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Our Sabbatical Adventures

Welcome to Mike and Alicia's sabbatical travel journal. Journal entries are written by Alicia, photographs are taken by Mike with his shiny Canon DSLR.

Diary Entries

Friday, 15 March 2019

Location: Santiago, Chile

Now playing at the Santiago airport, terrible covers of all your favorite songs! Like you think it’s that song you like but it just doesn’t sound right.

We literally spent the entire day at various airports, so I’ll regale you with a tale of The Worst Tourists. There was a tour bus full of people all getting on our flight from Punta Arenas to Santiago, all baby boomer Americans in matching embroidered fleece vests . If you’re already snorting, just wait, it gets better! This one lady is bragging loudly about how great their tour company is, and it’s so exclusive and fancy, and she’s literally telling this to other people on the tour. Then she’s like “oh I know it sounds so snobby, but this one guy said “I’m not getting on a yacht that’s slower than mine!” Hahaha now that’s snobby!” Then they all laugh like inbred hyenas. She continues loudly talking about how she’s going to South Africa next year with this same travel company and how it was never even offered to the public but they called her specifically to offer her a spot on the trip. She must have said at least 4 times that the trip was never even opened to the public.

Fast forward to baggage claim, actually it went very slowly to baggage claim because it took these people for fricken even to gather all their shit from the overhead bins and actually get off the plane. Standing in the aisle putting on their coats like there isn’t a line of people standing there waiting to get off. baggage claim some people from the group were talking about how the place they stayed in Torres del Paine was featured in the in flight magazine because of course it was. “5 stars obviously”

These big tours have never held much appeal for me, I like going at my own pace, and being the one who decides where and when we go places, also I like having experiences that are hard or surprising and maybe not what you planned. They have their hands held and are chauffeured from place to place and never actually have to talk to anyone outside their group or attempt to navigate a new place on their own. I’m not saying that everyone who goes on these tours is bad or a rich asshole, but you do miss out and it seems like those who go on the tours are exactly the type of people who could benefit from a broader view of the world and actually have an experience that isn’t a “them and us”. (Us on the tour vs. all the people who they are paying to do stuff for them)

*steps off soapbox*

Thursday, 14 March 2019

Location: Punta Arenas, Chile

This morning we left the beautiful Torres del Paine and stares longingly out the window of our shuttle as we drove through the Patagonian wilderness. 5 hours later we were back in Punta Arenas with some time to kill before dinner. We walked around and quickly realized no one comes to Punta Arenas, people travel through Punta Arenas.

While walking along the old port this older man starts talking to us in Spanish, he first asks if we speak Spanish and I tell him Mike doesn’t but I speak a little. He thankfully slows down and asks where we are from, I tell him and he says he’s from Punta Arenas. He seemed very proud of that fact and starts telling us about this bird on the beach. I don’t catch all of what he says but he tells us about the different birds and penguins (they are all over the old docks) and that the ships are oil ships from Venezuela. I tell him we went to Torres del Paine and he asked if we saw a Puma by making the universal sign of claws out and pouncing. I said no but we saw lots of guanácos (look like llamas, eaten by Pumas). He starts talking faster about Punta Arenas and the beer (there is a brewery nearby) and at this point I’m not catching most of it because he’s talking too fast and my Spanish really isn’t that good, and I feel bad because he’s so excited to be telling us all about whatever he is talking about. I mostly smile and nod and try to grab onto the few words I know and eventually tell him we have to get going to dinner. He vigorously shakes our hands and we are on our way.

We did however manage to find pretty solid steak dinner that served us each a giant bowl of French fries with our meal and of course some delicious Chilean wine.

Wednesday, 13 March 2019

Location: Torres del Paine, Chile

This morning we walked around the valley a bit on our own, Mike took some pictures and I found a nice spot to read. After lunch we set out on our last hike in the park. We walked to a lake called Sarmiento and saw some rare examples of the thrombolites created by Cyanobacteria that helped make our air breathable for us, well basically made all life on earth possible. This was a short, only 3 miles, but gave us stunning views of the towers, glaciers, lakes and surrounding area. We even saw an avalanche on one of the mountains. I thought it was thunder but then everyone was pointing at the mountain. We also saw some really neat skeletons of guanácos (a llama like animal that the pumas eat). The skeleton was completely intact minus the head.

Tuesday, 12 March 2019

Location: Torres del Paine , Chile

I slept in while crazy Mike went up a hill to get morning fog photos. We ate a late breakfast and Mike went to the heated pool while I got my hot stone massage. That massage was sorely needed and much appreciated. I then ordered hiking poles on Amazon because I’m a believer now, they are amazing, they reduce strain on your knees especially on steep trails and help you keep your footing on slick and loose terrain. I urge all you hikers to convert to the church of the hiking pole! They are not just for old ladies I swear!

In the afternoon we went on a horseback ride through some forest area and along the Rio Serrano. It was just us and another lady so we got to chat a lot with our guide and trot the horses a bit. After the ride we both went to the heated pool and I spent a bit of time in the sauna trying to ease my still aching calves.

Pretty chill day, which was exactly what we needed after yesterday. We also took great advantage of the all inclusive drinks :)

Monday, 11 March 2019

Location: Torres del Paine, Chile

We met in the lobby at 7:30am to get on the shuttle for an hour and a half ride into the park. We bumped and jostled along the gravel road and took in the incredible views of the park as the sun climbed higher in the sky. We finally arrived at a welcome center where backpackers could fill up their water, use a proper toilet and get snacks before heading out. The trail we were hiking is part of the “W” trail (because it’s shaped like a W) and many people hike the whole trail and camp along the way.

The first bit was flat and people were excited and chatting with each other. There was couple from Texas, another from Missouri, and another from Miami. There was guy from Scotland, one from California and a girl from Lebanon. As the trip went on we started referring to each other by the names of where we from. We had two guides leading us, telling us what was coming, and encouraging us to keep pressing on. One guide, Jaime, led the way while the other guide, Stephy, brought up the rear. I got to know her very well, same with Lebanon and Missouri as we were frequently at the back of the pack. Soon we started up a rocky sustained uphill climb that seemed to last forever, the guides kept us motivated by telling us about the Chilean refuge just up in the valley and that the part of the trail after this was more flat and led through forest and along a rushing river and was very beautiful, so we pressed on. At the refuge we filled our water, ate a snack and continued on. This was my favorite part of the trail, I was not expecting such a beautiful and lush forest and the trial would open up occasionally to reveal views of the river down below and peaks of the mountains around us. There were brief uphill portions, but just as they started to get tough things would ease a bit. Eventually we reached a very windy opening in the trail where we took a break before the final, grueling and treacherous ascent to the valley with the view of the base towers. The first part was steep, but sheltered, we were practically climbing up a small stream, it was rocky, but the rocks were large and solid and easily climbable. The perks of climbing a mountain next to a glacial stream is an unlimited supply of the best water you’ve ever tasted. The next, more significant portion was exposed rock that was variable in size and made for slow going as it was steep and the rocks were loose. Since the trail was all open you could look up and see people farther up the trail and it made you realize just how much further and higher you had yet to climb, ugh.

Despite March not typically being very busy, there were a lot of people on the mountain and we’d have to stop occasionally to let people pass who were going back down. All we could think about was the break and lunch we’d get at the top. Our group at this point was pretty spread out, so we knew by the time we at the end made it up, folks would be probably finishing their lunch. Eventually we made it and I found Mike, who made it only a few minutes before me and I collapsed behind a rock for shelter from the wind and got my lunch out. We all sat around a small glacial lake with several other groups of people who had made the ascent. The view of the towers was impressive and we had plenty of time to take in our surroundings and fuel up before the climb down.

The steep rocky part going down was easier than up, but felt dangerous because of how loose the rock was, near the bottom of the first steep descent a woman had broken her foot and one of our guides stayed behind to help her. The rest of us pressed on, we were all ready to collapse by the time we made it to the Chilean refuge, but we only stopped long enough to fill up our water bottles, eat a quick snack, and use the bathroom before we were on our way again. The last sustained downhill was near unbearable. The fact that they provided us a walking pole is the only thing that kept me going at this point, otherwise I’m sure one of my knees would have gave out, I would have twisted an ankle, or just straight up collapsed like those runners do at the end of a marathon. The sun was low in the sky by the time we made it back and we were greeted with cold beer and snacks by the van before the ride back to the lodge. Everyone was in good spirits as we rehashed the day’s adventures and joked that this day was going to become a fish story, every time we talked about it the distance would get greater, lol.

Here’s my ending stats from my Apple Watch:
14.88 miles
4,163 ft. Elevation gain
9 hours 8 minutes (not including lunch break)

Sunday, 10 March 2019

Location: Torres del Paine, Chile

Our shuttle picked us up at 9:30 and we settled in for our 5.5 hour journey to Torres del Paine National Park. The drive was incredible and we made a few stops along the way for lunch and some photos once we entered the park. After check in we ventured out for a short hike to stretch our legs after our long car ride.we hiked a path called Hidden Lagoon, you’ll never guess what was at the end of the path! We kept stopping along the trail because 1. I needed to breathe and 2. The view was $#&@ing incredible. I definitely thought we had been transported to middle earth or Narnia. It was only a two hour hike, but it was pretty steeply uphill, so we felt pretty tired by the end.

We ate dinner with an impossibly gorgeous view and tried not to drink too much in anticipation of our long hike the next day. After dinner was a briefing for our hike to the Base Towers, it’s an 8-10 hour hike with some significant uphill portions and I was a bit intimidated...until I met the rest of the group going on the hike. This one girl was asking about breaks and if we got to sit down and I was like “uh I’ll be sitting, so you can sit with me, lol” and another girl was also apprehensive about the uphill portion and I was like, I’ll be there puffing on my inhaler so I’ll be going slow and she was like “omg I have an inhaler too!” and we high fived and are now best friends. I already have my hot stone massage booked for the following day, so I think I got this?

P.S. Almost all the tourists here speak English and I’m just talking to everyone and making friends and it’s so nice. Am I drunk writing this entry? Maybe. 🥴

Saturday, 09 March 2019

Location: Punta Arenas, Chile

We checked out of our hotel and we went to one more winery for a tour before our drive back to Santiago. Viña Estampa’s main building looked modern and sleek with vividly painted old wine barrels dotting the entrance. There were 6 of us on the tour and the guide, quite impressively, went back and forth between Spanish and English the entire time. The tour concluded with a tasting where we drank, ate, and chatted with our guide. It was nice to get the chance to have a conversation with someone who spoke fluent English, instead of my fumbling Spanish.

We made it back to Santiago and checked into our flight to Punta Arenas. Thankfully it was a short flight, 3 hours, and we had an easy time grabbing a cab to our hotel where we’d only be at for one night before we were picked up the next morning by the shuttle to Torres del Paine national park.

On the plane I had a bit of a moment, we had been doing lots of traveling and I had been the one dealing with not only the planning and logistics of the trip, but also was the main point of communication since most people spoke very little if any English. My brain was exhausted and the thought of navigating another new city was suddenly daunting. It has been only a week of me struggling to communicate and I thought of all the people in the U.S. who struggle like this for years trying to learn a new culture, new customs and a new language. People take it for granted, the act of simply getting a cab or going out to dinner or asking someone a question. Each of these things require mental gymnastics when you have to do them in a foreign language. I could write an essay on the importance of learning a foreign language and I have deep regrets that I didn’t work harder at learning Spanish when I had the chance. If you aren’t making sure your kids are learning a foreign language you are doing them a disservice. Sure English gets you pretty far in many places, but not all. Also, they may just be that lifeline in a storm for someone else who doesn’t speak English and is relived to encounter someone who literally “speaks their language”.

Friday, 08 March 2019

Location: Santa Cruz, Chile

We ate an early breakfast and said a sad goodbye to Pucón before starting our drive north and heading out to Santa Cruz, located in the Colchagua valley, home of many of Chile’s best wines. We arrived at our hotel mid afternoon after being delayed due out the local harvest festival, copious amount of pedestrians that just walk out into the street and cars that drove mind numbingly slow on the narrow winding roads. (We kept joking ‘the road is paved, what more do you want?!’ After spending 3 days driving in similarly narrow and winding roads that were nothing but washed out gravel.)

Upon our arrival, we unloaded our luggage and immediately headed out for a tour of the Viu Manet winery. We joined a couple from Germany as our tour guide showed us around and explained the different parts of the wine making process. Despite all our visits to wineries in South Africa, we had never received such an extensive tour. We were shown all the machinery, oak barrels, and fermenting vats in addition to be taken around the grounds in a horse drawn wagon. At the end we sat down for a tasting of 5 excellent wines before making our way to the shop where we attempted to figure out just how much wine we could fit in our suitcase.

Next we headed to Laura Hartig winery for a tasting where we picked up another bottle and a dinner recommendation. We ate dinner at a picturesque Italian restaurant down the road where we sat on the patio and watched the sunset over the vineyards. I never thought I would eat some of the best Italian food I’ve ever had in Chile, but this was second place to make me question if we were in fact in South America or Italy.

We returned to our hotel and connected to WiFi to discover Cody is terribly sick with norovirus, poor kid. I’m simultaneously glad I’m not there to catch it, but also heartbroken to see him feeling so terribly and not be able to do anything for him :( Apparently it’s going around back home, so stay well friends!

Thursday, 07 March 2019

Location: Pucón , Chile

This morning the plan was to attempt a hike before heading out to some hot springs in the afternoon. Unfortunately the trail we wanted was closed, apparently due to some land dispute, so we opted to head straight to the Termas Los Pozones, we had heard that these hot springs were much cheaper and much less crowded than the hot springs you see advertised everywhere where they bring in buses of people and sometimes have to wait hours to get in, according to the reviews.

There were other people, but none of the pools were at all crowded and the price was over 1/3 less. There were at least 10 different pools of varying temperature and depth and they ran all along a picturesque river with rocky rapids. We soaked for hours, trying out the cooler pools when we got too hot. We were the only gringos there until the end when we saw another couple we guessed were German from their accent.

We took it easy the rest of the day until sunset when we ventured a drive up Villarica National Park to try to take advantage of the view since the clouds had broken up and we could had some clear skies. We drove for 45 minutes up a switchback gravel road, but the outstanding views of the lake, the volcano, and the surrounding area were well worth the time and effort! Eventually we made it back down for dinner at the appropriately Chilean time of 8:30.

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Recent Messages

From Mike
I am so glad for you both.

Love dad
From Lisa & Kevin Quinlan
What a fantastic trip!! The pictures are truly amazing (love the captions), and the journals are absolutely rivoting! We have really enjoyed sharing in your adventures.
Response: Thanks so much! I'm glad we could share our experiences with so many people, I'm happy to hear you enjoyed it :)
From Aunt Pam
Happy Birthday Alicia!! So glad you are having such a wonderful time! Love the pictures!
From Stacia Grace
I love this!! I want a copy of a bunch of pictures!! Can't wait to see more! You will have to make me a disk or two!! Ashy -your editorial is WONDERFUL!! Mmwwaa!
From Connie
Amazing! Wow! So Cool!
From Mom
Oh my gosh!!!! That climb sounded really scary. I am so glad you got down safe and sound, even if you were a little wet. You know I like to hike but that sounds like I would have froze at some point on that hike.
Love you!!!!
From Bob & Alvina
HI kids it sure looks like you 2 are having a very good time. We love the diary an the photos. We will love to here your stories when you come home. love grandma & grandpa
From Stacia
The birds flying out reminded me of the moth in the basement!! Haaaaa! Thank you both so much for making us part of this awesome expreience!! Mmwwaa!
Response: Haaaa!! Oh my gosh, it was just like that!
From Mom & Dad
Hey Kids,
I love the picture of Nala :) She is being a good girl and her and Fetch have been playing well together, tug of war and tag. Dad wants to hunt the Kudu and the Warthog. Oh yeah, looks like you were close enough to get my lion cub :)
Looks like you are having and AWESOME trip. We are so happy for you and talk about the fun you are having to anyone who will listen :)
Nala sends a bunch of sloppy kisses :)~
Love you bunches!!!!
Mom & Dad
Response: Yay, glad she is being so good and having so much fun.

Yeah, we got to be very close to all the animals. The Kudu and Warthogs were only about 30 meters away. That male Kudu in the photos is actually a fairly small one, they get much larger than that.

We were almost close enough to the lion to touch him. He was only about 5 meters from us (as were the females). No cubs right now.

Just wait til you read about our adventure today!
From The Mama
Where do we go tomorrow?!!! This is awesome! I am all verklempt here! Love the blogs and the photos are amazing! The elephants are fabulous! Alicia in the safari hat with elephant in background.... Tawk amongst yourselves!! Mmwwaa!!
Response: Love you too mom! We are in Cape Town for a few days and then in some smaller towns along the coast after that. I thought of you every time we saw elephants :)
From jess ott
looking forward to updates! :) hope your flight(s) were not too unbearable!
Response: Check out the pics of the hippos!!
From Connie
Have fun and be safe. Looking forward to reading about your adventure!