A Travellerspoint blog

Chile

Santiago and Valparaiso

We took the overnight bus to Santiago, hoping to leave the wet weather behind us. It was a first class bus with seats that were almost horizontal. I should have slept, but as usual, while everyone was snoring around me, I was stone cold, wide awake. I have sleeping problems under the best of circumstances. I like to say that it had evolutionary value in cave man days. I would have been awake when the wild beasts came to eat me, and would have had time to run away while everyone else would have been dinner. That's the rationalization anyway. It's probably more like your typical anxiety neurosis. You know what they say about shrinks.

We found the capital to be a big modern city of 5 to 6 million. The streets were wide and clean, where we were anyway, and the parks well kept. We visited the Mercado Central, a lively place with sea food restaurants and shops, although the meal we had was not especially good despite what The Handbook said.


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What follows are some random photos of streets and buildings.

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We also went to a few museums, the most memorable of which was La Chascona, one of Pablo Neruda's houses. The house was named The Uncombed, after the unruly hair of Mathilda Urrutia, who later became his third wife, but was his secret mistress at the time. It is a delightfully whimsical place that looks and feels like a ship built into a hillside, full of memorabilia. Neruda has become a kind of national hero in Chile, which is interesting given his frequent clashes with the government.

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La Chascona in fact, was vandalized by some of Pinochet's goons prior to his death, which occurred when Allende was overthrown in 1973. Urrutia was then harassed by the military government, and eventually wrote a book about it and her life with Neruda. A movie, Il Postino, was made about an earlier time, when he was in exile in Italy, though it is really a love story based on his poetry.


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Allende on a Wall with Funny Caption






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After a brief few days in Santiago, we went on to delightful Valparaiso. Situated on steep hills by the sea, it reminded us very much of San Francisco.

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It was by far, our favorite city in Chile. Neglected for years, it is slowly being renovated after being declared a World Heritage Site in 2003. However it is still full of ramshackle wooden and corrugated tin houses, many of which are painted in vibrant colors.




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It is the cultural center of the country with a large art scene, music, cafes, etc. The murals which appear all over the city are spectacular. It is the kind of place which invites random wandering along curvy and narrow lanes, often with one vista after another.



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The first few days we stayed in a hostel run by a Brit who was the primary author of The Footprint Guide to Chile.


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Our street continued down a very steep hill.


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Very conveniently, the city has many ascensors, a kind of cable car/elevator to assist you in getting up the hills. These are practically antiques, and were a real gas to ride in for about a quarter. They didn't go far, but it was the elevation gain and not the distance which counted.

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We met an Aussie couple while touring La Sebastiana, Neruda's home in Valparaiso. Located on one of the city's high hills, it feels like a combination bird house and ship, and is named after its first owner, who in fact, wanted to turn the third floor into bird house.

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The harbor is a busy place and one day we took a tour of it with our Aussie friends.

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The views looking back over the city are......


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On a role with Neruda's houses, we went to see the third one, Isla Negra. It is not on an isla, but is right on the sea about an hour from the city. It has a very ship-like feel, even more so than the others, and is full of shells and other nautical objects.



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The setting is dramatic.


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Equally as eye-catching, was the young, German/Indian couple who came with us that day.


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For most of our time in Valparaiso we just walked around the streets, looking at buildings, eating in the cafes, checking out the art galleries. People were quite friendly, though not as effusive as the Argentinians with their Italian background.

We noticed these folks eating some unusual fruit and they insisted on giving us some. And of course, they wanted their picture taken.


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We could have stayed longer, but after a while the weather deteriorated. It stayed damp and chilly, and we decided to push on, back across the mountains to Argentina.

Posted by jonshapiro 07:06 Archived in Chile Tagged postcards Comments (3)

Chilean Lake District and the Meaning of Long Term Travel

We then crossed over into Puerto Varas, Chile, a resort town on a large lake with a big German influence. I took few photos here because it was pouring almost the entire time. In general, there is more rain on the western side of the mountains, and this was certainly the case when we were there. If you go to the following site you can see what it looks like on a nice day: http://www.trekearth.com/gallery/South_America/Chile/Lakes_Region/Los_Lagos/Puerto_Varas/photo110165.htm

We had big plans to go other places when we arrived, but the continuous damp, chilly, weather dissuaded us. The hostel we stayed in was cold and drafty, which didn't help my disgruntled mood. At one point our friends, who were traveling just two weeks, decided to spring for a night at a much more upscale and warmer place. Chile was more expensive than Argentina, and, despite the atrocities of Pinochet, the economy was in better shape. They had avoided the Argentinian economic "crisis" in 2001, and yet many buildings, like our hostel for example, were old and needed work. It was obvious that the Chilean economy had not lifted all boats.

We did take a few wet walks along the lake and to some nearby towns. We also went by bus to nearby Vulcan Osorno, though it was covered in cloud much of the time.

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The weather did not improve and we all began to go a bit stir crazy. Perhaps having too much time on my hands, I began musing about "bad travel days," and the overall meaning of long term travel. Certainly dealing with the frustration of these wet days in Chile is a part of the process. You learn to cope with circumstances beyond your control, and to surrender to them. There are obviously many positive days, as you can tell from my writing, but the meaning of travel is also contained in the bad times as well. You have to learn to let go and roll with what comes your way. Before we left, everyone wanted to know what our itinerary was, and although we had a rough idea which countries we were planning to visit, the schedule was very loose. This involved another type of letting go. There is simply no way to plan a trip of nine months in advance without driving yourself crazy, and locking yourself into a plan that you will want to change later on. Not that this is easy, and it is different than the way I usually live my life.

Another challenging thing is learning to live with a small backpack of clothes, though this proved easier than deciding what to pack. It's amazing how few THINGS you really need, but how often do you realize this in your daily life. Travel is about divesting your attachments.... to things, to people you know, and to control.

Who would really want to do this? As with so many things, it is a trade-off. What you get in return is a kind of freedom that is hard to obtain in other ways. You also get to meet a lot of very interesting people of various ages, and you experience a kind of intimacy with them that might otherwise take much longer to develop, or wouldn't happen at all because you wouldn't meet them in the first place. You get exposed to amazing new experiences and cultures that you would otherwise never know, except vicariously. You learn to tolerate and deal with things that you never thought you could put up with, and yes, you do learn what your limits are since you keep bumping up against them.

In our culture, North American or Western European, it is easy to assume that we are in control of most everything in our day to day lives. This is not necessarily the case in other places or other cultures. On a trip to India, the same one I alluded to in another posting, my buddy and I stopped in a small shop in Dharamsala. It had been raining for days, and we needed to get some plastic bags to keep our stuff dry, as we were about to embark on another trek. In the States we would just go into a supermarket and buy them. Here it wasn't so easy.

This particular shop was a tiny variety store, and we asked the proprietor if he had any plastic bags.

" No," he said, "but not to worry."

He then pulled out a roll of thick plastic and proceeded to sew, by hand, the number of bags we needed. While he was doing so, we got started talking, and of course the weather came up since we had to change our plans because of the extended monsoon season. We told him about getting caught in a blizzard at 17,000 feet, and having to retrace our steps after a week of hard hiking.

"Well," he said," when you come to India, you have to put yourself in God's hands."

How true, and its not just because of the weather. Anything and everything can happen in India, and in so many other places. It more or less forces you to give up the illusion of control that we Westerners have in our nice ordered lives. Scary perhaps, but it is also liberating.

This type of travel is easier in your 20's or 30's, as opposed to your 50's or 60's, but maybe it is even more important for us old farts to challenge ourselves so that we do not go gently into that goodnight. After all, most of us know some things about loss of control, things we didn't know when we were younger and thought life went on forever.

Posted by jonshapiro 07:11 Archived in Chile Tagged living_abroad Comments (3)

Torres Del Paine

We returned to the more civilized environs of El Calafete, glad for the opportunity to get a decent meal, something that was not possible in El Chalten. After a day or so, we took the bus across the border to Chile and Puerto Natales. From here, we could book our trip to Parque Nacional Torres del Paine, which has some of the most spectacular mountains anywhere on the planet. As a concession to comfort, and to age if I care to admit it, we decided to stay in the refugios spaced out along the trail. Ridiculously overpriced for both food and lodging, and mediocre at best, they are the only alternative if you want respite from the vagaries of Patagonian weather. We decided on a five day trek known at the W, and it is not named for George W. our ex, gracias a dios, president. To do the full 10 to 11 day circuit, would have required us to go around the far side of Campo Hielo Sur, the largest ice cap outside of Antarctica, where the weather is wetter and if possible, windier. Hence we opted for the relative comforts of the shorter trip.

On the first day, we hiked up to the base of the Torres, towers of rock, and then back down to Refugio Chileno.

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There we met a nice mix of people, three of whom were from Tasmania, an island which is part of Australia. Since the W is a popular route we ran into them several times, and started to hike with a some of them, keeping an eye out for one another in the rapidly changing trail conditions. Each afternoon we ended up in the same refugio, so that was easy enough to do. The path was challenging, but the elevation was relatively low so that didn't add to the difficulty.

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The biggest problem, as it was at Fitzroy, was the weather. It would change from sun and relative warmth,

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to cloudy and cold, ice pellets being blown sideways at 40-50 miles an hour, all within the space of 10- 15 minutes.

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In a single hour, and I was keeping track, I added or subtracted several layers of clothes more than 5 times. That was an effort unto itself, and slowed down the pace considerably at times. Once again, there were occasions when we were almost blown off the trail, and going back was not an option.

Staying in the refugios turned out to be the right decision. There was one night when the wind gusted with hurricane force, shaking the building where we were attempting to sleep. It was tied down with big cables over the roof, so this couldn't have been a rare event. The next day we heard that the tents of several nearby campers were shredded or blown away, and they had to hunker down amid the rocks just to make it through the night.

On the whole, I'd say we were lucky. There had been heavy downpours and flooding on the trail a few days before we arrived. That didn't happen when we were there, and while the weather was a mixed bag, the summits were often visible.

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This was one of those touchstone experiences that you never forget, much like the Solar de Uyuni, though a very different environment. Razor sharp ridges and spires, and an ever changing vista of rock and ice that would make a geologist drool.

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Upon our return to Puerto Natales, we stayed couple of days before heading back to Argentina. As The Handbook points out, it is a quiet town of brightly colored wood and tin houses that is a good place to relax. I would say soporific, might be a better description, and the place we stayed was not especially comfortable. On the other hand, we found a tiny, hole in the wall local place that had good salmon, and we went back a few times. This was a nice treat after the food in the refugios.


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View From End of Town

Posted by jonshapiro 17:15 Archived in Chile Tagged backpacking Comments (4)

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