Day 299: Santiago – Chile – April 12th

Hopping onto a morning bus, it was delayed about 40mins, showing signs of things to come. The drive to the Chilean border from Mendoza was about 3hrs, and about 2hrs into the drive as we were in the middle of nowhere up the Andes, our bus broke down…. Luckily, we stocked up on food for any contingencies, and we only had to wait about 1hr next to a run down set of train tracks in the middle of nowhere up the Andes.

Chatting up with fellow passengers, we met a Brazilian couple, two travelers from Portugal and India respectively, and some Australians that look like they’re here to try out for a rugby team, with their jerseys and slacks, and going everywhere with a rugby ball (?) as we waited. Luckily, another bus from the same company stopped by about an hour or so, and it was good as this bus was an upgrade from our bus. Leather seats, yea!

At the border, we waited about 2hrs to go through Chilean customs. As mentioned before, these guys are serious when it comes with protecting their border, and the main reason it takes so long is because EVERYONE has to take their luggage to get scanned while they inspect the bus for anything suspicious. Thorough, but annoying for normal people like us. Snacking on an empanada, it felt like a LONG time as we waited for buses ahead of us go through customs. We were happy to get back on our way to Santiago.

As we neared the bus station in the centre of Santiago, the streets got narrower and traffic got more serious. Stuck in a tiny alley barely able to fit two cars let alone tour buses, we were stuck in traffic once again until we FINALLY got off the bus, into the bus station and a bit clueless of where we needed to go. The bus station was crowded and rowdy, but the Brazilians were nice enough to pass along a map they had so at least we can figure out where we were. Disoriented and quite hungry, we did the most logical thing, follow the flow. Eventually, we made it to a subway station, and figured out how to get to our hostel. The subway in Santiago is EXTREMELY efficient, clean, organized and beautifully decorated with wall murals. Makes the BA metro system look like a dump….

Our hostel was located about a 15min walk from the subway, but was very cozy and we were lucky enough to get a massive room all to ourselves as nobody else was there. We stopped nearby at a sushi restaurant for dinner. For some strange reason, Santiago has a ridiculous abundance of sushi restaurants!! The sushi was alright, the ramen probably worst than instant noodles, and the rolls had a lot of cheese in it…. hehe, interesting experience.

Not sure what to expect in Santiago, but we’ll do more exploring tomorrow!

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Day 284: Trevelin – Argentina – Mar 28th

Waking up, the weather outside was foggy and wet, reassuring us that not waking up for the sunrise was correct! Down at the dining room, the host brought out some really awesome breakfast. With real coffee, tasty bread and delicious jam. The whole setting reminds you of wonderful B&Bs you’d get in Niagara or somewhere warm and cozy! Talking to the host, we confirmed that she was indeed born in the village and the daughter of one of the founders of the village. This whole house was built by her father, and the craftsmanship is astounding as everything in the whole place is ORIGINAL. Our hardwood floors couldn’t last a single winter without showing signs of shitty craftsmanship, theirs lasted 50 years…. Looking around the house, it was full of interesting objects and pictures of this towns short but storied history.

We headed out, bid our farewells to the host, and wandered aimlessly around the town. There was a carpet factory tour, but they were on siesta when we got there. The town itself was very small, and lots of little hotels and shops dot the streets. Not in much of a hurry, we ate lunch at a recommended spot, and had possibly the best steak AND best beer we’ve had on this trip so far. The beer was actually produced by another child of the original founders, and never have we had such a tasty fruity lager before. Unfortunately, they don’t sell it anywhere else! And only a few restaurants have it!!! Such a shame…… and as much as we loved to stay and relax here for another day, we had much more ahead of us.

On the road for the rest of the afternoon, we made it to the Chilean border town of Futuleufu around sunset. There’s one thing that’s almost as impressive as the Chilean tourist offices, it would be their parks. Every city, town or village has a BEAUTIFUL and MASSIVE park located in the middle, with lots of public space all over. You really feel that the gov’t here is at least doing something, and seems pretty organized as well. We snapped a few pictures and headed to the road leading us back into Argentina. Getting out of Chile this time was much easier, and we got out of the office in about 10minutes before driving another 5minutes to the Argentine customs office. We rolled in, and the office pointed us to a spot to park…strange, seems like all the officers were all standing outside. When we got out of the car, they yelled at us “MAS RAPIDO, RAPIDO!”. We were confused, but never are we going not do what the customs officer says, so we ran inside and did our stuff. A slight confusion occurred with Alan’s dual passport situation, as his Cdn passport is almost running out of pages he opted to switch to his HKSAR passport, which gave the customs officer too much to contemplate. Nevermind, they were too eager to shut down and head back home as they closed at 8pm! Turns out, we got there at 7:58pm…. lucky us, as a car got turned around as soon as we got outside.

Driving into the even bigger city of Trevelin (est. 10,000 people!), we had a hard time finding the hostel we wanted to stay at. It was recommended by our guidebook, by our hosts in Puyuhuapi and the website pictures looked amazing!! Luckily, the tourist office was still opened at 8:30pm and we headed in to ask, only to find out IT HAS BEEN CLOSED FOR TWO YEARS! W T F? We had a tough time finding a place to stay, but drove around and found a really cute B&B run by an old lady in her own home…..

Cooking dinner, which was once again pasta with dehydrated soup mix, our host saw us cooking, then came in with a bag of apples saying she had too many and it was a gift to us. I think she pitied us at our meager (but tasty) meal, and gave us the apples out of kindness. What a nice lady! The apples were great too….haha!

We can’t wait til tomorrow, as the real reason we came to Trevelin lies in one, and only one reason….

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Day 283: Puyuhuapi – Chile – Mar 27th

Waking up and having some sweet freshly baked bread in our cozy hostel, we had a nice breakfast while our Polish friends already ate in the comforts of their own room. During breakfast, our host asked us “Quieren mas vida?”, and we were quite confused until she repeated “Quieren mas agua?”, which meant would you like more water. This was rather strange but every region has their own little version of Spanish, which made the ONLY graffiti we saw all of yesterday make so much more sense…. “Agua es Vida!”. Ha ha. Water is Life.

We headed out and drove to the airport located in the town of Balmaceda, a bit out from the city of Coyhaique. The Polish couple was extremely grateful, and we were also grateful for having their company. They would make their flight, and we made their day. Public transportation is NOT easy in this part of Chile, so they were happy to make Iit to the airport.

The drive towards Coyhaique are some beautiful rolling hills with farms harvesting their crops, as it is harvest season in the Southern Hemisphere. We didn’t plan on spending much time in the city of Coyhaique, but we had some errands to run to do it all. On our way into town, we saw two young girls with backpacks twice their size, and we thought “Why not?”, and picked them up! We weren’t going to the same spot so we dropped them into town centre, we later saw them working the streets hoping to collect money for food or bus? A pretty crazy way to travel….

In town, we were totally shocked by the massive amounts of traffic and the lack of parking space, both of which are never a problem in Patagonia! Stopping by the tourist centre, we got an EXCELLENT map for free , with the person speaking fluent English helping us out. He even pointed us to a great and cheap place to eat lunch! At first, he recommended us to go to a place downtown, which would’ve costed about $30CAD per person, and he made it sound like it was “reasonably priced”…. W T F? That’s SUPER expensive for lunch! Then he offered something else outside of town, and for about $5CAD we had a comfy, hearty meal cooked up by what appears to be an awesome, chubby mother. Chile is so expensive…. And what was even more surprising is that, in this town of 10,000 people…. They have a Mercedes-Benz dealership. What? Okay…

By 4pm, we were on our way out of town! We drove north, and after going past a strangely wet and humid National Park (it felt like the Amazon…but in Patagonia!), the sun started setting and we were in some pitch darkness, rounding a lake. There were some really strange buildings in the lake, and resembling something like a run-way with lights and red carpet? Yup, in the MIDDLE of the lake, so we’re thinking this must be one exclusive resort or something? There are thermal spas around here, but red carpet and flood lights floating on the lake seems a bit excessive… After driving for about an hour in the dark, we finally reached what appears to be civilization.

Our guidebook tells us this town is inhabited by about 600 people, and was formed by the hard work of 4 German immigrants back in the 1940s. Rolling into town, we turned into the first hotel, Casa Ludwig. It was the only place recommended by our guide book, but to be fair, this place was so small that it only warranted barely a page of words.

The hotel was charming, with a classic wooden interior, antique objects laying around corners, and a beautiful reading room with a fireplace warming it up. The owner was this charming German lady who spoke fantastic English, and being a very warm and welcoming host. The house was beautifully decorated, and within the reading room lays some great information about the history of this settlement, and some old photographs…. We cooked dinner, showered and huddled up in the reading room drinking mint tea and checking emails on Wi-Fi! Yes, Wi-Fi!

Honestly though, walking in the dark around the house was sort of creepy…haha!

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Day 258-262: W Trail – Torres del Paine National Park

It’s been a long time since we’ve done any outdoorsy activities as we’ve been lazy bums after leaving Nepal. We’ve also been carrying all our hiking gear, which takes up about 50% of the space in our packs, so it was time to whip them out and we were really excited!

Torres del Paine is an extremely popular trek, as noted by the massive transport system that shuttles people to and from the park. From leaving the hostel to all necessary goods/park rules, everything was very smooth and simple to follow, and with the trails marked as they were it was almost impossible to get lost! We’re pretty confident even in North America, outdoor gear stores do NOT stay open until 10pm, and buses to hiking trails do not run 5+ busloads daily.

We both had our hiking gear, and packed our food+stove and were on our way. Inside the park, there are free campsites with bare minimal facilities, and there are refugios which felt more like a fancy travel log cabin with camping sites around it. Problem was, they charged a LOT !!!! So we were already self-sufficient, and being able to save quite a few bucks. One jerk move though, is that the campsites in the middle of the W were now all closed, but you can ‘sneak’ yourself in if you arrive too late to the campsite and it was unsafe for the park rangers to send you off on your way…. we felt like they were being jerks, and a lot of people just ignored them and camped there anyways!!

Day 1: Hike up to the base camp for Torres del Paine. Pitch our tents, cook dinner and were in bed by 8pm.
Day 2: Wake up at 5:45am and start heading up to the view point to catch the 7am sun rise. A steep 45min hike in the dark moonlight later, we arrived at the towers synonymous with the national park. Honestly…. the towers were nice but we felt it a bit overrated. We hiked until 7:30pm and camped at the ‘closed’ camp site. That’s a 28km day!!
Day 3: Sleeping in until 8am, we took a leisurely pace making ourselves some tea for breakfast. No rush, we thought. We hiked up the middle of the W for 270′ view of the mountains. We pushed on and got to a paying campsite, and took a much much needed shower!!! Not sure, but we feel it was overrated again! The best part about the hike though, are the crystal clear streams that wind its way around the trail. Water is totally drinkable, and tastes DELICIOUS! We drank stream water the whole time we were in the W!
Day 4: Hiking up to the western side of the W, we FINALLY got a taste of the infamous Patagonia weather. The skies were clear when we started out, then out of nowhere the winds started to pickup, and as we kept on it started raining SIDEWAYS! The winds were so strong, the rain feels like hail when it slams into your face. Soaked from head to toe, gale force winds, and before we knew it it was gone just as quickly as it came! Crazy!!
Day 5: Hike back out in massive plains of golden wheat with the mountains behind our backs, we actually felt this last part of the hike was the prettiest. Either way, no matter how you walk the W, there’s definitely something for everyone! Along the trail, we met some great people, a HK couple who were also traveling the world for a year, a Swedish psychologist, and a German kid who’s taking a gap year before going to University.

We ended up the hike by dining together with our new found friends, drinking delicious Chilean wine and eating grilled meats. The night was wonderful and we had some great conversation. Fun!! It was good to get back to society, but we wouldn’t have minded if we can continue to trek….just no more of that Patagonia winds please…

There’s a lot of pics, enjoy!

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Day 257: Puerto Natales – Chile – Mar 1st

Another early morning, we caught the bus to Puerto Natales, which is actually located in Chile. We’ve been jumping back and forth between the Argentina/Chile border a lot, and we realized that Alan’s passport is going to run out of pages really soon!!! Damn… a SERIOUS and unforseen problem…. dual citizenship to the rescue!!!

Puerto Natales is a charming city on its own, but what makes all the tourists flock here is the fact that this is ‘base camp’ for people wanting to hike the “W” Torres del Paine trail, and there were a LOT of people doing it! Even as we are in shoulder season, the city was full of Gore-tex wearing travelers. There’s even a hostel that provides daily briefings for trekking the W! We got some really awesome information, and highly recommend anyone thinking about the trail to drop into Erratic Rock hostel to listen in!

We spent the rest of the day buying our necessary supplies (we’ll be living off of soup mix and pasta, granola bars and chunks of ham). Food, you see, is very very important because despite having refugio campsites inside the park, the prices are RIDICULOUSLY high, and we need to be self-sufficient in several camp sites. Excited!

Packing up, we were quite excited to go hiking again since it’s been a while, and Torres del Paine is possibly one of the most famous hiking trails, and the build-up of expectations is undeniable! Tried to catch some rest before we hop onto our bus and into the national park tomorrow!

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