Torres del Paine National Park is well-known for two major treks. One is called the W, and the other is the O… very creatively named for the approximate shapes of the trails. Based on our time constraints and wanting to have some diversity in our trip, Mike and I decided to do the shorter W (4 days rather than 8ish). For sleeping arrangements, you can choose to camp with your own tent, camp with rented equipment (that’s already set up at the campsites), or sleep in refugios (aka indoors with a bunk bed). For food, you can either bring your own, bring some of your own and get breakfast and dinner provided at the campsite, or get breakfast and dinner plus a bag lunch.

A map of the park with different legs of the trail highlighted
Here’s a map I marked up in an attempt to simplify this explanation for you. The W trek is the pink, blue, orange, and purple lines put together. The O is those plus the green line over the top. Our first day was spent going from the bottom of the pink line to the top and then back again.

We were trying to do this on the cheap (well, I was. Mike was fine with spending some money. I guess that’s what happens when you actually have an income. I don’t remember what that’s like…), so we brought our own tent and packed our own food. The challenge with that was the fact that most people bring camp stoves and eat actual food during the trek. We had no camp stove and no desire to figure one out before our trip… so we packed all dry food. I felt okay about that because it was only going to take four days. Any longer and we would have considered other options, I think. But nope! Four days and a good supply of protein bars, peanut butter (and jelly for Mike), bread, ham and cheese, gross chocolate cookies that I picked out (whoops! You win some, you lose some), peanuts, and dry ramen noodles (for me. I actually kind of like them that way. Mike thinks I’m crazy). Hehehe. Maybe it wasn’t the most elegant solution, but it worked just fine.

I was VERY worried about our first day of hiking. Mike and I have hiked together in the past, and we have very different approaches. I like to stop to take pictures, take frequent snack breaks, and enjoy the ambiance. I keep a good pace usually, but I’m all about the journey. Mike is a speed hiker. He doesn’t take breaks along the way. I don’t understand how he functions. I need snacks! I need water breaks! I need exhaustion breaks! He just powers through until the end. He might be a robot (the most likely explanation).

Selfie of me and Mike
Smiling because this was still very early in the day
Gravel path flanked by green plants and pretty mountains
Such a pretty valley!

We decided to start “early” because I’d rather get out and back early to beat the heat and not have to worry about the sun setting (though with a 10PM sunset on this trip, there wasn’t much danger of that), so we left our campsite at Paine Grande around 7:15. Based on the blogs I read, I was expecting the trails to be crowded. Everyone said that this is the high season, expect crowds, you won’t have that “just you and nature” kind of feeling, so if you’re into that, too bad. I was ready for crowds. We spotted our first hiker approximately 3 HOURS later. Geez, if only the trails were always that crowded. We seriously wondered if maybe we weren’t allowed to be hiking yet, like maybe there were opening times we didn’t know about? Nope. There just weren’t any people. I mean, spoiler alert, there were more people on our way back, but crowded? Definitely not.

Happy Lara walking through the valley before she blew away
You don’t even know how many people we had to ask to hide in the grass so they wouldn’t ruin our pictures

The first part of the hike was through a little valley. It was raining, but after our day on Perito Moreno Glacier, I felt pretty hardcore and was like, “Rain? Psh! NICE TRY, TORRES DEL PAINE. YOU’RE GOING TO HAVE TO DO BETTER THAN THAT.” Then we got out of the valley. And the wind hit us. And I ate my (mental) words.

Valley covered in plants and a pretty, windy trail
Try to tell me this isn’t beautiful (I won’t believe you).
Another view coming out of the valley
I can’t come up with more words to express how pretty it was there

That was around the time that we reached the lookout at Lago Los Patos (Duck Lake) which I, for some reason, thought was a hilarious name. In hindsight I’m not so sure what I was going on about, but I must have laughed about it for a whole mile at least. From Duck Lake on, the day’s hiking followed the lakes’ edges, and it was all incredibly windy.

Lake views with a mountain backdrop and aggressive winds.
Laguna Los Patos. Check out the plants blowing in the wind!
Laguna Los Patos
I can’t get over the colors in the lake!
Streaky rock formation
I thought these rocks were super cool.
Duck Lake
I didn’t realize this until Mike pointed it out, but when you look out in the distance, it looks like the surface of the earth just falls away. Behind this lake is Grey Lake which is at a lower elevation. So weird!

Hiking in the wind is the worst. Especially when the wind might actually be strong enough to blow you away. There were times when it was so strong that my trekking poles essentially turned into stakes that were the only thing keeping me from blowing off the trail. Each time I picked up a foot to take a step, I had zero confidence that it would land where I was aiming. And when the winds were strongest, they pretty much never did.

Lightly forested trail leading away from Laguna Los Patos
Walking away from Duck Lake

Laguna Los Patos is tiny compared to Laguna Grey, the next lake we encountered. We walked along Duck Lake for maybe 15 minutes. We walked along Lake Grey for the rest of our day. It took around three hours to make it to our first real checkpoint, Grey Campsite. That timing was nearly spot-on with the estimate listed on our map, and it made us start to think that we needed to take Chilean hiking estimates much more seriously than we take the ones in the States. At U.S. national parks, if you’re someone who has any experience hiking and is in decent shape, take the hike time they give you and divide it in half. We were thinking that might be the situation here as well, and it was not. Instead, it was like they wanted to give an estimate of how long it would actually take! Imagine that!

Pretty pink flowers along the way
Trail flowers
Grey Lake with some small glacier pieces floating around
Laguna Grey with the first glimpses of glacier pieces. Can you see them?
The hiking trail leading towards snowy mountains
The rocky trail. My feet did NOT like those rocks on the way back.
Grey Lake with its pretty, mountainous surroundings
So. Pretty.
Actually though, my toes were screaming.
Grey Lake with a faint rainbow
Rainbow! We could see both ends of it, too!
Dead tree skeletons
The tour guide on our ride into the park the day before explained why the park is super strict about where you can set fires (only in designated cooking areas). There have been a couple of forest fires accidentally set by hikers, and thanks to the strong winds, they spread crazy quickly and destroyed huge areas of the park. I don’t know if that’s what happened to these trees, but anytime we walked through a tree graveyard, I assumed they were tourist fire trees. They’re eerie, aren’t they? Like sad tree skeletons.
View of a little river gorge from the bridge
We crossed this super cool river along the way
View of the trail with Grey Glacier and Grey Lake in the background
That view… <3

From Grey Campsite, we went on a hunt for the Glacier Grey lookout point (yes, another glacier!). I say “hunt” because the lookout’s location was SO not obvious. Every other trail in the park was extremely well-marked, so I don’t know what happened with this one. After it was all over, I still wasn’t confident that we ended up in the right place. Oh, well. We did find a high point with good views, and what more do you need? Mike’s response to the glacier: “It’s not that cool.” Well, since we were hiking ON a glacier two days prior, yeah, seeing one across a lake wasn’t as impressive. I still thought it was cool though… because everyone knows that glaciers are made of ice! (Bad joke, ignore me.)

View of Grey Glacier and Lake Grey
Checking out Grey Glacier from our “lookout”
Mountains near the glacier. The continuation of the trail runs along the base of them.
Forest view with yellow and orange leaves on the ground
I love the colors!!

When the wind at the “lookout” became too much for even Mike (he said he was getting cold which is something I don’t think I’ve ever heard him say before), we headed back to the main trail. We had one more side trip to take before going all the way back to Paine Grande. There are a couple of suspension bridges near where the O trek meets up with the west side of the W, and I wanted to check at least one of them out. I don’t know what Mike wanted, but I assumed he’d be fine with it because he’s always up for doing more. I guessed that reaching the first one would take about an hour and a half of hiking from the campsite, and apparently at that point in time, an hour and a half extra in each direction (after already being out for 4 hours so far) seemed like a reasonable thing to do

Plank bridge along the way
There were so many fun little bridges and things along the way! I was impressed with the trail building.

For possibly the first time in my life, my estimate was exactly right (estimating is not a strength of mine), and we were there in an hour and a half. I thought the bridge was awesome. It seemed like some people were afraid to walk across, but things like that don’t scare me (I’m only scared of ACTUALLY scary things, like oranges). The height/potential instability probably made me like it even more.

View of the suspension bridge from the side
The suspension bridge! With some random girl crossing
Mike on the suspension bridge
Mike striking a pose
Me crossing the bridge
Venturing across the suspension bridge!

I felt like it was worth the extra time to get there, plus we also got a slightly closer view of the glacier. We crossed and thought about going to the next bridge as well, but as soon as we hit some stairs (maybe like 10 minutes after crossing the bridge), my legs said no way and we turned around.

Slightly closer view of Grey Glacier from below the suspension bridge
Another glacier view
Grey Glacier from slightly closer
Our closest glacier view of the day… aka not very close at all

The walk back to our campsite was painful. Up-and-back hikes are always a little rough because you know that however far you go is how far you’ll have to return. I’d just about reached my limit on the “go”… so the return was rough. My feet hurt. My legs were tired. I had this irritating knee pain that couldn’t seem to decide which knee it wanted to afflict more, so it settled on harassing both. Mike was in his “power through” mode, and I was in my “slowly crumble into pieces” mode. Not compatible.

The trail snaking up a mountain
We went from that nice, wide, rocky trail to this little, skinny, hiding-from-you trail.
Charred tree skeletons along the trail
Tree graveyard.
View of the lake with the water blowing in the wind
Windy, windy, windy

Thanks to a series of brief “second winds” (hehehe) – more like second, third, and fourth winds – I survived (meanwhile, the actual winds were NOT helping). Barely. Mike seemed fine the whole time which made me feel extra pathetic, but he collapsed into the tent when we got back which made me think that maybe he was a little tired too? I had some stellar blisters on my toes which explains the foot pain. My general assessment of my physical condition was, “I’m going to die,” for the first hour of sprawling on the ground, followed by, “Well, maybe not but I definitely need new feet.” I suppose this is what happens when you go straight from 30-minute dance workouts in your living room to 9.5 hour, 17-mile day hikes. Thank goodness I knew that was going to be our longest day because I don’t think I could have done it again without a little recovery time. I felt slightly more alive after a hot shower but was not feeling terribly confident about Day 2.

Me looking like I'm about to blow away

My alarm jolted me awake at 5:15AM, and it didn’t take long for the feelings of soreness and tiredness to sink in. Ugh. Mornings are the worst. Especially early mornings after long days of hiking on glaciers (I know, your feelings of sympathy must be overwhelming). But, we had a bus to Chile to catch, and staying in bed wasn’t an option.

I booked our bus online before the trip because we wanted to take a slightly less common route to save time. Instead of bussing from El Calafate to a town in Chile and then from that town to the national park, I found a company that goes directly from El Calafate to the park. It was a little more expensive but essentially saved us an entire day. Worth it when you have limited time! Booking things online always makes me nervous, so I spent the morning crossing my fingers that the bus was actually going to show up. They sent a confirmation email with a pick-up time of “6:15AM +/- 2 minutes”. That seemed crazy because how can you only give yourself a 4-minute window? Well, turns out that you can’t… or at least you shouldn’t. The bus came at 6:45 which isn’t actually bad, but by then I had already spent 25 minutes going over alternate plans in my head, wondering at what time I should start to seriously panic. Moral of the story (and the ongoing struggle of my life) is that I need to chill and not worry so much.

Mountains along the drive
Decent bus views

It took about 3 hours to get to the border checkpoint between Argentina and Chile. Everyone got off the bus to get stamped out of Argentina, back onto the bus to drive to the Chile checkpoint, and back off again to get into Chile. They’re a little intense about preventing people from bringing fresh foods and uncooked meats into the country, so we had to fill out a form declaring what types of food we had with us while a dog sniffed everyone’s luggage from under the bus. We had lunch meat that was okay because it was cooked and some eggs that were acceptable because they were hard-boiled. Customs was another thing I was irrationally worried about, and of course, it all worked out just fine.

The border adventure took around an hour and a half and then we got onto a smaller bus with the other people who were going directly to the park. We soon realized that most of the people on our bus were doing a day tour which seems absolutely insane. It’s like 10 hours on the road for max 3 hours of actual driving in the park. Oh well. That situation worked to our benefit because instead of taking us straight to our final destination, we got to stop at the viewpoints along the way and listen to the tour guide give background info.

Sarmiento Lake with mountains in the far distance
Our first glimpse of the park across Sarmiento Lake.
Another picture of Sarmiento Lake with a slightly different foreground
Yes this is practically the exact same picture, but I love them both so much and couldn’t decide which to cut so here they both are.

Parque Nacional Torres del Paine was established as a protected area in 1959 after being severely damaged by cattle farming and intentional fires set to clear the land for that purpose. “Paine” means “blue” in the indigenous Tehuelche language, and the “towers of blue” are three granite peaks that form the park’s most distinctive landmark.

A guanaco that we passed on the way to the park
A guanaco chillin’ by the road

The park is diverse in its landscapes, plant and animal life, and climate. There are glaciers, rivers, lakes, and waterfalls, over 500 different types of plants, and 25 native mammals (including a very high concentration of pumas… hurrah!). There are grasslands, shrublands, forests, and deserts. We were amazed by how quickly the entire landscape could change during a day of hiking. Along the way, the guide pointed out some of the different animals. We saw guanacos (similar to llamas), flamingoes, and rheas (large flightless birds).

 

A lesser rhea bird by the side of the road
Spotted! Mike took this picture of a rhea. They’re huge!
Pixelated flamingos near the shores of a lake
Flamingos! Sorry they’re so pixelated but hey, phone zoom has its limits and they were VERY far away (I’m usually very anti-zoom on phones, but trust me, without the zoom you wouldn’t have been able to see them at all).

When we got to the park entrance, we all got off the bus to pay the entry fee, and Mike and I had to register to let them know that we were planning to stay in the park. Some of the people on the tour were confused about what they needed to do, and the guide explained that they only needed to register if they were planning to hike and stay overnight. Someone’s response was, “Why would anyone want to do that?” Ha. The park ranger went over some standard safety stuff with us and gave us park maps which, side note, were incredibly nice. Not only were they very useful information-wise, but they were also made of this soft plastic-y material that made them incredibly durable. It definitely makes sense because of the extreme conditions in the park! Rain, wind, no problem!

Laguna Amarga with its white-ish water and shores
Laguna Amarga (Bitter Lake). It gets its color and weirdly white banks from calcium deposits.
Incredible blue lake
SO BLUE!

We made a few more viewpoint stops inside the park limits before Mike and I were dropped off at the Pudeto catamaran stop and everyone else continued on their merry tour way. Unfortunately, the next boat wasn’t leaving for another 2 hours, so we attempted to find a sheltered place to wait. The wind was insane! This was our first real taste of the famous Torres del Paine winds. The mixing of warm air from the equator and cold air from Antarctica causes strong winds, and since the southern tip of South America is SO far south, there aren’t many land masses in the way to slow them down. I call them the winds blown ‘round the world. It certainly felt like they had a world’s worth of acceleration time.

Mike and me with a lake and mountain backdrop
The girl who took this picture for us asked if I wanted to take another picture because wouldn’t I regret not looking normal? The answer is no, I don’t. No fake smiles here! Instead, it will always remind me of how cold and windy it was.
Me looking like I'm about to blow away
So windy.
Me laughing after nearly blowing away
Impossible to take a normal picture.
Blue lake with big mountains in the distance
Those mountains in the background are exactly where we were headed to hike… not really UP the mountains, but around the bases of them.
Another incredible lake with mountains view
Seriously none of this looks real but I promise I’m not tryna scam you, this is actually what it looks like.
Lake Nordenskjol with mountains in the background
Lake Nordenskjol. Mike and I were baffled by this because the name belongs in Iceland…
Mike and me with a lake and moutains
One cute pic of the two of us. Side note, pretty sure everyone we met thought we were a couple at first and I’m like… we look identical.

The catamaran left right on time (something that consistently threw me off on this trip. My previous South America experiences led me to expect things to always be operating behind schedule, but everything in Patagonia was crazy prompt!), and it took about 30 minutes to go from Pudeto to Paine Grande where we were camping for the night. The water was the same, bright blue as we experienced in Iceland. Beautiful! We only lasted for like 2 minutes outside before we decided to hide from the wind below decks.

Crazy blue water with cloudy mountains in the background
View from the catamaran… mountains looking nice and mysterious, shrouded in clouds.
View from the catamaran
More cloudy shroudy mountains.

On the other side, the catamaran left us right next to our campsite for the night. Oh, and when we were on our way off the boat, Mike went to get our bags and smacked his head on the low ceiling of the baggage area. He sliced his head open (not too badly, but it still wasn’t good) and was started bleeding everywhere. So we were 2/2 for bloody injuries and days of the trip.

We checked in and went to scout out a spot for our tent. Every blog I read before the trip recommended putting your tent near the edge of the mountain to help block some of the wind… which was great to know, except there was literally no space left next to the mountain. No blocked wind for us! It was a fun adventure trying to assemble the tent without blowing away. Once we got inside, neither of us wanted to leave again (also, is it just me or is it incredibly hard to get out of tents?), but I rallied and took a surprisingly hot and satisfying shower before getting ready for bed. We played a few rounds of Hanabi, Mike’s favorite card game, and then passed out. It was probably good that we didn’t have an intense day because even without doing a lot of hiking, we were completely wiped. Plus, we were starting our big trek the next day! We had an upcoming stretch of four fairly intense days of hiking, and as I said in my voice journal for the day, “I’m mildly terrified, but it should be good.” Optimistic!

(Side note, my journaling strategy for the trip was to do voice journals instead of written ones to save time. It worked… okay-ish? I’ll just say that voice recordings are definitely not a strength of mine, as anyone who’s ever received a voicemail from me can attest.)

Looking back at the Paine Grande campground and facilities
Paine Grande campsite. The buildings have beds inside if you’re not doing it on the cheap like us. To the right, you can see tents set up by the mountain.
Hanabi cards from our game
We played a perfect game in Hanabi, nbd but we’re kind of awesome. (It’s a cooperative game which means we both won.)
Full moon over the campus

This was quite the eventful week! Work-wise, it wasn’t much different than last week. I spent more time hunched over my computer and slightly less time pulling my hair out. At least that’s an improvement, right? I guess I should work on the hunching part next so that I don’t get stuck like that.

Anyway, the building plans are slowly, slowly coming along. I have a bunch of questions that need to be answered before I can put together a complete first draft, but at least there’s something on the page now! A tiny bit of progress is still progress.

Full moon over the campus
Moonlit night. Fair warning I forgot to take pictures this week (and there wasn’t much to take pictures of), so whatever your expectations are, lower them (and look forward to the many pictures that will be in my next Patagonia post).

The eventfulness of the week was more related to environmental factors. On Wednesday morning, I woke up early and noticed a weird glow coming from our living room… aliens! Kidding, it was our emergency light which meant the power was out. That was around 5:30AM. We’re not positive about when it went out, but Paul said he woke up around 2 because his fan stopped working (it’s still very hot here).

A pot filled eggs for breakfasts
Irrelevant picture of the week: My weekly egg boil, prepping breakfasts for the week because 1. I’m lazy and 2. we have to be out of the kitchen by 8AM, and I’m usually entering the kitchen at 7:50 which means no time for actual cooking.

We think it was actually a planned outage, but what good is a plan if no one tells people about it? I guess someone knew, but that someone wasn’t anyone connected to us. I would have charged my electronics and printed things out the day before to make it possible to keep moving on my work. But nope, it seemed like everyone’s laptops and phones were on the brink of death. Obviously, the wifi also wasn’t working. All of the essential ingredients for a productive day.

On top of that, no electricity meant that the water pumps weren’t working… so there was also no running water. The morning was a mess of running around and trying to minimize the impact of the outage. Debbie went and got bags of ice to put into the fridges and freezers to keep them cool. Paul and I scooped water out of the storage cisterns and distributed them around the campus so people could bucket flush their toilets.

At home, if the power goes out in an office or a school with no generator, the rest of the day is a wash. You’d almost definitely be sent home. In this case, the programs were still happening which meant that we needed to be ready for the kids at the end of the school day. There were still lunches to cook and classes to teach. It’s not like power outages are necessarily THAT big of a deal on a small scale, but at an institutional level where you’re trying to avoid interruptions to operations, there’s a little more work involved.

I really lucked out with the whole thing. After we made sure everyone had the water they needed, Debbie invited me to join her on an errand run to Lima since it wasn’t likely to be a very productive day in the office. Yes please! We went on quite the shopping adventure. I got to tag along while she went to wood suppliers to get quotes and put in a wood order. We went to the hardware store and got tons of paint and other supplies for the mission team that’s coming next week (more about that later). I got to check out what electrical products are available here which will be helpful for finishing up my drawings. We went to KFC for lunch, and I celebrated having a break from beans (we usually have some variation of beans and rice for lunch on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Tuesday and Thursday are special meals and are generally more interesting). The day was exhausting, but I was happy for the change of scenery and the chance to experience something new!

The van filled with wood and other supplies for the upcoming week
The inside of the van at the end of our shopping day

The other big event of the week was an earthquake! That’s not as dramatic as it might seem because earthquakes are common here, but this one was a little bigger than just a tremor. I was in the bathroom washing my face, thought it was a truck driving by at first (because the streets in our neighborhood aren’t paved which means you feel EVERY truck), and after a few seconds was like, “NOPE THAT’S NO TRUCK,” and ran out of the building. I met Debbie, Julie, and Irma (the head psychologist) outside, and they said this one was stronger and lasted much longer than most. Julie looked it up afterward, and there was a 4.9 magnitude quake about 20 minutes south of us. Cool! (I can say that because we’re all okay.) There was a little shake last week too, but this is exciting because it’s the first earthquake that I felt and actually recognized for what it was.

That’s about it for the significant events of the week. Next week (starting today) is going to be insane because there’s a mission team coming from the States. During team weeks, everyone is running around constantly. My daily schedule will be pretty nonstop from 7AM – 8PM. Prayer requests for a good week for the mission team, endurance for me and the rest of the crew, and for safety! (Hopefully I’ll remember to take more pictures than I did this week…)

Our first full day started out bright and early with a 7AM bus pickup from our hostel. In writing that, I realize that 7AM isn’t actually that early, but on vacation after a day of travelling… just give me this, okay? This was our only day with an actual organized tour, and it was nice to not have to think for ourselves on our first day. We were headed to nearby Glaciers National Park for a glacier trekking (aka WALKING ON A GLACIER HOW COOL IS THAT) tour on Perito Moreno Glacier.

Perito Moreno Glacier from afar
Perito Moreno Glacier

The bus ride from El Calafate to the park entrance took about an hour and a half, and we were thinking that we got lucky with the weather because it was a beautiful day. NOPE. Almost as soon as we entered the park, it started to rain and the bus windows fogged up, making it seem even more dreary and impossible to see outside. The tour guide explained that it rains VERY often in the park. Even though it’s not too far from El Calafate, it gets an average of 900mm (35”) of rain annually, and El Calafate gets around 200mm (8”). So yeah… minor difference.

Entrance ticket for Parque Nacional Los Glaciares
I took this picture of my ticket like a real nerd… but the reason I’m including this is so you can check out the nice blue sky in the background and appreciate the fact that this is the only picture where that’s the case.
The world's sturdiest wheelchair
Mike got a kick out of this wheelchair inside the visitors’ center.

At our first stop, we got to see the glacier from afar. There are a bunch of metal walkways where you check out the glacier from different viewpoints. Of course, Mike wanted to walk on as many of them as possible, so we added a couple of little offshoots onto the route that the guide recommended. She also stressed that since it was raining, we should be extra careful because the walkways get slippery in the rain. I’m sure you know where I’m going with this… I ate it. Hard. I slipped down a flight of maybe 6 stairs and stayed on my butt at the bottom for a second to figure out how I was feeling. I could tell my legs were a little banged up, but I felt okay until Mike said, “Your thumb!” and I looked down to find a huge gash in my finger. Perfect. Fingertips love to bleed, too. Thankfully, we were nearly finished with our wandering at that point (and the views were beautiful, by the way, even with the rain and the freezing cold and my bleeding finger), so I didn’t have much more to endure before we got back to the bus and the guide hunted down a band-aid for me.

Walkways at Perito Moreno Glacier
My nemesis (the walkways, not Mike). I’m pretty sure this was taken pre-fall
View of Perito Moreno Glacier
If you happen to be there at the right moment, you might be lucky enough to see part of the glacier fall off into the lake below. We weren’t lucky… but it’s supposed to be very cool, and every time we heard a loud noise, everyone would quickly turn to look at the glacier in the hopes that something was happening.
Me thumbs-upping our cold and rainy walk
Looking happy and dry, right? (Ha! I wish)
Glacier pieces in the water
How tall do you think the glacier is above the water? One of the signs said that the edge is about 70m above the water level… which means there’s even more below the water level. I don’t know how tall I would have guessed (and I’m also the world’s worst estimator), but it would not have been 70m. That’s crazy!
Sightseeing walkways at platforms at the glacier
I did think that the walkways were super cool… up until my (literal) downfall
Cool view from one of the viewing platforms
Some walkway views
Another Perito Moreno Glacier view
How many times can I post basically the same picture? I don’t know, but at least one more!
Mike and me with the prettiest glacier backdrop
I’m hiding my bleeding finger behind Mike’s back. Also, we are so wet.

The next part of the tour was the main event: glacier trekking. The bus dropped us at a boat where we all loaded up to get closer to the glacier. It dropped us off across the lake, and we started our land trek to get to the starting point of the glacier trek. Along the way, we made a few stops to get suited up in our gear. First, we stopped in these little cabins where you could leave your stuff, and there, the guides outfitted people with the things that they absolutely should have brought with them… things like waterproof shoes (because walking on a block of frozen water in sneakers seemed like a good idea??), waterproof jackets (they tell you to expect rain), backpacks, etc. I was baffled by these people. Some were wearing jeans aka not what I would choose for physical activity and also the worst thing to wear when it’s wet and rainy. Did they get on the wrong bus? Come on people, pull it together.

Glacier boat view
On the boat ride. Quite the color palette, huh? Light grey, blue-grey, grey.

Once the group was appropriately dressed, we headed back out into the rain (much to everyone’s dismay) and walked maybe 15 minutes to the first basecamp where we were outfitted with harnesses and helmets (which we didn’t use at all, but they said it’s protocol so you have to wear them). Then, we walked another 40 minutes or so to the second basecamp. This walk was through the woods, mostly uphill, and I was ready to collapse by the time we got there. Good, right? Considering we hadn’t even started the walking-on-ice portion of the day.

The view on our way to the glacier trekking start point
Walking to basecamp #1
Closer view of the glacier
Getting closer!
Wooden walkways on our way to Perito Moreno Glacier trekking
These people in front of us got some last-minute ponchos, and good thing because it rained basically all day.
The first basecamp on the way to the trekking start point
Basecamp #1 dome huts in the distance

At basecamp #2, we were fitted with crampons. Prior to this trip, the crampons I was familiar with are those little metal claws that you wear to walk on icy sidewalks. These… these were not like that. It’s more like having the tips of six spears coming out of each foot. The guides told us to be careful not to spike ourselves or get our feet hooked on each other. Eek.

With our crampons in hand, we walked the last 10 minutes to the glacier where the guides helped us put them on. First though, we had to walk like 20 feet onto the ice without them, and it was terrifying. After that, you don’t question why they’re necessary!

Close-up view of the glacier edge
My brain can’t even comprehend the volume of this thing. Imagine how many cold beverages you could make with this much ice.
The group getting their crampons put on
The crampon installation area
Mike's crampons
Mike, showing off his foot spears.

First thought, “My gosh, did they just strap anvils to my feet? SO HEAVY.” Step, step, step. Second thought, “Thank goodness I have these anvils on my feet!” We divided up into smaller groups and headed out into the icy expanse. From afar, a glacier really looks like it’s covered in snow. It’s not. It’s ice. All ice. (I mean, there’s snow in the places where it’s snowing… but where we were, no snow.)

Near the edge especially, the ice was in these huge waves, and looking at it, I had no idea how we were going to go anywhere. We started walking up and down and up and down them, and the crampons are like magic. I felt like I had superpowers! (Possibly the world’s lamest superhero.)

The glacial wilderness
Up and down and up and down

The glacier has two main areas to it: the accumulation zone and the ablation zone. The accumulation zone is the upper part where it snows a lot, adding volume to the glacier. The guide said that it snows there around 300 days a year! We were in the ablation zone where the ice is melting and moving, so you can find rivers and lakes on the surface. Since the ice isn’t all moving at the same speed, sometimes it splits apart and forms these crazy deep cracks filled with the bluest water I’ve ever seen.

Mike with some very blue water
Mike and an ice crack
Glacier crack
Have you ever seen water so blue?
Awesome glacier crack
I want to dive in… I want to not freeze to death. But it’s just so pretty that I want to stare at it all day and also swim in it. But it’s cold. BUT SO PRETTY.
Mike filling my water bottle with glacier water
Mike filling up my water bottle because no way was I trying to end up with ice cube fingers. The water tasted good but was a little too cold for my liking (hehehe)

The whole experience was awesome! Being on a glacier is like nothing I’ve ever experienced before. It’s like walking on a giant, abstract ice sculpture, and it’s a big mashup of white and blue and black (which is the dirt, but somehow even that is pretty). Also, just the concept of a glacier is insane. It’s a huge, dynamic piece of ice. They said that the deepest point from top to bottom is about 700 meters. The deepest point we stood on was about 500 meters. Looking down and trying to comprehend 500m of ice underneath my feet was impossible.

Looking down at my feet on the glacier
You’re looking at 500m-deep ice right now
Glacier waves
We walked on that. Doesn’t it seem like there’s no good place for a path? Well, that’s pretty much what I thought every time I looked ahead, and somehow, we always found a way (sometimes with the support of an ice ax….)
Me with a glacier lake
Contemplating going for a swim. KIDDING I’m not trying to turn into a human popsicle!
Endless glacier view, looking towards the accumulation zone
Ice and more ice, as far as the eyes can see. This is looking in the direction of the accumulation zone.

We walked around for about 3 hours, and it rained for about 2 hours and 55 minutes. There was one 5-minute period when the SUN even came out! And then it was gone again, and we were back to the grey and the dreary. The time flew by until maybe the last half hour when we were walking back to land. That’s when I realized how tired my legs were, and every anvil-laden step was a struggle. When we finally got to take our crampons off, my feel practically floated off the ground.

Me and Mike on the glacier
Me and Mike in a winter wonderland
A glacier river
Try to tell me that we haven’t left the planet. Those glowing blue spots on the mound? Spacey.
The largest glacier lake we saw
Glacier lake. This was the coolest. Like in temperature… HAHA I know I’m not funny. But ignore me and just enjoy the awesomeness of this lake like wut.
The glacier in the sun
Enjoying our 5 seconds of sun!
Glacier river in the distance
Glacier river with tiny speck people for scale (can you even see them? Kind of near the middle of the picture)
Waterfall near the glacier
Waterfall on the way back to basecamp #2

Of course, we still weren’t completely finished. We had to trek back to basecamp #2 and then basecamp #1 and finally to the cabins at the beginning where we got to sit inside and wait for the rest of the group to get back. I was thrilled to have a chance to sit indoors, take off my winter jacket, and eat some snacks. We barely ate all day because we were supposed to have lunch on the glacier, but the weather was so bad that no one wanted to stop.

The highlight of the day? Eating the chocolate cake that I brought for lunch dessert (the best way to end a day of hiking!). The second highlight of the day? Walking on a glacier. Kidding. Reverse those, but the cake comes in a VERY close second.

When we got back to town, we went straight to the grocery store to finish shopping for the upcoming leg of our trip. We were headed to Chile the next morning for a 4-day trek, so we needed to buy all of our food for the next 4 days. If it was just me, I would have taken 4 days’ worth of cake, but Mike eats too much. We’d never have been able to fit enough cake in our bags to feed him.

HOW ARE YOU REAL, MR. GLACIER???

I know, I know. I practically just welcomed you to Peru, and now we’re in Patagonia? What is this? Confusing, that’s what. But here we are, and if you ever want to hear about Patagonia (trust me, you do), the time is now.

The trip kind of came out of nowhere. Mike (my brother) had a two-week vacation and no plans, and I had no job and also no plans. An ideal pairing! We had talked briefly a couple of months earlier about maybe travelling together, but then it wasn’t mentioned again. I assumed that meant it wasn’t happening. NOPE. About three weeks before the departure date, we decided to go to Patagonia, and I was assigned the task of planning the trip.

My biggest recommendation? Don’t start planning your trip 3 weeks before you go. My gosh. I nearly lost my mind in that first week because I knew that there were things that needed to be figured out ASAP… like an itinerary so that we could buy our plane tickets and book places to stay. You know, those semi-essential details. The short timeline definitely complicated the process, especially because the “busy season” is around December – March. With a little maneuvering, I managed to come up with a rough plan, talked to Mike, and started booking things like crazy.

My “rough” plan (haha). I’m all about that wandering life when I have an extended period of time in which to travel, but for short timeframes, schedule schedule schedule! Within reason, of course. I’m not a total lunatic! (But maybe a little bit of a lunatic because I did also make a detailed schedule with times on it. But that’s just for reference!)
Here’s the tip of South America. Patagonia is generally considered to be the region south of the blue line I drew (very precise, I know).

Patagonia is the region that covers the southern tip of South America. It’s in two countries, Chile and Argentina, and borders three oceans, the Atlantic, the Pacific, and the Antarctic. It’s a weird place. In my pre-trip research, my general conclusion was that no rules of nature apply there. Everyone said to pack for all four seasons, even though we went in the summer, because you can feel like you’re experiencing all of them on the same day. People also couldn’t say enough about the strong winds, especially in the park we visited in Chile, Torres del Paine. So, we did our best to prepare for anything while also only packing in our backpacks. Simple. Mike had the bigger challenge because he insisted that he could take the whole tent in his bag… something I think he later regretted, but it was great for me!

I did my best not to look at pictures while I was making our plans because I didn’t want to have any expectations. I think I did a good job of that, but in hindsight, I also think that it wouldn’t have mattered what pictures I saw because they wouldn’t have looked real to me anyway. It’s like when you look at a picture of the Grand Canyon and think, “Yeah, that’s pretty. What’s the big deal?” versus when you’re there looking at it in person and your brain can’t begin to comprehend its size or the fact that what you’re seeing is real. That applies to anything magnificent, really. Pictures are great for giving you a taste, but you’ll always wonder if the water was really that blue, if it was really that impressive, if it was really that serene, etc.

Bus ride views

Mike and I flew out of New York on a direct flight to Buenos Aires, Argentina (hooray for 11-hour flights!), arrived in the middle of the night, and had about a 6-hour layover that got delayed to more like 8 (no complaints from me because I spent most of it sleeping on the floor of the terminal). We got our first taste of summer at the airport as we walked between terminals. We were spared the sun since it was the middle of the night, but even 15 minutes outside was MORE than enough, between the humidity and the fact that we were still mostly dressed for New York winter. My gosh.

From Buenos Aires, we flew to El Calafate, a town in Argentinian Patagonia and our main hub for the trip. Here’s the 5-second summary of my travel planning approach: I made a map of all the places people recommended going, scrapped the outliers, picked the ones that seemed to be at a reasonable distance from one another, and looked for the cheapest plane tickets (that still weren’t very cheap) to get us there. So, at the end of all that, we found ourselves in El Calafate.

This picture will forever make me laugh. It was taken from the airport just after we got off the plane, and the corridor was completely roadblocked by people taking this exact picture. Yes, it’s definitely pretty, but this is probably also the least magnificent view we saw during our trip. I should have taken a picture of the people practically standing on top of each other to get their pictures. Mike and I are too cool to do that, obviously… he took forever getting off the plane, so by the time we walked through the corridor, the crowd was gone and there was no fight required to snap this pic.

Our first day was fairly relaxed… and it was the last relaxed day of the whole trip (Mike’s approach to vacations is, “Let’s do everything. We can rest when it’s over.” My approach is, “Let’s do a lot and also not die from exhaustion.” Even though I planned it, this trip was more of the former than the latter). We got into town around 3 and spent the afternoon getting ourselves organized in preparation for the days to come and warming up our rusty Spanish. We had an early start the next day and planned to go to bed early so we didn’t hate ourselves in the morning… but, surprise! It didn’t get dark until around 10PM which made us completely lose track of time. Whoops. Off to a great start!

Looking (and feeling) nice and sleepy

Does anyone have brain re-forming tips? Because my brain has turned into a pile of mush and I kind of need it to be functional instead of mushy. Last week was my first full week here, and that meant finally getting down to business and figuring out what needs to get done for this building project. Part of me wishes that I was still in a state of blissful ignorance, but that ship has sailed. This project is going to be A LOT of work, and in order to do my part, I’m going to need to learn very quickly.

To give you a mini-rundown of the project, it’s a relatively small 3-story building. On the first (ground) floor, there’s a bathroom that’s existing, and we’re adding two classrooms, one on either side. On the second floor, there will be three classrooms, and on the top “floor” (it’s being called a “half floor” because it won’t have full-height walls), there will be a multipurpose space and a kitchen.

Here’s the general plan of the ground floor. The two red boxes are classrooms, the blue is the existing bathroom, and the green is the stairs. On the second floor, there’s no big bathroom, and there are 3 classrooms instead.
This is one of the renderings from the EA informational booklet about the project, showing what the finished building will look like (kind of). The building to the right is existing, plus the bathroom which is in the middle of the ground floor in the building straight ahead. The rest will be all new!

Volleyball game on the “soccer court” at recess. The new building will be straight ahead (the bathroom is behind those little white tents).

Thankfully, I don’t need to worry about any large equipment or electrical panels. That infrastructure already exists, so we’ll be able to simply connect the new into the existing system. The major “uh oh” factor is coming from the realization that even though I did have a relevant job for a couple of years, the things I did were only a small portion of what’s needed for a full design. And, to make things even worse, I don’t know anything about what products are available here or Peruvian design rules-of-thumb. Debbie lent me her code book which is great… but of course, it’s in Spanish. I can understand it well enough, but it’s just one more thing on the list of tasks that are going to take a liiiiittle bit longer than they would at home. Add all of the “littles” together, and I have a lot of work to do.

Here’s an awkward panoramic view of the office. We have 5 people sharing the space which is an adventure! My desk is the wooden one straight ahead. This is where the magic and hair-ripping happen.

Most of last week was spent on the world’s most tedious task… formatting. You don’t have to know anything about architecture or engineering to know that formatting documents is the worst. In this case, it’s the necessary prep work that will make the actual work go smoothly, but I feel like I accomplished next to nothing because there’s no physical result from my work. It’s also relatively mind-numbing. By the end of the day on Friday, I felt like my brain was made of mush (and it felt like it was functioning about that well, too). The one positive is that I mostly finished, so this week I can get on with doing actual work!

Instead of having a restful weekend, Debbie decided that we should go on an outing on Saturday. To an architecture seminar. On urban acoustics. In Spanish. She wanted me to meet her architect friends, and I’ll admit, I’m happy that we went. It was fun and the people were cool, but I would absolutely not describe it as a restful day. The morning involved about four hours of attempting to follow acoustics-related Spanish (which thankfully isn’t terribly different from acoustics-related English) and straining to remember the things I learned seven years ago (eek!) in my university acoustics class. Ha.

The topic was interesting though. The presenter just returned from a year studying in Spain, and he presented foundational acoustics information, plus his thesis topic. Side note, I was the only engineer in a room of architects, and that interaction is apparently the same no matter what country you’re in. Any time math was involved, I was basically called out with a, “but you already know this, don’t you?” I mean, no, not necessarily, but I do know how to use a calculator so I can figure it out..? Ugh. Architects. (I’m kidding, I’m kidding.) ANYWAY, his thesis looked at different road geometries (like raised roadways vs. sunken roadways vs. roads with walls, etc.) and analyzed how well the various configurations controlled the noise from the traffic. There was also a practical portion in the afternoon where we took sound measurements at various locations along a nearby street. It was fun! It reminded me of university because architecture/engineering students are always doing weird things in public for their classes. Buses kept stopping and trying to give us a ride because it absolutely looked like we were waiting for something.

By the end of the day, I was exhausted, and my brain was even more like mush than the day before. So yeah, probably not the best strategy for a brain revival, but good nonetheless.

View of the mountains from outside of the office.

Aside from work and my mushy brain, I’ve just been trying to keep myself sane. I’ve been attempting to work out on weekday mornings… I feel like I should at least do SOMETHING to offset the fact that I spend the rest of the day hunched over my computer screen, slowly pulling my hair out.

On one final note, if you’re wondering why you have yet to hear about Patagonia, it’s because of the internet. And also me. And mostly the interaction between me and the internet. Long story short (and vague), I decided I needed to change some big things about how my blog is set up to better suit the complicated disaster that it’s grown into… which meant that I needed to learn things about how the internet works. Which is something that my brain refuses to understand. BUT we survived (both me and my brain), and I think I kind of maybe sort of figured out the things that I needed to figure. I know, I’m oozing with confidence. In conclusion, ignore anything that doesn’t look quite right about my blog page because it’s a big ‘ole work in progress (but if you find something that doesn’t work, please tell me and then ignore it), and fear not. Soon enough, I’ll be confusing the heck out of you by talking about Peru and Patagonia at the same time.

Hooray! Welcome to Peru (again)!

I’ve been here for about a week now, and I’m already feeling settled in which is good. It is a little strange to think about the fact that I’m going to be here for the rest of the year. I haven’t spent this much time in one place in three years! Let’s see how long it takes for me to get stir crazy. In reality, though, I don’t think I’m going to have time to start feeling that way. Once things get moving on the building project, whew! It’s going to be hectic.

So far, I’ve mostly been getting my bearings again. Last week was the final prep week before the programs started up again, and we had an incredibly long staff meeting on Friday to get everyone on the same page about how things are going to work this year. That was perfect for me because now I feel like I know exactly what’s going on!

With my parents as they dropped me off at the airport

Today was the first day for Esperanza School and Casa Esperanza. Esperanza School is mostly an after-school program, but this year they’ve added an English preschool pilot program. There are 8 kids here all day, doing whatever kids do in preschool and also hopefully learning English! Cool, right? The rest of the kids go to school in the neighborhood and come afterward for lunch, homework time, and supplemental lessons.

After Esperanza School lets out, some of the kids stay overnight as well (during the week). They eat dinner and have other planned activities until bedtime.

My workdays generally go like this:
8AM – 2:30PM – staff worship time, workday, trying not to starve because lunch isn’t until the kids get out of school at…
2:30PM – 3:30PM – lunch and recess with the Esperanza School kids
3:30PM – 6PM – work
7PM – 7:30PM – dinner with the Casa Esperanza kids

I’m attempting to exercise in the mornings and relax a bit in the evenings… I’ll keep you posted on how that’s going, but I can’t say I’m terribly optimistic. Debbie (one of the full-time missionary staff/architect) and I met today to get on the same page about the building project, and well… we have a lot of work to do! We’re hitting the ground running this week with the designs and will hopefully start construction next month. Craziness!

Most of the US staff… me, Paul, Julie, Debbie, and Jocelyn. We went to a nearby beach town, Pucusana, for lunch over the weekend.

Hi friends!

If you’re thinking it’s been a while since you last heard from me… yes, it has. It’s been a crazy time for me! As you know (though from my much-delayed blog posts, you’d never guess), I’ve been home for about 6 months now, trying to discern my next step. Much has happened over the last few weeks. My brother Mike and I went on a somewhat spur-of-the-moment trip to Patagonia (more on that later)… and even more excitingly, my plans for the rest of the year came together!

What are these exciting plans?” you ask. (Or maybe you didn’t ask, but I’m going to answer anyway.)

I’ll be spending the next 10 months in Peru, returning to Esperanza de Ana, the Christian ministry where I volunteered two years ago (January – March 2017). Esperanza de Ana is dedicated to family preservation and restoration, partnering with families in crisis in order to create stronger, safer, and more stable home environments.

Looking out over the Esperanza de Ana campus

Last time I was there, I co-taught a summer school class called Mini-Engineers with the goal of exposing the kids to new ideas and career paths. We taught a unit on urban planning, and the students built their own “kid cities”, complete with stop signs and traffic lights! Then, we changed gears and built robots! (That pun was 100% intended.) It was fun to see the kids get so excited about the things they created.

Me with one of the completed “kid cities”, holding a robot.

One of the kids made a little playground, complete with puff-ball people!

I spent the rest of my time in Peru focused on the campus’s lighting and electrical systems. There was no accurate documentation of the existing conditions, so I surveyed the buildings, created updated documents, and recommended changes for a more effective system.

Now, Esperanza de Ana is in the middle of an expansion project. Their after-school programs have outgrown the current classroom space, and they’re planning to construct a new building with five additional classrooms and a multipurpose space. I’ll be joining the team to design the lighting and electrical systems and help manage the construction! Whoa.

Playing games at a summer school birthday party

“That’s so cool,” you say. “How can I be involved?

I’m thrilled you asked! First, if you know my mother, you can assure her that I will be careful not to fall off any cliffs, that airplanes DO travel to Peru and she is allowed to travel on one of them (long shot, I know), and that I am not lost to her forever.

Second, you can pray, specifically for my adjustment to life in Peru; for safety throughout my time abroad; for the project planning and execution to go smoothly; for Esperanza de Ana, the work they’re doing, the staff and the families; and for my fundraising efforts.

Debbie (my architect teammate in this expansion project adventure), me, and Julie (one of the other full-time missionaries at EA).

Third, if you’d like to help make this project and my involvement possible, you can support us financially. Since this isn’t a paid position, I am fundraising for the 10 months that I will be in Peru to cover room and board, flights, and other expenses. If you would like to join my support team, contributions for room and board can be sent to Armenian Martyrs’ Congregational Church (tax-deductible) by check (memo: “Lara Kaiserian mission”, 100 N. Edmonds Ave, Havertown, PA 19083) or electronically via PayPal (amccpa.org/give/, “Make Other Donation”, type “Lara Kaiserian mission” in ‘ special instructions’), and those for flights and other expenses can be sent to me directly (via mailed check or electronically, message me for info).

Also, fundraising for the expansion project is still in progress, and you can donate to that through Esperanza de Ana’s website HERE (that’s also a good place to see more information about the project).

Finally, fourth, you can keep reading my blog to stay updated on all the happenings in Peru.

On that note, what does this mean for the blog?

I’ve thought a lot about this, and I don’t want to abandon my last adventure. I visited some amazing places with some amazing history (increasingly becoming my favorite thing to learn about), and I still want to share it all with you.

That being said, get ready for your head to spin. I’m going to keep you updated on what’s happening in Peru (probably about once per week) while also continuing our jaunt across Europe. BUT, just to confuse even more and to get you in the South American spirit, we’re going to hit PAUSE on Europe and explore Patagonia together first! Mostly because I’m so excited about Mike and my trip, and if I wait to talk about it chronologically, we’ll be lucky to get there by 2020.

In summary: Peru posts will be ongoing, Patagonia posts coming soon, and we’ll head back to Europe after that! (Pretend that’s not confusing at all.)

Okay, that’s all for now! Thanks for bearing with me, for encouraging me during my six months of uncertainty, and for being my faithful travel companions. Pack your bags for another adventure!

❤ Lara

Sunset view… I don’t mind getting to see sunsets like this again!