Three weeks of photos from Argentina & Chile

As promised (finally!), here are the photographic highlights from my last 3 weeks on the road in Argentina and Chile.

They start with a few photos from SaltaCordoba, and Mendoza, before I jumped down to Bariloche in Argentina’s Patagonia. From there, I crossed the border to spend a rainy week in Puerto Varas and Valdivia (because of the crummy weather, there are very few photos), then made a long haul up to Vina del Mar to spend my last days of vacation on the beach soaking up some final South American sunshine.


Facing the Chilean rain

Unfortunately, the south of Chile — specifically Puerto Varas and Valdivia where I was — are places where you really need the sunshine to appreciate the natural surroundings. Puerto Varas´s backdrop is the famous Osorno Volcano, but because it was pouring rain and absurdly misty the whole time I was there, I couldn´t even tell there was a volcano in front of me when standing at the lake´s edge.

At my hostel in Puerto Varas, I met four Americans, all studying together at the Columbia Business School in NYC, and the five of us ventured out of the city for a hike, which turned out to be a long, relatively boring walk along a dirt road dotted with many, many potholes. Now, fill those potholes with the endless rain the city had seen, plus the dirt from the road, and add cars driving over those potholes at many miles per hour, and the combination is 5 Americans, soaked from both the rain AND splashes from not-so-courteous Chilean drivers. As we walked, it continued to pour, and though I was wearing my extra sturdy Husky Ambassador windbreaker, it eventually soaked completely through, into my fleece and my t-shirt beneath that. My four new (genius) Columbia friends were smart enough to buy ponchos at the grocery store and lent me their extra one, but regardless, we were all soaked to the bone and freezing by the end of our adventure. There are some pretty silly photos of us in our ponchos, I´ll be sure to steal and post those when I´m home.

We did see a beautiful river and set of waterfalls (though I think once you´ve been to Iguazu you´re sort of jaded towards waterfalls, sadly). After the 6 km walk down the pothole filled road, we finally arrived at the lake, which we could barely see. The misty fog almost acted as a mirage. We couldn´t see the other side of the lake, let alone any mountains or volcano in the background. We wandered a bit in an attempt to find the trail we´d been told about, but the not-so-helpful receptionist at our hostel had told us we could identify it by the dry riverbeds. Not exactly ideal markers when it´s pouring rain, and has been for several days. Needless to say, we couldn´t find a well marked path that seemed to go in the right direction, and finally, freezing, soaking wet and on the verge of cranky, we opted to catch the bus back to town.

That day would have been disastrous (and — lets face it — all around miserable) had I been by myself, and though I am truly a solo traveler at heart, I was more than happy to have funny, and distracting, company. We were all soaked and cold, but we laughed and joked and made the most of it, and were happy to at least stretch our legs and get some exercise instead of sitting in the hostel doing mostly nothing, as we had the day before.

Four hours further north in Valdivia, the weather wasn´t a whole lot better. I opted to spend my Christmas day and eve there, since most everything is shut down during the day anyways, and I´d heard it was a lovely little town. I wasn´t blown away by the town´s beauty, but on the day after Christmas I took a day trip down the river where I could see the outlet of the river to the Pacific Ocean, got to visit a cool old fort, and took a boat across the mouth of the river to an adorable little town with great seafood restaurants. On my way back, I stopped at the Kunstmann Cervezeria, a brewery where they´ve been making German beer since the 1800´s. Very random, but surprisingly good beer, and because I was the only one there at the time, I got my very own, private English tour!

Sick of the cold and rain, and having absolutely no luck whatsoever trying to find reasonable places to stay in wine country between Valdivia and Santiago, I abandoned that plan and got on my last, long-haul overnight bus up to Vina del Mar. Vina is a quaint little town on the ocean, adjacent to Valparaiso, and just an hour and a half from Santiago. I´ve had perfect blue skies and sun so far, so I´m just happy to be warm (and dry!) again, and will be here until I catch my flight on Sunday.

And yet another small world coincidence: Turns out that Belinda, who I met in the south of Peru and have been keeping in touch with via Facebook, is in Valparaiso at the same time as I am! We´re meeting for a beach day today, and then I have to figure out how to spend my last, solo day of vacation tomorrow.

Most of me is dreading heading back to the real world — figuring out getting myself out to the east coast to ship and sell my stuff in storage (anyone in the market for a flat screen TV or a queen size mattress?!), buying a used car in LA, finding a good nannying job, and negotiating the terms of living back at my parents house for the first time in nearly 7 years.

But of course, there are things I´m excited for as well. Seeing my friends and family again, keeping my toothbrush and shampoo in one place, a refrigerator to call my own, the manicure/pedicure I´m getting on Monday, celebrating New Years Eve with my best friend, and of course puppy time! I´m just glad to know that when I set my backpack down in LA again, it will only be temporary, and that another trip is in the works and on the horizon!

Days 2 & 3 in Chile

On my second day in Chile, Alison and I took a bus out to the coastal town of Valparaiso, an hour and a half north-west of Santiago. Valpo, as the city is often called, is situated on dozens of steep hills right off the coast, all of which are densely populated and covered in brightly painted houses and apartments. Prior to the existence of the Panama Canal, all major ships had to pass through Valparaiso, so the city was very wealthy and well-developed in the 19th century. Over the last decade, it has become more run down, but the vibrant colors of the houses and street graffiti are an incredible sight nonetheless.

We spent the day wandering the hills (me taking way too many photos and Alison waiting patiently) and finding the best lookouts, then stopped at an adorable cafe for coffee and a quick sugar hit before heading back down the hills toward the bus station. Everywhere you look in Santiago and Valpo there are dozens of wild dogs. They’re all relatively tame, and for the most part just like to lounge in the sun, mostly in the way of everything and everyone.

Once we got back into Santiago, we took the Metro back to Alison’s to make dinner — grilled chicken with a side of roasted onions, peppers & potatoes. Then came the task of packing: somehow fitting 18 days of clothing (plus shoes and toiletries) into our relatively small backpacking backpacks. Several hours, and many tough decisions of what to leave and bring, later, we passed out from exhaustion.

On Wednesday, we spent the morning walking over to downtown Santiago, where Alison gave me the grand tour of all the important and historical buildings of the city, including the Gabriela Mistral Center, a beautiful new center of the arts the city has developed in the last year. We met Ignacio for lunch at the Cultural Center and then headed to the Claro (a cellphone provider) store, where I got a lesson in Chilean patience. Alison and I were put on a bit of a wild goose chase, since she wanted to unlock her phone so it could be used with an Argentinian SIM card/chip, but every Claro store we entered told us we had to go to a different location, even though the one before had told us we needed to be at the other location instead. Finally, we reached the right place and then had to stand in line for 45 minutes. However, unlike in America, the dozens of people ahead and behind us in line were not impatient whatsoever. Nobody huffed or puffed or even complained, they just stood there in silence, waiting patiently. A very bizarre scene.

Once Alison’s phone was successfully unlocked we did some more wandering up onto Santa Lucia Hill, a small hill in the middle of the city that is home to a gorgeous yellow and white structure that looks almost like a mansion, and Fort Hidalgo, a fort overlooking the entire city of Santiago. I fell in love with the views and the architecture, and couldn’t take enough pictures. Then we went back to Alison’s apartment, where we had an hour to finish packing and organizing before heading to the airport. Once we got in our taxi we zipped straight to SCL, checked in and then had a very gourmet dinner at Ruby Tuesdays, considered a high-class steak joint down in Chile, and an expensive one at that. We had a very easy flight over to BA, and once we paid our $160 entry fee into the country (steep, I know!) we found our arranged taxi driver, who was very chatty and gave us a great tour of the city as he drove the 33 kilometeres to our bed and breakfast. After the owner showed us our room, we both crawled into bed and knocked out!

Day 1: Santiago!

Today is my last day in Santiago before we head out to Buenos Aires (and then to Uruguay and Iguazu Falls) for 18 days. I’ve been staying in Alison & her boyfriend Ignacio’s gorgeous studio apartment — they live on the 13th floor of a high rise building in Santiago Centro (downtown Santiago) a block out of Providencia. They have absolutely incredible views of the Andes and Santiago skyline, not to mention a gorgeous rooftop pool! Of course, their rent is 1/3 of what I’ll be paying when I move out to NYC. Nuts!

Anyways, they picked me up at the airport on Monday morning and we had no trouble finding each other. Luckily all of the taxi drivers with signs waiting to pick people up from the terminal mostly left me alone — I’ve been told I don’t stand out immediately as a gringa (the slightly offensive Spanish word for a white, American foreigner) which is a good thing in some ways, but when people start to speak rapidly in Spanish to me assuming I understand, I can do nothing but give them a blank stare.

After I showered and we ate some breakfast, we left their apartment to do some wandering. It was a national holiday in Chile on Monday, so the streets were eerily quiet — Ignacio and Alison were both shocked at how dead the city was. It was easy to wander down to Plaza Italia and down through the city, past a beautiful library where Alison often does work. We grabbed lunch at an Italian eatery (pizza and pasta are very popular in Chile) and then made our way over to a really cool sculpture garden. Santiago has a ton of public spaces and gardens that are integrated well into the city — it makes the city seem much more accessible, which is definitely nice. From there we walked up to the base of the San Cristóbal Hill, which seems rather out of place when you first get to the city, as its this huge hill rising out of nowhere. It houses the city’s public zoo, an amphitheater and apparently, a huge statue of the virgin Mary. We considered making our way to the top, but it was a smoggy day so we knew the views wouldn’t be great, so we decided against it.

After using a public restroom (which you have to pay 200 pesos to use) we walked back down to an ice cream shop (another incredibly popular food in Chile) through a beautiful residential neighborhood, where a lot of richer Chileans live. Similar to other cities and countries in the world, Santiago has a lot of stray dogs that wander the streets. The majority of them mind their own business and don’t bother you, but it’s strange/sad to see homeless dogs, who are often absolutely adorable, just hanging out on the streets.

After ice cream, the three of us found ourselves exhausted and in a bit of a food coma, so we came back to Alison’s apartment for a quick siesta. Ignacio went to a friend’s to watch Game of Thrones (he’s obsessed) and we went out to meet two of her girlfriends for Indian food. Now, I know what your thinking. You came all the way to Chile and you’re eating every type of cuisine but South American food! The problem, mainly, is that Chilean food is mostly meat and potatoes, so it’s hard to eat out when you’re vegetarian (or, semi vegetarian in my case, since carne and pollo are often mixed here). Considering how far we are from India, and how spoiled my best friend Swati has made me in ordering incredible Indian food for me, our food was delicious and perfectly spicy, though a bit heavy. I did laugh a little with the restaurant owner, in perfect English, welcomed me back and was shocked when I told him I’d never been to his restaurant before!

An interesting thing about South America is the customer service policies. Here, you have to practically flag down your waiter or waitress like it’s a sport, and you tip a very standard 10% everywhere you go, definitely not like in the US.

Of course it’s the beginning of the trip and I’m already a day behind in blogging, but I promise tonight when I’m on the plane I’ll write about our day in Valparaiso yesterday, which was incredible and there will be more photos up on Flickr soon! xoxo