Saturday, December 21, 2013

Reverse Culture Shock

    I cant believe I'm home. I saw my dog, saw my friends, handed out Argentine gifts (I'm saving lots for Christmas- I spent my last 200 pesos on Alfajores), and am quickly adjusting to normalcy. But there are some things that I'm not quite used to yet that just don't feel natural. For one, I'm in such a habit of putting the toilet paper in the trash instead of the toilet, that if I don't break this habit, my roommate at DU is not going to be happy with me. Second, although I've been saying I can't wait for the snow, I really meant I can't wait for the snow in the mountains when I ski, and not in town where I have to drive and walk in the cold. I'm coming from 100 degree weather to 20 degrees, and not Celsius. Third, I am used to talking to my IFSA American friends in English, and strangers in Spanish. For example, ordering food, or going through processes at an airport, or meeting someone for the first time- these are all times I would normally use Spanish. I need to remember to greet people in English now. Fourth, I've felt like an 8th grader the past 5 months based on the academic level of my classes. I start the accounting core in 2 weeks, which is going to be the biggest culture shock of all when I actually have to go to classes and study to pass my class.
    The past five months were the most adventurous times of my life. I traveled almost all of Argentina, and the two surrounding countries. I made some of the greatest friends that I am sure we will stay in touch and remember our adventures together forever. We already have reunions planned. I learned so much about myself and about other cultures, demonstrating to me what is important in life and how a society becomes successful and efficient. I appreciate so much more now. My life in Colorado is so much more fortunate than a large percentage of the Argentine population. Who knows if I will get an opportunity like this ever again.

Back to where I started

   I took my parents around Buenos Aires this weekend for my last two days of my five month long study abroad adventure. I took them to all the same tourist spots I've already been, including the Casa Rosada, La Boca neighborhood, the Recoleta cemetery, and Puerto Madero.
    However, this weekend, we went to a tango show, which I have never done before! Buenos Aires is the tango capital of Argentina, so we couldn't leave without seeing a show. There are so many different shows here, but each one has its own special theme. Carlos Gardel, the show we went to, had an emphasis on songs composed by Carlos Gardel, showing a video on his life and work. Other shows focus on tango related art, singing, or acting, in addition to the dance.
    All of the shows offer a transfer to the theater, so you don't have to drive, and will pick you up in a van and take you to the show. The dinner was better then expected, since its probably cooked in advance for so many people. It was three courses with unlimited wine, and we took cheesy pictures with the dancers that the company tried to sell us.
    The dancing was spectacular. There were a few different couples, and all did different kinds of tango. Some were more athletic, doing flips and twirls. Others were more traditional, with women wearing frilly dresses or a classy pants suit. Then there were the classic sexy couple in tight and revealing dresses.  A couple dances were preformed by multiple pairs, and other numbers were just a solo singer. The songs must have been quite famous because the women sitting on either side of us were singing along dramatically, and knew every word. The costumes and skills were intricate and beautiful.
    Neither of my parents are city people, and neither am I, but they handled the heavy traffic of cars and people very well in Buenos Aires. We took cabs a couple times, and did quite a bit of walking too, but oddly we experienced some rain, which I didn't think was very common in Mendoza or Buenos Aires. But I guess I haven't experienced this season yet in Argentina, and maybe it rains more in the spring and summer.  It also gets so hot in Buenos Aires during the summer that the electricity often goes out, leaving lots of buildings and homes without power for days. The apartment building we stayed at had half of the building without power (luckily not our half). I could never live in Buenos Aires, it's way too big of a city for me with too much heat, noise and people. I'm so glad I chose Mendoza instead of Buenos Aires for study abroad.
    Since we took cabs all weekend around Buenos, we didn't think there would be a problem getting to the airport for our flight back to the US. However, not many of the cabs like to drive to the airport, because it takes so long to get out of town and takes up so much time and space with all the suitcases, so we couldn't find a cab for 45 minutes on the street. We were waiting on a street corner for almost an hour, watching not only the occupied cabs pass by, but also the empty ones who's cab driver wouldn't even look at us because they didn't want to deal with the luggage or driving out of town. Many of them shook their fingers at us, or looked away. After we started to get worried, I had to ask a security guard for what to do, if there was a bus we could take, and he went and spoke to a cab driver and convinced him to take us. We paid almost 50% more than what it should have been, but at least we made it to the airport in time for our flight, after an hour and a half in traffic. We were lucky we left enough time.
    The security to get out of the country is more strict than traveling within the country. We had to get our bags checked twice; once at security, and once right before the gate. We couldn't even bring water onto the plane once we'd been through security. It was a major culture shock once we were in Houston and had to deal with American security measures again. I forgot what it was like to have to remove every article of clothing to go through the security. Twelve hours and 3 movies later on the plane, I was landing on Colorado soil, or I should say snow, because a light frost greeted us at the airport, reminding me that I was home, and that Christmas is soon!

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

El sur de Argentina

    My dad has always wanted to visit the Argentinian side of Patagonia, and finally we accomplished that goal in El Chaltén and El Calafate. These two mountain towns are 180 km apart, but you have to fly to Calafate, then drive or take a bus north to Chaltén. This is a tiny little mountain town known for it's location next to Cerro Fitz Roy, a massive mountain with towering rock formations. There are no other towns or civilization past Chaltén, only hiking trails and camping, so all of the natural water sources in the area are potable. All of the streams and lakes are made from uncontaminated glacier melt, allowing you to drink the water straight from the source. We found our hotel in Chaltén, a small town of maybe a couple hundred people, and where there are no elevators in the whole town. I'm lugging around a giant heavy suitcase with all my stuff from the past five months, so people probably think I'm the bratty teenager who overpacked for Patagonia, where the rest of the tourists are all just trekking with one backpack. I'm just glad I didn't initially pack more. Study abroad really makes you realize that rewearing clothes, fanny packs, and wearing your jacket around your waist is really the most convenient way to travel. There were lots of people camping in town, because you can trek straight from town for their two most popular hikes: Mount Fitz Roy and Cerro Torre.
    When we arrived to El Chaltén in the evening, it was pouring rain, and none of the surrounding mountains could be seen, so instead we just enjoyed a hot meal of lamb lasagna, with pisco sours and vino caliente for dessert while watching the rain. The restaurant and town were very homey and comfortable, and we were fortunate to receive bright and sunny weather the next day for our trek to Mount Fitz Roy. We started at 8:30 am from the town, and hiked 8 hours and 16 miles to come to probably the most breathtaking view I've ever seen.
    The first hour of the hike was straight up hill to the first viewpoint of the mountain. Lots of people turn around there because you think you've seen it all. But if you keep going on the trail, it gets flatter and easier, and winds through the valley and past a couple lagunas, across the Rio Blanco, and past a couple camp spots. The last hour of the hike is literally straight up hill, even more than that first hour, and the trail is made of big stone steps, but the steam runs through the trail at parts, making the stones wet and slippery, a treacherous task when already tired from the past ten kilometers. At the very top of this ridge, you find yourself at the base of Fitz Roy, which you could only previously see from behind the ridge, so it's a completely new perspective. There is a hidden lake you never would've known about, which is sparkling turquoise, and the towers of the mountain look even more massive, and the glaciers more blue. We couldn't help but sit and stare for about an hour. We drank the ice cold glacier water from the lake. I thought it was some of the most refreshing water I've ever had. The steep part on the way down takes as long as the way up because you have to be so careful on the wet stones. It actually hurt my legs quite a bit putting so much pressure in my knees, but the view was worth every minute of pain and soreness I've been experiencing the past couple days. We kept looking back on the way down, trying to get one last view. The lighting on the mountain kept changing throughout the 8 hours we were hiking, along with the clouds, so every view point was different.
    The next day we weren't as lucky with weather, or the status of our sore legs, and our hike to Cerro Torre got cut short. The clouds were not allowing a clear view of the Cerro. In fact, I didn't see it at all, because we found out, based on the map on the trail, that the mountain we thought was Cerro Torre was actually Cerro Solo (which was petty impressive itself), but Cerro Torre was completely covered in clouds. The rain came too, so we left for El Calafate earlier that afternoon to explore this mountain town, which is much bigger and more touristy. My mom and I convinced my dad to give us some time for gift shopping, so we looked at all the artisanal markets. I'm so glad I bought a lot of gifts on my spring break trip up north, because the things I bought in Salta and Jujoy are triple the price in Patagonia. This is because Jujoy is one of the poorest provinces.
    The Perito Moreno Glacier is 80 km out of Calafate, and unfortunately, we didn't get to do any full day excursions (like ice trekking on the glacier) because our flight to Buenos Aires was mid afternoon, but we still went to the national park bright and early (right when it opened) and glacier watched for 4 hours. This is one of few glaciers in Patagonia where the ice comes so close to land that people can access it by land rather than by boat. The ice comes within a couple hundred feet of the shore of the lake, so the national park has built balconies and walk ways all along the coast so people can see the glacier from really close. The paths are actually very intricate, with an elevator for handicapped, and the paths bring you pretty low down on the coast. They have areas with wind shields and benches too. The entire area was so cold from the wind.
    It's hard to tell just how massive the glacier is when you are watching it from the balconies, but it is actually 180 feet tall and 5 km across at the widest part, and it goes back 14 km into the mountains. We were some of the first people in the park today, when the balconies were empty. All morning long we watched pieces breaking off of the glacier and falling into the lake. It's spectacular to see the glacier calving because the pieces look small from a distance, but are actually the size of a house. We thought the first calving we saw was amazing, but then we kept seeing even bigger pieces break off. The ice makes creaking and cracking sounds right before it breaks, so we'd turn around at every sound, trying not to miss a good one. The ice falls so slowly too, it's hard to miss, but we went to the bathroom right when we felt the biggest rumble, and missed a huge chunk of ice fall to the water. We could see the build up in the water of that chunk afterwords and couldn't believe we missed it. It's crazy how much the shape of the glacier changes throughout the day. But then, at the very end of our stay, right as we turn around to leave, we heard the biggest crack, and an entire sheet from top to bottom of the glacier broke off, all 180 feet, making the biggest waves in the lake. We were so lucky to see that. We ended the day well, and headed to the airport to fly to Buenos Aires.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

San Carlos de Bariloche

    After being a tour guide around Mendoza twice, I'm really excited to be traveling to new places with my parents before going home. My first stop was Bariloche in northern Patagonia. Bariloche is the lake district in Argentina, and after being there for four days, I couldn't get enough of the gorgeous views of all the lakes. Every vantage point was a little different of the sparkling lakes and foresty mountains, but the entire area was lined with yellow flowers called retamas that have taken over the sides of the streets and all the open space. There are hidden lakes in between the hills, and bridges that cross over the rivers. The snow capped Andes are in the background with uniquely jagged rock formations and glaciers on top melting into waterfalls. Some of the rocks on top of the mountains look like horns or spikes. And we saw some beautiful pink sunsets over the sparkling lakes. It's kind of a magical place.
    We arrived there Tuesday and rented a car to find the house we rented, discovering that our house, although 21 kilometers out of town, is in the most beautiful and popular part of Bariloche, on the San Pedro peninsula. We had a bit of a drive to find the house, but it had a deck overlooking the lake and the islands across the water, with full glass windows to see the view too. There is German and Swiss influence in the area, so the first night we went to a German beer garden to try artisanal beer from Bariloche, called Berlina. The restaurant sat us on the grass, picnic style, until a table opened up, from which we could see an open meadow of horses grazing and the sun going down. The next day we drove through the tourist circuits around the lakes, weaving through forests and past beaches and panoramic viewpoints. At a few stops we hiked a couple kilometers to reach a mirador, or a viewpoint. The forests were overgrown with the retamas, a bamboo type plant, and a tree with a funky orange fruit that falls onto the forest floor and dries up. The bosque de los Arrayanes, which consisted of unique arrayane tees, is actually the influence for the design of the trees and forest in Bambi. We walked through the trails, which were overtaken by dead branches of the bamboo type plant that were leaning in towards the trail, creating arcs we had to duck under.
    The road brought us to Colonia  Suiza, an old Swiss colony that is now a tourist trap with craft items and artisanal chocolate. The factory of the Berlina beer is located there, which we took a short tour of to see how the beer was made.
    My friend Carolyn from IFSA joined my parents and me for the next two days since our giant lake shore house had two other empty rooms, and Carolyn was traveling by herself throughout Patagonia. The four of us hiked up Cerro Lopez, one of the mountains in Bariloche with a glacier and snow still on top. The hike brought us straight up hill, hiking in sand while swatting away hundreds of horse flies. There is a restaurant half way up the trail that serves beer and snacks, with a patio overlooking the lakes. It's a bit crazy that in the middle of our peaceful and remote hike, there is a restraunt reminding us that civilization isn't too far away. The second half of the hike leads to a refugio on the top of the mountain, which is a lodge where hikers can stay the night and obtain more food in the middle of their trek through the mountains in Bariloche. Refugio Lopez is a little pink house sitting right above tree line on Cerro Lopez, with the glacier and snow melt waterfalls as a backdrop. It baffled my mind that there was a little house that far up the mountain. I can't fathom how it was built. However, I realized when closer to finishing the hike that there is a road that goes up the mountain too, so it can't be too hard to deliver supplies to the house. Reaching the refugio was so satisfying, after two hours of steep incline in the heat with so many flies. We were slapping and waving our hands all over the whole hike to avoid the flies. I was especially proud of ourselves because the previous day at an information both at another hike, the information lady told us about this hike up Cerro Lopez, and said she could do it in two hours, but "us tourists" would probably take three. We reminded her we are from Colorado and know how to hike, and proved her wrong by hiking up in almost exactly two hours. The refugio actually had a pool built into the stone behind the house, with some of the coolest and most refreshing, clear water. I wish it wasn't too windy at the top to want to swim. The hike back down was dangerous in the steep sand, but surprisingly none of us fell once. We ended the hike with a stout beer and artisanal chocolate.
    We hiked a few more miradores the next day to get some different perspectives of the views. It's all so amazing, but the same view every time just from different vantage points. We explored Cerro Catedral, the ski resort in Bariloche, even though it's summer and there was no snow. Pink and purple lupins had taken over the ski runs, creating meadows just filled with flowers; it's too bad those will just get snowed on and covered up this winter.
One hike near the ski hill took us to see another lake, but we didn't hike long. We explored the town of Bariloche in the afternoon, which has Swiss influence in the architecture of the old churches and a famous clock tower. People were outside selling pictures with their St Bernards and young puppies. Every corner of the main street in town is a chocolate shop, so we tried all the different samples, and bought fancy desserts to try.
    It's been really fun traveling with my parents. It's such a different mood than my other travels here. We've been sleeping in late, making full breakfasts with eggs and real juice (not Tang). We rented a car, which has been really helpful in seeing everything. Nothing is better than home cooked meals either, so my mom made a few dinners of roasted vegetables, chicken, pasta. It's been really relaxing just having a glass of wine with my parents or sitting on the deck in the mornings. My dad tried fernet and coke, and I was so surprised he actually liked it and wanted more. Having my parents here replaces my college kid budget, which means I get to do some of the traveling quicker and easier, meaning flying instead of taking buses. It makes traveling so much easier.
     I missed my parents so much, it's so good to be reunited!

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

The Firmins take on Mendoza

I had two days in Mendoza between Blake's trip and my parent's, so I packed up, took advantage of my host family's pool that had been recently filled, and said a bittersweet goodbye to my host mom while handing over my keys and heading to the airport to pick up my parents. I found a city bus to the airport that was easy enough to find, but took me almost an hour and through some poorer parts of northern Mendoza. My parents had been traveling for 30 hours, a little extra than expected because of delays, and were almost in disbelief that we were reuniting after 5 months apart. They did a great job getting around the Buenos Aires airports without any Spanish, but now that I'm guiding them through Mendoza, I keep forgetting they don't speak Spanish and get frustrated when I forget to help translate. I guess that means that Spanish is feeling more natural for me. I forget to differentiate. My parents are both trying to incorporate their high school French and German language skills to get by, and it actually is pretty relevant to help figure out what some things mean. My mom is really good at inferring things; she reads some signs and food labels without my help and I'm impressed she can figure them out. Although I've spent the last 4 months getting pretty sufficiently pissed off when people always speak to me in English and don't let me speak Spanish, it's easier just to let people speak English to my parents than try to translate every single thing. More people speak decent English in Mendoza than I thought.
My tour guiding in Mendoza with Blake gave me some good practice to show my parents around, this time without errors. I'm pretty much taking them to the same places I took blake, except for the restaurants.
Their first night, I took my parents to a parilla for some typical Argentinian asado. We shared goat (chivito), steak with mushrooms, and sausages, and I showed them how much of a "wine expert" I am now by picking a Malbec they both really enjoyed (my method involved picking the second to cheapest wine bottle of any brand I've heard of -because a lot of the time at parties us IFSA kids just drink boxed wine). The first night was a success, and I let them catch up on sleep before the first activity on the schedule the next day-the hot springs. My parents were champs dealing with the public transportation; our bus on the way to the hot springs had a high pitch alarm going off constantly for the first ten minutes until the driver poured a giant jug of water down into the engine. But they really enjoyed the scenery and we people watched all day. Argentinians are generally really skinny, but for some reason I've seen some really ginormous people at the hot springs, and a lot of them are wearing really revealing swim suits.
   My parents got to try their first Argentinian empanada. When Blake was here, he probably ate about 50 ham and cheese empanadas, but my parents were a little more varied and tried the vegetables ones. And they've been impressed with all the food so far. I'm taking them to all the best places I've been.
    I took them the Cerro Arco, which kicked their butts from the steepness, and ended our time in Mendoza with biking and wine-ing. My parents accepted the challenge of riding a tandem bike, even though my mom wasn't that thrilled. We went to a few wineries I'd already been too, but also to a new one that makes all sweet wines and champagnes, which were all great. My parents were impressed with everything they learned in the wine tours, and everytime I go to one, the tour guide will always comment on how young I am, assuming I don't drink wine much or know much about it.
    It was so nice to show my parents around Mendoza after they've been hearing about it for four months. My dad said it was a much bigger city than he originally imagined, and my mom has really enjoyed the pedestrian streets with outdoor patios and artisanal markets. I even kept my parents out at the bars till 3 am, just so they could experience the Mendocino night life before leaving.
My last night in Mendoza I spent enjoying a glass of wine with my parents.  This was the perfect way to say goodbye to the place that's been my home since July.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Chilean adventures of Blake and Rachel

This time going to Chile I got to spend a little more time in Santiago. Blake and I had to figure out the metro upon arriving at the bus station. We've been on the go so much, I didn't quite do all my research for how to get to our hostels after the bus terminal. I had a general idea, but we had to ask a couple people to point us in the right direction. We've been traveling with two rolling suitcases, because Blake is helping take some stuff home for me at the end of the trip, so we are lugging a lot of stuff around. The first place we stayed in Santiago was a fifth floor apartment we found on Airbnb for cheap, with a rooftop pool on floor 27. From the roof we could see all of Santiago, and everybody else's rooftop pools. It was hot weather all weekend, but actually a little windy all the way on the 27th floor, where there was also a sauna, gym and patio.
    I took Blake to all the places I went to last time in Santiago. We stayed near Santa Lucia, a hill in the city with an old castle and great view of the city. We hiked up the castle, exploring the different churches and parts of the castle that are part of the hill. We went to the historical district to see the Plaza de Armas, walked through a park towards another park San Cristóbal, which has an old tram to ride up to the top of another hill for another great view. So most of our activities in Santiago involved finding great places to view the city.         Unfortunately, the workers were striking at this park, so it was closed for the day. One thing I have learned about Chilenos is that they like to strike. They are often striking at the border, like when Blake arrived to Mendoza, I've heard that the students strike a lot of years to protest paying for universities. We saw lots of little bits of paper flying everywhere in the wind and when traffic passed all throughout the city, and realized this is from other protests too, because a lot of student protest groups parade around the city with banners and loud noises throwing paper in the air. There is about to be a presidential election in Chile in a couple weeks, so it's getting the people all riled up.
    One thing I didn't realize about Santiago last time was how mountainous it is. There are mountains on every side of Santiago. It's basically right in the middle of the Andes. There are little mountains right in the middle of the city too, like San Cristóbal. And the city is very hazy. We could barely see the mountains the first morning. But the mountains are so tall we could see the snow on top of the tallest one through the haze and it just looked like clouds.
    Blake coincidentally knew a friend in Santiago who he studied abroad with in Guatemala, so we met up with him for drinks Friday night,  trying some German beer. Blake was pointing out the German influence all weekend in the style of architecture and layout of Viña del Mar and Valparaíso. Blake's friend Nicholas walked with us to a bar crawl that his friend runs in BellaVista, where all the bars are, and on the way gave us some great safety advice. We crossed bridges that he said were safer than the ones closer to tourist districts, because people wait for all the tourists at night, and at one point, Nicholas felt like someone was following us, so we stopped by an apartment building to get away from the potential robber. Chile has a pretty high pick pocketing crime scene, as does Mendoza, but all weekend people were warning us about keeping our valuables safe. The pub crawl turned into more of a hostel party, but we played some foosball against other tourists and met a bunch of people in a program that Chile's government funds called Start Up, and a bunch of young entrepreneurs come to Chile to start a new business.
      Saturday we spent some time at the pool, making use of our apartment kitchen to make salami and cheese subs, and then went back to San Cristóbal to take the funicular up the mountain. The funicular is an old railway cart pulled by a cable that took us to the top of the hill, passed the zoo, and up to a giant statue of the Virgin Mary and a church on the top. We were higher than any skyscraper or surrounding hills. While enjoying the view, I tried one of Chile's most typical drinks, called Mote, which is a very very sweat peach tea (all sugary syrup), with soft corn kernels in the bottom with whole peaches in it. The concept kind of reminded me of boba tea, because the corn kernels are a similar soft and rubbery texture. It tasted good because of all the sugar, and I liked the corn at the bottom, but could barely finish one cup because it was so sweet. We found a bunch of mountain bike and hiking trails down the mountain in the trees, which is such a neat part of Santiago because you can hike right on the middle of the city.
    Saturday night we found dinner at a Peruvian place that looked good, but really was just an over priced tourist trap, but then we bar hopped through BellaVista, trying more of Chile's typical drinks. The most common is the pisco sour, with pisco alcohol, similar to vodka, with citrus and egg whites in it. Then there are terremotos, which is basically a giant cup of white wine with pineapple liqueur and ice cream. I'd heard about these, but didn't know they were wine, so I made Blake try one with me, and since he hates wine, I ended up drinking both myself, which was plenty of wine and ice cream for one night. My conclusion about Chilean drinks is that they love to experiment with adding unique ingredients to their drinks: corn, egg whites, ice cream. And they turn out pretty good.
    Sunday we headed to Valparaíso, getting on a 6 dollar bus to take us two hours to the coast. Blake loved the rolling hills and graffiti on all of the cerros. Especially because GoPro filmed a downhill mountain biking video in the streets of Valpo, and we found the exact spot they filmed where the biker goes off a mount and rides sideways on the wall. We could tell based on the wall art. We explored the streets and I took Blake to where we saw the sea lions last time basking in the sun, where we also watched the sunset. I basically repeated what I did last time in Valpo with Blake, and tried to take him to where we surfed and sand surfed. However, since we were there on weekdays, nobody was out renting boards to surf, and the waves were too tiny that day to try to surf, so instead we beach hopped while walking along the coast, then hiked to the top of the dunes anyway to get another great view of the ocean.  I dropped my camera in the sand and unfortunately it isn't working well now, and we got some intense sunburns even though we put on sun screen all day, thanks to a hole in the ozone layer above Valpo, but despite this had a great time in Viña and Valpo.
   Sunday night, we discovered one of the best restaurants of all time. It's called the Color Cafe and it was two blocks from our hostel. The tiny cafe has maybe 8 tables, and the walls are completely decorated in magazine cut outs, notes and drawings from past customers, paintings, comic strips and everything else artsy. They have two options for a 5 course dinner for $10: vegetarian or meat. We both got the meat, and were extremely impressed with all 5 courses. It started with olive bread with 3 spreads that they kept refilling, a fresh salad with queso fresco, peppers, carrots, lettuce. Then a cream of vegetable soup, main entree of pork and steamed vegetables, and a dessert of coconut pie with dulce de leche. The meal options change every day, and I could tell that the chefs had no recipe, they simply find what is fresh that day and make it taste awesome. We talked to the two chefs for a while, both guys probably 30 years old, cooking in a tiny little kitchen, and left great tips because we were so satisfied. Part of how great it was came from the fact that it was so unexpected. We'd had pretty bad food lately on the go, and this made up for all of the previous bad meals.
    Monday night was our night for a fancy dinner, and we were tempted to go back to the Color Cafe, but instead we walked around Valpo to find a nice restaurant, and were drawn into a rooftop patio by the sounds of a trumpet player. So we got a table looking out over all of Valparaiso at night, with all the lights sparkling on the hills, with some jazz music playing in the background, and it was the perfect setting. The drinks didn't start off great, nor did the service, but we were pleasantly surprised how great the food was. We ordered a meat platter with sauces and fried  palenta. We had rabbit meat, chorrizo, and caramelized chicken. Also we had three different types of bruschettas, and I was amazed Blake actually tried and liked the smoked salmon. The problem with sharing a plate with Blake is that I have to fight for my share of food; he'll eat it all so fast before I even get a chance.
      Our last day of the trip we walked around Valpo more, hiking to the top of one of the bigger hills, but we found ourselves in an area that was no longer meant for tourists, it looked a little sketchy and run down, so we quickly got out of there and explored some more markets, making sure Blake has plenty of sweets and treats to take home with him. We went back to the color cafe for lunch, and were just as pleased with the asado lunch.
    Blakes flight was early Wednesday morning, at 5 am, so I tried to find a hostel close to the bus terminal in Santiago so he could take a bus to the airport and I wouldn't have to go too far alone to get on a bus in the morning. But when I was booking the hostel, somehow the address pulled up wrong in google maps, and it was actually located in the main Plaza in Santiago. So we tried calling the hostel; the number didn't work, and the website was very vague. We weren't sure if it even existed after all. So after weighing our options and getting advice from Blake's friend in Santiago, we realized he'll just have to take a taxi and we'd stick with the hostel reservation. We had to lug our suitcases through the metro again and were bitter about the extra trek we were having to make, but when we arrived at our stop late at night, the entire plaza has been decorated with Christmas lights, and we found out that the hostel was located in a super fancy old building. The hostel had the top floor of the building with glass doors to view out and a giant patio. It was a shame we were only there one night, or just half a night for Blake, because it was possibly the nicest hostel yet.
    Blake left at 2 am, and I got on a 9 am bus back to Mendoza. There were only 6 people on my bus, but my bus driver raged past all the other buses to get first in line for the border crossing, making some pretty risky passes on double yellow with cars approaching. I had the front row seat up top, and I hadn't stayed awake for this drive before, so I did this time, and got an amazing view of the Chilean Andes. The pass through the Andes is pretty terrifying. There are barely any guardrails, and if there are, they are probably the height of half of one of the bus tires. We made it through customs in exactly 12 minutes, which is probably record time and made up for having to spend 5 hours there on the way out. But now I'm back in Mendoza, packing up, and getting ready to travel another two weeks with my parents!

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Happy Thanksgiving!

For Thanksgiving, Blake and I spent 11 hours on a bus to Chile, spending 5 of those hours stopped at the immigrations office between 1:30  and 6:30 am. Last time I went to Chile it took 3 hours at the border, so I was shocked we were there so long, especially because there were only 3 buses total waiting to go through the border. This is the best example of how inefficient the government can be in Latin American countries. Most of the time we were waiting at the border, the workers were just hanging out doing pretty much nothing. At the point where we had to get our bags checked, we waiting about 10 minutes for one of the workers to finish packaging something, then one of them took their precious time to pick out music on their giant flat screen tv, picking a song from the soundtrack of Greece. It was definitely abnormal that it took 5 hours for only 3 buses to cross. When we were done with the process, it was already light out and we could see the sun rising over the Andes. It's actually a really intimidating drive down the Chilean side of the pass, because the double-decker bus is driving really fast around tight switchbacks right next to the giant mountains in the Andes. Some of the places where they have built the road are right next to 90 degree mountain faces, where you can see all the places that rocks have slid down the mountain. We were in the cama seats on the first floor of the bus, and you can feel the curves of the road so much more on the bottom floor. We had white bread sandwiches with one slide of ham and one slice of cheese for Thanksgiving dinner that the bus company gave us. Yum.