Week 13 & 14: Puerto Natales & Torres del Paine


As soon as I knew that I was awarded a sabbatical, this was the part of the trip that I knew I had to do this year. Hiking in Patagonia can only happen during summer in the southern hemisphere, which is a time of year that I’d normally be teaching. Because I knew I’d have December free, I centered the rest of my trip around making sure I’d be at the tip of South America right now.


First stop en route to the park was the nearby town of Puerto Natales. It’s the town everyone passes through on way to the park. I spent a whole day getting supplies and packing up my things and managed to do a little bit of sightseeing along the fjord as well.

One of the most unique things I found out about were mylodons. They’re extinct ground sloths that would have been about 10 feet tall and weighed about a ton. Some very well-preserved remains were found in a cave nearby and brought the town a bit of fame in paleontology circles.


view of the fjord from Puerto Natales, life-sized statue of a mylodon, Monumento de la Mano


The roughly 80 mile trip I did is colloquially referred to as the “O” because on a map it’s basically a big circle. A lot of people hike the “W” which is the bottom half of the “O” and is half as long. In the map below, the “W” is the blue line and the “O” is both the red and blue lines.


Because I’m crazy and figured I’d only get this opportunity once in my life, I booked my campsites for the longer 9 day, 8 night trek almost six months ago. It’s a beautiful circuit of glacially carved landscapes and pictures will never do the actual views justice. Nevertheless, here are my favorite 3 photos from each day of the trek in hopes of giving you a small glimpse of the wonders of Patagonia.

Day 1: Welcome Center to Serontdp1
Day 2: Seron to Dicksontdp2.jpg
Day 3: Dickson to Los Perrostdp3.jpg
Day 4: Los Perros to Pasotdp4.jpg
Day 5: Paso to Grey (plus kayak to the glacier)tdp5.jpg
Day 6: Grey to Italianotdp6.jpg
Day 7: Italiano to Los Cuernos (including hike up the French Valley)tdp71.jpg
Day 8: Los Cuernos to Chilenotdp8.jpg
Day 9: Chileno to Welcome Center (including hike to the Torres)tdp9.jpg
Bonus PanoramasPANO_20181205_135806.vr.jpgPANO_20181206_163910.vr-001.jpgPANO_20181208_101814.vr.jpgPANO_20181209_095531.vr-001.jpg

This is, by far, the longest solo trip I’ve ever done. However, the path is filled with other amazing hikers and I never felt alone for very long. Since everyone is moving in the same direction and campsites are mandatory, I ran into people over and over again and made some true friends for life.

There are many things that went wrong on this trip. My stove was giving my trouble and I had to take it apart and put it back together twice. My aging backpack basically fell apart: one of the metal support spines broke, the front left pocket zipper is broken, and four growing holes appeared along pocket seams that I patched with duct tape. I tripped over a rock, leaving a big bruise on my left leg and my face was attacked by a couple of mosquitos. Yet somehow, looking back on the trip, I feel nothing but incredible wonder and joy for the beauty nature provides. The last few months have been a journey towards mental and physical healing and this trip took me a long way back towards feeling like myself again. Crazy, but blessed.



Week 12: Valparaíso & Santiago



Hanging out in Valparaíso was basically a vacation from my vacation. My former colleague Cata picked me up from the airport and whisked me to her beautiful place that she and her husband are running as an Airbnb. No buses and taxis. Just an old friend and conversation. After we arrived they showed me all over town and even invited me to a friend’s Thanksgiving celebration. I made a cherry blueberry pie (and Cata helped), because they are fresh in the market right now. (It’s summer here!)


Cata and I posing next to beautiful art, view of Valpo, Cata learning how to weave pie lattice

Valparaíso is known for its beautiful murals and one of the coolest is on their hotel (the one with Van Gogh below). The best thing to do is just walk around town and run into awesome art. Here’s some of my favorite ones:



I finally had to say goodbye and headed into the capital city where I was able to indulge my love of museums and beautiful outdoor spaces. The most important place I visited was the Museum of Memory and Human Rights. Most of the museum is dedicated to exploring the terrible crimes committed while Pinochet was dictator. Many people were tortured, many died, and many disappeared (almost all of those were presumably killed). The museum is a reminder to never forget what happened under the oppressive regime, so as to hopefully make sure that it never happens again.


tribute to people who died and disappeared under Pinochet, reminder that indigenous people are still here, the first article of the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights

Just in case you wanted to read what that last photo says in English:

Article 1: All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.

If you’ve never read the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, it’s great and you should take a moment to look it over.  I had a simplified version of it up on my classroom wall. Read the whole document here.

I also visited several art museums! The quipu in the photo below needs some explanation. These were used in Inca times to record numbers, probably for taxation purposes. Powers of ten are signified by different regions along the strings and the numbers of knots at each location indicates how many digits are in each position. So for example 7 knots in the tens section and 2 knots in the ones section would mean 72. (Although this is a simplification because knots in the ones sections are actually done a bit differently). Scientists figured this out because there are certain strings that add up to all the previous strings. However, other quipus might show maps or other information and no one really knows what the colors are for. It appears the Inca didn’t have a written language, but these quipus are certainly part of their recorded history. (Note: Santiago was an Inca city, their empire stretched this far south.)


exhibit at the Museo de Arte Contemporáneo, my favorite sculpture at the Parque De Las Esculturas, quipu at the Museo Chileno de Arte Precolombino

I also climbed a few hills to get some beautiful views of the city. I loved that Santiago is full of parks and nature spots. It makes the crowded spaces feel very liveable.

view from Castillo Hidalgo on Cerro Santa Lucía

The picture of the sunset below was quite nice, but the funicular that goes down the mountain stopped running at 7pm. The sun doesn’t set until 8:30pm, so I started walking down the hill as it was getting darker. Unfortunately, I hadn’t planned my route back very well and ended up on a mountain bike path (with fortunately no bikes on it). However, that path didn’t actually connect to the street, so I decided to go on a little adventure off trail and bushwhacked my way through plants as I basically slid down the rest of the hill. I was covered in tiny spiky plant parts, had a couple tiny splinters in my hand, and got several scratches on my leg, but I survived! 🙂


view of Castillo Hidalgo on Cerro Santa Lucía, sunset from Cerro San Cristóbal


This offer is still valid. 🙂 If you want a postcard from overseas, fill out this postcard form! At some point this school year, I will send you a postcard from somewhere outside the United States. I just sent a bunch from Chile!