Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Days 269 & 270: Chilean' Around Town

After the previous day's heavy museum, we stepped outside for a breath of fresh air and a climb to one of Santiago's higher hills, Cerro Santa Lucia. It was, unfortunately, another overcast day, but that helped quell the heat nonetheless.

We strolled through the empty streets, past grand churches, and easily found ourselves at Santa Lucia's base. Easter in Santiago isn't as huge of a production as it is in other Latin American countries; there were no big processions to attend. Easter Friday is generally a quiet day spent with family, so businesses were all shut and some families were also completing the climb.

Cobblestone pathways led upwards to various parks and viewpoints. It was a bit overdone (a small circular area with a tiny fountain was labelled the "Circular Garden"), and certainly still had a city feel to it, but it was nice to be outside and get some exercise. We wound our way through ivy-covered gateways up to the top of a castle built into the rock.

The view from the top: Santiago, with the Andes in behind

The view from the top showed us a side of the city we hadn't yet seen or explored. We returned via a different route, our feet slipping on the worn rock stairs, past a small chapel and statue. We circled the base and discovered a street market with a few open stalls to wander through.

We decided to return home via Barrio Lastarria. Chic patios enticed us but we knew we couldn't afford their pisco and ceviche prices, so we continued onwards until we discovered a salchicaria (hot dog shop) that was open. With hot dogs being a big thing in Santiago, we felt it a necessary cultural experience (we're still choosing our opportunity for the other Santiago cultural experience: stand-up coffee cafes with girls in ridiculously short dresses and heels...). The choices were ample, and we each took a lengthy amount of time scouring the menu. Once we had frankfurter in hand, we gobbled them down and continued on our way.

In the evening, we were treated to an outstanding sunset that showcased, for the first time, the grand Andes beside us. Perhaps they'd been hidden by sogginess due to Valparaiso's smoky fires, or just poor weather, but it was shocking to suddenly look up and realize how close these monstrous mountains are. Craig prepared a delicious dinner of salmon with a peanut-honey pesto topping in honour of Fish Friday. More wine and card games rounded out the day.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Day 268: Barrio Brasil

The neighbouring district, Barrio Brasil, is famed for its street art so we set out that morning to wander. Tossing our maps aside, we let our eyes lead the way, finding new murals to photograph at every corner and spotting church steeples above rooftops which acted like beacons. A few times we found ourselves at a corner and were torn in four different directions, wanting to go each way at once.

The morning was characteristized by this slow-paced meandering as we appreciated the colourful displays and were drawn down alleys and around corners by their intoxicating paint. The art ranged from simple small designs, to block-engulfing hallucinations. It's really best if we just let the pictures do the talking (and trust us, this is only a small sampling).

As it was Semana Santa (Easter Holidays) the parks were often populated by groups of teenagers who never missed an opportunity to tease us/try to make us feel uncomfortable. We had been told that the neighbourhood is best avoided at night, but the four of us in broad daylight rarely felt uneasy.

Our walk through the living art galley was also functional as the Human Rights Museum lay on the western edge of the neighbourhood. After nearly two hours of wandering the streets of Barrio Brasil, we finally arrived at the industrial-looking museum. Erin opted for an audio guide, knowing the text-heavy displays would all be in Spanish, where as Craig chose to practice his language skills. Unfortunately, photography was not permitted inside.

The foyer of El Museo de la Memoria y Derechos Humanos held an attractive artistic display of photographs hung to depict a world map. Each photograph sadly demonstrated a time in history where human rights were violated. A second display showed pictures of all the memorials in Chile arranged as a topographical map of the country. Right away, it was easy to see that this museum would not only be informative but well-presented.

We spent a good hour and a half on the museum's first floor, viewing movies, photographs, and listening to/reading text. It all related to the lead-up and initial military take-over on September 11, 1973. On this day then-president Salvador Allende was under siege in the presidential palace; tanks and aircraft fired upon the building, and knowing that his time had come to an end, Allende broadcasted an empassioned speech to the Chilean people affirming his faith in them. Following the broadcast he took his own life.

The main floor of the museum continued by explaining the large-scale "disappearances" that occured over the next 17 years, the location of the many internment areas that were often houses in regular neighbourhoods, and the various forms of torture and execution used on roughly 40 000 Chileans. It wasn't easy making our way through room after room, and Erin was reminded of the book she'd just finished on the similar situation in Argentina's recent history.

When Erin, Kristen and John soberly came to the end of the first floor, (Craig was already finishing up the floor above), they agreed that it was time for a lunch break. We hadn't expected the content to be quite so extensive, and it wasn't long before we were back in there finishing the displays.

Floor Two was dedicated more to the stories of the disappeared and the efforts taken by those opposing the regime. Craig sneakily took a photograph of one act of retaliation: these profiles were placed all over the city. The woman whose name appears on the silhouette had disappeared and the government had previously masked her disappearance with a false story. Once her body was discovered washed up on shore, it revealed that the government was in fact disposing of bodies in the ocean, and hers told of the acts of torture taking place. A movement spread through the country to combat the dictatorship and shed light on the truth for the rest of the world.

It took until the year 1989 for Pinochet to finally step down after losing a plebicite that would have extended his reign another eight years. This allowed a democratic election to take place the following year. It wasn't until 1998 that Pinochet was arreted in London, and Clinton released information sharing the US government's assistance in the 1973 coup. Pinochet was put under house arrest and deemed unfit to stand trial. He died in 2006 at the age of 91 untouched by the scales of justice.

It was a heavy day, but interesting and informative, and we felt satisfied with a better understanding of Chile's tumultuous recent past.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Days 266-267: Santiago

After months in Patagonia, we were excited about our week of city time ahead. We needed to be grounded by a little history.

It didn't take long to form a positive impression of Santiago. Like elsewhere in Chile, cars stopped for us at intersections, the streets were impeccably clean and within moments, a woman paused to ask if we needed help finding somewhere. The street stalls (also clean and well-organized) boasted everything from kitchen gadgets to tarot readings.

And, needless to say, we were ecstatic at the change in weather. Our first day there hit 30 degrees and there wasn't a drop of rain.

We headed out to stroll past the Palacio de Moneda, or presidential palace. It was bombed heavily during the military coup in 1973. Then-President Allende, depicted in this statue, stayed inside, gave Chileans an incredibly moving speech under moments of extreme stress, then took his own life. We'll share more about the military takeover in tomorrow's post.

Next, we walked passed a few beautifully ancient churches, and stepped inside the Metropolitan Cathedral of Santiago. Built in 1748, it was reconstructed after one of Chile's many earthquakes. We sadly missed touring the Plaza des Armas, just outside, because it is under construction, but peeking over the restoration walls we could spot an interesting-looking statue. Craig, John, and Kristen grabbed empanadas from the cutest empanada bar, stuffed full of locals for lunch. They had the flakiness of French pastries and tasted like a cheese danish.

We landed at the Mercado Central for lunch, the local fishmarket and tourist attraction. Thanks to the well-researched advice from John, we expertly avoided the tourist traps and sat with locals at a small joint with a kitchen so tiny they had to make our meals one-by-one. After placing our order, the owner crossed the aisle to the fish stalls to pick out the fish we'd just ordered.

Enjoying our Pisco Sours!

We walked back home and spent a bit of time on our rooftop terrace with panoramic city views and our feet in the frigid swimming pool. Not a bad life at all! We tried to come up with a plan for our next few days, which disappointingly wouldn't include a day trip to the shore since Valparaiso was still fighting a terrible fire. Maybe we can squeeze it in when we come back from Easter Island.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Days 264-265: Talca

We pulled into Talca after a nine hour bus ride past volcanoes, grass fields, vineyards and a stunning sunset. We knew immediately that this two-night stay in a tiny quad room (with Craig in a trundle cot) would either make or break our adolescent friendship. There wasn't much arguing over what to do and we quickly got ready for bed.

We awoke to the realization that it was Sunday, and on Sundays, wineries are surprisingly left unopened. Instead, we thought we'd enjoy the uncharacteristically warm weather eating a leisurely lunch on our patio and enjoying some local blends. It took an hour of wandering through the Montevideoesque post-apocalyptic closed-up city to find an open supermarket to fulfill this dream. On our way, we were fortunate enough to see people flocking to the church with palm fronds in hand to observe Palm Sunday. We also made friends with the owner of a photography store which might soon be torn down?

Spanish Practice!

Together, we assembled a lunch of roasted chicken, avocado, tomatoes, peppers and a crisp white and let the afternoon turn into an evening of card games, a few more corks popping open, dancing, sing-offs, and pushups. We really let loose once the cleaning woman told us we were the only guests spending the night in the cabins. The night ended with an answer to the earlier question, as we passed out in our respective beds simultaneously.
We'll be fine in close quarters for the next four weeks.

We postponed our bus to Santiago so we could visit the Maule Valley winery, Balduzzi, a quaint site with a full-bodied Cabernet Sauvignon and lovely staff members. It felt a little weird setting an 8 o'clock alarm to ensure we were at a winery by 11 am for a tasting but it was our only option. We navigated the public transit system, were impressed again with the friendliness of Chileans, and soaked up the sun next to the grapes.

We tasted four glasses, their reserve Chardonnay, Carmenère, Cab Sav, and a late harvest Chardonnay to finish. We snagged an extra sample when they asked us to pose for their Facebook page. A few purchases later, we cozied up on their lawn next to the vines and said our appreciations for the perfect Monday morning.

After that, it was a three hour bus ride to the nation's capital where we found our Air BnB apartment and settled in for a week 'at home.'

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Days 262-263: Pickling Past-times

We religiously checked multiple weather websites, trying to find better news than it showed. Despite our efforts, the deluge continued. Thursday's forecast was the most promising of our three days there, so we set our alarm for 6 am, and woke up hoping we'd be able to hike into El Cani park, a 500 hectares of ancient forest protected by a group of citizens who opposed the logging industry buying the land. The trail was detailed at 9 km in 3.5 hours straight up to a viewpoint of the volcanoes. When our 6 am alarm sounded, the forecast had changed to 78% cloud cover, and the rain had pitter-pattered on our roof all night long. With a regretful sigh, we acknowledged it probably wasn't worth it.

The bright side of our gloomy day was that Kristen and John would be arriving at noon, so instead of our hike, we could all go to the local hot springs together. We had enough time to eat lunch before we grabbed a local bus heading towards the most basic of the hot springs in the area.

Six natural pools built from river rocks laced along the Rio Liucura. We started at the furthest and took a dip in each of them, sometimes only testing our toes to see which was warmest. The sixth and closest spring was worth the wait, being the hottest of them all. We soothed our muscles aching from weeks of hiking, long bus rides, and unsupportive mattresses, and expressed gratitude for the weather holding after all. A mere sprinkling was all we got, though the mist wound its way around the nearby peaks, obscuring views and confirming our choice for the day.

Back home, we cooked up a storm and relished in the variety of international options we'd discovered at the grocery store. Tacos with a local Cab Sav was the perfect end to the day.

After a shiveringly cold night in our poorly heated rooms, we awoke the next morning to an absolute monsoon. The forecast (100% chance of rain in the morning!) hadn't lied, and we regretfully needed to run out in it to buy provisions and bus tickets. We huddled around the wood oven for the rest of the morning, arranging onwards accommodation, completing group research and working on our respective blogs. After lunch, we felt we deserved a break, and the cards came out for our second game of Hearts. We were so enjoying having others to play with and the variety of games 4 people offered.

For our last morning in Pucon, we awoke to sunny skies. The storm was finally over, and although chilly, we were finally able to see further than the next-door house. We packed up our things and ventured out to try to see this volcano we'd heard so much about. We didn't even know which way we were supposed to look for it!

It took no more than a few steps away from our hostel door and there, looming above us, was the beast. It was incredible to think it had been that close all along and we'd had no idea. Our bus ride onwards to Talca ended up providing us with views of it, plus four others, all at once! We were so thankful that we got to see them, even without the long hike first!

(Hot Springs photo credit: Kristen Ellen)

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Days 260-261: Pucon

It continued to pour rain as we made our way across the border. We high-fived after our third and final border crossing into Chile by bus and were glad they were finally over. Thanks to the nice border guards, we were able to save our scarce blank pages and get stamped on ones that were stuffed.

I guess that siren didn't mean anything then...

We searched around a bit and found a small, basic hostel run by a cute old couple. It was certainly draughty but downstairs there was a roaring fire in their wood oven. The town's famous volcano wasn't anywhere to be seen, but we were optimistic that this incessant rain would have to stop sooner or later.

The local fire fighters took some liberties with their sign...

We awoke the next morning and were on the 8:30 bus into the Huerquehue National Park. The bus ride was uninteresting as we were seldom blessed with views. Arriving we could see some sunshine making its way across the hill opposite us, across a tranquil lake. We did not dare to dream that the fractured sunlight would last through the whole day but we were excited to see our first glimpses of blue sky for some time.

After a short while, we arrived at a small village, and the trail melded into a dusty road and then once separated again wove its way up a hill through forested pasture.1 hour into the hike we had reached the NationalPpark. The primary trail would continue up unrelentingly, however off its trunk, branches would descend into the valley or to a cliff's edge to gain views of waterfalls and the valley. The rest of the time was spent within the forest; at one point we did find ourselves blessed by the rays of the sun. The leaves, finding the sun's light foreign to them after so much rain did not seem to know what colour they were meant to be as the canopy shone with a glistening silver glow. As we neared the top of the pass, the rain began, our already muddy path now turned to slush, and some bends into streams.

Rarely have I seen the scenery of a place change so quickly as when we crested the pass. Dry forest turned into alpine lakes ringed with strange exotic trees, yet amongst them the fall colours still showed and were complimented by the long yellow/orange grasses growing in the perimeter of the lake. The giant trees, that appeared as if African Baobabs had been spliced together with palm trees and a hint of pine, lined the tops of the Andean ridges with their striking silhouettes. Beautiful, although not as much so as other places we have visited, I can still give it the highest praise I have: it was like no where else I had ever been.

On a last note, we'll provide you with some strictly logistical information in case you're interested in this hike. The Lonely Planet gave appallingly inaccurate information, and although the NP is well-signed on your way in, there isn't a ton of information telling distances or lengths of time each trail will take. It's also important to mention that you pay attention to your trail hiking in, as signage approaching out of the park is infrequent. Hiking at a steady rate with a 5-minute break at each waterfall, and a 12-minute break for lunch at the mirador, we took:

1/2 hour from the park office to the pigs
1/2 hour from the pigs to the ranger station
5 min from the ranger station to the 1st waterfalls
12 min from waterfall 1 to waterfall 2
10 minutes from waterfall 2 to the mirador where we ate lunch