As I sit at home from my favorite spot, the large leather couch with nearby outlets and Netflix on, I can only describe the last few months as one thing: a whirlwind.
Case in point, over the last four months I’ve only spent 8 days off the road.
November and half of December were spent in Nicaragua (my favorite photos, here). I then flew home for just 4 days before flying to the East Coast. From there I lead a tour which crossed the country and finished in Los Angeles. After that I had just 4 days to recover before flying to Santiago, Chile. I then took a few long buses to get to Bariloche, Argentina to begin my time in Patagonia.
I’m now glued to the couch. Appropriately.
I hadn’t expected to have such a busy few months though. I planned Nicaragua and Patagonia with long breaks in between to rest and spend Christmas with my family. But when work called and offered me a trip to lead which fit perfectly within my time in the U.S., and also visited a few places I’d never been before, I couldn’t say no!
Christmas on the Road
Traveling often and living abroad has meant I’ve missed my fair share of holidays with my family. This Christmas though, I had planned to be in San Diego. When the work trip came up, it took a lot of debate on if I should do it.
Thankfully, my family was quite supportive and we had a fake Christmas right before I set off. Not being the biggest Christmas person anyway, it worked out great for me.
Three weeks from New Jersey to Los Angeles spanning Christmas and New Years meant a great deal of planning. Also, my goal was to bring a lot of Christmas joy to the trip. With everyone in my van being from England, Australia, New Zealand and Korea, I wanted to make their holiday away from home special.
Basically to sum it up, I worked my ass off to make that happen.
I installed Christmas lights throughout the van. I hung garland, candy canes and ornaments from the ceiling. I prepared stockings to give everyone on Christmas morning.
When the big days came, I made sure holiday closures wouldn’t get in the way of the trip. I picked up a holiday meal from Whole Foods in Knoxville, Tennessee, then drove it to Nashville (the shops would be closed by then) and started heating everything up. The 14 of us had a nice “home cooked” American holiday meal in the hostel together. We then went line dancing at the Honky Tonks in Nashville and the next morning had a white elephant gift exchange.
Excited to be back in Nashville (as always!)
Celebrating a 21st birthday in New Orleans!
We spent Christmas in Memphis, visited the Peabody hotel and then went out to dinner on Beale Street to hear some blues and eat Southern barbecue. Right after that it was a long drive to get to New Orleans, just in time to celebrate one of my passenger’s 21st birthdays.
New Year’s was a unique one. We spent it in Big Bend, the U.S.’s most remote national park. We hiked, hit up the hot springs and star-gazed. It turned out to be a great way to ring in the New Year without all the hassle of going out.
Not the entire trip was smooth though. With winter comes adverse weather, and we had our fair share. We woke up to a snowstorm in Monument Valley that was also covering the Grand Canyon. While seeing the desert covered in a blanket of snow was amazingly beautiful for me, not everyone was pleased when we got to the canyon and no one could see the bottom. Yikes.
Road tripping Patagonia
As I was on my way to Bariloche, Argentina to meet my dad and begin our road trip, I thought to myself, “what the hell am I doing?! Why am I making myself do another camping road trip?!”
Regardless of the fact that I was pretty ‘camped out’, there was no other way I wanted to see the region. Off we went.
I’ll be detailing the whole trip more, but with a small SUV rental we drove about a 1,000 miles south criss-crossing Chile and Argentina, rotating camping and hotels along the way. Every day the scenery changed drastically, from forested fjords, to hanging glaciers, tall mountains and expansive plains in the Argentine pampas.
In short, Patagonia in summer is a mountain paradise.
After reaching El Calafate, Argentina, about 10 days after starting the trip, my dad headed back north to return the (poor, beat up) vehicle. After all that time and all those rough dirt roads the car was in pretty rough shape.
I then met up with a co-worker and continued south back into Chile. From the town of Puerto Natales we prepared to head to Torres del Paine National Park and do the O trek.
This entire trip was also exciting for me given I was returning to Argentina, the first country I traveled to alone almost 8 years ago. Additionally, entering Chile marked my 40th country I’ve been to. It some ways it felt like things were coming full circle.
A new type of trekking
Most of my trekking experience has been done with a few comforts. While I’ve walked hundreds of kilometers in Nepal, Spain and Brazil, I’ve never done a trek where I had to bring my own food and tent. All the previous times were done while walking from small tea house/local home/village to another.
In Torres del Paine though, something like that wasn’t going to be possible. While parts of the trail have refugios to stay at, a dorm bed runs for $50/night and I wasn’t going to be shelling that out.
So being that Torres del Paine was a place I had been dying to visit, we packed our bags with 8 days of food, sleeping bags, tents and set out.
And while I’d love to tell you it was worth all the effort and it was everything I dreamed it would be, it wasn’t. Yes, some days were stunning, rewarding and amazing, but other times were really tough on me mentally. I found myself struggling to really enjoy all of it.
Sadly, the hardest part was something I didn’t even think to prepare for: the crowds.
High season in this national park is a zoo, especially on the crowded W portion of the park. It was really unfortunate.
What I’m up to now
After a week getting some modern comforts in one of my very favorite cities, Buenos Aires, I returned to Santiago to fly home.
I’m now back in San Diego catching up on blogging, resting and spending time with my family and friends. I’ve got a few fun things planned in the next month, but mostly I want to enjoy having a comfy bed and an ample supply of healthy food in a fridge. After all this nomadness, it feels like a dream!
While I don’t know exactly when I’ll be starting work again, I’m hoping for sometime in early or mid-April. A lot of rest is required before then. Once I begin the summer season it’ll be 5+ months of non-stop tour leading and U.S. travel!