What to do before check in?

I opened my eyes and was ready to bail on this place. It took me less than ten minutes from the time I woke up to be checked out of the hostel. I asked for a taxi and instead found out I could easily walk the 15 minutes to the hotel. ‘Muy cerca,’ I was told. Very close, I translated silently. And it was. Gear and all, I believe I made it in under 10 minutes.

Arrived at the hotel only to find out that I had hours before check in – which 2pm. I had just over 4 hours until I could check in and close to 6 hours before the girls would arrive.

It was a beautiful property.

hotel-1

One of the gorgeous views.

The staff invited me to eat breakfast, which was lovely. And since I had plenty of time to spare, and a solid internet connection, I decided to take care of business … I Skyped with family, booked a hostel in Salta, Argentina – my next stop, got the details for the bus terminal where I’d be departing from in a few days and emptied out all the papers, notes and tickets I had been collecting in my backpack, adding unnecessary weight to my load.

tickets

Some of the tickets I had been carrying around, unnecessarily. Tucked into pockets here and there, the weight adds up.

I even went so far as to pull together my dirty laundry since I planned on dropping it off at a lavanderia in town. This must have been quite a sight to see … remember I’m in their ‘lobby’ since I can’t check in for hours.

While this seems like a lot of ‘to do’s,’ and a lot less travel, it was nice to regroup and get reorganized with this downtime. Once I was able to check in, I showered and began to download photos off my camera, so I could get those uploaded and clear out some memory.

After a few hours, Alana and Courtney arrived and it was quite the reunion!

arrivalSince they flew overnight, connected in Santiago for Calama and then took the hour-long drive from the airport in Calama to San Pedro de Atacama, they had a pretty long run of travel. They got settled, showered and we made our way into town. I didn’t go into much detail around ‘town.’ Since I was pretty surprised, I wanted them to be too! I was eager to see what they thought. We’d be there soon enough.


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.


And the driest desert in the world, floods

Forget the (tiny) airport surprise, my biggest surprise came when the bus came to get me (the hotel we would be staying at had a bus that picked people up). While I wasn’t staying at the hotel until the following evening when the girls arrived, they were nice enough to get me and take me to the hostel I had reserved in town. However, the drive was interesting.

I had the knowledge from Google earlier that day that the region had seen the worst flooding in 11 years, but on top of that, I didn’t realize that the region would look like Mars.

I snapped photos basically the whole drive.

And then we stopped. In the middle of nowhere. Because the road was taken over by, what else, water. We could no longer pass.

On the left, part of the washed out road. On the right, is the bus driver calling his boss to find out what other road we can take to get to town. At this point, I am wondering what ‘town’ looks like too.


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


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.


Exploring More Valparaiso

After returning to the city from our winery tour, the three of us parted ways. I quickly dropped off my bags at my new hostel and left to take in more of the city.

I headed to the port and took a boat ride. While on the boat, I met a family who took me in as one of their own and we continued on a tour of Pablo Neruda’s home.

The boat ride was educational and shared the story of the importance of Chile’s history as a crucial South American port city.

Pablo Neruda still is one of Chile’s favorite people. He was a poet and a bit eccentric as you can see when you walk through his home. Unfortunately I have no pictures of the interior but he loved the water so his home was built as if he was on a boat so out every window it looked like he was sailing.

I mentioned that there was another traveler who moved from our first hostel to the second. Later that evening, she and I met up at the hostel and decided to have Valentine’s Day dinner together in Valpo. No photos but our ceviche dishes were absolutely amazing.