Saturday, March 31, 2018

Boomers take Millennials' lead on Patagonia road trip

South America adventures 2018 - Episode 6

After 12 great days on a floating comfort bubble—the Celebrity Infinity cruise ship—we were back in the grimy, horn-honking, too-many-people, colorful, messy world of Latin America.

We'd left the ship two days early.

Nothing against the cruise— it was fantastic— but the four of us, Chris Korbulic and Chelsea Behymer,  PK and me, had planned a road trip into southern Patagonia. Another two days of northerly travel at sea would have meant hundreds of miles backtracking to our road-trip starting point, Puerto Montt, Chile.

(If you don't know much about Chris and/or Chelsea, check out the links above. Not ordinary people at all.)

How did we end up on a cruise with our son and his girlfriend? Did they hate us for horning in on them? Did our being with them for a month evoke pity from their peers and strangers?
We don't think so. We all had too much fun. An account of the magic leading to us joining them is included in the first post of this series: 

All of a sudden, upon leaving the cruise, we were on our own after being coddled, entertained, and blown away by stunning landscapes. The most important question?

Who will feed us in the manner to which we've become accustomed? 

We adapted by feeding ourselves, and let it be known that heaping chopped green salads seasoned with slivers of prosciutto and shaved Italian cheeses were our staple. 

But oh, it was great being unscheduled and open to whatever came next. 

Freestyle traveling anyone?

Chris and Chelsea have a greater comfort level with the freestyle approach than PK and I do,  but we're game for most anything they can throw at us, which, it turned out, was quite a lot.

Chelsea and I watched over the luggage at the terminal dock while father and son fetched a rental van we'd reserved. Instead, they roared back in a shiny black 4WD pick-up with a roomy backseat. Vrooom!

The van, it appears, had problems, and the rental outfit switched in the pick-up for no extra charge. It turned out to be perfect. Even though the truck lacked a canopy, we were able to purchase a commodious blue plastic tarp, and all our stuff fit under it. 

Chris had been in Chile "working" for a month at his demanding job as a professional kayaker traveling the world before we met up with him in Buenos Aires. After a few days walking around the city, the three of us joined Chelsea-the-rockstar-naturalist aboard the ship.

Chris carried with him his camping and kayaking gear in a bag the size of one of those tiny European cars. Small for car. Big for luggage. 

The first order of business was to drive about 12 miles from Puerto Montt to Puerto Varas, a charming city with a flair for German architecture, where Chris had reserved rooms in a hostel.

Bunk room for them, private room for us. 

Puerto Varas is a beautiful little city in the Los Lagos region of Chile.

Confession. PK and I had never stayed in a hostel.

Hostels are associated with youth. We are not youth. We are late sixties, early seventies. But hey. We had put our itinerary into our son's hands, he who has explored Chile extensively 
over the past 12 years.

We had to go with his flow. Didn't we?

Chelsea and Chris figuring out how to enter the hostel, and about
to open the door on some "issues." 

The vintage hostel had a couple problems. First it smelled like a a gas spill. And that private room Chris had rented for us? 

It did not exist. Apparently.

PK and I were shown a bunkroom with steep ladders, each of us 
imagining negotiating such in the middle of the night with full

Ladders + bladders = trouble.

What about the choking gas fumes?

We learned from an indifferent check-in guy that the gas stench was wafting up from the ancient wooden plank floors, which had been
treated earlier in the day with kerosene. Or so he said.

This took awhile to sink in. 

Someone is treating wooden floors in a wooden house, at least 100 years old, with a petro-
leum product?

I folded my arms in a resolute stance.

Ok. Nobody light a match. Don’t even crack a joke as igniting mirth could blow the place to

I channeled my sister, who would never put up with toxic fumes. Well first, she wouldn't
agree to sleep in a bunkroom with strangers. I tried my best to be her.

“I’m not staying here,” I announced, which isn't like me as I am generally way too nice.

A bit of a flurry ensued. The affable hostel owner showed up, and somehow we soon had a

private room, with a shared bath, of course. 

Chris and Chelsea slept in a bunkroom, and with their young bladders, not to mention their young legs, had no problem.

On a positive note, the four of us had to ourselves a second-floor common area with a big 

coffee table upon which we devoured the heaping dinner salad we'd prepared in the hostel's well-equipped kitchen.

The windows were opened wide, of course, and the problematic 
fumes dissipated into the night. Then we fired up our computers and spent hours trying to 
plan our itinerary, and confirm our accommodation for the next next night.
After that.....who knows?

That's about right for road trips. Sketch out the route and fill in the blanks as you go. That's how PK 
and I plan road trips, anyway. 

The Petrohue River, not far from where we left the cruise, is a beautiful monster, and the first river we saw in Chile as independent road trippers. 

But PK and I realized that much of the advance planning was on our behalf. The need to 
know where one will lie one's head at night is, on this trip at least, a boomer thing.

Except for van breakdowns and other extenuating circumstances, they are the ultimate boondockers - people who prefer free camping in the hinterlands apart from others.

Next up: We leave Puerto Varas on a chilly wet morning and end up that night in one of the most magical places on earth: the Cochamo' Valley in Patagonia.

Earlier posts about our South American travels

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Friend's poem helps release winter

Bleeding heart blooms in our yard in April and is just starting to emerge. Patience, patience. 

This is the second time I've "published" this poem by my dear friend, Michele Templer. The first time was when I was a reporter for the local newspaper (Grants Pass Daily Courier in Oregon), and wrote a weekly column called Second Thoughts. It was 1984. 

For 12 years I worked primarily from my home office, using an early modem to send my work into the paper.
  Here's what it looked like, but my phone was black and squat, not trying to be modern like the one pictured.  It was cumbersome and slow. Its dial-up connection was sketchy. 

Working at home was nice, but it didn't prevent deadline angst. On the day that Michele's poem arrived—she either delivered it in person or mailed it, because it was handwritten on a half sheet of textured duff-colored paper—I was having a horrible very bad day, as we used to say. 

It was late February, and early spring had revealed itself in little sprouts of green here and there, but the skies were still bruised, rain still fell, and cold soaked through the walls. 

I was writing about a dysfunctional city council meeting, and worrying, at the same time, about our first-born son, Quinn, whose public school education I was monitoring. Why do kids have to be labeled so young? He didn't make the "bluebirds" or whatever the best first-grade reading group was named. (He turned out fine and is now Quinn Korbulic, PhD.) I worried about "kid" stuff a lot when I was trying to write.

The house needed cleaning. Laundry needed doing. Dinner needed planning and cooking.  I had a deadline, and was awaiting a phone call from a disgruntled incoherent person whose quote I needed to complete my article.

Then I'd have to wait for the dial-up modem to work to get the stupid article in that day's paper. And I'd run out of coffee. Grrr.

I took a moment to read Michele's poem.


My shoulders relaxed. I sighed and sank into my chair. Then I smiled in agreement with a truth she realized. Somehow, no matter what, we make it through the days, the months, the years, the seasons.

Spring will soon emerge. And it will be all better.

A little sun, longer days, warmth, and we can  bloom in unlikely places.
I've revisited Michele's poem dozens of times though the years when I forget that life is too short to get caught up in BS, and that spring, no matter how elusive, will eventually flow into the hills and valleys with warmth,color, fragrance and hope.

I'm thinking of friends and relatives in northern climates who are discouraged that winter still clings to the forests, the hills, the roads, the car windows, the driveways, the sidewalks, the heating bills, the livestock in fields, the dogs  in yards, the kids in soccer and softball practices.

Winter also grips their moods and their sometimes fragile states of mental health.

I don't know where you live, but the Southern Oregon forecast calls for chilly rain and, by this Friday, snow at lower elevations. What?!

All this cold and wet despite that today is the spring solstice. It really is.

As Michele wrote:
Yellow crocuses bloom
Outside the door.
The sullen grey sky
Hangs heavily, neither hot nor cold;
Trees bud on branches bare.
Winter would hold us,
if we’d stay,
in chilled stasis.
Spring beckons, often too softly
to be heard.
Transitions are hazardous
Still, stumbling, we somehow emerge.
                                 ~ Michele Templer 

A super bloom on Upper Table Rock, Rogue Valley, Oregon, April 2017.  Coming soon!

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Ferdinand Magellan was a mean SOB

Punta Arenas, Chile is the taking-off point for the Strait of Magellan's #1 attraction—the great noisy nature show staring Magellanic penguins and gulls on Magdalena Island. A lot of stuff in this part of the world is named after Magellan.
We spent most of a day on the island, but the Nao Victoria Museum, a privately owned surprise off the beaten tourist trail, is #4 out of 88 on TripAdvisor's Things-To-Do-in- Punta Arenas, and demanded to be seen. Star of the show is a replica of Magellan's ship.

Replica of Ferdinand Magellan's ship, one of five under his command, that set out from Spain in 1519 to discover a western sea route to the Spice Islands. The voyage, which lasted three years, began with around 240 men. Only 18 completed the journey. Magellan was not among them. 

Like almost any other person in my generation, I'd slogged through the lifeless textbook world history account of Magellan's explorations in10th grade. I never thought about him again until I saw that we'd be smack dab in the middle of his expedition route during our recent cruise around Cape Horn on the tip of South America. Surprising myself, I thirsted after exploration history. Gimme Magellan!
The back of Magellan's ship shows how small it is, and, compared with modern ships, how insignificant the keel. It also shows the messy industrial area surrounding the private museum, which is in a hard-to-find location. No matter. 

Conveniently, PK had purchased (and shared with me) via Kindle, a book called Over the Edge of the World: Magellan's Terrifying Circumnavigation of the Globe, by Laurence Bergreen. Highly recommended.

Over the Edge is an engrossing historical tale that I read with ever-increasing fascination, but also gut churning and jaw clenching as we moved in real time through territory Magellan explored.

People in the 1500s were stuck on the flat-earth theory, and his crew feared they would drop off the edge of the earth if they ventured into previously unexplored waters. Maybe a giant waterfall into space? It was a real fear. But Magellan was determined and bold enough to test it.

But crew members had more to fear: starvation, hypothermia, scurvy, and the captain himself.

This is scurvy. It also causes skin problems, fatigue
and can be fatal. Several crew members died of it. It
wasn't until the 1800s that Vitamin C deficiency was 
identified as the cause.

Why don't I like Magellan?

When he got wind of a mutiny brewing, he made examples of the ringleaders by having them drawn and quartered, a particularly grisly operation. Then body parts were preserved and displayed on the ships for months. Of course, he was a product of the Inquisitions that were prevalent in Medieval Europe, where ingenious and terrible torture devices and methods were created.

I understand his need to stop mutinies, but couldn't he have just thrown them overboard? That's a bad enough way to die.

When his crew encountered "giant" people who they reported to be twice as tall as regular people, and also friendly, generous and naked, Magellan captured one and locked him into stocks.

Just go right ahead and steal a person from the only place he's ever known, Ferdinand.

The Patagonian was among the few who survived the return voyage to Spain, and was eventually returned to his people. No thanks to Magellan.

Incidentally, the discovery of "giant people" also led to the region being named Patagonia.
Antonio Pigafetta, who sailed with Magellan in the 1520s, had written of an encounter with a race of South American giants. According to Pigafetta, Magellan referred to these giants as 'Patagons' because of their big feet, and so the southern tip of South America came to be known as Patagonia. disputes the size of the giant people, but not that their footprints led to the area being named Patagonia.
Antonio Pigafetta, by the way, was an Italian scholar and Magellan's assistant, who took copious notes about the expedition and is the primary source for Over the Edge. It was Pigafetta, who recorded without judgment, what he saw and heard.

When Magellan approached populated islands, he'd often fire off the big guns and make a lot of noise, scaring the hell out of the indigenous people while establishing his dominance.

This behavior eventually backfired as he made enemies with people who outsmarted and killed him, even as he was dressed in full armor. They hacked him to pieces in shallow water, at first being able to access only exposed flesh.

Because of this book, Magellan is pressed into my brain as a singular bully and brute. True, he was a fearless explorer, a sailor and navigator with an unstoppable drive for sniffing out the elusive passage between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, which bears his name..... the Strait of Magellan.

He was disciplined and single-minded. But he was also vicious, cruel, and sanctimonious. He did it all for God, gold, and personal glory.

Being on the Strait of Magellan was fascinating and fun. Also cold and windy, hence the puffed up look as we wore all our winter clothes at once. 

A full-scale replica of the James Caird, a small boat used by polar explorer Ernest Shackleton and his men in a serious pinch, is also at this museum. Endurance: Shackleton's Incredible Voyage, is a nonfiction must-read for fans of survival epics starring men of extraordinary character prevailing against impossible odds. The yellow flowers are typical lupines from this area. They're wild flowers that come in multiple colors and are shoulder high.

Darwin was in his twenties, a young geologist and naturalist when he traveled on the HMS Beagle, a circumnavigation of the world that took five years to complete. The ship also went to the Galapagos Islands, where Darwin's discoveries helped to solidify his theory of evolution. 

Chelsea Behymer explores the HMS Beagle's innards.
The Strait of Magellan wasn't easy to find, as you can see. Especially the way to the Pacific with all the alternate twists and turns. 

Next Up - We leave the cruise ship early and begin a road trip in Chile, the Boomers and the Millennials making their way in Patagonia.

Earlier posts about our South American travels

Penguin drama - #1 attraction near Punta Arenas, Chile

Thursday, March 1, 2018

Remembering Patagonian penguins - an antidote to relentless bad news

Soon after we returned from a December-January trip to Chile and Argentina, I determined to write one blog post a week until I ran out of material. I managed three posts before I ran out of computer. My 2012 MacBook Pro was choking and gasping, taking forever to do anything. The spinning ball of death, black screens, refusal to sync with its Apple friends. Bad computer! I finally took it in for a checkup. It was in the shop for several days undergoing various murky but productive procedures. It's back! I'm saved from having to replace it for awhile. Now let's see how I do with one post a week. Thanks for reading! 

Love birds. Penguins mate for life.

I was chopping peppers and onions, listening to All Things Considered on NPR. It was dinnertime, just one day after the Florida high school  massacre, which was top news along with the DACA deportation threat. 

Kids shot dead. Kids raised in the USA facing deportation. It made me sad, angry, dyspeptic. I needed an antidote, something pure and pleasant to think about. 

A Magellanic penguin party on the path to a beach near Puerto Madryn, Argentina.
Penguins came to mind. And seagulls. Penguins and gulls on an island in the Strait of Magellan in Chile. Yes. The same Strait of Magellan that we learned about in elementary school when we were forced to memorize names of early explorers. Who cared? Not me. But now I do. It's the penguin effect.

On Chile's Isla Magdalena, thousands of penguins tended burrows and chicks on a windswept hillside with an ocean view. Penguins and their predators — seagulls, skua, petrals, and, in the sea not far away, hungry sea lions and maybe Orcas and leopard seals, waiting for a penguin snack. 

         About 100,000 penguins occupy the island during breeding time, a space 
they share uneasily with thousands of breeding seagulls.
Over the onions, I remembered that crisp morning in Patagonia, how we'd reluctantly agreed to a two-hour ferry ride to Isla Magdalena (and two hours back) to see penguins. Ho hum. (We'd visited another less dramatic but still engaging colony out of Puerto Madryn, Argentina a few days earlier.)

Then how within a few minutes of stepping off the boat, we were open-mouthed, wide-eyed witnesses to raw nature. Wild screeching and flapping, frenzied feeding, squabbles and fights to the death, tender parental care, necessary but cruel parental choices. Beautiful and 

A skua looks for unguarded chicks and/or eggs amongst the gulls. They eat primarily fish or krill, but are opportunistic in chick-rearing areas. 

It wasn't just thousands of penguins, but thousands of seagulls. Yes, those boring birds we see everywhere when we're not far from a large body of water.  They're so common and predictable, always snatching scraps and marauding around docks where fish are cleaned or loaded. But this was different. 

The penguins were raising young, but so were the gulls. The two species share space but  are not cooperative. The gulls are always grousing one another, and some hang out by penguin burrows hoping to snag spills when a parent comes to regurgitate food for chicks. Earlier, when the penguin chicks are smaller, the gulls eat them, if they can.

This solo mama accompanies her vulnerable chick. A skua might have it's eye on it. Or even another gull. Some gulls in the breeding season live almost entirely on the eggs and young of their own species, usually males with no young of their own. (Source: Birdforum) Egads! No wonder they fight.

These gulls are aggressive and loud. They're fighting. I'm guessing all males. Although there could be a female protecting her chick in this pile. We saw adult gull carcasses here and there, but we couldn't stick around long enough to see the results of this brawl. I wish I had the soundtrack. Ear piercing.

It may look as if this gull is landing in -  or leaving - a peaceful gathering, but the next minute the situation devolved into a fight. See previous photo.

The whole fam-damnly. Father guarding against gulls and anything else that may invade space around the burrow. The chicks look old enough to fend for themselves, but without waterproof insulating adult plumage, they'd die of hypothermia if they entered the sea to forage. Father is making a might noise. 

These well-fed healthy chicks apparently have two active parents. It looks like dad is in the nest while mom is taking her turn foraging in the ocean. 
In contrast, at least one of the parents of these chicks has come to a bad end, and they may be awaiting food that will never come. The chick on the right is on its last legs for sure, and the other, although twice as large, looks stressed. It was hard to see. Sometimes when one parent dies, the remaining parent chooses to feed only the stronger chick. If both parents perish, the chicks starve to death.

A Magellan goose, AKA upland goose, tries to hide her chick from an overwhelming,
in my opinion, number of predators. All those gulls!

This guy waddled right up to me, then I was chastened by a ranger for
 being too close. Getting to the beach was a mile-long hike on a wide
trail through a brushy area thick with penguin burrows under bushes. This

was in Argentina during our first penguin colony visit.

An adult penguin contemplates its cloaca, an all-purpose orifice
that handles urination, defecation, breeding, and birth. 

A penguin parent apparently reacting to heat. It was a sunny shirtsleeve day at the Argentinian penguin reserve. Several birds seemed affected by it. 

Earlier posts about our South American travels

Around Cape Horn - Happy 2018!
Ushuaia, Patagonian peat moss, and a polar plunge
Patagonian Paradox - the more you see, the more you want