Travel Series: Fancy_Pants in Chile and Argentina

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Sailing West to the Undying Lands (leaving Torres del Paine park on a boat after our hike)

Start by giving us a brief background on your trip. Where did you go? For how long? With whom? And what was the main purpose of your trip?

I spent three weeks in Chile and Argentina, two of which were with my wonderful friend & longtime travel buddy, and one week was solo. I flew into and out of Santiago, Chile, but spent most of my time in Patagonia and the Lakes District region (south and near the Chile/Argentina border). The purpose of this trip was, as I stated when crossing borders, “leisure”, but more specifically to see a new part of the world and go hiking in beautiful places.

How did you decide on this trip?

Travel Buddy and I met in graduate school and got into a routine of going on a trip together roughly once a year. Due to thesis writing and job hunting and general Life Getting in the Way, we were a couple of years overdue for a trip together. Additionally, she moved to a different city for work at the beginning of the year, so we hadn’t seen each other for 10 months! We planned a trip for essentially as soon as she had enough vacation time accrued at her new job for us to have a solid 2 weeks together.

Travel Buddy on the trail early in the morning in Torres del Paine, Chile

How did you decide on location and activities?

Our criteria for location were: (1) We wanted to go somewhere that would be pleasant for hiking in late October/early November (2) We both wanted to go somewhere new and horizon-expanding (3) My partner STRONGLY PREFERRED that we go somewhere with an excellent reputation for safety (4) I wanted mountains, and (5) We didn’t want to spend a fortune on plane tickets.

Deciding on activities was easy because we’ve traveled together before and we know what we like: a big multi-day trek, a day hike or two, lots of natural beauty, some city time, and some good food.

Hellooooo natural beauty! Surrounded by mountains with Glacier Grey in the distance in Torres del Paine, Chile

How did you budget for this trip?

Poorly! I’m in a weird place in my life/career, so my finances are kind of in shambles, and budgeting is more of an abstract concept than a concrete practice for me. I had sort of roughly planned to allocate the money I made in my part-time research gig in the summer towards the trip. I wildly underestimated how much this trip was going to cost (by about half, because I am apparently a huge optimist where finances are concerned), but fortunately, I also underestimated how much I was going to work this summer, so it sort of worked itself out.

I also ended up adding a couple of significant expenses to my trip in order to accommodate my partner’s anxiety about my solo travel. I changed my flight itinerary fairly late in the game to fly back out of Santiago instead of Buenos Aires, and also purchased a GPS tracker/satellite communication gadget to take with me on my hikes. Those things ended up being close to 20% of my trip budget, which is a little staggering, but my partner is super accommodating about my need to travel and do backcountry hikes, so it’s only fair that I make it all a little bit less stressful for him.

The magic portal to Narnia we’ve all been looking for (Pucon, Chile)

What was your biggest worry about the trip?

My biggest worry about this trip was the same thing I worry about for every trip–that I’m spending a lot of time and energy and money on something that is totally optional and self-indulgent, and that I’m going to do a Bad Job of traveling and be consumed with regret over the all the resources I’ve wasted. I’m a lot of fun to be around right before I travel.

Fortunately, I have traveled enough now that I can tell myself “You feel this way before every trip, and you have never regretted a single trip you’ve taken”. It helps a little bit, but the only real antidote is to just GO!

Tell us about a lovely micro-interaction with a stranger

During my week of solo travel, I had to catch a 6 AM bus to cross the border from Argentina back into Chile. An older Argentinian gentleman on the same bus saw me, a young woman traveling alone, waiting at a bus station at 5:30 in the morning and I guess his dad instincts kicked in because he casually kept an eye out for me for the duration of that trip, making sure that I had the right documents for the border crossing and that I was where I wanted to be when I got off the bus. It was sweet, but not patronizing, just a dad dadding about in the wild.

An Argentinian bus station, pre-dawn. Look at those sleepy buses!

Tell us about a good conversation you had

An early morning goodbye to a near-empty refugio near El Bolson, Argentina

I did a 2 day solo trek in the mountains near El Bolson, Argentina. I thought I was being clever by doing the trek in the low season, but I didn’t realize just HOW low-season it was until I arrived at the mountain refugio and was one of only two guests for the night. The other guest, a man from Buenos Aires, was happy to practice his English, so we drank mate together and chatted by the light of our headlamps. He was taking a few days to relax in the mountains before heading a few hours north to Villa de la Angostura, a town in the mountains where he was going to run a marathon. In the mountains. All forty-two kilometers of it. He said the beauty of the mountains makes it easy, which must be true after training all year running up and down the same few practice hills at home with his team.

I looked it up later and, yes, this is a real thing that people do, and the winning times are around 3:30 for men and just over 4 hours for women. Which just goes to show that no matter how badass I think I’m being, there are always people being way more hard-core. Humans are crazy and awesome.

Tell us about an animal friend that you made and/or adored from afar

My bus stop cat pal near Pucon, Chile

First of all, there were dogs EVERYWHERE. Just free range, well fed, shiny-furred, totally chilled out dogs on the streets. Are they strays? Do people just let their dogs roam outside like cats? Are they community dogs? I never found out, but it was pretty great. Sometimes one would follow us companionably for a few blocks, but mostly they seemed to have their own agenda.

I also met some good cats. One cat adopted me and my hiking buddies while we were waiting for a bus. She made her rounds so the three of us could properly pay our respects, then settled in on one hiking buddy’s knee, hooked her claws into his pants, and purred like a lawn mower. He stared at her for a minute then said, in a low voice, “I don’t like cats…but…I guess this is fine.”

 Tell us about a way you coped with traveling alone, or with your travel partner(s)

Travel Buddy and I planned our trip to specifically allow for regularly-spaced opportunities to split up and, for instance, go explore a town by ourselves, but we never felt the need to do so in our two weeks together. We were pretty in sync about needing downtime. Upon checking into or returning to a hostel after a day of travel or activities, we would routinely look at each other and say “Wifi coma time?”, and then retreat to our respective bunks and zone out on the internet for an hour or so. In addition to giving us much-needed mental space, it was reassuring for me to realize that I’m not the only one who needs regular turn-my-brain-to-mush time.

I coped with traveling alone by listening to comedy podcasts. Once I thought I had lost my headphones and it was the most anxiety I felt all trip.

Tell us about a very satisfying food you ate

We were in Argentina after having worked up an appetite on our trek, and gotten very tired of trail snacks (peanut butter, crackers, dried fruit, and even chocolate get old after awhile), so naturally, we went on a glorious three day bender of grilled red meats and ice cream. We had lamb, and steak, and burgers, and venison, and trout (whoops!) and more lamb and chorizo. Once we split a half kilo of ice cream containing three different types of chocolate. I could feel my strength and vitality returning to me with every bite.

A strong second place goes to the dusty bottle of Coca-Cola I bought for six dollars on a mountain after a hard day of hiking on a finicky stomach.

Laaaaaaamb! One of many red meat feasts

Tell us about a wild luxury you indulged in (not necessarily the most fancy or expensive thing you spent money on, just what felt the most out of character for you)

We essentially hired a private chauffeur for an afternoon. We had given ourselves about 24 hours in the Argentinian town of El Calafate between the bus ride in and our flight out, which we thought would be the perfect amount of time to see its one famous attraction, the Perito Moreno glacier, located 90 minutes outside of town. However, by the time we arrived in the afternoon, we realized that all of the buses to the glacier had just left for the day, and none of the morning buses would get us back in time for our flight. We had heard glowing reviews of this glacier from other travelers and had recently acquired a taste for large chunks of ice, having spent hours staring in rapt admiration of a much smaller glacier back in Chile, and figured we would definitely regret missing out on this. So we hired a taxi to pick us up at the bus station, drive us out to the glacier (he made the 90 minute trip in 65 minutes), wait around for three hours while we soaked in the sights, and drive us back in town.

It only cost us each an extra $20 CAD over what it would have cost to take the bus had the scheduling worked out, and it solved a couple of logistical problems for us (we got to stash our luggage in the taxi, and we got dropped off directly at our hostel). But we felt like QUEENS in our private chariot racing down the straight, flat open road of the plains towards the mountains.

Well worth a taxi splurge! Perito Moreno Glacier near El Calafate, Argentina

Tell us about a beautiful space you saw that you desperately covet and want to attach to your house/apartment

A plant covered window inside my favorite reading nook ever in El Bolson, Argentina

There was a greenhouse reading room in an outrageously cozy hostel I stayed in. It had a wall of windows covered in climbing plants, and a small couch where I drank many cups of tea and read.

Tell us about the most useful item you packed

I have so many wonderful things for travel. A lightweight down jacket that is very warm, but packs up very small, and also can be rolled into its own hood to make a travel pillow for sleeping on buses and planes. Ear plugs and an eye mask. A compact travel bag that folds up into the size of my fist, but can be used as a day trip-sized backpack or a shoulder bag. A plain white cotton scarf that functioned as a fashion accessory, a foot hammock (see travel hack below), a picnic blanket, hand towel, and a light blanket. This is obvious, but MY PHONE (interactive GPS map, media player, camera, personal library, oh and also a communication device).

A new life or travel hack that you learned

Several months ago, Manka linked to a blog post of travel hacks in one of the Thursday link roundups, which included an Amazon link to a foot hammock that you can loop around the tray table on the airplane seat in front of you. I have short legs so sitting normally with my feet on the ground is NEVER comfortable, so I always have to awkwardly stack my feet on the back end of the armrest of the person in front of me, which is rude, I know. This idea was revolutionary! I didn’t buy the product, but instead, I used my handy-dandy, multi-purpose scarf and tied each end to the tray table arms, making a sling about 8 inches off the ground for my feet. I felt cozy and clever and slept like a baby.

Beautiful mountains and lake in Llao Llao park near Bariloche, Argentina

 What was the most challenging thing about the experience?

Being away from my partner for three weeks was far and away the most challenging part. Even though I was in contact with him almost every day, and even though I was was having a wonderful time, I still counted down the nights, every night, until I got to see him again.

What was the easiest thing about the experience?

Almost everything was easy! We stuck to a very typical backpacker circuit, so hostels were plentiful with good amenities, transit was simple and reliable, people were friendly and patient with Anglophones, there were lots of other travelers around to chat with, and everywhere we went felt safe.

My favorite photo of the trip, a bird-filled pier near the bottom of the world in Punta Arenas, Chile

Is there something you would do differently if you went again?

I am conflicted about photography. On one hand, photography is not my artistic medium, so it would feel weird and poseur-ish (not to mention heavy and bulky) to carry around a high-quality camera. Plus, I find that the act of taking pictures disrupts the flow of experience. I watched a girl pose for her partner to photograph her, arms outstretched, in front of a glacier for 5 minutes of “Wait, pull your hair back. Arch your back more,” and that’s how the Instagram sausage gets made. You have to deliberately engage with a craft to make it good, and that’s a whole other activity.

On the other hand, I have a terrible memory, and pictures are the best way to remember things. So if I went again, I think I’d try to take more pictures, and not just when I’m out hiking. Pictures of city streets, grocery stores, hostel bunk beds, new traveling friends. I’m still working on finding the balance between experiencing things and recording them.


Jess is doing her best, just like you.

If you want to submit something to the Travel Series, Jess compiled a list of great questions to inspire you!

23 Responses to “Travel Series: Fancy_Pants in Chile and Argentina”

  1. vladazhael says:

    This is delightful! And now, for the first time in my life, I have an urge to go hiking in South America.

  2. heathered says:

    This trip sounds wonderful. I love the questions, too. As a general non-traveler, it's good to think about the wheres and hows and try to demystify it all a bit.

    • Fancy_Pants says:

      Thank you! It was interesting for me to walk back through our process of deciding where to go. By the time we'd planned our whole trip and gotten there, it all seemed inevitable, but starting out…we could have ended up anywhere! Until I wrote this piece, I had forgotten that narrowing down potential destinations was one of the most stressful parts of planning.

  3. rooheins says:

    Aaaaah this is fantastic, thank you for sharing it! What a wonderful account. Free-range cats, dogs, and dads!

    I too have a really crappy memory and photographs are a huge help when I am trying to reassemble a trip after I get home. It is a really hard balance to strike, though–I much prefer just DOING and not documenting. More travel will be required in order to work on this!

    • Fancy_Pants says:

      In travel and in normal life! I signed up for Instagram a couple years ago to try to get me to document things more and (hopefully) become less self-conscious about taking photos, but…it's been pretty badly neglected. I need to consciously work on that as a habit again.

  4. Lee Thomson says:

    what an excellent trip report!

    I'm with you on the balance of doing vs photographing – it is really hard to figure out, and also hard to know what to do with the photos when you have them. I have stacks of slides (who does anything with slides any more?!?) and photos from old trips and no clear idea what I was looking at when I was taking them, or what I was thinking. I've settled lately on sketchbooks and a very limited set of drawing tools, because looking at the landscape makes me really think about it. Then I can take random pix for color reference or a particular face or piece of architecture.

    Also you are the very first person evar who's descriptions have made me want to see South America!

    • Fancy_Pants says:

      I definitely have an enormous surplus of bad landscape photos, but I love looking through old photos, especially candid photos where I'm doing fun things with other people.

      I brought a sketchbook and four coloured pens with me this trip, and actually sat down on the trail to do some landscape sketches, and I loved it–it made me feel like a rugged 19th century naturalist. Having a sketchbook is such a great excuse to just sit and BE for awhile.

      I would definitely recommend Chile as an introduction to traveling in South America. It's very easy to travel in/around, and is so rewarding, especially if you like the great outdoors.

  5. Rillquiet says:

    What a great kickoff to the new series! And what an enviably fantastic trip.

  6. Kazoogrrl says:

    I'm going to be accumulating tips from all of this series, the large scarf and foot hammock possibilities is noted!

  7. Doc_Paradise says:

    Wow! May I draw some of those photos?

  8. redheadfae says:

    Oh, I *loved* this first installment! This is a place I've always wanted to go, not so much as a hiker, but to just GO. Your photos are beautiful, and these are great questions that have gotten me to thinking about my wonderful solo trip to Maui, where I actually did try hiking as a day trip.
    *dad dadding about*=priceless
    A big scarf is one of my must haves, too, as it can work as a carrying thing, a fashion thing, extra warmth, and a first aid item if needed.

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