It feels like a month has passed since our last blog from Viña del Mar, but it’s only been a couple of whirlwind weeks, packed full of adventures and stories. We’ve driven nearly 3,000 miles, crisscrossing back and forth from Chile to Argentina several times, enjoying fantastic food, great people and scenery that still astounds us. Enjoy this new blog post as we drive to the End of the World and have some fun along the way! Ned and I left Viña del Mar, Chile (North of Valparaiso, near Santiago) on January 10th, hitting the I-5 (PanAm) to make some time getting south. We found Chile’s central agricultural region similar to California’s San Fernando Valley and oddly named the same. Chile’s San Fernando Valley boasts the same I-5 running north/south, is nestled between the coastal range and the Andes and has McDonald’s and Shell gas stations dotted along the highway. It even has lots of fruit stands and highway exits with names like Tracy and Santa Cruz. It was eerie, and we had a hard time believing we hadn’t dreamed the whole trip, ending up back in Fresno.
Greetings from South America again, finally!
Ned and I have only been reunited with Charlotte and back on the road for two weeks, but so much has happened (including hitting 20,000 miles since embarking a year ago) that it feels like a month. Our adventures continue to inspire and humble us as we make more wonderful friends and stumble upon some of the earth’s most astonishing scenery.
We have taken almost 700 photos during these two weeks, and have had to cull them down to about 250 “keepers.” Of those, we had to choose which ones to share on the blog and have had a tough time, since I typically set a 75 photo limit. We ended up posting 110 of our favorites, so this is a longer than usual blog. Please just enjoy the photos or follow along as we retell our stories.
[For those of you who are either not signed up to receive email updates or who somehow missed the last two emails, I have posted copies of them below. The first email, from September, explained that we were coming home for good medical care and the second, from October, was an update on my health progress. If you like, you can scroll down below this post to get caught up.]
Having been home for a month, it feels strange to look back on my travel journal and attempt to write this blog. It has taken me the entire month to accomplish what, at times, felt like a hopeless endeavor…getting well. But I have learned a lot in the process and have gained some interesting insights about comfort zones.
The bug that had plagued me since Peru turned out to be pseudomonas pneumonia, a hard to kill bacteria. The doctors were puzzled because it is an infection that usually jumps on board patients who have been hospitalized for long periods of time. Nonetheless, the culture came back positive for this bad actor and, after six courses of oral antibiotics, I finally had to have a PICC line put in. A PICC line is a tiny plastic tube that is inserted into a major vein (mine was put into my upper/inner arm). The tube runs from the insertion point all the way to the heart. This port gives intravenous access for what are called infusions of antibiotics. And yes, it not only hurt going in (it was not supposed to), but it really gave me the creeps. After all my poor body had been through, having this foreign object in me was hard to bear.
I gave myself the infusions twice a day for four days, but the PICC line never stopped hurting. An ultrasound eventually found dangerous blood clots, and the PICC line had to be removed. I was relieved on one hand to be rid of the invasive contraption, but also terrified that the infection had not been fully eradicated.
Thankfully, the four days of IV antibiotics were enough, and the infection did not reemerge. But it was a physically and emotionally trying time. Lingering symptoms made it feel that the pseudomonas was still lurking, and it took many more doctors’ visits, CT scans and lab tests to confirm that it was only residual inflammation in my lung lining and sinuses.
One of the benefits of having naturally large personal comfort zones is that Ned and I are not only able to embark on adventurous journeys, but we thrive on them. I never thought about it before, but reflecting now on our journey, I realize that when we are on the road, we are constantly on the hunt for the most basic human needs…food, water and shelter. We do carry a few days worth of supplies, and Charlotte is, herself, our shelter, but finding good stores and camping spots is a constant challenge. The experience is immensely different from being home where we take our simple comforts for granted. While some people would be uncomfortable at best and terrified at worst to live like this, Ned and I consider it all part of the adventure and take it in stride.
As the weeks went on, however, and the illness progressed, my comfort zone began to shrink. It was neither fun nor exciting not knowing where we would camp at night, and far from being exhilarating, the extreme elevations and cold temperatures now meant severe chest pain and inability to breathe. By the time we made it through the arduous flight home from Santiago, I had a comfort zone about the size of my bedroom. I have never been more grateful to be home in the beautiful United States where our lives are easy and convenient (and the toilets have seats!).
Our home became my haven and except for doctors’ visits, I did not want to leave it. Unlike my normal state, I felt fragile and afraid, as if the tiniest cold draft would cause yet another relapse. But here is where I have gained valuable perspective…comfort zones and the way we think about them, like most everything else in life, are a matter of perspective. I am ashamed now to admit to being a bit judgmental towards others who are uncomfortable venturing beyond their safe zones. Individual experiences and temperaments influence how we see the world and we each determine the size and shape of our comfort zones depending on our own circumstances. There is no right or wrong. That being said, I do believe that, in some cases, pushing ourselves beyond what we think we can endure can reap incredible gains in self confidence and worth, but it has to be a personal decision. My own shrinking comfort zone has taught me just how inappropriate it is to judge another’s. The decision to stretch or not to stretch is private and personal.
I know it’s been a long time since our last post, but I deliberately put off writing this blog until I felt hale and hearty again. Yesterday I celebrated wellness with a blissful three hour solo hike/run on the mountain, and it was heaven. My muscles felt weak and slow, but my lungs were clear and painless, and it was a great victory over illness. A month ago, having battled ill health for so long, the thought of setting out again in early December to continue our journey was frightening. Today, my perspective is totally different, and I’m eager to get back on the road.
My experience with Lyme disease has taught me not only to be patient with myself, but also that we can always endure more than we think we can. There were countless times in the last two months when I thought, “I can’t take any more!” But there I was, soldiering on. Of course, I was never alone. The love of Ned, family and friends and the infinite kindness of doctors, nurses, and support staff saw me through each difficult day. Many thanks to all of you!
And now, let’s get back to our story…
October 15, 2014*
*(This post is a copy of an email alert that was sent in October)
Hi everyone, I’m alive!
Thank you all for your warm wishes, thoughts and prayers. I know it’s been a long time since you’ve heard from us, but I really wanted to report when I was 100% well. Unfortunately, it has been a rough road back to recovery. My doctors and support staff have all been amazing, but we haven’t gotten me back to fighting condition. There are still lingering symptoms and complications (which will hopefully be sorted out in the next couple of weeks), but I am a lot better. I have been able to get out for a few walks, a few errands, a few dinners out and, sadly, lots of doctor visits. Although I love our adventure and am looking forward to getting back on the road in December, I am unbelievably happy to be home while going through all of this. I have a lot of perspective to share on comfort zones in the blog I am currently working on (teaser photo of the incredible Atacama desert above). Thanks again for your many thoughtful emails, and keep your eyes out for the new blog in the next few days!
Hugs and best wishes to all of you, Kat
Ned & Kat Alert!
September 24, 2014*
*(This post is a copy of an email alert that went out in September)
After one month of sickness, taking six different antibiotics, prescribed by seven different doctors, from five different hospitals in two separate countries, Kat is still not well and we have made the decision to get her home to her regular doctor. Besides whatever she is currently suffering from, Kat has Lyme Disease which seriously compromises her immune system. Throwing antibiotics into the mix is a recipe for long term disaster.
We want to enjoy and savor every minute of this once-in-a-lifetime trip, and for the last month we have not. We have rushed through Peru and now, northern Chile, in an attempt to get to better climates, better altitude, better weather and/or better medical facilities. While the hospitals here in Santiago, Chile have been wonderful, the doctors’ answers are typical; throw more and more drugs at the situation. We do not feel this is a smart solution for her overall health.
We had planned all along to return home for the month of November for business reasons. Now we will just add in October. Look for a blog update within a week or so to bring the site up to date with our current location in Santiago. Don’t give up on us. We will be back in action starting in December when we will get to Bolivia (which we’ve currently had to skip) and then head for Patagonia at the tip of this amazing continent, which has been our goal all along.
The turquoise water sparkled with the last rays of the setting sun while tiny waves lapped gently on the warm, black lava. I released a breath that I hadn’t realized I had been holding for…eight months? This was Galapagos, and it was magic.
Our trip south has been amazing and wonderful, but it hasn’t necessarily been relaxing. There is an element of survival in our daily search for routes, food and safe places to sleep that keeps us on our toes at all times. Stepping onto the shores of these desolate and well protected islands brought a sense of peace that was like a balm to my spirit, and I knew instantly that this would be a very special week.
The Galapagos Islands had never been on our agenda (not that we have one), and for me, meant only vague memories of National Geographic episodes on TV and reel to reel films shown to us fidgety Jr. High Schoolers. Wasn’t there some connection to Darwin, natural selection and blue footed boobies?
Besides the tranquility, what Ned and I loved were the close encounters with the animals. Although the Islands have a brutal past of being ravished by explorers and pirates, they have been protected since 1970. The strict protection, coupled with a lack of natural predators has left the animals unafraid of humans. This offers a unique opportunity to interact with vast quantities of amazing critters.
While being on the quiet islands, surrounded by muted desert colors and rare species was remarkable, snorkeling brought us into an underwater wonderland of such magical beauty that it brought tears to my eyes. With no waterproof camera to distract, we were left to simply enjoy. The water itself was brilliant shades of crystal clear blues and although cold, was marvelous. The sea life was abundant, and we saw many types of fish and plants that we had never seen because they only exist here. To my delight, the tranquil desert colors that I love so much, were reflected in this watery landscape. Everywhere I looked, gorgeous pastels danced and shimmered. Every shade of the rainbow was paraded before me in muted, iridescent splendor. A sea anemone in lemon sherbet, a giant parrot fish in glistening melon green and pink topaz, microscopic amoeba, like mystical fairies, visible only through intermittent flashes of sapphire blue. Incredible. But the parade did not end there.
Imagine jumping into the water with your snorkel gear, putting your face down and seeing a huge dark blur approach quickly. Oh! A sea lion! No, three sea lions! It was a bit startling at first, as they, one at a time, swam straight for our faces, veering off only at the last minute. These were truly wild animals that wanted to play with us. The giant sea turtles, while singularly un-playful, were equally as unafraid. At one point I enjoyed drifting quietly next to my own private, meter and a half long turtle for over 15 minutes.
While we can’t share our underwater experiences, we are glad to be able to offer a few glimpses into the enchanting world of Galapagos. Enjoy…