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First steps in Bolivia, let me get my breath back!

After our first contact with altitude and Andean culture, we left Salta with a night bus and aimed for the border between Argentina and Bolivia. We arrived there in very early morning, and were among the first ones to cross the customs check. New stamp on the passport and we are officially welcomed in a new country! We change our last Argentine pesos for fresh new Bolivian bolivianos (yes the currency here is the boliviano, true story), and we try to find a way to leave the border town with little interest to go to Tupiza. While walking in town with our backpacks we are stopped by a policeman that ask us and everybody else in the street to stand still for the time the local band plays the anthem and the Bolivian flag is raised on the main square. Funny.

We team up with a couple of French met earlier in Salta, and we find an old man, owner of an old car, full of a load of flour that is going to Tupiza. For much less money than the taxi drivers he takes us for the two hours scenic drive.

 

We aimed for Tupiza because we want to start a 4 days Jeep tour into remote parts of the south western Bolivia called the Lipez. There are three ways to discover it, all by jeep with guide. Two of them are very popular with tourists: three days, from San Pedro de Atacama in Chile to Uyuni in Bolivia, or three days from Uyuni to Uyuni. A third option is from Tupiza, popular still, but much less frequented route.

 

Once arrived in Tupiza we drop our bags at the hotel, and go out in town. We lost nearly two hours trying to get our hands on more Bolivianos, in the (one) local bank because the ATM was out of order so we had to queue inside and witness the slow Bolivian administrative pace. And once we got some more bolivianos we headed to the market to spend them.

Bolivian markets are the best place to be during day time. You can just walk around the different stalls, admires all the colours and smell of fruits, veggies, meat, flowers or other things. And when you are hungry, there is always an area with benches and tables where you can sit and some lady will offer you freshly cooked food in a minute for a ridiculous amount of money if you convert it to Europe currency. All the locals do that and it is a great way to meet people and try out new dishes at the same time. We will have time to talk about it later.

 

After that snack, we started to tour the travel agencies in town to see the difference between their packages (when there was any). One thing that we did not expect was snow. Yes snow. Apparently, just a few days earlier it had snowed quite a lot in some parts of the tour and access is impossible and in other places, it is accessible, but still completely covered in white. That is a setback for us as we really wanted to do the full tour, and enjoy it under its “normal”weather. Now the most impressive and coloured part of it is under a white cover. But because we have time we decide to not rush it, and wait a bit.

So we spent the following day walking around Tupiza, in landscapes that reminded us more of cowboy movies than Bolivia.

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As the snow did not cleare enough yet, we decided to wait more and to go for a couple of days to Potosi, some 6 hours of bus away.

Potosi is a crazy place, a crazy city. It is built around the top of one mountain that culminates at 4753 meters above sea level. The road to reach Potosi is once again very very scenic, and going up all the time. And only at the last moment, after passing a last little bump on the road can you discover the extent of the city at the foot of the mountain. It seems huge and spread in all directions, no matter the steepness of the terrain. And when you think of the altitude at which everything is located it is even crazier. The city center is at 4100 meters, and simply walking a few meters with the backpacks on the shoulders is hard and breathtaking.

When the Spanish people came in South America, the never really found El Dorado, the golden city. In Potosi however, they did find El Silverado, the silver city. The very reason for the presence of the town, is the richness of it’s soil. The mountain is a silver mine, and provided silver and wealth for the whole Spanish empire during centuries. The Spaniards took over the Inca silver business and turned it into a real enterprise. They used more and more indigenous slaves to go deeper down the mines and work in terrible conditions to extract the precious mineral. We visited the excellent Palacio de la Moneda, where the silver minerals used to be turned into coins and ingots before being shipped back to Spain, and it was an extremely good way to realise the importance of Potosi for the Spanish colonial empire. The city was even the richest one in the world during its time. And want to know a fun fact? The universal symbol for money, the dollar sign itself has its origin in Potosi city, true story, check it out!

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La Casa de la Moneda de Potosi where the silver coins were minted.
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Forging the silver ingot
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Melting the silver ore.
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Potosi and the Cerro Rico, where the silver was extracted.
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The mines.

Today, the mines are still very active and miners still go underground in terrible conditions to try to extract silver. It is not as rich in minerals as it used to be but nonetheless the harshness of the working conditions and environment remains the same. It is possible to immerge oneself into the mines and visit them, witnessing the miners into labour but we decided not to. It felt a bit like a pervert or voyeur way of doing tourism, taking selfies with people working so hard, for so little pay.

We instead spent a good amount of time between the market, the colonial center and another good part of the time trying to recover our breath!

 

 

Two days later, we went back to Tupiza, and good news, most of the snow had cleared!

We went for a roadtrip in the Andes!

While in Salta, we decided to rent a car during a few days so we could explore the area around.

Comparing the different offers in town took us almost a whole day, as we received so many different information about the state of the roads (some of them are unpaved, but good enough for a rental car, or terribly bad depending on who you ask). We did not want to get a car from a lousy guy sending us on every bad road, just to get our cash.

Once we were happy with our deal, we planned our trip, and decided to do two small circuits away from Salta. South part first and then North, both with one night out, and back in Salta the second evening.

 

We started the first morning, got the keys of our not so young and immaculate Chevrolet Corsa Classic, the car that everybody was renting out to gringos for these trips.

And as soon as we set of, we got our first little drops of sweat as we had to leave town. Everybody warned us, out there in the deserted unpaved tracks, it is easy to drive, but here in Salta, they are all locos! And yes, it was not so simple, even though like in every place in South America, the city streets are one direction only. One could imagine that it makes it easier, and you just have to check one side, one would be wrong. The danger can come from anywhere!

 

Once away from Salta, things got smoother and we took the direction of Cachi. To go there, we had to follow a road to a small valley, where after that the road would turn to dirt road, and start to go up and up until 3348 meters above sea level. Once on the top, we crossed the Parque Nacional de Los Cardones. The Cardones are big cactuses that can live several hundreds of years. They are a familiar sight in the high Andeans, and it was our first (but not last) encounter with them. We took our time up there, taking pictures and enjoying the sun, even though it was quite windy as well.

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The long and winding road
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Seriously ?
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Cactus style

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Then the road went on and on and on in a straight line for almost 20 kilometers, before starting to go down again towards Cachi. Cachi is a very little, nice, charming and quiet village in the valley with old colonial buildings. White washed walls, colonial architecture, and dead or alive cactuses for decoration.

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Colonial style in quiet Cachi
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More cactuses !

It was a pleasure to finally step out of the car, and take a walk into town with a coffee and later dinner (including some humitas for Merima, but also goat and quinoa stews).

 

New day, new adventures. We left Cachi at sunrise to continue the road South. The road follows the fertile valley Calchalquies where we encountered several little pueblos with colonial design and charming little plaza de armas, and churches.

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Can it look more typical?

Each stop was very welcome as all the road was a dirt track, not all the time very good, meaning lots of bumps and noise and dust in the car. At some point, the valley became very narrow and straight, and that is where the Quebrada de la Flecha started, which means the arrow canyon. Suddenly the landscape changed and the road took us into rock formations. Crazy rock formation, carved by time and erosion, but still with very sharp edges like arrow heads. You get it now? It felt like another planet (one more time!), a planet made for geologist for example.

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The road goes through the rocks
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Quebrada de la Flecha
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Vantage point

And once we were out of the canyon, we reach a totally new landscape. Wineyards! We were getting closer to Cafayate, a bigger settlement that is very well known for its wine. Not time for wine degustation though as Fred was driving and Merima, well was being Merima. But that did not prevent us to go to the empanadas house, to try out new types of empanadas, including some with corn. Yummy! After a good lunch, the road back towards Salta got more and more scenic. With more landscape features, all crazier than the previous one. We saw a gigantic lonely rock, called el obelisco, another one called el amfiteatro, and many other ones with no names. Just a brilliant display of rock formations. The road was  scenic, and we really enjoyed it. We reached the lower valley at night time, and had another hour of night driving to reach Salta. That was another hour of sweat, but all went all right. We came back to the same little charming house in Salta, for a good night of sleep.

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Another road going to Mars
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Los Colorados
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El Obelisco (Merima for scale)
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Exiting El Amfiteatro

New morning, new road trip, and this time we head North for the second circuit. For the first time in very long, we are on a highway, and it is much smoother to drive that way. After the highway, it is smaller mountain roads again, and we are heading for the very small village of Purmamarca. The village is coined between mountains, and that is what makes it so famous among travellers. On the main square were dozens of stands with people selling local product, lots of colourful textiles with Andeans motives. This is also where we bought our first little bag of coca leaves because we knew that later during the day we would climb higher up with the car. The hills and rocks around Purmamarca have so many different colours. The closest is called the Seven Colours Hill. We took a little walk to go and see it from closer.

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Can you count the colors?
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Purmamarca
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Casually walking.

Right after starting to walk, we realised that it was harder to breath, and ran out of air very fast. Like if we had been running upstairs, even though the path was almost flat. That is the moment we decided to try out the coca leaves. Except for the oxygen thing, we were not feeling particularly different but we wanted to have a first taste before the real deal will start later during the day. And we had a good laugh trying to fit the coca leaves in our mouth and then with the help of our saliva try to suck out some juice. It was a bit bitter taste, very herb-ish. A bit like if you had bitten into a dry green tea bag.

After the walk, we went back to the market place, having a look at the different textiles, and had to work very hard to not buy half of the shops! We convinced ourselves that from now on, every place or every market will have llama based motives and it would be wiser to wait a bit before adding kilos to our backpacks.

Back in the car, and this time, the daily real deal starts as we climb up a high pass, at more than 4100 meters. It sometimes felt a bit hard for our little car, but for us it went all right. Our body seemed to answer nicely to the altitude. We did not stay that  long though, just took a picture at the pass where it was very cold and windy and then went down the other side of the mountain to reach the Salinas Grandes, a Salt Lake. It was a very big, impressive, flat and white surface. We went to walk on the salty surface for some time, and had fun trying to take a few pictures doing some jumps. But we realised that after two or three jumps at more than 3500 meters high we needed time to recover our breath!

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Nothing.
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Before being out of breath
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Casually posing

After that, it’s back in the car, and going through the same pass again, and down to Purmamarca before heading to the village of Tilcara where we will spend the night. On the way, we pass crazy coloured landscapes including one brilliantly named the painter’s pallet.

 

As we arrive in Tilcara, we notice that it had been some big celebration and party in town that day. There was excitement in the air which was just subsiding, and the locals were packing up and heading home with content faces, including some of them riding horses in fantastic clothes. We took a walk around town, had a coffee and awesome cake, but as always a bit too late and close to dinner so Merima wasn’t hungry anymore and Fred had a gringo pizza by himself.

Next day, we had another walk around town and made the typical mistake to enter “one last shop before we go”, where we spent some 30 minutes trying and then buying some awesome cowboy leather belts.

Back in the car, with some fresh coca leaves in our mouth, we headed a bit higher to the bigger village of Humahuaca. We arrive there around noon, just in time to see an animated Saint Francisco come out from a window and bless the crowd. Felt more like Disneyland than real deal, but it gathered a big crowed of Brazileros and Italian tourist, as well as lots of street vendors selling everything from hats, to dining table clothes, to socks and coca sweets. Once Saint Francisco had returned in its den until the next day, we sat back in the car, and started a 25 km climb on a not really well maintained dirt road. It took us more than an hour because we took pictures of vicuñas on the way (an animal related to the Alpaca, but wild), because of the poor quality of the track, but also because of the climb. From Humahuaca, 3000 meters above sea level, to the top of the road, some 4350 meters high. Why going that high? Well, up there, well hidden in the mountain is the vantage point over the fourteen colours mountain! So from the seven colours hill of yesterday, we have now doubled up the rainbow range! But what a sight! The pictures we took do not come half as close as what we witnessed. The picture also doesn’t show the altitude, but because we went a bit downhill to have a better view of the mountain, we had to come back up to the car, and that took us more time than usual, as we had to stop three to four times to catch our breath.

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The lady dealing coca that Fred was to shy to photograph so Merima went boldly for it.
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Vicuñas !
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The crazy mountain
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Hard to walk at 4350 meters high, but the view is somewhat rewarding no?

After that, back to the car, back on the dirt road for one hour or so of descent and vertebras reduction, and we were back in Humahuaca for lunch, more quinoa pie and humitas for everybody before the long drive back to Salta.

Long drive that started well, ended well too, even if halfway we had a lot of rain outside of the car, and some rain inside the car too (it seems that there is a pattern here…). The ventilation decided for some reason to work as a sprinkler as well for some 30 minutes.

But all is well that finishes well and we made it in town, and were fast asleep after a good dinner.

 

Soon we leave Argentina one more time, but maybe the last?

Argentina 2.0

After our little detour through Paraguay we came back to Argentina. So we entered the country for the fifth time in less than two months (maybe the secret service will start to wonder WTH we are trying to do here).

Even though we entered the country a lot, so far we have had mixed feelings about the country, and it was almost walking backwards that we came in again.

As places, we liked Buenos Aires, we’ve seen the (almost) bottom of South America in Ushuaia, had some of the best hiking days of the trip in Patagonia, and witness the might of the Iguazu Falls. All of it sounds epic, and it surely is but we were missing something. The places we have been felt like dedicated to tourism only, with plenty of opportunities to do crazy things in the awesome outdoor playground that Argentina has, but we found very little culture, or traditions. As often when the main attraction is tourism, the prices go up, and the quality of service or offer goes down. And we saw a lot of that too. Patagonia is an expansive place to visit, Buenos Aires is like all capitals, not really a bargain, and Puerto Iguazu, despite being a very small village in the jungle full of awesome natural reserves did not have anything much better than Swedish price ranged pizzas. The food options were always limited to pizza, pasta, or grilled meat (of varying quality) with fries.

Argentina is a country that has faced several serious financial crises over the past years, and as a result of that the economy of the country is quite unstable. For us travellers today, it results in very annoying little details: we can only take out a small amount of cash from the machine at a time, and each time we do, we have to pay expansive fees. Moreover, a lot of places refuse to accept credit cards, or they are charging also quite a lot for that. We have lost quite a lot of money in taxes so far, and we would have rather spent it elsehow. The prices all over the country have gone up a lot as well, and not only in remote Patagonia. If you read about Argentina or talk to people that say it is a cheap country, it is not anymore. Sometimes we are close to Swedish prices.

So for all of these reasons, we were uncertain of how long more we were going to stay in Argentina, and our general mood was to try to reach the north to enter cheaper Bolivia.

But nonetheless, we were looking at our visit in the city of Salta. It did not start super well, as our bus from Paraguay to Resistencia in Argentina got delayed by three hours while trying to go through the border. One person working, five looking around, no computer or passport reader, the fact that every single luggage had to be checked and a general mess: welcome back to Argentina! We were going to miss our connection bus to reach Salta, but the second bus had a flat tyre, and got delayed by three hours too. So at the end, we just waited a lot, and got quite delayed but it could have been worse.

After one night sleep in the bus we reached Salta, and liked it at first sight almost. It was quieter than any big cities we’ve been before, with a lot of parks and green areas, and splendid colonial style buildings and churches. The weather was lovely as well, sunny but not too hot, like a proper Swedish summer.

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Fancy church in Salta
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View from the nearby hill

We stayed in a very charming house, booked through AirBnb, and for almost the first time since ages, we relaxed, did only a little everyday between two coffees.

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Our little traditional house where we ended up staying much more than expected!

We discovered the strong culture and heritage of Northwest Argentina. Unlike Patagonia who was very seldom inhabited until recently expect for nomadic tribes, Northwest Argentina has been more populated, by indigenous people first, and then conquered by the Incas, whose empire grew as south as Santiago in Chile, just before the Spanish came and put a halt to its expansion. As the area around Salta is right in the middle of the Andes, with some pretty high mountains, it holds a particular importance for the Inca people who believed that high summits and volcanoes where the way where the soul would reach the sky and meet with the ancestors. In several volcano summits, they found some archaeological sites with altars and tombs. Including some mummified kids. Yes, you read that right. We visited a pretty interesting museum, and terrifying at the same time, about the mummy kids in Salta. It was apparently a thing during Inca time to sacrifice the most good looking kids of the village to the gods. The kids will be picked up very young, then sent to the capital of the empire, Cuzco, where after some initiation time they would go back to their village. There a procession will be organised to the highest volcano, where a tomb was dug. After drugging the kids so they would sleep, they will be buried alive and their soul will leave their body to reach out to the ancestors. Some 20 years ago an archaeological expedition found three of them, in a state of conservation beyond belief. The cold, the lack of oxygen at that altitude, as well as a layer of volcano ash that covered them had allowed this unique feature, and after some scientific research, their bodies are now shown in the museum. It is not a visit or sight that let you insensitive!

The Inca heritage can also be seen in the local gastronomy. It is richer here in Salta than anywhere we’ve been before. There is more corn everywhere, some quinoa, some stews with goat meat, some new kind of small potatoes, as well as llama meat!

We discovered Merima’s new favourite food so far : humitas! Even better than the Paraguayan chipas. The humitas are made out of freshly grinded corn paste, more corn, and a bit of onion and potatoes. The paste is rolled in balls, which are place into corn leaves, and put to cook into a steamer. Once it is cooked, you open the corn leaves, and eat it all. Delicious!! And the good news is that it seems from now on, there will be humitas all along the rest of our travel!

During one of our nights out in Salta, we went to a peña. It is a typical restaurant where live music and dance is displayed at the time of eating, a bit cabaret like, where the French Cancan dancers would be replaced by guys looking like cowboys in traditional costume, doing some crazy tap dancing with knifes and whip in their hands, as well as girls with traditional long dresses, waving around handkerchiefs to the sounds of drums and flutes. Fantastic! And for the music part, a group of guitar guys would sing along and ask the public of locals (with another Italian couple, we were the only gringos in the audience) to join them. They were really good at creating a warm atmosphere, and even ask personally to every table where they were coming from, and then asking for a round of applause to welcome everyone. We got our own round of applause too J For the record we said we were from Sweden to make it shorter and easier! It was a really nice evening, even after one of the dancers asked Fred to join her on stage. She probably quickly realized her mistake and regretted it for the whole dance!

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In the next post, you’ll have a read about the little road trip we took in Salta’s surroundings and how we ended up either on Mars or the Moon. We’re still not so sure!

What do you know about Paraguay?

We did not know much about it, and to be honest, it was not part of our plan to visit the country. And it seems to be the same for lots of fellow gringos travellers. Paraguay is not on a lot of people bucket list, but that should change!

When we decided to go and see the wonderful Iguazu falls we realised that Paraguay was just next door. There is a triple border mark in every country (Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay) close to where the rivers Iguazu and Paraguay meet.  Even though it is on the other side of the river, it is not an easy ride to get to Paraguay from Argentina, as you also have to cross Brazil. A lot of borders to cross and customs officers to talk to.

Except we did not do that! We left very legally Argentina, and then simply did not officially enter, nor leave Brazil (even though we had a 30 min bus ride through the country), and suddenly appeared at the customs to enter Paraguay! One quick stamp on the passport, and we are not illegals anymore, and very free to walk into the border town of Ciudad del Este, the big city in the east of the country in case you did not guess.

There are two mains reasons for being in that town: It is full of shopping centres with attractive prices, destined to receives thousands of Brazileros and Argentinos that come and do their duty-free shopping. Or if you are a smuggler of any kind, drugs, weapons or else, then Ciudad del Este is the place to be. The town has the reputation of being the smugglers Mecca in the whole continent.

Not more interested than that in smuggling activities (even though to be fair, we must admit that we several times successfully smuggled illegal products into Chile: bananas, carrots and Merima’s corn flour, that were bought in Argentina and should not have crossed the border!); we quickly went to the bus terminal, and jumped on the first bus to Asuncion, capital of the country, some 5 hours away towards the west.

Five hours being way to short, the bus decided to prolong it to more than 7 hours, stopping at every little village (or cow, as said in Bosnia) on the way to pick up more people. From the 42 allowed seating passengers, the bus capacity extended to probably about a hundred of people. It was the first time for us in South America that we experienced this, and even though we cannot say we were surprised, we were mostly feeling pity for the people that had to stand for so long, and happy we got two seats and did not want to leave them. In case of hunger, Paraguay has thought of everything in a better manner than Chile or Argentina so far, because at each stop, some local vendors will come into the bus, try to make their way through the standing passengers to sell stuff. Stuff here can be defined among others as toothbrush, ugly socks, juices, small sandwiches, and chipas.

Chipas is the new empanadas for our time being in Paraguay. It is cheap street food that you find everywhere in case of emergency. It is a bread, in a donut shape, made from manioc flour.

And we consumed a fair quantity of them chipas during our stay.

After crossing Paraguay from East to West, we reached Asuncion. It is a big and busy city, with a very particular feeling. It has an old colonial center with old nice buildings. Some of them could need a refurbish though. The city has also a more modern part with nice big houses and gardens and fancy glass and metal buildings.

No matter the area in the city, one thing that is shocking is the amount, and the size of the flags omnipresent on every building. It seems there is a competition rewarding the person that can wrap the most of its house or building with the Paraguayan flag. And the guy that owns the company making the flags must be one of the richest in the country.

In the city we wandered around, even took a local boat ride to go and see on the other side of the river a little village with two dusty roads and some chickens in the streets. We really enjoyed the climate that was very warm, and we did not complain too much when we got drenched by tropical showers. Hot tropical rain is always better than cold Patagonian mist.

And related to the climate too, the food offer drastically changed here. Tropical and exotic things such as papayas, pineapple, guava, passionfruit, manioc and plenty of other delicious things. So we had a lot of fruit salad bought off the street for 3000 guaranis, the local money (a real bargain!). And we also tried more elaborate meals, mostly stews with lot of corn, manioc, and meat. It was a nice change from Chile’s selection of sandwiches or fries, that we consumed too much earlier.

As Paraguay is mostly ignored, or not looked at by mass tourism, Paraguay doesn’t have the infrastructure, nor the usual tourist scams, or cheap, made-in-another-country, souvenirs to sell and that felt very good, more authentic and real. And on the top of that the Paraguayans are extraordinary people. The friendliest we met so far. Ready to help out, or just happy to chat, mostly to tell us that Sweden is so cold, and so far from here!

While trying to get some bus tickets to go back to Argentina, we had the most awesome discussion. The guy at the office started to ask us to wait a bit because his computer program was dead, then he asked another office next door to connect on his laptop and check the information for us. During that time, we chatted, he told us the only thing he knew from Sweden was the Roxettes, which is a correct fact, but a bit sad for Ikea, Volvo or Abba. Then, he offered us to try Terere, the horribly-tasting national drink of Paraguay.

Terere is actually cold mate. And mate, we will probably talk more about it later, is a hot drink made from yerba mate herbs, drunk in a special manner, but consumed absolutely everywhere in Argentina, and a bit less in Chile. Bottom line here, no matter if it is mate or terere, it has a very very strong bitter herb taste. Apparently, it is something you need to drink plenty of before you start to appreciate the real taste of it. For us gringos, only a very diluted version of both is enjoyable so far.
Anyway, this guy told us all about terere and mate, as he was consuming litters of both every day. He said more than 4 litters! Apparently, it is good for everything: the blood, the belly, for staying thin…you name it! At the end, he did not have any bus tickets that interested us, but we had a taste of his terere, which he gladly shared with us (drinking from the same cup and with the same straw, so un-Swedish ).

He, and the multi instrument drifter player in the bus, and some other street vendors were really nice, happy to share a chat, without expecting anything from us else than discussion.

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The presidential palace with not so much flags to show.
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Some building lightly wrapped in Paraguayan colors.
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We checked out the first train to ever roll in South America. That was in Paraguay.
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They should have kept the design for their local buses.
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We took a boat tour to see a panoramic view of Asunción.

We stayed only a short time in Paraguay, and mostly in the capital which is a shame because it seems to us that there is so much more, and the people are so nice, that if we have the possibility to go back, we will take it without hesitation.

Who would say no to some awesome chipas and papayas? Not Merima.

We check out one of the 7 natural wonders of the World!

Long time ago, at the very genesis of this travel, there is a discussion between Fred and Merima about travelling, and the idea to discover a whole new continent, like South America for example, to see something big and different that would mark us and bring change into our daily life as PhD student and consultant. And then the discussion finished and we went on as being a consultant and trying to get a PhD. Until some point, when consulting started to become monotonous, and being in the lab 24 h was not that nice anymore. At that moment the discussion resurfaced, and started to sound more like something doable than just a fools dream. And we realised that maybe we reached a good turning point in our lives where the idea of actually doing a long travel could fit in.

So Fred started to have a deeper look at it, and from a map decided that it would be awesome and epic to cover the whole continent, from South to North, following the Andes, seeing Patagonia, both sides of the mountains, and going on upwards towards Bolivia, Peru and so on and so forth until time or money runs out.

Merima, being not that interested in maps, and more interested in pipetting stuff in the lab agreed and the project went on. Until after the PhD disputation, when she asked Fred:

  • “So when are we gonna see the waterfalls?”
  • “Waterfalls?”
  • “Yes, the big waterfalls in South America, that is why I wanted to go there in the first place, I saw the waterfalls in South America on TV and it looked nice”.
  • “Aha, well we will probably see waterfalls on the way, but THE big waterfalls in South America, that would be the Iguazu Falls, at the border of Argentina and Brazil”.
  • “Okay, so when are we gonna see them?”
  • “Hum, so far the plan is currently not going in that direction at all”.

So here we are a bit before the trip, and the one reason Merima wanted to go in the first place (and she withheld to Fred for so long) was a place far away from every bit of plan we had. So Fred promised we would make it fit in the trip, not really knowing how because it would mean a huge detour. But maybe at the end of the trip we could finish by that.

The trip went on, we enjoyed Patagonia a lot, but were starting to get cold, we enjoyed Chile where we spent most of our time, and our plan for after Santiago was to cross back to Argentina, and do a lot of bus between cities to continue going north. But, we realised, we did not want to ride buses from cities to cities, and reconsidered a bit.

We found cheap flight tickets from Santiago to Buenos Aires, from where we could take a long night bus to Iguazu! Sounds nice on the paper, but then what? We also figured out we could actually “reconnect” on our primary route by crossing Paraguay as well! New country, new possibility, more of South America… Awesome! So we just did that!

We took the flight from Santiago to Buenos Aires, over the Andes, but too much clouds to see anything, and mostly just a lot of bad turbulences. And then crossed Buenos Aires during Friday rush hour to get to the bus terminal. And sit for 18 hours in an overnight bus to reach Iguazu.

For enduring that a bit better, we went all in and booked ourselves a “Premium Suite Bed Service. So instead of being in a bus seat, we actually have an almost fully inclinable seat, airplane business class style, some meals, and a tv screen. What we did not book was a shower, but we got that too, as during the night we passed through the thunderstorm of the century and it poured down rain for hours outside the bus at first, and inside too at some point, when the ventilation system started to leak on us. Fan-tas-tic!

 

When we actually arrived in Puerto Iguazu, we did what we usually do after checking into the hostel. A good shower, and then out to explore the town or in that case village. But this time, for the first time since we started, we could do it in flip flops and t-shirts! Tropical climate is good and enjoyable after witnessing the arrival of winter in the South. Even when you meet tropical rain on your way to the supermarket.

 

And then Iguazú. Or Iguacu, as we started our exploration of the waterfalls on the Brazilian side.

The two days we spent by the waterfalls will remain as highlights of our trip for sure. No words can describe really that wonder of nature, the sight of it was astonishing, and we will try to describe our visit and share it to you.

On both sides of the river, once you entered the park, you need a ride in a mini train or a bus into the jungle to actually come closer to the river. And from there you start getting closer and experience Iguazú. You also receive information about the surrounding jungle, its inhabitants and the risk of encountering hungry jaguars, monkeys, or coatis. For example, everywhere you can see horrifying pictures of bloody hands bitten by animals…

Don’t know what a coati is? Well, it is like a big raccoon, that lives in groups of coatis and in Iguazu, they mostly follow tourists and salvage their food. They are cute until you actually see their super sharp teeth and claws and their strong jaws. At that moment you realise that you should double check your back before eating your sandwich!

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Meet the Coati.

On both sides of the waterfalls (Brazil and Argentina) you mostly walk on catwalks that brings you closer to the falls. At Iguazú, it is not one single waterfall that makes the site crazy, it is the quantities of them, more than 280 of them, create the spectacular views. Most of them are located on the Argentine side, so from there you can walk very close to the very edge or bottom of them, as different circuits take you on both levels. It creates a lot of variety on the views and very pleasant walks.

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Argentine side
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Little one on the Argentine side
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Argentine side
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Anybody needs a shower?

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And Moses opened the Red Sea…
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Argentine side

On Brazilian side, because it is opposite obviously, you get a more global view, and only from there can you understand the whole size of it. The views are less variated, but it doesn’t mean less good, far from there. Only from Brazil side can you realise how immense the sight is. There is one catwalk that take you straight over the water, onto some awesome viewing platforms.

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The grand vista from Brazilian side

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The platforms
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You will be wet.
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On the edge.

As you approach the waterfalls, and get a first sight of them, they immediately lift your spirit, as if you saw something magic, or sacred. When you find yourself close to them, feeling the water breeze on your face and being surrounded by them on almost every side, you feel such excitement and at the same time you are in awe. We will try to bring the feeling closer to you with pictures, but not even a picture can really bring you the experience of it, you have to go there (and on both sides)!

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From the top, at the Devil’s Throat
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Yeah !
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Devil’s Throat, the biggest of them all.

These two days felt like out of space and time for us, it is easy to have your thoughts carried away by the waterfalls, just by standing still, looking at them for hours.

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Panorama
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Happy wet faces
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Magic!

 

The conclusion of it is that it was a well worthy detour!

Two days with Pablo (Neruda, not Escobar)

 

After spending some days in Santiago, we let most of our luggage in our room, just took a small bag, and went for a couple of nights at the seaside. Destination: Valparaiso, less than two hours of bus away.

If you have ever played some kind of video games where you are supposed to build a city, you would have never picked (or hated) the layout map of Valparaiso. Lots of steeps hills running into the sea, nowhere flat. In short, impossible to develop something here. Well, Chilean people did it, and they turned it into the second city in Chile! It started as a harbour for Santiago, grew up and became a world-famous city in the universe of sailors, as it was one essential stop for boats going around South America on the Europe – USA transit line. Until the Panama Canal opened, and an earthquake destroyed most of the city more than a hundred years ago, putting a slight end to a golden era.

 

Nowadays, the lower part of Valpo, close to the harbour is a pretty ugly place, stacked with badly looking concrete buildings, narrow and dark streets, and a lot of noisy traffic. But as soon as you go up in the different hills or cerros, you discover a much nicer, residential and lively area. The town is an open art museum for graffiti and everywhere you can see awesome artwork on walls, garage doors, or even garbage trucks. To go up in the different cerros, you can climb up an infinite number of stairs, or take one of the more than a hundred years old funicular or lift. So old that everything is shaking and making terrible noise. You think more than once during the climb that you’ll be the last person using it before it breaks!

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View over the Pacific ocean

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Enter a captionThe 100 years old funicular

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And here are some examples of the street art we liked the most.

 

 

Valparaiso is also home to one of the three houses of Pablo Neruda. The famous (if only?) Chilean poet and Literary Nobel Prize winner. He wanted a house in Valparaiso to find peace and inspiration, away from the busy Santiago. And what a house he found, on the top of a hill, overlooking the whole bay. Easy to find inspiration for poetry after that.

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Pablo Neruda’s house in Valparaiso

 

On our way back to Santiago, we stopped in Pablo Neruda’s third house, la casa de Isla Negra (which is not on an island). It was a very nice and big house right in front of the Pacific Ocean, that also served as a collection display of everything he liked to collect. From boats artefacts to smoking pipes, to sea shells and toys. We really enjoyed the visit and the views on the ocean, even though it was stormy weather outside and it poured down continuously the whole day.

We have very little pictures to show as it wasn’t allowed :/

 

Soon, you’ll be able to read more from us, from a much more tropical location!

Santiago

 

(If you want pictures only, go at the end, and ask us for more pics in the comments J )

After Pucon, we embarked on a night bus for Santiago. It was a lot of fun at first as we were sitting on the top floor, front seats, so with great views of the road, even though it was night time. The ride went smoothly and by early morning we reached the capital of Chile. And there, things got a bit sketchy:

We just arrived during morning rush hour and we had to take the underground to check-in into the Airbnb apartment we picked. Just imagine the two of us, big backpacks in the back, small backpack on the belly, and an extra bag with a bit of food, trying to fit in the train. Even people with no bags had to wait one or more train to pass before being able to enter. After some time, losing patience, Merima just went straight into it, leaving Fred on the platform. Just had enough time to shout the station where to disembark. A couple of trains later, an almost empty one arrived so it was much easier for him to go in. But as at the next station it got filled with more people, the situation was the same for both of us. Impossible to move, jammed between people, feeling very hot and sweaty, and starting to be in pain everywhere, as not being able to move with such a heavy load is not fun. And to make it even more memorable, Fred started to feel a hand trying to go through his pockets! With our gringos heads and heavy loads, we were easy targets!

Once we reached our stop, it was time to try to get away from the train, trying to ask or beg for people to make room, pushing without moderation, and pulling the backpacks out too. In the end, we made it, got reunited and here is a LetsgotoQuito tip wherever you’re travelling: Do not get into the subway at rush hour !😱

We found our way around, found our room for the next days, and took a well-deserved shower, a bit of rest and could start to wander around in town.

 

If you’ve read our story about Buenos Aires, you know how much we walked there between the different barrios to discover the different areas and atmosphere of the city. Our plan was to do the same in Santiago. Just go walking from one area to the other, and feel the city.

We found out that even though Santiago is not a small city, it’s center part, with all the points of interest is much smaller and more concentrated than Buenos Aires, so by staying four days (which is more than what we did in BA) we had plenty of time to relax as well.

As in ALL the cities or villages we’ve come across since Patagonia, the starting point of the visit should be the Plaza de Armas. Here in Santiago it is big, nice and crowded with artists, people protesting about something, tourists and circled by nice old buildings and a cathedral. And from there we walked into the financial district, had a look at La Moneda, the former Spanish mint house, but now the Presidential palace. We walked around the popular and hipster barrio of Lastarria, and enjoyed the more bohemian area of Bellavista and its graffiti-covered walls.

We have also spent some time into the great Pre-Columbian Art museum displaying plenty of information and pieces from native Chilean tribes as well as South American people. And we tried to get a glimpse of what happened during modern Chilean history under the Pinochet dictatorship that lasted from 1973 to 1990.

We enjoyed some good food in the city market, tasted some good local wine and spent some time walking in a couple of huge malls. Fred took the occasion to replace his old sleeping bag that did not performed well while camping in Patagonia. It felt a bit weird to us to walk around in the mall and just do window shopping, but after several weeks without malls, it felt nice. Merima, God knows how, found a Les Mills gym in town, and got invited to participate in a bodypump class for free! Fred witnessed that by the window, and both agreed to the fact that “Arribbaaaa amigoossss” was a slightly different  cheering than the ones we know in Uppsala. More latino if you like.

And during all our stay we have hoped for rain! For the simple reason that the day following rain in Santiago, is an awesome beautiful sunny day with clear skies. The rain washes away the pollution and dust clouds that are often around the city and reveals the fantastic scenery in which the city is located. Just at the footsteps of the Andes. From almost everywhere in town, if you look in the proper direction, you can see in the distance the mountain range and its snowy summits. And within the town, you can climb too small hills that delivers fantastic views of the city. The little Cerra Santa Lucia, located in the heart of downtown Santiago is great to take a bit of altitude, but not too much so you still have a nice idea of proportion, and can admire the mountains behind the skyscrapers. The second hill, San Cristobal is higher up, and is part of a big park that is a very quiet and nice place to discover whenever you get tired of the noise, the traffic and the stress from town. From the top of San Cristobal you can really see how vast and extended Santiago is. And you understand easily the location of its different suburbs. The old town, the rich and modern areas with their glass and metal skyscrapers, and the much poorer barrios, with small houses and corrugated roof.

Here are the promised picks :

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Downtown Santiago
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La Moneda
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Barrio Paris-Londres
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La Costanera, highest building in South America
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Santiago, and the Andes from San Cristobal
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Grafitis in Bellavista
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Grafitis in Bellavista

 

And next, we take a small bag and leave town for a couple of days.

 

How to fail:

Often when we get some comments or feedback about our adventure, we hear you telling u show much you envy us, how much you like our stories and pictures, and how much you’re jealous of the weather we got in autumn time in Patagonia compared to Swedish spring (hahaha, snow in Uppsala on the 19h of April, that made us smile!). Well, it is not everyday as it looks like or sounds like and for every pics with some sunshine and nice lights, there are all the places we will have no pictures and only wet or clouded memories. Or there are also the long travels, not all are comfy, or the moment we (Fred) clearly misunderstood something, and we end up at the wrong place with the wrong bus timing.

Do not get us wrong here, we are spoiled kids, and we absolutely do not complain in any way about what we are doing, and we do not think we would want to trade that with anything else right now.

But for today, we wanted to talk about our latest stop before we reach Santiago de Chile, and talk you through our feelings, the good (that we easily communicate on, and the less goods ones).

 

After Puerto Varas, we reached the town of Pucón the 1st of May, when everything or almost was closed. No tourist information, no national park rangers office, no bus or minibus company offices open. In short not much to help us plan our next move.

From the information we could gather we decided to go to the Huerquehue National Park, famous in the region for its lakes and native forest landscapes. It seemed that we could do two one-day-hikes there. One hike, called Los Lagos, that would take us to several lakes, and a second hike to go to the highest summit in the area and that would give us nice views on the surrounding volcanoes. Yes, it is full of volcanoes here too!

We had a look at the weather, and decided to give another go to camping. The temperatures are higher here, than in Patagonia. The weather forecast was clouded with no rain the first day, and sunny the second one. And also by camping we would be able to start early the second morning the hike to the summit, without being dependent on the minibuses timing to drop us in the park. As it is low touristic season, the bus timings are reduced to the minimum of three daily. Not convenient for several hours hikes.

 

Happy with our plan we went to bed, and woke up the next morning to finalize it : we had to buy food for the night out, and we wanted to double check all of our plans with the National Park rangers in town. For once we found the guy to be nice and full of information. He told us that the last bit of the summit hike was closed due to snow, but that it was still fully possible to hike and enjoy most of it. And he also told us that the other hike to the lakes will be good, and that we will not have trouble camping. Wonderful, after some empanadas for lunch we are ready to head for the minibus station towards the park. As usual the ride is bumpy and we arrive there in the early afternoon. We wanted to set off quickly, to prepare the tent for the night, and then run for the lakes trail, as fully approved by the ranger this morning. But the ranger at the entrance of the park has other information :

  • “All the trails are closed!”
  • “Well, that is new.”
  • “Yes, the summit trail is closed”
  • “You mean the last bit is closed, but we can still go up to the second to last mirador? (Like your other buddy ranger told us this very morning)”
  • “No everything is closed, one woman got lost for four days on this path recently, who did you talk to, he must have know that all the rangers were out to look for her for four days”
  • “Well no clue, but that is a setback for sure. We just lost one of our two days hike.”
  • “And now it is too late for going to the lake trail, it is too dangerous. And this one too is partly closed, there is snow at the top”
  • “There is snow at 1200m, but the temperatures are above 10°C here the past week, since we have been in the region and at these heights?”.
  • “Yes, there is snow, you have to do only the small loop, and only tomorrow is possible”
  • “Okay, so where can we set the tent, and do nothing until tomorrow?”
  • “Too much rain over here, the camping ground is not good, it is not suitable for camping”.
  • “It’s getting even better, so now we lost one day, and it is not possible to camp here, and the bus that brought us just went away and we can only do nothing but to wait three hours until it returns.” “Wait, there is a refugio close by, what about we go there and see what they can offer us?”
  • “Yes, that you can do.”
  • “Wonderful”

You have to imagine that discussion happening with Fred’s terrible spanish, and translations in swedish to Merima in between as well as other swedish comments between us about the situation. It seemed that the nice park ranger in the morning was mostly nice, and not so ranger at all in the end. Or at least a very badly informed ranger.

So here we are, ready to hike and camp, but with mostly nowhere to hike, and nowhere to camp. And the feeling that we mostly lost our day for nothing. But we take our stuff, and start to walk towards the refugio. It is open (small miracle) and the lady in there gives us the prices of the rooms, which happens to be the priciest we paid for sleeping anywhere so far since we left Sweden. When we ask if we can camp, well yes we were but she would not recommend it. It is very muddy everywhere around here. And while walking it we did notice that it was indeed very damp and muddy. But suddenly she offer us to plant the tent under a sheltered area that is used for barbecuing and ping-pong during summer. At least it is dry there, so we decide to go for that alternative. That is what we came here for anyway, camping. Well and hiking too, but that will be for tomorrow.

We install ourselves, and take all our time because anyway we have nothing else to do for now on. We take a small walk after that, and come back to the refugio to be close to the fireplace, to get some dinner, and then play UNO and Milles Bornes, until it is time to go to the tent.

Next morning, after some peanut butter and bread, we set off for the only hike that was still possible to do, called Los Lagos. The path is going upwards through some deep forest, and passing some spots with waterfalls. Every now and then, there is a nice spot with a view of the valley. And today the weather is nice and clear, so we can actually see in the distance the almost conical shape of a volcano! Another one yes, not related to the Osorno volcano from two days earlier. This time it is the Villarica volcano, still pretty active, and mess creator from time to time when it starts to blow up. And still very nice to look at too, even though when you realise a little bit of smoke comes from the top you start to wonder if you should be that close to it. Oh well, YOLO!

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Is that smoke? Volcano smoke?
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Waterfall 1
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Waterfall 2

 

The hike in the forest is nice, we see some very different kind of vegetation compared to earlier, including one of Chile’s native trees, the very distinctive Araucaria. It is like a very classy Christmas Tree if you want. It is also known in english as the Monkey Puzzle Tree. No explanation attached. At the end, when we realised that it was absolutely no snow at all at the top of the small loop trail (not like the park ranger had said) we decided to keep walking and went for the longer loop. Another hour of going up, checking out more lakes, seeing more forest. We even saw a couple of Magellanic woodpecker, hard at work. They made the forest sound like the concert hall of a band of percussionist.

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A bit of Araucaria – Monkey puzzle tree
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Lago Chico
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View from the top.

After reaching the top, we lost no time and started running downhill back to the refugio.  We only made a couple of stops to drink fresh water from the waterfall. Back at the refugio, we still had the tent to pack, and to make it in time before the last bus leaves. We arrived precisely on time, so did the bus, so only after being installed on our seats could we take a breath, a bit of water and share a well deserved KitKat!

‘The following day is another day, and we decide to take it easier for once. Late wake up in the morning, no rush to pack our stuff in the hostel, a walk in town to do a bit of shopping, or more exactly window shopping. And then, we hop in a minibus going towards a place called Los Posoles. A true resting day here must include incubating your body in some hot water, termal water! Because the whole area is full of earth activity (remember the smoking volcano not far?), there are a lot of Termas. Some rivers in the valleys around Pucon are warm. Super warm! So local people for generations have enjoyed taking bath in some hot ponds, and by combining the hot streams with a nearby colder river, they made different temperature pools in which it is very pleasant to do just nothing. And for once we got lucky, and decided randomly to start by the coldest of the pools, and then to go from colder to warmer.

Of course, a day that relaxing would have been too tiring for us, so at the time of going out of the pool, just to make it for the minibus back in town at 17:00, the guy at the reception tells us that the 17:00 would not come today and that the next bus will be here at 18:30. Refusing to wait that long, we simply started to walk in the right direction, trying our chance hitchhiking with the very few cars we met. No success at first, until after half an hour of walk, a car stopped (the family in the car recognised us from because we shared the hot pool moments before), and dropped us in town.

 

After all this relaxation, time to put the backpacks on again, we have a night bus to Santiago to catch !

 

Chile, land of ice and fire (and lava).

After leaving the rainy island of Chiloe (ironically under a very nice and pleasant sun) a few things changed for us. First of all, we saw a highway! Never since wet left Buenos Aires had we witness such wide roads. Not much of highways in Patagonia. Then, our bus got caught in some traffic jam while crossing the big city of Puerto Montt. That is also something we had almost forgot about, even though to be fair we had been blocked behind cows and sheep a couple of times in Patagonia. Finally, we reached our destination in the afternoon: Puerto Varas, a pleasant and popular city on the side of a quiet lake.

From the bus we could feel that something was different: The house style was very different from what we saw so far; no small and very humble wooden houses like in Patagonia, no special cladding or shingles, nor any colours like in Chiloe. Instead it was much bigger houses, several floors and most of it they had a very German alpine chalet look!

The signs pointing out to hotels or restaurants were using some very gothic character font and it seems that everywhere in town it was possible to buy some kuchens. Furthermore, we saw a Vila Alemana, a Colegio Aleman and so on and so forth, you start to get the picture. We just landed in the Alps, during a nice and warm autumn day! As we arrived Friday, it seems that many Chilenos did the same as us. They were here to enjoy their long 1st May week-end.

Puerto Varas is a nice charming little city, it seems that many people that work in the big town of Puerto Montt just 15 min away, prefer to live in Puerto Varas, and it is easy to understand why. The lakeshore is nice, and there is one thing that is not present in your everyday-lakeshore here: a volcano! Actually, it is several volcanos that you can see from town, across the lake on a clear day. But one of them, the Osorno volcano is The Volcano, in the sense that if you ask any kid in the world to draw a volcano, it will look like the Osorno. It has an almost perfect conical shape. Its top is snow-capped so it is very photogenic, as well as very silly. On our first day, even though we knew the volcano was here, and we knew where to look, it was just impossible to see. Too much clouds. Impossible also to see another famous volcano very close, the Cabuco volcano. This one is mostly famous because it awoke two years ago and created a huge mess in the region by doing so. It is also classified as the third most dangerous of the Chileans volcanos!

After checking in in the late afternoon in our hostel we did something very Chilean and went in town to have a Once. It is very similar to the Swedish fika, it is something to eat and drink between the meals in the afternoon. So, we did just that, and by 18:00 we ordered a Once. Coffee, huge slices of Tiramisu and raspberry kuchen, and a warm cheese toast! It was a lighter version of the official Once that also contains bread, ham and cheese. Needless to say, that was not our best move, so much food, so late in the afternoon that for dinner Merima had an apple, and Fred a couple of bruschetta and a yogurt.

Next morning, we are up early and determined to go do some hiking! Our plan is to walk the Paso Desolación that goes around the Osorno volcano. After one hour ride in a bumpy minibus we reach the start of the hike. We are so early (09:00am) that the national park rangers are not awake, or at least not manning the post where every hiker is supposed to sign in order to have a record of the number of people out close to the volcano area. Feeling super safe that if the volcano starts to blow up nobody will find our burnt bodies, we start the hike. And as it will be during most of the day, the path is actually a mix of black sand and ashes, that are the remains of previous volcanic activities: eruptions, or lava flurries. And we did not like that. Hiking or walking on soft surface demands twice the amount of energy as the ground is not as responsive as a hard surface. It is annoying on a flat path, when it is starting to go very steep, it just feels frustrating and painful as for every four steps you make you only climb one or two. And this path did go high and steep for some time. We reached a first lookout point, where a nice sign was here to indicate us all the numerous volcanoes surrounding us. But it required a lot of imagination from us for seeing them because lucky as we are, it was too much clouds to see anything.

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Too much clouds

We could see the beginning of the conical shape of the Osorno volcano, but definitely not the top, and none of the other ones in the area. At this point, having lost five kilos of body water in sweat during the climb up to the mirador, Fred wanted to return down to the valley. Merima insisted to keep going, so we did. And for another half an hour, we went up in the sand. At some point the path reached a less steep upper valley, and the views from up there were very nice. We crossed several old lava flurries that were very wide. It is not hard to imagine that what now looks like an empty river bed, was actually formed by liquid lava river escaping from the volcano to go down the valley, taking away all vegetation with it, leaving big scars on the sides of the volcano.

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Onto the cold lava
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Big old lava river

Probably the name Paso Desolación comes from this landscape, but at the time to reach the end of the path, it was more our legs and knees that felt desolated! And now we had to go down back to the starting point, some 12 kilometres away. But it must be said, that the good part with the sand/ash dunes we escalated, is that it is very fun and fast to go downward! Nonetheless we were tired when we reached the end of the day, and we got there just in time to catch the minibus back to Puerto Varas. We were disappointed not to be able to enjoy fully the views from the top, but at least we had walked and crossed (old and cold) lava rivers! And that is something cool to say.

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Our best shot at a view from above.

 

The following day we felt a bit more lazy in the morning and took our time to finally decide to head back towards the volcano area so we could see the main touristic attraction that we missed the day before. Some waterfalls close to the volcano. And because our trip seems to be full of irony, today was a wonderful and sunny day, and we could see the perfect entire volcano for the first time! And it looked wonderful.

During one hour of the bus ride we could admire it and get closer to it, and only regret the weather the day before. But we were not to complain, for seeing the sun and feeling warm is also something we learned to appreciate! The waterfall area was very nice. It is very often that in general waterfalls are nice, but if in the background you place this perfectly shaped volcano, well it feels even nicer!

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Volcano + Waterfalls

Unfortunately (or fortunately for our legs), it was very little walk to reach the waterfalls, so we were soon back in town to chill out by the side of the lake, and eat some huge dulce de leche ice creams! It was nice to just walk around the lakeside and to see the sunset from the shoreAnd we also did a bit of shopping for the following day, 1st of May when every single shop observes the holiday day and remain closed.

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That is the day we decided to travel to Pucón, in the Lake and Rivers district for more adventures!

We saw Castro!

After our never ending boat ride to leave Patagonia, we arrived on the island of Chiloe.

Each time we heard about Chiloe, people, or books told us that it was a very different and special place in Chile, so we were very eager to see it by ourselves! And yes, we can confirm it felt different from the Chile we’ve seen so far. The island is very hilly, and green, very different from the high mountains and deep valleys we experienced when we were in Patagonia. The vegetations looked different as well, everything was very green here. And because we’re on an island, there is actually a lot of seaside small towns, harbours and colorfuls boats everywhere!

We stayed in the biggest city on the island, Castro, which is also very central. And it was also the first “real city” since we left Ushuaia almost a month ago. With some traffic, but also lots of vendors in the street with fresh products from the boat or from the fields, and a lot of other products. Full of small shops, bakeries, butcheries, fruits markets… it felt good to be back to civilisation as the places we crossed in Patagonia so far felt more like small villages, or fully dedicated to tourism cities. Here it was just full of people, and activity. And the tourism business was more than diluted into this ordinary city life feeling.

We spent a full day walking around town; the hill tops gave nice views of the seaside and coast, and the small streets offered Chiloe’s typical architectural features. Most of the small wooden houses have a distinctive wooden cladding on the outside walls. These traditional shingles are seen all over the island, and always come in a wide vairety of colors.

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In between some coffees and pie slices, we also went to see the San-Fransisco church on the main square. It is a big and tall wooden church, with very nice interiors, as well as not-your-everyday-church-colors outside. Look at this purple and yellow facade!

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Finally, we ended the day by walking down to the seaside, to get closer to Castro’s maybe most famous sight, the Palafitos. After seeing every second hotel, cafe, or restaurant in town called Palafitos-something, Merima really started to wonder what it meant. Well you have to go down by the shore to see it. Palafitos are wooden houses, built above the water. At low tide, they are standing high above the sandy ground. When the tide changes and the water comes back, the outside terraces transform themselves into jetty and docks that you can access with boat. As every house is painted in different colors, it makes for a very nice view, best observed from the opposite shore. Because if you start to get closer, and walk in the street between the palafitos and the sea, you can’t realise how they are built, as they look like any other regular house.

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Chiloe is one of the wettest and rainiest places in Chile. It is said that it can rain up to 3000 mm of water per year. Well, we witnessed some of that too. If our first day in Castro was mostly clear, the second day offered some authentic masses of rain! We planned to go away from the city to have a look at Chiloe’s National Park, a bumpy one hour ride in minibus away. And from the moment we went in the minibus, in early morning, to the moment we came back in town later in the afternoon, it rained.

It rained continuously, and we got wet. But we did hike too. The little information we could gather before going to the park was not accurate enough, as we wanted to do a long hike, but realised it started 20 km away from the park entrance. That 40 km walk to and back the starting point, plus the 25 km hike, that was a bit too much. So we settled for some shorter hikes, the only option available actually. Maybe that was a better decision for our health too, because after one hour and half of the first path we were drenched. The hike was nice though, going into some very dense native forest, with different kind of vegetatation than what we’ve seen so far. If the temperature had been a bit higher than 12°C we could have imagined ourselves in the amazonian jungle without any effort. Somebody optimistic would have even said that the rain, the wind and the low clouds surrounding the park gave a very mysterious atmosphere to the day.

After 90 min of walk, we were back at the starting point, wet to our bones, and we decided to eat our lunch in the only dry place available: the one room informative museum which had no electricity, nor any staff to be seen. After a very quick lunch we decided it was time to move again, to prevent us to catch pneumonia. So we put on our wet jackets, and return into the rain for another half an hour. Just the time needed to catch the minibus heading back to Castro. And guess what, as we reach town, the rain stops. Typical.

The sky cleared, which brought amazing light and views of the seaside again. We took a small walk close to the harbour and the fishmarket, and it opened up our apetite for some nice and fresh crab stew and crab salad for dinner!

Next we leave Chiloe, and heads towards The German part of the Alps, Puerto Varas.