Darkness defines the mornings. The light of morning, a gift, saved for the road. The huge truck rolled painfully slow down an icy, winding road. The fear of a slip not far from our minds. Heavy snow caked the road sides, Ushuaia’s farewell to us. The tension sun’s glow emanated across the sky, breaking through the wooly, blue grey clouds that hung thickly over the sea’s horizon. In the West the night faded away, retreating over the plains of Tierra del Fuego, over the mighty Andes, across the great expanse of the desolate Pacific; finally to home. Frankie would be slinking inside at its arrival, the family gathering for the nightly rituals. The night would kiss them in their beds, guarding their sleep until it is time to travel again. Time to travel over the Great Australian plains, boundless salt water, and an ancient continent before returning back to me. Such thoughts accumulated in my mind as the long days of travel blended.It would be 2,650kms until we left the rough Patagonian desert. Our first bush camp was a few kilometres off the main road on a large patch of flat land. Building a fire with dead scrubs, for a second the incessant cold was conquered. Even the dense smell of smoke that latched onto our clothes seemed worth it to escape the icy fingers. I lay awake in my lonely tent in the early hours, wearing all the clothes I had, willing the time to fly; for the first movement of camp break to begin, as the toasty temperature of zero bit at my exposed cheeks. According to our bus, it was minus four degrees that night. (This photo was reposted by Dragoman’s Instagram!)

Overland travel has its perks and its downfalls. Striving to focus on the first, I was delighted when we pulled into a historic hotel on our way to El Chalten (because we could). As a fan of Indian and Cowboy adventures, visiting a site where Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid hid out was so exciting! I even treated myself to a gorgeous metal bracelet with bright South American fabric inside to always remember the place. 

El Chalten is a new, touristy town, established in the eighties inside the Los Glaciers National Park. The magnificent Fitzroy Mountain welcomed us proudly on our arrival, with clear weather giving us a view of the allusive peak. The long, flat road that seemed to lead directly to the ancient rock appeared to be out of a dream. On my first day there, I was filled with determination to meet the mountain. I jumped from my top bunk early, dressing and eating some fruit before heading out into the dark morning with my backpack. I felt like a true hiker. Setting foot onto the trail just as the sky began to light, knowing I was one of the first this day. Soft pinks and soothing oranges glowed, a hazy light filtering through the trees as my blood pumped through me. Just the path, trees and I. Negativity that had lodged inside me seemed to float away as I focused on my legs; marching along the narrow, damp dirt road that winded up the mountain side. I am happy. I am strong. I am alive! The purity of the solitude and fresh air reminded me. I am blessed. My perception of trekking has rippled like water, the clear challenge now having many more layers. Trekking is like life – a challenge full of small successes and failures. It can be beautiful, exhilarating, painful, frustrating, revealing and enlightening. One moment I sang affirmations, the next curses at a bug that flew down my throat. It is the attitude that you maintain that shapes your trek, your life. The trek to Fitzroy was special because it was my first solo trek. I had no one to encourage me, no one to see me fail. There were parts of the path that seemed to wind on forever, my feet landing heavily and with lethargy. There were times a spring launched my steps with enthusiasm. Some parts were soothing and peaceful, the terrain resembling that of Japanese gardens. The last leg was cruel, a jagged path of uneven stones that zig zagged up the side of the mountain. Just when I thought I’d made it, one last incline of loose dirt remained. The view wasn’t bad, Fitzroy was shrouded by cloud as the day swapped between sunshine and spitting rain. It’s the accomplishment that makes the trek worth while, the sights an added perk. It’s being able to experience the joy and sorrow of life in a condensed, fast paced way. 

El Chalten rewarded my efforts, or perhaps undermined my efforts with a decadent waffleria. Somehow I restrained myself to only make two visits, each one great. Two warm, slightly crunchy waffles drowning in a thick layer of dulce de leche (thick caramel used on everything here!), a creamy ball of decadent chocolate ice cream and a dusting of fine coconut. The next visit led to baked, green apples in rum, two balls of dulce de leche ice cream and a pinch of cinnamon. Such delight on my tastebuds almost rivalled my love of alforjas. Almost.

With two more bush camps until arriving in Argentina’s lake district, el cueva de los manos was a mesmerising sight before two days of road. To be so close to a people from a time so distant blew my mind. Hundreds of hands, each connected to a life, frozen in time nine thousand years ago. This hand, similar size to mine, how did it’s owner think? Feel? The storyteller inside sparking with inspiration. Tiny hands, large hands, even a six fingered hand. Did they ever believe their small blink in times expanse would last longer than themselves?

The scenery finally changed, the small, shrubby desert of the Patagonian steppe disappearing in pine clad mountains and glimmering, rocky lakes. Bariloche, just in time for La fiesta de la chocolate. Surrounded by chocolate, excitement and a little bit of family history, the pain of my first Easter alone lessened. Our hostel was nice, a bed immeasurably warm and comfortable after two nights in a chilly tent. The distance from town was a shame, but catching the local bus was an experience in its own. Instead of loitering around the hostel as I usually did in places, I was out everyday. Letting go of the need for schedules, designated alone time and other obsessive compulsive ideas, I was able to relax and truly enjoy Bariloche. I went out to a restaraunt for the first time since leaving home, tried something from the menu I’d never had and loved it. I journeyed up to the Cerro Otto via gondola to the lookout my grandparents had been over eighteen years ago. I took myself to the grande, neogothic church for the Sunday mass. I bought artesan chocolate eggs. Being in a new place every few days teaches you to enjoy atmospheres rather than sites. I stumbled upon a museum near our hostel – a small private geological and paleontological collection in a house off the main road. Opening the door enveloped me in the sweet scent of incense, booming classical music and ancient times. The fluorescent lights buzzed behind glass doors where history collected dust. Stuffed birds and musty indoor plants added to the timelessness of the place. Faded photos hung on the wall of past digs and people, a reminder of the exciting epic of archeology in days gone by. I wondered which proud, smiling face was the greying professor that sat alone in his office of old books.  

Journeying over the Andes and across the border, Pucon is nestled at the base of an active volcano. The emergency alarm is tested in the middle of the day, and steam can be seen rising from the open cone. A town with endless opportunities for adventure, I admit my biggest accomplishment there was laundry. Of course I had been hand washing my clothes, but after two months without the crisp, clean scented clothes it was a much needed luxury. That night a large group of us went to the hot springs for the evening, enjoying the scolding pool, the hot but knee deep pool and the luke-warm swimming pool. Perhaps it was the seven-hundred ml Pina Colada I had, or it was this new, positive attitude but neither the traumatic bus drive there, or the winding walk (and small fall) in the dark tainted the night out with my new friends. 

Now in Santiago I have made the decision to say good bye to them. 13 050 kilometres over landing. It was a rough few weeks at the beginning as I struggled to adjust to the different personalities I’d been thrown in to live with for the next two months. Last night I was voted ‘One Who Has Changed the Most’ and I’m so grateful these people helped shape and nurture me as I changed in the best way possible. Home warned me I’d return a different girl, and the thought terrified me. Now I can’t wait to show the world who I am. It will be odd the next few days, adjusting to another group of brand new people. I know it won’t be easy, sometimes I may even want to return to my old group who will be a day behind me on the road, but I can only hope I will be taught new lessons and grow even more. After all, I’m on my way, new friends and new places to see…PhotoCredit: Lee Hobson; Co-Editor: Hannah Gibbs 🙂 

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New Beginnings, Ushuaia to Santiago

9 thoughts on “New Beginnings, Ushuaia to Santiago

  1. Loved this post, and I so enjoy your writing. It seems like you have turned a corner. I just read your last post this weekend your Patagonia post. I can’t find it on my phone. But what struck me was how that trek seemed to be a metaphor for this whole adventure. “You’ve come a long way, baby !”
    I’m very happy for you and your accomplishments.
    Xoxo b.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Hola mi abuelita

    Tu estas bien…obviamente, Chiquita !

    I was pleasantly surprised by your reply to my message. It never occurred to me that a reply might come. Thought it was a one-way system, but you know me: techno-systems leave me cold. I actually punched out a long reply to your reply but couldn’t find a SEND button, until AFTER I hit what was the destroy button. I was pissed off for days. Now I’m back .. I’ll try to recall what I had to say a week ago, but I don’t want to turn this into an epistle. I enjoy reading you….it’s never boring and your imagery is very good and captures the atmosphere and colour.

    Don’t stress about your Spanish. Hopefully you’ll be motivated to learn it properly when you get home. In the meantime, try a few of these strategies. Talk to a friendly looking local or a child. Stick to very very small talk in Spanish ( hi / how are you? I’m Australian / student etc and then ask Habla ingles? and hope they switch to E. Another one: You could teach members of your tour group some simple Sp. Ask them what they’d like to say to a local and teach them some way to spit it out. But don’t set yourself up as an interpreter… too much stress for you. I knew a lot more Sp than you when I was there. I was a good speaker BUT my listening skills were weak (still are) . For me conversing in Sp was 90 days of stress. You’re luckier in one sense: you’ve got people around you who don’t speak any Spanish so you get a rest from the blabbering locals! Be courageous. The torture won’t last long. You can retreat and try again. You won’t regret it….

    I’m so happy that you sound happy / happier. As you’ve mentioned you’re closing in on some of the true highlights of your voyage into adventure. Your spirits have soared but you still have a lot of soaring to do: I refer to the sights of Peru and Bolivia.
    I’m finding it hard to figure out exactly where you are. You’ve left Santiago, no es verdad? I see you climbed the Cerro Otto. I assume you went by teleferico. Vista increible, no? CJ and I did it the hard way (by accident) and walked up via the 8km road!! Before you arrived in Bariloche I wanted to tell you where the shop was where I bought CJ her perrito Barilochito. Do you remember him?

    You’ll love Bolivia and Peru. La Paz is a lovely bustling city with the old city at one end and the modern La Paz at the other. Visitors need to be acclimatised because it’s so high. We struggled to breathe carrying our heavy packs even though we were pretty fit after six SAM countries and a lot of walking. Great souvenirs to buy but you need to avoid over buying or you’ll quickly exceed baggage allowances.

    (I think) your next place to visit after La P will be Copacabana on the Bolivian side of Lake Titicaca. Great place! Small town. I’m not into churches but there’s one you might like to see. Behind and overlooking C are two hills, can’t remember their names but you can’t miss the big one. You simply must climb it. At the summit is a beautiful little cemetery and the view of Lake C is superb. Spectacular for photos. I see you’re going by launch from Puno, Peru (other side of Lake T) to Isla del Sol. You’ll love that island after the nice steep climb from the jetty to the top of the hill. I hope you don’t get any rough weather on the lake. The waves are quite intimidating. I have a story about that for you when you get back. Just be wary about an overloaded launch and make sure you get a flotation device of some kind from the boatsman if the lake threatens to get rough.

    Now the Big One. Machu Picchu. This is breathtaking. You’ll arrive via the Inca Trail, verdad? If there’s fog early in the morning of your visit, don’t worry, the hot sun burns it off quickly (if it’s a fine day). I went on two days so I had one day of rain and overcast sky and one beautiful day (CJ was back in Aus and missed that leg of our trip). You’ll want to photo every bloody thing. The human intruders tend to get in your way. You’ll be in Cuzco either before MP or after it. Cuzco is a pretty place, lit up at night. Locals will do the hard sell on you and maybe try to stiff you out of the right change, but you’ll probably be able to deal with them by that time. One final thing. You must go, by yourself or with companeros/as to the Trotamundos if it’s still there: a quiet little bar with a balcony overlooking the main plaza (try to grab a balcony seat). Very peaceful to watch the colourful world go by, maybe drinking te coca . I was very unhappy with your mother for dissuading you from watching my video clips last time you were at my place. You’d have seen me 18 and a half years ago talking to you and making a toast to you, my newborn granddaughter…..

    Phew…..!!! That’s all for now. Sorry it was so long.

    Por tu viaje en Bolivia y en Peru. pasalos bien [Have fun]

    Buena suerta….Buen viaje. Mucho amor…………. Jimpa

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    • It’s good to see your reply! I looked around for Barilochito and was disappointed when I couldn’t find him, a shop name would’ve helped but oh well. I’m very excited for those parts you mentioned, even more so to have the inside tips and recommendations. The tours main focus is getting us there so they tend to slip up on those details. Apparently it’s been raining a lot in Peru so I hope Machu Picchu is going to be possible for me. The excessive travel eating and full day truck trips hasn’t done a thing for my fitness. It was I who didn’t want to see your videos, I think I’ll have a much better appreciation for them after I’ve been myself. The Machu Picchu I see will have eighteen more years of degradation from millions of tourists, so I should best have no expectations.
      Lots of love, Kate xx

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      • Hola abuelita !

        I hope you’re fit and well and still buoyant about your coming entry into Bolivia. I estimate you to be there within a few days and I wanted you to get this before you did. I just wanted to talk about the security of your luggage, passport and other valuables, partly from CJ’s and my experience when we were backpacking and bussing in Bolivia & Peru and partly from what is common knowledge. Sorry if you know all this already. CJ and I were super-cautious on every one of our 90 days in SAm.

        How safe and secure is your luggage? Is it inside the bus or on the roof? If it isn’t within sight of you you need to check it at every opportunity. Whenever our bus stopped for any reason e,g, police security check / border crossing I always got out and “stretched my legs” as an excuse to see if our luggage is where it was last time I looked (especially if it’s on the roof) When it’s being checked /opened by police or customs officials I stood and watched them do it, otherwise stuff from inside might go missing or at other times people might slip contraband into your bag…..drugs and other banned items. If you’re idly watching that might be enough to deter them. I know it’s annoying to get out of the bus all the time but it’s good security. Sometimes police/border officials board buses to check passports . CJ was picked on going into Paraguay because her hair was then blonde which was somehow associated with drug use. (All they did was quiz her though)

        Passport I guess you know you have to have your PP on you at all times. Don’t get caught without it. Cops (or fake cops) might “arrest” you to extract a bribe from you to let you go. * I should have mentioned this to you a long time ago — When you cross from one country into another you must get your passport stamped CJ and I missed it when we crossed from Brazil into Arg and a week later when we crossed from ARG into BOL, we were fined 100 pesos which then was US$100 i.e. Aus$155. Going out of ARG and into and out of Bolivia and Peru seem to be traditionally the likeliest crossings to find touchy or officious officials. Use your great smile on them. Although I wasn’t in Ecuador it appears to be strict too.

        I guess telling you all this and boring the crap out of you has come about from the recent case of a 16 y/o Aussie girl who was caught with 6kgs of cocaine when leaving Columbia. Even if she’s innocent she’s guilty in many SAm and Asian countries. I strongly advise you to regularly search your bag(s) by unpacking and repacking them in case someone (even a fellow tour group member) has put something in your luggage and turned you into a mule. If this stops you from being detained indefinitely in some awful place it will be worth all the warnings.

        Re Macchu Pichu Was it from an official source that you heard that the site was suffering human degradation ? When I was there it was beautifully looked after by the government and I can’t imagine it falling into ruination in just 18 years. It’s a national treasure.
        I hope it’s not raining when you’re on the site. At the “back” of the city near the Templo del Sol you’ll see a spot where I sat and talked to the camera. It’s a really obvious place to sit and it’s up high and only a few metres from a spectacularly dizzy view down the almost sheer mountain to the Cochabamba River (I think I’m right)….

        Mi desafortunada Kate… another long message ….lo siento

        Soon you’ll be in La Paz for 4 days , no esta vero? That’s good… plenty of time to explore. The food markets have really cheap food we ate it without side effects but you can’t get a cold drink there. There are witches markets and regular markets for souvenirs and clothing that are interesting even if you don’t buy (but they’ll still give you the hard sell!

        Hasta luego, querida. Pasalo bien en Bolivia y La Paz Mucho amor Jimpa

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      • My bags are always in the back locker, which is only opened when we’re at a night stop or border crossing. I have to get out for border crossings anyway. I’ll keep in mind though.
        Very excited for La Paz, I’ve been waiting months for the beautiful jumpers. Do you remember that large alpaca fur wall hanging you had in Mary Street? I’ve seen some smaller ones, what was customers like on that? I want to bring on home but I’d be devastated to lose it at the airport into home.

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  3. JImpa again Justa few PSs

    *The girl with the 6kgs of cocaine was 22, not 16 she is now in a Columbian prison awaiting trial

    Sorry… sometimes my Spanish merges with my Italian and I end up with a weird hybrid.

    That picture of you on the top of Cerro Otto outside of Bariloche…. I stood it that spot to take video and still shots I expect you sat in the revolving restaurant, no es verdad? (made a mess of that in my last message (I shouldn’t re-read them.

    Your pictures are so good clarity sharpness I scroll through them every time I open the blog

    Catch you soon Pasalo bien, querida

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Hi Kate Just a quick message

    I typed up a reply to your musings on Santiago / Salta etc but when I checked it the message had gone. That’s happened twice. Thanks for your reply to my blurb on security. Re the alpaca wall rug : Jane and I had a lot of trouble with it. I think Jane took it home with her when she interrupted the trip to fly home for her Dad’s funeral. I don’t remember mailing it. You may find trouble getting skins into Aus especially if they aren’t cured, But I don’t think ours was and we had to leave it in our garage at Beacon Hill for months to let it sweat, which caused it to smell. After it had dried out it was fine and I really liked it. Unfortunately in Grafton it ended up being bedding for Midget. It wasn’t particularly well made…it was just a series of alpaca patches, roughly sewn together and there was no lining. Still it looked great on the wall.

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