Friday, January 28, 2011

Back to Chilean waters (UPDATED)

See 04 NOV 2012 UPDATE below.

After our 5-day stint into Argentina, we came back into Chile. First, we stopped in the island town of Castro, Chiloe. Once again it reminded me of North Carolina, the coastal landscape, car ferries, houses on stilts, shingled siding.

From Chiloe we went to the lake town of Puerto Varas. The Chilean Lake District is known for its views of volcanoes next to lakes. From Puerto Varas we had an outing to Lago Todos los Santos, which is known for its distinct color and the falls at its base.

Today, we are going on the coastal ferry Navimag, from Puerto Montt to Puerto Natales, therefore we will be offline From Jan 28 until Jan 31.

Houses on stilts line the waterfront of Castro.
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The bus company Cruz del Sur has its own fleet of ferries to Chiloe Island.
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Many of the buildings in Castro have shingled siding like this Deco-ish house.
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Volcanos Osorno (left) and Calbuco (right) seen across Lake Llanquihue at sunrise from Puerto Varas
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Saltos de Pertohue with volcano.

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Lago Todos Los Santos.
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UPDATE 04 NOV 2012:

Our friend is deciding whether or not to visit Chiloe. Here is my 2 cents:

January 24/25/26 2011: We took a bus from Puerto Monte directly to Castro Chiloe - 2hr 35min total including the ferry. We took a Cruz de Sur bus and since Cruz de Sur also owns the ferry, we pulled right up to the front of the queue and on the ferry. Woohoo!

At the Cruz de Sur Terminal which was in city center Castro, touts (mostly older ladies who wanted to fill their own places - we think) met the bus. We chatted with some of them, took a flyer or two, but set out on our own.

Ended up at Hospedaje Don Miguel, one block from the terminal, in room #6 for $20,000/night. Corner room, very clean, med-to small in size w/double bed; with harbor view, private bath, wi-fi, very clean, heat which we did not need, no breakfast (we opted out), kitchen privileges, & TV. Helpful but not intrusive owners.

Castro is a very picturesque town, with local boats and fishermen, views of water and tides, an old wooden church, and very colorful buildings from fishermen's shacks on stilts to an Art Deco cinema which is now the library. [The photos I posted on flickr and the original blog post barely give a hint of the richness of the architecture. I may just have to post a few more.} All of these "scenes" are in easy walking distance. And once you've seen it here on Castro, no need to see the same anywhere else on Chiloe IMO.

The return trip to Puerto Mont and onward to Peurto Varas was just as easy. We left Castro on the 8:50am Cruz de Sur, and were in Puerto Varas at 1pm (CdS terminal is 1km outside of town).

So, it may just be worth taking a chance on finding "accommodation on arrival" in Castro.

-john

Hospedaje Don Miguel info:
Barros Arana No 152 - Castro
Fono (065) 634748
RUT.: 7.170.365-7



Thursday, January 27, 2011

Water, water everywhere

From San Martin de Los Andes to Bariloche, we took the bus along the popular Seven Lakes Route through the Lake District of Argentina. It was indeed impressive.

In Bariloche we found a room after trying at half a dozen places. It turned out to be a great location and good value too. If we leaned out the window far enough, we could see to Lago Nahuel Huapi at the end of the street.

The next two days were beautiful. In fact the locals thought they were having a heat wave since they are used to have their radiators on during (even during their summer season) as they were when we arrived the first day.

We made a number of outings to have more lake views. The view from Cerro Campanario, touted as a one of top 10 views as ranked by National Geographic, turned out to be even more spectacular than I had expected, which hardly ever happens. The weather was so pleasant and the views so beautiful, I did not want the day to end. This has to be one of the most scenic areas of the world that we have ever been.

View from the Seven Lakes Route.
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Our hosteria at right and the view down the street to the lake.
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View of Lago Nahuel Huapi from Cerro Campanario - Bariloche, Argentina
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Waterfall near Lago Gutierrez.
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Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Intro to Argentina: from bad to worse

After much unfruitful research on a more scenic route to Argentina, we took the direct bus from Valdivia, Chile to San Martin de Los Andes, Argentina. The day started well enough. Volcano Lanin was there to greet us at the border. We thought that find good accommodation had not been so easy in Chile, but we had no idea what was in store for us in Argentina.

When we arrived in Los Andes bus terminal around 3PM, it was filled with travelers of all sorts. On our way to the tourist office, we walked by one guesthouse which turned out to be full . After standing in line for 10 minutes at the tourist office, we were told finding a room that night would be difficult, but were told about a $72US-room. We rushed over there in 8 minutes just to watch another couple take the last room. We checked a few more places on the way back to the tourist office, all full. This time we learned that the last $104US-room had just been taken, there might or might not be a $98US-room available, but there were definitely two $19US-beds in a hostel. Learning from our earlier lesson, we half ran to the hostel and secured our roof for the night.

Of all our travels, this is the very first time ever that we ended up in a dorm room. It had 3 bunk beds with en suite bathroom. But I was so shaken by the experience that I decided I would just pretend that I was in a sleeper train and sleep with my clothes on. We left our big bags in our room and went to secure our roof for the next night.

But first we needed some Argentine Pesos and luckily found an ATM that had money. Then, after much walking around and some kind help, we made a reservation at a hotel for a $66US room, only available for one night. Right after that we went back to the bus station to snatch up the last two tickets on the good side of the bus going to Bariloche in two days later. All the while it was overcast, cold, windy, and misting at times. We could not understand what all these people were doing in this place, especially ourselves!

To be fair, the town itself is very picturesque. Not that we are experts on resort towns, it is as lovely as they come. The next morning we moved to our new home at 10AM, showered and did laundry. It felt great! The sun was out. We hiked to a couple of miradores. It was evident why everyone was here, and we could not regret that we came too.

Volcan Lanin on the Argentina/Chile Border.
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The San Martin waterfront; ready for action on Lago Lacar.
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Lots of bicyclists in the Argentine Lake District. These cyclists were taking a break on the shores of Lago Lacar in San Martin.
Waterfront - Lago Lacar - San Martin de los Andes

View from Mirador Arrayanes to Lago Lacar. Wow!
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View of Lago Lacar from Mirador Bandurrias.
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And finally, a liter of Quilmes beer and with a pizza on the main drag in San Martin.
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Saturday, January 22, 2011

You get what you wish for

We left Talca in a hurry as we thought it was too hot to do anything. After an 8-hour bus ride we landed in Valdivia, cold and rainy. It rained everyday expect for one and on that one sunny day we made a day trip to the nearby port towns of Niebla, Corral, and Amargos. These towns are great for touring: several old forts, working fishing fleets (rowboats and sailboats), ferry rides, great views of the mouth of the Valdivia River and the Pacific Ocean, and a giant pile of wood chips.

I continue to be unimpressed with Chile so we decided to go over to the Argentine Lake District for a few days. Since this is a new plan, I will be spending more time trip planning than blogging. Part of the reason that I find Chile underwhelming is that it is not exotic. Especially this part of the country seems very similar to home. It is about the same latitude south. The vegetation, landscape, and culture seem familiar, unlike Colombia, Ecuador, and Peru.

Fish Market - Valdivia, Chile.
Fish Market - Valdivia, Chile

Had a couple of tasty pints at Kunstmann Brewery, just outside Valdivia. That's the Unfiltered Lager on the left and the Torobayo Ale on the right. Although John usually prefers ales, the Unfiltered Lager was declared the winner on this day.
Kunstman Brewery - Valdivia, Chile

The harbor at Amargos, Chile with fishing fleet at center and giant wood chip pile at right.
Harbor - Amargos, Chile

Castillo de San Luís de Alba de Amargos - Amargos, Chile. Very cool.
Castillo de San Luís de Alba de Amargos - Amargos, Chile

View to the Pacific from the Amargos Fort.
View to the Pacific Ocean - Amargos, Chile

The ferry arrives at the Corral dock.
Dock - Corral, Chile

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Unintended Talca - Unexpected Talca

John likes to think of himself as a train fan. There are not many passenger trains left in South America. However, south from Santiago there is a three-hour train to Talca, so Talca became a stop we would not have bothered with otherwise. During research we learned that the real train attraction in Talca, the narrow gauge to Constitución on the coast, is no longer running due to the earthquake last year.

Yet when we arrived in Talca, we were surprised by the earthquake damage from 11 months ago: whole city blocks still closed for business, empty lots free or filled with rubble, visible damage inside and outside buildings. We came across hotels one after another that are now a pile of rubble, closed for business, in the process of fixing up rooms, in a state of managed disrepair. Yet all the newer buildings stood tall and strong. It makes one wonder about all the collapsed buildings in the Sichuan earthquake....

The other surprise in Talca was the hot weather. We had ambitions of going hiking in the mountains to the east. We quickly killed that idea once we realized that we probably could not carry enough water to stay alive. Bicycling among the vineyard in the blazing sun was also out of the question even though Talca is in the middle of vine country where the local Walmart(Hyper Lider) sells vine by the liter or gallon. To escape the hot weather, we pulled out of Talca only after one night.

The train we rode from Santiago to Talca just before departure in Central Station, Santiago.
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School Clock Tower - Talca, Chile. Stopped at 3:34 AM.
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The entire block around the Central Market building is closed due to earthquake damage. Many of the vendors appeared to have moved to a temporary location by the Bus Terminal.
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This church shows damage where the steeple meets the roof.
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Friday, January 14, 2011

Santiago, finally a piece of the puzzle

We are having a hard time figuring out Chile. The cost of goods and traveling is comparable to the US or higher, more like Europe (Chilean wine being one of the few exceptions), yet the level of development is barely discernible from Peru where the cost is half.

After a few days in Santiago, we are finally seeing signs of development that begin to justify the prices.
  • Santiago has more miles of downtown pedestrian streets than anywhere we have been. People love them, overflowing the streets all day long.
  • There are all kinds of pleasant neighborhoods in the city center, blending residential and commercial, the old and new. There are street cafes everywhere.
  • The subway system is modern and clean. The stations not only have stores but also services outlets for train, bus, bank, etc. Except the system is not so tourist friendly. The per ride cost for us is more than the Washington DC subway.
  • The Changing of the Guard is among the biggest of the dozens of such spectacles we have seen, while it may not be the most unique.
  • We found the best vegetarian restaurant of the whole trip, where we he had all three lunches there though there are over a dozen ineffectual alternatives.
  • Santiago is supposed to be one of the most dramatically situated capitals with the snow capped Andes to the east. We could hardly see anything through the brown haze of auto exhaust. Development.
As sophisticated as Santiago may appear, we still think the exchange rate with the U.S. dollar is wrong. Of course our opinions are biased here.

Pedestrian Mall.
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Changing of the Guard.
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Evergreen Vegetarian Restaurant.
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Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Half Way

We finally bought our return tickets to the US on January 10th which happens to be the halfway point of our epic eight-month trip. On May 5th, we will fly the red-eye from Lima, Peru to Fort Lauderdale, FL then to Roanoke, VA to attend Niece Sophie's college graduation, after which my in-laws will deliver us home on May 7th.nt

Atop Cerro Santa Lucia in Santiago.
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Saturday, January 08, 2011

Things are looking up for us

We have been in Chile for ten days now. I find it to be the most overpriced country compared to its level of development.
  • The exchange rate is 20% lower than when I was researching this summer.
  • Being the summer high season and New Year, we have had a hard time finding rooms. Hotels and guesthouses are either full, way overpriced, or have way too small rooms that seem more like caves. It is disheartening.
  • We bought first class bus tickets on the best bus company, Pullman. We had paid less for airplane ticket. When we showed up at the scheduled time, the bus turned out to be a phantom. As buses with other companies were full and we loathed to return to our not-so-friendly and haphazard guesthouse, we had to suffer the humiliation of taking another bus with the same company over two hours later, stuffed in the back of the bus. I want to cry.
  • Chile is a tremendously long country. We wanted to stop in on cities every now and then, otherwise the whole country would seem like one long bus ride. So far, none of them seem particularly remarkable.
Valparaiso (Valpo) finally seemed like a reasonable city, but of course, being UNESCO World Heritage, it is expected to be a highlight for any tour of Chile. Finding a good room with a view helps, though it costs almost twice as much as our mostly expensive rooms of this trip. BTW, the Central Bank decided this week to drive down the peso. Good news for us!

Sun-Ling works on the next blog entry in our room at The Yellow House in Valparaiso.
Our room at The Yellow House - Valparaiso, Chile

The sun sets and the city lights come on.
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Valparaiso claims to have the world's oldest electric trolleybus system.
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Valpo is also famous for its hills and funiculars.
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Street scene.
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Mercado - Valparaiso.
Mercado - Valparairso, Chile

The port.
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More of the port.
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Valpo has quite a few 20th century Art Deco and Art Moderne buildings.
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Friday, January 07, 2011

Precious water

Since John last wrote about oasis, we have bused through another couple thousands of kilometers of desert and sand in southern Peru and northern Chile. We now think we understand what true desert is, maybe until we travel North Africa and the Middle East.

Whenever a river flows through the desert, then you can have a green valley. East of La Serena, the Elqui Valley is such a valley, much treasured and touted for northern Chile. Having been through countless such valleys in Peru, we were not so impressed. However, I liked the unusual blue of the storage lake behind the dam. Overall, we found our outing the next day to the port city of Coquimbo more interesting.

View of Elqui Valley from Cerro de la Virgen in Vicuña.
View from Cerro de la Virgen - Vicuna, Chile

Another view of Elqui Valley from Cerro de la Virgen in Vicuña. That's a vineyard at left center.
View from Cerro de la Virgen - Vicuna, Chile

The storage lake and dam as seen from a speeding bus.
Storage Lake - Elqui Valley - Near Vicuna, Chile

Sharing this pint of homemade ice cream (half coffee, half chocolate) at El Cobre Soda Fountain was the perfect way to end our day trip to the Elqui Valley.
Soda Fountain - Vicuna, Chile

View of the coast at Fort Coquimbo.
Near Fort Coquimbo - Coquimbo, Chile

The Cross of the Third Millennium in Coquimbo which soars 93 meters above the highest hill.
Cross of the Third Millennium - Coquimbo, Chile

Felt pretty safe as we walked up the hills in Coquimbo, being that we were out of danger from tsunamis.
On High Ground - Coquimbo, Chile

The bandshell on the Plaza de Armas in Coquimbol ready for The Feast of Epiphany.
Plaza de Armas - Coquimbo, Chile

Wednesday, January 05, 2011

Earthquake: it really happened!

When I was trip planning last summer and getting all worked up about armed robberies, John tried to calm me in his own way, "why aren't you worried about earthquakes?"

When the magnitude 7.1 earthquake centered at Temuco happened last Sunday, we were on the bus, hundreds of miles away, and clueless. But this evening I was sitting down at the computer when our room here in La Serena started shaking like a really really big truck driving by, I knew it was an earthquake. However John was scrubbing himself vigorously in the shower, did not feel a thing. Now he is really bummed that he missed yet another earthquake. Later we learned from the news, the epicenter of the 5.9 magnitude earthquake was less than 100 kilometers away.

There have been promises of activities ever since we entered Chile. No wonder the poor boy is disappointed.

With signage like this, one would think that tsunamis should occur fairly often, but no luck so far.
ESCAPE! - Arica, Chile

Tuesday, January 04, 2011

New territory

We have been traveling south for almost four months in the tropics, Iquique, Chile, being our last stop. Iquique, at 20-degrees south latitude, was a mere 2 degrees to the north of the sun on January 2nd; the closest on this trip so far. The nearly shadowless midday intrigued us (see photo below).

From Iquique we took a 19-hour overnight bus to La Serena (30-degree south). The sun is now to the north and we have left the tropics. While we should feel right at home outside the tropics, I suspect having the sun to the north might be disorienting.

No wells around, so this numbered parking place will have to do. The photo features Sun-Ling with round hat and backpack.
Not a well, but close - Iquique, Chile

Iquique is known for it's beaches; Playa Cavancha is the most famous. This shot is from Saturday, January 1, 2011.
Playa Cavancha - Iquique, Chile

Iquique has some interesting architecture, the Central Market for example.
Market Building - Iquique, Chile