Monday, June 29, 2009

Journey to World´s End

Our final southbound bus was the most interesting yet. First, we drove through at least 500 sheep being herded down the road by gauchos. Second, the bus drove onto this huge ferry to cross the Magellan Straight to get to Tierra del Fuego which I had forgotten about freaked out about sinking for a second. Bound to get sick if we sat on the bus we went out on the viewing deck to watch as we plowed over rough water and huge waves. It was windy and beautiful and as the captain changed course the waves hit broadside and sprayed us with a sheet of salt water. Thinking it was fun, or perhaps from having bus fever we stayed up there and were soaked before we knew it. It was a damp rest of the way. At our connection in Rio Grande Nate began talking to another American couple who have been fortunate enough to have been sailing around the west coast of the America´s for the past three years - Alaska, down to Ecuador for a year, out to Easter Island and are now traveling around South America. Somehow they still haven´t learned Spanish though which surprised me. They were nice and joined us on the final leg of the journey to Ushuaia, the supposed southern most city on earth even though 4 more towns are on the map south of here. And what a wild finale it was. Armed with a little collectivo and what we hoped was an experienced driver we drove right into a huge snowstorm. Over unpaved windy dirt roads, through thick sideways blowing snow and with 1ft visibility< /span> in front of us this guy was cruising down the roads, passing people, hitting the breaks just in time, sliding around - it was wild and crazy and fun even though we should have been fearful for our lives. We arrived unharmed and were left to hike around through town in the middle of the night in a snowstorm searching for a cheap hostel.

Punta Arenas, Chile

The morning after Torres del Paine it was snowing! It was beautiful and quite in the streets and a dog immediately ran up and escorted us to the bus station. The 2.5hr bus ride through more wide open spaces went quickly and before long we could see the deep blue of the Magellan Straight. Unfortunately the only cheap hostel in town was a bit of a hike over icy, icy sidewalks but worth the risk once we got there. They had a dog, a cat, a family and a stove right outside our muy cute room. The man was very nice and it was the first time we left the door unlocked (mainly to let the heat in.) The town is wedged between the Magellan Straight and a hill which we walked up for the view. The next morning it was snowing again and continued to snow all day. It´s beginning to throw me off and I get excited for Christmas and think a lot about memories of the holidays at 355 Timber Rd. for some reason... it being Sunday there was nothing to do except walk around this beautiful 4 block cemetery which by looking at the tracks in the snow had already seen quite a bit of visitors that morning. Graves here are much like their houses - painted with bright colors, adorned with fake flowers, curtains, gates, pictures and various religious knick-knacks. It´s beautiful and sad all at once. The town was quite and pleasant and our last stop before the world´s end.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Torres del Paine

Up and ready before Nate´s new alarm clock had a chance to go off we were picked up before sunrise. When we were dropped off 12hrs later we had spent the entire day being driven around in the backseat of a van. The morning was spent driving through beautiful snow-dusted haciendas and mountain ranges. We made one stop at a big shallow cave that had been carved out by an extinct glacier lake. There was also some ridiculous historical claim that a giant sloth was held captive there as well but I wasn´t buying it. They did let you walk all the way back into the unlit depths though which was neat. We didn´t get to the park until early afternoon and by then the other 2 couples and our tour guide had made fast friends and shared at least 2 rounds of cafe. We sat contently in the back looking out at the countryside while they chatted and laughed. The guide was great and would point out wildlife and stop for photo opts whenever we wanted, probably a benefit of being here in the off season. Though it was a beautiful, sunny day once in the park thee mountains to see were unfortunately hidden in the clouds and didn´t show their face all day. Although this was what I was most excited to see I wasn´t terribly disappointed as the day was really pleasant and everything we were seeing was so beautiful. (You should stop reading and google image this park right now, it´s amazing.) We drove slowly and thoroughly along the only road through the park stopping at a waterfall at the foot of thee mountains and then at this incredible lookout. A Caribbean blue lake was at the foot of thee said unseen mountains with an island in the middle of it. On this island was the Hosteria Pehoe and for $285.00 US you can stay there for a night, and on a clear day & night would be worth every penny - I´m surprised it´s not more expensive. The last stop on the tour was the end of Lago Grey. At the other end of the lago is Glacier Grey and where we stood on the black sandy beach more surreal blue icebergs had floated their way down. Had we not saw the Perito Moreno Glacier a few days before we would have been more in awe. We finally all piled back in the van for the last time and drove home after the sun had set. It took listening to all 4 Rilo Kiley albums to get home where happy and exhausted we crashed and fell asleep.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Puerto Natales, Chile

En la maƱana we awoke early to buy our tickets for Puerto Natales and for the next 5.5hrs sat snuggled under my sleeping bag on what was essentially a freezing collectivo with reclining seats. We sat there bouncing down the dirt road and watched as kilometer after kilometer of wide open spaces passed us by. Once in town I led us directly to our hostel, which was closed for the winter - but the one next door was open and for 6,000 pesos each we received hot showers, breakfast, free internet, cable TV and a twin bed to share. For the middle of winter the hostel was quite full - of Chilean men, and we had no idea why. The rest of the day was productive and pleasant. Grateful to be out of the land of Jamon y Queso we had a satisfying Chilean meal, ran errands and bought our tickets for Torres Del Paine. On the way into town we saw Flamingos, yes Flamingos, on the lake and after our errands set out along the waterfront to find them once again but with no luck, but it was a beautiful walk. Though the town has a fancy path and a hotel under construction right on the waterfront it has somehow managed to avoid being touristy. There are no fancy shops, no overpriced restaurants and most houses retain their original architecture. Despite the fact that the town survives, exists even for tourism, I couldn´t tell and loved and appreciated it all the more. After another pleasant day on our southbound journey we returned to our room to fall asleep watching movies. We have watched more movies in the past 3 weeks than we´ve watched in the past 2 years.

El Calafate & the Perito Moreno Glacier

I´m going to spare you most of the boring details of the crummy city of Comodoro Rivadavia, Argentina. The only reason we crossed the country was because we thought the buses didn´t run down the border of Chile-Argentina any further south than El Bolson this time of year. The city was dirty, prostitute ridden and rather ugly. Good thing I was incredibly sick for our stay and that our overpriced hostel had a television. It acted as our movie watching hide out until the next bus outta there.

One 1hr bus from Comodoro Rivadavia to Caleta Olivia, one 10hr overnight bus from Caleta Olivia to Rio Gallegos, one 5hr layover at the bus station in Rio Gallegos and one 5hr bus from Rio Gallegos to El Calafata later, we arrived. The town is nestled along Lago Argentina and for now remains relatively small though the fancy center with expensive shops and restaurants promises inevitable expansion. A loan road runs along the western shore of the lake awaiting future development. As we pulled into the station 3 or 4 representatives from different hostels were waiting for us. We stood back while they attacked however once everyone was paired off we were spotted. We usually blow these people off but after ignoring her for a minute she persisted and I caved. After talking we her we struck a deal to get a dorm all to ourselves (including bathroom) at 3 nights for the price of 2 por 80 pesos per persona todo. It wasn´t until our traveling feet hit their warm, heated floors did we realize just how good a deal we got. The hostel was beautiful and the common area had the best view of the sunset over the mountains and lakes as we walked in. We passed out early to prepare ourselves for our journey to the Perito Moreno Glacier.

Sans an alarm clock, Nate woke up at 5 and thankfully kept busy until he woke me up at 7. We had breakfast at the hostel and went to the bus station to get our tickets. With the 9am bus full we sat around with the dogs we picked up on the walk over and waited for the 10am shuttle. We were joined by an Asian couple, an English couple and 2 French guys. The ride out to the park was beautiful. In the lakes we passed floated icebergs unearthly shades of blue. As I was expecting them to be dropping us off and picking us back up hours later at a designated bus stop in the park I was mentally preparing myself for a rugged day as snow began to fall, hard. To my part relief and part disappointment it ended up being a safe, supervised, touristy experience. They offered us a boat ride to get upclose to the glacier and not knowing you could get equally as close from the foot paths we took the bate. The great advantage to the boat ride though was you could pratically touch the icebergs and saw just how magnificent they truly are. This one is particular might have been the most amazing thing we´ve seen - it was turquoise and dark blue all in one and Nate put it best that they lo ed off the boat our bus was there waiting for us. A short drive later we were at the visitor center where the entrance to the foot paths and a cafe are your only options. We bypassed the cafe and headed down the path. From the top you see just how infinite the glacier seems to go on for as it extends beyond the visual limit of the horizon. It is quite amazing to witness and so much more than a piece of ice. As we stood there the segundo snow storm of the day came outta nowhere and filled the air and covered our clothes. Undeterred we kept walking until we ran outta boardwalk and had to return to the bus. It was a good day.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

100 hippies with dirty, dirty hands

Los Angeles/Pucon, Chile -

After waking up early we walked to the bus station and caught the next bus to Los Angeles with our sights set on going to Salto del Laja (which we saw right from our bus window as we drove passed it the first time - not knowing we could have stopped on the way in and just hopped the next bus we saw the rest of the way to town.) So, upon arrival we had no idea where to go and with no mapa we agreed that it wasn´t going to be cheap or reasonable to stay for long so we got back on the same bus we just came in on and rode back out to the salto - which made the bus attendants day. El Salto was practically deserted except for a few perservering vendors and some street dogs. In about 15 minutos we saw all there was to see and waited a total of 15 minutos to wave down the next bus that came screeching to a halt to take our money - I mean, pick us up. Once back in L.A. we got billetas to our next destination - Pucon, Chile whose bus was leaving from la ultra terminal so they threw us on one bus to crawl across the city to la ultra terminal where they threw us on our bus as it was literally pulling out of the station. After a long day of traveling we crashed at the closest hostel where we finally got to take long, hot showers - a luxury taken for granted in Estados Unidos.

Valdivia, Chile -

When we arrived in Valdivia the sun finally broke through the clouds and the weather was beautiful. We found a hostel near the bus stop that I thought was shit but surprised me when we found out there was Ingles cable. The town is situated on an old port and the highlight of the whole time was at the market on the water´s edge where fishmongers would throw leftover bits of their catch to HUGE awaiting seals (we think.) A gate seperated them from climbing right up into the market so we were able to get up really close as they barked or moaned or whatever they were doing as they fought each other for a spot up front. In the morning we watched Wally World, had a good breakfast of hot rolls w/butter, cheese, ham, salami & te and caught the next bus to Osorno.

Osorno, Chile / Bariloche, Argentina! -

I really cannot say enough about how utterly beautiful this 5hr bus ride was - begining in Chile with green, green pastures & volcanos coming in and out of view and morphing into dramatic Argentinian mountains with blue, blue waters at their feet and then yellow fields that extend forever into the horizon. Every turn we were amazed and finally had to stop taking crappy through the bus ventana pictures and commit what we were seeing to memory. Next time around we´re going in the summer and in a car so we can stop and camp everywhere. It was a very memorable and joyous experience. Argentina is simply amazing.
Nestled between snow capped mountains and a lake, Bariloche, is a pricey little winter destination for residents with unfortunate streets filled with dumb, overpriced stores all selling the same exact things. We stayed (for 2 nights) at this neat little hostel up in the penthouse of an apartment building with views of the lake. We did a lot of napping because I´m sick and need to get better so I appear healthy when crossing the border.

El Bolson, Argentina -

Once the sun broke through the clouds the 2hr bus ride from pricey Bariloche to the laid-back hippie town of El Bolson was full of beauty as well. Most of the ride was along the edge of lakes with water the colors of nothing you´ve seen before - greens, deep blues & caribbean ocean blues all swirled within the currents together. Once off the bus we discovered how cold it was there and as our feet crunched the earth and breath left our bodies we hastened to get to the hostel (which was toasty warm upon entering.) I had to break out my winter jacket walking around town in effort to get better. We had lunch and again opted for a nap in the room. When we woke up we set out in search of tea for my sore throat and food for Nate´s belly and found both at this cute cafe right around the corner where we read guidebooks for a few hours by the fire. That night we tossed and turned beside each other in a twin bed. When I woke up for the 1,000 time that night and checked the clock on my ipod I was thrilled to see it was 8:45 en la manana and time to get up - although you would never know it as the sun doesn´t hit the valley until around 10. And either ´cause Nate went to the bathroom or ´cause I stopped for dos media lunas or ´cause the lady cut in front of us in line we just missed the bus to Esquel and had hours to kill ´til the tres de la tarde one. So back to the cafe we went and sat around all morning ordering te after te to justify the fact that we were still there. Around noon Nate noticed they were finally setting up the artisan market which I had totally forgotten about so we went out to browse and kill more time. About 100 hippies with dirty, dirty hands were setting up their tables and we walked up and down the market so I could scope everything out before making my purchases. One of the hippes who spoke a little English offer to sell us weed which I would have bought if not for fear of getting ¨locked up abroad.¨ Though I´m usually good at talking my way in & out of things my Spanish isn´t THAT great. Back at the station our bus to Esquel was an hour late but when it arrived it was a double decker bus (which we´ve been dying to ride on) and we got to sit in the best seats in the front of the 2nd level with huge windows right in front of us (or a front row seat to our death as I like to think as this thing speeds around corners and we tip over the edge of the cliff.) As I write we are waiting at the Esquel bus station for our executive cama overnight bus to the east coast to Comodoro Rivadavia, Argentina and I better find where Nate wandered off too...

Thursday, June 11, 2009

La Casa Sonia

Chillan, Chile -

The quiet residential town of Chillan was reached by a 2.5hr train from Curico. As we walked along the wide empty streets the smell of burning wood stoves permiated the air from every chimney. The Sunday streets were empty and we walked alone with the falling leaves in the grey afternoon. We were greeted by a wonderful old woman at the hostel who was pre-involved in a card game with friends who look like they come over everyday. 4,000 pesos later (a deal) we were handed a key and set out in search of anywhere that was open that would feed us. We found the mercado and sat down to lunch before they closed as well. Nate got Sausage & Pure (mashed potatos) which I was jealous of until I 1) tasted it & 2) my Cazuela de Ave was set down in front of me - in all it´s 2 dark meat sectioned, whole potato, rice, cilantro and big chuck of pumpkin glory. After lunch we browsed what was left open at the mercado and decided to get a roasted chicken to eat back at the hostel later. Since there was nothing else to do we bought a bottle of champagne and went back to play cards alongside Sonia y Co. The only other traveler staying that night spoke English and we chatted a few hours before we ate and went to bed.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

a foot and a half of blankets

San Fernando, Chile -

Chile is unbelievable beautiful and although San Fernando wasn´t exceptional it was a beautiful (and cheap) metrotrain ride down. The land is impossibly flat and filled with farms & vineyards and then the Andes rise up out of nowhere. They become more visible and closer by the day, quietly hovering over the towns. I started to read Nate´s journal on the train ride and decided I wouldn´t again until we were traveling back home because we were hysterical as I reread excerpts aloud. Apparently my boy is a humorous writer. The town was the quiet town I hoped for as I´m sure most will be from this point South. The only sight in town was under construction so we ate at what seemed to be the only restaurant in town. Still tired from the night before we went to bed early to read and watch a Los Simpson marathon as music blared loudly from the street below.

Curico, Chile -

As we work our way further south day by day the cold weather becomes increasingly noticable. Although it´s far from frightful to everyone else that lives here it might as well be 20 below. They are bundled in their winter coats, scarves & hats while we will go out in our long underwear and sweatshirts - thus far it´s not so bad. Although last nights hostel was a little expensive they do have free internet (which I´m obviously taking advantage of,) breakfast, hot water - finally, english cable, a common area with a fireplace which we took advantage of last night, and a foot and a half of blankets to sleep under - literally. The town though bigger & busier than San Fernando has not much to offer unless you want to shop. There is a pretty cute plaza but it seems to be ignored here as no businesses surround it and very few people frequent the area.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

¿a que le dedica?

Bogota, Columbia -

As we sat in the plaza a lady was milling about yelling ¿hormigas, hormigas? and as she approached we inquired about her goods. She was selling smoked & salted ants of which I rudely replied ¨bleh!¨ and Nate replied by pulling out his wallet and buying a bag. After eating only 1 Nate was instructed to get rid of his bag upon arrival in Chile, unjustly.

"Valpo" Chile -

Upon getting our room key at 8:30AM we promptly feel asleep for a 4hr nap. When we awoke we set forth to explore the town. It was overcast that day but the sun wouldn´t have made the town any better. Despite the hype it was nice to get lost walking up and down the jammed packed hills amongst the maze of deteriorating houses and stairways. We spent all afternoon wandering. Unfortunately I had a ¨completo¨ for dinner and I will never have one again. They are hot dogs drowned in tomatoes, guacamole & mayo. Bleh.

Santiago! Chile -

As we walked from the bus station in search of our hostel we happened through a street market which came out of nowhere filled with stands of fruit, fish & enormous vegetables. The market ended and we broke into a quite residential part of the city and found out hostel soon after - and it was an enormous, beautiful old mansion filled with activity as soon as we walked in. Our room wasn´t ready so we stored out bags and didn´t return until around 10pm that night. We spent hours exploring the city. Ate at the mercado, walked through a protest through the plaza where the government had sent in troops to spray the crowds with mustard gas as apparently you have to inform them of when you´re going to protest, explored every possible church, climbed the Santa Lucia park getting our first view of the snow-peaked Andes, and just wandered. As the sun set we sought and found whiskey and sat in the plaza where a live orchestra was playing a free concert. For hours we sat amongst the chess players playing cards, getting drunk & enjoying the moment. A woman sat by us and began chatting with us for a while - or more like chatted with Nate. I decided I was going to ask her something, whipped out my phrase book and asked ¨¿a que le dedica?¨ of which she replied and Nate looked at me and told me she was a prostitute. Back at the hostel a group of kids were up playing cards and drinking so we joined them. They taught us a new card game which I was thrilled about. At quiet hour we went down to the bar in the basement and played foosball until 4AM. We awoke hung over and just in time to check out.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

¿hormigas, hormigas?

4 hour overnight bus

1 hour subway ride

couple early morning hours asleep on the airport floor

6 hour plane ride

8 hour layover which thankfully turned into a 5 hour one

45minute plane ride

1 death ride in collectivo which dropped us off in the middle of nowhere

1 taxi back to civilization

10 hours passed out in hostel

6 hours walking around Bogota, Columbia w/our backpacks

6 hours in airport

6 hours plane ride

2 hour sunrise bus to our first destination - finally! Valparaiso, Chile

we´ve arrived alive