"Sailed not as a seaman, but as a traveler..."

"Sailed not as a seaman, but as a traveler..."- Sir Thomas More's Utopia

Monday, May 20, 2013

Puerto Madryn con Javier y Sol

Waking up in Patagonia. Breathless.

I collapsed onto the ground. We had hiked about 20 kilometers with huge knapsacks on our backs. The sun was hot. I laid down on the rocky cliff overlooking the ocean and fell asleep for a few minutes. I dreamt briefly of California. No real place in particular, just cabins made of rough-hewn timber sitting underneath the Californian sun.

When I woke up, the sun was beginning to skirt the horizon. "We should probably set up the tent before it gets too dark to see anything," I said to Lyndon.

"Where? Right here?"

I looked around, "Sure, why not?" We were on a rocky cliff overlooking the ocean. The tide was already beginning to recede, baring a glistening rocky coast, rubbed smooth by the lapping waters. It was beautiful.

So we set up camp, placed our bags in the tent and, as if by cue, twilight came. I suggested we did some yoga, Lyndon agreed, so we did a variation of Chandra Namaskar (Moon Salutation). Synchronizing my breath with my movement under nothing but the light of the moon and the few stars peaking through twilight with the sound of waves behind me, I felt completely at peace. Even the cold Patagonian air stopped it's slow creep into my bones. I felt warm and happy.

Fully enveloped in the night, Lyndon and I sat at the edge of the cliff overlooking the ocean and pulled out the bottle of whiskey we'd been saving since Bahía Blanca. We drank and talked about yoga, hitch-hiking, and how nice Javier and Sol were for lending us their tent. We had arrived the day before, cooked up a mean dinner of pineapple vegetarian curry. Discussing things to do, they suggested that we take the hike we just took to get to the point where we were now sitting and even offered to lend us the tent we were now using.

The night was unbearable. The wind picked up and at one point, I was convinced ogres and trolls were outside, growling and shaking the tent. I barely slept, gladly welcoming sunrise. The wind was still roaring in the morning, although a little more subdued than during the night. I decided to do a few rounds of Surya Namaskar (Sun Salutations) to greet the sun and I instantly felt better, as if I had a full night's sleep. Waiting for Lyndon to wake up, I grabbed my camera and explored the surrounding landscape. I even bumped into the herd of wild horses Lyndon had suggested trying to tame the day before.

On the hike back to Puerto Madryn, 20 kilometers seemed to be a shorter distance than when we had hiked it yesterday. We ended up staying with Javier and Sol for a little over a week, being delayed by rain. But it was nice. They had a notebook of recipes shared by the travelers who have passed through their home, all vegetarian recipes because Javier and Sol refuse to harm animals. I taught them how to love vinegar like a Filipino, Lyndon shared his ANZAC biscuit recipe, Javier taught us how to make bread, and Sol gave me a list of foods that help regulate seratonin and melatonin, helping to combat insomnia.

Javier and Sol playing with lights in the dark.

When the rain had looked like it had passed, we decided to continue the trek to the end of the world. Javier outlined the best way to get back on Ruta 3 to continue hitch-hiking.

"So you guys heading to Comodoro Rivadavia for sure?"

"Yep, found a couchsurfer willing to host us. Left his number and said to just call once we've arrived." I don't do well with goodbyes. With our departure set, I could already feel my voice growing awkward as I spoke.

"Be careful in Comodoro Rivadavia," Javier said in a serious tone that worried me a bit. "I've never been, but I've heard stories of travelers being robbed. It's a city built on oil money, so it's huge and hardly gets any travelers. The ones they do get, I hear they treat poorly."

"La Ciudad Gris," Sol said with her signature seriousness wrapped in a smile. The Gray City. "I don't know why they call it that, I've never been," she continued. "I just imagine a city with tall buildings under a perpetually cloudy sky."

Maybe Comodoro Rivadavia would be like a gritty Seattle, stuck in the age of industrialization. Looked like we'd find out.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

The Arrival: Puerto Madryn

It was still dark out when Miguel came knocking on the truck. Time to head out. We drowsily rearrange the contents of the carriage, pull out the makeshift stove from the day before, boil some water, pour the mate herb into the gourd with a little sugar, pour the water, sip, pour, pass, and we were off.

Miguel was obviously hung over so we rode in silence. We pass two tiny towns before Miguel informs us, rather somberly, that Puerto Madryn is a ways off of the highway. His proper Spanish was back so my ears didn't have to bend over backwards, getting lost in translations, stitching meanings to sounds. He said he would drop us of at the junction, and from there we could hike about five kilometers to town center or we could try hitch a ride. When we reached the junction, we hopped off the truck. A little over 12 hours from when we left the Estanga home, we had made it about 700 kilometers. Not bad.

"Mucha suerte y buen viaje! Cuídense, locos!" Miguel yelled as he waved, honking his horn as he drove off, continuing down Ruta Nacional 3.

We crossed the junction from the national highway into a feeder road and began walking. Thumbs coming up as vehicles passed. No one stopped. The road went downhill from the highway, causing cars and trucks to coaster at a speed inconvenient to stopping for hitch-hikers. We didn't mind too much. It was kind of nice to stretch out our legs after being cooped up in a truck for so long. We breathed in the cold air and passed the guitar back and forth, strumming chords into combinations to fit the landscape.

As we round off the main highway, the cliff gave way to the sea. I looked, blankly at first before it registered. This was the first sight of sea my eyes had taken in since leaving the Philippines almost a year ago. Before Buenos Aires, I had always lived by the ocean. Buenos Aires was a port city, but its waters formed a river, with Uruguay looming in the distance. Here, there was only open ocean. It was still early morning and Puerto Madryn was still clinging to a thin, misty fog. I thought of San Francisco, California. It was beautiful.

At the border of the town, there was a check point. There are check points all over Argentina, where officials check to make sure you aren't bringing in anything non-native and highly invasive. Some check points spray vehicles with some sort of pesticide for extra measure. I looked at this check point from a distance, wondering if it was being manned at the moment. Didn't look like it. Vehicles passed without stopping. Good. No problems.

As we got closer, I noticed a uniformed man stepping out onto the sidewalk, taking his post. He was wearing a bullet-proof vest. He looked ready for battle. Fuck, what do I do? My mind started to run, will he shoot me for not having documentation? We got closer. I got more nervous. I take note of my pace. Too fast and he might ask, "What's the rush? Are you a terrorist? Show me your papers!" And I'm fucked. Too slow and he might ask, "Why are you walking so slowly? Bag too heavy? What are you hiding in there, bombs? Show me your papers!" And I'm fucked.

We got close enough for eye-contact but I coolly avoided it by casually looking over the guitar as I non-chalantly slung it over one shoulder.

Fuck, did this look too movie-like? Was this attracting more attention?

We arrived at a distance that required eye-contact so I look in the guard's direction.

My heart stopped.

He was looking away.

Was this a good sign or a bad sign?

He turned his head and made eye contact.

I smiled and gave him a slight nod. He did the same. And I continued to walk past him, trying to keep from running as far away as possible before he realized he could stop me and ask for documents I didn't have. But after a few deep yoga breaths, I found my center and I was able to continue in the same non-chalant pace.

We'd passed a few of these control check-points with Miguel on his truck, but they never seemed to notice us stowed away in the carriage. This was in the broad light of morning and we were clearly foreigners. We were bound to have something not suitable for passage. But nothing. Just a smile and a nod. Maybe it wasn't such an impossible feat after all to try to hitch-hike into Antarctica without a passport.

Then I realized, that was just a city border. The guard was probably still half-asleep. Antarctica might be a bit more complicated.

Friday, May 10, 2013


Let´s take a mini break from the hitch-hiking entries. This is muy importante.

Exactly one year ago, I stepped off a plane and inhaled the good air of Buenos Aires for the very first time. I think I will celebrate by eating an entire tub of dulce de leche with nothing but my hands. Meanwhile, here are some photos of random things I´ve been up to this past year.

Oh, when you´re done, can you Skype me or something and make sure I didn´t slip into a diabetic coma? Muchas gracias!

Ate choripan for the first time with these lovely folk.

My cousin and best friend came and we had a FEEAASSSTT!

Video chats with loved ones from all around the globe.

Especially with my silly best pal, Dr. Ireezie. Yes, she is a real doctor. Yes, doctor of medicine.

Drank A LOT of mate. Sometimes by a fireplace.

Lots of rock climbing.


Met these lovely people.

Featured on a Buenos Aires street fashion blog, Clereche-Yeca.

ASADO!!! A lot of asados.

Surprise birthday celebration from some hippie yogis. :D

Survived a zombie apocalypse with an Australian, a Swede, and a Colombian.

Made imaginary friends.


Lived on this floor with my Brazilian <3s

Fell in love with these cool cats, Carlos, Hallum, and Chanta.

Shared some yoga on a beach.

Shared some yoga on some floors.

Met an Australian DRAGON.

Got a tattoo.

Modeled. Photo by Fede Ataide

Broke my arm and tried to put it back together with chopsticks and a bandana.

Got another tattoo.

Did a yoga photo series and video with Celu PH


Read poetry under trees.

Played with bubbles.

Cooked the shit out of shit.

Had my Andalucian soul sister pierce my ear. In a bar.

Lived and worked in this organic vegan Bhakti Yoga farm.

Aforementioned Bhakti Yoga community uses this photo as their default.

Met people from all over the world and ate (and drank) with them.

A lot of meeting people and a lot of eating (and drinking).

Lied down on busy streets because fuck the police.

I think this is self-explanatory.
Climbed onto Volkswagon vans because sometimes you just want to sit on a van.

Went to vegetarian hippie dinners in hidden restaurants.

Made a lot of Filipino food. Like this. This is biko. I love biko.

Went into CURRY COMAS.

Videochats with my dog overseas because I miss his face. :(

Thursday, May 9, 2013

His name was Miguel.

View from inside the carriage, Miguel as el Capitan

"So, what's your name?" The question felt oddly out of place. We had been sitting in his truck, sharing mate, and making small talk for some time already.

He quickly took his eyes off the road to look at me, slightly confused, "What?" He asked.

"What's your name?" I said almost sheepishly, having been forced to repeat the awkward question.

"Miguel," he simply replied.

I sat askew for a moment, waiting for the usual follow-up question, "And you, your name?" Nothing. He said nothing. He just kept on trucking.

"I'm Erick," I finally offered after a sufficiently long awkward moment had passed. Miguel just nodded.

"Lyndon," Lyndon offered from the back seat.

"What did he say?" Miguel asked me.

"That his name is Lyndon."

"Lyndon," Miguel sounded out the syllables as if his mouth had never had to produce such strange sounds.

"Are we still in Buenos Aires Provincia?" I ask. After arriving almost a year ago, I have never left the Province of Buenos Aires. Granted, it's hard to leave, not at all in the poetic sense of not being able to resist the pull of the magical city that is Buenos Aires, or whatever. Rather, it's physically and geographically difficult. It's a huge province, it takes hours of travel in any direction to reach its borders.

"No, this is the province of Entre Rios," Miguel said and I looked out the window with more amazement than the moment before. Nothing changed in terms of landscape, everything still looked the same. It was just the sudden knowledge that I had crossed some invisible border only outlined on maps. Finally, I was outside of Buenos Aires. Suddenly, the trip began to sink in.

After such an awkward start, we quickly learned that Miguel was quite the character. He was born and raised in a villa, a slum on the outskirts of Buenos Aires. He has since moved to another slum outside of Quilmes, a city a few kilometers outside the capital. He's been working as a truck driver for over 20 years, has seven children, and really loves beer.

Once he opened up, Miguel did not stop. He is a man with stories, many of which should not be shared. But, share he did. It also probably didn't help that he would stop every dozen kilometers or so to piss and buy more beer. At one point, Lyndon and I started skulling the beers in an attempt to syphon beer away from Miguel. He was driving a fairly large truck, and we really weren't in the mood to die.

"I wish I didn't leave my parrilla at home," Miguel looked genuinely disappointed. "You see, I normally bring a parrilla so I can grill my own meat. And in case I pick up hitch-hikers, we can have a roadside asado, drink beer and shoot the shit." At the beginning, Miguel's Spanish was proper and very easy to understand. After a few beers, he began to loosen up and the slum Spanish started to creep out and it became increasingly difficult to decipher what he said.

You travel with a full on grill? Where the hell would you even put that? I wanted to ask Miguel, but at this point, nothing he said would have surprised me. He went on to talk about a hitch-hiker he'd picked up recently who was an escaped convict. He outlined, gesture by gesture, in excruciating detail, his reaction to this hitch-hiker's sudden revelation. I had a mini-heart attack everytime his more than slighly enebriated hands left the steering wheel to make a gesture that was apparently crucial to the telling of this tale. The story ended with Miguel dropping off the hitch-hiker less than two kilometers from where he picked us up. Hence the tension when we first hopped on. He was wondering if we were also escaped convicts.

There was also a story involving the sale of cocaine and marijuana. I won't go into further detail. Just know that illegal substances were discussed.

At nightfall, Miguel pulled up into a petrol station in some rickety town that looked like some strange hybrid of an old Western and an old Mexican movie. I kept looking out the window, expecting to see tumbleweed role by, or at least a man named Juan Ramirez in a poncho, leading a donkey. Nada.

We didn't have a tent so Miguel let us sleep in his truck. He had a friend in town who runs a resaurant/bar/inn so he spent the night there. The night was cold. The wind blew hard against the truck, turning every crevice and lip on its steely surface into whistles.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

The first ride.

Our shadows as we hitch-hike

We left the Estanga home a little after 7AM. The density of the night sky was already being cracked by slivers of light, but the sun still hadn't broken over the horizon. The patriarch of the home, Norberto, had pulled out a taped, torn, and re-taped map of Argentina and handed it to me, unfurled like a sail waiting to catch adventures.

"About 700 km," he said. "Bahía Blanca to Puerto Madryn." Two places I had only heard of in passing until very recently. "You can most definitely arrive to Puerto Madryn by the end of the day," he said, eyes to the ceiling, calculating in his head. Then, quickly adding behind a smile, "With a little luck, of course."

Of course.

We arrived at the YPF petrol station a little before half past. We got out of the car, heaved our heavy packs out of the trunk, and briskly said our goodbyes and see you laters as we shifted the masses on our shoulders, redirecting the weight to shifting legs. We wandered aimlessly around the station for what seemed like hours, following the sound of humming engines, searching for truck drivers revving up for a long haul. Taking turns, we awkwardly asked for rides south, down Ruta Nacional 3. Everyone said no, usually quoting a new company rule to not take on hitch-hikers. One guy even told us we were too ugly. Literally. Those words exactly. "You guys are too ugly."

In the cold wind I fingered the plastic bag of chocolates Lili, the matriarch of our home in Bahía Blanca, had packed for us. "In case you get hungry," she said to us with a look of concern. As if we genuinely had no clue what we were supposed to do when we felt hungry. You know, maybe eat something. I measured hunger against craving, and finally decided to save it for later.

At a little after 9AM, tired of the directionless pacing and the cold of the autumn air starting to seep into our bones, we decided to start walking alongside the highway and try our luck Holywood style, throwing out our thumbs and smiling big goofy grins, squinting against the strong sun of the southern hemisphere. Cars passed. Trucks passed. More cars passed. A few people waved. Most made a tiny, but visible swerve as soon as they saw us, like you would do if you saw a homeless man on the sidewalk you were walking down.

We were beginning to lose hope. Maybe we had made a mistake. These packs are heavy. Hitch-hiking isn't easy at all. We weren't 17-year-olds full of teenage angst looking for movie-style adventures before schlepping off to some expensive ivy league. We were educated professionals. I was hungry. The sun was beginning to hurt my eyes. Maybe this was a mistake. Who fucking hitch-hikes, anyway? What the fuck were we doing with our lives?

Finally, at around 10AM, a truck driver made eye contact and slowed down, coming to a full halt fifty meters or so in front of us. This was it, we were doing it! We half jogged, half skipped with excitement, up to his window and exchanged pleasantries while probably smiling way too much. He asked where we were heading, to which I replied, "As far south as possible."

He mumbled something about the south being vast and the word "south" being too vague. Something negative, and I could feel our first triumph slipping away.

"We have some friends in Puerto Madryn," I lied a little. We didn't technically know anyone in Puerto Madryn. Javier and Soledad were couchsurfers who had passed through Bahía Blanca, stayed one night with the Estanga family, and Ayelen contacted them before we left. We had never met and I don't think they even believed we were coming. But whatever, we weren't going to lose this victory over semantics. "We could talk to them to see if they could put us up for a few nights." He nodded pensively, weighing something invisible but heavy.

"Do you kids like mate?" he broke the awkward silence.

"Of course."

"Let's have some mate and talk about your trip a bit. Although, I must warn you, I take my mate with sugar."

I smiled and repeated a cheesy Argentine saying I'd come across a few times before, "Take mate with sugar when life is sweet, and bitter when life is bitter." He grunted and motioned us into his truck where he had a makeshift stove to heat up a little kettle. The herb was poured into the gourd, steel straw placed methodically in, the water, sufficiently hot, poured onto the herb, and we were sharing mate.

"I've got to make this delivery to Rio Gallegos, but I don't think I can take you that far south. Puerto Madryn, that sounds more possible."

"That's perfect!" I said, visibly relieved. He nodded with a faint smile, squinted at the road, revved the engine, and just like that, we were off; kettle still on the makeshift stove and mate gourd still full of hot water.