Some more photos from the trek.
The scenery was absolutely stunning, with hanging glaciers, jagged mountain peaks, glacial lakes and forests. You see all of those each day.
Due to her Camp Thunderbird days, Jill had significantly more experience than your humble correspondent. Carrying everything on our backs for four nights (even though we stayed at little huts/hostels along the trail — Jill considers it “modified backpacking” while Dan considers it “extreme mountaineering”) was quite the endeavor. All in all, it was about 45 miles over four days, with some serious ups and downs, and 25-pound bags. Easy for the Miller Perveres, and pretty much unheard of in Saper family history.
One of the great perks is spending time with the people you meet along the way. We spent three days walking with a wonderful and gregarious young British woman named Carly, who is currently teaching math in the Falkland Islands (tiny British territory off the southern coast of Chile). We also enjoyed Marthy and Bert, a lovely couple from Belgium who is traveling the world for four months. We met Henry, who just raised $150k from sponsors for his successful trek to the South Pole (the warmest it got during his two week trek was negative 78 degrees!!). We also met an interesting German guy who quit his job
in Vancouver and now plans to bike from the Southern tip of Argentina to Bolivia — he reckons it will take about a year. And there were Lauren and Shad, a nice couple from Portland OR who we trekked with one day, and another newlywed couple from San Fran!
All in all, a fantastic excursion. You get into a mesmerizing rhythm walking on the trail after a while, and lose yourself in the experience. There are definitely some more physically demanding parts than I would have thought, but all amazing and rewarding. Can’t recommend it highly enough.
Anyone who has been to Torres del Paine knows it is not an easy place to get to – and that’s especially true if you are coming from Futaleufu. Since we had three months to work with, we decided Torres was worth the trip. Here’s how we made the trek from one remote part of Patagonia to another:
Day 1: 6am bus from Futaleufu to Chaiten. The bus ride was supposed to take three hours, but ended up taking over four on 90% dirt roads. Also to note, the ‘bus station’ in Futa is in a living room in a small house, and our reservation was written in pencil on a notepad. We were relieved to get a seat as the bus was packed and there was a line (make that crowd, no lines around here) down the street starting at 5:30am.
We were told the bus would drop us off at a small airport for our 10am flight, but that the pilot would wait for the bus if it was late. We were a little skeptical, and then totally panicked when we realized it was 10:30am and there were no airports in sight. We finally reached a small landing strip with a few trailers around it. Dan and I rushed into a trailer but they had no record of our flight reservation. All of a sudden out of nowhere a tiny little plane landed (Dan called it a Toyota Corolla with wings) and six loud Americans spilled out. We ran over to the pilot and on his notebook, in pencil, were our names. Whew! We hopped on the plane and were off to Puerto Mont.
This was the smallest and tiniest plane I’ve ever been on, but the views of Chile’s lake district out the window were amazing. I was relieved after our safe landing and hope I never have to fly on a plane that small again.
At this point, we faced our next obstacle. Dan and I weren’t able to get a single Chilean peso in futa – the banks were closed and the currency exchange offices were out of cash. We needed a taxi from the mini Puerto Mont airport to the big Puerto Mont airport – and not only did we have not a single Chilean peso to our names, but there was not a single taxi in sight. Are we well prepared or what?
Luckily two very friendly Americans on the mini plane offered to let us join them in their chartered van to the airport. David and Paul live in DC and had just spent a week fly fishing in Patagonia with their dads at Martin Pescador lodge which I’m sure my uncle Sam would love. We ended up spending about three hours talking with them through flight, van and airport transit, and treated them to gourmet airport lunch to thank them for letting us tag along in their van.
From Puerto Mont it was a two hour flight to Punta Arenas, one of the most southern cities in the world. We checked into our hostel, went out to dinner, and finally slept after the sun set around 11pm.
Day 2: Three hour bus ride from Punta Arenas to Puerto Natales. Piece of cake after day one. Puerto Natales is like a giant REI, with all the camping gear imaginable to rent or buy. We rented hiking poles, bought dry bags, and snuck into the coolest hotel we’ve ever seen – the singular – for some fast WiFi.
Day 3: 2 hour bus ride from Puerto Natales to Torres, then a transfer bus to our first refugio, Torres Central.
Whew! After two flights and three bus rides over three days, we were glad we made it to Torres. The funny thing was that long travel days, layovers, and crazy bus schedules didn’t bother us. We were much more patient than usual (a four hour layover in Puerto Mont meant we could catch up on Scandal – hallelujah), we read a ton (The Innocents was an amazing page turner that I’m now making Dan read), looked out the windows, and snoozed. And now we are way more confident that we can make it around South America – and hopefully the other countries we visit, too.
All right, it’s 10:48PM, the sun has finally set, and it’s bed time as our seven hour bus to Calafate leaves at 7AM!
We went lake kayaking one day on the large Espolon Lake, which we had entirely to ourselves. We spent two days cruising down tributaries of the Futa, then after the water levels dropped, we were able to get back on the main river. Fantastic rafting. Both of us fell out once, Jill’s fall worse than mine, after which she got to hang onto the back of Santi’s kayak to get through the rest of the rapid.
I took a bunch of photos on my phone, but during our sea kayaking day my phone decided to take a little freshwater dip and was toast. Even though I have no cell service abroad, I’ve been using the phone as a camera and was sad to lose all of my photos. Luckily the ex-chile staff, including the chef, Luz, were very familiar with swimming cell phone remedies. And after leaving the phone in a bowl of rice all day while we rafted, then sticking it in the sauna until dinner – it was cured! So…here are a few photos from the first days in futa, pre-swim…
The head guide was a 27-year-old Chilean named Humberto, who was fantastic. The other guides, also all great people, were Derek (24, from Ireland), Tora (19, from Norway — a champion freestyle kayaker and Derek’s lovely girlfriend), Adam (20, from England), and Santi (24, from Chile). A fun group, and surprisingly mature for all being so young!
Ex Chile also has an AMAZING chef named Luz. She learned how to cook from her grandmother, who was the personal chef to the president of Panama before being poached by the Prez of Peru to be his chef. An energetic, warm, funny, loving woman who made us the best soup we’d ever had.
There is also Rosi, a great woman who helps run the camp. She is married to Chris Spelios, a former Olympic kayaker who pioneered white water kayaking down the Futa and founded Ex Chile. And there’s Rosi’s mom, often seen in the kitchen and around the camp, who everyone calls “Abuela” (grandma).
The food overall was spectacular — Luz knew dishes from all different parts of the world and never disappointed. Soup after a cold day on the river, homemade cinnamon hot chocolate in the morning, salads, fresh watermelon, arroz – we are missing Luz big time.
Ex Chile also had a private garden about a 20-minute walk/hike from the camp with fresh fruits and veggies. We hiked up to the garden with Derek and Thomas and picked carrots, herbs, raspberries and more. Jill was in heaven.
[Parents, please skip this part] Several creeks and streams feeding into the Futa are pure glacial water and safe to drink. Cold, fresh, pure delicious agua. But check back with us in a week to see if we have ghiardia.
Your faithful correspondents
Greetings friends! After six days off the grid, we’re back for a night. So coming up are a few posts from our incredible experience along the Futaleufu River…
It poured all night in Trevelin and continued the next day as we crossed the border into Chile. The border station is basically a small hut with two employees at the end of a long dirt road — if you want to sneak an army into Chile, I suggest you do it from here.
When we got to the town of Futaleufu we thought there was no way we’d go rafting that first day. But we went straight to the Ex Chile office, met our guides, were handed wet suits, and then hopped in the van to head to the river. It was game time.
We have few pics of the rafting (hard to bring a camera on a Class 5 river) but the first day was incredible despite the rain. The Futa is a beautiful river with stunning surrounding scenery and some of the best rapids in the world, but is still fairly lightly traveled given how remote it is.
After freezing our little tooshies off that first day on the river, we arrived at ExChile’s Camp Tres Monjas where we’d stay for the next five nights. No electricity, Internet, mirrors. All heat comes from wood-burning stoves and furnaces. So we were totally unplugged, which was liberating. And one huge perk: a wood burning sauna (we pretty much jumped straight in after the freezing first day).
More to come!
We made it to Trevelin, a 2.5 hour flight south of Buenos Aires. We are exhausted and fighting the urge to take a 2 hour nap. Dan passed out in the hotel lobby after giving me strict instructions to wake him up in 18 minutes. Wish me luck!