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Hiking the Andes

Maipo River, Chile

I was up a bit early- around 6- to see the sun come up behind the Andes. It's not quite a sunrise, as you don't actually see the sun, just the light creating a silhouette of the mountains. The neighbors who had been partying all night took this opportunity to wish the whole neighborhood a Merry Christmas, before bringing the party back inside.
We had leftovers for breakfast and hurried out the door to our tour. We thought pickup was going to be at 8, but saw a message saying it was at 7. They may have sent it a while ago, but we saw it at 6:58.
The van picked up a few more people, and we were off to the Andes! It's about an hour and a half drive. The scenery starts out city, changes into small roadside villages, and then eventually into unpopulated mountains. Our path followed a river almost all of the way. At some point, we started to see little "vacation villages." There would be a small general store/bar, a couple of inn-cabins, and maybe a horseback riding center.
At one such village, right near the park entrance we stopped.Village Area

Village Area

While some were taking a restroom break, I explored the park visitor center cabin. It's one room with not much to see (except a beautiful view of the mountains). I saw a poster that amused me incredibly though. It featured a picture of an invasive species of bird. Part of the poster showed how to identify the bird. Part of the poster showed what to do with it if you found one- catch it in a cardboard box with holes and inform a ranger. But really, who carries a cardboard box as part of their hiking gear? And how would you catch the bird unless you're a Disney princess and it lands right on you?
We took off on our hike, without any cardboard boxes or hopes of catching birds.River


The path was wide, but very rocky. It didn't generally have or need any sort of rail or fall-protection, but right by the ranger's cabin, it did. I got a splinter on it immediately. Perhaps I set a record for the fastest to injure myself on this hike.
The first part was pretty steep, and I was glad to have a hiking pole. My arms were feeling the burn because my legs needed help. Maybe it wasn't the most brilliant idea to hike 2 mountains yesterday and then try another at high altitude today.
However slow we were going, the scenery was beautiful. The fields were covered in desert-type wildflowers of brilliant hues. The peaks around us were snowcapped. And there were no people at all in sight, other than our group. The end point of the trek was a stop at the river.
The river is melted glacier (we had a view of the glacier). It is icy cold and felt great. We relaxed by it, just absorbing the serenity and quiet. And then it was time to return.Andes


We took the same path down as we did up. For me, the going was much easier, although again, it was very useful to have the poles to prevent sliding down all of the rocks.Andes


At this point, we were all hungry, so we went to a shaded place nearby to have a picnic lunch of bread, cold cuts, spreads, and Chilean wine. We got to try the famous Chilean grapes. Yesterday, the guide had told us about how these specific grapes suffered extinction in France. 100 years later, a Frenchman was drinking wine in Chile and realized that they still had these long-lost grapes (although they called them a different name). So France started importing these grapes from Chile.
From there we took the van through rocky "roads" to the hot springs. I use the word road very loosely. For a little bit, we were on a surface that was mostly paved, but whenever the water crossed it, it was more like naturally cobblestoned. Quickly, it stopped being paved at all, and was pretty much just a pile of rocks without vegetation. The going was slow and bumpy, but eventually we made it.
The hot springs themselves are heated geothermally, as this area of the mountains is volcanic. (The guide yesterday told us that the volcanoes that surround Santiago are still active and occasionaly erupt, displacing people.)
The water is full of minerals, but pleasantly not sulfur. It flows from one pool to the next, so the top one is scalding (I couldn't even get a foot in), but the bottom one is just hot. The 3rd one from the top was about the hottest that I could sit in, and the 4th was comfortable.
Our guide gave us a tip- you get in one and then have to get out, then get in again. She said tha tif you stay in too long, the heat + the elevation (about 2 km) cause headaches. I didn't get a headache, but when getting out of each pool, I did feel dizzy for a few seconds.
While I enjoyed the way the heat felt on my sore muscles, some of the other group members didn't even go in. I can see how the extremely-lacking facilities could be a turn-off.Hot Springs

Hot Springs

The "'changing rooms" were wide open rooms in the only building on the premesis. The doors weren't covered, so anybody walking past had a full view of everything. And while there were 2, they weren't marked female or male in any way. One restroom had a fully-transparent window looking right into the toilet, so that anybody outside couldn't help but see whoever was doing their business. The other had an opaque window, but the toilet didn't have a seat, there was no paper, and the sink wouldn't stop running. Both had what I hope was just water from the shower all over the floor. The path between the "facilities house" and the pools, as well as between all of the pools was dirt-covered rock. Of course, when the wind picked up, the dusty dirt flew into our faces as we relaxed in the pools.
Despite the poor facilities, I thought the pools were worth it. The view was amazing, and they were very relaxing. My muscles felt infinitely better afterwards.
From here, we made a final stop for a Christmas snack/toast at a waterfall. Again, the going was pretty rocky, but the view was great.Christmas Toast

Christmas Toast

Fully fed, refreshed, and sunburnt, we headed back into Santiago. We were too tired to go out for dinner, so we finished off the leftover Chinese food and the supermarket food we already had in the apartment.
Merry Christmas.

Posted by spsadventures 02:29 Archived in Chile Comments (0)

Hiking Santiago

Santiago, Chile

We woke suprisingly early this morning. We mostly enjoyed the breakfast we had picked up last night. The "default cheese" was Mantecoso and I liked it a lot, even though it's not crazy-strong. But we also got a multi-pack that contained the worst brie I've had ever. The strawberry milk was delicious and satisfying. And I enjoyed the spreads we picked up as well.

When we went out we first climbed up St. Lucia hill. This hill was the Spanish fortress during colonial times. From the castle at the top, we saw a great view of the entire city. On the way, we passed through many beautiful examples of Spanish colonial architecture, some of which reminded me a bit of Rome.


St. Lucia

St. Lucia

St. Lucia

St. Lucia

We also picked up a street dog. This dog followed us up the windy paths and stairs, and then back down again through the gardens. The dog followed us across the street until we ran into another street dog. I was sure that we would lose the dog as it played with the new one. But no, we became like the pied piper, accumulating dogs.
We passed through the main park in town. It is long, narrow, and extends for much of the old city. The dogs romped about as I climbed some of the really cool jungle gym equipment. And then as we left the park, the followed us out. They were suprisingly good at crossing streets safely by just waiting for us to cross.


We trailed them through a neighborhood covered in beautiful street art. Most of the end of Santiago we're staying in is covered in graffiti. But this area had true art- murals and not just tags.
Street Art

Street Art

Somewhere around the base of the mountain, we finally lost the dogs.
Next, we braved San Cristobal. There are multiple ways to climb this mountain, and we chose the steepest. The paths are well-marked, and there are "hydration stations" for refilling your water bottle every few minutes. The first part was paved, as it's also for bikes, but the more direct (again, steepest) path is a dirt path through a wooded area.
Very close to the top, we stooped at a little cafe for "mote con huesillos" which seems to be the national drink, baseed on the number of stands all over town that sell it. Basically, it's a super-sweet peach juice (sugar-water) with a whole fruit and a bunch of wheat berries in it. It's surprisingly good, although I can't imagine that it's good for you.


We continued to the top, where a big Mary statue sits atop a small chapel, which sits atop a set of ampitheater-like stairs, which sits atop the mountain. Christmas eve-day mass was blasting through some speakers as supplicants lit candles, left notes, and otherwise prayed nearby.
View from San Cristobal

View from San Cristobal

Prayer Items

Prayer Items

We took a more gentle slope down, although the path was longer. It was paved, but divided into different sections for pedestrians and bikers. The sun beat down on us, but at least we were headed downhill. Hundreds of bikers were headed uphill.


Upon arriving at the bottom, we headed back towards town. On the way, we passed a small house that contained a cafe (Vol's). We stopped for a lunch of sandwiches and milkshakes. They didn't have a large menu, but what we had was quite good.
After hiking 2 mountains, we decided that our feet could use a rest, so we metroed back to the air bnb and sat for a bit.
But not too long, because we wanted to take the free city tour at 3.
It meets at Plaza de Armas, so we got a chance to go into the Cathedral while we waited for it to start.
The cathedral is pretty typical for Spanish colonial cathedrals- apses, lots of statues of saints, Mary, and Jesus, some stained glass.
The tour mostly tok us through areas of town we'd already seen, but thee guide was able to explain their significance in a way that we wouldn't have figured out on our own. Also, we learned about Chilean history as it relates to various locations in town.
an example- the dogs that followed us this morning were strays. Without the guide, we wouldn't know that stray dogs are well cared-for in Chile. They get medical attention when needed, and the main city park has many doghouses that were built for the strays.
I really appreciated the way the guide presented the history, from the pre-Columbian groups to Pinochet, he engaged us in the stories he told.
Pinochet torture site on the tour

Pinochet torture site on the tour

We weren't sure what our plans would be for tomorrow (Chrismas) and not too much else was open, se we got our Chinese for dinner tonight. Much of the food was standard, although the cheese-filled eggrolls were a nice twist.
Because we had a long day and have another tomorrow, we went to bed early. Our neighbors did not. It's Christmas eve, which apparently means fireworks at midnight and neighbors partying loud until after 6am. Let's hope this is just because it's a holiday and doesn't happen tomorrow.

Posted by spsadventures 00:49 Archived in Chile Comments (0)

Amigos en Santiago de Chile

Santiago, Chile

We landed at the airport, took the bus into town (1800 Chilean pesos/person) and found our air bnb.
The scenery here isn't too different from the ground- desert-looking mountains, but the Andes were amazing from the plane. The peaks of the mountains stuck out over the clouds. We saw a field of cotton fluff, interrupted by snow caps.
The bus took us through some less-affluent looking areas before we arrived by the universities, where we're staying.Santiago


We got cleaned up a bit before heading more east to where my friends live. As we moved east through the city, our surroundings became more and more affluent. We passed a business district and finally the gated-community not-quite-suburbs.
My friends made us a delicious lunch and gave us a ton of tips- what to eat, where to go, and how to stay safe.
They say that Chile is relatively safe. People generally don't pull weapons and mug people movie-style. If you're going to get robbed, it would be the type where they grab your phone from your hand and run off with it while you're still startled, although that's not common either.
The water is totaly safe to drink from the tap, although it's highly fluoridated, so if you're not used to that, you might not want to chug it.
After hanging out with them at their place, they took us on a mini drive-by tour of the city- pointing out the good parks, good areas to eat, and good shopping areas. They also took us to Horacio's cat cafe.
This is a cafe that is full of cats. They have rescues, mutts, maine coons, and other beauties. These cats hang around the cafe all day. One wall is covered in cat playplaces, and they climb up and down. They are super-friendly and wil come sit on your lap, whether you really want it or not. The cats have free-reign over the place. Cat Cafe

Cat Cafe

For cat-lovers, this is heaven. For the rest of us, the sight of all the fur flying about as the cats are petted, the sight of the cats sitting right on the tables, and the sight of a cat stealing a bit of cake right from a plate was a bit of an appetite-ender. But they have canned drinks, and I did enjoy that much. Cat sharing cake

Cat sharing cake

My friends showed us more of the city and dropped us at our apartment for a much-needed nap.

In the evening, we wandered out to check out all of the Christmas markets. We took a couple of detours into some malls, which were mostly more like the Asian malls than American ones. Each shop was a tiny family-run business and there didn't seem to be any chains. One mall was almost exclusively for video game equipment/electronics/collectables, and reminded me of a market more than a mall. We did pass some stores that were clearly chains and department stores, but those just weren't as prevalent as they are elsewhere.
Street vendor with gift bags

Street vendor with gift bags

Outside the malls, vendors with all sorts of carts, tables, and blankets full of goods filled the streets. I'm not sure the ones with blankets on the ground were entirely legal. Periodically we'd hear a whistle or commotion and they would all pack up their gear and move aside. A minute would pass, and they'd set up all over again. Mostly, they sold clothing, accessories, toys, and gift bags. Very few sold food.
The most common street food we saw looked like beef soup with rice and corn thrown in. Apparently, Mote con Huesillos is actually a sweet peach drink with wheat berries. We also saw one churro cart in Plaza de Armas, and I can say that the Churros here are every bit as delicious as the churros anywhere else.
Plaza de Armas was crammed with people. Plaza de Armas

Plaza de Armas

It was definitely the place to be. Performers gathered audiences around them. Characters in costume posed for pictures with kids (for a small fee, I'm sure.) Artists displayed bright, beautiful paintings. Paintings


Couples sat on benches in the shade. Several chess players challenged each other in one corner of the plaza. This was a perfect place to get lost in the crowd and take in the local culture.Chess


We popped in to a local grocery store to pick up provisions for tomorrow. The store had all of the things you would expect in any grocery store. I didn't see anything major missing or anything special that I hadn't seen before.
After, we grabbed dinner at Nuria, a restaurant recommended to us by my friends. Nuria has lots of local specialties- reineta (a fish that tastes like chicken), manchero?? con tallarines (slabs of meat and spaghetti with sauce), pastele de choclo (corn and other stuff pot-pie), and more. From what I gathered, the concept was great, but the execution was a bit lacking. My (white) pizza with hearts of palm and other toppings was ok though.
And then, we called it a night. We've barely been in the country 12 hours, but already we've see so much.

Posted by spsadventures 09:18 Archived in Chile Comments (0)

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