Thursday, June 1, 2017

6 Months Later..

As many of the followers on this blog know, our big long trip from the top of the world, to the bottom, and back, ended back in October. Many people have asked me "Where is your last blog post?! I need a wrap up!" Well, here it is. This post will not only cover our last days in South America, but also our thoughts about the whole experience.

When I left off we were on our way north and had just gotten to Cuzco, Peru! There we stayed at a hostel for the night before starting the trek to Aguas Calientes (the city at the bottom of Machu Picchu). Since there are no roads going into Aquas Calientes, the only way to enter the city was via train, or your own two feet. So we set out and drove as far as we could ourselves before hiking our way along the train tracks to the city. Thankfully we were able to leave our Jeep at a home nearby the train station overnight for only 10 SOL! 

The city of Aquas Calientes is not large and there are no vehicles in the city. Everyone walks everywhere, and any of the supplies needed are shipped in on the trains! Our first order of business was to find the place where they sold tickets for Machu Picchu. Once we were there, we were interested in purchasing an additional ticket to climb Montaña Picchu. This cost an additional $20 per person, but would give us sights of the ancient city only 200 people per day are able to see (a small number in comparison to the 2,000-5,000 people that tour the city everyday!). With our tickets in hand, we decided to find a hostel to stay at. Months earlier, while we were at Frog Hostel in Huanchaco Peru, they had told us to visit their "sister hostel", Super Tramp Hostel, later in our trip. So, we found our way to Super Tramp Hostel and thankfully they had beds available! 

In the morning we arose at 5:30 am to get ready to make the ascent to Machu Picchu. Since we didn't want to wear ourselves out prematurely by hiking up to the city, we decided to shell out an extra $15/person and take one of the many busses. Once we got there we immediately went to the entrance to Montaña Picchu. Since it was so early in the day-- and at such high elevation, it was cold and drizzly, and we were among the still sleeping clouds. To our surprise, llamas started to appear out of nowhere! Now, we aren't sure if they were llamas or alpacas. But, part of the fun for us is still arguing over which animal it was, so please don't spoil it for us! If you must know, I'm team llama, Seth was team alpaca, and Mat didn't really care... Classic.

Now for the climb up Montaña Picchu... Where do I begin? It was awful. And amazing. And so exhausting. But so worth it. Imagine being up at 10,000 feet elevation, looking at a flight of stairs that is steeper than normal, made of slippery, wet rocks, and takes you an hour and a half to climb up. Then add in twists and turns, and in most places 1,000 foot cliffs off the edge with no railing or anything to hold onto. That is Montaña Picchu. When we first started the climb, it wasn't so steep, and we had fresh legs for climbing. Then, it got steeper, and narrower, and slipperier. Early on, Seth kept up his pace and went on ahead, while Mat and I stayed at our own pace. After climbing about an hour and a half, Mat's knee was done for and the descent back to the city was going to be even worse so we ended up turning back. Although we didn't make it all the way, we did see some AMAZING views of the ancient city below and the jungle surrounding us. At one rest stop along the way we witnessed the clouds parting and they revealed the iconic view of Machu Picchu we have all seen from textbooks and NatGeo documentaries. 

We spent the rest of the day winding our way through the various parts of the city and trying to listen in on the tour guides as they walked past. Although we didn't hire a tour guide (we heard bad reviews about how some just make up their information) and we didn't have time or money to research  good one, we still were amazed by the construction of it all. 

Once we were done exploring we walked back down to Aguas Calientes. Since Mat's bad knee was bothering him, Seth walked back to the Jeep, and we stayed one more night at Super Tramp Hostel. In the morning we made the 5 mile trek back to the Jeep where Seth was waiting with breakfast made. From there we drove to Ollantaytambo where we discovered more ancient ruins. 

From there we kept camping and making our way north and stopped at the Nazca Lines in Nazca, Peru. These are depictions of animals and nature that were carved into the desert floor by ancient peoples. The lines are most easily seen by airplane, but the tickets cost over $100 per person! Although we really wanted to do it, we just decided it wasn't in our future. Instead we went to a lookout point where we were able to pay $9 per person and see a lizard, tree, and hand. Off in the distance we could see more of the lines, but since we were not at a high enough vantage point, we couldn't make out what the lines made up. 

The night before while deciding if we were going to take an airplane to see the lines, we were also talking about our trip home. Since we had already been driving for about five months and crossed many borders, we decided we were going to ship our vehicle from Cartagena, Colombia, to Miami, Florida. This allowed us to skip over migrating between six more countries if we were to drive back through Central America. The aduanas we had experienced were stressful and frankly, we didn't want to have to deal with them. We sent out an email to the shipper we had used to unload our Jeep in Cartagena previously, and found out we would be able to get on a ship in just two weeks! But we had a long drive ahead of us.

The drive that had taken us about two weeks when we were heading south, had to be cut down to 5 days so that we had time to meet with the shipping broker and get all of the paperwork done (which takes about a week to do!) Since we already knew business runs inefficiently and slowly in Colombia we needed all the days we could get to board this ship in two weeks! Mat and Seth drove through the night and stopped for only 4-8 hours at a time to sleep. After some intense driving and being stuck in traffic for hours on end, we made it on time. 

From there the following week was filled with Seth doing paperwork and running around the city getting all of the approvals he needed to safely ship our home back to the U.S. Once the ship had left, the was a small scare because of hurricanes that had hit northern Colombia, but all ended up being well. We spent another five days in Cartagena eating at our favorite Indian restaurant we had found. By the end of our time there we were on a first name basis with the owner and we will forever remember eating Indian for days on end and never getting sick of it. 

On October 14th, we flew from Cartagena, Colombia, into Miami, Florida. There was a bittersweet feeling as we left because we knew it signaled an end to our adventures. We spent four days waiting for the ship to arrive in Port Everglades, Florida. Once it arrived, we were on our way! Since our shipping broker in Miami took care of all of the shipping/unloading documents, all we had to do was pick up the Jeep at the port (this also revealed the huge differences in the way business is handled in the U.S. vs. South America)!

We left Port Everglades and made the three day trip up the East Coast to make a surprise visit to some very special friends we hadn't seen in way too long. We made it into Boston, MA, at about 5:00 on the 20th of October. We had been in touch with our friends, Roberta and Maxine, to surprise their mom and dad, but it proved to be too difficult and we had to visit Steven (Dad) at work before surprising Sally Ann (Mom) at a local restaurant. It was simply wonderful. We stayed at the restaurant and talked for hours before going home and continuing the conversation. Over the next few days we got a tour of downtown Boston where my mother went to college, ate at the Union Oyster House (and sat in JFK's designated booth) and visited Salem, MA the weekend before Halloween! We were sad to leave, but we had people waiting for us back home. 

When we left Boston, we drove to the western side of Pennsylvania to stay the night at Dave Weider's house (another family friend). We got our first home cooked steak dinner in months and Seth got to relive a whole bunch of Army memories with Dave. one the morning we left, and drove the last 16 hours home. We arrived back home at the cabin at two a.m. on October 25th, marking the end of our Pan-American Adventure.

The next day it was surreal to be home. It was surreal to think we had just spent the last six months traveling the western hemisphere-- that we had jumped in the Arctic Ocean, spent the majority of our night sleeping in our jeep, visited 12 countries, and made it to the bottom of the world and back. There are no words to describe the feelings we had in the days following. In a way it was a relief to have a day where we weren't driving, but life seemed to be on pause for us. Life was back to normal. But, was it? 

We had started to question what our normal was. After being together, just the three of us, every day for the last six moths, we had to adjust. What had become our normal, was taken back from us just was quick as we had created it. We spent the next few days telling friends and family of our adventures and would excitedly say "Oh! Do you remember ____?!" and we would relive the memories over and over again. But life still goes on, and in the end, once we had told people about our trip, we could tell they didn't truly understand it like we did. There was a disconnect between the three of us and the people we were talking to. This was more than a vacation. This was more than a trip on the Pan-American highway. This was our way of life. 

One of the most common questions we got asked is, 'How did you decide to do this?!'. I admit, we did something quite out of the norm for the majority of people, so they had to ask, because to them, it was just never a possibility. It all started when Seth was in Afghanistan. He spent his time researching overloading and thought up the idea to travel Europe for two months, and had asked Mat to come with. Well, I was obviously going if Mat was! But, two years was a bit unattainable. Then, it turned from traveling Europe, to traveling the Pan-American highway. There were many factors leading to this decision, mainly money, but in the end I couldn't have asked for anything better. At the time, Seth was getting out of the military and wanted to travel. While I had just graduated six months earlier, and Mat and I were just working at jobs we didn't like, in a town where people were content with the daily grind. We weren't content. We needed to go out and see the world. Even though everyone's lives calls them in a different direction, we knew our lives were calling for adventure. 

One of the biggest reasons why we had to go for Seth and I (and Mat, in a way) is because if we had told our mom about this trip when she was alive, she would have made sure we did it-- probably even funded it. This was our testament to her adventurous spirit. I remember one night before we had left for the trip, we were talking at the end of a grueling day for Mat and Seth of designing and constructing our living system in the Jeep. We were starting to feel like people were doubting us, that it wouldn't be as amazing as we had expected, but we were resolved, and Seth said "I can't live my life without doing this trip, because I know it's what Mom would have wanted".  Mat and I were in 100% agreement with him.

Now, on the one year anniversary of when we left to start the most memorable trip of a lifetime, Mat and I are living in North Hollywood, CA, and Seth is living at the cabin while going to school to become a paramedic. Do you recall the saying that is usually said when someone loved passes away? "I think of them everyday." But usually it's just an expression, but not actually true. However, we truly do think of the trip every single day. 

Sunday, September 18, 2016

The Fortunate and Unfortunate

It's hard to believe we left Ushuaia 18 days ago! What?! Time really does seem to fly as we travel. Sometimes reality seems to hit us hard when it feels like we were at the bottom of the world over a month ago. Oh well, onto new and exiting things! Since we have achieved the ultimate goal of our trip, now we have gotten to check other things off the adventure-must-do list. As we travelled south we started compiling a list of things we wanted to do on the return trip. So far we have been able to achieve every one of them! 

Snowy roads as we were leaving Ushuaia, Argentina.
The day we left Ushuaia, on the first of September, we drove for a long time. We got all the way through the ferry ride, to Torres del Paine. Our main reasoning for going back to the famous Chilean national park was because the first time we had visited, we weren't able to see the peaks due to thick fog. Since most of the park was closed for the off season,  this time we didn't enter the park to avoid paying another $50 for tickets. We camped on the shore of a lake that was near enough for us to see a spectacular view of the mountain. Fortunately, in the morning we had the clearest day imaginable to see the mountain. Check that off the list! We took tons of pictures of the mountain reflected on the lake, and many of the Jeep with the mountains as the background. We were able to drive to a look out point to get pictures of us as well. The view was better than we could have hoped for!

Torres del Paine
Mat & Emily and Torres del Paine
Seth and Torres del Paine
From there we decided to try our luck at seeing a glacier without having to actually go into Glacier National Park (it cost $65 just to enter the park!). Seth found a road on our GPS that looked promising, but alas, it led onto private property. Let me tell you, we got some funny looks from the farmers nearby as we turned around to go back. We were only able to look at the glaciers from afar and wish it wouldn't have cost so much to see them up close. That night we stayed at a campground we think was technically closed for the season. But, nothing told us not to enter and there were no signs stating we had to pay to stay! It was a very cold night, but well worth the view of the moon setting over the mountains.

Moon setting
Here is where some unfortunate things started happening. Since it was so cold out, and we were low on fuel in our propane tank (we didn't know we were low at the time) we had a very hard time cooking. Sometimes the stove would fire right up, but then sputter out a few minutes later. Sometimes the flames would be very weak, and sometimes we could only run one burner at a time. This morning we weren't able to cook breakfast :( So, we went on our way to El Chalten.

We arrived in Chalten with the intent to pick a trail to hike the next day, buy snacks for the hike, and buy a few dinner necessities. That morning Seth had the idea to keep the propane tank inside the Jeep all day so it didn't get cold and maybe it would run better! Then he made a nice little jacket for it to stay a bit warm while we used it outside to cook. It worked! We made double portions of dinner so we could have food for the 16km hike in the morning. However, we woke up late the next morning. Instead of hiking to Lago Torres, we decided on an 8km hike to Lago Capri, which would leave us ample amounts of time to keep driving north after we were done.
Seths' jacket for the propane tank

Mount Fitz Roy from the entrance to El Chalten

 The beginning of the trail was very steep and very windy up in the mountains, but we made it to the lake! The lake was still half iced over, with Mount Fitz Roy behind it. It was beautiful. And then Mat and Seth got the idea to hike further to Tres Lagos. Therefore turning our 8km hike, into what we thought would be 18km. It turned out to be 20km (equivalent to 12 miles total). I don't know why I agreed to it. The first 3 extra kilometers were pretty flat, but the last kilometer was a killer. We ascended 750 meters over the course of 1km. Even at the beginning of the trail there was a huge sign warning people only to continue if they were in good physical condition with no heath problems. It claimed it was supposed to take an hour to get to the top. I consider it an achievement that Mat and I made it in an hour and 15 minutes! The ascent was steeper than 45 degrees at some parts, and the last half of it was through snow.  It was probably one of the worst ideas we have had yet, but worth it nonetheless. We started the hike around noon, and got off the mountain at 7:45pm-- needless to say, we didn't drive any further when we were done. While Seth was used to ruck marches in the army, Mat and I were exponentially more exhausted. I've never had hotdogs as delicious as the ones we cooked that night. 

Waterfall in El Chalten
Mount Fitz Roy from Lago Capri
Mount Fitz Roy from Tres Lagos
Seth at Tres Lagos
The next morning we packed up camp and made it to San Carlos de Briloche. It is a super nice tourist town that basically thrives off of hotels, restaurants, and selling mountain gear. We spent that night on the shore of a beautiful lake with huge multi-million dollar homes on the opposite side. We joked that while those homes were so expensive, our stay was free :) However, again, our propane tank was acting up again. On an average night, we usually cook meat in one pan and pasta in the other, but this night we were only able to cook our meat. Its a good thing we hadn't yet eaten the pasta we had made for our hike up Fitz Roy, and we used those noodles instead. That night we realized we really needed to fix our propane tank, because none of our problem solving was helping. 

The next morning we stopped by a coffee shop for wifi so Seth could learn everything he could to diagnose our propane problems. First we realized that, although it wasn't a big deal, we had been connecting the hose from the tank to our stove incorrectly. It needed to be attached in order of connected to the tank first, stove second, and tank turned on third. Also, the few times we had taken the tank off its mount outside the Jeep, it had tipped over, and liquid fuel had gotten into parts it shouldn't have, therefore causing liquid fuel to come out of the tank instead of gas. Lastly, we just simply needed the tank filled. The last time we had it filled was in Columbia, so even though we thought we still had enough fuel left, we apparently didn't. This was all an easy fix after finding this out. We stopped by a local station to have it filled, and went out to a restaurant until the shop was finished with it. It was nice to finally have a working tank, and not have to worry about if we were going to be able to finish cooking before it went on the fritz.

From there we spent a few days driving from Puerto Varas, through Osorno, and Los Angeles, Chile. This is when we started noticing our brakes making strange grinding noises. While leaving a gas station in Los Angeles, Seth took a look at the brakes and realized we needed them replaced ASAP. We looked around Los Angeles for a Jeep dealership for parts, but it was closed due to the weekend. Later that night we rotated the tires on the Jeep and Seth took a closer look at the brakes at a Copec gas station. Turns out the performance brake pads that were supposed to last the trip all needed replaced, and the drivers rear brake rotor needed to be either machined (to fix it), or replaced. This is because the pads were so bad, they had left deep scratches in the rotor that would have destroyed new pads if we didn't get it fixed. Ultimately, we decided to keep pushing north, and timed our arrival into Santiago so we got there early Monday. 

Drivers side rear brake pad
After driving to a Jeep repair shop and talking with a manager, we found out we would have to wait until the next day to get all the brake pads. We were taking a gamble on this though, because we were still not sure if the brake rotor would need replaced or if it could be machined. If it couldn't be machined, then we would have to wait another day for the part to come in. That night we returned to the Fox Hostel where we had stayed before. 
We also returned to The Pizza Factory we had visited last time, and went to the bar above it called The Red. We walked in the bar and found it to be super fancy, but in a really cool and unique way. There were real candles dripping wax on the tables, funky house music playing, and a dark speak-easy feel to it. There was no such thing as a drink menu here. For instance, when I asked for a mojito that was a bit fruity, the waiter made some suggestions for flavors and liquors that would work well together. It was delicious! No wonder this place was voted the #1 bar in Chile two years in a row! We got back to our hostel hoping for good news about the Jeep in the morning.

Our drinks at The Red
We were in luck. While Mat was getting the rotor situation figured out, Seth taught me how to replace brake pads. Turns out, it is really easy! I just either needed someone to loosen the lug nuts on the tires for me, or invest in a four foot long pipe to help me out. We were able to replace all of the brake pads and install the machined rotor by noon! One day of work and $200 later, we were back in business! 

Emily wrenching on the Jeep brakes

Llama statue we found on the side of the road

In the next few days we stayed at Hostel Emilia again, just to get more Kangreburgers. We had purposely not eaten at all that day in order to gorge ourselves in the most delicious burger in the history of man kind. We crossed into Peru on the 17th and drove all the way to the city of Puno on lake Titicaca. We consider it a life achievement to say we have been to Lake Titicaca. And yes, we might have the humor of a 7th grade boy. Unfortunately, Mat had an adverse reaction and did not acclimate very well at all. What should have taken us three or four days to ascend in elevation, we did in one day from sea level to 14,000 feet. Yikes. The hostel we stayed at let us borrow oxygen for him, and within hours he was back to his normal self. 
The Kangreburger. 

We arrived in Cusco Peru today (the 18th) and we are leaving for Aguas Calientes tomorrow. We will spend one night there, and then the next morning trek up to Machu Picchu! The last few weeks have been full of trials, but all of it is worth it in order to see South America. Next things to check off our list of things to see is the Nazca Lines, and the lost Inca fortress, Ollantaytambo.

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

We Love Patagonia.. And Not Just Their Clothing

We made it! We have reached the southern-most drivable part of South America— Ushuaia, Argentina! It has been a long time coming, but very well worth all of the effort we put into our adventure. On June 1st we left home, on June 17th we were at the Arctic Ocean at the top of Alaska, and yesterday, August 30th, we arrived at the bottom of South America. to recap our route to Ushuaia; on August 23rd we headed east out of Osorno, Chile, and entered Patagonia, Argentina. From there we have been heading south and visiting national parks on our way to our destination. 

The first night we spent outside of Osorno (before we crossed into Argentina) we found ourselves up in the mountains with snow three feet deep alongside the roads. At first I was nervous we were going to be in for snow the rest of the trip, but as we drove further down the mountain it had all disappeared. Although I love the snow, I not a huge fan of camping in it! That afternoon we decided to check a camp on Lake Pueyrredon Mat had found of iOverlander. When we arrived we were driving through some thick fog (not uncommon here). Because of the fog, there was a very eerie feeling to the place, and a strange beauty of it all. After checking out a few spots and deciding against them, we ended up finding a 4x4 trail around 7pm. The sign at the trail head stated it was 7km long and went to Lago Parisio. We drove about 1km down the trail before deciding to call it a night. Since the trail was only one car wide and lined with trees, tall grass, and lots of bamboo, we had to cut a clearing alongside the trail to park.

The Jeep on our way to the 4x4 trail.

Camp on the 4x4 trail.

In the morning Seth went to scout the rest of the trail while Mat and I made breakfast. Seth returned with news that the trail ended at a gate, but there was a river crossing to continue driving the trail on the other side. Of course, any time Seth and Mat get a chance to do a river crossing, we must. So, on the trail we went and crossed the river. However, the trail was no longer drivable only a few hundred kilometers further. Instead, we had more than enough time to kill for the day and decided to hike it! After another brief scouting trip, Seth and Mat said we simply had to do it. There was a sign stating 3.7km to Lago Parisio, but the hike seemed longer. Our surroundings and views were stunning. We felt like we were in the Forbidden Forest from Harry Potter and Rivendell from Lord of the Rings all at once. After hiking up hill for about two hours, we made a steep descent down to the lake. The lake was beautiful. The fog was thick, the water was completely still, and the trees were dripping from melting snow. Our surroundings were so quiet and so still that it seemed almost surreal. There were no animals or birds making sounds in the forest, and the wind died down as well. Although we had warmed up during the hike, we quickly grew cold while taking in the view, and turned back towards camp. 

The river crossing.

A dried up waterfall on the hike to Lago Parisio.

Seth hiking on the trail to Lago Parisio.

Forrest on our way to Lago Parisio.

Lago Parisio

In the morning we made our way back to the main roads and crossed over into Argentina. The crossing was easy because Chile does’t care what you take out of the country, and Argentina doesn't have a list of items we are not allowed to bring in. This means that we simply get stamped in, and then on our way after a brief stop at the aduana! Plus, there were no entry fees! We had been told it would cost us roughly $150 per person to enter Argentina, but we had no fees! We spent the night camping under a tall bridge and Mat was able to make a fire for the first time since we were in Colorado. 

Mountains views during our drive.

On the 26th we drove further south along Route 40 and got to take in a lot of the Patagonian beauty. Although most of the land looks like tundra, there are many mountains and lakes to see along the way. On the first day of driving in Patagonia, we wondered what sort of animals lived there since the land seemed so desolate. It turns out there is all sorts of wildlife-- just not what we where expecting! Imagine lots of sheep, wild horses, and cattle-- not too interesting, right? Now add in emu, llamas, and flamingoes. It just became a lot more interesting! After driving for several hundred miles, we found an awesome campsite at Arco de Piedras.  Although it took us roughly 80km off course through teeth rattling bumpy roads, we had one of the quietest nights ever. No one was around for miles, and the nearest town was at least 10km away. We camped up on a hill overlooking the lake, which had a huge rock formation in the shape of an arch. Further beyond the lake were beautiful snow capped mountains. You could say we were spoiled with amazing views at this camp. Later that night, like every night in Patagonia, the wind picked up around 9pm. However, we were parked with the wind hitting the passenger side of the vehicle, causing strain on the sides of the roof top tent. We needed to reposition so the wind was coming straight at us. 

Now imagine this scenario. It is 10:30 pm and we are all tucked in for sleep, but the wind is coming at us and we need to move the Jeep. I was laying inside the Jeep on the sleeping platform, while Seth and Mat were in the RTT. Seth jumps down in his army thermo long underwear, volunteering to reposition the vehicle quickly. Then, after piling the bags from the drivers seat on top of me, he starts to reposition. And then gets lost. He's all turned around and doesn’t know which way we were facing, or which way we need to go. Literally driving in circles. And then after a few circles asks 'Where the hell am I going?!' And we lose it. We all start laughing at the hilarity of what we must look like with Mat in the roof top tent, me laying inside the vehicle with three bags stacked on top of me from the drivers seat, Seth driving in circles, and not having any clue of what direction we are pointed. It was a full on, wheezing, coughing, ohmygod I can not breathe, dad-style laugh (anyone who has seen Knute Aasen laugh so hard looses his shit and you think is going to die, imagine that). It was probably a mix of tiredness and being food-drunk from the insane amounts of pasta we consumed a few hours earlier. 


Arco de Piedras

In the morning we packed up camp and took some amazing pictures of the Jeep... and drove through a few mud holes :) Again, we drove a few hundred miles to Chalten, Argentina. It is a small community which thrives off tourism from the amazing mountain views. We spent the night at the trail head parking in a dirt lot on the outskirts of town. Although we are not equipped to hike long trails such as these, we still plan on going back to check out the town more.

Mat filling our water purifier from the lake at Arco de Piedras. The water is so clear!

Jeep at Arco de Piedras.

Mud holes. 

Mountain views during our drive.

Mountain horns of El Chalten

In the morning we made our way to El Calafate for lunch and to get gasoline before crossing back into Chile. The route we are taking to Ushuaia crosses between Chile and Argentina numerous times. This is the night we made it to Torres del Paine! We found a camp and spent the night alongside a lake that was supposed to have amazing views in the morning of the famous mountain horns. When we got there, the camp was supposed to have showers and bathrooms available from a private owner on the National Park, but all of the buildings were locked up. We went to a nearby ranger station to inquire about this, and found out not only was this section of the park was closed, but we had completely missed the ranger station to pay our entrance fees! They let us stay at the spot, but without the accommodations. We went to bed planning on exploring the park in the morning.

Sunset on our way to Torres del Paine

The stars in the southern hemisphere. Can you see the southern cross?

Too bad it was raining when we got up! We went out in search of the nearest place to pay our entrance fees (we found out took a back road into the park.. oops). Since we paid, but could not see the mountains, we the opted to see a few waterfalls instead. We saw Waterfall de Rio Paine and El Salto Waterfall. They were both glacial waterfalls with water that was the bluest we have ever seen! The falls were huge and water was roaring over the cliff into the river below. At noon we made our way out of the park with intent to return on our way back up north in a few days (we gotta see those mountains!). We drove to Puerto Notales and stopped for groceries, gasoline, and lunch. We got back on the road and made it to the ferry that would take us to Tierra del Fuego in the morning. We parked in a lot that had bathrooms and showers available for public use. 

Waterfall de Rio Paine

El Salto Waterfall

El Salto Waterfall into Lago el Salto

August 30th we woke up and took the first ferry of the day at 9am. The ferry ride was short--20 minutes long. There were three cars, and five semi trucks on board. It only cost us $ 25 for all three of us to get to the other side. Once across, we were on our way to Ushuaia! We stopped quickly to exit Chile and enter Argentina, and a few short hours later we found ourselves up in the mountains surrounding the famous city nicknamed 'Fin del Mundo--The End of the World'. We poked around town for a little bit and stopped at the tourist center for some free wifi before checking out some hotels and hostels. We decided on a hostel which only $45 for the three of us. 

Ferry to Tierra del Fuego

Sign on the road after exiting the ferry.

Filling the gas tank in the wind!

Mountain views on our way into Ushuaia.

Patagonia has been one of our favorite places to visit so far in our trip. Although it is very windy and the temperature does not get over 45 degrees this time of year, the mountain views are the best we have ever seen. The views alone makes all of our daily effort worth it to get here. Knowing we took the ‘Ruta de Fin del Mundo' (Route of the End of the World) to the southern-most drivable place after being at the top of Alaska only 75 days ago, is one of the best feelings of accomplishment. 

Entry into Ushuaia.

Ushuaia-- End of the world!

Sunday, August 21, 2016

South America in a Nut Shell

I'm finally writing another post! I know, I know, I should do it more often. One sucky thing about the trip is that we only get decent wifi about once every four days... hence, the lack of posts. Anyway, we officially arrived in Columbia, South America on July 31st. Since we had to ship our vehicle from Panama to Columbia, we spent our first four days in South America just figuring out how to get our vehicle back (I'll do a separate post about that headache later). Since then we have been making south bound progress daily and we have made it to Santiago, Chile in 22 days! Each country is different than the next, but nonetheless, each has been a wonderful experience. So now I will do my best to put our South American experience into one post!

When we flew into Medellin, Columbia, we only spent one night in a hostel before taking an overnight bus to Cartagena. From what we were able to see, Medellin was a super nice city. It was located in a valley between mountains, so driving down into the city offers excellent views of the whole place. After arriving in Cartagena at 7:00am, we had to take a taxi directly to the company, Enlace Caribe, who helped us take our vehicle off the ship. This company was a life saver, and without them, we probably wouldn't have been able to do the work ourselves. Like I said earlier, this whole process took four days, but required very little of our help. The only thing we had to do was show up everyday, and depending on what was going on with the unloading of the ship, Seth got to run around the city with one of the workers signing documents to get our Jeep back. In the mean time we got to walk around Old Town Cartagena. 

Now, Old Town Cartagena was cool. It was a whole walled in city right up along the coast that used to defend the city within the walls. Within the walls there are tons of vendors (who aren't as annoying as the ones outside old town), shops, and restaurants. The old town was just a five minute walk from our Hotel (Casa Mary B&B) and we ended up visiting it three times to check out restaurants. The city seemed safe, with all sorts of people out late at night. As usual, we just didn't put ourselves in bad situations. 

On the fourth day at noon we got the Jeep back, and started our journey south. We decided to take the mountain road, but it was slow moving. The road was Columbia's version of an interstate winding through the mountains, except there was only one lane going each direction and lots of semi trucks along the route (when building the road they didn't think to have two lanes going uphill). This led to many trucks getting stacked up behind each other going up the hills, and cars passing them on the winding roads. We were surprised we didn't see any serious accidents on the roads. We decided maybe this is because all the drivers have to be constantly alert as to what is going on around them. Also, in Columbia they have a large portion of their motorists who drive motorcycles. In a country that already has very loose driving laws, we could count on the motorcycles not to follow any rules at all. They would lane weave, speed, pass, and carry four people on one cycle whenever they pleased. Columbia wasn't a great country to drive through, but the mountains offered breathtaking views from above the clouds.

From Columbia we crossed the border into Ecuador. This was a relatively painless crossing, because both sides of the borders had organized buildings to pass from immigration to the aduana easily. Nobody bothered us at any time, and only gave us genuine help. When we got into Ecuador there were immediate changes in the infrastructure of the country. The roads were better kept, there wasn't as much trash on the sides of the roads and throughout cities, drivers followed the traffic laws, and there were signs nearby construction sites that said how they were improving Ecuador. The people were very friendly, and three times we had strangers tell us 'Welcome to Ecuador!' while driving down the road. It was easy to purchase things and understand the value of items, because they use the U.S. Dollar. Although they use the USD, things are still cheaper there than in the states. We took the mountain road again and saw some of the most beautiful sights, as well as many many many volcanoes! Our GPS app listed the names and heights of all of the ones over 1,000 meters tall. Although we only spent two days in Ecuador, we all decided we liked the country and would love to spend more time there.

On August 11th (the day after our anniversary!) we crossed into Peru. The crossing was a bit more confusing, because at immigration we had to to up to the only window with a worker (who was trying to enter/exit everyone) and ask for the necessary paperwork to fill out while in line, then get to the window to get our passport stamped. Once we got out of Ecuador, we had to do the same thing on the Peru side. The lines were very slow moving and it was only made worse by having the worker interrupted by others every time they needed paperwork to enter the country. Luckily, a very nice official came up and started doing our vehicle entry paperwork for us before we were finished with immigration. For some reason he let Seth skip to the head of the line! We surely weren't going to complain or ask questions... Once finished with immigration, I sat outside while Seth and Mat finished with the aduana. While I was sitting, there was a wonderful family waiting for the aduana to get into Peru as well. Although I don't speak spanish very well, and their grandmother didn't speak english, we somehow had a conversation about where we were from and where we were going-- she even asked me if I had breakfast that day and offered me food! When Seth and Mat came out of the office, she was excited to meet them and gave a round of hugs before heading out. 

Once in Peru we decided to take the coastal road instead of the the mountain road. This may or may not have been a mistake. Although the roads were pretty straight, meaning we could drive faster, it was also a complete desert. The smaller cities looked like time had claimed them long ago, and only the large cities looked anything close to functioning. Plus, there are loads of rubble and garbage on the sides of the road, and whole cities of buildings abandoned in the middle of construction. It is odd to drive through knowing at one time there were people here, and now its completely abandoned. Peru was different in the fact that it was apparent there was a lot of political issues going on. There were many advertisements for people running for president or congress painted on buildings everywhere. Yes, you read correctly, painted. No billboards, no posters, no yard signs, the campaign runner name and slogan was hand painted onto the sides of buildings. Now, don't get me wrong, they were very well done and included a whole design for the nominee's 'branding', but the plans were executed very differently from what we are used to in the U.S. 

While in Peru we stopped for two nights at Frogs Hostel in Huanchaco. Huanchaco is located on the coast right next to Trujillo, a large city. At first we only planned on staying one night, but after going out to dinner with a whole bunch of Americans and Germans, we got talked into going salsa dancing. It was a 15 minute walk to get to the bar, called Jan Pix, and there was a one hour salsa lesson starting at 11:00pm. I will admit, I am horrible at it... along with half of the hostel who had come along to the bar! The next day we woke up and immediately knew we needed to stay another night. Mainly because our hangovers didn't allow us to wake up until 11:00am, and partly because we had finally stumbled across an awesome bunch of people at our hostel. 

Later that day, Mat and I decided to go try surfing lessons with a German couple we had gotten to know. The owner of the business, Tito, picked us up at noon and took us over to Onechako, Escuela de Surf. After somehow getting a wetsuit on (those things are so tricky!) and a half hour indoor lesson, we found ourselves with surfboards in our hands, walking down to the beach. Now let me tell you, the hardest thing of all, was paddling out. My arms were dying immediately. After getting acquainted with where we were supposed to position our feet on the board when we attempted to stand up, it was go time. Adriana (our German friend) and I were the first to paddle out, with Mat and Martin following a few minutes later. Tito and his assistant got us into place and once the right wave started coming, they pushed us off and started telling us to paddle with the wave. Once they yelled "up!" we had to do the four-step maneuver to stand up on the board. Surprise, surprise, the first time was a complete failure. Getting my left leg up in front was the single hardest part of it all. The silver lining was when I got up on my third try! And I didn't just get up, I rode it out too! Then I didn't know when to stop! The shore was coming closer! So, I just kind of flopped into the water after awhile just incase I was about to go too far. Out of the roughly 10 tries I had, I got up twice! Not bad!
Onechako Escuela de Surf

The next days after Frogs Hostel were a whirl-wind of finding places to camp for the night on our way to Chile. 
Frogs 'Chill House' Hostel VW bus

Exiting Peru, and entering Chile was the easiest border crossing we have ever had. There was just a simple form the fill out to have the vehicle leave the country, a few stamps on the paper and in our passports, and bam! we were out! However, entering Chile is a bit more labor intensive. We had to park in a line of cars, go get our passport stamped, then fill out a claims form, then have our bags scanned, while Seth was getting the Jeep inspected, and then meeting him on the other side in order to get the Jeep permissions at the aduana. All in all, it took us only a half hour! It was so easy and well run, that we immediately knew Chile was a great country. 

Although Chile only has one road going south throughout the country, it is very well maintained, and some parts are under construction to allow more traffic flow. There have been many signs along the side of the road saying 'Chile Mejor', declaring a better Chile. We have been camping on beaches for the most of Chile, with only stopping at two hostels along the way. At our first hostel, we went out in search of a restaurant late at night since we hadn't eaten yet. Thats when we met the Kangreburger. The best burgers we have ever had. Not simply because we were hungry, but because they were just hands down amazing. Our first impressions told us Kangreburger was just a corner store advertising cheap food, so we went for it. Little did we know we were about to eat like kings. We ordered three burgers that had a burger patty, slice of ham, tomato, lettuce, and cheese, while mat had one that added fries and egg onto it too. Then we ordered two sides of plain fries, and one that had meat, onion, and egg on top. The goodness was too much to bear. Everything was home made down the hand peeled potatoes for fries, mayo dished up from a serving bowl, and patties squished and cooked right in front of us. So many food safety violations, so worth it. 
Chilean Desert

From there we have been camping our way down to Santiago where we found our current hostel. Things are pricier here, and a hostel costs about $75USD instead of the average $45, and there isn't much we can do about our necessity for restaurants, but we have found some winners among this cool city. It is very clean, just like cities in the U.S. and there are super cool complexes for shops and restaurants to group together within a city block. The weather has been similar to fall in Wisconsin (after all, this is Chilean winter time). We have some errands to run here, and then on Monday (8/22) we will be on our way south again into Argentina!
Hand of the Desert, Chile
Hand of the Desert, Chile