Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Parque Nacional Villarrica

So there she stood in all her smokey, snow covered and ice encrusted glory, Volcan Villarrica. She was mockingly calling out to me, "come on give it a shot, its a beautiful day"...yes volcanos can talk!
The day could not be better for the climb. It was sunny and warm and not a cloud in the sky.  There was 6 in our group plus 2 guides. We met at 6:30 at the Politour offices and geared up. Gaitors, crampons, Jacket and pant shells, gloves, helmet and sliding gear. Jammed that into a pack with 2 litres of water, a gatorade, large hersheys, and apple and a good hiking sandwich of avocado, onion, egg and salami.

The first rise was easy enough as it gave me time to get used to the crampons and pic axe. The views back into Chile were gorgeous with the low hanging clouds. I got my first taste of the wind and it was cold, but a good cold. I had my windproof fleece, windproof jacket and now the shell provided by the company. No wind was getting through. As we started to prepare for the next leg of the journey it happened. Everyone else showed up for the climb. Our guide estimated there were 200 people. Its a big mountain so no worries but our harmony was shattered. We did notice that the masses were traversing along a ridgeline away from us. Our guide smiled and casually said, "we will go this way, its a bit steeper but no tourists'. Bit steeper my butt. Double Black Diamond steep is what it was. It was crazy intimidating. However as we started our ascent we switch backed up the scary steep face and with the crampons the climb was easy enough. Then we stopped to catch our breath and that allowed me to look out to the horizon and then down the slope of where we just came from. It was painfully beautiful.

LUNCH! We all just stood there dumbfounded. We were on a wide open slope that had to be 50 degrees and the wind was blowing strong enough and our guide yells lunch? There is actually a skill to get this done (without sliding 2000 meters into the valley below). You use your trusted crampons and dig out a flat space to sit. Then you dig your feet into the snow downhill and put your pack between you legs. Then dig in. Even though we were all going along fine and lunch was being devoured there was still a general "what the hell" look on everyones face. Our guide just smiled.
** I forgot to mention that after the first rise we lost one person. She got pretty scared and it was impossible for her to go any further so the second guide took her down to the transportation. When it was over she was cool and gave everyone a big congratulatory hug.**

This is the view UP from the safety of our lunch perch. Those are not clouds. That is smoke from the volcano. This is one of the most active volcanos in the world (I keep reading that about every volcano down here) but its not a lava spewing monster. It took us 2 more hours to get to the top from this spot. You can see the people on the left walking up diagonally to the left. They would walk for a bit then "switch back" to the right. That was how it was done on this route. The large crew in the middle of the picture are about 500 metres ahead of us or about an hour.

Five hours and a couple of butt clenching slips later we reached the top. The last 50 metres was actually the hardest, not because of the altitude or slope but because the snow was so soft and trampled. Added was the excitement of reaching the top and people started getting a little sloppy. Not dangerous, just sloppy.
The top was underwhelming to say the least. The acidic smoke from the volcano was blowing in our faces and and choking us a bit...well alot. Our guide just said "follow me". We walked across the crater through the smoke in what can only be described as blind faith. We coughed and hacked our way to the south side of the volcano away from the wind and smoke and there is was, the view we wanted. It was photo time!

With Argentina in the distance (I forget the name of the volcano) photos ops were everywhere. There was time for lunch, about a litre of water and another chocolate bar.
It was the usual "enjoy the moment" moment when our glorious guide yelled our new instructions. Take off the crampon and put on the rubber butt pouch thats in your backpack". Like lemmings we obeyed, no questions asked. We knew what was coming...kind of.
Ready to go our guide said just wait and got very quiet for about 45 seconds. I am pretty sure he was praying for a safe trip down. Pachamana you are the queen!

With some basic instruction on controlling our speed over the top we went, on our butts. There were chutes that looked like butt sized luge runs and we just jumped over. It was a bit hairy to realize you were butt surfing from the top of an active volcano and you got past that when you realized how freaking fast you were going. We used our pic axes as breaks along with our feet to control our speed. Like all good fun things, once you got the hang of it all was good. Now came the plastic butt tobogans that were for one reason only - INCREASED SPEED. Remember we are sliding down 2800 metres.
Of all the things I have done on this or any other trip, trekking Villarrica and then sliding back down goes right to the top of the list. It was challanging, a bit hairy at times and then crazy childlike fun. My only recommendation is make sure you go with a reputable company here in Pucon. There are 28 tour operators in town. I went with Poiltour who has been here longer than most.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Everybody Needs A SPA Day

Just a short 5 km walk from Hostel Siuzandia is the town of Malalcahuello and the Termas Malalcahuello. I have done the walk a few times already to stretch my legs or get supplies. There is a wood factory near the entrance of the hostel, but across the road. When you walk past the factory you are greeting by 5 very large, angry and raging Rotties. Holy Crapola. A very quick but thorough scan of the fence shows its high enough and there are no holes and another scan for climbable trees JUST IN CASE. I mean these dogs are going ballistic to the point that if you stop and look at them its all over. I think they were on the verge of animal spontanious combustion. I did not take any photos because as devil dogs they can not be photographed.

Also in Malacahuello, as everhwhere in Volcano land there are thermal pools. My legs and body were still a bit sore after my hike so this was a grand plan. The walk along the highway to the town was as nice as ever. Snow capped volcanos, emerald green forests and very few cars. Somewhere in the distance I heard a rooster and the hair on my arms stood up. Walking through the town I stopped at the minimart and having been there a few times I was now greeted with big smiles. The woman literally put a bottle of pepsi on the counter and said Hola Canada. A 10 minute walk took me through the town and along a quiet stretch of road. The sign said 1 km.

As a person who walks alot I am usually 5 km per hour. So 20 minutes should get me there. I cross a fast moving very clear river and up a hill. No hotsprings. After 30 more minutes I see building in the distance. The area is beautiful and its sunny and warm so no worries. Another 20 minutes and the end of the road. There it is in all its glory. A huge hotel, manicured gardens, fish ponds (We do we all stop and look at fish in fish ponds?). The thermal house was around the side and suffice it to say a new "over the top" experience for me on this trip. I paid my "over the top" admission fee and sauntered in. This was going to be interesting.

The pools had the familiar sulfur smell and I learned that the water was pumped from the nearby hotspring. The sign on the wall told me the temperature was a soothing 43C. I had the place to my self so in I went. all systems go. I laid back in these theraputic lounge chairs for what could be described as an over extended period of time. I moved to other areas of the pool and messaged my back, legs, feet and finally my neck. It was bliss when suddenly there was  noise to my left. In walked an elderly couple speaking German. It was all ok until they took off thier robes and revealed thier elderly bodies in snug fitting bathing suits. Why do European dudes insist on wearing banana hammocks?

I retreated to a little corner of my personal heaven, put on my ipod and stared out the window at the crazy view. Trust me when I say, these and my other experiences would be so much better shared with someone (thats whey I write these stories). That will not prevent me from getting out there and trying these things.
The webbernet and FB are filled with expressions of  "wisdom". I do like "You should travel alone because getting lost is a great way to find out who you really are".  I dont know what the fu** it means but I like it.
Finally I have a torn rotator cuff in my right shoulder that needs surgery.  I am planning on stopping in Cuba to get it done. I have had it for almost a year but find it is healing naturally which I read it can do but takes 2 years and I will have limited mobility, whatever. The reason I say this is my ability to execise has been limited by that and, well sheer laziness lets be honest.
That being said I did walk past a full lenght mirror today while changing. My body is taking on a nice pear shape and any muscle definition is now a thing of the past. Shirt on at all times while in public!

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Conguillio National Park - A Day On The Trail

The sun is shining and there is snow in them thar mountains, and that my friends is an active volcano. Time to hike!!

7 Hours and 20km on the Coloradito Trail

My day started well enough. The trail was easy to find with no challenges. It was marked with yellow paint on various rocks and trees and it was heading into a valley surrounded by snow capped Volcanoes.

Along the way the path forked and naturally I went the wrong way. As I walked for about 20 minutes enjoying the view and being master of the forest, the trail stopped dead. In front of me was a wall of bamboo that rose up the mountain, impenetrable. However I would not be denied. I am on the trail and it must be here. I hammered, slipped and swore for an hour trying to get my way through. I looked around, walked back and forth before deciding that I will go back and start again. Failure is such a fragile emotion. I was actually working out excuses in my head that I would tell the staff at the resort. As I walked logic started to creep its funny way into my head. I must have missed something because that was a definite dead end. Sure enough at the trail fork there it was, the bright yellow marker down the path I though did not go anywhere, the right path. So off I went.

Felling empowered I now knew to slow down and look for the markers that would take me the right direction. However, it happened again but this time I was told what to look for, and I ignored it. “When you reach the farm be sure you keep going, the path is on the property and the farmer will not care” is what I was told before I left. What did I do? I reached the farm and went the other way IGNORING the big yellow marker on the fence post. I walked for about 10 minutes and my subconscious said “jack ass, remember the yellow marker on the fence post”. I turned around, jumped the fence onto the farm property and started walking. Then I saw the farmer and froze. Looked around and started walking back. “Amigo” I hear. Its ok, the path to the volcano is that way. The farmer was helping me regardless of my actions and fears I was going to be in trouble for being on his property. And I was told beforehand this was the way.
The trail was amazing as it dipped into a valley then back up the other side. The mountains still had winter snow and took my breath away, but the snow also took the trail away. The first time I just stopped. The snow ran about 200 yards across and there was no trail in sight. I took my time, pictured across the way to the trees in front of me and logically put the trail at a certain point. Off I went across the snow. The terrain was steep and the snow more than a bit dangerous but I took my time and made it to the other side. Ten feet to my right was a big yellow marker.

The path dipped into a forest and I was soothed by a small river. This was the same river that ran past my hostel which now gave me something to follow home if I got lost. Out of the small forest and again I was confronted by snow. Lots of hard packed spring snow. The trail was only 30 metres in front of me over the snow but there was no marker. It was obvious so off I went with confidence. As I walked the trail started to rise as that was my destination, the Volcano Lookout.

The trail was long and hard but I was not tired. I was inspired as my goal was within sight. I tripped a few times and stopped often to catch my breath. I would not be deterred at finding my goal. Then it happened. The trail levelled out and there I was standing in between the mountains, overlooking the valley with a clear view of the volcano. I stayed there for an hour, had my lunch and enjoyed the environment. It was exactly where I wanted to be at that moment.

Now the return which I estimate would take 3 hours. I again ran into a problem on the way down with the snow. This time I could not find the trail the markers nor had any memory of the area. I needed to improvise as getting stuck unprepared in the Chilean backcountry over night was not an option. As I was at the edge of the valley that I had just been looking over I saw that across the ridge around the forest was the trail running up the mountain where I had traverse my first snow a few hours earlier. It was about 1000 yards ahead and figured to use that as my sightline and bushwack down the valley, around the forest and climb up to the trail on the other side. Hello bamboo thickets but I heard the river and knew it was ok. I was never in any danger of getting lost but there was the possibility that if I hurt myself I was off the trail and it would be more difficult to find me if that were to happen. After about 300 metres I crossed the river (and got muddy and soaked in the process. When I got up on the other side and cleared my head I found myself standing dead centre of the trail that I thought I had lost. Smiling at my good luck and then reflected on what I had done. I made a decision, believed in it, and had confidence in that decision and it worked out better than imagined. I was back online.

The rest of the hike was tranquil as I was now putting the entire day into perspective. I was having this out of body philosophical moment and feeling pretty good about myself. I was walking but not paying attention. Looking around I then walked head first into a tree with a smack, thud Shit! Shit! Shit! Swearing in pain and my stupidiity I fell to my knees only to land in a big pile of horse shit. Mother Nature sure has a way to keep you in check and humble. I cleaned myself up in the river of life and quietly enjoy the walk back.

My Philosophical Overview of the Day on the Trail (that landed me in a pile of horse shit)
The Path
Every path in the world starts easy. We are strong and we are filled with confidence that we are going the right way.
The Path Changes And We Go The Wrong WaySometimes we are on the wrong path and don’t know it even when we reach a point where the trail ends and there is now where else to go. We bang our heads, curse and swear and hurt ourselves over and over not believing we are wrong. We constantly do the same thing over and over and getting the same negative result, which by definition is insanity. Don't be afraid to admit your wrong and be prepared to change.
Finding The Right Path It is vital that you realize you need a new plan, turn around and start over. You do not always have to start from the beginning because the change in direction you need is there, you just have to find it.
Losing The Path/Dangers On The Path - Dont Panic
Sometimes you need to stop, think and evaluate where it is you want to go. Take your time over the dangerous parts, don’t panic and have confidence in your decision and abilities. You will find the path again
Sometimes You Have To Leave The Path To Find The Path
The most important thing to do when you are scared, confused and don’t know the way dont panic. Look around, see where you are and where you want to go. Be confident in that choice and be flexible to make changes along the way because you will find yourself back on the right track.
Listen to People
People are helpful and want to help. However we all have a habit of staring and nodding our heads without listening or giving them a big old grin fuck. Listen to what people have to say, it can be invaluable.

Focus On Your Goal
No matter how difficult the challanges stay focused on your objective. Keep reminding yourself what you are looking and what you want. When you arrive it will be sweet, and the sweet is not as sweet without the bitter.
Don’t get cocky and complacent. Always be learning, listening and paying attention. You can lose everything you gained by ignorance and end up falling in a pile of shit. But remember, there is always a river of life to clean yourself in.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

A Day In Temuco

Memorial to the Battles Fought in Temuco
Mapuche, Spanish and Chileano
This is not an aweful city, its just not a tourist or backpackers city.But you can have fun anywhere all you have to do is look for it or better of, make it. I put it in the same category as Estelli Nicaragua and that is heady company. Both are working towns and not being a tourist town is what appeals to me. Its rough around the edges however as I said yesterday the University district is new, modern and looks like it could be alot of fun.
My first stop was to Plaza Anibal Pinto, better known in every other city and town as Plaza De Armas. It was nice. Large Palm trees with crazy thick trucks, a nice fountain and what I was looking for. This monument to the Machupe battles through the years. Its really well done with figures from the three main historical cultures. Mapuche, Chileano and Spanish. I dont take to many photos of monuments but this one got the full treatment. The park was lush and green and a great way to spend an hour drinking coffee and watching the world go by.

Amanecer rocking out
 Once in a while you will come across a street performer and get blown away. This is Amanacer which oddly enough means Sunrise. Whatever works for you brother because I spent another hour just listening to this guy play. It helped that every single woman who came within earshot stopped as well. Nothing rocking about this guy, it was all deep soulful songs about love and life but the truth was he could play and sing. The only thing missing was an agent and recording contract.
I supported him and bought 2 discs ($5). I cant remember the last time I actually bought music. Anyways I talked with him and his buddy who was hawking the discs for about 10 minutes. He told me he was playing all his life but had kids and a wife and he needed to take care of them so hits the park and streets to make some extra money (He drives taxi for a living).  I am very gradually slowing down and starting to appreciate street life from the reality of it.

A new town means its Market Time! The main market here like everywhere was fantastic. Best of all its cherry season and without a doubt my favourite seasonal fruit. Dont worry bananas you will never be replaced. These are sweet and delicious. So much for I ate a kilo of them and now have that "oh god" sick feeling in my stomack. Whatever it was worth it. My kilo cost me $1000 pesos are about $2. I think the Canadian dollar has fallen since I have been in Chile. I just convert using XE.com  and have not just started paying attention. Its now $1 Canadian = 500 CLP. If memory serves it was 560CLP when I cross the border...and what the hell kind of sentence is "If memory servers"
Just a quick shot of one of the many stalls. I estimate there were 200 with every fruit, veggie and spice available.
I purchased 1 kilo of cherrys, .5 kilo of strawberrys, 3 apples, 3 oranges, 3 bananas, 1 avocado, 3 eggs, 1 cucumber, 1.5 litres of water and 3 buns. The magic final total was $2200 CLP or $4.40C more or less. I have a bus trip into the mountains tomorrow so the road snacks will be a nice change from potato chips.
** I dont know what it is about buying things in 3's but thats what I do. I also book 3 nights when I reserve online (unless its just a stop over). Very Odd.

A Few Market Shots.

Yuppers its fruit and veggies. I am trying some things with my camera because I tend to take the same style of photos, so as I do something different you have to look at it. Finally my favourite photo of the day. As I posted on FB this horse is probably thinking, what the crap did I do in previous life to deserver this fate!
This market is no different than anywhere else where as the farmers and indiginous come to town daily to sell thier goods. This is thier mode of transportation. Family and goods just pack up and head to market, pack up and head home. The horse well you see his day.

I am heading to the Anden Rose Hotel tomorrow for..you guessed it, 3 nights. It located near the small town of Charcautin near Parque Nacional Conguillio. Home of the spectacular smoking cone of Volcan Llaima which coincidently is one of the most active volcanos in the world. Last eruption was April of 2009. I am going to climb that puppy.


A few random thoughts to start the day here in Temuco.

Bus Station in Santiago
 My love affair with the Santigo Metro hit a bump yesterday during the morning rush hour. Everything was great to start. Bought my ticket, walked to the platform and go on the train with the feeling of having just had a hug comforting hug. Then I got to my startion, University de Santiago which is also one of the main Bus stations. CHAOS! The lineup for the tickets was monstrous and meandered down the main hall that was the entrance to the Tur Bus terminal. Talk about human blockage and the pushing, shoving and angry words that go with it. It crushed me (well not really) as I swam through the masses smashing everyone in sight with my pack.

While waiting for my train I felt something was just not right.. As a train passed in the other direction it was quiet. I mean really quiet. As I was heading out of the city there were 3 trains that passed going into the city and it was the same. As it entered, stop and left the station, quiet. Then I realized (it took time because it was early, I did not have any coffee and well I am not that bright at times) what was missing was the screeching of metal on metal that you get on the TTC. I looked down and there it was. These trains do not run on the tracks, they run between the tracks on large rubber wheels. I dont know the technology or how life span of the tire but it was interesting. There was a third track for power, in this case the main track but the train ran along the ground like a car or bus.

As I mentioned before a long bus ride takes it out of me more than a long plane ride and yesterdays 10 hours was no different. I watched the countryside change and it was dramatic. Santiago was surrounded by mountains but they were viewed as through a polluted fog. Get outside the city and there they are in all thier majesty. As we headed south it started to get green, really green. We started to pass over rivers that started small but the further south the larger the river. Each ran fast and were emerald green. Tall forests started appearing and it held true that the Germans immigrated here because it reminded them of the Black Forest. Sure, lets go with that.
On the bus there was a young guy who sat beside me (we have assigned seating) and stared at his PS2 working his thumbs like a crazy man for the entire ride never looking up. I thought it was a bit weird but then realized I had my Ipod and stared out the window the entire time. We all have our things dont we?

Now onto Temuco. LP and Frommers both say its not much of a city and they are right. Its like arriving in Hamilton or St. Catherines. You just stand and say "really"! Anyways jumped in a cab and told the driver where I was going. He just stared at me confused so I gave him my notes.
** I have developed a habit of writing down the address of my hotel or hostel in a little book for just such cases, as well as directions from the bus station thanks to google maps.**
He asked a few of his taxi tribe and when satisfied came back and said, ok I know where it is. Knowing the directions I could follow the street signs to make sure things were good. As with all taxis I just try to chat away in spanish and the response is always fantastic, but in Chile they speak so fast and this was no exception. So we drive along, kind of get to where we are going, stop backup, move to another street and continue. Finally we find my street and in his defense it is fairly isolated but he stopped the car and ran up the street to the actual house (it was a one way and we were to far and could not go up it). He ran back and with a big smile said "We found it" and he shook my hand. That was the best moment of my day!!

Tanta Silva is more a B&B than a hostel and it is just like walking into Gramma's house. Large overstuffed out dated furniture, nick nacks of every variety and a large white poodle that is the happiest dog on the planet. Silvia is warm, friendly and funny. After signing in she smiles and said "ok cash!" I said "efectivo claro" and again it was "ok cash". She laughed when she told me that she was learning english and these were the first words she was taught. I worked with her for 15 minutes on a few phrases "you will need to pay with cash", "We dont accept credit cards", You have to pay for your stay first" and "breakfast is at 8am".

After a week in the Fast times at Ridgemount High experience that was the La Chimba Hostel in Santiago I was ready for some peace and quiet. I have a private room and bath. The bed is massive and comfortable, even with the shiney white comforter with emboidered pink hearts and enough pillows to build a small fort. I honestly dont understand a womans obsession with pillows nor will I ever try.

There are a few markets and museums here that I want to have a look at, plus the central square and the Mirador. I went for a walk around the university district for food last night and it was clean, bright and happening. I spied a german restaurant that has my name written all over it.

On final note about yesterday. In my haste to catch my 7 am train I forgot my toothbrush, toothpaste soap and shampoo at the hostel. Not a big deal as there is a farmacy close by. My issue is I used the shampoo. Now lets be clear, I have not purchased shampoo in 10 years. Now with my hair growing or more to the point I am to lazy to find a barber I have to buy shampoo. My first was about a week ago, used it once and forgot it in the bathroom. This is my second bottle of shampoo I have lost that I have just opened. So no shampoo for 10 years and now 2 bottles in less than a week. Stupid hair, if I did not break my clippers you would be gone!

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Walking Tour of Santiago

My final day in Santiago and it was time to learn a little about the city and its history. This was a free 4hour walking tour (you tipped the guide at the end). Here are various highlights.
Tomorrow I am heading south to Temuco, the heart of Mapuche territory. The Mapuche are/were arguably the fierciest native warriors in all of the Americas. I am not going to go visit any of thier villages but I am going to dive right into any museums and historical literature I can get my hands on.

This building is the tallest in Chile, and was built by the
telecommunications company Telefonica to look just like a
huge cell phone
Cathedral de Santiago in the Plaza de Armas

Royal Palace. Top middle window is where Pinochet
gave his speaches tot he masses
Interesting drink, Mote Con Huesillo
A sweet nectar poured over cooked grains and peaches

Cerro Santa Lucia near Bella Vista
I am not going to be in a major city again until I hit Buenos Aires in late January. I like the transition of small town, large city then getting into the back country. I am going to stop early in the new year and find a school for a couple of weeks, possibly Mendoza but more probably Sucre Boliva as it will be very cost effective there. After the lake district and all its good German food its Pantegonia and the crazy mountains and fiords of Southern Chile

Friday, November 18, 2011

Santiago: Top Of The List You Go

I really like this town of 5 million. Tthe ebb and flow of the Metro as its brilliant, the streets wide and tree lined, the traffic flow, well it flows and it does not take itself so seriously. Toronto you could learn from Santiago, well except for the violent history,  political and business corruption and the student protests that escalate into violence on a weekly basis.

Putting things into perspective Chile ha been through the grind of wars, repression, corruption, and all the good things that go along with it.  Pinocette was as crazy a dictator that there ever was and that list is long. However Chile has brilliant Naval History and during the War of the Pacific they kicked Boliva and Peru's collective butts. That kind of history builds character. 

I have spent that last few days jumping on the Metro and going to different neighbourhoods. I went to the end of the Red Line to San Pablo and found a great market. While wandering the market I noticed I was getting more than my share of strange looks. A bit weird but no worries. Then I stopped to buy socks (yuppers socks at an outdoor market) I got talking to the woman behind the counter. She asked if I was a student or working in Santiago and as the conversation went along and I told her I was visiting Santiago and riding the Metro to different neighbourhoods she smiled and said that they dont see many tourists in the market (hence all the looks). The she gave me an apple and told me to enjoy the market, it was safe.

Ahhh, Lunch!! French fries, beef, sausage, sweet onions and topped with 2 fried eggs and a hot chile sauce (red bottle on the left) while washed down with a large Coke. How can it get any better than that! This is a standard meal in a restaurant along with hot dogs. These people can not eat enough of them. They top them with avocado, mustard, tomatoes, onions and a crazy amount of  mayo. Its an event to even eat one. This meal put me back about $5 and it was great. I have been pretty lazy this weekend. The was a trip to MacDonalds and KFC but now my bodies is crying for fruit and veggies. Maybe tomorrow.

Ok, back to the Metro. For starters you buy your ticket from a kiosk that is not attached to the entrance so there are no long lines of people getting pisses when someone is asking a question or fishing for change. You buy your ticket or pass then walk the 10 feet to a series of turnstiles and off you go. BUT there are two turnstile areas. One for entrance only and one for exit only.
The same goes with the exit and entrance to the trains. To keep the flow of people going smooth there are two sets of stairs, oddly enough below the aformentioned turnstiles. To go in you go down one set of stairs, to leave, the other. There is no mish mash of people fighting their way up or down like a salmon going up stream. During rush hour there are Metro staff in bright lime green vests standing along the platform moving people along to even them out. Everyone to a person was a part of it. When the train stopped and the big doors opened everyone WAITED until the last person left the train before they got on. This happened everywhere, what a crazy concept.
The stations are all big, clean and free from the clutter of advertising. Its there but not everywhere. The station personel are dressed in clean uniforms, are helpful and friendly enough (nobody can be super friendly working on a metro, it has to be a brutal job) and people cued when needed. I am sure there are issues but compared to the TTC this was a euphoric transit experience. My day pass (electronic and modern) costs me 1300 pesos or $2.61. A single ride was $580 pesos or $1.16.

I have been on mass transit in various big cities around the world. Santiago has it figured out in a very big way. Well done Santiago, you are now at the top of my list.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Cemeteries in Valparaiso

I thing that cemeteries one of the most interesting places we can visit anywhere. I have wandered through many of them all over the world including Canadian Military Cemeteries throughout France and Belgium and have never been disappointed. One of historical importance is a place we used to spend many hours as a teenager coming of age, Drummond Hill Cemetery.  Home of Laura Secord and various soldiers of the War of 1812 some of thier births are mid 1700s, right there in our own back yard. Take some time, wander around and get a feel for the place. Open your mind and you will not be disappointed.

Death and Cemeteries are celebrated in Latin America with unabased fevor. Dia de Muerte or the Day of the Dead is a National Holiday, I think its November 2nd. Familys visit thier loved ones, have great celebrations and its very festive. There are parades, firewords and families just being together in the town sqaures.  How amazing is that. I think our uptight western society puts death in a very deep and secret place. It is only to be talked about quietly and with the perception that the discussion needs to be sad. Here they dont dwell on the death, they celebrate the life that was lived. Awesome. 
 There are two large cemeteries in Valparaiso.  From Lonely Planet - "The city’s most illustrious, influential and infamous residents love the afterlife style of Valpo’s Cementerio 1, where tombs are actually ornate mini palaces. Adjoining it is the back-up option, Cementerio 2, and the Cementerio de Disidentes, or ‘dissident cemetery’ – despite the name, it’s the final resting place of Protestants rather than rabble-rousers."

LP nailed it when they called the tombs Ornate Mini Palaces. This was as an impressive collection of tombs, moseleums and burial chambers as anywhere I have ever seen. There was a list of the famous poets, writers, musicians  and politicans but I know very little of Chilean history. I took down some names, along with historical names as the Naval Museum to get me started though.
As I wandered around checking out family historys, dates, and just getting a feel for both Cem 1 and 2 it suddenly came to me that everything was very calm and serene. I remember having this feeling in Tyne Cott and other Cemeteries in Europe.

I visted  Iceland with my sister Kelly a few years ago. We had a great time driving the ring road, living off peanut butter and banana and hitting up the hostels and homestays. I even made her climb an active volcano and now she is hooked. One day while in Reykijavik I spotted the local cemetery to which I just made a beeline. My sister, in between feeding and talking to the local ducks just said NO Way, thats sick. Well it wasn't 20 minutes later she was looking for great photo ops, walking around and just getting the feel for the history. I think her comment was "This is really interesting but I am going to need a drink afterwards"

If you want to search for the gravesite of the historically famous check out Find A Grave  It also has great information Wiki style on each person, well each person I checked for.
Cemeteries are History just waiting to be discovered.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Be Random

RANDOM - Having no definite aim or purpose; not sent or guided in a particular direction; made, done, occurring, etc., without method or conscious choice; haphazard

How can Valparasio have 5.6 million people LESS than Santiago yet be 10 times more chaotic? Traffic, people going in every direction possible, narrow hilly streets and a history as one of the most important port towns in Latin America until the construction of the Panama Canal. This is still an important port town and as such it is a bit seedy and edgy. Many buildings show thier wear with the battle of history, the elements and past earthquakes. It looks like an upgrade to the towns infrastructure has not happened in 50 years. Maybe thats what makes this town special, that and its memorable hillsides and thier creeky old funiculars.

Be Random - Get To Know Someone Random.

I needed coffee badly. I am so exhausted with instant coffee in the morning and today is one of those days. I went out hunting for a proper coffee house and nothing was going to get in my way. I found a brilliant (expensive) cappuccino on the edge of an Plaza Sotomayor and settled in for a while. An odd sight to my caught my attention. There were 3 shipping containers stacked on top of each other with a large quilt (?) hanging off of it creating a door type structure. Bolted top centre was a huge clock (Ikea could not compete) that seemed to give this structure some purpose. However, this Plaza Sotomayor is a gorgeous plaza centred around the remodelled Colonia Navy building, modern offices and cafes. This eyesore was completely out of place, but who am I to judge.

When I looked a little closer, ie: put on my glasses sitting on top was a guy just chilling and reading the paper.  He was not bothering anyone, just chilling and everyone once in a while took a sip of comething from a paper cup. I wonder....
He was there the entire time I drank my coffee and made for a great bit of entertainment. Then he decided to get up and there was a serious power wobble and there were gasps from everyone around (I was not the only person watching him). If it was for the fact he balanced himself against the clock I would be writing about watching some old dude plummet to his death.
How could this get any better. Strolling over I found this was an area for art and artists. I guess reading is an art form now. I love artists. You can do the most stupid things and justify it by saying you are doing it for your craft. They were cooking, drinking and there was an actual security guard to prevent interlopers from going in and saying "what the F*** are you doing, I mean by saying hello.
Around the back I go only to find some guy sitting inside a hollowed out container playing guitar, to nobody. That is cool, just doing his thing for anyone who wants to stop an listen. The colourful quilt must have been his lightshow. Good times!

Off topic a bit but something else I found interesting today. This graffiti is well done and says it all.

My Interpretation
Top Tier- The almighty dollar
Second Tier- The rich who control everything
Third Tier- Religious leaders who are bought by the rich and have controlling influence over the masses
Fourth Tier - Business, Government and War, the money creators
Firth Tier - The middle class celebrating thier supposed success
Bottom Tier - The poor and working class supporting everything on thier backs.

This is a world issue and historically revoltions have started because of this seperations of classes. French Revolution, American Revolution and the Russian Revolution stand out. Dont think that it cant happen in our life time just because we have a few dollars in our pocket and a full belly. Change happens when people have had enough and it can happen anywhere, even in Canada.


** Update**
Thanks to a travel buddy, Jaron Collis  who saw my image above and put some historic context to it. "Its based on a 100 year old poster created by the industrial workers of the world"

A great version can be viewed here

Great work Jaron

Monday, November 14, 2011

Hostel Book Swaps

A boon to the long term hostel traveller is the open book swap. You have a book just trade it in for a new used one. I have two books on the go, one reading and one travel. I am currently reading "The Reasons Behind the Charge of the Light Brigade". Its historical and dry and incredibly insightful into the history of the British Military. Postings and Rank were purchased and not earned. The most inexperienced weathly aristocrat could lead vast armys...Thus the fateful Charge of the Light Brigade.
The more important of my books is of course the Travel Guide. There are many out there, Lonely Planet, Footprints, Moon, Frommers and Rough Guides to name a few. When compiled with thier companion websites and the vast amounts travel information available on the WebberNet the core of travel is easy and readily available.
I am a Lonely Planet guy, however thier website now is partnered with Hotels.com so you dont get any information on available accomidations unless you use the forums section. Its all about booking a hotel through the site. Its not a game changer as I use HostelWorld and HostelBookers to find my rooms.  So I started with a Lonely Planet Central America, good basic book on all countries. When I arrived in Ecuador I swapped that for a Lonely Planet Ecuador, smart and easy. In Quito I found a Footprints to Ecuador, Peru and Boliva. Good swap as I was heading to Peru.  In Torillo I found a Frommers Chile so I swapped Running with Scissors for that. Now I had Chile covered, and since I was working my way back up to Bolivia I would keep both regardless of the extra weight.

** NOTE, any chance you have to shed weight you do it, adding weight is a back packers biggest nemesis. However realistically we are not carrying our packs for any real distance. Buses to Cabs, into the hostel and repeat. Sometimes a hostel is close enough to the bus station and you walk the 15 minutes. Its a good workout but its then you realize, I need to shed weight from my pack...and the belly wouldnt hurt either.
** Footprints is a nice book and useful but I am not a fan of the layout and how you have to figure out the presumed cost of accommidation. I would never start with one
**Frommers is not for the budget Traveller. They do have amazing historical information about each country and location but the book does seem to cater to the short term, money to burn traveller.

Today is bonus day here in Santiago. I found the Lonely Planet guide to South America and Swapped my Footprints book for it, although its as heavy as a brick. I now have country covered with my boys from Lonely Planet plus I have my Frommers Chile to swap along the way.

So future travellers, dont shell out big bucks for a brand new travel guide. First buy a used one and save yourself $50. If its only a few years out of date, not much changes and you can always get online to verify information. Second, get ready to Swap!! Its a small victory that gives your day a life when you find what you really need.

Crazy how something so simple as a book swap is now what makes me happy.

 Off to Valparasio tomorrow for a few days then back here for 2, then the big move into the Lake District.  A quick word about the Lake District. It was settled by Germans just after the war, so like it or not many of these Germans are decendants of Nazis. Its NOT thier fault by any means, but its weird knowing that people I will be staying with are the children and grand children of those evil bastards. However the food is going to be fantastic and authentic German. I am ready to dig in.

A few more street shots of Santiago

Sunday, November 13, 2011

The First Milestone

A bit of a philosophical Sunday. Santiago, I am putting you on the list. Great city, close to the mountains, the ocean and the desert and there are opportunities here. Well done Santiago, way to step up.

Today we hit the first 1000 page views of my blog, 1008 and 16 Countries all in the first 7 weeks. Today we are joined by Slovakia. Thanks again for being a part of my adventure.

Now the greatest part of this, well of any journey is not the places you go or the things you do, its all about the people you meet. Everyone has a life story to tell and its always interesting. I have met people from so many places,. Australia, New Zealand, England, Scotland, Ireland, Wales, France, Germany, Canada, USA, Switzerland and of course every country I have been on this first leg of my trip. Guatamala, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Panama, Ecuador, Peru and Chile. You will find peoples lives interesting if you stop talking and start listening. I find people everywhere are all the same. We seek the same things in our lives and are generally good.
This was a great lazy day watching football at Californias, the local Ex Pat Sports bar in Santiago. The Bills were shit, getting thier doors blown off by the Dallas. There is a market for this type of bar all through Latin America. Every time I find an Ex Pat bar, no matter what country I am in they are all busy. A good Ex Pat sports bar and a chill hostel is a business just waiting to be opened. I now have a goal and direction, now its time to find the location. I am not going to get rich but I think there is a good life to be had running my own place. There is NO reason why I can not do it.

Updated possible spots for relocation in no particular order

Leon Nicaragua
Otavalo Ecuador
Cuenca Ecuador
Santiago Chile
Suchitoto El Salvador

The World is out there, all I have to do is go out and grab my piece and not be afraid to do it.

Saturday, November 12, 2011


Santiago and its 5 million people have hit me square in the face and its just what I needed. This city us huge, clean and vibrant, something Toronto might have been in the past but is absolutely not now. I forgot how much I love being in a real city and have concluded that I am a city guy as much as I fight it.
I took the subway from the bus station to La Chimba, the hostel in Bella Vista. It was fast, smooth, clean, safe and cheap. 580 (C $1.18) pesos for anywhere in the city. The cars were brand new and the designs were perfect for maximum capacity and the flow of people. The car doors themselves are at least 50% larger than the newest TTC Subway car.

Bella Vista touts itself as a bohemian and colourful neighbourhood with signs everywhere. Bohemians can be wanderers, vagabonds or adventurers. I think I just like the word vagabond, not to be one I just like the word. Great hood all the same. Wide tree lined streets filled with cafes and restaurants. There is a huge open market with the best tasting bananas I have ever had, and that is one of my dietary staples (along with cereal).

The hostel here is alright and it was easy to sit down and have a few beer with some of the people hanging around. However, this was my first real Hostel sleeping Experience and it was shit. I had to get a bed in an 8 bed dorm as this place was full and since I had nowhere else to go so I decided to quietly settled in. There was a huge BBQ and party that started at 10 which was good of fun. I went to bed around 1 and all was quiet as the BBQ was in the back courtyard. Now comes the A Typical Hostelling experience. At 5 am (ish) four partiers returned to the room (nationality not important but thier rudeness if f***ing typical where ever I have been). On goes the light without any regard and the conversation is as loud as in the party. They are banging into stuff and just not giving a crap about any one else in the room.

Usually this will last about 5 minutes and then all will go quiet. No sir, this goes on and on until I sat up and looked at them, they just stared until I said "come on guys, really?". Thier response and I can not make this up, "You have to get use to this if you stay in hostels, its normal". I could have started a huge logical argument about in Not being normal and just ignorent but they were pretty smashed and I just said "well ok, see you in the morning". As I write this they were still in bed but revenge is pretty sweet. I got up and opened my locked, accidently dropped a few things, the bathroom door was difficult to close and needed to be tried a few times (you get the picture). It was childish I know but it made me happy.

There are many interesting people here. I am recieving lots of tips on places to go and stay, places to avoid and how to travel in Pantegonia which can be a bit difficult by bus. I also get huge wide eyes stares when I say I am spending a month in Pantagonia then off to Antarctica for 10 days. That statement seems to constantly draw alot of attention. I am finding that so many people are trying to do so much in such a short period of time. They have 3 months and go from Brazil to Argentina, Boliva, Chile, Peru, Ecuador and Colombia. That is alot of travel to experience and then try to fit in tours, treks, sights etc. Its very cool to try to see and do as much as you can but for me I find it better to slow down. Experience as much as you can in a country before you move on. The number of stamps in your passport is not that important.
** I have the luxury this opinion because I have no time constraints
Another instant coffee to start my day. It is still god awful and I will never get used to it