Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Chilling in Chiloé

Hey everyone,
    Sorry, it's getting harder and harder to find good internet connections, and therefore harder to keep you all updated. I'll try my best but will have to cut some stories short just to get this out on the interwebs. (I know it's been almost a month though!) There are many good stories, but I will try to keep my narrative linear :-)

    Last I updated, I thought I was going hang gliding, but as the instructors took us to the top of the hill (enigmatically only saying a few sentences to us the whole time) it became clear that we were actually going paragliding. I was fine with either, as I just wanted to be high up in the air; it didn't matter to me how I got there, but it was a little surprising to see the giant parachute be splayed out in front of me (FYI, Carl has many more details of this trip, including pictures! go check out this blog to find out more). The wind was very rough, and the instructors thought we might not be able to go, but suddenly the wind started up and he yelled for me to run down the mountain! I jumped to and before I knew it we were gliding right off the ground and I was looking down at forests hundreds of feet below us. The views of the mountains, lakes, and islands in Bariloche were an incredible sight. I was surprised I wasn't at all afraid of being so high up in the air; I actually wanted to go higher. The winds were too rough to stay up for very long, but the experience was fantastic, and I knew I would want to do it again and soon.

    After coming down we were taken back to our hostel where we lazed about, finally not having too much to do for awhile. We decided it was high time we got out of the lake district to see some other parts of South America. We booked a bus for Chile tomorrow morning and spent the rest of the evening relaxing with other people in the dorm (we also met a hilarious kid from Buenos Aires who insisted we use our English to send amorous texts to his 'special friend', which he kept referring to her as... we ended up sending quotes from Gunther songs, go figure). Although the hostel had promised us breakfast early so we could catch our bus, we find only a cold refrigerated metal can of coffee waiting for us, which we both unfortunately drank. Later on the bus with no food and only the coffee to keep us going for the next 10 hours, our stomachs were none to happy with us. After a fairly docile border crossing we made our way to a rainy Chile. We decided to get out of boring Puerto Montt right away and head to the Island of Chiloé,  which we had heard many good things about.

   Although not nearly as exciting as other places we have visited, Chiloé was by far the most unique, and I had an excellent time exploring this quaint, and slightly mysterious collection of isles. Across the countryside we saw many incredibly built wooden churches (like nothing I've ever seen), which had sculptures that combined christian symbols with the Island's own unique mythology. We started our side trip in Ancund, right at the northern coast of the Island where we had an excellent time exploring the beaches and interacting with the locals. We befriended the other people in the hostel (two girls from Copenhagen and one from Germany... both had been in South America for quite awhile though) and decided to make a seafood banquet. We went to the market and got amazingly cheap mussels (about 50 cents for 2 lbs.!) and made crab cakes as well. It was incredibly delicious and by far the best meal I have had the whole trip.
     After Ancund we rushed ourselves over to Parque Nacional Chiloé (two VERY local buses... one actually helped a family take three huge tree trunks to the park...they had to place it on the center of the aisle). We got to the park with only a few hours to spare, and we were still not interested in camping, so instead took a quick walk over to the Pacific Ocean. It was great to be near the ocean; you could hear the waves all the way from the town at the edge of the park. It was too cold to hang out on the beach for very long, but I always love being near the ocean and enjoyed the view immensely.

    While we tried to get back to Castro, the capital of Chiloé, to stay the night, we ran into an interesting problem. We had left our backpacks with the park ranger, and returned from the walk only to find the door was locked and no ranger was in sight. The last bus was leaving in 15 minutes so we had to get him quick. After searching through most of the park we eventually found him out, and after a confusing conversation (he was a very fast Spanish speaker) we realized that he had locked himself out of his own office! We spent the next few minutes trying to pry open all the windows in the house, but with no luck. Eventually we found a wedge and managed to break the frame of the window, but only to leave us running with our bags after the last bus speeding off. In the end we found a small unheated cottage near the park to stay the night, which of course was more expensive than anything we could have gotten in Castro. The place had no heat and no hot water... and no dinner. We decided to head back to a cabin in the middle of the park, which the ranger had said would be open for the night. There were no lights on the road and the hut was about a mile away, we got our flashlights and headed into the darkness.

    After an exciting walk on the empty road (many a stray dog barking their lungs out at us) we made it to the house. This turned out to be an excellent choice for the night, delicious food, malt wine, and dozens of board games we could play the night away with, all at a reasonable price. The couple who ran the place were very friendly, and couldn't get over how they were getting tourists from the US on their little Island. After failing at playing a Chilean ripoff of Monopoly we headed back to our hut.

    The next morning we were doomed to miss the next bus (it seems I've become attenuated to my watch alarm... it's gotten me into trouble a few times now). We wandered through the park a little more and had to wait through some wind and rain before the next bus came. Finally we made it back to Castro where nothing of particular interesting happened, except for seeing a beautiful wooden church (it was quite impressive, especially considering how close the building was to the water.)

     The next morning we decided as the rain continued to come down and the weather showed no signs of stopping, that we would quit the lake district for this trip and head up straight to Santiago. We bough a cheap ticket overnight to the capital (about 14 hours) and wasted the day away in a fake western saloon in Puerto Montt, complete with bad 80s music videos on screens everywhere.... overall a very good time!

I don't know when I'll be able to update you all next, but let me assure you that Santiago, Valparaiso, and everything in between have been an excellent and most adventerous time. At the moment we'll be leaving Santiago and heading up to the Atacama desert, but more on that when it actually happens!

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Clean Clothes at Last!

      Of the many firsts on this trip, one of the big ones so far was not being able to clean my clothes for over a week (last time I had them washed was when we got back from our 3-day trek in Bariloche). I am fortunately writing to you know with fresh, clean, warm and folded clothing by my side, it is a wonderful feeling.

    Anyway, the day after the glacier Carl and I were preparing to take a 24 hour bus drive (!) back up to the lake district in the afternoon. It was the only reasonable way we could get out of this uber-touristy area without waiting another week. We managed to get a ragtag group to come with us to the bird sanctuary, where we were lucky enough to see some chilean flamingos in the wild (I´ll post a picture, but they were very far off, we had binoculars though which made the view great in person). We had a lot of fun wandering around with our fellow travellers and even had a few stray dogs join us for the party (although they kept scaring away the birds, which was annoying).

     I was a little worried about being on that bus for so long, I had never taken a bus for even 12 hours and I´ve never particularly enjoyed riding them. However the ´cama´ buses in Argentina were like nothing I´ve seen. I´m talking real luxury seats with expansive leg room and almost fully reclining backs! I had no trouble falling asleep, although Carl was still too tall for the buses (he can only stand up straight on the stairs to the second level). Before I knew it a day had passed and we arrived in Esquel to see the Alerce trees.

    Unfortunately we had run into our first bit of bad luck. We could only find one hostel that would room us, but because the Little League Patagonia Region Field Hockey Championships were happening in town (?!) we could only stay for one night. We hashed out a plan to see part of Parque Nacional Los Alerces and be back in time for a bus to  El Bolson before tomorrow night. We tried to call it an early night, but the entire family of two field hockey players (sisters) demanded that we entertain them by speaking to them in English. It was the first night I had to use earplugs... and they somehow got up before us too!

     When we got to the park, we learned that we wouldn´t be able to see the part with the Alerce trees in the few hours we had. While the area we saw was nice (a beautiful lake, and a roaring waterfall) we wondered why we had tried to so hard to get to this park. Clearly the fates wanted us to get to El Bolson and fast. We hopped on a bus and a few hours were there.

     I´ve had a lot of firsts on this trip, but a truly unique one was having to take showers in our hostel in El Bolson in a bathroom with no curtain and no lock on the door (definitely had to reach a level of comfort with my hostel-mates). Now imagine that below this scene, a Wiccan ceremony is taking place, run by one of the locals in town, complete with cheesy spiritual music and everyone clad in black dresses, and you might have an idea of what El Bolson is like.  Overall, I really enjoyed this town, the self-proclaimed hippie mecca of Argentina (Apparently we had missed internaltional weed day with a full parade and small children running around with marijuana flags... oh why did we even stop in Esquel?!) This place has excellent organic food which made all the produce in town, as well as the food in the restaurants, especially delicious. There were so many farms nearby, Carl and I were almost set on looking into WOOFing here (if he didn´t have to get to Santiago in a few weeks, we probably would have).

     While our first day here was rainy, we had beautiful weather the other day, and got to take a nice bike ride up a mountain. We biked past amazing views of valleys and mountains (almost competing with the beauty of Bariloche) and biked through cool forests that had farms scattered around it. We both wished we hadn´t over-hiked ourselves, as this was an excellent  place for more trekking. We still had an excellent time and had many of the artesanal beers the town is famous for. We knew it was time for a change in scenery and so are heading back to Bariloche and then across the border to Chile (but not before we both try our hand a hang-gliding.... stay tuned!)

Big Ice

Hello everyone!
    Sorry about the long wait, I didn´t have anything to write about for a few days, and of course the whirlwind of adventures we´ve been having picked me up and landed me right now in El Bolson. But first, I have to tel you about the Glacier: Perito Moreno.

     I was stuck in El Calafate for a few days because of bad weather. It was an overly-touristy town with not much to do unless you wanted to see the Glacier. I booked a tour to go walking on the glacier but for the most part just waited for the two days of bad weather to go by. Luckily the hostel we were staying in had a lots of people, and I got along with quite a few of them. There were nightly asados (all you can eat BBQs) and we always managed to stay up talking way into the night.

   Finally the day came to see the glacier, we started driving out on the bus long before the sun had risen (even though El Calafate is the closest town to the glacier, it was still over an hour away) Finally we drove around a corner and there it was... even from far away you could understand how massive the glacier really was. It was impossible to see the end of it and its walls seemed like a giant impenetrable fortress. We stopped a little to stare, but quickly got on the bus to get much closer.

    From the shore of the lake, we took a boat to get to the other side and right to the edge of the glacier, it was on this ride that the true size of the glacier became apparent. It felt like the sides of the wall would soon cover the entire sky. The glacier was unbelievably massive and went up for what felt like 200 feet above the water (and of course we found out it was even deeper than it was higher).

     After a quick natural history lesson (interrupted by a huge wall of the glacier falling into the ocean!), we finally got to put on the crampons (ice pick shoes) and get on the glacier. The walk was incredible. I had always thought a glacier would just look like a lot of white ice, but only when you´re right on the thing itself do you realize how incredibly blue it is. I was expecting amazing shapes, but not such vibrant colors! We continued walking around see more of the mind-altering landscapes, and even got to look down a hole that went all the way through the glacier. You could hear water running through it (our guides explained there are many streams and currents of water moving within the glacier, one of the reasons it calves so easily). The tour ended with a shot of cheap whisky in glacial ice, but is free so no complaints. Overall, it was an excellent experience, and well worth it.

      On our way back on the boat, we got the opportunity to see a Condor flying overhead (I find out just today that they´re the largest flying animal in the world!) It was so huge that even Carl saw it even though he was on a totally different part of the glacier. It was quite a sight.

    Afterwards we got a chance to experience the grandness of the glacier from the view points. I almost wished I had seen this first, I would have appreciated the ice trekking even more! It´s hard to put into words how unbelievably incredible this glacier was. Luckily, I finally got some of my pictures off my camera so you can see this one! I stood there for a full hour, taking in the majesty of its form. It was hard to break myself away from staring, hoping I would see another piece of the glacier fall off before I left.

Note: Sorry guys, I tried to post pictures on this blog but the internet is just so slow! I will try to have a picture update when I have a fast computer, but until then, I recommend you look up pictures of this glacier, they are quite incredible!

p.s. another update coming soon!