Friday, December 28, 2007

Fitz Roy or bust!

At 7 AM we began the hike from the cabaña to the base of Fitz Roy. Its only 12km to the camp, and we had no trouble getting there. We have a filter so there’s no need to carry a lot of water in this area with its numerous lakes and streams. Actually, we didn’t even need the filter (except to remove some silt) since the water is less than a mile from a pristine glacier and quite potable. It was quite possibly the best tasting water we’ve ever experienced.

Camp was set among many other travelers from across the globe (French, Italian, German, Dutch, English, Hebrew, Spanish was overheard), a short nap and then another hike, out of boredom. It’s amazing how many days fit into 24 hours when the daylight last 18 hours! We headed out to explore, do some bouldering and find the trailhead that leads further up the mountain for the next day’s adventure.

The hiking was spectacular. The winds are always fierce; blowing all along the hike up to 50 mph in gusts that could make you skips a few steps – which is fun when you’re crossing a tiny log bridge. Thankfully, the camp is set up under some trees. Whenever you want water, you simply need to scoop it out of a nearby stream. The lakes and smaller lagunas are bluer than sky from the pure water and fine silt from the glacier melt. The camp was good, although the latrine was overused. The camp hosts were giant “caracara” falcons common to the area.

At 4:30 AM the next morning, we left camp, taking just one daypack to hike above the tree line into the snow and glacier zone. The trail is steep, rising 500 meters in only 2 km. I explored the area while Hanmi waited for good photos of sunrise and few clouds. There was only one other person around, although there’s evidence at the climber hut of several parties attacking the summit.

We didn’t see anyone else until the hike down to our own base camp, when many of the “early hikers” were panting up the trail, asking about how much further. Not far is the best answer one can give.

After a quick nap we packed and hiked back out, down to the town again (about 3 hours) to pick up the car and find a place to eat and sleep. The routine repeats and we end up in some fairly nice rooms, although a bit musty. It seems common in Patagonia for the rooms to be built to withstand the incessant winds, but suffer from a lack of ventilation at the same time. The windows open and the entire room’s air in exchanged in about 3 seconds, but the musty backdrop is always around due to the season when the room stays dormant for months.

After hiking so much (about 25km) we treated ourselves to a big meal of grilled steaks, with lots of beer. Sleep came quickly and before we knew what hit us, it was morning again.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

El Chalten, part I

"Ruega por nosostros" means "Pray for us"...

While traveling in Patagonia, we noticed there are very few roads. Even fewer are paved for any length.

Along the road to El Chalten, the pavement once again ends and you note the map shows this is the only road to the town. The town is nestled in the foothills of the Andes, and the Fitz Roy mountain range looms above the town like a great stone gate. Shrouded in fast moving clouds, the peak occasionally reveals itself as a reminder of how small we all are.

We cruised the town for about half an hour, and inquired at a couple hostels (all full) before we found an empty cabaña. These are freestanding cabins, usually one or two rooms, that enable you to cook, wash and sleep. They make no promises about heat, drafts, bugs or sometimes, electricity. They do, however, make for excellent fort-like mini-homes where you can be alone to review and plan.

So we got one with 4 beds in 2 rooms and cooked a huge meal of rice, meat and a salad. We planned our next 2 days, which was to hike up to the base of Fitz Roy and explore. We taught Cristian and Vanesa everything we knew about eschewing unnecessary stuff from the gear. We worked out a deal with the owner to leave our car with remaining stuff behind her own house.

I have to note something about the wind: It blows almost constantly and is tremendous. People flip over, vehicles flip over, sands gets into eyes past your sunglasses, trees creak and break. If two car doors open at once, the car is flushed clean of all lightweight material. Its pretty amazing.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007


Theres so much written that i have yet to post here, but we do have about 3,000 photos. So I'm going to burn a post on just pictures from all over our trip. These are in no particular order, and realize they may not be the best shot, but its what we have sized and ready in this little cafe at the moment. Enjoy!

Guanaco ("won-NOK-oh"), relative to the camel and llama, pacing the truck.

Armadillo. Funny little creatures.

I called and called, but no passengers arrived for this train.

The Moreno Glacier, which movs about 3 feet a day and calves icebergs constantly.

An afternoon crowd gathers at the observatory.

The road winds through some amazing territory.

This is a funny story you'll read about later. Our truck "Molden Oldie" acting up. Molden was abused heavily and yet he managed to get us around.

The colors all around were constantly beautiful.


Hotels in South America span a wide variety of names and details. For the most part, you start with the core: a mattress. We’ve graduated from college and hold paying jobs, so the multi-person backpacker-style bunkers are not ever on our list, but they are friendly places to inquire into for places to eat or other places to stay when the towns are crowded. Even in the better places we stay, I sometimes long for the harder ground of the tent (Hanmi brought her mat, I’m fine without it) – due to mattresses in some places being quite worn and concave.

Moving up the scale, one can get a tiny room with 2 beds, or the larger single bed (the “matrimonial”) and a common hallway bathroom. Moving up still, you end up with an additional bathroom, which can sometimes be quite inventive as to how a shower is delineated (curtain and drain at the minimum). Construction standards are either very low or non-existent in this part of the world; you can find almost all manner of designs. However, a sink, mirror, toilet and shower are minimum (in Argentina, a boudoir is also common).

Our favorite places are the apart-hotels, of which we only stayed in one, over the Christmas holiday(see below). They are pretty much like a full-size apartment and can handle longer-term stays. We play house and make nice meals, watch some TV (in Spanish) and relax our sore legs.

I mention all this because almost every night is the same routine: We investigate a new town for a place to stay. Usually, we pick a place from our guide, which is destined to be full then ask them if they know of a good place. Also, the entire trip into or around town is a scouting operation. If we see anything that may catch our eye, we note it and possibly return later.

We catch two nights in the same place every 3 or 4, usually in a camp. We had a great pair of nights over Christmas in El Calafate, Argentina. The hosts there are Korean, which made the Spanish/English/Korean exchange between Hanmi and the proprietors quite entertaining for everyone. By the end of our stay, they were very excited for us to return, and invited us to live there. Oh, we’ll think about it, we said. It was good, but not Portland Oregon.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Feliz Navidad from Argentina

It is the morning of Christmas eve and we’re sitting in camp. The camp is in El Calafate, Agentina and sits across the gravel road from a tiny fairground. Over the holiday season, nights are filled with the sounds of children screaming while going in circles on rusty machines that sound like dying dogs. There are also the typical ‘carnival’ games to win cheap toys made in China. The main difference is that they are all made out of things one might find at the local dump. Kick the soccer ball and knock over the rusty bent cans of paint… Toss the hoop onto the lead filled cigarette box with a stick taped to its side… throw the ping pong ball and knock over the cigarette boxes…

Last night was a beautiful meal of oso buco [which only costs $5 per lb at the local carniceria], one of our favorite dishes, cooked slowly over the smoky “carbon” with some local potatoes and squash on the “paradilla”. Combined with some wine and a trip down the main street of town, the trip is at another high point. It had been getting ever better since we left home, with our stop in Santiago, Chile to pick up friends and then our flight South to Punta Arenas, where we picked up an SUV and began our part-time camping, part-time hosteria jaunt into the Chilean Andes, to Parque Naçional Torres Del Paine and our next stop is Parque Naçional de Los Glaciares to see the Moreno Glacier, Cerro Torre, and the mighty Fitz Roy.

Problem is, our second tire went flat in the night, and as the first tire went flat two days ago we are out of spares… so we are hanging out in the camp hoping the shop down the street can repair our tires. We’ve already packed the tent, having planned on staying at a hotel tonight, but who knows at this point… the word on the street is that it is a tradition to shoot off fireworks to mark the occasion on Christmas Eve, so that should be interesting.

Regardless, we’ll make the most of it. There’s not much to complain about here—the food is fantastic, the beer and wine are great, people are very hospitable, and the exchange rate is great. We have good company, music, electrical outlets, hot showers, sinks for washing clothes and dishes, and we are dry. What more could you ask for, really?

Critters spotted: Eagles, penguins, condors, guanacos, lesser rhea, ibis, rabbits, skunks, and more dogs that we can count...
Peaks bagged: 1
Tires punctured: 2
Countries visited: 2

Gotta run--it's time to start cooking the meat! A very Happy Christmas to everyone!


Sunday, December 23, 2007

Torres del Paine

In the lake-strewn hills and plains at the base of Torres del Paine, there are just a few winding dirt roads and busloads of tourists seeking one of a handful of hikes in the area. There’s tons of beautiful scenery, wild animals, and beautiful flowers. The mixture changes as you head into the foothills and then into the true mountain range.

We have hiked all day, in hot sun, howling wind, and misting rain. There are not many people who’ve made the final leg of the hike, and the trail maps all suggest this part is suitable only for climbers. We reached the final bluff by scrambling an hour on gigantic boulders, hopping and climbing an unmarked route – everyone took a different position so that dislodging a loose stone wouldn’t result in the person behind them getting injured.

The final vista was a bit foggy and rainy. But for the journey, it was all worth it. The peaks are impressive, even shrouded in mist. We turn back and reach camp 3 hours later, for a total trip of about 8 hours covering 22km on foot. We make a quick meal and crash in the tent, laughing with exhaustion that the sun doesn’t set until 11:30 here, and even after that, the sky is quite bright until after midnight.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Into The Wild

This vacation is spectacular. Having Cristian and Vanesa join us is a great idea, since we share our perspectives about everything with each new town and hike. The Patagonian Andes are immense, and our tour only touches a tiny part of them. Even so, that’s enough to appreciate this part of the world. The wildlife is much more abundant than in parks in North America, and very different. The guanacos (llamas) and ñandu (small ostrich-like birds also known as “lesser rhea”) are in herds both near and far from the road. Giant condor circle almost everywhere and rested caracara feast on road kill like crows. Pulling over to have a potty break can be exciting, as you have to watch out for black widow spiders, among other things. Armadillos, hares and foxes hide amongst the scrub-brush, occasionally running across the road. It turns out the ñandu can be just as curious about us as we are about the big bird. When we spotted one close to the road, Han eagerly jumped out of the car, camera in hand, only to realize the strange creature was getting uncomfortably close. She kept one eye on the bird while figuring the distance back to the safety of the car. Once the bird was inside her ‘safety zone’ she broke into a run and hopped back into the passenger seat. The bird looked momentarily confused then went back to grazing.

The flowers are typical for the high dessert, small and tightly bushed. In the foothills and mountains, tiny orchids are everywhere. There are occasional poppies and other plants we can’t identify. The bees are over various black and white patterns. In fact, many of the birds are also black and white as well (geese and condors). We’re not sure about the relation.

The geology is also amazing. The Andes have several millennia of inland sea and volcanic upwelling phases. There are giant banded layers in great arching hills that now fragment to expose ages of green life, then water sediment, then a volcanic ash layer of dramatic change.
There are several petrified forests in the parks and lots of different stone compositions. Some large coral even exists along one of the lakes we encountered, ancient relics from a bygone inland sea.

The stone can be a wide variety, all strewn along a single area from the glacier movement pushing the valleys ever deeper. We walked along granite of many types, peppered with rusted iron compositions that are quite heavy, mixed among sedimentary stones from compressed ash, lime or sand. In total, it’s a geologic adventure as much as anything else.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Details, Details!

Joe has installed the countertop, but we're still waiting for the back splash, doors, drawers, cubbies, and shelves... At this point I have my doubts they will be installed before we leave.

We were able to install the sink, however, and Jobe temporarily put the faucet trim on so Jim and I can now brush our teeth in the bathroom. Interestingly, the new plumbing makes the water taste better in the bathroom than it does in the kitchen. Yay! No more midnight trips downstairs for a glass of water!! Wish there was an easy way to clean out the pipes/faucet... I replaced the aerator on the kitchen tap recently, but it made no difference in taste [I'm sure the water is cleaner, as far as bugs/mold goes, as the old one was disgusting!]

And due to the wildly popular response to the last round of 'action' photos [okay, so it was just one person...], here are a few more, plus the so-close-to-being-finished-it-is-killing-me vanity.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Paint, tile, and the joys of bathing at home

Okay remodel fans, we are in the home stretch. Last week our lovely friends Jane and Karen took care of all our painting needs. Karen traded a couple gallons of Yolo paint for one of my photos [though she hasn't decided which one yet!] and Jane took care of the painting, also in exchange for a photo. Barter rocks!

Joe has started to install the vanity, and as soon as the countertop and sink are in place we can finish up the plumbing.

And most importantly, we can now bathe in our own home! YAY! Last week I extolled the virtues of our new tub, but now I can confirm them. The material and it's heat holding capabilities are divine! Our first bath lasted nearly 90 minutes, and not once did we need to warm up the water. In fact, for a while we were too hot, having become accustomed to our old steel tub that had an instant cooling effect on water. We both had plenty of room, and I giggled with delight at the fact that I was able to submerge myself completely, up to my chin without resorting to contortions. Our one complaint is the durability of the toe-tap drain... A sideways bump is apparently all it takes to break off a piece and render it useless. Luckily they include an old fashioned stopper on a chain, so we were able to change it out painlessly. But having a chain in the tub with you is less than ideal, so I'm hoping the company will replace the broken part. Well, I just phoned and without even being placed on hold or transfered once, they are shipping a replacement part out today! Wonderful!!!

As we are fast approaching our trip to Chile [we leave Saturday], we're in a mad rush to get things wrapped up so our friend Susan can house sit and not be inconvenienced by a partially functional bathroom. We've had little trouble in terms of ideas working out up till now, but it became abundantly clear that our plan to use glass or Lumicor as a full shower surround was going to be prohibitively expensive. I also didn't like that we would have had to use a flavor of Lumicor that would at most contain 25% recycled content. So I opted to research my other lead and met with Marilyn Farrier, the owner of AMDEC Recycled Glass Tile. She works out of her home and uses large kilns to fuse 100% post industrial waste into gorgeous glass tiles. And her pricing simply cannot be beat. But more than that, from the first time I contacted her she has been very quick to respond, super friendly, and just has that something that makes you want to do business with her. After getting the grand tour of her production facility [her garage!], we packed up a few samples for me to share with Jim to narrow down our color choice. We selected Robin's Egg Blue with Green Apple accents in a 4x4" field tile. And better still, we found a great tiler, who will get it done for us as soon as the tile is ready!

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Two eggs in one!

That giant egg we got last week did indeed turn out to be a double yolker!

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Ordinary Man

If you've not heard of "Jim Noir" yet, please google around for this guy. It's pretty fun. It's a mix of 60's style and sounds, light on substance and heavy on hook. When I say "60's", this isn't just light influence, this is full-on "let's dig out the costumes, instruments and voicings and make a 60's band" kinda stuff.

The wikipedia on him mentions that this was self-recorded at his parent's home. Pretty neat.

YouTube holds a few videos of the music, although my favorite is a fan-made one using a non-US track "Ordinary Man". Seeing as I have a desk job, I think its a hoot. For a "fan mission" this is quite a well produced video. I especially like the appearance of Howdy Dooty as Employee of the Month (October).

Sunday, December 02, 2007

More photos from the Great Bathroom Remodel...

With the rain pouring down in buckets here and not quite having enough time to do the floor before the drywall squad returns to sand on Monday, we're taking a day off... So I've done some more digging and found/taken some more photos to post.

The new toilet went in yesterday, the tub is in place, though not yet connected to the drain, and the tile backer is ready for the floor heater and slate tile.

V+A "Nice" tub. As in the city in France... though it is very nice indeed

The room with natural lighting, on a dark and stormy day.
As we've mentioned previously, we're doing our best to be as "green" as possible. And while that's a very in vogue concept, it's actually still a bit difficult to find reliable, comprehensive resources for specifying materials and products. As such, the biggest pain has been in the amount of time it takes to figure out whether or not something is truly green, or just jumping on the bandwagon and using buzzwords to sell more garbage.

UltraTouch Recycled Cotton Insulation

Our lovely new toilet: dual flush with either a .9 gallon or 1.6 gallon flush, a HUGE improvement over the 1973 7 gallon per flush predecessor.

Then again, since I am blissfully under-employed, I've had the time to really dig in and have made some great finds. Here's our "green list" [subject to updates, as it's unlikely I'll remember everything in one go!]:
There are a few areas that are woefully barren of green products... among them bathtubs and faucet fixtures. Our decision to use the Victoria+Albert tub was based on aesthetics, yes, but also on its durability, size, and material. The size is such that two people can comfortably bath together, thereby conserving water. The material is a solid surface with the marketing label "Englishcast". Made from volcanic limestone and resin, the material is cast into one of their many tub styles. This creates a tub that is as strong as cast iron but at half the weight with the bonus of being renewable, easy to clean without chemicals, and keeping the bathwater warm longer than other materials. We have yet to bathe in it, but we love the tub so much that if we ever move, I'd be really tempted to take it with us...

Other materials we are still considering are AMDEC Recycled glass tile and/or Lumicor panels for the tub/shower surround. Both are Northwest based companies with local manufacturing from recycled materials.

Later this week we will be trading artwork for labor and materials when the painting party starts. We have some pretty awesome friends. :)