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!

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#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.

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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.

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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!

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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!

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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.

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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!

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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!

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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.

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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!