Category Archives: food

San Pedro Adventures Continued

Visiting the lagoons was another highlight of our daytime excursions. The pictures certainly showcase the beautiful scenery but don’t capture the frigid morning temperatures.

 

While we ate breakfast at the hotel before being picked up by Freddy and Sergio, they surprised us with a picnic breakfast, which we ate by the flamingo park. It was a pretty spectacular setting.

Lunchtime was at a local place where we were offered a vegetarian or meat option. I chose vegetarian. Everyone received a bowl of soup and bread topped with pico de gallo, which I could have had a bowl of for lunch, it was so good. The main course consisted of quinoa, rice and a shredded pancake/tortilla with carrots and big green beans that looked like olives. I don’t love carrots so when I saw Sergio put the pico de gallo on his entree, I followed suit to drown the carrot taste and it worked. To drink we had some kind of orange Fanta type drink. Dessert was a fruit cup.

 


A pizza place runs out of dough

The three of us arrived into town after a short walk from the hotel. After I dropped off my dirty laundry – a mere storefronts away – from the restaurant we chose on the main plaza (which was literally ‘town’).

We ordered a pizza to share. We were also warned it would take a long time. Not a big deal, we had drinks and plenty of catching up to do.

While waiting an extremely long time for a simple pizza, even with the warning we’d be waiting, we noticed another table had fries, which were not on this menu. So Courtney went to find out where they were from … another restaurant. She went to procure us some fries. We devoured them.

fries

Finding the fries!

After another excessively long period of time, the waiter came over and told us ‘no pan,’ ummmm, what? Pan is bread, or in this case, dough. Did you not know this an hour ago? We were no longer hungry but now we were three hangry ladies. We paid for our drinks and left.

Quickly found another restaurant and were able to catch up over food, that actually existed. Called it a relatively early night and planned to head back to the hotel for some much needed sleep. First, we’d stop at the (only) ATM (in town) to get some local cash for the girls.

We were ready to cover a lot of ground in the region over the next few days and it was unanimous that we all wanted to get some sleep!


My first night in San Pedro de Atacama

After quite the treacherous bus journey from the airport in Calama to the small adobe village of San Pedro de Atacama, I finally arrived at my hostel. What an interesting set up. Once you entered the property from the dusty street, you were transplanted into a large courtyard. Looking around, you could see small huts dotting the property.

During check in, I realized that I hadn’t eaten since the plane, so I wanted to find something to eat. It was 8.50pm and the woman at the front desk advised me that the supermarket closed at 9 but was just around the corner.

my-hut1

My hut.

After being shown to my hut, I left my bags and headed out into the dark, dusty street. From what I could tell, I felt like I was on a movie set. The streets were sandy, dust was everywhere. The town felt old and worn, like a cowboy movie type of town. At the same time it felt charming and I was excited to explore, if only a short walk to the supermarket at this point.

I first went into the wrong place … they only had day-old (or older) empanadas. I figured out my error and came back outside, found the supermarket (all the buildings looked the same). This was no supermarket with fluorescent lights. This was a very, very small bodega.

The choices were slim and hodge podge. I went with a roll (that looked fresh), wafers, apple juice and water. Seeing a sign for cheese, but no sign of cheese, I asked the person behind the counter how it worked. I was asked how many slices, and not seeing a deli slicer, I wasn’t sure what I was going to get so I replied, ‘cuatro,’ (four in Spanish). After all, I thought, I could easily polish off four slices of cheese. Instead, I must have gotten four 1/4 pounds of cheese. Oops.

I made my purchase and my way back to the hostel. One of the huts was designated a communal kitchen. The lights were on and I could hear voices so I went inside to eat. Inside I met a German man and Italian woman. They had offered me some of their home-cooked meal but instead I nibbled on my cheese while we shared pleasantries.

After dinner they asked if I wanted to join them for a walk into town to go to the ATM. I clearly had nothing else planned for the evening, and hadn’t yet seen the town so I went along.

The center of town was a couple of small alleys away and after a whopping five minute tour, I saw it all. As I would later learn, the ATM was the highlight of the nightlife. After waiting in line at the ATM (it was popular), we popped into a bar for a beer before heading back to the hostel and calling it a night.

I was happy to get to bed since I knew when I woke up I’d be moving to the lovely boutique hotel that my friends and I had booked before I left New York.

Knowing now how small the town was, I didn’t want to explore on my own since I’d be doing it again with the girls once they arrived. My plan for the following morning was quite simple. Wake up, transfer to the fancy place, check in, figure out my next steps after San Pedro, and finally, spend the rest of the day poolside until the girls arrived. I was so excited to see familiar faces and now, after some reflection on my ride from the Calama airport, I was immensely curious how their ride would be, not even 24 hours after mine.


Santiago to Calama (a flight)

The first thing I noticed on my Sky Airline flight was that this was an old easyJet plane. easyJet is a low cost British carrier and why their plane was being rebranded (on the outside) slightly concerned me. How old was this aircraft, really?

But I couldn’t focus on that for long. Once we were in the air, the scenery was otherworldly. Every photo was wildly better than the last. The clouds mixed with the landscape was just incredible.

Received a lovely meal on the (short) flight …

meal on plane

And I had it of surprise when I landed. I wasn’t exactly sure what to expect in Calama but it wasn’t this! This is the entrance to the airport after deplaning by stairs. All planes landed this way. We were basically dropped in the middle of nowhere so whoever I asked to take the photo, took a bit of a photo shoot with the plane in the background. Check out the background, or lack of, in each of the pictures. If you think this looks like Mars, wait for the next post.


About 24 Hours in Santiago!

After the fairly quick (under 2 hours) bus ride from Vina del Mar to Santiago, I arrived (again) at one of the several Santiago bus terminals in the city. I had already made a reservation at a hostel so, this time, I knew exactly where I was going (the taxi line) when I arrived into town.

I took a taxi to my (lovely) hostel, checked in, dropped off my bags, grabbed a map and headed out to explore Santiago.

hostel santiago

The front of my Santiago hostel

Cara, who I had met up with the week prior in Vina del Mar, was living in Santiago and taking Spanish classes. Prior to my arrival in Santiago, we made plans to meet at the starting point of a free walking tour.

The starting point of the tour was the Plaza de Armas, the central square so I made my way there and wandered a bit before Cara and I were scheduled to meet.

The tour was in English, and super informative. If I had to make a comparison, Santiago felt very much like it could have been a city in North America, in most cases.

More of Santiago’s architecture…including Pablo Neruda’s Santiago home (bottom).

Parks are a big part of life in Santiago. They felt pristine.

The other thing to note, is that because most people don’t live together until they are married, is that the parks become make out locations for couples. Example A: park benches were filled with couples like this one. Example B: Behind Cara, you see several couples embracing one another on the ground. Also, a frequent sight.

And, if you didn’t already know, sex sells. Billboards like this one were everywhere. Not sure if I noticed it more than in the US but it felt overwhelmingly naked in Santiago!

santiago ad

The day went quickly. Day turned to night. Cara and I had dinner.

Then, after some resting, we started our evening … at a club where Cumbia music was on tap. Cumbia is said to be the mother of Latin music. We were busy dancing and trying to figure out how it went, this was the only picture of the evening!

cumbia

I got back to my hostel sometime in the middle of the night. The next morning, before leaving for the airport, I needed to take care of two things:

  • Check the internet
  • Visit the “American” supermarket to stock up on peanut butter.

First, check the internet. Why? Word on the street I had been told that the flooding in the Atacama Desert was pretty severe. The Atacama Desert is known to be the driest desert in the world. So, I sort of blew it off until, you know, hours before my flight to the center of it. I mean, how could a desert flood? Um, well it can. When I Googled “San Pedro flooding,” multiple articles stated that this was the worst flooding the region had seen in 11 years.

WHAAAT?

I emailed Alana and Courtney, who were probably at the airport for their overnight flight from the US to Santiago, where they would connect to Calama, the nearest airport to San Pedro de Atacama. I let them know about the flooding concerns. I confirm that my flight is a go and we’ll see each other the following day.

Second, visit the “American” supermarket. Why? As someone who is not a steak eater, I was unsure what I would do in remote, high-altitude, heavy meat eating countries. Along my travels, a few travelers had suggested getting peanut butter as a backup. So here I was … in the middle of Santiago … looking at Philadelphia cream cheese, many brands of yogurt and peanut butter that I recognized and enough candy to fill a candy store!

I purchased a plastic (wasn’t risking glass smashing when they throw your bags underneath the bus) jar of peanut butter and headed to the airport for my flight to Calama.

At the airport, of course I would see a Starbucks. The sign ‘para llevar’ was a phrase I had learned with Marisa in Mendoza …which means ‘to go’… and, in this case, made perfect sense. I smiled, knowing I understood exactly what it meant, and made my way to my gate.

para llevar.jpg


What’s a completo you ask?

One of Chile’s not-to-be-missed culinary treats is called a completo.

Wikipedia explains a completo like this:  The completo (Spanish for “complete”, “total”) is a hot dog variation eaten in Chile, usually served with ingredients such as chopped tomatoes, avocados, mayonnaise, sauerkraut, a variation of the sauce américaine, Chilean chili, green sauce and cheese. Its size can be twice of an American hot dog.

A bite or two was really all you needed, which is why three of us shared one. However, Cara’s friend, Raphael from Germany accepted the challenge:

  • chilean hotdog

completo

There is really a hot dog buried under the cheese, tomatoes, mayonnaise, avocado mixture.

And the completo, while not my favorite, wasn’t as gross as it looks.

closeup

close up of completo


Desayuno = Breakfast

Holy heck. This was the spread that awaited at my hotel breakfast the next morning.

breakfast1

The hotel catered to English speakers, but this was ridiculous. If you couldn’t figure it out (bread and toast) by what it was, then you had no business eating it.

Isn’t part of the fun of traveling not knowing what you might be eating? Or saying? 

Even so, this stuff wasn’t too difficult to figure out. I found this so humorous, I had to take photos.


Two Lines, No McD’s for Me

I had some time before my bus departed so I thought I’d grab something quick to eat and test out the currency exchange.Of course there was a McDonald’s. With an insanely long line.I had decided McDonald’s was not in my immediate future, but I took a few seconds to observe since it looked like organized chaos. McDonald’s took up a rather large part of the terminal yet have two completely separate operations going on. I’m not even sure if it was totally effective but again, it was very calm. Maybe this is what Laura was referring to about how Uruguayans are never in a rush.

This is what I gathered from the situation in front of me. If you wanted food or soda, you stand in line at one of the five registers. Then just to the side, there’s an offshoot McDonald’s that only serves ice cream, dessert or milkshakes. Because the line at the main McDonald’s was so long, they basically intertwined.Needless to say, I went to a little vendor in the bus terminal and grabbed a bag of chips and an apple juice. Not so healthy but technically I did get a fruit and a vegetable. My version of ‘fast food.’


Mate, Pronounced like Mah-Tay

Later in the day Laura’s cousin, Irina, came over and joined us.

At this point Laura invited me to stay the night. I had cancelled my reservation at the hostel and went with the flow.

Together the four of us chatted like old friends, visited the aquarium, more of the waterfront (where I had been the day prior before meeting Laura), a church and the main street in the historic section.

Before sunset, Irina and Laura’s mom headed to a concert in a park and Laura and I headed to the beach for one of Uruguay’s most beloved traditions. Mate!

I learned about mate when the boyfriend and I visited Argentina last year and I was about to get reacquainted very quickly.

To say that mate is tea doesn’t do the popular beverage any justice.

Mate seems like a complicated concoction with the thermos tucked away in a leather case, a silver-rimmed cup made from a gourd and silver metal straw. And that’s just the paraphenalia needed to prepare mate. There is also a bag of yerba leaves, the brand is debatable depending on which mate-crazed country (Uruguay, Argentina and Uruguay) you are in.

First the mate goes in, packed tight in the cup, and one has to shake it a bit to get rid of the loose leaves. Then the hot water has to be poured at just the right angle so the leaves don’t float. The metal straw gets placed in just right.

And then it gets passed around. It’s just a chance to hang out and chat. There’s an etiquette. If you don’t want to drink more, you politely decline.

You know it’s time to add more water, when you hear the slurping noises when you are solely sipping air and leaves.

I was actually given the opportunity later on in my trip to prepare the mate. I drank leaves. You’re not supposed to. Let’s just say I will leave it to the experts to prepare.

Laura had packed plenty of snacks and we headed off to one of Colonia’s beautiful beaches. We shared mate on the beach and watched the sunset.


Exploring Colonia with Laura

Before we left, Laura’s mom, who was visiting from Miami and did not speak any English, had asked what we wanted for lunch. I knew I was in meat lovers country but I did let her know that I wasn’t much of a meat-eater. And she said no problem. That, I understood!

Note: I became a “vegetarian” later in the trip, not because of my experience here, because apparently pollo (chicken) is not considered meat. I love hamburgers but this is not hamburger country. This is a land that loves carne (meat) and enjoys all kinds of tastes and textures that, unfortunately, I just cannot appreciate. It was easier to just say that I was soy vegetariano (I am vegetarian). If you know me, please laugh. If you don’t know me, I say this because I am not the biggest fan of cooked vegetables yet I ate more than my share on this trip.

Laura and I ventured out and we walked into the historic center of town. We passed a lot of places I had visited the day before, but this time I got a fully translated explanation of what I was looking at, and the history behind it. I couldn’t have asked for a better guide!

Laura gave me a history lesson on the Spanish and Portuguese influence on this very important port city.

There are eight museums in the (for lack of a better word) system. Each focuses on some part of the Spanish and Portuguese history that this city is so full of because of the history that created this city. All of the placards in the museums were in Spanish with no translations anywhere.

As a teacher, Laura was keen to improve my Spanish before I left Colonia! She’d let me read the plaques in the museums and once I got the words translated to the best of my ability, I had to give her my best guess of what it actually meant. Then she would give me a proper English translation since many of my translations didn’t make much sense! Close, I was told. I think she was just being very nice.

We walked along the waterfront and chatted like old friends. I learned that Laura didn’t like heights but she insisted I climb to the top of the lighthouse for some incredible water views while she waited on solid ground below.

The walk up, was not for the faint of heart.

I did love these trees on the way up.

The views up were incredible.

Laura was sure to point out the Calle de los Suspiros, a famous street in Colonia that I had noticed the day prior but did not know why everyone was taking photos since there was no signage noting the street had any significance.

After museum hopping for a few hours, we went back to Laura’s apartment where her mom, Marcela, had prepared us a traditional Uruguayan lunch – Ravioles Con Tuco. She had made the raviolis from scratch while Laura and I were out exploring Colonia.

Tuco, is actually like a meat sauce. But it was more meat, less sauce.

I was slightly nervous to dig in as I knew I was in meat-eating country so I asked for a small, pequeno, portion of sauce. I made it a point to try everything put in front of me on this trip.

I don’t know how she did it but Marcela had me asking for seconds. With extra meat sauce.

Yes. Really.