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30 km X 5 km X 70m

Posted by Engin Kaban on July 29, 2010

30 km X 5 km X 70m

Argentina  #9: El Calafate – Perito Moreno Glacier

Days 92-99 (March 26th  – April 2nd)

Photos: http://picasaweb.google.com/enginkaban/ElCalafate?authkey=Gv1sRgCM-flrSxvYnp5QE#

I arrive El Calafate after a fews hours of travelling from Puerto Natales. My host Analia picks me up from the bus terminal. In the car, I notice a familiar face: Jaime the Colombian guy who lodged in the same house as me in Puerto Natales. It turns out that we have travelled in the same bus since this morning without being aware. The world is small afterall, and Patagonia is even smaller, or, –perhaps-, both smaller and bigger. There are also two Italians and two Polish girls staying at Ana’s. The next day, my ex-roommate Norbert, a Catalan from the prior house arrives. Now everyone is here! Because there are not many CS members in El Calafate, and because there are so many travellers visiting here, almost everyone ends up staying at Ana’s house. She has apparently hosted a few hundred people.

Ana is a middle-aged woman and lives with her 10-year old daughter and three dogs. When I had asked her address prior to coming here, she had told me that there is no address and she had  just described the location of the house. I was surprised by then. I now realize what she meant, though: her house really does not have an address. Her house is situated on the top of a hill, about a 45-minute walking distance from the town. There are many houses on this vast and empty land, where each house is seperated by a few hundred meters from each other. Each house has its own roadway leading to it. There are more dogs and horses here than humans (there is a farm nearby). The Argentino lake has a great view and has an  incredibly peaceful environment. There is neither internet nor phone service here. No public transportation, either. Fantastic. The road that leads to the house becomes especially scary and haunting after dark due to the patrolling dogs around. On this road, one needs to advance with swift steps in the moonlight. It is truly an adventure each night to arrive at the house.

I spend the first few days hanging out at home doing nothing. After the windy, cloudy and chilly weather of Puerto Natales, I enjoy the sunny and still weather here by lying in the sun and napping all day. I read books and write memoirs. In the evenings, Ana and we, all the guests of the house, have dinner together. Because of the great distance from any market and our laziness on top of it, we end up eating pasta for three courses everyday. I usually go downtown every other day to meet the civilized world. I sit on the benches in the middle of the main avenue and connect to the rest of the world  via wireless internet. I buy groceries from a market. In this territory, by law, people are not allowed to use nylon bags. They give paper bags to the people who want. I do appreciate this environmentally conscious move.

After being lazy enough, I am ready to embark on my journey to Perito Moreno Glacier, the real reason of  my trip to El Calafate. Because I cannot get up early, I begin my journey around noon by hitch-hiking. My hopes are not that high, as there is not much traffic here, and most people prefer to travel to the glacier by bus. I take my Spanish lesson book with me so that I can study while I wait. I wait on the top of a small bump on the road. Because cars have to slow down here almost to the point of full-stop, this increases the duration of my eye-contact with the drivers, which will hopefully convince them that I am not just a serial killer or something. I do not forget to smile at them, either. Not even ten minutes pass by, and  a car stops, and, yes, he is heading towards the glacier. A dutch guy, about 40 years old. He was the chief executive officer of two companies before he left all of that and started travelling. He ended up in South America after travelling quite a bit. He has been travelling with the car he rented in Buenos Aires. He certainly does not have any financial limitations; he can travel with a rented car for a month-and-half for thousands of kilometers and afford everything. It is also a little strange that he is travelling by himself at this age. Anyway, I say, and jump on the car. His outfit –especially his blue  jeans- does not impress me as a backpacker, to say the least.

We pay 75 pesos (20 USD) at the entrance of the national park, three times the amount that Argentinians pay. I do know people who bargain with the security person and enter without paying the fee, or people who hide their friends in the trunk so that they can only pay for one person as opposed to three people. I would rather not mention their names. I do pay my fee as I did not suggest to the driver anything as such. At least, the  transportation was free for me. The trips to the touristic destinations are very expensive, out of proportion to the distance travelled.  While I prefer the comfort of bus for a  trip between major cities, I try to be as economic as possible when it comes to such short trips like this and that I do not have to carry my big backpack. Therefore, I hitch-hike.

After entering the park, the glacier starts to make its appearance. This glacier is one of the main things I wanted to experience in  my trip to South America, and, now that I am so close, I am very excited. We need to park our car and get on a minibus after a certain point. The path leading to the final destination is very narrow, and they do not want much traffic. After a 3-minute bus ride, the glacier lies across me. To put it in one word, fascinating. Indescribable. I watch it with my mouth open. This 5 kilometer wide, 30 kilometer long and 70 meter tall structure stands right in front of us.

There are many walking paths which enable people to view the glacier from different angles. I walk together with the guy who picked me up, but he soon wants to go back. Of course, I am not going anywhere as we just came here. Even though this means that I need travel back to the town with a different car, the risk is worth taking it. I gaze at the glacier for hours. Truly, unbelievable. It especially means a lot to a person like me, who has attachments to cold, snow, ice and the color of white. You could hear the cracking of the glacier and the giant pieces of ice falling to the sea  and the waves they create. It is a pleasure to appreciate all these. I gaze at  this natural event with awe.

There are many types of people here. I start chatting with an interesting German couple, first in German, then, in English. They have professional cameras and have a great set up. Apparently, they have been in the same spot since 8:30 in the morning. They are trying to capture the images of the giant pieces of ice that are breaking off  the glacier. It turns out that the green colored Land Rover that I had previously seen in Torres del Paine and then in Ushuaia is theirs. They have been travelling  the world for over two years. After Indonesia, Australia, New Zealand and the United States, they came to Chile to begin their journey in South America. They fly between the continents and have their vehicle shipped by sea. This couple is also insane! They also quit their jobs and embarked on a journey. As to what they will do afterwards they have no idea. They are about 40. This is perhaps what I will be like later in my life. They have quite an  equipment in their vehicle; there is a tent that can be set up on the top which enables them to stop and spend the night whereever they wish. As I continue my stroll in the park, I start chatting with another German. This guy has been coming to the park every single day over the last 4 days. He has a set up with his camera that takes pictures of the glacier every 20 seconds during an entire day. Afterwards, he is going to make a film with these pictures, yielding an animation that shows the same point under different weather and light conditions. When I ask what he is going to do with this film, he says that he does not know yet. I wish him the best….

As I chat with every single person that I come across with the view of the glacier before me, time flies by and the sun begins to set. By now, I should have already returned to the parking space, and started hitch-hiking. However, the glacier is so impressive that it is impossible to leave here. Lastly, I begin chatting with a French guy. There is another French person and two British girls with him. When he asks me how I am going to return and I say I don’t know, he offers to give me a ride in his car. The guy seems quite sociable, and he has apparently sailed around the world and has also come to İzmir for wind surfing. An old traveller. Once we arrive the parking lot, we see that his vehicle is the only one that’s left. We are the last to leave the glacier. When they ask me how I would return to the town if they were not there, I reply by saying that there would always be someone else. They are surprised at my confidence and serenity. Where else would I be serene if not in Patagonia? We have pleasant conversations on the way back to the town. They drive all the way and drop me by the intersection near the house.

—————

It is April already! Time really flies by. In Turkey, April means spring, and in İzmir, almost summer. It means the season of beach and swimming (at least for me), the blossoming of the flowers and exuberation. Here, on the other hand, it is fall, correspoding to the month of October in the northern hemisphere. The weather gets cooler every day, and the winter is nearing. I think it is perhaps time that I should leave Patagonia and move north to more tropical climates. I had originally planned my trip such that I would spend  the southern hemisphere summer months in the mid-latitudes and move towards the tropical zone as the fall sets in, this way completely avoiding the cold and the harsh weather of winter. Of course, not everything goes smoothly as I had planned,and, at this point, it seems that winter will be inevitable.

After my trip to the glacier, I continue my tranquil life in the house by the hill. I stay over a week in El Calafate, where most people spend only a day here to visit the glacier. However, I do need this “break” from my long trip in South America; otherwise I would be soon exhausted. I try to take it easy. With my stay in El Calafate, I complete my sixth week in Patagonia.

One of the following days, Gülcan, the person I had met in Puerto Natales, arrives. We had remained  in touch. Now that I am the guest of honor at Ana’s house, she has given me the responsibility to welcome and orient the other guests!

Our original plan was to head for El Chalten on Friday with Gülcan. However, we decide to stay here for one more day in order to breath the wonderful air. We have time afterall, and we are certainly not in a rush. The peacefullness of  Patagonia really soothes us. In the evening, we head for downtown and go to a bar. This is only the second bar I have been to over the last six weeks in Patagonia. Right now, it feels good to be in a bar after being away from civilization, night-life and cultural events for six weeks.

The next day, we leave this wonderful house. We, two crazy Turks, begin hitch-hiking in the desolate roads of Patagonia…

Engin Kaban

June 10th 2010 – Santa Fe

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Double W towards the towers

Posted by Engin Kaban on July 27, 2010

Double W towards the towers

Chile #4: Puerto Natales – Parque Nacional Torres del Paine

Days 89-91 (March 23rd – 25th)

Photos: http://picasaweb.google.com/enginkaban/PuertoNatales#

What’s that? Anyone in there? Umm, it’s not even 8 o’clock yet. Speed up, speed up! Turn your head away, let him not see your face. Voila! We made it! This time, as it suits our style, our entrance into the park is even more adventuorus. .

By now we have a pretty good command of Torres del Paine National Park. From now on, the park is in our jurisdiction. We even thought we could organize tours that begin at 7:45 in the morning with reasonable prices, including the entrance fee(!). We have picked up pretty much everything, including what’s where, how to find your way, the favorite territories of guanakos, where vultures find the most carcasses and such. By using our detailed map, we are studying the remaining walking paths that we could explore. I am the only one in the group who still keeps saying things like, “let’s climb here, let’s jump there.” The others object, and express their mood for stopping the car instead, cozily drinking our wine and napping. I do park the car near a side of a lake. As I start my ascent towards a hill, the rest of the crew continue to admire the nature behind the windows.

In this national park, as it turns out, there are pumas, though only a few in number. There are several warning signs in the park about this; some of them even explain what needs to be done should one come across one (though, unfortunately, there is not much that can be done). For days, already, we have been chitchatting over this subject, telling each other foolish things  like “halt! a puma is approaching,” or “this landscape is indeed suitable for puma habitat.” Throughout my trip alone towards the hill, I have been constantly  thinking of puma scenerios. There is no one other than me on the route. The rocky area just above somehow reminds me of rocks that belong to a typical Windows background screen, where a puma is standing with all its magnificence and looking down towards the landscape. It is as though the puma is suddenly going to make its apperance from behind those rocks. Even though I keep urging myself to climb a bit further, and the scenery keeps getting better, I eventually decide to halt, perhaps because I have managed to ineptly scare myself off. This is the summit of the hill afterall, I say to myself, and go nuts (I mean the salty nuts we snack on; nothing else) that I brought with me and begin my descent.

The rainbows that we have seen throughout our trip in the park are innumerable. With the weather changing every minute, and  the sun, the rain and the wind always dancing together in the sky, it is probably quite ordinary to witness this constant festivity of the colors. Our next stop is one of the best spots for me in the national park. For the first time in my life, I see a glacier. Further ahead, pieces that have broken off from a large body of ice that is hours of walking distance away are floating on the surface of the lake. With its deep blue color, it is an incredible view. For the rest of the crazy Turks that have already seen the most famous Perito Moreno glacier of Patagonia, this place is not that impressive; however this is my first time.  I study the glacier from every possible angle and cannot help admiring it. If only it had a polar bear on top of it! For that,I need to head for the northern hemisphere (I think I am making excuses for starting new trips). The wind that brushes off  the glacier really chills us to the bone. Its gust is so strong that, I lay open my jacket on the beach like a parachute, lean forward, and manage to float in that position for quite a while; it is quite fun.

Once we leave that area, we sit on the benches and eat our last share of food in a picnic style, with Eda’s superior permission. Now that we are on the return, we are free to eat whatever we like. Since I cannot find any trash bin to throw the bag that we have used to collect our wastes, I throw the bag to the waste basket in the bathroom instead. The person in charge of the bathroom starts yelling at me snappishly. What’s going on, I ask him.  You cannot dispose of your garbage here, he snaps back at me. He is acting as though I threw our bag on to the ground as opposed to the waste basket. Then, I ask why. That garbage bag is not from here, he barks. That’s exactly why I am disposing it here! I say. He will not listen further, and insists that I take the bag with me. In order not to quarrel further with him, I do take my bag back. It is not till later I figure out why he was acting that way. According to the rules of the national park, all the visitors must take their garbage back to the town with them. That’s exactly why there are no trash bins around. In such circumstances, the bathroom person certainly does not want to take any more responsibility for extra work. I wish he had expressed this in a more friendly manner as opposed to constantly snapping at us; things would have been smoother.

Now it is time to leave the Torres del Paine National Park. In Spanish, torres means towers. The name of this park comes from the “rocky towers” therein, whose summit can only be reached by professional climbers. The picture of the sunrise from above these towers is a popular image to market Chilean tourism. There are two famous routes here. One of them, called “the Circuit”, travels around the periphery of the park and takes approximately a week to complete. The other one, “the W route,” lasts about 4-5 days, and involves entering and exiting three valleys, hence its appearance on the map as the letter “W.” I really cannot take my mind off  these routes that I never got to complete. Nevertheless, we, the Turkish crew, did our own routes, while eating, drinking, laughing and having fun. In fact, we have even done our own double W by entering every spot (some even twice) that we could with a car. It turns out to be an interesting experience.

On our way back to town, everyone is sleeping with their mouths wide open. As the youngest person of the crew, I am still full of energy. As there is no one awake to chat with, I watch the scenery throughout as I drive. We arrive at  the town safe and sound without a further incident. We celebrate our return to civilization after three wonderful days by a big barbeque party in the evening. As always, meat, wine and everything else is there. Following delightful conversations, I bid farewell to the rest of the Turkish crew, with the hopes that we will meet again somewhere else in the world.

I spend the following two days in the house that I earlier described as “the madhouse” as peaceful as possible and with a slower metabolic rate. I am nothing but lazy all day, and I write all day. I spend one night in the narrowest confines that I have ever slept in my life. The distance between the upper of the bunk beds and the ceiling is approximately 60 cm. Furthermore, there is no ladder to climb the bunk bed. Therefore, I jump, and, while I am not that close to the ceiling to hit my head and at the same time high off the ground, take the shape of the letter L, then manage to curl into my sleeping position in the bed quite aesthetically.

We spend the evenings conversing pleasantly while enjoying  meals from various world cuisines.One evening I take the challange and I decide to cook Melemen (a Turkish dish with scrambled eggs, tomatos, peppers and onions) for everyone around the table. My efforts to promote Melemen in South America rigorously continues. However, once I  realize that it will be very taxing  to cut the vegetables delicately for so many people, I cheat, add potato, and convert the dish to “türlü” (another Turkish dish containing multiple kinds of vegetables). My dish receives an A+ from the international jury around the table.

Once there is nothing left for me to do in this town, and once I feel ready to be mobile again, I purchase a bus ticket for El Calafate, my next destination. I am very excited at the idea of seeing the famous glaciers.

Engin Kaban

June 1st 2010 – Buenos Aires

Posted in Essays | 1 Comment »

“Sırtçantalılar” on newspaper again

Posted by Engin Kaban on July 26, 2010

“Sırtçantalılar” that is the Turkish backpackers group that I am one of the 3 founders of, took part in one of the biggest newspapers in Turkey on Sunday 25th of July. You can see me among the penguins on the cover page.

Sorry – no translations 😦

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Rabbits hanging around in the dark and morning chill

Posted by Engin Kaban on July 25, 2010

Rabbits hanging around in the dark and morning chill

Chile #3: Puerto Natales – Parque Nacional Torres del Paine

Day 87-88 (March 21st – 22nd)

Photos: http://picasaweb.google.com/enginkaban/PuertoNatales#

The entrance fee for the national park is 30 USD per person. Through our eager intelligence agencies, we find out that there is no guard at one of the gates until 8 in the morning. Added to that our 2-hour distance from the park, it becomes a must to hit the road the latest by 6 am.

With our overnight exhaustion and mere 2.5-hour of sleep we, four Turks, begin our journey  in the dark and morning chill. At this time of the day, we are the only ones hanging around  in the deserted roads of Patagonia, where, even during day time, no vehicle may be seen for minutes. Our car’s front lights seem to have attracted quite a few rabbits that are springing into our  way, causing us to constantly swerve. Unfortunately one of them does not turn to be as lucky as the other ones. We are very upset.

As we near the park, I could not resist the temptation and decide to jump to the driver’s seat; it is a truly novel experience to drive a 4×4 with an automatic gear for a driver enthusiast like me. Doing this in the roads of Patagonia in the dawn with congenial Turkish companionship by chanting ballads and songs makes it a truly pleasent experience. I adapt to the car and the road rather quickly despite the initial struggle with the gear. Once I move to the driver’s seat, I am not to give it up for another three days.

As the clock hits 7:50, we are entering the national park from the gate that was described to us. A mood of rejoice dominates our car. Had we been a bit late, we would have been very upset for having risen and hit the road early in the morning. This way, our savings from the entrance fee combined with the bus money we would have otherwise paid turn to be essentially the same amount we spent on gas and the rent of the car, not to mention the relative comfort.

Nature totally pays us off for having arrived here this early: we come across a spectecular sunrise. In the everlasting Patagonian land, the illumination of the snowy and icy slopes of mountains with the first light of the day, the rainbow that is being formed through  the sprinkles of water that are buoyed off the lake’s deep blue surface by the dragging winds, and the guanaco herds that are wandering in the hills across are indeed indescribable. We are completely dazzled by this unparalled landscape, and do not know where to direct our view. To put it in one word, it is mesmerizing. With the lake scenery before us, Eda is offering us our long due morning sandwiches and juices. As three hungry guys who would otherwise devour all our three-day food stock, we have to be content with  whatever Eda presents to us, as she is the one we decided amongst ourselves to manage our precious food supply. Despite our bargaining for better or more food every now and then, we settle for what she chooses to give us.

Every few hundred meters or so, an incredible natural event, a curious animal, or a wonder makes us halt  in the Torres del Paine Natural Park. Neither words, nor pictures can describe the way I feel. An inconceivable freedom and the feeling of infinity, perhaps. Feelings of bewilderment and admiration hand in hand for such places and creatures can indeed exist on earth. Just as we watch  the guanacos, we notice a fox with a long tail flee by. A little ahead,  vultures are feasting on a carcass, a scenery we would later become inured to. A condor has been waiting for us with all her splendor on the top of a hill that we have been climbing with perseverance. I gape openmouthed at the greatest flying creature that I have ever seen in my life. We study each other for minutes. Afterwards, her take off by stirring up those giant wings and her subsequent ascent to the infinite sky is so glamorous that, I still recall like yesterday.

The wind here is just as special as everything else. I am exposed to the strongest gusts of my life. As we are strolling towards a waterfall, the wind  blows from time to time so hard that, it  becomes  impossible to stand still, let alone walk. We decide to shield ourselves by crouching behind a large rock and wait for the wind to subside in order not to be swept in some random direction. Imagine doing all these with a 15-kilo back-pack on your shoulders; it is quite a challange to maintain the balance.

As we are to spend the night in the park, we start investigating the camping areas. Like pretty much everything else, the camping prices are excessive. We find out that an overnight stay at tents that resemble a space station costs 100 USD, this being one of the cheaper ones. It costs about 20 USD just to set up our own tent, which is also pricy. Our original plan was to sleep in the car. However, it is absolutely forbidden to spend the night outside the designated areas in the national park. We do not want to cause further trouble, as we already entered the park without paying the entrance fee. We eventually hear of a camping place with a reasonable price that is just 3 kilometers outside the park. As we already know our way into the park free of charge,we leave as the dusk sets in. After bargaining with my flimsy Spanish, we settle on a decent price with the condition that we may sleep in our car while still enjoying the perks of the camping facility. Woods arrive for us to build a fire. We have a clean bathroom. We feast on our table that is shielded from rain and wind.  Afterwards, everyone prepares for the night (bathroom, etc.), we recline both the front and the back seats of the car, and assume our sleeping positions. As it is going to be hard enough to keep the inside of the car warm, no one dares to open the doors to take a pee outside or anything. We put on whatever we have: our cloths, sleeping bags, underwear, and hats. I now feel the downside of being the driver; the steering wheel interferes with my sleep. Be it so.

At seven in the morning, we hit the road again without even getting out of the car in our sleeping positions. I was the only one who needed to get out of the sleeping bag, as it would be hard to drive the car that way! As  we are about to leave the camping area, there is a surprise waiting for us: the gate is locked. Honking and looking around where there are no other lodgers certainly does not help us find anyone. There is a pit around the gate that was dug  in order to prevent people from sneaking in and out. I take the torch and begin to examine the pit. I charge Efe with the task of auxillary support: he is to get out of the car and assist. We have a 4×4 vehicle after all; I might as well take full advantage of it, so I switch the gear to four-wheel drive and manage to make my way through the pit. I truly enjoy this bumpy ride; however, others in the back seat who bump their heads to the confines of the car are cursing at me.

After two minutes, we are at the gate of the park. However, this is not the gate that we used to enter the park yesterday, and there are already security guards inside even though it is before eight o’clock. We drive all the way in, stop and evaluate the situation. Then, we switch to reverse gear, make a U turn and drive away. We head in the direction of the other gate with the hopes that we might be able to  make it by 8 o’clock. In the morning chill, I drive full throttle on the unpaved road that’s full of potholes and pebbles. However, we need to drive around the “lake”; a large body of water that rather looks and feels like a sea, and realize that it will take us  over 2 hours to reach our destination. It is impossible to make it to the other gate on time. We shift the gear down and move on.

Although we are not able to enter the park, the peripheral road and the nature around it is just as impressive. We are running low on gas, and need to take that into account. If we don’t buy gas, it will be impossible to cruise inside the park for one more day, then return to the town. Evidently, you cannot find a gas station in this land that easily.  Perhaps, there is only one every 150 kilometers. On our way, we receive strategic information from the locals. They describe us the nearest gas station (even that one is not that close), and we find out that the prices there are much more expensive than the one in the town. As everyone other than me is in the mood of let’s-return-to-the-town-and-warm-up, we begin our return.

On our way, we notice a turn off the road and decide to follow it instead just to see where it leads. After driving for kilometers we arrive. It’s a village. There are barely 50 meters between the entrance and the exit sign of the village. It seems to be a tiny settlement. There are a few houses, but we cannot see any sign of life in and around them. This place radiates the feeling that no one has stopped by this village for a long time. This is exactly why I deeply love Patagonia.

We spend a few hours in the cafe that we flopped ourselves into in Puerto Natales. The warm and puffy couches feel cozy. When we return to the car, the starter does not work. Why? As it is a must in this country to leave the beacons on even during day time, and, as, above all, we are not accustomed to this vehicle, we realize that the beacons kept illuminating the street  while we were in the cafe, and the battery eventually ran out. Now what? We ask the passing cars for a cable that we may borrow to recharge our battery, and, as it turns out, no car has such a cable.  I make my way to a grease monkey and return to the scene together with someone who has a cable. In the meanwhile, Tansu has also brought someone else. The community of Puerto Natales rallies to help the Turks and their vehicle.. After long and tiring endeavors our car starts. We are happy and peaceful.

In the evening, we, all the crazy Turks, arrive at the house of the family from Couchsurfing that I had lodged in two nights ago. After spending the  night here, we will leave early in the morning for the park. I need to take a brief moment to describe the house. I have been hosted in countless places in many countries and I have seen so many and different kinds of people. However, this house and the occurrances here are something else. The way I call it is “madhouse”, and Efe prefers “Adam’s family.” In essence, three children and their parents live in the house. However, they have exaggurated the concept of hosting so much that the number of guests tonight, including us, is more than twenty! There are many rooms in the house and several people are able to lodge in each room. As we, four Turks, dropped by without due notice, the rooms are full, and we have to settle on the couches and the floor in the living room. All the couches and the seats are already in great demand. The floors are full of people sleeping in their sleeping bags and on mats. In other words,  the house is running in full capacity.

Never mind all these, but what about the little girl of the family that keeps looking at your face and suddenly starts giggling and  pulling your hair? The little boy of the house also approches me with a bunch of cards in his hand that have questions about Chilean culture and  insists that I answer them albeit he knows that my Spanish is not that great. Interestingly, not only do I understand some of the questions, but I also answer some correctly! As we wake up at 5 in the morning, we notice that the burner on top of the oven in the kitchen  is on, and do not comprehend why there is nothing cooking on top of it and no one seems to care. Nor do we make sense of the fact that the mother has been sitting on a chair in the living room all night. It becomes even more confusing to see “drunkards” make their way into this seemingly “family run restaurant” at six in the morning. The kids playing their recorders right next to your ears drives you even one step closer to insanity. On top of all these,  the three-legged dog of the family has just given birth to four puppies, and this has created an air of festivity in the house. All these individual incidents  may seem quite ordinary; however, imagine that all these are happening simultaneously in this constantly stirring house. I feel I might lose my sanity pretty soon were I to spend more time here.

On the bright side, one thing I like about this house is that dinners are  eaten all together. The way this works is that a  few volunteers of the day cook enough food for everyone, preferably their native dishes. Others contribute by bringing wine, fruit juice, fruits and such. The lazy ones who prefer not to bring anything either throw a few bucks to the money-box or wash the dishes afterwards. It is very pleasant to see 20 people from many nations gather around a long dinner table laughing and feasting until everyone becomes so full. We make our own contribution to the feast  with  our camping food supply and improvising on them, and finally present them as “traditional Turkish dishes.” Everyone seems content.

After setting their alarm clocks for 5:30 am again, the crazy Turks  fall asleep with the warmth that radiates from the furnace next to them. Because, for them, tomorrow means yet another new day and new adventures…

Engin Kaban

May 30th 2010 – Buenos Aires

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7 El Turco in Patagonia

Posted by Engin Kaban on July 6, 2010

7 El Turco in Patagonia

Chile #2: Puerto Natales

Day 86 (March 20th)

I’ve missed to talk in my mother tongue and have nice chats. One, three, five, and eventually we seven Turkish people get together in this far part of the world. We’ve somehow been blown down here to Patagonia. Noone knows what we are doing in here.

I’m in Puerto Natales in Chile. The importance of this town is due to the Torres del Paine National Park close to here. This national park attracts like a magnet nature lovers from all around the world. It is known as one of the best trekking paths in the world. This region plays an important role in the tourism of Chile, therefore everything is incredibly expensive.

I come to Puerto Natales from Punta Arenas on a Saturday. Here I meet the couple Eda and Tansu (http://zoodayolda.blogspot.com/) on their South America trip, their close friend Efe (http://ezberbozanefe.blogspot.com/) who joined them on the South America part of his round-the-world trip with all whom I have been in contact for a while through our backpackers group Sırtçantalılar (http://www.sirtcantalilar.com/).

As they came few days earlier, they are now well-known here in this town, especially by the butcher, which I will mention in detail later. We also meet Cem, who had written me by seeing my post on an e-mail group, who has been working as a guide here for several years. We become even more in the following hours.

As a nature-lover, I was actually planning to do camping and trekking in the national park, that takes from 5 to 10 days. Together with other Turks and some guys from Couchsurfing we join an informative seminar that repeats every day, where you can get technical information about the routes and the area. In the end, I decide I can not do it with my equipment. First of all, my summer tent and travel sleeping bag are not appropriate for the hard conditions here. Although I have camped with this equipment in other parts of Patagonia, it is obvious that I should not force the limits anymore here. Of course I do have more things missing. In fact, it is possible to rent anything and everything in this town, though with high prices. At this point, I am in a dilemma. One option is to rent equipment, form a team with fellow travelers here and start an adventure in this amazing nature. The other option is to rent a car with Eda-Tansu-Efe whom I met just an hour ago but can easily say they are great people, and go around in the national park in comfort and have fun. So, I choose comfort and fun.

In the beginning I was planning to rent a tent, and now I find myself going into the “Rent A Car” offices. We are four Turkish people forcing the limits of “how to enjoy this amazing place with maximum comfort and minimum expenses”. After going through all the offices and getting to know the prices, and of course bargaining, we rent a Nissan 4X4 at a cheap price which we even could not understand how we made it. It is even cheaper than a  regular non-4X4 car. As 5-door one was expensive for us, we take the small 3-door one. Actually we were going to rent for 2 days but with my special skills of motivation (yes here I declare, it was me!) we rent the car for 3 days.

Our next stop is the supermarket. As we normally carry everything in our backpacks, we take care of every single gram for weight optimization; but this time as we have a car, we buy anything we want that fulls a supermarket cart to its top. With our 6 litres of wine, nuts, 48 sandwiches and a lot of snacks, we are in the mood of a pleasure trip more than being sportive. For the moment I am not even mentioning the potatoes or the meat for the evening.

While being very loud in the supermarket, a lady approaches us and say in Turkish “hey, you speak Turkish???”. So, we are one more now. Gülcan is also one of these crazy Turks traveling around South America for several months (http://atlasname.blogspot.com/). We invite her to the bar that we’ll be going at night.

We reach our car with all the stuff we buy. Efe opens the trunk and we place everything and close it. And then we’ll get on the car, but we can’t. The key does not open the door. We try again but no. This is not our car!!! We feel scared and start laughing at the same time. We have all our stuff which costed more than 90USD, and our wine & barbecue dreams inside. We put all the food and drinks in someone else’s car and lock it back. Unbelievable. It is the same car as ours but a different colour, so no one realizes the difference in colour with all the excitement. And the key opens the trunk somehow, but we are afraid to force it again.

We run back to the man from whom we rented the car. To our luck, it is his car. He opens the trunk for us, so we have everything back. He warns us to be more careful next time, as he is a little bit worried now. He is right. We are still in the centre of town; we still will go over the mountains with this car…

I go for the barbeque to the the hostel where they are staying. Now, the owner of the hostel also belongs to the “Turkish mafia” as he calls us. All together we have our barbeque in the backyard. Of course with wine, salad and baked potatoes. We keep on saying “life is good for us” and drink away in the chilly Patagonian night. As I go in the kitchen and find wineglasses for everybody so that we do not have to drink from water glasses, they start calling me “French mösyö Engin”. Wine has to be drank from thin wineglass. For me, pleasure comes first.

Efe and Tansu are simply crazy for meat in Chile and Argentina. They are now good friends with the attendants of the butcher as they buy meat there every day. I realize there is a guestbook in the entrance of the butcher, as if this is not the butcher but museum of modern arts. Indeed, we realize the last person who wrote was around a year ago. But of course we the Turks write our impressions about the meat in Patagonia in the guestbook. I still remember how the attendants of the butcher look at us while we were laughing aloud.

We continue our chats with the Turkish mafia later in the nightlife of the town. It actually consists of just 2-3 bars. In this town, people have either have been trekking and camping for the last 10 days and just came back so are exhausted, or will be heading to the mountains the following day in the morning so they sleep early. It seems that it is only us in this town who do not care about anything but having fun. We celebrate the birthday of Cem, who lives here. Later on as Serkan and Gülcan also join us, we are seven. 7 El Turco in Patagonia.

We leave the bar at 2:30. We’ll wake up at 5:30 in the morning and hit the road at 6, if we do not have hangover. Wait for us Torres del Paine. Turks are coming…

Engin Kaban

May 29th 2010 – Buenos Aires

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Statistics of first 6 months

Posted by Engin Kaban on July 2, 2010

Statistics of first 6 months

For those who are engineers like me, or those that love playing with numbers, here are the statistics of my first 6 months (24th of December 2009 – 24th of June 2010).

For those who are interested…

GENERAL

Days passed in my journey : 182

Distribution of number of days according to countries :

Brazil : 27 Uruguay : 18 Argentina : 97 Chile : 32 Paraguay : 8

Total number of cities, towns and villages I have visited : 51

Number of border crossings I have done : 12

Number of new entry and exit stamps on my passport : 21

TRAVELS

Total distance I have covered by land (by bus, car, hitchhiking…) : 19030 km (distances covered within the cities are excluded)

Total time I have spent on traveling : 307 hours (time spent traveling within the cities are excluded)

Number of cars I have hitchhiked to : 21

Total distance I have covered only by hitchhiking : 1670 km

Number of plane rides I have taken : 0

MONEY

(For below, costs of jacket, camera, mp3player, usb stick and mouse that I bought during my trip are excluded. Anything and everything else after I landed on Latin America are included.)

Total I have spent : 3526 USD

Monthly average I have spent : 587,5 USD

Daily average I have spent : 19,5 USD

What I have spent for intercity travels : 1093 USD (31% of the whole costs)

Total money I have spent excluding intercity travels : 2433 USD

Daily average money I have spent excluding the money spent for intercity travels : 13,3 USD

What I have spent for accommodation : 474 USD (13% of the whole costs)

Daily average money I have spent for accommodation for the (46) days that I spent money for accommodation : 10,3 USD

What I have spent for food, drinks, entertainment and others : 1959 USD (56% of the whole costs)

ACCOMODATION

Couchsurfing : 119 days

Hostel, tent, camping : 54 days

Night bus : 9 days

Number of persons I have been hosted by through Couchsurfing : 27

***********

Days passed in my journey : 182

Days ahead : ???


Engin Kaban

July 1st 2010 – Salta

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First 6 months of my dream journey

Posted by Engin Kaban on June 24, 2010

First 6 months of my dream journey

After a 15 hour flight from Dubai, I arrive Sao Paulo by night on 24th of December 2009. As this is my first overseas flight, I was quite excited. I flew with Emirates Airlines. It was a very comfortable flight and the service was excellent. Some dishes were so delicious that I had almost the whole menu two times. I would never complain if they would announce to fly another 15 hours. I didn’t feel any jetlag at all after my arrival in Brazil; all was perfect. I guess my body does not react because of being used to irregular sleeping hours, so this’s just a piece of cake. Right after my arrival in Sao Paulo, I took a bus to Rio de Janeiro….

This is how my notes of my Latin America journey had started. With a plane landing in Sao Paulo in Brazil on 24th of December 2009. And today is 24th of June 2010. I am in Ciudad del Este, the border city of Paraguay. Exactly after 6 months.

What happened during 6 months, what has changed? No doubt, I have seen many different places. I met hundreds of people. I witnessed amazing nature. My Spanish improved from “not being able to speak a word” to a level of being able to do my daily stuff and even being able to chat with taxi drivers. My self-confidence was already at a high level, and it improved even more. I have been in various dangerous and risky environments and gained more experience about how to handle them. I have had 4 seasons; from hot beaches of Brazil to the snow and ice-capped mountains of Patagonia. 5 more countries have been added to my list of visited countries. I have had several good friends from around the world, most of  whom are South Americans. I have had bus rides that lasted for days. I have been guest to the houses of numerous people. There have been days that I was so happy and those that I was in terrible mood. I have tried many local food and drinks. I have written tens of pages about my journey.

I have fought with the ocean waves on Brazilian coasts. I have celebrated the New Year’s Eve on the beach in Rio de Janeiro with 3 million people. I have been attacked by pickpocketers in Uruguay. I have danced with girls wearing tanga in Montevideo Carnaval. I have visited several weird animals like penguins, sea elephants and guanacos in their national habitat in Patagonia. I have camped in winter conditions with my summer tent. I have seen “the end of the world”. I have terribly been surprised in front of huge glaciers. I have covered long distances on the deserted roads of Patagonia by hitchhiking. I have realized what “sea food” means in Chile. I have joined the “1st of May protests” in Santiago. I have watched the concerts in Buenos Aires for the 200th independence year celebrations of Argentina with 1,5 million people. I have tasted the famous meat and wine in the luxurious restaurants of Buenos Aires till I have trauma in my stomach. I have passed the chaotic bridge that is the border of Brazil and Paraguay 2 times on foot. I have visited the Itaipu Dam, that is the biggest hydroelectrical power plant in the world. In Paraguay I have shopped from shops that are guarded by security guys with shotguns. I have seen the Iguazu Falls, one of the biggest in the world, from both Argentinean and Brazilian side. I have been in 3 countries in 1 day. I have had the chance to watch a live rugby game for the first time in my life during the juniors world cup. I have experienced the nightlife in all big cities I have been to, hopped from one bar to another club till morning hours. I have watched the World Cup games with the fanatic supporters of South America in each country I have been to.

In short, I have lived my dreams, and I am keeping on living them…

I have no clue how fast 6 months passed away. It was so full and different that, every new day was a new excitement. I am doing my best in order to keep this level of excitement as high as I can. As I feel the need to give a response to those who ask me “for how long will you be traveling?”, I always said, and keep on saying “roughly 1 year”. So, now am I in the middle of my journey? I don’t know. Time will show.

The statistics of my first 6 months is coming soon. Still calculating…

Engin Kaban

June 24th 2010 – Ciudad del Este

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Turkish passport prices go down

Posted by Engin Kaban on June 23, 2010

Turkish passport prices go down

A while ago I had mentioned that Turkish passport is the most expensive in the world. As the “Sırtçantalılar Group” (Turkish backpackers community), we had prepared a declaration and sent it out to various media channels in Turkey.

This was actually a support to the main campaign called “We want back our freedom of travel” that is conducted through www.seyahatozgurlugu.com (sorry, only in Turkish).

The campaign worked out well and the cost of Turkish passport has been reduced by 50%. However, it is still the most expensive in the world.

This news is pleasing but we are still working on reducing the costs more to the world average.

Engin Kaban

June 22nd 2010 – Ciudad del Este

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Continue

Posted by Engin Kaban on June 9, 2010

Continue

Some people still think what I am doing is a holiday. No, it is not. It is a journey. A period with its up and downs; that I have to think, work on and plan something for every day. An adventure which makes me face myself, puts me into danger, and in which I struggle most of the time on my own.

From my point of view, “holiday” is when you go to the hotel booked in advance, and spend the whole day lying on the beach, with a cocktail in your hand, not planning or thinking of anything. You relax, get some suntan, and you go back home when the pre-defined time is over. There are no unknowns in a holiday. Everything is planned for your comfort, and you just follow.

What I am in however is a journey with its difficulties, dangers and loneliness. A journey not to Latin America but to myself. For that reason it is not clear either when or where it will end. An escapade of which details are not known beforehand and things just develop by my instant decisions or by the things out of my control. The ever-changing setting is in fact just a small dimension in this journey. It is even unimportant in comparison to my constantly-improving thoughts. Nobody plans anything for you in a journey. Its variables are so many that several times it becomes impossible to work it out. Your common sense is your only helper while fighting with these. There is no second person because around you is just full of strangers.

In a broader sense, it is true that with my living standards, I am better off than many people in the world; however, I do not think I am luckier than anyone reading these lines. I would sincerely like to ask those who see everything rose-pink from outside and think that I am “lucky”, why they do not do what I am doing. I hope not to be misunderstood. And I repeat; this is not “luck”, just a matter of “choice”. Just a decision of how I like to live my life.

I did not depart escaping from something. I departed leaving some things behind. I had a quite nice life before starting the trip. All was perfect in my little world. Then why did not I continue like that? Why didn’t I leave all to the flow and just live all my life in peace? Because there was a drive so strong that I could not resist. Telling me that I have only one life. Reminding me life is too short and special to live constantly repeating itself. Throwing me out of the “easy” system and dragging me into the “difficult” unknown. This is the power that made me hit the road.

I previously told that this journey has its own difficulties. I have to think where I will stay for the night because I do not have a place to call home. No matter how warm I am welcomed in the houses that I am hosted or the hostels that I stay, it is in the end never a place of my own. I am a stranger there. Just temporary.

People around me are those I have met a few hours or maximum a few days ago. None of them are my best friends or a part of my family. Today they are here, tomorrow not. And me, continuing my journey; I have to.

Although I leave my journey to be as flexible and open-end as possible, I have to roughly think about where I will be the following day or week and do some research about it. This is not really easy with the rapidity of the trip. It requires an intense use of the internet, contact making and planning.

The beginning of the journey means also separation. You make the choices and hit the road. Might look very easy from outside, but it is not. A part of your mind always keeps on being busy with something. Especially if you leave behind the beloved ones.

On the other hand, I am also busy with many projects. On one hand, I am trying to do something concrete during this trip. On the other hand, there are those that I am pre-planning which I will accomplish about this journey when I go back. There is also the Turkish backpackers group “Sırtçantalılar” which we really work hard for. Therefore, even though I seem to be traveling all the time, in fact I often spend many hours in front of the computer trying to produce. Simply, every article that I write for my website and you read in 5 minutes takes several hours. I am the only one who knows how much care I put into them, and how many times I re-read to make little changes to make them smoother.

Months pass by and things start to get more difficult. Maybe it is because of the fact of not having the same excitement and energy as in the beginning, maybe to have achieved satisfaction of meeting new people, or maybe those that are longed for become stronger. Maybe this is a decision point. The point where you have to answer “enough or continue?”. I came to this very point after 5,5 months, and said “continue”.

I do not know for how long more I will keep saying “continue”, but for now “continue”.

I am more than sure that many people will just laugh away to all these, and will not understand what I actually wanted to say. I know because now I realize that before starting this trip, I was not able to understand either. Why the travelers that I met or hosted who have been on the road for many months or years just sit at home for several days, why they choose to relax instead of going around every day, why they are sometimes confused, why they start to cry out of nothing, why they would prefer not going out on a Saturday night in a city where they are just new to, why what they leave behind constantly make them think, where they go, what they do, what they expect from life, their dreams, why they are on the road… I used to think I understand them, but not. Now I do understand.

I particularly dedicate this special article to the minority who can understand me. They know themselves…

Engin Kaban

June 5th 2010 – Rosario

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My interview in İzmir Life magazine

Posted by Engin Kaban on June 5, 2010

My interview on İzmir Life magazine

I am in the June edition of İzmir Life magazine, with an interview about our Turkish backpackers group “Sırtçantalılar”, and about my Latin America trip.

All in Turkish though 😦

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