Javier Giovannini, Software Engineer and Hiker

I first became interested in hiking when I was 13 years old – I was invited by an Australian family for a one-month trip to Patagonia, from Puerto Montt to Tierra del Fuego. At that time, more than 20 years ago, trekking or hiking was an unknown term for Chileans. This was a great experience in all senses: learning how these Australians connected with nature and seeing all the culture and landscapes for the very first time through the eyes of a foreigner was really insightful. This Australian family initiated me in trekking when I was young, and we still hike together whenever we have the chance to meet.

My name is Javier Giovannini and I am a 35-year-old software engineer. I work remotely for an American financial data start-up, where I am a co-founder. Part of my job is designing and deploying data pipelines. I studied Telematics, which is a mix of telecommunications and informatics. When I deployed my first application in college, an iOS game, I found out that what I really enjoy is developing software. I currently live in Valparaiso, Chile.

Hiking is an activity I do with friends or family, mostly during the summer because of local weather conditions. The person who inspires me the most with hiking is my Dad, Juan. Today, he is 70 and has already crossed the Andes from Chile to Argentina 4 times using different trails in recent years.

My dad came up with the idea of doing another hike together across the Andes from Chile to Argentina. He told me there was only one Chile-Argentina trail left for him to do: “Los Vuriloches”. He told me that hike requires 7 days to complete it. (The longest he or I had done before was 5 days). I originally said “No way”, because it will be on week off the grid, no cell signal, no people, and no easy way to get out: “What if there is an accident? What if there is an urgent requirement in my start-up?”

That was my answer for a long time until my dad told me he had contacted one of my friends, Daniel Caro (also a software engineer), who said he will go with him. That’s when I realized he was serious about it – if he was going, I wouldn’t let him go without me; I was still worried about him going without enough preparation (logistically and physically). Finally, I contacted another of my best friends, Felipe Chaparro (who is a documentalist), to come with us; Felipe had been interested in this particular trail for its historical value and wanted to film it.

From previous experiences, we learned that we should spend on higher-quality equipment. The first time we crossed the Andes, we went with jeans and a 20 dollar tent. This was a big mistake, as the jeans wounded us and the tent broke after the second day. This time, we bought the right clothes and shoes for trekking. We spent on a high-quality light tent with two poles each (instead of one). We upgraded our GPS and loaded terrain maps and the path into it. We also carried extra batteries, bandages, and a thermal blanket. Regarding food, I learned that there can be difficult and stressful days on hikes and these days should be rewarded with a hot, tasty meal. So despite the weight, I carried beef, sausages, salmon, dried tomatoes, and strawberries. I think we can all agree that we never enjoyed food so much!

We started the hike in Cochamó, a Chilean locality where the Andes sink into the sea. The trip ended in Pampa Linda, Argentina. This route is called “Los Vuriloches” or “Los Jesuitas”, as it was discovered by the Jesuits monks in 1670. Not many people start in Chile and end in Argentina, according to the border police. This is probably because from Chile, we started at an altitude of 0m and in Pampa Linda, we ended at 500m. The maximum altitude we hiked was 2700m reached in Cerro Tronador. For me, this was the most beautiful day of our adventure.

The total route is about 80 kilometres, which doesn’t sound like a big distance for a 7 days trip. But when hiking in the Andes with a bunch of hills, in the rain forest, with 15kgs in your backpack, in a group with mixed training and ages, taking your shoes off for crossing rivers, and doing (and undoing) a camp every day, we couldn’t really go any faster than that.

We had four hikers in total – I usually led the troop as I had the GPS. Daniel followed next, then my dad, and finally Felipe, who was usually at the tail as he stayed longer in each spot for filming. The challenge of this hike was how disconnected you are of everything – no cell signal, no idea what is going on in the world during a whole week, no way of letting your family know you are doing OK. Not getting lost is also a concern, even when we had the route in the GPS. We lost the track twice during the same day. If you get lost for 30 minutes, you have to make your way back 30 minutes; if that happens you twice in a day, you lose 2 hours of light. When that happened to us, we didn’t reach our planned destination and we had to camp overnight in a bush, without a single spot to put a tent at 1300m in Patagonia, where the temperature goes way below 0 C. That was our worst (and shortest) night.

I have a particularly frightening experience with this hike. Daniel and I stopped in a river to rest – a couple of minutes later, my dad arrived and we decided to take some food and wait for Felipe. After 5 minutes, he hadn’t arrived. Daniel and I left our backpacks with my dad and we decided to go back for him. Daniel ran to the last spot where Felipe stopped to film, but he didn’t find him. I took the GPS and ran in a different direction Felipe might have taken – I ran as fast as a gazelle for 5 km and didn’t find him. At that point, Felipe was lost for about 2 hours, we were 3 days away from any city in any direction, and it was going to get dark soon. We decided to leave Felipe a note indicating him the direction we were going to head and our destination for that day, hoping he would read it and meet us again. If we didn’t find Felipe that day, it was going to be the end of the journey and we would need to inform the police and his family that we lost him in the Andes rainforest (I pictured myself speaking to his mom).

One hour after we let the note, we found him walking towards us – he indeed had taken the wrong path and realized that he was lost (instead of lagging behind, as he initially thought). He decided to leave us a note (picture below) and return. It was a really stressful situation for all of us. After this event, we implemented a counting method: from time to time I yelled one, then waited to hear a two; the second hiker waited for a three and the third waited for a four. If not, we all stopped.

My favourite thing about this hike was spending valuable time with my dad. There is also because we were transferring responsibilities; once upon a time, I was his responsibility, but at the end of the day, I felt responsible for him too – we all had to take care of each other. That’s something that may happen to anyone at any point in life, but to me, the hike was insightful in this sense.

My favourite part of the trekking itself was the last day when we started ascending from dense bush, passing the rocks and into the snow. At some point, we saw big shadows in the snow moving. We looked up and observed 3 condors flying in circles around us. People might think not a big deal, but the truth is that 99% of Chileans have never seen a condor in wild nature. The moment was emotional as we were on our last day, in the highest point, alone in the mountain with a panoramic of the valley, 6 days on one side and Argentina on the other.

We do have some future goals with our hiking. In the short term, we have thought in a 2 day Andes crossing in southern Chile (the Andes get lower as you go south). This would be crossing from side to side of the Fitz Roy, in a very beautiful glaciers zone. In the middle term, we have set our goal to do Kilimanjaro with some other colleagues (I also invited my dad). If we do the Kilimanjaro, we will do the Aconcagua. If we do it, the Everest is our limit.

I do think this hike across the Andes has been a benefit to my technological career. In a long trip like this, you will experience limit situations and your team will have to make choices where each member has to fully trust each other. That’s exactly what you do in your professional career to accomplish goals – trust in each person and give them confidence, and the team will exceed its expectations.

My advice to anyone looking to do a similar long-distance hike is to be prepared and do your homework. I trained daily at least one month before starting and prepared my back muscles to better hold the backpack. This let me focus on the landscape and not be in pain. Safety first – carry a GPS, the maps, plan ahead, check for forecast, plan where to sleep, and have backup plans in case something goes wrong. But don’t let any of this influence your desire to go. If you are young, profit from your energy and just do it. You will discover yourself as a limitless person.

I think it is really important to share the passions of technologists. Words generate reality – if society tells that that we are techies and techies are nerds, and nerds are pizza eaters who play videogames and spend weekends watching Netflix, guess what? They are generating a reality from a biased assumption. A different reality is generated when you read on Otia.io that tech people are a new generation of world citizens, connected to a whole range of experiences. That’s what I see when I think about technologists.

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