“You’re so busy” is something I hear often. It’s also not uncommon for me to get a “boo” or sad face emoji when I have to turn down an invite. As long as I’ve been old enough to use a planner, I’ve had a busy schedule. And as long as I’ve been able to tell time, I’ve been squeezing every minute out of every hour.

Most of my close friends know this about me, so it can be mildly irritating when they give me a hard time for being so busy or not being available with fewer than 48 hours notice.

That doesn’t mean I don’t feel guilty, though. It’s a bummer when I miss fun activities or, worse, friends’ life events. But I’m both a planner and a woman of my word, and I also have a legit case of FOMO. So if I want to do something, I’m going to say “yes” to the first invite or I’m going to plan it myself. And once I’ve committed, I’m not going to flake. (Unfortunately some of friends are too comfortable with doing the latter.)

The last time I heard “you’re so busy” my friend then told me to “cancel things” so I wouldn’t be so busy. I was both humored and confused. Why would I want to cancel the things I had planned? It’s not as though these things appeared on my calendar without me knowing. Sure, it can get exhausting, but I took on all of these plans/trips/events/activities/etc. And again, I don’t bail.

So recently when I read an article about shifting the notion of being “busy” to that of being “focused,” I finally felt as though someone understood me. And I started feeling less guilty.

“When we describe ourselves as ‘busy,’ it takes away the intention behind our priorities. ‘Focus,’ on the other hand, puts us back in control of what we want and need to get done.”

A simple word makes the difference between a schedule filled with mundane tasks or meaningless activities and one filled with those that are important to me. My guilt and negative self-talk around being busy aren’t warranted. I need to remind myself that I’m focused on doing things that improve my life, and hopefully others’ around me along the way.

I haven’t yet used the approach when communicating with friends, but I’m hoping it’ll help them understand that my “busyness” is not only self-inflicted, but also purposeful.

“Reminding your friends why you’re so focused can help them better understand that you’ve chosen your schedule for a reason. You’re not just busy fulfilling other people’s demands—you’re working on something that’s important to you.”

dontapologizeforhustle_1024

Now, at this point in my life, as I make some big life decisions and changes, my calendar is more packed and color coded than ever. I’m focused on accomplishing as much as I can in my last weeks at a company I’ve spent 7.5 years. I’m focused on getting the most I can out of a city I’ve lived for nearly 12. I’m focused on finding a new place to call home as I visit eight cities in three months. I’m focused on making my passion of writing become a full-time reality and sustainable livelihood.

“Put yourself in control of your schedule—in all its hectic glory—and know it’s packed with reason and meaning. It’ll lead to greater satisfaction and more motivation as you choose to keep hustling.”

When i think about what I’m focused on, it reminds me that my schedule is not full of meaningless tasks and activities. There is intention. This is what I have prioritized. I am in control of what I want to do.

Advertisements

It amazes me how intensely people debate on social media and how willing people are to berate friends over status updates and comments. But that’s what our society has become. People can easily hide behind their profiles and argue to the death without having to face their opponents – who may actually be their close friends. And gone are the days of sharing something without hearing an alternate opinion or even pissing someone off.

I was aware of all of this when I recently shared an article on Facebook, and I knowingly opened myself up to opinions and even ridicule by posting it. That doesn’t mean I wasn’t shocked by the level of attention (mostly negative) that it got.

Two weeks ago, a United Airlines passenger was yanked off a full flight that was preparing for takeoff to Louisville, Kentucky. He was the fourth of four passengers who were (mostly) randomly selected among the economy class to disembark and take the next day’s flight to accommodate four flight crew who needed to get to the destination to make a flight they were scheduled to work.

At face value it doesn’t seem right that paying customers were bumped to make room for staff, but ensuring these crew members arrived to the flight destination on time meant avoiding a potential chain reaction of delayed or even cancelled flights – and, thus, hundreds of inconvenienced, pissed off passengers.

I don’t know the procedure for when flight crew call in sick and can’t make it to work. But again, at face value, four fewer people for the connecting flight meant it wasn’t going anywhere.

So, back to the passenger.

When his unlucky seat number was chosen to take the next day’s flight, he decided he wasn’t moving. So much that a federal officer had to board the flight and remove him … or “reaccommodate” him as United CEO Oscar Munoz put it.

What happened at this point is what caused a social media uproar and frenzy of debates.

Because the passenger vehemently refused to leave his seat, holding tightly to his seat and screaming, the officer “had” – I put had in quotes because I don’t know enough about the law to know if that was standard protocol – to remove him. The passenger hadn’t committed a crime, but the situation quickly escalated to one that didn’t appear too different from someone resisting arrest.

In one of my comments of the many that populated my Facebook post, I likened his behavior to that of a toddler midtantrum, kicking and screaming. I immediately got called out for that. No, I guess I can’t confirm that he was kicking, but he was definitely screaming and resisting with all his might. It is this resistance that made it difficult for the officer to remove him and, ultimately, a contributing factor to his severe injury.

As he resisted and the officer pulled, the passenger ended up falling face-first into the armrest of the seat across the aisle. I think he broke his nose and lost some teeth in the fall.

Because this incident was captured on film, it immediately became a case study for social media mavens and novices alike to dissect. The majority were appalled by United’s behavior – understandably – but there were a decent number of people who demanded the law enforcement agency take some responsibility and an even smaller number who had opinions about the man’s behavior.

Without much to form an opinion on beyond the smartphone videos and initial reports – keep in mind that is all anyone not on the flight had to work with – I placed myself in all three of those aforementioned groups. And in that order as I slowly collected my thoughts on the shocking event.

First: Holy shit, is that how overbookings are handled?! I never want to fly United if that’s how they treat paying customers.

Second: Oh, that officer isn’t a United employee? So who’s crazy directive was he following to engage in such violent measures?

Third: Sure, getting bumped to a much later flight really sucks, but is that appropriate behavior for a grown-ass adult?

Everyone seemed to be shying away from that third point.

I couldn’t help but think about what I would do in this situation. Sure, I would be pissed, maybe throw some verbiage at the United agents, maybe shed a tear. Ok, probably both… in that order… and lots of tears. And United’s 1-800 number would probably hear a lot from me until I received what I considered to be reasonable remuneration for my inconvenience – and that’s after they accommodated me overnight and then on the next available flight.

But what I would also do is stand up and walk myself off the plane because that’s what a federal officer has asked me to do. Sure, I don’t mind breaking the law to stick it to a behemoth corporation (e.g. trying to sneak into Disney World as a late teen in defiance of its outrageous prices). But in a situation of this magnitude and that affects a large number of people, I’m going to obey the law – even if I’m not in the wrong.

I get it, the law is absurd. Actually, what is the law even? And to be honest, sometimes there isn’t even a law being enforced, as we’ve seen unfortunately in numerous recent police brutality cases.

But if a government officer with a badge and a gun is asking me to disembark the plane, I’m going to do it – just like this man and his family did when they found themselves in a similar situation with Delta shortly after the United incident. He stood his ground, stated his rights, complained, reminded the airline he had purchased the seat, even threw out some curse words, but ultimately he decided to get off the plane – and his wife seconded that decision.

Yes, it’s super shitty that airlines are allowed to overbook and then kick paying customers off. It’s even shittier that they can treat these customers like crap. It’s maddening that these companies get away with it and are rarely held accountable – just for an extra buck to pad their billions.

On a greater level, this is so wrong. And on a smaller level, in the Boeing 737 that was leaving Chicago that day, it was so wrong.

While I by no means think this man deserved the brutality he received – even though some of my friends seem to think I do merely because I posted an opinion that wasn’t aligned with the sympathetic majority – he’s earned the award for best dramatic performance in my book. And a gazillion dollars in an out-of-court settlement with United.

As appeared on NonDoc.com

At first, it was my friend’s all-caps, double-exclamation-mark Facebook post that motivated me to look closer at the article she was sharing. But then it was the headline that fully pulled me in: Society is creating a new crop of alpha women who are unable to love.

Finally, someone had defined the way I felt as an independent, strong (read: bossy) female who has been single exactly seven years this month.

Or so I assumed based on the title of the article.

The article was actually an excerpt from a book accompanied by a video clip from Fox News’ “Fox & Friends.” Author Suzanne Venker was being profiled for her controversial tome, The Alpha Female’s Guide to Men & Marriage, and its idea of the alpha female’s role in a relationship — or lack of, rather.

It’s that latter caveat to which Venker dedicates most of the video and excerpt. It’s also the part that didn’t sit well with me, especially considering I had clicked into an article that seemed to describe me so well in its 14-word headline. In the simplest sense, this woman was basically saying that women need to be the more submissive “betas” and allow men to have control as the natural “alphas.”

“The goal is to get one of each, but if [the female] is bringing alpha energy to the table, and he’s alpha by nature because he has all the testosterone, you’re going to be like two bulls in a China shop,” Venker explained in the Fox News spot. “If you want him to be the more feminine person in the relationship, I guess you could do that, but that usually doesn’t work for most people because women are naturally feminine.”

I immediately thought of all the testosterone-less men I’ve dated over the years, ones who were far from those she described as the norm. I also thought of all the stay-at-home dads that exist today in support of their wives’ career pursuits. While I agree that a relationship needs a balance of opposites, Venker seems convinced that the men are always the alpha and, thus, women can’t and even shouldn’t be.

Venker: Women need to revert to beta status

After women stopped being groomed to be wives and started being groomed to be leaders, which is what’s happening today, Venker says men controlled the relationship: from calling a girl and paying for a meal to even proposing. Although she still claims “almost all relationships start that way” — which seems part delusional and part storybook fantasy in this day and age — she says women soon shift to the alpha mode, which then confuses the men. At that point, problems arise, there is “a lot of contention” and “the relationship starts to deteriorate.” Venker saw this happen between her parents, her mother being the quintessential alpha wife.

“An alpha wife micromanages, delegates and makes most or even all of the decisions. She is, quite simply, the Boss.”

By the time I finished watching the spot and reading the excerpt, I was infuriated. Now I understood my Facebook friend’s all-capped comment with swear words and double exclamation points.

Was this woman living under a rock?! In what day and age do men always make the first call and pay for dates? And in what world are all men testosterone-filled? Does she truly believe, after all we’ve accomplished as women — ability to vote, work, earn executive titles — that women need to revert to being submissive and serving their husbands? It sure sounded like it.

Is my ‘alphaness’ actually the problem?

As much as I was infuriated about her portrayal of strong women and how we are the ones causing problems in relationships, I couldn’t help but think about how I’ve been single for so long and how many of my past relationships didn’t work out because I am so independent and set in my ways. I ended up with guys who saw something in me but ultimately couldn’t handle my need for space, time alone or with other friends (both female and male) and decision-making that didn’t involve them. One after another, I called each of the relationships off.

While I don’t buy into most of Venker’s wild assumptions, accusations and generalizations, I do wonder if my “alphaness” is making it difficult for me to find love. I understand that two alphas may find themselves butting heads, but why did my relationships fail when I often found myself with betas? We had the balance of masculine-feminine energies that Venker spoke of (but with me in the masculine role), yet each one ended sooner than the last.

And why was I ending up with this type in the first place, when their neediness so starkly contrasted my independence and what I wanted out of a significant other?

If I looked to Venker for the answer, she would say I need to get in touch with my feminine side, that I need to change.

“We’re constantly pointing fingers at the men, when we’re the ones who are actually the problem,” she said so matter-of-factly in the news spot. “If you exude positive, feminine energy, they’re very responsive. If you’re coming in with negativity, or hardness rather, they recoil; they don’t want it. The husband needs from the women softness instead of hardness, happiness instead of anger, more compliance and less dictatorial.”

So because I’m an independent, strong female, I’m a negative, hard, angry dictator. Well when you put it like, then I probably do need to change. No wonder my relationships don’t work out!

Search for balance continues

With all the author’s outrageous talk aside, I’ll admit I may actually struggle with embracing my feminine side. I rarely let a man help me or take care of me, I often shut down their compliments and I’m also quite competitive. I’ve always believed I can take care of myself, and I’d rather do things my way. I am one of those aforementioned females raised by an alpha mother to be a leader, not a wife.

So as I strive to be a leader and do things my way, do I knock down anything that comes in my path, including men who are interested in courting me? Venker quotes Jackie Kennedy in her book: “There are two kinds of women: those who want power in the world, and those who want power in bed.” Am I so focused on my personal power goals that I’m not making room in my life for a powerful relationship?

While I won’t be buying Venker’s self-help book, I appreciate the self-reflection it has incited. And as I put myself out there in the vicious world of dating — that to Venker’s likely surprise mainly involves texting rather than calling — I will definitely be more conscious of the energy I’m putting into a relationship.

So although I’m not going to change who I am for a man just because some deranged “culture critic” says to, I will more willingly contribute to the necessary balance in my future relationships.

Facebook friends shared my outrage after seeing the post on my news feed.

 

January 8, 2017

I’m sitting at the airport after my first flight, the first of two layovers and a stopover. Not the ideal flight itinerary considering how exhausted and sick I am. For the second time this trip, I’m sick with bronchitis. Fortunately – for that reason only – home is around the corner.

I land at LAX at 11:50 am tomorrow, Sunday, January 8. That’s four days later than my original flight itinerary, which had me leaving Rio on Wednesday and arriving to LAX that evening. A much better flight itinerary, yes, but it was too soon. I wasn’t ready to leave Rio, to end my trip, to head back to reality.

It would have meant only 3.5 days in Rio; I quickly learned that wasn’t enough to do and see everything in the incredible city. I’d originally booked four, which I knew wasn’t enough but was all I had “time” for. But when it came time to check in for my flight from Sao Paulo, where I think I had too many days, I realized that I had booked my flight to Rio for January 30 instead of December 30. A new flight – for $260 to $500 – wasn’t in my budget, so I booked an overnight bus. This meant I’d lost my evening and would be arriving to Rio a day later. I lost most if that day, too, because I’m one of few who can’t sleep in cars, buses or planes.

On top of that mishap, I also had a few days of bad luck trying to visit Christ the Redeemer due to weather and timing. So after just a couple days in the city, I knew I wanted to stay longer. Fortunately my flight was refundable and my boss was understanding. I got to see Christ the Redeemer and got some extra days at the beach – which are highly necessary for someone like me.

All that explanation was basically to say I wasn’t ready to head home. But now as I sit here at the airport, I wonder how ready I am now. Put aside the bronchitis and this dreadful flight itinerary ahead of me, and could I stay longer? Not necessarily in Rio, but in South America, on the road? Could I keep traveling? Am I ready to go back home?

I’m ready to do some laundry (my way) and wear some different clothes. I’m ready to sleep in my own bed and actually sleep in because I won’t have any noisy dorm mates or any sites to get up early for the next day. I’m ready to start working out again and eating better. (I’ve definitely put on some LBs during this trip – lots of carbs, booze and sweets.) I’m ready to pare down my spending and pay off the debt I’ve incurred. (Despite traveling by bus and staying at hostels at times, all the travel and food and activities are expensive. I don’t even want to try to tally up how much I’ve spent.)

But I’m not ready to go back to the real world, the reality where I have to work every day and re-accumulate vacation days and justify taking time off.

It’s this weird dichotomy, where I’m ready to have my routine back for the stability but I’m also not looking forward to the monotony and lack of daily adventure in a routine . I also have no problems with my job; I love the company, my boss is great and I’m freshly in a new position. It’s more that I’m dreading work itself. People spend so many hours, days, years of their lives working, and some people never even get to see the fruits of their labors.

I’ve traveled quite a bit, but this trip has only confirmed how much this world has to offer. There is so much to see and do, and I’ve only experienced a small portion. Heck, some people have never left their hometowns or crossed their state lines. While that will never be a reality for me, I hate to think that I’m headed back into a daily routine that involves working in an office eight hours a day. I haven’t lived that life in 64 days! Going back is going to be quite an adjustment, and I foresee myself struggling for motivation in the early days.

I’m not looking for sympathy or a pity party. And I definitely don’t want my boss to question letting me take this trip in the first place. I just don’t know how long it will take before I’m “ready” to be back. By the time I’m ready, I’ll probably have already planned my next trip 😉

Disclaimer: I recognize that I’ve slacked in my blogging. I’ll admit I slowed down, but I do have some posts to put up from the past few weeks that are saved elsewhere. I’ll also add some photos to previous blogs. In the meantime, I’ve added all photos to my open Google album here: https://goo.gl/photos/Q9CEN7Vmi4UcFFoU8

P.S.  Thanks for reading!

20161231_172744

December 25, 2016

As long as I can remember I swore I would never miss a Christmas with my family at home in Colorado.

But, here I am, at a hostel in Sao Paulo, Brazil, after a long day of traveling from Iguazu Falls. It’s Christmas Day.

When I was a kid, the thought of being away from my family on Christmas never crossed my mind because I was obviously living at home. But even when I went out of state for four years of college and then moved to California for a job, I knew I’d always be going home for the holidays. And even when i had a serious boyfriend of 2.5 years, there was still no question that I would be with my family at Christmastime.

I grew up with a tradition of celebrating on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. Christmas Eve was what my siblings and I looked forward to the most because it meant “party hopping” until church, finger foods and snacks for dinner, presents!, staying up late and slumber party at grams and gramps’ house. We even got to open presents from Santa that night. Christmas day meant sleeping in, playing with the toys we received, a proper christmas “dinner” at 2ish and board games into the evening.

Our tradition was largely built from the fact that my dad didn’t have living parents to spend the holiday with and my mom’s only married sibling devoted Christmas Day to his in laws. Our annual tradition just worked for our small family, and us kids loved it. I never wanted it to change.

But as is often the case, things started to change. One year in high school, my dad proposed that we start going to the 5:00 service instead of our normal 7:00. We had pared down the number of friends we visited before church and my new cousins (from the married uncle) didnt need to be up late the night before going to visit the other side of the family. It just made sense to go  to church earlier. I, on the other hand, was livid. I can’t honestly tell you why, though, aside from the fact that it was change. It disrupted our beloved annual tradition. “Thats not how we do it,” I cried. I probably even told my dad i hated him.

I eventually got over it, but I still blamed my dad for ruining Christmas that year.  Meanwhile, everyone else (i.e. the adults) was very happy with the change.

20161218_195348In college, Christmas changed because my dad had started drinking (though we didnt know it at first). I came home for the holidays a couple years to someone who was not my dad: he was acting weird, being especially argumentative, experiencing odd health issues and even falling. I remember calling my boyfriend and crying to him that dad had ruined Christmas again.

Dad was in and out of the picture at Christmas in the decade following as he often opted for the bottle over his family. During his sober stints, grams would invite him to join, but it was incredibly awkward. We all refrained from drinking, which had become part of the tradition as we all came of age, and we watched his every move to make sure he wasn’t sneaking alcohol from my grandpa’s well-stocked  cupboard in the kitchen.

After moving to California, I still looked forward to going home for Christmas, even when I had zero vacation days having started a new job just two months earlier. I bought an overpriced plane ticket and went home for a long weekend.

Not too long after that, though, drama in other corners of the family started boiling over. My mom, her siblings and the wife who married in would go through bouts of fighting, jealousy and shit-talking behind backs. At one point my aunt in law didn’t like our family (maybe she still doesn’t). Then my blood aunt started getting sickly jealous of my mom. And all the while mental problems plagued at least two of them.

I know every family has its disfunction, but ours has gotten bad and the sibling drama has really started affecting the rest of the family.

Last year, was the first time I was confronted with the idea of not spending Christmas with the whole family. My sister and brother brought it up in a group text message. I immediately felt the same way I had 15 years early when my dad proposed changing Christmas. I hated that they were putting me in this position. I didnt want anything to change. As my eyes welled up, I shot them down and then excused myself from the conversation.

Later my mom brought it up, sensitively proposing that we try something different. I wasn’t happy about it, but finally accepted that I was outnumbered and it didn’t make sense to force people to be with each other on Christmas when they didn’t want to be. I reached out to my friend whose family has an annual party on the 24th and invited myself there. I told her the family might be in tow.

In the days before Christmas Eve I ended up finding out through a sibling that my mom had chickened out on her own plans to skip the annual Christmas tradition and would actually be there Christmas Eve. What’s more, it had been communicated to everyone, including the grandparents and cousins I adore, that “Lindsay won’t be here for Christmas because she’s going to a party.”

Once again, I was livid at Christmastime. I didn’t want to change plans to begin with but felt cornered and had decided it was for the greater good.

In the end I went to my party, with siblings in tow, and recorded that as the first Christmas (Eve) that I wasn’t with my (whole) family.

Looking back, maybe that was the transition away from my beloved holiday tradition that I needed considering I didn’t spend Christmas Eve or Day with my family this year. Or maybe I subconsciously planned my international sabbatical over the holidays on purpose because of how unconfortable and drama-filled Christmas had become.

Aside from missing my family, I’m not too bummed to have missed being home for the holidays. The fam went back to the tradition and all the aunts and uncles were pleasant in my brief FaceTime chats with them on Christmas Eve. It all seemed to go off without a hitch this year, which I’m sure makes my stressed grandma happy. She had all her family under one roof for the holidays again, except me.1482628068508

Last night I was at a hostel in Foz de Iguazu (my first night in Brazil). It’s summer, so I was dripping sweat in the under-air conditioned lounge. I had walked to the main part of town and treated myself to a steak dinner and bottle of wine. Other Christmas Eve dinner options included sushi or Pizza Hut.

This morning I visited the Brazilian side of Iguazu Halls. I had toured the Argentinian side yesterday, but today’s views were equally magnificent.

There were a lot of people there – away from their families for the holiday – and the summery, tropical weather did not evoke any wintry, festive feelings. It did not feel like Christmas. In fact, it hasn’t really felt like Christmas at all this year.

I have been traveling for nearly two months and have hardly seen any holiday decorations. No houses were decked in lights, no stores appeared to be having holiday specials and Christmas music was nowhere to be heard. The exception was a fancy malls in Buenos Aires. A three-story tree sponsored by Carolina Herrera stood in the middle surrounded by other decorations and a “picture with Santa” station. These were the only indication that Christmas was around the corner.

It was good to be reminded that it’s Christmastime and experience a little festivity, but it also reminded me that it was all I had this year. Yeah, it rarely feels like Christmas in warm SoCal, but I always had my family and snowy Colorado to go home to.

This year, Christmas was a Spanish-speaking Santa at the mall, a Brazilian steak dinner by myself, a day-trip to the amazing Iguazu Falls and a FaceTime chat with my family. Sure it’s not the Christmas I imagined as a kid and it’s far from the tradition that I tried to hold onto so tightly, but it’s a Christmas I’ll remember and cherish forever. I’ll probably never have another Christmas like it.

unknown

December 13, 2016

It’s been 10 days since I’ve written, but funny enough I’m still at Rado Boutique Hostel in Santiago, where I was when writing my last blog.

In those 10 days, I’ve stayed in six different lodges, trekked/walked/climbed 157,651 steps and seen some of the most beautiful scenery. December 6 was the first day of my trek in Southern Patagonia, in Torres del Paine National Park.

I booked with an agency called Chile Nativo and was added to a preexisting group of two – third wheel to what I expected was a couple. When I arrived for the 11 am briefing, though, I learned there would be four of us and that we were all single women. Two of them were coworkers who had tacked on a Patagonia trek to the end of their work trip to Santiago. The other gal was a Massachusetts native-turned San Francisco resident, who was traveling by herself. She’s normally inclined to make long international trips like mine, but this time she only had a quick break for the trek and a couple days in Santiago.

All these girls were big travelers actually, and my passport – with nearly 15 different countries stamped in it – palled in comparison. The coworkers, Eva from Slovenia via Albania and Lucy from England, were in a line of work for a nonprofit that had them traveling quite a bit, mostly to war-torn, third-world countries. Erica, who would be my bunk mate for the duration of the trip, once took a 10-month trip around the world, picking up an Irish boyfriend along the way who joined her in her travels.

These ladies were legit! And after getting to know their lively, easy-going personalities, I was even happier to be matched up with them.

Day One
After the briefing, we were set free in Puerto Natales to get lunch before we set off by private van to Torres del Paine National Park, about 2 hours north. Once there, we set off on an easy hour hike with our day packs to the first Refugio where our big packs were waiting. We saw heaps of guanácos (in the alpaca family), royal blue Lago Sarmiento and hieroglyphics. This was the easy day, and was by no means preparing us for the couple tough days to follow. The only difficulty we encountered was the insane wind that made walking the flat trail slower.

After settling in, we cheers’d Pisco Sours to the adventure ahead, chatted over dinner and waited for the sun to set at 10 pm before going to bed.

20161207_122831Day Two
Our energetic guide, Chuma, warned us that this day would probably be the most difficult. Although we would only be bringing our day packs, the trek was uphill for the first half of the day. We climbed to 880 vertical feet to the base of Los Torres – paltry compared to what I saw on the Inca Trail – passing dry valleys, dense forests and rock ravines.

Once there, the view was a worthwhile reward: The three towers loomed in the distance, with a beautiful aqua-colored lagoon of glacial slurry below. We sat for nearly an hour, taking it all in and eating our soggy salmon sandwiches. The rest of the afternoon was dedicated to making the trip back, which was a bit quicker but not necessarily easier.

Day Three
We checked out of our Refugio and set off with our full packs nearly six hours (disclaimer: which included two cat nap spots at mirador salons the route). We were headed west toward the French Valley, one of the park’s other popular sites that help make up the W. We ended at a small Refugio tucked away on the hill with views of Lago Nordensjkold and Los Cuernos, the mountain peaks of the lodge’s namesake.

Chuma said this would also be an easy day, and considering we should have made the trek in less than four hours, we definitely turned it into an easier one. Otherwise, there were some hills to conquer and we were carrying our full packs for the rest of the trip. The day’s trek didn’t end at a breathtaking destination the way the previous day’s had, but we all agreed that the scenery along the way was equally beautiful, just different.

20161208_150629

We arrived to Refugio Los Cuernos in the late afternoon and checked into our upgraded private cabins that I immediately fell in love with. They were super adorable with a front door and porch that looked out over the massive aqua-blue lake. It was from that point, though, that everything went downhill. The water kept coming disconnected from our private bathrooms, the showers didn’t get hot or drain, the comedor was way too small and way too stuffy, and the wind got so bad at night I was afraid our little cabin’s roof would blow off. By the next morning Erica and I were eager to get out of that place.

Day Four
Needless to say, I was in a bit of a funk on this day. Adding to my mood was the fact that instead of continuing west along the W and up into the French Valley, we had to backtrack the route from the day before and wouldn’t get to see the French Valley. Just three days before we set out on this trip, an essential bridge connecting the east side of the W with the west, just below the French Valley, broke. Word on the street was that a small boat was taxiing people from one side to the other on the lake at the mouth of the river. But, over the course of the first few days we learned that this boat was not only unreliable – some people waited just to have it never show up – but also not equipped to handle the volume – hundreds of people cross that point each day, but the boat fits only 12.

Basically, this bridge situation meant that people attempting the W west to east could not get across to ascend into the French Valley and people going east to west (like us) couldn’t cross after descending the French Valley. Both sides would have to backtrack and take a bus-boat combo to get to the other side at the farthest points of the W.

After all the planning and money and time and excitement, we would not be able to officially complete the W and we would miss out on the French Valley, one of the most amazing sites of the region. Sensing our disappointment, Chuma and the folks at Chile Nativo came up with a plan the night before for us to forge the river by foot on Day Four. If we were willing, we would carry our packs (over our heads if it got too deep) and wade through the icy cold glacial river. Though Chuma didn’t have anything but guesses to the river’s depth and current, I was elated. We would get to see the French Valley!

Unfortunately Chuma’s lack of info (research) concerned one of the others so much that she managed to talk the other two down from their excitement (she did have some valid points). Radioed reports back from the river claimed it was a bit deeper and stronger than Chuma’s initial guesses, so majority voted against the idea. While I would have still forged the river, I wasn’t comfortable putting the others’ safety at risk.

20161209_135059A silver lining to the frustrating situation was our rare opportunity to spot a puma while making the drive to the other side. We got out of the van for quite some time and watched it before it finally crossed the road in front of us and disappeared into the hills.

Day Five
This was technically the last day of our excursion with Chile Nativo and the last leg of the W. We left Refugio Paine Grande and headed north to Lago Gray and Refugio Grey, both named after the glacier that fed the lake. We walked at a steady clip, despite hills to climb and very strong winds pushing against our fronts. Because it was our last day, we were on a time crunch to arrive before 1 pm. The gals had tickets to the boat that would take them in front of the glacier and then down the lake to where the private van would pick them up and take them back to Puerto Natales. I had a separate 1 pm reservation to kayak in front of the glacier; it meant I would forgo the boat and have one more night in a refugio before trekking back down the previous day’s route to get to the boat-bus combo back to Puerto Natales.

After saying bye to Chuma and the girls, I joined 9 other people to kayak. We got decked out in neoprene suits and gear and awkwardly set out in double kayaks as if we had just learned right from left for the first time. Before we could even go 50 meters, though, the less-than friendly Polish guide at the front cancelled the journey due to winds that had just picked up and abruptly changed direction.

Instead of waiting to kayak the following morning, I joined a group leaving for a glacier hike. And perfectly, my German friend from a previous refugio was going on it by herself. The excursion ended up being really cool, allowing us to see the glacier from a boat as well as on top. We saw some amazing ice formations, tunnels and streams while on top of Glacier Grey. It’s just incredible to think something like that exists (I might try to dedicate a blog to that later).

Day Six
A night at Refugio Grey was included with my glacier package, so I had to make my way back down the left side of the W from Grey to catch the transport from Refugio Paine Grande. I had no problem making the 3-4 hour trek myself; it was only semi-strenuous and the route was very clear. Chile Nativo provided me with all the instruction and tickets I needed.

Instead, the problem was that “heavy rain” was in the forecast. My pack wasn’t waterproof and despite having sprayed my jacket before the trip, I wasn’t confident it was waterproof. Hiking while wet can be pretty miserable.

After breakfast I quickly hiked further up the trail to a couple miradors of the glacier and hanging bridges. I made good time and made it back to the lodge to eat lunch and get my big pack. That’s when the rain started… Needless to say, I was not motivated to leave my cozy spot in the lodge and start making the trek.

Fast forward three hours: I was soaked, cold and not stoked that it would be another five hours before I arrived at my hotel back in Puerto Natales. It was 5 pm, the boat left at 6:30, and the bus left after 7, arriving in Puerto Natales at 10 pm.

At one point during the hike I contemplated staying in the park an extra night to try to hike to the French Valley – I would cross that river myself dammit! But at this point, I just wanted to add a night so I could take a hot shower, dry my clothes and climb under warm covers. So that’s what I did. Fortunately Refugio Paine Grande had a bed available in a six-bed mixed dorm. I had to rent a sleeping bag (mine was back in Pueto Natalas, because we didn’t need it during the trek) and share a room with four smelly boys and another gal. The shower never got warm, let alone hot, and I couldn’t seem to warm up, but curled up inside my sleeping bag in one of the lounges was way better than wet on a long bus ride.

Day Seven
Torres del Paine, you are amazing and glorious and wonderful, but I am ready to get outta here!

After checking out, I retired my beloved Brooks trail runners. I had actually planned to leave them behind after my last trek; they had seen plenty of miles and I needed to unload some weight. They were still soaked from the day before, so they were definitely not coming with me.

I caught the 11:35 boat and the following bus, and that was it. Thank you for the past week Patagonia! Even though I didn’t officially complete the W, I’d like to go to some of the other places in Patagonia in the future before returning to Torres del Paine. The region is so massive and spectacular that I’d want to see other infamous spots like Fitzroy, El Chaltan, Calafate and the lakes district first.

Chile

Posted: 9.30.2011 in A day in the life..., hollowayfarer

December 4, 2016

I started writing a blog post after I returned from the jungle and arrived in Chile, the second country of my South American tour. But it went neglected and now a week has passed. In that time I’ve been exploring central Chile, with three days in capital city Santiago, an afternoon in Casablanca Valley (wine country), two days in artsy Valparaiso and an afternoon in beach town Viña del Mar.

While I definitely crammed in a lot during that week, I wasn’t super impressed – hence, nothing inspiring to write about. Santiago was a nice change after gritty Iquitos and the muggy jungle, but you could have swapped it with any American city and never known the difference. I liked that because it was familiar, comfortable, safe. But it also meant little history, culture and sightseeing. Sure, I picked out a bunch of hip restaurants to try, but again, they were similar to those I could find in LA. Two days were plenty in Santiago: I did a city walking tour, explored the fine arts and contemporary arts museums, watched the sun set from the top of the tallest skyscraper in South America and hiked in the hills outside the city.

20161129_201441

All the girls in my hostel dorm room – my first shared room at a hostel – were headed to Valparaiso at some point over the next week. We all knew it was a destination, but none of us could really say why. I thought it was an artsy beach town with different neighborhoods in each of its cerros (hills). I imagined something like Laguna Beach.

I was way wrong. Like Iquitos, it was gritty and didn’t feel super safe; I felt completely out of my element again. The aforementioned artsy component was the street art covering nearly every free wall space throughout the city. I learned on the city walking tour that Valparaiso was never intended to be a city. It was a port town, called Port of Santiago, for central Chile before the Panama Canal opened. Because the only way around South America was in the far south of the continent, the port was a key way to move goods. A church was built in the port town, and around it a city grew.

I learned on the street art walking tour that despite how much graffiti there is on buildings and even houses, it’s still illegal if you don’t have permission from the owner. There was a lot of beautiful, illegal art throughout the city, but there was also a lot of beautiful street art that was granted permission or even commissioned. You could truly get lost in the hills chasing the amazing talent (especially considering the bizarre streets and passageways the city is built on). You might even see some in progress.

Considering that it’s a port town, there are no beaches, and in my two days there, I never saw sun. Despite its stark contrast from Santiago, there wasn’t much to do here either. Viña del Mar was just a quick escape from the city for lunch, but there wasn’t sun there either, to at least enjoy its beaches.

Today was dedicated to travel. I took an early bus back to Santiago to catch my flight to super southern Chile for my Patagonia trek in a couple days. I am really looking forward to it, but I am also sad that today marks the halfway mark to my trip. One month down, one month to go.