Friday, March 18, 2016

Punta Arenas

I flew overnight from JFK to Santiago and then transferred on a flight to Punta Areas, the southernmost city on the continent. Everything went smoothly, no one even took a second look at my Osprey as a carry-on. As we approached the tip of the Patagonia, I got glimpses of snow-capped mountains and glacier between the clouds. It was both exhilarating and terrifying to know I soon will be standing in the midst of it all.

The plane made a 180 degree turn over the Strait of Magellan and approached the landing strip from the south. There is nothing particular noticeable about this area from the above. The land is flat and barren as far as the eyes can see. There is no mistake that we have arrived at the end of the world.

As soon as I stepped outside, I was quickly reminded the wind in Patagonia. It was a cloudy day. The air temperature couldn't have been lower than mid 40s but the wind made it feel much colder. I looked around for public transportation into town and eventually found a white van. A couple of hiking packs were already in the back. I tried to ask an American guy about his trip. He asked if I speak Spanish. I said no and he ignored me the rest of the way. I couldn't tell if it was more rude for me to not speak Spanish in a Spanish speaking country or for him to not speak English to an English speaker from the same country (but I realized that to him I'm just some random Chinese girl). Instead I listened to him attempt to carry on a conversation in broken Spanish with a Chilean girl, who is stationed on the military base in Punta Arenas. Later on, I briefly chatted with an Italian couple and found out they had about the same itinerary as me.

It took us about 20 minutes to arrive in town. I was the last one to get dropped off but before that I asked the driver to recommend a restaurant for dinner (IN SPANISH).

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Going to Patagonia

The fear of unknown is the greatest fear of all. - Yvon Chouinard

Traveling was centered around sightseeing when I first started going to places. After I moved to NYC three years ago, my way of traveling took on a different direction. The constant discontentment towards what I have propelled me to seek all that I lacked: nature. And in the midst of unfounded mental anguish I gravitated towards a newfound a comfort in physical hardship. My experiences of altitude sickness in Peru and mind-numbing cold in the Himalayas often left people shaking their heads wondering why anyone would chose to endure so much suffering on their vacation. 

People see smiling pictures of me from different places and they assume that I'm addicted to traveling and that it must be easy for me to get around. While the first one may hold some water, the second assumption can't be farther from the truth. Sorting out logistics is one thing but like people who dislike traveling, I too must overcome many mental hurdles to get out of the door. It takes a lot of trust in people and things to let yourself go into the unknown. For example, although I'm no stranger to flying, I too have a mini freak out sessions on my way to the airport. There can be endless things to worry about when you get out of your daily routine and trust me, I have thought of them all. It takes an enormous amount of mental discipline for me to keep moving forward. This is why I find it difficult to answer when people ask me what I like to do. Do I really like traveling? Do I really like running? None of it is easy or pleasant. Perhaps that's why I keep going back to them and trying on more challenging things. 

After going on a few guided commercial hikes, I've decided to venture out on my own to hike the "W" circuit in Torres del Paine. I've read the guidebook a dozen times and made some attempt at booking hostels, buses and even cabins along the trail. But in the end, I only booked a hostel for my first night in Punta Areas. The rest I'll have to figure out once I get there. I've never camped by myself before. Even though I know there will be other people around I'm still terrified. But I guess that's the point. You're not challenging yourself enough if it doesn't scare you. 

So how do I really feel when I get on the road? Like that screaming kid being dropped of at the daycare.