Livin’ Large and Hangin’ with Street Dogs

Street dogs in Santiago, Chile

Santiago, Chile is a really underrated city on the travel circuit. We went there expecting nothing more than a big city, but were surprised with the culture, Euro-style beauty and awesome food.

Cerro Santa Lucía, Santiago, Chile
Cerro Santa Lucía, Santiago, Chile

We were coming from our Workaway job in the Colchagua Valley where we had been off-the-grid for a month. We stayed in a nice, but rustic volunteer cabin there shared with the two other volunteers, and before that we had been doing a bunch of hiking and camping, so it had been a while since we had hotel night. Some incredibly generous and thoughtful friends gave us a Marriott gift card as a going away present, very wisely saying “after a few months in hostels and camping, you’ll enjoy this more than you’ve ever enjoyed a hotel before”. Smart folks!P1150086

So we booked the brand new Marriott hotel in Santiago, in the posh-est part of town. Of course, arriving as dirty backpackers gets some strange looks, but they took great care of us.

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Even the lamps seemed to say “At your service.”

We grabbed pisco sours on the rooftop bar overlooking the Andes and took advantage of the gym, sauna and hot tub.

We weren’t done with being high rollers though!! Rick knows my foodie tendency and had researched a list of the best restaurants globally. Some were clearly out of our price and attire range (I’m looking at you, Europe!), but Santiago had one of the top 50 in the world that fit us just right. I thought there was no way we could get a reservation on such short notice, but Rick worked his magic and with the help of an in-the-know concierge, who incidentally dubbed us “Very Important International Guests of the Marriott”, we got a table. There are only eight tables in the restaurant, one seating per night.P1150132

We arrived at Boragó and were immediately wowed by the attentive staff and open kitchen. The restaurant is all based on using ingredients endemic to Chile, especially little known ingredients, and creating dishes that highlight those natural flavors. If you haven’t noticed, and I really didn’t until I rode buses the full length of it, Chile is a HUGE country. It stretches most of the length of South America and is extraordinarily diverse.

Of course we went big and did the fifteen or so course tasting with wine pairings, and it was out of this world! Each and every course was a visual work of art, told a beautiful story (which was explained to us by the chef each time he brought food out), and tasted incredible.

Its hard to choose a favorite, but a couple of our top picks were the Jaiba crab with flakes from natural sea rock minerals, the veal cooked in milk, and the sheep’s milk dessert. The wine pairings were incredible as well. In fact, the Viognier was so good it got us hooked on the varietal and it’s been our go-to wine if we can find it for the last month. It was Laurent Zaphire Viognier 2013 from Maipo. If you find a Viognier from Chile, it’s definitely worth getting a bottle– and telling us where you found it!

P1150242So after spoiling ourselves for a day, we returned to our backpacker ways and headed to a hostel to use as a home base for exploring the city. (Turns out when you have a nice hotel for the first time in months, you don’t really want to leave the hotel AT ALL. We just used high speed internet, took hot showers, inhaled the smell of a clean room.)

P1150247Santiago has beautiful parks running through out the city where everyone strolls. On Sundays they even close down the huge main avenue so everyone can bike, rollerblade and run on it. We decided to take the free walking tour of the city that was offered. As usual we were running late to meet get to the meeting point, so we were power-walking/jogging through streets to get there. Out of no where this little black dog spots us from across the street, I swear he made eye contact with me for two seconds, then decided we were his new best friends. We kept going at our power-pace, but undeterred he kept up. I joked to Rick that the dog had made quite a mistake because we were headed off to a five hour walking tour, Rick quipped something like “well bud, if you make it all five hours with us I’ll buy ya a Super Pancho (hotdog)” …you can see where this is going.

P1150280Without us talking to the dog, petting him or anything else, the little guy proceeded to follow us to the meeting point, and then continue on the ENTIRE walking tour. We would go in museums for twenty minutes and he would just wait outside for us. Other stray dogs would run up and bark at him, like “this isn’t your turf”, and he would just take a short cut through an alley and pop back out beside us. He soon became the mascot of our walking tour. And all of our pictures of Santiago landmarks have our little stray friend in them.

We learned that Santiago-ians have a soft spot for stray dogs. As fall comes and it starts to get cooler, people dress the stray dogs in dog jackets, modified sweatshirts and anything else to keep them warm. They also volunteer to build doghouses to go in the parks so the dogs have somewhere to sleep. We learned that there is a long history of the stray dogs being “the people’s dogs”. When Chile was going through a lot of political turmoil and there were frequent, sometimes violent protests, the street dogs always took the side of the protestors. The military and police would have their riot shields, pepper spray and water hoses, and the street dogs would line up with the protestors and go crazy barking at the police. So don’t mess with Santiago’s street dogs, they are well loved.

At the end of the afternoon, Rick was good on his word and we bought our friend a hot dog. We finally had to sad goodbye to him at the seafood market… despite his best efforts, they just don’t allow dogs in there.

Fish Market Central, Santiago Chile

Rick was not surprised at all by the whole thing, as I’ve attracted street dogs all over the world. I think it’s Ruger sending out some signal to all his canine network that I’m a dog person. The street dog will take one look at me (while I’m intentionally NOT looking at him), and decide I’m his new best friend.

From a top 50 restaurant to street dogs, our time in Santiago was never dull and always beautiful.

Everything you know about Easter Island is probably wrong.

Rapa Nui Moai on Easter Island

Rapa Nui Moai on Easter Island

At least it was for me… A mysterious civilization who built massive statues and suddenly, unexplainably vanished from existence, right? And those statues were of giant faces on hillsides looking out at the ocean, right?

Wrong. And. Wrong.

I had pretty low expectations for Easter Island, thinking it was going to be over touristed and a little too much on the archeology nerd (Rick) slant. Especially for spending five days on the most remote place on earth – at 2,300 mile from Chile, and 2,500 miles from Tahiti, it’s out there on its own. But Easter Island, or Isla de Pascua as it’s called in Chile, or Rapa Nui as its called by the native people, blew my expectations out of the water (pun intended… Volcanic island, get it?)

Pretty much everything I knew was wrong, but here are my five favorites.

1) Myth: The civilization that created the incredible and huge stone sculptures (called Moai) became extinct and nobody knows why.

Rapa Nui Moai on Easter Island at Sunset

Agostin Trip Truth: Nope, definitely not an extinct society. The society is the Rapa Nui people. And I met and hung out with a lot of them! So I’m not sure what scientist has gotten that fact screwed up. And when I asked my Rapa Nui friend about how she doesn’t exist, she laughed good heartedly as she’s heard it before, but was floored! Rapa Nui are awesome, everyone we met was kind and super funny, and felt much more Polynesian than any South American people. So there ya have it – Easter Islands ancient people are not extinct. And here’s the picture to prove it!

2) Myth: …and this population went extinct because of poor resource management – like cutting down all of the trees to build more statues, not taking care of the land in this race to build more statues.

Easter Island

Agostin Trip Truth: again… “I’m not dead yet!” So while the society still exists, there have been a lot of changes, as there would be in any society. They don’t build the Moai any more. But the reason isn’t a lack of resources, it’s that their ancestral beliefs changed from mainly worshipping the giant stone images of their important ancestors, to worshipping Birdman and the power he brought. Every year there was a contest to see who would be the Birdman for the year and be the supreme ruler/deity which involved swimming to a island and climbing up rock walls to find bird eggs.

And after Birdman came tribal fighting across the island and the catholic missionaries. We went on a couple tours of the island and saw how these changed beliefs were acted out completely differently and in different areas leading to a change in priorities.

3) Myth: These infamous, super photographed, NatGeo cover statues are hundreds of giant faces on hillsides looking out at the ocean.

Rapa Nui Moai on Easter Island

Agostin Trip Truth: The Moai are actually full body statues of a specific ancestor. They were made in quarries in the middle of the island, but they had to be transported by the family to the coastline nearest where the family lived. They would have a ceremony which brought the Moai to life so it could protect the family, bring them good crops, many children, all that stuff. It always had to face the family, and drew power from the sea behind it. TOKHAHI It turns out the most frequently photographed couple of Moai are a couple of unfinished ones that were still being carved when the carver quit so they still sit on the quarry. But honestly I think these are still my favorites. We rented a vehicle with a friend for a day to drive around the island and got really fortunate to be the last people of the day in the park with these Moai. It was magical, you could feel yourself being pulled back in time.

Rapa Nui Moai on Easter Island

4) Myth: Most of the statues are still standing. Those that aren’t were victims of a great war for resources between the Rapa Nui.

Rapa Nui Moai on Easter Island

Agostin Trip Truth: actually every single statue on the island was knocked over and broken. In the last 20-50 years about two dozen of the hundreds have been put back up. The Rapa Nui people just didn’t believe in the Moai any more, there was this new Birdman dude on the scene, so if a tsunami hit them, no big deal, or if they were a causality in a war between families, not worth fixing. But the biggest downfall of any remaining was colonization. Various European countries started “discovering” Easter Island. In these visits they would take proportionally huge numbers of slaves back to their South American colonies or Europe (decimating the Rapa Nui population), take the women as their own and bring disease. The Rapa Nui began to see that the biggest point of interest bringing these Europeans to the island was the Moai. So the Rapa Nui tore down all remaining statues, hoping this would keep away the looters of their island. This is relatively recent history folks, like late 1800 early 1900’s.

Rapa Nui Moai on Easter Island at Sunset

5) Myth: The statues are the coolest thing on the island.

Rapa Nui Moai on Easter Island at Sunset

Agostin Trip Truth: (ok, warning, this one may be rather biased) Easter Island is lush and green with rolling hills that flow into deep sapphire water with powerful waves. And it’s the perfect home for the islands 4,000+ wild horses!! HORSE ANAKEEMA VID Get your head wrapped around that, 63 square miles and 4,000 wild horses, not counting the domesticated ones. They are absolutely beautiful and everywhere… In town, at the historic sites, running across meadows, on the beaches.


Being in such a horsey place, I could resist going horseback riding. We enjoyed a spectacular ride up to the highest point of the island, and could see the entire island and the ocean all the way around. I got to gallop through lush fields next to the wild horses, and into eucalyptus forests, and up to a volcano crater.

Well I’m out of myths, but here are a couple other highlights from our trip to Easter Island:

Walking around town we ran into a local fisherman with his catch from the night before and it looked so amazing we couldn’t pass it up, even through we were camping at a hostel and would have to prepare it there. The first day was beautiful red snapper. It became our ritual and we scored an incredible piece of fresh off the boat tuna, and another time a buttery local fish I can’t remember the name of. All excellent.

Things weren’t cheap on the island, so it necessitated that we camped while there. We got to camp in this grassy patch right by where the waves crash into the volcanic rock formations. Waking up to that view and going to sleep to that sound was fantastic.

Easter Island is an incredible little triangle of bliss. Interesting, relaxing, authentic. Not touristed out like you’d imagine. And know I have a completely different idea of the society there, it’s people then and now as well as the Rapa Nui story!


Graffiti art of Valparaiso, Chile

Graffiti art of Valparaiso, Chile

Valparaiso… What a town; a truly immersive, intriguing and inspirational visual experience especially for a designer like myself! At one point it was the main port for Chile, built into the foothill of the Andes only a couple hours bus ride west of Santiago. The town is a labyrinth of walkways, funiculars, stairs, and dead end streets that wind their way up and down the hills. It’s like something out of Shoots and Ladders and a nightmare for fire fighters where many of the houses aren’t accessible by cars, or streets for that matter. But it’s also full of cute cafes, good food, and interesting architecture.

Graffiti art of Valparaiso, Chile

Valparaiso, Chile


Originally, all the houses were painted different bright colors so the sailors could see their house for the sea. A few revolutions, an economic down turn and less reliance on the port and now it’s turned it into a creative hot bed…. Especially for graffiti artists. The verdict is still out on if it’s legal; some are commissioned by property owners and some are just vandalism. The verdict is also still out on if it’s good for Valparaiso; some say it’s destroying the history, while others say it’s the progression of Valpo’s culture. All things considered there’s no denying that it’s amazing.

Trading Cadillacs for Carmenére – Our New Way to Wine Tour


Colchagua Valley

Overlooking rolling hills covered in vineyards with the snowcapped Andes in the background; that’s how we started our day off in Colchagua Valley, Chile. After working at the lodge for 5 days, doing everything from cutting and hauling firewood to devising a marketing strategy to sell private vineyards, we got a day off and took it upon ourselves to get to know the wine country surrounding us.

The Colchagua Valley is the up and coming wine mecca of South America. It has a few established wineries, but is really coming into it’s own now and getting a lot of buzz and awards – becoming Chile’s version of Napa.


But, of course, this wasn’t exactly the Napa experience we had last year for my 30th birthday. For one, the Colchagua just isn’t that fancied up yet. Moreover, we fall into the cheap backpacker category of wine touring now – which means no private driver, no VIP treatment, not even a rental car.

To get to the first winery, we had to catch a ride with someone from the lodge into the small town near by, then walk about a mile to the bus station, where we caught a locals bus to Santa Cruz. From there, we negotiated for a taxi to drop us off at the first vineyard LaPostolle. The winery had amazing views of the valley and felt like we were walking into a giant art sculpture. The building itself is beautiful. It’s shaped like a modern art wine barrel, with a beautiful deck and granite everywhere. They left in a part of the natural granite mountain inside when they excavated the mountain, which is not only gorgeous, but made the winery stable and survive the massive earthquake that hit Colchagua in 2010. The winery is French owned, and all of the wines are styled that way. The tasting room is out of this world! Perfectly polished walnut lines the rounded ceiling, which is studded with twinkling lights, under the huge glass tasting table is the entrance to the owners private wine collection of over 6,000 bottles.

We chatted with a nice couple from California for a while, they were making a bigger Chilean wine country tour, and only in the Colchagua area for one more day. They were on a private tour, so we didn’t get to chat long before they were whisked away for their own tour and off in a private vehicle. Little did we know, until the next day, that out of the hundreds of places they could be staying, they were staying at the lodge where we’re working. The next day Rick and I are shoveling manure and pulling weeds and we make eye contact with a couple guests across the gardens from us. We both recognized each other, but clearly couldn’t place where. Talk about an awkward moment – they didn’t know we were just lowly workaway workers, and we had no idea they were guests at the lodge. “Can I get you another glass of wine, ma’am?”

Throughout our LaPostolle tour we kept asking ourselves how in the world there was this fancy of a winery in Chile. I mean there are great, amazing wines in Chile, but its just not that upscale of a style. Let’s say it’s more Sonoma than Napa… or more like Texas Hill Country than Napa (not the wine, but the wineries, service, atmosphere). Why and how did this winery exist here?!

Well, at the end of our tour, we got our answer in the gift shop. Along with telling us about all of the different LaPostolle wines they sold there, our guide mentioned that they also sell Grand Marnier in the gift shop… because the owner of the winery owns Grand Marnier. Mystery solved!

From here our transportation got a bit more adventurous…. Taxis don’t pick up at vineyards, so we were on our own to figure out the next step. Fortunately, a kind couple from Colorado took pity on us (after the winery informed us it was an hour walk to the next closest winery) and we bummed a ride to the entrance of Montes Winery where we didn’t have a reservation of course, and the security guard reluctantly let us in after radioing back to base, then was a bit flabbergasted when we got out of the car and the car drove off and we asked which way to walk for the tour.

Montes Vineyards

After a short 20 minute walk up the drive way we found a lovely restaurant. Perfect timing – as we were ready for some lunch. We asked for a tour in English and since we were the only English-speaking people around, it became a private tour, SCORE!

Our serendipitous private tour involved a carriage ride up to hillside through the vineyards talking terrior, hectors and new French oak. After a brief stop at the mirador at the top of the hill it was on to the see the harvest in process. And then onto Rick’s favorite part of just about any winery, the fermentation room, followed by the cellar where we had our tasting. The tasting was amazing. As we were almost finished another tour guide came in and said she had 2 glasses of the top of line wines that had been breathing for a private reserve, extra special, VIP tasting that didn’t show… So the offered it to us! DOUBLE SCORE!

After that tour, we were again stuck. So I got to try my hand at hitchhiking again – this time with SUCCESS!! Rick was a bit dumbfounded as he thought I was joking about hitchhiking and after less than a minute, a very kind Chilean guy pulled over to pick us up, he worked at another winery and we chatted all of way to the Santa Cruz bus station. Where we proceed to board the public bus back to our tiny town, with our bottles of wine, to arrive after dark and wander around town negotiating with taxis to drive us 40 minutes out to the lodge area… where we would get dropped off and have a kilometer walk.

Hichhiking from Montes

It was quite an adventure… let’s just say it was no Cadillac Escalade waiting for us with a bottle of Champagne, but it was charming, delicious and adventurous – and we wouldn’t have it any other way!

Workaway-in’ Our Days Away in Chile


Our time in San Fernando, Chile exercised some muscles we hadn’t worked in a while – from marketing muscles to create brochures for a private vineyard, to our biceps when we were hauling logs for firewood.


We spent the last three weeks working at Tumuñan Lodge in the mountains outside of San Fernando, Chile, as part of Workaway. We volunteered for about 6 hours per day, in exchange for room and board in the worker cabin. The lodge is off the beaten path, about an hour away from the heart of the Colchagua wine valley. It’s an intimate four bedroom lodge, with a vineyard on property.


We split our time between outside work, like moving freshly cut trees to a central area to be chopped up for firewood, or planting grass and weeding, and helping with the guests in the lodge, and working on marketing and graphic design projects. It was fun to dive into the manual labor, but hard work.

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We really enjoyed helping with the marketing and graphic design. The owners of the property, Will and Carolina, have a lot going on, and we got to work on their new private vineyards project in addition to stuff for the lodge. I created the ideas, marketing, and copy while Rick designed this brochure for Tumuñan Wine Estates among other things. 

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There was a total of four of us working at the lodge while we were there – a Chileano name Cristian who is finishing his degree in adventure tourism, and a girl from Argentina. Hopefully Cristian will visit us on his way to Canada later this year, he’s a super renaissance man, it seemed like every day we’d learn a new talent of his – playing guitar and singing, to being a chef earlier in life, having traveled New Zealand. We’ll miss him.P1150041

We all shared a cabin on the property (Rick and I got our own room! A big win these days!).It was a really sweet little cabin. Rick made a fire every night to keep us warm. We got fresh produce and groceries and I got to do most of the cooking. In the evenings when we weren’t working, we would listen to Cristian play guitar, swap stories and play cards.


The views around the property were spectacular. Almost every night we walked up to the vineyard or mirador to see sunset.


They also had two horses, Luna and Satellite, which we got to take out riding a couple of times. There was a great trail to a waterfall and then up into the mountains. If we weren’t horseback riding on our days off, we would venture off to tour vineyards in the area.

We really loved our time off the grid at Tumuñan Lodge. Thanks, Will and Carolina for having us! We can’t wait to try your private label wine in couple of years!

Erratic Rock

Erratic Rock Hostel - Puerto Natales, Chile

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.

Erratic Rock Hostel - Puerto Natales, Chile

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.

Erratic Rock Hostel - Puerto Natales, Chile 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.

Erratic Rock Hostel - Puerto Natales, Chile

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.

Erratic Rock Hostel - Puerto Natales, Chile

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.

Erratic Rock Hostel - Puerto Natales, Chile

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.

Brad Rocking at Base Camp - Puerto Natales, Chile

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.

Rocking at Base Camp - Puerto Natales, Chile

So, if you’re ever in Puerto Natales swing by Erratic Rock, tell Bill we sent you, and make some memories of your own!

Erratic Rock Hostel - Puerto Natales, Chile

Another Bucket List Item: Riding in Patagonia, Gaucho-style

Horseback Riding Pingo Salveje Cabalgata Patagonia Chile

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.

P1130444We 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.

P1130247We 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.

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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.

P1130312We 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. P1130299We 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.

P1130321Immediately 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.

P1130349We 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.

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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.

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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!!

Torres del Paine: John Gardner Pass Summit Day!

John Gardner Pass - Torres del Paine: Patagonia Chile

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. Campamento Perros, Torres del Paine, Patagonia, Chile

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!

John Gardner Pass - Torres del Paine, Patagonia, Chile

Torres del Paine: Patagonia Chile

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!

John Gardner Pass - Torres del Paine: Patagonia Chile

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!

Torres del Paine: Patagonia Chile Torres del Paine: Patagonia Chile John Gardner Pass - Torres del Paine: Patagonia Chile

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.

Torres del Paine: Patagonia Chile Torres del Paine: Patagonia Chile Torres del Paine: Patagonia Chile Torres del Paine: Patagonia Chile

Torres del Paine: Patagonia Chile

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.

Torres del Paine: Patagonia Chile

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 totaled 138K!

Torres del Paine: Serón – Dickson – Perros

Torres del Paine, Patagonia Chile

Torres del Paine: Campamento Seron - Patagonia Chile

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.


Torres del Paine, Patagonia Chile

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.

Torres del Paine, Patagonia Chile

Torres del Paine, Patagonia Chile

Torres del Paine, Patagonia Chile Torres del Paine, Patagonia Chile

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.

Torres del Paine, Patagonia Chile

Torres del Paine, Patagonia Chile

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

Torres del Paine, Patagonia Chile

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.

Torres del Paine, Patagonia Chile

Torres del Paine, Patagonia Chile

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.

Torres del Paine, Patagonia Chile

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!”

Fox Torres del Paine, Patagonia Chile 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.

Torres del Paine, Patagonia Chile

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.

110 Kilometers!




Torres del Paine: Los Cuernos – Torres – Serón

Torres del Paine, Patagonia Chile

We hung out well into the evening with our new friends Diego and Jacky and talked about where we’d been and where we were going. They are just a few weeks into their “world trip” and like the mountains as much (if not more than us). They’ve got their mountaineering boots and big plans for the taller peaks up north. Hopefully we’ll be joining them down the road.

Torres del Paine, Patagonia Chile

After a wonderful and warm nights sleep we awoke to clear blue skies, more views of the lake and a lot less wind. We planed to make it up to the Mirador Base de las Torres, and it’s classic views of torres.

Torres del Paine, Patagonia Chile Torres del Paine, Patagonia Chile Torres del Paine, Patagonia Chile

Torres del Paine, Patagonia Chile Torres del Paine, Patagonia Chile

The trail spends most of its time today on a private estancia (ranch), which also contains the high-fuletin’, Hotel Las Torres. As we make our way up a hill we hear something rumbling on the other side, Liz instinctually, says, “It’s horses and they are running… towards us!” We see a couple of ears quickly appear and then a whole herd at a full gallop right towards us. We parked ourselves next to a big boulder assuming they wouldn’t want to run into it (or us).

That’ll get you’re heart going!

Shortly after, we come to a fork in the path where you continue up to the Campamento Torres or down to Hotel Las Torres. We make our way up towards the campamento and quickly find ourselves in a place know for “Rolling Stones.”

Rolling Stones: Torres del Paine, Patagonia Chile

We cross a stream and we’re at camp just in time for lunch… mmmm lentils. We quickly set-up camp and decided we’ll make the hour hike up to the mirador as the weather is prime and we’re feeling great. On the way up we passed some friends from Erratic Rock who had gone up early to film sunrise and were on their way down, they said sunrise was a “must see!”

Torres del Paine, Patagonia Chile Torres del Paine, Patagonia Chile

The views from the top were nothing short of amazing; Blue sky, turquoise water and granite peaks poking out of the snow and glacier. We attempted our trademark “airplane” but we’re discovering getting a proper photographer to capture the moment is proving more and more difficult; that and my back really doesn’t like laying on rocks.

Torres del Paine, Patagonia Chile P1120675

We set our alarm for before the crack of dawn with big plans of a glorious sunrise. They say they weather at a camp doesn’t always equal the weather and to try to go up for sunrise even if they weather is crap at camp. The weather was crap at camp. We figured we didn’t need to hurry since we didn’t expect much of a sunrise in the rain so we brewed some coffee in our water bottle made some oatmeal to eat at the top in the dark threw our sleeping bags in my pack and started moving up.

Torres del Paine, Patagonia Chile Torres del Paine, Patagonia Chile Torres del Paine, Patagonia Chile

We quickly made it to the top, it was completely overcast and we felt bad for all our friends that had gotten up and hour earlier than us to sit in the cold and dark dreaming of beautiful sunrise… that beautiful sunrise never happened that morning.  We made the best of it eating our raspberry flavored oatmeal bundled up in our sleeping bags under a rock hiding from the wind and rain. We’ve discovered you can make oatmeal taste like just about anything with the right flavoring. Our raspberry drink powder (think Tang) made it taste like Fruit-loops and looks like something neon designed to convince kindergartners to eat it.

 Torres del Paine, Patagonia Chile

Maybe less drink powder next time.

Well, it’s all down hill (for the most part) to the next camp Serón so we pack-up camp and start down. The weather is misty at best, which generally means we hike faster, I can hear Liz saying to herself, “Get me out of this!” She is bound and determined to be a “fair weather hiker” but the weather is not cooperating with her. After a little discussion, we come to the realization that it’s Valentines Day at the half-way point of our trek, just as the rain starts to pick up, and we see Hotel Las Torres. Maybe they have a restaurant?

Hotel Las Torres: Torres del Paine, Patagonia Chile

We figured a celebratory meal was in order. As we polished off our gourmet lamb sandwiches and champagne lunch we saw the clouds part and blue sky. My fair weather hiking buddy might just be in luck. We headed out across the estancia and into the pampas.

Hotel Las Torres: Torres del Paine, Patagonia Chile

Torres del Paine, Patagonia Chile

Hotel Las Torres is the end of the W for most people so the crowd thinned out a bit as we made it to Campamento Serón, which is basically camping in someone’s backyard. We enjoyed dinner with all our friends that were continuing on the Q, Brad, Diego and Jacky, and also made a new friend, Jose from New York. His blog Jose’s Worn Out Boots chronicles his treks round the world. He’s a gear junky at heart, so we instantly bonded over the finer points of camp stoves, wool base layers, and hydrophobic down feathers. Liz meanwhile turned a fuel canister into a make-shift foam roller, and showed our new friends how to work out the soreness in their IT bands.

Torres del Paine, Patagonia Chile

Past the 77km mark!