I survived the boat ride. It was pretty fun actually. The Chef on board moonlighted as an electric keyboard player at night in the pub. He was actually a way better musician then a chef, but that is not saying too much either way. It was smooth sailing most of the trip, however, on the second day we had to venture out into the open sea for a while and it was very bumpy on board. They had free sea sickness relief tablets though and after taking one of those I felt fine. There were only about thirty passengers on board (in the summer the ship is full and can hold like 300 passengers) so it was pretty cool because everyone got to know each other. Yesterday we had our only stop on the boat which was at Puerto Eden, a small village of about 200 people. We got off there and walked around for an hour or so and got back on the boat. And that was that. So now I am in Puerto Natales and tomorrow we are going to go on a tour of the Torres Del Paine National Park and then bugger outta here on the next day.
Tomorrow Thomas and I are going to set sail on board the Navimag ship Magallanes from Puerto Montt, where we are now, to Puerto Natales. We should arrive there on Thursday. It cost US$275 each, which is pretty spendy and my guidebook says that it´s both cheaper and quicker to either fly or to take a bus through Argentina to get to Puerto Natales, but we figure the voyage should hopefully be worth it. The boat goes through the fjords of Patagonia, which should be cool.
Yesterday Thomas and I went on an organized tour mountain climb of a volcano near the town of Pucon in Chile. The pictures say it all, but basically it was a very physically challenging event and I made it two hours up the climb but then turned back because I was totally exhausted and could not keep going. Thomas kept going and made it all the way up. At the stopping point where I turned back everyone had to put on crampons (Spikes on the boots) and really started to use their pick axes. We had two guides with our group of ten people so one of the guides, a woman from Germany, took me down to the bottom and we picked up another straggler on the way. It was fun going down because I got to slide most of the way down making it go about ten times quicker! Once at the bottom we had to wait for about four hours until the first group made it down and we hitched a ride back to town with them. I had a great time even though I only made it up the easy third of the volcano.
Today we took a bus south to the town of Puerto Montt and from here are going to try to take a ferry boat south through the fjords of Patagonia. But we will find out more details about that tomorrow.
One of my best friends and fraternity brother Nate Reierson recently returned from a one year tour of duty in Iraq with the North Dakota National Guard. He is now back in Grand Forks all safe and sound. However our other friend and brother Andy “Jew” Erickson has now taken his place with a different North Dakota National Guard unit. Following is a brief account of Nate´s time overseas that he wrote for our fraternity newsletter:
As I write this, I sit on my five legged cot. A buddy of mine fat-assed the sixth leg. I’m in a leaky tent, but we have electricity, heat, internet, and even a TV station, (Armed Forces Network), and most importantly I sit inside the wire. My favorite place to be. I am near the Syrian border, and it has been a journey of ten months that got me here.
My Company landed in Kuwait on April 24, 2003. It seems a lifetime ago. From Kuwait Airport, we were bussed to Camp Virginia, Kuwait, where another brother and close friend of mine, Andy Erickson, now sits. We retrieved our equipment and waited to go north. My company is a multi-role bridge company (MRBC), and our secondary mission is transportation, so it wasn’t long before we were hauling crappers to Baghdad (no joke) among other things.
After a couple of haul missions I found myself on our advance party at Camp Anaconda, Balad, Iraq. It is located 30 miles north of Baghdad. Here I filled sandbags, setup tents, and all the other sorts of b.s. required to get the camp ready for our people. This is what I did until June.
We then got an order for a boat patrol mission in Baghdad. We loaded up our boats, (think Apocalypse Now without the guns) and headed into Baghdad. We got lost in downtown and ran over a couple of cars, not observing traffic laws is great and I highly recommend it if your vehicle is big enough. We eventually arrived at some little base I can’t recall the name of. From this base we patrolled the Tigris river, looking for weapons runners, any sort of trouble, and unruly ruffians. This mission lasted for about three weeks and was by far my most enjoyable time here. We searched a ton of boats, got shot at, took a few people in, recovered a body and all sorts of fun stuff. This was before the realities of war set in.
After that mission was completed, we returned to Anaconda. It was around this time we had our first casualties. Jon Fettig was killed in an ambush near Ramadi, and Brandon Erickson was wounded and lost an arm. Brandon is a student at UND, Jon left behind a wife in Dickinson. Even now it is hard to believe he is gone.
Shortly after that incident I went down to Camp Virginia, to spend six days with our rear detachment. These six days turned into nearly two months due to various difficulties with transporting us out. I was in a safe environment, but it was a miserable time for me. I was separated from my soldiers and friends. During this time our commander was relieved- it was a welcome change for me.
I finally returned to Camp Anaconda. We then pulled a couple of convoys throughout Iraq, hauling various things to various places. We finally got an order to do what we are trained to do, build a bridge. We got prepared and headed out. We arrived at our destination and got out final preparations in order, and headed out to the bridge site. We were supported by a couple of choppers, M-1 Abrams, M-2 Bradleys, and a few other light vehicles. We started to put in our ribbon bridge. To do this you drop floating sections, called bays into the water with our trucks and assemble them with our boats. For this mission I was the NCO in charge (IC) of the engineer equipment point (EEP). My job was to get all our equipment prepped and down to the water. We completed the assembly of the bridge around noon. Shortly after that the mortars started falling on our site. It sucked. We had AK fire, RPGs and mortars pounding our position. We then witnessed the destructive fire power of the US military. All our security elements unleashed hell. M-1s and Bradleys tore up our attackers, and the choppers pitched in. We continued with our mission. We still had to anchor our bridge with an overhead cable system and retrieve our boats. The mortars fell twice more that day, but no more direct attacks. Darkness fell and the call was made to pull the majority of our company back to camp and leave our boats, key personnel and security at the site. It was a long night both at camp and on the water.
The next day we arrive at the site at dawn and got back to work on the frickin overhead anchorage. Fortunately it was a quite night at the site, It didn’t last long. The mortars started falling again, and fell three times that day. We’d dive for cover and than get back to work. Night fell and found us not quit done. I stayed on site this night, and was behind a .50 cal. This night was a little longer than the last for me. It was quite again, and our company showed up at dawn. We finally finished and pulled out late on the third day. All said and done we had a couple of people with light injuries, a couple of vehicles with light damage, a few enemies killed, a few dozen captured and a crapload of frayed nerves. We were exhausted as we arrived back at camp and had a couple of days of hard earned rest. We than headed back to Anaconda.
We got word when we arrived that we had orders to move to FOB Ridgeway, near Falluja. We packed up all our crap and once again headed out. I went to Ramadi with 12 other people for another boat patrol. This time on the Euphrates river in Ramadi. This mission was a security patrol for the US installations along the river. It was thankfully an uneventful time.
After about a month I went to Ridgeway. I was back with the company for about a week and got orders to head out for a weapons cache demolition mission. Myself and 20 others headed close to the Jordan border for this mission. Here we blew up over 6 million pounds of enemy ordinance. It was here I learned of our greatest loss. Sgt. Keith Smette and Ssg. Kenny Hendrickson were killed in action. I was with Keiths younger brother Rob and it was the most difficult thing I have ever been through. Rob is also a student at UND. Keith was attending NDSU and Kenny left behind a wife, and I believe two kids in Bismarck. The sadness of these losses will be with me for a long time.
After we finished the weapons cache, myself and four others headed to were I am now, with 13 others maintaining the bridge we put in. From here hopefully we will link up with the rest of the company and head straight to Kuwait, but only time will tell.
I have learned a lot about myself and life here, a lifetimes worth. I realize that tomorrow is not a guarantee. I’ve known how close you can grow to a group of strangers. This has been a time where I have experienced every emotion possible, experienced highs and lows beyond anything I have ever known. I have never been prouder of myself, or prouder to be an American. I would give anything to bring back the people we have lost, but would not trade this experience for anything less.
I left Valparaiso today and took the bus seven hours south to a city named Chillan. It was raining today and starting to get cold. For some reason I didn’t think it was going to be cold here so I left my fleece in Australia because I had not used it yet. But after reading through some of my guidebook today I think it is only going to get colder and wetter the further south we go and we are planning on going all the way down. Time to invest in some sort of local clothing I guess.
Not much going on in this town though. It is the birthplace of the first head of state of Chile and national hero Bernardo O’Higgins, but besides that it is your average place I guess. We are leaving tomorrow on the bus in the afternoon to head another six hours south to Pucon.
I arrived in Santiago, Chile at 2:30am on April 17th. Thomas and I had arranged to meet up at the Hotel Paris in downtown Santiago and I made it there via a taxi with no problems. Thomas had arrived the morning before me and just rested up in the hotel. On Saturday we walked around the center of Santiago and checked things out. It´s your basic big South American city I guess. Saturday night we dined on Chinese food and afterwards sampled a few of the local beers at a nearby pub.
Sunday we slept in and I was awoken by the phone in our room ringing. I answered and the hotel receptionist asked me if we were staying another night. I told him no and asked when check out was. He said 1pm. I hung up the phone and said to Thomas “They have a one o´clock check out time here, that´s pretty friendly.¨ And Thomas looked at his watch and said ¨Well, it´s five to one right now!¨ So we packed up quick and took a taxi to the bus station and hopped on the next bus to Valparaiso (the ticket for the two hour bus ride was cheaper then the 10 minute taxi we took the the bus station!).
Yesterday we checked out Valparaiso and today we took the train over to Vino Del Mar to find the famous Hotel O´Higgins where Uncle Walter stayed many years ago. I read the map wrong so we walked around for and hour trying to find it and the whole time we were just a few blocks away. But we eventually made it there to find a pretty empty big fancy hotel. So we had a beer there and then headed back on the train to Valparaiso.
The last week of my time in Australia was spent in Byron Bay attending the Blues and Roots Music Festival over Easter weekend. It was a five day music festival with bands starting around noon and ending around 1am every day except for the last night which ended about 11pm.
My new camera broke during my Fraser Island excursion. The lens got bent somehow, I think during one of the big bumps we had in the car. Anywho, I took it back to K-Mart as I had only bought it three weeks previous. The guy there looked at it and told me the lens was broken and that they could send it in to get it fixed. I told him that I was leaving the country next week and he said that it takes two weeks to four months to get them fixed and it would probably cost me around A$200-300. I asked him if he could just swap me for a new one because I had barley used it and I needed to get it fixed before I left. He was kind of a asshole and said that all he could do was send it in and it would take two weeks to four months. He said that they could only swap items if they were for under A$100 or purchased in the last two weeks. As he was saying this I noticed that the camera was now on sale for A$300, and I had paid A$320 for it. So I kindly asked him if he could at least refund me the A$20 and I would deal with fixing the camera on my own. He called his manager and asked her and she said ok. Since I paid for it via credit card they had to refund it and then charge me for a new one at the new price and when it was all said and done I had a receipt saying that I had bought a camera that day.
So the next morning I went to a different K-Mart and I got a really nice lady and I asked her to take a look at my camera because I had just bought it and could not figure out how to make it work correctly. She took one look at it and could tell that it wasn´t working properly. They were all out of that camera at that store so she apologized and said all she could do was refund my money. I said I could live with that, got refunded and had my mom buy me the same camera at home for US$180 and send it over to me with Thomas. So it all worked out good in the end, except I didn´t get any photos of the Blues Fest.
I camped with Pete and his childhood friend from ND Drew and his girlfriend. The camping was ok but it turns out that the “official campground” was on the other side of town from the concert and it was A$25 a night each so in retrospect I think we would have been better off (and dryer) staying in a hostel in town. But it was fun anyways. The artist I wanted to see the most was Xavier Rudd who played two nights and ended up joining other bands on stage quite a few times. He is an Australian musician I discovered after arriving in Australia and he plays the didgeridoo, guitar and a few other instruments.
After the concert was over we drove straight through to Sydney getting in around 11pm. It was Pete´s 25th birthday so he and I went out to the Emperor Pub in King’s Cross near where we were staying and had a few beers. Then Pete & company left insanely early the next morning (which for some reason the wake up involved Pete getting water thrown on him) and I left the hostel around 10am and had to get straight to the airport so I never got a chance to check out Sydney.
When I got to Los Angeles I had to wait the whole day for my flight to Santiago and when I went to check in I found out that the flight was canceled due to mechanical problems and I would have to wait until the next day. But the airline put me up in the Embassy Suites hotel so I got a chance to rest up and do my laundry so it turned out ok.
I got back from my three day self drive four wheel drive adventure on Fraser Island. Fraser Island is a big long sand island off of the coast and they have roads through part of it and then the big long beach for a road too. It is really popular with backpackers and families to drive around and go camping on. I went with a tour from the hostel I was staying at and got chucked in a group with 8 other people. There was a German couple and an Englishman who were all really cool and then the other half of the group was five 19 year old English girls who had never been camping before. All I will say about them is that they are very blessed to know everything about anything. But since they couldn’t actually DO anything they were not exactly my cup of tea.
But I had a very good time nevertheless. There were quite a few different fresh water lakes to go swimming in which was nice because the ocean was full of Tiger sharks and stinging jellyfish. The first night we drove almost as far as we could on the island and camped. After dinner I headed down to the beach with two Canadian boys and we started up a bonfire and shortly after three Forest Rangers showed up and partied with us. They drove their truck down to the beach and brought us more firewood and had their stereo going. By the end of the night I think we had around forty people down on the beach partying with us. It was really cool because there were loads of people all doing the same three day self drive tours and all the fun people came down to the beach for the party.
The second day we got rained on quite a bit. Which was ok it was just that everything was wet which kind of made things miserable. But we drove around and saw the rest of the sights on the island and drove back inland to a different camping spot. That night there was a lot more of me sitting in my tent listening to rain and whining English girls then campfires on the beach, but what can you do? I am just glad I have my own tent!
Pete can now add “Macadamian Nut Harvester” to his already extensive resume. Today is his last day working in Bundaberg and he should be arriving shortly to collect me and then we are driving down to Brisbane tonight.
Last week Thomas and I went on a tour to Parque Nacional Torres Del Paine. We left Friday morning (April 30th) a little after 8am. There were nine of us in total, including two couples who had been on board the Magallanes with us, a pair of crazy Italian guys and a cute Japanese girl. First we went to the Monumento Natural Cueva Milodon (The Milodon cave) which is a cave where the remains of a 10,000 year old giant sloth were found a while ago but today all their is is the cave and a big fiberglass replica of what the Milodon looked like. After that we drove for about an hour or so to get to the national park. We were supposedly behind schedule and our driver was really putting the pedal to the metal, which scared some of the old people on the tour. But I think he just liked to drive fast anyways. Thomas and I were in the front seat of the van right behind our driver and our tour guide, José. They were talking to us the whole time and cracking jokes. They shared their Mate with us too.
Mate is originally an Argentinean drink and is a a strong tea. The tea leaves are put in a mate cup (or a gourd is used traditionally) and then filled with just a little bit of hot water. Then it is drunk out of a metal straw that has a sieve on the bottom which just allows the water to get sucked into the straw. Then more hot water is added and the cup is passed along to the next person. I liked it a lot.
The park is just amazing though. It was definitely the best day I have had on my whole adventure so far. All over Chile there are huge mountains but the mountains there were just spectacular. We had perfect weather too and could see everything. We made lots of photo stops at various look outs and got out to check out the Salto Grande (Big Salt) Waterfall. It was super windy there! After that we headed to this super fancy hotel in the park to have lunch and then after that walked across a suspension bridge to the Lago Grey (Grey Lake). At the other side of the lake from where we were there was the Grey Glacier which just comes right down off the mountains and into the lake. Amazing! After visiting the lake we started our drive back to Puerto Natallis and got back around 6pm.
On Saturday we took a tour to the Parque Nacional Bernardo O´Higgins on board the boat 21 de Mayo. We left at 8am and took about four hours to get to the main attraction, The Serrano Glacier. We docked at Puerto Toro and walked along an easy 1200 meter trail to get pretty close to the glacier. Both Thomas and I thought it was a little disappointing compared to the scenery we saw the day before. But overall it was ok. On the way back we stopped at a Estancia (Farm) where most of the people had lunch, but Thomas and I just hung out for the hour we were there because the lunch was a real rip off price. We got back to town about 5pm.
Sunday we took the bus south three hours to Punta Arenas, which lies on the Straight of Magellan. The “beach” along the straight was about the most disgusting and filthy beach I have ever seen I think. Arriving on Sunday almost all the stores and restaurants were closed but we found a place to eat that had empanadas(which are a Chilean baked burrito sort of thing). Later that night I went out drinking with some travelers I met at the hostel. An English guy and a couple from Greece. We had lots of fun and ended up finding a small restaurant open on the way back to the hotel after the pubs closed and had a delicious sandwich called a “Boca Loco,” which is like a steak sandwich with cheese and mayonnaise.
Monday we caught the bus to Rio Gallegos. We decided to forgo Tierra Del Fuego and instead spend more time in (hopefully) warmer climates. We were in Rip Gallegos just for a few hours, hit up the ATM to get some Argentinean money and had a big feed. Then we hopped on the night bus north and got off at small town (13,000 people) of Caleta Olivia. We got here this morning at 7am and my guidebook only has two paragraphs about the place, mostly talking about attractions that are over 100 Kilometers away from the town. For the first time in South America we had a problem finding a hotel. We got a taxi from the bus station and he took us to three different hotels that all told me they were full. I think they just were scared of gringos or something though. We got lucky on our forth hotel though. It´s nice and sunny here today and I think it´s further north from here tomorrow probably.