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Archive for December, 2009

Chillin In Chile

Kelly and I only had a week in Chile, so unfortunately we didn’t have time to explore much of the country and stuck mainly to Santiago and Valparaiso. We’d definitely like to make it back someday to visit the Atacama desert and see the Lakes District and Pucon.

After waiting two hours in immigrations and customs and then getting screwed on the price of the cab, we arrived at our hostel in the Bellavista barrio of Santiago, which is known for it’s numerous bars, cafes, and clubs. Kelly and I had heard mixed reviews about Santiago, mostly that it was ‘just another city’ and that there wasn’t much going on.   Aside from the thick layer of smog that hung over the place obscuring the Andes, we thought it was rather nice…clean, easy to get around, and plenty of parks and green space.

During our time in Santiago, we hung out in the park of Santa Lucia, climbing up to the top tower to take in the views of the city.   After snapping some photos, we made our way to a nearby craft market and encountered an Asian lady selling egg rolls out of a cardboard box.  Kelly and I stuffed our faces for less than $2 on some of the best egg rolls we ever had…cheap delicious street food cannot be beat.

Entrance to Santa Lucia

View from Santa Lucia

One morning I climbed to the top of Cerro San Cristobal to see the statue of the Virgin Mary, which also has a church and an outdoor theater amongst some nice gardens (you can take a cable car to the top, but I needed the exercise).   The views of the city were outstanding, but again, the mountains were hidden by the smog.   Another day, Kelly and I wondered around the center of town and the Plaza de Armas before having a typical Chilean lunch of roasted chicken and french fries, topped with a fried egg and grilled onions.  So simple, yet so yummy.

View from Cerro San Cristobal. Can you see the smog?

Virgin Mary statue

Cool statue in the Plaza de Armas

This brings me to the subject of Chilean food.   There is definitely more variety than in Argentina (a lot more seafood) and we found that Chileans use a bit more spice in their dishes.  They also put mashed avocado on everything, including on one of my favorite foods here — the Chilean hotdog (which are sold EVERYWHERE).  For less than $4, you can get a ‘completo’ or an ‘italiano’, which is a hotdog smothered with avocado, tomatoes and mayo on a crusty roll with fries and a drink.  Nice.

Italiano

Fried eggs make everything better

Our evenings we spent at the hostel drinking with new friends and hitting the neighborhood bars (well, Kelly did anyway).

Interesting story behind this one

Since the coastal city of Valparaiso and the resort town of Vina del Mar were only a couple ours west of Santiago, we decided to hop a bus over for a few days with a few Aussie friends.   National elections were taking place over the weekend, so most all businesses were closed and we figured lying on the beach would be a great way to pass the time.

The city of Valparaiso is situated on the coast amongst dozens of ‘cerros’ (hills).   There are elevator lifts located all over town to help people up amongst the winding streets and a lot of the buildings are covered in graffiti, which is actually quite beautiful.   We wandered down to the port, visited some craft markets, ate at Cinzano (a restaurant specializing in Chilean seafood) and spent a couple of days lazing on the beach in Vina del Mar.

Dinner at Cinzano

Renaca Beach

Valparaiso

Since most of the bars were closed during our time here, we hung out at our weird hostel and watched movies with the Aussie boys and some Brits.   We spent a couple of more hot days in Santiago before catching a 14 hour flight to New Zealand for the holidays.

Random thoughts on Chile:

 -Chile is much more expensive than Argentina.

 -The wine is delicious and you can get a good bottle for around $5 – $6.  We were going to try and hit up a couple of wineries while we were here, but it just didn’t happen.  We drove by a few vineyards though on our way to Valparaiso and they looked lovely.

 -Every family member makes it a point to see their loved ones off at the airport, which is nice for them, but makes the place crowded and annoying for me.

 -George Castanza’s and Mandy Patinkin’s twin brothers ran for office here. Not really, but…maybe?

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Argentina Wrap Up

We spent our last few days in Argentina chilling out in Buenos Aires.  Several people had mentioned a drum circle concert that takes place every Monday night, so we grabbed our friends Dave and Brian from Punta Del Diablo, piled into a couple of taxis and headed to ‘La Bomba’.  The show was very cool…about 15 local drummers, a few horn players, ‘magic’ cookies, and really huge beers.  You can check out some videos of the drumming on our flickr page (um, once we get it uploaded).  After the show, we wandered around aimlessly for about an hour trying to find the ‘after party’ with no success, so we called it a night.

Kelly, Dave, and Brian at La Bomba with their big beers

 Our last  in evening in Buenos Aires, Kelly and I went to a cheap local parilla for dinner with our new Irish friend Ashlyn and than headed back to the hostel where Kelly dominated at some beer pong.  We planned to have an early night, but it didn’t exactly happen that way.   Many drinks were consumed, dancing to obnoxious eighties music definitely took place, and Kelly may or may have not groped someone on accident.  

Kelly smackin' it at beer pong

Last night in Buenos Aires

Of all of the countries on our trip, we will have spent the most time in Argentina, so Kelly and I left feeling like we really got to know the place, although there is still so much to see and do.  This country is absolutely amazing and we cannot say enough good things about it.  I’d have to say that Argentina was one of the countries I was looking the most forward to and it did not disappoint.  

The landscape and weather 

The landscape in Argentina is extremely diverse…it has it all.  Tropical and desert-like areas in the north near Salta and Iguazu, the Andes mountain range lining the west of the country, flat plains along parts of Route 40, and the amazingly beautiful lakes district and wine regions.  Kelly and I experienced all four seasons from hot and humid to freezing cold and snowing.  We wish we would have brought some warmer clothing, but made out ok. 

The people 

Most all of the locals we met were friendly and helpful (with the exception of the Andesmar bus company staff).  Of course, we still got the annoying cat calls on the street from the local men (even WORSE than Costa Rica) who we found to be somewhat aggressive, but that’s the machisimo culture for you.  

We met more Americans than we thought we would and met a ton of Israelis, Aussies, Brits, Irish, and Canadians, and a few people from Sweden, Norway, and Belgium. 

The food

 Steak, steak, and more steak.  We got some amazingly cheap dinners…our last steak dinner in Buenos Aires cost Kelly and I less than $20 total, including a bottle of wine.  Other than red meat, we ate a ton of empanadas, milanesas (a thin cut of steak that is coated in bread crumbs and fried),  pasta and pizza.  For breakfast, all Argentineans eat is bread or croissants with dulce de leche (ie. caramel spread).  Kelly and I were so excited when we actually found a place that served fruit or cereal.  The food is great and cheap, but by the end of our time here, we got tired of red meat, pasta, and dulce de leche.  One thing we noticed quickly is that there isn’t a ton of variety in the restaurants.

 The booze 

This was probably our favorite thing about Argentina…the red wine is ridiculously fantastic and cheap.   A really good bottle of red wine may have cost us three or four dollars.  I cannot begin to guess how much red wine we consumed while we were here.  The beer was typical lagers…Quilmes was our beverage of choice.

 Costs

Accommodation ran us about about $10 – $17 per night, per person.  As previously mentioned, food and booze were super cheap.  We took mainly buses everywhere we went, which ranged in price, depending on the destination (I think the most expensive bus ticket we had was close to $100 one-way).  The buses in Argentina are super nice…(almost) fully reclining seats, blankets, pillows, food, movies, and toilets are all on board.   Tours that we booked ranged from $20 – $60 per person. 

Other random thoughts 

–      On several occasions when Kelly and I were at a restaurant and we would order something (like a Coke for instance), the waiter would tell us that they didn’t have that particular thing, and then 5 minutes later, we’d see the waiter bringing said thing to another patron.  It made no sense.

–      Also when you are at a restaurant, the waiter does not bring you the bill…you have to ask for it.  If you wait for him to bring it to you, you will literally be sitting there all day.

–      There is such a thing as too much cheese on a pizza.

–      Argentineans eat dinner at around 10 at night and don’t go out to bars or clubs until around 2 a.m.  As you can imagine, Kim did not adjust well to this schedule.

–      Fried eggs on burgers and sandwiches is an amazing idea.

–      MC Hammer pants (aka it looks like the person took a dump in their britches) are extremely popular here amongst the ladies.

–      Have you ever had mate?  It is a leaf from the yerba plant and is sort of like green tea (the taste is much more bitter though).  Everyone drinks it in Argentina and Uruguay.  You basically put a bunch of the ground leaves in a gourd, add hot water,  and pass it around to your friends to drink.  Kelly and I really got a kick out of seeing some one carrying a baby, a suitcase, and a couple of grocery bags, while still managing to hold onto their mate gourd and thermos.

 Now onto Chile for a week…

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After our short stint in Colonia, we hopped on a bus and headed over to the small beach town of Punta del Diablo. We originally were going to make a stop in Punta del Este; however, we heard it was a lot more touristy and a bit of a party spot. Our friend Marianne that we met in Mendoza had gone to Punta del Diablo a month or so before and suggested that the slow-paced and less visited beach would be more our style.  And boy was she right…

Punta Del Diablo

We took her recommendation on the hostel as well, El Diablo Tranquilo. The hostel itself was decent, but quite crowded. It was also run by all Americans from Chicago, who were all very nice, but obviously lacking in culture.  The hostel also ran a bar on the beach that had mediocre food but a great drink selection.  And the bar did draw a nice local crowd as well.

During the low season, the town only has about 300 inhabitants.  But they do get up to 20,000 visitors at a time from all over Uruguay and other countries.  We spent our days lounging around on the beautiful, almost deserted beach (save for a handful of surfers), strolling down the unpaved, sandy roads, consuming our fair share of alcohol, and hanging with our new friends at the hostel.  There are a ton of little cabanas lining the beach and had we had known, we would have rented one of them for the week and definitely suggest that option to anyone who travels here. You can get a pretty decent price if you have 3 people or more.

The main road

We also went horseback riding with a local named Fabian and two girls from Sweden. It was such a great day! Kim and I hadn’t been on a horse in over 17 years so we were a little nervous. Especially because my few experiences riding ended in me either falling off or my horse laying down in the mud with me still on it. Yeah. And of course, Fabian gave me the slightly unruly horse, Imilio, but was great once you show him you’re in control. Kim’s horse Borracha (“drunk girl” in Spanish), was awesome. They named her that because she weaves back and forth down the road and always stops to munch a bit on the way. It was hilarious. Fabian led us through the local national park and we stopped for some cookies and wine before doing some galloping down the beach. It really was a nice combo:)

Cowgirls!

Wine break

I also made friends with one of the only Uruguayan guys that worked at the hostel, Matias. He offered to make us an authentic Uruguayan meal at his place our last night in town. It reminded us a lot of our mother’s stew she used to make us. It consisted of steak, chorizo (a type of sausage), bacon, pasta, potatoes, carrots, yams, and onion in tomato sauce. It was so delicious and really nice to have some good comfort food for a change.

There wasn’t much to do in Punta del Diablo, but that was exactly what we were looking for. We could have actually stayed here another week or so. Kim and I really enjoyed it here. However, it was time to head back toward Buenos Aires so we could get over to Chile. We stayed one night in Uruguay’s capital, Montevideo and had lunch at an old port that is now filled with restaurants and small shops, and then went to a local market to have a look. It was crazy big and sold everything from produce to live chickens, ducks, and turkeys. One night was definitely sufficient for Montevideo. The next day we hopped our ferry and cruised back in to Argentina.

We didn’t have much time in Uruguay, but were definitely glad we included it in the trip. Here are some random thoughts and/or highlights about Uruguay.

-It’s much more expensive than Argentina. Boo.

-Chivito’s are awesome. It’s a type of sandwich that is served everywhere consisting of really thin steak, a fried egg, lettuce, tomato, and mayo. Lots of mayo. MMMM.

-The stray dogs are so cute. The same ones hang around the people they like and escort you all over town. A walk to the store, a stroll on the beach, heading home from the bar? “Heck yeah I’ll come!”

-The men are very attractive in this country. Yep.

-The people are extremely laid back and friendly.

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A Change of Scenery

Thanksgiving night, Kelly and I caught a flight back to Buenos Aires to hang for a couple of days before catching a one-hour ferry over to Uruguay. After being in Argentina for a month and a half, it was exciting to be headed to another country and away from the hustle and bustle of Buenos Aires.

We arrived in Colonia del Sacramento, a former Portuguese settlement and UNESECO world heritage site. With only a couple of days here, we strolled along the cobblestone streets of the historic quarter, checked out the colorful houses and buildings, walked out on the various piers to watch the locals fish, and enjoyed dinner and drinks while watching the sunset at the harbor. We intended to chill out on the public beach one day as well, but it rained one of the days we were there. Not a terribly thrilling time, but was a great place to spend a day or two relaxing and walking around.

One of the piers

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Ice Ice Baby

After leaving El Chalten, we spent a couple of days in the town of El Calafate for one reason…to see the Perito Moreno Glacier.  We split a taxi with some new Israeli friends and headed out at 6 a.m. to avoid paying the national park entrance fee.  Hey, every little bit counts. 

The glacier is gi-normous…almost 20 miles long and 40 – 60 meters in height.  We spent most of the day walking along the viewing platforms, just staring in awe at this thing and even took a boat ride to get some up close views.  Every now and then a huge chunk would fall off and crash into the lake, which was awesome. 

Perito Moreno

Us on the boat

The next day on Thanksgiving while most of you were eating turkey and dressing, Kelly and I feasted on lamb risotto and a bottle of wine at a nearby parilla.  We missed all the typical goodies,  but  know they’ll be plenty of pumpkin pie next year.  Hope all of you had a wonderful holiday!

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Into Patagonia

To me, the word ‘Patagonia’ has always conjured images of a far away ancient landscape that was only visited by the most adventurous of travelers and trekkers. Visions of bearded men scaling jagged mountains and massive glaciers would pop into my head and I knew that we had to experience this place, even if we only ended up staring at some pretty mountains.

 It turns out that you don’t have to be a hard core trekker or climber to visit southern Patagonia at all…you just have to like to walk. A lot. 

After a thirty something hour bus ride (2 nights on a bus…ugh), along the mostly unpaved Route 40, we arrived in El Chalten, the ‘trekking capital of South America’. El Chalten is a small mountain town in southern Patagonia, with only about 300 permanent residents. There is absolutely nothing to do in this town but go on hikes, which is why we were pretty bummed that it was raining and snowing when we got there. The weather slightly cleared up later in the afternoon, so Kelly and I were able to do a short two hour hike to a waterfall before heading back to spend the evening at our hostel where we made dinner and played with the resident bulldog, Tango. 

El Chalten

 

Trying to catch some snowflakes on my tongue

Tango

Our second day, the weather was better, but still overcast. Since you can pretty much experience all four seasons in one day here, we decided to try our luck, suck it up and hike to Laguna de Los Tres, which is supposed to be beautiful and have a great view of one of the mountains, Fitz Roy. It was a nice hike, but the further we got into the mountains, the colder it became, and before we knew it, the sky was dumping snow. We had to turn around because it was pretty miserable and we couldn’t see anything. 

The next morning we awoke to blue skies and a handful of clouds. Finally, the weather was looking better! Our goal for the day was to hike to Cerro Torre, another one of the well-known mountain peaks in the area. The staff at our hostel had warned we should only attempt this trail on a ‘shiny day’, since you could not see any views if it was cloudy. We had to take advantage of the clearer skies. 

The hike itself was absolutely stunning, despite the little bit of clouds that obstructed some of our views of the mountain range. Three hours later, we reached Laguna Torre and settled down to have a picnic, hoping that while we were there, the clouds would part and the Cerro Torre would be visible. 

Sure enough, after about 15 minutes, the clouds cleared and we could see the peak!! It was one of the most beautiful scenes I have ever laid my eyes on and I could not stop taking pictures of it (sorry if you see a million of these on our flickr page), although pictures do not do ANY justice to what we saw. We sat there and stared for another 45 minutes or so, thinking how lucky we were to have had some good weather. 

The hike to Cerro Torre

Cerro Torre

Cerro Torre

On our way back down the trail, the sky cleared completely and we were able to glance back and see the entire panoramic view of the range, including Fitz Roy. We celebrated that evening with a fantastic steak dinner and a couple bottles of vino. 

Steak Dinner...of course!

Our final day in Chalten, there was not a cloud in the sky. The bus to our next destination didn’t leave until 6 p.m., so we decided to try and hike to the first view point of Fitz Roy, once again. We made it there in under two hours, and of course, the view was incredible. I took a million more pictures. Kelly and I had a picnic at the view point before heading back to take a quick shower before catching our bus 3 hours south to Calafate. 

Kelly at the Fitz Roy trailhead

On the hike to Fitz Roy

Fitz Roy

Us at the Fitz Roy View Point

The bus ride out of town was breathtaking, as you could see panoramic views of the Cerro Torre and Fitz Roy. Needless to say, it was a much different bus ride than when we drove into town. I could have spent at least another week in Chalten…there were so many more hikes and trails that we didn’t have time to do. I hope to make it back there one day to try again and actually camp in the mountains.

 That’s right, Mary and Nicole…I said I would go camping.

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