Tag Archives: Chile

Being Lost, And Found, In Strange Lands

22 May

Being in a foreign country, especially when you have a minimal grasp of the language, is both exciting and exhausting.  Travelling on a budget means that we pretty much never hire a tour guide, and we always go for the public transportation options.  Guidebooks are okay for getting a general idea of how to get around using public transport or our own two feet, but often the book falls far short of any real help.

Once in Valdivia, Chile we knew that we could get to a small park reserve by bus, but we just weren’t sure of the times, or where to catch it.  We asked our hostel, who told us a bus number that was totally incorrect.  We asked the tourist information office. Twice. They gave us the correct bus name, but couldn’t be specific about where it stopped.  We asked 7 different people who worked in the general area and they all pointed us in different directions.

FINALLY, the next day, we found the bus stop and, surprise surprise, it wasn’t anywhere near any of the places we’d been directed to.  Once we were on the bus we asked about specific return times since the reserve was nearly 50 kilometers outside of town.  We were told there were two return times – 2pm and 5pm.  As the reserve was the last stop, the driver assured us that this is where we needed to be to get picked up.

We were at the stop at 1:30pm, just to be safe.  We waited. And waited. And waited.  Finally, at 3, we started walking.  At 4:30 we managed to hitch a ride with a very nice couple who spoke zero English and didn’t seem to understand our Spanish very well.

Justin attempts to get us a ride on the long walk back to Valdivia…we had seen nothing but these sheep for 45 minutes.

Thankfully, they were able to drop us reasonably close to a town that had another bus that could take us back to Valdivia.  It was an adventure, to say the least.

My point is, sometimes getting around can be tough.  Every once in a while though, we encounter a stranger who helps us avoid yet another fiasco.

Today we were attempting to get to one of Istanbul’s oldest Byzantine churches, which is a bit off the regular tourist circuit.   We knew we could take a bus, but the place we had to get on was riddled with buses and we had not a clue which one we needed.  After asking about 7 different drivers, all of which just waved us towards the general direction of another dozen buses, we were approached by a man who asked (in English!) if we needed help.  We told him where we were going, and as luck would have it, he was also going that way.

Then we realized we couldn’t pay the fare in cash, we needed some sort of metro card, which we didn’t have.  The man paid our way with his own card and refused our multiple attempts at paying him back.  He then rode with us to our stop, got off with us, and led us for the 20 minute walk through winding streets to this little church.  There is no way we would have found this place on our own.

The whole time he’s helping us I was thinking, “What does he want? Is he going to charge us something for this?  Is he really dragging us to a carpet shop to try and sell us something?” but no, he was just really nice.  After getting us to the church he wished us a happy day and went on his way.

Every once in a while we are reminded that in this huge and crazy world there are genuinely kind people, and we are very thankful that we encountered one of them today.

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Trekking the W – Torres Del Paine, Chile.

24 Apr

One of the original bits of inspiration for our trip was the desire to head way, way south to hike the W in Torres Del Paine, in Chilean Patagonia.  Unfortunately, the park was closed at the end of a December due to a devastating fire that was set by a careless trekker who chose not to follow the rules, and we feared that we wouldn’t be able to see this rugged bit of nature.

We delayed our journey south for a few weeks, which proved to be a wise decision as more and more of the park was re-opened to the public every week throughout January.  Just a few days before we were set to start our trek the entire circuit we intended to hike had officially been opened, though we were cautioned that the most recently opened part (the west side of the classic ‘W’ trek, named for the shape of the route through the mountains) would still be smoky, ashy, and not such a great place to be wandering around in. We decided to play it safe, and shortened our trek to just a ‘U’.

It was the first time that we have been ‘real backpacking’ together, which means carrying all our own gear – tent, sleeping bags and pads, cook stove, and all our food.   Patagonia is notorious for wild weather and it’s not uncommon to encounter anything from blistering sunshine to snow or sleet all in the course of a single day.  We attempted to balance packing enough layers for all the possible elements, while trying to keep our packs at a reasonable weight.

We had attended the infamous “3 o’clock talk” given at the Erratic Rock hostel, which is where we ended up staying both pre, and post-trek in Puerto Natales, Chile.  With their guidance, we diligently separated our food into ziplocks, portioning out each meal for easy access and efficiency.  We brought mostly lightweight, carb-rich and sugar loaded food such as oatmeal, noodles with packets of meat sauce, granola, peanuts, and tons of chocolate bars and caramel candies.  I cannot tell you how thrilled I was to be eating chocolate every few hours to keep my energy up, and knowing all the while I was definitely burning it all off.

Ready to go!

Looking ahead.

We set out with high hopes and heavy packs, and day one was fairly uneventful.  We chose to trek first to the Campemento Cuernos, the traditional middle part of the W.  We originally wanted to be able to stay in one of the free sites in the French Valley, but due to the fire the camps were closed so we knew we’d need to stay two nights at Cuernos to accommodate a long 26 kilometer day hike to the valley and back.

One of many river crossings

Towards our first campsite

The big attraction at Torres del Paine is, well, the Torres.  However, we had heard that the French Valley was majestically beautiful, and we were looking forward to spending the whole day exploring the valley.  The day started out beautifully and it didn’t take us as long as expected to reach the base of the valley where, unfortunately, the weather took a turn for the worse.

Storms in the French Valley

As we made our way over giant boulders, past glaciers, and wound our way into the forest at the top of the ridge, the weather turned from chilly and drippy to downright freezing with whipping winds and sideways rain and snow.

I swear, there's a view back there somewhere!

We made the push to the very top where the last mirador (viewpoint) lay just to say we did, but we weren’t able to see much.  By the time we made it back down to camp we were soaked, exhausted, and my feet had multiple blisters.

The next day was another big push, retreating out of the campsite and up towards the towers.  We started early and made good time, though we ended up stopping at Campamento Chileno instead of continuing another hour up to the free site at Torres.  My feet felt like they were on fire and I wasn’t even sure I wanted to continue standing, let alone hike another 5 kilometers.

Down into the last valley before the Torres

We spent the rest of the afternoon relaxing inside by the fire and debating the merits of waking at 2:30 am to hike the last two and half hours in the dark to see the Torres at sunrise.  We ended up deciding to sleep in a bit and start the hike at the more reasonable hour of 7.

The next morning we made it to Torres in great time since we weren’t weighed down with our heavy packs, and we were greeted with clear skies, and only a few other trekkers marveling at the immensity of the stone towers.

The Torres in the freezing morning

On our way down we began to encounter huge groups of hikers on their way up, as well as people on their way down who had stayed at the free Torres campsite and gotten up early to see the towers at dawn.  Apparently, there was nothing much to see at dawn as the sky hadn’t yet cleared, so it turns out we’d had the perfect timing – arriving after the sky cleared, but before the bulk of the late-morning crowd appeared.   We rushed back to the campsite, packed up all our gear, and started down the mountain, for the last 8 kilometers.   My feet screamed at the thought of being back in my hiking boots, so I wore my New Balance barefoot trail runners for the remainder of the day and while I might not recommend them generally for multi-day hiking, they were so much more comfortable for my aching feet.

We arrived to the end of the trail with plenty of time to spare before the shuttle left for Puerto Natales, so we rewarded our tired bodies with huge glasses of beer and some of the most expensive hamburgers we’ve ever eaten.  I have to say, after 4 days of oatmeal and ramen noodles with tomato paste, those hamburgers were the most delicious things ever!

We made it!

After it was all said and done, we had hiked around 60 kilometers in 4 days, consumed something close to a million calories in chocolate and peanuts, and realized that we are more ‘outdoorsey’ than we thought.  With the exception of one trip a million years ago when I was in college, we just don’t tend to do these kinds of multi-day outdoor hikes.  We weren’t really sure what to expect, and we were both pleasantly surprised at how much we enjoyed ourselves. Initially we were really disappointed to not be able to do the last part of the ‘W’ trail.  The thing is, Torres del Paine isn’t going anywhere, and we can always come back to finish the circuit.  In fact, when we come back we plan to do the full 10-day loop, which promises to be even more spectacular than the glimpse we saw in our 4-day version.

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Word on the Street

In the interest of not making a blog post into a novel, I’ve made a separate post dedicated to what you might want to know if you’re thinking of doing this hike.  Look for it in the next few days!

Until then, check out the slideshow on Flickr!

Photo Friday – Street Art in Santiago, Chile

13 Apr

Street art in Santiago, Chile

We’ve seen plenty of graffiti around the world, and generally we think it’s destructive and ugly.  Wandering around Chile we were delighted to see that many of the walls around the city were covered in an entirely different kind of graffiti that truly was art.  We took hundreds of photos of the different murals from Santiago to Valparaiso and beyond and we continue to be impressed by the quality of the street art we’ve found throughout our travels.

Blown Away in Patagonia

4 Apr

The title pretty much says it all.  We had heard that we should expect some ferocious winds during our time trekking Torres del Paine in Chile and in the Parque National Los Glaciers  in Argentina.  We sort of thought people were exaggerating when they said you might literally be knocked down sometimes, but that’s exactly what happened to me on more than one occasion.  The winds can supposedly reach speeds, in bursts, of 180 kilometers per hour!  We didn’t feel anything that strong, but there were times when it was strong enough that we had to just give up for a bit, sit down, and wait it out.

So far, hiking in Patagonia has been one of the highlights of our trip.  We love the feel of the small mountain towns, and just when you think the scenery can’t get more spectacular, it does.  We’ve got lots to say about each of these parks, but for now we’ll leave you with a video of some of our windiest moments.

Photo Friday – Wine Tasting near Santiago, Chile

30 Mar

The cellars at Concho y Toro

There are many great wineries in the area around Santiago, Chile.  You can take public transport to Concho y Toro, just 45 minutes outside of Santiago’s city center by a combination of subway and bus and spend the day sipping wine on their lovely patio.  The tour of their grounds was lovely, and we particularly enjoyed seeing the huge cellars filled with barrels and bottles.

The Power of Water

9 Feb

We learned of Futaleufu, Chile from a fellow traveler we met in Mendoza.  It didn’t take very long for us to be convinced that this was a place we wanted to visit.  The name alone is reason enough, especially if you say it with a thick French accent.  Go ahead and try it (Foo – TAh – lay –foo), I dare you not to laugh.

We arrived to the minuscule village, just 1700 residents, in the midst of a summer storm that soaked us with freezing rain, and left the surrounding mountain tops dusted in snow. In just under 36 hours the tide had turned and we could see that we had chosen wisely.  Futaleufu is situated in a valley that is truly jaw-dropping.

Valley outside Futaleufu, Chile

Valley outside Futaleufu, Chile

Huge, lush mountains give way to the most spectacularly turquoise blue, crystal clear river I have ever seen.

It’s the river that draws people from around the world to this little dot on a map.  The Rio Futaleufu boasts some of the best rafting and river kayaking in the world, ranking in the top-5 by most accounts.

Rio Futaleufu, Chile

Much of the town’s industry is built around river trips, and it’s an easy task to find a company ready to take you on the ride of your life.  We promptly signed up for a full-day excursion.

We’ve been rafting before, though only minimally on supposed class III and IV rapids, but we were assured that if we were fit and could swim that we would be just fine on the prominent class IV and V runs.

The day we set out on our adventure was bright and warm, a perfect day to get soaked.  We ended up with seven people in our raft – Justin and I, a man from our hospedaje, and 4 other girls (two of which had never been rafting).  We were outfitted with wetsuits, lifejackets, and helmets and given the whole safety spiel.  After a bit of paddle practice at the put-in, we were off!

Justin is ready to go rafting.

The storm had delivered a healthy amount of water to the area making the river swollen and quite high for the season.  The first set of rapids was fast and furious, and we made it through them clumsily, but successfully.

As we approached the next stretch of white-water, a set of three class V+ rapids, appropriately named The Terminator, our guide made it clear that this section was difficult and that we needed to give it everything we had and follow his directions exactly and immediately.  It was essential that we hit our line or we would be in serious trouble.  This section of the river is riddled with ‘holes’, which are basically whirlpools of a sort that can suck you in and just keep you spinning underwater.  These holes can be up to 80 feet deep, and are very dangerous places to get stuck in.

The apprehension was palpable and a few moments later we came around a bend and were all of a sudden right in the thick of it.  It was as if we had no control over the raft.  Sometimes the waves rocked the boat so high that as we went down to paddle there was nothing but air beneath us.  It quickly became clear that we had not made our line and we could see that we were about to hit a huge obstacle in the middle of the river.

My side of the raft got pushed up vertically on a rock as the opposite side got sucked into the hole just in front of the boulder.  I felt myself falling, and had about a hot second to think “Oh shit!” before I hit the river.

The roar of the water was deafening, and the only thing I could see all around me was bubbles. It felt like ages before I broke the surface and was able to take a small breath.  I tried to look for the raft, but there was only water and before I knew it I was going under again.  Have you ever been inside a washing machine on the ‘super’ cycle?  Me neither, but I bet being in that river was similar to what it might feel like.  I was tossed around, sucked along, turned upside down and smashed into rocks.  Despite being more terrified than I have ever been, I made a valiant effort at keeping my feet in front of me and trying to get to the surface but it seemed like I had very little control over my movement.  When I realized I was out of air I did my best not to panic, and just plugged my nose and covered my mouth to try and keep the water from forcing its way in.

Eventually I came to a slightly calmer spot and I was able to see the safety kayaker motioning me to swim over to the side.  I made it to a little pool area and was momentarily relieved thinking that the raft or the kayak must be coming over to fetch me.

I watched uncomfortably as the raft passed me on the opposite side of the river, and my panic increased ten-fold when I realized I was being sucked back towards the middle and into the second part of the Terminator rapid series.  I clawed desperately at the closest rock in a last-ditch effort to stay in calmer waters, but I only accomplished ripping off two of my fingernails.

I remember very little from that second set of rapids, only that I kept thinking “Justin must be freaking out right now” and “keep your mouth shut or you will drown”.

I was in the water for less than ten minutes, but it felt like ages and was so thoroughly exhausting that by the time the raft found me I couldn’t even lift my arms to try and grab onto the safety rope.  The man from our hostel, Celestino, hauled me into the raft by my life vest and I had about 30 seconds to recover before I was handed a new paddle as we entered another set of rapids.

I was still shaking from the adrenaline nearly a half hour later as we went up to shore for a lunch break.  I was nervous and on edge for the rest of the trip, and I was happy to be back on solid ground at the end of the day.

Being in that river was easily the most terrifying moment of my life, and another clear example of the tremendous force that water holds.

Despite the scare, Futaleufu has earned a spot as one of our favorite destinations from this first three months of travel, and if you’re into rafting and gorgeous scenery, we’re sure you’ll love it just as much as we did.

Southern Skies

3 Feb

The first thing about we noticed about Puerto Natales, Chile was the sky.  It took us a while to figure out what’s so captivating, but we finally realized that the sky looks bigger somehow than in other places.

We’re pretty sure it has something to do with the clouds.  We’ve never seen anything like it elsewhere, but the clouds here are layered in the most incredible ways and it makes the depth of the atmosphere seem even more expansive than usual.

Our pictures simply do not do it justice.

Merry Christmas!

25 Dec

On the path to the San Francisco glacier

We spent Christmas Eve hiking up in the Cajon Del Maipo (more about that in a future post) and grilling up another delicious steak.

Incidentally, I discovered where Santiago has been hiding its Christmas Spirit.  It was alive and well all along at an enormous mall in Las Condes.   I made a mad dash there late on the 23rd in an attempt to replace the fleece that I lost in Valpariaso, and the instant I entered the doors I was awash in the sparkling lights, heaps of cotton snow, and holiday consumerism that is typical of home.

I managed to get my fleece and get out without being sucked in by the appropriately extravagant window displays, which seemed to scream “Ashley! You totally need a new summer dress!!!”.  I did, however, stick around long enough to see Santa in his rightful place – a giant throne, surrounded by lovely elves in very short skirts.

On the walk back to the subway I cranked up the Christmas mix on my iPod, and the irony of listening to “Baby It’s Cold Outside” while wondering if I had applied enough sunscreen to prevent yet another sunburn, did not escape me.

Feliz Navidad?

23 Dec

In the USA, decorating for the holidays starts so early that you have to be living under a rock somewhere to not realize what time of year it is.  Cities have begun to put decorations on public streets earlier and earlier, while holiday music creeps into the background before the first snowfall in the northern states.

I am a true Colorado girl and it takes a certain mix of signals, including snow, egg nog and lots of blinking lights, to really get me in the Christmas spirit.  Here in Santiago?  Well, let’s just say I keep forgetting it’s even December.

First off, there’s blazing sunshine and sweltering heat every day.

Christmas spirit in the Santiago cemetery

Second, there are no trees.  Christmas trees I mean.  Even in NYC there were makeshift stands lined up along the Avenues starting as early as mid-November.  Practically anywhere with a small patch of floor space, be it an office building lobby, the supermarket, or the deli on the corner of 16th and 6th Ave, would have a tree up no later than the first week of December.  Interestingly enough, we saw quite a few miniature trees all decorated up during our trip to the main cemetery here in Santiago earlier this week.

Third, the traditional decorations are few and far between.  I’m used to seeing storefronts dripping with tinsel, lights and elaborate window displays. Storefronts that demand you spend your precious holiday dollars with them because they have exactly what you need and you can’t get it anywhere else.  Here? Well, every once in a while we see a paper Santa face (circa 1976) hung in a window.  In Valparaiso we were eating in a little restaurant and it took us the better part of an hour to notice the one solitary Christmas bulb hanging by a pathetic strand of garland at the top of the window.

I don’t mean to say there is NO holiday spirit to be seen in Santiago, I mean Chile is officially a Catholic country and Christmas is a national holiday here.  We have seen wrapping paper for sale in a few places, there was a display of decorations available for purchase at a local market, and we heard the Spanish version of ‘Walking in a Winter Wonderland’ at the supermarket a week ago.  It’s just that our senses haven’t been assaulted with holiday cheer like they would be at home.

We have, however, seen Santa in a few surprising places.

Santa decorations were spotted in Lima, Peru at the very beginning of November!

It's too hot for reindeer in Valparaiso, so Santa rides the boat like the rest of us.

The economic downturn has apparently extended it's reach to the North Pole as evidenced by the fact that Santa is moonlighting with Groupon to help pad his income.

How will we be spending our Christmas?  Since most everything will be closed, we’ll be cooking at home (helllloooo grilled pork tenderloin with homemade mango and apple chutney…and this, recipe is at the end of the post), sampling a traditional Chilean holiday drink called Cola de Mono (kind of like a White Russian, or a Mudslide), skyping with family, and watching the season finale of Dexter online.

Happy Holidays, wherever you may be!

The Moving Box Bet – Chile

5 Dec

Justin’s first Moving Box Bet challenge in Peru was pretty easy.   So easy that even I participated.  We decided to crank it up a notch for the Chilean challenge, and crank it up we did.

Take a look:

Video not showing up?  Try this –  Moving Box Bet – Chile

Justin’s next Moving Box Bet challenge will take place in Argentina.  Contact us if you have a suggestion for what he should eat!

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