Punta Arenas, Chile

I arrived in Punta Arenas on Sunday afternoon, and had time to clean up before meeting the rest of the group for a welcome dinner at the beautiful restaurant, La Pergola. We gathered in a sun-dappled, vine-covered room, and it was one of the most delicious meals I’ve had since coming to Chile. NatHab has a knack for finding the best restaurants in town, from quirky neighborhood joints to elegant dining, like La Pergola. I immediately had a great feeling about our group. I know I’m going to leave here with some great new friends.

My roommate is fabulous. She doesn’t snore. She’s quick-witted, and laughs at my jokes. An unknown roommate is always a crapshoot, and I won the lottery.

We also won the lottery with our expedition leader, John Mittan, who is a staff naturalist with NatHab. He and Olaf Malver, CEO of NatHab, created this trip, and this will be his twentieth journey. He is an expert on the area, and knows exactly where we should go to see the best scenery and wildlife possible. And, he is exceptional with his guests. I think he might have some kind of hearing superpower. Someone will quietly mutter, “it’s hot”, and the air is suddenly circulating. He’ll notice a camera setting that may not be the best choice, and he will offer to help you change it. An expedition leader has the ability to make or break a trip, and I am confident he is going to make this trip one of my best.

We toured Punta Arenas yesterday, and saw some terrific scenery and learned some history of the area. I am in awe of the courage and tenacity of the explorers that discovered so much of the area we have seen, and are about to see. They were bad ass. We saw reproductions of some historical ships (Magellan, Darwin’s Beagle), saw ship skeletons that lined the coastline, and admired spectacular views. I wish I had time to write more, but I need to go now. To Antarctica!


One more thing before I go. When you get a chance, google Lyle Lovett singing “Penguins (Are So Sensitive to My Needs)”. My roommate, Joan, and I have already choreographed a song and dance routine for it, which is sure to be performed on the ice of Antarctica.

Bon Voyage!

Magníficas Montañas de Torres del Paine

I woke yesterday morning to a clear, crisp day. Cuernos del Paine shone brightly in the morning sun. Days like this are precious. The weather in Torres del Paine is notoriously unpredictable and quick to change.

I made the five-hour trek from Punta Arenas the day before with two Chilean women, Carolina and Christina, and by the time we got to Torres del Paine, we were fast friends. Christina didn’t speak English, but that didn’t seem to matter much. Google Translate was useful, but it has its limits. At one point, I entered, “That door is beautiful, covered in rust.” Google returned “Az ajtó gyönyörú, roszdás”, which didn’t seem at all correct. It didn’t even LOOK Spanish. She looked puzzled. I checked, and realized I had translated my phrase into Hungarian. So I typed, “What, you don’t speak Hungarian?!”, in Spanish this time. We laughed and laughed and laughed. This would be a good time to note that a two pisco sour limit is a sensible policy.

Carolina and Christina graciously invited me to join them for dinner, and it turned out they were celebrating Carolina’s birthday! They shared a special bottle of wine that they brought. The two of them turned out to be one of the greatest highlights of my trip to Torres del Paine. As it turned out, they were also scheduled to go on the trip I had reserved for the following day.

That was the good news. The bad news was that there were so many people going on that trip, they divided it into the English speaking van and the Spanish speaking van, so we were separated. The upside was that I had the opportunity to make some new friends, particularly my seat mates, Molly and Ken. Molly was a fisherwoman with an adventurous soul and the brightest smile you’ve ever seen. And Ken was hilarious. It was an international group … Americans, Swiss, and Belgian, and everyone got along famously.

We had breathtaking views of the Paine Massif, throughout the day, and the weather continued to cooperate. We had crazy wind, which is common in Patagonia, and created ever-changing color and texture to the clouds in the sky. We hiked out a long jetty to get a peek at Grey Glacier, and I was extensively sandblasted. I’m fairly certain I will need to re-grow a couple of layers of skin. Later in the afternoon, we made our way to an unforgettable overlook, where the views of Cuernos del Paine were a spectacular backdrop to the turquoise hue of Lago Pehoé.


After lunch, we took a short hike to the Paine Waterfall, where I experienced the windiest conditions of my life thus far. At one point, I had to stop and put all my weight forward just to keep from tipping over. The waterfall? Worth it. We also saw hundreds of the quirky, funny guanacos. One was in a super bad mood and chased another one out of the herd. It was fascinating. They are FAST.


I enjoyed another dinner with Carolina and Christina, where they later taught me a couple of their favorite Spanish swear words. I was having trouble with the pronunciation of one, so we were exaggerating the enunciation: Mierda. No. Meeeee-errrrr-dah. Mierda. Mierda. And so on. When we noticed our neighbors at a nearby table looking at us in horror, we laughed and laughed and laughed. Remember: two pisco sours. Tops.

This morning came too soon. I longed for a few more days at this otherworldly place. But … on to the next adventure. We had a full van back to Punta Arenas, with not a single English speaking person on it. I kind of loved the challenge, with only hand gestures and community college Spanish classes in my toolkit. I got really good at charades.

We were treated to vibrant rainbow after vibrant rainbow on our way out of the park. It was a magical way to transition to this next leg of my adventure.

Now, off to Punta Arenas for a day before I head off to Antarctica. I’m always fearful before a trip like this. But the moment I begin my journey, the trepidation falls away, like I’ve shed a heavy coat. I am left with nothing but a sense of wonder.

Tiptoeing along the razor’s edge of death was hard. It was scary. But it occurred to me today that I would not be in this beautiful part of the world had it not been for that day. I never would have been so bold; so audacious, if I hadn’t been given that glimpse into my own mortality. I’ve never had an appreciation for that truth as fully as I do at this moment. Surrounded by the most beautiful mountains I have seen in my life.

I am grateful.

It’s here.

The night before I left for South America and Antarctica, I couldn’t sleep. This trip had been a year in the making. Much longer if you factor in the time I spent dreaming about it. In 2016, I was four continents in to my seven-continent goal, and South America was next. In my original plan, I saw a week in the saddle in Patagonia. So, I prepared … I took horseback riding lessons and started saving for the trip. And then, I ran across a brochure for Ecuador and the Galápagos Islands, and my plans changed. 2017 … South America … check!

Five continents down.

When I first saw a description of a trip to my sixth, Antarctica, I thought it was out of reach. Too expensive. Too physically challenging. But I never could get that trip out of my mind. It was an expedition, not a cruise. A place where you could find quiet. Camaraderie in a small group. So, the whisper of two weeks in Antarctica in a sailboat with six other guests grew to a roar. I had to find a way. I had to see my sixth continent in exactly this way.

We would depart from Punta Arenas … about a five-hour drive from Torres del Paine. The peaks of Cuernos del Paine had captivated me from the moment I saw them. So … what’s another couple of days to add to this trip of a lifetime?

I reserved my spot on the S/V Australis a full year in advance. I counted down the days, and they always sounded so far away. But tomorrow was the day. It was here.

I traveled 7,898 miles over the next 26 hours, and the trip went off without a hitch, save for one woman with an anger management problem. I really thought she may get us diverted. But she eventually calmed down, and we continued on our way.

In Santiago, loading for the next leg, I was seated in the fifth row. I looked up to see a couple I traveled with in Galápagos! The song, “It’s a Small World After All” stuck with me for a couple of hours. We shared hugs and some laughs, and then the plane pushed back. We started taxiing down the runway, but then made an abrupt u-turn back to our gate. The luggage handlers rushed over and reopened the belly of the plane to “get something out”. The cases they removed (along with a cooler), were marked “Fragile”and “Medical”. Apparently, some important vaccines were loaded into the wrong cargo hold. The vaccine story was way less interesting than the one I made up in my head (which is so often the case), where they were transporting a human heart. For a 14-year old boy, and time was running out. (My inside voice is surprisingly detailed.) At least I didn’t leap up and start shouting, “Save the boy! Save the boy!” That would have been weird.

Four legs on the trip down, and every arrival was on time. For three of the four legs, I had an empty seat next to me. The trip was off to a great start.

The Hotel del Rey Felipe was a short 20-minute ride from the airport, and as I checked in, my Galápagos buddies walked in to the lobby. “It’s a Small World After All” …

I ran into our expedition leader at breakfast the next morning, and we had a chance to get to know each other a bit. Somehow, we got on the topic of ostriches (you never know where a conversation with a naturalist will lead), and he gave me some interesting information about a similar, smaller bird in Chile called Darwin’s Rhea. As luck would have it, I spotted two just out of town! They never would have caught my attention had I not had that conversation. Fun fact: they can run up to 37 miles per hour.

Our ride to Torres del Paine was beautiful. White wildflowers and a rainbow of lupine lined the road, and sheep were plentiful in the rolling hills. We saw pops of the vibrant pink of Chilean flamingos in ponds along our route, and trees were permanently bent and caught in a frozen combover fail as they yielded to the relentless wind.

We picked up a handsome young guide in Puerto Natales, and it was there that I learned that one kiss on the cheek is customary. This may be the appropriate time to mention that I have a thing for Latin men.

Off to see more of this hermoso logar (beautiful place) today. But first, a nap. Buenas dias!


Extreme Adventure … 99 Days

Let the countdown begin. There is something special about being less than one hundred days from the start of an epic adventure; for me, it marks the beginning of active anticipation. Chile, Torres del Paine, Antarctica, and finally, a return to Argentina. This expedition is sure to inspire abundant awe and wonder, and I feel a tightening in my gut. Butterflies. A grin that will likely last for months.

When I first discovered this particular itinerary for Antarctica, I resolved to see the continent as described on Natural Habitat Adventure’s website: by sailboat. Our small group of seven will fly from Punta Arenas, Chile, to an airstrip on King George Island on the Antarctic Peninsula. From there, we board the S/V Australis. I’ll spend the next two weeks aboard, with six other audacious travelers and five experienced crew. We’ll see penguins and seals and whales and albatrosses. We’ll see immense sculptures of blue and white ice. We’ll kayak in survival suits, and spend up to three nights camping in tents on the ice. I’ll cross the Drake Passage, which has been described as the world’s most unforgettable sea crossing. Did I mention we’ll be in a sailboat?

The Physical Rating of this journey is “Extreme Adventure”. As is typical for me, I am a little bit afraid, and a whole lotta excited.

Before we leave for Antarctica, I’m going to spend a couple of days in Patagonia, hiking and horseback riding among the Paine Massif. The inn where I’m staying faces an unobstructed view of the Torres del Paine granite peaks. I’ve seen photos of this grand range, and felt immediately, spiritually connected. I cannot begin to imagine what it will feel like to stand before it.

Ninety-nine days. Continent number six … here I come!


#nathab #naturalhabitatadventures #rioserrano #chile #patagonia #antarctica

The Enchanted Isles, Galápagos Islands

March 5, 2017: The Galápagos Islands, or “Enchanted Isles” as they are known, are, indeed, enchanted. Magical, mystical, magnificent. I’ve heard this from other travelers to this corner of the world, but until you step foot on the Islands, you simply cannot understand the depth of that truth.

Our days were full … often we hiked or snorkeled before breakfast, then headed back to the sailboat for a delicious meal. On those days, we’d leave early to enjoy the sunrise from one idyllic location or another. The morning light against the rocks, interesting cloud formations, and the crimson sun rising against the horizon absolutely took our breath away. After our morning feast, we’d change our clothes to suit the next adventure … hiking, kayaking, or snorkeling. We had two to three adventures in the morning, and two to three in the afternoon. Every single stop had unique characteristics … it could be mammals, reptiles, geological landscape, or fish that we had not yet seen. Every color of the rainbow shone brightly in the diverse wildlife.


Our group of thirteen, plus two top-notch guides, gelled quickly. We laughed, enjoyed happy hour together, and supported each other. We stargazed. Oh, how awe-inspiring the constellations were. The stars shine so brightly here! It’s been years since I’ve seen the Milky Way. One night, we convinced our guide to play his guitar. We certainly let him down in the singing department, but his delicate strumming was the perfect accompaniment. Watching the night sky was always a highlight, and the perfect way to celebrate each unforgettable day.

The camaraderie between the group started on day one, when one of our group overslept. Our guide, who bears a striking resemblance to our former president, went to check on him. He knocked on his door. No response. He knocked harder. No response. He went in to his room and called out. No response. He leaned in close and firmly said, “PAUL!” Startled, Paul had two fleeting thoughts. “Where in the world am I?!” And, “Why is President Obama waking me up?” When asked how deeply his ear plugs were inserted in to his ear canal, heresponded, “They were touching.” We collectively knew, at that moment, that the trip was bound to have a good bit of humor. This proved true as the week went on.


On this trip, we traveled by plane, canoes, a panga (a.k.a., a dinghy), buses, and a spectacular sailboat. We were transported to and fro, and never missed a beat. We had a four-hour delay in Quito that could have gone badly, but instead, we took advantage of the extra time to visit an interesting museum, and I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to accept the dare to eat a barbecued beetle larvae. When in Rome!


Now, we’re at the beautiful hosteria, Rincon de Puembo, waiting for our red-eye flight home. The time went much, much too fast. Fortunately, I’ve already booked my next adventure … sailing with six other intrepid travelers to Antarctica!, so the traveling fever will be kept at bay for now. Galapagos … el viaje de la vidas. Salud!


Otavalo, Ecuador

February 25, 2017: We started the day with a six-mile hike around the caldera at Cotacachi Cayapas. When we reached the 11,000 foot summit, the lake was shrouded in fog. As we continued our hike down, the fog lifted, and we were treated to a breathtaking view of the caldera and surrounding countryside. The lake was a deep blue, the wildflowers were prolific and damp with dew, and the air was cool and crisp.


After we moved on from our hike, we went to the Otavalo Market, and wandered around … fruits, vegetables, meats, textiles, and my weakness, jewelry. I didn’t come home empty handed. We visited a weaver, and she demonstrated the traditional way of weaving alpaca and sheep’s wool … the dyes they used (worms!), and how they spin yarn.

This is will be my last update until I get back to Seattle. We’ve got a couple of flights to get to the Galapagos, and I will be officially unplugged. Until then … salud!

Napo Wildlife Center, Ecuador

February 23, 2017: Hola! Today was a more relaxed day than yesterday, which was good. We needed a bit of a breather after yesterday’s action-packed day. We spent the first four hours of our day in the jungle. We hiked out to an observatory platform, high above the canopy. The platform is 120 feet high, so about 12 floors up. Step by step, up the stairs we go! One highlight (of many) was a pair of scarlet macaws. They did a double fly-by before landing in a nearby tree. Too far for a good photograph, but magnificent through the scope. The platform is the perfect place to view what happens at a bird’s eye level. On ground level, we saw a poison dart frog! Small, but deadly …

Our guides spent a good part of our hike educating us about traditional uses of plants, seeds, and other flora and fauna of the rainforest … from dyes to fiber to medicinal properties. FYI … you can make an excellent dental floss out of a palm leaf.

We got back to the lodge in time for lunch and a restful nap in the hammock. Later in the afternoon, we took one last paddle through the creek and saw more playful monkeys, birds, and a colorful snake. The capuchin monkeys are particularly mischievous … and funny as hell.

Tomorrow, we have a 4:45 wake-up call, then it’s back to Quito, then on to Otavalo. This has been an unforgettable couple of days. The work the Kichwa people are doing here is so important. They are working tirelessly to preserve this sacred space, and I’m so thankful to have had the opportunity to spend time in their midst.

Time to power sleep for a few hours before we’re off again. Cheers!

Napo & Añangu Community, Ecuador

February 22, 2017: We went to bed last evening to a cloudy sky and a bit of a breeze. At some point overnight, the apathetic weather progressed to a fantastic storm. Bright flashes of lightning and booming thunder, rain coming down as if through a fire hose, and wind that filled our room through glass-less windows. Our beds are surrounded by mosquito netting, which joined our gauzy curtains in a whirling dervish dance. It was so exciting! The wild evening completely transformed our lazy creek … filing it, and bringing out the voices of frogs that were silent yesterday.

Unfortunately, the clay lick was birdless, but we did get a quick view of a few wild pigs. From there, we went to the Añangu village, where ecotourism has contributed to a new school, medical facility, and a full-time dentist for this community of around 200 Kichwa people. We had a delicious traditional lunch (I’m learning to love yucca), and watched a presentation about the community’s handcrafted art, local traditions, and cooking, Kichwa-style. By developing projects like this, these communities are helping to save the rainforest, and reduce their economy’s dependence on oil.

The trip up Añangu Creek was full of new things to see. We saw woolly monkeys, macaws, a few caimans, a two-toed sloth, and a family of playful giant otters. Boy, do they have some teeth!


After dinner tonight, we went on a night walk through the jungle. At one point, we all turned off our flashlights. The night was void of any light, and we stood silently listening to the crickets, frogs, and other nocturnal creatures. After a minute or so, I spotted a flicker of light. Soon, there were dozens of twinkling stars surrounding us. Fireflies! This is destined to be one of the most magical moments of my life. We also saw geckos, tarantulas, crickets, spiders that made yesterday’s arachnid seem small, and a few toads that were the size of a cantaloupe.

What a day. I feel so fortunate to be able to experience this place. Time to rest up for tomorrow’s adventures. Buenos noches!


Quito to Napo via Coca, Ecuador

February 21, 2017: What a day of contrast! We left busy Quito during Tuesday morning rush hour. Aggressive drivers, horns, people taking advantage of the slightest break in traffic to claim their space. It truly was remarkable that we didn’t witness a collision or a flattened pedestrian. I was thankful for our skilled driver, Ramiro, who guided us expertly through the fray.

We made it to the airport unscathed and boarded the plane to Coca. I love the security process in Ecuador! Shoes on, no X-rays, no lines. Fabulous! From the small airport in Coca, we boarded a motorized canoe for a two hour trip down the Napo River. We connected to a small tributary (Anangu Creek) for another two hours in a small, hand-paddled dugout canoe.


To go from the frenetic city of Quito, to an airplane, to a diesel-powered boat, to a small, manually-powered canoe, with only the sound of the paddle pushing through the blackwater stream, the cacophony of rainforest birds and cicadas, and the chatter and howls of monkeys was breathtaking. We saw colorfully-plumed birds, the biggest spider I have ever seen (fish spider), families of monkeys … squirrel monkeys, white-faced capuchins, red howler monkeys, and a black, red-headed snake that sat motionless, observing us as closely as we were observing him. And the butterflies! Oh, the dancing butterflies … too quick and flighty to capture on film.

Tomorrow we rise at four-thirty to head to the clay licks, where we hope to get lucky with parakeets, macaws, and some to-be determined mammals. So, buenas noches!