PATAGONIAN VIBES (Chile)

On September 17, 2018 I left Colombia and my job of nearly 5 years at Nike. I moved to Puntas Arenas, Chile or el Fin del Mundo (End of the World) a day after the best possible despedida (going away party) for me…I ran a race I had worked with to seal the deal on sponsorship (Marathon Medellin – 21k) and worked it as my last day in the company alongside some of my closest friends from Colombia :).

I had toyed with the idea of leaving and backpacking the world for a while now and after some serious thinking, analyzing  thoughts and plans and talking through it with close friends I realized the time was now. I didn’t want to just quit and go travel but more of do something less stressful for awhile and transition into it, so I decided to volunteer in marketing for a few months before setting off.

I had a place in mind, somewhere I had wanted to go nearly 6 years ago when I lived in Chile, in fact I had even applied at that time but decided against it being as I had just finished my MBA and it didn’t seem like the right move at the time. Volunteering in Chile remained in my mind over the years as something I wished to do. So when I applied this time I waited anxiously for a response and when I finally got it I was oddly hesitant to go as I wanted to make sure it was the correct decision for me. I needed to talk it out and analyze before taking the leap as it can be scary to make such a move after 5 years working somewhere and doing something you enjoy. I am pretty sure my closest friends already knew what my decision would be but they helped me clear up doubts and analyze bien the options. In the end I took the leap off into the unknown, accepted the offer and quit my job.

Thus making a full 360 (full circle) and returning back to Chile where this journey started nearly 6 years ago. Also this time it would be during different months so completely new and literally almost a full year in Chile (if you exclude the 5 year break in between ha ha). Ok enough paja

I am in Punta Arenas, Chile, the extreme South, at the end of the world (fin del mundo), La Patagonia. A completely new place to me, a hostile – windy and cold – nearly desolate and wild, wild, pristine place. I am volunteering at NIGSA, in marketing for 3 months, a firm that organizes local but very international road and ultra trail races 🏃🏽‍♀️ in the extreme South of Chile. Races with lots of potential as they are well located, unique and like Patagonia, tough! I am helping look for sponsors (for the 4 races) and helping with logistics and organization of 2 of the races (my first ever Adventure Race and an Ultra Trail race).

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This far south the seasons are opposite so winter was just ending when I arrived and Spring is making it’s way in so it was freezing when I arrived (full on winter I can only imagine). It took me 3 weeks to adapt to the cold, random snowy days, etc. It is much better now, still cold though…reminds me of Seattle fall weather (just with way more wind).

The first month I tried my best to just hang around and get a feel for Punta Arenas. Although the first week we had the first race (Ultra Paine) so we spent the weekend on race logistics further North. My first time seeing the logistics and organization of the trail running world. I enjoyed every part I could and was happy being stress free and simply cutting chocolate and bananas for runners. Race day I began the day at the 80km start (fun to see that! Very different as they leave in the dark – early am- with lights and start slow, not like road racing) then to the 35km start (more runners, later start) where I stayed to man the checkpoint, giving runners water, check bags, food, aid in general and making sure they passed still being physically and mentally there. Hours later I was at the finish waiting for the last runner who cleared the last check-point 14km back (a 3-4 hour effort)..he arrived at nearly the 11 pm cutoff (they have time restrictions at various checkpoints, if you don’t arrive before cutoff then your race is over!). Besides the race stuff I absorbed the amazing surroundings (outside Torres del Paine), loving being in the mountains and nature….Patagonia is gorgeous and impressive (omnipotent, wild, dramatic).

Work has been a learning experience, something I have enjoyed. All still about running but a completely different side in all aspects. Trail running, ultras and adventure (expedition) racing is quite the different culture inside the category of running with different key races, equipment, brands, athletes…basically a whole new world. Also being on the other side, not with a brand, has been entertaining while looking for race sponsors. It is amazing to see really how far my contacts can go (network is strong and massive) and having the understanding of what the brand thinks and local distributors definitely helps. Feels like it has been a long while since I have learned something new so it has been awesome.

Day to day has been super relaxed, organizing my trip a bit, reading (now on my 2nd book here – only 3rd this year), training (running, swimming, training at gym, biking to explore usually on weekends), cooking (experimenting new recipes etc because I have time and well nutrition wise options suck here – bread and sugar rules here and yerba mate oddly) and exploring little by little and just being completely open to opportunities and not forcing any thing.

I am living in a house shared with other coworkers and volunteers. Quite the shift as the place was a disaster when I arrived…so unorganized, not clean, tons of crap everywhere from past volunteers and those living here but whatever…it was just a shock and pretty funny after the last place I lived being uber organized/clean to coming to the complete opposite.

I have done 2 trips outside of the city. One to Puerto Williams on Navarino Island (pop. 2000) and the other to Porvenir (pop. 7000) just across the Strait in Tierra del Fuego. Punta Arenas is the capital of the region XII of Chile and the largest in size (pop. 130,000).

I absolutely loved Puerto Williams! Literally the last large population (there are 2 others farther South but with 20 residents – Puerto Toro is farthest) in the Southern hemisphere – literally el Fin del Mundo (the end of the world)! It is situated Southeast of Ushuaia, Argentina along the Beagle Channel looking directly at the very impressive Tierra del Fuego…island with non stop beautiful mountains. I flew over (there is also a 27 hour ferry – weather decides time…could be more) and stayed right on the main street along the Channel for 17k CLP in front of the ferry terminal and it’s yummy and cozy coffee shop. The owner was so caring, friendly, helpful and just overly welcoming like the people you find here in Southern Chile (owner even picked me up and dropped me off several times not interested in charging you). While there I biked one day toward Bahia Mejillones, such a great ride with views the whole time (hilly but good). Another day I hiked up to Cerro Bandera an easy, beautiful hike to see the Chilean Flag on the closest mountain peak. This is the start for those who come to hike the tough Dientes loop on the island (only available November to April). On the way down I stopped at the waterfall at the entrance and walked back to town a few hours later.

After seeing Tierra de Fuego from Puerto Williams it left me with a huge urge and curiosity to visit so I did a weekend in Porvenir, the main city and 2 hour ferry ride across the Strait :). I got lucky with weather, leaving Punta Arenas with a rainbow (aka rain arriving as I left) and 2 perfect days in Porvenir area to explore! I rented a bike in Punta Arenas for the weekend and basically that was my plan for the weekend, biking. Each day I did a ride 2 hours out (estimating with wind it was double to return) and then return. Goal day 1 was to make it to Bahía Inútil (Useless Bay) where I realized why it got it’s name; literally a useless bay that doesn’t protect anything – very windy. Day 2 was to see lagoons. I loved both rides, although this part of the island is pampa and not mountains like the Southern part of the island it still had its charms and scenery contrasts. The best though were the Guanacos, a Southern Andes animal from the same family as Llamas, Alpacas and Vicuñas, that were literally everywhere jumping fences daintily, crossing roads, staring and speaking to you. They kept me very distracted from the hills and highly amused on the first day (hiller than Navarino). Such a fun animal to slowly watch, they unlike all other animals (except horses) didn’t scare as easily when you passed. I did scare a cow 2x really well ha ha especially on the way back (yes, same cow) when he started running on a downhill I couldn’t pass him because who knew which side he was headed and well after the hill came wind so he kept running..I tried to tell him to stop because I had 15 kms still to go…he made it 2 then got mad, tired…and decided to turn and confront me..eek only to find I was harmless and he frustrated and super sweaty…ha ha poor cow…

By the way Tierra de Fuego means “land of fire” and got it’s name when Magellan saw it’s coastline lit up with fire from the local indigenous people cooking and keeping warm at night along it’s shores.

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Besides these trips I’ve explored nearby too, hiking, kayaking, biking, running, camping…etc.

I am loving being by water again, feels so much like home. Going running on the costanera, as they call their boardwalk here, and looking out over the ocean (Strait) and seeing mountains is like seeing the Olympic Mountains at home and like Wow every single time…love it. Living in sheer wild nature and sometime inhospitable places sometimes really puts life into perspective. Nature is amazing and huge and well that wind leaves you feeling powerless and quite small in the realm of things. Which in general is Awesome!

City is super relaxed, even Friday nights few are out on the streets but now Tourist season (Nov. to April) is here so I’m sure it will change a bit. The grassy area on Bulnes does have tons of teens or college kids hanging out in groups though but most parties are in houses, less so in bars. Also a few holidays have passed since arrival and puentes have been great since locals here can’t go too far they generally do enjoy what is around them and do go out into nature, for instance, to the South there are plenty of adventures awaiting, hikes to Monte Tarn, Cabo Froward (end of the continent), kayaking, bike routes and more. Monte Tarn has definitely been the best so far, the main photo is from that climb…a day hike with a local trail accessed from the beach just after the path ends 4-5 hour rt with views that really show you what Patagonia really is….mountains, mountains and more beautiful mountains over and over again…just wow…totally recommend this hike…although we did a very different version of it.

The second race is coming up so the international and inspiring vibes are popping up everywhere. I am getting excited and I can’t wait to witness my first Adventure Race…Patagonian Expedition Race – 10 teams of 4, 10 days, a 600km line on a map, racing to the finish through wild, untouched and unpredictable Patagonia by trekking, biking and kayaking the area. The Last Wild Race and toughest on the planet is here again!

I’ll let you know how it goes. Also you can follow it on patagonianexpeditionrace.com, @patagonianrace or SleepMonsters.com. (November 17-30, 2018)

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