A Travellerspoint blog

Hitch-hiking to 'Somewhere,' NZ

by Izzy

all seasons in one day
View Izzy's Travel Itinerary on triptime's travel map.

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Smelling like I had been in the mountains for five days, I polished off my last three cereal bars and washed them down with a lukewarm beer from the backseat of Gerald’s dusty Nissan Bluebird. The beer had been sitting in there for the past two weeks and I had been sitting at the Robert Ridge car park now for a good thirty minutes or so getting my bags sorted (I had stored everything that I didn’t want to carry in the trunk of the Bluebird) and ready for the 1pm shuttle.

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I was on my own again.

Gerald and I met on the inland-track portion of the Abel Tasman tramp. Berlin bred and 25 years-young, Gerald has been bitten by the bug. For the past 10 weeks he has been tramping non-stop - from one trail to the next, with just enough time in the middle to run by the local grocery to restock. His enthusiasm was refreshing and blinding. And no matter how ridiculously heavy his pack was he never once complained or lost the spring-like bounce from his up-beat pace that kept me constantly playing catch-up. We had been chumming-around for six days straight – a good chunk of time in the nomadic world of travelers.

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Gerald had continued on by himself for a total of nine days, while I looped back early to eagerly move on to ‘somewhere.’ I had no reservations or even a destination ‘next’ in mind, but like all great explorers I was heading west.

The shuttle was on time and by 1:13pm I was propped up against the road sign on old route 63 just outside of the one-horse town of St. Arnaud – a Mayberry-esque access site for Nelson Lakes National Park. How else would one want to start their hitch-hiking career? A desolate two-lane road bending from ‘nowhere’ and heading straight-off to ‘somewhere’… out there where the hills met the horizon, the place where the storm clouds were hovering and the sun would eventually set. As the first set of cars cruised by, I stuck out my left thumb a bit apprehensively while I swatted New Zealand’s relentless pest – the dreaded sand fly – with my right. And now I had to pee. The beer had run its course.

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Two hours later, bitten and mentally beaten I was in the exact same spot. During this time, only 26 cars/vehicles had passed me and NOT one even gave me the “Sorry, we’re full…” shrug as they sped by. Plan B was now in effect, but it was a work in progress…

Three kilometers back in ‘town’ there was the Department of Conservation (DOC) office and campground (could always camp if need be) and just up the road from there was the one-stop-shop and gas-pump-station that not-surprisingly also had the area’s only pay phone. I was just about to start making calls to an over-priced transport service when a truck driver passed me heading for the ‘shop’ door I was exiting. Uncharacteristically and desperately, I excused myself and asked the man if he was heading towards the Kawatiri Junction (26km away and also the host to a campsite and early morning bus pick-up). Originally caught off-guard, the man was now onto my motive. “Yeah, yeah I am.” With a wink and smile (kind-of like Archie ‘Moonlight’ Graham in Field of Dreams) I followed up with a “… would you mind if I rode along?” And just like that, I was on the road again – riding in my first big-rig and making small talk with Bob amongst his collection of empty coffee cups, biscuit (cookie) wrappers and unraveled paperwork.

Bob has driven truck in both the States and Canada. We talked about the differences in road quality, the amount of wheels used on rigs in NZ compared to the US and the sting of the $400NZD ticket Bob just picked-up before picking me up. He had six tons too much ,of the corn-feed shipment has was moving, and the unmarked-Man made him pay for it in numerous fines, the ink still fresh enough to smudge. But Bob, not as bitter as I would have been, was looking out for his fellow truckers, giving them the heads-up over CB radio as they rumbled past.

When it came time to hop out at my junction, Bob realized that it was not possible for him to pull over or cross traffic with the size of his trailer and quickly convinced me that I would be better off just getting out a few more kilometers up the way where he had to turn off – all but guaranteeing someone would pick me up in no time. I had my doubts, but Bob knew his roads.

Again, doing my best sand fly-swat serenade, I had my thumb back out.

Hitch-hiking is full of uncertainties. And as a guy from the good old US of A, I have heard the tales, seen the movies and watched the ten-o’clock news to know of the potential risks of ‘thumbing’ one’s way from place to place. But those weren’t the uncertainties on my mind when finally a white Nissan Corolla pulled off the main drag and came to a dusty stop fifty feet away. What kind of person will I meet? What kind of story will they tell – their background, their foreground? Where are they heading? How far can they take me? The rush of uncertainty pulsed.

The passenger-side window was down as I quickly scooted up towards the car. The driver leaned over and asked where I was heading through a pair of aviator glasses and a similar straggly beard. Without really knowing, I blurted out the next town down the road, “Murchison?!” “Hmmm… where exactly…?” sputtered from his mouth in a thick accent as he turned to find his rental-car map in the driver’s side-door. Barry, a Scotsman on holiday, had just rented a car a few hours ago after arriving by ferry from the North Island. His mission: to complete the South Island loop in five days – an ambitious and ridiculous goal, but one I was more than happy to tag along on.

Onward to Westport.

Along the way I learned that he had picked up a German couple from outside of the same gas stop that I had been at and had just dropped them off at the junction I was supposed to be at. Figuring he still had a few more hours to drive in the day, combined with a broken radio antenna and no CD’s to feed the stereo, getting to know a hitch-hiker was the next best thing in car-ride entertainment. I would ride shot-gun for the next three days.

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Barry and I had a lot in common and shared a lot in common throughout our time down the west coast. We stopped in Punakaiki for the Pancake Rocks, blow holes and coffee. We hit up the hamlet of Franz Joseph, dodging rain storms in-route to glacier gawking. We pulled off at road-side viewpoints, reading interesting facts that we’ll never retain. And finally, we unwound in Wanaka, letting the color change of nature work its magic.

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None of this was planned and because of that, it could have gone in many different directions. ‘What if this?’ and ‘What if that?’ definitely rings in my head, but somehow it always seems to work out. The security of the bus was an option, but to put yourself out there, to let uncertainty play a role gave me a whole new outlook on travel from a whole new aspect of traveling.

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For the rest of the story, via pictures, click below:
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http://s427.photobucket.com/albums/pp359/triptimephotos/TripTime/Wanaka%20NZ/

Posted by triptime 21:40 Archived in New Zealand Tagged hitchhiking Comments (2)

Back In Mexico

BY MARISA

sunny 95 °F
View Izzy's Travel Itinerary on triptime's travel map.

I have been in Tepoztlan, Mexico for two months now. In some ways it feels like days and in others it feels like a year. Time is such a strange thing! These have been the most emotionally intense weeks of my life but all is well and I feel a deep inner harmony and joy - deeper than what I have ever experienced in the past... most importantly I feel at home in myself.

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Leaving Pucon, Chile without Izzy was incredibly heart-breaking and I have missed him every moment since. Six months side by side through thick and thin bonded us on such a profound level. He is such a part of me now; it feels very strange to be so far apart but we are doing well considering and Skype really helps!

Being separated has made me appreciate how very blessed I am to have someone to miss so badly in the first place! I remind myself all the time that there are so many in this world that don’t have someone they love like this. I’ve also been reflecting on how many couples and families are separated by war and tragedies - circumstances that aren’t in their power to change. Izzy and I are so lucky that we are only away from each other to pursue separate dreams for a time, and if we decide to reunite sooner than later, we can be in each others presence in less than a day. Perspective and gratitude - two strong medicines for the heart!

LA
My five days in LA were packed. I got to visit my beautiful “Aunt” Penny, which always does my heart well. Penny is just one of those angels in life that always “gets” it and never needs an explanation. Her responses are always so spot-on, spiritual and supportive. She is one of my very best girlfriends even with more than a 50 year age difference between us. She has been such a second mama to me in LA and I appreciate her to no end.

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My good friend and ex-roommate Saige hosted me. I felt so at home sleeping in my old bedroom and it was wonderful getting some quality “couch time” to catch up. We had all of Izzy and my friends over (the whole BV crew) one night. I was so exhausted I could barely keep my eyes open, needless to say I was a bit of a bum hostess, but it was really lovely getting time with our friends.

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I didn’t get to visit everyone I had intended to, but I did see and say goodbye to many. I didn’t get to see a couple of my best friends, Marci and Ben which was sad but they were super busy preparing for Marci to leave for Vietnam to pick up their adopted baby girl Echo which was incredibly positive news! They’re all home safe and sound now with Echo and Feona, their three year old, my doll baby! Can’t believe I missed meeting Echo by weeks after waiting for two years! Marci and Ben, you guys better start planning a little trip South with the girls, I really miss you!

February 20th , it was time to make it back to the airport. With five huge suitcases in tow, one suitcase for me and four for the orphanage, my girlfriend Jen picked me up at the crack of dawn and we were on our way. Thank you Jenny!

MEXICO
As I write this my eyes are welling with tears. I am in heaven. This whole place has blossomed and become even more beautiful and harmonious than it was when I left a little over two years ago. The staff and kids are absolutely radiant. The children have all gotten so big, some I barely even recognize. They speak the most adorable English I have ever heard and they keep asking me "Marisa, you rememba me?" with their precious accents.

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My little sister Kaisha just gave birth to my new baby nephew Arayan on the 6th! He is absolutely gorgeous and mama and baby are doing well after a very long and difficult home birth. Kaisha is even tinier than me, so seeing her waddle around the ashram with her huge baby belly all this time was really funny. We are so overjoyed that Arayan is finally here. The kids are overwhelmed with excitement. No doubt he is going to be doted on by all! My dear friend Chris from NYC (who is now my brother-in-law) runs the ashram and orphanage with Kaisha. He moved here soon after I left and I’ve never seen him better - so lighthearted and happy. His work here has taken things to another level and he is so very appreciated by all of us.

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My baby brother Jonathan is practically a grown man! Last time I saw him he was still and big-time baby-face, now he is almost 17 and huge. He drives his own car, works with my dad, has a girlfriend, goes to the gym and towers over us "little" older sisters. He is so handsome and just such a really genuine sweetheart. I am having a hard time conceiving that he’s my little Jon Jon - he looks so different now.

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I live in one of our adorable little glass bungalows in the woods. I wake-up at 4:45 am to do Yoga, meditate and watch the sun come up over the mountains. (Don’t worry, if you visit, the normal Yoga class starts at 7:30 am!) I am in a silent retreat for a while, spending my mornings on my own, working in silence, studying for my degree from the Global College of Natural Medicine and processing the incredible events that have brought me to this point.

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My main work right now is redesigning and rewriting our new web site – consolidating all four of our web sites (for the Learning Center, Orphanage, Ixaya School and Retreat Rental Facility) into one! I can’t wait to get it up and running. Glamour Magazine was here last week writing a feature article on us for their August issue, so the pressure is on to have everything upgraded and professionalized by the time it comes out. 14 million readers – Yay! Hopefully the attention we receive with help us raise funds.

The child welfare system of Mexico has asked us to accept a few young handicapped children that will otherwise be institutionalized. We would absolutely love to take them, but we are currently short support for the children we already have. We have recently lost quite a few sponsors due the economy. In order to take in more children we really need help. Please contact me if you or anyone you know is interested in sponsoring - tashiratmail@gmail.com. You can also donate or sign-up to sponsor through our web site www.tashiratkids.org . We need six full sponsors in total but anything you can contribute monthly towards a sponsorship would also be a great assistance. As soon as we have their food financially covered we can give these new little ones a home here!

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After so much non-stop travel it feels so good to have a place to call home, a life of consistency, health and quiet. It was so hard to be disciplined on the road with all that South American ice cream staring me in the face!

Side note: It’s so funny, when I moved back to the states I gained 20 lbs in six weeks flat! So much for the Standard American Diet!!! I lost 8 lbs over the last two years but the last 12 were a killer to lose. Literally one week in Tashirat and it just slipped right off. I’m back at 110 where I was for all the years I lived here before – nothing like having a consistently healthy lifestyle!

Another side note: I almost forgot to tell you… I pulled a Britney and buzzed my hair! Don’t panic, it looks fine and I absolutely love it. I have never felt so free!!! It’s definitely making the Mexican hot/dry season a lot more bearable. One of the friends Izzy and I made while traveling in Peru had shaved her head kept telling me I should do it too and that it was wonderfully liberating. Izzy got on the bandwagon and told me to go for it, but I didn’t want to when he was taking 1,000 pics of me a day. When I got here I just decided to do it! Now his hair to so long and mine is like his was in LA. I never worry about what I look like now; it feels like there is a whole hassle of appearance that just doesn’t exist. I never knew what I was missing, you men have it so good! Izzy thinks it’s the best – he's so funny. He really is one of a kind! My friend Alex says is looks very “ashram chic” – I like that.

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Life in general just feels incredibly gratifying, positive and beautiful. The missing element is Izzy! I can’t wait for him to come. I know he is going to love it here, meeting my family and friends, working with the kids and volunteers. He is such a natural at everything. I don’t know what the future holds for us, which is the hardest part of being separated, but I do know that no matter what, we have a gift in each other that goes beyond any titles or roles. If our relationship one day changes form because of different life desires I know we will be alright because our love and respect for one another has no end. We have made each other better people and will continue to do so forever at whatever capacity. I think we have both come to terms with this reality and with that comes liberation from fear. What we have can never be lost or destroyed – therein lies our strength.

You are always in my thoughts, my heart and my prayers. I thank my parents and friends (mine and Izzy’s) for all of the love and unwavering support. Also thank you to those who have inquired about coming down to volunteer. Your help is so greatly needed and appreciated! I am so honored to have such amazing and giving souls in my life. I love you with all my heart and can't wait for you to visit! All my love to each one of you!!!

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Posted by triptime 05:15 Archived in Mexico Tagged volunteer Comments (1)

Pucon Reflections

BY MARISA

all seasons in one day
View Izzy's Travel Itinerary on triptime's travel map.

Spending the first week of February with Art and Jean was so very beautiful. There are so many memories that will stay with me from that time together. I loved getting to know Izzy’s parents better and realizing how many traits Izzy inherited from each of them. I appreciate them both so much for the way they raised their son. He has more integrity than just about anyone I have ever known and he just naturally lives his life according to the values he was raised with, which is pretty rare. They raised one very fine man!

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By the time Art and Jean met up with us we had been on the road for almost exactly six months and I was feeling pretty worn out! I was so thankful Izzy had his dad to go climb volcanoes with because I honestly don’t know if I would have survived the endeavor! Jean and had had a few girl days on the beach while the boys went a fishin’, although they did drag us up a mountain or two before the trip was over. Our days were full of adventure and nights were full of good food, conservations and viciously competitive rounds of the card game hearts.

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Our log cabin(esque) digs were cozy and close enough to walk to town a few times a day. The short cut was through a berry utopia that we took full advantage of daily. Yum!

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It was deliciously relaxing and fantastic week full of good family-time, exploration and bonding. I hope next year Art and Jean venture down to Mexico for another international adventure! Don’t worry guys, it’s a lot closer and no ten hour bus rides. Thank you for everything Art and Jean. It was so wonderful spending so much time with you!

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Posted by triptime 05:12 Archived in Chile Comments (0)

The Abel Tasman Coastal Track

by Izzy

70 °F
View Izzy's Travel Itinerary on triptime's travel map.

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The Abel Tasman coastal track,
six days with life strapped to my back.

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First three, beaches and bays galore.
Is this heaven? Nope, New Zealand's shores.

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Just me, myself and half of Germany,
camping, tramping along the sea.

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A daily swim to wash the stink.
"Filter or boil water before you drink."

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Low-tide crossings saved a lot of time,
but going barefoot left gook and grime.

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Torrent and Waiharakeke Bay
made for camp spots along the way.

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So clear, so blue, so purely green -
everything so unbelievably serene.

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But sand-flies pestered at every stop,
then wasps took over on the hill-tops.

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Days four and five, the coast said 'bye,'
it was time to give the inland track a try.

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Rolling landscapes turned straight-up rough,
naturally living with minimal stuff.

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The sun was gone behind the trees,
and the path was slick with wet roots and leaves.

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No need for the tent now with back-country huts,
every step of the way plowing through muddy trail ruts.

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Day six was the last, on the way out,
got caught in some rain, no longer a drought.

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A paradise trail meandering the coast,
The Abel Tasman - a most gracious host.

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If these were not enough, try these:
http://s427.photobucket.com/albums/pp359/triptimephotos/TripTime/Abel%20Tasman%20Track/

Posted by triptime 03:32 Archived in New Zealand Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

Kiwiana: Q & A with our mate Izzy

by Izzy

sunny 65 °F
View Izzy's Travel Itinerary on triptime's travel map.

For this piece I have cleverly created a fictional character who will host a welcoming 'Kia Ora' interview with New Zealand's newest American import, me. His name is Gisborne Hamilton (his close mates call him Gis - pronounced "Giz"), a cheeky north islander who loves to chat-it-up with all the foreigners that flock to his homeland. So here is the low-down of all things Kiwi that I have been up to...

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Gis: Gidday! Welcome to the real 'Down Under!' How was the flight over 'eh?
Iz: It felt like a time machine gone bad.
Gis: Meaning?
Iz: Well, I boarded the plane at 11pm on March 7th and then 12 hours later, I somehow skipped March 8th all-together and it was suddenly 3am on March 9th. That will mess with ya.
Gis: Did the pilot show you the flux capacitor outside of the cockpit? Ha - never mind that, so the 'City of Sails'... How did you like the Big A?
Iz: I dug it. For the most part, I strolled in from the Mt. Eden neighborhood during my two walk-a-bouts of the city. Clean and green compared to where I come from - and it also had a youthful buzz humming in the air, but I couldn't quite pick out the tune.

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Gis: It seems to get a bad rap, but cheers 'eh, glad you liked it. So what else...?
Iz: Spent two nights in Mt. Eden, which I quite liked - a sweet little spot just outside of town. Each morning I went to a local cafe to relax, read and write - so LA of me. Then for three days, I was fortunate enough to have a friend-of-a-friend (from MV park - Nanci, thanks!) take me in as part of their family. Stuart, his wife Frida and seven year-old daughter Sabrina welcomed me into their home and spoiled me. Home cooked meals, favorite local wines, great conversations and even my own bedroom - lap of luxury for this weathered traveler!

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Gis: Good on you mate! That sure helps the ole morale, eh?
Iz: Heaps!
Gis: So after you sailed out of Auckland, what was the plan?
Iz: It took me a while to finally get focussed, but I then headed down to the Waitomo Caves for a bit of that New Zealand adventure I have heard so much about.
Gis: Ah... a classic north island stop. There are over 400 caves in the region - eyah, so did you join up with one of those touring/adventure bus excursions or did you thumb-it down there?
Iz: Actually I bought a pass through Intercity Bus. It gave me the most flexibility - no commitments and a huge range of destinations... but hitch-hiking is always an option. Yeah, I hopped of the bus in Otorohanga a bit sick from the drive - you know, this whole driving on the other side of the road thing, I think it through my senses for a loop - that and the extremely curvey roads.

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Gis: Yeah yeah... Otorohnaga - the pride of Kiwiana and the first Kiwi House. Did you make it by?
Iz: Not exactly. I stumbled into the campsite right next door to it. A perfectly green pitch to pitch a tent... and the site hosts - the greatest people! Pete and Linda became Uncle Pete and Aunt Linda in no time. Before I even got set-up, they had offered to give me a lift into town to buy some groceries.
Gis: Hosts with the most, eh - you seem to be attracting good people?
Iz: I just think it's the country. There is this down-home feel everywhere I go.
Gis: Yep... yeah, that's the way it is.
Iz: I went from staying one night to three - Pete and Linda gave me an area tour around Waitomo, checking out the 'Natural bridge' and Marokopa Falls - brilliant! Such genuine folk...

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Gis: But what-a-bout the caves? Did you get the black-water experience, abseiling, glow-worms?
Iz: I did. After some consideration, I ended up going with the 'Haggas Honking Holes' tour - trying to maximize the abseiling experience (repelling in the dark down cave-waterfalls). They offered a two hour caving adventure with three abseils, some climbing and crawling through the underground caves and rivers. Not bad, but the tour seemed to drag along since there were 12 in the group... some tight squeezes, cold water and big drops kept me feeling alive once the lines got moving.
Gis: Not a bad way to spend a morning, eh. So you're into the adventure scene - any 'Great Walks' in your future? Tramping is big down here.

  • Definition of tramping: hiking, trekking, back-packing through the wilderness - both marked and unmarked trails.

Iz: I know this. I already have one under my belt - the Northern Circuit of Tongariro National Park. Brilliant! Three days of circling three volcanoes... from lush tropical under-growth to scree-filled slopes and rugged tree-lines. Not to mention the emerald-green lakes, red crater and purple sunsets. Pure magic - just like in 'Lord of the Rings.'

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Gis: You sure are off and running mate. Good on you... keep the dream alive and keep in touch. So much to do in this land and you haven't even made it to the south island yet! The adventure only gets bigger from there... Cheers!
Iz: Thanks for taking the time to chat with me. Next time you'll have to explain this 'cricket' and 'rugby' to me... foreign sports from where I come from. And what's with all the light switches - flip down to turn on? Come on, you kidding me? This is the land 'down under!'

For more pics, don't be shy to click:

http://s427.photobucket.com/albums/pp359/triptimephotos/TripTime/Auckland/
http://s427.photobucket.com/albums/pp359/triptimephotos/TripTime/Waitomo%20NZ/
http://s427.photobucket.com/albums/pp359/triptimephotos/TripTime/Taupo%20NZ/
http://s427.photobucket.com/albums/pp359/triptimephotos/TripTime/Tongariro%20NP/

Posted by triptime 20:39 Archived in New Zealand Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

South American Round-Up

by Izzy


View Izzy's Travel Itinerary on triptime's travel map.

With the Patagonias in the rear-view, I had one more stop before departing this massive continent - Santiago, Chile.

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Our friend Cass - from the highlights of our Brazil adventure - now lives in Santiago, taking on a new job and adding to her multi-cultural/lingual life experiences. And with that, I was invited to invade her 4-person apartment in the Providencia neighborhood of the city. I spent five days bumming around the best I know how, poking outside on occassion to see what the SNTGO had to offer.

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Banana with honey-Thai pineapple-orange ginger ice cream at its finest! Muy rico!

In some ways, Santiago reminded me a lot of L.A. - a dry and arid city tucked in snuggly at the bottom of a mountain range (in this case, the Andes) and covered with the finest smog. On one side, the buzz of business and the hive of activity, while on the other, a sleepier and cheaper residential sprawl. But unlike L.A., public transportation was how it should be - linking both bus and metro city-wide. And the parks... now most know that I have a close and personal love for parks and Santiago delivered with plenty of out-strectched green spaces filled with activity and art. I was impressed. All-in-all, Santiago is on the move, much like myself, leaving most other South American cities behind in a dust that seems to linger in the air... hasta lluego.

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South American Box Score
The number of...
1. different places slept = 42
2. hours spent on long-distance buses = 229 (over 9 days!)
3. bus rides with crates full of live guinea pigs = 1
4. countries visited = 5
5. capital cities visited = 4 (missed Brisilia)
6. time we entered/re-entered Argentina = 4
7. family/friend visitirs = 3 (mom & dad... and Gur-don)
8. people kind enough to host us = 5
9. friends-of-friends we met up with = 3
10. wallets left in taxi-cabs = 1 (Buenos Aires)
11. times we ate at McDonalds = 0!
12. Plaza de Armas visited = 14
13. Andean condors spotted = 1 (Buenos Aires Zoo)
14. coastal cities visited = 13
15. cities that we felt safe drinking the tap water = 2 (Santiago and Buenos Aires)
16. visas needed along the way = 2 (remember Brazil!?)
17. ice cream cones eaten - Izzy = 36, Marisa = 1,569
18. instant cups of coffee drank = too many!

Thanks for following along. New Zealand is next and I have already hit the ground running!

Thanks again Cass for all your help! You have been a blessing!

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Posted by triptime 18:16 Archived in Chile Comments (1)

The "Hola" Trail: Torres del Paine and the W.

by Izzy

all seasons in one day
View Izzy's Travel Itinerary on triptime's travel map.

*Dedicated to Grandpa Holden.

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All packed. Everything I "needed" was in one bag. I had gone over the checklist, I had done the math on the food rations and consulted Kyle for anything else we might have forgotten. My pack was completely waterproof, the entire inside lined with garbage bags and each necessity individually wrapped in plastic, topped off with an all-encompassing rain-fly for good measure. Food had been spared of its wrappers and boxes, organized into breakfast, lunch and dinner bags and made accessible at the top of my Dana Design (backpack). My guess, the whole outfit weighed in at around 35 pounds. Not bad.

With our fresh stink uniforms on and our bags at the door, the bus appeared outside the bay window of the hostel. We wiped the breakfast crumbs from our mounting beards, said farewell and boarded the bus. It was 8:02am and Day 1 had officially begun.

Kyle and I were anxious and wide-awake. We talked the entire two and a half hours as the bus routinely swerved and stuttered steadily upward from paved road to dirt, from sheep-crossings to flamingo-lined lake shores, from guanaco (llama-like) scampering hillsides to, finally, the park's main portal - Laguna Amarga. This is where everyone gets off the bus and are herded through pay-stalls, where foreigners bear the brunt of being foreigners and are "asked" to pay over three times as much as the natives (a running South American theme). Once that deed was done, it was back on the bus for 20 more minutes to Guarderia Pudeto to catch the 12:00pm catamaran.

The sky was overcast, a daunting dark gray that could have opened up at anytime, and the air was crisply-cold - conditions that would keep many indoors, cozy and wrapped with a blanket and watching an 80's movie while slurping from a cup of hot chocolate topped with tiny marshmallows. But it was time to hike. And as we descended the bus stairs, mother nature smacked us in the face with a right and then a left, wind that about spun us around and to the ground. Now we were ready, now we were really awake, now we were having fun.

Kyle and I had followed instructions to a "T" (from the informative talk given by Rustyn at 'Erratic Rock'). We hung back from the 100 or so trampers boarding the noon catamaran to Pehoe, made sure our bags were not buried under "Mount Backpack" (that occupies the front of the boat), managed to be first in line to pay for our passage and we're off the boat and on the trail, really on trail, ahead of everyone else. It felt great! A sense of freedom and a surge of adventure ran from head to toe as we passed the trail head and veered left towards Lago Grey.

But the adrenaline was short-lived, the rush was soon behind us and the steady climb up through the valley constantly reminded me that I was caring a small child on my back. Kyle was out in front and set an aggressive pace that had me huffing, puffing and sweating to keep up before the first half hour break. I was already talking to myself and preparing mentally for the rough road ahead.

Thirty-five minutes had passed when a fallen log came into sight, accompanied with a natural shelter from the wind, so without hesitation, we unbuckled our bags and ate lunch.

Lunch Menu(for the entire trip)

  • 4 rolls of bread
  • salami and cheese (enough for one sitting each)
  • one pack of peanuts
  • 4 chocolate bars (varying flavors - mint, almond and manajar)
  • 16 cereal bars (all the same)
  • 3 packs of juice mix (2 lemon and one orange)
  • one pack of peach jam (to share)

Two salami and cheese sandwiches hit the spot and before letting our body temperatures drop too much, we were back at it.

It was cold. We were cold. But we were sticking to our guns - the trusty words of Rustyn and the philosophy behind the "stink uniform". Now many would argue that if one is cold, one would put on a jacket and/or hat provided availability, but this philosophy, this mantra denies that urge. The Stink Uniform Pledge reads:

I will dutifully select my stink uniform for the sole purpose of hiking and I will knowledgeably choose articles made of synthetic materials, enabling better range of motion, faster drying times and lighter materials to bear. No matter how wet, dirty or smelly, the designated shirt, pants, socks, underwear and footwear become, I solemnly swear to retire them each night with full intentions of putting them back on in the morning.

This pledge guarantees the hiker will always have clean, dry and warm clothes for camp each night. On average, trekkers spend 6-10 hours a day on the trail, which leaves 14-18 hours for camp, for sleep, for warmth and comfort. Another plus of the pledge ensures less stops to put-on or take-off layers because of the unpredictable weather conditions and constant temperature changes - no changing needed. "If you are cold, that means you aren't moving fast enough. If you're wet, you'll be dry later," words from those that have done this a time or two. Words we stuck to, rain or shine.

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Fueled-up and synced-up with a new pace, Lago Grey came into view and soon after, Glacier Grey. Chunks of iced-blue bergs floated sparsely throughout the water, fallen timbers criss-crossed the hillside and smaller ponds colored in algae dotted the higher banks. It was time to get the camera out and start documenting. Three hours down, three hours still to go. And they went pretty fast as we managed to get lost following a trail that never looped back to the main path, searched for alternative routes and finally, scrambling up a loose-rock water run-off gap that peaked over a small ridge and led us back on track. By 6:30pm we had thankfully arrived at Los Guardas. It took us some time to set up camp, get organized and eat our first camp-stove dinner. But it took no time to fall asleep after tucking in for the night (even though the sky was still light above the tree-line) just past 9:00pm - Day 1 was in the books.

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The night's sleep went as good as I could have expected. I didn't freeze, Kyle doesn't snore (too loud) and the tossing and turning was minimal. Time for breakfast.

Breakast Menu (for entire trip)

  • 4 packs of soup (cream of chicken, chicken noodle and cream of corn)
  • black tea or instant coffee with honey

After burning the top of my mouth on some cream of chicken and slurping down a cup of tea, I was defrosted enough to start the day. This was an added day to the original "W" trek, with a hike up to John Gardner Pass. From the pass, it was said that lives were changed, answers to life's mysteries were granted, along with taking in the best land-view of the third largest glacier field in the world (Glacier Grey) - a must see by any means. But the best part for us was the fact that we didn't have to carry our bags, because we were returning to the same camp at the end of the day.

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Not two hours down the trail, or up I guess, we popped out of the woods at a river clearing. It was huge, well defined and postcard worthy - a full rainbow stretching out over the glacier. I couldn't stop smiling or taking pictures. Each couple of steps, it seemed that there was a better angle, a better composition. Natural beauty at its best. It lasted for over an hour.

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The rest of the day was not that optimistic. Steps, switchbacks, railings and ropes led us up, a long ways up. "How much further to the pass?" But with each hiker we asked, it seemed like the distance was getting farther. It was brutal. And then when we reached the end of the tree line, the weather began to change. No longer was it quiet and still, the wind was whistling and clouds were closing in. The trail went from well-defined to a rock scramble. The sky darkened and the rain blew - upwards! The wind was blowing us uphill! Each step we took was effortless with the wind's assistance. But with the freezing temperature, combined with the rain, we were miserable - even more miserable on the way down, because then we were fighting the elements. Needless to say, there was no breathtaking view or reawakening, but we had made it to the pass, and with that, we turned around and headed back to camp for a warm and hearty meal - we'd earned it.

Dinner Menu (for entire trip)

  • 4 sausages
  • 2 bags of pasta
  • 2 packs of sauce
  • one pack of rice
  • half a bag of leftover frozen vegetables
  • macaroni and cheese
  • *one night was reserved to eat at a hosteria

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Day 3 was long, longer than expected. We packed up camp and back-tracked the same trail we came in on during Day 1. At Pehoe, we learned that our destined camp for the night (Italiano) was closed because of over-flowing out-houses. Rangers were only allowing hikers to stay if they arrived late and couldn't push through, so maybe there was hope. We trekked on. Again, the clouds rolled in over the peaks and caught up with us just as we hit the bottom of the next valley. A steady drizzle ensued. The trail was covered in mud and puddles - there was no way around getting wet. At Italiano, the rain was still steady as we tucked into a crowded three-walled shelter. We had been hiking for 9 hours, covering 23 kilometers, and now we were soaked and hungry. Another 5 kilometers to the next camp was not exactly inspiring, but we did it. We buckled down and did it. And we were awarded for doing so - a clean and dry campsite awaited us at Cuernos.

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Day 4 was our favorite. Again, we left our heavy packs at camp and hiked with a light spring in our step. Even though we had to head back to Italiano to hike up the middle of the "W", up through the Valley Frances, the sky was blue and the breeze refreshing. There was no pressure and we determined early on that we were only going to hike until we felt comfortable - no reason to kill ourselves knowing that the next day was going to be rough.

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At the first natural overlook on the trail to Britannica, Kyle and I took it all in. Glacier invaded peaks up to the left, humongous orange-brown cuernos (horns) to the right, a vibrant sloping valley straight ahead and aqua-stretched lakes and treetops behind us. We were surrounded in natural splendor! This was the spot and we took full advantage of it. But what made it even better, was the fact that we had a hot shower and a cooked meal waiting for us back at camp.

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Throughout the trails in TdP, all hikers have to camp/sleep at a designated site. Among these sites, there are free camping areas (with pit toilets only) and there are hosterias that offer camping (for a small fee) and dorm beds and/or private rooms. But with that "small fee" campers get access to all the amenities - bathroom, showers, utility sinks, supply store, dining room and food menu. And so when we returned to camp that night, there was nothing more lifting than enjoying homemade meatloaf, rice, tomato soup and a can of semi-cold beer. Then, throw a hot shower on top of that and Day 4 topped them all.

We had to dig in on Day 5. The sun was strong. The terrain was open and steady. Fresh streams were abundant though, providing plenty of refreshing breaks. How many times in life does one get the chance to drink directly from a river? This was some of the cleanest natural water in the world and I appreciated every drop!

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After four hours, the trail made a turn for the worst. The wind was back and blowing directly in our faces as we trudged for an hour straight up - it was painfully annoying. We were on our way to the mirador Torres base camp, the last place we'd call home on the trek. By this time, our stink uniforms could stand up by themselves, our food rations were scarcely running low, I had a blister building on my right foot from hiking in wet socks and every part of my body ached evenly at all times - self-induced torture at its best and still having fun!

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By this time, we were old veterans at pitching the tent and cooking noodles. We even complimented ourselves this time on how well we had moved into a camp, selected a sight and efficiently put up the tent - a job well done. We spent the remainder of daylight chatting with our neighbors and debating whether or not to scramble up to the mirador for sunset. But after talking to the site ranger, we settled on a 2:45am wake-up call (my watch alarm) to make sure we were in place for sunrise - another possible TdP experience that could alter our life in some magical way.

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At 2:00am I awoke to the sound of rain hitting the tent. By 2:45am, nothing had changed. I rolled over in disgust, though a part of me smirked as I dozed back off for a few more hours of sleep. 5:45am and drops were still coming down, but I soon realized most of them were coming from wet tree branches above. No more excuses. There wasn't a tomorrow. This was it. So we put our rain-gear and head-lamps on and scampered to the top, to the "end of the trail". But instead of clear skies and a sunrise lighting up the jagged peaks in various glows of red and orange, we joined 20 other hopefuls at the top (around 7:00am) attempting to stay warm while awaiting the clouds to clear. Two hours we waited in order to snap the signature shot, but it never came. We managed a few decent pictures, mingled amongst the others, but headed back to camp a little disappointed.

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Everything was soaked, everything was dirty. We shook-off as much water and mud from the tent as possible and packed-up for the final time. It was all downhill from here, literally.

Reaching the end of the trek was a relief. It was time to stop. I was beat up, tired and sick. Kyle and I had battled head colds for the entire six days. We had walked 108 kilometers (67 miles). We experienced rain, hail, near freezing temperatures, 50mph winds and intense sun all in one day. We had said "Hola" over 500 times to passing strangers/hikers. We had only taken two showers. Our stink uniforms now freaked us out (in many ways). Our feet hurt. And we were hungry! But overall, it was an amazing adventure, the kind you would swear against doing again while doing it, but as soon as it's over, you are already making plans for the next one. And I hope that Kyle will be apart of a future endeavor. You get to know someone pretty well on the trail and I feel lucky to have had such great partner to share the experience with.

Torres del Paine, Patagonia, Chile - check!

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For all the behind the scenes dirt, click below:
http://s427.photobucket.com/albums/pp359/triptimephotos/TripTime/Torres%20del%20Paine/

Posted by triptime 20:34 Archived in Chile Tagged backpacking Comments (3)

A Point and some Ports

by Izzy

all seasons in one day 60 °F
View Izzy's Travel Itinerary on triptime's travel map.

Time for trekking. With my parents successfully making my camp-gear drop-off, I was itching for an adventure, something to help me get over the emotional hump.

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After a few chats with fellow travelers and some glancing at a couple different guide and hiking books, I was set on tackling Torres del Paine - a rugged and raw Chilean National Park set in the Magellanese Region of southern Patagonia. This would be the next on the ever-changing/growing list that would hopefully adorn a worthwhile and worthy check-mark. But it wasn't that easy to get to...

Alone for the first time on the trip, and feeling it, I went into survival mode. I was now my only line of defense and quickly found out that the language barrier would be my number one challenge.

Out of Pucon and back to the cross-road terminal of Osorno. Rumor had it that I would be able to pick up a bus from here, head back into Argentina, down to the coastal town of Rio Gallegos and then back across the Chilean border and into Punta Arenas, a mere 30-40 hours later - depending on the number of flat tires, dirt road pull-offs and the powers of pachamama (mother nature). And what a trip it would be, except that the only two companies that run the route were booked until next Saturday... and it happened to be Sunday! With my best effort of Spanish, mixed with animated hand-gestures, I slowly started coming up with plan B and bought a quick ticket two hours south to Puerto Montt.

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Puerto Montt, a hot-bed for all things south in Chile. But it wasn't hot, I needed a bed and it was raining. The not-so-trusty, beat-up and dated guidebook that had been pushed farther and farther towards the bottom of my day-pack, did provide a reference for a cheap place to stay. With a bed secured for the night and my bags off my shoulders, I relaxed and articulated plan B. It was still Sunday and the town was dead.

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I had previously bought a return flight, through Sky Airline, from Punta Arenas back up to Santiago for March 2nd. This was under the preconception that I would find other means of transportation down there, preferably by bus. But now with time becoming an issue, the bus was no longer an option and boat/cruise was just too expensive (around $500 USD - taking four nights). So up-and-at'em Monday morning to find the Sky Airlines office of Puerto Montt to buy a plane ticket. This time, it was that easy - my flight to Punta Arenas was set for the next day.

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Now with my exit strategy in place, I tried to give the port town another go. The work-week had begun and though the weather was still sedative, there was a new-found pulse in the streets. I walked with no real direction, strolling the waterfront, people watching along the break-wall, scouting out photo ops and ascending alley-ways in search of scenic vistas. I also ducked into a friendly cafe to warm up, enjoying the best cortado (coffee with milk) of the trip thus far.

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With good company, better weather and proper time to explore, I'm sure Puerto Montt could leave a better impression, but I was more focussed on leaving than mingling...

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The short two+ hour flight, that saved countless gray hairs, was smooth (which I hear is a rarity), comfy and classy. As we made the final descent into Punta Arenas ("Sandy Point"), the clouds broke and the view of frigid fjords, jagged snow-topped peaks, marshy islas and vast glaciers overwhelmed my senses. I was arriving at the end of the world, the gateway to Antarctica, the heart of Chilean Patagonia and the home of the Magellanese Region and the infamous "straight" bearing the same name.

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Punta Arenas made its mark in history with the wool boom at the turn of the 20th century, an accessible port town for all ships taking the shortcut with regards to Cape Horn. Now it's the drop-off point for planes, ships and long-term buses filled with adventurers braving the ever-changing weather conditions. A quaint plaza in the center of town welcomes all with its friendly information kiosk, sunny park benches and artisans selling anything "penguin" - the city's unofficial mascot. Old mansions from the "boom" days have turned into museums, administration buildings, restaurants and bars. A well manicured cemetery reveals the past's powerful families and the mirador (viewpoint) shows the diversity of buildings, colors and city layout. Clouds are ever present, blue sky breaks through when it can and the winds blow bitterly and consistently. I spent 3 days and four nights here.

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On one of those days, I indulged as a tourist. I packed some sandwiches, a few snacks and a bottle of water and caught a collectivo (cab that runs a specific route - cramming strangers together at a discounted rate) to Tres Puertes, in time for the 4:00pm ship to the Isla Magdalena... home of 60,000 pairs of penguins! It took two hours of steadily rocking through the Straight of Magellan before we arrived on the shores of this rightfully protected island. Shaking off a-bit-of motion sickness, I stumbled from the ship.

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A roped-off path persuades you along the way as thousands upon thousands of penguins waddle, watch, snooze and squawk as you enter their domain. The island is simple and small. It consists of a lighthouse, dirt, rocks, molted feathers, penguin poop and the portly pen-heads themselves. That's it. And somehow it works. Simply Magellanic!

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The 'guins were great, but that wasn't the reason I was down here. Torres del Paine was close. I could smell it.

Three hours, on the dot, north of Punta Arenas is Puerto Natales, base camp for TdP. Briskly built on a hill surrounded by waterways and mountain ranges, Puerto Natales is eager to gear-you-up for the Park. If you need it, they have it. But I needed a trekking partner and all the information anyone was willing to tell me on what to expect out on the trail. I needed it, they had it.

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I walked into the hostel, was shown my room and dropped my bags. One other had his stuff in the three-bed dorm and by the looks of his ball-cap, he was an SF Giants fan. I wasn't going to hold this against him, especially if he was willing to join me on this adventure. And it worked out that easy. Kyle needed a partner in crime as well, needed gear (which I had covered) and so the planning began.

'Eratic Rock' hostel (not the one I was staying at) had the information. At 3:00pm each day, Rustyn (an Oregon born-and-bread expat) holds an hour+ free talk about all-things TdP. This is a must, a MUST. With coffee offered, a huge wall-map and a broken tent pole as his pointer, Rustyn energetically and entertainingly walks you through any possible question you might have. From different treks, lengths and distances, where to sleep, how to sleep, what to pack and how to pack it, he makes sure that you leave the meeting with all the information to relieve you of any pre-trek fears or stresses. Genius.

Now that I was set, or as set as I was going to get, I walked the town's grounds with a little more confidence and a lot more optimism. The brash winds that about blew me over at the water's edge were now a bit warmer and the rain dropping from mysteriously blue skies became a tad-bit drier. Or so it seemed...

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I guess the "point" about all these ports is not the cities themselves, or the features they offer, but rather the process that they take you through. That process is what you are left with after all the pictures have been filed away. That process can be priceless in so many ways.

For more Port pics, click on the links below:
http://s427.photobucket.com/albums/pp359/triptimephotos/TripTime/Puerto%20Montt/
http://s427.photobucket.com/albums/pp359/triptimephotos/TripTime/Puerto%20Natales/
http://s427.photobucket.com/albums/pp359/triptimephotos/TripTime/Punta%20Arenas/
http://s427.photobucket.com/albums/pp359/triptimephotos/TripTime/Punta%20Arenas/Isla%20Magdalena/

Posted by triptime 07:28 Archived in Chile Tagged backpacking Comments (1)

Whirl-Wind Weeks

by Izzy


View Izzy's Travel Itinerary on triptime's travel map.

The past few weeks have included a whirl-wind of events and emotions.

Chapter 1

Let me start with my parents and their venture out of middle-America to the Chilean resort town of Pucon. They packed-up and shipped-out for a 12 day-intensive in traveling. They entered our world and they tasted life on the South American road first-hand, all with a tremendous attitude and openess. Upon arrivial, they were eager to share their long-distance bus ride banter, their survival tactics through the overwhelming Terminal Sur and their thoughts on how 48 hours of non-stop travel can play with your mind and alter your body. They were troopers.

During their stay, we bonded. We walked. We talked. We hiked. We cooked and grilled. We ate ice cream and desserts dipped in chocolate. We shopped. We fished. We drove and took public transport. We swam. We soaked in natural thermals. We napped. We picked berries. We laughed... and we enjoyed each other’s company. We did this for eight days. What a blessing! I was in the middle of my dream trip-around-the-world with my beautiful girlfriend, while hosting my loving and supporting parents in a far-off foreign land - Utopia!

Their visit meant a lot to me - more than I think they know. It reinforced that they are behind me no matter how crazy the idea or how bizarre the excursion may be. My parents left their comfort zone and tried something new, exemplifying the same characteristics they had installed in me throughout my childhood. And with that leap, my mom found a way to break the language barrier (using hand-signals) and escape the bustling Santiago bus terminal on time; my dad climbed an active volcano (half covered in glacier and snow) and lived to write about it; my mom swapped stories in a Chilean hostel room while traveling strangers changed clothes with no qualms; my dad negotiated taxi rates in his best manuscripted español... and that is just a few of the stories that made their trip a true testament of their willingness to try, to explore.

For most, we are either consciously or subconsciously trying to make our parents proud, both as kids and as adults, but rarely do we look at it from the other side. This time, my parents made me proud and I thank them for their investment in making our bond, through this trip, even stronger and more memorable than before. Muchas gracias!

For all the pics on the nitty-gritty of their trip, click below:
http://s427.photobucket.com/albums/pp359/triptimephotos/TripTime/Pucon%20and%20Parents/

Now on to the second half of the whirl-wind...

Chapter 2

The day after my parents left, I was awoken from my comfortable dream-like world. Everything seemed to be in place, chugging along through the world and growing closer day-to-day in my relationship with Marisa. But change happens - change is needed. Marisa is headed to Mexico.

I was not blind-sided, I am not bitter and I am not done traveling. This was something that we discussed even before setting off in the first place, this was something that was building, this was something that we openly discussed throughout our travels.

Marisa and I are embedded in a special relationship and our recent travels have helped to solidify that relationship. She had to make a decision, a really difficult and stressful decision that she knew many would not understand, and I respect her for having the courage and honesty to follow her heart. I love her, adore her and support her.

One of our friends sent us this quote that I feel best sums up the situation;

I would much rather have regrets about not doing what people said than regretting not doing what my heart led me to and wondering what life would have been like if I had just been myself.

Marisa and I will continue our relationship, growing one step at a time. I will continue to travel for three to four months - next stop, New Zealand, so do not hesitate to send contacts and ideas! From there, I will head to Australia, where I will reunite with my buddy Gur (who you might recall from our glory-days in Buenos Aires), our Aussie friend Priscilla, along with Marisa’s sister Reyna and her BV boyfriend Cucuy. Then, I have an open agenda. I challenge some of you that have been looking for an excuse to get out and spread those proverbial wings. Lets meet up. Seriously, lets do it! If you have a case of the itchy feet, email me at izzyholden@hotmail.com and lets start planning. I have the tickets and the time and I would love to share in some adventures with you. The time is now.


Where to next?

Then, once this round of worldy tramping is complete (lets say June-ish), I will make my way back to the States to share some personal tales of travel with family and friends in both Ohio and LA. From Los Angeles, I will fly (unless someone is up for a rad road trip?) to Mexico to reunite with Marisa. Now this is the time where I need to remind you that we are taking things one step at a time. Before all of this craziness began a few weeks back, I had always told Marisa that I would visit Tashirat as a volunteer - for a month, six months or a year. Nothing has changed for me with regards to this experience. I want to see her world, the world that lights up her eyes each time she has mentioned it to me during the past year. I want to meet the rest of her family and friends and experience what she has put so much love and work into throughout her tenure there. This is a part of her that I have never seen or felt, and before our relationship can go any further, I must experience this on-going chapter of her life.

So all is well. My spirits have been lifted by all of the love and support from our family and friends. I have new adventures ahead and I look forward to the challenges that they will bring, along with the answers they will unfold. The dream continues.

The link below is an interview that we gave as the featured members of the month - almost famous:

http://blog.travellerspoint.com/214/

  • Disclaimer: now that I do not have a laptop, blogs will come slower, but they will keep coming, and please bear with my spelling - spellcheck on South American computers can be tricky.

Posted by triptime 09:47 Archived in Chile Comments (3)

Check Another One Off the List - Guest Blog #2

by Art Holden

sunny
View Izzy's Travel Itinerary on triptime's travel map.

Check another one off the list.

That seems to be the mantra that my son, Izzy, lives by, and last week, I got to help him make a check mark on his long list of things to do in life.

Now four months into his travel around the world, his mother and I visited Izzy and his girlfriend in Pucon, Chile. On the agenda was climbing the Villarrica volcano, a common adventure sport activity for the young crowd traveling through the Chilean Lakes District no matter what time of year.

The Villarrica volcano is one of four in the world known to have an active lava lake in its crater. It rises 9,340 feet above sea level, and its peak is snow-covered year-round. It last erupted in 1964.

Getting started
After haggling with different guide services in the tourist town, we settled on one with a good price and a representative that offered a well-structured presentation. Having Marisa, Izzy’s girlfriend, who speaks fluent Spanish, helped in the negotiations. The next day was going to be perfect for climbing, so after jotting down our names, passport numbers and paying the 35,000 pesos (about $58 U.S) each, it was back to our cabana for an early night as wakeup time for climbing day was 5 a.m.

There was no need for an alarm as my internal clock, fueled by excitement, had me up before the buzzer went off.
Izzy soon followed, and after packing our lunches, energy bars and plenty of water, we hiked the mile into town in the dark to meet our guide.

He arrived as promised, at 6 a.m., and soon the rest of the climbing group trickled in. Pedro, the guide, opened the shop as he had done thousands of times before, everything at a brisk pace, intermingling a few English comments amongst his Spanish instructions to keep us informed of what was going on.

There was no signing of release forms, no questions about health, insurance or age. It was all business as he and his two helpers fitted us with climbing boots, crampons, ice ax, gloves, gaiters, helmet, pants, jacket and a climbing pack to put it all in.

It was already 60 degrees on the streets of Pucon, and Izzy and I couldn’t help but think that this was all overkill -- for show.

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The mountain is my friend
We piled into a 15-passenger van for the ride up the mountain, and at the end of the wash-board road was a ram shackled ski lodge, ground zero for our climb. We gathered our gear, and at about 1,400 meters above sea level, began preparation for our assault of volcano Villarrica.

Pedro set a slow pace as we started out hiking over years of weathered volcanic rocks, warning us the climb seems easy now, but quickly gets difficult.

I asked him how many times he had been up the mountain.

“Maybe 1,000,” he says in his best English. ‘I’ve been guiding for 16 years - the mountain is my girlfriend. Some days she says yes, some days she says no, no, no.”

The higher we climbed, the more I related to Pedro’s comments as I kept mumbling to myself, “the mountain is my friend” as I struggled up the volcano.

Distances on the volcano don’t look that far, until you try walking them. With each step up, and always needing to be carefully placed, the excitement soon wears off and you realize this is no walk in the park. At least not for a 54-year-old, out of shape old man such as I. For a seasoned backpacker like Izzy and the likes of nearly everyone else in our 12-climber group, it was much easier.

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While others were starting to put on layers the higher we went, I was sweating up a storm and already starting to labor.

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I still felt confident, though, as long as were skirting lava rocks and boulders. But, when the rocks ended and the snow started, it really got tough.

Strap’em on boys
Remember when we started out and Izzy and I thought all the equipment was for show? Things were getting serious now.

At the snow line, the guides ordered us to suit up for the next ascent. That meant full climber gear. Empty the packs.
We started with pants and jacket, then gaiters to prevent the snow from going up our pants and in our boots. It was also time for the crampons and the ice ax.

Of course, no one knew how to strap the crampons on, so Pedro and the other two guides went from climber to climber lacing the snow spikes to our boots.

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All suited up, including safety helmet, we received instructions on how to walk in the crampons, how to use the ice ax in case you fall and slide down the mountain, and how to use it as a walking stick.

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Walking in fresh snow from the day before, we headed out, one after the other, each walking in the footprint of the one in front. The higher we climbed, the colder it got, and the more the wind blew. Ice pellets were pelting us in the face.

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I’m sure from down below in Pucon, it looked like a pleasant day on the mountain, but it was a much different story on the volcano. “The mountain is my friend,” I kept saying under my breath.

One-legged man
The steeper the climb, the tougher it became on me as my thigh muscles began to cramp. With every step, I’d try to massage my leg before firmly planting it in the snow. I was starting to labor, but I didn’t know which was worse, the pain or the fatigue.

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Izzy kept trying to encourage me, and as we fell back from the lead pack, I worried he wouldn’t make the top because of me.

I treasured every rest stop, and tossed in as many of my own as I could. As Izzy coaxed me to breathe in through my nose and out through my mouth, I kept telling myself, “the mountain is my friend.”

At the rest stops, I rubbed sore legs and downed as much water as I could. I ate fruit and granola bars while others laughed and chatted. At one stop, Pedro separated the group, taking the faster climbers on ahead, and leaving Izzy and I in a group of three other climbers who lagged even behind me.

Our guide was patient, and eventually led us to the top, plotting a pace and course we could handle. The closer we got to the summit, though, the steeper it got, and the slower we traveled. So slow, in fact, that Pedro and his group were coming down when we still had at least 30 minutes to go. I was worried the guides were going to tell us we had to turn around so close to success, but they not only led us to the crater, but allowed us 45 minutes on top to rest and celebrate.

I was a new man having reached the summit and relieved to know that I hadn’t kept Izzy from checking off one of his goals in life.

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It was rewarding to celebrate with him on top of the world, 7,000 miles from home and some 2,800 meters into the sky. Who else gets that chance? We had a bird’s-eye view of the Andes Mountains and two other volcanoes. We could see lakes and rivers, the town of Pucon, even into Argentina. There was a blue sky and puffy clouds.

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At the time, I considered the accomplishment the toughest thing I’d ever done in my life. But, I still had to make it back down the volcano.

It’s all downhill from here
The best thing about climbing the Villarrica volcano is that you get to slide back down it. Of course, on our way up, I thought there was no way they would let us slide down this fresh snow as steep as the volcano is. But, thankfully, they did, and that’s where we were at our best.

Our days of winter sports in Ohio paid off as we can slide in the snow with the best of them. We swooshed down the mountain on our butts, using our ice axes as a breaking system. We did it in sections, sometimes having to hike through the snow to safe spots, but for the most part, we slid down all of the snow-covered portion of the volcano, much to our delight. Izzy and I took full advantage of the treat. After all, we paid to be punished on the way up, we were going to get our money’s worth on the way down.

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Once the snow ended and we were back in lava rocks and rubble, we still had a couple of miles to hike down the volcano, but at least it was all downhill.

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In the end, it was an exercise in mind over matter, of will and determination., of setting a goal and accomplishing it.
I won’t go down as the oldest to reach the summit of the Villarrica volcano, that belongs to an 86-year-old, and I won’t come close to climbing it the 1,001 times that Pedro’s had a date with his “girlfriend,” but I have done it, and I did it with my son. That’s good enough for me.

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Posted by triptime 10:32 Archived in Chile Tagged backpacking Comments (1)

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