Category Archives: observations

Last Day of Adventures in San Pedro

The rest of our last afternoon here we explored – there was rock climbing and a visit with a llama to top off our time in the region.

We returned to the hotel, exhausted again, that evening. After dinner the three of us finally polished off our bottle of wine…that only took 3 ladies, 3 nights to finish. Tiring days in high altitude did not mix with wine.

Since we were parting ways in the morning, we prepared for departure before heading to bed.


Nightlife in San Pedro de Atacama

Based on the subject of this post, this is a short one. The altitude does not combine well with an active nightlife. Were bars and restaurants busy? Sure, but imbibe with care. The hangover wouldn’t be worth it. Altitude and alcohol are not the best combination.

San Pedro is a jumping off point for tours and trips to see the landscapes of the region – which start during the early morning hours and throughout the daylight hours.

Nightlife consists of travelers going to the ATM…seriously. We quickly learned that you can expect a 30-45 minute wait each time. In this photo, we’re pretty close to the front, after an extended wait. At this point you’re just hoping there’s still cash in the machine by the time you get to swipe your card.

the-bank

After securing cash and food, heading back to the hotel is up next.

headlamp

Once you leave the confines of the few streets making up the ‘town,’ there are no streetlights. None. Laugh all you want at the headlamp (my friends did) but this headlamp was a lifesaver (probably literally too) on our walk back to our hotel in the pitch dark.


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.


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


Valparaiso to Vina to Santiago

Valparaiso was hard to leave but after 4 nights, it tied with Mendoza for the longest I stayed in one place. So I was eager to get going. Valparaiso is on my list of places to return. I’m excited to see the progress this beautiful port city will make over the next few years. Here, an example of the work that’s being done to repair some of the streets, or maybe just as a warning for pedestrians…

valpo2

Between the delicious food, gorgeous views and lovely people, Valpo was a place I had easily fallen in love with. Just as you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, advice from others should be taken with a grain of salt. All I had heard, was ‘you’ll love it or hate it,’ and I am so happy to report I loved it. I understand why some may hate it, but that’s a decision you’d have to make for yourself.

Heading to the bus terminal, I realized I would soon be back in a big city – Santiago – with a full day and night there, where I would once again meet up with Cara. Then, I would fly from Santiago to Calama, on a flight I booked before I left the States. From Calama, I would transfer to San Pedro de Atacama to stay one night alone before meeting friends who were coming to Chile on vacation from the States. After those three nights, where we’d be staying in an actual hotel (!), I would be on my own (and back in hostels) again. But a few nights with familiar faces was exciting before I would head into less developed areas of the continent, with less of a plan than I had now.

Here’s the view on my ride from Vina to Santiago. I sat in the front row on the upper level of the bus and, as you can see, the view was pretty incredible.


Valparaiso, you’d love it or hate it. Spoiler alert: I loved it.

As I mentioned, I had been warned you’d either love Valparaiso or hate it. Well, Valpo, as it’s lovingly called, was a total win for me. After two nights I loved it and decided to stay longer.

Except when I went to extend my reservation for another two nights at breakfast the next morning, I was told this hostel was booked. So breakfast became quite productive for planning my day and my sleeping arrangements.

First,  I had to make a plan to change hostels since the one I was currently in was booked. It happened that there was another traveler who wanted to stay longer as well so one owner of the hostel made a call and two of us were going to transfer to another hostel.

Over breakfast, all the travelers at the table shared our plans for the day. Mine was not really a plan but I wish that I was keen to visit the wine region. In conversation, I found two other travelers who were hoping to do the same.

And, in nearly one fell swoop, I had one owner calling to find two of us another hostel and the other owner was about to plan the day for the three of us.

Three of us asked the other owner to book us on a tour. He told us that’s not how it works; yet, after making just one phone call, he confirmed that we’d be driven out to one of Chile’s most accessible wine regions, the Casablanca Valley, later that morning.

Planning? Sometimes it’s just for the birds!