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Far along the left side of the horizon I saw a large greyish, snowy capsule protruding from the surrounding greenish mountain range. Normally this area is known for its long dreary cloud-filled days, but yet again, I had lucked out.

As the bus came around a bend in the shallow turquoise river, the little town of El Chalten revealed itself to us. Wedged in between a steep rock face and a jagged range of mountains, the town itself is very charming. Everything is within walking distance – while it is crawling with tourists, it has somehow maintained the vibe of an authentic mountain town. I settled into my hostel, bought some groceries and then set out for a short hike up to several lookout points.

For the first time in about a month it felt like “summer,” as the heat beat down on my back while I climbed the rocky hillside. At the top, I was greeted by magnificent, stark white mountaintops along with the picturesque townscape.

I sat up there alone for quite some time. Thinking. Dreaming, Letting my mind wander, until I myself wandered back down the hillside and into town.

I had found out the day prior that one of my buddies named Ryan, who is a year younger than me at UW, happened to be in town as well, so I grabbed dinner with him and few interesting international characters he met along the way. I also ran into Nic, from my Torres del Paine team; it was an awesome dichotomy among friends I had lived with for a matter of days in a forest and another I lived with for three years in a city.

The following morning we rented a tent and made our way up to Cerro Torre. The hike was absolutely gorgeous – we walked through a lush valley, surrounded by toothed mountaintops and an unprecedented amount of sunshine.

IMG_6395

We arrived at the lake, which was filled with small icebergs and then made camp for the night to catch the sunrise in the morning. We awoke early and crawled out of our warm sleeping bags into the cold, crisp mountain air. Fumbling around for my headlamp, I gathered up my things and walked down the path to the lake.

Surprisingly, we had the place to ourselves. The sun began to creep over the mountains behind us, casting a beam of light on Cerro Torre and its rocky companions. The peaks began to glow red, reflecting perfectly in the calm water below. While we may have missed such an effect at Torres del Paine, this would definitely do; I have been able to see many amazing things on my trip, but this was hands down one of the most remarkable.

Cerro Torre at sunrise

Cerro Torre at sunrise

We sat there in peace until the red glow had dissipated and the mountains were fully soaked in sunshine. I was able to snag a few more hours of sleep before I decided to branch off by myself on a separate connecting trail to a different hike, which leads to Laguna de Los Tres, below Mt. Fitzroy.

Laguna de Los Tres

Laguna de Los Tres

It was a long day (over eight hours of trekking) carrying a heavy backpack, but the views from the lake were worth it.

View from Laguna de Los Tres

I spent a few more days hanging out in El Chalten – the small town has a sort of Lake Chelan vibe to it as it is plenty touristy, yet it is mostly filled with ‘local tourists.’

I have reached a point in my travels at which traveling has become living; almost five months into my adventure, this lifestyle has become somewhat “normal.” Unintentionally, I started listening to almost strictly Seattle hip-hop/rap about two months ago, as no matter where I am in the world, it brings me right back home. Consequently, I have really grown to appreciate how much talent exists in our city; it’s incredibly inspiring and makes me want to chase my own dreams.

For me, music has re-energized my desire to write. I never stopped loving writing, but as I think more about what I want to do when I get home, my mind had wandered away from writing. Coming into this trip, it is described as “solo international travel,” and while that may be so, lately I hardly ever find myself alone. There are just too many awesome, friendly, outgoing people down here in Patagonia to feel totally alone. While I don’t want to ostracize myself, I do want to make writing (outside of my blog) more of a priority moving forward.

St. Christopher, which ran aground in WWII

St. Christopher, which ran aground in WWII

I have been in Ushuaia, Argentina for nearly two weeks now; when people ask me how long I have been here, I typically respond, “too long.” It’s not that I haven’t enjoyed this town (it is surrounded by lovely mountains, forest and water), there’s just not a whole lot to do.

The first morning in my hostel, I sat down at the breakfast table next to a guy and a girl that looked to be either Canadian or American. I asked them how they were doing and where they were from – “Seattle,” they replied in unison. Turns out they are from Auburn, and Bayly dated one of my friends from high school, Olivia, in college. Small world.

I spent the rest of the day trekking through Tierra del Fuego National Park. It was a great day, full of cool people, good conversation and lots of walking.

Just a couple of Hawks hanging out in Tierra del Fuego

Just a couple of Hawks hanging out in Tierra del Fuego

But just when I thought the world couldn’t get any smaller, I received a message from another Bonderman Fellow who is currently in Santiago, Chile because she randomly met the friends I made while crossing the Ecuador-Peru border way in October!

While I have bounced all around the city staying at different hostels, I found a part-time home at Cruz del Sur hostel. At this point, all of the staff knows my name. I play with the big fuzzy dog everyday. I unfortunately watched the Super Bowl here, lying on the floor in despair after the game. I fell into a decent routine of running/working out, which was a nice change of pace from trekking. And I met some awesome people from all over the world. Though because I have been here so long, I have seen almost all of them come and go.

I made some friends in Ushuaia

I made some friends in Ushuaia

There was a German man, whom we nicknamed “National” for he looked like he came straight out of National Geographic or the Indiana Jones movies. [For the record, he fully embraced his nickname.] There were the English guys, who were hilarious. Two awesome Israeli sisters joined in our adventure through the national park. There was Amanda and Jessica, two sisters from England, and Charlotte, from France, whom we made a delicious dinner with and explored the town.

Last night, Jared my new Canadian buddy, and Marco and Rodrigo, two awesome guys from Brazil, decided to throw an unofficial BBQ at the hostel. Marco and Rodrigo prepared an absolute feast – it was seriously one of the best meals on my trip.

Halfway through dinner, Jared encouraged Rodrigo to make an announcement – apparently hours before, Rodrigo had received word that he had passed all his exams and had officially become an attorney. The small crowd cheered, as Rodrigo humbly thanked everyone.

“We are the United Nations,” Marco joked, as our makeshift outdoor dining room must have represented ten or so different countries.

It was a perfect ending to my time here. I came here looking for a last minute deal to Antarctica, but have made many friends along the way.

Looking back on my time here, if someone to ask why I stayed so long, my answer would be, “for moments like that.”

That…and the fact that I managed to find a boat, and tomorrow, I’m living out my dream and going to Antarctica!

My alarm had entered my dream as some sort of sound, that is, until I was tossed back into reality. Scrambling around trying to locate my phone, I switched off the alarm, rolled out of bed and hustled down to the bus station just before 8am. When I asked what time I could catch a return bus the driver replied “4pm.” When we arrived at Perito Moreno glacier around 10am, I thought to myself, “what am I going to do for six hours?”

I met some nice people from the Czech Republic and another from Buenos Aires. I walked around for a bit, slightly bummed that I was going to miss the start of the Seahawks game, staring out at the mass of frozen water which stretched from the waterline all the way up into the snow capped peaks behind it.

Perrito Moreno Glacier

Perito Moreno Glacier

All of a sudden I heard a loud cracking sound and then a thunderous roar. I sprinted up the stairs just in time to watch a massive shelf of ice tear itself from the glacier and stand still, upright, just for a moment before it imploded and came crashing down.

In that instant, I was again brought back to reality, although this time it was not a piece of technology beckoning me back, but rather a beautiful, powerful display of nature.

I had never seen anything like it. Nice, warm sunny weather had brought with it nature’s demolition crew, so I sat down and enjoyed the show.

Perrito Moreno Glacier

More from Perito Moreno Glacier

It was a bit like fishing, only without the fish…and the rod…and the bait…and the quiet serenity of nature. Loud tourists roamed everywhere, however, I sat there patiently, hoping to hear another booming crack, waiting for another colossal hunk of ice to come crashing down; waiting for a “bite.”

Bruno, my new friend from Buenos Aires, and I spent the remainder of the afternoon talking about traveling, Argentina, sports, finance…you name it, while our conversation was periodically interrupted by another loud pop.

Bus ride to Calafate

As the bus pulled into the terminal in Calafate, I said goodbye to Bruno and hustled down the steps to the main street. I entered a rather artisan-looking pub and inquired about the game.

A slightly disturbing image appeared on the screen – the Seahawks were down 6-0. Minutes later, just after I had ordered a sandwich and a beer, Aaron Rodgers struck again. 13-0.

I remained calm, as there was plenty of game left.

The only other person in the bar that seemed kind of interested in the game was a random German guy, who told me that he pays attention to the NFL back home, but doesn’t necessarily pick favorites. When I told him I was from Seattle, he decided to lend me his support for the evening, which as the minutes ticked by, seemed to be evermore necessary.

As the Seahawks lined up for a field goal, I was starting to get a bit antsy; any points on the board were better than none at all. And then, all of a sudden instead of pinning the tip of the ball into the ground, Jon Ryan scooped it up and took off running for his life, effortlessly tossing a floater into the end zone.

I stood up, pumping my fists into the air. There was hope.

And yet, the rest of the bar paid no attention, remaining fully engrossed in conversation. My new German friend was laughing at the absurdity of what we had just witnessed.

After Russell Wilson’s quarterback keeper, the Hawks were down 16-14 and all hope resided in the onside kick. “Come on,” I said under my breath, “come on.”

The bar had the TV muted, thus I squinted at the ensuing pile of chaos as Coldplay blared in the background, searching for any kind of positive visual confirmation. The pointing of an arm was all I needed. An unheralded backup receiver named Chris Matthews had just made the biggest play of his professional career.

I am always an optimistic fan – I have dreamt about this type of ending for years; whether it was the bottom of the 9th at SafeCo or the 4th quarter at Key Arena or Husky Stadium, I am firm believer that there is almost always ‘enough time.’ Don’t believe me, watch this video.

At this point the Seahawks appeared to be in control. Doug Baldwin was on a mission and Marshawn Lynch was in full ‘Beastmode.’ When Marshawn sauntered into the end zone for the go ahead score, I emphatically mimicked his understated celebration and stood up, silently affirming what had just happened.

But when Luke Willson pulled in Russell Wilson’s desperation 2-point conversation to secure a 3-point lead, I jumped up, shouting, turning around to celebrate with the German guy. At this point, several Argentinians looked up from their drinks in an attempt to understand why some American guy was jumping up and down in the middle of a bar.

As the three Seahawks captains walked out for the coin toss, Tarvaris Jackson (backup QB), Steve Haushka (kicker) and Jon Ryan (punter / once-in-a-blue-moon-QB), confronted by a whole gang of Green Bay’s best players, I was overcome by a similar feeling I described in my last post; at that moment it was these three characters, representing an entire city, against the world.

Spielberg couldn’t have scripted a more perfect ending to one of the craziest games of all-time. When Jermaine Kearse caught that ball in the endzone, I about lost it. This small bar in El Calafate, Argentina, whether they knew it or not (they didn’t) had just witnessed one of the craziest games of all-time.

This team has captivated audiences everywhere, and won the hearts of Seahawks fans around the globe. I’ve watched as many games as I could over the past four months. I could be anywhere in the world, yet each time I found myself in front of a TV watching this magical season, I found myself at home.

While I have stated that my trip has been welcomingly consumed by nature, I cannot help but to be captivated by the immense amount of power that sport has in this world and the unrivaled amount of emotion that it provokes.

What a ride it has been. And tonight, we get to watch these boys play one last time. No matter if you’re in a bar in Pioneer Square, at home on the couch, traveling in the Middle East or at a hostel in the southernmost city on Earth, enjoy this moment. Oh and one more thing:

Go Hawks.

I ducked my head down, pulling my hood over my eyes in an attempt to shield my face from the freezing water being blown off the lake. As my team hunkered down waiting for this intense gust to pass through, the wind picked up Nic’s backpack and tossed it 15 or so feet down the rocks, as effortlessly as one would flick a paper tabletop football.

The instant that the wind quit, our group grabbed our things, took one last glance at the Torres and took off down the mountain.

About a week before this moment, I was sitting on a plane with my face pressed up against the window, attempting to take in the majestic surroundings. I was finally in Patagonia, well above it anyway, a place as legendary as any.

The sun had been setting for about an hour; its blend of reds, yellows, blues and oranges illuminated the west side of the plane, while I peered out my window onto the deep navy blue water and the dark Earth that seemed to have morphed into one. Clouds melted into snow-capped peaks, and then jutted outward, creating ranges of their own. I sat next to a man named Francisco, from Punta Arenas – I asked him what it was like living in Patagonia.

“Cold,” he replied with a smile, “but it’s worth it.”

On my bus ride from Punta Arenas to Puerto Natales, we passed fields of light, twisted trees, as well as majestic mountains that seemed to appear out of nowhere. The wind is so intense, so unforgiving, down here that it causes trees to grow crooked. Entire forests look as if the wind is blowing the treetops over; you wait for the wind to stop, half expecting the tree to stand upright and regain its “normal” shape, but it just never happens.

Puerto Natales is a small town solely thriving off of tourism from nearby Torres del Paine National Park. After I arrived in town around noon, I ran a few errands before attending the “3pm Talk” at Base Camp (a pub/rental shop started by two brothers from Oregon). As I entered the pub, I peered around looking for a friendly-looking group.

“Grab a chair,” a kind South African accent said. The bearded man stretched out his hand, “I’m Nic. This is Andy and Rebecca,” he added, gesturing to the two others sitting at the table.

“Thank you,” I said, as I graciously took a seat. We made small talk – turns out that none of them knew each other (that they had met at a hostel) and were planning on leaving tomorrow to do a 5-day ‘W’ hike of Torres del Paine, which was exactly what I was hoping to do.

Nic casually mentioned that we would need to figure out supplies, gear, etc. as soon as the talk was over.

“Is that an invitation?” I asked, rather boldly. “Of course!” They answered.

And just like that we were a team.

Nic is an accountant in “real life,” thus he immediately began making lists of everything we needed to rent/buy and taking an inventory of important items that we already had. Shortly thereafter we began rushing around town to get food, boots and other necessities. Once we had all of our gear, I took my share of the weight and headed back to my hostel to pack.

Close to midnight, the hostel owner told me that I would need to clear everything off the table in about 10 minutes, as it was almost curfew. At first I was angry – who was he to tell full-grown adults what time they had to go to bed? And then when my stuff wouldn’t fit in my bag, I broke down.

Once he recognized my slight despair, his attitude totally changed. He offered me a little more time; he spoke in a softer, kinder tone and suggested that I wake up early to finish. I agreed and tried to get some sleep.

I awoke early, reorganized my bag, this time strapping my sleeping back to the outside, grabbed a bite to eat and set off for the bus station. I arrived a little early so my mind was left to wander as I stared out the window on the drizzly landscape. I thought about the possibility that if my team didn’t show up for whatever reason then I would be left without a tent or a stove; fortunately, they did show up and off we went.

Several hours later, as the unrelenting wind and freezing rain whipped me in the face, as we climbed a steep hill en route to the campsite of Refugio Grey, each carrying backpacks weighing somewhere between 30-40 lbs.

“Why the hell am I doing this?” I thought silently to myself. And then, suddenly we reached the top of this particular hill, the rain decided to take a break, and I found myself staring out onto crystal blue water and the face of massive glacier. We stopped for a quick water break, filling our bottles directly from a stream of some of the best, cleanest water in the world.

Apparently my question was rhetorical.

We made camp and then somehow convinced our tired legs to trudge farther up the trail to get a better view of Glacier Grey before dinner. On the way up the rain from earlier had turned into a light snow, yet in that moment, free from our backpacks and full of adrenaline, I think we could have walked through a blizzard.

Glacier Grey

Glacier Grey

In terms of experience, I am a camping amateur. I remember the time my brother and I went camping with the Vanderwalls, and the time my grandpa accidentally toasted the sole of my shoe like a marshmallow, when he was trying to dry them by the fire. [Grandpa you are the man. I love you very much.] Therefore, I even found the whole process of cooking by way of a tiny stove fun. I mostly ate peanut butter sandwiches and trail mix for lunch and breakfast, thus we always looked forward to hot pasta, which we spiced up in different ways, each night for dinner.

Fortunately as darkness began to set in, the sky cleared and the wind died down. Hoping for good weather, we drifted off to sleep.

Day 2 was definitely harder than Day 1 as we had to back track down the mountain, past our starting point and then onward to Campo Italiano (a free campsite at the base of the middle section of the ‘W’). My whole body hurt, but fortunately, the sun had come out!

Under clear blue skies the hike was beautiful. “Just beautiful,” according to my notes.

Months ago, when I was on Ometepe, sure I wanted to summit that volcano, but I wasn’t opposed when the guide advised us to turn back due to weather, lack of proper boots, etc. as I wasn’t very keen on an eight hour hike. We walked 8+ hours this fine day carrying our packs and while it was difficult, we did it. I am realizing things like this are the result of change that I was told would occur, but that is intentionally impossible to recognize and quantify while in process.

TDP trail

Our team is so awesome, which also helps a lot. I could not have asked for a better group to take me in. Everyone is very supportive of each other, and unlike plenty of other makeshift groups we have encountered everyone gets along.

We woke up later than anticipated to more sun and more blue skies, so we decided to get moving. Day 3 brought us through Valle Francia (middle stem of the ‘W’), and up to Campamento Britanico, a beautiful lookout surrounded by mountains and an epic view back down the valley.

Atop Campamento Britanico

View from atop Campamento Britanico

Starting the day without packs helped conserve energy so that by the time we packed up and made our way to Cuernos, my body felt good. We made great time, and on top of everything, I ran into a guy from Ballard, but went to school in Wisconsin who told me that the Packers had won – the stage was set for the NFC Championship.

Though Day 4 was the longest of our days, it was my favorite. In a region that typically experiences “all four seasons in a day,” we had lucked into three straight days of sun. We walked along a ridge that looked out over yet another gorgeous lake that seemed to stretch from one end of the ‘W’ to the other. It was truly one of the most unbelievable views I have ever witnessed.

Lago Nordenskjöld

Lago Nordenskjöld

We made an addition to our “family” that day after running into Ryan from Des Moines, Iowa. He’s a cool guy who, although is only 22 years of age, has trekked, climbed and guided all over the world, making him the ideal person for Rebecca to run into, as she wanted to continue on after the ‘W’ and do a circuit around the park (aka the ‘O,’ again due to its rough shape).

More from Lago Nordenskjöld

More from Lago Nordenskjöld

When we reached the intersection of the ‘W’ trail and that which runs down to the hotel, two very different worlds collided. Here we were about four hours into our hike, carrying our lodging, food and clothing on our backs, having showered once in four days, coming face to face with a very clean woman, done up in a ton of makeup, talking on her cellphone.

Plenty of backpackers complain about these types of tourists, claiming that they take the easy (and expensive) way out, though I have learned that everyone has a different style of traveling. Backpacking and sleeping in tents is not for everyone. Some argue, including Yvonn Chouinard, the founder of Patagonia clothing, says there is no substitute for actually going into the Patagonian wilderness. I would argue that as long as the party is respectful there is something to be learned either way; in fact, I found some of these luxury travelers to be more respectful than plenty of my fellow backpackers.

Thankfully we were not concerned with disrespect, for our team had really come together. We took a break on a pretty riverbank to relax a little bit; we had made record time up to Campamento Torres, our final campsite. It’s funny, at some point each day, some part of me (normally my feet) would protest this absurd amount of exercise, until they realized that they had no choice but to continue. Each and everyday, just before I felt like I couldn’t go on any longer, we reached camp.

Although I was exhausted, we had arrived so early that we trekked up to see the Torres in person. They were stunning. A massive wall of stone borders the far end of the lake, peaking straight up into the sky.

The only notes I have for Day 5 are as follows:

“Long.”

Short, sweet and unfortunately accurate. We got up at 3:30am to make the hour long hike in the dark up a steep mountain, to see the Torres at sunrise. We made it up, settled in and a caught a glimpse of beauty just before a massive, dark cloud smothered the sun. A light rain began to fall, just as I saw a wall of wind pick up on the far side of the lake that began to move steadily towards us.

Torres del Paine at sunrise

Torres del Paine at sunrise

It was at this point I ducked my head as the wind had its way with us, showing no regard for human (or backpack) life.

When we arrived back at camp, the weather settled down, allowing us plenty of time to break down our tents one last time. Just before we were ready to leave, Ryan notified us that he had blueberry pancake mix that he “had been trying to get rid of.”

Without hesitation we unpacked the necessary cooking utensils, and moments later, on top of a mountain in one of the most remote parts of the world, we were eating hot blueberry pancakes.

The walk down to the hotel where Nic, Andy and I would catch the bus back to town was long, hot and at times slightly scary. While the clouds dissipated, the wind blew with such force (upwards of 50 mph) that multiple times I had to sit down on the trail, trying to hide my face from the ensuing sharp cloud of dust.

We eventually made it, and when we did, our team sat down to enjoy a nice cold beer together.

We had walked roughly 50 miles over five days, and we became a family along the way. Although we had only known one another for a matter of days, after accomplishing something like this a bond is formed. I know that I am welcome in Chicago, South Africa and England, just as my new friends know that they are more than welcome in Seattle.

On that last night, I stayed up talking to Andy about all kinds of things, mostly differences between the US and the UK and sports. It was at that moment that Andy, who had always taken an interest in the NFL, decided to begin rooting for the Seahawks.

I excitedly began telling him all about the team, different players, etc. It made me realize how much joy such a simple game brings me, along with the rest of my city.

The Seahawks play with a chip on their shoulder, not only for themselves, but as if for all the times Seattle has been neglected or written off by the rest of the country. For those wondering, I was able to catch the NFC Championship, but I’ll save that story for another day.

The squad (from left to right): Me, Rebecca, Nic & Andy (sorry Andy)

The squad (from left to right): Me, Rebecca, Nic & Andy (sorry Andy)

[note: Shoutout to Team Holysh*t – an endearing phrase that we discovered can be used to describe fear, amazement, joy and confusion. Thank you for taking me in. You guys are awesome. Safe travels!]

The streets were nearly empty as I wandered aimlessly around Santiago, Chile. Nearly 8 million people live in the metropolitan area of Santiago, and yet an eerie quietness tiptoed through the deserted sidewalks, passing silent intersections and motionless storefronts.

New Years Eve is a huge deal here in Chile, thus the entire city shut down early so that its citizens could go home to gear up for the big night. Back home, most spend the night with friends, watching fireworks and staying out until the bars close at 2am, but in Chile, New Years is both a family and a social event full of interesting traditions. Back home, if you saw someone sprinting around the block with an empty suitcase you’d probably think they’re either crazy, or drunk; in Chile, it simply means that the suitcase-wielding sprinter wants to travel in the new year, and is asking for good luck.

Everyone parties with his/her family until midnight or so, and then heads out to one of the many parties (most of which require a ticket) that don’t really get going until well after 1am. To call this an event is a severe understatement; it is an extravaganza.

I wasn’t overly keen on paying anywhere between USD$50-$100 for a party starting at 1am, so I hung out with a group of awesome people at my hostel until they left for their various parties late into the night.

The next morning it seemed as though the entire city of Santiago was hungover – the streets were even emptier than yesterday. Although several stops on the “first walking tour of 2015” were closed, we practically had the city to ourselves. Even most of the stray dogs (affectionately known as, “quiltros” – the people of the city feed them, take care of them, and even pick up after them) seemed to be hibernating.

Street Art in Santiago

Street Art in Santiago

On our walk we learned a lot about the military coup (propped up by the U.S.) and 17-year dictatorship that followed. While I am proud to be an American, as I learned about the suffering and the oppression that suffocated the country for so long, I fglaelt ashamed of what our government had done. Later I would visit the Musuem of Memory and Human Rights – an amazing museum dedicated to the remembrance of those lost, abused and oppressed during these hard times and the avoidance of the repetition of history. It was disturbing, beautiful, gloomy, yet bright and powerful.

Mural in Santiago

New York Street (the old financial district) has since been replaced by a newer area, nicknamed ‘Sanhattan,’ but as we approached the narrow cobblestone street I was enthralled by the thin iron gates and tall sophisticated buildings.

At the end of the street sits the Union Club, a very exclusive, traditional society that didn’t admit its first female member until 2006. Across the street lies a slightly satirical imitation, the Union Bar, which is open to just about anyone. I was told that one will find a similar atmosphere at both establishments: older men in suits, drinking and having presumably intellectual conversation. Seeing as the expensive club wasn’t an option, I opted for the pub to grab a sandwich. The place had an aura of blue-collar sophistication about it – the waiters were dressed up, suit-clad men moseyed around the bar engaging in conversation, glancing every so often at the TV in the corner which seemed to be playing the same infomercial of women in bikinis over and over again. It was definitely an entertaining environment.

The following day I ventured to the central market to enjoy some of the freshest fish I have ever tasted, and then took the metro out the cemetery, which is massive. I passed through the gates, onto a paved road, and through the first intersection of what looked like a residential neighborhood. Small stone (some marble, others cement) house-like structures lined the street. About two blocks in, I peered right down the walkway of a multi-story, apartment-like building full of tombs. It was unlike any cemetery I had ever seen.

Cemetery in Santiago

Cemetery in Santiago

I decided to stay an extra day in Santiago to climb Cerro San Cristobal, but had to change hostels as for the first time on my trip I am in the middle of “high season.” On my way I stopped briefly at my favorite gelato place, where I met Doug and Alison, a Canadian couple about my parents’ age. After a quick chat, we exchanged info and I was on my way again.

While I enjoyed Santiago, I am learning that I can only handle big cities for so long thus Valparaiso was a nice escape. Extending from the sea up into the surrounding hills, filled with colorful street art and good food, the city reminded me of a smaller, Chilean version of San Francisco.

I got into town fairly late, so I wandered around hoping to find something that was still open. I happened upon La Copa Rota, a tiny café that only has a few menu options each day – happy to find food, I sat down. Bread, a tasty dipping sauce, a fresh salad, delicious lasagna, desert crepe, juice and a pisco sour and all for less than 10 bucks. The place doesn’t even have a trip advisor page, yet it offers gourmet food at backpacker prices – if any of you ever make it to Valparaiso, it’s on Brasil street, next to a small set of shops covered by a tent.

The next day I strolled toward Plaza Sotomayor a little early before another walking tour, and wouldn’t you know it, my Canadian friends wandered in minutes later!

Many are familiar with the California Gold Rush of 1848, as well as the construction of the Panama Canal in 1914, though I had no idea the impact it had on this small city, tucked away near the bottom of South America. When the gold rush hit, much of the western world flocked to California, but the only way to get a ship to the west at that point in time was sailing all the way around South America, allowing Valparaiso to serve as a sort of halfway point. The prosperity of the town exploded. The main square was flooded with nice shops, fancy hotels and the like, as it quickly became one of the wealthiest port towns in the world. Enter the Panama Canal, and suddenly the town held virtually no world importance. The city entered a steep economic decline, contributing to poverty, crime and a general breakdown of the once prominent “jewel of the Pacific.”

Graffiti in Valparaiso

Graffiti in Valparaiso

Thankfully, following the end of Pinochet’s regime in Chile, tourism began to gain a foothold and has allowed Valparaiso to rebuild and reestablish its beautiful culture.

IMG_5833

The next morning I strolled around the outer edges of the main part of town to take in the incredible works of street art. Being that Valparaiso is built on several giant hills, there are a series of timeworn elevator type lifts strategically around town – some are over 100 years old.

Street Art in Valparaiso

Street Art in Valparaiso

As we made our way down back towards the water, I heard a familiar voice call out from behind me, “Look who it is!” exclaimed Doug. Apparently, moments earlier he had told Alison that he felt a “Wil sighting” coming on – they are absolutely hilarious. Again I can’t help but to think about the intricacies of life; small, seemingly insignificant decisions often have much bigger implications. You might think you’re recommending an ice cream flavor to someone, but in reality you wind up making new friends.

On my last morning in Valparaiso, I went to buy a new SIM card. The young guy cheerfully greeted me as I approached, he was excited when he learned that I was from Seattle and a huge Seahawks fan and flat out ecstatic when he learned that my name is Wilson (fortunately like Russell, our QB, and not the volleyball from castaway). I thanked him for his help, and strolled towards La Copa Rota and its awesome upbeat playlist of 80’s music.

I couldn’t have asked for a more picture perfect ending to my brief, yet lovely stay in this charming city.

After a bus from Valparaiso, and then a night bus to Puerto Montt, my third bus to Ancud pulled onto a ferry en route to Chiloe Island. I hopped off the bus, as the boat started moving, to get some fresh air above on deck.

I hadn’t been on a ferry in years. It reminded me of those trips to Anderson Island to visit my grandparents. The sun shone brightly and I couldn’t help but to draw a comparison to Puget Sound. We reached the other side and after another short ride pulled into the sleepy town of Ancud. I walked across the street to my hostel, a beautiful old wooden house and perhaps the only hostel next to a bus depot that I’ve ever wanted to stay at.

I wandered around town, ate a gigantic burger and then headed down toward the water. A neat concrete pathway hugged the coastline, occasionally interrupted by a set of colorful, playground-style exercise equipment (like the stuff I saw in China). I think it would be awesome if the US built something similar in city parks – I’m actually really surprised they haven’t, as it seems like an easy way to encourage exercise.

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I paced back up the block to look for some food only to find everything was closed and it was only just after 9pm. I scrounged up an empanada from a local deli and headed back to the hostel with my meal. When I sat down at the table with one meat empanada and an orange, a nice older Italian man, named Angostino, eyed me and gestured toward the steam mussels on his plate. “Would you like some?” he asked kindly.

“Oh I don’t know. I don’t want to steal your dinner. I’m fine, really,” I replied, tempted by his gastronomic creation that looked like it belonged on the Food Network.

With a coy smile, he tipped the large metal pot that sat in the center of the table forward – it was nearly half full with deliciously steamed mussels. He said that the whole bucket had cost him two euro and the he was full.

I eagerly accepted his offer, pushed my empanada aside and loaded up my plate. They were even better than they looked. A Belgian guy came into the kitchen and joined in the spontaneous feast. The next thing I knew, Angostino had poured everyone a glass of nice white wine and we were talking about our travels, while dining on amazing shellfish.

I didn’t know how to repay this act of generosity. It was so unprompted, so genuine, so real. I offered to do the dishes and despite some resistance, Angostino finally accepted my offer.

Delighted and full I went to bed, as we were to see a penguin colony the following morning, before I headed further south into Patagonia.

[note: I apologize for taking so long to post. I went trekking through Torres del Paine in Patagonia, thus I fell behind. Hopefully I’ll catch all the way up in the next few days. Thanks for reading!]

Growing up I always wanted to watch sports, or cartoons, but when Sam was in charge of the remote, we were watching animal shows. The Crocodile Hunter, Zaboombafoo – if it was on Animal Planet, PBS Kids or the Discovery Channel, we watched it.

Which, aside from the fact that I hadn’t seen my family in months, was one of the reasons I was really excited for them to experience Central America.

Michelle’s absence had left me kind of down, as though we had shared this brief moment of comfort, security and sheer awesomeness, and then suddenly I was forced to readjust to my current reality. That being said, when they appeared out of the darkness of the hotel walkway, I was ecstatic.

I was able to catch up on much-needed rest, and relax in the sun. I realized that I have regained my love and fascination for reading, having been previously burnt out during college.

Clandestino Beach

I finished Friday Night Lights by H.G. Bissinger (which is much more raw than the movie or the TV series – I highly recommend it) and immediately dove into Rowing Into the Son, an epic tale about a group from the University of Puget Sound that became the first Americans to row across the North Atlantic Ocean (from mainland NY to mainland England), which I finished in a matter of days.

When we weren’t resting, we were exploring.

View from Manuel Antonio

View from Manuel Antonio

As we strolled down the hot gravel road into Manuel Antonio National Park, I felt uneasy – there were groups with guides encouraging them to stare into telescopes aimed high into the treetops, looking for who knows what. I wanted so badly for them to experience the joy, the fascination with nature that I experienced in the Galápagos.

As we made our way onto the warm sand, our luck changed.

A dark, white-faced monkey emerged precariously from the tree line, and snuck up behind a family and their picnic. Quickly he snagged an entire package of cookies, looked daringly at the family knowing very well that there was nothing they could do to stop him, and then scampered back up a tree trunk.

A hoard of his monkey friends emerged out of nowhere and ripped open the package, inciting a feeding frenzy. One monkey went running away bear hugging four or five cookies, pressing them tightly against his chest, hoping that he wouldn’t drop his highly coveted treasure.

We walked right up to the tree and stood within mere feet of these furry little guys. Sam was in heaven, exclaiming that he had “waited his entire life for a moment like this.”

The cookie theif

The cookie thief [photo credit: Sam Carletti]

Carara National Park started off the same way, until we came across two bright scarlet macaws, perched high up in a tree. As we moved farther into the jungle we found more monkeys, playfully leaping from limb to limb. We even saw another sloth!

Crocodiles in the Tarcoles River, which unfortunately is the most polluted in Costa Rica

Crocodiles in the Tarcoles River, which unfortunately is the most polluted in Costa Rica

I tried surfing again, though I learned that I’m still just as bad as I was three months ago. The only downside to our Costa Rican adventure was that, thus far, it is the only place where I have felt judged, and dare I say, disrespected. I would imagine that such sentiment is derived from the nearby Jaco, a tourist-haven that I wasn’t particularly fond of. There is no worse feeling than that of being excluded, of being unwelcome; comparatively, though slightly stressful, at least our navigation mishap on the way to the airport that took us on a detour past a penitentiary was a little entertaining.

Saying goodbye for a second time in a matter of weeks was just as hard as the first.

All of a sudden, I was alone again. Sure, I knew that once I get to Chile I would meet more people and go on more adventures, but at this moment, I was left unaccompanied with my thoughts.

I talked to some friends back home, which helped a lot, but almost more importantly taught me a few things.

For one, I came into this experience anticipating my focus to be on people, sports and the interconnectedness of the two, yet I have found my adventure to be consumed by mountains, forests and wildlife. I am finding it much easier, and rewarding, to seek out spectacular experiences in nature. I have gained an incredible amount of respect for animals and the power of the Earth’s elements. Furthermore, it has been much harder than I thought to find sports games to play in or even watch, but that is ok. To be honest, the coolest, most interesting conversations/experiences I have had are almost always spontaneous; they’re the little moments that are usually so easily passed by.

Most of you don’t know this, but I often write down quotes I hear in normal conversation with my friends, acquaintances, things I find in books or random articles. I have never published any of them – such quotes can be about anything, as long as they make me feel something, as long as they provoke emotion. I think society associates the word “quote” with profound historical figures, you know, stuff that gets put on posters or reproduced over and over again on social media. Look, and more importantly listen, around you – people say profound, interesting things everyday, though most of the time they exist proudly, boldly in that little moment, and then in an instant, they’re gone forever.

I groggily turned off my alarm at 3:30am. I had barely slept a wink, as I had been hold with Avianca for nearly an hour the night before straightening out an interesting ticket situation (I had been issued two reservations on the same day, but at different times and each representative that I spoke to disagreed as to which time was correct).

Therefore, when I wasn’t sleeping, as the first flight of my long travel day soared toward Panama City, I was reading until I fell asleep again. Having landed, as I wandered around the maze of gates to find my next flight to Bogota, Colombia, I found myself in the same terminal I had sat in three months ago on my way to Quito.

Not much had changed; it was still stuffy, although a nicely decorated Christmas tree replaced the giant Ebola warning sign that had previously resided in the middle of the cul-de-sac of gates, lined with those long, adjoined airport seat benches.

I was overcome with anxiety (perhaps the scenery was conjuring up nerves from months passed). Or maybe it was because I felt like I was following a trail of bread crumbs back down to South America, that I felt like I was almost starting over in terms of my grasp on the situation. Whatever it was, I didn’t like it.

While I have now officially set foot in Colombia, I only spent about 45 minutes in Bogota, being that I disembarked, passed through a security line and then immediately boarded my next flight to Lima.

I spent the first half of the flight, again, trading reading for sleep, and vice versa. I awoke when the food cart was on its way by. Unlike in the US, a meal is included on just about every flight, regardless of the time of day. I nibbled on my third airplane meal of the day before breaking out some watermelon sour patch kids [thanks Michelle!!].

Some international airline that I had never heard of was operating the flight in place of Avianca, yet interestingly enough, most of the flight attendants were American; I hadn’t heard English spoken so much on any mode of transportation since I left Houston back in September. Even so, I felt more out of place than normal; perhaps this had to do with the fact that the American flight attendant asked for my drink order in Spanish and then asked the my new Peruvian friend next to me, César, for his in English.

Turbulence hit and I instinctively clutched the book Michelle had given me, The Shack, which is really interesting so far. As the plane smoothed out into its descent, I peered out the window onto what looked like a sea of mashed potatoes. We moved beneath the thick layer of clouds, as a few buoys dotted the ocean below. Farther away some large shipping barges began to emerge from the mist, sitting silently, yet prominently, like battleships during a time of peace.

While this was the Pacific Ocean, as opposed to the Atlantic, I couldn’t help but admire the vastness, the blueness and the mystery of the water, and the sheer bravery of those four rowers from UPS.

As I sat there in the Lima airport, awaiting the final leg of today’s journey (a redeye flight to Santiago, Chile), I was excited for a fresh start, a new country and a new year.

Thank you all for your support. Happy Holidays!

Family

[Note: Santiago, Chile is awesome! I am enjoying Chile and feel very good about where I am at with everything. Looking forward to writing the next post.]

Huaraz was a nice change of pace, but perhaps almost too drastic of a change. I arrived to a small, frigid town that seemed to have hunkered down for the day to avoid the rain.

I came down with a cold, but was determined to go a supposedly epic hike the next morning. As I stood in the lobby area of the hostel I noticed a series of flags, though one seemed out of place: Canada, Israel, the UK, Brazil, Peru… and Washington? I was a little puzzled as to why they had our state’s flag so prominently displayed amongst those of nations – it turns out they were all gifts from other travelers.

The ride to the trailhead the following morning was long and very bumpy.

On top of that, I took altitude sickness medicine in order to prevent illness, but for the first time in my life I was unfortunately blessed with the random/frightening side effects that are read off really quickly and quietly at the end of pharmaceutical commercials.

Stone houses - Laguna 69

Nevertheless, I began walking through a damp grassy meadow, filled with cows and boulders, divided by a winding stream. Our group began our ascent up the rocky trails that zigged and zagged, back and forth, up the mountainside towards Laguna 69 (unnamed, like most of the lakes around here).

Laguna 69 stream

About halfway up, on the side of a mountain, in the middle of Peru, I met a guy from Portland. Turns out we know a few of the same people.

When we finally reached the top, I was greeted by bright, turquoise water, contrasted again olive stone and a stark white glacier.

Laguna 69

It was amazing.

I opened up my backpack to pull out my snack, and out fell The Sopranos season 1 on DVD, which I had purchased in a bus station in Ecuador. As it would appear I took Tony Soprano trekking across the Inca Trail and now through the Andes to this glacial lake.

I made my way back down to the van, which had been waiting for us. Liability standards are a bit different here, as I never signed any sort of waiver, nor did the van driver provide us with very attentive instructions – “Follow the trail. Meet back here in six hours. Turn your phones off because they attract lighting.” At this point, I am unfazed.

I spent a couple days in Lima before catching a flight back up to Costa Rica and then a boat to Montezuma. Of all the beach towns I have visited, this was perhaps my favorite. Everything was so quiet, so laid back, yet removed from the typical tourist vibe.

It was nice to relax for a few days and let my body rest. I also was able to meet up with my family for Christmas!

I’ll be spending the next few days with them, enjoying the holidays, though I will start back up writing when I head south to Chile.

Happy Holidays to everyone back home and those traveling the world! I am excited to continue to share my adventure with you as we approach the New Year.

Feliz Navidad.

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Amazon Rainforest

The following day we said goodbye to Cusco and boarded a plane set for Iquitos, heart of the Peruvian Amazon rainforest. From Iquitos, we traveled another four hours (by moto-taxi, car and boat) to a community-owned eco-lodge, staked just off the bank of the river, but built a couple yards off the ground in anticipation of the heavy rainy season to come.

Rain partially spoiled our first day there, though we saw a few dolphins and got plenty of reading done – it was nice to relax after several long days of trekking. From there on we were blessed with great weather, allowing us to trek through the jungle and explore this rugged area of the world. The Galapagos definitely impacted how I viewed nature, thus I was taken aback by just how raw the Amazon is – our guide ruthlessly hacked away tree limbs, brush and plants, picking up just about any animal that we found (all which would definitely not fly in the Islands).

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Preservation and restoration do exist here though, often in more ways than one. We visited a primate reserve, where monkeys whose families were killed or they themselves were injured, by hunters, are allowed to roam free, and swing through the canopy without worrying about poachers. So to, the lodge is owned and operated by the Libertad community, thus much of its profit goes back into the community to provide healthcare, infrastructure and a better education system.

A local family rescued a sloth family from a group of poachers, and while I am not one for domesticating wild animals, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to see one up close – Pablo, the dad of the sloth family, had taken a lunch break from napping in the rafters, thus we got to hold him – these guys look cute on TV, but they are downright adorable in person.

Hanging out with my good friend Pablo

Hanging out with my good friend Pablo

The best of friends

The best of friends

That evening we decided to go looking for something a little fiercer – we sped into the night up a small stream that cut into the bigger river in search of caimans and alligators. While we spotted a couple, but most sunk into the dark, murky water as we approached.

Turns out, a few of the guides returned to that spot later that night and actually caught a small alligator in order to save it from locals who would hunt it during the upcoming rainy season – long story short, I held an alligator.

Alligator We awoke early the next morning to watch the sunrise before paddling through a flooded forest, full of monkeys, iguanas, birds and even a tarantula (which are normally nocturnal). After lunch, amid the scorching sun, we decided to revisit the dolphins, in hope of better luck.

Lucky we were, as we plenty of breaching, pink dolphins, as well as some jumping grey dolphins. Something about these magnificent creatures is instinctively intriguing; the way they effortlessly glide through the water and launch into the air is breathtaking.

Before dinner, we strolled through the tiny town, which basically consisted of a series of houses and one primary school, situated in a rectangular fashion around a soggy soccer field. All of the houses are built on stilts in preparation of the imminent rainy season, however, even then, almost all of the community floods. Many families construct a makeshift upstairs in the rafters of the house, while moving their chickens, ducks, etc. onto the roof for a few months or even building little rafts for them.

Libertad house

I was able to hop in a volleyball game with some locals (the other team jokingly complained about my height and long arms), which was awesome. Even in this tiny village, it is evident that sports play a large role. I found it really interesting, and refreshingly progressive in a society of clear gender roles, that both men and women were playing volleyball together, and the women are hitting the ball just as hard as (if not harder than) the men.

As darkness set in, we decided to take a quick walk behind the town into a series of palm ferns in search of tarantulas. While the ones that hang out on the tree trunks are relatively harmless/passive, there is still something very disconcerting about coming face to face with a huge, furry spider [note: shout out to Michelle who faced her fears and hung out with these monstrous creatures]. I ate piranha, as well as a fruit small worm in the jungle (apparently they are a local delicacy) and held a crocodile, but I would not hold our big, fuzzy new friend.

After tromping back to the lodge, we sat around the dinner table, eating delicious food and conversing with awesome people from all over the world, talking about all of the crazy things we had seen that day, but also much bigger issues. One recurring topic seemed to be what is happening back home in the states right now, all of the protests, calls for justice, scrutiny of the police, etc. While I was sitting at a table with people from Belgium, Thailand, Ireland, France and the U.S., I learned that we all have our problems. Unfortunately, there seems to be no situation, no injustice that is unique to one place.

Libertad boat

I am glad to have visited this unique part of the world and witnessed first hand the harsh reality of the jungle, but I think for the first time on my trip I was excited to move on. I had been eaten by mosquitos and hadn’t stopped sweating since I arrived. That being said, I am very grateful to have reached such a remote place, one most will only see on the discovery channel. While I unfortunately didn’t see any anacondas, I did make it out of the Amazon rainforest alive and well.

Amazon sunset

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