Zack writes: 04/26/05
This is a big apology for all of the people who have wrote us over the last year asking why we have been stuck in Central Chile since March of 2004. We aren’t stuck, we didn’t become ex PATS, (although almost…) and we aren’t dead. We, meaning Scott and myself Zack, are back in our respective homes in the states, working and living life post Tip2Tip. We both are working hard to try and erase debt that accumulated with an 8th month road trip, and I am getting ready to have a baby! Gulp… We also continue to work on the film, and are almost through looking at the 90 hours of footage. Double gulp… So, once again, sorry for the most delayed update of all time!
So, last time I wrote, we were in Central Chile enjoying the Mediterranean climate of late summer / early fall, surfing and preparing for the last true leg of the journey. After leaving our good friend Ziad in Santiago, Scott and I headed south to visit the famous Parque Pumalin and its founder, Ex patriot / conservation mogul Douglas Tompkins. Due to some old connections between my mother and Doug’s ex wife, we managed to sneak in as special guests of Doug himself. Parque Pumalin basically divides Chile in half, as it starts near the border of Argentina and Chile in the mountainous region, and extends all the way to the coast near the island of Chiloe. Sometimes criticized, but more often than not praised for his environmental consciousness, Doug Tompkins owns a portion of Chile big enough to start his own country.
Scott and I have named this “country” Douglandia. Open to the public, although limited in access, Douglandia is truly the brainchild of a mastermind conservationist. Doug’s catch phase some hats he had printed up for the park are Alerce 3000, a particular tree he is working to bring back to what it was before it became a popular building material in Chile, and the estimated incubation period for the forests are about 1000 years. Lets hope Douglandia lasts that long. To get to Douglandia, we have to cross over into Argentina, cut down through the ‘Tahoe’esque ski town of Bariloche, and then back across the pampa to
once again enter Chile. Our 5 weeks spent in Southern South America, we probably jump back and forth from these two countries almost 10 times.
Our first experience in Argentina is food related. Hungry and tired, with no Argentinean pesos to help dispose of our hunger, we search out the oh so common ATM machine and get some new cash currency. The Chilean peso is around 550 to one dollar. The Argentinean Peso is about 3. If you remember, a few years back, Argentina had a well publicized economic crisis in which they had to cut off some of the zeros on their currency. Either way it is much easier to manage conversions in the brain. We find a pizzeria, sit down, listen to a new accent in Spanish, and order a pizza, a beer and a Pepsi. Somehow our young waiter mistook our order to mean we wanted a pitcher of beer and a two-liter of Pepsi, so now we have to determine how to deal with the problem. Scott decides the easiest way is to just drink, so that we do. Pepsi, Pizza and BEER… mmmmm.
Crossing back into Chile, the Argentinean border guard doesn’t take much liking to Scott, and decides to search our vehicle to the bone for drugs. Scott’s nervousness is showing as the Argentinean glamour guard fondles Scott’s precious cameras. As usual, I am trying to act as a nice barrier between the two as their heads butt in different languages. We escape without incident and are now once again in Chile. Now its time for Scott and I to butt heads.
Something about my driving and how I didn’t park the car in the right spot according to Scott has me really pissed off, and I don’t hold back. I tell him that the last 8 months have been living hell dealing with his shit and that I am just about out of patience. We spend the next 3 hours driving in some of the most beautiful terrain I have seen along the entire trip in silence.
Southern Chile is amazing territory. Suddenly I feel like we are going in reverse and navigating back up from California through Oregon and Washington and on to Vancouver. The rivers are clear and clean, abundant with trout, cut out of snow capped peaks that are surrounded by slabs of granite hidden by rain forests. As we drive towards Douglandia, I feel stupid for saying anything to Scott, arguing with myself for letting my emotions come out as they did.
We arrive at night and make our presence aware to the woman who runs the office at Parque Pumalin. She explains that camping is up on the left and that there is water and bathrooms. Scott heads of into the wood to camp and I set up in the Car.
I wake up to a still pissed off at Scott and contemplate skipping out on the tour of Parque Pumalin to avoid his presence, but I can’t imagine sitting in the car all day alone, so I go. We are whisked off in a boat to the other side of the bay where we meet Rodrigo, Doug Tompkins’ right hand pilot. Rodrigo explains that he has some errands to run, and asks us to join him. Before we know it, we are 1000 feet up touring the park in a Cessna plane. Rodrigo is an amazing pilot as he shows us miles of geography probably never set foot upon by man.
At one point, we are looking for a co-worker by the name of Pablo who runs another part of the park. As we fly, he tells me to keep my eye out for a black Toyota truck. Suddenly Rodrigo has the plane completely sideways to enhance his view below. “There he is!” he shouts and we fly sideways through the air.
Coming to grips with my anger towards Scott has become suddenly easy, as I cannot believe our luck once again that finds us flying around southern Chile in an airplane. Once on the ground again, I apologize and explain that all of the stuff I had said I didn’t really mean and that I hope he understands. He does and returns the apology as well.
We spend the next two days relishing in our luck once again in the park, enjoying the beautiful fall weather and our interesting encounter with Doug Tompkins, who puts us up in his house for a night and honors us with an interview. Doug gives an interesting interview, but to be dead honest, where Yvon Chouniard was extremely interested in our trip, Doug is not, and goes as far as to tell our camera during the interview to stay home and not travel. Doug has some great stories to tell, but not much to share, and as we leave I try and remember if he ever even asked me my name.
Back into Argentina, time is starting to run out as our tickets have us scheduled to leave Puntarenas, Chile in less that three weeks. Looking at the map has me thinking, so close, but yet so far. Rodrigo the pilot really wants our car, and Scott has proposed that we bomb down to the tip, and then return back up to drop off the car. I think he is crazy and tell him so. We both agree that the Landcruiser should make it to the tip, so that is what we end up deciding, that it just wouldn’t be fair to leave the cruiser in southern Chile without visiting the end of the world.
Once we get out of the mountains in Chile and Argentina, we find ourselves crossing the Pampa, which is somewhat similar to a desert. The roads are dirt, the winds are strong and it is really cold. We spend sometimes hours in silence driving basically from one gas station to another. Gas is cheap here, for what its worth, about 1.19 a gallon. Apparently the state of Santa Cruz, Argentina has large quantities of oil reserves. I also notice a lot of people drive cars on propane gas here.
We are heading down highway 40 towards Chalten, the famous granite mountain range that our heroes Yvon Chouniard and Doug Tompkins climbed 30 years prior. Named Fitzroy, our first glimpse of the peak is nothing but clouds circling. Chalten is freaking beautiful though, a tiny pueblo sitting at the base of these just amazing peaks of granite that ever so often pop their heads out of the clouds. I get vertigo just thinking about climbing something like that.
One day we hike to the base camp where climbers lurk waiting for the right break in the weather to make an accent. The base alone is a four-hour hike from the town, and the views from here are amazing. Scott decides to climb a small peak just up from the base, which has me nervous as hell. I watch him ascend the shale covered side of the mountain and make his way up to the top. I follow him about one third of the way but retreat as my fear of heights takes over. As he climbs out of my sight, I get a nervous feeling in my gut, which doesn’t leave until I see him coming back down 45 minutes later. Its scary to think about suddenly being alone so far away from home, and for some reason this hits me here at the base of Fitzroy. As I wait for him to come back, watching clouds swirl and form into what appears to be snow in the near future, I start to think about having to hike 4 hours to the nearest phone to call Scott’s mom and explain that he has fallen off of a cliff. No thanks. I am glad to see him appear at the base.
We end up making friends with another Rodrigo who is a park ranger here in Chalten. Rodrigo has a Landcruiser just like our old blue, and he dearly wants to buy our car. We explain our situation and how we really need to make it to Ushuaia, now only about 14 hours away, and that time permitting we will try and come back to drop off the car. We bid him farewell and once again the wheels are in motion, 13 hours and counting to our final destination.
Not much happens between Chalten and Ushuaia, except a strange Internet Café filled with 14 year old kids smoking cigarettes, our first view of the Atlantic Ocean, and another border crossing with Chile. We cross into Chile at night, and as the border closes, we are forced to camp in the pampa off of the main road. We drive until we find a flat plain to set up the tent on, and go to sleep. Waking up is easy as I am as cold as I have ever been on the entire trip. It is freezing here, that bone chilling cold that comes from a lack of moisture, and my hands are burning from the freezing temperatures. We are now within 5 hours of our destination, and I am wondering what this whole trip means. I want to get there so I can go home and see my girl and my friends and family, but a voice keeps going off in my brain trying to remind me that it is journey not the destination. I try and be ready for anything that touches my senses, but I am still ready to go home, but Ushuaia first.
We make it. The odometer shows us that we have traveled over 20,000 miles. We sneak our car into the most southern park in the world and drive until the road ends. There is a sign at the end, which states that we are standing 12,000 miles from Barrow, Alaska. Our math and theirs doesn’t add up, but we cheer and take photos and get drunk. Our celebration of hugs and a bottle of wine are viewed by some Argentinean tourists who can’t help but notice our Alaskan license plate. De verdad vinieron ustedes desde Alaska?? Did you really come all the way from Alaska?
We finish the wine and take some photos, and suddenly we are truly going backwards, backtracking over already covered terrain. I don’t know whether to laugh, or to cry. Tip to Tip has been accomplished. 03/27.04