The End of the Road – La Paz, Lake Titicaca, and Lima

 

Lake Titicaca, Bolivia

An overnight bus from Uyuni brought us to La Paz, Bolivia. Sitting at 12,000 ft in elevation, the city climbs from the valley floor up into the surrounding hills. To connect the different hillside neighborhoods, the city built an aerial cable car system which opened in 2014. So far three lines have been built and three more are expected to be finished in the coming years.

Downtown La Paz

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View looking down one of the aerial cable car lines as we went up into the hills

We spent most of our time in La Paz strolling through the many neighborhoods and busy streets.We loved observing the local women in their unique style of dress.  During the Inquisition, the Spanish forced indigenous people to adopt the European clothing style of the day. Today Andean women of indigenous descent still maintain this traditional dress code which includes a 19th century European bowler hat, a pleated-skirt and shawl.

Women in traditional dress in La Paz

From La Paz we took a bus to Copacabana which sits on the shores of Lake Titicaca, which in turn sits on the border between Peru and Bolivia. . At 12,500 ft elevation, Lake Titicaca is known as the highest navigable lake in the world. At Copacabana we hopped on a boat and sailed two hours to Isla del Sol, an island in the southern part of the lake.

Agricultural terraces on Isla del Sol

We stayed on the southern end of the Isla del Sol in the small town of Yumani. There are no motorized vehicles or paved roads on the island.  Amazingly, the inhabitants here have turned the steep, rocky terrain into an agriculture wonderland by terracing the majority island in order to grow fava beans, quinoa, and corn.

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A church in Yumani surrounded by eucalyptus trees

There are over 80 ruins on the Isla del Sol, mostly dating to the Inca period circa the 15th century. According to Incan mythology, Isla del Sol is where the creator of the universe stepped out of the waters of Lake Titicaca and created the sun.

Pilcocaina, Incan ruins dating to the 15th centurty

An ancient Incan Road set along the high, rocky backbone of the island connects the north of the island to the south.  We spent the day hiking along the road taking in the incredible views as we passed small villages and secluded beaches.

Hiking along the old Incan road at the top of the island

The end of the road took us to the far northern tip of the island. Here lies the island’s most spectacular Incan ruins at Chincana. A series of stone walls and interconnected doorways connect to form a large complex of rooms. Next to the complex, a large stone table presumably used for rituals or sacrifices sits in an open field.

View from the ruins at Chincana

Incan ritual table

Chincana ruins

Nettie starting the trek back to Yumani

Ripple marks in sandstone

Fava beans

Challapampa, a town on the north end of Isla Del Sol

The furriest pig I have ever met

Bolivia is known for its Alpaca products. Here is Dan with his new, super soft sweater!

We left Isla del Sol and made our way back to La Paz. In La Paz, we said farewell to Nettie as she was continuing her adventure and heading to Ecuador. The following day we boarded a plane and began our 48 hour journey back to the States. Our three flights included an 18 hour layover in Lima, Peru.

We decided not to miss an opportunity to explore and left the airport bound for Miraflores district and the beach. On the way to the beach we stopped at Parque Kennedy, a park famous for its 100+ cat residents. Locals have been coming her for the last 25 years to feed and cuddle with the cats in their spare time.

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Dan cuddling with the cats in Parque Kennedy

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The beach at Miraflores

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After 31 countries, 6 continents and 367 days on the road, our around the world adventure sadly came to an end. To say that this year has been incredible would be an understatement. It has been full of so many unforgettable experiences. We’ve met some amazing people along the way and were fortunate to have some great friends come visit and travel with us into the unknown. Coming home is bittersweet. We look forward to seeing all of our dearly missed friends and family and are anxious to get back to the Pacific Northwest. However, there is still so much more of the world that we want to see and experience.

Here’s to the next chapter in our lives and continuing to find adventure and wanderlust wherever we go.

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Touching down in Denver, CO

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Dan and I on our very first flight (US-> New Zealand) and the last flight on this trip

Driving Across the Bolivian Altiplano

On January 1st (Happy New Year!) we embarked on a three day road trip from San Pedro de Atacama, Chile to Uyuni, Bolivia. After busing out to the very non-official looking border outpost, we got our passport stamps and hopped into a Toyota Land Cruiser with three others and set out for the Bolivian altiplano.

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Border post Chile/Bolivia

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Our ride

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Colorful Bolivian altiplano lagunas: Laguna Colorada, Laguna Blanca, and Laguna Verde

We started our journey by entering Eduardo Abaroa Andean Fauna National Reserve, which sits between 4,200 m (13,800 ft) and 5,400 m (17,700 ft). The lagunas of the altiplano are known for their vivid colors. Laguna Blanca, our first stop, owes its white hue to the abundant amount of the mineral borax in the lake.

Laguna Verde resides at the base of the volcano Licancabur. When we arrived, the water was a brownish color which made us wonder why this was called the “Green Lake.” As the wind picked up and swept down the mountains and across the lake, the lake transformed and displayed it’s namesake color. Our guide informed us the the wind disrupts copper minerals in the lake causing the change in color.

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The brilliant colors of the Bolivian Altiplano

In the afternoon we drove to the Sol de Mañana geothermal field and reached the highest point on our trip, 5000 m (16,400 ft)! The day ended at Laguna Colorada, a vibrant red-colored lake which is home to hundreds of flamingos.

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Llamas at our home for the night

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Flamingos at Laguna Colorada

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The rust-red color of the lake is due to a certain type of algae that lives in the water

Our second day began with a search for viscachas, a type of chinchilla that looks like a mix between rabbit and a raccoon that hops like a kangaroo. We spotted several throughout the day and one even bounded right next to our car.

Animals of the Bolivian Altiplano: viscacha, rhea, and vicuñas

We ate lunch at Laguna Honda, a yellowish-green lake that derives its color from the high amounts sulfur in the area. This laguna, like Laguna Colorada, was filled with flamingos.

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Flamingos at Laguna Honda

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Laguna Honda

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Laguna Cañapa

After visiting, Laguna Cañapa, the last laguna on our trip, we entered into the Siloli Desert. In the heart of the Siloli Desert the Árbol de Piedra, a famous rock formation, projects out of the sand. Wind has shaped this rock into a shape reminiscent of a teetering tree (hence the name, Tree Rock).

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Árbol de Piedra

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Nettie in the Siloli Desert

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Attempting to make some llama friends

The highlight of the trip came on day three as we entered the Uyuni Salt Flats. At 12,000 feet above sea level, the Salar de Uyuni is the world’s highest and largest salt flat. It’s over 4,000 square miles! Because the Salar is completely flat and brilliantly white, distance is difficult to perceive, making it an ideal spot to have some fun with photography.

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Playing with perspective at the Salar de Uyuni

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Early morning at the Salar de Uyuni

Hexagonal tiles of crystalline salt stretch to the horizion at the Salar. As we continued to drive through the salt flat a small “island” appeared in the distance. Isla Incahuasi juts out of the Salar and is covered with Cardón cacti, a species of cactus native to  Chile, Argentina and Bolivia.

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Isla Incahuasi

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The Salar de Uyuni is part of the Dakar Rally, an 8,500 kilometer off-road race in South America

Just outside of the town of Uyuni, lies the Train Cemetery. Rail lines were constructed in the late 1800’s to carry minerals from the Andes Mountains to Pacific Ocean ports. During the 1940’s the mining industry collapsed and many of the trains were abandoned.

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Having fun in the Uyuni Train Cemetery

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Downtown Uyuni

Our trip ended in the small town of Uyuni. From here we jumped on an overnight bus bound for La Paz. For highlights from the road trip watch the video below!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On the Road to the Atacama

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After three weeks of backpacking in Patagonia, we headed to Santiago, the capital of Chile. Santiago lies in a valley bordered by the Andes Mountain on the east and the Chilean Coastal Range on the west.

Since Jenn only had a few hours in Santiago before catching a flight back to the States, we headed to Cerro Santa Lucía to get a view of the city. Built on a hill, Cerro Santa Lucía park hosts a 360 degree view of the city and the Andes beyond.

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At the top of Cerro Santa Lucia

After sending Jenn off to the airport, we headed to La Vega, a large market featuring a wide variety of fruits and veggies. Since we were staying in an Airbnb apartment with a kitchen, we stocked up on groceries for some home cooked meals.

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Fruits and veggies at La Vega

For a more expansive view of Santiago, we took the funicular to the top of Parque Metropolitano, the largest urban park in Chile. A statue of the Virgin Mary sits atop the summit of the park.

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Parque Metropolitan

We happened to be in Santiago for Christmas. As we wandered the streets on Christmas Eve, many locals were partaking in last minute shopping and the streets were full of vendors. Our apartment was near the Plaza De Armas which contained many unique holiday decorations and even some live entertainment, captured in the video below.

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Getting into the holiday spirit, we purchased a Christmas Penguino

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Plaza de Armas

Being in a foreign city during a major holiday can be weird, but luckily I happened to know someone in Chile. My friend Sarah has called Chile her home for several years and graciously invited us over to dinner with her boyfriend and her mom who was visiting from Colorado. We were so grateful to enjoy a lovely and tasty Christmas dinner with friends!

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Celebrating Christmas with Sarah in Santiago

The day after Christmas, Dan, Nettie, and I embarked on a 20+ hour bus ride to the Atacama Desert in northern Chile. Spanning over 41,000 square miles, the Atacama Desert is the driest non-polar desert in the world. This desert has been commonly compared to Mars and NASA even tests instruments for future Mars missions here since the soils and aridity are so similar.

The Atacama also is one of the best places on Earth to view the stars. Crystal-clear skies, dry air, high altitudes (2400-4300m) and low-to-zero light pollution create an unparalleled stargazing experience. This desert is home to several cutting-edge, high budget observatories, most of which are off limits to the public.

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Our home base for the week was San Pedro de Atacama and we decided to do day trips into the Atacama Desert region surrounding the town. As a Denver, Colorado (aka the Mile High City) native I didn’t think much about traveling to a city residing at 8,000 feet. On our first day there, however, I started to feel the effects of mild altitude sickness. These effects would continue as we continue our climb in altitude in Bolivia 😦

Our first trip from town was to Los Flamencos National Reserve and to Laguna Chaxa to get our first viewing of flamingos. From Laguna Chaxa we headed to Socaire, a small town to see how the locals irrigate crops in one of the driest regions on Earth.

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Flamingo in flight at Laguna Chaxa

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Flamingos at Laguna Chaxa

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Quinoa and fava beans thriving in a small village in the middle of the desert

Our next stop was to las Piedras Rojas and the Salar de Talar. Sitting at 13,000 ft elevation, the Salar de Talar is home to a mint green colored lake surrounded by colorful mountains.

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Piedras Rojas and Salar de Talar

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Standing on some of the Piedras Rojas (red rocks)

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The green lake of Salar de Talar with Cerro Medano mountain in the background

Following Piedras Rojas we headed to the Miscanti and Miñique Altiplanic Lagoons, a pair of picturesque bright blue lagunas surrounded by volcanoes. Here we also saw herds of vicuñas,  a South American camelid that lives in high alpine areas. A few days later we saw a herd of guanacos also – the other native camelid. See them both below.

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Laguna Miñiques

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Vicuña and guanaco

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A new use for tires in San Pedro de Atacama

From San Pedro de Atacama we rented bikes and rode to Pukara de Quitor, a pre-Columbian archaeological site nearby. This site contains a 12th century fort built by the Atacameño people atop and along a hillside.

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Hiking around Pukara de Quitor

The following day we biked 10 km to the Valle de la Luna (moon valley). We set off in the scorching heat of the afternoon intending to watch sunset. The Valle de la Luna is appropriately named since the landscape is out of this world. This valley is actually one place that NASA uses as a staging area for testing instruments and vehicles to be used in future Mars missions.

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Salt Caves in the Valle de la Luna

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Nettie didn’t believe that the caves were actually made of salt until she licked them

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Dan entering a salt cave

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Sand dunes in the Valle de la Luna

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Biking in the Valle de la Luna

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Hiking to watch the sunset at Valle de La Luna

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Nettie conquering the desert

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Mars?

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Biking back to San Pedro at sunset with a new dog friend we met along the way

Our last adventure in San Pedro de Atacama took us to Valle del Arcoiris (Rainbow Valley). Before the Valle del Arcoiris we stopped at Hierbas Buenas to view hundreds of petroglyphs created by the atacameño people in the 12th century.

The Valle del Arcoiris is a series of hills that display a myriad of colors (hence the name rainbow valley). The rocks here have been hydrothermally altered and display colors ranging from browns and yellows to pinks and greens. 

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A friendly donkey at Valle del Arcoiris

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Valle del Arcoiris and petroglyphs of foxes and llamas at Hierbas Buenas

From San Pedro de Atacama we crossed into Bolivia on a 3 day road trip to see amazing volcanoes and colorful altiplanic lakes on our way to the world’s largest salt flat, Salar de Uyuni.

Los Glaciares, Argentina

 

Mount Fitz Roy in Los Glaciares National Park

From Torres del Paine, we crossed the border into Argentina to visit Los Glaciares National Park. On our way north towards El Chaltén, we stopped at the Perito Moreno Glacier.

Perito Moreno is one of 47 glaciers that extend from the 13,000 km2 Southern Patagonian Ice Field. This glacier is roughly 250 km2 and is 30 km in length. The Perito Moreno Glacier is actually growing in size and happens to be one of only three Patagonian glaciers that is doing so.

Perito Moreno Glacier

The face of the glacier soars 75 meters above the surface of Argentino Lake and extends 170 meters below the lake. Boardwalks in the forest near the lake provide excellent viewing platforms of the glacier.

Spring in Patagonia

We watched several large chunks of ice collapse off the glacier face. Caught one collapse on video below

The 75 meter tall terminus of the glacier

El Chalten

The small mountain town of El Chaltén sits at the base of  Mt. Fitz Roy and Cerro Torres. The town was founded in 1985 to help secure Argentina’s disputed border with Chile, but is now a world renown destination for trekkers and climbers.

Many visitors choose to do day hikes from town, but we chose to backpack for four days in order to spend more time in the mountains. Our first day we hiked to Laguna de los Tres for a spectacular view of Mt. Fitz Roy.

A hardworking Magellanic woodpecker we found along the trail. See the video of him in action below!

Hiking to Laguna de los Tres with Mt. Fitz Roy in the background

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Jenn and Mt. Fitz Roy

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Laguna de los Tres

A curious fox

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Our view of Fitz Roy from camp

The following day we hiked along the Rio Blanco to Piedras Blancas Glacier. As we headed to make camp along Laguna Capri, the weather started to turn. It was going to be a cold night!

Piedras Blancas Glacier

The needle-like spire of Cerro Torre as the weather blew in

The next day we headed to Laguna Torre. Unfortunately the weather prevented us from seeing the 3128 meter spire of Cerro Torre  as it was engulfed in clouds. As we reached the glacier-fed lake, we watched as two men stripped and swim to a nearby floating glacier. Crazy tourists!

Backpacking through southern beech forests

Laguna Torre

After a few cold nights, we were happy to head back to town. The next day the weather was stunning and we spent the day walking along the Rio del los Vueltas and around town.

Rio de los Vueltas

We decided to hike one last trail to Loma del Pliegue Tumbado. The weather unfortunately wasn’t spectacular which inhibited seeing Cerro Torre and Fitz Roy for the majority of the hike, but it was my birthday so we made the best out of it 🙂

Alpine vegetation and views from the top

Lago Viedma

Lago Argentino

We absolutely loved Los Glaciares National park and El Chaltén. The scenery was stunning and the trekking amazing. We left Argentina and crossed back into Chile bound for Santiago, the capital. Unfortunately we would say goodbye to Jenn as she headed back home to Portland as Nettie, Dan, and I continued our journey.

Blown Away in Torres del Paine

 

Views from the catamaran ferry that took us across  Lago Pehoe to the start of the W circuit in Torres del Paine National Park in Patagonia

 

From Miami we flew to the bottom tip of South America – Punta Arenas, Chile. It took us nearly 24 hours to get down there, but it was totally worth it especially since we were greeted by two familiar faces, Jenn and Nettie, our good friends from Portland, Oregon. The four of us then hopped on a bus to Torres del Paine National Park in Patagonia to trek the famous W Circuit for the next five days.

Nettie, me, and Jenn pumped to start our 5 day trek

The 31 mile W Circuit navigates up and down three mountain valleys forming a “W” shape if viewed on a map. After a scenic catamaran ride to the start of the trail, we hiked seven miles up to our first campsite. The trail to the campsite provided epic views of Lago Grey and icebergs that had calved off of the nearby Grey Glacier.

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Jenn, Nettie, and Dan with Lago Grey in the background

Up close and personal with Grey Glacier

Glacier Grey extending up into the Southern Patagonian Ice Field

The W actually is part of a larger trail system that forms an “O” which can be hiked in 7-11 days. Most trekkers complete the W in four days, but we had the luxury of adding a fifth day which we spent hiking part of the O Circuit.

Glacier Grey is part of the massive Southern Patagonian Ice Field. As we got closer and closer to the glacier we could see large crevasses and panoramic views of the seemingly endless river of ice that extends 17 miles up into the heart of the 6,500 square mile ice field.

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The trail took us across some scarily high and wobbly swing bridges

 

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Jenn braving one of the swing bridges

Trekking near Glacier Grey

These orange globular structures are called Darwin’s fungus (Cyttaria darwinii), named after Charles Darwin who collected it during his voyage on the HMS Beagle in 1832. These parasitic fungi were all over the trees and are actually edible.

Glacier Grey at sunset

On the third day we hiked to the heart of the W and to the base of El Valle Francés. After we set up camp and dropped our gear, we continued hiking up the valley. About two hours from camp the trail opens to an incredible view of multiple hanging glaciers. As we took in the scenery, we watched ice and snow break off of the glaciers and rumble down slope.

Native Patagonian wildflowers

Beech forest in El Valle Francés

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Hanging glaciers in El Valle Francés

Strong winds are notorious on the W circuit. We felt them for the first time in El Valle Francés. They were so strong that at time we could barely walk and I was blown over once.

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Blown away in El Valle Francés

From El Valle Francés we hiked to our next camp at Los Cuernos. The trail to the next site followed the brilliant turquoise-colored Lago Nordenskjöld. The weather was great except for the INTENSE wind!

Lago Nordenskjöld

We spotted a fox on the trail

Breakfast at Los Cuernos

Lago Pehoe

Our hike from Los Cuernos camp to the base of Los Torres may have been our most exhausting day. The biggest motivator for us was the incredible scenery.

On the way to Torres camp

Torres del Paine

We went to bed early with the intent of hiking to see the sun rise over the Torres del Paine (the namesake of the park). Torres del Paine refers to the three distinct granite peaks that jut out of the Paine mountain range.

The alarm went off at 3:30 and as I unzipped the tent, snow blew into my face. I instinctively burrowed back into my sleeping bag. Fortunately I have Dan to remind me that we will probably never have this opportunity again and that weather in Patagonia can often change from snow to sun within ten minutes.

After hiking in the dark, straight up hill, we reached our destination and waited. “Sunrise” came and went and the snow and wind persisted. We all cuddled and Jenn did pushups to keep warm. Needless to say we did not get the ‘typical’ sunrise view of the towers but we did get treated to some glimpses.

“Sunrise” at Torres del Paine. Cold!

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Dan and Nettie cuddling to keep warm

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Jenn trying to keep warm

On the last day we hiked down the valley to catch the bus back to Puerto Natales. We passed many hikers struggling up the trail on their first day with heavy packs. If I wasn’t so tired I would have patted each one on the back and told them it’s worth it, but I figured they would realize this in due time 🙂

Guanacos, a camelid native to South America.

We had a blast on the W Circuit and were excited to continue our Patagonian adventure. From Puerto Natales we crossed the border into Argentina to visit Los Glaciares National Park to partake in some more backpacking!

Three Weeks in North America

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Merica

After a six hour flight from Iceland we touched down in New York, New York after almost nine months out of the country. Over the next three weeks we visited friends and family in New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Florida. First up on our Eastern North America Tour was a visit to my good friend Jamie in Brooklyn, NY. Our initial stay in NY was brief since the three of us hopped on a train to Montreal, Canada the day after we landed.

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Colorful fall foliage in the Hudson River Valley and along Lake Champlain on the train ride from NY to Montreal

 

The train ride from New York to Montreal is gorgeous, especially in the fall. We were lucky that the US experienced an Indian Summer and the leaves were just starting to change as we headed towards the Canadian border at the end of November. For a glimpse at our ride check out Dan’s video above.

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Montreal is the largest city in Quebec Province and the second largest city in all of Canada. The city is often referred to the Paris of Canada due in part to the fact that French is the official language. Montreal is actually situated on an island in the middle of the Saint Lawrence River.

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View from the top of Parc du Mont-Royal

On a marvelously sunny day, we walked to the Parc du Mont-Royal. This immense park resides on a hill which offers an incredible view of the city at the top. From the top we could see the Saint Lawrence River, the skyscrapers of downtown, and the old Olympic Stadium.

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Olympic Stadium, built as the main venue for the 1976 Summer Olympics

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Meet Michel! Our Airbnb rental came with this cuddly fellow.

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This is poutine – a Canadian speciality consisting of french fries, gravy, and cheese curds. There are many variations and we sampled a few different kinds.

Since the weather was so nice, we spent most of our three days in Montreal walking the city. One of my favorite spots was the Jean-Talon Market, a large open-air market full of fresh fall veggies, fruits and of course maple flavored treats. Quebec is deliciously famous for its maple syrup and maple inspired candies and butter.

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Jean-Talon Market

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Montreal is renowned for its street art

Our train ride back to New York was underwhelming since in fact it didn’t really happen. Instead we waited six hours at the train station in Montreal for a train that never came. We were instead bussed to Albany where we finally boarded a train to NYC where we arrived in the middle of the night. Not quite what we expected – you got to love Amtrak…

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New York City from the Brooklyn Bridge

Back in New York City I was stoked that Jaime had the day off and played tour guide for us. Having lived almost seven years in NYC we were surprised and excited to hear that Jaime had never walked across the Brooklyn Bridge. So of course this was first on our list! Our walk concluded with pizza and a ride on the carousel.

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Walking the Brooklyn Bridge

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Some of the most delicious pizza at Juliana’s Pizza

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Jaime and I couldn’t resist riding the carousel near the Brooklyn Bridge

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Yes, this happened and yes, it was worth it

 

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The Brooklyn Bridge and East River

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The High Line is a park built on the elevated platform of the now defunct spur of the West Side Line of the New York Central Railroad. Trees, flowers and plants line the 1.5 mile long trail providing a peaceful place to walk in the busy city.

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Scenes from the High Line

 

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Art and foliage along the High Line

From New York we flew to Ohio to visit Dan’s family. Dan’s mom organized a family reunion where Dan got to share pictures and stories from our trip so far. Unfortunately we did not take many photos in Ohio. In fact I only have one, pictured below, of Dan and a shaggy parasol mushroom we found growing under the Ledges by his mom’s house. We ate the cap for lunch on grilled cheese sandwiches…and it was delicious!

 

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Dan proudly displaying the shaggy parasol mushroom we found (and ate) in Ohio.

From Ohio we caught a bus to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania to visit our friends Jim and Molly where we went hiking and mushroom hunting in McConnell’s Mill State Park.

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Hiking in McConnell’s Mill State Park

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Jim with a beautiful reishi mushroom

From Pittsburgh, we flew to Sarasota, Florida, to visit my family before heading to South America. In Florida we broke out the shorts and t-shirts and went on a multitude of bike rides where we encountered gators and tons of birds.

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A curious gator near my dad’s place

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Birds of Southern Florida

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The golf course near my dad’s place had a flock of sand hill cranes. They are huge!

On one of our last days in Sarasota, my dad’s good friend Rick (aka Rico) took us boating around the keys outside of Sarasota. Thanks Rico!

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Gordo and Rico enjoying boat life in Florida

Our flight to Chile was out of Miami. On our way down through the Everglades we stopped at Shark Valley to bike a 15 mile loop. We didn’t encounter any sharks but we encountered  TONS of alligators as they lay by the trail sunning themselves or peering at us from the shallow water. Several gators had babies that would chirp for their mothers as we rode by.

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A vulture on top of a viewing platform at Shark Valley

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Turtles swimming in the shallow waters in Shark Valley

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Gators!

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Baby alligators

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We spent two days exploring Miami by bike, car, and foot with my dear family friend Ted before jetting off to our next adventure. Punta Arenas, Chile and Patagonia here we come!

Iceland’s Ring Road, Part 2

From the north we headed southeast to see Iceland’s magnificent Eastern Fjords. We had viewed what seemed like hundreds of waterfalls already along the Ring Road, but as we neared the fjords the falls grew even more impressive. With a geologically young landscape and tons of rain, snow, and ice, Iceland happens to be the ideal setting for waterfalls.

The Eastern Fjords cover a 120 km stretch of the Ring Road. The road twists and turns as it follows the rugged coastline and travels through remote farms and fishing villages. The sheer cliffs give way to black rock beaches dotted with milky white agates.  Being rock hunters, we were ecstatic to find agates strewn along the beach.  They were even in the road beds!

We camped along this rock beach and went agate hunting.

Vegetation at our campsite along the beach.  We even found our first Icelandic mushrooms (middle photo).

Sheep on the beach in the Eastern Fjords. We saw more sheep than people!

In the small fishing village of Stöðvarfjörður, we discovered a kindred spirit in Petra María Sveinsdóttir. For 80 years, Petra walked out her front door and up into the mountains above her home to go rock and mineral hunting. This area is famous for minerals, such as the zeolites, jasper, onyx, opal, and agate. Over the years as her collection grew, she turned her house into a rock and mineral museum. We were so bummed it was closed when we were there but we got to peek at some of the incredible specimens outside.

Petra’s stone collection

Layers upon layers of basalt line the steep glacially eroded cliffs of the Eastern Fjords. We were fortunate to have a sunny day as we drove the winding coastline. Reindeer only live in Eastern Iceland and we were lucky to spot one along our drive.

A reindeer!

One of the small fishing villages

Iceland’s Eastern Fjords

From the east, we turned and headed southwest along the Ring Road. Skógafoss waterfall is one of the largest waterfalls in Iceland with a width of 25 metres (82 feet) and a drop of 60 m (200 ft). The spray from this waterfall often produces rainbows on sunny days.

Rainbow at Skógafoss

Southern Iceland

Our destination for the night was Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon. The lagoon is famous for its icebergs that calve off the nearby Breiðamerkurjökull glacier and then drift to sea. From the lagoon we walked to the beach and watched as the icebergs were swept out into the ocean.  The beach itself is littered with hundreds of icebergs that were washed back onshore by the large waves. See the video below!

Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon at sunset

Icebergs on the beach

Up close and personal with icebergs

As we set up camp near Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon, we were super excited since it was our first clear night in Iceland and we wanted to see the Northern Lights. Unfortunately, we checked the Aurora Borealis forecast and it predicted a 1 out of 9 on auroral activity scale, which meant we probably weren’t going to see them.

Bummed, we prepared for bed in the camper van. At around 10 pm, we checked one last time before turning in and the Aurora was streaming across the sky! We spent the next 2 hours enjoying the show until we could no longer feel our hands and toes and had to head inside.

Heading back towards Reykjavík we veered off the Ring Road to visit the Golden Circle, a 300 km loop that extends from Reykjavík into central Iceland and back. Along the Golden Circle we visited Kerið Volcanic Crater and Geysir, home of the first ever geyser described in a printed source. The name Geysir  is derived from the Icelandic verb geysa meaning “to gush.” Geysir has been dormant since 1916 but other geysers in the area continue to erupt regularly. The Strokkur geyser erupts every 8-10 minutes, shooting up water 15 – 20 meters into the air as seen in the video below.

An Icelandic turf house. Turf houses provide excellent insulation against the harsh Icelandic climate.

Kerið Volcanic Crater along Iceland’s Golden Circle

Strokkur geysir erupting (top photos)

Our favorite stop on the Golden Circle was at Þingvellir National Park. The Mid-Atlantic Ridge slices through Iceland and is exposed at Þingvellir. Here the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates are pulling apart at a rate of quarter-inch per year, creating spectacular scenery.

Standing in the rift zone Þingvellir National Park

Fungi at Þingvellir National Park

From the Golden Circle we headed to Reykjavík, the capital and largest city in Iceland. The city was officially founded in 1786, however it is believed that Ingólfur Arnarson and his wife founded the city in 874 as they became the first permanent Nordic settlers of Iceland.

Today, Reykjavík is home to colorful buildings, unique public art, and the famous Hallgrímskirkja church. Standing at 73 meters tall, Hallgrímskirkja is the largest church in Iceland. Constructed between 1945-1986, the church was designed to resemble columnar basalt, a tribute to the numerous basaltic lava flows that dominate the country’s landscape.

Reykjavík,Iceland

A friendly cat in downtown Reykjavík

On our way to the airport, we stopped at the famous Blue Lagoon Iceland. While we did not have time to enjoy the geothermal spa, we did walk around the lava fields and hot springs surrounding the area.

 

The Blue Lagoon

From Iceland we flew back to the US where we would spend three weeks before heading to South America. On our flight back to the US we were treated to a six hour sunset due to the time change. It was a beautiful end to an incredible adventure in Iceland!

Sunset over Greenland