Tuesday, 24 February 2015

Pucon Paradise

Mount Villarica - Pucón's active volcano.
Chile's national 'Bellflower.'
Sunset on the lake... from my hostel!

I loved my time in Valparaiso! My first earthquake (5.0 and a little shaking, but no damage), a great hostel with great people, including the people working there - it was like a second home really. The beaches, although you can't really compare to Australia, are just fine and do the job, the town is full of life and there is always something happening. The art is incredible, and no matter how much you walk around, there is always something more hiding around a corner, and it just makes you want to keep on exploring! OK, so the town smells like piss and in some parts has a slightly unsavory atmosphere, but it's hard not to like this funky little place. All things come to an end though, but I may be back!

Swimming at a lakeside beach with black, volcanic sand - cool!
Sunset in Pucón.
One option for a room at the hostel!
Catching the bus to Pucón (24000 pesos = $50) over night was quite pleasant - firstly it's a 10 hour journey, so there is not point wasting daylight (and your accommodation is included in the bus ticket!), and secondly it was actually a very comfortable bus! I'm more used to bus trips in Asia - cramped, smelly, Karaoke blaring out, doors left open, and of course the terrifying and sometimes life threatening drivers with no regard for passengers or other motorists. You do get sleepers in Vietnam for example, but the 'beds' are still too short for most Westerners, and if you get an aisle bed, the erratic driving can throw you around a bit - there is frequent vomiting on these trips. Buses are King in South America - from little local ones racing around the city and from town to town, to slightly larger ones between cities, then the big double-decker sleepers. My bus was 'semi-cama,' so not really a sleeping bus, but it had wide, comfortable seats and you could lay them back a long way and still have room, and not get hit on the head when the person in front of you does the same. The buss is also limited to 100kph - to help reduce accidents I think, as they loved to hoon around here! The only problem with buses here is finding your bus at Santiago terminal - it is absolutely massive and spread out over 2 blocks, jam packed with people, luggage, stray dogs and of course hawkers calling out their wares. This is at anytime from early morning to midnight or later!

Yup, that water is cold - he's a brave man!
The Claro waterfall - all 90m of it!
Thanks Heike for helping me to the top!
Pucón is much like any other ski town/summer resort town. If you have ever been to Queenstown in New Zealand, it's basically the same. Queenstown has far more cool bars to visit though, and a bigger variety of stores and restaurants, but it does look the same! There is a very big wealth gap here in Chile and Pucón is the playground of the rich - jetskis, summer houses, big American SUVs, like Aspen in South America. After I had checked into my hostel, I headed straight out for a walk - make hay while the sun is shining! The owner of the hostel gave me this hand-drawn 'treasure' map, which had things like "walk 150 steps and on your left will be a tree with an arrow on it.' Yeah, crazy. I followed the map OK, but managed to hitch a lift half way up - saving me 40 mins of an uphill dirt road! The Claro Waterfall is the largest in the area with a 90m drop. It was quite something, and after all that walking, I needed a swim. Not having brought swimmers or a towel, it was a quick dip with my undies and drip drying on the walk up - the water was OK at first, but then you jump completely in, and you turn numb really quickly... so a very quick splash! If you're interested in flowers, I did manage to see the Copihue, or "Chilean Bellflower," which is the national flower - it was pointed out to me by some locals, who all got out their phones (and selfie sticks) to snap a picture too.

Lovely spot for a bit of a read - top of San Sebastian att. 1880m.
Mt Villarica puffing away... it may even erupt soon!
The hostel I'm staying at, ChiliKiwi, is right on the lakefront, so it's front garden is the best place to sit and watch the sun go down over the lake and the volcano with a cheap but good Chilean red and have dinner, which is exactly what I did. The following day, I got the bus at 8:30am to go to Huerquehue National Park to do a bit of trekking on San Sebastian. Normally I don't hike by myself, but no one on the bus was climbing the mountain, they were all doing the lake walk. I started up by myself, and the first hour was all up hill and quite steep and dusty - the fact that I had been up drinking till 2:30am that morning wasn't helping either. I must have made it half-way when I was seriously thinking about going back and doing the lake walk instead - so far the view wasn't great and it was tough work. While debating what I should do, a German girl stopped at the same spot for a break. Heike was her name, and she convinced me to keep going - you can't quit! You have to reach the summit! So up I went, complaining slightly, but I did make it - and was it worth it? Oh yes! It was a climb from about 770m to 1880m, and at the summit you could clearly see at least 6 volcanoes, and a superb 360 degree view, and you can also see Argentina! 3.5 hours to hike up and 1200m, a short break at the top, then the tough job of coming down the steep slopes - quicker (2.5 hours) but much harder on the legs, and I finished with shaky legs and a big old thirst for beer after the 14km round trip! Thanks for the motivation Heike - I would have regretting not going to the top! What doesn't kill you makes you stronger... but I'm never doing San Sebastian again!

AAARRRGGG!! Tarantula!
Woody Woodpecker hard at work.
Yup! I made it!!
The trees and wildlife around the area are superb! On my hike, I actually saw my first Tarantula! It wasn't big (compared to some Sydney Huntsman spiders), but it was very hairy and cool to look at. I also managed to spot 2 woodpeckers tapping away, a male and a female - I heard to loud knocking sound, and knew what it was, but spotting them was more difficult! The male had beautiful red plumage, which made him easier to spot, but unfortunately the female was a solid, boring black. The mountain is also home to the Chilean Pine, also called the Monkey Puzzle Tree. This tree you can only find in this area, from 37c to 40c South, and at a certain altitude - it is worth mentioning because of its old 'reptilian' appearance, and photographers love it. Most of the trees here are also covered with what's called 'Old Man's Beard.' This is a rootless plant, a kind of lichen, and grows hanging from branches and leaves of other plants, only needing sunlight and water to survive.

Old Man's Beard growing over the Monkey Puzzle Tree.
There are so many things to do in Pucón, most of which are not cheap. Skydiving is expensive anywhere, but where else can you skydive over an active volcano! Mount Villarica is the local volcano, and it is active (warning signs for evacuation all over town) - it has been puffing a bit of black smoke lately. It's last eruptions were in 1965 and 1971, and I'm hoping there won't be one while I'm here! It dominates the town from just under 20kms away, and it is also the first image that you will get when you Google image Pucón too. You can walk up an extinct volcano (but its costs 40000 pesos or $80!), but you aren't allowed anywhere near the big boy Villarica for safety reasons. There is also rafting and boogie boarding down the rapids, as well as horse riding and many other things. My time and money is limited however, so it is back to Santiago to find work. My little Chilean holiday has been good so far, but it is time for a slice of reality... and to save money for the next break in Chile!

Mt Villarica having a bit of a smoke at sunset.

Thursday, 19 February 2015


Street art in Valparaiso.
Chile has 17 million people, and like most people in Australia, they are are only an hour or so from the coast - the widest point probably being only 200kms or less. Santiago has 7 million people - nearly half of the whole country! So far, I have only seen Santiago, and although I like it, I thought I should get away a bit and see another part of the country. I decided to grab a bus to the coast, and spend some time in Valapraiso and Viña del Mar. The bus trip cost me 9000 pesos ($18) return, which I think is a fair deal, so I went to the station as was astounded by the huge amount of people packing onto buses - I think South America runs on buses! Buses coming and going, people loading bags and pushing on - I felt like I had been transported to Beijing in peek hour! My bus arrived 20 mins late, but he only parked for 5 mins before we were ready to go - it was busy, but in a no fuss kind of way. Beach here I come!

The seaside right on your doorstep!
Accordion in the park.
I stepped off the bus, and felt I had been dropped off in Cairo on market day! Such a country of contrasts is Chile. People everywhere, lying on the grass in parks making out, stray dogs, small street stalls and people just selling stuff off the ground. One guy was selling sink strainers for 500 pesos ($1)... I mean, how many can he sell, and who would buy them? "What have I done?" I thought to myself. OK, cab to the hostel and then decide when how long I'm going to stay here. I took a cab for a few reasons - 1. to get out of this jungle quick smart 2. My bag was heavy 3. Valparaiso is VERY hilly (refer to reason 2) 4. I had no f-ing idea where I was or where I had to get to. All good, $8 later I was at my hostel, no worse for wear. So my first impression of the city wasn't fantastic, but as soon as I hit the street with my camera, it changed dramatically! Valparaiso is a cross between Porto and Naples - Porto for its colourful houses, hills and it's plethora of cafes and restaurants, and Naples for it's half-ruined but once majestic buildings, the smell of urine in the street, and the dirty and slightly suspicious looking people hanging around. So mix these two places and you have Valaparaiso!

That's a busy wall!
A woman eating oranges?
"Use the bike" if you can!
The first thing that you notice is the street art. I recently went to Melbourne, a place known for it's funky graffiti, and let me tell you this - Melbourne, you ain't got nothing on this place! From the obvious wall murals, to painting street lamps to grates on the road - nearly every space is covered, and it's not tagging, it's real art! Wandering around here in dangerous - not because it's a seedy town, but because you are always look up things, peeking around corners at more paintings, and you nearly get hit by a bus that is coming hooning around the corner, or fall down one of the many steep stairways. The main part of town sits right on the harbour, the flat part of the city, then the houses are sprawled all over the surrounding hills, with their bright colours and slightly crooked stilts. It can be tough hiking up all the hills, but there is more than one way to skin a cat - there are funiculars, steps as well as the winding cobble-stoned roads up the hill, just take your pick!

I'm looking at you!
House on top of one of the many hills in town.
The Trolleybus in Valparaiso.
Running around the streets are not only a million buses packed with people, but Trolley Buses. I don't think I have ever seen it's like before - they are a bus, but connected to the power lines overhead just like a tram. It's not just this, but they look like they were built in the 1950s by the Soviets! They are cheap to run, everyone uses them, but there is something about them that makes me look every time - I think I half expect to see one come off its cords turning a corner. I decided to get out of the city and head for Viña de Mar to see the beach, as Valparaiso is just a port town with no real beaches of it's own. The short bus trip there cost me 480 pesos ($1), and didn't take long at all as the driver was on time trials for the next F1 race - one handed hammering around corners as fast as this little local bus would go. On the bus, there were 2 guys singing hip-hop with a little speaker - very Chilean, as even the butchers have Latino music going! Hopping off, our little group sat down on the beach to soak up some sun. Anyone that has been to Australia will know how strong the sun is there - here it is warm and sunny, but the sun isn't trying to kill you, and so far I haven't been burnt here at all! The water all along Chile is very cold, and in places quite rough - numerous people got dumped while I was there. I didn't swim (this time), and kind of regret it now - it had all the makings of a good swim - cold water, waves and a slight risk of drowning!

Viña del Mar.
Banksy in Chile?
Colourful stairs.
Apart from the beach, Viña didn't have much to hold my interest. At the beginning of town, there is a huge flower-clock, which always has people lining up to take a picture of it... just not my thing really. While sitting on the beach, you get constant hawkers trying to sell their wares - in this case, usually it's food! There are guys crying out for their donuts (is that cinnamon or sand on my donut?), ice cream ("Helado helado! Muy buenes!") and empanadasEmpanadas are basically pastry with filling - from chicken and onion to meat with eggplant and, of course, ham and cheese. Very yummy, and they will only set you back about 750 pesos ($1.50) for a lovely snack on the run. After a few hours in the sun, it was time to head back. On the way back to the hostel, you have to hike up very steep hills - the hostel has a great view from the top of the hill though! We decided to catch the funicular up part of the way - a rickety old thing it was, only cost 100 pesos (20c), and could only carry 8 people at a time. To be honest, I wouldn't normally use them, as i much prefer the stairs, find little paintings hidden away on a drainpipe or step somewhere, but it had been a long day, and it's all part of the experience!

More beautiful street art.
Washing day!
I haven't been out for dinner in Chile really, as it is just me, and dinner at a restaurant isn't quite the same alone. So a small group from the hostel decided to head out and get some pizza, then watch the Santiago football team Colo Colo play a Brazilian team in the America Cup (The Latin equivalent to the European Champions). The pizza was average (not that I was expecting much from Chilean pizza), the beer excellent, and the service was slow but very polite. Service in a restaurant, or even a hostel half the time, is very slow - they are more inclined to be checking their text messages, have a chat with someone else, or just generally appear lazy - but it is just being more relaxed, unlike the waiters in Paris who are rude! The wine, however, is wonderful! For 2100 pesos ($4.20), you can pick up a Merlot or Cab Sav that is very drinkable! You can spend more, but I am the person who would rather drink 2 $4 bottles of wine that 1 $8 bottle!

Not sure where I am off to next - everyone is still on holidays, not so hope of a job just yet. I figure, while they are off relaxing and seeing the country, I should do the same. I'm getting a bus tomorrow out of Valparaiso and back to Santiago, then from Santiago somewhere else - I'm not sure yet, but maybe down south into the mountains, maybe Pucon!

Pretending not to like each other.

Monday, 16 February 2015

Siete Dias In Santiago

The Palacio de Moneda.
So, my first few days in a new country, a new city where everyone speaks really strangely! Ok, they still speak Spanish, but every Spanish speaker knows the Chileans have a very distinct dialect, with a lot of slang. For example, from the airport to my hostel in the car, my friend kept saying "taco!" This means the same in English (the Mexican dish), but it is also how you show your frustration in a traffic jam. Something I didn't expect though was the cost of things here - a little more than I had thought. Firstly, I was hit up with a $120 receprocity fee to get into the country - just because I was Australian. The Americans also have to pay, the Canadians and the Mexicans (only $24 for these guys)... no mention of Kiwis or Brits, who get in scott-free. Beer and coffee is also not as cheap as I had thought, food either - in some cases more expensive than Spain, but you earn less here. Sometimes the supermarket can be more expensive that in Sydney - but the wine is cheap, starting from around 1800 pesos ($3.60). The hunt is always on to find the cheapest beer as well - so far it's 1900 ($3.80) pesos for about 500ml.

A good (cheap) bar on the artistic side of town, Bellavista.
Guarding the Palacio de Moneda.
A Carabinero - Chile's police.
My first day in the city was not entirely wasted. but I didn't really do anything - I was still affected by jet lag and the whole coming from the future. Tuesday I hit the streets though, after just 2 hours of sleep at night. I was told that I have to walk up (which now I realise is more of a climb!) San Cristobal Hill, where you get panoramic views of Santiago. This is true - a good view of the city, but it was hot and quite polluted, so a little difficult to get that great picture that you see when you first google image Santiago. On the way up, I picked up stray dogs along the way - all it took was a kind look, and they were yours! Apparantly, the best un-polluted views are on weekends (as nobody really drives anywhere on weekends), after some rain (which doesn't happen in Summer) and windy days or Winter. Damn. I'm not comlaining - I got up there before the buses full of retired American tourists arrived, got plenty of walking in, and was basically left alone to enjoy the walk (apart from the dogs, but they were cool).

Mary on top of San Cristobal.
A 'completo' hotdog!
The famous Diet Coke break.
I have been busy this past week (and have managed to get over my jet lag and sleep normally after 3 days of 2-3 hours a night). I did a free walking tour of the city, which I highly recommend! It is free, but they encourage you to tip the guide as they don't get paid (so they say) and it also helps to print maps and things. I did tip the guy 2000 pesos ($4), which is not much, but good for a 'free' tour I think. He took us all around the centre of the city, explaining the history and small snippets that you just wouldn't get any other way - worth it! Along the walk, we saw places that you just wouldn't find otherwise. A picada is a Chilean word for 'small and good,' as is used for their equivilent of Tapas bars - they call them Pica bars (because picada is too long), and one famous one is opposite the Opera House. The guy who owned it was about to close it down as business wasn't going so well. One day, Bill Clinton came in for a Diet Coke... well you can imagine, they guy's business soon perked up, and renamed it 'El Pica De Clinton' and even saved that Coke can and glass! There are pics of Bill everywhere, and it keeps the tourists coming in too! I wonder if Monica ever visited...

The view of the city from San Cristobal.

San Cristobal and my new dog.
The city was founded in February 1541 by Spaniard Pedro de Valdivia, and was originally 8 blocks north-south and 10 blocks east-west of buildings, as well as the main plaza, the Governor's house and a cathedral. It was, however, completely burnt down in September of that year by the warriors of the Mapuche people, who were indigenous to the area. The town was defended by the garrison of 55 soldiers, and survived to be rebuilt by Valdivia. What would be his downfall however was his 'little native boy,' Lautaro. This boy was captured during a battle with the Mapuche, and was raised as Spanish, learning the language, how to ride a horse and fight. Valdivia kept him as his personal groom, but the boy stayed true to his people and in 1533 captured his boss and gave him up to his death. There are many stories about his death, but the most probably one is that he was killed by the Mapuche, then his heart was ripped out of his chest and Lautaro ate it - the warrior's belief that this would allow you to absorb your enemy's power. The statue of Valdivia in Plaza de Armas shoes his horse without any reins - possibly representing his lack of control over Chile.

Founder of Santiago - Pedro de Valdivia - with his unreined horse.
'4 boys playing,' a gift from Argentina. The fountain shows the relationship
between Chile, Argentina, Bolivia and Peru.
I don't think they are playing.
The city flourished, and in 1810 Chile declared it's independence from Spain. Of course the Spanish weren't impressed and took back control in 1814. After this, the Andean Army was formed in Argentina and cross the Andes, finally pushing the Spanish out by 1818. Another big date in Chilean history is September 11, 1973 - the military coup and the start of the Pinochet dictatorship. Before this, there was a government run by a man called Savadore Allendre. As elected President in 1970, he tried to fix the unemployment problems in the country, nationalise many industries including mines, banks and utilities, and even tried to redistribute wealth in the country more equally - he was basically a big old Socialist. He did many things to improve the country - building large numbers of houses for the people, free milk for children in rural areas, part-time workers gained social security and diplomatic relations with Cuba were reopened. He was good for the country in my opinion, but many people didn't like him, such as the wealthy, and the Americans (cose he's a Commie see?!). The military coup was aided my the Nixon administration. Early on the 11th, the Palacio de Moneda (The Presidential Palace) was bombed by planes, tanks moved in, and a big street fight ensured. A bullet hole can still be seen on a statue in the square in front of the palace - bullet holes on the buildings have been removed. Pinochet said that 'it was his duty to the Chilean people to rescue the country.' The Museum of Memories is the place to discover all of this, but it is very emotional.

A bullet 'tear' mark from September 11 1973.
Ex-President Allindre.
1/4 of a football field in size!
The day after, the 12th of September, 72 people were killed by the new administration - and that was only the beginning - at least 2,115 people were killed and 27,265 people tortured. One man who went missing on the 12th was Victor Jara, a well-known Chilean teacher, poet, singer-songwriter and political activist. He was taken the Chile Stadium, along with thousands of others, and was shot and dumped there. The stadium has since been renamed in his honour. Thousand of Chileans fled as soon as possible to escape persecution. In 1980, a plebiscite was approved (only the 'government' voting of course), and Pinochete became President. . Elections were to be held every 8 years, and Pinochet lost it in 1988 and Chile was finally allowed to recovers its culture and arts back, as well as it's freedom. Pinochete, however, was never trialed for his crimes against the Chilean people, as he had created a law when he was President that any person that had ever held the office and then was no longer President, would go back to his or her last position - this case he became the head of the Army again - a hard man to touch. He died in 2006.

The Musuem of Memories - the place to go to learn about September 11 1973.
Show shining a bargain at $1.
A Michelada in progress.
On a brighter note, but still interesting and cultural, I have tried a few of the local 'treats.' The first one I would like to mention is the cafes called 'cafe con piernes,' which translates to 'coffee with legs.' Basically, a hooters for coffee, but with legs. The idea behind this is for men to come and relax, have a (crappy) cheap coffee, and take their mind of their problems at work - thus you find these bars in the Downtown area of the city, and usually full of suits. The one I went into was slighly less savoury than your main street bars - blacked out front windows, fluro lights inside, and girls not just showing their legs, but tiny bikinis. I met a lovely young girl called Camilla, whose dream it is to go to Australia - not to study or work as a waitress in a real cafe, but to be a stripper in Kings Cross in Sydney - you go girl! Chase your dream! I also tried a 'completo,' which is the Chilean hotdog - they love them here! So many varieties, but most of them with avocado (and if you don't like this fruit, don't tell anyone or they'll call immigration). Another was a 'michelada' - a beer with lemon juice (like a shandy), but then with salt around the rim of the glass, and a dash of Tabasco on top to take your mind off the salty beer - very refreshing!

Plaza Italia and the suburb of Providencia.
I have seen quite a bit here so far. The main neighbourhoods are Downtown, Providencia, Bellavista and Les Condes. I have spent most of my time in Providencia and Downtown, where most of the things to see and do are. Bellavista was originally a place where the artists and bohemians were forced to move - as it was across from the river from the 'good' part of the city, and the wealthy didn't want these 'hippies' to live anywhere near them. Now, it has most of the city's bars, clubs and restaurants, as well as the Zoo and San Crostobal. Providencia is a lovely area - tree-lined residential area with large houses and cool apartments, close to the new business centre and the Gran Torre Santiago which is busy and business-like. The zoo is also worth a look - it only costs $3000 pesos ($6AUD) - it's quite small and nowhere near as big or amazing as Taronga Zoo in Sydney, but you can see Llamas!! Next stop for me before I start working is Valparaiso and Viña del Mar - beach time!!

The Gran Torre Santiago - tallest building in Latin America and 2nd tallest in the South Hermisphere (The Q1 on the Gold Coast has that title!)

Birthday Weekend

The always impressive Pedraforca. Just beautiful! Hiking with a touch of snow. Winter was setting in by November, and although ...