Don’t worry friends and family, I’m not giving up! This is not the relinquishing of a positive mental attitude. But as the week progresses, I’ve found myself thinking more and more about why I’m really here. Is it to make the summit? Is that the only thing that would make this trip worthwhile?
And the answer is of course not.
For anyone who knows how “goal-oriented” I am, I bet you’re thinking “yeah, right. Of course she’d be disappointed if she didn’t make it.” And maybe, before I got here, I would have agreed with you. But being here changes you. Each moment I spend on the mountain, every additional step that I take, feels like a win. A big win. Every day is pushing my limits – physically, mentally and emotionally. And I’m still going.
The truth is, I am physically the weakest team member here – every step seems to take me that just bit longer! But I’m still taking steps forward each time. And if Nims decides to turn me around on summit day, I know I will have put everything I’ve got into the attempt. So, to summit or not to summit? Honestly, it doesn’t matter, I’m going to keep moving forward either way.
So – enough philosophising! – what have we been up to the past couple of days? We spent our first night on the mountain at camp one after a beautiful hike up. Thankfully Chris and I were able to share our own tent (since unfortunately we had to say goodbye to a team member owing to a knee injury) and we laid out our closed foam mats and thermarest for the first time. Since we’re camping on snow, the double mattress is a must! A tent-cooked meal of tuna spaghetti and it was off to bed when the sun went down – a sun baked tent is too hot but it’s amazing how quickly the temperature drops once it’s dark.
The morning was too windy to start walking as planned, so we got to stay snug in our sleeping bags as Nims handed out thickly spread pate & cheese sandwiches (all about the high calorie food up here!) and hot tea. Whenever the wind gusted by, it was like being passed by a fast-moving train – scary but also a bit exhilarating! Eventually though, it did clear up enough for us to start up to Camp two – Nido de Condores.
Although this isn’t that difficult a walk, I found it tough-going. Remember in a previous blog what I said about personal admin? Well for some reason I just hadn’t gotten anything right today. My socks kept slipping down inside my boots, making them rub uncomfortably. My buff felt suffocating, even though I knew it was protecting me from the sun. My backpack has broken shoulder straps – not a problem at sea level but up the mountain, I was struggling. But all that meant making it to the top felt awesome! And although I felt like the slowest walker in slowville, we made it in about 3 hours 15 mins (and the average time is 2-4 hours, so basically bang on). It was also a good reminder that on a more important day – like summit day – I have to be extra vigilant about how I prepare in the morning.
After eating lunch, burying gear and spending about two hours at camp two, we then basically “slid” down the mountain to base camp as quickly as possible.
It looks like the weather is clearing for the weekend, so now we’re ready for the push! But if I don’t make the summit guys, don’t be sad for me. I’ve already accomplished way more than I possibly thought I could.
It’s almost impossible to believe, but fifteen weeks travelling with Oasis Overland are now over! We have arrived in Quito, Ecuador and are settling in to life off the big yellow truck. It’s a bittersweet moment – we know we have some great times ahead, but leaving the group behind is going to be really tough. If there was any room in our backpacks, we would tuck them in and take them with us for the next stage of the adventure!
(If you’ve been following the blog, you’ll have guessed that I’m several weeks behind on the itinerary but I wanted to write this post while it was still fresh in my mind!)
For new blog readers, I’ve been travelling with Oasis Overland on their Kingdoms and Carnivals route from Rio-Quito. Visiting six countries and driving over 21,496km, it was one heck of a trip! There were definitely ups and downs (mostly because of the number of times we needed to cross the Andes!), plenty of extreme highs and some gut-wrenching lows but that’s what this kind of travel is all about – and I wouldn’t change it for moment. We’ve faced thefts, a (minor) stabbing, a disappearance, several near-death experiences (choking, seizures, falling down glaciers, face-planting on bicycles), a few incidents of dengue fever, a fractured elbow, a bridge collapse and been stuck in the sand… but we’ve also had too many perfect moments to count: camped night after night under a crystal clear Milky Way, watched stunning sunsets by the dozen, visited cultural and historical sites way off the beaten path, eaten fresh fish straight from the sea, skinny-dipped in fjords, hiked to thundering waterfalls, seen lava bubbling and glaciers collapsing and condors flying and poison dart frogs jumping… it’s been amazing.
I’ve struggled to choose but here are just fifteen highlights of the fifteen week tour:
1) Paragliding over Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
As a city, Rio at Carnival was everything I expected: hot, crazy, colourful, loud, chaotic. But even though we had loads of fun in Rio – at Sambadrome and touring Cristo Redentor – my favourite moment was paragliding high above its stunning beaches. From the air, it was so peaceful and I could really appreciate Rio’s deep connection with the mountains and the sea.
2) Snorkelling down Rio da Prata in Bonito, Brazil
Some experiences you have no idea about, and so when they happen, they absolutely blow you away. For me, this was snorkelling in Rio da Prata in Bonito. The river has absolutely crystal clear water and myriad fish with absolutely no fear. It was mesmerizing.
3) Fuerza Bruta and Tango in Buenos Aires, Argentina
I don’t want to post too many pictures of the Fuerza Bruta show in Buenos Aires because the surprise was part of the fun. It’s a touring show so we were lucky to see it – and for $12 a ticket it was an absolute bargain. This might be the best live theatre experience I’ve ever had. I won’t say more but if it visits your city, GO. The tango show was also brilliant, but in a different way – it was eye-opening seeing the acrobatic skill of the dancers, legs flying everywhere, and learning about the history of the dance. Add an amazing steak dinner and free wine on top, and you have a winner!
I wrote a series of four posts explaining just HOW amazing this whole experience was – if you want to find out more about my last minute trip to the seventh continent with G Adventures Expedition, I suggest having a read!
5) Completing the W-trek, Torres del Paine, Chile
The whole W-trek was amazing, but there was nothing like celebrating in the posh Hotel Las Torres at the very end with a HUGE pizza and amazing cocktails. We were pretty merry by the end, but it felt like a huge accomplishment.
6) Turning 30 in Futaleufu, Chile – the white water capital of South America
I couldn’t have asked for a better birthday, and Futaleufu was the perfect destination! A campsite with beautiful cabin upgrades (of course we had to upgrade from the tent for my birthday), a fire pit, sauna and some amazing white water rafting… it was pretty perfect.
7) Seeing lava in Pucon, Chile
Hiking the Villarica Volcano was always on the top of my ‘to-do’ list, especially after watching it explode on the news last year. It was one of the hardest hikes I’ve ever done, but thankfully we were rewarded at the top with boiling, bubbling, bursting lava. EPIC.
8) Wine Tasting and Wine Ice-cream in Cafayate, Argentina
I’m not the biggest wine drinker in the world, but even I can get on board with a bit of wine ice cream! Cafayate in Argentina was a beautiful stop on the itinerary, home to dozens of bodegas (wine cellars) and heladarias. Their speciality is ice cream made from Torrentes (a delicious form of white wine) and Merlot (red wine) grapes. Very refreshing on a hot day! The Torrentes wine itself isn’t bad either… in fact, we may have picked up a bottle or two (or eight) to drink during the rest of the trip! The Nanni Torrentes (pictured above) was my fave.
9) Uyuni, Bolivia Salt flats day trip
What can I say? This was another expected highlight that more than lived up to those expectations. This was so much fun!
10) Cycling Death Road in La Paz, Bolivia
This activity? I was actually quite scared about. I’m not exactly the world’s best cyclist and I was nervous about how I would handle the challenges of the infamous Death Road. But it turned out to be so much more fun than I thought! Yes, there were scary bits (and some people did hurt themselves…) but if you allowed yourself to trust the bikes then it was not too bad at all. Huge thanks to Mo at Gravity for making it a great day out! I also enjoyed that at the very end, we were taken to an animal sanctuary where we saw an ocelot – so cute!
11) Finishing the hike to Machu Picchu, Peru
Hiking the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu was bloody hard work – but once again, finishing was the best reward! This was another one of those ‘classic’ destinations that fulfilled its promise. You can’t help but feel the mystical powers of this wondrous place – and combined with later trips to the Nazca line and the Chan Chan ruins, it really gave me an appreciation of South America civilizations that I never knew about before.
12) Sandboarding in Huacachina, Peru
Adrenaline, bbq, unlimited pisco and a night sleeping out under the stars? Amazing. This was one of those perfect days which made the whole trip feel worthwhile.
13) Perfect beaches in Punta Sal, Peru
After leaving Lima, we spent almost a week camping along the Peruvian coastline. With condors soaring overhead, wild surf and beautiful sand, it was an idyllic place to relax after the adrenaline packed activities of the weeks before.
14) Zip-lining, swinging over the end of the world and bridge jumping in Banos, Ecuador
Okay, let’s face it – I love the adrenaline! My proper ‘daredevil’ moment was a bridge jump in Banos (it didn’t hurt, but I looked like a broken rag doll!). Ziplining on the other hand was just pure fun – and I even got to do it upside down and as a couple!
15) Spotting a poison dart frog in the Amazon, Ecuador
Finally, the Amazon jungle! My sole request to the universe was to see a poison dart frog and, to my surprise, the universe pulled through! The whole trip to the Amazon basin was wonderful – we went tubing down the river and did several night walks through the jungle to see snakes, spiders and other weird and wonderful creatures. Word to the wise: watch where you put your hands! You do not want a bite from a bullet ant.
Every time I come to write this blog, I feel like I’m falling further behind! Mind you, the internet has been pretty bad throughout most of South America so far – but more to the point, we’ve just been so busy there’s been no time to worry about the blog! But I know how much I’ll appreciate it at the end, and the internet in La Paz is slightly better. We’ve now crossed the halfway point of our journey… so I’m going to try and catch up as quickly as I can.
For almost three weeks (encompassing the post below), we’ve been criss-crossing between Chile and Argentina – I now have more stamps in my passport than I can count! But it’s been incredible to see the differences between the two countries and cultures, and how all the miles we’ve done on the truck have brought us to some pretty incredible places.
Take Bariloche, Argentina. In the middle of the ‘Lake District’ of Argentina, this is where Obama paid a visit not too long ago! It’s a strange town, with a real Swiss/German influence – likely from the influx of immigrants post-WW2. There are log cabins and fondue restaurants, along with chocolate shops galore! Since we arrived on Easter Sunday, we found the chocolate shops packed to the brim. Yum.
I also took the opportunity to do a bit of horseback riding in Bariloche. While originally we had planned to go to a real estancia, they were too full and we had to switch to a more scenic (but less authentic) ride out by Lake Gutierrez. I did a full day’s riding and we saw some truly spectacular scenery. I can see why the Argentinians chose to bring the POTUS out here!
Also, the steak… the steak in Bariloche was the best I’ve had in Argentina. We loved the parrilla El Boliche de Alberto – where the focus is solely on the meat. We maybe ordered a token salad… but didn’t eat much of it!
From Bariloche, we crossed over to Pucon, Chile. This little town had an entirely different vibe – dominated, of course, by the giant volcano Villaricca in the near-distance. This was a town devoted to adventure, and we knew we were in for a big one from the moment we heard the warning sirens blaring throughout town – signalling the volcano was active.
Now, if you’ve been following my blog adventures, you’ll know that we did a really hard trek in southern Chile called the W-trek. But even that didn’t quite prepare us for the volcano hike! The volcano was four hours of strictly UP hill. We did get to cut an hour off our journey by taking a chairlift, but it still wasn’t enough to make the journey easy! About half-way up the volcano, we strapped on crampons and used ice-picks to climb the permanent glacier that coats the top (and, in the winter time, it gets turned into a ski resort!) This made walking even more difficult.
When we were about twenty minutes from the top, we stopped to take off the crampons and switch to our gas masks. Now, I’m not going to lie… I almost didn’t make those last twenty minutes. It was HARD going. But I pushed through… and was rewarded with one of the most amazing views. Seeing a volcano bubbling with red-hot molten lava, magma swirling and bursting in front of us, leaping easily 100 feet into the air – it was the definition of EPIC.
It was also tough to be up there. The air stank of sulphur – thank goodness for those gas masks – and breathing was difficult enough at that high altitude. The wind howled around us, threatening to push us over the edge. But the volcano had only started being that active two days before our arrival, so we were incredibly lucky with our timing. I can’t imagine getting to the top and only being greeted with that sulphurous wind!
The way down… I wish I could say it was easier than going up, but it definitely wasn’t! Much harder on the joints. Most of the time, you’re able to sledge down the glaciers, but there wasn’t enough soft snow for us to do that safely. We were able to sort of slide down the gravel, but it threw up so much dust that it became difficult to see.
Still, it was one of the most rewarding days of the trip so far, and I wouldn’t have changed the experience for the world – even the next two days of aching legs!