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September 12, 2003

Procastination

I am such a procrastinator. I don't know why, but I am. It has been over a year since our last holiday; Italian Alps and Venice in September 2002. We should have our next trip all planned but Nooooooooo.

After the trip to the Alps and Venice, we wanted something a bit more challenging . Europe has gotten to be too easy. Yes, there is stress dealing with different languages and different cultures but it is also very similar. You can find the same TV, the same fashion, the same music. We want something different. Also, married to a horticulturalist, you just can not travel in the Spring. But you can travel to the Southern Hemiphere in November which is Spring in reverse.

We started to talk about potential places last March. We tossed around several places. South Africa? Too far. New Zealand? Been there twice. What about Chile? We love the outdoors and hiking. It has always been a dream to visit Patagonia. We started doing a bit of research and it sounded perfect. Lots of different regions to visit, stable government and economy, and lots of outdoors areas to visit from the desert to glaciers.

But we also had to train for Mt. Rainier. We both turned 50 years old this year and as a challenge, my husband decided to climb Mt. Rainier in July. We spent every week focused on training, hiking, running and no time on a trip to Chile. He summitted in July and we slacked off.

Time is getting close and we finally sat down and started to plan. We now have airline tickets and a deposit down on a 5 day hiking trip in Patagonia. We will leave on November 20th and fly via Dallas. We will return on December 10th.

We want also want to visit the altiplano area in the north and the Lake District. It probably won't be 'Slow Travel', but we will only focus on three areas. Next step, finalize the days and get a LanChile Airpass. Also start checking on accomodations.

September 23, 2003

Atacama Desert

One of the biggest challenges when working on an itinerary for Chile is tackling the geography. Chile is over 4000 km (2500 miles) long but at most 180 km (110 miles) wide. The latitude near Peru border at Arica is close to the equivalent of Mexico City or Veracruz Mexico; 20 degrees south. Punta Arenas, the major city in the south, is at 53 degree south, which is farther south from the equator than Vancouver Canada is north. In Europe it is equivalent to the distance from Scotland to Nigeria. Think of trying to cover the whole West Coast of the US and into Mexico in three weeks.

Many visitors choose to focus on either the south portion of Chile or north portion of Chile. Santiago is mid-point and you either travel North or South. We love flowers so the idea of seeing the flowering desert first grabbed my interest. The flowering desert, desierto florido, actually does not happen in the Far North of Chile but in an area more in the mid North or “El Norte Chico”. The flowering desert is as unpredictable as the blooming Sonoran desert in Arizona. It also happens in September to October which would be too early for us. So we discarded the idea of trying to catch the desierto florido.

But the desert still attracted us. It may just be the contrast from the wet and mild weather of the Northwest US. Beyond El Norte Chico, along the very the northern border with Peru, is El Norte Grande or the Far North. The austerely beautiful, forbidding, vast area of desert stretching from the border of Peru to 1000 km (620 miles) south. Here lies the Atacama Desert, the driest desert in the world. At the eastern edge of the desert, the Andes mountains climb to a high plateau; the Altiplano. The Altiplano is as high as Tibet, rising to 14,000 ft or more in elevation. It is about 180 KM (110 miles) from Arica on the Pacific coast to the small village of Putre at over 11,000 ft. We are planning on spending three nights in Putre and using it as a launching point to explore Lauca National Park. The village of Putre has about 1200 inhabitants. They have just gotten internet access through the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. After doing a web search, I found Alto Andino Nature Tours. There is actually a house for rent so we can 'slow travel'. We have reserved the house, Casa Barbarita, for the three nights (November 24, 25 and 26th). We have also arranged for a naturalist to guide us and explore the botany of the region. Barbara Knapton who runs the tours has been very helpful.

Our challenge will be avoiding altitude sickness which is why we plan to spend three nights in Putre. The anticipation of an adventure in the high Andes is exciting.

But of course, we also want to visit the Lake District and Patagonia in the south.

September 30, 2003

Tickets have arrived

We are making progress. We now have our LanChile Pass and have reservations for the 5 legs of airflights. We are going to be doing both North and South Chile so the pass is going to save us money. We could have saved even more if we had gotten our flight from the US to Chile on LanChile. We decided on American because we were able to get a good consolidator price.

Our first leg will be from Santiago to Arica. We will go directly from Arica up to Putre for three nights returning to Arica for the last night in the North. The next leg will be from Arica to Puerto Montt in the Lake district. This happens to be two legs because each change of planes is considered a leg and we will have to change planes in Santiago. We will stay 4 nights here in the Lake district and probably split the time between Puerto Varas and Villarica. Next we will go from Puerto Montt to Punta Arenas where we will meet up with the Cascada group. Finally after returning from our hiking trip, we will fly directly from Punta Arenas to Santiago.

We will spent two nights in Santiago when we arrive and before we leave. This may be a little too much in Santiago but it will give us a chance to get adjusted to Chile and practice a bit of Spanish. We will also use the last days in Santiago to do last minute shopping and visit a winery. The flight back to the US leaves at midnight so we will have almost a full day.

We also have our hotel in Santiago. We have booked rooms at Orly Hotel. It is in Providencia which is supposed to be a nice area.

October 6, 2003

La Araucania

We are now starting to focus on arranging accomodations for the Lake District. Well, actually Villarica. The area is called "La Araucania". Araucaria is the botanical family of the monkey puzzle tree which is native of this region of Chile. We want to see it in its native habitat.

We probably didn't do enough research before we booked our legs of the LanChile Pass. Originally we wanted to fly in and out of Temuco but there are no flights from Temuco to Punta Arena. So we switched to Puerto Montt since there is a flight direct from Puerto Montt to Punta Arenas. We went ahead and booked the flight from Arica to Puerto Montt instead of checking instead of going into Temuco or Valdivia and out of Puerto Montt. Oh well. We may save on the car rental since we will not be getting a one way rental.

We have decided instead to drive directly from Puerto Montt to Villarica or Pucon after flying from Arica. It is about 250km to Villarica so it should be 'do-able'. At least, we will get all the travel over in one day but what a day. We will be leaving Arica around 7:30am and arriving at 1pm in Puerto Montt. We will travel part of the way on Ruta 5 which is the Pan-American Hwy. So we think we should be able to pick up our car and arrive in Villarica before dark.

I have gotten a lot of help from a member of The Travelzine. Actually John is one of the moderators and has travelled to Chile. He has posted a lot of good information from his travels. It is hard to find people who have been to Chile so I have really appreciated his help and comments.

I have sent a inquiry for accomodations to Hosteria de la Colina in Villarica. I haven't heard back yet so I still have my fingers crossed. If not, we'll start looking around at other places. We will be in Villarica for 4 nights. George wants to climb the volcano. Actually he wants both of us to climb. We will see. I need to get back to running if I'm going to attempt this. We will need to get a guide and equipment but doesn't look too much more difficult than climbing to Camp Muir at Rainier.

Off to more research.

October 14, 2003

Los Lago

We have almost all our accomodations! I have been emailing with Glen and Bev from Hosteria de la Colina in Villarica. They have been so helpful. We will be staying at 4 nights at La Colina. I explained to them that we will be arriving later in the day because we will be driving from Puerto Montt after arriving at 1pm. They sent driving information. This includes information on a scenic backroad to take and information regarding the tolls on Ruta 5. They have also included information on places to see in Puerto Montt. I am looking forward to our stay.

We also have reserved one night at The Guest House in Puerto Varas for the night before we leave for Patagonia. It is run by Vicki Johnson. Puerto Varas has been recommended as a nicer place to stay than Puerto Montt. Puerto Varas is not far from Puerto Montt so it should be easy to make a 9:45 am flight.

I have been reading about the Villarica area. There are several National parks to visit. Parque Nacional Conguillio sounds like it has great hikes. Closer to Villarica is Parque Nacional Huerquehue. Glen and Bev at La Colina can recommend places to hike so we will get some input from them. We may also spent a day in Valdivia which has a great botanical garden. I am also going to email for some information from one of the guide services for climbing Villarica.

The high season for the area starts around December 15th. We will be there before the high season so some of the services may be closed but it sounds like we will miss the crowds. We hope the weather will not be too bad. It should be similar to the Pacific Northwest in early June. That is pretty unpredictable and can be cold. We're preparing for the worst so we can be surprised.

Next, a night in Arica; the last hotel to arrange and then reserving our truck rental for El Norte and a car for Los Lagos and La Araucania.

October 17, 2003

Patagonia Weather

October is always an interesting month for weather here in the Northwest. Two weeks ago it was sunny and warm. This week it has been rainy and windy. Patagonia weather.

Patagonia has very changable weather. It catches the "Roaring 40's". From mid-December the winds can gust up to 70mph. The mornings can start out calm and sunny and by evening be gale force winds. Here is a good site for weather in Chile.

The weather this week in Seattle has been good preparation for Patagonia. We got over 2 inches and the winds have been gusty.

There is just one thing... I hate wind.

October 19, 2003

Chilean Wine

Part of the enjoyment of travel for me is learning about the food and drink of the country. Chile has been a long time producer of wine. Grapevines were brought to Chile around the same time as they were brought to California by Spanish explorers. They have long been known for their red wine. Unfortunately, there have been numerous wines releases that are cheap and not that good. Recently, there has been a lot of investment in modernizing and creating low yield high quality grapes. There has also been a lot of international investment from French and US vintner.

Cabernet Sauvignon is grape that Chile has the best success. But there is a lot of interesting things being done with Carmenère. Carmenère was originally grown in Bordeaux but the grape was wiped out by phylloxera. Phylloxera has never infected the Chilean vineyards and Carmenère continues to grow. They harvested it like Merlot in the past but recently have improved the harvest so it makes a wonderful wine on its own or blended with Cabernet and Merlot in a Bordeaux blend.

Concha Y Toro is Chile's largest winery. They have a wide variety of different lines that you can find here in the US. But it is better to seek out some other producers who are doing some interesting wines.

I have liked the wines from Casa Lapostolle. They have consistently been very good. An outstanding Cabernet is Monte Alpha from Viña Monte. Santa Rita is a great low end cabernet. Recently, I have picked up several different wines from Montegras. I had a Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah blend that was very yummy and their high end wine, Ninquén was the hit at our group wine tasting. Some other producers I have enjoyed are, Casa Julia, Veramonte, Odfjell which makes an excellent Carmenère, and 2 Brothers which makes a blend called Big Tattoo Red.

Chile has not been noted for their whites. They do mostly Chardonnary and Sauvignon Blanc. They tend to be bland. One to note is a Sauvignon Blanc from EQ.

A good article on Wines of Chiles is from the April 30, 2003 issue of Wine Spectator. Here is another article on growing regions of Chile.

October 26, 2003

Less than a month to go!

Well, it is less than a month before we leave and there is still planning yet to do. I am starting to get that panic feeling at times. I haven't yet had any dreams yet so that must be a good sign. But every so often, panic attacks.

Here is what is left to do:

1. International Driver Licenses
George and I both need to get licenses this time. Usually, I just get one but we're going to be safe and both get them this time around. It is pretty routine to come across checkpoints and roadblocks where the police will check your papers. If you don't have a IDL, it would be difficult. We've decided to both get them this time because one rental is going to be a truck and George said he would drive it. We both can drive a pickup but it will probably be good. Also, if one of us get sick, then we can still have someone drive.

2. Pay Cascada
The balance of our hiking tour needs to be paid by the end of the month. I need to get a Swift wire transfer.

3. Rent cars
We need to arrange our car rentals. We will need a pickup in Arica and a compact car in Puerto Montt. I'm probably just going to go through Hertz. I do have a direct email to Arica so I may try to see if I can get a cheaper quote. It will be expensive $60 per day in Lake District (including ins and tax) and $85 per day for the pickup.

4. Hotel in Arica
We need to get a hotel in Arica for one night. We leave really early in the morning (7:15am). I've done some internet searching for a hotel without a lot of luck. I may go ahead and use CHIP which is a hotel/tour service for Chile.

5. Camera gear for digital camera
We are going to be in huts for 5 days on our hiking tour of Patagonia. I don't think we will have access to electricity althought there is hot water at one of huts. I'm going to order a backup battery pack for my Canon G2 so I'll have enough power for the 5 days. I also need to get several more FlashCards for the camera so I'll have enough memory to shot the whole trip. I am also bringing the SLR and shoot some with standard film. I may also want to get a new lens for the SLR.

6. Trip Insurance
We need to get trip insurance. It is required by Cascada in case there is any issues while on the tour. We didn't get it right away since we're only going to get the medical and emergency evacuation portion of the insurance. I am going to ask about Insurance at the Chilean talk on Thursday.

7. Attend the Patagonia travel talk
Wide World Books is having a travel talk on travel in Patagonia presented by Wildland Adventures. Their hiking in Patagonia trip is very similar to the Cascada trip so we are anxious to hear more about it.

October 27, 2003

WebCams

So I was wondering if there were any webcams in Chile. I did a bit of searching and found this site from Pucon which is supposed to have a live web cam of both Villarrica and the city. Here is the link for the cam showing Villarrica.
Muelle

It is currently dark so I can't tell what exactly it shows. I'll look tomorrow.

Here is another one with a scenic view of Santiago. Santiago Skyline

More links of interest

I've decided I like the BlogThis option on the Google tool bar. It is way fun and actually useful. Tonight I'm doing some general web searches and I'm going to use it to put in some links.

This link takes you to a discussion of the volcano Villarrica. It has a great collection of desktop images and even cooler quicktime videos of inside the cone of the volcano. We're hoping to climb this volcano if the weather and conditions permit. VILLARRICA VOLCANO, SOUTHERN ANDES OF CHILE

This is another great site for pictures. This has some pictures of Putre where we will be staying in El Norte Grande along with the altiplano. We won't be making it to San Pedro de Atacoma or Chiloe. But otherwise wonderful pictures. Chile - A Picture Gallery

By far one of the best links for Chile is Go Chile. There is a whole wealth of information on the country when you dig around. I came home this evening to find hubby exploring the Flora section. There are also sections on all the national parks. Go Chile Travel Site

October 28, 2003

Nightmare

Okay... I probably shouldn't have watched the videos on the Villarrica Volcano site. They have some very cool videos of the activity in the cone of volcano. It is an active volcano and has erupted within the last decade.

We are hoping to be able to climb the volcano. There are several groups that go up. They provide the crampons, ice axes, rain pants, etc. Most of the groups meet early at 7:00 and spend the day hiking. They start at around 6,000ft and climb 3,000ft to the crater at 9,000ft. They also provide gas masks because it is active and often have a lot of gasses. Sol y Nieve is one company and another is Trancura. Hubby can definitely make it. I'm not completely certain I can. I have been hiking 3,000-4,000ft but not at that elevation. But I think I want to give it a shot.

So of course I watched the videos of inside the crater. Last night I woke up at 2:00am with dreams of Mt. Rainier erupting. We live in the NW so we know about active volcanos. I missed Mt. St. Helens since we moved back to California for the year but we have seen the destruction. There are also eruption evacuation signs along the road from Rainier. We fortunately do not live directly in the path of any mudflows or rivers but we do know about volcanos. In the dream, the eruption started at the top with the classic volcano eruption and then one side exploded. It was very disturbing. But will it stop me. No.

October 31, 2003

Hiking in Patagonia

Last night we attended at travel talk at Wide World Books on Patagonia. It was given by Wildland Adventures. They do several trips in Patagonia both Chile and Argentina and they have a hiking trip that has a very similar itinerary as our trip.

It was great to see slides of the trails we will be on. The hike along Lago Grey goes through a more lush rainforest area along the side of the lake to the Glacier. The hike up Frances Valley is more rough. And the hike to the base of Torres Del Paine looks great but the trail is not cleared and maintained. There are a lot of bolders to walk around and at the end you end up climbing up talus to get to the base. But what a view. They also had slides of the accomodations which we will be using in the Eco Lodges and the tents. Of course, the hosterias look nicer but this should be an adventure.

I also found this great photo journal of a similar trip. There are also wonderful photos of the hikes. Check out the hike up the scree on the Torres Del Paine Lookout

Patagonia Hiking

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,

December 2, 2003

Arboles, Saltos y Volcans

Trees, Waterfalls and Volcanoes are three words to describe the area north of the lake district, Araucariana.

We left off at Arica. We had a major travel day on Friday which went well even with a few hitches. We got up at 5:30am and decended in darkness and awaken the night clerk. He sleepily checked us out and walked across the street to wake up the owner of the parking lot where we left our truck. We made it to the airport and turned in the "mountain goat" and made out plane. Unfortunately, there was mechanical issues in Iquique and it was enough of a delay to miss our connection in Santiago. Fortunately there was another flight in 2 hours and we made it to Puerto Montt by 3. We had 4 hour drive yet to do to Villarrica. Fortunately the roads were great.

Here in the South, the Pan American Highway, Ruta 5, a continuation of I-5 in Seattle. It is a 4lane highway peppered with toll booths. 50 cents here, 1.50 there. That is probably why they are mostly empty except for the truck and busses. What is also different is there are people walking and crossing the hwy everywhere as well as oxen carts hauling wood. But the speed limit is 120km so we made great time.

Our hotel for the 4 days was the Hosteria de la Colina, an outstanding bed and breakfast owned by Glen and Bev Aldrich. They are wonderful hosts who are extremely knowledgeable of the area and can supply lots of handdrawn maps and recommendations for everything. They have a beautiful garden and nursery which got George's attention. Our room was panelled in the local wood and had a huge window with a view of the garden and lake Villarrica. Unfortunately, we only saw the volcano the day we arrived as it was cloudy
the rest of the days.

Our first day was a hike to Los Lagos in Huerquique National park to see the Araucaria (monkey puzzle) trees. It was a 14km rt hike which climbed up through beech trees and bamboo. George immediately spotted orchids, ephiphytes and a wonderful red trumped flower related to african violets. They were everywhere. The trail switched backed with views back down the valley and if it has been clear we would have seen the volcano. At the ridge top, we came across our first Araucaria. The trail took us through three Andean lakes which felt somewhat prehistoric walking under the trees. We returned to the Colina for a beer and soak in the hottub. We ate all our dinners at the Colina also which had great kitchen. A couple of baby salmons and salad and it was off to bed.

The next day we toured the waterfalls near the Argentian border. There were three of them that were reached via a dirt road. We did a lot of driving on dirt roads during our time in Villarrica. The Toyota Yaris did great.

The first waterfall, La China, was the highest. It was 70-80 meters high. The walls surrounding were lined with gunnera (a native plant to Chile which looks like a huge rhubarb plant). The next waterfall, Los Leon, was the wettest. We got soaked by the spray but fortunately we were wearing our waterproof hiking gear. The last waterfall, La Puna, was the most remote. It was a staircase fall and we found calceolaria or pouch plant scattered throughout the forest. We returned to a leisurely evening at the hosteria.

Yesterday we drove to Conguillio National Park, two and half hours from Villarrica mostly on gravel. In the center of the park is a recently active volcano. but we only saw the base but we saw evidence of it everywhere. After entering the park, we drove through a huge lava bed on a single lane pumice road. You could see the path of the flow from the mountain side and it left two large green islands of trees. Here we did a hike up the ridge above Lago Conguillo where we had spectacular views of the lake and the Sierra Nevada Mountains with all the araucarias. It was a scene from Jurassic Park. We expected to see dinosaurs lifting their heads at any moment. We later found out that BBC filmed the "Walking with Dinosaurs" series in the park. We returned to our car for the long drive back via the north road which took us through rolling green hills and dairies. The sun peeked in and out of the clouds. No hot tub because we were too tired. A shower and dinner would have to do.

Today, we sadly left Hosteria de la Colina and are making our way down to Puerto Varas about 200 miles away. We are in Valdivia to see the fish market and see the botanical garden and then we will be on our way. Tomorrow we fly to Patagonia. Time to get our all the warm clothes we have and hope for the best weather possible. Some guests at the Colina had been there two weeks ago and it snowed a bit. The wind will be the biggest challenge. But the views and scenery will be awesome. Until later,

Hasta Luego,

December 8, 2003

Wet,Windy and Wild

Hola,

Last we left off, we were in Valdivia heading for Puerto Varas and on to Patagonia. The remaining drive to Puerto Varas was uneventful except for the endless toll booths. We usually tried to dump off all our change which smounted to a lot of coins. One tolltaker called us something which we later found out meant "You have broken the piggy bank!".

It was rainy and dreary overcast when we arrived at Puerto Varas. The city tumbles down the hillside around the lake. The buildings are mostly unpainted wood and were built by German immigrants in the early 1900s. The town has a great view of Volcan Osorno but we saw nothing but dark clouds and rain drops. It is supposedly a very charming town but it was lost on me with the weather.

We quickly found the Guest House even with the tangle of one way streets. It is a large German-Victorian style house built in the 1930s. It has been restored by the owner and nicely decorated but a bit cold in temperature since the heat had not been turned on for the evening. That evening, we ate at Merlin, one of the best fish restaurants in Southern Chile. The food and the wine was good. During our meal, we noticed a dog hanging out on the front steps. We saved a bit a bread and thought it would be nice to give him something to eat. Wrong! Do not feed Chilean homeless dogs. They will follow you back to America. All the way back to the Guest House, we tried to ditch him by crossing back and forth on the street and walking faster but he was relentless and ended up at the Guest House. The next morning we saw him again a couple blocks away downtown as we drove away. Fortunately, he didn't see us. ;)

We caught our plane in Puerto Montt in the rain and headed for Patagonia. We were met at the airport by Jerome who would be our guide for the next 5 days and Carlos our driver. In the van, we met Emma and Sam, two young Australian lawyers from Melbourne who were finishing a 3 month round the world tour and Ydriss, a French bank trader who had been living in New York and was just starting his 3 month trip around the world. They quickly started exchanging stories and tips.

Ahead of us was a 6 hour drive to the camp at Los Torres. We crossed a wide plain with low shrubs with the mountains far in the distance. It reminded me a lot of driving across Wyoming. The highway stretched ahead for miles, a long thread into the distance and we met very few cars. But lots of wildlife including foxes, rheas, geese, ibises, condors and flamingos. We stopped at Hotel Rubens for lunch which is in the middle of nowhere. We made a quick stop in Puerto Natales to meet the staff and stretch our legs. The town was windy and felt a lot like a fishing village in Alaska. Next stop was the Milodon cave, where a large skin of a prehistoric sloth was found in the late 1800s. It was thought that the natives kept it as a pet. I doubt it given the large claws but it was vegetarian.

After two more hours on dirt road, we reached the eco-camp. The camp is on private land along with the Hosteria de los Torres. It is collection of geodesic canvas dome tents which are elevated on platforms. They are large enough for you to stand and have two very comforable and warm twin beds. Our dome had a wonderful view of the Torres which were visble. The camp also had hot showers and a nice bathroom facilities. We headed off to the main dome which is a large dome with sofas, kitchen, dining area and a very nice warm wood burning stove. We met for appetizers and pisco sours which became our nightly ritual. We had dinner and tumbled into bed even though it was still light at 11pm.

Sun came up about 5am and we later got up for our first hike. At 5am we could see the towers but by time we hit the trail, it was overcast and windy but no rain. The trail headed up a steep grade past the hosteria and then dropped down to the refugio. Along the way George and Jerome talked plants.. There were lots to discover, orchids, calceolaria and escalonia. After the refugio, the path went through the lenga beech forest up and down crosing small streams. We never had the same type of bridge or crossing. Sometimes a few rocks, sometimes a full bridge, other time a few shaky branches. After 4 hours hiking, we reached an open area and we could see part of one tower above. We could also see what we needed to climb in the next 40 minutes. A big rock scramble up a talas-moraine slope. The path was marked with red-orange dots painted on the rocks. But once we reached the top, it was magnificant. The towers peeked in and out of the clouds like a picture from a calendar. It was sunny and windy. We had our lunch with about 40 other people and could not stop taking pictures. This was our best hike. We finally had to leave and returned to camp for our pisco sours and dinner.

The next morning, I awoke to the glow of the sun on the towers and the pink sunrise. The weather changes so fast that by time we left for our next hike and destination, it was rainy. We drove to Lago Pehoe and boarded a catarmarin boat for the crosing to Camp Pehoe which would be our location for the next night. We left out backup clothes and headed for Lago Grey and the Grey Glacier. We had a 24km (15mile) roundtrip hike ahead of us. The trail started out between the hills and the wind increased as we got closer to the lake. The lake is strewn with white-blue iceburgs and we could feel it in the wind. We climbed to the appropriately named "Windy Pass" where we saw the glacier in the distance. The wind at this time was blowing about 40mph. It about knocked us over. The hard part was next. We had to climb down from the pass over some of the worse trail I have ever been on. Wet slippery rocky path down along streams and crawling down on muddy slopes. All along we kept thinking, we have to come back this way. After about 4 hours, we finally reached the glacier look out which was even more windy but so spectacular. The glacier goes for 18km and is huge, 120 ft high. It was amazing to see. Also above was the Gran Paine Massif which was being dusted with new snow. We started back and tackled the cliff again. I finally had to have Jerome carry my pack which really helped. I know... whimp! But hey... it is vacation.

The next day, we went to the Francis valley to view the Cuernos and more glaciers. The weather was not on our side and we had wind and rain most of the day. But it was not a heavy rain so we were never really miserable. There were more rock moraine scrambles, more mud and more cliffs to climb but the views were amazing even in the rain and clouds. At the lookout, we even had some sleet and constantly heard avalanches off the snowfields and Francis glacier. It was a long day back. We had to wait about 2hours for the boat and
waited mostly in the warm refugio packed with other hikers. We went out early to get a seat on the boat which was a mistake. The wind whipped across the lake and the boat was lake. We were frozen to the bones by time we got back to the main eco-camp. The hot shower felt so good but I still had to hang out by the wood stove for a long while to finally get warm.

It was sad to say goodbye to our fellow hikers. We were very lucky to have such a nice group of fellow world travelers. We had similar outlooks on life and really hit it off. We exchanged addresses and hugs before going to bed.

It was a long travel day as we drove back 6 hours to Punta Arena and our 4 hour flight to Santiago. We stumbled back into the Hotel Orly around 12:30am and crashed. Today, we are being lazy and walking around the malls in Santiago. They are the only thing open since today is a public holiday, Immaculate Conception. I wish I had realized it before and we could have returned to the US earlier. Oh well. Tomorrow we have a wine tour and very late flight at midnight back to the states. The vacation has been wonderful. Would we come back? You bet.

Hasta Luego,

February 7, 2004

Post Chile vacation thoughts

It has been almost two months since we returned from Chile. It feels like ages ago. Memory has sifted the experience and what is left are impressions of the altiplano and Patagonia. Both area were the most striking and different. And wouldn't it be at the different ends of the country?

Altiplano, the brightness, the altitude, the different culture, the confusion and altitude sickness. Patagonia, the vastness, the wind, the ice, the animals.

I have posted a photo gallery of pictures of the trips. Check them out. Photos from Chile

Now it is time to plan for 2004. Australia and Tasmania is a strong possibility. We also want to climb Mt. Whitney and applied to the Whitney lottery. More on that to come.

This page contains an archive of all entries posted to Postcards from the Trail in the Chile category. They are listed from oldest to newest.

California is the previous category.

Cooking is the next category.

Many more can be found on the main index page or by looking through the archives.

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