Paraguayo Country Road

            I’ve made it to two museums during my week in Asuncion. Wednesday, I ambitiously planned to visit three, but an inscrutable bus system defied me and I found myself in Ñemby, twenty kilometers south of downtown at sunset, only having made it to one, el Museo de la Memoria. Although clearly a low budget affair, the museum nails its point home. A timeline of the political history of Paraguay lines a hallway. The early dictatorships give way to the horrors of the War of the Triple Alliance (between 20 and 50% of Paraguay’s prewar population died during the conflict) which in turn lead to the political battles of the Liberal and Colorado parties of the early 20th century, finally culminating in the dictatorship of Stroessner.

            Alfredo Stroessner ruled for over thirty years with an iron hand. Dissent was not tolerated in any form. Citizens were detained, tortured, sent to reeducation camps, or disappeared for offenses ranging from armed insurrection to organizing to looking suspicious. The museum is located in one of the principal processing centers for political prisoners in downtown Asuncion, officially the Direcion Nacional de Asuntos Tecnicos. Stroessner’s aim was to stabilize a flailing economy. And while his policies did benefit some, many were left behind. The richest 20% of the population draws 25 times the income of the poorest 20% according to the United Nations. The final exhibit in the museum is a restored cell. Walking through the bars into the bare concrete room I come upon the figure of a corpse lying on the floor chained to a bathtub. The mannequin is wrapped in a heavy cloth and bound in barbed wire.

            Two days later I successfully arrive at the Museo del Barro. A stark contrast to the Museo de la Memoria, this museum is housed in a modern building. Banco Itáu has graciously sponsored the place, so I get in for free. The eclectic collection, ranging from pre-colombian pottery and displays of indigenous art in contemporary Paraguay to modern installations and frightening religious art, is beautifully displayed. The temporary exhibit is devoted to photographs and paintings of important Paraguayan figures from the late 19th century, focusing on the country’s third ruler.

            Francisco Lopez Solano, visionary. I don’t mean to say he had the right vision or even clear vision, but the kid had vision. ‘Democratically’ elected in 1864 to replace his father as President of the young Paraguyan republic, he continued his father’s tyrannical pursuit to modernize the country. The museum’s collection of portraits all portray Lopez in a style that is indistinguishable from the fashion of European royalty. Paraguay’s early history reads more like the story of a large fiefdom or ranch than that of a nation. Power was completely centralized. Lopez Solano intended to expand his estancia to the Atlantic in order to more easily trade his products. This ambition led to his death and almost dissolved the state of Paraguay. This legacy is largely ignored my the exhibitors, they instead choose to focus on private and public representation and the emergence of photography as an art form. The following day I head out on a road trip with my hosts.

            We ride up front, the three of us, Tim, I, and faithful Sandy, yellow backed white chested dog. Country and western rules the iPod, the perfect complement for the wide skies and pastoral landscape. The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band sing about you and me and fishing in the moonlight; a teenage couple sitting on a park bench, legs wrapped up in each other, slide by my passenger’s side window. Willie tells us we need to get on the road again, so we drive. “Kansas with palm trees,” says Tim. I’ve never been to Kansas, but if this is what it looks like I have to go. Rolling green forever beneath expansive cloud puzzled skies, the scars of red earth dirt roads snaking through, impossibly brilliant pink lapacho trees punctuating tight clusters of jungle brush; even the dull tangled golden grazing fields are breathtaking. The kilometers, thankfully smaller than miles, tick off on the small stone pillars planted by the roadside. Tim drives. Behind us, in the second car are the rest of the gang. We clear the way, watching out for topes, stray cows and the whistles of the controles policiales.

            We pull into Villa Florida, just over the wide Río Tebicuary. The inn is full, but the receptionist offers to rent us a house in town. The brick house is small and very basic. A bare light bulb hanging from bare wires illuminates the living area. The propane stove is essentially a camp stove on top of an oven. The front porch is the highlight of the house, wide and shady. It will work just fine for our purposes of our group, who have all seen much worse. A short walk to the grocery informs me that we are staying in one of the nicer places in the town. We pass the evening fishing, drinking beer, dodging mosquitos and entertaining babies.

            Up in the morning, breakfast, pack the cars and we’re heading farther south. A pleasant repetition of the previous day’s drive unfolds. After a few hours we find ourselves on the shores of the reservoir behind the Presa Yacyretá. This nightmare of a damn project on the Río Paraná has flooded a good part of the city of Encarnacion, displacing about 40,000 people. Across the waters, an international border, the Argentine city of Posadas rises in the mist. The glass towers of this provincial capital seem ripped from a science fiction film. We turn away from this mirage and head east to check out some history.

            The Jesuits, ‘God’s Marines’, came to Paraguay in the early 17th century at the invitation of the bishop of Asuncion. Their order is marked by a dedication to learning and education as well as a serious commitment to their vows of poverty, an anomaly at the time. After unsucessful attempts to organize the indigenous peoples of northern Paraguay, they established several successful ‘reductions’ in southern Paraguay near the Paraná. History looks at their effort to ‘civilize’ the Guaraní with a healthy dose of skepticism. It is certain their impositions of European thinking on the people here was strict and single minded. Equally important to consider is their primary dedication to their flock. Abandoned by an indifferent Spanish monarchy, they organized Guaraní militias and took up arms themselves to defend against Brazilian slave raiders.           

             The missions they left behind are breathtaking. We tour two. Both are set high on hills overlooking incredible vistas. The buildings themselves are simple and powerful; the campuses perfectly organized. In Trinidad we are treated to a night show. The ruins are delicately lit, and music composed by the people who lived here is played. A full moon hangs over the limestone tallers and classrooms. Palm trees and brilliantly back lit clouds paint the sky above stately churches. As I sit in the darkness deconstructing the buttresses of the main church, a father and son walk by engaged in quiet conversation. I can’t help but think the Jesuits believed they had found heaven on earth. Eventually political pressures from Asuncion led to their expulsion from the territories of the Crown and a grand social experiment died.

            Back in the capital, my daily walks take me through the Carmelitas neighborhood. This is one the richest areas I have ever been seen in Latin America. All of the houses are gated. Armed security guards are ubiquitous. Most of the houses are huge powerful monstrosities. A candidate for the Colorado party has his headquarters on my route. Even here in this enclave of privilege, the drastic inequalities of this society are unavoidable. Garbage collection is handled by either an impossibly old campesino or equally young kid with a single horse drawn cart. I make an effort to leave the neighborhood daily in order to maintain some sort of perspective. Plaza Uruguay, downtown, is occupied by displaced campesinos. Several hundred people sleep on the ground under tarps. Office workers walk purposefully around the edges of the plaza, careful to keep their gazes high.         

                 Although dissent is now tolerated (and ignored), Stroessner’s Colorado party still rules the country. The parallels between his government and the dictatorships of the 19th century are striking. Most people will tell you life is not bad here. Poverty is everywhere, but few people starve. The Albiroja are a hell of a football team, and the fishing is not bad. Education until the age of 12 is mandatory here, the literacy rate is high for Latin America. As far as questioning and understanding what they are reading…well the Jesuits tried that, didn’t seem to stick. Little real opportunity for change here on the estancia.

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The Beautiful Game

            The beautiful game. So I’ll remember a brilliantly brisk Central Calfornian Thanksgiving day, branches spread out above the street creating a wonderful maze of foliage. Fine beer imported all the way from the august state of Colorado sat perched on the curb. Three of us ranged back and forth up and down the street tossing a frisbee over parked cars and through small angular gaps in the trees. I can still make out the rotation of the white disc in my memory’s foggy window. Sprint ten feet, reach up and catch the disc just short of tumbling into a pile of leaves by the curbside. Throw it up high, let it go, long looping tosses through the trees. Back and forth and again, a wordless conversation. Playing at it, no winners, the object here is to keep the thing up in the air and even that is not all that important. That’s the beautiful of the game.

            At its best that’s what football is, a wonderful amalgam of passes pinwheeling across a vibrant green pitch. And the chase, of course, nothing greater than threading the ball just through the legs of friend and seeing it emerge undeterred at the feet of another. Just play, shoulder to shoulder then hip to hip, fighting for the ball, then turning on it gently and passing quickly. Then some idiot decided that each side needed to wear different colors. A couple of hundred years later, 1969,  and shots are being fired over the border of El Salvador and Honduras because of a football match gone wrong. Our modern world, not leaving anybody out here (even the most aesthetic among us are complicit), seems to have squeezed all the fun out of sport. Now our balls boast the name of an multinational sports clothing company; 200 miles down any dirt road kids wear the sponsor covered jerseys of huge English or Spanish sport empires.

            I’ve spent an embarrassing amount of time over the last two months watching the teams of various american nations chase each around fields, so I figure by now I should have something to say about the game, uneducated as it might be. I’ve seen Lionel Messi send the ball cutting 30m across the area; the ball then accelerate perfectly off the forehead of a leaping Gonzalo Higuaín into the back of net. I’ve dipped into conversations on the value of the game today; you know, smart people questioning stuff. Seen more than a bit of the elation and easy harmony the game can inspire in its hinchada, and just a touch of the division and hate it can create. Of course it is impossible to talk about the incredible good vibes at the Obelisk, where 6 thousand Uruguayos congregated to celebrate their cup victory, without talking about the violence that followed the games in San Juan.

            Sitting on the couch at my favorite drinking establishment in the Lower Haight, me and Paul. This US-Mexico final is our own little civil war; my love of the game founded watching the Tri in Morelia qualify for the ’94 cup and his rooted in his time in Bangladesh and Africa. He’ll tease me about not rooting for the country of my birth, but something about that first love stirs me every time I see those green jerseys. The US quickly goes up 2-0. Then the potent Mexican side erupts. Pablo Barrera has another stellar game. Throughout the tournament he has routinely sprinted down the wing past too slow defenders to fire beautiful crosses into the area. This game he manages to get on the other end of the ball a few times and nets a pair of goals of his own. 76th minute, Gerrado Torrado slips the ball into the area, just to the edge of the small box falling perfectly at the feet of Giovanni Dos Santos. Howard desperately dives out at those feet, swatting at the ball. Gio turns, dribbles 6m straight back beating two defenders, then another turn, and, head down, he chips the ball over backpedalling leaping defenders just inches clear into the far top corner of the goal. Speechless, we both smile and take a long pull on our beers. Helluva goal that one.

            Victory doesn’t always come. I can still fell the violent vibration of the crossbar in my stomach, rattling again as it turns away another almost perfect ball. By the time Mexico meets Uruguay in La Plata, their chances of advancing past the first round are beyond dim. The night before the game, in a Recoleta bar I had hashed out the slim possibilities of advancement with a spirited contingent of  Mexican fans over beer and tequila. The fact that this young U-22 team, further decimated by scandal, were playing in a big boys tournament would not dilute our enthusiasm. An unremarkable goal off a ball that Michel can’t hold on to early in the game seemed to portend una goleada Uruguaya, but the kids hung tough. The Tri played with pride; clearly overmatched but just a questionable offsides call away from tying the game late. After the game, a subdued but undaunted Federico respectfully acknowledged the skill of the Uruguayan side while applauding the effort of the Mexican kids. He had flown the 14hrs from Tijuana to watch the games with his son; they were loving every second of it.

            “Ole, ole, ole, ole, ole, ola, cada día te quiero más, soy celeste, es un sentimiento que no puedo parar.” Three days later the songs still rattle around in my head. We are at the final of the Copa America, Paraguay-Uruguay for all the marbles. Waves of sky blue flags, the crowd bounces in unison and a miniature brass band (two trumpets and an intermittent trombone) calls out the chants. Days later, the perfect fluid shape of the disciplined Uruguayan side paints the frames of my dreams. Cara is jumping out of her skin, and doing her best to sing herself hoarse. Next to us an middle aged gentleman, casually stately in his suede jacket and flat cap captures every moment on his camera. Through the ever moving throng we catch the sight of a father cradling his young daughter; she smiles.

            After all, the 100 Hours War of 1969 had a lot more to do with immigration and border disputes than a football game. The game itself was an all too convenient  excuse, an outlet appropriated by politicians. It is so easy to focus on all the negative (and there is a lot of negative) than what happens between the lines. The nastiness of ego and pride take so much away from what is ultimately a bunch of kids (of all ages) chasing each other around on the smooth lawn. So I’ll remember, 122nd minute of a World Cup quarterfinal, Megan Rapinoe streaking down the left flank lets the ball drift, then winds up and sends it off her weaker left foot perfectly arcing to the far post where Abby Wambach, cold as ice, nods it in. Never see one like that again.

            Thanksgiving has always been my favorite holiday. Just a meal with friends and family, a chance to take a day out of the week and enjoy a simple meal together. The meal and the place are not important, the time set aside is. The disk wobbles weakly, dips and veers into the side of my truck parked at the curb. New game. The three of us line up and take turns trying to thread the disc through the bars of my truck’s lumber rack into the bed of the pick up. 



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BsAs Ramble

I feel it so much more here in the city. Outside the window a hundred people pass every minute; ten buses haltingly speed by, filled to capacity; below me subte cars chase each other through their infinite tubular cages, their passengers packed ass to jowl, sweaty elbows hooked on knobby knees. A mass of flesh and its human trappings, rushing towards and around me, a dizzying miracle of color, form, feel, smell and touch. Within this menagerie I move curtly, eyes fixed on a destination, a task. My city skin, tough. My feeling of isolation is consuming.

So I extricate. Pulling out from behind too big dark glasses a glimpse of painted lashes and shadowed eyes. I fabricate. She is my age, maybe a bit younger. Managing her urban life, from work, now carrying groceries home, a small bright apartment. I layer upon this portrait my own self. His white hair, straw thick, parted sharply at his temple, a sharp angle cut across his forehead. Bright hooded eyes; smile drawn lines around his face, raw, ruddy, round; matching his body, my height, healthy belly, sturdy; he is engaging, relaxed. Beyond comfortable in his 60 year old frame, he will meet his boys at the cafe at 3p and talk lazily about the weather, the soccer and the grandkids over coffee and empanadas.

Then I dive in, the fantasies of my defense mechanism firmly in place. I step into the stream and smile, empty mind now absorbing, digesting the collage that surrounds me. My day passes quickly, easily, working through the useless dance steps of our modern life. The government of my country, friends and family is today’s obstacle. Friendly impassive faces behind smart eyeglasses and uninspired business suits, just barely betraying the drudgery of their day, shuffling papers through the flow following the footsteps of Sam Lowry and Leo Bloom, not entirely ignorant of their legacy. I wait in this sterile room, soiled only by the taste of rotting paper and ink. Crying restless children, loudly asking the same inane questions, a bell rings calling up the next customer and every time I look up from my notebook, hoping to be done. Once the dance is done, I emerge with a shiny new Passport book.

Coming into the city after months wandering the small towns, mountains and rivers of Patagonia, I am ready. As the city grows around the road leading in, rising from low suburban sprawl to the familiar dense four and five story neighborhoods of Latin America then finally to the modern skyscrapers of downtown, my excitement builds. All the stimuli fly through my busy brain. I bounce around in the generous semi-cama butaca like a child. I want to eat it all up.

A couple of weeks later I find myself in another half drunk conversation. Finding our place in the world, feeling out the sounds of our souls. This time talking about our place in this city, trying to translate a sense of self and relate it to physical surroundings. I feel so small in the wilderness (not me really, but I listen.)  In the city, I grow, necessarily, in order not to lose myself (I listen.) I lose myself in the mass of people; I am part of it and become huge (I listen.) I enjoy, I taste, I touch, I walk (I listen.) Testing, watching, trying on the masks looking for that perfect fit. Throwing ideas lightly into the void, happily dancing in circles around each other.

Now I remember. Everything hurts, I haven’t eaten enough because I am nauseous, my head is pounding and I am tired. Cold wind bites at my face, my hands are numb, my feet soaked and cold. Clouds deep grey, dirty and low, thunder. I am scared. Pull it together! NOW! Fighting the wind, the tent goes up and is immediately covered with snow. I focus on the familiar tasks of setting up camp. Quickly moving clothes and sleeping bags into the dry, getting anything that might be covered up off the ground. Guy lines tied off, bags under the vestibule, I collapse exhausted into shelter. I force myself to suck down a bit of soup and then try to sleep. Morning comes terribly slowly and I stay wrapped up in my heavy sleeping bag until the sun hits the tent. As I struggle out of the small tent entrance I come into the realm of the gods, a high temple to our mother earth. A perfect blanket of snow covers the valley floor, brilliant in the sun. Tall granite faces rise, buttressed by blue green faced glaciers, ancient ice beasts clinging to the cliffs. Snowy peaks pocked by tumbling volcanic spires dot the horizon on three sides. This is mine, this is ours, this is us. I feel strong.

Retreating in order to advance, taking in every breath, every taste, touch, smell and word until I am exhausted, full. Rested, I step out again into the city. Spin the pedals backwards then lean forward and I’m off. Playing tag with buses, pushing hard to make the light. Easy and free, on Cordoba I poach a light and enjoy the familiar freedom of having six lanes to carve wide curves. A thousand faces buzz by on the sidewalk, each walk unique. A million souls surround me, I am part of it, neither big nor small, just me. I love the energy of the city, however it comes.

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Rumbo Norte

We cross the Beagle channel on March 18, just a little less than three weeks later we cross the border from Chile into Argentina and arrive in San Carlos de Bariloche about 1500 km to the north. Google refuses to calculate a route between these two points at the southern and northern limits of Patagonia. To get there we board 8 buses and 4 ferries, we walk (backpacks sagging, way too early in the morning, first customers) across an international border and hitch a couple of rides. The journey involved crossing the Argentine – Chilean border 5 times, each crossing entailing two stops at border stations. We cross the Fuegian Andes just north of Ushuaia, cross the Andes near Coyhaique, Chile, dropping sharply into the fjords of Aisen,  and finally over a gentle pass between Puyehue National Park in Chile and Nahua Haupi National Park in Argentina.  We mix in a backpack in Chalten and spend a couple of days in Castro on Chiloe doing very little, but by the time we get to Bariloche I am definitely ready to be in the same place for a bit.

The first leg of the journey north is exhilarating. Fresh off our Dientes hike (fresh probably not the best word after six days on the trail) we pile into a minibus and are shuffled along Navarino from Williams down the coast. Puerto Navarino consists of a white painted church and a floating pier extending a couple meters into a small bay. At the end of the pier a smart zodiac is tied up. On with the life jackets and the six passengers and two crew pile on the tiny boat, all the luggage shoved into the front of the boat. I don’t stop smiling for the next 20 minutes as the boat bounces across the strait. The vessel boasts a hard plastic canopy with windows, so we are kept dry. Ryan, once again demonstrating a magical ability to attract strange animals, points out a slender Comoran keeping pace with the boat. It flies easily, arching its long body, dipping narrow wings just a milimeter above the wave crests, gliding under and between the hidden masses. I look back and see our captan and his mate standing tall behind the controls, windy smiles. I need to drive this machine; a common feeling for me, be it a bus, a tractor, horse or fast car. The bird dips its black wing to the zodiac one last time and then is gone off to our right, speeding along far faster than our craft. Though the $120 US seems high for the hour long transfer and twenty minute boat ride (the only other way off the island is via airplane), I feel like it’s money well spent as we step off the small boat on to la Isla Grande de Tierra del Fuego and into Argentina.

After a couple of days in the “Big City” of Ushuaia we catch a five am bus to Rio Gallego on the Argentine mainland. The colonization of Patagonia by Chile and Argentina has been and continues to be a contentious affair. The border here is strange mix of natural boundries such as the Beagle Channel and the Andes, and sterile strange straight lines drawn across miles of brown pampa, empty, windswept land. The reach of the metropolis is strong here in the small colonial cities each country has carved out. Chilean spanish is the same muddled mystery to me in Punta Arenas as it was Valparaiso. The TVs in Ushuaia stream news of BsAs, while Santiago writes the news just across the narrow channel in Puerto WIlliams. Big guns face off above the tourist catamarans, hidden from view. The two countries have fought over this land since the 19th century. Leaving the cities the line becomes blurred. A Patagonian culture, defined more by the rugged landscape than far away capitals, emerges.

Walking across the border between Los Antiguos, Argentina and Chile Chico, Chile we catch a ride. A brand new Toyota Hilux slows down in front of us just past the aduana Argentina. We toss our bags in the bags in the back and hop in the back seats. Inside two old gauchos greet us. We talk a bit about Mr Obama’s visit to Chile. Inevitably this conversation turns to cataloging our brave President’s failings. So I shut up and be thankful for the ride. They drop us at the Chilean aduana and we pass our bags through the x-ray machines. Leaving the modern building, all heavy timbers and glass, after strapping the bags on again, the same truck pulls up and offers us a ride into town. “Siempre les falta una buena pateada” the driver tells us. A couple minutes later he drops us and his friend on an almost deserted corner in the very small lakeside town of Chile Chico. The truck pulls a wide U-turn and headed back towards Argentina. As we walk around the little town, strange early morning ghost town, I put together what was going on. The pair were cold but polite, manners learned fifty years ago. He picked us up out here because, where buses might run once a day on mostly gravel roads and most families don’t own a vehicle, that’s how people get around. The white truck, immaculate, with a few horsy decorations, I couldn’t escape the feeling we were really riding in a wooden wagon pulled by a pair of speckled horses. The driver, large framed, is a bit hard of hearing, wears a neat grey mustache above his lip; his passenger, slight, with a bit more pepper in his salt pepper hair, wind burnt leather mug, both wear the wide heavy felt beret of the Patagon. They talk about family and the poor quality of wine these days. They might have been boss and employee, the passenger getting his two cents in, but deferring to the driver. The thin man thanked his friend profusely and offered to pay for the ride, the driver refused. One man is Chilean, one is Argentine.

The next morning, just before sunrise, we cross a lake with two names, Gral. Carrera in Chile and Buenos Aires in Argentina. The rain is driving and cold when we board the ferry at 7a.  We watch the sunrise through a porthole, talking to a quiet American man from Reno. A big man straight out of the pages of a Wallace Stegner novel, well into his sixties. He is a geologist. He has been working in a silver mine just outside of Chile Chico for the past couple of months. As we both wander about the ferry, braving the outside decks for a few minutes then wandering down to get warm again, we talk. His Western reticence mirrors the blustery morning and the rough landscape. Tan cloth baseball cap pulled down around his down cast eyes, he is an industrial age cowboy. Six months in Patagonia, five years in Mongolia, four more in Peru, digging holes in the ground, betting on silver. His blue eyes flash for a second and his gravel stuffed mouth loosens up as we talk about his time in Peru. Marinera dance contests in Trujillo, termas near Chachapoyas, five star hotels at Machu Pichu emptied by the threat of the Sendero Luminoso, Pisco and ceviches.

We barely mention mining, a powder keg in this part of the world where a tiny population struggles to maintain a grip on their land. The political landscape is tangled, evangelical environmentalists dominated by foreign giants of the movement in a strange alliance with ranchers and ancient locals face off against the menace of European capital, Santiago, the working poor and a small bourgeois class. Three hours pass and we disembark in Puerto Ibañez. A minibus takes us up a twisting road away from the lake and into the mountains. I can’t help but be romanced by the landscape here. This is by far my favorite region of Patagonia, Aisén. The big sky and endless browns of the pampa of the eastern side of the Andes gives way to green. Here the dark mountains wear crowns of sharp black spires. Rivers powered by dying glaciers and the almost eternal ice cap carve wide valleys in the soft basalt. Lenga and larch forests, thick and tangled run up the sides of valleys. Rolling into Coyhaique, a dinghy wood smoky town in an amazing valley bordered by tall columnar basalt walls and a deep river gorge, the ¡Sin Represas!  grafiti is omnipresent. Walking to the grocery store I overhear a woman say  “Lo que es en Chile – pa’ los Chilenos.” She could be on either side of this fight. So I hope for some sort of salvation for this beautiful land and the people who live here.

A late night in Coyhaique talking politics with a drunk Marxist from Santiago and his too young German wife and we’re off, aboard another bigger ferry, destination Chilóe. We leave our hostel a just before seven; the ferry pulls out of Puerto Chacabuco a bit after 10a. Despite a sky as murky as our tired heads we brave the windy wet upper deck for the first few hours as the ship carries us out the fjord. All around amazing scenery slides by. Forested slopes rise sharply from the sea breaking up into the clouds, peaking snow capped. Tiered waterfalls tumble into every valley. Low clouds and heavy damp wind cast frame the green, gray and blue landscapes perfectly. In the afternoon we pull into our first port, Puerto Aguirre, a small fishing village perched on a steep island. Before we reach Quellón on the big island of Chilóe we stop at a half a dozen similar villages, each strategically placed to harvest. They all rely on the ferries or an occasional airplane, isolated colonial outposts. We each get in an amazing night of sleep in our neat cabin bunks. The next morning we cross the long open passage between the Guaitecas and Chilóe archipelagos. This is the closest we’ll get to being on the open sea on the 80m Don Baldo, just enough movement to make walking interesting. By two pm we are watching up on deck as a tug performs an elaborate docking ritual.

Chilóe is old. All the human settlements we’ve wandered through over past the weeks in Patagonia have been very new. Little towns, barely twenty years old, bulldozer scars fresh; every town is at the end of a road. Not Chilóe, the sense of history age and decay is inevitable here. This was one of the last outposts of the Spanish Empire, finally submitting to Chile in 1826. At that time the island had been occupied by Spain for almost 220 years. The capital, Castro, has been famously razed and rebuilt a half a dozen times. Palafitos, wooden houses perched on a cacophony of spindly pilings above the ten foot tides, line the waterfront. Families pile on old wooden vessels and cruise to the other side of town when the tide comes in. This is the home of the potato and enormous clams with flavor to match their size. We chill out for a few days, watch our Giants on the internet, feast on seafood and then we’re back on the road. Rainy, cloudy days in a miniature San Francisco, watching the tide.

Another bus, another ferry and we are back in Patagonia. We are in the lakes district now, perfect conical volcanoes dot the horizon and huge sparkling lakes curve through the pines and around two lane roads. We spend the night in Puerto Montt, the fastest growing municipality in Chile. It is a fairly unattractive city in a spectacular location. A real port city, its business end smack up against the water, rough sailor types filling the streets and guesthouses, huge metal hulks parked in impossibly small channels, cranes and seagulls. The next day’s bus trip back across the border is beautiful, the bus driver feels compelled to stop a few times for picture taking opportunities. Another stamp is added to our passports, Chile and Argentina now fill three pages in mine. San Carlos de Bariloche is slightly more attractive than Montt, but its charm is found far more in its amazing surroundings than the town itself.

So? What? We’ve arrived road weary; run the deep ruts of the tourist track up Patagonia. A hundred new stories and a dozen new friends. Our Keystone Kop bus driver unsuccessfully chases an armadillo across the pampas, falling four times before the little guy scampered into his hole, dreadlocked Buenos Aires hippie communing with us over Simon and Garfunkel and found shoes, drunken meetings of the United Nations at a Ushuaia hostel, running into a quiet Belgian-French couple I had seen on the trail a month before and exchanging stories, a dark wet cold 6 mile run down and up from camp to town to resupply wine and empanadas in El Chaltén, a mouth watering amalgamation of clams, mussels, potato, sausage and pork in Chilóe. All these great adventures and memories, but what has struck me most about this the trip is the land. Not so much the things I expected, the big sky of the pampa, the storybook towers of El Chaltén, Cerro Castillo and the Dientes de Navarino, but the wide wild stretches in between.

I am a tourist here, a foreigner out for a stroll, passing through. I’d like to think of myself as a citizen of the world, but it is impossible to shed the place I come and the privilege I posses. I caught a ride from on the carretera austral from an itinerate salesman. Born and raised in Chile Chico, he traveled the length of Chilean patagonia. We talked about the hike I had just finished and the beautiful country we were passing through. He pointed out signs of mismanagement, where fires had gotten out of control and rampant ranching had raped the beautiful river valleys and hills. I broached the subject of the dams, trying to get a locals view on the situation. Immediately the conversation took on a chilly tone. “In California you have many dams, don’t you?” Ufff – Well. I danced around the subject for a bit, couldn’t get much more out of him; but the message was clear. The reticence was rooted not in the politics of the local situation, but instead in a hard earned distrust of outsiders. Reflecting on very real feelings, the desire to protect the dwindling purity of Patagonia, I can’t help but think about the mistakes made elsewhere and see opportunity.

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¡Saludos del Fin del Mundo!

Isla Navarino, the self described end of the world, seems about as good a place as any other to start this blog. Navarino hangs just south of Tierra del Fuego Island, about a hundred km to the north of Cape Horn. This is the almost mythical land of Fitzroy and the HMS Beagle, the place where a young Charles Darwin first knew the Americas and began his questioning. The names here are Dutch, English, Portugeese and Spanish to honor the people, who by any reasonable account would have to be called insane, who first came to this part of the world. So here I am, far less adventurous, out for a backpack; safe, if not dry, on solid ground.

Our first day starts late, a pattern which will hold for most of this trip. I celebrate 37 years today, Sunday the 13th, and somehow stumbled into celebrating last night. We arrived early on Saturday, catching the big plane from Punta Arenas at the crack of dawn. The sense of tsunami driven panic which had dominated Chilean television the day before was no longer in evidence, despite the early morning evacuation advisories. The airport in Puerto Williams sits across a lagoon from the town, so once our bags were collected we decided to set out walking the dirt road into town. Luckily a local picked us up off the road before we had walked for ten minutes, because the road traveled a good 4 km inland before turning towards the town we could see just 100m across the water. Checked into the hostel, both of us immediately took a very necessary 4 hour nap. Once up and about we set about the now familiar preparations for a week long backpack; topping off the food supply, starting to figure out post trip transport, buying stove gas and dealing with impassive officials. That work finished up quickly we wander around the small port town. The day was wet and grey; the temperature hovered around 6 deg celsius, but the wet felt much colder. Ryan entertained himself taking great photos of fishing boats, crab pots and the charcoal sky.

Eventually we wandered down to the yacht harbor and the floating club we had read about, Micalvi. Ignoring the signs that deny access to all but Navy and Yachtistas we board the old supply boat. The inside offered everything we had hoped for as far as ambiance: old couches, burnished wood, nautical flags from the world over. The bar at the far end of the boat seemed closed, but a large chilean man and a woman with tightly curled dyed blond hair were busily arranging bottles and boxes. Ryan, undeterred, stepped up and ordered two beers. The bartender seemed confused at first but promptly produced two Cerveza Australes, no less than the Special Edition Torres del Paine Lager, a favorite of ours. Meanwhile I was attempting to start a conversation with a tall man who had set up a very interesting box camera in the  corner of the large room. I noticed he spoke perfect English, so I immediately addressed him in English. Through thick horned rimmed glasses his intense eyes though focused on me looked past me. He answered my inquiry shortly and returned to his work checking light levels around the bar, asking the bartender if there were any more lights available. So we sat down, back a bit from the scene – the bartender moving his bulk about the bar preparing for the night, his female assistant or manager busily lighting the fire and hanging a flat screen television all at once, and the nervously focused photographer pondering exposure times and trying to get the bartender to pose for a bit. “Two minute exposure” the photographer said, trying in vain to get the bartender to pay him attention. All at once he turned his focus back to us. He needed test subjects for his photo and seeing how the bar was empty besides the two of us, one of us would do. Ryan jumped right up. Why not? Vil, the photographer, arranged the scene. Ryan was required to remove his cheery red down jacket in favor of a more subdued faded yellow t-shirt and leer sadly over the top of his beer bottle. Admirably drawing upon long ago drama club skills, Ryan held the pose for the required two minutes. I was next. Two minutes is a long time. My eyes watering, my feet aching to reach for a support just beyond my short legs, I barely held it together. Meanwhile, another character entered the bar. While Ryan and the bartender (finally done with his chores which it turned out had been motivated by a tsunami warning evacuation of anything valuable in the bar) posed for a final shot, I struck up a conversation with the man. This was Atilo, captan of a 12m sailboat that Vil had chartered. In between the posing and preparations for shots Ryan and I had learned that Vil was a photographer doing a series of photos on the native people of Navarino, the Yaghan. Originally from Finland, living in Stockhom, he had become enamored with Tierra del Fuego on a visit a year before. A gallery in Paris had commissioned this project. Part of his process would be to take a voyage around Cape Horn and through the channels that were these sea faring people’s homes before the arrival of Europeans in the area. Atilo, an Argentine from Ushuaia was the man he had contracted to guide him through these waters. We talked about work (his cousins worked in construction in Miami) and his boat as well as their upcoming trip.

Atilo had come to the bar with a purpose – dinner was waiting at a pub up in town and he had come to retrieve Vil. As Vil wrapped up his equipment, he continued to chat with Ryan and I. Offhand he proposed that we join him on the trip around the Cape. We both took it as more of a joke than anything else, but decided to tag along for dinner just in case the invitation turned out to be for real. The four of us walked up the road into town, the night now cold but drier. The group talked easily. Coming around a corner we stepped into the only lighted building on the small town square, Angelus Irish Pub. We had already been to this fine establishment earlier in the day for lunch and were surprised to be back. The place was inviting, the owner Loreto greeted Atilo warmly and us kindly. That afternoon she had told us that this would be her last day of business, she was closing shop. Definitely a pity, she ran a great place. Thin, a weathered face that seemed to alternate between a worldly woman’s and a young girl’s, and wavy strawberry red blonde hair, she is a host comfortable and easy. Because the shop was closing and we hadn’t made previous arrangements, the food selection was limited. While Atilo, Vil and his two shipmates devoured grapefruit pink slabs of salmon, Ryan and I settled for chicken and rice. A little wood stove in the corner kept the small pub warm and as we ate the windows began to steam up. We ordered a round of beers and then another. Vil began to admire the ambiance and started thinking about a shot. The stained and lacquered plywood benches and tables, the clear wood wainscoting, single pane glass windows stained grey by sea air, snapshots of Loreto and her husband at the Cape, old bottles and the occasional obligatory shamrock. The three of us spoke in English as Atilo and the crew bantered with Loreto and her helper, a serious woman with a healthy head of black curly hair. The place quickly took on all the aspects that I imagine a good Irish wake would have. Loreto pulled out a bottle of quality pisco, a chilean spirit similar to grappa, and everybody’s glasses were filled. An infectious smile never left her face. Her waitress vacillated between tears and playfully flirting with the crew. Vil, after several glasses of pisco, reiterated his invitation to join the cruise. We didn’t hesitate to accept and Vil stepped away to discuss things with the captan. I have to admit, although incredibly excited about the opportunity to sail around the Horn through some of the most volatile waters in the world, I was also very nervous. I’ve never even been on a sailboat, and here we were talking about getting on a 12m boat and going out on the open ocean. Unfortunately, it was not to be. Because the boat was traveling through fiercely contested international waters, he informed us, a mountain of paperwork was required and it was to late to add us on the the ship’s register. Everybody was a bit disappointed, but nonetheless we continued to enjoy the closing night of Angelus. Loreto closed down the bar at midnight, but not before making me blow out a birthday candle and stuffing two beers each in our pockets. All in all an incredible evening, meeting and talking with interesting people and having an amazing time.

So now we’re walking. It’s about 1p and although confident we can make the 8 or 9 kilometers to our first camp, we feel the pressure of the late start. We quickly bolster our food supply with four healthy sized empanadas from the local panaderia and set out from the town square, back on the road towards the airport. There are no paved roads on the island, the road leading west out of town is hard packed gravel. We quickly ascend past the neat rows of white sided naval housing out into the Lenga forest. Five minutes into our walk we come to a small shrine to Our Lady in a triangle shaped clearing. Most of the tiny settlement feels very much like an outpost, a Chilean colony far away from Chile itself, but this small spot is all at once more organic. A large new green sign advertises access to El Sendero Chile, so we take the smaller road to the left away from the harbor and airport towards Cerrro Bandera. The hill itself quickly disappears as we ascend into the forest. Another couple of minutes and we find ourselves at another Y in the road. Ryan remembers correctly to bear right. We walk along the road for another ten minutes, heading south and up. A large creek joins the road on our right. Finally we arrive at a small reservoir, the trailhead. Three paths head out from behind a map sign. We follow the trail closest to the water, marked with blue and red arrows. The way through the thick trees is small but well tread. Soon the red and blue ways diverge and we head away from the stream up the slope following the red spots spray painted on the trees. At first the steep way is easy to follow. Then the path disappears and becomes steeper. We move slowly from red marked tree to red marked tree. By the time we reach the tree line, about twenty minutes in, we give up entirely on the markings, knowing we just have to make it to the top and then get our bearings. We break through a line of bushes and emerge on a steep 45 deg slope covered with a maze of sandy paths and dense grass and tight green ground cover. We push up the slope, spotting a cairn just below the ridge.

Drop the heavy packs and out with the empanadas. Both of us more than a bit sweaty and winded after gaining the 570m ridge, we take a nice long break. The dreary weather of the day before is nowhere to be seen. The views are amazing, the Beagle Channel, Tierra del Fuego and the Andes Fenguinos to one side and at our backs the island and the Dientes the Navarino looking dreamlike with a dusting of fresh snow, pale blue at the horizon brightens to a bright stony blue above us, and the clouds light and friendly drift by. The Navy has planted a little flagpole and a huge, now ragged, flag on the end of the ridge, Cerro Bandera, so we ham it up with the flag and take a couple of pictures. We treat ourselves to two of the empanadas de carne picada. Super good stuff, though they contain a dangerous surprise –  a tasty black olive mixed in with the meat, pit and all. All cooled off, and fed, we strap the packs back on and turn towards the island’s interior.

There is not anything here that could be called an established trail. We find ourselves walking alternately on spongy patches of greenery and sandy rocky slopes, one eye on the terrain and the other looking out for stone pile route markers. The walking is easy and quick. A couple of horses graze on the slopes just a few meters away from us, one raises its head to follow us as we pass. We follow the low ridge just above the treeline for the rest of afternoon. As the slope gets steeper the ridge rises higher above us and the vegetation gives way to scree fields and the path becomes more established. We step carefully along narrow pathways in the gravel. Down into steep washes at times reaching for handholds and climbing up small rock sections. A little past halfway the night of drinking catches up with me. As I try to pull myself up a steep section a vicious cramp seizes my thigh. We take a couple of minutes, I pound a half a liter of water and we’re back at it. Below us in the valley a spectacular landscape is spreading out. A thousand greens and browns, luscious burnt reds mix with silver blue toned lakes, stepping back from the coast towards the snow capped black mountains. Finally we round a corner below a large outcropping of sand colored stone and see the Laguna del Salto below us. The 100 meter descent is quick, hopping small boulders and sliding down small sections of scree, gravity doing the work. After a half an hour survey we pick a campsite just above the lakeshore and set about making camp. A round of maté, little fire, little food and we both in the bags reading. A good day, a solid 4 hours of hiking over some difficult terrain and plenty of light when we arrived at camp.

Morning comes slowly. At eleven am, still comfortable in the tent, Ryan makes a welcome suggestion. We decide to take a day and hang around the lake. Between the two of us we manage to do an amazing amount of nothing. Maté is passed. We circle the lake and scramble up a dark rock hill that sits a 100m above the lake. Rain threatens for most of the day, we occasionally put on the rain jackets. Ryan finds an amazing   black rock face rising 20m, pock marked and streaked with veins of rose and tan. We pretend to climb, testing handholds in the old rock. A fire is built after a struggle with wet kindling, and we drink some more maté. We polish off the empanadas and some sausages early in the afternoon and warm up some miso soup in the evening. Close as you’re gonna get to wholly perfectly accomplishing nothing at all.

So already falling into a comfortable pattern, we’re up and out of the tent the next morning at the reasonable hour of eleven. It is grey and wet. Couple cups of coffee, a half a Clif bar and camp is rolled up and into the bags, still feeling a bit heavy. Today we ascend a series of passes, eventually arriving on the southern side of the Dientes. Our trail leaves the lake just to the west of the waterfall that gives the lake its name. We slip and slide our way up a rocky muddy steep section, 100m above the lake traversing back eastward into a wide rocky drainage. Once again the path disappears and we are relying on markers to guide us. Either the grey ceiling has dropped or we have climbed into it, because we walk in a thick mist, visibility around 30m. The landscape is dominated by boulders and talus. Steel green lichens flower on red washed brown rock proudly displaying salty birthmarks, shadows of peaks lurk behind the fog. The drainage widens and through the fog we make out a line of cairns leading up a moraine. The crest takes us up out of the center of the wide valley towards our right. A steep section of scrambling up medium size stones followed by traverse under then up and around a rock face and we are in the Paso Australia. Dropping down the southwestern side of the pass we encounter a inclined snowfield about 20m across. We can see traces of footprints leading across the snow. After taking a half dozen steps on the hardpacked snow, I turn back and we opt to go up and around. The quality of the snow is not good, hardpack covered with a thin layer of fresh already going slush in the relatively warm wet air. With the heavy packs a small slip would mean a quick ride 30m down the slope and a quicker stop in a rock field. Up in the heart of the Dientes range now, we know that the black snow capped teeth rise all around us. We side hill southwesterly, dropping a bit, rising a bit towards the next pass, below us a lake in the mist. About a half an hour later we are up on Paso de los Dientes, looking almost directly west into the thick air. Again the path traverses the slope, this time to the southeast. A large lake comes up at us as we descend. Finally we get a reprieve from the rock we have been walking on. The fog is still heavy but it stays up a bit. Everything is wet, the quite and the fog making the walk more than a bit otherworldly. We skirt the lake, then follow an outlet south. Coming to a cairn with a yellow and red painted marker we pause to pull out a map and the GPS. After a moment of indecision, we realize we’re at a crossroads and cut west to rejoin our trail. Following a small creek upwards, green bushes crowding the water in the rocky, shallow valley, we reach another medium sized lake. On the way we come across another group of hikers, two Germans, a Chilean and a stray dog that had followed them in from town. We fall in with them for a bit, but with our quicker pace we leave them behind in a few minutes. Just past Lago Escondido we find our campsite on a rise above the lake’s outlet. Another five hour day of hiking is over. No campfire today, we get the maté going and talk a bit to the group we saw earlier when they come through looking for a campsite. We eat and then we’re in the tent early to dry off and read before trying to sleep.

A combination of the evening tea ritual, short hikes and habit have made early sleep impossible. Most nights involve a good amount of reading and counting imaginary leaping guanacos. Inevitably this leads to the late leisurely start. This morning in between waking and half dreams I hear the other group, who had chosen a site closer to the lake, pass by. It is at least two hours later before we’re up and stumbling towards morning coffee. Nonetheless we are confidently placing bets on when we will pass them on the trail. The ceiling this morning is a bit higher and we are treated to a bit of scenery we missed the day before. Above the lake to the north looms a rock tower, and down the valley to the south we can see Lago Windhound and the southern shore of the island beyond a soaking jumble of forests and ponds. The bulk of the Dientes themselves are still lost in the cloud cover. The trail takes us west-south-west around a small bluff and through a series of wind beaten miniature Lenga forests. The fog has lifted quite a bit and we can see the day’s first climb ahead of us, Paso El Condor. We plot a direct course to the pass through a maze of moraines, losing and regaining the trail a half a dozen times before we emerge on the final incline, an easy scramble up heavy scree.  Unceremoniously, we reach the southernmost point on our journey. Ryan picks up a couple of rocks to commemorate the spot and we have a quick snack. Here the path takes a sharp right hand turn and we sidehill for a while, walking on a packed trail of sharply broken fist sized stones. The ample valley below us shows the clear handiwork of the ancient glaciers; bald hills, scraped clean and round, a maze of ridges built of boulders and gravel, an illogical distribution of lakes, some deep in the valley, others hanging high. The clouds have lifted high. We can see the shape of them now, the huge towers going white to grey to black. Patches of blue interrupt and define the cumulus drifting southeasterly. Down below red granite bulkheads thrust up from the valley floor at angles parallel to the high red dusty mountains behind. The trail tumbles down the slope, our steps quickly picking their way through the debris.

Paso Guerico is a red earth and stone headwall, less than a hundred meters in elevation, that runs between the Dientes range and an unnamed ridge. At the bottom of our descent we pass the other group and quickly lose sight of our pass. We pick our way through the lakes, immediately l osing any sign of a trail but generally maintaining a trajectory towards where we think the pass is. Finally coming over a rise we see the pass and a large white spot painted on a boulder about halfway up marking the path through the trees. Climbing up and over the red earth, fighting our way through brush we reach the top and a view of Laguna Hermosa, the start of the northern drainage. Cerro Ciem, an impressive horn, leans over the next lake down the valley, Lago Martillo. We pick a somewhat developed campsite on the eastern shore of the lake. I build a fire ring while Ryan sets up the tent. The sky is clear now. We quickly start up the easiest fire of the trip, using dry grass and driftwood. Just after we throw the first large dry tangled root on the fire, the stray dog wanders into our camp. We see the other party on the trail heading up the bluff behind us. The dog sniffs us and our bags; realizing she won’t be fed she scampers back to her people. This place quickly becomes our favorite campsite. Sunset illuminates Ciem, revealing burning gold streaks in the tall black tower. We see stars for the first time and an almost full moon hangs low in the sky behind the bluff, just out of sight expect for a brilliant aurora. Dead roots that have sat baking all summer burn quickly over a scorching white gold red yellow bed of coals. Confident because of the short work we’ve made of the previous days nights, we stay up late constantly rearranging the logs on the fire trying to burn it all down.

We wake up to overcast skies. Again we’re on the trail sometime between twelve and one. The trail heads up and over the bluff at the lakeshore cutting off the peninsula that gives the lake its name. In just a few minutes we are past the lake, slopping through swampy paths. Last night’s clear skies are giving way to high grey clouds. Ryan correctly identifies our pass, a nondescript swale a ways down the valley high on the mountains to left. This side of the divide is almost identical to the other side of Paso Guerico. Lakes, ponds and moraine arrange themselves in haphazard fashion. We’ve seen the work of beavers, a non-native invasive animal, from the very start of our hike. They have completely overrun Guerico, destroying streams and carrying away whole hillsides of brush and small trees. Somehow we navigate the tangle of lakes, brush and beaver dams and arrive at a waypoint directing us up the slope. Here we encounter probably the worst section of trail on the hike. We go straight up, through a steady drizzle and thick brush, grabbing branches to pull ourselves up plus 50 deg mud and open sections of slippery rock. After a thirty minute struggle we break the tree line. Easy going from here. We follow a small stream punctuated by clear cascades up to a break in the slope. Suddenly we are on an immense high plain, gradually rising to the horizon. No vegetation at all, wind whips across the wide pass. Hunkered down behind a large boulder, we eat lunch, dried chorizo español and queso chileno with a bit of Trader Joe’s cranberry heavy trail mix. We continue on this gently upward sloping high plain for at least 500m before the rocky horizon takes a shape. Otherworldly, the pass seems as though a giant knife had cut long parabolas in the high plain, leaving sharp rubble cornices looming 400m above Lago Guanaco below. I approach the edge cautiously, wind gusting strong, looking for the markers to lead us down the cliff. That morning at the lake I had read the trail description. The wording was very explicit regarding Paso Virginia. The bajada had been described as VERY STEEP (in red and caps)and the winds as capable of knocking you off your feet.

These words are rattling in my head as I see the painted red arrow and look down towards the lake. The view is incredible, the wind has swept the the clouds into big high white puffs. The lake ensconced in a steep valley drops to forest, then the Beagle channel. We start down, the wind blowing just enough to make me nervous. The trail here is barely wider than one of my boots, just a line of sand pushed down the slope. The exposure is intense, the trail traverses for a good 100m before heading down a comfortable scree ski. I hear Ryan close behind me and tell myself to move quickly and safely. A couple of sections are washed out and require some very careful steps and solid pole plants. Soon we’re sliding down the scree, enjoying the ride and thankful to be off the traverse. The walk around the lake is easy and quick. We pass our friends at the foot of the lake. It has started to rain a bit. We pass up a campsite at the head of the lake with beautiful views of the pass and the channel but no shelter from the wind and rain. Continuing down, following the outlet we come to a wide meadow crisscrossed with streams and ponds carved into the browning grasses. We find a sheltered spot at the end of this meadow, up a rise in the trees. Dropping our packs here, we wander around trying to find a better spot, eventually settling on the one where our packs are. Though the day was probably the most challenging of the hike, we still find ourselves in camp with plenty of daylight. Too wet for a campfire, the rain comes down in varying degrees of intensity all evening. At one point Ryan notices a rare view, a double rainbow cutting across the sky over the Beagle channel. Resolved to be up early the next day and very much needing to dry out, we’re in the tent before sunset.

The next morning, somehow exceeding our own expectations, we are up and on trail by 8:30. I suck down a caffeine infused Clif shot. Down through a steep section of forest, we arrive at another meadow. The channel opens up even more below us. Following use trails down the stream through tall grasses and boggy flats, we come to a thick section of chest high brush. We push through the bushes for a good ten minutes before breaking into the forest and finding our faithful red marker painted on a tree. I’ve set a goal to be back in town by noon in order to try and catch a five pm ferry, so I push the pace. The trail down through the forest is somewhat established. Downed trees, some as large as a meter in diameter, constantly force us off the trail. The gnarled mossy lenga and skinny birch forest is thick. As we descend by the creek the drainage narrows, walls rise around us, we are in a canyon. The well shaded ravine is wet and muddy and we move slower than expected. More than once my feet slip out from under me, and I’m on the ground. Nonetheless, within a half hour we find ourselves scaling up the steep sides of the creek and coming out into a sunny grassy slope. We weave through the pasture, cow patties are everywhere. Down through small groves and across a swampy bog, no trail whatsoever here, just heading towards the water. The coast road appears from behind a row of trees. The walk into town on the hard packed gravel is fast and easy. On the 9km way in one car and a couple of bicycles pass us going the opposite direction. In town just a couple of minutes after twelve we get the last two tickets for the ferry. That evening, as we bounce across the channel in the eight passenger zodiac, a Comoran playfully keeps pace with the boat for a bit. Its wings dipping just above the wave tips, long neck cutting the air effortlessly, a perfect escort off Navarino.



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