Monday, January 21, 2008

"You wanted diesel, right?"

The adventuras never stop. The morning was supposed to be a quick stop to buy empanadas and gas up the car before high-tailing it out of El Chalten. However, the gas station attendant filled up the truck with ½ a tank of diesel. We were pretty much screwed for a working vehicle after that, and in this town, which has little going on besides a 3 hour dirt road to the next town; we were marooned by a “maroon”. Blame it on the fact that it was early, or that here green means unleaded gas and all other colors are diesel (I didn’t line up the car correctly). Whatever, we pushed the truck to the back of the lot and sat around for a bit. I thought about going on another hike.

The “gas station” attendant returned from his little room. He makes it all good by jacking up the truck, disconnecting the gas tank, and siphoning the entire tank by mouth into an assortment of buckets, jars, and cups. I watch him wipe the hose clean with an oily rag, wondering which is cleaner. He spits and gags each time he has to restart the siphon, and we all look away like we’re witnessing a tiny train wreck. I try to distract myself from the situation by petting the dog, then notice the dog is a walking shop rag. I look down at my hands and resign myself to the fact that the filth is inescapable. Han takes notice and rummages around in the vehicle, which is still jacked up and bleeding diesel, and hands me a pack of handi-wipes.

Twenty gallons and two hours later, with a fresh full tank of free gas, we crossed the little bridge and got on the road. Rentals cars can be a nightmare when they break (see our post about tires), but sometimes you just have to laugh.

I shudder to think about all the crazy stuff this truck has been through before we received it. It’s certainly just barely surviving now. The windshield is cracked in several places. The doors have been blown open by the wind so fiercely they are dented around the hinges. The tires have only a memory of tread, mostly of plugs and patches. The alignment is not to be mentioned. But overall, the truck is great – it runs like a champ. It goes forwards and backwards, and if you turn the wheel enough, you will end up where you like.

Originally written: 29 December 2007 by Jim

Monday, January 14, 2008

Adventures Everywhere

A few people have asked us "How can you take such huge vacations each year?" Well, unlike the short answers that many people guess ("DINK"-status is guessed most) it actually has more to do with commitment. Let me explain.

There is a phase early in every vacation idea where we kick around a few concepts, read a few books or talk to people. We usually plan trips around a theme, like climbing or photos or exploring a place. (This past one was to visit a new place with our new friends.) The hardest and most committing part comes when picking dates and forking over money. Once those tickets are bought and cars, hotels, etc are reserved, you're as good as gone. We always have to save up, so there's a fund, but its a strange thing how fast any piggy bank fills up when you really want something.

On the longer side of discussions about saving, Portland is a great place to learn how to adopt methods to reuse, recycle or reduce your consumption. For example, using the library instead of a video store, repairing clothes or shopping at GoodWill for clothes instead of name-brand stores, using all the conservation methods for utilities (CF bulbs, low-water usage, composting, etc). Biking to work, or switching jobs until commuting costs go away. Renting out a room in your house. Buying used when possible. This year, we will further reduce our utilities by using rainwater around the house from a bank of barrels hidden under the back deck. On and on.

In most of these choices, one's time will be the cost instead of just "buying out" for a quicker result. So, instead of the "free time" that most people have (statistically spent in traffic and in front of the TV) we skip buying new and spend the time on fussing with DIY stuff. It's actually pretty fun.

Before this sounds too preachy, let me state that all these things are just items in the arsenal that we like to explore. By no means have we been able to use them all, or every time. Our cost-of-living still has tons of room for reduction, but everyone likes to choose the standards they want to enjoy. Some of the concepts are serious endeavors that make huge changes to one's lifestyle.

Second, it all sounds very "hippie" in words but in practice, we've been able to integrate a lot of conservation ideas without turning the house into a full-on mad-scientist lab of tape and bailing wire. That might be Portland's best feature: there are elegant solutions for all kinds of DIY projects constantly being designed and discussed.

In fact, see our newest blog over at for the research and result we've found whenever we change something about the house or appliances. We believe there's a true "movement" taking place that is pushing efficiency to the near-top of the priorities for folks. (yes, we're blogging somewhere else as well, but we love you too - really)

So there's the crux of it: By reducing our daily standard/cost of living, we learn to live with less at home, but in turn get to enjoy more in a vacation. For 2007, we drank our fill (and then some) of adventure and exploration with ~10 weeks on the road.

But as with all endings, its great to be back home. I predict 2008 to be relatively quiet.

Home Again

Well, its one week late in posting, but we are now back home. Our bags took a few more days than everything else, so there was some consternation for a bit, however everything is fine now. Flying the route Santiago to Miami to Seattle to Portland across 2 airlines is a bit messy.

Of course, returning home always presents the new challenges of "gearing up" for the routines you left. Mail, work, taxes and the rainy season are here. Well, its nothing we can't handle in stride.

The trip was fun and we'll be hosting several dinners soon with friends to show slides and tell stories.

We're eternally grateful to Susan, our longtime friend who watched over the house for the weeks we were away. As she explains, getting used to a half-remodeled bathroom, a chicken coop and three dogs (one her own) every day was a chore. She handled the job beautifully, and even managed a few small crises.

Since we were gone over the Christmas holidays, we're a bit behind in actually sending out the paper cards, but we'll be writing letters soon.

Other than that, there's a few more reviews of places in Patagonia, but I think everyone would just rather look at photos ;) So we'll put together a few more posts soon, stay tuned.

Friday, January 04, 2008

El ruta es zigzagiando

We are back in Santiago. The 3 nights in the deeeluxe apartment (in the sky) of Punta Arenas has passed and now we’re spending some time back with Cristian and Vanesa’s families. This means lots more eating, drinking, and laughing, which is great fun.

Three weeks around the southern areas of Argentina and Chile, combined with 2005’s driving excursion from Santiago to the central Lakes area have left us feeling like we’re seen the majority of Chile and Argentina. The northern countries may have to wait for a few years, since other plans for Europe beckon.

After a long vacation that is stacked nonstop with activity, home becomes a memory that arrives in fleeting seconds each day, but is triggered by everything you see. We took some extra bread outside to throw to/at the feral dogs and we were reminded of our pets at home, waiting for us somberly.

Bathrooms are a hollow comparison for the monstrosity we created this past Fall, but they function well enough and we’re glad to not have to work on them, haha. There are still a few more posts we’ll be doing on that project’s status, since we have some final touches that nobody has seen, including us. Look for that after our trip is complete.

So we head home, ready for it. I have plenty of work lined up for me (I hope!) and Hanmi has several thousand photos to sort as she begins her new fiscal year on the photography. Other than that, we’ll probably lay low for a year or two, with only visits to family as outings. We’ve spoken several times about Cristian and Vanesa coming to visit us next, which would be a huge undertaking on their part, but if they want it badly enough, it’ll happen.

As a small vignette on the differences down here, Cristian and Vanesa both have phones that do so much more than typical phones in the US. Camera, video, MP3, radio, flashlight, internet, etc. It’s a surprising difference to see the US trapped and stumbling over the smallest feature when the rest of the world is so far ahead. The actual features don’t matter to me, since most of the gadgets suffer from the bundling, but for “kids these days” the single device is pretty neat.

Punta Arenas was in the mid 40s and 50s raining on and off with gusty winds. Santiago is 100 with light breezes and bright sun. We’re melting, even 5 minutes after a cold shower. So, we are sitting around looking at the photos from all the devices and lounging.

It is difficult to describe South America in concise terms without sounding crass. I have the utmost respect for almost everyone we’ve met. The standard for everything is just “off” from the Northern Hemisphere. The level of luxury we’ve experienced, even at the higher ends, is somewhat bizarre. Most of our trip was spent in surroundings that are way below typical US standards, and sometimes was even more expensive. But, spending a few days dirt-bagging it in a tent always makes a bed and running water seem worth the cost.

However, if you are planning a trip to the South America, keep a very open mind about the standard of living you’re used to. We’d be happy to answer direct questions, publicly or in private, but overall I’m delighted to share in all this, especially given that Cristian and Vanesa’s familes have been so helpful and welcoming. We are deeply indebted to them. Above all things in a tourist romp, having friends that speak the local language, know the areas, or can de-tangle a strange situation is invaluable. We were lucky to have made friends down here early, and there’s no easy way to describe how to do that, but it seems to happen wherever we go.


Nowhere near the volcano!

We've gotten a few emails inquiring about our proximity to the Llaima volcano eruption in Chile. We were nowhere near it... In spite of the fact that news outlets are calling the volcano's location "southern" Chile, Llaima is in fact in the central "Lake district". Reuters and AP really should invest in a world atlas or something... Maybe they don't have internet access?

Anyway, here's a rough graphic showing our travels. We are now back in Santiago, and had a nice view of the volcano on our flight this morning. We'll post those photos soon...

City names in blue are in Argentine Patagonia, those in orange are in Chile.