Monday, May 2, 2011

Santiago to Arica - Exploring the Upper Half of Chile

We're a little behind on our blog so we decided to cover all of Chile in one post. We spent over 2 weeks traveling the country so to keep this from becoming a never ending post, we're giving a quick recap and pictures of the different places we visited.

We began our adventure with a bus ride over the Andes. Just like a roller coaster, we went for the front seats so we would get the biggest thrill as we rapidly descended through the Andes in a double-decker bus, our driver taking hairpin turns like he was in a race car...did I mention no guardrails! 

Descending through the Andes

Our time in Santiago was unique from the rest of our trip as we stayed with family friends instead of in a hostel.  As Patricio (the dad) put it...we harnessed our boy/girl scout spirits and camped out on their couch for 5 days. 

Our home in Santiago

The Hinrichsens were wonderful hosts and gave us a taste of Chilean family life and the opportunity to experience some really authentic, non-touristy activities.

The Hinrichsens

L-R: The wildlife of Santiago (tarantulas on the sidewalk!); Patricio showing us how to eat cactus - called tuna; a traditional Chilean eatery having something similar to tamale pie called Pastel de Choclo

A few of the highlights:
- Birthday party for a neighbor where they prepared paella.  I wish our cookouts included food this good!

Patricio sampling the paella

- A visit to a "horse breaking" event with "gauchos" equipped with capes, hats, lassos, and huge spurs.  The gauchos were amazing riders and it was incredible to see them mount the untrained horses and ride them around until they were bucked off.  Following this we went to a friend's almond farm and were able to shuck and eat fresh almonds.

Those are almonds behind me

- Hiking to the top of Cerro Santa Lucia

Santa Lucia

View of downtown Santiago

- Rodelbahn: basically flying down a large slide in a sled


- Visiting the museum of Pre-Columbian artifacts and the Plaza de Armas square in downtown Santiago


City of Valparaiso

Valparaiso is a port city about 1.5 hours from Santiago.  Our first thought upon arrival - how could anyone be overweight here!  Valparaiso is known as the city of 48 hills so anywhere you go is very much uphill or downhill.  Scattered around the city are these old elevators from the 1800's that will take you up some of the hills.  Our hotel was at the top of a hill with one of these so we were counting on using it to get up there.  Of course, the day we arrived, it was shut down for servicing.  We had to hoof it up the hill (felt more like a mountain) with our 100 lbs of luggage.  At one point I couldn't make it with my bag so Mike carried both.  He makes a great pack mule!

The non-functioning elevator and my pack mule

We spent two days in Valparaiso exploring and enjoying the views.  The city is very grimy, but somehow also very picturesque.

Colorful views in Valparaiso

La Serena
In La Serena we rented a car and drove north to Punta de Choros to visit Isla Damas and two other uninhabited islands off the coast.  The drive included 30km on a dirt and gravel road in a VW Golf - We felt every bump.  We when arrived, we found some local fisherman willing to take us and a small group out to visit the islands.  As we circled them, we could see penguins, sea lions, seals - it was awesome (although floating around the ocean in a tiny little boat was a little unnerving).

Isla Damas

A fishing boat similar to the one we were in

Some of the wildlife we saw

The route to Punta de Choros was unpaved and obviously windy

The next day we traveled to the Elqui Valley and visited a Pisco distillery.  The Pisco Sour is the national drink of Chile. However, the Peruvians also claim Pisco and there is definitely some tension between the two countries over it.  For example, when entering Peru, you are not allowed to bring in any alcohol called Pisco that isn't from Peru.

Pisco sampling - 65% alcohol and 45% - this was some strong stuff!

Arica was an afterthought for us...a jumping off point for Peru after change in plans due to protests in Bolivia.  As the next day was Easter and this made flights expensive we ended up spending almost 3 full days here.  Lucky us!  It turned out an awesome beach was only a 10 minute walk from our hostel and it was actually warm enough to swim.  We could get used to spending Easter laying out on the beach!!  Our friends from the Czech Republic were also in town so we spent the last day hanging out with them, playing beach tennis, boogie boarding and surfing.  Yes, that's right, Mike is now a surfer.  He is also still black and blue from the experience.