25
Mar 2013
POSTED BY Sheena
POSTED IN

Asia, Blog

DISCUSSION 10 Comments

Hand to Mouth

Like all of the businesses on the block, the lights were out.  All of the shop owners had migrated out to the streets, conversing with others, watching the night continue on.  We eventually left the moonlight and entered a restaurant that was five shades darker inside than the sky was outside.  A wall of heat and humidity built up like a sauna.  I wasn’t sure how this whole eating Indian food business in the dark would play out.  To even say that I fare well with popcorn in a movie theater would be an overstatement.  Yet, I would attempt the task if it meant I could eat this food once again.  Even without electricity, the cooks were working over their portable gas stoves, mixing curries and flipping dough for chapati in the air like pizza boys.

Just a few days earlier we had entered this same restaurant. After sleeping off a few hours of jet leg, we wandered outside sleepy eyed, using our instincts to move us in the right direction.  We passed by the sari shops, a man at a fold out table selling Indian snack foods, and a convenience store with its entire store contents on display through the glass window; everything from coconut oil for the hair to skin whitening lotion for the face.  Inside the restaurant, every plastic seat was filled with Indian friends and families, talking while nonchalantly mixing their rice and curry on sheets of banana leaf with their fingertips.  Their fingers, covered in curry and rice moved like worms through their food, until eventually they would pinch a pile of rice with their fingertips, and then, using their thumb, push the food off of their fingers and into their mouths.

Our young South Indian server leaned over our laminate table and lit a long flimsy candle, tipping it until the wax dripped off the end.  His dark chocolate face glowed in the candlelight, unfazed by the beads of sweat which broke into streams down his face.  Quickly he stuck the candle’s bottom in the melted wax until it dried upright in place.  His second candle tested his patience, continuously falling over.  His eventual success left him with a permanent smile; his head broke out into a solitude dance of side to side head bobs.  Hypnotized by the head bob and infatuated with our present life, I felt butterflies rush through my body, disbelieving that we were actually in Asia.

As we sat in the candlelight, close to invisible, my confidence began to rise.  I thought maybe tonight I would attempt to eat with my hands as my utensils.  And then, bam!  The lights were back on and the air conditioning was pumping.  Our waiter rushed over, head bobbing in excitement at our fantastic luck.  The candles were blown out.  Until next time.

While we waited with anticipation for Nacho to arrive on the boat to Kuala Lumpur, we explored a city of sky scrapers, high rises and a highway system that cobwebbed through every nook and cranny.  Mixed in with all of the modernity were enormous mosques where calls of prayer echoed through the air, Taoist temples rested, Buddhist temples stood vibrant with their red Chinese lanterns, and Hindu temples, such as Sri Mahamariamman, were surrounded by flower sellers displaying their chunky necklaces of marigolds and chains of jasmine to tie in the hair.

Just on the outskirts of Kuala Lumpur, the Batu Caves housed yet another impressive Hindu shrine. An enormous statue of Lord Subramaniam towered over the steps leading up to the cave’s entrance in a towering limestone outcropping.  Entertaining monkeys scurried about, jumping through the trees and racing up the walls of the steps.  While they were wild, they were also very used to people and what exotic foods we carried.  One monkey did a quick hand grab, stealing from a tourist a bottle of Gatorade.  As she watched, the monkey punctured the plastic with its teeth, sucking the remains of the orange liquid into its mouth.

During small talk with our Indian taxi driver on the way to the Thai embassy, our conversation moved towards cuisine.

“Eating food with your hands tastes different!!  The Indians and the Malays, we eat with our hands.”  Mimicking the motion of eating food, he pinched all of his fingers together in the air, “It tastes so much better!   The Chinese know how to do it too.  They are very smart using the chopsticks and their hands.  But a spoon,” he wiggled his pointing finger from side to side, “That is no good.  You must try with hands!”  And by this he meant with his right hand.  Indians never use their left hand for eating. It is strictly reserved for more unsanitary purposes.

To our great fortune we met a wonderful group of Malaysians through two separate but intermingling Kuala Lumpur Volkswagon clubs.  Die hard Volkswagon lovers.  Die hard food lovers willing to show us their favorite restaurants and answer all of my dumb questions.  One of the members, Vijay, offered to make briyani; a traditional Indian dish of heavily spiced rice, meat and vegetables; and a rich, creamy platter of butter chicken.  Kannan, who just so happens to be the fourth ranked mixologist in the world, made up a couple of gallons of sangria, and the stage was set. At our host’s house, I dug my fingers into my food.   I don’t know if the food tasted so good because I was eating with my hands or if the chef was just that unbelievably good, but it was beautifully delicious.

Leave a Comment >>


18
Mar 2013
POSTED BY Brad
POSTED IN

Asia, Blog

DISCUSSION 15 Comments

Malaysian Invasion

It’s early afternoon and the sun is high overhead, heating the humid air into a sauna that speckles our shirts with perspiration. Vines climb from the ground into the canopy of a tree, out across the limbs, and then dangle in the air above our heads.  We sit on a bench and watch people go by.  A Chinese couple passes, followed by several young Muslim women.  Their silk head scarves shade their faces from the hot sun while their smooth gait is tapped out on the sidewalk by their petite sandals.  They float smoothly along in their elegant silk gowns in such a way as to seem impervious to gravity.

The French say that by presenting ourselves artfully, our presence may add beauty to the world.  I can only imagine that they came to this conclusion after watching Muslim women walk.

The loudspeakers atop the mosque’s minarets crackle to life, and then a voice like a singing cello begins its steady, melodic rendition of the call to prayer.  The voice rings out over the city, a cappella, in an enchanting echo reminding Muslims that it’s time to find a peaceful place to face Mecca and pray.  We sit back and let the sound saturate us.  It reminds us that we’re far from home; that we’re in the Islamic world now.  We’re in Kuala Lumpur.

We amble along the sidewalk, shriveling in the heat, gulping the saturated air as though it’s liquid water.  Between two buildings a Hindu temple appears, adorned with hundreds of ornate statues of mystic blue gods.  From within the temple the rapidly shifting notes of a shehnai fill the street and the ground reverberates with the thud of a hand drum.  We kick off our sandals and walk inside to see where the music is coming from, and are met by a scene of pure jubilation.  Under the central pavilion men and women are dressed to the nines.  Musicians seated on the floor belt out wild instrumentals while flower petals are thrown and little girls in saris run through the canopy of cheerful adults.  It feels like a Bollywood dance scene will break out at any moment.

We have walked into a traditional Indian wedding!

The bride and groom are dressed in elaborate getups with headdresses, necklaces, jewels, and vibrant makeup.  In between trips around the shrine they are showered with flower petals and wafted with candle smoke, all the while surrounded by smiling family and friends.  We strike up a conversation with an older woman named Raji, who gives us the inside scoop about the bride and groom.  She seems to be the cheeriest person I’ve met in the last few weeks.  Everyone is like this.  The little girls run around in their saris handing out party favors to the guests.  Outside of the pavilion more guests eat curry and rice with their fingers, smiling in the sun.

Aristotle said that happiness is the meaning and the purpose of life, the whole aim and end of human existence.  I can only imagine that he came to this conclusion after attending an Indian wedding.

In the late afternoon, Sheena and I hop on the metro.  As soon as Teng Tsen heard that we were in town, he called his Volkswagen club together for a proper welcome party.

“All right, we’ll see you at Sri Petaling station at 6:15. We’ll be the goofy looking Americans,” I’d written.

“I’m the good looking Malaysian…look out for the VW kombi!”

We emerge from the station to find Teng Tsen waiting for us in his sweet 1974 air-cooled VW kombi.  We load up and roll out with the windows down, a cool breeze filling the van.  We take a quick detour into a residential neighborhood where Seb and Soizic tag along in their 1966 split window VW bus.  Somehow, through the miracle of Asian chaos and coincidence, we meet up with the other members of the club in traffic on a busy freeway, and then slither as one big VW snake to a roadside food stand.

Over bowls of Yong Tau Foo we swap stories tell lies about our VW-related challenges and triumphs.  All the while, Sheena and I have to keep pinching ourselves.  Are we really in Asia?  Were we really just in South America?  It already seems like a lifetime ago, and Nacho hasn’t even arrived on the ship from Buenos Aires yet.

We load up again, this time in Seb’s van, and head out for cold drinks.  In a parking lot we crowd around tables in folding chairs where we’re joined by more VW clubbers, and throw back several glasses of ice cold tropical juice.  The parking lot is packed with Beetles and kombis, and our table is equally packed with fun-loving Volkswagen people.  Try as we might, nobody will let us pay for anything.  “When you’re in our country, it’s our treat!” they say.

Eleanor Roosevelt once said that happiness is not a goal; it is a by-product.  I can only imagine that she came to this conclusion after driving in a Volkswagen.

Leave a Comment >>


14
Mar 2013
POSTED BY Brad
POSTED IN

Blog, South America

DISCUSSION 17 Comments

Dirty Money, Clean Getaway

It shouldn’t have taken me as long as it did to realize that I was not sitting face to face with a stock broker, as I had been told, but with a boss in a money laundering ring.  After five months of selling illegal currency on Argentina’s black market I should have been less naïve, but clearly I was no more than a stable boy in this rodeo.

The building was nondescript, sandwiched between skyscrapers in downtown Buenos Aires, its windows mirrored and unmarked.  The blank hallway on the fourth floor was punctuated by nothing more than a green button on one wall.  The heavy deadbolt let out a metallic clunk, and we entered the office.

A deflated-looking receptionist sat on a flimsy chair behind a bare desk.  The meeting room where we waited for the money launderer contained a cheap desk, four chairs, and a telephone.  There wasn’t a computer in the whole building and what furniture there was seemed rented and cheap; the place could be evacuated in no time flat if the cops showed up.

We handed the man our stack of US dollars, and he handed us a bigger stack of Argentine pesos.  And just like that we saved $1,411, or 35%, on the shipping container in which Nacho and two motorcycles would travel from Buenos Aires to Malaysia.

When it comes to beauty, Argentina comes up aces.  We are envious of its mountains.  We are envious of its rivers, streams, and its lakes.  We are envious of its gorgeous women and its handsome men with their slender bodies, perfect faces, olive skin, and long, dark, voluptuous hair.  But when it comes to its economy, Argentina is in shambles, swirling faster and faster into an uncontrollable toilet dive.  For this, we are not envious.

A few years ago, Argentina enjoyed a prosperous economy.  Its currency was tied to the US dollar, trading one to one.  The Argentine people vacationed to “cheap” places like Europe and the USA.  Then, in a series of botched economic moves, Argentina devalued its currency, inflation became rampant, the government went through a bond default, and the people’s bank accounts instantly vaporized.  With unbridled  inflation, the people began rebuilding their savings in US dollars; by keeping their savings in pesos, they would effectively lose ten, twenty, thirty percent per year due to inflation.

Then, in 2011, the government made it illegal to obtain US dollars in Argentina.  This, of course, gave rise to a black market for US currency.  When we arrived in Argentina five months ago, the official exchange rate between the peso and dollar was 4.7 to one.  Since we had US dollars with us, we were in a position to sell our dollars on the black market to Argentine people who needed them.  We made our first sale at 5.875 pesos to one dollar, effectively reducing the price of everything we would buy in Argentina by 25%.  We would make a sale every week to keep up with inflation.

Sitting in the money launderer’s bleak office in Buenos Aires five months later, we would make our last trade at 7.5 pesos to one dollar, while the official rate had only risen to 4.9.  In five months, the peso had inflated 28%.

Over the course of our stay in Argentina, we would save over $2,000 by selling our dollars to ice cream shop owners, parking lot attendants, auto parts dealers, and money launderers.  To use an ATM was to throw perfectly good money in the trash.  The rivers and streams are pristine, the lakes and mountains are awe inspiring, the women and men are steamy hot, but there is no hope for Argentina’s economy.

A few weeks prior to arriving in Buenos Aires, we had been in El Chalten, the town at the base of Mount Fitz Roy.  While eating breakfast one morning, someone knocked on our door.  It was Kevin, a Canadian motorcyclist who reads our blog; he recognized Nacho and came over to say hello.  We got to talking, and learned that he and his riding partner, Jan, were also nearing the end of their trip South.

“So what are you doing next?”, he asked.

“Once we get to Buenos Aires we’ll ship Nacho to Malaysia, and then drive from there to Europe,” I said.  He considered it for a moment, and then pitched an idea.

“Mind if we come along to Malaysia?”

And just like that, Nacho would have two BMW motorcycles to use as padding in the shipping container for the long crossing to Malaysia.

When we reached Buenos Aires, the four of us rented an apartment in the San Telmo neighborhood.  It would serve as our basecamp while we drove around town for shipping broker meetings, customs visits, container loading, and meeting with money launderers.  While we were at it, we decided we might as well see what the city had to offer, and to our delight Buenos Aires turned out to be totally excellent.

Day after day we explored the city.  In la Boca we admired the urban art and street performers,  in San Telmo we explored the antique market and sampled restaurants, we found an extensive beer cave in Microcentro, and explored the most elaborate graveyard on the planet in Recoleta.

On the very last day before loading our shipping container, I decided that Nacho needed some tender loving care.  I cleaned our air filter and swapped out our water pump, which was on its last legs.  Last, I wanted to give Nacho a bath so that he would be shiny for the new continent.  First impressions.  I filled a couple of buckets with water, grabbed some dish soap, and went down to the street, where Nacho awaited.

I cleaned up the front, side, and back of the van, and then moved to the last side, which faced the street.  I set the bottle of soap on our folding chairs and went to work.  A few seconds later I came back around, and found my soap in the planter, and our folding chairs missing.

Some rat bastard had stolen our weather-beaten, dry-rotted, faded, rickety folding chairs right in front of my eyes!  He would have had to lug them a half a block before he’d be out of my sight, but I never saw a thing.  I asked the bystanders at the bus stop, but they didn’t see anything either.  All I could do was shake my head.  Why couldn’t people just earn money the honest way, like the money launderer?

Finally, after 24,000 miles of driving through 14 countries over the course of 13 months, we drove Nacho one final time to the port.  In our attempt at driving in a westward course around the world, we had finished the first year of driving over 3,000 miles East of where we started.  We clearly had a lot of work to do.

As we came to a stop inside of the shipping container, I glanced at the odometer; it read 299,999 miles.  The very first order of business when we open the shipping container in Malaysia will be to roll this puppy over to 300k.  Sounds like a good omen to the start of a new adventure.

Leave a Comment >>


13
Mar 2013
POSTED BY Sheena
POSTED IN

Blog, South America

DISCUSSION 11 Comments

Meeting the Magellanics

It was after hours and the sun was beginning to set.  The park hours on the entrance clearly stated they were closed.  However no gate stopped us from continuing forward.  We wound down the dirt road through the rolling desert brush.  Along the 20 mile stretch, signs were posted at every curve in the road: “Do not stop or get out of your vehicle”.  I felt like I was on a safari adventure.

We pulled into the parking lot and peered around.  So this is where they lived?  The water was supposed to be near but we couldn’t see it.  In the distance, I spotted a few motionless figures.  Could it really be?

“Brad!  I see penguins!”

He stared in their direction while letting out a mocking laugh.  “Sheena, those aren’t penguins.  Those are just statues”.

Oh silly me.  And then they moved.

Curious by this strange new environment, I cracked open Nacho’s passenger door.  Instantly Nacho was filled with crazy bellowing penguin hoots and hollers.  Surely the park wouldn’t allow us to spend the night here, yet no one appeared to tell us otherwise.  We started cooking dinner.  Just as Nacho became a sauna inside with mysteriously fogged windows, there was a tap on the window.  Damn.

The man outside introduced himself as the park ranger.  “What are you doing?  Have you gotten out of your vehicle?!  Have you paid for park entrance?  Are you sure you have not gotten out of your vehicle?”

With the promise that we would not exit our vehicle, we were granted permission to stay in the park for the evening.  However, while pointing to his house he said “If you want to watch television you are welcome to come by my house”.  I guess they would bend their own rules in the name of entertainment.

The following day felt like Christmas morning as a child.  I could hardly contain myself.

For over a year, our goal had been to proceed South until we could not go any farther.  We made it to Ushuaia but our drive in the Americas was far from over.  Our final destination was Buenos Aires, 1,500 miles to the Northeast.  As we drove up the Atlantic coast, we finally hung up our jackets and pulled back out our tank tops and shorts.

In the most unlikely of climates and terrain we found ourselves at Punta Tombo, the largest Magellanic penguin rookery outside of Antarctica.  All around us, 250,000 breeding pairs of penguins were waddling in the brush and skinny dipping on the beach.

“You are the first ones in the park this morning.  It is just you and the penguins! The penguins here have had a long journey and are very hungry.  If they cross your path, please, don’t block them”.  Do people really do that?

Everything I know about penguins was learned from the movie March of the Penguins.  They march for months through the cold frigid winds, hungry and tired, only to find another cold torturous place to lay their eggs.  Then, due to the frigid cold temperatures, they sit on their eggs for months, balanced between their pouch and feet.  They sit and wait for as long as it takes for their spouse to return back with food.  Then, they would repeat it all over again.

Perhaps the penguins here hadn’t seen that film.  They discovered much warmer places in the world to enjoy their winter.  Dugout burrows covered the hillsides and everywhere we looked, penguins were scattered.  The landscape was low lying desert brush and hamster-like mice scurried across the ground.  Guanacos grazed.  Everything was in harmony.

It was baby season when we arrived and all the baby penguins were two to three months old, losing their fluffy down, and weeks away from learning how to fish.  In a few short months they’d begin their annual migration, lasting five to six months.  As for this particular morning, various activities were going on.  Penguins carried sticks across fields, families nestled under the brush, and some male penguins attempted to show their dominance, sword fighting with their beaks.  Female penguins basked in the sun, grooming their babies while slowly getting ready for the day.  Babies stood motionless, whining constantly, hungry and needy.  And then like clockwork, the parents would head out in parties to the sea, ready to fish.

Indifferent to humans, they were so easy to watch.  They had no personal bubble and loved examining us as much as we loved examining them.  We crouched down low, looked at them eye to eye and said goodbye.

 

Leave a Comment >>


10
Mar 2013
POSTED BY Brad
POSTED IN

Blog, South America

DISCUSSION 42 Comments

The End of the Road

The air smelled of salt and the wind whipped my hair into a blazing Jerry curl as I stood at the bow of the ferry.  The low moan of the engines rose and fell with each passing wave.  It had been 42 months since I stood at my desk at work and sporadically blurted out the question that would change the course of our lives:

“Hey Steve, what do you say we drive your hippie bus to Tierra del Fuego?”

and Steve’s curt answer:

“Um…no.”

In the months that followed we would buy our own bus, start saving our money, quit our jobs, and then set off to the South.  Life is short, we figured.  Might as well do something interesting.

And now here we were.  Behind us, the South American continent shrunk to a thin line on the horizon, while before us the island of Tierra del Fuego rose up from the ocean like an ominous rogue wave.

For the last year of driving I had imagined what it would be like when we arrived in Tierra del Fuego.  I had envisioned a place from a Tolkien novel; a land carved by volcanic eruptions, where craggy old trees dripped with moss and clear streams cascaded off of shelves of hardened magma.  It would be an otherworldly, nearly impenetrable place.

When the ferry landed in Tierra del Fuego, we disembarked not into a mysterious forest of eerie, moss-laden trees, but onto a flat plain with nothing but grass and wind for as far as the eye could see.  Could this be right? we wondered.  After driving up the ramp and onto the main road, our doubts were put to rest.  A large sign declared, “Welcome to Tierra del Fuego”.  We had made it to the Land of Fire, and the Land of Fire looked just like Nebraska.

For the first mile of Tierra del Fuego, we thought we’d really scored.  The road was nicely paved, straight, and smooth.  We sailed along at Nebraska speeds, all the while checking out the grass and the wind.  After that mile, things took a turn for the worst.  The pavement abruptly ended and we bumped onto the dirt road which, over the course of the next 100 miles, we would get to know all too well.

The other passengers on the car ferry were mostly big rigs, carrying food and supplies to the towns in Tierra del Fuego.  In this place, with its blasting wind, cold climate, and permanent chill, food had to be brought in from the warmer and more fertile North. As we bumped along the potholed, washboard road, I kept asking myself, where are these trucks going?  How can Argentina justify sending supplies all this way? And it really is a long way.

Southern Patagonia – and I’m talking the lower 1,500 miles of it, is so sparsely populated that many primary “highways” are still dirt.  We frequently came close to running out of gas due to the long distances between the tiny towns.  It was like driving from Phoenix to New Orleans on Jeep roads.  Since there was usually no place to pull off of the road, we slept several nights adjacent to the dirt track, rocking to sleep in the fierce winds.

After 100 miles of the bone-jarring dirt road through Chile’s portion of Tierra del Fuego, we crossed the Argentine border at around 11:00 in the evening, just as the sun was setting.  Where the road met the Atlantic Coast we found a construction site, and retreated from the wind behind a towering pile of dirt.  As we drifted off to sleep, sometime around midnight, twilight still waned above our campsite on one of the Earth’s southernmost fingers of land.

The next day we rose early and hit the road.  Argentina took better care of its portion of the island, paving the last two hundred miles of Ruta 3 to ease the burden on the supply truckers.  About a hundred miles into the day, the landscape started to shift.  It began with the appearance of trees; moss-laden ones, no less.  Next, streams began to crisscross the landscape, and the plains turned into bumpy, low hills.  Soon we were driving through a full-fledged forest dotted with lakes, and the low hills sprang up from the roadsides into towering mountains.

We had reconnected with the Andes as they swept down to terminate at the southern tip of the continent.  The fact that we had reached the Andes by traveling directly South meant that we were virtually there – at the place where South America narrows to a sweeping arrow tip.

We passed a lake, and began to climb.  We switched back and crossed along the exposed face of a rocky peak, and then we were there: at the top of our very last Andean pass.  From here, it would be all downhill to the end of the world.

The rain began to batter our windshield as we descended the windward side of the mountains, and our hearts began to race.

Six months ago, while stranded on a farm in Colombia with a failed transmission, Sheena and I had a serious talk.  Nacho had had his first mechanical failure in Mexico, only a month after leaving home.  From there, the failures rained down in a steady stream.  Greasy hands smashed, battered, and wrenched on Nacho in Guatemala, Costa Rica, Panama, and now Colombia.  After the first seven months of our trip, we had spent an average of $662 per month on car repairs.  Sheena and I had to answer the question: at what point do we say enough is enough?  Would it realistically be possible to make it to Ushuaia?

It took a transmission failure and a month of being stranded to possess us to ask that question, but once we had asked it, the weight of our situation dawned on us.  Everything that we had worked for was in jeopardy if we kept rolling with the status quo.  There was only one thing to do: whatever it was going to take.  We weren’t abandoning ship, and that was final.

During our long and therapeutic stay on the farm, it occurred to me: most of our mechanical issues had been caused by botched work by local Latin-American mechanics that I’d hired to fix Nacho.  I decided to go through the van and fix everything that anyone else had touched since we’d left home.

By the time we crossed the equator, we were done with mechanical issues.  Aside from the occasional lingering local mechanic legacy problems, we had made it from the equator to the tip of the continent without any failures.  We had saved our trip with nothing more than motivation, hard work, a modest toolbox, and a big green Bentley manual.

If I could give one piece of advice to anyone driving the Pan-American in the future, it would be this:

Never, ever, under any circumstances, should you ever let any local mechanics tough your rig. EVER!

Just learn to work on your own car. Buy a shop manual and bring a toolbox.  It’s not that difficult.  You worked really hard to buy your freedom, now don’t ruin it.  Oh, wait…

Not even for an OIL CHANGE! NEVER!

We descended from the Andes before an unforgettable backdrop; Tierra del Fuego suddenly terminated into the chilly waters of the Beagle Channel. On the horizon, Navarino Island lurked under cover of an ominous rain cloud. Beyond it lay Cape Horn, and then nothing until Antarctica.  This was the end of the road.

We emerged from a canyon, hooking to the right, and then we saw it.  The buildings clung to the sides of the mountains encircling the bay, and the port sprawled out into the channel at the center of town.  The National Geographic Explorer sat moored in the bay, ready to leave for Antarctica.  Craggy peaks capped with snow cast their shadows over mossy forests and eerie canyons of hardened magma.  It was an otherworldly, nearly impenetrable place, straight out of a Tolkien novel.  It was Ushuaia, the southernmost town in the world.  And we had driven there.

Leave a Comment >>


07
Mar 2013
POSTED BY Sheena
POSTED IN

Blog, South America

DISCUSSION 10 Comments

Falling Buildings and Tidal Waves

Brad and I had waited a long time to see this place, and now, as we sipped our Nescafe, we peered into the distance in awe.  Butterflies raced in my stomach and my mind was filled with anticipation.  The feeling wasn’t so much caused by the view, but by the set of vocal pipes on this thing.  It creaked and moaned yearning for our attention, attempting to resist the pressure of the ice pushing its massive body forward.  Creak, pop, crash!  We were teased to come closer.

We followed the catwalk through the forest until we broke through the barrier of green and were left with an open and uninterrupted view of the glacier.  We were dumbstruck.  It was truly like nothing I had ever seen in my life. As far as the eye could see, it stretched back into the nethermost regions of the mountains, eventually coming to a standstill before us, bold and beautiful.  It was hard to grasp its immensity; it seemed impossible that it could be any larger.  My central and peripheral vision were at capacity.  Yet, from a bird’s eye view, we were only seeing the very tip of this glacier.

This massive tongue of ice stretched 18 miles into the mountains, its width 3 miles, and it towered into the sky like a solid row of 22 story buildings, having an average height of 240 feet.  I felt like an ant on the sidewalk; small and insignificant; in an instant I could be swallowed whole in one minor crevasse of its mass.  And the colors!  The glacier was a swirl of white and blue; the blue formed from densely compact ice, while the white from trapped air bubbles after numerous melting and freezing cycles.  If the glacier hadn’t stolen the view, surely the milky grayish blue water of Lake Argentina would have. The strange color was the result of the sun’s rays diffracting against unsettled sediment of “glacial flour” in the water.  Simply spectacular.

Perito Moreno is famous in the world of glaciers.  It is a fighter and one of the few glaciers in existence that is still advancing; stretching forward an average of seven feet a day.  However, while it is advancing; simultaneously, building-sized chunks of ice are breaking from the face. Its growth, counteracted by the ice sloughing off of its face, make this one of the few stable glaciers in a time of global warming.

We watched for hours, unable to pull away.  We listened to the creaks and pops while we waited, frozen in place, for the glacier to calve off 240 foot high chunks into the water, releasing an instant rippling tidal wave.  Like lightning and thunder, there was always a split second between the belly flopping of a hunk of ice and the explosion of sound in our ear drums.

Amazing views in Patagonia were not exclusive to Perito Moreno; they seemed to exist in all directions.  In the South, on the Chilean side of the Andes we visited Lago Grey, where chunks of pockmarked icebergs floated in the water, and where Torres del Paine’s 3000 foot tall vertical shafts of basalt jut up into the sky.   At its base, shiny rock faces stream with water, draining into a crisp blue glacial lake below.

Farther North we visited the other half of Parque Nacional Los Glaciares, with Mount Fitz Roy stealing the show.  We met up with wonderful friends, hiked in the mountains, camped, and explored the many eating and drinking establishments in the tiny town of El Chalten, which serves as a basecamp for Fitz Roy.  Before we left town, Brad assisted some of our new friends in the age old tradition of a Vanagon push start.

Finally, after having our fill of glaciers and National Parks, it was time to finish this thing off.  We boarded Nacho and pointed his big white nose southward.

 

Leave a Comment >>


05
Mar 2013
POSTED BY Brad
POSTED IN

Blog, South America

DISCUSSION 41 Comments

The Worst Day of My Life

My trembling hands did their best to keep my pint of ale from spilling across the rough hewn wooden table.  The day was cold, but despite being indoors I couldn’t warm up.  The exhilaration followed by such tragedy had sapped my body of its ability to regulate blood flow to my chilly extremities, but it wasn’t the cold that caused me to tremble. The body that I had held in my hands only hours before had slipped away, never to be recovered, and was now replaced by this lifeless substitute; a cold golden ale, which I now clenched in my fingers, quivering from a deep, soul-shattering anguish.  My heart became a lead weight behind my sternum.  I was inconsolable.  Patrons came and went through the screen door, their jackets pulled tight against the cold.

And that damned song.  Was this some kind of cruel torture?

Maybe I didn’t love you

Quite as often as I could have

And maybe I didn’t treat you

Quite as good as I should have

I tried to block it out by gazing into my beer, concentrating on the bubbles.  How they formed at the bottom of the glass like baby tadpoles.  How they floated – the epitome of freedom – through the golden ether.  And then how they bobbed to the surface, died, and were gone forever.

You were always on my mind

You were always on my mind

I tried to forget.  I needed to forget.  I took a deep, medicinal swig of ale and retreated into happier memories.

While driving along a stream in Patagonia’s northern Lake District, we spotted a tiny track leading into the trees.  Pushing our way through overhanging bamboo beneath lush oak trees, we came into a clearing.  We situated ourselves so that Nacho’s sliding door would open up to the sand bank and the crystal clear trout stream.  I fished all day, up and down the banks, reeling in a dozen or more rainbow and Patagonian brown trout, all too small to keep.  I showed Sheena how to fish where the creek hooked to the right, creating a perfect eddy in front of our camp.  Times were good.  Scratch that.  Times were great.

My lip began to tremble, and I noticed that my glass was empty.  Why wouldn’t my hands warm up?  I was losing control.  I couldn’t let myself lose composure.  What would the others think?  Would they stare, or would they be kind and pretend not to see?  I tipped a finger to the waiter and pointed to my glass.

And that damned song.  It would be the death of me.  It was on repeat, midway through its third revolution.  Was a grand puppeteer watching me, pulling these strings that caused me to teeter on the edge of sanity?  Damn you puppeteer!  And damn your song!

And maybe I didn’t hold you

All those lonely, lonely times

And I guess I never told you

I’m so happy that you’re mine

He pulled my empty glass away and set down a fresh one.  I held the glass in my hands, just as I would have held her had she not slipped away into the darkness, never to be seen again.  No parting glance, no chance to say goodbye.  I again retreated into my mind, where better times awaited.  Better times, like when we camped on the Rio Quillen.

In the morning we had turned onto a dirt road that skirted the river.  Sheena and I had smiled at each other across the front seats while we bumped along, looking for a good fishing hole.  Spotting a rock outcropping in the middle of the strong, crystal clear water held promise of rising trout.  Sheena sat on a warm rock in the Patagonia sun while I let out line and set the fly just upstream of the outcropping.  My fly bobbed in the current, sweeping around the rock, and was quickly taken by a beautiful rainbow trout.  Eighteen inches!  Boy, it was a beauty; strong and shiny and perfect.

Throughout that day and the next I landed three eighteen inch rainbows.  We found a campsite under a weeping willow tree next to the river, built a fire, and ate like a king and queen.  Those were the good times.  I wondered if I would ever again know good times.  My heart ached and it felt as if I’d never recover. I had lost my joie de vivre.

Just then a couple entered the establishment.  The woman’s shiny brown hair nearly reached her waist, and she brushed it off of her shoulder as she entered.  The man unbuttoned his overcoat and smiled at his wife.  Their happiness reminded me of my sorrow and I took another drink.  The song played on.

Little things I should have said and done

I just never took the time

But you were always on my mind

You were always on my mind

By now my heart was numb, and I was able to reenact the day’s events.  I slowly relived each moment, wishing that I could go back, just for one second, to make things better.  To somehow change the way things ended.

After several days of driving along Chile’s Carretera Austral, we had arrived at the town of Coyhaique.  We had passed through town and found a camp site at the edge of a bend in the Rio Coyhaique.  We were surrounded by green hills where the river passed under a bridge.  From our bed we could hear the water bubbling over rocks at the edges of the river.  My fly rod waited patiently for the morning, and I kissed Sheena good night.

In the morning I said a quick goodbye and set out to the north, along the banks of the river.  It was a cold day and the black rocks along the bank became slick with the spray of misty rain.  I navigated my way down a slanted rock face to the base of an imposing stone wall where the strong current churned and dove to untold depths.  I pulled out several arm lengths of line and whipped it in a cyclical motion over the surface of the water until my neon yellow leader reached the base of the wall.  I set my fly down and let the current grab it, sinking my line in front of the wall, and watched the neon yellow disappear into the darkness below the rocks.

A minute passed, and then I started retrieving the line.  Pull, relax, pull, relax.  I imagined the fly pulsing through the water like a little fish.

Pull, relax, pull, relax, pull – KABOOM!  Something hit my fly with the force of a freight train, pulling ten feet of line out of my hands before I knew what had happened.

“FUH-FUH-FUH…!” I couldn’t get the expletive out – there was no time!  I squeezed the line to add some resistance.  This thing was huge!  I had caught a salmon on the Rio Futaleufu a couple of days earlier, but this was far bigger.  It pulled more line out; fifteen feet, twenty, twenty five.  I guessed how far she had gone and figured she was just about to reach the point where the current funneled into a raging jet between two rocks.  She would surely break my eight pound tippet if I let her get into that current.  I eased back on the line and started making some progress in pulling her in.

I fought, pulling some line in and then letting her take it back, for ten or fifteen minutes.  Whatever this was, I needed to wear it out before I would have a chance to pull it in.

My hands trembled, my heart pounded out of my chest.  The mist beaded up on my jacket and tumbled onto the rocks, and I shuffled my feet to position myself near the water’s edge without slipping in and being carried away.  I looked to see if Sheena was around.  She was nowhere to be seen.

Soon, my line was taut, and pointed straight into the dark water at my feet. I still couldn’t see the fish, but I could tell that it was right in front of me.  Suddenly she twisted, revealing the side of her body.  A blaze of silver the size of a toddler flashed from beneath, and again the expletive stuttered on my tongue.

“FUH-FUH-FUH…!”

I positioned my net, but it was awkward.  The rocks under the water were like the Alps in miniature, surrounding the fish.  I managed to situate the net directly above the fish, and brought it down.  It all happened so fast.

As the net came down, it became clear that she was too big to fit through the opening.  The net’s metal frame bisected her, but she would not go in.  The fish – the most enormous rainbow trout I’ve ever laid eyes on – gathered her strength.  While I tried to capture her in the net, my heart pounded the back of my sternum.  I wasn’t breathing any more, I was wheezing.  And then, in the struggle to get her in the net, she gave one final, violent kick, and my line went slack.

I stood up, line in hand, and looked at the end hanging limply where my fly used to be.

“FUUUUUUU*$@#^&K!”  I evacuated my lungs, funneling all of the power from my adrenaline-filled muscles, into one long, drawn out, echoing expletive.  Somewhere deep in that river, through the tumultuous current, over the noise of clanging rocks and rushing water, that fish heard my heart breaking through the vibration of my vocal cords.

“If only I would have…positioned the net…like this,” I slurred, holding my frigid fingers out over the wooden table, “I woulda had her.  I woulda…had her.”

“Snap out of it, my love,” Sheena urged, “it was just a silly fish. Life will go on.”

But to me she wasn’t just a fish.  She was a Homeric siren, as big as a tiny human, and she was beautiful.  I raised my glass as a tear collected in the corner of my eye, and the puppeteer played that incessant song.

You were always on my mind

You were always on my mind

Leave a Comment >>