The Adventure Begins: We left Phoenix on Monday Feb 6, flew to Atlanta and then through the night to Santiago Chile!! All in all a pretty uneventful trip, hardly even any turbulence. The flight to Chile was about 10 hours, not too bad. Upon arriving we were welcomed into the country with the typical Latin American hospitality of being grossly overcharged (well, I guess ounly about $4.00) for a taxi ride to our hotel, Hotel Los Arcos. We spent the next few days trampsing about Santiago, sleeping, sampling the completos (blog in the works), absorbing the history and culture, and catching up on sleep while we waited for Luke, Jamie, Tyler, and Lisa to arrive for our trip.
Adios Santiago! Once everyone arrived and recuperated we were off to see the country (actually only about 1/6 of it). Fortunately for us, the public transportation here is amazingly comfortable and relatively cheap. Almost all the intercity buses are big, clean, coach stle buses that put the US greyhounds to shame. Our first stop was Talca, unbeknownst to us at the time as large, dusty, and fairly unimpressive first stop. We were less then excited about the city (which we would discover again and again with all cities we encountered), so we decided to seek sanctuary in a small hostel outside of town, which turned out to be a great decision. La Casa Chueca, our oasis was a small peaceful guesthouse located on a hill over looking the Lircay river. The actual casa chueca was full, but we were able to stay at the summer home of a wealthy businessman right next door. Basically, we had our own private soccer field, swimming pool, and gourmet breakfast experience...definitely the nicest place we ended up staying in during the trip.
La Vina Balduzzi: The open road was calling our names so we said goodbye to the lovely Casa Chueca and hit the road for Temuco. En route to Temuco we stopped for a wine tour at the Balduzzi Winery. The tour was fairly interesting, and although I couldn´t exactly describe all the subtle flavors of the various wines, the grapes were the sweetest thing I have ever tasted. We arrived in Temuco around 10:00pm, late for us Americans, but early for Chileans seeing as they partake in more of the European lifestyle, where the day starts much later around 9, they eat lunch and take a siesta around 1-4. Typically there is no dinner, but instead an once, which consists of tea and sandwhiches and can happen anywhere from 8-11pm. We stumbled upon a wonderful pizzaria in an uptown area of Temuco, which we all agreed was the best pizza we´d had in quite awile...original too.
Pucón the adventure capital: The next morning we made our wa to Pucón, a picturesque town situated on a beautiful lake that happens to be right beneath an active volcano. This however did not deter the Chileans nor ex-patriots from building obscenely large houses, hotels, and condos in the area...think Lake Tahoe for a comparison. We weren´t sure what the town felt like, but it definitely wasn´t Latin America. Chile has the second highest disparity between rich and poor in Latin America (Brazil is first) and Pucón was our first glimpe of that reality. Despite the disturbing similarity to the U.S we still managed to have a ton of fun. We rented a small house for 3 nights where we were thrilled to have our own space and be able to relax without some stranger blowing smoke at your face. We spent the days touring the town, swimming in the refreshing/briskly cool lake, cooking our own meals, and of course otherwise testing our limits.
Hidro Speed or bust: Definitely a limit tester. Being that Pucón is the adventure capital of Chile, we knew we had to do someting daring and life threatening...we talked about hiking the volcano to catch a glimpse of the lava spray, or river rafting, but none seemed quite right. Then, we came across Hidro Speed, which is more or less floating (felt more like a hard swim) down class 2 and 3 rapids wearing dry suits (which we all peed in) helmets (which Tyler peed in) and flippers in what appear to be the front half of a sawed off kayak. It was the rush we had been looking for and turned out to be an absolute blast. I´m not sure I would do it again, it seems like you can really rack yourself up on the rocks if you don´t hit the rapids right. Tyler is thinking about bringing the Hidro Speed to the U.S...so maybe in a few years ýou´ll be able to Hidro through Yankee Jim on the Yellowstone.
Isla Chiloe: After our time in Pucón we were looking for something a little more chile and a little more local, so we decided to head further south. We made a group decision to head to the island of Chiloe in order to experience the supposely more laid back and authentic coastal chilean lifestyle. It took about 8 hours by bus to get to Castro, a city that would put us in striking distance of various day trips. Because we didn´t rent a car, we always needed to be near towns that had bus services to the destinations we were wanting to go to...a bit annoying, but not much else you can do besides rent a car. One of the themes through the trip was the huge amount of good sized cities that we encountered all along the way. Although Chile has 1/3 of its 15 million people living in Santiago, there are still a multitude of larger cities that range from 50,000 to 500,000 scattered all over the country. Castro was one of these cities (50,000 with a summer vacation crowd as well), and instead of finding the small town feel we were hoping for, we turned up in Castro at the tail end of a heavy metal concert, complete with punks and everything...sort of a bummer. However, we found a house fro rent just outside of all this action and right next door to one of the beautiful old churches that the island is famous for. There are over 200 of hese things, built by Jesuit priests in the 1700s and 1800s to jump start Christianity on the island. Chiloe is an island that had and still has strong folkloric beliefs, so the priests built all the churches in hopes of curbing their traditional beliefs...doesn´t seem to have worked too well though. From Castro we took a day trip to Curaco de Velaz, a small island NE of Castro. We went solely to eat fresh seafood and lay in hammocks, and were were not dissapointed, although we later found out that it was illegal for the small restaurant to serve us raw oysters because of the seasonal warmth of the surrounding ocean. The oysters weren´t anything special...I guess if ou like them they were good and cheap, but I´d rather have a shellfish empanada anyday. There was fresh apple cider as well. Our other day trip was basically a walk on the beach outside of the island´s national park...interesting but by no means a highlight of the trip.
Chonchi, an authenic and small fishing village that we visited next however, was a highlight. We roamed the streets checking out the knitwear and even tried some liquor de oro, fermented cows milk liquor which tasted like bugspray. No one bought any. We spent the night at Esmeralda´s by the Sea, a hostel run by an ex-canadian named charlie, but known far and wide as carlos the gringo. He was an extremely interesting guy, but had many useful travel tips and man did he know how to cook (or had someone who knew how to cook working for him). We had the most delicious meal of the trip at his place, for about 8 bucks a person. Fresh merluza, a local cod with a butter and onion sauce, with fresh salad (a delicacy in Chile), a whole pot of clams, fresh wheat bread (also a wonderful suprise in this world of white bread and constipation) and chilean wine...buen provecho indeed. We followed all this with a large Vienetta icecream cake...maybe you remember them from years ago when they still sold them in the US (at least MN anyways). Emily and I have been looking for them for a long time and we were ecstatic when we caught a glimpse of one in a chilean grocery.
To be continued...we´ll finish up with the rest of the trip and our first week in Valparaiso in the next BLAAAG. It promises to be exciting though, with hotsprings, teepees, stoned ex-american bhuddists, and fake money. Stay tuned.