Monday, November 18, 2013

Navarino Part V: Bahia Windhond, or the day I stood naked at the end of the world

Part V in the story of my 7-day solo trek on Isla Navarino, continued from Part IV: Refugio Charles and Lago Windhond. To start at the beginning or to see the full list of Navarino episodes, click here.

I am the queen of late starts. Despite waking at around 7 am I didn’t leave camp until around 10. I first spent around two hours trying to mend the giant holes I had burned in my socks at the fire at the previous camp—an attempt that later proved futile, at least in part because of my terrible sewing skills. I didn’t bother with breakfast and just ate some cookies and one of the sandwiches I had packed instead. I put on my damp socks and boots and took off with a little fanny pack with food and a poncho, leaving my tent up in case of bad weather, and thinking I’d be back from the bay—which was right there—by lunch. Ha!


First, less than two minutes in to the trek my bowels made the sort of gurgle that means “DO NOT IGNORE ME” and I barely had time to drop my pants before I suddenly became a full two pounds lighter.

Not long after that, I was stopped again, this time by a large river that was not on the cheesy whole-island map that I now had to rely on (this part of the island falling well off the edge of my halfway decent topo maps). It was, I realized, on my GPS map which if I had seen before should have warned me (my excuse: my phone screen is nearly impossible to read in the glare of the light of day, and with all the rain over the past few days I didn’t often want to take it out of my pocket). None of the creeks that had been very difficult to impossible to cross that I had been hopping and wading through and skirting before had been on the GPS map, so the fact that this map showed up should have clued me into the fact that this would be a large obstacle. Indeed, this was no creek. It was a legitimate river. I walked along its banks for over a mile, trying to see if there was any chance of a shallow spot I could wade across or a series of logs or something, but there was nothing, no way to cross without swimming, which I might have considered if not for my cold (I had woken up with a sore throat, headache, and full sinuses), it being very cold, and not wanting to dunk my camera for a second time in 30 hours.

My campsite. Camera was still a little soggy (hence the fog)... didn't want to get it any wetter.

The river did not go straight to the bay, which as the crow flies was less than 4 km away. It went instead another 12 km to the east, increasing the distance I needed to walk by at least 3x (or 16 more km out and back). I mentally came to terms with the reality of my not making it back by lunch, needing to camp another night in my little hilltop room with a view, and it being now extremely unlikely that I’d be able to make it back to the Dientes circuit in time to make a quick go at it.

But damnit, I was going to make it to that bay! Over the next four hours I marched through forest, peat bog, spiny death bushes, and beaver swamps that in some cases I was only able to get through by tightroping across their dams—in two cases breaking them (sorry beavers, but you did make the route impassable, plus, you are a non-native species…so I didn’t feel too bad).

But this guy was a native species. He can stay.

Most exhausting of all were the chest-deep mounds of beachgrass on the dunes when I finally approached the bay. Where hiking through the peat bogs was like walking for hours on a mattress, the beachgrass involved lifting my leg to my chest, scrambling up, sinking back down, repeat. When I arrived at the beach I was exhausted and my tendons hurt.

More bog.

But I made it.

To the end of the world.

The beach at Bahia Windhond

At least as close to the end of the world I could get without passage on a yacht or a trip to Antarctica, as close to the end of the world as I could get without a whole lot of money I don’t have. The farthest south anyone I know has been who hasn’t been to Antarctica.


I had a glorious ten minutes in the sun when I finally arrived. I ate my sandwich, stripped naked and had just started to wade into the water when I saw the giant dark storm cloud heading straight for me. I thought the better of going for a frigid swim with a storm coming and a four hour walk back to warmth before me. So I waved goodbye to the end of the world, threw my clothes and poncho back on, and hit the chest-deep grass again just as the hail hit.

Where on the hike there I had had many moments where I’d grin and laugh when I’d see some vista and remember where I was and what I was doing, on the way back my brain switched off and I just marched, too tired and cold and wet to enjoy the scenery. I marched back through the mounds of beachgrass, back through the beaver swamps, back through the peat bogs, through forest and plains, through meadows and over hills, poncho on, face set, trying to keep up a good clip to stay reasonably warm in the cold rain.

A sampling of the scenery I marched through.

I marched for hours like that until suddenly, at the top of a ridge forested with tall, slender trees, a gentle wind made the trees sing at the same time that a cloud opened up, sending soft green light dancing around me. I was dazzled.

The moment hit me like a shock, a reminder of where I was, of all that had brought me there, and I was floored with gratitude and happiness. It was like the God I had loved as a young person had appeared in front of me, held out his arms, and said, “See? It was all okay in the end.” I looked around me, bathed in the dancing light and singing trees, filled with the feeling of everything being okay.

In that moment I realized that all of the struggle and torment and tedium and heartache (and good times as well) that had eaten me the past decade and especially the past few years had, as a culmination of forks in the road that my life had taken, brought me there, to this magical grove of trees on an island on the cold, sweaty, southern toe of the Americas. There, to a place and on an adventure of which my self a decade ago would never have dreamed. That it had been okay in the end. More than okay: Incredible. And there I was, standing outrageously happy at the end of the world.


I was moved to do something I hadn’t done in over a decade: I prayed. Dropped to my knees, face to the sky, surrendered myself to the universe, and prayed. I prayed to no deity in particular, having long ago become disillusioned by and walked away from the religion of my childhood, so I was simply talking to the air. But the feeling was the same as when I used to pray in my youth; I felt connected to the universe, felt my soul bursting inside me. It was a prayer of thanks, and a prayer for forgiveness: forgiveness for my lack of understanding and appreciation of all these years, and forgiveness for the anger and bitterness that I had been refusing to give up for so long.

And finally I forgave, in words out loud to the wind, those people against whom I had held the anger that had been eating me alive.

I forgave my German ex-fiancé who, I was finally able to accept, did what he had to do to protect his own happiness and sense of self. In that moment I realized truly that I am happier now than I could have been with the real version of him that I had refused to see and refused to accept. That his leaving was, even though the circumstances were terrible, in the end a gift. That my heart was broken but was returned to me, and that it was in my power to heal it, because my heart is a big heart, a strong heart, and a good heart. In that moment I was finally able to let him, and the rage and disgust and fury that had been rotting me from the inside these past few years, go.

I forgave my beloved sister who, also in making decisions to protect her own happiness, had burned to the ground her own relationship—a relationship that I had held onto as a lighthouse of hope in the wake of my own falling apart as proof that true love was possible. If true love like hers was possible, I felt some hope that I might also find it someday. When her marriage ended I was devastated, because I saw it as proof that I would never find a lasting relationship because real and lasting love does not exist. In that moment in the trees I realized that my happiness does not depend on my finding a soulmate, if such a thing even exists. I realized that I am the happiest I have ever been right now, and I am alone!—and my happiness certainly doesn’t depend on the relationship status of my sister, who I adore and wish every joy in the world.

I forgave the friend who had been my buddy during much of the time I was struggling through the former two hurts who, without word or explanation, threw me off in a way that ripped open the wounds that were just starting to scab over. I realized that although I may never understand why he did it, that I was okay now, that I could be grateful for the happiness he brought me in a very dark time, and that I hoped that whatever he is up to now, that he is happy.


And finally, I forgave myself for my shortcomings and the hell I put other people through during these dark years. I forgave myself for taking so long to get over the other things—for the hell I put my own self through. For being small and bitter and jealous and angry and needy and an imperfect human. I had been furious with people for ruining my life. I needed to see that my life wasn’t ruined, that it was, in fact, better than it otherwise would have been, before I was able to let go and forgive. That was not big of me, but it was human of me, and sometimes we have to forgive ourselves for being humans, not saints. Whatever the path, in the end I had fought through the darkness and clawed my way up from the deep well I had fallen into. I had been brave enough to throw a middle finger to expectations and go on a quest to find where my soul had run off to and to try to heal my heart. I hadn’t done perfect, but I had done good. “It’s okay, Carie,” I thought. “It’s okay now.”

The wind and light wrapped me around me as though the universe was also saying, “It’s okay, Carie, it’s okay now,” and giving me a hug. I stood, feeling if not fully healed at least a whole lot closer. And I felt at peace in my heart for what very well may have been the first time of my 20’s.

The rain started again and the magical huggy wind spirit wasn’t going to take me back to camp, my feet would have to do that, so off I went again. My GPS was acting screwy but I was pretty sure I could find my way back to camp without it. Sure enough, an hour and a half or so later, I laughed out loud when I rounded a corner and almost stepped in my giant, now half-melted turd from the morning (bad pootiquette, I know, but I figured nobody would be around this area until long after the weather had taken care of it, and I didn’t have a trowel on me). I was home!

Home sweet home.

For dinner I cooked a noodle soup and then promptly knocked over the pot and spilled it all over the ground, so I ate dirt-coated noodles picked off the ground and cookies for dinner, enjoying the view for about twenty rain-free minutes before the rain returned. It was a cold night, not only because I had a cold but because it was a cold storm, and I curled up inside my tent bundled up in several layers including a down jacket inside my down sleeping bag and still felt cold. Cold, but content and happy, and whole.

Spoiler video from the trek:

I woke up to patches of snow around my tent, a preview of the weather to come. Continued in Part VI: Bushwhacking North


  1. Hullo Carie, I came across your blog (and specifically this post) when I was researching options for hiking on Isla Navarino. Ultimately, I ended up getting a great deal on a boat to Antarctica and spent 2 weeks in Antarctica. However, I do hope to return to the southernmost tip of South America at some point of time and Isla Navarino is still high on my list of places to visit.

    I just wanted to say that I really loved reading your posts--not just from a factual point of view, but also from a human point of view. While I wasn't able to go to Navarino, I felt similar emotions (an immense sense of gratitude for my existence on this planet, an overwhelming feeling of being at one with myself and nature, and an almost cathartic purging of old slights and hurts) when hiking/exploring elsewhere in Patagonia and reveling in the majesty of the landscapes.

    All the best with your travels!

    ~Debjeet Sen.

    1. Hi Debjeet,

      This really is a spectacular and humbling part of the world. There is something about getting out and being alone in the great landscapes of the world that serves to remind us of our smallness and the insignificance of our problems in the grand scheme of the universe, as well as to remind us how fortunate we are to have been placed on this beautiful Earth of ours. Mountain therapy!

      Wishing you many more adventures on your travels and thanks for reaching out!

    2. Hi Carie,

      What a wonderful way to describe this amazing corner of our planet! Even though I didn't get to visit Isla Navarino, one of the best parts of traveling down to Antarctica was sailing down the Beagle Channel for hours en route to the Drake Passage.

      I was overwhelmed by the utterly haunting loneliness of the End of the World as we made our way down the Beagle Channel from Ushuaia. And yes, I have no qualms using this moniker when describing southernmost South America, as the scenery and ambiance do epic justice to how I would have imagined this part of the world in my mind's eye before actually seeing it with my own eyes.

      The brooding skies blending seamlessly with the slate-colored mountains and steel-grey waters; feeling the spiritual presence of the indigenous people who thrived in this area for centuries before being decimated in only a few short decades; and the curiously liberating sensation of being a small speck in the vastness of a landscape so wild and untouched--I can't think of many places in the world that affected me quite so powerfully as the southernmost tip of South America.

      I truly hope to return someday and explore more of Tierra del Fuego and the Chilean subantarctic islands. But for now, it's back to work, deadlines, reports, and meetings :)

      Safe travels and all the best,

  2. I just wanted to say thanks for these posts - really inspiring. This writeup is one of the few detailed reports I could find about Lago Windhond and helped a lot in my planning. I never actually managed to get all the way to the ocean, but made it to the refuge at the north edge of the lake - a amazing, calm, and peaceful place that I wouldn't have known much about if it hadn't been for your blog. Thanks!

    1. I am so glad you enjoyed the posts and that they were helpful for your planning. Isn't Refugio Charles amazing? Such a beautiful, peaceful, special place! Glad you enjoyed your trek and the island!