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Finally got a 1st place

July 2nd, 2013 by *MoonDogg*

I drove 6 hours up to Lakeshore, CA this weekend to race in the China Peak Enduro. Race #3 in the California Enduro Series. I was a scorching hot weekend all over California, but fortunately we were at an elevation of 8000 ft, so the temps were a bit cooler than elsewhere.


I registered Saturday around noon, and was able to get in 4 practice runs. The trails were really fun, and fairly long with lots of pedaling. The berms were mostly soft and deep, there were some tight trees sections, some rock gardens and some flat out speed sections. Overall I would say the best course I’ve raced so far.


Sunday was race day. I was in the second wave of riders to leave the start, so I had a bit more time in the morning to get ready. My brake magically decided to stop working. I messed with them, debating whether I should bleed them or not, and decided I didn’t’ have time.


There was only one climb during this race, right in the beginning, up to the start of stage one. After that, everyone rode the chairlift. At first I was pretty disappointed, but after actually starting the climb, I changed my mind. It was long and steep, with several hike-a-bike sections. Though it turns out we could have avoided those sections if we stayed on the correct road. Regardless, it would have really sucked to do that climb more than once.

I did pretty well on stage 1, no mistakes, but I did get caught behind a slower rider for quite a long way. I probably should have been more vocal about my desire to pass. For some reason I just felt bad.

Stage 2 I had a pretty big wipe-out in deep and soft turn. I got a mouth full of dirt and my goggles were hard to see out of after that. Probably lost about 10 seconds. The rest of the run was clean.

Stage 3b

Stage 3 was a lot longer than the first 2, and I had a good run, except for getting stuck behind several other riders. Still I don’t think I lost too much time. But looking back and realizing I only won my class by 9 seconds, I realize how important it is to get by other riders ASAP.

Stage 4 we epic. I wiped out in the first turn, and from then on I was just all over the place, overshooting berms, clipping rocks with my pedals, getting off my line. I hit a rock really hard with my rear rim, it made a really loud ping sound, and I though for sure it was going to pinch flat and my race was over. But to my surprise it held, and that gave me some extra motivation to ride faster. From then on I was in the zone, and really had a fast clean run.


In the end I was able to hold off the competition and stand at the top of the podium. It was a good feeling. The competition was pretty stiff, and I haven’t been training as much as I had hoped to. But I think my technical skills made of for any lack of fitness.

One race left in the series, and I’m in second. There is only one point between each of the top 3 guys. Santa Cruz will be the showdown.

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My location: Mar del Plata, Argentina

March 3rd, 2011 by *MoonDogg*

My location: Alem L.n. 3402-3500 Mar del Plata Buenos Aires Province Argentina 38°01.545′ S, 57°32.053′ W,-57.53422

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Days 28-32: El Calafate

February 12th, 2011 by *MoonDogg*

We left Esquel on Monday. We were planning on visiting El Chalten next, but there was not a bus going there with empty seats on Monday. We could, however go to El Calafate, which was a few hours further south. Seemed logical to go there, instead of waste a day, and then backtrack a little to El Chalten after. So we jumped on the bus. 

What I did not fully appreciate at the time, is that there are two ways to get from Esquel to El Chalten / El Calafate. The first takes the famed Ruta 40. The second takes Ruta 3. Ruta 40 is pretty much a straight shot south, while Ruta 3 is near the coast, on the opposite side of the country, and I’m guessing a 50% longer trip, distance wise. However, much of Ruta 40 is unpaved, so time wise, the trip is just about the same.

So, imagine my surprise when, in the middle of the night, I woke up and checked our location via GPS on my trusty Evo 4G (don’t hate) and discovered we were at the beach! My first thought was we got on the wrong bus, followed by we bought tickets for the wrong destination. Then I remembered people talking about the unpaved roads, and how the buses go the long way around. I went back to sleep. Only to panic briefly again, early in the morning when I realized we were still on the coast, but a lot farther south then where we were supposed to be heading. I decided it didn’t matter where I ended up, I just wanted to sleep. And sleep I did. Well, sorta. Sleeping on the buses is usually much easier than most of the planes I’ve flown, especially if you get the ‘cama’ seats. They are sort of like ‘first class’, and they recline very far and are wider than the normal seats. But still, it’s loud, there are lights, and you aren’t completely flat so it’s hard to sleep in more that just one position.

We ended up in El Calafate eventually, on Tuesday about 20 hours later, and found our way to our hostel. At first glance it seemed like the coolest one yet, and it turned out to be nice, but it still amazes me how poorly designed most of these places are. The kitchen and dining area, for example, was on the top floor, where all the heat collects. The dining room was solid windows, and the sun was intense, and it was baking in there. The problem? None of the windows open! We went one night to cook in the kitchen, and there were already several people cooking, and the place was blazing. Not to mention smokey. There were two windows in the kitchen, but only one opened. Seriously? Ventilation anyone? 

On Tuesday we decided to go see the glacier Perito Moreno. There are several options for doing so, and we chose to simply walk the viewing platforms directly in front of the glacier. We were there a couple of hours, and most of that time was spent waiting for large ‘calving’ events, where pieces of the glacier break away and fall into the lake. I did end up seeing a few and getting them on video. It’s a pretty amazing site, and the glacier is just enormous, going as far as the eye can see

On Wednesday we went to the Glacier Museum. That was actually quite interesting. We had been wondering how glaciers had formed, how they worked, etc. All our questions were answered there. It is actually a quite dramatic and spectacular process, and I’m really glad we spent the day there.

Friday, we went on the ‘Big Ice’ trek. We took a boat across the lake, then hiked for 45 minutes through the forest. After donning harnesses and crampons we headed out onto the ice for over three hours of ‘trekking’. We had been hoping to actually go ‘into’ the ice, like into some crevasses or caves, but alas we were only only able to walk on it. Don’t get me wrong, it was still pretty amazing, and I really want to spend some more time hiking, climbing, and descending into glaciers in the future. They are beautiful and awe inspiring. The most amazing thing to me were the rivers ON TOP of the glacier. And even small pools of water. It reminded me of a water park. You could literally grab a inner tube and ride down the river and into pool of water. There were a few small holes where the water running on top of the ice would suddenly descend down into it. I would love to repel into one. I found one that was only about a foot in diameter, and did not have water running into it, but I could hear water running. I peeked down into it, and maybe 20 feet down could see what looked like a raging river of water. Glaciers have a network of rivers, streams and lakes inside them, constantly changing and morphing, and to go inside and explore them would be so awesome.

Saturday, we were planning on moving on to El Chalten. While having breakfast in the lobby of the hostel that morning, I met Sandra from Switzerland. She had been traveling for only a week with a companion, who at 2AM the previous night, when arriving at the bus station, told her he was going his own way, and bailed on her. Super lame thing to do to someone who I discovered as time went on was a really cool girl.

 We talked a couple hours about our travels, about life in Switzerland, etc. She was heading in the opposite direction, so I gave her my recommendations of going to Chaitén and Futaleufu. We said our goodbyes, and we hopped on the bus to El Chalten.

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Days 26-27: Esquel, Argentina

February 6th, 2011 by *MoonDogg*

We spent two nights in Esquel, Argentina. There is not a whole lot to do. Khristian and my parents had already been there a couple days, and I guess they did a hike. The first night I was there Khristian and I walked up to a lake to check out the sunset. Wasn’t all that exciting, and the walk was along a dusty dirt road, again not that exciting. There was a really cool cat there, though.

Close to the lake was a ranch house with dogs, a horse, some sheep I think, and who knows what else. While we were looking at the lake this cat walked up and stopped about 20 feet from us, and just sat there and watched what we were doing.  Then I called it over, and it came running, and seemed to be super excited. I pet it, and from that moment on it was my best friend. It followed me every where I went. When I stopped walking, it would start rubbing it’s head on my feet. As I walked, it would run alongside me, crouching down in the grass, like it was hunting, then it would leap out at me like it was attacking. It was really cool. I don’t normally see myself as ever owning a cat, but if I could have one like that one, I’m in. 

The next day we road the ‘La Trochita’ train. It’s one of only a few ‘narrow gauge’ trains still running in the world, powered by a steam engine. It used to be a primary form of transportation until not veery long ago. Now it’s just a tourist trap, and while it was interesting, I was expecting it to be more in the mountains.  It ran only in the foothills, and ended at a small market with locally artisans. I did end up buying a bombilla for my mate cup, that I still had not purchased at this point. 

The next morning the parents were off to the bus stop and heading back to Buenos Aires. A few hours larder, Khristian and are were on the bus for a 22 hour ride to El Calafate. 

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Days 21-25: Futaleufu, Chile

February 4th, 2011 by *MoonDogg*

When I think of Futaluefu, I think of many things. I had a very good time there, met some very interesting people, and if I have a chance, would like to stop there again on my way home.

We left Chaitén on Monday morning, the 31st. According to the posted schedules, the bus was supposed to leave at 8:30 AM. Or 9:30 AM. Or 11:00 AM. It ended up leaving at 11:30, and it was a 3 or 4 hour ride. I forget, because its already been about two weeks. That is how behind I am on updating my blog.  

We arrived in Futa and right away looked for the tourist info office. By now I realized that it’s your best bet in order to get maps, and advice on where to stay, what to do, etc. This is where I met Natalya. She was a  gorgeous Chilean girl, with mesmerizing eyes and spoke English with a beautiful accent.She gave us maps and advice and we were on our way. We also stopped at Patagonia Elements, the rafting company recommended by John from Canada, but they were closed. 

We we’re not having any luck finding a hostel with room, so we stopped and had lunch, then kept looking. We ended up finding a cabaña for a reasonable price. It was new, and there was a strong odor of wood and wood finishing chemicals. Also no heater. They had not installed it yet, it was that new. But it was nice, and roomy.

After getting settled in, I went back to Patagonia Elements and we talked about a rafting trip. My dad wanted to go, and my mom said maybe. Khristian was out due to lack of funds. Or manliness. You decide. The problem was that you need at least four paddlers in a boat, otherwise it is too light, and there is not enough ‘horsepower’ to maneuver it. So while we were singed up to go, unless at least one more person showed up, we would not be able. We would know by the following morning.

The next day, we all spent time at the Internet cafe. We had not had Internet for several days and were jonesing. I was getting even further behind on uploading photos. By the late morning it was determined we could go rafting, because they were going to invite one of their colleagues to go, but unfortunately my mom had changed her mind. So the trip was cancelled. I was told there was for sure an all day trip planned for the next day, and I put my name in for it. My parents decided they were going to move on to the next town on Wed, instead of waiting until Friday, to be safe. They needed to start heading back to Buenos Aires, and did not want to risk not getting out of town. Khristian, since he did not want to go rafting, decided to leave with them. So we had that afternoon to do a hike, then I would be by myself for a few days.

We started on our hike to a lookout over the city, but we didn’t get very far. First, Khristian for some reason is terrified of talking to strangers, and so instead of asking people for directions, he prefers to wonder around and hope that he finds the trailhead. So we walked for a ways and after it was obvious  we missed it, we ended up down by a river. That was when the rock skipping competition began. Now let me just say that regardless of what you might be told by any other participants of said competition, I was the first to skip a rock all the way across the river. It was a big river, and I was surprised when it happened. But it did happen, and I don’t care if anyone else saw it or not.

Now we have that straight, I will admit that there were some fierce skips from everyone, and I can’t call a winner. But it was fun, even though I threw my shoulder out. It started to rain, so we high-tailed it back to town.

That night we went out to dinner at a restaurant that was recommended by a couple met in Chaitén. It was a really cool restaurant, with couches in the corners and a small library of books. It was also a fly shop, the kind used for fishing. We had a really good trout dinner, with a salmon appetizer that was amazing, and a bottle of Chilean wine. And my parents decided to pick up the tab, which made it even better. Thanks mom and dad!

The next day, they left for the bus, and I chilled at the cabaña for a couple hours until I had to be at the rafting company. 

The Futaleufu river is supposedly one of the top rivers in the world for rafting. I’m not exactly sure what makes a river the best, but if that was the case, I certainly did not want to miss the opportunity to go rafting on it. I’ve only been on the Kern river in California a couple times, and that was with my dad in his inflatable two-man kayak. (That is a whole other story I won’t get into) So I was really looking forward to this trip.

It was a 45 minute drive to the put in. The owner and guide, Christian, drove a four wheel drive Mitsubishi van. I’ve dreamt of owning the same van, but they are not available in the US. Turns out only a few places in Chile are able to import them from Japan. 

Once we arrived at the river, we changed into our provided wetsuits, booties, and life vests. There were six of us going out that day in the raft. Two girls and four guys, all from different countries. Also in the raft was Christian, and in the river was two more emloyees. One in a sit-in kayak, and one in a cataraft, an inflatable catamaran type raft. Their jobs were to scout the river ahead of us, and also be there to help anyone that falls out of the raft. Fortunately nobody did that day, but we came close a few times.

Rapids are rated in classes, class 1 being the easiest, class 6 being the hardest and most dangerous. The Futa has many class 5 and I think one or two class 6. But the most extreme section is not done by commercial guides during the single day trips. However, there were still three class 5 rapids, with names like Terminator, Mundaca and Casa de Piedra. I have only run rapids in a small inflatable kayak previously, and that was really difficult. I have also ‘swam’ down a class 5 rapid called Royal Flush on the Kern River. Easily the most terrifying experience of my life. So I was a little nervous going in. But it turns out a big raft with 7 people is much more stable than I expected, and there was only one instance where the guide yelled ‘get down’, which basically means ‘get you but into the bottom of the boat and hang on for your life because we are about to lose it’. Fortunately we survived that moment, and while the whole trip was very exciting and fun, I think being in a kayak is really the only way to go for maximum excitement.  Of course, that takes a lot of training and practice. If I lived close to a river, for sure I would get into kayaking.

The river is an amazing turquoise blue color. And on the sides of the river is jungle with massive rock cliffs towering above. There are many waterfalls. The sun came out a few times, and it rained off and on. But as long as we were paddling, we were able to keep warm. Overall a very beautiful experience. At the end of the day, they provided a simple lunch for us, and then we took the hour drive back to town. 

I had to find a hostel, which turned out not too hard. It was actually a house I stayed in. They rent out a few of their rooms, and also allow camping in their yard. That night I met some Israeli travelers, Ron, Gal, Natalie, and Hela. Not sure I spelled those right. I ended up playing cards with them all night, a game they taught me called Yaniv, and talking a lot about Judaism and witnessing to them.

Turns out they were going rafting the next day, and I tried to go again, but there was no room. So I just chilled, uploaded photos, had lunch, took a nap. They had invited me to have dinner with them them that night, and of course I agreed, and was looking forward to it.

But wait, did I mention the Kingdom Hall? I don’t think I did. I have been looking for them in the various places we have visited, and have found them a couple times, but I definitely was not expecting one in this town. But I was walking down the street the first night, looked up at a small house and there was the sign, Salon del Reino. I was really surprised. It was such a small building. There was a sign with the meeting times and initially we weren’t going to be there those days. But because I stayed behind I was going to be able to make it to the Minsitry School/Service Meeting. So Thursday night, I showed up and there was a brother coming out of the house behind the hall, and he informed me the sign was incorrect, that the meeting was an hour later. So I went down to the tourist office to hang out with and say goodbye to Natalya. Did I mention she was the Futa Rodeo Queen, and easily the cutest girl I had seen in Chile? I hung out talking to her and another guy that was a guide in town. 

An hour later I returned to the KH and went inside. To say it is small is an understatement. I think there we’re about 20 seats, 25 at most. I met the 6 publishers, of which only one spoke any English, and only very little. I let them know that my Spanish was not very good, and I would just be listening, not commenting. They had offered me a Spanish Bible, and I declined since I had my English. I realized later that I should have taken it, so at a minimum I could at least read scriptures from it. Also, I could have prepared a comment or two in Spanish ahead of time, like I did when I was in Mexico, but I procrastinated and ran out of time.

The meeting began, and I enjoyed it. Being only 6 publishers, obviously everyone comments. A lot. And the 3 brother took turns on every other part. I realized how much preparation each must do for every meeting. Because for sure they have several parts each. Every week.

When the meeting was over they invited me to eat, which would have been great, but I already made plans with the Israelis. I took a photo with them and said goodbye, and promised I would try to return someday when my spanish was better and I could participate.

I ran back the 6 blocks back to the hostel, because I was late for dinner. When I got there, Natalie was slaving over the stove, adding eggs to what looked like cross between stew and pasta sauce. It’s called Shakshooka. They asked me to say a prayer, which i thought was interesting. (Later Ron told me he was impressed with my prayer and realized he should pray more. The problem was he did not know who to pray to. That turned into another good discussion while we were traveling on the bus.), We ate it with bread. It was super good and I am definitely going to try and make it when I get home. I stayed up again playing cards with them and talking more about religion. 

Friday morning it was off to the bus stop. I stopped at the hall to leave some money for a donation, because I had forgot the night before. I left it with the brother who lived behind the hall. I was told previously that he and his wife were special pioneers. He accepted and urged me to return someday.

The bus ride was uneventful. You have to switch buses at the border. Once we were in Esquel, I had lunch with the Israelis and the took a taxi to the hostel where my family was staying.

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Days 19-21: Chaitén

January 31st, 2011 by *MoonDogg*

There is a volcano outside the city of Chaitén that is also called Chaitén. It erupted a few years ago, and while a majority of the ash was blown east to Futaleufu, Chile and Esquel, Argentina, there was a great deal of destruction done to the city of Chaitén as a result of a river overflowing. It wiped out something like 6 city blocks, dragging whole houses out into the ocean. 

As we walked into town I had an eerie feeling. I realized later it was partially due to the lack of electricity. There were no lights on anywhere. It was early morning, but after sunrise so it was plenty light out, but still you expect to see some lights. Porch lights. Living room lights. But there really weren’t any. And also, I didn’t notice it at first, I think subconsciencely I did, but the power lines were all missing. The poles were still standing, but no wires. 

As we were walking down the street, looking down each block, the town just seemed dead. A ghost town. 

Then a van pulled up, and a man named Nicholas started asking my dad some questions. Turns out he runs a small business in town, Chitur, with a variety of services, primarily as a guide to the Pumalin park, but also other hikes, transportation, bus tickets, etc. He’s a little eccentric, but a nice guy and really knowledgable about the area and the volcano. He helped us find a place to stay, and urged us to join the group he was taking out that day to go hiking. We weren’t sure we wanted to but he kept telling us he was going to be busy the next day and today would be best. As it turned out, he would urge us to join him on the next days outing as well… Just a guy trying to make a living I guess.

We had breakfast at a little restaurant. There were no lights on inside. Many places had generators for electricity, but still kept the usage to an absolute minimum. Fortunately our cabanas kept their electricity on for all but a few hours in the early morning. Supposedly they had an agreement of some kind with the gas station where they received free or discounted gas for their generator. They also had plenty of water, which was not the case at the first place we stopped. That place had no water, and didn’t know when it would return.

We got settled in and ready to go our a day hike with Nicholas. While we were waiting I decided to walk further down our street to where the river overflow damage was. There were whole blocks of houses partially buried in about 4 or 5 feet of gravel and sand. Many of them still had their furniture inside, curtains in the windows, etc. Basically sitting the same way they were when the volcano erupted. It was quite saddening to think of all the families and lives that were abruptly interrupted. (Side note: I have heard two conflicting stories. One was that the entire town was evacuated on week before the eruption. The other was that many people were there when it happened. I’ve not had time to research and find the truth.) There were some excavators moving around some large boulders shoring up the sides of the new river.

Basically, the river used to run north to south on the east edge of the city, parallel to the coastline, with the city in between. After the eruption, the river broke through the middle of the town toward the ocean. The “beach” is now much bigger that it was, and littered with debris, old tree stumps, parts of houses, clothing, shoes, etc. I imagine there is a ton of glass and other sharp objects just beneath the surface. I don’t think it’s going to be a safe place to walk barefoot or swim for a long time. There was no sense in trying to force the river back the way it used to go, so now they are just reenforcing the sides of it. The part of town still standing to the South of the new river is below sea level and still considered dangerous and not many people live there. At least until the new river is properly built up.

I guess the government gave homeowners vouchers to buy houses anywhere in the country, and many took advantage, but many decided to stay, and fight to keep the government from forcing them out. There are conspiracy theories about the discovery of gold or other minerals in the area being a primary reason why the government wanted to get everybody out. But in the end, the citizens prevailed and they are slowly bringing the city back to life.

Our guided tour of Pumalin park, a privately owned nature preserve owned and built by the founder of The North Face, started with a long ride on a dirt road. There were several people simply getting a ride to a campground. Others of us we’re going hiking. We stopped a few times to take a look at the damage caused by the eruption. Some of the trees that looked dead in the area that were obliterated, were actually growing again. We were told that the kind of growth they are seeing was not expected for 10 years. 

Along the dirt road where we we’re looking at the volcano, there were these giant flies that were just absolutely annoying and apparently attracted to black, which I was wearing. There were two kinds, and both of them liked to bite, through your clothing. What was interesting about them is they were not really afraid. You could actually grab or flick them off without any trouble, but there were so many, it was futile effort.

Also, there was this crazy huge dragon fly that landed on my foot. I was able to get it to walk onto my hand. It had a broken front leg, but I don’t think it was much of a hindrance for it. Once I started holding it and playing with it, it started acting like a dog. By that I meet it kept following me around, landing on my legs, my shoulder, my arm. It was doing tricks and even, and this is not a lie, it rolled over and played dead. I have a picture of it. It also landed on the leg of another girl named Laura who was with us, and she walked  Some 50 yards with it there. It was the coolest thing. I love dragonflies. Always have. This one was like a pet and I wanted to take it home.

My pet dragonfly playing dead

Our first hike was short, and on a trail that led to several large trees. Called the Alerce, they were only recently designated as protect by law, and are the second oldest trees in the world,  behind the Bristlecone. They used to be cut down quite often, and there are not nearly as many as there used to be.

The second hike was a bit longer,  about 2 hours, and went to some waterfalls. Both hikes were very beautiful, and the trails themselves were very impressive. Lots of wood bridges, stairs, ladders and elevated sections. The area is a rain forest, and very lush, with lots of birds, frogs, babbling brooks, etc. I constantly felt like I was listening to one of my rainforest ambient sleep tracks.

At the very top of the longest hike were two couples, each with infants, one only two months old. I was impressed that they carried their kids that far, especially since many parts of the trails were pretty sketchy.

The second day it rained most of the day. Khristian and my dad did some walking around the destroyed neighborhoods taking a lot of photos, while I hung out at the tourist info center talking to the woman who worked there, Barbara, asking a lot of questions about the area. There I also met John from Canada, who tipped me off to go rafting in Futaleufu. 

That afternoon we stayed inside and tried to watch True Grit on my iPad, but the speakers on the iPad are weak sauce (as are so many other features of it) so it was really difficult. Especially with the wind roaring outside. We had to sit around the dining table and and sit with 3 feet of it. I had to construct some sound deflection and still I had a hard time hearing. I think having some small travel speakers would be nice. But even with the sound difficulty, it was a good movie. 

That night we had spaghetti and I think I had a bottle of wine to myself. I slept well.

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Days 15-18: Puerto Montt, Puerto Varas, and Quellon

January 28th, 2011 by *MoonDogg*

The bus ride to Puerto Montt had two border stops. One for Argentina, and one for Chile. There was a small incident at the second one. They had passed out customs forms on the bus, and we were to declare and animal or plant products we were carrying. I knew I had some fruit and sardines, so I claimed them. When we got off the bus we were lined up in two lines and asked to put our bags in front of us, and hold out our declaration paper, with the form facing away from us for officer to read. Then a soldier with a dog, a Labrador if I recall correctly, walked along the lines and one at a time the dog would sniff the bags. Now, here is where the whole operation becomes a joke.

The dog sniffed Khristian’s bag, and then put his paw on it, a sign that there is something of interest inside. The soldier reached into his pocket to retrieve a treat for the dog, and it was happily received. The soldier asked Khristian if he had any food in is bag. Khristian said no, and the soldier moved on. Next the dog sniffed my bag. He promptly out his paw upon it, and received another treat. The soldier asked me if I had any food, and I said ‘sí.’ Then he wrapped a tag on the handle and moved on to the next person. 

It went this way for some time, as there were probably 60 passengers on the bus that day. Finally the dog gets to a older French gentleman, and again, puts his paw in his bag, and gets his treat. The soldier questions the man, who pulls out a plastic bag with a lemon in it. Now it gets serious. The soldier looks at the man’s paperwork, and he had claimed that he had no food. The soldier says ‘this is a serious problem for you’. And ‘you will be fined $200’. Ouch. I’m not sure the French guy even understood what he was saying. But I started getting worried that maybe I didn’t fill out my form correctly. We then had to file out and have our bags run through an x-ray machine. Had they forgotten about my bag? Should I toss the food out in the trash, perhaps along with the tag? What would be the consequences? Will I end up in a Chilean jail? That would be an experience I could write about. After all, this is supposed to be an adventure trip. I decide to just let it play out, and it turned out that after the X-ray they wanted to see what was in my bag, and I pulled out some nectarine seeds. They acknowledged that is what the dog smelled, had me throw them away, and move on. 

Now, the are several holes in this whole operation. The first is when Khristian simply denied having any food, despite the dog indicating to the contrary, they simply took his word for it. Secondly, I had ample opportunity to dispose of anything that was in my bag. I even could have gone to the restroom to do so, and nobody would have known. Lastly, I pulled out a couple seeds and showed them to the soldier, and he let me go. I could have had a lot more food in my bag. They didn’t check it. Perhaps I’m spending too much time even talking about this, but it just made me realize, and not for the first time, the futility of all these security procedures and formalities, and how easy they are to infiltrate if you were really intent on it.

OK, so now were are in Chile, and on our way to Puerto Montt. I had no idea what to expect there, but was assuming it would be a mountain town similar to Bariloche. I found this itinerary we were following in a guide book, and it was supposed to be a loop of Patagonia. So it stood to reason the list of towns to visit would be places where we could find outdoor adventure. Well, that was not the case.

Puerto Montt is more of a ‘gateway’ to Patagonia. It is a port city, where you can find passage to various parts of Patagonia, especially by boat or ferry. But city itself is not some place you want to spend a great deal if time if your intent is to see the great outdoors. It’s an interesting enough place, but spend the day walking around, have dinner, get a good nights sleep and move on. Unfortunately we were to be there for several days. The buses and ferries south don’t leave every day, so you really have to plan out your trip according to their schedules, and so in order to get to Chaitén, where the real fun would start, we had to stay a few nights in Puerto Montt. 

We arrived at the bus terminal late, around 10 PM. The terminal was empty. We were approached by a man asking if we need a place to stay, and we told him no, we had it covered. He asked where we staying and when we told him, he had a puzzled look, and said there was no such place in town. That is when the fun began.

Khristian had made the reservations, for which I was grateful. It was a bit of a burden constantly trying to plan how we were getting to a next location, and where we we’re going to stay. We definitely were in need of a more streamlined process, and he stepped up and helped out on this one. After the online booking was complete I told him to make sure he had the confirmation email before he logged out. My assumption was that confirmation would have all the info we needed. Unfortunately it did not. No address, and no phone number. The next 30 minutes weren’t very fun. There was a really nice lady who worked for the tourist office. She thought the place we were looking for was in the next town, a 30 minute drive. So we went back and forth and round and round. There were no maps or phone books that would help us, and all Khristian kept saying is ‘everything would be fine if I could just get on the internet’, which was really annoying. We finally decided to get a taxi to take us somewhere we could get online and get the address. 

On the way, the taxi driver got a call, and I believe it was someone with the approximate location of our hostel and it turned out easy to find. Problem solved and lesson learned, I hope.

The place was nice enough, but it was in a very strange location. Seemed like an industrial area. Not the kind of place you would expect to find lodging for tourists. It turned out to be quite far from el centro, and we walked about a half hour that first day trying to get downtown and find some food and an ATM. Which was the second crisis. My parents were having trouble finding an ATM that would take their card. I used one in the grocery store and was ready to eat, but my mom didn’t trust any ATM that wasn’t in a bank. So we walked and walked and walked. And I was getting pretty irritated. I just wanted to eat. And I had money, and could pay for everybody. But we kept walking and searching and failing. After about nine banks, they finally got money. It seems they have a new type of card that does not work with older ATMs, especially those found in South America.

On a side note, we did see a large group of brothers and sisters doing house to house work, and we stopped to say hello to them. We asked them where the Kingdom Hall was and their meeting times, but it did not turn out that we would be able to make it, if we wanted to catch the bus and boat to Chaiten.

So a couple days in Puerto Montt, and a day trip to Puerto Varas (which is on a lake and a much nice place to stay if you have the choice) and the we were back on the bus and on our way to Quellón, on the island of Chiloé. 

Chiloé is supposed to be a really neat place, and I’m sure it is, but we didn’t get to see much of it. It was pretty enough, and the houses and ranches along the highway were interesting to look at. Once in Quellón, we quickly found a place to stay. It was a good place with a restaraunt and bar. We had dinner and then went walking around to check out the town. It’s a small fishing village, on the very southeastern side of the island.

One of the things I noticed about the last several towns is that is seems like at one time they were very nice, but had fallen on hard economic times. For example the city buses were obviously state of the art at one time. VW, Mercedes, etc. Nice buses. But they were all now quite old, and I don’t expect they will be upgraded any time soon.

On Friday, we were not scheduled to leave on the boat until midnight. So we had all day to again look around the town. I spent some time trying to upload more photos, and also some time at the internet cafe trying to resurrect my iPad. It’s jailbroken, but the current method of JB for the latest iOS version is a “tethered” solution, which means if I have to reboot my iPad for any reason, i.e. battery dies, it crashes, etc. it needs to be connected to a computer and I need to run the JB utility to boot it. Otherwise it will just hang at the apple logo.

I knew this and had prepared for such a circumstance by loading the necessary JB tools on my thumb-drive. Unfortunately, I forgot to also load the stock iPad ROM on my thumb drive. The JB tool needs it to load some files during the boot process. Ugh! That is a 550+ MB file! Do you realize how slow the internet is around here, especially in Internet cafes? Seriously, I have not experienced such slow speeds since the 90’s. Everything I read said getting internet access in South America was not going to be a problem. I beg to differ. The speeds are horrendous, and the typical WiFi hotspot, and granted there seem to usually be plenty of them, much more than in the states, performs so poorly that it becomes a lesson in patience trying to accomplish even basic tasks. Forget trying access anything requiring even modest bandwidth. And downloading a tv show for the bus ride?  LOL. 

But I digress. I was eventually able to get the file downloaded and resurrect my iPad. Good thing, or I would be carrying around this fancy high tech gadget that would be about as useful to me as a curling iron.

On another tangent, while I’m on the subject, a suggestion for anyone that is going to travel and use Internet cafes. Sign up for LastPass. It is a password storage and management tool. Then, at a minimum, setup a set of ‘one time passwords’ (OTP) and a ‘password grid’, print them out and carry them in your wallet. Or using a variety if methods you could carry them on your smartphone (Dropbox, Springpad, Evernote, etc.)

Then what you do is you load up all your passwords in Lastpass. When using a public computer, you login to Lastpass using an OTP. That way, if there is any kind of key logger on the computer that captures your password, it can’t be used in the future, because each can only be used ‘one-time’. So generate enough to cover how many times you plan on using a public computer on your trip. You can always generate more, but it would not be wise to do so on a public computer. Also, if for whatever reason you feel you OTPs have been compromised, you can cancel them all.

The grid is a secondary security option. You generate a unique grid numbers and letters serving as XY coordinates. When you login to a unknown computer, lastpass will prompt you with 4 XY coordinates. You obtain the values in this coordinates in your grid, and enter them. If correct, login is successful. Once in, you can automatically launch and login to your saved sites without typing any login names or passwords. It’s the best way I know of to safely access your bank, email, Facebook, etc. using untrusted computers?  

OK, enough geeking out for one day.

After getting my iPad working I went back to the restaurant where we had stayed to have a beer and get on the internet. There I met Adam and Adrienne. The were riding motorcycles around SA. Turns out Adrian was from Vancouver, Canada. She was traveling by herself, and had met Adam on the road. He Australian, but had been living in Bolivia, I think.

They both turned out to be really cool, and we sat and talked for hours while we waited for our boat, as they were going to Chaitén as well. Adrienne was a lawyer, and she had worked for several years for the Olympic committee in preparation for and during the games in 2010. She had some amazing stories and even more epic photos of her trip. I’ve dreamed of such a trip myself, since I was a kid actually. Talking to her made me realize it’s not that far out of reach. Of course there next comes the reality of how do travel the world and yet maintain my dedication to Jehovah. That is what is difficult and that’s when I tell myself ‘ in the new system’.  Of course, I am sure in a small way I can still serve Jah fully, and see some of the world. I need to start working on that.

We were given a map to the dock where we needed to catch the boat. It was a bad map. Really bad. We thought it was walking distance, turned out to be much farther, and we again found ourselves sort of panicking, because we were told we need to board by 10PM, and it was 9:55 and we were lost. We finally flagged down a taxi, and he drove us the 2 miles or so we still had left, and we made it on board no problem.

We were in a big room with hundreds of seats and passengers. It would have been a fine way to travel, except it was going to be an overnight trip. I ended up scoring my own row of three seats. I blew air into my down travel pillow, put in my ear plugs, put on my eye mask, and stretched out across the seats. And I actually slept very well. In fact when I woke up in the morning I though it was still late. I pulled the mask off and to my surpise the lights were on and most everyone was up and walking around. Then I pulled the  ear plugs out and realize how loud it was. Which brings me to travel tip number two. Ear plugs and an eye mask: don’t leave home with out them. (a bandana works well to cover your eyes when sleeping, and serves many other purposes as well, like as a towel to dry your hands and face when restrooms have no towels.)
After a 7 hour trip, we got off the boat and walked for 10 minutes into Chaitén, and into a dream.

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Purto Varas, Chile

January 26th, 2011 by *MoonDogg*

My location: Resolving… 41°19.066′ S, 72°58.931′ W,-72.98218

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Days 9-14 Bariloche, Refugio Lopez, and Refugio Frey.

January 24th, 2011 by *MoonDogg*

Wednesday, January 19th. 

Wednesday was uneventful. More checking out the town, hiking in the hills to take photos of the lake, reading about things to do and trying to make plans. We are starting to realize the need to spend at least some time planning ahead so that we don’t waste a day doing nothing.

Oh, and Khristian met his childhood hero:

Khristian and his childhood hero

We did finally find a Mexican restaurant to eat at, but that was a bit disappointing. We received some coupons from a guy on the street that promised a free margarita. No need to ask us twice, we’re there! (on a side note, the coupon mentioned in big bold letters that the food was NOT spicy. That should have been a clue to what we were in for). We got our free margaritas, straight from the machine that was making them. They were small, had little or no tequila, and sugar on the rim. Certainly not what my taste buds were anticipating. Then came the bread (sourdough?) and salsa. Strike two. Finally, my tacos, beans and rice. The tacos were actually pretty good. The beans and rice a bit bland. Overall, not the worst Mexican I’ve ever had, and under the circumstances, I did enjoy it. 

Thursday we decided to go for a hike to a Refugio called Lopez, on Cerro Lopez. It was supposed to be a 6 hour return. We took a 30 minute bus ride to Catedral. At the trailhead was a food stand, where we ate panchos (hot dogs) with potato chips on top. Also really good, but not something I would eat regularly. The hike started out tough right away, and didn’t ease up until the last couple miles. It was really steep, and seemed to go straight up the mountainside, with very few switchbacks. I completely overdressed. When we arrived in Bariloche it was raining, windy and cold. The next day it not raining, but the wind and cold did not let up. The lake was covered in white-capped waves. And there was talk it might start raining again on Thursday where we were going hiking. So, I broke out my cold weather gear, and piled it on. Not only was it not raining there, it was sunny and hot. I gradually stripped down to shorts and a T. Unfortunately, because I was planning on being bundled up I didn’t put on any sunscreen and I regretted it. That night blisters formed on my nose and I woke up in the middle of the night with water leaking out of them and down my face. I hate when that happens.

The Refugio was kind of cool. The view from up there was spectacular. There was more hiking to be had higher up, but it was much more difficult, and a combination of being tired and fear if trip ruining injury kept us from attempting it. There will be plenty of hikes to come.

Which brings me to Friday and Frey. Another popular Refugio, Frey is a bit further in the mountains than Lopez. We had made a reservation for 4 to stay the night there, but my parents opted out so it was just K and I. The trail we took starts at the bottom of the renowned ski resort Cerro Catedral. The first couple miles are fairly easy, sort of just wrapping around the base of the mountain, with only a light elevation gain. Then the trail turns into a valley and starts climbing. But it is still a gradual climb, not the the previous hike we did. And it’s mostly in the trees, and runs along a large stream, so it’s cool, and protected from the sun. My legs were definitely worked from the day before, but not feeling too bad. I knew this was going to be a longer hike, but the fact we would not be returning until the next day made it easier. 

The were several stream crossings, many with cool wood bridges. Overall a very nice and enjoyable trail. I was surprised to see so many young kids especially up towards the top. Pretty impressive that they were able to hike so far. At one point we came to a clearing where people can set up their tents. There was a little wood hut that was build into the overhang of a very large rock. At first it seemed really cool, but once I got close I discovered that many people have burned fires inside and the small was unbearable. What a waste. It would be nice to sleep in there.

It was also at this time, when I was actually feeling pretty strong, especially considering I was coming down with something and had a nasty sore throat and horrible cough, that I noticed a sign I wish I had never seen. It said “Frey 1hs.” ugh! What energy and enthusiasm I had left disappeared instantly. It was all mental, of course, but sometimes what is in our minds is what is most important. I sat down and considered calling it quits. I felt like I had been hiking forever and my legs, only moments ago full of vim and vigor, were protesting any further duty. I sat down on a rock sighed, and tried to get my head wound the idea of another hour of hiking. 

A few minutes later we were pressing on, Actually, Khristian took off without me, so really, what choice did I have. I soon caught up to him, and we started the hardest part of the hike. This was steeper, but it was also approaching the tree line, and we could now see the jagged peaks around us. They were amazing, and a source of motivation to keep pushing. Khristian spotted some tents on the hillside, and then the Refugio was in sight. We were almost there!

Upon arrival we we’re greeted by Lucia. We told here we had reservations, but she could not find our names on her list. “No worries” she said, “we have plenty of room”. She offered us some lemonade as more hikers were arriving. 

There were a dozen or so tents that I could see, and a two small buildings. One was for people who wanted a private room, and one was the banos. There was an enclosed room on the outside of the main building that served as the kitchen and dining area for campers. Inside was another kitchen and dining area for people that wanted to buy food. They had a pretty extensive menu, and two types of draft beer. I opted for the negra, and it hit the spot. 

There seemed to be three or four employees, all women, and I was curious how much time they spend there. One had been there for 3 months, another 1 month. Their supplies are delivered by helicopter. They were working furiously on preparing the dinner, cutting vegetables, boiling this and that. We opted to eat with them, and it turned out to be really good lasagna, and a large portion. We ate dinners with people from Germany, Brazil, France, and San Diego. 

After dinner we went to get in our bunks, which was awkward because there were so many people already sleeping, it was pitch black, and every step made loud creaking noises. We rented sleeping bags, but probably could have gotten by without them, as it was plenty warm. There were unverified claims that I s’mores loudly all night. Yeah. Sure.

In the morning we had some coffee, said goodbye to some of the people we met, and started the hike back down. Overall it was a really good time, and I hope we have some more experiences that are similar.
Sunday I spent sitting around all day writing and uploading photos, trying to get caught up. I didn’t quite, and as it is, that Sunday was the 21st, and I’m writing this on the 31st. Everyone else went to some outdoor market or fair. We spent one more night in Bariloche, and then Monday morning caught a bus for Puerto Montt.

Many more pictures in my GALLERY

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Bariloche, Argentina

January 18th, 2011 by *MoonDogg*

After a really long bus ride on a really nice bus, we have made it to San Carlos de Bariloche

My location: Mitre 201-299 San Carlos de Bariloche Rio Negro Argentina 41°08.040′ S, 71°18.368′ W,-71.30614

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