Hikers Paradise – El Chalten, Argentina

El Chalten, considered Argentina’s national trekking capital, is about 3 hours north of Calafate. After exploring Calafate, I took a 1:00 pm bus headed to El Chalten. On the ride there,  I met a couple from the Netherlands (Nikki and Hilko) whom had the same general plan for El Chalten and whom were also staying at the same hostel.We arrived into town around 4 pm — an incredibly small town at that — with the sun shining, and the winds fierce. Since we had all spent the last three hours on a bus, we decided to venture out to the two smaller hikes in town: Mirador de Los Condors and Las Aguilas. It took us about half an hour to get to the Mirador de Los Condors, with views overlooking the town and the mountains beyond it. Unfortunately, the clouds were obstructing our view of Mt. Fitz Roy, which seems to be a common occurrence in El Chalten.

IMG_1563 IMG_1564 IMG_6607

Afterwards, it took us another half hour to hike to our next destination, Mirador de Las Aguilas. This viewpoint overlooked Lago Viedma and it was surprising how incredibly sunny the views were over the lake compared to the rain clouds covering Mt. Fitz Roy. The weather can be quite unpredictable it seems within the entire Patagonia region. It can be sunny one second, raining the next, and may even snow in the seconds that follow.

IMG_6609 IMG_6615

After the hike, Nikki and Hilko were very welcoming and invited me to cook dinner with them that night. We also decided that same night that we would take on one of the longer hikes the following morning. We awoke to rain the following morning with zero visibility of the mountains that surrounded the town. After debating whether or not to venture out in the rain, we decided on waiting until mid-afternoon in hopes of the weather clearing up.

Later that morning, Tony (a guy I had met earlier in Valparaiso) arrived just as we were about to head out and joined our hiking crew. It took us around 5 1/2 hours round-trip (21 km) to our destination, Laguna Torre. When we arrived to the lake, there were too many clouds covering views of the actual Cerro Torre, but we had been lucky enough to enjoy the hike sans rain.

IMG_6621 IMG_6623 IMG_6627 IMG_6633  IMG_1577IMG_6639

Back at the hostel and after warming up and relaxing, the 4 of us enjoyed leftover pasta from the previous night. By the second night in El Chalten, we had managed a nice little dinner crew that included the four of us — Nikki, Hilko, Tony, and myself — and another guy from Holland, Frits.

We woke up the next morning to a beautiful day outside. Two of the boys, Hilko and Frits went mountain biking while Nikki and I decided on a low-key one since we would be tackling another long trek the next morning. First we decided on a trek to see the waterfall Chorrillo del Salto, which turned out to be a flat and easy 2 hours (roundtrip) of hiking. We did get to sit on a rock, admiring the waterfall while taking in the sunshine and warmth!

IMG_6649 IMG_6652 IMG_6655 IMG_6657 IMG_6658 IMG_6665 IMG_1573

After our daily dose of hiking, Nikki and I headed to the spa. I enjoyed a nice leg treatment to heal my muscles from all the hiking and afterwards, the both of us enjoyed a 45 minute soak in the Jacuzzi with views of the Mt. Fitz Roy. It was a perfect relaxation day between two rather long day hikes. That night the dinner crew enjoyed a nice steak with potatoes and vegetable cooked by our chef Frits. The food was delicious, the meat cooked just right, and it was a nice change of pace from the usual pasta.

IMG_6681 IMG_6675 IMG_6673 IMG_6678 IMG_6688

We were blessed with another gorgeous day in El Chalten the next morning and our trekking crew headed to Laguna de los Tres,which offers the closest views of Mt. Fitz Roy. We took a shuttle to Hosteria El Pilar so we could hike the loop seeing different views along the way instead of going the same way there and back. The final ascent was pretty strenuous and steep, taking roughly around an hour uphill, but the views at the top were more than worth it. It was such a perfect day, we could not have been luckier with the weather. We stayed at the top of the hike admiring and taking in the views for quite some time. I couldn’t take my eyes away from the beauty of the jagged peaks, it was spectacular. We even got to see Fitz Roy without any clouds blocking our view!

IMG_6701 IMG_6702 IMG_6708 IMG_6714 IMG_6716 IMG_6728 IMG_6754 IMG_6733 IMG_6782 GOPR0964 GOPR0973 2IMG_6789 IMG_6798 IMG_6800 IMG_6803 IMG_6807 IMG_1612 IMG_1610 IMG_1606 IMG_1603 IMG_1592 IMG_1590 IMG_1588 IMG_1584 IMG_1586

After making our way back into town (which took us about 3 hours), we decided to go out to dinner on our last night together. It was a great and really fun four days hanging out with Nikki, Hilko, and Tony. We were a good hiking crew and I was glad they took me in the very first night in Chalten. The following morning we would all part ways to head to different parts of Argentina, but they are and will continue to remain a big part of my solo travels and my adventures in Argentina.

Dress like an onion – El Calafate, Argentina

I arrived in El Calafate around 4, perfect for an afternoon stroll around the town. I enjoy arriving to a new city mid-afternoon giving me enough time to get a sense of my surroundings, check out the various restaurants and shops, and to figure out what I want to see and do in town. Since the weather forecast for the next three days looked pretty similar, I booked a tour with Hielo Y Aventura for a mini-trekking excursion on Glacier Perito Moreno the following day.

Glacier Perito Moreno is about 80 km from El Calafate. We all boarded the tour bus for our hour ride to the magnificent glacier. 15 minutes into the drive, it began to rain and I instantly knew it was going to be a cold day! When we arrived at the port, we boarded the boat that would take us to the glacier. I was so excited to see the glacier that I was the only crazy person standing on the deck in the pouring rain. At this point, the rain and I are besties and I now just embrace it! Once we got to the glacier, we strapped on our crampons and began our ascent up the ice. The glacier looked like a bunch of ice chips accumulated in a massive hill. Even with the rain pouring down and the clouds up above, the glacier was beautiful and incredibly mystical. We trekked along the ice for about an hour and a half occasionally stopping to admire the cracks, seracs, and pools of glacier water. At the end of the trek, we were all given whiskey on the rocks (the rocks being from the glacier)! Back in the refugio, we enjoyed are lunch while all huddled around the heater trying to defrost.

IMG_1462 IMG_1466 IMG_1476 IMG_1472 IMG_1482 IMG_1487 IMG_1489 IMG_1499 IMG_1501 IMG_1503 DCIM100GOPRO DCIM100GOPRO DCIM100GOPRO DCIM100GOPRO IMG_1510 IMG_1523 IMG_1515

After experiencing Glacier Perito Moreno from the inside, we headed to the boardwalks to get a sense of how big the glacier really was. Walking down to this beautiful monster, I was surprisingly taken aback by how incredibly stunning it was. It is without a doubt one of the most beautiful natural sights I have ever seen. And it is the only glacier in the Parque Nacional Los Glaciers that show no signs of receding. It is considered stable as it is neither advancing nor retreating, a very rare phenomenon in these days of global warming. I sat there in awe and amazement watching the ice fall from the glacier into the water making a huge crashing sound. It is once again something very hard to describe in words and an experience you truly have to experience for yourself. If I hadn’t been so cold and uncomfortable I could have stayed there for hours watching the ice fall and admiring the beauty of this massive glacier.

IMG_6538 IMG_6529 IMG_6522 IMG_1553  IMG_1540 IMG_1549 IMG_6517 IMG_6508IMG_6496 IMG_6537

 

IMG_6507

The next day I headed to the Glaciarium (Glacier Museum) with Emily, a girl that was in my dorm room. We learned various facts about glaciers and ice, the explorations, and how much most of them are receding each year. It is incredible to watch the time lapse of how much the glaciers are shrinking and causing water levels to rise. The museum also focused a lot about raising awareness about the impact of climate change and global warming. After flooding our brains with information about glaciers, we headed to the ice bar inside the Glaciarium for a drink. We were given parkas and gloves as we entered and our drinks were served in an ice glass, it was awesome! The two of us were the youngest in the bar by at least 20 years and therefore the bartender took a liking to us. He made us two shots of vodka with a splash of amaretto and just as we were about to leave pulled out a piece of paper with his name and number written on it. Emily and I couldn’t stop laughing outside. It was hilarious to think that he had readymade pieces of paper with his number on them in his pocket to give away to any tourist that came in! We headed back to the hostel to meet two of Emily’s friends that were arriving that day. After they were settled in, we took a walk to admire the milky-blue color of Lago Argentino. After fighting against the wind on the walk back, we decided to all cook in the hostel kitchen and call it a night. I needed my energy for the hiking I was about to embark on in El Chalten.

IMG_6569 IMG_1558 IMG_6570 IMG_6588 IMG_6599 IMG_6592 IMG_6581 IMG_6579

A Whale of a Time – Puerto Madryn, Argentina

I arrived in Puerto Madryn early in the morning. It is not the most beautiful place to say the least, but I had come for one purpose only….whales! After arriving I learned there was a lot to see and do but it all came with a cost and a pretty hefty one at that. Besides whale watching, which was my main priority, you could swim with the sea lions and visit a penguin colony. I decided to opt out of both swimming with sea lions and visiting the penguin colony to help save money. I have swam with sea lions before and I am hoping to see penguins in Antarctica therefore cutting costs where I can. Since it’s pretty hard to explore Puerto Madryn without a car (or on an expensive tour) and everyone at the hostel already had plans when I arrived, I took the day to figure out future travel. High season is quickly approaching in Southern Argentina making last minute bus and hostel decisions more difficult and planning ahead more imperative. That night I went to dinner with one of my roommates, a guy from France. He was on a month vacation from work. The dinner conversation was a bit awkward (as we were both kind of awkward), but at least he was easy on the eyes 😉

I had absolutely no plans the following day, so I had a lazy morning and slowly got ready for the day. I finally got to wear my shorts I’ve been carrying around for weeks! It was a beautifully sunny day out, but it was also warm something I have been missing the past couple of weeks. Seeing as it was such a beautiful day out, I slowly walked along the beach soaking in the sunshine. I walked the entire length of the beach and back (roughly 3 hours). I tried to reflect on my thoughts and meditate like most people swear by, but I just couldn’t do it, my mind likes to wander all over the place. Without expecting it, I looked out to the ocean and saw whales! It was incredible, they were so close to shore. I even saw one smacking its tail on the water. It was such an unexpected delight, which made me even more excited for my whale watching experience the following day. Whales are such incredible massive creatures who move so gracefully in the water. I was mesmerized by them when I saw them out in the distance. I tried to take a few pictures, but they were just too far away. Sometimes (although it should be all the time) it’s not about the picture or capturing the moment, it’s about the experience and living in the moment. Therefore I put my camera away and sat there in awe as I watching these beautiful creatures glide through the water. After an incredibly relaxing day and unexpected surprises, I headed back to the hostel to cook up some delicious Argentinian meat.

*Side note: I don’t normally take selfies (in fact I actually despise them), but when by yourself you don’t really have any other options hence my pictures below.

IMG_6446 IMG_6451 IMG_6459 IMG_6462 IMG_1371

It was whale watching day and I could hardly contain my excitement. The tour company I booked with picked me up around 8:00 am along with about 50 other tourists, but even the massive size of the tour group couldn’t get my excitement down. Unfortunately when booking a big tour like this, we sometimes stop at places that no one necessarily wants to explore, but nevertheless we stop there anyway. Our first stop was at the information center, which seemed unnecessary since our tour guide was explaining all sorts of things about whales and the various wildlife, but I grabbed a coffee and admired the skeleton of a baby Southern Right Whale. We were supposed to head to Punto Norte next, but it was closed due to damage to the roads, so instead we headed to Caleta Valdes to observe the penguins and elephant seals. Because the area is protected, visitors are only allowed to admire the animals from a distance. I completely understand why visitors are not allowed to intrude on the wildlife’s habitat, but I sure wish I could have got closer. Around this time of year people have been known to spot groups of orcas on the hunt for baby elephant seals, therefore you can imagine my excitement at the possibility of spotting an orca. As we were observing the elephant seals, our tour guide explained that because the tide was low the possibility of seeing an orca was unlikely as they usually hunt during high tide. Low and behold about 20 minutes later and to everyone’s surprise and amazement, we spotted a family of 4 orca whales out in the distance. As they drew closer (but still at a pretty far distance) you could actually see the black and white of their skin. It was awesome to see orca whales in the natural habitat cruising in the water. I was sad to leave the orcas, but we were headed to board the boat for our whale watching extravaganza.

IMG_6467 IMG_6465

IMG_1375 IMG_1380 IMG_1382

We stopped to see some sea lions around the port before boarding the zodiac. While observing the sea lions, out in the distance we saw a whale breach 3 times as well as a mother baby pair swimming not too far from shore. These sightings got me even more excited to get out on the boat already and observe the whales even that much closer. Myself along with 10 others got to take a smaller zodiac out on the water since our group was too large to all fit on the bigger boat. We found a mother and her baby to hang out with and much to my surprise they didn’t mind us being there at all. It was mind-blowing how close they come to the boat. Sometimes they were so close you could reach out and touch them! They are just as curious about us as we are about them. At one point, the mother was directly underneath our boat with her tail sticking out one side of the boat and her face on the other and she continued to swim underneath us! It is difficult to describe in words what an incredibly unforgettable experience it was for me.

IMG_1403 IMG_1406 IMG_1408 IMG_1419 IMG_1420 IMG_1424 IMG_1454 IMG_1450 IMG_1439 IMG_1428

The Southern Right Whales come to Puerto Piramides from June to December to mate and give birth in the bay. As it is nearing the end of the season, most of the whales have begun their migration south to feed. The whales still hanging out in the baby are mostly mothers and their young. The mothers stay as long as possible with their babies to help nurture and protect them, but soon they too will all leave Puerto Piramides heading south. Hopefully we will meet again as I too am making my way south, but I’ll be feeding along the way 😉

My near death experience – Bariloche, Argentina

There were no overnight buses from Pucon to Bariloche (most likely due to the border crossing from Chile to Argentina), so Sophie and I took a day bus and had a travel day.  As the  weather out was not suitable for being outdoors, it was a bit of a relief to know we weren’t spending a nice day out on a bus. The views of the seven lakes en route to Bariloche were also special and made the bus ride worth it. It was raining when we arrived in Bariloche and the weather forecast was not in our favor for the next couple of days, but we were hopeful!

The following morning, we woke up to a sight of snow outside our window. The snow didn’t last long and the skies began to clearly quickly in early afternoon. The views from our hostel (Penthouse 1004) were incredible as they offered 360 degree views of Lago Nahuel Huapi and the surrounding snow-capped mountains. After breakfast, Sophie and I met up with Mark and Deb, an Australian couple we met in Pucon, to explore Bariloche.

IMG_6344 IMG_6348 IMG_6345IMG_6399

As we ventured out, we realized it would have been a bit difficult to do a ton with the treacherous winds. Luckily, as the streets of Bariloche were populous with a variety of chocolate shops and cervecerías (breweries), we came up with our own Chocolate/Brewery Crawl. We began the crawl with a couple different chocolate shops, tasting and buying chocolates and sipping on hot chocolate. We then made our way to the cervecerías, only to discover the majority of them did not open till 5 or 6 pm (afternoon Siestas, I have come to learn, are very common in almost all of South America!).

IMG_1307 IMG_1309

To kill some time and avoid the long wait, we headed to the supermarket to buy some steak to cook for dinner as we had heard meat was a cheap product in Argentina. After the market, we dropped the groceries off at the hostel and decided to cook after our beer crawl. We went to two of the more popular cervecerias, Manush and Antaras. I had a honey beer at Manush, which was light and refreshing. At Antaras, Sophie and I split a taster of 4 beers. I had no idea Argentinans liked and brewed beer but it was fun and interesting to see a side of the country I hadn’t discovered before.

After our satisfying beer tastings, we headed to the hostel to cook our steaks. Mark cooked them perfectly and the meat was tender and full of flavor without even bothering with seasoning. After dinner and with our bellies full of meat and beer, we called it a night and headed to bed.

The next morning, as Sophie and I desired a little adventure in Bariloche, we headed up the mountains to stay at a Refugio (a little hut with beds). After talking to an organization — Club Andino, whose main purpose was to help people choose what trails to hike, what to take along, and what best fits their fitness level — the previous day, we ended up deciding to hike Refugio Frey, along with an overnight stay there. The lady at Club Andino told us we would need snow shoes because it had snowed a decent amount the previous night. With all our rented gear we were prepared for our hike into the wilderness or so we thought. It was beautiful at the start of the trek, the sun was shining, the wind was tame, and the scenery breathtaking. I haven’t realized how beautiful the scenery was going to be on our 4 hour journey up to the Refugio. We started off with views of the lake and snow kissed mountains that later turned into forestry sprinkled with white. Although we didn’t end up using our snow shoes the first day, we sure looked professional and badass.

20141031_074151_HDR 20141031_090910 IMG_1311 20141031_091820IMG_6360  IMG_6354                                                                         IMG_6358IMG_1335  IMG_1321 IMG_1314 IMG_1340 IMG_134320141031_12345620141031_113430

The mixture of people inside the Refugio were either hikers or talented backcountry skiers. I had never heard of Frey before I arrived in Bariloche, but if you are an avid back-country skier, it is one of the top destinations to go to in the winter. Besides us, there were 6 other hikers, a couple from Portland and four Argentinian boys. The mood of the Refugio that night was a bit odd. We had come on the night where management was switching for one person to the next. Therefore, that night it was managed by one person and the next morning when we awoke it would be managed by another. Club Andino, the owner of the Refugio, decided that it wanted new management for the following season, therefore not renewing the contract of the current manager (who had been there the last 8 years). There was a bit of tension and you could tell the current but soon to be ex-manager was heartbroken, but making the best of the situation. That night, we went to bed thinking we would have another gorgeous day on the trail the following day.

20141031_125311 IMG_6377 IMG_6363  IMG_6383

IMG_6379IMG_6385IMG_6382IMG_1355IMG_1358IMG_1363IMG_1367

It snowed throughout the night and I mean really snowed (about 4 feet). It continued to snow or shall I say blizzard thought the morning as well. Seeing as it didn’t look as though it was going to get much better, Sophie and I along with the couple from Portland (Lindsay and Brandon) decided to head down. We strapped on our snow shoes and hoped for the best as we made our descent. Since we couldn’t see the path as clearly because of all the snow, it was difficult to know exactly which way to go. I had remembered crossing over a river to get to the Refugio and I could see the river from the day before. Sophie and I headed towards the path we remember, while Lindsay and Brandon headed towards the ridge. As we continued to walk, I could see the path as well as footprints in the snow up ahead further so I had assumed I was going in the right direction. Little did I know there is a very specific spot you should cross when making your way to the path. Within a matter of seconds, I had fallen through 4 feet of snow and down into the river and once I felt water I began to freak out. In that moment, I genuinely feared for my life. I didn’t know how deep the water was or how long I could hold grip of the snow around me. Many thoughts were going through my mind, was the river strong enough to take me down and how was I going to gain stability with stupid snow shoes on, to name a few. As I made eye contact with Sophie, I began to worry that she would also fall through. I had no idea how strong the snow was beneath her, all I knew was that I had to get out somehow. After calming myself down long enough to pull my snow shoe out of the water and secure it on a rock, I pulled myself up so I could see Sophie more clearly, thankfully the snow around me holing tight. She grabbed my hand pulling me out and after embracing for a few seconds, we quickly got out of the area. It was one of the scariest moments of our lives. I’m sure the pure panic on my face was enough to make anyone nervous. In retrospect, it probably wasn’t as dangerous of a situation as it felt, but if that rock or Sophie had not been there it could have been a lot worse and an entirely different situation.  And he best part is Sophie got it all on camera!

Be Careful Where You Step…(Click for Video)

Since we were not far from the Refugio, we headed back to wait for anyone else going down who knew the trail better than we did, which was pretty much anyone. One of the cooks was headed down, so we started to follow him and then soon caught up to the other 4 Argentinian hikers (Christian, Emmanuel, Julian, and Demian) who had been at the Refugio the night before as well. The second time around we had a nice group of 9 people and I instantly felt safer. It turns out I had been going the right way all along, but I crossed over to far up the hill, where it was apparently less stable. After safely crossing the river I instantly felt calmer even though we were still hiking through blizzard like conditions. Everyone hiking down with us were amazing, always making sure we were doing okay. We ended up hiking down with the 4 boys the majority of the time and when I no longer needed my snow shoes one of the boys even carried them for me. It was incredible the change in weather between the two days. The first day was beautiful clear skies as spring should be and not even 24 hours later it was snowing. It was though we were hiking through a winter wonderland, snowing the entire journey back down. For it to be snowing as much as it had that day was incredibly rare for this time of year. I thankfully made it down in one piece even with my near death experience, sneakers, and cotton gloves!

IMG_1369 IMG_6391 IMG_6392 IMG_6396 IMG_6398 20141101_112102 20141101_112900 20141101_115803

We parted ways with the boys to go shower and defrost but made plans to meet up with them later for some dinner and beers. Only one of them spoke English, but it was helpful to practice my Spanish and for them to practice their English. They are a bunch of really fun, sweet guys as well as very generous. I’m hoping I can go visit them in their hometown on my way back up to Buenos Aires before I fly home. I fell asleep that night within a matter of seconds after such an eventful and exciting day. Safely back in the hostel, I can now laugh at the entire situation!

The next day the weather was once again not as nice as I would have liked, a mixture of rain and snow creating a sort of slush. I was planning on going to see a viewpoint, but instead stayed in the hostel all day catching up on emails, blogging, and just staying warm. Sophie and I parted ways, she was headed to Puerto Mont and I was headed to Puerto Madryn on an overnight bus. I am hoping to catch her again in Torres del Paine. I had a blast traveling with her this past week. She is sure to be someone I will never forget both as a friend who shares very similar interests and as my rescuer from the sunken hole in the snow!

Bad Luck Charm – Pucon, Chile

I arrived in Pucon on a beautiful sunny day full of clear skies. I came to Pucon primarily to climb Volcan Villarrica and was hoping I could climb the day I arrived since the weather was perfect, but unfortunately the climb had begin at 6:30 am and I had missed my chance.

IMG_1258 IMG_1262 IMG_6241

The city of Pucon is filled with backpackers all eager for adventure ranging from hiking up mountains to climbing, to white water rafting in the rivers. I love coming to towns like Pucon because it gives me a chance to meet so many liked-minded travelers with a love for the outdoors! Since I couldn’t climb the volcano the day of my arrival, I opted for an adventure sport called hydrospeed. Hydrospeed is an activity where you lay on what is essentially a body board and go down class II and III rapids. At certain times you just had to let yourself be taken by the rapid and not fight the current. It was extremely fun, but at the same time scary and exhilarating.

IMG_6406 IMG_6405DCIM100GOPRODCIM100GOPRO

After an adrenaline filled afternoon, a bunch of us cooked dinner at the hostel and hung out around the firepit. The hostel I stayed at, ChiliKiwi, was extremely welcoming (and they had a puppy black lab) and felt like a nice home away from home. The people working as well as those staying at the hostel were all incredible and everyone seemed to get along really well.

IMG_6249 IMG_6252 IMG_6255 IMG_6261

IMG_6269

The following morning, a group of us woke around 6:30 am in hopes of climbing the volcano, but as my luck would have it the weather made a turn for the worse and the climb was canceled. I don’t know why I am surprised anymore when weather ruins something I have been looking forward to since it seems to happen so frequently lately. Either Pachamama (mother nature) hates me or I just have really bad luck with weather. Rain enjoys following me to many destinations and this was no different, the forecast for the next few days consisted of it. Mark, Debra, Yoni, and I decided to head to the Termas Geometricas, 20 hot springs beautifully built into the surrounding mountainside which turned out to not be a bad second option! It was very relaxing and perfect for the cold weather outside.

IMG_6280 IMG_6289 IMG_6297 IMG_6300 IMG_6302 IMG_6310DCIM100GOPRO

We had a misfortune on our way back to the hostel as our van got a flat tire. The driver thought he had a spare, but the spare wasn’t the same size as the car therefore making it useless. He ended up having another tour bus driver take him to repair the tire. All in all it took about two hours but it wasn’t all bad as luckily the thermal springs had an inside restaurant with a fire so we didn’t have to wait outside in the cold.  After making it back to the hostel, Sophie (a girl I met at the hostel) and I ate our leftovers from the night before.

Since climbing Volcano Villarrica was no longer a plausible option due to the weather, Sophie and I decided to head to the Parque Nacional Huerquehue the following day. Although it wasn’t perfect weather out, we decided to take advantage of being in Pucon and go out exploring! We hiked 14 kilometers round trip (and up to 1300 m) to the picturesque three Lakes (Chico, Toro, and Verde). Although it rained throughout the hike and the trail was pretty muddy, we stuck it out like champs! I almost made it down without falling, until right at the end when I slid and my entire right leg was full of mud. Regardless, the hike was beautiful and it was great to spend a day out in nature.

20141028_095117_HDR 20141028_101100_HDR IMG_1288IMG_1282 IMG_1285 IMG_1287   IMG_1296 IMG_1305

On the ride back to Pucon I couldn’t wait to jump in a hot shower and strip of all my wet clothes. After Sophie and I defrosted a bit, we headed to the supermarket to gather essentials for dinner and cooked delicious chicken burgers! The following morning Sophie and I were headed on an all day bus ride to Bariloche.  It was nice to meet someone going the same direction who shared common interests!

Pucon is a place I could have easily stayed for weeks, relaxing by the lakes, taking in the views of the volcanoes. Unfortunately, since my time in Chile is very limited I couldn’t stay and wait for the weather to clear up in order to hike the volcano. I was though lucky enough to see the volcano on a clear day as many travelers who come to Pucon aren’t even given that luxury. Now if only I could find a man in one of these mountainous towns to take home!

IMG_6267

Edited by: Farima M.

Full of Color – Valparaiso

The day after Farima arrived we headed to Valparaiso, a port town just outside of Santiago. We arrived around 2 pm just in time for the free walking tour that began at 3 (you know how much I love my free walking tours)! During the walking tour, they explained how Valparaiso became a major port city during the California Gold Rush when ships crossing between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans would use the city as a resting stop. Although Valparaiso continues to operate as a major port city today, it lost much of its economic growth when the Panama Canal was built. The city is essentially split in half between the hills (cerros) and the area near the port referred to as the flat. There are about 28 funiculars that were built around this town to better connect the residents of the hills to the stores in the flat, however only 18 remain today with not many of them still functioning as a result of private investors in these funiculars that failed to see any major revenue generating from the use of such technology.

DSCN0496 IMG_1168IMG_1166 IMG_6227
We also learned that Valparaiso is a city of many firsts in Latin America. Among them being that Valparaiso was the first city in Latin America to have a fire department, a bank, a foreign exchange center, a Presbyterian church and many other things that continue to play a significant role in its history as well as the pride of its residents. An interesting fact we learned about the firefighters in Valparaiso is that they are all normal citizens that volunteers in their spare time and outside of their normal day to day jobs. These volunteers all have other careers in various industries ranging from doctors, to teachers, to cashiers and do not get any additional income for their role as firefighters and occasional lifesavers, which is pretty astonishing to say the least.

IMG_1186 DSCN0511
Having spent a few days exploring the city, one of the main draws of Valparaiso is the immense amount of color that adorns the city. Between its brightly colored homes to its mural stained walls, the city is alive with energy and character. The art that splatters the walls originally began because of an art professor’s vision. He wanted to create a place where you didn’t need to go to a museum to see beautiful and unique works of art and he hoped to create an outdoor art exhibit for the people of the city. With this vision in mind, he instructed his students to demonstrate their artistic abilities by painting of buildings within the city rather than a canvas.

IMG_1187 IMG_1182 IMG_1178IMG_1177 IMG_1174IMG_1164
Today, the tradition of open art is still very popular in Valparaiso and remains a significant part of its culture. Although graffiti is considered illegal in Chile – similar to many parts of the world – it is rather difficult to contain by the city officials and to many people’s dismay, most walls and/or many beautifully painted murals, have been tagged and/or painted over. So much so that one of the reasons behind the painting of some murals around the city is to avoid having the walls/buildings be covered instead in graffiti and/or tagging. What is interesting about this city is that in hopes of keeping one’s home just as beautiful on the outside, homeowner’s legally hire artists to paint murals on their buildings. It is undoubtedly better to have a beautiful mural you designed rather than the random artwork of strangers, which is why you can find graffiti alongside murals all throughout the city of Valparaiso.

IMG_1191DSCN0552 IMG_1190DSCN0570
During the end of our tour, our tour guides pointed out an ice cream shop (Emporio La Rosa) that was voted one of the world’s top 25 ice cream parlors. After the 3 hour walking tour, Farima and I headed to Emporio La Rosa for a well-deserved ice cream and to judge for ourselves the popularity of the ice cream shop.

IMG_6206[2] IMG_6207[1] IMG_6208[1]
The following morning, Farima and I took a boat tour of the city coast which turned out to be a merely 45 minute boat ride around the bay. We rode by a buoy where some really hefty sea lions were laying as well as part of the port where the cargo is stored. The best part about the boat tour was the views of Valparaiso from the ocean, which really gave you a sense of the perspective people encountered en route to California. After the boat ride, we headed to the Open Air Museum (Museo a Cielo Abierto) on Cerro Bellavista. The Open Air Museum consists of twenty murals painted by artists in the nineties on random buildings and walls. Essentially, you are walking through the streets following one mural to the next. One would assume finding these murals would be fairly easy, but because most of the murals have either faded and/or been painted over by vandalism, we found it quite puzzling and difficult. The majority of the artwork and murals have been tagged so horribly that it is no longer possible to read information related to the artwork and the artist (see pictures below). I am sure that at a point in time and pre-graffiti and tagging of the murals, such works of art were spectacular and unique. Unfortunately, this does not hold true today and the museum which once contributed to the city’s unique character, is quite an unpleasant and unfortunate sight to visit. Although it was a good experience to learn what has become the open art museum today, it was definitely disheartening to see the works of various artists be forgotten and disrespected in a city where art is so prominent and influential. After we finished walking by all twenty murals, secretly hoping we would find one still intact (however, to no avail), we headed back to the hostel to catch up with the rest of our hostel crew.

IMG_1192 IMG_1203 IMG_1194 IMG_1198 IMG_1195IMG_1208 IMG_1231IMG_1220 IMG_1210 IMG_1222IMG_1228IMG_1230 IMG_1231 IMG_1236
The following day was a day full of “miradors” or translated to English as viewpoints. For the first viewpoint of the day, we headed to the only vertical lift/elevator in the city known as the Ascensor Polanco. The view from the top of this building gave you a view of the hills of Valparaiso and how far the hills extended. On our way to the second viewpoint of the day (Paseo 21 de Mayo), we walked along a big open air market. One of my favorite things about South America is you can always find a market no matter the city. The funicular for our second viewpoint was under construction, so we walked up one of the many staircases that are commonly found in Valparaiso in order to reach the top. From this view point, you get a great view of the bay and the coast to the west of the city. I considered both viewpoints to be beautiful in their own way.

IMG_6209[1]IMG_6211

IMG_6222IMG_6217[1] IMG_6219
After seeing all that Valparaiso had to offer, Farima and I stopped at a bar known for their artisanal beer and ordered a sample of 4 different types. The first three tasted good to me, although I have tasted better, but the last one we both thought unbearable that it was more difficult to enjoy. The hostess told us the last one had flavors such as honey, coffee, and chocolate, all of which I love individually but did not enjoy a mixture served as a beer. After our beer tasting experience, we headed back to the hostel. I was headed to Pucon that night and once back at the hostel, grabbed my bags and got ready for one of the many over-night buses that await me within the upcoming months.

IMG_6232 IMG_6231 IMG_6230 IMG_6233

Edited by: Farima M.