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Notes before Leaving October 29, 2009

Posted by Jen Pappas in Chile Posts.
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Looking back on our time in Chile, we were able to recall quite a few cultural nuances we’d be fools not to share.

• Street performers that actually perform in the middle of intersections, in between cars stopped at the traffic lights. We witnessed jugglers, dancers, cheerleaders and even a mime doing their thing while the light was red, stopping to collect money from drivers moments before the light would change.

• We found some of our favorite new beverages while in Chile. No, the sickeningly sweet and disgustingly named Pap soda did not make the cut.

1) Mote con Huesillo is a tasty desert beverage you actually eat as well as drink. It´s made from boiled barley, sweetened water and rehydrated sun dried peaches.

2) Cola de Mono is typically drunk only around Christmas time and consists of coffee, milk, aguardiente liqueur, and flavored with vanilla and cloves. The name literally means Tail of the Monkey and is quite potent.

3)Kunstmann beer is just really good- sort of tastes like Newcastle.

• There is a very serious love and devotion for Chorrillana in Chile, with entire restaurants serving this dish and this dish only. Technically, Chorrillana is a heaping plate of french fries covered in chopped steak, fried egg and grilled onion. We call it a heart attack waiting to happen.

• Wild packs of disheveled dogs in dire need of a bath rule the streets. They are the true cops, robbers and politicians of Chile.

• Music is truly the lifeblood of South America and is regularly piped into schoolyards at recess, buses during rush hour, public restrooms and town squares. Music is everywhere.

The Painted Face of Valparaiso October 29, 2009

Posted by Jen Pappas in Valparaiso text.
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Valparaiso is a city that knows itself quite well. Long deemed the cultural center of Chile, the city was declared a Unesco World Heritage site in 2003. Bright, crumbling homes are scattered haphazardly across hillsides overlooking the Pacific. Ancient ascensors (funicular elevators) clamber up the steepness, full of secrets dating back to 1883 and 1917. Virtually every surface- stairwells, sidewalks and concrete walls are littered with graffiti, stencils and street art. Bohemians, poets and misfits flock to Valparaiso not only for its creative spirit and artistic freedom but for its natural beauty and historic filth. 

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            Somewhat of a cross between San Francisco and turn-of-the-century Paris, Valparaiso has plenty to offer in the way of visual stimulus. The hostel we stayed in was a perfect example. The house was built in 1925 and only recently renovated and re-designed by a Chilean artist. There was in fact a real trapeze hanging from the high rafters near the breakfast table. Steve managed to hoist himself up not once, but twice, graciously posing for other backpackers who wanted photographic proof for their friends and family back home.

            We spent the majority of our time in Valparaiso roaming the streets, befriending bar owners, touring the home of Chile’s most prized poet, (Pablo Neruda), soaking up street art, bumming around cafes and hiking up hills. We also took a cheap harbor cruise, found real tofu and over-tipped a Chilean lounge singer at Cinzano, a local haunt that’s been around since 1896.

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The fine lady who introduced Steve to his new favorite drink, Cola de Mono (Tail of the Monkey). -Valparaiso, Chile

            I think the photos speak for themselves.

Another Desert, Another Sea October 16, 2009

Posted by Jen Pappas in Atacama Desert, Chile Posts.
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Traveling for an extended period of time is a practice in suspending one’s disbelief. The world opens up, the possessions you own hold no value and comfort zones are a thing of the past. Even better, just when you think life has become as surreal as it gets, the natural world steps forth to up the ante even more.

So what does one do in the driest desert in the world? You go to see the geysers, float in saline lakes and hike to the Valley of the Dead, what else? We decided to really go for it and booked two separate tours for the same day. We awoke at 3:30 a.m. only to discover that the power had gone out again (a very common occurrence in San Pedro, you almost get used to eating dinner by candlelight) so we were forced to get dressed and pack our day bag in the dark, using the meager light emitted by our iPods to find our socks and sunscreen.

The tour van picked us up shortly after 4 a.m. for the two-hour drive to the Tatio Geysers, some 13,000 feet above sea level. Tours leave daily at this ungodly hour in order to arrive by 6 a.m., when the geysers are at their liveliest, spewing hot white plumes of gas into the frigid air. And by frigid, I mean frigid, with temperatures hovering below freezing. Our rogue tour guide kept passing tour bus after tour bus on the road leading into the national park, putting us in first place to view the geyser fields.

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We stepped out into the chilly air and headed directly for a small path leading through a row of smoking fumaroles. Let me remind you, South America is not the United States. There are very few rules and even fewer barricades, so if visitors want to risk their lives falling into a belching geyser, so be it. No one is going to stop you. For this very reason, you will notice the photo of Jen warming her frozen hands over the hot gas permeating from our earth’s molten core.

As magnificent as the geysers themselves were, they were rendered all the more beautiful by the rising sun- turning each plume of gas into a technicolor cloud like something straight out of a Renaissance painting. The surrounding landscape was equally awe-inspiring: azure sky, crisp mountains and pure white tufts of cloud with the moon still hanging on.

Our tour guide put out a simple breakfast of hot tea (thank God!), cookies, sliced bread and several tubes of ham paste. Afterwards, we all piled back into the van, making a brief stop at a bubbling pothole of mud so all the Chilean women could paint their faces with it, hoping for eternal youth.

Our second stop was at a thermal pool, where Steve gladly got into his swim trunks and I perched myself on a rock to write, still too cold to consider taking any of my clothes off. Our first tour ended with a 30-minute stop in the minuscule town of Machuca: nothing to write home about, just a handful of tiny homes with straw roofs and a dollhouse-like church sitting atop a hill. Steve and I stole a cup of tea from the ramshackle snack shop and took a few goofy photos.

We arrived back at our hostel at 12:30 p.m. just enough time to take a shower and a twitchy nap before our next tour started at three.

Our second tour guide was much more dynamic, barely sweating it at all when our van broke down en route to our first stop, stranding us in the middle of a vast wasteland under a vicious sun. Everyone took the mishap in stride, pretending to snap photos as our guide tinkered under the hood. Lo and behold, we made it to the Cejas Lagoon- so salty anyone and everyone can float there with ease. Again, the landscape was stunning: nothing for miles and miles except this emerald lake surrounded by sharp crusts of salt.

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The water was cold! But Steve took it like a champ, delighted and surprised once he was finally submerged to discover that he too could float. “It’s a known fact,” he told me, “Yennies don’t float.” But he did, big feet and all.

When he emerged to take a few more photos before leaving, a thick layer of salt collected across his entire body, stinging his face, ears and mouth. Guess he didn’t understand the Spanish warning our guide issued everyone before arriving: Don’t dunk your head into the lagoon!

After a lackluster stop at two stinking pools of water that somehow resemble eyes, we were on to our third and final destination. Tebinquiche Lagoon is most striking, known for its rugged, snow-white patches of salt crusts resembling baby glaciers, so strong you can walk on them. By this time, it was almost sunset, so our guide served up a round of pisco sours and put out a spread of quickly devoured snacks for us as we waited for the show.

Spectacular is the only way to describe it: five different cloud formations in the sky, with sunlight playing off the water and the salt pockets, smearing color everywhere. Steve ran around taking pictures like a kid who just heard Christmas had begun and would last forever. All of it went to our heads a little as we stood there, smiling like idiots in a parking lot in the desert.

When the salt icebergs no longer glowed and the sky finally took its exhale, we all packed into the van for the long ride home; or what we know of home now.

Life in the Long Country October 10, 2009

Posted by Jen Pappas in Arica and Iquique, Chile Posts.
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Since leaving Peru on an ancient train at 6 in the morning, our fake daily lives have changed considerably. Now, we’re converting our money into pesos instead of soles, reluctantly adapting to how expensive Chile is (at least by South American standards). Now, we are struggling to communicate all over again, as Chileans speak a somewhat accelerated, slang-ridden form of Spanish that is tough to pick up on right away. Somehow, we are also one hour ahead of Peru, which still fails to make sense.

But let’s back up a moment…

Our final day in Arequipa, we toured the Monasterio Santa Catalina, a 16th century citadel surrounded by high walls that take up an entire city block. We ambled through a maze of sunny courtyards, humble living quarters and a multitude of large, stone kitchens for about two hours. These nuns must have loved to eat, judging from how many kitchens there were. But then again, what else was there for them to do besides eat and pray?

We packed up and left the next day for the wholly unremarkable border town of Tacna. We stayed just long enough to get lost, check in to a crappy hotel and get some sleep before our 5:45 a.m. departure. The single-car relic of a train left Peru on September 26 and actually arrived at it´s destination, Arica, Chile an hour and a half later.

Again, being a border town, Arica is fairly unremarkable, known mostly for it’s powerful El Gringo surf break and the looming El Morro cliff that towers over downtown. Despite the city’s shortcomings, it did bring us to Max, a fun-loving Aussie we befriended and ended up spending a lot of time with in Iquique for a week-long host of ocean-side shenanigans.

Romantically enough, Iquique means “where the birds and the wolves sleep”, and was our first real taste of Chile. Iquique is an emerging beach-front city that sits quite austerely below a massive sand dune about 1,093 miles north of Santiago. We checked into a hostel directly across from the beach and let ourselves get carried away ever so slightly by the party atmosphere and a flood of new friends. Along with being the most fun place we’ve stayed thus far, the hostel in Iquique also deserves the award for weirdest shower. The shower head is actually in the same tiny stall as the toilet. So yes, for eight days we showered right next to the toilet, trying not to get the toilet paper wet. A handy mop located right outside the door was used to dry the floor when you were finished.

The Iquique coastline. Big developments and numerous resorts are beginning to pop up overnight.

The Iquique coastline. Big developments and numerous resorts are beginning to pop up overnight.

After the party-hearty, city-like atmosphere of Iquique, we were both ready for some peace and quiet. The impossibly small, oasis town of San Pedro de Atacama, (the driest desert in the world) seemed to fit the bill.

Hence, here we are in San Pedro de Atacama, firmly ensconced in the solitude and silence only the desert can bring.