And just like that…two weeks have flown by and I’ve flown back to the United States! Some days seemed to drag on forever while others just disappeared. Needless to say I am not all that excited to be back in a cubical during the week. It’s a good thing I have a yurt trip planned for this weekend [and a disgusting head cold as an excuse to be lazy and anti-social].
I have hundreds of photos to dig through [see “sick + lazy” as my excuse for not doing this yet] so there will be full-blown recaps and stories popping up soonly. My game plan is to post about our trek around Torres del Paine, exploring the cities of Chile and nitty gritty details on the packing + planning process. For now, I want to recap a few lessons I learned, sometimes the hard way, while wandering around southern Chile.
Rain = Mud
Astonishing, right?! Somehow I managed to plan for days of hiking in the rain but completely forgot that rain usually results in mud. LOTS of mud! When we arrived at Torres del Paine it was raining. Not a torrential downpour, just a steady rain with low hanging clouds hiding the mountains. We left the dry buildings covered head to ankle [not toe, I’ll get to that later] in rain gear and started trekking up, up, up and away into the wilderness.
For the first mile or so we tiptoed around the puddles, hopped from rock to rock and probably looked ridiculous slipping around the mud to avoid getting our feet wet while rain plummeted from the sky around us! This all changed when we came upon a “trickling stream” that was trying to redefine itself as a “raging river”…we had to get wet. And as soon as we plunged into the cold river we found a new mindset – embrace the puddles! The rest of the day [and trek!] we gave in and had fun in the mud! Totally worth having wet feet for 6 days!
The Signs LIE!
We didn’t confirm this until a few days into our trek but the signs/maps along the trails lie! As in, do NOT depend upon them for a morale boost or base your lunch breaks around the accuracy of these signs…you WILL be disappointed! On our first day we had a 1km stretch of trail that took us over an hour to cover, according to the lying signs. On our third day we adjusted our camping plans because of another lying sign that said we HOURS to our next site when it was really 45 minutes away. Even the elevation profiles are deceiving!
It didn’t take us long to realize that Chile [or at least Torres del Paine trail management] does not believe in the concept of switchbacks! Why bother zigzagging up a mountain when you can just plow straight up?! Sometimes this is nice – you get to the top of a hill or pass so much quicker by just powering up, up, up. But when you’re headed downhill? In mud? Switchbacks would have been nice…
The trickiest part of the entire trek was the muddy descent off of John Gardner pass. As soon as we hit the trees it was a slick, muddy mess without any switchbacks….we just slide down the mountainside, grabbing at trees and roots for support. In theory the climb UP the pass would have been harder but slipping downhill was frustrating! Switchbacks are daunting but boy was I wishing for a few on this stretch!
Chilean Spanish =/= Spanish Taught in WI High Schools
Good grief – Chilean Spanish is HARD to understand! I’m not good with Spanish in general, with only a few years of Spanish classes and limited practical use I was relying on the English-based tourist setting to keep me in the loop. I know, very “pretentious American” of me, sorry! But even words/phrases I know were hard to pick up in Chile. They talk crazy fast and apparently love their slang! I was so thankful when I met a few Chileans on the TDP trail who quickly explained “yes, Chilean Spanish is crazy hard to learn!”…it wasn’t just me! They use a fair bit of “Spanglish” and drop the “s” in a lot of words simply because it’s faster. Crazy Chileans!
Slow Down, Take a Minute
At the end of the day…we were covering a LOT of miles a day on rather mountainous terrain with 30-45lbs of weight on our backs. We had to move with purpose to stay on track with our limited days in the park. However, the best parts of the trip were the moments when we stepped away from the mileage goals and let ourselves relax and have fun.
Whether it was having fun with other people [like when we discovered the store at Camp Grey took credit cards and we polished off a few boxes of wine with a fun group of trekkers] or just taking a minute to stare at the world around us [like watching the glaciers in the mountains around the French Valley calve into waterfalls] or even an afternoon nap because my mind/body needed it [like the day I avoided people for a 4 hour nap – worth it!] take a minute and stare at the world around you! Remember to look behind you, be friendly with fellow trekkers and don’t let pressure to cover distance be the reason you miss the mountains!
And was it all worth it?! Of course! It wasn’t exactly what I had expected and I did return home with some inner turmoil about the rest of my life but it got me out of my comfort zone, into a new country + culture and gave me a reason to think, really think, about my life. So yes, it was 110% worth it! Now I’m off to nurse this silly cold…