Friday, January 27, 2006

Escaping the Summer Heat by Heading South!

It's hot here in Buenos Aires. Hot. Real hot....

So I put down a few bucks this morning and bought a plane ticket to Ushuaia and am gonna work my way back up. Hopefully when I get back in mid March it will be a tid bit cooler.

Im planning to do some more long distance hikes around Torres del Paine and Fitz Roy.

Say goodbye to the hot and humid crowded city streets! Say hello to the wide open spaces of Patagonia!

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Patagonia Summary...

A special thanks to my brother Jonathan and my buddy Rafal who came down for parts of December and January to spend some time with me and check out some very beautiful areas in Argentina. Thanks, fellas!

The Best Patagonia Photos Ever!

So here is a little summary of the things that went down in Patagonia. Some good stories here, folks...Good story about Perito Moreno Glacier, El Chaltén, Torres del Paine, and some of the jokers that we met along the way.

So here we go...sit back, relax, and strap on your seat belt because you have never been on a ride like this before...

Goofing around...raising the roofPerito Moreno Glacier is one of the few advancing glaciers in the world. This gigantic body of ice is over 30km long, 10km wide, 15 stories tall above the water line and is over 100 meters deep below the water line. There is so much force pushing this glacier that it advances at the rate of about 2 meters per day. Quite a few ice cubes. The lake's natural minerals give it a very cloudy greenish and grayish color with just a little bit of blue mixed in. The glacier is situated between two mountains, all of the accumulated snow that is compressed by the weight of itself year-round pushes it down the mountain and creates pressure on the glacier. This creates a glacier that constantly calves.

We booked our full day excursion through our hostel and began our day at around 8am with a drive along Route 40 towards Glacier National Park. Driving through portions of Patagonia is a lot like driving through parts of Nebraska...there are a coupla animals grazing and there is just a lot of wide open spaces with not a whole lot of stuff out there. Except there really are not too many places in Nebraska where you can drive an hour to see a glacier.

Our first stop was at a lookout point towards the south face of the glacier. We were still pretty far from it so we took some goofy perspective pictures that made it look like we were carrying the glacier on our back. I initially thought I had overdressed when i brought my long sleeve shirts and two jackets because I was sweating a ton on the bus. Thank goodness that I didn't under dress because we were greeted by the famous strong Patagonian wind that blew all the body heat from us as we stepped out of the bus. Welcome to Patagonia, where the wind always blows. After snapping a few fotos we hopped back on the bus and then went to the trail head and began our hike along the lake shore towards the glacier's north face. Hold that glacier back, son...feel the burn The place we started was kinda neat because the more you walked along the shoreline the glacier would appear and get larger and larger. There were two large icebergs that were floating in the lake there were pretty darn large and must have been quite large when they broke off. A little teaser before we saw where they came from. A little piece of cake before we got to have the entire cake. Hiked for about another 10 minutes and came upon the glacier in its enormity. Yaowza! The right side of the glacier appeared first while walking along the shore line. The more you walked the larger and greater this natural marvel became. Snap, snap, goes the camera. More pictures. We took some silly pictures and some pictures that are gonna go up on the wall back at home. Our hike was great because we had four or five different places to view the glacier and each was equally impressive. Since my little digital camera doesn't have the advance wide angle lens, I tried to capture the entire size of the glacier by taking a series of pictures and will either use a little Photoshop and stitch them together or just print them out and place them side by side in a foto frame to recreate the glacier.

splash down!Creak! Crack! Snap! Groan! Boom! Woosh! These are the only sounds that interrupted the quietness of Glacier National Park. Watching these giant bodies of ice calve was an event! And watching the people watching the glacier was an event, too. The tourists (myself included) all suffered from a mild case of Pavlovian Conditioning. Everybody was there to get the perfect shot of the glacier calving and would salivate at any sound coming from the glacier. Determining where the sounds came from was difficult because the massive glacier and the rock walls on the tourist side created a natural amphitheater where sounds bounced off everything. The incredible whiteness of the glacier also made it tough to figure out where exactly these ice portions where falling from. Like everything in South America, it was an exercise in patience. As my ol' Boy Scout leader once said "James, patience is a virtue." And getting a good picture just took a little patience.

It was getting near lunch time when Rafal and I sat down on one of the benches on the glacier platform and enjoyed some sandwiches along with the the view. The quite mutter of the tourists and the glacier calving was great. What was not was that little kid who kept begging for his mom's attention. I can remember kinda being like that kid when our fam visited the Grand Caynon. You are old enough to remember the event but you really dont appreciate it like you would if you were older. Anywho, the kid wasn't that bothersome.

After lunch we had some really good luck and saw a portion of the glacier about the size of a medium house slowly groan, creak, and slide into the water with a gigantic splash. All the tourists on the platforms clapped after taking their pictures and hung around chit chatting about whatnot and whatever.

Next time you are passing through Patagonia, stop by and pay the glacier a visit. As they say in Spanish "¡Vale la pena!" or "It's worth it." Seguramente, el glacier Perito Moreno vale la pena...

Fitz Roy on a great day! photo by Daniel FasyWe returned from the glacer at about 6 or 7pm and prepared our stuff for the bus ride to El Chaltén. El Chaltén is famous for its massive granite towers that stand above all the other mountains like tall gringos in South America. The day we arrived was perfect conditions to view Fitz Roy and Cerro de Torres from Route 40. We stopped a coupla kilometers from El Chaltén to take some fotos but the only problem was that I had my camera in my large backpack and that was checked in and somewhere under the bus. Dratz...however, Rafal had his camera and got some excellent fotos. Those fotos are keepers.
We checked into our hostel and took a little nap before taking a quick two hour hike to Lago Capri. Lago Capri is a base camp for folks who wanna get a little closer to Fitz Roy than the average tourist. What really made the experience great was the evening sunshine hitting Fitz Roy and the reflection off a perfectly calm Lago Capri. The mirror image was peaceful and the time to sit and enjoy the view was refreshing.

One thing that about Patagonia in many parts is the absence of water pollution. The delicious water in Chaltén was perfectly potable and you could drink right out of any stream or lake and not worry too much about getting sick. The water must be good because its been over two weeks and Im not sick, yet.

Fitz Roy and the BoysWe snapped a coupla fotos and headed back to the hostel before the 1045pm sunset. Made a little pasta dinner before we retired to the dorm. Next day was a big day. Slept pretty well that day but was awoken by a German alarm clock. Actually, it was a German guy who doubled as an alarm clock because he was taking fotos of the sunrise at 530ish in the morning. Patagonian Sunset
Its quite possible his camera had sounds for just about everything. A sound for turing it on, prefocus, snapping the foto, erasing the foto, turning off the camera...Rafal commented there should have been a sound that would complement the guy for snapping a foto. "Gee, Franz, thats a great foto...why not take a few more and wake up the whole hostel." I gotta get me one of dem German alarm clocks, but Im not too sure that he could fit in my backpack and make it through customs. Dratz...

Since Franz woke us up we decided to get ready for the big hike a little bit earlier and get some coffee and breakfast to add a little gas to the tank. I was feelin good after a breakfast of granola bars and coffee. Our group was pretty tiny. Just six folks and a guide. We hiked a good three hours and and downhill until we came to a base camp. We rested for a little bit and ate a few cookies, tea, and coffee. The base camp is where we were fitted for our harness and picked up a pair of crampons. We hiked another 1.5 hours to get to the glacier. The hike around Lago Torres was nice and the river crossing via zip line was a little treat we all enjoyed. zippo Horizontal zip lines are pretty fun until you lose all your momentum and hafta pull your self the rest of the way. My first zip line crossing was great. Hike a little bit more after the zip line and then hit ice. We strapped on the crampons after getting on the glacier and had a quick lesson before continuing. Walking with crampons is basically walking flatfooted with just a little bend in your step. The type that we used strapped onto the bottom of your boot and kinda got to be uncomfortable after wearing them for about two hours.

just chillinGlaciers are made from snow but the snow is compacted into a very hard ice and can be as rough as asphalt if you fall down. Gloves were a must to prevent any hand scrapings. Glacier Torres is a maze of icy hills and valleys with really deep pools of crystal clear water that slowly faded from clear to a deep baby blue the more profound the hole was. An the best part was that you could just dip your bottle into the water and you had fresh water to drink. Walking for a little while longer brought us to an area with a 60 foot wall of vertical ice. ice ice babyOur guides disappeared for a little bit and reappeared up top where they prepared an ice anchor. Looks like were were gonna do some ice climbing, folks. Ice climbing turned out to be pretty fun. Our group received some quick instructions. One instruction was to use your legs. Your legs should carry about 85 or 90 percent of your body weight. Your arms are there to advance position and for equilibrium, but not to hold your body weight. The other instructions were a set of four steps. Steps one and two are to drive each of the ice pics up and into the ice. First, one hand and then the other. Steps three and four are to position your legs by kicking the crampon directly into the ice so your boot is perpendicular with the ice. Wash, rinse and repeat as you climb up the glacier. Quite a bit of fun and quite a bit of exercise...It was tough and im in pretty good shape, for the shape that Im in, i guess.

That was loads of fun. We returned to base camp to drop our gear off and rest a bit. Then it was back to El Chaltén. We arrived 12 hours after we left and it was time for a beer or two. We ate in the hostel, had one drink, stretched out and went to bed.

Slept right through the German alarm clock the next day. The next day was more rest and recovery than anything. The sore muscles needed to relax a little bit. Now we were sore but not as sore as this Dutch girl that we met, Olga. Remember Norm from Cheers back in the day? Norm was the guy that never really seemed to move and drank lots off beer. Well, the only difference between Norm and Olga was that she wasn't drinking beer but was eating something every time we saw her. The hike she had done the day before left her with sore and tight muscles and she didn't wanna move all day. So she didn't. When we left for a hike in the morning to move our muscles a bit she was there eating some eggs and toast. We returned about two hours later and she hadn't moved and was now eating some lemon meringue pie. About an hour after that she was eating a different piece of pie with her friend. We talked and joked around with her since we had met the first day we were there and she told us about here stationary plan. Well, she was true to her word. But what was kinda ironic about the situation was that she was eating all this expensive hostel food and had a South American on a Shoestring book next too her. Either she had some incredibly long shoestrings or had nothing else to do that day except eat. Ever since meeting her, Rafal and I get a little laugh when he added the Homer Simpson eating sound effect. The sound effect goes something like, "Chomp, Schomp, mmmmgulp.....more! more! more!"

There were a coupla more stories about some jokers we met in the kitchen while cooking but I think not mentioning this kid will prevent us from being just a little bit dumber. He was that out there. That's all I got for El Chaltén.

Torres del Paine was an exquisite hike into the Chilean forest. Getting there was the only Paine...Rafal and I were seated right behind a couple that was prolly 20 or so that were getting all snuggly wuggly. We had a great view, especially when they put their seat back and got all lovey dovey for three or four hours. Rafal spelled out the word B-A-R-F!! on the back of the seat and I agreed with that. bla...

We passed through customs on the way to Chile without any problems and arrived in Puerto Natales. The sharks were waitin for us and encouraging us to use their hostel by the handful. Rafal and I looked at one that seemed alright. We walked to the place to find that we would be the only ones in the hostel, this kinda struck us as weird because this was high season and nothing is empty in high season. We got a weird vibe from the place and then moved on to a place called Hostel Paulette. This was a decent place that had travelers in it so we rested their and planned our next day. It also had a great breakfast that was more than toast and jam.

Torres del PaineThe next day began with a two hour bus ride to Torres del Paine National Park and then with a shuttle ride to the trail head. During the shuttle ride Rafal and I met pretty some stoners who had started smoking in high school and haven't passed up an opportunity to smoke. And these folks were pushing mid-forties! Pretty sure these three folks never listed to Nancy Reagan's "Just Say No!" campaign against the drugs. Whoa...these folks need to be videotaped and replayed in every D.A.R.E seminar possible.

After spending the quick three mile ride with Jeff Spicoli & Co, I was surprised he didnt light up and smoke didn't come out of the van doors when we disembarked. Aloha, Jeff, wherever you are.

feel pretty small next to all these rocksThe hike to Torres del Paine was good exercise. The first hour was nearly all uphill and the next two were up and down but not too bad. We were about 30 minutes from the top when the trail turned from dirt to rocks to granite boulders. The trail to the top was marked with red dots for the hikers to follow so they wouldnt get lost. From the bottom of the boulder area we could see the tips of the three towers and slowly but surely we made our way to the top and the towers grew and grew. We took a break once we reached the top, had some lunch, and put on some layers. The view was well worth the three hours of hiking. The three gigantic granite pillars were reaching for the sky with snow glaciers sitting at their bases and small waterfalls feeding a bowl shaped canyon full of white and tan boulders and a greenish and grayish lake that feed the river where we pulled our water from.

Rafal and I had quite a bit of luck since we saw the Torres del Paine in their full beauty without any clouds to block the view. The only bad part was that we couldnt spend too much time there because the bus back to the hostel was leaving in four hours. So we spent just a little time there and snapped a few fotos before heading back to civilazation. One of the really cool things about the Torres del Paine National Park as well as Glacier National Park is that you can do camping and trekking anywhere from one day to five to a nine day circuit around the Torres del Paine. You can tell the people who have been on the trail for a while...just use your nose. Those guys stink but are getting to do something that Rafal and I wanna do. I really wanna head back to Fitz Roy and Torres del Paine and experience the some really good treking. solid

We made our way back to civilization and got to the shuttle bus stop about 30 minutes before it arrived and made our way back to Puerto Natales. And that is where our luck ran out, at around 10pm. We got back to the hostel and got cleaned up and then went out to get some food. The only problem was EVERYTHING was closing early. Rafal and I look at each other and do a collective, "huh!?" It was a Saturday night, we were exhausted from hiking and every restaurant we went to told us that they had to close up shop. Elections were tomorrow and any establishment that serves alcohol had to close up shop and go home. After bemoaning a little bit we found a gas station and had hot doggs. B-A-R-F!! You can read about the rest of our adventure in my Planes, Trains, and Automobile entry.

After getting to Ushuaia we had a little bad luck but a little good luck. The bad luck was the hostel had goofed on our reservation. Instead of booking the days we desired for January they had booked them for February for a James Teters. At least they had the days right. Maybe we were just a month early. But the nice thing is that the hostel called other hostels and found us a place to stay for the same price and same quality.

Ushuaia is a nice little town at the bottom of the world. Rafal and I kinda relaxed after the hectic day of traveling and ate lunch with an English/Spanish photographer that we had met on the flight from Puerto Areanas to Ushuaia.

If these walls could talk
The next day we booked a little trip on a sail boat to the Beagle Channel and saw sea lions and other marine wild life and learned about Ushuaia. After that we took a tour of the famous prison. What struck me as odd was that the guards lived, ate, and supervised all the inmates. Both of them were in prison, except they just wore different uniforms. That had to be a pretty rough life when you are sentenced to the end of the world.

We saw other portions of Ushuaia, including Tierra del Fuego National Park. We initially thought it was gonna be rainy but it turned out to be really nice weather and just a little bit muddy. Long ways from home

I am noticing my descriptions are getting shorter and shorter the longer and longer I am typing. When I get some more energy Ill write in some more details.

laters - - - jp

Friday, January 20, 2006

Michael Jackson Dance-a-like?

My friend Sarah D sent me this email when she saw my attempt create a picture like I was scaling the Torres del Paine...

Darkness falls across the land
The midnight hour is close at hand
Creatures crawl in search of blood
To terrorize your neighborhood
And whoever shall be found
Without the souls for getting down
Shall stand and face the hounds of hell
And rot inside a corpse shell

The foulness stench is in the air
The funk of 40,000 years
And grizzly ghouls from every tomb
Are closing in to seal your doom
And though you to fight to stay alive
Your body starts to shiver
Because no mere mortal can resist
The evil of the THRILLER!
*psychotic laughing*

This is my best Thriller impression that I can do...oh, yea! still got the moves...

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Ever Watch Planes, Trains, and Automobiles?

Hey Folks, Greetings from Ushuaia and nearly the bottom of the world!

Whoa! Rafal and I almost didnt make it down here. We almost go stuck in a town along the way. Kinda like Planes, Trains, and Automobiles but neither of us are shower ring salesmen.

This is a pretty interesting story about a little bit of bad luck, good luck, poor timing, great timing, the generosity of a Chilean kid, and a little bit of good ol' American Ingenuity!

It all started with our 12 hour day hike to see Torres del Paine. The hike was great and the weather was perfect for us. This is a place Im thinkin about returning to when im back on my own. We were about hour away from the shuttle bus dropoff/pickup station when we ran into this Swiss guy who had just lost his camera after doing the seven day hike around the Torres del Paine. Im beginning to think some of that bad luck he had rubbed off on us because we finally arrived back at the hostel in Port Natales and cleaned up to get something to eat but found out that EVERYTHING was closed. All restaurants closed at 10pm that Saturday evening because the following day was elections in Chile. We were getting pretty hungy and annoyed at the folks that said that they couldnt serve us because the police said establishments that serve alcohol needed to close business. And we are talking about a Saturday night! We were getting desperate. We finally found a gas station a ways from the el centro that didnt serve alcohol and served hotdogs. Now after working concession stands back in the day I am not a fan of the stadium steak. But i was hungry and the hotdoggie filled the void.

We get to the bus station and get to Puerto Areanas and get assulted by a barrage of hostel owners that are telling us how great there hostel is. One guy kept on telling us how great the hostel was. "It is the best mai freiend...i recommend to you" After all of this bugging I was talkin to Rafal about this and was like..."Ya know, if they are the best hostel or whatever then people come to you. You dont hafta go looking for business. It comes to you." I didnt say anything to the fella but just kinda rolled my eyes and said "vamos a ver" or "we will see." After getting the hostel situation figured out we decided to check on the bus situation and went to the few companies that were open. All said that they were full until Wednesday. So we thought about it and then went to get something to eat. Since it was elections EVERYTHING was closed except for one pizza place that had about 30 people in it and one kid taking all the orders. Poor guy. So we ate and then retired to the hostel to plan the next day. We awoke the next day only to find out that ALL the buses filled up until Friday or Saturday. This is not good. Not good at all. There were only three companies that delivered passengers to Ushuaia and the seats were filling up fast. Getting stuck in one place wouldnt have been a problem except for the fact that we had a flight from Ushuaia to Buenos Aires Saturday morning and Rafal goes back to the States on Monday! Things were not looking good. Heck, I even stopped at three ATMs to get cash because I knew we were gonna be spending extra time in this damn city and the freaking things were out of money. This was a real downer.

So we thought about flying there. There were two companies. One company said they had flights on Friday that were full. They suggested LAN Chile a few blocks up the street. We got to the LAN Chile offices and were like "Ohhhh, shit..."

Do you remember Beetle Juice back in the day? There is that scene where Beetle Juice is waiting his turn and he pulls the tag that has a number with about five or six commas in it? Well, that is what we were up against. We pulled the pink tag from at little red tag dispenser mounted on the wall and realized that there were about 40 people ahead of us. It seemed that things were not going our way and we were gonna be stuck in po-dunk-patagonia where the only real thing to do is see the Magellan Strait and the penguin rookery and that is it, folks. Remember when Beetle Juice switched the number with the guy next to him, who had like number one? The Beetle Juice's head shrunk...Well, our head didnt shrink but we were very very very very fortunate to move about 40 spaces up the waiting queue when a kid gave us his number. I remember doing this when I was a kid. And Im sure you remember doing this, too. I used to pull a tag from that dispenser because it made a cool sound and it was the only thing to do when you were a kid. Ya know, play with stuff. I still sometimes still pull those automagic coupon dispensers at the grocery store. So the kid was with his dad who had his own number and gave us his as they were leaving. Score! Within the minute we were seated in front of the LAN Chile agent and found out that there were flights available to Ushuaia. The next one was at 2pm. We looked at our watch and it was 1245. The flight was in our budget and we plopped down that Visa, got our tickets, and caught the first taxi we could to our hostel and then to the airport.

I have never packed so quickly. Less than five minutes after we paid for the ticket we had grabbed our bags and were on the way to the airport. We didnt really breath a sigh of relief until we got onto the plane. However, our joker sense of humor began to return when the girl at check in asked us where on the plane we would like to sit. We said preferably inside. Sitting with the tranquilized animals would have been just as well considering how we really really needed to get to Ushuaia. We also busted out a few Chuck Norris jokes to some people on the plane from California. Apparently Rafal and I like Chuck Norris jokes alot better than other people.

  • Did you know if you ask Chuck Norris what time it is, he always says, "Two seconds till." After you ask, "Two seconds to what?" he roundhouse kicks you in the face.

  • Did you know that Chuck Norris doesn't read books. He stares them down until he gets the information he wants.

  • Did you know that since 1940, the year Chuck Norris was born, roundhouse kick related deaths have increased 13,000 percent.

More Chuck Norris Jokes how can you not laugh at these jokes!?

So getting here was a little bit of everything. This experience was a little bit of bad luck, good luck, poor timing, great timing, the generosity of a Chilean kid, and a little bit of good ol' American Ingenuity (Good Ol Visa Credit Cards!)


Sunday, January 15, 2006

Torres del Paine National Park

Hey Folks,
Yesterday went for a little hike through Torres del Paine National Park and got to see the massive granite towers. I am definitely coming back to this place to do the "W" or the circuit. Long haul trekking sounds like a good adventure.
Gotta catch a bus to Puerto Arenas in 30 minutes.
ill add some pics when i get a chance

oh, these are some of the pics from along the way...this is my best Michael Jackson Thriller impression that I can do...thats all i got, folks.

Friday, January 13, 2006

Greetings from Patagonia!

Hey Folks,

Today I am in Patagonia with my buddy Rafal. We just finished seeing the Perito Moreno Glacier in El Calafate and Mount Fitz Roy in El Chaltén and now are in Puerto Natales to see the Torres del Paine.

My toe kinda hurts from ice climbing and walking with crampons. nothing like walking on a glacier for a coupla hours to make those feet feel fresh and new again.

Ill write more when internet doesnt cost four or five dollars an hour.

oh, one more thing. Since 525 Chilean Pesos equals one dollar I am in effect a millionaire! Heck yea! Millionaire by the age i am 26...atta baby!

Saturday, January 07, 2006

Greetings From Patagonia!

ok folks...

so i was gonna write about Iguazu Falls but that will come a little later.

A day after my brother left my buddy Rafal came down and today we are in Patagonia. Took a three hour flight to El Calafate earlier today and we are gonna explore some very southern portions of the world.

Tomorrow is gonna be great! We are gonna take a tour of Glacier National Park and see Perito Moreno, a massive glacier that calves often in huge chunks greater than the size of large cars or small houses.

Strap on the crampons, grab your ice pick, and bring your camera because this is gonna be fun!

More to come in a little bit!


Monday, January 02, 2006

I am out of the loop...

I can't believe how much out of the loop I really am.

Being away from makes it pretty difficult to catch up on family, local, national, and world news. And there are some things that I am actually just learning about. Living at home made getting the news really easy because we always had the paper delivered and keeping up on things weren't too bad because we would read the paper, watch and listen to the news. Talkin with Ma and Pa kinda kept you in turn with what was goin on with the fam, but now since im not in the house i am out of the loop. I just learned that my dad got rid of my old car, Elwood. The car earned its name from an ex-ladytype because of the cars brief history as a police car - the name stuck around, the ladytype didnt. Lemme tell ya, that car had character, baby. Although it was a rolling birth control machine (no ladytype ever wanted to be near that thing) I still loved that car. Goodbye, Elwood.

The Jonster filled me in with some of the things that have occurred in the States since he has been down here. He told me that the govt bulldozed 50,000 houses down in New Orleans. Getting news is tough, but the Internet makes things a little easier. For example...I just learned a coupla days ago that Nick and Jessica just broke up. I know...rilly rilly sad, right. yea, right. I also just learned that Johnny Damon will be playing center field for the Yankees next year. I was more surprised to hear about that then Nick and Jessica.

Traveling versus being in Otown has been a weird balance. On one hand Im missing out on some pretty cool big name concerts that are finally coming to town versus trekking in a place where Ill prolly be only once. But I think I just might get to see the Rolling Stones when they give a free concert in Rio in Brazil. Gotta goto that.

Its getting late and im blabbling.

my next entry will be about the adventure the Jonster and I had when we went to Iguazu Falls.


Sunday, January 01, 2006

Happy New Year from Buenos Aires

Happy New Years, Folks!

2006 is a new year filled with new opportunities...