ASC Adventurers Karen and Markus Discover a Bit of Luck and the Kindness of Strangers

Karen and Markus are world travellers and avid adventurers.  They are backpacking through Argentina and Chile for the next few months and recording observations for the Wildlands South America Biodiversity Inventory.  They recently hiked through Isla Navarino and recorded observations there.  For more on their trip, visit their website

The past few weeks have been full of great hiking as we have made our way north through Patagonia. We hiked north from El Chalten with ever changing views of Monte Fitz Roy and across the remote border to a tiny, isolated corner of Chile. We spent a few days, and many hours hanging out by the fire with new friends, in our campsite in Cerro Castillo reserve while we waited out strong winds and sleet on the traverse route. We walked (and stumbled) along muddy horse trails through lush rainforest and cliffy valleys, stopping to chat with families whose farm fields and livestock we trekked past, as we hiked from Cochamo, Chile to El Bolson, Argentina. But equally memorable are the hours and days we spent in vehicles just to get from one place to another across a vast and remote region of bumpy gravel roads with light traffic and infrequent public buses that always seem to be full…

The Kindness of Strangers

Hitch hiking has been an important mode of transport for us. It is common here and really practical. A majority of people want to stop and they smile and gesture apologetically when there is no space in the car (which is often). So far we have had nothing but positive experiences and hitching has introduced us to some great people too. A few memories:

Getting a ride was easy near Ushuaia, where we first tried it. Our first ride was from Carlos, a water treatment engineer returning from a day of trappng beavers. Our second ride was from two women who giddily informed us that we were riding in a brand new car just purchased a couple hours before. Champagne bottles they had bought for a celebration of the event clinked in the trunk as we drove.

The most generous ride was certainly from a roadtripping Buenos Aires family: Alejandro, Sandra, Agustin, and Camila. We were walking along the dusty road to Lago del Desierto and we were HOT. Needless to say, after 3 days hiking in hot sun we probably smelled terrible. The car drove by giving the ´´sorry we’re full´´ sign but then pulled over. All four jumped out to load their things in the trunk along with our bags and then insisted that Camila, the 18 year old daughter, sit on her mother’s lap in the backseat so that Markus and I could sit comfortaby on the other two seats. Good conversation, air conditioning, and a gift of candy made us even more glad to have met this wonderful family. 

The ride that most thrilled the little kid inside of me was when a cop picked us up. We weren’t even trying to hitch, just walking the final 5 km of road into Villa O’Higgins,when the Carabineros pulled alongside and asked where we were heading. We rode in the back behind the metal grate and the cop gave us a little tour of town before dropping us off right at the campground.

And finally, it’s who you know that counts, right? We had been sticking our thumbs out for 2 hours on a windy day, trying to catch a ride to Coyhaique, and were pretty chilled when finally a cattle truck pulled over. And who should jump out of the passenger seat but a guy we met over dinner at the campground in Cochrane, several hundred miles south, the week before. He opened the back, where 4 other backpackers (and no cattle) sat huddled in sleeping bags, and we hopped in.

A Bit of Luck

Public transportation has come with its own set of stories as well so I will share one of my favorites. Buses leave Villa O´Higgins only twice a week: Monday and Friday. We arrived on a sunday planning to take the monday bus out, only to find the bus was completely booked. We added our names to the waiting list, not feeling very hopeful, and began thinking about what to do in the area for a week. Later that day as I sat on a bench near the library, a man and I started chatting. He was going to walk to Los Ñires to buy bread, the same place we were camped, so we began to walk together. Then his cell phone rang–he answered it, glancing back and forth to me, then (though we had not exchanged names) he looked at me and said, ´´Karen?´´ The woman from the bus office a block away had seen him walking with me and called him to get my attention. A couple had just canceled. Did we want the seats? And so Markus and I were headed out of town the next morning.

This year of travel is about many things for Markus and I, but one of the most important is just to figure out, What Next? And it is when travel is most spontaneous, and we rely most on the communities and people we meet, that I feel reassured. It takes a certain leap of faith to hitch a ride or arrive in a new town without an onward ticket out, but these small leaps give me peace about the future, wherever we will live and whatever we will do. It reminds me that things usually work out, that most people are kind and generous, and that regardless of what happens we will still end up somewhere with stories to tell.