After 6 full months of travel here are 6 highlights of what I’ve learned about my beautiful bride, Liz:
1) Girl Can Eat an Apple
She has the most amazing ability to methodically eat every last edible bit of an apple. Quite quickly too, she can turn a perfectly whole Honeycrisp to into nothing but seeds and stem in under a minute. I knew she liked apples going into this trip but had no idea she had such a scientific approach to eating them. I was also unaware of how gracious she’s been with sharing bits with me over the years; my bits clearly didn’t fit into her scientific approach, and were never in the right spot, or the right size. She’s since shared her approach with me and shown me how the appropriate time to ask and take a bit of someone’s apple who uses the Liz method is at the very beginning, that way they can work with and correct your incompetent bites.
2) She is a Terrible Hitchhiker
So recently we tried to hitchhike. Liz was gung-ho about it and thought it would be a huge boost to our budget. I on the other hand wasn’t real optimistic about the our possibility of our success considering we were looking at a 1500km journey, but thought it would be fun to try and a great experience if we succeeded in getting picked up. I knew it could possibly be boring just standing on the side of the road waiting for a ride, but what I wasn’t counting on was how quickly Liz would be over it. Maybe it was the cold. Maybe the wind. Maybe it was that there was nothing we could really do to be “better” at it. Maybe it was the ADD. We lasted about an hour and fifteen minutes before one of us threw in the towel. Maybe we’ll try again down the road.
3) She is the Perfect Date
I kinda knew this about Liz but it’s been on display a lot in the last 6 months. She can fit in any situation. Black tie gala? She’ll be joking with the celebrity Emcee by dinner. Hostel Kitchen? She’ll have a family style barbeque planned for dinner with a bunch of gap-years kids she just met. Fine dinning? She’ll be the one whispering which fork to use (Thanks Cotillion). Ska-Punk Halloween Concert in Bangkok? She’s in the front row singing along. Boardroom? Trust me, you want her on your side. Knife-edge of a mountain ridge in the remote backcountry? She can find a trail.
4) She is Super Thoughtful
Over the last 6 months I learned often just how much she puts me before herself. She’s always thinking about me. She is constantly concerned with my preferences and making decisions in light of what she thinks I would like. It is amazing to be loved like that.
5) She is a Loser
Not that kind! She loses stuff. Surprisingly often, especially for how few things we have with us now. She’s not allowed to hold anything important for more than a minute or two. She gets her passport from me when we walk up to the counter then it goes back in my pocket. She’s gotten better lately, but it is still funny because she still thinks she losses stuff all the time and will get so upset with herself when she just forgot which pocket she put something in.
6) Her Attitude is Weather Dependent
If it’s overcast or rainy you can pretty much count on Liz to be a bit of a grump, or at least fighting off the urge. Blue sky and she as happy as can be. This was a bit of a challenge in Patagonia where the weather changes every 10 minutes. And there is almost nothing you can do to change her attitude in bad weather… except putting her on a horse.
After spending almost every second of the last 179 days with Liz I can’t imagine spending a day without her.
That is absolutely NOT to say that I didn’t trust him before! I definitely did. Maybe it’s just that given more opportunities to put more trust in someone, you build even more trust? I don’t know. But my trust in Rick’s abilities and intentions has grown ten fold on this trip. Rick can figure out and take care of anything thrown at him. And he is always looking for how to put me first. He’s incredibly diligent and dedicated to making sure we’re all taken care of – from doing all of the visa research and logistics, to the biggest challenge, managing our trip budget! Which brings me to my second thing….
2) The Man Can Rock a Budget
If you knew us before the trip, and especially before we were married, you may be laughing or in shock right now. But it’s true! The first week of the trip in Nepal, Rick told me I had to stop worrying about the budget and our daily tracking, it was taking too much of my energy and enjoyment away, he was going to be in charge of it from then on out. I was reluctant (me being the saver, and him the spender). But it has turned out to be the best thing he could have done. He is meticulous! Every dollar (or rupee, baht, dong, euro) is tracked, tallied, averaged, analyzed. He stops us when we’re over spending. He manages to balance out the spending when we have a big unexpected expense (hello, $80 cab ride to Krabi!!). He reworks the big budget to compensate for us going rouge and going to four countries we never planned to, two of which were more expensive countries than where we’d plan to be. And six months in, we are EXACTLY on budget. I’ve managed $100 Million+ marketing budgets, and I have to say, this travel budget is just as complicated, if not more so! (“hmm what category do we put bribes in? and do we spread that over the month long budget for this country?”)
3) He Doesn’t Know All of the Words to Any Song… Or Joke
But he’ll repeat the few he does know OVER and OVER. I think he hopes that the other words will hear their cohorts and magically fall out of the sky. It doesn’t ever happen and it kinda drives me nuts. But after six months of 24/7 together, it’s become oddly endearing.
4) He Loves to Challenge Himself
…just for the sake of taking on the challenge. If there is something to be climbed up and balanced on, he’ll find it. Which is not something that comes naturally to me… I require a reward, something to make it worthwhile to take on the challenge. I’ll climb the mountain if there’s going to be a really awesome view from there, or it’s a pretty trail. I’m constantly asking “why? Is it worth it?”, infamously asking “is the juice worth the squeeze?”. Rick climbs the mountain because it’s going to be a hard mountain to climb, even if it’s not pretty or interesting or has a good view. This is true for just about everything we do. I love that he loves to take on big challenges… maybe that’s why he married me?
5) He is a Magnet for the Most Diverse Set of People
As we’ve traveled I’ve gotten to watch all kinds of people become enamored with my husband, and it has been so cool! He doesn’t just get along with everyone, but seems to draw them in. And they immediately become Rick Fans, just like me.
6) He makes up the best goofy voices and characters
…to get me out of a bad mood, up a tough mountain or through a cold night of sleeping in a tent or 30+ hour bus ride. There’s Kurt the Turtle, the ferret collector from Craigslist, the guanaco (pictured above)… the list goes on. It probably sounds weird, but it makes me so happy and brightens my mood even when we’re in the crappiest of moments. And the fact that he’s in the middle of the storm with me and takes the energy and creativity to come up with something to make me smile means even more.
While on the trail Liz and I have a lot of time to think and talk. We play silly games and come up with all the awesome blog content that never gets written. And occasionally we actually make a note or two about what we’ve talked about that we think might actually be an interesting blog post. This is one such blog post that, fortunately, actually got written.
Top 11 places we’ve stayed (so far…)
There are a few caveats to this list:
It couldn’t be someone’s actual home, we’ve stayed at a number of peoples houses and they are all the best, and would easily trump anything on this list, so if we’ve spent time in you’re home, know that it was better than anything on this list and thus wasn’t allowed to compete. It just wouldn’t be far.
In the same vain of “playing fair” major hotel brands/resorts or anything paid for with “points” or gift cards wasn’t allowed to be included either. It had to be a hostel, small hotel, rental property, AirBNB, etc.. i.e. something we’d normally consider as a backpacker/traveler. Again level playing field.
We decided to open it up beyond our current big voyage. We’ve stayed at a lot of backpacker places over the years and some are part of the reason we decided take the big plunge and travel extensively for a while.
Koh Lanta, Thailand – This is the Thailand experience we expected. Cute, cheap, and clean, bungalows right off the beach with a hammock to lounge in while the sunsets. We only got a couple of nights there because they were completely booked with repeat customers.
Neels Gap, Georgia – The hostel that started it all for us. Way back when Liz worked for Arby’s we went on a backpacking trip up Blood Mountain and at the end found Pirate and his the Hostel on the AT. It was the first hostel experience for either of us. We found a warm place to sleep, a cool vibe and great people. This is the first place we got our trail names. For various reasons at lot of people that through hike the AT (or any other long trek) use trail names, basically nicknames, only cooler. Pirate ran the hostel, we meet Virgin at a waterfall and Cool Breeze gave us a ride back to our car in the hippy shuttle.
Moshi, Tanzania – We stumbled onto this one after the place we found online (but didn’t book) was full when we arrived. It’s run by some awesome Spaniards and proceeds from the hostel go to a local school they started. They’re hard working and focused on the environment; while we were there Sam, the owner, was building a swimming pool by hand to soak the locally sourced bamboo they were going to use for another building project. Industrious to say the least. Sam was extremely helpful in booking our Kilimanjaro trek and very transparent about the whole guiding industry in Tanzania. If you’re ever in Moshi, this is the place to stay.
8. Lub d Surf
Bangkok, Thailand – This is the only one on the list that may no longer be in operation as a hostel. Lub d has a number of hostels in Bangkok and we had a great time our first time in Bangkok staying at Lub d and hand a great time on Halloween there. So the next time we were moving through Bangkok we cashed in the free night at Lub d Surf we had and it was pretty cool. It wouldn’t call it homey or particularly friendly, but it did have a giant artificial wave, It’s located at FlowRide in Bangkok and it was pretty cool to have a pool and wave for entertainment.
San Raphael, Costa Rica – When we reached out to Esteban of Centaura stables a few years ago about budget accommodations near his place where we could ride he said he had a room in the barn. Liz was in heaven. It was simple room with just a bed, no internet, no TV, just a bed in a room next to a bunch horses. I was slightly annoyed by the horse that decided to play with the rake that was leaning up against it’s fence… clank, clank… clank, clank, clank, all night long, but was it warm and cozy and seeing Liz so happy was totally worth it.
Pokhara, Nepal – Clean and tiny (4 rooms total) at the end of Lakeside in Pokhara site Banyan Tree our home away from home in Nepal. The rooms were economical to say the least <20% of the going rate at the other end of town. Clean, hot water, wifi and a great view, what more do you need? The staff was nice even letting us borrow a couple of glasses for the celebratory wine we had brought with us from the states – thanks to Gavin Davis!!
DaLat, Vietnam – Yes, it’s really called The Wolfpack. This was another super homey hostel, completely with an optional family diner. The owner was an ex tour guide and really understood hospitality. He arranged great tours for us at great prices and event rented us his scooter for a couple of days. Constantly going out of his way to be helpful, on his way back from dropping another guest off at the bus station he saw me walking to the ATM, he pulled over asked me where I was going and told me to hop on as he drove me to the ATM and back to the hostel. Above and Beyond.
Whistler, British Columbia, Canada – We took a practice trip, of sorts, last July to BC, staying only at hostels, camping, AirBNB, etc, and trying not to book anything more than a couple of days in advance. Basically a practice run of our life on the Big Trip in a country that speaks English and is pretty easy. After a few days camping in Garibaldi Park outside of Whistler, we ready for a warm shower and figured we’d try and score a deal on HotelTonight. HotelTonight is an app that lets you find last minute deals on hotels, but only allowed you to book the same day of your arrival, perfect for us. (They’ve since expanded it to a few days in advance, which is great). We saw a great place for a great price with a hot tub, I was sold out (if anyone knows me at all they know that if a hotel has a hot tub it jumps to the top of the list for me).It was late as we had hiked into town that day and so after book on HT we were checking it a little after 9:30pm. The guy at the registration desk was a little flustered as it was a super busy day, and he was the only one working, he hadn’t had dinner and his system wasn’t cooperating with the HT system. He said he didn’t actually have the room we had booked on HT but he had another one that was equivalent. We told him it was great we just wanted to get in the hot tub before it closed at 10pm. Liz ran to the car to get our bags while I completed the registration process. After putting on our swimsuits we heard that all to recognizable beep of a smoke detector with a low battery. Another beep and I found it… on the ceiling; the vaulted ceiling over 15 feet up. No worries we’ll tell the guy on the way to hot tub and it’ll be fixed when we get back. While we tell the guy Liz asks him if he had gotten any dinner yet and he says no, so she gives him an apple and a Cliff bar from our rations. He was grateful.
We enjoyed the hot tub and some hockey talk (what else would one talk about in a hot tub in Canada) and upon our return our friend at the registration desk was apologetic, he hadn’t been able to fix the smoke detector but he had another room for us. He gave us the keys and mentioned, the hot tub doesn’t close, as long as you’re quiet. Our new room is unbelievable, kitchen and living room on the first floor, bathroom on the second floor, and bedroom on the third floor. Oh, and a private hot tub on the balcony overlooking Whistlers Main Street. Out of curiosity the next day I looked to see if I could find the normal price for the room we had… let’s just say it was WAYYYY out of our price range. It makes the list not only for the amazing room but the extremely generous and help registration desk guy.
While we can’t guarantee you that kind of deal we can give you our coupon code for $25 off you’re first booking with HotelTonight and well get credit towards a future booking as well. Just use the promo code RAGOSTIN when you register.
Annapurna Circuit, Nepal – I’m pretty sure we were the first people to sleep on the mattresses at The New Guest House. The rooms still smelled of fresh cut timber and the views were out of this world. The hosts made our stay extra special by graciously invited us into the kitchen while they prepared dinner, this is extremely UNcommon in Nepal as kitchens are typically very private places for the family and the occasional guide or porter. We got to warm ourselves by the oven and watch the goat meat dry overhead. It was pretty magical.
Puerto Natales, Patagonia, Chile – This is the place we almost never left. Bill, Kit and the crew made us feel so welcome from the moment we walked in the door. Helpful and easy going clean and homely; It’s what every hostel should feel like. A well equipped kitchen that we actually enjoyed cooking in, cozy common areas, an amazing included breakfast, and caring helpful staff.
We will be back! And Finally the Number one place…We’ve stayed…Drum roll…………
1. The next place
Somewhere, Out there – We’re drawn to new places and new adventures, and often the best place we’ve stayed is the place we’re at right now or the place we’re looking forward to next. Got a hostel or AirBnB we should check out? Know a small hotel that we’d just love? Let us know and we’ll try and check it out somewhere down the road.
We woke-up to the most vivid rainbow we’ve ever seen just outside our camp. I mean we could see each individual part of ROY G BIV – Hello, elementary school science! And it was a complete arch with a second one right in from of the Fitz Roy Mastiff that was obscured by clouds. It was so bright and so close I really wanted to go find the start of it. We walked a few 100 meters towards it and it always seemed like it was just a few 100 more. So we gave up the hunt for the pot of gold that would have extended our trip substantially. No leprechaun related upgrades for us… yet!
One of the many lessons we’ve learned while camping is that oatmeal is an extremely versatile food. You can make it taste like just about anything. My new favorite breakfast recipe is for Orange Danish Rolls… Make oatmeal as usual then add a 1/5 packet of Sprim (Tang) and a little bit of powdered milk. It tastes just like orange Danish rolls; though the texture is a bit different.
After a hearty breakfast it was time for us getting down to business, so we put on our business socks for a little bouldering at Piedras Blancas. Piedras Blancas is a glacier and lake with a huge boulder field between it and the river about an hour down river from Campamento Poincenot. We climbed around on a couple of the boulders and had a lot of fun. After scoring some awesome views of the glacier and the lake we made our way back to Poincenot to pack up camp and move to Campamento de Agostini.
With the wind starting to pick up a bit (as the climbers had predicted) we made our way past Lago Madre and Lago Hija past more stunning views of the mastiff. At the southern shore of Lago Hija we found the coolest little beach with tiny flat and rounded smooth pebbles. We took off our packs and sat down on the beach and it as so comfortable in the sunshine and the wind blowing on our faces. We ended up just sitting and talking there for over an hour. Liz said it might be one of her favorite places we had been on the trip. It was an unforgettable hour. I couldn’t get over the rocks.
By the time we made it to Campamento Agostini the wind was in full force and we could see the clouds building. We looked at the sky and made the call…
Yep. We bailed.
It was a hard decision, unless you looked at the sky, and if the climbers weather prediction held out, which it looked like it would, it would be nasty tomorrow… and the next day… and the next… for the foreseeable future. With no hopes of beautiful vista views and no desire to spend a soggy night in the tent, we made our way back into town. Again, that’s one of the nice things about El Chaltén, you’re almost always within walking distance of town. We found a campsite in town and made a new friend who settled in for the night with us. (Liz’s note: WTH?! Rick is becoming a cat person!!! I do not approve. Ruger does not approve!!! ….and the cat not only kept us up ALL night, but peed on my shoes the next morning. Not. A. Fan.)
We, surprisingly, had a plan when we arrived in El Chaltén and we were ready to execute. Liz loved the efficiency. We were planning to spend 4 days and 3 nights camping at the foot of the Fitz Roy towers. We knew from our conversations with climbers at Erratic Rock, that had recently come for Chaltén, that our weather window was quickly closing but we thought we could squeeze this little trek in before the weather totally turns to … well… something that would need this shovel.
With the sun sheading its first rays of light on the tops of the mountains we made our way to the trailhead at the edge of town under clear blue skies. One of the things that makes El Chaltén “Argentinas Trekking Capital,” is the trails all, basically, starts in town and everything, conceivably, could be done as day hikes. We were climbing up hill in no time; after grabbing a couple of empanadas on the way out-of-town of course. The climbers report promised, “Friday will be perfect.” So far so good.
It wasn’t long before I found a place I thought we could turn into a home. Liz insisted the tree wasn’t big enough for the two of us, so we kept moving. Inspired by the towering peaks in front of us we made our way closer and closer to camp.
Shortly we came across a trail sign and we new we were in the right place, Campamento de Agostini. I’m starting to think there may be a reason I feel so at home in Patagonia. Padre Alberto María de Agostini was a missionary and explorer in Patagonia in the early 20th century. There is a bunch of stuff name after him down here and I saw a picture of him in a book at Pingo Salvaje… Now I’m sure of it, we must be related. Padre Alberto María de Agostini on the left, my dad on the right.
We made it to Campamento Poincenot around lunchtime, so we set up camp and ate a quick lunch then made our way on to the mirador for the Fitz Roy and Lagos de los Tres in the early afternoon. We had wanted to climb the peak right next to it but found out we had to register with the guardaparque to legally climb it, so, maybe another day. With that plan out the window, we had the rest of the afternoon to play around on the boulders around the mirador and just enjoy the views.
We were graced by a fly over from 3 condors that seemingly came out of nowhere. I barely got a picture of them as they flew right over our heads. They are HUGE up close.
Back at camp we still had a while before it was dark so I worked on “Camp Improvements” while Liz cook an amazing dinner. Camp improvements loosely translated to me building little walls and wind blocks with rocks and logs.
We at dinner and watched the clouds form over Fitz Roy from our camp and settled in for the night.
This is the first time we’ve been compelled to write an entire blog post specifically about a hostel. No place on our current trip has felt more like a home and been harder to leave than Erratic Rock.
The vast majority of people that stay at Erratic Rock use it as a base camp for their adventures in Torres del Paine National Park spending a night before and a night or two after at the hostel, which will store a bag for you for free while you’re in the park. That was our plan as well, spend 2 nights to get our selves organized for our trek spend a night when we get back and be on our way. The words of a guy we meet in Pokhara at the very beginning of our trip came echoing back into my head, “Don’t get sucked in!” he had been in Pokhara for nearly on 2 months. I could feel the magnetic pull, like a black hole, sitting at the breakfast table in Erratic Rock.
So yeah… we got sucked in. We spent two nights before our trek and then almost two weeks afterwards, as we couldn’t bring our selves to buy a bus ticket out of town. And we’re so glad we stayed as long as we did. We felt like such a part of the family, and we’ve got memories to last a lifetime: Watching Veronica draw mandalas; Bruce yelling, “You two are still here?” pretty much every day then pulling out one of his awesome maps to show us where we should go next; Having a number of people we talked to before their trek come back and tell us how awesome the park was; Liz cooking more meals in the same kitchen than she has since we left Dallas, and getting to cook for a dinner party or two; Celebrating Paul’s birthday at Base Camp with the locals and a Chilean reggae-ska-punk, band that didn’t start playing until 1am and a party that didn’t wind down until well after 6am; Bill regularly offering us jobs between random goodhearted monologues on Politics, Philosophy, Religion, Street Dogs and more; Kit telling us how much he’s becoming like his mother as he make us omelets; just sitting with new friends getting sucked down the YouTube rabbit hole of SNL clips; and having people in El Chaltén know our names from Erratic Rock though we’d never made formal introductions. These are the memories we’ll take with us until we make it back.
So how did we get there? Erratic Rock came highly recommended online but after a little research we found they were going back to their hostel roots for the 2014-2015 season and not taking reservations unless you’d stayed their before. First come, first serve. We figured we’d try their first and if they were full find somewhere else. Luckily we made friends with three other people waiting for the bus to Puerto Natales from El Calafate and one of them, Matt, had a friend who had stayed at Erratic Rock previously and had made a reservation for him, We figured we’d try and ride those coattails in as well. We were in luck as the 5 of us got the last 5 beds for the night.
A wood burning stove that had been converted to gas warmed the kitchen and similar stove warmed the living room which also housed the largest collection of VHS tapes in the southern hemisphere (as well as Netflix and Apple TV if you want something produced after 1998). A couple of cats that were or were not allowed inside depending on who you asked sat curled up on a couch and a jovial but straightforward guy from Portland, Oregon, Bill, ran the whole show; which often felt a little like a 3 ring circus with all the different characters playing their parts right on queue.
There’s no hard sell at Erratic Rock, take a look at the room and if you want to stay great, if not no worries. Breakfast is included and is nothing short of wonderful, that is if you like omelets, homemade bread, their proprietary blend of cereal and what feels like a never-ending supply of yogurt. There is hot REAL coffee (or Nescafe if you’re into that) and there is almost always a mate going somewhere in the house at any given moment. Paying for anything that wasn’t included as part of your stay, like keeping one of the homemade recycled tent shopping bags or breakfast when you didn’t actually stay there that night, was handled by a donation the one of their non-profit causes via the tin cans up front.
There is no hiding the slight hippie vibe of the hostel, highlighted by the bins for every type of recycling and compost imaginable and you can borrow some of their homemade shopping bags made from old tents to run to the store. And if you like the bags, which we did, you can buy one, which we did, for a donation to one of their causes, of course. Zip-lock bags are washed, dried, re-used and traded like rations during war. And luckily, there is the occasional incense stick used to dull the smell of stinky hiking boots drying by the stove.
It’s a haven for big wall and rock-climbers of all types, who are happy to share their knowledge of where to camp or what to do when you’re go to insert your next destination. We also learned, climbers are better than most weathermen when it comes to predicting the weather. I guess when you’re hanging on the side of a cliff by a rope it pays to know what the clouds mean and what the wind is doing.
Erratic Rock is probably best known for “The 3’o’clock info talk” at Base Camp next door to the hostel. Bill’s brother Paul runs Base Camp and they rent everything you need for a trek into the park as well as serving delicious pizza, beer and wine and hosting the occasional concert. As we’ve mentioned before “The Talk” is awesome and totally worth the time if it’s you’re first time visiting the park.
So, if you’re ever in Puerto Natales swing by Erratic Rock, tell Bill we sent you, and make some memories of your own!
In honor of my Merrell hiking boots that I finally had to bid farewell after many years. They gave out during our Torres del Paine hike, I mean absolutely gave out! When I would step in water, air bubbles would gurgle out from around the entire sole, and then they would squirt out water for the next half mile. It was really sad, but I had to say goodbye to the boots that took me many, many miles! I desperately need to find another pair of Merrells!!
Obituary: Merrell “Boots” Agostin September 16, 2008 – February 27, 2015
Merrell “Boots” will be greatly missed, remembered as a sturdy sole and always one to put their best foot forward. “Boots” came to us in 2008 in Dallas, Texas. Their first trek happened just weeks after our introduction, it was to Blood Mountain on the Appalachian Trail in Georgia.
In their younger years, there were unforgettable trips to hike in Tierra Chamua, Mexico and summit Wheeler Peak, and many many more. As Merrell matured and realized their full potential, they achieved bigger challenges like the infamous Maroon Bells trip, an ascent of Black Tusk, Panorama Ridge and Wedgemont Lake in Garibaldi Park, and Canyonlands in Moab. Then “Boots” went international, trekking the Himalaya’s Annapurna Circuit in Nepal (18,100 ft), Southeast Asia, and summiting Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania (19,3600 ft).
Merrell “Boots” had dreamed big dreams of South American treks almost their whole life. Fatefully, that dream would be the last for Merrell “Boots”. Their life ended on an epic 8 days trek around Torres del Paine in Chile; they died of natural causes, from old age.
Merrell “Boots” will be remembered as always supportive, well grounded and willing to get down and dirty with you. For their owner, they were the one thing on any trip she knew she could count on and inspired the confidence to take on otherwise intimidating peaks.
They are survived by their owner Liz Agostin and her husband, Rick; siblings Saucony running shoes and Chaco sandals, and dozens of high-heeled cousins.
A private memorial service was held at Erratic Rock in Puerto Natales, Chile. In lieu of flowers, please send donations for new hiking boots to Liz Agostin via www.theagostins.com.
Your beautiful soles will always be in our hearts!
I’ve determined that there is a serious need for a review website for experience horseback riders looking for good places to ride – it is so hard to find! But fortunately we found a great place for riding in Patagonia.
We just got back from a two day riding trip at Pingo Salvaje Estancia and it was amazing. We arrived at the estancia (that’s a ranch) to meet our guide, Cristian, who we quickly recognized from Base Camp just two nights prior. We met him through Kit, another friend from the hostel, and they play in a band together. Cristian has a great voice and plays guitar so well, beautiful original music.
We told the estancia when we booked that we are experienced riders and only wanted to go if it was more than a “nose to tail” ride. They said they could do that…. But when we arrived we realized we were with a group of inexperienced and first time riders. I was really concerned that this ride was going to be a disaster!
Pablo, the head guide, told us that we would be “evaluated” the first day of our ride to see how skilled we were… which is fairly standard practice. But I was ready to get to the real riding.
We met our horses and things started to look up for us when Pablo said he would give one of us his horse – her name was Maria, but he told us that every calls her Crazy Maria. A few of her quirks include:
the wind makes her crazy, she hates it (note that we are in Patagonia, a place known for constant, strong winds)
she doesn’t like any other horses and bites and kicks them
she goes from walk straight to gallop
her gallop is like an exaggerated bunny hop of sorts
I loved her immediately!
And Rick got to ride her mom, Pinta. She was very responsive and Rick really like her. He says she may be his favorite horse he’s ever ridden.
We started off toward the mountains and rode through some beautiful valleys, passes and up towards the condor lookout and cliffs. We were fortunate to see over a dozen condors – the largest flying bird in the world, with a wingspan of over 10 feet.
We got a beautiful view of Laguna Sofia, where we had ridden through the laguna earlier.
Then we got to do a little riding lesson for the newbies. Rick says I got my guide on. I just couldn’t help myself, and they actually did really well. We taught them in a circular clearing to canter. Then after, Cristian told Rick and I we could go ahead of the group so we got to have a little race across some of the flat area, of course, Rick “Saco-de-papas” Agostin won – he’s got the speed, I’ve got the style.
We got to ride for about 6 hours total, and returned to the estancia to set up our camp. We thought we were going to be eating pasta and lentils for dinner, but we hung out chatting with Pablo and the team for a while and were offered a bottle of Carmenere and some left over Cordero Asado, fire roasted lamb.Upgrade! So we heated it over our bbq pit at the campsite and drank wine from the bottle, it was delicious. We went to bed early, excited for our big day the next day – we had proven ourselves as good riders and Cristian said he had some big ideas for us tomorrow!
We woke up to almost completely clear blue skies, a rarity in Patagonia, it was the best weather day of our trip. Upon arriving at the barn, Cristian told us we were going on an exploratory ride today, a route that he hadn’t been to before. Claudio, one of the gauchos would go with us to show us the way, it would be a long ride. So long in fact that Rick had to switch to a younger horse that could make the ride, so he got Estampa for the day. I got to stick with Crazy Maria.
Immediately we took off at a strong canter. It was like a dream, completely unreal, we were galloping along the ridge with incredible vistas of the lakes and mountains.
We crossed through a couple of other estancias and arrived at a bluff that overlook a panorama with both mountain ranges and multiple lakes. We stopped to rest the horses and have some yerba mate.
We all sat around and just chatted and sipped our mate, the moment could have been out of a movie I can’t picture anything more perfect.
We continued on through an ancient Lenga Tree forest. We had to go around the mountain to get to the entrance to the valley we were going to. We started up toward the valley and got incredible views of the entire Torres del Paine park. We could see the southern most torre, the Valle de Frances and John Gardner Pass.
We continued into the valley and that’s when things got a bit scary. We were cantering through the valley and I looked back to see Rick, and when I turned around all I saw was Cristian’s horse upside down, legs flailing in the air… she just hung there, somehow perfectly balanced stuck on her back… then I realized Cristian was UNDER her!! All I could see was a leg sticking out from under the horse’s side. I had no idea what to do, I just started to ride towards them. Pluma, Cristian’s horse, stayed balanced on top of him for what felt like 5 minutes, but was probably 45-60 seconds. She finally got on her side and was struggling to get up, I watched in slow motion and the hooves landed on either side of Cristian’s head, one hoof kicked him in the stomach, another in the knee. Pluma ran off spooked, but Cristian laid on the ground not moving. I honestly thought he was dead or unconscious. People just don’t get up from that kind of thing.
When I got to him, he was moving… a little. Quite shaken with some bruised ribs and a messed up leg, he was actually able to stand up. It was a miracle. I went to retrieve Pluma, who was also shaken up, but let Maria and I get close enough to grab her. By some miracle Cristian was able to get up and walk around, and insisted he was good enough to continue riding.
We continued on through the valley headed for the puesta (a rustic, very isolated cowboy camp) where we would have lunch, and celebrate Cristian’s amazing survival skills!
It was a good time for a break, we let the horses graze and we feasted on chorizo, homemade bread, queso fresco and yerba mate. This was special mate through… it came from a calf container!
The views continued all of the way back. The afternoon light made the lakes and mountains a completely different color. We got to gallop back across the beautiful landscape.
We arrived back at the estancia and realized that we had been riding for 10 hours! It had been amazing, some of the best horseback riding we had done.
Thank you Pingo Salavage and Cristian! You are the best!!
When the alarm went off at 6am it was accompanied by rain and lots of it. So we stayed in the tent hoping it would taper off. About 7 am it did and we quickly grabbed our stuff and decided it would be smart to pack our bag in the dry/warm cooking shelter… we weren’t the only ones with that idea.
We quickly ate some breakfast, got our bags packed and discussed our plan to go over the pass with a couple of fellow hikers. One in particular, a search and rescuer from Oregon, warned us not to go, that the weather wasn’t great. A couple of others said they were waiting it out too. But we felt good, and Liz had eaten her “summit day apple”, that she had carried with her for the last 7 days, for breakfast, so we headed out for John Gardner Pass. We were moving really quickly, in the zone to get over the pass, and not ones to spend more time than necessary in the cold and rain. We passed two larger groups of trekkers as we made our way through the woods, and all the other people who had been in front of us. It was now raining quite a bit again. As we reached treeline we were feeling good and we could still see the trail in spite of the rain turning to snow. That was our rule for the pass, “If you can’t see the trail from treeline turn back.” We can see the trail, we’re feeling good and we’re moving quickly, we’ll be on the summit in no time!
Above treeline the wind really starts to pick up. The snow is now blowing directly into our face. As the snow continues to dump and starts to stick in places, we realize most of the trail markers are spray-painted rocks, not an issue, unless they’re covered in snow. We’re now flowing the few cairns and poles that are spread along the trail. This begins to prove difficult as the wind and snow are making it near impossible to look uphill for more than a couple of seconds at a time and searching for the next trail marker is becoming a real challenge. We’ve lost the pep-in-our step we started the morning with and stopped taking pictures because our hands were freezing cold. We’ve now resorted to Liz hanging back at a trail marker while I go uphill looking for the next one then call for her to come up once I find it. We agree that if we don’t make it to the summit in the next 20 minutes, we have to turn back.
But we knew we were getting close to the top of the pass when the wind started to accumulate the snow in drifts that went up higher than our knees. We fought through the deep snow for the last 50m of the climb, and just as we could see the summit we got a glimpse of blue sky as well.
At the top the wind is the first thing to give away that we’ve arrived. It’s blowing so hard the snow can hardly stick (which resulted in the deep drifts we just climbed). We see a small rod with a Chilean flag and few other things attached to it we now know were at the top of John Gardner Pass and we’re elated!
We snap a few pictures, smile at the small window of blue sky above us knowing that God spared us from disaster then we see the enormous Glacier Grey with a rainbow over it. Glacier Grey is just a small part of the Southern Ice field but it goes on almost as far as you can see. The ice field that its attached to is the second largest ice field in the entire world, after Antarctica. As you can imagine the wind coming off of this is COOOOOOLD!
We are momentarily relieved to find that there’s no snow on west side of the pass just a lot of rain… and slippery mud! We skid and slide our way down to tree line then through the woods to Campamento Passo where we take a quick break and continue our decent. Shortly after we caught up with Brad who had taken a late start out of Paso that morning.
We climb some rickety ladders and a brand new bridge before reaching the end of Glacier Grey where it melts into Lago Grey and occasional calves an iceberg. We make it to Refugio Grey, our goal for the day, with extremely sore bodies, blisters and plenty of daylight to make it down to Refugio Paine Grande. We decided if we stopped moving we wouldn’t be able to start again so we keep moving. As we reached Paine Grande we saw Diego and Jacky who left Paso early that morning. We had a quick celebratory huge with them then saw the boat coming across Lago Pehoé. We could catch the boat and the bus back to Puerto Natales and be at Erratic Rock by dinner! It was a no brainer once we realized that camping at Paine Grande is almost as much as a stay at the hostel and the hostel comes with hot showers and an amazing breakfast.
As we boarded the boat, tired, muddy and a little dazed we sat down next to a guy from Mississippi and in exchange the usual, “Where you from? What are you doing?” He asked about our hike. He was on a National Geographic group tour and his guide over heard us say we came down from Perros today. He corrected us and said, “You mean Paso?”
“No, Perros, on the other side of the pass. It was pretty nasty up there this morning knee-deep snow for the last 50m.”
The guide is clearly surprised and then points out our route for the day on map on the wall next to us to our Mississippi friend, “They went from here, all the way around the mountains to here!” Then, turns to us and says “I gotta buy you a beer. You deserve it!”
We savored our “well deserved” beers as the boat made it’s way across the lake then found our bus and a few hours later we walked into Erratic Rock a day early!
We woke up early to another beautiful day in the pampas and after packing up, we quickly found ourselves climbing again. There is one big hill before a mostly flat hike to Refugio Dickson.
As we crested the hill we were greeted with views of Lago Paine. And some more wind. At times it was difficult to walk a straight line as the wind gusts would push you around and you never knew how long our how strong the would be. We discovered Liz and I have very different ways of handling the strong winds. Liz crouches low and moves quickly to try and limit her exposure. I on the other hand, spread my arms out like a bird and lean into try to see if I can get it to hold my whole weight.
We fought the wind the rest of the afternoon but it was totally worth the awesome views. We really got treated today to some awesome glacier views and an epic rainbow.
Once we made it to Dickson I thought it was a perfect opportunity to try and patch the hole in my Therm-a-rest sleeping pad. Try being the optimal word here as first I had to find it. After a failed attempt with some soap and water (soap wouldn’t really suds enough to blow bubbles) I resorted to a knee-deep dip in Lago Dickson’s glacier melt to locate the holes. Liz opted to not join me for a swim and instead to take pictures from above.
With camp set-up it was time for dinner… Mmm lentils. Again.
We woke up to more blue skies; where is this notorious Patagonia weather? I mean yeah it’s windy as heck but the blue skies are no lie, it’s B-E-A-utiful here! #Foreshadowing
From Dickson it’s all up hill to the last camp before John Gardner Pass and it’s 1200m, the highest point on this trek. We made our way through the woods filled with some of the thickest moss we’ve seen and a million shades of green.
We made the 4.5 hour hike from Dickson to Perros in closer to 3.5 hours which meant we were at camp a little after noon. Awesome we’ll get the afternoon to relax before the big summit day tomorrow and maybe check out the day hike to Glacier Puma. We found Diego and Jacky already at camp. They said they were feeling good and going to make the most of the great weather and go over the pass.
I went ahead and set-up our tent and as I was coming out of the tent I look up to see what at first glance looked dog not 15 feet from the tent. What’s a dog doing way up here… NO THAT’S A FOX! I scrambled for the camera and got a couple of shots. When I told Liz she said “I was wondering why they called this camp Perros, I guess that explains it!”
We’d heard varying instructions on the pass, some saying it takes between 2 and 6 hours to get to the top depending on weather and it’s ill-advised to start after 7 or 8 am. As we sat in the cooking area debating “go/no go” we saw Brad pass through camp with out even stopping for a break; he was going over the pass as well!
It was now almost 2pm so we decided to enjoy the afternoon, do the day hike and get an early start for the pass in the morning. We went over to the Guardaparque (Ranger) Station to find out where the trail to Glacier Puma is and find out it’s closed. So we ask about the pass and they said we could go if we left right away and we’d be the last ones allowed over for the day…. so much for having to start before 8am. We already had camp set-up and decided to stick with our plan of summiting the pass in the morning.
Jose rolled into camp not much later and we spent the evening in the cooking shelter. We finished the evening with Liz and Jose comparing camp cooking recipes and I modified the door that was troublesome to close.