Sunday, June 10, 2012

Ahoy and hello from the southerly sandy slightly soggy shores of Cape Town. I can say with some confidence that this has been sort of a flop of a blog so I think instead of trying to revive it I will deliver trip tales in another form-- namely the photographic one via FB. But some other publication form may arise as well! So for now, ciao and Mexico here I come!

Wednesday, May 9, 2012


At long last! Good lord it has been a while, and my sincerest apologies because I have failed to deliver promised posts! So, with a hand that strikes each key with a degree of uncertainty, I wonder where to begin....

I'll rewind quickly. I am in Cape Town after nearly 2000km of road tripping from southern Botswana, the Tuli Block, where I finished the last month of my field guiding course. The course, which began at the beginning of March at a private game reserve near Kruger NP was outstanding. To give an encompassing description I struggle, but really the course was designed to make level 1 Field Guide Association  of Southern African certified guides. A guide which is certified to conduct vehicle bound game drives. And yes I can bloody shoot a rifle. Getting there was an intense process--long days, seven to eight hours of game driving every day, dust, snakes, sun (hot sun), lectures, bird watching, frogging, rocking, owling, cliff climbing, sunset viewing, star gazing, soul penetrating everything, frivolous and jovial, a serious good time!! The details, stories and nitty gritty in betweens are soon to come.

For me life is rocking. I promise you this is the most alive the young Tabacco has felt in a while. The perfect cocktail of learning, love, adventure, naughtiness, daring, nature and health to set me up on a small high for months. I am so blessed to be here now. Love to all friends and family, missing you a lot a lot. And a special shout to my UCSB-UCT friends, I am thinking of you guys every day. Trying to figure out my next movements which I shan't try to predict now.

Another bloody rough day in Africa!

More stories and accompanying photos to come.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Return to the dark continent at sunrise!

I am excited to report that I will begin another southerly journey tomorrow. Botswana is the destination, safari guide training the occupation. Two months of bush living accompanied by an education in African naturalism (and armory training) that will result in my being qualified to lead on foot and drive game drives. Hoping to avoid: charging rhinos, rabid baboons, unseemly giraffes and black mamba encounters.

Please stay tuned for fun updates, though the frequency will be at best infrequent as we have no electricity, let alone internet at camp.

Lots of love and thanks to my supporting crew.

Thursday, March 31, 2011

The Best Air

Hola from Buenos Aires! With almost half the country´s 40 million population coming to the big city has been quite shocking (most pleasantly) for me, transitioning from the company of giant torres, glaciers and guanacos.
Mike and I arrived here on the afternoon of the 28th after a 21 hour bus ride from San Martin de los Andes. San Martin, a more toned down Bariloche that comes to life in the winter, as it is another ski town was pleasant: streets with three story high ski condos, rose lined parks, still an overabundance of artesianal chocolate shops, and overpriced parrilla (traditional meat feasts, yum) experiences were to be had. We did not climb Volcano Lanin as we had planned because there was a special event in Buenos Aires we had to be here for.
As I sit here drinking coffee, eye goop probably still wet in the corners of my eyes, ears still ringing just a little, I will tell you!
As part of a global tour, Muse and U2 paired up for their 360 degrees tour. Last night was the first of three shows playing in Buenos Aires at the La Plata stadium.

It twas incredible!!! A sold out show that we managed to buy tickets to. It´s really still a mystery but somehow, we travelled 70km south of BA to go to the show, picked up our tickets and rocked out for 5 hours with Muse (Mike says they are one of the few bands that are really rockers these days, and you can tell so because when they play you want to go nuts with an air guitar) and U2. Those guys know how to entertain!!!
In the pit, in front of the stage I believe we had the best view of the alien space craft which they turned into a stage. This other worldly GIANT alien-lander looking stage was ridiculous!! I won´t go too in depth in the concert but they played all the classics, some new stuff, little Beatles and Bob Marley mash-up, politically charged with shout outs to Aung San Suu Kyi and the remaining prisoners of Burma, Bono is made of lasers (and swings from laser microphones) and the streets really don´t have any names (in the city of La Plata, as Bono remarked, they are indeed numbered, not named.)

So, yeah we had a pretty good night with The Edge, Bono and the rest of the crew.

I was so excited, I forgot to mention our delightful accommodations here in Buenos. We are staying with Mike´s grandfather´s childhood friend (a friendship of over 80 years!) who lives now with his wife in Buenos Aires. They are treating us so well, we are being taken care of most sweetly, advised on where to go, well fed, and overall, spoiled. The vista from their apartment looks over the river which separates Uruguay and Argentina. It is a beautiful home.

The day is young, and lunch is served! Ciao for now!

Sunday, March 20, 2011

In summer's shadow in the rain shadow

Mike Ice climbing! Mike and I with Cerro Torre (glacier grande!)

]me in front of the glacial lake below the famed Cerro Fitzroy

Spring/fall equinox is upon us! Accomodation and food prices drop a little in direct correlation with the air temperature here in northern Argentine patagonia.
After 30 hours of bus travel and six blissful, exciting days in El Chalten we have relocated further north. Here we plan to go on a trek starting tomorrrow. Bariloche has a ton of chocolate shops and is nicely situated on a lake. It is also a ski destination and st. bernard's are its main mascot...some random facts of what has been a nice, but not overly exciting few days here. The bus ride was plain. It was long. It was 30 hours of partially paved road and plently of patagonian steppe (dry, dry land wit low growing shrubs, lots of dirt hills, long fence lines and some guanacos and flightless friends the ostrich equivalent, choiques). Fortunately, enough leg room and plenty of bathroom breaks!

El Chalten on the other hand was a treat! We did a simple trek, two nights (two cold nights... southern patagonia ice field chill) and three days. We hiked up to two amazing lake vistas at the base of Cerro Torre and Cerro Fitzroy... some fine spires known for their inability to be mounted with ease in the mountaineering and climbing world. Most incredibly was the glacier hiking experience we had. ICE WONDERLAND!!! after scrambling up and down the moraine on te side of the glacier for an hour and crossing a river via suspension cable and harness we strapped on crampons to walk on the massive, blue, white and brown Glacier Grande at te foot of Cerro Torre...a massive slab of ice smoot in its steepest parts, wrougt with fissures in others and chopped and crevaced at its terminus and was most vocal (low, rumblings followed by the sound of falling rock. Scared me silly when I woke up to it in the middle of the night). We hiked for some time, taking care to step over crevaces, crunching on te solid ice walking over small rocks and bits of debris as we went. There were blue tubes that lead witin, sink holes, faults and fissures.
After lunch we ice climbed, ice axes blazing wildly as I clung to the side of the sheer ice face!! The going was actually pretty easy and quite fun, it was a top rope situation, nothing really extreme, but I like to pretend I was on a 1000 foot frozen ice wall somewhere on the east side of the patagonian ice field, putting up a first ascent, free soloing (why not) to a glorious peak overlooking the vastness of barren iceworld around me.... ah yes, next time I am in Patagonia. Though in actuality, I hope I can actually trek on te ice field (third largest frozen mass of ice on this planet) next time around... good bit of down clothing and dinero required!
After our final day of hiking, which was over 12 hours long, we headed back into town for some pizza libre aka all you can eat pizza (highly delicious, even this far from Italy).

Off to bed, dreaming of guanaco and glaciers and grand vistas.

Steak and tango and polo lessons and some futbolllll to come in Buenos, le amo

Saturday, March 12, 2011


Valle Chacabuco, site of future Patagonia National Park
the skyline leading up to El Chalten
Lago General Carerra/Lago Buenos Aires (depends which side of the border you are on)
Guanacos in fine form
A shot from Conservacion Patagonica

We finally forded the frontera and are now sitting smuggly in southern Argentina. We are in the trekking capital of El Chalten, poised neatly at the foot of the stunning Cerro Torre and Cerro Fitzroy, two peaks renowned for their mountaineering and climbing offerings. Mike and I plan to do a trek starting tomorrow-- a two night, three day trek around the base camps of these areas.
The skyline these mountains project is stunning. When we drove in yesterday clouds floated around their peaks, obscuring them from view then moving away in the afternoon sun. It created a most angelic appearance as we watched quitely in the warm car. I believe going up there will yield a much different experience. The glacial faces shall be met, lakes admired and all in southern Patagonian weather, probably some rain and definitely some wind.

Our time at Conservacion Patagonica was delightful. Went on a two day trek, short but well worth the view and had some close encounters with guanacos (Camel\deer\mountain goat type animals with a most bizarre alarm call) amongst other things which I shall detail later.
Off to find more thermal layers!

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Magic Glacier Spoon

As I promised in the last post I would write about our trek through Cerro Castillo. The account follows:

After a night in Coyaihque we boarded a bus headed south. Only, we were getting off early. I was awakened by the driver yelling "Las Horquetas Grandes!!!!" as the bus pulled over on the side of the road, hills on both sides, a river to our right, a small gravel tournout and a sign with a man hiking on it.
This was it. From there we began a 40+ km through hike that would take us south past the big and beautiful (and beastly) cerro castillo glacier.
The first day was mild. It was far, 13km but had hardly any impasses except some small river crossings. We hiked through forest (Langa or Nothofagus pumilio, for those who might care) and through valley, wondering where our special hike would take us in the coming days.

We made camp and said goodnight to cloudy skies that had yet to release their full bladders on us (that was the delight of the next two days). That was the first night in "Agua Bella" our almost waterproof tent.

The second day was "the most extreme day of my life".... after a short hike from camp we were standing looking at the convergence many streams into a great river, coursing through the valley in front of us. Tall spiers and glacier covered faces towered over us, causing us to wonder where the path went. one word: UP.

In addition, it had been a leisurely morning and leisurely afternoon, so we didnt really start on the trail til, oh, yawn, oh tea, another yawn, yes 1:45pm. So we pushed on, with some sense of urgency as the day light hours (though long in the southern summer) were limited.
We scaled the mountain face after coming out of a steep ascent through the forest. Crawling over rocks we slowly realized that we were going up and over what we presumed was a pass in front of us. The going was trying: on all fours at times, boots soaking wet from the river (although we were all all wet from rain) we crossed back and forth, we slowly progressed upwards (packs on our backs, Mikes probably about 50 pounds, mine a bit less... aka TOO Heavy!!!)

Upon summitting we discovered that we were going to cross an ice and snow field! Oh joy. It was 5pm by now and windy and raining. The pass was most breathtaking. We crunched by on the hardened snow and ice, and viewed a looming glacier overhanging the rock face to our right, one of several we would see on the trek.
The descent was difficult, scuttling down a steep hillside on scree (loose rocks and debris) required complete focus and attention because any misstep could lead to a slide and a broken ankle or God knows what. On our way down Mike spied a glistening object far from its natural home, its natural home being a drawer in your kitchen or mine. It was a spoon. Not just a spoon as Mike immediately recognized, it was his ´Magic glacier spoon!´which he vows to use on backpacking trips until "I lose it or it breaks."

An artifact of human life signifying that whoever had left their spoon had surely not passed there too far in front of us was a reassuring sign.
Reaching the treeline was like taking the first sip of water from a far off oasis in a 1000 mile desert. I hugged the first tree I saw. We trugged along the soft trail through the woods next to the river, which was now gushing, swelling with the water from all preceeding waterfalls, ultimately from the glacier, darkness accompanying.

We forded a waist deep ice cold portion of the river to get to the camp, following karins (directive piles of rocks) left by other voyagers. Mike took off his shoes in an attempt to spare his feet from total wetness. I plunged through, feet already soaked and not really having the energy to labor in taking on and off the boots and socks.
Another crossing, after we passed a trail sign for the camp ended up doing him in anyway. Water up and over the boots.
We made camp in the rain, it was dark and the forest thick around us. A simple meal of pasta, packaged sauce and dried mushrooms never tasted so good. All was wet except for the interior of our tent, refuge for the night and a welcomed end to what we thought was the conclusion to the most challenging day of the hike.

In the morning it still rained. Sheets of rain blew across the valley, from our forested lookout we could see the river coursing to the west, rapids formed at this point, I prayed we wouldn´t have to ford it.
We mobilized around 12pm. Filled with oatmeal and armed with layers and waterproof exteriors we charged on. We did not realize, from our photo of a map on my camera, that the topo lines once again scrunched together and read nearly 2000m, or that we would be passing next to the granddaddy itself, the gaping glacial face of Cerro Castillo (cerro meaning mountain, or spier) at 2675m high.

The going was fine at first, wet but fine. We crossed through more forest and stoppped for lunch in a protected site with young trees providing curled limbs for seats. We were headed up another pass, but it didn´t look nearly as steep the day before.
We could see after trudging upstream next to a relatively slow and shallow river (perhaps even just a stream) that we would be looking into the face of a glacier, perhaps passing close by it. Upon approach we were delighted to set eyes on the bluest of blue lakes fed by the glacial waters of the glacier high above. The glacier (blue and white and brown all over as I described it) was awesome. It hung, impossibly, like a tongue, too big for its mouth, edging out over the lip and off a steep 500 foot high face subject to the forces of gravity and possibly ice melt (meaning basal lubrication, meaning a faster rate of melting meaning a sooner end to its unfathomably long life). We peered at this lake from close up. Had it been a beautiful Patagonian day we would have been hot from the hike and would have perhpas dipped into this mystifying lake that seemed to possess magical qualities and was perhaps inhabited by a cold-loving swimming dinosaur or some other fabled beast.

We climbed a ramp of rocks that led us to a vista high above this lake. I though this was where we would begin our descent. I was quite simply, wrong. From atop our perch we saw the tiny town of Villa Cerro Castillo we would eventually end up at, a valley in the distance and the big and powerful IbaƱez river. We saw a larger water body, possibly the ocean farther off yet. The far away clouds took shape and color and texture, giving us hope that the blank cloud of rain we were now enveloped in would break, giving us a break and possibly lifting some of the somberness that accompanied us on this wild trek.

We saw karins running up the spine of the mountain... and to our left, the edge which was presumably a cliff, likely meeting the ground thousands of feet below. I decided not to check.
We soldiered on up this ridge, the bluest of blue lakes radiating below us. As we climbed we realized we were becoming eye height with the glacier, Cerro Castillo. The folds of ice were visible, the brown rock and debris that dirtied the glacier's blue and white face became more clear, the mass of ice and snow that comprised the glacier, finally visible in its entirety. The wind was loud and blew in unpredictable gusts. The cold air chilled my face and hands. We summitted this terrific mountain that would not end only to discover our downward path funneled down the mountain via piles of rocks, giant rocks, small rocks, it was all loose scree. Shit.

The wind gusts blew off our pack covers and added to my uncertainty about this route. We were naive to come without hiking poles and especially without a map, totally unaware of the terrain, the ice fields, the intense altitude gains and losses and the scampering. I found out how much I loved flat ground, hot food, and my mom, so please, God, help us get down safely, I do not want to deploy my GPS device up here on the mountain, helicopters wouldn´t be able to land here anyway!

The hillside wore us out. It was hours of carefully placed footfalls, battling strong winds and occasionally butt sliding a ways on the loose footing. We had seen no one since the morning. As we descended further and further we searched for a trail that would redirect us from our rocky substrate to the soft soils, and a path perhaps, in the steep hillside of Langa forests around us. No such luck.

At some point, late in the afternoon. Weather was constant and our walk down the mountain had taken serious psychological toll. Mike began to lose enthusiasm and hope, I was already desperate. Where the hell was the campsite, our photo of map told us it was only 6ish km, not that far! It was getting close to dark by the time we finally exited the dry river bed and turned onto a trail. Mike said: I see camp!
I said: don´t joke with me like that
And then he was moving quickly, excitedly up over a *man made* (humans had been there before us!) log foot bridge and down a small hill into camp. We hugged, high fived, other Chileans in camp noted our elation and welcomed us.

The rain had miraculously stopped and we made delicious falaco toffles (falaffel tacos) with fish and cheese. Most interesting cuisine, but the tastiest ever. I was silly after two meager sips of whiskey and whisked myself into the tent around 9. I was intact, had seen the most epic glacier of my life up close and quite personally, was dry and sure that NOW I had had the most extreme two days of my life.

The rest of the route was purely peppery. We woke in the morning, leisurely had oats and checked and rechecked the route for the next day on our Chilean campsite neighbors proper map. We would be walking all the way into town on a nicely cut path, through slowly descending forest into ranchland and out on a dirt road.
It was delightful. Our packs were lighter (removal of food and drenched item weight) and our spirits lighter still.

The biggest treat on the way home, on the dirt road was the rippened Calafate berries which I was familiar with from past encounters. These were the best calafate berries yet. The resemble blueberries but are smaller and darker, their seeds are slightly tangy and they grow on a thorny bush (Berberis buxifolia) that can be a really prick.
They turned my tongue blue as I feasted regularly. I introduced Mike and he too delighted in their deliciousness and accessibility, aside from the ocassional dammit, of a thorn encounter.

We had made it. We set foot on the Carreterra Austral and nearly laid down to kiss the pavement (at least I did, Mike was more stoic about the rigor of the whole thing..optomistic, accomodating and ensuring safety as much as he possibly could, a good leader indeed).

Laced with glee we charged for the nearest hospedaje (hostel) which was Hebrew friendly. My body drank in the hot water as I showered, my soul the hot green cranberry tea we brewed in the afternoon, my mind totally awash with emotions, mostly stoked-ness at this point, but still swimming so hard from the mental rigor of the past few days´ tide that I wouldn´t regain control of it until sometime the next day.

Bliss set in and triumph and stories and recounting of pictures. On 7.50 US dollars per day we got the glacial experience, ice field trekking, steep hillsides, rocky river bottoms, chilled river crossings, Patagoinan weather, and all that jazz. A chart topper in many regards, I loved Cerro Castillo, I hate it, it scared me like nothing else. Obviously I will never forget it.

So, that´s the story.