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Archive for the ‘South America’ Category

There is something special about Buenos Aires. In a similar fashion to our other favorite big cities (which include Istanbul and Tokyo) it plants a seed in your mind, making you slowly start to wonder, ‘maybe I should live here?’ We may have fallen so hard for the city because we spent most of our time there with family. It is easier to connect with a place when you have locals showing you the way; the way to make a proper parrillada, the way to drink mate, the way to enjoy homemade gnocchi on the 29th day of the month, the way to find the best slice of pizza with morrónes. We haven’t written in a while, but we haven’t just been sitting around either. Our last two weeks of 2012 were spent in Buenos Aires, and they flew by as quickly as the year itself.

Buenos Aires, Argentina

Our bus from Bariloche arrived in Buenos Aires a week before Christmas, and we were greeted with a huge smile and hugs from one of Mike’s aunts. In true Latin American fashion, Mike has a family with countless tios, primos, and abuelos; it’s often difficult to explain connections between family members. Mike hadn’t seen his aunt in over a decade, and had never met her husband and children before, but we were welcomed into their home for a week and had an incredible time getting to know them better. For Amy, it was a long awaited immersion program for practicing lots of Castellano.

This was our first holiday season spent in the southern hemisphere, so it was a bit of an adjustment. We can’t complain about the sunny days and balmy nights, but must say that it is a lot more comfortable baking pies in the cold of winter. Hot ovens and hundred-degree weather just don’t mix. Christmas Eve tradition in Argentina includes the usual fare of family, food and gifts, with the added benefit of fireworks at midnight! The show far surpassed the size and sound of the 4th of July and New Year’s Eve in the States…combined. After a late night, we woke up “early” around 11am and headed over to another aunt’s house for a Christmas asado (BBQ). It was nice to get out of the city and explore the suburb of Escobar. It was a fantastic day relaxing in the backyard grilling, playing games, chatting and watching the children (more primos) enjoy the holiday. We were particularly excited about the number of different cuts of meat on the grill (seven!) plus provoleta cheese.

Christmas in Buenos Aires

In the days before and after Christmas, we took our time exploring the various neighborhoods of Buenos Aires. Palermo, Puerto Madero, La Boca, San Isidro, Recoleta, San Telmo, Boedo – each one had something different to offer. La Boca, perhaps one of the most visited parts of the city, was a hub for many early immigrants to Buenos Aires and is known for its colorful buildings. While we could have done without the hordes of tourists and very pushy business owners, it was still fun to wander the streets and pick out our favorite houses. The neighborhoods of Boedo and Palermo were a pleasant surprise to us. Neither was on our radar before we arrived, but they turned out to be our favorite places to walk, visit parks and stop for café con leche and medialunas (croissants).

La Boca

We did a whirlwind, self-guided, walking tour one day from where we were staying in Boedo, through San Telmo, across the levees of Puerto Madero, along la Costanera Sur, past the Centro, down to la Boca, and over to Constitución, before making our way back to Boedo. It was a hell of a walk to say the least. We loved the antique shops in Mercado San Telmo, and think that the parrillada stands/carts that border the Ecological Reserve on the Costanera Sur are the perfect place to stop for an afternoon snack or cheap evening meal.

San Telmo y Puerto Madero

On another day, we made the long trek over to the Recoleta area. This part of town is filled with museums, plazas, and vast green parks. We enjoyed something very modern and something very old. The Floralis Generica, an enormous public art installation, is a giant flower in the middle of a reflecting pool, but what makes this particular piece so cool is that the petals open each morning and slowly close as the sun sets, just like a real flower. After scoping out the Floralis Generica, we walked a few blocks to the Cementerio de Recoleta. At first we weren’t sure how we felt about visiting a cemetery for purposes other than visiting a loved one, but once we arrived and saw the tour buses lined up, we knew that there would be many other tourists far more conspicuous than us wondering the grounds. The ancient Greek word Necropolis (meaning city of the dead) instantly came to mind as we entered the cemetery. The tombs, mausoleums and monuments to Argentina’s most famous and wealthy citizens are more like small houses than burial sites. Instead of a grassy space with crumbling headstones, Cementerio de Recoleta is a well-kept gated community with cobblestone walkways, polished marble structures and street lights. If ever there was a place to be buried in “style,” this is it, and following suit, it is the final resting place of Argentina’s iconic first-lady, Evita Duarte Perón.

Recoleta, Buenos Aires

After Christmas, one of our good friends from college, Adam, flew down to B.A. to travel with us for a few weeks. The three of us headed over to the Olivos area to stay with another one of Mike’s cousins. The next couple of days allowed us to see just a few of the areas outside of the city center. Olivos is a pretty quiet and quaint part of the city which is home to The Great Wall of Argentina. Never heard of it? That’s because most people refer to it as the Presidential Residence. We decided to go take a look at it one day, only to find that unlike the White House, the entire complex is surrounded by a three meter tall brick wall. We walked the entire length and couldn’t even get a peek at the place, so we dubbed it with a new name. On another afternoon, we took a bus to the neighborhood of San Isidro, where Mike’s cousin’s grandparents live, to celebrate the 29th day of the month. What is so special about the 29th? It’s gnocchi day! Argentinians, as well as Brazilians and Uruguayans, enjoy a meal of gnocchi on the 29th day of each month. We can’t tell you exactly where or why this tradition originated, but trust us that it’s fun. The homemade spinach and ricotta gnocchi that we ate were to die for. After stuffing ourselves, we hopped on the Tren de la Costa towards Tigre. Tigre is a small town at the mouth of the Río de la Plata and is the perfect place to walk along the water, soak in the sun, buy cheese and watch Porteños drink mate.

Tigre, Buenos Aires

After some crazy New Year’s festivities in the city, and a full day and a half of recuperating, our two weeks in Buenos Aires had come to an end. We haven’t stopped talking about how much fun we had, how much we love B.A. and when we can go back to visit next. It is an easy place to fall for, and we fell hard.

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Prior to making the journey ourselves, we had heard horror stories about driving over the Andes Mountains. Curvy roads, bad weather conditions, reckless drivers, distracting scenery, lack of guardrails, etc. Luckily, we crossed over from Chile to Argentina during the most prime summer months, thus optimizing our chance of survival. We did, however, see a semi-truck toppled over on its side as we came down the mountains, which wasn’t very reassuring. All and all, the drive from Puerto Montt to Bariloche was spectacular. It was one of those times when we were snapping photos out of the bus window even though we knew the pictures wouldn’t even coming close to capturing the beauty.

Drive to Bariloche

The scenery only continued to get more stunning as we approached the town of Bariloche. Crystal clear lakes sit at the base of rugged mountains, and the waves make it seem like you’re on the seashore. It feels like the entryway to Patagonia, which it is. The sun had set by the time we arrived at the bus terminal, which only primed our anticipation to see more of the landscape in the morning. We made our way to our hostel, several kilometers down the road, and were excited to find it was a cute and cozy log cabin in a wooded neighborhood. We got “that feeling” instantly. A feeling that we rarely get and only at the most special hostels. It’s the feeling that makes you want to extend your stay another day, and then a few more days, and then just one more. Fellow travelers will know what we’re talking about.

Hostal Alaska

For many people, it’s easy to think that a trip around the world is just an extended vacation. We tend to disagree, as living out of a backpack and switching cities all the time isn’t always relaxing and stress-free, but once we got settled in Bariloche, it really did feel like a mountain getaway. On our first full day we decided to take it easy. We walked to the nearby Playa Bonita for a view of Lake Nahuel, ate a few empanadas for lunch, and bought supplies for the evening’s main event…asado. In the simplest of terms, an asado is a barbecue, but in actuality, it is much more than that. In Argentina, asados are a national pass-time. The fair extends far beyond the typical hamburgers, hotdogs, and bratwurst of an American barbecue. A few basic ingredients are needed for a proper asado:

  1. Parrilla (grill)
  2. Carbon de leña (charcoal – not Kingsford, but big chunks of charred wood)
  3. Carne (copious amounts of meat, featuring as many cuts and animals as possible)
  4. Provoleta (thick slices of provolone, melted in a pan on the grill)
  5. Vino Tinto (Argentine wine, preferably Malbec)

Since it was just the two of us, we went with a “small” asado. Just a kilo of beef, two chicken legs, blood sausage, provoleta and aji stuffed with Roquefort cheese. The magic touch was coarse salt that we brought with us from a salt mine in San Pedro de Atacama and ground by hand using a mortar and pestle.

Parrilla

Thanks to Mike’s asado skills, our protein and iron levels were way up and we were ready for some big hikes the next couple of days. It was difficult to choose where to visit first because Bariloche is so full of options for outdoors enthusiasts. We decided on the Llao Llao peninsula (pronounced zshao zshao by Argentines) for day #1 of hiking. The clouds rolled in and out and the rain came and went as we walked through the forest, to various viewpoints, and huffed our way up Cerro Llao Llao. Our best estimate is that we walked 10 kilometers, and we even picked up a pair of dog friends around kilometer 8 who hiked along with us for a while.

Parque Llao Llao

On our next day of hiking, we got a little more ballsy and aimed to climb a mountain called Cerro Cathedral. Having both recently finished the book Born to Run (we highly recommend it to fellow runners!) we were feeling an extra bounce in our step and started jogging the trail. Other hikers must have thought we were insane, watching us run along the rugged trail in our Chacos sandals, especially when we got to the top where it was snowing. We summited in half the time the trail signs predicted. At the top sat a cool little stone cabin next to a lake with stunning views of the surrounding peaks. After a rest with tuna sandwiches and chocolate, we began our descent. 23 kilometers later we were back at our comfy hostel resting our feet and drinking wine.

Cerro Cathedral Hike

While the hiking and hostel could have kept us lingering around in Bariloche for weeks, we booked tickets on an overnight bus to Buenos Aires. Christmas was just around the corner, and we had promised family we would be there for the holidays. But don’t worry, Bariloche, we’ll be back one day!

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“What’s the weather going to be like tomorrow?” -Traveler

“You would have to ask God to know, because I have no control over it.” –Javi, Hostel Owner

We overheard this brief conversation the other day, and we loved Javi’s response. We hear travelers complaining all the time about wind and rain, about it being too hot or too cold, about the sweltering sun and the fog that just won’t lift. But in the end, Javi hit the nail right on the head; no one can control the weather. We were reminded of this when we visited Chiloé, an island in southern Chile, last week. We had high hopes of camping for a few nights and enjoying the ocean. But, it rained and rained and just wouldn’t stop raining. It rained so much and the wind was so relentless that our tent soaked through. Leaving us cold and wet. So what to do?

We made a plan. We learned the mantra “we’ll make a plan” while traveling with our friends in Australia, and it has become a common saying for us over the past few months. When something isn’t going our way, it is useful to vocalize the decision that we’re not going to sit around moping; we’ll figure something out one way or the other! In the case of Chiloé, the weather forced us to change our plans. We ended up spending our second night in an awesome little cabin instead of our tent. Rather than hike, we read our books, wrote a few blog posts, and played cards all day.

Chiloe National Park cabins

While God controls the weather, people control the bus schedules. Unfortunately, like God, those people don’t always give you what you hope for. In a perfect world, we would have spent three nights at the national park in Chiloé, but in order to make our bus connection over the border into Argentina, we had to spend our last night in Castro instead. The benefit of staying flexible with your traveling plans is that you often encounter unexpected things, like the incredible food scene in Castro. While trying to escape the rain (again) we ducked into a small restaurant, which ended up being a really fun lunch spot. We didn’t recognize the names of the daily specials, but decided to give them a try anyway. As a result, we accidentally ordered a hot seaweed salad and ceviche intestines, both of which turned out to be surprisingly delicious.

One of Chiloé’s most well-known features are palafitos (colorful shingled houses on stilts). There are clusters of palafitos all over Castro, and we spent the majority of one day exploring them. While many are old and sagging slowly into the water, it is obvious that tourism has sparked gentrification and restoration of these old buildings. For better or worse, they are a cool architectural piece of Chiloé.

Palafitos Castro

After our culinary and architectural explorations of Castro, we tried to find the most affordable place we could to stay for the night. We were looking forward to a good rest considering the long bus ride ahead of us to Argentina the next day. We did end up finding a place that suited our needs. It was simple, but the price was right. No sooner had we paid the bill, than we looked out the window  to discover that it was right next door to the local prison. Our bedroom wall doubled as the exterior fence. Awesome, huh?

Castro Prison Hotel

Our visit to Chiloé reminded us of that old saying “if life gives you lemons, make lemonade.” While we can’t control the weather, or bus schedules, or where inmates are kept in a city, we can control how much fun we have despite the circumstances!

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Surprisingly, the title of this post is not a reference to food, although Pan de Azucar may be the sweetest national park in Chile. After the packed days of touring in San Pedro de Atacama, we were eager to enjoy more of northern Chile at a slower pace. Mike knew just the spot. Parque Nacional Pan de Azucar is one of Chile’s best kept secrets. Probably more than 9 out of 10 tourists will blow right by this place on their way up to San Pedro and not even realize what they have missed.

Located just 30 minutes away from the dusty town of Chañaral, Pan de Azucar consists of rocky, desertous mountains, which run right into the Pacific Ocean. The result is a truly pristine and picturesque coastline.

Pan de Azucar

The national park is also home to some of the most stunningly beautiful and relaxing campsites that we have ever seen. Plenty of other parks in the world offer sites near the water, but few offer such a unique experience. Our site was simply AWESOME. Deserted beach, blue skies, island view, sunsets, sound of crashing ways, charcoal grill…Take a look for yourself!

Pan de Azucar Camping

We spent our days in Pan de Azucar doing what we do best, hiking and chilling. To get a feel for the area, we spent our first day strolling for hours along the coast until came to a nice rocky outcropping where we stopped for a bit of afternoon reading in the sun. Reading has been an unexpected pleasure on this trip. At home we enjoy reading and read novels every now and again, but were never “big readers.” 2012 may have officially been the year of the dragon, but for us it was the year of the book. We have read over 20 books each this year! Amy even took down a 941 pager.

Pan de Azucar

That night we enjoyed some wine and conversation with a French couple that we met while setting up camp the night before. As the night drew to a close, and they headed back to their site down the road, we took the rain-fly off of our tent and settled down to gaze at the stars above. The clear skies and lack of any major cities make northern Chile one of the best places out there for viewing the heavens. We got lucky that night as were able to catch four shooting stars before eventually falling asleep.

We were up early the next morning for an all day hike. Pan de Azucar doesn’t have as many sights as San Pedro, but it does have “el Mirador,” meaning the lookout/viewpoint. We spent six hours hiking to el mirador and beyond, stopping for lunch at the top and even catching the sight of a guanaco, a relative of the vicuña that we saw in San Pedro. Just one picture looking down on the park from above does a pretty good job of demonstrating just how beautiful the place is, and if you really consider that pictures rarely ever capture a moment, you might be able to imagine what it was like up there.

Pan de Azucar Mirador

If we hadn’t pre-booked bus tickets back down south, we may have stayed in Pan de Azucar for weeks. It is definitely a place we will visit in the future. After packing up camp on our last morning in the park, we walked out to the road and hitchhiked back into Chañaral, catching lucky car #7. Riding out of the park with the views of the rocky mountains plunging into the sea was a perfect end to our time in Pan de Azucar.

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As our bus drove through flat, endless desert for hours upon hours, we were both thinking to ourselves (but not telling each other) “why did we choose to go to San Pedro? This place is in the middle of nowhere.” The night before, we had boarded the bus in Santiago, and 18 hours later, we were only three quarters of the way there. Don’t get us wrong, the desert is a beautiful place, but after that many hours with only views of sand, rocks and an occasional trash dump, we both had a bad feeling that we were about to be disappointed. When our bus finally pulled in to San Pedro de Atacama, we were relieved, to say the least. After stretching our legs, we admitted to one another the feelings we were having on the bus. It only took a few minutes to realize that San Pedro is one dusty and isolated little town, but somehow from that very moment it captivated us.

San Pedro de Atacama

We spent a week in the Atacama Desert, the driest desert in the world, using San Pedro de Atacama as our home base. Despite the apprehensions we had on the bus ride, we were not disappointed in the end. We were actually quite impressed by all the hidden gems to be found in this desolate place. We are not usually keen on taking organized tours, but San Pedro is a place where you have to go on tours if you want to see it all. The sights are spread over large distances, the roads are not marked making it unwise to rent a car, and the sun is so strong that biking would require more water than you could carry. In four days, we went on twice as many guided tours as we had in the previous 11 months of traveling. Much to our surprise, the tours ended up being really great.

Day 1 – Lagunas Altiplánicas, Laguna Chaxa  & Valle de la Luna

For being the driest desert in the world, there sure is a lot of water in the Atacama. When we first arrived in San Pedro, we wondered how people manage to survive in this inhospitable place. It is such an extreme climate, in fact, that NASA has had an interest in this region for decades because the lack of life makes it almost like another planet. In the early ‘90s it was a test-site for the Mars Rover. The answer to how life is sustained here is underground water sources and snow melt which results in scattered lagoons. Our first tour took us to several of these lagoons, some sitting at elevations over 12,000 feet and others in the salt flat serving feeding grounds for pink flamencos. We even were lucky to catch a glimpse of some vicuñas (an indigenous species of the camel-family) grazing along the edge of a lagoon.

Lagoons near San Pedro de Atacama

Valle de la Luna (or Moon Valley) is the most visited area in the Atacama Desert. Located just 8km from San Pedro, the drive is short, but it really does feel like leaving Earth all together. The valley is composed of great sand dunes, wind carved stones, and vast mountains of crystallized salt.

Valle de la Luna

For centuries before becoming a national reserve, the valley was the site of prosperous salt mines. The salt is so abundant here, that you can literally break off a chunk of pure salt with just your fingers, and if you are quiet, you can hear the walls of the mountains cracking as salt expands under the heat of the desert sun.

Salt Mines in Valle de la Luna

Day 2 – Laguna Cejar, Ojos del Salar & Laguna Tebenquiche

As kids we both remembered learning about the Dead Sea and how it’s so salty that you can float on the surface with no effort. In the Atacama Desert you can do just that in Laguna Cejar. This lagoon is seven times more saline that the ocean, which allows you to roll around on your stomach, back and side with ease. After visiting Cejar Lagoon, our tour also took us to a few other incredible lagoons that pop-up out of nowhere in the middle of the desert. Possibly the most impressive was a very large, yet very shallow, salt lagoon that we could walk across, called Laguna Tebenquiche. The entire bottom of the lagoon is covered with a thick layer of glistening salt crystals. The water was so saturated that when it dried on our skin, we looked like we had just jumped in a huge tub of flour.

Salt Lagoons near San Pedro

Day 3 – Geisers del Taito

Even for non-morning people like Mike, waking up at 7am isn’t too bad. Even rising in the 5s or 6s every now and again is acceptable. But waking up before 4am? Forget about it! Well, we bit the bullet one morning and set our alarms for 3:30am in order to take a tour to Geisers del Taito. In terms of elevation, they are the highest geysers in the world, sitting at over 13,000 feet, and are truly spectacular. When our bus arrived at the geysers just before sunrise, it was freezing (literally) and was one of those times when we wished we owned real shoes instead of only sandals. Gradually, the temperatures rose with the sun, and we even got to take a swim in a natural hot spring formed by the geyser run-off.

Geisers del Taito

Our week in San Pedro de Atacama was well worth the 24-hour trip up north from Santiago (although we were still a little irked when people talked about how their flight took only 2 hours). Consecutive days of touring around the desert and exploring the town of San Pedro were exhausting, and we were always thankful to have an oasis-like hostel to retreat back to in the evenings. Its front entrance was unassuming, similar to the riad where we stayed in Marrakech, but opened into courtyard full of trees and hammocks.

Hostal Candalaria

If you are visiting Chile and debating whether or not to visit San Pedro de Atacama, we strongly encourage you to make your way up north, by bus or plane.

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Weddings are always fun, and a wedding abroad brings a little extra excitement. As you might remember (or may not if you are a newer follower) a few months ago we stayed with our friends Daniel & Libby in Thailand. Mike met Daniel in 2005 while studying in Chile, and one night in Chiang Mai the two of them got to reminiscing about their adventures in South America. They got to talking about their other friend Mark, who was still living down there, so Mike decided to send him a message to see about meeting up sometime in November.

Mike and Mark back in 2005

Mike and Mark back in 2005

Mark wrote back, and not only did he want to meet up, but he was getting married to his Chilean girlfriend, Carolina, on November 24th, and they invited us to attend the wedding. Our first thought was, AWESOME, weddings are such a blast! Our second thought was, oh shit, what are we going to wear? There wasn’t exactly room for formal wear in our small backpacks. We soon realized that the clothing issue could be easily resolved, we would just buy some new threads and either leave them behind or send them home. We added the wedding to our travel plans, bought plane tickets to Chile a few days later, and continued on our trip through SE Asia without further thought.

Two weeks ago was the big day for Mark and Carolina. With some help from friends, family, and the thrift store, we were able to make ourselves presentable for this special day.

Us getting dressed up for the wedding - it felt odd to wear dress clothes again!

Us getting dressed up for the wedding – it felt odd to wear dress clothes again!

There ceremony was held at the Naval Chapel in Viña del Mar. The weather was perfect and the views of the ocean and Valparaíso in the distance made it the prime surroundings for two people to get hitched. The ceremony was a small, traditional Catholic service, that couldn’t have been more beautiful. It was conducted in Spanish, which created some funny scenes of Mark’s guests from the States looking around for tips of when to stand, when to sit and when to exit after the ceremony.

Carolina's beautiful dress

Carolina’s beautiful dress

Mark and Carolina making their way out through the rose pedals flying through the air.

Mark and Carolina making their way out of the chapel through blue and white rose petals flying through the air.

If there is one thing better than a wedding, however, it’s a wedding reception! Mark and Carolina took off in a Hummer to do their photos and such, and the rest of us hopped in vans and headed to Concón. At first, the vibe of the reception was a little quite; when you have a multi-cultural wedding with two different languages involved, people tend to segregate themselves a bit, but after some quality speeches (which were translated), some tasty food, and the opening of the bar, people were mingling freely and the party was in full swing.

In many cultures, it is common for the bride and groom to have their first dance; accordingly, Mark and Carolina took the dance floor and stepped to a slow love song. Then something somewhat unexpected happened. Someone brought out a cowboy hat, two handkerchiefs and a sash. Having spent time in Chile, Mike knew exactly what was about to go down when he saw those items. Amy looked at him for some explanation. The answer: Cueca Time! Cueca is Chile’s traditional folk dance, where the couple dances around each other in a fun and flirtatious way.

Cuenca time!

Cueca time!

In contrast to the old tradition of dancing cueca at Chilean wedding receptions, a new custom has emerged as well over the last decade. Late into the festivities, after rounds and rounds of drinks have been consumed, cheesy party costumes and favors are handed out, similar to what you would expect at a New Year’s Eve Party (i.e. masks, noise makers, oversized sunglasses, etc).

Crazy costume time

Crazy costume time

Everything about Mark and Caorlina’s wedding was perfect. It was one of those weddings where you could feel the love beaming between them and from all of their family and friends. The Chilean-American family that was formed that night made us think about tough decisions that sometimes have to be made in the face of love. We often talk about where we want to live after our trip around the world, and it is a difficult topic to discuss as our family is spread between multiple states. For Mark and Carolina, however, their family is divided between different continents; leaving them with an even more challenging decision. For us, celebrating with them that night wasn’t just a good time; it reminded us that family will always be family, near or far, and family stays in your heart wherever you are in the world.

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We arrived in Chile on November 12th and spent the first few days hanging out and recharging our batteries while we waited for Amy’s dad, Dave (a.k.a. Big Dave; named not for his physical stature, but because of his magnanimous personality), to arrive from the U.S. Those first few days in Chile before Big Dave landed, we honestly didn’t do a whole lot; we mostly just walked around town and visited with friends who Mike studied abroad with in 2005. And then Dave arrived!

While we’re sure he would have been perfectly capable of finding his way from the airport in Santiago to Viña del Mar (a two hour bus journey), we worried like parents and promised to go pick him up. But alas, we were late. When we found Dave, he was wandering around looking a bit lost and wondering where we were. In our defense, his flight did land an hour early.

Once back in Viña, we settled into our apartment and made a rough plan for how we wanted to spend the next week. One of the nice things about visiting this region of Chile is that you get three very different cities all in one place. Steeped in history and art, the bustling port of Valparaíso is often described as the cultural heart of Chile. Its neighbor, Viña del Mar is a more suburban coastal city filled with numerous parks, plazas, and gardens. And just a bit further up the coast lie the smaller resort towns of Reñaca & Concón, with their sandy beaches, high-rise hotels, and seafood restaurants.

Being that the apartment we rented was centrally located in Viña, we decided to begin our exploration there. First up was a local market known as a “feria.” Most cities in Chile have some sort of mercado central that operates daily, but they also have rotating markets that take place several days a week in various locations around town. We visited the Sunday Gomez Careño feria in the hills above Viña del Mar. Big Dave loves to cook and is damn good at it too, so we went all out stocking up on produce for our kitchen and fixings for a Thanksgiving feast. The place was absolutely packed with locals buying veggies and fruit. This isn’t the type of market where you buy individual pieces of produce; you buy things by the kilo! Fortunately, Chile’s diverse climate makes it an ideal place for growing many different crops, so the prices can be unbelievably cheap. A whole kilo of kiwis, for instance, will run you less than $1 USD.

We devoted the next two days to seeing as much of Viña as we could. Covering most of the city on foot or by micro (small bus), we definitely hit the main tourist attractions like the Museo Fonck & Flower Clock, but also visited the house where Mike lived during his study abroad and some of the places where he hung out. We walked the coast along Cerro Castillo and Avenida Peru, and we even stopped for completos along the way (a completo is the Chilean style of a hotdog). Dave was particularly excited about trying one at that the restaurant we visited, because it was featured on an episode of Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations. Eating a completo is a major undertaking: a foot-long hotdog, topped with copious amounts of diced tomatoes, a hearty smearing of mashed avocado, and at least a half cup of mayonnaise. Amy tried them twice, and said that was enough.

After a couple of days of walking around and sightseeing, we were ready to relax and enjoy Thanksgiving. This year it fell on Amy’s birthday, which was part of the reason why Dave came to visit when he did. There was no way that the three of us could stomach a whole turkey, but we did cook up a pretty good feast including roasted chicken, artichokes, garlic mashed potatoes, asparagus and a surprise birthday cake from Mike. We can now confirm that Thanksgiving tiredness is not because of the tryptophan in turkey, it is from eating way too much.

One morning we set off to explore Valparaíso, and it turned into an all-day endeavor. The metro, which coincidentally opened on the last day of Mike’s study abroad program, is now fully operational, making it easy to commute between the two cities. Valpo’s most noticeable and beloved feature are the hills of jumbled, colorful, tin houses. You can easily get lost wandering through the winding streets and admiring the buildings and unique graffiti. We made our way into the hills to visit the home of Pablo Neruda, a renowned Chilean poet and national icon. He named his house in Valparaíso “La Sebastiana.” The funky architecture and décor made us long for a home of our own that reflects our personalities in the same way that La Sebastiana does Neruda. After that, we walked through the Open Air Museum which is a “typical neighborhood” of Valparaíso. The path led us down to the base of the hills where we ate at the Casino Social J. Cruz. This famous restaurant serves only one dish called chorrillana; another classic Chilean specialty that is just about as healthy as a completo. Chorrillana starts with a heap of French fries, topped with sauteed onions, fried egg, and beef.  While it is impossible to prove, local legend has it that J. Cruz was the birthplace of this tasty treat. After such a gut bomb of a meal, hiking back up another hill would have been too hard, so we took the ascensor up to Cerro Concepción. Before heading back to Viña, we stopped at the brightly colored Café Brighton for an afternoon coffee and incredible views of Valparaíso and its port.

On the morning of our visit to Valpo, we stopped for a brief look at the central market. As we mentioned before, Dave loves to cook. So missing the market was simply not an option. Located just two blocks from the shore, one would expect the market to be filled with fish and seafood, but it wasn’t. In Valpo, there is a separate market for that, so we assured Dave that the next day we would go see “El Tunel.” As promised, the next morning we set-off down la Avenida de España to the fish market that sits right on the border between Viña and Valpo, near the Diego Portales Metro station. Before going into the market itself, we ate an early lunch of fried fish. The market is named El Tunel because it is exactly that, seafood stalls lined up one after another in a narrow, tunnel-like, corridor. When we visited Tsukiji Fish Market in Japan, we thought we had seen every kind of seafood imaginable, but El Tunel still had a surprise in store: the larges barnacles we have ever seen! These things were about the size of a Coca-Cola can and you could see the crabs living inside. After checking out the day’s catch, we headed out back to watch the fishermen feed scraps to hoards of sea lions, pelicans, and a menagerie of other sea birds. It was hilarious watching them swim/fly in mass back and forth between the two piers as fishermen dumped huge buckets of fish guts into the sea.

By this point in Big Dave’s trip to Chile, we had tackled Valparaíso, Viña del Mar and Thanksgiving, but what still remained was the beach town of Concón. We hopped a micro and headed out one day, not knowing exactly where we were going, except with the goal of finding seafood empanadas. If there is one thing that Concón is known for its food, and more specifically, empanadas and seafood. The bus ride was beautiful with amazing views of the ocean and sand dunes. After nearly a week in Chile, Amy’s dad was a pro at riding the local buses and dealing with the masses of people and confusing tariff system. When we arrived in Concón, we tracked down a delicious empanada restaurant and stuffed our bellies. The beach is much more low key than those in Viña and Reñaca, which was a nice change of pace.

Well, that nearly wraps up our time in the Viña-Valpo area. You may not think that the name of this blog is very accurate – did they really chill at all during Big Dave’s visit? In between the sightseeing, we actually did. Our apartment was an oasis of calm, and it was such a treat to unpack and relax together for a week and a half. We had a blast hanging out with Amy’s dad and were sad to say goodbye when he flew out yesterday.

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The circle is now complete. We have made our way fully around the world: from the USA to Europe to Asia to Australia & New Zealand to South America. We are now on the last segment of our round-the-world trip. The time difference between home and our current location is now only a few hours. We are fully settled into our life as nomads. So now what?

When we set off on this expedition on January 16th, 2012, our initial plan was to travel for one year. We are happy to report that we are running behind schedule and will be able to extend our travels for a few more months, which is a good thing as it will give us at least four months in the Americas. It does feel a bit like the beginning of the end, but we are trying with every fiber in our bodies to resist that sensation.

Last week we boarded a flight from Auckland, New Zealand to Santiago, Chile. It was a first-hand experience in time travel. We left at 4:00pm, spent 11 hours in the air, yet landed in Chile on the same day but around 11:00am. Meaning that we arrived before we even took off from New Zealand! That was pretty awesome. For us November 12th, 2012 will go down as the longest day in history.

This continent jump, unlike the previous two, is a step back into a familiar place. We have both been to South America before, and the first country on our itinerary this time around is Chile, where Mike studied abroad in 2005. We have been in Chile for just over a week now, and despite the changes that naturally occur over seven years, Mike still feels quite at home. We would love comments from any readers who have been exchange students, as it helped shape our outlook on travel and what it means to be part of an international community. In February, we visited Amy’s host family in Denmark (which you can read about here, if you haven’t already).

While we still have stories to share from New Zealand, which we will post down the road, we are happy to be back to a region that offers us a little more excitement. The natural wonders of New Zealand are truly beautiful beyond words, but being an English speaking tourist there seems to be just too easy. We have enjoyed sharing our voyage thus far, and although home no longer seems so far away, we still have plenty of places to see and adventures to come. So don’t stop reading just yet, The Chamborres Expedition marches onwards!

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