I am not sure when it happened, but early on in South America I stopped reading other travelers blogs, even our friends. Part of that was because we never had WIFI, part of it was the more we traveled, the more I felt like I wanted to have our “own” trip and not be influenced by things others were doing. Also, I found that it was easy to see some amazing picture or stories of a place that we did not go and feel regret that we missed something special.
Coming to terms with the fact that we could not see even a portion of all that South America had to offer in the year we spent here was hard, feeling regret was a distraction. I wanted us to be focused on the positive and regret is a nasty little emotion. So the more we traveled, the more we “winged it” relying more on local maps, tourist information centers, local advice and our guide books when we were in cities.
This freed us up to be bolder in our exploration, it also caused us to argue sometimes (especially when we were tired) when decisions had to be made and neither of us had any idea where we should go or what we should do. But somehow, the longer we traveled, the better we got at it all, and I feel like we had a trip that was true to who we are and what we loved doing.
One of the maps I really loved was the COPEC maps. COPEC is a huge gas station chain in Chile that had everything from free wifi to clean, hot showers. COPEC also puts out many really good maps and map/guides that were very similar to the Mile Post book we loved in Alaska. The Zona Sur guide 2015 is the only resource I used in Chile, especially in Chilean Patagonia. It rates sites, covers tourist attractions, suggests driving routes and has really detailed maps that told us if the road was dirt, paved, a ferry crossing or basically a hiking trail. The only negative was it is in Spanish, but if I can figure out a way to understand it, anyone can.
In the COPEC guide I read about Cuevas de Marmol (marble caves) in Lago General Carrera and I decided we should visit. I was intrigued. The fun thing is that Sam just kind of goes with the flow and lets me plan stuff (he actually does not like to plan things so I do it) so he is always surprised when we get to places.
In the morning as we were getting on the boat he asked, “So we are taking a boat to see caves in a lake in the early morning? I am not sure about this….” I told him to trust me and as our boat got to the first group of caves I am fairly sure he yelled out “Holy s@#!”. The caves in the morning sun were so impressive, spectacular if I might be so bold. Worth waking up at 6:30am to see. I was not very good at editing out pictures, so here are way too many pics of these lovely caves created by thousands of years of erosion.
Cuevas de Mármol
While we were in Puerto Rio Tranquilo we also decided to go trekking on glacier Exploradores part of the northern Patagonian ice field. We first tried to see if we could do it on our own and went to talk to the CONAF office in town. They told us that nobody is allowed on the glacier without a guide so we had to book an all day tour that was pricey, but worth it for us. The only trouble with any group tour is that you never know who you will get as part of your small group. We were only seven people, three young Chileans guys, an fit young Australian and a young girl from the Philippines who had never hiked before in her life. Never……
The thing about signing up for a seven hour trek across boulders and ice is that you will be, well, trekking. It was seven hours of hard hiking because most of it was across boulder fields where the glacier had receded and then wearing crampons on steep ice after that. Our young girl who had never hiked was terrified the entire trip, needed help constantly over the boulder field and slowed us down tremendously. I gave her my hiking poles to help, we took turns holding her hands over the boulders and I tried not to lose my patience. Everyone that was part of our group was really great and supportive of each other, it just was just very slow going because of one person who honestly was in no condition to be doing such a strenuous hike. This unfortunately limited our time on the glacier because it took us so long to get to it.
When we got on the glacier it was so much fun, it was my first time hiking in crampons and I loved it! Martin our guide said that we were super lucky to have a perfectly sunny, 80 degree, wind free day on the glacier. He said there are only about ten days a year that are like this one so we hit the weather jackpot. We climbed into ice caves, drank pristine water from glaciers, listened to the loud crack and pop of ice and had a super fun time on the ice.
When we returned from the glacier I saw a few other groups stopped along the way, both of them had people with them who looked like they were on the verge of heat stroke and over exertion. One poor American lady who looked to be my Moms age and who was not in very good shape was panicked and crying under the shade of a rock saying she could not make it back. She was beet red. I was worried about her so I gave her one of my electrolyte packs, but I am not sure how she even got back to the road.
The tour groups seem to be selling these tours to anyone who would buy them and even when we bought it I was not aware of how long the hike was going to be. We had a great time even with our “slow hiker” and mainly because of our wonderful Chilean guide Martin, but I am curious how many people are doing this everyday that really should not be. So that is the only buyer beware part of booking a tour, you could have a group of people who are not really prepared or able to do this hike. But, hey, we still got to climb all over the Patagonia northern ice field, even if it was at a snails pace. =)