Gallegos..... 24 hours. And not an easy 24 hours either, like in Chile, a LONG 24 hours. When I got there I was more than ok with the fact that they had no buses to El Calafate till the next day and I finally got a good nights sleep (I´ve been sleeping on bad mattresses for 10 days now).

And now here I am!

A small town El Calafate is about one thing and one thing only, Glaciers!

Tommorrow is the famous Perito Moreno and the next day I might hop the 4 hours up to El Chaltén to do some hiking and maybe even, if I´m up to it, ice climbing.

Chao and Love Chicos!