A Blast from the Past Trip: A Thirst for the Desert

I said before that I would try to finish some posts from our last trip and put them up even if they weren’t in chronological order.  So here we have the second post regarding our time in Putre.  If you want to refresh your memory about the people/place, you can read my first post on Putre: Out of the Desert and into…the Desert. So here it goes…

Besides being beset in all directions by wondrous natural beauty, the town of Putre is also filled with some of the friendliest locals that we encountered on our trip – people who literally go out of their way to help you.  People say things like,“You want bread?  Well, I don’t have any right now, let me walk you to the store that does.”  The small store that I frequented most often was run by a rather mirthful man who liked to make jokes whether the tourists understood him or not.  I totally understand how he feels – most of the time in the classroom my jokes are just for my amusement.  For instance, some European tourists came in to buy some tissue.  After a lot of motioning, he finally figured out what they wanted.  He handed them the box with feigned horror – “Gripe de Cerdo!” he shouted, and then started laughing hysterically.  The tourists had no idea what was going on and left with a puzzled look on their faces.  I giggled despite the fact that swine flu was being taken quite seriously at the time – we had been scrupulously interrogated at the border crossing to make sure we weren’t going to cause an epidemic. Continue reading “A Blast from the Past Trip: A Thirst for the Desert”

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Out of the Desert and into…the Desert

The tiny town of Putre is located at about 11,500 feet in the high desert of Northern Chile. One afternoon after boarding a bus in Arica, we found ourselves standing in the blazing sun on the side of the highway with our backpacks looking down into the valley at a town about five kilometers away that appeared to be Putre. Let me back up just a bit. Continue reading “Out of the Desert and into…the Desert”

It’s the Desert! It’s the Beach! It’s Arica!

Usually we would not be excited about a 28 hour bus ride, but our trip from Santiago to Arica was going to be different. We had purchased the top-of-the-line “premium” bus seats which meant that we would have seats that folded out flat into a bed. Not only that, but we were traveling on Tur Bus. Tur Bus is always on time. In fact you can pretty much set your watch by their departures. None of this crap like in Argentina where the bus drivers would say we were going to stop for 10 minutes and we would be there for an hour. On Tur Bus if the bus driver says 10 minutes, you had better have your behind on the bus in 9 minutes. The staff on the bus bring you tasty treats morning, noon, and night as well as blankets and pillows. They also have a list of which passengers are getting off at which stops and they will tell you a few minutes in advance to get ready to depart. The bottom line is that out of all of the bus companies we used to travel through South America (and there were quite a few) Tur Bus is the only one I would unequivocally recommend.

Continue reading “It’s the Desert! It’s the Beach! It’s Arica!”

Santiago Surprise

One of the biggest surprises of the trip was how much we enjoyed Santiago. All of the travel guides invariably compare it to Buenos Aires. They talk about how much more cultural Buenos Aires is and how Santiago is just another big city. But after spending two months in Buenos Aires, here is my assessment: Buenos Aires doesn’t have any more “real”culture than any other big city. I know this is about Santiago, but I’m getting there. Buenos Aires does place a great deal of importance on its tango heritage. And yes, there are some places where this is still authentic. But mostly it is a show for tourists. Every other restaurant has a tango show. There are tango dancers in the streets dancing and posing for photos for tips. And if we’re talking about the Bohemian culture that is highly visible around the city, well, that’s not anything that is unique to Buenos Aires. My point is that people seem to think that Santiago has no culture and is therefore not worth visiting. We almost skipped it ourselves. But I’m glad we didn’t, because if you take the time to look, there are loads of interesting historical places that give you a very good feel for the country as a whole. Oh yeah, and the city is amazingly clean and gorgeous. Continue reading “Santiago Surprise”

Great Expectations

“Estoy convencido de que un paisaje no nos habla o nos habla poco, la culpa es nuestra, de nosotros, que no sabemos verlo, escucharlo.” – Claudio Magris

(I am convinced that when a place doesn’t speak to us or speaks to us little, the fault is ours that we do not know how to see it, listen to it.)

If Valparaiso was a fictional character, it would be Miss Havisham. The former crown jewel of Chile, it sits on the hills staring wistfully at its dusty wedding dress, rotted cake, and stopped clocks, and waits for its return to glory. There is no denying that Valparaiso could be one of the most attractive cities in the world if only the entire place could be refurbished. Extreme City Makeover, anyone? Someone get ABC on line one and Ty Pennington’s agent on two.

Continue reading “Great Expectations”

A Little Taste of Walden

Getting from Bariloche in Argentina to Pucon in Chile is not a difficult process unless you try to buy your tickets online. I had read several places that there is no direct bus from Bariloche to Pucon and our online searches seemed to confirm that. So we ended up buying tickets from Bariloche to Osorno and then when we tried to buy our tickets from Osorno to Pucon, that particular company wouldn’t allow us to pay with anything but a credit card issued in Chile. Very helpful. When we went to the bus station in Bariloche to buy tickets, I got in a little argument with the girl who insisted that we buy the tickets for the bus that left at 2:50 rather than at noon. She told us that we could not make the noon bus because it takes 5 hours to get to Osorno and we were leaving at 7:00. I realized later after I bought the 2:50 tickets, that she hadn’t been taking into account the fact that the time in Osorno is one hour earlier than in Bariloche. Continue reading “A Little Taste of Walden”

Ciao, Argentina

You might think that renting a car in a place like Bariloche would be easy. It just might be if you are willing to walk into the Hertz office and pay an exorbitant amount of money, but we weren’t willing to do that. Armed with a list of companies and their prices from the internet, we set off looking for the best deal to be had in town. Unfortunately, our list was soon depleted. The first place didn’t even seem to exist unless the lawyer at that address had taken to renting cars on the side. At the second place after repeated pounding on the door did not elicit a response, we gave up. The third place quoted us a price way higher than the one on their website explaining that the internet price did not include taxes and insurance. Continue reading “Ciao, Argentina”

4 Bariloche Vignettes

One day I was standing at the bus stop outside of our apartment on my way to the grocery store. As I waited for the bus, an older couple pulled up outside of the boutique across the street. The woman got out of the car, looked in my direction and called out, “A donde vas?”

I did that confused looking around thing that you do when you’re pretty sure that someone isn’t talking to you. But she had to be. I yelled back, “Al mercado,” wondering why the hell this strange woman was so interested in my afternoon plans. She seemed satisfied by this answer and disappeared into the boutique. After she came back out and got into the car, the car pulled up alongside of me. She rolled down the window and said in Spanish, “I’m sorry. You look almost exactly like my friend. Would you like a ride to the market?”

Why, yes I would. I climbed in the back. Continue reading “4 Bariloche Vignettes”

On Top of the World

Our first couple of days in Llao Llao were spent exploring the national park near our apartment. The walks in this particular area weren’t very strenuous—they were more like strolling trails, but nonetheless, it was gratifying to walk along the several miles of trails through the deep cool of the forest pausing occasionally on the beach of a lake. In the middle of one of these trails was a forest of arrayanes trees which have become one of my two favorite kinds of tree. I am absolutely enchanted by their white and cinnamon colored bark The only disappointing thing about the arrayanes trees is that from a distance they look like they would be slightly soft, faintly furry, even, but they are not. I know because I touched a lot of them to make sure. Continue reading “On Top of the World”

A Sign of Things to Come

After 34 hours on a bus, we pulled into the city of Bariloche, our last destination in Argentina where we were going to spend the next three weeks. The place that we had rented was about 25km outside of town in a place called Llao Llao which is closer to the park and trailheads. We climbed into a cab and it whisked us down the winding coastal road past snug restaurants, quaint cabins tucked behind walls of brilliant red rosebushes, and tiny boutiques selling specialty cosmetics, chocolates, and handicrafts. As we drove further and further from town, I was wondering if we had done the right thing by booking a place so far away from the city. It turns out that we couldn’t have made a better decision.

Continue reading “A Sign of Things to Come”