I’m Dreaming Of A Grey Christmas

This blog entry about the events of Friday, December 24, 2010 was originally posted on December 30, 2010.

DAY 9 (CHRISTMAS DAY):  It’s funny how most of the Christian world embraces the snowy image of Christmas, regardless of the fact that that many Christians live in a tropical climate zone or in the southern hemisphere where it’s summer in December, and that Jesus Christ was born in the desert.  In Santiago, I saw many images of Santa Claus and snowmen in the pedestrian malls, all on a 70°F day.  Fortunately for Chile, there exists a region of ice and snow within the country — part of the second largest continuous ice sheet in the world (after Antarctica) — and I was determined to get there by day’s end for a truly unique “white Christmas.” 

“This is already going to be epic,” John said, staring out the window of the transport bus to Torres del Paine National Park that morning, after a quick pitstop at a souvenir store at the road junction.  “Just look at the landscape.”  We hadn’t even arrived at the park entrance yet, but outside the window was a vast countryside of browns, blues, and greens — and all the shades in between — intense as they reflected the sun’s rays with their nature-designated hue of the color spectrum.  And amongst the colors were the snowy white peaks of the Paine Mountain Range, serving as the backdrop for the sheep, cows, horses, ostrich-like nandus, and herds of llama-like guanacos playing all their reindeer games — except for two in particular having sex, guanaccie-style, while walking over a hill.

“Bow-chicka-wow-wow,” John started with the 70s porn music.  Already epic indeed.

As foretold by Chris (our Base Camp guide the day before), the bus dropped us off at Laguna Amarga Station like clockwork at 10am, our entry point to the national park, where we registered and paid our park fees (about $30 USD) with a park ranger“Feliz Navidad,” I greeted him.

“Feliz Navidad.”

From there we hopped back on the bus for the prompt 10:30 ride to the Pudeto Guard Station, where we’d start our journey.  The road there was not without its own beautiful sights (and photo opp stops), so inspiring that “This is ridiculous,” John raved.  “I mean, look at that.  It’s stupid.”

“Oh, it’s fuckin’ retarded,” I said, ignoring any boundaries of political correctness.  In front of us was the postcard image of Lago (Lake) Nordenskjöld flanked by the Monte Almirante Nieto.  To the east were more awe-inspiring mountains that made John drop his jaw — and pull out his camera “like a Japanese tourist” — every time. 

As also foretold by Chris, we arrived at Pudeto Station (equipped with DirectTV for the rangers, of course) on time, with just a little over an hour to kill before the catamaran ride to the beginning of our hike.  This gave us just enough time to follow the sign for a quick 45-minute round trip hike to the Salto Grande waterfall.  We dropped our bags off by the boat dock and head on foot with our newly established group: “The Germans,” Simone and Felix from Stuttgart, and Florin the Romanian, who was quickly becoming the comic relief soul of our group. 

“You’re going to be a rock star,” I told him as I shot a picture of him, and admitted he would soon become a character on my ongoing travel blog.

“I don’t know how we can travel together for five days, man,” he said smugly in his European accent, playing the part.  We had to correct him that it was “rock star” and not “rocking star.”

“I’m going to give you a run for your money,” John told him.  It was the beginning of the buddy bickering that would ensue during the next few days, with ongoing jokes about Florin being a Transylvanian vampire, and John being turned on by guanacos.

Another transport bus arrived at the station just in time for our short waterfall hike; joining us was Catherine and Lauren (a.k.a. “The Colorado Girls”), a mother and daughter duo from Boulder that were paired together like an Amazing Race team. 

“You are ‘Lauren’ and I am ‘Florin,’ with an ‘F’,” Florin told them during a break later on that day.  “The F is for ‘Fabulous,’” he continued heterosexually.

“It’s a homophone,” said Catherine, the more animated of the duo.  Florin looked confused with the ambiguous term.

“It’s when two words sound the same but have different meanings,” I informed him. 

“I never heard this word before,” he said in his sharp, witty way.  Catherine and I assured him it was what it was and that he could still learn a few things about the English language out in the wilderness.

The trek to and from from Salto Grande was brief, but worth it as a time killer; the mountain waters of the Lago Nordenskjöld poured down a cliff of a small strait and into the Lago Pehoé in the most glorious way, emitting a few rainbows, and a whole lot of wind.  The hues of the water were the most amazing part; the mineral makeup of melted moutain snow made Lake Pehoé look more tropical than Patagonian.

“Look at that blue,” Felix noted.  “It’s like the Caribbean.”

“We should get margaritas,” I told him.

It was not a Caribbean cruise ship but a catamaran that took us across the turquoise waters to the other shore.  Arriving at the boat just before departure didn’t work to our advantage for trying to get a seat on the crowded inside, but no matter; it was quite lovely on the upper deck.  Soon the catamaran was off, against the wind, eastbound to the main central lodge.  The peaks known as Los Cuernos (The Horns) slid by from the left to right of our peripheral visionsJohn and I celebrated by basking in the sun with a pack of peanut M&Ms, and wondered how the wind didn’t blow off what we both fathomed might be the conductor’s toupée.  (It was actually his real hair.)

“So this is our White Christmas,” I said to the group, admiring the peaks of Los Cuernos

“Yeah, it’s Christmas!” Catherine realized.

“Merry Christmas!”

“Merry Christmas!” she shouted to everyone on deck; she was definitely the more outspoken of The Colorado Girls.

“This is stupid,” John said, still awe-struck of the majesty of it all; he was quite the fan of mountains.  However, he was also conscious of the trek ahead.  “I feel my skin starting to toughen up.”

“You mean that figuratively or in a sunburn way?” I asked.  It was quite bright out there with the sun rays pouring down through the hole in the ozone layer.  Sunblock is a must in these parts.

The catamaran eased into port, so The Germans, The Colorado Girls, John, Florin, and I (a.k.a. “The Three Wisemen” or “The Three Kings” for the Christmas metaphor) — plus a whole bunch of familiar but hard-to-remember-named faces — retrieved our bags and paid our fares (about $22 USD each) to continue on foot

“We couldn’t have asked for a better start,” John told everyone.

“Well, twenty degrees [celsius], no wind…” Florin retorted.

We had landed at the base of the curve between the first two ascenders of the cursive letter W (where families of birds hang out), and were to head up the leftmost one, towards the Grey Glacier.  We were already stocked with our own supplies on our backs to last five days, so there was no need to stop at the lodge store for provisions or cheesy t-shirts.

WE TREKKED UP AND DOWN the undulating path, with views of Lago Grey to our left and Cerro Paine Grande to our right.  Nature dwarfed us and made us small.   Generally it was sunny and occasionally overcast, with some parts of the trail like wind tunnels, with gusts as strong as the ones blowing snow off the peaks.  My rain cap flew away at one point, but was thankfully stopped by a bush near a couple of pretty young French girls (a.k.a. “The French Girls”). 

“Merci bien!” I called out to them.  One of them replied in English.  “Where are you from?” I asked.

“From Paris,” one answered in an unusual pseudo French/American accent.  “And you?”

“I’m from New York.”

“Oh, New York!” the other answered.  “She loves New York.” 

Our encounter was brief, but it was not the last we would see of them.

We continued on the trail, packs and allLago Grey was changing the color grey the closer we approached its source: in the distance was the Grey Glacier, a part of the Southern Patagonian Ice Field.  Our views were interspersed by parts of the trail in the woods, intersecting the paths of little mountain streams, or with bridges built by the parks department.  Needless to say, we were all frequently taking pictures of the scenery and stopping for water — water you could drink directly from any mountain stream without filtration or treatment.

“Anyone want any of my nuts?” John joked, passing out his bag of trail mix.  Florin declined; he didn’t have the palate for salt mixed with sweet together in a bag.

“I’ll have some of your nuts,” I answered.  “We are sharing a tent together.”

We knew we were getting close when we arrived at the Refugio Grey, an outpost shelter for those wishing to stay in the indoor comforts of a bed, or camp on the grounds near a hot shower.  I had John pose like a poor kid in a Dickens novel, peering inside on a cold Christmas Day; lo and behold, an old woman was sitting near a cozy fireplace.  This refugio would be the “luxury outpost” until the new lodge was completed, which was just being started when we walked by.  Not that we cared; we were going to hike an extra hour north to the free campsite, with its better lookout point to the Grey Glacier for our White — or Grey — Christmas.

“That’s a nice blue,” Felix commented to me, admiring the small, electric blue icebergs floating in the lake that had calved off the ice sheet and floated southbound.

“It’s a Blue Christmas,” I told him, adding yet another color to the pun.  “Like Elvis.”

“Ah, he’s here waiting in the refugio,” he quipped.

Eventually, we continued on and got a better glimpse of the source of the icebergs, the blue and white Grey Glacier itself, which made me smileIf you’re not going to have a White Christmas at home, trek to the second largest ice sheet in the world, I thought to myself.  There was one more hour of trekking — and one more treacherously narrow pass — to the free Los Guardas Campsite, our home for the night.  It was equipped with a cooking shelter (from the wind), an outhouse with flushable squat toilet, and a one-minute walk to the mirador overlooking the glacier.  John and I set up our tent amidst the unexpected abundance of mosquitoes (that Chris never mentioned), on the higher ground of the site.

“We’re the overseers,” he said.  “The penthouse.”

“We’re movin’ on up to the east side,” I seconded.

The third wisemen set up his tent near The Germans, but then met up with all of us as we convened at the mirador to admire our mission accomplished of the day: the jagged glacier peaks that comprise the big glacier at the edge of the lakeI was happy and so was John (picture above), particularly when The French Girls showed up for a short while, having trekked up from their tent back at the paid campsite near the refugio. 

IN THE SPIRIT OF CHRISTMAS, we Three Kings of Orient are, bearing gifts we traveled afar…  We had the travelling part done already, and so I surprised my new friends by bearing gifts: these neat spoon-fork-knife combination Sporks that I’d bought at the gift shop on the way to the park that morning.  They were happy to receive them, and they were put to good use at our campy Christmas dinner. 

“I also have a something,” Florin said, keeping us in suspense.  Eventually he revealed it was just a big hearty can of pork and beans to share — something heavy he wanted to get rid of from his load — which John and I gladly added to our pot of spaghetti that night instead of tomato sauce. 

“It’s pretty good,” I said truthfully.  Even better with grated cheese.

Our improvised Christmas dinner was nothing compared to The Germans’, who had already pre-made rice and vegetables at the hostel the night before and just heated it up — but it was really pale in comparison to the food The Colorado Girls were making, with fresh onions and garlic.  Lauren offered us some of the latter.

“[But you can’t have garlic,]” John joked to Transylvanian Florin.  The vampire jokes continued.

“[I don’t want to see what you do with those guanacos, man,]” he answered.  The playful banter continued — but I was way too tired to continue as I had trekked the entire day with only three hours of sleep in me from the night before (due to loud nightclub Christmas party music near my window in town).  Sadly, I passed out before really meeting The Spaniards, but I would get to know them in the days to come.

I woke up in the tent later on when John rushed in and grabbed toilet paper.  “I just left a gift for the whole camp,” he said, rubbing his hands with sanitizer when he came back, describing his outhouse experience as “explosive.” Ah, pork and beans.

And so, the Christmas metaphor was complete; all Three Kings traveled afar and beared their gifts in Patagonia.  A Merry White (Grey, and Blue) Christmas indeed.


When I asked Lauren what she did, she said she was a Physics major, but eventually wanted to teach.  “You could also be a roller coaster designer,” I suggested.  Just sayin’.

Next entry: Eat What You Like

Previous entry: Die Hard With A Christmas

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Comments for “I'm Dreaming Of A Grey Christmas”

  • More to come.

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  12/30  at  12:47 AM

  • Coming up: A double rainbow parody.

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  12/30  at  01:20 AM

  • skipping ahead just to be first!  raspberry~~
    I assume Erik can’t be the first comment poster on his own blog.  Now back to read yesterday’s entry!

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  12/30  at  02:33 AM

  • ok I type : and P and comments substitute “raspberry”  ummm…

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  12/30  at  02:35 AM

  • c’mon, you now the three kings didn’t come until a week later..

    but that glacier is pretty damn sweet…

    did you get a chance to do this on your trek?


    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  12/30  at  11:26 AM

  • Amazing! how close did you get to the glacier? Did you touch it? Did you eat it?

    Posted by bil Chamberlin  on  12/30  at  04:59 PM

  • i want a spork.  awesome pics

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  12/31  at  10:22 PM

  • Greetings from Easter Island where Internet is not so great… Will have to catch up on the blog in a few days when I’m back on the mainland.

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  12/31  at  10:47 PM

  • Erik, are you shaking on the mainland? 7.1 earthquake….

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  01/01  at  11:02 PM

  • Easter Island is still over 2000 miles away from Santiago, Chile in the middle of the South Pacific.

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  01/02  at  03:30 PM

  • Erik! I didn’t know you were on another trip… This one is completely awesome.  “oh, it’s f-ing retarded” - hahaha… This looks like something I could do - hiking and mountains!  BTW, I was in Dahab in December and checked right into Penguin Village because I remembered it from your blog all those years ago.  Loved it!

    Posted by sara  on  01/26  at  03:00 PM

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This blog post is one of nineteen travel dispatches from the trip blog, "The Global Trip: Chill Out in Chile," which chronicled a trip through the country of Chile, from the central and coastal cities of Santiago and Valparaiso (plus a quick jaunt to Argentina's nearby wine region of Mendoza), followed by a trek through southern Patagonia, and a journey to Easter Island.

Next entry:
Eat What You Like

Previous entry:
Die Hard With A Christmas


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