Hola, mis amigos! I am writing to you from lush Puerto Varas, Chile, on the shores of Lake Llanquihue. Over the past five years, I’ve visited many places in the world, but none resemble my home so much as this place. At times, I could swear I’m in Oregon’s Willamette Valley. But I’m not. I’m half a world away.

So far, our group has ventured from Buenos Argentina to Cape Horn, “the end of the earth”, as it’s billed down here. It’s the southernmost continental point in the world (before you reach Antarctica). We’ve visited penguins and puppies, eaten empanadas and beef. Lots of beef. I’ll cover all of these things in due course, but for now I want to share my favorite part of the trip so far: hiking to Torres del Paine.

Tip: Torres del Paine is pronounced something like “toe-rays dale pie-nay”. Please don’t say “towers of pain”.

Our group spent last weekend at a hotel in Chile’s Torres del Paine National Park, near the southern tip of the country. Sunday and Monday, we were scheduled to do bus tours of the surrounding countryside. Bus tours have their place, but I was itching for some exercise. Besides, it seemed a shame for a fellow who loves hiking so much to be at the base of a spectacular trail and not make use of it. So, I skipped Sunday’s bus tour in order to explore on my own.

I’d left my proper hiking gear at home, but no matter. I laced up my sneakers and set out.

Start of trail to Torres del Paine
The start of the trail at Hotel Las Torres

At first, I was a little worried. The start of the trail is moderately steep. I knew I was in for a 9km hike (about 5-1/2 miles) each way. Without proper shoes, how would I fare? And without any sort of physical activity over the past couple of weeks, would my body hold out? The warning signs didn’t bolster my confidence.

Warning on the path to Torres del Paine
Warning sign on the trail to Torres del Paine

Fortunately, that sign came 90% of the way through the first of two steep climbs. By then, I knew I could make it. This helpful signpost came soon after:

Sign on the path to Torres del Paine
These signposts along the trail were actually very helpful.

After 2.4 km (a mile and a half), the terrain leveled and soon I reached the “Chilean campsite”, a refugio for trekkers. Here folks can pitch their tents for the night or grab a snack or a meal as they walk through the park.

Torres del Paine National Park is huge, spanning more than half a million acres. There are several major treks through the nearby mountains, as well as hikes to and from the many lakes in the park. For my one day of hiking, I elected to take one of the most popular paths, the one leading directly to the towers.

After passing the refugio, I entered el bosque, a lightly forested area full of gentle creeks spanned by wooden bridges.

Bridge on the path to Torres del Paine
A bridge at the start of the forested section of the trail

After several relatively flat kilometers through the forest, the path to Torres del Paine once again began to climb, following a rocky creekside. In fact, the path became quite steep in parts. And eventually, it cleared the canopy of the trees for a final push to the towers over scattered rocks and boulders.

Forest canopy near Torres del Paine
Coming out of the forest with a view of las torres

Three hours and three minutes from starting my hike, I crested the final ridge to see a sight more stunning than I had anticipated: Las Torres del Paine towering over a glacial lake. I recruited two German hikers to snap my photo.

Standing before Torres del Paine
A fine morning’s work

But, of course, the towers look even better without my ugly mug blocking the view.

Torres del Paine
Las Torres del Paine

I sat on the boulders, soaking in the sun, admiring the beauty before me. I ate an apple and some peanuts. I drank agua con gas. I watched my fellow hikers laughing and chatting. But I felt most akin to the others who sat silently, reverentially taking in the view.

After 45 minutes of personal meditation, I picked up my stuff and started home. The downhill trek was much quicker — it took only two hours and seventeen minutes — but in many ways it was more difficult. Because I hadn’t planned to do any hiking, I didn’t bring trekking poles. And my old knees need trekking poles. I was sore for days after. But you know what? The pain was worth it.

End of trail to Torres del Paine
End of the trail…

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When I last left you, my wife and I were still in Peru. We were ready to spend our final day in Lima.

We did that, and we had a grand time. We laughed as we strolled the streets of Miraflores, ate a massive plate of ceviche, watched Johnny English in Spanish (neither of us could really understand, which only mad it funnier), and, once again enjoyed lunch at La Lucha, our favorite restaurant in Lima (albeit based on a very small sample size).

Why did we like La Lucha? First, it’s reasonably priced. Second, the food is tasty and unpretentious. (It’s just sandwiches for heaven’s sake!) Third, and most importantly, the maracuyá freeze:

Maracuyá freeze at Lu Lucha (Lima, Peru)
Note the book of Neruda poems on the table. We’re so español…

For those of you who do not know, which is probably everyone, the maracuyá is a type of passionfruit. I’m not an expert on this, but there seem to be several kind of passionfruits. The big, yellow fruits are the maracuyá, and they have a distinctive sour and sweet taste that I love.

While I was in Peru, I had fresh maracuyá whenever possible, and passionfruit-flavored treats all the time. I even tried to bring a few fruits home, though customs got cranky with me and made me throw them out.

Well, here we are in February. It’s been exactly three month since my last update about far-away places. In that time, I haven’t done any traveling, but have experienced a lot of turmoil close to home. Kris and I are getting a divorce, though we’re working to remain friends.

As part of that, we’re taking a trip together that we planned last June. We’re spending three weeks in Patagonia — the southern part of Argentina and Chile.

Note: There’s no need to rake me over the coals for this decision at Far Away Places. I’ve already heard it. If you feel the need to comment on the divorce, do so at my personal blog or at my money blog. Not here, though.

After about 24 hours of travel, we made our way to the Hotel Emperador in Buenos Aires yesterday morning. Kris had a little sleep; I did not. Though we were initially worried about how we’d interact together, we both agree that seems thing fine. In fact, we spent much of the afternoon strolling the streets, exploring bookstores. For instance, we sought out the El Ateneo Grand Splendid, which is considered one of the most beautiful bookstores in the world:

Beautiful Bookstore in Buenos Aires
Beautiful, but I wanted more books!

As a connoisseur of bookstores, I will say this: Though the Ateneo Grand Splendid is beautiful, the bookstore itself isn’t that great. It’s the best bookstore I’ve seen in South America, but that’s not high praise. First, I haven’t seen a lot. Second, those I’ve seen se parecen mucho — seem a lot alike — or are only good because they’re quirky. (And there’s nothing wrong with quirky!)

Still, this was the most Spanish-language books I’ve ever seen collected in one place. It was through sheer force of will that I refrained from buying more than two books (“Aristotle for Beginners” and “Social Psychology for Beginners”, both in Spanish).

Though I didn’t find the book nirvana I’d hoped for, we were able to console ourselves by stopping at Volta, a local ice cream chain. Volta has dozens of flavors, including a ton of variations on dulce de leche, the caramel-like flavor that’s so popular in South America. And, to my delight, they had maracuyá!

Helado de Maracuyá
At last! More maracuyá in my life…

It seems only fitting to have ended our trip in Peru with maracuyá and then have started our trip to Argentina with the same fruit.

Some folks have speculated that I might move abroad to study Spanish. That’s certainly a possibility. But you know what? If I ever do move to South America for any length of time, it’ll be so that I can get closer to this, my favorite of flavors.

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Animals in Peru

12 November 2011

I’ve been home now for 72 hours. Three days ago, our plane from Lima landed in Portland, and ever since, I’ve been trying to adjust. In a way, it’s good to be home. The trees are gorgeous this fall. I’ve enjoyed eating at some of my favorite haunts, and it’s been good to be back […]

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A Culinary Tour of Lima, Peru

31 October 2011

I love food. This is no secret to those who know me. (I’ve struggled with my weight all of my life.) Fortunately, I’ve found a sort of fitness equilibrium, because since arriving in Peru a month ago, I’ve been eating like a king. I knew Peruvian food was good before I started this trip, so […]

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Trekking in Peru and Bolivia: A Beginner’s Guide

27 October 2011

Before I left for Peru, I wasn’t sure what I was getting myself into. Three weeks of trekking sounded fun — but what exactly is trekking anyhow? “Is trekking just like hiking?” I asked my friends, but nobody seemed to know. Turns out that trekking is just like hiking — except that you do it […]

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Exploring La Paz, Bolivia

25 October 2011

Hola, todos! For the past week, I’ve been traveling in southern Peru and northern Bolivia. While not quite as intense as the first part of my trip (about which, more details will follow as time allows), it’s still been a hell of a lot of fun. Yesterday morning was our final leg of trekking in […]

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One Day in Peru

18 October 2011

Hola, todos! After more than a week of roughing it, I’m back in Cusco, where I have my own computer and a reliable internet connection. Tomorrow I head back out on the road — this time for Lake Titicaca and trekking in Bolivia. Eventually, I’ll share details of our trek around Salcantay in the Peruvian […]

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In Praise of Wool: Fabric of the Gods

15 October 2011

In the spring of 2010, my neighbor — a retired shop teacher that I’ve dubbed the real millionaire next door — invited me to spend ten days with him on his boat in Alaska. To prep for the trip, I bought some warm clothes at REI, including a green long-sleeve Smartwool shirt, which basically looked […]

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North Korea Tourist Photography

13 October 2011

As much as I’d like to visit every corner of the Earth, I’m well aware that’ll probably never happen. Unlike a certain friend of mine, visiting every country in the world is not one of my actual goals. Because I’m more into travel for the romance of it all, I’m going to have to visit […]

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How Much Spanish Do You Need in Peru?

10 October 2011

For the past four months, I’ve been learning Spanish. Three times a week, I meet my tutor, Aly, for ninety minutes of conjugation and conversation. Plus, I spend a lot of time on my own reading Spanish books (and comics), listening to Spanish music, and practicing Spanish flash cards. Basically, I’m in love with the […]

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