Wednesday, April 30, 2008

So, any final thoughts on Chile?

So glad you asked. Actually, yes.

1. Chile is a very safe country to travel in. I never once felt jeopardized or alarmed, and found the people in Chile more than willing to help out a foreigner who doesn't speak a lick of Spanish. Always travel smart, of course, and use common sense.

2. Chile has a little bit of everything. We hope to come back someday, because we never made it north of Santiago. Just didn't have time. But I would love to come back to visit San Pedro and the Atacama desert, and to see the moon from what is reputed to be the clearest sky in the world. I'm glad we were able to visit the massive glaciers in Patagonia, climb a stinky volcano in Pucon, and find ourselves surrounded by art and beauty at every turn.

3. The Chilean bus system is awesome. It is always on time, (if your bus is scheduled to leave at 9:30, you better be on the bus before the doors close at 9:28. 9:30 is when the bus pulls away from the curb!) the buses are clean and comfortable (just don't sit in the back near the restroom) and there is a bus scheduled to go pretty much anywhere in the country that you want to go. I'd say it's on par with the Swiss trains. But way cheaper!

4. I wish I had learned some Spanish before I went. Not that it was that difficult to get around, but I felt like I would have been able to attain a different level of intimacy with the culture of Chile if I could have understood the language and expressed myself a bit more fluently. But as it is, I did learn a little "Chilean." (Apparently, Spanish in Chile is quite different from Spanish Spanish.) Bueana Dia. (they drop the "s"). Gracia. Cuanto cuesta? (very important). Quisiera comprar..., Donde esta...

5. I did learn some things about myself as a traveler. When we first lost our luggage at the beginning of the trip, I was so bummed that I had to stop and ask myself why I was so bummed. When I did that, I couldn't think of a good reason. It wasn't like I "needed" anything in my luggage for immediate survival. Everything I really needed was in my backpack. When we made the decision to go on with our trip without our luggage, I suddenly felt quite free. There's nothing like walking into the Punta Arenas airport, where everyone else is decked out in Northface jackets and hiking boots, wearing just my flip flops, sweat shirt and yoga pants. I actually think that the experience gave me a new perspective on what I think I need when I travel and what I really need. It was nice to be able to walk into town completely unencumbered. When we finally did get our luggage delivered to us, it took a while to get used to carting it around!

6. I've always enjoyed traveling with Jack. Even though he doesn't think about the trip until he actually steps onto the plane (unlike me, where I have the details planned out for months in advance), he's adaptable and quick, and when I stop thinking about things, he takes over and makes the decisions that I haven't even thought about. I like it that when he senses that I'm becoming salty (that's what he calls me when I'm pissy), he knows exactly how much to chatter to keep the mood light, and when to be quiet and let me brood, and when to snap me out of it. I love how we can share the same enthusiasm about exploring new things and that we're changed by each trip we take together.

7. Every year, I think that maybe this year will be our last big trip for a while, that maybe this will be the trip to get out of my system so that I can just settle down and enjoy my blessed and comfortable life in Seattle. And yet, I can't. I have such a roamer's complex. I know that traveling is a luxury, and that these days, it's even poo poo'd in some circles as being un-environmental and selfish, unless you're doing a missions trip or building stuff along the way. As much as I admire missionaries and folks who go on volunteer-based trips, I still find that there is purpose in traveling for the sake of traveling. It's a way to broaden our own perspectives on what life is and expand our views of the human experience. It's a way to reach out to people in their own homes, to challenge ourselves outside of our comfort zones, and to stretch our imaginations and views about the vastness of the world that God created.

We ran into a bus load of school children in Valparaiso, who became really excited upon seeing us, and began yelling out "Konichiwa!! Konichiwa!!" Well, not being Japanese, of course, I was irked a little bit at first. But then, I thought, how would they know? It's not like they have so many experiences with Asian people that they could tell the difference. So I said back to them "Konichiwa," which made them cackle, and then I said "Hola," to which they responded back enthusiastically, and then I said "Hello, I'm from America." There was a moment of silence, before their teacher spoke up and said, "Ah, Americans."

It's a small thing, but I like to think that maybe, just maybe, there was a lesson there in cross-cultural dialogue.

Anyways, the logistics:

-LAN was the airline that we took from Dallas to LA, to Santiago. I'd recommend it. Alcoholic beverages are still free on LAN, whereas they now cost $$ on American Airlines international flights!

-The airline we flew while in the country was Aerolineas del Sur, which also goes by the name Air Comet. It was cool. Easy enough to book on-line, low fares, and the flight attendants have these funny, 1980's, futuristic-style, fluorescent green, leather jackets as part of their uniforms. I wanted one.

-We took a whole slough of buses between cities, all of which were nice, timely and well-priced- like $6 person for a 4 hour trip. Not bad. Our favorite was probably the overnight JAC bus from Pucon to Santiago, for which we booked the "salon cama" or sleeping car, and slept like babies for 10 hours in comfy seats that leaned all the way back. These seats cost about $35 per person.

Places we stayed:

-Natales Hostel in Puerto Natales. I'd say skip it. It was REALLY cold, and the rooms didn't feel totally clean, plus, it's a bit far from the bus station. Free Wi-Fi.

-Outsider's Inn in Puerto Varas. Cute, low-key, friendly hostel in the center of town, free internet. Only 4 rooms?

-Geronimo Hostel in Pucon- we were there for only 1 night, but the hosts were extremely helpful in booking our volcano excursion, even though we arrived so late, the room was clean and cute, in fact, it really felt much more like a hotel than a hostel. Free Wi-Fi.

-Hotel Orly in Santiago- Quaint, boutique hotel with a lot of character, but also full of American tourists. Great neighborhood, close to the subway and tourist center, nice breakfast, free Wi-Fi. The staff was a tad brusque, but whatever.

Go to Chile! You'll love it!

Where to next? Well, aside from France NEXT WEEK, I have to say that my first taste of South America was a good one. I'd love to head back there sometime, maybe to Peru and northern Chile? Any suggestions?

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Chile- The Last Day

On the last day of our trip, we finally get a chance to explore Santiago. This huge, cosmopolitan city boasts a view clear to the Andes on a good day, but is also notorious for being smoggy and congested. No Andes for us. But, we did explore the Plaza de Armas, and came across the main Catedral where Sunday Mass was being held...

We also made our way over the the Mercado Central, a bustling fish market with row after row of fishmongers selling some of the freshest fish I've seen... as I watched Jack take a picture of some sardines, I was spit at by a barnacle!

Across the river begins another pair of markets, La Vega Chica and La Vega Central, selling all sorts of fresh produce, household wares, grains, nuts and spices, among other utilities. The markets took us a good hour to walk through, and I find them to be the largest public markets I've ever visited.
A short walk brought us back to Bellavista, the neighborhood we visted the previous evening. In the daytime, we were surprised to find some really whimsical and vibrant pieces of street art...

Our last stop before the storm, a visit to La Chascona, one of the 3 homes of Pablo Neruda. La Chascona, or, the "Woman with Tousled Hair," is named after the poet's third wife, whom he met strolling through the park at the bottom of the hill. The inside of the house was made to resemble a ship, and indeed, the walls were narrow, the ceilings were low, and the windows were port-hole like. He also decorated the walls and shelves with eclectic pieces of art that he collected from all over the world during his time as ambassador. The overall affect is fantastical and imaginative, and gives you a glimpse into the passions and brilliance of this famed artist.

And finally, to the airport. Boo hoo! Our trip is over!

A 9 hour flight brought us from Santiago to Dallas, where we caught our final leg back to Seattle, this time, with our luggage! I watched a tear jerking, heart sobbing movie on the plane called "P.S. I Love You," about a woman who is trying to cope with her husband's death, and clinged to Jack's arm the entire time as he snored away. And then, we were home! No incidents, no luggage worries, and back to a beautiful sunny day in Seattle.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Chile- A Day in the Sun

On our second to last day in Chile, we were blessed with a gorgeous, sunny day, even though the forecast said rain. We took advantage of this good fortune and headed to the two coastal towns of Valparaiso and Vina del Mar. From Santiago, we caught a bus right from the Parajito subway station, and arrived in Valparaiso an hour and a half later.

Valparaiso is a fascinating place. The city rises up from the coast onto several, suprisingly steep hills. The commercial district is on the flat part near the water, while the charming neighborhoods tuck themselves into the risings of the hills. The colors are vibrant, and there is art everywhere... even the graffiti is intricate and stunning.

Many of the buildings have an interesting mix of old, colonial european-style architecture, but the flavor of the streets is distinctly latin.

Because of the steep hills, Valparaiso has a set of funiculars, like cable cars set on tracks, that take you from the bottom of the hill to the top. It's a short ride, but you feel like you're in a different world when you get to the top. The atmosphere is suddenly removed from the hustle and bustle of the commercial center, and is replaced by a tranquil, almost festive atmosphere. There are views galore, and as you walk through the cobblestone streets, passing colorful houses, shops and cafes, the strains of cheerful latin and salsa music drift to your ears.

We stopped for lunch at this cafe, which had an amazing mural on the wall. Oh, and yes, we had such a great time with Francois the previous day in the vineyards, he's joined us for this day trip as well.
After a nice, leisurely meal, we took a brand-spanking new monorail to Vina del Mar, which was about a 10 minute ride up the coast. Vina del Mar doesn't have the same bohemian, artsy flare that it's neighbor does, but we found some interesting statues and ornamentations on the buildings and in the parks of this elegant and wealthy town.

We caught this incredible sunset on the bus ride back to Santiago...

When we arrived back to Santiago, we said goodbye to our buddy Francois. It's weird, traveling does this strange thing, where you feel like you can become really good friends with a person in a concentrated amount of time. It's the act of exploration, discovery and shared experiences that makes you feel like you have history together. We'd only known him for two days, but we knew all about his family, his job, saw pictures of his friends in South Africa, and had a pretty good grasp of how he would react to certain things. I suppose this is part of why I love to travel- to be able to develop these relationships, with locals and with other travelers, where you feel like you've shared something meaningful and irreplaceable in what could be just a day, and then, you part ways, and continue on with your journeys, knowing that somehow, you've been blessed by friendship in a way that you wouldn't have known had you not left the comfort of your home in the first place.

Anyways, of course we exchanged emails, and immediately added each other to facebook, so now we'll be friends for life. Jack and I spent the evening roaming Bellavista, a really cool, hipster neighborhood that reminds me quite a bit of the village in Manhattan, or maybe Brooklyn. The scene was picking up at 9pm on this Saturday night, the music was blaring and the crowds were out in force. We kept it simple and enjoyed a few cocktails and a light dinner.

We decided to walk home, and passed these magnificent fountains along the way. Wouldn't you know it, they made me have to pee. Don't worry, I made it back to the hotel.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Chile- Providencia

Sometimes, things just work out in a way where you can actively feel the presence of One who lays out a path on your behalf. Avenue de Providencia is the main drag in Santiago that our hotel sits off of by a block, but I find that Providence played a most crucial part in the success of our first day in this graceful capital city.

Jack and I sleep well on buses. And why wouldn't we, when our bus looks like this?

We rolled into town at 7am this morning on our overnight bus, after attaining the best night of sleep we've had during this entire trip. We slept pretty much the entire 10 hours, exhausted after our grueling volcano hike. The bus seats in this sleeping car were like real beds- super cushy, leg rests and backs that extended all the way, blankets and pillows provided... it was like flying first class, but on a bus. We even got drinks before bed, and breakfast with coffee in the morning!

We easily made our way to our cute little boutique hotel, (not a hostel but a real hotel- our splurge for this final leg of our trip). Since we weren't able to check in right away, the concierge stored our luggage for us and invited us to have breakfast in the quaint dining room. Awesome! Fresh rasberry juice!

We changed and washed up a little (still haven't had a shower since the volcano hike!) and walked down the street to the tourist office. We were interested in spending some time in the Chilean wine country, but for something that markets agressively to tourists, it is strangely inaccessible. It's not possible to walk into a winery just for a tasting- you have to call in advance, oftentimes 24 hours ahead of time. Hence, the many expensive bus tours heading out to the Maipo, Colchagua and Casablanca valleys, catering to gringos like us. It justed seemed too costly to be worth it.

As we sat in the tourist office discussing the possibilities with an agent, we noticed that another traveler had sat down at the agent desk next to ours and was also in the process of trying to get himself out to the vineyards. He gave us a friendly smile, and said, "Are you trying to go to wine country today?" We said that we were, and as both of our agents hustled to gather brochures and maps for us, we developed a plan amongst ourselves. As it turns out, Francois, a young South African guy traveling alone in Santiago for 3 days, was in town with just a single mission- to taste as many Chilean wines as possible. We instantly felt comfortable with this happy go lucky traveler who reminded us of a few of our close friends rolled into one cheerful package- (JR, RD)... and decided to rent a car together, and drive down to the Maipo valley for the day.

As a winemaker himself at an established South African winery, Francois had set up an appointment with Vina Chocalan, a winery that his boss had become aquainted with at an international vintner's trade show. Cool! We made a few other arrangements, including appointments at 2 other wineries in the Colchagua valley and 2 hours later, we were on our way.

It was all pretty amazing how well everything worked out. The car we rented was a stick, and though Jack and I don't drive manual, Francois does. The roads and directions we had for the winery were poor, and he definitely needed some help navigating his way out of the city and into the country. (Plus, South Africans drive on he other side of the road.) We got lost about 5 times. Somehow, though we don't speak Spanish, we managed finally to wind our way down the dirt path leading to Vina Chocolan's beautiful and remote facility.

We were met by Julie, the young, French marketing director for the winery, whom Francois had been communicating with over email. Turns out that on this day, they were in the process of their harvest, and even as we approached, we could smell the fermentation, see the workers picking grapes in the fields, and watch the fruit being sorted and de-stemmed in the large machines. Julie introduced us to Sebastian, the French winemaker who was in the barrel room taking measurements. He talked to us about the types of grapes he used in his wines, and spoke particularly passionately about the carmenere, a certain type of vine that was believed to have been killed off by fungus in France, but was then discovered to be living a healthy life here in Chile. Carmenere is now considered to be one of Chile's signature wines.

We were led into the tasting room, a beautiful glass box facing the rolling hills covered with vineyards, and proceeded to taste 5 different wines. It was really magical. Not the usual wine tasting experience where you're shepherded through different tastes with speed and agenda in order to make room for other visitors at the bar. Instead, we had the whole place to ourselves. Julie was so warm and personable as she poured us our generous tastes, it was a little bit like we had been invited to her home for the afternoon. We were also soon joined by Sebastian again, and Aida, the general manager. This is definitely not the kind of attention we normally get at a
tasting room!

Jack, Sebastian, Julie and Francois

Before we knew it, we had been there for over 3 hours, and it was time for us to say goodbye. Jack and Francois each bought a bottle to savor later, and in a flurry of cheek kisses and exchanging of business cards, we headed back to the city. So we only got to hit one winery. It's better this way. It was definitely a luxury to be able to spend as much time there as we did.

Upon arriving back in Santiago, we made plans with Francois to meet up for dinner after an hour or so to enjoy a meal at a wine restaurant that Julie had recommended. We checked into our hotel, and finally! A hot shower! I haven't felt this clean since... ?

Dinner was at Baco, a glittery restaurant off the beaten path, but fairly close to our hotel. On this night, food was secondary. It was all about the wines. Between the 3 of us, we tasted 8 different vintages! The thoughtful sommelier, Eugene, carefully suggested these delicious Chilean wines, and we received a few looks from the other diners around us as glass after glass was delivered to our table by our ecstatic waiter.

It was a fabulous evening of good conversation as well, as we learned more about this cool person that we happened to cross paths with in this brief moment in time. Francois exudes such a joie de vivre, forever laughing, taking things in stride, inquisitive, thoughtful and interesting. He seems like the kind of person that stars will go out of their way to align for, just because of the way he interacts with his world and the people around him. We felt blessed to share this time, and this wine, with him.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Chile- 30 years old and feeling it!

I enjoy a good hike. I really do. If I told you this with Jack standing behind me, he would probably shake his head, roll his eyes, smirk a little and silently mouth the word "no..."

But I enjoy the fresh air, a nice, pleasant packed dirt trail, beautiful fauna and flora, shade, an awesome view, and nothing too steep. With this, I could go for hours. I don't think I'm a hiking rookie. In fact, I've hiked a small alp or two, a few canadian rockies, and heck, I grew up in California, and have hiked in many mountains, from the Shasta area to the Sierras, all the way down to Yosemite and Ojai.

All that said, I did not have a good time on this volcano hike. Our guide books didn't say much about this climb, and I'm convinced that whover wrote the Pucon section didn't actually do it. Our friend Jeff said that one of the highlights of his trip to Chile was to climb this volcano to the top of the crater and peer in to see the lava. So we just got it into our heads that it was something good to do. Looking back, we had no idea that we would be in for the toughest climb of our lives. For starters, I'm not much of a herd hiker. True, there were only 6 people total in our excursion today, plus 2 guides, but even still, I like to take my time and not worry about holding anyone back.
Things I'll remember about this day? Wearing the rented clothes and shoes that smelled of other people's sweat. The ill-fitting hiking boots, again, not mine. The super patient guides. The gooey gobs of snot clinging to the edges of my nostrils (from the wind. Come on, you've been there too.) The brochure with happy looking people standing at the top of the volcano giving a thumbs up. Same, said people, sliding down the volcano on their butts in what looked to be soft, fluffy snow. The crampons. The gaitors. The helmet. The ICE AXE. Looking up and seeing just a wall, and knowing that somehow, someway, I have to make myself go up. Thinking to myself, I paid to do this. Another thought, how the hell am I going to get down? Another thought on the way down, how much would it hurt if I just hurled myself over the cliff? The blisters, the bruises, the feeling that it would never end, falling on my knees 4 times.

And then there was the view. Yes, the view was gorgeous. Insane actually. I don't think I've ever seen a view quite like this before. Looking around, all you see is glacier, mountains, and another volcano in the distance, this one actually spewing something hundreds of meters into the air. Yes, it was quite active. As was the volcano we were climbing. It was like walking on a live, enormous animal. Our guides, Pablo y Pedro, said that this was the first year where they've noticed a significant absence of snow, and the glacier was melting at a faster rate than ever... which meant, no sliding down in soft, fluffy snow- we would have to hike down. Near the top, we began coughing, feeling our lungs burn, not knowing why until Pablo said, do you feel the gas? We looked up, and noticed that Volcano Villarica was spewing toxic gas into the air, a mix of sulfur, and other smelly gases that actually made my eyes sting for a while. The total climb should be about 5 hours, but an hour from the top, we really didn't feel up for going any further. Of the 3 parties in the our group, the Brazilians made it to the 3rd rest stop, the Americans (us) made it to the 4th rest stop, and only the two women from Europe made it all the way to the top. But they assured us that we didn't miss much- the view wasn't much different from where we had stopped, the climb in the last hour was the absolute hardest and steepest, they didn't see any lava, and the way down in the last hour was the most difficult part of the entire climb.

At one point, Pablo looked at me, almost apologetically, and asked, "Are you Ok?" In my head, I was screaming with desperation, fighting to hold back the tears of frustration, but all I could do was smile and say, "Just tired." He nodded understandingly, grabbed my hand, and just pulled me for a few minutes. All in all, it was really tough. Tougher than the marathon I ran last year. At least with the marathon, you have music, parties every mile, people cheering you on, volunteers handing out gatorade...

Was the view worth it? Well, am I really going to say no? Of course it was. It had to be. If there was a helicopter option to get to the top of the volcano, would I have opted for that instead? Heck yeah. But climbing is the only way up, and walking slowly is the only way down, now that the glacier is melting and there is no snow to slide on. And so, we climbed, and in retrospect, are grateful for the people we met along the way who could commiserate with our pain and share just a few hours of a truly unique human experience. We appreciate the talent, patience and skill of our guides (who do this climb everyday, by the way), and of course, we're just thankful that we made it down safe, whole, a little sore, but with yet another incredible segment of this journey under our belts.

Since we had already checked out of our hostel in the morning, and were boarding an overnight bus back to Santiago (10 hours) the same night, we didn't have a place to shower! But oh well. I stopped caring about cleanliness a few days ago. I smell. All of my clothes smell. Jack smells. So if everything we own smells, and we acknowledge that we smell, do we really smell? I don't think so. But maybe the person next to me does...

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Chile- The Lucerne of Chile?

Well, we left Patagonia behind and after a full day of traveling that took us on a 3 hour bus ride from Puerta Natales to Punta Arenas, a 2 hour flight from Punta Arenas to Puerto Montt, we caught a local short bus to Puerta Varas, arriving in the late afternoon. We walked into town and found A-frame, chalet-style buildings, friendly blond, blue-eyed folks, a lovely lake-side setting fringed by a manicured, waterfront promenade with snow-capped peaks in the distance... No, not the alps, the Andes, of course! They don't call this town the "Lucerne of Chile" for nothing!

This is Volcano Osorno in the distance...

We checked into the Outsider's Inn, and were greeted by a German speaking, elderly gentleman with a twinkle in his blue eyes. Austrian, he told us. The area we are in now is called the Lake District, and about a century ago, Chile did a massive recruit of Swiss and Bavarian industrialists and entreprenuers to the area, luring many of these people to the beautiful region, which actually reminded them a lot of home. They quickly set up shop here, and the Bavarian influence can be seen everywhere. We had a fantastic dinner, and for the first time on this trip, just relaxed in the evening. Too bad we were only in town for one night.

The next morning, we caught a bus to Valdivia, and spent the sunny afternoon in this elegant and sophisticated university town. We had a delicious lunch at the Cafe Hausmann, sampled their refreshing micro-brew, and the gracious owner even treated us to the house specialty crudito- raw, mashed up beef on toast, covered with onions, lemon juice, and some sort of a vegetable cream tartar sauce- believe me when I say that it was truly, absolutely delicious! We looked around us and it was really the only item anyone else in the restaurant was ordering... like heaping plates of this stuff!

We had a few hours before we had to catch an evening bus to our next destination, so we headed to the Mercado Fluvial, a bustling fish/produce market right on the waterfront. It was an actual, functioning market, with many of the locals wandering about to check out the fresh catch of the day, and watching the big sea lions on the wharf begging for scratch from the fishmongers. We got to try murta, a sweet, peppery berry that we had never seen before, and bought a bag to munch on for our boat cruise.

We thought we would be the only people on this boat, that would cruise in a circle around the river Valdivia, but a few minutes before we left, a group of 2 women and a man got on board as well. The man picked a table near us, and immediately struck up conversation in English...

"So, where are you from?" Turns out, Gabriel is a native Chilean, but immigrated to New Zealand many years ago, and is now living in Melbourne, Australia. When we met him, he was traveling with his mother and mother in law. He seemed happy to have an opportunity to speak English, and proceeded to translate the entire tour for us, which was great, because, otherwise, we would have sat there smiling through the whole thing like a couple of goons. We talked about our families, our passion for traveling, our professions, and Chilean culture. At the end of the cruise, we parted ways, exchanged information to remain in contact, and wished each other well.

We had about another 2 hours before we had to catch our bus, so we took a walk through the university and checked out the botanical gardens. Nothing amazing, but then again, we weren't sure if we actually found the main gardens. Totallly dehydrated and exhausted from travel, we found a chi-chi cafe, where we tried a truly delicious kuchen, and I ordered my favorite Chilean drink, RASBERRY JUICE! It's soooooooooo good!

We made it to the terminal de buses in good time, and caught our bus to Pucon. It was a smooth ride, although it's always a little bit tough to cruise into a new town after dark. You really don't get the full feel of the place, and I think there is a certain apprehension that pervades even the most optimistic of minds. However, we made it to the Hostel Geronimo with no problem and managed to book a hiking excursion to climb the Volcano Villarica the following day. The owners of our hostel really bent over backwards trying to help, even though they didn't speak much English, and called the excursion guide for us, who actually came over to our hostel at 9 pm to assure us that the hike would be "no problemo." Cool! We found a nice Italian joint for dinner and carbo-loaded for our big day.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Chile- The Howling Winds of Patagonia

This morning, when we went downstairs for breakfast, we were ecstatic to see that our luggage had arrived in the middle of the night! Glory Hallelujah! I was so thrilled that I decided to levitate.

Today, we took a day tour to the Torres del Paines National Park, the main attraction in this region of Chile. We started off our day at the Cave de Miladon, a huge gaping mouth carved into the side of a giant block of granite. About a hundred years ago, some Swedish scientists discovered pieces of skin from an extinct herbivorous animal, and deduced that the animal had coexisted with humans at some point in time.

After 45 minutes trying to figure out just how far back the cave went, we got back on the van and headed to the Torres, or, the towers. We traveled on unpaved, pothole ridden roads still wet from the storms of the previous night. Soon, our eyes cast upon these treasures...

Guanacos, a funny looking animal, and a flying saucer disguised as a cloud.

The beautiful green waters (green due to mineral deposits of magnesium, sodium and calcium) of Lake Sarmiento with the snow-covered granite towers shrouded in clouds, as the fresh air filled Jack with such joy that he did a little song and dance...

Through the thick clouds, you can barely make out the tooth-shaped Torres...

And from a different view point, the Torres again, as I point them out, just in case you miss them!

This little fox was so comfortable with us around that he posed for us en vogue...

Our last stop at Lago Grey to see the Gray Glacier required hiking across a beach blowing with the strongest winds I've ever experienced. Jack said it was a lot like Chicago. The lake is the coldest in the park, with the run off from Gray Glacier melting into it, and sending giant icebergs floating towards the beach.

Here is the glacier in the far distance.

What an amazing day! This was certainly a highlight for us, and I'm sure it will be for the entire trip. The shapes of things here in Patagonia are so profoundly dramatic, and the southern sun seems to hit the landscape in a distinctly different way than what we're used to, drawing forth an intensity in color and shadow that leaves us speechless, yet bursting with excitement at the same time. We've only been here 2 full days and probably already have at least 600 photos! It's somehow reminiscent of New Zealand, with much of the same topography, even existing at roughly the same latitude, although Patagonia itself is the southern most piece of land in the world, aside from Antarctica. Yet, things here are bigger, sharper, at once ephemeral, raw, and mythical. It's an experience.

Tomorrow, we bid farewell to this incredible land, and head north to continue our journey.