Thursday, 17 December 2015

Patiperro Australiano

Puerto Varas.
“No man is brave that has never walked a hundred miles. If you want to know the truth of who you are, walk until not a person knows your name. Travel is the great leveler, the great teacher, bitter as medicine, crueler than mirror-glass. A long stretch of road will teach you more about yourself than a hundred years of quiet.” A quote from a book I recently read, written by Patick Rothfuss, which I think sums up travel. It teaches so much, about yourself and the world, and if you are open enough for this, you can and will learn from it, becoming a better person and hopefully wanting to make the world we all live in a better place. It also makes sense in the way that not all travel is wonderful - it's so much more than the glamorous photos that we post on social media. There are many words and phrases for people who feel the 'need' for travel - the feeling is often called 'wanderlust' in English (but came from a German word). people talk about being 'bitten by the travel bug,' having 'itchy feet,' but here in Chile they call it 'Patiperros.' All terms for people who need to explore, who need to get out there and be in different places, face new challenges, live through the good and the bad, but know that 'easy is boring' and that life should be a challenge.

Osorno on a clear day is something to just stop and admire.
Happy little street dog.
Just chilling.
Chileans have a way of making up slang and idioms, often related to animals, and this one is my favourite. Patiperros basically means to walk to streets like a dog, it's for people who don't like to stay at home and are lead to explore new places by their curiosity. If you have ever been to Chile, you may understand this more regarding the reference to dogs - street dogs in Chile are unique. Street dogs are everywhere and very friendly, they'll walk you home, chill at a cafe with you, but always go their own way in the end. So, in Chile this is how people describe restless travellers, and now I use it. After working in Conce for the last 9 months, it's time to hit the road and head south. I have a rough plan sorted out (worked out and drawn on a whiteboard at a company I taught at), and the first stop is Puerto Varas.  I would then slowly work my way down, jumping to the island of Chiloe, then back to the mainland and following the Carretera Austral, jumping in and out of Argentina as sometimes there are no roads in Chile this far south. Lots of hiking and beautiful scenery to come, including the Torres del Paine. From the south of Chile, possibly even as far south as you can go, Cape Horn, it would then be north through Argentina proper. This is the first leg of my South American Journey.

Greetings from Puerto Varas!
Taking the other path.
Wooden church in Frutillar.
Puerto Varas is just 30 minutes north of the main city of Puerto Montt, where the Calbuco volcano erupted earlier this year, and it's a real adventure sport town - hiking and rafting in the summer and skiing in the winter. The buildings have that ski town feel, the wood and stone, and people walking around in hiking gear. The town itself is small, and you can easily walk around it in less than 30 minutes, but the most striking thing about it are peaks of the volcanoes that straddle the lake. The weather wasn't fantastic the first day I arrived, Sunday, but I met up with a friend who lives locally and got the guided tour. Although the clouds didn't leave the peaks of the volcanoes on the first day, the second day I got some luck. When the sky is blue and clear, this is the real Puerto Varas - mountains and water, the best combination. I went for a walk around the lake, following the train line up to the next town, enjoying the warm sun and the peace and quiet.

Fishing off an old railway bridge.
Osorno seen from  Todos los Santos Lake.
Lake and Volcano.
The South is very different from other parts of Chile - the bus drivers know everyone and aren't jockeying for paying customers like in Conce, people are friendly, and it's all a little more relaxed. The churches down here are also something to note - old and wooden, all very un-South American, and much more European. My walking took me to the town of Frutillar - there are two parts of town, the one on the hill which is like any other town, and the lower part on the lake which is just like a little German town. Slightly over-done, it feels a little fake, like someone had built the town based on a fairytale. The lake just shines here, you can clearly see Osorno, and I was tempted to swim but the wind was very chilly. Being myself, I didn't bring any kind of food and it was now lunchtime, but sadly, due to the tourist trade, there are no supermarkets, only over-priced themed bars and restaurants. I found a small convenience store and was content with bread on the beach before heading back home. Out on the town later on, it is a must to have a Terremoto (Earthquake), and the best place in town is a little place called "Entre Amigos" or "Amoungst Friends." A terremoto is fermented wine and pineapple ice cream mixed with either vermouth or grenadine. A tall glass, nearly a pints worth, is 2500clp ($5) and after two you are more than ready to rumble!

Rapids at Petrohue.
Calbuco hiding in the clouds.
I decided to get out and see and do a bit more further away from town the next day, and take advantage of the great weather - it usually rains every day here. I jumped on a local bus (2000CLP/$4) and rode it for an hour to the Saltos de Petrohue (Petrohue waterfalls). Although the little bridge was being repaired, getting ready for summer, you could still get a good of the rapids and the wonderfully and nearly unbelievably blue waters. I continued up 6kms more to the lake to have yet another cheap gypsy lunch sitting down enjoying the views. This part of Chile, it's sometimes hard to remember where you are - no beeping car horns, no dogs barking, no rubbish... just pure nature! After a great day out, heading back to the hostel to cook wasn't sounding like that much fun. Luckily there were some really fun people at the hostel, and we had loads of fun hanging out. The hostel also has a sweet little dog called Sophie, who after only a slight hesitation, was my new best friend and sitting on my lap whenever she could.

Canoes on lake Llanquihue
Dream a little...
The road can be lonely sometimes. If you want to do it, you can't always wait for people. I you wait for people, you will end up waiting your whole life for something to happen - you need to make it happen. It's true its usually better with someone, and if you are lucky enough to have someone special to travel with it can be, but you have to do it anyway. Being by yourself can also be a great thing - sitting alone on a mountain, just contemplating and enjoying the moment. It's probably overstated in today's world, but I feel we are too attached to devices. People don't look out windows anymore - they're too busy trying to find something to do on their mobile, checking that work email, playing that time-wasting game. I say 'look up' and see the world - even if it's the same bus journey to work, open your eyes, look out the window and enjoy the view, dream a little, talk to someone.

Sailing on lake Llanquihue.
Next stop on the trip is over the border into Argentina and into the Lake District to visit San Carlos de Bariloche. I'd never heard of Bariloche before this trip, but just checking out photos made me want to go. It means crossing the border, a long windy bus trip, but I am sure it will be worth it.

Friday, 4 December 2015

Last Days in Conce

Ciao Conce!
Conce at sunset.
Conce at peak hour.
So ten months have passed in the blink of an eye. That's what it feels like anyway. I moved to Chile in February, and Concepcion in March, and already it's time to pack up and hit the road. I've finished working and am spending my last bit of time here trying to enjoy the company of good friends and the sun at good beaches. Teaching in Chile has been tough at times - students don't really have a great attitude towards learning, even less with English. The poor teachers get paid very little here and have to deal with 40 or so kids in a class and very few resources. Apart from this, the Uni students always seem to be on 'toma' (strike) for things such as free education - yes, free everything would be nice right? How about stop playing your bongo drums in the square, sitting around drinking and smoking and actually go to class and learn? Wow, maybe I'm getting old... Anyway, I hope I have made a small difference to my students here, the kids and adults alike - it's important to have fun while learning in anything you do, otherwise you won't enjoy it and won't learn much. If you're not having fun, why are you doing it?

How I feel after a year of teaching...
Everyone knows that living in a country is very different to just passing through on holidays. Italy is a great example of this for me - I lived there in 2009/2010 and didn't have a great time. It was expensive, I earned crap money, bad working conditions (regularly late/wrong pay/drive a million miles for a class), terrible drivers that I had to face every day and a cold, dirty little house that was so cold that the water froze in the pipes during the winter. On the other hand, travelling around that sun-drenched countryside that is Tuscany, seeing places like Pisa, Florence, Venice and Rome (ah Roma!), just doesn't seem real sometimes, even when you have photos to prove it. Chile, sadly, can draw comparisons with my time in Italy, and there are quite a few things I won't miss about living here - but it was a big part of the experience right? There are whole Facebook groups for foreigners who are complaining about living conditions here in Chile - everyone needs a vent, and I am the first to complain about my own country too, so it's only fair!

Pelicans at Talcahuano.

Throw the wood!
Sailboats at Talcahuano.
The infrastructure here, even in a fairly modern city like Conce, is quite bad. The roads, as I have mentioned before, are badly built, flood with a drop of rain, and full of holes and bumps in which the buses seem to deliberately aim for. Rubbish is another beef I have here. There are garbage trucks, and they drive past my house at around 1am, but there are no real rubbish bins - plastic bags are either left on the ground (where the dogs eat from them and spread it everywhere), put in cage-like containers on the street (which the dogs still get at) or hung on your gate. Dogs also roam the streets at all hours, and although some are very sweet, packs of hungry street dogs are not, and can be downright scary. I have been 'escorted' home by a nice bunch of dogs on occasion - including my two favourite dogs - Peluco and Dennis. 'Hairy' and 3-legged 'Dennis (Hopper)' are just a few of the exceptions, as the rest wander around eating rubbish, peeing and whatnot everywhere, and barking - day and night, all day, every day. I read recently that street dogs here only live for a year on the street - a very sad story indeed, but nothing something people here concern themselves with much. There are a few other things that seem to annoy the hell out of me, but doesn't phase the locals. The car alarms here are ALL the same... that amusing-at-first, flash back from the 90s car alarm, which gets really annoying really quick. A good night's sleep is never a sure thing - late night drive-bys by flaite's playing the same 3-beat regaton tune, dogs barking or a car alarm.

Lobo Marinos at Tome beach.
Boats at Tome.
A sea lion enjoying the sun on the beach at Tome.
As the weather is finally better, the beach is the obvious choice for something to do on the weekend - although most people here stick to the malls on the weekends. Being on the coast, there are quite a few nice beaches, but all of them are cold. Being on the West coast of the continent, the current brings cold water from the south, so you just have to either stay out of the water, or do what I do and sprint in and deal with it! Being from Australia, where we basically worship the sun, I am used to people swimming and sunbathing - not so common here. The 'Chilean Bikini' as I like to call it is pretty much a jacket, jeans and shoes. They don't like to swim, and when the sun comes out and it warms up to 20c, the people in Conce hide in the shade and complain that it's too hot... this after nearly 6 months of cold, rainy weather (and complaining about that). I'd been waiting since June to lay in sun and feel warm, and so I jumped at the chance to do this on the green of the Uni before work - and was the only one. Their loss. It's generally the same at the beaches - kids swim, but the adults sit under umbrellas fully clothed. Tome is the standard go-to beach for most people here, but it's noisy and not the cleanest, but there are shops and places to buy food. I prefer places that are quiet and have good, clean sand - like Punta de Parra. No wind, a few waves, and no hordes of beach go-ers and dogs to annoy you! Just relax and soak it up - just like the Sea Lions do when they can, but the poor ones at Tome are constantly harassed by stray dogs.

Punta de Parra, with Tome in the background.
Near Conce there is the port town of Talcahuano, and actually forms part of the greater Concepcion area. It is home to many fishing trawlers as well as Chile's Navy. Not much to look at really, and not a safe place to be at night unless you like to be robbed and stabbed. On a sunny day though, wandering around down by the port is quite pleasant - pelicans swimming around looking for scraps off the local fisherman, lobos marinos (literal translation is "Sea Wolves" but we call them lions) baking in the sun and trying to sleep, and small craft sailing around. There are also still signs of the 2010 tsunami that hit this part of the coast pretty badly. There are still overturned ships in the harbour, and some have been pulled in and tied up and just left to rust and rot. One ship that is still in good shape though, and is far older than the rest, is the Huáscar. This ship, a 19th Century, British built Ironclad, was captured by the Chileans in the War of The Pacific (but not the WWI one...) fought between Chile, Peru and Bolivia. The war was over taxes imposed on a Chilean mining company in the north by the Bolivians. Peru got dragged in as they had previously signed an alliance with Bolivia - so the three of them duked it out for 5 years with Chile the eventual winner. Coming up trumps, the winners took land - everything north of Antofagasta, including the Atacama Desert, now belongs to Chile because of this silly argument, and Bolivia also lost their access to the sea. Wars.

The spoils of war - the Huáscar. Bolivia won't be needing it anway...
The crazy Colo Colo fans.
The lone Conce fan. Be afraid...
For my last week of a 'normal' life before I head off travelling, I visited a friend in Santiago and got the chance to see the most popular team in the country play football. The team, Colo Colo, have a huge following, but mainly consist of 'flaites' and troublemakers. Flaites are basically people of low social status, who have a reputation for drinking cheap beer (Escudo), smoking weed and getting tattoos - 'Bogans' in Australia and 'Chavs' in the UK. They also love a bit of bling, basketball shoes (usually Nike Air) and their favourite tattoos are of their children (names and/or pictures) and their football team (Colo Colo of course!). There was a big crowd to get in, 31c heat, plenty of flag waving and singing, and people selling everything from hats and flags to drinks and 'putitos,' the very smelly 'meat' sandwiches they love here - don't ask what the meat is though. The game was a good one, even though I was expecting some problems from the local hooligans. The stadiums here in South America have more high walls and barbed wire than most prisons in Australia - there to stop fans from jumping into the expensive seats and also to stop them from getting onto the pitch. This does not stop them, and in fact the kick-off was delayed due to people climbing the barriers. Colo Colo won, and 99.99% of the crowd was ecstatic - the lone fan for the other team (which happened to be the University of Concepción!) quickly took off his jersey and ran. I met some of the other fans outside, all giving the Colo Colo salute (3 fingers, not 2 as that is the sign of their enemy University Catolica), and they were very happy for me to snap some pics of them - probably because I was dressed as one of them for the day!

My new friends at Stadium Monumental - thanks for the awesome photo guys!
Street art in Conce.
Eating a 'putito' sandwich.

Ok so I'm a bit tired of the city life and of working - but that's very normal after a year of teaching - time to hit the road. It has been tough in Chile, the noise, living in a student house with 1 bathroom and 8 other people who don't clean anything, the cultural differences and language, but this feeling of needing a big holiday happens every year for me. It's teaching that does it. Work for 10 months, then travel for two, then start again. That's the usual equation, but this time it's different - I have worked hard, scrimped and saved, eaten pasta and rice for months, all so I can have a big South American trip for 4 or 5 months! This will be my last post in Conce, the next one will be on the road somewhere down South!

"With the blonde and some Cristal (beer), we are the beach!" Ahhh summer advertising in Chile!

Birthday Weekend

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