Patagonia Dias Uno a Siete

“The tragedy of this life is not that it ends so soon but that we wait so long to begin it.” 

The cinnamon whiskey is hot as it’s sweetness hits my throat and coats my belly. It makes me feel good and warms me up. Although the inside of our paper-thin ultralight tent is like a sauna inside, I’ve been freezing all day. I lay back and hear the murmured whispers of other people around us. Backpackers are rolling into camp, setting up their room for the night. The wind is hard, and it’s whipping the thin material of our tent vestibules, making it hard to rest. The sun is still high. Today, thank God, was an easy hiking day. I need to sleep. Only a day prior, I had been fever-ridden, sleeping restlessly in a hostel in Puerto Natales, Chile piled four-high with sheepskins for warmth. I lay back wondering if it was smart to start this journey. It was risky. I had considered staying back in Puerto Natales and sending G on his way, but I had to give it a shot, knowing that once we started, there was no turning back. No search and rescue, no way off of the O except finishing it in its entirety. That’s the stubbornness in me. 

When I had woken up this morning, the fever had broke. I still felt like death when we boarded the bus in Puerto Natales that took us to the ranger station of Torres Del Paine in Laguna Amarga. This is a two-hour trip, so I slept on the bus and prayed that this sickness would leave me. There was too much planning, logistics, and heart that had gone into this trek — one of the hardest travel plans we’ve EVER made. 

We climb out of the bus with 60 other backpackers, check-in, and start our day. It’s slow, my chest incredibly congested, my nose stuffed. Even on a good, healthy day, I knew this journey would have some difficulty. I second guess my decision to start. What if I literally cannot make it? I have to! We are carrying everything we need for the next eight days on our backs, and even though we are accustomed to this and have packed light, my pack feels heavy. I am so congested. My breathing incredibly labored. 

The mostly flat/rolling terrain and 13-kilometer hike was a blessing on this first day out of Laguna Amarga. I was still star-struck with the whole idea of us being in Patagonia. Pata-freaking-gonia, I kept thinking. It’s one of those trips we’ve talked about and dreamed about for years. Now I’m sick and miserable and fighting each step to get to our first camp. 

As I lay back in our tiny Big Agnes tent, I think, “there’s no turning back now.” 

We are at Serón. 

Logistically speaking, this trip was outrageous! We didn’t want to go with a guide, a team, a mule train…you get my point, so I was left to the booking arrangements. There are three players in Patagonia;  Fantastico Sur,  Vertice Patagonia, and CONAF. These are the three places you will go to for booking all camps and refugios. We had decided to hike both the W and the O circuit; The “O” includes the “W” trail, with the addition of the backside, or northern section of the mountain to make it a long loop, – 130 kilometers. A max of 80 people are allowed onto the backside O a day. It’s undoubtedly a more challenging trail, and it’s also without refugios, but it’s all worth it when, as you finish climbing John Garner Pass, you get an unprecedented view of the icecap Glacier Grey. 

The booking process was maddening. Very strict dates are required, and none of these agencies work together. Not to mention they ALL hold different camps and refugios on different parts of the trek, and not in order. CONAF being the government-held camps does not even open for registration until much later in the year, so as we booked Fantastico and Vertice camps in August for our February trip, we could not book CONAF until sometime around November. The spots fill quickly, so as you can imagine, by the time CONAF rolled online for reservations, the dates we had booked through the other two agencies didn’t work out into the CONAF schedule. The day we landed in Santiago, Chile, we didn’t have a full camp itinerary, and let me tell you, as you walk into each camp, they check your reservations, along with your passport and the PDI slip. If you are off by a day, you will be asked to go back. 

Campsites are arranged like this:

Vertice Patagonia – Campsites: Dickson, Los Perros, Grey and Paine Grande

Fantasticosur – Campsites: Serón, Los Cuernos, El Chileano, Central and Frances

CONAF – Free Campsites: Italiano, Paso and Torres Ranger Station & Camping

After arriving in Santiago, Chile and spending a day and night we flew down to Punta Arenas and stayed at a great hostel. I was chilly as we took a walk around town, and we were amused that our weather app showed that we were in the “Antarctic Zone” as it is the southern-most city before Antarctica. We wandered down by the water; The Straight of Magellan, for a while and headed back to our hostel and to bed early as we had a bus to catch at daybreak.

Thankfully we had three days to spend in Puerta Natales before heading onto the O. I was incredibly sick and we still did not have our reservations for camp. After going back and forth between the offices of Vertice and Fantastico, waiting in line and jostling dates we thought we had them all together, but after further review I had missed a camp, shifting a date, and had to start all over with new dates. I was down for the count at this point, in bed, shivering with the worst flu ever. My poor NON-Spanish speaking husband had to go back to these offices with new dates. By the grace of the Holy God, he was able to “pictionary” his way through. They made some calls for him and BOOM, he came back with our itinerary…..to leave in the morning!

Seron Camp is a basic camp. It’s a grassy field with two picnic-style tables that have a tarp for wind cover. You have to cook in these designated tarp areas only at every site. I barely remember being at Seron, to be honest. I slept and went into the hut to cook dehydrated soup with our MSR stove one time. I loved hearing and seeing all of the friendly faces and different nationalities and languages of the people we would be spending the next 8-9 days alongside. Once you start the O-circuit, and because they limit the number of people on the trail, these become your leap-frogging trail friends. 

The following day, we broke camp early and headed out to Dickenson Camp. The views were unbelievable, and we kept finding ourselves stopping every chance we got to take it all in! It’s a steep climb and steep downhill coming into Dickenson. Today was 19 kilometers; It’s one of the most beautiful camps on the O. Once you arrive and check-in, you can find a spot for your tent anywhere you want. We shrugged out of our packs and wandered around. We saw a fox scampering along the treeline. We set our tent so that in the morning, as we unzipped to make coffee, we would have a perfect view of the soaring mountains and glaciers. Dickenson has a great set up for cooking. A little cabin-like shelter, with electricity — also, hot showers and bathrooms and even a small area where they sell snacks. We bought Pringles and chocolate here. 

After pitching our tent, we showered and laid in the hot sun, waiting to see who and when the others would roll into camp. It was at this camp that we met “the two traveling nurses” who were from the States, working at different locations in the States until they save enough for their next great adventure. They travel on their earnings for a few months, return to the US, work for a few months only to repeat the process over and over. We loved swapping stories about the places we’ve all been in common and the enjoyment of different cultures, cuisines and our unquenchable wanderlust. 

We also met “One Pole and the Goodr Girls”, a group consisting of a guy and two women traveling together. One Pole lost one of his trekking poles along the first leg of the trip and came into camp with one…deeming him “One Pole” The women he was with both wore my favorite brand of athletic glasses; Goodr and have friends who work for the company, thus-The Goodr Girls.

There was also an Argentinean father and two sons, two Chilean buddies traveling together, and a pair of Aussies (a father and son) who we cooked and had dinner with at Dickenson. We’ve never laughed so hard in our lives as we did with these two and their quirky personalities. Still, some of the moments we laugh about the most from this trip come from these two. 

Con’t-

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The Dirt

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I’m sitting, sipping coffee in an Uptown coffee shop. It’s November and warm, and the streets are busy. I’ve been sitting here reading mostly, and then contemplating our last year. It’s nearing the end of the decade. THE DECADE! That slaps me clean across the face and bolts me upright in my chair. It feels like the past two years have been a circus ride of excitement and change and new experiences. But…a new DECADE!! Coincidently, that also means I jump age-wise into a new decade, but that’s neither here nor there.

Two years ago, as G and I sold our belongings, sold our car, sold our house to take off for some adventure in another country, we had no idea what the future held. Typical G & P, we have ridden a tilt-a-whirl since we met! Never really abiding the caution signs and invariably marching to our drum. We’ve had a life full of twists, turns, detours, and hard stops. It works well for us. We were that way when we met as young 20-somethings, and we’ve always kept that spark alive — having roots with wings. Established, but full of wanderlust with nomadic souls, so when we left the States, we had no clue what it would look like, and we were perfectly OK with that. We committed to a year. We figure after that amount of time, you know the ins and outs, you get your bearings, and if it doesn’t work, we knew we would be happy for making the attempt rather than never taking the jump. THREE weeks before moving, we got the news that G was stepping into a new position within his company. It was a great opportunity. The rub…he needed to maintain an office in the States. On the East Coast. Whaaaat?! We immediately hopped on a plane, found a small place for him to come back to, flew back to Idaho, said our goodbyes, and moved to Central America.
As the year moved on, we did some great traveling around Central & South America, Asia, and back home to the States. G was coming and going, and it seemed to work well until it. just. didn’t. As I sat in a hammock one day, I heard God whisper, “this is a pause, not a full stop.” I didn’t understand at first, but as time rolled on and G and I were apart, I was starting to understand more and more. It was the green season in Costa Rica, all of our friends had left to come back for their North American summer, our kids moved from Costa Rica to Thailand, my hubs was in the States more and more and our small little village, withered in the constant rain to a few locals. I still loved it, but I found myself feeling lonely. The green season is warm and wet. It’s a beautiful time of year in Costa Rica. Things green-up (even more) the temperatures drop down into the ’80s and overnights ’70’s, the tourists have left from their vacations, snowbird’s head back, and the local restaurants and bars close for renovations or to simply take some downtime to refresh. It’s a funny thing coming from the constant chaos of the States. The all-night grocery stores, restaurants that deliver until 3 am, food trucks that you can have dinner at and still wander to at 5 in the morning for coffee, to living in a village that your local grocery store is the only thing open…for days. It’s restorative. Therapeutic. It truly allows you to enjoy the small things. FAD19577-32FB-4D12-A18E-4C425AEAA20F
The months passed. I read a lot! I mean….I read a lot anyway, but I was REALLY on a roll. I found myself hanging in my hammock for hours, tropical rain falling all around me. I stopped running, which allowed my body some much-needed rest and downtime, I practiced yoga, but I was feeling increasingly dormant. I came back to the States a few times to see family and friends. Again I hear, “this is a pause, not a full stop.”
Knowing our steps are not our own, I dove into what I was hearing. I kept listening. I prayed. I waited. We knew God, years ago, led us to Central America. First Costa Rica on a family trip in 2008, that led to several years in a row of vacations, then Panama, Nicaragua, and Honduras building houses for a few seasons. We knew that when plans were moving along well for us to go down for a year, we were exactly in the right place. We also know that our plans aren’t always His plans, but no matter what, when we are walking His path, things always work out. Always.
G and I were both getting increasingly dismal about his coming and going. It was getting more often.
C087E29D-BB22-40D1-9BE1-06406D37D0F8Heres the deal… NEVER in 6-million years would G and I have ever considered living on the East Coast AND the South!! We are both tried-and-true West Coasters. Growing up in Californa, I was raised with the “West Coast is the Best Coast” attitude, so before we went to Costa Rica.. the one minute we spent on the East Coast getting a place for G to come back to for work was but a speck in our minds. My only experience with the E Coast was trips to NYC and visiting family in Pittsburgh. That was IT!
It took our trip to Patagonia this year to really know what was in store. When you wander in the mountains, on a trail, on a through-hike for days or weeks, you get some clarity — those A-HA moments. On about day eight, G looked at me out there on the trail and said.. “Pj, we are better together.” Our time apart wasn’t working, and he knew God was speaking directly to his heart about this. It was undeniable!
As I look back now, with gratefulness, I am so happy that we are risk-takers. We sold everything to move on a dream and not look back. That takes some guts, and not a lot of people will do that.
See, neither one of us was willing to give the E Coast a try. We knew where God wanted us, and we were all in! As long as that was Central America or the W Coast. We dug in our heels!
Initially, when we were considering a move, praying, planning, talking things over with our family, waiting on instructions, timing, we thought… let’s have the best of both worlds, 50/50 in Costa Rica and Idaho. It seemed the logical thing. Somehow along the way, we lost that and jumped all-in. Interestingly enough now looking back, I’m not quite sure HOW we got to that decision…and obviously, it was more our plan than God’s. When Greg was needed on the E coast, we shrugged,  burrowed deep, dug in, pushed back, and thought…”pssht, never!”
God, you’re so good! You are behind us and ahead of us. Your desires far surpass anything we could even imagine.

I love what the author David Platt says, “His ultimate concern is not to get you or me from point A to point B along the quickest, easiest, smoothest, clearest route possible. Instead, his ultimate concern is that you and I would know him deeply as we trust him more completely.”

So today, as I sit in a sunny window sipping a dirty chai, I am full of complete thankfulness. I am thinking about when plans go sideways only to set you on the right path. When we can set down our own ideas and allow the right ones to fall into place, it’s pretty damn magical.949C45D5-10B9-4993-8624-D23FD14E4FE7
As it turns out, I am not cut out for full-time hammocking (yet) and G and I aren’t cut out for being separated for more than a couple of weeks at a time. I realized that I started to lose a little bit of myself being in Central America. My hiatus from running, which was a fabulous rest for my body, turned into….just, not running. My reading turned into…novel after novel going unread. I even stopped surfing for a spell. DO NOT get me wrong; we are still so in love with Costa Rica and always will be! We absolutely know beyond the shadow of a doubt that God took us there initially….I mean…who twists a globe on your husband’s desk one day when he asked about a spring break trip, and your finger lands on a small country in the middle of Central America, that you know absolutely nothing about and end up in a TINY, little fishing village…not a big tourist destination and after the week vacation you decide you are just going to “stay awhile?” Thank goodness for homeschooling!
This is the most beautiful example of God knowing exactly what we need, even when we don’t. Showing us that the bond of a husband and wife is strong and as independent as you both are, we are, in fact, “Better Together” That it’s OK to want to be in two places at the same time. It’s OK to step out of the “norm” (west coast) to explore and find a new adventure on a different coastline….which WOW…hello warm water & Nicolas Sparks beaches!! Who knew? I am thankful today that we are doing part-time here and part-time in CR. I am happy that after some time in the city after the first of the year, we will head down to our tiny village that stole our hearts many years ago. I am……starting…. to grow accustomed to the East coast way of life and southern hospitality…happy for the weather and that it is starting the second week of November, and it’s sunny and 70 degrees today, delighted that we are right in between the mountains…which we are so incredibly drawn to and the ocean which we are equally attracted to, finding new passions, happy that we are close to family, making new friends, getting our groove back in the running scene, are within a few driving hours from Florida up to DC, (and really further…but ya know…I can’t push the road tripping. I’M TERRIBLE!) and we have the most fabulous friends on the west coast, and in Costa Rica. After all of the heel digging, just last week, as we were in the Smokey Mountains on the Appalachian Trail, we looked at one another and laughed as I said..” OK! I guess there ARE some redeeming qualities to the East Coast and city life!”
I believe you can bloom where you are planted and that we should take advantage of the opportunities life brings our way with thankful hearts, even when it’s hard and out of our sphere of comfort. Be grateful for our present situation. Be a positive force. Be patient. It has taken us some time to get into a rhythm, to meet people (This! This always takes time) to settle into our church and to navigate the new terrain.

I am using the dirt of my dug in heels to plant, knowing there’s always a bloom coming our way!

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