Saturday, December 20, 2008

Day 6 – A short one, off-trail and in camp.

“Wow, Peggy -- six months around the world. You’re going to have a great time!” said our friend Kristin in Anchorage. “Patagonia, New Zealand, Australia, Borneo, Africa. Hiking and packrafting. Watching animals. Cool!”

“Yea, well Kristin, you have to remember who I am going with," she replied. "It’s not all fun and games with Roman Dial."

Today Peggy recounted that conversation to me. This after several hours of picking our way through burned-out nirre woods, and at least three kinds of pokey brush: the long-spined calafate; some sort of Patagonian tumbleweed, with its hollow body but poky pale green spherical exterior; and what looks like a genetically modified cranberry, leaves shiny dark and also pokey, with a sour, orangish berry.

We had the usual Patagonian weather: wind with sun, wind with overcast, wind with rain, repeat.

We stopped often and bird-watched: the tame, little winter wren-like birds hopping through thick scrub along creeks; a pair of noisy, fast-flying Austral parakeets; pale-colored robins called Austral thrush; the ever-present, black with brown-back but otherwise sparrow-like Austral negrito; the flame breasted and noisy long-tailed meadowlark; Chilean flickers, those woodpeckers that spend as much time on the ground eating ants as they do on trees; caracaras of two species (one typical, one hawk-like), kestrels, and condors; a stumpy-tailed buzzard eagle; and an odd plant-clipper, a beefy bird, smaller than a robin with a thick bill used to snip buds and leaves; and the ever-present rufous collared sparrow, with the bold, crested males.

Peggy likes leaving the trail -- she says you see more. But it also means wet feet and long steps, thorns in the shins and bushes in the face. She likes the satisfaction of finding her own way.

Peggy led most of the way, with me stepping in when the going got particular pokey or wet, either underfoot with creek crossings or after a rain in the "car-wash" brush.

As we left the steppe and pampas and burned out woodland, the brush thickened and was cut by more ravines. The rain shadows are sharp in Patagonia due to the ever-present wind and steep and complex terrain. AT one stream we found the pug mark of a puma in the soft, wet sand.

"I'd love to see a big cat!" Peggy commented.

Even though we we were off trail, we were nearing the most commonly visited place in the Park, Torres Grande, with a huge new lodge, a funky old hotel, an expensive hostel (Peso 20,000 per night!), and a clean, green, multilingual campground with hot water, friends, lots of birds, a good view and firm, green grass for tenting.

We'd not spoken to anyone else in days, since leaving the manic Dutchman with his roller-travel pack at Los Perros. It was actually delightful to see all these outdoor people, some wealthy and dour with five thousand-dollar camcorders, others dirt-poor and happy with tattered tents next to beat-up bikes. Everyone had an accent. It was totally international. We greeted Aussies and Frenchmen, Germans and Canadians.

We pitched our bright yellow pyramid on a golf green campsite. Little rufous-collared sparrows hopped at our feet while the Torres del Paine, like sharp, slender Kitchatna Spires, poked through the clouds.

The camping was pricey, but the prospect of a hot shower and conversation convinced us to splurge. The night before we'd camped on an ant hill, the only ground bare of pokey plants we could find. In the morning breaking camp, we'd even found a scorpion under one of our tent anchor rocks -- this within view of glaciers less than 5 miles away

We looked around. Most people trekked in typically Euro-style with gaiters and zip-on bibs, leather boots, cordura packs, and dome-shaped tents. One tanned and athletic looking man stood out -- indeed he walked past us twice. He wore shorts and a short-sleeved shirt with trail running shoes.

He, alone in this crowded place, came from our tribe.

"Is that a Go Lite tent?" There he stood, right at our campsite. I looked up from pounding pegs. He smiled.

Surprised, I answered, "Yea. It is."

"I have the same one, but it's green." He emphasized the color. "I should've got the orange one." He sounded European.

"What is that? A paddle?" he asked as I erected the pyramid with Peggy's adjustable paddle. "Are you kayaking?"

He waved his arms in paddle strokes.

"Paddling, yes, a small boat. It fits in the pack."

"And you have Go-Lite packs." He was observant and well-versed in gear.

"Do you have a Go Lite pack?" I responded.

"No. Gossamer. But my girlfriend does."

"Where are you from?"

"The Netherlands."

"You can get that stuff there?"

"No, the internet." Ah, yes, the true globalizer.


"Where are you from?"


"Are you paddling....," he looked for the word, "....packrafts?"

This surprised me too much to speak. I simply nodded. But what he said next shocked me.

"Are you....., " again, searching for the right words in his memory, "....Roman Dial."

It was as if I'd just pulled out at Campground Rapids, 20 minutes from my house in Anchorage.

"I read about you on Backpacking Light -- your, uhhhh, Arctic 1000 with Ryan Jordan. And also in the Patagonia Catalog with.....Carl Tobin."

My eyes were wide. Peggy and I looked at each other.

"Wow, I am really flattered. What a coincidence to meet another Backpackinglighter here, in Patagonia."

We stepped forward and shook hands in greeting.

"Well, hello. This is Peggy..."

His girlfriend was there now. Her accent was a little harder to pin down, "Yes, Juroon has a really good memory for those types of things."

We talked a while while I tightened the tent against the gusts. Jenny and Juroon were on a 15 month trip -- NZ, South America, the USA. She was from Vermont, but raised in the Netherlands.

There on the lawn, in plain view, were our pads. Each pad weighed as much as Ryan Jordan's base weight -- A good 5 pounds of six foot by two foot by two inches pad plus sleeves and poles to turn the pad into a veritable sofa chair. And our binoculars! Each weighed what felt like several days worth of food.

Jaroon had caught me, infamous for traveling light, fast and far, with a veritable metric ton of gear eschewed on

After dinner, over tea, cookies and chocolate, I found that like us, Jenny and Juroon, carried very lightweight things, so they could add in other gear as well.

We four were, indeed, from the same tribe: the backpacking-light to travel-heavy one!

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