Helen Smith

Joined November 2016
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  • Day38

    Adventures in Rio

    January 2, 2017 in Brazil

    Brazil is a incredibly beautiful country. All of its forest is rainforest, which is incredible on its own, but it's surrounded by majestic cliffs, rolling hills, jewel bright water and white sand. Then you've got random shit like iguazu falls lying around. If you can't tell from the pictures, the aching amount of beauty in that place with all of its rainbows and sunshine is so intense it's cartoonish. It looks like the living embodiment of something out of Avatar, or the Lion King. It's the vision of what European explorers wanted to find in the Americas.

    In Rio, I was able to stay with a friend of my father's, saving me the terrible New Years prices in the hostels. They were very kind, and access to my own bed, home cooked food, and air conditioning was luxurious and heavenly.

    Rio must be an incredible place to live. The food is excellent, the beaches are some of the most beautiful in the world, and there's tons of wild rainforest nearby to explore, not to mention nearby islands to visit. My first day in Rio I went to an art museum, walked around downtown, visited this incredible modern style Cathedral, and went to see big Jesus, which was incredible. Packed, but incredible.

    The second day I went hang gliding. This was actually my second time hang gliding, but I was my first time doing it in tandem, where the guide takes you up high and you peer over this extremely high cliff and he explains to you that you're going to run off of it, and if you slow down or stop at the end of the ramp, you will definitely die. That was the scariest part, one you're in the air it's like flying.

    That night was new years eve, and my host talked me into buying a cheap ticket on a party yacht to watch the fireworks. I was very eager for the fireworks, they are one of the main reasons I came to Brazil. I was very curious what makes them such a big deal. Fireworks are cool, sure, but surely there's not a lot of room for improvement?? Turns out there is. On copacobana beach, at exactly 12am, over a mile of beach erupts in fireworks. What makes it cool is the scale. Never before have I seen a fireworks show stretch a mile. The whole horizon lights up. It was incredible.

    Party boat was pretty great too.

    However, the whole time I was in Rio. I was fighting a deep exhaustion. I begged myself to rest. I told myself to lay on the beach, and I just couldn't do it. I couldn't let myself stay inside or sit still when there was a city to be explored, even if that meant exhausting hours staring at maps, sitting on the subway, and waiting in line in the hot sun. Everything was overwhelming. Going from small little mountain towns to cities twice the size of new York is a big change. I had to be ridiculously alert for pickpockets. At night I slept soundly and woke late, but I was always tired.

    On the edges of my exhaustion came a frustration with Rio and myself. Myself for being whiny about visiting one of the most incredible cities in the world, and Rio for being too big, too crowded, and way way too hot. I had done most of the major tourist attractions, but I had a whole 10 days left in Rio. And I missed Patagonia. I missed getting up every day and preparing for a hike, then coming back to the hostel and playing cards for half the night. I missed the day in Torres when I went over the pass, and everyone kept asking each other, "how's your day going?" with big shit eating grins on our faces, because we knew we'd survived a blizzard, climbed into the clouds, earned a view of the glacier, and it was the best day.

    One of the ideas for this trip that died in the planning stages was to go to North Brazil and camp in one of its most famous national parks, Chapada Diamintina. The trek requires an expensive guide and the timeline was really tight, so I decided I was going to chill out and spend a almost two weeks in Rio instead.

    But.

    I was tired in Rio, even after days of sleep. I would be exhausted if I did Chapada Diamintina. But if I was only going to be satisfied if I was hurtling around the world at breakneck speed, might as well sprint to the finish and tight schedules be damned. Sleep is for the dead.

    The minute I booked it, it was like a cloud passed. I calmed right down. I had a great last day in Rio. I went to an amazing samba club and danced all night. And then I packed for one last big adventure.
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  • Day34

    Waterfalls

    December 29, 2016 in Brazil

    This morning at breakfast, which is served outside, three small monkeys joined us to beg for food. And by beg I mean grab off your plate. Also, they didn't just want any food. They showed no interest in toast or crackers or even bananas. They wanted cake. It was pretty cute.

    I had a day to myself today, and I decided to go see the waterfalls. This is a thing people are always doing in Paraty, and I've been very skeptical. I just came from Iguazu, one of the biggest waterfalls in the world. I also just came from Patagonia, where there were waterfalls all over the place. And now I was supposed to pay for a tour to see some more? Please. But I was talking about options for the day with a hostel worker and he told me I could get to most of the waterfalls on the tour by renting a bike.

    So that's what I did, and it turns out that "waterfall" is really code for "freshwater swimming hole" they are all over the place, and they each have features, like little caves to explore, natural water slides, jumping rocks, and more.

    I spent time biking (walking the bike) up steep hills in the blazing heat, then plunging into cold fresh water at each waterfall. It was a good way to spend a day.

    The last waterfall I was supposed to visit was up the 12 millionth hill of the day, and I noticed a bunch of people going into the woods by a sign that read "house of Tarzan" so I just followed them instead. House of Tarzan is a swimming hole with a rope swing and a bunch of different heights to swing off of. It was very fun, and I did all the lower ones.

    The local boys didn't bother with the lower ones. They went straight to the highest swinging point, where your forward swing takes you higher than your jumping off point, so you have to swing once, swing back, avoiding hitting any of the rocks, then on your third swing, you are low enough to drop into the water. The local boys were gorgeous to watch. They had ways of controlling the swing so that they could flip upside down, back flip, and all sorts of aerial acrobatics.

    I had to do it, but boy was I scared. One of the local boys helped me up the rocks and showed me the rope. He wasn't so sure about me.

    "you have to be very strong. It is a long time to hold on to the rope, " he told me.

    "I AM very strong, " I replied.

    I thought about explaining about crossfit, but I didn't think he'd understand me.

    "you have to be very brave. I have never seen a girl do it." he warned.

    "I am very brave."

    His girlfriend called out, "you have to be a little bit crazy."

    "Not a problem." I answered. Then I swung, and it was exhilarating and terrifying and very, very high. Hey, I survived. The local boys all cheered for me.

    In Paraty, it is a common thing to leave your bag on the beach and go into the water. This made me extremely nervous, so I kept hiding my bag in the jungle. At the last waterfall I visited, there was no good place to hide it, so I went ahead and left it near everyone else's on a rock.

    My stuff was fine, but I saw a stray dog sniffing it and rushed over, thinking it would drag the bag off, but instead it peed on my bag.

    It was not a lot of pee, but it was still so gross. I had to wash my clothes out in the river and the bag to the best of my ability. Most of the pee got on my shirt, and I just biked back in my bikini top.

    That evening I read my book in a hammock, looking up at the stars and eating chilled grapes like a goddess.
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  • Day32

    Paraty and Trindade

    December 27, 2016 in Brazil

    Paraty reminds me of Key West and Bethany Beach. It's a family place like Bethany, with a slightly older historic old town, the bars of Key West, and the bikinis of Miami Beach.

    When I arrived in Paraty, it was late, I was tired, and my phone was almost out of battery. I had no hostel booked beefier I was a night early, but I planned to just go to my hostel for the next night and ask if they had a free room.

    However, I met a bunch of German girls on the bus who were going to this fancy hostel called Che Largarto. I knew that I was supposed to go with them, and not wander the streets by myself. They smelled like fate.

    Che Largarto is not a real hostel. It's half hostel, half hotel, and its a whopping $22 USD a night in a market where most hostels are $9-$12 USD a night. But oh. The mattresses are thick and squishy, the pillows are substantive, the sheets smell and feel clean, and the bathrooms are ensuite. They have a beer garden and a pool out front.

    Most of all, they have air conditioning. On high. I slept fantastically and woke up feeling refreshed.

    The first day I went on the boat, which provides free drinks and cruises around to all the islands. It was gorgeous. The rainforest covered mountains in the background, the bright blue ocean... It was a fabulous day. I met a couple of other English speakers traveling alone, and we met up for a samba party later in the evening.

    Like always, people are very confused by my ethnicity. Many seem to think I'm from Argentina, which I'm flattered by, because it means my Spanish is getting good and I speak with an Argentinian accent. In Argentina and chile, when people struggled to pronounce my name, I often became 'Alen, or Haylen. Here, I am Elly. They can't do it. It's OK, I can't pronounce a single word in their language.

    The next night I moved to my $9 hostel I had already booked, and what a difference. The thing that made it intolerable was the lack of AC. I woke in the middle of the night in the 14 person dorm because all the bodies were producing so much heat there was steam in the room. It was like sleeping in a sauna. The next day I booked back into che lagarto.

    Today me and my Paraty crew took the bus to Trindade, the nearby beach town with "much more beautiful beaches than paraty."

    They weren't kidding. The scenery took my breath away. We hiked through the rainforest to a natural pool, took a boat across the bay, and basically tanned and swam all day. We drank coco Gelado, which is when a coconut sits in ice water long enough for the water (milk??) to get very cold and icy. Then the seller takes a giant knife, carves a hole in the coconut, sticks in a straw and hands it to you. It's so refreshing.
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  • Day30

    Riding the Metro in Sao Paulo

    December 25, 2016 in Brazil

    When I landed in Sao Paulo I was scared. I was in a huge city in a new country, with new money, a new exchange rate, and a new language. My flight got me there at 9 pm, and I knew the airport was a good long way away from downtown, where my hostel was. Oh, and it was Christmas.

    I ran into trouble immediately. I was trying to take a bus to the metro center, at which point I planned to give up on public transportation and call an Uber. Uber is huge in Brazil. The woman at the bus kiosk understood that I wanted to buy a bus ticket, but she kept saying "no," and trying to explain something to me.

    Portuguese is a weird language, similar to Spanish sure, but it's like Spanish with a the spelling garbled and the pronunciation is totally different. People who speak Portuguese often understand Spanish, but they speak back in Portuguese, which I do not understand. My Spanish, while undoubtedly much better than when I started, is very limited. I know almost no grammar rules, but I have memorized entire sentences about ordering food and buying bus tickets and talking about where I've been and where I'm going. I know a lot of vocabulary. I've been getting by. But I really struggle to understand Spanish. I usually get about one word in three and divine meaning via context clues. Shake up the pronunciation, and I'm lost.

    I am utterly baffled by Portuguese, and it is particularly frustrating to be able to speak to them, but not understand what they say back. It's like being back at step one in Argentina when I passed my phone back and forth to people so we could use Google translate app.

    Anyway, someone who spoke English intervened with the bus lady. She wanted to put me on a coach for $5 more that would get me much closer to my hostel. I said yes. The kind English speaker took me all the way to the bus, and told the driver to point me in the direction of the metro. On the bus I met a Brazilian backpacker on her way home from Africa, who told me the Metro was very safe, and she was going the same way, so she babysat me onto the metro. From there I took an Uber. Sao Paulo really is huge.

    This was the first hostel I really hated. It's hot in Brazil, and this place had no ac. Additionally, there were about 5 mosquitoes flying around the room. I really can't sleep in a hot room, and to make things worse, I knew I had to put on leggings and long sleeves to protect myself from the mosquitoes. Zika, y'all. I sat in bed sweating and occasionally swatting at a mosquito buzzing in my ear. I don't think I slept much the whole night. The bed shook when the guy on the bottom bunk swatted mosquitos. I couldn't get comfortable because of the heat. When I woke up, I was shivering in sweat soaked clothes with little lines of mosquito bites on my feet, hands, and face. And I had a fever again. This cold will probably hang around until I can get myself a lot of water and a lot of rest. Neither is forthcoming.

    Sao Paulo does not have a good reputation among travelers. Almost everyone told me to do one day there and move on, even though it has a lot of famous art museums and hosts some of the best restaurants in the world. I had a plan for Christmas day. I would walk around their central park and a couple other famous places, I would go to church, and if I could, I would try to find an open restaurant and buy myself a nice meal. I'd leave the 26th.

    None of that happened. I looked online for a bus ticket and found that the only bus not totally sold out to Parati left at 3pm. But the website was an English tourist version, so I decided to go to the train station and check things out.

    It didn't work out. The only bus was 3pm, or on the 28th, and I had no intention of staying in Sao Paulo in that shitty hostel for 3 days. I rushed back to the hostel to grab my stuff. When I did, they had made a lovely Christmas lunch for us. It was free and I was starving, so I scarfed some down.

    I planned to take an Uber all the way to the train station instead of the metro to save time. when I tried to order one, it kept telling me it couldn't use the card I gave it to pay for my last Uber. I had to pay in cash for both trips in order to book any future ubers and the estimate for the cost of last night's Uber plus the train station was *just* over the amount of cash I had. No worries, the hostel told me there was an atm in the metro station.

    I Ubered to the metro station. No atm. There was a bank across the street. It was closed for Christmas. The guy at the Bodega next to the bank was trying to give me directions to a third atm, but I didn't understand the Portuguese at all. It was so, so frustrating.

    I looked at my watch and realized that by the time I untangled the Portuguese, found the third atm, got money out, and called an Uber, I would miss the bus. I was dead in the water.

    Depressed, I took my third metro ride of the day to the train station, wondering what to do. Maybe I would go somewhere completely new. I could just take the next bus that left and not look at the destination. Or maybe I would just skip Parati and go straight to Rio.

    "I missed the 3pm bus, could I please get a refund?" I told the guy at the bus kiosk in Spanish.

    "Portuguese Portuguese Portuguese," he replied. Then he waved his magic wand and showed me there was also a 3:30 bus to Paraty. Why on earth he didn't sell me that ticket originally, I don't know, but I pushed away my annoyance and told him I wanted it. It was 3:20.

    I ran and this time I made it, so now I'm on the bus to Paraty, where I hear the primary tourist activity is cruising around in a boat drinking. Sao Paulo can go fuck itself.
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  • Day27

    Iguazu Falls

    December 22, 2016 in Argentina

    I was sad to leave Patagonia, but it was made all the worse because I woke up feeling sick as a dog. I started my emergency course of antibiotics and geared up for a day in airports. I tried to convince myself that it was basically a rest day, all I had to do was get on and off airplanes all day.

    Yeah, traveling alone when you're sick is hard. I slept on both my flights and had to be woken by the flight attendants at landing. I could feel that I was flushed with fever. I had a layover in Buenos Aires, and I got off the plane when I was just supposed to wait on the plane, it was the same plane flying to iguazu falls. I had to exit the airport and rush through security to get back on.

    But it all turned out fine, and when I got to iguazu falls, another late arrival in an unfamiliar place, I had the complete opposite of my first airport experience. I just followed all the people with backpacks. We let an Israeli haggle a price, and a minute later a big van arrived to take all the backpackers to their hostels for 1/4 the cost of a taxi. The Israeli took one look at my fevered face and made the driver drop me off first. I love the Israelis so much. Sure, they are loud. They snore. They leave messes in the kitchen and seem to take joy in breaking every rule they can. But they are useful and nice and they fucking watch out for all travelers, not just their own.

    The next day I felt better, but not great. I went to the Argentinian side of iguazu falls anyway. 10 minutes after getting there I had to sit down, I was shivering with a cold sweat. Luckily it passed, and I wandered the rainforest paths thinking... Oh look, I'm back in Florida. The everglades and the rainforest are very similar. I even recognized some of the bugs and plants. A bunch of people were exclaiming over a gator and I was just like OH LOOK, MY 236TH GATOR OF THE YEAR.

    Then the monkeys showed up, and everything got a lot more interesting. Iguazu falls is gorgeous. It's a natural wonder. It's impossible to have a bad time watching gallons and gallons of water crashing hundreds of feet through the air, and I didn't. It was a fantastic day. I took the boat ride into the spray of the waterfall and screamed with delight. I saw rainbows and brightly colored birds and did I mention it was hot?? Gone were the high winds and sudden rains of the arctic tundra, I was back in the tropics. It felt good.

    At iguazu, there are a bunch of easy walkways overlooking the falls, and one short three mile hike. I skipped the hike, and I beat myself up about it. It's the type of thing I would have done if I weren't sick, but I was totally exhausted by about 3pm. Oh well.

    When I got back to the hostel I napped, then got up to take myself out to dinner. The electricity in Puerto iguazu is spotty, and as I walked to dinner entire blocks would black out and suddenly come back on a minute or two later. When I arrived at the restaurant the lights were out. I ate there anyway. They brought me a candle.

    As I sat there sipping wine from mendoza and buttering homemade bread by candlelight, I felt a warm happiness stealing over me. The night was young, the wine was good, and the steak was cheap. What more can anyone really ask for?
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  • Day26

    Perito Moreno

    December 21, 2016 in Argentina

    My last day in Patagonia I went to see the Perito Moreno Glacier. It's the third largest glacier in the world, and clocks in at 70 meters high.

    It's fantastic. And thank God, I finally, finally escaped the weather at El chalten and got a sunny day with very little wind. The game at Perito Moreno is to sit and watch for big bits of it to crash into the water. The glacier is growing, but at this part of the glacier it's slowly breaking apart. The Glacier cracks like a gunshot and grumbles like thunder, and a couple times a day, a massive piece of ice falls into the ocean. I got lucky, the biggest piece of the day fell about 20 minutes after I got there and I saw the whole thing!

    I met a lot of my El chalten crew at Perito Moreno and had lunch with Ben, an American from San Francisco, We had more whisky with glacier ice.

    I'm so sad to be leaving Patagonia. I wish I could stay another month, and it seems like there's so much I left undone. I'll have to come back.
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  • Day25

    The Bus

    December 20, 2016 in Argentina

    I made quite a few friends I didn't mention before in El Chalten. Cooped up for a week of bad weather, I befriended the hostel owner, 20 year old Salvador, who made his money smuggling iPhones from the US and selling them in Argentina, then invested in and was running a hostel. He was a mean poker player. I hung out with an endless stream of Australians, a Scot who looked out at the weather each morning, chuckled, and said, "looks like home," and a quiet but friendly Belgian girl, Anne.

    The day I left was Salvadors birthday, so I bought cake mix from the supermarket, and a couple of us mixed the cake. Salvador had to cook it in his house in the oven, which was out back.

    For dinner we all sat around and had birthday cake. One guy took a bite and said, "this tastes like space cake, Salvador, did you sneak weed in this cake?" Salvador shrugged and winked and we all laughed. I didn't think he was serious.

    When I left for the bus, I struggled to put my pack on, which was strange, I've put the thing on like 100 times now. Salvatore laughed at me and asked, "do you know where the bus station is?"

    "I've been living in this small town for a week, of course I know where the bus station is." I replied.

    I got on the bus early. Twice I was sure the bus had started to back up, but when I looked, it hadn't moved. The Belgian girl, Anne, got on the bus with me. When the ticket taker came by, he told me I had to get off the bus because I hadn't paid the El Chalten bus tax. I bought a round trip ticket from El calafate and didn't know about the extra tax in El Chalten. There were about 5 of us who made the mistake. I got off the bus and ran to the kiosk. I was so worried the bus would leave without me. By the time I got through the line, I was sure the bus had left, the line had taken hours. But when I ran out, the bus was still there and the ticket taker hadn't even finished checking everyone's ticket.

    Anne grabbed my arm as I made my way to my seat.

    "I am freaking out. What is going on?" she asked me.

    "nothing, I forgot to pay the city tax, everything's fine." I told her.

    "what are you talking about?? HELEN. THERE WAS SOMETHING IN THAT CAKE." Her grip on my arm tightened and her face was wide and scared.

    "are you sure this isn't placebo effect?" I asked as the bus stretched out into a long hallway and Anne's voice dropped low and metallic.

    In response, Anne collapsed into the seat next to mine and started crying. "I HATE WEED," she cried loudly. People turned and looked at us. "Why would Salvador do that without telling us?? That's so RUDE."

    Ok, so there was weed in the cake. And I was stuck on a 3 hour bus ride with a girl who was obviously going to have a very bad trip.

    Anne alternated between quiet crying and fits of giggling with me about raindrops or the color of her sweater or other stupid stuff. Two hours in she found a pound cake on her bag and her whole face lit up with joy.

    "these are SO GOOD!! and I have one! Helen do you see it??" she waved it in front of my face. I assured her that I did.

    We arrived in El calafate at 11 at night. Knowing we had a late arrival, Anne and I had both booked hostels a couple blocks from the bus station. Anne gripped my arm as we got off the bus and made me promise to walk her all the way to her hostel.

    El calafate is pretty safe, but in an unfamiliar city, trying to find a hostel at 11 at night while high as a kite was no easy task. Paranoia set in, and I drew my knife with one hand and my mace with the other. Anne and I crept through the streets like ninjas, carefully checking around every corner for danger.

    A taxi driver slowed to see if we needed a ride, which is a reasonable assumption when two girls are walking out of the bus station at 11pm.

    "GO AWAY!!" I yelled at the taxi driver, brandishing my knife.

    "YEAH GO THE FUCK AWAY CREEP!" Anne yelled from behind me. The taxi driver sped off in a hurry.

    I dropped Anne off at her hostel and she begged me to stay there instead of venturing back out alone to find my own hostel. I had already paid for my hostel, so I said goodnight and walked four terrifying blocks to my own hostel. I stopped before I went in to put the knife and the mace away.

    It was quite an adventure.
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  • Day20

    Bad Weather

    December 15, 2016 in Argentina

    I traveled from Puerto Natales to El Chalten by bus. El chalten is a small town in Argentina next to a playground of mountains and glaciers.

    However, I've fallen into a patch of bad weather. Yesterday I hiked to what was supposed to be a gorgeous viewpoint that was actually just a mass of clouds. The winds are incredibly strong, and if rained on and off the whole time. Today, when the weather looked the same, I holed up in the hostel all day with a couple of girls from New Zealand and played poker.

    During a brief period when the rain stopped we walked to a nearby waterfall, which was beautiful, but we're all disappointed about the lack of visibility. I'd walk in the wind or the rain, but what's the point if the clouds are blocking the view? I feel bad because this was my other big camping and outdoor activity site, and it's fast turning into a series of rainy days.

    There's three New Zealanders I've fallen in with here in Chalten, two girls, Chrissie and Caz, who've been very kind and welcoming to me, and Mark, and absent minded PhD student here who is a very serious backpacker. Today, he insisted he was going to camp despite the weather. He walked back in the hostel at a 10:30 pm looking like a drowned rat.

    "I could've camped, it was still a fun day, " he protested.

    According to the weather forecast, I will only have one day of good weather here in chalten. I could either base hike mount Fitz Roy, or go ice climbing. I'm very torn.

    I ended up base hiking Fitz Roy, which was beautiful. I still didn't get to see the entire mountain but it was the best day all week. The next day was again terribly windy and rainy, so I beat a bunch of aussies at Risk and watched game of thrones.

    Today I took a chance and tried to go ice climbing, but they canceled the tour due to more bad weather. It's frustrating because I doubled down on El Chalten when other things fell through, and the weather has just been completely incapacitating. It's gone beyond cloudy, it's foggy. The winds are hurricane level winds. The rain is a constant dull cold sprinkle that becomes icy and sharp in the wind. Every day the locals say it will be better but it's just worse.

    Tonight I leave and I couldn't be happier to be leaving bleak El chalten.
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  • Day17

    Torres del Paine, Part 2

    December 12, 2016 in Chile

    Day 3 - Rest day

    This morning I had to adjust the straps on my pack to accommodate my weight loss.

    I was shocked I could even walk this morning. It was a light day, only 10km, and up two small mountains. The big view today was of a huge Glacier melting into a teal pool. It was massive and blue and hauntingly beautiful.

    At night Yannick and Christian let me join them and two American guys for a game of poker. We played with pistachios instead of poker chips. Yannick and Christian seem to regard me as an annoying little sister they'll tolerate because they can't quite get rid of me. I lost early, but I had one great hand where I took nearly all Christians pistachios. He was so annoyed.

    I hiked extremely slowly today, I couldn't keep up any kind of pace for long. I'm worried because tomorrow is supposed to be the hardest day of the hike. I'm crossing this mountain that's the highest in the park, prone to heavy winds and sudden snow storms, and the biggest elevation change. I have to get up at 5 am to try and make it over. I really hope it works.

    Day 4 - Over the Pass

    It rained all night and into the morning. 5am was freezing. I considered staying in the camp and hoping for better weather tomorrow. I told myself I'd hike up to the pass, and if the rain didn't stop, I'd just come back down. No way I was doing rain + heavy winds on top of the highest mountain in the park.

    My fingers froze as I took the tent down in the rain. I ate a cold breakfast in the cooking shelter and again considered staying in my tent for the day. The rain wasn't slowing at all. But everyone else was up and getting ready to go, so I packed up and got an early start.

    As I was leaving camp, the rain turned to snow. It occurred to me that my friends from the Murphy campaign were on a cruise ship in Mexico, likely laying out in the sun and sipping champagne.

    The snow on the mountains was gorgeous. It was a quiet soft snow that blanketed everything and got deeper as I climbed higher. It was one of my favorite mornings.

    When I reached the pass, the weather looked awful. The clouds were rolling above me, the wind was picking up, I couldn't see the trail very well. I sat down under a big tree to see if I could wait it out.

    After about 20 minutes, Yannick and Christian showed up.

    "what are you doing? Are you all right?" Christian asks.

    I tell him I'm turning around. The weather is terrible and I can't see the trail.

    "You're not turning around. Come with us. Yannick and I talked last night. We were planning to pick you up, but you left too early. You cannot go over the pass alone in this weather." Christian tells me.

    It was so sweet of him. I was touched.

    "are you sure any of us should go over in this weather??" I ask, "I can't see the trail markers!"

    "Helen, we live in the Alps. The weather is like this all the time. I will go in front, you will be in the middle, Christian will go behind. You will not get lost." Yannick assures me.

    "I will just slow you down." I protest.

    Christian smiles. "Yannick is slow too. We will all go together."

    I agree.

    Slow is a very relative term when you're a 7 foot tall alpine German. I forgot my fear and concentrated on keeping up with Yannick, who somehow never lost the trail in the snow.

    At the top of the pass, like a present unwrapping the clouds rolled back and the sun came out and we could finally see the mountains. The view on one side of the valley and the craggy peaks against the sun was incredible, and on the other side was or first view of Glacier Grey. The Glacier stretched as far as the eye could see, massive and sinister against its mountain backdrop. Glaciers don't photograph very well, but in person they are just the coolest thing. They're not flat, they have all these ridges with little slices of blue or gray visible in the gullys. When you look at them it's like hearing a long low chord on an organ.

    The boys went ahead of me on the way down, but the dangerous part was over. The trail going down was hours of walking right along the Glacier, and I was obsessed with it. I must have taken hundreds of photos.

    As I neared camp that night exhaustion hit again, and my knee was bothering me. I also hit the part of the trail that was possible to reach by day hiking, and people kept stopping me.

    "hey! How far is it to the Glacier? Omg, are you coming off the circuit? The WHOLE circuit??"

    I hated them all, with their light little packs and their fresh knees. The Glacier? The Glacier is over windy mountain tops and through blizzards after days and days of walking!!

    But I didn't say that. I pulled a smile out of my back pocket and told them yes, I had hiked the circuit, and the Glacier was just around the corner.

    That night at camp, one of the Americans got out a whiskey bottle to celebrate surviving the pass. I remembered Josh Wolf's story about drinking whiskey with Glacier ice at perito Moreno. I told the story, and the Americans dashed off to the nearby beach to cut us all Glacier ice cubes for our victory whiskey. We toasted Josh Wolf.

    Day 5 - Rain

    In the morning it was sprinkling and I figured it would stop soon, so I didn't start with any rain gear. I was making such great time on the trail, I now had the option to do the entire Torres del Paine circuit. The hard part was over. I had a day hike up to the Frances Valley and then a flat hike along a lake and then I was done. However, my knee didn't feel so great, and I knew I'd been pushing it a lot, going too many miles way too fast.

    In the end the weather decided for me. My rain poncho completely failed, and my pack and clothes were getting soaked. At midday, the rain showed no signs of stopping and I started to shiver. Fog covered the view and my knee was on fire.

    When I hit my planned stopping point, I stopped, and left the Frances Valley for another trip. To exit the park from that site, you take a boat and then a bus back to town. I had hopes of getting to town early, doing some laundry, taking a long shower, and eat a giant hot meal.

    What I didn't realize was that the buses leave twice a day, after the first boat and the last boat. I took the 2:30 boat, and was stuck in the visitors center cafeteria waiting for the 7pm bus. My clothes were still soaked.

    The bus was late, and I didn't get back to Puerto Natales until 10 pm. I didn't have a hostel reservation until the next night, because I was a day early, and when I showed up at my hostel... They were full.

    There I was, wet and cold and smelly and without a place to stay at 10 pm. I tried three different hostels, all were full. I felt very sorry for myself. But then I squared my shoulders and told myself I would knock on the door of every Goddamn hostel in the city until I found one. I found one that would give me a last minute room for $60 USD, but that was too expensive.

    I finally found a very basic hotel whose owner took pity on me and gave me a room for $30 USD. this was still a lot more expensive than a hostel, but I took it. I had a private room with this amazing radiator that emitted a dry heat. I laid out my wet clothes and sleeping bag and gear all over the room and took a a shower until well past midnight.

    I tried on my poncho in the shower to make sure that it was indeed leaking. The water came right through. I don't know how I'm supposed to do this backpacker thing without any working rain gear.
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