What better way to inaugurate my blog than to give a brief update on my around-the-world experience, just over 3 weeks in?

WHERE ARE YOU NOW?

El Calafaté, Argentina, “Home of the Glaciers.” A small town on a big lake, with easy access to Perito Moreno, the most famous glacier of Argentina’s Glaciers National Park.

This is my second visit to the town, which is a jumping-off point for El Chaltén to the north (see below), and Puerto Natales in Chilé to the south (more on that in a bit).

WHERE ELSE HAVE YOU BEEN?

Buenos Aires, Argentina (7 nights) – Argentina’s largest city, and capital
Bariloche, Argentina (5 nights) – A more epic version of Lake Tahoe
El Calafaté, Argentina (4 nights) – See above
El Chaltén, Argentina (3 nights) – A small mountain village inside Glaciers National Park, with hiking access to the famed Fitz Roy mountain.

WHAT HAS BEEN YOUR FAVORITE EXPERIENCE SO FAR?

Hielo y Aventura’s “Big Ice” Expedition in El Calafaté, a day-long trek deep onto the Perito Moreno by land, sea, and ultimately, ice.

Perito Moreno Glacier Face
The face of the Perito Moreno Glacier – Photo by Will Spencer

In the days leading up to our tour, the weather in the park had been clear and sunny. But on the day we went, we unwittingly hiked into the first snowstorm of the season. Trekking onto the glacier, the surrounding mountains were bare. By the afternoon they, and we, were covered in snow.

Alien Landscape Covered in Snow
An Alien Landscape Covered in Snow – Photo by Will Spencer

The instructions said to bring a waterproof jacket, which I chose to leave at home (thinking it’d be sunny) and waterproof pants, which I don’t own. So to add to the physical intensity, when the snow started coming down, I progressively got wetter, and colder.

Alien Landscape Panorama
Perito Moreno Panoramic – Photo by Will Spencer

At first, this was uncomfortable, mostly because of my self-judgments about how stupid I was not to follow clear instructions. But as the snow intensified to a sideways gale, I checked in with myself and asked, “How am I actually feeling?”

I realized I wasn’t uncomfortable at all. In fact I felt fine. Though I was wet, my jacket insulated my body adequately, and my hat and balaclava insulated my head and face. That realization freed me up to enjoy the moment. I went from feeling cursed by the glacier, to blessed by it.

I think in the past I’ve spent a lot of time, money, and energy attempting to insulate myself from the elements. But I discovered there’s much to be said for dropping those defenses, and letting nature in. Just a little bit. I’m tougher than I think.

Photo of Will, Joy
Joy – Photo by Raphael Santërre

Runners up:

– Tango lessons at La Catedral de Tango in Buenos Aires. Magical. Will receive its own post.

– Going for a 5k run + bodyweight workout at the start of my second week, the day before the Big Ice trek. It felt great to get back on track with my fitness, and spend some much needed time taking care of myself after 2 weeks of too much drinking and partying. (Soundtrack to my workout: Jason Lee – “Bon Voyage”.)

– A moment at a lake in Patagonia I cannot write about. When we meet again, ask me, and I will tell you in person.

WHAT’S THE BEST THING YOU’VE EATEN?

Cooking Up A Storm – Photo by Will Spencer
Cooking Up A Storm – Photo by Will Spencer

The night after the Big Ice trek, I was preparing to leave for El Chaltén and realized I’d have extra chicken and veggies left over I wouldn’t be able to eat. So, I invited 2 friends (Ben and Tine) I’d met in the hostel to join me in a chicken stir-fry dinner, which I cooked for them.

I’d never cooked for strangers before. I made the best dinner I’ve ever done. It was perfect. Since then, I’ve enjoyed cooking healthy food for others in the couple hostels I’ve stayed at.

C’MON! YOU GO ALL THE WAY OVERSEAS TO COOK YOUR OWN FOOD? SURELY THERE MUST BE SOMETHING ELSE AMAZING!

Like being at home, cooking is by far the easiest way to save money to spend on experiences, and to eat healthy, But yes there is something else amazing… and don’t call me Shirley.

Ché Empanadas
Ché Empanadas – Photo by Will Spencer

The empanadas from Ché (as in Ché Guevara) Empanadas in El Chaltén are the bomb. The Carné (beef) and 4-Cheese are incredible.

And the evening after the Big Ice trek, I enjoyed the nightly all-you-can-eat asado (Argentinian BBQ) offered by the hostel. Grilled steak, sausages, chicken, and veg, and lots of wine. Absolutely fantastic. Argentina is famous for its grilled meat, and our grillmaster was definitely a pro.

WHO ARE SOME OF THE PEOPLE YOU’VE MET?

Nate – 30-something expat DJ from San Diego I met at the bar across the street from my hostel in Buenos Aires. (Of course on my first proper night in BA I’d get to know a Californian DJ!) We spent an evening at the bar chatting about music and politics. Then the following weekend he invited me to a delicious rooftop asado with his friends, many of whom were players in the Argentinian national symphony.

Nate (right), Ben, and I walk home drunkenly after a rooftop asado – Photo by a wasted Will Spencer
Nate (right), Ben, and I walk home drunkenly after a rooftop asado – Photo by a wasted Will Spencer

Clare – 20-something Australian girl who I met in the hostel hours after I met Nate. She sadly had her passport, debit card, and some of her belongings stolen out of a hostel locker (!!!) just days before. Though frustrated, angry, and broke, spending hours arguing with banks and bureaucrats, she never lost her sunny disposition. We spent a couple days hanging out, walking around Buenos Aires, and enjoying deep conversation about life and relationships.

Ben – 19-year-old British kid on a gap-year trip. A phenomenally mature, intelligent, and friendly young man, who took a big leap departing from the UK to spend 6-9 months in South America, when many of his friends chose to stay much closer to home. He has a very bright future ahead of him. I’m glad we met. (Follow Ben’s adventures on Instagram.)

Ben McMullen Photographer
Ben McMullan, a friend – Photo by Will Spencer

Afra – The Dutchess of Holland. We first met briefly in Buenos Aires on our last nights there. Then we bumped into each other again randomly 10 days later in El Calafaté at America Del Sur Hostel, in the kitchen. We struck up a conversation and ended up traveling to El Chaltén with friends, where we spent 3 days hiking and cracking endless jokes. Thankfully, she was able to teach me which direction west is, and what an orange is. Finally.

Afra Grin
Afra Demonstrates the Height Relationships Between Cerro Torre and Fitz Roy – Photo by Will Spencer

Afra is by far the most well-traveled person I’ve met, having visited 45 countries. For the same reason, she’s also the one who most completely understands the gravity of this journey I’ve signed up for, more than I do, I think. And in addition to being an entertaining traveling companion, she was able to provide many invaluable tips about Africa, Southeast Asia, and more. A fun and fortunate meeting.

Sebastian – Owner/operator of Aylen-Aike Hostel, aka The Temple of Rock, in El Chaltén. A true character. If you go to El Chaltén, which I recommend, stay with him and you’ll see what I mean. He defies description. “Hhhholy shit.”

Rose & Jordi – A recently-retired 65-year-old couple from Barcelona who did the same grueling 20km trek to Fitz Roy that I did… and who did it faster. A true inspiration to me that age is in the mind, not in the body.

Jordi and Rose, an inspiration
Rose & Jordi, An Inspiration – Photo by Will Spencer

WHAT HAVE YOU LEARNED?

I sadly didn’t have much time to plan my trip before leaving San Francisco. Between selling all my stuff, moving into storage, throwing and playing at my going away party, and wrapping up all the loose ends of my life, I really couldn’t think through many of the little things like, “What do I want to do once I arrive?” I’ve relied heavily on the advice and word-of-mouth of strangers to educate me basically every day.

On the road to El Chaltén - Photo by Will Spencer
On the road to El Chaltén – Photo by Will Spencer

And I’ve learned that this is a totally acceptable way to travel. There’s something freeing about living-in-the-moment, seeing where the wind takes me, and what I feel called to do. I don’t know that I’ll do the entire journey this way, but it’s been an education on being in touch with my intuition, and going with it.

ANY REGRETS?

I wish I took Spanish instead of French in high school and Italian in college. English is not widely spoken in Argentina. Even a passing knowledge of Spanish would have made this whole part of the journey so much easier.

That said, unless I plan to become a global language savant in the next few weeks, I know I’d best get used to the feeling of not speaking the local language.

WHERE ARE YOU HEADING NEXT?

Puerto Natales, Chilé. It’s the main jumping-off town for Torres Del Paine national park, which apparently rivals Glaciers National Park in its beauty.

It’s part of the “Gringo Trail”, which includes Buenos Aires, Bariloche/Esquel/El Bolson, El Calafaté, El Chalten, and Ushuaia, the main tourist route through Patagonia. I hope to trek through the park for 2-3 nights, weather permitting, as winter is most definitely coming down here.

Sunset over El Calafaté - Photo by Will Spencer
Sunset over El Calafaté – Photo by Will Spencer

3 POINTS OF GRATITUDE

(We’ll take for granted that my entire experience exists in a web of immense gratitude for getting to do this, which I’ll cover in a separate post.)

1) My health. Over 2 days in El Calafaté, I trekked nearly 40km up some very difficult trails, to spectacular views. I have use of both my legs, and I’m in reasonably good cardiovascular shape. I am so intensely grateful to have my health, because it’s the foundation of this whole experience.

2) The Argentinian People. Argentinians have a reputation for being arrogant. I haven’t found this to be the case. They’ve been welcoming, friendly, and extraordinarily patient as I’ve butchered their lovely language in front of them. They’re also a proud people, and in my experience they have quite a lot to be proud of.

3) Apple: After owning and loving my iPhone 5S for nearly 3 years, I bought a 6S for this trip, mostly for the camera. I never dropped my 5S. So far, I’ve dropped my 6S four times. Thankfully, it hasn’t shattered.

I’m grateful to Apple’s engineers for making such a tough phone… even though it’s slippery as f*ck. I need a case.

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Until next time…

Will Standing by The Sea
Will, Standing by the Sea – Photo by Afra Grin

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