The Final Stages of the Sabwavique

During the holidays, this blog fell off it’s rhythm at the cost of a few choice stories, like our return through the “storm of the century” in Rosario, Argentina, the subsequent flooding of the rental car, and our miraculous recovery in repairing and/or hiding all the damage.

One thing I’ve learned, however, is that as the blogger I’ve had to choose each story with a purpose.  It must impart something exotic to the reader, have something to do with the original themes of the blog, and have pictures to illustrate.  In the process, even the most avid follower of our journey has missed out on some of the liveliest yarns, the juiciest details, and the minor miracles that seemed to constantly grace our path over the course of the last 10 months.  My main hope, however, has been to provide some context to where we’ve been and what we’ve been up to, so that anyone who really is interested can stay in touch with what Cris and I have considered to be an intensely important detour in our lives.

So, my most recent post chronicled our aimless December wanderings around northwest Argentina in a rental car (called “oba oba” style travel).  The end of that stage was no letdown and, as mentioned above, had an epic ending that included a little hitchhiking and a lot of flooding.  That left us in Buenos Aires for Christmas, where we met up with Cris’s mom, Fatima, and brother, Pedro, for a wonderfully relaxed holiday.

Christmas in BuenosAfter Christmas, we spent the new year in Uruguay, near the town of Piriapolis, where we were hosted with enormous generosity by the Cordeiro family, who have turned their 220 hectare property into an indigenous wildlife preserve.  It was a relaxing piece of heaven after running around staying in hostels, guest houses, and the like for quite some time.

The nature preserve with capibaras on the grass.

The nature preserve with capibaras on the grass.

Great times with Nate, Lucia, and the whole Cordeiro clan.

Great times with Nate, Lucia, and the whole Cordeiro clan.

Finally, we returned to Buenos Aires and met up with my parents, Tom and Kit, where we hung out for a day before heading to the Bariloche region of Patagonia for a fly fishing trip.  The trip was sort of a grand finale to our sabbatical, and involved a whole lot of time in rivers and lakes, sitting on porches at cocktail hour, and an enormous amount of exaggeration.  Now we’re spending a couple days in Rio collecting all the things we left at Fatima’s apartment.  That means I get one more shot at Ipanema beach, probably the coolest beach in the world.  It’s a great way to finish it all off.

What’s next for us?  We head back to LA, where we begin the process of resuming our lives.  That means, first of all, finding a place to live and a couple of cars.  In February, I’ll go back to Ervin Cohen & Jessup, and Cris will return to Clearview.  And that, minus innumerable adventures, drama, victories and failures, expectations met and missed, goals set and completed or completely forgotten, spiritual journeys and gluttonous revelry, is the story of the Sabwavique.  For those of you interested in the rest, please stay in touch and come visit us in LA when you can.  We’ll probably be around for a while.

P.S.  Obviously, we haven’t fully processed it yet, but I’ll be posting one last time with our thoughts and reflections, of which there are many.

Check out some great fishing pictures below.

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Oba Oba, Steve Jobs, and Northwest Argentina

DSCN5461While we were in Brazil, attending a wedding of one of Cris’s cousins, I overheard her eccentrically comedic uncle describing a type of travel he called “oba oba” style.  Because this was a Portuguese term I hadn’t learned yet, I asked what this could possibly mean, and an aunt kindly explained that she thought he meant the kind of traveling where you head in a general direction but don’t really know where you’re going or have any clear plans.  My theory is that it must refer to the way Brazilians shout “oba!” any time they receive an unexpected prize or happy result.  Thus, when you head out in the “oba oba” style, you tend to find yourself shouting with happiness every time you reach an unplanned, unexpected destination.

I liked the idea.

So, while we were enjoying the very well planned W Circuit of the Torres del Paine park in the Chilean Patagonia, I convinced Cris that what we needed was to rent a car upon our return to Buenos Aires and head out on an oba oba adventure.

I’ll admit, it’s not the easiest way to travel.  That said, it has provided us with some pretty great results.  Yes, we’ve driven about 3100 km (1920 miles) since we started 11 days ago.  However, we’ve had some great, and unexpected, times.  I’ve already posted about our time in Mendoza, which was wonderful.  I left out that we loved it partly because of the quaint boutique hotel where we stayed, which made it easy to relax between adventures into wine country.  The “oba oba” aspect of that trip was that we had no place to stay in Mendoza until we arrived in town.  Because we liked it so much, we stayed there for four nights.  It helped that Cris is particularly good at getting a discount every time she walks unannounced into a hotel lobby.

After that, we really only knew that we would head north.  On our way north, we had to stop in the less interesting town of La Rioja.  During our night there we decided that the next day we would try out the village of Tafi del Valle, about 5 hours away.  As we headed up the only highway into town, however, we were stopped and informed that the road was closed due to construction.  We were discouraged, because at this point we were pretty far away from anything other than the village of Tafi.  So, after scouring the map and surveying the locals, we gathered our spirits and resolved that the best thing to do would be to drive another 5 hours north to the nearest big city, Salta.  Again, we had to spend a night in a less than desirable town, but we did manage to find another charming inn.  Over dinner and then breakfast we figured that we might as well take the hint and keep heading north before circling back south to reach Tafi from the other direction.

Heading north took us to the Quebrada de Humahuaca, and we were stunned.  After taking in some of the most colorful and awe-inspiring canyon country I’ve ever seen, we settled on the town of Tilcara, once again finding delightful (and discounted) lodging.  Here are some pictures of the Quebrada de Humahuaca region:

Nice hats.

Nice hats.

The colors in this place were crazy.

The colors in this place were crazy.

 

Really crazy.  These pictures don't even capture it.

Really crazy. These pictures don’t even capture it.

 

DSCN5588After three nights of that, we knew we needed to start heading south to be able to make it back to Buenos Aires in time to meet up with Cris’s family for Christmas.  So we checked out the options and picked the town of Cachi.  Admittedly, we chose this one because it looked like it was the hardest to get to with the most winding road and because we’ve had great success lately with hard-to-get-to places and winding roads.  Again, we were stunned.  Here are some pictures of our approach to Cachi.

DSCN5823 DSCN5840 DSCN5882Today we decided upon waking that we’d make the easy 160 km drive to Cachi and even if we left late we’d make it in time to swing by a local winery.  As it turned out, the “national highway” is a dirt road for about 135 km and it took about 3 hours longer than expected.  But again, we were stunned by the spectacular landscape.

DSCN6041 DSCN6042What will we do tomorrow?  Not sure.  We may stick around Cachi and rent bikes to tour the countryside.  Or we may decide to spend a night in Tafi.   Who knows.

That’s oba oba.  Yes, there are some frustrating moments and it can be stressful when it’s late and you don’t know where you’re staying tonight.  But the feeling of reaching some place beyond your previous knowledge and finding out that there is even more out there is invigorating, satisfying, and relaxing.  Plus, the journey is pretty awesome, and when you get there, wherever that may be, you can pretty much stay as long as you like.

Oh yeah, and it really helps to have a good audiobook.  We’re currently listening to the biography of Steve Jobs.  Man, that guy was crazy.

Aaah, Argentina

Please, don't cry for her.

Please, don’t cry for her.

We have finally pulled ourselves out of Patagonia, although it wasn’t easy.  On Thursday we flew to Buenos Aires and ran into a series of annoying travel issues, like Aerolineas Argentinas deciding to fly us to a different airport than originally promised without notice.  We didn’t actually know where we were when we landed until we walked out and things didn’t look right.  For example, our rental car was at the other airport.  Aaah, Argentina.  I blame it on Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner.  Look her up.

After the hassle (including some cathartic insults cast in the direction of various unapologetic porteños), we had a relaxed evening in the Puerto Madero neighborhood and rested for the next day.  Upon waking, I hit the street to find a map of Argentina so we could figure out where to go and how to get there, when I ran into a cloud of chemicals so caustic my eyes started to water instantly.  Apparently, someone had stored something improperly in a container in the port.  This led to an explosion that sent poisonous pesticides throughout the city.  The people on the news freaked out and told everyone to stay inside.  Aaah, Argentina. Once again, I blame it on Cristina.

Then we drove about 11 hours west to San Luis, mostly because we just couldn’t go any farther.  We found a spot to stay the night and the next day swung by Sierra de las Quijadas National Park.  It was another beautiful place, and a distinct change.  In just a couple days we had left this:

DSCN4799For this:

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DSCN5269We hung out in the park for a few hours before heading to Mendoza.  This is another great Argentinian town, with the added benefit that Mendoza is a surprisingly well-planned city with great public spaces, tree-lined streets, and access to some amazing wineries.  So what do you do in wine country?

We first headed to a winery called Ruca Malen, which means “the house of Malen” in the Mapuche language.  There we had a five-course meal with wine pairings.  I was pretty surprised that for a very reasonable price, we got: 1) a detailed written description explaining how the characteristics of each wine paired with the ingredients in each dish, 2) a sample from each of their categories of wine, including their top-line stuff, and 3) a fantastic meal.

Yes, they literally point out the ingredients

Yes, they literally point out the ingredients

Pairs well with both a Cabernet and a Malbec....

Pairs well with both a Cabernet and a Malbec….

Ruca Malen winery

Ruca Malen winery

Nice view on a clear day.

Nice view on a clear day.

Out in the vineyard at Ruca Malbec

Out in the vineyard at Ruca Malbec

The following day we took a tasting class at the Familia Zuccardi winery.  Again, amazing value.  Our teacher, Pedro, was passionate about getting us to really smell and taste the subtleties in each one.  He liked to compose the wine out of its different aromas by putting different fruits, nuts, etc, next to each other and shoving his nose into the middle of it all.  It was very cool how he could reverse engineer the aroma of each wine.  We had so much fun, we signed up for their cooking class, which we’re doing tomorrow.  I guess you really can’t go wrong in wine country.  Aaah, Argentina.

The lineup of odors to look for in the wine

The lineup of odors to look for in the wine

Pedro our sommelier/teacher at Zuccardi

Pedro our sommelier/teacher at Zuccardi

Those three ingredients (chocolate, coffee, strawberry) combine to smell like that wine.  Cool.

Those three ingredients (chocolate, coffee, strawberry) combine to smell like that wine. Cool.

She's in her element

She’s in her element

Tossing Rocks in a Pond in El Chalten, Argentina

DSCN4859The other day, at the top of a long hike to see yet another stunning Andean panorama, Cris and I sat down at Laguna de Los Torres and took in the view.  While we sat there, staring across at the Los Torres peaks, the glacier at their base, and the blue lake below that, Cris challenged me to hit one of the nearby miniature icebergs with a rock. Before long, we were both throwing and skipping rocks at various targets and giggling at our mostly futile efforts.  What followed, however, was intriguing.  We were not alone at the lake.  There were perhaps fifteen other people from around the world sitting at different places on the lake, and about ten of them had taken to tossing little stones into the water, watching them in flight, and listening to the mysteriously satisfying plunk of a rock splashing into a pond.

If you want to know what it’s like to spend a week in El Chalten, wandering around the Argentinian side of Patagonia, that’s pretty much the sensation: mysteriously satisfying.  This is a town of little cafes, restaurants, cabins, and hostels.  There isn’t much history to speak of, but there is a general air of tranquil hospitality, adventure, and remoteness.  There’s also some really good food, wine, and locally brewed beer, making it pretty much perfect.

And what else do you do in El Chalten?  While we were on our way back from Los Torres, an American girl stopped us to ask how much farther she had to the top.  Within a few minutes, she had invited us to join her the next day for a rock-climbing session with a local guide.  We accepted and subsequently enjoyed it thoroughly.  Tomorrow we’ll rent and ride bikes down the stretch of highway that provides a complete view of the local mountain range.  If that’s not enough for you, glacier tours and horseback rides are also available.  Of course, the real pleasure of El Chalten is the ease with which you’ll find yourself enjoying the simple stuff.

Check out the pictures below, including hikes to Los Torres and Mount Fitz Roy, our day of rock-climing, and some time in the back room of a pub with a self-made brewing operation.

Cooling heels in Laguna Los Torres

Cooling my heels in Laguna Los Torres

Cris chilling by the lake

Cris chilling by the lake

View of Los Torres from the trail.

View of Los Torres from the trail.

My life in her hands.

My life in her hands.

Nice moves

Nice moves

Even better moves

Even better moves

Heading to see Fitzy

Heading to see Fitzy

At Laguna Los Tres below Mount Fitz Roy

At Laguna Los Tres below Mount Fitz Roy

Checking out the local brewry

Checking out the local brewery

A Brazilian's birthright

A Brazilian’s birthright

Trekking in Chilean Patagonia

Imagine sitting in a remote lodge accessible only by foot, helicopter, or catamaran, and looking out plate-glass windows to see sheets of rain going sideways. On your right the Chilean flag clings desperately to its post, fighting not to be blown into a blue-green glacial lake.  To your left are the ragged-edged Andean peaks of sub-antarctic Patagonia, obscured for now by the storm that has descended with time-stopping force.  The catamaran is moored.  The helicopter is grounded.  A few brave backpackers trudge  with a diagonal lean into the mess, hoping to preserve their bus and hostel reservations, which they couldn’t do at the lodge for want of a telephone connection.  Most turn back after two hundred yards just past the domed tent maintained by the park ranger.  This was day five on the W Circuit around the Torres del Paine National Park.  I grabbed a bottle of the local beer, sat down with friends we’d made on the trail, and watched the spectacle as they taught me a French version of bridge.  This is Patagonia, and it’s awesome.

On day one of our trek, we entered the park to find it colder and more overcast than we’d hoped, but pleased to see that the “refugio” put the hostels of the Camino de Santiago to shame.  Day two was an eight hour hike covering 750 meters (~2500 ft) in elevation to see the peaks that give the park its name.  Here are a couple pictures from the Torres del Paine hike:

Day three was a 4-hour hike along one of the many beautiful lakes that surround the towering peaks of the park, ending at Refugio los Cuernos.  Here we splurged for the cabaña and hot tub option rather than the usual dorm room and bunk beds, but found that the cabaña had no heater and the hot tub was more of a lukewarm tub.  Nonetheless, a private room and clean sheets were welcome.  Plus, we found two couples (one French and one Dutch) that were keen to play Yahtzee over a couple boxes of wine (Clos de Pirque, for you connoisseurs).  Pictures from the Los Cuernos hike:

On day four we took the big trek up the Valle Frances, about 24 kilometers over 10 hours, ending at the Lodge Paine Grande.  It was another day of stunning views and cool air, and the lodge was very comfortable.

On day five, we woke up to the sound of wind pounding the lodge.  Our plan was to catch the catamaran that picks up trekkers and returns them to a bus stop so that we could then catch another bus back to El Calafate, Argentina, where we’d reserved a room and left our bags.  We checked someone’s guide book, which said that the catamaran always runs except in extremely strong winds.  Oops.  We rushed around and attempted to figure out whether there was another way out to catch our bus.  That bus was our only way back to Argentina and to the hostel.  The following morning we had booked a bus to the next town, El Chalten, and a room in El Chalten.  No catamaran meant four different reservations down the tubes.  After a flurry of confusion in various languages, it was determined that we had already missed the only bus we could walk to, which was 18 kilometers away.  So we booked another night at the lodge and set about fixing our travel plans.  Working backward we got confirmation from El Chalten that we could push everything back a night.  There was no way to contact either bus company.  The hostel in El Calafate bumped us over one night.  Okay, so we saved a few bucks.

After a relaxing day in the lodge playing cards and reading whatever we could get our hands on, we determined that we needed to get up early the next day to walk the 18 kilometers to a ranger station where we could catch a bus and then hope with fingers crossed that the bus company would take us a day late.

Day 6 turned out to be a spectacular hike through the pampa fields.  When we arrived at the ranger station, we found a very friendly rookie ranger who was excited to practice his English with us.  He told us he was taking courses and pulled out his homework to ask us a few questions.  Not surprisingly, the vocabulary he was learning focused heavily on describing weather conditions.  He then made a concerted effort to help us grab the last spots on the bus and get it to come directly for us at his station.  Thank goodness for that guy, or it would have been a long night… somewhere.  Ultimately, we sorted it all out and managed not to lose too much money.  And that’s how you do the Torres del Paine trek.  It’s well worth it.

Next stop is the town of El Chalten and Mount Fitzroy.  Oh yeah, and these are the local guanacos:

 

Goodbye Sao Paulo, Hello Patagonia

Well, after two months in Sao Paulo, Cris and I are content to say that we’ve had the full Paulistano experience and are ready to get back to traveling and doing cool, once-in-a-lifetime stuff.  That’s about it.  With that, I figured it was time to give this blog a jump start and let you know what we’re up to.

We’ve made the decision to return to Los Angeles and resume our lives there, something we are excited to do in late January or early February, 2013.  Between now and then we will be exploring the enormously vast expanses of Patagonia in Argentina and Chile, having Christmas in Buenos Aires with Cris’s family, and ringing in the New Year in Uruguay.  After that we’ll head back to Patagonia, near Bariloche, for a fishing trip with my parents.  It’s going to be a lot of fun, and we have a sense of peace knowing that despite our extremely vague plans for the next month, we are experts at knowing what we like to do and that we’re going to do it right.

On top of that (and in the spirit of Thanksgiving), Cris and I are feeling particularly thankful for having had this time to sort out our perspectives on life, marriage, career, spirit, and pretty much anything else you can imagine.  Without our health and the support of what turned out to be an immense and hugely charitable community, we could never have done it.  I’m sure this theme will continue through the end of our journey, but I figured today was a particularly good one to take note of what doesn’t always get noted.

So, without further ado, check out the pictures below from the Perito Moreno glacier in Argentinian Patagonia near the little town of El Calafate.  It was a full day including a scenic bus ride, a boat trip across the lake, and a 14km hike around and over the glacier itself.  The guide was very knowledgeable about the glacier and it was just generally magnificent to be out there on this humungous piece of ice that is constantly moving, changing, and (unusually) never shrinking.  Check it out:


Delicious.

Second Half Kick Off

Several people have asked me where I’ve been for the past month.  The best answer is that I needed a little half-time break, which included a break from the blog as well as some time in the US.

Return to Modern Civilization

After I returned from my 28-day survival school experience, I cooked, ate, and drank myself back to a reasonable weight and spent some much needed time with Cris.  Then my brother and his family came to town, which gave me a rare and wonderful opportunity to hang out with these guys:

Burning Man

After that, Cris and I joined a bunch of our friends from LA and Brazil at Burning Man, an annual festival that takes place about 3 hours north of Reno.  What is Burning Man? To crib from the official website, “Trying to explain what Burning Man is to someone who has never been to the event is a bit like trying to explain what a particular color looks like to someone who is blind.”  That’s about right.  Also from their site, however, is an attempt at it: “Burning Man is an annual art event and temporary community based on radical self expression and self-reliance in the Black Rock Desert of Nevada.”  Here are some pictures to give you a bit of a visual:

Burning Man was a lot of fun and a unique experience.  Much has been written about it, although nothing I’ve read has really done it justice.  Let’s just say that an entire city of 50,000+ inhabitants is built in the middle of nowhere and it exists for a week with surprising ease, general good vibes, and almost no exchange of money.  For a sense of its scale, here’s a picture of what emerges in a completely flat and barren desert during the summer each year:

Beer, Of Course

After making it back from the depths of the Nevada desert, Cris and I recovered a little bit, and then I bottled this beautiful creation.  Not to toot my own carboy, but it’s my best work yet.  Truly delicious.

(If you can’t read that, the label says “Johnny Shenk’s Summer Saison Surprise.”  A few bottles still reside in the fridge at the Shenk Ranch in Pasadena if you happen to be in that area.)

Deciding the Next Step

Then, and only then, were we ready to discuss the second half of this Sabwavique.  Granted, we’re probably more than halfway through this, but we’re at the end of the pre-planned phase.  Our only concrete actions toward the next phase were to purchase plane flights to Bangkok, book a session for Cris at some famous spa in Thailand, and assume that Brazil and the rest of Latin America would wait until after we spent a month or two in Southeast Asia.

This has now all changed.  While Cris was in Brazil for a week in July, she met someone who said he would love to get my help in developing a US legal training course to add to his company’s offering of courses that prepare Brazilians for US graduate schools (like preparing them for the SAT, GMAT, etc.).  He was hoping for someone to take the lead on the project and said that he expected it to require about 3 months to complete.  Furthermore, he considered me to be the ideal man for the job.

We mulled this over and it seemed like a good chance to spend some quality time in Brazil, for me to take my Portuguese to the next level, and for Cris to pursue some of the ideas she’s had for Brazil in the mental health field while seeing family and friends that she misses.  Plus, it meant something other than tourism – of which we have had more than our fill.

The idea was difficult to swallow, however.  We both had our hearts set on a rich adventure in Southeast Asia, with hopes of finding a small village in Myanmar or Cambodia where we could settle for a while and work on our meditation skills.  On the other hand was the vibrant, bursting metropolis of Sao Paulo, calling us with its abundance of energy, momentum, and excitement.

Ultimately, we could not resist the temptation to see what it would be like to live and work in Brazil.  It was one of those decisions that you make in part because you’re afraid of wondering later what your life would have been like if you didn’t at least give it a shot.

So, we decided to go for it, and adjusted our bearings toward the southeast of the Americas rather than the southeast of Asia.  That was about a week ago.  Since then, we have managed to find a place to live in Sao Paulo and ironed out a few of the other details.  Meanwhile, I’ve begun putting together a curriculum, which is an entirely new and daunting activity for me.  Wish us luck!