Machu Picchu day!!! After three days of visiting ruins all over the region, everyone in the group was excited for a day of… visiting ruins! It may seem like you’d eventually get to the point where you’re like, “Ugh, MORE???” but at least for me, I’ve seen a LOT of Inca ruins and am still not tired of them. It’s not just me, either! My parents, Benjamin, and Jocelyn all said that they were surprised by how different all of the sites we visited were and happy that we saw as many as we did.

Anyway, like I said, we were all excited! When my alarm went off at 4:30AM, I practically leaped out of bed I was so pumped! Okay, that’s not true. Is it even physically possible to leap out of bed at 4:30 in the morning? Instead, I grumbled, forced my eyes open, and prayed that my alarm was set to the wrong time. No such luck.

By 5AM, we were walking from our hotel to the bus stop to ride up the mountain to the ruins. The bus line was already shockingly long, even though the first bus didn’t leave until 5:30. Luckily, it’s probably the most efficient operation in all of Peru, and even though we were on maybe the fourth bus, we still were at the site by 6:05, only five minutes after our ticket time. Impressive!

Once we entered the site, my parents and I parted ways with Jocelyn and Benjamin so that we could all go at our own speed. They were also hiking up Machu Picchu Mountain, something we were definitely NOT doing (I did it last time I visited Machu Picchu… it’s literally ALL stairs. Endless. Stairs). We were, however, planning to do the two non-ticketed hikes to the Inka Bridge and the Sun Gate. As we walked up the mountain to the start of the first hike, we stopped at some viewpoints overlooking the site. The weather was a little iffy, but I was hoping the sun would clear out the clouds as the day progressed.

Alpacas, enjoying the morning mists.
The fog sure gives the site an eerie quality, doesn’t it?

Machu Picchu is one of those places where they tell you to dress in layers and be prepared for a year’s worth of seasons in one day. We were a little worried when we walked in and felt like we were inside of a cloud, but the fog was moving fairly quickly, and we had some moments of good visibility. The key word is “moments”. At one point, while enjoying a clear view of the citadel (what they call the “town” part of the site), I started getting overheated and decided I needed to ditch some layers/apply sunscreen. By the time I finished my wardrobe change, a thick fog had rolled in, completely blocking the view again… and the sun. I put my jacket back on. Dad was laughing at Mom and me because we did two outfit changes without even moving.

Kind of a clear view, but don’t let yourself be fooled.
Here comes the fog!
Byeee, Machu Picchu!
This was after my layer-shedding stop… as you can see, I’m still looking quite bundled, and the mountain is looking a little cloudy.

Our first hike was to the Inca Bridge. In my memory, it was completely flat and not hard at all. With my new parent-oriented eyes, I saw that my memory wasn’t quite reliable. On the way to the trailhead, there are these terrible stone steps of all different heights. Some are mid-thigh high, and you wonder what kind of giants the Incas were… even though you know they were probably shorter than you, so the stairs DON’T MAKE SENSE. They were definitely in prime physical condition, probably thanks to running up and down those ridiculous stairs all the time.

After the trail starts, there’s a little up and down, but it’s not too bad. The good news is that the view is majestic, so at least there’s something to distract from the walking.

View from the path to the Inca Bridge.
It’s a pretty nice path, and there’s lots of plant cover! It feels a little rainforest-y.
Dad on the way to the Inca Bridge. See? Nice and flat-ish.
In contrast, here’s a preview of what we hiked up later in the day on the way to the Sun Gate. Some portions of the trail have stairs, like these, and others are just inclined. But no matter what, you’re going up.

The Inca Bridge itself seems kind of underwhelming, but conceptually, it’s pretty darn cool. A narrow path was built onto the side of the mountain, potentially a secret army entrance to the site, with one 20-foot gap in the path bridged by a long piece of wood. If invaders were coming, the wood could be removed, like a drawbridge, to cut off access from that path.

The Inca Bridge from a distance. How on earth did they build that path?? You can’t even see the bottom because of the plants, but my goodness what insanity.
These are some super cool-looking mountains!
I’m not afraid of heights, but I don’t know how I’d feel about 1. walking with only that narrow stone path keeping me from falling to my death, or 2. walking across those wobbly-looking boards. Err. Maybe not.

From there, we set off on our more ambitious hike of the day to Intipunku, or the Sun Gate. For Incas coming from Cusco along the original Inca road (or for people hiking the Inca Trail today), Intipunku is the first point from which you can see the site. It’s quite the view. It’s also crazy to think that you’re walking on a road built over 500 years ago! Back in Inca times, the roads were only open to people traveling on state business, so it was an elite few who had the opportunity to travel the breathtaking path from Cusco.

Mom and Dad, post-Inca Bridge and pre-Sun Gate. That’s why they still look happy…
Yay!! The day cleared up beautifully.
A cool-looking rock along the path.

The hike to Intipunku from the ruins is all uphill with an elevation gain of nearly 1,000 feet (240 meters). I wanted Mom and Dad to get the perspective of the site from above, and this hike is way easier than going up Machu Picchu Mountain (the other option). I told them that we could go at whatever speed necessary, and if they didn’t want to go all the way there, that was fine. Hiking at nearly 8,000 feet (2,400 meters) of elevation is rough! And that’s the elevation at the trailhead, not the top! High-elevation hiking really redefines the word “breathtaking”. We did a LOT of breath-taking and not a lot of oxygen-getting. Honestly, that’s the hardest part of the hike. The uphill isn’t fun, but it’s doable. The added challenge of limited oxygen just really doesn’t help.

Looking down at the site through some ruins along the way.
I don’t know what this is, but it’s along the path to the Sun Gate and isn’t it pretty?

We kept chugging away, one step at a time. We stopped whenever anyone needed a break. I wasn’t in a rush. The people coming down as we were going up were very encouraging, saying things like, “You’re almost there! Only another 30 minutes.” Mom said that they had a different definition of the word “almost”. Hehe. We passed a woman who gave up maybe 10 minutes from the top. Her ‘encouragement’ was, “The worst part is ahead.” Gee, lady. Thanks a lot. Mom wasn’t fazed. She said, “I’m not giving up this close to the end.” Yeah, Mom!!!

The final stretch… stairs!

We made it. And Mom and Dad both said that it was worth it, so that was a relief. It was only about 10:30AM when we finally arrived, and it felt like we’d already lived an entire day! We took a break at the top, enjoyed the view, and ate some snacks before heading back down the mountain. That had its own challenges because the rocks can get a little slippery, but there were zero falls which means it was a double success. By the time we made it down, we had already been at the site for 6 hours. Ha. We definitely got our money’s worth!

So close you can almost taste it!
The Sun Gate. And some random guy’s backpack.
View of Machu Picchu from the Sun Gate. You can also see the switchbacks of the road that the buses have to drive up to reach the site.
Terracing near Intipunku.
Tired and happy!

Everyone had a teeny bit of energy left, so we headed into the citadel to check out the ruins before calling it a day. Next time, get ready for a tour!

After winging it on our first day in Canta, we started off Day #2 with a very well-defined plan: hike to “that” waterfall. See photo below for details… (Can you find the waterfall?)                                         

Took this picture while speeding down the road between Canta and Obrajillo (David was appreciating the open road after we got past a spot of traffic). Have you located the waterfall? Scroll down for help…
To orient you, Obrajillo is in the valley to the right, the overlook is at the edge of a village, San Miguel, and we hiked up to the waterfall trickle that you can barely see (which seems kind of close to San Miguel, but I promise you that it’s not).

Okay, so the plan was vague, but Julie did some research and came away with the conclusion that it’s definitely possible to hike there (probably). The directions, as far as she could find, were to start by walking up to a popular viewpoint overlooking Obrajillo. Okay, easy enough. And then, walk to the waterfall. Hm. Welp, at least we knew the beginning part! We could figure things out from there, right?

The good news is, I love to overpack for hikes which means I was already prepared for uncertainty. My formula for day hikes is roughly: (day hike + 4 days) x # of people… and then I pack snacks and water accordingly, as though no one else is bringing anything (even though they are). It’s good to be prepared! What if someone else is underprepared? What if we get lost? What if someone gets hurt? What if there’s a mudslide and we get stranded and don’t want to resort to cannibalism? No one ever says, “I wish we had less food.” Worst case, you don’t need it all and get stronger from carrying the extra weight.

Once we were ready for anything, we walked to get breakfast sandwiches before heading out. This was our staple meal for the weekend (literally 3/5 meals in Canta): a fried egg on a roll. After you eat approximately four, you’re good to go! Then, we piled into the van and drove down to Obrajillo. There was traffic because of course there was. As soon as there are two cars on the road, it seems to be inevitable (I think it’s because Peruvian are so proud of their traffic, they need to make sure it’s always living up to its terrible reputation).

After we parked, we located the path to the viewpoint, and David, Dina, and her daughter split off to do other things… apparently the idea of a potentially endless hike didn’t appeal to them. Sorry, I mean “adventure walk”. Julie doesn’t like “hiking”, so we rebranded the activity. That ended up being a much more appropriate name in this instance anyway. “Hike” implies order, a defined path. “Adventure walk” says “I don’t know where we’re going, but that’s part of the fun!”

At the viewpoint
I can’t get over the greens! Maybe if they knew THIS was the view they were missing out on… nah, they still would have ditched us.

Anyway, the path to the overlook was easy enough to follow. Maybe that could be called a hike. From there, it was inarguably an adventure walk. After the viewpoint, we started asking every person we met for directions. That may sound like overkill, but it was a necessity. When people don’t know the answer to your question, they don’t say, “I don’t know.” They say, “Oh, it’s that way!” and point and say it with full confidence and make you think they have a clue. So, the only way to be safe is to ask as many people as possible, rate their trustworthiness, compare answers, pick a direction, and remind yourself that not knowing where you’re going is part of the fun.

Another album cover option
I love these mountains.
Like seriously. (Also, that’s Canta on the left.)
HOW ARE THERE SO MANY GREENS? Also, fun fact did you know that the human eye can differentiate more shades of green than any other color?

The good news was that we could see the waterfall, Catarata de Shupucro, in the distance. The bad news was that it wasn’t clear how to get there. Even now, the only thing of which I’m certain is that our beginning route was NOT right… because there was no path, and we ended up inside the locked gates of a school. So, thanks for nothing, people who gave us directions up until that point.

Okay, let’s try again with the directions. We asked the school groundskeeper (who looked confused about why we were on the school property… yeah, same) and he unconvincingly pointed us in a direction. A few steps later, a woman vaguely motioned that was as well. Finally, we found a guy who confidently pointed at a path and said it would take us 2 hours to get there. He had the highest trustworthiness ranking. Welp, nothing left to do but cross our fingers and start walking!

Obrajillo. And some fab mountains
Despondent donkey on the path. He was probably trying to find the waterfall as well.
Just starting out, back when we were so young and naive
I mean, it’s kind of like being in an airplane… The earth looks like a patchwork quilt.

Our biggest mistake was asking for more directions after trustworthy-guy. Right as we started up the path, we saw a few people coming down. Julie asked how far it was to the waterfall, and the guy said 20 minutes (LIES) and then gave some directions for how to get there. They seemed trustworthy… I mean, they had just come from there, so you’d think they’d know something. YOU WOULD BE WRONG.

The way up was unpleasant. The path was well-defined but also steep and rocky, and we were all feeling the effects of the altitude. Eventually, Jocelyn tapped out and told us to pick her up on our way back down. I felt bad leaving her, but she clearly wasn’t going to change her mind. We left her just before a fork in the path where we started following the directions of the guy we saw coming down.

Taking a breath before scaling these rocks…
Trail friends

Wrong choice. Very, very wrong. I still don’t know what we should have done, but definitely not that. We ended up on the wrong side of the mountain, and after maybe 30 minutes of walking up the worst ever uphills, we bumped into a couple coming down. Julie asked if we were going to the waterfall, and they said, “No, this is the path to the cross!” And then they pointed at this teeeeeny tiny cross at the top of a mountain in the distance. Can you spot the cross?:

(Scroll for assistance hahaha)
THERE it is. My gosh. Is there anything about this picture that makes you want to walk to that cross??? It looks like torture.
This is me, standing on the path to the cross, looking up at the trail ahead, zig-zagging up this steep mountainside. No, thank you.
Happy because we were taking a break
The only benefit of going the wrong way was getting this view of the valley
Flowery mountainsides

Yeah, no thank you. So, we turned around and tried to find where we went wrong. At this point, we also realized that we were almost all the way back to Jocelyn, so we sent Paul to bring her to meet us. She was nice and rested after her 40-minute break, and we were exhausted after our spirit-crushing uphill climb to nowhere.

Time to change strategies. We could see the waterfall, so instead of looking for the “right” path, we decided to walk towards it until we got there. I’m Peruvian-giving-directions confident that we took the proper route, and I will now describe it here, just in case you ever find yourself hiking in Canta: when you get to the fork in the path, don’t go left. Also, don’t go right. Instead, walk across the poop-covered field, following no path. Jump down the 5’ wall into the cornfield. Cross the field and climb over the short wall at the other side, taking care to avoid the cacti on top (nature’s barbed wire). Cross the river. Walk along the river until you reach a big rock and little waterfall. Cross the river again. Climb up the 7’ rock wall. Continue to walk towards the waterfall until you see a path. Follow the path to the waterfall.

Walking through the poop-filled field
Keeping our eyes on the waterfall while hopefully not destroying this cornfield
Can you spot the Lara? I’m hiding somewhere in this picture!
Exhaustion break disguised as a photo op
Wildflowers
Climbing up the final stretch

Got that? I couldn’t have made it any clearer. No wonder no one could give us directions!

As is generally the case with waterfalls, the view of the actual waterfall wasn’t great from up close. We did, however, get a better view of the valley and took a moment to pat ourselves on the backs because we made it!

Almost there! Almost there!
Sliding my way towards the waterfall
We made it, we made it!!
A little delirious
Waterfall view from the top

The hike up had been steep and tiring, but the way down was brutal. Lots of slipping and sliding with a few falls. Jocelyn had the worst luck. On one of her falls, she caught herself on a cactus and got a cactus spine stuck in her finger. We tried to pull it out on the trail but couldn’t get a good grip or tell how deep it went. I had tweezers at the hotel, so she decided we should just leave it until we got back.

Finally getting back to flat ground!
Can’t believe we were at that waterfall…

The layers in this picture are crazy… the bright green foreground, the hazy green middle (thank you, smog), and the low clouds above, chopping off the mountain tops.

Once we got past the steep part, the rest of the return trip was easy. Well, there was one part where a rock wall collapsed beneath me, but it’s fine because Kylie caught me by the backpack and saved me from disaster. It’s good to have friends with quick reflexes!

Kylie, me, and Julie

 

Going down
Found this kitten model on the way back to town
Shepherd keeping an eye on his sheep
Spot the sheep!

Back in town, we met up with David, Dina, and her daughter and drove back to Canta. Our first order of business was getting the spine out of Jocelyn’s finger. I got my tweezers and tried to ease it out, thinking it might be short. That did nothing, so Jocelyn braced herself and I pulled as hard as I could until it came out. It felt like I was going to pull her finger off! When it finally gave, we all freaked out because it was SO much longer than we thought. I can’t believe she walked around with that thing stuck in her finger for like 4 hours! And I can’t imagine how much the extraction hurt. Geez! Jocelyn wins the pain tolerance award.

We headed to dinner after the drama and devoured our food, only slightly hampered by the nightly power outage. It’s clearly not an uncommon occurrence because the waitress was prepared, bringing in an emergency light. And then the power came back on… and went out, and came on, and went out. Geez, just leave it off.

Back at the hotel, we made a solid effort to stay awake a little longer (it was only like 7:30PM) and eventually gave up and passed out. What a day!

The cactus spine
Blowing out our ?-shaped candles

It’s been a fun couple of weeks! Ever since I got back from the States, I’ve been feeling so much more at ease and like I have some sort of control over what happens each day. I’m working on not needing to be totally in control in order to feel okay, but it is nice to at least feel like I have my feet on the ground instead of being sent this way and that by whatever wind happens to blow at the moment. I’ve pieced together a routine for the mornings and evenings during the week, and since our schedule is much more regular when teams aren’t here, I’ve actually been able to stick to it.

We’ve also been trying to be more productive with our weekends, getting out and doing things instead of rotting away in our apartment, and that’s been helping too. When all you do is work and rot, life passes by incredibly quickly. And it gets old and boring. I’m neither old nor boring, so why should I let my life be?

 

Mountains and moon
Super clear night! Check out those mountains in the background and the moon up above!

Anyway, I’m letting myself get sidetracked before I even begin! Work has been 1 part fun and 1 part tedious. The fun part is the construction! Two weeks ago, they finished laying out the bricks and the conduit (for the electrical wiring) and everything for the first ceiling on Module 2. I had to check the box locations and how they ran the tubes to make sure it all matched up with my plans, and that Saturday, they poured the concrete! This isn’t the first pour they’ve done, of course, but I had the best view of this one. I went up on the third floor of Module 1 and watched from above. The pump truck came in and set up, then the concrete trucks came, and I got to see the whole pouring procedure from start to finish. It was awesome! And since I was technically on the site, I had to wear a hard hat the whole time which made me feel like a big deal even though I was literally doing nothing but taking pictures and trying to stay out of the way.

Here are some pictures so that you can experience the fun! Also, the thought has just crossed my mind that you might not find this nearly as interesting or exciting as I do, but try to imagine that you helped to design a building, have a strong case of imposter syndrome (aka I don’t feel like I’m completely qualified for the role that I’m playing) (though don’t let that worry you because I truly am confident in my design), and despite that, people are listening to you and actually doing what your drawings say… and the building is going up before your eyes. Welcome to my life and the reasons behind my super excitement!

More bricks for the ceiling
Adding the bricks in for the future floor/ceiling. This is Module 2 (I’m standing on Module 1, on the third floor, to take this picture). The area on the left side is going to be the corridor. The completed two sections of brick are a classroom.
Putting in PVC pipe for the future wiring
Working on adding in the conduit for the 1st floor lighting/fire alarm/ceiling fans and 2nd floor outlets
Lots of PVC pipes
So much conduit! This is where everything needs to go to make it back to the panel, so we have a lot of tubes coming together here.
Two of the construction guys
I was creeping around taking pictures, and the guy on the right yelled for me to take a picture of them 🙂
Nearly ready for the concrete pour!
PVC pipes for formwork clamps
Looking down into the biggest beam in our building. See those PVC pipes inside? The wood is clamped together with the help of steel bars running through those pipes, making sure that it won’t move during the pour and the beam will come out exactly as it should. Thanks to the pipes, the clamps can be removed after the concrete is in place.
Module 2 completely ready for the concrete pour
Okay, time to pour!
Pump truck unfurling its arm
This was so much fun to watch. This is the pump truck for the concrete. It has this super long arm so that it can reach every point on the floor.
Pump truck with its crazy arm
Look at it stretching across the building!
The concrete pour
This is how the pouring process goes… The guy at the bottom in the white is controlling the pump truck’s arm. The guy in the green shirt is guiding the tube to make sure the concrete goes where he wants it. Then, the two guys behind him come through with vibrators to help the concrete settle and make sure there aren’t any air pockets. The guy in the orange uses a rake to even out the surface. Finally, the guy in the back in the grey comes through with a piece of wood and smooths it out. Whew!
Nearly halfway finished
Making some good progress
Working in the final section
Just a little more!
The finished pour
Finished! (well, except for the last corner but essentially finished)
Junction boxes and conduit cut into a brick stairwell wall
Future light locations in the stairwell! This is going to be a regular light and an emergency light
Concrete-mixing station
Column-pouring day! Here’s the concrete mixing station. You can see the piles of sand and gravel next to the mixer, plus the concrete and water are nearby. Can you see the shadow Lara nearby?
Guy on a ladder with a bucket of concrete
After the concrete was ready, they put it into 5-gallon buckets for this guy to carry up the world’s most rickety ladder. He handed it to the next guy who walked it over to the guy on the “scaffolding” who dumped it into the column
Using the vibrator to get any air pockets out of the column
Module 2 columns
The new columns!
Parapet wall on the 3rd floor
The 3rd floor in Module 1 is coming together too! It’s going to have a half-wall, so that’s what you see the beginnings of here.
Parapet wall with columns
Parapet making good progress!
The building from behind
So tall! And there’s not even a roof on it yet!

Two weekends ago was a big deal, not only because the concrete pour was on Saturday morning (working on a weekend is not the best, but that was cool enough that I could get over it), but also because Julie and I declared it Birthday Weekend and created a schedule of events for Friday – Sunday. For those of you who know when my birthday is, this may seem strange… because it’s in December. Same with Julie’s. BUT, ever since we realized that no one is going to be around during our actual birthdays, we’d been talking about having a joint half-birthday party. Well, that would have been in June, and June was a busy month. And so was July. But now, things have settled down a bit, and what better way to celebrate than with a 2/3 birthday party! (Interestingly enough, not my first 2/3 birthday party. I used to throw those every year in high school… but that’s a story for another time.)

Neighborhood mountains
We had a nice, clear day for once. Look at how pretty the mountains look!

We didn’t go TOO crazy with the event planning because no one is going to sign up for an all-consuming not-actually-your-birthday weekend. So, this is what we ended up with for the schedule of events:

Friday night – pancake dinner followed by a bonfire dance party (including s’mores because why else even bother with a fire? Certainly not because we just like smelling like smoke.)

Bonfire and s'mores!
Post pancakes, mid-dance party/s’mores-making

Saturday – concrete pour (not an official part of the birthday events, but part of the schedule nonetheless), hike to the green mountains near the neighborhood (same thing we did the weekend before, but it was such a nice break that we wanted a repeat), eat cheesy bread (the easiest way to make a good day into a great day), and watch the first half of North and South (a fantastic 4-part mini-series based on a book by Elizabeth Gaskell)

Selfie in the green mountains
The hiking crew! Me, Debbie, Julie, Jocelyn, and Dina and her daughter Rachel
Funky cacti surrounded by green
Weird green desert
Me with the green mountains
Such a pretty view!!
Green mountain view
Seriously, how much better is this than brown mountains?
The girls with their backs facing the camera, looking out over the neighborhood
Debbie, Julie, and Jocelyn were all wearing different EA shirts

Sunday – church, birthday brownies, and the second half of North and South

Me lighting the second candle on our birthday brownies
Birthday brownies!
Blowing out our ?-shaped candles
Make a wish! Do you like our candles?
Me and Julie with our brownie "cake"
The “birthday” girls

The weekend was a great success! Debbie and Jocelyn even obliged our request for presents and gave us chocolate bars and mini-Oreos. And they sang to us and let us blow out candles even though we hardly earned it. It doesn’t get much better than that! Everyone who participated in any or all of the events said that we need to do it again sometime, so we’re currently in the process of assigning every remaining weekend to someone’s birthday celebration. It’ll probably be Julie and my turn again in November. Kidding! But it was fun having an agenda for the weekend, and I think we all realized that we need to keep planning things to look forward to, or else time will go by without a passing glance.

Playa Yaya
This past weekend was slightly less eventful, but we dragged ourselves out of the house to the beach! (The beach looks kind of nice in this picture, but don’t be fooled. It’s pretty gross, to be honest, and you couldn’t pay me enough to go swimming in the water.)
Me laying in the flowers

I’m back in Peru! I got in late last Monday night and spent Tuesday wrapping my head around the fact that they poured another floor while I was gone. That’s right, we have a 2-story building now! And even though there are no walls on the third floor, we can walk up there and see what the view is going to be like when it’s finished (the other buildings on the property are only two stories or less, so this is a new experience for us). Essentially, all the third floor means, view-wise, is that we will be able to creep on our neighbors exceptionally well. Like the ones next door who have a pool that we’re all very jealous of (though to be fair, we already knew about that thanks to the drone).

Mountains from the 3rd floor
3rd story views
View of the new building from behind
As you can see, we have two stories on the left (Module 1) and one story on the right (Module 2). The existing bathroom building is in the middle (with the bricks piled on top).
Construction site
With our new view from the “3rd floor”, you can get great pictures of the rest of the property. Here’s the construction site, and at the top of the picture, you can see the septic gardens (top right) and the equipment/workshop building (top center).
Concrete mixing area
Here’s the area where they do the concrete mixing (bottom left). You can see the piles of different materials, and they usually have the mixing drum right in the middle. The long, bamboo-fenced area running along the top of the picture is where we store a lot of construction materials (for maintenance and stuff, not for the actual construction project). And you can kind of see the neighbors’ pool deck.

As I was saying, the construction has made big strides since I left. I was a little sad to miss out on some of the fun, but no need to get too upset about it because there’s still much to do. Now, they’re starting to work on the first-floor ceiling on the other side of the building (Module 2). I wasn’t super involved with the foundation phase up until they started the ceilings, but now they’re finally installing electrical-related things which means I have more to do! As they’re laying things out, I’m making sure that everything is in the proper location and that it’s going to work the way I designed it. It’s crazy getting to see it all come together!

Ceiling scaffolding
There’s nothing like a good scaffolding forest…
Looking through the roof supports at the existing building
Standing in the second floor hallway looking towards the new building… these buildings are going to be connected when we’re finished!
Module 2 in progress
Ceilings coming soon! The beginnings of the ceiling for the first floor on Module 2!
Boards covering half of the Module 2 classroom
Halfway there!
Module 2 from above
Adding in the steel for the beams
Junction boxes on Module 2
You can see the little, white electrical boxes sitting on top of the wood. Those are for the lights, ceiling fans, and smoke detectors in this classroom.
Stack of bricks on the ceiling formwork
Nearly ready to start adding the bricks!
Looking up at the ceiling
This is what the ceiling scaffolding/formwork looks like underneath after the bricks are added. Between the bricks, above where the wood planks are, is the poured concrete.

I’ve also had fun getting to be somewhat hands-on in the construction process. For example, the electrician came last week to direct the construction crew on where he needs tubes for the electrical wiring, and first, he and I walked around and made sure that we were happy with the locations of the devices. I chalk-marked the walls in the stairwell showing where I want the lights, and he and I talked through some locations for the electrical boxes. This is way more than I would be involved with on a job in the States. There, the engineer essentially just shows the way they want the system to work and then leaves the details to the electrician. Here, I had to include much more installation-related information on my plans, and now, I’m getting to see it all through. How cool!

Me and the electrician on site
Me talking to the electrician and looking very official in my hard hat (though not wearing appropriate footwear).
One of the guys standing on a board spanning between a ladder and a water drum
Do you like this work platform? Very safe… Don’t worry, he’s not doing anything dangerous… just using a saw to cut the channels in the brick wall for the conduit
Box and conduits set into a wall
Nice and ready for some wires!
Mason putting stucco on the wall
Applying the stucco
Half of the wall with stucco, half still brick
Stucco job in progress
Mason smoothing out the stucco
The mason working on the stucco. I’m still not quite sure how he manages to get it from this lumpy mess to completely smooth. He’s using that piece of metal in his hands to level it out a bit, but that seems like a very long process
Finished stucco wall
Smooth!

Besides the construction, things have been nice and chill since I got back… well, with the exception of actually getting back into the country. I had a little scare in the airport on the way in because I’ve already overstayed my welcome for the year. You can technically only stay for 90 days each year without additional paperwork. When the lady at immigration told me I had already exceeded my allowance, I was worried that they were going to put me right back on a plane home! But thank goodness they let me back in, only giving me a 30-day visa instead of a 90-day… which just means that I definitely can’t leave the country again this year until I’m sure that I’m ready to be gone for good, and when I do leave, I’m going to have to pay 60-days’ worth more for the exit fee (that’s the punishment for overstaying your visa, a fee that accumulates for each day beyond your allowed stay).

Aside from that whole mess, though, things have been good. I’m not feeling overwhelmed or overworked (yet). I’m happy to be back working on the project. It’s been a fun week of hanging out with the roommates and getting back into some good habits. I think my trip home came at just the right time, and now I’m back and feeling ready to have a strong finish to my time here.

I want to make the most of the time I have left, so I’m trying to be more proactive about doing things on the weekends. On Saturday, Julie, Jocelyn, and I went on an adventure walk (aka a hike, but Julie thinks that doesn’t sound fun enough). The mountains near where we live are usually nice and brown, adding some extra brownness to the rest of the brown of the desert landscape. Since it’s been such a humid and misty winter, some of the mountains have turned green! I don’t know how so many little plants managed to spawn in such dusty ground, but I’m not upset about it! From a distance, the mountains look like they’ve just gone a bit moldy.

Road cut out of a brown mountain
Spot the moldy mountains
A half-green, half-brown mountain
How weird is that line between green and brown??

We’re starved for green landscapes here, so we decided to take advantage of this favorable development and investigate. What does that entail exactly? Well, we had to cross over one row of brown mountains before getting to the green ones, so we looked for a path that didn’t seem too exhausting. We walked from our property through our neighborhood and the next one until we got to the foot of a low point between two peaks. I thought maybe that would mean it was easy to cross over. No. I was wrong (rare occurrence, but happens every so often).

It wasn’t “easy”, but we made it over after nearly 30 minutes of walking up a mountain slope that might as well have been vertical. Seriously, it had to be at least a 75-degree incline. And then we had to walk around the mountain on a skinny, slanted path, only one foot-slip away from a tumble all the way down the steep mountainside. The verdict? Not the best route we could have taken, but live and learn!

 

Climbing up the mountain
Julie and Jocelyn having so much fun…
The neighborhood from the top of the hill
The neighborhood!
Selfie at the top
We made it!… to the top of the “gap” between mountain peaks
Jocelyn walking on the little path
The long, winding path around the mountain
Selfie in the wilderness
Our discussion topic at this point: “When I imagine the wilderness, it looks something like this.”

After that, though, it was heavenly! We learned that the moldy green is mostly wildflowers! There was practically a line separating the brown from the green, and after we crossed over, it didn’t matter how steep the path. We were too busy raving about the smell of plants in the air and the fact that there were actual flowers (no irrigation system required!) and marveling at how much happier we felt being surrounded by green life instead of brown dust. It was magical.

Pretty green mountains
It’s like we’re not even in Chilca anymore! (spot the Jocelyn)
Green mountain selfie!
Just happy to be here, breathing in the fresh, plant-supplied air
Green mountains
It doesn’t even look real!! Such a vibrant green
Me laying in the flowers
Just happy to be here
Mountain color progression
Contrast… Green to less green to less green to BROWN
Cactus in a field of green
Despite the addition of these new plants, we’re still in the desert!
More green
Can we live here? I’m moving.
Line of identical little houses
We walked through this weird little neighborhood on our way home. This is what they usually do when they’re marking out plots to be sold. You get this wonderful patch of dirt and this completely customized hut with your purchase!
Little, purple flowers
Flowers!!! SO MANY FLOWERS!
More purple flowers
Can’t. Get. Enough.

On top of all of that, and I’m sure that I cannot possibly convey the extent of my excitement for this next part, we discovered a new neighborhood gem. One of my favorite things to eat here is cheesy bread… exactly what it sounds like. Cheese + bread = Lara dream meal (I’m very easy to please). Our usual cheesy bread supplier is at least a 15-minute drive away, and it’s been closed for the last couple months with no explanation. BUT we recently discovered that there’s another cheesy bread place just a 15-minute WALK from where we live. We walked there to check it out at the end of our hike, and they have now been quality approved by us. This is life-changing! (no exaggeration… it doesn’t take much) I’ve never meant it more when I say that the future is looking bright!

Cheesy bread
Cheesy bread!!! This one has ham in it too
The blue/cloudy sky reflecting on the river

Our final day in El Chaltén was also our final day of hiking… our seventh in a row. The fun wasn’t completely over – we had a flight to Buenos Aires the following day, but the nature portion of the trip was coming to an end. Even though we had a bus to catch, it didn’t leave until 6PM which meant we had nearly the entire day to wander around and get our final taste of the Patagonian wilderness.

The major street with nearly no one in sight
The main road in town

Originally, Mike wanted to do this hike that’s 4 hours of constant uphill and then 4 hours down the same path to come back. It’s supposed to give you a really nice view of the valley on a clear day. He said I didn’t have to go with him, and I’m still not sure if that was him trying to be nice or trying to tell me that he didn’t want me slow-poking along… but if it was the latter, too bad because I decided that I was going to do whatever he wanted, even though there was NO part of me that wanted to go on another 8-hour hike.

THANK GOODNESS he changed his mind. He decided the night before that he didn’t want to do it anymore “because it doesn’t sound very fun”. Tell me about it. I was pretty happy.

Me pretending to wear a backpack-shaped bench
Like my new backpack?
Mike wearing a giant backpack
The sun came out right after my picture… this one of Mike looks like it was taken on a completely different day.
A carved, wooden backpack-shaped bench
The backpack-bench from behind. It’s kind of hilarious…

We decided to have an “easy” day and do three little hikes around town: two to viewpoints and one to a waterfall. This was the itinerary that I planned for us to do on our first day in town as a rest day before Mike overruled me and sent us on the Laguna Torre hike instead because the weather was nice. I gave him a hard time about deleting our rest day, but I have to admit… he was right. I know, am I really admitting that Mike was right about something? Yes, but don’t get used to it. For our entire trip, we got EXTREMELY lucky with the weather. Everyone says that the weather is super variable, and it doesn’t seem like clear days are the norm. We had clear skies and good visibility EVERY day, until this last one when we were doing hikes where that wasn’t as important. It would have been much more of a bummer on the longer hikes we did the two days before. So, good on you, Mike.

For once, we let ourselves sleep in and didn’t set an alarm until 8AM. I know, luxury. Before we could hit the trails, we had to pack our bags and move them out of our room since we were checking out. We were like two sloths getting ready for the day and finally motivated ourselves to leave when it was time for our hostel friends to catch their bus. The bus station was right on our way to the first trailhead, so we walked with them, said our goodbyes, and continued on to the “Los Cóndores” viewpoint. It was just a quick 40-minute walk from town, and you get a nice view of the valley. That’s when we realized how unintentionally well-planned our hiking schedule turned out to be. We could see where Fitz Roy was supposed to be, but it was completely covered in clouds. When we went, it was totally clear! Also, it was so good that we didn’t do that terrible 4-hour uphill hike because it’s only worth it if it’s a clear day, and this was definitely not!

El Chaltén from the first viewpoint
The bustling metropolis of El Chaltén
Fitz Roy almost completely blocked by clouds
Look at all of those clouds around Fitz Roy!
No sign of Fitz Roy
Where is it??? So glad we weren’t doing the Laguna de los Tres hike on this day!

About 15 minutes past that viewpoint is another, Las Aguilas. From there, you can see the valley on the other side of the mountains where there’s a pretty lake. They weren’t the most magnificent hikes, but they were definitely worth the minimal effort it took to get there. Plus, we got to see a few condors along the way! I’m not much of a birder, but even I can appreciate seeing such graceful birds swooping through the air.

Mountains and a lake in the distance
View from the second viewpoint. Not shown: crazy winds.
The road into El Chaltén and mountains behind it
Love these mountains

These two hikes are on the south end of town. Our last hike was to Chorillo del Salto, a waterfall past the north end. It’s only supposed to be a 40-minute hike, but that’s with the trailhead ALL the way at the end of the town. So, we walked from south to north and then went the additional 3km to get to the waterfall.

The hike was easy because it was almost entirely flat but also hard because I kept thinking it should be over soon, and it kept not being over. I guess I would have liked to have some informative signs telling me what kilometer we were on and how many we had remaining, unlike on the Laguna Torre hike when I cursed the existence of such signage. I’m hard to please.

View of a meadow along the way
On the way to Chorillo del Salto
The blue/cloudy sky reflecting on the river
Check out those cloud reflections!
Streaks of algae in the river
Funky algae. Mike loved this. It’s so sculptural.

The waterfall was so pretty! Mike and I both admitted that we hadn’t been expecting much. It was definitely worth the seemingly endless walk to get there. We also showed up at the perfect time. Maybe we were right between tour buses? I don’t know, but it wasn’t terribly crowded when we arrived, and like 15 minutes later, it was completely swarmed with people (you can drive almost all the way to the waterfall, so I’m sure it’s a popular stop for tour buses).

Me with the waterfall
Almost fell in on the way back from this spot, but I didn’t so that’s all that matters.
Mike with the waterfall
Mike made it there much more gracefully than I did.

Guess how far we hiked on our “easy” day. 10 miles. Ha! So much for that. I mean, it was definitely much more relaxed as far as intensity goes, but that’s still quite a distance for a day that was supposed to be easy! I was pooped by the time we made it back. I can’t even imagine how terrible I would have felt if we’d done the more intense hike! 8 hours? No, thank you!

Pretty view of the river on our way back into town
Heading back to town

We still had some time to kill before our bus departure, so we obviously just sat on our butts at the hostel and watched time pass. I was so happy to have some time to sit down… yes, I know that we had a 2-hour bus ride ahead, but post-hike sprawling isn’t the same as bus sitting.

Mike on a roller treadmill
Mike got a kick out of this outdoor “gym”. Obviously he found it necessary to give the equipment a try. This treadmill looked like a greattt workout.
Mike on another "gym" contraption
Elliptical, anyone?
Mike on another mystery piece of exercise equipment
Literally no idea what this is.

The bus took us back to El Calafate for one more night before our flight to Buenos Aires. The scenery along the way was awesome! I know I said that about the ride to El Chaltén also, and that makes sense because it’s the same road… but I didn’t think anything looked familiar. Maybe I’m losing my mind. Maybe my memory is failing. Maybe I was sitting on the other side of the bus. Who knows? It was fab, though.

A lake and fields with ground plants
Along the drive back to El Calafate
Fields topped with menacing clouds
This picture kind of looks like a storm is looming, but I think part of that is smudges on the bus window.
Chalky blue lake along the drive
How did I miss this on the way drive into town??

All we had to do back in El Calafate was repack our bags for our flight the next morning. Of course, we took forever to do that and ended up going to bed WAY too late. Like past 1AM late. And we had an airport shuttle coming to get us at 5:30 in the morning. Do you see what I mean about us being self-saboteurs?

Our only full day in El Chaltén was dedicated to the hike to Laguna de los Tres. It’s the most popular hike in the area, is listed as “difficult”, and is supposed to take 8 hours, so we were prepared for all of the above. In our usual “let’s avoid the crowds” fashion, we aimed for an unrealistic early departure time (6:30AM) and left at a more reasonable early departure time (7AM) which is apparently still long before anyone else in town is even awake. Well, except for this one guy we met who said he hiked there for the sunrise, but he was a rare bird (we’ve been over this before, but who wants to hike for 4 HOURS in the dark??). Anyway, we were not in good company at 7AM. We were in nearly no company. Fine with me!

The valley on our way up
Sleepy valley

The general profile of the Laguna de los Tres hike felt pretty similar to Laguna Torre, the hike we did the day before, but slightly “more”. The beginning has a bunch of unshaded uphill with great views of the valley. When you feel like you might collapse, it turns flat, and trees start popping up!

The shadeless beginning of the trail
No. Shade. Also, see the little rock peeking up in the far background? That’s where we’re headed (though I didn’t know it at the time).
Slightly sunnier view of the valley
The world slowly waking up
Gnarled forest along the way
Funky forest

About an hour in, the trail forks, and we picked the path that goes to a viewpoint where we got our first glimpse of the mountains we were headed towards. It was breathtaking! And we were super lucky with the weather again, so the skies were clear and the views were completely unobstructed. Seeing the mountains was good motivation to keep going but was also like… “Wait, we’re walking ALL THE WAY THERE??”

Me gazing at Fitz Roy from the viewpoint
First look at the mountains. Can you say WOW!?
Mike with Fitz Roy
This is where I start having the same-ish pictures over and over again because they’re all so darn beautiful.
Selfie with Fitz Roy
Brother-sister selfie!
Fitz Roy and the rest of the mountains
Okay one more. Fitz Roy is the tallest peak in the middle, to the left is Poincenot, and to the right is Mermez.

From the viewpoint until the very last segment of the hike, the trail wasn’t bad at all. It’s basically flat… and then you get to the end, and there’s a sign that says the last kilometer is going to take an hour because it’s like 400m of elevation. And then it actually takes an hour. And it is SO steep. And long. And steep. It wasn’t the worst hike I’ve ever done, but it wasn’t exactly a walk in the park either (lol but technically it was a walk in the national park).

Fitz Roy with some cloud cover
Stay away, clouds!
Fitz Roy with some clouds trailing off the peak
It’s like a little smokestack. Getting closer…

The good news was that we were there early, so there weren’t a lot of people coming down. That part of the trail is only really wide enough for one person at a time, and it would have made things much worse if we had to keep moving aside to let people pass. And, probably most importantly, the sun still wasn’t too hot because of course there was zero shade from that point on.

The one thing that was far from ideal was the wind. It was crazy! Most of the way was shielded from by the mountains, but the final stretch was completely exposed. I know I’ve said this before, but I meant it then and I mean it now… I was not confident that I was safe from blowing away. At the very least, there was a very real possibility of blowing over, and it was so steep that blowing over would probably also mean rolling down the mountain. I stopped multiple times and just dug in because I wasn’t confident that I could land my foot where I wanted.

Green valley
100% chance that I took this picture as an excuse to stop hiking for a second. We came across that river on the left side and through the green patch above it.
Rock and wood-covered trail
The way up…
The rock peaks just over a ridge
Almost there almost there almost there!

Then, I got to the top (Mike was already there), and the struggle was all but forgotten. The mountains you’ve been looking at all day are RIGHT THERE, with their jagged peaks and snowy slopes. The lake below them is the bluest blue you’ve ever seen. (After the brownish Laguna Torre from the day before, it looked especially blue.) There weren’t many people there, and it felt like we were part of an exclusive group lucky enough to experience the magic. Like what the heck is this world we live in??? Who would expect a lake like that, tucked up in the mountains? It’s not even fair for places like that to exist in the world. You blink and blink again and then one more time just to be sure… and it’s still there. And it’s still incredible. And even though it’s clearly real considering you’re standing there looking at it with your own eyes, you think they must be messing with you. How is this place real??? And the weather! I can’t talk enough about the weather. There was one little cloud near the peaks when we first arrived and then it cleared away completely.

Mike and me with the lake
We made it!
Laguna de los Tres
Okay, sorry in advance but like… I took a LOT of pictures, and I only picked a few… But there are still so many because they’re just too pretty! And also basically all the same, but can you blame me?
Me with the lake
Okay now glamour shots
Same pic without me
Okay now get out of the picture, Lara!

We walked down to the lake and then around the edge until we could see another lake right next to Laguna de los Tres, Laguna Sucia. That must be one of those Iceland/Greenland naming things (they named the green land Iceland and the icy land Greenland so that people would leave the green land alone) because “Laguna Sucia” means “dirty lagoon”, and that name couldn’t possibly be less suited.

Me on a rock looking down at Laguna Sucia far below
Laguna Sucia
Laguna Sucia from above
What dirty water, right?

While the two lakes are, basically, right next to each other, it’s super weird because Laguna Sucia is like 100m lower in elevation (that’s a pure Lara estimate though, so take it with a grain of salt because my estimates can absolutely not be trusted). There are waterfalls coming out of the top lake that turn into rivers flowing past the lower lake. So strange.

Laguna Sucia and Laguna de los Tres above
This was my best attempt at getting both lakes in the same picture so that you can see the elevation difference between them. How weird is this??
The blue waters of Laguna Sucia
Someone please explain to me how this lake got the name “dirty lagoon”. The glacier that feeds the lake is at the far end of the picture, Glaciar Rio Blanco (white river).
Laguna Sucia and its awesome surroundings
How is this place real?
Laguna de los Tres and the drop-off to Laguna Sucia
Laguna Sucia is to the left, where it looks like the world just ends.
The waterfall between Laguna de los Tres and Laguna Sucia

We admired the lakes for a while until Mike said he was getting cold from the wind (he was in shorts and a t-shirt. I had long pants and a jacket). Then, we hiked up this little mountain nearby to get one more view of the two lakes before heading back down. Already, we could see that the crowds were getting bigger (aka they actually existed), and clouds were starting to gather around the mountain peaks!

We also eavesdropped on this tour group whose guide was explaining how people rock climb Mount Fitz Roy, the tallest peak. After doing the hike that we just did, they walk around the lake, strap on crampons, and hike up the ice. Probably they will stay the night on the ice, so he pointed out a good place to set up your ice cave for sleeping. The next morning, they walk the rest of the way up the ice, partly having to ice climb until finally there’s just rock. They’ll switch into their rock-climbing shoes from there and take one of the routes that have been defined over the years, basically all named for the origin country/state of the people who first completed it. And after all that, they have to go allll the way back down. Geez. People are crazy!

The water. The mountains. No clouds. HOW did we get so lucky???
The lake. The mountains. Again.
I can’t handle this. Also, that’s the ice patch you have to climb up to get to the peak.
Another lake pic
No words, mostly because I already used them up on the infinity other pictures.
The lake. AGAIN.
THE WATER. I’m still not over it.
The valley
View from the top while trying not to blow away
Laguna de los Tres and a little Mike
Spot the Mike, running away from the wind.
Pano of the lake and surrounding mountains
Pano by Mike from the edge of the lake. AHHH so pretty!!
Me with the lake
This was hurriedly taken in a split-second of calm when the wind stopped blowing because I looked like a marshmallow in the other pics with my shirt all filled with air. Also, look at how the peak is already starting to gather clouds.
Super aqua waters of Laguna de los Tres
LAST ONE I PROMISE.

Mike had big dreams for the rest of our hiking excursion. After we hiked down from the lake, he wanted to explore these two other offshoots of the trail. One was to see another glacier, Piedra Blanca. We walked until we had a good view (we decided there was no need to go all the way to the viewpoint when we could see it just fine already) and then turned around and walked back to the main trail.

Piedra Blanca
The glacier Piedra Blanca is peeking out between the mountains

On that path, there were SO many caterpillars. Earlier in the day and the day before, we noticed that there was a weirdly large quantity of caterpillars on the trail, and we tried to avoid stepping on them. On this trail, there was no avoiding them. It seemed like they might have been an invasive species because there were WAY too many. Besides being all over the path, they were also EVERYWHERE in the branches of the tree and bushes. It got a little creepy once you noticed all of the places where they were lurking.

 

Trail littered with caterpillars
Spot the caterpillars! (It’s not hard.)
Creepy bush-lurking caterpillars
Me refilling my water bottle from the river
Water break! Drinking from streams never gets less awesome to me.

There was one more offshoot that Mike wanted to check out, and I had decided that I was fine with doing whatever he wanted to do (my feet were feeling surprisingly okay). We got about 6 steps down the path before he decided that the weather seemed questionable, so we should head back. Also fine with me! We still had like 3 hours of hiking ahead. The skies had been getting cloudier and cloudier from the moment we left the lake, and by the time we decided to head back, you could see almost nothing of Fitz Roy! Thank goodness we went early! I’m sure the lake is still beautiful even with cloudy mountains, but if you have the chance to see them all together, there’s no question that clear weather is the best way to see it.

The valley with two lakes
The two lakes in the distance to the right are Laguna Madre and Laguna Hija. They’re along the second side trail Mike wanted to explore
Fitz Roy blocked out by clouds
Looking back towards Fitz Roy… So. Many. Clouds!

On the way back, we went the other way at the fork and walked by another lake, Laguna Capri. I wasn’t expecting to walk right along the shore! I imagined that we would be up high above it. It was a cool surprise. We didn’t stick around for too long, though, because I think we both just wanted to get back at that point.

The clear waters of Laguna Capri
I wouldn’t mind going for a swim in there!
Campsite in the woods
One of the campsites along the way
Trail through the forest
Nothing better than a hike through a forest! Also, on the way in, there was a sign warning you about the high winds in the area and saying that if they’re really bad, you should avoid standing under a tree. Can someone explain to me where we should be standing in this FOREST to avoid the trees?

Back at the hostel, I think I sat on the ground and “stretched” for about 2 hours before I felt like I wanted to move again. We hung out with some of our new hostel friends, ate our usual ravioli dinner feast, and went to sleep at the usual “way later than planned”. At least we could sleep in the next day, for once!

Me and Mike with the glacier in the background

Our stay in El Calafate was especially short the second time around. We arrived at about 10:30PM, went to sleep at 3:30AM because we apparently love to self-sabotage, and caught a bus to El Chaltén at 8AM. The morning started off extra rough. Any morning after 4 hours of sleep is not going to be pleasant, but we also got a surprise at 7:30 when the lady from the hostel told us that she was confused when she said that the bus would come to pick us up, and we actually had to be at the bus station at 8. EEEEEE!

Thankfully, we were going back to the same hostel in a few days, and they let us leave some of the things we didn’t need (like our tent) which meant packing was infinitely easier. We ran around like maniacs trying to pull ourselves together and were out around 7:45… and we then powerwalked to the bus station because I do NOT like to cut those things close.

We made it there a few minutes before 8, and then the bus also left a little late. Buses always seem to run a few minutes behind schedule until the one time when you need a cushion… and then they leave exactly on time.

The bus ride was uneventful: the scenery was beautiful, Mike slept the whole time, some obnoxious person played music without using headphones. The usual. When we arrived in El Chaltén, the bus went straight to the ranger station so that we could get an introduction to the park and the hikes.

Flat landscape with mountains in the distance
The road to El Chalten

El Chaltén is a village in the northern part of Parque Nacional Los Glaciares, the same park that we visited on our first day when we trekked on Perito Moreno Glacier. The town is inside the park. This is super weird to me because we don’t have people living in national parks in the States. I found myself frequently confused by the “national park” concept during our trip. Like there are portions of some parks that are privately owned. In Torres del Paine in Chile, some portions of the actual W Trek are on private land, some of the campsites are privately owned, etc. You literally can’t do the trek without crossing between private and national land. Very confusing while you’re hiking and get to a sign that says, “Welcome to Torres del Paine National Park,” and you didn’t think you’d ever left.

View of El Chalten from above
El Chaltén

I did some research before we went and thought it would be a good idea for us to take it easy on our first day considering we were coming off of four long days of trekking. There are some short hikes around town, so I had those on the schedule for the first day and had the two major long hikes on the following two.

At the ranger station, the guy who did our orientation said that the weather was really nice, so it would be a good idea to go on a hike in the afternoon if possible because no one knows what weather tomorrow will bring. I said, “We’re doing that already!” Mike said, “We should go on a longer hike just in case.” Ugh. So much for a rest day. His plan was to do the “short” 6-hour hike on the first day, the most popular 8-hour hike on the second day, and this one that’s literally 4 hours up and then 4 hours down on the way back on the last day. He’s a loon. He told me that I could skip the last day if I wanted to rest, but who rests on the LAST day of a hiking trip? That defeats the whole purpose of a rest day!

 

Mike and me along the way
Trail selfie!
The trail with blue, clear skies
Okay, so the weather was pretty perfect…

So, Mike decided that we should do the Laguna Torre hike because the trailhead was literally across the street from our hostel, and it was ONLY 6 hours, unlike the other two hikes he wanted to do. By the time we checked in and got settled and ready to go, it was about 1:15PM aka the hottest part of the day and definitely the ideal time to start a 6-hour hike (sarcasm, in case you didn’t catch that).

The hike itself really wasn’t that bad, but my feet were still killing me, and it was HOT. Even the woman who checked us in at the hostel said that it was abnormally hot, and she was ready for it to cool down again. Yeah, same. The beginning of the hike had some uphill that wasn’t too bad… except for the fact that there was no shade. I learned my lesson after the unfortunate arm-burn incident of the Torres del Paine trek day 3 and covered myself in sunscreen. Mike seems to think he’s superhuman and is fine with a little sunscreen on his face and nothing more. What is it that they say about doctors being the worst patients? I believe it.

Me climbing up a rocky hill
Almost at the lake… just a few more steps! Up, up, and up! (That’s me. Hi, Lara!)
A gorge along the trail
I make the “gorge”ous joke literally every time I come across a gorge, so here it is again. Ain’t this just GORGEOUS?
Green landscape with mountains and a glacier in the distance
First glimpse of the glacier!

After the start, it got much flatter and much shadier for the entire middle stretch of the hike. That was a welcome break! And then, after a tiny uphill, we made it to the lake! Laguna Torre, with its breathtaking waters the color of very milked-down coffee. Yeah, it was kind of gross looking. If that was the main attraction of the hike, I would have said, “NOPE not worth it.” But, you’re really there for the glacier at the far end of the lake.

Tree-shaded trail
There’s nothing better than a tree-covered path
Glacier in the distance with a nice, shaded trail in the foreground
We were definitely thankful for that shade along the trail!
The brown, murky lake
Check out that crystal clear water… yum…
Panoramic picture of the lake and surrounding mountains
It’s still pretty awesome, though.
Laguna Torre with the glacier in the background
Spot the glacier!

We did this extension of the hike to a viewpoint closer to the glacier, and as well-marked as the beginning part of the hike was, this part had exactly ZERO trail markers… unless it was actually so unclear that we were not even near the actual trail. I think we were, though, because part of the hike was along a ridge where there weren’t many other options, so I’m thinking it was actually just terribly marked. The extension was completely exposed to the sun, very rocky, and all uphill. And we spent the whole time going, “Hmm, these rocks look like they’re a little more trampled down, maybe the path is over here,” crossing our fingers, and walking that way.

Me walking along a ridge
This part of the trail was pretty easy to follow, but it wasn’t all this clear.
Mike way up ahead on the trail
Pleaseee don’t make me climb up anymore. (Bye, Mike.)
The glacier!
Glacier glacier glacier!

I don’t even know if we made it to the actual viewpoint because we never reached a sign that said we did. We got to a place that looked like it COULD be the end and then Mike decided that if it wasn’t, it was better than the actual thing anyway (based on nothing but his intuition). That was fine with me. I was ready to turn around. We ate a snack in the shade of some rocks before turning around.

Mike with the glacier
Mike’s classic thumbs up
Another glacier pic
As usual, it looks like we’re on another planet

On the way back, my body was so over walking. Mike was laughing at me because I spent considerable energy ranting about how they have some nerve putting up signs that tell you what kilometer you’re on. How rude, right? You may be thinking, “Oh, that sounds great! Then you know exactly where you are and how far you have to go.” Yes, but no. Yes, I knew exactly how far we still had to go, but no, it wasn’t great. It ruins any chance you have of deluding yourself into believing that there’s only a little bit left. I spent the rest of the time yelling at him (kindly, of course) to tell entertaining stories to distract me from my misery.

Me and Mike with the glacier in the background
Us with a glacier. No big deal. No matter how many glaciers we visit, I’m still totally awed.
The path headed down the mountain
On the way back down! Much better than the way up, though we still had no idea where we were supposed to be walking.
Little waterfall along the trail
Pretty!

When I’m hiking, I go through these phases. At the beginning, my feet hurt and it’s awful, but soon enough, they go numb, I feel fine, and I’m cruising. Later, my feet inevitably remember how unhappy they are and start screaming at me, and I hobble along in agony. Eventually, I get like a 4th wind and can crank out a few more kilometers until I crash and burn again and hobble the rest of the way home. The good thing about this hike was that the trailhead was maybe 20 steps from our hostel, so I really could just collapse at the finish line.

As grumpy as I was at the end, I was happy that we had just done it and had one less day to worry about getting good weather. We spent the rest of the night hanging out with some people we met at the hostel, draining our fresh blisters (that was only me), and crying over the sad state of our feet (also only me). And eating mass quantities of ravioli, the official hiking food of Mike and Lara. All in all, it was a good (and exhausting) day.

Our final day in Torres del Paine started bright and early… if by bright you mean dark because the sun wasn’t up yet. We had about 9.5 hours of hiking ahead, and we needed to finish by 3ish. So, we set our alarm for 5AM. Well, I set mine for 4:50 so I would be ready at the same time as Mike, and then I ended up waiting for him until 5:40!!! 5AM Lara was a little grumpy about that, but I suppose it just makes us even for all of the days when I was the slowpoke.

A map of the park with different legs of the trail highlighted
Here’s our map one more time… Day 1 was up and down the pink. Day 2 was along the blue and then up and down the vertical part. Day 3 was along the orange. Day 4 part 1 was up and down the purple, and then part 2 was along the yellow.

I read in various places about doing this hike in time to see the sunrise. From the end viewpoint, the sun doesn’t actually rise in a direction where you can see it, but I guess you’re supposed to do it for the golden morning sun reflecting on the rocks.  Our campsite was about 4 hours away from there which would have meant waking up around 2AM and hiking the whole thing in the dark. I bet you can guess what we thought about that idea. No. Freaking. Way. I know that sometimes I do things that may seem a little insane, but middle-of-the-night hiking on 3 hours of sleep is not something I’m generally interested in. Personally, I was more than pleased with our view of the sunrise over the valley, but I’ll let you be the judge.

Here comes the sun…
You can do it, sun!!!
WHAT JUST HAPPENED? THE COLORS! THE VALLEY! MY EYES! I know I keep promising this, but it really DID look like this! Don’t ask me how. I DON’T KNOW HOW.
Morning trail views

We hiked for about 1:40 before hitting the first landmark of the day, another campsite, Chileno. It didn’t have any vacancies when we were booking which is how we ended up in the middle of nowhere… but after hiking there, I was actually happy that things turned out the way they did. The path to the campsite is a lot of up and down, and a lot of super steep, gravelly up. If we’d been camping there, we would have had to carry all of our stuff up those hills instead of just daypacks, AND we would have done it at the end of Day 3. Noooo thank you. Things worked out exactly the right way.

Headed to Chileno

We saw maybe 3 people on our way to Chileno but figured we’d see some life once we made it to the campsite. Nope. Chileno was like a ghost town. Seriously, we saw zero people during our stop there. Zero.

Oh well! All the better for our hike. It was pretty ideal – the temperature was super pleasant, my legs were feeling completely fine, and the scenery was beautiful. While the walk to Chileno was very sun-exposed, it didn’t matter because it was still so early. From Chileno until the next landmark (about 50 minutes away), there were a bunch of pretty forests to keep us cool. The trail had a lot of up and down which could have been annoying, but it was easy to get distracted because of the trees and the rivers and the overall ambiance.

Seriously the best kind of trails… easy on the feet (no rocks, thank goodness) and sOoOo pretty! (Not sure why I did that obnoxious “O” thing, but it felt right so I’m leaving it.)
Slightly more trustworthy bridge than the usual…

The next landmark is the ranger station at the base of the ascent to the viewpoint. When we got there, we saw the first hikers coming back in the other direction, aka the crazies who hiked up to see the sunrise. If they started at Chileno then it’s not THAT crazy, but we saw some people who were definitely at our campsite. Good for them, I suppose.

From there, it’s less than a mile in distance to the viewpoint, but the time estimate for that segment of the trail is 1 hour. That information alone gives you a pretty good idea of what the trail is going to be like – steep, steep, and steep.

Sure enough, it was. Mostly, it was like stairs… not in the way where the rocks are actually planned out and are reasonably sized like stairs, but in the way where there are rocks and they’re big and maybe if you were a giant they would be good stairs, but since you’re normal sized, it’s much less convenient. The whole time, you’re thinking, “Well, this is better than if it was just super steep,” but you’re also wondering if you’re just saying that to make yourself feel better. And then you hit a stretch where it IS just super steep, the trail is loose gravel, and you worry about your foot slipping with every step… and you think that maybe the rocks were actually better, but “better” still doesn’t mean “good”.

Thankful for shade.
This is where you get your first glimpse of the top of the towers, though I didn’t realize it at the time. I was too busy crying over the fact that we weren’t at the top yet (or possibly just sweating from my eyeballs).

The beginning part was kind of okay (the “giant steps” part) because it was under tree cover, but the last stretch was horrible. No trees, just a rock wasteland. A very vertical rock wasteland. A very vertical rock wasteland with a very bright sun determined to melt off our skin. We kept asking people who were coming down how much we had left, and I could tell from their faces before they even said anything that it was an answer we didn’t want to hear. I so prefer being the one coming down rather than the one on the way up, begging for information.

I was about ready to say forget it (though not really because if you’re going to stop a hike before you finish, it’s better to stop it before you even start. Once you’re going, there’s no giving up) when we came around a corner, and BAM! We were there, hit with an insane view of a lake and the famous torres (towers) of Torres del Paine. It is still completely baffling to me that we spent so much time hiking up… to a lake. Lakes, to me, are things that happen in low areas, not things that you find at the top of mountains. Mind. Blowing.

BAM! First look when you turn the corner
Then you get a better view of the lake… (brace yourselves for the same picture a few more times).
Down by the water. Are you sick of the same picture yet? SORRY BECAUSE I’M NOT FINISHED.
Reflections!
Not posed. (Definitely posed, though this is basically the position we were in the entire time that we weren’t taking pictures. Staring with “how are you real? eyes.)
Looking the opposite direction from the lake. Give this lonely landscape a little love! It’s pretty but probably underappreciated considering the competition.

Even though we got such a late start (hehe), there still weren’t many other people at the top when we showed up. There were maybe three other groups, but you still could easily get pictures without anyone else in them (the most important thing, of course). We hung out/snacked/stared in awe for about 40 minutes. I would have been cool with staying longer, but Mike said we should get going to make sure that we had enough time to make our bus. Ugh. What a painfully rational thought.

As good as my knee felt on the way up, that’s how bad it felt on the way down. I tried to keep as much weight off of it as I could, but it was impossible. By the time we got to the bottom of the super steep part, I could barely walk. Great.

We did it!
Back down, through the rocky desert, slowly melting into a puddle (but prob that would have helped because then I would have flowed my way down the mountain instead of creak, crack, crying my way down.)

I don’t know what happened. There must have been some kind of trail magic because after maybe a mile of screaming on every step, it was like it got tired and gave up. And then it never hurt again, for the rest of the trip. I suppose I finally broke my knee’s spirit and transformed back into the youthful 20-something I actually am, instead of a creaky, old 30-something in desperate need of a knee replacement. Weird, right? (I clearly have high hopes for my 30s.)(Jk though I’m sure it’s going to be great.)

We definitely started our hike at the right time because there was barely anyone on the way up, and we saw a TON of people on our way back. Between the guard station and Chileno, we kept passing people who were already SO tired, and they hadn’t even made it to the hardest part yet. AND it was only getting hotter outside. They’d ask how close they were, and I usually didn’t need to say anything because my “Oh no, how do I break the truth?” face had already given it away. I don’t like to be the bearer of bad news! We were the bearers of a LOT of bad news.

Almost back to Chileno… one of our last moments of somewhat peaceful nature

Back at Chileno, it was a completely different scene from the morning. Chaos. There were people EVERYWHERE. Mike and I looked at each other and were like, “Get us out of here.” Tourists are the worst, amirite? (I know.) Seriously though, having some sort of awareness of the people around you is generally recommended and seems to be something that people often forget to bring with them on vacation.

THESE were the tents at Chileno. Would you sleep on one of those platforms? Definitely not for active sleepers! No chance I would have made it to my tent if we stayed here (because sad, tired legs), but they’re fun to look at!

From there back to our campsite, we passed so many more people. It was definitely the most crowded day. Finally, the crowds I’d been promised! Good thing we already had enough time for our “just us and nature” moments, so we were fine with sharing. This hike is the most accessible because you can drive almost directly to the trailhead (the parking lot is closer than our campsite was), so there were day hikers which we weren’t used to. That also meant that there was a much more varied population of hikers, rather than the slightly more intense backpacking crew of the previous few days. Some of those people… I don’t know. They might still be hiking up that mountain they were moving so slowly.

On our way back out of the valley
90% of the pictures I took of Mike were because he was standing in the way… so I would take a picture with him in it and then tell him to move. I’d say it’s a win-win. He got some nice pictures out of it!
Spot the sad hikers
Ignore how gross and sweaty I look (you can focus instead on how gross and sweaty Mike is). But this was quite possibly the best ice cream I’ve ever eaten.

Ignore how gross and sweaty I look (you can focus instead on how gross and sweaty Mike is). But this was quite possibly the best ice cream I’ve ever eaten.

We ended up making great time on the hike back and were at our campsite 40 minutes ahead of our goal! That gave us time to cool down a bit and pack up the tent without having to rush. Our celebration was a little premature, though. We still had to get to the visitors’ center to catch our bus… another 7km away. Everyone said it would take 1.5 hours to walk which didn’t sound so bad, but I wasn’t thinking about it in terms of “you’ve already been hiking for 8 hours before this”.

We thought about hitchhiking, but it turns out that neither of us is brave enough to commit to a solid attempt. So, we walked. Looking back, I’m 100% confident that we could have gotten a ride. What a day to choose to be shy. I blame Mike because that’s what siblings do. And also because he talked a big game and had no follow through, so it’s clearly his fault.

This bridge was literally the only cool part of our walk to the visitors’ center
It was all the way on the final kilometer though, when the destination was in sight…
So we totally could have just gotten a ride and then walked back 5 minutes to see the bridge.
Unedited post-hike state

By the time we made it to the visitors’ center, both of us were about ready to keel. The entire 7km was shade-less and also essentially view-less which meant there was nothing to distract us from our misery along the way. I was thrilled to have 6 hours of bus ride ahead. I felt like I wanted to sit down for the rest of forever, and basically, I got my wish.

The ride back to Argentina and El Calafate went smoothly, and we even got back before the grocery store closed which was clutch. Mike boiled us a feast of ravioli for midnight dinner, our first cooked meal in four days. And what a feast it was!

And then we procrastinated re-packing our bags for the next leg of our trip and ended up going to bed SO late even though we had an early bus to catch. Classic.

Beautiful view of the lake with sky blue water

Our third day of the W trek started out much better than the second. There was no wind in the forest where we were camping. I didn’t wake up terrified of blowing away. Nothing disturbed us until my alarm went off at 8AM which means Mike slept for 14 hours straight and I slept for 11.

We treated ourselves with a late morning because we had our shortest day of hiking ahead, just over 10 miles. Plus, we were both exhausted, and I think my body would have full-on rebelled if I had tried to wake up any earlier. Even with the extra rest, I wasn’t thrilled about having to move.

A map of the park with different legs of the trail highlighted
Here’s the map again! Day 1 was up and down the pink line, Day 2 was along the blue line and then up and down the vertical part, and Day 3 was along the orange line.

There was no sense of urgency in getting ready to go. We didn’t even have a tent to pack up (we spent that night in a rented tent because it was the only option left when we were booking), and it still took us until about 9:30 to get completely ready (okay… probably it was mostly me taking my sweet time, but we really had no reason to rush). Mike and I met at the trailhead… and it looked like we were dressed for completely different seasons. I was feeling the morning chill, so I had leggings and my winter coat on. He was in his lightweight hiking pants and a t-shirt. The difference is that he’s more often hot than cold, I’m the opposite, and we dress accordingly. Sometimes we’re both right about what will work for us, but this did not end up being one of those times. Who do you think was wrong?

Okay, okay. It was me. I think we walked for 10 minutes before I felt like I was going to melt into a puddle. There was way more sun than I was expecting, plus I hate starting out cold even when I know I’m going to warm up from the exercise.

Lake Nordenskjöld
First views of the lake
Another view of the lake
That. Water.

Our segment for the day was the second bottom part of the “W” which meant we had to take all of our stuff with us again. Since there weren’t any big viewpoints along the way, I thought it was going to be an underwhelming day. HA! You’d think I would have figured it out by then. Maybe there weren’t any mind-blowing, mountain-surrounded valleys, but the scenery was still amazing. Soon after we left our campsite, Francés, the forest thinned out, and we started walking downhill towards Lago Nordenskjöld (that’s about when I decided I needed to take my coat off).

Epic mountain
Yeah, the views were still pretty fantastic

After about an hour, we made it all the way to the edge of the lake! I had no idea that we were going to get so close to the water. It was beautiful! And we walked along a little rock beach which made me like it even more because you know how much I hate sand (and if you don’t, just know that I hate it a lot and do my very best to avoid it).

The rocky shores of the lake
Don’t you just want to go for a swim?
Pretty lake view
If this wasn’t only an hour into the hike, I would have tried to convince Mike to take a snack break so I could stare at the water for longer.
Walking along the lake shoreline
<3 <3 <3

The route for the rest of the day followed the edge of the lake pretty closely, though that was the only time we were actually within touching distance of the water. From there, the trail headed uphill and back into the woods for one of the only shaded stretches of the day. That’s when we reached our first landmark, another campsite, Cuernos. Cuernos is another site where people sometimes stay after the hike we did the day before, and all I can say is thank goodness we got a spot at Francés. No chance would I have survived another two hours of hiking the night before (either my legs would have rejected me, or Mike would have killed me out of annoyance).

Mike filling his water from a rocky stream
This was the actual best thing… I loved being able to drink straight from the rivers! Mike is filling up his water bottle.
The lake
And I thought it was going to be an underwhelming day. HA!
Mike and me with the lake behind us
Lake selfie!

With our fresh day 3 legs, the hike to Cuernos took only about an hour and a half. We stopped briefly to put on sunscreen which turned out to be a VERY good idea, though we probably should have also reapplied because my face was very pink at the end of the day. And my arms! Oh, my poor arms. I was wearing long sleeves, so I didn’t put anything on them… and when I started getting overheated, I pulled my sleeves up to my elbows without even thinking about it. I had an embarrassingly distinct line on my forearms which I hoped would even out the next day a bit. (Spoiler alert, it’s been like a month and a half since this day, and I STILL have a line on my arms. So the moral of the story is to WEAR SUNSCREEN.)

A rocky mountain peak with a little waterfall
Spot the waterfall!
The lake from above
Bye, bye shoreline! Up we go…

After Cuernos, the hike felt a bit like walking through the desert. Any hint of the morning cool was long gone, and there was NO shade, just low plants. It was pretty, that’s for sure, but it was also exhausting. It kind of ended up working out in my favor because usually, Mike is like, “Meh meh meh, I don’t need a break,” but he was definitely feeling the heat too. It also helped that we had such a short day, so we didn’t feel like we needed to hurry.

The rocky trail with some low plants
The trail. Pretty plants, but not great for shade
Me with the lake
I hope you like lakes because this isn’t even close to the last lake picture
The trail bending away from the lake
Is that a picturesque trail, or what?
A particularly rocky stretch
I can’t say my feet appreciated those rocks, though

Elevation-wise, the whole day was a constant up and down and up and down. The good news was that my knee wasn’t hating me as much, plus I had a fresh strategy for the downhills to keep it that way (aggressive use of my hiking poles mixed with a slight side turn, in case you were wondering). Thanks to that fortunate development, we managed to keep a good pace throughout the day. I was surprised by how fast we could comfortably go when I wasn’t crippled by blisters and throbbing knees! And it was so nice to be able to focus on enjoying the hike.

 

Me walking across a suspension bridge
Another suspension bridge! And another 1 person at a time limit
Mike crossing a suspension bridge
Mike making the trek across
Pretty red and orange streaked rocks
LOOK AT THE COLORS OF THESE ROCKS
Another gorgeous trail pic
Ugh so many ugly views I can’t even stand it
Weird-looking cliffs by the trail
Funky mountains. Seriously what is happening with those cliffs?
Beautiful view of the lake with sky blue water
I don’t know what was going on with the light and the water when we got to this point, but yes, this is what it actually looked like and no, I couldn’t believe my eyes.
Another view of the lake with pretty colored rocks
Imagine a pterodactyl in this picture and try to tell me that it doesn’t look like it belongs.
The lake with clouds reflecting on the surface
I CAN’T DEAL WITH THIS. How are these colors real? How is this place real? How did we get so freaking lucky with the weather? WHY CAN’T I LOOK AT THIS VIEW ALL THE TIME FOREVER FOR THE REST OF MY LIFE?
Mike and me with a mountain backdrop
I’m sure you’re sick of lake pictures by now, so here’s us with some mountains instead (except just kidding because how could you ever get sick of those???)
Me gazing out at the lake
So darn pretty
Crossing the river with no bridge
Pretty sure it looks like I’m smiling because I’m laughing about how I’m definitely not going to make it. Mike took this picture and then attempted to direct me across. Once I accepted that water was going to get into my boots, it wasn’t as hard.

Our next landmark was a fork in the trail. The left fork continues along the route of the W, and the right fork leads to the campsite where we were spending the night (because the more convenient campsite was booked… that’s what happens when you book things only 2 weeks ahead of time. No complaints from me, though. I was just happy we could make it work!). I knew our campsite was kind of in the middle of nowhere, but I didn’t realize just how out of the way it was. I estimated it was maybe another hour after the fork in the road. It was not. Try 2.5 hours.

Soon after the fork, we found ourselves at the edge of a river that absolutely should have had a bridge. It was wide, the current was strong, and there was literally no way to get across without getting water in your shoes. I was mostly worried that I was going to fall over and get everything in my bag wet, but my hiking poles saved the day once again, and my socks were the only thing that didn’t come through unscathed.

From that point on, there was truly no shade. Mostly, there weren’t even ground plants. Just rocks. On the bright side, it was fairly flat. I spent most of the walk marveling at the colors. It seems almost stupid when I write it out, but the colors just seemed so vibrant in comparison to other places. Like I was walking around with color filters over my eyes that made everything look unrealistically saturated (so if you’re thinking that my pictures look like I did a little too much filtering, I promise I didn’t. It somehow does actually look like that).

Mountain views
Oh, you know. Just another stellar landscape
Red and black rocky stretch along the trail
This is definitely the surface of another planet. Check out those rocks!

Eventually, once I realized that my time estimate was WAY off, I got to the point where I transformed into Mike (a terrifying image). I was trucking because my knee didn’t hurt, and I just wanted to get to the end. No breaks! No pictures! (Kidding, there’s always time for pictures.) No snacks! I was determined to keep moving at my aggressive pace and left Mike behind at some point. Who knows what he was doing back there, but I was not stopping. Then, we got to the place where I thought the campsite was, and nope. There’s a hotel there, Las Torres, and I thought the campsite was close to there. It’s not. We still had at least another 30 minutes.

Me walking down into the valley
“Mike! What’s taking you so long?”
The valley
THE COLORS
The trail running through a field of weird, low bushes
So… these plants are weird.
More weird bushes
Within minutes, we went from the surface of another planet to this… also possibly another planet but like… what?
River running through the valley
At this point, I was ready to be at the campsite. When I took this picture, I probably thought we were almost there. NOPE. This was still maybe 40 minutes away.

By the time we arrived at the campsite, I was beyond ready to sit down. At least my knee wasn’t hurting, though! And I wore approximately 85 pairs of socks (+/- 83 pairs), so I didn’t get any new blisters! So many victories!

We set up the tent, showered, and went to sleep as soon as we could manage because we had a fun 5AM start the next day. Our last day in Chile!

Me sitting at Mirador Britanico

I had possibly the worst sleep of my life after our first day of hiking in Torres del Paine. The day was windy enough to make you feel like you were going to blow away, and the night was even worse. I woke up around 12:30AM because of the WIND. Let me be clear – I am NOT a light sleeper. I’ve slept through hurricanes and thunderstorms and being stepped on. This time, though, I woke up terrified that our tent was going to blow away and could not fall back asleep. There was no reasoning with my middle-of-the-night mind. How could the wind lift our tent + me + Mike + our stuff? Irrational. I just wanted it to be morning so that we could leave.

View of Lago Pehoe
Photo taken while death-gripping my phone so it wouldn’t blow out of my hand
I suppose I must have fallen back asleep a few times because it didn’t feel like I was awake for 6 whole hours. Even so, it was not a restful sleep AT ALL. I kept waking up to my whole body tensed up and my heart beating like crazy.

As soon as my alarm went off at 6:30AM, I was like, “Great! Let’s go! I’ve gotta get out of here.” I think I was up and out of the tent before Mike even opened his eyes. He wasn’t quite as freaked out by the wind, but he did say that he got out a couple of times during the night to make sure the tent stakes were still in the ground.

Lago Pehoe
This is the same lake that we took the boat across on our very first day

There was actual danger of the tent blowing away as we disassembled it, but we managed that with body weight and a pile of rocks. I’m sure we looked like very competent campers… We also discovered that the tent didn’t come out totally unscathed. A few of the tent poles had a slight bend in them that wasn’t there before. So, I’m not exaggerating. The wind. Was. Crazy.

A map of the park with different legs of the trail highlighted
The W trek is the pink, blue, orange, and purple lines put together. We went up and down the pink line on Day 1. On Day 2, we walked the bottom part of the blue and then went up and down the vertical part before getting to our campsite where blue meets orange.

This was our first time hiking with our full packs since we only needed daypacks the day before. We walked about 2.5 hours along the first bottom part of the W (starting from where blue and pink meet, we walked along the blue line) before we got to drop them off again. The beginning of the hike was brutal, not because the hike itself was difficult but because 1) the wind was still insane and 2) my feet weren’t numb yet, so the impact of Day 1 was being acutely felt (despite the super fun blister draining party I had the night before).

Sun rising over the lake
Early morning lake views
Mountains along the trail
Mike loves his panos… and I love this one he took. Those mountains! I can’t handle their awesomeness!
Mountain peak in the distance
Hey, pretty mountain
Gorgeous mountain peak
This mountain actually doesn’t look real
Pretty mountains in the distance
The wind may have been brutal, but I was definitely still enjoying the view

Thankfully, the whole hike wasn’t a windy mess. By about 1.5 hours in, my feet were back to a comfortable numbness, and we hit a forested area that helped to cut out the wind. From that point on, it was like a whole new world. I took off my winter coat and rain pants and actually felt hot instead of like a windblown icicle. Numb feet, comfortable temperature, beautiful mountains… what more do you need?

Forested hiking path
So much better than hiking the windy plains!
The remains of burned trees
Another tree graveyard
Deep blue lake
I can’t get over the colors
Suspension bridge
A suspension bridge across the river… this one was marked with a capacity of 1 person at a time. Not scary at all.
A river with mountains in the background
View from the middle of the bridge
Looking downstream from the bridge
Looking the other direction… Still a beautiful view!
Suspension bridge with mountains behind it
The suspension bridge (from the spot where we stopped to fill up our water bottles!)

When we got to the bottom of the middle leg of the “W” (where the blue line turns north on the map from before), we left our big packs at the Italiano ranger station and continued on with only daypacks. The day’s hiking to that point was fairly flat, so it wasn’t bad having to carry everything. After that, though, there was a LOT of uphill, and I was happy to have a lighter load.

From the moment we started the second part of the hike, Mike was saying that we needed to go faster. I guess he was worried about the time? I thought we were fine and was mostly concerned with doing what little I could to appease my very unhappy feet. There was a zero percent chance of me speeding up and maybe a 5% chance that I was even physically capable of doing so. I told him to go ahead, especially because this part of the hike was slightly more crowded, and he kept practically running to pass people. Nope. Not a chance. So, off he went, and I made friends with some of the other slowpokes around me. There’s nothing like shared discomfort to jump start a friendship!

Trees along the trail
This part of the hike was cool… you basically walk along the top of a ridge that’s lined with these funky trees.

I was extra happy that I sent Mike ahead because the hike was gorgeous, and then I didn’t feel guilty about stopping to gape and take pictures (and catch my breath…). My gosh. The mountains. The river. The blue skies. The trees. I kept blinking, trying to clear my eyes because it absolutely did not look real.

Me on a rock in front of the snow-covered mountain
The first clear view of the avalanche mountain

Mike was waiting for me just before the first viewpoint. I don’t know that he meant to stop like 2 minutes short, but it was nice to get there together. I was already amazed by the little glimpses of the mountains that I got along the hike. The view when we stepped into the clearing was jaw-dropping. We literally sat there and watched avalanches cascading down the side of the mountain! They’re pretty frequent, too. Terrifying. But also amazing. And also terrifying. You can hear them happening… It’s a low rumble, like a plane taking off or thunder in the distance. Crazy!!

Me standing on a rock and short Mike with the mountain behind us
Me and Mike in front of avalanche mountain. I’m standing on a rock.
Avalanche mountain
One more so you can enjoy an unobstructed view

We hung out and ate a snack before continuing to the next viewpoint, Britanico, maybe another hour and a half away. The beginning part was flat, flat, flat, so we stayed together because I could maintain a Mike-acceptable pace, even though my knee was starting to act up again. At the very end, it’s steep, steep, steep… and you emerge to this view that’s somehow even more incredible than what you’ve seen up to that point. I don’t even know how to explain it. There are mountains on every side up ahead, and when you look behind you, there’s the super blue lake from the morning in the distance and you’re like, “I CANNOT BELIEVE WE WALKED ALL THE WAY FROM THERE TO HERE.”

A lake in the far, far distance
I CANNOT BELIEVE WE WALKED ALL THE WAY FROM THERE TO HERE!
Pretty forest
More forested paths on the way to the final viewpoint!

It was so worth it. So incredibly worth it. We said we were going to stay for half an hour and then ended up almost doubling that. Mike and I kept looking at each other in disbelief. How does a place like this exist??? Brace yourself for approximately infinity pictures.

River with mountains
Getting closer to the viewpoint…
River with mountains again
I know these are all basically the same, but like… I’m obsessed.
Mountains!!
What the what.
MOUNTAINS!
SO COOL!
Britanico lookout peaks
How. Are. You. Real?
Me with mountains in the background
Me standing on the most epic rock. You have an unobstructed 360-degree view from up there!
Mountain peaks
<3 <3 <3
Panoramic shot on the way to the last viewpoint
Almost there!
Me sitting at Mirador Britanico
Enjoying the view from my snack spot
Panoramic photo at the Britanico viewpoint
Mike took this 360-degree panorama picture that can kind of help you imagine what it was like… but just imagine it all much, much bigger.

Finally, we set off for the ranger station. That’s when my knee really started hurting, and the rest of the hike was a complete mess. Between my feet, my throbbing knee, and the fact that I was just tired, I was not moving quickly. Sorry, Mike! He, on the other hand, seemed fine. Ugh.

We eventually made it back to our backpacks and from there, had only another half hour to hike to our campsite. It was all flat. Thank. Goodness. It was a shorter day than our first, only 12.5 miles and about 9 hours (basically a walk in the park), but by the time we made it to the campsite, we were both ready to collapse. The girl at reception pointed us to our tent… up a hill, practically the last tent. Then, she explained where the bathrooms were… all the way down the hill. We looked at each other like, “Yeah, right,” and decided there was no chance we were using the bathrooms.

Flat hiking paths on the way to our campsite
The final leg of our hike… wonderfully flat
Another fab mountain view
On our way to the campsite! The views just don’t stop.

Mike passed out before 6PM, almost immediately after we ate. I, unfortunately, got to the point where I REALLY had to go to the bathroom. I did what anyone would do in that situation… and spent the next 20 minutes writing in my journal, trying to convince myself to just go. It went something like this…

“It’s 8:17PM, and I have no interest in being awake anymore. “So go to bed,” you say. “What’s the problem?” Ah. Yes, there is a problem. I have to go to the bathroom, and it is so incredibly far away. And on a hill. I mean, I don’t know if the actual bathroom is on a hill, but our tent is near the top of one and the bathroom is at the bottom. Aka getting there would be very easy, but coming back would be all uphill. No, I take that back. No direction would be easy because my feet are killing me and my knees hate downhills. Also fun side fact, I’m fairly certain that one of my toenails is going to fall off because it’s currently blue.

I know what I have to do. It’s not even really a question. I just don’t like the answer. I need to get up. I need to walk to the bathroom and stop whining. Then, I need to suck it up and walk back to our tent where I will be able to sleep without worrying about waking up in the middle of the night. Then I get to sleep for like 11 hours straight, and what could be better than that? Okay, I think I’m convinced that this is the only way. It really is though… I need to just do it.

Step 1: sit up and drag body to tent door.
Step 2: open door and put on flip flops.
Step 3: open rain fly and try to look semi-coordinated while getting out.
Step 4: don’t cry the first time you put your feet on the ground.
Step 5: do what you need to do, knowing that you have such wonderful things (aka sleep and not feeling like you’re going to pee your pants) ahead.
Step 6: go into a comatose sleep because you took a Benadryl, so you should probs get moving before that fully kicks in and you just pass out.

I’ll let you know how I do.”

Clearly, I survived. It wasn’t pretty. I hobbled my way down the hill, baffled by the fact that everyone else around me seemed to be doing just fine while I was a total wreck. And then, I hobbled back up the hill, collapsed into the tent, and enjoyed my 11-hour hibernation.

Tent on a platform at our campsite
This wasn’t our tent (because obviously I forgot to take a picture of ours), but you get the idea… except now imagine it at the top of a big hill.