Monday, February 25

Parinacota (6342m)

[Would love to blog about climbing in Ipoh this weekend, but duty first!]

"Parinacota and Pomerape were the prince and princes of enemy tribes, but they were married. Their tribes killed them, but nature, as a punishment, entombed both tribes under water, forming in their places the lakes Chungarra and Cota-Cani. In the places where the prince and princess were buried, the beautiful volcanic cones of the Payachatas were born, the twin mountains ..."

After spending a couple of days in that idyllic spot by the lagoon, we packed our bags, out tents and our sleeping bags and headed for the Parinacota base camp. To get there, we first have to pass by Lago Chungara, an amazingly big lake, situated at around 4500 m (one of the highest in the world). Its waters are deep blue and full of flamingoes and other birds. You also get an amazing view from there, with Parinacota, Guallatire (fuming, far right) and other above 6000m peaks around it.

From there on you have to take a left on a desert road to get to the base camp. Not only is it a desert road but it's fully deserted. You have to go about 25 km inland, going up and down sand dunes with no vegetation except some cacti here and there. There are some signs to show the way in the form of some stone arrows drawn in the sand. Other than that, no signs of life except our red car with us in it, as i've said, like in a washing machine with double spin on. I've bumped my head on the car ceiling so many times that in the end I could hold the camera, sleep and bump my head and not feel disturbed at all. Thank god Marius is such a good 4x4 driver, or else.

We finally reached our first base camp at around 4600m. We had to stop there because there was no obvious way up an almost vertical sand dune. We left the car there and Marius, Dan and I walked up the dune and on this valley, up to the base of the mountain, looking for car tracks or anything similar that would indicate that we can get there by car. This valley is full of boulders and volcanic rocks and ashes that Parinacota must've thrown a while back. I would not have wanted to be here man. Above 4600 there is absolutely no sign of any vegetation. It's just ash and rocks. We spent the next day (24 december, Christmas Eve) finding a way to the base of the volcano, at 4800m, where our second base camp would be. We spent Christmas Eve taking pictures of Parinacota and drinking one small glass of wine. Marius tried to cook something special today, mashed potatoes and some meat cakes (parjoale [RO]) but we didn't have any eggs to hold the meat together so they were kinda scrambled but damn good!

Lili had a little surprise for us in the form of small figurines for each one of us, so cute!! Dan was extremely sad that he couldn't spend Christmas with his family and he kept wondering what they were doing now. I was also a bit sad because my grandmother's birtday is on the 25th and, as I was in the middle of nowhere, I had no phone signal to call her.

On the 25th we went up until 5000m to acclimatize (again) and take up a small part of the gear). Dan, Marius and I went up in the car and the girls followed on foot. Again, Dan started walking too fast and ended up being sick around 5000. Perhaps this is the time to talk about altitude sickness. AMS (acute mountain sickness, not academy of medicine, singapore :) ) occurs generally at altitudes above 2400m (lowest altitude recorded for AMS is actually 1500m) because the acute drop in air pressure. Normal symptoms include headache with fatigue, stomach sickness, dizziness, and sleep disturbance, but these vary from person to person. The way to prevent it is to acclimatize slowly, not climb or descend too fast, and drink a lot of water. And by a lot i mean 4 l of water at around 3000m and from then on an additional liter with every 1000m meters altitude difference. So you see, it's a lot! For me, my AMS was troubled sleep (I had nightmares), headaches when moving too fast and severe palpitations (but this was when I hit 6000m). You can experience AMS while at home if you want :) Just lie down, put about 4-6 very thick books on your chest and try to breathe or sleep, or, try running 15 km with a severe cold. The two severe forms of AMS include pulmonary edema (persistent dry cough, fever, shortness of breath even when resting) and cerebral edema (headache that does not respond to analgesics, unsteady walking, increasing vomiting, gradual loss of consciousness). It does not matter how fit you are, how strong you are or whether you are male or female, EVERYBODY gets it, just that the symptoms and the severeness differ. Two years ago, a very experienced guide died on Aconcagua at 5700m with both cerebral and pulmonary edema because he did not want to descend, not believing that he had AMS. The best way to acclimatize is "climb high, sleep low". For example, climb until 5000m, stay there for an hour or so and drink 1 l of water, then go sleep at 4600. Do the same from 5000-5400, etc.

26 of December found us at 4800m, with water reserves running very low - we roughly had 2 more days of water. The next day we climbed until 5600 m, for our advanced camp. There we left a lot of food, the gear (ice axes, crampons, rope) and one tent. To get to 5600, we had to scramble up a portion of very very loose rocks. It was very difficult as our backpacks were very heavy and the girls were not used to it. Unfortunately the loose rocks scared the shit out of Dan. Marius was climbing in front (he had the heaviest bag), followed by me and the two girls behind me (I was cutting steps in the rubble for them), with Dan last. At one point Lili slipped and Dan, instead of supporting her, literally jumped out of the way. He couldn't even carry the camera, I had to carry it.

When we got to 5600m Dan started saying that he doesn't want to climb this, that this is not the way (there were camps set there, jeez!), that he can't do it. I wish he would have said that earlier such that we would not have carried the extra tent up there. He was really panicked and barely could walk down from there. The good thing was that we found a stream from the glacier at about 5400m, right above the rubbles. The bad thing was that the weather was getting moodier every day.

We spent the next day, 28th of december, searching for an alternate route to please dan. Dan and Lili went up to the next camp, at 5200m to take the down jackets there and to get water. Dan made Lili carry a 5l water container full of water, while he carried the empty ones. He did not want to go up the rubbles again, so instead he filled one (out of the 4 empty ones) container with an icicle. I will say that again. He filled one full 5 liter container with one, yes one, icicle. When that icicle melted it gave us about half a liter of water. In the meantime, Marius and I were going around the volcano, at about 5400 m and facing a very strong wind, me with severe period cramps, to search for an easier route. I think we went up and down 6-8 valleys, through moraines and big boulders, and penitentes (pictured) as tall as Marius. After we went around a quarter of the volcano, we found one moraine that we couldn't cross and decided to return. When Dan found out that we couldn't find another route, he had a change of mood again (he was happier until then). At night, he started telling Marius his big plan (the two of them were sleeping in one tent, and us in another): only Marius and I would climb the route, while he would coordinate the girls into setting and clearing the camps at 5200m and at 5600m, such that when Marius and I returned from the summit the camps would be cleared and all we would have to do is return to the base camp. So he would not have to climb the route, but still have a very important role as a coordinator. Marius told him that this was nonsense, that all of us will climb to 5600m and from there on whoever can make it will make it. Dan went to sleep and then started having a panic attack which lasted until morning. At around 7 o'clock in the morning Marius woke us up: we had to take Dan to Putre, 70 km from where we were, because he couldn't take it anymore. Dan's good mood returned the moment we were on the main road. We left him in Putre and returned to camp. In Putre he started saying that Lili also doesn't want to climb, that she's sick of the sand, that it was Catalina's fault that he couldn't climb, that she was on his case all the time, bla bla bla bla excuses. The only thing I am sorry now is that we lost 2 days for his ass and a lot of money [coming up in the next post].

We returned to camp and decided that the next day (30th) we will go to 5200m, and from then on to 5600m and climb on New Year's Eve. We moved camps as planned, without any significant incidents. On the 30th, Marius and I climbed to 5400. Here we found a good campsite and decided not to climb until 5600, because there we would have to carry a shovel to make a camping place (had there been snow, there would have been plenty of camping places, as MA had said). There was a stream at 5400m, so this was great. Thus I had to climb to 5600 (again) and get the food down to 5400. The backpack was so heavy that when I put it on my back my vision went blurry, I kid you not. On the 31st we moved the entire camp to 5400m. No incidents again, except that big boulders were falling down from the glacier. The first boulder was fun. We were arranging food when Lili looked up and said, "my, look at that boulder coming down...". Marius looked up and saw a big boulder coming straight for us. He grabbed Lili, I grabbed Catalina and hid under a big rock. The boulder passed right in front of us (our favorite joke was that, had Dan seen this, we would have ran until Putre). Boulders fell down throughout the day. Lili was most affected by this, especially when we were sitting in the tent going "it's coming down on the next valley, not this one, etc". We were actually protected by a big rock, but this did not seem to comfort her.

The big night had finally come. We woke up at 2 only to find that it was snowing and thus we couldn't go up. The next day, with food running low, was not better. It was snowing and foggy, but at one point it stopped and this gave us hopes. Then it would start to snow again. When night came this big big snowstorm came. It shook the tent to high heavens. The sound the snow made is similar to that when somebody is banging their fists on a door. The girls couldn't sleep a wink... When morning came Catalina and Lili were decided to descend.

I threw a tantrum and told Marius that I don't want to quit, not after nearly two weeks on this mountain. Marius decided to go down with the girls and then come up with more food (we had only biscuits left). In the meantime, I would go up to 5600 and get the ice axes and crampons, because we would need them now, even to climb to 5600 m. Plus, if it would have snowed even a little bit, I would not have been able to locate the boulders under which i put them. The snow was now about 1 m high. So this was it.

Marius came up again, even though it was extremely tiring for him*. We waited and the weather seemed to improve. At one point, it was only snowing a bit. However, in about 2 hrs, the snow was 20cm high and it was still snowing. This meant that if it did not stop snowing, we would not be able to get the car out of there since snow with sand underneath is not a good combination. Thus we cleared camp (in a record time of 20 minutes) and got down. By now it was night, it was snowing, the backpacks were extremely heavy, we barely managed to find the camp. I still consider it a miracle that we could get out of there, at night and with all that snow. The desert looks the same during the day, to say nothing of the night and when it's snowing. We reached Putre at about midnight, found an open restaurant and had some soup and a well deserved beer and went to sleep.

This was Parinacota. Alas, a thorn in my memory. I have learned a lot from it tho, especially that 2 days matter. Also that you only get to really know a person when you take them out of their comfort zone and into an uncomfortable environment.

*I also learned something about leadership here. What if the girls would have decided to follow my lead and stay there? I know we would not have been able to descend with them. Sometimes it is more important to think about the whole team and not only your task (getting to the summit). It is more important for EVERYBODY to be safe rather than for some to reach the summit. I still consider myself responsible for that gruelsome retreat (did I mention we had to stop at our 4600m campsite to retrieve some gasoline containers?). However, I am still happy that I know that I gave it my best shot. I also know that the weather was definitely not improving (the winter had come, alas), so my waiting another day was pointless. Oh, the dilemma...

Thursday, February 21

Geek humor

To fully appreciate this, you must know that Ruby, Python, Pearl and Smalltalk are programming languages.

"Once you have these classes, you'll typically want to create a number of instances of each. For the jukebox system containing a class called Song, you'd have separate instances for popular hits such as ``Ruby Tuesday,'' ``Enveloped in Python,'' ``String of Pearls,'' ``Small talk,'' and so on. The word object is used interchangeably with class instance." [Programming Ruby - The Pragmatic Programmer's Guide - D. Thomas et al.]

The sad part is that I actually laughed at this. I R rulz.

Tuesday, February 19

Guane Guane (5100m)

Ha, finally proceeding to the posts about the mountains!

After another stop in Arica, where we met Frank, we finally reached Putre (north of Chile, at the border with Bolivia). Putre is a lovely little village situated at the altitude of 3500 m. It has a square shape and about 4 important streets. The first thing we did was to go to the tourist office and find out as many info as possible. This is where we met Marco Antonio. When we asked about the weather he said, "mui mal, mui mal" which really contradicted with what we saw outside. It was summer and there were no clouds in the sky. But, he says, there's this nasty winter that hits the altiplano around this time of year. Of course I knew that, because that's what it said on summitpost as well! But it was really hard believing it once we were there and the weather seemed soo nice. Anyhow, we had to wait one day in Putre for our permits to arrive, which was all for the best, since we had to acclimatize anyway.

Just minutes after I had arrived in Putre I started running. Why, you might ask, would you start running on your first hour, for the first time at that altitude? I think I was rushing to tell them that I found a hostel for us to sleep (we were looking for camping places). Anyhow, my form of altitude sickness hit me: severe palpitations and dizziness. MA suggested that I drink a local tea which really helps with the "soroche" (altitude sickness). This tea is called "mate de coca" and is made out of coca leaves. They sell it in restaurants, kiosks and supermarkets, and yes, 0.5kg of coca leaves = 1 gr cocaine. The high altitude workers in Peru munch on coca leaves to give them strength and keep their hunger at bay. I don't know what more those leaves had, but I can vouch that after munching on them my right jaw felt like it had been given an anaesthesic at the dentist! So this short break at 3500 really helped me, because the tea didn't (until much later, in Aconcagua).

MA also recommended that we go climb Guane Guane (5100 m) to acclimatize. To reach Guane Guane, we had to go to the even smaller village of Parinacota (4300 m) and from there to about 4500 m where we would have to leave the car and continue on foot until the summit. He also gave me a hand-drawn map of the area. This map will come in handy for a lot of times.

The next day we started early, at about 7 am, and we reached Parinacota at about 9 am. It wouldn't matter because there was nobody there, except a dog. We named him Manuel. Manuel followed us around Parinacota, around it's beautiful old church and up some small hill. From that hill we got a glimpse of Guane Guane and, for the first time close-up, of a slope of Parinacota. We took some more pictures of the place and then, just when we were about to leave, an old lady was opening up her shop. We had mate de coca and sweets and my favorite, baked corn kernels mmmmmm. She confirmed the direction we thought was towards Guane Guane, and we were on our way.

After some extraordinary 4x4 driving done by Marius up a hill full with rocks (I tell you, I really felt like I was in a washing machine) we reached about 4300 m. There was nowhere else to go by car, so we started on foot.

I think this should be the time to tell you about (two of) my team-mates. Ahem. First, there's Dan. Dan, if you keep reading this blog, you'll see that he was quite a figure. He had climbed high mountains about 15 years ago, and nothing ever since, but had been talking about those high mountains ever since. He once caught me unaware and spent 4 hours telling me about them. He is a very thin man, I think weighing less than me (so not prone to carrying heavy stuff). He is also about my height, but, when walking next to Marius, who I guess complexes him with his height, he sort of walks on his toes such that he seems taller. Anyhow, when we were in Putre he started telling us how, if he walks too fast, we shouldn't try to keep up with him because we will loose our rhythm and eventually not reach the summit. [Gimme a break!] Then, still in Putre, he started asking about what happens if somebody gets altitude sickness and cannot go on. And what if that person is Lili, our novice? Lili on the other hand, was so scared at being considered the weakest link, that whenever we asked her how she felt, she would say she was ok and that there was nothing wrong with her. This approach was quite bad, because it was obvious sometimes that she was not ok and we actually needed to know. Ah, well ...

This is how we started climbing Guane Guane. Lili, in order to prove herself I guess, started walking very fast and took a path known only to her, which made her end up on some bofedal (sort of like a green swamp) and some tough boulders. Dan dashed after her, and Catalina, Marius and I walked following some stone pyramids. No vegetation around us, no flowers, no nothing. Just red volcano dust. Everywhere. In your socks, mouth, cutlery, food. This dust will be our enemy (or friend, because at one point I gave up) for the next month or so. There is some vegetation, which the chileans call llareta, similar to some form of moss, very well adapted to the cold, dry climate. And of course, some cacti. Other than that, dust and volcanic debris. Yeyy!!

So Dan was in pursuit of Lili, Lili was clambering up boulders and we were watching the show. At about 4800m Lili had to take over Dan's backpack (she didn't have one before) because Dan was unwell. At about 4900 m Dan started feeling really really bad and had to stop and give up. Around that altitude, we had the first good view of the Payachata (twin) mountains, Parinacota and Pomerape. [How I actually saw them is that I went to pee after a small hill and saw them and started yelling to everybody to come see! they were quite impressive!!]

Thus Catalina, Marius, Lili and I continued to the summit of Guane Guane. It was an uneventful climb. I think the reason we could all do it is because it takes the body about 12 hours to figure out that it really is at altitude. I think that if we would have waited one day and then go to Guane Guane, we would not have made it. Dan retreated and we met up with him at the car. We descended the hill (again, in full spin dryer mode for the washing machine) and found a nice place to camp near a lagoon. We set up camp, taking care to set up Dan's tent first and take care of him (he was really beat, and we were starting to feel dead as well). We would be here a this lagoon for two days.

This lagoon is populated during the weekends by the local lama and alpacas. I suppose that during the week they go to a local herd or something. They come to the bofedal in the morning by themselves to graze, and in the evening when they're done they go home. They are wonderful creatures, really cute and funny to watch. Also very curious, because I went and sat in their middle and they came up to me to ask , "yo mamma, watcha doin here?"

The locals watch over them though, because one lama gave birth to a baby lama and left it behind a boulder. Then a ranger came to tell us not to leave rubbish around and we told him about the baby lama. He took it from behind the boulder and left it on the bofedal (the baby lama was still not able to stand up). The other lamas and allpacas came and snuggled him, one of them even layed herself protectively between the baby lama and us. In the evening, when all the lamas were leaving and the baby still was not standing, another local came and took him away! We had a bit of excitement in our lives, wohoo!

Oh, and need I say what perfect sunsets and sunrises and what perfect views we had?! Judge for yourselves. Parinacota (lago/lugar de parinas = flamingo place) dominated that valley, omg!! We did notice though a small change in the weather: every day around one or two there would be heavy clouds around Parinacota, but they would clear in 3-4 hours. Unfortunately this would not last.

PS. I hope somebody read till the end! If not, I just wasted 1 hr and a half of my life, boo hoo!

Friday, February 15

The People

[Sorry for not writing here for so long, work is killing me, and so is climbing, it seems :P].

I would love to tell you about mountains and such, but fiirst, I must tell you about Frank. Now, I think that one of the greatest pleasures in traveling is that you get to see so many cultures different than your own, and, even more, you get to meet extraordinary people. Take Frank for example. He's an american truck driver that took so much to Arica, Chile, that he decided to buy a house there, fully renovate it and transform it into a hostel. Frank greets all of his guests with a smile and is always eager to hear their story and to have a nice, long, chat. I guess this is partly because his spanish was worse than mine. He has a maid to whom he turns for help whenever the phone conversations get too complicated. His house is full of dictionaries and grammar books covering spanish. In the hostel there is a huge mural that he had made by a brazilian artist. It is a picture of an orange seal that he says he carried with him for 15 years. Another small painting is that of his truck. Frank is a recovering alcoholic but still, he invited us to a glass of wine. He even showed us around town when we returned to Arica after Parinacota. He listens to me saying that we are friends and we've known each other for seven years and says that I have no idea how much that means. We had a long talk about american politics one night (until 2am). The one thing that I was left with is this: "If after the Monica scandal Bill would have showed up with a black eye, it would have proved that Hillary has balls!" So yes, there might be nice americans out there.

After we left Arica we finally arrived to our destination, the small village of Putre, situated at 3500m in the altiplano. The moment we got there I rushed to the tourist office. There I found a guide, Marco Antonio by his name. Now, the only thing we knew about Parinacota was where it was located (roughly next to Lago Chungarra) and that the route was difficult off-season. No info about base camps, how to get there, higher camps, nothing. So the next day I went to Marco's office and asked a lot of questions about Parinacota and the routes there. He didn't hesitate a second to give them to me, he even wanted to come with us (free of charge, just to see how it was to climb in winter). [About the weather, he kept saying it's bad, but all we could see was that it was the most wonderful summers of all. This underestimation would be our downfall] I asked him to coffee because I didn't know how to reward him.

It turns out Marco is actually an italian. He had been climbing since he was 12 years old. He had been to Patagonia, and climbed Fitzroy and Cerro Torre (my dreams now for ... 9 years). He even completed a traverse of the Andes using mules and traditional, normal equipment, that people in the past used to have - no goretex or windstopers or anything for him. He used the old passes and amazingly made it, even though he lost 2 toes. He wants that in 2009 to go back to Italy, get an instructor's certificate, and come back to Patagonia and re-introduce the practice of crossing the mountains traditionally. When asked what to give him for all this information, he told me, in plain words such that I could understand* that there are about 5% mountaineers in this world, and that, in such a small community, information is not sold and is not refused.

I met wonderful people in Argentina as well, I will talk about them when I get to Argentina.

* When i explained to Frank my strategy of not conjugating the verbs (seeing as I always got it wrong) he said: "But surely that doesn't say a lot about your intelligence".

In the next post, Parinacota!

Sunday, February 10


Purrr! I heard that she put up the pics here and that she is soon updating her flickr account.

Friday, February 8

La Serena

So we left La Serena one fine Sunday morning. The spirits were high, we were all eager to get there. We had had a good breakfast in the El Hibiscus hostel, topped with homemade jam and cheese and fresh milk (I'm a bit hungry as I write this, so forgive me if overdo it). We were ten km out of La Serena when we started going uphill. All nice and dandy, some serious hills come to think of it, with some curves but nothing serious. When we got to the big daddy of all hills the car suddenly didn't have any force to pull us uphill. Coupling the 4x4, as absurd an option on a frequented highway, did not help. We pulled over, got out of the car and faced the horrible smell and the awful truth. Now if this happened to you before you might know what it was: the clutch disk was dead.

We turned the car around and headed back (downhill, thank god!) to La Serena. When we got to town I ran over to the hostel to find Mauricio. I was running because he had said that he was going to his daughter's end of the school year bbq. I would not have hurried knowing how long it takes for the people in South America to get moving, but I was afraid that the thought of cooked meat (I told you I will overdo it) will make them faster. Not to worry, I found Mauricio just about ready to go. Mauricio called the rental company to ask them what to do. This was so good of him, because my spanish relied, as I said, on people seeing where I point or what I gesticulate, and I had no chance of doing this over the phone. The rental company said that we were to replace the disc and that they will reimburse us when we returned the car to Santiago. We hopped in his 4x4 Toyota Hilux (Dan tagged along) and headed for the town entrance. He was good enough to tow us back to the hostel.

Alas, we were stuck in the wonderful town of La Serena. We will be stuck there for three days. This is because on Sunday you will find nothing open in La Serena, except perhaps churches and funeral homes. On Monday we took the car to the Nissan service BUT the mechanic that knew how to take down an engine, replace the clutch disc and put the engine back would not come until Tuesday. My best guess was that he started working on the car around 11 on Tuesday, with all our requests that they hurry :) because the car was ready only around 7pm.

What did we do in these three days? Well, Sunday we went visiting around town. We visited Iglesia San Francisco, a stone church that was built around 1600. We visited the museum of La Serena, where we saw a moai from Easter Island. He looked cross-eyed to me, but even so, even out of his natural environment and without his 130 or so friends from the island, it still looked impressive, and well, foreign. We could also see mummified indian (from ecuador) child heads which had their mouths sewn.
We visited the central square, or Plaza de Armas. In every plaza de armas in every town you will find the main cathedral or church. Same here, but we just couldn't take another church. Plaza de Armas was THE place for people in La Serena to hang out and have a chat, old people and young people alike.

We then hopped in the bus for Coquimbo. Coquimbo is a town satellite of Serena, famous though for its seafood. Seafood we wanted, seafood we got. But first, we had to stop at the seashore where a bunch of pelicans and what seemed like an injured sea lion were begging for food. I find this feeding of pelicans and sea lions a practice that is demeaning for humans and birds or fish alike. It teaches the animal to beg for food and forget how to hunt or gather. But let's not get started on this subject.

We had seafood! At a wet market. Well, the wet market was at the ocean and a lot of restaurants were by the ocean side! Which was great! Catalina, Marius and Dan had their now favorite sopa de marisco, Lili had some fried fish and I had sopa de chamaron. It's sort of a baked shrimp with cheese soupy concoction. Really good and really filling. All topped with Aji, the chilean equivalent of chili sauce mmmmmm.

PS I updated the previous post with a picture of a parillada (huge meat grill) we had in La Serena. As you can see, we were still hydrating and protein loading :))

Wednesday, February 6


years ago, on a cold snowless February morning after a gruelsome labor, my Mom put forth in this world a ferocious bundle who by the age of three chose only to say "no" and "dun want". Many a things IR has done, many a places has seen in quest of IR's peace and quiet. Hope there are going to be a helluva lot more.

Monday, February 4


[First of all I need to tell you how I feel. Which is dreadful, because my body is living by a different time zone which is 11 hours earlier than my current time zone. It's horrible, the first night i watched episodes of Rome then slept till one, then had to catch up on some more sleep around six pm. Bugger.]

Here was I in the plane to Santiago after waiting 8 hours for my connection from Buenos Aires. The only Spanish words that I knew and used proficiently were: agua, te and gracias (you can see how my attempt at learning Spanish turned out). I was of course wearing my mountain boots because my backpack weighed around 20 kg without them. I got to the hotel in time and met up with Mario and the gang. The gang, ah, the gang. Catalina, Mario's wife who had just successfully sprained her ankle for the third time that month, Lili, a journalist who was for the first time in an expedition, and Dan, whose previous experience was limited to climbing Elbrus (the tallest in Europe) oh some 15 years ago and who in the 7 years I've known him, never ceased to talk about it. We had to spend some days in Santiago to buy food and the necessary items like cutlery, knives, water and all that. Plus we had to rent a car.

Episode I - "Gringo vs Customs"

Mario had sent the tents and ice axes and some other items through cargo directly to Santiago. Which meant that we had to go pick'em up. This included a trip to the aduana (or customs), and a couple of trips around the customs office - first we understood the directions wrong (but my spanish was getting better) and arrived at the domestic customs, then we were missing a paper and had to return to the initial custom office, then the box in which the things were was different than the initial one they had sent the stuff in and we had to find an official to open the box up and verify its contents against the inventory, etc etc. Needless to say we were the only gringoes in that place.

Episode II - "Gringo Rents a Car"

We were so lucky with this one! There was one mention of a rent a car (though expensive) in lonely planet, but it was on a street that had a lot of rent-a-cars, and luckily we were able to find one that had what we wanted at a reasonable price. We needed a 4x4 truck with double cabin and found a red Nissan that fitted the purpose marvelously. So if you ever need to rent a car in Santiago, go to Alamo rent a car, it's on Francisco Bilbao.

Epidsode III - "Gringo in Town"

If it wasn't enough that Santiago is full of pick-pocketers, Mario was filming and Dan was carrying around the Nikon D200. We got warnings from fellow gringoes, from old ladies in the fruit market (I ate cherries!!! A lot of them!!! And they had so many fruits!!), and even from the Chilean Carabineros.
The Central Market in Santiago (Mercado Central) is not so much a place to buy things from but is filled with seafood restaurants and seafood sellers. We went to try a famous oyster soup, called Marisco, and at one of the restaurants we were greeted by Luis, who had been to university in Romania and spoke romanian!

My spanish got better after this, and I was quite able to order in a restaurant, take the clothes to the washer and ask for directions. Goood, good!

Santiago is a nice town but not extraordinary. It did not strike me as having anything special, just a lot of people on the streets, chilling out and talking (when do these people work?!). People relax, talk, walk around, get their shoes polished (the shoe polisher is an institution both in Chile and Argentina). There are coffee shops in which customers (males in general) stand at a bar and drink coffee and enjoy chatting with female servers dressed in dresses that do not leave much to the imagination (I kid you not).

However the food these people eat is amazing. They have an immense variety of meat dishes. My favorites were parillada, which is a meat grill that is absolutely huge, and lomo alo pobre, which is lomo, a 2 -4 cm width steak, with fries, two eggs and onions [pictures coming soon]. You can order it with Cristal, which is the national beer, and Cristal can come in a vase (around 1.5 l, 2l) which is called Pitcher. Yum!

After we got everything settled we were ready to go. We hit the road one fine morning, around 1 pm :)). Soon after you exit Santiago you enter the Atacama desert. The road follows the coast of the Pacific ocean and as such you have the Pacific on your left and the Atacama full of cacti and boulders on your right. From time to time you might see some trees around a pond and a hacienda behind them.

We even watched a horse race. I think this scenery goes like this until the town of La Serena, where we stopped for the night in an amazing hostel called "El Hibiscus". Here we were served fresh milk and homemade jam for breakfast by Mauricio and his wife, who run the hostel.

Next, how we left La Serena and what happened then.

Friday, February 1


Is backs!!! Climbed:
Guane Guane (5100m)
Tres Cruces Central (6629m)
Aconcagua (6962m)

Reached until 5700m on Parinacota. I will return Sunday with the first part of the story. I am missing one nail and limping because of it, must try open toed shoes.