Category

Latin America

How to Hike Chile’s Torres del Paine National Park

Sunrise at Torres del Paine.While traveling through the Patagonian region of South America, I encountered many a befuddled traveler who was a bit miffed by the planning process required to enter Torres del Paine National Park. I will go ahead and include myself in this stack of confused, well-intentioned hikers.  For years I have fawned after photos of Torres del Paine, but it wasn’t until I actually started the process of researching how exactly to pull off a visit, did I meet the gut-sinking moment of “Oh, no. I’m too late.”

It’s really an awful feeling to have as a traveler. The stars have finally aligned in life, and you are on the cusp of departure, only to stumble across this one little detail that has the potential to derail everything. Reservations? You need reservations? I simply was unaware. Now, with that said, the 2016-2017 season is the first year to see the implementation of  required reservations prior to entering the park. I was not the only one caught in the crosshairs of a new system.

Torres del Paine National Park is one of the premiere hiking destinations in all of South America, and with the influx of new visitors, restrictions on how many people can enter the park are being put into effect. It is understandable, and long term, definitely a good thing to protect the fragility of the park. I am hopeful that as word spreads, more travelers who wish to enter the park will be aware of the requirements, and less headaches will abound for everyone.

With that said, I was able to finagle dates in the tail end of February to make my “O” trek a reality. Below I’ve put together a guide that will hopefully streamline the leg work required to visit such an incredible destination. Take a gander, and hopefully it will allow you to spend less time planning, and more time enjoying your visit!

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Getting Connected in Cuba

People queue in line for Cuban internet.While standing in “line” to purchase an internet card, I was reminded that this particular arrangement of humans is but a distant figment of my imagination, in a different world. Here, the art of squashing together serves as both a defensive and offensive mechanism. By eliminating space between yourself and your neighbor, entry is prevented from others, and your own position is advanced at the same time. No take a number and have a seat here, folks.

Coupled with misunderstandings of language, I slowly began to wriggle my way towards the front. This goes against all feelings of learned patience I have conditioned myself to have. Blast! Defeat! The most petite and unsuspecting damsel has usurped my position by politely pushing me out of the way. My mind wanders back to Japan where a form of queueing exists in its most distilled, pure form. Cual es el ultimo?! Cual es el ultimo?!

Up until this point, I had been purchasing overpriced internet cards from nice, entrepreneurial gentlemen and their cohorts in the park for an unspecified, marked up price. In a way, it’s almost worth it to not have to deal with the line, and the early AM pushing and shoving. I had mixed success with this method. One time I was sold a card that where the code had not been scratched off (think of the gray bit on lotto tickets), but upon trying to use it, there was zero time left on the hour clock. A reminder to myself to do things the right way. Anyways…

Finally! Entry into the hallowed grounds of the state owned internet provider. Again, the pleasant feeling of what-do-I-do-now-anxiety creeps over me. Perhaps I will stand here, I think to myself. I will be out of the way! Incorrect again, but inching closer. Then, our eyes met. I could read it on her face. Not another bumbling transaction with a haphazard Spanish speaker. She signaled for me to approach the counter. I read somewhere that you should stock up on cards when given a chance. Having learned the hard way the past few days, I struck. “Cinco, por favor.” The most scathing “Please, honey” espanol eyeroll was offered to me. I lowered my bid to three. Success! The most beautiful 3 hours of internet was purchased for a hefty 4.50 CUC.

Having experienced the fledgling internet services of Cuba, I have garnered a deeper appreciation of the connectivity available at home. No lengthy queues, or uncertainty if I’m going to be able to send or receive news to a loved one far away. It’s easy to romanticize a world where people are not on their phones all day and wifi is not present in the home, but I would point out that not having access to information is anything but romantic. With wealth and government connections, certain Cubans are immune to the current system.

My understanding is that hotspots in some Cuban cities have been around for 2-3 year, and certain homes are currently being equipped with routers on a trial basis. When you are walking around, and suddenly see everyone’s face lit up by their mobile device, you have likely stumbled across a hot spot. I remember being in Playa Larga, and a hot spot was available, but there were no cards available for purchase. I asked when they might become available again, and was only told “mas tarde,” aka later. The cards never arrived, and I ended up in a 4 day black hole of connectivity. Sometimes it’s nice to be able to unplug, but in this particular moment, it was quite unwelcomed.

Communication is changing rapidly in Cuba. It will be interesting to visit in the future, and see how it has changed people’s lives.

Jose Fuster’s Fusterlandia

I’m not entirely sure where I first stumbled across Fusterlandia. It was most assuredly online somewhere, and immediately my interest was peaked. For a while now, I’ve been so intrigued by large scale, outdoor art spaces. Traveling the United States, I’ve been fortunate to encounter a number of them: Leonard Knight’s Salvation Mountain, Joe Minter’s African Village in America, Howard Finster’s Paradise Garden, Simon Rodia’s Watts Towers, to name a few.

Fusterlandia

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Primeras Impresiones de Cuba

For a passerby to accurately attempt to summarize Cuba would be fool hearted. It’s a complicated country with many layers that requires a deeper understanding of events current and past. “Why are things the way they are,” is a question that I often found myself asking. Why are there two currencies? Where are all of the advertisements? Why are all of the classic cars still in use? Why haven’t I been able to come here until now?

For most Americans, Cuba has been thought of as an unattainable destination that floats a mere 90 miles south of the United States. Undoubtedly this has enhanced its allure and luster, especially for the American traveler. With policy changes between the two countries, there is a misguided notion that one needs to come here before things change. What does that even mean? I am guilty of uttering this sentiment prior to departure, and I’m still better trying to understand it.

The idea of a switch being flipped in which things are suddenly Americanized, is a misstep of the American paradigm. With no doubt, the relationship between the two countries is storied, and things are in fact, changing. With recent and upcoming elections, things do feel in many ways, in a state of flux. What will happen in 5 years? 10 years? No one can say for certain.

You should visit Cuba not for the fear of missing out on a time gone by; rather, you should visit Cuba because it is a country that is in possession of a vibe unlike anywhere else. It’s a vibe that runs deep; in the people, in the landscape, and in the way of life. It’s something that has to be experienced first hand. The only crime being committed is not allowing yourself to arrive here sooner, rather than later.

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