¡Bienvenidos a Bolivia! (Welcome to Bolivia)

I am writing this blog entry to tell you a bit about the coming days. I really don´t know how much if any Internet I will have, so I want to share what I know now.

First off, I only have about 10 days left of this adventure. It has gone by so quickly. The only thing I know at this point is that I will be back!

Our family of 5 (described in the last post) will be leaving on a bus at 5:30 in the morning for the border. Marina and Will went shopping to buy sandwich fixings for tomorrow´s lunch. We´ll eat just before getting off the bus and getting our exit stamps in our passports as we leave Argentina. Then we´ll walk a short bit to the Bolivian office, and get stamped for entry into their country. From there, find the train station, as we´re taking a train from the southern border town of Villazón to Tupiza.

We have reserved a very nice hostel in Tupiza for tomorrow night (Monday). Tuesday morning, we plan on taking a 3 day tour of SW Bolivia… the incredible Salt Flats await!

When we finish on Thursday, I will be leaving the rest of the ´family,´as they are going on to Sucre (one of Bolivia´s capitals), while I go to La Paz (the other capital).

I am excited to meet Yasser´s family in La Paz, as that is where I will be staying. Yasser was an exchange student in Helena (MT) a couple years ago. He came to my classes and shared life in Bolivia with my students. Now I will be a guest of his family for a couple nights in Bolivia.

I believe time is out, and based upon my findings today, I don´t think I´ll be able to visit Machu Picchu on this trip. Machu Picchu is an unreal place from all I have heard. My brother really wanted me to visit it for him, but I have decided taht we need to come back to this place together. In fact, I think we need to fly into La Paz, go to Cuzco and see Machu Picchu, and then bus to Lima. From there, a five day trip in the Galapogos is in order… wonder how hard it will be to convince Trav of all this??

After La Paz, I will be bussing almost directly to Lima, Peru. This is where Yasser is now in culinary school. I will be able to take him to dinner before flying back to the states on May 3.

That is the plan. Too little time. Too much to do. Let´s see how it works out!!

Salta… Northern Argentina.

This is our third and final day in Salta. The first day, we took the tariferico (tram) to the top of a hill that overlooks the city on the first day. I went with my friends Will Le Roy (Arizona) and Bevin (Australia). At the top, we checked out the views and the workout area… very unique, to have an outdoor health club at the top of a mountain! Before coming back down the mountain, we saw a ´nature trail´sign. We decided to stroll down it. About 50 yards into things, we came up to a pay booth. When we asked, we were told we had to have a guide to go on a tour and that it cost 5 pesos. I thought that sounded like a rip off, but my two friends shrugged their shoulders and said, it´s only 5 pesos (about US$1). So, we paid. What an excellent decision!

Our guide was incredible! He explained a number of items to us, all in simple, slow, and clear Spanish. It was like an hour of free Spanish lessons in the woods! Right off the bat, we came across a poisonous catepillar. Then, we saw a tarantula den (the babies will be coming out in about 2 weeks), some very scary looking poisonous spiders, whose larger cousins catch small BIRDS with their webs! We also learned iof animals on the preserve, including deer, puma, and others. We were introduced to jasmin that grows up and around the branches of other trees and got to see some fossilized algae in some stones used in a rock retaining wall. It was very cool! When the tour was over, we gave the man a 50 peso tip and thanked him for the amazing tour! We also asked where we could find some great Salta Empanadas. He suggested a little place ´enfrente de la Inglesia de Roja´(in front of the Red Church). We had seen the church from the tram as we rode up… this would be easy. Our tour guide thought the name of the place we sought was La Tazita (The Small Cup).

As the three of us were on our way, we past another restaurant that looked and smelled awesome… and they had a sign that said ´Tomales´out front! I thought those were only in Mexico… but no, here they were in Salta! Maybe just that place, I thought. We continued to walk by a ton of sidewalk cafes and restaurants, and we were hungry. The tour guide had been so spectacular, though, we thought we owed it to him to at least give his suggestion a try.

We came to the church… and were on the verge of giving up, as we saw nothing. Just then, I  noticed an old sign up the road that said ¨La Tazita.¨ Better yet, the small chalk sign out front next to the door had BOTH empanadas and tomales on it!

In we went, and it was small. The owner of the negocio (store) told us to sit where we liked, and we found ourselves seated at a corner table looking out an open window right at the fornt of the church!  It was very cool! We ordered a couple empanadas and a couple tomales each.

The empanadas came first, along with a small bowl of salsa to put on them. Spicy food in Argentina!?! Unheard of. And it was SPICY! My lips went numb, and Will had to go to the bathroom to blow his nose! And then came the tomales… delicious steamed corn tortillas in a corn stalk wrap with meat and onions in the middle — they were awesome!

It was the perfect afternoon. The store owner visited with us and joked quite a bit. He had pictures of his friends who play in bands on the walls throughout his small restaurant (6 tables for 2 or 3 people, with one table that sits 6 in the middle).  It rocked. So much so, we came back the next day for a second lunch!

Our hostel situation was interesting. The first night, Will and I had stayed at a hostel called Iguana. Sounded cool, but it was not. No outdoor space, crappy beds… it was bad. So, the next morning we got up and went to the 7 Duendes (Seven Dwarfs). This hostel was nice, but we made the mistake of only reserving one night. The next morning when I was walking to the shower, the man from the front desk looked at his watch and said, ¨Check out today!¨Darn. We had only gotten the room for one night, and now they were fully booked for the upcoming one. I was a bit flustered, not wanting to move hostels again, but told him that was fine. I would shower and pack and be out of the room by 10.30. He said he would call a friend and investigate another option for us. Well, we got through it, and wound up at the Exxes Hostel. The owner, Juan Paulo, is AWESOME. He has an enthusiasm for life, for his hostel, for Salta, and for helping others experience it all that is second to none. Will and I weren´t the only two at the 7 Duendes that had made this mistake. My friend Marina Toscan from Switzerland, who had spent a week with me at the language school in Bariloche, had just arrived yesterday from Peru. She too was having to leave. So was Bevin from Australia, the guy who had gone up the tram with us yesterday. The four of us packed up and were waiting for the owner of the Essex Hostel to come get us and lead the way to our new digs. As we stood in the lobby, a girl came in the front door and wanted to check in. She said she had a reservation, but the desk clerk didn´t have one in the computer for her. So, just like that, we invited her to join us… and we bacame a family of five! Her name is Xiangyun Tan from Singapore!

So, we now have a family of five… we have five beds in our hostel room with a fan and high ceilings… our family is living THE LIFE!

And, we´re heading on an adventure in the morning… I´ll save that for the next post….

Argentina: Back Again, This Time to Mendoza and North!

I wish I could quit you, Argentina.

My plan was to head north from Valparaíso or Santiago. But, based upon my former student and friend Dan McMaster’s recommendation, I am now at the Argentinian border once again. We just drove past Mount Aconcagua on a brilliant clear day… STUNNING. My Norwegian friends Kris and Anna are doing this drive in a few days in a rental car. I wish I would have had the time to join them, as it was amazing, and I wanted to stop and take pictures. The highway is nothing short of South America’s Going-to-the-Sun highway, just like the one we have in Glacier NP. The only difference is that this one has semi trucks on it!
I could see Mount Aconcagua out my window for about 10 seconds as the bus drove past a narrow valley that leads to the peak. With the blue sky and fresh snow on the peak – spectacular!
Then a long wait at customs. The people across the aisle from me had to pay a fee for a laptop they were bringing with them, I think. It is noe 3:00 Chile time (not sure if it is the same here or an hour ahead. These mountains are blowing me away. Pretty sure I could spend months, but only have the time for a couple days!

A Close Call by the Ocean…

I started out by going to a house we’d walked by the night before. It is a HUGE mansion that is being completely remodeled into a 4-5 star hotel. Across the street is another impressive mansion that the government is restoring. It will some day house the town museum, I believe. From there, I saw a little staircase heading off below. There was beautiful graffiti all along the walls of the sidewalk as it cut through the houses like a river in a narrow canyon. I began a full-day odyssey of picture taking. Every turn it seemed there was more to be discovered. When I got down to El Plan (the flat part of town), I took a picture of an electric bus and then began walking. First to the port, then back to a square that was to be the start of my day’s walking tour. Well, I let myself get diverted by all the cool churches. I even found one that was open! About an hour later, I was back on track, meandering up and down streets/sidewalks, taking pictures of nearly everything as I went. Ultimately, I was headed up to the famous poet Pablo Neruda’s House. I toured the home. He was an eccentric man, and the decor of his house was very unique and fun to look at. Plus, the views from his home were some of the best in town.

Afterward, I strolled out of the museum and – BAM – there were Andriono and Paolo! What a small world? It was good to see my new friends again. We walked for a few blocks together, taking turns snapping photos of the art. Then we hit a sidewalk that didn’t have any graffiti. I would have walked on by, but Paolo ushered me over, telling me that the architect of the poet’s home lived here. A few houses in, there it was, like a castle. What a cool place. Andriono asked a lady who was out hanging laundry if we could come on her deck to take a photo. Of course, she said. While we were taking in the sights from this prime vista, the woman went inside and returned with three lemonade-type drinks. We stood and visited with her for about 15 minutes. She said she had lived in Valparaíso her whole life, and in this home for 40 years. She said she loved it because it was safe and quiet. Andriono asked where it wasn’t safe, and the lady named a couple Cerros to avoid. We finished our lemonades, thanked the lady, and headed back to the street.

People in Italy would not be that nice, Paolo said. I agreed that many Americans would not be that accommodating to foreign tourists. As we turned down the hill, we came to some animal graffiti these two had not yet seen. I had stopped there that morning to snap a few self-portraits, so I waited while they got theirs. Andrioni said he couldn’t believe how amazing this was and that everyone just walked around with cameras. I agreed. They then saw some more graffiti for the first time. I had already been up the cross street they were seeing, so I said I was going to go on down the street we were on. With that, we said ‘Ciao!’ and went our own ways.

About 100 meters down the road, a taxi was coming up the street. It stopped and a man got out. He was a tall guy with sunglasses on. He walked up the hill past me, and then I saw him stop, and start back down the hill. I continued on my way, getting some more photos on my way. I stopped for a bit at a little market, and then continued down to a spot I was at earlier in the morning. The cafe that had had only employees earlier now was full of people. As soon as the cafe came into view, I noticed the man with sunglasses and a blue hoodie spring off a concrete slab and again start following me. Weird, I thought. As i walked, I noticed a wooden ship protruding from a corner restaurant on the other side of the street. I checked both ways, went across the street, worked my way between two parked cars and swung my leg over a concrete wall. Back on the sidewalk, I went to the boat, and just passed it, swung around. There was the man in blue with his sunglasses on, about 5 feet behind me. “Hola!” I said, surprised he was there… “Darle su camera,” he said. “Qué?” I asked, knowing very well he had just said: “Give me your camera (in Spanish).” My mind was racing as he repeated what he had said. As he finished, he fumbled around in his sweatshirt and produced a knife in a sheath over a foot long. “Darle su camera,” he repeated. I looked at him, stammered “No!” – then I spun around and sprinted down hill. About 10 seconds later, I looked behind me, and the man was nowhere to be seen.

I couldn’t believe this had just happened, especially after the nice old lady and Andrioni had both just been talking about how safe the neighborhood was. My heart was racing, and I figured it would be best to vacate the area in case the thief was still lurking somewhere waiting for me to find myself in a narrow little sidewalk without the protection of the cafe just a half block up the street!

Next I went down onto El Plan and got a train ticket. The train goes along the beach for some way. I rode it out past Viña del Mar, and then came back in to the stop closest to the bus station. I walked to the station, found a bus going to Mendoza, Argentina, & bought a ticket with an 8:30am departure the next morning. I took the train back to the fish market stop. I found a nice sea-side restaurant, got myself a drink and a little portion of seafood soup, and balanced my time watching activities on the beach and a soccer game on the TV.

When done getting a bit of food and calming my nerves, I wanted to find the sea lions. Well, in Spanish, sea lions are not León del Mar (they are León Marino). I had to do quite a bit of explaining trying to describe sea lions without knowing the words to a couple of ladies I asked. And then, they disagreed. One pointed toward Viña del Mar, while the other said that viewpoint was closed and I should walk back toward all the ships anchored in the port.

Well, I remembered my friends saying that had found a fish market after seeing the lions, so if their chronology was correct, the lions must be back toward the port. So, I headed back.

The beach area is nice, and I found it relaxing to stroll along the sea. People were playing volleyball in the sand & hanging around on the rocks. Not 15 minutes later, I connected with my two friends – Adriano and Paolo – once again! We just kept running into each other! They turned back around with me, and in 5 minutes I had told them of my attempted robbery and we had found the sea lions!

The lighting was tough, but I did the best I could to get a photo or two. If you haven’t done so yet, Mr. E highly recommends you check out the photo albums – all of the fantastic street art, the beach, and the sea lions!

The lions accessed a large concrete pillar by going up a ramp on the beach side. It was cool to watch, as one of the biggest lions sat on the ramp and would kick any others he didn’t want to join them back into the water!

When done, we stopped by a supermarket and got some spaghetti, olive oil, onion, pepperoni, and red pepper. Paolo was cooking tonight – it was going to be a fantastic ‘final supper’ before I headed off once again to Argentina!

Valparaíso, Chile

I spent the past couple of days in Valparaíso. This was a very important port city prior to 1914, when the Panama Canal was opened. Before the canal, any ships going between the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans would come through this port city. Even today, there are a number of large tankers moored out in the bay, but the number has certainly declined now that most shipping can bypass Chile by using the canal.

Valparaíso is a city on the Pacific Coast with a very unique character. It has two areas: the flat part (el plan) and the big hills (cerros). The cerros have very narrow, steep streets lined with buildings of brilliant colors and spectacular street art / graffiti. They also have little sidewalks that connect street to street, creating a web of narrow paths with walls perfect for street art. And, if you don’t want to walk up the streets, little trams on rails will hoist you up the mountain!

It really takes one only a few minutes to fall in love with parts of this city. When I arrived, I had been on an all night bus from Puerto Montt (see previous post). It was the morning, and it was overcast and humid. I thought for sure it would rain. I was ready, as I had put my backpack rain cover and my waterproof jacket on top of the pack for easy access. Turns out that it wasn’t needed. My Russian friend Kem had advised me to take a series 500 city bus… like 505,506,507… So, I walked out of the bus station, crossed the street, and started watching bus numbers on the little micro-busses that run throughout the city. I saw one go by that i could have taken, but I was still sizing up the situation. When the next one pulled up, I asked the driver if this bus would take me to Cerro Concepción… Which was the hill I planned to look for a hostel on. I got a little nervous when the driver asked, ‘Where?’ in Spanish. I repeated, ‘…a Cerro Concepción.’ he then told me that I needed a bus on the other side of the street and told me where it stopped. Now, I was stoked! Always love it when I successfully communicate with the local folks.

I walked across the 4-lane street and stood where the man had told me. About 2 min. later, up pulled a 500 series bus. I went to the door and asked the driver about Cerro Concepción. He said it would work and motioned me to get on. I did. There were about 10 rows of seats, with two on each side. I took a seat on the first open bench about four rows back on the driver’s side. As soon as I sat down, I realized I had made a mistake. The driver couldn’t see me in his mirror. As he knew where I wanted to get off and he knew I pretty much had no clue of where I was… He was my key to getting off at the right place! So, the next time he stopped to let someone off, I switched to the right side of the bus. He glanced up in his mirror as I sat down – he too looked relieved we were in visual contact. I relaxed a bit and began watching out the windows. I really liked the feel of the town. It didn’t stink of diesel as many cities do, but it was tight and crowded… A man had hopped on the bus at the same time I moved seats. He had stopped to say hi to a woman in the front. Found his way back to a couple open seats in the rear, and the next thing I knew, he began to play and sing for us. He played well and sang strong. I was impressed. When he began to play, my driver turned off the Latin Pop that had been blaring on the bus to this point. I dug in my pocket and found a 100 Chilean Peso coin (21 cents). Just after he finished his first song, the driver told me to get off, walk up the road to the left a little, and I would see the entrance to Cerro Concepción. I gave the musician the coin, thanked the driver, and headed out. Sure enough, in less than a minute, I was standing at the entrance to the Ascensor Conception. Ascensors are the little lifts (like elevators on an incline like an escalator – they go up a steep incline on a track, not straight up and down like an elevator, though) that help get people up the hills. Walking into the lift area was like going down a narrow dark alley at night. My blood pressure was up again. When I paid and went through the single file turn-style, the woman led me to a little wooden car that might hold 15 people if they squished in. Well, it was just me. She left the door open and went back to the payment area. Now, I wait, I guessed. Sure enough, within 5 minutes, two others joined me. One was a lady with an impressive oil on canvas painting. This was the first of many incredible art pieces I would see – very cool! After the lady with the art came in, the attendant closed the door. Seconds later, we jolted into motion.

As the elevator car rose above the building housing the ascensor, the cranes of the port and ships came into view. I had only been about a block away from the water and hadn’t even known it. The ride only took about 45 seconds, and we were at the top. I came out onto a little street paved with stone that had stunning views of the city and the harbor. I’m going to find a place here to stay, I thought. I walked around sizing the scene up for about 15 minutes. I really liked a little street right at the top of the hill, maybe 5 short blocks from the lift. It didn’t have any cars on it, and there were painted concrete barriers at the start of the street. Perfect. I strolled down, and at the end of the road was a little hostel. I rang the bell. The man who answered said I’d have to try next door. I did. A man answered. He and a woman were there, but they obviously weren’t the ones I needed to talk to. Wait just a bit, they said, for Marciella (the one in charge of the house) is not here. I sat on a couch in the living room. All was quiet except for an elderly woman cleaning the floors.

I waited about 15 minutes, and then decided to do some comparative shopping. When I said I was going to walk around for a bit, the lady who had let me in said, you can leave your bag here if you like. Perfect. I went and looked at a fee other places. One I went to was 20,000 for a room with no windows, 25,000 for a room with window and private bath. Next, I tried two very nice looking small hotels on top of the hill. May have been out of my price range, but I’ll never know. They were both booked up for the weekend!

I checked a bright orange hostel with deep blue trim just down the street. This place was 25,000 for the bedroom on the street, 22,000 for the room with no window, or 35,000 for a very nice little corner suite overlooking the city. I really liked the 35,000 room. The bathroom was propped up in the corner and gave you a panoramic view of all below – very cool!

I then returned to the hostel. Marciella wasn’t back yet. I began to contemplate bailing on this option and heading to the sweet room for 35,000. Just then, Marciella entered the home. She had a very nice manner about her, was very positive, and said something about a massage… She must have been giving one, I thought. I asked if she had a room. She said yes… Let’s go look. The old wooden stairway at the end of the hall was very cool and creaked a lot as we went up. She showed me a dorm room with 4 beds for 8,000. That’d work, I thought. And cheap. We then walked down the hall and into a room at the front of the house. As we strolled in, a nice breeze off the sea hit me. There were palm trees out the window and a nice double bed. She told me this option was 16,000 with a shared bath down the hall. When we went in the bath, I saw a few shampoo bottles on the ledge. This meant the people staying were longer-term guests – a really good sign! When we walked back into the room at the front, I said, ‘Está bien’ (It is good). That was it – I had a room!

That afternoon, I started talking to some people in Spanish and English. Their Spanish accent was difficult for me to understand, but they comprehended far more than I when others were talking. Turns out they are from Italy. Turns out, their names were Paola and Adriano and they were very nice. They had been in Valparaíso for a month and were looking at starting an Italian Restaurant in town. So, that afternoon, when I read in my guidebook of an Italian place just two blocks from our hostel with really good food, I asked them what they thought. We don’t know – we’re going there tonight. Want to come? Really, I asked – when? Now, they responded. OK, I said… and we were off!

The Italian Restaurant is highly regarded. We walked in and the lady said we wouldn’t be able to eat without reservations. We asked about reserving for the next night, and we were asked to sit down for a moment. We started plotting our next move – where we should go – but a few minutes into the discussion, the young lady said she could seat us… So, the three of us shared a table for two in the back corner of the place! We ordered three pasta dishes: one fettuccine, one gnocchi, and one ravioli. All three were good. Afterward, we even had dessert! It was fun to visit with Andriano and Paolo. They have had fascinating world experiences and traveled a lot. We split the meal at the end. It was a bit pricey (20,000 pesos each – just over US$40), but for an evening of fine dining with my new friends, totally worth it! After our meal, we strolled around the Cerro, looking at famous people’s houses, places being restored and reopened, and at the site of their future restaurant. It is an awesome location, across the street from a famous restaurant and only a couple blocks from the Ascensor.

I awoke to an incredible sunrise over the harbor. I knew immediately I had made the right decision as far as where to stay. My day was made and I didn’t even get out of bed yet! After showering, I became the fifth person downstairs at the breakfast table.

In addition to me, Adriano and Paolo were there. Also at the table were three people I’d met briefly the night before – Perrine from Switzerland, and a young couple, Kris and Anna, from Norway. The five of us had a lively discussion at breakfast. We took a group photo real quick before heading out to sightsee for the day (which can be seen in my Valparaíso album. I told them I would be like a Japanese tourist today (moving quickly and taking pictures like mad), as I needed to see everything in one day if I was going to catch my bus tomorrow!

We headed out for our adventures…

Isla Grande de Chiloé!! (Grand Island of Chiloé): Heading South from Puerto Montt

This post will pick up the story of my adventures on the Grand Island of Cloé after my friend Kem and I had lunch the first day in Ancud.

But, unfortunately, I see no post here (Mr. Elder, 4/16/2013). Not sure what happened! Please just go on to the next posting (Valparaíso, Chile). We will go over my adventures on the Island in class one day next week – sorry about this!!

Puerto Montt, Chile

A fascinating day, this has been. It all began last night, though. When the bus arrived, I got off, collected my backpack with my luggage claim ticket (remembering how stressed I got when I lost the ticket on the bus ride from Rio de Janeiro to Belo Horizonte), and then went inside the station. There was an internet cafe, and I hopped on a machine to find a place to stay. As my funds are low, I am staying in a place that takes credit cards. My brother is going to transfer some money from my bank account today (April 9 now…), but until then I´m scraping by! Will have to finish this post later, as I´m hitting the road now! Heading south…

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Wow. I was typing the above entry at a computer in the lobby of my hostel, the doorbell rang. It was early afternoon, and nobody was at the desk. So, I waited about 20 seconds, and when nobody came, I went to open the door. I said ´hola,´but didn´t know what else to add… luckily, the lady working the front desk came into the lobby at that moment. Relieved, I stepped back. The lady said something in Spanish and the man just looked at her blankly and said, ¨Do you speak English?”

As she nodded no, I blurted out, “I do!” Well, it was Easter Sunday, everything was closed… and I mean everything. Pharmacies, restaurants, etc… So, after helping get the man checked in, she suggested we could go to the Supermarket together, as it was open! I needed a new coat after leaving mine accidently at the hostel in Bariloche. I also needed some water. So, my new friend Kem, said we could do that. He had a fascinating accent that I couldn´t place. Turns out, he is from Russia! So, we went to the supermarket in Kem´s car, and then went to dinner that evening. At dinner, he told me he was headed to the Island of Chiloé in the morning if I would like to come. I had no idea what the island was like, but since he had a car and it would take a ferry to get there, I was all about going with him!

So, I enjoyed my second evening at the nice Tren de Sur Hostel… comfortable bed, private bath… very nice! After showering in the morning, I met Kem in the lobby and off we went in his VW Golf rental! Talk about crazy… 🙂

We took the ferry across the bay. It was about a 30 minute ferry ride, which flew by as the ferry had free on-boat wi-fi! Once we hit the other side, we headed for the nearby town of Ancud. The tourist office was helpful on the way in. The person there spoke no English, so it was fun for me to realize I was understanding most of the Spanish he was speaking! We then went to lunch in a great little restaurant adjacent to the public square (plaza) in town. I took some pictures of the tiles on the walls after we ate. The chef came out all excited and gave me his Email so I could send a copy of the images to him!

Then I wanted to get to a bank. I was broke, and really needed some cash. While Kem sat down on a bench in the square and read some things in his tour guidebook, I headed to the bank – also in the plaza. When I tried the door, it wouldn´t open. I looked around and saw that there was a little information shop next door. I walked in, and asked the lady where a bank that is open might be. She said, next door! It is closed, I said. She told me to put my card in the reader and it would open the door. And, she said, if that didn´t work, just come back and she would use her card to get me in to the ATM area!

This is an important point: everywhere I have gone in Chile, the people have been incredibly nice and helpful. Period. It is pretty incredible. The lady next to the bank was no exception. I thanked her and headed back to the ´closed´ bank. As I walked up, someone was leaving – what luck! I walked in… and never did discover if my card would open the door. Then for the bad news… when I tried to withdraw funds, it said there weren´t any there. Evidently my brother hadn´t been able to get to the bank yet… arrrgh!!

So, I went back, found Kem, and told him I was still broke. No biggee, he said. We walked back to the car, where the strolling parking attendant let us know we owed a couple hundred pesos. We paid and were off. Thus began our 3 day adventure on the Grand Island of Chiloé! The next post on my blog will tell the rest of the story… I will try to type it this evening, as the bus I´m taking to Santiago should have on-board Wi-Fi!!

Goodbye Argentina – Hello Chile!

Yesterday, I left Argentina. Catching the bus proved to be a real adventure in and of itself. It had been three weeks since I had traveled anywhere of much distance, and it seems I’d forgot my method of moving around! I hadn’t had any stress in a long while, but my last day in Argentina got pretty stressful! I don’t remember all the specifics, but my bus was leaving from Bariloche at 1:15pm.

My friend Amanda (the girl from Australia who is living in Buenos Aires) asked me to grab a ´Route 40´ highway bumper sticker and mail it to her. My bus was supposed to leave at 1:15 in the afternoon. Juampi, the helpful host at my hostel, suggested I catch a city bus to the long-distance bus terminal (2 miles away) about 12:15. So, about quarter to noon, I walked down the main street (Moreno St.) one last time. It was interesting to do after spending three weeks in this little tourist town studying Spanish. I went to the little shop Juampi had recommended, and sure enough, they had the Route 40 stickers. I bought a few of them (great idea Amanda, I thought), and then stopped by the cheap little bakery on my way back to the hostel. I got a sandwich and a couple empanadas for the road (which proved to be a mistake – more on that later). Finally, I swung in a Kiosk (little store that has gum, drinks, and magazines) and got myself a plastic bottle of Coke to spoil myself on the bus ride.

Back at the hostel, it was 12:15. As a joke, I asked Juampi if I owed him anything – 270 Pesos (about US$60), he said! What?? I thought I had paid. Well, I did pay for the Friday night before my friends and I went up to the town of El Bolsón last weekend, BUT I hadn´t paid for this week!  Oh dear. I didn´t have any money left!  I had to use a US $20 bill and almost all of the Argentinian Pesos I had left to pay him. This got me a little stressed out. My brother is going to add more of my money to my travel debit card on Monday, but I don´t have much to get me through until then! So, by the time I paid him and walked out of the hostel, it was almost 12:25. My stress level was rising — I really didn´t want to miss my bus. If I moved with a purpose, and didn´t have to wait long for the bus, I would be OK, I told myself.

I walked 3 blocks to the bus stop. As I waited for the city bus, a cool breeze made me want to put on my little black fleece pullover from The University of Montana. I reached in my little day pack, and it wasn´t there! Crud. I hustled back the three blocks to the hostel, went to the corner of the main ‘living room’ where I´d left my bag when I did the little store run half an hour earlier, and there was no coat! I asked Ben, who was sitting near my stuff on a computer, if he had seen it. No, he had´t.

I went back upstairs into the room I had stayed in the night before. A guy was there Skyping with someone in Europe. I interrupted to see if he had seen my jacket – no, he hadn’t. I looked in the locker and on my bed – not there. I went back downstairs and opened my pack… I dug through it, not finding the fleece jacket. My blood pressure was rising. I really wanted my coat, but at the same time, I needed to catch the bus!

I then ran back to the bumper sticker store. The lady hadn´t seen it. I ran back to the hostel. I then did a few more minutes of frantic (unhealthy) searching… Ben, who is from Boston, offered to bring it to Chile with him if it showed up… I thanked him.  It was now only 20 minutes until my bus was leaving for Chile.

Finally, I could look no more. I was sweating. My blood pressure was through the roof… I went out the front door of the hostel again and started to jog to the bus stop. I went up the little block and turned left… there was no bus to be seen. I needed to get out to the bus terminal ASAP.

Now I was late. It was 10 minutes to 1:00. A cab drove by. I flagged him down and asked how much it would cost to get a ride to the bus terminal – 20 pesos, mas or menos (more or less), he said. I had about 30 pesos in my pocket. OK, I said.

I frantically checked my pockets for all my cash as I rode in the cab – I had to watch the meter in the taxi as we drove. If the meter went over the cash I had, I was going to have to ask to get out and run the last little bit! … the cab meter was already at 15 pesos. My mind started racing… what if I didn’t have enough cash to get to the bus… 19.5… oh man, what a day, and no coat… 24… oh crud, red light! Arrrghhhh….

The light turned green and the meter jumped to 28. Oh dear. How much further, I asked the man in Spanish. It’s right over there he replied, and pointed. He put on his turn signal and pulled in. 28 even! I had half a peso left – perfect!!

At the bus station, I decided I must have left the coat at the bakery. My bus was about 40 minutes late, so I called Juampi at the hostel from a pay phone, and he said he would check at 4 when he got off shift. Then Gabriel, the French man, came into the station. Gabriel was surprised to see me again, as we had said goodbye at the hostel over an hour earlier. I told him my bus was late and he told me Jaumpi had found my coat up in my hostel room — CRUD! At least it was found. If Gabriel had known I was going to be here at the bus station still, he could have brought it with him! Darn.

You’ll need to check out the photos of my seat in the photo album, but it was a plush ride, for sure! Big leather seat, blanket and pillow – all waiting for me as I walked on.  I settled into the seat for an awesome ride. Indeed, it was a beautiful bus ride west from Bariloche, Argentina.

As the bus pulled out and headed for Chile, one of the bus employees brought us a lunch. Why did I buy a sandwich and empanadas??  I had just eaten the sandwich when he showed up with a lunch and a Coke (like you get on airplanes sometimes in the USA)! So, I put the empanadas away and was stuffed by the time I finished my lunch. Then a movie started – classic! It was about TIME. When people ran out of the time (digitally displayed on their arm), they died. People could trade time, but when your clock ran out – you were done! Not the best movie ever, but I liked hearing the English and then trying to read the Spanish subtitles at the same time!  While speaking of movies, the second one we watched was called ´Wild Hogs´and starred John Travolta. Again, not the best, but watching a movie in Spanish is pretty challenging for me AND great practice! This movie did not have any English – Spanish speaking actors´voices had been dubbed over the top… so all you heard was Spanish. This was interesting, as sometimes the Spanish voices said the lines a little differently than what the subtitles said on the screen. For example, if the English line in the movie was, ¨She shrieked at him,¨the line in move may have been ¨She yelled at him,¨¨She screamed at him,¨ or just ¨She said to him…¨It was quite interesting.

The scenery out the window of the bus was AWESOME, so it was hard not to spend all my time staring out the window. I really wanted to practice my Spanish, though, so I balanced my time between the two activities. As we neared the border, the sand and ash on the side of the highway became more and more obvious. Last year, a volcano in Chile erupted. When it did, it dumped a ton (over a foot according to my friends in Bariloche) of sand that had been the top of the mountain all over the area. After the sand came a ton of ash… this sand/ash mixture had to be cleared off the roads. I took a lot of pictures of it as we drove – it was weird, plowed and piled like we do snow during Montana winters.

After a couple hours, we hit the border. First we got out and had our passports stamped to leave Argentina. Then we got back on the bus and drove for another half hour or so. When we hit the Chilean border check, they stopped the bus. We had to all get out. The bus drivers took all the luggage off and laid it on a metal rack next to the bus. Some dogs walked along the rack and checked the bags for drugs and firearms. We waited in line and got our passports stamped. I had found 200 more Argentinean pesos in my bag on the bus, and so I changed it in for 16,000 Chilean pesos. Sounds like a lot, but things in Chile are priced far differently.

When we thought we were done, the group started to board the bus. One of the Immigration police said something, though, and then the bus driver commanded that nobody could get on the bus. He said something very quickly that I couldn´t understand after that. The group got visibly upset. About 4-5 people started questioning the driver in front of everyone. Their blood pressure was up. All I knew was we weren´t getting on our bus… ¿Que pasó? (What happened), I asked a couple standing near me. They said someone didn´t have their papers stamped. I pulled mine out and showed them – I was fine. About 3 minutes later, an elderly man was determined to be the one who hadn´t gotten his passport stamped. We took care of the issue and got back on the bus. Onward into Chile! It was tense, but we got through it…

When they stamped my passport at the border, I realized I had been in Argentina almost a month – Holy Cow, Time Flies! I have so many excellent memories of Argentina. The bus came into Chile, and continued a bit south to the city of Puerto Montt.

At the bus station in Puerto Montt Chile, it was dark when we arrived. I used an Internet Cafe to hop on a computer and scope out my lodging options. I didn’t have any cash, so I needed a place that would take a credit card. I found one – called the Hostel Tren del Sur. I needed a place that would take a credit card, because I still didn’t have much money – I think I had exchanged a US $20 at the border so I had a bit of Chilean funds in my pocket, but not much!

Now, as today is Easter Sunday, Puerto Montt is pretty much shut down. I took advantage of the day and a quiet lobby to work on updating my photos and blog. You may notice that there are now a number of photos I´ve taken on my trip that randomly appear at the top of the blog. There is one exception: the shot from the airplane window of New York City was not taken on this trip. I posted it as the initial picture in December when I began getting this blog ready for use, and now I´m unsure of how to delete it!

I was able to ´Facetime´ with my family last night using my iPad and the wi-fi in this fancy ‘hostel.’ It is fancy, as I have my own bed in my own private room! Anyhow, my niece (Olivia) decided she was going to march around the house with the iPhone and let me talk to my family for a moment. I almost got sea-sick, as she thought it was funny NOT to move the camera slowly and steadily! Nephew Jacob was working on homework (over spring break!?!) and Nephew Kellan was beaming after his spring break trip with buddy Zander down to Moab, Utah! Uncle Chris, Aunt Jamie, and two of their girls were there from Ronan, and Grandpa/Grandma Jim and Jan were there too. It was great to see them! Hard to believe I will be back in Montana within a month… wow, this trip has gone by far too quickly (except for missing my family — this face-time chat definitely made me a little home-sick).

 

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Yes, looking back at the past three weeks in Bariloche, I’ve had an awesome time. After two weeks with my host family, I was planning on leaving. And they had company coming to visit, so I couldn’t stay another week with them. But, Fátima, my Spanish teacher at the language school was awesome, my language skills were improving, and I wasn’t ready to move on yet. Therefore, I moved into the Bariloche Hostel and signed up for one more week of language classes. The manager there was named Juampi. He was an avid outdoors-guy, and he knew the mountains and climbing opportunities all around Bariloche.  I continued for one more week – studying Spanish with Fátima, eating the delicious ice cream downtown nearly every afternoon, and dining on fine steaks in the evening. I got to see a tango show and just enjoyed this place I was becoming quite comfortable.

As the week continued, I decided I wanted to rent a car myself and get off the beaten path. I Emailed my friends Lucas and Ale (the two guys I had stayed with during the week I spent in Buenos Aires) and invited them to come join my Quebec friend Max and I for a weekend in the woods! They accepted – so, I rented a car and made reservations for a cabaña (cabin) in the woods near El Bolsón… as the pictures in the photo albums reveal, the area near El Bolsón reminded me a lot of NW Montana, the Flathead Lake area. We went on a day hike to Lake Puelo. Lake Puelo is a very cool place. You can hike from the trailhead at one end to the Chilean border along the lake. It was an overnight campout, though, so we didn’t have the time to do it, but just being at the lake (see the picture of the four of us on top of a large rock at an overlook just above the lake) was very cool! This weekend was an awesome final hoorah for my time in Bariloche… and in Argentina. I returned for one more night to the Bariloche Hostel before heading to Chile! The morning I was going to leave on a bus for my next country, I wrote this note and gave it to Juampi. He thanked me, and hung it behind the reception desk at the hostel!

Lake Nahuel Huapi

The photo above is of me… I am wearing a bike jersey that is Argentina’s flag colors. My friend Max Benard and I (Max is from Quebec) rented mountain bikes and spent the day riding around a part of the lake.

I also went to the top of Catedral on a gondola. Catedral is the huge mountain ski resort just outside the town of Bariloche. From the top, I took pictures of volcano in Chile, of the Andes Mountains near Bariloche, and of the town and the lake far below.

The three weeks I spent in Bariloche were a high point of my entire journey, for sure. I got to make some good friends (fellow students at the language school), I got to live with a host family, and I got to hang out and ‘live’ in a Spanish-speaking town in the heart of Argentina!