la vida buena…

From guest blogger Jules:

(advance apologies for the length of this email, but i don’t skimp on the
details, people)

?hola chicos!

bienvenidos a the continuing saga de “la aventura excelente de jules y
alex.” strap yourselves down and get ready to partake in the journey,
wherein we venture further south, get a new stamp en our ole pasaportes,
spend well over 100,000 pesos apiece in the space of just a few days, feed
our budding addiction to the nectar de durazno (peach juice, mmmmm),
befriend heaps of crazy travellers and trekkers, indulge in some wicked
potent alcoholic concoctions and later pay the price, gaze upon the most
awe-inspiring vistas en todo el mundo, and i meet the tiniest dog of my
life… ?listos? ?vamanos!

despues de fitzroy, we rambled southward from calafate, argentina to puerto
natales, chile, by bus. we commenced to exploring los calles de puerto
natales, along with the herds of stray dogs running in packs–perros de
muchos tipos y talles, some big, some small, some really really small. once
in chile, we had the great amusement to withdraw currency of mind-blowing
denominations from the local atm, as the exchange rate and standard price of
things here is different than that in argentina. we get 550 chilean pesos
for $1 (versus about 3 argentine pesos per dollar), which sounds like a lot,
but then a piece of fruit may cost 200 pesos, our hostel stay cost 5000
pesos por noche, and a pair of stylin’ puma shoes (?que rico!) will set you
back 30000 or 40000 pesos… regardless, we were feeling mighty rich walking
around with 10000-peso bills in our pockets! as we journeyed about town,
many of the shops had stereos out in the street, pumping out the beats, and
it was great to hear so much music… la musica es como miel in mis orejas.
el sabor diferente (the different flavor) de chile was a truly refreshing
change from our base camp in calafate…

after sometime, we stumbled upon a quirky-but-comfy little hostel run by 2
mellow, down-to-earth, friendly characters, and caught some z’s on their
sunken-in mattresses. the next morning we rose early and hopped a bus to el
parque nacional torres del paine, glimpsing guanacos (a cousin of the llama)
y flamingos hanging out around the lakes. immediately, the rich matrix of
the landscape captured mi corazon, from the imposing black-on-white rock
faces, to the blue glacial ice spilling out of the high basins, to the
prickly green and yellow pincushions of the shrubs carpeting the hillsides,
to the intense turquoise lakes… ?que magnifico!

after a boat ride deposited us on the far shores of lago pehoe beneath the
impressive cuernos del paine mountain range, we strapped on our mochilas
(backpacks) grandes and hit the trail, which took us along the rim of a
gargantuan glacial valley above a monster lago verde, all the way to the
terminus of massive glaciar grey. we camped there beneath the glacier on the
black sandy beach, in close proximity to gobs of other trekkers (as in
fitzroy), all speaking in native tongues, spread out upon the beach like a
smorgasboard of flavors in an international buffet… a wienerschnitzel
here, a spring roll there, haggus next door to us, and a huge gang of
british youths, talking all tea-and-crumpets at the top of their lungs. in
many ways, a pretty cool scene, but then again it takes awhile for everyone
to pipe down at the end of the night, so sleeping can be a challenge…

the following day, despite being throttled by the elements (el sol y el
viento fuertisimo) we missioned it a good 20 km or so, to another camp at
the base of the spectacular valle de frances, which we lazily explored on
day three. we hiked up through beech forest, past small glaciers and a
roaring rio, into an unbelievable cirque, and kicked back to revel in the
360 degree panorama of majestic mountains, impressive towers, horns, and
aretes–this ridiculous skyline, totally vast and wonderful, surrounding us.
the vista was enough to break your mind, almost too large to take in. later,
as we chilled in camp, we met a fine group of 3 chilenos and 2 chicas de
norteamericano, and shared some comida and a box of red wine. day four was
another trek-til-you-drop kind of day, as we made our way from the plateau
below the cuernos, weaving over alluvial fans and up and down deep creek
channels, into the next valley, where we endured a *grueling* climb above
the powerful rio ascensio gorge to bring us within reach of the legendary
torres del paine. we camped below them on a small forested ledge and prayed
for good weather in the morning, when we hoped for a chance to gawk at the
torres, our grand finale for day five…

of course, when your alarm goes off at 5:30 am, you think, oh how i just
want to be lazy, its dark and cold out there, its soft and warm and sleepy
en mi bolsa de dormir… but then you reach deep down in your guts and pull
out something, sheer will, and pry yourself up and start walking (well,
stumbling), into the wind, your headlamp guiding the way up a faint trail in
a sea of massive talus boulders. and then, after climbing and climbing, you
are there, and the sunrise is just beginning, casting a surreal red glow on
some of the most brilliant towers of rock on the planet, and right there
before your eyes las piedras increibles son en fuego, and its almost too
beautiful to comprehend. pure unequivocal awe, amazement, thankfulness, a
moment when all your sweat and pain and arduous footwork is more than worth

the torres at sunrise were quite a special sight, and afterwards, we boogied
down, down, down, mas abajo towards the exit point at the valley bottom,
where we reconvened with 2 chicas de nebraska we met along the trail. we
planned to celebrate the completion of our treks in style back in puerto
natales, after some long-awaited, much-needed duchas (showers) at our
respective hostels. by chance, we also met up with our other friends back in
town, and invited them along as well, to an intriguing local watering hole,
“el bar de ruperto.” our group was muy divertido, conversations in several
languages, and a bilingual rendition of “cumplea?os feliz” para jose (un
amigo chileno). after enjoying mucho vino, “chanchos,” and some local beers,
our curiosity was piqued by some of the bebidas misteriosas (mystery shots)
on the menu… especialmente “las cucarachas,” que tienen tequila, brandy, y
ron, y estan en fuego (we didn’t realize how many potent alcohols were
involved until it was too late). of course we were quite enamored with the
fact that these drinks were on fire, and joyfully tossed a few rounds
back… next thing i knew, the bar was spinning, or was i? this is when the
events become fuzzy… en el ba?o, i put my face in the toilet and let ‘er
rip, how you say, “?? toss the cookies?!” ?vomitar! yo vomite tres vezes…
and was escorted safely back by mis amigos nuevos to the hostel to pass out
for good (by the way, i wasn’t the only one to lose it after the
cucarachas… apparently after i departed, one of the chilenos hurled big,
four times, right there in the bar). just for the record, a hangover feels
just as good south of the equator as it does at home. but it sure was a fun
time, eh! ?viva la fiesta!, en todos los dias.

and now, with clean laundry, a fresh outlook, and a fine new buddy (pierre,
de frances) we are en route by bus to ushuaia, argentina, tierra del
fuego–el fin del mundo. tonight, we stay in punta arenas, chile, and
tomorrow, a long bus trip (12+ horas), across a great canal by ferry, and
we’ll be at the very bottom of the continent, hopefully to do some trekking,
eat some king crab, see some penguins, and revel in endless daylight hours
(already, we have been getting a good 15 hours or so of sol every day, not
too shabby). so, i’ll be sending home to all of you, my dear friends, some
good vibes from as far south as one can get (unless you can make the spendy
voyage to antarctica… brrrrrr). i hope you are all quite well and doing
fun things wherever you might be, and i think of each of you along my way.
thanks for your emails, it warms mi corazon to feel your love from clear
across the globe. salud y buena suerte, todos!

mucho amor,