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WheresCherie.COM Quote
"The world breaks everyone, and afterward, many are strong in the broken places." -- Hemingway

Episode 12: Chilly in Chile
@ Where`s Cherie?     Aug 05 2002 - 16:13 PST
cherie writes: April 1999

Unable to Fly:There are plenty of penguins in Punta Arenas. We played with the docile critters as well as other animals we were surprised to see share the same habitat: foxes and ostriches. The foxes were as playful as pups, Kristi shouting for me to ¨Follow that fox!¨ as she opted to chase a flapping squawking ostrich.

The penguins curiously watched us, unamused by our antics, each a placid Buddha meditating, eyes closed, unfeathered-wings outstretched in the icy wind. Perhaps they were contemplating the insanity of two California girls traveling 15,000 kilometers to the Chilean seaside to frolic with two birds, both unable to fly.

Small towns:The entire town of Punta Arenas shut down for a parade that was honestly as exciting as my 5th grade bake-sale. Having our own self-appointed slot in the parade (gathering cheers as if we were a registered part of it) Kristi and I marched between school bands, uniformed army guys and horseback-riders, giving on-lookers the combo Miss America wave and smile. That same smile later earned us an unofficial tour of the local Fire Department. We darned ourselves in the over-sized protective fire-fighting helmets, and boarded the different red trucks, playing with gadgets, and flipping on and off switches we shouldn´t. After our dress-up photo shoot, we were even given official Junior-Fire-Fighter-Sticker-Badges.

Foreign Men:We traveled with a Scottish lad for a few days and begged him to wear his traditional kilt out dancing on the town with us. Realizing to resist would be futile, he relented and the three of us went out...two girls, one boy--three skirts. Deservedly so, he got all the attention. Lesson learned: it may not be who´s in the skirt, but rather, the skirt itself.Next we traveled with a couple of Swiss chefs, which has its own obvious set of benefits. After a fabulous home-made gourmet feast, we felt confident in assigning our new Swiss friends the task of preparing our hiking cuisine for the next few days in the national park. Much to our surprise, enveloped in the silence of glaciers, we ate tuna and ketchup sandwiches.

The National Park:Wild flowers line the dusty roads of Torres Del Paines and lace the air with their fragrant sweetness. The mountains are mounds of fudge ice-cream, some sprinkled with powdered sugar, others topped with a dollop of cream sliding down their chocolatey sides. Timeless glaciers sit like children in the laps of their mountainous parents, the ultimate combination of simultaneous strength and vulnerability. We raced through the twisting roads, trying to catch the last glimpse of the sun before it sank behind three towering granite pillars. That´s when our car broke down. Naturally, we uncorked a bottle of Chilean wine and celebrated our misfortune. Night fell, and while during the day I had appreciated the desolate park, I was now praying to see another soul. It was on bottle number two that they arrived. A British tour-bus who swept us up and dropped us off 14 short kilometers from our hostel. Then we began to walk. (Or stumble?) Did I mention that it was cold? Really cold. The kind of cold that makes your bones ache, your nose run, and your body come to terms with it´s age. Fashion wasn´t an option because I was wearing every piece of clothing that I owned, my shoes bursting, unlacable with five pairs of socks. The wind slapped my face like a scorned lover, and ravaged my hair so I appeared to be the rocker girlfriend of some heavy metal singer.I didn´t see the headlights until they were upon us. The park ranger had found us on bottle of wine number three. We would have given him a celebration dance, had our limbs not frozen off. He dropped us at the door of our hostel, which was a place where the presence of a toilet seat was a conversation piece, and I didn´t realize there was no running water until I had spit a mouthful of tooth-paste into the sink. Paralyzed from cold, like the surrounding leaveless trees, we used our last shard of energy to transform ourselves into mini-superheroes in order to complete the ladder-less ascent to our top bunks. Finally...warmth.We spent the entire next day appreciating nature-in-the-raw. Baby icicle waves buckled under their own weight lapping on a shoreline of ice. The underbellies of the massive glaciers were pastel blue, the same color normally reserved for 7 year-old girls and their 70 year-old grand-mothers. We began a three hour hike that evolved into a seven hour one; lost in a chasm of gorged-out hanging glaciers, without the Brady-Bunch-Boy-scout-bread-crumbs to help us find our way out. The sun peeked over the undulating spires, illuminating a tiny tree like an innocent angel. Giant rocks served as pedestals for my Titanic ¨I am the King of the world¨ shout. Just when I thought I´d have to turn back, the dense foliage prohibiting another step; I´d stare hard into the forest. Then, like the moment you see the 3-D picture through the maze of dots, a path would appear. That´s when I fell, a wrinkle of land giving way, the earth swallowing me up to my waist. I forget what you´re supposed to do when your ankle turns into an egg-plant, but I´m pretty sure three more hours of hiking isn´t the recommendation. Unable to walk, except like a gimpy penguin, we found ourselves back on a bus...forced to admire the yellow land, braided with cris-cross rivers, through a cold piece of glass.

The Awakening:I awoke, the bus rocking me like an infant in it´s crib, bouncing through the Chilean fjords at dawn. After rubbing my eyes, I smeared the foggy window so I could see nature´s movie going by. It looked like a child´s drawing, where the kid had both pressed too hard with the crayons and picked the wrong colors. The sand was black, the ocean green, the ground yellow, and the sky was red. Then jagged peaks began to grow between the inlets of water like Magic-Rocks--appearing less fearsome buttoned to the neck in their sweaters of snow. Autumn leaves turned firey-red, their last shout of beauty before falling to their death, leaving a lanky naked tree waiting awkwardly to be wrapped in it´s own white shawl of snow.As we head back to Argentina, I realize at this moment, that I am very...awake.Cherie

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