What lies ahead?
Hugh looking into the distance, hoping it won't get worse...
The title has nothing to do with the temperature in Puerto Williams (PW). Quite the contrary, it is very cold here. Instead, the title of this post refers to the spectacular experience I have had here. Please read further if this is of interest to you.
Unlike Jean Phillipe (do I love that name), Alfredo and I did not do any scouting as far as accommodation goes in PW. We figured that we would have enough time to do so during the morning there. Our sweet maple syrup loving lumberjack, however, did all the hard work for us and we struck gold with the Refugio El Padrino run by the magnanimous and inviting Cecilia. I really cannot describe how much I love this woman. She exudes happiness from each and every pore. She is one of the most kindhearted creatures that I have had the good fortune to come accross in my entire life.
Upon our arrival at the tiny harbor, our dear Cecilia ushered her three new chicks into the living room/dining room/kitchen of the hostel and quickly put on a pot of coffee that would make the Turks run for the latrines. We learned that there were
The Plaza de la Virgen with the Dientes de Navarino in the background
two American ladies and one Aussie also in the hostel. Our American girls were still catching up on their beauty sleep while we were breakfasting. Our Aussie, Hugh, had taken a yacht to Puerto Toro that morning, hitch-hiking with some official trip. Hugh was apparently the expert on weather, as Cecilia informed us, and the weather did not appear to let up for trekking until Sunday. So, it was best to wait until then.
Soon our American friends sauntered out to catch their breakfast. More talking ensued. Interestingly enough, Gabi is also a German-American mess like me. We talked about U.S. citizenship and how to apply for it and asking permission to keep the German, etc. We quickly exchanged e-mail addresses so that I could give her some of the info on how to take care of that process. These girls were still looking pretty groggy, but the three young ferry passengers were invited on a tour of the town led by the wonderful Cecilia. We got to see everything! The museum, the plaza, the naval homes, the "mall", the supermarket, the best bakery, the pub, the virgin to whom one asks forgiveness after a heavy bout of drinking,
The INCREDIBLE Cecilia and I
and the list obviously goes on. Upon our return home, JP cooked a pasta lunch. I felt like my ovaries needed to contribute to some of calorie consumption, i.e. I was a little bit ashamed that my cooking skills are so crap and I was allowing myself to be served by others. Yet I was also flattered to be constantly fed and wooed by the lovely young gentlemen around me. What to do...
Yet one thing that I did learn to make while working at a hostel is bread. With a little bit of yeast and flour, I can make damn near any bread. I am the bread boss. My hands explode with a brilliance of bread baking. The manna floweth from my fingertips. So, I promised JP a bread studded with olives and other exquisite surprises per Alfredo's suggestion. This required an excursion out to the great outdoors up the hill to the supermarket. With needed items in hand, I got to the tenuous process of baking. Every thirty minutes or so, JP would ask me if the bread was done yet, and every thirty minutes I would respond in the negatory. I think French-Canadians really like fresh bread. After a few hours of this back and forth, JP eventually got his bread.
Since our American ladies were leaving on the ferry back to Punta Arenas the next morning, Cecilia promised a feast of octopus stew. Did I mention she was generous? With each of pitching in for a few ingredients, we got to cooking. Hugh also eventually returned from his adventure to join us for the feast. He shared with us that tonight was apparently the night to go to the pub. Whoopie! Another item added to the list of festivities. Since Dr. Aussie is a glutard (his words, not mine, although I do find this to be a lovely expression), he had a stew without bread crumbs in it as he is allergic to any products containing wheat. At least wine doesn't have any wheat in it. I digress. Cecilia's stew was delicious and ridiculously filling. I had to force myself to eat the last few bites. We were all sleepily full at the table, but the promise of pisco sours at the pub beckoned.
The local yacht club did not host just any old pub. This particular watering hole finds itself in an old German naval ship that has been restored to wet the palate of the local sailors or those who are only passing through. The pisco sours were superb and the company excellent. I met a German couple who had stranded their yacht on rocks in the Beagle Channel in early February, and they were still waiting for repair parts. I met the retired naval captain who had accompanied Hugh on his luxurious trip to Puerto Toro. He couldn't believe that I am from South Africa. He later shared with me his love of the braai (barbecue) while he was living there for a year during his less wrinkly days. With only a pair of pisco sours in me and an embarrassing lack of female company, Alfredo swept me onto the dance floor. It is a very rare occasion for me to agree to dance with anyone. I am awkward in addition to a piss poor dancer. I can only barely disguise a passable salsa due to some intense training in Ecuador. Yet Alfredo spun me around for a good two hours. Given that the pub is in a boat, the roof was very low. So, I kept hitting my head and/or hands on the ceiling while the Latin music blared. The next morning guaranteed to display some bruised knuckles.
The next day was spent mostly sleeping in order to recover from the previous night's festivities. I also chanced a trip to the museum to test the notoriously slow internet to a. check my e-mails, and b. check the weather for the next few days. With a decent weather prediction for the week and a purge of my inbox, I contently wandered through the museum, trying to make up my mind whether I should go trekking or not. It didn't take long before I left with a positive perspective of my goals. Upon my return to the Hospedaje El Padrino with an armful of supplies for the trek, I planned the trip with Hugh to Lago Windhond while JP and Alfredo planned their trip for the Navarino Circuit.
In celebration of our departure and the good weather, Cecilia supplied an enormous bag of king crab and prepared a succulent feast for all of her little ducklings. Said bag first had to be picked up on the side of a road, because a local fisherman friend of Cecilia supposedly did not have room in his truck to bring it. I really think he just pulled out so much crab that day that it would have been illegal for him to bring it in. So instead of letting it go to waste, he pawned it off to Cecilia. I may be wrong, but either way, I really did not care. It was an enormous meal that would have cost quite a bit in any other part of the world. So, no hint of complaint came from my side, even though the feast may have been environmentally unfriendly. That evening we also picked up some supplies from the local gear renter. I opted for a warmer sleeping bag than my own; mine was rated for only 0 C and the one offered there went to -20 C. Being cold is never fun when hiking. I also elected for half a kilo of quinoa, as this would give me an extra boost of protein on the hike, and a pair of garters to keep the water and mud out of my boots.
Having the good sense to prepare for a morning filled with men rushing to do things, I packed my things after our feast. This was a good idea, because in their rush to get ready the next morning, our boys had absolutely no time to do their dishes and I really wanted to get hiking before the afternoon. I therefore maternally assumed the task of cleaning up after our jolly little group. However, packing ahead of time also kept me up a little the previous night as I was contemplating how I could possibly make my pack lighter since we would be hiking for 4-6 days. As a result I ended up repacking my bag anyways. Cecilia finally dropped us off at the trailhead an hour later than planned and we all departed in excellent spirits, ready for the ensuing adventure.
The first hour of the first day's hike is positively the most fun I think I have had in my entire life. It was absolutely gorgeous outside. It was just cool enough that I wasn't breaking a sweat, but at the same time warm enough that I did not have to wear my beanie or gloves. The trees were red and the sun was out. It was absolutely picturesque. My pack sat well on my back and I barely noticed the extra weight. JP and Alfredo were with us for about the first 15 minutes until their trail split off. Hugh was excellent company, the trail was well marked and we were making excellent time. I felt like a little fairy hopping through the forest.
Then things got a little harder. The trail markers started becoming very few and far between. Many were on trees that had fallen down either due to time or beaver activity. Needless to say, we were eventually lost. In an effort to find the trail again, we did a fair bit of bushwacking, and, while doing so, I fell waist deep into a pit of mud with one of my legs. Being so convincingly stuck, Hugh had to help me out of my dillema. Although slightly discouraged, we managed to find the trail again and started marching along through the beautiful forest with a restored mood.
We reached our first clearing and stopped for a brief snack break. I had brought a thermos of hot tea along. So, very elegantly, I sipped on my drink while munching on some almonds. We were still doing ok on time and the snow at this point was maybe only 10-20 cm high. No biggie. We had the gear and stamina to deal with this. We were La Mestiza and Dr. Glutard. There was nothing we couldn't handle with a little manjar and a teaspoon.
Then things got a little harder. We were well aware of the fact that the trail we were going along went through some peat bogs and marshes. This is why we made sure to rent garters. However, the issue with the snow on the ground from the previous week's foul weather was that we didn't know when we were stepping into a boggy pit or solid ground. We had to carefully fight along the trail while every now and then falling knee deep into the mud. At times there were bridges made of some logs across the streams. I always opted for a different route where I could leap across the streams, because I didn't trust those slippery snow covered poles. Good thing I did, because Hugh ended up slipping on one of them and surely bruised the family heirlooms somewhat. At one point we were even scrambling up snow covered rocks, but at least we were still finding all of our trail markers...for the most part.
With little other goals in mind, we marched on. After quite a bit of struggling we finally arrived at our first lake. Hugh, being the fittest he has ever been in his life, was about 15 minutes ahead of me, enjoying the vista, but also becoming slightly worried. We were making bad time. We had already taken an hour longer since the aforementioned snack break than the maps and guides had indicated. This of course was due to the terrain, not our fitness. And we had to make it to a campsite before nightfall. Pressed for time, we pressed on.
Then things got even harder. The next bit proved to be even slippier, boggier, and steeper than the forest we had crossed before. There was plenty of ungraceful falling performed. We looked like the Italian national football team flailing all over the forest. My garters were absolutely useless at this point. With my disproportionately narrow ankles and funny shaped legs, they had slipped down leaving my feet soaked and freezing in what was now at least 40 cm of snow. Nevertheless, we were able to escpape this hell and arrive at a beautiful vista point of the valley. It was such a clear day that you could even see Argentina on the other side of the Beagle Channel. Yet, we were still losing far too much time. The sun was starting to make its turn, hinting at the beautiful sunset that was still to come. It seemed that we were only going to get halfway to our intended campsite and would have to stop at the next campsite for the evening.
Then things got even harder. If you haven't noticed, there is a pattern to this. Since we had left the covering of the forest, we had the good fortune of being out of the wet marshland. But this also meant more snow. So, we were now trekking through knee deep snow at a minimum with it sometimes being mid-thigh. Also, more snow meant covered markings. We therefore lost our trail again while traversing around a frozen lagoon of unknown size. Before heading out of the gear rental place, Hugh had the good sense of asking for a GPS, just in case. This was a good idea, because if we had not checked the GPS, we would have walked up a valley with a steep drop off. Turns out we were 2 degrees west of where we needed to be. We retraced our steps around the precarious lagoon and commenced bushwacking through a forest. I could not be any happier than I was the moment I found a marker again. We trudged through this hell in an ungodly amount of snow wishing we had raquettes or snow shoes. At a little pile of markers we stopped to take stock of our situation, plan our next move, and fortify our remaining reserves of energy with a few calories.
Turning back was absolutely no option as we had already had 5 hours of difficult hiking behind us and the sun was setting in 2.5 hours. We could see the mirador we needed to reach at about 500 metres from our hill. This lookout point before Lago Salto in front of the Dientes de Navarino (Teeth of the Navarino mountain range) is also where JP and Alfredo's trail intersected with ours again. We speculated with the fun we would have if we met them there. It was highly likely, as they had to trek up a steeper part than we did which was above the treeline, meaning that there would be even more snow than we had. Really we were supposed to be faster, but we had also suffered several falls and muddy bogs. With our goal in sight we headed out again, deciding to make a decision about the rest of the trek in the near future.
Then things got even harder. The area we were hiking through was treeless and next to a lake. This meant that there were several sub-snow streams running towards the lake in addition to higher levels of snow. We thought falling into mud was terrible. Imagine falling into glacial rivers. As Hugh was hiking ahead of me, I was able to see where he fell every now and then. So I was reasonably able to avoid his tragedies. I followed his tracks into the forest once again, but this time we were definitely well away from the marked trail. The snow was so deep, just above the knee, that finding markers was impossible. So we bushwacked again.
At this point I was starting to question my reasons for doing this. Was it to impress anyone? Definitely not. Was it to live up to some sort of expectation people have of me? I would certainly hope not. Was it because I thought it would be fun? I was having a hard time remembering the fun I had only a few hours earlier. This was not what either Hugh or I had expected. While contemplating life and the hardships I was enduring just for a magnificent view, I lost Hugh's tracks. Actually I went after a pair of tracks from which he had already turned around, as the path he was taking was obviously the wrong one. Nevertheless I followed it absentmindedly. At one point I was struggling to crawl up 1 steep meter of tracks for at least five minutes. This is when I started hallucinating, thinking I smelled the gas burner at the campsite that Hugh was already preparing along with our other cronies. I eventually reached the end of his wrong tracks and realized that I missed a turn. I thought I had heard someone cry out, which was truth, not hallucination, as I would later find out it was JP saluting me.
Absolutely hopeless, I cried out my partner's name in a hope that he could help me find my way to the mirador. True to form, my gallant Dr. Watson appeared without his pack looking for Sherlock Holmes. I backtracked up to where he was waiting to relieve me from my luggage and to lead me in the right direction for the last 15 minutes up to the mirador. At this point my ego and characteristic stubbornness had disappeared and I gladly handed over my backpack. Under normal circumstances I would have refused and struggled through the last bit, even if it meant I wouldn't get there until nightfall. But the sun was setting quickly and I had to make it up the last steep 70 meters without additional hallucinatory experiences.
As expected, JP was standing at the mirador, motivating us up the hill. I don't know why, but I hated him a little bit at that moment. He was already there and I felt ashamed about letting Hugh carry my bag. I finally made it up the stupid hill being greeted with a smiley French-Canadian accent and an impeccable view. However, I was no longer able to feel my toes, my supposedly waterproof gloves were frozen solid on my hands, my face was numb, and I was wondering how long it would take for me to experience the first signs of frostbite. JP graciously offered to lend me his gloves as he wasn't wearing them. With my hallucinations gone, my normal personality had returned. Like a proud idiot I refused and opted to suffer the cold instead. I am a fool. But granted, I was definitely not at my best at that moment.
Camping options were then discussed. The mirador was a wooden platform that could house about three tents, but there was a campsite slightly further down. JP and I were all for sleeping on the mirador, but Hugh still went out to see if the campsite had less snow than the other parts, since the mirador was not sheltered at all. If wind appeared we would be seriously screwed as the mirador was highly exposed. While Hugh was being a chipper explorer and Alfredo was snap happy with his camera, JP and I got to clearing the mirador. As expected, Hugh returned with the report that there was at least a foot of snow in all places and that we had to chance the wind. JP and I set up our solo tents and Hugh and Alfredo decided to share Hugh's double tent for the evening.
JP significantly redeemed himself in my eyes when he announced that he brought some fire starters and we should try to build one. Knowing how much a fire could lift a spirit on such a cold day, we all went in search of dry, fallen wood. I was very proud of the pile of kindling I had brought in for the team, but I was again put to shame by my friends' supperior gathering skills. But the resulting fire was, pardon my French, fucking fantastic. I was able to defrost all of my gear and my mood, as well as make hot cocoa. I even took off my boots to attempt to dry them and subsequantly put on my sandals. I never thought I would use those at this point. Hugh even broke out a box of wine to share in a communal fashion. Happy and full, we decided to make a decision on returning or pushing on the next morning.
Then things got hard again. As I found out upon my return to Puerto Williams, my sleeping bag was actually rated only until -9 C. Add the fact that I am a woman, and the temperature rating is even worse. Feeling rather pathetic, I struggled to keep my legs from shaking and my breathing from becoming alarmingly erratic. Of course the area around my baby-maker was warm because my female body naturally focuses the blood and warmth there. But my feet were yet again non-existent. I was literally rattling in my tent. I was also super close to asking JP if I could snuggle up next to him in his tent, but the cold eventually paralyzed me and I fell asleep thinking that there was no way in hell that I was braving another night of this frozen disaster.
That first day's hike was the hardest hike I have done in my entire life and that night was the coldest I have ever experienced. Had I known the situation, I would have never left PW. But as Hugh kept reminding me, this was not what any of us had expected. I knew I did not have the gear, the physical fitness, or the stamina to go over the Dientes de Navarino pass. Plus, the Navarino pass was at a higher altitude, thus promising even more snow and slow going. In addition, we were greeted with a light snow that quickly turned into sleet during breakfast. Then came decision time. Hugh and JP were all for pushing on. We had gotten that far and we should at least try. Alfredo was not very happy about the conditions and his gear either. I, of course, just wanted to go back, even if it meant struggling through the marshes again. Going alone was a terrible idea. So, Hugh and JP decided to do the Lago Windhond trek together instead of splitting later, and Alfredo and I decided to follow Hugh and my tracks back to the village.
The day's hike was the same as the previous, except that it was in reverse and the weather was much fouler. We were making far better time as we were coming downhill for the first section, but we couldn't rest for more than 5 minutes at any point as we would quickly start feeling very cold. On the way back I probed all of the precarious areas of the snow with an extra hiking stick that JP had lent us. This worked for the most part, except when I fell waist deep into a frozen lake. This was not a quick escape and required me to lose my pack and crawl out. I managed to salvage my pack which remained relatively dry due to the rain cover I placed over it. But I felt pretty miserable at this point. The promise of red wine and a warm bed at Cecilia's was the only thing that kept me going. We had to reach the trailhead where Cecilia had left us before nightfall, or else we would be in a pickle. Hiking through the lower forests at night would be impossible, even with a good flashlight. We pushed on hard with the occasional breaks for Alfredo to take pictures. At the points where Hugh and I got lost, I tried using my good judgment and sometimes went down a different trail in order to avoid some of the loops we made. All the while, I worried like a mother about our two friends who were trying to cross a mountain pass meant to be done only by the most experienced in the snow and for others strictly during the summer.
With our day-old tracks and my improving memory of the previous day, we made it back to the road with about 15 minutes of daylight to spare. After an hour's hike back to town on the road, we made an immediate stop at the grocery store. We each stuffed our faces with a traditional completo and bought 3 liters of wine before heading down to Cecilia's. Wet as seafearing dogs, we were greeted by a chipper Austrian who was all about going drinking at the Yacht Club that night to celebrate our shameful return and his love for alcohol. I was not so keen on the idea. I just wanted to shower and put on some dry clothes. Alfredo also politely declined and we both went to bed absolutely spent. As one would say in Chilean Spanish, cagamos, or translated, we were thoroughly fucked up.
Cecilia, the angel that she is, mothered over us the next day as we were trying to plan our next move. She offered to talk to a buddy to see if we can visit Puerto Navarino (PN), a village west of PW, with a friend. Over the day I took care of business, like drying my gear and notifying the police of our return and our friends' change of plan. All the while, Cecilia was working her magic, and later that evening we met with Jaime from Wulaia Expediciones to hitch a ride to PN and stay in his cabin with him for a couple of nights. While discussing the wonderful powers of Cecilia at the dinner table with our new Austrian friend and a later round at the pub, Cecilia told me of friends she had that lived in the isolated Caleta Ferrari. True to form, she offered to hook me up to visit there for the next week. So with a happy heart and a bright forecast for the ensuing week's activities, I trudged over to Jaime's truck at one in the afternoon as arranged the previous evening. Jaime being Chilean, we didn't leave until 14:30, of course.
Turns out Jaime's business partner is also named Jaime. So, with Alfredo in the back of the truck, I was wedged between two short, portly Chilean men both named Jaime. The drive out was absolutely gorgeous. Even though I knew it was very cold in the back of the truck, I was a little envious of the spectacular view that Alfredo was most certainly enjoying. I was still recovering from the trek turned expedition earlier in the week. So I eventually passed out while somewhat consciously trying not to flop onto one of the little Jaimes.
Upon our arrival in the supposed village (there are only two families that live here), the two freeloaders were given the task of taking the luggage up to the cabin while the Jaimes tried to get some work done fixing the dock. We were also charged with gathering firewood. At first we were looking for an axe in the cabin so that we could split the logs we found. Only finding saws, we looked for narrower wood. The saws proved to be absolutely useless. We didn't want our generous hosts to return to a cold cabin, but we also had no method to acquire wood of the appropriate size. Then I had a stroke of genius; I have those sometimes. I decided to place the longer, thinner logs on two thick logs and to drop a heavy rock on it to split it. The US Government should hire me in the Weapons of Mass Destruction Specialist Department; I could think of so many creative ways of breaking things. Just don't ask me to fix anything. Our new method worked like a charm and was fun in a very childish way. Mission accomplished, we headed out with our obnoxious cameras to capture to dreamlike sunset over the Beagle Channel.
Still being rather sleepy, I headed to bed that evening while my three Chilean friends were doing an extensive quality control on the boxed wine that Alfredo had brought along. Despite the apparent advantage I should have had getting up the next morning, I rose well after my internally preserved companions. Feeling the need for a hike, I grabbed my camera and a thermos of hot tea to explore. I must have sat on the tip of a peninsula staring out to the city of Ushaia in Argentina for hours. I thought about life, especially my time during my undergraduate. I am still wondering whether some of the things I did was time well spent. Only more time will tell. By the time I headed back to the cabin, Jaime in second command had made lunch and my plate was already cold.
The sometimes annoying result of spending a lot of time thinking alone is that you start pondering things that you really don't want to worry about but should be making headway on. In my case, this was budgeting for medical school. After gathering more wood for the evening next to a beaver dam a little further up the valley, I got to making expense spreadsheets. Oh silly me. I will probably end up changing all the items. So instead I put on some music and worked on the next blog I was scheduled to blog once I returned to an area with a more industrialized internet connection.
While I was pretending to be responsible, Alfredo was hiking about PN making acquaintances with the local wild boars ravaging the fauna. Again, we were blessed with yet another beautiful sunset. While the men were doing their thing, the evening started cooling rapidly and typing was becoming increasingly difficult. I had no idea what the etiquette was on building a fire in Chile, but I went ahead and started it, even if it may be unladylike for the woman of the house. This turned out to be a good move as the Jaimes were somewhat wet from the day's work and absolutely freezing. They had to wade deeper into the bay than expected for a particularly tricky bit of welding. Gold star for me!
Jaime in second command again made a magical dinner while Jaime in first command was catching a nap in front of the stove. The relationship between these guys was very sweet to watch. They each assumed their roles gladly and cared for each other out here. Their families were in Punta Arenas while they were trying to build a business together at the end of the world. Jaime 2.0 eventually covered his exhausted boss/friend with a blanket. Again I retired early while the guys attacked a classy, oversized bottle of red wine.
My ladybits eventually started feeling guilty again. There was a woman in the house who was doing little of the expected chores, except for the dishes. That is one thing I have found that is really easy for me to help out with, regardless of where I go. There is little that you can screw up doing dishes as it has such a universal method. Also, it is not a much desired chore. So, whenever I am a guest anywhere, I assume that task in an effort to carry my load. Nonetheless, I felt my duty to my maternal ancestors calling me to make lunch for the gents on our final day. Despite my dismal cooking skills, I managed to make a hot, hearty soup of the leftovers, a packet of soup, and chorizo. I also succeeded in boiling some hotdogs - tough job, I know. After the results of my feminine efforts were consumed, we packed up and headed back to PW. This time I insisted on the back seat. It was not nearly as cold as Alfredo suggested. It was actually pretty fantastic. The views were endless and picturesque. I took some beautiful photos and even shot a few videos. With impeccable service, our new friends dropped us off on the doorstep of the Refugio El Padrino with wishes of good luck for our future travels.
While in PN, Cecilia had sent a radio message to us to let us know that JP and Hugh had survived their expedition, but, like us, cagaron (see an earlier paragraph for the translation of this vulgar verb). JP had the good fortune of catching a lift to Ushaia with a French yacht earlier that morning. Hugh, on the other hand, was waiting to welcome us and share their experience with us. Turns out we were very wise to turn back. The hike through the pass was the hardest that each of them had ever done and their last night out in the mountains was insufferably cold; Hugh's boots were frozen solid and had to be thawed with the camp stove before they could head back, among other things. Yet the trip was absolutely gorgeous. I was happy for them, although also a little more content about the decision that I had made. I was still trying to shake off the bruises of my wounded pride, but talking to Hugh about the trek helped the recovery process. Attempting to pass the Dientes de Navarino would have been very foolish indeed, especially for someone of my level of experience. That evening Cecilia reported that I was confirmed to visit her friends in Caleta Ferrari, but I was given the task of bringing fresh fruit and vegetables as an offering. This was taken care of gladly.
Hugh and I were joined by an American traveler named Chris. A self-proclaimed hypochondriac, we spent the rest of the evening talking diseases and trying to fend them off by consuming copious amounts of wine in order to prevent the bacteria we had inevitably picked up from spreading in our bodies to give us rabies. I was highly entertained by the hilarious level of paranoia of our friend; the two men, however, seemed to be far more serious concerning the subject matter. Despite an invitation to go to the bar with Alfredo and two sailors who were heading out for 6 months at sea the next day, the three obsessed with disease went to bed.
At around 7:30 AM the next morning I heard Cecilia stoking the fire and adding wood. At about 7:55 AM I heard what was Alfredo coming home and Cecilia telling him to hurry up if he wanted to catch the ferry ride to Puerto Toro. Puerto Toro, you see, is the southernmost inhabited area of continental South America, if you don't count the naval family living in the lighthouse on Cape Horn. It has 28 inhabitants who are all mostly related to each other. I bet it's not hard to fall in love with your cousin there as there are few other options. Yuck. But it was a place Alfredo should see given his lighthouse project even if he had partied through the night, Chilean style. Cecilia kept yelling at him to hurry up while Alfredo drunkenly told her to shut up while he was trying to control his motor skills while packing his camera gear. I could still hear him heading out the door pleading with Cecilia to help him stay another week and to go to Caleta Ferrari with me. Turns out Cecilia ended up hollering at the ferry to turn around and pick up our tardy, drunken Alfredito. This all played off while I was eavesdropping in my bunkbed above Chris. There is nothing like an early morning Chilean soap opera if you ask me.
While Alfredo was palefacedly tolerating a ferry trip, I was gearing up for my week on the big island of Tierra del Fuego with a Chilean gaucho, Jose, and his Belgian woman, Anemi. I made my weekly round at the internets. Reading my e-mails, I was reminded why I didn't like reading them or just being connected to the outside world in general. It makes me sick to the stomach. Spam is annoying and Facebook is the devil; although in this day and age I think e-mail is essential for communication and a social networking account is efficient in keeping one connected without exerting much effort. Nonetheless, both resources are highly abused. I don't want to know about the "deals" being offered from an internet service I only used once, and I don't give a damn about the amount of drinks that were on your receipt from the pub last night. I morosely trudged out of the museum to the statue of the virgin to beg forgiveness for my foul mood in this paradise. At least my phone is practically disconnected - I send and receive only the occasional SMS. Although, admittedly, I was very close to tossing both my US and Chilean phone into the ocean. It would have been so beautifully symbolic. Instead I let the battery run out and "forget" to charge it for around a week at a time.
While documenting my visit with Mother Mary and baby Jesus with the beautiful Dientes de Navarino in the backdrop, I couldn't help but wonder about how shady the story of Jesus' birth is. A virgin girl gets pregnant via divine conception. The second coming of Jesus via a virgin’s womb is frequently documented at hospitals. Young girls insist they are virgins, but after a simple pregnancy test, their nausea symptoms turn out to be due to the non-virginity of their wombs. I am not saying Jesus was a bad fellow; in fact I think the ideals he shared are a commendable standard to live one's life by. However, I have a hard time buying the story of his conception. Regardless, Momma Mary watching over me made me feel better. I felt like she was sending waves of understanding and consolation my way. Coincidentally, as I was nursing my irritation, Chris the hypochondriac showed up. He had borrowed my hiking boots earlier that day to walk up to the Cerro Bandero as his shoes, which I was wearing, would have been useless against the snow on the hike. We walked back to town together, and I somewhat forgot why I was annoyed.
In celebration of my week on Isla Navarino, although I would return in only five days, I decided that a meal of brinner was in order. Brinner, my friends, is a combination of breakfast and dinner. As in breakfast for dinner. It may be my favorite food in the world. On the menu were eggs, toast, and pancakes made from scratch. I shared happily with my footsie partner Chris while preparing myself for the ferry ride to Caleta Ferrari where Alfredo and I would arrive at 3:30 AM in the morning. I brinnered it up as best as I could even though the results from my short visit to the internets was making its return. Once brinner was done and copious amounts of wine was consumed, I bid adieu to Hugh in Chilean cheek-kissing fashion and promised to stay in touch. Chris (who would take the ferry all the way to Punta Arenas), Alfredo, and I boarded the ferry and settled in for a 3 hour nap until we arrived in Caleta Ferrari.
There is a short second part to Puerto Williams, but I think that it is appropriate for me to express my appreciation of all of the people I met here. Of course, at the top of my list is Cecilia. She is nothing short of the most hospitable, awesome, supercalifragilisticexpialidocious person I have ever met. There is also Miguel and Belen at the Yacht Club/Pub, the Jaimes from Wulaia Expediciones, Roxana and Luis from the gear rental, Rosa from the laundromat, Simon and Simon with their excellent grocery store incidentally called Simon & Simon, the staff and crew of the Transbordador Austral Broom, the Carabineros and PDI, and many other kind folk I am forgetting to mention. This small town reminded me of why I like small towns. I like the dynamic of such an interconnected extended family. I feel that what comes around goes around and these folks are really making an effort to pass on good deeds. I was happy to live among them and explore their beautiful island. I know I will return in summer one day to attempt my failed trek anew with, hopefully, better success.
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