Back to reality

Day 208

I’m back from my short vacation to Chile just in time to be home for Christmas.

I saw a lot of things and ate well and slept well. The trip was well worth it. I was lucky to be part of the journey.

Before I was able to board the plane, many things happened that I thought, wouldn’t able to make it. Two months before the trip, protests broke out in Chile. It has no direct effect on the trip unless the state department put out a travel restriction, but it created an uncertainty and fear for the safety. My coworkers and friends urged me not to go when they heard about it. We assure them that most of our travel would be away from the crowd. I was checking constantly on Chile situation fearing a revolution might break out any time. Our fear was unfounded.

Then my work situation became very rocky. We had swings from having minimal work to being overloaded with too much to do. We had many people taking their vacations and leaves. My boss did not want me to go though I submitted my leave request almost five months before anyone else, because he needs me to hold down the fort when things become busy, and did not accept my request until at the last minute. All the signs pointed to that I should stay put. I was going crazy.

I got a funny feeling that the trip would be cancel by our team captain when there was very little communication until she confirmed that the trip was still on two werks before we departed, that in itself was nerve racking. I pretty much did not hear from her until we were about to leave for the airport.

But we invested too much into the trip. The god of the universe must be playing a comic joke on me. There was no way I wouldn’t get on the plane.

The first couple days after arriving, we stayed in Santiago. We explored on foot around the city, I think the Italian Park District / or where the protest was going on. We got to see the riot suppression police in action. We climbed a short hill that gave us the overviewed of the entired district. We entangled with the protest on our second night after dinner and was chased by the crowd and police. That was some heart thumbing moment. But both the people and police were friendly toward outsiders. At no point were we in danger.

Every night there was a protest there. One night the smoke from the tear gas canister even blew into our living room and we were 12 floors up. We got a taste of what tear gas feel like; and it was very diluted by the time it got to our floor room, but still those are some powerful stuff, causing our eyes to water, and nose to run and throat to choke. It was like smelling onion but worse.

We left Santiago on the third day to fly to Punta Arenas, and then to Puerto Natales. We gathered our supplies and entered the Torres Del Paines the following day.

We did the O Trek in seven days. Most people do the W trek hiking either from east to west or west to east. The O trek is a big circle that incorporate the W trek on the loop back to the start.

The first couple days were easy hiking. The last couple days were a bit harder. The hardest day was crossing the mountain pass. I came ill-prepared and did not expect snow, wind and the cold – all deadly combination. The pass is not hard to get through but ice and snow and some tricky footing put enough fear in me of not going attempt crossing it a second time. I could have died up there if the temperature was any lower and the pass was a bit higher and longer to get through. If it was 10 minutes or 20 minutes longer, I would have collapsed.

I was foolish enough to wear just one layer plus a windbreaker. It was enough to stay maybe 10-15 minutes outside in near freezing temperature but not when you are completely soaked and the pass I think took us at least two hours to cross. I was too cold by the time I came to my sense to add a second layer and I couldn’t wiggle my fingers to put on my gloves. After many attempts, I decided give up on getting my gloves on. Both of my legs were frozen stiff too and I lost all feeling of them. For the first time I understand the value of having a rain pants. I got those but left them at home thinking little wet, wouldn’t kill me.

I couldn’t be happier when we got to Central (where the entrance/exit locates). We stayed a night at Central in order to climb Chileno to see the ‘Towers’, the famous Torres. The stars did not aligned right for us. The next day, it was raining and cold, we got up to top of the mountain but did not get to see the any spire/tower. It was too windy and cold, we snapped a picture and immediately descended back to Central and took the bus out the park.

We spent a night at Punta Arenas before flying to Puerto Montt, which is a short drive to Puerto Varas. We stayed at Puerto Varas for a night before flying back to Santiago. We stayed another night at Santiago before flying to Calama and taking a bus to San Pedro, to vist the Atacama desert.

For rest of the trip mostly was traveling from place to place. When time allowed, we aired out our wet clothes and tents, which was much easy to do once we got to hotter and drier climate. Atacama desert was worth seeing. We visited Vales Acoritis (Rainbow Valley) and at night we star-gazed.

Monday, we left San Pedro, and retraced our steps back to Sandiago and then took an evening flight to Atlanta and then back to DC by Tuesday morning.

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