Jun 29 2009

San Pedro de Atacama

Bodhi

Other post titles we considered were “The highest and the coldest” and “Valle de la Luna”.

We are coming to the end of our second full day in San Pedro de Atacama, and here are some brief thoughts. This is a little pueblo in the north of Chile, in the Atacama desert (as the name implies). The population, including tourists, is somewhere around 5000. I think the continuous population is only 2000 though. The streets are hardened dirt, there is basically one main road, and it’s very dusty. Walking 5 minutes takes you anywhere in town. It’s pleasant during the day, and quite cold at night. All the storefronts look basically the same - adobe walls and chalkboard signs telling you what they offer. Inside, however, the various businesses are quite different and interesting and nice and full of character.

We haven’t wasted a minute in this town. Yesterday we rented bikes (4th time on the journey so far) and rode the 30 km (there and back) to Valle de la Luna. This is a national park nearby, with moon-like landscapes, hence the name. The highlight is a giant sand dune that everyone gathers at to watch the sun set. Annoying to have 50 other tourists there with you, but it was still beautiful. We even met a retired couple from the US, with the husband being an astronomer (Caltech PhD back in the day) who’s working on a telescope near here. So we sat and enjoyed our bottle of wine we bought from a bodega in Mendoza back in Argentina and have been schlepping around til now. It was delicious, even straight from the bottle sans cups, or “sin copas”.

View of the main valley from up on top of the giant sand dune

View of the main valley from up on top of the giant sand dune

Watching the sun set in a perfect natural amphitheatre

Watching the sun set in a perfect natural amphitheatre

Looking out in thought from a giant pile of sand

Looking out in thought from a giant pile of sand

Today we took the Geysers del Taito tour, leaving at 4 am with 8 others in a Hyundai van. The driver (our second named “Sergio” so far) was friendly and spoke no english. Guess that’s why it was cheaper than the other tours. We arrived in bitter cold (4 F, -14 C) temperatures before sunrise, and we could only handle a few minutes outside the van at a time. There was a field of geysers amidst salt crystal covered ground. And ice because it was damn cold. I learned that these are the highest elevation geysers in the world, while of course Yellowstone in the US has the highest shooting geyser. We sipped our Nescafe and ate our pan (bread). After shivering there a while, we moved on to another field, which had a pool collected from one of the geysers. I, of course, had to jump in and swim with the rest of the idiots. It looked so warm because of all the steam coming off it, but it was still a tepid 75 F at best! And oh baby was it cold getting out. Totally worth it though!

Sunrise and geysers way up high

Sunrise and geysers way up high

It was still too cold for Moni to get out of the van

It was still too cold for Moni to get out of the van

More geysers and salt and ice

More geysers and salt and ice

Not as warm as I'd hoped

Not as warm as I'd hoped!

More driving, sightings of wild vicuñas and domesticated llamas, ice covered streams with weird Andean birds, and a stop in a little pueblo where Monica ate her first llama meat (to her knowledge), and absolutely loved it, going as far as to say it was the best meat she’d ever had!

With some llamas in the background

With some llamas in the background

Llamas peacefully grazing in an ice-covered (!) stream

Llamas peacefully grazing in an ice-covered (!) stream

Now we’re ready to leave Chile and head out into the more rugged (and cheaper) Bolivia. We’re doing a 3 day, 2 night jeep tour through the altiplano and the world’s largest salt flat. The Lonely Planet book describes it as having “mind-altering vistas”. No drugs required.


Jun 26 2009

A day to see Valparaiso

Bodhi

We’re having breakfast in our “hospedaje” (subtly different than hostels) in Valparaiso. Today we get to go out and see the very picturesque city set against the hills and the port. Our neighborhood is right in the center of the best looking part. The tiny streets are lined with houses of many different colors, and it’s quite the bohemian arts area as well. The couple of restaurants we poked our heads in last night were very artsy and cool, and we had delicious food at Alegretto.

This day is about seeing the town, taking pictures, and maybe a harbor tour. One of Pablo Neruda’s houses is here, too, so we might see that. Then it’s off to Santiago and a night bus all the way to San Pedro de Atacama way up north. The driest place on earth.

I’ve decided in the short time I’ve been in Valpo that I love it, and I would certainly come here on sabbatical to write my book, make my album, paint my masterpieces, etc


Jun 25 2009

Santiago graffiti and stencils

Bodhi

I had the unexpected opportunity to walk through Barrio Bellavista in Santiago and the graffiti there blew my mind!  This stuff was so much better and in such greater quantity than anything I’d seen in Buenos Aires.  Most of it was just huge, filling the entire wall.  And it seems that the authorities really didn’t seem to mind so much as the streets were filled with it.  Either that or the artists were very skilled at getting their work done quickly in the cover of night.

Some stencils, some giant freehand pieces here.  Some that make use of other art or the surroundings daftly in a Banksy-esque way.  I am told there are many more other brilliant pieces that await me in Valparaiso.  And there are so many more other shots on my camera that I can’t post right now.  ::drool::

Banksy?

In the style of Banksy..if only the "perder" one didn't conflict with it

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The rose is a nice touch

Doubly cute

Doubly cute

Just go ahead and use the whole wall

Just go ahead and use the whole wall

Back to basics

Back to basics

small and good

small and good

Weird and artsy..I love it

Weird and artsy..I love it


Jun 24 2009

Birthday skiing/snowboarding south of the equator!

Monica

My 32nd will be a memorable one for sure! I skiied the Andes on opening day of the ski season in Chile…the sun was shining, the air crisp, the snow was unique to me but wonderful, I was with my love and I only fell one time!  Here are some pics from the day…

At the top of Valle Nevado in the Andes outside Santiago, Chile

At the top of Valle Nevado in the Andes outside Santiago, Chile

View from the top

View from the top

View to the top of the top

View to the top of the top

On the lift

On the lift, with rental goggles

It was lovely and memorable and made me sore in all the right ways (except my neck).  What fun, and what luck to have the opportunity!  A happy birthday to me from Mother Nature?


Jun 22 2009

A Snowcapped Pass

Monica

We made it to Chile! The border had been closed for many days due to the first seasonal storm. We were delayed in Mendoza two days longer than expected and we had just about given up on the border opening….but really…how could I give up on the chance to ski the Andes on my birthday! The 6 hour bus ride to Santiago was the most beautiful drive with snow capped mountains, a running river, and an amazing sky. The border crossing process was a bit of a learning experience…I almost was left behind with two other Americans. It’s a complicated story since most of it was in Spanish and Chilean Spanish is very difficult to understand BUT I made it with a stamp to prove it.

What luck that the first official day of the ski season is tomorrow…my birthday! I can’t think of a better way to spend my 32nd…skiing in the Southern hemisphere.

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Jun 20 2009

San Telmo Stencil Art

Bodhi
San Telmo is the district of Buenos Aires we stayed in and it has a very rich history as one of the oldest barrios in the city.  It is particularly famous in the history of tango, the national music and dance of Argentina.  We felt it is very similar to the area of Silver Lake in Los Angeles, which we are very familiar with.  There are couture clothing stores, design shops, many restaurants and cafes, and street art and performances.  There is a weekly Sunday “feria” (open air market) at Plaza Dorrego just across from our hostel.  I spotted many a good piece of stencil art there as well.  Here are some.  The character and style in the 2nd one below was a recurring figure in San Telmo, and I think it must be because the artist is based there.  I have his website written down in my notes (he put it on a piece on the wall).

Really more like in Monserrat, but close enough..spotted on Av De Mayo

Really more like in Monserrat, but close enough..spotted on Av De Mayo

Neat style, especially against a heavily used and dirty wall

Neat style, especially against a heavily used and dirty wall

A Tango look in a graffiti style

A Tango look in a graffiti style

Art Style, kinda psycho, is this a known figure?

Art Style, kinda psycho, is this a known figure?


Jun 20 2009

Not all buses are treated equally

Monica

The bar was set high (real high) on our bus ride from B.A. to Iguazu Falls. We were served wine, whisky and champagne all within the first 30 minutes of our 15 hour ride. We watched a few good movies, snuggled up with blankets and each other in our plush seats and slept soundly through the night.

Ok…NOT the case from the Falls to Mendoza people….not the same. We of course made the most of the experience BUT it was not pretty. They wouldn´t even give us blankets. Champagne…ha…try orange soda 3 hours into the ride served with some white bread. Good thing we brought our own bottle of wine (and some sleeping aids) with us on board.  It was an adventure to say the least and will likely end up being our longest ride of the trip (36 hours).  Ah good times.

High standards

High standards


Jun 19 2009

Wine tours and tasting in Mendoza

Bodhi

At Weinert Bodega with their biggest cask (44000 L of wine!)

At Weinert Bodega with their biggest cask (44000 L of wine!)

Today Monica and I set out to explore some of the famous wineries (bodegas) in Mendoza.  This is what the area is famous for.  We had been directed to a tour company - City Bike - by the tourism office here in the center of town.  They seemed nice and helpful.  Today we got our bikes, which were horrible old mountain bikes but seemed roadworthy enough.  We got a map, had 3 scheduled wineries on it, and set out.  We made it to the first one ok - Escorihuela Gascon - the first winery in Mendoza, founded in 1884.  This one essentially existed before the city of Mendoza had even really grown up, though there was an infamous earthquake long before this winery existed which is said to have “leveled the city”, so obviously a city must have existed to be leveled.  Anyhoo, so the legend has it, the Escorihuela winery was an integral part to the growth of wine making in this area.  I’m sure there are similar counterparts in Napa Valley of California, for example.  After a nice experince at Escorihuela, we left and rode.  And rode.  And rode.  It was hot, with the damn hot mountain winds coming down, and dirty too.  Just as we started to get too tired and unhappy about the whole experience to be able to make it to the 2nd winery, my rear tire went flat, making our decision for us.  The tour company guy came and rescued us and drove us to the winery.  This one - Weinert - was founded about 1940.  It had an absolutely gorgeous and cavernous cellar, filled with giant oak casks, not the itty-bitty oak barrels one often sees in winemaking.  The picture is the most famous of these, and holds 44000 liters of wine.  You couldn’t drink all that in your entire life even if you tried!  They explained how grapes are first selected, then mashed, then fermented to creat the alcohol, then a second fermentation, then a filtration step, and then an aging step in oak (from France or the US, apparently).  Finally it is ready to be bottled and sold to be enjoyed.  The first winery guy, Pablo, told us that Mendoza is the 7th greatest wine making capital in the world, according to the industry or whatever.

So it was cool, but we really noted that wine tasting is done a bit differently here than in the states.  You have to especially ask for “flights” of wine tasting here.  We may do this tomorrow.

This whole experience certainly goes to show that when so many things are out of your control as a traveler, you can’t always expect it all to work out perfectly.  Part of the lessons of the journey, I suppose.


Jun 19 2009

Hot Mendoza winds

Monica

There is a typical seasonal wind here in Mendoza referred to as Zonda. It´s a hot dry wind that comes from the near by Andes (means that it´s snowing on the mountain). It´s pretty amazing actually to have these hot winds come in on a winter day and turn what would normally be a cool day very warm.  The winds are strong and blows leaves around the city with such force causing a beautiful dance in the sky. I love the wind so this was especially beautiful to me….even though it also blew around a lot of dust and dirt too. I am going to sit outside tonight and drink the bottle of wine purchased from one of the wineries we visited today.

Salud!

Breathe

Breathe


Jun 18 2009

¡Nuevos amigos en Buenos Aires y en el mundo!

Bodhi

With new friends from Academia Buenos Aires at Cafe Tortoni

With new friends from Academia Buenos Aires at Cafe Tortoni

On the night of Friday June 12, we went out with new friends from spanish school at Academia Buenos Aires.  The picture is us in a famous old cafe in BA which is over 150 years old.  It is famous for tango, of course, and many greats have spent much time here.  Ironically, the two friends that motivated this as the meeting place never showed, but we had wine here anyway and enjoyed it before heading out to the next stop.

In the picture are Toby, from England, me and Moni, Alicia, from Australia, Gys, from Canada, and Anthony and Anna from US (Minnesota).  Of course there were many other cool folks we met at the school as well.  One of the greatest things me and Moni liked about the school was the feeling of community they have successfully fostered there.

After Cafe Tortoni, we cabbed over to San Telmo (our ‘hood) to look for food.  After a few attempts, we ended up in a Uruguayan chivito restaurant.  It had the feeling of a tourist college bar, and the food to match, i.e. terrible and you need beer to choke it down.  But whatever, we were there with some friends and just out to have fun.  We enjoyed getting to know each other some more, talked about how we might be able to visit each other again in various parts of the world, and wrapped up about 1 a.m.  For added excitement, the power in the restaurant went out randomly as did several others on the block, and they brought out candles.  At least it ended the annoyingly loud live music from inside which they charged us extra to “enjoy” with our meal.  I did enjoy the spanish version of Piano Man, though.

Down to 3, Moni, me, and Gys wandered to our favorite cafe (which are really more like bars here) El Federal and had porto and a bottle of wine to cap off the night.  Of course we end up in a philosophical conversation about life at 3 in the morning :)  This is what makes traveling so special!  Thanks Gys for the special times and sharing your culture with us!