October 27, 2016

THE BEGINNING

Mike here. Let’s begin at the beginning.

For us, that takes us down to the southern hemisphere, to Sari’s home country of Chile. We had met before in LA for a brief period of time, but the spark grew into a flame when I made the crazy move to travel Chile with Sari. It seemed crazy at the time because we had only had about 72 hours of shared experience together. When we met at the airport seven months after our first meeting, neither of us knew what to expect. We both figured, “Eh, if it doesn’t work out then we can go our separate ways.” So it was in this mindset of no-stakes, not-caring-what-the-other-thinks, and total-freedom-to-be-ourselves, that we boarded our next plane to Patagonia.

Lake Pehoe in Chilean Patagonia, Torres del Paine
Torres del Paine Patagonia mountains covered in clouds
Serious Photography in Chilean Patagonia

It was cold. Like, really cold. Having lived 20 out of 24 years in Florida, I don’t handle the cold well. To make things better, my backpack was filled with bathing suits and tank tops from summer in Central America. I also had one pair of jeans and an old leather jacket. As Sari and I acquainted ourselves with Punta Arenas and Puerto Natales, we quickly realized that it was far too cold and dangerous to do one of the serious hikes we had hoped for (the W trek, a 3-5 day expedition). The rangers told us we were free to go, but if we didn’t come back they wouldn’t come looking. They added that a man had gone in alone just a month before and never returned. We began to realize that we were far under-prepared for a serious exploration of this place.

Our first week in Patagonia
Mike and a guanaco buddy in Patagonia
On our way to the summit of Cerro Dorotea

So we improvised. We walked around town, found a local brewery with $2 pints, and did some day hikes of lesser-known areas. The one that stands out was Cerro Dorotea, or Dorotea Hill. It sits overlooking the town of Puerto Natales, so we basically just pointed to the highest thing we could see and said “Let’s go up there!” We hopped in a cab and asked him to take us to the trail head. He did one better; he dropped us off at the “secret free entrance,” aka a spot on the side of the highway where a fence was kicked down. Trespassing on a farmer’s land in a foreign country? Why not! (*We have since come to adopt the policy of respecting peoples’ private property and tend not to trespass anymore). The ascent was steep, and when we arrived at the top we discovered why Patagonia is said to have some of the strongest winds in the world. The moment we emerged from the treeline we were blasted with 55mph winds that nearly knocked us off our feet. I had envisioned taking a panoramic picture of the entire town, but quickly realized that if I stepped up to the edge there was a very real likelihood of being blown off. So we hung out for a few minutes, but not much longer. With tears in our eyes from the wind, we sought shelter back in the trees and hitchhiked our way back into town.

Muelle De Las Almas and thinking about pizza in Chile
Hiking to the waterfalls of Chiloe, Chile
Hiking in Chiloe with the newlyweds
Hiking break with la prima

During our two months in Chile, I met almost all of Sari’s extended family. We went to her cousin’s wedding, her uncle’s home and country cabin that he built with his own hands, stayed with her cousin and her two boys in Santiago, and visited other best friends and family members. We explored some well-known spots, as well as some secret ones that Sari and her family have known forever. We even found some unique places by scouring Google Earth. Our relationship was tested by paper-thin walls between bathroom and bedroom, 8-14 hour bus rides with only one stop to stretch, and we even got held up at knifepoint in Santiago. All of these experiences helped us to realize that hey, despite not having seen each other for seven months before this, we are freakin’ compatible! We talked about it for the week leading up to Sari’s departure (Nov. 5), and on the night before she left I took her out on a date to a brewery and bar-cade in Santiago and asked her to be my girlfriend. We both agreed that this bond we had created was worth exploring. It would be a challenge right from the beginning, as I didn’t have a return flight until January 20th. But we did our 10 weeks of long distance, and were at last reunited stateside to begin the next chapter of our lives together.

Fishing with uncle Mirko in Rio Bio Bio
Making friends in the San Fabian, Chile coutnryside
Mike being "fabulous" while canyoning in Pucon, Chile
man pulling cable car across Rio Bio Bio

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