Monday, January 21, 2008

The follow-up from travel

Four weeks ago, I was wondering—after so many months of planning, with details, details, and yet more details to arrange for our trip to South America. And during the trip, I was continuing to wonder—while coping with the stresses of being responsible for 18 other people's safety and of dealing with logistics that included last-minute changes in weather and itinerary. Would the trip feel worth the effort? Today, sitting at my computer on a rainy San Francisco afternoon, I can say with certainty—yes it was worth it. Or, as they would say in Chile—vale la pena!

I would like to thank the group members for their cohesiveness, for their gentleness with each other, for their willingness to "go with the flow", and for their energy and overall good spirits. I would like to thank Erika, Jon, and John for creating our trip blog; Alejandra, Carolina, and Viviana for sharing their knowledge of Spanish and Chile and for becoming everyone's good friends; Miro and Roberto for driving to the places I requested even when they must have wondered where some of those dirt roads were heading; Quilo for cooking us fabulous meals; and most of all, my husband Jay, for encouraging me to do this trip and supporting me along the way.

We'll all share a special bond, acquired during the rigors of the trip. And we'll have a reunion or two to celebrate our friendships and our accomplishments. And some just may accompany me in the future, when I get around to doing an excursion again!

Saturday, January 19, 2008

amigos y rocas

Well, here we are.

Last evening we arrived in Santiago around 5 pm local time, having spent the morning in the seaside town of Valpariso. The night before we'd camped at RN Campana and had a chicken asado, as Jon has mentioned. The whole group ate, drank, toasted, danced and shared stories long into the night. It was a beautiful last chance to reminisce while still in the field. We enjoyed the night air of of the Chilean countryside and the quiet peace of sleeping sans rainfly under the stars. The morning dawned cool and foggy, balm to our dry eyes and tired bodies. It was a lovely contrast to the many hot and dusty days we remembered so well from other campsites. Though we had eaten more bread-and-jam breakfasts than we could care to count, everyone still smiled sleepily around the table as we buttered up and raised a last glass of Nescafe to each other. As the reality of the impending journey's end sank in, even the familiar felt poignant.

Last night the group went for a late dinner and drinks at a cuban salsa club not far from our hostel. Sitting at the corner of the long L-shape of the pushed-together tables, I couldn't help but smile. The Americans mingled with the Chileans and our friends from new year's eve showed up to dance a few dances with us. Nearly everyone took a spin on the dance floor, even people who three weeks ago I didn't know enough about to judge whether they liked to dance at all. In the whirl of drinks and music I found myself full of a wash of emotion, impossible to pick apart to analyze.

Looking around last night I saw a group of people who have become a team. Starting out at the airport three weeks ago today, we were a loose group of geology students, alumni, and curious souls. We knew each other a little or not at all, and most of us had never embarked on trip such as this. Over the last three weeks we have spent nearly every waking (and sleeping!) hour within a few feet of each other, and it has changed us all. Through long days on the bus, cranky spats after too many hours without food, and endless strange and displacing landscape, we all stuck it out. Sometimes you had to walk away for a moment, sometimes you had to just let it go. And as I sat there last night, salsa music ringing in my ears, I felt surrounded by friends, by partners in crime, and knew that I would return to this country, but I could never return to the once-in-a-lifetime experience this trip has been.

Thanks everyone. Thanks Miro and Roberto for driving our bus, even when they didn't know where we were going or why we wanted to navigate another dusty dirt road. Thanks to Quilo for feeding us, with hot water on cold mornings and hearty dinners after long hikes. Thanks to the Chilenas for joining us, and sharing their geology knowledge and practicing english and spanish with us. Thanks to Karen for organizing this trip, and Jay and Mary for coming along and contributing their knowledge. Thanks to Jon and John for the wonderful blog posts and photos.

But most of all, thanks to my fellow travelers on this journey across the Andes and back again. I have learned something from each and every one of you all, and find myself more than a little bittersweet on this last warm Santiago morning. As I said in my final toast - here's to old friends and new, old rocks and new. Amigos y rocas, now and always.

Thanks, everyone.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Our final adventures

My goodness, how many things have happened in the past 3 weeks! Our amazing adventure is now approaching its bittersweet end, but what a trip it's been! Climbing an actively steaming volcano (or actively spewing acid gases, rather), rafting the rapids of the Trancura river (as you'll see below), getting intimately acquainted with a host of wonderful people from all walks of life, and exploring the incredible geology and culture of southern South America on a 4,200 km journey! I hope all you readers have enjoyed tracking our progress as we criss-crossed the Andes, despite our somewhat limited internet access. It's really been a blast for all of us, and I'm glad we were able to share at least a fraction of our experience with you via this little travel-blog. So, cheers to you! Cheers to Karen for making this entire trip possible! Cheers to John Niles for providing an amazing set of pictures and Erika for so eloquently describing our trip to make the blog what it is! Cheers to the drivers (Miro and Roberto) and the chef (Quilo) who patiently endured our craziness through the long days and nights, and cheers to everyone for making this trip such a success!

Enjoy our second to last (pictures from Villarica still to come) set of pictures from the expedition! See you soon!

Todos at La Payunia (back in Malargue), an amazingly untouched and lunar-esque volcanic landscape.

A great example of one of the many volcanic bombs that dot the slopes of the ~800 volcanic cones in Payunia.

The bus dipping at around 15 degrees from vertical in Payunia.

Jay leading his boat with vigor through the rapids of the Trancura river.

Lisa very excited to raft.

Claire, Daniel, Mary, Gina, Brian, Leah, and Kate.

Alejandra, Lisa, John, me, Vivi, Carolina, and Suzanne braving the river.

Brian contemplating a soil column at Parque National Huequenue (outside Pucon).

Karen, Vivi, Alejandra, Leah, Andrea, Billy, and Mark hiking at Parque National Huequenue.

Alejandra, Karen, John, and Suzanne at Enladrillado in Parque National Altos de Lirquay.

The view at the top of Enladrillado showing one of the "beheaded" volcanoes, amazing structure, and a lava flow on the right from 1932(+/- a few years, I forget the date exactly). One of the best views of the trip!

Celebrating our last night camping, right before the traditional asado that usually accompanies the final night in the field.

Boarding the Ascensor El Peral in Valparaiso. These lifts are over 100 years old, and carry people up the steep slopes of the town.

View looking up the Ascensor.

Alejandra, Vanessa, and Suzanne exploring Valparaiso.

Our Abbey Road picture in Valparaiso...I have no idea what I'm pointing at.

The last unloading of our faithful bus as we arrive in Santiago! That bus endured some rocky roads without so much as a hiccup (well, any really BIG hiccups), and for that we are incredibly thankful.

Thanks again for checking up on the blog (and your friends/family), and stay tuned for some pictures of our Villarica volcano climb!

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Many photos from the past few days

Since our day became open from the unfortunate delayed ascent of Volcano Villarica, I have time to flood your computer screens with pictures of our adventures from the past week! So here goes.

A huge spider that Alejandra "the brave" Mora caught with her bare hands at our campsite in Malargüe! Amidst the screaming I asked her if the spider was poisonous and she replied simply and without concern, "Yes, I think so."

An awesome cook barbequeing a goat at the annual Festival of Goat and Sheep in Malargüe.

Alejandra dancing with a vaquero at the goat festival.

Dogs are EVERYWHERE in Argentina and Chile, and for the most part they just roam around and seem very happy. This one decided to sleep at our campsite.

This is basically how we spend our long rides on the bus.

Our last campsite in Argentina -- Buta Ranquil. Complete with free-roaming chickens and a pool with crabs!

A picture of some actual geology in western Argentina. This is from the Agrio fold-and-thrust belt, with uniformly deeply dipping beds that deceptively appear folded from the influence of topography on the geologic structure.

Gina and Brian amazed at the drive-by yerba mate-refillers!

Our bus amongst the araucaria trees on our first failed attempt to see Llaima.

Karen showcasing one of the many lahar flow deposits around Lonquimay.

Viva las Chilenas! Viviana, Alejandra, y Carolina.

The "Gringo Devil" at a folk dance performance at Lonquimay. Crazy!

People taking photos of Llaima as it erupts!

View of steaming Villarica from the internet cafe in Pucón.

Elaine discussing glacial morphology, which is the another dominant feature (besides volcanoes) shaping the landscape in southern Chile.

A view of Lago Chico in Parque National Huequenue with a glacially carved granite wall in the background.

Still in Pucón

Hóla all.

We are still in the lovely town of Pucón. Yesterday we enjoyed a 10 km hike in the national park Huerquehue. We hiked in to see a small lake call Lago Chico. The air was warm and damp, and the vegetation was so lush and green. The forest had lots of bamboo growing it, as well as a number of tall trees draped in moss. Near the tops of the hills we could see the omnipresent Arucaria trees, though we did not hike high enough to be among them. As we gained in altitude it began to rain softly, making the last part of the ascent cool and pleasant.

Today we were scheduled to hike to the top of Villarica volcano, but mother nature is not cooperating. Last night it rained, and this morning dawned gray and cloudy. Even now at 11 am, the clouds are low and gray and the entired volcano is obscured by thick clouds and fog. We cannot trek in this weather, and so we are tennatively rescheduled for tomorrow if the weather cooperates. If not, it is back on the bus for the long drive north, with stops on PN Altos de Lircay and PN Campaña. After a quick jaunt to seaside Valpariso, we will return to Santiago on the 18th. Hard to believe the trip is already nearly over!! Luckily, more adventures await along the way, and we will have internet in Santiago to tell you all about them.

Pucón is beautiful, the Chileans so friendly, and our campground is well-equiped.

Until next time, ciao!

Friday, January 11, 2008

Lonquimay to Pucón

Hey everyone! A quick post for today, but we are now in the plush tourist destination of Pucón, at the base of Villarica volcano (currently steaming as I look above the monitor out the window). Our campsite feels like an elfin village, with these cool wooden walkways connecting a series of ponds and little island coves (pictures to come soon!).

As exciting as steaming Villarica sounds, it is nothing compared to the actual eruption we witnessed at Llaima volcano this morning! On our drive out of Lonquimay the gods of weather decided to finally cooperate, and gave us a cloudless sky with perfect views of Llaima as it sputtered ash into the air.

Oh shoot, I have to get back to camp, sorry to cut this short! I will continue this tomorrow, but until then, here´s Llaima!

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Our Triumphant Return to Chile!

Hóla todos!

After several amazing days of travel in Argentina, we have reached Chile. We are currently staying in a largish town named Lonquimay, a name drived from the Mapuche words for the area. We arrived last night in the pouring rain, an amazing shock after more than a week of hot, dry weather. This morning we awoke to find that it had rained all night, and the tops of the hills were dusted with snow! We set out this morning to see Llaima, a local volcano that has been erupting as recently as yesterday! We drove through a most beautiful countryside, green fields all around in the valleys, surrounded by hills composed of old lava flows, the stately Arucaria trees lining all the ridgelines. Everywhere you looked there were goats and cows grazing, and even the occasional sheep. We passed tiny towns of a few scattered wood houses, and even the occasional bar with horses tied up out front. The air was cold and fresh, and the hilltops were wreathed in mist most of the day. Rain fell intermittently. The landscape strongly resembles New Zealand, but also looked to many of us as if it were straight out of Jurassic Park.

As we proceeded into the hills, the rain turned to sleet, and then, amazingly, snow. We eventually had to stop the bus due to the mud beginning to freeze and become dangerously slippery. As the bus turned around, we all ran around in the snow, laughing and capering, heady with the experience of snow in the middle of summer.

We lunched at a beautiful glacially carved lake. The water was quite warm, probably in the 70s, and the rocks on the shore were warm. Geothermal activity in the area is common, and we saw areas of the hillsides that were steaming faintly.

Much to our chagrin, we did not see Volcan Llaima, as the mountains were totally obscured by fog. Tomorrow, however, we set out for Pucón, and hopefully will catch a glimpse of the veiled lady on our way out.

In case you are wondering, this weather is highly unusual for this region. Normally at midsummer the weather is in the 70s and 80s, lovely and temperate. It would appear that climate change is bringing this region unusual cold instead of unusual heat. It was certainly a shock to us, coming from two days of blistering heat and dust storms, but in many ways it is a welcome change. It will be interesting to see what the weather does over the next few days.

I will let Jon update on our visit to Parque Payunia when we have pictures again, as words cannot do the strange volcanic landscape justice.

For now, Ciao, and thanks for reading!