Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Andes Crossing Part 2!

As usual, my latest long haul bus ride over the Andes was ridiculously amazing and picturesque.

Uncharacteristically, the bus arrived at the terminal in Puerto Montt an hour late. For long haul buses, they seem to take off exactly when it is stated. We took off at about 930, and I promptly crashed for an hour and a half so I'd be awake for the good part over the Andes. The bus went north first to the city of Osorno, then headed over the Andes to Bariloche. I grabbed a top level front seat for the best views.

By about noon we started to go up, and we were basically in a forest. For the next 4 or 5 hours, we winded through the Andes, going up and down. This crossing is not as tall as near Mendoza, so it is really green everywhere. There were plenty of lakes here and there, and in the peak of the trip, towering rock formations and forested peaks.

We stopped first at an outpost in Chile to get stamped and exit. About an hour later, we stopped at an outpost in Argentina to get stamped for entry and get searched.

Anyways, about 6 or 7 hours later, I was in Bariloche. It kind of feels like Lake Tahoe, but the city isn't as peachy and cabin like.

The bus at the Argentinian Border crossing. A few bags got searched. They didn't take my garlic!:

ye Bye Chile! Maybe I'll see you again soon:

A few hours in starting to get foresty and going up:

Hi Argentina!

A bit windy and some big mountains, but it has nothing on Aconcagua!

The lake is about 60 miles long...Bariloche is the biggest city on it, about 100,000:

Almost there! It got really desert like 15 miles outside of Bariloche then switched back to forests:

As a side random note, supermarkets have hilarious American like names. For example, BIGGER, JUMBO, FULLFRESHMARKET, and other great titles. Just waiting to see a supermarket called GRANDE. Did see a few Walmarts but I have no clue where at this point.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Puerto Montt, Chile

Puerto Montt is the first place where a couchsurfer just told me to call him when I got in, no address or anything. Plus, again, he didn’t speak English. Hooray, more practice!

So anyways, I got into the bus terminal in Puerto Montt after a 14 hour bus ride from Santiago, at 830 am. Gave my host a ring at the phone center at the station…no answer. Great. I had all day, so I figured I’d wait a bit and try again before settling for a hostel. Second call 10 minutes later…success! I stumbled through a 5 minute call with Cristian, my couchsurfer, in which he told me to walk 5 minutes to the right out of the terminal, find the bus stop, take the #9 or #139 colectivo for 20 minutes to ‘la arena’, where he would be waiting. Needles to say, I hoped I had comprehended everything correctly when I took off from the terminal.

I made it to the bus stop. I wasn’t sure here what a colectivo was (names of transport are different EVERYWHERE), so I asked two ladies. Glad I did. I thought it would be asmall bus. Turns out, it looks exactly like a taxi, but runs a fixed route. They hailed the correct one for me and I was off. Showed the conductor where I needed to go, was there pronto, and waited 10 minutes at the arena(while hoping I was in the right place) until my couchsurfer popped up around the corner!

But he was cool, he made some coffee and a bean dish for breakfast when I showed up, gave me a key, and proceeded to clean vigorously for an hour (weird), before I decided to take off and walk around the city.

View from my room @ couchsurfers Place:

Puerto Montt is almost as I expected, a port city, in a very green & foresty area, fairly hilly but not too bad, about 200,000 people. The centro isn’t much to talk about, but they have a nice walk along the water where you can view the foresty coastline, islands, and some really old looking boats. I walked about 4 km to the port market(Angelmo), where they had an array of stalls with fresh fish. After about 30 women asked me ‘quieres almorzar joven?’ (do you want to eat lunch) and 29 no thank yous, I settled on a stall with a big boiling pot with a bunch of stewed seafood and meats, complete with seafood broth as a drink for $5. Yum. Talked to some old guy at the table across from me for 15 minutes over lunch in Spanglish, after he asked me if I wanted a glass of his Chilean wine…he spoke some English, was from Santiago, and his son lives in Tacoma, Washington…you just never know when you see someone.

My Amazing lunch that day:

Which came from this caldron of boiliing stuff:

My first boat look like this:

View from the Port:

Anyways, there are tons of volcanoes, islands, and national parks in the area. So decided I was going to go to a nearby national park on Friday, Parque Alerce Andino. The ‘minibus’ was supposed to leave at 740 from the bus terminal. My lazyass hit snooze on my alarm, woke up at 7, left at 715, and power walked 30 minutes to the terminal, nonetheless missing the bus. Crap. Next one wasn’t until noon. But no worries, backup plan was to take a bus to the island Chiloe, to the city of Ancud.

So…2 hour bus ride later (including barge, transport), I’m in Ancud, town of 30,000 people. It feels like this area/town hasn’t changed since the area was inhabited 6,000 years ago. It was foggy, drizzly, and the architecture reflected that. Definitely a fishing and handcrafts town. The houses were all wood shingled in various colors, from green to blue to yellow, really pretty unique. Since the weather sucked, I just walked around for a bit, went to the museum, learned something about the Chiloe people (as usual how the Spanish came here and when), and took a bus back after about 5 hours in the city. What I saw of the island, which is a small percentage, was very beautiful, green, rolling, short forests. I wish I had more time here, because there is a lot more things to see and do on the Island.

Chiloe Landscape:

A typical house on the island:

The following day, I woke up early enough to take the bus to the national park. After a 30 minute ride, they dropped me off on a dirt road, and told me to walk 10 or 20 minutes to the entrance. Anways, the park was kind of like a low forest, in the mountains. There is a city of a whopping 400 people, called Corrientes, there, as well. I was basically the only one in the park, save for a few people I saw.

Since there are only 3 buses all day to/from this place, I had to make sure I knew exactly when/where the bus picked me up. The driver told me to board at the same spot on the dirt road at 2pm. No problem. Got there at 140, parked my butt for awhile until 230, then I thought maybe he said ‘doce’ instead of ‘dos’. Anyways, walked down the empty dirt road 15 minutes to the only market, where the guys told me to hitchhike. I was actually a bit excited, but then when I walked out, the bus was approaching, and I boarded.

The bumpy ride in the 'minibus' here:

The vast emptiness they dropped me off at:

A view from inside the park:

Waiting and waiting and waiting at the 'bus stop' in Correntoso, Chile:

Fun fact: I am now enjoying hot showers again in Bariloche. There was no natural gas in Puerto Montt, so I took some collllllllllllllldddddddddddd showers. It stunk.

End of Story. Un Abrazo de Bariloche, Argentina.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Retirement should look like This!

This is how I spent Tuesday in Santiago:

0800: Wake up to sun filling the room in couchsurfers 8th story apartment. Walk onto balcony to take in view of Santiago, the Andes, blue sky, and sun

0830: Leave the apartment. Take metro to the center of the city.

0900: Arrive at center. Walk around for an hour and look for café con piernas, settle for a Parisian-like café. Order a double expresso. Set up laptop and hunker down for a few hours with my coffee.

1230: Leave café. Walk around for half an hour. Get hungry.

1300: Order two completes and a glass bottle sprite for $2. Decide that I’ve had enough completes for this year.

1330: Head out to Plaza de Armas, study Spanish for 2 hours, take in 75 degree weather, watch people.

1530: Walk around again. Check out central fish market. Pick up fresh orange off a street vendor.

1630: Return to Plaza de Armas. Start studying again on a bench. Fall asleep in front of group of people playing chess.

1730: Wake up. Start studying again. Guy sits down next to me. Strikes up conversation. Starts talking about the philosophy of life and the universe in Spanglish for an hour and a half, including diagrams with key buzzwords like birth, death, nirvana, equilibrium, subconscious, and fluid. Decide he is crazy, after he told me he was crazy.

1900: Tell guy I need to go to the bathroom to get away. Search for dinner. Settle for a lomito italiano for $2.

1930: Return to Plaza de Armas, study Spanish for 1 more hour.

2030: Switch benches. Watch people.

21:00 Take subway back to couchsurfers apartment. Strike up conversation with a guy on the metro with an Basic English Phrases book. Talk for 20 minutes. Leave train and arrive home by 2145.

All in all, can’t say I did anything difficult all day, used my brain a bit, and had a great time doing so.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

The Grand Plan (or something like that)

In case I didn't make it very clear, the teaching program was suspended. In reality, recently, they sent me an email saying that the program had resumed, but it was going to be on your feet type of program, lots of details were unclear, and I would need to go with the flow. So I said no thanks and asked for my refund. I don't really think that was actually huge problem for me, but, I just got the travel bug from going around in February & March, and thought that there were so many places I wanted to go and now have both the time and ability to...who knows if/when I'll be able to go to so many places again. Maybe I'll regret not teaching, but who knows, at this point, I'm doing what I think I want to do.

So, that's that. I just booked a week of Spanish classes in Bariloche, Argentina, starting March 29th. After that, I'll head even farther south, to Punta Arenas, in Patagonia. Then, I'll make my way up the eastern coast of Argentina, eventually returning to Buenos Aires. There, I'll try to get a visa to Paraguay. I have a friend in Paraguay in the Peace Corps I'd like to visit and can stay with, and it should be a cool experience to check out some rural area in Paraguay for a week or so.

So, that will probably carry me to the end of April at least....Then I'll probably make my way to Bolivia by bus, or boat through the Chaco, go to the Salt Flats in the west, La Paz, & some other to be determined places. Then head through Lake Titicaca into Peru. There are a LOT of places in the south of Peru I'd like to go to. I'd like to go to Tacna & Arequipa for a bit in Peru, where Denise from Rotaract Chicago is from, and has family & friends. Then, head north through Cuzco/Machu Pichu, back to Lima, then north through Peru & into Ecuador. Travel around Ecuador for awhile, then hobo around Colombia before taking a flight from Bogota to SFO for free on airline miles. Trying to convince/meet the parents in Ecuador for a week or so since they won't be coming to Chile now, in July or August, but that's all really too early to tell any possible details.

After returning to SFO for a month or so, enough to plan a few things, I'd like to head to Southeast Asia for awhile. Thailand, Singapore, Vietnam, Laos, Malaysia, Cambodia & maybe to the Phillipines (friend Ron from Chicago is originally from there, grand vision to travel there together, haha..). And if there is time, I'm definitely going to go India & Nepal for a month or so. That would take me up to sometime between November-January or February, if I can stretch my wallet enough (I've heard wonderous things about the prices of travel in Southeast asia)!

Then, apply for the fire protection program at Cal Poly, and return to corporate work mode until deathbed. 2010 in a nutshell. Don't mind if I do.

As usual, my plan will probably change tomorrow, but I think that is the grand vision, haha.

My cafe in Santiago (NOT at a cafe con piernas, though, haha):

Monday, March 22, 2010

South American Accents

So, this really only applies to Uruguay, Argentina, and Chile….we’ll see what Paraguay, Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador, and Columbia have in store.

En serio (seriously), they say the accents are different everywhere, and they ARE…Argentina & Uruguay are actually basically the same. The ‘ll’ sounds like a ‘sh’ (as in llamar), and the ‘y’, also many times sounds like a ‘sh’ (as in ayer). It was really difficult catching onto this, because it makes so many words sound different, you actually think they really are not the same words. It makes you realize how many words in Spanish have a ll or a y in them. After about 3 weeks, I started to acclimate, but surprise, I left for a new accent… Another oddity was instead of saying ‘tu’ for you, they say ‘vos’, but it is not related to vosotros at all, it is merely a replacement word.

Then, when you get to Chile, they get rid of all that sh stuff, which is great because I can understand the words again, but they throw in a bunch of new words and drop the s on a lot of words. In fact, they call Spanish here ‘castellano’. Instead of ‘si’, sometimes they’ll say ‘Sipo’, and ‘nipo’ for no. They’ll say ‘cachai’ all the time, which is similar to ‘entiende?’(get it ?). Really, every third sentence, cachai, cachai, cachai… It’s funny, the Argentinians say they can’t even understand the Chileans sometimes. I was forewarned about Chilean Spanish before I even made it there by Uruguayans & Argentinians.

I just tell everyone I’m from California and they immediately know that the Spanish I learned is from Mexico. In a mercado in Santiago the other day, a guy asked where I was from, I said San Francisco, and he says in English ‘Oh, California, so you must-a speak-a Espanol!’.

That’s about it…I’m going to take a week of more advance classes in Bariloche, Argentina next week to practice more complicated tenses and irregular verbs. Other than that, just need to keep expanding my vocabulary by reading the newspaper and asking questions. I’ll sill be screwed in group rapid fire Spanish for some time, but it’s a slow and steady process.

Suprise, another Christo! This one towers above Santiago:

Santiago from above (smog and dust enshroud the city because it is surrounded by mountains):


Aca esta mi primera post, solo en espanol!

En realidad, mi escribiendo es mucho mejor que mi escuchando...escribo con frecuencia en espanol, a Rotaractors y Couchsurfers. Tambien hablo en espanol, pero saca mucho muuuuuuuuuuuuucho tiempo para poder comprender espanol en un GRUPO (no es un problema cuando estoy con uno o dos otras personas).

Hoy de la manana, yo encontre dos Rotaractors, Jessica y Andrea, que vinieron a mi hostel. Entonces, caminemos al centro, a la Plaza de Armas y aotros calles y lugares en el centro. Los Domingos, los museos son gratis. El primer museo que fuimos fue cerrado, porque el terremoto. Despues, caminemos a un otro museo, el museo de arte precolombian. Este museo tiene muchas artifactas y cosas de la historia de los Americas, entre Mexico, centro America, y Sur de America. Tambien, fue un gran exibito sobre los Incas. Yo no realize que el imperio del Incas fue entre Colombia hasta un poco mas sur de Santiago. Ellos tuvieron rutas entre todos los partes del imperio. Tambien, el imperio fue muy joven, sole de las 1500s.

Con Andrea de Rotaract Santiago:

De todos modos, entonces fuimos al mercado centro, donde venden pescados y mariscos frescos. Muchas muchas tipos de pescados. Por supuesto, yo saque fotos.

Jessica nececito trabajar de la tarde, y por eso, yo regrese a mi hostel. Pero, a las 16:30, Nati me encontro para una tarde en las montanas cerca de Santiago! Primero, fuimos por auto para encontrar Coca, amiga de Nati. Entonces manejemos por un hora, a la casa de los tios de Coca, en un pueblito en los montanas. Ellos tienen mucho mucho tierra, y caminemos sobre la tierra en un valle entre las altas montanas. Muy muy tranquilo y lindo. Los tios de Coca tienen un tienda enfrente de su casa donde hacen postres, todos son de las frutas de la tierra de ellos! Ellos hicieron on postre para nosotros, y tambien un jugo, y todo fue natural.

El postre tuvimos:

Con la tia de coca, ella esta haciendo un postre (no recuerdo el nombre oficial):

They had an earthoven for Empanadas (I really only took this photo for Natalie, haha!)

Well, I didnt look anything up, and it didnt take that long to write, and I'm sure there are a lot of errors! For everyones sake, I wont put another one up for at least a few months. Nonetheless, an accomplishment thus far! Cliffs notes: Went with some Rotaractors this morning to the centro to a museum and just generally around, this afternoon went with Nati and Coca to Coca's aunts house in the mountains where they made us fresh desserts from the fruit from the land they own.

Manana estoy saliendo este hostel y voy a quedar con un couchsurfer hasta miercoles, cuando voy a ir a Puerto Montt, diez horas por bus a el sur de Santiago.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Isla de Pascua/Easter Island/Rapa Nui

Well, I made it to Easter Island, can’t say I thought I’d ever say that. Boy, it was worth it, even though I had the runs from some crappy food in Santiago a few days earlier.

Thanks to my friend Nati in Santiago (err. Santiago y Judy en Mexico para introduciendo nosotros!), her friend Coca hooked me up with a house in the center center of the town (Hanga Roa) on Easter Island for a cheaper price than the hostel I had previously reserved! Literally, it was 2 floors, all to myself, for $25/night within a block of everything. I got to share it with a few lizards, some cockroaches, and spiders, but hey, it’s Easter Island, who cares.

My abode on the Island:

Road to my house:

Easter Island is Polynesian just like Hawaii, so you really get a similar feeling. It doesn’t have the great beaches, but it has amazing cliffs, greenery everywhere, and of course, the infamous Maoi statues. Still, they have good surfing like Hawaii, and it really popular. They also have large ‘pools’ which are essentially rock enclosed areas for swimming. The water, for being the end of summer, was quite nice.

So the airport is awesome, it is like a strip of concrete, literally. They let you right off the plane. It’s the most remote airport in the world (hey, the sign said so).

So the Rapa Nui (people of easter island), are all fairly trilingual. They grow up speaking Rapa Nui and Spanish, but most learn at least some or a lot of English because of all the tourists. Impressive. Though product of societies circumstance in some ways.

The island is bigger than you might think. There are a few volcanoes, the highest being 510 meters (multiply that by 3 for feet your metric challenged people). It’s high enough and there are cliffs so the tsunamis are really a huuuge deal….at least that’s what they told me. On top of one of the tsunamis there is desolate stone village called Orongo, overlooking the ocean. They used to elect their chief each year by having all the men swim out to this rock about a ¼ mile out, and returning with a bird, haha!

So, basically, I lazed around on a beautiful tropical island literally in the middle of nowhere, walked around a bunch, saw some amazing sunsets….and that’s about it. Lovely.

I did have a few funny things happen...On the way back from catching a sunset with the Maoi one day, I took the shortcut to the house through the trees, and bumped into a building with a Rotary sign, and they were just about to have a meeting. How cool. Anyways, I chatted it up for about half an hour with two guys from the club, to one in English, to the other in Spanish, and learned about their club. They started a dental clinic for the Island recently, which was a big problem. Each year they sponsor students from the Island to study abroad, and also students to come to the Island to study. They meet in the islands former penitentiary. It was the smallest place, I can’t imagine more than 6 inmates could have lived there. But with a population of 4,000 people or less on the island, why not just make them walk the plank? It’s an island for god’s sake, theyr’e not going anywhere soon!

Shortly thereafter, as the sun was almost set, I bumped into the mom that owns the house. I told her I had been sick and didn’t get to do much. Not to worry! She hopped me in her rust bucket camioneta truck, and we raced up the nearest volcano to catch the sunset, check out the old village, and walk at the top of the volcano! We hauled ass on the most pot hole strewn 100% dirt road, past lazing cows and racing dogs, and I had a new hairstyle by the time we reached the top. Nonetheless, being at the edge of a volcano just after sunset was simply amazing. I couldn’t see everything clearly, but that was part of the uniqueness. It was just a vast emptiness until you reach the other side rise as it rises to the rim.

My fav photo, a guy coming in at sunset from surfing, rinsins his hair out:

A Maoi at sunset:

Horses, horses, more horses:

Stumbled into the Easter Island Rotary club (the former island penitentiary is in the back left):

Yum at first Sight

Back from Easter Island, here in Santiago, getting my bearings straight, and figuring out where to go and when (plus checking out the city for a few days as well). Also, enjoying internet access and hot water. For the moment, here is a photo of a super yummy completo! Been looking forward to this for months! Hot Dog, Avocado, Mayo, & Tomatoes. It was Delicious, with a capital D.

The Completos, complete with chilean beer (what a zinger that was....!not...):


My friend Nati from Santiago, who picked me up from the Airport AND took me to get completo's at the 'best' completo place in Santiago:

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Toilets & Birthday Parties

I always like seeing the toilets in different countries, different hostels, and different houses. The flushing mechanism is always in a different place. Pull Cords, buttons on all sides, levers, and anything you can think of. However, this one takes the cake. Cut a hole in the wall above the toilet where the plumbing is and pull up on the lever!

On a side note, Uruguay and Argentina seem to have bidets everywhere, literally, but I didn't notice any in Brazil or Lima.

I don't know how I always manage to get myself into these great situations, but last night I went to a birthday party in Maipu, Argentina last night with about 30 Argentinians, in the front yard of someones home. There was a great asado with various cuts of meat and chorizo, a 20 pack of silly string involved for some post asado chaos, music and dancing, and lots of beer and Fernet provided. Hadn't had Fernet before, but they mixed it with Coke and it tasted like cough syrup. No English speakers present, but all super nice people. Needless to say, I was dropped off at my hostel at 6:30 am the next morning. Phew.

With Ulises (from Rotaract), post silly string.

One of the hosts, who was most certainly hammered and very jolly:

Argentinian Fernet:

Chaos continues, I certainly was not exempt from this:

In all his glory (Ok, he posed a bit for this, but still, its funny):

Saturday, March 13, 2010


Sitting here in the lobby of my hostel in Mendoza waiting for a guy I met today from Rotaract Mendoza to pick me up to go to a birthday party tonight. Its nice to finally be re-submerged in totally Spanish speakers.

I've been in hostels since last Sunday and have been able to speak reasonable amount of Spanish, but in general, people speak English at them. You always bump into people from Europe, Canada, & Australia, and they speak to each other in English. In some ways, it is great to hear about what other people did, where theyve been, etc, and get tips. Sometimes, though, it is just a broken record, because everybody is going to the same places on the gringo trail. Needless to say, I really like staying with people through Rotaract/Rotary and couchsurfing when I can. There are plenty of people in these hostels with their checklists out...I'd like to at least meet and make some new friends while I am at it instead of speed racing to some goal of checking all the places off lonely planet tells you to go. I've been doing a pretty good job of that I think, thanks to couchsurfing & Rotaract.

So I returned to Mendoza last night after 3 days in Uspallata, which is roughly two hours away, but literally in the middle of nowhere in the Mountains. Very calm & peaceful. The hostel there had a creek behind it and was surrounded by towering Andean mountains. It was a beautiful and blistering 1-1/2 hour walk into town (a whole 3 or 4 blocks of shops, haha).

The first day in Uspallata I rented a bike and biked my brains out in the desert-like mountains in the area. I hiked up a few small peaks to catch a view of the green valley below. It really is amazing. Desolate doesn't begin to describe the area outside the town. It was even cooler just being all alone in a giant valley:

The next day, I took a breather and just relaxed. I walked to town with a a girl from Buenos Aires and a girl from Canada who I more or less kind of was travelling with for a 4 or 5 days. She was also in English Opens Doors, and we bumped into each other in the hostel in Mendoza 5 or 6 days ago. Anyways, the girl from BA knew nada English, so I really got some good practice in and we talked about things for 3 or 4 hours.

Finally, I ponied up and took a tour on Friday of some of the sights in the area. We went to the border with Chile & Argentina, up a hairy 300+ turn dirt road, up to view a Christ statue at 13,000 ft(suprise, my 3rd christ statue this trip, but this IS South America, afterall, land of the Catholics). We also went to a few other places, including Puente del Inca, a natural land bridge formed in the glacial period, and of course got many looks at the Aconcagua, the western hemispheres tallest mountain, at almost 23,000 ft.

The road up:

Puente del Inca:

Christ statue. My first steps into Chile, then back:

Me & Aconcagua:

After my return to Mendoza, I finally got to meet up with some of the Rotaractors from a club here in Mendoza. I walked to meet Ana, the girl I had been talking to, and we walked to a members house, where the meeting took place. It had been since last Sunday or so since I was part of rapid fire group Spanish, so again, now I only got about 50% of the stuff :( Anyways, tonight I'm going out to this birthday party with one of the guys in the club, and tomorrow afternoon I'm going with the club to take some mate and relax in a park.

With the club members of Rotaract Mendoza Norte at the house for the meeting:

I've also decided that Uruguayans and Argentinians have lost their heat sensors on their tongues. The water they use in their mate is fresh off the the stove and while I wince at taking scalding, boiling water down, none of them seem to think about it for a second. It always takes a few days for my tongue to recuperate.

Finally, I have decided to go to Santiago on Monday. I still quite nervous after the last big aftershock (err, earthquake) a few days ago. But I've been talking to a few people I know in Santiago and all seems well there. I take a bus there Monday, right over the Aconcagua, then and fly out to Easter Island Tuesday morning until Friday. The airline wont refund me, so it's now or never for Easter Island. After that, I don't have a real plan, but I probably will head south, through Barriloche, Argentina (might take a week of classes there), and see if I can make it to Patagonia before the chill sets in. Then maybe make my way back up the east coast of Argentina, possibly Paraguay pending a few things, and definitely Bolivia, northern Chile, and Peru...maybe even Ecuador and Columbia. Unfortunately, I may have to avoid southern Chile cause of the quake action.