29 December 2009


Kristin and I had a chance meeting, and subsequent friendship, with another backpacker from the US. Somehow we got onto the subjective of high school reunions and superlatives. K. completed an Ironman on the day of her high school reunion; I was in Guatemala on the start of our two-year journey. In high school, K. was voted "Most Likely to Succeed", Alisa was "Most Likely to Embarrass You in Public" (which she proved accurate on our trip) and our friend Steve was "Class Clown." I was apparently unremarkable.

Writing a blog makes me feel like I'm in the position to give out my own personal superlatives though, for all of my friends and family who are supporting us on this trip. So here they are, in the no particular order, the Trek Together Awards for 2009:

Best Emailer: my brother Neil

Best Blog Commenter: the tag-team efforts of Chris and Hillary

Funniest Emails: Todd and Kate

Best WTF? Emails and Comments: Cristian in Italy

Friendliest Traveler: Steve ("Tully")

(Steve charming the pants off of a caterpillar)

Most Improved Rock-hopper and River-crosser: Kristin

Largest Self-Improvement: Mia
My niece went from being a few cells to 15 pounds this year alone. By my calculations, she will be the size of a killer whale by next summer.

Most Improved Skier: the Honorable Constable
He had his first ski lesson last year and is now working as a cross-country ski instructor in Kings Canyon National Park.

Longest Travels to Meet Us: Alisa
Thursday - Missouri to Chicago
Friday - Chicago to Minneapolis
Saturday - Minneapolis to Missouri and Missouri to Miami
Sunday - Miami to Santiago and Santiago to Mendoza

Most Likely to Never Stop Traveling: Me

Most Likely to Get Bit by a Bug: Kristin

Favorite Village: San Garcia de Rivas (Chirripo Nat'l. Park, Costa Rica)
Favorite Town: El Chalten (Los Glaciares Nat'l. Park/Fitz Roy, Argentina)
Favorite City: Valparaiso (Chile)

Favorite Book: Born to Run: A Hidden Tribe, Superathletes, and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen

Favorite Card Game: Shithead (Thanks Tom)

Best Group Photographer: Joby Gorrilapod

Best Non-Profit: Avivara

New Favorite Outdoor Company: Rab

Most Unimproved Outdoor Company: Golite

Best Host: Everyone!
Of course we can't name just one. We can't express our gratitude to those who have given us a home while on the road. Pratt/Warzyns, Eric W., Kate and Todd, Sarah K, Brooke and Mark, Shirley and Dennis,
Ann and Gary, Juanca, Chris and Hillary, the Wilsons, Carlos, the Tennessens.

26 December 2009

Christmas in the Andes

Between Mendoza and Aconcagua lies the tiny, tree-shaded town of Uspallata. Their singular claim to fame? Scenes from Seven Years in Tibet were filmed here. Our cabana manager even has a picture of him with Brad Pitt.

We didn't come here to find relics of the famous actor though. We wanted to find some tranquility, enjoy family time together, and go hiking! We're halfway through our stay here and we've been able to accomplish all three.

On Christmas morning we played card games and ate a heart breakfast of 10-grain cereal, bananas, almonds, and cinnamon. We hiked 12 miles to Cerro de Siete Colores (Peak of Seven Colors). It was blazing hot and there was no shade, but the invigorating hike satisfied all of us. We returned to appetizers of apples and cheese and wine. Dinner was Lentil Dal and salad. Dessert was a Tennessen family special recipe. It contains peanut butter, chocolate and maple. All you really have to know is that it was delicious and I ate as much as everybody else combined. You are not surprised.

Today our hiking ambitions are smaller, and delayed by a nice cafe with chocolate, free wifi, and air conditioning. The tables fit together nicely so we can play more card games too. Tomorrow we'll rent some bikes and bike towards the Andes to a pre-colombian Incan site.

I think we're all very happy with our decision to hit the countrside for Christmas. It's quiet, non-touristy and good for hiking. The air is fresh and the sun is shining every day. We stocked up on good wine before coming here.

Last year, K. and I spent Christmas skiing the best December snow that either of us have seen in Tahoe. Light, fluffy and too early for most skiers. This year, we're in a hot, desert town in Argentina. We're at 2,000 meters and looking up at the Andes (5000-6900 meters).

(Instead of reindeer, Santa rides a psychedelic triceratops in South America)

Marilyn taking respite in rare shade, enjoying an Argentinian candy bar.

One of the many fascinating mountains on our hike to Cerro de Siete colores.

Our friend Steve, taking in the dramatic views of the colored valleys below.

Christmas Dinner. In Mendoza we hosted my friend Piero from Italy. In Uspallata, we adopted Steve for Christmas. He's a solo traveler spending half a year down here and has been a great addition to our holiday celebration.

24 December 2009

Wine, Wine, Wine and Sometimes Chocolate

Four days in Mendoza, four wineries, and more wine and chocolate than I can remember. Hmmm, delicious.

K's family - her mom, dad and sister - came down for the holidays, escaping the blizzards striking the midwest. They immediately left Santiago to join me and Piero in Mendoza. The two of us cooked up our own storm in the kitchen, with brown rice-based asparagus risotto, salad, fresh breads and cheeses, and of course, local wine. We ate until we were full, and then ate some more. We drank before, during and after dinner. And this, my friends, was our theme for Mendoza.

Argentina is the 5th largest producer of wine in the world and Mendoza is at the heart of it all. Our first full day here was a relaxing day of walking around the city, enjoying the tree-lined streets and numerous parks and plazas. We hiked up Cerro de la Gloria for a great panoramic of the city. Day two was spent on four winery tours. Many of the people at the wineries had been to UC Davis because of their wine expertise and proximity to Napa/Sonoma. We downed more glasses of wine than anybody cares to remember, to the point where we swore off wine forever. Or at least until the next afternoon. On Day three we recovered from Day Two, until we started reliving the joys of day two by imbibing the bottles we bought at the wineries. All of this wine was accompanied by vegetarian dishes lovingly created by Chef Alisa.

We did eat out two times. One night Piero, Dennis, Marilyn and I went to an bar-b-que buffet. At only $8 per person, we easily plowed through a few cows and a cart of ice cream. If Argentina is known for three things it is: tango (which we have yet to taste), wine (see above), and the best beef in the world. It definitely delivered on the meat. However, we were also able to find a vegetarian buffet on another day. I believe it was the best vegetarian food I've ever had. It was also the only veggie buffet I've been too.

My mouth is watering just thinking about all of the good food we've eaten. Mendoza is a rather pleasant city and the wineries are muy fantastico. I definitely like Argentina!

After a few days in the city though, we were all ready to hit the road and find some mountains for Christmas. . .

The royal treatment from our friends at Piatteli Vineyards. Because we know the owners back in the States, we got to drink straight from the barrel, the steel taps, and our tour was led by the wine master. They also delivered three bottles to our apartment for later enjoyment.

After another thorough wine tasting at Bressia Vineyards

Piero drinking straight from the tap at Piatteli Vineyards

23 December 2009

Video from Hiking in Los Glaciares

A quick video from our trip to Fitz Roy in Los Glaciares National Park Argentina. Taken about 3 weeks ago.

21 December 2009

Travel Rule #1: Always Bring Toilet Paper

This may seem obvious to the well "seasoned" traveler, but it's a simple thing that we sometimes forget: be prepared for the unexpected to happen. Quickly, dramatically. This year has been full of big changes, altered plans, or unexpected events: a blizzard during spring break in the Eastern Sierras, our "funemployment", getting married, typhoid fever, and so on.

How does the toilet paper fit in? I was taking an overnight bus from Santiago to Mendoza. We hit the border at the middle of the night. I opened my pack to find that my kilo of yogurt had exploded. While the other passengers were waiting impatiently for their bags to be searched, I was frantically cleaning out my gooey mess with the only thing I had: half a roll of toilet paper. Within minutes I had a shimmering white pyramid of globular goodness, 20 centimeter tall and uncomfortably sticky. Luckily I was able to clean my pack well enough to pass security, though the guard didn't like that I was taking garlic across the border.

Bombtastic yogurt was a small surprise that toilet paper was able to fix. The day earlier, however, I had learned that my mom had to cancel her flight to Chile. She tore a tendon in her leg and was going in for surgery and would then have crutches for 6 weeks. We were looking forward to this trip for 6 months, specifically, but a whole life of dreaming. K. and I were crushed. I can't even imagine what my mom was going through. We'll meet somewhere else, hopefully still in South America, but for now it's too hard to believe that I won't be spending the holidays with my mom.

(Mom: These horses are waiting to take us through the Andes. Just let me know when you can visit!)

At the same time, but on the opposite end of the spectrum, I got news that my good friend Piero was coming to visit us in Mendoza. He is an Italian friend who had spent a year studying in Davis. That year we was filled with many an evening eating and drinking wine, and most weekends in the outdoors. He is currently working in Bolivia but is going home for the holidays. With only a few days of advance notice he was able to get a short flight to Mendoza. Thanks Piero!

Both stories make me glad that K. and I are taking the big leap and spending this time traveling. You just never know what tomorrow brings. Really, to take the leap was hard, but now that we're in mid-air I hope to keep floating. I can't even think of landing.

19 December 2009

Torres del Paine

With Torres del Paine, we concluded our tour of southern Patagonia and its triumvirate of stunning parks - Tierra del Fuego, Los Glaciares (Fitz Roy), and Torres del Paine. We spent the last month criss-crossing borders in search of the best backpacking. We found it in Torres del Paine (TdP), along with thousands of other people and high costs.

04 December 2009

Yo, Robot.

Since arriving in South America, I have seen more Will Smith movies than I had in my entire life. I don't know what this says about me.

Regardless, it is hard to escape American culture, whether it is Friends or Sex and the City with subtitles, or an American idea turned into something like Latin American Idol or the numerous reality shows. The top three bands I've heard? Beatles, Bob Marley and Queen. Yes, technically not American bands, but you get the point. English is the de facto international language, and American pop culture is becoming the world's culture. Now if we could just do something about the sliding value of US dollar, that'd be great.

Food, transportation and sleeping arrangements are the three constant challenges of our journey. Kristin blogged about the food situation already. I'd just like to echo her sentiment that it is very difficult to pay for food you don't really like. It's worse when you have to pay too much for it. It's particularly hard to plan a 8-day camping trip when your choices are thus limited. I mean, I haven't had peanut butter since Guatemala. I don't know what to do for lunch!

We are really lucky, particularly in Northern California, that we have such a wide selection of good foods. Not that everybody takes advantage of that, but I know I couldn't live without it.

On that note, we're heading into the "wilderness" of Torres del Paine. This is a park that I've dreamed of visiting. Like the rest of Patagonia, it is absolutely notorious for unpredictable, rapidly changing weather and ferocious winds. We'll see how our little TarpTent does! And 8 days of processed food should be exciting.

Note: we will be out of communication for the next 8-10 days. If the world ends during that time, we'll have to wait until we get back to check Google News to find out. Until then, here are a few pictures from our last hike in Los Glaciares National Park, Argentina. Ciao!

Wind and snow are all part of the daily fun.

Even though it looks like Spring, we're certain to get all four seasons in one day. True Patagonia weather.

Glaciar lakes, tumbling waterfalls and towering peaks - it's worth the effort!

30 November 2009

Los Glaciares

Sure, it´s easy to exagerate when things are good, but I´m careful when I talk about parks. I´m not exagerating when I say that Los Glaciares is the most dramatic park I have ever been too.
Located in southern Patagonia, this park is Argentina´s response to Chile´s Torres del Paine. Los Glaciares protects South America´s Continental Ice Field. It is the largest ice mass outside of Antarctica and Greenland. It is home to a silly number of glaciares and many of them are approachable within a day´s hike from town. However, why would we pay to stay in a hostel when we can camp for free in the park?

29 November 2009

Tierra del Fuego

This "Land of Fire" is anything but fiery. It was cold, rainy, snowy and windy. But it was also well worth heading to one of the southern-most national parks in the world to get in some great hiking and camping.

The entire southern region of Argentina & Chile is called Tierra del Fuego because British explorers noticed that along the shores and many islands were fires, started by the natives. The name stuck but the warming fires did not.

Our taxi/bus driver stopped on the way up to the park entrance, wasting a few minutes but saving us 50 pesos each (about $25 total). We were entering the park after hours and wouldn´t have to pay the entrance fee. Yay! Furthermore, the camping was free. Doublegood. We knew this cheap camping wouldn´t happen everywhere. The more popular parks are quite expensive, costing $20-40 US per person just for the entrance fee.

The first night we hiked south, to a lookout viewing the Beagle passage. We were the only ones there. The next day we hiked up a nearby mountain peak. The last two hours up were in snow, but we had no trouble with just our sneakers and light gear. At the top we were afforded excellent views of mountains all around.

It started snowing on our way down. Mind you, a few days ago we were in the semi-arid desert of Santiago. A few days before that we were in the tropical forests of Costa Rica. How the times have changed - now we´re enjoying spring skiing conditions! If only we had our skis . . .

We also hiked along one lake all the way back to Chile. For some reason it´s illegal to cross borders by yourself. There is nothing at the border but more forest, so of course we explored a little further. Shhh, don´t tell the Chilean border patrol.

On the third day in the park we hiked to a nice flat area. The trails were fairly muddy as it had been raining most of the night, so this day was unspectacular except for a few fine views. In three days we had hiked almost all of the trails and so it was time to move on again. Now we´re heading to our most ´northern´section of southern Patagonia ' Los Glaciares National Park.

Yes, this really is the end of the road . . . a road that started 17,848 kilometers earlier in Alaska. Some people travel the length of this by motorcycle or even bike. We are happy to just be here.

The view from our campsite on the first night. We had the place to ourselves.

On our way to the top, before it started raining and I donned even warmer clothing. Far behind me is Chile.

[Note: This blog was written for the time period of Nov. 19-21]

26 November 2009

Happy Turkey Day

We have returned from the wilds of Los Glaciares National Park in Southern Argentina to wish you all a Happy Thanksgiving. We hope you are all doing well, enjoying your loved ones, and having fun. We needed to stock up on supplies and are returning to the backcountry for a few more days. I'll post later about Tierra del Fuego, where we camped for a few nights, and Los Glaciares, which is the most stunning park I've ever been too. Until then, keep smiling!

19 November 2009

Antarctica? Not This Time

How far are two people willing to go to find the best hot chocolate? Well, for us, we went to the end of the world. We also found a very cool city, big mountains, lots of snow, and an opportunity for further exploration.

K. and I had a month between our arrival and our parents' respective arrivals in Santiago, Chile. We decided to fly down to Southern Patagonia for some pre-season trekking. This area of the world is so far south that it's really only good for hiking during a few months. By coming early, we avoid the "crowds" and the higher prices. Additionally, it's sooooo far south that it'd take 60+ hours by bus from Santiago. While we will use buses for most of our South American adventure, a few choice flights will save us a lot of time and can actually save us money. Win, win, win.

To get to Southern Patagonia, we flew into Punta Arenas, Chile. Then we took a 12 hour bus-ride to Ushuaia, Argentina. This is the most southern city in the world. If you want to be picky, there is a small village slightly further south on an island. However, there is also a bar much further south at a Ukrainian Antarctic research station. Most importantly, there are a lot of great parks in this area of the world and we plan to do a bit of hiking in several of them.

First off, however, was a day of talking to travel agents. There had been two spots left on an 11-day cruise to Antarctica for $3000. That's a ton of money, yes, but they usually go for $6-8k. The next-best "last-minute" price is $4k. Well, we didn't get the super deal of $3k, so we decided forget about Antarctica for now. That's a lot of money that could see us through several months of more travelling. It is something we could do when we are older. And why is coming to Argentina a once-in-a-lifetime experience, like many people advised us? It was easy to get here, it wasn't that expensive, it's safe, it's cheaper than the US, and it's fun. So why wouldn't we come back?

That being said, Ushuaia is a fun town. It is sandwiched between giant snow-covered mountains and the ocean. It reminds me very much of other extreme-cold port towns that I've seen in Alaska, Finland, and Russia: a backbone of shipping, the new look of tourist pursuits, a few crazy outdoorsy types, and a lot of normal people providing services for them all.

The hostels here are a bit more expensive than we've seen elsewhere, but the market is reasonable and people are friendly. Most importantly, we have found a great bakery and the best chocolatier. I'm talking about two crepes (chocolate and dulce de leche), a handful of homemade chocolates, and delightful hot chocolate for a few bucks. Now let's go find ourselves some mountains.

 Ushuaia's port, where fishing ships, Antarctic cruises, and cargo boats hang out.

 A normal view from town. It's only 20 minutes to the mountains. Hmm, wish I had my skis. . .