Saturday, December 26, 2009

Christmas in the white city

Arequipa, the other white city of South America although I have to say Sucre beats it. I found it much more on the grey side and so definitely didn´t get my white Christmas! But Arequipa does win the prize, surprisingly, for best sunsets (the clouds turn crazy colours, the whole city is bathed in pink light and the volcano Misti a beautiful pastel mountain on horizon) as well the best chocolate (local dark truffles worth the $$). Otherwise... the night bus there was awful again, we got seats on the 2nd floor right up front and for the first half hour got to enjoy the view and crazy driving but after so hard to sleep with the lights and absolutely no leg room. Plus they said there was a toilet but of course it was broken, I´m so used to things not working or not existing now even when they tell you they do. We were told the hostel we reserved had a full kitchen (but it was oven-less, I improvised with that delicious microwave cake), a DVD player at the reception to rent (nope!) and was cheaper too. We were also told it would be no problem to do the Colca Canyon on our own, there were collective taxis and lots of buses.... ha ha
So the first day after recuperating from the bus journey Simone and I.... didn´t really do anything. Good cheap mixed juice at the market, asked about tours to the canyon, got tickets from the bus station, internet... oh and then went for a delicious falafel w/roasted veggies for dinner. That might have been the day´s highlight...
Up real early and off to catch our bus... that although we had already bought tickets wasn´t going? And the bus company people weren´t showing up? %&@"*!! I was so incredibly annoyed, I mean who does that? That would NEVER happen at home! After they assured us when we bought tickets that of course it was going, every day at 7. So we had no choice but to take the next bus at 9, 2 hours stuck in the busy terminal with the most annoying cryers yelling out the bus destination ¨juliaca, juliaca, juliACAAAA!´ like if the only job requirement is yelling a name over and over again at least hire someone without an annoying voice, how awful. That combined with the squeakiest version of ´feliz navidad´ being repeated every few minutes we broke down and escaped to the internet for an hour just to preserve a bit of sanity. Long bus ride to Chivay across barren desert landscape, looked just like Atacama with vicuñas and all. Chivay - Little nowhere place that no the buses to Cabanaconde only go in the early morning or late afternoon, not every hour. Adjust plans again, no time today to do anything. Sat around in Chivay, tried alpaca for lunch and this omg, grossest soup ever! In Simone´s words it was ´cow diarrhea soup´, we just picked out the veggies and left the dark thick gloopy broth, gag.
Most packed bus ever to Cabanaconde on the canyon edge, made it just in time to hurry to the viewpoint and take a few photos in the dusk light. Cheap hostel with nice volunteer from Mexico. Up super early the next day to walk to the viewpoint again and then to catch the 6:30 bus which became the 6:50 bus after spending a hlaf hour cramming as many people as humanly or really non-humanly possible on to the bus. Took us an hour to go 15km as people would get off every km. Got to the Cruz del Condor and there was almost no one left standing. Hurried down to a viewpoint to wait and wait for hope of a glimpse of this magnificent bird, but low season for them so chances are not great. But we saw one, amazing gliding around below us, just gorgeous and so graceful with like a 2 metre wingspan I think. And the canyon itself is awe inspring as well, although quite barren, it´s just so huge. Deeper than the Grand Canyon (though apparently not quite as impressive) but so rocky and steep. Waiting around there for over 2 hours, saw a nice eagle as well and then hopped on the next bus back to Arequipa at 9:30, the afternoon one was booked full because of christmas and the night one would have been packed, an absolute nightmare so we skipped a canyon hike and just decided to get back, we´d seen it and by this point we were just so ready to be off the road, we really just went for something to do. Another long bus ride back with this annoying kid his mom was trying to pass off a 5 year old (try at least 7!) so he didn´t have to pay for a seat and just wandered up and down and kept calling me ´tia´(aunt) and then asking about the snacks (aka my lunch) I had in my bag so I had to eat very sneakily. Got back late in the afternoon and met up with Corinna again. Went to a nearly viewpoint to see the city and volcano at sunset then to the mall, crazy holioday shoppers but not quite as insane or commercial as home, really never felt the holiday spirit at all, it was so weird. Though I did have a moment when they were playing skate canada on the flatscreens in the electronic dept... really missing home and just sick of living out of a suitcase. Got Chinese food for dinner, cheap and quite good, though different, first time I had tried it down here even though ´chifas´ are everywhere.
Christmas eve day... Christmas for the Germans so we ´celebrated´ that day... Shopping all morning running around the market getting almost everything we needed from the stalls, quite the adventure, quite exhausting. Dump it all at the hostel and then spent some time in the internet so they could call their families. Back to cook and cook and cook! Wow, we are amazing chefs, not bragging, just the plain truth. We made fresh fresh salad, brocoli cream soup with cheese and spagetti with paprika chicken (that I had to butcher!), mushrooms, onions and garlic in a cream wine sauce. Fantastic. We were so full after the first 2 courses we only had a bite of the third and then just skipped making dessert at all. After digestion, went to the cathedral for 8pm mass. Nice music but I didn´t understand much of the sermon, just nice to relax and people watch. At the end the bishop carried a big baby Jesus doll all the way down the church to the flashy nativity scene set up at the back and placed it in the cradle with everyone crowding around and many carrying other dolls or gifts to leave there. Interesting...
And back to have a hot chocolate (they were giving out free hot chocolate to the street people that sell cigarettes, gum and candy and it just smelled so good) so we made ourselved real south american hot chocolate with boiled milk, cacao paste, cinnamon, cloves and brown sugar. And dipped some paneton (aka easter cake, a huge sweet bread with bits of candied fruit eaten during the holidays here) in it. After we wanted to watch a movie and be depressed but no dvd player and our weeks of attempting to secure ´Love Actually´ were in vain. We must´ve asked a million dvd sellers ´no tiene la pelicula realmente amor´? always no... everything but! So we went to the other hostel down the street were there was supposed to be a party but it was pretty low-key, however chatted to some really nice people and got to watch the city explode in fireworks at midnight, 360 degree fireworks going off everywhere for at least 20 mins. Just in the street, just maybe a bit on the risky side? But it wouldn´t be SA if it was safe!
Christmas morning... stockingless, familyless and giftless, bah-humbug. Tried to make the best of it, made amazing crepes even without a recipe, yes I rock. Fresh mango! (there now are you jealous?) To the internet to call my family, miss you all!! And then back to, surprise! More of those amazing chocolates in my shoes! Crazy Germans, thank-you girls so much =)
y que mas... relaxed on the terrace and had leftovers for early dinner with microwave cakes since we skipped dessert the night before. Rush off to the bus, night bus to Lima. Cruz de Sur, much nicer bus company and I actually slept, plus, best of all they played one of our movies for us!
Woke up in the morning to a dessert of sand dunes under thick fog, pretty cool. And am now in Lima just biding my time until the 26hour bus ride tomorrow to Guayaquil.
About ready to be back! No more Christmas trees of flower pots or bottles, no more latino santa clauses and most of all no more awful versions of feliz navidad!!
Ok, ok, I´m still happy and loving life but just need to get off the road. Lima is huge, grey, polluted and pricey. At least I can finally wear shorts again!
And this computer won´t read my phone so no pictures today. But almost back to my laptop and will post a bunch! Happy holidays =)

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Where in the world is Carmen SanDiego?

Ok seeing as I have a hard time figuring out where I am, I suppose you all must too! Hope the map helps a wee bit.
Legend: Red = bus (so much bussing!!!)
Blue = ferry/boat
Green = Land cruiser
Yellow = collective taxi
Black = airplane
Purple = train
Currently trying to be christmasy in Arequipa and hopping on the bus to Lima tomorrow and from there straight up to Guayaquil, that really really really long red line!

Tuesday, December 22, 2009


So I was more than a bit wary of this infamous city of the andes. It seemed the peak of all things touristy/gringo but fortunately, I didn`t find it so bad. It was bigger than I thought and so there was enough room for some authenticity as well. However, after a few days of being hassled in English by tour operators, taxis, masseuses, artisans, restaurants, etc., it was time to get out of there. The main plaza is gorgeous but oh my you can`t walk 2 steps without being offered a massage: Massaju mees! massaju mees! "No, gracias." Massaju? "NO gracias!" Manicure? Pedicure? Waxeeeeng??
Oh my, how awful, we were mocking them and didn`t realise we were walking right by one lady until she burst out giggling at us, at least its nice to know they find the situation ridiculous too.
The first day we just ran errands: laundry, money, tour arranging (let`s just do this ourselves!), internet, food of course. Oh and I got myself an ISIC card after much running around in the rain, half-price student again!
Up early the next day and off on the bus to Pisac to see the ruins there. Very impressive. We weren`t sure Machu Picchu could beat them (but it did...) Up high on a mountian there was a collection of ruins, temple of the sun. That we hiked up and through and got lost and got unlost by scrambling down a steep bank. Views over the valley, the town of Pisac and all the ancient terraced agriculture plus tombs in the the hill behind. Hiked around for about an hour and a half, at one point along a very narrow trail on the side of the mountain and through a short tunnel, watch your step!
Wandered through the artisanal market in Pisac but soon got fed up with people trying to sell us stuff (yes we can see you have lots of different colours, that yes it is alpaca and that toque is obviously reversible!) and off on a another bus to Urubamba and a micro to Ollantaytambo, more ruins and where the train leaves from to Aguas Calientes (for machu picchu).
Very impressive ruins there too: hundreds of steps up through the terraces to the forteresse on the top and views up and down the valley. Words can´t describe it, and I´m not even the pictures I will eventually put up can do it all justice.
We ended up with too much time in Ollantaytambo, just a village. Expensive food, ruins, tourist shops, more expensive food, delaying in the restaurant playing Yahtzee.... grab some food from the market for the next day... ok can we finally go to the train station now? Basic train to aguas calientes, we were so tired and there was the most annoying german guy that we kept running into after (almost had to look over my shoulder and make sure he`s not here! We keep running into the same people everywhere, it`s crazy)
Aguas calientes in the pouring rain, 5 hours total in our hostel and up at 4:20 to be down at the bus stop before 5, not the greatest start to what would at least turn out to be an incredible day. You see they only allow 400 people a day to climb Wayna Picchu (young mountain) the mountain across from Machu Picchu (which mean `old mountain`and actually refers to the large mountain behind the ruins) so first-come-first-serve leaves to some crazy early morning rushing although had we known, it`s really no problem to get in during low season, its high season that has people hiking up at 4am and racing for the entrance. But anyway, we successfully obtained passes and bus tickets to be on the 5:30 bus and the 272nd person through the entrance right at 6am. So our tour didn`t start until later and we got wander around at dawn taking pictures with the llamas with very few tourists around. Surreal, such ruins amongst such impressive scenery! Crazy Incas to build a city at the top of very inaccessible mountains. It really did live to our expectations, and I must say those were pretty high! This was the one thing I really wanted to see. Got the guided tour in Spanish (much better, ugh can´t handle anymore ok my friends with that terrible accent) and the guide was pretty good, what an advanced civilisation.
Hurried off to climb Wayna Picchu, looked impossible but we conquered! Almost an hour of vertical rock steps in the heat. Straight up, thank goodness for the guide cables in the way down as there were parts more like rock climbing than hiking clinging to the mountain side. Plus a squishy tunnel to struggle through at the top. So glad I`m not claustrophic and can handle heights! The views from the top were more than worth it, perched on huge rocks on the top of the world. Ruins even up top, can see 360, valley, river, machu picchu, birds and butterflies and a picnic in the sun. Then down (nearly as hard as up), to see the sun temple and then down to the village, over an hour and we were totally knackered by that point with no sleep and hiking all day. Don`t think I`m for the Inca trail.
So tired and dirty. Really enjoyed relaxing in the dirty waters of the hot springs that gives aguas calientes it`s name. Then grabbed delicious `fast food` (a menu that the ladies cooked super fast for us!) before running off to the train in the rain again (first class this time since the backpacker was full, they even gave us more food) and grabbed a collectivo (taxi van) from ollataytambo back to cuzco with 2 guys from Toronto.
Slept in. Got bakery brunch. Really did nothing all the next day. Oh, in the evening we met up with 3 girls Corinna knew from her time in Arequipa, went for dinner and then out dancing but the music was mostly just what you get at home.
Sunday, up and off on a tour of the salt pools and another ruin with the guy who works at the hostel. (close call getting on the bus, someone managed to unzip the front of my bag but there`s just kleenex in there. someone almost got simone too, cuzco is the first place we`ve had to watch out) Snacking on yummy cake on the bus for breakfast (peruvians finally know how to make decent cake!) After 3 hours, got a taxi to the ruins of Moray, really different. Huge circles of terraced agriculture in a valley believed to have been used as an experimental farm. Every level has a different temperature, humidity and soil. Amazing a few metres can make such a difference! The Incas would plant different things and then find out which level they grew best at and tell the area with similar conditions to grow those plants.
Then a stop for a lunch before just missing the real rain and walking across the countryside for an hour to the salt pools. Again, amazing scenery with farmers working corn and potatoes, fields bordered by huge aloe-like plants, red dirt, green valleys, framed by huge snow-capped mountains with storm clouds. So peaceful.
Salt pools, very interesting. The guide works there sometimes in the summer high season so could tell us a lot. One tiny volcanic stream feeds hundreds of little pools nesteled in a valley where the water dries and leaves salt, then the workers rake it up and rinse it several times depending on the quality desired and then they package it up and send it off to every but north america it seems. In high season over 1000kg of salt a day and to think it all comes from one small stream. The workers work barefoot and hand and the salt cracks their skin plus the sun reflecting off the white salt pools often leaves them blind.
Then it was another long bus ride back, grab our stuff and onto the night bus to Arequipa.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

more photos!

Machu Picchu at sunrise.....
Rainy Cuzco at sunset

Valle de la Luna just outside of La Paz

View from behind the waterfall of paradise (las cuevas, samaipata, bolivia)

Machu Picchu from Wayna Picchu!
view over copacabana from the shrine on the hill
corinna and I half way up to the shrine
beautiful church in copacabana
view from the top of Isla del Sol, lake titicaca
lady selling andean popcorn and other grains in the copacabana market, or perhaps la paz
amazing private waterfall in samaipata, bolivia

ok have to run, more later. almost done next blog update. now relaxing in rainy cuzco!

On the shores of Lake Titicaca

So we took our leave of the big busy city in the morning of Dec11 via a crammed micro full of real tourists (ugh) on a tour to tiwanaku, ancient Inka site an hour an a half from la paz, apparently Bolivia´s most important archaeological site. perhaps it´s most important but certainly not it´s most impressive or interesting. and that was before we saw machu picchu. And oh my, if another tour guide says Ok my friends with that terrible english accent, I will flip out and scream, if not worse. Our crazy overly enthusiastic and repetitive guide really ruined the day. But I did learn that everything Inka comes in threes and a few other interesting tidbits. Plus the gigantic monolith truly was impressive. Otherwise.... I´d never again pay that much to see a few stones in the plains under the intense sun.
The ride was almost the best part, views across the plains to the snow-capped peaks of the andes. the guide throwing the left over dry bread out the window to all the stray dogs that wander that stretch of the highway of that sole reason. Got dropped off just outside la paz and negotiated the bus to copacabana, the original copacabana! (the brazilian´s named their famous beach after bolivian town since they had a famous shrine on a mountain top like christ the redeemer in rio)Bus ride, when we finally got seats sorted out, was squished but nice scenery and the first view of the lake was stunning, peaceful calm and huge. Had to ferry across a bit (passengers on a little wooden motorboat and the bus on a huge wooden wobbly platform with a motor, the south american way! We were´nt expecting much from the town but it was actually quite lovely. In a cove on the lake bordered by big mountains, the last day we hiked up the main one with the shrine admidst all the local pilgrims gasping for breath in the heat and the altitude. It was a Sunday so the place was full of religious pilgrims coming to see the huge beautiful white church that houses the famous black virgin of copacabana believed to grant miracles and the climb up past the 7 crosses to the shrine where they sell plastic trinkets (cars, houses, shops, paper money, dolls, etc) as it believed that buying an object and blessing it up there with bring you luck with a new car, house, store, money, baby, you get the idea. It was an interesting blend of christian and traditional beliefs at there were indigenous men doing smoke blessing ceremonies with families on the way up. For us though, the view from the top was best and well worth the death hike. It seems nature will always impress us the most, man just can´t compete!
Our main reason for going there though was to go to Isla del Sol on the lake where there are more Inka ruins. The entire island is covered with ancient terraced agriculture, some still in use. Gorgeous day and views thought the ruins weren´t that impressive, a maze of stones. And too touristy, you had to pay to enter all the 3 parts of the island. But lovely hike from one end to the other though the altitude and the intense sun played their part again only the cool lake breeze and picnic break (mangoes!) saved us. Intense blue lake, yellow rocky hills, green trees, stone path and views to either side of the island across the lake to the snow capped hills. Dipped our feet in the lake while waiting for the boat. Had delicious trout (rainbow trout imported to lake titicaca from canada?? crazy!) fried with garlic (I´m drooling just remembering) on the shore of the lake at sunset, perfection once again. More good food, Andean popcorn, little bags of chocolate milk or yogurt for 15c, what a great idea, save millions of tetra paks.
Ok.... no more about bolivian food. Anyway, chao beautiful cheap friendly amazing Bolivia. I will return. Maybe in 5 years for the next elections and seek out our secret private waterfall again.
On to Puno, not much to say ugly city but decent cheap hostel and whoa cheap food. Like 50cUS for a soup, main plate (fried cheese! with rice, potato, veg) and a sugary mate. Full of locals, we got a few stares for once. Off early in the morning on a tour on the islands: first stop - the floating islands of Uros. 49 islands built of totoro reeds each island inhabited by about 4-8 indigenous (Aymara) families who have lived there forever. Each island is autonomous and can literallu lift anchor and float off to another place. Kids go to public school in little reed boats, very picturesque. Too much actually, it looked like the entire place had been built for tourists to view. Cute little floating reed villages. But really cool anyway, we were told about life there (solar power now) and the lake and then forced into colourful native clothing, real tourists and "encouraged" to buy handmade souvenirs. Then sent off with a chorus "vamos a la playa" I feel so sorry for them, annoying tourists everyday but I guess when your islands get taken over, you make the best of it ($$$)
3-hour boat ride to Amantani where we spent the night, supposed to be with a local family but ours was more a family-run hostel. Still nice people and good food. Hike up to the sun shrine on the top on the island and circled it 3 times counter-clockwise to get our free wish before walk ing down during sunset past people selling local crafts on blankets every 2 steps. Made coversation friends with a nice Dutch and American girl. And just when we thought it couldn´t get more touristy, we were once again stuffed in local clothes (this time thanks to Corinna!) and invited to get drunk and dance to a local band of teenagers. We danced for about mins and got out of there! Every night they do that, how terrible. The next day it was off to the other island of Taquile where we hiked to the top, relaxed in the town square (more shopping time...) and had lunch overlooking the lake before heading back 3 hours to Puno. Again, stunning scenery and peace but I think either copacabana or puno would´ve been enough. Anyway, we enjoyed it and were ready to move on to Cuzco on an uncomfortable no-sleep night bus. (even though it was almost cama-cama and babyless) Really had enough of those.
Only have pictures of Cuzco for the moment, a sneak preview!

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Peace from La Paz

So we took our leave of Samaipata in the wee hours of the morning hoping to arrive in Santa Cruz as the bus offices opened in order to reserve the night bus before it filled up seeing as the day before there were no buses. However, it seemed all the `collective taxis´ had spent the night in santa cruz too and there was nothing. For an hour. Waiting by the road with a bunch of others desperate to get to santa cruz. Finally we filled up a local taxi who only charged a bit more and off we went down out out the lush green Andes and into the edge of the Chaco plains. Would have a been an enjoyable ride except the guy in the passanger seat was still drunk from the night before and talked for 2 hours non-stop of all things annoying. The day did improve after that but I still wasn`t very impressed by Santa Cruz, Bolivia`s 2nd biggest city. It was a big city. It was busy. Whatever. Bolivia (which I could glorify wonderfully) still has to have it´s low point. We relaxed in the plaza reading the election results (nice, as every Bolivian city), found some delicious arabian food, some internet and lots of snacks for the bus. Now the bus was a bit more impressive, actually cama-cama (real bed) so the extra we paid, paid off. So comfy but long ride and nothing to do past watch another awful awful movie they seem to favour down here. Oh and I believe the bus stalled twice while I was half-asleep, typical. Got to La Paz about 11am and braved the crazy streets (it would take us the whole time to get used to them) with our backpakcs up and down (La Paz is in a mountain valley as steep as Quito, actually resembles Quito quite a lot but I like La Paz better) Hostel, didn´t luck out the first night as our room was right outside the noisy common area that despite the signs people tended to smoke in, a lot. But the next 2 nights Corinna had joined us so we got moved up to nice triple upstairs. Great location did redeem it though, on the outskirts of the market district, 30 square city blocks of stores and stalls, selling EVERYTHING (except the movie Love Actually). Truth be told we spent the vast majority of our time in La Paz just wandering all the markets, incredible atmosphere. (Yes and doing a bit of shopping... so ridiculously cheap) The touristy artesania market with the typical lovely handmade stuff, the witches´market with weird cures (fancy a llama fetus?), the ´black market´ with food, clothes, material, building supplies, housewares, you name it, in bulk. And of course the food stalls. I could rant forever but will try to spare you. Just picture the biggest juicyest fruit salad of all your favourite exotic fruits with yogurt (choose the flavour) and sprinkled with puffed quinoa and coconut. Now picture the price tag. How does about US70c sound??? DELICIOUS. Biggest batidos ever for 40c, huge sandwiches with extra toppings under a dollar. The baked goodies were the only disappointment. La Paz gets my vote for the best street food I think. Though we are a bit sick of sandwiches by the time we left... And I know some people are cringing at the words ´street food´ but seriously, most of the bad cases I´ve heard of are people who ate at touristy restaurants where they don´t care cause their clientele is never returning and you can´t see the kitchen, in these you are literally sitting in their kitchen. It´s so fresh and you can´t be paranoid. The water though... that still scares me! The people in La Paz were so friendly too, I ended up teaching English to a shop lady´s daughter for a bit cause neither of us had change (very common situation, so annoying since the bank only dispenses huge bills and no one keeps any change on them) so great deal for me! And some university students asked me to do an interview in French for their class, ahahaha I completely embarassed myself. The simplest words I can´t think of and come out in Spanish. It´s awful, I still understand French no problem but speaking... I need a couple hours to adjust. Anwyay... back to the craziness of La Paz, incredibly we only saw one guy get hit, the traffic was all over the place a real free for all but ok once you´re used to it just got to keep on your toes! Never seen anything quite so bad. We lucked out on our long walk since they had closed the Prado (main street) for either a very quiet protest or something abour a market? Not quite sure... The majority of traffic in La Paz (like 95%) are these `micros` big vans that go everywhere for a few cents, with a caller yelling the destination out the window. We took one out to the Valle de la Luna and they are more comfy than look (not saying much but still) and very very convenient in you know the city. Valle de la Luna (moon valley) was pretty cool, crazy pinnacles of dirt created by erosion and framed by red and green mountains all under the dark clouds of a thunderstorm (that chased us back to La Paz, worst weather we´ve had since Chile) Wandered around in them looking way up and way down at all the different formations, rocks perched on drit peaks. Grabbed lunch at a local place that looked super nice with uniformed waiters but filled with construction workers on lunch break, great contrast. Another contrast: Driving through the rich section with huge ugly mansions on the way there. We also went to the Coca museum, very interesting and pretty well done. Putting all the aspects of that controversial little leaf in perspective and rich in details from it´s traditional spiritual value here to the current drug wars. Even treated ourselves to coca cheesecake and coca-carrot cake (more for the experience, wasn´t the greatest flavour!) Also ran into Kathi from our Uyuni tour at the post office and I ran around in the pouring rain buying things for her to give to her project with the shoe-shiners (of which there really are even more than the cheap internet cafes). They hide their faces behind ski masks so they aren`t recognised at school since it is considered the worst job. I still can`t get over how all the people still get their shoes shined, it seems so 100 years ago. And add a good amount of time in the above mentioned internet cafes (try 15c an hour), that about sums up our time in La Paz. It was wonderful though, for a big city it had a nice feel of daily life and it was good to take things slow for a bit.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Samaipata ´rest in the heights´

So we decided to cut out the jungle and step a bit off the beaten gringo track to take some time to discover the village of Samaipata, which means ´rest in the heights´ in some indigenous language. It is nestled in the Andes, just before they give way to the Chaco plains to the southeast and the Amazon to the Northest, 2 hours before the 2nd biggest city of Santa Cruz. At first, hiking up the road at dawn in the mist we were reminded of Mindo, but it wasn´t as touristy nor as small nor as expensive. So we quite enjoyed ourselves! Got a really nice hostal (private bath w/hot water and healthy breakfast!) The first day we had a nap (hey that was awful overnight bus trip!) explored the town a bit and got an almuerzo, (set lunch) yay!!! finally back to huge fresh meals for 50c-2$ so exciting. The a taxi ride up to a mysterious archaeological site on the top of a mountain with stunning views over the andes: El Fuerte (the fort) though it was more likely a ceremonial site, carved figures and niches in a huge huge rock on the crest of the hill. Will some other ruins around it. Nice hour and half hike with views over the green mountains and red dirt roads. Then back down to take in the free museum. And another nap before dinner at a nice restarant that wasn`t nearly as good as the local cheap one. But I had a bit of a cold and didn`t feel like going further.
The next day we did two trips: The first we paid a ridiculous amount of money to bump around in a truck for an hour until the start of our hike down around and up from a valley over slippery rocks with a silent guide jumping stinging ants nests, plastered in bug spray and sunscreen. Just trudung along through snake and puma filled woods, Ddying from the heat climbing for 3km straight at the end. And the second: We did a lovely hike in the mountains, first down to a clear brook bubbling over smooth red rocks in gorgeous greenery filled with more butterflied than I have ever seen. Got see a few giant fern trees and we even hiked fast enough to be able to go the little extra into a 16m waterfall which we swam in, how cool! Had a nice picnic lunch, saw a snake (not poisonous) and didn´t get a single mosquito bite. Even conquered the 3km uphill. Plus got invited by a local lady while waiting for the truck back to pick fruit and eat some (wuapura or something, like huge delicious black currants maybe but sweeter?) And back to the village in time for another merienda. OK so actually that was just 2 sides of one trip... I will remember the second version but not everything is as peachy as it can seem when I`m only writing in retrospect.
The next day was Sunday the 6th, elections! So there was a vehicule restriction on and a lot of things were closed, we had been forwarned of this luckily and had decided to spend a 3rd day in samaipata since there were no buses. best decision ever! We had also thought ahead enough and decided to bike since there were no taxis out to a waterfall 20 km away that they ensured us would be open (it wasn´t, but we called at the house next door and the awesomest kid came out and was like, it´s closed.... but I could let in. You still have to pay the entrance fee (a dollar) and well, you see, you`ll have to cross the river and for that well, you´ll have to take off your shoes. And we were like no problem! Ok, so this was the greatest day ever. Perfect bike ride there : Pavement, weather, views, slight downhill and almost no traffic for the restriction. Passed more livestock than vehicules. Then the waterfalls. just, WOW Like paradise. Plus, we were the only ones there, paradise to ourselves!! Waded across the river, short walk through a park-like place and and we emerged at a series of 2 waterfalls pouring over pink rocks surrounded by lush greenery, circled birds in a blue sky with a few puffy white clouds and a lovely sandy beach around a swimming hole below the biggest waterfall, water was the prefect temperature and we could even sit behind the waterfall, butterflies.... you get the picture, perfection. We swam and then relxed playing cards on the beach and eating our delicious packed lunch from the hostel. Later we walked up the shallow sandy river, so safe and calm. Planning to go back in 5 years for the next elections!! (shhh don´t spill the secret!) However the bike ride back was not the easiest, 14km slightly uphill we managed but then it got very steep for the last 6... and we might have lucked out with a taxi that took us the last 5. But after a hot shower we were back to perfection and took a nice walk out of town (to a viewpoint we never found, but the views we did see were awesome enough) Lovely green hills, red roads, flowers. More delicious market food for dinner, picnic in the gorgeous plaza and then it was time to pack to be ready to head out super early the next morning in a taxi to Santa Cruz, and that story will have to wait.
Now in Puno, Peru. Next 2 days on the islands of lake titicaca without internet and after straight onto Cuzco!!

Sweet times in Sucre

Sucre... la cuidad blanca (the white city). Truly a lovely city (another one I could see myself living in... a least for a year.) And we were actually able to appreciate it as, get this, we spent almost 3 days there! Not counting the 2 nights I didn´t sleep in Atacama, that was the first time I had spent 2 consective nights in one place in a month. Much needed.
Also much needed was a shower, we´ve been treating ourselves to places with hot water which actually seems more common here than Ecuador. Night buses, public baños (hold your breath!) and desert dust take their toll. Then off to a delicious breakfast at Joy Ride (gringo restarant/bar/tour agency). The whole day was a wonderfully lazy day doing things like laundry. (I love fresh laundry!!) Walked around the city a bit... for a big capital city in SA it´s amazingly calm and well-kept. Apparently there´s a law that they have to re-paint the buildings (white of course) every year. The only downside was that there seemed to be more beggars and child show-shiners than other cities, or perhaps they just stuck out more in contrast? We (Paul and Jay are still with us) walked uphill to a viewpoint (rolling hills, perfect clouds and greenery) then decided we deserved to relax most of the afternoon in the very nice cafe at the top, drinking fresh batidos, chatting and playing cards. Later it was booking tours, stopping by the market and then Jay and I made use of our free movie tickets for the tour agency to see Todo Sobre mi Madre (all about my mother) which was weird but much better than I expected and just nice to do something like watch a movie... hadn´t done that in forever!
Dec 2 was a spectacular day. Another highlight (they just keep coming!) We booked a tour with Joy Ride (the 4 of us and another German man) which involved a great blend of mountain biking, hiking and swimming. (Like Cyswog´n fun, certainly the fun part anyway!) We were driven out of town, set on our bikes at the top of a crazy dirt road and just told to go for it! Yikes, after that I decided I will not be doing the Death Road here in La Paz, I like biking, on pavement that is!! But I survived, just a bit bruised from all the bumping and felt like I challenged myself. Also felt like my lungs were as dusty as the road... then it was on to part two: Hiking into a secret canyon. Nice easy hike except for the bit where you look down and realise one loose pebble and you´re sailing down in the rocky river below. But there was no reason to look down since the scenery was once again beyond belief: River running over pink and blue-grey rocks up to the green mountainside, the high peaks and finally the blue blue sky with the odd fluffy cloud. Passed some indigenous fishers (Bolivia has more indigenous people than any other SA country and many still speak their native language, mostly Quechua or Aymara here) They were fishing for these tiny fish that later we felt nibbling when we were swimming. It´s rainy season so the water was a bit higher and the only way into the canyon was to swim upstream. Fantastic! It was perfect (and yes mom, perfectly safe), great temperature. A few minutes hard swimming and you´re in this isolated, peaceful canyon in the Bolivian mounatains. Sculpted smooth pink rocks along the side, excellent for laying on and soaking up the sun. I even had a mud bath =) It was great. Then, getting to float down on our backs completly effortlessly. Relaxation at it´s best, what a unique experience. The another short hot dusty hike back the truck, back to Sucre, back to a free drink at the restaurant. And to end the perfect day, we cooked yummy dinner in the hostel, watched the crazy lighting storm that came out of nowhere, dumped rain for an hour and then ended just in time for us to dash to the internet before the power went out.
Dec 3 was another relaxing day, we had only just got up when Corinna (my friend Anna from Germany´s friend) showed up off the night bus. So great to finally meet her, she has taken off to Uyuni and is meeting us tomorrow again to continue possibly all the way to Ecuador with us (the more the merrier!) But then we had to say chao to Paul and Jay, what wonderful travel companions, I miss the British humour and the aerobee already =) Ran around all day: Food, bus tickets, internet, market, indigenous art museum (beautiful weaving!) and packed those backpacks again. Tough to leave somewhere we had settled into a bit. On the night bus to Samaipata... an experience hopefully not to be repeated, I´ve been on some pretty bad buses but this one was just a bit smellier (always try to get a bus with baño, then it only reeks urine when the bathroom door is open at least!) a chorus of babies and annoying teenagers, smokers, awful road (we got stuck twice) (I mean, this the main road from the capital to the 2nd biggest city. and yes it is the poorest in SA but I feel a bit more infrastructure would be a worthwhile investment). Then the bus didn´t even remember to stop for us, I had just woken up and blearily glanced out the window when a building with ´Samaipata´ flew past. So our stay there started with a nice long hike back down the highway at 5:30am, but no worries, it steadily improved from there!!

Monday, December 7, 2009

Desert expedtion!

Nov 26 Out of Argentina and back to Chile on the day long bus from Salta to San Pedro: Just tourists! Tourists (especially older French couples…) are quite annoying, so fussy. I prefer a bus full of locals who never complain and know what´s up. It took us ages to go through the exit and enter border stations. Otherwise a great ride for the scenery! Starting off with the craziest rainstorm in Jujuy: the streets were actually rivers and two girls and a guy were putting shampoo in each other´s hair and pushing the others into the torrents of water. Incredible, and then a half later, after passing through thick fog we were in the desert. Passed through dry valleys and beautiful multi-coloured mountains before climbing up and up a crazy dirt road through the Paso de Jama where I suffered a tiny bit of altitude sickness. Finally arrived in San Pedro de Atacama and hunted down Simone in the nice hostel she had found (so nice to be re-united!!) That evening we walked around the town a bit (such a tiny and odd place, more tourists than locals, all one-story mud brick buildings forming a solid wall down the streets so it´s like a maze, cold nights and hot days) and booked tours for the next day.

Nov 27 Up at 3:30 to head off on the 4am tour to see the geysers at dawn… after the bumpiest 2-hour minibus ride to the park! Absolutely worth it though… the barren landscape spewing steam in the freezing cold. Hot water bubbling up periodically. Like nothing on earth (which is how I could describe most things we saw the last couple days!)… breakfast heated in the hot pools and much nicer ride back which included vicuña sightings (desert deer(?) gorgeous delicate animals that graze in small herds in the most harsh environment) Tagua birds and bright green moss plant that is being used to cure diabetes. Plus a stop in an indigenous village where I even tried llama meat on a skewer! (have to say if was delicious, like a mix of beef and lamb and perfectly seasoned) After running some errands it was off on our evening tour out into the atacama desert which is apparently the driest, it rains less than 2 hours a year and the water that´s there just bubbles up from the geysers. Valle de la muerte and valle de la luna. Incredible volcanic rock formations and a huge sand dune from the top of which we watched the sunset… exhausted, back to town to get rid our last few Chilean pesos and pack!

Nov 28 Off at 8am in a minibus for the Bolivian border with our tour group that we would spend the next 3 days packed in a Land cruiser with… Me, Simone, Jay and Paul from England, Alfonso and his daughter Kathi from Austria and her Spanish boyfriend, Josemi. Really lucked out, wonderful travel companions. The Bolivian border was the most desolate yet, just a shack way high up in the mountains of the desert with a flag. File in, pay a tiny bit and get your 30-day stamp no questions asked and definitely no customs there either. Some people started feeling the altitude here (later in the day we reached 4830m!) but surprisingly seeing as I´d had problems before, I never felt anything except a bit short of breath. Had breakfast out of the back of our minibus while waiting for the 4x4 that would be our home for the next 3 days. Add our Bolivian guide and driver, Alberto, and our international group was complete. Speeding across the barren but ever-changing colourful landscape squished in with 7 other people (listening to ricky martin…) unforgettable experience. The first day we passed the laguna blanca, laguna verde and the most spectacular of all (perhaps the most spectacular thing I have ever seen) Laguna colorada. A red and white and blue lagoon, mostly red, from the minerals in the water, constantly changing colours and filled with gorgeous pick flamingoes. Amazing birds! It took us nearly the whole 3 days to be tired of taking pictures of them… All to a backdrop of pastel coloured volcanoes and mountains. Indescribable, I don´t even know why I´m trying! Hopefully will get some pictures up but not even those will do it justice. Stayed in a really basic hostel place which the dorm rooms and communal washroom and group tables reminded me of summer camp. Snoring and all! But it really wasn´t as bad as we were told to expect, never very cold, the food was decent and no intense exercise, everything was planned to it was pretty relaxnig really. A few people got altitude sickness (but the coca tea was plentiful so cured that) and I was completely fine.

Nov 29 Another day of bumpy 4x4-ing across more mazing landscapes. Stopped at the arbol de piedra, for the me the one rock that looked like a tree was the least of the attraction, better yet were the huge smoothed lava rocks you could climb (or play the drums on...), and such wonderful silence. true middle of nowhere. And then on to a view of the volcano (more rock climbing). I spent that entire day wrapped in my scarf from the intense sun. headscarves are truly the most practical. We passed 4 more small lagoons, pink lagoons packed with pink flamigoes. like out of some fantasy book... and near the end of the day reached a small salt flat, our first taste of what the next day held! Jay and Paul (the Brits) had the brilliant idea of packing an aerobee (hollow frisbee) and so there were numerous games of aerobee, I think I improved, gradually? great fun anyway! And through a small village (llamas and civilisation) and out again. Just before we made it to the edge of the salt flat, our land cruiser broke down... (it had to happen!) but not for long, one coming the other way helped us and we got in another great game of aerobee =) Finally arrived at the salt hotel (like the ice hotel but, you guessed it.... made out of salt!) Tables, beds, stool, walls floors, everywhere the tourist can see! (the kitchen behind was not) Still neat experience. and that put us right on the edge of the salt flat and ready to take off before dawn.

Nov30 Up at 3:30 to be ready before 4.... but then our driver disappeared... My only complaint about him. We even went for a short walk to try and find him since we thought he was sleeping in the house next door, so we got a nice walk in the black with the brightest milky way over the salt flat but no Alberto... Finally, he shows up and we load up the 7 huge bags and all for the last time, and only get out of there an hour late. Then we`re cruising across perfectly flat white ground that streches for miles and miles as the sky slowly gets lighter and stars disappear, all of us in a lack of sleep stupor. Totally surreal experience. Just believe me that you stop trying to absord it since it is so incredible. Arrived at the cactus island at dawn, and I was sooo tired and with the altitude only Paul and Jay made it to the summit just as the sun rose, the rest of us missed it. Urgh. But caught it half way up and that was still just as cool. Sat taking pictures on the top of thiscold bizarre rocky cactus island until the sun was up over the plain of pure white salt. Priceless. (or actually about US$130 for 3 days, plus camera, plus getting down to Uyuni... everything adds up, except my bank account, it just goes down) From there is was hot breakfast (packed pancakes, yogurt and granola!!) on a rock table at the bottom, off to play a bit more aerobee, marvel at the scenery and pile back in the jeep. Flying once again towards the horizon with one quick stop to take some fun salt flat pics, endless possiblities playing with size! a lunch stop in a small town on the edge of the flat where they have salt mines and where the contrast between the one street with the tourist souvenirs and then rest of the barren village of workers is terrible. One more stop by the train cemetery and we arrived at our destination early afternoon: Uyuni. Actually a fairly major bolivian town but really not much. With the worst public washrooms ever, but I won´t go into the ugly details, I´m sure you only want to know how great a time I´m having! (but truly nothing´s as peachy as the blog makes it sound!) Pop by the internet and bank for the first time in a few days and we spent the rest of the afternoon relaxing in a restaurant on the main plaza (all bolivian towns have amazingly nice central plazas. The infrastructure here is the possibly the worst I´ve seen, but they certainly don´t skimp when it comes to the manicured plazas, gorgeous, so great to have a piece of peace in every town). Oh and to mention the not-so-peachy bits, I got shat on by birds 3 times in Uyuni. Just me, and for the first time in my life. Ridiculous, and then yesterday it happened again! I love Bolivia but apparently the birds here don´t like me!!! Anyway, Uyuni, after some debate we ended up heading straight to Sucre on the night bus and skipping Potosi. Or at least, we tried to skip Potosi, but after the hour´s stop there at 1am, the bus driver told everyone to get off and get on the other bus (saving going to whole way I guess) but there were´nt enough seats on the other bus and there was no way we were going to stand at night for 4 hours when we had paid for semi-cama (which it turns out the other bus was even) so finally the other bus was like are you 4 (Paul and Jay were still with us) coming or not? and took off. So we hurried back to the first bus and whined at a lot and the lady magically found another bus (a real semi-cama one!! up grade!!) that had room and even a bathroom. Score for us, not so for Dutch guy who got the last seat on the other bus crammed in the back, hahaha. Speaking spanish pays off once again, but that was a bit sketchy.

Dec 1 and we arrive ok in Sucre, which I will leave to the next post!

Thursday, December 3, 2009


Going to try to upload a few of the smaller pics, though they can never do justice to the spectacular we have seen over the last few weeks.
Last night I wrote up a huge blog about our desert excursion, but didn´t quite have time to post it so saved it on my usb... and now this computer won´t read it! So I´m going to try again later since it would take and hour to re-type it. Patience please, but I am now safely in Sucre, Bolivia. Loving everything and off to a small town to the east (Samaipata) tonight.

Laguna verde, some volcano and an inukshuk I built
View over Sucre the white city
Playing areobee (frisbee) at dawn on the world´s largest salt flat!
The 4 trekkers, never without cameras!
Sunrise over the cactus island in the middle of the salt flat
Geysers in the atacama desert, again at dawn...
Colourful mountain out of bus window from jujuy argentina to san pedro chile
Plaza in Salta, argentina
View from the top over argentinian wannabe german village of villa general belgrano
Central park of Che Guevara´s hometown of Alta Gracia

So there are a lot of gaps.... but better than nothing! Will update you all soon!

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Solo via Argentina

So I left Simone in Santiago Saturday night and hopped right on the overnight bus to Mendoza, Argentina. I took the cheapest option since it wasn´t a long enough trip to sleep properly anyway so I ended up on a mini-bus that just kind of took off with only 6 other people. What a bumpy ride! It was dark but I assume we went through some pretty spectactular mountains. Went through the tiny border crossing at about 1:30am to get your 2 stamps, no questions asked. The bus driver said we would arrive about 5:30 and there would be a bus at 6:30 for Cordoba so I thought okay, just an hour. Well 4:10am... south american time is supposed to be a hlaf hour behind! Luckily I ran into an extremely nice Irish girl who didn´t feel like finding a hostal at that hour so agree to wait around with me. Very lucky indeed since none of the bank machines worked and there was no currency exchange so I was penniless. Was able to buy my ticket to Cordoba by credit card and then exchange a bit of Chilean money for 2 argentinian pesos with the Irish girl, just enough to pay to pee and tip the baggage guy. I really don´t like travelling alone. That is the 3rd time I´ve had to be bailed out because my bank card didn´t work. Also luckily, I still had some food with me since they only searched the luggage and not the bus at the border and never asked me to declare anything. Mmmmmm, new favourite fruit: lucuma. And these bite-sized crushed peanuts in chocolate, delish! Why has no one else thought that up yet?
Arrived in Cordoba smelling like I´d been travelling for a day and half straight, since I had been. I have such fantastic friends that will still take me in, in my hobo state and let me shower. It was so great see Kate again, una amiga para siempre, and get all caught up. That evening we walked to the street market, one of the best if not the best I´ve ever seen! I could spent thousands but instead spent virtually nothing since I have no room. It had food, crafts, antiques, anything and everything! Kate had studied there for a year so she was a fabulous guide, it was great to see a city from a little bit more of an insider´s perspective and not just a tourist passing through for the day. I really liked Cordoba, it´s a huge city but still has a small city feel. It´s a university city with a really artsy, bohemian vibe, jam packed with ´kioskos´ (corner stores that sell everything), clothing boutiques, bookstores and cafés. I could easily live there despite the intense heat. Plus, I didn´t feel like a gringa, or at least not until I opened my mouth. (the argentinian accent is different again, lots of ´j´ and vos instead of tu, but at least they speak slower than Chile so I have a chance of understanding!) People in Cordoba don´t look latino at all, even less than Chile. Here in the north I stick out a tiny bit.
Argentian food is fairly bland like Chile, just minus the seafood. However, they do have some yummy stuff. I cheated and had my bit of Argentian beef on a Sandwich milanesa. The best part are the sweets, lots of chocolate and peanuts. Their speciality are these big filled and chocolate covered cookies called álfajores´, a tiny bit like a wagonwheel but with dulce de leche instead of marshmallow filling. I admit to eating way too many. And of course maté, everywhere! Oh, and they have fresh milk! (not UHT) So I had my first glass in 4 months. and likely my only for the next 3.5 months...
We also cooked brunch one morning: French toast with real Canadian maple syrup! Love the randomness. Kate´s friend´s friend left him a whole bunch, it was delicious.
Enough about the food.
Monday, Kate accompanied me around the city running errands, hostel and bus tickets. Then we took off to the nearby town of Alta Gracia. Really nice place in the hills where a lot of rich Argentians used to move to as the air was good for people with lung problems. Including Che Guevara´s family to help his asthma. So we got to check out the museum set up right in his actual childhood home! Very cool. Full of pictures, letters and other real memorabilia. I love when museum have that authentic feel to then and you can really picture young Ernesto running around in the backyard. Plus the town was lovely, with a large pond in a park and everything so clean and calm. (and some of the best ice cream!)
Tuesday Kate was unfortunately not feeling well. So I left her to get some rest and went by myself to another nearby town of Villa General Belgrano. Crazy place: it´s German. Or at least wants to be pretty badly! The entire town is Bavarian style buildings with wooden signs, restaurants selling beer, sauerkraut and sausages. Just great! All the hostels and stores have named themselves after German cities, I´m pretty they just take a map a pick the next biggest city that hasn´t already been taken. However, it wasn´t like Southern Chile, no one spoke German and everything there looked Argentinian. I wasn´t there for the beer obviously so I took a gruelling (because of the intense heat and crazy eroded stairs glittering with mica) hike up a mountain to the top where there a statue of the Virgin and spectacular views of the whole valley. Very dry but still nice landscape.
That night (last night) we walked around the center of the city with gorgeous squares and pedestrians streets. Then we made an early (9pm!) stir-fry dinner for Kate´s friend´s family (such nice and interesting people, always a privilege to meet those kind!) and then I had to grab my stuff and head off to the bus station for an overnight bus to Salta, a city in the north where I am now.
Got in about 11am, bought my bus ticket to San Pedro de Atacama in northern Chile for tomorrow, found a decent hostel (but more expensive than my book says, as everything seems to be.) And set out to discover this city, once again on foot. I really like the vibe here too. It feels a bit more South American but still more safe and orderly. I did some shopping (leggings and better shoes to help me survive Uyuni which I´ve been told can reach -20C (!!)) Then headed uphill to check out the other much cheaper archeology museum since I´d seen a mummy in Osorno. From there I decided to hike up the mountain (despite the sign at the bottom warning me it was another 1111 stairs up.... in the killer heat... somehow I made it.) So hot here... and I know I can´t complain after freezing Patagonia. They say this isn´t normal either, it´s too hot here and too cold there. Crazy.
Well, the view and the exercise made it worth it. The top has a nice park with a cafeteria. Most people take the gondola up and just stroll around but I hiked up and down so just sat for awhile at the top. All the down 1111 stairs and a hill again, time for a snack.... like a litre of chocolate milk to myself....
This evening I walked around the crazy market area, I just love wandering around busy markets. And now internet and bed as it´s up bright and early and onto the bus, again.... So much for slowing down, I live on buses. But the plan is to take Bolivia slower and I can´t wait!
First, San Pedro de Atacama and Salar de Uyuni!!
So chao to Argentina, I would´ve loved to spend more time here I really enjoyed the taste I got and the people are so friendly.
Sorry for the lack of pictures once again, I actually have some now but this computer has neither card reader nor usb port. On the upside it´s the cheapest I´ve been in which is good since I´ve now managed to spend all my argentinian pesos.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Valdivia-Villarica-Valparaiso/Vina del Mar

Well we finally made our way out of isolated Patagonia to the still quiet but much more 'civilized' lake country region and then right up middle Chile.
So from Coyhaique we had to take a 19-hour overnight bus via Argentina, it sounds awful since it was a normal bus, not even semi-cama (half-bed) but it was actually one of the more enjoyable bus rides if only for the scenery just across the border in Argentina. The border crossing on that side was great, each country just stamped our passports no questions asked. The argentinian side was just a wooden hut with a fireplace and 2 guys drinking mate... typical.
Although only about an hour away the scenery couldn't have been more different: completely flat plains scattered with tons of sheep, cows, geese, rabbits and the odd horse under a gorgeous sunset sky. And..... pools with flamingos!!! Real wild pink flamingos in the last place on earth I expected them, freezing patagonia. Incredible, likely the most remote place I have ever been, we passed through one tiny desolate village.
The border crossing in the morning wasn't such a breeze, well the argentinian side was, then we drove for a half hour through a park and a snowstorm (our half hour of real winter for the year!) before we reached the chilean side where they hauled all of us and our stuff off the bus to wait in the cold. The customs people were intense even though the bus had been sealed on the chilean side the night before they insisted on scanning everything. Luckily I had declared the food we had with us (not thinking about border crossing since our destination was still in Chile and too used to border-less Europe) so they confiscated our cheese and apples (best apples ever too!), the other American girl on the bus wasn't so lucky.
We arrived in Osorno at about 11am and decided to go for a short walk and check out the museum, it was okay. Explained a bit about the Mapuche aboriginal's resistance to the Spanish and then about the German colonisation of the area. (Germans everywhere!) Otherwise, cute church and town but not much to see there. We headed on to Valdivia for the night with the greatest hot chocolate and roasted candied peanuts from the bus station vendors.
Valdivia - Small university town on the river with sea lions (worst looking, sounding and smelling animals ever but still fascinating to watch!) We made a huge pasta dinner, so nice to finally cook something ourselves. The 18th we got up and headed off to see the sea forts, but first checked out the riverside market (fish on the river side and veggies on the land side) down the pier, very nice market! And the indoor craft market too, lots of wood crafts. From there we took a local bus to the village of Niebla (landscape just like the Kootenays, it was so weird to be the other side of the globe!) Well, the fort there was closed so we walked to the ferry terminal and took a tiny boat to a tinier and quainter village, Corral to see the fort there. Neat to see the old fort but there really wasn't much there, just nice scenery even through the bit of rain.
Same route back and a stop for more wonderful hot chocolate (our Chilean staple!). Off to Pucon via Temuco (we went through there 3 times without ever leaving the cold bus terminal). Arrived late in Pucon in the freezing rain and lucked out with perhaps the best hostel we've stayed at so far. New, clean, private bathroom, good breakfast and internet for the cheap only 2 blocks from the bus stations. However, we didn't have so much luck at dinner: worst service ever. I mean, you come not to except much in South America and normally I'm pretty patient but this was ridiculous. I think we waited for an hour before we even got our food and it was 10 mins before we were about to ask her to bring us menus.
Villarica - (19th) Well as you can see we didn't actually stay in Villarica, town next to Pucon, but it starts with a V.... we did catch a glimpse of the Volcan Villarica but that was it because of the perpetually overcast skies. Really didn't luck out with the weather! So it wasn't raining in the morning and we decided to stick with plan A and rent bikes and pray. But not even an hour into our trip, it started to pour. And didn't stop. I was soaked and freezing in no time. But we trekked on to a cold picnic at little lake with a black sand beach 22km away. Then turned to head back along a different route but I managed to get more soaked than in Puyuhuapi (didn't think that was even possible) and riding downhill through the pouring rain nearly gave me hypothermia (not kidding, the weather was awful and not normal for this time of year at all, it's nearly summer. Everyone is muttering about El nino and climate change) So, we decided to find a cafe to warm up and see if it would stop raining but everything was closed, then finally we came across a German 'landhaus' (countryhouse/lodge). So we stumbled in all wet and got tiny mugs of delicious hot chocolate and and apple/almond strudel. My things dried a bit but the rain didn't let up. Finally we decided to brave it and just walk to the waterfall (ojos de caburgua - the eyes of caburgua) and back under the umbrella since we could leave our stuff there. That was worth it. Beautiful waterfalls! And the rain let up for just long enough to wander around the trails in the woods to see the falls from all sides. Walked back to pick up our stuff and found out that what we had paid was only for one person. Our snack ended up coming to more than 13$... more expensive than at home!! Oh well, that's what you pay for real german strudel in the middle of nowhere Chile from a very good chef.
Ended up paying double to take the bus back as the rain had started up again and then changed at the hostel before grabbing a nice dinner and the night bus to Valparaiso.
Valparaiso - (20th) Bus and funiculaire (help me out with English word anyone?) up to the Cerro Concepcion and a dorm in a creaky old place but not bad since we were the only ones in the dorm and cheap. Off to explore the city on foot: Port market with lots of seafood, wild cats everywhere (mom with 12 kittens in a box!), metrotren, then up in the famous hills. Quite a contrast: all the colourful poor houses clinging to the hillsides (but still with satellite TV) covered in often very good grafitti. Perfect for taking pictures. And although cloudy, the weather finally started cooperating for us! After a lot of wandering we had to head down, stopped by a vegetarian cafe (good but expensive and they literally were out of everything on the menu, so common here. Sorry we're out of this, this and this. Then you order and it's oh we're also out of that, that and that.) Walked back to the hostel via the cemeteries that has just closed. And the lax South American security finally caught up with me... We were walked past a construction zone, like everyone else, who were even walking through it, when a big rock shot out from under the wheel of a bulldozer and slammed into my leg. I admit to collapsing on the nearest stairs and having a bit of a cry (more because of the ridiculousness of the situation and the fact that I couldn't walk when there was about a million stairs up the hill to our hostel. But it did hurt like crazy!) And the construction guy did nothing! I was so mad and just got up and managed to make my way down the street clinging onto Simone. So that was why we paid to take our second funiculaire up the hill. And I'm left with the biggest bruise ever just above my knee (so lucky it missed my knee!!) and a bit difficulty walking... and a story.
Good but expensive seafood dinner and off to bed. Next morning up early for first breakfast (re-heated leftovers from the night before) and out for a refreshing stroll around the neighbourhood, to see another Cerro that used to be a prison and the cemeteries that were closed the day before. So quiet as it was early Saturday morning and the sun finally came out! I changed out of jeans for the first time in 2 weeks! The cemeteries were very nice and full of Europeans. Chile really plays up the European side. Back to the hostel for second breakfast (included in our stay) and off the cool antique market and to leave our things at the bus station before heading off to Vina del Mar for the day. (21st)
Vina.... reminded me of Rio or Miami. Super nice and posh. Strolled around the botanical garden/park then across the city (grabbed a picnic lunch to eat in the plaza from a yummy bakery) to the beaches. They were okay, but so busy and the ocean is absolutely freezing there! Tough even to put your feet in and I'm used to cold water! Wandered back through the touristy craft stalls and hunted for scoop ice cream but didn't find any until we got off the metrotren in Valparaiso again. However it was well worth waiting for.
Meanwhile, we had been making and changing plans for the next week.... things kept falling through and finally on the bus on our way to Santiago we came to the tough decision to seperate for a few days. Simone stayed in Santiago where she knows someone with a hostel and I decided to jump on the night bus to Argentina to visit my buddy Kate in Cordoba. (where I am now)
And so ends my Chilean adventures. (until thursday anyway when I'm back, for the third time, in northern Chile and meet up again with Simone) So I'll leave this rant of a post here and add Argentina (and some pictures when I can get them from Simone) in a few days, hasta luego!

Monday, November 16, 2009

Chilly Chile!

Arrived safely in Chili Nov10 at 3:30am after an overnight flight and still feeling stomach sick from Saturday night´s episode (stomach problems all week, only just feeling better now... ugh) Add on bank machine, taxi and bus tickets troubles and you don´t get the best start. However, everything worked out and we caught the 14 hour bus at 6:00 for Puerto Montt, got a decent place to stay there that night too.
Nov.11 – Ferry tickets = success! Then wandered around the rest of the day as the ferry loading wasn´t until 8pm (though it didn´t end up leaving until 2am, such is time in Chili, even worse than Ecuador!) Shopping (notebook and shoulder bag since my otvalo bag from last year finally went kaputt), new phone chip (a hassle I won´t go through for the other countries so call me now if you want to (56)87664731), internet and food for the ferry.
Nov12 – All day on the ferry, definitely not a cruise ship! But it had comfy midget-sized beds and hot showers. Nothing to do other than watch a few awful movies, which we didn´t. Played some cards with some shipmates, read and learnt some German. Oh and making delicious picnics of fruit, bread, cheese and yogurt!
Ferry landed at night in the pouring rain (which really hasn´t stopped since then!) and we made our way to Puerto Aysen by taxi to get a hostel for the night.
Nov13 – Finally of to do something! Bus through gorgeous scenery to the region´s main city Coyhaique. Main city but really smaller and more isloated than Nelson! We walked all afternoon (nice after sitting on planes, buses and ferries although I still wasn´t feeling well) to a national forest reserve which said closed but we went in anyway, turned out it was just closed because all the park, etc workers are on strike since it´s almost elections here. Hiked into the Laguna Verde and back out, fresh air and scenery. Went out for dinner with a fellow German traveller from the ferry at a place that from the outside looked completly closed (peeling turquoise paint, faded sign and boarded up windows) but was actually a very chic place on the inside with delicious food, best meal so far.
Nov 14- Up early and off to Puyuhuapi in the north, tiny village originally founded in the 1930's by 4 crazy German´s. Almost 6-hour bus ride up the Carretera Austral which all for being the main highway connecting Patagonia to northern chili is really just a rough gravel road! Spectacular scenery again though even with the rain.... incredible. We stayed in Casa Ludwig a nice lodge run by one of the founder´s daughters. Went to the nice but very expensive and small hot springs (3 dirty pools on the edge on of the sea) and then for a walk around the village in the rain and for dinner in the evening before curling up in the common room with our books. Tiny place, and since the volcano erupted last year in Chaiten and everyone left there, there is only one a bus a week on wednesdays that head north. (hence the fact I am now back in Coyhaique waiting to the overnight bus via Argentina...)
Nov15- Off to explore Parque National Queulat famous for it´s blue hanging glacier. Unfortunately we could only barely catch a glimpse of it because of the pouring freezing rain and clouds. But the vegetation was cool, huge ferns, wild spiny rhubarb, short bamboo, huge evergreen trees, deciduous trees with bright orange flowers....
Got absolutely soaking wet, it still beats how people (and I must include myself..) will pay quite a lot to slog through mud and physically exhaust themselves just to see some scenery and get soaked to the skin. Ruined my only pair of shoes....
But of course when I´m old and sitting by the fire I won´t remember that and it will all be more than worth it!
Bus in the afternoon back to Coyhaique, trying to stay warm since we were soaking not having any other clothes with us.... yuck.
Relaxed in the hostel in the evening reading last week´s edition of Femme Actuelle direct from France, travelling brings on the randomest experiences.
Nov 16 (today) Running errands after a week in the road. Groceries for our 19-hour overnight bus ride tonight, laundry since I only have 2 pairs of pants (amazing how little you really need), internet... and we stopped by the free local museum too. Incredible how they settled this wild area.
Chili.... does not feel like South America and I´m constantly surprised to hear salsa music and hear Spanish (albeit with a very different fast and sing-song accent). Much more like Eastern Europe (a ton of German immigrants) or somewhere... except that they do not know how to make bread here. In fact the food in general has been pretty disappointing. (and very expensive! Things are almost as expensive as home here!) Except I appreciated the hot black tea and the hot seafood soup.
It´s cold, that damp coastal cold. It´s the equivalent of our May here but the rain and wind never stop. Plus no central heating so it´s freezing inside too unless you´re right next to the wood stove! It´s normal to wear coats and toques inside. But, the hot showers are amazing!! I love them! And the beds too, soft and piled with more blankets than you can count. True cocoons.... so hard to get up in the morning!
It really does remind me of home. But I have to say the scenery is even more incredible here. Snow-capped peaks all the way down to cows grazing in green meadows. Huge trees and tropical plants (right below a glacier? Amazing.)
So far the people, once you get talking to them are very nice and helpful and everything being very rural, is so safe. There are even crosswalks with green men and cars actually stop for pedestrians!
So... one week down and 6 to go. Pictures are going to have to wait as we have been using Simone´s crazy nice camera and the pictures are too big to upload unless I can get a few off my phone.