Chile con carne + andes mints

Trip Start Feb 18, 2004
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Trip End Dec 05, 2005


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Thursday, October 27, 2005

Maybe I should start by correcting everyone on the pronunciation of "Chile". It's not like chili that you eat. It's pronounced more like "chee'lay". So when I get home no one better ask me how "chilly" was or I'll say it tasted fine, but I don't much like beans.

Chile is the long, skinny country on the west coast of South America. It has the Pacific Ocean on one side and the Andes Mountains on the east (really not too far from the ocean). Chile is another of the Latin American countries with a series of poor leaders, including the dictatorship of Pinochet in which there were thousands of deaths and "disappearances" (that ended in the late 1980s). The main concern now is reviving the economy and reducing unemployment.

My flight from La Paz had two stops enroute to Santiago (Arica and Iquique). The good thing about that is I didn't have to pay the $100 entry fee for US citizens at Santiago immigration. Woo hoo! I arrived at my hostel in the evening and as luck would have it, it was bbq night. I hung out around there, ate lots of food and chatted with a German couple. The hostel was kind of loud with hardwood floors (squeak) and my dorm room was just outside of reception (where they had music going 24hrs).

I flew out the following morning for Easter Island. See previous entry for the pics and story.

Back to Santiago. This time I stayed at a hostel in the Bellavista area. That area is kind of arty/trendy with lots of restaurants and bars. The first evening was just spent updating Travelpod with the E.I. entry (free i-net at hostel).
The idea of seeing Patagonia presented itself when I saw a flyer for a cruise down that way. When I was originally thinking of coming to South America, Patagonia was definately a spot I wanted to see. Once planning, I didn't think I'd have time nor was it the right time of year. The Aussies I met in Bolivia said the weather was great while they were there and the idea kept nagging at me so I decided to check on getting there. I visited the LanChile office in Santiago and arranged to change my flight to Buenos Aires to Punta Arenas instead. Then I went to the Navimag cruise ship office and booked a bed on the boat trip from Puerto Natales to Puerto Montt. Once I got that travel stuff taken care of, I had the rest of the day to explore around Santiago. Mainly just went around the touristy streets and Plaza de Armas. It was actually fairly warm that day with clear skies and good views of the Andes. I should've gone up the hill for views of the city and mountains but was feeling lazy. Back at the hostel that evening, I sat around and chatted with some English.

Chile is actually quite expensive...comparable to Europe. Seems even more expensive after coming from cheap countries like Peru and Bolivia. A meal in a normal restaurant can cost you $10. The people here definately aren't shy about showing affection. There are couples kissing all over the place. I wasn't expecting Halloween to be celebrated down here, but there are displays in many of the shops. Maybe I'll get to dress up...

Back to the travels... I flew out of Santiago the next morning for Punta Arenas, the edge of the world. It's way down in southern Chile. Gettin' quite close to Antarctica and being that close made me think "last continent, you could visit it". Didn't go though. Caught a bus immediately to Puerto Natales and found myself a hostel. PN is just a small town so didn't have much to do. It was grey, cloudy and cold too.
I booked myself on a day tour of the Torres del Paine National Park (Patagonia) so had to be up early. Met a couple English girls, Emily and Julie, who were also doing the tour and it turns out were booked for the Navimag boat too. Julie said my voice sounded like Barry Manilow. Not sure if that's an insult or not, but she likes Barry so maybe it was a compliment. The day tour first took us to Cueva Milodon, a cave which looked rather lame from the pics I saw. I just looked around a little at the scenery there. I spotted a couple bunny rabbits who were obviously spies for the Easter Bunny as they ran when they saw me (see previous entry to explain this). Did a photo stop at a lake to view the Torres but it was too cloudy to see the granite spires. Into the actual park and stopped by Lago Nordenskjold for views of pretty mountains. Went to a waterfall for great views of Grande Paine and Horns of Paine.

Lago Pehoe was a beautiful shade of blue/green though we drove past missing excellent photo ops (that's why I hate tours!). On to Lago Grey for views of the glacier and icebergs. That was a cool place with more great photos.

I was going a bit crazy taking lots of pictures (as you will see in the photo album for this entry). We were lucky enough to spot quite a few animals while touring through the park - nandu (like an ostrich), guanaco (like a llama), puma, fox, condor. The weather wasn't the best, but I still enjoyed getting to see all the pretty scenery.

Back in Puerto Natales, I had dinner with Emily and Julie before going onboard the Navimag ship.

I was sharing a cabin with an older Swiss guy named Franz. He was really nice and spoke English very slowly. The cruise was 4d/4n (sort of) and consisted of resting, looking at the mountain scenery, listening to presentations/documentaries, reading and chatting with people. The scenery was good the first day with lots of snow-covered mountains. The fjords were nice for cruising through. We met a couple English guys, Jamie and Graham, that were good fun. Ended up playing cards with them in the bar most evenings.

There was bingo the second and fourth nights. Emily won a neck warmer and Jamie a hat. I didn't win diddley squat. That second evening there was dancing after bingo. They played some interesting "megamixes" by artists rather than just one good song. Most afternoons there were movies to watch, but they were usually nothing too great. The second full day we were out at open sea so the boat was rockin' a bit. Made my head feel spacey. A few people were seasick. The food served didn't help with stomach queasiness...actually, it wasn't that bad but it certainly wasn't too good. The third afternoon we were supposed to have the chance of seeing whales so we spent the afternoon out on deck. Didn't see any whales, but did see seals, dolphins and a penguin. I had a game of chess with Jamie on the big board outside that afternoon. I won! (though I got checkmate and didn't even realize it)

They had a last night party (and bingo), which ruined all the rest we'd got the last few days. Stayed up too late and woke up too early. We were all egging Julie on to hook-up with some French guys she'd been flirting with. During the night went out on deck for fresh air and the stars were in abundance and bright ("look at the stars look how the shine for you", "i think about you on a moonlit night and the stars all seem to weep", "see the stars they're shining bright everything's alright tonight" - lots of songs about stars). The cruise was good fun and a nice way to force myself to relax for a few days.

The morning we disembarked from the boat, I went up to Puerto Varas in the Lake District with Emily and Julie. They were staying there for a few days but I was only checking it out for the day. We looked around town and got food for making lunch. The hostel they were staying at was quite cozy and had a good kitchen. By afternoon, we were all rather exhausted (from lack of sleep). The few clouds cleared and there were perfect views across the lake of Volcan Orono.

Beautiful! Said my goodbye to the girls [they were fun to hang out with] and caught an overnight bus to Santiago.

This time around it was cloudy in Santiago (damn, I should've gone up that mountain for pics last time I was here). I hadn't really got to see much of Santiago so went out exploring the city again. Can't say there's really a lot exciting to see and do. I went out after 11pm to check out the nightlife, but the discotecas were all closed. Looks like people just hang out at the pubs. Not too entertaining when you're by yourself.
In the morning, I caught the bus out to Viņa del Mar. There are some nice parks in town I wandered in. Had myself a big 'ol sloppy sandwich for lunch. Headed off towards the beach and spotted a breakdancing mime. Sweeeeet!

I went back a bit later to get a video, but he was gone! Must learn to not pass up on those opportunities when they present themselves. At the beach there were people sunbathing...it's still cold out! I was wearing my jacket. They must be desperate for a tan. Got a minibus to the nearby town of Valparaiso and checked out the port and small streets there. Eh, it was ok. I guess there are cooler small streets up the hill that I missed. Bus back to Santiago. Many people were bugging me today for money. Maybe I had an air of wealth eminating from me...I certainly shouldn't. I met up with Jamie and Graham that evening in Bellavista. Visited a few bars then a place with dancing. I noticed everyone seemed to be dancing as couples...doesn't look so good for tommy getting out on the dancefloor in those circumstances. I had to skip out on the boys after 1am as I had to be up early for a bus.

On to Argentina next. Jacci is going to meet up with me in Buenos Aires. Tango!
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