(Note to reader - strap in, here comes a long one)
I feel a bit annoyed with myself that I haven't kept these up, and that my posts have been rarer and rarer as our trip here has gone on. Part of this was COVID, as sh*t, what do you talk about when you're locked in the house (we don't talk about COVID no no). The other part of this is that generally when I have been inspired to write has been pointing out the little humourous differences in life between here and Canada. Like the travel experiences are great, but generally it's like, we went here, and we did this. Like great, anyone can write that. The true gold is the ridiculous day to day situations that I find myself in here, based on a completely different cultural lens or misunderstanding of the language. And I have been inspired to write about that...I had another one (Chilean customer service, hoo boy)...but then I started to get emotional about our time here, and wanted to write a bit about that. So that will have to wait.
We have known since maybe Canadian fall last year that we would likely
be heading home sometime in 2022, probably in July. But I sort of put that in the back of my head as it seemed far off...all of sudden, it's not so much. We started looking at dates for our official flights home and have since booked, and we also started looking at the list of things we need to do before we go. And boy, there's a lot. House leases, kids schooling, selling/buying cars, cleaning out the house, finding out what I'm doing about work (I'm a Chilean employee see and have no "official" work in Canada right now), booking flights, moving out...the list goes on and on. But it also makes me reflect on the experience, and think about where I am at mentally with it. Am I ready to leave? Will I miss it? Would I do it again if I had the chance? And I would say yes to all those things. It is time to get home. It's been almost four years, and the only trip to Canada I have had was five weeks during COVID when we went to Canmore. I haven't even been to Vancouver since we left in 2018 even though technically that
is my where I technically live in Canada. And our girls will have been here for a greater part of both there lives than they have lived in Canada. We miss being close to family and are looking forward to connecting with old friends. There is a certain amount of exhaustion with the whole experience. Living in a different culture where you don't always feel at home means that even once you have "adapted", you are never fully adapted. We have gotten close to many expats, only to watch them (and their kids) leave. There is a transient part of this that has been a huge challenge. The four years themselves have not been easy ones. Social unrest, and then two years of a pandemic in one of the most restricted jurisdictions in the world. On the other hand though, we will miss it. We live a very nice lifestyle here. Our trips (ex COVID times) are to exotic places that we've never seen before, and will never see again. There is a part of us where despite the challenges of adapting, you end up craving that challenge, it becomes part of the fun. And we will leave behind a
number of great friends that we may not (although we hope) we will see again. That's sad, but we are so lucky for having to have made those connections. So yeah, I would do it all again, despite the challenges, despite the point I am at now of feeling a bit of exhaustion with the last four years. It has been an incredible experience, we have grown as people, we have become so tight as a family, and we have proven to ourselves how much we can accomplish. It is a weird spot at this point. Mentally, you've started to move back to another place, but physically you are still here and you want to honour the time you have. We have really started to look forward.
And we've been incredibly fortunate that the end of our time here has coincided with a reduction of COVID restrictions, because we have been able to experience more of Chile in that time, and in some ways been able to "complete" this experience. At one point I was considering leaving last year, even looking at jobs in Vancouver and planning it out...that didn't happen, and so we didn't cut it short and
Sendero a Termas del Sol, Rio Puelo
Forest boardwalk to the termas del sol
that I'll forever be grateful for. So that brings me to the title of the post, a summer to remember, because it truly truly was (sorry that it took me 800 words to get there, there's just a lot of emotions to capture).
Chileans, in general, rave bout the south. You talk to them about all kinds of things in their country, but it all comes to "But have you been to the south". I can say categorically now, that yes, I have been to the south. We had two previous trips to the area around Pucon, which is amazing with it's huge conical shaped volcano, but over the summer we managed to get to four new places (well the rest of the family three, me four heh heh)...Puerto Varas and surroundings, Torres del Paine (this was one I was really really waiting for), Chiloe, and Cerro Castillo along the Carretera Austral. So a little about each... Puerto Varas/Ralun/Puelo:
Puerto Varas is set on the second largest lake in Chile, Lago Llanquihue, about a two hour flight south of Santiago, with the biggest feature being the huge Volcan Osorno, another startovolcano typical of the south (nearby was another
volcano named Cabulco, which had apparently exploded quite violently about 7 years ago so it was a little more deformed and not quite so picturesque...but we sure kept our eye on it). We actually rented a cabin about an hour away from Puerto Varas, heading east along the lake and then down south through Petrohue river valley to the Estuario Reloncavi. This amazing little cabin with a wood fired hot tub looking out over the estuary. It was an incredible spot, and this was early December for Zoe's 7th birthday. From there we explored Parque Vincente Perez Rosales, the oldest national park in Chile, and the saltos on the rio Petrohue, and went up the volcan Osorno. Then we took a full day rafting tour on the rio Petrohue (including some rapids that potentially scarred poor Maelle for life) on a sweltering day so it included lots of jumping in the river, including with Zoe (an awesome memory for me, having her jump the raft into my arms...so good). On Zoe's birthday proper, we drove south along the northern part of Ruta 7, Chile's Carretera Austral, along the estuary to a town named Puelo, named after the river that runs
through it. There we headed to the Termas del Sol (ironically, there was no sol), which was hidden through a winding boardwalk in a mangrove type forest, and spent the day soaking in the termas and testing the various temps (couldn't get the kids to try the fifteen degree one, or the forty-five degree one). In the evenings we spent time filling the kiln on the hot tub with wood to keep it warm, having asados and watching the cows and horses cruise the tidal flats to eat the greens. Every morning started with a soak in the hot tub at sunrise with the early rising kids. Torres del Paine:
This for me was a big one. I don't know if you know this national park, but it is one of the "must go" spots in Chile. There's a lot of pictures of the set of mountains that make up the range, mainly the Torres themselves (three granite shaped towers set in front of a deep blue laguna) and the cuernos (the horns), this set of peaks that are actually quite mind blowing, a bit less known but equally incredible, and just all kinds of amazing views. But I
had had this on my list from day one, to the point where I had bought this Torres del Paine hat back in 2019, but after a while stopped wearing it because I felt like such a poser that I had not actually been. Well no more, I can wear that hat.
This was also a bit of a stressful one getting to happen, as it was around the time that Omicron exploded, and my parents were coming for Christmas, after Chile had been closed to foreigners for basically 8 months...they left Canada the day after the Canadian government told everyone that they SHOULD NOT travel. Despite Omicron exploding up in Canada and the US, Chile was still in a good spot with COVID for at least for another month after Christmas...I'll admit I was stressed though, as it was still early time on it and I was freaking out I would drag my parents down to the end of the world and have them get COVID...spoiler, this did not happen and we had an amazing time. After spending 6 days over Christmas on the coast in Cachagua, we left Santiago New Year's Eve, and took a four hour
flight to Puerto Natales, and then hopped on a two hour van ride to a place called Estancia Cerro Guido (Estancia's are basically big ranches), a twelve room hotel with the park to the west and Argentina to the east. The estancia was cool, because it still had a lot of the traditional Gaucho culture that is so quintessential to Patagonia...we would sit there and watch the Gauchos chase the sheep and horses around while we ate organically sourced food from their huerta and from the other local ranches. And despite all the amazing views and Patagonian animals we saw, Maelle still can't stop talking about seeing the sheep shearing with her grandparents...and Zoe about the horseback ride she took.
But for me, that park is just incredible. We did a full day park tour on New Year's day (great way to start off the year), checking out all the sights, including vistas of the torres, tracking guanacos and rheas (ostrich like birds that live there), checking out the bluest of blue waters (salto chico and salto grande), lago grey and glacier grey, paine massif and the cuernos, which were these huge granite spires right in the middle of
the park in front of this deep blue lake (lago pehoe) where we ate lunch and the skies cleared for an absolutely spectacular view. The next day we were fortunate enough to have a little built in baby sitting (thanks grandparents) and did the 25km hike to the base del Torres to see the three towers that are the most featured part of the park. On the way we had every season of weather, including a summer snow storm as we left the laguna in front of the towers on the way back down...not that foreign to me though, having grown up in the rockies. With the variable weather, we were not fortunate enough to get a full view of the Torres up close...more of a partial view (I think they made themselves shown fully for about fifteen minutes that day...by the time we were about halfway down) but for me it was an incredible day, and that I got to share it with Steph was even better. Not so many experiences that we get like that the two of us. That night we did a proper asado de palo (basically, a full lamb on a spit) with the family
and then huddled in the estancia listening to the wind whip over the Patagonian steppe. Really amazing. Our last full day we took things relatively easy, although I managed to do a hike up to the top of Cerro Guido, the mountain behind the estancia, the only person there walking amongst herds of guanaco. The guanacos would always post a sentry (as they would be watching for pumas) who would bleat my presence and they would all run to a safe distance as I made my way up the mountain. From the top I could see west back to the Park and to the Torres del Paine, and east I could see out to Sierra Baguales, the mountain range that splits Chile and Argentina. After a quick visit to Puerto Natales, a city of about twenty thousand on Golfo Almte Montt, we caught the three and a half hour flight back to Santiago. I've been scheming on how we can get back there, because the place truly meets the hype. Chiloe:
Although the Omicron wave was peaking in Chile in mid February, it was my fortieth birthday and we had planned to head down to Chiloe, a huge island
Torres del Paine off in the distance
about halfway down the country, characterized by the colorful palafito houses that sit on stilts above the ocean. Despite having to cancel the party for it (a few friends and I were having a joint one and canceled to avoid any super spreader events) the four of us flew down to Mocopulli, the main airport on the island (only airport, it was pretty much a building) and heading to the Tierra hotel on the Rilan Peninsula in our rented two wheel drive Mitsubishi truck, banging along the dirt roads stopping to eat the overgrown blackberries poking through the fences lining the farmland. The hotel was on the headlands above a waterfowl reserve, and as we stepped in we could see dolphins swimming around in the ocean below. The hotel was on the eastern side of the island facing the mainland, and you could see over to the ocean to the mainland and the Corcovado volcano, which is about halfway down the carretera austral. After arriving we reserved our hour at the pool (COVID restrictions ya know), which was a covered spot looking over the ocean. The next day we walked out of the hotel and directly onto their hotel's own
boat, the Williche, where we spent the day watching birds, penguins, dolphins and sea lions, and eating freshly caught muscles on our way down to Lemuy island to see one of the classic churches that dot the island, and experience a little Chilote culture. The day was hot and beautiful, as were the next two days as we ventured out in our rented truck to check out different parts of the island, including Parque Tepuhueico in the middle of the island to hike and check out waterfalls, and then over to the western side of an island to take a lancha down the Rio Chepu to the Muelle de la luz, a pier built to honour the fisherman on cliffs overlooking the open Pacific, and where we found a secret beach with our guide to sit and have lunch as we explored caves and swam in the ocean, looking along this super lush undiscovered coastline with an abandoned beach running all the way up, and green forested mountains dotting the landscape. The hotel itself was also fantastic, and may have been my favourite hotel we have stayed here (and we have been fortunate to stay at some real nice places
Boatride to Isla Lemuy, Chiloe
A few Sea Lions taking a break
here). After the days of touring the island, we would hit the incredible pool and then I would walk with Zoe around the property, first down to the dock to see the dolphins, then along the ocean to see the birds and pick blackberries, and finally back up to the hotel with a stop at the organic huerta to check out the massive zucchinis growing there...so idyllic. Even on the last day and as we got to the airport (and by airport of course we mean pretty much a shed) only to find out that our flight was delayed an hour, and then another, it didn't matter. We just sat in a grass field out front listening to music in the sun and reading...no big deal. I laugh a bit because this was shoehorned in between all these other amazing trips, and I sometimes obsess a bit about the others particuarly Torres del Paine, but this was just as incredible, and now that I write about it, just as memorable. An amazing way to spend my fortieth birthday with the four of us. Cerro Castillo Trek:
If the above wasn't enough, and it probably was, but I suppose you
Best pool ever!
Hotel Tierra Chiloe
only live once, and only have a global pandemic once, so there was a whole lot of stuff to be gettin' done after about eighteen months stuck in our houses. This one took a while to come to fruition, as my buddy Chris kept mentioning to me that he was going to do a five day hike in Patagonia through the Cerro Castillo National Park, and that I should join. At first I resisted, and then began to think I could sign on after he gave me the dates...wrong ones actually...and once again I was at square one and couldn't go. Then after a few iterations of his trip mates had dropped out, a few things changed on my end and bam...all of a sudden I was signing up for a five day hike through Patagonia with two yankee doodles. It had been about fifteen years since I had actually done anything like this, so after a gear refreshed and a bit of a freakout of sleeping in a tent for four nights (I sometimes barely am able to sleep in a bed to be honest) I was on a flight to Balmaceda in the south, right in the centre
of the Carretera Austral.
A French guy who learned his Spanish in Argentina (pa-rr-i-zha) picked us up from the airport to take us the hour to the trailhead (named Traversia Las Horquetas), and gave us the camping gas which we were not allowed to take on our flight down, as we snapped a few photos and started the 65km journey over the next four days. (apparently another Chileno was supposed to pick us up with the camping gas, but there was a last minute problem with that, as the guy never bought the gas and could not find it the day before...thank goodness we found a backup the NIGHT BEFORE). The weather was looking a bit dicey for most of the trip, but the first day was bright, sunny and beautiful as we started the journey, almost attempting to ford a river instead of taking an easily locatable bridge to start out with. The trail goes basically through three valleys over the four/five days, and the first day was the longest in terms of length but is more a gradual incline to the first campsite. We followed the river valley, occasionally removing boots to cross streams and rivers, saying
Rilan Peninsula, Chiloe
Volcan Corcavado off in the distance
hello to the cows grazing the fields along the way. As we neared the campsite (Campamento Rio Turbio), we came out of the woods into the main river valley. It was surrounded by massive peaks, with hanging glaciers basically dotting every one. After getting a bit turned around we found our way to the camp, set ourselves up and drank the two beers we each had in the sun by the river that we had bought in the local almacen in Balmaceda on our way in that morning (other campers looked on being like "you brought beer?"). Damn those were some real good beers...we chilled them in the river too.
After a bit of a rough sleep (it had been a long time since I slept in tent) we packed up the camp. It had clouded over during the night, and through the day it would spit rain without turning into a full downpour (that would come later). On the second day we were to go over the first pass (Penon Pass) into the second valley...the Park Ranger had been very explicit the day before that "You have to be over both the passes on the hike before eleven
am, as this is when the wind gets bad". Prophetic words, as we would find out later. Despite being very ambitious about getting up early so we could do a side hike along the trail that was before the pass, we were the last ones out of the camp. We were moving fast though, so despite the late start we worked in the side hike and got to the pass just as it hit eleven bells...super fun hammering up the pass like I was a fifteen year old in Outdoor Ed again going over North/South Kan pass in Kananaskis country. We hit the pass, looked back at the valley we came out of and then down into the next valley. As we did, water ran down the sides of the mountains from hanging glaciers, so many that you could just finish your water bottle, stick it out into a stream and refill it as we headed down. As we rounded a corner on our way to the valley bottom, it opened up into the wall of waterfalls, probably ten or fifteen cascading down a rock wall. As the day went on we started to catch up to other groups on
the trail, and kept up our pace so we could be first at the campsite to get a good spot. The rest of the hike was through beech and lenga forest, and balancing on logs over rivers cascading down into the valley as we hit the valley floor and started to climb back up towards the campsite. At this point we started getting a few views of the namesake mountain of the park, Cerro Castillo, which would hit on the third day. We arrived at the camp (Campamento El Bosque), and once set up did a second side hike up to another moraine lake, this one full of massive icebergs slowly inching towards the stream that ran out of it. Ten feet from us, one about the size of a small car even flipped over as we sat observing the surroundings. We then managed to pack a few chunks to use in the whiskey that we had packed in. Nothing quite like fresh glacier sourced ice to chill your whiskey after a hard day of hiking.
As there was no cell service, we were trying to recall the forecast, and we were wondering when the big rainstorm that was
predicted would make its way through the valley. Well that question was answered about halfway through the second night as rain started falling. By about 7am, the time we had planned to wake up, it was coming down in sheets. If you've never broke down a campsite in the rain, let me tell you, it sucks. After two nights of bad sleep, with a sore body and blistered up feet, my mind was feeling a bit in dire straights as I tried to get everything packed in the dryness of my tent (the two other guys were sharing a tent, while I was in a solo tent, so maneuvering my 6'1 frame around it was not easy). You really have to contort yourself, and after a few days of hiking that gets harder and harder). After much cursing, we managed to get ourselves in our rain gear and get the tents down relatively dry...the only thing that ended up super wet for me were the camp shoes that I had brought, which was kinda unfortunate because by the third day my feet were a war zone with the blisters. Regardless we set off in the pouring rain to make the
2.5km or so hike to the Laguna Cerro Castillo, which was the main attraction of the Horquetas trail. Despite the rain and cloud, the scenery was stunning and we continued to pass glacier fed rivers and waterfalls swollen from the rain. Despite the blister problems, my boots were bombproof so that kept them dry as we had to do some minor fording of streams. As we approached the laguna the rain started to let up, and we boulder hopped up from the laguna to the top of a ridge to stop and admire the view of the massive and cairny Cerro Castillo, with it's deep blue lagoon and hanging glacier. Back the other way we could see down into the valley towards Villa Cerro Castillo and over the plains to Lago General Carrera (the largest lake in Chile), fed by the winding Rio Ibanez in the foreground. It was an incredible site, and after an exhausting morning it was nice to have a respite from the weather as we snapped photos and had a snack (we'd missed breakfast in our scramble to leave the campsite).
We were feeling pretty cocky with our hiking skills at this point (we had
passed a number of groups that morning already), and it was approaching noon when we set out to climb the second pass that would lead us into the final valley of the hike. We didn't even for a second worry about the warning the park ranger had given us two days earlier on the timing of when we would be getting over the pass. As we approached the top of the pass and looked back down through the valley to the where we had hiked over the last two days, the weather began to turn again and a light snow began falling. The wind was picking up as we reached the top, however it was nothing that we were really concerned about. On the way up to our confusion, we did see someone running up the pass after us shouting to get our attention, but besides cracking a few jokes about how this guy maybe wanted some snacks, we continued on as he was hundreds of meters of meters below us. One of us did remark though "what if that's the ranger telling us not to go over the pass?"...we hustled up just to make sure, as the last thing
we wanted was to turn back to the previous camp.
As we descended towards the third campsite, we then discovered why they had requested that people get over the passes before 11 am. I had never ever experienced wind like that...as we made our way down, there was no cover and I was literally walking on a 45 degree angle to keep myself up against the wind. The wind was whipping walls of tiny little ice pellets at our faces at the same time, which didn't help either. While I will say that I wasn't panicked, it was strong enough to start wondering as to whether I should be panicked. I was in the middle of the three of us walking down, and could see the other two, but we were separated by about 20 meters each and so I wondered what was going on in their minds. Below me, my buddy Chris' backpack rain cover almost flew off and he grabbed it at the last second. Fortunately at the last minute I had thrown in hiking polls which definitely helped me keep my balance as we were whipped by gale force winds. Eventually, we made it down the
exposed section to the tree line and regrouped for a few minutes to exhale after a pretty harrowing hike down the pass. It was funny to exchange notes about the hike down, as we had all felt that if the wind got much worse, it could have spelt some real trouble for us. We discovered a few days later through a conversation with another group, that it was the ranger that had been chasing after us, and he had stopped their group from going over the pass right before he ran up after us...as we kept going he turned back and told his buddy "three of them got away". The pass actually closed for the rest of that day and the next one...had we not made it over, we likely would have had to have returned to the second campsite, and then hiked down to the town the next day and then back up into the third valley to complete the trip. So stroke of luck, or stroke of dumb luck I guess.
The third day was the shortest in terms of distance, but definitely the most exhausting mentally, and we limped into the third camp (Campamento Porteadores) at
Day 2, Side hike to Laguna Temprano
A great place to grab glacier ice for your whiskey
about 2 or 3 in the afternoon, fortunately during a bit of sun and dryness. We set to getting our wet gear in the sun, especially the tents and groundsheets. Given our timing, we could have pushed on to camp 4 during the day as the day was relatively short in terms of distance (10k), but we were all so exhausted that all we wanted to do was get set up, dry ourselves out and eat some warm food. We spent the afternoon drying and cleaning gear, sitting in the sun by the river, and playing card games. A tarp that I had lugged in came in handy as we were able to set up a bit of cover as it continued to rain a bit. Before we turned in that night, we made the decision that if we had another rainy morning we would skip going to the final camp, as the final part of a trail was an out and back to that camp and above to final valley, and could be done as a day hike.
Overnight we could hear the rain (and snow) and we woke up to another rainy mess, so we packed for
Day 3, Campamento El Bosque to Laguna Cerro Castillo
Fighting the rain and wind on our way to Laguna Cerro Castillo the morning of day 3
the day to do the final 12.5km out and back to the Campamento Neozelandes and to the valley above there, which ended at another laguna (Laguna Duff) on the backside of Cerro Castillo. The views as we came out of the trees and into the valley were pretty amazing, especially as it had only snowed at this elevation. The surrounding peaks and mountainside were covered, and we trudged through boot deep fresh snow to get to the final vista on the hike. We arrived to the laguna around 1100 in the morning, and with the wind and snow whipping up we gave it a short stay at the top, cognizant of what had happened after 11am the day before - we also didn't want to have any issues route finding if our tracks got covered with more fresh snow. We made it back to the treeline and had a sheltered lunch there, and then descended back to our base camp at Porteadores. At this point my body was pretty beaten down from the 4 days of lugging around a 45 pound pack, and in particular my feet were in rough shape with some real bad blisters, so we were happy
that it was our last night on the mountain. The last morning we woke up dry, and then made our way down the final 5 km down the river valley to the end of the trail at Estero Parada, close to the Rio Ibanez. Our French buddy picked us up there and drove us the 6km or so into Villa Cerro Castillo town, where we rented ourselves a cabin and went for a four pint lunch (the merluza was de-licious...we had been eating freeze dried dinners for four days, and despite being very delicious, shout out to Mountain House Adventure Meals, it was good to have something different). That night at our cabin, after much wrangling, they set us up with Asado de Palo, again a sheep on a spit and we gorged ourselves and hit a tinaja. It was good to sleep inside again, and after a quick breakfast we headed the hour to the airport in Balmaceda and hopped back on the plane to Santiago. As we went our separate ways we all commented "what a great trip", despite the few moments where things could have gone sideways, we had emerged unscathed...until the guy with the cold tested
positive for COVID and ruined his family's next two weeks (they all got it at various intervals). But me and the other guy emerged unscathed, as somehow, despite sharing tents and cabins and food, we never got it...ah the mysteries of COVID.
So that was it...that was our summer. We fit in another few weekends at the beach in there too (Zapallar, Salinas de Pullali, and Puertecillo), so I mean, what a great way to spend our last summer here in Chile. Time is running short now, it's May as I finish this entry (I started it in March...oops) and our flights are booked for July 16th. At the end of this month, we will move out of our Chile house to get our furniture on the big boat home (time estimates are between 3 to 6 months for that to arrive back to Canada) and spend the last month and a half in an apartment close to Parque Arauco. Our last big trip down here goes next week as we head to the Sacred Valley in Peru for a week to finally get our chance to see Machu Picchu...one of our pandemic canceled trips from May
Day 3, Heading up the final pass (Morro Negro), Laguna Cerro Castillo below
The picture shows a good perspective of the pass we came up on Day 2 in the background, and the valley we came through on days 2 and 3
2020...so we are looking forward to that.
In the meantime, if you want to help me clean up my house, that would be nice...still lots to do before we get out of here...
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