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November 2003 Archives

November 3, 2003

Taking care of last minute details

Thanks to Pauline, I how have a page with my itinerary. Check out the Chile 2003 link to the right under itineraries. A big thank you to Pauline.

This weekend, we got a few of those lingering travel tasks done. I've got the car for the Lake District. I ended up going with Avis because I could get it cheaper. It will be a sub-compact so we're going real small. Cars are real expensive and I'm a bit nervous to rent through a local company instead of a multi-national company like Hertz and Avis. Also tax is steep; 19%.

We took a trip to REI to buy some clothes. I needed some mid-layer for the cold regions (altoplano and patagonia). I mulled over a longslever Mountain Hardware windproof jacket but decided it was too much with a gore-tex jacket. So I ended up with an REI polarfleece vest which has some wind resistence. I also got a good fleece/wool hat for the cold.

I've been looking at camera gear. I got a second battery pack for my digital camera so I will have enough power for the 5 days in patagonia. I still need to maybe get a new zoom for my SLR and another flashcard.

We paid Cascada via a Swift Transfer. It was pretty easy since they gave me all the information for the account (routine number, ABN, etc) for the branch of the Bank of Chile in NY. I went to my bank and asked for a Swift Wire Transfer and they filled out a form. I got a copy of the form and faxed it to Cascada so they know I have paid. It will probably take a week for them to actually receive it in Santiago. I faxed them a copy of the form I got from the bank so they know I have paid.

We are now focusing on finishing up our arrangement in Arica. Most of the hotels do not have a web site so I am probably going to have to go through a broker.

I've been checking the temperatures. It is finally warming up in Patagonia. The low temperatures are now around 40 and highs are mid-50's. It is very similar here in Seattle right now. Santiago looks hot since it is getting up to 80 degrees. Add smog to that mixture and we need to look at an option to get out of town! Maybe we will visit Valpariso after all.

November 4, 2003

A few more thoughts and links

I have to remember that Chile has a reciprocity fee to enter the country. For US citizens, it is $100. We charge Chile citizens the same amount for a visa to visit USA so they are just turning around and charging it back. It will be paid at the airport in USD cash. Here's a current page from Frommer's.

I've been looking for other boards to research the latest. NWHiker board suggested rec.travel groups for Latin America. rec.travel.latin-america I did some searching and it is not too bad. I noticed another member from Travelzine had been there also. We exchanged emails this week. She is leaving on November 4th and will return on the 19th. We will have to try to connect when I get back.

Another place was the Lonely Planet Board, Lonely Planet Online | The Thorn Tree. It has a few interesting threads. So far the best has been Fodors, Travelzine and rec.travel.latin-america.

Here are some great pictures of Chile. We will not be visiting the Geyers but we will be in Santiago and Pucon. Chile 2001

November 7, 2003

Two week warning

Yesterday was the two week warning day. Yes! We will be leaving in two weeks. I took care of some more lingering tasks. I reserved the truck for Arica. We emailed directly and never heard so I reserved it via Hertz web site. I also got the travel insurance. I didn't reserve the trip cost so it was pretty cheap. It was just $17 per person. That gives us medical, evacuation, baggage and automobile insurance for the trip.

Today we went for a hike to test our clothing gear. We went up Mt. Si. It is an 8 mile RT hike with 3500 ft elevation gain. Perfect to test the endurance. Today was overcast, cold (35-40 degrees) and windy. Also perfect to test gear for Patagonia. The first half of the trip was fine in two layers of Capilene on top and one layer of Capilene with Schoeller hiking pants. After about 2 miles, the wind got a lot stronger and colder. We ended up putting on the polarfleece vest and gore-tex shell rain jacket, hats and gloves for warmth. We were nice and toasty. We made it to the top in about 2 1/2 hours. Not too bad. Hubby has made it in 90 minutes when training for Rainier and I am usually over 2 hours. So I'm very satisfied with the day.

Now to get some itineraries for the days in Santiago and the Lake District.

November 11, 2003

Dream Vacation

What is your dream vacation? What is that vacation you think about and investigate over the years? Patagonia is one of mine. I was looking over a few of my guide books and I have a copy of Brandt's "Backpacking in Chile and Argentina" copyright 1991. I must of bought it in the early '90s and dreamed of going to Chile. I don't remember what drew me to Patagonia. Who knows. But it has been a dream for years to visit.

I do remember listening to Sting's song "They Dance Alone" which is song about the missing in Argentina and then later hearing about the first democratic election in Chile. I thought about how the countries were changing and moving from the dictatorships to democracy. I do remember thinking when they held the first election that soon it would be possible to visit. Now Chile has stabilized and is an important trading partner with US.

Here it is just over a week before I will be living one of my dreams. Traveling to Chile and seeing the natural wonder of the country from the desert to the rainforest to the ice fields.

The past week we have been do a few last minute items. We bought a few new pieces of clothes. It is great having an Ex Officio outlet her in Seattle. We have been doing a lot of studying of the areas we will be visiting. We found a new travel guide at REI. "Chile Experience". It is great.

I noticed that we didn't have seats on the LanChile flights so I called our travel agent and got some seats. We made certain we were on the Andes side so we have the best view.

Of course, there is a certain level of panic. I hate leaving our cats. We have someone stopping by but no housesitter. Hubby's backyard nursery is always at risk since we can have freezing or snow anytime. There are years when there is no snow and it is warm and then other years it can be snowy and freezing. But it serves no purpose to worry.

It will be interesting to see what lives up to our impressions. Vacation is always a three part journey; the planning and anticipation, the experience and the memories. The actual experience of the vacation is always the shortest of the parts. Memories is what keeps us traveling. Those experiences that you can draw upon at times to bring joy or strength to the day-to-day life.

November 16, 2003

Last Moments

Well, here it is just days before our departure. It is like finals week in college and we are cramming for the test. This week we have been focusing a bit on Santiago our first stop. We have been getting familiar with the neighborhoods, the metro, the airport, the restaurants, etc.

Our flight is an overnight from Dallas. We'll get into Santiago around 9:30am. I've done some websearching on the airport and found some good information although it seems to have disappeared. When we arrive, we will first go and pay our fee and then go through passport control. Next, we'll get money and a map of Santiago. Then find the bus to downtown. There are three options from the airport, bus to downtown, a shuttle directly to your airport and taxi. You can reserve a shuttle or get one after arriving. We're there early so we're going to take the bus to downtown and then the metro to the hotel. We'll probably be there before check-in so we'll dump our bags and head on back out.

We are there over the weekend so we have a few items to take care of right away. The main item is to go to Conaf to get some information about the parks and flora. They are only open M-F so we need to do it on Friday. We will also need to eat. There is a vegetarian restaurant near the hotel El Huerto that sounds okay so we'll probably eat a late lunch. Other items for Friday is to just walk. Maybe another bookstore.

Saturday we have a couple of options. One is to go to Cerro San Cristobal and the botanical garden. Another is to go to the Pre-Columbian museum. We are planning a lunch at Aqui esta Coco, a fish restaurant. Sunday, most everything is closed and many of the restaurants are also closed. We are thinking that we will go to the Mercado Central and have lunch there. There is also the Cerro Santa Lucia. Unfortunately, when we return it will be a public holiday so probably much will be closed on that Monday.

Packing
We have at least organized most of our clothes and started to pack. It is hard to do this time. We will be going from 80 degree weather in Santiago to the cold high desert, then on to the warm rain and finally the cold wind. We also have to pack a lot of hiking gear so it is definitely tough to get this into two bags and two day packs.

Travel Plans
I have been reconfirming our hotel arrangements and finalizing the one last reservation. I'm still waiting to for confirmation of a room in Arica. We are going through a broker, ChipHotels, since I didn't find very many of the hotels had web sites. I tried emailing one and got no reply. We picked up our IDL on Friday.

Movie Break
We went and saw "Master and Commander" today. We needed a break and distraction. I enjoyed it a lot. I've never read any of the books so I didn't have to be disappointed because they were not true to the book. It was good but lacked one item, a good enemy. They were always chasing the French ship but you never got a person associated with the ghost. Actually, the movie was a lot like Star Trek. Strong charismatic captain facing battles.

November 19, 2003

Weather of our discontentment

November is always a strange month for weather here in Seattle. Expect anything. Yesterday, it was pouring down rain and traffic came to a standstill. Several main streets were closed due to flooding. Fortunately, I drove into work early and missed the backup. We ended up getting two inches. And now this morning, we woke up to snow. Ack! Boy I am glad we were not driving to the airport either yesterday or today. We also saw that Houston and Texas had a bunch of tornadoes. So where do we change planes? Dallas. But the forecast looks sunny and clear for tomorrow.

Chile is no better. It is warming up in Santiago. Forecast is for high 80s, low 90s. Arica, the perpetual city of Spring has some clouds coming in. Villarrica has been overcast for weeks. But it was the Punta Arenas forcast that really got to me yesterday. "Wind driven showers with soaking rain later in the afternoon. High 52. Winds 20-30mph. 70% chance of rain". Maybe it will be better in two weeks when we get to Patagonia. Yeah... right.

November 20, 2003

Hello friends It is time

Hello friends

It is time again for Marta and George to go on another vacation. This year our plans take us south to Chile. Yes, Chile! We have always dreamed of visiting the country and doing some hiking and this year we are living out the dream.

We are leaving today Thursday November 20th and we will be spending three weeks touring country. We are mainly focusing on three areas, the Far North, the Lake District and Patagonia. We plan to spend about 4 days in each area seeing the natural wonders and doing some hiking. We will start and end our journey with a few days in Santiago.

We expect to see some pretty amazing things while in Chile. From the birds and flowers of the Altiplano plain at 14,000 near the Bolivian border, the volcanoes and monkey puzzle trees of the Lake District and the icy peaks and glacier of Patagonia. We are so excited and of course a little anxious. This is our first trip to South America. But everyone we have dealt with in arranging this trip has been extremely helpful and friendly.

We will be sending back e-mails along the way when we find internet access. I've also kept a web-log (blog) while making our trip plans. Check it out at http://www.slowtrav.com/marta. You can find our itinerary and archives of my logs in the links on the right.

Hasta Luego and Happy Thanksgiving,

Marta and George

November 23, 2003

Santiago

It is Sunday evening here in Santiago and we are somewhat recovered from our travel. The flight was good. We got some sleep on the plane since we brought along some Sleepytime Tea with Valerian. We awoke to the sight of the Andes and Aconcagua, the highest peak in South America. Of course, we got in the slow line at customs and by time we made it to baggage claim, they were gathering up the few bags that remained. We spotted two of our bags but my bag was not there. Oh no... not Italy over again. We started our lost claim when George spotted a carabinero (security) with a rather distressed woman in tow. She had picked up my bag by mistake. Major Sigh of relief. And so our adventure began.

We went in search of an ATM. Of course, the first one we found was out of order. Second minor panic attack since we did not have any Chilean money. But we found another one and figured out how to get money. We took the bus into Santiago, and then the Metro on to our Hotel. It took us about 2 hours to get through customs and to our hotel. Our room was ready even though we were early. Hotel Orly is very nice. The exterior and interior is very French with a curving stair and antiques reproductions. Our room faces the street and is noisy but we have ear plugs.

After a shower and brief rest we headed down to the heart of Santiago. The tourist office was closed for some anniversary so we had to rely on our maps in our guide books. The Metro is excellent, clean and cheap. It costs about 50cents a ride and the train seems to always come in a few minutes. The buses meanwhile are very chaotic, dirty, curtained with no organization. They speed along the avenues spewing diseil fumes.

We went to Conaf (National Parks) headquarter for a few brochures, finally got a map, and sat around Plaza des Armes for a while. Boy is it hot. The temperatures have been in the upper 80s and 90s. I have not been drinking enough water. I need to do a better job. We headed back to the hotel and had hoped to get a late lunch but we hadn't yet figured out the Santiago eating times. Lunch is 1pm-3pm and Dinner is at 9pm-11pm. We ended up going back out in the evening. We ate at El Huerto, a vegetarian restaurant that was quite good. We had our first Pisco Sours, a potent apertif of white brandy distilled from Moscatel grapes, lemon juice and sugar. We finished our meal with some herbal tea and fell promptly to sleep.

Saturday was our culture day. We started off with a tour of Chascona, Pablo Neruda's house. He built it for his mistress who later became his third wife. He designed the house himself in a nautical theme. He was enamored and inspired by the sea. The rooms were made to look like rooms on a ship or a light house in three levels. It was still decorated with many of his furnishing from the 60s and his art collection which included several gifts from painters like Legar and Diego Rivera. It is at the food of Cerro San Cristobal a huge peak overlooking Santiago and includes one of the largest urban parks in the world. George wanted to go in search of the Botanical Garden. We took the funicular up to the top and then started down in the noon day sun looking for it. After walking down for 15 minutes, Marta was getting pretty grumpy. Fortunately for George there was another cable car station so we could take it back up.

We had learned our lesson from yesterday and headed to lunch. We had an extra half hour and came across a free exhibit of Joan Miro paintings and sculptures at the Telephone company headquarters. Then off to lunch. We had a great fish lunch with a bottle of wine and a pisco sour at Aqui esta Coco. We decided to take in another park and headed to Cerro Santa Lucia where we sat in the shade and watched the couples. We meandered back to the Plaza des Armes where we watched a mime and a crazy guy doing Tai Chi. We decided to head back to La Moneda for a photograph and came across another chance art exhibit. The was an outdoors photography exhibit by a French photographer. All the photos were taken from the air. We spend over an hour viewing the photos.

Today is Sunday. Most everything is closed including a lot of the restaurants. We headed to the Mercado Centrale to see the fish market and have lunch. Talk about pressure sales. The fish and restaurant hawkers start the moment you walk in. It was great to see the different fishes. I've already had conger eel which isn't an eel but is a rockfish. I also had Reinite which was a firm white fish somewhat like trout. George has had corvina which is a sea bass. We had some time before lunch so we walked over to the vegetable market. Totally different feel. There were very few tourists in this market and stalls upon stalls. Most selling vegetables but some selling meat, chicken, and even pet food (dry Purina chow). It wasn't emaculate like the other markets but it stillwas someone clean and we didn't feel unsafe. We really like the Chermoyia fruit. It is also called custard apple and has a great taste.

We finally burned out and has taken refuge in our hotel. It has airconditioning which really helps. Tomorrow we leave for Arica and the North. This should be a totally different experience. Until then,

Hasta Luego.

November 27, 2003

Altiplano

Happy Thanksgiving everyone. Here we are in Arica after three amazing days in the Altiplano. Words can barely describe the scenery. Now... if there just wasn"t the effects of the altitude to deal with. But it unavoidable when you are over 15,000ft.

We started our journey on Monday when we flew from Santiago to Arica. We picked up our "camioneta" (extra cab pickup with extra big wheels and high clearance). Perfect for the roads were to be traveling on. We had to make a quick trip into Arica to pick up an extra gas can "bidon" because there are no gas stations outside of Arica. We also stopped at the Ekono supermarket to pick up breakfast supplies for the next three days and 7 liters of water.

We headed up Ruta 11 to Putre. Ruta 11 starts out in the Lluta valley which is a green belt of agriculture surrounded by huge mountains devoid of all plant life. But along these cliffs were some geoglyphs of giant men and animals that were made using dark stones. After about 40km, the road starts to climb through these arid mountains which really looks like piles of sand. You even pass a borax mine so we think we are in Death Valley. At about 80km, what appears to be telephone poles scattered about the landscape are really candleabra cactus. These are similar to Saguaro cactus standing 10 ft high with a massive tangle of arms at the top and spiny trunk. And that is all there was for kilometers. Almost all the traffic that we met was camions (trucks) coming from Bolivia and moving very slow.

At 100km, we reached 3000m or almost 10,000ft. We enter the pre-cordillera and there is life again. We see several types of cactus along with a variety of plants. We make several stops to allow us to adjust but we are already noticing the thin air. At 124km, Putre appears in the green valley below. Our home for the next three days.

Putre is not a city but a real Aymara village. It is at 3300m or about 11,000 ft. We head in for the evening and easily find Casa Barbarita at Alto Andino and met Barbara, the owner and guide for one of the days. We discuss our options and decide to follow here suggestion of staying in the village to acclimate and going to Lauca the day after. I am glad we did.

That night we could not sleep. The headaches were almost unbearable. But we knew they were temporary and would subside with time. George went back to bed for two hours next morning and Marta spent the time walking and exploring the village which also helped to relieve the headache. We spent the day botanizing around the area. We had a good vegetarian lunch in the village (soup and salad) and then we headed to the Termas outside of Putre which is hotspring. It has two enclosed hot pools, a large outdoor swimming pool and a mud bath area. Here you sat in warm red muddy water and rubbed red clay mud over your face and body. You let this dry and then washed it off. This softens the skin and it was great fun. We also met some nice Chileans who showed us the what to do. After another dip in the enclosed pool, we head back to Casa Barbarita.

Casa Barbarita is very nice. It is rustic adobe building with two bedrooms a large living room, small kitchen with stove and a large bath with lots of hot water since all heat was supplied by propane. You needed it. It got very cold after the sun went down. It was below 40 degrees. The beds were great. They had flannel sheets, alpaca blankets and a huge comforter. We were toasty.

The next day we met Barbara at 8am for our trip up higher to Lake Chungara and Lauca National Park. We started by exploring the mountain that looked down on Putre. We were able to drive to a high pass at 4700m (15,600Ft) and explore the wild plants that survived at these extreme conditions. Very bizarre. There were huges carpets of llareta, a dense shrub that looks like a large cushion. Imagine a large rock covered mounds of green, but it wasn"t a rock... it was all a plant. The wind was cold, the air extremely thin and sun blinding. The views over the pre-cordillera was spectacular.

Next we headed for the park. We started to see vicuna. Imagine llamas with short hair or small camels traveling in packs many times right next to the road. We stopped at Restaurant Matilde for lunch of alpaca soup and coca tea. Yes George ate the soup, but I ate the meat. The soup had lots of different vegetables, potatoes, green beans, red peppers and bits of freeze dried potatoes which tasted like mushrooms. Sitting in the middle was a meaty bone of alpaca. It had a strong meat taste similar to deer meat. The restaurant is basically a truck stop for Bolivian truck drivers crossing the altiplano.

Next we headed for Lago Chungara. We passed by the bofedals of Parincota, large wetlands where the Aymara herded their llamas and alpaca. Many birds also gathered there to feed. We got our first views of Volcan Parinacota. Parinacota is a beautiful volcano very much like Mt. Fuji in Japan. It is cone and the top is coated with permanent snow field. Kinda like an ice cream cone. Off in the distance was Bolivia"s highest peak. We were now at 4500m or 15,000ft. And the headaches had returned.

We stopped just before the customs station to Bolivia to see the flamingos. We were also able to see andean geese, giant coots, gulls, greebs and ibises. It was amazing to see the amount of wildlife so high. We headed back and stopped at the village of Parinacota to see the church which has wonderful murals similar to Bosch of heaven and hell. Along with this mural was also murals of the stations of the cross which has Spanish soldiers instead of Roman soldiers leading Chris to the cross. These were painted by 1600 by Aymaras that were trained by the Spainards in La Paz.

The altitude was continuing to give us headaches so we headed back. It was perfect day, just what we had hoped for. Barbara was a great guide. We spent a relaxing evening but had another sleepless night. This time it was not due to the altitude but to the music all night that was in preparation for a big festival this weekend. I wish we could have stayed.

Today, we left Putre and are now in Arica. We have an early flight tomorrow to Puerto Montt and a long drive up to Villarrica in the Lake district. Until next time.

Hasta Luego,

This page contains all entries posted to Postcards from the Trail in November 2003. They are listed from oldest to newest.

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