My apologies for the complete lack of posts over the last few months years… as you may or may not know, we’ve landed back in the states and have been settling back into life in the US of A. But you’re probably wondering how we ever made it out of Mongolia…
Our last evening at the gar was a special one, as the goats were being milked Erbolot started pulling one of the larger males out of the heard by his horns and almost instinctively “Bruce” knew what was up. 15 minutes later “Bruce” was hanging over the stove smoking, his hide was tanning outside, and his head and hooves were sitting by the door of the gar. It was amazing how quickly and efficiently everyone in the family executed their jobs of dispatching and using every part of “Bruce.”
The next morning after saying by to the family; Liz, Erbolot and I headed out onto the Mongolian steppe on horses while our driver put a few chunks of “Bruce” in the van and drove to our next camp.
Over the next 5 days we spent half the day riding and the other half enjoying the beautiful surroundings and some pretty amazing sunsets.
Liz enjoyed every minute on horseback as we crossed fields and streams.
We explored petroglyphs high on a hillside.
We tried to make friends with some 2 hump Bactrian Camels. But they weren’t having any of it.
We camped out under the stars and enjoyed some wonderful fresh caught trout shared with us by some locals and ate plenty of Bruce.
In true Mongolian fashion, we had beautify blue skies and some pretty ridiculous weather. One afternoon we had our cook tent blow down in the wind and unfortunately our day hike to the highest point in Mongolia, Khuiten Uul Base Camp, was a bit anticlimactic in the rain.
View of the highest point in Mongolia.
We also enjoyed one last bottle of wine given to us by our good friends Gavin and Becky to celebrate the conclusion of our trip. They sent us off on our journey with an amazing bottle of wine that we enjoyed in Nepal; So it was extremely special to enjoy another outstanding vintage from such a remote vantage.
And before we knew it our time was up and we were rattling through fields back to Ölgii.
The next morning we meet our driver/guide/”translator” and set out in our awesome Russia van on our private tour. Our tour was going to be a bit different than the typical tour, since it was just Liz, the driver and myself, and we were between typical tourist seasons. The plan was that everything was going to be done communally, setting up camp, cooking, etc. That sounded great to us. We were excited that we’d probably get to do somethings we wouldn’t have on our own and overall just thankful that we weren’t starving to death in the rain walking back to civilization without any horses.
As we made our way toward Tavan Bodg National Park we got to experience another first… Russian Van Races. Out here there is nothing paved, roads are more like tracks through a field and are completely optional. Passing is done whenever, wherever and why ever. And they drive FAST! I mean REALLY FAST. Especially if the drivers know each other… and there is some pride on the line. With a bit lost in translation it seemed that the loser provided beer at the next stopping point.
Once in the park we stopped to visit and Eagle hunter. No. No. Not someone who hunts eagles, but someone who hunts with eagles. It’s basically the traditional Mongolian version of falconry. It was pretty cool. From there it was on to meet the family we’d be staying with for the next few days.
We pulled up to 2 gers with 6 or 7 kids running around and about 500 goats. We were quickly greeted by the kids, our host Erbolot and his wife. They invited us in and promptly offered us tea and an assortment of cheeses. We’d be staying in their ger and experiencing ger life for the next few days before Erbolot escorted us on a 5 day horseback ride around Khoton Lake.
From the outside gers are pretty nondescript and all look exactly the same; big round white tents. But on the inside they are absolutely beautiful. Decorated with brightly colored handmade wall coverings. There is a warm stove burning in the evenings and no shortage of dairy products. Liz and I quickly settled in to ger life, milking the goats, eating cheese, playing with kids, and experience the dominant culture in western Mongolia, Kazakh (From Kazakhstan). Oh, and zero English.. It was a great opportunity to practice our Kazakh language skills… which consisted of one word “Рахмет!” which means thank you and is pronounced Rax-met! With a deep guttural hack for the “Rrrrackmet!” They always laughed when I said it but I think they got the idea.
Cheese… It’s what’s for dinner!
Goat’s make great wind blocks.
A boy and his goat.
Over the next few days Erbolot and our driver took us to visit waterfalls and other ger families and to some of the regional historical sites. Which, our driver who didn’t really speak much English at all, explained to us as “dead people.”
Ger life moves pretty slowly on steppe … even after almost a year of travel and being out of the corporate rat race, coming to grips with South American siesta, and being OK with only accomplishing maybe one thing for the day, it felt slow. Glacial would be a good way to describe it but it was really nice to relax and just enjoy the wide-open spaces.
Liz and I got fairly proficient at the evening activity.
First my specialty; Goat Roping. First you gotta get the mama goats on a rope to be milked. Some come running; others have to be dragged across the steppe by their horns.
Then came Liz’s expertise; The milking. After a quick tutorial (broken English) she was alternating in with the rest of the ger girls and filing buckets. The oldest daughter (who was learning English in school) was so impressed she asked Liz “How many goats do you have?” … thinking back on it we’re not so sure that wasn’t a joke.
And finally once all the mama goats have been milked and removed from the rope it’s time for that last step and most important step; letting the babies out of the pin.
Cusco is known as the Capital of Archeology in the Americas, Peru’s Capital of Heritage, the most historical city in South America, and a bunch of other superlative titles… for us it seemed more like the big tourist hub base for Machu Picchu. But despite the touristy-ness we had fun exploring it.
The Cusco main plaza is really beautiful. We spent a lot of time sitting there, people watching and soaking in the sunshine and beautiful architecture.
We later went on a free walking tour of the city and learned that Cusco was originally an Incan city with beautifully constructed walls and buildings. However, the architecture we had been admiring was a bit more sinister. When the conquistadors came to conquer and destroy the Incas, they wanted to “send a message” to the remaining Incas they enslaved, and as a power play they build all of their government buildings and churches on top of the centuries old Incan walls and buildings. So you don’t see much of what’s left, until you start wandering the alleys of Cusco and looking at the bases of the buildings.
We also got to meet a very sweet man who crafts traditional instruments and was kind enough to play them for us. We tried our hand at playing them, but couldn’t come anywhere close to making the beautiful music that he did.
Our other adventures in Cusco revolved around food. We visited the San Pedro Market almost everyday to try some authentic Peruvian food – from soups, to ceviches, to menus del dia – it was all delicious.
Well except for that bet that Rick lost…. If you’re following me on Facebook you may have already seen this play out. As we were walking around Cusco, Rick commented that we should drop the subject we were talking about and “don’t ________ a dead horse”. Rick’s choice of phrase was “don’t KICK a dead horse”… after he said it a couple of times, I asked if he meant “don’t BEAT a dead horse”. He promptly told me I was wrong… we laughed at each other. But I couldn’t let it go at that. Over a beer, I asked if he was serious about the saying and he said dead serious, I was crazy and wrong, and “come on, Liz, you’re a horse person, you should know this saying”.
Side note – this is the beauty of not having cell phones and internet access at all times. Back home, you would have just googled it and been done, but since we didn’t have access we debated it and got to joke about it for a while. And eventually made a bet.
So I made a bet with him that who ever was incorrect had to eat the icky Frog Soup we saw in the market. And we agreed that the winner would be determined by what our friends on Facebook said — Big thank you to everyone who weighed in!! (at least, from me…)
We got some very creative and excellent responses, but ABSOLUTELY NO ONE said “kick”. The results were in and it was overwhelmingly “beat”. And so Rick got to enjoy some lovely Froggy Soup!
Our final culinary adventure in Cusco was the infamous Cuy, Guinea Pig. It’s a delicacy in Peru. They stuff it with herbs, roast it whole and, just to add an element of animal disgrace, make it where a vegetable hat.
We didn’t actually eat it whole. After the photo session our server came back with a big knife and cut it into quarters for us. The flavor was pretty good, but it was all dark meat, sort of like duck. And there’s really not a lot of meat to it. Rick and I both struggled more with the herbs they used to flavor it more than the meat. They use this Andean Mint on tons of stuff, and it has a slight minty flavor, but more of an anise flavor… which just reminds me a little too much of Jaeger.
Along with the Cuy came an array of side dishes of various forms of potatoes and corn. I will said the variety of types of potatoes they have here is amazing – I’m told there are over 3,500 different varieties of potatoes in Peru – and they all taste different. Not to mention the people here are incredibly creative with how they use them.
Cusco has been a fun culinary adventure – but we’re REALLY looking forward to Lima! Home to three of the “top 50 restaurants in the world” and known for its foodie culture. We’re going big in Lima – we’ll probably just eat and peruse menus the whole time we’re there.
Peru is home to the world’s deepest and second deepest canyons, both are just outside of Arequipa. We wanted to hike at least one of them, and being of the anti-guided mindset, found Colca Canyon to be more independent traveler friendly with a nice little circuit of small villages about a days hike apart throughout the canyon.
We had heard that the main route from the “larger” town at the canyon rim, Cabanaconde, to the oasis village at the bottom, Sangelle, was pretty packed with tour groups. So we decided to take an alternative route to get off the beaten path. Unfortunately, to get to the canyon rim we had to take a tourist bus. It picked us up at 3:00am and we fortunately were able to sleep for the first couple of hours. But within fifteen minutes of being awake and listening to the guide we were so glad we would be departing from him shortly.
Once we arrived in Cabanaconde we stopped at Pachamama Hostel to grab a trail map and advice on the alternative trekking options. They were really helpful and we confidently set off on our way. We only made it to the edge of town before we got completely distracted by a horse auction going on in an old bull fighting ring.
We each picked out which horse we would buy, if we were going to buy a horse in Peru. I chose a big (for a Peruvian horse) bay stallion with a “c” mark on his forehead. Rick picked one of the younger black horses. I struck up a conversation with one of the locals next to us and it was going smoothly until I asked how much a horse would cost… to which he responded “how many horses?”, I said just one, but that clearly was incomprehensible that I would want to buy just one horse. Apparently in the Peruvian countryside you would NEVER buy just one horse, so we talked in circles for a few minutes, then he consulted the folks next to him about the crazy idea of buying just one horse and how much it would cost. The answer was 400 Soles, about $125 US dollars. What a deal!
But horses are difficult to cross borders with so we forced ourselves to leave the auction and start the hike. The first day was mostly downhill into the canyon. We saw lots of cactus and birds, and the condors were the star of the show that day. We saw over a dozen of them soaring over our heads. We were told it was a five hour hike, but we made it in a little under three hours and arrived at Llahaur. Llahaur can’t even be considered a village… it’s really just a spot on the river where a family has erected some bamboo huts and a little restaurant because there are hot springs there. It was adorable and the views were incredible.
We set down our packs and went straight for the hot springs. We spent most of the afternoon and evening there enjoying the warm water and canyon views. It was, by our low standards, luxury trekking! We got to sleep in a bed, someone else made dinner and there were hot springs – score!
We woke up refreshed and ready to tackle the uphill hike to the next village, Fure. It was the one that would get us way off the beaten path. Fure is in a lush side canyon, off of the main canyon. We made great time getting up there, doing it in two hours instead of the five it was supposed to take. As soon as we arrived we realized this was probably not the place to stay – we had been told that locals would offer a room in their house to stay in, but the village (ten houses total) seemed to have been virtually abandoned. We met a woman who was walking her sheep up to graze and had a little house there. We wanted to make the out-and-back hike to the nearby waterfall, and she offered to watch our backpack while we hiked it. The waterfall was beautiful, all of the way back in the canyon. The water just came out of nowhere, from the middle of the rock, shooting out to a 110 foot drop.
We planned to eat lunch at the house of the woman keeping our backpack, in exchange for keeping it. But when we asked her about lunch, she said she didn’t have anything to serve and we could go to the shop at the end of town. The shop was most definitely closed, like every other house there. It was supposed to be another solid day’s hike to get to Sangalle, but since we’d made great time in the morning we figured we could make it that afternoon.
This section of the hike had some of the best scenery and views of the canyon and surrounding mountains.
But the downside was that a large portion was on the dirt road – which always makes it feel like you’re hiking ten times longer than you actually are.
Today’s hike also had the highlight of us getting the crap scared out of us, and running away from, the least intimidating animals ever. First it was the Attack Sheep of Death. Yes, a sheep scared us. It was perched on a terrace just above the trail and as we got closer, it started stomping it foot, making angry eyes at us and looking like it was going to either ram us, or more likely in my mind, taking a flying attack leap off its perch over us and batter us with ninja-like hoof moves. No kidding, we tried to talk it down but to no avail, this sheep did not want us there… so we covered our heads and ran past it!
To add further insult to our day, this GIANT fly with a huge proboscis/stinger started following Rick and trying to bite him… which resulted in him flailing our Nalgene at it and then running away. (and I refused to come to his rescue). And the final moment of shame was when a quail surprised Rick on the trail, when he surprised it coming around a corner, and he screamed and hit the deck – I’m sure it was PTSD, Post Traumatic Sheep Disorder, that caused his dramatic reaction.
Anyway, finally “The Oasis” of Sangalle came into view…. All we had left was a 3,000 foot descent into the valley! It wasn’t as knee-busting as we feared, but after putting in about 19 miles that day we were ready for some rest. Sangalle is called “The Oasis” because in the middle of this massive desert canyon, water literally flows from the rocks everywhere there. It’s filled with greenery, palm trees and pools! The pools are filled with constantly flowing natural water. It was really cool.
We relaxed with a beer and big dinner and went to bed early. We had to wake up at 5:30am the next morning to make our way 3,900 feet up the side of the canyon back to Cabanaconde in time to catch a bus.
We were thankful it was still chilly in the morning, because the ascent certainly warmed us up quickly. We made it in just under two hours, about half the time it was supposed to take us – Yea, we still got it! The canyon was really cool with lots of views and volcanic activity – from geysers to hot springs.
The climb back up the canyon was nothing compared to the nine hour “sightseeing” bus ride back – ugh! We were dirty and exhausted when we got to Arequipa, but since there was no room for us in the hostel we decided to jump on a bus to Lima.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
Jaiba Crab with sea rock mineral flakes
Jaiba Crab with sea rock mineral flakes
Rock Fish with beach plants
Dessert of Native Mushrooms
Pebre of Harina tostada with a Marraqueta
Veal with Pine Scented Stick
Cuchufli de Rosa del Ano
Pastel de Oveja Chilota
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!
So 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.)
Santiago 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.
Without 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
5) Myth: The statues are the coolest thing on the island.
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!
As part of our cultural immersion, Pablo thought it would be good for us to visit a number of different churches in town over our stay to get an idea of the different worship styles. Our favorite was the one we visited on Easter Sunday. We walked in to a room clearly divided right down the middle. To the right, the congregation, to the left, the worship band… it was close to half and half, with the edge going to the band. But no this wasn’t a tiny church with a keyboard and guitar, we’re in South America after all. The band consisted of no less than 5 accordion players (ranging in age form 12-60), at least 5 tambourine players, 6-10 traditional guitar players, about 6 people playing a banjo-mandolin hybrid… oh, and then one little boy with a set of bongos. The service was full of music to say the least… like a super-powered mariachi band. And it turns out that the little old lady taking notes at the front table wasn’t there for “minutes” or to take prayer requests, she is where you sign up to sing. Kinda like a open mic night, you sign up there to sign/play/read the following Sunday… Rick’s request to sing Freebird was unanimously declined.
Our favorite activity of the day was teaching Guille and Nathan how to dye Easter Eggs and explaining how they symbolize Jesus’ empty tomb and the new life that comes as a result of His rising from the dead. This was a first for all of us to dye eggs from “scratch” i.e. on or own without any help from a kit. We went the professional way, we hollowed out the eggs by poking holes in the ends and blowing out the white and the yolk, as opposed to the hardboiled route. We discovered Liz is much better at this than Rick (for the record, Rick authored this paragraph. Can’t wait for the comments). The results speak for themselves… clearly, somos artistos.
Apparently no Easter trip to Argentina is complete without a visit from Ratón Pérez, he is the Argentine equivalent of the Easter Bunny Tooth Fairy. Yep the Tooth Fairy here is a rodent, a rat to be more specific. This worked out fairly well as most of what Rick knows how to say in Spanish is about animals (gato this, ratón that, monos get back). None the less he was a constant source of conversation and almost like another member of the family. Oh, and I can’t forget to mention that we got to enjoy the company of Raton Perez’s friends during our stay. Rick made big claims to Guille and Pablo about his trapping prowess… convinced them to provide some of Guille’s jewelry wire for him to make snares… it’s been two weeks, we still have two empty rat snares. Rick says he just intimidated them. Which is weird because I swear I can hear them mocking him from the ceiling above our bed. This was one of Guille’s and my, many, “inside jokes.”
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.
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!!