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.

Last week in Ecuador

Written a week ago Sunday....

Wow, get a little bit behind with this and it becomes hard to catch up!

So I got back from one trip last week and headed straight out on another, taking the opportunity of not having classes and having someone to travel with to see more of the country. We headed off to Cuenca on Tuesday, a day-long trip on the bus that was made bearable by the incredible scenery through Cajas national park. Incredible mountains here, and how you can go from the hot cloudy coast to the cold clear sierra in a few hours is amazing, it’s like a whole new country with different accents, food and culture. I didn’t feel very well in Cuenca, had a bit of a fever, perhaps the altitude and something I ate? But I did have a fantastic time! First night went downtown and ate cuy (guinea pig). I nearly gagged seeing the raw little animals being shoved on a stick but I managed to eat it and almost enjoy it anyway. Like dark chicken but very little meat, you have to gnaw on all the bones to try and get your money’s worth!

Wednesday we headed off to see Ingapirca, like the mini Macchu Pichu of Ecuador, a old Inca village in the mountains 2 hours north. It was the perfect day and I even got a bit of a sunburn… That evening we strolled around central Cuenca admiring the churches and other colonial architecture. Thursday we were going to go to Vilcabamba or Loja but then decided that it would be better to get back Friday so ended up in Manta, back on the coast only 2 hours from home but I had only driven through there. Went out dancing at night and the next day to walk around the city, to the beach, the museum (where the guide actually spoke slowly and I understood nearly everything!) and to the mall. Stopped but Montecristi on the way back and went up the hill to see the railway museum and Eloy Alfaro museum before just getting the last bus home.

I tried a ton of new food again, and there’s still so much more to try!

Quickly packing up now, last-minute trip planning, saying goodbyes and trying to organise a few things for my return at the end of the year. Heading to Guayaquil very early Monday to catch my flight to Chile!!! 6-7 weeks of intense backpacking here I come... Will see how often I’m able to update this but I will try!

Saturday, November 7, 2009


(Written last Monday)
Last week was mostly just chilling around here…. So I thought I’d write a bit more about daily life. How I’m becoming an expert at lighting cooking on gas stoves, automatically throwing toilet paper in the garbage and flushing with a bucket of water, being perpetually itchy from mosquitoes (here’s a secret: best itch remedy is rum!!), how beer comes just comes with a cup so everyone can share, showering just because it’s so hot, negotiating prices in stores, etc.
That the roads get so muddy when it rains that you have to wear the same pair of sandals and jeans for 3 days so as not to ruin more than one pair.
There’s turtles in the garden and tiny lizards in my room (better than the cockroaches!).
I ended English classes on Friday since this week it mostly holiday and I’m planning on travelling a bit, the best opportunity to go be a tourist! But I will continue that one in Jan/Feb. A great little group just a shame I had no resources and was using my laptop as a whiteboard….
Ok also time to ‘fess up. I may or may not have met a guy… in other words I have an amazing boyfriend and have been spending a lot of time with him before I take off on my trip until New Year’s. He is an amazing cook and just when I thought I’d tried most Ecuadorian food, well I now think someone could live here their whole life and not try everything! Every town has it’s speciality you can’t get anywhere else and every holiday has it’s special dish too. For example, for el dia de los muertos (yesterday) there’s colada morada and guaguas de pan (I tried the colada, delicious! Like a lightly spiced thick hot blackberry soup-drink with chunks of other fruit like grapes and pineapple…. Ahhhh coladas are definitely going to become my favourite winter comfort when I get back!) Yucca buns with cheese, sweet corn loaf, crystallized coconut candy, spiced mochas, crayfish soup, Peruvian rice, Chilean ‘eggs’ (like handmade Timbit’s)… I can’t even remember everything! This morning we went on mission downtown at 5am to get a plantain and some small wild pig-like animal stew that had been cooking all night and that Monday mornings are the only time you can get it, very cool tradition!
What else have I been doing? Finally found hemp cord so I can make bracelets on the bus seeing as its too bumpy to read, relaxing on the beach, cooking up a storm, watching movies, went to Salango and Las Tunas one day to get fresh seafood and ended up on a free boat ride around the bay…
This weekend I went to Jipijapa and my original impression that it was the other armpit of Ecuador was completely turned around. It’s a great little town, the people are so friendly and the great food extends far beyond the delicious banana loaf in the bus terminal. We hiked to a village in the mountains with the most gorgeous waterfall even though there was almost no water it was still stunning. (Not to mention free and nearly unknown!)
This weekend was also a holiday one here, for dia de los muertos and not for Halloween though. However there was little fiestas everywhere. I had perhaps the greatest Halloween ever, at my friend’s grandma’s birthday party. So crazy and fun! Families here are huge (imagine having 22 kids!) but so close. Everyone from the babies to the old folks come out and talk, drink and dance like crazy all night. (I think I have finally caught on to meringue but all the others need some work!) At midnight they eat a meal and then sing happy birthday. Certain traditions include shoving the birthday person’s face into the cake and everyone taking turns dancing with them in the middle of the circle. Then in the morning they eat another meal and then cake.
It was also another friend’s birthday this week and Simone and I made an amazing black forest cake that we dragged down the Malecon and that was subsequently devoured in about 5 minutes…