An adventure of my life time!

Posts tagged ‘life experience’

410. SA Trip (10): Base Torres—A LONG Hike

Base Torres is one of the most famous spots in Chile. It is a 22 kilometer (about 13.5 miles) hike to the foot of the three granite towers, Las Torres del Paine, which rise vertically 1000 meters in front of a small glacial lake.

 A mini tour bus picked me up around 6:30am from my hostel. After picking up a dozen more passengers and driving 2 hours, the driver took us to the park entrance (Torres Del Paine National Park). There was a long line of people from other large tour buses. It took us almost an hour to get the ticket. The driver doesn’t speak any English. He pointed to a guide who can communicate somewhat in English.

It was 10:20 when we started hiking. I asked the guide what time we needed to come back, and he said the hike took about 8 hours. “Turn back from the lake at 3pm.”

Everyone on the bus seemed younger than I am. I was concerned I would be the last one coming back. So I paid attention to time, especially I love taking pictures, which takes time. The first part of the hike was relatively easy, with some uphill. The last hour was a steep climb with muddy, rocky steps (I saw three people fall). I arrived the lake before 2. The view was fantastic, out of this world. But I stayed until 3 and started hiking back. It was 6:20 when I returned, exactly 8 hours from the time we started.

I was the first one. Within minutes, a young couple from Austria showed up. A half-hour later a family of three with a teenage son came back. Then, slowly people returned. But the last two didn’t come back until almost 8:30! They were guys in their late 30s or early 40s. Were they really that slow? Or they didn’t care about other people waiting for them? I don’t know.

Well, maybe I’m just a better hiker than most. 🙂


408. SA Trip (8): A 13.5-hour Bus Ride

I prefer to travel by bus to flight. In this way, I could see a lot along the way.

It’s about 390 miles from Ushuaia, Argentina to Punta Arenas, Chile. According to the website, the drive takes 11 hours. I thought they over-estimated the time. How long would 400 miles take? Thirteen and a half hours, actually.

The immigration took over 2 hours. Lunch for another half an hour. Ferry for about an hour (A fox showed up near the ferry terminal, which made the time flew by.)

Twenty minutes after we got on the bus again in Chile, an Argentinian tour guide for a large group talked to the bus driver, stopped the bus, flagged down a car, and went back with the car. I was sitting in the first row and saw the whole thing. But I had no idea what happened. Did he leave someone behind?

No, he left his teacup behind! It is a special cup for Mate tea. But this is public transportation, not even a tour bus. And no one explained to us what happened while we waited for him for more than half an hour. The bus driver doesn’t speak a word in English. Later I learned the truth from a couple from England who can speak some Spanish. I was quite amazed. I was in South America, not in the US anymore. 🙂

Before the trip, I printed out the maps from all the bus stations to the hotels/hostels. Some of the distances are so short that I decided to walk. Well, if they stopped at the right bus station!

We finally arrived in Punta Arenas around 9:30pm. I took out the map and checked the street signs. I couldn’t find anything familiar. So I went into a little room with a small counter and pointed to the place I needed to go to. The man was really nice. He tried to explain to me, but I didn’t understand a word he said. He took my cell phone and signed in to wifi. The magic of Google map took me to the hostel. It’s about 15min walk. The night was still young and bright enough. Thank God!


405. SA Trip (5): Ushuaia, a Touristy Town

I’m really not a city/town person. It is hard for me to find anything interesting to take a picture in a city. When I was in Buenos Aries, I walked for a couple of hours without taking a single shot. Ushuaia is a touristy town, and it is between water and mountains, I’m able to snap a few pictures. 


404. SA Trip (4): Amazing Laguna Esmeralda

Unable to speak Spanish is very inconvenient. Most people don’t speak English, even the people in the tourist business. The Google Translate works for simple phrases but doesn’t work well for conversation.

I booked a tour bus ticket to Laguna Esmeralda (starting 10:30am and ending 4pm) via the hotel. There is one lady who speaks English. Later, another lady came by and tried to talk to me. After struggling for a while, I understood that the bus wouldn’t come until 12. By coming back at 4pm, how could I finish a hike that requires at least 4 hours? Via Google translate, she told me something like I could communicate with the driver to set the return time (now I know this is what she said, but at the time, it wasn’t clear). I was so frustrated that I canceled the ticket and walked to the bus station, hoping someone there could explain clearly.

No, the lady selling the ticket doesn’t speak English either. She tried to tell me the same thing that I could communicate with the driver to set the return time. If I had so much trouble understanding them, how could it be easier to talk to the driver? I imagined the bus left me and I was stranded at the trailhead. It was cold and windy at daytime (around 45F, but felt chilly). How cold it would be at night?

As I struggled with the decision if I should go and take the chance, a young couple showed up. The girl can speak English, and they were going to the same place! I was elated. I asked her the questions, and she promised to keep me informed. There was another couple from Canada who couldn’t speak Spanish. We did part of the hike together.

Laguna Esmeralda is prettier than the pictures I’ve seen. And the weather was really nice. I loved it.

By the time we returned to the parking lot, the young couple wanted to take another hike in the area. It takes about 1.5 hours, and the bus would pick us up at 7pm (they called the driver). It was 5:20pm. Well, no big deal. We started hiking. Up and up it went a steep hill. In an hour, we were so much higher than the other trail that we could see Laguna Esmeralda in the distance.

The trail became so muddy and wet that my shoes were completely soaked through. But we made it back at 7pm. And the bus showed up just in time.

Without the young couple, I wouldn’t have this adventure. Certainly I wouldn’t be at ease and enjoyed the whole time.

402. SA trip (2): A Long Flight

(Santiago airport)

The flight from Phoenix to Ushuaia is long. It flew up north first to Toronto, had a layover of 4.5 hours, then flew down south, stopping at Santiago for a couple of hours and Buenos Aries for 15 hours, and finally came to destination the next day. It was the cheapest flight I could find.

I planned this trip last June. The airfare was a little over $1000, and the duration was around 20 hours. It seemed reasonable. Next day, I booked the tour and tried to buy the airline ticket. The price increased to $1500! Well, it was still early. I figured it would come down, so I waited. It never dropped. By mid-November, it was around $1600, and I couldn’t wait anymore for fear it would keep going up. 

There was a shorter flight with similar price. The layover in Buenos Aries was only 3 hours. Better choice right? Not really. The flight to Ushuaia is in a different airport! I had no idea how long it would take to go through immigration, pick up the luggage, take a taxi to the other airport, and check in there. What if the flight is late? What if the traffic is bad? To be safe, I chose to stay overnight in Buenos Aries (It took more than an hour just to get out the airport.)

I booked a cheap hotel in Buenos Aries. For less than $30, it is pretty good—clean, comfortable, with friendly customer service (wakeup call early in the morning and shuttle to the airport with cheaper fare), except for it was very noisy. I couldn’t close the window completely since the latch is broken. All throughout the night, cars/buses ran, motorcycles zoomed by, dogs barked, people talked loudly or laughed. I only had several hours sleep.

Now, 44 hours after I left Phoenix, I’m finally in Ushuaia.


PS. Before the trip, I heard that taxi in Argentina doesn’t use any meter. One has to negotiate the price before taking it. Unable to speak Spanish, I didn’t know how I could do that. Well, there is an easier way—there are taxi booth or window at the airport. One can pay first, and a driver will take you out and drive you to wherever you pay for (my driver doesn’t speak English at all).

401. South American Trip (1): Going South, Way South

I’ve always wanted to go to the Patagonia area in Chile/Argentina ever since I saw the pictures of those jagged mountains, greenish lakes, and glaciers with blue ice. I’ve never taken the trip because traveling on my own was beyond my imagination.

Life changed so much since then. I’ve traveled a few places by myself—visited Costa Rico, New Zealand, Australia, Canada, and drove to and from Alaska on my own. So it’s time to revisit my dream and make it come true.

Still, I’m anxious. All the other trips were in English-speaking countries, which are safe. This time, I’ll be in Chile and Argentina, and I don’t speak a word of Spanish.  Luckily I found Google translator, which allows me to download Spanish dictionary (and Chinese). This tool eased my anxiety somewhat.

Yet there are other things to worry about, like pickpocketing and bag snatching. I heard terrible stories (My sister’s backpack was switched in a hotel lobby in Mexico). No one will watch my back. What if I lose my credit cards? What if I lose my passport? What if…

“Bad” things have already happened before the trip: the tour company emailed me the wrong information (the trip was in the wrong direction as I booked), the airline didn’t assign any seats for me, which I’ve already booked (it was fixed), my laptop started to act out (turned out to be my fault—I didn’t plug it properly), the weather down south is rainy and cold…

Now that I’m sitting in the Phoenix airport, getting ready to board, I decided to let go of my anxiety. Part of the fun of travel is the unknown. I’ll take whatever comes my way and view it as an adventure. At least, if anything happens, I’ll have a story to tell here. Otherwise, I’ll just post some pictures with the name of the places that I can’t pronounce. 🙂

Oh, I hope the wifi is good enough so that I can post pictures. I heard it can be spotty and unreliable. We’ll find out together, won’t we?

Here is an overall plan:

Fly from Phoenix to Ushuaia, stopping at Buenos Aires for one night (layover for 15 hours so I found a cheap hotel to stay). Ushuaia is the southernmost city in South American; it’s called the end of the world. From there I’ll take bus from one city to another up north for three and half weeks, stopping 1-4 nights at each city. The last two weeks I’ll take a group tour, ending the trip in Santiago. The whole stretch will be about 1500 miles.

Wish me luck 🙂

400. Holiday Greetings from Sedona

I apologize for not posting much. I’ve been sick for nearly three months.

I had shingles. Yes, you heard it right. I had shingles, although I’m too young for it. It’s a disease commonly happens in elders. One can’t even get a vaccine until 60. Well, my dad had it, and my sister had it in her early fortieth. I guess it runs in the family.

It is one of the most painful things I’ve ever experienced. The virus travels down nerve fibers. It’s like someone was stabbing me constantly. The doctor prescribed narcotics, but I had to call him to ask something stronger. He was very nice and prescribed a higher dosage without charging me extra, but he asked to exchange the pills I’d already had. He was worried that I would be hooked on the painkiller.

I don’t understand anyone who is addicted to the drug. It made me lightheaded and nausea. The doctor didn’t have to worry about me. I stopped it as soon as the pain was manageable. I’m grateful it is over. A friend of mine had the pain for two years!

So I had a good excuse for not posting. 🙂 I’ve started hiking again, but I didn’t want to bore you with those beautiful red rocks in Sedona that I posted countless times.

Stay tuned, though. I’m going to Argentina and Chile in February and March. I’ll be on my own. Without speaking the language, it’ll be an adventure. I sure will post lots of pictures.

Until then, Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to you, my friends!


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