Saturday, January 19, 2013

Puerto Natales Overtime


I’ve seen it! With my own eyes! So I can finally believe that it has been returned to me in all it’s now-fairly ripped up and plane-manhandled glory. Nothing is irreparably damaged and nothing gone, so I am very happy to finally be able to repack my belongings and head into the park! Pretty absurd and awful first experience of losing luggage, so I am very glad it is over. I received the bag last night and am confirmed to take a bus in for my program tomorrow, with very little idea as to when I’ll be back. I’ve been invited to come stay at Erratic Rock for free whenever I so please during my volunteering stint, as long as I do a little bit of work. Work means greeting people, giving information, locking the door after hours, doing laundry, manning the bar, and, today, gardening. Rough life. I may just come back on one of my breaks just to rest, do nothing in particular, and get out of the wind.

One of my favorite buildings across the street

To the North
I’ve had quite a bit of time to bumble around Puerto Natales, Chile, alone for the last few days, successfully getting my first Patagonian sunburn. Yay, redheads. I'm collecting a decent number of photos of random houses that I think are absolutely gorgeous. The colors here are wonderful and one of my favorite things is just walking aimlessly and getting borderline lost just to look at pretty buildings and murals. The town is very much so South American, but you can also just tell that you’re at the bottom of the planet with the near-Antarctic feel. It’s a sunny, warm, and breezy summer, but when you wander down to the docks you really are aware of how cold that water is and how indescribably gigantic and close the mountains on the other side of the water are. My photos can’t do justice for how huge these mountains are; it really reminds me of driving through the Collegiate Range of 14ers in Colorado. I’ve made a point of walking to the water every day I’ve been here, and it has yet to get old.

One really odd observation is the celebrity of the town: the Milodon. It is everywhere. Now what is a Milodon? It is a prehistoric giant sloth. I learned a bit about the history from In Patagonia by Bruce Chatwin, and I believe its fossil was found here. There’s a giant sloth statue when you enter the town, its outline is on every street sign, and the taxi company across the street is called El Milodon Taxi. Kind of a ridiculous love of Puerto Natales’. There are also stray dogs all over the place. No surprise to most anyone, but I would totally adopt every single one. They’re practically all mid-size adorable dogs that have the life of running all over the place and getting fed by the collective town. Obviously there are downsides to their life, but according to people I’ve met in the hostel, this town is a much safer place for stray dogs than many others in South America. Stray cats, on the other hand, are super rare.

El Milodon Taxi
Stray dogs taking a siesta

Panqueques con espinaca y una limonada a la afuera del café
Food’s been an interesting adventure of trying whatever costs around 2.000 pesos and seems fairly strange or at least really tasty. Breakfast is homemade in the hostel everyday and always the same thing: an omelet (LOADS of oregano, for those of you who know my opinion on that), great homemade bread, and yogurt in bags with muesli. Dinners I basically always roll over to the next-door bar owned by the hostel for one of the two things served: amazing pizza or a mechada wrap (although they occasionally make a mean curry). It's a great way to meet random travelers, not eat alone, and explore the Patagonian microbrew selection (nothing named El Milodon, I'm disappointed to report). The place is half bar and half gear rental, has kayaks and maps for the daily park info session all over the place, and we tend to watch either climbing videos (Reel Rock 2012 my first night) or Planet Earth in the evenings on the wall. It's great. I usually end up joining whichever hostel friend group of the day I'm with for lunch, but yesterday I pulled a completely solo lunch in the backyard of a coffee and lunch shop. It took a solid two hours but was really nice and calming, considering I have zero place to be, zero people to be with, and zero way of anyone contacting me. Getting better at this alone thing, although I still know for a fact this would be much more enjoyable if I were with a friend or family member. I’ve essentially decided I’ll be back with said friend or family member, though, and only for a week or two to trek and visit the surrounding area on a real vacation.

Justin giving the park info session at Base Camp
Base Camp bar/gear shed and Erratic Rock hostel
I've been migrated from my hostel room to a room next door with the fellow interns (four people my age, from Connecticut, a brother and sister from Oregon, and Holland)--I am living on a mattress on the floor above a bar in Patagonia. Talk about study abroad. The hostel is basically heaven and I could not have lucked out any more by ending up here. It has been a lifesaver to have a place to essentially live for an indefinite time while waiting for my bags and trying to simmer down my anxiety of starting off this trip with quite a bit going completely wrong. It has been much less culture shock and more travelling-internationally-alone shock for me, thus far. It’s kind of odd, since I feel like I’ve been here before. The hostel itself is exactly what my beloved Outdoors Haus at Wheaton would be if we were able to stick around and amass stuff for longer than four months twice a year. I love it. It feels like home, other than the fact that you share a room with four other people and that the cats, Bonnie and Clyde, are actually friendly (a welcome change from Sisi at home who only loves herself and my dad. Such a bummer).

Clyde the cat, who is afraid to go outside
It has taken some getting used to that people pass in and out every day or so, so I end up making friends for a few hours at a time. Still, I’ve met some really cool people in the process: lots of Australians, an Austrian, a handful of Norwegians, the flock of American business school students from my first day, a super friendly Brazilian woman, a pair of friends from Wisconsin, a few French, and some unfriendly Germans who look like they’re in high school. Overall, it’s been great meeting all these people, and I’ve been turned into The Girl Who Lost Her Bags. I got my bag yesterday, complete with toothpaste! Chacos! Jackets! Shampoo! so I was finally able to take a real shower for the first time in a week. While waiting for one of the showers to open up, a guy I hadn’t met yet arrived to also wait for the shower and said “Oh, you must be The Girl Who Lost Her Bags!” I have no clue how he figured this out. I’d been out on a walk when my bag arrived, so I guess that’s how the story proliferated without my presence… either way I just said yes and how pumped I was for a real shower, although I couldn’t find a towel. He then tried to let me use his clean one and said “No no, seriously, I’ll give up my towel for The Girl Who Lost Her Bags!” He evidently has lost plenty of his own bags and says not to worry, since pretty much everyone is up for helping out a Girl Who Lost Her Bags. This ended up being Carl, my super-duper-friendly Wisconsin friend who just finished his 10-day Torres del Paine trek.
Some really incredible colors

This is my final full day in Puerto Natales and I am certainly ready for a change. Tonight is Open Mic and Taco Night at the Base Camp next door, so I'm pretty excited for that as my last night in civilization. I’m very apprehensive about the next step of entering the park and being at the mercy of the volunteer group for awhile. The Wisconsin pair told me they saw some men building a wooden suspension bridge in a fairly precarious way (“I’m glad someone else was willing to do that, since I never would!”) so… hopefully I’ll have to build small bridges instead. I’m pretty sure I’m going to come back to Puerto Natales for one of my stints off, so I may have internet again in a little while. Everything is up in the air as usual, though, so… we shall see!

Mural of the Torres del Paine
Much love from the Milodons,

Proof that I'm alive! Down by the water


  1. Do not pet the wild dogs. I repeat do not pet wild dogs. They will eat you and give you rabies.

    1. Don´t have rabies yet! And so far I only stopped for one super duper adorable kitten. I swear it was the tiniest I have ever seen, and totally worth the rabies... well, no, not quite.

  2. Hey Emily! It is a THRILL to read your wonderful entries and be able to follow your Great Adventure.
    Soak it up and keep blogging! Stay safe, hydrated, and open to all that is new! Lots of love,
    Aunt Celia and Uncle Bruce and Ben

    1. Ah, thanks so much Aunt Celia!! It means a lot to me that you´re enjoying reading this, and I´ll definitely be writing again in a few weeks when I have more dependable internet. Miss you all!