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Sunday, May 31, 2009

“..., como buenos fueron aquellos días pendientes de un sueldo que no llegaba. Bajo las aspas de un ventilador que no producía ninguna brisa, pero compartidos com mujeres y hombres de gran nobleza que me ofrecieron lo mejor de símismos."

Luis Sepúlveda, in Patagonia Express

(While sitting on a endless bus trip through the Atacama desert.)

Valparaiso

There's definitely a special vibe in Valparaiso. I don't know what it is, but it makes you feel like climbing the Cerros, sitting down in cafes writing and thinking, talking to people and appreciating good wine. I spent 3 nights in Valparaiso, 4 days in total. There's nothing left to see after so many days in such a small city, but you still feel like staying longer. You never know if at night at the hostel you are going to meet some amazing people or if a spontaneous guitar unplugged will end with the police knocking at the door at 2 a.m.

I went straight to Valparaiso from Valdivia, so that I could meet Stepan before he left South America. We were both in the same mood when we met and just spent the rest of the day walking around, talking, drinking wine. He left the day after, after a long walk through the Cerros in the company of Guillaume, a french guy that was staying at the same hostel. Later in the afternoon Nicole entered the dorm and we started talking. Well, many things in common resulted in endless conversations, enjoying the amazing Carmenère wine (to those who are wine fans I strongly recommend the red Candelaria) and the famous Cordillera del Diablo white (the red is more famous but I still have to try it). We also did the same walk I had done with Stepan and Guillaume, but this time there was no fog and we had a perfect view over the city. We also went to Isla Negra to visit Neruda's house and both felt that in such a place with that perfect setting anyone can feel inspired to write. La Sebastiana, his house in Valparaiso also had a fantastic location, but giveme a furious ocean releasing its anger against the dark and indifferent rocks and I can spend hours day dreaming!
My last night in Valparaiso was fantastic. First Nicole insisted in preparing dinner and the only thing she almost allowed me to do was appreciating the wine with her. After dinner, and after talking about movies for a long long time, we decided to go to a restaurant and get a desert. Back in the hostel, some people were out in the yard drinking and playing the guitar. We joined and started teasing the players to play things that everyone could sing, ending with Alejandro, the hostel owner improvising a song in the latin way, the neighbours complaining about the noise, moving inside and looking for the lyrics and tabs for the songs on the and the police showing up when we were almost done with it. It was a very unpredictable and spontaneous party that was fantastic. Well, if you ever go to Valparaiso I strongly recommend staying in Hostal Patiperro. It's super clean, great atmosphere and great people working there. And the morning coffee is great.

And so Valparaiso stayed behind. I bring a huge collection of graffiti pictures in my camera but many others were not captured by my objective. Maybe i'll come back some day... I'm sure it will be different, but I also feel that something new can always happen in the city, given the type of people who choose this place to settle down for a some time.

Friday, May 22, 2009

It's a rainning day..........

Or it's a rainny week, that's more what I should say...

After a fantastic sunny day in Pucón where we mostly rested from the previous day effort, we took a bus to Puerto Varas in the lakes district.

Somewhere in the middle of the bus journey it began to rain and it was a foggy, wet and cold Puerto Varas that welcomed us. The first goal was finding a place to stay. There aren't many low budget options in town and the best one was closed for holidays... So we had to stay in an old, dark, sinister house - Residencial Hellwig - , hoping that the next day would bring better weather conditions.

Well, it didn't... so after walking around the city for a while, without seing any of the volcanos that should be visible from the lake, we decided to grab our stuff and head on to Purto Montt, from where we would take the boat down south to Puerto Natales in a few days. But since I'm feeling extremelly cold, I started thinking if it would be worth going south... I want to hike down there, and just going there without hiking is not an option for me. And since I don't have gear to hike in the cold, or camp in the snow and don't want to invest a lot of money on that at this stage, I start considering quiting from going south. I know I'll be extremely disapointed, because that was one of my objectives from the moment I started thinking about this trip, but on the other hand, spending money and just feeling bad all the time with the cold is not motivating as well. I had 4 days to make a decision. During that time period we hardly did anything. The weather got worse, heavy rain joined the party and we spent one and half day without almost leaving the hostel Vista Hermosa in Puerto Montt.

After two nights at the hostel we decided to visit Chiloé, a traditional island, where it is believed potatos were cultured for the first time. We headed on to Castro, the main city on the island, staying in Hostel Cordillera. The sun appeared every now and then, so we were able to wander around the town checking what it is famous for: the palafitos and the church (together with a few more on the island they are part of Unesco world heritage sites). In the evening we decided to try the local speciallity and were surprised by a huge dish of Curanto, composed of sea shells, mussels, bacon, chorizo, potatos. It was good, but I've had better.

The next day we went to Acao to see the oldest church in the island and try to see some more things. Unfortunately there was nothing else to see and we just went back to Castro and moved back to Puerto Montt. Chiloé is a nice place, but with the rain it is impossible to do some of the things it has to offer, like the Pacific hike that goes through some seal and penguin colonies.



We have both decided by now that we are not going to take the boat down south. The weather is too bad to enjoy the boat ride. I am still considering taking the boat to Laguna San Rafael, but after calling Navimag I am forced to change my plans, because the boat is fully booked.

I then decide to start heading North, and book a bus trip to Valdivia. Tiago decides he wants to continue south and books a bus to Punta Arenas. So we separate once again. We will probably meet again in Peru or Bolivia. My plans now are to visit northern Chile, Bolivia, Peru and Colombia. He wants to visit Argentina as well.

Valdivia

I arrive in Valdivia under heavy rain (yes, I will continue complaining about the rain until the end of the post...) and after unsuccessfully trying to figer out which colectivo would take me to the hostel, I start walking when the rain gives me a break!

I decided to stay in Albergue Latino in the 7000 pesos rooms, that include breakfast and bed linen. I am really glad I did that. I met great people there. Camilla, Martin, Barbara, Gesa, Ellody, just to name the ones whom I remember the names, made my days and nights much brighter than they would have been. Well the first night I went with Martin and Camilla to the Bar Ultima Frontera, a really nice alternative bar (I would erase those metal songs they played in the last hour) where we had some beers and spoke until 2 am.

The day after I spent it in front of the computer taking care of somethings that came up in the last days, but the weather was really bad, so I didn't feel it was a lost day. The evening, that was really funny! I went out with the two german girls, Barbara and Gesa, met Camilla and some more people from the hostel in a bar where they a live band playing some jazz mixed with latin rythms and after that the three of us moved to Club Luna, where some DJs were having a theme party. We stayed there until 5 am, and only left because they threw us out!

In the my last day in Valdivia, I finally decided to go around and check out the city. Me and Ellody, who arrived in the hostel at 9.30 am, forcing me out of bed :p, joined me in the wet sightseing... We first went to the fish market, by the river, where huge sea lions, are standing waiting for the leftovers from the fishes. It's impressing how these animals seem to be almost domesticated and know exactly what is going to happen each time one of the market employers begins preparing a fish. From there we decided to go to Niebla, a city 20 min away by bus on the coast. It is famous for its fort and for the food gastronomy fair. We visited the fort (since it is a national holiday there is no entrance fee), tried to take some pictures and admire the views. They must be amazing, but there is just too much fog and rain that reduce the visibility. From the fort we continued walking towards the gastronomy fair. We ordered a plate of Milcao, some speciality from Chiloé. It was an amazing dish, well worth the money and the journey to Niebla. After that, since we were kind of wet, we went back to the hostel and just relaxed the rest of the day near the fireplace (and managed to dry my clothes before leaving). At 8.30 pm I took the nightbus to Valparaiso, where I have planned to meet Stepan, the Czech guy from Easter island.

Pucón

We changed our mind, right before leaving Santiago and decided to hop off the bus in Pucón for an extra 500 pesos.

Rafting brought us to Pucón, since it is extremely cheap and has some great rivers to do it. In the end, we didn't do any rafting, but climbed a vocano, an active one.

So after a night spent in the bus (the most confortable bus I've ever been in, but still sleeping on a bus is not for me...) we arrived in town, took a ride from Germano to his hostel, Hostel German and decided to check in there. It's a nice place not so far from the center and almost new. After checking in it was time to hunt for the best price for climbing the volcano and doing some rafting. From the first place where we asked prices (the hostel), to one of the last, we were able to lower the price 50% for the rafting and 1/3 for the volcano climbing. We decided to do only one activity and chose the volcano. Sierra Nevada was the agency we chose, mostly for the price (30000 pesos). We spent the rest of the day doing some shopping and relaxing at the hostel. There were quite a lot of nice people at the hostel, but Andrés, a Chilean Medicine student doing a 1 month internship in Pucón was the nicest one. We spent a lot of time speaking in the evenings after he came back from work.

I kind of missed the alarm clock, or I forgot to turn it on, I don't, but instead of waking up slowly, having a nice breakfast and then checking in at the agency at 6.30, we got up at 6.45 and ran to the agency... Fortunately, we were there right on time and after dressing up the gear we proceeded to the Villarrica Volcano. It's almost a 1h drive to get there. After we got there, the guides ask if we want to go back due to the weather conditions (it's cloudy and there's a high chance of snow or rain, which will force us to turn back without refund) but no one wants to go back! We begin the climbing. It's not easy. It's cold, slippery and climbing on the snow demands a lot more effort than what I'm used to. Nevertheless, I manage to keep the guide's pace and stay with the front group. This made me reach the top, because 150m from the top it started to snow, but my group was above the cloud and it was possible to see the top of the volcano, so we didn't turn back. All the other groups had to turn back, because they had no visibility. I had some gear problems with the gramps (that's what happens when you choose the cheapest company...), but one of the guides was able to fix them (they broke 4 times in the steepest part of the glacier...) and I was the last to reach the crater. Due to this, I only had time to take some pictures, have some water and then had to begin descending, without resting... But it felt great to be at the top. I know that the risks of eruption are minimal, there are only some active fumaroles right now, but standing there on the crater and seing the smoke coming out of it is impressive. The last eruption was in the 80s, the last big eruption was in the 70s. The worst part, as usual, was going downhill. My knees started hurting as usual. We met the other groups that had to turn back at the top of the ski lift, where we stoped to have something to eat and where I could finally rest! Then it was another 30 min to the parking lot, but due to the snow, our van couldn't make it all the way up, so we had to walk another 20 min downhill...

I was really happy to arrive in Pucón because it meant getting rid of those unconfortable boots and I could go to the hostel and take a warm shower! I was feeling extremelly cold. Then it was time to relax. I reached the top and was extremely happy for that :)

Just one last thing, never choose the cheapest company, or if you do so, ask to check the equipment before you decide going with them. Nothing went wrong in the end, but I still wonder how I would have gonne down if they hadn't been able fix my gramps.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Finally in Chile

Santiago de Chile is known for the permanent smog that covers the city. The amount of traffic together with the spectacular mountains that surround the city are the reasons for this.


Well the day we arrived we didn't notice this. We immediately took a taxi from the airport to Vitacura, with a stop at the bus terminal to drop Stepan who is going to Mendonza. In Vitacura we were welcomed by Muriel and her son Martin. Muriel is a good friend of a friend of Tiago and was kind enough to host us for a few days. And what a host, despite working all the time, looking after her two year old child, she still found time to talk with us in the evenings (sorry for my lousy spanish) for hours, show us some Chilean gastronomy and take us to Valparaiso, 150 km away from Santiago, by the coast.


Santiago

What does Santiago has to offer a tourist? There's some museums, the cathedral, some other churches, Pablo Nerudas house and then shopping and food.

The Plaza de Armas is what I would call the city center, although the city has different centers. Around this square one finds the beautiful roman-catholic cathedral, the main post office building, the national museum, some galleries and a small park. Not far is the Palacio La Moneda, the president's official residence and the pre columbine museum.


In our first day around Santiago we walked and walked and walked... I spent some time at the beautiful post office building in plaza de armas sending some stuff home and after that we went around the city. We had lunch at the food market, visited Cerro Santa Lucia and then just wandered around trying to buy books (in the country of Neruda, Allende, Sepulveda, Donoso among many others this can be a hard and expensive quest) and clothes. We still found time to visit La Chascona the house Neruda built to spend time with his mistress, later second wife.


At night Muriel surprised us with a typical Chilean dish, which I still have to ask for the recipe. We had to wake up early the next day because we were going to Valparaiso, but we still managed to stay up late talking.


Valparaiso


I must confess I wasn't very eager to visit Valparaiso, but I'm glad I went there. Yes, it's a touristic place but it is charming, beautiful and inspiring. The beautiful facades in Cerro Alegre, overlooking the harbour are fantastic. And then the grafitis that cover many walls some with political purposes, others just works of urban art, give it a special feeling. It's one of those places where you would like to sit down in a cafe writing and thinking, watching the time pass by. Unfortunately time was something we didn't have, so after eating the traditional dish of Valparaiso - Chorrillana - a huge dish with french fries, small pieces of beef, onion and a slice of cheese on top in The Mastodonte, we went to Viña del Mar. This is Santiago's beach resort, it's covered with skyscrapers and concrete. It was just not my place... After Viña we went back home. Muriel went to a concert and we stayed home planning the coming days.



Santiago


It's a completely different city Santiago on a Sunday morning. There is hardly any traffic, no people on the streets (apart from peruvian emigrants trying to call home) and almost everything is closed. What brings us to town then? The entrance in the museums is for free on sundays and we want to visit La Moneda. La Moneda can only be visited after 3 because there is something official going on so we head on to the Pre Columbine museum. It's a good collection they have on display here and explanations in spanish are very good. It's possible to learn a lot here. La Moneda was a bit disappointing, since it is not possible to visit it inside, just the courtyard.


After seing everything we sat down in a cafe close to Cerro Santa Lucia until it was time to go back home, pack, say goodbye to Muriel and Martin and move on to the bus terminal where we will take the night bus to Villarrica.

Monday, May 11, 2009

My phone number for the coming month

In case you miss me :p

+56995643078

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Rapa Nui

Rapa Nui, also known as Easter Island on the Western World, is the most exotic destination of our trip. It's a small volcanic island in the middle of the Pacific, halfway between Chile and Tahiti. It is administered by Chile but it has a special administrative autonomy.

The trip to Rapa Nui was not as nice as it could have been... There was this jerk sitting behind me making noises and stupid comments permanently all night. And this time I was so tired that I actually fell asleep 20 min after I started watching a movie. We later found out that he is kind of the King of the Rapa Nui people... If I had a king like that I would be ashamed!

What did I know about Easter Island, before I arrived. Well, its people almost exterminated themselves, by over exploring the island resources. They built and moved huge statues accross the island. There were hardly any trees in the island. All this was true. Just a few more things missing, that were aprehended during our stay.

We arrived under heavy rain and heavy wind. We asked arround in airport some prices of places to stay, and decided to stay in the one that offered us the best deal. Residencial Miro, administered by good mooded Sandra. It was a great choice because of the company we found there. Jan, from Belgium, who had been living and working in New Zealand for the last 5 years and is now on his way back home, with a great sense of humour and fantastic unimaginable stories about his life as a travel guide (unfortunately I am not allowed to tell them here because he is writing a book about those stories; when it comes out I´ll announce it here). Stepan, from Czech Republic was the other inhabitant of the hostel, is also on around the world trip and just had to spend his time listening to us loughing and talking, but I think he enjoyed. :)

The first day in Easter Island was a real emotion. Heavy rain and wind (which made me get soaked from the waist down) and a quest to get some Pesos... Only the Maestro/Mastercard network work in Easter Island and I have 2 visas and one Mastercard that I don´t know the pin... In the end after visiting the two ATMs and the bank we asked for a cash advance at the money exchange office in the village and got charged 15% commission for that... After the money quest I just had to sleep for a couple of hours.


Rapa Nui


It's definitely a special place and I feel i'm really lucky for having been given the chance to come here. Not many people will come to visit and try to understand the misteries that surround this culture.

We were also fortunate for having found great company at our hostel. The stay in Easter Island without John and Stepan wouldn't have been the same. It's amazing how in such a small place, with so little to do, I never felt bored! John is an amazing story teller. I'm really looking forward for his book to be published. I doubt you've told us any of the stories you're gonna publish and if those were that unusual, astonishing and funny, the ones in the book will most likely be that and much more. Unfortunately I can't tell any of those stories here otherwise he might sue me :)

Well, what did we do in Easter Island? Of course we had to watch the statues. They're spread out all over the island. They were all thrown down and vandalised by the Rapa Nui people, in what is believed to be a consequence of the several conflicts between the different tribes. The ones that are found standing were recovered by archeological works done in the last century. It is really impressive to walk around the vulcano where the statues were carved out of the stone, wandering around the statues that were never moved to other parts of the island, trying to imagine how it would have been to transport these huge structures intact sometimes several km through irregular ground. In order to visit all the statues in one day we rented a 4WD jeep and I was designated as the driver, my first time behind a jeep's wheel. Besides visiting the statues, we also went down to the beach, where Stepan and Tiago decided to try the water. This is an amazing place. At the entrance there's a huge group of statues. There's also a cave some meters up on the cliffs which is possible to visit. The day ended with us trying to find a boat for John to go fishing (that's his hobby) but unfortunately it seems like Easter Island is no longer a fishing paradise. According to a local fisherman, the water is too warm for the big fish. Consequences of the global warming? Maybe, who knows. Later in the day me and Tiago moved to the other side of the village, to where Sandra lives (an overbooking problem apparently). The place was much better than the other one, but we were too far from our new friends and got a bit annoyed with that. We met later in the night to have dinner at the restaurant that overlooks the harbour and planned on meeting the next day for lunch at the same place.

On my last day in Rapa Nui I had planned to do a long hike up the biggest volcano on the island. First I stopped at the local artcrafts market to buy some souvenirs. Then I just followed the coast north. Since I left home until the end of the day I was never alone. There was a dog that adopted me as his owner for the day and followed me everywhere (they were two at times). A couple of km after I started I saw these amazing cliffs going into the ocean and just went down and sat there writing for a long time. My faithful friends kept an eye on me all the time and were extremely happy when I came back on the track. It was almost lunch time by then and so I decided to meet the others.
After lunch, a coastal walk followed, with a stop at an artificial lake that is in contact with the ocean for me to bathe in Easter Island, and after that we headed on to the museum. It's a really simple museum, but I end up learning a few things about the island's history. The most important of all was that the statues represent their ancesters. Since this was our last day at the island, we decided to meet later in the afternoon. We had a few beers overlooking the ocean and an astonishing sunset and then we continued at the hostel until midnight. We say goodbye to John. It was great meeting him. And Stepan is taking the same flight as we are, so we won't say goodbye before Santiago.

Going back to Easter Island...only if I have the opportunity, never on purpose. I only missed the southern tip of the island, that has a really beautiful volcano with a lake in a steep crater and some petroglyphs in the village where it is said that the bird-man used to live. And compared to continental Chile, Easter Island is extremely expensive.

Tahiti

For a while I thought this text would start the following way: "if Tahiti rhymes with paradise for you, just grab another travel magazine because that's just bullshit!". But fortunately it changed.

Papeete

We arrived in French Polynesia late in the evening. I had pre booked the cheapest shithole in town. Sorry for the "S" words, but the reason for that is that the first day in Tahiti was more like hell. The only good thing was the great company of Adam, Anna and later Lis. But lets take it in parts.
First just a short description of what is Tahiti. Tahiti is a french vacation colony, which in a way is good because it's EU territory so we can just go through the border control without any questions. Tahiti is also a surfers paradise. What we didn't know was that this was only in the southern part of the island and that Papeete, the capital, had no beach. So we arrived in Papeete in the evening and took a taxi to the Hostel TeAmo, very close to the city center where we paid only 2550 XPF per night. I sat down in the reception reading when Adam arrived. He had also taken our flight but it took him a bit longer to get out of the airport, probably because he is from the USA. Unfortunately he makes the same mistake as we did and books two nights. We started talking and after a while Anna also from the US arrived and joined us. We talked about our trips and about Anna's experience in a boat. She is in Papeete to work in a teaching sailing boat that will sail to Hawaii in a week time. We only went to bed when the hostel owner asked us to make less noise.

The next day in Papeete was really depressing... First it was the first of May (our second in two days since we gained one day of life when crossing the international time line) so most things were closed. Then we found out there was no beach in Papeete and worse, there were no buses to the southern beaches. We then confirmed in situ that Tahiti is really expensive and that Papeete is a place to get out of as fast as possible! What to do then? Well me and Adam just grabbed some beers and sat down in the "lounge" of the hostel talking and laughing the rest of the afternoon in Tiago's and Anna's company.

In the evening the three guys went for dinner at the great open air food night market in the harbour where they serve all sorts of grilled stuff at reasonable prices. After that we grabbed Anna and Lis from their sailing boat and went for a beer at the 3 Broisseurs. Of course we were talking a lot about the life on the boat and we were curious about funny stories that happen onboard.

Moorea

There´s two options in Tahiti if one wants to get some sun and beach: one is to go to the south of the island, the other is to take a ferry to the neighbour island of Moorea, which is only 30 min away.

We took the second option. We took the bus from the ferry terminal to Haapit. After 30 min Tiago saw a sign indicating Mark´s place to the right. I pressed something and the bus stopped. After 10 min walking in a muddy road (oh yeah, I forgot to mention that is has been raining like hell during parts of the day!) we met Mark, who didn´t seem very happy to see us at first. He was probably thinking where he would put the three of us. Once he figered it out, his mood changed and he started talking about his place and the amazing Moorea (where the sea water is so pure that if we can filter through our teeth you can drink it, Marks words). We had to wait for over an hour for our "room" to be ready. During that time we were playing football in the garden and getting our head wet with cold water (the temperature and humidity are amazingly high).

After droping our stuff Mark, who was going to pick up some people from the harbour gave us a ride to the amazing paradise, Pineapple beach. And finally we said "thank god, Tahiti is like we imagined it would be"! Torquoise clear waters, white sand, coconut trees, sun. In other words, paradise. :) We entered the water and immediately something huge with about 1m diameter comes and meets us. It frightened us until we noticed what it was. A stinger ray. And after the first one two more came. Amazing, I had never experienced that! We spent the rest of the day relaxing at the beach, reading and some sleeping and snoring!

In the evening we had a few beers and after that decided to crash a party that was happening on the other side of Mark´s complex. We met with a really nice group of French and Polynesian who have moved to Tahiti and live and work there and spent the rest of the night talking and partying. In the end of the evening (1.30 am...) we still went to a bar in the village and closed it (at 2.00 am...).

In the last day in Moorea and Tahiti, we were planning to climb the mountain from where we should get a great 360 degrees over the island and the lagoon that surrounds it. Unfortunately, it started pouring down when we finished breakfast and it only stopped a couple of hours before we had to take the ferry back to Tahiti, which didn't give us enough time. At three in the afternoon me and Tiago put our bags down by the main road that goes arround the island. There should be a bus passing sometime after three... There are no timetables and the bus drivers only start their buses if they feel there will be enough passangers to pay for the trip! Well, we waited for 45 min and when we were almost preparing to take off our t-shirts and start hitch-hiking two of the girls we had met the night before, passed by and offered us a lift.

We then said goodbye to paradise (we were going back to Papeete and from there we had to make time before going to the airport) a paradise that is not for a backpacker's pocket, but it was still worth spending 4 days here.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Final notes about New Zealand

I simply loved it. It's an amazing country, specially the Southern island.

I feel like postponing my departure and stay longer, but just can't afford it. It's almost impossible to be bored in this country, unless you don't have much money. And I went a bit over budget here... 57 euros/day, 7 euros above the budget. Well it's not a big deal, but I have to save some in Tahiti, even if that means doing nothing and just enjoy the beach.

I have to come back some day... 2 weeks is not enough. 1 month will give time not only to enjoy and do some sightseeing but also to wait and relax when the weather prevents you from following your plans. It remains as one of my dream destinations.