My wife Linna decided to book a trip to Colombia last minute for some warm weather.
I left the cool rainy weather of beautiful Seattle for São Paulo, Brazil to soak up some warm sunshine and stuff my belly with some charcoal grilled red meat at one of the many Churrasco style restaurants through-out Brazil. I was supposed to get my dental braces installed before this trip, but I knew this carnivore was going to be grinding down some succulent red meat so I postponed the metal work for after this trip.
My friend Afonso Fernandes picked me up the airport and for a 22 mile ride it took us a little over 2 hours to get to my Hilton Hotel. One of the biggest challenges of living in São Paulo is definitively the commute, according to Time magazine São Paulo has the world’s worst daily traffic jams. Getting around São Paulo is a pain in the ass unless you rent or own a helicopter, go figure São Paulo metro area has 19 million people.
In São Paulo, the average traffic jams on Friday evenings is 180km (112 miles) and as long as 295km (183 miles) on bad days according to local traffic engineers. There are 420 helicopters registered in São Paulo, a total second only to New York City. There are up to 500 helicopter flights daily in Sao Paulo and the city has a staggering 193 heliports.
Although the traffic was a pain in the ass during the day, I had a great time with my friend Afonso Fernandes during this trip. He is a master at providing unlimited hospitality and finding fabulous restaurants.
After my summit bid on Aconcagua in Argentina, I met up with my wife Linna Wei in Santiago, Chile for another nine days. The weather was sunny and warm…near perfect for me; oppisite of what Seattle was getting, rain and cold. We stayed in Santiago for three days visiting the various neighborhoods and dinner spots before driving down south to Santa Cruz and northwest to Valparaiso.
Our first night out we hit a fabulous dinner spot in the Providencia neighborhood in Santiago, called Astrid & Gaston www.astridygaston.com serving up delicious Peruvian entrees. We found ourselves heading back to the Providencia and the Bellavista areas for lunches and dinners during our stay in Santiago.
Everyone knows that Chile is filled with wineries and we chose the Colchagua Valley south of Santiago for a little wine tasting. We stayed in Santa Cruz, a couple of hours south of Santiago…the epic center of Chile’s winemaking. Between wine tasting, I totally recommend visiting the local museum in town, Museo Colchagua www.museocolchagua.cl.. This museum is small in area, but is so equal in quality and history to any large museum.
A few minutes outside of Santa Cruz is Viu Manent www.viumanent.cl. winery known for their reds…Malbec’s, Cabernet’s and Carmenere’s. Don’t be surprised if you buy wine at the winery or somewhere in Chile and you find it selling cheaper in the states, this is because of taxes are higher in Chile.
We finished our trip in the colorful seaport town of Valparaiso. Like many others, we enjoyed Valparaiso more so than Santiago. We stayed in a lovely 1870 hotel mansion influenced by European architecture called Gervasoni www.hotelgervasoni.com., our room had a panoramic view of the gulf. Gervasoni is located in the concepcion area, filled with city’s best cafes and restaurants. Just a block away from our hotel is La Concepcion www.valparaisochile.cl/laconcepcion.htm. long regarded as one of the best restaurants in Valparaiso with superb service, views and great local cuisine.
Beware of dog shit through-out Santiago and Valparaiso…there are hundreds of stray dogs that clutter the streets and sidewalks; many of these dogs could be potentially roaming around with rabies.
My friend Erik Akerberg from Stockholm, Sweden ask me to join him to climb Mt. Aconcagua near Mendoza, Argentina; the highest mountain in North and South America standing at 22,837 ft / 6,960 mt and is one of the seven summits of the world.
We joined Inka Expeditions along with 9 other climbers from around the world; Jerone Brisebourg (France), Benoit Clerc (France), Audrey Le Diraison (France), Craig & Michelle Kellet (Australia), Olaf Lechtenfeld (Germany), Thierry Rocetta (France), Sergio Tomsic (Argentina) and Joen Yen Lee (Singapore).
Due to extreme winds and a nasty forecast of severe weather for the next few days, we had to turn around at Camp Colera at 19,960 ft / 6,000 mt. Despite the daily winds and no summit this was one of my best adventures and learning experiences.
Day One, December 1st
Today was my first official day of my Aconcagua climbing adventure in Argentina. I started packing the night before and finished the rest of it the next morning before Linna drove me to the Seattle airport. My first flight to Santiago was through Atlanta, Georgia on Delta Airlines sitting in the fat seat. My second leg I wasn´t as fortunate, I was back in the cattle car sitting in a so called premium seat, Delta calls it Comfort Plus…I call it Suffer Plus. After a couple of glasses of wine at dinner I was out until breakfast and soon we landed in Santiago, Chile.
Day Two, December 2nd
Walking into Santiago customs, I was directed to a separate line to purchase a one-time VISA for $160 US dollars. Not a real surprise since I had to do this last March in Buenos Aries, Argentina. What was strange though, only six or seven countries are required to purchase a VISA. I landed at 9:30 a.m. and my friend Erik from Sweden walked out of customs around 2:30 p.m. The last time I saw Erik was in Russia, when we climbed Mt. Elbrus together in 2010.
Our plan was to catch a bus over to Mendoza, Argentina where we would actually start our Aconcagua adventure. We had to catch the red-eye bus that took off from Santiago at 10:00 p.m. and got into Mendoza around 5:30 a.m. Typically, getting around South America is mainly accomplished by buses and there seems to be abundant number of bus lines to fulfil the needs.
Day Three, December 3rd
Now in the wee hours, we had to stop at customs on the mountain pass between Argentina and Chile; all bus passengers had to disembark and stand outside under this huge dome. You stood in line to leave Chile and after they would process you and your passport, you then stepped over to the next line (very next window) and the Argentina customs would then process you.
We finally got to our hotel and to sleep around 7:00 a.m., but only to be awaken by Cristian Mur, an assistant guide for Inka Expediciones to review our equipment. Later in the day, Erik and I found a very eloquent restaurant Anna for a late lunch. After chowing down a piece of delicious lamb with a local Mendoza cabernet we headed back for a long over-due siesta.
That evening we met up with the rest of our climbing group; Jérome Brisebourg (France), Benoit Clerc (France), Audrey Le Diraison (France), Craig & Michelle Kellet (Australia), Olaf Lechtenfeld (Germany), Thierry Rocetta (France), Sergio Tomsic (Argentina) and Joen Yen Lee (Singapore). I had the lovely opportunity to have my iPhone ripped off during dinner that night by a few young kids; totally my fault for leaving my phone on the table as we chatted. I called Linna when I got back to the hotel room with my satellite phone I rented from BlueCosmo www.bluecosmo.com for the month of December; I totally recommend BlueCosmo for their outstanding service and quality phones to choose from.
Day Four, December 4th
Had my first full night of sleep which was well overdue since I started my journey from Seattle days ago. The guides and our climbing group drove to the government park office to get our Aconcagua climbing permits; $730 per application. From Mendoza, we drove two vans with loaded gear and food for 2 1/2 hours to a tiny ski resort Penitentes. We slept our last night in a bed at Hotel Penitentes and ended our day with a great dinner and wine.
Day Five, December 5th
I started off my day with my last hot shower for a while. I was anxious to get my hiking boots on and make this happen. We drove a few miles down the road to the park entrance Pampa de Lenas, this is where we turned in our individual park permits and officially started hiking; elevation at 2,950 meters / 9,678 feet. It was an easy hike, but after five hours of walking at 10,000 feet, I was exhausted. The mule drivers’ barbequed up a bunch of delicious beef and sausages for dinner, the beef wasn’t as tender as prefer, but I couldn’t bitch being in the middle of the Andes at 10,000 feet. This will be my first night of sleeping in the tent; we paired up in two’s that gave us plenty of room in the 3 man Mountain Hardware tents that were provided. Mijel, the lead guide took our oxygen level with a small gadget that fit over the end of the index finger, it provided a digital read-out and mine was 91.
Day Six, December 6th
I slept well and felt fantastic, must have been all that beef I had the night before. My tent roommate Erik Akerberg had the opposite experience, he didn’t sleep well at all due to the beef he ate. Erik is a semi-vegetarian so he woke feeling like shit and he was suffering all day with stomach cramps and a headache. Not only did he grieve with pain, but he and the rest of us had to walk 6 hours in a 25 – 30 mph constant headwind for six hours.
I have never in my life had to deal with so much wind all in one day; it was completely challenging for the mind, body and eyes. Most of the group wore goggles to protect their eyes from the wind and dirt that the air was carrying. Five minutes before you reached second camp (Casa de Piedras), you get your first sighting of Aconcagua up the Relincho Stream Valley.
Day Seven, December 7th
Another good sleep, even though it was really windy; must have been the Advil PM’s I took last night! We headed up to Plaza Argentina base camp today, picking up 960m / 3,150ft. When we arrived lunch and beverages were waiting for us. We set-up tents and had dinner later in the large dome tents where everyone ate. I was exhausted by the time I crawled in my sleeping bag, I remember telling Erik that I underestimated this climb and thought it would be much easier. I woke in the middle of the night feeling I had to vomit, but after a healthy bowel movement I was back to normal.
Day Eight, December 8th
I slept good last night and was sleeping in late until there was a helicopter that landed a 100 yards in front of our tent. The pilot drop off two park rangers and supplies before flying off. Base camp is only ½ full, I am told the busy part of the season starts in January. December weather can be unpredictable so many people start in January. I had two great bowel movements today….I am a happy camper. There are two make-shift out houses with one not having a door. People saw me use my satellite phone and so I became a popular guy. I ended up letting people use it, I wasn’t worried about the usage but draining my battery…I still had many days to go. There was another guiding outfit that had large solar panels and for a small fee you could recharge your batteries, so I recharged my camera and phone batteries back to a full charge. Today my resting heart rate was 93 and my oxygen level was 83. We all had a chance to take a shower today. There was two stalls that had a large plastic container hanging overhead filled with hot water. It was great to get the grime off. I also washed up my socks and my dri-fit shirts / underwear I have been wearing the past few days.
Day Nine, December 9th
After a full day of rest and another great night of sleep at Plaza Argentina base camp we hauled up food and personal items to camp one. We hiked up 900m / 2,700ft. today to reach camp 1 and it was really windy all the way up. We consolidated all of the equipment together and descended back down to base camp…of course my knees didn’t like it. Tomorrow will be another rest day and I am happy about it, again I underestimated this climb thinking it would be easier with all the days we have, but I guess being at a very high elevation all day can be exhausting. So far all of the equipment I brought is perfect.
Day Ten, December 10th
Had a great rest day and used most of it prepping for tomorrow’s climb to camp 1 of 3 before we hit the summit. Tonight’s dinner is our last sit down dinner in the base camp tent. I got to admit the meals have been fantastic and there was plenty to eat. We have 3 French people in our group that sit together and every meal they end up laugh among themselves, but to find out they have been laughing at the one German we have. He can be very boasting at times and the French make fun of him.
Day Eleven, December 11th
We had our last sit down breakfast in the base camp tent. Erik and I took down our tent and packed up backpacks and ascended to camp 1 at 5,000m / 16,404ft. Our pace was 10 minutes faster than yesterday hiking to camp 1; took us 3 hours and 20 minutes which included breaks. I was totally exhausted by the time we reached camp 1. After a 10 minute breather we set-up tents. Dinner was brought to our tents and the day was finished off with a game of chess.
Day Twelve, December 12th
I slept off and on last night the dry air cold air blocked my sinuses when you breathe through your mouth it makes your throat and lips very dry. I had packed everything at home except my Chap Stick, I can’t believe I would forget something so important to me and something I actually use a couple times a day at home. I keep Chap Stick at my work desk, car, briefcase and a couple of places through-out the house. At least it’s another sunny day to enjoy.
Today we will move personal items to camp 2 gaining 800m / ft. It was steep and steady today to camp 2 where we off loaded and rested before descend back to camp 1. We had a group meeting to decide not to have a rest day tomorrow but too move the rest of camp 1 onto camp 2. There is bad weather coming in and could affect our summit climb. We have been shitting in large heavy duty trash bags since we left base camp. You had one bag that you would use over and over and just tied it off when you were done. Shitting in your bag is not easy when you have your gear on and it’s freezing out. Before we went to sleep, Erik and I played two games of chess and I won both of them.
Day Thirteen, December 13th
Slept well last night even though my sinuses were blocked this morning. It was another sunny day in paradise, just cold and windy. We packed up everything so my backpack was feeling heavy. By the time we climbed to camp 2 and set-up our tents I had a full raging headache. I took a couple of regular Advil and started to feel better. The guides are talking about reaching the summit on December 16th, but are wary of the approaching weather. We have a rest day tomorrow and then the next day we climb to camp 3. The view from camp 2 is totally amazing.
Day Fourteen, December 14th
I was sleeping well until morning when my sinuses were completely plugged. It was rest day so a few of us hiked up to 5,700m / 18,700ft. for a little exercise and acclimatization. I am amazed how good I feel at this elevation, it’s almost you don’t even feel it until you start moving your feet. Tomorrow we climb to camp 3 and hopefully we attempt the summit the next day! The guides are saying that there are high winds coming in and even our summit bid could be in jeopardy.
Day Fifteen, December 15th
Audrey who is married to Benoit, the couple from France…she was nice enough to provide me with a small bottle of Vick’s nasal spray yesterday. I slept without any nasal/sinus issues…thank you Audrey! You can tell it’s getting colder by the frost inside the tent. Today we packed up everything and headed for camp 3. The wind was very, very strong and you had to be very careful with your footing. By the time we reached camp 3 the winds were at colossal strength. I saw somebody’s sleeping bag from another climbing group take off like a missile into the sky. We assembled one tent at a time with 6 or more people helping. We are now at 6,000m / 20,000ft. with the summit attempt tomorrow. The weather doesn’t look good though, guides are saying that the winds are only going to get worse with white out conditions….not good.
Around 4:00 a.m. the guides came around to tell us to quickly pack everything and we will need to descend to base camp. The weather got worse and it was forecasted to get worse for the next few days. There went our summit bid and I started thinking that maybe we should have not had those rest days. We came so far to be so close, but to be rejected due weather was disspointing.
This trip was solely based on Linna’s 40th birthday on February 28th; we wanted to celebrate her special day in a warm country and a new place we have never been before. I flew in from Sao Paulo on Friday and Linna flew in the next day, February 25th. I warned Linna about a $140 entry fee for first time foreigners; this payment is like a Visa expense, but you pay it right before you step in-line to customs. We both had to take a taxi from airport to Hilton and I waited for Linna outside the hotel for her to show up. What are the chances for Linna and I to have the same taxi driver on two separate days…well it happened. She was charged 180 pesos and I was charged 170 pesos.
First day out we headed to the world’s widest avenue “Avenida 9 de Julio” with 18 automobile lanes. At the center of the avenue is a mini Washington Monument called “Obelisco”. Still on foot we headed to the outdoor market in Recoleta and purchased a few items. We wanted to visit the Recoleta Cemetery which was in the same area, but….it was closed by the time we got there. We stopped by a couple of outdoor cafés before we made it home that night.
Next day was off to another market, Feria de Mataderos….Linna thought there would be a small parade and a huge market, but we had the wrong date. It was pretty much empty streets with a few low scale vendors; we ended up having lunch in the neighborhood at cute outdoor café “Los Campeones”. Since we missed the Recoleta Cemetery, we taxied back and looked for the famous Eva Perón tomb. We probably walked around 45 minutes before we decided to head to the entrance and look at the map for Eva; even after looking at the map it still took us 10 minutes to find her tomb. That night Linna booked us a tango show at El Viejo Almacen, I recommend at least seeing one show….now that I have, I am good for a while.
Fourth Day: Like most people, Linna and I decided to take one day excursion to Colonia del Sacramento, Uruguay via a speedy ferry boat which took one hour. This is more of a tourist town then anything, but…still worth the visit. We decided to walk through-out the city and we really regret not renting a car or even a golf-cart that are available. We were so tired of walking in the heat….it took all the fun out of the day (now we know!). Within a short walk you can check out some really old architect in the historic quarter like the city gate and wooden drawbridge and lighthouse nearby. The Basilica of the Holy Sacrament is really cool, it was built by stone in 1808 by the Portuguese. After a few more historical sites we stopped for lunch before we decided to walk to the Plaza de toros Real de San Carlos. It was built in 1909 for bullfighting, but it only had 8 fights before the country banned bullfighting in 1912. The building is fenced in due to the decomposing structure, but Linna and I found a hole in the fence and checked it out. It was this attraction that we walked over two miles in the hot sun to see that did us in for the day. The ferry ride back was up in the VIP seating which I highly recommend. The seats are much bigger and they start you off with a complimentary glass of Champagne.
Fifth Day: After a few days in Buenos Aires, we wanted to adventure out to the countryside, so we found an Estancia (large ranch) about 60 miles outside of Buenos Aires in the Pampa’s region called La Bamba www.labambadeareco.com Linna and I took a taxi back to the airport to pick up a rental car from Avis. I find that you really can’t explore a city or country without driving through it. Of course, without navigation it would be almost impossible so I always get a TomTom or Garmin to help me along. From the airport we winded through neighborhoods before we finally hit a highway. The road from the highway to the estancia was a dirt road, but…since it had rained days before, it was a mud road.
I usually make a trip down to Sao Paulo, Brazil every year and as always….walking off the airplane in Sao Paulo is usually the exact opposite from walking off the airplane in Seattle. Warm air greets you unlike the cool wet weather of Seattle. My good friends Afonso Fernandes and Desmond Simoes were waiting outside of customs for me. The drive from the airport to my Hilton Hotel was unusually quick due to the national holiday Carnival that I just missed. Any other day it would have been another slow going commute; Sao Paulo is well known for having some of the worst traffic in the world. After getting checked in at the hotel, I got caught up with emails and had time for a snooze before we headed out for a late lunch.
We headed to a typical Churrasco style restaurant and as usual I indulged way too much on the various slices of beef and lamb. I always follow Alfonso’s recommendation when selecting piece of meat from the Passadores (server).
Next day we headed up Piracicaba, a smaller city Northwest of Sao Paulo. There are many restaurants along the Piracicaba river, but this trip we had a great lunch in a German restaurant with my Renata Tabai and a few of her co-workers.
A trip to Sao Paulo is always a good time, especially when the city that you are living in (Seattle) is getting inundated with rain every day. This was more of a business trip this time, but still had time to enjoy the great restaurants and good friends. The weather was sunny and the temperature stayed in the mid-seventies. The last time I was in Sao Paulo was 2008 and I can’t remember the traffic being so horrendous. It would take us on average a couple of hours to get anywhere in the city, you would spend half of your day just driving.
The area is exploding with economic growth, you could see manufacturing buildings going up representing America, Japan, China and South Korea. The taxes are so high here that you almost need to have your company here instead of importing; taxes are higher than the cost of your product you are shipping. Cars that cost $25,000 in America, will cost you over $50,000 in Sao Paulo because of taxes; maybe it’s a deterrent to keep cars off the road.