Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Second Half of Travels

As promised, here’s the rest of our early adventures in Chile…From the island of Chiloe we decided that we would head north again, try to fit in some thermals and possibly some hiking while still getting us a day or so in Valparaiso before everyone starting heading back to the states. We left Chonchi on the 17th of February, around 800 in the morning. We were hoping to get all the way to the Pucon area, so we could head to a hot springs we had heard about from Canadian Carlos, to stay a couple of nights before moving on to Valparaiso. This was day 9 of our trip, so you would think by now we’d gotten all of our travel methods down, and that we had learned from any earlier mistakes making us virtually flawless traveling gringos…however, this was not the case. We got off at Castro in time to buy tickets for a bus headed there within 5 minutes. However, the bus was running late, so by the time it arrived, we were already supposed to be on the road.

Anyways, we checked our bags below and boarded the bus, ready to go as we were already running late. However, Luke, in his effort to be the best husband ever, instinctually deciphered his wife’s comments about juice to mean that she would like some on the bus ride, so he ran off the bus to grab some, as well as some water for the rest of us. Meanwhile Emily and I were just sitting down on the bus eating an icecream treat. A few seconds later Luke was back on the bus, without juice and without water, apparently he needed more money, although I’m a little hazy on the details…so he grabbed some more money, ran off the bus again, and we never saw him again. Well, actually that’s not true, but about 5 seconds after he ran off the second time to get the juice (which in the end represented so much more than a refreshment-more like a symbol of sacrificial love) the driver started backing out of the terminal…everyone just sort of looked at each other thinking “this is not good”. I ran up to the bus driver, who is separated from the rest of the bus by a glass door, and I knocked to get his attention. He waved a finger at me, but I kept on knocking until the bus steward who was up there with him opened the door. I explained that a friend wasn’t on the bus, and he basically told me too bad. I think he was in quite a hurry because he had been late getting to the terminal in the first place. Well, eventually I convinced him that I would be 5 seconds, so I ran off the bus while he turned around, to look for Luke. He wasn’t at any of the small concession stands around the bus terminal, and he didn’t show up after a few shouts, so I ran back to get on the bus. We continued to pull out of the terminal and drive down the road, while us gringos figured out what to do. It was decided that I’d stay and find Luke and we’d meet up at the terminal in Puerto Montt, about 4 hours away. So, once again, up to the front of the bus, to talk to the bus driver who didn’t want anything to do with me this time. However, I convinced him that I was really going to get off the bus and stay off, so he stopped in the middle of the road for me to jump off, not too far from the bus terminal. I hustled back to find Luke, and found him drinking juice and eating icecream at the terminal…well something like that. We got on the next bus to Puerto Montt, and were able to meet up with everyone there. However, we did consequently miss our next bus heading to Pucon, so we decided to head to Osorno, which was about midway between P.Montt and Pucon…still a 5-6 bus ride.

We pulled into Osorno around dark, found a pretty average room rental place (someone’s home basically) and after running head on with a man peeing in the middle of the sidewalk (seriously, there are trees and walls around buddy, not to mention bathrooms…be more creative!) we grabbed some food a local Denny’s type restaurant.
The next morning we were off early for a long ride to Pucon. I think that we decided we weren’t going to figure out how many hours we spend riding buses, so that we wouldn’t get depressed…it was a ton though.

We arrived in Pucon, and got a hold of the Pangui hot springs place who said they’d come in and pick us up. Now, we had heard from Canadian Carlos, that they would do this, and I guess we assumed that it was a free service of the hot springs. However, this would be a great place to add that nothing, nothing, and I repeat nothing, is ever “gratis” down here. We learned that even if someone gives you a thumbs up and says something is gratis, that means you’ll probably pay the equivalent of 20 bucks for it. For the most part, we learned this “Gratis principle” too late in the trip to really avoid being taken every now and then by everyone and their dog at some point. Anyways, we drove for about an hour on the highway out of town, and then another 45 minutes winding our way up a dusty mountain road with some pretty unbelievable views and drop offs, right Lisa? By the time we finally pulled through the gates of Pagui, we couldn’t believe what a good deal this free ride had been. Well, after we piled out of the van, the driver, Alejandro I think, said that it was 10,000 pesos or about 20 bucks. Well, ok, not bad, so Tyler slips him a 10mil and then he says, nope, that’s 10mil a piece stupid gringos. Ouch. After that sour taste in our mouths dissipated, we all paid him the big bucks, and in a daze-like stupor wandered off to check out these teepees that we would be staying in. Although the Pangui got off to a bad start with the whole paying through the nose for a ride we thought was free, we managed to leave that behind for the most part, although we made sure to get our money’s worth, which I think we did.

We dumped our stuff at the teepees, and got a tour of the thermals, which consisted of 3 hot pools, 1 really hot pool, 1 creek temp pool, and a “mud pool” which consisted of warm dark water in a 6 by 12 shallow ditch with a hornet nest on one side of it…we didn’t use this one. However, as a whole, the setting of Pangui was absolutely beautiful. Huge Alerce trees towered over the thermal pools, with a small creek running through the middle of it all. This was one of those places you never admit to going to, a buddhist, natural healing center with organic vegetarian food and drum frenzies with chanting after dinner. However, we managed to avoid most of the weirdness of the place, and really enjoyed ourselves.

Daniel, the owner is worth mentioning as well. He is a gringo from out east, but has been living abroad in various countries for the major part of his life. Right off the bat, you could tell that he had done way too many drugs in his earlier years. In the few conversations that we had with him, we discovered that when he was living in Canada in the late sixties, he had a dream (a trip perhaps?) in which he saw himself walking among these monstrous trees with a creek and hot springs in the mountainous area. He heard a voice that told him he was to be the keeper and guardian of this special place. He didn’t think much of the dream at the time (maybe because he was busy having other “dreams”?) but several years later, when he was living in Columbia and self employed with his own “business” (in which he wore a bullet proof vest-were those even invented back then?) he realized that if he didn’t leave Columbia, he would soon die. Apparently the business he was in was notorious for violence and killing…hmmmm what kind of business I wonder? Anyways, he left for Chile, where he found a lady and stuck around. Eventually he heard about 30 acres of land for sale locally, with virgin forest, a creek, and undeveloped hot springs that was tucked up against the Argentinean border in the mountains. The first time he visited, he knew it was his special place (anyone tearing up yet?). He bought it in the early 90’s for 50k. Anyways, very peculiar man, one of those guys who always has a ridiculous grin on their faces no matter what is going on. Also, never moves his head, just his neck…sort of like a big turtle. Anyways, we later heard that he’s had several armed run ins with his neighbors, who have been cutting down trees near his property…he takes his guardianship calling very seriously.

Pangui really was a beautiful area though, huge trees, clean air, steep mountains and very few people. You could easily see why someone would jump at the chance to own something like the hot springs area…very unique. We hiked some in the mountains, and then relaxed in the luxurious hot springs after our vegetarian dinner. After a night of wonderful sleep we headed back down the mountain (don’t worry, the 10mil included the trip back to Pucon) to catch a bus for Valparaiso.

We had the genius idea of riding through the night, leaving at 10pm and arriving sometime in Santiago around 800am. It made sense in our minds, and we were all excited to get a good night’s sleep on a coach bus whose seats reclined just like a lazy boy but designed for someone who is about 5’6. Our theory was sound, but our sleep was not. Apparently the bus driver and his helper just couldn’t figure out how to regulate the temperature inside the bus. Tyler had the unfortunate luck to have a seat next to the heater which resulted in some major feet sweat and nearly second degree burns. He had a good attitude about it though, one of incredulity that a bus could really be that uncomfortable. During the 10 hour bus ride I don’t think anyone slept for more than an hour. We’d go from a sweaty sauna type atmosphere to a dry ice freezer all in the matter of about 10 seconds, and switching between the two extremes about every 20 minutes. It really was brutal. We couldn’t believe that sleep could be so impossible. The bus ride eventually was like a bad dream, although they did serve us pop and cookies for breakfast, as if we needed anything else besides the temp extremes to wake us up.
In Santiago we hitched the next bus to Valparaiso, only about an hour and a half trip, and slept more soundly than we had the entire night before.

Our time in Valparaiso was short and consisted of checking out the beach in Vina del Mar, hitting the local artisan tourist stores, riding the ascensores (steep trolley-type elevators that travel up and down the steep hillsides of the city), and eating good pizza, but bad seafood. We were only there for one night, so it was fairly brief. I’ll talk more about the city itself later, unless I find a job…ha. Lot’s of funny stories here though; being flipped off and told that America stinks bad by a guy who was wearing a Lance Armstrong bracelet on the same hand he flipped us off with…getting passed a fake 5 mil (10 bucks) bill at a local seafood restaurant, and the first official run-in with Curanto (a typical Chilean seafood dish which will receive its own special entry). All in all, it was a nice quiet end to our 13 days of traveling. We weren’t impressed with the city as much as we had been expecting, all the books and guides really build it up as the most unique and culturally vibrant city in Chile. However, after living here for another month, I would say that if we did it again, knowing what I now know we would have a much better time. Live and learn I guess. However, overall, the Chile trip was great fun, and an excellent experience. We learned as much about each of our traveling companions as we did about the places we went, saw several thousand linear miles of Chile, and really got to experience a little bit of everything. However, you realize on trips like this how gigantic the country really is, and how many areas and destinations that remain of interest. I guess that’s the allure of traveling and adventures though, you can always find somewhere else to go and something else to experience, whether it’s down the street or a continent away.

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