Viernes, 24th de Abril de Mosai Cafe en Bellevista barrio, Santiago
This continent has exceeded my exceptions and more. I’ve fallen in love with the Andes [even after the many insane hours of hiking], I can’t get enough of the dry, desolate deserts, and I’m happy as ever lounging along the Pacific Ocean. I left Chicago February 21st making it just over two months on the road and with recent events I’ve noticed a recurring theme. Disaster is inching closer and closer.
Let’s start with Lima. My first week I felt my first earthquake. Well, more like a tremor, but still. No damage done and my pisco sour didn’t even spill.
Next avoided danger: While heading out for our whitewater rafting trip on our jungle trek to Machu Picchu, we heard about a few tourists recently dying in the river. But note that this group ventured in on their own on an extremely dangerous part of the river. Our guides ensured us they were not only trained but knew the safe areas for rafting. To us the current seemed tame, but we still loved every second. Later on during our trek we felt the power of the Urubamba river just by walking along it.
Trekking the Colca Canyon…We heard three day hikes were not permitted due to recent landslides on the ever so steep trails. When arriving to Arequipa we said screw guides and groups and we chose to hike on our own. We didn’t waste money paying a guide, we didn’t have to keep the same tempo as a group, and best of all we didn’t have to pay the required 70soles [$24] to enter the Colca Canyon territory. We did this by looping the opposite direction of most hikers. We hopped on a 7am collectivo [cheap, local bus] to Chivay and from there another to Cabanaconde to start the hike. Upon arriving at Chivay we learned it be hours until our next bus departed. Frustrated and annoyed we surveyed the town not finding much. After a cheap bite we headed back to the terminal and we made friends with a few local kids. Like this guy below. This cutie, Franklin, loved the feeling of my Teeki yoga pants made from recycled water bottles. He followed me around, I carried him around, and Ryan gave him pen tattoos that he proudly showed off to every patron who walked by.
Day one of climbing in to the valley was absolutely breathtaking. Perfect blue skies, not a soul in sight, and we even saw condors [largest flying land bird with a wingspan as long as 3.5 meters] swooping down in front of our path. The insanely steep climb down was quite terrifying at points. Loose rocks and previous landslides made us cautious and at times walk sideways and unfortunately Ryan twisted his ankle. We were close to our first destination when we noticed a landslide had taken most of the path out, but thankfully someone had flagged the trail with a stick and we were able find our way onward. We arrived in Llahuar before sundown learning only one hostel that serves as a restaurant and mini store exists in the entire town. That night we were awarded with a
hot warm spring that sat next to the river in the ravine with the stars lit up above us.
Day two we decided to tackle on the shorter route for Ryan’s sake, which meant skipping the giant waterfall in el Fure. We smashed some pancakes [no vegan option] and took off for Malata. Crossing a bridge we found ourselves at a fork, unsure of which way to go [our map resembled a cartoon] we exchanged words with a nearby farmer. He happily sent us on our way and after two hours of climbing a weed covered trail we arrived at el Fure. The fucking waterfall we planned on skipping. Exhausted and starving, we headed in to the town in search of food and shade. We arrived. Ghost town. A man had been doing laps around us was in search of a lost donkey he worried may have fallen off a cliff. He appeared in Fure and explained that the town migrates during wet season because of the dangerous landslides.
Our next town, Malata, was a three hour walk for gringos, but as a native it only took him two. Lovely. We scarfed our last bits of avocados, oreos, and bread and waved goodbye to the local . Our five hour trek turned in to a hellish eight hour day. Hour six we approached a pueblo, but the only place open was a tiny convenience store. After pounding a Sprite, my blood sugar immediately rose and I began to feel better. We decided to finish strong and make it to our destination: The Oasis [see below].
It looked like heaven below. Full of pools and cute huts, but when we approached the mini village we realized the huts were poorly made shacks with concrete stone beds topped with thin mattresses. The same material was constructed for the buildings with straw-covered roofs. No complaints though, we were happy to have cheap beds that we planned on passing out on in seconds after our unplanned exhausting day. Dinner would be served at 7pm sharp so in the meantime we visited the ‘store’ in hopes of finding something edible. Oreos [vegan if you didn’t know] and orange Fanta [my favorite drink whilst backpacking] would have to suffice for now. We dipped our sore feet in the freshwater pool and counted down the minutes until dinner. Arriving to the dining hall, I quickly noticed the number of people also waiting to be fed, then realizing the hostal owner was the only cook. 17 of us sat there as one elderly man slowly prepared our two-course meal. One rowdy group of Germans were pounding bottles of rum, and toasting beers every few minutes. When they’d run out they would head to the ‘store’ causing the man to stop cooking, go serve them and take a good five minutes to get back to the meal. Our HANGER grew rapidly. Trekking eight difficult hours on two pancakes, one avocado, one piece of bread, and some oreos made me want to tear the man a new one. By 8 fucking 30 silverware was dropped on our table followed by a round of veggie soup. I tried eating slow to savor each spoonful but I demolished the bowl in minutes. Another 20 went by before our main dish of red sauce spaghetti appeared. I finished mine, grabbed my chamomile tea, and gave the Germans my best scowl wishing them a death-like hangover. A brutal fucking day and I still went to bed hungry.
I slept well, but Ryan went to bed with a spider crawling nearby which gave him a restless sleep. I had planned to wake up early to search for more bfast/snack options but my snooze button won and around 7am I dragged myself and the guys out of bed. Half awake we climbed back up to the dining hall and paid 7soles [$2.33] for bread, jam, and tea/instant coffee. We ate, grabbed a few packets of Oreos and a soda each and took off for our final leg out of the canyon. A steep 3-4 hour journey straight out of there said others we met and during brekky we saw many head off to tackle the climb. We agreed on keeping a steady, quick pace and set a goal to complete it in under three hours. Per usual the boys and new dog friends took off meters ahead of me. The sun no longer hiding behind the mountains started to get stronger and hotter. I decided to ditch my trekking pants and hike in my vball spandex giving my legs the freedom to move. I kept on pace with the guys and we flew up out of that canyon. We continued to overtake hikers and rested a few times when shade was available. In two hours we had bypassed everyone. People I saw starting when I had only just woken up. It wasn’t easy. The sun beating down, winding narrow paths, and too many stairs for my liking, but we owned it. At the top I high-dived a tourist cop and took in our feat. Ryan whispered, “hurry let’s get out of here.” This was the first time we had crossed paths with a tourist cop whose main job is to check entrance fee tickets, the tickets we chose not to purchase. We quickly moved on without getting questioned and spent the next 20 minutes enjoying flat land and congratulating each other on our accomplished climb. We arrived in the town of Cabanaconde and immediate went searching for a meal. After three days we finally had a choice in what we ate, which ended up being an enormous fresh veggie sandwiches washed down with Gatorades and for dessert our favorite spicy corn chips. A cheap bus was leaving within the half hour heading to Arequipa and we proudly climbed on. The bus was another frustrating story I don’t feel like explaining but in the end (sorry a long end) we survived the Colca Canyon sans landslide.
Next disaster. The freak flash floods [see video here] hitting the Atacama Desert. THE DRIEST PLACE ON EARTH!! was experiencing a rare amount of rain and streets were being swept away. The desert. Too much rain? Really? We moved down through Chile with the Atacama star gazing in our future and could only find it comical that this natural phenomenon occurred when we were nearby. Luckily the desert is massive and San Pedro survived with little damage. After a few days of R&R at a surf town called Iquique we booked buses to the desert. Since Chile is much more expensive we attempt to save every dollar by searching for the cheapest hostel before arriving to a new city. While researching SP we discovered a small, low cost hostel and read a review about a guest’s bag being stolen while passing through Calama on her way to San Pedro. Knowing there was no way to avoid the city, we told ourselves we’d remember this bit of advice. Our overnight bus from Iquique arrived in Calama an hour early forcing us to nap in the dark bus terminal. We grabbed a bench and I laid my yoga mat out for a temporary bed as we waited for a transfer to SP. One arm through my small CamelBak, I covered myself with my blanket scarf in hopes of catching some zzz’s. Ryan slept on his bag on the bench as you can see in the photo below.
At 7am I awoke from my daze to a man yelling and shining his flashlight in my face. “No luz, no luz. Sale sale,” which was his choice of words for “there is no electricity, get the hell out.” There hadn’t been power when we arrived at 5am, but the guard who started his shift at 7am decided to be a dick and kick everyone out into the bitter cold air. The poor Chileans shuffled out, heads down. Call us asshole gringos, but Ryan and I refused to leave. There was absolutely no reason to displace the paying customers who had the right to access the terminal. As buses approached I headed outside in search of one to our destination as Ryan waited inside with our bags. Around 7:30am a bus for SP pulled up and I ran back inside yelling it was time to get the hell out of this shithole and I heard the worst words out of his mouth. “My backpack’s gone,” and he was pacing frantically. “WHAT!” I replied and I felt my heart drop. Our two large packs laid on the floor, my small [everything important] pack in my possession, but his not in sight. FUCK. FUCK .FUCK. We looked around and asked the terminal workers but they just turned their backs on us and said “no mi culpa, no mi problema,” [not my fault, not my problem] and continued to kick us out of the station. As Ryan’s anger rose my mind flipped in to survival mode. What do we do? How long as it been gone? Eyes darting in every direction looking for any shady signs. We have no idea how or when it was stolen. We never left our things. I immediately became suspicious of the ‘guards’ but what could we do. The cameras that would have shown the culprit clearly weren’t recording without electricity. As Ryan started finding things to punch. Everything important was in that bag. Passport. $400 US. Canon SLR camera full of photos never uploaded. A GoPro. A Windows tablet. An external hard drive full of films and photos from his past three years of travels. Books. A Kobo (similar to a Kindle). And a million other small trinkets [thankfully he had his iPhone and wallet on him]. A nice $3,000 gold mine for whoever slipped by us. Keeping calm knowing this fucking worthless piece of shit was miles away from us, I waited for Ryan to collect himself and found out how to get to the police station. Thankfully our travel insurance through World Nomads covers this sort of situation and an official police report would be necessary. Ringing the bell we learned the power outage had hit the entire city. I begged in Spanish for a report so we could get the hell out of Calama, but the officer said it was impossible porque la computadora no functiona. “A las 3, regresa y es posible con la luz,” sure at 3pm six hours from now maybe the electricity would power on and he could make un informe. Having no idea where pass the time we wandered up the streets in search of a hotel or hostel to nap in. A lovely old woman stopped in front of us when she recognized defeat in our eyes and scolded us on the town’s danger. She recommended a hotel ahead and we asked for a room for half the day. We slept until 2pm and took off in search of food. We found a Peruvian restaurant and we ordered a feast. From there we beelined to the police station to be confronted by a loving dog. I swear Ryan is a dog whisperer always being followed by a stray while the cats usually snuggle up to me. On our way to the police station the first time we had a pack of 12 strays following us [photo below]. This new cutie crawled on to Ryan’s lap playfully biting and cuddling him while I begged the officer for a written report. “No luz,” yea I get it but you have hands to write and after 20 minutes of him blabbering on, choosing to explain the safety of the terminals rather than helping, we gave up and decided to look for help in San Pedro. We grabbed a bus from a different station that posted a dozen signs in multiple languages about keeping your belongings in sight. Sometime that evening we pulled in to San Pedro and thankfully the Carabineros typed up a report shaking their heads as we tallied the value of the stolen bag.
So maybe that’s a disaster that caught up with us, but we chose to stay positive, enjoy the next few days in the dry Atacama desert, and head off for Santiago in hopes of a new passport.
In Santiago Ryan had the option to apply for an emergency passport or hang out for two months to receive a full valid one. This caused many trips to the embassy and we quickly learned it would effect our plans. I prefer to travel and plan as I go. Love a town? Stay longer. Hate it, move on. Wander where the wind takes me, but Ryan’s embassy forbid that style of traveling. On an emergency PP he needed specific dates on what countries he’d enter in exact order with the UK being his final destination. This made Tori the planner do what she does best. Hours of sorting out dates, buses, boats, border crossings and the thing I hate the worst an predicted end date. He was given many restrictions such as not crossing the same country’s border twice, only traveling through five countries including countries in transit on his flight home, and it was now necessary for him to obtain an Argentina visa. Tasks we could live with and sort out with a bottle of vodka. We were safe, alive, and still had the funds to travel onward. Great. Wonderful. Let’s book a bus to Puerto Montt and take a ferry to Puerto Chacabuco to experience the marble caves in Coyhaique [see below] then travel back to PM and fly to Torres del Paine aka Patagonia. Trip planned. Fabulous. Let’s book it.
Then BAM. Volcano Calbuco decided to erupt after 40+ years of being dormant and sent volcanic ash 10kms in to the sky. Thank fucking Pachamama we hadn’t booked a thing before this guy decided to blow up our plans. Puerto Montt was assisting evacuees from the town closest to the eruption and our ferry to the heavenly blue caves was cancelled. Really I blame Ryan. It’s easier ha, but seriously this luck! Although our families felt better we were far from the disastrous volcano, we would have loved to see the magnificent volcano erupt. The lightning, lava, and ash cloud looked incredible as you can see below.
Time to change plans for the umpteenth time. Thankfully planning is my strong suite and after a short search on the internet we found Pucón, where volcano Villarritta erupted just two months ago. We’ll head there relax, stay in a cheap tent dorm and possibly climb the volcano. We’ll spend a few days exploring before tackling on Patagonia. Below is Villarrita erupting this past February.
[Update 28th de Abril] We arrived in Pucón to find the city in the middle of a ash storm. The ash had blown over to Bariloche reaching Buenos Aires and a windstorm had sent it back in to Chile just five hours north of the original eruption. We pulled in to the bus station to find everyone wearing masks and we were advised to head straight to our hostel. We did so trying to cover our nose and mouth and luckily learned our home for the next few days sat across from the terminal. Whilst checking in we learned it was unsafe to sleep in the tent dorm for the chance of inhaling the toxic ash. For the same price they booked us in an eight-bed dorm and we immediately took a liking to the new atmosphere. Ash sat like dust on everything and everyone but thankfully the next day it was safe to venture outside. Unfortunately climbing the volcano would be impossible until next season because it’s red alert status and each day at noon the safety alarm rings for testing.
We can’t win, but we continue on with high hopes. Follow us onward as we soon head off to PM to fly to Santiago back down to Punto Arenas (the cheapest flight we could find) to start our hike in Patagonia.
Wish us luck because we fucking need it.
xo, the disastrous two
Viktoria y Ryan