It had been awhile since I did a local shoot (other than my impromptu vulture one), and I was getting the itch. Additionally, I haven’t really gone out and about to see all the Christmas decorations like years past. So both of those factors led to me signing up last minute for a photo class to see Georgetown Glow with Capital Photography Center. Georgetown has various artists create light exhibits throughout the area each year to bring people to the area. It was a gorgeous 60 degree day, and despite the crowds I really enjoyed trying to creatively capture the exhibits. We moved pretty quickly from exhibit to exhibit, so for some I didn’t really spend enough time for me to really unlock my creativity. However, I really love light trails, and definitely played with those with both taillights as well as moving my camera (trying to keep at least one component sharp). I also liked examining the movement of the people when using various shutter speeds. All in all, the class met my goal of getting out and about locally with camera in hand.
El Chalten continued to deliver our last few days. On day 3, we did a short hike to the lagos azures y verdes (blue and green lakes), and enjoyed a wonderful picnic courtesy of our guides. Due to the road being washed out higher up, we then biked back to town. It was bumpy but just so beautiful! I do always love seeing the scenery via bike, and the ride wasn’t as scary as I was imagining based on the condition of the road. We managed to beat the school kids to the shop for ice cream, and then had an early dinner to rest up for our last day.
The first three days in El Chalten, Fitz Roy played coy with us as it hid behind the clouds. The last hike was a “friendly” up to this beautifully windy/cold peak that overlooked a glacial lake at the base of Fitz Roy. I felt pretty terrible on the way up, as we had all started to catch a cold. The clouds/lake/mountains made for some interesting pictures and was a great last major view, and I finally got enough energy to join in on the jumping pictures that were all the rage amongst our group. (This was a big deal since I have opted out of any jumping scenarios since I jumped off a shed when I was younger and bruised my feet terribly.)
As we headed back down, I had given up hope of getting a clear view of Fitz Roy. Then of course, the clouds parted and all of a sudden there wasn’t even a cloud in the sky. It was a major highlight of the trip, and we freaked out with photos. My favorite shot was of a random guy taking a photo. It’s not be, but it’s spiritually me. That last hike was long, and my feet were killing me by the end, but it was my favorite of the trip and I can’t imagine a better one to end it with. I really would like to go back to El Chalten for another week sometime and just hang out/redo these hikes with my camera, a picnic basket, and my tripod.
We ended the trip by heading back to El Calafate for one last meal, an Asada home cooked for us at the Patagonia Queen. Alvaro got us my favorite flavor of ice cream (but pretended not to in an effort to get me back from all of my teasing of him for not being Rafael’s favorite guide Cynthia). While I felt pretty miserable, it was a wonderful way to spend the last evening with my new friends. The next day began our long journey home, and I enjoyed my time bonding with Steve and Penny in the airport as we flew together to Houston. I then enjoyed the quiet time the rest of the way to reflect on the trip/watch Friends. All in all, it was a wonderful adventure and I’m grateful for this life I get to lead.
Well, I might be a bit late, but after seeing all of the top lists going around, I was inspired to create my own. I did the top 9 on Instagram, but to be perfectly honest the results were too heavily weighted on the wildlife to really feel like a true reflection of the year. That was an incredible experience, but 2019 included trips to Kenya, Vegas, Utah, Colorado, Seattle, Vancouver, Chile, and Argentina in addition to really trying my hand at family photography. This year was very trying at times for me (primarily work and health related), but when I look back at all I have accomplished I am really proud of the year. I am quite certain 2019 will end up being a pivotal turning point for my life as I started to pursue photography professionally, met some real interesting people with “off the beaten path” careers, and really just allowed myself to dream bigger about what life could be like in spite of my risk averse nature. So without further ado, here are my top photos from the year as well as a little bit about why I chose each photo. And since I took over 10,000 photos of such a wide variety in a pivotal year you will have to forgive me for it being 2x more than 10 🙂
Our final stop on the trip was El Chalten. This is a famous climbing town, with Fitz Roy in the backdrop. It was really small (they just got wifi 4 years ago and the one ATM in town rarely had cash). I absolutely loved it and it was hands down my favorite place on the trip. We had another local guide, Amie, with us for 4 days. The first day, we just did a short hike to a lookout that started in the rain. On the way down, however, the sun broke out and we walked through this amazing meadow. “The hills are alive with the sound of muuuuuuuusic” broke out in my head, and I just felt so happy. The second day, I wasn’t feeling 100% and after the first stretch, we had the opportunity to go up another super steep climb or to continue on the path we were on to head back to town. Given the windy conditions/lack of a good view of Fitz Roy, the guide insisted that if we weren’t feeling 100% we shouldn’t go up. Thankfully, despite concerns about my pride, I listened. Our group split into 2, and I took my time on the way down, taking about 20394238 pictures and just letting myself feel in awe of the views. I had fun trying another time lapse as the clouds were moving so fast while waiting for Sam and the others to get back.
After one last night in Chile, we headed to Argentina and checked into the Patagonia Queen in El Calafate. The hotel owner (Rafael) was incredibly friendly/excited to greet us, and the hotel was beautiful. (You might see our group on their website/promotional materials as there was a professional photographer/videographer around the whole time we were there.)
After a delicious lunch, Sam and I found helado (ice cream), which would remain a theme the rest of the trip. The next day, we set off on a day trip to see the Perito Moreno Glacier two ways: by boat and by walkway. The Glacier is unique in that it is not currently receding, and you can get right up to the side of it. It was also really active, with ice calvings occurring or threatening to occur throughout the day. This was such a great day for taking some risks photo wise, and I really enjoyed our time. I even overcame the challenge of having forgotten a spare battery (rookie mistake).
One of the things that really stood out to me about El Calafate were all the stray dogs. This was a common theme in all locations, but there seemed to be many more here. I couldn’t help but wonder how their days went, and who took care of them since most seemed in relatively good health. I spent an hour walking around with my camera capturing all the dogs I saw so I could make sure to remember that part of the trip.
I’ll be honest, after arriving at the final Refugio, I was not exactly thrilled about the concept of kayaking in the freezing cold 3 hours later. However, I kept my reservations to myself, took a nap, and got prepared for the cold. It was AMAZING! We weren’t out for too long, but there are not many opportunities in life to kayak right up to an iceberg and just hang out. Due to the wind/cold, I only took my camera out for a short stretch but that resulted in some of my absolute favorite photos of the trip. I think a few people were feeling the cold, so we had tea/a snack on the water, sheltered by icebergs all around us, and made our way back to land.
The next day, we did an ice hike. In my mind, we were done with hiking, but then the guides told us we had an hour hike to the start of that hike after a short boat ride. Well, by hike they really meant wet rock scramble. The way up was fine, but I just kept thinking how terrifying the way down would be. However, I didn’t let that fear get in the way of enjoying my time on the ice. What an out of this world experience! The sun broke out as we made our way off of the glacier, which was a great way to end the Chile portion of the trip. Thankfully, one of the guides stuck with me at the back, and made the trip down really easy by offering a hand at any challenging points. All in all, I am super proud of how far I’ve come because a year and a half ago that type of hiking would have sent me into a panic attack.
I’ll be honest, I was struggling to get in the right headspace that first week. I was in such a beautiful place with great people, but something wasn’t connecting my mind with those facts. The kayaking/ice hike really just brought me to such a place of joy that I stayed at through the rest of the trip, despite not feeling my best physically.
We ended the day with a boat ride back to the Glacier (sadly my camera was packed away as the sun broke out) before a crazy windy/rainy walk 40 minutes from the beach to the parking lot that was really the only time we felt the true Patagonia weather. Despite the unpleasantness, I loved it! It helped knowing we were heading back to the hotel in Puerto Natales with a great warm shower.
The third day of the W-Trek had an option to drop our bags for an out and back at the midway point prior to heading to the Refugio. It was a bit rainy, but our group headed up an hour before half of us turned around. The other half informed the guide as he was getting ready to head back with us that they wanted to keep going. After shaking off his annoyance at the last minute notice, he got his revenge by forcing them to race up the mountain (they agreed to keep his pace) to another viewpoint while the rest of us headed back. (They/he had fun.) It really started raining on us the last hour, and it felt like the Refugio would never come. By day 3 two blisters had formed on my toes that made the hiking a bit more unpleasant. The next day we headed off on the final relatively easy stretch of the W to the Grey Glacier. We enjoyed stopping despite the chilling winds, as we all knew it was our last day of carrying our packs. It was very exciting to reach the end, and we had a few hours to rest up/drink warm beverages before kayaking (see Part 5). What an adventure!
After a slow start, we jumped right into the adventure day 3 of the trip. We packed up our 60 liter backpacks and made our way from Puerto Natales to Torres del Paine to start the famous W-Trek along with our overall trip guide and two awesome local guides. We dropped some of our stuff off at the Refugio, and headed up to long climb to base of the granite towers that make the park famous. It also happened to be the hardest hike our our trip. I did not drop enough weight, and definitely found the hike challenging (aka it kicked my ass). I felt the fact that because of health issues, I was not in marathon shape for the first time since 2010 and significantly underestimated the level of hiking this trip would entail. I took my time though, and made it to the top after a steep/rocky last hour climb. We got SO LUCKY with the weather (theme of our trip), and the views were great. Our group had a ton of fun taking photos. I struggled on the way down, but was pleasantly surprised to see horses in the meadows playing around after a long day. I got back to the Refugio just in time for dinner, stretched, and then headed to bed to rest for the next day.
A note on the Refugios along the whole trek: I loved the bunk bed nature of the Refugios, as it really helped with the early bonding of our group (hi Paul!). The Refugio’s also made the backpacking less challenging, as they had mattresses, bathrooms, bars, and 3 course meals for dinner. By the end of the trek though, we were all ready to go back to the hotels/some level of privacy the rest of the time.
The hike on the second day was much less challenging, and took us along this beautiful blue lake with great views the whole day. After stopping for folks to try their hand at a little rock climbing to be like our guide Cristian, we arrived at the Refugio in time for me to shower, check out the “beach,” and play around with some time-lapse photography. I felt terrible for Bob, whose flip flop broke when we left the beach, forcing him to walk barefoot along the rocky trail back to the Refugio. It wouldn’t be the first of his painful walks.
The first full day of the trip, we headed off to a boat to sail to Magdalena Island, home of the Magellan Penquins and apparently 234,093,248 seagulls. It was a cold, blustery day and as we walked the 1km loop I was on the lookout for the sea of penguins I imagined in my head. It turns out, they were mostly nesting so we only saw them one off. Thankfully, I love seagulls so really enjoyed watching them. I also really enjoyed the close up observation time with the penguins we did see. The lighthouse provided a beautiful backdrop as well. I am happy to say this was probably the coldest I got on the trip (other than kayaking).
After we left the island we took the boat to see an island of sea lions from the ocean. This put most of us into a state of queasiness and we were happy to have the boat head back as quickly as possible.
Early 2019, I won the Active Adventures photo contest, which allowed me and a friend to go on one of their trips 2 for the price of 1. I had been eying their Patagonia trip for awhile, but it was too cost prohibitive for me to sign up. Then I won! So I asked my friend Sam since she had planned to go last year before switching jobs/moving across the country and her being her, of course she was down.
On November 8th, the months of anticipation came to an end as I boarded my flight to Houston, then to Santiago, then finally to Punta Arenas. After a loooooooong 30ish hours of travel I arrived at the hotel. The first night, I decided to walk to dinner but once I saw protest were going on, I hustled back to the hotel. My plan to avoid trouble didn’t work as I was scared to see people take off running, hid from a tank coming down the street, and walked straight into tear gas once the tank had passed. I think I was more shocked versus hurt physically, since it’s hard to imagine the protests in the states getting broken up with tear gas as if it was normal course of business. As my mother said when I told her, “What an adventure already!” Needless to say, I was hoping my trip went up from there, but regardless would channel my mom’s fearlessness in the face of uncertain circumstances. (As a note, I think my mom is sensitive about what people would think of her parenting with that reaction since I told her Sam didn’t even tell her mom since she knew she would worry. I personally think it was the perfect thing to say!)
Sam arrived the next day, and we took off exploring Punta Arenas. The calm of the day Sunday was quite the contrast to the night before. We enjoyed exploring, particularly the cemetery and the piers/train tracks to nowhere, and the prepared to meet our group to officially start the trip/have dinner. We met the other 13 people we would be traveling with for the next two weeks, discovering that many of them knew each other through either a trip to Switzerland the night before and/or this mysterious woman named Penny. It’s always fun/scary to start a trip, but it set the goal for Sam and me to get on the invite list for future trips 🙂
I am going to hop over Magdalena Island (which will be covered in Part 2) and take us on the road to Puerto Natales, a town much more my style that would serve as a stopover before/after Torres Del Paine. It had a more laid back feeling, being much smaller.