It’s been exactly one week since my return from Patagonia. As unforgettable as this adventure was, it’s so sad how quickly life turns into memories, and those memories join all of the others in the crowded room upstairs, not knowing when, or if, they’ll be called on again. I knew it would be difficult to confine my experiences to words on paper, as it was so much more than just what happened. It was more than the views from the mountaintops and the sounds of the roaring wind. It was more than the silence of the night and the smells of the end of the world. More than what I saw, and more than what I felt. It was just more. I have no doubt a better writer than I could do it, but I either can’t, or don’t want to, because I know nothing can compare to the more that lives in my head, in that crowded room upstairs. And some personal experiences were meant to be just that: personal.
But I did learn some pretty interesting things in that long journey from El Chaltén to Ushuaia.
1. With the abundance of technological navigational guides available, using an actual physical map may seem archaic, but I think it’s more like a lost art. Maps are far more reliable than Siri, Google Maps, or any other GPS enabled device. They don’t spend precious seconds “rerouting” when you come to a fork in the road, or tease you with a blue dot that erratically jumps around, or instruct you to motion a figure eight to calibrate. And maps are absolutely necessary in the Patagonia region, where road signs and markings are all but non-existent, and yes that dusty dirt road you just passed was indeed your turnoff. They don’t need to be charged, they smell good, fold nicely, and make you feel a little cooler than you actually are.
2. I am forever grateful that I learned to drive a manual. Thank you, Dad.
3. At least one good metaphor involves cats. Michelle met a woman in her 30s who left her life in Colorado to travel the world. As their relationship was amicably ending, her boyfriend said something to the effect of: You know how there are inside cats and outside cats? You are an outside cat. Phenomenal, really. This takes nothing away from no one. Both inside cats and outside cats are happy and equally awesome. One just lives for laps, sunshine snoozes and the comforts of home. The other thrives on exploration, variety and the thrill of the unknown, but no matter how far they stray, they always come back home.
4. I am an outside cat.
5. If you don’t speak much Spanish, and he doesn’t speak much English, continually repeating the same phrase isn’t really that helpful. However, when you throw in some context clues and very animated gestures, one of you will eventually reach that aha! moment. And sometimes you get a piece of chocolate for all your hard work.
6. I must learn to speak better Spanish.
7. Traveling with four people is hard; traveling with two is less hard, but still hard. Just the two of you. On long stretches of road, no one to focus on but each other. In a tiny tent. You learn a little too much.
8. A road trip with a goal, but no set itinerary or reservations, is the way to travel. Sure, you might spend a night or two sleeping in your car (you paid enough for it, might as well take advantage), not know when your next shower will be, and have to spend a little time figuring out what to do when you get there, wherever “there” is, but the freedom is worth it.
9. What? Orion’s Belt is visible throughout the world? Are we the only people who didn’t know this?
10. I definitely take advantage of things that seem normal to me at home. Like being able to withdraw money from an ATM any day of the week, and not standing in long lines to get it, or worrying about the entire city running out of cash until Monday afternoon (happened), with most places not accepting credit cards. Or not wondering if the poopy wipe should really be discarded in the basket and not the toilet, because it’s like 70% poop. Or assuming there will be toilet paper next to the toilet, and not outside the door you just shut to do your business.
11. Showers are overrated. There is a point where, “man, I really need a shower” turns into, “meh, I’m fine,” and you just own your cleanliness or lack thereof. Being dirty is just a part of who you are now, and you’re okay with that. Especially with assistance from those body wipes that instruct you to clean in this order: face, neck, chest, right arm, left arm, right leg, left leg, back, buttocks. According to the Kowalski PPT wash, they are missing a few areas. That being said, I never imagined the sight of soap in a public toilet and a solid hand washing could cause so much joy.
12. Someone told me the guards at the Chile/Argentinian border were hostile men wielding machine guns. In reality, it was pretty non-threatening. We actually missed the patrol station exiting Argentina, as there are no gates, no signs, and no people outside, just a tiny building, trusting travelers to stop. This caused us a teense bit of trouble getting back into Argentina since it looked like we had stolen the car in Chile. Minor details. I think our American girl innocence worked in our favor that time. Crossing into Chile, there was a gate, but after going through a relaxed customs process, we waited ten minutes for someone to “let us into Chile” before we just unchained and lifted the gate ourselves. Which is when we got Chile Bordered.
13. Chile Bordered. To be Chile Bordered means to be ripped off. For example, let’s say you pay 20 U$D for a glass of Jameson in Ushuaia. You just got Chile Bordered. Or maybe your cabbie charges you twice the local amount for a ride into Buenos Aires because he knows you have no clue. Chile Bordered. Or your horse runs directly into a gnarly bush, tearing a huge hole in your pants. That’s right. Your pants got Chile Bordered in the most literal way. OR maybe you just crossed over into Chile and stop at the border town with hunger pains, a half a tank of gas, no idea how far the next town is or what the roads are like, and zero Chilean pesos, so you exchange some Argentinian pesos with the friendly, fast-talking woman behind the counter, who knows exactly what she is doing as she types in some exchange rate on her calculator and shows you like five times, and she knows you have no idea what you are doing because you just keep nodding, so she hands you some Chilean pesos, you go back to the car, do your own conversion on the fancy new iPhone app you downloaded for these exact situations, and realize with a dizzy head…you’ve just been Chile Bordered. Hard. I would like the record to state, while I did pay too much for a glass of whiskey, the other noted cases of Chile Bordering belong to my travel companion.
14. Dogs live very much like people in Patagonia. Packs of them run around town, probably meeting friends for lunch or hot dates or for book clubs. If you so much as look at them, they become a part of your pack, and proceed to follow you around town, which is actually pretty scary, given the bad-assness of some of these dogs. I believe the happiest dogs in the world live in El Chaltén, where they spend their days tearing down the mountain streets, making friends with tourists, and sleeping in the sun, with a constant smile on their face.
15. Penguins are funny little creatures.
16. The importance of a warm sleeping bag. I had trouble deciding between my winter and summer bag, asked around, did some research, decided on the winter bag. Yes, it was technically summer, but we were also technically closer to Antarctica than Buenos Aires. Michelle had already purchased a summer sleeping bag at a discount price and was not interested in purchasing another, though I did mention that I was bringing my winter bag, and strongly recommended she reconsider, or risk being very miserable during sleepy time. Each night, as I kicked off my socks and layers and snuggled deep into my sleeping bag, enjoying the warmth, she pulled on every pair of socks she owned, as many tops as possible, and at least two bottoms, probably making a bad situation worse; she opted to sleep in the car the last night. Hats off to her though, she never once complained. A classic told you so moment, I almost felt guilty.
17. Hiking two hours up the extremely steep Chileno trail in Torres del Paine with all of your gear is hard (Very hard. I had a pep talk with myself: Come on Tosha. There are so many people in this world who would love to do this and physically can’t. You have two legs. They work. You’re healthy. Don’t even think about bitching and enjoy what’s happening, right now. Even the pain.). Setting up camp in the dark rain is annoying. Taking down camp in the cold, windy rain is even worse. But I wouldn’t trade one single second. Even the painful ones.
18. This world is beautiful, and the best way to truly experience that is to get out there.
19. Get out there. You won’t regret it.